The secret is out: Team Puzzoni went on a cruise last week. As time permits, I want to share as much as I can about the trip, as a whole lot of people have asked me questions about it.
Why the secret? Because the motivation for the trip was to surprise my father-in-law, Sam, as a 70th birthday present of sorts. Not only would we secretly end up on the ship, but so would my brother-in-law Joe's family be there as well. That's two children, two in-laws and three grandchildren. The conspiracy was initiated by his bride-to-be, Helen Ann.
Truth be told, I'm not sure that I would have initiated a trip like this, I guess because it was just not something I ever thought about doing. I didn't really even look into it that much until days before we left. The only advanced planning I did was to make sure I had a passport. The three-night cruise was aboard the Disney Dream, with stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. I'll get to the ship in a minute.
Executing the surprise could have been a challenge, but it all ended up going pretty smoothly. Joe's family had a check-in at 11 or 11:30, so they were on the ship pretty early and hanging out in the Enchanted Garden restaurant on deck 2. Our arrival was more worrisome, as we had a 12:30 check-in, same as Sam and Helen Ann. We got there just slightly early, and check-in was a no-hassle experience with virtually no queue time. I'm pretty sure we were on the ship before 12:45.
We met the Mattoni Snoqualmie chapter on deck 2, while in texting contact with Helen Ann, who was directed with the birthday boy to the Cabanas restaurant on deck 11. He was wanting to try and get his dinner time moved to the later slot (8 p.m.), which of course wouldn't work for the rest of us and the grandkids, so we had to push for the surprise moment quickly. All seven of us wandered up to the restaurant, which is a big U-shaped space aft, scanning the tables in each section. He was up looking for food, so we didn't see him coming, right in front of us. He made eye contact with Kristen, and his jaw dropped as he realized that the little people were his grandkids. He had no clue at all. It was an epic surprise.
In any case, let me back up a bit. As I said, this was not a trip I really would have thought to take, especially having just spent a huge wad of cash on the Beach Club WDW trip I took with Diana after Thanksgiving. But we also figured that it made more sense to spend money on this than a big Christmas, because memories made traveling are so much more worth it than "stuff" you buy. All things considered, it was a pretty good value. The airfare was a grand for us, but the cruise was less than $1,500 for the three of us. Put that into the context of a three-night stay in a five-diamond hotel, only this one floats, the service is the best you can experience, the food is all included, the entertainment is included, and your hotel also happens to stop at two different islands. If you ask me, they underprice it.
My BFF Kara picked us up at the airport and took us to a nearby hotel. We arrived the evening before to minimize risk associated with airplanes that fail to get you where you need to be on time. From the MCO area, the port is only 45-ish minutes away. As I said, check-in was super smooth. Key cards issued, passports swiped, photos for computerized identification acquired, and off we went.
Once across the gangway, a group of people announce your arrival over a PA, applaud, and you find yourself standing in the three-story lobby on deck 3. It's a pretty dramatic statement, and one that you might equate with classic ocean liners from a hundred years ago, if you had any frame of reference (I don't). It's hard to believe that the marble, plush furnishings and beautiful decor is on a boat that moves around.
After having a second lunch (we took Kara out before boarding) and springing the big surprise, we checked out our room at the ready time of 1:30. I believe the Dream is in the middle of a constant cycle of three-night cruises right now, where they boot the passengers off early in the morning, and have it all ready to do it again that afternoon. We scored a stateroom with a verandah, adjoining to Sam's. Joe's family was just down the hall, and had just a little more room with a huge porthole instead. I think the rooms are actually quite large considering they're on a boat. We really loved ours, and Simon felt very at home when we pulled the curtain closed in the middle. My understanding is that the interior rooms have a video porthole that shows the exterior view.
The verandah rooms were not exceptionally more expensive, and since we've never been on a cruise, and weren't sure if we would ever do it again, I insisted we be able to see the ocean up close. It was totally worth it, even though there isn't much to see when you're at sea. The only negative is that Disney currently allows people to smoke out there, which means if you're downwind of a smoker, you're going to get that. I think it's a huge mistake, and they should restrict smoking to the designated areas they have elsewhere.
Navigating the ship isn't hard once you get an idea of where everything is. There are three stairwells, forward, midship and aft, with elevators. Our room was on deck 7, which made it easy to get up to deck 11, where the pools and Cabanas restaurant are, and deck 3, where the main lobby, theaters and stores are. The three primary sit-down restaurants are all below, with the Animator's Palate and Royal Palace on 3, the Enchanted Garden on 2. The clubs are all on 4, and the kids stuff is all on 5 (we never did see any of that). Deck 11 is really the "top," with 12 the parts fore and aft that are mostly for sun worshiping, and 13, which allows you to go forward. Also tucked into 12 forward are the formal adult-only restaurants (too fancy for me), and some of the concierge level stuff.
After messing up our room a bit, we wandered around, mostly on the upper decks, to see what we could see. The Dream is a strikingly beautiful ship that is strikingly clean everywhere you go. And I'm not just saying that because they're constantly giving you things to clean your hands with. The ship is two-years-old, but it looks totally new. Staggered glass walls around deck 12 try to break up the wind and provide maximum deckage for hanging out in the sun.
Our first day was a little challenging, because we definitely pushed Simon to his limits. Our dinner time was 5:45, and our first rotation was in the Enchanted Garden. The same servers follow you around each night. The menus include a handful of appetizers, salads and entrees. There weren't any appetizers I was fond of, but there were variations on chicken dishes every night and I had no problem finding plenty to eat. The kids meals were the typical stuff that you know kids will eat, unless your kid is Simon. They still managed to find some "uncrustable" sandwiches and fruit, which made him happy. I was most fond of the desserts, which were awesome.
With the earlier dinner, it meant we could see the 8:30 p.m. show in the Walt Disney Theatre. This is a truly awesome space. It's a 1,000-seat theater, on a boat. The shows are well staged in terms of technology and sound, and I'll talk about those later. There's also a movie theater, but we just didn't have time to take advantage of it.
We rounded out the first night getting Simon into bed and watching his cousins while everyone else went out. I did a quick lap up top to find that deck 13 was actually closed for wind. You could feel the ship movement quite a bit when we were at cruising speed, but I wonder if that had more to do with a 200-foot tall object getting blown around and less to do with waves. Deck 11 is fortunately pretty well surrounded, so people were stretched out on deck chairs watching a Disney movie on "funnelvision," the giant screen above the deck. I also found my weakness: The late-night food offerings by the pool. They had BBQ chicken pizza that was completely amazing. Diana was fond of the margherita pizza. They also had chicken fingers and ice cream.
Next time... how to do it right with a sleepy toddler, more food and the AquaDuck...