Thursday, June 10, 2004

Trip Report #16, August 2001 on the Disney Wonder

#16 on the Disney Wonder was an awesome experience, although it got off to a shaky start...our limo in Chicago didn't show up, so we ended up driving frantically to Midway Airport and just barely made our plane! We were flying ATA, a no-frills but reasonable airline that keeps the fares from Chicago to Orlando affordable (they are kind of like Southwest, but with assigned seats).

Thankfully, the limo fiasco wasn't a harbinger of things to come. As always, when we arrived in Orlando, our Happy Limo driver was waiting for us even though our flight arrived early due to a tail wind. I wish all services were as reliable as Happy! For once, ATA was very prompt with our luggage, and soon we were on our way to Disney cruise #16. Ironically, it was the anniversary of our first Disney cruise, way back in Sept. of 1998. Hard to believe we've packed in so many more since then.

We made it to the port in record time, which gave us some time to chat with some of the port personnel whom we'd met on our previous cruise. They are a great bunch! My kudos go to Tanya, Susan, and all the rest. It was so nice to simply walk up and check in, rather than taking a number and getting swallowed up in the chaos of the boarding procedure for Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, which we were on in July. With RCCL, not only do you take a number to check in, but you must also wait until your number is called to board--ugh!! They need to take lessons from DCL.

We were one of the very first on the ship, which started boarding around 12:15 (ir almost always starts earlier than the stated time of 1 p.m.). We were routed to Parrot Cay for lunch--those who embark early are sent there, and later arrivals are routed to Beach Blanlet Buffet on Deck 9, whichs serves the same spread but which offers the option of dining al fresco.

The buffet was excellent, as always, with me trying some mahi mahi and hubby gorging on the jumbo shrimp. The only buffet we've ever found that even comes close is the one on Radiance (but they don't have the shrimp). The only thing I miss is the black forest cake they used to have for dessert, although there is a wide variety of other sweets to choose from.

We were looking forward to seeing our friend Sasha, a wild & crazy Croatian/Canadian who we met several cruises ago on the Magic. We were pleased to discover that he'd moved to the Wonder, and we had a blast with him on cruise #15. He was not in the receiving line, but he'd left word to meet him later at the shore excursion desk.

Meanwhile, we headed to our stateroom, #5650 (or, as I like to call it, the Barb & Tony Suite). This is my favorite stateroom on the whole ship. It is a Category 6, and I'd rather be in it than a Cat. 5 or even a 4. It is as far aft as you can get, which I prefer because there is little hallway traffic so it is quiet and peaceful. I also like the solid metal verandah...while it doesn't have sea-through plexiglass, I like the shape and the fact that it is larger than standard. In addition, it is on Deck 5, which is as close to the water as you can get in a verandah room (I know most people like to be higher, but the water is my preference). You can hear the engine noise, but I sleep with a white noise machine anyway so it's the same type of lulls me to sleep.

A Cat. 5 room would be the same, but higher up and thus farther from the water. Cat. 4s have more room, but they are as high as you can get, on Deck 8, and with all the families up there, there is more noise potential. We discovered 5650 on cruise #15, and I was thrilled to be in my favorite once again.

We had a neat little surprise waiting on the desk...a welcome note from the president of the cruise line. We found out later that he was on board at embarkation to celebrate the arrival of the one millionth cruiser. The lucky person was upgraded to a suite and received a free cruise for 20 in the future...pretty sweet! We missed out on the festivities, but we heard it was a first time cruiser who burst into tears of excitement and happiness. What a neat celebration!

We unpacked and headed out to see Sasha before the "reservation rush" for Palo and spa reservations began. As we approached the shore excursion desk, he spotted us and came sprinting over to give us a huge bear hug--what a welcome!! Sailing on the Wonder is becoming like a homecoming for us. We had brough him a little care package that I wanted to drop off before heading to the spa, so we had a quick chat and made plans to link up later at the 70s party.

Since the spa has an open house and tours when it opens to take reservations, hubby and I grabbed the chance to take photos of the Tropical Rainforest sauna and shower room and the infamous Surial Bath room (home to the ultimate couples experience). You can find a link to my epinion on the surial at and I will be posting the photos soon.

Next, we headed for the adult whirlpool for our traditional pre-safety drill soak. It appears that more people are learning to bring swim suits in their day bags, as the adult pool was more crowded than I had ever seen it. A word of warning: BEWARE of the chemicals in the whirlpool! In only one sitting, they totally bleached hubby's brand new blue swim trunks to a faded tan and turned my new purple shorts into a weird tie-dyed pink.

Things move fast on the 3-day cruise. Soon it was time for the safety drill, which is mercifully short, and the sailaway from Port Canaveral. It's always fun to watch people at the port wave with giant Mickey hands and hear that distinctive ship's whistle play "When you wish upon a star."

Before we knew it, it was time to get ready for the show, "Hercules." We've seen it at least a dozen times, but we always enjoy the corny humor. It makes a lot more sense if you've seen the movie. Afterwards, we learned that this was the cast's first performance...unbelieveable, as they were one of the best we've seen. They had some really strong singers who put on an excellent show. As always, hubby and I amused ourselves by noting the little changes that we notice almost every time.

We had late seating dinner, as always, and as always, our first restaurant was Triton's (Triton's/Animators/Parrot Cay is often the rotation for adults without kids). This is where we discovered one of the few negatives of the cruise: no tablemates! I know a lot of people prefer to sit alone, but hubby and I are social creatures who enjoy meeting new dining companions on every trip. Since we were at a table for six, I suspect the other people might have switched to the early seating.

Oh well, at least our servers and the headwaiter were friendly and accommodating to our special requests. The menus at Tritons and Animators were the same as before. Parrot Cay has undergone some changes, but I can't personally comment on them, as we ate at Palo that night. At Triton's, I always have the escargot, duck, and souffle, and at Animators, I opt for the goat cheese appetizer and the salmon entree (extra maple sauce, please). Since tap iced tea (yuck!) is served on the ship, I make my own with one of the excellent flavored hot teas and a glass of ice. I have the menus on my website at

After dinner, it was off to the 70s party, which I love despite the fact that I popped off my knee cap dancing there on cruise #14 on the Magic. I had forgotten my patella stabilizer, so I had to tape up my knee in order to do some boogie-ing. The cruise staff does such an exellent job of getting everyone up and dancing, and you will live the guest appearances by Gloria Gaynor, John Travolta, and the Village People.

The only negative is that the smoking section in Wavebands is behind the non-smoking area, and there is little ventilation, so it wafts over and bugs people like me, who are allergic to smoke. Oh well, at least Disney has more smoke-free areas than RCCL ships, where I spend half my time hopped up on sinus drugs, with tissue stuffed up my nose.

In the old days, when there was still improv comedy, hubby and I stayed up till the wee hours catching every show. We are not big on the dueling pianos, so now we usually get to bed at a reasonable hour. I really miss the improv...I wish Disney would at least have some stand-up or some type of comedy other than the piano shows. We went to them a couple of times, but they were poorly attended. I don't know if that has improved and don't have any great desire to find out.

Our stateroom was neat & tidy, with a cute towel animal waiting for us. On some trips, we see our stateroom host frequently, but on this one we rarely saw him at all. I know he was around, though, as the room was always cleaned twice a day and a new animal was waiting for us each night. He kept us well-stocked with shampoo and ice, and even tried to fold our messy clothes...a losing battle!

The next day was Nassau, but having been there so many times, we just stay on board and pretend it's a day at sea. We used room service as our wake-up call and enjoyed a pleasant breakfast on our verandah before heading to the spa for an 11 a.m. surial bath. As I mentioned earlier, I have previously posted a full report on the surial, but basically it's an opportunity for two adults to indulge in mud fighting, body painting, and whatever else they can manage to do in a private shower & sauna room in 60 minutes.

We hit Triton's for a sit-down lunch (they were making a godly sweet and sour salad that wasn't on the menu but that was delicious). Then it was back to the spa for a massage & facial for me and massage & visit to the Rainforest steam/sauna/shower room for hubby. I usually get the seaweed wrap and massage, but this time I was too lazy to get up to shower off the wrap...I wanted to just lay there and be pampered.

As you can tell, we took it rather easy on this trip, as we were resting up for the following week, which we spent at Disney World. We also did some time in the whirlpool before heading to see "Voyage of the Ghost Ship." We usually skip that show, since it is the least "Disney-like" and we are not very fond of it. But we really wanted to see the talented cast again. It was also interesting because they've changed the storyline yet again...I think this is the third version we've seen since 1998.

Dinner at Animators Palate was next. We always enjoy the show and seeing the colors appear from black & white, but I miss the character appearance they used to have at the end. I've never figured out why they stopped it. After that, it was off to bed to rest up for a big day on Castaway Cay (once again, we used room service as our wake-up call. They are unbelieveably prompt...often they are even running early. If they are, they will call first).

Unbelieveably, for the 16th time in a row, the day dawned bright and sunny on Disney's island paradise. We have never been unable to dock or had a totally rained out day in all our cruises. We were one of the first off the ship, and we staked out a comfy hammock on the adult beach as home base. We spent time napping, swimming, biking, and snorkeling around the plane wreckage at Serenity Bay.

The "Rules Don't Apply To Us" family parked their screaming 3-year-old a couple of chairs down from us, so on the way to the restroom, I asked a crew member to issue a friendly reminder. When I returned, another couple was complaining to him. The nimrods had abandoned the kid on the sand and were off somewhere in the water, so a drink server had to wade out to find them. They were very miffed and took their sweet time leaving. They even abandoned the kid yet again, running off to take photos. A lone 3-year-old near the ocean...sounds like a recipe for trouble to me. Fortunately, they finally left.

But that little incident of rudeness didn't put much of a damper on a wonderful day. I love Disney because of the adult areas where we can escape and have quiet time. We had massages booked after lunch, which we always eat at the adult beach rather than returning to the main bar-be-que. Although there are no desserts other than fruit, and less choices, we love the grilled salmon and steak sandwiches. After all the onboard chowing, pineapple is more than enough for dessert.

After our massages, we headed back to the main beach to do some snorkeling before heading back to the ship. We had toyed with the idea of going to thre 3:15 matinee of "Disney Dreams," but it would have been too much of a rush.

We sadly watched the sailaway from our verandah, than headed to the returning cruisers party. It's a great opportunity to get a photo with the captain and chat with the ship's officers. We especially enjoyed talking to Cruise Director Rick, who has been on many of our voyages and who is one of the most enthusiastic people I've ever met, and Elaine, the Assistant Hotel Director, who is a sweet and amazingly helpful person.

We had flip-flopped our dining time and scheduled an early meal at Palo. As an added bonus, Sasha was allowed to join us. It was a welcome change from the crew mess hall for him, so we tried a variety of appetizers, including an excellent goat cheese pizza that I could easily become addicted to. We had the steak & gorgonzola cheese special for our entree...mmmmm! And of course we had to top it all off with the famous Palo chocolate souffle. It was so much fun to dine with Sasha, especially after being exiled for two days in the regular dining rooms.

Next was our 17th viewing of "Disney Dreams," a show I don't think we could ever get tired of. Since we were at the show attended by early diners, there were way more children. It was a totally different energy than the late seating show...the kids are so fascinated and way more enthusiastic than the adults. I really got a kick out of being with them and seeing their reactions.

The only sad thing about "Disney Dreams" is that it means the cruise is almost over. Soon it was back to the room to pack and put an end to trip #16. We passed out the tip envelopes...we had also brought phone cards as an extra thank-you to exceptional crew members, since virtually all of them are far from home.

We did the sit-down breakfast the next morning and then headed off the ship, where Happy Limo was waiting to whisk us to Walt Disney World. Unlike Royal Caribbean, where you wait forever for your luggage tag color to be called, on Disney you leave whenever you want to. Again, other cruise lines should take note!!

At the risk of being redundant, I have to say this was the best one yet. I can't go into all the details of the little surprises and fun times, or else I'd end up writing a book, but believe me, Disney had spoiled hubby and I rotten...I don't think we'll ever be able to adapt to another cruise line. We are already counting the days until #17 on November 22 (there is no better way to spend Thanksgiving), and we have six more already booked in 2002. We book them early through Dreams Unlimited ( and they watch for any discounts so I don't have to worry about it.

If you sail Disney, you won't regret it! It's the ultimate cruise line for families, and also for childless couples like hubby and I...they truly have something for everyone.

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