This was our first time on a Disney Cruise (13th cruise overall) and our first trip to Walt Disney World. We booked a 7 day land/sea package. After adding an extra night to start our vacation, we stayed 4 nights at the Caribbean Beach ... Read More
This was our first time on a Disney Cruise (13th cruise overall) and our first trip to Walt Disney World. We booked a 7 day land/sea package. After adding an extra night to start our vacation, we stayed 4 nights at the Caribbean Beach Resort and then spent 4 nights on the Disney Wonder. My husband and I are in our mid-thirties and were traveling with our 3 (almost 4) year old son. This review will focus primarily on the cruise portion of our trip.
Getting There: We flew to Orlando on Wednesday, direct on USAirways from Pittsburgh. We were met at the airport by Cartier Towncar, who took us to the CBR. It was nice to arrive the evening before our package began which allowed us to take full advantage of the park passes included with the package by getting an early start on Thursday. As I had read was the case prior to our trip, we needed to check out and check back in Thursday morning to switch from the room only reservation for the first night to our 3 night land package which included admission to the parks. We had a wonderful time visiting the parks on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Then on Sunday morning, Cartier Towncar picked us up (in a complimentary stretch limo upgrade) at the CBR and took us to Port Canaveral where we walked right on to the ship. Since we booked the package, we completed our check-in for the cruise at CBR. This made for a seamless transition.
My only comment concerning this process is that Disney advertises a one-time check-in for the entire trip. Although everything was completed at the resort, we did have to check-in at a separate DCL desk and they wanted us to do it no later than Saturday. The hours were limited, where two of the days the desk opened at 8:00 am and closed at 12 noon or 1:00 pm. Since we planned on taking advantage of early entry at the parks, we left the resort before the desk opened. Therefore, we had to come back mid-day one of the days, and make a trip to the Custom House at CBR to check-in for our cruise. I thought that it would have been more 'seamless' if we had been able to turn in our cruise documents at the front desk when we checked in for our package. Otherwise, if they would have one day that the DCL desk opens earlier to give guests a chance to check-in before leaving for early entry at the parks, it would eliminate the need to make a special trip back to the resort mid-day.
Cabin: We were in cabin 2511, which we joked before going was a steerage cabin. It is a category 12 and lowest cabin that you can book. But to our surprise, aside from a couple veranda cabins we have had on other cruises, it was the nicest cabin we have had, with or without a window. There was plenty of room in the cabin, a decent amount of storage space and a curtain that could be drawn between the master bed and the couch/bed. The cabin hostess, Emy made the couch into a very nice bed for our son which he was very comfortable in. Emy was from the Philippines and she was great. She took good care of our cabin and treated us very well (not like steerage passengers ;-)
One comment about the power outlets in the cabin... At the dressing table was the only useable one in the cabin. While I have read in the past about bringing a power strip, I have never done this since a hairdryer is the only thing that we plug in. The outlet was so close to the counter top of the dressing table, there wasn't any clearance and I couldn't plug in my hairdryer. My hairdryer has a bulky plug and it is polarized, so it could only be oriented with the cord coming down and there wasn't enough room. Fortunately there was a hairdryer in the bathroom. Unfortunately, it's one of the European style ones that almost looks like a vacuum cleaner hose and was not very powerful. The bottom line is either to take an extension cord or a hairdryer with a regular plug where the cord comes straight out from the wall.
Dining: One of Disney's trademarks in the dining area is the rotational dining among three dining rooms. This allowed us to eat at a different dining room each night except for the last, when we ate in the same dining room as the first night. We had main seating (6:00 pm) and the APTA rotation— that's Animator's Palate, then Parrot Cay, followed by Tritons.
We were first seated at a rectangular table for six. There was a family of four seated, leaving for us two chairs and a high chair on the end. Since at almost 4 years old, our son is too big for a high chair, it was replaced by a regular chair which left us with no leg room. After sitting there a few minutes, my husband went to talk to the maitre d' who responded that the seating arrangement is only suitable with a baby in a high chair and promptly reseated us at a round table for six with another family of three. This was a much roomier table and as it ended up the other family had a son just a few months younger than ours. We had a very enjoyable time dining with them and the boys enjoyed sharing trains and playing with them at the table while we dined. Our waiter was Mark from St. Vincent and assistant was Sandor from Hungary. They both were very accommodating and Mark made fabulous recommendations for dinner and desserts choices.
For breakfast there were several options, on Deck 9 was a buffet in the Beach Blanket Buffet. Parrot Cay served a buffet style breakfast as well on Deck 3 and Tritons on Deck 3 of offered a sit-down breakfast including a menu choice of Eggs Benedict, my favorite! We managed to try one of the options on each day. On the last day of the cruise, there was a choice of continental breakfast at the Beach Blanket Buffet or sit-down menu breakfast in the dining room that you ate on the previous evening. If you choose the dining room, then is necessary to go at a scheduled time: 6:45 am for main seating and 8:00 am for late seating.
The lunch options were plentiful too. For casual dining, there was the Beach Blanket Buffet (some days with an ethnic theme), Pinocchio's Pizzeria, Pluto's Dog House (hot dogs and hamburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, bratwurst, and veggie burgers), and at Scoops you could get wrap style sandwiches in addition to ice cream. Our son had a hamburger from Pluto's one day that had to be the nicest hamburger that I have ever seen on a ship. Tritons offered a sit down lunch but we did not make it there and enjoyed the casual lunches on Deck 9. I was impressed with the kid's only line at the Beach Blanket Buffet. They had all the items that our son enjoys (how did they know ;-), macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, corn, jello cubes, and the trays were especially designed for the kiddos with individual wells to eliminate cross-contamination of the food items on their plate! At night, the kids buffet was set-up for the Oceaneer's Club and Oceaneer's Lab to bring the kids up to eat. Our son did this one of the nights and seemed to really get a kick out of eating with the kids and without mom and dad.
Fun Ship Activities: Jacqui was our cruise director. She was very friendly and personable. She always made it a point to say "hello" when we saw her out and about on the ship.
There are three passenger pools on the Wonder. Well, actually there is a fourth according to Travel Channel Secrets, but it is for the crew! The Mickey Mouse pool, for the kids, is very thoughtfully designed. Mickey's ears are wading pools with just six inches or so of water and then the rest of his face is about 1-1/2 feet deep. Our son loved this pool! He started out in the ears but then got the courage to climb down into the deeper part. It seemed to give him confidence in the water, because then he wanted to try the Goofy pool which is about 4-5 feet deep. I took him in the Goofy pool and held him above water, but he seemed to be less clingy then I have previously experienced with him in the pool and I think it was from spending the time alone in the Mickey pool. The slide at the Mickey pool looked like fun (my husband wanted to do this, but only kids under a certain height are allowed), but our son wasn't feeling brave enough to give that a try. There is also Quiet Cove for guests 18 and older, but I didn't spend any time there. Towels were available on deck in lovely wooden cabinets. I couldn't find them at first since I was looking for a plastic bin of some sort.
The fitness center was located in the spa on the forward section of deck 9. It was somewhat small, but adequate with a variety of machines and free weights, treadmills, steppers, and bikes. There were television sets with headsets available to listen too. From the treadmills you could see down into the ship's bridge, which was a neat perspective.
We enjoyed the variety of live music offered in the Route 66, adult only section of the ship. Our favorite was the dueling pianos in Barrel of Laughs. Larry and Greg were very entertaining and played music requested by the audience. The Cadillac Lounge was lower key with easy listening piano music. And for those wishing to dance and listen to livelier music, Wavebands was the place to be. This was also the location for the 70's and 80's parties held on two different evenings during the cruise. And during our sailing, there was a magician/comedian onboard who performed in the Walt Disney Theatre for each dinner seating and then later that night offered an adult only show in Wavebands.
Another spot we enjoyed in the evening was the ESPN Skybox. We got to watch some of the NCAA men's basketball tourney championship game on the big screen TV in the stadium seating. I really thought the dEcor there was quite clever. I was very disappointed to read that on the Magic it will be turned into a teen lounge during the fall 2003 dry dock!
We did not see the Hercules show, but we did go to see Disney Dreams. It was as good as I had read! I wasn't sure if our son would enjoy it or not. But he really did seem to like it. Although, 45 minutes was about his limit to sit still - so the last 15 minutes he started squirming around. But I thought it was a wonderful show and truly different from anything that you will see on any other cruise line.
Our son loved participating in activities at the Oceaneer's Club. He also enjoyed the activities that the kids program offered at Castaway Cay's Scuttle's Cove. Our son didn't even want to leave Scuttle's cove to come down to the water; he was having so much fun with the kids and counselors. The children's staff was wonderful; everyone I encountered seemed to really enjoy working with the kids. A couple activities that our son really enjoyed were "Do-Si-Do with Snow White" and "Swingin' with Tarzan" where they "trashed the camp" and played a memory game with the movie characters. The equipment in the Oceaneer's Club and Lab was very impressive too. Recently our son was playing a board game that he said he first played on the "big boat" and then he clarified the Disney World big boat. Since he had been on another cruise line too, I asked him which "big boat" he liked better and he said that he liked the Disney World big boat better. When I asked him why, he said "because there's Mickey Mouse" (but of course). Even though other lines have good kids programs too, I think his response says it all. He would enjoy many of the kid's programs on various lines, but at his age, the fact that the characters were on the ship made it magical!
Ports of Call:
Nassau: We decided to stay onboard at Nassau since we have visited this port before and figured that we might want a break after running around at the theme parks leading up to the cruise. We talked to people who went to Atlantis and really enjoyed that. We could see it from the ship and it looked like a very impressive resort. We had a relaxing day on the ship. It was a good opportunity to enjoy the pools while they weren't too crowded.
Freeport: We chose to go to the beach at Our Lucaya resort area. DCL offers an excursion, but we did it on our own. This provided us with more flexibility on timing. Cabs were readily available when we got off the ship. It was $5 per person each way to the Port Lucaya area. There are some shops at this location, although we were told by our cab driver that there is better shopping and deals to be had in Nassau. We walked across the street to the beach area. Our son enjoyed playing in the sand and the water for a couple hours and then we returned to the ship. It was very nice white sand and the water was beautiful. There were locals asking to braid hair and selling various items, but they weren't too pushy as a polite 'no' was enough for them to continue walking by. Getting a cab back to the ship was a little trickier. The cabs are vans and they wait until they have a full load before they will head back. Fortunately we only had to wait about 5 or 10 minutes.
Castaway Cay: In one word - Wonderful!! It was so obvious that Disney put a significant amount of planning and thought into this. The Scuttle's Cove kid's area was huge. The family beach was close by to Scuttle's Cove. We walked a little way down and had no problem getting beach chairs. We took a walk along the beach and at one point were called to by the lifeguard to let us know we weren't allowed to go any further down the beach because it was the teen beach. I thought that was great that they had their own area. We turned to walk inland and stumbled across the game area which was a pavilion with billiards tables, shuffle board, foosball and some other activities. We played a game of billiards and then made our way back to our beach chairs. We tried the infamous Konk Kooler. It was great! After we got home, I used one of the recipes I found posted and made them and they turned out just as good (well, almost - it's just not quite them same as drinking them with the Caribbean breeze blowing through your hair!) We did not make it to Serenity Bay (the adult only area) but there is always next time ;-) !
Return: We booked a USAirways flight direct from Orlando to Pittsburgh scheduled to depart at 12:20 pm. On other cruise lines, it would not be recommended to book a flight departing this early, but from what I read we wouldn't have a problem getting to the airport on time. We scheduled the Cartier Towncar to arrive at 8:30 am. By 8:00 we were off the ship and the towncar arrived at 8:15 am. The debarkation process was truly amazing. My husband commented that, that alone was worth paying extra to sail on Disney! Just as we had read, after eating breakfast, we just walked off the ship. No sitting around in a lounge waiting for an announcement to leave. No mad rush or being herded to get off the ship. We really did walk right off. The bags were organized and clearly labeled by cabin location. We got our bags, walked through customs and then to the waiting area for the towncars.
Upon arrival at the Orlando Airport, the line to check-in and for security was not bad at all. We were at our concourse by 9:30 am. So we ended up having quite a wait for the plane (longer still with a preschooler!), especially after the plane got delayed for an hour. Our aircraft was delayed getting to Orlando after the escape slide was inadvertently deployed at the previous airport. Apparently it takes just about an hour to repack that slide. As a result we arrived home a little later than we hoped, but still reasonably early considering how much later you need to book flights when returning on other cruise lines!
Overall: We had a fabulous vacation! For our son's age, the combination of the parks and cruise was perfect. I think a whole week at the parks would have been too much for him, but I hope to do that in a couple of years. In the meantime, we enjoyed the cruise so much and felt like 4 days wasn't quite enough. I was just starting to figure out where everything was on the ship when it was time to pack our bags to leave! So, we took advantage of the $200 onboard credit to rebook while we were sailing and we will be sailing the Western Caribbean on the Magic next January. I hope there is some helpful information for any of you planning to go soon! Read Less