Year Started: 1996
Ships in Fleet: 4
Summary: Everything Disney; great entertainment, Disney characters, movies and live theater. Interactive fun for all ages. Only four ships, two older, two newer.
Good for: Children`s Programs. Teens. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Bahamas, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean Western, Mexico
Good for: Families. Teens. Children`s Programs.
My family of four booked the Disney Land/Sea Vacation in April. We chose the option with three days in Disney World and four on the ship. After speaking to my travel agent, I found that guests usually spend the first day of their Disney World parks pass flying in -- which means that unless you live close to Florida, you'll lose a whole day of paid vacation on a plane. So we flew in two days early and booked an additional two nights in an off-site hotel. My husband and I have cruised once before with Princess, but my daughters have never been on a cruise nor seen the ocean (we're from Colorado).
We visited Sea World on Wednesday, and then on Thursday we checked out and drove to Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR) for our first long day at the Magic Kingdom. Anyone is welcome to check in to the Disney Resort after 6 a.m. and leave their bags with the bell captain or in their rental car until later in the day when their room is ready. Leave plenty of time for check-in because you are also checking infor your cruise, and they will go through all the cruise documentation.
Have all of your cruise docs completely filled out (there's a checklist inside the little treasure chest packing envelope that your documents come in). An Extra Hour of Magic is available to resort guests only -- one park per day opens an hour early. We used the bus from the CBR to get to the Magic Kingdom and weren't particularly impressed with the service, maybe because our resort is the farthest from the Magic Kingdom, or because they weren't running as many buses during the off season. It was better just to drive the rental car -- as an onsite guest you receive free parking. We had a great time at Disney World; the timing couldn't have been better, we never a line, had beautiful weather and loved the rides and activities.
We left Orlando early Sunday morning to drive to Port Canaveral; we didn't purchase transfers and wanted to board the ship as early as possible. We took the extra morning time to visit the Kennedy Space Center, which is just a hop, skip and jump from the cruise terminal.
At about 12:30 we pulled up to Disney's Terminal 8. The ship is enormous and magnificent. It was raining, so we checked in at the gate for passenger drop-off, and left the luggage and everyone but my husband out front. He parked the car in the lot across from the ship. The porter took our tagged luggage, and because we already had our cruise cards from the resort, we were able to go through the metal detector and walk directly onto the ship. They announced our names in the atrium and various staff applauded us, then one crew member escorted us on a quick tour of Deck 3.
Because none of the cabins were ready, we made our reservation for Palo (the specialty restaurant) and an appointment for a beach massage at Castaway Cay. They also ask that you check your children into the Oceaneers Program that first afternoon. You'll have to fill out a questionnaire, including whether your child will be allowed to check themselves in and out, then meet with one of the counselors for questions and to receive your parental pager.
We had the lifeboat drill at 4 p.m., and the ship embarked at 5:30. Our cabin was wonderful; we initially booked an outside cabin, category 8, on Deck 6, but were upgraded to a veranda cabin on Deck 7, category 5. It was a little tight for a family of four, but thanks to Disney's larger-than-industry-standard cabins and split bathrooms, it worked out just fine.
Our dining rotation was Triton's, Animator's Palate, Parrot Cay, and Triton's again. The rotation is listed on your dining tickets, which are in your cabin when you arrive. Unfortunately, we didn't have that information earlier when we booked a reservation for Palo, but if you reserve Palo for your last night on the ship, you'll get the duplicate dining room night (on a four- night cruise). Be warned that the last-evening reservations are at a premium and you'll need to go to WaveBands that first afternoon to get them. In all dining rooms, we had the best serving team -- Nikola from Serbia and Steph from the U.K. They knew the kids' names before we arrived and treated us like royalty.
The shows were all terrific; I especially enjoyed Hercules. We didn't do much of the nightlife -- our days were just too full and we were tired. We really liked the dueling pianos show in Barrel of Laughs; they included children and it was fun. My 13-year-old enjoyed the teen group at Common Grounds. She did both of the teen-only shore excursions and found friends, but spent the majority of time with us. My 8-year-old liked the kids' program at Oceaneers' Lab but would get uncomfortable if left for long stretches of time. I was surprised because I expected both kids to spend most of their time away from the family. I bought walkie-talkies at the recommendation of some folks on the DisBoards and it was a great suggestion. We used them quite a bit, from dividing the family on certain rides at Disney World to finding each other in the morning when we woke at different times on the ship.
On Nassau, we didn't book a shore excursion, so we ran the gamut of hair braiders and taxi drivers to walk into town and do some shopping. We found some nice things at decent prices. Then we found a water ferry to Paradise Island to see the Atlantis resort and find a beach. The water taxi was $4 apiece; it provided a man who gave a running commentary with tourist information, and he asked to be tipped on the way off of the boat. We toured the Atlantis casino, which looked like any other casino, but the impressive resort has its own aquarium and lagoon/swimming area. However, they allow only their own guests into most of the resort; we got run off of the back patio when we were trying to find our way out.
We walked a block or so and entered the public beach area just past the Sheraton. The surf was pretty high and almost scary; my youngest got knocked down and had a hard time getting back up. We used the Sheraton showers to clean off most of the sand and sea water, then caught a taxi back to the ship from the front of the hotel. My 13-year-old wanted to add the evening shore excursion, the Teen Junkaroo, and we were able to sign her up at Common Grounds. They met and left the ship at 7 p.m. to take a party boat on a sail around Paradise Island, and she had a blast.
The next day was in Freeport. I'd read some reviewers who said they wished Disney had treated Freeport as an "at sea" day instead of getting off of the ship. So we just stayed on ship with a quick trip to the Straw Market on the dock. The port area is very industrial, with huge petroleum tanks and cargo docks. The cruise director Teresa recommended not allowing first impressions to keep you on the ship; she said the island was wonderful. The family at the next table took a taxi to the other side of the island and had a great day on the beach. We lounged by the pool, had the girls in their programs and caught one of the movies in the Buena Vista Theater. I was surprised, and shouldn't have been, that they had brand new Disney movies just barely out in the theater, like Brother Bear and the Haunted Mansion.
The last stop was our favorite, Castaway Cay. What a terrific island! I'd booked a cabana massage on the beach first thing that morning, and what a treat! The adults-only beach is on the other side of the island; you can catch a tram to get over or just walk. The cabanas have most of the ocean side propped open to get the full effect of the view. They sit a little above the beach so they are private; it was the best part of the whole cruise.
My husband took our youngest right to the family beach; they were the first in the water and were able to see a ray and a couple of hermit crabs before the crowds formed. He had one of the hammocks staked out, but because he put his gear on the sand beside the hammock and not "in" the hammock, someone else took over while he was in the water. Oh well; there were plenty of lounge chairs.
Our oldest daughter did the teen excursion "Wild Side" with bicycling, sea kayaking and snorkeling. She befriended another girl from Guatemala and had a great time. Lunch at Cookies BBQ was fabulous. Disney does a great job of staffing the island from the ship and it was well done. Our afternoon shore excursion was canceled because the wind came up, which wasn't good for the catamaran "Sea Horse Snorkel." I heard that the morning snorkel adventure was great.
We got back on the ship at about 2 p.m. and sat by the pool. A few rain showers came in and it got a little stormy about 4 p.m. The captain decided to delay our departure because of the squall. Hubby and I had reservations for Palo that night, so the girls chose to go to the dining room without us, since they liked our wait staff so much and the servers promised to take good care of them. Palo is magnificent; the food is tremendous and the service is impeccable. Once we embarked, the seas were a little rough, but in a fun way. No one got sick or was bothered, but we bounced around pretty good all night.
We got a late start from Castaway Cay, so debarkation was delayed the next morning at Port Canaveral. We ate breakfast in our designated dining room and carried our hand luggage. It was the first time that we had breakfast anywhere other than the Beach Blanket Buffet. Then we found a table in the Promenade Lounge to wait. The Promenade Lounge is on Deck 3, just past the atrium and close to the exit from the ship. A crew member entertained us with trivia and gave out trading pins for the answers to some tough questions. Then the people in the lounge were released to exit the ship; the rest went really smoothly. There weren't enough porters but we were able to gather and cart our luggage. We had our own car and were on our way to the airport within minutes. I was glad that our 1:15 p.m. flight wasn't any earlier because with the ship getting in late, it would've been really difficult to catch an earlier flight.
I loved the Disney vacation and the ship was so beautiful. I wouldn't choose this line for a vacation without kids, and was glad that my youngest was 8 years old. We witnessed many, many toddler meltdowns in the theaters, dining rooms and pool areas just because the poor little things were exhausted and overwhelmed. And quite honestly, even with my older, self-sufficient children, I still spent a great deal of time mothering so it was less of a vacation for me. I look forward to another cruise with only me and my husband on a different line, and possibly a Disney seven-day with my kids again in a couple of years.
I wrote a review on this ship in January so why do it again in September? A $99 coupon. We really weren't interested in another cruise in Wonder but who could pass us a weekend in the Bahamas in a balcony stateroom for less than $250.
Magic is a real seven day cruise to the Caribbean. Wonder is part of a seven day theme park/cruise package for most embarked. Therein lies the problem.
There is no cruise ship aura or mystic on Wonder. People do not enter with the feeling that they are going to sea to share a unique adventure. To them it is another place to be herded. The ship is just another attraction, and after four exhausting days in Disney World, they admit to being a bit jaded. This was confirmed by the staff who rotate between the ships. Magic is a normal cruise with a Disney flavor.
You don't have to pack much for a three night, two day cruise. Nevertheless, what I lay out to be packed and what actually goes into the suitcase never seems to be the same. I pack light, she says what ifI spill. Couldn't get in the mood. Packed late with what was hanging in the closet. There is no such thing as formal on Wonder. I was overdressed in a sport coat and Miami Vice tee shirt. One suitcase held it all for both of us.
Planned to sleep late, have breakfast, then a leisurely two hour drive to Port Canaveral, by far the easiest port from which to start a cruise.
Was informed the cruise started when the alarm went off. Breakfast would be on the road, which brings us to lesson one: While St Augustine might be a great place to spend the night if driving from the northeast, it can be expensive.
We stopped at the St Augustine Outlet complex Cracker Barrel on I-95 and noticed several fellow diners filling out their cruise documents! Seems those motels are always available and reasonably priced, and that's where several had been booked. Actually they were headed for Ft Lauderdale and Miami, five hours down the road.
We still weren't in a cruise mood. "Did you bring the documents?" "Yes" "Are your sure?" "YES" "Did you turn off the ceiling fans?" "Yes" "Are your sure?" "YES"
Disney has streamlined their check in procedure since January. Still have to show documents to get into the complex. Told we had a two category upgrade. Mood improved. Dropped off bag and wife, drove across the road to parking, found a spot close to the walkway. The Port Canaveral terminal complexes are very compact and the walk back to the building is short. Do have your documents with you to get back in.
Donald still quacks welcome. Personal luggage and body search is now done at the door so that once you are in, you can go directly aboard without holding everyone up while you explain you will not hijack the ship with your knitting needles. You have already done that.
Upon boarding you are supposed to go to the embarkation buffet with your bags in tow. Rooms aren't ready until nearly 2:00. Disney has two options for boarding lunch; Parrot Cay, an enjoyable laid back experience or Beach Blanket Buffet, an indoor/outdoor feeding trough. Last time we played by the rules and waited until our room was ready. Parrot Cay was closed Lesson two: This time I left wife holding a table in decent restaurant, took bags to room, pretipped steward who probably would have let us left them anyway, and returned for an enjoyable lunch.
The dining experience on Disney is unique in setting, certainly not the food. Meals are long on presentation, short on quality and preparation. We shared our table with a couple who made them take it back untill it was done right. Didn't take long before the meals improved, for us at least. We didn't have the best servers, they spent most of their time doting over children and young mothers. Hope the tip they received from them made up for what they got from us. Speaking to the head waiter didn't help.
We received a welcome basket with two splits of wine. Took them to dinner and was faced with a $15 corkage fee. Solved that by pouring wine in our room, taking it into the restaurant with us. Worked twice. Ran out of wine. Probably couldn't get away with it three times anyway.
Last cruise I raved about the children's programs and how much they enjoyed them and how we hardly saw loose children and how happy parents were to be free of them and how the kids would be returned exhausted which made for fairly quiet evenings. The crowd on this trip was absolutely marsupial. They wouldn't let their kids out of their sight. It was a mad house. All the wonderful facilities were ignored. The counselers couldn't believe it. I won't get regional or ethnic. Why go on a Disney cruise if you don't let your children take advantage of the great programs available?
In Nassau we had four megaships and one monster ship. Voyager of the Seas literally dwarfed us. That makes for a lot of people in town. We decided to go tourist this time and took an island tour. Big mistake. Will continue to do what we always do, negotiate with a cab driver and get what we want. Lesson three; nice touch while on your varandah watching other ships and their passengers leave port is to have your butler stand in the background. We were out snooted by the ships next door.
Made the effort this time to see all the shows. Disney does put on quite a production. Very well done with genuine talent. There is a lot going on at the same time, take a hi lighter.
We enjoy people watching. Most cruises are made up of like people. Not Disney Wonder! Enjoyed watching the kids take in what was available. The look on NYC secretarie's faces when they learned this was not what they had in mind. Parents who are totally lost but have to be the last word. Kids who are way ahead of them and masters at having the last word.
Our room was much larger than we needed. My distress over the balcony is addressed in Cruise Complaints. Two parents and four kids would have been comfortable. Maybe not happy, but comfortable.
Repeating the same cruise on a Disney ship in the same year is not a particularly stirring experience, unless you really like cruising and really like Disney. I was reminded I had already done it everytime I tried to take a picture. What I saw in the viewfinder was already in an album. But, our house had been flooded and we needed a break. Besides, a three day cruise for less than $250 remember?
Strongly recommend Magic. With Wonder you get what you signed up for.
we sailed the disney wonder on aug. 29th 2002 for a 3 day cruise. my husband , and i and our two teenage sons age 15, and 16. we also took along a friend of our son also age 15 , we traveled with another family and there teenage son age 17, this was there third cruise. the ship is beautiful , the frist day getting on , and settled in our room took no time at all , very easy , and stress free. the kids had the time of there lifes, we never saw them, we had check in times , and we asked that we all be together for dinner , other then that they spent there time with other teens they meet , hanging out at common grounds the teen spot for ages 13 thru 17 ,they were busy ever second ,we took it easy walking the deck , laying in the sun , eating, at night we went to the disney shows ,disney dreams was great , and we checked out the clube , something was always going on our children joined usone night and we all saw a movie in the disney theater. we were going to try out the spa , but never ended up doind so, next time we will. there were deck partys with live music and dancing , bingo , and karaoke to name a few .
we had second seating dinner , we like that , this way we didn't have to rush to get ready for dinner after a day of play at port , or on board doing this or that. also there is plenty of food around all day so you wont go hungry. being it was onlyu a 3 day cruise we only went to 2 ports , one being castaway cay , this place it beautiful , the kids went to the teen beach , and we wnt to the adult beach. everyone had a great day . word of warning be carful in the water , i took a chair in to a few feet of water and sat there in the sun , and a big ugly looking fish came towards me , it turned out to be a barracdda, ummm i spent the rest of the day on the beach , but everyone stayed in the water and there were no problems. they will tell you to not wear any jewerly in the water , i guess the fish can see it , and go towards it to check it out . anyway i would still ggo in the water just be on the look out thats all. all and all the trip was great , the kids loved it , we loved seeing the kids happy , and we felt like our money was well spent , we had a nice time relaxing and , eating and seeing shows , if your traveling with kids this cruise is a must , if your not it is still very nice , but it does not have a casino, and you might want to check out what other cruises may have to offer , if kids are not part of it , we will be going again soon
This was the second Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper Film Festival at Sea.
Ebert and Roeper are the movie critic-hosts for the syndicated television show. For the second year, they chose the Disney Wonder as the venue for a three-day cruise/film festival.
It was really a wonderful and special opportunity to see some new films, interact with our nationally known hosts and enjoy a few days with Disney and the gang at sea. The films and film companions were great; the weather unfortunately was not so hot. In fact, our cruise began about 10 hours after a space shuttle launch was canceled because it was so cold early that morning - between 30 and 35 degrees. By the time we left it was around 55 to 60, but the winds whipping across the deck made our sailaway cocktail reception chilly. The winds were a problem for the ship for the rest of the cruise.
Disney Cruise Lines had asked us to be at the terminal by 11 for a special lunch to follow on board just for our group, which numbered about 225. We boarded first as a group about 12:15 and walkeddirectly to lunch at Parrot Cay restaurant, where a buffet lunch awaited. Our rooms were not yet ready, so everyone dragged their carry-on luggage to lunch. (Kind of like what happens during the farewell breakfast on a cruise.) It was quite good; the same buffet lunch is open to everyone arriving at that time. Or, you can eat lunch up in the topside buffet. It was nice to get acquainted with some of my film cruisers over lunch, but other than that I saw nothing special about having arrived early, except it made a very short cruise a few hours longer!
Dinner that night was at 6 p.m. in the Animators Palate, the black-and-white room that changes colors and features a Disney cartoon musical on screens embedded in the walls. The best thing about dinner was my salmon with maple-glaze coating. Absolutely superb. In fact, the dining room food on this cruise was top-notch in my opinion, compared with the previous year.
Ebert and Roeper opened the film cruise promptly at 8 p.m. that night with "One Hour Photo", a Robin Williams film that is NOT a comedy. This film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and it's quite good. Williams stars as a photo clerk who over the years develops (ha!) a strange obsession with one of the families that brings in film. It's quite a good thriller; scary yet without any gore or violence. Supposedly, this film will not be out until the fall in hopes of Oscar consideration when the 2002 awards are presented in March 2003. No one who sees this will ever look at one of those one-hour film places ever again! So, what did we do after seeing and discussing the film? We went for a group photo in the atrium lobby! In a nice touch, the 8 by 10 photos were delivered to our cabins on the last night of the cruise, complements of the film cruise. (Unlike last year, though, we never got an Ebert and Roeper Film Festival at Sea T-shirt or ball cap.)
So, the first day, a long one, finally ended. Even I was tired, and all I had to do was drive to the ship from Orlando. Some people had flown in from California and Arizona for this cruise, and they were bushed.
Friday morning, the ship docked in Nassau, but we had a screening of "Monsters, Inc." to see at 9:30 a.m. Some people skipped this one, either because they had seen it, or were sleeping in, or wanted to see Nassau. I had not seen Monsters Inc. and was glad I had the opportunity to do so here. It's quite inventive and original. To entice people to see the film, the only "Disney" film in the film cruise, Ebert and Roeper enticed the director, Pete Doctor, to give a talk afterward. He explained the origins of the story (every child fears a monster behind the closet door) and used a video to show how the characters evolved in the way they looked and talked, and how the voices were recorded and fitted into the film.
At 3 p.m., another film was ready for us: "Stolen Summer", a new film whose creation was shown in the HBO series Project Greenlight, which featured a screenplay contest. This film was the winner of the contest. The film itself, apparently to the surprise of most, turned out well. Roeper called it "sweet," and noted that the conflicts shown on the HBO series dealt with the shooting of the film. The post-production editing where the film really comes together is really the second part of any film's creation, he said. The film is set in Chicago of 1976, and features an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family. Aiden Quinn, Bonnie Hunt and Kevin Pollak are quite good in this, as are the child actors for the most part. Hey, they're only kids. This film is opening slowly in March-April of 2002. It's worth checking out. It's better than at least 80 percent of the rest of the stuff that is out there, in my opinion.
Dinner proceeded at 6 p.m., this time in the aforementioned Parrot Cay, where my selection was the Cuban-style rib steak, which had some sort of ginger sauce concoction that was really, really, good. It was good enough to make me want to seek out some Cuban restaurants in my area and see whether they have the same dish. Disney's waiters and bus people danced to Hot, Hot, Hot, and a fine time of hand-clapping was had by all.
That evening, I met friends at the cinema for a regular showing of a current film, a Disney family comedy called "Snow Dogs" starring Cuba Gooding as a Miami dentist who inherits a team of race dogs in Alaska. I was curious to see this, if only to try to discern why the critics hated it and audiences have liked it. Needless to say, this was your mainstream Hollywood production: Formulaic and entertaining, nothing more. None of it was believable but it was cute nevertheless. I enjoyed seeing Alaska in the film. Hey, and Miami, too. But the contrast between "Snow Dogs" and your typical film-festival film is like that between cotton candy and a real meal like, oh, say, a Cuban-style rib steak. Everything has its place, but "Snow Dogs" helps one understand how the art of true filmmaking serves a greater purpose than sugary, fast-food entertainment.
Various events were available during the evening as the ship stayed at the Nassau pier. A deck party was held from 10 p.m. to midnight, there was "Krazy Karaoke" in the WaveBands bar at 11:30 p.m., etc. etc. For me personally, I was in bed by 11 p.m. to get a nice long sleep for our island visit the next day.
.... which never happened. I'm lying in bed between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Saturday, listening to the ship's thrusters going on and on. Finally, they stopped. Disney's audio pixie dust, a brief tinkling sound, came on the in-room speaker, and the captain apologized that the Disney Gods were being cruel today. Chairman Michael Eisner, he said, and all his billions of dollars and stock options could not get the winds to die down enough for the ship to approach the pier safely. (He didn't actually mention Eisner. I am making that up.) The wind was blowing at 40 knots, which was outside the ship's envelope of safety for maneuvering. (Disney's Castaway Cay has a pier, unlike most cruise lines' private islands where passengers must tender ashore while the ship anchors at sea.) The captain apologized profusely, then signed off to the sound of the audio pixie dust.
The ship's plan was to steam to Freeport, Bahamas, where tugboats could help maneuver the ship to the pier, and we would have an impromptu port call there. The ship stops there on its four-day cruises, so this was not anything out of the ordinary. The ship offered a special showing of a new Disney film, "Return to Neverland," as we made our way to Freeport. After two or three hours, we were off Freeport. But, again, neither the Disney Gods nor the tugboats were of any help. The wind was too strong, the captain said, and again he apologized profusely. He said the various snorkeling and boating trips usually offered to passengers were not running because of the wind.
This was not Disney's day: I heard later from a frustrated parent that the projector broke down three times during the Neverland movie, and the kiddies never did see the complete movie. The cruise director and staff were forced to print up a list of alternate activities for our unexpected day at sea. I don't know how often the Disney ships miss their port calls at Castaway Cay, but when they do it leaves a big hole in the cruise experience because most people really, really enjoy their day at a Bahamian beach. The island itself has been developed beautifully by Disney. I saw it a year ago on the first film cruise, and was looking forward to going back, if only for lunch.
As the ship chugged listlessly back toward Florida, the film cruise cranked up again. When we gathered at 2:30 p.m., Roeper joked that he had overheard some passengers on the ship complaining. He said they had "Ebert and Roeper envy" because we had our afternoon all planned with something worthwhile to do. Roeper then introduced Ebert by calling him "the best writer about the movies in America today." Said Ebert, who had undergone surgery to remove a tumor on his thyroid, "I don't have the strength to disagree with you." Those two bantered back and forth like that throughout the trip. It's difficult to put the humor in words. You had to be there.
So, we settled in to see the most obscure selection of the event: A full-length documentary called "The Kid Stays in the Picture," based on a mid-1990s book by the same name, an autobiography of famed Paramount producer Robert Evans. Evans was originally an actor in the late 1950s and 1960s, but became chief of production at Paramount in 1966. He kept Paramount from going under with hits such as "Rosemary's Baby," "Love Story," "The Godfather" and "Chinatown." Then Evans was married to Ali McGraw, who later married Steven McQueen. Then he had many ups and downs with drugs, women, financial backers and so on.
Ebert and Roeper showed us the film, I think, for two reasons: Because of the subject matter and the fact that Evans narrated the documentary himself, and because of the advanced filmmaking techniques of the documentary. Those included computer manipulation of old still photos, the colorization of old black-and-white photos in an artsy way, and lots of music-video-style quick cuts and flashes of this and that, evoking of the flashiness and hipness of Hollywood. There were also archival clips of Evans' appearances on TV and whatnot. Ebert noted that the documentary was done in the genre of a fan magazine biography, only elevated. It was all quite interesting but best intended for die-hard film buffs. I guess you could say, very roughly, that content-wise it was sort of like those "Behind the Music" episodes on VH1, except much, much better. It's well worth seeing if you're so motivated, and if the darn thing is ever shown commercially. You might have to see it on video, eventually.
Our third and last dinner rolled around at 6 p.m., tonight in the most formal of the three dining rooms on the Disney Wonder, Triton's, which has an under-the-sea theme. Dinner was beef tenderloin, which was indeed tender and delicious.
At 9 p.m., a long line started forming for a book signing with our two hosts. Roger Ebert has a new book out, called "The Great Movies," which was available for sale. The place was swamped with autograph seekers, which included everyone on the ship and not just our film group. What a zoo, although everyone got through it OK.
Finally, at 10:30 p.m., our fifth film was ready, with a sexy-sounding title: "Real Women Have Curves." This film, also family drama as was "Stolen Summer," won the Audience Award for dramatic film at Sundance. America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros, who play the heroine and her mother, were given a special jury prize for acting. Richard Roeper called it "a real crowd pleaser at Sundance." Before the film, Ebert and Roeper held a final question and answer session that touched on several topics. A few points: Ebert said a top film festival for the public to attend is the Toronto Film Festival, held every September. Ebert said he prefers traditional film projection to digital projection, although digital systems are good for smaller venues. Ebert said he also thought his show's success was based, in part, on its attitude of telling audiences a movie stinks if it really does, and not just glossing over things. Even if it's a Disney film. After Gene Siskel's death in 1999, Ebert and the producers still thought the show was worth continuing. He also described the process by which Roeper was selected as Siskel's replacement.
"Real Women Have Curves" is a female empowerment, coming-of-age story about recent high-school graduate who wants to go to college and not work in her mother's and sister's dress-making factory. The acting is quite good, the story is good, and it's all quite well done. Once again, not a great film, but a very, very good film that would be worth seeing in the theaters, on HBO or on video later.
Sunday morning, Disney had a new disembarkation procedure that I really liked. If you had less than $600 in purchases, Customs did not require you to fill out a Customs card. This made leaving even easier and quicker than any other cruise I have ever been on. I walked off the ship at 8 a.m. and was home by 9 a.m.
All in all, it was a short, busy, delicious, worthwhile cruise. It's always a great opportunity when you can enjoy a cruise with nationally known celebrity types. Ebert's surgery did not keep him down, although he had a bandage on his neck. The producers, who also were along for the cruise, were coy on whether they will do it a third time. "That's up to you," one of them told me. "Tell us what you think on the evaluation forms in your cabin." Needless to say, I'll be ready to go again in 2003.
Until then, the balcony cabin is closed.
Why Disney? Process of elimination. We wanted a quick cruise out of Port Canaveral that stopped in Nassau (I wanted to do Atlantis) and Freeport (my wife wanted to see the place). That narrowed it down to Carnival or Disney. Since Carnival represents everything in life I have tried to rise above, we did Disney. Intended to go later in the spring but the Florida Residence discount was too good to pass up. The Wonder does three and four day cruises, mostly as part of a seven day park/cruise package. The Magic goes to the eastern and western Carib on seven day cruises. The Wonder turns out to be an extension of Disney World, the Magic a normal cruise with a Disney flavor.
Two hour drive down I-95, turn onto the Bee Line Expressway that runs from WDW smack into the Port Canaveral terminals (think old Walt doesn't have some clout in this state?), then prove to a phalanx of security that you are indeed ticketed. First checker is standing in the highway, you can't even turn off without ticket and photo ID. Once blessed, drop off bags which go directlyonto the ship, park across the street for $8 a day, then go through the whole security process again to get into the terminal.
Check in was a breeze since most passengers were processed before they left WDW. They were bussed by the hundreds, and hundreds, to the terminal where they went directly aboard. We arrived early, computer derived departure time from home was apparently based on the speed limit, so we had to wait about an hour before boarding. Lounge has plenty of check in positions, a huge cut away model of the ship with rep to point out features and general location of your stateroom, Disney critters wandered around for photo ops, the Bahama and Caribbean islands inlaid into the floor so the kids can trace the ship's route. Boarding commenced at 12:30, with everyone (except us) having stood in a long line for at least an hour. Memo to self: next time arrive around 2:00.
The ship is pure Disney. I have been a frequent visitor to Disneyland and Disney World since the mid '50s and still hold stock, not as much as I used to, and know that Walt has long since learned that it is more cost effective to make people think they are having the time of their lives than to provide a setting where they actually are. Spend any time in the Magic Kingdom and you will feel right at home. It is built and run for kids. If adults like the setting it is because they enjoy watching kids have fun or haven't grown up themselves. Nearly 2800 people were residing in less than 900 staterooms. Do the math.
To a naval architect the ship just doesn't look right, fat and hogged. Probably because she is built around the best children's facilities and sound system afloat. She is nearly one thousand feet long displacing 83,000 tons, twice the size of the first carrier I flew from. Over fifteen thousand square feet devoted strictly to youngsters, adults stay out. The theater forward seats nearly one thousand, the picture show just short of 300. Forward third of deck 3 is adults only in the evening with three clubs ranging from serene to raucous. My hidey hole is the ESPN bar, a secret not to be shared. A teen club from which the wise adult steers clear and several lounges where families can gather. Topside is divided into thirds by the two funnels, one functional, one fake. Each third has a pool, the aft for children, with winding water slide. Aforementioned sound system tries to counter the noise. Not sure who are loudest, kids or mothers. The center pool is for families, some semblance of control with music more contemporary. A cover turns the pool into a dance floor for parties. Forward is blessed haven for adults with music to match. Bars and beverage stations are everywhere. We got a mug for booking with AAA that granted us free soft drinks. Trouble is we had to have the damn thing with us to collect. Seemed everyone walked around with a mug around their neck. Too handy, drank far too much coke.
Our stateroom on the sixth deck was ready, smaller than expected, the verandah larger. Lots of drawer and self space, large really, really, really firm bed. My reasonable size suitcase fit under but Ann's 30 incher didn't. Very comfortable sofa. Massive door to verandah more than a child can handle, lock is high, nearly out of my wife's reach. Bath is actually two tiny ones, one with sink and toilet, other sink and shower/tublett. I would have preferred the floor space devoted to one facility. Shower took full hot to be comfortable. It was on purpose; kids and lawsuits. A small beverage cooler to hold smuggled coke. TV had ESPN, CNN, ABC and CBS in addition to a myriad of Disney channels. The verandah railing, in fact all the ship's railings, were childproof, higher than normal and faced with lexan. Good idea but salt spray made it annoying to look through. Memo to self: in the future, huge picture window stateroom will do fine.
The Disney magic starts when everyone gathers on deck to get underway. The supercharged sound system, a cast of hyper young dancers, all the Disney characters, exhausted parents and more kids than can be imagined were stirred to near hysteria by an ever increasing beat that must have been felt for twenty miles. Terminal workers donned huge Mickey gloves to wave as the ship left to the required long blast of the ship's horn. In this case, a rendition of Wish Upon a Star. Streamers and basketball size bubbles came from somewhere. There was an even more raucous party leaving Nassau at midnight. The ship is handicap friendly, you might think too friendly the second time you get run down by a LOL in her motorized cart. A dozen rather small elevators move quickly.
Disney's signature is their treatment of youngsters. That is the true magic. An army of counselors who are patient, trained, gifted people, mostly Canadian, Australian and British, turn the cruise into an unforgettable experience. They maintain control by having the children's respect, a novel approach. This ship is for children, people who like to watch children have fun and people who can have fun in the company of children having fun. Anyone else should find another ship.
The first morning dawned with unearthly quiet. The Windstar under full sail was framed in our verandah doorway. Where was that mob from the night before? The kids had checked into the Oceaneer Club, the parents were sleeping in. Tots had to be accompanied by a parent, the rest wanted nothing to do with grownups. Ages three to four, five to seven, eight and nine, ten and up all had their own programs. Parents of the younger set get beepers that send messages; "Suzy needs a sweater", "Jeffery has had it". The labs and clubs must be seen to be believed. I counted over two dozen microscopes in the science lab. The gameboy station would cause normal youngsters to soil themselves, enough lego to build a house, computer stations everywhere featuring design programs. Age groups are rotated through the lab so no two are there at the same time. There are shows just for them, adult movies don't start until late at night. Disney critters are everywhere. Half of Beach Blanket Buffet is kids only, with counselors, definitely where they prefer to eat. Not sure what the older kids do. Would see packs, with counselors, roaming the decks, identified by colored bandanas. Girls tied theirs around their necks, the guys wore them on their heads. An enormous basketball court seemed to be in use 24 hours. Fathers lucky to see their kids ten minutes a day were bonding. Ultra violet lit the volleyball courts at night. All you could see were tee shirts, socks and teeth. It was clear adults were not welcome in their teen club. Lots of handicapped and retarded children having the time of their lives. Perhaps a good sign. A large arcade featured the latest automobile and motorcycle racing stations. Kids appeared to be racing each other so they must be tied together. You swipe your room card to play, much too easy. Didn't see any guns. No casino either. Disney doesn't sell chewing gum in the parks or on the ship. Smart move.
Trading cards and pins. Big thing. Supposed to be for kids, however......... Every event and most of the crew has a card and sometimes a pin. Idea is to collect as many as you can. Most displayed pins on their ID/mug strap. Swap meets were held throughout the day. Most coveted was the Engine Room pin because you didn't see them that often. Incidentally, the bridge, engine room and gallery are off limits since 9-11. Shame since one of my booking privileges was a tour of the bridge and gallery.
Dining, or more correctly, eating started out frightening but got better. After dumping bags, we headed for the Beach Blanket Buffet, the standard inside/outside dirty shirt feeding trough. So did everyone else. Most were from three days in the park and had run out of patience, civility and so it seemed, clean clothes. Not to be regional but to these people, bellowing and shrieking served as conversation. The buffet was oriental which didn't sit well as we watched in horror knowing that some of this number would be at our table. Memo to self: next time grab a hamburger on the way and avoid this goat rope.
Disney divides evening eating between two seatings, 6:00 and a really late 8:30, and three dining rooms. One elegant, another pure Disney which starts black and white and finishes in a blaze of color, not sure what that does to your digestive system, the last a Caribbean motif with steel band and Jimmy Buffet. Breakfast is order from a menu in Tritons, a buffet in Parrot Cay, whatever is slung at you at the dirty shirt buffet (why is it the hairier the body, the skimpier the tank top?) and an express breakfast at Pluto's. About the same arrangement for lunch.
Burgers and franks were available by the pool, never did find the pizza hut. Fresh fruit was available in the afternoon at the ice cream stand to see you to the late seating.
Our first night was in Tritons, the elegant, late seating. Supposed to be jackets, no jeans or shorts. Yeah, right. Fellow in front of us was told "We ask for jackets and no jeans", to which he replied "OK, you asked, now where do I sit?" Turns out we were seated with *cast members*. Jerry works at the Disney terminal, his wife Jean at Carnival's terminal. Perfect post retirement careers. Shelly and Lori, who works in a Maine Disney store, were there with their husband's blessing, who kept the kids. Both can cook. Ann and Jean felt they had married wisely. I suspected ice fishing season. Looked around at the baseball caps and counted our blessings. We had a great table.
The wait staff follows as you rotate between restaurants. Food was hardy stuff, well prepared and presented. Three courses, a starter, entree and desert. Salad was one of the starters so I would order a real appetizer and a salad . Entree was served with plenty of sauce, kids don't like their meat dry. Neither do I. When Jean said no dessert, Witt brought a plate with *nothing* written in chocolate. Incidentally Pamda...I paid for it so I ate it! Was annoyed that I paid for the buffet that was going on at the same time and couldn't get to. Last night was chef's special, the signature dishes from the restaurants in DisneyWorld.
We ate at Palo, an experience not to be missed. Small, elegant, Mediterranean, built around the open galley, by reservation with surcharge. Food and service superb. They asked for jackets and got a few, but everyone did clean up.
Port Calls. Everyone has been to Nassau. Counselors kept the kids busy, adults dribbled into town. We took a cab to Atlantis. Well worth the trip. Some ate ashore. We paid for our meals on the ship, remember?
Berthed in Lucayan Harbor, the Freeport cruise facility. Lots of new construction, but now there is just a flea market and open air bar with steel band. Sadly the Big Red Boats and a couple other Bahamian registered ships sit idle waiting their fate. Beaches, the International Bazaar, Churchill Square and the Port Lucaya Marketplace are a 15-20 cab ride.
The finale was a day at Castaway Cay, Disney's own little sand bar and like everything Disney, overdone. The ship docks, like I said, Disney is handicap friendly, no tenders. Everyone told me the ship pulls straight in and backs out. That's what the pictures show. I got a room on the port side for a view of the beach. We got the one Captain that backs in! Memo to self: next time check further.
WDW parking lot trams take you from the ship to the village of shops, food, and rentals. A large cabana had several ladies braiding hair. It must hurt from the expressions of pain and tears from the little ones being held by their dumb ass mothers telling them how impressed their friends at home will be.
Counselors get the kids organized leaving families who thought they would have some togetherness standing. An eight foot Captain Hook challenged the older ones to join him pillaging the island. Didn't mention the raping.
There is a kids beach, family beach, and an activities beach from which the boats operate. A huge sand pit inland for those who don't want their kids near the water. Another tram takes you to the secluded adult beach with cabanas for massages overlooking the sea, and a bar cabana, and more food. Organized groups did whatever, stopping at barrels of iced soda and water. Then they locked them, unfortunately.
Besides hamburgers, hot dogs and lots of fruit, a BBQ lunch is served around noon. We got the same meal on board without the sand.
Debarkation. You embark and then debark. Where do cruise pundits get *disembarkation*? If you believe that you should call getting on *disdebarkation*. I digress. Disney claims they have the best debarkation process except for a port in Canada and I believe them. You get the usual coded baggage tags. We were blue (Donald) but your bags are also sorted by stateroom.
We docked before dawn. Early seating had breakfast at 6:45 in the dining room assigned the evening before with overnight bags because you go from the dining room directly off the ship. Late seating gathered at 8:00. Our waiter met us at the door and carried bags (small overnight and large camera) to our table. I may have over tipped. After a hearty breakfast we walked off the ship to be met by a porter who took us directly to our bags. Lots of yellow tape helped. He took them to the parking lot and we were driving out at 8:38. Others had it just as easy, the porters taking them to the correct buss. The airlines are sending reps and busses to the terminals now. The Captain was by the brow to say goodby, nice touch.
Next time. We got a voucher, I believe for booking in January, for a subsequent three day cruise this fall in the same category room for $99! Bring two guests that didn't come with you this time for another $400. Good deal? We're booked in September for a grand total of $257 in a verandah stateroom. That's about what a day at the park would cost. And you wonder why the Disney boats sail crammed to the gunnels.
Cast - Wife and 2 boys age 12 & 14. Home is Virginia. Six previous cruises; Carnival (3), Royal Caribbean (2) and Disney (1). Five trips to Disney in the last 5 years.
This was our second Disney Cruise having done the 7-day Magic back in August 2000. We were concerned that after the wonderful 7-day cruise, the 3-day would seem short - this was not the case as we enjoyed every minute. The cruise was the tail end of a wonderful 6-day stay at the Hard Rock Hotel and Grand Floridian. Got the Hard Rock for an unbelievable $99 per night with the "Fan Club" card (it's free) and the Grand Floridian with an annual pass rate (not so free).
The week before Christmas has always been our favorite time to visit Disney. Crowds are light and no heat. We lucked out with 4 of 6 days in the low 80's. Even got Blizzard Beach in on one of the warmer days.
The Hard Rock was wonderful and we were upgraded to a pool view at check-in as was have a Loews Card (also free - are you seeing a patternyet?). With front of the line access as a hotel guest we managed to hit most of the big rides at Islands of Adventure by noon. We spent the afternoon at Universal. Scoped out the Portofino Hotel but decided it was too far away and not as lively as the Hard Rock. Would definitely stay at the Hard Rock again.
We paid extra for the lagoon view at the Grand Floridian but did not feel it was worth the extra $30 per night. A big pine tree blocked our view of the Magic Kingdom Castle and we found it much nicer to go by the boat docks for the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The hotel was only at 50% occupancy on Monday after a very full weekend. The Micky's Very Merry Christmas Party fireworks were spectacular and much better than the normal ones - the entire lagoon seemed to light up at the finale. While the Grand Floridian was beautiful, we think the Wilderness Lodge will be our choice next time. My big complaint was the ¼ mile walk to the self-park lot at the Grand Floridian or pay $7 per day for the valet. They even charged us for the first day for the valet even though we self parked so check your bill. The pools are first class - the kids went to the theme pool with the slide and we stuck to the "quiet" pool, which was never really that quiet.
We again managed 2 parks a day due to the light crowds and strategic use of fast passes. Even with the shorter hours, we got to see everything we wanted before park closing. Finally got to ride Test Track after trying unsuccessfully previously for 2 years (rode it twice actually). Our son was selected to open the Animal Kingdom as we had arrived about 30 minutes early and were waiting in line when they picked us. We were very proud to have been selected from the hundreds of folks waiting to get in. They gave us a nice photo and some gifts. Who says lighting doesn't strike twice - two days later they selected us to open the Magic Kingdom (pays to get there early)! I took a ton of photos with all the Characters.
For our dinners we ate at the Kona Cafe (excellent), Narcrosses (fair) and Artist Point (outstanding). Kids ate mostly take out from Gaspilla Grill and Games which was fine by us. Still needed priority seating despite low hotel occupancy as shorter hours put many people in their hotels early.
Finally it was off to the Cruise. We had booked a secret porthole cabin 12 months earlier and got the last one of the 6 that exist (outside cabin for the price of an inside). Got to the dock at 11:30am which was perfect - no lines at check-in and they started boarding early at 12:15. Security was not too bad, they checked our ID's before letting us drop our bags right at the terminal so have your cruise document handy, not in the trunk. Dropped off the family with the bags, tipped the porter and was directed to park across the street - a short walk. Very nice cabin with a split bathroom - minimal obstructions out our "secret" porthole. Our stateroom hostess introduced herself and presented our return cruiser's gift - a nice carry bag, along with notes about our Castaway Cay return shipboard credit and the Dreams Unlimited shipboard credit.
The ship was full with 2,700 passengers (that's about 700 kids folks). Had late seating so there were virtually no young children present at dinner. Never once felt crowded despite being a full ship.
We were second in line for Palo reservations and took the second night as our first dinner was scheduled for Tritons (second favorite after Palo's). Excellent dinner and saw Hercules again - seemed like we had the same cast from our last Magic cruise and enjoyed the show. Also was very happy to see our favorite piano player had also come over from the Magic and was playing in the Cadillac Lounge - made it a point to stop by each night before dinner for a glass of wine.
Did some shopping at Nassau, mostly perfume for the wife. Liquor prices were much cheaper on the ship! Had lunch on board and had the pools to ourselves in the afternoon. We saw who want's to be a Mouseketeer, which we enjoyed. A young lady made three correct wild guesses to make it all the way to the final answer for a free week's cruise. Sadly the last question was so hard that it was a pure guess also and unfortunately she missed it.
Palo's was great as usual. As our last night's dinner was scheduled for Parrot Cay, we requested to be waitlisted for a second night at Palo's. They phoned they next day and said they had a cancellation and that we were welcome to come back (wow - that made for 3 formal nights on a 3 day cruise!).
Castaway Cay was a little cool so Mom & Dad stayed out of the water and took a nice walk to the adult beach (no it's not that kind of adult beach). The cool temps didn't stop our kids who had a great time in the water. Stopped by for the second showing of Disney Dreams and there was nearly a fist fight over saved seats just as the cruise director took the stage - he handled it well. For a minute I thought I was back on a Carnival Cruise!
Our 14 year-old enjoyed the teen group mostly because they had planned activities until 2:00am. Teens have their own supervised area and adults get intercepted at the door. He made friends quickly and was never bored. We always kept in touch with 2-way Motorola radios that worked well on and off the ship.
Getting off the ship was quick and easy. We had a late flight so we took our time at the late breakfast. It was only a matter of minutes from when we decided to leave that we were in our car. Spent the day at the Kennedy Space Center - a good way to kill 1/2 a day if needed. Per our guide, attendance is down to from 12,000 to 3,000 per day.
Summary - the 3 day cruise was perfect after 6 long days at the parks. You still get most of the highlights of the seven day cruise and only miss a couple of days at sea and one port. Nassau isn't nearly as bad as some folks say now that the straw market is gone. We felt quite safe and enjoyed it. It pays to do research as there are lots of things that can make your vacation more enjoyable (and less expensive). Examples were the Universal Fan Club, Loews Card, Disney Club etc.
Let's start with the basics and background information. On this trip were my wife (Darlene), our 9-year-old daughter (April), and myself (Bill). We are from Salt Lake City, Utah. In the past we have cruised 3 times with Princess and once with Premier on the Big Red Boat (Oceanic). This was our first cruise with Disney but we have been to Disney World and Disneyland many times.
We arrived in Orlando a week before the cruise to enjoy the theme parks and made our own air arrangements to save money. However, we did purchase Disney's round trip transfers from the airport to the ship. We were dropped off at the airport about 11:15 on the day of sailing and had no problem finding the Disney busses that would take us to the ship. There are plenty of Disney reps to help direct you to the right place. We were the first passengers on the next bus heading to the port and only had a short wait before we were on the road heading east. Disney handles this part of embarkation very well.
On board the bus a 40-minute video about theship and boarding procedures is shown. It's more commercial than informative but it did help pass the time quickly. Upon arrival at the pier the luggage is unloaded and you just have to pick up your carry on bags and head up the escalator to check in. Be sure to tag your non-carry on bags with the tags that Disney supplies so they can be sent to your stateroom.
At the top of the escalator are 25 or so check-in lines. The first three, to the left as you stand in line, are for non-US citizens. We were in the first line after that which moved faster than the others because if there weren't any non-US citizens checking in they would wave the next person in our line over. This was the short line. After receiving our room/charge cards we got in a second, very very very long line to board the ship. Considering how long the line was, it did move fairly quickly and I was too excited to be bothered by it anyway. :-)
Once onboard we had a "welcome aboard" photo taken before stepping into the ship's atrium. Disney's attention to detail is fabulous. You are met by a bronze Mickey at the helm and the staircases have iron carvings of many of the characters up the walls! Once onboard you are free to roam the ship or go straight to your stateroom, and we choose the latter to drop off our bags and see our home for the next week. We were in a Navigator's Veranda cabin, #7122, and it was by far the best stateroom we have ever stayed in! The bathrooms are unique and very convenient when traveling with 3 people. One bathroom has the toilet and a sink, the other the shower/bath and a sink. There is plenty of space to store your toiletries in both bathrooms. There is also ample space in the closet and dressers and desk to stash all your stuff when unpacked. Our only minor problem was storing the suitcases because 2 of them were too fat to fit under the bed. We solved this by opening one suitcase up and sliding it under that way. The other fit in the closet and still left plenty of room for clothes.
At 4pm you have a mandatory fire drill, making sure everyone is present and knows what to do in the unlikely event of a real life emergency! At dinner (we had the 8:30pm seating) we met up with our "table-mates". We were lucky as they were all great people -Robin and Tony from San Diego with their daughter Lauren, and Jenny and Dave from Ohio - we all laughed, joked, told stories, and shared our experiences the whole time.
The ship itself is beautiful. Depending on where you are it ranges from elegant to fun. Although there is Disney stuff everywhere, you don't feel hit over the head by it, because most of it is subtle. There are plenty of characters about for those photo opportunities if you need proof that you went on a Disney cruise! :-) The restaurants are beautiful (Lumiere's) and fun (the others). The lounges are comfortable, and the main show theater is wonderful, with great sight lines. There is plenty of deck space. The Mickey and Goofy pools can get a bit crowded by late in the morning. Even the Quite Cove pool filled up on our days at sea. If you have kids that want to use the slide, get them up to the Mickey pool by 9am and they will be able to get a few trips down before it gets crowded and they have to stand in line. Everything is kept clean and in good condition. Seems like we couldn't walk very far without seeing a crewmember cleaning something.
They always had 24 hour self serve milk, water, ice, coffee, decaf, tea (with a wide variety of tea bags) outside of Topsiders deck 9. This was a convenient way to grab a quick cup of coffee and sit out on the veranda before heading out for breakfast.
The 4 restaurants on the Magic all have different themes. Palo requires you to make a reservation and pay an extra $5 per person but it is well worth it. The food there is outstanding! The best I have ever had on a cruise and better than 95% of the restaurants I've eaten in. Be sure to get the souffle for dessert, it is to die for! :-). When going to the other restaurants, arrive a few minutes later than your seating time. This will save you some time of standing in line. Our waiter's name was Dave, from Jamaica, and Boulent who is from Turkey assisted him. They both made dinner a pleasure for our tablemates and us.
I would rate the overall food quality as a step below what we are used to on Princess. Certainly not bad quality but not as good as it could be. The pizza from Pinocchio's on deck 9 was pretty good but the hamburger I had from Pluto's, also on deck 9, was poor. I didn't try the ice cream from Scoop's, deck 9, but my daughter says it was good so I'll take her word for it. :-)
Animators Palate has a black and white decor that changes to color by dessert. There are numerous screens around the restaurant with sketches from Disney movies that change from black and white to color. I really expected the change to color to be more elaborate and dramatic than it was but it did make for an interesting dinner.
Parrot Cay has a tropical theme and was probably my favorite restaurant as far as the decor is concerned. It is the most festive of the bunch.
Lumiere's is the most elegant with a large mural in the back featuring Beauty and the Beast and other characters from the movie. Note the use of roses in this restaurant. I thought it was a nice touch, though you might not 'get it' if you haven't seen the movie. :-)
Speaking of movies, one advantage to a Disney cruise is access to first run feature films. On our cruise we caught 'Atlantis' and I stayed up late one night to watch 'Pearl Harbor'. These movies are shown in the Buena Vista Theater on deck 5, aft. Some of the other movies playing were 'Castaway', 'Chocolat', 'Spy Kids', and 'Recess: School's Out'. I think there were a couple of others also. There are two movie channels on your stateroom TV as well. One played Disney animated classics and the other live action shows from other Disney studios.
We signed April up for the Oceaneer's Lab but she really didn't spend too much time doing their activities. She hooked up with a couple of friends she made on the ship and spent time 'exploring'. :-) We felt perfectly comfortable letting her do this with the 2 way radios we had taken with us. Just give her one and let her go!
Ports of call are St. Martin, St. Thomas, and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. We'd been to St. Martin and St. Thomas before so there were no surprises there for us. Disney does offer a wide variety of shore excursions on both islands.
We chose the Golden Eagle Catamaran excursion on St. Martin. This includes as an hour or so ride over to an island for swimming and snorkeling as well as snacks and sandwiches and an open bar on the way back. Guess which part I liked more! The trip over was against the waves and very rough. Everyone in the front of the boat, where I was, got soaked from the waves. It was actually pretty fun.
On St. Thomas we took the Atlantis Submarine trip. This was probably worth doing once but is one of those things that now that I've done it I don't feel the need to ever do it again. One of the more interesting parts of the cruise happened as we were leaving St. Thomas. I was on the top deck watching us pull away from the dock. The ship was probably 30 or 40 feet from the dock when I noticed us stop and move back towards the dock! That's when another person up top with me noticed people on shore running for the ship. Talk about cutting it close! I don't know if they had lost track of time or had some other problem but I'd have a heart attack if I saw my ship starting to leave without me on it! I never found out who those people were, and I wonder if the captain might have paid them a visit later. :-)
Castaway Cay is a great private island experience. However, if you want a beach chair under an umbrella on the family beach you must be one of the first off the ship. We didn't get off for about 45 minutes after we were cleared and had to sit in the sun for the most part. We did manage to sneak a chair close enough to a palm tree to get some shade for the morning.
Disembarkation - In the morning you can have breakfast at the same restaurant where you had dinner the night before, or catch the buffet at Topsiders. First seating is served at 6:45 and second at 8:00. I was very glad to have second seating and catch that extra sleep. After breakfast you are free to leave the ship at your leisure, as long as it is by 9:00. :-) Found the bags easily, walked about 100 yards to the Delta check in area, and then hopped on the bus. It is a very smooth and easy transition back to the real world. If you're carrying a lot of bags you might want to consider using one of the porters to help you through customs and to the bus area.
Overall I thought this was a terrific vacation. Although Disney probably won't be my choice for our next cruise, I would not hesitate to cruise with them again someday. If you were considering Disney, I'd say go for it! It's not a completely traditional cruise experience but it is a lot of fun!
My wife and I have been on five cruises and have just got home after being one of the worst cruises of our life. The cruise was the four day Bahamian Cruise on the Disney Wonder. Our cruise was from September 2 thru September 6.
We have sailed twice before on Disney ships, once on the Magic, and the other on the Wonder. The first time we had an inside cabin, the second time an outside cabin with a porthole. We liked the room with the porthole so much that we decided to go all out this time and get a category 6 room with the private veranda and spectacular view.
What we ended up with was room 5142 which had a "spectacular view of a steel wall". We were very upset when we got into our room. This was not the room that Disney shows on their web site as category six. The only way to see the ocean is to go out on the veranda and stand next to the steel wall. You cannot see the ocean at all from the room or sitting on the outside loungechairs. My wife has trouble standing for prolonged lengths of time which only added to our dismay. I would like to know how Disney can classify this room as a category six! To my wife and I, putting us in that room and charging us the rate for a category six room is down right fraud!!! It is like someone buying a Mercedes Benz and being delivered a Ford Escort, and being charged the same price.
They said they didn't have but one other available room, room 5650, which we took only because it was slightly better; but it still had a "spectacular view of a steel wall". We told the people at the Services Desk that we would rather have a porthole room but none were available.
This ruined the entire cruise for us. We were so excited and looked forward to our beautiful room and then when we saw what we got, we just wanted to pack our bags and go home. There was no beautiful ocean view to see from our room or sitting on the lounge chairs; to see the ocean you had to stand and move to the end of the veranda so that you could see over the steel wall; at this point we could see right into the veranda of the cabin on our left without even trying (in other words we did NOT have a private veranda). We really feel that we were basically swindled by Disney. We plan on complaining to both the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs offices in Florida.
I have been a Disney fan ever since the first time I went to Disney World in 1973. My family has been buying Annual Disney passes for many years and we loved the first two Disney cruises we took. So it really hurt us when we got stuck with a such a crappy room. The guy at Guest Services acted like a stone wall. He basically acted like he could care less that we weren't happy with the room. We also had several things happen on the cruise that may us very dissatisfied and unhappy.
1) We switched our dining from 2nd to 1st. We were sitting with my brother and his wife at a table for four. All four of us switched to 2nd seating. They switched us alright but we ended up being put with another family of four. We were not told that we would end up sitting with other people and did not know it until they actually started to seat us with them. We actually had to fight to get this changed. We are not used to this crappy service coming from Disney, isn't Disney still concerned about providing excellent service anymore?
2) The bed in our room was made up of two mattresses which is fine except that one of the mattresses was 2 inches higher than the other one which made sleeping uncomfortable.
3) We had to go to the Guest Services desk twice to get our room changed and credit fixed. The first time they took all the information and told us they would leave a message on our phone after 6:00pm about the room and credit. We "never" heard from anyone. We had to go back and complain all over again right from the start, both about the room and the stateroom credit. It was like they took our information the first time and then threw it in the trash. Again not the type of service we are used to getting from Disney.
4) We were told that we could leave ship at 8:30am for Castaway Cay. We got to the gangway entrance just before 8:30 and proceeded to wait. At 8:40 they announced that we were clear to depart the ship. However, we had to wait another 20 minutes while they waited for crew members to show up. These were the crew members that log you off the ship as you depart. To have several hundred people standing around in tight quarters waiting and waiting for two crew members who weren't doing their job was ridiculous. It was very uncomfortable waiting there and difficult to breath with so many people in such a small space. They announced later that they were sorry for the mess up and everyone could have some free rum punch. Big deal, we don't like the rum punch anyway.
We really did have a bad time, it did NOT feel like a vacation and was definitely not worth the price.
This is a review of my first Disney cruise experience traveling with my grandchildren Jake, age 9; and Hannah, age 6. I have taken several cruises, both alone and traveling with family members; therefore, I could not help but compare this cruise with others.
THE FLIGHT FROM CALIFORNIA
I had paid $1686 for the air add on to get from California to the cruise. This is the highest air portion I have ever paid so that I was surprised to find they had booked us on TWA, the worst airline for service that I have ever flown. Disney does not tell you about your airline arrangements until too late to make any changes so we were stuck. Although the tickets said 'snack' on both legs of the flight, we were served a total of one overly sweet muffin and a very small portion of applesauce on the first leg; then only a tiny bag of pretzels on the second leg. This was the only food served for a nine hour flight time beginning at 5:30 AM required check in with arrival in Orlando at about 5:30 PM including a short stop inSt. Louis. I assume this is legal treatment of passengers, but it surely is not a good way to treat small children. They were both extremely hungry by the time we arrived in Orlando, even though I had brought a few snacks in my carry on. I am not an especially experienced traveler. If I know that TWA gives such poor service, surely the Disney air travel department must know the same thing. I do not know why they would want the first impression of our Disney adventure to be so bad when it could be avoided by using a different airline.
When we arrived at the Orlando airport I had to file a claim for the damage to my new suitcase before we could leave the baggage area. I was told there was nothing they could do there and to turn the suitcase in for repairs after we got back home. After stopping to eat we went looking for a van to take us to the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel itself is right in the airport. The room was one of the nicest I have ever had. It had a large furnished balcony, bath with double sinks, and every conceivable amenity. The kids were enchanted with the fountains and aviary in the large hallway outside our room. Unfortunately, I had promised them that they could swim when we got to the hotel, to make them feel better when hungry and tired on the plane. The fact that it was raining had no bearing on the situation in their minds, so off we went to find the pool. There were many people playing in the pool in spite of the rain. Both children had a great time and met several of their fellow cruisers while playing for over an hour in an extremely deluxe area with fountains shooting water into the pool. Luckily the weather was warm and there was no wind so that we just got wet, not cold. Since the hotel was located in the airport there were many choices for breakfast the next morning in addition to the hotel restaurant. There were also several shops in the airport area by the hotel so we bought a few last minute items before going to the lobby for our bus to the port.
On all of my other Florida based cruises we checked in for the cruise right at the hotel so that we just walked onto the ship when we got to the pier. While we were at the hotel Disney just gave us bus passes for the fifty minute ride to Port Canaveral; so that we had to go through the whole check in at the pier. Although not as convenient as hotel check in, the process was easy so that we were on the ship within half an hour after our arrival at the port.
After we were on the ship we were told that it would be an hour before we would be allowed to put our bags into our cabin We were to carry them with us to the buffet. We decided to wait until we could get rid of our bags to eat.
THE MUG SITUATION
I went to the guest services area to get the charge privileges removed from the children's room keys, and to buy the soft drink stickers I had read about in the literature sent by Disney with the cruise tickets. I had read that there would be a sticker for $28 that would allow unlimited sodas for children under twelve at any bar the whole week. This was $10 more than I had ever paid before, but I had told the kids that I would do it. When I tried to buy the sticker for their room cards, I was told that the program had changed. Now it was $35 to purchase a gaudy plastic Disney Magic mug. This mug was to be carried with the person any time he or she might want a drink. The mug would be filled free of charge all week at any bar. I found this program to be very inconvenient. With the old program the child had to feel thirsty and then initiate action to get a soda. Carrying the mug around with them reminded them to want a soda, which I feel increased the quantity of sodas that they drank. Hannah set her mug on a bench during the time we were leaving port and it was gone when she turned around to pick it up. It had been in her possession for less than two hours. Guest services were very courteous when they replaced it free of charge since I had the receipt. They had indelible markers to put the names on the mugs to help avoid a repeat of the problem. There was no access to sodas from the children's area on deck 5 so Hannah quit carrying her mug around with her and usually did not have it with her when she wanted a soda. We spent quite a bit of time in the afternoon going down to the cabin to get Hannah's mug when she wanted a soda. The only positive aspect of the new program, that I can see, is that adults can also have the mugs. Since sodas are free at meals and our week was generally overcast and cool, it would have been less expensive and much more convenient to just buy a couple of sodas each day as they wanted them. Maybe if the weather had been hot I would have felt the mugs were a better value, but they would have remained an inconvenient nuisance.
At 1:30 PM we were finally allowed to go to our stateroom and put down our carry ons. Our larger cases were waiting for us at the door. Our stateroom was far forward on deck 2 (number 2015) in the lowest cost category. Although the travel agent had informed Disney that we were three traveling together and that I wanted twin beds, it was set up with towels for two people and had a king size bed. One drawer was put in wrong and kept another from working. After two requests, finally, after 10:00 PM, the drawer was fixed, another towel delivered, and the bed configuration changed to twins. After these modifications the main cabin area was adequate for three with a sofa that converted to a bed at night. What we thought was a small refrigerator turned out to be a built in ice chest. As there is no supply of ice directly available to passengers, this was too much trouble to bother with. The television was small, but had a good picture and a nice selection of channels. The bath was a reasonable size for a cruise ship, but has no bar or space for the third set of towels, except inside the shower. There is no medicine cabinet; just a small shelf over the sink. This makes the bath a bit inconvenient for three persons. An unusual amenity for this cabin category is a small tub with a continental shower. There is also a well lighted make up mirror and a hair dryer. As the week went on we found the sound control to be excellent; we seldom heard any noise when inside the cabin except from the hallway, not even running water. The beds were very soft and uncomfortable with no back support. I always felt like I was falling out because the bed was slightly slanted away from the wall. Although we kept the air conditioning dial set at the coldest setting, the cabin was always warm and usually quite stuffy so that sleeping was not pleasant and it was hard to wake the children in the morning. We did not notice this problem during the day, maybe because we were in the cabin for only short periods at a time, except when sleeping. The hallways, even on the lowest passenger deck, were adequately wide, well lit, and gave no feeling of claustrophobia. I have never been on a ship with a cabin in the lowest category as nicely appointed or as uncomfortable as this one was.
After eating at the Topsider Buffet where the food was adequate, but nothing special, we took our own tour of the ship. The overall impression of the ship is that of a classic liner. The decor is beautiful without being overdone. Since it was raining we did not spend a lot of time up on the deck with the pools, but it looked inviting with lots of white plastic deck chairs and a few tables. Deck 5 had the Oceaneer children's programs so we registered the kids and picked up the pager that would have cost me $150 if I had lost or damaged it. I was required to sign in and pick Hannah up personally with a password, but Jake could sign himself in and out since I gave him permission to do so. The facilities in both areas looked very inviting and the counselors were friendly. Hannah was anxious to come back and check it out more thoroughly. Deck 4 has a beautiful outside teak promenade, covered, but open to the sea on the rail side. On the promenade there are lots of wonderful, old fashioned, wooden deck chairs with thick blue fabric pads on them. The Walt Disney theater is also on deck 4 all the way forward. It is an old time theater, beautifully decorated, but no banquettes, overstuffed chairs, or drink tables. Just rows of comfortable seats, each with a drink holder and good sight lines to the stage. A second, smaller theater is on deck 5. Most of the public areas are on decks 3 and 4 including guest services, the restaurants, and the adult area, Beat Street. I loved the fun and funky decor of Beat Street. It was done by someone with a good imagination, but not overdone.
During our tour of the ship it was time for the safety drill. The drill was uncomfortable mostly because of the humidity. We gathered in our assembly station with our life jackets on. Instructions about what to do in an emergency were announced over the public address system and we were dismissed without going to the actual lifeboat area. I think it was the shortest safety drill in which I have ever participated. After the drill we finished our tour of the ship and gathered on deck 4 to watch the ship pull away from the dock. It was overcast and raining so I guess the cruise staff decided to forego the departure celebration that had been mentioned over the PA system. There were lots of passengers at the appointed place, but no sign of the cruise staff or any celebration.
The Disney line is unusual in that the show for the late dinner seating passengers is before dinner, rather than after. One advantage of this arrangement is that early seating passengers do not fill up the good seats to see the show a second time since they are at dinner. You also do not have to rush through dinner to get to the show in time to get a good seat. The kids enjoyed the variety show with bits from shows to come later in the week. The show was more a preview of coming attractions and introduction of the staff and captain than a show for entertainment. Jake particularly enjoyed the juggler. It was a pleasant forty minutes. All of the main, before dinner, shows during the week were designed to appeal more to the children in the audience than to adult tastes. I found them to be pleasant diversions that the kids enjoyed, but with a sort of amateur feel. One night there was just a showing of the new Disney movie, Atlantis, the Lost Empire. The Disney Dreams show featuring various Disney characters was the most polished production.
After the preview show we went down to the 'Off Beat' lounge on Beat Street to catch the dueling pianos act. It was well done. Hannah joined other children on stage for a couple of audience participation numbers. Paul and Tamara were accomplished on the piano and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Their enjoyment was transmitted to the audience.
In our stateroom was a card telling us that we would dine at table 32 every night. The restaurant; however, changed each night. The first night our restaurant was Parrots Cay where the decor and the menu had a tropical theme. Our servers in every restaurant were Nadege from France and Gurkan from Turkey. They gave unfailingly excellent service and were always friendly and willing to do anything they could to make the dining experience more enjoyable. It was not their fault that the quality of the food ranged from mediocre to very good with an occasional burst of excellence. Dinners were more to the good side with breakfast being barely edible. The scrambled eggs in the sit down restaurant were mixed with so much water that it was leaching out onto the plate and I could not eat them. The omelet was better. Our dining companions were the Rafferty family from outside of Philadelphia who had three children of similar ages to Jake and Hannah. The youngest four became good friends both at mealtime and out and about the ship. The first night Jake and Hannah were given children's menus with very limited stereotypical kid selections, but there was no objection when Jake ordered a full meal from the adult menu which he fully enjoyed. Every night he was given the children's menu and every night he ordered off of my menu. I guess the servers had been told that children get the children's menu. The gumbo soup was very good and the steak cooked rare as I had ordered. Unfortunately the steak tasted as though it had been marinated in grapefruit juice. I did not try Palo, the adult restaurant, as I had come on this cruise to be with my grandchildren. Hannah often had lunch with the children of the Oceaneer club up at Topsider on deck 9. Jake and I ate in Lumiere's for a sit down lunch. If Hannah ate with us, we would first go up to Pluto's doghouse and get a hot dog which we took into the restaurant. There was never any objection from the staff. Service at lunch was always excellent, but the food was just OK except for the soups, which were generally delicious.
After dinner we headed for the cabin to settle two excited kids for the night. It was after 10:00 PM, but our cabin had still not been configured as twin beds as I had requested at about 2:00 PM. I called guest services again and they sent a man to change the room from king size bed to twins. After he left, the kids got into bed, but Jake said his sheets on the converted sofa smelled awful and he could not sleep in the bed. He put his pillow on the floor and was planning to sleep there when I remembered a trick I had read about. We took a fresh bar of bath soap and rubbed it very lightly over all surfaces of the pillow and sheets. It smelled good enough that he could sleep in the bed. Of course, Hannah then had to have the same treatment for her bed. I just hoped they wouldn't get a rash from the soap. Luckily there was no problem. I suspect that the sheets had been folded into the sofa unused for too long. He did not have the problem again.
Sunday morning the kids did not open a single eye until well after 10:00 AM so we had a leisurely morning in the cabin followed by BBQ ribs at Lumiere's. They were tougher and chewier than I expected them to be, but had good flavor. The tablespoon of coleslaw on the plate was very good.
The Oceaneer program for the children was excellent. We were given a list of the activities for the week for each age group when they registered. The facilities for them were extensive. Any time we were not swimming or at dinner Hannah was in the Oceaneer club in the 5-7 group, by her own choice. She liked the counselors, the other kids, and the activities, especially the slide. If you wished, you could leave kids in there all day from 9:00 AM until midnight. They even took them to meals up at Topsider. They ate in a separate room at little tables with multi-section trays. There was a little of several bit of several foods that a kid favorites already on their trays when they arrived, and they could have more of anything they liked. To get from the children's area to the Topsider the children marched single file through the stair ways form deck 5 to deck 9 singing a marching song. Counselors were on every landing to keep the line of well over 100 three to seven year olds moving along. I happened to be on the stair way one day while they were on their way to lunch. They looked happy, adorable, and well supervised. When it was not raining we took Hannah out of Oceaneer's club for swimming in the afternoon, the daily show, and dinner with the family. After dinner she often wanted to go back to the club for the evening activity. If you have a 5-7 year old be sure to go to the pajama party. They got to color and keep a small pillow that Hannah really values even though we are home from the cruise. Jake was more selective about which activities he did with the Oceaneer's lab for 8-9 year olds. He enjoyed the computer games, playing Pictionary, and the secret spy party. One day he had checked himself out of the lab, but could not find Hannah and me. He went over to Hannah's club and had the counselors page me to find out where we were. Very handy! I also found it delightfully peaceful to take my shower and relax after lunch each day while they were in their respective areas for a couple of hours.
It was cold and windy on Sunday afternoon, but the kids were determined to swim and go on the twisty slide into Mickey's pool. They played for over an hour until the foul smelling fumes from the funnel just over the pool for small children were so bad that I could not stand it any more. After the swim we took Hannah back to the Oceaneer's club to have dinner with the kids at her request. Then Jake and I dressed for the Captain's welcome evening and Hercules the Muse-kal. The performance was quite corny to me, but Jake laughed a lot so it must depend on your age and taste. Dinner at Lumiere's was pleasant; our table companions added to our mealtime enjoyment. Jake and I had well prepared rack of lamb with an unusual, but tasty, mix of tomato, green pepper, and zucchini. The meals had a nice balance of meat and vegetable. Hannah was still not ready to leave when we picked her up after 10:00 PM to go back to the cabin for bedtime.
INPUT FROM THE YOUNGER SET
Each day I asked the kids to help me write this review by telling me what they thought was good and not so good about the cruise. On the first day Hannah said the best part was looking around the ship by ourselves and that all of the people were very nice, both passengers and crew members. Today her favorites were the slide at Mickey's pool and doing experiments in the Oceaneer's lab. They used goggles and studied gasses using Jell-O and balloons and other things. She also liked the Spy Kids movie that they saw. She did not like losing her mug and too much rain. Jake's high points were the food, which he called awesome; playing Pictionary with the kids in the lab; and Hercules, the Muse-kal, especially the actor who played Hades. He did not like the safety drill that he found too uncomfortable in the humidity and he thought Mickey's pool too shallow for a nine year old. In his opinion it is only for really little kids.
MONDAY AND TUESDAY
Monday was more rain and substantially the same activities. Because few people were outside, all of the indoor activities were extremely overcrowded. Disney needs to have a plan B for rainy days. There were not enough indoor activities to keep even most of the people occupied. We finally got a seat at the 2:00 PM Island Magic show by coming a half an hour early. It was a production involving seven large Disney characters and a cruise staff person who tied the show together. It was cute, the children in the audience loved it. After the show Jake and I went up to 'Scoops' where there is free ice cream and fruit most of the day. We had sundaes made to order. Next Jake was off to the lab to build a wacky racer with the 8-9 year olds. I spent my free time relaxing on the promenade in one of the comfortable wooden deck chairs until 'family time' in the lab when Hannah and I could play the computer games too. The kids really enjoyed the magic show before dinner. I also found it to be one of the better shows of the week. Unfortunately the ship was really rocking and Jake got seasick at dinner so that he and I missed the display of colors in the animator's palette restaurant. (Although you eat in the restaurant twice, they only do the color show once.) Hannah spent the evening with the Rafferty family while I stayed with Jake out on deck until his stomach settled down. The nurse in the medical facility gave me instructions for making him feel better. Within an hour after taking the recommended pill he was feeling good enough to want something to eat.
Tuesday morning the kids slept late again. We had not eaten breakfast on the ship yet. We docked in St. Maartin. I went ashore to call my daughter, but the phones on St. Maartin will not accept prepaid cards except those purchased on St. Maartin. Lila will have to wait until tomorrow to hear that the kids are fine. Both kids stayed in their lab and club most of the day. It warmed up in the afternoon for the first time so I collected them to swim in Goofy's pool. It is very poorly designed. The high walls to contain sloshing due to the rocking of the ship are so close to the pool that a parent cannot see in to be sure that the kids are all right unless sitting on the edge of the pool. Most ships have the higher walls set back a few feet from the pool with tiles between the pool and the slosh walls so that you can see the people down in the pool from a chair on deck. by the end of the week the teenagers had pretty well taken over Goofy's pool so that it was not really safe for Hannah to swim there even though she is a pretty good swimmer. After swimming we watched the movie Atlantis, the Lost Empire and ate dinner in Parrots Cay again. The pork tenderloin and mashed potatoes were good, but nothing special.
INPUT FROM JAKE AND HANNAH
Jake's favorite activities have been those in the lab including the bride tour, Bingo, and making the wacky racers. He also like the Atlantis movie. He did not like being seasick and losing his lunch in the restaurant. (I do not think the servers or people at nearby tables were thrilled with it either.) Hannah liked playing with the kids at the pool and going on the pool slide. She reported that it was faster and better today than when it was cold. The also liked the PJ party in the club. She did not like getting up so late that she missed going to lunch with the kids nor missing dinner dessert to go to the PJ party.
WEDNESDAY AND ST. THOMAS
We started with a continental breakfast ordered from room service. They brought the food as ordered at the requested time. Although our order card said three persons, we received only one napkin and neither straws nor glasses for the cartons of milk.
The open air taxi to get to town from the pier was $3.00 per person for a ride of about two miles. It was drizzly while we shopped then came a downpour while we were in the open sided taxi returning to the ship. I did not explore the beach since it was raining off and on. When we got back on the ship we had dinner in Lumiere's. The roast breast of duck with orange sauce was very good. Jake and I had to skip dessert to get to his family party with the oceaneers. The time frames for the children's activities assume the early dinner sitting. We had to rush dinner and/or skip dessert on two occasions in order to make it to the activities that the kids had chosen. Even then we were a little late arriving.
THURSDAY AND THE CHARACTER BREAKFAST
On the first day each family was given a ticket for a particular day to attend the character breakfast. Our assigned day was Thursday. The food was the worst I have ever been served at breakfast. In fact, it was so bad that none of us ate what we had ordered, not even the rubbery pancakes. There were about six costumed Disney characters going from table to table. They were very patient about signing autographs and posing for pictures with the kids. I was pleasantly surprised on this ship that there were no professional photographers intruding on mealtimes with gimmicks for pictures. The daily navigator stated where the photographers would be and the passengers went to them is they wanted pictures taken. The lines for pictures with the Disney characters in the atrium were very long each time they were scheduled. After breakfast Hannah went to her club to make gooey flubber while Jake participated in the activities with his group on the sports deck. He won a medal for jumping rope the longest time. After this Jake and I went to the seafood buffet while Hannah had lunch with the Oceaneers. The seafood buffet had a nice variety of offerings.
Thursday evening was the talent show for which Jake had signed up to do an Irish step dance. He had practiced earlier in the week and arranged for the technician to play his CD at the appropriate band at the rehearsal earlier in the day. This was not a contest, but a show, so that all of the performers could feel good about their contribution. All of the children were enthusiastic with varying degrees of skill. I have never been on a ship where participation in a show, game, or contest was not acknowledged in some fashion, usually with a small souvenir. Disney gave the children nothing to commemorate the occasion, not even a computer printed certificate.
Dinner was semi-formal. The menu had excellent choices including lobster tails. The lobster was delicious as was the cherries jubilee. After dinner Jake and I played shuffleboard while Hannah 'hung out' with the Rafferty children until bedtime.
A serious negative aspect today was that Mrs. Rafferty received word that her grandmother had died. She went to guest services to get help getting the number of the hotel where her family was staying. They would give her no assistance at all, even though she knew the name of the hotel and the city it was in. She was quite distressed at dinner that she could not contact her family. I was very surprised to hear this as guest services had been so helpful to me when I needed a place for the kids to practice their dancing as I had told their mother that they would. They had even gone to some trouble to find me a portable CD player. They had also been very helpful in putting me through to the nurse when nobody was answering the phone in the medical center when Jake was seasick and I was unsure what to do for a young child.
Friday morning I let the kids sleep until 10:00 AM then we dressed in our swimsuits and put on lots of sun screen for the day on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Departure from the ship was quick and easy since most of the passengers had already left the ship. The tram to all main areas was waiting so we hopped on and rode to the BBQ lunch. The food was not especially tasty, but it was fun having a picnic in such a beautiful setting. After lunch I checked Hannah into Scuttles Cove with the oceaneers after which Jake went to try snorkeling. Since he was using my fins, he had a little trouble at first. He got it mastered soon enough to swim for over two hours before I made him get out of the water. We had our own equipment so we did not have to pay the expensive rental fee. Jake was required to wear a floatation vest while in the snorkeling area, but did not have to pay any rental fee to use it. I also had to wear a vest, for no charge, while I was teaching him how to use the fins and when I swam out to have him come back in closer to shore. There were plenty of lifeguards all along the beach and out in the water.
After Jake was doing fine on his own, I rested for awhile in a hammock provided on the beach then went to get Hannah so she could have her turn swimming. The family beach was beautiful with plenty of chairs and loungers, but because there were so many people the water was somewhat crowded and cloudy. I did not get a chance to see if the adult beach was more pristine. Jake saw many fish and was thrilled. At the end of the week both kids agreed that Castaway Cay was the very best part of the week. Luckily it did not rain on that day.
When we returned to the ship the first thing they wanted to do was to swim in Goofy's pool until I made them get out so we could pack our main cases for putting in the hall after dinner. Dinner was international night. Good, but nothing special. Tips for all we tipped came to $230 for the three of us.
Debarkation was the easiest it has been on any cruise that I have taken. Late sitting passengers were required to bring their carry ons to breakfast at 8:00 AM. After breakfast we just walked off the ship, picked up our luggage from the customs area, and proceeded to our bus to the airport. The kids spent some time figuring out how we might get from our departing bus to one of the ones arriving for embarkation. They had had a wonderful time and wanted to start over again.
My overall evaluation is that the cruise is overpriced for the cruise quality provided for adults. The children's program is excellent in all respects. Most members of the staff and crew were friendly and helpful. The food is not as consistently good as it should be on a cruise advertised to be of high quality and the bed was uncomfortable. Castaway Cay was well planned and a wonderful way to spend a day. All cruised nickel and dime the passengers for extras to increase their 'on board revenue.' Disney quarter and dollars them. Many items cost more for comparable purchases on the Disney ship and there seemed to be more of them. The only places I noticed that Disney was not more expensive was that the sods at meals were without extra charge and the swim vests, if you own you own equipment for snorkeling, were free. I did not allow my grandchildren to play the arcade games or to buy the expensive nonalcoholic drinks with souvenir glass, and they still had a great time.
What an ideal ship for children (or, in our case, grandchildren)! Our room was perfectly laid out with Grandparents in the actual bedroom and the kids in separate beds in the "living room" (one couch into a bed and one pull down bed). The location directly under Goofy's stage/pool deck was noisy, but we were exhausted at day's end and slept.
The children's "club" was fantastic, although we made limited use of it, it was nice to get time alone occasionally. We had all our meals together and the entire dining room staff was very responsive (NOT a job we'd want though). The ship itself was huge, clean and well maintained. We didn't even leave it in Nassau. None of us noticed the ship's movement. In fact, we had trouble sensing fore and aft due to the size.
The treatment was special living in a suite and well worth the cost. A lot of personalized items appeared. Our verandah was very long---again, we would unhesitantly recommend the 1 bedroom suites to families. Final departure was tough, breakfast was at 0615 and departure was delayed until around 0815. . . they "found contraband onboard"?? Disney's off-ship transit services were the best we've seen.