(As published in the Boston Sunday Herald, travel section cover, page 55, July 14, 2005)
Wonder and delight await in Bahamas, private island
By SHELAGH BRALEY
PORT CANAVERAL, Fla.—A gaggle of little girls wearing fluffy princess gowns and flip-flops waited in line to make their grand entrance onto the cruise ship.
Suddenly, Mickey appeared—in full “tails” tuxedo—to greet his little followers. They flocked to him, running from their parents (too loaded down with luggage and day bags to snatch them back).
Some parents felt a slight tug toward the larger-than-life mouse themselves. This is the lure of a Disney cruise: You suspend your cynicism and allow a glimmer of that bibbidy-bobbidy-boo to grow with every day onboard the Disney Wonder.
The 83,000-ton ship holds as many as 2,700 passengers and has activities for everyone from infants to the terrible teens, and their parents, too.
The ship’s newsletter, the Daily Navigator, lays it all out as easily as the turndown service, which includes chocolates and clever animals made of bath towels.
On our four-day sailing from this port near Orlando, the ship made two port calls with two days at sea, which we spent mostly in one of the three onboard pools. As accommodating as the ship is, the trip gets monumentally better when you dock at a beautiful beach where children can play and parents can get fruity drinks delivered to their lounge chairs.
The first stop was the Bahamas capital of Nassau, where friendly local women reached out to touch the face of my 2-year-old, red-headed daughter, asking if she wanted braids. After that first day on shore, little girls all over the ship were shaking their heads like maracas.
We could have gone on organized tours such as scuba diving to explore ship wrecks off the island, but instead we hit the Straw Market for fun trinkets, and the beach for the rest of the day. The tides were strong, but it was amazing to see starfish, stingrays and even small sharks in their natural environment.
More impressive, though, was the second port of call, the Disney-fied island of Castaway Cay, where the beach is so pristine, it’s hard to believe the tiny, perfect white seashells aren’t from a mold.
After building a sandcastle good enough for Cinderella, then trashing it like Godzilla, scarfing down lunch at Cookie’s BBQ and mugging for a few shots with a bathing suit-clad Minnie, it was time for me to leave my family for a nap on the adults-only beach and a massage in an open-air cabana at Serenity Bay.
Once I blocked out the 20-somethings outside my window yelling for four Coronas and a margarita (“Top shelf!”), I took a breath to savor the moment. My massage—although a bit sandy—was bliss. I just thought of it as exfoliating.
Tip for moms parting ways with kids and husbands: Don’t give them all the sunblock. Mothers all over the ship commiserated that evening in our formal gowns, with no hope of hiding our hideous red lines. “But your kids aren’t burned, right?” we joked.
Disney offers a daily camplike experience for kids age 3 and older and a nursery for those even younger (for an additional fee). While the children explore, parents can savor dinner at Palo, the grownups-only gourmet restaurant on Deck 10 (an extra fee is charged), go for a dip in the adult pool and partake in adult activities such as art auctions, bingo and martini tastings, as well as several adult lounges and nightclubs (there are also lavish Disney show productions suitable for the whole family).
Meanwhile, the kids are well occupied with games and climbing apparatus and enjoying—what else?—Disney movies—all under the watchful eye of an international group of counselors. Older kids (8 to 12) get to explore the world of Gak, as well as try their hands at other fun scientific experiments.
For teens (13-17), there’s Aloft, a mysterious universe replete with big screen TVs, a dance floor and an Internet Cafe, totally separate from the rest of the ship. Here they can hang out, sip their (alcohol-free) cocktails and meet kids from all over the country, all as horrified as each other to be on a family vacation of any kind.
Our accommodations were a spacious deluxe cabin that would comfortably sleep four and had separate areas for the tub/shower and toilet, as well as a veranda, perfect for viewing the sunset.
Good service is a whole cut above on the Wonder. Uniquely on Disney ships, you dine at a different restaurant each night and are assigned one wait staff team that follows you on your family’s rotation. Going to dinner was like being a hanger-on to a child star.
Our servers (Muhammed and Dimitri) treated our daughter like a doll, meeting her at the door and carrying her to our table. Soon they were standing next to her every few minutes, cutting her meat, switching her plain milk to chocolate in response to her cooing, flirty requests, picking up her fork before her parents even knew she dropped it, doing magic tricks to make her laugh. By the end of the second day, she was throwing herself into their arms to say good night. They were almost as special as Snow White.
Close, but not quite.
When we finally laid eyes on the raven-haired princess, we were in the glass elevator overlooking midship. There was a commotion below that caught our daughter’s eye and kept her pressed against the glass from the seventh floor to the third. When we stepped into the atrium and got a closer look, it was 2-year-old heaven. “Mama, she’s beautiful,” she whispered.
Disney’s four-night Bahamas cruise is priced from $499 to $3,249 per adult, depending on when you travel and what accommodations you choose. There are special rates for kids sharing a cabin with adults. Three-night cruises are also available, as are weeklong packages that combine a cruise with a visit to Walt Disney World. For reservations, call 800-951-3532, or go to disneycruiseline.com
(As published in the Boston Sunday Herald, travel section cover, page 53, June 2005)
Mickey’s Magic Works Its Way to Mexico
West Coast itinerary expands cruise brand
By SHELAGH BRALEY
The Magic of Disney lured us this time for a seven-night West Coast cruise, a special sailing celebrating Disneyland’s 50thbirthday.
The Disney Magic, in its first West Coast swing (like sister ship Wonder, it is usually based in Port Canaveral, Fla.), took us from the port of Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera and the ports of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
Accommodations, like on the Wonder (see review in Sunday Herald), are big by cruising standards and quaint, with the lyrics of Disney songs framed on the walls to coordinate with the red and blue nautical decor. Ours was “Candle on the Water,” from “Pete’s Dragon,” an oldie-but-goodie.
Being on the open water for two days on our way to Mexico gave us ample time to explore all the options onboard this floating amusement park. The pools were filled with children from morning till night, splashing and making friends, and flying down the corkscrew slide that looks like Mickey’s fat gloved hand. My nearly-3 year old, still a little cautious out of her home environment, looked right at one boy cannonballing into the kiddie pool and said, “Be careful now.”
Once we were fully waterlogged, we checked our daughter in the supervised kids program and went to explore some adult activities. At the Park West art auction, one woman, in 15 minutes, purchased more than $15,000 worth of art, including some funky Disney prints by Peter Max. We never lifted our paddle, though we were tempted to a couple of times.
Then we hit the duty-free store for some bargain-priced fine cigars, ordered up some cocktails and lounged in the teak recliners on deck, hoping to take in our first Pacific Ocean sunset. Unfortunately, we missed it—”June Gloom” had hit in California, and the dark skies followed us for two days at sea.
The sun finally broke out just as I jumped in the water (my husband watching, my daughter asleep in her stroller) for a swim with some dolphins in Puerto Vallartaon a ship-organized shore excursion.
The dolphins swam right up to participants when we slapped the water, just like on “Flipper” and when they turned in our direction … these huge creatures are unnerving at first. After I got used to their fish breath, I considered leaving it all behind—the house, the career, the family back in Boston—to move here and train these amazing animals.
But there was shopping to do.
We started with the Disney-recommended shops, all mapped out in close proximity to the ship. Silver jewelry, cotton blouses, skirts, dresses, Mexican opals, turquoise, shells—all at great prices and too much to resist. I did all the picking, and my husband did all the haggling. (We all have our strengths.)
When we were fully loaded with bags full of bargains, we were starving, and tourist traps were not going to do it for us. So we ventured a few blocks from the port and found some authentic Mexican food at the open-air Salsa de Mexicanawhere I had the best chicken mole I’ve ever tasted. My daughter, with a little prompting, even ordered her own arroz con pollo. Thank you, Dora the Explorer.
That night, we (and all the other passengers) were invited to “The Golden Mickeys,” one of the many productions onboard that fully entertain parents and even keep toddlers amused for nearly an hour. “The Golden Mickeys” is a mock awards show that keeps the spirit of the real thing, even down to the red carpet interviews beforehand. My daughter, in her Snow White gown (purchased in a weak moment) caught the interviewer’s eye.
The woman with the mic commented on her beautiful gown, then asked the question, thinking she knew the answer: “Who is your favorite princess?” My daughter looked right into the camera, feeding live onto a big screen in the theater, and said “Cinderella.” Then she promptly tripped and fell, sprawling in yellow tulle across the red carpet. And so ended her career as an A-lister.
In Mazatlan, the gloom continued, but we went for the Beach Party excursion at the Playa Hotel, promising a pinata and a clown for the kids. When we got there, some kids dove right for the water, and promptly were stung by jellyfish. There was no swimming for us that day, but Spaghetti the Clown more than made up for it. He came equipped with his own sound system, blasting rap in Spanish, made balloon animals and led dance contests.
The morning we docked in Cabo San Lucas, the weather cooperated for a sunrise coffee break on our cabin veranda.
A water taxi later took us to a picture-perfect golden-sand beach surrounded by red cliffs. We picked our lounge chairs for the day, ordered “dos Coronas” and gave our daughter bottled water we brought from the ship. (It is advised not to drink the local water or use the ice.)
To the sounds of Jimmy Buffet over a loud speaker, I revved up a rented Jet-ski and felt like a true beach bum, flying through the water, getting as close to our enormous black and yellow ship as allowed by law.
Safely back on land, we swam, we played, we burned.
We’ll remember the Magic.