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Old 02-11-2013, 07:44 PM   #1
Conorama
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Join Date: Jul 2012
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DCL for the non-Disney crowd: Eastern Carib. Fantasy Jan 26 - Feb 3 2013 - all done!

I am taking my life in my own hands (OK, maybe not really, but it feels like it) and writing this trip report from the perspective of people who have (be ready here) NEVER done Disney before.

Fair warning - if comments are not welcomed by me, I will ignore them.

OK - so, here we go.

The crew:
  • Conor - age 4.5 - loves pirates as much as he hates characters. Does watch Disney Junior (loves Jake) but has never been able to get through a Disney movie except Cars (the first one). Everything else either has too many princesses, is too scary, or both!
  • DH - 44 - never been to anything that looks like Disney
  • Me - 41 - ditto.

So... why did we go?

Basically, a really good friend, who knows us well, thought we would enjoy DCL. 2012 marked the year where I finished my never-ending graduate degree, (while working full-time), so we decided to celebrate by trying something different from our usual all-inclusive vacation.

In July, 2012, we finally decided to bite the bullet and book our vacation. We used our favourite travel agent - a Disney fanatic - and she steered us to the 7-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary in late January on the Fantasy.

The big question- will we go back?

You'll just have to wait for that.

Oh, yes, forgot our family photo. Here we are, in all our glory... or at least, as Conor sees us.



Conor and I are playing in the snow, and that's DH's footsteps heading into the house. DH is not actually standing on the fridge, but he is in the kitchen cooking supper.

(Real photos to follow.)

Edited to add in links- I always find these helpful, so I'm going back and putting them in.

Planning
When in Rome .... (or Disneying the trip up)
75 days out - and booking info
The annoying 2 months before leaving - part 1
The annoying 2 months before leaving - part 2
The (now really annoying) 2 months before leaving - part 3
Finally on our way to Orlando
Flying and MCO
Hyatt Regency - MCO (Review)
Having done our bit with planes, trains (shuttle), and automobiles, we clearly need a bus now
Port Adventures... by which I mean, our experience at Port Canavral and boarding
Day 1 - Highs and (minor) lows - part 1
An Ode to Fantasy Stateroom 9120
Day 1 - Highs and (minor) lows - part 2
Two things I forgot - one great, one near-awful (Including a basket from A Perfect Gift)
Day 1 - Highs and (minor) lows - part 3 - dining and bed
Day 2 - First real day at sea - morning
Day 2 - First real day at sea - lunch and beyond
Reflections on Day 2
To FE or not to FE?
Day 3 - Second day at sea
Reflections on Day 3
Day 4 - St. Thomas - Part 1 - Getting off the ship (includes Coral World review)
Day 4 - St. Thomas - Part 2 - Getting back off the ship (includes short review of Butterfly farm)
Pirate night - or, Pirate Evening, to be more precise
Reflections on Day 4

Day 5 - San Juan - Isla Verde Beach Escape
Day 5 - San Juan - just 'splorin, as Conor calls it
Day 5 - San Juan - wrap up
Day 6 - At Sea (includes Rainforest room review)
Day 6 - Palo
Reflections on Day 5 (forgot!) and Day 6
Day 7 - Castaway Cay day - but not Castaway Cay yet
Day 7 - Castaway Cay - in which we are, by the end of the day, actually, looking forward to getting home
Day 7 - Castaway Cay - in which we are, by the end of the day, actually, looking forward to getting home - part 2
Packing to go home
Day 7 - Odds and Ends
Printing on board - or one more thing I forgot to mention
Reflections on Day 7
Day 8 - AKA Disembarking/Debarking/Getting off the ship
Quality time at MCO
Planes, and a cautionary tale from a previous trip
Back at YYZ
Sheraton Gateway YYZ
The Aftermath - or how you feel after the vacation is over
The Verdict
Epilogue
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Old 02-11-2013, 07:46 PM   #2
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I am curious to see where this goes.


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Old 02-11-2013, 08:10 PM   #3
Conorama
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Planning

So, I wasn't organized enough to post about our planning WHILE we were planning, but I'll put a few points here in case it helps others.

Flights:
For the first time in my life, ever, when I checked to see how ridiculous flights on points would be (usually, we are offered a 2-day layover or something), I nearly fell off my chair in July, when we found that we could do direct flights for all 3 of us, at reasonable times out of Toronto, to Orlando.

Once I got my breath back again, I got my husband to confirm that I wasn't hallucinating (I was in the throes of writing my thesis, so it was possible) , and we booked the things. YYZ to MCO - Air Canada (more on that), leaving on the Friday before at 16:20-ish; returning on the Saturday after, 14:20-ish. This feat deserves a dancing banana.

(We live 3 hours away from Toronto off the 401 - and we didn't want to muck things up with a short-hop flight from our local airport - not usually worth it for us.)

Booking DCL

We decided to go through a travel agent as we've never done Disney before, and because we really like our travel agent. I didn't even ask about any bonuses, but we got a bunch of Aeroplan points for booking with her - this works for us. (1923, in case you need to know that - do NOT ask me how they came up with that number!)

Our other reason? Said travel agent is a wonder, so I like having her on our side in case something goes wrong.

She gave us great advice about cabins, too - more on that in a later post. For now, I'll mention we were in 9120 (4A) and loved it.

Travel insurance

We are travel insurance people. I'm not going to try to sell you on this if you're not already convinced, but suffice it to say that our family has been through a lot in the last 10 years, so we buy insurance.

In the past, we were happy with RBC insurance, and it was competitive (and quite comprehensive) so we did that again.


Hotels pre- and post-cruise

To review for those who don't live in places with, um, "real" winter, one needs to have about 20 contingency plans if you're traveling in Ontario winters.

So... we pre-booked the following:
  • Sheraton Gateway at YYZ for Thursday night before the flight (hoped to not need this one - bad weather insurance booking.
  • Hyatt Regency at MCO for Friday night (desperately needed) - why? Because we were getting in past the magic hour of Conor's bedtime... which means that every minute counts in the "get him to bed" zone, to prevent a bad case of the 4.5 year old uglies... and we didn't want to be travelling about in the dark in a place we didn't know, regardless of who was driving. (Yes, we are wimps.) Plus, we wanted to use DCL transportation, and, hey, who can argue with the whole "we take your bags at 8:30 a.m. and you don't have to see them until they're in your stateroom" business?
  • Sheraton Gateway at YYZ for Saturday night upon our return- we could have driven home, but then we would have had the 4.5/41/44 year old uglies all at once.

Ground transportation

Since we are wimps, we didn't want to muck about with other transportation - so we booked DCL ground transportation. Yes, we knew it was more expensive. At that point in the planning, though, it was seriously just spitting in the ocean.
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Old 02-11-2013, 08:41 PM   #4
Conorama
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When in Rome...

During my (short) writing breaks in the summer, I discovered Disboards, and did learn lots of useful things (fear not - I still got lots of writing done - it's good for short breaks... )

I also decided, much to my husband's shock (and horror, to be honest), that if we were going on a Disney Cruise, we should try to embrace the whole Disney thing.

So ....

FE Group

Yep - we signed up. Why? I knew that Conor would love it. I read a fair bit, and it seemed like we could do the FE thing without losing our minds, even though I have virtually no crafty skills, and Conor was, at the time, anti arts and crafts, since it seemed that with some reasonable advanced planning, I could find stuff for everyone either locally or on-line. I have very little time to make stuff - I work long hours, and, frankly, when I'm not working/sleeping/eating, I want to spend time with Conor, and he was, as noted, NOT into crafts back then. We were otherwise occupied with the whole "transition to junior kindergarten" process, which was plenty time-consuming and tiring!

Before signing up, though, I made sure that we were not getting into some kind of mega-group - I just didn't think we had the time/energy/money for that. Fortunately, our groups were capped at 10-11 cabins, which was manageable.

Etsy was my friend. Of note, as most Canadians know, it's often hard to find stuff that doesn't have exorbitant shipping fees attached to it, so I spend a fair number of evenings searching out small things that could ship reasonably. I'll post photos later - much of our stuff is in my son's room and he's in bed!

Pillow Case for Signing

I'll put a plug in here for the great Canadian vendor I found (hope this is OK) - DoodadsWithCharacter - look them up on Etsy. I went for a simple pillow case, with a pirate Mickey and Conor's name. It was a very easy transaction, and they did a great job, with a quick turnaround. All I had to do was find fabric markers, which I did. (Michael's)

(Right now, it's being slept on, so photos to follow. )


Pirate Gear

This part was easy for us. Conor has been pirate-obsessed since he was 2, so his Halloween costume from 2 years ago was purchased with a view to it being worn regularly, and it still is (and it still fits!)

We decided to whoop it up and get pirate shirts for both of us - tried to pick some up on sale after Halloween - no luck. Finally, I found some that weren't too expensive on-line, so we were all geared up.


Other stuff we did do


I joined our cruise meet thread and the Facebook group. This turned out to be great, as we met some friends (you know who you are) and that was totally worth it. Other people had done great research, which we appreciated 100%. If you're wondering - it was worth it for sure.

I also learned about The Perfect Gift (again, thanks to Disboards), and started planning for something for our cabin.

Stuff we didn't do

We didn't get matching shirts - not our thing. We didn't order/make any other Disney stuff - autograph books, door magnets (except as FE gifts - our one "crafty" thing). We didn't worry about stopping for food/beverages/alcohol in between MCO and the port. We didn't buy any Disney clothing except for one shirt for Conor. We didn't surprise Conor, since he is NOT good with surprises... so that was an easy decision. Instead, I would find videos, etc., of ships and show them to him, so he would know what to expect.
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Old 02-11-2013, 09:02 PM   #5
Conorama
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The 75 days out booking time

Since we were DCL newbies, we, of course, had to wait until 75 days out to book things. We paid in full the week before, just to ensure everything cleared.

I did, in fact, persuade my husband to stay up until midnight to book our excursions (not a huge deal, since he is usually up to about 11:30 anyway) - or sorry, am I supposed to call them "port adventures"?

St. Thomas

I looked on Disboards and on another cruising forum to learn about different options. Overall, we decided that since there were *6* ships in port that day (more than 20,000 tourists!), we didn't want to try to arrange our own anything, so we would do something DCL-approved.

We'd done a semi-submersible trip before in Turks and Caicos, and Conor loved it, so it was easy enough to pick the Coral World excursion (adventure - whatever) that included the "submarine boat". We could actually pick a time - morning or afternoon, and, being some of those annoying morning people, we did that (8:15 meeting time, I think, finishing at about noon - perfect, we figured, for the 4 year old set.)

San Juan

Thanks to other keen researchers on our cruise, I knew that the Isla Verde excursion (adventure) was at a very decent hotel, complete with beach chairs, umbrellas, pool, and fruit punch. We suspected that by day 4 of the trip we'd be craving some "sit on the beach and veg out" time, so, despite the somewhat ridiculous cost, we booked it. (10:15 or so until 2:00 p.m. or so - no early morning options, sadly.)

Castaway Cay

Didn't seem like we really needed to book anything in advance, since we were hoping to just sit and chill. So, we didn't.

Adult dining

We weren't entirely sure that Conor would go to the kids club on his own (last year, he wouldn't have) and normally we don't mind this at all, since we go on vacation to spend time with him - but we decided to play it safe and only book adult dining near the end of the cruise. We booked Palo on Thursday night and Remy on Friday night, in the hopes that we would make it to at least one of these.

Port Arrival Time

I decided that I would risk a late port arrival time in the service of actually getting a decent night's sleep when I had to work the next day, so I lived dangerously and got up at my usual 6:00 a.m., and still got a PAT of 11:00 a.m. Victory!

Other advanced booking stuff

In order to keep my husband sane, I told him about the wine and beer packages. (Fear not -he's not a big drinker, but he likes good wine and "decent" beer.) He researched them a little, and we got some imported beer for the room, and the premium wine package for our dinners. He was also, um, persuaded, to arrange for a day pass for me at the Rainforest room, since one books all these things at the same place, we learned.

From reading on here, I gathered that we didn't need to order our basket from the Perfect Gift until about 1 month out, so we put that on "The List".

And, that'll do for tonight. More soon, with photos!
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Old 02-11-2013, 09:03 PM   #6
Conorama
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cmwade77 View Post
I am curious to see where this goes.


We love Disney, but know there are those that don't.
Yes, we do exist - amazingly! We don't mind those of you that do - we learn a lot.
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Old 02-11-2013, 10:09 PM   #7
PATTERSON PARTY OF 3
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I'm In.
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Old 02-12-2013, 05:33 AM   #8
Linda67
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Count me in, it sounds like you are going to have a really interesting perspective on a DCL Cruise
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Old 02-12-2013, 05:43 AM   #9
bellasmom10
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Looking forward to reading your trip report..

Especially your thoughts on Air Canada...
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:41 AM   #10
ilovemangoes
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A fellow Ontarian planning our 2nd DCL cruise...looking forward to reading more.
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Old 02-12-2013, 07:27 AM   #11
iloverags2
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Looking forward to reading all about your cruise!
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Old 02-12-2013, 08:16 AM   #12
kittymamma
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It's always fun to read a TR when the author has a sense of humor, which this one obviously does, so I am anxious to read the rest.....
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Old 02-12-2013, 08:22 AM   #13
wiigirl
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I'm in!
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Old 02-12-2013, 10:38 AM   #14
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Signing on here. Looking forward to reading this report.

Linda
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Old 02-12-2013, 12:23 PM   #15
GoHabsGo
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I feel like you are my biographer - similar story here but we flew out of DTW for our trip.

***Spoiler Alert*** We really enjoyed our Dream cruise (so much so that we're on the Fantasy in two weeks)
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