Thursday, June 23, 2011

Disney Dream Details & What I've Learned

 

Over the past three blog posts, I've shared with you my family's experience on the Disney Dream.  This ship is truly amazing, and huge!  I had done a lot of research before taking this cruise, and had seen a lot of pictures, but it really isn't possible to capture the beauty of this ship in a way that shows how big it really is.  It is something I think you just have to experience.  But, since this is a blog post discussing some of the details, I'm including some images of the Dream that show off a few details that maybe I haven't shown in previous posts.

I've also talked about the enchanted art a couple of times, on its own and in connection with the Mid-ship Detective Agency, so I'm including some video below that was taken during our day at sea.





Now on to the important stuff:  things I've learned and suggestions I would make for anyone who wants to take a cruise, especially a Disney cruise.

1.  Even if you aren't sure that you are a "cruising" person, you should try it at least once.  That's something that I do think is important.  If you have even the slightest curiosity, it is time well spent.  And if it makes you nervous, just take a 3 or 4 night cruise and then see what you think.  You will never know until you try (ok, time to move on, I sound like I'm quoting my mom!).

2.  If you are a huge Walt Disney World fan (which I am), please go into a Disney cruise understanding that it is amazing, but it ISN'T just a floating Disney park.  Set your expectations accordingly.  This was something that I think took me and my family by surprise.  I knew that it wasn't a floating park, but I guess I had expected the cruise to just blow me away, overtaking my love of WDW, and it didn't.  Now don't read into this that I didn't enjoy the cruise, because I did, very much.  But please understand, the cruise is an extension of Disney and it has its own kind of magic, so don't be disappointed in your vacation if it doesn't live up to or out-do the Walt Disney World resort.

3.  If you have motion sickness, even in the slightest, make sure that you have a plan on how to deal with it and that you have tested it before the cruise!  I can't stress this enough.  I was trying a remedy that had been recommended to me, as Dramamine is not good to me.  Unfortunately, I had not tested it out very well ahead of time, and as you read, I did suffer for it.  Even with the motion sickness, I will eventually do another Disney cruise, but I can promise you one thing, I will be seeing my doctor beforehand to get something that will work much better!

4.  Don't feel obligated to do anything/everything on board.  I don't know about you, but as a traveler, I often feel compelled to get the most for my money.  We are what I would consider a working/middle class family.  We have a lot of bills to pay (more than I would like) and we don't make an outrageous amount of money.  We do, however, love Disney and want to visit every year or two.  So I work hard at getting good deals and when I am there, I want to get the most I can out of it.  Sometimes I wear my guys out trying to make sure we've done everything we can do!  But I can tell you, on the Disney Dream, you absolutely CANNOT do everything!  There is too much.  Something is going on all the time.  So be choosey about what you want to do.  And consider doing nothing at all.  That was really hard for me, but I think if I had spent a little more time just relaxing by the pool, reading a book, taking in the atmosphere, I would have enjoyed the cruise so much more.
 
5.  Along the same line as number 4, don't feel obligated to do the "normal cruise stuff" either.  What do I mean by that?  Well, I can tell you that as much as I enjoyed seeing the restaurants on board (Animator's Palate, Enchanted Garden, & Royal Palace), the dining itself was a bit torturous for my family.  We don't dress up for dinner, at all.  When it's summer, sometimes my guys don't even wear shirts to the table!  We also don't eat fancy foods...for two hours or longer.  Now, I'm not saying it wasn't a good experience...ok, well it wasn't at first, but I'm still glad we tried.  But the thing is, we would have been much happier eating from the buffet and quick stop areas on deck 11 every night, getting done fairly quickly and getting ready to go do something else.  We as a family have already decided that when we go on another cruise, we will visit the restaurants at breakfast buffet or lunch, then keep it simple at dinner time.  Unless the menu is just irresistible, or the "show" that they do is only done at night and we are just dying to see it, then we might try again.  Now I'm not suggesting that everyone do this, because your family might love the evening dining.  What I am saying is that you know what works for your family, and if something that seems to be a "required cruising activity" doesn't work, then don't force it.  It's your vacation!

6.  Moms out there, this one's for you:  Don't feel obligated to stay with your family and be their own personal cruise director.  That's what Rachel is for!  This is your vacation too, and you do not want to have any regrets about what you did or didn't do.  Take advantage of the spaces that are just for your kids.  Payton absolutely loved visiting the Oceaneers Lab.  However, we had to suggest it to him sometimes because he's so used to spending all of his vacation time with us.  He wasn't forced to go, he just hadn't thought of it.  And there are plenty of things for your hubby or significant other to do as well.  So don't sacrifice your spa time just to get started packing for debarkation (I'm preaching to myself here a little bit), because you will regret it.  If there's something you want to do that no one else wants to, then do it by yourself.  This ship is very comfortable in terms of just walking around and doing your own thing.  Don't miss out because you feel like, as a mom, you need to take care of the details.  Trust me, packing early is not necessarily a helpful thing!

7.  Take advantage of port days.  There are so many things to do both on and off the ship.  For my family, the day we were in port at Nassau was one of our favorite days.  We had originally planned an excursion (or port adventure) but due to some unexpected financial issues that hit us before the trip, we had to tighten the purse strings and cancel that part of our trip.  So we stayed on the ship...and had a fabulous time!  It was far less crowded on board, and we were able to enjoy so many things, like time in the pool and AquaDuck, watching a movie in the Buena Vista theater, and just leisurely enjoying the ship.  We also did this on Castaway Cay day, after spending all morning on the island.  I would have to say that those times were some of the best we had all cruise.  I am looking forward to taking an excursion on our next cruise, but I can't say that I missed it much on this one.

8.  Be prepared for your day at sea...because it will be crowded!  After enjoying a couple of port days in a row when it seemed like there was no one on board the ship, sea day was a shock to the system.  If you don't like crowds or feeling confined, this can be a tougher day for you.  I know for us, it seemed like our tempers were even a bit shorter on sea day.  It's definitely not the best day for spending time in the pool, or even on decks 11 & 12!  Wall to wall people up there!  And sea day is the day that everyone has saved to do the Mid-ship Detective Agency, so be prepared for long lines at the kiosk as well as at the enchanted art.  Sea day involves both planning and flexibility, so have a backup plan if the thing you want to do is already too crowded.

So the bottom line...will I do another cruise someday?  Yes.  Was it worth it? Yes.  Will I do things a little differently and have different expectations?  Absolutely yes!  This was a great learning experience for me and I'm so glad that I did it, queasy stomach and all!

If you have any questions, or any additional tips you want to share, please comment!  Next post...on to Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day at Sea: Trip Report pt. 3

Wednesday was our day at sea, which was a day I was dreading a little bit, mainly because of the sea sickness from earlier in the cruise.  As luck would have it, Castaway Cay is not that far from Port Canaveral, so the ship was moving very, very slowly, which meant little to no motion.  Yeah!

We slept in a little bit that morning, and when we finally did get up, we headed down to Enchanted Garden again for breakfast.  It was a bit more crowded this morning than it was the day before, mainly because we opted for a later breakfast, and everyone was on-board.  After breakfast, the guys headed up to decks 11 & 12 to see what was going on while I started the packing process.  Each guest is asked to have their luggage (minus what they will need for that night & the next morning) packed and outside their stateroom door between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. so that it can be prepared for debarkation.  So the mad sorting began...what was dirty, what was clean, what was going to be needed at Disney World, and so on.

After I finished as much as I could, I headed up to the top deck and met up with the guys while they were playing mini-golf.  While there, they had made friends with a little boy named Rodrigo from Puerto Rico.  As they finished the course, Max (Goofy's son) made his way onto the course and stopped for pictures.  Up next, another round of Mid-ship Detective Agency.  As we were waiting to get our casebook and badge, the Jack Jack Diaper Dash was taking place in the atrium.  It was so funny to watch from up above!  Once we had our Detective gear in hand, we headed out to solve the mystery of the missing puppies. 


Another highlight of the day was at the Captain's signing.  At Payton's insistence, we purchased a model of the Disney Dream and waited in line for Captain Tom's autograph.  It's a pretty cool souvenir, I have to say.

That night was our official dinner in the Royal Palace.  Now we did eat there for pirate night, but the atmosphere and food were very different.  By now, our service team really interacted with us well.  The overall experience was much better, and the desserts were the best we had tasted all cruise!







Following dinner, I began to notice that the ship was starting to pick up speed again, and that did not bode well for my stomach.  I was so scared I would be sick again, especially since tonight's show was the performance of Believe, which had received rave reviews from previous Dream cruisers as well as the cruise staff.  We sat in the balcony, with me on the aisle, just in case I needed to get out quickly.  The atmosphere in the theater was just magical, and after one last visit from Rachel, our cruise director, the show began.  Although my tummy wasn't happy, this show was able to take my mind off of it and I was truly caught up in the story.  Believe is just amazing.  Now I did say in an earlier post that Villains Tonight was my favorite, and that's still true, but they most definitely created a heart-warming, magical production with Believe.  I'm so glad that I didn't have to miss it!






Once we returned to our room, we found debarkation instructions waiting for us, which included a breakfast time of 6:45 a.m. the next morning.  We pretty well decided at that moment that it just wasn't going to happen, but we knew we needed to be up early so we could head out for Disney World.  We finished up the packing and against our better judgment, headed up to deck 11 for one last swim and Funnel Vision movie.  This probably had to be one of the most relaxing family moments we had had all cruise.  We sat in deck chairs, wrapped up in towels, eating ice cream and watching Up.  It was after 11:30 p.m. before we made it back to the room and to bed.

The final morning was a tough one, mainly because we were so tired!  Kendall and I both got up and around, finished packing up what we had in the room to carry off the ship, and then came the painful process of waking up Payton.  Once he was around and ready, we made a final stop at Shutters to pick up the last of our cruise pictures, then got in line to exit the ship.  This process went very quickly and I have to give a shout out to the porters on land.  These folks work quickly to match you with your bags and get you through the customs lines.  Before we knew it, we were outside the terminal waiting for our shuttle to take us back to the hotel and to the van.  Once we arrived back at the Country Inn & Suites, we loaded up in the van and headed to our next destination...Animal Kingdom Lodge!

Stay tuned, the land portion of this vacation will be coming soon.  I will be sharing some thoughts and tips on cruising, as well as some details of the Disney Dream in my next post.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ports of Call: Trip Report part 2

So in my last post, I shared about the first couple of days of our running away/sailing away vacation.  Time to move on to our ports of call!  Monday found us pulling in to Nassau, Bahamas.  We were originally planning to do an excursion, but later decided to just stay on board.  That turned out to be a great decision as it seemed like the majority of people on board got off the ship.  After breakfast, Payton opted to spend time in Oceaneer Lab, so Kendall & I toured the ship, primarily the upper decks, taking pictures of Nassau.  We also spent quality time in the Quiet Cove, adults only area.  Neither of us can figure out how they managed to make it so quiet in that area, considering Funnel Vision is just on the other side!  The hot tub was very relaxing, and it was neat to look down below through the glass panel. 















We picked Payton up for lunch and had a quick bite at Cabanas, then headed to the Buena Vista Theater to watch Pirates of the Caribbean:  On Stranger Tides.  The theater was so nice, and we were able to see the film in Disney Digital 3D.  The only thing we were disappointed about at the theater was not having freshly popped movie popcorn.  We had been so looking forward to that, along with a nice big Coke, but sadly, the popcorn is bagged and the sodas are canned.  And if you do get treats at the theater, just be aware that you have to purchase them, they are not included.

After the movie, we spent more time in the swimming pools before getting ready for dinner.  That night we dined at the Enchanted Garden restaurant.  The restaurant is absolutely beautiful.  Our food was very good and our service team seemed much more relaxed.  Dinner came more quickly and was overall a much better experience than the previous night.  Our head server and assistant server even spent time sharing riddles and puzzles with us, which was so much fun.  The only thing that I was disappointed about was that our table was on the outskirts of the room, so we really missed out on the "show" of Enchanted Garden, which is when the garden transforms from "day" to "evening."

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Following dinner we headed to the Walt Disney Theater for the performance of "Villains Tonight."  I have to say, this show was my favorite of the cruise.  It was so funny!  It's rare that you get to see the villains really starring in a production, especially one that kind of pokes fun at them and at times, makes you like them almost more than the heroes.  We felt a special attachment to Hades, as the gentleman who played that role was the main staff member we spoke to during the muster drill on the first night.  He was outstanding!


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We weren't quite ready to turn in for the night, so on Payton's suggestion, we headed to the D  Lounge.  Payton sang "Rockin Robin" during family karaoke, then we enjoyed watching the family game show and dancing with the cruise staff during the New Years Eve party.  Sea sickness was not a problem for me this day, as we were docked from early in the morning until 2 a.m., so the motion was almost non-existent.  Yeah!!









Tuesday morning we docked at Castaway Cay.  On the advise of our server, we headed down to Enchanted Garden for breakfast, rather than trying to fight our way through the crowds in Cabanas.  It was much less crowded in the restaurant with a really wonderful buffet.  Although we were all set to disembark, we had left our photo id's in the room, so we headed back up to get them.  Unfortunately, this made us a little late getting off the ship and I missed the 5K run.  I found out later that I could have gone ahead on my own, but oh well, it is vacation after all!  So I got changed and we headed to the family beach.  Payton and Kendall were in the water right away.  We hadn't warned Payton that the ocean is salt-water, so he came up spitting a few times!  That didn't stop him though.  He took advantage of his time in the ocean.  We moved on to another part of the family beach closer to Pelican's Plunge, the water slide area.  The guys were headed out there when they found out that it drops down to 10 feet deep in places.  That made them both nervous, so they headed back to the beach. 

A bit later we began exploring the island, visiting Spring A Leak and taking the tram out to Serenity Bay.  When we got back, Captain Jack Sparrow was greeting guests, and Payton had his picture made with him.  Then he decided he wanted to check out Scuttles Cove, the equivalent of Oceaneer Club & Lab on the island.  So we left him there and then did some shopping and grabbed a bite at Cookies Too.  When we later went back to pick him up, he was ready to get back on the Dream and ride the AquaDuck. 
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We spent a large portion of the afternoon in the pools, on the AquaDuck, and snacking while watching Funnel Vision movies.  It was so relaxing and fun!  I even tried the AquaDuck and I have to say, I love it!  It was a great time to play on board, as nearly everyone is on Castaway Cay.  We rode the AquaDuck many times in a row, and had no problems getting into the pool or getting a deck chair.  After a few hours of this, we cleaned up and decided to try out the Mid-Ship Detective Agency.

  


 












If you haven't read about the artwork on board the Dream, or seen it in person, be prepared to be amazed.  Some of the art is interactive, meaning that when you stand in front of it, the art "senses" that you are there and then will share some surprise animation with you.  The Mid-Ship Detective Agency uses the animated art to interact with guests as they go throughout the Dream attempting to solve a mystery.  We solved the case of the missing paintings and had a blast!

That night was Pirates In the Caribbean night and it kicked off with character meet & greets in the atrium.  It was so fun to see everyone dressed in their best pirate gear.  We opted for t-shirts and the pirate bandannas we found in our stateroom.  Then it was on to our pirate themed dinner at Royal Palace.  Even our servers were in their best pirate dress!  The menu was really fun and we enjoyed it a lot.
Following dinner, we headed to Decks 11 & 12 for Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean party.  We had a fun time listening to pirate music and Payton even played some pirate games.  Then Captain Mickey and his pirate crew came out and put on a really fun show.  After their show, we headed down to the Walt Disney Theater to see Mike Super perform his magic.  What a neat show!  Mike was witty, charming and engaging all the while amazing us with some very interesting illusions.  It was well worth seeing.  Then it was back up to deck 12 to wait for the fireworks at sea.
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Now apparently Walt Disney World has ruined us on all fireworks shows.  We groan about our local fireworks because they aren't timed with music on the 4th of July.  And naturally, fireworks at sea, even if they are Disney and timed with music, just aren't going to be the same as Wishes or Illuminations.  But, they were pretty cool.  I would say the best part though was immediately following the fireworks when Captain Jack Sparrow appeared and he and his fellow pirates put on a brief show.  We stayed for a little bit of Club Pirate, enjoying the dance music.  However, we did stay up on deck 12, looking down at the very very crowded deck 11!  Then it was off to bed to rest up for our day at sea.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sailing Away: Trip Report part 1

As a therapist, I have often told my clients that you can’t run away from your problems.  And hat is true, problems are still there when you get back, and sometimes, they can be even bigger if you’ve tried to run away from them.  However, sometimes it is important to “take a vacation” from your problems and set them aside, giving yourself some time to relax and regroup, better prepared to tackle them head on. 
This I can speak to from experience.  Recent experience in fact.  Let’s just say that earlier this month, some personal/work problems came crashing down around my ears.  The blessing was that we already had a Disney cruise and vacation planned, and thankfully, paid for.  We had a couple of moments of wondering if we should go ahead with this trip, but we were in a cancellation penalty phase that would have cost us quite a bit of what we had already paid.  So, it was time to run away, or should I say, sail away!

We left home on Friday night after Kendall got off work, and drove to Ringgold, GA.  That night we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express that we had stayed at on a previous driving trip.  As we pulled in around midnight Georgia time, it seemed unusually dark.  The next morning, we found out why.  Apparently Ringgold had been hit by some of the major tornadoes that struck much of the southern states this spring.  As we were leaving the next day, you could see the devastation everywhere.  Talk about bringing some perspective to my problems.  I am healthy, alive and my home has been untouched by the storms and floods.  I am blessed.


Saturday morning we continued our journey to Cape Canaveral, and it was a long drive.  We made god time though, and everyone was in good spirits, as we all had slept well the night before.  We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites for the night in a family suite.  Payton was so excited because he had his own “room” inside our room.  He tried out the bunk beds, but ultimately decided to sleep in the single bed out of fear of falling off the top bunk, or smacking his head on the lower bunk.  We had some great local pizza that night from DiLorenzo's (http://www.dilorenzositalian.com/).





















The next morning felt like the longest wait.  Naturally we were up early, had breakfast and sorted out our luggage.  Then we had to wait for our assigned shuttle time.  We had reserved the cruise package, which allowed us to keep our van parked at the hotel while on the cruise.  We were finally shuttled over to the port around 12:30 p.m.  By the time we got into the port, there were other guests already aboard the Dream.  It was hard to just hang out and wait.  However, we were far from the last people to board, as the Disney Cruise line buses pulled up well after we had checked in.










When we were finally called to board (along with basically anyone else that was left), we went in through the Mickey shaped tunnel and had our family “Welcome Aboard” photo taken.  Then it was on to the ship.  Wow…the atrium is as amazing as everyone has said.  Absolutely beautiful!  Our stateroom was ready so we went there first to put down our carry on bags and then go exploring.  We visited the upper decks, checking out the pool and the AquaDuck, then back down to tour the Oceaneer Club & Lab.  By then, it was time for the sail Away party.  Man it was sweltering hot on deck 11!  The sun was beating down, but that didn’t hamper the excitement.  Once the party was over, we headed down to our stateroom to clean up and go to our first dinner.







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That night we were assigned to Animator’s Palate.  The restaurant itself is adorable, with all the nods to animation and the little details.  We were seated with a family of five.  Now with our family being newbie cruisers, this was kind of a new experience, as we are used to dining just the three of us.  The kids were all starving so there wasn’t much chatting going on.  Unfortunately, our first dinner was something of a disaster.  While the food was good, it was incredibly slow, taking over 2.5 hours to complete, and not by our choice, but because it took them that long to get the food to us.  Some of it wasn’t even warm by the time we got it.  And the first hour of dining was over by the time our fellow parents got their drinks.  Our serving team was as nice as they could be, but things just weren’t going well.  And I hate to say this, but we had a hard time understanding them throughout the cruise.  It was a struggle to focus enough to pick out key points as the food was described or even when they asked us questions.


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So in my family, I am the one who gets motion sickness while watching my guys play video games.  So, I had begun taking Ginger pills prior to the trip, hoping to stave off the motion sickness the best that I could.  Well, not so much.  We could really feel the motion of the ship down in Animator’s Palate, and it only got worse during the Golden Mickey’s show in the Walt Disney Theater.  We went to the theater after dinner to get our seats, and right away I was not feeling well.  A few minutes after we were seated, one of the cruise entertainment staff members, Lauren, came up and asked Payton if he would help out in the show.  This kid has got some kind of fabulous aura, because he gets picked for this kind of stuff constantly!  Anyway, now I had to hold it together because my baby was going to be in the show.  Thankfully, his part as one of Snow White’s dwarfs happened early on.  He loved every second of it.  It’s so funny because we tease him about Snow While.  He’s been kissed by her twice in the parks, and this time, he got to hold her hand on stage.  Well, no matter how fabulous the show was, my stomach couldn’t take being at sea and I missed the last 15 minutes of the show getting more acquainted with the restrooms on the 3rd deck.  The show itself was wonderful though, and I couldn’t wait to see more shows during the four night cruise.
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Following dinner, we went upstairs and decided to change into swim gear and hang out by the pool.  The guys took a spin on the AquaDuck at night, which they loved.  I opted to stay dry, as the temp had dropped significantly since we pulled out of the port.  Watching movies on Funnel Vision was pretty amazing and very relaxing.

So far, this running away thing was a little bumpy but for the most part, going well.  Next post I will share more about our cruise days at Nassau and Castaway Cay!