So I’ve moved. I now live about 20 minutes north of Walt Disney World. More on that in a future post. For now, I want to concentrate on the 5-night cruise I just took with my sister Amanda.
It was, in a word, fantastic. Amanda and I both enjoyed it immensely. It was her first cruise, my third. If you can afford the money, and you are a Disney fan, and you don’t want to gamble on your cruise vacation, I cannot recommend Disney Cruise Line enough.
We arrived at the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral about 10 minutes before 11am. We were turned around, with the guard saying they’re not letting anyone in until 11am. Okay. So we drove around for 10 minutes, then came back. Apparently a bunch of people found somewhere else to hide out for those ten minutes, because when we got back at 11am on the dot, there was a massive line of cars waiting to get into the garage. It took us probably 20 minutes just to get to the point where porters take our bags. From there, upstairs to the cruise terminal, and about a 20-25 minute wait in line to check in. By the time we got through that process, our boarding group had long ago been called, so we were allowed to board the ship right away.
Amanda’s jaw dropped pretty much the moment we stepped on board. ”Disney Cruise Line welcomes PAUL and AMANDA!!!!”. Awesome way to start a vacation. Our first stop, of course, was the buffet up on Deck 11, Cabanas. One thing is for certain – we were never hungry during this vacation. I can’t remember the chronological sequence of events and activities over the course of the five nights, so let’s look at different categories instead:
Ohmygod so much food. Morning, Noon, and Night. Everything we had ranged from good to fantastic (with the exception of the tomato soup, that tasted like thin tomato sauce). Steak, ribs, salads, sushi, burgers, pasta, escargot, pork loin, corn-on-the-cob, waffles, hash browns, corned beef hash, poached eggs, … the list goes on forever. We even ordered room service a few times, for a burger for Amanda and buffalo wings (that were actually bbq wings) for myself, and also a cheese & cracker tray and an order of GIANT cookies & milk. If I had to choose a ‘worst’ meal, it would be Castaway Cay. The burgers & dogs they serve on the island are nothing at all special, and your own backyard bbq will actually taste better. Beyond that, everything was wonderful. The steak and beef short ribs in particular were outstanding.
I do have to say that I don’t think our service team was quite up to par, unfortunately. Every meal involved pretty frequent mistakes. Everything from wrong dishes served, to taking VERY long for drinks to be refilled or brought initially, to entire courses just completely skipped. I also really dislike the idea that “Head Server” is a tipped position. This is a guy who spoke to our table for about 20 seconds total the entire cruise. In those 20 seconds, we pointed out that our servers completely skipped the soup/salad course, and he didn’t even respond let alone do anything to correct it. And we’re expected to tip him at the end? Annoying at best.
As for the restaurants themselves, they can’t be beat. The theming and decor are outstanding. The show that they put on in Animator’s Palate is wonderful. Crush interacts with the guests, Nemo, Marlin & Dory and the moonfish play guessing games, it’s just fantastic. It was slightly disappointing that the show wasn’t done on our 2nd evening in that restaurant, but that’s okay.
Oh, on Pirate’s Night, after the fireworks, they even set up a dessert buffet in cabanas, complete with make-your-own crepes. Ohmygod YUM.
Another almost total win. On our first night, we were treated to a variety act by a pair of juggling comedians. That show was much better than expected. Later in the cruise, they did another show, for adults only, in The District. Both shows were very enjoyable.
The next night was Villains Tonight, which is the least good of all the shows on the ship. I’d heard they made improvements since the last time I saw it, but if they did, I didn’t notice any. It’s not that the performers are bad at what they do – it’s just not a good storyline or concept. Hades suffers depression after his defeat by Hercules, and thus isn’t as Evil as he should be, so he tries to call in help from other famous Disney villains, but they’re equally as emotionally deficient as he is. I swear to god, there’s even a love song between Jafar and Iago. It’s just plain BAD.
The next night, however, was The Golden Mickeys. This show, in contrast, is a complete home run. Great setup by the “preshow” in the lobby, fantastic songs and performances throughout, great celebrity cameos (via video), and a fairly emotional storyline to boot. Just all around wonderful.
On the fourth night, we were treated to a 3D performance of Cars 2. Eh. Not Pixar’s best, but hey it’s a first run movie, on a ship. That alone is cool.
And then the finale. Disney’s Believe. Oh my god. What an incredible show. It’s the story of a workaholic father and his young teenage daughter, as she tries to get him to believe in Magic, and he’s aided by famous Disney magic makers (everyone from Aladdin‘s Genie to Lion King‘s Rafiki, Mary Poppins, and Cinderella‘s Fairy Godmother, and more in between). Near the end, the dad gets a slow dance with an aged version of his daughter, while a montage of Disney parent-and-children plays on the video screens. I don’t think there was a single parent who had a dry eye in the house. The actors, the songs (original and classic), the special effects, and the storyline combine to make one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, on land or sea.
And then of course, there’s Pirate Night. After having a Pirate and Caribbean-themed dinner, we went to the top deck and were treated to a 5 minute firework show, Buccaneer Blast. It’d be cool if they could make it a little longer, but even so, it’s the only cruise line that does fireworks at sea, and it’s just an awesome thing to see.
A few times, Amanda and I separated and she went to Vibe, the teens-only area, while I went to the adults-only areas of the ship. We both came back enjoying the heck out of what we did. I relaxed in the adult pool – it started raining, and everyone cleared out (why??). She had fun making smoothies and making flubber and making new friends. On the first day, we also toured the kids and pre-teen areas. We both agreed that if we were of that age, we’d never want to leave those areas. Very cool.
I played Bingo, probably more often than I should have. I actually won once – first game of the last session, I got a Bingo. Unfortunately, so did 16 other people. We each ended up getting $20 for that, which didn’t come anywhere close to how much I spent playing. Oh well, it was good fun.
Amanda also did the Midship Detective Agency game, in which you walk ALL over the ship looking for “clues” to solve a mystery, inside the enchanted artwork located throughout the ship. A lot more fun than you might think.
We rode the Aquaduck a few times as well. As long as you don’t wait in line more than 10-15 minutes, it’s a very fun experience. It’s one half water-coaster, one half lazy-river. Very cool.
We attended a session of Anyone Can Cook, in which one of the ship’s pastry chefs demonstrated how to make an apple cobbler. It was great both watching him and listening to him talk about everything that goes into food preparation on the ship.
We never did get a chance to play the mini-golf on Goofy’s Sports Deck. Oh well, we’ll have to do that next time.
I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting. There’s stuff happening all throughout the day, every day. Never bored, that’s for sure.
Our cruise had two stops at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) and one stop at Nassau. Let’s talk about Nassau first. I had booked a partial-submarine tour of some Nassau sea life. It started with a boat tour of “Paradise Island”, with our guide pointing out houses he claimed are owned by various celebrities and assorted mega-rich people. How are we to know if they actually are? <shrug>. In any event, we finally boarded the sub, and went down to take seats. It was a good ten minutes before we went anywhere with fish. Once we were there, we saw some fish. Really not that many. Then we went back up to wait for our boat to pick us up again. It took maybe 30 minutes for the boat to arrive. No apologies or explanations offered. Overall, I consider the entire experience a great big “Meh.”. Next time, I’m staying on the ship in Nassau, like I did in February.
Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”, by the way, not “kay”), on the other hand, was phenomenal. Like I said, we were there for two days. The first day, we did a Stingray adventure. We got a 5-10 minute lecture hearing all about the rays (the smallest is about the size of a pancake, the largest has a wingspan of 22 feet). Then we went into the water, and got a chance to feed them. They are trained to recognize a big Mickey Mouse shape as meaning “Dinner time!!”. They have a little contraption that the rays swim up onto, and we hold a piece of shrimp or calamari between our fingers, and they swim over us and suck it out. It feels kinda like a vacuum cleaner. After the feeding, we get to go swim and snorkel with them for about 20-30 minutes. A really great experience for both of us.
We also went snorkeling out in the lagoon (Disney has sunken statues and ships and other things throughout, in addition to all the fish that are out there), and saw more fish than we would later at Nassau. We then did the new Pelican Plunge water slide. Holy crud that was awesome. First of all, it’s in the ocean. As in, you have to swim about 10-15 yards from shore to get to it. Then once you get up, there are two different slides, one covered one open. We both went on the covered on. When you get to the bottom, it LAUNCHES you out, into about 10ft deep water. Just awesome. Later in the day, we rented bikes and road around the island, which is more fun than it should be.
On the second Castaway Cay day, rented tubes for a while, and then we again went snorkeling in the lagoon. This time, the fish were just EVERYWHERE. We got to the area that has the sunken ship, and I stopped short. In front of me were close to a hundred fish. Just hovering there in the water, almost stationary, in one gigantic clump. And I mean big fish too – probably about half the size of my forearm each. We swam over them VERY slowly and gently. Really didn’t want to be churning the water at that point. But even before we got to that big school, there was this one little Sargent Major fish, who kept following me. He had absolutely no fear of humans. Once I got past the giant clump of fish, I noticed that this little guy was still with me. And CLOSE too – like right up to me, and wouldn’t go away when I waved my hands or fins toward him. But then I looked again – he had called in reinforcements. There were now four of them, circling me. So Amanda and I took off to the next sunken item (a sub from the old WDW 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction). And the darn Sargent Major fish kept following me!! I swear to god, at one point, he even rammed into my back. Something about my presence in his ocean was really insulting to him. It was one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve ever had.
It was a fantastic vacation. Amanda enjoyed herself immensely. I enjoyed myself immensely. The very few problems we encountered couldn’t come close to putting a damper on the overall thing. It was 5 days of non-stop fun and enjoyment. I cannot recommend Disney Cruise Line highly enough. I currently have another cruise booked for November 2012 (as part of the WDW Radio Show’s 2nd cruise). If it didn’t cost so much money, I’d seriously consider booking another one before then. That’s how good it is.