Monday, December 26, 2011

Our Ocean Voyage - Part 1

So after months of planning and anticipating, our cruise was finally approaching. It would be the first cruise for all of us and the first Disney experience for me and the girls.  My wife had been several times when she was a kid, but hadn't been to Disney in years. As my regular readers will know, I actually did spend a couple of days on a cruise ship a few weeks before this which gave me an idea of what to expect and a little something to compare our experience to.

We drove down to Florida on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It wasn't the ideal day to drive, traffic was thick though not terrible and we made it to her parent's just at dinner time. We spent the next two days visiting with family and friends in Florida and warming up our bellies by eating great food from all our favorite spots in and around Boynton Beach. 

We had debated whether to drive up to Port Canaveral on Friday night and stay in a hotel or to stay at her parent's and drive up Saturday morning. In the end we decided to save the hotel money and drive up Saturday morning. It seemed like the wise decision until my mother called us during our drive Saturday morning and asked "Did you see the rocket launch?" Uh, no. It seems that a rocket to Mars was launched from Kennedy that morning. We spoke to some people later on the ship who said it was pretty cool to watch... but we missed it. No big deal, but disappointing.  Probably the last real disappointment of the trip.

Because I'd driven to the port a couple of weeks prior, I knew that we could see the ships in the distance from a highway bridge a few miles out, so I prepped the girls to look out the windshield. We started getting super excited as we could see the beautiful red stacks in the distance. It really is stunning the first time you see one of these enormous cruise ships up close, and they just kept getting bigger and bigger as we drove closer. Of course, we got stuck at a draw bridge right on the other side of the port and the excitement was almost unbearable.  The girls were fascinated by Goofy hanging off the back of the ship painting the name. "Is that the real Goofy, Daddy?" was all they kept asking.

From the moment we pulled into the port, you could tell that Disney was all about being friendly and making us feel welcome. They waved us through a gate where a shore cast member checked our passports and showed us where we could drop off our bags and passengers before I went to park. My wife was a bit nervous so we decided to stay all together and walk in from the garage. We dropped off our luggage and parked in the garage. We said good bye to our car for the week and walked into the terminal. At the walkway is another place where they check you in, and who is there but the same woman who was just at the drive way. We laughed and talked to her for a moment then went through security. 

When we got to check in I asked the cast member if there were any upgrades available. We had booked a oceanview stateroom, but our Travel Agent had told us that it could be possible to get a good deal on an upgrade at the pier. The cast member said that after she checked us in, we could go down to the end and see the supervisor about an upgrade. The check in was super quick. We filled out the health questionnaire, got our picture taken and were on our way. Down at the supervisor's desk we met another super nice person. There was one balcony room available and it was a Family stateroom, which was a bit larger than the regular room. I had a hard limit on what I wanted to spend for an upgrade and this room was just under it, so it was a no brainer. We moved up to the 8th floor with a balcony and couldn't be happier. One note of interest, they don't let you pay for the upgrade right there, but they put it on your shipboard account. This was ok, but I had wanted to pay for it from a different account, which turned out to be no problem at all.  

We had our first Mickey and Minnie sightings there in the terminal, but we decided not to wait for them, figuring there'd be plenty of chances to see them through the week. We went to the kid's club counter there in the terminal and the girls got their Mickey bands on. They allow them into the kids clubs and get scanned on entry and exit. They are a little bulky and we were a bit worried that they'd hate them, but the girls didn't seem to mind them at all. We only had one little incident with the bands, but I'll get to that later in the week. You'd think they'd be able to make them smaller, but its not a huge worry.

We stopped to get our embarkation photo done and then we boarded the ship. One cool thing they do when you board, they have two people there with microphones and they announce you boarding the ship. "Disney Magic would like to welcome aboard the Baker Family," they announced and we walked into the beautiful atrium lobby for the first time. Its a little overwhelming but they have a cast member approach you and direct you to where lunch is being served. You can't get into your cabins until 1:30 and it was just after 12.

First, I wanted to head to Guest Services where I had a few things to take care of. I was able to put some money down on our shipboard account to cover the upgrade. I also got us tickets to a special Tea with Alice on one of the sea days and I dropped off a couple of posters to get signed for the girls. You can drop off two items per stateroom and they'll have the characters autograph them. We'd found a princess poster at Wal-Mart while doing our last minute shopping and asked them to have them signed by the princesses. 

We made our way up to Topsiders, the buffet up on the 9th deck and though it was crowded we found a table and ate our first shipboard meal. I don't remember what we all ate, but I know we were happy and started to realize that we were finally on board after all the anticipation. The girls kept wanting to know if we were moving yet, if we were on the water yet, if we were on the ship yet. When we finished eating it was just  after the time that they opened the rooms, so we headed down to our stateroom. We were on the 8th deck, on the starboard aft side (that's the back right). The room itself was fantastic, bigger than we had hoped, with the famous split bathrooms that are in most of the staterooms on Disney. It really helps when a full family is getting ready. Our luggage hadn't arrived yet so we dropped off what we had and decided to roam the ship a bit. 

We found a little sundeck on the back of the 7th deck and took some pictures. You could see the huge space shuttle building at Kennedy off in the distance. We were so glad to finally be aboard! We got our first free ice cream and mommy and daddy got their first margaritas and we exhaled deeply. We stopped by the Kids Club to check it out and the girls didn't want to leave! A good sign of things to come indeed!
The only time these girls relaxed the whole week

This is what Daddy will look like later this week.

Our first ice cream of the trip
After we wandered a bit it was time for the the safety drill. I wouldn't normally mention this, but it turned into another one of those magical moments that would define our trip. For the safety drill you have to go to your appointed assembly point and they give you a little speech about what to do in an emergency and such. Our assembly point was in one of the restaurants and we were pointed to a table in the corner. A really sweet cast member approached us in her "assembly leader" vest, hat and life jacket and started talking to the girls. She talked to them about their favorite princesses and told them little stories. She was sure to let them know that she'd be there to help them if there was an emergency and was just generally super nice. We asked her what she did on the ship and she told us that she's a "performer." She told us about the princess gathering later that week, which of course I knew about from all my research, and my wife and I smiled at each other. It became a joke between us that maybe she's a princess. We were certain that she was one, though I joked that she's probably one of the wicked stepsisters. Well, I won't ruin the surprises yet, but we would be seeing plenty of her during the trip.

After drill it was time for the sail away party up on the pool deck. They handed out streamers and the girls got right up front for this one. It was a fun show with all the characters and plenty of singing and dancing. At the end they pulled all the kids up on stage as the ship started to sail away from port. We had a great time, met some people around us who we'd stay friendly with for the rest of the cruise and heard that legendary ship's horn for the first time. If you didn't know, the Magic's horn plays "When You Wish Upon A Star." I got a little choked up when I heard it I must admit because I'd been thinking about this trip for so long now.

After the party we went back to our stateroom to get our luggage and watch us sail away a bit more. We watched the harbor pilot boat come up to the ship and the pilot jump aboard. We all waved and yelled "Thank You" and he yelled "Bon Voyage". The cabin next to us were smokers and we were a bit concerned at this point that we'd be smelling their smoke during the whole trip, but really only this first time was it bad. We watched the land move away, unpacked our things and settled into our home for the week.

We had late seating for dinner, so we had time to change and get to our first restaurant by 8:15. The ship has three restaurants and you rotate through each of them on an assigned basis keeping the same table and the same servers throughout. Here is where Disney pulled off another bit of magic. We were assigned a table of ten, with the four of us and two other families of three, each with a daughter who was also 6. We couldn't have asked for a better group to spend the week with. Dinner that night was great, though I think we were all just not yet ready to really take advantage of the "order whatever you want, as much as you want" freedom of the thing. We started to get to know each other and the girls all hit it off. 

Dinner was in a restaurant called Animator's Palate which is dedicated to Disney animation. The decor is entirely black and white with pencil drawings on the walls and some video screens that display some sketches. As the night goes on, though, it starts to fill with color until Fantasia Mickey comes in and makes the room fill with color. It was pretty neat and a great intro to the fun that the week would bring. Dinner and dessert were great and afterwards the girls all begged to go to the kids club. We dropped them off and met the other couples for a couple more drinks in one of the many lounges on board to round out the night.

We found our first towel animal back in the room when we finally got back, exhausted from our first day on board and ready for whatever adventures were to come.  

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