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jjje 03-19-2013 06:16 PM

Magicians, Hypnotists and Gaga Ball on the Magic
Hello there! I'm Jen and this is my trip report about the 8 night Bahamian cruise out of Galveston on the Disney Magic. You may find this trip report interesting if you are planning on cruising with a child (or adult) with high functioning autism or if you are a first time cruiser like I was. In fact this was the first cruise for my entire family and we learned a lot along the way. Let me introduce my crew. (I took about a million pictures of my kids but I'm going to attempt to talk more about the cruise itself than anything else but if I introduce us you'll know who we are when we pop up in pics.)

First is my daughter E who is seven and still very much my baby. If you happened to be on our cruise and you saw a feisty little redhead either laughing loudly or crying for no real reason, that was my girl. She's wonderfully dramatic.

Second is my son J who is 12 also still kind of my baby. He has Aspergers and is ridiculously smart. If you happened to see a handsome little guy in a newsboy cap plugging his ears that was my boy.

Third in my crew is my husband Jesse. He's a hard working guy who was somewhat hesitant to take the cruise in the first place. In fact he told me I should enjoy this cruise because he was pretty sure it would be a one time deal. Did we change his mind? You'll have to stay tuned! You'll see Jesse pop up in pictures once in while he spent a good portion of this cruise being humiliated in front of large groups of people.

Here's the three most awesome people I know.

And then there's me. I'm Jen. The life long, hard core Disney addict. Living in Minnesota hasn't stopped me from making Disney a regular part of my life. This cruise was to celebrate my retirement from my "career" as a surrogate mother. If you want to see a picture of me look at my profile picture. I'm always the one behind the lens and rarely in front of it.

I hope you join in and enjoy as I recount the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright magical of our first ever Disney cruise. :wave2:

jjje 03-19-2013 08:04 PM

The magic before the Magic
I've never considered myself a cruise person. I've always been a little curious about what a Disney cruise would be like. After all, I love Disney so much that maybe it wold be good enough to make me overcome my general disinterest at being stuck on the boat in the middle of the ocean for days at a time. My family loves to travel and I have gotten really good at doing it on a budget. I didn't think a cruise would fit in with "champagne tastes, beer budget" way of living.

One day I was poking around the internet and doing a little research on good vacation options to book to celebrate my retirement from surrogacy. (Three pregnancies, four babies thankyouverymuch.) I happened to see a blog talking about the kids sail free promotion on cruises from Galveston. I priced it out and it would be cheaper than some of the other options I had been considering. When my husband got home I told him to call and "get more information". My family sat around the kitchen table and listened as my husband spoke to a Disney cruise person. At one point he looked at me and asked "March 1st? 8 nights? Inside room?"

"Book it!" I said. My daughter squealed with joy. My son looked less thrilled. He has a lot of anxieties and a new type of vacation like this worried him. We would have to deal with this a lot as the trip approached.

Once the trip was booked I went into planning overdrive. I had been reading the Disboards for years but I thought it was time I got an account so I could go ahead and ask all my silly questions. I joined the group for our cruise but really never did anything in it. We decided not to do the fish extender since we didn't have a lot of time to plan and put together gifts. I researched nonstop. I think I had the layout of the ship memorized before we ever got on board! I changed our room reservation several times, upgrading or downgrading as the mood struck me. In the end we got the same room we originally booked but I saved us about $300. Checking the prices daily really helped.

We chose to fly in to Houston the day before the cruise and stay overnight at the Houston Airport Marriott. I got a concierge room at a great price so we could get a free breakfast. I also booked the Disney shuttle to the terminal.

Next came letting the kids' school know the kids would be missing some days. Yes, I am one of those parents. I pull my kids out for family vacations. Luckily most of the cruise was happening over their spring break so they would only have to miss two days.

At last all we had to do was wait. During this time we watched a lot of youtube videos about the Magic. I found them really enjoyable and they helped my son feel better about our upcoming vacation. He likes knowing what he's walking into so being able to see the ship before we got there was good for him. I had an app on my phone that counted down the days till our trip and we would check it every day and play the ship horn sound. I booked our air fare and used some credit we had had with the airline to pay for our tickets. I packed our bags and managed to get everything the four of use would need for an eight night cruise into just carry on bags. No checked luggage for us! I read the Navigators for past cruises to give me some idea of what kind of activities there might be on the ship.

"What's Gaga Ball?" my daughter would ask. We would find out soon enough because before we knew it the big day had come. I slapped on a motion sickness patch and we headed to the airport.

In the next installment : Our day of travel (and pictures! I promise!).

iloverags2 03-19-2013 11:25 PM

Looking forward to hearing all about your vacation!

jjje 03-21-2013 05:22 PM

Carry on suitcases only!
Can you really pack for an eight night cruise (plus another night at a hotel) for four people using only carry on luggage? Yes! You can! We did it without any trouble and it really isn't hard to do. In fact, it was very easy! /snow white voice
This is it, all of our luggage (minus my camera bag). The beauty of traveling with carry on luggage is that you don't pay a fee and if you get to the gate and the plane is crowded and there is no room in the overhead bin for your suitcase they will check it for you for free. I know baggage fees don't matter to some people but we really do travel on a budget so the $100+ we save on checked bags is a big deal to us.

For myself I packed:
  • 1 long fancy skirt and one lace top for formal night and semi-formal night
    1 pair of jeans
    4 pair of capri pants
    7 tank tops for layering or wearing under t-shirts
    3 t-shirts to mix and match with the capris
    2 slightly nicer shirts
    1 long sundress
    1 swimsuit
    1 nice pair of slip on shoes
    1 pair of sandals
    1 pair of Crocs (a must have for Disney World)
    1 night shirt
    bathroom essentials (make up, toothpaste, etc)
Everyone else in my family packed similar amounts of stuff. Obviously the kids stuff is smaller so when my husband's suitcase got too full he put some of the overflow into their luggage. My kids each carried their own bag with stuffed animals and activity books and various electronics. My husband had a bag with his cpap machine and all our various medications. I carried my camera bag and all our 8 million electronic chargers. We ended up never having to check our luggage but in case we had we wanted the essential stuff with us in our smaller bags.

I once read a tip that said when packing for trips take along all your oldest underwear. Then every day just throw the pair away after you wear it and you'll make room for souvenirs. I laughed when I read it because I was young and skinny and I didn't understand how much room you could make in your suitcase just by tossing out your underwear. Now I'm older and wiser and wider and I had 5 babies in seven years and I understand how big underwear can really be. So now I do this on every trip and I am embarrassed to admit to you how much room I end up with in my suitcase. I do it with the kids underwear too because, bonus!, I don't have to bring any stinky little underwear home with me.

Now that I've covered my packing technique in more detail than anyone could ever want to know it's time to get on with the show! Next up, we really are almost very close to talking about the cruise! Sort of!

jjje 03-21-2013 05:23 PM


Originally Posted by iloverags2 (Post 47852016)
Looking forward to hearing all about your vacation!

I hope people enjoy it. I promise it gets more interesting as it goes along. :)

R4Deal 03-21-2013 09:01 PM

Looking forward to hearing more about your trip. I am on the same itinerary in April. :cool1:

chrisrunty 03-21-2013 09:17 PM

Great start! Very interesting read thank you!:goodvibes

jjje 03-21-2013 10:25 PM


Originally Posted by R4Deal (Post 47872417)
Looking forward to hearing more about your trip. I am on the same itinerary in April. :cool1:

I bet you'll love it! My family really enjoyed all the sea days.


Originally Posted by chrisrunty (Post 47872582)
Great start! Very interesting read thank you!:goodvibes

Thank you for joining in. :)

chrisrunty 03-21-2013 10:39 PM

We are on that same cruise in 36 days. I am very interested to hear your thoughts. :wave2:

beccafish3kids 03-23-2013 12:54 AM

We were ON that cruise with you! I'm looking forward to hearing another family's perspective on our eight-day adventure.

iloverags2 03-23-2013 09:57 AM

What a great packing tip! Never heard that one, but may give it a try!

jjje 03-23-2013 01:23 PM

A day of travel
Because we live in Minnesota getting to any Disney vacation involves a day of travel for us. It's a necessary and sometimes expensive evil but we always remind each other that at the end of it Mickey Mouse will be waiting for us. (Now getting home is a whole different story where all we have is snowed in driveway and pile of laundry waiting for us.)

This trip started with an hour and half drive to my mother in law's house. We stopped to pick her up so she could drive us to the airport and then drive the car back to her house. That way we don't have to pay for airport parking. (See? We really do save money where we can. It all adds up!)

Once we got to the airport we had a little problem where we could get the kids boarding passes printed but my reservation and my husband's reservations were not showing up in the computer. I had images in my head of my kids happily flying off to the cruise while I stayed behind and felt sad. Thankfully after about 20 minutes our reservations were found and our boarding passes were printed out. (For all I know my husband bought us another pair of tickets. I should ask him about that...) Usually the wait to get through security is not too bad at the Minneapolis airport. This particular day it was. The line went on forever. My son doesn't do well in lines that wind back and forth so this was a little problematic for us. We let him wear his earplugs and distracted him by talking about the cruise and all the stuff we were going to do. He really handled it like a champ. I was very proud of him. When I packed our bags I gave everyone a bag of "dry" bathroom stuff (like toothbrushes and razors) and "liquid" bathroom stuff. We put all the liquid bags in one carry on so it was easy to pull them all out to go through the screening point. After we got through the screening point I put all the liquid bags in the carry on luggage of the person they belonged to. This worked a lot better than my old system of everyone wildly scrambling and digging through their bags to find their liquids while the people behind us sighed and rolled their eyes.

Because of our long wait at security we didn't have a very long time to wait for our plane to board. As soon as we got to the gate I tracked down a boarding agent and asked if my family would be able to board early. The boarding process is extremely stressful for my son. Too many people pressed together and jostling for position lead to him being bumped and and touched unexpectedly and he doesn't do well with that. We flew US Airways on this trip and in the past they have always allowed us to utilize early boarding in the past. They let us do it this time too without any question or hassle. A big :thumbsup2 to US Airways for the way they handle autism and other invisible disabilities. Other airlines we have flown have been considerate as well so if you face this issue it may be worth your time and effort to ask about extra boarding. It makes our entire trip smoother and more enjoyable when we're able to get off to a stress free start.

In case anyone is wondering if we get on the plane early and take up all the space with our luggage, let me calm your worries. We always ask if we should gate check our luggage. Sometimes we do if they think it will be an issue with storage space. On this trip we didn't gate check luggage but we never saw the overhead bins full so we knew were weren't taking up more than our fair share of room. We try to be considerate of our fellow passengers. We have gotten a few rude stares and even a comment or two when we board early but those things don't slow us down.

Our first flight was smooth and problem free. We had what was supposed to be a short layover in NC but there was a delay. Our layover ended up being about three hours long. I was just thankful we were traveling the day before the cruise. A delay that long would have been disastrous on cruise day!

After a VERY bumpy flight (seriously, at one point my daughter was throwing her hands up in the air and saying "Wheeeeeeee!") we landed in Houston. It was about 9:00 and we had been traveling for 12 hours. I was glad we only had to take a quick tram ride to get to our hotel. That alone made the cost of the room worth it. We had hoped to get to the hotel long enough to eat dinner in the concierge lounge but by the time we got there the food was put away. We had to order room service. Not a good way to save money but I didn't worry about it too much since we were on vacation and I suppose you can't stress about every dollar you spend.

After we ate our meals the kids and my husband pretty much fell asleep instantly. In fact my daughter fell asleep while she was eating. Clearly we were ready for vacation and relaxation to begin. Before I went to bed I rearranged the suitcases so that the kids carry on luggage fit into the bigger bags. That way they wouldn't have to carry their bags around before we got into our rooms. We would just have to carry my camera bag and the bag with my husband's cpap machine after we dropped our other luggage off at the port. Then I threw away my underwear and went to bed myself.

With travel behind us we all were excited for the real fun to start!

jjje 03-23-2013 01:26 PM


Originally Posted by chrisrunty (Post 47873445)
We are on that same cruise in 36 days. I am very interested to hear your thoughts. :wave2:

Get ready, way too many pictures and way too many details headed your way!


Originally Posted by beccafish3kids (Post 47883670)
We were ON that cruise with you! I'm looking forward to hearing another family's perspective on our eight-day adventure.

Yea! I was hoping to hear from someone else on this cruise. Did you see my husband dancing during the sail away party? :lmao:


Originally Posted by iloverags2 (Post 47885227)
What a great packing tip! Never heard that one, but may give it a try!

It's weird right? It works though!

jjje 03-23-2013 04:26 PM

It's the bleeping cruise day!
I think I woke up at about 4:00 am on cruise day because I was so excited. :cheer2: I should have just gone back to bed because everyone else in my family slept till the alarm went off at 7:30. We all threw some clothes on and shuffled off to the concierge room for some breakfast. I had paid $30 extra for the concierge room thinking we could save the money we would have spent on dinner and breakfast. Since we had missed dinner the night before I decided we would all eat a huge breakfast to get our money's worth. :rotfl: Luckily the food they had was really good. Lots of options and everything I tried, except for the eggs, was very good. The staff was helpful and friendly and made sure we had everything we needed. The only downside was a large group of what I think were real estate agents at the table next to us who kept dropping the F bomb very loudly. I'm no prude but it seemed a little rude to be yelling to everyone how bleeping Bob hadn't bleeping emailed the bleeping report of yesterday's bleeping sales yet. Whatever though. We just laughed it off. After all, it was cruise day! *insert bleeping cheer here*

Here is where I must confess to you my family's chronic lateness. If it is just my son and I we are able to get where we're going when we need to be there. Add in my husband and daughter and we become the McLateLaterLatest family. It's my not so secret shame.

I had been able to snag us the earliest possible port time so I did my best to get everyone moving as quickly as I could. Showers, teeth brushing, hair combing, all the good stuff. Despite the fact that I was barking orders like a drill sergeant we were just really, really behind schedule. In the spirit of vacation harmony I decided to stop looking at the clock and stressing about the passing minutes. Once I just let go of my manic urge to get to the port RIGHT AWAY I felt a lot better. I decided I would rather get us there a little late and in a good mood than on time and hating each other.

Once we got packed up and ready to head out (AT LAST) we took the tram back to the airport. I know we could have been picked up at the hotel but we got some bad information about what times we could be picked up and the airport shuttle seemed like a better option at the time. My husband made us get off the tram twice at the wrong stop because he was really sure he knew where we were supposed to be going. In his defense it is a little hard to find where you're supposed to go for shuttle pick up and in the end we only found it by accident.

When we go to Disney World I love using the Magical Express. I think they really have shuttle transportation down to a science. The shuttle transportation to the Galveston port is ... less scientific. Ok, it was downright not good. They simply don't have enough shuttles running and we had to sit and wait forever to be picked up. When they were calling boarding numbers they skipped us completely! We were laughing about it but if I hadn't been paying attention I'm not sure we would have gotten on the bus when we did. There seemed to be a lot of sitting and waiting with nothing happening. Even once the shuttle was fully loaded we just sat and sat and sat. I wanted to go, go, go! At last we took off! (Maybe our experience with the shuttles was unique and they were just having a bad day. Still, if we were to do it again I would hire a car service.)

My parents have been to Texas a few times and they always rave about how beautiful it is. The drive from Houston to Galveston is not so beautiful but interesting. My son and I amused ourselves by counting how many fortune tellers, scrap metal collection sites, and dialysis clinics we passed. (No disrespect intended to Texas. You all are welcomed to come to Minnesota and make fun of our meat raffles, jello salads and endless expanse of frozen landscape any time.) :duck: The Disney cartoons playing on the bus were a nice distraction as well. Before we knew it we were at the bleeping port. Everyone on the bus was craning their necks and looking around trying to catch a glimpse of the Magic. I was the only nerd who cried out loudly "Look everyone! There it is!" when I saw it. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a little bit.

Again, no disrespect intended but the Galveston port is just not a pretty place. The water is brown and murky and you feel like you're in the middle of a big factory. The beautiful Disney Magic stuck out like a lovely but awkward thumb. It certainly didn't take away from our enjoyment of the day but we all remarked on how ugly the place was.

Getting into the port and getting checked in was easy. There was a short line but it moved quickly. I've talked before on these boards why we did not get passports for our trip but I will sum it up again quickly here: There are complicated issues that make it very difficult to get a passport for my son. It's an unusual situation but not unheard of. We decided to take the risk and travel with birth certificates this trip. After reading these boards I thought we would be the only fools doing it but I spied on other people checking in and there were birth certificates flying all over the place! So if you choose to cruise with just a birth certificate rest assured that you might take a little flack for it from some people but you most certainly won't be the only person that does it. You won't be as much of an oddity as you might feel like. ;)

While we were checking in the noise really started to get to my son so he slipped his earplugs in. We like to use the squishy foam kind because they reduce noise to a dull roar but he can still hear us when we talk to him.

By the time we got checked in they were doing open boarding. I don't know what time it was because I was resolved to not look at my watch and get annoyed at how late we had arrived. My husband insisted we wait in line to get checked into the kids club even though I tried to reassure him we could do that on the ship. In my (slight) panic I tracked down a cast member and asked her to tell my husband we could do the kids club stuff on board. Once she had reassured him as well we got out of line. (I love that I spent months researching and planning every detail of this trip but my husband still couldn't trust me. He just likes to double, and triple check everything.)

At last, at last, at last we were ready to board. We took the escalator up, received and used our first hand wipes, and crossed on to the ship.
We had bleeping arrived.

jjje 03-23-2013 06:06 PM

And now what you've all been waiting for...
We started out walking on to the ship but the closer we got the faster we walked. I wanted to get pictures of us boarding but we were all so excited that we couldn't slow down for a picture. The kids pretty much ran on to the ship. In fact my son just blew right past the crew members waiting to announce us. Once we pulled him back the crew members announced us and people applauded and I cried like an idiot. That's allowed when you're on a Disney vacation.

I think the lobby of the Disney Magic is beautiful. I don't have any other cruise ships to compare it to but I thought it was really lovely. Bright and colorful without being garish. I know I will sail on other ships in my life but the Magic will always have a special place in my heart just because of the memories I have of the first time I saw it. I think the rest of my family agreed.
We were really happy to be on the cruise at last. Before we had even walked 10 feet onto the ship someone was directing us to the food. I believe that they direct people to different places to try to keep any one place from being to crowded and we were directed to Topsiders. I suppose we could have gone somewhere else but a nice buffet seemed like a perfectly suitable option for us. My son's sensory issues can cause him to be a bit of a selective eater especially when he's in an unfamiliar environment. Buffets are always a good choice for us because it's easy for him to find "safe" foods. We quickly scurried off to Topsiders (taking what was I'm sure the most indirect route).

This is the hallway outside of Lumiere's


I'm not sure what this was. It looks like half a cow.

I love a good dessert bar

At this point a crew member noticed that I was juggling my tray and my son's tray (he needed both hands to cover his ears) AND taking pictures so she helped me out by carrying my son's tray for me. You have to love that Disney service!

My tray.
The jello is actually my son's but he wanted it on my tray so it didn't touch his other food. This is one of only about 5 food pictures I took. I prefer eating food to photographing it. I think I thought maybe I was going to attempt to photograph all my meals but I quickly scrapped that idea.

After we ate we decided to check out the parts of the ship that we had missed on our mad dash towards the food. Right away we noticed all the Disney artwork on the walls.

She looks a little like Wendy right?

The lobby is so beautiful!

Next we decided to see the kids' clubs. My daughter was really excited about the Lab and the Club. She's pretty independent and easy to entertain so we didn't really doubt that she would fit and and have a great time. I am a stay at home parent so I spend LOTS of time with my kids and I think my daughter especially was excited to have a little freedom from me. :rolleyes:

We were really impressed with the Club and the Lab. I liked how she would be able to move from one room to the other to do what ever appealed to her at the time.

She really liked the slide in the Club.
(I'm going to try very hard to not post any clear pictures of the faces of other people's kids. If I miss one please call me out on it.) Anyway, my daughter must have the perfect body weight for this slide because she absolutely flew down it. She really wanted me to try it but I told her that if I did I would get stuck and have to spend the rest of the cruise in there. Two seconds later I saw a guy try the slide. I'm thinking the slide is not made for adults. Let's just say it was awkward.

Drawn to the screens like a moth to a flame.
I was impressed with the selection of computer games. In the Club were simple Disney games. In the Lab were a variety of more complex games. Some were new to E and some she was familiar with and I know she had a lot of fun with them during the cruise. The rule for us was that she couldn't do only computer games. She had to try the activities and actually move around once in a while but then she could do whatever she chose in the end.

Another lobby pic
Spoiler alert! I was never able to take a picture to fully capture how pretty the lobby is. I guess I'll have to go back and try again some time.

The elevators
I found the way the elevators were labeled to be really helpful. Half of the time we would get out of an elevator I would forget exactly where we were on the ship but a quick glance helped me reorient myself and kept me from wandering around looking lost. I also found that the midship elevators were often full to the point of being unusable. We quickly abandoned them in favor of the stairs. I found that less stressful than dealing with the large roving gangs of kids that seems to be unable to find anything better to do than push all the elevator buttons all day long. :rolleyes:

Stairwell art
If you take the stairs you also get to see all the Disney artwork. Worth it!

The Edge
When we first checked out the Edge it got really mixed reviews from my son. He liked all the activities they would be doing but he worried about fitting in. He's extremely small for his age and when we were looking around the Edge the other kids there seemed HUGE. J is also a little unsure of how to approach new people and he worried about finding a way to talk to them. The counselors in the Edge seemed a lot more laid back and less involved than the counselors in the Lab and Club. Some of them were great and helped J get comfortable. Some of them were a little more hands off. J had asked us not to mention that he is autistic since he likes to feel a situation out before telling people about himself. Perhaps if we had communicated his needs better they would have been a little more proactive in helping him settle in. It's hard to say. Did he ever learn to love the Edge? You'll have to stay tuned to find out. ;)

Next we decided to see if our bags were in our room yet. It was a little chilly and J really wanted to change into jeans. In the hallway we ran into our room hostess who seemed to know who we were without even being introduced. :wave2: The kids thought maybe it was Disney magic. She told us some of our bags were already in our room.

Home sweet home

Home tiny home
I admit that when I booked this cruise I was a little worried about getting a small inside room. After all, my husband and I are not small people. Would we spend 8 night tripping over each other? Would be get tired of breathing each others air? In the end the savings of an inside room were too much for me to pass up. I'll go in to more detail later but for now I'll tell you that we were really happy with our room. It was quiet and in near perfect shape. There were one or two moments where it was a little cramped but it was never uncomfortable or angry-making.

Yet another lobby shot


Once we had some warmer clothes on we decided to head up on deck to look around and prepare for the Sail Away party. I'll leave you now but please come back for the next installment where my poor husband is forced to prove to the entire ship what a great sport he is. :thumbsup2

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