Cast - Wife and 2 boys age 12 & 14. Home is Virginia. Six previous cruises; Carnival (3), Royal Caribbean (2) and Disney (1). Five trips to Disney in the last 5 years.
This was our second Disney Cruise having done the 7-day Magic back in August 2000. We were concerned that after the wonderful 7-day cruise, the 3-day would seem short - this was not the case as we enjoyed every minute. The cruise was the tail end of a wonderful 6-day stay at the Hard Rock Hotel and Grand Floridian. Got the Hard Rock for an unbelievable $99 per night with the "Fan Club" card (it's free) and the Grand Floridian with an annual pass rate (not so free).
The week before Christmas has always been our favorite time to visit Disney. Crowds are light and no heat. We lucked out with 4 of 6 days in the low 80's. Even got Blizzard Beach in on one of the warmer days.
The Hard Rock was wonderful and we were upgraded to a pool view at check-in as was have a Loews Card (also free - are you seeing a pattern yet?). With front of the line access as a hotel guest we managed to hit most of the big rides at Islands of Adventure by noon. We spent the afternoon at Universal. Scoped out the Portofino Hotel but decided it was too far away and not as lively as the Hard Rock. Would definitely stay at the Hard Rock again.
We paid extra for the lagoon view at the Grand Floridian but did not feel it was worth the extra $30 per night. A big pine tree blocked our view of the Magic Kingdom Castle and we found it much nicer to go by the boat docks for the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The hotel was only at 50% occupancy on Monday after a very full weekend. The Micky's Very Merry Christmas Party fireworks were spectacular and much better than the normal ones - the entire lagoon seemed to light up at the finale. While the Grand Floridian was beautiful, we think the Wilderness Lodge will be our choice next time. My big complaint was the ¼ mile walk to the self-park lot at the Grand Floridian or pay $7 per day for the valet. They even charged us for the first day for the valet even though we self parked so check your bill. The pools are first class - the kids went to the theme pool with the slide and we stuck to the "quiet" pool, which was never really that quiet.
We again managed 2 parks a day due to the light crowds and strategic use of fast passes. Even with the shorter hours, we got to see everything we wanted before park closing. Finally got to ride Test Track after trying unsuccessfully previously for 2 years (rode it twice actually). Our son was selected to open the Animal Kingdom as we had arrived about 30 minutes early and were waiting in line when they picked us. We were very proud to have been selected from the hundreds of folks waiting to get in. They gave us a nice photo and some gifts. Who says lighting doesn't strike twice - two days later they selected us to open the Magic Kingdom (pays to get there early)! I took a ton of photos with all the Characters.
For our dinners we ate at the Kona Cafe (excellent), Narcrosses (fair) and Artist Point (outstanding). Kids ate mostly take out from Gaspilla Grill and Games which was fine by us. Still needed priority seating despite low hotel occupancy as shorter hours put many people in their hotels early.
Finally it was off to the Cruise. We had booked a secret porthole cabin 12 months earlier and got the last one of the 6 that exist (outside cabin for the price of an inside). Got to the dock at 11:30am which was perfect - no lines at check-in and they started boarding early at 12:15. Security was not too bad, they checked our ID's before letting us drop our bags right at the terminal so have your cruise document handy, not in the trunk. Dropped off the family with the bags, tipped the porter and was directed to park across the street - a short walk. Very nice cabin with a split bathroom - minimal obstructions out our "secret" porthole. Our stateroom hostess introduced herself and presented our return cruiser's gift - a nice carry bag, along with notes about our Castaway Cay return shipboard credit and the Dreams Unlimited shipboard credit.
The ship was full with 2,700 passengers (that's about 700 kids folks). Had late seating so there were virtually no young children present at dinner. Never once felt crowded despite being a full ship.
We were second in line for Palo reservations and took the second night as our first dinner was scheduled for Tritons (second favorite after Palo's). Excellent dinner and saw Hercules again - seemed like we had the same cast from our last Magic cruise and enjoyed the show. Also was very happy to see our favorite piano player had also come over from the Magic and was playing in the Cadillac Lounge - made it a point to stop by each night before dinner for a glass of wine.
Did some shopping at Nassau, mostly perfume for the wife. Liquor prices were much cheaper on the ship! Had lunch on board and had the pools to ourselves in the afternoon. We saw who want's to be a Mouseketeer, which we enjoyed. A young lady made three correct wild guesses to make it all the way to the final answer for a free week's cruise. Sadly the last question was so hard that it was a pure guess also and unfortunately she missed it.
Palo's was great as usual. As our last night's dinner was scheduled for Parrot Cay, we requested to be waitlisted for a second night at Palo's. They phoned they next day and said they had a cancellation and that we were welcome to come back (wow - that made for 3 formal nights on a 3 day cruise!).
Castaway Cay was a little cool so Mom & Dad stayed out of the water and took a nice walk to the adult beach (no it's not that kind of adult beach). The cool temps didn't stop our kids who had a great time in the water. Stopped by for the second showing of Disney Dreams and there was nearly a fist fight over saved seats just as the cruise director took the stage - he handled it well. For a minute I thought I was back on a Carnival Cruise!
Our 14 year-old enjoyed the teen group mostly because they had planned activities until 2:00am. Teens have their own supervised area and adults get intercepted at the door. He made friends quickly and was never bored. We always kept in touch with 2-way Motorola radios that worked well on and off the ship.
Getting off the ship was quick and easy. We had a late flight so we took our time at the late breakfast. It was only a matter of minutes from when we decided to leave that we were in our car. Spent the day at the Kennedy Space Center - a good way to kill 1/2 a day if needed. Per our guide, attendance is down to from 12,000 to 3,000 per day.
Summary - the 3 day cruise was perfect after 6 long days at the parks. You still get most of the highlights of the seven day cruise and only miss a couple of days at sea and one port. Nassau isn't nearly as bad as some folks say now that the straw market is gone. We felt quite safe and enjoyed it. It pays to do research as there are lots of things that can make your vacation more enjoyable (and less expensive). Examples were the Universal Fan Club, Loews Card, Disney Club etc.