Archive for the ‘Vacation’ Category

New Year’s Eve on a Disney Cruise

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

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This year, we found a fun way to spend New Year’s Eve that was just the right speed for us, although it will be cost prohibitive to do it again any time too soon.  This year, we took the New Year’s week cruise on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship!

My family enjoys doing something for New Year’s Eve, but we aren’t particularly crazy about dealing with huge crowds and complicated logistics.  While we have spent many quiet New Year’s Eves at home, we have also occasionally tried something a bit more grand, including a party at some friends’ house for 1999/2000 and a couple visits to Legoland California in recent years.  My wife and I spent New Year’s Eve at Disneyland together one time, although it was actually a few weeks before we officially went on our first date.  New Year’s Eve at Disneyland was a fun experience, but not one that we have wanted to repeat.

The cruise was a New Year’s Eve experience that was full of excitement and fun, but with crowd sizes kept very manageable by the ship’s capacity and logistics that made for a relaxing and never-too-complicated day.  Sure, there were a lot of logistics (and cost) involved in planning out the cruise and getting there, but the vast majority of stress and complication melts away once on board the ship.

Picture During the daytime, New Year’s Eve was a port day on the island of St. Maartin.  We were able to sleep in a bit and have a leisurely breakfast at Cabana’s, the ship’s buffet restaurant.  We then spent the rest of the morning just relaxing and enjoying some of the ship’s amenities with a quick lunch at one of the fast food stands on deck.  In the early afternoon, we went on a pre-arranged shore excursion to Orient Bay Beach, one of the island’s largest and best known beaches.  Yes, we spent New Year’s Eve afternoon at the beach!

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Disney Dream, August 2011: Nassau (Part 1: Introduction, Breakfast, DVC Reception, Mini-golf)

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Nassau
View of Nassau from our stateroom

On the first full day of the cruise, the ship was docked at Nassau, the Bahamas’ capital city.  Our only previous visit to Nassau was during our previous cruise on the Disney Wonder.  On that cruise, we took a shore excursion over to the Atlantis Resort, a popular luxury hotel and casino, which also features an aquarium.  It was fun, but a very touristy spot with little-to-no local color.

This time, we wanted to see a bit more of the city and perhaps get a little more of a taste of the local culture.  When reviewing the offered shore excursions, it was quickly obvious to me that a good choice for us was the one that featured a visit to Ardastra Gardens, which is a local zoo, followed by a bus tour of the city.  This was particularly appealing as the featured attraction at Ardastra Gardens is the "world-famous marching pink flamingos".  Pink flamingos are my wife’s favorite animal, so this sounded like something she would particularly appreciate.

The excursion left the ship at 12:30pm and lasted for about 2 hours, which left us with plenty of time on-board the ship in the morning and the late afternoon and evening.  We wanted to have plenty of time to explore the ship and enjoy its features, so this was about the right length for the excursion.

Breakfast at Cabanas

Cabanas
Cabanas food stations

For breakfast, we decided to try out Cabanas, the buffet restaurant on deck 11.  Cabanas is pretty different from the equivalent restaurants on the Magic and Wonder.  It has a much larger indoor seating area and has also been changed from a traditional cafeteria-style buffet into more of a food court format with stations for different kinds of food.  Another interesting change is that Cabanas is a table-service location during the dinner hour, offering a more casual alternative to the main dining rooms while still serving the same 4-course meals.

At the entrance to the restaurant, greeters were stationed to guide guests to a table and give a brief overview of the available food.  I definitely prefer this approach over being left to find a table on our own. We were taken to a table next to a window and had a really great view during our meal. 

The breakfast offerings were pretty typical for a buffet.  They had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, Mickey-shaped waffles, pancakes, and a variety of fruit, cereal, and pastries.  Drink stations on either end of the restaurant offered juices, coffee, and soda.  I only like eggs that are very well-done and the eggs they had were way too runny for my taste.  Because of this, I mainly stuck with waffles and fruit. I don’t know if they would have prepared some better-cooked eggs for me if I had asked, but they didn’t have a cooked-to-order egg station.

Seagulls at Cabanas
The seagulls from Finding Nemo were perched on a ledge near our table.

The food was pretty decent for this type of buffet and the decor of the restaurant, which is largely inspired by Finding Nemo, is pretty nice.  We actually ended up having our breakfast at Cabanas three of our four mornings on-board the ship.

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Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 5: Shopping, “The Golden Mickeys” and The District)

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Shopping

Inaugural Voyages Logo
Dream Inaugural Voyages Logo

After dinner, we had a little time before the evening’s theater presentation and we decided to explore the shops on deck 3, located near the Walt Disney Theater.  There are actually three shops in that area.  Mickey’s Mainsail is the main source for typical Disney souvenirs, including t-shirts, hats, plush, etc.  The selection includes a lot of merchandise with the Disney Dream logo as well as some more generic Disney Cruise Line items.  At least on our cruise, much of the Disney Dream specific merchandise still was identified as being for the inaugural voyages.  We bought t-shirts and hats here and I was also able to get a model of the Disney Dream to match one that I bought on our earlier cruise on the Magic (the one sold on the Wonder was identical to the one on the Magic). 

Disney Dream Souvenir Model
Disney Dream Souvenir Model

Across the way from Mickey’s Mainsail is Sea Treasures.  This store features some more upscale clothing as well as some higher-end merchandise like watches and jewelry.  This store also has a fairly large toy section.  Most of the toys are not cruise-specific, although they do have some Disney Cruise Line plush here.  My son found and purchased (with some of his saved up allowance) a plush cruise ship containing plush figures of Mickey and friends dressed in nautical outfits.  It is very cute, although he was a bit disappointed to discover that the characters are sewn in.

Disney Dream Hat
Disney Dream Hat

The third store in the area is Whitecaps, which is primarily a duty-free liquor store, although they do also stock a number of sundries, such as common over-the-counter medications, sunscreen and other similar essentials. 

All of the shops on the Dream are only opened while the ship is at sea, which allows them to sell all merchandise duty-free (tax-free).  Guests do have to declare all purchases at the end of the cruise and will be charged taxes if you exceed the $800/person duty-free limit.

"The Golden Mickeys"

Note: I didn’t get any photos in the theater or The District, which is why there aren’t any more pictures in this post.

Disney’s ships employ a full theatrical troupe that perform in elaborate productions in the Walt Disney Theater.  While this is not unique to Disney’s cruise line, the shows benefit quite a bit from Disney’s experience with live productions, including those for Broadway and the theme parks.  The result is a pretty consistently high quality to the shows presented on the Disney ships.  The shows also benefit greatly from Disney’s extensive library of stories, characters and songs, which provides strong source material for the shows to use.

On both of our previous cruises, the first night featured a "Welcome Aboard" variety show instead of a full-blown theatrical production.  On those previous cruises, we skipped that opening night show in favor of more general exploration of the ship’s features.  The schedule was different on the Dream, though.  The first night featured one of the major productions, "The Golden Mickeys", which we didn’t want to miss. 

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Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 4: Kids’ Clubs and Dinner)

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Kids’ Club Registration and Open House

Oceaneer's Lab
Oceaneer’s Lab

Registration and an open house was held at the kids’ clubs (Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab) until 6pm on embarkation day. The time between the sail away and our 6pm dinner seemed like a perfect time for it. Our decision not to wait in the long line for kids’ club registration in the terminal was quickly validated as there was no line at all for registration at this time.

We had already filled out the registration form online, so the actual registration really only involved the issuing of the wrist band. Each registered child is issued a wrist band with his/her name on it and a small electronic chip that is scanned to confirm identity upon arrival or departure from the club. The wristband must be returned before midnight on the last night of the cruise or a charge is issued to the stateroom account to cover the cost of the electronic device.

The wristband is the kind that can only be removed by cutting it off, so the child does have to wear it through the entire cruise. They mentioned that it could easily be replaced if it did become necessary to remove it, such as if the child had trouble sleeping with it on. It is waterproof so it is no problem to keep it on while swimming or showering. We were a little worried that our son would be bothered about having to wear it the whole time, but it wasn’t an issue at all.

Oceaneer's Club Interactive Play Floor
Interactive Play Floor

The kids’ clubs are drop-off, allowing kids and parents to have some independence. The entry/exit is strictly controlled and a lot of effort is made to ensure kids only leave with authorized adults. At registration, parents provide a list of authorized adults as well as a password. When picking up a kid, the attendants scan the Key to the World card to confirm identity and also ask for the password.

When their child is in the club, parents are asked to carry a Wave Phone for emergency contact. They will also send a text message if the child asks to be picked up. If the parents will be somewhere like Palo or one of the shows, they can request that the attendants contact only in an emergency.

Although they will allow parents to accompany their children into the club, it is generally discouraged outside of a few designated family play times. The embarkation day open house was one of those times. After registration, my wife and I went in with our son to do some exploration.. It was comforting to have the opportunity to get a feel for the facility before we would later leave our son there while we went off to do other things.

Monster's Inc. themed play area
Monsters Inc. themed play area

The kids’ club is split into two different facilities, although both are connected and the kids are able to move freely between them. The Oceaneer’s Club is largely play-based, with several character-themed activity areas. The Oceaneer’s Lab is more activity-based, with a focus on high-interactivity. While both areas are officially targeted at ages 3-10, the Oceaneer’s Club tends to focus more on the younger end of that range while the Oceaneer’s Lab has a bit more to offer for older kids.

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Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 3: Swimming/AquaDuck, Safety Drill, & Sail-away)

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Swimming and AquaDuck

AquaDuck at nightNight-time view of the AquaDuck.  Somehow, I never took any daylight photos.

One useful tip that I picked up while researching for the trip was to pack swim clothes in a carry-on as the pools tend to be pretty uncrowded during embarkation afternoon. Checked luggage can arrive any time up to around 6pm (our bags arrived one at a time over several hours), so having swimming items in carry-ons is a necessity to take advantage of those relatively sparse crowds.

The Dream has three swimming pools: the Mickey pool for smaller children, the Donald pool for families and the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool. None of the pools are particularly deep, with the Mickey pool maxing out at 2 feet, the Donald pool at 4 feet and the Quiet Cove pool at 4 feet. Unusual for a cruise ship, the pools on the Dream (like the pools on the other Disney ships) use chlorinated fresh water instead of sea water.

One of the most talked about new features of the Dream is the AquaDuck, a 765-foot tube-style water slide that starts on deck 12 and twists and turns around the upper decks of the ship, including a section that extends over the side of the ship. Guests ride on oversized inflatable rafts which each hold one or two people. It is billed by Disney as a “water coaster” and does have a roller-coaster like feel.

Close-up of AquaDuck tube
Night-time close up of one of the tubes. The ride was closed when these were taken.

I was excited to ride the AquaDuck, but my son, who is not yet a strong swimmer, wasn’t feeling ready for it. My wife also wanted me to try it first so I could describe it to her in order to help her guess whether or not it would aggravate her back condition. Therefore, I left them in the Mickey pool and headed over to queue for the ride.

The wait time was posted as about 30 minutes, which was pretty much the shortest posted wait that I saw during our cruise. I found that estimate to be pretty much exactly right. A large part of the queue is outdoors and mostly un-shaded, so make sure to wear sunscreen. I’d also strongly recommend getting some water shoes of some sort. I didn’t think to do that and found that the surface was uncomfortably hot on my bare feet during parts of the queue.

The last 10 minutes or so of the wait is an indoor area leading up to the loading platform. This indoor area has some cute cartoons on the wall featuring Donald Duck, Hewey, Dewey & Louie, and Uncle Scrooge. These provide a lightweight story that gives the ride a bit of theming. The layout of the cartoons was a bit strange, though, in that I found myself essentially following the story backwards.

The rafts are brought up from the ride exit to the loading area using a mechanical conveyer system. A ride operator transfers the rafts from that conveyer to the slide entry way and then helps the passengers get on board. The entry way to the slide also uses a conveyer belt, activated manually by the ride operator, to launch the raft into the slide itself.

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