Friday, September 14, 2007

Cruising with Pirates

Ever take a cruise on the high seas with a boatload of pirates? If not, then Disney Cruise Line has the adventure for you. From the moment we boarded the stylish red bus, at the Orlando International airport, our vacation was everything that was promised in the brochure, and more. Not to sound like a Disney employee or pirate groupie, but we found this cruise to be the overall best for a family vacation.
Disney's customer service, cleanliness and attention to detail are first class. The only problem, which I'm still reminded of, is trying to select which activity to participate in at any given time. Entertainment, sports, games, crafts, movies, pools, the list of choices goes on and on, and that's just the choice onboard. Shore excursions and activities when docked are many. On our four day, three night, cruise there were no hold ups, no disappointments, and the crew was always professional and friendly.

The Ship

Elegance from a bygone age is how I would describe the Disney Wonder, one of two "twin" cruise liners by Disney. From the Beeline Expressway, as we approach the terminal, the black bottomed ship looms large on the horizon. Entering the Pier area of Port Canaveral we are greeted by the impressive $27 million dollar art deco style terminal where we breeze through the check in process. Once through the terminal we walk the gangplank and enter another world. The Atrium opens before us, with a three-story lobby covered with marble, wood, and bronze. There are four glass elevators and a grand staircase sweeping down to a bronze statue of Ariel, the mermaid. Intermingled among the guests are elaborately dressed Disney characters, come to life, to greet the passengers. Children line up with there eyes sparkling and their voices filling the air with excitment and awe. Even the traditional deep sound of the foghorn that signals our departure is replaced with the magical horn sounds playing "When you Wish Upon a Star."
The Food

A different dining experience each night is a refreshing change from the traditional formal seating for diner that is on most cruises. Disney has provided a rotating dining schedule among its three main resturants, Animator's Palette, Triton's, and the colorful Parrot Cay. Each themed restaurant provides a unique dining experience with the same table mates and wait staff each night. In the Animator's Palette, my favorite, the restaurant is decorated in black and white. Black and white pictures, black and white patterns on the walls, black and white flowered columns, you get the picture - black and white. Even the the wait staff is wearing, you guessed it, black and white. As dinner progresses everything in the room that was black and white begins to change very slowly to color. The transition is almost impreceptible and then, before I realized it, the pictures, walls and columns were all in full color. By the end of the meal, even the wait staff's vests changed to color. Triton's is the second of the themed restaurants. It is casually elegant with an under-the-sea, little mermaid decor, with an entire wall made up of thousands of tile pieces depicting King Triton himself. The third dining experience is Parrot Cay, a fun Caribbean style restaurant with brightly colored parrots and fruit baskets everywhere. During our evening we at Parrot Cay we dressed as pirates, along with everyone else, and followed the meal with a giant conga line snaking around the tables.
Naturally, there are plenty of other eating areas throughout the ship, from snack bars to full buffets. There is even an elegant restaurant for a romantic dinner with your partner at Palo's. The meal is served on the highest deck by reservation and while the adults eat the little pirates can take over the clubhouse. If for some reason you would rather dine in your spacious cabin the ship has 24-hour room service.

The Fun

I would start each morning in the Vista Spa, running on a treadmill, looking out over the bow of the ship as it plowed through the open sea. One of the highlights of the spa is its rain forest steam room. Back in the cabin, we would look over the personal navigator, a newsletter left in your cabin each day, listing all the events and opportunities available for that day. This was our planning guide and where I got into trouble. There are so many choices, I would schedule us for a tour of the bridge and then try to catch the kitchen tour, four decks below. Then back up to deck 5 and the Buena Vista Theater for a first run Disney movie. The kids have plenty of their own options to keep them busy having fun all day. They can join the fun at Flounder's Reef nursery, the Oceaneer Club, or for the teen in your family, they can hang out in Aloft. All areas are well controlled and supervised.
Just looking over the rail at the ocean is a wonderful treat, or try a little shuffleboard. In the evening, we entered the large, well appointed, 975-seat Walt Disney Theater, which features Disney on Broadway-style productions. The sets are creative, the actors fantastic, and the music excellent. Below deck there is a piano bar, comedy clubs and even jackpot bingo. I enjoyed the art auction and casual discussions, with very well informed art dealers, during one of the evening activities. The last evening, after dark, deck 9 is overtaken by pirates, with music, a dramatic rescue and finished with spectacular fireworks bursting against a pitch black sky.

The Excursions

Not all the fun is onboard ship. Our first stop was Nassau, Bahamas for a day of touring and shopping. Be sure to sign up for the excrusions to make the most of your visit. We signed up for the snorkel trip and traveled by catamaran to a relatively calm cove. Masks, snorkels and fins were handed out along with a brief demonstration on how to use them. The water was deep, clear, and full of beautiful tropical fish in a variety of colors. At Nassau there is plenty to choose from including regatta racing, dolphin encounters, scuba diving, tours and of course shopping, jewelry is very popular. If you didn't get enough to eat on the ship there are plenty of places to eat, even a Hard Rock Cafe.
One day is reserved for Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Moored near the dock on the island is the ghots ship, the Flying Dutchman, straight from Hollywood and Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest movie. Early in the morning the crew of Wonder moves their dining rooms onto the island for all you can eat buffets throughout the day. The beach is laid out with lounge chairs, umbrellas and a place to pick up fins, snorkels and other water accessories. We started the day with a bike ride around the island. We traveled down an abandoned runway, past the "adults only" beach and back. And for fairness Disney even has a beach for kids only, no parents. There are jet skis for rent, banana boat rides, and even para-sailing high over the crystal blue waters.
There is only one negative to this cruise and you can probably guess what it is....leaving. They didn't make us "walk the plank" but as we left we felt just as abandoned. Next time we'l have to go for the seven day cruise.