Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Disney
Ship: Disney Wonder
Sailing Date: September 18th, 2006
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
For the 2006 Hurricane season, Disney
decided to introduce a longer itinerary going to the less-frequently hit
Having previously sailed on a longer Disney cruise (the 14-night Westbound Panama Canal transit), we thought the 11-night would be a nice break away. This was our fifth cruise with Disney. My wife and were cruising alone – no nieces or nephews this trip. With this new 11-night itinerary, Disney visited their regular port of St. Thomas, added St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and paid their first visit to St. Kitts.
We boarded Sunday morning, with a fabulously smooth boarding process. Disney finally introduced online check-in, which means we were able to submit all our info long before arriving in Port Canaveral. Five minutes at the counter to verify the credit card and our passports, and we were handed our room keys. We found a comfortable couch in the lobby, and waited the fifteen minutes until boarding began.
As soon as we boarded, we headed straight back to the Parrot Cay restaurant. This a trick we learned a few cruises ago. The staff tries to funnel passengers to the Buffet on deck 9, but Parrot Cay is also open. The advantage here is that servers bring your drink orders to your table for you, and you can leave your carry-on luggage at your table while you visit the buffet, rather than trying to balance your carry-on luggage with your food tray.
By the time we finished lunch, the staterooms were opened, and we headed down. Upon arriving, we found the items I had pre-ordered for our anniversary, including a tropical floral arrangement (really nice – and it lasted the entire cruise!). A friend had ordered a fruit tray and a bottle of wine for us as a sail away gift. The fruit was a little strange – apples, oranges, and grapes were great. But they also included whole papayas, mangos, kiwi, and a pineapple. The problem was, the pineapple had not been cut, and the only knife provided was a butter knife. A lot of the fruit ended up being tossed, because there was no way to prepare it easily, and the kitchen couldn’t use it once it had been put in the room. One item I had pre-ordered, a pearl necklace for my wife, was not in the stateroom. I asked our stateroom host about it, and he indicated that they only delivered those to the passengers in person, because of the high value. He returned a few minutes later with the necklace in a beautiful presentation box.
In the past, our stateroom hosts have generally been playful and friendly. Kim, our host this trip was definitely friendly, but not playful. Instead, he was the epitome of the unobtrusive butler. We rarely saw him, but his presence was almost constant. We would leave for something, realize we left glasses or a watch behind in the room, go back to retrieve it only to find he had already straightened up the room, but was no where to be seen. The room was always spotless. As my wife commented, if was as if her had made himself invisible.
We were fortunate enough to have Ivana - the same server on this cruise as we had on the Disney Magic’s Panama Canal transit. She had transferred from the Magic to the Wonder. She was as fantastic this trip as she was on our previous trip. She somehow remembered allergies and food preferences from 17 months previous, and it felt like she just picked right up, as if we had never left her table. Her assistant, Anastasia, was very new, and while she was attentive and tried, she was still learning how to keep track of drink preferences, who wanted coffee and who didn’t, etc.
In St Thomas, we enjoyed a Snuba excursion through VI Snuba – a trip we booked independently of the ship. Snuba is similar to Scuba, but rather than having the oxygen tanks on your back, they floated on the surface on a raft, and a hose ran down to your regulator. As our first exposure to using a regulator, it was a great introduction. Frank, our guide, was fantastic – very patient, attentive, and helpful. Done at the beach next to Coral World, we also had the chance to visit the aquarium. As occasional visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Aquarium of the Pacific, Coral world pales by comparison. But, it was still a nice visit.
Our second stop was St Lucia, where we did the Rainforest Canopy Zip line excursion, through the ship. This was by far our favorite experience of the entire cruise. A fantastic experience, gliding from tree to tree through a verdant green rainforest. I have a slight fear of heights, but never had a problem on the zip line. I think I was laughing too had to be afraid. After the zip line, our van driver stopped at the side of the road at a banana farm. He spent several minutes discussing how they are farmed (including wrapping the bunches in a transparent blue plastic bag!) He then found a cocoa pod from a cocoa tree nearby. He broke the pod open, and had us each take one of the beans to suck on, like a hard candy. Surprisingly, it tasted almost exactly like a watermelon Jolly Rancher candy, although he did warn us not to bite into the bean, as it would be extremely bitter.
Next stop was Barbados where we did a ship excursion of snorkeling with the sea turtles. What a neat experience – swimming in water with 10-15 turtles all around you. We swam a ways away from the group, which meant we were able to see more turtles, and less people.
In Antigua, we went on our own again, this time on Eli’s Eco Tour. While waiting to be picked up, we walked the port area a bit. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and almost everyone was closed, despite having a ship in port. Eli’s tour came highly recommended on several review sites. The trip was very nice, on a beautiful ship. If you are interested in Island history, ecology, and getting the chance to snorkel in some nice locations, this is a great trip. (And the BBQ lunch is great). But, if you are a diehard swimmer/snorkeled, and you are all about the best reefs and maximum time in the water this is not for you. The first half of the trip is completely in the boat as you begin to circle the island. The second half includes three swim/snorkel opportunities, but they are almost incidental to the rest of the trip.
St Kitts was an interesting visit. We had booked yet another snorkel excursion through the ship. (I swear my wife is half-fish). We sailed to a distant bay, and everyone headed for the water. I decided to stay on the boat and relax – but even from there I could see thousands of fish in the water. My wife says it was the best location we had visited for seeing fish, stingrays, lobsters, and more.
Two days at sea lead us back to Castaway Cay – Disney’s private island. Snorkeled some more, and generally lounged around. In time for our visit, Disney had just finished installing new kitchen equipment on the island, allowing them to move the food quality and selection up by several notches. Wood-fire grilled Mahi-mahi, rotisserie chicken, and brick-oven garlic focaccia bread have been added, and the food is so much better than it was previously.
My only major gripe about this trip boils down to the itinerary. After boarding, we sailed for two days, and then spent the next five in ports. By day 4 and five, we were dragging. Since so many of the ports are adventure oriented (snorkeling, diving, kayaking, etc.), we were too tired (and sunburned!) at the end to really enjoy it. Our first sea day after the ports was largely spent sleeping, in an attempt at recovering. I would rather they cut out the third port day, spending it at sea instead. It would have allowed us to enjoy the later ports a lot more.