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-   -   The Suite Life of DS & DD: Fantasy Western Concierge 4/13 to 4/20/13! (UPDATED 5/6) (http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=3102303)

CaliforniaGirl09 04-26-2013 11:55 AM

The Suite Life of DS & DD: Fantasy Western Concierge 4/13 to 4/20/13! (UPDATED 5/6)
 
PART ONE: Flying in and Embark

Travelers: Me, DH, DS16, DD13, & DGM (my mom). This was also our third cruise with my friend from graduate school and her family DH, DD10, DS8 (previous cruises together Med in 2011 & Alaska in 2012; the 40+ year old “girls” also did a cruise together out of NY last Sept). Thanks to a great DVC promo last June, DS13, DGM and I had been on the Fantasy before for a cheap “scouting trip,” but it everyone else's first time on one of the new ships. This also meant that I was the first gold Castaway Club cruiser in the group (6th DCL cruise). I might flung that gold lanyard around once or twice during the cruise :)

As we were coming from the opposite coast, we flew out a day early. DS16 and DD13 had to miss a day of school, but they soldiered on. Yes, what troopers! I'm a big Virgin Atlantic fan and I must say that after flying Virgin America for the second time, Richard Branson really knows what he is doing. It's quite a bit like Jet Blue, but even more civilized. The people were lovely, the flight was extremely comfortable (DH who is 6’5 had plenty of leg room), the setting clean and hip, and we arrived a few minutes early with all our luggage. I know, unbelievable, right? It was almost like seeing a unicorn.

MCO is one of my least favorite airports and it did not disappoint. The “help” desks acted like we were bothering them (twice) and the Avis car rental took way too long. We really couldn't figure out what the problem was, but it took us over 30 minutes at the counter with one person in line ahead of us and 3 counter agents working. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time just to pull up the reservations, etc. I'm car company paranoid after reading so many reports of people being charged for dings after drop off, so my hubby convinced me to spring the $20 or so for the comprehensive vehicle coverage so we didn't spend time taking pictures and writing down every scratch on the car in both directions. I must say it was money well spent (it saved a lot of hassle, especially on the drop off side, which I will get to). The car was great though and pretty cheap (Dodge Caravan for $88 MCO to Port Canaveral and $72 for Port Canaveral back to MCO). Considering there were 5 of us with 4 large suitcases and 5 carry-ons it was the way to go if you aren't going straight to and from the airport.

We decided to stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott in a 2 bedroom suite, and it ended up being a great choice. The hotel was no frills comfort and extremely convenient to the port. I think we paid $240 for the room, which, especially as it included a great hot breakfast, seemed reasonable. I'm bug bed paranoid so we always inspect the room (mattresses, behind beds, etc) and it was pristine. The mattresses and bedding looked brand new and there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. More impressive than many 5 star hotels I've stayed in, actually. Nice surprise. We also had a great dinner recommendation from the lady at the front desk—Izzy's Bistro. We all loved our dinner and the hotel gave us a card for our first drinks free. Bonus!

4/13 (all aboard!): The much awaited embark day arrived—finally! I'd done a lot of research on these boards to try to figure out the best way to get to port, the best time, etc. I should not have listened to those people who tell you not to get to port before 11, they won't let you in, etc. I should have gone with my gut and had DH drop off us well before 10:30. Instead, he dropped us off at 10:45 or so and we were nowhere near the first people in port. In fact, it was packed. We had to wait a few minutes at the gate for the man to check our IDs and then wait again at security. The issue—and why it would have made a big difference to be dropped off those 15-20 minutes earlier—was that it took DH time to drop off the Avis rental car, and they started boarding concierge at 11:20! Yes, 11:20. I was really looking forward to being one of the first on the ship, but that was not to be. By time DH arrived back at the port (about 11:45), they were on boarding group #7.

Again, the Avis rental car return took way longer than it should have. DH said he spoke to a guy in line who'd done the drop off thing before, and it was much worse this day for some reason. DH had to wait for a shuttle van, and then the draw bridge was up when he got to port. Our friends, also concierge, did the Hyatt MCO stay and took the first bus to the port, but they too missed the first boarding. Ironically, they finished checking in about a minute before DH arrived, so we boarded together.

We were able to fast-track it through the separate concierge line to get on the ship, but the delay also meant the concierge lounge was full by time we arrived, and we had to wait to meet with the team. No big deal in the realm of things, but I was still wishing I listened to my gut.

Moral of the story: the one way rental with overnight stay near port is a great way to go. I would definitely do it this way again, but I would probably rent from Hertz (closest to the hotel and the port) and either (1) drop off the car early and taxi over to the port together (preferred) or (2) have DH drop us off at the port a little after 10 before returning the car.

We only had to wait a half hour or so before a table opened up in the lounge, and we were able to meet with the concierge team of PJ, Kemisha and Julia. It's funny, after reading so many trip reports on the boards, I almost felt like I knew them, but it's impossible to get a sense for how wonderful the team is from trip reports. You really have to experience it for yourself. Not only are they all incredibly friendly and nice, but they also bend over backwards to make your trip perfect. They anticipate things you might like and volunteer to do things well before you've even thought to ask.

One of the most frequent topics on concierge threads/trip reports is the age-old question: “is it worth it?” I was skeptical after previous Disney concierge experiences, but after reading a number of the glowing trip reports on these boards, I really wanted to check it out for myself. Within a few hours, I had my answer. For our family, it's an unequivocal “yes.” As DGM said to me after walking into the room, “It's going to be hard to get the girl back to the farm.” I'll say.

My $.02 on the “worth it” question? I think there are three things that it comes down to: (1) do you value superior service like that you would find in a 5 star hotel? (2) do you value extra space to spread out in your cabin (3) do you need a place to escape from the crowds?

Do I “need” all those things? Of course not. But is it worth a 75-100% up-charge to me to have them? Yes. Especially since my family of four usually gets two rooms anyway, making the up-charge a lot less since with the suite we can all fit in one room. Since my mom was with us, we had two rooms in concierge for this trip, but normally we would only get the one bedroom suite. The bigger room, lounge, and concierge team turn a great vacation into an exceptional one. The ship was packed and every time I ventured out into the public areas, I was so glad I had somewhere quiet to go. So glad.

IMO Disney has done a very good job on cornering the market on good service. The marketing team is also fantastic at making people believe they are getting “excellent” service. But compared to 5 star hotels like the Four Seasons or Ritz, Disney doesn't come close. We stayed concierge at the Grand Floridian a few years back and it was extremely disappointing—total cattle call with no individual attention. Our Yacht Club concierge experience was better, but still not anything to write home about. But after our Fantasy concierge stay, I can say that it is a true concierge/VIP product. The lounge is an important part for me, and I'm still skeptical as to the value of concierge for the classic ships, but that awaits further “study.” :)

Back to day one: After meeting with the concierge team we were able to get into our rooms right away (about 1:15). We had a 1 bedroom suite and connecting family on Deck 11. The suite was amazing. Pictures do not do it justice. The wood, the fabrics, the furniture . . . beautiful. DGM and DD were in the connecting family, and I'm not sure I would pay the up-charge for that alone. For us, the space of the one bedroom suite made a huge difference (see my #2 to “is it worth it” above). I loved the separate living room area, dining room, and the enormous bathroom replete with jacuzzi tub. The verandah was also wonderful. Compared to other cruises, I spent much more time on the verandah. At first I was bummed to not be on the 12th floor, but I ended up loving the bubble verandah (kept out the wind) on the 11th floor—in spite of the noisy neighbors.

The first day went by in something of a blur. We managed to eat lunch at Enchanted Gardens, tour the kids clubs (DD13 was happy to be able to move up the Vibe & it was nice for us as DS16 is special needs, and she is good at watching out for him), go to a DVC presentation (pretty boring with same giveaways and not very enticing “best offers ever” for AKL and Aluani), stop by the DISmeet, unpack, go to the first night show, and go to Palo for dinner.

Scheduling Palo on the first night is our new thing. It's usually quiet that night and is a fun way to kick off the cruise. Living in CA makes one spoiled when it comes to good food, and I never really understood the high praise thrown in Palo's direction. But after 20+ nights on DCL the past year, I've come to appreciate it. Compared to the main dining rooms, it’s a vast improvement. Those menus got old quick for me.

lin7 04-26-2013 03:18 PM

Thanks for the review, looking forward to hear more. We are also looking into conceigre this cruise as well

CaliforniaGirl09 04-26-2013 06:58 PM

You will love concierge if you do it! I'll post more later, and try to figure out how to get a couple of pictures in there :)

KerryDVC 04-26-2013 07:59 PM

Thanks so much for the report. I am especially enjoying reading it since we were on the same cruise. We were extremely fortunate to be able to upgrade to concierge at the port. It was SO worth it, and an experience no words could ever describe. We upgraded two years ago to concierge, also a port upgrade, on the Magic. While it was a great opportunity, it did not compare to the Fantasy. As you mentioned, the lounge and the team were incredible! I had such a hard time getting back into a routine this week, and am thrilled it is Friday!

CaliforniaGirl09 04-27-2013 10:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by KerryDVC (Post 48225158)
Thanks so much for the report. I am especially enjoying reading it since we were on the same cruise. We were extremely fortunate to be able to upgrade to concierge at the port. It was SO worth it, and an experience no words could ever describe. We upgraded two years ago to concierge, also a port upgrade, on the Magic. While it was a great opportunity, it did not compare to the Fantasy. As you mentioned, the lounge and the team were incredible! I had such a hard time getting back into a routine this week, and am thrilled it is Friday!

How fun that you were on the same cruise. I was actually curious about whether upgrades had been available for our cruise and heard there were one or two because of a last minute cancellation--lucky you! Also cool that you have a basis of comparison between the two ships (old and new). What do you think about the "worth it" question for the old ships? My friend looked into it for our next booked cruises (Med in 2014 although we might not go) and it as pretty astronomical (as in $23k for four!).

CaliforniaGirl09 04-27-2013 04:49 PM

Okay, going to try to add some pictures! Here is the one bedroom suite--gorgeous isn't it?

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...6.jpg:original

CaliforniaGirl09 04-27-2013 04:50 PM

Sorry, pictures are little massive--need to try to figure out how to resize and I'll try to add more :(

CaliforniaGirl09 04-27-2013 05:07 PM

Okay, think I have it corrected now.

Take #2: Bedroom portion of the suite (with bathroom in background)

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...e.jpg:original

Here is the gorgeous bathroom with huge whirlpool tub and double vanity (stall bathroom and stall shower are on the right wall):

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...a.jpg:original

From bathroom looking into bedroom and dining room beyond:

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...2.jpg:original

CaliforniaGirl09 04-27-2013 05:26 PM

Part Two: Sea Day/Grand Cayman

4/14 (sea day): We ate breakfast in the concierge lounge, and although I'd planned to work out that morning, we had to shower up for my first gold/platinum Castaway Club party at 11 am and Palo brunch at noon. Despite my best intentions, not finding time to work out turned out to be a theme on this trip (funny how that happens!). The gold/platinum party was really nice. We had a chance to talk to a few of the officers as well as hang out and take pics with Mickey. The Captain spoke and called out for suggested future itineraries. I mentioned the Baltics, someone else asked for a return to NY, and another person asked for Hawaii. Hawaii was the only one he picked up on—it sounded like they might go back there at some point. For Baltics he said something like “we hear that a lot.” I took it to mean, sorry, but aint going to happen. I'm still holding out hope though. The scuttlebutt is that it was way too expensive and didn’t sell well—I guess port adventures were quite pricey too.

We received conflicting information on the upcoming Magic dry dock. One of officers alluded to a possible concierge lounge, but another one said no way (because the suites are all spread out). I guess we'll see who is right, but it was a good reminder to take what you hear from people with a grain of salt. I had two very strong, divergent opinions within a matter of minutes from people “in the know.” (UPDATE: we now know that the second person was right as the dry dock info for the Magic was just released: no lounge).

Palo brunch was yummy as usual. Since this was my fourth Palo brunch in less than a year, I’ve gotten much better at not overloading my plate, which is so easy to do—especially at the cheese and salumi table, which tend to be my weaknesses. Like most of the other people one these boards, we also love the pizza and chicken parm. The latter can be inconsistent for me, and today was one of those times I didn’t have a problem taking only a couple of bites. DH, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem finishing it off :)

It was formal night so we took our pictures with the captain, had some free drinks, and had our first MDR meal at Royal Court. DH took the kids to the show. It was Aladdin, which is probably one of the best, but since we've seen it about a hundred times at California Adventure, I passed. We always plan to take better advantage of the adult entertainment after dinner, but once again we always seemed to be too tired and never made it. Someday...

4/15 (Grand Cayman): Today at breakfast was where we really felt the size of the ship when we decided to hit Cabanas. Not sure what to say other than it was an absolute zoo, and we decided cereal in the concierge lounge or room service was definitely the way to go. In comparison to my June Fantasy trip Cabanas felt much busier this time. We supposedly had about 3600 onboard for this trip. Frankly, I can't imagine what the max 4000 would be like. Thank God my kids don't like the pools. I shuddered as I walked by those—literally wall to wall people. With the recent near tragedy on the ship (two weeks before our embark), I know there have been tons of threads on the subject. Add me to the camp that thinks something needs to be done to improve safety at peak times when ship is at capacity.

On our scouting trip last June, we didn't go ashore for Grand Cayman, but this time around we booked a Port Adventure through Disney—the Extreme Swim Dolphin with Turtle Farm. We typically do Disney Port Adventures, mostly for the peace of mind, but that does mean you have to put up with a lot of wasted time. I think our meet time was 10:45, there was a ½ hour or less drive, and we weren't scheduled to get into the pool until 12:30 so you get the picture. We really enjoyed the PA though, and it was the first time any of us had every swam (swum?) with the dolphins. What amazing creatures. Of course, my kids looked at me like I was crazy when I started singing the Flipper theme song, which they’d never heard of. Nothing like feeling old AND standing in a bathing suit at the same time. The turtle farm was less impressive, although still cute, and we headed back to the ship.

One aside: beware the ridiculous prices of pictures. I'm surprised Disney hasn't negotiated a better deal for their passengers (or a package or something). You are not allowed to bring a camera into the water with you, and they wanted to charge us something like $249 (with a special coupon just for us—LOL—of $40 or $50 off) for all the pics or $35 for each pic. What a joke! My kids are cute, but not *that* cute :) Our friends did the Dolphin excursion in Cozumel and they received all their pics and video (which we didn't have) for $150 or so. It sounded like our Dolphin experience was slightly better (two rides compared to their one), but if you want photos keep that in mind. We declined the photos. I think the guy was pretty surprised, making me wonder if most people actually buy them at that price.

So sad to say I don’t have any pics to share from that excursion!

There was an afternoon concierge party that we wanted to hit at 4 pm on the sun deck. Low key but really nice. I know people are always interested in the free alcohol portion of concierge (I know I was, LOL). At first I was disappointed to read that they only had two rather short cocktail hours, but getting a drink was never a problem, and it seemed like there was always something special going on. I didn't pay for a drink until this night at dinner.

KerryDVC 04-28-2013 10:15 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CaliforniaGirl09 (Post 48228947)
How fun that you were on the same cruise. I was actually curious about whether upgrades had been available for our cruise and heard there were one or two because of a last minute cancellation--lucky you! Also cool that you have a basis of comparison between the two ships (old and new). What do you think about the "worth it" question for the old ships? My friend looked into it for our next booked cruises (Med in 2014 although we might not go) and it as pretty astronomical (as in $23k for four!).

We were extremely lucky! I never thought we'd get it. I did hear there were 2 cancellations, also.

Personally, I would not pay $23K. Both of our concierge experiences began at the port, so I can't speak specifically to the benefits of concierge prior to sailing. While the concierge on the Magic was incredible, it did not compare to the Fantasy. The concierge lounge and the private concierge deck area were a huge benefit for us that the Magic did not offer. I also remember paying more for drinks on the Magic.

Hope this helps!

CaliforniaGirl09 04-28-2013 02:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by KerryDVC (Post 48236314)
We were extremely lucky! I never thought we'd get it. I did hear there were 2 cancellations, also.

Personally, I would not pay $23K. Both of our concierge experiences began at the port, so I can't speak specifically to the benefits of concierge prior to sailing. While the concierge on the Magic was incredible, it did not compare to the Fantasy. The concierge lounge and the private concierge deck area were a huge benefit for us that the Magic did not offer. I also remember paying more for drinks on the Magic.

Hope this helps!

Thank you, it definitely does! That's pretty much what I figured, but it was great hearing the perspective from someone who has actually done both. And thanks for the reminder about the alcohol--I remember reading that the classic ships don't have free alcohol, and as you'll see in the rest of the post, I definitely took advantage of that! It seems odd that especially without the lounge they wouldn't have that perk on the classic ships. It can't cost them that much. I had a few free drinks every day--mostly rum and diet cokes, and I probably took advantage of it much more than the usual guest. My husband and mom had only a few drinks apiece.

The benefits of shoreside certainly weren't worth what I suspect we paid for in the difference. The biggest was that we were able to secure a cabana, but I know they hold out some for on board, so that may or may not have been necessary. The other thing we were able to do was secure Palo/Remy reservations for our preferred days/times. Also something we probably could have done on the ship. Some of the other things I wanted weren't something they could do (signing up for mixology, etc.). You definitely scored!

CaliforniaGirl09 04-30-2013 12:33 PM

Part Three: Costa Maya & Cozumel

4/16 (Costa Maya): Although we had until about 12:25 to meet for our Port Adventure, for some reason I still couldn't find time to work out. Strange how that kept managing to happen. Knowing we had to eat an early lunch, we had a small breakfast and once again ventured to Cabanas at 11:30. Again, what a mad house. For some reason, despite the noon-ish docking time, they only had one side open. That meant everyone trying to head out for Port Adventures, etc., was all jammed into one area. Felt like a rare example of poor planning on Disney's part.

Today was the cultural part of the itinerary—the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben. I know Tuntulm on the Cozumel stop is supposed to be more impressive, but we were limited by DD's stomach. She gets both sea sick and car sick—yes, even at 13. The drive from the port to Chacchoben is about an hour, meaning we were on the bus for about half the time. It was hot and humid, but with no rain and bugs fairly bearable compared to some of the other trip reports I've read. The ruins are scattered over a small area. The guide stops and talks at each place, and then gives some time to look around. I would guess maybe a ½ mile of walking overall. My son was in a leg brace after a recent surgery, and I was glad I hadn't listened to the Disney cast member who walked us out of the ship to meet the tour operator. She told me “it wasn't too late to cancel” and there was over an hour of walking each way—I nearly turned around. Talk about misinformation! Overall the tour was interesting and worthwhile, and I'm very glad we saw it, but it isn't something I'll feel compelled to do again.

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...0.jpg:original

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...8.jpg:original

4/17 (Cozumel): Today was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. I'd read some good reviews of Salsa & Salsa, and thought it would be a fun way of doing something a little different. It was a total blast. The entire family loved it. I highly recommend this excursion. There was a relatively small group of us—15—and they organized cabs to take us the mile or so from the port to the restaurant. There were tables all set up and prepared with our ingredients. You work in pairs, and everyone gets to make a couple types of Margaritas (virgin available), 5 salsas, and very yummy guacamole. It's very interactive and fun, with the young girls encouraging everyone to participate and the bartenders keeping the free Margaritas flowing. There were chips, quesadillas and chicken taquitos to go along with the salsas. At the end there was a short Salsa dance lesson.

I don't think anyone on the excursion realized that there would be an opportunity to stay and use the hotel pool/beach afterwards. Had I known, we probably would have stayed as it was nice and quiet—a far cry from the ship pools. We had an option of sticking around until 2 but I think everyone cabbed it back around noon (included in tour). Because I never miss an opportunity to eat in Mexico, we stopped by Senor Frogs for yet more food and one very large Margarita. It was a gorgeous day, so DD and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading on our Verandah. I would have slept but the kids next door had other ideas. Sigh.

Port of Cozumel from Verandah: http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...e.jpg:original

Why I spent so much time on the Verandah!http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...3.jpg:original

As tonight was Pirate Night, and the groups' consensus least favorite MDR menu, we decided to schedule our first ever Remy dinner. You know all those glowing reviews you've read? Believe them. It was absolutely delicious and an amazing overall dining experience. Our group of 5 was seated in the wine room, which really added to the ambiance. Our waiter was easily the best we've ever had on a Disney ship—bar none. He was the perfect amount of nice and attentive, funny, and without all the attitude that I sometimes find from Palo servers (although not on this cruise) who try to convince you this is the best meal you will ever eat. Three of us ordered the French menu and two the American. I thought my French won out, but my hubby (who ordered the American) thought it was a tie. Really, you can't go wrong. I was the only drinker that night, and the sommelier chose two great wines by the glass for me. They were wonderful and quite a bit less expensive as doing the wine pairing. Although we budgeted what we thought would be enough time to finish dinner and hit the pirate deck party & fireworks, we were rushing out of there with out marshmallows and chocolates wrapped up. Give yourself at least 3.5 hours for dinner. Really, it will race by and you won't believe how fast the night will be over. It was an expensive night—I want to say in the $250 range for DH and I by time we added my wine and the tip, but well worth it. My friend and I agreed that if we could only do two, we'd do Remy dinner and Palo Brunch.

After racing out of there our kids decided they didn't want to go to the fireworks and deck party. Oh well, at least we tried. If we hadn't, you know we'd be hearing about it, LOL.

Our amazing waiter:
http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...5.jpg:original

The cheese course I stuffed myself on:
http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...2.jpg:original

DGM's dessert:
http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...4.jpg:original

CaliforniaGirl09 05-06-2013 12:57 PM

Part Four: Sea Day & Castaway Cay

4/18 (sea day): Another busy sea day where (you guessed it), I missed another chance to work out. No excuse this time, except that we had Remy brunch scheduled for 11:50. I swear I was still full from the night before, but we rolled in and started off another great meal—this time with champagne. If you like champagne at all, I highly recommend the $25 addition to do the champagne pairing. They were all delicious—especially the Moet & Chandon Ice one at the end—and really enhanced the meal. Again, an outstanding meal, although since I was still basking in the glow from the meal the night before, I wasn't quite as blown away. If you get a chance, definitely try to split up the specialty restaurants more than we did. We added the Remy brunch at the last minute, which was why we ended up with the Palo/Palo, Remy/Remy rotation.

We basically went right from Remy to our galley kitchen tour. The galley tour is one of those things I always intend to do “next time,” but always forget. This time, I wrote it down! It only lasted about 20 minutes or so, but it was fun peek behind the scenes. Being a germaphobe (remember the bed bugs?), I was also happy to see how clean everything was with all that gleaming stainless steel.

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...5.jpg~original

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...f.jpg~original

Stock pots:
http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...e.jpg~original

From the galley tour DH went to pick up the kids to take them to the early time for the show, and I went straight to Mixology—another one of those things I seem to always forget to sign up for. We had a group of around 20 and a great bartender—Damon—super fun event. Everyone had an opportunity to mix a drink, and we all had 5 drinks. Although I only got through about 3.5 of them before having to race up to the concierge lounge for the character interaction, I can’t remember the names of the drinks! [Aside: As I’m reading through this I’m realizing that I sound like a total boozer, but I hardly every drink at home. I guess I was in a festive mood this vacation :)]

Pluto came to say “hi” and take pics with the kids in the lounge and there was another concierge sundeck party afterward. I staggered out of the lounge (okay, not really but I probably should have been after a long day of imbibing), and changed for the semi-formal night. We were all struggling with how it could be that the next day was Castaway Cay and our last of the cruise. It always goes by fast, but this time, it seemed to go by even faster than usual.

4/19 (Castaway Cay): My friend, DD and I all decided to do the 5K so we were up early to eat breakfast and off the ship as soon as it was cleared at about 9:30 or so. Finally one of those three workout outfits and running shoes I lugged across country were about to get some use! It was about time! It would be nice if DCL would let the runners off first (like they say they do), but we had to fight our way through people to reach the starting line. Thanks to bad knees, I don't run anymore, but we walked the course in a brisk 45 minutes, beating a few of the people who started out running. It was supposedly only in the mid-70s when we started, but to DD & I thought it felt much hotter. It was fun though, and a great way of kicking off a relaxing day at the beach. I will definitely do it again, assuming reasonable temperatures.

One of the big benefits of booking concierge is the ability to sign up for a Cabana. My friend reserved one (#6) at midnight when reservations opened up for all of us to share, and it was awesome. None of us are sun-worshippers and about half of us actively avoid the sun, so the ability to sit all day in a cool, shaded area was much appreciated. It was a hot, sunny day and under the umbrellas I probably would have only lasted an hour or two. In the Cabana, I made it until almost 4. I won't go on about how much I enjoyed it, except that it pretty much changed my view of CC (which I was somewhat ambivalent about on my first cruise). Cool and out of the blistering sun, I was able to enjoy the beauty of the island. I really wish they had more of them. But I probably should add a #4 to my “is it worth it” equation above about concierge. The ability to book a Cabana will be a huge factor for me in booking concierge, especially if I do another Caribbean cruise.

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...f.jpg~original

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...d.jpg~original

What a view!:
http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...a.jpg~original

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...e.jpg~original

http://i1329.photobucket.com/albums/...e.jpg~original

Our Cabana from the beach (#6):
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Today was one of those days I was really glad we had late dining. We chose to do late dining after trying out early dining on our Alaska cruise last summer. We all felt that having the extra time before dinner and not having to rush after excursions was far preferable. So it was great after a long day at Castaway Cay to relax, take a long shower, and pack before heading off to our last cocktail party in concierge, the family talent show (DD performed), and dinner for the show at Animator's Palate. After dinner we put the bags out and then headed off to Buena Vista theater to see DD's role in “Zombified,” the funny teen movie they make in the Vibe.

I debated on whether to bring this up but since it comes up a lot on the boards I thought I’d mention it: tipping the concierge staff. There was a recent poll on the subject about the “typical” amount. http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2971416 Let me just say I really really hate the whole tipping thing. I wish DCL would just include it in the price of the trip and have it be done with—I guess it used to be that way with the concierge staff, but now they take tips. It isn’t one of the prepaid tip sheets, you fill in the amount at your discretion.

So how do you decide how much or whether to tip? On one hand you are paying a huge premium for concierge service already, but on the other I can see how a tip for exceptional service feels right. As I said earlier all three concierge hosts are amazing.

To give you an idea of the types of things they did for us: [at the initial meeting they tell you that they don’t want you to go to guest services and never want to see you in line there, LOL].

Guest service type of requests handled (some in that initial onboard meeting):
--mixology sign up
--Remy brunch sign up (only meal we hadn’t signed up for in advance)
--galley tour sign up
--2 future cruises booked
--picture package ordered
--pillow cases arranged to be signed
--gift card applied to on board account
--handled the split of the cabana charge among three rooms (9 people)

Nice touches (without being requested) & surprises:
--at concierge's suggestion they arranged to have a standard room service order for a dessert I preferred every night
--we were given the wine room for our Remy diner, which I suspect was at their request; this was wonderful perk and really added to our experience
--a couple of adult beverages on the fringes of happy hour
--treat brought to the kids in the cabana
--game cards for kids

My “special” requests:
--the woman who handles the food/beverage replenishment made me skinny lattes every morning (the machine only does full fat).

I spent a lot of time in the concierge lounge—I like hanging out there while I was doing work and checking emails (the 100 minutes of free internet was great). I also took full advantage of the happy hours (I’m sure you are shocked) and we ate breakfast there almost every day.

From what I could tell from the thread above, the median range for tipping was in $50-100 range for a 7 day cruise for 4 people. We tipped $150 for 5 people in two rooms—I thought that would be on the high average side, but it ended up feeling low. I had kind of a funny vibe about it, and would love to hear what others have done.

My understanding was the tips were pooled. I really hope this is correct because I realized as I was leaving the ship that I really should have tipped the bartender and food/beverage lady in the concierge lounge. I’d feel really bad if they don’t get a portion.

So there it is. My take is that I really wish Disney would give some guidance, so people like me aren’t left wondering whether they undertipped on the last day! I actually felt really uncomfortable about it.


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