Family Ties · Long Winding Road

The Big Family Disney Vacation: A Retrospective (part 2)

So where we last left off, we were on a bus on our way to Port Canaveral to get on board the Disney Dream as part of the Big Family Disney Vacation (BFVD). When we arrived at the port, we looked down the aisle of the bus toward the front and were amazed at the number of smushed bugs on the windshield…and then when we got off, there were bugs EVERYWHERE. Those little black bugs that mate mid-air; some people call them love bugs. Ick. We got to go inside, go through metal detectors, check in (including having our photos made and answering questions about our recent state of health – they’re very certain they don’t want ill patients in what will be a closed environment), then on board. They took our picture on the way in – awesome, when everyone looks frazzled and mussed.

Our stateroom, from the corner of the bed. Behind me is a queen bed and a hallway with closets and bathrooms (separate toilet and shower areas).

We went to our rooms to drop off our things. The rooms were very cute – much larger than other cruise staterooms I’ve been in. We all had rooms next to each other (my parents’ room and my sister and niece’s room were adjoining), and we all had verandahs looking out on the ocean. Not that we went out on them at first – the bugs were a real nuisance, but the ship’s cruise director came over the intercom to notify everyone that the bugs should blow away once we were at sea. She said it in a way that made you feel that they weren’t all that annoying, too, like the bugs were just there to send us all off. She was honestly a great cruise director – not all fake smiles and bad tan, but an actually genuine, cheerful, and kind personality.

The niece and her new little pals, dancing during the Sailing Away Party.

Then we went to grab some lunch at one of the few open restaurants, and it was a MADHOUSE. My parents wandered around to scope out two tables – we couldn’t actually find a table big enough for all of us or even two tables together – while we all scoped out the many food options and got some food. Then we came back to take over the tables and direct them to where the best stuff was. We all ate, and then it was time to head to the pool deck for the Sailing Away Party, where the niece reconnected with the pals she made in the lobby of the Polynesian while we waiting on the cruise bus. We toodled around during the afternoon; some of us went to the pool and some caught naps and some just relaxed. Four of us went to the main show in the big theater that night, The Golden Mickies, and then it was time for a late dinner (we had the second seating at dinner for the duration of the cruise, which was 8:15 pm, and was something that really paid off on the last morning). Dinner was at the Enchanted Garden, decorated like a forest glade. The ceiling even changed from sky blue to a dark evening sky with stars as we ate.

Us with the dolphins - that's my sister doing the dolphin kiss!

The next morning, we woke up as we were pulling into Nassau for our day in the Bahamas. The sister, niece, and I had to be up a bit early anyway to go on our excursion (swimming with dolphins). Dave came to breakfast with us since he was up anyway, and then he and my dad had an excursion on a semi-submarine to look at sea creatures. My mom needed a rest day, so she hung out on the verandah reading and looking at the ocean and soaking up the sun for most of the day. The dolphin thing was totally cool. We took a little boat ride, about 20 minutes or so, out to a lagoon where the dolphins are kept and trained. We got a little educational session about dolphins and their anatomy and how they’re trained and ecology in general, and then we went in smaller groups down to large fenced in areas of the lagoon. There was a floating platform we sat on, and then at the part closest to the dock, there was a concrete ledge where the people could stand halfway in the water while the dolphins came up to do tricks. There was hugging the dolphin, kissing the dolphin, dancing with the dolphin, feeding the dolphin, petting the dolphin, getting splashed by the dolphin…it was all a lot of fun, a VERY cool experience.

When we got back to the ship, we went to the pool area. The niece and I rode the big water slide/coaster thing they call the AquaDuck. Water slides are not normally my kind of thing, but this was fun: really fast, but not too splashy, all on an inflatable tube and landing in a shallow, narrow pool of water, so no water-up-the-nose phenomenon. After getting cleaned up, we went to that evening’s show, Villains Tonight, and then dinner at the Royal Palace, all decorated to look like a combination of all the fancy princess stories (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast).

Castaway Cay, with the slide in the distance and the ship even farther, behind the slide.

The next day we paid a visit to Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. This was really just a total beach day, and it was a lot of fun. We scoped out a beach spot where we could all sit together – that was the hardest part of the day – and then we romped in the extraordinarily salty ocean water and ate hot dogs and drank refreshing beverages. My dad rented a bicycle and biked around the island; there were also hiking trails and a lookout tower, though we never left the beach to check them out. There was a slide in the middle of the ocean bay/cay/lagoon/whatever we were in, and Dave went down with the niece several times. We went back to the ship mid-afternoon, got cleaned up, and went to see quite a funny comedy puppet show. That night was pirate night, so the littlest member of our party tied a bandanna on her head and we headed to a pirate-themed dinner in the Animator’s Palette, then up on the pool deck for a pirate party and fireworks. Finally, the comedian was doing an adults-only show in the adult lounge section of the ship, so Dave and my dad and I headed off to hear that as well.

Sad, sad face after Crush didn't talk to her. Our fantastic server Wayne tried to cheer her up, and by the time we left, at least she was dry-eyed.

The last full day was a day at sea. We were lazy. We played the mini golf course. We went to see the movie African Cats in the movie theater. We played bingo. And we went to see the final show, Disney’s Believe. Then there was our final dinner, also in the Animator’s Palette, but with a totally different look and menu. Characters from Finding Nemo came around on the TV screens to play games with the kids, and Crush actually looked and out talked to some kids. This, unfortunately, caused some sorrow at our table – Crush was the niece’s very favorite, and we were seated kind of in the middle, away from most of the screens, and he didn’t talk to her. She was quite devastated.

The next morning, it was time to leave. We had an appointed breakfast time of 8:15 am, which was when we were most thankful for the late dinner seating – the early dinner guests had a 6:30 am breakfast seating – yikes! Then there was a long line to get through customs and back on the bus to head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, the final destination in our BFDV.

Summary of our Disney cruise experiences: It was very relaxing. It was very clean, the staff was very friendly, and we had a great time. They were very good about providing a schedule for the when and where of all the character appearances every day, so my sister could get my niece to see all of the characters she wanted to see and get autographs and photos. The ship was undeniably gorgeous – much of it was very art deco, and there was lots of original artwork from Disney animations all over the ship, and incredibly beautiful artwork based on the animation. The shows each night were pretty incredible – definitely worth experiencing. There was a bit of a feeling of disorganization under the kind and polite face of the staff, though. For example, upon boarding EVERY cruise, you’re required to do an evacuation drill. I’ve been on one cruise before this, and the drill was well-organized and efficient and seemed to have an actual purpose. This drill…it was kind of mayhem. Our gathering area was in a theater. We weren’t shown exactly where to go to get on life boats or anything – after an interminable wait, we were basically just given some really vague instructions about coming back to the same gathering place and following the staff in case of emergency. Dismissed. And then when we were leaving, the staff had told my mom to bring the scooter she’d rented down to them for storage while all of the luggage was removed from the ship. When we went back to get it, they had no idea where it went. It took 30 minutes and at least 5 staff members to finally locate it. The other thing that bothered me was the feeling that much of the staff was overworked. My mom talked to our housekeeper, and found out she was from Jamaica. She took this job because it paid more than any job she could ever have gotten in her home country. She had a school-aged boy at home. She got to see him twice a year. I got the feeling from another crew member that they were lucky to get 6 hours of sleep in a night. No one outright complained, but I had the distinct uncomfortable feeling of being an over-privileged, fat American with less fortunate servants for 4 days. All said and done, though, we had a fantastic time. As far as cruise ships, I honestly think the Disney experience probably can’t be beat. Unless you hate children, and then it’s definitely not for you – it is Disney, after all.

Next up: Animal Kingdom Lodge, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios

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