Everybody has a first time. What’s yours?
We are referring here to cruising.
It’s no surprise that millions of new or first-time cruisers are coming aboard.
It’s the food. The convenience. The ease of travel.
For those who still avoid cruises, there are three main reasons.
1. Fear of being sick at sea.
2. Nothing to do but sit on a boat.
3. Eat and gain weight. Get FAT.
All of those are unfounded, as first-timers usually discover.
Huge mega-boats relying on radar seldom encounter bad, stomach-sickening weather (though it can happen but on-board doctors then cheerfully dispense highly effective anti-nausea remedies).
As for nothing to do…
…Too much to choose from instead.
And number three: a lot of all-you-can eat.
Yes, buffets are endless, and generally offer far better food than the average tourist-popular Shony’s. But cruisers can moderate themselves, and there are many chances for exercise.
Cruisers are finding the advantages of cruising over land vacations are several:
· Visiting a variety of desirable destinations in a short period of time.
· Taking part in various onboard activities, entertainment and dining options—most included in the price of your cruise (no, one price does not cover all because shore excursions, alcohol and others add on costs but one price does cover most of it).
· Saving time and convenience by unpacking just once, as opposed to unpacking at several different hotels during a land-based vacation.
Disney got into the swim of things late. In 1994. But since then Disney has been a champ at a particular form of cruising that won’t surprise anyone familiar with them: themed cruises.
They offer a “wickedly good time” this time of year into a “ghoulish wonderland filled with frightfully fun events” aboard their “Halloween on the High Seas” cruises through the end of October.
Events there include a “Mickey Mouse-querade Party” and meeting villainous characters and hearing tales of haunted sailors. A highlight is the costume contest that excludes kids, and hands out awards.
Several Disney cruise options are available.
Next year brings even more choices.
Disney will set sail for the first time in 2016 with a British Lakes itinerary. Scotland, England, Ireland and France will be among stops. But also Norway, Iceland and more than 15 European countries.
But there’s also globe-trotting to Alaska, the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Also Hawaii and Baja, Calif.
Chicago and Detroit (joking, but who knows?).
But for anyone who has yet to get their feet wet…
What’s the difference…
…between a Disney cruise and the rest of the many offerings?
And what should you know if you are a first-timer?
Disney cruises might be described as visiting the theme park without lines…unless you count the usually short ones lined up for buffets.
Let’s start with the Disney difference.
Kids, of course.
There are more of them aboard Disney.
But believe it or not, couples and even singles have long been doing Disney cruises without having to brave the brats.
The reason is that the kids can be separated.
But even better for parents:
Disney is a great babysitter
Disney cruises generally cost more than others but there are economic perks such as free soda everywhere (well, not really free, but built into your cost, so drink freely and often).
What is Disney without fireworks?
Here, too, Disney is different.
Admittedly shorter bursts than at the parks, not as dramatic. But they explode over water.
That alone is a new sight. And still: how many cruises offer them? (none that we know of).
Some more thoughts on what makes Disney different.
Dressing up for the occasion
Disney is known for its “pirate night,” which is a dress-up event. And people do dress up.
That means just about everybody.
Not just the kids.
Disney must have put something in the water to make adults also spend so much time on their costumes. Some return cruisers have elaborate outfits they’re worn before.
No, no costume is required but if you want to keep up with others, get an outfit beforehand or risk buying an expensive one aboard the ship.
Not just for kids
In typical Disney fashion, they make it a point to have events and areas for all age groups.
Even the littlest in diapers.
On the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, teenagers have their own pool to themselves. Supervised, of course, by youth counselors.
But adults are hardly forgotten, either.
Some of the onboard areas just for adults include their own pool and spa, state-of-the-art fitness center and specialty coffee shops.
At night, adults have the nighttime entertainment district to themselves for music and shows.
Also just for adults, the fine dining Italian restaurant, Palo, is on all ships, and a well-known French restaurant, Remy, is on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
A check of bloggers shows many suggesting dining at least once at Palo. You pay extra here.
Some guests are likely to balk at the cost of Palo, wondering why they should pay extra (a lot extra) for a meal when their normal dining is “free.”
The much-praised Italian-style food and smart service. That’s why.
You don’t have to be a foodie snob to appreciate it.
Everybody has nightly shows on cruises, but if you look at reviews of the nightly shows, they vary widely. You’ll have to use some of your own judgment here but keep in mind Disney does steer towards family style, G-ratings. But if you like older Disney classic movies, you will welcome some of those shown here (and usually not elsewhere).
Your own island at Castaway Cay
A port of call on many Bahamian and Caribbean itineraries, Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island. Complimentary offerings include:
· A buffet-style barbecue lunch.
· All-you-care-to-eat ice cream.
· Tram transportation.
· Beaches, including a family beach and adult-only beach.
· Beach chairs, umbrellas and hammocks, towels, etc.
· Island entertainment.
· Clubs for kids and teens.
· Hiking trails, beach sports and yoga classes.
So if you’re booking a cruise, remember that those fantastically low priced deals offered by other cruise lines will probably not be found Remember we said Disney cruises initially do cost more, but they do have perks such as the free soda (if that was all, you might want to look at the other cruise lines, but there are obviously other reasons for choosing Disney).
Even before deciding basics such as where and when, you might want to consider what.
What to take with you, we mean
If you can bring it all with a carry-on bag, via the airlines, that is the best answer.
Sure, luggage will be delivered to your room, but if you can get by with clothing and other accessories all in one simple bag, that is the best course.
Remember that when you’re going on a cruise, it’s important to pack carefully. If you forget something, you’ll have to use your valuable in-port time shopping for necessities.
There are formal dining nights so an outfit may be something you want, though not required.
Do bring a coat or at least a sweater – If you’re traveling in winter months, you’ll definitely need it. The Gulf of Mexico can be chilly and windy.
Where to go
So now it’s question of where you want to go.
Canada? The Panama Canal? The Bahamas?
And how long you want to be away? Four nights or much longer…say two weeks
When do you want to go? (yes, this is the same question you ask when taking other vacations, of course).
And where do you want to depart from?
Anywhere from Miami, Florida to Barcelona, Spain, and many others in between?
When you leave home, it is only the very first step of a cruise vacation. That’s the case because your port or place of departure will almost certainly be somewhere else.
And which ship?
Disney Dream, Fantasy, Magic or Wonder?
For first-timers, the best choice may be a four-night trip. Seven days is perhaps too long. But four days gives you a chance to see the ship and experience it.
See if this type of travel is for you.
So how do you book it?
Deals are available everywhere and you can always comparison shop. But if you do book through Disney, you can get onboard ship credits. Also, Disney may match discounts. You never know. But you can ask.
This can all get bewildering because you have to choose between a room with a porthole or a secret verandah room or inside or outside room. Yes, this is where an agent or a Disney representative can help.
Best time to go
If you love Disney, anytime.
But that’s not really a good answer.
Things to keep in mind:
Obviously, holidays are busy. So are summer months and vacation times when kids are out of school.
Adults without kids might want to look at January or February if you are looking at those cruises heading south.
September can be a good choice if you’re looking for a less crowded cruise because parents don’t want to pull their kids out of school right after it begins.
If you’re thinking of an early fall cruise, remember that September is the height of hurricane season in the Gulf and the Caribbean, which can lead to more than normal swaying onboard ships.
The cost of leaving the ship
Some first-time cruisers are surprised that these excursions or side trips at ports are not included in their basic cost. Well, get used to it.
So the best advice is to take a careful look at what’s offered.
Are you sure you want to visit that old tobacco planation? Or that your family also wants to see it?
We can also suggest that you don’t overbook your trip. All excursions will be described in glowing details. They all sound great. But you don’t want to spend your entire time taking trips away from the ship. There’s a lot to do right there.
Remember also that trips booked through Disney’s Port Adventures must be cancelled two days prior to the ship’s departure or you are responsible for the cost even if you decide not to go.
The moral is simple: be sure you want to go.
If you do all your check in online before you embark, you can save yourself time in the port. Most of the rooms won’t be available until after 1:30 p.m., so take some time to have lunch or just stroll around the deck.
Once aboard, what you’ll find is a lot of information on activities and events. Expect to soon participate in lifeboat drills. They are required of everyone (yes, you can hide in the bathroom when the attendant checks your room to see if you have lined up outside for the drill, as some do, but a few minutes spent on safety are worth your brief attention).
Some terms you might want to be familiar with include embarkation and debarkation. “Embarkation” means getting on the ship for the first time during your cruise; “debarkation” means getting off the ship at the end. “Port” is the left side of the ship as you face forward; “starboard” is the right side as you face forward. “Forward” is obvious; “aft” is the rear of the ship. “Cay” is pronounced “key.”
Not really important but it might help build some self-confidence when you are first-timers.
Another small issue: There are not many clocks on board. If you don’t normally wear a watch anymore, because you use the clock on your cell phone instead, that won’t work onboard. You have to pay (a lot) for “cellular at sea” service. Many set activities require knowing the time. So the best course: bring a watch.
When do you arrive?
So this brings us to when you want to board. Disney tells you the ship will leave at 4 p.m. but check-in is at 11 a.m. Boarding will be at noon. This is your own preference, of course, but the more time you spend on board, the more value for what you paid. Some cruisers prefer to avoid the crowds and arrive after, say 1 pm. Others wait. Something to remember: the Disney buses start arriving about 1:30 (if they are on time), so that is not when you want to board. But since you don’t want to let the ship sail without you, consider spending the night before at a hotel near your port.
That will make it much easier and less stressful to get up, get together and do the most important thing this morning: boarding the ship.
The best App
When your stateroom attendant provides turndown service while you’re at dinner, he or she will place a Navigator (a daily newsletter listing the next day’s events) in your room. This is important because it is your schedule.
Extra copies are available everywhere.
You can also download the Navigator app for Apple or Android devices before you arrive at the port, then connect to the ship’s WiFi network. That is complimentary for app use only. Note: Downloading the app does not enable general-purpose web access. The app has a lot of valuable information.
Breakfast is served on the day of disembarkation. You will find it skimpy after the meals before. So what? Back to reality.
Other than that, bon voyage…
Disney Cruise Line: disneycruise.com, or call Disney Cruise Line at 888-325-2500). ###