Thursday, June 10, 2004

Trip Report #15, April 2001 on the Disney Wonder

Where do I begin to describe our “Wonder”ful Disney cruise #15? After so many times, cruising on Disney’s ships is like coming home for my husband and I. Even when we think it’s impossible for the trips to get any better, the crew manages to outdo themselves each time. That’s why we love sailing Disney! But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let me start at the very beginning:

We booked our own flights on American (TIP: if you book your cruise far enough in advance, don’t book your flights through Disney right away. First, see if you can get a better price on your own, and if not, add the air later). We only brought carry on bags, as ATA took almost an hour to send out our luggage on our last trip. We got to the airport before 11 a.m. after a relatively smooth flight, and our driver Kahn from Happy Limo was waiting for us (TIP: if you want to get to the port as early as possible, take a towncar or limo instead of the Disney bus. This is often cheaper, too, depending on how many people you have in your party. Compare prices at Happy had sent a gorgeous stretch limo, so we rode to the port in style! It was stocked with cold drinks, and there was plenty of room to stretch out, which was nice for me since my bad knee had stiffened up on the plane. Happy also provides a digital camera for photos, which they give you on a diskette—great fun! We passed a Disney bus on the tollway, and we were one of the first to arrive at the port.

(TIP: If you are a returning cruiser, there is a special check-in line for Castaway Club members). However, at times it is more crowded that the regular check-in lines, so be sure to look for the shortest). Since we arrived early, there were no lines at any of the check-in counters, so we went to the Castaway Club line. While checking in, I discovered the crew member knew me from the internet. As Disney says, it’s a small world after all! Since no one was waiting, we had some time to chat, although I finally sent hubby to get us a place in the embarkation line. (TIP: Have one family member stake out a place in line while the others explored the port. Even if the line is non-existent when you arrive, it can grow almost instantly as the buses come in).

We were allowed on at 12:15 (TIP: Although the stated embarkation time is 1 p.m., it often starts early. We have embarked as early as noon, and usually we’re on by at least 12:30. However, this does vary…we have also boarded as late as 1:15, although that was unusual). You pass through metal detectors like at the airport and enter the “Wonder”ful world of Disney. The cruise staff is there to announce arrivals as your photo is snapped (TIP: take advantage of all the photo opportunities. You are under no obligation to buy them, so have as many as possible taken and you can then pick your favorites to purchase).

As we walked through the lobby, I saw a member of the cruise staff running towards me with outstretched arms. It was Sasha from Croatia, my old pin trading buddy from the Magic! I was amazed that he remembered me, but over the course of our Disney cruises, so many crew members have remembered us…I never cease to be amazed at their memories. That’s part of what makes it like coming home for us. We always see old friends and make plenty of new ones.
Sasha explained that he was getting Canadian citizenship and had come back to work for Disney after spending some time in Canada. We had a great time reminiscing with him, and then we let him get back to his greeting duties while heading for the buffet.

We ate at Parrot Cay (TIP: the same buffet items are served at both Parrot Cay on Deck 3 and Beach Blanket Buffet on Deck 9. If you prefer to eat outside, or if Parrot Cay is too crowded, head upstairs). There was plenty of jumbo shrimp for hubby, but none of the delicious conch fritters we’d enjoyed on the Magic in January. I was also sorry to see that the black forest cake is no longer one of the dessert selections. But overall, there were plenty of tasty items.

We had decided not to go to Palo on this trip, but we hurried to the spa to be first in line to book our surial bath, massages, and seaweed wraps. (HINT: Be sure to check the Navigator they give you at embarkation for the reservation times, which can vary). It was there that we encountered one of the very few low points of the trip. We traditionally book the first surial bath after the safety drill. We had done this on literally almost every one of our 14 previous cruises, and being first in line, it had never been a problem getting that time. Unfortunately, this time being first wasn’t enough. All the good surial times were either pre-booked or being held, presumably for the concierge suites. I suspect that this is because the surial is becoming so infamous on the internet and such a popular couples experience. But I was dismayed because only one time is available on embarkation day, so if they hold it or pre-book it, you are out of luck for that day…we had rushed up there for nothing, and if this continues to be the policy, we won’t be able to resume our tradition on our future cruises either.

Oh well. At least we got our other spa appointments at our preferred times. Then hubby went to unpack while I headed to the shore excursion desk. It never used to be crowded until after the shore excursion talk, but lately it has been mobbed as soon as it opens. The line was out of control, but a crew member came along collecting forms from people who knew what they wanted, so I was able to turn mine in and escape the line.

Disney truly has some of the largest staterooms of any cruise line. Even when we sailed Voyager, Royal Caribbean’s mega-ship, the outside staterooms were smaller than a Disney Cat. 11. On the Magic and Wonder, the cabins are the same size from Cat. 10 to Cat. 5, with the only difference being a porthole, verandah, or the lack of one.

We were in 5650, which is just about as far aft as you can get. I LOVE being aft, as you can hear the engines which is music to the ears of someone like me who sleeps with a white noise machine at home. (HINT: If you’re not like me and wouldn’t like to hear this, you will probably be happier more midship. However, it’s a tradeoff as there will be more noise from traffic in the hallways--aft tends to have less people noise as there are not as many people passing by). Even though it was a 3-day cruise, we still found time to enjoy our verandah. Many of the aft verandahs have a solid metal railing instead of the open railings covered by plexiglass. Some people do not like this, as they like being able to look at the ocean while sitting, but I prefer them because the verandahs are a little bigger due to the curve of the ship. For this reason, 6652 had always been my favorite, but 5650 has taken over that position because it is lower and therefore closer to the water (another thing I enjoy), and there is no one below you. Our stateroom host Weekly kept things clean and amused us with towel animals each night.

We generally skip "Voyage of the Ghost Ship," as it is the least "Disney" of the shows. We enjoyed Hercules as always, although I recommend seeing the movie first so it will make more sense. This cast was one of the best we’ve seen, and Hades was HILARIOUS! He stole the show. We never miss "Disney Dreams," and this time we broke our record by seeing it twice, as they had a 3:15 matinee performance on Sat. We are now up to 16 times and are still not tired of it. (HINT: No matter what else you miss, DO NOT miss that show!).

My all-time favorite adult activity is the 70’s party, even though my knee cap popped off while I was dancing at the party on the Magic in Feb., causing me to have an unexpected tour of the medical facility. (HINT: If you need medical assistance on the ship, you will be required to pay for it at the time of service. However, be sure to submit the bill to your insurer back home. We received 100% reimbursement.) This time, I had a patella stabilizer strapped on tightly, and I only danced a little. Even though I was dying to go crazy on the dance floor, it was still fun to see the guest appearances by Gloria Gaynor, John Travolta, and the Village People (one of whom bore a strong resemblance to my husband).

There is also a 50’s/60’s party that is themed as a class reunion, as well as various game shows like Match Your Mate (a version of the Newlywed Game) and WonderQuest (a scavenger hunt), and I recommend all of these. The other clubs on Route 66, the adult entertainment district, feature various performers, music, and singing, so there is something for everyone. The only thing I’m not really fond of is the dueling pianos, which replaced the improv comedy many months back. We used to catch almost every comedy show, but we never even bother to see the dueling pianos now. There is enough music already—I love good comedy, whether improv or standup, and that’s one of the things that is missing now on the Wonder (the Magic had some good standup shows).

We don’t travel with kids or teens, but on the beach we overheard parents complaining that they couldn’t get their kids to leave the club, even at 11:30 at night! We had a teen at our dinner table, and he was having a blast at the teen activities such as the glow-in-the-dark basketball game. On a previous cruise, we sat with a family who had a teenage son, but we literally never met him because he spent all his time with his new friends from Common Grounds and at at the fast food counters.

Since our first Disney cruise in September, 1998, we have seen the menus go through various incarnations. Overall, I like the current menus, although Parrot Cay is the weakest link (HINT: You can view the menus on my website at At Triton’s, I recommend the escargot, sea bass, and souffle for dessert. At Animator’s Palate, I recommend the duck and goat cheese appetizer, the maple-glazed salmon, and the strawberry shortcake. At Parrot Cay, I’m not big on anything, although on this cruise they featured an excellent prime rib special that was not on the menu. For those who are not too adventurous, there are usually more traditional steak or chicken dishes available, and if you really hate all the choices, don’t forget that adults can order off the kids’ menu too! The teen sitting at our table said he enjoyed being able to try new things, since he could easily order something else if he didn’t like his choice, so it’s a great opportunity for anyone in the family to be adventurous.

On Disney, you stay with the same tablemates throughout the cruise, but you go to a different restaurant each night and your serving team rotates with you. Once again, our first restaurant was Triton’s. We have an unbroken streak of being on the Triton’s/Animators/Parrot Cay rotation. This is because Disney does their best to pair families with families and childless couples with other couples. However, we’ve noticed that on holidays, when there are a lot of kids on board, we end up with families even with late seating on the “adult” rotation. We have actually enjoyed this, as kids and teens are often a lot more fund to chat with than adults! We were seated with a family of four on this cruise, and we had great fun chatting with them each night. Our serving team was excellent, and we were kept very well fed (HINT: if you can’t choose between two menu items, you can ask for both. Hubby often gets a small side order of a paste dish along with his main course or orders multiple appetizers.)

There are fast food outlets offering ice cream, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, and the like in case you get hungry between meal times or don’t want to eat in the main dining room. There is also 24-hour room service, which is usually quite prompt and always tasty. You can pre-order a continental breakfast the night before, which we generally do. We use the delivery as our “wake up call,” since they are always right on time, and then eat out on the verandah. What a lovely way to start the day! (HINT: Bring cash to tip the room service staff. It is one of the few times you’ll need currency, as most room service items are free. You won’t be able to put the tip on your Key to the World card unless you ordered pop, alcohol, or something else that you must pay for).

Hubby and I rarely disembark in Nassay anymore. We usually just pretend it’s a day at sea and devote the time to spa appointments and lounging around the pool (HINT: couples without children often think they would hate a Disney cruise because of the high percentage of youngsters. However, most other cruise lines do not have adults-only areas like Disney does. You can have plenty of child-free time at the adult pool onboard, in the spa, the adult clubs, and at the adult beach on Castaway Cay. Unless you absolutely cannot stand to be anywhere near kids, don’t let the Disney name scare you off. Childless big "kids" will have just as much fun as the little ones).

However, we saw a new America’s Cup shore excursion and figured it would be as much fun as the 12 Meter Regatta we did in St. Martin on our Magic cruise (the excursion is offered by the same company, and in both cases you race sailboats that actually competed in the America’s Cup). This was supposed to be an early morning excursion, but it was bumped to the afternoon. Fortunately, it didn’t conflict with our spa appointments, so we spend a lazy morning sleeping in.

The America’s Cup excursion was a blast. You get a chance to act as the crew and compete in an actual race with another sailboat. The two boats were both from New Zealand, and we were joined by people from RCCL’s Sovereigh of the Seas and the Carnival Fantasy. Of course, they were all talking about how nice Disney’s ship looks! We won the race and then headed back to the spa, where I indulged in a seaweed wrap while hubby had a massage. Then he lounged in the Rainforest while I did some whirlpool time and headed back to the room to relax before dinner.

We heard mixed comments from people who got off in Nassau, as many people don’t like the pushy salespeople at the Straw Market or being chased after to get their hair braided, and it is not uncommon to be offered drugs for purchase. I think it was an especially bad day, as many of the regular shops were closed due to its being Good Friday. If you’ve never been to Nassau before, I usually recommend at least getting off and taking a look around or taking a Disney-sponsored shore excursion. You can also grab a cab to the public beach on Paradise Island for a few dollars. But you can have just as good a time if you stay on the ship.

This is always the highlight of any Disney cruise. Sometimes the ship cannot dock due to the weather, but hubby and I have uncanny luck. In 15 cruises, we have never missed it once, nor have we ever been rained out (just a sprinkling shower a couple of times). On our previous trip, I was in a wheelchair with a brace from ankle to thigh due to injuring my knee the previous night. This time, it was so much nicer to be moving under my own power and to be able to enjoy the water rather than being stuck in a chair watching everyone else have all the fun.

We spent all our time at the adult beach, swimming, snorkeling, and generally lounging around. (HINT: Disembark early if you want a hammock or an umbrella. There are plenty of chairs, but the hammocks and umbrellas go fast). There is a lunch served at the adult beach. Although it is not as extensive as Cookies, it has salmon and steak sandwiches (which are not offered at Cookies), and it is so convenient. We almost always eat there rather than travel back to the main barbecue. We had massage appointments booked at the couples cabana, and it was so relaxing that I nearly feel asleep twice and hubby was snoring away next to me.

Besides the check-in line at the port, as returning cruisers we received a stateroom credit, gift (a nice tote bag), and an invitation to the returning cruisers party. The party has drinks, tasty snacks, and an opportunity to meet with the captain and various officers. Be sure to bring your camera! We had fun chatting with Cruise Director Rick again, as we’d talked with him on our last Wonder voyage in November and were looking forward to meeting up with him again. We got pictures with the captain and met various other officials, including the hotel director and beverage manager. You always pick up some good gossip at the returning cruisers party about future plans (itinerary changes, new ships, etc.). I don’t know if any of it is true, but it is always interesting!

All good things must come to an end, including this magical cruise. So many crew members went out of their way to make it special for us that I can list them all or describe everything, or else this trip report would be ten pages long. Suffice it to say that we were spoiled rotten and reminded of why we sail Disney so many times.

We don’t bother to go to the disembarkation talk anymore, as we know the routine by heart (HINT: If you miss it, it will be replayed on our television throughout the evening). Disney’s disembarkation process is 200 times better than Royal Caribbean’s. On RCCL, you sit around and wait for your assigned luggage tag color to be called, which can sometimes literally take hours. On Disney, you eat breakfast based on your assigned dinner time, then stroll off the ship at your leisure. If you prefer to disembark early, you can grab breakfast at the buffet or skip it entirely. We have rarely waited in a line to disembark—usually, we just stroll off the ship and grab our luggage in the port (HINT: Put brightly colored ribbons or some other identifier on your bags. On our last cruise, a family from Ohio took most of our bags, and we didn’t get them back until two weeks later). Then you go through Customs (usually as simple as handing them your declaration form), and you’re done.

Our towncar from Happy Limo was waiting for us. We had booked a late flight so we could go to Islands of Adventure for a few hours, but that’s another story. Our Disney cruise #15 was officially over, and once again hubby and I were marveling at how Disney had outdone themselves yet again. We thought nothing could beat #14, which was a 7-day, but #15 had packed so much fun into three short days that it was definitely as good as, if not better than, our previous trip. We have a list of new friends (and some old ones) to look up on #16, which will be Labor Day weekend on the Wonder. Even though it is more than four months away, once we walk down that gangplank, we know that it will be like coming home once again.

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