Saturday, June 12, 2004

Trip Report #36, February 2004 on the Wonder

Escape from the Chicago Winter
My hubby and I think the best way to spend our wedding anniversary is at sea, so Disney cruise #36 was our annual February cruise. Although we were married on Valentines Day, we usually sail a week or so early because the airfare is cheaper. Besides being our anniversary month, February is also a great month to sail if you live in a cold climate. December and January are bleak, miserable months, so by the time you get to February, you’re ready for some sunshine and lush, green vegetation to replace the gray skies and snowy landscape.

As usual, we flew on ATA out of Midway Airport. Living in Chicago, we have the advantage of choosing from two airports and multiple airlines. We used to vary between American, United, and ATA, but lately American and United haven’t had any good deals. ATA is generally pretty reasonable, even compared to Southwest. They have assigned seats, nice leather seats with adjustable headrests, and in-flight entertainment (you pay $2 for the headphones, but then you can keep them for future trips). Most of their fleet is pretty new; I love the 757-300 stretch planes, although landing in one of those on Midway’s short runways is a real experience.

Of course, our trip began with the trip to Midway. We live in the south suburbs of Chicago, and it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to get to the airport, depending on traffic. Our most direct route is Cicero Avenue, but sometimes we opt for Pulaski, which takes us out of our way but tends to have less congestion (“less” being a relative term). Lately, we’ve had pretty good luck on Cicero, and this trip was no exception. We made one of our best times ever, reaching the airport within half an hour.

I absolutely hate shuttle buses, so we usually park at Midway Park Savers, an independent lot that is within walking distance of the Orange Line entrance to the airport. The lot is so vast that they have an internal shuttle to bring you to the front if it’s really crowded. But usually we get a spot close to the front. Some of the spots are tight, especially if you drive an SUV. I have an Aztek (yes, a Survivor car, although I prefer to think of it as a Canyonero, ala the Simpsons). That means that sometimes I must be choosy about where I park if I don’t want another ding in my door or to have trouble getting out. But as I said, usually there are plenty of good spots to choose from.

We’d been going through a multi-day snowy period in Chicago, so the parking lot was coated in white and people were parking willy-nilly without regard for the yellow lines. I chose a spot by the fence, figuring that was safe enough, and hubby and I gathered our luggage, huddled in our coats, and headed across the street. It’s a chilly walk through the bus stops and parking garage before you reach the warmth of the terminal building, and we were wearing light coats because we didn’t feel like carrying big, bulky ones around Florida. The cold made us step very lively, and soon we were in the terminal.

The security line was short, so we were through within minutes. We had done web check-in, so all we had to do was head to the gate and wait. We knew that there wouldn’t be many people on the flight; we could tell when we changed our seats (online check-in allows you to switch to an exit row). Boarding proceeded in record time because of the light crowd, and our flight managed to take off as scheduled. I was pleased because we’ve had weather delays on three of our last four flights. I guess we were due for an on-time trip.

Unfortunately, the wind was against us. The captain warned us that it would be a bumpy ride, and the usual two hour and nine minute flight stretched out closer to three hours. At least we spent them in comfort because we’d selected our favorite exit row, a two-across row with tons of legroom and kitty-corner from the restroom for easy access. We bring books, handheld games, CD players, a DVD player, and a laptop computer, so we’re well prepared for delays. I am finalizing my Disney cruise planning CD, so I spent some time working on that and then rewarded myself with a few games of pinball (in between white knuckle periods when the turbulence got especially bouncy). Even though the flight was longer than usual, the time passed quickly because I was busy, and soon we were touching down in Orlando.

Usually we catch a hotel shuttle and then take a town car from Happy Limo to the port in the morning. I know that some people do a one-way car rental, but I’ve never tried that because I prefer being a passenger. But since I am doing research for my CD, we decided to do a rental from whichever company was cheapest and then have Happy Limo pick us up for our return. We used to use the Disney Cruise Line bus a long time ago, for our first cruises, so this way I’d be able to report on all of the options firsthand.

Three car rental companies (Avis, Budget, and Hertz) offer a free shuttle from their Cocoa Beach location to Port Canaveral. Two (Avis and Budget) are onsite at Orlando International Airport. You have to take a shuttle from MCO to Hertz, but I’ve used them before via Priceline when we do quickie weekend trips, and it’s still a smooth experience. Their shuttles are always right there waiting, and they’re only a few minutes away from the airport. I had no big preference, so I went with the one that offered the best deal.

First, I looked for discount codes on, but none of them made much of a difference for a one-way rental. Finally, I went to They don’t handle one-way rentals, but they have a link on their site to several major companies that automatically puts in a discount code. I found the cheapest prices using their link, and the least expensive company was Budget, so that’s who I chose. I was glad it wasn’t Avis because I’ve seen massive crowds waiting for their shuttle on disembarkation day. I don’t know if it’s that bad for embarkation, but I didn’t want to find out. On the other hand, the number of people waiting for Budget is usually modest, so I figured they were a good choice.

At MCO, we headed to the Budget counter, which is the farthest one down on the left hand side, meaning that it’s a pretty good hike. There were quite a few people in front of us, and two people working the counter, so we waited about 15 minutes. I am used to booking through Priceline, which means that the rental is pre-paid. I’ve read about some companies trying to raise the price on a regular booking when you arrive, so I was on guard for that. The reservation contains a disclaimer that the amount may not be exact, but I expect it to be pretty darn close.

Fortunately, the price given to me at the counter was within 99 cents of my quote. The agent brought up the insurance and upgrades, but he wasn’t overly pushy. We had rented the cheapest car, but we ended up being upgraded to a Taurus. It was a nice, big vehicle with a cavernous trunk. It had over 16,000 miles on it and a shimmy when driven over 60 m.p.h., but it had really good acceleration, and overall it seemed capable of getting us safely to the port. We loaded up, checked the car for any pre-existing damage (nothing but a minor ding; we always document any problems with our digital camera, just in case), and were on our way.

Wake Up, Sleepyhead
The next morning, we got a later start than we had planned, so I was hoping the wait for the shuttle to the port wouldn’t be too bad. Since we had a rental car, we had spent the night in the Disney World area. The drive from the airport to Port Canaveral is only about 40 minutes, but starting from Disney World adds another 20 to 30, depending on traffic and where you are staying. We were on the road at 10:00 a.m., heading down 417 to 528, which goes directly to Cocoa Beach, where it turns into A1A. That’s the main drag where the car rental companies are located. Expect to pay a toll to get on 417, plus more $1 tolls and then a $1.25 toll on 528.

Thankfully, traffic wasn’t too bad, and we arrived at Budget a little after 11, after a quick stop to fill up the car with gas. The Budget office was just past the Radisson hotel, on the right. It was quite different from the hustle and the bustle of the airport location. They directed me to pull the car around the back, and hubby unloaded the luggage while I went inside to pay. There was no one else waiting for the shuttle, so within a few minutes we were piling in and heading to the ship. I noticed that they had two vans, which must be good at crowded times.

Port Canaveral is not far away, and within minutes we were passing the Disney Wonder. No matter how many times I see it, I am always in awe of its size and beauty. It looks so classy, even in comparison to the newer ships. My stateroom, 5650, is in the butt end of the ship, on the side facing the terminal, so I caught sight of it as we drove past.

We pulled up to the terminal building and stacked up our luggage for the porter. Your bags are taken to the ship for delivery to your stateroom after sail away. You should have a day bag with the items that you will need immediately after embarkation. One item not to forget is your swimwear. Most people don’t realize that before the safety drill on embarkation day is an ideal time for a dip. The pools typically aren’t crowded because many people don’t think about packing their swimsuits in their day bag. Usually you’ve just arrived after a hectic morning of travel, and you’ll probably be hustling for Palo, spa, and/or Flounders reservations, so after all that is done, a swim or a soak in the hot tub is a great way to unwind.

We never forget our swimsuits, which were safely packed in our day bag. The security line to get into the port wasn’t too bad, but be aware that if you have a laptop computer, they will make you boot it up. Soon we were through and heading up the escalator to the massive check-in area.

The check-in counter is built to handle a large volume of people. Also, on the 3 and 4 day cruises, many people are on land/sea packages and check in at their resort. That means that your wait time is typically minimal. There were plenty of check-in agents available, but we wanted to say “hi” to our friend Tanya and she was already waiting on someone, so we chose to wait. Soon she was free and welcoming us back for our 36th departure.

I was surprised that the embarkation line was pretty minimal, especially since we’d arrived at the port later than usual (the shuttle had dropped us off around 11:30). I know that the wait to embark seems like forever to some people, but to me time jumps into fast forward mode the minute I enter the terminal building. People were wandering around, looking at the ship model, and getting their photo taken with Captain Mickey. Soon enough it was noon, and the boarding announcement was made. Time to head through the giant Mickey head and onto the Disney Wonder!

As you board, your photo is taken in front of a dated sign, and then you give your name to a member of the cruise staff and they welcome you aboard over a microphone as you walk into the atrium. By now, it’s very familiar to me, but if it’s your first cruise, the sight of the red carpeting, the enormous blown glass chandelier overhead, the statue of Ariel, and the twin staircases is very impressive.

We headed aft to Parrot Cay for lunch. The embarkation buffet is served in two locations; Parrot Cay is an indoor restaurant where you are assigned to a table, and Beach Blanket Buffet, which is up on deck 9, is a buffet restaurant with indoor and outdoor self-seating. Both have pretty much the same lavish spread. The only big difference is if you are a soda drinker. You can get soda included with your meal in Parrot Cay, where a crew member will come to take your drink order. In Beach Blanket Buffet, you get your beverage at the end of the line, and the selection is limited to things like coffee and non-carbonated beverages such as fruit punch and lemonade.

Of course, if you are a big soda drinker and want easy access in any location, you can buy an all-you-can-drink soda mug. Then, you can have it filled at one of the bars and bring it with you to the buffet. But hubby sticks to coffee, while I prefer iced tea, so we never bother to get one.

The buffet contains a wide variety of salads and hot dishes. I am a salad buff myself, while hubby focuses on the jumbo shrimp. There is also a carving station at the end of the line, which usually has beef although I’ve occasionally seen ham or lamb too. Then you can head to a table where breads and soups are available. My favorite is the cold strawberry-banana soup, which tastes a lot like a smoothie. I usually get a bowl and have it for dessert, although there is a table laden with lots of tempting dessert items too. There is also a spread of kid-friendly items like chicken fingers and macaroni & cheese, so if you little one turns up their nose at the selection on the main buffet, bring them to the kiddie section.

As we chowed down, we read through the information sheet and Navigator (activity list) that we had been given to plot out our strategy for the day. You will definitely want to read those sheets thoroughly because they contain important information like the times/locations for Palo, spa, and Flounders reservations. They also tell what is happening in the evening (showtimes, activities, etc.) so you can get an idea of what you’d like to do after the safety drill.

I noticed that the spa and Palo reservation times were staggered. On our previous few trips, they both started at the same time (1:30), which could pose a challenge unless you send one member of your party to each location. Now, Palo started at 1 p.m. and the spa opened at 1:30, so you could take care of one and then head directly to the other.

The Palo reservation process is very orderly. It usually takes place in Wavebands, where you line up and go to the correct table for the night of your choice. You also go to Wavebands if you want to make a change in your dining arrangements, like switching from late seating to early or visa versa. But be warned that if you are on late seating, a switch to the earlier shift might not be possible. Because of the number of families and children on board, first dining spots go very quickly, and the dining rooms can only hold so many people. You can get on the waitlist or make a request, but it’s not guaranteed.

Of course, hubby and I never have that problem because we like the second seating. First seating is at 6 p.m., which is really 5 p.m. to those of us on central time. That’s pretty early to eat, and it feels like we’re rushed in our daytime activities. We like to laze around the ship on Nassau day, and on Castaway Cay day, the Castaway Club party is usually from 5:15 to 6, which would bring us right up to dinnertime. We prefer 8:30, which gives us plenty of time to do whatever we want all day without rushing. When you are on second seating, you see the main stage show before you eat, and first seaters see it afterwards. Personally, I like the 6:30 showtime. It’s easier to get ready for a show early than for dinner, as you don’t have to get all dressed up.

Spa reservations take place in the Vista Spa on deck 9. They will take you on a spa tour, but if you already know what you want, you can ask to skip it and make your reservations immediately. The tour can be very informative if you’re not familiar with some of the more exotic treatments like the seaweed wrap (one of my favorites). Of course, I have the spa offerings memorized, so I always have my treatments planned out in advance. If you are only interested in the Rainforest (a room containing heated tile loungers, saunas, steam room, and scented showers), you won’t have to worry about reservations. You just come to the spa and sign up when you want to go in. For all the other treatments, appointments are a must.

The spa also has a list of the classes that will be offered throughout the cruise. The classes are free, and there is a really nice variety. My favorite is the beach yoga on Castaway Cay, and they have started offering Pilates, too. If you are a fitness buff, you’ll also want to check out the fitness room, which is free. The equipment is available on a first come, first served basis.

You will need to make reservations for baby care at Flounders as early as possible, but you don’t have to worry as much about the Oceaneer Club and the Oceaneer Lab. If you child is on board, they will get a space. I don’t travel with children, but our tablemate told me that it’s a good idea to register your child early, even though you don’t have to worry about registrations filling up. She said that the line was very short before the safety drill, but when she brought her daughter in the evening, it was massive.

Once you are done with your lunch and reservations, it’s time to relax. If you brought swimwear, now is the time to hit the pool or hot tubs. If not, you can explore the ship or go to the shore excursion or port shopping talks. They do a lot of little giveaways at the shopping talk, so if you like freebie, be sure to attend. Last time I went, which was several cruises ago, I got a neat little dolphin keychain from Del Sol that looks like it is made of clear plastic but that changes color in the sunlight.

Hubby and I headed for the hot tubs at the Quiet Cove adult pool, which is our usual embarkation agenda. Usually they are warm rather than hot, but this time they were blazing! I turned on the jets to see if that would cool things down, but it didn’t make much difference. We have a high tolerance, but we spend half of our time sitting on the edge and dipping our legs. The heat felt really good after the sub-zero temperatures we had left behind in Chicago. The weather was very nice, and it seemed to be drawing people out because the adult pool was the most crowded that I’ve ever seen it. Usually there are a few people laying out on the chairs or dipping their toes in the water, but this time there were sunbathers everywhere and lots of intrepid souls swimming in the pool or hot tubbing.

The time before the safety drill always flies by, and soon we had to drag ourselves out of the water and don our lovely orange life jackets. Because we are in stateroom 5650 so often, we could probably find our lifeboat station in our sleep. We had dropped off our day bags in our stateroom before lunch, and when we arrived before the drill, the rest of our bags were already there. That was really fast; it usually takes a little longer, so don’t panic if your bags don’t show up immediately. It takes quite a while to distribute the luggage for 2600 guests. In 36 Disney cruises, they have never lost any of our bags yet, so you can have faith that yours will show up in time to dress for dinner.

I stepped out on the verandah for a few minutes before leaving for the drill. I love stateroom 5650 because of its peaceful location, just about as far back in the ship as you can get. It has a verandah with a solid metal railing rather than plexiglass, but it’s curved due to the shape of the ship so it’s larger than normal. It is also somewhat recessed, which gives you more protection in case of bad weather so you can still sit outside in a light rain. Best of all, it’s so far back that it there is almost no hallway traffic, except for the safety drill when people pass by to use the staircase down to Animators Palate (the stairs are only open for the drill). You might hear an occasional lost soul, but for the most part people don’t wander that far aft.

We trooped down the stairs to Assembly Station Q. All of the stations are at various locations inside and outside of deck 4. The lifeboats are on deck 5, but they would be lowered in case of emergency. As we headed in, we saw our friend Sasha. I was very excited because he had left the ship several months before, and I didn’t expect to see him again. He had been called to do a brief fill-in, and coincidentally it coincided with our February cruise. We said a quick hello as we headed past him to our station; there was no time to talk, as the drill was beginning. But afterwards, we were able to have a proper greeting and let him know that we’d see him at the events later.

The safety drill is only about 15 or 20 minutes long, and then you head like salmon back to your stateroom. We’re lucky that 5650 is located right at the head of the staircase, so we get “home” very quickly. We had booked spa appointments for 4:30, so we whisked into spa gear and headed out for our first decadence of the trip.

The Vista Spa
The spa is usually one of the first things we do. Sometimes we watch the sail away from our verandah, but most times hubby and I are sprawled on massage tables and semi-conscious as the ship leaves Port Canaveral. The earliest you can make an appointment is 4:30, when the spa opens after the drill. On this trip, I had booked a regular massage, while hubby had scheduled a seaweed wrap. After the drill, we headed up to our stateroom to change and then hustled off to the spa. It was a little before 4:30, and the line outside the doors was building, Most of the people were there hoping to make an appointment, so they were separated from the people coming for a treatment.

Before your treatment begins, you are given a sheet to fill out with some general health questions. If you have multiple treatments throughout your cruise, let your therapist know so they can save the sheet; that way, you won’t have to fill out another one. Hubby and I know the questions by heart, so we whisked through them and waited to be called in for our treatments. My massage was wonderful, as usual. I was drifting off to sleep, but I was conscious enough to hear the ship’s whistle blast out “When You Wish Upon a Star” as we sailed away. Meanwhile, hubby was getting slathered in warm seaweed and wrapped up like a baked potato. For years I tried to convince him to try a seaweed wrap, but he wouldn’t. He loves the Elemis bath synergies, which he buys on the ship, so I knew that seaweed would be right up his alley. I don’t know if it was the idea of stripping down and donning paper panties or being covered in a green, gooey substance, but I couldn’t talk him into it.

Finally, a little over a year ago we did three cruises in a row on the Wonder and I signed him up for a wrap. At first he claimed to have hated it, but then he had to admit that he was pimping me and that he’d actually loved it and wanted to book another one. Now, he always gets at least one, and sometimes more. It is a very detoxifying treatment, and ibeing combined with a massage that makes it even more of a treat.

On Nassau day, we had scheduled a surial bath in the morning, plus an Absolute Face & Body (massage and facial) for me and another seaweed wrap (of course) for hubby in the afternoon. It’s been a while since we’ve done the surial, so it was really fun to relax in our own private steam room and slather each other in mud. It’s a neat couples experience where you are escorted to a private room containing a shower area and a steam room with three seats, each with its own top and side showers and cold water hose. You are given mud (anywhere from one to three types) and a selection of spa products to use. Then you are closed in for an hour; the attendant will knock on the door 10 minutes before your time is up.

When you arrival for your surial, you will be given a locker key so you can undress and store your clothes. But we’ve done this so much that we just wear swim gear and robes so we don’t have to bother with the locker room stop. We arrive ready to jump right into the surial as-is.

We had a great time, as usual. Covering up in the mud and then steaming myself into a good sweat feels almost as detoxifying as the seaweed wrap. In order to start the steam, you usually have to jiggle the button and hold it in for several seconds. Don’t panic if it doesn’t seem to be working; just push in the button and count slowly to ten. Once we got it going, we used some devils mint defoliant and then slathered ourselves in red clay-like mud. People often worry that the grout is dirty, but don’t worry. The room is clean even if you notice the clay-colored tint. After several years, the vivid color from the mud has dyed it, even when it is freshly cleaned.

The hose and showers in the steam room are cold, but there is a hot water shower out in the main area of the surial chamber. We washed off the mud, and then I tried some lotions while hubby applied some instant refreshing gel. He uses a lot of the spa products, but I think that one is his favorite. The Chicago winters are hard on his knees, so he always keeps tube of it around the house.

Once the surial was over, we headed off to lunch and then back to the spa in the afternoon for more treatments. While the rest of the ship is in Nassau being pursued by hair braiders and haggling over t-shirt prices, I prefer to be pampering myself. Hubby was having yet another seaweed wrap, and I was looking forward to my Absolute Face and Body. It’s a really long and relaxing treatment that starts out with a back of the body massage. After that, you flip over for a lengthy facial that always puts me to sleep. The only part I don’t like is having to regain consciousness enough to turn over after the massage. When I am done with the AF&B, I feel like a limo noodle as I leave the spa.

On Castaway Cay day, hubby opted out of spa treatments, so I finally managed to get a seaweed wrap of my own. Sometimes I like to do a cabana massage on Serenity Bay, but it’s always a hard choice between giving up precious island time or just having something done later, after I return to the ship. On this trip, I scheduled the wrap for 3 p.m., which would allow me to enjoy a full day on the beach and still get back early enough to avoid most of the returning crowds.

Hubby headed back to the ship with me, as he planned to relax in the Rainforest. We got back a little early, so I joined him in there. It’s a great way to prep for a treatment, as the heated tile loungers or the mild sauna always put me into a state of relaxation. Soon enough, it was time for my treatment and I was covered in the warm, gloppy seaweed mixture and wrapped into foil to bake for a while. Usually you wear paper panties during this process, but they were out of stock, so I was provided with a paper sheet and sarong.

Normally you get two wraps; the seaweed and then a plain one after you shower off to really sweat the toxins out. But both hubby and I prefer to bake in the seaweed a little longer and forgo the second wrap. The second part of the treatment is a back of the body massage, although on one memorable trip hubby actually skipped the massage in favor of staying in the wrap even longer! I don’t think that he had one bit of sweat left in his body by the time it was done. For myself, I would never skip the massage at it’s the perfect capper to the treatment.

Three day cruises go by much too fast, but we do manage to squeeze quite a bit of spa time in. I like to go to some of the classes, too, particularly the beach yoga. The only reason that I skipped it this time was that you have to meet quite early; everyone meets in the spa and then travels to the adult beach together. Since the weather forecast was calling for storms, I opted to sleep a little later in case the yoga was rained out. As to whether our streak of 36 beach days remains intact or was a washout, that comes a little later in this report.

Food, Food, Food!
People often associate cruising with unlimited food, and they’re not far off the mark. In between various main meal options, on Disney you will find quick service food stands serving items like pizza, hot dogs, and chicken strips and Scoops, serving soft-serve ice cream with toppings. These are not open 24 hours a day, but room service is available around the clock in case you get a late-night hunger pang. You will also find other options, like cookies, fresh fruit, and wraps throughout the day.

Over time, hubby and I have found our favorite items and settled into a rut at the restaurants. This starts with his heaping plate of jumbo shrimp at the embarkation buffet, while I pile on my favorite salads. We both like the cold strawberry/banana soup, too; I eat it as my dessert, but hubby enjoys it with his meal because he can never resist the regular dessert offerings. In Animators Palate, I love the duck and goat cheese flat bread (extra goat cheese, please), and In Tritons I always go for the vichyssoise (cold potato soup), and either the beef or the lamb (with lots of mint jelly on the side) for dinner. We were on the Animators/Parrot Cay/Tritons rotation on his trip, so we skipped Parrot Cay to go to Palo on Nassau night. Kapur, who we met as a head server many cruises ago, is how the manager of Palo, and Dalibor, one of our favorite servers, was back from vacation. They took excellent care of us as we indulged in a delicious Palo meal.

Palo is an adults-only restaurant that requires reservations and incurs a $10 cover charge. It can be hard to fit it in on such a short cruise, but if at all possible, I highly recommend it. Palo has its own galley, and all of the food is made to order, just like in a restaurant on land. The cuisine is Northern Italian, with daily specials supplementing the regular offerings. The spread includes antipasto and fresh bread with three yummy dipping sauces, although lately hubby and I been skipping the antipasto to save room for a full meal of appetizer, dinner, and dessert.

I love the steak with bleu cheese, but on this trip I opted for something new and tried the shrimp scampi-stuffed chicken breast. Hubby was tempted by veal scaloppini, one of the daily specials. Both were excellent choices, as was my chocolate souffle for dessert. Palo has a variety of excellent dessert offerings, and although hubby is adventurous and has worked his way through all of them, I am in a souffle rut. It is a chocolate lover’s dream.

We are not big breakfast eaters, but I always make room for breakfast on Nassau day because I dearly love the eggs benedict from Tritons, with a side order of corned beef hash (it’s not on the menu, but you can request it because it is served in one of the breakfast skillets). There is also a very nice breakfast buffet on deck 9 if you want something faster and a little less formal. On Castaway Cay day, we skip breakfast because we know that we’ll be indulging in a big lunch at Cookies Barbeque. A smaller version is served on the adult beach, but we usually return to the family beach to eat because hubby loves the lobster burgers that are served there.

Onboard the ship, it’s always a toss-up as to whether we’ll eat lunch at Tritons (sit-down) or Beach Blanket (buffet), because I really enjoy them both. I like a relaxing sit-down meal, and if you are a soda drinker, it will be included with your meal at Tritons (personally, I stick to water and iced tea). They also serve a great Hawaiian salad, to which I like to add a handful of maraschino cherries. But at the buffet you can sample a wide variety of offerings, and they have excellent made-to-order pasta. This time around, we opted for Tritons because I had a taste for an ice cream sundae…real ice cream, not the soft-serve glop that is served at Scoops. I know there’s nothing wrong with soft serve, but it reminds me of the stuff that is served at Old Country Buffet or Ponderosa. I think I am still prejudiced by memories of the old days, when Scoops served real scooped ice cream. It was so delicious! But that was discontinued years ago because you can do a lot more volume with soft serve than with hand scooping. Anyway, sundaes were not actually on the dessert menu, but I knew that they could whip me something up in the dining room.

We were seated with a couple and their three year old daughter. They had another one on the way, so they wanted to do a cruise before the new member of the family arrived. Their little girl was just the right age to really be fascinated with the characters. Our first dinner was in Animators Palate; she had wanted to go to the kids club because they were going to have a character party, but when her parents realized that they were in the restaurant with the show, her dad went to retrieve her. She made it through quite a while, but the show is at the end of the meal, which can be a long time for a little one to wait. Finally her parents gave in and dad walked her back to the club. When he returned, he reported that they had met Lilo in the elevator. Lilo and his daughter walked hand in hand to the club, and she got the biggest kick out of it. The next night we were in Palo, but at our last meal, in Tritons, they showed us the cutest portrait that had been taken at the princess party. They had selected a picture with Princess Aurora and had also gotten signatures from the other princesses in the frame.

On this trip, our server was Atilla from Hungary. I’m pretty sure that he served us before. My grandma was from Hungary, too, so we discussed delicious native dishes like chicken paprikas and grape strudel (something I’ve never found at any restaurant…I haven’t had it since my grandma passed away 25 years ago). Our assistant server was Arlan; after the first night, he had my “special” iced tea waiting. I hate the regular stuff, which comes out of a tap, so I always request freshly brewed flavored tea. Our head server was Michelle, and our old friend Ali was the dining room manager, so we were well taken care of.

Adult Activities
Many people think that because we’ve childless, we’re crazy for taking so many Disney cruises. What they don’t understand is that Disney puts as much effort into taking care of the “big kids” as they do with the little ones. Granted, if you really can’t stand children, then Disney probably isn’t the cruise line for you. There will be lots of families on board, although surprisingly, we saw just as many kids on all of our Royal Caribbean cruises, including Alaska.

But although kids will be around, they won’t impede your enjoyment. You’ll have plenty of adults only areas to escape to (supposedly RCCL has this, too, but I never saw any enforcement). And when you’re around the kids, it can be a lot of fun to watch them meet the characters or explore the ship or see the shows with an expression of awe and delight on their little faces. After 36 cruises, I enjoy the opportunity to see the cruise through fresh eyes, and the kids remind me of my sense of wonderment the very first time I set sail.

Hubby and I are in a rut on which adult activities we attend. Our favorites are 70s Night and Match Your Mate. I love Wonderquest, too, ibut we don’t usually get to attend. We’re always on the second dinner schedule, and it starts too early. I wish they would have it a bit later, especially since it’s an adult activity and there are (theororetically, at least) more adults on the late seating. Wonderquest is a very wild scavenger hunt that is played in teams. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will warn you that hubby is often borrowed by many teams because of a unique physical characteristic (and by “borrowed,” I mean physically grabbed and dragged up to the host). I said it was wild!

We like 80s Night, too, but we skipped it this time around because we didn’t know that the main stage dancers had started performing their dance routines again. On our last trip, they weren’t part of the party. Other than that, the 80s Party consists of dancing, trivia for free shots, and an amusing battle of the bands.

Match Your Mate was on Nassau night, so we headed down to Wavebands after sticking around for some dancing at the Sailaway Party. The contestants for Match Your Mate are chosen via a combination of number of years married and general rowdiness. Three couples are selected: newlyweds, longest married (we once saw a couple who had been wed for 60 years), and a pair that is somewhere in the middle. If you want to be selected, be enthusiastic to the point of insanity. Jump, shout, yell, wave your arms, and maybe even do gymnastics (I’ve seen it done).

Using rowdiness as one of the selection criteria usually helps to ensure some pretty wild contestants, and this trip was no exception. Because the show is adults only, it can get a little more risque…of course, it’s a Disney ship, so there are still some limits, but it’s generally a riot. I won’t go into specific details because I don’t want to give away the questions, but let’s just say that the words “dong” and “ta tas” came up a few times. There was also a stunning revelation about what goes on at lunchtime in a Six Flags parking lot. I was laughing so hard that my face hurt.

The 70s Party was on the last night. I prefer it to be first because I can stay up late and then sleep in on Nassau morning, but I like it so much that I am usually willing to give up some shut-eye, even though it means I will be half asleep the next morning when I disembark. When we arrived at Wavebands, the crowd was so small that I was afraid they might cancel it. A few more people trickled in when Dueling Pianos ended, and the dance floor started to fill in. As we bumped and grooved, more and more people showed up. I think that they were probably delayed by last minute packing, since the party starts at 10:45 and you have to have your luggage out by 11 if you want it to be delivered to the terminal.

There are usually several freestyle dance numbers and then a Soul Train-style dance line to “Car Wash.” They also do the Electric Slide, but I bail on that because coordination isn’t one of my stronger points. That leads into the appearances by Gloria Gaynor and John Travolta, capped off by an appearance by the Village People.

A few years back, my knee cap popped off while I was dancing at a 70s Party on the Magic. For a long time after that, I had to wear a clunky knee brace and take it easy when dancing. Finally, not too long ago, the doctor gave me a clean bill of health and said that I can abandon the brace and be wild once again. I’m glad because I love dancing, and it also allows me to pretend that I’m actually burning off enough calories to make a dent in the dessert I just devoured.

While I was shaking my groove thing with hubby, someone from the cruise staff came up to ask if I would “volunteer to help out.” I’ve been on enough Disney cruises to know what that means, but I figured what the heck. Hubby had appeared as John Travolta a couple of cruises ago (he was full of champagne at the time), so I played along.

Once the line dance was over, the volunteers were called up to the stage. There were three men and three women…the men were told that they would be judges and sent to sit down on the sidelines, while we were prepped to participate in the Gloria Gaynor Lip Sync Contest. I was the only one who knew what was going on; the men would soon be getting theirs when they discovered that they would be performing as John Travolta. The contests are the best part of the party. Because different guests are chosen every time, it’s always a different show.

I was pegged as the second Gloria. I knew that hubby was waiting at our table with his camera in hand. Usually we don’t bring it to the party, but we had just gone to “Til We Meet Again” to get photos of the characters, so we had it with us. Oh well, when he was John Travolta, we happened to have it with us too, and I had gotten some great incriminating photos. I guess that turnabout is fair play.

While the first Gloria performed, I waited out in the hall with #3, an older woman who seemed to be ready for anything. She told me, “I‘m always volunteering for all sorts of things!” We were not allowed to watch, but I assured her that it was going to be lots of fun. The guy on cruise staff who had picked me overheard us and said, “You’ve done this before?” I responded that it was my 36th Disney cruise, and I think he nearly fainted! Most of the cruise staff knows us, but he was one of the few who didn’t. I’m sure he’ll never forget us now.

When it was my turn, I nearly strangled myself with the Feather Boa of Power, but once I recovered from that little mishap, I launched into some wild moves for the three judges. I’ve seen the show enough times to know the sort of things that will crack up the crowd. When watching, I like it best when the contestants are really wild, so I tried to put on a performance that I know I would have enjoyed.

The third lady was even wilder. She went right out into the audience and grabbed some guys to bring back to the stage. The crowd went absolutely wild! I was sorry to miss the first performance, but I don’t think it could have topped #3. When we were done, we kicked the guys out of their chairs and settled in to watch them strut their John Travolta stuff. They were even crazier than we were. One performed a lap dance for us, and another did the infamous “body floss” routine with the white jacket. Sometimes the contestants are shy and it’s not as much fun; I like it when everyone really gets into it.

To top it all off, the Village People made their appearance. They whipped off their shirts as soon as they climbed on stage and led us all in a round of YMCA. After that, there is still dancing, but that usually my cue to head off to Dreamland. As we walked back to our stateroom, hubby proudly showed me his blackmail photos. I think he just pointed and kept clicking! All in all, it was another great 70s Party.

Of course, the adult activities are not all wild p& crazy parties and games. If you want peace and quiet, you can opt for the Dancing Under the Stars event at the Quiet Cove Pool, have a romantic dinner at Palo, or sip a cocktail and listen to piano music at the Cadillac Lounge. And on Castaway Cay, you’ll get plenty of quiet time and relaxation at Serenity Bay, the adults only beach.

Often the adult beach is nearly deserted, but on this trip there was quite a good crowd. I suspect that there were more people than usual traveling without kids, since school was in session. Or who knows…maybe they just convinced the kiddies to stay at Scuttles Cove and escaped for some child-free time. Even where there are a lot of people, there is still plenty of room. You just might have to walk a little farther down the beach to find a spot.

Stage Shows
In addition to the adult entertainment, there are plenty of activities for families. We usually don’t go to those, but we rarely miss the main stage shows. On the three night cruise, “Hercules” usually plays on the first night, followed by “The Golden Mickeys” and “Disney Dreams.” On this trip, the order of the first two was temporarily flip-flopped, so I got to see my favorite first.

This was only the third time that I’ve seen “The Golden Mickeys,” at it premiered on Labor Day weekend. But I already know that it’s going to be like “Disney Dreams”; I’ll never get tired of it, no matter how many times I see it. Like “DD,” it is a compilation of scenes and characters from popular Disney movies. The story line that holds it all together revolves around an awards show where Golden Mickeys will be presented in such categories as Romance, Comedy, Heroes, and of course Villians. A character named Ensign Benson is reluctantly thrust into the role of hostess. She receives some encouragement from Roy Disney, who shares some of the story of how his Uncle Walt never let hardships get in his way. I just love that part; with all the turmoil on the Disney board and Roy’s resignation, I’m always afraid that they’ll pull him out of the show. So far he’s still there, thank goodness. Hubby says he gets teary eyed at the end of “Disney Dreams,” but it’s the first part of “The Golden Mickeys” that always chokes me up.

The numbers include scenes from Snow White (check out the cute little kids from the audience playing the dwarves), Sleeping Beauty (the color changing dress is very cool), Toy Story, 101 Dalmations, Mulan, Tarzan, and the Lion King. The show moves at such a rapid pace that it will be over before you know it. One of the highlights, at least for me, is when Terk takes over the comedy sequence and Elvis Stitch makes an appearance before they are all frightened off by Ursula. If you are sitting in the front tow, watch out for her tentacles!

I always get a laugh out of “Hercules,” but this time I was nearly rolling on the floor between Hades and the fifth Muse. Hades is always funny, but often Pain and Panic steal the show. Not this time! His constant jokes and wisecracks reminded me of the old days, when his monologue towards the end of the show was much longer. The fifth Muse is always good, too, and each actor brings his own unique style to the role. The one who is playing him now had both hubby and I cracking up at his antics. That’s one thing that I like about “Hercules.” There is some room for improvisation, so each cast brings their own unique touch and it’s a slightly different show every time. By the time we sail again, there will be a new cast, so we’ll have yet another new experience.

“Disney Dreams” is the grand finale on the last night of the trip. I never get tired of seeing Peter Pan teach Anne Marie to find her own magic. It contains scenes from Aladdin, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the Lion King, but the pace isn’t nearly as fast as “The Golden Mickeys.” This is Disney Cruise Line’s signature show, and I hope that they never get rid of it. Just about every time that we’ve seen it, it’s earned a well-deserved standing ovation.

Castaway Cay
In the adult activity section, I mentioned the adult beach, which makes a good lead-in to our day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island paradise. It’s always a highlight of our cruises. Like “Disney Dreams” and “The Golden Mickeys,” it’s something that I never get tired of. I’ve been to RCCL’s private island, CocoCay, and it is very nice, but in a different way. CocoCay is more rustic, whereas Castaway Cay is like Central Casting’s version of a perfect tropical island.

Sometimes the weather can prevent docking, but in all of our cruises we’ve been fortunate enough to never miss the island. Amazingly, we’ve never been totally rained out either. There have been a couple of days where a storm snuck in later in the day or it rained in the morning and then cleared up, but we’ve never had a total washout. We carry large garbage bags with us to protect our stuff, just in case, but we’ve always managed to get in at least some beach time, and usually the weather is good all day.

On this trip, I was a bit worried. The night before, Captain Henry had told us that the weather wasn’t looking too good. A storm was poised on the radar, ready to strike. Would our streak be broken? I went to bed wondering, and when I woke up the next morning, I listened anxiously to the thrusters as we docked. I’ve been in stateroom 5650 enough times to know the sound of a smooth docking vs. a wavy, windy day when the Wonder is struggling to dock. On our Thanksgiving trip, docking was a real challenge, but this time everything sounded just the way it should.

I dragged my sleepy body out onto the verandah and was greeted by sunshine and a nice, blue sky, with just a sprinkling of non-threatening clouds. It felt warm enough for a nice swim, at least for a hearty Chicagoan like me. We like to disembark early, so we took quick showers, slathered on our sun screen, packed up our beach bag, and headed down to deck 1. There was no line, so we flashed our ID and room cards and stepped down the gangway and onto Castaway Cay for the 36th time.

Our first order of business was a quick stop at the post office, and then we paused for the photo opportunities on our way to the tram. Normally we walk rather than ride the first tram and then catch a ride to Serenity Bay, which is a bit too far away for walking. But the first tram was just pulling in, so we decided to hop on board. Once we climbed off, it was just a short distance to the tram stop for the adult beach, but as we arrived, we saw that it had just pulled away. We knew it would be a little while before it came back, so we settled in to wait. Since we wouldn’t be among the first on the beach, I figured that getting a hammock would be a lost cause. There are only four on the whole adult beach, so if you’re not an early bird, they’ll be claimed by the time you get there.

When the tram returned, we climbed aboard and rattled down the old runway to Serenity Bay. As I had expected, there were quite a few people on the beach already. As I hiked down the sand, looking for a lounge chair, I noticed that the last hammock didn’t seem to be occupied. The beach yoga was just finishing up nearby, so I don’t think anyone had wandered down there yet. We shifted the hammock into the shade, and hubby settled in for a nap while I went for a swim.

One of my biggest pleasures on Castaway Cay is to go for a nice little water job. Working out in the pool at the health club back home always seems like a chore, but doing the same exercise turns into fun when it’s done in the ocean. I headed out to the boundary of the beach, and just as I was approaching it, a man at the shoreline called out, “Look behind you!” I turned and saw a gray blur approaching me. I’ve seen many stingrays at Serenity Bay, so I thought that this was another one. The man said, “No, it’s a nurse shark.” I did a double take and watched in amazement as the little creature glided by me. Sure enough, it was a nurse shark, just like the ones I’ve seen at aquariums. I’ve seen some interesting critters, including an ink squirting squid, and hubby has had a couple of close encounters with Barry the Barracuda, but the nurse shark was by far the most exciting so far.

I did a little internet research once I got back home, as I had been surprised to see a shark so close to shore. But it turns out that nurse sharks are bottom feeders who like to hang out in shallow areas. The only odd thing was that they are usually nocturnal, and this was a morning encounter. When I got back to the main part of the beach, I heard from other people that there had actually been two nurse sharks swimming around. I sure wish that I would have had a camera!

After I got back, I took over the hammock while hubby headed off for some snorkeling. I love to settle down on the beach with a good book. The only minor unpleasantness in an otherwise lovely beach day was the two chain smokers who settled down in the chairs next to me. We usually try to pick a spot that’s not too close to other chairs, but since we had taken a hammock, we couldn’t be as choosy. But of course the wind was blowing my way, so my relaxation was somewhat hampered by the yucky smell. Unfortunately they were chain smokers, so they didn’t go more than a few minutes with lighting up. In between, I noticed that they just dropped the butts into the sand rather than using an ashtray or disposing of them in one of their drink cups. Sadly, on our past few trips, I have noticed that the beach is becoming very littered with butts. If you try to bury your toes in the sand, around the chairs and umbrellas, you will most likely find some. I know that the beach is an outer area where smoking is allowed, but I wish that smokers would pick up one of the ashtrays near the bar rather than littering the beach. The same people don’t throw cups, napkins, and plates on the ground, and cigarette butts are in the same category.

Other than that, I enjoyed my reading time, and all too soon hubby was back from his swim, announcing that it was lunchtime. Time goes fast enough on a cruise as it is, and it seems to shift into quadruple speed when we reach the island. I think it must because docking at Castaway Cay signals the arrival of the last day of the cruise. I dearly love it, but I still feel melancholy because I know that in less than 24 hours I’ll be back at Port Canaveral. Oh well, I never let that interfere with my enjoyment of the beach.

Hubby had a taste for lobster burgers, so we packed up and headed to Cookies. Personally, I opted for a cheeseburger and K. C. Masterpiece barbeque chips, which I like to dip into the cole slaw. I know it sounds gross, but it’s a real taste treat. The buffet lines were pretty long, but we had no trouble finding a picnic table. You can select one under one of the large shelters or opt for a free-standing table with umbrella. After we had finished eating, we stopped at the gazebo for a quick photo with Mickey and then headed back to the ship.

On the way, we stopped at Gils Fins and Boats, but a wicked wind had blown up so there were no boat rentals. We were a bit disappointed, but we figured we’d just head back and spend some time in the Rainforest. There was a matinee performance of “Disney Dreams,” but it interfered with our spa appointment times, so we figured that relaxing in a sauna would be a nice way to spend the rest of the day until treatment time.

The last time we were on Castaway Cay, it was all decked out for the holidays. It was odd to see it transformed back again; even though our last trip was Thanksgiving, it didn’t seem like that long ago. This year, we are sailing on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I can hardly wait to see it decked out in its holiday finery twice.

Christmas in February
Speaking of the holidays, when we sailed at Thanksgiving, we noticed that Shutters was selling Christmas cards made from photos taken on the ship. We had a set made with our portrait in front of the Christmas tree in the atrium. On this trip, we noticed that they were still for sail; I realized that not everyone sails as often as we do, so offering the cards all year gives people a chance to buy them no matter when they are on board. That way, they can have their cards all ready when Christmas rolls around again.

We had gotten great comments about our 2003 cards, which featured our picture in the middle of an ornament dangling from Mickey’s hand. I had chosen that design because it reminded me of the decorations in the terminal building. We decided that if we found a photo we liked, we would have some made for Christmas, 2004. This time around, I chose a design of Mickey making a “snow”man out of sand on Castaway Cay. We took as many photo opportunities as possible, and we decided on a nice shot with Mickey in his formalwear. Hubby and I were dressed up for Palo, so it turned out to be a lovely shot. We bought 25 cards, and if we find another shot that we like on an upcoming cruise, we’ll probably get 25 different ones.

We got several other shots, too, including an embarkation shot to add to our collection and a photo of Mickey on Castaway Cay in his tropic gear to match the one we got of Minnie a few months back. They also have a great new backdrop of the ship with an ocean full of fish below it. I was hoping for a picture with Stitch, my favorite character, but I never saw him listed in the Navigator. I did get a photo with him at “Till We Meet Again” on the last night, but that’s another story.

Character Greetings
That’s a good lead-in to a bit about character greetings. When you sail on a Disney ship, you are probably expecting to catch lots of sightings of the characters. Happily, you will not be disappointed. Various characters will make appearances throughout the cruise for photo and autograph opportunities. It’s easy to find out when and where they will be. There’s a board posted in the deck 3 atrium and one at the entrance to Shutters on deck 4. You can also dial 7-PALS on your stateroom telephone to hear a recorded schedule.

At most of the events, there will be a photographer from Shutters on hand, and you can also bring your own camera. I recommend taking as many opportunities as possible to let the photographers snap a shot, even when you take one yourself. It’s fun to head to deck 4 and see how your photos have turned out, and you’ll probably find several that you like enough to buy.

On board the ship, most of the character appearances will be in the atrium. The schedule will have details on whether there will be autograph signing or whether it will be a photo opportunity only. For the most popular characters and events, such as the Princess Party (typically held on Nassau morning on the 3 night cruises), you’ll want to arrive a little early. The line grows quickly, and it might be cut if it gets too long.

On Castaway Cay, the best spots to meet Mickey and the gang are at the post office and Mount Rustmore in the morning and the gazebo near Cookies in the afternoon. The appearances start around 9 a.m., just in time for the main flux of people disembarking the ship. You’ll know the exact times and who will be where if you check the board or call the character greeting line before you head off to the island.

One of my favorite character greetings is “Til We Meet Again,” held on the last night of the cruise in the atrium at 10 p.m. We don’t always get to attend because we are always on the late seating of dinner, and we’re not always done in time. But when we are, we head over for the last big farewell.

At “Til We Meet Again,” you will not only see assorted characters but also many of the main stage performers. At various times I’ve seen the Muses, Pain Panic, and Hades, and Peter Pan is usually out clowning around with Anne Marie from “Disney Dreams.“ They all come down the staircase in front of Tritons and head out into the waiting crowd. Usually some of the characters will be up on deck 4 for photographs too. This is a less formal event than most. Everyone crowds together, and once the characters come out into the atrium, you try to head for your favorites. They stay out for about 20 minutes, so if you are lucky, you can get several good photos. The Shutters photographers don’t take pictures here, so be sure to bring your own camera.

On this cruise, we weren’t planning to attend, even though I was itching for a photograph with Stitch. I didn’t know how crowded it would be, and I didn’t want to rush through my dinner. Our last meal was in Tritons, where you can see the atrium through the window. “Til We Meet Again” started just as we ordered dessert. I glanced out and happened to notice that the crowd was very minimal. Hubby had our camera with him, as he always take a photo of our servers on the last night. I told our server that we would be back, and we hurried down the hall to see if we could locate Stitch.

We had to go out the back door, since the front is closed during the event. As we approached the atrium, I could hear disjointed banging on the grand piano and a voice saying, “Stitch! Stop that!”, so I knew that we were headed in the right direction. Sure enough, as soon as I turned the corner, I saw him making mischief. The line wasn’t bad at all, so we quickly joined it. Finally, I would get my coveted photo!

Stitch was doing all sorts of antics to amuse the waiting people. One little boy wanted an autograph, and his pen was promptly stolen. Then Stitch tossed it back at him! You could tell he was having a lot of fun clowning around. That’s one nice thing about “Til We Meet Again.” Because it is a little less formal, there is usually more time for interaction. This was especially true on this trip, since the crowd was smaller than usual.

When it was my turn, I told Stitch, “You’re my favorite character.” He gave me a big smooch and immediately headed back for the piano to serenade me. His handler finally managed to get him back on task, and she used our camera to snap a photo of Stitch with hubby and I. We still had time, so hubby confessed that he’s always wanted a photo with Pete Pan and Anne Marie. I’ve often seen them near the shore excursion desk, so we headed that way, and sure enough, there they were. Minnie Mouse was nearby, too, but amazingly, her line was shorter than theirs. We got our photo and started working our way back to Tritons and dessert. On the way, hubby had to pause to tell the fifth Muse how much he enjoyed his act.

Although we didn’t stay for the grand finale, I highly recommend it. When the photo/autograph session is over, the characters head back up the staircase and turn in each direction to give everyone one final photo opportunity. Then, pixie dust is dropped over the crowd. The kids always get a real kick out of that.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy “Til We Meet Again,” it signals the end of the cruise. We still had the 70s Party to attend, but I knew that the fun was almost over. Fortunately, disembarkation on the Wonder is usually a breeze. On other cruise lines, it can be a long, tedious process where you have to sit around and wait for your color to be called. On Disney, you leave whenever you prefer once the ship has been cleared. In 36 Disney cruises, we’ve only had significant delays twice. One occurred when someone else mistakenly took our luggage, and the other was due to a change in the terrorism alert level (fortunately they seem to have that worked out now).

But that’s jumping the gun a little. On the afternoon of the last day, there is a disembarkation talk in the Walt Disney Theater that covers all of the details you’ll need to know about tips, customs forms, breakfast, etc. Don’t worry about attending as it will be replayed all evening long on the television in your stateroom.

We hate to rush our packing on the last night of the cruise because we’ve busy up until dinner time, and then we’re usually rushing somewhere afterwards. Instead of worrying about the 11 p.m. deadline to have it out, we just pack at our leisure and carry it with us when we disembark. Also, since we eat so well on a cruise, we generally skip breakfast on the last morning because we’re usually not hungry. Of course, if you want, you can go to your assigned seated or grab a quick bite at Beach Blanket Buffet. But personally we just like to roll out of bed, shower, finish up our last minute packing, and reluctantly head home.

Hubby is usually an early bird, but on this trop he slept in till 7:30, much later than he normally would since we had scheduled Happy Limo to pick us up at 8:30 a.m. As he rushed to get things together, I ran down to Shutters to pick up our Christmas photos. They are the only shop that is open on embarkation morning. Usually it’s pretty crowded, but I lucked out and was the only one at the cash register. The guest services line can be long on the last morning, too, so we always get a printout of our bill at dinnertime on Saturday night. It’s usually pretty quiet then, and that gives us time to find any errors and deal with them before the disembarkation rush.

It’s always so sad to leave my nautical home. Before we go, I like to step out on the verandah for a few minutes to say a last goodbye. But I couldn’t delay the inevitable for too long, so I reluctantly stepped in to gather the luggage and join hubby for the long trip home. We left the Wonder for the 36th time, already looking forward to our return in April.

When we carry all our luggage bags with us, we go to the mid ship elevators before heading down. It’s too crowded to walk across deck three because there is always a big crowd of people heading into Parrot Cay for breakfast, which makes us feel like salmon trying to swim upstream. We also select both the up and down buttons. Often, the down elevators are already crowded with people from decks 8, 7, and 6. By going up first, we are already on board when it heads back down.

Sometimes there is a minor line to disembark, but this time around everyone was just strolling off the ship. On the way out, we paused for a chat with Captain Henry, who was bidding goodbye to the guests. As we stepped onto the gangway, I had a flashback to Chicago…the temperature was in the 40s! Brrrr! Oh well, that might be chilly, but at least it’s not single digits, and I prefer a view of palm trees to snow.

We were running a little early, but our Happy Limo driver was waiting for us already. It felt good to settle into the town car and take a nap on the way to Orlando. Driving myself out to the port wasn’t bad, but my preference is always to be chauffeured.

When we reached the airport, the tote board informed us that our plane was delayed. We stopped at Bow Wow Meow to pick up some cat nip toys for our pets and then headed through security and to the gate. When we got there, there was no explanation for the delay, so I found a seat near an outlet, plugged in my laptop, and did some work on my planning CD while the trip was still fresh in my mind. I had wanted to work on it during the trip, but although I had good intentions, I never opened the laptop even once while we were on board. Since the ship date for the pre-orders is March 8, I figured that the delay would be a good time to get some work done.

Delays are always an annoyance, but I’d much rather have them happen going home than when I’m on the way to the ship. It really wasn’t bad because working made the time go by quickly. Eventually we were told that it was on its way in from Chicago, and that we would be able to board as soon as possible after everyone deplaned. I knew that the weather wasn’t supposed to be bad in Chicago, so I had no clue why it was running so late.

When it finally landed, I’ve never seen an airplane be readied so fast. I swear they must not have even cleaned it; as soon as the last person stepped off, they were calling the pre-board to get us on. It was a 737, rather than my favorite huge 757-300. We had gotten an exit row, but since I’m not familiar with the seat configuration on that plane, it was a little smaller than I am used to. There are three exit rows all in a row, and we were in the middle one, which is only two seats across. It wasn’t bad, but the three seaters had a little more legroom.

Once we were airborne, the pilot got on the intercom and explained the delay situation. I was wondering if it had been mechanical, but it turned out to be even more interesting. Our original plane had been in some foreign country, and it had been seized by the FBI for searching because of suspected drugs on board! That left no plane to run its route and eventually make its way to Orlando. Finally, at Midway, they managed to grab a plane that was supposed to go to Denver and re-route it to Florida (I don’t know what happened to the poor Denver passengers). Whew! I was hoping to get some more details on the news, but I never saw anything about it once we got home.

Hard to believe that another trip is over and I’m back in the cold and snow. At least working on my trip report has given me the change to relive some of the highlights, and Easter week (our next trip) is not so far away.

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