Sailing Away

For the first time since I was twelve, I went of a cruise. My previous cruising experience was when I was in the Girl Scouts, and all I remember of it was that though it was brief, I was seasick nearly the entire time. I figured twenty-two years is plenty of time to get over my motion sickness and hit the high seas. I was informed with the volume of flying I do annually, turbulence induced nausea is far more difficult than seasickness. I was fortunate to escape reality on the four-night excursion of the Disney Dream (Port of Call: Nassau, Bahamas) departing from Port Canaveral, Florida (just down the street… well, just down the interstate.)

20131214-153444.jpgSunrise from Castaway Cay!

Day One: Port Canaveral

I had to laugh when I arrived at the cruise terminal. After running myself ragged with airports, security check points, and luggage all summer long, The first thing I wound up doing after parking my car in the garage: passenger security checkpoint. I made the security guards chuckle when I hoisted my bags onto the belt.

“You know you could check all that, so you don’t have to carry it through here.”

I’m a flight attendant, I don’t let go of my bags unless its absolutely unavoidable. Old habits, I guess.

The lobby of the  terminal reminded me of a small, Floridian airport, complete with winding check-in counter line. Talk about being a fish out of water: I had to slum it with the common travelers and wait in line! No Known Crew Member checkpoint for me to circumvent waiting. Stepping on board, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Hopping on and off planes all day at work doesn’t compare with the boarding of a ship, especially when it’s a Disney Cruise Ship. I felt like Kate Winslet in Titanic (thankfully, with a far happier and safer ending), strolling into the lobby.  From the plush carpeting and gleaming railings to the breathtaking chandelier and detailed decor, I tumbled headfirst into Wonderland. After gawking at the lobby, I made a beeline for the elevators, so I could ditch my bags in my stateroom.
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Our assigned stateroom was an interior one without a veranda, but it had a nifty “magical porthole,” granting an outside view and unscheduled character visits. After some light unpacking, it was off to Cabanas for a late lunch buffet and then off to explore the ship. While we were preparing to leave the port, we passed the Disney Magic which was in the throws of re-imagineering (re-design). I must have looked like a complete fool, bouncing up and down at the railing as the ship pulled away from the docks and made its way toward the open water. I was thankful that I had my sunglasses on, so no one could see my eyes misting up to the horn rendition of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” It had been ages since I had a proper vacation that wasn’t running-related or within Florida (and I don’t count layovers either). Unlike international layovers where I am guaranteed to have free, high speed internet access, on the ship I was dead in the water and forced to go into radio blackout. Internet access was available on the ship, but it was slightly out of my price range. I later discovered that more affordable internet access (Starbucks at Charlotte Street ($3/hr); The Daily Grind at West Bay St), but I haven’t been to either. There was something quite liberating about putting my phone onto airplane mode and just being a tourist.

I experienced my first evacuation drill which was interrupted by a small boy blowing a raspberry into his mom’s shoulder, and all of us trying not to laugh and take the drill seriously. Understanding the importance of the emergency drill was a bit of a shock to the system: having to take four flights of stairs without tripping, lining up and checking in, remaining quiet, and most importantly, realizing that I cannot do anything aside from follow the directives given to me. I cannot help or volunteer to participate. I had to remind myself: different steel tube means a different set of rules, and for this particular situation, I had to relinquish control and trust the crew. My stomach churned because I felt helpless and dependent, and I could not help. I’m not qualified on this type of vessel, and I am not at work, so I need to chill out. It was hard not to sing “I’m Sailing Awaaaaay…” in the voice of South Park‘s Eric Cartman.

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We had dinner reservations at Palo at 18:00. Prior to our dinner seating time, we awaited at Meridian, a navigational-themed lounge connecting both Palo and Remy (French Cuisine); venues all adult exclusive. After a dizzying variety of appetizers, main dishes, and desert, you could roll me out of the restaurant. If you do secure a reservation at Palo, order the Chocolate Soufflé and save room for it. The preparation time for it is roughly 25 minutes, but you’ll thank me. Our server, Igor, was extremely knowledgeable about the menu items and quite passionate about presenting each dish. After dinner, we strolled the gold carpet and enjoyed The Golden Mickeys at the Walt Disney Theatre. It was a beautiful fusion of broadway-style musical numbers presented in a award show format. The best part? Singing along is encouraged. I was thankful to be exploring the ship with folks familiar with the deck format because I would have been lost for a good day or so. I found out where the mini-golf course was located, but didn’t manage to make it back there in time to play a round. I also met our cabin steward, Sigit, who has spoiled housekeeping services for me– for the rest of eternity. His cheerful demeanor was completely genuine, and it meant the world to me that he addressed me by name. Yes, I am aware it is part of their job requirement, but constantly being poked in the shoulder, grabbed by elbow, and called “Miss (Stewardess, You, etc.), that simple gesture from one service field to another touched my heart. Sigit is also one amazing towel origami expert!

20131214-153705.jpgThere’s a duck butt on the funnel, Captain!

Day Two: Nassau, Bahamas (9A-2A)
After getting a cup of coffee, I forced myself to the Fitness Center and enjoyed looking over the Port of Nassau as I hit the treadmill. I learned my lesson about taking my usual spot at the end of a row of treadmills. Unlike most gyms, where picking a corner unit would keep one from being disturbed, I was by a glass corner adjacent to the private spas, and subject to people watching me. Next time, I’ll suck it up and surround myself with the uber-buff gym rats, so I can avoid leering. Lunch was on the terrace at Cabanas, with a beautiful railing side table overlooking the Atlantis Hotel and the port below. I stepped away to get something to drink and returned to my table being cleared. Sea gulls dive bombed my plates in the two minutes I went to the drink fountain. Some lovely folks sat at my table while I went back to get more food. I’ll need more arms next time.

20131214-153645.jpgDeck 13: 18+ Only: a Bookworm’s Paradise

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Eye Scream & Frozone Treats Banana-Strawberry FTW!

We took in an afternoon screening of Planes 3D at the Buena Vista Theater. Granted, all the first run films on the ship are Disney films, they do provide ample opportunity to watch up to four feature films with multiple showtimes throughout the cruise. I had the chance to finally see The Lone Ranger and Monsters University, but I got caught up in my books and relaxing. Constantly being on-the-go does have its consequences: I forgot how to relax and not worry about work or not making events. The Personal Navigator (events matrix) provided each night outlines the extensive variety of activities planned the following day in a color-coded, age-bracketed, itty bitty font format. The key to truly enjoying the cruise is realizing that all the options are available, but by no means am I obligated to do or try everything. The Bossy, OCD Virgo in me cringes at the thought, but I learned to embrace it… by day three.

October lends itself to the arrival of autumn, so fleet-wide the ships celebrate Halloween on the High Seas. Had I done my homework, I could have packed a costume, so I could partake in the Trick-or-Treating and costumed character greetings without feeling completely awkward. As I had plans to attend Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party on Disembarkation Day, I wasn’t completely crushed to bypass the festivities. I could have went as a flight attendant, with some minor tweaks. I would love to try a retro Pan Am Stewardess costume. Maybe I should start planning now. I also enjoyed my first group dining experience at Animator’s Palate, and met some really great people! Since we ate at Palo the night before, we missed out meeting Mike & Kimberly and Dana & Dave. I always find it interesting when chance meetings with people turn out exceptionally positive, and looking forward to having meals with our new friends made the cruising experience even better. I had two orders of soup… yes, it was that good!

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Pumpkins appeared overnight!

20131214-153549.jpgAnimator’s Palate has an interactive dining experience!

Day Three: Castaway Cay (8:30A-4:30P) & Pirate Night

At dinner the night before, I learned of the Castaway 5K, an officially sanctioned runDisney event that can only be completed on one of the Disney Cruises. After being up late, I dragged myself out of bed at 7:30am to arrive at the scheduled meetup at Evolution 8:15AM. We signed our waivers, received our race bibs, and after gaining customs clearance, left the ship to run to our hearts’ content. It is a mile and a half round trip from the ship to the Start/Finish Line, making a good warm up and cool down. We started at the bike rental near Pelican Bay, ran the air strip to the bike loop and out to Serenity Bay Beach and back. Water stations were provided along the bike path, and the two cast members operating the race were very kind and organized. A nice little piece of special edition cruise bling awaited us at the finish line. I was glad to finish in 34’58.2″, but I was soaked to the bone by the end of it. I hurried back to the ship to freshen up and change, so I could hit the beach with my travel companions.

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RunDisney 2013 New Balance Sneakers, lululemon athletica shorts & Athleta  Running Tank

20131214-153640.jpgJust when I thought I left air strips, tarmacs, and planes behind…

I kicked myself for not being a quick draw with my iPhone camera. Captain Jack Sparrow stumbled his way and tried dueling with the metal detector while I was waiting for my landing party. I got myself sorted just as he ambled up, bowed, and lobbed a debonaire “M’Lady…” at me. …Curse you, wobbly-legged, rum-soaked Pirates… *swoons* We hit up the Serenity Bay BBQ, where we bore witness to the most horrifying display of table manners. While in the service line, we were each given a plate. One gent, I kid you not, took his and tucked it into the back of his swim trunks, and proceeded to ask for another plate.  Words cannot describe the sheer mortification that washed over my face as he advanced in the line and employed both plates for his dining pleasure.  One of my friends swore by the Chocolate Chip Cookies served at the barbecue while another touted the bliss of the vanilla ice cream. Perhaps it was the Caribbean heat that got to my head, but I decided to go big or go home, and craft an ice cream sandwich the size of my face. I’d like to think my cruise foodie street cred was escalated as a result of my brilliance, but having to mosey to the far end of the Serenity Bay Beach caused it to settle in my stomach like a rock. It was worth the discomfort, I promise.

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I had forgotten how gorgeous the water in the Islands could be, but I didn’t waste much time schlepping myself into the water. It was the first time since college, that I wore a bikini at a beach. I felt uneasy at first, more so due to the lack of tan and likelihood to get sun burnt, but my troubles melted away once my toes touched the water. Aquamarine, emerald, turquoise… varying shades of blue and green, but none of them could adequately describe the crystal clear water. Growing up on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, sharks and jellyfish warning have always lingered at every beach I frequented or visited. Pushing those negative thoughts from my head, I slowly waded waist deep into the water. I recalled the last time I simply unwound on a beach: it was in Tottori, Japan in 2011, prior to my flight attendant interview. I couldn’t believe it had been over two years since I took a proper vacation. All my flying and I haven’t managed to take a proper vacation. Shame on me.   When we returned to the ship, we freshened up, caught Kyle Knight & Mistie’s Magic Show, and went over to Cabanas. In honor of Pirate Night, all restaurants were serving a set menu, so we dined quickly and then set out to prepare for the open-air festivities!

20131214-153614.jpgI enjoyed people watching (and a little bit of discrete solo dancing) from deck 12. It was also a prime location to watch the fire works (22:30) during the Pirate Party. Captain Jack Sparrow continued his misadventures on the high seas, opening the show with a brief stage show against some treasure-hungry pirates. Club Pirate (22:45-23:30) was a great, under the stars dance party on deck 11, and featured DJ Pete Down. After the party wound down on deck 11, we relocated to Evolution. I wound up sipping club soda and continued observing the crowd on the dance floor. I love the butterfly theme of Evolution. I wound down the night watching Disney documentaries and learning stuff. I always love learning stuff. 20131214-153620.jpg

20131214-153543.jpgEvolution (Deck4 Aft; in “The District”)

Day Four: At Sea

I woke early at enjoy the breakfast buffet at the Enchanted Garden, and we would later have our final dinner that evening at the same location. I loved the china pattern they had, and the breakfast fare was continental style. I had a Mickey waffle. You would, too, trust me. Afterward, I enjoyed watching Princess & The Frog in my stateroom and lounging around in my pajamas. A great chunk of the day was spent reclined in the chaise loungers on Deck 4, finishing Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well and studying a little Japanese while the guys hammered out more work. Caught a quick and easy pizza lunch at Flo’s V8 Cafe and before dinner, I enjoyed Disney’s Believe. Bring your tissues, Folks.

We met up with our dining team for our final dinner, and I am so thankful to Ivan, Linval, and Lisandro for all their thought and care they provided when serving us. In my eyes, they treated us like I treat my passengers when flying: like family. I cannot express enough our stellar and efficient their service was throughout the cruise. If I manage another cruise, I would love to meet them again, so I could personally thank them for making my experience so memorable.

20131214-153627.jpgA beautiful, fantasy greenhouse without singing flora or fauna

Favorite Places

  • Deck 13 Fwd (Adults Exclusive Deck) – I spent a solid chuck of time here reading, napping, and unwinding on the big blue cushioned benches.
  • Deck 4 Jogging Track – Although I elected to workout in the Fitness Center and participate in the 5K, I really enjoyed strolling along this deck at all times of day. Plus, there’s plenty of chaises and shade if the limited sun cover on 13 is monopolized.
  • Serenity Bay (Adults Exclusive Beach) – Plenty of hammocks, umbrellas, and chairs to go around with the blissful quiet mingled with the crashing of waves. There is a separate BBQ buffet and activities and shuttle access for those traveling without children.
  • Palo (Italian Restaurant; Adults Exclusive Dining) – Watching the sunset from the giant windows, knowledgeable service staff, and a personal visit from the lead chef (courtesy of my food allergies) really made this fine dining experience incredibly memorable. I’m preparing to challenge myself with taking a stab at making their decadent chocolate soufflé at home!

The only thing I missed out on was taking a zip down The AquaDuck, the on board water slide. Maybe next time, I won’t chicken out. 😉 Cruising as an adult is quite different from what I imagined. I am certain that if children were involved, perhaps my experience would be completely different. I was fortunate to experience it with seasoned veterans who could show me the ropes and help me maximize my experience without needing a vacation from my vacation by the time I got home. I will say this much, I am fairly certain that Disney might have ruined other cruise line experiences for me. Like the theme parks, DCL is a well-oiled machine with a formula for success. Devoid gambling, designated smoking areas, and very few drunken passengers, made it a breeze. I could unwind without being inconvenienced by the party hearty mentality of many who go on vacation. Working in a branch of the travel and tourism industry, I often wonder if my approach to travel is different from the usual leisure traveler.

I’m already daydreaming about when I can go next. Hopefully, it won’t be another twenty-something years.

4 comments

  1. Kahren · December 14, 2013

    Oh man, I’d better start saving now! I think I read that the Fantasy will also be departing from Port Canaveral, too, and it does the seven day trips!

    Like

  2. Céline · December 14, 2013

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful vacation story. Makes me want to go on a Disney cruise 🙂

    Like

    • Kahren · December 14, 2013

      It was so much fun. Finally processing and writing my review makes me want to go again so badly. I’ll need to start flying more, so I can start saving more money!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Gamer Gauntlet Spring Break | Karen Nerds Out

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