Cast of Characters From Northern California Goofy, AKA The Beast, 43, Soon to be retired military member The Good Fairy, AKA Beauty/Belle, 32, Homemaker and planner extrodinairre (yours truly) Buzz, 7, Son. Pooh Bear, 3, Daughter Why we choose going to Fla. over CA. 1) The best cruises are there! Correction...the BEST cruise is there! (Our main focus anyway!) 2) More to do and see/more bang for your buck 3)It really feels like getting away. I am born and raised in So Cal, so going there is old hat to me, even though we do go there at least every other year. Best planning tips BUY the Passporter book. Passporter.com. It has the most thorough and updated info I have ever seen. Website is updated regularly. Get the snap ring type instead of the older, spiral bound type. You can take to the parks just what you need for that day. There are spaces for all your notes, budget planning, all the numbers you need, places to put receipts, chock full of ideas, etc. READ the Dis boards. There are people who are diehards who know what they are talking about. Their advice should be taken into consideration. Wear SUNSCREEN/sunblock and apply it well everywhere! If you get braids, you will want something to put on your parts or wear a good hat. I personally dont like the braiding, but I saw many sunburned scalps! Lisas Murphy-esque law. If you have it, you will not need it. If you need it, you will not have it. Dont expect everything to be perfect all the time. People are human and if you set your standards TOO high, you will be continually dissapointed. Carry a basic firstaid pouch. I dipped into and replenished mine several times. I included, Band-Aids, small tube of Band-Aid blister blockers (get the biggest ones, they can be cut to size), small scissors, Imodium AD caplets, Sinus Motrin, Tylenol, Phazyme, chewable Pepto tablets. I had at least 2, no more than 4 caplets of each med. Takes no space at all, and its nice to have when you need it. Tummy probs on vacation is a NONO! You will be annoyed at some time-face it and embrace it. WDW is the #1 US travel destination. It attracts guests from many countries and walks of life You will tick some else off......Someone will tick you off. It may be a matter of cultural differences or bad manners, but either way...it will happen. Keep your cool. Take a breath and remember YOUR manners. Your vacation is also someone elses vacation. However, dont be afraid to speak up (kindly) if some injustice has been done. Cast members are extremely helpful and talented at finding solutions to problems. Oh, we stayed at the Holiday Inn in Cocoa Beach. This is a good, inexpensive option for people who want to lodge in CC Beach before their cruise. They have specialized rooms called Kidsuites, which are a lot like traditional rooms, but with a kid-sized cubicle for some privacy. Each cubicle has a bunkbed and a separate twin. (For 3 kids) Between the bunks and bed are a childzsized dresser, with a TV/Nintendo (extracost). Our kids loved having their own space and each bed area had a speaker control. I couldnt figure out what this was for until we used it! When the parents are using their own TV, the kids can sit/lay in their own area and listen to their TV without disturbing the parents! Also, if one child is sleeping and one wants to watch TV, they can do so quietly, by controlling the volume near their bed. July 28th-Embarkation Day! I am so excited. So much planning went into this part of the trip. It was the most costly part of the trip, so we wanted to get the most value out of it. We knew we could get in about 12 noon and get settled. We entered the gorgeous terminal. It looks so art deco (like something out of the 19202-30s). The model of the ship is wonderful to look at. A perfect picture spot if you are early. If you are later, it is swamped with people. We filled out a few customs papers and check in. We are given our first of several trading cards and even a free demo copy of a CDROM game for Atlantis. We get in line in front of the doors. The excursions manager makes an announcement and hands out some forms for those interested. There is a big countdown for entering the ship. We go through security and board in the main atrium. Either side is lined with crew members welcoming everyone. They are trying to coral everyone to one of the embarkation buffets. People were discouraged to go to their cabins, but we found a way to get to level 6 and find our room. We had one carry on that we did not want to take to lunch and figured our cabin steward wouldnt mind us dropping it off. Our room was already neat and tidy! Our steward, Estelle, met us. She was great and had perfect timing. She never hovered around to wait until we left. Everytime we returned to our room it was like the cleaning fairies had come! She never even hovered around the final night (AKA tip night). We went looking for her! Oh, for the person who posted the idea of bringing the inexspensive shoe holder. This was perfect! I actually used it through my entire trip and it was great for storing all the little items. Key cards, lotions, my firstaid kit, sunglasses, sandals, etc. We checked our dinner arrangements (AP, PC, T) We decided earlier to skip Tritons and aim to make that night, our last, the Palo night. We had Tritons for breakfast instead, so we were still able to experience all the dining rooms. We first went to the Kids clubs to sign the kids in. I was going to check what time it opened and I was only 3 minutes early! I was the first parent to sign in! Five painless minutes later I was out and about with my pager in hand. Second, we wanted to line up our Palos ressies. We were also early and were one of the first couples and had our first choice available to us. Third, we went to the Spa to sign up. At the last minute, hubby chickened out of the couples surial bath. I was going to just sign up for a personal massage, but they had a special listed. (Oh, forgot to mention they gave the option of tour or NO tour if you already knew what you wanted) I inquired about the special. It was a ladies night out from 7-10pm and include a message, a facial, steambath, with treats (champagne, chocolate strawberries, etc) for $150. This was the Voyage of the Ghostship night timeslot and from what I heard I didnt miss anything. I LOVED my treatment! I was presented with the option to buy some products, but just took the brochures to look over. I dont buy anything under the influence. I was so relaxed I just wanted to be poured into bed. I dont know if they offer this special every 3 day, but I would encourage anyone looking for a good spa treatment to ASK about specials for your cruise. I think for what I got it was a comparable price for what I might pay at a local spa. I have always disliked the Muster/boat drill. The act of putting on the lifevests and standing on deck for 15-20 mins. It was so warm and humid that my 3 yo was having a sweaty fit in her lifevest. I thought she would start foaming at the mouth, but soon it was over and done with. About an hour before dinner, there was the sail away party and there was lots of great music. It was fun seeing all the kids and families dance and sing. We went up to the top deck to watch the ship pull out of dock. Three other ships were going out at the time (Carnival and Royal Caribbean just do not compare!) We saw wild dolphins splashing along as well as pelicans diving for fish. First night, Animators Palate What a cute place. Everything is black and white. The chairs, the plates, even the vests of the servers. As the evening progresses, the giant paintbrush poles display another color. The framed drawings on the wall change with color and design. The grand finale is a video presentation and the entire room comes to life with color. The food was great. Only one disappointment. The lobster rolls. Tasted a lot like tunafish in a tortilla. Thekids liked the fact that our servers put coloring sheets on their places with their names. They were amazed they new their names! Our servers were Siree and Chantana from Thailand. Next was Hercules, The Muse-ical. Son opted to go into the kids club instead. Show is very cute. We were all very tired that night, so we all went to bed after. There were so many late evening activities that sounded wonderful too. Remember to bring a light sweater or jacket to the theatres. They are very chilly inside. Day TWO. We had breakfast in Tritons. I got to have my favorite, Lox and Bagels. There was also a buffet in Beach Blanket Buffet and Parrot Cay. Kids were very happy with pancakes and hubby had eggs and bacon. The service is GREAT here! Imagine the kids eyes that some offers to pour their syrup for them. We took our daughter to the Princess Party autograph signing. It was nice getting some autographs so easily. Son wanted to be in the kids club again. This was the Nassau day, so we took our daughter and walked around town. I was not all that impressed with Nassau the first time, so I wasnt sure I really wanted to do this again. We did find some nice souvenirs (try the Bacardi Rum Cake! And Jamaican Blue coffee is a good price at the OLD NASSAU store.) I didnt want to go to the straw market, but hubby loves the haggling of prices. He did get some T-shirts and I saw a cute little turtle carved out of coconut shell. I thought it would make a good gift for my Mother in Law who collects and breeds rare desert tortoises. The seller wrapped our turtles in newspaper. I strongly suggest you DOUBLE check your purchases back in your room. When we opened our suitcase and unwrapped the turtles a HUGE cockroach came out! I think it was in the paper, hubby thinks it was in the turtle...either way it was gross! We all met for lunch in Beach Blanket Buffet and went to Atlantis in the Walt Disney Theatre. Afterwards my hubby took our daughter to the Mickey and Goofy Pools. I relaxed in the room on the veranda! Dinner was at Parrot Cay. Try the coconut shrimp! Very good. This was my Spa ladiesnight so at 8pm I went off to be pampered! How wonderful! I did go to the Tropical Deck Party with my hubby for a few minutes, but I was so relaxed that I was in bed by 10:30. Day Three-BooHoo. BUT...it is Castaway Day! I was really looking forward to this! Before we got off the island the cruise director said it was the best weather they had in months. First, we rented bikes and took a nice bike ride on the path. (about 2 miles round trip) There is nice cold water dispensers and paper cups at the end of the trail to refresh yourselves. They have helmets for the kids and replacement bikes at the end of the trail if something should go wrong with yours. The path takes you along the emergency landing strip/tram path to Serenity Beach and then along a jungle like path to an overlookpoint. After the ride, I took the kids to the club to play in their water activities/sand toys, etc. I loved the fact that there was so much for them to do! We grabbed some Konk Koolers and hubby and I took off for Serenity Beach. The tram was taking so long that we just walked it. (wished we waited, it was hot!) We reached the Cookies BBQ and had the Salmon Filets and salad. There was a nice fruit display where the server would just cut up your whole fruit for you. I picked out a nice papaya..YUM. I rented snorkeling equipment for the day and enjoyed a lazy swim on the shore. I did see some fish, but the water is very shallow there. It would have been nice to have some anti-fog for my mask. Some couples were just sitting in their chairs right at the waters edge, but I opted to find a nice hammock. Ah! That was the best! We reluctantly headed back in to the main camp to get the kids and then hit the family beach together. I tried snorkeling out there, but I didnt see the sunken ship, only the plaque that reads Take Nothing... The water was pretty murky from so many swimmers kicking up sand. I had to go pretty far out to see something...I turned around and there was a huge barracuda looking at ME! Wow. There was a brief rainstorm that crossed the island, but it came and went. Of course, many guests had that Oh no, not on MY vacation look in their eyes. We enjoyed a little more time on the island and sadly gathered up our things to walk back to the shuttle stop and to the ship. While we were waiting to go on board, I had an idea for hubby to wait on dock so I could run to our veranda and get a snapshot of me and the kids. It was a great shot to show the vastness of this ship! As I saw people coming back on board, I saw many were really burnt from the sun. People! Please wear sunscreen! Better yet, wear sun BLOCK! Oh, and why were certain ladies complaining about their feet? They were wearing really high heels! What is with that? Anyway, we had to be back on board by 4:30. As we took turns showering, I watched the major production of the crew hauling many items back into the ship. Towels (A huge truckload!) food, other equipment, etc. What a production they go through just for one day. The debarkation talk was today and we passed. We know the cruise drill already and just incase you do NOT go....they show it on cable in your room. (They do this with the shopping talks as well, so even if you miss a major talk, you will still see it played many times over) I seriously must have been tired after such a day, because I really dont remember doing anything particular until dinner time. As I look at the Navigator now, I realize there were so many things to do! This was our Palo night and I was really looking forward to it! The kids went off to the club while we got dressed. (The only night I got really made up) We went to pay most of our tips before dinner then we headed off to the shops. They were closed all day in Nassau. (Tip: go shopping when you leave Cape Canaveral. People are exploring the ship that night and the shops are relatively quite. If you wait until the last night, they are swamped!) I wish I knew more about pin trading/purchasing. I only bought the ones I really liked and I should have gotten some to trade with! I had no clue how valuable they could be to other pin collectors! So, another tip, buy TWO of every limited cruise pins. Keep one and trade the others for other exclusives in the parks. (This works really well for Post Cruise Park goers). Then off to Palos. What I can I say? The environment is awesome. We had a 6:30 seating and had a wonderful view of the aft of the ship. Our waitress was from Australia and was impeccable. We each sampled a few different appetizers. I opted for a Portabello dish that took 12 hours to prepare. It was fabulous. I really enjoyed dining on someone elses hard work! Hubby had a bouillabaisse type concoction that was really lovely. My entree was a special dish just for this cruise, a broiled lobster with a tomato based sauce. Wow. I really wanted something fancy and this was it! Desserts are historical here and we just had to have 4 different ones to sample. We never get to eat like this, so we were going to go for the gusto. Hubby tried a special sampling of custard-like ice creams (much like spumoni, only separated scoops on shells of candy-like wafers. I cant remember the other dish he had. My choices were a special for this cruise, a cappuccino cheesecake shaped in a coffee cup with a handmade coffee handle and the chocolate soufflé. This was to die for!!! I was so knocked out of my senses that I even forgot to take a picture of it! I took pics of the others. I was speechless when our server came to check on us. It was so delicious, I could cry just thinking about it. Even if all you do is make ressies for dessert...DO IT!!!! Oh, and I also had a Bellini with dinner...a champagne/peach flavored cocktail. That was a great starter with the appetizers. Not only do you get a choice of appetizers, but they also introduce you to the antipasti cart. Your server will make you an assortment of items such as artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, etc. Give it a try! It looked like they had a nice Italian wine collection too. I usually avoid alcohol after a day in the sun...Im too dehydrated to really enjoy it. The next even was Disney Dreams. Our son BEGGED to remain in the kids club. I felt sad that we hardly saw the boy!!! We checked on our daughter and she was passed out asleep. (Poor baby, hard day at the beach) So, hubby and I went to the show ourselves. I cried when Ariel came on...she is my daughters fave! She would have loved that show. It was so well choreographed and the ending is so adorable. I wont blow the surprise for anyone going. I didnt know and it just made it more special. Since I wore a sleeveless dress that night, I brought my large scarf to keep me warmer. (Chilly theatres) After the show, we figured that our son would want to play in the kids club until it closed (midnight) and since it was the last night. We checked out the dueling pianos bar (the crowd was a little quiet, but after some great Elton John songs, they got rolling) Hubby and I went to our cabin to pack up, since the luggage had to be picked up by 11pm. We put our daughter to bed and I went on a picture safari of items I wanted to put in the scrapbook. The fairy pictures outside of Animators Palate, the bird gallery outside of Parrot Cay, the Mickey hands on the elevator, the main Atrium chandelier. (Couldnt do that any justice, my film just did not pick up the intense colors) Then I went to pick up my son and get him to bed. He was so sad to say good-bye. I was starting to feel so sad and my husband already said that we just needed to do that again! We both agree that a 7 day trip would be better next time...3 days is a good introduction, but simply not long enough! It was worth every penny! I started to tell my husband about DVC and how your points could be used on cruises too, he said he would consider looking into it. The next day was the hardest...leaving! Since we had early dining we were expected to go to breakfast at 6:30. Yipes, that was hard after a late night. We just took our carry on to breakfast (remember you will need a change of clothes and toiletries, so DONT pack everything!). We said good-bye to the beautiful room (I am now considering how to redecorate in navy and art deco at home! JK! Many early risers were dragging themselves to their restaurants. (Your breakfast local is wherever your LAST assigned dinner was/would be) We said good-bye to Siree and Chintana and gave them their tips. They did a wonderful job and even managed to get our kids to warm up. That is a tremendous feat in only 3 days since they are both relatively shy. Getting off the ship is a breeze! This should be an industry standard! You dont wait around for hours waiting for your group number or color to be called. You literally walk off the ship, turn in your duty paperwork (the form is left on your bed the night before), maybe drop of a DCL comment card. If anyone did something particularly special for you, remember than persons name! They get recognized for their services. We walked right off. Luggage is arranged by room number (how brilliant is that?) There are rows and rows of baggage handlers to help you. Find a sturdy looking one and your luggage is wheeled away. Since we arrived early to the port, I had a great parking space right outside the terminal. The handler was given a tip, and off we went! We waved good-bye (sadly!) to the Mickey Boat (what my daughter calls it) and already started talking about next time. Our son looked so down as he said, I want to go back to the kids club! He was very pleased that he was given a T-shirt from the club and won a lunch bag with the logo on it. We also got him a baseball cap with the logo and he has hardly taken it off since! If you really want a great cruise with your family, GO DISNEY! You wont regret it!