Saturday, June 12, 2004

Trip Report #37, April 2004 on the Wonder

It seems like only recently that hubby and I were preparing for our very first cruise; hard to believe that was way back, in September of 1998. I remember wondering what to expect and if I would even like cruising. Now, Easter weekend of 2004 marked our 37th Disney cruise and our 41st cruise in total, since we have also sailed on four of Royal Caribbean’s ships. RCCL was a good experience, but Disney is superior. The Magic and Wonder are beautiful ships, and even though we don’t have children, I think Disney does the best job of catering to adults. Also, RCCL’s embarkation and disembarkation procedures are a nightmare compared to Disney’s. Overall, Disney Cruise Line just can’t be beat.
As usual, we were doing a three night sailing on the Wonder. We enjoy sailing on the Magic, too, but doing Wonder cruises on holiday weekends helps us to maximize our vacation days. Usually we just fly to Florida the Wednesday before our cruise, but this time we flew out the previous Friday night and spent the week in Kissimmee. The weather was very cool and dry, so we didn’t get to do much swimming, but we still had a good time. Of course, like all vacations, the week flew by much too quickly. The only good thing about it was that, as the days flew past, we were closer and closer to our cruise.

Kickoff at Port Canaveral
On Thursday morning, we were up early to meet our towncar. As usual, we booked our transportation with Happy Limo to pick us up for the familiar journey to Port Canaveral. It’s a relatively easy drive, but I prefer to kick back and relax on the way. We usually aim to arrive at the port no later than 11 a.m. That means we get there before the bus crowds, and it also allows some time for any unforeseen delays. When we leave straight from the airport, the ride usually takes no more than 45 minutes. If you are leaving from the Disney World area, add about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your hotel, since you are farther away from the port. It’s a straight shot down the Beeline (528) and traffic is usually minimal, although there is some construction going on. Fortunately it didn’t slow our progress.

Our driver was right on time, and we piled in and headed for our “home on the ocean.” During the ride, I sorted through our documents to make sure we had filled out everything and signed the appropriate forms, while hubby attached the luggage tags to our bags. Soon enough we were cresting the tall bridge and could see the ships in the distance. No matter how many times I sail, that first glimpse of the Disney Wonder still gives me chills. The Carnival Fantasy was the only other ship in the port. I thought there would be a Royal Caribbean ship, too. The port looked very bare with just two. Oh well, no matter, as long as the Wonder is there!

Our driver showed his port pass and we readied our documents and ID as we were waved toward the terminal. We produced our drivers licenses and were checked off on the manifest; then we were waved up to the unloading zone beside the terminal building. It was about 10:45, and the crowd was still very sparse. There was only a handful of people in front of us in the security line I dug up my laptop, as you are required to boot up your computer in order to pass through security. I always bring my laptop with me so I can work on updates for my Disney Cruise Line Planner; it’s very convenient, but unfortunately I own the world’s slowest booting laptop. It takes forever to boot up, and then even longer to be shut down. Oh well, better safe than sorry. It always surprises me that I am not required to turn it on at the airport. The cruise line definitely has good security.

Once we were through and my laptop was safely turned off and stashed, we headed up the escalators and into the main terminal. There are are crew members stationed nearby to help stragglers fill out their documents and make sure they have everything they need. I had our paperwork and birth certificates stashed securely in our document pouch. There is a special line for Castaway Club members at the far end of the counter, but since the line was minimal at all the counters, we simply went to the closest one.

The crowd was minimal early on; often, on the three day cruise, most of the people have booked a land and sea package, which means they arrive later, on buses from the resorts. The embarkation line didn’t really start to build until well after 11 o’clock. It builds much more quickly on the seven day cruises because there is no land portion. With more people arranging their own transportation, they tend to arrive early. Even though it’s the same amount of passengers, the crowd to embark the Wonder is much more spaced out.

If you arrange transportation on your own, there are several options. We use a towncar from Happy Limo, as we like being chauffeured in our own private vehicle and making our own schedule. Some people opt for a one-way car rental, as several agencies have offices at Port Canaveral, and some (Budget, Avis, and Hertz) will shuttle you to the port after you drop off your car. I like a towncar because it’s a direct ride, with no stops unless we opt to do a grocery stop. Happy Limo offers a free stop if you want to bring your own beverages and snacks but don’t want to lug them on the plane.

People often comment that the wait to board the ship seems to be so long, especially if you arrive at the port early. Personally, it’s always the opposite for me. Over time, we’ve gotten to know a lot of the port crew members, so time seems to fly because we’re always greeting and chatting with friends. Even if you are a first timer, there is lots to see and do. The large model of the ship never fails to intrigue me, and there are cartoons on television monitors for the kids. You can always count on a character appearance; this time around, it was Chip and Dale, and Captain Mickey often shows up too. You can also look through the Welcome Sheet that you are given at check in to see what will be going on once you board.

All Board!
The boarding time varies, depending on when the ship is ready, but lately it’s been pretty early (between noon and 12:15). It can be as late as 1 p.m., but I’ve only seen that happen once or twice. On this trip, we were stepping on board and heading to Parrot Cay for lunch by 12:15. First we paused for our embarkation photo, the first of many photo opportunities. Take advantage of them because you’re not under any obligation to buy and it’s fun to stop at Shutters, the onboard photo shop, and see how they came out.

The embarkation backdrop has changed several times over the years. This time, they were using my favorite backdrop, which is a sepia toned drawing of a celebratory crowd waving off the ship. I like that one because it’s so festive. It reminds me of the scene in “Titanic” where the ship is leaving and everyone is crowded onto the decks and lining the shore to see it off. Of course, “Titanic” might not be the best analogy, but I don’t worry about the comparison because it’s not too likely to find an iceberg in the Caribbean. When I think of the Titanic, I think of a beautiful classic luxury liner, and Disney really captured that style well with the Magic and Wonder.

As you board, a member of the Cruise Staff announces your name on a microphone, continuing the festive atmosphere, and you head for lunch. Since we boarded pretty early, we headed for Parrot Cay on deck 3. Beach Blanket Buffet opens a little later if you like to dine al fresco. The buffets are virtually identical, but if you are a soda drinker, Parrot Cay is your best bet. You can get soda there without any additional charge, but it is not available at the deck 9 buffet.

Almost every time we sail, I notice a few little tweaks. This time, there were some new items on the buffet that were very good. My favorite was the new turkey dish…I don’t recall the name, but it was a thin slice of pounded turkey with some sort of light breading, served with a red sauce. There was also a divine apple/cranberry cobbler with vanilla sauce for dessert. Usually it’s plain apple, but this time around the cranberries added such a nice little zing of flavor. I stuck to that, while hubby did a sampler plate of several tempting cakes.

There are many more hot dishes and cold salads to choose from, and of course the famous peel and eat shrimp. Hubby had loaded up his plate, and our table was right where people walk in so quite a few of them were checking out his shrimp pile. Personally, I mainly opt for the salads. There was one that reminded me of some type of coleslaw topped with bacon bits and other with big, delicious mushrooms. There is also a table with sandwiches and soups, included my favorite strawberry and banana soup. To me, it tastes like a smoothie in a bowl. If you are travelling with fussy kids, there is a kid friendly buffet table with items like chicken strips and macaroni & cheese.

The line for the buffet went in spurts as people wandered aboard. I love people watching and hearing their comments, especially the kids. They never cease to amuse me. We were seated at one of the first tables, right on the aisle, so it was a great spot to observe people as they waited for the buffet. As one little girl stood in line with her dad, she told him very seriously, “Wow! I never thought this would be so popular that people actually wait in line for it!”

We finished up our lunch and headed to our stateroom to drop off our day bags. If you arrive at the port early, be aware that you will not be able to go to your stateroom until sometime between 1 and 1:30. It takes some time to clean up after the 2600+ guests who just disembarked a few hours earlier and get the ship ready for the new crowd. The stateroom areas are roped off until they are ready; in the meantime, you can register your children for the clubs, make Palo and spa reservations, or just wander around the ship admiring the d├ęcor and artwork and get your bearings. An easy way to remember how to get places is: Forward fun, aft eat (the Walt Disney Theater and the clubs are forward, and most of the restaurants are at the back of the ship).

I had thought that spa reservation time started at 1:30, so hubby and I played ping pong at one of the tables on deck 9 until about 1:15. Of course, “play” is a relative term, since the wind on deck was adding an additional challenge. Then we headed to the spa on deck 9 forward and were surprised to find it open. Turns out I had misread the times; spa tours started at 1:30, but reservations started at 1. I definitely don’t need a tour, as I’ve had just about every treatment possible. But there wasn’t much of a crowd waiting to make reservatins, so we were able to easily get the times and treatments that we wanted. I signed up for a massage right after the safety drill, an Absolute Face & Body at 11 a.m. on Nassau morning, and a reflexology treatment at 2 p.m. on Castaway Cay day. Hubby loves the seaweed wrap, so he booked one on both Thursday and Friday.

Hubby stopped down at Wavebands, where Palo ressies were being made, and he reported that it wasn’t crowded at all. I think that because the crowd at the port was light, the “ressie scramble” didn’t pick up until a little later. But it’s still a good idea to go for your preferred Palo, spa, and Flounders reservations as early as possible, as you never know how quickly they will book up.

R & R Before the Safety Drill
Once we had our ressies and had gathered a set of kids navigators for my website, hubby and I changed for some pre-safety drill hot tubbing. We always pack swimsuits in our day bag because those first hours of the cruise are the least crowded time for a dip. Many people don’t think about packing swimwear, so you often have the pool almost all to yourself. The kids pools are more crowded than the adult one, but the amount of people is still minimal.

There were actually more people than usual at the adult pool. Most of them were just lounging in chairs or at the edge of the pool and soaking up the sun, but a couple brave souls had ventured all the way into the chilly water. There were people in both hot tubs, but there was still plenty of room, so hubby and I selected one and climbed in. Relaxing in the bubbles and chatting with the various people who come and go is a great way to kick off the cruise. As I said, I am a people watcher, and I like to count the number of people who pass by and dip a finger or toe in the pool, but for some reason no one did that on this trip. Usually I count at least a dozen “dippers,” but this time it was all or nothing…they either passed by without pausing or else came prepared in swim wear and climbed in.

A few stray kids tried to invade the adults-only sanctity, but they were quickly shooed away. As we chatted with one couple in the hot tub, they said they had taken a Princess cruise to Alaska and were amazed at the number of kids on board. They told us that one of they few things they didn’t like about the cruise was the fact that there was nowhere to go for some peaceful adult time. We had the same experience on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas to Alaska. In theory, they had an adults only pool on Radiance, but it was the only indoor pool. Being an Alaskan cruise, it was much too cold and windy to use the outdoor family pool, so of course the kids all came inside and took over the “adult” pool to swim. I can’t say that I blamed them; that was very poor planning on RCCL’s part. I believe in respecting rules, but I also don’t think it’s fair to restrict the kids to a pool that’s not usable.

On Disney, everyone has their own pools (I must admit that I’m jealous of the Mickey slide!) and activity areas. DCL did an excellent job of planning, and no matter how many children are on board, they never seem to be underfoot. This cruise had a high kid population due to the holiday, and it was no exception. Of course, you’ll see them at the shows and meals, so you wouldn’t enjoy it if you really can’t stand kids at all. Personally, I get a kick out of watching them, but I also like some quiet time, and that’s very easy to get. I know people think hubby and I are crazy for taking 37 Disney cruises when we don’t have any children, but it truly is the best adult experience that we’ve found. Royal Caribbean is nice, but all of their ships that we’ve sailed on are like Radiance, with no enforcement of the adult areas, not even the exercise room and spa.

By the time three thirty rolled around, the other people who had been in the hot tub with us had all “abandoned ship.” Dark clouds were rolling in, and we heard the threatening boom of thunder and saw a flash of lightning. We decided to get out just as a crew member came along to clear out the pools due to the lightning. A light sprinkle of rain was just starting; it had turned into a full-fledged downpour by the time we reached our stateroom. Thankfully, it was a typical Florida shower that had blown over by the time the safety drill started.

Eight Blasts of the Ship’s Whistle
Our luggage had already arrived when we reach our stateroom after hot tubbing. Hubby started unpacking and managed to get almost everything put away before we heard eight blasts of the ship’s horn and the announcement beckoning us to our lifeboat station. Our station was in Animators Palate; since we are in stateroom 5650 so often, I know Station Q quite well. The stations are located at various points around deck 4, including the Walt Disney Theater and the outdoor deck areas, depending on your stateroom location. Our other usual staterooms are the secret porthole rooms, which have an outdoor meeting area.

If you’ve never done a safety drill on a cruise ship before, it’s a quick and relatively painless process. At the appointed time (4 p.m.), you don your life jacket and troop to your station, where attendance is checked. Then you listen to a safety announcement and it’s all over. The worst part is being crowded in with dozens of other people while looking like an orange Sponge Bob in your bulky life jacket. But despite the inconvenience, it’s very important to know where you’d need to go in case of an emergency.

The Wonder is well equipped, with lifeboats that each hold 145 guests and five crew members. There are more than enough lifeboats and life rafts to accommodate everyone. Fortunately, the chance of an emergency is very remote, but it’s good to know the equipment is there, just in case. I know logically that problems can happen, but the ship looks so much like a giant resort hotel that it’s hard for me to believe something of that size and mass could ever sink.

Decadence at the Spa
After the drill, we trooped back to our stateroom. Hubby finished unpacking, and then it was time for our kick-off spa treatments. Although they were scheduled for 4:30, we like to get there a little early because a line tends to form just before opening. There are all the people checking in, as well as a large crowd hoping to make their bookings. I was one of the first two there, and as I passed the time chatting with the other person, a woman from England. As the clock ticked closer to 4:30, quite a line of people formed behind us.

A few minutes before the spa opened, two women barged their way to the front. I moved over so they couldn’t pass me and pointed out that the spa wasn’t open yet. One of them said haughtily, “Well, I am here for a treatment.” I pointed out that so were the rest of the people. Ms. Haughty said, “Well, they’re not all here for that. They’re hear to make appointments.” In her eyes, I guess that relegated them to some sort of second-class status. “Well, I’m here for a treatment,” I responded gave her an evil look that dared her to step past me. She didn’t, but neither did she go back to the end of the line. I was surprised that the other people she’d barged in front of didn’t say anything. Sometimes I think rude behavior is on the rise in our society because people are afraid to confront it. The English woman said, “Oh, I thought Americans queued, too, but I guess it must be a British thing.” “No,” I said, “MOST Americans have manners. It’s only the rude ones who don’t queue.” I’m sure Ms. Haughty was oblivious to our pointed comments.

Another woman barged through the line to join the Haughty Duo and told them, “I should have know I’d find you at the front.” “Yes,” said Ms. Haughty, “I’ve been standing here since 4 p.m.” That would be quite a trick, since the safety drill was at 4, and I was the second person to arrive at the spa afterwards. Since I am a trained psychologist, I debated offering my services to help her cure her delusions, but then I decided she was probably a hopeless case. Besides, why work while you’re on vacation?

Shortly thereafter, the spa doors were flung open and the restless mob streamed in. Hubby and I filled out our consultation forms and were directed to the locker rooms to meet our therapists. When I had made my booking, they had asked if I minded a male masseuse. I’ve had so many massages that I am not shy at all, so I said that would be fine. For a long time, Disney only had females (the other cruise lines typically have both, and I’ve had men do my treatments on Royal Caribbean). Then the Vista Spa added males in the hair salon, and now they’ve made the leap to doing treatments too.

Of course, if you have a preference, they will respect it. The spa personnel go out of their way to make the clients feel comfortable. Many people have their first spa experience ever while on board the ship, so they tend to be a little nervous. The therapists are used to this and will help you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

My masseuse, Kevin, was new to the ship. He had been on board when we sailed last time, but he’d been in training. He gave me a wonderful back massage that left me feel relaxed and ready to enjoy my vacation. Since the spa is located on deck 9 forward, you can hear the ship’s whistle blast “When You Wish Upon a Star” as you leave Port Canaveral. I love to hear it while lying in the spa in a dreamy stupor. It’s the perfect way to kick off the weekend. I met up with hubby after his seaweed wrap, which takes longer than a massage, and he reported that it was as good as ever.

Our next spa treatments were on Nassau morning. As usual, hubby was having a seaweed wrap, while I was scheduled for an Absolute Face and Body. That is a combination of a massage and a long, luxurious facial. That treatment is so relaxing that I almost always fall asleep, especially during the facial. When people ask my favorite treatment, it’s always a toss-up between the seaweed wrap and the Absolute Face & Body. The only bad thing about the seaweed wrap is that you have to get up and shower off before the massage, but it’s such a great detoxifying treatment. And the AF&B does have one bad part, too; after the massage, you have to emerge from your comatose state long enough to roll over for the facial.

I love having spa treatments on Nassau day, and often we spend some time in the Rainforest too (this time we didn’t because there was a Golden Mickeys matinee). It’s a quiet, uncrowded time, as most people have disembarked. I thought the ship would be more crowded this time because most of the shops in Nassau were closed for Good Friday. But surprisingly, most people had disembarked anyway. Judging by all the braids I saw later that evening, the hair braiders never take a holiday. I also heard that Atlantis was very crowded, since a lot of people headed over there after giving up on the closed shops.

My last spa treatment was a reflexology session at 2 p.m. on Castaway Cay day. I had debated booking it for later, but hubby convinced me that it was going to be cold on the island. As it turned out, he was very wrong! But it was probably just as well; we disembarked before 9 a.m., and even with sunscreen I managed to get some sunburn, so it was probably best that I returned to the ship a little early.

I love reflexology, mainly because I love foot massages. Reflexology is also supposed to have a number of wellness benefits. I don’t know if it really does, but I do know that a good reflexologist can come up with lots of information about the state of your health, even if you don’t discuss it beforehand. For example, my feet revealed my bad habit of never drinking enough water, which tends to leave me in a constant state of semi-dehydration. Hubby is always lecturing me about it, but I was surprised that the relexologist was able to tell via the treatment.
When I was done, I met up with hubby for a little time in the Rainforest, an area of saunas, steamrooms, and scented showers. It also contains heated tile lounge chairs that are the perfect spot to curl up with a good book. You can buy a one day pass or get one that is good for the length of your cruise. There is a discount on day passes if you get a hands-on spa treatment on the same day.

There was one big change at the spa this time. The Ladies Night treatment, which used to be offered Nassau night during the dinner/show times is now Ladies Morning. It is the same treatment (massage and facial in a private treatment room, followed by champagne and chocolates in the Rainforest), but the time has changed. Personally, I think Nassau morning is better because you don’t have to skip dinner or a show. The Golden Mickeys is on the second night of the three day cruise, and I love that show so I’d never want to miss it, even for a spa treatment. Nassau is okay if you’ve never seen it before, but hubby and I usually don’t bother to disembark any more. And even if you want to, you can easily kick off your day with a treatment and have plenty of time to go ashore later.

Another change is that the surial bath is now called the rasul. That is the name that it had when we sailed on RCCL’s Radiance. We didn’t do it on this trip, but according to the description, it is still the same neat couples experience. If you’re not familiar with it, it consists of being in your own private shower and steam rooms with a bowl of mud, exfoliate, and various spa products. You and your significant other get the room for an hour, and what you do is up to you. Technically, the rasul can accommodate up to three people, but I don’t know anyone else well enough to share the experience with besides hubby!

Watch for other changes coming soon to the Vista Spa, including some new treatments. Hopefully there will be new offerings in time for my next cruise, and I am looking forward to trying them out…purely for research purposes, of course.

It’s Showtime
Hubby and I like to do second seating dinner, which means that our showtime is at 6:30 p.m. and dinner follows at 8:30. When you have early dining, you eat first and see the show afterwards. I know that people with small children usually prefer the early seating, but it makes me feel too rushed. Since we are from Chicago, 8:30 is really 7:30 for us anyway, so it works out very well. The only downside to late seating is that it can be hard to make the farewell character greeting on the last night. We’ve been known to eat our meal, then slip out for photos and return for dessert.

If you miss Hercules or Disney Dreams, don’t worry. A recorded version is shown hourly throughout the evening on your stateroom television. Unfortunately, they do not show The Golden Mickeys yet, but I am hoping they will add it in the future. Even though we rarely miss a show, we like to watch an “encore” while we are getting ready for dinner.

The first night’s show was Hercules, which we always go to see even though it’s not quite on a par with the Golden Mickeys and Disney Dreams. It’s a totally different type of show than those two, but a lot of fun in its own way. It’s full of corny humor that makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen the movie. By now I know all the jokes, but it still gives me a good laugh. Hubby will always have a soft spot in his heart for this shows because Hercules is one of his top three favorite Disney movies.

I headed down to the theater a little after 6 and was one of the first in line at the doors. I thought it would be open already, but the doors didn’t open until around 6:15. I headed down to the front row; someone was already sitting on one end, so I plopped down on the other. A teenage boy (perhaps a relative of Ms. Haughty) said, “Sorry, these seats are all reserved,” gesturing at all the remaining seats in the row. Seat saving in the theater is forbidden, and there is a note in the Navigator that says so. Still, I wouldn’t mind if it was just a couple, but he was beyond the limits of common courtesy.

I rolled my eyes and said, “You can’t save a whole row.” He said, “It’s not the whole row; it’s nine seats.” I’ve got to hand it to him; he definitely had brass ones. I replied, “The Navigator says you can’t save ANY. Nobody minds a reasonable amount, but nine is not reasonable. If you have a problem with me, I suggest you complain to the staff.” I was hoping that he would, as I would have loved to hear that conversation, but instead he just sauntered away. Meanwhile, a woman and her granddaughter sat down next to me. Turns out the granddaughter had tried to sit there originally and was told by Mr. Brass that the seats were “reserved.” Being a kid, she fell for it. When they saw other people sitting there and Mr. Brass leaving, they returned.

I had a very nice chat with the grandmother while waiting for the show to start. It was her first cruise, and even though it had just started, she was having a great time. Her granddaughter was curious about what happened to Mr. Brass, so she looked around and spotted him a few minutes before showtime. He was standing near the door, apparently looking for the rest of his party. Goodness only knows where they ended up sitting, or if they even showed up.

Hubby and I managed to restrain ourselves from ordering smoothies while waiting, since we knew we had a Palo dinner ahead of us that night. Also, I was wearing shorts and the theater tends to be chilly, so I knew that I’d be shivering if I had a cold drink. The smoothies are delicious; I think there are various flavors, but we usually get strawberry or chocolate. They are sold in front of the theater and also inside, so you can order one very conveniently. Just beware…they are very addictive!

We were anxious to see the show, as this was a new cast for us and we always like to see how they customize it. All of the shows are different when there is a new cast, but this is most pronounced with Herc because there are more opportunities for ad libbing. Each cast puts its own unique twist into the show. Herc has been around since 1998, and it has also been interesting to see how it’s evolved over the years.

Before the show, Cruise Director Jacqui came out to introduce it, and Captain John also came out to greet everybody and welcome them to their new home for the next three days. Then it was showtime!

The cast was very good; they’ve been on for about a month, and they really had it together. My favorite parts of the show are Hades’ interactions with Pain and Panic. As usual, Pain and Panic stole the show. I know most of the jokes, but they’d worked in quite a bit of new material. I am a real comedy buff, so that is my favorite part, but I enjoy the songs from Hercules so I like the musical numbers, too. It will be interesting when we sail again in June to see how this cast continues to evolve the show. At the end of the show, be sure to stay until the end of the curtain call for a very cool pyrotechnic effect.

The Golden Mickeys
Friday’s show was The Golden Mickeys, Disney Cruise Line’s newest offering. We saw it when it debuted Labor Day weekend, and now we were interested to see if there were any changes with the new cast. There was a few tweaks, like Ensign Benson’s costume (instead of dress whites, she now wears blue) and some new cartoon footage (watch for the quick clip from “Brother Bear”), but overall the essence has remained same. I’m glad, as I love it just the way it is. My only complaint is that it’s too short; it moves so quickly that it’s over before you know it. Of course, all of the shows are less than an hour, but this one is so fast moving that the time really flies.

At least the fun starts a little early. The festivities kick off before the show begins, as you head to the theater. In a style befitting a gala awards show, paparazzi flash cameras at the arriving “celebrities” (guests). You can pause to be interviewed by Rona Rivers, who is waiting right outside, which means you will appear onscreen inside the theater.

The premise of The Golden Mickeys is an awards show to honor Disney films in various categories such as heroes, villains, friendship, and romance. This is used as a framework for numbers from popular movies such as Snow White, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, Tarzan, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, Pocahontas, 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, and Toy Story. There is also a guest appearance by Stitch and lots of cartoon clips from various other movies (my favorite is Darla from “Finding Nemo” in the Villians sequence).

But best of all is the beginning, where Ensign Benson gets some help from Roy Disney himself after finding herself unexpectedly thrust into the role of hosting the show. There is lots of old footage of Walt that I really enjoy. I love reading biographies and stories of the early days of Disney, so I just love seeing the classic footage. Another highlight for me is a special appearance by Elvis Stitch during the Comedy sequence. Terk from Tarzan steals the spotlight from Ensign Benson, and Stitch joins her for a rousing rendition of “Trashin’ the Camp.”

If you have small children, be aware that the Villians sequence may be scary, especially if they are sitting in the front. Ursula appears in larger than life form, and her tentacles come very close to those in the first row. Other than that, the sequence is reminiscent of Fantasmic, and the scariness is offset by Cruella DeVil and her entourage performing her signature song. Once of the biggest crowd pleasers always seems to be the Toy Story tribute to friendship. The other is the Snow White sequence in the beginning, when children get to join Snow White and Dopey on stage in the role of the remaining six dwarves.

I love the musical numbers, but I also enjoy The Golden Mickeys from a technical standpoint. It is so amazing to see what they can accomplish on a cruise ship stage, with such limited space. From blending the cartoon and real worlds in Snow White to Princess Aurora’s color changing dress to Ursula’s menacing tentacles and the cartoon backdrops in many of the numbers, the show is a technical marvel.

As the end of the show approaches, Ensign Benson slowly but surely gains her confidence. She may have started off with a severe case of stage fright, but in typical Disney fashion, there is a happy ending.

Since it was Good Friday and most of the shops in Nassau were closed, there was a special Golden Mickeys matinee. We decided to see it so we could have our evening free. I had noticed that even though the stores were closed, the ship was still pretty much deserted, just like a usual port day. Sure enough, the show was much less crowded than I expected. There were a lot of people in the middle section, but the sides were virtually empty.

On the surface, it might sound ideal to watch a show in an uncrowded theater. That would be true at the movies, but for stage shows, I personally like the energy of being in the midst of a large, lively audience. The people at the matinee were so quiet and reluctant to clap that I was reminded of Hades’ line, “Is this an audience or a mosaic?” I still love the show regardless, but I imagine it must be harder for the actors to perform if they don’t get an enthusiastic response.

We decided to go to our regular evening performance, and this time around there were lots of people and plenty of enthusiasm. Since there have been some changes, hubby took lots of new digital photos. If you want to take pictures, please do it WITHOUT a flash to be courteous to those around you. Sometimes the constant flashes are almost blinding, but on this trip I was happy to see that most people followed the rules and did not take flash photos. We have a digital camera with night vision that takes great flashless shots of all but the darkest scenes. I noticed a couple of other people around us using flashless digital cameras, too.

The big evening crowded laughed, clapped, and cheered at all the appropriate times and gave the show a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. I was very pleased to have seen my favorite show twice, and if it wasn’t dinner time, I could easily have sat through a third peformance.

Disney Dreams
Even though this was cruise number 37, I think we have seen Disney Dreams closer to 40 times. I love The Golden Mickeys, but Disney Dreams is hubby’s unwavering favorite (and I must admit that I never get tired of it either). Sometimes there is a matinee, so we double dip and see that plus the evening performance. Of course that doesn’t count the innumerable times we’ve watched it on our stateroom t.v.

Like Hercules, Disney Dreams has been around since the debut of the cruise line. Like The Golden Mickeys, it features a variety of scenes from various Disney movies. It is framed around the story of a little girl named Anne Marie, who wishes she could fly to the place where dreams come true. The Blue Fairy drafts Peter Pan to assist her in learning to make her own magic.

There are scenes from Aladdin, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid (my favorite), and The Lion King. As much as I love the musical numbers, my favorite part is towards the end, when Tinker Bell pixie dusts the cruise ship. I never get tired of it, no matter how many times I see it.

There was no matinee this time around, so we saw the pre-dinner show. Then, of course, we had to turn it on to watch again as we dressed for dinner. If I were travelling with children, I think that it would be so neat to put them to bed and let them fall asleep watching Disney Dreams on t.v.

Memories of Retired Shows
Besides these three shows, in the past Disney has attempted some “non-traditional” fare. One of their original offerings was Voyage of the Ghost ship, a swashbuckling pirate adventure with no Disney characters at all. But when people are sailing on a Disney ship, they want to see familiar characters/stories and hear familiar songs. Ghost Ship was retired, but ironically I think it would have been a success if it had been released later and tied into the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It would have been a natural fit.

There was another offering, which was originally titled C’est Magique, on the seven day Magic cruises. It was a new age-type magic show in the mold of something like Cirque du Soleil. In the original version, there was absolutely no dialogue. Personally, I really enjoyed it, but it contained no “Disney” elements so it was soon retooled into Morty the Magician. This time around, there was a story line and an appearance by Sorcerer Mickey. But even The Mouse himself couldn’t salvage it, and now it’s retired too.

Hopefully, if Disney Cruise Line ever retires Hercules and introduces another show, it will be on a par with The Golden Mickeys. I’d love to see a Lilo and Stitch theme, since they go with the whole tropical concept. The fact that Lilo & Stitch is my all-time favorite Disney cartoon has absolutely nothing to do with it!

Usually when we’re on the ship, we don’t go to the movie theater. Disney does have some really good offerings; they premiere movies from their studios on the Wonder and Magic the very same day that they debut on land. On our cruise, “Home on the Range” was already playing, and “The Alamo” made its debut. For the premieres and the really popular new movies, the screening is often held in the Walt Disney Theater, which is the main show theater. It is larger than the Buena Vista Theater, which is the regular spot for films.

I supposed that if you’re a movie buff, seeing films on board is a great savings over theater prices. But it’s not worth it for me because my cruise time is priceless, and I rarely spend it doing something that I could do at home. The movies will come out on DVD pretty quickly, but I can’t recreate the cruise ship experience in my living room.

But if you have kids or really enjoy seeing movies as soon as they are released, you’ll probably spend some time in the theater. Besides the first run offerings on the big screen, you’ll be able to see various older movies on your stateroom t.v. There is also a channel that plays classic Disney animated films 24 hours a day. For some reason, Hercules seemed to be on every time we turned on the cartoon channel. It was fun to see it and recognize how the movie dialogue had been worked into the play.

Photo Opportunities
On the way to dinner on the first night, I was very excited to spot a new photo opportunity. Throughout the cruise, the photographers from Shutters take portraits in front of a variety of backdrops. We have just about all of them, but there’s one that is generally only offered on the four night cruise that I’ve been coveting. It is a backdrop of the bow of the ship, with a sunset in the background. When I saw that it was available on this cruise, hubby and I had to take advantage of it. We have quite a collection of ship photos, and we always love adding new ones.

You cannot use your own camera at the back drops, but there are plenty of photo opportunities with the Disney characters where you can use your own camera in addition to the shots taken by the photographers. To find out where and when particular characters will be, call 7-PALS from your stateroom phone or look at the board outside of Shutters or in the atrium. Characters are among the most popular photo offerings, so the lines can get quite long. Be sure to get there early to get a picture with your favorites, as the line will be cut early if it gets too long.

I was hoping to find Lilo and Stitch, but they remained elusive. I have a photo with Stitch that was taken a couple of cruises ago, at the farewell gathering on the last night in the atrium, but I want to get a professional shot. The farewell is a character bonanza, with lots of traditional favorites, plus several of the main stage performers. The Shutters photographers don’t take pictures at this event, so you’ll definitely need to bring your own camera. The characters descend the staircase outside of Tritons and go out into the crowd in the atrium. There will be crew members on hand to keep some semblance of order, and you will probably be able to get several good shots if you move quickly. The only bad thing is that late dining often interferes with this event. We did attend it this time, but sometimes we run out of the dining room for photos and then return for dessert. If you have late dining and want to attend, you can also let your servers know that you will need to leave a little early. They are great about accommodating your request.

The farewell is a free for all, but the other character photo events are very well organized and controlled. On board the ship, they usually take place in the atrium. On Castaway Cay, they will be at various points along the main path in the morning and at the gazebo near Cookies in the afternoon. You may also run into them at various places on the ship; on this ship, I had my hand gallantly kissed by Captain Hook when I ran into him in the hallway. Later in the trip, as I was carrying my lunch back to our beach chairs on Castaway Cay, I heard people chuckling and turned to find Mickey right behind me! You never know where a character will turn up.

On this trip, we also got some neat shots on Castaway Cay. There are photographers at the family beach snapping photos on the sand and in the water. We got a picture of hubby and I standing in the water and another one of me lounging in a hammock. Take advantage of as many of the photo opportunities as possible because you’re not under any obligation to purchase the pictures.

Shutters can also develop your film and transfer your digital pictures onto a CD. Hubby purchased a waterproof camera to take photos on the island. He was going to have them developed on board but opted not to because he still had a few shots left to take. At the airport on the way home, he was forced to put the camera through the x-ray machine. The security agent swore up and down that the machine wouldn’t harm it. Back at our house, he used up the last few shots taking photos of our cats. When he had the film developed, the cat pictures were grainy and much too bright. Thankfully, the photos from Castaway Cay were okay, but the film that hadn’t been exposed yet was ruined. Next time, he’ll opt for the onboard developing.

Another cool thing to take advantage of on board is to purchase Christmas cards. The cards were offered for the first time in 2003, and they were such a hit that they’re now a permanent item. Even if you are sailing early in the year, you can buy your cards early. You choose a photo and a decorative scene, such as Mickey’s hand holding an ornament or Mickey lounging on the beach. You select some text, your photo is added, and voila! Cool personalized postcards. We already have our 2004 cards, as we bought them back in February.

Dining at Sea
I covered the embarkation buffet earlier, but that’s just the first part of a long weekend full of delicious dining opportunities. Hubby recently lost over 50 pounds, while I lost 25, so we do try to watch what we eat. But when we are on the ship, we allow ourselves to do some indulging. I think that the only way to maintain good eating habits is to give yourself a break every now and then. I do make some concessions to my new eating style, though. Between meals, I always used to snack on the delicious chicken tenders from Plutos, with plenty of honey mustard. Now, I refrain from most between meal snacks. I also skip some of the desserts or have something light. For example, in Parrot Cay the cold mango soup is actually an appetizer, but I ordered it to cap my meal instead of to start it. Disney also offers some excellent sugar-free desserts. Hubby gave a thumbs up to the sugar-free strawberry shortcake at lunch in Triton’s.

But I do allow myself to have special treats, like the chocolate souffle at Palo. With so many goodies around, it’s impossible to resist everything. Hubby and I try to balance the indulgence by keeping up with our exercise routine. He likes to work out in the fitness room, while I prefer walking and water jogging at Castaway Cay.

The Wonder has three main dining rooms: Triton’s, Animators Palate, and Parrot Cay. Each is themed differently, and each has a different menu. Animators is the most famous because of its show, where the walls literally change from black and white into color. But personally, I like Triton’s best because it has my favorite menu. I also like the Little Mermaid theme and the blue and green cast to the lighting. You eat at a different restaurant each night, and your server teams moves along with you. On this trip, our head server is Rita, who we know from many previous trips. Our servers were Rolly and Agnes. They took good care of us, handling all of our special requests cheerfully and efficiently.

In addition to the three regular restaurants, there is also Palo, an adults only alternative. You have to make reservations to dine there, and there is a $10 per person surcharge, but it is well worth it. Palo is the equivalent of a fine restaurant, with meals cooked to order. It reminds me of something like D’Antonio’s in Celebration, Florida. The cuisine is Italian, with many delicious pasta dishes. There is also steak and seafood, and even an assortment of pizzas. The pizza is delicious but filling, so I usually skip that (it makes a great appetizer if you have a large group, but generally it’s just hubby and I).

Your meal is kicked off with fresh bread and three dipping sauces (olive, red pepper, and garlic mayonnaise), as well as antipasto. We skip the antipasto because we like an order an appetizer off the menu, but we also want to save room for dessert. Hubby loves the Italian fish soup as a starter. It is a red soup chock full of shrimp, mussels, and scallops. I really enjoy the portobello mushroom appetizer. For dinner, I know that the filet mignon with gorgonzola cheese is always good, but often I’m tempted away by a special. On this trip, I tried the special lasagna, and it was absolutely divine. Hubby can vouch for the fact that I am not really a pasta person, but the lasagna was out of this world. It was chock full or beef and cheese, and it was topped off with an utterly delicious white sauce. If it were a regular menu item, that would probably be my usual order. Hubby opted for the tuna, as usual, which he orders as rare as possible. He would be happy if it were totally raw, as he loves sushi. Palo offers the next best thing: a quick sear on either side, leaving a nice, pink middle.

For me, no visit to Palo is complete without chocolate souffle for dessert. I like it with lots of white hazelnut sauce and just a dab of chocolate sauce. Mmmmmm! Hubby tends to switch off between the pistachio torte and the panna cotta. No matter how full I’m feeling (which is usually pretty full, since I tend to overindulge in the bread and sauces in addition to my meal), I always make room for that chocolate bliss.

A secondary benefit of eating at Palo is the view. I especially like dining there on Nassau night, with the lights of the city as the backdrop. One of my most memorable Palo visits occurred on the Magic, when we were in Key West. Our dinner was timed just right so that we watched the sunset right from our windowside table.

Even though there is a surcharge to dine at Palo, we always add on an additional gratuity for our Palo server. We base it on what we would tip in a similar land-based restaurant. If you want to add something, you can put it on the slip when you pay for the surcharge.

The other onboard dining experiences were all excellent. I always have eggs benedict from Triton’s for breakfast on Nassau morning, and we vary between Triton’s and Beach Blanket Buffet for lunch. On this trip, hubby convinced me to lunch at Triton’s by reminding me about their delicious curried pumpkin soup. They also make fresh pasta and a wonderful Hawaiian-type salad. I always request added maraschino cherries. It may sound like an odd combination, but it is delicious.

If you want to sleep in or don’t feel like leaving your stateroom for breakfast, you can pre-order continental items the night before. You fill out a card, place it on your doorknob, and your food and beverages will be delivered the next morning at the appointed hour. The room service staff on the Wonder are great. They are so prompt that we use them as an alarm clock. If you have a verandah, enjoying your morning coffee outside is the perfect way to start off your day.

We did find a new culinary treat on this trip in an unexpected place: Cookies Barbeque on Castaway Cay. After I got my food in the regular line, I noticed that there were tables where you could get a fresh Ceasar salad. You'll have to be on the lookout because you won't see this in the regular buffet line. I had already loaded up on food so I skipped it, but hubby got one and pronounced it quite good.

Onboard Accommodations
I am a creature of habit, and I love deck 5 in general and stateroom 5650 in particular. When we’re not there, we can be found in one of the non-adjoining secret porthole rooms (either 5520 or 5020). Unlike the other decks that contain guest staterooms, deck 5 only has rooms in the forward and aft sections. The middle of the deck is taken up by the Buena Vista movie theater and the kids clubs. The activity areas are well removed from the staterooms, so they won’t cause any disturbance. Actually, I think you get less hallway noise and traffic on deck 5 because it does not have an endless hallway of rooms like the other decks.

The secret porthole rooms are forward, and 5650 is aft. Aft is my favorite area of the ship, and the farther back, the better. 5650 is the last guest stateroom on the starboard side of the ship. Being so far off the beaten path means that it is quiet and peaceful. Generally, the only time I ever hear anyone passing by is the first afternoon, when people are lost. Once they learn their way around the ship, they don’t venture back to my peaceful little zone.

This trip was no exception. We were in 5650 and never heard any disturbance when we slept in a bit on Nassau morning, even though there were lots of kids on the ship. I would see them when we walked through the hallways, but I never heard them anywhere near our stateroom. We also spent some quality verandah time; 5650 has a solid metal verandah rather than a plexiglass railing (this is true of all the staterooms past the navigators verandah rooms), and it is deeper and a little larger than the regular verandahs. It feels more private and secluded, and it’s nice to only have a stateroom on one side because you only have one neighbor. Even though a three day cruise literally flies by, we still found time to lounge around outside. I like to go out there for a little while each morning and then spend some time on the verandah on Nassau afternoon (I just pretend it’s a day at sea).

Nassau (Sort of)
Speaking of Nassau, on this trip, for the first time in ages, we actually disembarked for the first time in ages. No, we weren’t anxious to have our hair braided or to stock up on liquor and smokes. We happened to be in port at the same time as the Celebrity Century. Cruise Director Rick, formerly of Disney Cruise Line, is now a cruise director at Celebrity and he happened to be working on the Century. We haven’t seen him in ages, so we broke our tradition of staying on board and disembarked in Nassau to meet up with him for a quick visit. His ship was only in port for a few hours; it didn’t arrive until 2:30 p.m. and left at 7:30 p.m., but we still managed to get together to say hello.

It was great to see Rick again after over a year, and he is doing great. Our stay in Nassau consisted of disembarking the Wonder, walking over the Century, which was docked right next to us, visiting with Rick, and then heading right back to the Wonder. That was enough for me; if it weren’t for Rick, we would have just pretended it was a day at sea and stayed on the ship. I did notice one classy perk at Celebrity; as the passengers returned to the ship, they were handed hot towels to freshen up.

The rest of our Nassau day was filled with spa appointments, quality verandah time, and the Golden Mickeys matinee. The matinee was only because of Good Friday, since there was less to do in the port. But even without an extra stage show, there is plenty to do on board. There are always movies and various activities like a family animation class. For lunch, you can choose from a buffet on deck 9 or a sitdown meal at Tritons.

37 Times at Castaway Cay
Like The Golden Mickeys and Disney Dreams, Castaway Cay is one of those things that I never tired of. Hubby and I have extraordinary luck. In 37 cruises, many of which are in the winter, we have never missed docking at Castaway Cay. There have been a couple of close calls in the colder months, but we’ve always made it in. We’ve never been totally rained out, either. We have encountered a couple of storms, but we’ve always gotten in at least of couple of hours of beach time.

For some reason, hubby was convinced that it was going to be too cold to swim this trip. He was so convincing that I booked my reflexology treatment at 2 p.m. on Saturday, figuring that the cold would entice us to leave the island early. Boy, did he turn out to be wrong!

Actually, at about 6 a.m. Saturday morning, it looked like things might be a wash-out. I was sound asleep, but hubby was out on the verandah watching a wicked thunder storm blow through. He was fully convinced that it was going to stick around, but our luck held and it cleared out just in time for disembarkation. The only signs that remained were some dark clouds that blew away by late morning, wet sand, and water on the beach chairs.

Hubby had booked the brand new jet ski excursion for 9:45 a.m., so we disembarked bright and early. We were stepping on the island before 9 a.m. We had some postcards to mail, and the post office is supposed to open at 8:30 a.m., at least according to the posted sign, but it was deserted. We figured we’d just stop back in the afternoon.

Usually we go to the adult beach at the far end of the island, but very now and then I like to stay at the family beach. Serenity Bay usually lives up to its name as an oasis of peace and quiet, but sometimes I like to be in the thick of things. At the far end of the family beach, near the Heads Up bar, there is a nice, uncrowded area. It takes a bit of walking to get there, but it is close to restrooms and the game room. There are three hammocks in the area that often stay undiscovered until lunchtime.

We were going to head over there, but since we were so early, I noticed a couple of unoccupied hammocks behind the bar across from Cookie’s Barbecue. Although they were right off the main path, they were shaded by a clump of palm trees that gave the area a secluded feel. They weren’t right by the water, but we don’t have any young swimmers to watch, so that doesn’t matter to us. We claimed one of the hammocks and adjacent lounge chairs and set up “base camp” in this new location.

As the clouds disappeared and the sun grew stronger, the temperature started to climb. It turned into one of the most gorgeous days I can ever remember on Castaway Cay. It was warm enough to swim, but not unbearably hot and muggy. Hubby did jet sking, snorkeling, and lounging, while I split my time between swimming and reading in the hammock. When we first arrived, the water and beach were nearly deserted. It was amazing to watch how the crowd grew and multiplied as the morning wore into afternoon.

A Jet Ski Adventure
The jet ski eco-tour is a brand new offering on Castaway Cay. There have always been pedal boats, sailboats, and kayaks for rent, but the jet skis are a new addition to the fleet. You cannot take them out on your own. You sign up for a guided tour, and you are led on an excursion with two stops as the guide shares some history and ecological information about the island.

Hubby though he would have difficulty getting a spot, but it turns out he was the only person in the 9 a.m group! I think this is because this tour is new, and not many people know about it yet. Once the word gets out, I suspect it is going to get very popular. The price tag is a bit steep; it’s $95 for one person, but there is a price break for a second person riding on the same jet ski. But I think there will still be a lot of people who are willing to pay the price in order to jet ski in Paradise.

Personally, I’d rather pay the extra money to be assured that I am going with a trusted vendor. Hubby once rented a jet ski at the public beach in Nassau. The vendors there are all independent, with no regulation. The jet ski died out in the middle of the ocean, and he had to wait until it drifted back to shore, mile from his starting point. When he finally got back to the beach, he made the mistake of telling the vendor where he left the jet ski before demanding his money back. Of course, the guy disappear with his money.

At least when you ride a jet ski at Castaway Cay, you know that Disney has carefully selected the vendor. Hubby was very impressed with the guides’ knowledge and their focus on safety. There is one guide in front and another in back, and you wear a life jacket and go at a controlled speed. You stick pretty close to the island and the surrounding area rather than going out into the open ocean. One of the two stops is on the opposite side of the dock, where the guides talk about the mangroves. For that stop, you stay on your jet ski. The second stop is at a sandbar, where you climb off your jet ski and learn about how the sand bar was created and some of the history of the Bahamas. If you are lucky, you might even get to see wild crabs! Hubby was fortunate enough to see the crabs and get his photo taken holding one. The guide said that this is the first time he’s seen the crabs there since the tour started.

The whole experience, from start to finish, lasted about an hour. The tour itself was about 30 minutes, and the rest of the time was spent on orientation and instruction. Hubby really enjoyed it and highly recommends it to anyone who wants to get a unique view of the island or who just wants to say that they rode a jet ski at Castaway Cay.

A Lazy Day on the Island
My day was much more lazy. I like to jog in the water for exercise, and if I went out a little ways it was deep enough to give me a workout. At first, I was nearly the only one in the water, but as the morning wore on, more and more people took the plunge. The beach chairs were filling in rapidly; you could tell each time when a tram must have dropped off a load of passengers because a new herd of beach goers would wander down the sand, looking for a spot.

After I was done in the water, I curled up in the hammock with a good book. The palm trees provided plenty of shade, and even though I was on the family beach and it was pretty crowded, the area was relatively quiet. It was quite a while before anyone even took the nearby chairs. I think most people want to be closer to the water, and many even bring the tiny chairs right down into the ocean. It’s a good way to keep a close eye on the kids and also to cool off and relax.

Finally a large family group showed up and managed to scrounge enough chairs to set up “base camp” in the area in front of me. They put together a pretty impressive camp, but I didn’t see too much of them. The gang of kids immediately headed for the water, leaving mom to hold down the fort and keep an eye on their stack of water toys. I had a very nice, peaceful interlude until hubby returned from jet skiing and snorkeling. Then, since our chairs were very close to Cookies, we brought our lunch over to the beach. By the time we were done eating, it was time to head back to the ship so I could shower before my 2 p.m. spa appointment. So much for hubby’s prediction of cold weather; it had been an absolutely perfect day. The only good thing about returning to the ship a little early is that I burn easily. Even though I’d been applying sunscreen, I had a bit of a burn going already. But I was still sad that I missed kayaking.

We had packed up and were just leaving when I saw a family heading onto the beach to find a place. I pointed out our hammock, and they happily claimed it and settled in for the afternoon.

The Silent Auction
Shopping is a popular activity on cruise ships and in port, but hubby and I have just about every t-shirt and quite a bit of assorted DCL merchandise, so we usually don’t buy too much in the onboard stores. I always look at the Silent Auction merchandise, but usually nothing catches my eye. I already own my all-time favorite DCL item, which is a copy of the picture that graces the bed over stateroom 5650, so it’s hard to find something that measures up.

On this trip, I finally found another piece of artwork to fit into my DCL bedroom. It was a gold-framed picture of the ship, with clouds in the background. In the clouds you can see WDW. For some reason, that really struck me as neat. Hubby recently bought a framed poster at Art of Disney that features Walt and Mickey walking over a bridge with the parks and various characters behind them, on land and in the clouds. I absolutely love items that depict Walt and Mickey together (we also have Triple Self Portrait handing in the same room). For some reason, this picture reminded me of that one, even though Walt and The Mouse are nowhere to be seen. Maybe it was the parks and the clouds. The blue matting was perfect for our bedroom and the starting bid was reasonable ($75), so I decided to give it a go.

To participate in the Silent Auction, you write your bid on the appropriate sheet. The items and sheets are placed outside the Walt Disney Theater during the times that the shops are open. You must bid at least the designated minimum, and others can come along and bid more. When the auction closes on the last day, the highest bidder wins. If you are the winner, you will receive a call in your stateroom. You must pay for your item by 11:00 p.m. on that last night. It can also be shipped for an additional fee.

I decided that if I could get the picture for $75, that would be great, and if someone wanted to go higher, I would bow out. I had awful luck when I was trying to get my stateroom picture. The opening bid for that one was considerably higher, but when I bid for it on a couple of occasions, someone always topped me. For only $75, I thought someone would surely swoop in on this picture, too. But when we got back from dinner that evening, there was a phone message waiting for me…it was mine for the minimum bid!

I trooped down to Treasure Ketch to pick up the newest addition to my Disney collection. You pay in the store, and if you are taking your item with you, they will make sure that it is securely swaddled in bubble wrap. Now it is proudly hanging in my bedroom, among lots of other DCL paraphernalia. We have everything from a model of the ship signed by one of the captains to Captain Mickey and Minnie figurines to Steamboat Mickey to crystal etchings and even a nautical bedspread. Various photos from Shutters take up any remaining wall space and dresser tops. I am always homesick for the ship in between our cruises, but when I step into the bedroom, I can almost convince myself that I’m onboard.

If you’d like to bring a little bit of the ship back home with you, too, I highly recommend checking out the auction. Besides some cool artwork, there are unique items like genuine captains hats with signatures, framed sets of trading cards, dishes from the restaurants, promotional crew member items, and even bolts of cloth from the Animators Palate costumes. The items change regularly, so don’t be surprised if they are different on your cruise.

Flash Back to the 70s
On this cruise, we didn’t attend much of the adult entertainment. There is an 80s party on the first night, but I don’t like it as much any more because they took out the Michael Jackson dance numbers that the main stage actors used to perform. I wish that the 70s party was on the first night because then I can party until the wee hours and sleep late on Nassau morning. But we were pretty sleepy Thursday night, so since it was the 80s party, we skipped it in favor of our nice, comfy bed.

Other adult events that we like are the Wonderquest adult scavenger hunt and Match Your Mate, an at-sea version of the Newlywed Game. I don’t know if they had Wonderquest; as usual, Match Your Mate was on Nassau night, but we were pretty busy bumming around the ship so we missed it. We usually try to see it because it’s different every time, depending on the contestants. There are three couples: newlyweds, people who have been married for a few years, and the couple that has been wed the longest. That mix usually makes for some pretty hilarious results. My favorites are the couple who were honeymooning on the Magic because they had met there the year before (and had “discovered the magic” on the deck 7 aft verandah), the couple who shared intimate details about their tryst in a Six Flags parking lot, the elderly couple who had been discovered in an intimate position by a Boy Scout Troop that happened to hike by, and the even more elderly couple who took their honeymoon in Mexico with a young hitchhiker in tow. They spoke no Spanish and he spoke no English, but each night they would make him sleep outside the car while they carried on inside! They had been married for something like 60 years, so it was even more hilarious to imagine this scenario way back in the 1940s. Sometimes the show is more tame, but sometimes it’s even wilder; I can’t say much more here, since my website is a family site.

On the last night, we made up our minds to not miss our favorite event. After dinner, we stopped at our stateroom to change and headed down to Wavebands. I like to get there early to get a table as far away as possible from the smoking section. Many of the non-smoking tables are directly in front of the smoking section, which means you might as well be sitting in a smoking area. Combine that with generally poor ventilation and if you have allergies (like me), it can be a nightmare. There is one section off to the side that is all non-smoking, so we always stake out a spot there.

Sometimes it’s pretty crowded, but amazingly this time it was almost deserted. When the 70s party is on the last night, the turnout tends to be smaller because people are busy packing. But even when the crowd is light early on, the tables slowly but surely fill up as the hour grows later. This time, it started light and stayed light. I suspect it might have been because there was a higher than usual kid population on board due to the holiday. It’s more fun when it’s crowded, but we still had a good time. We did some dancing and then watched the special appearances by “Gloria Gaynor,” “John Travolta,” and “The Village People.” Like Match Your Mate, the dancing and lip syncing are always different, and the cruise staff does a great job of picking people to perform. On this trip, they didn’t have much of a choice because the crowd was so small. As a result, the performances where much tamer than usual, although one of the guys (an Italian man) was pretty funny. I was still glad we attended; I only regret it when I have to drag myself out of bed early the next morning for disembarkation.

Goodbye for Now
Sunday morning marked the end of Disney Cruise #37. We don’t put our luggage out the night before (if you do, it will be transported down to the customs area for you). Instead, we just take it with us when we leave the ship. You can go to the buffet or have a sitdown beakfast at a pre-assigned time that is based on your dinner seating time. But after a long weekend of overindulgence, we are usually too stuffed to even think about breakfast. We had some cookies and fruit left over from earlier in the trip, so we nibbled on that as we packed our final odds and ends and prepared to say goodbye to the Wonder for seven weeks.

Disembarkation is a real breeze. If you’ve never done it before, or if you’ve been through the arduous process on another cruise line, you will be pleasantly surprised. There is a disembarkation talk, but you don’t need to attend in person because it will be replayed all evening on your stateroom television. If you don’t go, be sure to view it on t.v. because it gives some important information on customs forms, identification requirements, etc. Even though we sail frequently, we still watch it because things change regularly.

We had given out tips and turned in our survey the night before, so in the morning there wasn’t much left to do other than leave the ship. When we left around 8 a.m., there was no line in the atrium, so we simply walked down the gangway and back into the real world. There are porters to help you with your bags if you need any assistance. We pack pretty light, so we can manage our own luggage. There was a short wait in the Customs line, but soon we were turning in our form and passing through on the first step of our journey home.

Depending on your form of transportation, you will either pick up your car in the parking lot across the street, meet your towncar or limo in the pickup area of the lot, or catch a van to a rental car agency in the pickup area. There is a big, white canopy in the designated area, and there are signs that mark lines for the rental car and Radisson Hotel shuttle van. The lucky people continue their vacation in Cape Canaveral or Orlando area, while the unlucky ones (like us) head to the airport or to home by other means.

Oh well, I shouldn’t complain because we are very fortunate to be able to cruise as often as we do. Even though we had to say goodbye for now, it wouldn’t be too much longer before we returned. And once again, we were leaving with memories of another “wonder”ful trip.

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