Saturday, June 12, 2004

Trip Report #38, June 2004 on the Wonder

Kicking Off Cruise #38
It’s so hard to believe that we just finished Disney cruise #38, especially since we only started cruising in fall of 1998! When I tell people how many times we’ve sailed, I have to catch myself because I usually start to say something in the twenties. Thirty-some seems incredible to me, and it will be even more so when we hit 40 in November.

But it was, indeed, #38, and as usual we sailed on the Disney Wonder and stayed in stateroom 5650. This time around, since we were sailing the Thursday after Memorial Day, we combined our cruise with a visit to Disney World. The good part of doing that is the fun of an extended vacation. The bad part is that when it’s time for the cruise, it’s a melancholy excitement. I’m always excited about sailing on the Wonder, but that means the trip is almost over and I’m just one short weekend from returning to reality.

Off for a Holiday Week of Fun
But that’s getting ahead of the story, which starts the Friday of Memorial Day weekend at Midway Airport in Chicago. We typically fly ATA out of Midway. They like to shuffle their flight times around, but we’re usually on one that lands in Orlando around midnight. Even when we’re doing a cruise only, we still fly out a night early just in case of delays. Chicago is notorious for weather delays in the winter, but snow isn’t the only problem. Even in the spring and summer, we’ve been delayed by fog and thunderstorms. Being a compulsive planner, I like the extra breathing room that arriving a day ahead provides. We fly out after work, so it doesn’t even cost an extra vacation day.

We usually take Cicero Avenue straight north to the airport. There was a bit more traffic this time around, probably due to the holiday weekend, but we still got there in a respectable amount of time. We park at an offsite lot, Midway Park Savers, that is not owned by the airport. It’s right across the street from the Orange Line (train) entrance, so you can walk rather than take a shuttle bus. I am not a big fan of shuttles, and you have to walk pretty far to and from the Midway shuttle bus anyway. When you’re returning and the airport is crowded, it can be an absolute free-for-all to get on the parking shuttle buses. With Midway Park Savers, we always know they’re just a brief walk away. The only potential glitch is the chance of rain, but so far we’ve never gotten rained on either coming or going. Just in case, we pack rain ponchos; one of us would don a poncho, pick up the car, and drive over to pick up the other person and the luggage.

The weather was sunny and warm this time around. The airport had a pretty good crowd due to the holiday. We had already done online check-in, so we had our boarding passes, and we’d switched to our favorite exit row. We fly ATA so much that we know the good seats on all of their planes. We’re usually on a 757-300, which is 44 row plane that uses every bit of Midway’s short runways to take off. I would think it would be much harder to land, too, but a flight attendant once told me that it takes less space to land than a smaller 737 because of the power of the reverse thrusters.

When he did our online check-in, hubby noticed by the seat map that the plane was very full. We sat down at a table near an electrical outlet so I could do some work on my laptop while we were waiting, and we bought some dinner at the food court. Midway has really come a long way from a tiny outpost to a modern airport. While it still can’t rival O’Hare, and while its baggage service is still the pits (waiting an hour or more for your bags is not uncommon), the food court and shops are really nice. I usually get Mexican food at Lalo’s or a baked potato at Gold Coast Hot Dogs. Hubby is partial to Potbelly Sandwiches or Harry Carey’s Restaurant, and if you have sweet tooth, you can stop by Ben & Jerry’s for dessert. The bookstore is nice for some pre-flight browsing, and there are various other little shops.

The Midway Gates of Hell
We didn’t have too much time before our flight, and unfortunately we were leaving from gate A4B. Gates A4A and A4B are the worst gates in the whole airport. They are not really “gates” in the commonly accepted definition. Rather, they are an add-on that requires the walk from hell in a never-ending, narrow walkway. Personally, by the time I’ve completed the walk, I’ve wondered if I’m still really on airport property. One of the gate agents summed it up quite well: “By the time you reach the plane, you’ll be halfway to Florida.” There are some chairs in the walkway, but people usually sit outside the walkway entrance, not realizing just how far they are going to have to hike in order to board. We know the drill, so we went all the way down to the boarding area at the door of the jetway to wait.

At boarding time, the first set of rows was called, then the next set shortly thereafter, but hardly any people passed by us. That seemed odd, since we knew the plane was full. Usually, the minute boarding is announced, the crowd rises up immediately like a tidal wave of humanity engulfing the jetway entrance. Hubby surmised that the people who had been called were still in the process of walking to the gate down the never ending path. Apparently he was right, as the crowd hit a few minutes later. We never heard them call any more rows, so we figured that it had disintegrated into a free-for-all and joined the line. It’s a good thing we did, as there was no rhyme or reason to the boarding process and overhead space was at a premium. Ironically, once we were all on board, we had to wait an additional half hour for our flight crew. They had just landed on a delayed Boston flight, probably on the other side of the airport, and now they were frantically running many miles to the A4B outpost.

The flight itself was smooth and uneventful, just the way I like it. Soon enough we were touching down at Orlando International Airport to kick off our Memorial Day week vacation.

Journey to the Port
Orlando was hot an sunny, and the days sped by as we visited the theme parks and spend late afternoons at Typhoon Lagoon. All too soon, it was Thursday morning and time to head to Port Canaveral for the 38th time (actually, the 39th if you count our voyage on Sovereign of the Seas five years ago). We had arranged a 10 a.m. pickup with Happy Limo. We like to get to the port a little early so we can relax before boarding. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to get to the ship from the Disney World area and 30 to 45 minutes from the airport, depending on the traffic. From Orlando International, you can jump right onto the Bee Line (528) at the North Exit. From Disney World, you can take I-4 to 528. Once you’re on the Bee Line, it’s pretty much a straight shot, with only one split-off.

We chatted with our driver, Chris, as the miles whizzed by, and I knew that we were close when we drove over the first huge bridge. It’s always so exciting to catch your first glimpse of the ships in the distance. The terminal area wasn’t crowded yet, so we dropped off our bags with a porter and headed through the security checkpoint. You have to show identification just to get onto the terminal property, and then you go through a screening akin to the one at the airport. It actually seems to be more thorough, as they require you to boot up your laptop. Then it’s up the escalator, where crew members will make sure that you’ve filled out your documents correctly and route you to the check-in deck.

The check-in area is huge, so there is rarely much of a line. There are Castaway Club (repeat guests) and concierge check-in lines at the far right, but you can check in at any line if there is crowd at the designated desk. It was great to see all of our port friends again. We always feel like we’re being welcomed home. When we first arrived, there was only a handful of people waiting to board the ship. Then suddenly it seemed like the crowd exploded from nowhere! Soon the entire queue was filled.

There is plenty to do and see while you are waiting. The shop model is fascinating, and it’s a neat photo opportunity. You can almost always count on a character appearance by favorites such as Chip, Dale, and often even Captain Mickey himself. There are television monitors that show cartoons, but from what I’d seen, the kids are usually much too excited to watch. They seem to prefer wandering around in awe or stepping outside to look at the ship (there is a large outside area where you can smoke or just step out to get an up close and person view).

Because we sail so often, we know many of the people at the port. We saw many of our friends, including Tanya, Dorothy, Art, and Barbara. It’s always great to be greeted by old friends and familiar faces, and saying hello to everyone makes the time go even faster. We are booked on the Magic for a California cruise in 2005, and it’s going to feel strange to sail from a new port full of new people.

Time to Board
You never know exactly when boarding will start, as it depends on how quickly the ship is ready. Although it’s hard to believe, they turn over that huge vessel in something like three hours. By 9 a.m. one set of guests have departed, and by noon it’s just about time for the next set of guests to board. Boarding usually starts by 12:15, although it may be a little earlier or later. This time it was early, with people marching through the Mickey head, pausing for an embarkation photo, and then stepping onto the Wonder right around noon. We’ve gotten to know several of the Shutters photographers, so we said hello to Monika as our photo was snapped.

We headed over to Parrot Cay on deck 3 aft for lunch. The same buffet is also served on deck 9 aft, at Beach Blanket Buffet. Each one has its advantages. The biggest plus for Parrot Cay is if you are a soda drinker, as you can get soda included with your meal. Beach Blanket Buffet has a more limited beverage selection (think punch and lemonade), but you can dine outside if you prefer. We are not soda drinkers, but I discovered my first nice surprise of the trip: REAL iced tea is now served on the ship! For years, it has been the Nestea-type stuff that comes out of a tap. Some people don’t notice the difference, but to a real iced tea fan, that tap stuff is an insult. It bears about as much relation to real iced tea as instant lemonade does to fresh-squeezed.

In the past, I always requested the servers to prepare hot tea for me and then serve it over ice. Now, happily, the real thing is readily available. Oddly enough, although fresh tea was served at lunchtime in Parrot Cay and at dinnertime in Triton’s, I still received the tap stuff when I ordered iced tea on Nassau day at Triton’s for lunch. Hopefully the changeover will be complete by our next cruise, or maybe they serve the tap tea at lunch to save labor.

I like to load up on salads at lunch, while hubby focuses on the jumbo shrimp. There is always some type of fresh carved meat, and this time it was lamb (my favorite), with mint jelly on the side. I got some cold strawberry banana soup, too. There are fresh sandwiches by the soup bar, and also a kid-friendly table with items like corn dogs, macaroni & cheese, and chicken tenders. Even though it’s meant mainly for the little ones, I’ve seen more than one “big kid” partaking of the comfort food.

We were seating with a family from the DIS boards; it’s always fun to meet people in person that we’re already “met” online. As we ate, we poured over our Navigator to plot out our first day activities. The two things I highly recommend checking out immediately are the start times for Palo and spa reservations, particularly if you have very specific times and treatments in mind. If you have an infant and will want to take advantage of the onboard babysitting, you’ll want to get to Flounders Reef to make reservations for that early, too. You don’t have to worry about running frantically to the kids clubs, as every child on board is assured of a spot. But I’ve had several parents tell me that it’s a good idea to register before the safety drill because the line can get pretty bad afterwards.

That space of time before the drill is pretty much the only time you’ll need to run around or worry about anything. Once you have your reservations all made, you can kick back and relax for the rest of the trip. You probably won’t be able to go to your stateroom immediately after boarding, as they aren’t usually ready until around 1 or 1:30 p.m. That gives you plenty of time to eat, get ressies, register the kids, and generally check out the lay of the land.

When we stopped by Wavebands, where Palo ressies were being taken, we were greeted by Pietro, the manager of Palo, who we know from previous cruises. We also saw our old friend Ali, and at various times during the cruise, we saw Rita and Kapoor, two other friends from many past trips. You can tell that we like dining onboard; many of the crew members we know are associated with food!

A Dip in the Pool
I highly recommend packing swimwear in your day bag, as embarkation day before the safety drill is an excellent time to enjoy the pools. It is probably the least crowded that you will ever seem them. Hubby and I have a tradition of kicking off our cruise in the adult hot tub. This trip was no different…well, okay, maybe a little different. Usually the pool is ice cold, which is why I opt for the hot tub. But for some reason it was nice and warm this time, so hubby did laps while I paddled around. We were the first takers, but as the afternoon progressed, more people wandered over to take advantage of the nice, warm water. One rude (or maybe illiterate) person brought his young kid; when I’m in the hot tub, I like to see how long it takes a crew member to come and shag them out, but since I was in the pool, I pointed out that it was adults-only myself. They left without comment, although I suppose there wasn’t much they could say. Maybe, “Oh, we didn’t noticed the eight signs” or “But rules are for other people, not us.” I’m sure that people wouldn’t like it if the adults took over the Mickey slide, so they should be respectful of the adult areas.

Disney is very good about enforcing the rules, which is one big advantage over Royal Caribbean. On RCCL’s Voyager of the Seas, the kids rampaged from one exercise machine to another in the spa after running soaking wet out of the adult whirlpool, and the supposed adults-only pool on Radiance of the Seas was the only indoor pool. That might not sound like a big deal, except that it was an Alaskan cruise, and the kids would have frozen to death if they didn’t take over the adult pool.

On Disney, in the pools and the adult clubs I often see kids asked to leave. After we moved to the hot tubs, I even saw a group of teenagers carded at the pool. I enjoy seeing the kids onboard, but it’s great to have the option to totally get away from them for some quiet time. If you really can’t stand being around children at all, then Disney is not the right cruise for you. It is inevitable that you’re going to see lots of them on board. But if you like knowing that there are nice, peaceful, enforced adult areas, you’ll love the Wonder.

t amazes me that many parents don’t seem to consider babies as “kids.” There have been quite a few times I’ve seen people with infants be asked to leave the pool or the nightclubs. The best one had to be the people who brought their toddler to the adult beach and then left her on a chair while they went swimming. The poor kid just sat there yelling and screaming! A crew member had to wade out into the water to find the parents, and they were highly offended that they were asked to leave. It’s bad enough they didn’t abide by the adults only rule, but that poor little girl could have wandered into the water and drowned as they weren’t even within sight. Oh well, I guess it takes all kinds.

After a hot tub capper, we headed to our stateroom around 3:30 to see if our luggage had arrived so hubby (the packer of our family) could get our bags unpacked before the safety drill. He has it down to a science, and he was done by the time we heard the warning signal. We donned our life jackets and headed to Station Q in Animators Palate. All of the lifeboat stations are located on deck 4. Many of them are outside, but there are also several stations in Animators and the Walt Disney Theater. Since we are usually in stateroom 5650, we know our station quite well, and I’ve finally mastered the art of donning and tightening the life jacket. The drill only takes about 15 minutes. They start off by taking attendance, and then you see a demonstration of how to use the life jacket and hear an announcement about emergency procedures. Then you are dismissed and join the rest of the salmon. For me, once I’m out of there, I know that my vacation has officially begun.

It’s Spa Time
Hubby and I have sailed so often that we don’t usually go to the sailaway party anymore. Sometimes we enjoy sailaway from our verandah, but more commonly we like to book spa appointments for right after the drill. This time around, I had booked a hot rock massage and hubby had booked a seaweed wrap. The seaweed has been around for as long as I can remember, and it’s a favorite for both hubby and I. The hot rock treatment is new to the Wonder, although I’ve had it a few times at a spa near my home. I was anxious to try it, although a little apprehensive about the boost in the treatment prices. They had gone up quite a bit since our last sailing, so we decided we’d do one more spa-heavy cruise and then probably cut back a little on our next trip. I was looking forward to trying the treatment that replaced the Absolute Face & Body, but at over $200 vs. $144 for the old AF&B, it probably won’t be a regular thing.

We headed up to the spa to join the second-wave crowd. Usually there are a lot of people waiting when it first opens to take appointments, typically around 1 p.m. The second wave arrives right after the safety drill, waiting anxiously for the doors to reopen at 4:30 p.m. There are people who already have treatments booked, as well as a large number who are still hoping to make appointments.

Soon enough we had checked in, filled out our consultation sheets, and were ready for our treatments to begin. I just love lying in a semi-coma on a massage table when I heard the ship’s whistle and feel the movement begin. The spa is all the way forward, so you always hear those notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” announcing that your voyage has begun.

The hot rock treatment was excellent, and hubby loved his seaweed wrap (but of course he always does). In a hot rock massage, the heated stones are used to give the massage, and several are also placed on various parts of your body. It is so warming and soothing that I had to struggle not to fall asleep. The masseuse performs some traditional massage as well. Back on land, I’ve had his type of treatment done with both hot and cold stones (actually, the cold is frozen marble), but all hot is my preference.

Hercules the Muse-ical
I emerged in a blissful state of relaxation, and I could have easily taken a nap, but it was almost showtime. The first night’s show was “Hercules,” which I’ve seen countless times, although not as many as “Disney Dreams.” Herc is a lot of corny fun that makes the most sense if you’ve seen the movie. Even if you haven’t, you can still appreciate it, but you might get somewhat lost in the plot. For me, it never becomes boring because there are many opportunities for ad libbing, so the cast is able to have fun with the show. We have seen various casts, and each new set of actors adds their own touch. I also like seeing how the same cast evolves over the course of their contract. We saw this group in April, on our Easter cruise, and it was amazing to see how much they have added.

Basically, this show is a Cliff Notes version of the movie “Hercules,” done in a vaudeville style. The only big thing missing from the movie is Pegasus (he makes a brief appearance in the beginning, and you see him at the very end on the Magic, but not the Wonder). Other than that, it’s amazing how they worked in so much material from the movie. The jokes are silly, but they still make me laugh. Originally I wasn’t fond of this show, but over time it grew on me, and now I always look forward to it.

I think that the best part is the interplay between Hades, Pain, and Panic. Hades was funny in the cartoon, but in the stage version, he is even more like a wicked stand-up comedian, and Pain and Panic are his two foils who totally steal the show. With each new cast, Hades often gets new jokes, but some remain the same. My favorite is the big finale, when he is cast into the River of Death and he says, “It’s warm…must be the kiddie pool.”

Chow Time
We were on late seating dinner, as usual. Since we come from Chicago, 8 p.m. is like 7 p.m. to us, and we like not feeling rushed before dinnertime. The shows are arranged around the dining times so that guests who eat early see the show after dinner, and those who eat late see the show beforehand. The shows last about an hour, so if you are on the late seating, you will have plenty of time to get ready after the entertainment.

We were scheduled to start off in Triton’s, which is the most formal of the three restaurants. That worked well for us, since Mickey and Minnie were out for formal portraits. Hubby donned a jacket and tie and I donned a dress so we could get a portrait taken before eating. The pictures are taken near the front of the restaurant, so it was nice and convenient.

We were at table 21, which was a table for eight. I know that some people don’t like eating with others, but hubby and I love to meet new people on the cruise. We eat alone every day back home, so we like to dine and chat with others onboard the ship. Our table mates were two couples from South Carolina (not traveling together…it just worked out that way) and a mother and daughter from Georgia, originally from Jamaica. The two couples were celebrating wedding anniversaries, and the little girl was celebrating her birthday. I could have embarrassed hubby by revealing that he would be celebrating his 50th birthday at the end of the month, but I didn’t because our November cruise is perilously close to my 40th and I didn’t want to take a chance at retaliation.

Our tablemates were all great fun, and I was sorry that we would be at Palo on Friday night because the two South Carolina couples were both eating at Palo on Saturday and the mother and daughter were going to try to move to early seating, which means we would be alone on the last night. I would love to have fun tablemates like them on a weeklong cruise. Three nights goes by so quickly; just when you’re all getting to know each other, it’s over. If you do Palo one night, that makes it all the shorter.

Our head server was Michelle, who we know from several previous cruises. Our server was Richard from Chile. We had never had him before, but kept the whole table in stitches with his stories. He kept trying to convince us all that he and Michelle were married. I had camembert cheese and vichyssoises (cold potato soup) for my appetizers, duck for my entrée, and the white chocolate domes for dessert. It was a hard choice, as one of the vegetarian entrees, a vegetable curry, nearly lured me away from my original choices.

Crashing Early
On our first night, we often crash early to build up energy for the rest of the cruise. We used to go to the 80s party, but we stopped when they removed the Michael Jackson dance numbers. The dances, performed by the main stage cast, are the best part of the party. We heard later that the numbers have been restored, but we didn’t know that on Thursday night so we headed for our stateroom after dinner with sleep on our minds.

There were a pair of towel swans waiting for us, as well as a huge supply of shampoo (I’d warned our stateroom host, Emy, about my hair washing obsession when cruising…my hair is usually either oily from the spa, full of chlorine from the pool, or salty from the ocean, so I spend a lot of time in the shower). Before we crashed, I ordered room service for the next morning. There are door hangers in each stateroom from which you can order continental breakfast to be delivered at a specified time the next day. We typically use breakfast as our wake-up call, as they are great about showing up right on time, and sometimes even a little early. If I didn’t have a verandah, I would probably just eat in a restaurant, but eating outside on your balcony in the sea air is such a perfect way to kick off the day. The room service staff on the Wonder is excellent.

I also called 7-PALS, which is the character appearance hotline. I am obsessed with getting a photo with Lilo and Stitch, but the timing is always off. They always seem to be out when we’re at the spa or have to be somewhere else. I did get a photo at Til We Meet Again a few trips back, but I’ve been itching for a nice photo from Shutters. I was in luck: Stitch would be in the atrium at 9:45 on Friday morning, although there was no mention of Lilo. Since breakfast was coming at 9 a.m., I figured I could eat, grab a quick shower, and rush down to deck three for a picture.

As we prepared for bed, hubby realized that he’d forgotten my white noise machine. It is an invaluable marriage saving tool when you are married to a snorer, and it also drowns out hallway and neighbor sounds. Happily, one of the assets of 5650 is that it is located so far aft that there is virtually no hallway traffic. There is no one across the hall, and it’s very rare for anyone to walk by unless they are totally lost. There are staterooms overhead, but for some reason I’ve never heard noise from our upstairs neighbors while in that room. With no extraneous noise, the only thing I had to worry about was snoring. Hubby has lost 50 pounds, so that problem has cut down quite a bit. As long as I was able to keep him on his stomach, he was quiet.

“Sea Day” in Nassau
Whenever we sail on the Wonder, we stay on the ship and pretend that Nassau is a day at sea. If you have never been there, I recommend that you disembark and look around, but if you’ve seen it once, you probably know that you won’t be missing too much if you just stay on board. It happened to be a holiday, so the stores were all closed anyway, although the street vendors, straw market, and hair braiders were out in full force.

We woke up to the room service knock and went outside to enjoy our breakfast in the sunshine. The weather was perfect, sunny and not too hot, and we had an unobstructed view because there were no cruise ships next to us. All that was nearby on our side was a Coast Guard sailboat. Although I’ve seen the Coast Guard in Nassau many times, I’ve never seen them on a vessel with sails before. We finished up, took quick showers, and headed down to the atrium. Stitch had just come out when we arrived, so we joined the line and got some really neat shots. He loves to ham it up for the camera, as well as to throw the occasional autograph book. I was pleased at the prospect of finally having a professional photo with my favorite character; I couldn’t wait to visit Shutters later to see how the shots had turned out.

On the way back to our stateroom, we passed the Buena Vista Theater and saw that “Home on the Range” would be starting in half an hour. We’ve never seen it, so we decided to give it a go. It was cute, but definitely no “Lilo and Stitch.” I remember reading a review in which the writer stated that it was okay, but more like that quality of a made-for-television special than a feature film. That didn’t make sense to me at the time, but it did once I saw the movie. It was cute, but in an uninspired way. It had none of the evil humor that made “Lilo and Stitch” my favorite, nor did it have the impact of a classic like “The Lion King.” I also hated the digital animation, which made it resemble a diorama. Cartoons should either be all traditional, like “Lilo” (yes, I know there were some digital parts, but it’s the closest thing to classic animation I’ve seen lately) or all totally, unmistakably digital like “Shrek.” Using digital effects in traditional animation looks really cheesy. I cringe every time I see that phony-looking water in the opening of “Tarzan,” or worse yet, the digital hydra in “Hercules.” I have nothing against digital effects, but I think the two mediums need to be kept separate unless there is a compelling reason to combine them.

Okay, enough of my tirade. The movie wasn’t a favorite, but at least it gave us a few laughs. It’s nice to be able to see Disney movies on the ship, especially considering what you’d pay in the theater on land. We don’t usually go to the movies on board because they generally don’t fit into our schedule, but this time around it was too convenient to pass up.

After the movie, we headed to Triton’s for lunch. I enjoy their Hawaiian salad, which is not on the menu but which they invariably offer, along with made-to-order pasta. The menu items are good, too, particularly the pumpkin curry soup. The salad has pineapple in it, and I like to add maraschino cherries. Everything at lunch was delicious, but as I mentioned earlier, I was surprised to discover that the iced tea at Triton’s was the tap stuff. Other than that, everything was delicious. Hubby and I were still somewhat full from breakfast, so we skipped dessert.

More Spa Treatments
Next, we spent some quality verandah time before our spa appointments. Hubby managed to fit in some exercise before his appointment, but I was lazy and curled up outside on a chair with a paperback. The exercise room is free to use, and the treadmills are especially neat because they look down onto the bridge. There used to be free exercise classes, too, but now there is a charge of $10 for most of them. Although I enjoy the yoga on Castaway Cay, I wouldn’t do it now that there is a charge. I belong to a health club back home, so I can take plenty of yoga and other classes when we get back ashore.

My treatment was the Absolute Spa Ritual, which has replaced the Absolute Face & Body. I was anxious to try something new but a little amazed at the price (over $237 as opposed to $144). I doubt I’ll be doing it every cruise, but I figured that one indulgence wouldn’t hurt. In the future, I might switch to Ladies Morning, which is similar to the old AF&B and which costs around $125. Hubby had a hot rock massage, which he was really looking forward to after hearing how much I’d enjoyed it on Thursday.

The Absolute Spa Ritual was very pampering. It involves a massage and a Japanese silk facial, which is different from the facial in the AF&B. It is such a luxurious treatment. My only reservation is the price, but if you really want to spoil yourself, it is a great way to do it. I always love a massage, and the facial left my skin baby soft and glowing. Hubby reported that he really enjoyed his hot rock massage, too.

The Golden Mickeys
The Friday evening show was “The Golden Mickeys,” which is my favorite. Hubby still insists that “Disney Dreams” is better, but for some reason I prefer the new kid on the block. We were on board for the premiere of “The Golden Mickeys” in September of 2003, and I fell for it instantly. The show uses an awards show format, with a character named Ensign Benson as the unlikely and reluctant hostess. It is so fast paced, and it includes many of my favorite songs, such as “Son of Man” from “Tarzan,” and “Cruella De Vil,” as well as an appearance by Elvis Stitch. It’s always a riot to watch Rhona Rivers interviewing people as they enter the theater. Some of the things the kids come up with are priceless.

I love the musical numbers, but my favorite part is the beginning, when Roy Disney himself talks about his Uncle Walt’s background as classic footage flashes on the screens. Disney cartoons and movies are great, but I always enjoy biographical material on how it all began. Sure, it was all started by a mouse, but I like to see homage paid to the genius who invented that world-famous rodent. I love the statue of Walt and Mickey in the Magic Kingdom, and I have lots of artwork with the two of them together and a copy of the statue “Partners” gracing my family room. The sequence about Walt never ceases to make me misty eyed.

We sat in the second row on the right hand side. We have our favorite spots, but we also like to view each show from different angles. We cruise so much that I think we’ve seen “Disney Dreams” and “Hercules” from every section of the theater. The show was great, as always, although there were two minor glitches by the performers. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen an “oops,” let alone two in one show. But overall I enjoyed it as much as always. I was hoping they might have a matinee because of the Nassau holiday (they did that on Good Friday on our last cruise), but no such luck this time. Otherwise, I would have definitely seen it twice.

I’m glad that Disney modeled “The Golden Mickeys” on the “Disney Dreams” concept of incorporating lots of familiar characters and songs. I think one of the biggest reasons that people never really warmed up to “Voyage of the Ghost Ship” and “C’est Magique/Morty the Magician” was because they were not “traditional” Disney entertainment. “Ghost Ship” was totally original, although looking back, it reminds me just a bit of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, with no Disney characters. “C’est Magique” was the same way (no known characters), and with a New Age twist that probably made kids antsy (personally, I enjoyed it). Even morphing it into Morty and adding a guest appearance by Sorcerer Mickey wasn’t quite enough.

By contrast, Golden Mickeys is much like the entertainment you see at the parks, only on a grander scale and with state of the art special effects. You hear all the kids in the audience squealing with delight as they see Snow White, Terk, Stitch, Princess Aurora, and more all appearing on the stage. It’s a real family pleaser.

Later in the cruise, I discovered that Golden Mickey statues are for sale in the on-board shops. I had one more shelf available on my entertainment center where I keep all my Walt and Mickey knick-knacks, so I decided that a Golden Mickey would fit into that space nicely. As I mentioned, my family room has a Walt and Mickey theme. My entry foyer is heavy on Figment and Stitch, with some attraction posters from the Magic Kingdom thrown in for good measure. My master bedroom is my Disney Cruise Line homage room, complete with all sorts of ship knick knacks on every available bit of dresser and nightstand space and artwork scattered on the walls. Framed photos from Shutters fill in the remaining wall space. It keeps me from getting too homesick until our next cruise.

After the show, we headed back to our stateroom to dress up for dinner at Palo. Palo is the adults-only alternative restaurant. It costs $10 per person, and it is work every single penny. Palo is like a restaurant on land, with its own galley and meals that are cooked to order. It serves Northern Italian cuisine, but even if you like simple meat and potatoes, you will still find something to eat. For steak eaters, the filet mignon is as tender as butter, and you can have it with wine sauce or gorgonzola cheese (my favorite). Our table mates, who went to Palo Saturday night, like plain food so they ordered the filet with no sauce at all, and they pronounced it excellent.

Myself, I am usually torn between the filet and the daily specials, although there are several other regular menu items that I like, too. I adore the lasagna, but that is a special that is usually offered on Thursday, and we like to eat at Palo on Nassau night (Friday). If it’s not available, another special usually tempts me away. This time, it was the chicken pasta with a lucious white sauce, although I was almost lured away by the veal scallopini. The chef, Christian, did an absolutely wonderful job.

One word of advice: if you order an appetizer, you may want to skip the antipasto…not because it’s bad (it’s actually delicious), but because you will be getting a LOT of food, and you MUST save room for dessert. Palo chocolate souffle is one of the most divine desserts I’ve even eaten. But one thing I never skip is the bread basket with three sauces, which are downright addictive.

Our server was Dalibor, who we know from many previous cruises, and our friend Dragan was there too. They are both excellent servers, although honestly I can’t say that we’ve ever received anything less than excellent service at Palo. It’s so much fun to make friends with crew members over the course of our cruises and to see how some of them even move around. We initially met Ilana in Palo, and she has now joined Guest Services.

We had a table by the window where we could watch the sunlight slowly fade, with the lights of Nassau twinkling in the distance. Because it was a holiday, we got an extra added treat. At nine o’clock there was a beautiful fireworks show that was the perfect complement to an excellent meal.

Match Your Mate
After our meal, we returned to our stateroom to change clothes and head down to Wavebands to see “Match Your Mate.” It is very much like the Newlywed Game, except that the couples have been married for varying lengths of time. There is one set of newlyweds, one couple who has been married the longest, and one that is somewhere in between. This show is always entertaining, but sometimes much more so than others. It all depends on the couples; some are very shy, while others are willing to “let it all hang out.”

This time around, the couples were a bit subdued, although some of their answers were good for some hoots and hollers. “Match Your Mate” is always a fun way to cap the night in Nassau, and then we head directly to bed to rest up for the island.

Another Great Day at Castaway Cay
Our 38th visit to Castaway Cay dawned bright and sunny. I didn’t know if we would be able to match the “Mary Poppins weather” (practically perfect in every way ) that we had experienced in April, but amazingly enough, it was almost identical this time, too. It was just a bit warmer, but still not muggy enough to be uncomfortable.

Usually we’re among the first people off the ship, but hubby wanted to take the theming tour at 10 a.m. It is one of the few activities that we have not done yet. We slept in a bit and had our room service breakfast delivered at 9 a.m. Then, hubby headed off to learn all about the theming of the Disney Wonder while I stayed back to enjoy some quality verandah time. I love the big but cozy verandah of 5650, but on a three day cruise, it can be a challenge to find enough time to fully enjoy it. Perhaps our next door neighbors were having the same problem, as I never saw them outside even once during our cruise. That’s very unusual…usually I catch at least a few glimpses of our neighbors, sometimes it seems like we come outside on the exact same schedule. But this time, it was obviously an opposite schedule, or perhaps they just weren’t in their room very much.

The verandah was shady, with a perfect little breeze. 5650 is on the starboard side of the ship; since it almost always backs into Castaway Cay, that means it offers an idea vantage point of the island (boat lagoon and beaches) rather than the dock. I settled in with my book, occasionally peering over the railing to watch some crew members doing a lifeboat drill and to observe the jet ski tours leave and return. The time went by quickly, and before I knew it, it was 11:30 and hubby had returned. He really enjoyed it, and he was spouting off all sorts of facts about the patterns of the ship’s carpeting (for example, the only red carpets on the ship are outside the theaters) and how the chandelier in the atrium is actually made of plastic. I guess he was eager to share his new knowledge.

All Ashore
We gathered up our beach gear and headed down to the gangway on deck one. Since it was later than usual, we decided to have some lunch and then set up camp on the family beach rather than go all the way to the adult beach. We knew that the area at the farthest end of the beach, near the Heads Up Bar, rarely ever gets crowded, so there was no hurry.

The only thing that we missed was the photo opportunities. When you disembark early, there are Shutters photographers at various points of interest, such as the Fresh Catch sign, and there are usually several Disney characters out near such landmarks as the post office and Mount Rustmore. Fortunately, we already have almost every conceivable photo, but it’s fun to get your picture taken and see how it turns out,

Our first stop was the post office to mail a batch of postcards. There is an internet group that mails cards to children who are going to be going on a Disney cruise. The kids get a real kick out of getting a postcard from “Mickey.” Most people mail the cards from their hometown, and I doubt that the kids pay much attention to the postmark. But since we sail so often, we like to get some names and mail the cards from Castaway Cay, with a Disney Cruise Line stamp. If you’re going to mail anything, be sure to bring cash because you cannot charge the stamps on your Key to the World card. Also, be aware that it can take many weeks for the mail to make its way to the United States.

Our next stop was Cookie’s Barbecue. I wasn’t too hungry yet; we usually skip breakfast on Castaway Cay day, so my stomach was confused. Hubby had plenty of lobster burgers and fresh fruit, but I had a light meal and some chocolate chip cookie dough yogurt to top it off. Once again, I forgot all about the Caesar salads until I had already gotten my food. There are fresh salad stations, but they are near the picnic shelters rather than in the main serving lines. The salad looks delicious, so next time around I’m going to have to remember to try one before I pile too much on my tray at the main buffet.

Next, it was off to the beach. We hiked down to our secluded end spot, where there were still plenty of prime chairs with umbrellas. Even though it was after noon, the four hammocks near Heads Up bar were still unoccupied, too. But I knew we wouldn’t be doing much lying out, so we opted for chairs rather than hammocks. We chose a shady spot near the restroom, and hubby went off to rent a bike while I headed into the water. He had brought his snorkel gear and wanted to pedal over to Serenity Bay to see if he could find some fish. I had brought a $1.50 air mattress, so I grabbed my book, paddled out into the water, and read while lounging on the mattress in the balmy ocean.

The sun was warm and shining brightly, so I had to force myself to go back ashore a couple of times to reapply sunscreen. I am very fair skinned and burn quite easily. Even though hubby always packs blue aloe vera gel with lidocaine, which is a real lifesaver for burned ghost-people like me, I prefer not to get fried in the first place. This time around, my frequent and judicious use of sunscreen kept me relatively unscathed.

Stop, Thief!
Hubby returned a couple of hours later to report that someone had stolen his bike! He left it in the rack like he had done so many times before, and when he returned, it was gone. Apparently crime has invaded the island paradise of Castaway Cay! There is no place to get another bike at the adult beach, so he just headed back.

He reported that the water at the adult beach was very shallow, and he didn’t see many fish. He guessed it was because the shallowness meant that the water was a bit too warm for his finny friends. Although Serenity Bay is far from the official snorkeling area, he and I have seen quite a large variety of sea life there. We have both seen stingrays and “aquarium fish” in a rainbow of colors. Hubby’s most exciting find was a barracuda, while mine was a nurse shark, although the ink squirting squid was a close second. Recently, we went snorkeling in the shark reef at Typhoon Lagoon, and somehow it wasn’t quite the same being with nurse sharks in a tank when you’ve had one pass within inches of your leg in the open sea.

Hubby took over the air mattress for a while, and I paddled around with him. Then we decided to return to the ship, as I had a spa appointment scheduled for 4:30. It’s always so sad to leave the island, knowing that in less than 24 hours vacation will be over. But I took comfort in the fact that I’d be back in September, and I had my fingers crossed that we’d have a repeat performance of the lovely weather.

One More Spa Treatment
Back on the ship, it was time to prepare for my last spa treatment. I was scheduled for a reflexology foot massage at 4:30. I knew that meant I would be a little late for the Castaway Club party at 5:15, but the good thing about a foot massage is that you don’t have to undress. You also don’t get massage oil in your hair, necessitating a washing.

I showered off all the sand, washed and conditioned my hair, and checked myself for any early signs of sunburn. Fortunately, other than a couple of small pink spots where I probably applied my lotion too thin, I was relatively unscathed. Even though it felt odd to disembark so late, it was probably a blessing in disguise. Otherwise, when we go to Castaway Cay as early as possible, we tend to spend a bit too much time in the sun. Even though we know better, common sense quickly flies out the window when we’re on vacation.

Since I had eaten a light lunch, I was feeling some hunger pangs. There is no reason to go hungry on a cruse ship; on the Wonder, food is only a phone call or a few decks away. I didn’t feel like waiting for room service; even though they are fast, I had my spa appointment coming up. Instead, I ran up to deck nine for some french fries and lots of honey mustard sauce for dipping. Their sauce is absolutely exquisite…the fries are merely a delivery device. I noticed that they serve cheese nachos and chili dogs, so I asked for a fusion creation: chili cheese nachos. They turned out pretty good.

In the stateroom, hubby had been channel surfing and found a really neat show on the Magic’s last dry dock, when major changes (Diversons, the Stack, etc.) were made. It was a fascinating program, showing time-lapse footage and lots of details on how the old spaces on the Magic were transformed into something completely new and different. I wish they would show it on the Travel Channel or Disney Channel so I could tape it. I already have “The Making of the Magic,” the show about the initial construction of the ship, as it is on the free travel planning DVD you can get from Disney’s website.

After seeing the show, I was doubly curious about what will be done to the Wonder when it goes to dry dock in a few months. We will sail right before, in September, and then we will see the “new” Wonder when we return for our traditional Thanksgiving cruise. I am excited about the prospect of having a place like Diversions, especially if they offer the beer tasting event like they do on the Magic, and I also can’t wait to check out the coffee bar.

When I was done pigging out, I tore myself away from the television and headed to the Vista Spa, where I succumbed to an hour of bliss. I know that reflexology purportedly has health benefits, but I enjoy it just because I love a good foot massage. Any additional benefits over and above relaxation are frosting on the cake. I nodded off, although I did stir twice: once at 5 p.m. when the Mickey whistle blasted as the ship headed out to sea and once when someone ran across the deck overhead bouncing a ball. One of the design oddities of the Magic and Wonder is that the basketball courts are directly over the spa...not the best planning move. But despite the slight disturbances, I quickly became comatose again and dozed until the massage was over.

The Castaway Club Party
For those who may not know, the Castaway Club is the name of the club for returning Disney cruisers. You become a member automatically once you sail, and you receive little benefits on your subsequent cruises. You get a gift in your stateroom (currently a towel, although it might be changing soon because we received a notice that the towels were out of stock and we’d receive one in the mail later; then the towel showed up in our room the next day).

Since our first return cruise was way back in January of 1999, we have seen the gift change several times. There have been two different types of tote bags, plus picture frames, in addition to the current towel. I like the towels, but we have received an inordinate number of them by now. My favorite was the original blue tote bag, which holds an amazing amount of stuff. I still have one left, and I still strain the poor things to its limits. We sold several on Ebay, and now I wish I had kept them as I will be sorry when the last one finally gives out due to my constant abuse. The second bag was a black sports type that is nice, but not nearly as handy.

As a returning cruiser. you also get to attend a party with the captain and some of the officers, where you can get a free drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) and munch on hors d’ouvres like cheese sticks and chicken strips. The captain and cruise director give short speeches welcoming everyone back, and if you bring your camera, it’s often a good photo opportunity with the captain.

The party is almost invariably held at 5:15 on Castaway Cay day on the three night cruise. Its location varies, depending on the number of repeat cruisers on board. When the crowd is light, it is often held in the Cadillac Lounge. On the flipside, sometimes it’s so large that it takes over every club on Beat Street (usually only happens on the Magic…I don’t think I’ve ever seen it take over Route 66 on the Wonder). This time, it was held in Studio Sea, and the crowd was pretty light.

I arrived a bit later than I expected, so Captain Henry was already giving his speech. I slipped in and found hubby at a table towards the front. I was full so I didn’t partake of snacks and drinks, but I was glad to say hello to the captain and to meet Kara, the cruise director. We had actually met her before, but not since she’d taken her new position. Tony reported that our friend Linsay was also there, although I missed her due to my late arrival.

Disney Dreams
When the party ended, we headed to the theater to see “Disney Dreams,” which is still hubby’s favorite show. I think he could watch it all day, if possible; even after seeing it at the theater, he always keeps it on our stateroom television all evening. It runs on the television every hour for people who might have missed it. They show “Hercules” on Thursday, but they haven’t started showing “Golden Mickeys” yet. I hope they do soon, as I could watch that one as much as hubby watches “Disney Dreams.”

This show has a very Disney-esque plot. A little girl named Anne-Marie makes a wish to be able to fly to the place where dreams really do come true. With the help of Peter Pan and the inspiration of several popular Disney stories (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, and The Lion King), she finds her own magic and ends up with the requisite happy ending.

“Disney Dreams” doesn’t move as quickly as the “Golden Mickeys.” That’s neither a bad nor a good thing; the pace of each show is just right for its style. “Golden Mickeys” has an awards show format, while “Disney Dreams” is more of a traditional story that lends itself to a slower pace. My favorite numbers in this show are Aladdin and Little Mermaid, but I always enjoy the powerful rendition of “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.”

“Disney Dreams” is a traditional feel-good show that the kids will love. They squeal with delight as their favorite characters appear on stage, and there are all sorts of neat surprises such as the real bubbles during “Under the Sea” and the fireworks at the end (be sure to stay for the second curtain call).

The Last Supper
It was time for our last meal on the Wonder. We skip breakfast on the last morning, as we are usually much too tired of eating and prefer to disembark a little early. I wondered if our tablemates from Jamaica had been successful in moving to early seating. The others were all slated to eat at Palo, so that would mean we’d be dining alone. I know many cruisers who would absolutely love that, but we like communal meals.

When we arrived, the mother and daughter were already there, and we were joined shortly thereafter by the two couples from South Carolina. Even though they had dined at Palo, they were having so much fun at their regular table that they came just to socialize. Apparently we had missed quite a wild dinner at Animators Palate! Between Richard and our tablemates, Table 21 had been the “rowdy table” of the evening.

We had another fun night, as Parrot Cay is a great place to be rowdy. There is a limbo line and lots of commotion as tables compete to make the most noise for their favorite servers. I discovered that I could create quite a din by banging our metal table number with my spoon. We were having so much fun that by the end of the meal, my face actually hurt from laughing so much.

Our friend Chef Vinnie, who is the head chef at Parrot Cay, stopped by to say hello. We met him at a cooking demonstration on the four day cruise of our Wonder “three-peat” (three cruises in a row), so we always touch base when we are on board. He is an absolute genius with seafood (well, actually, with any food).

We were sorry that our cruise was ending, and we wished we had been on a week’s cruise so we could have gotten to know our tablemates better. Ironically, one of the couples had such a great time that they booked another cruise on the Wonder in September…the cruise right before our next one!

Richard entertained us with more of his stories. If you ever have him as your server, be sure to ask him about the helicopter. He had us all in stitches, but finally we all reluctantly had to go. Our tablemates needed to finish packing and put their luggage out. We keep our bags with us and carry them off the ship ourselves, so we don’t have to worry about the 11 p.m. deadline. But we wanted to stop by the atrium to see “Til We Meet Again” and then change into more casual clothes before the 70s party.

Til We Meet Again
When we got to the atrium, “Til We Meet Again” was already in progress. It is the final character appearance, and a prime photo opportunity. A wide variety of characters descend down the staircase in front of Triton’s and into the atrium to take photos with the crowd. The Shutters photographers are not there, so you will need to bring your own camera. In addition to “traditional” characters, there are also performers from the main stage. Usually it’s the bunch from Hercules, and I’ve often seen Peter Pan and Anne Marie, too. This time, Peter was out with Wendy. Usually there are a couple of characters up on deck four, too, but the majority of them are down on deck three.

I was hoping to see Stitch, who is usually near the piano, but he wasn’t out so we headed back to our stateroom. Sometimes there is almost no crowd, and sometimes the amount of people is enormous. This was one of the crowded times, although I don’t think that anything will ever beat the crowd that showed up on our Fourth of July cruise. In July, in addition to the characters, there was a balloon “drop & pop,” so the atrium was wall to wall people, and the sound of breaking balloons rivaled any fireworks display. That July experience was crowded, but very exciting.

This time, there were no balloons, but the crowd density was still large. But even when there are a lot of people, you can still get at least a couple of good photos. When the crowd is minimal, you can get at least half a dozen. We could have gotten some this time, but we opted to head back to the room to change.

The only bad thing about Til We Meet Again is that it can be hard to get there on time if you have the late dinner seating. We actually arrived a little while after it had started, since we had spent a lot of time chatting with our tablemates. It starts at 10, but 10:15 or even 10:30 would probably make it a little easier.

Flash Back to the 70s
Once hubby and I had changed, we headed to Wavebands for the 70s Party, our favorite adult event. It starts at 10:45, which means I like it so much that I am even willing to sacrifice precious sleep to attend. I know that I have to be up early for disembarkation, but I am always drawn to the bell bottoms and platform shoes.

We like to arrive a bit early in order to get a table as far away as possible from the smoking area. There are several non-smoking areas; unfortunately, all but one of them are directly in front of smoking areas. This means that if you don’t choose wisely, you can be sitting directly in front of a smoker even though you are technically at a non-smoking table. As you face the stage, the left hand side of the room is all non-smoking. The ventilation is poor, so the smoke and smell will still drift over to you, but at least you won’t be elbow to elbow with a smoker. I wish that the lounges would be non-smoking during all shows, but no such luck.

As it turned out, the club was almost deserted. Saturday is a bad night, especially at 10:45, because people are still rushing to get their luggage out. Sometimes the 70s crowd is still decent, but it was small on cruise #37 and almost non-existent this time around. I was beginning to worry that it would be cancelled, but the cruise staff held a “Cliff Notes” version (only two Gloria Gaynors and John Travoltas instead of three, and only three of the Village People showed up for the special guest appearance instead of the usual five. Hubby got roped into being a Village Person, so of course I had to jog back to our stateroom for the camera. He’s done it a couple of times before, but not since they started going shirtless.

We had a great time dancing, and one of the John Travoltas was hilarious. Even though the crowd was small, everyone seemed to be having a great time. After hubby’s guest appearance, we had one last dance and then headed back to our stateroom. It was a fun cap to another excellent cruise. I wish that the 70s party was on Thursday or Friday night, but I know that it wouldn’t work logistically. We like 70s night much better than 80s night, although I was happy to hear that the Michael Jackson numbers have been added back into the 80s festivities.

Another Goodbye to the Wonder
Back at our stateroom, hubby took care of the last minute packing while I filled out the Customs form and comment card. I also made out some thank-you cards to the many crew members who made our vacation extra special once again. I recommend bringing some cards because it’s a nice little way to recognize people in non-tipped positions who go that extra mile. We also like to bring little “extras” like phone cards or Florida lottery tickets to add to the tips for those who deserve a little something more.

We hit the bed, and all too soon it was morning and we found ourselves docked at Port Canaveral once again. I always start out cruises with a few minutes out on the balcony, looking out at the port, and that’s typically how I end them too. Hubby and I showered and packed up the last few items, and then I stepped outside and said a quiet little goodbye to my favorite stateroom and favorite ship. I knew that we would be returning, but September seemed so far away. At least our next three cruises come in rapid succession: September, November, and December. And I don’t want to hurry the next one too much because when it comes, it will mean that summer is over.

We hiked down to the midship elevators (most of the time, the aft elevators are not crowded, but on the last morning they are packed with people going to and from the restaurants, which are located aft). We pressed both the “Up” and “Down” buttons, as you are often better off going up when you’re on deck 5 on that last day. Otherwise, the elevator is usually full of people heading down from decks 8, 7, and 6. Sure enough, two full elevators of “Down” people passed us. We hopped in an empty one heading up, and as we headed back down, it was full before we reached deck 5 again.

There was no line for disembarkation, so we said a quick goodbye to Captain Henry, who was standing at the gangplank, and headed off the ship. Unlike Royal Caribbean, on Disney there is no wait to leave the ship. Royal Caribbean makes you wait until your luggage tag color is called, which can be literally hours, and you can’t wait in your stateroom. You have to find space in a public area of the ship. With Disney, you simply leave whenever you choose to. You can have your assigned breakfast, eat at the buffet, or (like us) skip the food altogether.

Once we entered the luggage area, we saw that there were lines at Customs. They moved rapidly, at least until the people two parties in front of us got to the Customs Officer. They didn’t have their ID and documents ready, and of course it took them forever to find what they needed in their luggage. They never thought to step aside and let anyone pass, either. Finally, after several minutes, I rolled my eyes and said to hubby, “Didn’t they say ‘Have your ID and customs forms ready’ about a hundred time?” A man in the group directly behind the line-holder-uppers said, “I think it was more like two hundred!”

Eventually, we made it through Customs and back out into the real world. It is always so sad to see the ship from the other side of the fence and to look up at the verandah where I was just standing not so long ago. Disembarkation is always hard, but at least I could take comfort in the fact that we’d be back the Thursday after Labor Day and I’d be looking out at the port from that same verandah, knowing that other adventure is about to begin.

Trip Report #37, April 2004 on the Wonder

It seems like only recently that hubby and I were preparing for our very first cruise; hard to believe that was way back, in September of 1998. I remember wondering what to expect and if I would even like cruising. Now, Easter weekend of 2004 marked our 37th Disney cruise and our 41st cruise in total, since we have also sailed on four of Royal Caribbean’s ships. RCCL was a good experience, but Disney is superior. The Magic and Wonder are beautiful ships, and even though we don’t have children, I think Disney does the best job of catering to adults. Also, RCCL’s embarkation and disembarkation procedures are a nightmare compared to Disney’s. Overall, Disney Cruise Line just can’t be beat.
As usual, we were doing a three night sailing on the Wonder. We enjoy sailing on the Magic, too, but doing Wonder cruises on holiday weekends helps us to maximize our vacation days. Usually we just fly to Florida the Wednesday before our cruise, but this time we flew out the previous Friday night and spent the week in Kissimmee. The weather was very cool and dry, so we didn’t get to do much swimming, but we still had a good time. Of course, like all vacations, the week flew by much too quickly. The only good thing about it was that, as the days flew past, we were closer and closer to our cruise.

Kickoff at Port Canaveral
On Thursday morning, we were up early to meet our towncar. As usual, we booked our transportation with Happy Limo to pick us up for the familiar journey to Port Canaveral. It’s a relatively easy drive, but I prefer to kick back and relax on the way. We usually aim to arrive at the port no later than 11 a.m. That means we get there before the bus crowds, and it also allows some time for any unforeseen delays. When we leave straight from the airport, the ride usually takes no more than 45 minutes. If you are leaving from the Disney World area, add about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your hotel, since you are farther away from the port. It’s a straight shot down the Beeline (528) and traffic is usually minimal, although there is some construction going on. Fortunately it didn’t slow our progress.

Our driver was right on time, and we piled in and headed for our “home on the ocean.” During the ride, I sorted through our documents to make sure we had filled out everything and signed the appropriate forms, while hubby attached the luggage tags to our bags. Soon enough we were cresting the tall bridge and could see the ships in the distance. No matter how many times I sail, that first glimpse of the Disney Wonder still gives me chills. The Carnival Fantasy was the only other ship in the port. I thought there would be a Royal Caribbean ship, too. The port looked very bare with just two. Oh well, no matter, as long as the Wonder is there!

Our driver showed his port pass and we readied our documents and ID as we were waved toward the terminal. We produced our drivers licenses and were checked off on the manifest; then we were waved up to the unloading zone beside the terminal building. It was about 10:45, and the crowd was still very sparse. There was only a handful of people in front of us in the security line I dug up my laptop, as you are required to boot up your computer in order to pass through security. I always bring my laptop with me so I can work on updates for my Disney Cruise Line Planner; it’s very convenient, but unfortunately I own the world’s slowest booting laptop. It takes forever to boot up, and then even longer to be shut down. Oh well, better safe than sorry. It always surprises me that I am not required to turn it on at the airport. The cruise line definitely has good security.

Once we were through and my laptop was safely turned off and stashed, we headed up the escalators and into the main terminal. There are are crew members stationed nearby to help stragglers fill out their documents and make sure they have everything they need. I had our paperwork and birth certificates stashed securely in our document pouch. There is a special line for Castaway Club members at the far end of the counter, but since the line was minimal at all the counters, we simply went to the closest one.

The crowd was minimal early on; often, on the three day cruise, most of the people have booked a land and sea package, which means they arrive later, on buses from the resorts. The embarkation line didn’t really start to build until well after 11 o’clock. It builds much more quickly on the seven day cruises because there is no land portion. With more people arranging their own transportation, they tend to arrive early. Even though it’s the same amount of passengers, the crowd to embark the Wonder is much more spaced out.

If you arrange transportation on your own, there are several options. We use a towncar from Happy Limo, as we like being chauffeured in our own private vehicle and making our own schedule. Some people opt for a one-way car rental, as several agencies have offices at Port Canaveral, and some (Budget, Avis, and Hertz) will shuttle you to the port after you drop off your car. I like a towncar because it’s a direct ride, with no stops unless we opt to do a grocery stop. Happy Limo offers a free stop if you want to bring your own beverages and snacks but don’t want to lug them on the plane.

People often comment that the wait to board the ship seems to be so long, especially if you arrive at the port early. Personally, it’s always the opposite for me. Over time, we’ve gotten to know a lot of the port crew members, so time seems to fly because we’re always greeting and chatting with friends. Even if you are a first timer, there is lots to see and do. The large model of the ship never fails to intrigue me, and there are cartoons on television monitors for the kids. You can always count on a character appearance; this time around, it was Chip and Dale, and Captain Mickey often shows up too. You can also look through the Welcome Sheet that you are given at check in to see what will be going on once you board.

All Board!
The boarding time varies, depending on when the ship is ready, but lately it’s been pretty early (between noon and 12:15). It can be as late as 1 p.m., but I’ve only seen that happen once or twice. On this trip, we were stepping on board and heading to Parrot Cay for lunch by 12:15. First we paused for our embarkation photo, the first of many photo opportunities. Take advantage of them because you’re not under any obligation to buy and it’s fun to stop at Shutters, the onboard photo shop, and see how they came out.

The embarkation backdrop has changed several times over the years. This time, they were using my favorite backdrop, which is a sepia toned drawing of a celebratory crowd waving off the ship. I like that one because it’s so festive. It reminds me of the scene in “Titanic” where the ship is leaving and everyone is crowded onto the decks and lining the shore to see it off. Of course, “Titanic” might not be the best analogy, but I don’t worry about the comparison because it’s not too likely to find an iceberg in the Caribbean. When I think of the Titanic, I think of a beautiful classic luxury liner, and Disney really captured that style well with the Magic and Wonder.

As you board, a member of the Cruise Staff announces your name on a microphone, continuing the festive atmosphere, and you head for lunch. Since we boarded pretty early, we headed for Parrot Cay on deck 3. Beach Blanket Buffet opens a little later if you like to dine al fresco. The buffets are virtually identical, but if you are a soda drinker, Parrot Cay is your best bet. You can get soda there without any additional charge, but it is not available at the deck 9 buffet.

Almost every time we sail, I notice a few little tweaks. This time, there were some new items on the buffet that were very good. My favorite was the new turkey dish…I don’t recall the name, but it was a thin slice of pounded turkey with some sort of light breading, served with a red sauce. There was also a divine apple/cranberry cobbler with vanilla sauce for dessert. Usually it’s plain apple, but this time around the cranberries added such a nice little zing of flavor. I stuck to that, while hubby did a sampler plate of several tempting cakes.

There are many more hot dishes and cold salads to choose from, and of course the famous peel and eat shrimp. Hubby had loaded up his plate, and our table was right where people walk in so quite a few of them were checking out his shrimp pile. Personally, I mainly opt for the salads. There was one that reminded me of some type of coleslaw topped with bacon bits and other with big, delicious mushrooms. There is also a table with sandwiches and soups, included my favorite strawberry and banana soup. To me, it tastes like a smoothie in a bowl. If you are travelling with fussy kids, there is a kid friendly buffet table with items like chicken strips and macaroni & cheese.

The line for the buffet went in spurts as people wandered aboard. I love people watching and hearing their comments, especially the kids. They never cease to amuse me. We were seated at one of the first tables, right on the aisle, so it was a great spot to observe people as they waited for the buffet. As one little girl stood in line with her dad, she told him very seriously, “Wow! I never thought this would be so popular that people actually wait in line for it!”

We finished up our lunch and headed to our stateroom to drop off our day bags. If you arrive at the port early, be aware that you will not be able to go to your stateroom until sometime between 1 and 1:30. It takes some time to clean up after the 2600+ guests who just disembarked a few hours earlier and get the ship ready for the new crowd. The stateroom areas are roped off until they are ready; in the meantime, you can register your children for the clubs, make Palo and spa reservations, or just wander around the ship admiring the décor and artwork and get your bearings. An easy way to remember how to get places is: Forward fun, aft eat (the Walt Disney Theater and the clubs are forward, and most of the restaurants are at the back of the ship).

I had thought that spa reservation time started at 1:30, so hubby and I played ping pong at one of the tables on deck 9 until about 1:15. Of course, “play” is a relative term, since the wind on deck was adding an additional challenge. Then we headed to the spa on deck 9 forward and were surprised to find it open. Turns out I had misread the times; spa tours started at 1:30, but reservations started at 1. I definitely don’t need a tour, as I’ve had just about every treatment possible. But there wasn’t much of a crowd waiting to make reservatins, so we were able to easily get the times and treatments that we wanted. I signed up for a massage right after the safety drill, an Absolute Face & Body at 11 a.m. on Nassau morning, and a reflexology treatment at 2 p.m. on Castaway Cay day. Hubby loves the seaweed wrap, so he booked one on both Thursday and Friday.

Hubby stopped down at Wavebands, where Palo ressies were being made, and he reported that it wasn’t crowded at all. I think that because the crowd at the port was light, the “ressie scramble” didn’t pick up until a little later. But it’s still a good idea to go for your preferred Palo, spa, and Flounders reservations as early as possible, as you never know how quickly they will book up.

R & R Before the Safety Drill
Once we had our ressies and had gathered a set of kids navigators for my website, hubby and I changed for some pre-safety drill hot tubbing. We always pack swimsuits in our day bag because those first hours of the cruise are the least crowded time for a dip. Many people don’t think about packing swimwear, so you often have the pool almost all to yourself. The kids pools are more crowded than the adult one, but the amount of people is still minimal.

There were actually more people than usual at the adult pool. Most of them were just lounging in chairs or at the edge of the pool and soaking up the sun, but a couple brave souls had ventured all the way into the chilly water. There were people in both hot tubs, but there was still plenty of room, so hubby and I selected one and climbed in. Relaxing in the bubbles and chatting with the various people who come and go is a great way to kick off the cruise. As I said, I am a people watcher, and I like to count the number of people who pass by and dip a finger or toe in the pool, but for some reason no one did that on this trip. Usually I count at least a dozen “dippers,” but this time it was all or nothing…they either passed by without pausing or else came prepared in swim wear and climbed in.

A few stray kids tried to invade the adults-only sanctity, but they were quickly shooed away. As we chatted with one couple in the hot tub, they said they had taken a Princess cruise to Alaska and were amazed at the number of kids on board. They told us that one of they few things they didn’t like about the cruise was the fact that there was nowhere to go for some peaceful adult time. We had the same experience on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas to Alaska. In theory, they had an adults only pool on Radiance, but it was the only indoor pool. Being an Alaskan cruise, it was much too cold and windy to use the outdoor family pool, so of course the kids all came inside and took over the “adult” pool to swim. I can’t say that I blamed them; that was very poor planning on RCCL’s part. I believe in respecting rules, but I also don’t think it’s fair to restrict the kids to a pool that’s not usable.

On Disney, everyone has their own pools (I must admit that I’m jealous of the Mickey slide!) and activity areas. DCL did an excellent job of planning, and no matter how many children are on board, they never seem to be underfoot. This cruise had a high kid population due to the holiday, and it was no exception. Of course, you’ll see them at the shows and meals, so you wouldn’t enjoy it if you really can’t stand kids at all. Personally, I get a kick out of watching them, but I also like some quiet time, and that’s very easy to get. I know people think hubby and I are crazy for taking 37 Disney cruises when we don’t have any children, but it truly is the best adult experience that we’ve found. Royal Caribbean is nice, but all of their ships that we’ve sailed on are like Radiance, with no enforcement of the adult areas, not even the exercise room and spa.

By the time three thirty rolled around, the other people who had been in the hot tub with us had all “abandoned ship.” Dark clouds were rolling in, and we heard the threatening boom of thunder and saw a flash of lightning. We decided to get out just as a crew member came along to clear out the pools due to the lightning. A light sprinkle of rain was just starting; it had turned into a full-fledged downpour by the time we reached our stateroom. Thankfully, it was a typical Florida shower that had blown over by the time the safety drill started.

Eight Blasts of the Ship’s Whistle
Our luggage had already arrived when we reach our stateroom after hot tubbing. Hubby started unpacking and managed to get almost everything put away before we heard eight blasts of the ship’s horn and the announcement beckoning us to our lifeboat station. Our station was in Animators Palate; since we are in stateroom 5650 so often, I know Station Q quite well. The stations are located at various points around deck 4, including the Walt Disney Theater and the outdoor deck areas, depending on your stateroom location. Our other usual staterooms are the secret porthole rooms, which have an outdoor meeting area.

If you’ve never done a safety drill on a cruise ship before, it’s a quick and relatively painless process. At the appointed time (4 p.m.), you don your life jacket and troop to your station, where attendance is checked. Then you listen to a safety announcement and it’s all over. The worst part is being crowded in with dozens of other people while looking like an orange Sponge Bob in your bulky life jacket. But despite the inconvenience, it’s very important to know where you’d need to go in case of an emergency.

The Wonder is well equipped, with lifeboats that each hold 145 guests and five crew members. There are more than enough lifeboats and life rafts to accommodate everyone. Fortunately, the chance of an emergency is very remote, but it’s good to know the equipment is there, just in case. I know logically that problems can happen, but the ship looks so much like a giant resort hotel that it’s hard for me to believe something of that size and mass could ever sink.

Decadence at the Spa
After the drill, we trooped back to our stateroom. Hubby finished unpacking, and then it was time for our kick-off spa treatments. Although they were scheduled for 4:30, we like to get there a little early because a line tends to form just before opening. There are all the people checking in, as well as a large crowd hoping to make their bookings. I was one of the first two there, and as I passed the time chatting with the other person, a woman from England. As the clock ticked closer to 4:30, quite a line of people formed behind us.

A few minutes before the spa opened, two women barged their way to the front. I moved over so they couldn’t pass me and pointed out that the spa wasn’t open yet. One of them said haughtily, “Well, I am here for a treatment.” I pointed out that so were the rest of the people. Ms. Haughty said, “Well, they’re not all here for that. They’re hear to make appointments.” In her eyes, I guess that relegated them to some sort of second-class status. “Well, I’m here for a treatment,” I responded gave her an evil look that dared her to step past me. She didn’t, but neither did she go back to the end of the line. I was surprised that the other people she’d barged in front of didn’t say anything. Sometimes I think rude behavior is on the rise in our society because people are afraid to confront it. The English woman said, “Oh, I thought Americans queued, too, but I guess it must be a British thing.” “No,” I said, “MOST Americans have manners. It’s only the rude ones who don’t queue.” I’m sure Ms. Haughty was oblivious to our pointed comments.

Another woman barged through the line to join the Haughty Duo and told them, “I should have know I’d find you at the front.” “Yes,” said Ms. Haughty, “I’ve been standing here since 4 p.m.” That would be quite a trick, since the safety drill was at 4, and I was the second person to arrive at the spa afterwards. Since I am a trained psychologist, I debated offering my services to help her cure her delusions, but then I decided she was probably a hopeless case. Besides, why work while you’re on vacation?

Shortly thereafter, the spa doors were flung open and the restless mob streamed in. Hubby and I filled out our consultation forms and were directed to the locker rooms to meet our therapists. When I had made my booking, they had asked if I minded a male masseuse. I’ve had so many massages that I am not shy at all, so I said that would be fine. For a long time, Disney only had females (the other cruise lines typically have both, and I’ve had men do my treatments on Royal Caribbean). Then the Vista Spa added males in the hair salon, and now they’ve made the leap to doing treatments too.

Of course, if you have a preference, they will respect it. The spa personnel go out of their way to make the clients feel comfortable. Many people have their first spa experience ever while on board the ship, so they tend to be a little nervous. The therapists are used to this and will help you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

My masseuse, Kevin, was new to the ship. He had been on board when we sailed last time, but he’d been in training. He gave me a wonderful back massage that left me feel relaxed and ready to enjoy my vacation. Since the spa is located on deck 9 forward, you can hear the ship’s whistle blast “When You Wish Upon a Star” as you leave Port Canaveral. I love to hear it while lying in the spa in a dreamy stupor. It’s the perfect way to kick off the weekend. I met up with hubby after his seaweed wrap, which takes longer than a massage, and he reported that it was as good as ever.

Our next spa treatments were on Nassau morning. As usual, hubby was having a seaweed wrap, while I was scheduled for an Absolute Face and Body. That is a combination of a massage and a long, luxurious facial. That treatment is so relaxing that I almost always fall asleep, especially during the facial. When people ask my favorite treatment, it’s always a toss-up between the seaweed wrap and the Absolute Face & Body. The only bad thing about the seaweed wrap is that you have to get up and shower off before the massage, but it’s such a great detoxifying treatment. And the AF&B does have one bad part, too; after the massage, you have to emerge from your comatose state long enough to roll over for the facial.

I love having spa treatments on Nassau day, and often we spend some time in the Rainforest too (this time we didn’t because there was a Golden Mickeys matinee). It’s a quiet, uncrowded time, as most people have disembarked. I thought the ship would be more crowded this time because most of the shops in Nassau were closed for Good Friday. But surprisingly, most people had disembarked anyway. Judging by all the braids I saw later that evening, the hair braiders never take a holiday. I also heard that Atlantis was very crowded, since a lot of people headed over there after giving up on the closed shops.

My last spa treatment was a reflexology session at 2 p.m. on Castaway Cay day. I had debated booking it for later, but hubby convinced me that it was going to be cold on the island. As it turned out, he was very wrong! But it was probably just as well; we disembarked before 9 a.m., and even with sunscreen I managed to get some sunburn, so it was probably best that I returned to the ship a little early.

I love reflexology, mainly because I love foot massages. Reflexology is also supposed to have a number of wellness benefits. I don’t know if it really does, but I do know that a good reflexologist can come up with lots of information about the state of your health, even if you don’t discuss it beforehand. For example, my feet revealed my bad habit of never drinking enough water, which tends to leave me in a constant state of semi-dehydration. Hubby is always lecturing me about it, but I was surprised that the relexologist was able to tell via the treatment.
When I was done, I met up with hubby for a little time in the Rainforest, an area of saunas, steamrooms, and scented showers. It also contains heated tile lounge chairs that are the perfect spot to curl up with a good book. You can buy a one day pass or get one that is good for the length of your cruise. There is a discount on day passes if you get a hands-on spa treatment on the same day.

There was one big change at the spa this time. The Ladies Night treatment, which used to be offered Nassau night during the dinner/show times is now Ladies Morning. It is the same treatment (massage and facial in a private treatment room, followed by champagne and chocolates in the Rainforest), but the time has changed. Personally, I think Nassau morning is better because you don’t have to skip dinner or a show. The Golden Mickeys is on the second night of the three day cruise, and I love that show so I’d never want to miss it, even for a spa treatment. Nassau is okay if you’ve never seen it before, but hubby and I usually don’t bother to disembark any more. And even if you want to, you can easily kick off your day with a treatment and have plenty of time to go ashore later.

Another change is that the surial bath is now called the rasul. That is the name that it had when we sailed on RCCL’s Radiance. We didn’t do it on this trip, but according to the description, it is still the same neat couples experience. If you’re not familiar with it, it consists of being in your own private shower and steam rooms with a bowl of mud, exfoliate, and various spa products. You and your significant other get the room for an hour, and what you do is up to you. Technically, the rasul can accommodate up to three people, but I don’t know anyone else well enough to share the experience with besides hubby!

Watch for other changes coming soon to the Vista Spa, including some new treatments. Hopefully there will be new offerings in time for my next cruise, and I am looking forward to trying them out…purely for research purposes, of course.

It’s Showtime
Hubby and I like to do second seating dinner, which means that our showtime is at 6:30 p.m. and dinner follows at 8:30. When you have early dining, you eat first and see the show afterwards. I know that people with small children usually prefer the early seating, but it makes me feel too rushed. Since we are from Chicago, 8:30 is really 7:30 for us anyway, so it works out very well. The only downside to late seating is that it can be hard to make the farewell character greeting on the last night. We’ve been known to eat our meal, then slip out for photos and return for dessert.

If you miss Hercules or Disney Dreams, don’t worry. A recorded version is shown hourly throughout the evening on your stateroom television. Unfortunately, they do not show The Golden Mickeys yet, but I am hoping they will add it in the future. Even though we rarely miss a show, we like to watch an “encore” while we are getting ready for dinner.

The first night’s show was Hercules, which we always go to see even though it’s not quite on a par with the Golden Mickeys and Disney Dreams. It’s a totally different type of show than those two, but a lot of fun in its own way. It’s full of corny humor that makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen the movie. By now I know all the jokes, but it still gives me a good laugh. Hubby will always have a soft spot in his heart for this shows because Hercules is one of his top three favorite Disney movies.

I headed down to the theater a little after 6 and was one of the first in line at the doors. I thought it would be open already, but the doors didn’t open until around 6:15. I headed down to the front row; someone was already sitting on one end, so I plopped down on the other. A teenage boy (perhaps a relative of Ms. Haughty) said, “Sorry, these seats are all reserved,” gesturing at all the remaining seats in the row. Seat saving in the theater is forbidden, and there is a note in the Navigator that says so. Still, I wouldn’t mind if it was just a couple, but he was beyond the limits of common courtesy.

I rolled my eyes and said, “You can’t save a whole row.” He said, “It’s not the whole row; it’s nine seats.” I’ve got to hand it to him; he definitely had brass ones. I replied, “The Navigator says you can’t save ANY. Nobody minds a reasonable amount, but nine is not reasonable. If you have a problem with me, I suggest you complain to the staff.” I was hoping that he would, as I would have loved to hear that conversation, but instead he just sauntered away. Meanwhile, a woman and her granddaughter sat down next to me. Turns out the granddaughter had tried to sit there originally and was told by Mr. Brass that the seats were “reserved.” Being a kid, she fell for it. When they saw other people sitting there and Mr. Brass leaving, they returned.

I had a very nice chat with the grandmother while waiting for the show to start. It was her first cruise, and even though it had just started, she was having a great time. Her granddaughter was curious about what happened to Mr. Brass, so she looked around and spotted him a few minutes before showtime. He was standing near the door, apparently looking for the rest of his party. Goodness only knows where they ended up sitting, or if they even showed up.

Hubby and I managed to restrain ourselves from ordering smoothies while waiting, since we knew we had a Palo dinner ahead of us that night. Also, I was wearing shorts and the theater tends to be chilly, so I knew that I’d be shivering if I had a cold drink. The smoothies are delicious; I think there are various flavors, but we usually get strawberry or chocolate. They are sold in front of the theater and also inside, so you can order one very conveniently. Just beware…they are very addictive!

We were anxious to see the show, as this was a new cast for us and we always like to see how they customize it. All of the shows are different when there is a new cast, but this is most pronounced with Herc because there are more opportunities for ad libbing. Each cast puts its own unique twist into the show. Herc has been around since 1998, and it has also been interesting to see how it’s evolved over the years.

Before the show, Cruise Director Jacqui came out to introduce it, and Captain John also came out to greet everybody and welcome them to their new home for the next three days. Then it was showtime!

The cast was very good; they’ve been on for about a month, and they really had it together. My favorite parts of the show are Hades’ interactions with Pain and Panic. As usual, Pain and Panic stole the show. I know most of the jokes, but they’d worked in quite a bit of new material. I am a real comedy buff, so that is my favorite part, but I enjoy the songs from Hercules so I like the musical numbers, too. It will be interesting when we sail again in June to see how this cast continues to evolve the show. At the end of the show, be sure to stay until the end of the curtain call for a very cool pyrotechnic effect.

The Golden Mickeys
Friday’s show was The Golden Mickeys, Disney Cruise Line’s newest offering. We saw it when it debuted Labor Day weekend, and now we were interested to see if there were any changes with the new cast. There was a few tweaks, like Ensign Benson’s costume (instead of dress whites, she now wears blue) and some new cartoon footage (watch for the quick clip from “Brother Bear”), but overall the essence has remained same. I’m glad, as I love it just the way it is. My only complaint is that it’s too short; it moves so quickly that it’s over before you know it. Of course, all of the shows are less than an hour, but this one is so fast moving that the time really flies.

At least the fun starts a little early. The festivities kick off before the show begins, as you head to the theater. In a style befitting a gala awards show, paparazzi flash cameras at the arriving “celebrities” (guests). You can pause to be interviewed by Rona Rivers, who is waiting right outside, which means you will appear onscreen inside the theater.

The premise of The Golden Mickeys is an awards show to honor Disney films in various categories such as heroes, villains, friendship, and romance. This is used as a framework for numbers from popular movies such as Snow White, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, Tarzan, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, Pocahontas, 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, and Toy Story. There is also a guest appearance by Stitch and lots of cartoon clips from various other movies (my favorite is Darla from “Finding Nemo” in the Villians sequence).

But best of all is the beginning, where Ensign Benson gets some help from Roy Disney himself after finding herself unexpectedly thrust into the role of hosting the show. There is lots of old footage of Walt that I really enjoy. I love reading biographies and stories of the early days of Disney, so I just love seeing the classic footage. Another highlight for me is a special appearance by Elvis Stitch during the Comedy sequence. Terk from Tarzan steals the spotlight from Ensign Benson, and Stitch joins her for a rousing rendition of “Trashin’ the Camp.”

If you have small children, be aware that the Villians sequence may be scary, especially if they are sitting in the front. Ursula appears in larger than life form, and her tentacles come very close to those in the first row. Other than that, the sequence is reminiscent of Fantasmic, and the scariness is offset by Cruella DeVil and her entourage performing her signature song. Once of the biggest crowd pleasers always seems to be the Toy Story tribute to friendship. The other is the Snow White sequence in the beginning, when children get to join Snow White and Dopey on stage in the role of the remaining six dwarves.

I love the musical numbers, but I also enjoy The Golden Mickeys from a technical standpoint. It is so amazing to see what they can accomplish on a cruise ship stage, with such limited space. From blending the cartoon and real worlds in Snow White to Princess Aurora’s color changing dress to Ursula’s menacing tentacles and the cartoon backdrops in many of the numbers, the show is a technical marvel.

As the end of the show approaches, Ensign Benson slowly but surely gains her confidence. She may have started off with a severe case of stage fright, but in typical Disney fashion, there is a happy ending.

Since it was Good Friday and most of the shops in Nassau were closed, there was a special Golden Mickeys matinee. We decided to see it so we could have our evening free. I had noticed that even though the stores were closed, the ship was still pretty much deserted, just like a usual port day. Sure enough, the show was much less crowded than I expected. There were a lot of people in the middle section, but the sides were virtually empty.

On the surface, it might sound ideal to watch a show in an uncrowded theater. That would be true at the movies, but for stage shows, I personally like the energy of being in the midst of a large, lively audience. The people at the matinee were so quiet and reluctant to clap that I was reminded of Hades’ line, “Is this an audience or a mosaic?” I still love the show regardless, but I imagine it must be harder for the actors to perform if they don’t get an enthusiastic response.

We decided to go to our regular evening performance, and this time around there were lots of people and plenty of enthusiasm. Since there have been some changes, hubby took lots of new digital photos. If you want to take pictures, please do it WITHOUT a flash to be courteous to those around you. Sometimes the constant flashes are almost blinding, but on this trip I was happy to see that most people followed the rules and did not take flash photos. We have a digital camera with night vision that takes great flashless shots of all but the darkest scenes. I noticed a couple of other people around us using flashless digital cameras, too.

The big evening crowded laughed, clapped, and cheered at all the appropriate times and gave the show a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. I was very pleased to have seen my favorite show twice, and if it wasn’t dinner time, I could easily have sat through a third peformance.

Disney Dreams
Even though this was cruise number 37, I think we have seen Disney Dreams closer to 40 times. I love The Golden Mickeys, but Disney Dreams is hubby’s unwavering favorite (and I must admit that I never get tired of it either). Sometimes there is a matinee, so we double dip and see that plus the evening performance. Of course that doesn’t count the innumerable times we’ve watched it on our stateroom t.v.

Like Hercules, Disney Dreams has been around since the debut of the cruise line. Like The Golden Mickeys, it features a variety of scenes from various Disney movies. It is framed around the story of a little girl named Anne Marie, who wishes she could fly to the place where dreams come true. The Blue Fairy drafts Peter Pan to assist her in learning to make her own magic.

There are scenes from Aladdin, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid (my favorite), and The Lion King. As much as I love the musical numbers, my favorite part is towards the end, when Tinker Bell pixie dusts the cruise ship. I never get tired of it, no matter how many times I see it.

There was no matinee this time around, so we saw the pre-dinner show. Then, of course, we had to turn it on to watch again as we dressed for dinner. If I were travelling with children, I think that it would be so neat to put them to bed and let them fall asleep watching Disney Dreams on t.v.

Memories of Retired Shows
Besides these three shows, in the past Disney has attempted some “non-traditional” fare. One of their original offerings was Voyage of the Ghost ship, a swashbuckling pirate adventure with no Disney characters at all. But when people are sailing on a Disney ship, they want to see familiar characters/stories and hear familiar songs. Ghost Ship was retired, but ironically I think it would have been a success if it had been released later and tied into the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It would have been a natural fit.

There was another offering, which was originally titled C’est Magique, on the seven day Magic cruises. It was a new age-type magic show in the mold of something like Cirque du Soleil. In the original version, there was absolutely no dialogue. Personally, I really enjoyed it, but it contained no “Disney” elements so it was soon retooled into Morty the Magician. This time around, there was a story line and an appearance by Sorcerer Mickey. But even The Mouse himself couldn’t salvage it, and now it’s retired too.

Hopefully, if Disney Cruise Line ever retires Hercules and introduces another show, it will be on a par with The Golden Mickeys. I’d love to see a Lilo and Stitch theme, since they go with the whole tropical concept. The fact that Lilo & Stitch is my all-time favorite Disney cartoon has absolutely nothing to do with it!

Usually when we’re on the ship, we don’t go to the movie theater. Disney does have some really good offerings; they premiere movies from their studios on the Wonder and Magic the very same day that they debut on land. On our cruise, “Home on the Range” was already playing, and “The Alamo” made its debut. For the premieres and the really popular new movies, the screening is often held in the Walt Disney Theater, which is the main show theater. It is larger than the Buena Vista Theater, which is the regular spot for films.

I supposed that if you’re a movie buff, seeing films on board is a great savings over theater prices. But it’s not worth it for me because my cruise time is priceless, and I rarely spend it doing something that I could do at home. The movies will come out on DVD pretty quickly, but I can’t recreate the cruise ship experience in my living room.

But if you have kids or really enjoy seeing movies as soon as they are released, you’ll probably spend some time in the theater. Besides the first run offerings on the big screen, you’ll be able to see various older movies on your stateroom t.v. There is also a channel that plays classic Disney animated films 24 hours a day. For some reason, Hercules seemed to be on every time we turned on the cartoon channel. It was fun to see it and recognize how the movie dialogue had been worked into the play.

Photo Opportunities
On the way to dinner on the first night, I was very excited to spot a new photo opportunity. Throughout the cruise, the photographers from Shutters take portraits in front of a variety of backdrops. We have just about all of them, but there’s one that is generally only offered on the four night cruise that I’ve been coveting. It is a backdrop of the bow of the ship, with a sunset in the background. When I saw that it was available on this cruise, hubby and I had to take advantage of it. We have quite a collection of ship photos, and we always love adding new ones.

You cannot use your own camera at the back drops, but there are plenty of photo opportunities with the Disney characters where you can use your own camera in addition to the shots taken by the photographers. To find out where and when particular characters will be, call 7-PALS from your stateroom phone or look at the board outside of Shutters or in the atrium. Characters are among the most popular photo offerings, so the lines can get quite long. Be sure to get there early to get a picture with your favorites, as the line will be cut early if it gets too long.

I was hoping to find Lilo and Stitch, but they remained elusive. I have a photo with Stitch that was taken a couple of cruises ago, at the farewell gathering on the last night in the atrium, but I want to get a professional shot. The farewell is a character bonanza, with lots of traditional favorites, plus several of the main stage performers. The Shutters photographers don’t take pictures at this event, so you’ll definitely need to bring your own camera. The characters descend the staircase outside of Tritons and go out into the crowd in the atrium. There will be crew members on hand to keep some semblance of order, and you will probably be able to get several good shots if you move quickly. The only bad thing is that late dining often interferes with this event. We did attend it this time, but sometimes we run out of the dining room for photos and then return for dessert. If you have late dining and want to attend, you can also let your servers know that you will need to leave a little early. They are great about accommodating your request.

The farewell is a free for all, but the other character photo events are very well organized and controlled. On board the ship, they usually take place in the atrium. On Castaway Cay, they will be at various points along the main path in the morning and at the gazebo near Cookies in the afternoon. You may also run into them at various places on the ship; on this ship, I had my hand gallantly kissed by Captain Hook when I ran into him in the hallway. Later in the trip, as I was carrying my lunch back to our beach chairs on Castaway Cay, I heard people chuckling and turned to find Mickey right behind me! You never know where a character will turn up.

On this trip, we also got some neat shots on Castaway Cay. There are photographers at the family beach snapping photos on the sand and in the water. We got a picture of hubby and I standing in the water and another one of me lounging in a hammock. Take advantage of as many of the photo opportunities as possible because you’re not under any obligation to purchase the pictures.

Shutters can also develop your film and transfer your digital pictures onto a CD. Hubby purchased a waterproof camera to take photos on the island. He was going to have them developed on board but opted not to because he still had a few shots left to take. At the airport on the way home, he was forced to put the camera through the x-ray machine. The security agent swore up and down that the machine wouldn’t harm it. Back at our house, he used up the last few shots taking photos of our cats. When he had the film developed, the cat pictures were grainy and much too bright. Thankfully, the photos from Castaway Cay were okay, but the film that hadn’t been exposed yet was ruined. Next time, he’ll opt for the onboard developing.

Another cool thing to take advantage of on board is to purchase Christmas cards. The cards were offered for the first time in 2003, and they were such a hit that they’re now a permanent item. Even if you are sailing early in the year, you can buy your cards early. You choose a photo and a decorative scene, such as Mickey’s hand holding an ornament or Mickey lounging on the beach. You select some text, your photo is added, and voila! Cool personalized postcards. We already have our 2004 cards, as we bought them back in February.

Dining at Sea
I covered the embarkation buffet earlier, but that’s just the first part of a long weekend full of delicious dining opportunities. Hubby recently lost over 50 pounds, while I lost 25, so we do try to watch what we eat. But when we are on the ship, we allow ourselves to do some indulging. I think that the only way to maintain good eating habits is to give yourself a break every now and then. I do make some concessions to my new eating style, though. Between meals, I always used to snack on the delicious chicken tenders from Plutos, with plenty of honey mustard. Now, I refrain from most between meal snacks. I also skip some of the desserts or have something light. For example, in Parrot Cay the cold mango soup is actually an appetizer, but I ordered it to cap my meal instead of to start it. Disney also offers some excellent sugar-free desserts. Hubby gave a thumbs up to the sugar-free strawberry shortcake at lunch in Triton’s.

But I do allow myself to have special treats, like the chocolate souffle at Palo. With so many goodies around, it’s impossible to resist everything. Hubby and I try to balance the indulgence by keeping up with our exercise routine. He likes to work out in the fitness room, while I prefer walking and water jogging at Castaway Cay.

The Wonder has three main dining rooms: Triton’s, Animators Palate, and Parrot Cay. Each is themed differently, and each has a different menu. Animators is the most famous because of its show, where the walls literally change from black and white into color. But personally, I like Triton’s best because it has my favorite menu. I also like the Little Mermaid theme and the blue and green cast to the lighting. You eat at a different restaurant each night, and your server teams moves along with you. On this trip, our head server is Rita, who we know from many previous trips. Our servers were Rolly and Agnes. They took good care of us, handling all of our special requests cheerfully and efficiently.

In addition to the three regular restaurants, there is also Palo, an adults only alternative. You have to make reservations to dine there, and there is a $10 per person surcharge, but it is well worth it. Palo is the equivalent of a fine restaurant, with meals cooked to order. It reminds me of something like D’Antonio’s in Celebration, Florida. The cuisine is Italian, with many delicious pasta dishes. There is also steak and seafood, and even an assortment of pizzas. The pizza is delicious but filling, so I usually skip that (it makes a great appetizer if you have a large group, but generally it’s just hubby and I).

Your meal is kicked off with fresh bread and three dipping sauces (olive, red pepper, and garlic mayonnaise), as well as antipasto. We skip the antipasto because we like an order an appetizer off the menu, but we also want to save room for dessert. Hubby loves the Italian fish soup as a starter. It is a red soup chock full of shrimp, mussels, and scallops. I really enjoy the portobello mushroom appetizer. For dinner, I know that the filet mignon with gorgonzola cheese is always good, but often I’m tempted away by a special. On this trip, I tried the special lasagna, and it was absolutely divine. Hubby can vouch for the fact that I am not really a pasta person, but the lasagna was out of this world. It was chock full or beef and cheese, and it was topped off with an utterly delicious white sauce. If it were a regular menu item, that would probably be my usual order. Hubby opted for the tuna, as usual, which he orders as rare as possible. He would be happy if it were totally raw, as he loves sushi. Palo offers the next best thing: a quick sear on either side, leaving a nice, pink middle.

For me, no visit to Palo is complete without chocolate souffle for dessert. I like it with lots of white hazelnut sauce and just a dab of chocolate sauce. Mmmmmm! Hubby tends to switch off between the pistachio torte and the panna cotta. No matter how full I’m feeling (which is usually pretty full, since I tend to overindulge in the bread and sauces in addition to my meal), I always make room for that chocolate bliss.

A secondary benefit of eating at Palo is the view. I especially like dining there on Nassau night, with the lights of the city as the backdrop. One of my most memorable Palo visits occurred on the Magic, when we were in Key West. Our dinner was timed just right so that we watched the sunset right from our windowside table.

Even though there is a surcharge to dine at Palo, we always add on an additional gratuity for our Palo server. We base it on what we would tip in a similar land-based restaurant. If you want to add something, you can put it on the slip when you pay for the surcharge.

The other onboard dining experiences were all excellent. I always have eggs benedict from Triton’s for breakfast on Nassau morning, and we vary between Triton’s and Beach Blanket Buffet for lunch. On this trip, hubby convinced me to lunch at Triton’s by reminding me about their delicious curried pumpkin soup. They also make fresh pasta and a wonderful Hawaiian-type salad. I always request added maraschino cherries. It may sound like an odd combination, but it is delicious.

If you want to sleep in or don’t feel like leaving your stateroom for breakfast, you can pre-order continental items the night before. You fill out a card, place it on your doorknob, and your food and beverages will be delivered the next morning at the appointed hour. The room service staff on the Wonder are great. They are so prompt that we use them as an alarm clock. If you have a verandah, enjoying your morning coffee outside is the perfect way to start off your day.

We did find a new culinary treat on this trip in an unexpected place: Cookies Barbeque on Castaway Cay. After I got my food in the regular line, I noticed that there were tables where you could get a fresh Ceasar salad. You'll have to be on the lookout because you won't see this in the regular buffet line. I had already loaded up on food so I skipped it, but hubby got one and pronounced it quite good.

Onboard Accommodations
I am a creature of habit, and I love deck 5 in general and stateroom 5650 in particular. When we’re not there, we can be found in one of the non-adjoining secret porthole rooms (either 5520 or 5020). Unlike the other decks that contain guest staterooms, deck 5 only has rooms in the forward and aft sections. The middle of the deck is taken up by the Buena Vista movie theater and the kids clubs. The activity areas are well removed from the staterooms, so they won’t cause any disturbance. Actually, I think you get less hallway noise and traffic on deck 5 because it does not have an endless hallway of rooms like the other decks.

The secret porthole rooms are forward, and 5650 is aft. Aft is my favorite area of the ship, and the farther back, the better. 5650 is the last guest stateroom on the starboard side of the ship. Being so far off the beaten path means that it is quiet and peaceful. Generally, the only time I ever hear anyone passing by is the first afternoon, when people are lost. Once they learn their way around the ship, they don’t venture back to my peaceful little zone.

This trip was no exception. We were in 5650 and never heard any disturbance when we slept in a bit on Nassau morning, even though there were lots of kids on the ship. I would see them when we walked through the hallways, but I never heard them anywhere near our stateroom. We also spent some quality verandah time; 5650 has a solid metal verandah rather than a plexiglass railing (this is true of all the staterooms past the navigators verandah rooms), and it is deeper and a little larger than the regular verandahs. It feels more private and secluded, and it’s nice to only have a stateroom on one side because you only have one neighbor. Even though a three day cruise literally flies by, we still found time to lounge around outside. I like to go out there for a little while each morning and then spend some time on the verandah on Nassau afternoon (I just pretend it’s a day at sea).

Nassau (Sort of)
Speaking of Nassau, on this trip, for the first time in ages, we actually disembarked for the first time in ages. No, we weren’t anxious to have our hair braided or to stock up on liquor and smokes. We happened to be in port at the same time as the Celebrity Century. Cruise Director Rick, formerly of Disney Cruise Line, is now a cruise director at Celebrity and he happened to be working on the Century. We haven’t seen him in ages, so we broke our tradition of staying on board and disembarked in Nassau to meet up with him for a quick visit. His ship was only in port for a few hours; it didn’t arrive until 2:30 p.m. and left at 7:30 p.m., but we still managed to get together to say hello.

It was great to see Rick again after over a year, and he is doing great. Our stay in Nassau consisted of disembarking the Wonder, walking over the Century, which was docked right next to us, visiting with Rick, and then heading right back to the Wonder. That was enough for me; if it weren’t for Rick, we would have just pretended it was a day at sea and stayed on the ship. I did notice one classy perk at Celebrity; as the passengers returned to the ship, they were handed hot towels to freshen up.

The rest of our Nassau day was filled with spa appointments, quality verandah time, and the Golden Mickeys matinee. The matinee was only because of Good Friday, since there was less to do in the port. But even without an extra stage show, there is plenty to do on board. There are always movies and various activities like a family animation class. For lunch, you can choose from a buffet on deck 9 or a sitdown meal at Tritons.

37 Times at Castaway Cay
Like The Golden Mickeys and Disney Dreams, Castaway Cay is one of those things that I never tired of. Hubby and I have extraordinary luck. In 37 cruises, many of which are in the winter, we have never missed docking at Castaway Cay. There have been a couple of close calls in the colder months, but we’ve always made it in. We’ve never been totally rained out, either. We have encountered a couple of storms, but we’ve always gotten in at least of couple of hours of beach time.

For some reason, hubby was convinced that it was going to be too cold to swim this trip. He was so convincing that I booked my reflexology treatment at 2 p.m. on Saturday, figuring that the cold would entice us to leave the island early. Boy, did he turn out to be wrong!

Actually, at about 6 a.m. Saturday morning, it looked like things might be a wash-out. I was sound asleep, but hubby was out on the verandah watching a wicked thunder storm blow through. He was fully convinced that it was going to stick around, but our luck held and it cleared out just in time for disembarkation. The only signs that remained were some dark clouds that blew away by late morning, wet sand, and water on the beach chairs.

Hubby had booked the brand new jet ski excursion for 9:45 a.m., so we disembarked bright and early. We were stepping on the island before 9 a.m. We had some postcards to mail, and the post office is supposed to open at 8:30 a.m., at least according to the posted sign, but it was deserted. We figured we’d just stop back in the afternoon.

Usually we go to the adult beach at the far end of the island, but very now and then I like to stay at the family beach. Serenity Bay usually lives up to its name as an oasis of peace and quiet, but sometimes I like to be in the thick of things. At the far end of the family beach, near the Heads Up bar, there is a nice, uncrowded area. It takes a bit of walking to get there, but it is close to restrooms and the game room. There are three hammocks in the area that often stay undiscovered until lunchtime.

We were going to head over there, but since we were so early, I noticed a couple of unoccupied hammocks behind the bar across from Cookie’s Barbecue. Although they were right off the main path, they were shaded by a clump of palm trees that gave the area a secluded feel. They weren’t right by the water, but we don’t have any young swimmers to watch, so that doesn’t matter to us. We claimed one of the hammocks and adjacent lounge chairs and set up “base camp” in this new location.

As the clouds disappeared and the sun grew stronger, the temperature started to climb. It turned into one of the most gorgeous days I can ever remember on Castaway Cay. It was warm enough to swim, but not unbearably hot and muggy. Hubby did jet sking, snorkeling, and lounging, while I split my time between swimming and reading in the hammock. When we first arrived, the water and beach were nearly deserted. It was amazing to watch how the crowd grew and multiplied as the morning wore into afternoon.

A Jet Ski Adventure
The jet ski eco-tour is a brand new offering on Castaway Cay. There have always been pedal boats, sailboats, and kayaks for rent, but the jet skis are a new addition to the fleet. You cannot take them out on your own. You sign up for a guided tour, and you are led on an excursion with two stops as the guide shares some history and ecological information about the island.

Hubby though he would have difficulty getting a spot, but it turns out he was the only person in the 9 a.m group! I think this is because this tour is new, and not many people know about it yet. Once the word gets out, I suspect it is going to get very popular. The price tag is a bit steep; it’s $95 for one person, but there is a price break for a second person riding on the same jet ski. But I think there will still be a lot of people who are willing to pay the price in order to jet ski in Paradise.

Personally, I’d rather pay the extra money to be assured that I am going with a trusted vendor. Hubby once rented a jet ski at the public beach in Nassau. The vendors there are all independent, with no regulation. The jet ski died out in the middle of the ocean, and he had to wait until it drifted back to shore, mile from his starting point. When he finally got back to the beach, he made the mistake of telling the vendor where he left the jet ski before demanding his money back. Of course, the guy disappear with his money.

At least when you ride a jet ski at Castaway Cay, you know that Disney has carefully selected the vendor. Hubby was very impressed with the guides’ knowledge and their focus on safety. There is one guide in front and another in back, and you wear a life jacket and go at a controlled speed. You stick pretty close to the island and the surrounding area rather than going out into the open ocean. One of the two stops is on the opposite side of the dock, where the guides talk about the mangroves. For that stop, you stay on your jet ski. The second stop is at a sandbar, where you climb off your jet ski and learn about how the sand bar was created and some of the history of the Bahamas. If you are lucky, you might even get to see wild crabs! Hubby was fortunate enough to see the crabs and get his photo taken holding one. The guide said that this is the first time he’s seen the crabs there since the tour started.

The whole experience, from start to finish, lasted about an hour. The tour itself was about 30 minutes, and the rest of the time was spent on orientation and instruction. Hubby really enjoyed it and highly recommends it to anyone who wants to get a unique view of the island or who just wants to say that they rode a jet ski at Castaway Cay.

A Lazy Day on the Island
My day was much more lazy. I like to jog in the water for exercise, and if I went out a little ways it was deep enough to give me a workout. At first, I was nearly the only one in the water, but as the morning wore on, more and more people took the plunge. The beach chairs were filling in rapidly; you could tell each time when a tram must have dropped off a load of passengers because a new herd of beach goers would wander down the sand, looking for a spot.

After I was done in the water, I curled up in the hammock with a good book. The palm trees provided plenty of shade, and even though I was on the family beach and it was pretty crowded, the area was relatively quiet. It was quite a while before anyone even took the nearby chairs. I think most people want to be closer to the water, and many even bring the tiny chairs right down into the ocean. It’s a good way to keep a close eye on the kids and also to cool off and relax.

Finally a large family group showed up and managed to scrounge enough chairs to set up “base camp” in the area in front of me. They put together a pretty impressive camp, but I didn’t see too much of them. The gang of kids immediately headed for the water, leaving mom to hold down the fort and keep an eye on their stack of water toys. I had a very nice, peaceful interlude until hubby returned from jet skiing and snorkeling. Then, since our chairs were very close to Cookies, we brought our lunch over to the beach. By the time we were done eating, it was time to head back to the ship so I could shower before my 2 p.m. spa appointment. So much for hubby’s prediction of cold weather; it had been an absolutely perfect day. The only good thing about returning to the ship a little early is that I burn easily. Even though I’d been applying sunscreen, I had a bit of a burn going already. But I was still sad that I missed kayaking.

We had packed up and were just leaving when I saw a family heading onto the beach to find a place. I pointed out our hammock, and they happily claimed it and settled in for the afternoon.

The Silent Auction
Shopping is a popular activity on cruise ships and in port, but hubby and I have just about every t-shirt and quite a bit of assorted DCL merchandise, so we usually don’t buy too much in the onboard stores. I always look at the Silent Auction merchandise, but usually nothing catches my eye. I already own my all-time favorite DCL item, which is a copy of the picture that graces the bed over stateroom 5650, so it’s hard to find something that measures up.

On this trip, I finally found another piece of artwork to fit into my DCL bedroom. It was a gold-framed picture of the ship, with clouds in the background. In the clouds you can see WDW. For some reason, that really struck me as neat. Hubby recently bought a framed poster at Art of Disney that features Walt and Mickey walking over a bridge with the parks and various characters behind them, on land and in the clouds. I absolutely love items that depict Walt and Mickey together (we also have Triple Self Portrait handing in the same room). For some reason, this picture reminded me of that one, even though Walt and The Mouse are nowhere to be seen. Maybe it was the parks and the clouds. The blue matting was perfect for our bedroom and the starting bid was reasonable ($75), so I decided to give it a go.

To participate in the Silent Auction, you write your bid on the appropriate sheet. The items and sheets are placed outside the Walt Disney Theater during the times that the shops are open. You must bid at least the designated minimum, and others can come along and bid more. When the auction closes on the last day, the highest bidder wins. If you are the winner, you will receive a call in your stateroom. You must pay for your item by 11:00 p.m. on that last night. It can also be shipped for an additional fee.

I decided that if I could get the picture for $75, that would be great, and if someone wanted to go higher, I would bow out. I had awful luck when I was trying to get my stateroom picture. The opening bid for that one was considerably higher, but when I bid for it on a couple of occasions, someone always topped me. For only $75, I thought someone would surely swoop in on this picture, too. But when we got back from dinner that evening, there was a phone message waiting for me…it was mine for the minimum bid!

I trooped down to Treasure Ketch to pick up the newest addition to my Disney collection. You pay in the store, and if you are taking your item with you, they will make sure that it is securely swaddled in bubble wrap. Now it is proudly hanging in my bedroom, among lots of other DCL paraphernalia. We have everything from a model of the ship signed by one of the captains to Captain Mickey and Minnie figurines to Steamboat Mickey to crystal etchings and even a nautical bedspread. Various photos from Shutters take up any remaining wall space and dresser tops. I am always homesick for the ship in between our cruises, but when I step into the bedroom, I can almost convince myself that I’m onboard.

If you’d like to bring a little bit of the ship back home with you, too, I highly recommend checking out the auction. Besides some cool artwork, there are unique items like genuine captains hats with signatures, framed sets of trading cards, dishes from the restaurants, promotional crew member items, and even bolts of cloth from the Animators Palate costumes. The items change regularly, so don’t be surprised if they are different on your cruise.

Flash Back to the 70s
On this cruise, we didn’t attend much of the adult entertainment. There is an 80s party on the first night, but I don’t like it as much any more because they took out the Michael Jackson dance numbers that the main stage actors used to perform. I wish that the 70s party was on the first night because then I can party until the wee hours and sleep late on Nassau morning. But we were pretty sleepy Thursday night, so since it was the 80s party, we skipped it in favor of our nice, comfy bed.

Other adult events that we like are the Wonderquest adult scavenger hunt and Match Your Mate, an at-sea version of the Newlywed Game. I don’t know if they had Wonderquest; as usual, Match Your Mate was on Nassau night, but we were pretty busy bumming around the ship so we missed it. We usually try to see it because it’s different every time, depending on the contestants. There are three couples: newlyweds, people who have been married for a few years, and the couple that has been wed the longest. That mix usually makes for some pretty hilarious results. My favorites are the couple who were honeymooning on the Magic because they had met there the year before (and had “discovered the magic” on the deck 7 aft verandah), the couple who shared intimate details about their tryst in a Six Flags parking lot, the elderly couple who had been discovered in an intimate position by a Boy Scout Troop that happened to hike by, and the even more elderly couple who took their honeymoon in Mexico with a young hitchhiker in tow. They spoke no Spanish and he spoke no English, but each night they would make him sleep outside the car while they carried on inside! They had been married for something like 60 years, so it was even more hilarious to imagine this scenario way back in the 1940s. Sometimes the show is more tame, but sometimes it’s even wilder; I can’t say much more here, since my website is a family site.

On the last night, we made up our minds to not miss our favorite event. After dinner, we stopped at our stateroom to change and headed down to Wavebands. I like to get there early to get a table as far away as possible from the smoking section. Many of the non-smoking tables are directly in front of the smoking section, which means you might as well be sitting in a smoking area. Combine that with generally poor ventilation and if you have allergies (like me), it can be a nightmare. There is one section off to the side that is all non-smoking, so we always stake out a spot there.

Sometimes it’s pretty crowded, but amazingly this time it was almost deserted. When the 70s party is on the last night, the turnout tends to be smaller because people are busy packing. But even when the crowd is light early on, the tables slowly but surely fill up as the hour grows later. This time, it started light and stayed light. I suspect it might have been because there was a higher than usual kid population on board due to the holiday. It’s more fun when it’s crowded, but we still had a good time. We did some dancing and then watched the special appearances by “Gloria Gaynor,” “John Travolta,” and “The Village People.” Like Match Your Mate, the dancing and lip syncing are always different, and the cruise staff does a great job of picking people to perform. On this trip, they didn’t have much of a choice because the crowd was so small. As a result, the performances where much tamer than usual, although one of the guys (an Italian man) was pretty funny. I was still glad we attended; I only regret it when I have to drag myself out of bed early the next morning for disembarkation.

Goodbye for Now
Sunday morning marked the end of Disney Cruise #37. We don’t put our luggage out the night before (if you do, it will be transported down to the customs area for you). Instead, we just take it with us when we leave the ship. You can go to the buffet or have a sitdown beakfast at a pre-assigned time that is based on your dinner seating time. But after a long weekend of overindulgence, we are usually too stuffed to even think about breakfast. We had some cookies and fruit left over from earlier in the trip, so we nibbled on that as we packed our final odds and ends and prepared to say goodbye to the Wonder for seven weeks.

Disembarkation is a real breeze. If you’ve never done it before, or if you’ve been through the arduous process on another cruise line, you will be pleasantly surprised. There is a disembarkation talk, but you don’t need to attend in person because it will be replayed all evening on your stateroom television. If you don’t go, be sure to view it on t.v. because it gives some important information on customs forms, identification requirements, etc. Even though we sail frequently, we still watch it because things change regularly.

We had given out tips and turned in our survey the night before, so in the morning there wasn’t much left to do other than leave the ship. When we left around 8 a.m., there was no line in the atrium, so we simply walked down the gangway and back into the real world. There are porters to help you with your bags if you need any assistance. We pack pretty light, so we can manage our own luggage. There was a short wait in the Customs line, but soon we were turning in our form and passing through on the first step of our journey home.

Depending on your form of transportation, you will either pick up your car in the parking lot across the street, meet your towncar or limo in the pickup area of the lot, or catch a van to a rental car agency in the pickup area. There is a big, white canopy in the designated area, and there are signs that mark lines for the rental car and Radisson Hotel shuttle van. The lucky people continue their vacation in Cape Canaveral or Orlando area, while the unlucky ones (like us) head to the airport or to home by other means.

Oh well, I shouldn’t complain because we are very fortunate to be able to cruise as often as we do. Even though we had to say goodbye for now, it wouldn’t be too much longer before we returned. And once again, we were leaving with memories of another “wonder”ful trip.