Why Disney? Process of elimination. We wanted a quick cruise out of Port Canaveral that stopped in Nassau (I wanted to do Atlantis) and Freeport (my wife wanted to see the place). That narrowed it down to Carnival or Disney. Since Carnival represents everything in life I have tried to rise above, we did Disney. Intended to go later in the spring but the Florida Residence discount was too good to pass up. The Wonder does three and four day cruises, mostly as part of a seven day park/cruise package. The Magic goes to the eastern and western Carib on seven day cruises. The Wonder turns out to be an extension of Disney World, the Magic a normal cruise with a Disney flavor.
Two hour drive down I-95, turn onto the Bee Line Expressway that runs from WDW smack into the Port Canaveral terminals (think old Walt doesn't have some clout in this state?), then prove to a phalanx of security that you are indeed ticketed. First checker is standing in the highway, you can't even turn off without ticket and photo ID. Once blessed, drop off bags which go directly onto the ship, park across the street for $8 a day, then go through the whole security process again to get into the terminal.
Check in was a breeze since most passengers were processed before they left WDW. They were bussed by the hundreds, and hundreds, to the terminal where they went directly aboard. We arrived early, computer derived departure time from home was apparently based on the speed limit, so we had to wait about an hour before boarding. Lounge has plenty of check in positions, a huge cut away model of the ship with rep to point out features and general location of your stateroom, Disney critters wandered around for photo ops, the Bahama and Caribbean islands inlaid into the floor so the kids can trace the ship's route. Boarding commenced at 12:30, with everyone (except us) having stood in a long line for at least an hour. Memo to self: next time arrive around 2:00.
The ship is pure Disney. I have been a frequent visitor to Disneyland and Disney World since the mid '50s and still hold stock, not as much as I used to, and know that Walt has long since learned that it is more cost effective to make people think they are having the time of their lives than to provide a setting where they actually are. Spend any time in the Magic Kingdom and you will feel right at home. It is built and run for kids. If adults like the setting it is because they enjoy watching kids have fun or haven't grown up themselves. Nearly 2800 people were residing in less than 900 staterooms. Do the math.
To a naval architect the ship just doesn't look right, fat and hogged. Probably because she is built around the best children's facilities and sound system afloat. She is nearly one thousand feet long displacing 83,000 tons, twice the size of the first carrier I flew from. Over fifteen thousand square feet devoted strictly to youngsters, adults stay out. The theater forward seats nearly one thousand, the picture show just short of 300. Forward third of deck 3 is adults only in the evening with three clubs ranging from serene to raucous. My hidey hole is the ESPN bar, a secret not to be shared. A teen club from which the wise adult steers clear and several lounges where families can gather. Topside is divided into thirds by the two funnels, one functional, one fake. Each third has a pool, the aft for children, with winding water slide. Aforementioned sound system tries to counter the noise. Not sure who are loudest, kids or mothers. The center pool is for families, some semblance of control with music more contemporary. A cover turns the pool into a dance floor for parties. Forward is blessed haven for adults with music to match. Bars and beverage stations are everywhere. We got a mug for booking with AAA that granted us free soft drinks. Trouble is we had to have the damn thing with us to collect. Seemed everyone walked around with a mug around their neck. Too handy, drank far too much coke.
Our stateroom on the sixth deck was ready, smaller than expected, the verandah larger. Lots of drawer and self space, large really, really, really firm bed. My reasonable size suitcase fit under but Ann's 30 incher didn't. Very comfortable sofa. Massive door to verandah more than a child can handle, lock is high, nearly out of my wife's reach. Bath is actually two tiny ones, one with sink and toilet, other sink and shower/tublett. I would have preferred the floor space devoted to one facility. Shower took full hot to be comfortable. It was on purpose; kids and lawsuits. A small beverage cooler to hold smuggled coke. TV had ESPN, CNN, ABC and CBS in addition to a myriad of Disney channels. The verandah railing, in fact all the ship's railings, were childproof, higher than normal and faced with lexan. Good idea but salt spray made it annoying to look through. Memo to self: in the future, huge picture window stateroom will do fine.
The Disney magic starts when everyone gathers on deck to get underway. The supercharged sound system, a cast of hyper young dancers, all the Disney characters, exhausted parents and more kids than can be imagined were stirred to near hysteria by an ever increasing beat that must have been felt for twenty miles. Terminal workers donned huge Mickey gloves to wave as the ship left to the required long blast of the ship's horn. In this case, a rendition of Wish Upon a Star. Streamers and basketball size bubbles came from somewhere. There was an even more raucous party leaving Nassau at midnight. The ship is handicap friendly, you might think too friendly the second time you get run down by a LOL in her motorized cart. A dozen rather small elevators move quickly.
Disney's signature is their treatment of youngsters. That is the true magic. An army of counselors who are patient, trained, gifted people, mostly Canadian, Australian and British, turn the cruise into an unforgettable experience. They maintain control by having the children's respect, a novel approach. This ship is for children, people who like to watch children have fun and people who can have fun in the company of children having fun. Anyone else should find another ship.
The first morning dawned with unearthly quiet. The Windstar under full sail was framed in our verandah doorway. Where was that mob from the night before? The kids had checked into the Oceaneer Club, the parents were sleeping in. Tots had to be accompanied by a parent, the rest wanted nothing to do with grownups. Ages three to four, five to seven, eight and nine, ten and up all had their own programs. Parents of the younger set get beepers that send messages; "Suzy needs a sweater", "Jeffery has had it". The labs and clubs must be seen to be believed. I counted over two dozen microscopes in the science lab. The gameboy station would cause normal youngsters to soil themselves, enough lego to build a house, computer stations everywhere featuring design programs. Age groups are rotated through the lab so no two are there at the same time. There are shows just for them, adult movies don't start until late at night. Disney critters are everywhere. Half of Beach Blanket Buffet is kids only, with counselors, definitely where they prefer to eat. Not sure what the older kids do. Would see packs, with counselors, roaming the decks, identified by colored bandanas. Girls tied theirs around their necks, the guys wore them on their heads. An enormous basketball court seemed to be in use 24 hours. Fathers lucky to see their kids ten minutes a day were bonding. Ultra violet lit the volleyball courts at night. All you could see were tee shirts, socks and teeth. It was clear adults were not welcome in their teen club. Lots of handicapped and retarded children having the time of their lives. Perhaps a good sign. A large arcade featured the latest automobile and motorcycle racing stations. Kids appeared to be racing each other so they must be tied together. You swipe your room card to play, much too easy. Didn't see any guns. No casino either. Disney doesn't sell chewing gum in the parks or on the ship. Smart move.
Trading cards and pins. Big thing. Supposed to be for kids, however......... Every event and most of the crew has a card and sometimes a pin. Idea is to collect as many as you can. Most displayed pins on their ID/mug strap. Swap meets were held throughout the day. Most coveted was the Engine Room pin because you didn't see them that often. Incidentally, the bridge, engine room and gallery are off limits since 9-11. Shame since one of my booking privileges was a tour of the bridge and gallery.
Dining, or more correctly, eating started out frightening but got better. After dumping bags, we headed for the Beach Blanket Buffet, the standard inside/outside dirty shirt feeding trough. So did everyone else. Most were from three days in the park and had run out of patience, civility and so it seemed, clean clothes. Not to be regional but to these people, bellowing and shrieking served as conversation. The buffet was oriental which didn't sit well as we watched in horror knowing that some of this number would be at our table. Memo to self: next time grab a hamburger on the way and avoid this goat rope.
Disney divides evening eating between two seatings, 6:00 and a really late 8:30, and three dining rooms. One elegant, another pure Disney which starts black and white and finishes in a blaze of color, not sure what that does to your digestive system, the last a Caribbean motif with steel band and Jimmy Buffet. Breakfast is order from a menu in Tritons, a buffet in Parrot Cay, whatever is slung at you at the dirty shirt buffet (why is it the hairier the body, the skimpier the tank top?) and an express breakfast at Pluto's. About the same arrangement for lunch.
Burgers and franks were available by the pool, never did find the pizza hut. Fresh fruit was available in the afternoon at the ice cream stand to see you to the late seating.
Our first night was in Tritons, the elegant, late seating. Supposed to be jackets, no jeans or shorts. Yeah, right. Fellow in front of us was told "We ask for jackets and no jeans", to which he replied "OK, you asked, now where do I sit?" Turns out we were seated with *cast members*. Jerry works at the Disney terminal, his wife Jean at Carnival's terminal. Perfect post retirement careers. Shelly and Lori, who works in a Maine Disney store, were there with their husband's blessing, who kept the kids. Both can cook. Ann and Jean felt they had married wisely. I suspected ice fishing season. Looked around at the baseball caps and counted our blessings. We had a great table.
The wait staff follows as you rotate between restaurants. Food was hardy stuff, well prepared and presented. Three courses, a starter, entree and desert. Salad was one of the starters so I would order a real appetizer and a salad . Entree was served with plenty of sauce, kids don't like their meat dry. Neither do I. When Jean said no dessert, Witt brought a plate with *nothing* written in chocolate. Incidentally Pamda...I paid for it so I ate it! Was annoyed that I paid for the buffet that was going on at the same time and couldn't get to. Last night was chef's special, the signature dishes from the restaurants in DisneyWorld.
We ate at Palo, an experience not to be missed. Small, elegant, Mediterranean, built around the open galley, by reservation with surcharge. Food and service superb. They asked for jackets and got a few, but everyone did clean up.
Port Calls. Everyone has been to Nassau. Counselors kept the kids busy, adults dribbled into town. We took a cab to Atlantis. Well worth the trip. Some ate ashore. We paid for our meals on the ship, remember?
Berthed in Lucayan Harbor, the Freeport cruise facility. Lots of new construction, but now there is just a flea market and open air bar with steel band. Sadly the Big Red Boats and a couple other Bahamian registered ships sit idle waiting their fate. Beaches, the International Bazaar, Churchill Square and the Port Lucaya Marketplace are a 15-20 cab ride.
The finale was a day at Castaway Cay, Disney's own little sand bar and like everything Disney, overdone. The ship docks, like I said, Disney is handicap friendly, no tenders. Everyone told me the ship pulls straight in and backs out. That's what the pictures show. I got a room on the port side for a view of the beach. We got the one Captain that backs in! Memo to self: next time check further.
WDW parking lot trams take you from the ship to the village of shops, food, and rentals. A large cabana had several ladies braiding hair. It must hurt from the expressions of pain and tears from the little ones being held by their dumb ass mothers telling them how impressed their friends at home will be.
Counselors get the kids organized leaving families who thought they would have some togetherness standing. An eight foot Captain Hook challenged the older ones to join him pillaging the island. Didn't mention the raping.
There is a kids beach, family beach, and an activities beach from which the boats operate. A huge sand pit inland for those who don't want their kids near the water. Another tram takes you to the secluded adult beach with cabanas for massages overlooking the sea, and a bar cabana, and more food. Organized groups did whatever, stopping at barrels of iced soda and water. Then they locked them, unfortunately.
Besides hamburgers, hot dogs and lots of fruit, a BBQ lunch is served around noon. We got the same meal on board without the sand.
Debarkation. You embark and then debark. Where do cruise pundits get *disembarkation*? If you believe that you should call getting on *disdebarkation*. I digress. Disney claims they have the best debarkation process except for a port in Canada and I believe them. You get the usual coded baggage tags. We were blue (Donald) but your bags are also sorted by stateroom.
We docked before dawn. Early seating had breakfast at 6:45 in the dining room assigned the evening before with overnight bags because you go from the dining room directly off the ship. Late seating gathered at 8:00. Our waiter met us at the door and carried bags (small overnight and large camera) to our table. I may have over tipped. After a hearty breakfast we walked off the ship to be met by a porter who took us directly to our bags. Lots of yellow tape helped. He took them to the parking lot and we were driving out at 8:38. Others had it just as easy, the porters taking them to the correct buss. The airlines are sending reps and busses to the terminals now. The Captain was by the brow to say goodby, nice touch.
Next time. We got a voucher, I believe for booking in January, for a subsequent three day cruise this fall in the same category room for $99! Bring two guests that didn't come with you this time for another $400. Good deal? We're booked in September for a grand total of $257 in a verandah stateroom. That's about what a day at the park would cost. And you wonder why the Disney boats sail crammed to the gunnels.