DCL for the non-Disney crowd: Eastern Carib. Fantasy Jan 26 - Feb 3 2013 - all done!

Discussion in 'Disney Cruise Line Trip Reports' started by Conorama, Feb 11, 2013.

  1. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012
    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. :goodvibes

    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.

    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
    Shanti and Joyce T. Powell like this.
  2. cmwade77

    cmwade77 DIS Veteran

    Jul 1, 2005
    I am curious to see where this goes.

    We love Disney, but know there are those that don't.
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  4. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012

    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.

    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. :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. :cheer2:

    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. :cool2:
    Shanti and Joyce T. Powell like this.
  5. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012
    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... :lmao:)

    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. :goodvibes )

    Pirate Gear

    This part was easy for us. :sail: 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.
    Joyce T. Powell likes this.
  6. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012
    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! :laughing:

    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!
    Shanti and Joyce T. Powell like this.
  7. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012
    Yes, we do exist - amazingly! :) We don't mind those of you that do - we learn a lot. :)

    PATTERSON PARTY OF 3 Mouseketeer

    Jan 13, 2013
  9. Linda67

    Linda67 DIS Veteran

    Aug 18, 2009
    Count me in, it sounds like you are going to have a really interesting perspective on a DCL Cruise popcorn::
  10. bellasmom10

    bellasmom10 Earning My Ears

    Oct 29, 2012
    Looking forward to reading your trip report..

    Especially your thoughts on Air Canada...
  11. ilovemangoes

    ilovemangoes Mouseketeer

    Dec 5, 2006
    A fellow Ontarian planning our 2nd DCL cruise...looking forward to reading more.
  12. iloverags2

    iloverags2 DIS Veteran

    Feb 13, 2002
    Looking forward to reading all about your cruise!
  13. kittymamma

    kittymamma Mouseketeer

    Sep 18, 2012
    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.....
  14. wiigirl

    wiigirl DIS Veteran

    Oct 29, 2012
    I'm in! :)
  15. lpizzuro123

    lpizzuro123 DIS Veteran

    Mar 30, 2005
    Signing on here. Looking forward to reading this report.

  16. GoHabsGo

    GoHabsGo Mouseketeer

    Oct 7, 2011
    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)
  17. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012
    Welcome followers, and I hope this is helpful to someone, and not boring - my high and lofty goals in life. :laughing:

    I'll try to stay interesting! :lmao:

    Oh - no shortage of AC thoughts ... stay tuned!

    Enjoying our real winter this year? I was happy to escape for a week, but I confess I actually love real winters.

    I try very hard to direct the sense of humour at myself (OK, at my husband and kid too - they're just easy targets. :))

    We're on the other side of TO, and we decided that we didn't want to contend with unknown (to us) roads in and around Syracuse (our nearest US airport) in January. See notes above re: excessive wimpiness when it comes to these matters!

    OK, back to business. Pre-trip countdown, part 4, I think???
  18. tracylkj

    tracylkj Earning My Ears

    Jan 29, 2013
    I'll be reading! We live in Winnipeg (grew up in Ontario) and we booked our first Disney Cruise in January 2014! And like you, we aren't big Disney people either :)
  19. cleophus12

    cleophus12 DIS Veteran

    Mar 1, 2005
    So far I'm impressed--especially with the advance booking of everything. I am just about to hit that mark, and your experience is helpful. Looking forward to the full report.
  20. k3chantal

    k3chantal DIS Veteran

    Sep 7, 2011
  21. Conorama

    Conorama Mouseketeer

    Jul 18, 2012
    The (annoying) last 2 months before the vacation - part 1

    So, if you blink after your 75 day booking date, you find yourself a mere 2 months before you leave. This is where I found myself after getting home from a business trip - so we were at the beginning of December, and I had to entire the planning zone big-time.

    The List and a Cautionary Tale

    NOTE: While we are DCL newbies, we are experienced "go South, you Canadians" vacationers from our previous all-inclusive experiences, so we know about the packing/planning thing.

    DH and I have, well, let's call them "differing" packing styles. No, he is not the guy who asks the day before the trip if he should pack yet. He's the supremely annoying person who is basically fully packed 1 month before the vacation, and then acts all superior to the rest of us. :headache:

    However, last year, he had a spectacular packing fail with this system, in that we found ourselves in the hot Caribbean sun, and he did not have any sun shirts to cover his pasty-white-sun-burn-prone-Canadian skin. Ha! He is also 6'6'' so buying stuff while on a resort is a challenge, so he had to fork over megabucks to buy a too short shirt. :laughing:

    I have a very sane and sensible plan that involves a spreadsheet (OK, maybe 3 of them) that is colour coded (because why not?) that I use to figure out what needs to be packed, what is packed, what needs to be checked for fit, and what needs to be purchased. I pack carefully over about a 3 week period, with one (marathon) session the night before with double/triple checking.

    No, this is not excessive. Yes, I am sure of this. No, I am not anxious ... much ... well, a lot, when it comes to packing, actually. :)

    He (mostly) stopped making fun of my lists after the Sun Shirt Episode. I, however, couldn't fully enjoy his shame last year since we had an incident that proved I needed to fix The List.

    **If you don't want to read irrelevant, but hopefully amusing stuff... skip to the next heading below***

    Picture this - last year, we are happily hitting the road on a sunny, and sub-freezing cold January Sunday morning, heading out on our 2 hour drive to Ottawa, to stay overnight prior to our morning flight off to sunny climes. We're flying down the 401 (one of the more boring stretches). The 3 year old is happy. I'm amazed we got away early, and we've had no glitches (cue the dark and stormy foreshadowing music here).

    We stop for a Starbucks refill in small town Ontario, and Conor asks for something - I check for his suitcase and... :scared1: it's not there.

    I have an instant vision of it sitting in the closet at home - we had to hide it to keep the 3 year old from repacking it. (Read - taking everything out that is ESSENTIAL for happy kid-ness on the plane.)

    Profanity ensues, out of the earshot of the child.

    We decided to drop me and Conor at a (sorry) rather awful little mall to while away the *2* hours that it would take for DH to turn around, drive home, get the bleeping bag, and come back and get us.

    We survived at the mall (I had my Starbucks, which was key) by running up and down in the (empty) halls, hitting the bookstore (yippee!), and, in my case, caving to my 3 year old son's insistence that I buy a $10 pair of sparkly, leopard print ballet flats. (Desperate times call for desperate measures.) Of note, I a) hate sparkly things, b) hate leopard print, and c) can't wear cheap ballet flats without taking out my back. However, the kid wanted me to get the "pretty" shoes, and it wasn't worth the fight.

    Thankfully, we were driving up the day before, so we could afford this time.

    So, we fixed The List to include a checklist of bags. Stop laughing at me! :happytv:


    This, I have mastered. See notes re: The List (capital letters are required to convey its importance) above. I usually start to make the list at the 2 month point, since I might have to order hard to find stuff on-line.

    However, the pre-packing process actually starts at the end of the summer when I sort the summer clothes before putting them away - I have learned to toss everything we might need for our summer at the end of January into an empty suitcase. I also pick up stuff the next size up for Conor on clearance at the end of the summer (you know, like, in July, according to the stores...) I've just been burned too many times by his annoying last-minute growth spurts. The nerve of the kid!

    To be continued... (I do have photos, honest! However, none that are relevant to this post...)
    Joyce T. Powell likes this.

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