12 Neurotic, wacky, obsessive things I’ve done to prepare for my Disney Cruise

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Other than blogging every step of the way? Oh yeah…

Here’s a short list that has me thinking that I need to add significantly to the “cost” of my vacation.

1. I wear progressive lens glasses every day all the time. Today I went to the eye doctor and got contact lenses so that I could look pretty without my glasses on the cruise. Then I had to go to Walgreens to buy reading glasses so that I can see with my contact lenses. THE DAY BEFORE WE LEAVE.

2. I was getting concerned that my skin was too dry and I wanted to look my best for the cruise. KNOWING that I have extremely sensitive skin plus rosacea, I used moisturizer with SPF 30 on my face because it’s all I had on hand. I had such a bad reaction that I looked like I’d gotten a massive chemical burn. My face peeled and was red, dry and itchy for a week. Then my rosacea flared up because I aggravated my skin so badly, so I got red acne-ish bumps all over my face. Now I’m using an antibiotic cream from my dermatologist to fix the damage.

3. I went on a serious diet (Medifast for those of you keeping track) the day after I booked our cruise. This was partly fueled by seeing pictures of myself from the awesome Disney blogger Northeast meetup in February. (Pics here.) I’ve been limiting my caloric intake to about 850 calories a day for the past two months. The upside is I’ve lost 21 lbs. This is a great thing (and the diet is very healthy – I feel awesome). And of course I’ll look much better on the cruise . But still, rather wacky and somewhat expensive. I can’t wait to eat and drink again tomorrow!

4. I’ve bought at least 5 different sunscreens since the awful incident with my skin because I’ve realized I’m allergic to sunblock. Each one I tested left me with a giant red itchy rash on my arms and legs. I finally called the dermatologist and got a recommendation – pure zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Bought it, tested, problem solved. (Also bought two hats.)

5. I’ve also bought two different types of self tanner. Have not used them.

6. Purchased sugar scrub to see if it would buff out the cellulite on my thighs. No luck.

7. Weekly manicures, bi-weekly pedicures. Last one was Wednesday – I actually got gel polish on my toes so that it wouldn’t chip. (I’m a 45 year old married woman – who is looking at my toes?)

8. Bought one of those over-the-door hanging shoe organizers because so many people on the Dis Boards recommended them. It’s sitting here on my kitchen table making me feel like a dork.

9. Am having constant dreams about buffets. This may also be related to the 850 calorie-a-day diet.

10. Got an annual physical (overdue anyway) just so I could get a sea sickness patch prescription.

11. Bought all three of us practically an entirely brand new summer wardrobe. Forced my husband to buy a suit jacket.

12. Totally online stalked the Disney Dream. Did you know there’s a Port Canaveral webcam? You can also track it’s movements here. And my new Twitter friend Scott @TheDCLBlog has kept me happy with videos and weather reports at the Disney Cruiseline Blog.

I’m sure there is more, but I’m too excited to think about them right now. Still haven’t packed!! We leave tomorrow!!

Thanks for coming along for the planning. Many pics and reports when we return. (I promise!) Oh…did I mention I bought a new camera…?

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Voyage to the Disney Dream – There and Back Again

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Only 28 days left until we’re on our way to Orlando! And yes, I say Orlando, because that’s where we’re flying to in order to get over to Port Canaveral.

Disney Fantasy ShipOne of the things that really stressed me out about planning our first cruise vacation on the Disney Dream were the unknowns that just weren’t answered on the Disney website. How would we get to Port Canaveral from the airport? How would we get to the airport in Boston from our house? How are we getting back? I know these aren’t things that should stress anyone out, let alone a travel agent, but I haven’t planned a cruise before (which is why my family are the guinea pigs here) and really wasn’t sure what to do.

So here’s the deal. Disney offers the option for you to book your flight through their service when you book your cruise. However, they fly you in the morning of your cruise. I have heard too many horror stories of people either missing their flight or having flight delays, resulting in missing their cruise.  That just freaks me right out.  Also, because I booked late, there were no seats available on their flights anyway.

You can also plan to spend a couple of days in the parks before or after your cruise. You can book this all together as part of your cruise. If you want to do this, I highly recommend going to WDW before your cruise. That way you can relax and rejuvenate once you’re on your ship. Let’s face it, WDW is fantastic, but relaxing it is not.

If you go with either of these options, transportation to and from the cruise Magical Expressterminal is a no-brainer. You’ll use the Magical Express bus service. Easy as pie. You can even pay to use this service if you’re not booking through Disney. Just give them your flight numbers once you have them, at least 75 days prior to your Embarkation (the fancy name for the day your cruise starts.) The only downside I see to using Magical Express is that you arrive at the cruise terminal in the afternoon at the same time as everyone else is arriving there. From what I’ve read, this can make for a fairly long processing wait to get on the ship. To maximize our cruise time, I’m keen to get on the ship as early as possible the day of our cruise. (You can read how that turned out here.)

You can probably guess, I chose to go outside of the Disney offerings to figure out our transportation. Mostly this is because of the flight situation. I figure if we start out a day early, even if our flights are delayed or baggage is lost, it will all be worked out in time to board the ship. (Let’s pray that statement isn’t some horrible foreshadowing of disaster, shall we?)

OK, so here’s the plan, from doorstep to ship and back again.

1. How are you getting to the airport? Don’t forget to plan this step! Like many people, I travel fairly regularly for work. I do it so often that I sometimes forget that traveling on a vacation with my family is very different from traveling alone, and that I can’t expense this piece as I usually do. So my normal routine (drive to the airport, park in my regular area in the garage, pay an average of $40 per night, drive home, expense the bill) will probably not be the best option. The cost is awful, not to mention the fact that our family’s luggage won’t even fit in my tiny car. I investigated a few options, and have decided to hire a sedan service. They’ll pick us up the morning of our flight, drop us off at the terminal, and pick us up when we get off the plane. And it will cost less than it would for parking for the length of our trip.

2. Book your flights. I like to use Orbitz, mostly because I just always have. Frankly, there is so little difference between the online booking services, it sort of doesn’t matter. My one piece of advice: fly in a day early. I know for me I’m totally willing to pay for an extra hotel stay to have this peace of mind. Disney provides guidelines for arrival and departure times:

  • Latest Orlando International Airport Flight Arrival on Embarkation Day — 1:45 p.m.
  • Earliest Flight Departure from the Orlando International Airport on Debarkation Day — 11:30 a.m.

And don’t forget, Orlando International Airport is not your only option. Melbourne  International Airport is actually a little closer. You can even fly into Tampa if you don’t mind a little bit of a longer drive.  Just check your options. We fly out of Boston, and it’s almost always less expensive to fly to Orlando.

3. Where are you staying the night before? If you’ve followed my advice and arrived in Orlando the day before your cruise embarks, then you’re going to need a place to stay. Depending on the time your flight arrives in Orlando, you might want to spend some time at the Disney parks, or even (gasp!) at Universal Studios Orlando. If you do, it might be convenient to book a night stay in one of the resorts near the park where you’re visiting. Or, if you’re being obsessive about getting as close to the cruise terminal as possible the day before your cruise so that you don’t miss it (as I obviously am), there are several budget hotels very close to Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral and nearby Cocoa Beach. Many of them offer free shuttle service to the Port. Just do a quick search and you’ll quickly see the options. One of my favorite references is Trip Advisor – we’re staying at the #1 ranked hotel. It’s inexpensive, clean, and convenient. That’s all we really need – I can wait one more day for luxury.


4. How are you getting from the airport to your hotel and then to the port? Well, if you’re going with the all-Disney travel plan, you’ll have your transfers taken care of. Magical Express will pick you up at the airport and take you to your resort, then pick you up at your resort to take you to the port. Super easy, and the buses are quite comfortable.  Since we’re not going this way, we’ve decided to just rent a car. There are several rental car companies right at the port, including Avis, Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, and Thrifty – all of which are also at Orlando International. So we’re renting from Avis, driving to our hotel, then dropping the car off at the port the next morning. Then we’ll pick up a car when we leave the ship, and drive to the airport. This will give us the most flexibility on our arrival day to figure out what we want to do.          

Pool at Country Inn and Suites Cape Canaveral

Maybe we’ll go visit Harry Potter at Island of Adventure. Or stop in at Epcot for the Flower & Garden Festival. Or maybe just drive to our hotel and hang at the pool. No matter what we decide, we’ll be able to just throw our luggage in the car and drive there.  If driving isn’t your thing, then check out the Port Canaveral website for several other ground transportation options. 

Whew. So that’s how we’ve decided to roll this trip. I really, really hope it works out well, but you’ll know either way. Next up – documentation….

So for all you experienced cruisers out there, what has worked for you in the past? Any advice?

Dining, Excursions, and Activity planning on the Disney Dream

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Before booking my cruise on the Disney Dream, I had heard about some of the excursions and activities, and toured the restaurants on the Disney Fantasy. But that didn’t really prepare me for the reality that when booking your cruise, you really do need to plan everything you’re going to do in advance. I was shocked to see how much was actually sold out when I started making my arrangements. 

As a first-time guest on Disney Cruise Lines you can start making your reservations 75 days in advance, unless you’ve booked a Concierge stateroom in categories 1 – 3, in which case you can start 120 days in advance. But who am I kidding, since I booked my entire trip 59 days in advance, that means I started right away!

If you are interested in going on any shore excursions, eating in either of the adult-only restaurants on board, going to the spa or fitness center, doing on-board activities, or sending your child to the nursery, you will want to reserve these as far in advance as possible.

First, typically you would choose your “seating” for dinner. Seatings are either around 6pm or 8pm. The earlier tends to fill up first, so my family was automatically assigned the second seating. I’m actually fine with that – my child is 12 and is looking forward to staying up late at the tween club. But I can see how that would be a real issue for families with small children. If you find yourself in this situation, you can avail yourself of a very cool thing that Disney does for younger kids. You can let your server know that your child would like to go to the Oceaneer’s Club after dinner. They’ll bring your child’s dinner very quickly, and then after a little while the Oceaneer’s counselors come to take the children up to the Club. They can play, while parents stay and have a more leisurely dinner. I know I would have LOVED that when my kiddo was young.

Shortly after you’ve booked your cruise you’ll receive a login for your personalized Planning Center on DisneyCruise.com. DO NOT LOSE THIS EMAIL! You’ll need this login. Jump right in to the Planning Center. It’s really helpful in showing you what’s available on each day of your cruise.

Disney Cruise Planning Center

Disney Cruise Planning Center

Click on My Cruise Activities. Here’s where you can see the excursions and activities available to you to book each day. Click Add Activity, and you’ll arrive at a screen that shows each day of your itinerary.

Daily Activity Planner Disney Dream

Daily Activity Planner

When you click “Add Activities” on one of the days, you’ll receive a menu of available types of activities – Port Adventures, Adult Dining, Spa & Fitness, On Board Fun, and Nursery. Clicking on any of these will give you the list of options. For instance, here’s what it looks like for “Port Adventures” on our Nassau, Bahamas day.

Port Adventures Nassau Bahamas Disney Dream

Port Adventures (not the complete list)

Choose the adventures that look fun and fit your budget, and reserve as soon as possible. Some do sell out.

If you’re interested in some adult dining time while on your vacation, there are two adults-only restaurants on the Disney Dream – Palo which is Northern Italian, and Remy, which is French. You can go ahead and book these reservations within your Planning Center, just as you would using an online dining reservation service like Open Table.

Dinner at Palo will cost $20 per person. You can check out the menu here. Dress at Palo is more formal than the “cruise casual” expected at the family restaurants on board. Remy will set you back $75 per person and is considerably dressier. Jackets

Remy Disney Fantasy

Remy

are required for men, but not ties. I’ve read on some websites that men wear tuxedos to Remy. Pretty sure I’m not talking my husband into that one. You can check out the menu here. I had a chance to visit Remy on the Disney Fantasy, and the room was gorgeous. I have no qualms spending money on food – it’s one of the highlights of vacation for me – so we booked a night at Remy.

Spa and fitness services work much the same way. You can peruse the spa menu, and choose any services that look appealing.

Spa menu Disney Dream

Spa menu (portion – not the complete list)

And what is in the “On Board Fun” section? Here you can book time for virtual reality Golf and Sports simulators. These were completely sold out by the time I booked my cruise. They’re limited, and apparently popular.

Options will vary of course based on your cruise destination. For example, if you’re stopping at Castaway Cay, your Port Adventures section will be where you can rent Cabanas or snorkel equipment in advance. (Cabanas sell out very, very quickly.)

Whew! Lots of thinking and planning online up front, and a little stress now, but presumably this will lead to everything being taken care of so that when you are on your vacation you don’t have to think. I’m really hoping that’s how it works, anyway!

Wondering what we planned? In Nassau we’ll be going on a Blue Lagoon Island Dolphin Encounter, because it’s a long-held dream of mine to interact with dolphins and I never have done it. We’re eating one night at Remy, and we rented snorkels at Castaway Cay. Otherwise, my plan is to sit by a pool with a fruity drink in my hand. No reservations required.

Next up – Travel Documents!

Choosing a Stateroom – my journey to the Disney Dream

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Thanks for coming along with me as I plan my somewhat last-minute vacation on the Disney Dream. Our family has never been on a cruise before, so even though I’ve taken travel agent training classes and been on a ship tour of the Disney Fantasy, I’m still experiencing this for myself for the first time.

So after deciding on when, where, who, and how much, it’s time to choose a stateroom. Some questions to ask:

1. Are you prone to motion sickness? The answer for me is a giant YES. I’ve been known to get car sick while driving to work. I couldn’t sit through The Hobbit. I am 100% sure that I’ll get seasick on this cruise without the aid of medication.

Disney Fantasy in Port

Disney Fantasy in Port

(I’ll cover that piece later.) So the best advice for helping to avoid motion sickness that I’ve heard from fellow agents is to book a cabin near the middle and as low as possible. If you picture the ship as a large V-wedge sitting in the ocean, you can picture that the center of gravity of the ship is low. If the ship starts rocking, it’s like a see-saw – the greatest range of motion will be on the higher decks. Get low, and there is much less movement. Makes sense to me, and I’m hoping it helps.

2. Which categories fit within your budget? This is pretty important. I don’t know about you, but of COURSE I would choose a Concierge Royal Suite if I could. But I can’t. Odds are, you can’t either. Or I guess I could if my kid didn’t need braces or food… but in any case, we all make choices. And so obviously, just eliminate from consideration those categories that are out of reach. This will leave you with a more manageable list to peruse. So let’s take a look at what’s available on the Disney Dream.

Stateroom Room Size Sleeps
Concierge Royal Suite with Verandah 1781 sq. ft. including verandah 5
Concierge 1-Bedroom Suite with Verandah 622 sq. ft. including verandah 5
Concierge Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah 306 sq. ft. including verandah 5
Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah 299 sq. ft. including verandah 3 to 5
Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah 246 sq. ft. including verandah 3 or 4
Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Navigator’s Verandah 246 sq. ft. including verandah 3 or 4
Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom 241 sq. ft. 4 or 5
Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom 204 sq. ft. 3 or 4
Deluxe Inside Stateroom 200 sq. ft. 3 or 4
Standard Inside Stateroom 169 sq. ft. 3 or 4

There is a great tool on the Disney Cruise Line website that allows you to compare up to 3 categories at a time. Have two or three in mind that would be acceptable to you when it’s time to choose your stateroom. Then, you can be flexible based on the location of the actual rooms that are available. For instance, if you are trying to avoid motion sickness and want a Deluxe Oceanview with Verandah, but there are none available to the middle and on the lower decks, you may flex to the Deluxe Family Oceanview with Verandah in order to get the location you prefer. Or your Standard Inside Stateroom may be located right above the night club district, but you really want to get some sleep. You may want to find a comparable room a little further away from the action, and be willing to pay a few extra dollars.

3. How much time will you be spending in your cabin? If you’re the kind of person who needs to escape the crowds in order to relax, you might want your cabin to function as a retreat for you and your family, and you may spend a bit of time there. If your family is always on the go, only stopping to sleep, chances are you’ll spend very little time there. This can help you to decide whether it’s worth it to pay extra for a little more space or a verandah. And finally,

4. When you close your eyes, how do you picture yourself on this cruise? For me, I picture my husband and me sitting on our verandah, feet up, sipping a glass of white wine as we watch the sunset. I’ve obviously been

Deluxe Oceanview with Verandah

Deluxe Family Oceanview with Verandah

brainwashed by the Love Boat and too many cruise commercials because neither of us drink white wine, but that’s what my vacation looks like in my head. (I also picture us in a tuxedo and beaded gown sipping champagne on the promenade deck before heading in to dinner at the Captain’s table with Captain Stubing.) Anyway, if we didn’t have a verandah I know I’d feel let down.

So that’s the process I used to choose our Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah, on deck 6. There are definitely other considerations, but frankly I didn’t have time to spend weighing a million options, and because we booked so late there weren’t that many options available. If you want to dig a little deeper, I found this very cool article that has some really insightful advice.

Was this helpful? Not at all? Let me know in the comments! Next installment – Activities and Excursions.

Dreaming a little Disney Dream

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I did it! That’s right, I finally convinced my dear sweet husband to go on a Disney cruise. Ever since I had the amazingly good fortune to attend the christening of the Disney Fantasy, I’ve been dying to take my family on a cruise. Our daughter has

Disney Fantasy in port

Disney Fantasy in port

begged, I’ve pleaded, but my husband just did NOT want to go. I’m not sure exactly what changed or how I got him to say yes, but he finally did. So I booked our cruise that day before he could change his mind.

We’ll be sailing in April during school break. As we’re first-time cruisers, I thought it might be interesting for other first-timers to follow along on our journey. I’ll be blogging semi-regularly leading up to our cruise, and then of course I’ll give you the whole recap once we get back. I hope our journey helps you plan yours. (And once I get a little cruising experience under my belt, I’ll be glad to help you plan yours as well!)

So to jump right in, the first thing that I did was figure out dates and itinerary. You can either do this yourself on http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/ or even better, give your favorite Disney travel agent a call. (Hopefully that’s MouseChow Travel…but if not, make sure you find someone who specializes in Disney, not just cruising.) I knew that I wanted to sail on either the Disney Fantasy or Disney

Senses Spa aboard the Disney Fantasy

Senses Spa aboard the Disney Fantasy

Dream, since I had been dreaming about the Fantasy for a year. The two ships have a few minor differences and the Dream is a year older, but the general layout and amenities are very similar. So I found a 4-night cruise leaving out of Port Canaveral, Florida at the beginning of our school break on the Disney Dream. The itinerary takes us to Nassau, Bahamas (a place I’ve visited) and Castaway Cay (a place my daughter is dying to visit.) It seemed like a good idea to start with a shorter cruise since we’ve never been, so it seemed like the right fit.

I went through my favorite travel agent (me) and booked the cruise. Because we will be sailing within just a couple of months, I paid in full at the time of booking. Typically you can put down a deposit and then pay as you get closer to the cruise. But then typically you would book further in advance than I did.

So when starting out, here are four quick questions to ask yourself (and answers to pass along to your travel agent).

1. When do I want to travel and for how long?

2. Who will be traveling?

3. Where would I like to go?

4. What’s my budget?

5. Do I have a ship preference?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can start looking at potential sailings and itineraries. Then the planning fun really begins. Stay tuned for the next episode – Choosing a Stateroom.

What questions do you have about booking a Disney cruise? Ask in the comments, and I’ll share answers with everyone!