Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Disney Cruise #59: Four Days on the Wonder

Has it really been six months since I sailed on the Disney Wonder? I asked myself that question as the Family Truckster headed towards Port Canaveral for Disney cruise #59. Although we usually take the summer off from cruising, we typical sail in late May and early September. This year, however, our schedule was discombobulated by the transatlantic crossing, which spanned two weeks in the end of August.

The 14-day cruise had been so fantastic that I was worried how I'd make the leap back to a shorter sailing. In fact, I had changed cruise #60 from a 4-day in December to the 7-night Western leaving the day before. I justified it by telling myself that a) I couldn't wait a whole year before we sailed on the Magic again; and b) a 7-nighter would let me down slowly for our January and May 4-night sailings before plunging into 15 days on the Magic in August (we're skipping our usual Feb. anniversary trip to make room in our schedule for the Panama Canal repo cruise and an Adventure by we'll only have five cruises next year).

But in the meantime, I feared that our time on the Wonder would feel like a mere sampler. Still, a sample is better than nothing, and I was planning a very laid back cruise. While I adored the transatlantic and would do it again in a heartbeat, I can't really call it “relaxing.” That, of course, was my own choice. On a cruise, you can do as much or as little as you please. But it was my first time in Europe, and even the sea days were chock full of activity, so it was a matter of commando vacationing and packing in as much as I possibly could. 14 days sounds like a lot until you are confronted with a smorgasboard of choices and a limited amount of hours in the day to squeeze them in.

Traffic was light, so we were soon cresting the hill on 528 where we could see the Wonder in the distance. Since we were in our favorite stateroom, all the way aft, I could easily spot our exact position on the ship, too. We had left early, and I expected to encounter a horde of other early birds as we pulled of the expressway around 10:40 a.m. But when we reached the entrance to the terminal, we were the only car. We showed our documents and headed for the luggage drop-off, to join two other lonely cars. Hubby parked the Truckster while I headed upstairs to check in, still marveling at the light number of people.

For me, my vacation begins the moment we get to the port. I know it drives most people crazy to wait; perhaps it's because I've been there so many times, so I don't feel a need to rush onto the ship because I already know what awaits's not a world of discovery like it is for first-timers. Instead, I enjoy sitting in the terminal and people watching. It's fun to watch the families come in, marveling at the ship model and screeching with delight when Captain Mickey or Goofy heads out for photos. I feed off the excitement of others because it lets me see the experience through fresh eyes.

I also enjoy seeing old friends at the port. We've gotten to know many of the people there via our frequent trips, so it's a joy to see them again and again. People are usually so anxious to get checked in and onboard that I don't think they truly appreciate the friendly faces who check them in. We've had the luxury of enough sailings to relax and to get to know them.

Soon enough it was boarding time. Lately, DCL has been selecting a family to kick off the boarding. I think it's part of the current “Dreams Come True” promotion. Personally I like it because it reminds me of the old days, when they used to have a family do the countdown to embarkation time. A little hoopla is a good thing!

Once the family had boarded, everyone got out their numbered cards to prepare for heading onboard with their group. The process is vaguely similar to Southwest Airlines; you get a numbered card when you check in, which indicates your boarding group. When that number is called, everyone with the appropriate card boards. That way, you don't have to stand in line. The kids can run around, watch cartoons, or get a picture with the characters, while the parents can do their kids club check-in early.

Once boarded, the first order of business for us is typically lunch. We headed to the buffet at Parrot Cay, where I was drawn in by the salads while hubby went straight for the shrimp. I also love the baked potatoes, which you can slather with cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits. That was all topped off with a bowl of cold strawberry soup, which generally serves as my dessert.

We still had a while before our stateroom would be ready, since it was before 12 when we boarded and “room time” is 1:30. We headed up to the spa; I had booked our appointments online, but hubby decided that he wanted to add a seaweed wrap for just after sailaway (I already had my own treatment booked for that time slot). As we exited onto deck 9, debating what to do next, the Cove Cafe beckoned to me. A nice cappuccino seemed like just the right start to our leisure time on the cruise. I think Cove is one of the best changes/additions to the Magic and Wonder (originally, it was the teen club but that was moved to larger quarters). It's lovely to stop in for coffee, tea, or a martini and a fresh baked good. You can sit around and read, watch TV, or just chill out. The only slight problem can arise when there are lots of smokers outside, particuarly cigar smokers (Cove is on the smoking side of the deck). When the automatic door opens, the smoke can swirl right in. But that doesn't happen all the time, and on days it's particularly bad, I just get my indulgence to go and enjoy it on my own verandah.

Since most people hadn't discovered Cove yet, smoke was a non-issue. We chatted with the bartender as he made our drinks. He sprinkled cinnamon on the foam of my cappuccino...mmmmm! Heavenly! Hubby had some kind of potent coffee drink spiked with Southern Comfort that stole him away from his usual (equally spiked) Jamaican Coffee.

After our caffeine boost, we headed back to the stateroom to don our swim wear. The time in between initial boarding and the safety drill is prime pool time. It's not such a big deal for the adult pool, which tends to be less crowded even at peak times, but if you have kids it's your best bet for swimming without being in a pack of sardines.

We lounged in the hot tub, and in all the time we were there no one else ventured in. A few souls came and went at the pool, but for the most part people seemed to be wandering around aimlessly, dazzled by the ship.

Eventually we headed back to the room to get ready for the drill. Our luggage had been delivered, so hubby managed to get it all unpacked before we had to head down to Station Q in Animators Palate, our assigned lifeboat location. The roomful of orange Spongebobs listened to the spiel, and then we were finally dismissed so the trip could begin in earnest.

Our first order of business was the sailaway. We thought about going to the deck party, which is all new since the last time we sailed, but instead we got lazy and ensconced ourselves on our verandah. We were in good old 5650, my very favorite room at the butt end of the ship. It has a nice, larger verandah; its wall is solid rather than plexiglass, but that doesn't bother me because I like the way the balcony is recessed and the room's prime location in an area nearly devoid of hallway traffic. While I am excited about the two new ships Disney is currently building, I am going to be like a lost soul with no room to truly call “home” on them.

Oh well, that is years in the future. In the meantime, hubby and I waved to the people we passed as we perched on our familiar verandah. Finally we passed Jetty Park, the last piece of land before heading out to sea and legal monkey knife fights (that one is for my fellow Simpson fans).

Our next order of business was the spa, where hubby had his seaweed wrap and I had reflexology. Since he has ticklish feet, it amazes him that I love to have my feet messed with. Every time we sail, I usually get reflexology, a hot stone massage, and a massage/facial, although not necessarily in that order...I spread them out over the course of the trip, and sometimes I slip in an extra treatment. He generally sticks with a couple of seaweed wraps.

Since my treatment was shorter than his, I got back to the room first. As I gathered my clothes to dress, I realized that I didn't see my horse necklace. It's a very special necklace to me: a silver charm of a girl and horse, hanging on a necklace woven from horse hair. The hair is tightly braided tail hair from my 30 year old Appaloosa, Cochise. I've owned him for 26 years, through thick and thin. I know that he's probably not long for this world, since 30 for a horse is like 100 for a human, plus I had to leave him in IL when we moved to FL because I didn't think he could make a 1200 mile trip. Thus the necklace keeps a part of him close to me, and even when he is gone, I will have that memory.

But now I had somehow managed to lose it! The last time I saw it, it was on the bed among my clothes. I folded the clothes but thought I had left the necklace there, and now it had disappeared. I searched diligently but unsuccessfully; hubby joined me when he returned, but neither of us could find the necklace. I knew it had to be somewhere in the stateroom, but where?!

I was distracted from my worry by the fact that we had Palo reservations. Palo is the adult restaurant that features such wonderful cuisine as a mouth watering rack of lamb, seared tuna, a variety of pastas, and monkfish (a new addition). Palo has its own galley, so basically it's like going to a top-notch Northern Italian restaurant on land, with the same high quality.

Our old friend Dalibor was there as a server, and we also knew the manager and chef from many previous sailings, so it was like returning to a favorite neighborhood restaurant on land. I had the monkfish, while hubby opted for tuna. I got a small side of mushroom risotto, since it sounded very tempting. The quality was as high as always, and I topped it off with Palo's famous chocolate souffle for dessert. Since I adore their gelato, too, I had a scoop of caramel gelato on the side.

There was lots going on after dinner: Wonderquest at 10, Match Your Mate at 10:30, and the new version of 70s Night at 11. Initially I was hoping to attend at least one of those events, but after a full Palo meal both hubby and I were ready to crash, In his case, I think that was helped along by half a bottle of Moscato along with his dinner.

We tried once more to find my necklace, but it was fruitless. I even called Guest Services to see if it might have gotten caught on my life jacket; if it had fallen off on the way to the drill, perhaps someone had turn it in. Nope, no silver charm on a rope of braided horse hair.

I snuggled in bed, my worries about my necklace neutralized somewhat by the gentle rocking of the ship. It reminded me that one of my favorite things about the transatlantic sea days was my sound sleep, invoked by being rocked every night. It had been quite an adjustment when we finally returned home to stationary bedrooms!

The next morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast out on the verandah, with Nassau as the backdrop. We weren't planning to disembark, since we've been there countless times. For us, it's simply another day at sea.

I lazed around till lunchtime, while hubby went to the spa for a workout. Then we went off to Triton's for a nice sit down lunch (there is also a buffet option that is quite good). I had made-to-order pasta, while hubby had pumpkin soup and seared tuna. I topped it off with banana cream pie, sure to give me a major sugar buzz.

Back in the stateroom, I made one more search for the mystery necklace. It HAD to be there somewhere! I had prayed for divine help the night before, since I wasn't doing too good on my own, and I kept being drawn to the sofa bed. Both hubby and I had looked behind it as well as we could but hadn't see anything. I couldn't help but suspect that the necklace had gotten stuck among my clothes; I had folded them up on top of the sofa, so it could have slipped behind it. The space was small, but it wasn't an impossibility. Goodness knows the necklace wasn't anywhere else!

Hubby opened the sofa bed, which gave us a wider range of vision, but we still didn't see it. I wasn't ready to give up yet; instead, we pulled it out a little ways, but we still saw nothing. We were just about to give up when a spotted a small piece of silver. The necklace clasp! It had somehow managed to fall into an out-of-the-way spot where it was nearly impossible to see unless you were looking very, very closely. If we hadn't found it, I'd be willing to wager it would have still been there when we returned in January unless the sofa bed was removed for some reason beforehand. With my necklace safely back in hand, I could finally relax and enjoy the rest of the trip. Hubby was relieved, too, but I think for him it had more to do with the fact that he wouldn't have to hack off another hunk of Cochise's tail hair next time he was in Chicago.

We had a spa villa appointment scheduled at 2:30 p.m. I enjoy the couples villa, except for one thing: I am married to a severe snorer. I bring a white noise machine with me, and this time I planned to bring it to the spa to see if it would help during our treatments. Usually when we do a couples massage, hubby is in dreamland enjoying his to the hilt while I lie awake and annoyed to the drone of his buzz saw breathing. The white noise works at night, so maybe it would be effective in a villa too.

The spa villas are fancy treatment rooms that each have a private verandah with a hot tub and bed. You kick off your treatment with a foot bath and a soak in the hot tub, followed by a wrap, massage, or whatever type of treatment you choose. When that is done, you relax on the bed while you sip herbal tea and munch on fresh fruit. It's a very indulgent (and pricey) treatment, but well worth it if you want to pamper yourself. Hubby and I work hard to pay for our cruises, so we never begrudge ourselves some self-indulgence while on board.

After the foot bath, we climbed into the hot tub, which was spiked with Aching Muscle Super Soak and milk bath (you get several choices). We watched the sky turn gray as we soaked, suspecting that rain was on its way. Since it was already mid-afternoon, we hoped that most people would be able to complete their excursions and general wanderings around Nassau before the downpour blew in.

The therapists called us in for our treatments (facial and massage for me, and seaweed wrap and massage for hubby). The white noise, coupled with spa music, helped a bit until the tail end of hubby's massage, when he apparently slipped into a deep coma. He was snoring like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre! I had been dozing off, but his snores were strong enough to be measured on the Richter Scale, so being on a massage table right next to him, there was no way I could tune him out.

Finally the treatments ended, so he was forced to wake up. We trooped out onto the bed on the verandah for our tea (pear for me and berry for him) and fresh fruit. By this point, the rainstorm was overhead and Nassau was getting deluged with a downpour. Fortunately, the Wonder's spa villas are more enclosed than the Magic's, so we were protected behind sturdy doors that allowed us to still look out without getting rained on.

After our villa experience, Cove Cafe was calling me with its caffeinated siren song. Hubby and I stopped to pick up coffee (he had another of the addictive Southern Comfort coffees, while I stuck to my cappuccino), and then we trooped back to our stateroom. Hubby got ready to go see “Hercules” while I did some work. As both a travel agent and a counselor, my work follows me via my laptop wherever I go...even out to sea. I was a little sad not to see Herc, since it will be gone from the Wonder before we sail again, but I've probably seen it over 30 times so I have plenty of memories to draw on. I'm excited to see the interim show, “Art of the Story,” when we sail in January on the Wonder, since I saw it on the Magic during the transatlantic voyage and really enjoyed it. Still, I will miss Herc a bit since it was an original.

On this trip, hubby and I had decided to divide our dining between Palo and the casual dinner option up in Beach Blanket Buffet. We love the main dining rooms, but every now and then we opt to skip them in order to do something different. Since this was a very laid-back trip, that meant laid-back dinners, too (or at least some of them...Palo calls for suits, dresses, and at least a semblance of manners). You can go up to Beach Blanket any time you want during their operating hours, wearing just about anything you want (nudity would probably be frowned on). They offer table service with a variety of options from the main dining room menus, plus there is a salad bar which is a big draw for me. The bar has black olives, cold corn, and kidney beans, which I love to toss on top of some cottage cheese with a drizzle of ranch dressing to top it off. I am a creature of habit, so I make that concoction every time we do the casual dining on the Wonder.

We had a lovely meal, and with the salad on top of it I was so full that I skipped dessert. I had more work to do back in our stateroom, but hubby went to see Michael Harrison's adult cabaret show and stayed for the rock legends show afterwards. He was hoping for some new material in the cabaret, but it was the same old talking tennis ball and use-an-adult-as-a-dummy routine. The rock legends show was new, consisted of a performance by the main stage dancers, as well as dancing and on-stage participation by guests.

Eventually we zonked out to get a good night's sleep before our arrival at Castaway Cay. If the weather was good, we knew it would be a busy day as there's always lots to do on the island.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, giving us hope for a good weather day. As hubby stepped out onto the verandah, he got quite a surprise. The ship had pulled in rather than backed in! That is very, very, very rare these days. It used to always pull in in the early days of Disney Cruise Line, but that stopped many years ago. Now it always docks butt end first except in special circumstances, like the annual DVC cruise. Today it turned out that they were going to be doing some filming, so we had lucked out. We don't usually have our picture taken in front of the ship anymore, but this time I HAD to do it because it would be unique. We have some old photos in front of the forward-facing Magic, but not the Wonder. Below are a couple of shots of the Wonder taken by hubby:

We had a quick breakfast and donned our swimwear, eager to begin a day of fun in the sun. I was rather confused, since disembarkation was forward rather than the usual aft. Everything was like a mirror image, and I don't adapt well to change, but I followed hubby and eventually made it to the gangway.

We paused for our front-of-the-ship photo, and as we continued down the path I noticed that Captain Jack Sparrow was out for photos in front of the Flying Dutchman. I have a couple of pics with him, but since you can see the Wonder in the background, I thought that would make a unique shot too. We joined the long, eager line and snaked our way slowly but surely towards Jack. After our pic, we headed down the main walkway and had a bit of a debate over whether to set up Base Camp Alpha on the family beach or the adult beach.

At first glance, it would seem that “adult beach” would be a no-brainer. After all, once of the reasons I love Disney Cruise Line is because it has adults only areas that are actually enforced. But I don't really dislike kids, and the far end of the family beach is usually relatively quiet and uncrowded. Thus I sometimes camp out there rather than heading all the way to Serenity Bay.

Hubby was pressing for the adult beach, but I saw a tramload of people that was much more packed than usual, and I had a gut feeling that it would be very crowded. Suddenly something caught my eye...several empty hammocks on the family beach! Apparently DCL has added some new hammocks, and because most people head to the first piece of beach they see, no one had come far enough down to discover them yet. That clinched it for me...I hopped into a hammock, and hubby could see that I had no intention of moving, so he gave in.

I set up shop with a book, while hubby planned out his more active routine. He always enjoys renting a bike, climbing the observation tower, and doing a round or two of snorkeling. He also took over the hammock while I walked over to Cookies to bring my lunch back to the beach. I had a cheese dog, cole slaw, and some sort of fruit and spice cake, which fueled me up for Round Two of hammock r&r. In the meantime, he wandered off to get his own lunch, returning my tray so that it wouldn't attract a hoarde of seagulls shouting "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

Our only fear was the threatening black clouds that hovered ominously just off the horizon. Fortunately they stayed out over the ocean and didn't hamper our beach day. Just in case, we had brought a large plastic bag; if we were caught in a downpour, we could hastily protect our beach bag. But we ended up not needing it, and the intermittent cloud cover was actually quite nice because it kept the sun from beating down too viciously.

Finally we realized that the afternoon was growing later, and we began our hike back to the ship. Even though the ship looks very cool when it pulls in forward, I missed the fact that we wouldn't be disembarking aft with just a quick jaunt up to our far-aft stateroom. Oh well, we were looking forward to the back-out-and-spin sailaway, which is quite a rarity. It was also time for another beverage from Cove Cafe, which has become as addictive to me as Starbucks.

On this trip, we discovered a new species of cruiser: The Locust. On one of our Cove stops, while we were waiting for our drinks, a man came in and proceeded to fill some plates to groaning capacity with all the cakes, cheese, and fruit he could manage to cram onto them. I don't know if he was having a party in his stateroom or if he was a throwback to the ancient Roman custom of binge/purge/binge indulgence, but he didn't even bother to buy any drinks. Granted the food is there for the taking, but it seemed rude to grab it all from Cove when he could simply have called room service and left some for visitors to the cafe to enjoy. I had noticed on the transatlantic that the Cove snack case was literally always bare, and now I can see why...Mr. Locust's distant relatives must have been onboard.

Hubby was looking forward to “The Golden Mickeys,” while I had my sights set on the spa once again. As he headed off for the show, I sank into happy oblivion on a massage table. After my treatment I spent half an hour in the Tropical Rainforest. I read for a bit on the heated tile loungers, then took a scented shower. I just love the “tropical” scent; even after my swimsuit has dried, I can still smell the fruity/floral aroma on it. I washed and conditioned my hair, then headed back to my aft enclave to get ready for dinner.

That evening, we opted for the casual dining again. Since it was pirate night, all of the entrees were from the pirate menu. I had a lovely macadamia encrusted fish dish, preceded by my usual salad concoction of cottage cheese, olives, kidney beans, and cold corn, topped with the ever-present ranch dressing. Yum! Between Palo brunch and the salad bars, I could probably live on cold food for an entire cruise and never feel like I was suffering.

I was too lazy to join hubby at the pirate party, so I did some work via the wireless connection in our stateroom and watched the fireworks from the verandah. For some reason, I was unable to download Word documents which is a big part of my work, so I was tearing my hair out. It wasn't as bad as my work fiasco on the transatlantic since it was only a four-day cruise and since I was still able to contact people via email to let them know about the difficulty, but it was still frustrating. Oh well, that's the price we all have to pay for living in the internet just can't escape your job anymore.

The next morning was a lazy one since it was a day at sea. We didn't bother with breakfast since we were scheduled for Palo brunch. Over the years the brunch has grown on me, and I truly like it just as much as dinner. There are a wide variety of hot and cold items, and I could easily make a satisfying meal just from the cold offerings. But I know how good the hot food is, too, so I always leave some room for Eggs Benedict and perhaps a cut or two of beef or whatever fish dish is currently the catch of the day.

I was extremely pleased to find beef carpaccio among the offerings. It used to be served as an appetizer at dinner, but it has been absent for a long, long time. Now it's just in little individual servings, but it's well worth a try if you are like me and like your beef still mooing. Sitting near a window and enjoying the panoramic view of the ocean made me homesick for our recent transatlantic voyage. Even though we were at sea, it wasn't quite the same as knowing we were out literally in the middle of the ocean. Worse yet, it was already the last day. Oh well, I comforted myself with the knowledge that our next cruise is a 7-day...still not long enough, but even a 30-day cruise would probably go by too quickly.

After brunch was the Castaway Club party, held in Wavebands. We trooped in and chatted with fellow repeat cruisers inbetween the video clips. My favorites are the christening of the Wonder and the footage of the shoreside office. When the new ships are built, I am hoping that they christen at least one in Florida so I can experience the hoopla firsthand.

Captain John gave his requisite talk, and then there was a raffle for cute little Castaway Club clocks. We actually managed to win one quite a while back so I didn't have to hold my breath like the other hopefuls around the room.

The rest of the day was quite lazy for me, interspersed with a little work. Unlike the transatlantic, when I'd actually forced my lazy carcass to exercise, I spent most of my free time either on my computer or reading out on the verandah. As much as I had loved the crossing, it had been such a go-go-go kind of cruise that I was relishing the slow, relaxing pace. On the transatlantic, there were way too many new things to see and do. On the four-day, I have experienced almost everything so I don't have to feel like I'm missing something if I just kick back for some comatose time.

I had one last spa appointment: a hot rock massage. Once again I had opted to skip the show, although even wild horses wouldn't keep hubby away from seeing “Disney Dreams.” He particularly enjoys it now that it has been enhanced, with more laser effects, flying, and an appearance by Timon and Pumbaa.

We were fortunate enough to be able to go to Palo again for dinner. Hubby had gotten a head start on the packing, so he knew he'd have plenty of time afterwards to finish it up and get our bags out for the 11 p.m. pickup. You leave them outside of your stateroom, and they magically appear in the terminal the next day. I had the lamb with mint jelly, although I always feel like a sinner to put any condiment on such a tasty cut of meat. Indeed, it was so delicious that I used very little of the jelly. I just couldn't bear to mask the taste. Dessert was a nice heaping helping of gelato, since I had already had a souffle at the beginning of the cruise.

Hubby went to the pub night show, but I crashed in anticipation of the morning that would come all too soon. We always skip breakfast so we can get an early start home; thus, hubby had found our regular servers and handed out the tip envelopes before we went to Palo. Even though we hadn't eaten in the main diningroom, we wanted to make sure they got a tip since it wasn't their fault that our table was empty.

We awoke bright and early, ready to disembark at the first call that the ship had been cleared. Unlike most other cruise lines, Disney allows you to leave when you want to rather than having to wait until you're called. I have miserable memories of being crowded among smokers in a “non-smoking” lounge on Royal Caribbean, waiting literally hours to be allowed to leave. Ugh! How nice to simply stroll down the gangway whenever I choose.

Sometimes there was a line, but on this day we simply walked off and rode the escalator down to the ground level where the porters were waiting. Our luggage was gathered, we presented our documentation to Customs, and we were climbing into the Family Truckster by 8 a.m. I think that was a record for us!

It's always sad to roll away from Port Canaveral, but as usual I was able to comfort myself with the knowledge that our next trip was just around the corner. We wouldn't see the Wonder again until January, but I knew that many new adventures would be awaiting us when we boarded the Magic in December.