John Ciarcia Jr -- August 2001 -- Disney Cruise Trip
The whole cruise came up, when out of the blue my father-in-law called us in January and asked if we would be interested in taking a Disney cruise. I spent the next several months researching and planning the trip.
We had originally booked the whole trip as a Disney Cruise Line package. After doing my research and getting a tremendous amount of advice from people on the internet I booked the trip independently and saved over $3000 (also got $50 credit per cabin). We booked two adjoining cabins (#6112 & #6114) on the 6th deck with verandas. We flew down three days early, so that we could extend our vacation, and stayed at the Cocoa Beach Hampton Inn. We flew home on a late afternoon flight so that we wouldn't be in any rush to get back to the airport.
Our cast of characters:
August 21, 2001 (Tuesday)
We were flying out of Logan Airport in Boston, Ma. Since we live in New Hampshire my parents kindly offered to drive us into the airport and pick us up (they live about 20 minutes from the airport). To make things more convenient and to extend our vacation we were flying down 3 days early and had a late flight coming home. Nancy worked until Noon on Tuesday, so we drove to my parents house late Tuesday afternoon. We ate dinner and then had a small birthday for my children. We went to bed since we had to get up at 5am for an early flight.
August 22, 2001 (Wednesday)
We got to the airport in plenty of time and met up with my in-laws who were driven in by their son. We landed on time and rented a minivan from Avis. The Avis rentals are more expensive but they had a convenient shuttle from their office in Cape Canaveral to the Cruise Docks. We arrived in Cocoa Beach in the early afternoon and had lunch at Shoney's. We then checked into the Hampton Inn (right next door to Shoney's). We liked this hotel a lot (we got a $69 a night AAA rate). There is a large pool. Every room had a coffee maker, a microwave and a refrigerator. Our room overlooked the pool. The hotel had free internet in the lobby and included a great continental breakfast each morning. There is a path (about 200 yards long) that runs from the back of the hotel directly to the beach. We unpacked and took a swim in the ocean. It was warm with big waves and no undertow. We then rinsed off and took a swim in an extremely warm pool. Since everyone was still full from lunch we called it a night
August 23, 2001 (Thursday)
We got up at 6am to see the sunrise over the ocean and then ate at the hotel breakfast. We then headed up to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. We saw numerous birds, turtles and a movie about the Wildlife Refuge. We then went to the Manatee overlook and were lucky to see about 8 manatees right below us. We headed back to the hotel, stopping at Kelsey's Pizza for lunch. We took our daily swim in the ocean and then the pool. We picked up some soda and food for the rest of our hotel stay and for on the ship, then we went to bed.
August 24, 2001 (Friday)
This was one of the highlights of the trip. We started out the day watching the sunrise again followed by our hotel breakfast. We went down to the ocean to swim. We were in the water up to my shoulders and the kids were screaming and floating over the large waves for about an hour. Suddenly a giant fish jumped out of the water about 50 feet from us. Being paranoid about all the shark sightings I yelled at the kids to get out of the water. Something pushed against my daughter's leg and then about 20 feet away a dolphin jumped out of the water. We saw it jump out of the water one more time before it disappeared for good. The only thing we could figure was that the kids screaming had attracted it. We stayed at the ocean quite a while after that hoping to catch one more glimpse of it but it didn't happen. After our ocean adventure we took our daily swim in the pool and then went in search of lunch/dinner. We returned and did most of our packing for our Saturday's Cruise.
August 25, 2001 (Saturday)
We woke up early once again and headed down to the breakfast. After breakfast we finished packing and loaded the van. We left the hotel at 9am and dropped off my In-laws with all the luggage at the cruise terminal. Once the luggage was taken by the porters we headed over to the Avis rental office (located in the Radisson Inn). The Avis shuttle dropped us back at the terminal by 10am. We were one of the very few families in the terminal. We could have been the first family to board but decided instead to just wander around for a while. The crowds started to come in by 10:30am. We were the first in line to get our cards and the third in line to board the ship. By the time they allowed us to board the line went completely around the inside of the terminal. They took our boarding picture but didn't announce our family. Our first stop was to eat at the buffet in Topsiders. The pools were practically empty so the kids took numerous rides down the Mickey Slide and then swam for a while in the Goofy pool. I had read that the pools are the least crowded on debarkation day and the days that the ship was docked at an island. The most crowded time during days at sea were from 11am-2pm. Nancy and I went up to make reservations at Palos for her and her parents. We forgot all about the Wendy's Tea Party and the Palo High Tea. When we tried booking them the next day they were both filled so we got put on a waiting list. It was time for the Life Boat drill. The drill lasted from about 4-4:15pm and then we went to the "Sail Away Party" until 5pm. It was now time to get ready for our first dinner. We were on the Parrot Cay, Lumiere's, Animator Palate rotation. We had a great table for our dinners (table #8). It had a window and was away from the crowds of people. The unique way that Disney does there dinners is that you eat in a different restaurant each night. As you move from one restaurant to another you waiter and assistant waiter move with you and you are always at the same table number. Our server was Girish (from India) and our assistant server was Istvan (from Hungary). The Parrot Cay restaurant was a very colorful place with an island feel. After dinner we went to the welcome aboard variety show, which we all enjoyed. This is held in the largest theater onboard, the Walt Disney Theater. We had two adjoining rooms on the 6th floor with a veranda. The kids and my in-laws went to bed at 10pm. We left the adjoining door open and Nancy and I walked around the ship for a couple of hours. We sat on the veranda for a while and then went to bed around 1am.
August 26, 2001 (Sunday)
The kids woke me at 7am (which they did almost everyday on vacation). They were hungry so I took them to Topsiders while my wife slept until 9am. Nancy had a quick breakfast and then went to the "Disney Art of Entertainment Series" with her mother. Today's workshop was on some kind of fancy appetizer. My son tried out the Oceaneers club for his first and only time. One mistake I made was not taking the kids to the kids club on the first night. I think they felt out of place by missing the "early get acquaintance parties". While the others were busy my father-in-law, daughter and I went swimming. We all met for lunch at noon, (Italian food was the theme today). We then all hung around the pool until 2pm. At this time my wife and daughter went to another "Disney Art of Entertainment Series" workshop. This workshop taught them the fine skill of napkin folding. Tonight was our first formal night and the Captains Reception, so we headed to our cabins to get ready. Dinner tonight was at Lumiere's, which is a fancy French style restaurant. In the lobby we posed for several formal pictures, two of which we bought at the end of the trip. We then proceeded into the dining room dressed in our formalwear. After dinner we were invited to the Atrium for the Captain's Cocktail Reception. This was the only time during the cruise that we were given free drinks (cocktails). When this was over we rushed back to our cabins to change into comfortable clothes and then headed to the 8:30pm stage show "Hercules". We had mixed reviews about the show. It was entertaining but not the type of show you'd rush to see a second time. At 10:30 everyone went to bed except Nancy and I. We filled a couple of bags with popcorn, got a couple cups of coffee (at the 24 hour beverage station) and went to the 11pm movie "Castaway" (with Tom Hanks) at the Buena Vista Movie Theater. The movie got over at 1:30am, then we went to bed.
August 27, 2001 (Monday)
We slept late this morning. We woke at 8am and went to Topsiders for breakfast. My wife and Mother-in-law went to another "Disney Art of Entertainment Series" workshop. This one was called "Dazzling Desserts". My daughter made her only appearance in the Oceaneers club.
My Father-in-law, son and I just relaxed on the padded lounge chairs on deck 4. We all met at the Topsiders lunch buffet (Asian Food was the theme). After lunch my father-in-law and I went to the "Disney Navigator Series". Today's subject was the "Making of the Magic and Charting Course". Both the "Disney Art of Entertainment Series" workshops and the "Disney Navigator Series" were very good all week. While we were at the Navigator series everyone else was at a character show called "Island Magic". They all thought the show was a lot of fun. We all met outside of Lumiere's, which was hosting "Wendy's Tea Party". They had some open seats so they let us in. Once we were done learning the proper way to drink tea we all headed to our cabins to just relax for an hour before dinner. Tonight's dinner was at Animator's Palate. This is an 8.5 million dollar restaurant that starts out with everything black and white (including the server's outfits). As the dinner progresses the room changes into colors. There are no windows but the walls are covered with hundreds of sketches and pictures of Disney Characters. When dinner was over my father-in-law went to the cabin and the rest of us went to see "C'est Magique". Like Hercules, this show was entertaining but not great. After the show everyone went to bed except Nancy and I. We went out to the nightclubs for the first time. We saw several entertainers and then went to the top deck to eat pizza and watch the ship as it passed by the island of St. Thomas. We went to our veranda and then called it a night at midnight.
August 28, 2001 (Tuesday)
We got up at 6am to watch the ship dock at St. Maarten. It was now time for our daily breakfast buffet at Topsiders. Because of the broad age ranges in our group we decided against any organized beach excursions. There is a very convenient boat shuttle near where the ship is docked. You pay $5 a person (over 12 years old) and are given a wristband. This allows you to shuttle back and forth across the bay. There is a nice beach and tons of shops. We took the shuttle across and spent the morning swimming at the "Great Bay Beach". At 11am we took the shuttle back to the ship and showered. At Noon we went up to lunch (Mexican was the theme) at Topsiders. At 1:30pm we took the shuttle back into town and got a few souvenirs. By 4:30pm we were back in our cabin on the ship. We rested for a while and then prepared for our dinner. Tonight was Tropicalifragilisticexpialidocious night, which meant that we dressed in our tropical attire. Our meal was appropriately held in Parrot's Cay. This was a lively meal with the waiters, some characters and a lot of the guests (including my daughter) doing the congo line and the limbo. After dinner we changed our clothes and then split up. My wife, daughter and Mother-in-law went to the theater to watch the movie "Princess Diaries". My father-in-law rested and my son and I took a walked on the Pier (The ship wasn't leaving until 11pm), played shuffleboard and walked around the ship. At 11pm everyone fell asleep so Nancy and I went up on deck for the sail away Tropicalifragilisticexpialidocious Party on the top deck. We listened to the music play as we watched the ship sail away from our first port. The Party ended after midnight and then we spent some time sitting on our veranda.
August 29, 2001 (Wednesday)
We got up early as we docked at St. Thomas. We all ate our buffet breakfast at Topsiders. My In-laws went on the Atlantis Submarine ride with the Disney excursion group. They met in the Promenade Lounge and then as a group they boarded a boat that took them across the bay to the submarine. They were given an hour lecture and then took a 50-minute submarine ride. They said that it was nice but nothing they'd do again. While they were gone we went to the stores within walking distance of the ship. We met up with my In-laws at lunch at noon (American Food was the theme). This was one of a more relaxed and enjoyable afternoons on the ship. Because a large majority of passengers were onshore there weren't any crowds anywhere. We stayed up on the top deck for most of the afternoon swimming, laying in the hot tubs, eating and playing ping-pong. The adults also took turns trying out the facilities at the adult pool area. At 4:45pm we had a couple of marguerites as we watched the ship leave St. Thomas. We were pulling away from the dock when the ship went back. The next day we learned that the ship had returned for two people that didn't return to the ship on time. The Captain stated that this was not common policy "the Captain was just in a good mood that day". He said that if they were any further out they wouldn't have gone back. Tonight our dinner was at Lumiere's. My wife and In-laws would also have a second dinner at the Palo's restaurant. We went to our nightly first seating at 6pm. After our scheduled dinner my wife and her parents went to their 7:30pm reservations at Palo's. While they were eating the kids and I went to a Ventriloquist/Magic/Comedy Show and then to the popular "Who wants to be a Musketeer Show". As the name implies this is Disney's version of the "Who wants to be a Millionaire Show" with all Disney related questions. The winner of the game gets a free cruise for two. The contestants are chosen by computer and we were the row behind one of the people chosen. We looked through the Onboard Shops and then went to bed.
August 30, 2001 (Thursday)
This morning we were scheduled to have our character breakfast. At one of the dinners you are suppose to be given tickets and notified about when your character breakfast is being held. For some reason this never happened. We happened to be leaving dinner on Wednesday night when one of our waiters said he'd see us the next morning. Since we hadn't attended any of the sit-down breakfast this didn't make sense to me. When I asked him what he meant he told me all about the character breakfast. The breakfast was fun but could be greatly improved. The food is adequate and there were at least 7 or 8 characters walking around but they took forever to come around. In the 1.5 hours we were there, only 2 of the characters made it to our table. An easy solution to this problem would be to have more seatings with smaller crowds. After breakfast my Father-in-law and I went to the "Navigator Series". Today's topic was the Captain's Q & A session. This turned out to be very interesting, I wish it could have been longer. A couple of interesting things that came out were 1) How Disney handles people left behind and 2) the fact that Disney is designing another ship that will have a European run (they are already scouting out European ports). When this was over my In-laws went to Bingo while the rest of us picked up our tickets to the "Galley Tour" and then went to the "Disney Behind the Scenes Presentation" called "What's in the Pipeline". This Presentation talked about what was new and what was in the works for Disney Parks Foreign and Domestic. There was a big character assembly in the Atrium so we stopped by there and then went to the 2:30pm Matinee showing of "Disney Dreams". This was by far our favorite show on the ship. We liked it so much that we went to a second showing at night. It was now time for our "Galley Tour". This was a tour through the kitchens of two of the Disney sit down restaurants, Lumiere's and Parrot Cay. It was fascinating to see how Disney dealt with such a large number of people eating at one time and also how they dealt with special meal requests. (Humorous side note: we were told that the number one complaint with the food on the ship was that the scrambled eggs were so inferior at Topsiders and much better at Lumiere's sit-down breakfast. The scrambled eggs at both places are made at the same place at the same time). When this was over my In-laws went on the Bridge Tour and we kept busy around the ship. Tonight was our second dress night and also lobster tail night. At 6pm we went to dinner at "Animator's Palate" (they only have the show the first time you eat here). This was by far the best meal we had (I had 4 lobster tails). After dinner we went to see Dan Riley who did comedy/music/parodies. When this ended my In-laws went to the cabin and the rest of us went to see "Disney Dreams" a second time. Since we sat much closer this time the show was actually more enjoyable. We then put the kids to bed and took a long walk around the ship enjoying some entertainment and munchies as we walked.
August 31, 2001 (Friday)
Once again we woke at 6am. We were 2 hours away from Castaway Cay (Disney's Island). We ate breakfast outdoors so that we could watch the approach of the island. As we finished breakfast we watched the ship dock and watched the unloading of everything that would be used on the island that day. We were told that we wouldn't get of the ship until 9:30am but I noticed they started letting people off by 9:05am. We got to the beach by 9:30am and there were plenty of chairs. This is one beautiful island. You could see the Disney touches everywhere from the landscaping to the character appearances. Even though the sun was intense, we ended up spending the whole day on the island. We swam, we snorkeled and we floated on a raft rental. My son also climbed the tower in the water and dropped into the ocean numerous times. At 11:30am we ate at "cookies", the Disney barbecue. The barbecue was very good and had a decent variety of food. Disney had ice water and punch dispenses all over the picnic area if you needed a drink. At 3:30pm we took the tram to "Serenity Bay" (adult only beach). Since the kids were with us we just stayed on the tram for the trip back. At 4pm we went back on the ship, took showers and began to pack. We had to have our bags packed and in the hallway between 9-11pm, so my In-laws took the kids to the arcade while we packed. We went to our last dinner of the trip tonight at Parrot's Cay. Since it was "It's a Small World" theme tonight all the serving staff paraded around the floor carrying their nations flags (Disney has over 40 nationalities employed on the Magic). We handed out the tips and then left the restaurant. We went to the last stage show tonight, which was a "Farewell Variety Show". This was an excellent show. They had a lot of the entertainers, that we had been watching all week, do short routines from their acts. They also ran video taken during the week, on a couple of large screens. We went back to the cabin and finished packing from 9:30-10:30pm. Since the onboard stores were open until midnight on the last night, Nancy and I picked up some photos and last minute souvenirs. We then walked around the ship for the last time and went to bed by 1:30am.
September 1, 2001 (Saturday)
Exhausted, we crawled out of bed at 5:45am. We finished packing our carryon bags and then at 6:45am we went to our 2nd sit down breakfast (our only other one was the character breakfast). We waited in the Promenade Lounge until 8:30am to depart the ship. Using a porter we went right through customs and checked our bags at the onsite Delta Terminal. We waited about 15 minutes for the Avis shuttle that took us back to the Radisson Hotel for our one-day minivan rental. Since we had 4 hours to kill and we had seen everything we wanted at Cocoa Beach, we headed to Disney World. The only resort that we had never toured was the new "Animal Kingdom Resort". We also wanted to take a ride on the monorail. So from 9:30 until 1:30 we drove to Disney World and first explored the Animal Kingdom Resort. This is a beautiful resort with live animals walking around out back. Last time we had visited the Polynesian Resort it had a lot of construction going on. We wanted to see how the finished product looked. The Polynesian resort has always been our favorite Disney resort and the improvements only made it look nicer. We then got on the monorail and took a ride around the 7-seas loop and then switched rails to go around Epcot. We took the monorail back to the Ticket stop and walked back to our minivan at the Poly. Time was running out so we grabbed a bite to eat at McDonalds, filled up on gas and headed to the airport. We got there at 2:30pm for our 3:30pm flight. The fight left 15 minutes late but still ended up arriving 15 minutes early at Logan airport.
We had a wonderful trip. The ship was beautifully decorated and extremely clean. With bad weather predicted on the week before our cruise and the week after we were fearing the worst. The weather was perfect and the cruise was one of their smoothest in a long time, so we lucked out. We really enjoyed the shows as a whole, even though some were only fair (Hercules/C'est Magique) and some were great (Variety Show/Disney Dreams). For our age groups we found that there was always plenty to do. The characters were everywhere and plentiful, even though there were waiting lines if you wanted to meet them. The food (both buffets and sit downs) were very good to excellent. Other than Castaway Cay (which was fantastic) we would have had a better time staying on the ship than going to the Islands. There were no crowds on the ship during the island days and we had all the facilities to ourselves. We had a couple of small glitches but on the whole the service and employees were very good. We only used the kids clubs a couple of times but they looked very good from what we could see. We originally booked the whole trip as a package. When I cancelled the package and booked everything separately I saved over $3000.
John Ciarcia Jr