Thursday, June 10, 2004

Trip Report #13, November of 2002 on the Disney Wonder

After our 12th Disney cruise over Labor Day weekend, I didn't think it could be topped. Our last journey on the Wonder was full of little surprises, like the goodie deliveries to our room, that made it extra special. But although #12 still ranks as the best, #13 was not far behind. It was a top-notch experience that reminded me why hubby and I (no, we don't have any children) are so loyal to Disney Cruise Line.

We embarked on Thanksgiving afternoon, a bit later than usual because I stopped at the American Airlines desk to see if we could get a later flight home--no such luck. We booked our flights through Disney, and normally they schedule us for an afternoon return, but due to the holiday we were booked on a 10:45 a.m. flight, meaning we would need to be on our bus at the port by 8:30 a.m. Oh well, we figured that by the time the cruise was over, we wouldn't need breakfast anyway!

Since we know the way to the buses, we didn't look for the Disney Cruise rep., but if you are a novice, they will be there to help you. Soon we were safely on the comfy motor coach (complete with video monitors and a restroom). On the way to the port, the bus driver mistakenly showed the 7-day video, which was confusing for most people but a real treat for hubby and I. We haven't taken the 7-day yet, although we are scheduled in January, and the tape really fueled our excitement.

Embarkation had already begun when we arrived at the port, and there were no lines for check-in, so soon we found ourselves on board and enjoying the embarkation buffet (my favorite item: black forest cake. hubby's favorite: jumbo shrimp). We ate at Beach Blanket Buffet because we like to dine alfresco, but the same spread is also served at Parrot Cay.

After lunch, we dropped our luggage in our stateroom. Hubby headed to Palo for dinner ressies (they start at 2, but you should be at least 30 mins. early), while I killed time because you normally don't need to get to the spa until 15 mins. before 2. We were completely prepared, with our two-way radios with subchannels and scrambling to protect us from kids who think they are toys and cruise the channels looking for conversations to interrupt.

However, as I read the Navigator (your daily indispensible guide to what's going on and when), I realized that spa ressies had started being taken at 1 p.m.!!! I discovered later that this was the first cruise for this change, as 2 has always been the normal time. I dashed upstairs doubletime, but even tho' I was only half an hour late, the most popular times for our preferred treatments were already gone. Oh well, I still managed to fit us in for a surial bath after the safety drill, massage (hubby) amd seaweed wrap (me) on Nassau afternoon, and a couples massage on the island as a capper to our Castaway Cay experience.

I met up with hubby at Wavebands, where the Palo reservations were being taken. We got our preferred time (8:30 on the last night, in place of Parrot's always a difficult choice on which restaurant to miss), and we headed for our room to change & jump into the whirlpool for a little relaxation till the safety drill. We had a "secret porthole room" (one of the 6 category 10 inside staterooms on Deck 5 that actually have an obstructed view porthole), and we were impressed with the view, considering that it came at no extra cost. It was blocked with life raft equipment, but still afforded a nice little window on the world.

There was no one else brave enough to take a dip, but we are hardy Chicagoans so 70 degrees was downright balmy to us. We lounged until the safety drill, and I was pleased to discover that our station was outside (I hate it when we end up crammed into Animators Palate, which is usually our fate). The crew made it fun, having each family call out the name of a Disney character when their stateroom number was called. The whole experience lasted only 15 minutes from the time the emergency whistle sounded until we were dismissed. One of the crew members in our section was in the shows, so we had a really nice chat and made sure to watch for her in Hercules and Disney Dreams.

Our surial bath was right after the drill, and we had some steamy, muddy fun (wink, wink). For more on this couples experience, see my Epinion devoted to the surial. It put us in a relaxed, expectant mood for the premiere of 102 Dalmations, which replaced Ghost Ship (not a loss for us, as that is our least favorite of the 3 shows).

We've been on board for two other premieres (Toy Story 2 and Dinosaur), and each time Disney made it an exciting production. Guests walk down a red carpet to the theater like celebrities, while "paparazzi" snap pictures and bystanders beg them for autographs. The people inside the theater watch all the goings-on on giant screens. The movie was cute, although geared mainly for kids. Of course, I always enjoy seeing Glenn Close as Cruella ("Call me Ella...Cruella sounds so Cruel!").

As always, we started out for dinner in Triton's (Disney arranges the seatings so families are usually with families & adults are with other adults). However, due to the HUGE number of children on board, we were seated with a family. We saw mom, dad, and their daughter each night, but their teen never showed...he was having way too much fun with the teen activities. We never saw him, even when we ran into the family on the island and in the theater.

The menus had changed significantly since our Aug./Sept. cruise, but they retained favorites such as the sea bass and escargot. I will have them on my website at by early Dec. However, since it was Thanksgiving, I opted for the turkey special (delicious and moist, and the butternut squash soup was to die for!).

That night was the 70s party, which we seldom miss. We love the Gloria Gaynor/John Travolta lip sync contests and dancing to YMCA with the "Village People." My only complaint is that with the way Wavebands is set up, it's impossible to avoid breathing lots of smokers because the smoking section is ringed right behind non-smoking. I have respiratory problems, so I'm usually congested and gasping by the time we leave. We went to bed right after...I miss the improv comedy, and in the "old days" we would have been at the late show, but at least we get to bed a lot earlier and are less sleep deprived now that it's gone. A towel stingray was waiting in our stateroom, courtesy of Byron, our stateroom host.

We got up early for a sit-down breakfast at Triton's on Nassau morning. When we have a verandah, we usually order in, but since we didn't have one this trip, I figured I would indulge my craving for eggs benedict. Afterwards, we burned some calories on the morning deck walk (you get a sports card and earn punches for various activities, which you can redeem for merchandise such as pens, mugs, and t-shirts at the end of the cruise). Next, we wandered around Nassau until lunchtime, which we had back on the ship, at Tritons (another excellent new menu).

Our afternoon was spent indulging in spa treatments, topped off by an hour relaxing (or trying to while the basketball was pounding overhead) in the Rainforest, with its collection of armoatic steam rooms, saunas, and showers. We stayed there until it was time to get ready to go to the show.

That night's entertainment was Hercules, which is full of corny comedy and which will make a lot more sense if you have seen the movie. We've seen it on most of our cruises, and hubby especially loves Hades' silly stand-up routine. This cast was a mix of old and new performers, and they were one of the best groups I've seen.

We ate at Animators that night and had a great time chatting with our head server, Paul, and enjoying the new dishes. The maple salmon is the BEST!!! That and the duck & goat cheese appetizer will be my permanent choices on our next four Disney cruises in 2001. The only dissapointment was that Mickey didn't put in an appearance during the finale. He, or at least some of the other characters, usually shows up. I hope his absence wasn't a permanent change.

A pair of towel swans with their necks forming a heart were waiting for us in the stateroom. I crashed, but hubby hit the late showing of Remember the Titans and pronounced it excellent.

Castaway Cay day dawned windy, gray, and threatening, but other than some brief sprinkles, we really lucked out. We didn't get to rent kayaks due to the wind, but other than that we fulfilled all our plans. We did some swimming and snorkeling on the adult beach, ate lunch there (a smaller selection than Cookies, but with great grilled salmon and yummy steak sandwiches), and then enjoyed our couples massage in a cabana on the ocean. It's awfully pricey ($200), but it was well worth it--what's a cruise if you don't spoil yourself a little?!

Back on the ship, we got ready for the returning cruisers party, which is one of the perks of membership in the Castaway Club (you also get a stateroom credit and a gift, which is current a nice black sports tote. Previously gifts have been blue beach totes and photo frames). We were wined and dined with drinks and hors d' ouvres, and although we had planned to leave a bit early to get primo seats for Disney Dreams, we ended up running late because we got involved in a very pleasant chat with Cruise Director Rick. We are looking forward to seeing him again on our next Wonder cruise in April.

We still managed to get a halfway decent spot for Disney Dreams, which we have NEVER missed on all 13 cruises. It is pure Disney, with everyone's favorite characters and songs. On the 7-day, hubby is trying to figure out how to see it twice in one day, and we have it on videotape so he can get his "fix" inbetween cruises.

After the show was dinner at Palo. Their menu is the only one that hasn't really changed, and that's a good thing!!! I was swayed by the sea bass special, and of course I had to have my usual carpaccio and cap the meal with the world's best chocolate souffle. The only big change was that they now serve antipasto, in addition to the usual bread with three sinfully delicious spreads. Don't worry about the calories...the server makes a hole in the souffle "to let all the calories escape" before she pours in the sauce.

Before retiring for the night, we stopped at Parrot Cay to pass out tips to our regular servers. We always charge the tips the night before, and we bring cash to add a little extra for anyone who has made our cruise especially magical. This cruise, Byron (whose creation that night was a towel monkey) and head server Paul both earned some extra green.

It's always sad to pack and know that the next morning you have to leave the gorgeous, magical ship, but we were comforted by the fact that we'll be on the 7-day Magic in January and then we have 3 more coming up on the Wonder in 2001. We were just sorry that we didn't have time to see our servers and tablemates for a sitdown breakfast the next morning. However, I did find the time to stop down for a quick goodbye to Paul.

Disney's disembarkation is SO much smoother than Royal Caribbean's. You basically leave the ship when you want to, and your luggage will be waiting in a color-coded area of the terminal. Soon we were on a motorcoach headed to the Orlando airport..we wondered if #13 would be a jinx, but it turned out to be even better than we ever expected.

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