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Norwegian Dawn: New York to Nassau
Day 1: Departure from New York
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: Port Canaveral, FL
Day 4: Miami, FL
Day 5: Nassau, Bahamas
Day 6: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
Day 7: At Sea
Day 8: Disembarkation in New York
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Day 3: Tuesday, Port Canaveral, FL
Port Canaveral, FLDAILY DISPATCH (Noon, Tuesday, December 9)
LOCATION: 28°25'N, 80°38'W: Docked at Port Canaveral
TEMPERATURE: 75°
PERCENTAGE OF POOL CHAISES OCCUPIED: 10% (Estimated)

At first glance, this itinerary seems to be unusual in a number of respects.   First, the idea of traveling round trip from New York to the subtropics in a one-week span, including multiple full-day port calls, probably has cruise buffs rushing to their libraries to searching for predecessors.  Not that the concept is so alien; the desire of New Yorkers to briefly escape the dregs of winter by escaping to Florida has been a tradition for decades.  And more than one airline built their fortunes on the New York/Miami route.  But by ship?   In so short a time?  That, as it turns out, is a function of the new generation of ships, able to cruise economically at twenty-five knots.

The second thing that seemed, on the surface, unusual was that the itinerary included port calls at places normally used as home ports, i.e., embarkation/disembarkation points.  Further thought told me that I had oversimplified the equation; after all, many ships call at San Juan, which certainly qualifies as a major home port as well as port of call.

But, I realized, the qualities that make a place a good home port are just the things to guarantee a quality port call.  First, the area has to have a substantial tourism industry, both to create and support a major airport to bring in passengers, but also to provide an attractive range of ground based tourist experiences for those who want to extend their cruises at either end.

Port Canaveral, a popular embarkation point, is just such a place.  The Orlando area tourism mecca is perfect for a port call, offering something for every taste, from the aviation/space/history buff's dream, the Kennedy Space Center to the ecologist/nature lover's access to sea kayaking and viewing aquatic mammals to Cocoa Beach for sun worshipers to, of course, the massive theme park complexes seeded by Uncle Walt some thirty-two years ago with Disney World.

Now, strange to say, I'm a Floridian who has never been to Disney World.   None of it, not the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM, none of it.  The reason is that, having raised a child in Southern California, I really put in a ton of time at Disneyland, and I've just never gotten around to making the five-hour drive to Orlando to do the East Coast Disney thing.  So this itinerary was a boon for me, a chance to finally visit Epcot (see photo above).

The setup seemed ideal.  The ship offered round trip transfers at $28.00 per person.  Inquiries at the pier priced a one way taxi ride from the pier at about $80.00, so, in this case, the ship's excursion was a good bargain.  Also, our port call at Port Canaveral was a long one -- 9:00 AM through 8:00 PM -- so it would seem that there would be sufficient time to see a good deal of the park.

I don't intend to engage in a protracted description of Epcot Center; there are plenty of resources to go to for that advice and information.  What I will do is offer some of the tips I came up with as a first timer that maximize the experience, logistical factors that apply both to both the Disney end and the ship's shore excursion and disembarkation procedures.

The basic issue is self evident: the buses leave the dock at a certain time and return from the park at a certain time (actually, there is a forty-five minute "window," during which you can board a returning bus). The goal, of course, is to get in as many rides or other activities in the park as possible during that time span.  Normally, I avoid lining up at the gangway ahead of the disembarkation announcement; I'd rather sit with a cup of coffee and relax in a lounge and join the line once it starts to move.  In this case, I should have ignored my own advice.  At 9:05 I went out to the promenade deck on Deck 7 and found a line snaking nearly to the stern of the ship.   Worse than that, the line seemed to be nearly stalled. I felt like I was on an L.A. freeway at rush hour. It was a human parking lot.  (Shades of New York embarkation.) There was no single cause for this problem, just slow processing by too few security stewards at too few machines in too confined an area.

It was 9:45 before I reached the motorcoach loading lanes. At that point there was only one bus remaining for the Disney excursion. (The ship books a number of buses based on the number of guests signing up to go to Disney. As soon as a bus fills it departs, meaning bus number one probably left just after nine.)  Since our bus, number 5, was only 1/4 full, we would wait until the bus filled (no doubt a long wait, since there were few passengers walking toward our lane), or until a time designated as the cutoff time by the ship.  That was the case, and we pulled out just after ten.  In short, waiting a half-hour or so at the head of the disembarkation line would have added a whole hour at Epcot.

The bus ride to the Disney World ticketing and transportation center took a quick hour and ten minutes, the experience enlivened by a couple of "hosts," Larry and Hank, semiretired New York ex-pats who wandered the aisles chatting with passengers and swapping New York stories, since a large portion of Dawn's guests hale from that city.

Once you arrive at the transportation center the next step is to purchase admission tickets and board a free shuttle to your park of choice (monorail to Epcot, monorail or ferryboat to the Magic Kingdom, buses to all other venues). So, here's tip number two: the far left end of the line of ticket booths has two lanes marked "Will Call."  However, these lanes, which lead to electronic, self-serve kiosks, also allow automated ticketing with credit card.   There were no people in these lines, and using them would have shaved fifteen minutes off my time waiting to get into the park.  Thus far, running total time saved using tips one and two: one hour and fifteen minutes.

As a matter of fact, consider checking into pre-purchasing your park admission (if you are certain you will be going there when the ship docks).  Call 1-407-WDW-INFO or log on to disneyworld.com. From the Website you can get information on individual attractions and download a map.  With prepaid admission even the electronic Will Call procedure is faster, saving you another five minutes.

Lastly, if you plan to eat anywhere at Epcot other than fast food stands, call 1-407-WDW-DINE.  This will allow you to make reservations in advance, and save you a trip to Guest Relations to review menus and make reservations, and will give you a greater selection of dining times as well.  I would estimate this saving as much as ten minutes, depending on how crowded Guest Relations is.

So, all told, tips one through four result in extending your useable time at the park by ninety minutes, enough to add two rides/attractions of average length to your visit.

The next thing to consider is using Disney's "Fast Pass," feature, which allows you to get an advance reservation for popular attractions. In fact, Disney now refers to people waiting in normal lines as "standbys."  You slip your park admission ticket in one of the Fast Pass machines and you get a pass with future times printed.  During the window between early and late times listed you can return to the ride and skip all the waiting in lines but the final boarding step, a savings of at least twenty minutes to an hour per attraction. A good approach is to plan to visit the World Showcase section first, (which includes all the international pavilions), stopping on the way to pick up fast passes for all the attractions you wan to experience.  You can then put those in the order their admission windows occur, and attack them in order when you have finished with the World Showcase.  

There is a forty-five minute window for boarding the buses, and, allowing twenty minutes for the monorail trip back, it can be tricky timing your entry onto a ride or show so that you finish within that window, even with a Fast Pass.  It makes sense to save souvenir shopping and other stops where you have complete control over the timing for the end of your stay.

Returning to the ship by 6:30, I had just enough time to go to the Internet Cafe to check my email, and return to my cabin to get ready for dinner.  On my bed I found one of those ubiquitous handouts that appear by magic every time your cabin is made up.  Usually I think very little of such things, but this time I thought it was an excellent offer.  It allowed the guest to stuff as much laundry as humanly possible into a standard ship's laundry bag, and the whole shooting match would be washed, pressed and folded and delivered back by Friday, all for a total of $19.99, regardless of the number of pieces, a boon for those looking for a way to pack lighter.

I made my way to Gatsby's, Norwegian Dawn's champagne and martini bar for a pre-dinner cocktail, also sampling their caviar presentation, which is only offered at Gatsby's.  This, I felt, was another shipboard value, with an ounce of Sevruga caviar and all the fixings going for $22.00.

Later I proceeded to Cagney's, the ship's steakhouse, styled after news, historical, political and entertainment aspects from the end of Prohibition.   Cagney's has all the style attributes of an upscale restaurant of that era, a time when it was thought that a big hunk of red meat was the height of healthy cuisine. No problem: I swallowed my guilt along with my delicious ribeye.

Entertainment offered that night was a performance by Jimmy Walker (Remember? "Good Times?") in the Stardust Theater.  However, there was a $10 per ticket charge for the show, so I decided instead to either sit in one of the Jacuzzis or visit the casino. I chose the casino. It didn't matter.

I wound up getting soaked anyway.

Oh well, no matter, tomorrow I'm on home turf, back in South Florida.
Day 2: At Sea red arrow Day 4: Miami, FL

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