This trip report is going to be a little different, since our latest vacation was not a typical Disney cruise. Three days on the Wonder is always too short, so this time we stayed aboard for three cruises in a row. This report will not be organized entirely sequentially. Instead, I'll do it by categories (e.g. Staterooms, Food, etc.), which I think will be easier to follow.
First, a little background on the cast of characters. Hubby and I are a childless couple from the Chicago area. Prior to this vacation, we had done 23 Disney cruises (mostly 3 day, but with one 4 and two 7-days thrown into the mix), plus four on Royal Caribbean. I guess it's obvious which one is our favorite cruise line! We already have a Disney cruise booked for November and eight more in 2003, which will bring us to a total of 35 in DCL by the end of next year...not bad, considering that our first cruise was in Sept. 1998!
We did the RCCL trips mainly to visit ports that Disney does not visit, such as Alaska and Baja, plus we wanted to try out the mega-ship Voyager of the Seas. Also, in a fit of insanity several years ago, we tried Sovereign of the Seas so we could do a direct comparison with Disney, since it does the same Nassau/private island route. But no matter what, we always return to Disney, and the Wonder has become our home away from home. In my view, Royal Caribbean is good, but Disney is excellent.
Usually around Labor Day we combine a cruise on the Wonder with a week at Disney World. One year we even started off with a cruise on the Wonder, went to WDW for a few days, and then returned to the ship. We used to love WDW, but lately we have not been happy with the cost cutting measures that we've observed, even before 9/11. Now, they are even more pronounced. For example, the "show" is getting quite bad. You never used to see buildings with dead lightbulbs or needing paint, but on our last trip they were a common sight. There is also a much greater sense of commercialization. Neat little perks like Early Entry have been taken away, and I can't stand the huge icons that they continually install around the property. The All-Star hotels were bad enough, but at least they weren't in easy sight. I cringe whenever I enter the gate and my pristine view is spoiled by Pop Century. Also, most of my favorite attractions, such as Horizons, Superstar Television, Journey Into Imagination, and Carousel of Progress, are either gone, going, or ruined.
Oh well, enough ranting about Disney World. This year we decided that we would skip the parks altogether and simply do three back-to-back cruises (3-day, 4-day, 3-day). While WDW has definitely changed, we still feel that old "Disney Magic" on the ships. It was tempting to do another 7-day on the Magic, since we fell in love the Western itinerary when we tried it in May. But the Wonder is my favorite ship because we know it so well and we also know a lot of the crew after so many trips. It's almost like a weekend vacation home for us, but three day cruises are way too short, so what could be more fun than ten straight days onboard?! Also, adding to the fun, two friends from the DIS cruise line message boards (www.disboards.com), Natsmom and Tinkerkat, were joining us on the last cruise.
Getting to the Port
As always since 9/11, we had booked our flight for the night before our cruise. Lately, we have been flying on ATA out of Midway, but for this trip we had gotten a better deal on American out of O'Hare. Normally I would drive and leave our car at the Avistar offsite lot (you can get a good price at www.airportparkinglots.com), but since this was such a long trip, the parking fees would almost be the same as taking a limo.
In the past, we always used to take a limo to the airport, but after several bad experiences (including one that almost caused us to miss our flight for our Alaskan cruise), we started driving instead. This time, we had received a coupon from a Pleasure Ride, a company that we had used several times in the past with good results, so we decided to take the plunge. We knew the timing would be tight, since we had to leave as soon as I got home from work, so we decided that if the limo wasn't there exactly on time, we'd jump in the car and drive ourselves.
Fortunately, they were there right on schedule. Traffic was mercifully light, and soon we were at O'Hare. The line at the American counter was remarkably short, and we managed to get exit rows so we could spread out a bit. We were flying on an MD-80, which is not my favorite aircraft, but at least it has two seats instead of three on one side, which is perfect for hubby and I. I also like the fact that American has extra leg room throughout the whole coach cabin (although that's a moot point in the exit row).
Take off was pretty much on time, and the flight was relatively smooth. However, when we reached Orlando, the stormy weather forced us to make a 50 mile detour to change our approach. Then, once we had landed, we had to sit on the runway for about 45 minutes due to severe lightning. There were so many strikes in the area that it was unsafe for the ground crews to be outside. I didn't mind too much...I was just happy that we had arrived in Orlando safely despite the weather, and it was just a matter of time before we would be at the gate. Hubby and I bring a full supply of music CDs, books, and a handheld computer game to keep us amused on flights and also in case of delays. He creates custom CDs full of our favorite music, which is so much better than having to deal with albums on which I only have two or three favorite songs. Of course, hubby was listening to his Disney CDs to get in the mood.
Once the weather had calmed down, it was off to baggage claim, which was much more crowded than usual. Apparently, a lot of planes had been holding due to the lighting, so when it was over they all went to their gates at the same time. It was a real cattle call getting on the shuttle train and wending our way to the luggage belt. The mass of people reminded me of the Magic Kingdom on a holiday weekend.
We had booked a room at the MCO LaQuinta Inn and Suites via Priceline, where I usually manage to get a hotel for around $28. Our accommodations have been as varied as the LaQuinta, the Amerisuites, and even the Renaissance. We've only had one place that was pretty sleazy (a different LaQuinta), but it wasn't that bad and it was only for one night. The price for the airport hotels typically includes free shuttle and usually free breakfast too. Other than a tendency to put us in adjoining rooms, I've never noticed a difference in our treatment as Hotwire or Priceline customers. My main request is a non-smoking room, and Priceline allows you to specify that when making the reservation.
This LaQuinta was a very nice property. We lucked out when I called for the shuttle, as it happened to be on the other side of the airport picking up conventioneers. It arrived within a couple minutes, and although quarters were a bit tight, we squeezed in among the wall to wall bodies and were soon at the hotel.
This hotel, like most of the ones we've stayed at via Hotwire and Priceline, was in a great area with lots of good restaurants within walking distance. Hubby is a big TGI Friday's fan (we don't have one near our home, although they are currently building one). It was still raining, but he does all our luggage packing and he is a true Boy Scout...always prepared. He whipped out the rain ponchos that he keeps for emergencies and we were on our way for the short jaunt across the street. After a good dinner, it was back to the hotel for Disney dreams. I was a little concerned about hallway noise because we observed some rowdy conventioneers in the hallway, but it was actually very quiet.
The next morning, Happy Limo picked us up for the ride to Cocoa Beach. We had arranged to meet Shirley and Norm from the Perfect Gift (www.theperfectgift.cc) for breakfast. They make custom gift baskets and do excellent work. We've ordered many and have always been pleased.They are also the sweetest couple, you can imagine, so we try to hook up with them whenever we are in the area. After breakfast, Shirley dropped us off at the port...time for the three-peat to officially begin!
On this trip, we discovered that the embarkation process has changed a little. Personally, I think that the change is for the better. Previously, passengers entered the terminal building, checked in, and then waited in line to board. When boarding started, they would pass through a security checkpoint (x-rays and metal detectors) right before boarding the ship.
Now, the security checkpoint is outside the terminal building, and you must pass through it before you enter to check in (or to get in line for boarding if you've already checked in at a WDW resort). Canopies have been erected for shelter from the sun or rain. We arrived pretty early, so there was no line. I imagine it might be crowded when the airport and resort buses arrive, but personally I like getting the security check over with right away. Once that's done, it means you will be able to board the ship much more quickly when embarkation begins, since the only other stop is your embarkation photo. The bomb sniffing dogs are still there too. They move around throughout the terminal checking the luggage.
Since the lines were pretty much non-existent when we arrived, we had some time to chat with friends we've made at the port over the course of so many cruises. Hubby has also gotten into the habit of buying a latte at R.E.Fresh's, the coffee bar in the terminal. We also like to study the Navigator, which they hand out so you can see what time Palo and spa reservations are taken and plot out your day. The time always flies by...soon it was 12:15, which is the time when boarding usually starts (the time can vary, but that seems to be the average).
I love Disney's painless embarkation process. It contrasts so sharply with Royal Caribbean. When we took Radiance of the Seas to Alaska, we had to take a number just to get into the check-in line and then another one to get in line to board. Yikes! With Disney, it's simply first-come/first-served. The embarkation line can look rather intimidating when it stretches out of the queues and all the way back to the escalators, but it moves very fast, especially with the security checkpoint moved.
For our three-peat, we had booked 5520, one of the six "secret porthole rooms." If you are not familiar with these staterooms, I have photos on my website at www.castawayclub.com or www.disneycrruiser.com/www.disneycruiser.info. They are sold as Category 10 (inside), but they have a "secret" obstructed view porthole. There is lifeboat equipment in front of the portholes, and some are more obstructed than others, but in any case, you are getting a free view. Four of these staterooms are adjoiners, which carries increased noise potential since you can generally hear better through the door than through the walls. We avoid the adjoiners (5022/24 and 5522/24) after having a bad experience with noisy kids next door who liked to slam each other into the door. Instead, we choose either 5020 or 5520. These rooms are all the way forward on Deck 5, quite near the elevators. They are the first staterooms at the head of a dead-end hall.
We hadn't been in a secret porthole room since November of 2001, so this was a "refresher" for me. I know that many people are interested in these rooms, so being in 5520 for multiple cruises gave me a good perspective to review it in detail. I'll start off with the pros:
-Very convenient location. I remember where things are located on the ship by the phrase "Forward fun, Aft eat." Since the secret porthole rooms are all the way forward, this puts you right above the Route 66 entertainment district and the Walt Disney Theater, and a few decks below the spa and adult pool area. Also, Deck 5 is the location of the Buena Vista Theater, so to get there you simply head aft. The forward elevators are just a few steps from your stateroom door, and they are not usually crowded. Other than at dining times, it always seemed as though we were only a short walk away from our destination.
-Free view. As I mentioned earlier, the main attraction of these staterooms is the free view. The porthole in 5520 has nothing in front of it other than an empty rack, so we could see out quite well. You can't look straight down at the water due to a platform, but that really isn't much of an impediment. They do leave a light on outside the portholes all night. Personally, I like that. I usually leave the bathroom light on so I have a "nightlight" when we're on a cruise, but in the secret porthole rooms I rely on the outside light. If you don't like that, you can close the heavy drapes and completely block it out. On past trips, I have occasionally seen a crew member out there, but on this trip we never saw anyone. Just in case, it's best to close the curtains when dressing or at other private moments. We always bring our binoculars, so I had lots of fun peeking out our window at passing ships in the distance and other interesting sights.
-Sleeps four. This stateroom has a pull-down bed, so if you have a larger party, it will fit four people. For an even bigger group, you can book one of the of adjoining sets.
But of course there is always some bad with the good. There was only one real negative we noticed, and it can be true of virtually any stateroom in any location, depending on your neighbors:
-Hallway noise. The secret porthole rooms are the first rooms in a dead-end hallway, which means that everyone coming or going to the other rooms in that hall will pass right by your door. Since the staterooms in that area have pull down beds to sleep four, you are more likely to have larger families around you. This means greater noise potential.
You don't get noise from the elevators (at least not that we've ever noticed). There is a crew area door across from these rooms, and some people say that it is noisy, but frankly I've never noticed that. However, on this trip the hallway traffic was incessant, even at 3 a.m. one night. Hubby can sleep through anything, but it woke me up several times, even with my white noise machine. Whether or not this would be a negative for you depends a lot on your tolerance. I cannot stand hallway noise, overhead banging, or bass like you hear if you are under Wavebands. However, if there was a band overhead and I could make out the songs, it wouldn't bother me...it's only the bass alone that would keep me awake. Conversely, I love engine noise and am actually soothed to sleep by it.
I joked that the Riverdance Sumo Troupe was rooming overhead, and the Olympic Sprint Team was apparently scattered throughout our hall and doing lots of practice. But this is not something that is necessarily limited to the secret porthole rooms. A lot depends on the luck of the draw...you can wind up with noisy neighbors almost anywhere on the ship. That's why I love being back in the butt end, in 5650. People rarely go all the way back there, and you only have a neighbor on one side and no staterooms across from you, so it is quiet and peaceful. In the many times I've been aft on deck 5, we have never had a noisy neighbor.
But I did gain an interesting perspective on how one person's likes are another person's dislikes where staterooms are concerned. I was chatting with a travel agent in the spa, and we were discussing all the positives of Disney Cruise Line. Then he said, "Just be careful what stateroom you are in because some are very noisy. We got a really bad one on this trip." I asked where he was, thinking that it must be under Wavebands, and he said "5150." That's the mirror-image counterpart to my beloved 5650! I asked him what kind of noise, and he said lots of rumbling and vibration. Since those two staterooms are in the same location on opposite sides of the ship, I wondered if there could be something different below 5150. But in asking around, I was told that there isn't. I guess he is the same way about engine noise that I am about hallway traffic. How funny...the noise that was keeping him awake would have put me out like a light.
To help you select a stateroom, I recommend that you visit Dave's excellent site at www.dcltribute.com. He has a list of staterooms that have been reported to have noise problems. In general, watch what is overhead, where the stateroom is located in the hallway (being across from the laundry rooms has been reported as being noisy), and the capacity of the rooms around you.
Our stateroom host kept our room tidy and amused us with towel animals each night. The only difference we noticed on this trip was that when hubby turned on the sink in the toilet half of the split bath, my shower would reduce to a trickle, then go to cold and back to hot. This is the first time that's ever happened on the ship in any stateroom. Hubby's theory is that they toned down the water pressure, since the shower used to make a rumbling noise and vibrate, and that doesn't happen any more either. At any rate, be careful when showering when someone else is using the sink or you could have a chilly surprise!
We did make another stateroom-related observation that surprised me, as I had never heard of anyone hearing sound from below. We noticed that we could hear a bass line one afternoon, and we finally figured out that it was coming from Barrel of Laughs. On that cruise, Dueling Pianos had been moved to the Promenade Lounge, and the singing duo who usually performs there were moved to Barrel, which was two decks below us, on Deck 3. According to the Navigator, they were doing a "Latin Rhythms" show, and the bass sound was drifting up. Sure enough, we heard it again a couple of nights later...it was a late (11ish show), so I just stayed up reading until it was over. At present, this shouldn't be a problem because they had moved Dueling Pianos back to Barrel by our last cruise. If they remain there, you won't hear them at all…this was the first time we've ever heard any "entertainment noise" from down below in 5520 or in any other stateroom. When the Latin show is in the Promenade Lounge, it is not below any staterooms so you won't hear a thing no matter where you are.
Tony and I usually manage to be pretty decadent with spa treatments on our three-night cruises, so for ten nights we really managed to rack up an impressive number! I'll break them down by treatment type, with a little description of each:
Ladies Night: This wonderful ladies-only experience is offered on the Wonder on Nassau night at two separate times that work around the dinner seatings. I'm sorry to say that it is not offered on the Magic. You kick off the two hour experience with a massage and mini-facial in a private treatment room. Then, you are escorted to the Rainforest (an area containing heated tile loungers and various aromatherapy saunas, showers, and steam rooms), where you indulge in champagne and sweets. Since it is offered in the evening, you will have to give up the night's show to do it, but it is WELL worth it. The only show I wouldn't miss for this is "Disney Dreams." I did it with Natsmom, who joined us on the last cruise, and it was especially fun to do it with someone I knew.
Absolute Face & Body: This is one of my favorites. It is a longer version of Ladies Night, without the Rainforest part. It starts off with a massage and then a long, luxurious facial. It is the ultimate in pampering! Hubby and I have been swimming a lot lately, as we recently joined a help club to help us combat our "cruise pounds," and the chlorine is drying out my face. It felt soooo good after the facial! I even splurged on some chamomile moisturizer so I can pamper it at home. I've been using it in the two weeks that we've been back, and I can really see the difference in my skin.
Seaweed Wrap/Massage: I know that this has a different "official" name (maybe the aromaspa wrap?), but I always forget it. This is my other favorite treatment, and on the three-peat I turned hubby onto it as well. He did it on the first cruise and loved it so much that he booked another one on number three and is planning to do it again in November.
First, you undress and don a pair of paper panties (really!). Then you are slathered with a warm seaweed mixture, wrapped in a foil-like material like a baked potato, and covered with a warm, comfy blanket. As you sweat out toxins, you get a scalp and foot massage (and if you are like hubby and I, you fall asleep). Then comes the COLD part...getting unwrapped and hopping into the shower. After cleansing your body, the experience is capped off with a massage. I feel so good and detoxified by this treatment. I can get excellent massages and facials at the spa near my house, but there is nothing to compare to this one.
Massage and Reflexology: Lately, when I book a regular massage, I have been combining it with reflexology. I love foot massages anyway, and reflexology is a great, healthful way to cap off the treatment. I know that it has health benefits, too, but I just like the way it feels.
The Tropical Rainforest: This is a great experience that you don't even have to book in advance. I have photos of the Rainforest on my website, but basically it is a large room containing three showers, two steam rooms, and a sauna, as well as four heated tile chairs looked at a soothing fountain. The various rooms and showers have different aromas. I love to end with the "Tropical" shower, which leaves me (and my swimsuit) smelling so fresh.This is a co-ed area...you wear swimwear, a robe, and slippers. There are plenty of towels on hand, and the dim lighting and babbling fountain offer a relaxed setting. The basketball court overhead used to be noisy, but I think it has been turned into a half court now so it no longer sounds like the players will come bursting through the ceiling at any moment.
Since we didn't have a verandah in 5520, we spent a lot of pleasant time lounging in this area instead. I had thought that we would make more use of the "secret" deck 7 aft verandah (a big public verandah that most people don't know about, leaving it deserted much of the time), but the Rainforest was a much nicer alternative. I loved to bring in a book and curl up on one of the tile loungers. You can do the Rainforest at any time, with no appointment necessary, and you can pay for one use or pay a one-time flat fee for unlimited use throughout your cruise. I am not a big fan of Nassau, so rather than walk around town, I would rather spend my time in there, pretending that it's a day at sea.
The crowd in the Rainforest varies, and it was never predictable. I thought it would be jam-packed on the sea day on our four-day cruise, but it was relatively quiet. On embarkation day, I expected it to be almost deserted, but there was a crowd. Even when there are a lot of people, it really isn't a problem because there is plenty of room in the steam rooms and saunas. If you are the social type, you can also engage in some interesting chats with your fellow cruisers (the adult whirlpools are a good place for that, too).
The Surial Bath: This is a couples treatment that has become pretty famous on the internet. It seems that people either love it or hate it (we are definitely in the "love" camp, as the majority seems to be). Whether you like it will depend a lot on how adventurous you are as a couple and whether you don't mind playing in mud. Personally, being a wild child trapped in an adult body, I find it to be tremendous fun and hubby wholeheartedly agrees. It is a tradition for us that we do on every cruise.
You are escorted to a private area containing a shower/sitting area and a stream room. There are towels, bowels of mud and sea salt, and a variety of spa products. The salt is for exfoliation and the muds are technically supposed to be applied to certain parts of your body, such as face or back. But hubby and I are like two little kids with finger paints. We always have a lot of messy fun with the muds before steaming, showering off, and trying out the massage oils and other products. There is usually a face mask, which I always use (I am a fan of the Elemis facial products), and there are typically other things like toners, scented shower gel, and milk bath lotion.
You have an hour in the surial area, and a spa attendant will stop by and give you a warning knock ten minutes before your time is up. The time really flies by. We like this experience so much that we did it twice in the course of our three cruises. I have a more full PG-rated report elsewhere on my website in case you want a little more detail on the type of fun that can be had (hint: bring extra towels for padding, as the tile floor is hard).
Neck and Back Massage: This was a "bonus" that I tried for the first time on this trip. We hadn't booked any treatments for the day at sea on our four-day cruise, since I wasn't sure of the activity schedule and I wanted to try as many shipboards activities as possible. It turned out that we had quite a bit of free time in the afternoon, so hubby and I headed to the Rainforest. After a while, one of the therapists popped in, looking for someone who had booked a neck and back but who was nowhere to be found. I immediately seized the opportunity, telling her, "If they don't show up, I'll take it!"
I've had this treatment pretty frequently at home, since I sometimes have problems with my right back and shoulder area due to working on a computer all day. As luck would have it, I had slept funny on the pillow the night before and had a kink in my problem area. The therapist did a great job at working it out.
I prefer to book longer treatments, but this would be a great one to fit in if you have limited time (like kids in the club who might page you at any moment) or if you want to try out something in the spa but have never done it before or are shy about getting undressed. This one is done while you are clothed, sitting in a massage chair, so it is not too intimidating for newbies.
It's a good idea to plan your spa "wish list" in advance of your trip so you can get there early on embarkation day to get the best selection of appointment times. The slots for the most popular treatments fill up quickly, so be there at least 10 to 15 minutes before reservations begin.
Cruises are equated with non-stop eating, and this is definitely true on the Wonder. Hubby and I joined a health club a couple of weeks before our three-peat, and we tried to get into a workout routine so we could at least jump right back into it when we returned home. With almost two weeks of excellent food, I was afraid that I wouldn't even fit in my jeans at the end of the trip! We committed to working out on the ship, although hubby was better about it than I was (they have treadmills, steppers, etc. in the spa's gym, which can be used for free...there are fitness classes, too, but we didn't try those).
For all three cruises, we were on the TAP rotation, meaning that we ate at Tritons, Animators Palate, and Parrot Cay (for the four day, we ate in Tritons at the end for the Master Chefs menu too). However, we skipped Parrot Cay on all of our trips, since it is our least favorite. Instead, we opted for Palo, the adults-only alternate restaurant, on those nights. For those who are not familiar with how the system works, on Disney's ships you dine in a different restaurant each night, but the same team of servers follows you to each one, as do your tablemates.
Of course, we know all of the menus by now and have tried almost all of the items. Surprisingly, hubby has become a huge fan of the vegetarian offerings. It amazes me since he is a major meat and potatoes fan who LOVES his steak. He decided to try the veggie dishes once on a previous cruise so he could review them for our website, and now he is hooked. His favorite is the Vegetable Stack at Triton's, while mine is the vegetables in yellow curry at Animators.
The biggest dining surprise for me on this trip was the discovery of a new favorite at Tritons. I usually stick with the sea bass or duck, but this time I decided to try the lamb. All I can say is mmmmmm! The polenta and vegetables that come with it would be an excellent meal all by themselves. The lamb was tender and delicious, and they made sure I had plenty of mint jelly to slather all over it. The only problem was that it was too big! I will definitely be ordering that dish when we sail again in November. I also tried the fried cheese appetizer in Triton's with currant jelly instead of the usual marinara, and that was very good too.
I also discovered a new taste treat at Animators. Normally, I have the duck and goat cheese flat bread, but this time I was ready for a change. I ordered the gazpacho, which is a cold tomato soup, and it is now a new favorite. The best way that I can describe it is sort of like eating salsa. Since I have been know to consume salsa with a spoon (who needs tortilla chips?!), this was a natural for me.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Chef Vinnie at Animators over the course of our cruises, and he is an amazing person! He has been with Disney Cruise Line from the start, plus he has a load of previous experience working at various resorts, and he really knows his stuff. If you are on the four day cruise, be sure to go to his cooking demonstration on the sea day. Everyone who attends gets a sample. I don't know if he always cooks the same thing, but on our trip it was scallops.
Palo was as outstanding as always. It is an adults-only restaurant that requires reservations and a $5 per person coverage charge (we always add an additional gratuity too). Veal marsala was one of the specials, as was an excellent pasta dish, so those were my choices. Of course, you can easily fill up on the bread with three sauces or the antipasto that are served to everyone, let alone appetizers and the main meal. Hubby discovered a new favorite here: the fish soup. I was a little suspicious of it, since it contained mussels and squid (it also had yummy shrimp and scallops), but I tasted his and it was delicious. I might even order it on our next cruise. We met Patrick, the chef, who does a wonderful job. Palo is the equivalent of eating in a fine restaurant such as Citrico's or the California Grill at WDW.
Normally we eat at the buffets for lunch, but I had a bad experience a couple of cruises ago that made me a little shy of that. It wasn't Disney's fault...there was a kid coughing all over the food as he went through the line, and of course his father didn't say a word to him. Heaven forbid that he cover his mouth! Right after that cruise I came down with a vicious cold. I don't know if that was actually the cause, but although I love the American buffet, that incident frightened me away from it (I'm not really a buffet person anyway...it's just that the lunch buffet is so good that it entices me despite my paranoia).
I'm sure I'll get over that experience, but for this trip I dragged hubby to Tritons for most of our lunches. They have a delicious curried pumpkin soup, and they also make a divine tropical salad right at your tableside (there are plenty of other options as well, but I could eat the soup and salad every day). He did convince me to go to Beach Blanket for the Oriental buffet, since he wanted to try the sushi, and I must say that the stir fry was delicious (and also free of coughing kids, since they make it to order for you). Hubby reports that the sushi is good for not for true sushi fans, as it is a very Americanize version that is free of exotic raw fish. It is definitely very colorful and looks quite appetizing. I am always a stir-fry fan, and I like the fact that you pick what you want and that the chef tends to go heavy on the garlic. In my view, there is no such thing as too much garlic.
Speaking of buffet experiences, for the first time I noticed that there are differences between the embarkation buffet in Parrot Cay and the one in Beach Blanket. Usually we eat at Parrot Cay, but this time we went to Beach Blanket for the first two cruises. Back in Parrot Cay for the last one, I noticed the differences. In PC, there are field greens for the salads, whereas BB has only regular lettuce. Also, BB does not have the pesto sauce that PC does (we like to put it on our alfredo pasta).
Although hubby thrived on 10 days of rich food, I had to throw in the towel towards the end. I actually got to the point where I was ordering off the kids menu. I ended up having nice, plain items like popcorn shrimp and macaroni and cheese. Of course, hubby had to laugh at me, but sometimes you just want something plain and boring!
We didn't order room service or indulge in the midnight snacks, but I have chicken fingers from Pluto's a couple of times. They are superb when dipped into the honey mustard sauce.
Our service on all three cruises was good, but my favorite was the four-day, as our assistant server immediately figured out my weird iced tea request. Usually they are very confused by it. I don't like the regular iced tea served on board, since it is the stuff that comes out of a tap rather than freshly brewed. However, there is a great selection of hot teas on board, including black currant and mint. Thus, I simply get hot tea and ice and make my own. For some reason, this usually confuses the servers, but on cruise #2, I didn't even have to make it myself (usually they bring a cup in which to brew the hot tea and ice in a glass on the side...I have yet to master the art of pouring the tea over the ice without spilling it). After I explained it, I was presented with a glass of black currant iced tea just the way I like it each night.
We saw one of our former head servers, Kapoor, at various times throughout the trip and even though he was not officially our head server, we took good care of us whenever he saw us. We also saw Paul, who we know from previous cruises, and he looked after us too. Sometimes it feels like we have multiple head waiters! Their memories amaze me...so many of them remember us on our return cruises after only meeting us once. Kapoor even remembered that the yellow curry veggie entrée is my favorite in Animators. On the four night cruise, we were presented with a gorgeous cake in celebration of cruise #25.
On these cruises, we had our first experience with Disney's experimentation with earlier dining times. The normal dinner times are at 6 and 8:30, but a lot of people complained that late seating was too late for those with kids. On our trips the times were 5:45 and 8. I kind of liked it, as I didn't feel so rushed in trying to get to the evening activities. However, as I write this report, the times have been switched back to 6 and 8:30.
There was only one thing I didn't like, but although it occurred in Triton's, it wasn't directly related to dining. When the photographer came around to take photos, we politely declined (after 26 cruises, we have purchased innumerable pictures in just about every photo op offered onboard and on Castaway Cay). The photographer was very insistent and kept trying to convince us, even though we explained why we were not interested. Then, after he took photos of the other two parties at our table, he asked us again before he left. I can understand once, or even twice, but it really got to the point of annoyance. I know that we could have just let him take the photo, since we are not obligated to buy it, but we were enjoying our meal and did not feel like getting up and moving around to pose.
We noticed that they were more pushy with the photo ops on Castaway Cay too, such as having your picture taken with the ship in the background (we have several of those shots already from past trips...it's a nice one to keep on your desk at work). They would ask twice and even three times after we declined. One is sufficient and I could tolerate twice, but more than that is too aggressive. I know it is a revenue generator, but it could be toned down a bit.
Change is Good
There were a few changes going on while we were on board. The first was the remodeling of the internet café, which was completed just in time for our last cruise. It still has the same number of computers, but they made it much more space efficient so it doesn't take up as much of the Promenade Lounge.
The second was the remodeling of the 24-hour drink station on Deck 9. This wasn't completed by the time we left, but they were changing it to add additional drinks like juice and lemonade in addition to the coffee, tea, milk, and water that have always been available. I think this will be a very popular change.
One change we noticed on our last cruise that has continued is the offering of frozen yogurt on Castaway Cay. It is available at both Cookies and the lunch area at the adult beach. Typically they have peach and raspberry flavors. It is a delicious way to cool off with a refreshing treat. I wish they had dishes, but they serve it in cones only. In the tropical heat, those cones melt too quickly for me!
Another thing we saw isn't exactly a change, but rather a new offering. Disney now offers the chance to ride a Segway (the new invention that was referred to as "Ginger" and "It" before its unveiling). I think it was $15 for ten minutes, and we sprung for it on two out of the three trips because it was such a fun and unique experience. I didn't expect to enjoy it so much...from everything I've read about the Segway, it's never going to live up to its inventor's claims that it will revolutionize the way people travel. He has even made the grandiose claim that entire cities will be built around its concept. I think it will simply be a fad like the razor scooter (but lots more expensive, as they cost around $3500). There's no way you could operate a Segway on the sidewalks or streets of Chicago in rush hour. And of course if someone gets hit, the trial lawyers will be all over it.
But for getting around a large place, such as WDW (it's currently in use at Epcot), or simply for entertainment, the Segway is great! It takes a few minutes to get the hang of it, but once you do, it's relatively simple. You control its forward and backward motion and its speed with your feet, and one hand operates the twisting knob on the handlebars that turns it. The whole thing runs on a series of gyroscopes...it truly is a clever invention. You can ride it on board the ship on Deck 9 or on Castaway Cay. We opted to do it on the island, which offers a little more space. You are confined to a limited area, but it is still lots of fun. It was also addictive...we might even have rode it on the last trip if the weather hadn't been so iffy. Reservations are not taken in advance. It's walk up only, first come first served, but it was never unreasonably crowded. The wait was never more than a few minutes, at least in the times that we were there.
Being on three consecutive cruises gave us a chance to do more evening adult entertainment than usual, since we didn't have to worry so much about getting up early the next morning. We always do 70s night, but this time we also did 50s/60s night and the new 80s night, as well as Match Your Mate, Wonderquest, and the music trivia game.
I absolutely loved 80s night. It features the cruise staff and also the main stage cast, who do some dances throughout the party. The theme is "time warp," and true to form in kicks off and ends with the song and dance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is lots of dancing, music trivia for prizes, and even some special guest appearances by the Go-Gos and Bon Jovi. Our four night cruise was the first time this party was held on the Wonder, and I think it's going to be a keeper. Wavebands was absolutely PACKED. We got there a little late, and we barely found a spot to sit. I wish they could somehow squeeze this into the already tight schedule on the three-night, as I would definitely attend.
Our friend Sasha on cruise staff was Bruce Springsteen at the 80s party and a nerd at 50s/60s (watch for him in his beanie, with a "kick me" sign taped to his back). 50s/60s is always offered on the three-day cruises, but it's on the last night when we are packing so we have always missed it. This time, we didn't have to get up early, so we finally got a chance to see what it is all about.
The party is themed like a high school reunion, and I really liked the fact that it has a live band (70s and 80s both have DJ music). I was afraid to dance since the rhythms were fast on many of the songs, and I didn't want to risk popping off my knee cap again. But I had lots of fun watching, and the Twist competition was very cool.
As always, the 70s party was a riot. We attended it on two out of our three cruises, and I never get tired of it. Even though the format is always the same, "Gloria Gaynor" and "John Travolta" are always different, so it's a new show every time. I also love dancing, although they played "Ring My Bell," which sent me sprinting to my seat. They don't usually play that one on the Wonder, but it was during that song on the Magic over a year ago that my knee cap decided to detach from its normal spot, putting me in a cast for two months. Hubby and I usually sit out the line dance, but this time Sasha coached him through it while I sat and watched, and he did a remarkably coordinated job.
We attended Match Your Mate on all three cruises, and two out of the three were particularly hilarious. The level of hilarity depends on the couples and just how outspoken they are. Many of the questions are great double-entendres, and it gets pretty wild for a Disney show.
I also caught most of Wonderquest on two occasions. This is a Disney version of the "Quest" game on Royal Caribbean, and it is a sort of scavenger hunt. You break down into teams and are asked for certain items that you might have with you…I don't want to give any away so I won't give any actual examples, but it might be something like a pair or glasses or a ring. Then it gets a little more ribald and eventually...well, let's just say that there might be some cross-dressing involved. I wasn't actually playing on a team, but both hubby and I were able to lend a hand on a couple of the items/actions to help the people nearby.
Music trivia was pretty much what the name says. You break down into teams and name songs and artists, and the team that gets the most gets a little prize.
We also attended Sailors Tales, one of the family games in Studio Sea. There used to be an adult version, but that is no longer offered and this game is not done on the three-day cruises. I really miss it, as it is one of my favorites. It's a lot like To Tell The Truth or Liars Club. Three members of the cruise staff play crazy characters who all give a different definition for a series of words. The audience breaks down into teams and decides who is telling the truth for each word. We had played on the Magic in May, but the Wonder words were different. I don't want to give them away, but there is one that involves a lot of opportunities for body noise jokes, which cracks up all the kids.
Hubby and I were doing really good, but we didn't want to win, so we decided to pick the most unlikely definition for the last word in order to get it wrong. We were at odds about which definition that was, but finally hubby prevailed (and I must admit it was a strange one). Wouldn't you know it...it was the RIGHT definition!! We ended up as one of the winning teams, getting pins as a prize. That actually came in handy, as pin trading was right after the show and we did a trade for some neat new pins.
For one of our cruises, Dueling Pianos had been moved to the Promenade Lounge, so hubby caught part of a couple of the shows while he was at the internet cafe. He wasn't really interested in going to a whole show, so we skipped it.
We went to see Dan Riley, who does musical comedy (song parodies and imitations), and he was great! We also really enjoyed the juggling comedian on the four night cruise...he had us in stitches.
We caught "Hercules" on the first cruise and of course saw "Disney Dreams" on all three. For first time cruisers, "Disney Dreams" is the one show that I recommend you do not miss. It was a brand-new cast, and I was a little sad because Peter Pan and Anne Marie were absolutely great in the old cast...they did some joking around and worked really well together. But this cast did good, especially considering that they are brand new. It will be interesting to see how they jell together by the time we sail in November. We caught the matinee of "DD" on the three-day cruises, since that is typically not very crowded, and on the four-day, we did the evening show. This viewing of Disney Dreams brought us up to a grand total of 27 times (we saw it twice on one cruise a while back).
There were also lots of movies playing throughout our trips. One of the advantages of being on a Disney cruise is seeing first-run movies for free. Hubby saw "Signs," which he said was scary and really good, while I caught "Lilo and Stitch" for the second time. I almost saw it a third time too. I absolutely love that movie...I can hardly wait for it to come out on DVD. It's already on my Christmas list if it's out in time. They now set up a little snack table in front of the movie theater so you can buy goodies (candy, nuts, etc.) or a can of soda.
They sell drinks in the theater for the main stage shows, and for the first time hubby and I ordered smoothies. Those things are addictive! Pretty soon a chocolate smoothie became a pre-show tradition for me, and hubby finally broke down and tried a strawberry one (other than that, he stuck to latte).
In addition to the usual three shows (Hercules, Mouseketeer, and Disney Dreams) that we always seen on the three day, we saw the juggler on the four day, as I mentioned earlier. There was lots of comedy in his act, plus audience participation, and it was a laugh riot.
We didn't even bother to see Mouseketeer, as it moves too slowly for me. Whenever we go, I always look enviously at the kids who talk their parents into leaving early (if I show up, I commit myself to staying for the whole thing). Hubby usually likes to try to get selected for the panel. However, on our July trip, he had a very scarring experience (the spokesman for the panel, who gets to give the final answer, would not listen to anyone but the woman next to him who barely spoke English and didn't know any of the answers, resulting in a lot of frustrated people and an unnecessary loss for a contestant). Hubby felt so bad about causing a contestant to lose that he just decided to skip the whole thing this time.
We went to see Herc on our first trip. Since it was a new cast, we wanted to see how well they did and what unique little touches they added. There is some opportunity for improvisation in this show, and I love to see the differences in each cast. It was enjoyable, as always. I like the music, and the cornball humor never fails to bring a smile to my face, even though I have heard the jokes so many times. Hades, Pain, and Panic always steal the show. After the first viewing, we skipped it on the next two. I still miss Hades' long monologue...that was the part that kept me coming back, so without it, once was enough in a 10 day span.
I did notice that Disney is still enforcing the "no videotaping" rule pretty consistently. They are also enforcing "no flash photos," but that one seems to be more sporadic. I also noticed that many people are repeat offenders. I think that if they violate the rules twice, they should politely be asked to leave. Not only are their cameras distracting, but it's also disruptive to the people around them to have a crew member continually having to ask them to stop it. It's just sad that common courtesy can't prevail, but there will always be rude people who refuse to abide by the rules.
We ran into a few more rude people on the three-peat, like the smokers who plopped down in the non-smoking section in Wavebands and then brought an ashtray to their non-smoking table and prepared to light up. I know they were well aware of the rules because the night before, one of the same people had been dancing on a wall-to-wall packed dance floor right in front of a non-smoking table, waving a lit cigarette in his hand! I saw a crew member speak to him and gesture at the non-smoking area, right in the same spot where he sat the next day all ready to light up again. I certainly wasn't going to spend the whole Bingo round breathing smoke and irritating my allergies, so I pointed them out to a crew member who handled the matter.
Oh well, I guess there will always be people who feel that they are above the rules. Thank goodness most are not like that, but it's always the rude ones who seem to stand out. I think that's particularly true with smokers...the bad mannered minority gives all of them, including the polite ones, a bad reputation.
We also attended the talk with the captain and steering committee (held on the four-day only). I love hearing about life on the ship, the mechanics of running and navigating such a huge vessel, etc. The only bad thing was that this event started at 11:00 in the Walt Disney Theater, and the disembarkation talk was scheduled to start at 11:30. Thus, for the last 10 to 15 minutes, you could barely hear or see what was going on due to all the people streaming in for the 11:30 talk. It was very distracting and disruptive...the times for these two events should be staggered more.
The Adult Experience
Being childless, we always have a great opportunity to indulge in the adults-only pleasure like the spa, the Quiet Cove Pool, and Serenity Bay. In my view, that is one of the very best things about Disney Cruise Line. We've had overall good experiences on Royal Caribbean, but one of their biggest failings is the lack of some adults-only escapes. On a couple of their ships, there were supposed to be adult areas, but enforcement was totally lacking.
In contrast, Disney protects the sanctity of the adult spaces as vigorously as they cater to families. We didn't spend as much time at the adult pool as usual, but when we were there, we saw youngsters jump in several times and they were almost always quickly shooed away by a crew member. The sad thing is that the majority of them are there with the parents, who surely could not miss the large, prominent adults-only sign. Also, the fact that the other pools are packed with youngsters, while Quiet Cove is not, would be a big clue. One woman even plopped in her diapered kid. I don't think she lasted long enough for a crew member to discover her. From my vantage point in the whirlpool, I noticed that she was out within a couple minutes...I think the adults in the pool probably said something to her (I don't blame them one...who wants to swim in her child's salmonella?).
There was definitely a high population of youngsters on board, but as always, they seemed to be keeping busy and were rarely under foot enough to cause us any disturbance. In my opinion, the only adults who would dislike a Disney cruise are the type who cannot stand to be around kids at any time. You will certainly see little ones around the ship, I mean come on, it's DISNEY! But they are busy with their activities, and I get a real kick out of watching them. We even stayed on the family beach for two out of our three cruises because sometimes I like to be in the thick of the crowd. Too much peace and quiet can get a little boring. Our house is very peaceful and quiet, so sometimes I like a change of pace. Maybe Disney just appeals to us because we happen to be overgrown kids ourselves, but I think that DCL does a great job of accommodating adults even if they prefer to stick to their own areas and activities.
One of my biggest wonderments as we set out on cruises #24, 25 and 26 was whether we could keep our perfect streak at Castaway Cay going (we've never been rained out), particularly in hurricane season. Amazingly, we had no rain on one trip and only a very light sprinkling on the second one. However, the third time around I was wondering if the streak was finally over and the pixie dust had run out. There were some threatening times, including black clouds and thunder. The lifeguards cleared out the snorkel area and shut all the umbrellas for about 20 minutes, fearing lightning and wind. But a bad storm never materialized, and out of five hours we spent ashore, four were dry and at least partly sunny, so I guess our record is still pretty much intact.
On the first trip, we headed out to Serenity Bay, the adult beach. Since we were one of the first off the ship, we got a choice spot with an hammock. The tide was in, so the water was deep enough for swimming and snorkeling. As usual, there were even some stingrays buzzing the beach.
On the second trip, we decided to set up camp in the thick of the family beach, just a little past the snorkeling area. Since we had disembarked early once again, we had the beach almost to ourselves for about an hour. But after that, it was like someone had poured Miracle Grow on the crowd. It was a sunny, pleasant day...there was a tiny drizzle at lunchtime, but Mother Nature was just teasing and that quickly cleared out. I spent all my time snorkeling, swimming, and reading, while hubby went off to rent a bike and take a quick dip at the adult beach.
We also stopped over at Castaway Jo's, one of the neatest little secrets on the island. It's a shady game room with lots of fun and free activities such as basketball, pool, a football toss, foosball, a sand box for the little ones, and even a giant checkers "carpet." We rarely see many people there, although we noticed that the counselors brought the kids over for a while. I think that most people don't even realize it's there, and it's a far walk as it is at the far end of the family beach area. But it is well worth the trip, and we always try to spend some time there. I was getting a really big kick out of the basketball toss and then I managed to beat hubby soundly at checkers.
Even tbough Castaway Jo's is in the Navigator, I am beginning to suspect that people don't read those as closely as I thought. Maybe it's just too much small print in one place, but they are often totally clueless about things that are listed right in the nav. When we talked to people on board about the Segway, they had no idea what we were taking about, even though it was listed right on the first page, and we chatted with some others who were having a difficult time figuring out how to find the adult activities. I don't know how the navs. could be made more user friendly, but if it could be done, it would be a good thing. The first time cruisers we have spoken to are especially overwhelmed and sometimes frustrated. Also, in one conversation, a person suggested that adults should have their own navigators like the kids and teens do. I never really thought about that, since I know the activities so well, but now I think that would be a neat idea. I have a hard time convincing people about how great Disney Cruise Line is for adults. A special navigator for them would show that they are as valued as other age groups...the trick would be how to distribute it to them.
The third trip was iffy weatherwise, as I mentioned previously. For a totally new experience, we set up our base camp at the far end of the family beach, near Castaway Jo's gameroom. Even later in the morning, that area is rarely crowded. Simply head out towards the Head's Up bar and you might even find an unoccupied hammock. I was a little worried about our stuff getting wet, but my Boy Scout hubby had packed plastic garbage bags so it was protected even in the rain. As added protection, I put it under the umbrella and then turned one of the small chairs upside down over it to form a little shelter. We didn't have too much that could be ruined, but I didn't want my book to get soggy before I finished it, and there's nothing more icky than a wet towel when you need to dry off. Hubby had a very busy day...while I spent a lot of time in the water and then curled up with a good book, he went snorkeling and kayaking and then took the banana boat. He has done it before, but this time there were only three other people and the waves were up, so he said it was a real wild trip.
I did have one unpleasant new experience on the island, and I'm still not sure of the details. I have read many reports that the insects are bad, but in all our cruises I had never had any personal experience with them. Then, after our CC day on the second cruise, I noticed that the area behind both knees was all swollen and itchy, with huge red welts. The swelling got so bad that hubby wanted me to visit the medical clinic, but I refused as I avoid doctors whenever possible. I must have looked like I had some kind of weird disease that was confined to my legs! I'm not sure how I got the bites, although our theory is that it was while I was sitting in a chair and reading. I'm also not sure what did them, although I'm guessing it was sand fleas. I am probably allergic to them, which would explain the fact that the swelling was so bad. In the future, I will make sure to put a towel on the chair to protect my legs. It's so strange that in a total of 26 cruises, this only happened once! We had some sunscreen with bug protection in it, so from now on I will slather that all over my legs, too. Oh well, this happened on cruise #25 and it definitely didn't dissuade me from enjoying my time on Castaway Cay on #26!
I know that a lot of people view Nassau as something of a shopper's paradise, but I have never been impressed. I don't find the prices to be much cheaper than what you can get in the states. Of course, we are not big drinkers and we don't smoke, so we don't take advantage of the liquor and cigarette bargains. We don't even bother checking out the stores there anymore, opting to stay on the ship instead.
But we generally do take advantage of the onboard shopping. The stores on the ship are open when it's not in port. There are two main stores" Mickey's Mates, which has lots of clothing and general souvenirs, and Treasure Ketch, which has more expensive clothing and collectible type items, plus some sundries.
Both hubby and I have wardrobes that are pretty heavy on DCL shirts, and we're always on the lookout for something new. On the 7-day Western cruise, hubby bought DCL's special shirts for each of the ports, and on this trip he was happy to discover that they have added a Nassau shirt. Of course, it was quickly added to his collection.
For myself, I was most interested in the silent auction. This is a sale of various collectible items such as framed copies of the menus, plates from Animators Palate, special lithographs, and other items from the ship. You write down your bid, and the high bid when the auction ends is the winner. There is a reserve price, which is the minimum bid for each item.
I had never participated in the silent auction before, but this time one item in particular caught my eye. It was a framed picture from the staterooms, and it is a copy of the picture that hangs in 5650, my favorite Wonder stateroom. It is a drawing of a ship, with little cut-out circles showing what people are doing in various parts of the ship (for example, dancing, cooking, or lounging with a book). I had often joked with hubby that I wanted that picture, and now there it was!
Unfortunately, luck wasn't with me. I was hoping to get it for the reserve price, since that's pretty high, and on the first cruise I decided to wait until the last minute and see if anyone else would bid. Unfortunately, I forgot all about it. Nobody must have bid, as the picture was still there for the next cruise. This time, I put in my bid early, but someone else must have bid higher because I didn't get a call that I'd won. Strange thing is, the picture was still there on our third cruise. Maybe the person backed out at the last minute...I know it was the exact same picture because it had a little chip at the top of the frame. This time, when I went to bid, someone else had beat me to the punch. I could have put in a higher bid, but having seen our shipboard account I decided that I would wait and hope that they are auctioning another copy in November. I can make poor hubby bid on it as my Christmas gift! I know that in the course of nine more cruises I will get it someday, and the perfect spot in my foyer is reserved for it.
Other than that, the only other shopping we did was to pick up some spa products. Hubby swears by their Muscle Ease oil and Refreshing Gel, and I am very happy with the face moisturizer. We had heard that the Elemis products are now offered on QVC, so we checked out the QVC website, but they weren't any cheaper than they are on the ship or on Steiner's own website (www.timetospa.com). On the ship you have the added advantage of not paying any shipping charges or tax.
The Castaway Club Party
For the first two cruises, the Castaway Club party was relatively small. But on #3, which was the start of the $99 cruise special, it was ENORMOUS! Usually it is held in the Cadillac Lounge or Barrel of Laughs, but due to its size it was moved to Wavebands. There was a gorgeous ice sculpture, soft music, and lots of tasty little snacks and drinks. The party is a good chance to chat with the ship's officers and maybe even get a photo with the captain. Captain John was the commander on this voyage, and as always it was such a pleasure to see him again. People staying in the concierge suites are invited to a very similar party, albeit with less attendees.
At present, Castaway Club members also receive a towel as their returning cruisers gift, along with little helmsman Mickey pins. We also got something new this time...we almost always pay with our American Express Card, and on this trip we received a beach bag as an Amex gift. We only got one out of the three cruises, so I'm not sure about the details or why, but it comes in very handy for toting my stuff to the health club.
Sailing With a Group
As luck would have it, Natsmom & family from the DIS boards were booked on the last leg of our three-peat. We had met them via the message boards and had met up for dinner at WDW on a previous trip. For this trip, we had our reservations linked so that we would be at the same dinner table. Tinkerkat, also from DIS, was also sailing on the same trip, so we arranged to have all three ressies linked together.
This was the first time we've sailed with other people we know, and it was a blast. I know that a lot of people prefer to sit at their own table, but hubby and I love sitting with a big group and meeting new people on board. This was even better, since we already knew part of the group and quickly warmed up to Tinkerkat and her husband. Phyllis and I also did Ladies Night together, and our whole group went up to Palo. Being with people we knew really added to the fun.
Back to Back Cruises: The Logistics
I've had a lot of people ask me about the logistics of back to back cruises. There seems to be a lot of interest in this, particularly because the Magic is now doing two different itineraries on alternating weeks. This gives people the option of turning their trip into a 14 day cruises with different ports.
Our back to back experience went very smoothly. We did not have to disembark to check in for numbers two and three. We simply went down to Guest Services to take care of it. However, this is subject to Customs regulations so it can change. If you can arrange to have the same stateroom for all of your cruises, you won't even have to pack. But don't count on sleeping in...once everyone has disembarked, LOUD music is piped into all of the staterooms, and there is no way to turn it off. Hubby jokingly dubbed it "Music to Clean Staterooms By." I don't know if the beat helps the stateroom hosts work faster or if they just hurry to get away from the music. All I know is that I'll never again be able to listen to "Whip It," "We Built This City," or "Video Killed the Radio Star" without thinking of our three-peat. To escape it, we spent some time on the deck 7 aft verandah.
You will most likely have the same stateroom host for all three cruises, unless your host happens to be leaving on vacation. However, your dining room servers will change if you remain on the same rotation. You will start in the same restaurant on each cruise, but they will start in a different one. We had a different table on each cruise, but I don't know if that is how it always works...we had to switch for the last one, since we were joining Natsmom and Tinkerkat and needed a larger table.
Sometimes you might be able to use the pools or hot tubs between cruises, but this varies. They are not always filled, and when they are, they are COLD! Interestingly, we met a family who had so much fun on the four day that they decided on the spur of the moment to stay in the ship for the subsequent three day!
Back Home Again
It's amazing how quickly ten days can pass. At least it wasn't as bad as a three-day cruise, but it still seemed to be over in the blink of an eye. Hubby had lots of packing to do, as we had opted to pack enough clothes for the entire cruise rather than having to do laundry.
We had a bit of a new experience, as we had booked an 11:30 a.m. flight. That is a bit early for my comfort level, but the price was outrageous for anything later. We skipped breakfast and booked an early pick-up by Happy Limo. I had thought that the line to disembark might be bad early, but we were able to pretty much walk off the ship with no line at all. Here's a little trick for getting a "down" elevator: If you're on a lower floor, like deck 5 or 6, the elevators going down on disembarkation morning tend to fill up on decks 7 and 8. Instead, simply take one that's going up, as it will probably be empty. Then, you are already on when it heads down. Often, this is much faster than waiting for one going down with any room in it.
We quickly found our luggage and got a porter to bring it across the street to the parking lot for us. Passing through Customs was painless...simply hand over the form and wait for the inspector's nod. Although the towncars and limos used to be able to pick passengers up right at the terminal building, they have been relegated to the parking lot ever since 9/11. It's a short walk, and you could probably manage your own luggage if your bags have wheels. But we had way more luggage than usual due to spending 10 days on the ship, so hiring a porter was well worth it. They work for tips, so be sure to bring some extra cash.
We were running early due to the fast disembarkation, so we waited a few minutes for our ride. They arrived a little early, so the wait was short, and we had a nice little surprise…a stretch limo! It was brand-new and absolutely gorgeous. It even had a flat-panel tv, so hubby and I spent the drive time to the airport watching music videos.
We were a little worried because the line for American is usually outrageous. We had wanted to get e-tickets, but because hubby and I don't use the same last name, American will only give us paper tickets. I've never figured out the rationale for that policy. ATA will give us e-tickets, but American is weird. Fortunately, the line was very manageable, probably because we were there much earlier than usual. Once again we were able to get an exit row. The security line was almost non-existent, so we were able to spend some time shopping. Hubby of course had to buy some more Disney wear at the Disney Store, and I bought a catnip treat for our kitties in Bow Wow Meow and picked up some roasted nuts and dried fruit as a snack for the flight. My pins got a once-over, but other than that security was relatively quick.
Rather than wait at the gate, we have started waiting in the area right after you get off the shuttle train, where there are some chairs scattered around. It is typically much less crowded and more peaceful than the gate area. We head off about 10 minutes prior to boarding time. Soon we were on the plane and winging our way back to Chicago. The only casualty of the trip was a ripped-off luggage handle on our garment bag when we claimed it at O'Hare (not bad, considering that American has lost our luggage twice on previous trips, although it has always made its way back home to us eventually).
The Disney Difference
It surprises some people that we would do the same cruise on the same ship three times in a row. It's hard to explain the "Disney difference" that keeps us coming back or the fact that we now regard the Wonder almost as our vacation home. It used to be my dream to own a cottage on a lake where we could spend pleasant, relaxing weekends. Once we started cruising, I abandoned that dream because I realized that I would much rather spend weekend trips being pampered than having to worry about the upkeep on a vacation home. I don't get bored with the Wonder's ports because we don't even bother to disembark in Nassau. There's plenty to do on the ship...we spend the day watching movies, getting spa treatments, swimming, and generally relaxing. And we'll never be tired of Castaway Cay!
I can honestly say that we were never bored. Even though many of the activities are technically the same, there are differences every time. There are different people appearing at activities like the 70's party or Match Your Mate who always add a new twist. And since there's never enough time to do everything, it was nice to sample more of the activities. We STILL haven't managed to try every activity, even after 10 days on board. I guess we are too much into our set routine, but someday we will work our way through the entire navigator.
The people on the Wonder make an amazing difference too. As I mentioned earlier, I am continually amazed at how many of them remember us, even after meeting us only once. And of course there are some who we've come to know very well over the course of so many cruises. It makes the cruise extra enjoyable to be among friends.
It's impossible to remember everyone, but here are just a few: Tanya and the port crew, Karen, Sasha, Chefs Vinnie and Patrick, Captain John, Head Servers Paul and Kapoor, Candace (who we've heard so much about and finally got to meet), Marie, Suzie, the many former servers we've had who always welcome us back so warmly, and a bunch more I know I am forgetting.
There is only one huge regret that I have about doing three in a row...now it will be almost impossible to adapt to having to leave after only three days when we sail again in November.