Note: Since we sail so often, this trip report isn't a blow-by-blow description. Rather, it focuses on certain highlights and new experiences:
It seems like there is always something new to do on a Disney cruise, even when you've sailed as many times as we have. Since this was cruise 18, you'd think that hubby and I have seen and done it all already. But the cruise always goes by too quickly, and there are many things that we keep wanting to try. This time, we decided to make it a point to experience as many new things as possible.
FIRST THINGS FIRST - GETTING THERE!
Since we were booked to fly out the morning of our cruise on a 7:06 a.m. American Airlines flight, we spent the night before at the Candlewood Suites near O'Hare airport. It was only $33 via Hotwire.com, and they have some neat amenities like free videos, free laundry, and even a free soda at check-in! It was also right down the street from Avistar, the parking lot, where you can get a rate of $6.95 per day via www.airportparkinglots.com. Doing that comes out much cheaper than the typical $119 park and fly rate.
We got to the airport around 5 a.m., and the check-in line was very manageable. The security line wasn't bad either, but our bags were searched very thoroughly, probably due to my pin case and a large bag of presents for the Wonder crew. They dismantled every gift bag and even checked hubby's shoes! Since we had left plenty early, we got to the gate early enough to get an exit row. We took off right on time and even got to Orlando a little early (although this was balanced out by a long wait for our luggage). We have our bags loudly marked with tape and hair ribbons so we can spot them easily (and to deter theft).
As always, we had arranged our transportation with Happy Limo. Our driver wasn't in the luggage claim area, but we had been forewarned...the parking spots for towncars and limos are very limited, so if the driver cannot find one, they have to stay outside. You simply call the office when you get your luggage and they send the car to meet you (there are plenty of pay phones conveniently located in the area). Soon we were in our towncar and on our way to the port.
I'll skip ahead quickly here to mention our flight home. In the time we were on the ship, the new airport security rules were implemented. When we returned to MCO, we were greeted by the Check-In Line From Hell...curbside was bad, but the indoor line was probably an hour long. Thankfully, we had E-tickets, and the electronic check-in kiosks were virtually deserted. The security line was huge, too...don't pick the one farthest to your right, as they let wheelchairs, airport crew, carts, car seats, etc. come to the front, extended the wait for the other poor souls who happened to pick that one. Our carry-ons were also hand-searched at the gate...boarding started a little early to accommodate this, so we still took off on time.
We arrived at the port around noon. Towncar and limo drop-offs still take place in the parking lot across the street. A porter is there to take your luggage, and you can simply walk to the terminal building with your day bag. Although there were check-in windows with no line, we chose to wait at the Castaway Club check-in (there was only one person in front of us) because we've gotten to know the people there and we always like to say "hi." It was great to see Tanya, Barbara, Tom, and the whole gang. Boarding started a little before 12:15 (seems to be the average time), and although the line was long, it moved along very quickly. Our friend Sasha was in the receiving line to give us a warm welcome back...when we saw him rushing to greet us, we knew that we were "home."
We headed to the embarkation buffet at Parrot Cay. The line was longer than usual because there was a travel agent tour group in front of us, but it moved quickly enough. Soon hubby was stacking those trademark jumbo shrimp on his plate while I went for the baked mahi-mahi. The cobbler for dessert was divine, although there were lots of other options and the ice cream seemed to be the favorite of most of the kids.
VACATION IS UNDERWAY!
For me, the cruise doesn't really start until we hit the hot tub. This is our favorite place to spend a little time before the safety drill. We usually arrive with plenty of time to take care of everything and get to the hot tub by 3 p.m. or earlier. This time, there seemed to be less people walking around (we love to watch the expressions on their faces as the experience the gorgeous Disney Wonder). I thought maybe it would be a sparsely populated cruise, but we learned later that there were 2700 people on board, including a convention of executives from various cruise lines. I'm sure they couldn't help but be impressed by Disney, although they probably can't admit it!
For the first time in a long time, the adult pool was overrun with kids that afternoon. Usually as crew member swoops in quickly to redirect them to the Goofy Pool, but this time numerous crew members passed by without saying a word. I wanted to do some laps, so finally I asked someone to take care of it and they did. Within five minutes, more kids jumped in, but I pointed out that they were in the wrong place. Mom and Dad were miffed, but what could they say? This was all on embarkation day--I don't know about the rest of the cruise, as we were so busy that we never made it back to the adult pool. But the other adults I talked to said they didn't see any further problems.
RELAXING AT THE VISTA SPA
We booked lots of spa treatments, as usual, including some new things for me. As always, hubby had massages, I had the Absolute Face and Body, and we did the infamous surial bath. But this time, I also tried the Peppermint Foot Ritual (pedicure) and the Ladies Night Treatment. I have a full, separate report on these treatments, but I have to say that Ladies Night was FABULOUS...the ultimate in pampering! It combines a massage and facial (done in a private treatment room) with champage and chocolates in the Rainforest. The pedicure was pretty standard...I love to pamper my feet, and I chose a nice, deep purple for my toenails so they would look good in my beach shoes. We of couse did cabana massages on Castaway Cay. I don't like to do the couples cabana with hubby because he always falls asleep and snores. We ended up in the same cabana, but divided by a wall. Between that and the fan, there was enough noise to drown him out.
Even though we've sailed Disney so many times, there are a lot of things that we still haven't tried. We decided that this trip would be full of new experiences. One thing we've always been meaning to try is the "Draw Mickey" class, held in Animators Palate. We headed over, and to our surprise, the instructor was none other than Sasha! Definitely a multi-talented guy...Pin Trading King and artist too. We were the only adults without kids, but what the heck. The class starts off with some Disney trivia (all the more interesting when taught by Sasha, as he is a walking repository of Disney information) and a showing of "Steamboat Willie." Then, you learn how to use a circle and guidelines to draw everybody's favorite mouse. Both hubby and I came up with scary-looking Mickeys, but art isn't one of our major talents. It was a lot of fun.
Another new experience (at least for hubby...I'm too chicken) was parasailing at Castaway Cay. He has always meant to do it, and this time, as we were passing the sign-up area, I told him that if they had availability, he should go for it. It was 10:45 a.m., and it turned out they still had a slot open at 11. He took it, and we arranged to meet at Cookie's at noon.
Thus began a new experience for me (well, semi-new...I've done it once before). Although we usually head to the adult beach, I decided to set up camp on the family beach so it would be easier to get to Cookies. Although there were 2700 people, and although it was already 11, I still found a nice spot with two lounge chairs under an umbrella by walking about 2/3 of the way down the beach. If I had walked all the way, I could have had all the peace and quiet I wanted, as there is a far area is usually semi-deserted. But sometimes I like to bask in the energy of a crowd...it was such a beautiful day, and I had a blast watching the kids swim, build sandcastle, and in general have a great time. I swam for about 45 minutes, then headed off to meet hubby.
Hubby's assessment of the parasailing is: "It's great!" He already wants to do it again. You don't even get wet...they raise and lower you from the boat. He says he wasn't nervous at all, as he was too overwhelmed with the awesome view. It was $70, and he said you go about for about 3 minutes...he wished it was longer. I have the feeling he will be lobbying to do this again on our next trip. We never actually made it to the adult beach (other than for our cabana massages). We got our lunch at Cookies (there were no lines, even though it was around noon) and settled in at a picnic bench in the enclosed area where we could hear the music and the D.J.'s witty banter.
A large group asked if they could join us (the picnic tables where we sat are are arranged in a long row), and we ended up having a really nice chat. The group was from New York, from an area where we've been thinking about going to a dude ranch, and they told us about the ranch and all the things to do in that area. Of course, if you prefer to sit alone, there are plenty of separate tables too.
Another new eating experience was the fabulous American Buffet at Beach Blanket Buffet. I am not a buffet person, and we have always eaten lunch at Triton's on Nassau Day. But hubby heard rumor that there was sushi at the buffet (there is, but only on the 4-day, when there is also an Oriental Buffet). We went to look for it and ended up being astounded by the bounty of delicious food! This buffet has been around for a month now, and I sure hope they keep it. My favorites were the turkey (which had a delicious smoked flavor), mashed potatoes, blue cheese Waldorf salad, and cold crab claws, and the blueberry cobbler for dessert. The only bad thing was that I ended up eating way too much, as I wanted to try a bit of everything.
SPEAKING OF FOOD...
Besides the buffet, we also heard that Parrot Cay now has nightly specials which are not on the menu. We did Palo on PC night, so I can't speak from personal experience, but they sounded good. Palo still has the steak-and-gorgonzola-cheese special, and they also featured a veal marsala special that was superb. Of course, we topped off our meal with chocolate souffles. Our server also brought their new dessert to try. It was a lime mousse with lots of fresh berries, and hubby (a berry person) really enjoyed it.
Hubby was also happy to see that they have added milk to the 24-hour beverage station on Deck 9. The Magic has always had milk, but it was missing on the Wonder. Every time we cruise. he lobbies poor Zain (the beverage manager) for milk, and now he has gotten his wish. As always, there is also coffee, tea, ice, and water available at the station (I recommend using the flavored hot teas to make excellent fresh-brewed iced tea...black currant is the best).
We did plenty of "old favorites" too, like the 70s Party (my all-time favorite adult activity) and our 19th viewing of "Disney Dreams." They did something a little new with Hercules...at the end, the cast came out for photos. We got a great shot with Hades, Phil, and Panic. Hubby got on the "Mouseketeer" panel (and I claimed his pin). A warning: if you have fidgety youngsters, "Mouseketeer" probably won't hold their interest. I miss not having a third stage show.
As usual, we didn't bother getting off the ship in Nassau. We like to pretend it's a sea day and do spa appointments and activities. The only "old favorite" that we didn't do was lots of hot tubbing in the adult area. We did do our embarkation day soak, but after that. we were so busy that we never made it back!
We got to the Castaway Club party a little late, and I was surprised to see that all the seats by the windows (in Cadillac Lounge) were taken all ready. That turned out to be fine, as we sat at a large table and were joined by a couple of DISers (people from the cruise line discussion at www.disboards.com). We ended up chatting with them for a looooong time after the party was over. They had sailed with their children previously, but on this trip they had come alone, and they were having the time of their lives. Many people don't think of Disney as a cruise line for adults, but after four experiences on Royal Caribbean, I would definitely say that Disney is better and I was glad to see that they agreed.
TOO LITTLE TIME, TOO MUCH TO DO
Even though we went out of our way to try new things, we still ran out of time before we could fit everything in. We missed the premiere of "Snow Dogs," even though they had multiple showings. As I mentioned above, we never got back to the whirlpools either, and hubby never made it to the Rainforest in the spa. But it was an absolutely awesome trip. We enjoyed all the new experiences and had a blast seeing old friends. As I mentioned, Sasha was there, as well as Cruise Director Rick, Karen, Mandy, and Marianna, all of whom contributed to making this un unforgettable experience. We also met up with Zain again-- I swear must never take a vacation! We were recognized by two of our former head servers, Rita and Paul from Scotland, as well as our dining server from our last trip (we just missed being at his table...we were at 32, and he was at 23). On disembarkation day, we were greeted by Paul (P.J.) from Australia, who had just returned from holiday. Everyone was great, as always...they made our trip so special!
Coming to the ship is always like a homecoming for us. One of my co-workers joked that the Wonder is like a weekend vacation home for us, and in a way that's true. The number of crew members who recognize us always amazes me. We always feel so welcome. After 18 times, you wouldn't think it could get any better, but they always find new ways to amaze us. The Wonder's crew is truly devoted to meeting and exceeding guest expectations...Walt would be very proud.
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