Our WONDERful First Disney Cruise! (4-day Bahamas 5/2-5/6/2013)
I've been meaning to report on our amazing first cruise for a few months now, but life happens, and now we're over five months later. But since I said I would, here goes...
First, a little about us...
I'm Dustin, and my wife is Amy. We met in college, dated for awhile, and were married in 2006. We went to WDW for our honeymoon, my first and only time so far, and her third of five so far (twice as a kid, twice recently as a chaperone for students). We live in the Most Liveable City In America, Pittsburgh, PA (Let's Go Bucs!) and love it here. She's a teacher and I'm a social worker, so our budgets are small and our hearts are big! Our only "child" so far is our rescued terrier(?) mutt, but we're hoping to change that soon.
We're both big planners when it comes to our vacations, but we also love to relax, so we try to avoid over-planning. We do love to eat well, and often plan our vacations around having at least one gourmet meal, even if it's off the beaten path.
I'll try not to make this report like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, with long waits between each installment, but since I'm starting this 5 months late, I'm not really making any promises.
Just a note- I plan to include pictures in this report, but we're private enough not to want pictures of us, and I wasn't planning to do a report at first so it may not be the collection of each food dish that you expect. I'm also going off of memory, so I apologize if I leave anything else.
NEXT UP: A cruise? Really?!
PLANNING THE CRUISE
--"A cruise? Really?!"--
We started planning a vacation around the time of our sixth anniversary. While we enjoyed several beach vacations and getaways since our honeymoon, we still had the Disney itch. Amy had gone back to WDW twice and to Disneyland once, but going as a chaperone with a gaggle of high school kids isn't what anyone would call a vacation.
We started to look at WDW vacation packages with our Travel Agent (who is wonderful, DM me if you want her name and contact info). We only had two small windows where we'd be able to travel, one in the winter and one in May. As we received our quotes, we started to negotiate down our preferences. We downsized our dining plan, then our resort, then our number of days to get where we wanted with our budget. We were feeling a bit discouraged.
Then our wonderful TA asked us a question- "Would you consider a cruise?" We had never thought of this option, and thought of every con... before we looked at DCL's website. After doing some research, we were sold. As this would be our first cruise, we opted for a four night cruise to the Bahamas, and were pleased to find that our vacation would cost less than any of our WDW quotes.
I spent the next seven months between the PassPorter and DISboards, learning everything I could. 90 days prior to embarkation, I made my Palo and excursion reservations, and then came the long wait!
--I'm going to insert some things in this report that I as a first-timer learned that may help others in their planning--
WHAT I LEARNED: The Rainforest Room passes can't be reserved from the Planning Center- If you wish to buy your passes ahead of time, you have to call DCL. You'll have to pay for these passes when you call.
DISboards members were incredibly helpful. My wife laughed at my obsessive planning, but it all came in handy when I knew tips, shortcuts, and other secrets ahead of time.
We arranged our dog sitter/housesitter, booked our flights (Google's flight search came in handy more than any travel site), packed our bags, and set the alarms for our early wake-up call.
NEXT UP: It should be a crime to be up this early.
--"It should be a crime to be up this early"--
We woke up at an ungodly hour to get in the car and to the airport, on the other side of the city from us. On most days, it takes about an hour to get there from our house, so we afforded ourselves 90 minutes to be safe.
It took 25 minutes. Amazing how little traffic there is at 4am!
We had no problems getting through security and to our plane. We took off on time and took the first leg from Pittsburgh to Charlotte. We grabbed a light snack in Charlotte during our brief layover, and then... we sat in our plane as it waited in a line to take off. It was only 30-40 minutes, but to us, it seemed like an hour.
WHAT WE LEARNED: Maybe it would have been better for our collective sanity if we flew in the day before and got a hotel.
The flight from Charlotte to Ft. Lauderdale was uneventful, and we landed in Ft. Lauderdale's airport. Here's a tip- if you don't like waiting for your luggage, fly into a smaller airport. Our luggage arrived seconds after we arrived at the carousel.
Upon landing we had called our shuttle. If you're flying into FLL, I highly recommend SAS Transportation. The price was fair, the drivers were knowledgable, and the entire process was hassle-free.
After an easy drive through beautiful Miami (with the driver deftly detouring around a traffic jam), we arrived...
NEXT: "It's so magical!"
--"It's so magical"--
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at about 12:30pm with a boarding time of 2pm, but by then open boarding had commenced.
WHAT WE LEARNED: If you need to, take a moment to breathe. We felt a little bit like we were being pushed through an embarkation factory and were a bit overwhelmed. That's not to say that the staff weren't wonderful and helpful. They definitely were.
At this point, we were still a bit stressed out and more than a little overwhelmed. Then we walked into the ship... and were welcomed with applause as we walked into the beautiful Wonder Atrium.
It was suggested to us to get a bite to eat at the Beach Blanket Buffet. Having read DISboards, I knew instead to book it back to Parrot Cay. This was a great choice. We had a nice lunch (chilled pineapple-coconut soup was a highlight), and then went to explore. We went up to the deck and had a claustrophobic moment- this was a pretty kid-heavy cruise, and they were out in full force at the Mickey and Goofy pools. We peeked into the Beach Blanket Buffet and saw more of the same... and that was the last time we were in that room. We made it over to the Quiet Cove pool and definitely found our home for the rest of the cruise. Of note- I know a lot of people complain about kids walking through this area, but we only noticed a handful getting their bearings on the first day and just a few others quietly passing through throughout the rest of the cruise.
After the announcement that rooms were ready, we headed down to the 1st deck to our room. We had room 1007, a Deluxe Inside Stateroom category 10C. The room was perfect for two people- we don't spent much time in our rooms outside of sleeping and getting ready, so we didn't feel compelled to spend more on a veranda or balcony. There was lots of storage, though I can see the room being a little more tight when you add a child or two. We were located almost midship and almost at a dead end, so there wasn't much traffic at all- very little noise. Our room had a connecting noise, but we rarely heard the family (with an infant) that was next door, even at night. We couldn't feel the motion of the ship at all, and the only indication of movement was the closet door that slid open once or twice overnight. Without a veranda/porthole/balcony, we relied on the TV channel that showed the front of the ship to get an idea of weather and location. Our room steward, Suresh, was kind and kept the room nice, but our interactions were limited.
To be fair, I could have sat in the room and watched Disney Afternoon cartoons for days.
Prior to the muster/lifeboat drill, we stopped at Guest Services and had them apply all of our gift cards (that's all we asked for at the holidays, plus I had bought a few out of every paycheck). Our budget planning must have been accurate, as we only went $14 over at the end of the cruise.
The muster drill went quickly (once everyone sauntered to their location. Team J is going to be off the boat and on our way to freedom while everyone else is still trying to find their place!). We then went back up to the Quiet Cove pool to get a drink before the Sail Away party... and walked into torrential downpour.
At this point, we had a laugh (this is the kind of thing that tends to happen to us) and ran to the covered bar, where we met Lincoln the bartender. I purchased my beer mug/card, and Amy had the drink of the day.
Note to craft beer drinkers- you're not going to find any high end craft or anything hoppy here. Most of the available beer is macros. Outside of the Bud/Miller/Coors category, there was Kona Longboard, Kona Big Wave, Stella, and Heineken. The Kona was good enough that I didn't feel my mug was wasted.
WHAT WE LEARNED- Don't overthink the drinks. I've seen several people post really high bar bills, but you can still have a good time without spending too much. The drink of the day is a bargain if you don't get the souvenir glass, and the beer mug pays itself off over the course of the cruise. I didn't feel that I spent any more than most city bars or nicer restaurants. We bought a small bottle of rum in Key West and used it in the cups we brought (a must- the free cups are tiny) with coke from the fountains, but due to being on Deck 1, didn't ever return to our cabin to refill.
We had such a good time with Lincoln that when they announced that the sail away party has moved to the atrium, we stayed and enjoyed another drink. Then we heard the "When You Wish Upon A Star" horn (Amy: "It's So Magical!") We sat on the deck as the weather cleared and had a fantastic view of Miami as we sailed away.
Neither of us was interested in the magic show that night, so we decided to return to the cabin for some rest and alone time before dinner (we had the late dinner, which worked great for us, but probably wouldn't with kids- we saw plenty falling asleep in the dining rooms). We ordered some light room service, too.
WHAT WE LEARNED- On the first day, announcements are also broadcast into your room. Here's a warning- nothing will kill a "romantic" moment like the words "HELLO! THIS IS YOUR CRUISE DIRECTOR JIMMY!"
After resting, we dressed up and went to Parrot Cay, the first on our PTTA rotation. Our server was Marvin, with our assistant server Russell. I cannot compliment these men enough. Their service was immaculate, and their personalities added to our enjoyment of the cruise.
We were worried about table mates- of course, we should have trusted Disney. Only two of our scheduled six table mates appeared that night- a couple celebrating their honeymoon, fresh from WDW, where they planned to return after the cruise. They were from Brazil- he spoke limited English and she spoke less, but we were able to communicate well throughout the cruise and became fast friends, a friendship that continues to this day. It probably didn't hurt that they had the wine package and insisted on sharing- at the same time, we insisted on reciprocating- nothing helps to get conversation going like bottles of wine!
I don't recall our exact menu choices- I think I had the mixed grill while Amy had the grouper. I remember thoroughly enjoying whatever I had, which was the case with all but one course I had all week.
After our desserts, we received a bonus dessert.
Our table mates received the same, with Just Married buttons. We brought our buttons home and keep them with our Just Married buttons from the California Grill.
We continued to talk and joke with our table mates and servers until we noticed that everyone had left. This became a trend- we closed the dining room each night.
At this point was had been awake for 19 hours on 3 hours of sleep and were fading fast. We went to our room and discovered our first towel animal:
We then had the deepest sleep of our lives.
NEXT: A house full of cats, and the best brunch I've ever had.
Thanks! I'll probably have another update before the weekend is up.
When DH and I cruised for our anniversary, Disney paired us with a newlywed couple from Germany that barely spoke any English. The husband was the communicator for the 2 of them. I just thought that was funny.
That's pretty similar to our experience. By the last night, we had a system down, mostly involving his English and our high school Spanish knowledge (since he knew some Spanish too). It was a really cool experience.
Joining in, husband and I are taking our first cruise in 50 days!
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