Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Disney Cruise

My parents took me and my brother's families on a 7-day Disney Cruise recently to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. This was my first cruise and didn't know what to expect other than the stereotypical cruise experiences.
Disney ships leave from Port Canaveral so we flew into Orlando the night before departure. We stayed the night in the airport Hyatt. It was a decent hotel with a nice pool the kids enjoyed when reuniting with their cousins.

The next morning we boarded Disney buses for the 45 minute trip to the port. The buses had a video to inform us on what to expect. They were very nice and the trip was pleasant. At the terminal, there was the usual security theater. Everyone gets a "Key to World Card" which acts as a room key and credit card. The kids cards were supposedly set to "no charge" mode but some shops did not seem to recognize this feature. We had to get our pictures taken so they could visually verify us when getting on and off the ship. There was a cool model of our ship, the Magic, in the lobby. We also registered the kids for their respective activity centers.

We finally boarded and we were immediately slammed with the sales pitches. The first was two guys selling bottled water and beer by the case (at much less than bar prices they claimed). We ate the buffet and hit the pools while waiting for our staterooms to be ready.
The rooms were small but nice. Better than a mid-range hotel room. The kids had bunk bends to sleep in (the bottom bunk was formed from the sofa). Our room was on deck 2 (second lowest) and toward the stern. I like having the lower deck since the motion was less. However, our aft location gave us some noisy nights. We eventually complained about it and an crew member came by to check it out. He made some adjustments to the bunk bed but after that the weather improved so the creaking mostly stopped. The loudest noise came from the thrusters which are using when pulling into port which usually happens early in the morning. I didn't mind since I like getting up early but if you are sleeper, make sure to get a room amidships.

Our first two days were at sea, heading south. The winds where quite strong and made being on the top deck interesting. The crew said this was one of the windiest cruises they have ever had. Thank goodness for stabilizers or it would have been ugly. In spite of the wind, we hit the pools, the arcade and the of course the food.
Our first port of call was Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands. Most of our group went on a swim-with-the-dolphins excursion. The rest of us when on a guided mini-bus tour of the island. Our driver, Mr. Quick, drove up and down and all around the island. He was very proud of his home and pointed out all the interesting facets of it. One thing that I found particularly fascinating was the way the BVI'ers handled construction. They usually only build one floor at a time, but they left all the plumbing, electrical and re-bar fittings sticking up into what will someday become the next story. Its looks like the house was devastated by a hurricane, when in fact the opposite was the case. This was the Magic's first call to Tortola and Mr. Quick might get a comment to two regarding his saucy description of a local bar and its full moon festivals; let's just say the stories of panties did not mesh with the Disney crowd. Overall, I thought Tortola was bit shabby, but the people were nice and welcoming.

The second port of call was a mere 30 miles away at St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. We didn't have any shore excursions planned, so we wanted to get some snorkeling in. A guidebook suggested a couple of beaches so we went to get a taxi. A tip for you: get the price before piling in the cab. We weren't thinking and probably got ripped off. Obama's stimulus money hard at work. Anyway I made it back in booze savings. The snorkeling was average. The beach was crawling with "waitresses." They weren't mean or pushy, but they kept coming by asking if we wanted something to drink or eat. After a couple hours, we had enough. We did find time to get to a couple geocaches which was fun. As for the booze, here is a tip: don't go to the place closest to the dock, walk another 50 yards and save loads of money. I simply crossed the street to "Al's Booze Barn" and saved tons on some Johnny Walker Swing a friend asked me to get for him. I also picked up some Cointreau for myself and Kevin.

After another day at sea, we pulled into Disney's own island, Castaway Cay. Right from the dock, you knew this was an extension of the ship and of Disney, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. First, the snorkeling was great. They filled the lagoon with a bunch of old buoys, boats, etc. to attract tons of fish. The only drawback is it takes a bit of swimming to get out to the good stuff which limits the range of the kids. Second, the food was great. My brother and I did an morning 5K. The heat was brutal, but I did pretty good.

The highlight of any cruise is the on-board entertainment. I was expecting some B-level Disney shows rehashed from the parks, but I was woefully mistaken. The shows were first rate amazing productions. My favorite show was the "Golden Mickeys", a take on the Oscars which features the big Disney animated films. The girls' favorite entertainment was karaoke; they participated every night it was offered. I even joined in for a song or two. The crew members who ran the entertainment were very professional and really kept things going.
The other focus of a cruise is the food. The quantity is a given, but the quality is what matters to me. Breakfasts were average. We usually ate at the buffet in order to save time. It is hard to mess up oatmeal, donuts and bacon and Disney didn't. Lunch was usually taken on deck at the fast food stand. Decent burgers and fries. I don't expect much for lunch and I wasn't disappointed. Dinners were excellent. I like how the menus changed each night. I tried to stay on the lighter side but everything was great. The service was also top notch, better than almost any restaurant you find on the mainland. I especially enjoyed the black tie nights where I could break out my James Bond Mk I tuxedo.

After boarding, we set off for the final leg home. We pulled in quite early and I was able to watch the resupply operations for a while. It was amazing to watch the amount of stuff they are able to move off trucks and onto the ship with their little fork lifts. They only have a few hours to get everything squared away before they ship leaves again.


We had an evening flight but we got to the airport quite early. I checked for any earlier flight and we just made one which turned out to be very lucky for us. Our bags were already checked through on our later flight thanks to the Disney baggage handlers but we figured we would just pick them up later. At Dallas, we quickly checked the board for our connecting flight and noticed a gate change. We hustled on the train to the gate and just made the flight, very lucky for us. After landing, I checked on the status of our later flight which had our luggage; the leg from Dallas had been canceled. Had we stuck to our original itinerary, we would have another involuntary day of vacation. Now, we just had to wait until morning for our bags. Tip: get on the first flight you can AND you get to the Orlando airport in plenty of time for an early afternoon flight.




 

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