Friday, January 4, 2008

Even pirates need sleep

Full-size pictures of Day 7 are now online at Webshots!!

Okay, I must say, this fireworks show would look lame next to any of Walt Disney World’s amazing music-synchronized, computer-controlled spectacles. It’s one or two small or medium shells at a time, fired off continuously for about ten minutes, and then a “big finish” of 12-15 bursts. But it's pretty cool nevertheless, because we’re watching it while standing on the deck of a cruise ship in the Bahamas!

Not long after the fireworks are over, the characters say goodbye. The party’s still in full swing, but Becky and I decide to call it a night. Benjamin wants to stay a while longer.

We never did spot Brandon in the mob.

Becky and I head back to the Suite and begin getting ready for bed. Brandon comes in a short while later – carrying a plate full of desserts from the just-opened buffet! Nice kid. No, I’m not hungry, but you know, since he went through the trouble and all, I’d hate to offend him by not at least trying one, or two, of the goodies. (Is anyone buying that I was really reluctant?)

Benjamin’s back five minutes after Brandon, and is mildly upset that he somehow missed the existence of the dessert buffet. He wants to head out again, but we encourage him to stay since there’s plenty of what Brandon brought.

We discuss our plans for the next day, and then Brandon exits again – they’re showing Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End on the big screen starting at 11:00. He realizes that it will be ending at 1:15 in the morning, and tells us he “probably won’t stay for all of it.”

He’s back in fifteen minutes, saying, “I can say I’ve seen some of it.”

Lilo & Stitch is on the TV again as we settle for the night. We’re all asleep quickly.

Pirates IN the Caribbean

Brandon has noticed something interesting on the TV channel that shows our current position – we are just off of Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, which is our destination tomorrow!

Wow. I knew we’d left Nassau at 7:00, while we were having dinner in Triton’s, but I always thought that the ship took it’s time getting to the next stop – but we’re already here, more or less. Hey, maybe that’s why Disney is the only cruise line with permission to shoot off fireworks at sea – they are able to make it to their private island for the show.

Brandon leaves to go out to the Pirates In The Caribbean deck party, and Becky, Benjamin and I follow not too long afterwards.

Deck 9 is packed with people, and the music is loud!! Any time Becky or I need to say something to each other, we have to scream into the other’s ear!

It’s awesome.

The tunes are all recognizable, but of course family-safe, dance tunes. I quickly notice that each song is actually shortened quite a bit, quite the opposite of extended-length “dance remixes.” There's just about two minutes of each song before it changes to the next tune. It adds a lot of energy to the party, because the songs never have a chance of getting old.

Becky and I look for Brandon in the crowd, but can’t spot him. I’m sure he’s in the mass of people right in front of the stage. Benjamin decides he wants to view the party from above, on Deck 10. Becky’s looking for Brandon, still, and I wander over to the food table. It’s not open yet – it will at 11 – but it holds a huge spread of desserts.

It's a visually appealing feast, but I’m not at all hungry for any of it.

I climb the stairs to Deck 10 and find Benjamin by the rail, bopping to the music. I sneak a couple of pictures before announcing my presence.

Goofy, Minnie, Chip and Dale are out now leading the dancing, both onstage and in the crowd. The music almost never lets up! Becky finds us at the rail, never having found Brandon. We’re not worried, though – I’d be more surprised if she did find him.

Captain Hook and a band of CM pirates, along with Smee and Pirate Stitch, interrupt the party and take over the stage. I try to spot Suzanne, our emcee from the trivia contest earlier today. I think I can tell which pirate she is, but like Stitch, they never hold still, so I can’t be sure.

The music still goes full blast, but with the pirates leading the dancing. Ooookay. It would be more in character to have them pillaging or fighting the audience, but that might not be very fun for the guests.

Even so, the party needs to be “rescued” from the pirates, and who else would you expect to do that but Mickey! He shows up on Deck 10, on the opposite side from us, dressed in an older-style blue Captain’s coat, and announces that now we’re going to have a party in the sky!!


Time for breakfast...?

What an awesome show. We exit the theatre with the crowd, but the evening’s not over – we have the Pirates In The Caribbean deck part later, with a few stops to make beforehand. First, a quick stop at Shutters on Deck 4 to review our cruise pictures so far.

Visiting Shutters has never been a favorite activity of mine. Like posing for official photographers, it’s something that we more just have to do rather than want to do, so the quicker it goes, the better. Disney does make it convenient by grouping pictures by event in the display cases, so locating family pictures is never too difficult. I just hope some day that the shipboard photographers get hooked into the PhotoPass system. That would be a nice improvement.

We see several photos we may return to later, but for now we just purchase one we know we have to have – Benjamin and Stitch together!

We’re back in the Walt Disney Suite around 9:40. Bob and Linda are almost certainly going to bed soon, but breakfast comes first.

Yes, breakfast. No, not eating it. Ordering it!

In our many “what do we want to do” discussions leading up to this trip, we most focused on trying things we’d never done before. Ordering from room service on board the ship was something we’d not done, since it’s always so easy to find food handy, so we thought we’d give it a try. And when we were upgraded in advance to the Walt Disney Suite and found that we would be able to order a full meal from the onboard restaurants, that cinched it – we were going to enjoy at least one meal in our suite.

Breakfast tomorrow morning is it, and the concierge guide urges us to call the night before with our order. The six of us take turns perusing the Triton’s breakfast menu in the guide and selecting the meal we each want, and I make notes on a piece of our personalized stationery that we’re not likely to use for any other purpose. We get pretty detailed, with how we want eggs cooked, side items of toast, and assorted pastries, donuts or muffins for the six of us. It’s going to be a feast.

I’m curious what it will be like calling it in, since I am to call the regular room service line and not the concierge desk, but it turns out to be no problem at all. The CM at the other end of the line is friendly, and he patiently listens as I rattle off the orders for the six of us. He reads back the order correctly, and then asks when we’d like it delivered. We’d already settled on 8:00, and he tells us it should arrive between 8 and 8:20.

That was super easy. Okay, I definitely could get used to phoning in my meals and not having to lift a finger for them. Take that and add the endless entertainment, someone to make the bed, a beautiful, frequently changing ocean view – and no yard to mow – and this comes really close to paradise on earth.

I do realize that I have to give this Suite up in about 36 hours, but they may have to drag me away from it!

The Golden Mickeys, Part Two

I have too many pictures and not enough narrative to go along with them. What say I just show the pictures from The Golden Mickeys, eh?

Opening Number

Snow White and the Seven "Dwarves": Dopey plus six kids from the audience!



Stitch as Elvis -- except he never holds still enough for a good, no-flash picture!

Ursula and her audience-menacing tentacles.

Cruella dances to her theme song.

The Toy Story number. I love the back-projected "wallpaper," where the clouds are actually drifting by!

Blue! Pink! Blue! Pink!

Pocahontas with John Smith, who has looked kind of wimpy to me both times we've seen this show.

The Lion King segments in both this and in tomorrow's Disney Dreams are always amazing -- lots of revival-style, foot stomping energy.

Ensign Benson overcomes her stage fright, inspired by Walt Disney and his perseverance through his life's setbacks.

The big finish, with Mickey, Minnie, Rona, Ensign Benson, fireworks, and lots of characters!

The Golden Mickeys, Part One

With our latest eating opportunity at an end, we say goodbye to Sutas and Nino and head out. Becky, Bob and Linda go to Shutters, while the boys and I step out into the atrium to check out this evening’s pin trading.

The same cast member is handling the pin station, but there’s still not a lot of trading going on. The boys do buy some new pins.

There’s an official photographer nearby with a really cool DCL backdrop, with the ship on the ocean at sunset – with the sun in the shape of a glimmering, golden Mickey.

We stop off briefly at the Walt Disney Suite to freshen up after dinner. The Suite has been prepared for the evening in our absence, with the curtains drawn and the beds turned down. Ah, the life of luxury. There’s a puppy dog towel animal on Brandon and Benjamin’s bed.

The chocolates on all of the beds are pirate coins tonight.

We’re not missing tonight’s stage show, The Golden Mickeys. It’s a fanciful “awards show” like the Oscars used as a framework for big musical production numbers honoring great Disney films and music. Those scenes are wonderful, but as a Disney fan I especially like that there is a focus on the man Walt Disney, with stories and pictures from his life helping to encourage one of the characters in the show to overcome adversity.

What made it even better when we saw this same show in 2005 was that the biographical info about Walt was presented (on video) by his nephew Roy Disney. It was an amazing and sentimental touch, and commendable especially because it debuted when Roy and the Disney management were in a fierce battle over the direction of the company.

I say “was” because I’ve since learned that Roy’s portion of the show has been removed, and now Whoopi Goldberg, of all people, talks about Walt Disney’s life. I cannot fathom why they’d make such a trade. I like a lot of Whoopi’s movies, but this is not a change for the better.

I resolve to try to enjoy the show anyway.

When we make it to the Walt Disney Theatre, we’re a little later arriving that we normally are, and all of the middle-aisle “long leg” seats are taken. Bummer. We find some pretty decent seats instead on the right side of the theatre, about a third of the way back, and settle in to watch the show.

“Rona Rivers” is on the video screen interviewing “celebrities” – kids – on the red carpet on the way into the theatre. It’s cute. Better yet is when cruise director Christiaan, in keeping with the pirate theme of the night, sneaks in behind “Rona” and steals the Golden Mickey statue behind her, then tries to claim that he won it.

The Golden Mickeys begins, as usual, with a big production number, followed by “Ensign Benson” fretting about having to host the show in stead of the Captain (who is incapacitated off stage somehow by Goofy). This is where Whoopi shows up to encourage her…

Hey, wait! No way!! Roy is back!!!! Yay!!!!

I’m going to love this show.

Triton’s, Part Two

As for our appetizers – like we need them – Bob orders his standard serving of escargot. Yuck. I’m reminded of what a friend of my parents once said of escargot: “Anything will taste good if you put it in enough garlic butter”!

Becky can’t decide between two appetizers – both the Shrimp Medley and the Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche look good to her. I encourage her to ask for both, and she does.

Benjamin is at the age where he could easily order off of the adult menu if something looks good to him – remember at Walt Disney World ages 10 and up are considered “adults” – but he mostly sticks to the kids’ menus. He chooses chicken noodle soup for an appetizer, and when it comes it has Mickey-shaped noodles.

Me, I try the Normandy Salad, a mixture of lettuce, hearts of palm, and shredded red cabbage with slices of green apple and a “citrus shallot” vinaigrette. It’s good… but I really need to save room for my entrée, so I don’t indulge too much.

This being the night of the “Pirates In The Caribbean” deck party, we have skull-and-crossbones black bandannas at our places. Sutas folds Brandon and Benjamin’s bandannas into pirate hats. The adults don’t want to be left out, so Sutas good-naturedly folds ours, too. I’m impressed that they don’t all look alike – he knows several different designs. Interesting, the skills you pick up working on a cruise ship.

Our head server, a big goofy guy from South Africa named Bhoola, comes around to visit with us. I ask Bhoola if I can snap his picture, and he insists on striking a scowling pirate pose as I do. Fun guy. He also takes a picture of us – wearing our pirate hats – with Bob’s camera.

Our entrees arrive and they are wonderful. The halibut is very, very tasty, maybe not quite as good as the sea bass, but much better than the sole. This “Herb-Crusted” recipe is one I requested and received from the cruise line back in 2003, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make it on my own, as it is one of the most complicated recipes I’d ever seen. It not only takes hours of preparation time, it also includes ingredients that I’d never heard of, including one or two that an internet search shows may not be available in the U.S. I’ve decided I’ll have to be content with having it here.

Bob’s “lighter fare” steak and potato are huge.

Our meal time is relaxed and fun. Sutas does a trick where it appears that a coin passes through a saucer into a wine glass. He leaves the props with us for the boys to try to figure out how it’s done. I’m worried that we’re going to have broken glassware before this is over.

Sutas and Nino also both create more brain teaser puzzles from toothpicks to keep us entertained. At the urging of the boys, I throw a couple back at them – the old “What’s the Name of the Bus Driver” puzzle and a comical mind reading “trick” I stole from The Amazing Johnathan. They both laugh heartily at the routines. Hopefully I’ve given them more resources they can draw on to entertain future cruisers.

Dessert time! Bob orders another of his favorites: crème brulee, letting Sutas know how he never passes it up.

Sutas brings two of them.

Triton's, Part One

We make a brief stop in the Suite following our concierge reception. Brandon is the first back out the door, wanting to go to Shutters and see if any of his pictures with characters from earlier in the day are there.

This has been a great vacation day. I’ve done a whole lot, without actually doing much, if that makes sense. I mean, almost everything I’ve taken part in today has consisted of my sitting around while someone else either feeds me or entertains me. And that, my friends, is a vacation!

At ten till six, the rest of us head downstairs for dinner. The door to Triton’s is not yet open when we arrive, so we gather with the growing crowd on the steps leading to the entrance. Two crew members pass out sanitizing wipes as we wait, which is standard these days to avoid repeats of the shipboard illness-passing that has plagued some previous cruises.

Benjamin realizes that he left his “trading pins” in the Suite, so we let him go back on his own to retrieve them. I realize that he will be returning on one of the glass elevators that face us across the atrium, so I prepare to snap his picture as he returns. The doors to Triton’s open and the crowd begins to file in before he comes back, but I’m able to linger long enough to get the picture I want.

We are escorted to Table 55, which turns out to be the same table where we ate Triton’s dinner at on our last voyage – and breakfast on the morning of our departure. It’s kind of déjà vu-ish, but also cool to come full circle like this.

Sutas and Nino are in good spirits, already joking around with us as we arrive, and "ooo-ing" and "aah-ing" over our pin lanyards. It looks like this will be a fun meal again.

It sinks in a bit, as we are handed our menus, that we are not really in the mood to be thinking too much about food. It is mealtime and we didn’t stuff ourselves too much at the reception, so we are a little hungry. Maybe it’s just that “gourmet overload” we felt at lunch.

Bob orders a steak and baked potato off of the “Lighter Fare” portion of the menu. That speaks volumes about the richness of the food here, that a steak and potato are considered “lighter fare”! Linda handles the overload by just ordering the list of “Chef’s Selections” on the menu, so, as she says, she “doesn’t have to think.”

The past two times I’ve gotten the herb-crusted fish entrée. In 2003, it was sea bass, and melt-in-your-mouth wonderful, easily the best dish I ate on the entire vacation. In 2005 Triton’s had switched the fish – same recipe, but with sole instead of sea bass. The fish was much heavier and just didn’t work as well, though it was still good. I thought perhaps I’d try something else this time, but I see they’ve changed fish again. It’s now Herb-Encrusted Halibut on the menu. Hmmm. Okay, I’ll give it a try!

Golden hour

With the movie finished and 40 minutes until dinner – Triton’s tonight! – we actually have a choice of receptions to attend. We can either go to the Castaway Club reception in one of the lounges, or head to the outdoor portion of the Beach Blanket Buffet on Deck 9 aft for the concierge reception. Frankly, there’s not much debate. The concierge reception is by far the more exclusive event, and one we can’t get to that often – notwithstanding that we’ve been to it on two out of our three cruises!

We take the elevator to Deck 9 and stroll down the starboard deck towards the stern of the ship. There’s a sign marking the concierge reception, and Lars and Thabi both are there to great us. A few other people are seated at the tables.

It is absolutely gorgeous outside. Of course, we are still docked in Nassau, with the city on one side and the Atlantis Resort on the other. Better yet, we’re in that “golden hour” time just before sunset when everything just glows warmly with the light of the setting sun. Just beautiful.

Thabi directs us to the food – like we wouldn’t naturally just gravitate there! It’s a nice reception spread, with vegetable rolls, fresh fruit skewers, barbecue wings, and oh, the coconut shrimp! Diehard shrimp lover that I am, I never liked coconut shrimp until I tried the Wonder’s at the concierge reception in 2003. Yum, yum, yum.

Of course, our feasting impulse is tempered just a bit by the fact that dinner begins in a little more than half an hour!

There’s also limited bar service, with red and white wine and a featured cocktail, the Bahama Mama. None of us drink, but Bob and Linda order the virgin version (say that ten times fast) of the Bahama Mama, and then Becky and Brandon follow suit. Benjamin and I stick with sodas.

We grab a table and enjoy our snack. The breeze is a bit cool, but it’s otherwise perfect out here.

Brandon and Benjamin visit the rail and report a wedding ceremony in sight below. We learn from Lars that it is a vow renewal ceremony, being conducted by Captain Henry on Deck 7. They couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place and time for it! The glow of the sunset off of the surrounding island buildings is amazing.

With our appetites, uh, appetized, we thank Lars and Thabi – again – for their graciousness and exit back to the Suite. I want to see for myself that multi-layer tray of cookies. (No, not to eat – we are on our way to dinner!)

Cinema afloat

At around 2:30 Brandon goes back downstairs to change, and then at 2:45 I head down to the Buena Vista Theatre. Brandon, Benjamin, Bob, Linda, and I all arrive within minutes of each other.

The Disney Wonder is luxurious in almost every way, but the legroom in both here and the Walt Disney Theatre leaves a lot to be desired for a tall guy like me, and my knees will scream at me if I can’t stretch them out pretty often. At the Walt Disney Theatre, I’ve solved the problem by showing up early enough to get seats on the central walkway that crosses the theater. Here there is no such walkway. It looks like I’m in for an uncomfortable couple of hours here. Unless…

At the top of the theater are two relatively open areas with some folding chairs, the handicap-accessible seating. That’ll work, so long as no one else needs it. There’s plenty of room there for leg stretching – which, frankly, is not just a luxury for me. Our whole gang moves up there. Ahhh, much better. Certainly if anyone in a wheelchair or with a greater need of the seats comes along, we’ll gladly give up the space, but I’m very grateful for it if no one else needs it.

Becky pops in to say hi, while we wait. She enjoyed her nap, she says, but she’s still not interested in the movie. She has seen in the Navigator that Donald Duck will be appearing in the atrium. She’s going to take the boys’ shirts and try to get his duck-ograph.

Our short wait time here gives me more time to enjoy – and be impressed by – the Disney Wonder’s décor. As I’ve written before, the ship is beautiful and luxurious, and could hold its own in comparison with any first-class ocean liner. At the same time, the designers work in subtle but unmistakable Disney touches in just about every space – character profiles in the metalwork railings in the atrium, hidden Mickeys in the stained glass windows of Triton’s, Mickey-glove floor pointers at the elevator lobbies. Likewise here, in the Buena Vista Theatre, there are Mickey-shaped metal medallions at the intersections of the woodwork designs on the walls. Classy, and Disney, too.

Promptly at 3:15 – ship schedules are normally kept with strict punctuality – National Treasure 2 begins. While the whole premise of National Treasure and this sequel are fantastical and more than a little unbelievable, they are escapist fun; great “popcorn movies.” Mmm, popcorn. I don’t have any. No matter, since even 90 minutes later I’m still stuffed from lunch.

National Treasure 2 is much like its predecessor, impossible to take seriously but still fun. It dragged in a couple of places and could’ve stood some trimming, but all in all it was a good way to pass a couple of hours.

And no one else ever needs our seats –the other similar section stays empty, even – so I can stretch my legs out as much as I want.