The first night, we sailed (is that the right term? Boated? Cruised? Went?) to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the ship docked for the day. Instead of disembarking (do you like my cool cruise lingo?), we opted to stay on board and take advantage of the ship’s offerings while everything was a little less crowded.
Nassau lighthouse that was just begging to have its picture taken. Hellllllllloooo, lighthouse!
We swam. We watched movies by the pool and got ice cream from the self-serve machine just for the hell of it. Twice. The girls went to the kids’ club. We tried the drinks of the day and went down this absolutely crazy water slide that sucked you through a tube and then swung out over the side of the ship. We ate more food. The girls went to the kids’ club. (Yes, I know I said that twice.) We explored the ship and got to know one of the bartenders and then ate more food. We saw shows and waved to the myriad Disney characters who were greeting ecstatic lines of kids. We donned bandanas and eye patches for pirate night. We ate more food. And we collapsed into our beds that night so fully exhausted, we could no longer keep our eyes open.
This time, we had no intention of remaining on the ship. As soon as we deposited our bags and towels on the gorgeous, pristine beach, we were off to our first adventure: petting, feeding, and snorkeling with stingrays. (I’d like to pretend we were
stupid brave enough to do this with potentially dangerous stingrays, but these guys had had their stingers gently filed down so that they couldn’t harm us.)
I’m not gonna lie… it was a little weird having these floppy, slippery beings suck the food out of your hand like an rabid vacuum (they don’t really have teeth, but their mouths are… knobby?). They were quite majestic, though, undulating and gliding through the water, so we soon got over our fears. Or, at least, Nick and I did; we couldn’t quite convince the girls to participate in the feeding. And, actually, Ella never quite worked up her courage to associate with the stingrays, period, but Annie was game to snorkel with them once the Hoover portion had concluded.
After our sixty minute sojourn was over, we donned our snorkel gear once more to explore the reef. Proving that her earlier trepidation was due to an extreme dislike of stingrays (who knew?), and not of snorkeling, Ella joined Nick in swimming as far out in the bay as was possible, ooohing and ahhing at the sunken ship (“Mom, I think Disney probably put that there… but it was still cool!”) and the many tropical fish.
Hunger soon got the best of us, so we eagerly piled our plates high at the BBQ buffet (more food!), listening to the sounds of the crab races that were being held only a few feet away. (I mean actual racing of crabs; Annie watched as the winning crab was crowned. It was pretty damn funny.) The rest of the afternoon was filled with highs (more snorkeling) and lows (a bicycle ride to “lookout point” that proved too arduous for Annie, who got partway before collapsing into a heap and declaring she needed to walk back. In the 85 degree Bahamian sun. Which I’d sworn not to complain about, given how freakin’ freezing it’s been at home, but which I might have cursed while hissing at Annie that she needed to get back on the bike and just pedal a little harder, for God’s sake. Absolutely my finest moment of the trip).
We splashed and swam. We ate and shopped. We snorkeled and played in the sand. We laughed and relaxed. And we promised, as soon as possible, that we’d take another cruise.
A play area in the middle of the water? Why not! Yes, those are the girls, waving to us from the bouncy bridge on the right.
Everyone who’s gone on a Disney cruise can’t say enough about the ship’s staff – how welcoming they are, how friendly, how helpful, how gregarious. Although we’re terribly unoriginal here, we absolutely echo those statements: our cast members KICKED. ASS. We did not encounter a single employee – from the crews quite literally swabbing the decks to the performers to the waitstaff to the front desk people – who was anything shy of tremendous. Every single one – all of them! EVERY SINGLE ONE! – greeted us with a smile, whether it was at 7 a.m. or 1 a.m., whether there were screaming children all around or it was silent, whether it was the beginning or the end of their sixteen hour work day (I’m not kidding; these people work their butts off). In fact, not only did they greet us smiling, they seemed honestly happy to see us.
Our housekeeper even found the time to fold and twist our towels into adorable animal shapes every night when he turned down our covers, turned the sofa into a bunk bed, and laid out the chocolates and the following day’s itinerary. I know this is standard practice, but doing this for every room in his block has got to be tedious, man.
We had the same waitstaff for all of our sit-down meals (hi, Emilia from Italy and Ilham from Indonesia!), and every time they saw us, they made us feel like we made their nights. Ordering more than one appetizer? No problem. You’d like to trade this for that so your menu can be gluten-free tomorrow? We’ve got it. They used steak knives cut the girls’ meat so we could enjoy our own meals. They refilled our drinks without us asking. They chatted with us and answered our never-ending questions. “No” was never an option; “I’ll see what I can do!” was.
In fact, that seemed to be the mantra for the entire staff: we’ll see what we can do to make this trip incredible for you. Case in point… The very first afternoon, while I ordered myself the spiffy (alcoholic) drink of the day, I spied a super-cute Disney Cruise Line cup behind the bar that was emblazoned with Olaf the snowman and the Frozen logo. My BFF had requested Frozen paraphernalia for her daughter, and I’d struck out so far (apparently, the Frozen merchandise disappears as soon as it arrives ; the cast member at the Disney Store in Downtown Disney – the world’s largest Disney Store – told customers they were all sold out and their best bet would be to check online…!), so this was a find! But, seeing as the only way to procure the cup was to purchase the non-alcoholic drink of the day and my daughters were currently occupied (see above: kids’ club), I figured I’d just pick up the Frozen cup at a later time.
Naturally, I completely forgot about buying the cup until the very end of our very last night on the cruise. At 11:50 p.m., I asked our server – at an adults-only club on the third deck – if he knew whether or not they had any Frozen cups at the bar. His response: “Let me see what I can do!” After bringing us our drinks, he informed me that, no, they didn’t have those cups, but that the bar up at the pool might – and that he would check for me. And so he trekked up to the ninth deck at midnight (which was after the poolside bar had closed) to look for a damn kids’ Frozen cup… and returned five minutes later carrying this:
I don’t even know if he charged us for it.
The reason I do not know this is because we did not buy our drinks that night (not that round, anyway). Which brings me to to the very best part of our trip: free drinks!
No, no. I jest.
The drinks are most definitely not free.
But I am in the dark about whether or not we were charged for the cup.
See, we didn’t pay for those drinks because the best thing happened: we made friends. (Slow claps all around. I’ll wait.) But hold on – hear me out, because this is really spectacular.
Nick, Ella, Annie, and I went on this trip as a little foursome, and were very happy to do so. We didn’t plan on “meeting” people beyond folks to say hi to near the pool, and we certainly didn’t expect to make actual, for real friends. We did know that we’d be seated with the same people each night for our sit-down dinner (each table “rotates” through the full-service restaurants, retaining both the same diners and the same wait staff each night) and, secretly, we hoped that we wouldn’t hate these people. No, truly – Nick and I discovered after the fact that we each had our fingers very, very crossed that we didn’t despise the thought of sitting next to these people night after night; anything short of outright loathing would be a bonus.
Imagine our delight, then, when we arrived that first evening to discover that we’d be dining with four other folks — a mom and a dad (I’m going to call them Miss L and Mr. D), their daughter, J, and Miss L’s cousin’s daughter, S. Both L and S – who are best friends – are in third grade, just like Ella, and they hit it off immediately. Although we’d arranged the seating so Annie and Ella would be next to Nick and me, by the end of the meal, we’d switched places so that the four girls could be next to one another and yuk it up.
Disney is not stupid, y’all. It is exceedingly unlikely that we were coincidentally seated beside a family with two girls our own daughters’ ages. While that kind of engineering is great, there was no guarantee that it would manufacture actually liking one another; that was just wonderful serendipity. Nick and I were happy for the girls, but were even more surprised and tickled to learn how much we liked Miss L and Mr. D.
It started out gradually, as so many relationships do. As Nick and I fell into bed that first night, we remarked to one another how nice Miss L and Mr. D seemed. They were funny. They were smart. They were our age. They used correct grammar. They knew how to eat (and eat… and eat…). It seemed a good match; we assumed that dinner the following night wouldn’t suck.
When we found them by the pool the next day (see photo above), we were pleased to chat with them again as the girls ran off and terrorized the kiddie pools and slides. We further cemented our bond when Nick, Ella, Mr. D, his daughter J, and I went down the plunge-to-your-death-and-go-over-the-side-of-the-boat slide, leaving Miss L to watch Annie and her cousin’s daughter, S. I mean, when you’ve stared death in the face and left your child in someone else’s care, it’s hard to go back to casual again.
By that night, we were lingering just a little longer over dinner, and then splitting forces so that half of us saw the live “Villains Tonight” show (that would be Ella, satisfying her Maleficent fascination) while the other half attended a Frozen sing-along. By the next day at Castaway Cay, we found ourselves actively looking for Miss L, Mr. D, and the girls. By that night, we four adults had ditched the kids and were shouting out answers at a Music of the 80s Trivia contest and forming human pyramids on the floor to earn our team extra points. (I kid you not; Miss L and I got down on our hands and knees as Nick climbed on our backs and Mr. D – who is approximately 385 feet tall and might have a had a difficult time safely hopping aboard – gesticulated and called from behind.)
So, yeah. From strangers to human pyramids in just over 48 hours, because, hot damn, we really, really enjoyed these people’s company. (And also: alcohol. It amuses me that Miss L and Mr. D may think I always drink like this. Ah, well... Who am I to burst that bubble…) In only a few short days, they had become our dear, wonderful, true friends in that intense, we-shared-this-experience-together kind of way that’s typically reserved for retreats or summer camp. Or maybe prison.
As we docked again at Port Canaveral bright and early that third morning, we were not ready to leave – not the ship, not the weather, and especially not our newfound friends who were kind enough to buy the last round, which included the aforementioned Frozen cup (hence, why I don’t know whether or not we were ever charged for it).
Ella and Annie felt the same…
Alas, Disney frowns upon stowaways, so we had to disembark and make our journeys back home – us to New York and our new cruising family to Georgia. Not to worry, though; we were Facebook friends before we’d even left the port, and now regularly gripe to one another about how much we wish we were still on vacation. It’s good to have people who understand you.
So, there you have it. To say that it was just the very most fantabulous vacation ever really doesn’t do it justice, so rather than continuing to search for super grown-up adjectives, I’ll simply say that it was perfect. Not just Mary Poppins’s practically perfect in every way; no, actually perfect. I can’t recommend a Disney cruise highly enough – and not just because I’m a Disney fanatic. It is joy and laughter and fun and memories and magic, pure and simple.
We will absolutely be going on another Disney cruise.
Along with these crazy people, of course.
Next time, I call the top of the pyramid.