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.
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 was my second cruise on the Disney Wonder this year. In July I and 3 of my sisters cruised on the Wonder in a category 5 cabin. Every aspect of that cruise was terrific; however the same can't be said for the 11/18 sailing I took with my husband and 15 year old daughter. We were on the waitlist for a category 3 cabin (1 bedroom suite). About 3 weeks prior to the sailing we were called and told this category was available. We were very excited because when we first cruised Disney in 1998 we had this same cabin type and were blown away by the cabin, service, etc. and felt the approximately $5000 we paid was worth every cent. However, the bloom is definitely off the rose for us now.
The embarkation was uneventful even with the redundant security procedures we had to go through (we had to show photo id to 3 separate people who were not stationed more than 20 feet away from each other. I kid you not). At this just too corny. After observing some of them I had to agree. The counselorsthere were no help. They could not have been less interested in providing entertainment for them. The food was palatable and the service pretty good. Prior to this cruise we were planning to take the 7 day cruise next year but I think this is probably the last on Disney for us. It's just too expensive to be less than stellar in every regard.
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.