Susan Salas -- October 2001 -- Walt Disney World (PORFQ) / Disney Cruise Trip
October 13-21, 2001
Cast of Characters:
As a forward to this report, I want to say that, due to the terrible events on September 11th, Christian and I were thinking of canceling our trip. We decided, though, that that's just what the perpetrators of this attack would want us to do, and we don't want to live in fear. Also, tourism will suffer greatly and with it jobs, so we wanted to give our business to the airlines and to Disney, two groups that could see great economic hardships in the near future. It's still very hard not to feel selfish, though. We'd like to hear from anyone else planning a trip to see what their general feelings about this are and how they're coping.
Neither Christian nor I have ever been to Walt Disney World, but have both visited Disneyland many times, the most notable trip having been in November of 1999 to attend our friends' wedding on Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, our intrepid fellow Disney fiends conceived of a way to get married on their favorite ride in the whole world. Well, favorite after the Haunted Mansion, but it'd be hard to get 18 people on one Doom Buggy. Anyway, this venture will actually be our belated honeymoon. We were married on July 28th of this year, but due to a trip to the World Track and Field Championships we planned long before we were even engaged and took immediately after the wedding, our REAL honeymoon had to wait. Stadiums do not romantic trips make, so we decided to do a traditional honeymoon in the non-summer season after I had accrued more vacation time. Christian is a free-lance graphic designer, so vacation time isn't an issue for him.
On to the logistics! Christian's wonderful, extremely generous parents gave us our honeymoon as our wedding gift but let us plan it. We debated for a while whether to go to Europe (I've never been to Italy-sigh.) or WDW, but my travel agent got us a faboo rate on the 7-night land/sea package and even with our airfare and all ground transfers we were inside our budget. I think the land/sea portion was $749 without tax per person. Our airfare was a little more than we should have paid, but we didn't know how the rest of the year would pan out fare-war wise, so our tickets were in the neighborhood of $250 each RT from Seattle. I was heartbroken to see a $189 RT fare posted this summer, but it was, alas, too late. We will stay the first 5 nights beginning October 13th at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort and then the last 3 nights on the Wonder, returning to Seattle October 21st. We booked an extra night at POFQ on Saturday the 13th as our package begins on Sunday the 14th and we didn't want to lose a whole day in the air. We will be in a standard view room at the resort and a standard inside stateroom on the Wonder with the hopes of being upgraded as we got our package so very early. It's been known to happen! When I made the extra night reservation at POFQ, I requested a king-size bed and a room in either building 4 or 7, so we'll see how that pans out.
I am an extremely gung-ho planner, so I purchased three guidebooks and read them all like novels. I've mapped out which days we'll be in which park according to early entry and historical attendance levels.
Here's how we're planning it:
I've been checking every day to find out if there is an E-Ride night when we're there. If there is, we will, of course, partake of the delights of after hours Magic Kingdom habitation.
It's then onto the Wonder for our very first cruise! Christian has been designing advertising materials for cruise lines (not Disney) for years, so it will be especially good for him to see the products he's been helping to sell. I have a favor to ask of the readers, though. I have very severe, life-threatening food allergies to fish and nuts. Has anyone dealt with this issue on cruise ships, namely the Wonder, before? If so, please email me.
I've already made our shore excursion reservations for Nassau. We are going to do the Blue Lagoon Beach Day for snorkeling. We bought our own snorkel gear with a gift certificate to Target we received as a wedding present. Always thinking ahead!! We can't wait to be at the ocean. We're going to try to get reservations at Palo and at the spa for massages, but we'll see financially how that works out. The Surial bath sounds like much fun, though, so we may try to go that route.
Well, there you have it!! One very type-A planner bride and one extremely amenable, easy-going husband. I'll try not to make him go commando too much!
See you when we get back!
This is written by both Susan and Christian. Susan is in italics and Christian in regular text.
Day 1: Travel
As a wee prelude, we should tell you that, a week and a half before our trip, two of our four flights to and from Orlando were cancelled. Orbitz.com came to the rescue, though, and we got tickets for a miraculous $135 each round trip. We saved over $300 on airfare! Our original tickets were $304 each. The figure in the pre-trip report was a little off! The only snag was that we'd have to stay an extra night in Orlando and our flight would be at 6:30 am on Monday the 22nd of October. Gee, what a shame. We booked a room for $89 a night at the Embassy Suites by the airport (an incredibly good rate-thank you travel agent Andrea) and I extended my vacation leave by a half day. Poor me.
After getting up at 4:30 am (a feat to be repeated on our last day), we were driven to the airport by my wife's sister. We then waited for an hour in bodacious lines for check in, another for security, and another at the gate. One thing that made our morning bearable was the fact that we wore bride and groom Mickey ears the entire day, eliciting smiles, waves and congratulations. Everybody loves newlyweds! We touched down in Orlando after dark. The first thing we noticed upon deplaning was the humidity. It was always at least 80% humidity during our vacation. We got used to it though. Well, to a certain extent. God bless air conditioning!!! After claming our baggage, we proceeded to the Mears shuttle desk. The in-retrospect-not-so-nice woman asked for our transfers, threw them away, and told us we wouldn't need them anymore. Turns out we did, and we would endure 24 hours of mild panic once we got to the resort.
Our transfers we paid $120 for were not registering in Disney's database and, when we checked in, our Keys to the World said we had not purchased any. A nice cashier at Epcot noticed this and we cut our time short in the Magic Kingdom the next morning to return to the resort before noon to have this rectified. We had to find all of our receipts and show our cruise booklets to the very nice DCL rep at the resort at two different times so she could modify our cards to allow us to be transferred to the port and back to the airport after the cruise. If the woman at Mears had left our transfers in the book, they would have noticed right away that we did have transfers and we wouldn't have lost time in the parks. Grumble grumble.
We were packed into a van and then were taken to our resort, Disney's Port Orleans, French Quarter. It was about this time that we realized we had no cash to tip the driver, the porter who took our bags off the van, or the porter who brought our bags to our room. Next time (yes, darling, there will be a next time), we'll bring $20 in ones for the first day. After not-tipping left and right, we walked over to the resort eatery for a quick dinner. We bought two insulated plastic refillable mugs for $9 each, which turned out to be a good deal. We used the mugs for many "free" refills, as well as makeshift bowls for instant oatmeal, which we made each morning to save time and money. We were able to use a coffee maker to heat the water.
One note: I was pretty disappointed that we didn't get any of our room requests. In retrospect, I should have refaxed them to the resort a few days before we left. The distance to the bus from our room ended up not even being the smallest issue, but we had two double (in the loosest sense of the term) beds instead of the king I had requested, and we ended up sleeping in separate beds for most of the trip. They were just too small for two people. Other than that, we loved the resort. It was really beautiful. So immaculate and what attention to detail!
Day 2: Epcot
We decided to have our first day be Epcot. We wanted to miss weekday grade school tour groups, so after waking at 6am, and eating lukewarm oatmeal (I forgot you're supposed to pour the water in the back of the coffee maker first to heat it up), we raced to the bus stop for our first day in Disney World! Our bus ride was quick and, after going through the bag search tables with only a few people around us, we were treated to a very bright and clean vision of the future! The gates opened at 9am, and we made a beeline towards Test Track. Unfortunately, it was down for repairs. So we went over to Wonders of Life Pavilion and experienced Cranium Command. We both just loved this. Whoever said that it was underrated was right. What a clever show! We were very impressed with the presentation; both the introduction animated film and the audio-animatronic theater show were very entertaining; a great start to our Disney Experience! Next, I went on Body Wars while Suzy went shopping, as she didn't want to subject herself to a motion simulator that early. Turns out she made a wise move, as I became queasy towards the end of the 5 minute ride. This ride is exactly the same as Star Tours, but with different scenery. I've never gotten sick on Star Tours, so I can only hypothesize that either the motion simulator is a bit out of sync with the visuals, or the simulator was more aggressive in its movements. I vote for the former. Next we both went on Ellen's Energy Adventure. Ellen Degeneres really made us laugh, as did the Jeopardy show she was in, complete with Alex Trebek. The ride format was new to us: a theatre presentation that magically turned into a moving ride, as the theater seats split into several sections, and started off to the left of the screen, and into the prehistoric past! The show/ride was very much "edu-tainment," if I may butcher the English language, but top-notch entertainment at the same time.
The Epcot grounds also featured a "Caveman" (streetmosphere) cast member who walks around moaning, scratching and playfully accosting people. He walked up to Suzy and tried to kiss her, but she resisted and fled, as a good wife should. Har har. We also saw the first show of the Jammitors, which was cool. I really have to say how impressed I was with all of the roving performers. They were truly dedicated. Next we checked out Coca-Cola's "Ice Station Cool," which was definitely the sleeper hit of the park, because it dispensed all-you-can-drink soda from around the world. "Beverly" was really gross and bitter, just as everybody reported, but the other drinks were yummy. It was sort of like "Small World" for the taste buds, and very welcome on a hot day. And free. Don't forget free!
The "Living Seas" was next. The highlight for us was seeing two gigantic Manatees gobbling down lettuce leaves with their vacuum cleaner-like snouts. The huge aquarium was quite an experience and this was one of many exhibits where we might have lingered for longer than we did. The excitement meter was not as high here. We live in a city with a good aquarium, so it wasn't as new to us, but I can see why people really love it. It's beautifully done. The many informational touch-screen kiosks stood dormant as they were no match for the sweeping vistas of fish and marine life. Despite descriptions of the Living Seas we've read, it really isn't a ride. The elevator and Gondola are really slow moving conveyers to transport you to the tri-level viewing/exhibit area.
We completely skipped the Land Pavilion, making jokes about taking rides and watching movies and about how wheat grows. I know, I know, we'll probably check it out next trip, if we have time. Heh heh. We also skipped Honey I Shrunk the Audience because we thought it would be identical to the Disneyland version. We went back to the Test Track, which was by now open. We decided to take the "singles" line, and were rewarded with a 10-minute wait, tops! We rode a total of three times, breezing in at under 10 minutes every time. The ride broke down for a few minutes the second time, while we were in the tunnel. It was funny listening to the tire-screeching sound effects while traveling 2 mph! The last minute of the ride, where the car busts out of the building and whizzes around the track at 60+ mph was my favorite ride experience at Epcot. All I have to say about this section is that anyone who does not get in the singles line is a dork. Do you really have to sit together? I can understand families with smaller children, but the clingy couples really had some quality time waiting in line with the mates they didn't want to part with even for a few moments. Sheesh! The singles line kicked tush.
The opportunity to get inside Epcot's most prominent icon, "Spaceship Earth," was something I've been looking forward to for a long time. We walked right on the ride with no wait. The AT&T presentation was cool, and the animatronic historical scenes of communication were neat, but the best part for me was knowing I was finally inside the big sphere thingy, slowly spiraling up to the top and then riding steeply back down. I don't know when they last upgraded the graphics, but I though it got a bit corny towards the end, and what we took away from it was: "We have seen the future, and it is neon!"
A walk through the World Pavilion was next. It was just like Expo '86 in Vancouver, Canada; a permanent world's fair with lots of country's pavilions, and lots of shops. But much better. My surprise favorite was the huge Japanese gift shop. It was full of various funky Japanese toys, pop culture memorabilia and clothing. I bought Suzy a kimono. I could have spent hundreds of dollars here. It was also a proud moment for us when, while in the gift shop, the heavens unleashed a biblical downpour, justifying our 99-cent poncho purchases. HA! We planned ahead and, while others were getting soaked or scrabbling to purchase $6 ponchos, we smugly pulled our cheapies out of Christian's backpack. I also liked the exhibit about Japanese baseball, being a Seattle Mariners fan and all.
Other World Pavilion highlights were a mildly entertaining "Maelstrom" ride in Norway, learning about the "vonderful vorld of Norvay," and the ultra-lame "El Rio del Tiempo" that was sort of a "It's a Small World" gone bad. We also watched the American Adventure show in the U.S. Pavilion, giving a fairly rosy view of American History. Yeah, too rosy. I will admit, though, that I shed a tear, especially when they showed the view of the NY skyline with the Twin Towers still intact. I'm not normally the most patriotic person, but there was no help for it. It was also nice to sit for a half-hour in an air-conditioned room at this point.
We decided to completely skip Canada as soon as we saw the totem poles. We've seen the real thing many times. We did enjoy Beaver Tails while watching Illuminations, though.
Illuminations was very cool, and featured a giant globe sailing out over the Epcot lake, with images projected on it, as well as fire works and lasers. I thought Illuminations was trés cool. Very stirring.
Day 3: Magic Kingdom EE/Disney MGM
YAY!! WOO HOO!! We're going to the Magic Kingdom! We're going to the Magic Kingdom! There is nothing like waking up knowing that you'll be seeing this faboo park. This was truly a magical day. Our bus wait was negligible, our bus was packed (early entry, you know) and we were there in 15 minutes. As a side note, we had nothing but fantastic experiences with Disney Transportation. Once we arrived at the park and had our bags checked, we practically ran through the turnstiles onto Main Street. Just a question: Why do people always go to the right? There were lines at all the right-hand gates and at the left gates there was no one. For Disneyland aficionados, it was like being in the Disney Twilight Zone. The Magic Kingdom is similar enough to be familiar but different enough to be just a little wiggy.
We bypassed all the wee ones heading to Dumbo and Pooh with their yawning parents and ran onto Space Mountain-and kept running all the way onto the ride vehicles. We were unbelievably lucky-we almost never had to wait for a ride. I think the longest we ever waited was 20 minutes for anything. Anyway, we rode SM and then hopped to Buzz Lightyear. Christian was taping the ride for our friends and he didn't shoot. I had a blast! I did OK with 65,000 or so points on my first try. It was only later that I really got the hang of it and got into the hundred thousands.
Then it was on to ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, which, I confess, was a wee intense for me. I think if the volume had been less I would have loved it as I'm a sci-fi freak, but it was so LOUD!!! Very well done, though, and the whole opening sequence with Skippy was hilarious. We then bounced around Tommorrowland for a while and then cooked (literally-it was HOT! Well, I'm a weenie.) over to Frontierland through the hub to ride Splash Mountain, my favorite! It was especially great as 1) there was absolutely no line, and 2) it was (yet again) different from Disneyland with extra drops. This ride always makes me giggly. I love the bees and swinging possums. That, and the little mice singing in the houses before you go inside were so freaking cute! We got drenched as we sat in front. We had the curse/blessing of the front on almost every ride. This had its advantages and disadvantages. Soaking posteriors were one disadvantage.
It was then on to Big Thunder Mountain for the wildest ride in the wilderness. This was the only place I really noticed the cast member shortage I had read so much about. They had so few people working the ride that we didn't have any direction as to boarding or line control. It was so odd! That's never happened before. So, after that, we HAD to ride Pirates and point out the differences. This was tough as we love the whole bayou setting in DL, but the ride had the extra scene in the end, which was spiffy.
Haunted Mansion was next on our list, so we trooped through the lovely and patriotic Liberty Square and had a great time noticing the beautiful detailing of the Mansion and grounds. What a fabulous job they did! I have to say that, horror of horrors, I liked HM much better in WDW. The library and conservatory were faboo!! What fantastic additions.
We then had to rush back to the hotel before noon to fix our cruise transfers. (See first day) Anyhoo, we parked it in our room for about two seconds, as that was as long as we could stand to sit still, and then hopped a bus to MGM. Now, I've heard lots of complaints about MGM being not very kid-friendly, the Sorcerer's Hat being too big, blah di blah blah blah, but we LOVED it. We went straightaway to the Rock n' Rollercoaster having first seized a Fast Pass for Tower of Terror, thinking it would be the most expedient course. There was no line at R&R so we were on with maybe a 10-minute wait in the "alley". Watching the ride vehicles take off at what looked like the speed of light did not really bolster my courage, but we got on and, after closing our eyes for the first 15 seconds, proceeded to love it! We then were whisked away to the Twilight Zone (without FP as there was no line and thusly no need) in what I have to say is the most impressively themed ride I've ever seen. The ToT is huge! We loved how spooky it was and the two British pre-teen girls sitting next to us were a hoot. I hate heights so I closed my eyes when the doors opened at the apex of the drop. I really regretted not going on it again right away, as we wouldn't have a chance later.
We hadn't eaten yet as we thought it would be foolish and possibly hazardous to ride two thrill rides directly after eating, so we grabbed some quick grub at the Sunset Ranch Market and then toddled over to Star Tours. Big mistake. I think that will be my last ST ride for quite a while. Ugh. Queasy. Too bad, too, as it was my favorite for years. I even had a Star Tours t-shirt I wore until it fell off me in tatters. The exterior of the ride is really killer, though. I was duly impressed. We wanted to do a loop of the park next, since we had already hit the three big rides. We proceeded to Muppet Vision 3D, and I have to say that the adults laughed so much harder than the kids you'd think that we were all 6 again. What a fantastic show! And, I noticed the net full of Jell-o. Sigh. The mixed movie, animatronic and live bits were fantastic. I love how the theatre blew up at the end. What a kick!
We wanted to try the Backlot Tour next and so we ambled in for the volunteer demonstration just in time to not understand a word the presenter said. Again, sigh. Neither of us were very impressed with the tram tour itself. Very short and humdrum except for Catastrophe Canyon. Oh well. They all can't make me scream with delight or nausea. We then looped back to the Great Movie Ride which was jolly good fun. So, after being shot at and hijacked by gangsters and mildly startled by the alien, we were so completely exhausted we could barely walk. We had been up so freaking early that morning for EE at MK that we knew we'd have to rest before making the trek across the park for Fantasmic! We walked in to Mama Melrose's and sleepily waited at the bar for a table.
One thing that I completely love about Disney is that they are incredibly conscientious about special requests. I'm deathly allergic to certain foods and every time I've mentioned it at a restaurant (see Cinderella's Royal Table tomorrow) they have done back flips to make me feel dietarily safe. We had Christian's fave, chicken and pasta, and split a Portobello mushroom pizza. It was fine, but we were too groggy to really take note. After our meal (with the children of Satan at the next table screaming in our ears), we wearily trudged across the park to grab some seats for Fantasmic! Now, we were 45 minutes early and the park was nowhere close to busy all day, but the stadium was PACKED!!! We enjoyed watching Mickey defend his dream, but my memory of Fantasmic! was very different from this reality. It's been a long time, though since I saw it last at DL. When it was all over, we made the foolish decision to listen to the Cast Member who was directing traffic and ended up taking a very long and circuitous route to our bus. Man, were we wiped out!
Day 4: Magic Kingdom and only Magic Kingdom!
What did we do this day, you ask? We sauntered, we lollygagged, we strolled... I wanted more time to amble from land to land instead of sprinting like a lunatic, leaving my husband in a whimpering heap behind me.
Again, the theme for this day was no lines! From the gates we beat a path to Splash without having needed to as no one was on it, and Christian made a valiant effort to tape it, but we ran out of video about a minute into the ride. Oh well! As I got more drenched that I ever imagined possible (if you sit in front, do not sit on the right side) rode Big Thunder to dry off (it didn't work-I had to buy shorts, something I swore I'd never do. But, I refused to be wet-butt girl all day and it was so muggy I knew I'd never dry), rode Pirates again, rode the Jungle Cruise with a pretty boring tour guide, ate at El Pirata y el Perico and then decided to ride Haunted Mansion.
Another theme popped up after HM-that of me falling over. I'm not what you'd call graceful, and I rolled my ankle stepping off a bench after looking at the pet graveyard. It wasn't too bad, though, as I was perfectly ambulatory, just sore. Christian made me sit for about 20 minutes to chill and rest my ankle. That's where we first saw the cool little lizards that are EVERYWHERE!
After that, we limped to get Fast Passes for Pooh, just so we could say we rode, and I realized that my Key to the World was gone!!! AAAAA!!! The last time I had it was at the Splash shop when I bought my shorts. It's amazing how adrenaline will numb even the most aggravating of pains as, when we high-tailed it back to the Splash shop with me in tears, I felt no pain. The clerk who waited on us was found in the back and told us that she indeed had forgotten to give it back to us (No kidding. I was sopping wet at the time and just wanted to change, otherwise I would have noticed) as the shop was very busy and she was frazzled. She apologized profusely and told us that they had cut up the card (!!!) as this was policy and we'd have to go back to the resort to get another one. This was not my day.
After I calmed down, we decided to hang in the park for a little longer and see Pooh the next day. We did go on small world with Satan's other children in the seat in front of us and then rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, which we thought was neat-o. We rode Space Mountain after that and I think we rode Buzz, but I was sore and bewildered by this point, so we decided to head back to the resort, get a new card, put my foot up and then go to Downtown Disney for dinner and to buy gifts for everyone on our list.
(I had signed up for the Disney Club using my employer's corporate membership, and the only place we could use our discount for merchandise was World of Disney, but we had no trouble at all with finding plenty of fantastic items at that behemoth Mecca of consumerism.)
So, we got a new card for me, my third as Christian accidentally signed my original and we had to get a new one, my lovely hubby got me ice for my ankle and I fell asleep watching Darkwing Duck. After I roused myself at about 6, we changed and caught the bus for DD. We ate at the Rainforest Café in the gorilla room. We then went to the Disney at Home store from which I could have purchased a million things, even though we just got married and have more stuff than we know what to do with.
Now, we just started pin collecting but not trading. I have a set of Disneyland pins from 1977 that my mother kept for me for all these years and I guess they're quite collectable as we got some seriously covetous glances and um, interesting comments. A very nice CM gave us some good info on them, though. I found the pin traders to be pretty off-putting as a whole. There was a big trade in the store and the individuals I met were all very abrupt and dismissive when anyone asked a question.
Anyway, we systematically went through our list and bought all the gifts we needed and a few things for ourselves as well. We saved a tidy sum with our DC discount. We had previously purchased a sweatshirt and hat for Christian's folks at Epcot and regretted it as we could've saved 15% at WoD, but live and learn! We spent some time next at the much reduced due to construction Lego store and marveled at the sculptures outside. We then had a sundae at Ghirardelli's (it was soooo good! And huge, too) and, as my ankle was feeling better, we walked down the length of DD to the West Side to catch the bus. Back to the resort we went.
Day 5: MGM EE and MK
Our trip caught up with us at this point. We were so tired we overslept and didn't get to MGM as early as we would have liked. I was surprising Christian with the Inside Animation tour as his wedding present and I wanted to get in a few rides before it started. Well, we only got on R&R and the preshow of ToT before we had to be at the front gates for the tour. The problem was, the wait time for ToT was very long and we got stuck in the queue waiting for the elevators. They wouldn't let us out by way of the library (grrr...) so we had to wait to get to a certain section of the line so we could use the escape gate. We were escorted down the disabled access elevator (I felt bad about the trouble we were causing) and we ran like all the hounds of hell were on our heels out the gate to our meeting point.
We made it and the nice tour conductor, Nancy, reassured us that we weren't late. We were escorted back into the park and taken to tables outside Hollywood and Vine and were instructed how to make our own 2-page flip animation. Nancy then walked us around the park giving us Walt's history as it pertained to his becoming an animator. It was very cool to hear the stories behind all the buildings in MGM. I love how no building or statue or anything else is just installed in the parks without a good reason. We then boarded vans to the Disney Institute where we learned how to paint cels. We each got to paint one of Mickey, which was a kick. We were then shown a video of the animation process which Christian flipped over. We were full of all sorts of trouble this day, though, as we had to be back to the resort before noon to have MY Key to the World fixed to reflect our cruise transfers. Nancy offered to have the other CM driving the vans take only us back to the resort as it's next door to the Disney Institute. How nice! We made it back in plenty of time, fixed my card and had a snack of fries.
It was then time to head back over to MK. We had a PS for Cinderella's Royal Table for dinner at 5:30, but we wanted to see if we could change it to a later time so we could enjoy the park until close to closing. We did so and then ate lunch at the pretty Art Nouveau restaurant off of Main Street whose name escapes me. Even though I ordered the cheese steak and got the Reuben, it was great. Christian's salad was so gargantuan that he couldn't finish it. A fun thing happened-the mayor came in! I had no idea that there was a mayor! The 100th family to eat in this restaurant since the start of 100 Years of Magic was dining there and they got a certificate. We were wearing our bride and groom ears again and the mayor came over and wished us well. We felt very privileged.
We decided to get a Fast Pass for Pooh as it and Peter Pan were the only two rides with lines, and then we rode Space Mountain for the last time. I got a bee in my bonnet to ride Buzz again and Christian kicked my butt. He figured out how to hit the targets square on and I wouldn't stop riding until I figured it out, too. We rode three times in a row. Our thumbs were pooped! After this we rode Pooh, which was cute, but good heavens, the line was huge for such a simple ride! It was back to Liberty Square after this as Christian wanted to see the Hall of Presidents. I just wanted to sit and be still, so he went in and I sat on a bench outside the Christmas shop. It was funny how many people smiled at me and commented on the bride ears. When Christian exited the attraction, I made him sit with me to bask in the radiance of newlywedness.
Per tradition, we then rode Pirates one more time and then went to dinner. I've heard reports that Cinderella's doesn't have great food and that it's overpriced, but we loved every second. We had fantastic salads with mucho mushrooms, Christian claiming that his was the best he's ever had, and then delicious filet mignon with Gorgonzola. MMMMM.... This dinner was actually a gift from our best man and his wife, fellow Disney fanatics. After this lovely afternoon, we went back to our room to pack, as we had to leave our bags in the room for the porter in the morning.
Day 6: Animal Kingdom and Disney Wonder
We made PSs for Donald's Breakfastosaurus, and, as we hadn't eaten any breakfast anywhere but our rooms, I felt it was justified. We rode the bus to AK with an alarmingly large number of people. At the gate, we saw the remote control palm tree at the gate which was a scream. Scared the bejeezus out of some poor kids. The buffet was plentiful and tasty and it was a kick having the characters come to the table. We didn't stay very long, though, as we only had the morning in AK. We rode on Dinosaur next, which was a huge mistake. Big breakfast, jerky ride, bad combo. Ugh. I did think the part where the iguanadon was holding up the falling rock or trees or whatever was unexpectedly sweet. He looked so concerned and benevolent. I'm glad we managed to bring him back! We did? All I remember is darkness, big dinosaur heads, lots of noise, more dark, more dinosaur heads and noise. Whew. Glad that's over.
We then found our way to the Safaris and, after about a 15-20 minute wait, boarded a jeep to the savannah. Now, I really expected that this would be another ride track, but I was wrong! I had been very impressed by the beauty of this park before we got on the ride, but I was just amazed on the ride at how comprehensive Disney was at making this part of the park really look like a very muggy Africa. We saw heaps of animals-several elephants, many Thompson's Gazelles, water buffalo, a grumpy cheetah watching us with a baleful eye from the shade, a whole family of rhinos with a baby, it was very cool. And flamingos! Don't forget flamingos! No trip to Florida is complete without seeing flamingos. And we saw 'em, dad-gummit. They've modified the whole poacher bit from what I understand, and now all that happens is you drive by a truck with Little Red the baby (animatronic) elephant loaded in back and a CM with a rifle standing guard over a jeep with the "poachers" inside and out of sight. I never saw it before the changes, though, so I can't compare.
We meandered through the Pangani Exploration Trail with everyone and their kid brother and saw as much as we could through the hordes of people. We headed over to Asia after this and, not wanting to get wet without any changes of clothes, skipped Kali River Rapids and walked through the Maharajah Jungle Trek, marveling at the bats and admiring the tigers. We had to see It's Tough to be a Bug before we left, and it was a scream! We each still needed to get a pin of the park before heading out to our cruise buses, so we hit some pin stations. I finally broke down and got an "American flag" Mickey pin. Everybody had them, so naturally I had to.
After we had picked up our carry-on bags (or "carrion" bags, since we're in Animal Kingdom, heh heh) we had left with the cruise folk before breakfast that morning, we waited in what would be our second longest line after the line to get on the ship to board the buses to the terminal. We all piled on and occupied our time en route to Port Canaveral by watching the cruise line video that I have to say was pretty darn well done. Christian was excited as we could see NASA buildings aplenty from our bus. I could see launch towers!! . I could see launch towers!! They were HUGE!
Our first sight of the ship was truly a moment I'll remember forever. WOW!!! I've never been on a cruise, but I know that this ship is truly a queen amongst her peers. We docked with several other ships at Nassau and the Wonder outshone them all. Our boat totally ruled. The back, or "stern" of the ship in nautical lingo, features Donald Duck hanging from a rope, painting the ship's name, while one of the nephews is leaning out a porthole with a giant pair of scissors, about to cut the hapless duck's rope. Anyway, check-in was a very long. Security was almost absurdly high, but Christian enjoyed himself by examining the scale-model cut-away of the ship and the huge map of the Caribbean inlaid in the floor while I held our place in line.
Also, the building was huge, beautiful and gawk-worthy. To my horror my own Key to the World was rejected by the little key scanner whatzits, but they waved me by after a manual check. I think it went smoothly in part because we had donned our simply adorable and awww-inspiring bride and groom Mickey ears again, which no security personnel can resist. So then we got on the ship!! This was a magical moment in itself. It was just a short gang-plank walk up to the 3rd deck main embarkation room. And what a room! Grand piano, beautiful stair-cases, gorgeous carpeting, this was a great beginning to the cruise-ship life-style! As we came in, someone asked our name, then the Announcer boomed out "Please welcome the Salassssssss Familyyyyyyyy! We made our way to our room, which was relatively easy, and used our handy dandy key-to-the-world card to let ourselves in.
Except Christian's card didn't work! What was it with our stinkin' cards??? We got a new one from Guest Services, but still!!! I was quite impressed with how nice our room was, considering it was the cheapest rate. Natural wood finishes, king-size bed, and framed concept art from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride on the walls, fittingly. It also had a little 13" TV with "Disney cable." The most interesting channel, I thought, was the 24-hour camera below the bridge of the ship showing where the ship was going and what it was like outside. It also happened to show the edge of the on-ship basketball court, and as we flipped through the channels in the following days, we were amazed to see at least one kid always on the basketball court, shooting hoops despite storms, rain and darkness. Hello, can you say obsessive-compulsive?
We heaved our luggage in the room and dashed out to the top deck for the kick-off party. It was a hoot, and the live entertainment was very good. We tried to figure out the Disney dance move they introduced, but the song was over before we mastered it. It was funny watching the kids jump up and down spasmodically to the music. Soon they would be tagged and taken to the kid-parts of the ship, and as a result we would see next to nothing of the little people. Disney does a good job of segregating the ship's areas, so you only experience substantial kid-populations if you want to. Next up was the mandatory safety drill, which required us to put on our life-vests and troop down to our designated lifeboat.
After returning to our cabin to change, we then checked out the ship's shops and purchased a few cruise-ship-only pins for our growing pin collections! I got the "Captain Tom" pin, which I would later have signed by the ship's captain himself! Uber-collectible. Wouldn't it be weird to have a pin of yourself? Then it was time to take in the first show: "Hercules: the Muse-ical." The main theater was amazing, again rivaling anything I've seen on land. The show was very funny, and featured the tongue-in-cheek "Parthenon Players" doing a hilarious and very impressive version of the Disney movie. It featured amazing sets, special effects and costumes. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the roughest night at sea, and the boat started lurching and pitching to and fro as we watched the show, hanging on to our seats for dear life. The cast seemed miraculously unaffected; they must have had their "sea legs."
Next it time for our first meal onboard ship! As honeymooners, we were seated with all the other honeymooners, of which there were approximately 9 other couples in our dining rotation alone. (What do you call a group of honeymooners? A gaggle? A hoard? A nesting?)
The dinners were all absolutely top-notch, as good as any land-based restaurant I'd been too. We stuffed ourselves with the rich entrée and dessert. Suzy unfortunately succumbed to the angry sea later that night and spent an hour getting to know our in-suite commode. I spent that same hour watching the Mariners get beat, so I'm not sure who had the better time. I also went down to sickbay and picked up some seasickness pills, although the accompanying flyer said you can't take the pills if you have asthma! Next time, I'll definitely get a patch.
Day 7: Disney Wonder/Nassau
Today we would visit our first port of call, beautiful Nassau in the Bahamas! The ship spent all night cruising (at approximately 24 knots) while we slept. The day dawned cloudy, and remained that way for the duration of our cruise. Well, less sunburns! Well, less sunburns for Christian, anyway.
We disembarked around 9:30am to catch the small ferry to our first on-shore activity: snorkeling at the Blue Lagoon! Handling the excursion was a non-Disney company, and we were aware of the sudden lack of Disney touches, such as the relatively dirty, slightly run-down boat in which we rode over to the lagoon, When we got there, we learned there was no snorkeling that day, due to rough seas. Bummer, but I tried out my snorkel gear anyway in the protected lagoon, while Suzy took a nap in a hammock. This alone made the excursion worth it.
This was our first experience with Caribbean sand and sea. The sand: fine and white. The sea: warm and clear. I had my first encounter with the many Caribbean fish, and generally had a great time swimming around. Suzy joined me upon waking, and we frolicked in the surf. Then I shot some hoops and played a game of "horse" with an extremely competitive kid who looked strangely familiar. He beat the pants off me. Hey! It's the kid on the TV! After a few hours, and BBQ lunch (actually, Christian ate. I was still queasy and had no idea what was in the food. Man, do I sound high-maintenance or what?) we took the ferry back to the ship.
We grabbed a snack of chicken strips from Pluto's, changed and then it was into Nassau to do some shopping. We promised the siblings Caribbean rum, which we purchased, as well as a couple rum cakes, which were very good. We also visited the "straw market;" a gathering of about 100 vendors selling beads, straw hats, t-shirts, and anything they think the rich American tourists would buy. Walking through the rows of vendors, we suddenly became more aware of our position as affluent Americans, and I felt like a soft American tourist ready to be milked for my tourist dollar. Suzy bought a straw hat.
We wandered through the port area of the city, and visited a few perfume and jewelry shops. The contrast was amazing, as the shops were full of sales people who wouldn't stoop to help us, as we obviously didn't look affluent enough. Later, back on the ship, we enjoyed our dinner in "Animator's Palette." It was a visual treat, as the restaurant slowly came alive with color as the dinner progressed. Very cool and very entertaining. My dinner was another culinary treat of filet mignon and vegetable mash, and a beautiful and yummy dessert, the description of which escapes me. Suzy had cheese cannelloni, in deference to her now sensitive stomach. Honey, would you like to say a few words about the exceptional service regarding you food allergies? Again, they were amazing, the head server especially. He always came over to check on me with his cutie-patootie English accent.
After that we went back to our room and collapsed for some quiet time. And we thought we'd be able to relax on the cruise ship after running around Disney World. Hah!
Day 8: Disney Wonder/Castaway Cay
Today would feature our final shore excursion to "Castaway Cay," Disney's own private island. Again, the ship zipped on down to the island while we slept, docking at 6 a.m. I slept a little more uneasily than the night before, waking a couple times in the night and feeling queasy. Fortunately I was able to fight it off and go back to sleep, avoiding a date with the toilet. We again disembarked to the island, and took a tram over to the main beach area.
Castaway Cay was exactly what I imagined a Bahamian paradise to look like-long, white sand beaches, aquamarine water, palm trees...it was beautiful. Of course, no one lives on this island. We then rented fins to go with our own snorkel gear and hopped the second tram to the adult beach. We hiked down the beach to some empty chairs and, because I wanted to rest and read for a while, Christian swam until he could convince me to get in the water. Even though the family beach is where the main snorkeling is, he donned his gear and sought fish. When I was finally ready to get in the water, my head wouldn't fit into my snorkel mask and I broke the strap. Charming. Anyway, Christian felt sorry for me so he went to rent inner tubes. This I loved.
After vacating the water as a HUGE thunderstorm came alarmingly close, we went to get lunch and Christian had the most gargantuan chicken sandwich ever and I had a very juicy burger. MMM...
We then decided to trundle over to the family beach so hubby could snorkel in the dedicated area with all the sunken stuff. A very nice man let us use his rented snorkel mask as his kids were finished with it, so we snorkeled until we had to get back on the ship. I have to say that this is a very cool pastime. The water is so amazingly clear that, aside from the water condensation on the inside of the mask, you can see forever. I've since learned that you can spit in the mask and it will clear up the condensation, but, um, no. The marine life was amazing! We saw fish of every size and description.
We snorkeled until the horn from the ship sounded. We were dining at Palo that night, so we showered and changed into our nicest clothes (side note: next cruise, we will bring much dressier clothes. We were among the most underdressed as we didn't bring evening gowns and dark suits. There was a lot of big hair, too.) and walked around the outer deck until it was time to go in. The restaurant was very beautiful and pleasantly dim. Our charming French waitress, Stephanie, was really fantastic. She was attentive without being intrusive and she always had good suggestions. For starters, Christian had a salad and I had a fantastic grilled Portobello mushroom on polenta with a funky shallot cream sauce. Man, was it good! For our main course, Christian had steak again and I had ravioli. Both were good if not earth shaking. I liked the smaller portions of all the meals on the ship. I don't think I could have eaten large amounts of anything with the rocking. Oh, the rocking. Anyway, for dessert, Christian had an incredible chocolate soufflé that came to the table fresh out of the oven. Our server poked a hole in the middle and poured in hot vanilla custard and chocolate sauce until the ramekin overflowed. I had a delicious Italian vanilla custard. MMMM...
Christian had to leave before we had gotten our "check" as he had to get to Mickey's Mates (the shop) to have Captain Tom sign his pin, so I settled up with our room card and took a picture of the "Happy Honeymoon" drawing that Stephanie made us in fruit puree on a white plate. It's spiffier than it sounds. I thanked her and headed down to the theatre to meet the hubby and see "Disney Dreams". Since we had missed our show at 6:30 as our dinner was at 7, we hit the 8:30 show and there were a bazillion kids there. We both LOVED this show. I had heard that it was very endearing and not to be missed, and all the comments about it were right on. It was unabashedly sentimental. I even shed a tear at the end. I think most adults did, as I know we were all thinking of our own childhoods.
After the show was over, we realized that there were a few things we had wanted to do and that this night would be our last chance. So, we packed for disembarkation in the morning, changed into casual clothes, ran to the lobby of the ship to have our picture taken with Mickey, ran to the clubs to see what was going on, and then settled at Barrel of Laughs to see the Dueling Pianos. The only problem was that the ship entered into rough seas as we entered the bar and I only lasted about 20 minutes. As I got up to leave, the male pianist was singing and playing "Daydream Believer" upon request, and he stopped in the middle of the song just as I reached the door and said, "Wait! I don't have to play this song if you don't like it!" Blushing, I told him that he was great but that I felt sick. I heard everyone in the room sigh in collusion and the pianist told me that OK, I could go. It was pretty funny. They did something similar to Christian when he left a few minutes later. We each took a half dose of the free seasickness medication the infirmary provides, but only after I had asked the nurse earlier that day if it'd be all right. She said yes, so pills we popped. It helped and, as we had packed earlier and our bags had been picked up, all we had to do was sleep, and sleep we did.
Day 9: Disney Wonder/Orlando
Well, there isn't much to say about the last day of our cruise. We had the late breakfast rotation at 8:30, so we ate in Parrot Cay with our tablemates (this was the one time when portions could have been larger), bid farewell to our servers and the other couples and disembarked without any hassle. We had given our servers their gratuities the night before. The one snag we ran into was that Christian had forgotten to fill out one of the luggage tags so it took us forever to find our second suitcase. We were pretty panicked! It all worked out, though, and we passed through customs and boarded our buses to the airport. We weren't flying out that day as our flights had been changed (see beginning of report) so after reaching the airport, we called the Embassy Suites where we were staying the night, found out where their shuttle was and hopped it for the hotel. We were very pleased with ES. The suite was pretty darn big, especially after the ship. We laid about and tried to sleep, watched the telly and then went to dinner. We came home, packed, and went to sleep.
Day 10: Flight Home
We made it to the airport at 4:30 am for our 6:30 flight only to find that there was no one working the counter. Grrr... we waited, along with a ton of other people, in line until one woman came out to work the first class check in, and a man came out to work the regular line. ONE MAN!!! There was a lot of grumbling. At 5, four more people came to work and the line began to move. Our plane was on time and we were home in good order. Christian started the laundry and I went into work, insane person that I am.
We had a wonderful, magical and insanely packed honeymoon. I have to say that I don't think we'll ever try to cram this much into such a short period of time again, but we were glad to see so much. Now we know what we'll revisit on our next trip!