Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Disney
Ship: Disney Wonder
Sailing Date: September 1st, 2005
This was our family’s first cruise together and part of a “Super Vacation” package that I set up as a perfect send off to my oldest child that will be going off to college. Our family of 4 have traveled the world together and lived overseas in various locations for 14 years prior to my retirement and settling in Washington State. We are a very tight-knit family of 4 and sending one offspring into the world alone is both exciting and saddening at the same time.
In all of our family history, Disneyland and Disneyworld has always represented the pinnacle of vacation fun. After all, where does a family that has been almost everywhere in the world (literally not figuratively) find amusement, relaxation, and great entertainment? So as a finale to traveling across the US, we arrived at Disneyworld as part of a 7 day land and sea package.
The resort stay is not really the focus of this report and certainly not the purpose of this website but I must make just a few comments that might help someone. We stayed at Disney’s Beach Club resort. It was a nice 4 day stay, but I don’t think I would return there opting for a more exciting resort (like the Wilderness Resort). The Beach Club really didn’t fit our family’s idea of a fun place to stay and I wish we would have planned things differently. But it was still very nice and luckily close to an urgent care facility that accepted our ex-military medical insurance (my son developed tonsillitis just after arrival and needed urgent care on our second day). The hotel staff was very accommodating getting him and my wife to that treatment center. The rest of our resort stay could be characterized as wonderful as it could be, you know, it’s Disneyworld – fun, exciting, and expensive!
On our last day at the resort we were to leave our bags at the entrance to our room for an 8:00AM pick up for transfer to the Disney Wonder. We then departed on a shuttle for the Animal Kingdom. This is an excellent feature for a family that loves to pack as much into a day as possible. We were able to goof around at that park for 3 hours prior to boarding buses bound for Port Canaveral. The boarding and disembarkation at the pier was brilliantly executed. We ran through a security check, well we didn’t run… Alright for everyone that was behind me I apologize. I was “THAT GUY” that took 10 minutes to go through the metal detector ump-teen times. I fell asleep on the bus and wasn’t very awake when I went through. I rarely wear cargo pants and couldn’t believe how much metal I had packed in those 97 pockets… The rest of the boarding procedure was a breeze (especially using US Passports – can’t tell you how much of a time saver those are). From the time we left the security check point to getting to our room must have been only 15 minutes or less. Even better, our bags were waiting for us!
First day onboard (1 Sep):
Our stateroom was spacious and had a veranda that invited us out immediately. With a 14 year-old girl and a 17 year-old boy in the same room it was surprisingly comfortable and spacious. We ran through the activities listed in “The Navigator,” the ship’s activities bulletin for the day, and went up to deck nine for a buffet. The buffet food was very good and I was pleasantly surprised after reading a few reviews that suggested the contrary. We toured the ship and had a great time while awaiting the evening play, “Hercules, the muse-ical” that started at 6:30. My family and I, well we’ve kind of grown out of the Disney films, and we aren’t much for going to plays, but I am so happy to report that this play was simply fantastic (actually I fell in love with the blonde muse in that play and have run away with her to Tahiti – hey I can dream)! It was all we could talk about at dinner at the Parrot Cay restaurant at 8:30 (a good time to eat if you don’t want to hear a bunch of crying babies and noisy little kids while eating).
First dining room: Parrot Cay.
I’ve read more than one article that stated that the food aboard the DCL is not as good as other cruise lines. Well if that is true then I must make it a point to find out for myself because I thought the food was terrific! The décor in Parrot Cay isn’t as awe inspiring as the other restaurants on the Wonder, but the food and the fantastic service make up for it. My family enjoyed their food and we all sampled each other’s selections. For an appetizer I had the “trio of salmon” (what can I say, I live in the Pacific Northwest – it’s mandatory), for a soup I had the cream of sweet onion (I could have made a meal of that it was so good), and for a main course I had roasted rib-eye (very good but not as good as the one I had at the Polynesian resort restaurant). To drink – I don’t really drink alcohol so I can’t tell a fine wine from a cheap one, so out of my 97 pockets (cargo pants remember?) I pulled out a decaf green tea bag. A small problem though, the teabag was ripped and the contents were spilling onto the tablecloth. Without even asking me, the assistant server (Natalia from Venezuela) delivered in just a few moments a glass of iced green tea. Now what kind of attention to detail is that?
After dinner we went up to the upper deck and watched the most amazing lightning storms (every night treat) on the horizon. It was a perfect end to a great day!
Second day onboard (2 Sep):
The ship arrived in Nassau, Bahamas while we slept. I had been to Nassau before and honestly, other than the Atlantis resort area, it is much like most of the Caribbean tourist trap cities. We specifically booked the Atlantis resort and aquarium tour with the intention of returning to the ship so we could relax and swim unmolested by the 5000 or so small children at the family pool.
The bus ride to the Atlantis resort was, well – the word, ‘lame’ comes to mind. The contracted shuttle driver took the entire tour group well off of the main road and a ride to the resort that should have only taken 5-10 minutes lasted a half-hour at least. This guy had no experience leading a tour group and just rambled on making no sense at all, driving through slums (if going through slums is your idea of a great vacation, then this is the bus tour for you), and almost caused 2 accidents. I was never so relived to get off of a bus! The Atlantis tour on the other hand was professional, informative and fun! What a contrast! We returned to the ship at 2:00 (a mere 3 hours later).
After returning to the ship we discovered some small problems with a Disney Cruise that might be just because of the ages of our children. The family pool was still full of small noisy kids. Enough that made sunning and taking a small nap impossible. The adult pool was virtually empty with exception of a few couples that were enjoying their years without children. Now here is our dilemma; what do you do with our children? Send them to the “Aloft” Teen Club? Both of them checked it out and felt it was aimed a bit toward the younger teen and that the activities were not attractive to two kids that act like adults. So we wound up going back to our room disappointed and took naps until it was time for dinner.
Second dining room: Triton’s.
This is the restaurant that wearing more formal attire is recommended. I don’t know why, it certainly didn’t look like many people either knew that or cared. But we, as a family dressed nicer than we did the previous evening. The restaurant is very elegant, especially the tiled wall which is truly spectacular to look at. The food, which I have read compares to its sister restaurant, “Lumiere’s” (or would that be brother restaurant?) was simply delicious. Each of us ordered a separate appetizer (we shared the escargot that my wife ordered, my kids daring each other to take the first bite) and I had the deep-fried Camembert (very good). I was looking forward to the chilled Vichyssoise and was delighted beyond my expectations (that soup alone could be a reason to sail on the Wonder). For a main course I had the roast duck (very good but not the best I’ve ever had).
After dinner we returned to the upper deck for the “Pirates in the Caribbean” party. This started out with a lot of potential, there was some good music, fireworks (a surprise feature that was really a nice touch), and a lot of dancing. This is where we all felt awkward again. There were a significant number of parents that were drunk dancing around and bumping into other people’s children. Even my teenagers looked disgusted when the DJ started playing some rap music and we saw several 5-10 year-old girls shaking their “booty” suggestively like chorus girls in a rap video while being encouraged by their drunk parents. I’m not blaming the cruise line for this out-of-place behavior; we just didn’t expect that on a Disney Cruise. At first I suggested that we took a tour of the ship to see if we could find the trailer park onboard. But we just moved forward on the ship and enjoyed another lightning storm together.
Third day onboard (3 Sep):
Our previous day and evening’s disappointments with the cruise were forgotten today. The ship docked in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. This island is simply gorgeous and the activities available are incredible! We spent a lot of time snorkeling as a family and spending time at the beach. The weather presented some cloudy conditions which prevented my kids from parasailing but that was fine with me as I thought it was a bit too ‘spendy’ (a Washington state word meaning, “YOU PAID HOW MUCH?!”). We had a great time together and enjoyed the barbeque at “Cookies.” (Note: I love fresh fruit and they had a ton of fresh and delicious fruit available at this barbeque and every buffet on the cruise.)
We returned to the ship so I could attend the debarkation brief (which was played on TV later so I didn’t have to rush back so quickly – I read a review that suggested that, but forgot – duh). This brief could have been considerably shorter if the cruise director didn’t take so much time patting herself and the Disney Cruise Line on the back. But it did have all the information that made disembarkation a breeze.
At 6:30 we watched, “Disney Dreams,” the 3rd of 3 plays (we didn’t attend the one on the second evening). This was a spectacular performance! It’s rare when a family of four, two of them teenagers, can enjoy a movie together and be satisfied, to find a play that can do that is very rare! Actually, I’d love to know how to get that on DVD (if anyone knows, please email). Once again I found the girl of my dreams (the blonde muse from the first night) and she and I rendezvoused back in Tahiti. Well I would!
Third dining room: Animator’s Palate.
Wow. This is by far the best dining room in my opinion. It is the epitome of Disney Imagineering. If you haven’t experienced dining in this room, you’ve made a grave mistake. It is simply beautiful and brilliant and I have no intention of spoiling any surprises as others have done. The food is splendid, but honestly, I think you could serve hot dogs and hamburgers and get away with it in this room. As far as this menu goes I highly recommend the smoked salmon (Pacific Northwest remember?) appetizer, the butternut squash soup, and the maple-glazed salmon. This was the perfect meal of the cruise and I’m glad that we chose this evening to dress up and look our Sunday best.
After goofing off for far too long we raced up to our stateroom to pack. We only had ½ hour to put our bags outside our stateroom! But all worked out well and the only casualty was a pair of missing sunglasses.
One word: EASY. Locating our bags was a snap. Clearing Customs was a breeze. Checking our luggage at the pier for our airline was beyond convenient. And the ride to the airport was pleasant and comfortable. We left the ship and were on the bus to the airport in less than 20 minutes (passports save time again).
Overall: We had a blast! It was a great way to celebrate kicking one of our little birds out of the nest. Sure there were things I would do differently, hind-sight is 20/20 you know. If I could do it all over again:
a. I would have booked my airline myself (Disney used Delta and I have no pleasure with that airline)
b. I would have chosen a different resort (probably the Wilderness Resort in one of the cabins – they have more activities we enjoy like horseback riding and such).
c. I would have booked more activities in Nassau like snorkeling in a piranha tank (ok, that one isn’t available but after reading all of this you needed something to wake you up). But there is a snorkel with the rays tour we should have done.
d. Brought my own snorkeling gear. For the price of rental, you might as well buy and bring your own.
e. I would think of a longer cruise than the 7 day land and sea. Especially if there was more time at Castaway Cay. Heck, a 3-day stay on that island would be a great vacation in itself!