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Ted Owen -- February 1999 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite) / Disney Cruise Trip


WHO:

  • Ted (me, 41) - programmer/analyst, family trip planner, sports nut and Disney nut
  • Donna (my wife, 40) - self-employed hair stylist, budding painter
  • Tanya (daughter, 12) - 7th grade, soccer/basketball/softball player, daredevil
  • TJ (son, 9) - 3rd grade, soccer/basketball/baseball player, less daring than his sister
  • Bill (Donna’s father, 60’s) - retired, ex-blacksmith, heart-condition
  • Terry (Donna’s mother, 60’s) - retired, ceramics teacher in her home studio

WHEN:

February 19 - March 1

WHERE:

Lake Buena Vista, staying at Vistana (February 19 - 26); Disney Magic Cruise (February 26 - March 1)

BACKGROUND:

We are frequent Disney visitors, having visited the Orlando area at least once a year for the past 10 years. Donna and I made our first trip to Disney World for 3 days on our honeymoon in 1984 and fell in love with the magic of Disney immediately, but other than a brief one day stop at the Magic Kingdom in 1987 when Tanya was 8 months old, we didn’t really return until 1989. We have been back every year since then. Since the kids have been in school we generally have gone during the NH school winter break during the last week of February. This week has worked out well for us since the majority of states seem to have the prior week (Presidents week) off and the crowds have not been bad. My in-laws, Bill and Terry Lessieur, had never been to Florida and could never really understand what was always drawing us back to Orlando, year after year, to see essentially the same things. Well, we finally convinced them to come with us in February, 1993 and even though the weather was not the greatest and we all ended up getting sick, they both caught the Disney fever too and have been back several times with us since then.

THE CRUISE

Donna’s parent’s last trip with us was in November, 1997 during Thanksgiving week. On that trip, we convinced them to go with us on the Big Red Boat for a 3-day cruise prior to going to Orlando for the remainder of the week. Donna, the kids and I had taken this cruise in February, 1994 when they were affiliated with Disney and really enjoyed it. While we still had fun this time, the cruise just wasn’t the same for us the second time. Maybe nothing is ever as good as the first time or maybe it had something to do with the fact that it wasn’t the same without the Disney involvement, but something was missing.

Donna’s parents weren’t that impressed and doubted that they would try cruising again.

When we visited WDW after the cruise, we happened to visit the 25th Anniversary Visitors Center in the Magic Kingdom and saw the promotional video for the Disney Magic cruise and it really blew us all away since the cruise we had just experienced really paled by comparison. Donna’s parents were actually excited about cruising again, so I decided to look into it for February, 1999. According to the people at the Visitors Center, the cruise was all booked for the first 2 years and when I saw some of the prices, my enthusiasm diminished somewhat but I called the DCL when I got back home anyway. Well, it turns out that not only were they not totally booked for the first 2 years, I couldn’t even book a cruise for February, 1999 until January of 1998. I guess I must have been one of the first people to book for 1999 because when I called back last February, I had my pick of dates and cabins. We decided to do the 3-day cruise only package since we could use our week at Vistana and get a full week in Orlando instead of just 4 days at WDW with the full package, plus I thought I could do better on my own than the $250 per person that Disney alloted for the airfare from Boston.

I called Vistana to see what they had available for the last week in February and they had a Friday arrival on February 19 which would work out perfectly and give us a full week in Orlando if we booked the February 26 cruise, so that is what I did. We will leave NH on Friday, February 19 and return on March 1, giving us 10 days in the sun (hopefully). The kids will have to miss school on the day we leave and the day we return, but hopefully they won’t miss much on those 2 days and we will make sure they get their assignments before we leave.

By calling so far in advance, I was also eligible for the early booking discount so that saved us a good amount of money. There was an additional side benefit to booking early as I just found out. We decided to book a Category 9 outside stateroom with the picture window and a connecting room for my in-laws on Deck 2 since it would have been an extra $250 per person for a stateroom with a veranda and I didn’t really feel like spending that much more even though it sounded great. Well, as it turns out, because we were one of the first to book for this cruise and the cruise was not fully booked, we were awarded an upgrade just this week to a Category 5 stateroom with a veranda on Deck 7! So it really does pay to book early if you can - in more ways than one.

ACCOMODATIONS:

I’m going to get on my time-share soap box here and I hope Brian doesn’t mind me promoting another alternative to the Disney Vacation Club, as I know he is big proponent of the DVC (as well he should be), but I just wanted to point out that it’s not the only game in town and after comparing DVC with other options in the area, we went in a different direction.  [Editor's Note - :)]  We have stayed both offsite and on (CBR, DXL, WL, CR, PR and OKW) but have pretty much settled on staying offsite at our time-share at Vistana in Lake Buena Vista. We purchased a resale unit here in 1994 after having stayed at Vistana for a week that year, renting from a friend who owned there. While we always enjoyed our stays on Disney property and will still stay onsite occasionally for a night or two, we are sold on the advantages of staying in a condo in general and time-sharing in particular. As nice as the Disney resorts are, you are still paying a lot of money for just a room and a single bath in most cases, the exception being the vacation homes at Old Key West and the Boadwalk which start at about $250.00 per night if you go through CRO. With a condo, whether you rent or own (about $500 per year in maintenance fees and taxes), you can have 2 separate bedrooms, 2 baths a full kitchen and a living room/dining area, generally for less than the price of a single room per night at one of the Disney moderate resorts. You can save time with the extra baths in the morning and save money by eating some meals at home. I know, spending time cooking is not a lot of people’s idea of a vacation but I’m not necessarily talking about gourmet meals here but quick breakfasts, sandwiches for lunch, etc.

Time-sharing may not make sense for everyone, but if you plan on coming to Disney every year as we do, I think its the best way to go. Our decision back in 1994, came down to the question of whether to do Disney or not to do Disney. We looked at the resorts at Old Key West (DVC at that time) and even stayed in one for a couple of nights to get a feel for it. We were very impressed and very seriously considered buying there but decided on Vistana for several reasons not the least of which was expense. By buying a resale unit we paid about 1/3 of the price we would have had to for a unit at the DVC.

We bought a fixed week (week 8 - the last week of February most years, since that is the week we usually go) for $5000 when it would have cost us about $15,000 if we had wanted to buy enough DVC points for a 2 Bedroom unit in February. In addition, I was disappointed that you didn’t own the property forever since it reverted back to Disney in 2040 or so (of course, I may not be around then, but hopefully my kids and their kids will be). On the plus side for DVC, I really liked the flexibility that the point system allowed in that you could go for as few or as many days as you wanted, whenever you wanted as long as you had enough points and there was availability. I also liked that park passes came with the DVC units but the fact that that Disney was discontinuing the park passes in 1999 negated that advantage for me.

The units at Vistana are really very comparable to the Disney units in terms of amenities, cleanliness and ambience and there are so many pools, sports, and activities available at Vistana, along with a general store and 3 restaurants, that you literally never have to leave the resort and we try to spend a couple days of our stay there away from the parks. When we do want to go to the parks, we are only 2 miles from the entrance to WDW on SR 536 so it only takes about 5 to 10 minutes to get anywhere on Disney property. Of course, staying off-site requires renting a car but I would personally do this even if I was staying on Disney property because as good as the Disney transportation system is, I find it much more convenient to drive myself rather than be dependent on having to wait for the right bus to my resort, especially after a long day in the parks. Plus, when you figure the amount of money it costs to transport a family to and from the airport, a rental car probably is not that much more expensive and it is worth the extra expense if you want to sample some of the many other entertainment options in the Orlando area.

Is staying at Vistana the same as staying on Disney property? No - there is definitely something magic about staying on Disney property that you can’t find anywhere else. Is that magic worth the extra added expense of staying on Disney property? For some, that answer is yes, but not for us. We love Disney and Vistana isn’t Disney - but it is pretty darn close (in more ways than one)!

I’m sorry if I bored anyone with this subject and no, I’m not a salesman for Vistana (and they do make a pretty hard sell compared with DVC, which almost turned us off from buying there and pushed us to the resale market) but I just wanted to point out there are good alternatives to Disney lodging. There are many beautiful time-share resorts within a few minutes of WDW to choose from. If you do decide that time-sharing is for you, visit the resorts that interest you but don’t buy from the resort’s sale staff no matter how hard they push you or how much you like the resort. When you decide on the right resort for you, call a certified timeshare resale broker and negotiate a price with a private seller and I most likely you will pay less than half the price you would have paid through the resort itself! The broker can then handle the paperwork and transfer of money. We found the process so easy that in 1996 we bought a second week at Vistana (a floating week, which means we can take it any week of the year, subject to availability) for less than we paid for our first week!

TRAVEL:

We live about 15 minutes from the Manchester (NH) airport and when we heard that Southwest Airlines was coming to Manchester and offering non-stops flights to Orlando we were very excited since Manchester didn’t offer non-stops to Orlando in the past and we always ended up flying out of Boston, which is an hour away, since we prefer to avoid connections. It wasn’t until October that the flight schedule for February was announced and when I saw a $99 fare each way advertised in the paper, I immediately went to the Southwest internet site to book it. Unfortunately, I guess I wasn’t the only one interested in those dates since it is the NH school vacation week and the special fares were all booked. The best fare I could get was $350 round trip per person. No way!

I’ve never paid more than $250 to Florida and am usually lucky enough to find a fare for $200 or less. For the heck of it, I got an EASYSABRE and checked out the flights out of Boston for the dates we wanted and lo and behold, American Airlines had a rate of $204 round trip per person for a non stop to and from Orlando - I didn’t even know American had started non-stops from Boston to Orlando, since only Delta and USAir had offered them recently. Best of all, when I called American to book, we got a 10% discount off of 4 of the tickets because Donna’s parents are seniors and could each take another passenger with them on the senior fare! I then booked a limousine to take us to and from Logan Airport in Boston for $100 each way but it was worth the trip to Boston to save over $150 per person on the flight.

We ended up with an 8:00 AM flight on Friday, February 19 from Boston arriving in Orlando at 11:10 so we would probably be at Vistana by noon if there were no problems with the flight. For our return on Monday, March 1, we have an 11:30 AM departure from Orlando arriving in Boston at 2:30. Supposedly, everyone should be disembarked from the Disney Magic by 9:00 AM, so we should have plenty of time to make the hour trip from Port Canaveral to the Orlando International airport and make out 11:30 AM flight.

I next hopped onto the Dollar web site (we have rented from them the past several trips and they always seem to have the best rates and we have had no problems with them) and found a pretty good rate on a minivan, which we need with 6 people, using the KISS discount code for $239 per week plus $39.99 for each additional day. Now the question was, do we take the car for a week then bring it back to the airport on February 26 and take the Disney ground transfers to and from Port Canaveral. Well, the transfers for the cruise were $40 per person for 6 people ($240 total) vs. renting the car for 3 extra days at $40 per day and leaving it at the cruise terminal parking lot ($21 for the 3 days, for a total of $141) so it was a no-brainer, as we saved another $100 by keeping the car. I have kept trying the Dollar site hoping to better the rate with different codes as I have seen a $199 per week price advertised in various places but have not been able to better the $239 rate as of yet.

DINING:

We usually try to eat a couple of meals a day at the condo but a trip to WDW wouldn’t be the same without sampling some of the Disney restaurants so we have made priority seatings for 1 breakfast (Chef Mickeys), 2 lunches (50’s Prime Time Cafe at MGM and we will have to call 7 days prior for PS at the Rainforest Café in the AK) and 2 dinners. On the day we arrive, we don’t have anything special planned during the day, but thought it would be fun to get a little Disney fix by going to ‘Ohana at the Polynesian. The four of us went last year without Donna’s parents and really enjoyed it and thought they would enjoy it too. Hopefully we can see the MK fireworks while we eat or we can check them out from the Polynesian beach after we eat. I also have something special planned for Donna and I that I always wanted to try but never thought I could afford - dinner at Victoria and Alberts at the Grand Floridian. I received an award from work that included reimbursement for a dinner for 2 anywhere for up to $200 and I knew immediately where I wanted to use it. I’m sure we will have to kick in some of our own cash as we will surely go over $200 here, but it should be worth it!

TICKETS:

We usually make a stop at Sea World and/or Universal Studios but since there isn’t much new since our trip last year, we will save Universal until our next trip in December for the Millenium celebration when Islands of Adventure will be open, so this will be a strictly Disney trip. Donna’s parents have 2 days left from 5 day park hoppers purchased on our Thanksgiving, 1997 trip and the rest of us have 1 day left from 4 day park hoppers from last year. We will upgrade all of our tickets to the new 5 day Park hopper passes since our old ones aren’t valid for the Animal Kingdom. We will only be going to the parks on 3 days and will save the other 2 days for our return visit this year. We will probably be going to a water park on one of our days, weather permitting, but would rather purchase those tickets separately rather than buying a 6 or 7 day All-In-One pass and using up a day at a water park.

THE PLAN:

As frequent WDW visitors, we have gotten away from the commando type approach (mostly at my wife’s insistence since I have a definite commando mentality) and try to alternate between days at the parks and days of relaxation, so we will only be going to the Disney parks on 3 days and will probably go a water park (Blizzard Beach most likely), weather permitting. We usually like to get to the parks at opening, stay until lunch time then go back to the condo for lunch and to relax/swim, then go back to a park (usually a different park to break things up) for the evening, but we will be deviating from the plan a little more than usual this year.

Here is a general itinerary plan I have drawn up and it will be interesting to see how closely it matches what actually transpires:

WDW

  • Friday, February 19 - Travel from Boston to Orlando, get settled at Vistana (unpack, groceries, etc) and PS at ‘Ohana at 6:30PM (upgrade old passes to 5 day hoppers at Guest Relation at Polynesian to save time tomorrow morning)
  • Saturday, February 20 - Animal Kingdom (be there for 7:00 AM opening until 2:00 or 3:00), PS for lunch at Rainforest, Magic Kingdom (5:00 or 6:00 PM until 10:00PM)
  • Sunday, February 21 - relax at Vistana (pool if weather is nice) or visit Downtown Disney and Disney Quest if weather isn’t great, adults visit Pleasure Island or Church Street Station at night while Tanya watches TJ
  • Monday, February 22 - Disney-MGM Studios from opening until after Mulan parade, PS at 50’s Prime Time Cafe for lunch, leave park after parade but return about 6:00 PM to see Fantasmic
  • Tuesday, February 23 - Blizzard Beach (weather permitting, pack a lunch), if weather doesn’t cooperate, go to Downtown Disney for shopping and Disney Quest if didn’t do it already or play miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens, PS for Donna and I at V&A at 6:00 and maybe go to Boardwalk after, Donna’s parents stay at Vistana with kids
  • Wednesday, February 24 - Kids and I drop Donna and her parents off at Epcot for the Hidden Treasures of the World Showcase Tour (5 hours, includes lunch at Morocco) while kids and I take monorail to MK (do Test track first if it is open early), meet up at Epcot at 2:30 and leave park then return to do Future World and Illuminations in evening
  • Thursday, February 25 - PS for breakfast at Chef Mickeys, rent some water sprites at Contemporary Marina (weather permitting), return to Vistana to swim/relax and pack for cruise, adults go to Pleasure Island or Church Street at night while Tanya watches TJ

CRUISE

  • Friday, February 26 - Check out and head for Port Canaveral, check in at Disney Magic at noon and leave Port Canaveral for Nassau at 5:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 27 - Arrive in Nassau, take DCL excursion to Blue Lagoon for snorkeling, swimming and sunning (kids do Dolphin Encounter)
  • Sunday, February 28 - Arrive at Castaway Cay for swimming, snorkeling and sunning
  • Monday, March 1 - Disembark at Port Canaveral, return to Orlando International airport, drop off rental car and return trip home

SUMMARY:

I hope I haven’t bored everyone to tears with all of this planning detail but I actually enjoy reading the planning reports of others almost as much as the actual trip reports.

After all, I think half the fun of a trip to WDW is in the planning. In fact, this pre-trip report will probably be longer than my actual trip report when I get back since I don’t plan on taking notes and will probably opt for a summary style report over the play by play type, but we shall see what happens.

TRIP REPORT:

I drew up a general itinerary plan prior to leaving for Orlando and thought it would be interesting to compare the plan to what actually took place

Friday, February 19

PLAN:

Flight from Boston to Orlando, get settled at Vistana (unpack, groceries, etc) and PS at ‘Ohana at 6:30PM (upgrade old passes to 5 day hoppers at Guest Relation at Polynesian to save time tomorrow morning)

REALITY:

This day transpired pretty much as planned. The flight was on time and went smoothly on American (fortunately, the pilot sick-out issue was resolved a couple of days prior to our departure so we did not encounter the problems of many other travelers in the previous week). We arrived at Orlando International Airport about 11:30 AM, picked up our luggage and a minivan from Dollar and were on the road to Vistana by noon. We got to Vistana around 12:30 and asked if we might be able to get into a villa in the Lakes section. We own a week in the older Courts section but owners can request a different section than what they own and can usually get in as long as something is available. We did this last year and really enjoyed the layout in the Lakes section (the second most recent section at Vistana) so Donna wanted her parents to stay there if it was possible.

There was nothing available immediately in the Lakes but they did have a villa ready in the newest and final Phase - the Cascades. We could take that unit or wait for a Lakes unit to become available about 4:00 PM. We asked if we could check the Cascades unit out first since we had heard they were smaller than the Lakes units, although the Vistana rep said the overall square footage was the same as in the Lakes. That may be true but when we checked out the Cascades unit, everything felt very cramped compared to the other units we have stayed in. Donna hated the layout and so did I, so we decided to wait for a Lakes unit. It was a nice day, sunny and in the upper 70’s, so we got our bathing suits out of the luggage and spent the afternoon at the main pool area.

A Lakes unit was ready for us when I checked back at 4:00, so we moved in and unpacked. Donna was happy and her parents like the layout and tropical decor very much. By the time we got settled and took showers it was time to leave for our 6:20 PS at ‘Ohana. We got there a little early but they took us right away and we really enjoyed the meal. If you are a meat lover, its hard not to like this meal. There is plenty of it and they keep bringing out more on skewers if you can eat. They had grilled beef, spareribs and the best turkey I have ever tasted. They also had fish (mahi-mahi, I believe) and shrimp. If you go away hungry from this meal then something is wrong. A strolling singer performed from time to time during the meal and they had a hula hoop contest and a coconut race while we there. This is definitely not a place for a quiet dinner but its a lot of fun for the whole family!

I had planned to stay to see the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom, but everyone was tired from the long day so we decided to head back to Vistana and get a good nights sleep since we would be getting up very early for the opening of the Animal Kingdom tomorrow.

Saturday, February 20

PLAN:

Animal Kingdom (be there for 7:00 AM opening until 2:00 or 3:00), PS for lunch at Rainforest, meet friends Nancy and Barry and daughter Amanda from Daytona at Vistana about 4:00, Magic Kingdom (5:00 or 6:00 PM until closing at 10:00PM)

REALITY:

Surprisingly, everyone was able to get up at 5:30 AM today so we could be on time for the 7:00 AM opening of the Animal Kingdom. We were out the door by 6:30 AM and made it to the Animal Kingdom parking lot in about 10 minutes. We walked into the Animal Kingdom prior to 7:00 AM but it was already open. The only thing open at that time however, was Countdown to Extinction which the kids and I rode without a wait.

CTX is a combination simluator/moving ride and can be very jerky if you are in the back.

It was great and the kids loved it and wanted to ride again but I wanted to catch up to Donna and her parents and make it over to the Safari for the 7:30 AM opening of that ride, since we had heard the early morning or late afternoon was the best time to ride to see the most animals. We were not disappointed. It was a fairly cool morning, so I thought the animals may not have been out yet but we saw plenty of animals and everyone really enjoyed the safari. I agree with many others that the poacher storyline is pretty thin and doesn’t add much to the whole experience. The Safari can stand on its own merits very well!

We took the Pangani Falls Exploration Trail back to Harambe and spent a lot of time watching the Gorillas that were out and we took a lot of video and pictures of them.

We made it back to Harambe and decided to catch the first Lion King show of the day.

We all thought it was a nice show but it didn’t measure to the quality of the Hunchback, which is our favorite live show at the Disney theme parks. Following the show, we caught the Its Tough To Be a Bug Show. We had about a 15 minute wait and it gave us time to look at all the animal carvings in the Tree of Life - truly amazing! The show itself was OK. It was too short in my opinion and the effects didn’t measure up to those of other 3D shows in the are such as Honey I Shrunk the Audience or Terminator 3D at Universal.

We were lucky that the new Asia section of the park was offering a sneak preview. The kids and I rode the new Kali River raft ride which was fun but nothing spectacular as far as I was concerned. Busch Gardens offers a very similar ride . We all got wet but not soaked and headed off to walk the Maharaja Jungle Trek which features Asian settings and animals, such as Komodo dragons, tapir, bats, birds and of the main attraction, tigers.

We enjoyed the walk and thought it was very well done and interesting.

At this point, it was after 12:00 PM and we had seen everything we had really wanted to other than 3 shows - Pocahaontas, Jungle Book and the Flights of Wonder bird show. We had been advised not to bother with the train ride to Conservation Station since there isn’t a lot going on at the station and you see the same animals on the train ride as you saw on the safari. Since the Jungle Book show was next on the schedule we decided to give it a try. Well, this has to be the lamest Disney stage presentation I have ever seen and all of us decided to get out well before the end of the show, so I can’t tell you how it ends.

The earliest reservation I could get at the Rainforest Cafe when I called the prior week was at 2:00 PM so we still had over an hour before our seating. The kids really wanted to ride CTX again and Donna was willing to give it at try even though she generally does not care for simulator type rides, so I wasn’t sure if she would like it or not. We had about a 20 minute wait this time but it was worth the wait and Donna absolutely loved the ride, labeling it her new favorite ride.

It was after 1:30 at this point and we were all hungry and tired after touring for the past 6 and a half hours so we headed over the to the Rainforest Cafe at the entrance to the Animal Kingdom and were seated pretty quickly. The food was good and the atmosphere was fun but we were pretty worn out at this point and didn’t enjoy at as much as we should have. We left the park at about 3:00 and went to back to Vistana to meet our friends Nancy and Barry and their daughter Amanda, who were coming to stay with us for the night from Daytona Beach where they live. They got to Vistana about 4:00 and though we had planned to go to the Magic Kingdom for the evening, we decided to just stay in and make supper and have a birthday party for Amanda, who was turning 11 on Sunday. We would go to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow since the forecast called for temps in the 60’s, not exactly pool weather, which was what our original plans called for.

Sunday, February 21

PLAN:

Relax at Vistana (pool if weather is nice) or visit Downtown Disney and Disney Quest if weather isn’t great, adults visit Pleasure Island or Church Street Station at night while Tanya watches TJ and/or Amanda (10 yo)

REALITY:

We decided to go to the Magic Kingdom today since we didn’t make it over last night and this was not a great day for relaxing by the pool with temps in the 60’s. We made it over there a little after the opening time of 9:00 AM and decided to hit the mountains first. I headed over to Splash Mountain with the kids first while the rest of the adults grabbed some coffee preferring that to getting wet on a cool morning. We had to wait about 10 minutes but it wasn’t too bad and while we ended up getting wet we weren’t soaked which was good since it was probably in the low 50’s at this point. We went directly to Big Thunder Mountain and a short 5 minute wait there and everyone enjoyed this ride as always. Since we were close to the railroad station, we hopped on board the train and got off at Mickeys Toontown Faire. My kids have kind of outgrown this area and have so many autographs from prior years that this section is not a high priority for us. We debated on riding Goofy’s Barnstormer which my son T.J. loves but decided to pass on it for now in favor of Space Mountain since it was about 10:30 now and the lines were sure to be getting long there. To our surprise, there was only about a 10 minute wait which is one of the shortest waits I have ever had for this ride at any time. Anyway, everyone enjoyed this ride including T.J., who had not liked the ride the first time he tried it, but he decided to try it again so he could keep up with Tanya and Amanda. He even wanted to give Alien Encounter a try, so Barry and I took the kids there next while the rest of the gang rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Again, there was a short line and a 5-minute wait and we were in. I have to admit, I have never cared much for this attraction in my previous 2 visits here. To me its not scary, pointless and lacks any entertainment value at all (OK, but tell us how you really feel), but I wanted to be with T.J. in case he got scared. To my surprise, he absolutely loved it and had a ball as did Tanya and Amanda. I still think its stupid but did get more of the effect of it this time as we were seated in the front as opposed to the back where I had been on previous trips. So while I don’t recommend this attraction for everyone, if you are going to do it, sit as close to you can to the center near the glass container where the alien is located. Everyone was anxious to try the new Buzz Lightyear ride so we went there next and while the line seemed huge and moved fairly quickly and we were on in about 15 minutes. This is a nice improvement from Dreamflight and can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of shooting the lasers at the targets (which unfortunately I wasn’t able to do very well, but there’s always next time).

Everyone was getting hungry at this point, so we made our way back to Frontierland to get our traditional Turkey Leg. We got drinks and fries at Pecos Bills and sat there while we ate. Donna’s parents went to the Columbia Harbour House to get the clam chowder in a bread bowl, which is one of their favorites. Following lunch, we headed over to the Pirates of the Carribean and were again surprised to find a short wait of about 5 minutes despite the fact that it was after noon time. We have made many visits to Disney World at this time of year and have never seen the lines so short (not that we were complaining). After Pirates we went to the Jungle Cruise where we encountered our longest line of the day. After a 20 minute wait we boarded the ride but didn’t enjoy it that much since the guide was kind of a dud. After seeing this ride once, there isn’t any great compelling reason to go back except for the guide’s spiel. If you get a good one, it can be a lot of fun, but if not it can be pretty boring. Next, we decided to give the revamped Tiki Birds a try. This was never one of our favorites in its previous form and while I enjoyed this presentation a little better, I would not make a special effort to return. The Haunted Mansion was our next stop and this was fun as always, a real family favorite, as we always see things we hadn’t noticed before no matter how many times we ride it.

Since it was now after 2:00 PM and getting close to parade time we debated on whether to go now or stay for the parade. Having seen all of our favorite attractions we decided to head out and Nancy and Barry decided decided to head back to Daytona with Amanda.

When we got back to Vistana, the kids wanted to go to the Lakes pool despite the cloudy and cool conditions, so Donna’s mother brought them over for a while. Donna and her father had a craving for sushi so we decided to give the sushi bar at the Swan, Kimono’s, a try for supper. The kids and I are not big sushi fans, so we got some appetizers, as the menu is limited pretty much to sushi. Donna and her parents split a couple of sushi combination platters and while they enjoyed it, they think that the restaurants at home have better sushi and much better prices. We ended up paying about $70.00 including tip for something that would have cost about half that at home. Before heading home we decided to stop at Downtown Disney and check out the West Side which wasn’t yet open last year when we came. We enjoyed browsing the shops, especially the Virgin Records megastore, which is really amazing. Donna and her parents dropped a few dollars here on CD’s and we bought one for Tanya as well. After an hour or so here we were all ready to call it a night and we all got to bed at a decent hour.

Monday, February 22

PLAN:

Disney-MGM Studios from opening until Mulan parade at 3:00 PM, PS at 50’s Prime Time Cafe for lunch, leave park after parade but return about 6:00 PM to see Fantasmic

REALITY:

Another cool day today, so a good day to visit the parks. Today we went to Disney-MGM Studios. Since we planned to do the rides first and Donna and her parents weren’t big on any of the rides, I took the kids in the morning and planned to come back and get the rest of the gang later in the morning to go back for lunch at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe. We got there just as the park was opening and headed for Tanya’s and my favorite Disney ride, the Tower of Terror. This was not a favorite of T.J.’s last year but he was determined to do it so he could tell his best friend he had done it again. There was hardly any wait and we had another great ride. Even T.J. had fun this year so when we got out, we got right back in line and did it again. We then headed over to the Great Movie Ride with no wait and then went to Star Tours, where we had our longest wait of the day at 20 minutes. We were disappointed to find that the Catastrophe Canyon portion of the Backstage Tour was closed for renovations so we skipped the tour since that is the best of the tour in our opinion. It was almost 11:00. so we left the park and went back to Vistana (about a 10 minute ride) to get the others and then return for lunch at the Prime Time. However, Donna and her parents decided to save some money after our expensive sushi meal last night and they made lunch at the condo instead. No big deal since we have done the Prime Time several times and I’m sure we’ll be back soon.

After lunch, we headed back over to the Studios and were just in time to catch the 1:00 showing of Indiana Jones. Now this show has not changed one iota for the last 10 years and we are all pretty sick to death of it, but it is probably T.J.’s most favorite attraction, so we gave it another go and guess what? Same show. While the show is interesting and very well done, I really think they need to revamp it every 2 or 3 years just to keep it from getting stale, especially for repeat visitors. We had time to make it over to the Backlot Theater for the adults favorite Disney show (the kids would much rather do a ride than sit through a show they have already seen), the Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is by far, the best Disney has to offer in the way of stage shows, in my opinion, and I wonder why it hasn’t made its way to Broadway as the Lion King did. It was about half an hour from the start of the Mulan parade when the show ended, so we made our way back toward the parade route and grabbed a spot on the steps of the old Superstar TV show (soon to be Doug Live). We got some drinks and snacks and found this to be an excellent spot for viewing the parade, which we enjoyed much more than the last parade we had seen here, the Toy Story parade (somehow we had missed the Hercules parade).

After the parade ended, we ducked into the Great Movie ride, since Donna and her parents hadn’t seen it earlier and again rode with very little wait. I wanted to take the Animation Tour since I had heard it had been revamped so we headed there next. The tour hadn’t changed much that I remembered except that they had a Disney animator spend about 5 minutes with us discussing his role and answering questions, which was a nice touch. It doesn’t seem to matter when you go however, there never seem to be that many animators actually working. I guess that most of the animation for Disney movies actually takes place in California, not Orlando. By the time the tour ended, it was about 5:00 PM and we decided it was time to grab something to eat. Despite the cold, we picked an outdoor stand near the Tower of the Terror, since there were a couple of counter service restaurants there and everyone could get what they wanted. It was almost 6:00 PM when we finished eating and we were told we had better get to the stadium for Fantasmic for the 7:00 PM at least an hour in advance if we wanted to be sure of getting seats. Donna and her parents went in to save us seats as the kids and I wanted to take one more ride down the Tower of Terror. However, there was about a 20 minute wait and we worried that we might not get it to see Fantasmic if we took the ride so we passed and met Donna and her parents at the show. As it turned out, we probably could have walked in just before the show and still gotten seats, although not the best in the house. The temperature dropped quickly when the sun went down and we were freezing sitting there near the water for an hour waiting for the show even though we were dressed fairly warmly. The hot chocolate sales were going gangbusters that night and they had did have a comedian come out about 15 minutes before the show started to warm up the crowd (so to speak) and was very good. We all thought the show was excellent and really enjoyed it despite the cold. It would have been more enjoyable if it wasn’t so cold and we thought we might try to see it again this week if we got he chance and it was a warmer night, but we definitely will make it a must-do for future visits.

It wasn’t too bad getting out of the parking lot as I had feared it might and we got back to the condo about 8:00. We all took turns in the hot tub in our room to warm out bones and were all asleep by about 9:30.

Tuesday, February 23

PLAN:

Blizzard Beach (weather permitting), if weather doesn’t cooperate, go to Downtown Disney for shopping and Disney Quest if didn’t do it already or play some miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens, PS for Donna and I at V&A at 6:00 and maybe go to Boardwalk after, Donna’s parents stay at Vistana with kids

REALITY:

While the weather was a little warmer today, it was still not swimming weather so we planned to go to Blizzard Beach on Thursday when the forecast called for temps in the mid to upper 70’s (not great, but good enough for us Northerners and the best we were going to get this week). Donna and I were planning for our big night alone tonight at Victoria and Albert’s, however, when we she woke up she had this rash on her face. She was not going to go out that night looking like a beet so we went to the Walk-In Medical clinic just down the street from Vistana at the corner of Routes 535 and 536. We couldn’t think of anything she might have eaten to cause this other than maybe the sushi but she had never a reaction to it before. In any case they gave her a shot of steroids to alleviate the redness in her face and prescribed some antibiotics for the itchiness. The redness did start to disappear and her face was back to normal by the afternoon so she felt comfortable going out that night.

After we returned from the clinic and had lunch, we decided to take a drive over to the West Side and give Disney Quest a try. I am not big on arcade games but went in with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised as this place is much more than a huge arcade. We had a ball with virtual reality games/experiences such as Aladin’s Magic Carpet Ride, Hercules, the White Water Raft ride and several others. My in-laws weren’t that excited about going but they ended up having a good time at the arcade and collected a lot of tickets during the afternoon as did Donna and the kids (I didn’t do so well, but had a great time nevertheless). It may seem a little steep at $25 for adults and $20 for kids (15% off with the Magic Kingdom card) but when you think about how much money you can drop on tokens at a place like Chuckie Cheese and the quality and variety of experiences at Disney Quest where you can play all day for one price, I think it may be one of the better bargains in Disney World. I’m not sure what it is like there at night or on the weekends when I am sure that it is more crowded than during a week day, but when we went it wasn’t crowded at all and we never had to wait long for anything, so I would say that week days are probably the best time to go. We spent about 3 hours there and could have stayed longer but Donna and I had to get back and get ready for our night out.

Donna and I showered and changed and left for our 6:00 PM dinner reservation at Victoria and Alberts at 5:30. We got to the Grand Floridian, valet parked our car and found Victoria and Alberts in the back of the lobby. We were a little early but were seated right away. It was a very nice atmosphere, classy but understated and not too stuffy. It was a small and intimate dining area with about 20 tables and a harpist played throughout the evening and took requests. I requested Donna’s favorite song, "You Look Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton but she didn’t have the music for it. However, she did play Van Morrison’s "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" for her which was very nice.

I won’t go into details about the meal, since the menu changes every night, but there were 5 courses – appetizers, soup, salad, entrée and dessert. There was a choice of 2 selections for each course except for he entrée which had 4 choices and 5 choices for dessert. We were very happy with all of our selections. The fixed price was $80.00 fixed per person and Donna got the wine pairings with her meal for another $30.00. I’m not a big wine drinker, so I had a couple of beers. After the meal we were brought our own personalized menus to keep. The meal took about 2 and a half hours from start to finish and ended up costing $208. We left a $42 tip bringing the total bill to $250 (less my company’s $200 reimbursement it cost us $50). Was it worth it? The bottom line is that the food was very good and well-prepared and we were full but not stuffed when we left. The ambiance was special and romantic and the staff (each table had a waiter named Albert and a waitress named Victoria) was attentive without being intrusive. We liked our Victoria very much but our Albert was a little stuffy. Would we do it again? Probably not, unless I got another dinner from my company. Are we glad we did it? You bet. It was a very special experience, but I do not feel comfortable spending $250 of my own money on one meal, no matter how special it is.

Following dinner, we walked around the lobby of the Grand Floridian and browsed some of the shops. We walked outside on the grounds for a bit but it was getting cooler so we got the car and left. We thought about going over to Pleasure Island but decided to do that on another night (we never did make it over on this trip) and went back to Vistana for the night as we couldn’t wait to tell Donna’s parents about our experience.

Wednesday, February 24

PLAN:

Kids and I drop Donna and her parents off at Epcot for the Hidden Treasures of the World Showcase Tour (5 hours and includes lunch at Morocco) while kids and I head to MK (do Test track first if it is open early), meet up at 2:30 at World Showcase and leave park then return to do Future World and Illuminations in evening

REALITY:

This day went pretty much as we had planned except no one needed a mid-day break as I had expected and we spent the afternoon and evening at Epcot. We left for Epcot at 8:00 AM and went to the Guest Relations window outside the park at 8:15 as requested on the confirmation for the Hidden Treasures of the World Showcase tour. There were several other people waiting for it as well but the guide didn’t arrive until after 8:30. There was some confusion as to whether park admission was required for the tour amongst those taking the tour and the Guest Relations staff. We were told when we booked the tour that park admission was included with 5-hour tour but the confirmation letter stated that admission was required. As it turned out, separate park admission is required for the shorter 2 ½ hour World Showcase tours but is not necessary for the 5 hour tour. Since when the tour ended, guests were brought back to Guest Relations, admission would be necessary if you wanted to return into the park after the tour. The cost for the tour is $85 per person ($68 if paid with American Express) and includes a walking tour of all the countries in the World Showcase and lunch at Morocco. Donna and her parents enjoyed the tour, especially the lunch and the entertainment at Morocco (my father-in-law got selected to dance with the belly-dancer and that was one of the highlights of his trip).

While it was interesting, they didn’t think it was as worthwhile as the Keys to the Kingdom tour at the Magic Kingdom which they had taken on our last trip.

While waiting at Guest Relations, I used a coupon I had gotten for answering a survey in the back of the Disney Insider magazine from the Magic Kingdom Club, which gave us a reserved spot for watching Illuminations in the garden near the Rose and Crown Pub in Great Britain. After Donna, her parents and their group left, the kids and I went into the park and rode Spaceship Earth. I prefer the old Walter Cronkite narrative but its still a great way to start the day at Epcot. We headed directly for Test Track next to see if it was open and were told it probably wouldn’t open until the afternoon. We crossed the park and took in Honey I Shrunk the Audience, our second favorite 3D attraction, next to Terminator2 3D at Universal. At this point, it was about 9:30, so we thought we should get over to the Magic Kingdom to do the Mountains one more time before it got too crowded, so we left the park, hopped on the monorail to the TTC and connected to the Magic Kingdom.

We hopped on the Walt Disney Railroad at Main Street and got off in Frontierland and were able to ride Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain without too much of a wait. We got back on the railroad and took it over to Mickeys Toontown Fair then took the walkway next to the railroad from Toontown to Tomorrowland. This path is seldom crowded and a great shortcut to Tomorrowland and Space Mountain. We had about a 20 minute wait at Space Mountain which wasn’t too bad considering it was getting close to noon time. After trying our luck at Buzz Lightyear again, we decided that it was time for another Turkey Leg, which they now have in Tomorrowland, so we didn’t have to go all the way back to Frontierland. At this point it was about 12:30 and we thought it might be time to head back to Epcot and take another shot at Test Track, so we left the Magic Kingdom and took the monorail back to Epcot. When we got to Test Track, we could actually hear cars running around the track and saw people in line which was exciting.

The sign outside said the wait was about an hour but that didn’t seem bad at all, we were just glad we might actually get to ride. Unfortunately, after being in line for about 15 minutes, we heard the announcement that the ride was shutting down and there was no timetable for resuming. We had the option of staying in line but it would probably be at least an hour before the ride resumed. Since it was about 1:30 and we were going to meet Donna and her parents in Canada (the last stop on the tour) at 2:00 we didn’t have much choice but to leave and try again later. On the way to the World Showcase, we stopped at Ice Station Cool to sample some of the different soft drinks. Most of them were pretty good, but like many other people, we all hated the Beverly.

The tour finished a little after 2:00 and surprisingly, Donna’s parents were not tired and wanted to stay for the afternoon and browse around World Showcase. As it turned out, they were not brought back to the entrance after the tour, so they were able to stay in the park for the rest of the day without buying another admission. I don’t know if this was proper or not, but I didn’t think it was fair to ask them to use up an entire day’s admission when half the day was gone already anyway. The weather had finally warmed up into the 70’s today, so the kids wanted to go back to the pool and so did Donna and I, so we left the park and returned to Vistana. We told Donna’s parents we would meet them at 5:00 PM at the entrance to the World Showcase. So after spending about and hour and a half at the pool, we changed and went back to Epcot for the evening. I had made a priority seating for San Angel Inn in Mexico for 5:30, but wasn’t sure what kind of mood everyone would be in after their lunch in Morocco. Everyone was hungry and in the mood for some Mexican food, so we went to the restaurant and were seated immediately. We had a light, but very good meal as I had the combo plate, Donna had a taco salad, Donna’s parents had soup and split a quesadilla, Tanya had nachos and TJ had the kids chicken finger plate (I think he had this at every sit-down meal on this trip but he never got tired of it). I think it all came to about $70 with drinks and tip. The food and service were excellent and the atmosphere can’t be beat, as this is one of our favorite dining spots in all of Disney World.

The kids and I took the El Rio del Tiempo boat ride after dinner while Donna and her parents wanted to stroll around World Showcase and catch some of the entertainment going on in the countries as they walked. We told them we would meet them at the garden near Rose and Crown in Great Britain at 8:30 so we could watch Illuminations from our reserved spot. After the ride in Mexico, we figured we would make one more attempt at riding Test Track and luckily the ride was operating again. Once again there was about an hour to wait but that was little to ask as long as we actually got to ride. Well, it took a little more than an hour but the line moved along and once you get inside the building, there are lots of exhibits and tests to view, so the time passed fairly quickly.

But when we got to the front of the line and were just about to go into one of the doors that would bring us to the pre-show briefing area, a delay occurred. We feared the worst - that we had waited in line for over an hour and just as we were about to ride, it would be shut down and be too late to resume before the park closed. Finally, after about 15 minutes, that seemed like an eternity, we were let into the briefing room. After a few minute video, we finally made it to the ride. I wasn’t sure if there would be another long line at this point, but we were able to get into a car within a few minutes. The ride was a blast and worth the wait. Obviously, long lines will be the order of the day but it is definitely one of the few rides I would willingly wait in line for an hour to ride.

There are a lot of General Motors exhibits to spend time with following the ride but we felt we had spent enough time here and it was now after 8:00 so we had to head back to the World Showcase to meet up with Donna and her parents. When we got to the park near the Rose and Crown Pub in Great Britain, they were already there and waiting at the viewing area. It was a nice spot with a good view of everything around the lagoon and there were only a few other families there. There is an open area near the water that was reserved for some executives of the Disney corporation, but for some reason they canceled out and we were allowed to view the show from that area which was even better than where we had been. It had gotten cool when the sun went down but nowhere near as cold as it had been for Fantasmic on Monday night and we had come prepared, so we really enjoyed seeing Illuminations very much from this vantage point. We had rented a pontoon boat a couple of times in the past and got to view Illuminations from the water beneath the International Gateway bridge between Britain and France. This was great and a lot of fun, but you can’t see everything as well as you can from the park, so if you get a chance to take advantage of seeing Illuminations from here, definitely do it.

We headed out of the park following Illuminations along with the rest of the hordes but still managed to get out of the parking lot within a reasonable amount of time and were back to Vistana by 10:00.

Thursday, February 25

PLAN:

Thursday, February 25 - PS for breakfast at Chef Mickeys, rent some water sprites at Contemporary Marina weather permitting, return to Vistana to swim/relax and pack for cruise, adults go to Pleasure Island or Church Street while Tanya watches TJ

REALITY:

Since today was the best day of the week weather-wise, we decided to go to Typhoon Lagoon, which we hadn’t been to for a few years. We slept late for us, then packed a lunch (you can bring a lunch and drinks into the water parks as long as there is no glass and no alcohol) and we got there just a little after opening at 10:00 but it seemed fairly crowded already. We picked a secluded spot near Shark Reef since we wanted the kids to try their snorkeling gear here before we went snorkeling on the cruise in the Bahamas. The kids and I headed off to the water slides so we could get them in before it got too crowded later in the day, while Donna and her mom relaxed (her father had decided to stay at the condo since he isn’t much of a beach person). We hit the storm slides and went down several times without a wait. The kids wanted to try Humunga Kowabunga so they did that while I watched (I’m not a big fan of wedgies!) We went next to the tube rides and tried the family raft ride first. This ride is too short for the hassle involved in getting the raft and getting it to the top. The family raft ride at Blizzard Beach is much longer and more fun, plus the rafts are automatically brought to the top for you. We tried the other tube rides next but the lines were getting longer so we went back to our spot to get our snorkeling gear and made our way to Shark Reef. This is not a real exciting snorkeling experience but its a great way to get the kids used to using the mask and breathing through the snorkel and there are plenty of fish and small sharks to view while swimming. You have to keep moving forward and the pool is fairly short so you are done almost as soon as you begin but you are allowed to go through as many times as you wish, so we did until we all started getting hungry.

We ate at a table near our spot then relaxed in the sun for a while. After lunch, Donna and Tanya decided they wanted to get temporary tattoos for the cruise and went off to the tattoo booth with Donna’s mom while T.J. and I ventured back to the slides. Surprisingly, there were no lines for the body slides and we were able to do several runs quickly. The same was not true of the tube rides. I guess there is more congestion here because of the limited number of rafts, but to us the body slides are more fun anyway so after a couple of runs on the rafts, we had enough and went back to find the girls. Donna got a small rose on her shoulder and Tanya got a cross for her ankle. T.J. decided he wanted one too but we told him we would get one when we left. Donna’s mother, the kids and I wanted to take a ride around the park on Castaway Creek so we did that while Donna got some more sun. By the time we got back, it was about 3:00PM and we decided that we had had enough sun for the day as Tanya and I were starting to get red (we both have fair skin and burn easily while T.J. and his mom love the sun and get dark

easily). We got T.J. his tattoo (a snake on his arm) and picked up some arctic dots (small frozen ice cream balls) that are really great if you haven’t tried them before, then headed back to the condo.

Donna and I had planned to go out at least one night, either with her parents or alone, to either Pleasure Island or Church Street Station, but after our day in the sun, we were all pretty tired and decided to stay in and relax a little before we left for the cruise tomorrow. We did laundry and packed the suitcases and ate the remaining food that we had leftover from the week and called it a night early.

Friday, February 26

PLAN:

Check out and head for Port Canaveral, board Disney Magic and leave Port Canaveral for Nassau at 5:00 PM

REALITY:

We slept until about 9:00 today and got up, showered and were dressed by the Vistana check-out time of 10:00 AM. I had requested a late check-out the previous night and we were given until 11:30 but as it turned out , we didn’t need the extra time since we had packed most everything the night before and we were on the road a little after 10:00 AM.

We stopped at Cracker Barrel on Route 192, one of our favorite spots for breakfast. The food was good as always, but it took forever to get it and it was 11:30 by the time we got out of there and started off for Cape Canaveral. We took the Bee-line Expressway (Route 528 East) from Orlando to Port Canaveral and made it to the dock in about 1 hour. This is a pretty uneventful and monotonous ride through swamps, pastures and farmland I don’t know if we were all tired from our week in Orlando, but it was a real quiet ride and felt more like we were going home than just beginning a cruise. However, everyone perked up and started to get excited when we saw the Disney Magic as we crossed the bridge into Cape Canaveral. It was a really impressive sight and we couldn’t wait to see what it looked like up close.

We unloaded our bags at the entrance to the beautiful new terminal and a porter took care of the luggage for us. I parked the car in the parking lot right in front of the entrance and we went into the terminal to register. We found our station based on last name and took care of all the paperwork and passport/id verifications in a matter of minutes. It was all pretty fast and easy. All we had to do now was wait in line for boarding. The line was already pretty long by the time we got into it, but a little before the 1:00 PM boarding time, it started to move as people were let on board. Before we knew it, we were on the ship in the Atrium lobby and it was really a beautiful sight. We were met by one of the ships crew as we boarded and he took us around to the elevator and helped us find our rooms. I offered him a tip but he said it wasn’t necessary. Already this cruise was different from the others I had taken.

The rooms were quite roomy and beautifully appointed with a nautical flair. We were all happy to have the verandah but in retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t pay for it because we didn’t use it all that much. Donna was disappointed because we had ordered some flowers and a vegetable platter from the Magical Treasures booklet for her parents but they were not in the room when they arrived. We had ordered a snack package for the kids and that was in our room however. The flowers showed up a little while later and the vegetable platter came after that but it just wasn’t the same surprise as far as Donna was concerned. Our luggage came up in bits and pieces as well but by the time we got back from the mandatory fire drill last in the day, we had it all. I had to take care of some business while the others unpacked and explored the ship a little. We had requested the early seating for us and Donna’s parents, which we got, however we were seated at different tables. I had to go one of the lounges on Beat Street (the entertainment section of the boat) to talk to the dining staff about getting it changed so we could be at the same table. It wasn’t easy, but they were able to move some other people around so we could arrange it. There were a lot of other people who weren’t so fortunate. Most complaints had to do with being assigned a late seating time when they had requested early and there were a lot of unhappy campers. This being a largely family-oriented cruise, I think most people wanted the early seating. Unfortunately there are only so many tables and the early seating was sold out so I am not sure how many people they were able to satisfy since I don’t think there were many people with the early seating who wished to switch to the late seating. Next I went over to the excursion desk near where we had embarked and arranged to take the Blue Lagoon excursion to a Bahamian island for sunning and snorkeling tomorrow since we weren’t really interested in seeing Nassau again. I also went to the Oceaneer Lab on the Deck 5 to register the kids for their clubs. The Oceaneer Lab is for children ages 9 to 12, so T.J. and Tanya would be in the same club, although the 9 and 10 years olds generally had different activities from the 11 and 12 year olds. I was given a beeper for the counselors to use to page me if the kids needed us while they were in the club. Seeing the club, I knew T.J. would love it but had a funny feeling it was not going to be Tanya’s cup of tea as it seemed a little juvenile for her. She is a socially mature 12 year old (she will be 13 in July), with many friends a year or two older than her and I thought she might be more at home at the teen club Common Grounds, although I knew this would not please Donna, since the teens were free to come and go as they pleased and there were much older kids there (up to age 17) than Donna would be comfortable having Tanya hang around with.

When I got back from my errands, we made our way up to Topsiders Buffet on Deck 9 for the Welcome Aboard buffet. There were plenty of options for everyone from Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Pizza to salad. Cold meats and fruit and desserts. I tried not to eat too much since it was already 3:00 PM and we were eating again at 6:00 at Lumiere’s, the flagship restaurant on the ship. Donna wanted to get a french manicure for her nails at the Spa and tried to get an appointment for today since tonight was the formal dinner and we were having our portraits taken, but she couldn’t get an appointment. Another disappointment for her and she was not very happy about the way the cruise was starting. When we got back to our cabin, we had to get ready for the fire drill, which is always a pain in the neck, but of course it is necessary. This took about half an hour in all and then we headed back to the room to get ready for dinner. The ship pushed off on schedule at 5:00 and we stood on our verandah and watched as the ship left the dock. There wasn’t anyone to wish us Bon Voyage at the Disney dock, but as we got further along , there were more and more people standing along the shore watching the boats depart (the Big Red Boat left just ahead of us).

We made our way down to Lumiere’s on Deck 3 and waited outside in the lobby for the doors to open and had our portraits taken by the photographers since we hadn’t had a family portrait done in a long time (fortunately, they came out very nicely). We weren’t let in until after 6:00, but we did meet some pen pals of Tanya’s whom she had met through the Disney Cruise bulletin board on AOL. There were 3 sisters from New York, ages 14,12 and 10 who had exchanged pictures with Tanya, so they all recognized each other when they saw one another outside of Lumiere’s. They made plans to get together later and then we all went in to dinner. We had Table 58, pretty much in the middle of the room. Our servers were Leslie from New Zealand and Jessica from Sweden. They were pleasant enough but not particularly quick and efficient or as much fun as some servers we had have in the past. I won’t go into details about each meal, since frankly I don’t remember what everyone had at this point, but suffice it to say, we were not disappointed in anything we tried. Everything at each different restaurant was well-prepared and tasty, especially the desserts. There was something for everyone as there were usually beef, chicken, fish, pasta and vegetable entrees each night, along with an appetizer, soup, salad and dessert and we generally sampled a little bit of everything between the 6 of us.

We were all full by the end of the meal, but not overly stuffed. The kids were anxious to go the Oceaneer Lab to see what activities were going on and meet the other kids, since they had both loved the clubs on the Big Red Boat and had such a great time, we hardly ever saw them on those cruises. T.J. was all excited when he saw all the cool stuff in the lab and he was gone before we had a chance to say good-bye. Tanya, however, was less than thrilled. As I had feared, she thought it was too babyish and was near tears at the prospect of staying here. We talked to the counselor and they suggested that she stay and give it a try for a while and if she didn’t care for it, she could give the teen club a try later. She agreed less than enthusiastically, but we hoped she would meet up with her friends from AOL or make some new friends her age to hang around with, so we went to see the show at the Walt Disney Theater show and promised to check in on her after the show. The show that first night was Disney Dreams and while it started out a little corny with a girl being visited by Peter Pan, it really turned out to be the best show we saw on the ship, with lots of great songs from the Disney Classics. The show was done about 9:30 and we went back to the Lab to see how Tanya was doing. It was funny, but in the past, we were always more concerned with T.J. since he is shier and not as outgoing as Tanya, but now it was her we were worried about. They had gone to Pinnochio’s Pizza for pizza and games and we found T.J. having a ball, while Tanya was miserable. She felt older than all the other kids and was not happy at all since her friends had not shown up either. Let me state that she is a pretty easy-going kid and not a whiner or petulant at all, so we took her unhappiness seriously. Donna was not happy either but she agreed to let her go to the teen club to try it for the rest of the night, so now I had 2 unhappy women on my hands. This was not an auspicious beginning to the cruise.

Donna’s parents were tired and went back to their cabin while Donna and I went to Beat Street and had a couple of drinks at the Comedy Club, which was very good. Then we we went to the dance club for a little while where a live rock band was playing. We listened to the music for a little while but neither of us felt much like dancing, so at 11:00 we went and picked up T.J. at the Oceaneer’s Lab and went back to the room to wait for Tanya. She came in around 12:00 and said she had enjoyed it a little more than the Oceaneers Lab, but she did not see any of her on-line friends there, so she still wasn’t sure where she wanted to spend her time for the rest of the cruise, but we decided she would try to find her friends tomorrow and do something with them.

Saturday, February 27

PLAN:

Arrive in Nassau, take DCL excursion to Blue Lagoon for snorkeling, swimming and kids do Dolphin Encounter

REALITY:

We arrived in Nassau at about 8:00 AM and had breakfast outside at Topsiders Buffet. It was a beautiful day - sunny and in the 80’s. The buffet breakfast however left something to be desired as the eggs were cold and runny and nothing seemed very fresh or warm. We decided to eat in the dining room tomorrow. We met in the family lounge to take the tender over to the Blue Lagoon beach day at 9:00 AM. We had to wait about half an hour for the tender and were on our way by 9:30 AM. It took about 40 minutes to get over to the island which was very nice and clean. It also happened to be right next to the Nassau Dolphin Experience which I had tried to make reservations for a couple of months prior to leaving, but unfortunately it had been all booked up. We were told we might be able to get in if there were cancellations so while Donna and her parents went to find a spot to settle in for the day, I took the kids to see if we could get a slot to meet the dolphins, since we were only interested in having them do it. Apparently, there were a couple of cancellations as some people from our excursion were able to get in but we were not so fortunate. We were told we could try again (tours were scheduled every hour and a half during the day) but we were never able to get a slot.

We found a spot near the snorkeling area and grabbed a hammock and a table and while Donna relaxed on the beach, we went off to explore the amenities of the island. We were right next to an outdoor dining area where a barbecue would be served for lunch. This was not included in the $25.00 per person charge for the excursion ($17.50 for kids) and ended up being fairly pricey, but good. There were also water craft, tube, raft and snorkeling rentals available but we had our own gear so didn’t rent anything. As we made our way to the other side of the island searching for the best snorkeling area, we realized that we were on the same island that we had been to for the Big Red Boat island excursions, only we had been dropped on the opposite side of the island along with some guests from other cruise ships. We found the stingray snorkel area called Stingray City but when we heard that it would cost another $30.00 per person to snorkel in the lagoon with the stingrays we passed and decided to try the area near where we had settled. This turned out to be a mistake. The area we tried was quite rocky and though it was relatively calm when we started out, it got rough pretty quick and we were soon being tossed around by the waves into the rocks. The kids were pretty scared and so were we since we are all pretty inexperienced snorkelers, and soon they started to panic, but we got them calmed down and back into shore with only a few scrapes. That was it for our snorkeling for this day - we should have paid the extra dollars and snorkeled in the calmer lagoon with the stingrays. We felt pretty fortunate later in the day, when a large group of people from another cruise ship tried snorkeling in the same area and one by one, we saw them come back to shore with some serious cuts and bruises and many of them had to be treated by the First Aid station nearby. I don’t know if we hit a bid day or not but my guess is that it is always pretty rough snorkeling here and would recommend snorkeling in the stingray lagoon at Stingray City if you don’t mind paying the extra cash.

After lunch, we relaxed on the beach side of the island and stayed in the calm lagoon until it was time to head back to the boat at about 2:30. We had a nice day despite the snorkeling adventure and missing out on the Dolphin Encounter. I would still recommend the Blue Lagoon excursion to the usual downtown Nassau experience and would recommend booking the Dolphin Experience as far in advance as possible to assure yourself a spot. The ride back was relaxing and we were entertained by a Bahamian band as we had been on the way over.

After we got back to the ship we relaxed for a little while before showering and getting ready for dinner (it was more casual attire for tonight). Donna’s parents took the bridge tour with the captain and a group of other guests. You are entitled to book this tour when you pay for the cruise with the American Express card and they both enjoyed it.

We went to dinner tonight at the Animators Palate which was a fun place. The walls are filled with black and white animation cells of scenes from Disney films when you first enter the room but as the evening progresses, various cells begin to fill with color which is a really neat touch. The food was excellent again and everyone enjoyed it. Tanya found her friends and they invited her to stay with them and their family for the night as they were going see the movie "The Waterboy" and later were going to the pool and hot tub and possibly the arcade. This was fine with us as they seemed to be a very nice family and we knew she would have more fun with them than at either of the clubs. T.J., on the other hand, couldn’t wait to finish dinner so he could get back to the Oceaneer’s Lab and even skipped dessert so I could bring him over before dinner was finished.

Donna, her parents and I went back to the Walt Disney Theater for the evening’s show after perusing the pictures at Shutters, the photography shop. We picked out our favorite portraits but decided to wait until tomorrow to buy everything we wanted at once. The original show was supposed to be the "Voyage of the Ghost Ship" but they were re-working it, so tonight’s show was going to be a variety show instead. The show started off well with John Charles acting as MC. We had seen John before at Walt Disney World where he has been for many years (most recently at the Diamond Horseshoe Review) and he is a talented musician and very funny as well. The first act was interesting but went on a little too long as a woman from Russia did tricks with hoola hoops - I mean, she was good but there are only so many things you can do with a hoola hoop. The next act were supposed to be the stars of the show, the world-famous Crowtations (I had never heard of them however). They were 4 guys with crow puppets on their hands who walked around and had the puppets lip-sync to old Motown tunes. It was cute - for about 5 minutes! It went on for about 20 minutes and was almost painful to watch as people got up and left in droves. We stayed however, hoping it would get better or end soon, but it went on and on. When it finally did end, so did the show, although more than half the audience had left by that time. Hopefully, the "Voyage of the Ghost Ship" is back in production soon, but this show has to go!

At this point we were all pretty tired from our day in the sun, so we retired to the cabin at 9:30 to relax and have a drink. We ended up watching the Tom Hanks movie "Big" which we had seen before but was worth watching again, while we waited for the kids (it's sad when your kids start staying out later than you!) Donna ended up falling asleep around 11:00 and I went to pick up T.J. at the club at 11:30 although he was still going strong. Tanya came in shortly after and had a good time with her friends. We all crashed soon thereafter.

Sunday, February 28

PLAN:

Arrive at Castaway Cay for swimming and snorkeling

REALITY:

When we awoke this morning, we were already docked at Disney’s own island, Castaway Cay. We got dressed and went to breakfast at Lumiere’s and this was a big improvement over the breakfast at Topsider’s Buffet. We were done eating and ready to disembark by 9:00 AM and were some of the first people off the ship and onto the island. It was overcast, but the forecast was for a nice day and it turned out to be just that. The island was beautiful, very well-maintained and clean with chairs and umbrellas set up all along the beach which fronted a very nice lagoon for swimming and snorkeling. There was a boating area set up separately from the swimming and sunbathing area. There was also an adult beach called Serenity Bay, but we never made it over there as we set up camp at the family beach, grabbing some lounge chairs and hammock and settling in for the day. The beach soon filled up as the morning progressed and the weather improved. Donna decided to have her hair braided in corn rows, which cost her $36 for 18 rows (she had done Tanya’s hair in corn rows herself during the week at Vistana and this lasted her the whole vacation). Tanya found her friends and stayed with them for most of the day. T.J. had the option of going with his group from the Oceaneer’s Lab but chose to stay with us and ran into some kids he knew from the club throughout the day. Donna’s parents went off to browse the shops that were set up along the island and they explored the island while I just relaxed, trying to soak up the sun and warmth on our last full day of vacation.

The kids and I tried snorkeling later in the morning and while the water was much calmer and it was more fun than yesterday, there still wasn’t all that much to see yet. They have just started attracting the tropical fish population by placing reef balls throughout the lagoon and I have no doubt that in a few years there will be a lot to see in the lagoon, but for now its pretty sparse. Anyway, it was a very nice and relaxing day. There’s plenty of space for everyone and you don’t feel overcrowded. There are plenty of opportunities to spend money as well, with several shops scattered around, as well as boat, raft, tube and snorkeling rentals and of course the obligatory hair-braiding booths (although you are not hassled about it as you are from the minute you land in Nassau). There are a couple of bars on the island and waiters/waitresses make the rounds on the beach to take orders and bring drinks right to your chair. A barbecue lunch is included at Cookie’s Barbecue and it has typical barbecue offerings like hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, salad, corn, watermelon and desserts as well as fruit punch. It was good and plentiful and though there always seemed to be long lines from 11:30 to 1:30, they moved along pretty well.

We ate a late lunch around 1:00 PM, then relaxed for a while after eating, but around 2:30 the wind started picking up and was really blowing by 3:00 as most people made their way back to the ship by then. It was an ominous sign of things to come. We went back to the ship and while the rest of the gang packed and got ready for dinner, I went to the Disembarkation meeting in the Walt Disney Theater to find out how it would all work in the morning. It sounded pretty easy compared to other cruises we had taken and it turned out to be so. The boat pushed off from Castaway Cay at 5:00 PM and we sat out on the verandah for a while watching the island disappear as we made our way back to Port Canaveral. We started noticing something odd as we walked to dinner at Parrot Cay, the least formal of the restaurants - we could feel the ship moving, something we hadn’t really noticed at all previously. Parrot Cay was bright and colorful but we didn’t really enjoy our meal here as much as we had at the other restaurants. The food was fine as always, with a Caribbean theme, but our server Leslie was going on a 2 month vacation starting tomorrow and she was a basket case. To make matters worse, the rocking of the boat was getting worse and worse and by the end of the meal, Donna and her parents weren’t feeling very well. We finished eating (I again brought T.J. to the Oceaneers Lab before we had even gotten dessert as he couldn’t wait) and gave the girls their tips. We gave the standard amount as we didn’t feel they gave us exceptional service (though we did leave a little extra for our cabin steward, Rosa, who was great) and we could leave it on our room charge which was nice, since we didn’t have to carry around the cash. I never understand the purpose of giving the head dining room attendant a tip, since she introduced herself to us once on the second night and we never saw her again until it was tip time and even then I had to seek her out, but it's traditional I guess.

As we headed out of the restaurant, Tanya sought out her friends and found that the two oldest were feeling seasick and had gone back to their room, so we invited the youngest to come with us to the final show, "Hercules". As it turned out, only Tanya, her friend and I attended the show as Donna and her parents were not feeling well and they decided to spend the evening in the cabin. They had seasickness pills and ginger but it didn’t seem to help. What a great way to spend the last night of your cruise! But you can’t control the weather, as a tropical storm hit and kept up for most of the night. We never saw any rain but the winds and seas were pretty rough all night. The show was more humorous in tone than any other Disney stage show I have seen and though it had its moments, I think that Disney Dreams would have to be my favorite of the shows we saw on board. After the show I picked up the pictures we had picked out previously at Shutters and Tanya picked out a nice one of she and her friends on Castaway Cay. We went back to the room and watched TV with Donna for a while. We put our bags out in the hall at 10:00 (we had until midnight to do so which was a nice change from other cruises). By 10:30, Donna was asleep and Tanya and I brought her friend back to her room. None of the rest of her family had left the cabin that night either, as I think there were many cases of seasickness that night. Tanya went to bed and I went to pick up T.J. at 11:00 (he would have stayed all night if we let him). I had to wait there a while because when I got there, they were making flubber, and I couldn’t make him leave until they were done and he gotten his sample. We were back in the room and asleep by 11:30.

Monday, March 1

PLAN:

Disembark at Port Canaveral, return to Orlando International, drop off rental car and return trip home

REALITY:

Despite the rough seas, everyone slept well and when we awoke at 6:30 AM, we found we were already back at port Canaveral. We dressed and went to breakfast at Parrot Cay for 7:00.. Leslie was just as frazzled as she had been the night. Hey, lighten up girl, you’re going on vacation! Breakfast was very good and when we were done eating by 8:00, we were able to disembark. What a piece of cake! We found our bags ( they were color coded by deck and easy to find. We were through customs in about 10 minutes and free to go on our way. It couldn’t have been easier. Well, yes it could have. If you are traveling one one of the major carriers such as American, United, Delta, US Airways, Contintental or Northwest, you can check your bags at the pier and they will have then delivered to the airport for you. The only problem is, they won’t get there until about noon time so if you have an earlier flight, it won’t work for you . Fortunately, I thought to ask about this when we started checking our bags or they would not have made our flight.

As it turned out however, it wouldn’t matter.

We packed our bags into the minivan and were off for the airport by 9:00 AM and arrived about 10:00 AM at Orlando International. We dropped off the rental car and checked our bags and still had about an hour to kill so we browsed through some shops then headed over to our gate on American Airlines. About 15 minutes before we were to board the plane, Donna saw a funny look come over her father and he collapsed in her arms. He has a history of heart problems and has a defibrillator, so our first thought was that he was having a heart attack and the paramedics were summoned quickly. He regained consciousness in less than a minute and we laid him down on the floor until the paramedics got there and could assess his condition. He was feeling fine without pain shortly thereafter but of course, there was no way they were going to let him fly at that point, until he was evaluated by a doctor.

Obviously, we missed our flight home, but American assured us it would not be an issue in getting another flight when we were ready to travel again and we were very grateful for that. But Kirk Higaki, the American customer service rep, went beyond that by giving us vouchers for a round taxi trip to the hospital and back to be with my father-in-law while he was evaluated at Sand Lake Hospital in Orlando. Since the hospital decided to keep him overnight for observation and testing, Kirk offered to find us a hotel and gave us vouchers for a one night stay at the Radisson Inn Barcelo near the hospital, as well as vouchers for dinner and breakfast. This was totally unexpected but it was very much appreciated and certainly made a difficult situation much less stressful.

In addition, Kirk not only had to arrange one flight home for us, he actually had to arrange three different flights. Since we told our house-sitter to leave the keys in the house when she left for the day on Monday morning, that meant there was no way for anyone to get in our house to let our dogs out until we got home, so Donna wanted to take Tanya and TJ home that night if possible, to take care of the dogs and get the kids to school the next day, while I stayed behind with my in-laws. Well, there was only one seat available on a Midway Airlines flight at 5:55PM to Boston through Raleigh-Durham so Donna took it and got home to NH by midnight that night and was able to take care of the animals and make phone calls for my in-laws. They had not been able to get our bags off the plane we had missed, but they kept the bags for us in Boston and Donna and a friend of ours were able to pick them up and bring them home. We decided that the rest of us would take the same flights that Donna did the next day as the doctors thought that the testing would be done and my father-in-law would be released on Tuesday afternoon. However, as it turned out, he would not be released until 8:00 PM Tuesday night, so only the kids and I could take that flight home and Kirk was able to book my in-laws on the 11:10 non-stop flight to Boston, which they preferred to a connection anyway, on Wednesday, March 3.

It was determined that My father-in-law had an angina attack and passed out from taking 2 nitroglycerin pills when he felt some tightness in his chest at the airport. My father-in-law is feeling fine now and we are all back to our normal routines, thanks in large part to American Airlines and Kirk Higaki. I just wanted to mention this since airlines generally get so much grief for poor customer service, but we felt American went above and beyond the call of duty for us.

SUMMARY

In summary, we felt it was a pretty good vacation overall, except for the ending but even that turned out OK in the end, as Donna’s father is doing fine now. The Disney/Orlando part of the vacation was fun and we got to do some new things, most of which we enjoyed like the Animal Kingdom in general , Disney Quest, Victoria and Alberts and of course, Test Track. We also enjoyed the cruise for the most part, except for the last night. We enjoyed our cabin, the verandah, the food and especially Castaway Cay. The shows were OK but not great, Beat Street was fun, T.J. really enjoyed the Oceaneers Lab, the embarkation and disembarkation process was a breeze and the service for the most part was good, although our servers were just average. Minor disappointments included the Magical Treasures packages not being in my in-laws cabin when they arrived, the snorkeling areas at both islands and Tanya not being that comfortable in either the Oceaneers Lab or Common Grounds, but that was probably just because she was at in between kind of age. I think most kids enjoyed themselves at the clubs.

I’m glad we did the cruise but I think it will be a while before we do another one. Our feeling is the ship was gorgeous but so huge and the trip so short that we barely saw any of it or took advantage of a lot of things that were offered. Maybe the 4-day cruise gives you more time on-board to explore the ship but I’m not sure. Our room was very nice and the verandah was great but we hardly used it. We also found that no matter how the big ship, if the seas are rough you are going to feel it. I think the last night convinced us that we will stick to land vacations for now, since as nice as our cabin was, its a lot of money to pay to spend the time in your cabin if Mother Nature decides to act up and you really have no control over when that may be.

Ted Owen

tedowen@aol.com or towen@mast.com


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