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disnut8
08-24-2007, 07:46 AM
Travel Dates: December 9-18, 2005
Travel Method - personal car, autotrain
Resort - Disney Magic
Accommodations - Category 6, deluxe oceanview with veranda and Cateogry 8, deluxe oceanview
Ages - two adults, two seniors
Cruise experience - two first time cruisers, two experience cruisers but first time with Disney
Comments - this is just the introduction which is long enough in itself

Sailin’ the High Seas the Niklewski (and Disney) Way

Characters –

Me – Sheri (43) – trip report writer. Disney World fanatic. I’m Dory and Piglet mixed together. Pixie dust happens every day, you just have to look past the clouds sometimes to see it.
Husband – Rich (45). He’s a total Eeyore. His attitude is to think the worst will happen and if it doesn’t then you are not disappointed.

We’re from Brasleton, Georgia which is a “suburb” of the metro Atlanta area. We’re about as far north and east as you can go but we’re still in the metro area.

Father-in-law – Ed (75). Laid back, mellow almost retired psychiatrist. Nature lover to the max.
Mother-in-law – Bobbie (69). Extremely active retired nurse and educator. She’ll be go-go-going all cruise long.

The Older Niklewskis are from Hagerstown, Maryland.

Experience –

While Rich and I are Disney World veterans and love to travel, we’ve never been on a cruise. Bobbie and Ed are cruise veterans and have sailed through the Panama Canal (at least twice), to Hawaii, and to Alaska plus many trips to the Caribbean.

Why We Are Going –

For years, Bobbie had been suggesting taking Rich and me on a cruise. Even 24 years ago for our honeymoon, a cruise was offered. Quite frankly, it never appealed to me. I’m more of a “let’s get into the car and go” kind of a woman. But almost every year, an anniversary/Christmas cruise was offered. I declined every time. Until November, 2004.

Bobbie and Ed had graciously given us a family reunion trip to Disney World over Christmas and New Year’s of 2004. They and Rich’s brother joined us. Bobbie and Ed even flew our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in for a week. I was busy preparing for that trip when Bobbie started in again for a cruise the next year. I thought I’d end the cruise option once and for all by replying that the only cruise I’d even consider would be a Disney cruise. I figured Bobbie would take one look at the price compared to her other cruise experiences and let the matter drop.

Now, Bobbie knows my love for Disney. But she’s also very practical. That’s why I was dumbfounded when, in just two weeks, we were booked on this cruise.

The Planning –

Those two weeks were intense with a flurry of emails going back and forth between Bobbie and me. Bobbie also wanted me to find a travel agent to handle everything. I don’t use travel agents but did the research from allearsnet.com and mousesavers.com and just about every other resource that even remotely mentioned the Disney cruise line. I narrowed my choices down to two and had each of them give me a quote. While both of the options were close to each other, I finally chose the one that really was patient with the many changes we made in those two weeks.

First up was which cruise. This actually was easy. Bobbie said the three and four day ones were too short. Seven days it is. Eastern or Western, though. Bobbie said she preferred more sea days than port days. Eastern it is. When? The in-laws’ schedule is flexible, mine was not. The Eastern seven day cruise December 10-17, 2005 fit perfectly.

When I plan a trip to Disney World, I know what I’m doing. This was a whole new world for me. I’d never cruised before. I utilized the official Disney site to access the deck plans for our choices of staterooms. Since Bobbie and Ed were paying for everything, I wanted to pare down their expense as much as I could. My first thought was a Category 4 Deluxe Family Stateroom with Verandah for all four of us. That was vetoed the next day by Bobbie with her logic that we’d be cramped.

I figured it was a cruise ship and I expected the rooms to be small. But Bobbie was the expert cruiser and said we’d be more comfortable with two staterooms. Actually, I think Bobbie has finally come to the realization that Rich and I are on totally different schedules then they are. They are morning people, we’re up to midnight.

Then I suggested two Category 9 Deluxe Oceanview Staterooms. It would be a little more expensive than the suite but that was Bobbie’s call. The travel agent came back with connecting rooms on Deck 2. I thought that was fine. Bobbie was having a hard time finding the Magic’s deck plans and finally went by AAA to get a paper brochure (I don’t think Bobbie quite trusts the internet). Deck 2 was out of the question. The reason being that Bobbie would feel like we were in steerage. She wanted to be as high up as we could be. She said something about feeling like the doomed immigrants aboard the Titanic.

And then another wrinkle. Bobbie said she needed a verandah. Had to have one. It was essential. Totally non-negotiable. Bobbie does love sitting outside in the morning with her coffee and the newspaper. But two Category 6 Deluxe Staterooms with Verandah would be way too expensive. Bobbie suggested that Rich and I get a Category 11 Standard Inside Statement near their Category 6 Deluxe room.

So in four short days, my first cruise experience went from Category 4 to Category 9 to Category 11. That’s going backwards. Talk about feeling like steerage! Bobbie did say we should feel free to stop over and use their verandah at any time. Err. We’d be out there at midnight. You’d be asleep. Thanks, but no thanks.

I didn’t want to press the issue since I wasn’t paying for this but I did mention that Rich and I do spend a lot of time in our hotel rooms. Especially in the morning to get going. Not being able to see out anywhere would drive me crazy for seven days. I think Bobbie realized that she couldn’t do that either. So we bumped us up to a Category 8 Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom. I did want a verandah but I saw what Disney calls a porthole and knew I could live with it.

I did yet another email to the travel agent with what I thought were the final plans. One Category 6, one Category 8 and it would be nice but not necessary for the two rooms to be near each other. I got the quote back and forwarded the price and the stateroom numbers to Bobbie. We were set!

No we weren’t. Argh! The staterooms were in the middle of the ship. Not only does Bobbie have to be as high up as possible, she needs to be as forward as possible. Another couple of emails and this time, we were finally set.

Bobbie and Ed are in stateroom 6540 (deck 6) and Rich and I are in 7506 (deck 7). I had to laugh because while Bobbie is getting her verandah, Rich and I are higher and more forward than they are.

Next up was the dinner seating. I thought I had this one nailed. Bobbie and Ed can barely stay awake until 10:00. If we did the early seating, I didn’t think they’d enjoy going to the late shows. So I figured on the late seating. Nope. Bobbie said they can’t wait that long to eat. This is going to be interesting because Rich and I usually start making dinner at 8:00. Heck, we’re still battling the Atlanta traffic when the early seating starts. Oh well, early seating it is. And this is the main reason I went with one travel agent over another. This one could get us the early seating. We were on stand by with the other.

With our reservations now in hand, Bobbie put down the deposits and we were set to cruise a full year in advance. Well, everyone else was set to cruise. For me, it was only the beginning.

The Research –

The rest of the Niklewskis are perfectly happy to just show up for a vacation and let the fun and magic begin without any kind of research. Ed will read up on different history of the area and maybe some fun things to do. But he’ll usually do that in the car on the way there. Bobbie will do a lot of the travel arrangements like hotel calling, plotting routes to get there, etc. But most of that with a cruise is already taken care of. Rich likes to be reminded the day before we leave that we’re going somewhere so he’s absolutely no help whatsoever. But that’s not me at all.

I had a year to get prepared for this cruise. I used just about that entire year. After we came back from our nice family reunion trip to Disney World and it was officially the year 2005, I went cruising. On the internet. I read everything on the official Disney Cruise Line site. Then I read everything I could on allearsnet.com. I went to mouseplanet.com and read all the cruise reports for the seven day Easterns. And some seven day Westerns because the ships are identical if the routes aren’t. I really wish more people would do reports for the cruises. Then I followed links from allearsnet.com to any cruise topic boards I could find and hooked up with castawayclub.com. Great discussion board on there so I went through all the posts and learned a heck of a lot.

At the time I started, Disney was not doing online reservations so a lot of the talk was on getting to the port early and sprinting to make the coveted reservations for Palo dinner, kids clubs, and spa treatments. The Palo dinner was appealing to me because I knew we’d be dining with Bobbie and Ed all seven nights so the thought of “escaping” for one night for $10 extra was a bargain. But castawayclub.com also provides menu listings and when I saw the menu for Palo, I wasn’t that thrilled. The brunch was an option but that never came into play.

I really wanted a massage so I was prepared to go in search of that. But then everything changed with online reservations. Two little things like Castaway Club members and REAS. Basically, for Castaway Club members (returning Disney cruisers), you could get your reservations earlier than us first time grunts. Same way for people who reserved the REAS package (Romance Escape at Sea). While I’m a massage fan, Rich isn’t (think George on “Seinfeld” and you’ll know what I mean). Sure, the other things would be nice but the price was way too much. So I basically was shut out of a massage. Yeah, I wasn’t happy but there’re only so many appointments so I’ll just save the money and do it here locally. My only consolation was a compromise with a foot massage and pedicure. The pedicure isn’t needed but that foot massage would be greatly appreciated. I snagged an appointment for noon on Thursday, the 15th. It’s a sea day and the only thing that wasn’t right at spa opening at 8:00. Why the heck would I get up at the crack of dawn and pay $55? Please, this is a vacation.

I paid attention to the little things. I searched the current Navigators (the daily listing of what was going on board). I looked at all the menus. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I learned that an All Hands on Deck from room service (cheeses and crackers) is perfect for after embarking and unpacking. I learned the difference between embarking and disembarking. I found out that you are off the ship by 9:00 your last day. That Disney does the pick up of luggage much differently from other cruise lines. A 15% gratuity is added in if you order an alcoholic drink at a bar or restaurant. That soft drinks are free on Deck 9 and with a meal but not at a bar. That you can take alcohol on board with you.

I learned about the Rainforest Room (at the spa - $15/day or $75 for all seven days – I’m going to try one day and then go from there). It’s not a massage but it’s relaxation and escape and offers hot steam and interesting showers (you do wear a bathing suit here). There’s wine tastings, bingo, a silent auction, Pirate’s night, a new Jumbotron on Deck 9 for nightly movies. I checked the message board every day and learned just a tad more each time.

I found interesting things to do on our stops at St. Maarten (I know I’ll spell that wrong at least a dozen times), St. Thomas, and Castaway Cay. And saw the recommendation to buy the Passport Guide and finally found it. I poured through that thing and learned even more hints. By the time the cruise rolled around, I thought I knew everything. But I also realized that this is Disney and it’s the Magic so I was sure I’d be surprised.

The Debbie Downers -

That would be everyone else in my party. Rich doesn’t pay any attention to all the planning. He shrugs and says I’m better at it than he is. Quite honestly, I am. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a great time. He just thinks in the present, not in the future. Just days before the trip, I was trying to explain to him how we didn’t need that much cash, that the majority of the tips would be through the Keys to the World card (had to explain that to him too), and that the meals were “free”.

We saw Bobbie and Ed over Thanksgiving and I showed Bobbie the Passporter, not expecting much enthusiasm. She thinks she’s the cruise expert so I’ll shut up. But it did intrigue her and then all of a sudden she wants to do an excursion. Which she told us never to do because it’s too much fun just exploring the islands on your own. This was two weeks before the cruise. Snorkeling, while fun the only time I’ve done it, is fine, I’d much rather go out and see an island that I’ll probably never be back to. At that point, I decided that I’m not worrying about what the in-laws are doing, Rich and I are on our own. It might be my first time but I think I’m educated enough to navigate through things.

Bobbie also didn’t believe in most of what I was telling her about a Disney cruise. The bringing of alcohol on board, the rotational dining (“they all do that”), the embarking procedures (“we’ll just be sitting around waiting at the terminal until they call us”), the disembarking procedures (“no, they assign you how to get off – it’s based on if you are flying or driving – we’ll be last since we’re driving”).

Getting There –

I got us a hotel room at the Best Western Oceanfront in Cocoa Beach for Friday night, the 9th. None of us (at the time) wanted anything extravagant and I went with just one room for the four of us (now a mistake) but it was park and cruise and only $79. The hotel is ocean front but our room isn’t. I figured we wouldn’t be there all that long so it was fine.

Rich and I will be driving from our house to Cocoa Beach on Friday. We’ll leave after the morning rush, somewhere around 9:00. I will monitor the funky Atlanta traffic on ajc.com for any “whoops, there’s a tractor trailer overturned on Spaghetti Junction” reports. If everything goes OK, we should be at the hotel around 5:00 or so. I did think about leaving Thursday night and driving halfway there but then shelved those plans (see next section). Plus, Rich and I are now finally both employed and we don’t even make it home until 6:30 so we’d be in red eye territory if we tried to leave Thursday night.

Bobbie and Ed were going to drive from Maryland but a few months before the trip had a change in plans. My mother-in-law is such a worrier. I know – she’s 69 and my father-in-law is 75 and it’s a long drive. But last year was the clincher for them. That wonderful Disney family vacation we all had together. Bobbie, Ed, and Rich’s brother Dave, had a horrible drive down I95. I had warned them about the holiday traffic but to no avail. With them, you cannot get going early in the morning. So they made terrible time. And vowed never to drive to Florida again during the holidays. Which in their minds, is all of winter.

They won’t fly either. They don’t trust the skies unless they have to. Didn’t leave much. Except the Auto Train. Bobbie booked that for them. $550 for a round trip which isn’t bad and they still have their car. They can relax for a couple of days to get there. They will arrive in Sanford at 8:00 AM Friday. If there are no dead cows on Amtrak or someone doesn’t decide to go around the dropped down restraints on the road (which just happen a month ago near where I work). They will check into the hotel and get everything squared away with the shuttle the next day to the terminal. I will get some feedback from them on the Auto Train experience.

Going Home –

We will be disembarking by 9:00 on Saturday. I’m still on vacation so I’m not heading home right afterward. Bobbie and Ed decided they would stay in Cocoa Beach even before the Amtrak decision. They wanted a leisurely day. They needed to be in Sanford for the train ride back.

I wasn’t going to stay at Cocoa Beach. No appeal for me. Disney World isn’t that far away and that’s where we were headed. Until I changed our minds and booked a Christmas weekend instead. I love Disney World but back to back weekends, which I have done, are nice but let’s see what else we can do.

NASCAR rears its head. Daytona is just up I95. We’re going to Daytona USA and doing the whole racetrack thing. I found a good oceanfront hotel for a decent price and an area we know. I invited Bobbie and Ed up for the day but who knows what they will do. At that point, they might be ready to kill us and vice versa!

So that was the planning, at least on my part, leading up to this trip. How would everything work out? A week long vacation with another couple, who we love with all our hearts but are so very different from us.

Dedication –

This entire trip is dedicated to Bobbie and Ed. They are two of the most generous people in the world. But they don’t give because they can. They give because they want. This trip is truly a gift from the heart. It’s the stuff Dreams are made of.

Hang on to your deck shoes, here we go.

disnut8
08-24-2007, 07:52 AM
Travel Dates - Decembe 9-18, 2005
Travel method - personal car, autotrain
Resort - Disney Magic
Accommodations - Category 6, deluxe oceanview with veranda and Category 8, deluxe oceanview
Ages - two adults, two seniors
Cruise experience - two first time cruisers, two experienced cruisers but first time with Disney
Comments - this is LONG! If you're not into NASCAR or Daytona Beach, skip the last two days and go to The Recap section at the end.

Characters –

Me – Sheri (43) – trip report writer. Disney World fanatic. I’m Dory and Piglet mixed together. Pixie dust happens every day, you just have to look past the clouds sometimes to see it.
Husband – Rich (45). He’s a total Eeyore. His attitude is to think the worst will happen and if it doesn’t then you are not disappointed.

We’re from Brasleton, Georgia which is a “suburb” of the metro Atlanta area. We’re about as far north and east as you can go but we’re still in the metro area.

Father-in-law – Ed (75). Laid back, mellow almost retired psychiatrist. Nature lover to the max.
Mother-in-law – Bobbie (69). Extremely active retired nurse and educator. She’ll be go-go-going all cruise long.

The Older Niklewskis are from Hagerstown, Maryland.

Sailin’ the High Seas the Niklewski (and Disney) Way

Day Zero – Thursday, December 8, 2005 – “I’m Just Grateful for the Time Off”

Both Rich and I worked full days. And had our ups and downs. The down was all the emails that went back and forth between the two of us. The day before we leave and Rich is now asking questions on what attire would be acceptable for formal night, he didn’t realize there was a semi-formal night, and he didn’t have anything tropical for Pirate night. Just last week, we went out to dinner and I took along the Passporter. I told Rich we would be talking nothing but the cruise. That lasted five minutes. He said he knew everything, that he had his wardrobe thought about, etc. The man has the brain capacity of a fruit fly’s life when it comes to anything travel related. I think he just removes the travel stuff when something more important to him comes along. He later said that men do hear women but men choose when they want to listen. Ain’t he so cute?

The ups came with both of our work situations. After three and a half long years, Rich was finally employed again. During the summer, I had switched jobs (Rich now works where I used to work – that would have never happened if I hadn’t left). Rich started his new job in September. So we were both extremely new and expected to take all this time off. Both of us made this vacation a condition of employment and were told by our respective bosses that it was OK and they appreciated the advance warning. Nothing more was mentioned until the trip got closer.

Rich’s boss is very laid back and very much hands off. Nothing has been mentioned on how this would be handled since officially Rich has no vacation. But James just told Rich to have a great trip and he’d see him on the 19th. When I worked for the company, management could advance any vacation time to any employee. So it looks like Rich will get paid for the entire time he’s gone. My boss is a bit more anal retentive, being the Controller and a CPA. Paying someone for not being there when they haven’t earned it means $$$ off the books. I can certainly understand that so I told Warren when I reminded him a few weeks before the trip, he could do whatever he thought was fair. Today, he called me into his office (not a big deal since it’s right next to mine and we only have five people in the office) and said that he would advance me five days of vacation since I had been there “almost” six months (it was four months but that’s OK). The sixth day would be leave without pay. I was very happy with that. Knowing Warren that was the best I could possibly hope for. I would have settled for three paid and three non-paid. I felt this was a very great gift as Warren has had a lot of turn over in my position and I guess he realizes I’m there to stay. I very humbly said “I’m just grateful for the time off”. And I truly am. Warren just said “we all need time with our family”. I love my new job!

It was tough to get through the entire day and Warren was surprised when I told him I’d be working until 5:30. I got everything done that I could and even did some things for next week so he wouldn’t be overloaded. Mostly it was to process checks and trust me, we pay the bills once a week without fail. I got everything set up for that payment run on Monday. Warren would just have to deal with whatever came in on Friday and he’s set. Of course, I’ll have a mound of bills to go through when I get back but that’s the price of a vacation.

I ended up leaving work around 5:15 to make the drive home. Rich also left his work around the same time. We wound up back near the house at the same shopping center. Him to pick up a prescription and get some frozen pizzas for dinner and me to get a hair cut. We were both home by 7:30. Packing still awaited us (me) but we (I) was trying not to panic. I love my husband but I have long given up any hope of him doing anything related to a trip until the night before. This trip, while more involved than any other one we have ever taken, was no different.

So we played around on the PCs for a while and had our pizzas – Rich’s was a “take and bake” pepperoni one and mine was a frozen Freedom bread cheese one. I don’t know what it was but that was a great pizza of mine! I think I was just totally into the vacation mode.

At 9:00, Rich went downstairs to watch TV with our “roommates”, Dawn and Nicole. This is a mother/daughter who are having hard times. They had been evicted and two weeks later Dawn lost her job. They were making the most they could but ran out of options at the end of September. They’ve been staying with us and we had the great news this week that Dawn started a job at a day care center! It’s been tough for them and we’ve tried to make the best of the situation. It’s had some difficult moments but we’re working through everything. More on that tomorrow.

At 10:00, with a first run “ER” on, we started to pack. Total Grr Moments. I had gotten my evening wear together the night before so I put all the delicate things into Ziplocs for safekeeping. Rich finally started to think about what he was taking. I held my tongue as long as I could and then just told him he was on his own for formal night and semi formal night. For formal night, I knew and he knew that he had a nice shirt and a tie. Heck, our son just got married two years ago and Rich wore a suit for that. I had made a concession for the formal night and really didn’t want to pack the suit jacket so I said the shirt and a tie would be fine. Now Rich was concerned that the shirt would be too tight since it pinched his neck at the wedding. And what was he going to do since he didn’t realize there would be a semi formal night? I told him to shut up and went to get the suitcases.

Which were all new (our five cats really like suitcases and there’s no way I’m taking a cat hair infused suitcase on a cruise – yes, they are spoiled but we love them anyway). So I had to figure out how to pack not only for seven days of a normal vacation but then seven days of less casual wear with new suitcases. It wasn’t pretty and was “enlivened” with Rich finally trying to see what he could do with our digital camera.

This camera I’m about ready to chuck. It’s a good camera but I think it has a secret 666 embedded somewhere on it. I’ve lost not one but two recharging units. It’s been on the fritz more than it’s been working. Rich had “found” a charging unit and attempted it. But this camera needs a 5 volt one and the unit was only 4.5 volts. But he tried anyway. About the only thing he managed to do was download the photos already on it and then the camera died yet again. This led to a thirty minute search (of Rich’s) of the entire house to try and find the second recharging unit. We knew it was in the house but countless searches have failed to produce it. We knew the last time we saw it and what it was in. And can’t find it. Every time a search has been attempted, Rich blames *me* for losing the thing. After the first three times, it lost its sense of humor. Again, I was blamed. Not the right timing. I had managed to stuff every nook and cranny of three suitcases with just about everything we owned for a seven day cruise. Plus a laptop computer for a carry on bag, another carry on bag for incidentals, and our denim bag for walking around during the day on the ship and off. It was getting close to midnight so the moods were not the best. It was decided that a stop was needed in the morning not only to get a third recharging unit but at the bank. Two things that could have been done earlier in the week and I trusted Rich to do it. Why I did that is beyond me. I knew we would be late leaving Atlanta. Sheri went to bed after midnight not that happy.

Day One – Friday, December 9, 2005 – “Do We Need a Vacation!”

I had decided to get up at the normal 6:30 AM even though we weren’t planning to leave until 9:00 and the rush hour traffic would be safely died down. We tooled around on the PCs, I packed some of the remaining personal items into the carry ons, and tried to relax as much as possible before the drive and the day. Well, I tried to relax. We each showered and got ready and then the fireworks exploded. And I mean exploded! This was NOT the way to start a vacation and we sure didn’t appreciate it at all. Made me very glad my only son, Chris, is a decent person and always has been.

With Dawn and Nicole living in our house (so far rent free but that’s changing with the job situation), we’ve tried not to interfere with how Dawn raises Nicole. Nicole is about to turn 11 but our seven year old granddaughter, Marlie, is far more mature than Nicole. It’s not Dawn who is in control of their little family, it’s Nicole. Drives us crazy but this is a temporary situation and it’s not our business. We ignore the nightly whine (and I do mean whine) of Nicole to stay up later and Dawn’s usual “just a little bit more honey” indulgence. We’ve endured the nightly stomping upstairs when it finally is bedtime and the crying that Dawn needs to go with Nicole until she falls asleep. We’ve seen Nicole expecting to be waited on hand and foot. And Dawn does it. This morning, though, was the topper. We’re not going to ignore this one at all.

Today was only Dawn’s fifth day on the job. She works 9:30-6:30 which is ideal so she can take Nicole to school and then get to her job in plenty of time. After school, Nicole takes a bus and joins the day care kids (at half price which ain’t bad) at the same place. I knew that they needed to leave the house by 8:30 to get to Nicole’s school (which isn’t the local one since she’s still at the same place from where they used to live). I also knew they just get up, put on clothes and go. Nothing much needed for them. So right after 8:00, we hear the caterwauling. And that’s the only way to put it. Nicole was literally screaming that she did not want to go to school. Rich and I were sitting at our respective PCs which are directly across from each other. I’m closer to the door. I heard everything. Rich just looked up and said “what the hell was that?” He thought maybe some of our cats were getting into mischief. I listened some more and then there was a hysterical outburst of crying from Nicole. And I’m not talking quiet – it was LOUD! The problem I had was I needed to get into that room to get a necklace and a travel alarm clock out before I could pack up the car. Rich and I continued trying to ignore everything, with Rich having more success because he couldn’t hear as much as I could. I was also up and down quite often with little last minute items to pack. I was down to the last two things and cleaning out the car after about 15 minutes of the meltdown.

I walked by the closed door to Dawn and Nicole’s room and Nicole was still screaming. I heard “YOU WOULDN’T CARE IF I DIED!” Quite honestly, at that point *I* wouldn’t have cared if Nicole died. Another five minutes passed and I went downstairs to get the car cleaned out. Dawn was in the kitchen getting something to drink, Nicole was still upstairs wailing. I said “having some difficulties this morning?” as pleasantly as I could. I figured Nicole was just having a bad day. But much to my surprise, Dawn replied, “it’s every morning”. I about died myself right then and there. Rich and I are always out of the house before 7:30 so we never have seen their morning ritual. If I had to go through that even one time, there would NOT be a second time. At that point, I was ready to go into the room, yank Nicole out of there and give her a good dose of Sheri Justice which is definitely NOT pretty. I told Dawn that I needed to get in there and then went out to clean the car.

At least Nicole didn’t get her way and they ended up coming out while I was out there. Nicole balked at even getting into the car. Dawn was clearly upset. I found out later from Rich that Nicole smacked her rolling backpack out the door and he had to yell at her. We have a beautiful hardwood floor and an expensive front door that would cost a fortune to fix. The Dawn and Nicole Show was finally over and it left Rich and me exhausted. It was the longest half hour I have ever lived. And it will be revisited when we get home. There’s no way I’m putting up with that kind of behavior from an 11 year old in my house.

I left Rich to load up Elliott’s trunk (he’s our green Camry that gets great gas mileage) and I went inside (blessedly quiet now) to close things up. PCs were shut down, rooms were checked one more time for last minute items. And more importantly, the cats (who didn’t like the Dawn and Nicole Show either) needed to be said goodbye to. All five are adorable in their own special way. Belle is the only female and she’s almost four. She’s the timid one and it took a while to find her under the cedar chest in the bedroom. That’s not unusual for her as she likes to tuck herself into a corner to sleep. So I waved goodbye from a distance. She yawned she understood. The other four cats, all males, got big hugs. Gus, Belle’s litter mate, doesn’t like to be picked up but tough for this time. Same with Meeko, who is almost two. But his litter mate, Nemo, loves to cuddle so he was easy. Our king cat, Todd, almost nine, is the easiest. He weighs a ton and clearly rules the roost. And he’s so bendable. He got the biggest hug. We will definitely miss these guys. All five are rescued from various situations and have graciously allowed us to adopt them. They enrich our lives and I hope we do the same back to them.

We didn’t leave the house until after 9:00 which was fine but we still had those two stops to make. The bank wasn’t that bad except for some traffic. We knew we didn’t need that much cash but wanted the maximum just in case. Then to the electronics store for the damn recharger. That didn’t take that long but it still was a detour. We were finally on the way south by 10:00. I had told Bobbie and Ed we’d be at the hotel by 5:00 but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Oh well, 6:00 would be fine.

The drive was utterly and completely BORING! It was I75 to I10 to I295 to I95 to Cocoa Beach. There’s nothing to see along the way at all. I had given Elliott enough food the day before (at $1.86/gallon – whoo hoo!) so he was fine for getting us almost to our destination without stopping. But we humans did. I took a snooze and woke up south of Macon. A bathroom and some human food were needed so we combined the two needs and utilized a McDonald’s. Figured to get our fast food fix before all those cruise meals. Then I took over driving and stopped at the Florida Welcome Center just to get some brochures and for a stretch. I foolishly told Rich I could continue to drive and he actually took me up on it. Darn it. We still had four more hours to go so it was the least I could do. I drove us to south of Jacksonville and then I had enough. My eyes were dry and I just wasn’t going to be the best of drivers. We only had a couple more hours so we stopped at a gas station to give Elliott some more food ($2.17/gallon – yeck) and to switch drivers. Rich drove us to Cocoa Beach with me giving directions.

I called Bobbie when we got past Daytona (with me giving proper homage to the racetrack – couldn’t see it from the interstate but we knew where it was). She said for us to call when we got closer since we needed a pass for the car and had to sign a waiver for leaving Elliott there for the week while we cruised. She’d meet us in the lobby. Then she said I did well with the hotel and that they were sitting on the balcony overlooking the ocean. What? We were not supposed to get an oceanfront room. Not with only paying $79 for the night. Bobbie confessed that they had asked for an upgrade once they got there. More on that later.

We finally pulled up to the Best Western around 6:00. I can really predict my in-laws. Bobbie scurried down to meet us and I warned Rich that his parents would be anxious to go to “supper” (we call it dinner) right away. Both of us were extremely tired from the week, the morning, and the drive. Plus, usually at this time, we are still on the way home from work and not really even thinking that much about food, just getting through the front door of our house is the main goal. We got everything squared away with the hotel. I have to give the Best Western Oceanfront very high marks. One of my measuring tools for hotel service is the staff. We dealt with a different person than Bobbie and Ed had checked in with but everything was just like they were told earlier. No problems at all. We drove Bobbie back to the oceanfront building. The lobby and restaurant (Durango’s Steakhouse) are towards Route A1A to grab the attention, the two story non oceanfront buildings are separate and towards the ocean. The eight story high oceanfront tower is right on the beach. Bobbie had given us the room number (806) when we called and sure enough, it was on the eighth floor. Bobbie just has to have a room on a high floor. Proving that I can predict his parents, I told Rich I’d bet him $20 there was only eight floors.

I had packed our things so we only had to take in the laptop bag and one light carry on. The other three very stuffed suitcases remained with Elliott for the night. Once we got to the room, Rich and I were ready for some relaxation. I had a box of wine for the evening and wanted to pop that thing ASAP. I also had the start of what could have been a nasty headache but had taken a couple of aspirin hoping to stop the thing before it really started. Only to discover that for the cruise, I’d only have three pain relievers left. That was not going to do. We also realized that our sleepwear was packed in one of those three stuffed suitcases and there was no way we were going to go through them to find things. If we could, we’d get something suitable but if not, I could at least get more aspirin across the street at Publix. All those issues were decided in the first five minutes. Right after that, Ed said “well, why don’t we go and get something to eat?” I just about died and the look on my face must have been a good one because Ed quickly followed up with “or do you guys want to relax for a bit?” Gee, I don’t know, we’ve been up since 6:30, had the Dawn and Nicole Show to deal with, then drove for eight hours, what the hell do you think? You’ve been sitting on your butt for the past two days on the Auto Train, had an hour drive from that to here and have been walking the beach and watching the ocean all day. I held my tongue though and just replied that I wouldn’t mind having a glass (or two) of wine before we went out. Hell, I wasn’t even hungry yet.

We managed to “relax” for about an hour, telling Bobbie and Ed about the Dawn and Nicole Show. They are very concerned for us but they are parents and think they know what is best. Of course, they haven’t seen the situation in person so they are giving advice, while appreciated, that isn’t necessarily suitable. We listen politely but make our own decisions together. Right at 7:00, Ed made the plea for supper again. I had read the boards and decided on Rusty’s which was a casual seafood place. But popular and I didn’t hold out much hope. I had also discussed Grills with Bobbie. The problem was Rusty’s was to the south, Grills was back north near the port. Since I was in the mood for seafood, I chose Rusty’s. Rich made the comment that we could just go to the hotel restaurant. But that was a steakhouse and that’s not what I wanted.

We piled into Elliott after Bobbie suggested we take their car but have Rich drive. What was the sense? Bobbie is such a parent. Her reasoning is that we shouldn’t use our gas. Jeez, we’re in our forties, both employed and Rusty’s was just down the road. But not according to Bobbie and Ed. They both had it stuck in their minds that it was at the port. That was Grills. They kept insisting we were going the wrong way. I got very frustrated with everyone at that point since Rich, who thought it was cute, kept saying we were going to “Ralph’s”. I had the three of them just pushing me and pushing me. I finally said, in a kidding sort of way, that I would love to kill everyone in the car. Elliott wouldn’t mind the blood. Yes, it had been a long, long day.

We didn’t make it to Rusty’s or Ralph’s. It was too crowded which was expected. Then Ed suggested we go to Grills, Rich suggested back to the hotel and that restaurant. I gave up. The Niklewskis go through what I call the Restaurant Dance. They can never decide on any place to eat. It’s either too expensive, or doesn’t look right, or doesn’t have the right kind of food, or the moon isn’t full, or something. Rich was driving and knew I was getting upset so we ended up right back at the Best Western and the steakhouse. I was worried that it would be too expensive but it worked out OK. When Rich walked in and the first sign he saw was a Budweiser one, he knew it would be a winner.

Dinner (not supper in my book) was OK but just nothing to write home about. It started off a little rocky with the damn margaritas. I swear my mother-in-law never makes it through a meal without complaining about something. There was a special for 2 for 1 margaritas, which were a specialty of Durango’s. All different flavors. I wasn’t in the mood for a fruity drink so I just wanted a glass of wine. The only problem with the drink off was both margaritas had to be the same flavor. Bobbie only wanted a regular one, Ed wanted a flavored one. He settled for a regular one so Bobbie could be happy. Rich decided on blackberry and got two for himself. After ordering, Rich then realized he could give Ed one of his blackberry and take the regular one. To make his father happy. Which it did. Drinks came out, everyone was happy. No they weren’t. Bobbie said her drink was awful, tasted just like lime water, blah, blah, blah. Rich tried the other one and agreed. Then started the whole debate, which seemed to last an hour. Should they tell the waitress the drink was bad? Why was the drink bad? Did the bartender forget the alcohol? Was it too icy? Too frozen? Too much lime? On and on and on. I thought my headache would come back. It was very aggravating. Sometimes I think Rich’s family is too intelligent because everything turns into a full blown discussion. I think there are times there’s even a bibliography attached to some conversations.

Ed finally called the waitress over and told her the drinks didn’t taste that great. The flavored ones were fine but the plain one wasn't. The waitress offered to bring two flavored ones but that wasn’t to Bobbie’s liking. She had to have a plain margarita, darn it. The waitress offered one on the rocks to try. No, that wasn’t suitable either. Bobbie finally sighed, looked at my wine (which was fine and dandy, thank you very much) and said she’s have one of those. Rich settled for a beer. I thought that would be the end of things but this was all followed by another 10 minutes of why those damn drinks were bad. I finally had enough and asked if we could PLEASE change the subject. And I have to put up with a week of this stuff?

The meal was OK. Bobbie had the pulled pork sandwich while Rich and Ed did the chopped steak. I got an open faced prime rib sandwich that was definitely not what I expected. It was more like a regular steak and a whole sandwich. Mine came with fries so Rich generously got a baked potato with his meal and we switched spuds. Of course, Ed had to sample some of the fries. He does that anytime anyone ever orders fries. “Just a couple”. It’s a well worn joke with us. Bobbie and Ed picked up the check for dinner. It was OK but the day was a killer for me and I was ready for relaxation and the true start to my vacation.

It was only 8:30 when we got back to the room so we had no choice but to watch Friday night TV, which we almost never do. Bobbie and Ed used the time to get cleaned up. They had refused to shower on the train because the conditions were cramped. We did get the 411 on the Auto Train. Overall, a very positive experience and one that I think they will consider seriously in the future. They boarded in Alexandria, VA (got lost because of construction so all the Amtrak signs were removed). Left on time and actually arrived in Sanford, FL just a little over an hour late, at 9:00 AM today. I believe the whole trip took two days. They had a stateroom which they said was fine during the day but cramped at night. They had their own bathroom and that’s a big hint for anyone thinking about the Auto Train. Others had to share a common bathroom. One big laugh I got (secretly) was Bobbie’s description of a woman from New York who just wasn’t pleased with anything. This would become my very own little way of reminding myself that people never really see that things they criticize others for are some of their own faults.

Everybody just unwound from the day. Bobbie was asleep by 10:00, Ed a little later and Rich and I turned in about 11:00 which was early for us. We’re usually up until midnight or later. Insane for getting up at 6:30 every morning but it works for us. However, we were exhausted and tomorrow would be a very busy day.

The cost of upgrading the room put the final tab at over $150. It made Bobbie & Ed to happy to have the ocean front room so that was fine. In retrospect, two rooms would have been better. But at the time of reservation, our finances were precarious so we accepted the generosity and went on.

Day Two – Saturday, December 10, 2005 – Schnauzers, Cilantro, and Cold Soup

We all agreed to sleep until we naturally woke up. Which for me was an uncommon nine hours later at 8:00. Bobbie was up around that time and while she promised to be as quiet as possible and go out to the balcony for her newspaper reading and breakfast, she didn’t count on the door opening to extremely bright sunshine every time she went in and out. No problem since I just got up and worked on the report. Rich was OK as well. We felt rested but when is that enough?

Rich had asked me all about getting to the terminal. I knew the details. The hotel arranged for an outside service. We were to be in the lobby at 11:15 to be picked up. I always worry about these things. Have concerns about the shuttle being overloaded and we’d be left at the hotel and miss whatever travel plans we had. Rich was concerned I was concerned. Again, I correctly predicted his parents and Ed had to call down to the front desk and verify the date, the time, the location, the latitude and longitude of the pickup.

Bobbie did her Mother Thing and wanted to know if I had enough aspirin for the cruise. Plus motion sickness medicine. I did have the motion stuff. I was a little concerned since I had gotten horribly sick on my father’s boat a few years back. But that aspirin was a mission. Rich and I set out for the short walk over to the Publix across the street. Bobbie (who had gotten breakfast fixings for her and Ed at Publix the day before) had to advise us to use the walkway. Ugh! I finally escaped from Niklewski Control Center with my husband and we accomplished our goal with a $1.99 purchase of a generic bottle of Publix aspirin (after being reminded by Bobbie that store brands are just as good as name brands and cheaper – she’s never seen my stocked pantry of Kroger brands). Rich picked up a Diet Coke and we walked back The Green Mile, I mean, to the hotel room and the parents. I did feel like I was back in elementary school!

Our meet time for the shuttle wasn’t until 11:15 but, right as I predicated to Rich on our walk, Ed was itching to go at 10:30 because “he could be there early and we might miss him”. They quickly packed up everything and then headed down to the car. Rich and I were already packed so it was a simple matter of me turning off the laptop and stowing that. I thought Ed said something about coming back up to the room so we dawdled a little longer and then realized that Bobbie and Ed had left nothing of theirs back in the room. I guess we’d be meeting them down at the cars.

I took a few pictures from the balcony. You could see the Cape Canaveral shuttle launch pads in the distance. The Best Western Oceanfront hotel in a tower room would be an ideal place to watch a space shuttle launch. Then we took our things down to the car. Bobbie and Ed had already left to go to the lobby! Rich and I chuckled and I did yet another “do I know your parents or what?” thing. Earlier I had told Rich that I wouldn’t be happy until I was actually at the terminal but it didn’t bother me that much because his father would do all the worrying for me. Damn, I hate it when I’m right all the time!

Interjection here. Rich and I are both in a fantasy football league. Our playoffs start this weekend. Because of my “sterling” (she says sarcastically) 3-25 record, I was eliminated very early (heck, I didn’t even get my last two wins until two weeks ago). Rich, however, came out of nowhere and won his division. He had submitted his lineup before we left but had a critical quarterback decision to make. Steve McNair, who didn’t practice this week but probably would start, versus Trent Green. Rich had put in Green but wanted McNair (who was playing a horrible team) but only if McNair was healthy enough. He enlisted our son, Chris, to be the caretaker of making that critical decision right up to Sunday game time. Rich had called Chris last night and got our daughter-in-law, Chandra. Which was fine because she, like her wonderful mother-in-law, is a football fan so knows her stuff. She was online while on the phone with Rich and said she would monitor the situation for Rich. However, Rich read or heard that McNair would be starting tomorrow so he was in a quandary about what to do and how The Kids (as we refer to Chris and Chandra) were going to handle it. We knew cell phones would not be an option once we set sail today at 5:00. So when we got to the lobby, Rich made Sprint happy and called The Kids. Who, of course, weren’t up yet (I mean it was before 11:00). He left a message and then was forced to ponder this whole situation for the next couple of hours.

We met up with Bobbie and Ed and lugged everything into the lobby. Rich and Bobbie moved the cars over to the adjacent Days Inn lot, which was owned by Best Western. Rich made sure Elliott was safe and secure for the next week. He did put the windshield sunshade on backwards. When he told me he had done that, I had to laugh. Rich had proudly gotten a Kurt Busch NASCAR shade this summer. I hated it since I’m not a Kurt Busch fan. After Mr. Busch’s little incident in Las Vegas and his unfortunate suspension for the last two races, this shade hasn’t seen the light of day. Rich said he didn’t want Elliott broken into by a rabid anti-Busch racing fan. OK – lots of sports in the last two paragraphs. Don’t worry, there will be more – tomorrow is football Sunday.

Another family piled out of a SUV and loaded up the rest of the lobby with their suitcases. Ed fretted about the shuttle getting there. I was more concerned about the size of the van. There were a total of nine people and luggage out in the lobby area. But everything was fine as an Art’s Shuttle van pulled up with a trailer for the luggage. Perfect. The driver was fantastic. He made sure we didn’t have to handle the suitcases any more than to get them out the door. He loaded everything, explained how things worked to Ed and the other Dad. I got into the van and was being nice and went all the way to the back. It was difficult since I was lugging our carryons but I managed. Thankfully, I am a small person. Rich followed and then Bobbie who worried about where Ed went. I again correctly replied that he was in the back worrying about the handling of their luggage. For the record, we did adhere the specially provided Disney cruise line luggage tags to our three overloaded suitcases before Art’s got there. At the last minute, Bobbie decided one of her overloaded suitcases would be a carryon. So did Ed. These were the big rolling suitcases but were still small enough for carryons. The thought of dragging one of those all over the ship until the room was ready was not a thing Rich or I wanted to do. We just had the laptop bag (Disney won’t take PCs as checked anyway), another bag with our books, and the denim bag for every day. Rich ended up with the heavy laptop bag and the equally heavy other bag.

The other family in the van turned out to be very nice. The mom sat in front of Bobbie and, of course, Bobbie ended up talking with her the entire way to the Port. But it was such a nice conversation. The other family was going on the Carnival Glory but when the mom heard we were on Disney, she just re-enforced everything I had been telling Bobbie for the past year. How Disney was far better than any other cruise line, how we would love it even though we were all adults, how the food was better, the service was better, etc. I kept poking Rich every time the mom said something extremely positive about the Disney Cruise Line. After about five minutes, Rich begged me to stop. Seriously, the mom just went on and on raving about Disney! Great way to start the day.

The other family was dropped off first and this driver sure earned his tip today. While there was a long line of cars waiting to drop off luggage at the terminal, he went around them, cut through the line and went to the back of the staging area and got the next available parking space. This is the only way to get to the terminal, in my opinion. Driving yourself looks to be a bit of a mess. This was about 11:30 AM. The other family was quickly unloaded and we might get to see (sea?) them again as the Glory is taking the same route as the Magic.

Then we were whisked (and whisk is the correct term) over to Disney’s terminal. I had given Rich $5 to tip the Disney porters that I had read were ready and willing to handle all our bags. Ed took care of paying the Art’s driver and getting the instructions for our return. The fare for this leg was $4/person so Ed handed over a $20 bill and told the driver to keep the change. The driver said the porter would be right there but there was a stretch limo in front of us and I guess they had a huge crowd and an equal amount of luggage. We didn’t see any Disney porter. The driver ended up taking our luggage and walking with us down to the loading area. Needless to say, that $5 in tip ended up with the Art driver than with any Disney Cast Member. It was probably just bad timing but not expected. But we moved on with our carryons and the pull alongs.

Up to the first check point. This was to make sure we belonged here. Passports out, names checked off on a master list. Jeez, if you weren’t going onto the ship, you sure as heck weren’t going to get close to the terminal building. There is no “seeing off of your family” here. We had the Limo Families in front of us so it was a bit of a delay but we used the time to pull out our Passports and we were set. Through that and then entered the line for security check. Thank you bin Laden (more sarcasm inserted) for this procedure. Everyone had something that needed to be checked, pockets that needed emptying, bodies that needed to be searched. Bobbie had a moment when we saw the sign that said no weapons (who would be stupid enough to do that?) or alcohol could be brought on board. The reason Bobbie was pulling along the huge carryon was because she had a couple of bottles in there that she was sure would be destroyed if she checked the thing. I told her to chill, no one cares and Disney allows alcohol on board. This was one point I had tried to get her to believe all year long. Rich and I had three five liter boxes of wine in our checked luggage. Bobbie was sure her alcohol would be confiscated. But we were fine going through security when we got there. Yes, people, your unworn jackets do need to be X-rayed as well. Things flowed smoothly, though.

A word about the passports. We got them. Me for the first time (Rich needed one when he traveled with the Air Force). Through 2005, the US government wavered on if we needed them by 12/31/05 or not. Either way, we didn’t have to have them. But we got them anyway. It really was painless for us although the closest post office to me shut down during lunch which was the only time I could go. But I made it to another one nearby. Yes, it does cost money but it was so much easier than taking my birth certificate. I still have my original one and it’s about ready to fall apart. The ink is actually fading on it. The passport was much more durable and reliable. Now I’m just hoping I get to use it more.

Then up to the terminal area and the line. And what a line! I really didn’t think it would be that bad but it was. First of all, having to deal with three people who couldn’t figure out which line was for US citizens. It snaked outside the queue area but not that much. Rich was insistent we were in the wrong place. Bobbie and Ed were concerned because there were lots of people huddled around the tables filling out forms. I just went over to the correct line and plopped my stuff down. We were in the right place. There was a Nazi lady trying to make sure everyone had their paperwork filled out. I knew I did. But when she got to the guy in front of me and found out he didn’t have the Bahamas entrance stuff done, she made him get out of line to do that. What? I didn’t have that done because I figured they’d take that once we got to the Bahamas. Fortunately, Broomhilda decided to escort the guy over to the tables and I got the forms and did those while in line. I could have done it in Braille since we stood in line for about an hour. I knew with the timing of the shuttle service, this could happen. I didn’t say anything but I dislike standing in line while bureaucracy moves slowly forward. Plus, I was down right thirsty.

The Disney Cast Member at the head of the line to guide us to the next available check in person was great. We were told we would be helped by a world famous lady. Mary Kay. Rich said “oh, she has her own cosmetic company!” Oh – just as we were going to be helped, another Cast Member had come through and asked if we had everything torn out of the booklet. I hadn’t done any of that since, like Rich said, it’s like if you tear off the ticket admission at a movie theatre that makes your entrance null and void. I felt awful that I hadn’t done that yet. Plus, it was a point several times that the credit card you put down for payment authorization has to be presented when you check in. So you can’t just put down an account and not take the card with you. We only have a debit card that looks like a Visa card, acts like a Visa card, quacks like a Visa card, but just has the funds taken directly out of our checking account immediately. It’s much, much better for us to work without having any credit debt at all.

But back to checking in. Mary Kay was great and Bobbie and Ed ended up being helped at the counter right next door. Turns out Mary Kay also had a Polish name (her maiden one) and mentioned that she grew up in Pennsylvania. Small, small world. Where in PA? Dureya. Hey, I’m from Reading, Rich was born in Norristown, Bobbie in Williamsport, Ed in Nanticoke. Until Chandra was made a Niklewski two years ago, all of us were born in Pennsylvania (Chris was born in Kingston). Extremely small world with Mary Kay. She took care of us very well. Made the hour long wait almost acceptable.

When we had cleared security, we were given a card to board with group #11. Of course, by the time we made it through the line, anyone could board. The line to check in now was almost back to the escalators so it was good we were through. This was around 12:30 or so. We walked on board, had our Key to the World cards swiped (from now on, called room keys) and then came the picture crap.

Rich hates having his picture taken. Absolutely hates it. I told him there would be several times on the cruise where it’s just expected. But I wasn’t going to force him. Entering the ship is kind of obvious. We weren’t exactly dressed in our best attire but what the heck. Bobbie and Ed started complaining about how expensive the pictures would be and how they really never buy the things. Which made Rich question why even do the pictures to begin with. Sigh. Just do this and shut up! So we did. First Rich and me, then the four of us, then Bobbie and Ed. With the in-laws saying they’d never buy the damn things. Well, it took five minutes so just behave.

And then we were on the ship! I wanted to take my time and soak in the whole “I’m finally here!” thing. Nope. A Cast Member asked for our last name, I gave it and then it was announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Niklewski family to the Disney Magic!” Wow! I felt a little magic at that point. Which was quickly dashed. Bobbie and Ed needed lunch. On a mission. Had to have lunch. It was free after all. Bobbie was the schnauzer and took off. Here’s the take on the schnauzer. Rich’s family had two miniature schnauzers in his time at home. Snookie and Nikky. Both did the same thing. On family walks, the dog would take the lead, scope out the territory and then patiently wait for the humans to catch up. Bobbie is our human schnauzer. She took off, wheeling the ungodly carryon that I swear grew two sizes in the past hour. Ed followed (with his emptying stomach) behind with his huge wheeled thing. I just wanted to take a pause and get my bearings. It was not to be. I felt like a cow being led to slaughter. All my good feelings went overboard with the trash.

We were herded back to the aft (you board on Deck 3, BTW). There, we could dine at Parrot Cay (which would have been nice but once the schnauzer heard “formal”, she bailed) or take the lift (elevator for all the US people) to Deck 9 for Topsiders buffet. Buffet means more food so that’s where the schnauzer headed. Along with everyone else. I was tired (standing in line kills my back big time) and aggravated. Where was my “WOW!” moment? Gone. Plus, I had to deal with these two huge rolling contraptions in the lift, err, elevator. We got through all that mess, got our hand washing towels for the buffet and then I loudly exclaimed “LET’S JUST GET A TABLE AND DUMP ALL THIS CRAP!” OK, not a magical moment at all but my nerves were frayed. I mean, we were at the freaking kids pool. Not relaxing by any stretch of the imagination. But at least we found the Deck 9 beverage station. I said “Rich, this is where you will be every morning of the cruise”. Rich is a morning Diet Coke fiend and need his cold caffeine fix. I brought travel mugs just for this purpose.

We dropped everything off at a table and then Bobbie and Ed were anxious for food. I figured they’d obsess over leaving half of their belongings unattended so I was willing to stay and not get food. Not in the mood to eat right now anyway. But, to my surprise, the in-laws said “no one will take these things, let’s go”. I grabbed a cup of water and then went to the buffet line.

It was an OK buffet but none of us had any clue as to what was offered. Ed already had some steak on his plate when he saw the peel and eat shrimp. Bobbie couldn’t find the salads. They had a hard time with the desserts. I just grabbed some stuff and escaped back to the table. We ate outside and I was glad. It was a bit noisy with the kids in the pool but at least it was a break. We wanted to wait until after 1:30 so we could get into our rooms. Bobbie was on a mission (she always has a mission) to find out what free exercise classes were available. We were in the aft section, we needed to go forward for our staterooms anyway so I suggested walking along Deck 9 and check out the different pool options and things and then go to the rooms. That’s what we did after enjoying lunch and me getting my Disney mood back. If this was the worst I had to deal with, it wasn’t that bad. I needed and deserved a break from my in-laws. I love them but cannot be around them 24/7 and it was getting close to that dangerous 24 hour mark.

After 1:30 we strolled Deck 9. Well, we walked Deck 9. Schnauzer was in the lead again and the only time she stopped was to point out “Rich’s” pizza. This was one of my little jokes with Rich. He’s a pizza hound. Seriously. He and Chris could easily eat pizza every day of the week. When this cruise was decided on, I put Rich on a pizza diet. He didn’t like it but did fantastically well. He was limited to pizza once a month. Yes, once a month. That was down from once a week. A slice at a sporting event or at Disney World didn’t count. It was the “go to the restaurant and order a whole pizza and eat it myself” or worse, “I’d like two medium pizzas delivered please”. All that stuff went out the window. I’ll tell you, pizza nights were treated like Oscar Nights in our home. Actually, we think Papa John’s believes we moved because we haven’t had delivery pizza in over a year. Rich actually plans his pizza meals now. I left him off the leash for the week.

We did make it down to the spa area and Bobbie was so confused. Maybe it was pulling that huge thing behind her (the suitcase, not Ed). We were right at the spa and Bobbie did a complete turnaround because she didn’t realize that the helpful Cast Member with the handouts was the Spa person. Finally! Bobbie had her exercise class schedule. Nothing that she had to pay for. With that mission out of the way, we could finally escape and get to our rooms. Bobbie and Ed had to see our room first so we grabbed the lift for the flight down two decks. Rich and I were primed for the stairs but not with the Rolling Suitcases From Hell. We found our stateroom of 7506 without problems. Of course, I had known the exact location for the entire year so knew where I was going. Into the stateroom and I was impressed. More description to follow.

We did have this HUGE fruit tray waiting for us from our travel agent. Very nice. More fruit than we could possibly eat ourselves. Plus a dessert tray and a bottle of cider. Excellent way to start the true vacation.

Because we just dropped off our bags and then had to go to Bobbie and Ed’s room. They were one deck below. Again, they had to take the lift. Rich and I walked the stairs. The location of the rooms is nice in that they are both on the starboard side and forward. Just a quick one deck down and then a little back and we are at the in-laws. We surveyed their room and the verandah. After this quick trip, I am a little glad we didn’t get a verandah room. More on that later as well.

Bobbie and Ed ended up with two dessert trays but they got a bottle of Asti champagne and one of cider as well. We’d be well set for snacks for the entire cruise!

After a very quick visit to Bobbie and Ed’s room (6540), I made puppy dog eyes at Rich and said that I’d like to go to the room and unload our carryons and get settled. We had a mandatory life boat drill at 3:30 and that was another excuse. We weren’t at the same location as the in-laws and that was good. What I wanted was just time away from Bobbie and Ed. I wanted my “I’m here” moment and hadn’t gotten it yet.

So Rich and I went back to our stateroom. And I explored thoroughly while Rich quickly found the ESPN and ESPN2 stations. And pondered his fantasy football lineup YET again. He had been agonizing about it all day. Added to my aggravation. Here’s the description of the stateroom. Extremely nice and probably bigger than some hotel rooms we’ve been in. Skip this part if you’ve ever stayed on a Disney cruise. When you walk in there’s the half toilet area on your right and the big closet on your left. Then it’s the other half bathroom area with the shower on your right with the other side of the closet on the left (where the safe is). Then there’s a drawer unit with the ice bucket and glasses on top of it to the left. Then it’s the connecting door (family with kids over there). Then it’s the bed on the right with an upright trunk for more storage space to the left. Then it’s the sitting area with the TV and desk on the left and a couch and table on the right. The porthole is naturally, facing out to sea. Extremely nice area for two adults. TONS of places for unpacking. Lots and lots of hangers in the closets. There is a beverage cooler under the TV and more storage on top. I had heard horror stories about cruise cabins and living areas but this was extremely nice. We would be very comfortable for the next seven days. The only problem I had with the cabin was for both the bathroom areas, you had to step up slightly. I figured I’d stumble most of the times for my wee hours of the morning visits. I actually made it through the entire cruise not having that happen.

We had some time now for a walk around the ship so I grabbed the map and we just started walking. Did all the decks and saw where everything was. Checked things out on a much more leisurely pace. No more lugging around walking suitcases or schnauzers. We checked out the location of all the restaurants, the two theatres, the spa (again). But the highlight was the Wide World of Sports Deck. Specifically, the damn ping pong tables. We had seen these earlier and Rich knew how to play. What he didn’t count on was my play of the game. My sister and I spent countless hours in our basement whapping around the ball while we were growing up. Rich was very smug when we started against each other. In almost 24 years of marriage, this was one sport we never tried together. HA! At the end, Rich said “I might have found something you are capable of doing”. Gotta love the man.

The initial thought for the walk was to get a drink so we checked out the bar situation. The Outlook bar on Deck 10 didn’t have draft beer so that was passed in favor of Signals on Deck 9. Rich got his draft Budweiser and I got a glass of white wine. We’d find out later this was probably not the best option but, hey, we’re cruise virgins and it’s our first hour of true vacation. Those room keys will be getting used.

We made it back to the room and our suitcases were waiting for us outside! Hooray! We had time before the drill so we dragged everything in and did the unpacking. There was no way we could live out of a suitcase for the next week.

By this time though, Rich was antsy. He was so worried about the Steve McNair decision. He still had Trent Green in there. The Kids hadn’t called him back. We were still in port, we still had 15 minutes until the life boat drill. I made him call The Kids. Chandra answered and Rich talked her through how to make the change to his lineup. Would it pay off? I am so glad my son had the good sense to marry this wonderful woman. I consider Chandra one of my best friends now. We have helped each other through so much over the past three years of their togetherness. It really did hurt that we would not be able to chat with The Kids for the next week. That was difficult. But not as difficult as when I was filling out the cruise forms and got to the emergency contact. You know the line from “Love Story”? “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?” Well, cutting the apron strings means “Son, I put you down as my emergency contact”. Chris and Chandra are the only ones with any info on where we are for the next week. I would have even done that if Bobbie and Ed weren’t with us. Sniff, sniff on the growing up process.

After Rich’s lineup was changed (would it work?) but Chandra promising to check even right up to game time tomorrow, our Cruise Director Brent came on and told us the life boat drill was going to happen. I had to laugh at our Cruise Director’s name. Chandra’s daughter is Marlie and her father is Brent who is very much a part of Marlie’s life. So it was very funny our Cruise Director was named Brent. I might have to track him down to give Marlie an autograph.

The Lifeboat Drill. Not a problem. Our life jackets were in the room and very easy to put on. Once the signal went off, it was so simple to go down to Deck 4 and to our assembly area. Very orderly and everyone was participating. The kids were great. We were told to stand in order of height but keep our room together. Easy for Rich and me to do. Since we were only two, we were directed to join another family. All the rooms were checked off as we arrived without us having to do anything. The room numbers are in big black on the front of the orange life vests so that was easy. A very efficient guy checked off everything on a master list. Two more Cast Members directed us and positioned us. Very quickly, we were all at CheckPoint Charlie (C for those who don’t know the military alphabet). I saw the Checking Off Guy do a little smile and give a big thumbs up to the Lead Guy. We were all here! Whoo hoo to all of my fellow life boat comrades. I did look up at the bright yellow life boat and gave a silent wish that I hoped we didn’t need to meet again. BTW – did you know that initially Disney had to get special permission to have their life boats be yellow? That fit in with their paint scheme. They were granted the wish and since then, other cruise ships also have yellow life boats. I don’t care what color they are, I just want them to hold everyone on board and to float once in the water.

We listened to the announcement on what to do during a true emergency (scary thought but necessary) and then we were released. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes. We were told to be ready at 3:30 but we actually didn’t get the warnings until 4:00. I guess it’s like with my sister-in-law – tell her at least an hour early so she’s there on time. On the way back to the room, we overheard a father explaining to his about six year old son what had just happened. The father’s ominous words were “well, next time we have to do this, it will be for real”. Child “ooooohhhhhhhhh”. Point very well made, Dad.

I checked out the Personal Navigator for what was going on for the rest of the day. I wasn’t that interested in the Welcome Aboard presentation in the Walt Disney Theatre. Just a magician and a juggler and a couple of musical numbers. Until I saw who the juggler was. I just about shrieked. There was a juggler who performed on the Boardwalk at Disney World numerous times. Our friend, Lindy, had told us about him. He also performed before the late, great Hunchback of Notre Dame show at MGM. Randy was his name. We never knew his last name until I stumbled upon an older Navigator during my last year of research and Randy’s picture was in there. IT WAS HIM! He would be the juggler tonight. Decision made to go to that show!

Bobbie and Ed came up to our room for the Sail Away Party. Rich and I took our travel mugs filled with wine along. It was the first day of vacation after all! I headed us all up to Deck 10 where the party was going in full swing. The in-laws had to see everything but I poised myself right outside midship but on the terminal side so I could see the Cast Member send off. I wanted that moment and wasn’t going to let any of the surprises out to Bobbie and Ed. But I did tell Rich that there was no way they’d be able to tell what the ship horn was going to be playing. Sure enough, here comes 5:00 and the horn blasts “When You Wish Upon a Star”. Bobbie and Ed were still midship enjoying the Deck 9 festivities so I had no idea if they “got it”. I saw the terminal Cast Members waving the Mickey hands for goodbye so I went down and got Ed to see it. Schnauzer, I mean, Bobbie *had* to go forward and sense the ship leaving the dock. I stayed and waved to Mickey for a while and then joined the others. I continued to wave to anyone on shore who would wave back. Or on another boat. A casino boat was docked and did some blasts to the Magic. Our captain responded with When You Wish Upon a Star again. That’s when I found out that not only had Bobbie and Ed not known what was being played, hadn’t even heard it the first time! That was the start of the “we don’t get it” moments. By the end of the cruise, I didn’t care. I decided I’m not really a Niklewski after all. I have imagination and Disney Dreams.

On the way out of Port Canaveral, we saw four or five dolphins between us and the port. Chandra loves dolphins and said to be on the lookout for them. I didn’t expect them this close to shore but found out later that dolphins do stay closer to shore. So look for dolphins among the many things to do at the Sail Away Party.

Back to the room for final unpacking and settling in. We could now really enjoy our wine we brought on board. It’s not the most elegant of things but hey, it works for us. I decided for my first night dinner, even though it was “casual”, that a dress was in order. Well, a skirt and black short sleeve pull over. Nothing fancy and something that I would wear to work (although most of the time I follow the lead of the president and just wear jeans). Rich was in work casual himself (he has a dress code). Around 5:30, we went down to Bobbie and Ed’s cabin before dinner. Our rotation was Parrot Cay, Lumiere’s, and then Animator’s Palate. Disney was doing the staggered dining so we had the 6:00 shift (the others were 5:45 and 6:15).

We met our server, Kristian, and assistant server, Michelle. Nice enough people but things were a bit spotty for tonight. Just seemed to take a while in between everything. Our head server, MacLean (Mac), introduced himself later and apologized and said things would get better. Kristian and Michelle had never worked together before and were still getting used to each other. Whatever – it’s food and it’s free and there’s plenty. I ain’t complaining.

I’ll try not to go ad naseum into food description but will try and give some general ideas on what to expect. I started with the fruit medley, passed on any salad, and did the grilled rib eye steak (medium) for the entrée. I finished with a fat free choice of berries in Jello. The rib eye steak, which I thought was going be like the steak I had last night, ended up being what I thought I was getting last night and didn’t! A nice piece of prime rib that I inhaled. Rich couldn’t really decide on a lot but we convinced him to take the plunge and get the glazed chicken wings which disappeared in quite a hurry. He passed on any soup or salad as well despite my saying that he could have substituted the tomato dressing for the more pedestrian ranch dressing. He’s going to learn a lot in the next seven days, ain’t he? Rich wasn’t taking any chances on his entrée and went with the “safe” grilled sirloin. Verdict on that (which is on every menu on the cruise) is that it’s OK but nothing he’s going to repeat (at least sitting at a table). He tried the cream brulee cheesecake for dessert. Pronounced “OK”.

I gave up trying to keep track of Bobbie and Ed’s meal. I do know this was the night. The night I about disowned my mother-in-law and her eating habits. It was The Night of the Cilantro. Kristian had asked us if anyone had any food allergies. None of us do. But it was nice to be asked. Bobbie had some sort of appetizer and couldn’t eat it. Cilantro! She just cannot handle the taste of cilantro. Personally, I don’t see the effect but that’s me. Her soup had a dusting of cilantro. Then she worried about her main course, which was potato crusted grouper. That had Rich cracking up with Bobbie saying “I’ve never had grouper before”. I figured Bobbie would be up on Deck 9 getting a burger later on. The Niklewskis (I went back to my maiden name during this time) had a philosophical discussion on everything cilantro related in the world. When that thing was over, I told Bobbie to make sure Kristian knew that she hated cilantro and she shouldn’t have it in her food ever again. Simple, right? Thankfully, Mac came by after the main course and asked if there was anything he could do to make the dinners more enjoyable. I would have said something (and was planning to do it behind Bobbie’s back if needed) but Bobbie piped up and said she couldn’t handle cilantro. She wasn’t allergic to it but it just tasted bad to her and anything that had it in it would go to waste. Mac wrote that down and we were now cilantro free for the rest of the cruise!

And the other food thing for tonight was the soup option. Bobbie ordered a soup and was surprised to find out it was a cold soup. She mentioned that to Kristian when he noticed she wasn’t eating it (with the cilantro and all as well). Every night after, whenever Bobbie ordered a soup, Kristian did assure her it was a hot one.

Parrot Cay is probably my least favorite restaurant. It’s Caribbean based and maybe that’s it. Bright colors but extremely loud. My right ear has been blocked due to a cold for the past couple of weeks so that made things difficult and the volume level of the restaurant made it worse. It also was difficult to listen to Kristian and Michelle. Unfortunately, we’d be back here two more times. We also had a table just for the four of us which disappointed me. I really wanted more interaction with other passengers. It didn’t look like Disney really had huge tables unless there was an entire family assigned to it. It was also strange with a party of four adults that all the tables around us had lots of little kids. I think Bobbie could have lived without that for the cruise.

After dinner, it was time for the Welcome Aboard show. I wanted to make sure we got there in plenty of time for a decent seat to see Randy. To heck with the rest of the show, in my opinion. We also got our “assigned” seats for the rest of the cruise shows. No, Disney doesn’t make you sit in the same place all the time but with the four of us, we had a routine. A row would be picked out (usually in the lower level of the Walt Disney Theatre) and I’d enter first, taking the fourth seat from the end. Then Rich would follow, then Bobbie. Ed had to be on the aisle. Worked out great since Ed uses the bathroom a lot, and there’s no way I’d want to be seated next to Bobbie. Rich hates the seating “assignment” during sporting events because his mother is constantly asking what is happening. It was a riot at her first (and probably only) NASCAR race last month in Atlanta. Rich’s only comment to me after was “thank you very much – next time YOU sit next to her”.

The only problem with our arrangement was I wanted a glass of wine to enjoy with the show. By the time I passed that down the line, the server had already gone. I got a little ticked because Rich didn’t say anything to Bobbie for a while because he was telling me to yell down the row as to what I wanted. I couldn’t do that with the noise level in the theatre. Then Rich had to tell Bobbie what I wanted and she is a little hard of hearing. Then she tried to pass on my wish to Ed who also is a little hard of hearing. What joy. I did finally get a glass of wine after pouting a bit and Rich is finally shouting what I wanted to the next server. It’s going to be a long week, I think.

Our cruise director, Brent, announced the show and welcomed us on board. There was a little skit on how dreams can come true on board. The story was about a little boy who wanted to be a sailor and how, through the Disney Magic, he ended up becoming the Captain. Of course, the Disney characters made appearances. Cute enough but just OK. Not something I’d repeat if it weren’t for Randy being there. And there he was. Great show, as usual. It was very strange seeing him on stage and not on the Boardwalk. Brent did say Randy has appeared at Disney World more than 4000 times. We hadn’t seen him in such a long time so this really was a treat. The second part of the cute skit was next and then the magician came on.

I’m not a huge fan of magicians but this one, Rich Purpura, was mostly a comedian. He had one bit where he needed a brother/sister kid pair. Boy, he sure picked the wrong ones! Brian and Shannon. Shannon was nine, Brian was five. Shannon clearly wanted to be in the spotlight. It made things very difficult for Rich. But it was funny and he handled things quite well. The funniest thing was when Brian first came up on stage and Rich said “you stand right here over the trap door”. The look on Brian’s face was priceless. The kids ended up spoiling the trick but it was funny anyway. Both Rich and Randy would be doing other performances during the upcoming two sea days so we made sure we’d check them both out.

Then it was grand finale time and I was disappointed. Lumiere showed up in one of the boxes but all that was done was a re-creation of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. Not that incredible. So, I’d have to say the Welcome Aboard show rated about a C. A for the “special” talent of Randy and Rich, D- for the other stuff. Brent, the cruise director, was very good and he made things run very smoothly, had a good sense of humor, and kept things going all week long. Rich was disappointed we didn’t get a perky Julie McCoy but Brent was an excellent Cast Member. Wish they had a tip recommendation for him. BTW, he’s from Australia and said that if we saw him around the ship to say “G’Day”.

After the show, we were all very tired. I knew that the late show would be bedtime for Bobbie. She just cannot stay up past 10:00 under any circumstances. For Rich and me, well, the day had been a long one. I was still trying to get into synch with his parents and while I love them very much, they are so different from me. Rich and I have our own rhythms and moves and get along in Georgia quite well with Bobbie and Ed remaining in Maryland. However, when we are around them, Rich becomes their son and not my husband. I don’t resent that but it’s taken quite a few years and many small arguments to reach a suitable compromise. He is their adult son when he’s with them. I am his wife. We mostly defer to Bobbie and Ed and their wishes. However, I am a strong willed Philly girl so I need my time and space on my own. And with Rich as well. We had just spent the last 30 or so hours with his parents and, boy, did I need a break!

We escaped, I mean, we returned to our room and had the bed turned down and a nice towel swan sitting there waiting for us. Our steward was Margaret and she did a nice job all week long. Every night was a towel animal. She did reuse the towels for a new animal every day. I was worried we’d have seven animals at once and then I’d feel guilty about utilizing all those towels!

We settled in to get used to the TV situation. We are TV freaks and freely admit it. We had checked out the listings. Again, if you’ve cruised Disney before, you can skip this part. But this is info that I hadn’t really known about despite all the research in the past year. On Channels 37 and 38, there is a constant stream of Disney classic films, shown every two hours. Channel 37 started on the even numbered hours, Channel 38 on the odd ones. Chances were you could see a complete movie any time. Samples for the week were Aladdin, The Jungle Book, Cinderella (my favorite), Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Toy Story 2. There was a nice variety but every time the ESPN signal would fade, it just seemed like the Disney Channels were showing either Cinderella or Lilo and Stitch. Also, on Channels 31-36, there are continuous showings of Disney human films. Times were within a half hour of each other so, again, chances were you could see a complete movie any time. These included The Interpreter, March of the Penguins, Batman Begins, Bewitched. Decent selection, nothing really R rated or objectionable. Also for the cruise, in the Buena Vista Theatre, were almost first run movie in a theatre environment. We had checked those out and when Rich had called Chandra, got the scoop on a couple of them. Sky High and Flight Plan. We knew one was with Jodie Foster and didn’t know which one. It was Flight Plan and Sky High was a family film with Kurt Russell. Thank goodness The Kids know movies like most people know their names. Helps that because Chris works in a movie theatre, they get to see everything for free.

So, with all our TV and movie options ready and available, we checked out to see what was “playing”. It was getting late but The Interpreter was starting at 11:00 and we figured if we lasted, we lasted, if not, no money spent, no harm, no foul. We forgot about the damn time change. All the clocks had to be moved forward an hour. We started the movie and then halfway through decided that we had invested enough time, we didn’t have anywhere to go the next day so what the heck. That’s how we ended up staying up until 2:00 AM on our first night of cruising. I would not recommend that to anyone.

Day Three – Sunday, December 11, 2005 – Juggling, Navigators (UGH!), Football, and Formal Night

I slept until 9:00 and then was up doing the report. Rich stayed in bed until 10:00 and then mumbled “do you want me up yet?” I told him the only thing we had “scheduled” was Randy. We had the Navigator slipped under our door last night and made our plans while waiting for the movie to start. BTW – glad I saw it, don’t have to see it again. Loved Sean Penn in it, though. Randy was doing a juggling workshop in the Rockin’ Bar D on Deck 3. We were still getting used to the layout of the ship but today would be the day we figured out everything. So we didn’t have anything to do until noon.

I had already predicted what Bobbie and Ed would be doing and it wasn’t anything of what we wanted. Ed did the digital camera workshop only to discover that he left his memory card at home! That cracked me up. We had just gotten our digital camera all fixed up (many problems but it was good to go for the trip) so I was the only one with a functioning digital. Drove Ed nuts for the trip. Bobbie surprised the daylights out of me by going to the shopping presentation. I have never thought of Bobbie as a shopper. Rich hasn’t either and he’s known her longer than me. But it was the allure of the possibility of winning a diamond pendant. That would drive ME nuts for the next couple of days. So Rich and I were on our own for the entire day. Big Whoo Hoo!

We got down to the Rockin’ Bar D in plenty of time for Randy’s demonstration. We were asked if we wanted a drink and I had seen the Drinks of Day in the Navigator earlier. We weren’t sure if they would be available in a club bar. They sure are and only $3.50. Rich had a Cool Breeze (vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, Sprite). I had a Navigator (vodka, light rum, blue curacao, orange juice, and pineapple juice). I figured with all that juice, it couldn’t be that bad, right?

Much to our surprise, as we were sitting there waiting for the drinks, Randy comes by and stops and says it is great to see us again! Talk about Disney Magic with a capital “M”! We haven’t seen his performance for quite a while and he took the time to come over and say something to us. He even gave me a hug (take that, Lindy – she’s the one that told us about Randy). It really was nice. We do have our favorite Disney performers and will see them whenever we can. However, we respect their privacy and will enjoy them and then leave. We don’t see ourselves as fanatics who know every single detail of their personal lives. We are fans and nothing more. Fans that show up more than other ones but we are respectful of the talent. So that made this even more special.

Randy did a great job with the large crowd that showed up for the session. We did NOT participate. Rich and I are the whitest white people on the planet. We may have our own rhythm with each other but that’s about it. The lesson started out with how to catch just one juggling ball (soft sided). I knew I would have a hard time with just that! So we just sat, sipped, and watched all the kids and their parents having a good time. There was one mentally challenged boy, Justin, and he was having the time of his life but not being able to catch the ball very well. Randy had him switch over to scarves. Which go slower and are easier to catch. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? Randy had several of the smaller kids switch too. Then everyone went up to two balls, then three if people were ready. It was all nicely done and Randy kept his humor going through the whole time. Made me wonder, though, what did these guys do before headset microphones were invented?

At 12:30, we left Randy and went next door to Diversions, the sports bar. They had trivia at 12:30 and we are trivia geeks so we wanted to see Disney’s version. It was mostly football related and very fast paced. Questions were asked twice and then we moved on. 25 questions in all. That would repeat for all trivia sessions. We didn’t do very bad but we didn’t win either. We did meet another Michelle, who clearly knows her sports trivia. It was football Sunday and the games started at 2:00 and would be here at Diversions. We were definitely interested in stopping by.

It was well time for lunch so we headed to Deck 9. Rich was very interested in pizza. Since it was a total day at sea and all the fast food options are near the family pool, it was a little chaotic. We were still trying to get used to the placement of everything but just jumped in and got a couple slices of cheese for me, and three slices of pepperoni for Rich. For some reason, every single piece of that pizza tasted extremely good. We took a table away from the madness of the Goofy pool, more towards the Quiet Cove adult only pool. OK, I can handle this. We partook in the soft drink offerings at the Beverage Station. And Rich ordered more pizza. Well, he’s on vacation so three more slices for him.

My Navigator (the drink, not the piece of paper) had gone straight to my head. I am not used to mixed drinks. With our lunch finished and food in the stomach, we headed back – to the bar. Diversions for football. Rich’s fantasy team and all. He had talked to Michelle about getting stats and she said she could after the games. We got a table with the Pittsburgh/Chicago game on. Rich had Chicago’s defense so he wanted a huge win and some Steeler Stuffing. Even though my fantasy team was kaput, I had had three Pittsburgh guys so I was rooting for a Bear Feast. A server came over (they are deadly, I swear) and asked if we wanted anything to drink. Rich did the investment of the cruise and got the refillable beer mug. You pay $12.95 for the 22 ounce mug and the beer your first time. Then, throughout the cruise, your refills are only $3.50 which is the price of a sixteen ounce beer. Yes, you need to lug the mug around with you but it worked out. As soon as any server saw one of those mugs empty, they were right there asking if we wanted a refill. When asked if I wanted a drink, I went into brain drain and chirped “A Navigator?” That was really stupid.

I lasted another hour and the 1–1/2 Navigators kicked in. First day at sea and the drinks were getting to me. Last call for Sheri. I headed back to the safety of our cabin and took a nap. Rich stayed at Diversions with his new found friends (Pittsburgh fans but they tolerated Rich). The TV signals did fade in and out and Michelle explained that it was due to the satellite feeds. Can’t really control those things up in orbiting around our planet. Rich’s brother, Dave, works with NASA and he could explain it a lot better. But each of the four TVs in Diversions has a different satellite hookup so if the machine went kaput, they had to switch to something else. Of course, the big game of Pittsburgh/Chicago on the big screen went TU but at least that was put on a smaller screen for all the fanatics. Before I left, I asked Rich to come and get me for the 4:00 Cruisin’ for Trivia in the Promenade Lounge. Told you we were freaks for trivia.

That nap really helped me out and knocked the Navigators out of me. Rich finished up my other half once he got back to the room. For the Cruisin’ for Trivia, it was general stuff and again, we didn’t do very bad but we didn’t win either. Learned some things and that’s really why we do the shows. We end up talking and discussing things. A general “I didn’t know that” comment from one of us will usually have the other one going into how we knew it or when we knew it. This session was definitely family friendly as well. We did drop by Diversions again for a sports update. Rich was doing OK with his fantasy football team but he wouldn’t know for sure until after tomorrow night’s Monday Night game. Which just happened to be our beloved Atlanta Falcons against the dreaded New Orleans Saints in Atlanta and a must win game. Yes, we gave up Monday Night season tickets to go on this cruise. The worst part was we sold them to one of our co-workers AT FACE VALUE! But Lindsey and Brad are nice people so we didn’t feel that bad.

After our sports fest of the day (and those Navigators were out of my system), we went back to the room to prepare for dinner. This was the night Rich was dreading. Formal night. We had gone round and round and round and round about what he was going to wear. No tuxedo for him. Not even a suit. For the past year, I had searched the boards and read everything about “proper” attire. My outfit had been decided upon when the cruise was booked. Same thing I wore to Chris’ and Chandra’s wedding. A long black shell dress. It came with a very matronly blouse with long black sleeves and silver metallic inlays. It was perfect for the wedding but I’m only 43 and I might be a grandmother now but I sure didn’t want to go to the formal night looking like I’m really a grandmother. Instead of the other blouse, I went and bought a short sleeved white beaded blouse at Ross’ Dress for Less for $12. I did not blow a huge budget on clothes for this trip.

For Rich, though, this was a chore. He does not like to dress up. The last time was for the wedding and we went round and round and round and round for that too. For this dinner, I made the decision (I had to – Niklewski decision making takes the length of time for a Paris Hilton relationship – at least a couple of days) for Rich to just wear the dress pants from the wedding suit and the same shirt with a tie. No jacket. He hates wearing a jacket for dinner and I can’t blame him. I do too. However, this decision of no jacket was met with resistance by Bobbie and Ed but that was too bad. I wasn’t willing to pack a darn jacket for just a few hours of a dinner anyway. Daughter-in-law won out with this, much to Rich’s pleasure.

We were dressed and ready to go right around 5:00 and I’m glad. Bobbie then called and said that at the Captain’s Reception, there usually were some drinks and things and she wanted to get down there early. We were in Lumiere’s tonight and that’s right next to where things were going on so Rich and I went down to collect Bobbie and Ed. Now, here’s where the fashion police come into play. For all of Bobbie’s hemming and hawing on what Rich was wearing, this just torks me. Ed was in a suit which is fine. He wears one for work anyway. It’s “normal” for him. Rich has a tough time with the business casual policy at his office. He was used to a jean environment. I’m the opposite. Used to “dressing up” for work and now I can wear jeans any day of the week. But I like wearing frilly junk every once in a while. Bobbie, however, was in black pants and a black shirt. That was her formal attire. Why do guys have to wear “monkey suits” but women now can get away with just anything black and feel OK? At that point, the issue of what anyone was wearing went out the window. I would not discuss it any further.

The Captain’s Reception, in Bobbie’s opinion, was a bust. She expected more based on her other cruises. She was terribly disappointed that you had to wait in lines for picture taking. Rich and I breathed a sigh of relief. That was one of the things we didn’t want on the cruise. Having the persistent photographers hovering for pictures. Rich just isn’t comfortable with that at all. I’m OK but usually look like a dork. Bobbie and Ed take great pictures and they are fine. Just don’t push it on me, please. So we liked that Disney left this option up to the guests. We did get some free drinks which were OK but nothing special. Then onto dinner in Lumiere’s.

Which quickly became my favorite dinner choice. I loved the décor. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies. I found out that Bobbie and Ed have NEVER seen the movie!!!! That became a theme for the rest of the cruise. The only Disney films Bobbie has seen were the older classics but only when Bobbie was growing up. So all the nuances were missed for both of them. This was the start of my Niklewski Disney Education. I wouldn’t get it until later that night, though. I explained to the in-laws the subtleties of the restaurant. The significance of the rose petals and why Kristian and Michelle had them on their lapels. And why there were various stages of a rose wilting on the light fixtures. I really, really liked the restaurant. A lot.

For dinner, I got the Pearls of Seasonal Melon although I was tempted by the Escargots. Still have to try those one of these days. I went safe – still having the Navigator flashbacks. I passed on the salad/soup course and then had the beef tenderloin. I swear on this cruise, I killed a cow myself. For dessert, I had the wonderful white chocolate domes with raspberry parfait. Excellent! I cannot remember everything Rich had but we did bring out the Niklewski Restaurant Principle. Two people cannot have the same meal. Grilled into our heads by Bobbie. Just like you can’t eat at a restaurant with a Help Wanted sign out front. Rich went with something other than beef. We think it was a fish dish. Bobbie was surprised that we still followed the Principle. She blamed the Help Wanted thing on her sister, Norma. This was a great meal, though. Kristian and Michelle were more attentive and that helped a lot. Bobbie just can’t sit and enjoy a meal. Too much down time and not enough activity for her.

With ourselves fully stuffed, we headed to the Walt Disney Theatre and The Golden Mickeys. Bobbie wanted some Disney music and was hoping for it. It didn’t disappoint. But before that – we have a few other moments I wish people had written about before. You can take beverages into the theatre. I learned from last night. I went back to the room and got our two travel mugs and filled them with ice and wine for the show. And that’s another thing – we could ask our steward for when we wanted ice. At first, we just said turndown and not morning because we were afraid Margaret would be banging on our door early and we didn’t want that. But it was when she made up the room so we changed it to both morning and turndown. We were never without ice. Pure pleasure for the show. We did our normal sit down and then realized what just happened.

The night before, we had The Breast Feeding Family in front of us. Not that bad and the woman was extremely discrete. Full blanket over her, baby really never seen. Her other two kids were very well behaved and Dad helped out. Tonight, we had them next to me! Over 2000 people on this ship and we get the same family two nights in a row. Again, Baby was hungry but we never saw anything. Personally, I did the bottle feeding thing with Chris but the way this woman handled everything was nicely done. Yeah, she could have gone to her stateroom but as a parent, I would have opted for staying with my family. There was absolutely nothing objectionable with anything. The baby was probably the quietest thing in the theatre.

And then the Golden Mickeys. After a brief introduction from Brent. Who cheerfully informed us that the Jumbotron tomorrow night would be showing the Monday Night Football game! UGH went Rich and me. We HAD to watch that game. We HAD to see it. Must win for our Falcons. HUGE game. But, because of the time change, it didn’t even start until 10:00. Now you know where we will be tomorrow night. But big UGH for the late night.

Then the show started. And that’s when I got it. I really got it. I’ve been to Disney World more than 40 times. I’ve been to Disneyland once. Now I’m on the cruise. With family that I love. But they are Niklewskis. And they don’t get it. Rich does to an extent but that’s only because of my influence. This is a show like the Oscars where they “nominate” certain categories and then highlight one person. Like Cruella DeVil for Villain. The music was great, the talent was great. And that’s when I lost it. Totally. I sat in that beautiful theatre and thought about what Disney has meant to me in my life. It started when I was 15 years old and my parents saved for a year and led a caravan down to Disney World in 1977 for my sister’s graduation. We were a convoy back then. CB radios and all (my dad and his buddies were truck drivers). Only Magic Kingdom was open, we had the true E tickets, and Epcot was a distant dream. But it was a great week. Yes, we spent a week. Disney took a hold of my life. Flash forward to 1981 and a horrible time in my life. I spent an afternoon at a movie theatre and watching Song of the South (probably the last time Disney showed this Classic). I sat in the back of a packed theatre and cried my eyes out, much like I was doing now. Now I was watching the classics and connecting with each one in some way. The songs, the films, the memories. The times with Chris. A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes. Seeing Beauty and the Beast and marveling at the way Belle’s hair just fell back to her shoulder after the Beast touched it. Hearing Rich do Sebastian and “Kiss the Girl” (he’s pretty good). Remembering taking Marlie (our granddaughter) to Disney World her first time and totally surprising her with the trip. Then taking her again and having a very different experience. I got lost in the world of Disney. Everything. Rich noticed and was kind enough not to say anything.

I had to scramble to dry my eyes but quite honestly, I didn’t care. This was why I was here. There was no other world. Just this one. My world.

So, after my Disney Faith was restored, time to move on. It was time to go down to the Rockin’ Bar D and Rich Purpura and his adult only show. Bobbie and Ed were headed back to their cabin. It was almost 10:00 after all. We headed for more fun. Rich was making ample use of his refillable mug. I was making use of my “refillable mug”. The travel one with the boxes of wine back in the room. Cheap I know, but we were giving enough to Disney this trip anyway.

Down to Rockin’ Bar D. Really getting to know the ship now. Little did I know that the Rockin’ Bar D would become our nightly home for the rest of the cruise. Totally unintended but, once again, the Disney entertainment was top notch. We love it at Disney World, especially at Epcot and World Showcase. I heard it was good on the cruises but it was a complete and unexpected surprise to find ourselves getting that much into it. The cruise band was Junction 21 and they really helped with getting us into the entertainment. Two lady singers, one male singer who was on lead guitar, and one female bassist who didn’t sing but Rich thought was “hot”. A drummer and keyboardist rounded out the sextet. They did covers and were pretty good. Very upbeat. We’d get to see them a lot on the trip.

Rich Purpura came on and did a good show again. Not much magic but lots of comedy. Rich enjoyed a beer in his mega mug and I had the mug ‘o wine. Very pleasant way to spend the time before bed. The DJ who filled in between things was very good as well and the staff here would go out and dance up a storm. Rich and I were the sitters. You have to have those people for a show, right? As I said, we are the whitest white people on the planet so dancing is confined to the privacy of our own home. And then it’s only me when Rich is gone and only the cats can see. And they sometimes run and hide. But we love music. We’re just respectful of other people so they don’t go blind with our lack of dancing skills.

After a fun filled day and night, some tears, and those damn Navigators, it was time for bed. We crashed nicely. The only problem was the bed, at least for me. I just couldn’t get comfortable. I ended up utilizing the couch and that would continue for the rest of the trip. The bed was a good size and that didn’t bother me. Rich and I have a king size at home so anything smaller is a chore but that wasn’t it. The last two nights of the cruise, I ended up just going to sleep on the couch and that worked out so much better.

Day Four, Monday, December 12, 2005 – “More Randy, Movies, and Cinderella”

Our second day at sea and one that I thought would be uneventful and boring. But this is Disney and it’s never boring. We slept in as late as we could. For me, getting eight hours of sleep is a joy and that’s about all I could manage. I was up and typing away by 8:30 or so. Rich took the opportunity to doze a little more and did his normal routine. Which was to visit the Deck 9 Beverage Station for some cold caffeine in the form of the magical, mystical Diet Coke. The man is addicted to the stuff. Thankfully, Disney and Coke have a loving relationship or we might have to take our business elsewhere. To Pepsi (whoops, that might get censored in a Disney trip report). Our entire family is and always has been a Coke Family so the Disney connection is perfect for us. Sorry to all the Pepsi fans out there (although they do sponsor Jeff Gordon in NASCAR so they are forgiven a bit). Bobbie and Ed always had to have breakfast and Rich would join them at Topsiders for eats. I’d work on the trip report and watch the same insane stuff on the TV, usually in Mute mode since you can only take Tigger’s voice for so long. We repeated this every morning.

Then Rich came back and took his shower while I dawdled some more. The only thing we had in mind was Rich Purpura’s magic demonstration at – surprise – the Rockin’ Bar D. But in the end, my Rich and I decided that we’d rather just chill and relax. Me to do the report, Rich to go onto Deck 9 at the adults only pool and read for a while. He’s STILL reading Tom Clancy’s Red Rabbit which is my second favorite Clancy novel. Rich doesn’t get into books that much so anytime I can get him into one, I treasure the moments. Which last forever since Rich doesn’t have that much spare time for reading. We each chose our poison so Rich went topside while I got ready for the day. We made “plans” to meet later.

After about an hour, I went in search of Rich. I found him very content and talking with someone at his table. I thought I recognized the other guy but was surprised to find out it was Randy! Talk about unexpected. Randy had remembered Rich and came over to chat. Which they had been doing for a while and continued to do once I joined them. We learned a lot from Randy about everything Disney related. I thought Randy was very honest with his answers and did not take away any of the magic at all. He’s been with the Disney family for about 10 years. Some good, some bad. He does mostly cruise ships now and not limited to Disney. His full name is Randy Cabral so if you see him on any other ship (he did mention Carnival), he’s great and very funny. Randy said that Disney did a house cleaning of some of the roving entertainment and brought in many more but lower paid people. And cut back on the hours of the long timers. So Randy and other favorites of ours from the Boardwalk were limited to about three days a week. Obviously, that’s not enough to live on so Randy found the cruise ships and will do those and fill in with the Boardwalk. I guess if we see Randy at Disney World in the future, we should be grateful. He also told us about the ship’s accommodations for the entertainers and Cast Members. And we talked about lots of non Disney things as well. It was so nice to find a “friend” on board. Something totally surprising and refreshing. After at least an hour, Randy had to excuse himself to indulge in his vice which involved going to Cove Café which, ahem, allows smoking. No lectures from me but if Rich can have his cold caffeine addiction, others can have theirs.

Rich finished his mega beer (those mugs truly are magnets for the wait staff) and then we headed for some hot tub. We had a big hot tub back in Nebraska. It was an outdoor eight seater and there’s nothing better than going out, chipping ice off the cover and soaking for an hour or two. Yeah, we were crazy – probably still are. But it was Nebraska and what else are you going to do, count cows? Oh, back to the cruise. We were relaxing in the tub and looked over at the other one. Randy had finished his break and was over there. We had contemplated going to that one because the other one had a person in it. Glad we didn’t because then it would have really looked like we were Randy Stalkers. Actually, it didn’t count since Randy sat down with Rich earlier. Just an inside reference between Rich and me about so called Stalkers.

After our soak, we headed back down to the room to get ready for dinner. It was very early but there was a method to my madness. We were eating in Animator’s Palate that night. I didn’t want to miss anything. But we wanted to see the movie in the Buena Vista Theatre. Flight Plan with Jodie Foster. That started at 4:00, our dinner was at 6:00 and the play time was 1 hour and 33 minutes. We wouldn’t have time to come back and get ready for dinner and still Meet the Parents. Tonight was casual attire but I was going with above the knee (barely) dresses that, believe it or not, were too dressy for work. I have got to get myself into the jeans mentality. Kind of tough after years of a strict dress code where you were even measured for skirt lengths (cannot be more than three inches above the knee). The liberal person in me went very conservative in dress so this was me going back to my roots.

With both of us properly attired (Rich still grumbling about me not allowing him to wear jeans), we headed for the Buena Vista Theatre. We certainly were getting our money’s worth out of the on ship entertainment today. And we were no where near Bobbie and Ed which helped. For what they did today, they took in the classes that are offered. The first one (and I predicted these when I looked at the Navigator last night) was a talk with Tony Baxter (they had no idea who he was) who explained some of the things going on at Disney theme parks and then a Q&A session. Yes, there is a Disney plan for pirate invasions but they couldn’t talk about it. Kind of strange to even have to think about it. Bobbie would fill us in throughout the week with little tidbits she learned from “that guy”. Jeez, if I had been there, “that guy” would have been asked for his autograph. The in-laws also took in the Making of the Disney Magic talk which explained the nuances of the ship. I should also interject in here that daily swims around 4ish for Ed were mandatory. Sometimes Bobbie joined him at the adult pool, sometimes she stayed in the room and read. I also believe there were some rum drinks being consumed in room 6540 around that time as well.

I guess the point here is that while we are two totally different couples, we could still cruise together and have a great time separately. There’s so much to do on board that our paths crossed very infrequently. We used the voice message system on the phones to communicate. I had left a message for Bobbie and Ed that we were taking in the movie and if we didn’t see them there, we’d see them at dinner.

Rich and I settled into the theatre (glorious stadium seating so your view really doesn’t get blocked that much) and had a complaint right away. Why can’t someone invent a sound free way to get popcorn out of a bag? Good lord, it was rustle, rustle, rustle the whole first half hour of the movie. The family in front and to the left of us (they spread out quite a bit), kept passing this huge bag back and forth and digging into it. I just wanted to stand up and shout “AREN’T YOU PEOPLE DONE YET?!” It wasn’t just them, though. Sounded like the whole theatre was in Orville Redenbacher Heaven. At least the sound level in the movie was high enough to drown out most of the rustling. Now you know why we rarely go to the movie theatre (sorry, Chris). I prefer DVDs at home with pausing for potty breaks and refilling of wine glasses.

The movie was OK and I’m glad we saw it. But like The Interpreter the other night, it’s not something I’ll be running out to add to my collection. I did enjoy the very strong female performances of Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster in the two films, though. I just thought the resolution in Flight Plan was way too predictable. But it was a pleasant (although noisy) way to spend a couple of hours.

After the film, we decided we had enough time to go up one deck (the theatre is on Deck 5 with all the Mousekeeter stuff – our only contact with the munchkin crowd) and get the parents. Turns out Bobbie had called our room at 4:05 and suggested this option. AFTER she had gotten our message that we were going to the 4:00 movie and then seeing them for dinner. How the hell were we supposed to get that message? But it all worked out. We left for dinner with plenty of time to get to Animator’s Palate. In fact, we had to wait until the restaurant opened. But I didn’t want to miss anything.

The show, while entertaining, was a bit of a chore. Bobbie had no idea who most of the characters on the wall were. We were saying “oh, look, Baloo changed!” Bobbie asked who Baloo was. Or Aladdin. The different princesses were also a bit cumbersome even to Rich. Sigh. Belle is in yellow, Cinderella is the blond. Don’t even get me started on Aurora. No one got her at all and she’s a favorite of mine. But the huge magic breaking moment happened after dinner. The servers do a whole parade with Mickey around the restaurant. I about dropped down, fell on the floor, and choked with Bobbie’s question. Even Rich’s chin hit the table. She asked “just who plays Mickey?”

After a very long pause from both of us, I responded that no one “plays” Mickey. Mickey is real. There’s only one Mickey Mouse like there’s only one Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy. Well, at least my husband got the Disney Magic. His parents either never had it or lost it years ago. I also think this was the night where the dinner conversation came to a grinding halt when politics came into play. Rich and his parents are really anti-government. They were going on and on about having to get up early on Wednesday for customs clearance. Blah, blah, blah. Why, why, why? I am an admitted American patriot. Love it or leave it. I won’t go into either side but let’s just say it was a 3 against 1 debate and I held my own. Could I get some Magic back, please? Yeah, this is Disney, I can.

Next up was the show which tonight was Twice Charmed, the new production with a twist on the Cinderella story. This one turned Rich. Of course, the in-laws were a bit lost since they hadn’t seen Cinderella since it was first released. Oh, and don’t even get me started on our conversation about why Song of the South hasn’t been re-released. At least we all agreed on that one. IT’S STUPID NOT TO SHOW THAT TO PEOPLE ANYMORE! OK, rant off on that one. But when we have a 23 year old niece who goes on Splash Mountain and has no idea of the story line, well, that’s just dumb. Back to the show. Basically, Lady Trumaine and the stepsisters get to turn back time and try to avoid Cinderella from ever meeting the Prince. They do but, of course, true love finds its way and every one, except the evil people, live happily ever after. Cute show. No tears from me, though. I decided I wouldn’t cry anymore on the trip. HA!

After the show, we did try to get Bobbie and Ed to go for some nighttime entertainment. Randy was doing his adult only show in Rockin’ Bar D. We really got to know that place very well! We briefly returned to the room for Rich’s mega beer mug and then headed for the bar. Junction 21 was playing again so we enjoyed them before the show. I was getting smart and just taking my travel mug of wine along with me so Rich was doing all the “drinking”. Hehehehe. Well, he kept signing for the mugs. This was really the best deal he did all week long. One of those mugs lasted him quite a long time.

Randy did a great show again but it was still a little more family friendly. I think he swore once, though. After talking with him earlier, I think that’s just Randy’s personality. He’s such a nice guy. After the show it was time to get serious. FOOTBALL! Falcons versus Saints and on the Jumbotron on Deck 9. We didn’t waste too much time getting up there. This was pure heaven. Rich with his mega mug, me with my travel mug and the Falcons kicking some Saint butt. It was a must win game and they did win. The Falcons have a slim chance of getting into the playoffs and they needed to not only win but hope other teams lost. It would be a long next three weeks for us. Sometimes it sucks to live in a big city with big league pro teams. Not that we go overboard on the Hawks, Thrashers, or Braves. For some reason, the Falcons have us reeled in.

We left at halftime since both of us were drooping by that time. It was close to midnight and St. Maarten was coming up tomorrow morning. This would be my first visit to a “foreign” country. I had been to Canada and just across the border to Mexico but that’s been it. I’d love to see more of the world but I find America just fine and dandy, thank you very much. There are still states I haven’t seen (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Wisconsin) so I’ll concentrate on my native land. But we were here and I had some ideas of what to do. I had tried to reserve a rental car before we left but the only site that would do online reservations was not the most user friendly so I abandoned that idea. Sorry to that company but if you have an online reservation form and you fill it out but it doesn’t go through with no explanation, well, you don’t get my business. In the end, I’m glad we didn’t have a car. So, back to the room for the next day.

Day Five – Tuesday, December 13, 2005 – St. Maarten, Narnia, Pirates Aboard

I got up around 8:00 and worked on the report. There was a curtain to pull closed in between the bed area and the sitting area and this was nice for the mornings. Rich would use the time to wake up, I would type and just enjoy the quiet time. I muted the TV but had it on for some diversion. We were docked in St. Maarten and all I can say is the dock area just isn’t very pretty. I do have to recommend getting a cabin on the starboard side which is where we were. Great views from either the porthole (which was more than big enough to sit and watch out of) or your verandah (which Bobbie and Ed used sparingly – glad I didn’t insist on one). For both of the islands, we could see the docks and when we backed into Castaway Cay, we had the best view of the island.

Rich did his morning routine and joined his parents for breakfast. I got ready and they all decided to deboard together at 10:00. Why we had to do that is beyond me but I didn’t have a choice. This was my first encounter with the “locals”. I quickly learned how to say “no thanks” with a big tourist smile on my face. How many creative ways can one come up with to not take a taxi into town? We had been on the cruise ship for the last two days, we all wanted to walk. And walk we did. It really wasn’t that far and this was when I realized that renting a car wasn’t a good option for us. Yes, I wanted to see the French side of the island and the clothing optional beaches were intriguing but Rich and I agreed that our funds were better spent elsewhere. Although it would have only been $50 or so.

We lost Bobbie and Ed fairly quickly on the walk. Ed needed to check out the rocks. Yes, you read that right. The rocks as in what is along the walk into town. The man needed to get his dose of nature. Bobbie was intent on shopping. I could not believe the way that woman was looking for bargains. “I have a coupon for a free…..” whatever. She had to be at a certain shop at noon for a drawing. I have never seen my mother-in-law like that before. OK, I was proud she got a free turkey for Thanksgiving because she spent $250 during the month at her local grocery store. But at what point do you just not let those kind of things rule your life?

With our new found freedom, Rich and I went to explore the town. And we did it our way. The streets are extremely narrow and the local drivers very fast so be careful when walking around. We did not find that much in the stores we were interested in. I thought some of the vendors were going to faint when they started in on the jewelry hawking and I had to tell them that I don’t wear that much jewelry. Wedding ring and a special 30th birthday/10th anniversary diamond that Rich got for me (surprised the daylights out of me). No perfumes, no liquor, no cigars (although I did want them, I’d wait until back in the USA). So we pretty much just walked around and visited the beach. And made a find.

They have cans of beer here for $1! Ah, pure bliss. Sitting along the beach with a cold one and just relaxing. We ended up being back at the same place right around noon and that’s where Bobbie’s free drawing thing was. We saw Ed outside the store and decided that we would get some lunch (we had shared a hot dog earlier but it wasn’t enough). We thought the in-laws would join us but that shopping bug had imbedded itself into Bobbie and she was bound and determined to get something for free. Rich and I bailed and went to a nicely shaded table and serenely ordered lunch. It wasn’t that great and it did cost us some $$$ but it hit the spot. I had a hot ham and cheese. Nothing special but boy, those $1 beers were awesome!

Then we did our shopping for the trip. Our daughter-in-law, Chandra, is actively pursuing a journalism career. I think they already have a place picked out for her Pulitzer Prize. Part of doing that, though, is “having a face”. Meaning being attired correctly and with the proper look. There were some very nice scarves on the island for only $5. I didn’t want anything very gaudy for her and she loves blue. I found a nice scarf with some subtle palm trees on it. All deep blue and I thought it was very nice for her. We also were looking at the big canvas bags they sell all over the place. Again, a blue one with a table runner, a hair scrunchy (Chandra has long black hair), and a smaller cosmetic bag. For $13 after I balked at the original $15 price. Not a huge reduction but it was getting later in the day.

Rich also found a nice necklace for our granddaughter, Marlie. Shells and all. Perfect for a seven year old. Marlie is a highlight in our life and we indulge her within the limits of her parents’ (all four of them) choices.

After our big spending spree (we are very frugal), we headed back to the ship (I learned it’s not a boat, it’s a ship). Again, we walked back. Had to do something to get rid of the beer, right? I really enjoyed St. Maarten and even if we didn’t get to the French side, we had a great day. Which was enhanced with a final beer and a sit along the rocks and just the two of us chilling for a while. I took lots of pictures with the digital camera. BTW – Ed’s mission of the day was a memory card and we had sent him in the direction of a shop where he was successful in getting a card. I’ll bet the man never forgets that in the future. But then again, look who is talking – we’re on our third recharger for our camera.

Right before we got back on the ship, Rich surprised me by saying that we should stop at this bar right at the dock area. It was kind of like a Fat Tuesdays with lots of different drinks but we stuck to beer and realized that the prices go up the closer you get to the ships. At that point, I didn’t care. I was so into vacation mode. We sunned and relaxed a bit more.

We got back to the ship and room with plenty of time before dinner. I had the opportunity to take a nap while Rich tried to figure out if he was successful in the Fantasy Football playoffs. Verdict – well, there’s always next year. Then he snoozed as well. We had a late night planned with the Pirates In the Caribbean party and then fireworks after. Brent, the cruise director, had announced that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe would be the feature of the night in the Walt Disney Theatre. That was fine but because of the length of the film it would start for us at 7:45. I was NOT going to hurry through dinner. The film was going to be shown a few more times in the smaller Buena Vista Theatre and Rich and I decided to take it in tomorrow night at 10:30. Bobbie, however, couldn’t stay up that late and was bound and determined to see this film tonight. She loved Harry Potter and thought this would be good. I felt this as a possible sighting of a Niklewski imagination.

With both of us being refreshed, we headed down one deck to Bobbie and Ed’s room. We were back in Parrot Cay but with the Pirate menu. Bobbie had Narnia on the brain.

Kristian and Michelle were good but had to meet to meet the demands of the tables with kids also Narnia-induced. Plus, one table was ordering wine (or maybe had the package) every night so that was a big production. Bobbie was so antsy. Right before 7:30, she left for the movie and skipped dessert. Honestly, I felt way too rushed through my meal. I kept thinking “if I slow down and Bobbie misses the movie, I might as well jump overboard”. I thought I could relax once she left but when Mac came by and got our dessert orders (our servers really had their hands full with families trying to get to the movie) and found out Bobbie had already left, he rushed our desserts out to us. UGH! It’s a freaking movie that is going to be shown a few more times. Please, people, it’s NOT an audience with the Pope. It’ll happen again.

By 7:40, we were done with dinner. I would have given my right arm to stay at the restaurant since all the families and kids had rushed out. It was quiet and nice. But then Ed decided to become Narnia-bound himself and Rich thought we should accompany Ed to the theatre entrance. Big UGH! So we joined the masses going in the direction of the magical wardrobe.

At the theatre, we left Ed to try and find Bobbie. And he did immediately. It’s funny that once you go to something like that, you have a tendency to frequent the same seats. Breast Feeding Family wasn’t back, though. Rich and I left the in-laws to enjoy the movie and we went for our own fun. Again.

Which tonight was trivia. Yes, again. This time in the Promenade Lounge and more family oriented. I really do like the lounges on the Magic. Tonight’s trivia was pirate infused. Same formula as the other trivia we did – just a different theme. Again, we didn’t do that bad but we didn’t win. Following the pirate trivia was So You Think You Know Your Disney Tunes? I thought I’d ace that one. Nope. There was one young male adult there with his parents. Mom seemed willing but Dad clearly did not want to be there. The whole format was interesting because they had a pianist play the tune. A brief snippet but enough. No one got the tune the MC said was his favorite. I never saw that many blank stares in my life. Even the other family next to us (the one with the adult male guy) didn’t get it. This would be the only tune they didn’t get. It sure the hell didn’t sound like “Ooh Da Lolly Lolly” from Robin Hood to anyone in the Promenade Lounge tonight. Well, maybe to the pianist and the MC but they already knew the answer. I even think the late Roger Miller wouldn’t have recognized his own song. So again, we didn’t stink but we didn’t win. And “Ooh Da Lolly Lolly” will forever more haunt us.

After trivia, we took a quick break in the room and then went up to Deck 10 to look down at the Pirates in the Caribbean party going on down on Deck 9. The Goofy pool was covered and converted to a dance floor. There were no tables available since family members were camped out saving spaces for all those Narnia people. The movie was scheduled to be let out in enough time for the party. We didn’t have any plans to meet up with Bobbie and Ed since the party started at 9:45 with fireworks at 10:30. Even though Bobbie is a fireworks junkie, we didn’t think the late hour would appeal to her. We just stood behind one of those boxy wooden things on the decks (we still don’t know what they are officially used for) and watched Junction 21 (again – we really do like them anyway so it was a great choice for us) down below. Unfortunately, though, everything was geared to the families and line dancing. The horrible Macarana was even featured. Well, at least the even worse Chicken Dance didn’t rear its ugly head. Rich and I just stood and watched and waited for the “show”.

After the Narnia crowd arrived, things got a little crowded. Rich had his mug of beer, though, so we were satisfied and content just to watch things. I, of course, had my travel mug with me. The show started and I was disappointed. I had read so many things about this party and was looking forward to it. In the future (and there will be future Disney cruises), I might just skip this and stay at the adult pool or something. It was fine with Captain Hook taking over the ship. But then there was more dancing on the Goofy pool. The families were getting into it and so were lots of people up on Deck 10 as well. But it just wasn’t what I expected. I guess I thought it would be more of an entire skit instead of dancing.

My mood wasn’t helped with the little girl, about seven or eight who just HAD to shove her way into my left side. I think I still bear some bruises over there. She could see fine from where she was but she was bound and determined to see EVERYTHING. I wasn’t blocking her at all but, darn it, I had stood there for almost an hour and she was still Narnia intoxicated or something. I really did make sure she could see things. Heck, the entire party was being projected up on the Jumbotron. BTW – if you are into these kinds of things, Mickey comes out on the starboard side. I ended up thinking the starboard side of the ship is where you want to view most of anything. The girl finally broke the last straw on my camel’s back when she tried to get up on top of that boxy wooden thing. I had to turn to her and say “you know, you are annoying”. I didn’t say it loud and I didn’t say it mean but I had to say it. She was annoying and sorry, but she needed to be told. No parents were in sight. She left after that. I didn’t really want her to have to leave but she was being rude. And had no guidance at all. Told you Sheri Justice isn’t that pretty.

While we were disappointed with the party, we stayed and waited for the fireworks. We had no idea just where they would be going off. But, again, the starboard side midship on Deck 10 was the perfect place. All we had to do was turn around and see them. I was so prepared for the wonderful Disney fireworks. Which, this time, were just OK. Not that it wasn’t great being the only cruise ship allowed to set off fireworks on a regular basis but it just wasn’t like at the parks. I know, it’s limited while at sea. I understood that. But that Disney magic I had felt last night was fading a bit. I think it was the high expectations I had.

With the fireworks done, everyone, including us, headed back to their rooms. Here’s an observation we had during the entire cruise. Why are people so darn insistent on using the elevators? The stairs aren’t that bad and the elevators were crowded since they are small. So why not walk? We’re on Deck 10, our room is on Deck 7. Big deal for three floors. One time, we were on Deck 3 and needed to go up to Deck 7. We tried the elevator. Full. So we took the stairs and kept waving to the people in the elevator at every floor because it stopped just as we got to that level. You save nothing but foot power by using the elevator. It definitely is not quicker. I think in the entire week, we used the elevator three times and two of those were for embarking and disembarking. One time I begged Rich after Castaway Cay to take the thing up. That was it.

Back to the room where I worked on the report and Rich thought that maybe, just maybe, he might be close enough for a fantasy football win. Did I tell you how grateful we are that Disney and ABC and ESPN are in the same family? I can’t even remember when we did lights out but I did set a Mickey wakeup call for 7:25. I figured five minutes was enough for us to throw on clothes, get our passports, go to the Walt Disney Theatre, clear customs, and then just start the day. I also warned Rich that I did NOT want to hear any crap about the American government at all. Off to slumberland.

Day Six, Wednesday, December 14, 2005 – “I’m Going to Kill That Rat”, St. Thomas Taxi Ride to Nowhere, Narnia Transformed

Well, I had set the wakeup for 7:25 but our neighbors obviously were not American citizens. Those people had to report to customs at 6:00. So right before that, we hear the “man” of the family (I’m presuming) in the other room carrying on a one sided, very monotonous conversation. I have no idea what he was saying or trying to convey but there was nothing else going on except this man’s voice for about fifteen minutes. In a foreign language. Joy, joy, joy. Didn’t really set a great tone for Rich since (1) he had to get up early this morning and (2) deal with the American government. I tried to ignore and was able to get back to sleep. Rich has a hard time doing that. It showed when the phone rang right at 7:25 and I put Mickey on speaker. I got “I’m going to kill that rat” from the other side of the bed.

We got dressed, rubbed the sleepy dust from the eyes and cheerfully heard Brent telling everyone that there were no lines at customs right now. Honestly, how the hell can that man sound that perky morning, noon, and night? I hope Disney is paying him a huge salary because he was great. Put me into a great mood after the dead rat comment. So we joined the now streaming lines of people going to the Walt Disney Theatre. Rich was muttering comments about how stupid this was, blah, blah, blah. Verdict. How freaking painless. OK, yeah, it’s a pain to have to be somewhere at a certain time but this was easy. We did have to be in a line but it moved quite quickly and all we had to do was show our passports and get our hand stamped. The hand stamp took more time than anything. The visit was enlivened by Rich commenting something about terrorism while we were talking to the woman in front of us. She and I both said “don’t even joke about that kind of thing or we’ll be here all day!” Silly Rich – I’m going to have to keep him in America the rest of his life.

With the customs issues dealt with (we were back in the room by 7:40), Rich called his parents and met up with them up on Deck 9 for Topsiders and Diet Coke. Topsiders was an afterthought. He really needed the caffeine. I wisely stayed behind to work on the report since I knew I’d be in for another Niklewski anti-government tirade that I wouldn’t want to hear.

When Rich returned, he had some news from his parents. They had made it up to Deck 10 last night for the festivities. But they were on the port side of the ship. Really, there’s no way at the Pirate party to try and hook up with anyone even if you tried. They did see the fireworks from their verandah. I had figured that. The 10:30 time was too late for Bobbie so they had gone back to their room. Bobbie’s verdict on Narnia was “horrible”! After all the great reviews I heard? After Chris said it was very good, that it’s going to turn Disney’s film stable around (finally)? Why was it so bad? “Too violent”. Well, we’ll judge for ourselves tonight.

A 10:00 deboating was agreed up and with the news, I groaned. We docked right at a mall and that meant more Bobbie shopping and more coupons. Just cracks me up that Bobbie will gladly pay $50 extra to get a balcony and a view of the ocean but the thought of having to pay for an exercise class was not going to happen.

We met up with Bobbie and Ed and then down to step onto American soil again. The mall didn’t have that much for us. More jewelry stuff. A few junky shops but nothing caught our eye. I kept asking Rich when we could escape on our own but no possibility came up. The thought of spending the whole day going to countless stores with coupons in hand had me horrified.

Bobbie was antsy for downtown and her coupons. We had been warned the walk to downtown was about 1-1/2 miles. Bobbie and Ed, who have been to St. Thomas before, said it wasn’t that bad. Since Rich and I hadn’t seen the island, we were game. Like yesterday though, we learned how to say “no” very creatively. The downtown distance grew in length just like Pinocchio’s nose. The ever perky Brent said 1-1/2 miles from the ship. By the time we were halfway to downtown, some of the taxi drivers were telling us we still had two miles to go. Rich and I were walking ahead of Bobbie and Ed and I really did try to walk fast enough to lose them. Didn’t work that well. But we did decide to take off on our own as soon as possible. We got to do that just as we reached downtown. I felt like Mel Gibson in Braveheart – “FREEDOM!”

And it was a good thing we broke free. Because we weren’t too thrilled with St. Thomas. Maybe it was the American presence but it just didn’t feel like a Caribbean island at least to me. Way too commercialized and just not nice. St. Maarten had hawkers and things like that but St. Thomas was noisy and overblown. We were done with downtown in about an hour. One hawker kind of ticked both of us off. He was trying to get us into one of the many jewelry stores with the plea to Rich to buy me something. You know “you have a pretty lady, buy her something nice”. To which I replied “sorry, I don’t wear jewelry”. The retort from him (and he was American) was a nasty “then you are certainly in the wrong place”. Really nice customer service skills, huh?

We made our way towards the water side and hoped for some adult refreshments. That’s another thing St. Thomas didn’t have. Just places to relax with a beverage and chill for a while. Not without taking a taxi ride somewhere, I guess. We ducked into a mall with a Burger King (there were McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Subways on both islands – the great American contribution to fine dining all around the world) for Rich to utilize the bathrooms. I waited downstairs (bathrooms were on the second floor) and peered into a little convenience store. Earlier, Rich had said something about getting flavored rums and this shop did have the smaller bottles. Customs is more lenient with purchases made in St. Thomas. I mean, let’s give more money to the Americans, right? I also saw that they had cold beer available. That would really hit the spot right about now. When Rich rejoined me, he agreed. He also said that he really didn’t need any flavored rum.

Into the shop we went and this guy got a nice sale just because he tried a lot harder to make sure WE were happy and not just trying to get us into his store. That American guy earlier could take a few lessons from this native. The man apologized because his cooler was on the fritz but he did have some beer cans cooled down in the back. He even knocked off a buck from the price. We are back in America since the $1 beers of yesterday are no where to be found here. These were a “bargain” at $2.50. Then the man asked Rich if he was interested in the rums. Rich hesitated and I left the store. I knew the look on my husband’s face. He wanted to get something since the man was being so nice but didn’t want to make the decision. The decision making gene is not part of the Niklewski DNA. I do not like shopping with Rich at all. Eventually, Rich got three bottles of flavored rum that he can certainly enjoy on his own. Those Navigators on the first day knocked me for a loop, can’t imagine what straight rum would do to me.

We decided we were done with St. Thomas and the ship held more for us than the island. On the walk into town, we had agreed that a taxi back to the ship was in order. Not that the walk was too long for us but not relaxing at all. Too much traffic, too much noise. We didn’t get very far until a driver asked us if we were going back to the ship. Rich asked how much (ALWAYS ask before you get in). $4 each, not bad. And so began our St. Thomas Taxi Adventure.

The taxis are big vans so they seat quite a few people. We were the only two in the taxi. The driver did what I figured he would do. We had been on the way out of town. He made the left and went back down the main street to get more fares. A turtle could have gone those three blocks faster. There were no takers for a trip back to the docks – not this early in the day. Have to give the driver credit. He tried with every older person he could see. We were stopped for a while and a family approached the taxi. I thought I heard a much higher price being agreed up and the word “beach” mentioned. The family climbed aboard and we were finally out of the congested downtown and heading back to the ship. Or were we?

Our driver stopped our open aired taxi, went over to another driver, and I knew what was happening. We were being dumped for the family going to the beach. But it worked out. We were led to an air conditioned smaller taxi and we were the only passengers. Yes, whisk me back to the ship, please! Well, St. Thomas traffic when there are ships in port is like my typical commute home from work. No gridlock at intersections but waiting through several cycles of the traffic light to inch your way home. It took us well over an hour to get back to the ship. The turtle made it back before we did, I’m sure.

Our reward for our adventure was a beer before we boarded. Glad we did that. It was a nice place and we sat at a table watching all the shoppers rushing by. Then Nature Boy (Rich) just about spit out his beer. Crossing the parking lot was a big fat iguana. Eagle Eye (Rich) also spied another one tucked serenely in the bushes. I grabbed the digital and went to get some rather awesome pictures of the guys. Rich and I agreed the iguanas reminded us so much of our oldest cat, Todd. Todd is fuzzier and the iguanas’ tails are a bit longer but the size of the bodies and the way the lizards sauntered was exactly like Todd (he’s not fat, he’s big boned). When we left to board the ship, the second iguana (the first one had made it safely across the parking lot) decided to join his friend. We stood guard to make sure he arrived safely. I wanted to make a joke “so why did the lizard cross the road?” Believe it or not, that was a highlight of our visit to St. Thomas.

Back on the ship, we just relaxed in the room. Both of us napped, I did the report, Rich read. And checked to see if we had cell phone coverage. Since we were in America and all. We did! I guess I should understand Bobbie and her motherly tendencies because the only people we wanted to talk to were The Kids. Rich cleverly used the excuse that he needed to verify his fantasy football scores. Yeah right. We talk to The Kids, at least through AIM or emails, just about every day. It was killing us not to have contact with them. We promised to call from Daytona and wondered just what the hell we would have done without cell phones.

BTW – Rich was hammered in fantasy football. All his players had a horrible week. He wins the division and loses in the first round of the playoffs. Oh well, he made his money back at least.

There was another sail away party set for 4:15 so we headed up to Deck 10 for that. Junction 21 played again and you would think we’d get sick of them by now. But every time we saw them, they did different songs. Their playlist must be huge. We really enjoyed this time. Sitting at a table on Deck 10 (starboard side to see things), listening to good music, connecting with our little family earlier. Life can be good.

There was another ship docked behind us but Captain Thom expertly backed us away. I don’t know what it was about the other ship but I didn’t like it. Not to keep going on about the Disney Magic but it just looks so much cooler than the other cruise ships. I think when Michael Eisner (stop booing – he did some great things for Disney) went with a classic style design, he nailed it. One thing I didn’t expect was the “When You Wish Upon a Star” horn blast again. Totally freaking awesome. I waved to everyone on the other ship and knew we were having a better time on ours.

After the festivities, we went back to the room to dress for dinner. We were back in Lumiere’s tonight but with the Master Chef dining menu. For the record, even though on a seven day cruise you will repeat a restaurant (one three times, two twice), you do not repeat a menu. You get the standard menu of each restaurant on your first three nights. Then the special menus for the other four nights. So plan your Palo dining around that if you want.

We did our now standard of swinging by Bobbie and Ed’s room to pick them up for dinner. I was looking forward to Lumiere’s again but this time without all the Beauty and Beast explanations for Bobbie. This dinner was going to be one of the best for me. For the only time on board, I did all four courses. Once Rich saw one of the appetizer options, he just groaned and rolled his eyes. Mussels! I love mussels. He is, let’s just say, less than keen on these critters. For a salad, I had the tomatoes and mozzarella. That led to more comments from Rich because he doesn’t like tomatoes at all and doesn’t understand how someone can eat cold mozzarella. That produced a gasp from Bobbie because she didn’t realize Rich doesn’t like tomatoes. This has been an on-going topic with her and Rich. Maybe she’s forgotten all of Rich’s eating habits since we’ve been married but a few months ago she was amazed Rich doesn’t like mashed potatoes. I have never seen my husband eat a tomato or mashed potatoes. Ever. Cracks us up when Bobbie does her “you don’t eat that?” thing. For me, it was her realizing I don’t eat fish. I’ll eat shellfish but not real fish. Go figure – Rich eats fish. We are so totally different with our eating habits. My entrée was the half roasted chicken (which Rich doesn’t eat because it has bones in it – I don’t like deboned chicken) and then finished with the mixed berry crumble. I was grateful Narnia didn’t start until 10:30 so I could relax for a while and let the food digest. Hopefully, I’d remain awake through the evening performance.

After dinner, we returned to our respective cabins and planned to meet at the theatre entrance for the show. Tonight was Gary DeLena, a comedian. I told Rich that we really didn’t have to go since I had never heard of the guy. Rich’s reply was very good. He said “until a few days ago you never heard of Rich Purpura but you like him now”. Point taken. When we got back to the room, we had the dreaded tip envelopes. I was prepared to take care of our tips at Guest Services sometime tomorrow anyway since it was a sea day and there was no way I was going to wait until Friday. However, the whole process had another typical Niklewski conversation going once we got back together.

Bobbie and Ed were VERY concerned about the envelopes and the fact that we hadn’t settled up yet. They thought our servers and steward would be upset to see nothing had been applied as a tip yet. That’s not the case at all but nothing I could say would sway them. However, we did get a surprise when Bobbie said that we should fill out the forms and then give them to Ed and they would take care of it for us! She said it really was part of the cost of the cabin so they’d do the recommended amounts for us. That was unexpected. Our agreement was Bobbie and Ed picked up the cost of the cruise without incidentals. The mugs of beer and any other cash outlays were our responsibility. I figured that included the tips. Whoo hoo, our bank account sure did thank the in-laws!

But Ed was insisting on settling the tips ASAP. Like tonight. Sigh. I said I’d get him the forms as soon as I could. I certainly wasn’t going to rush and complete them right after the show. One other thing that drove me nuts with the in-laws. The whole picture taking thing. We did have a few pictures snapped at the table by the photographers. Even though Bobbie had said how expensive they would be, every single night we had to be herded into Shutters to look at the damn things. The one of Rich and me arriving turned out nice and they did buy that one for us. Eventually, we’d get a second one of us at dinner so we could send it to The Kids. Honestly, getting Rich into a picture is a chore. When I told Chandra he was in one, she just about fainted.

So with the tip situation and the picture situation temporarily on hold, we could enjoy the show. And we did enjoy the show. Gary DeLena is from New York and now lives across the river in New Jersey. He did a very family oriented show tonight but would be in Rockin’ Bar D lounge tomorrow night for an adults only show. Rich and I made plans to go there. Glad I listened to my husband and came to this show. I guess I’ll keep him around a while longer.

We said good night to Bobbie and Ed and headed for our Narnia fix of the cruise. I wasn’t expecting very much since I’m not really into fantasy. But the film was just released and this was a perfect opportunity to see it relatively pain free. We could bring our travel mugs in with us and that, in my humble opinion, is the only way to see a movie. And it wasn’t the wine but WOW what a film! I was Narnia transformed. Excellent movie. Yes, this could be the one to save Disney’s non animated company. OK, the ending was a bit predictable but nicely done. Disney is missing a fortune if they don’t soon get Narnia plushes out. We went to Disney World for Christmas and couldn’t find any. The beavers were hilarious. The lion was a favorite but our son, of course, went with the evil wolf as his personal fave. Rich and I couldn’t understand why Bobbie thought the whole movie was too violent. It did have its moments but the whole message was positive, we thought. It’s not all Mary Sunshine in the world.

After we came back from Narnia, it was time for lights out. Tomorrow would be a total down day. I have my massage and pedicure at noon so Rich was on his own until after that. Sleeping in was a priority.

Day Seven – Thursday, December 15, 2005 – Massage, Rolling at Seas

We did sleep in. I will have to say that having the curtain in between the sitting area and the sleeping area is priceless. Every morning, I’d get up and work on the report as quietly as I could while Rich slept on. I even gave up turning the laptop off. I just kept it plugged in and running for the cruise. I trusted Margaret not to run off with it and left it out on the desk. So I typed, Rich snoozed and we both enjoyed things. I could even open the curtains and look out the porthole, I mean huge window. I loved that window. And glad we didn’t get the verandah. It would have been a waste. Bobbie and Ed didn’t use it that much either since it was either too sunny, too dark, or too windy.

Rich got up late enough that the normal breakfast with the parents wasn’t going to happen. So we chilled in the room and got ready for the day. I wasn’t going to go anywhere since I had my foot massage and pedicure at noon. We waited for that time and then I went to Deck 9 for my indulgence and Rich went up to Deck 10 for his indulgence. Yes, he did take the mug for beer but also his book. He really got into it so I’m not complaining (the book, not the beer).

I went to the spa with a little trepidation. I don’t usually do these kinds of things but really wanted to experience it on the ship. I’ve had massages before but it hasn’t been a huge luxury for a long, long time. The $55 for this treatment was well worth it. I had to fill out some paperwork and then waited just a short time for my therapist. I totally forgot her name but she had just the right amount of talkativeness but there were nice long moments of silence. I just let her do her work and sat back and watched the bow of the ship through those wonderful big picture windows. Pure, pure, pure bliss. I had regretted not getting a full massage but this was better. I could see the ocean and think of nothing but good thoughts for 50 whole minutes. Definitely worth the $1.10/minute. Plus a nice tip I left as well. After the last two days of walking around, this was the best thing I could have done. Highly recommended.

I joined Rich near the adult pool and we decided that we were hungry. We went down to the cabin and called Bobbie and Ed. Surprise, they were ready for lunch too. But they wanted Topsiders since it was a seafood buffet today. The thought of Topsiders was not for me. I’m sorry but I just had a wonderful massage and I did not want the “merriment” of the kids and the kiddie pool and everything else. Truth be told, and I did express my wish, was a nice “order off the menu” lunch at Lumiere’s. Nope, couldn’t do that because it wasn’t a buffet and since it was “free”, Bobbie had to have all the food she could eat. Sigh. We compromised on the seafood buffet at Parrot Cay. I had to convince the in-laws that even though this meal was in one of the three restaurants, it still was a buffet. Gosh, they STILL haven’t trusted me yet!

But we went down to lunch and I had a feast. Which I would pay for later. Steamed clams! Once I saw those, the entire meal was a bad idea. I love mussels and clams are not far behind. I think I had some other things but I believe I had four or five or seven or nine plates of clams. Bobbie said something like she’s never seen me eat that much. Rich said she’d never been around me during a seafood feast. Others did a more sane lunch but I finally quit when I realized Bobbie and Ed were on their coffee and I was still thinking about another plate of clams. Oh, I rolled out of there.

We split up then and I went back to the room to crash big time. The massage and pedicure and the huge lunch would have me asleep for the next two hours. Tomorrow was Castaway Cay and our last full day of a Disney cruise. I wanted to be ready for anything. Yeah, wimpy excuse but hey, we’re on vacation and it’s been a full week.

The others went to the adult pool and “enjoyed” the rolling waters. I was concerned about getting seasick and today would be the day to test me. While Rich and his parents had “fun” on deck, I’m glad I was in the room and asleep. The ship rocked and rolled all day and night. The other three had a good time in the pool since the water produced waves. Glad I wasn’t there to see it. The only time the weather was less than perfect. But I missed it. I did feel it walking around the ship later but nothing that produced any physical symptoms. Mentally, yes, but physically, no.

I woke up around 4:00 and had some time before getting ready for dinner. Tonight was semi-formal night and the Captain’s Gala menu. We were back in Animator’s Palate but without “the show”. While I was getting up, Rich was still snoozing but I decided to go to Deck 9 for some ice cream. I had been snacking on ice cream just about every night. The raspberry sauce was great and perfect with the mix of vanilla and chocolate soft serve. Something about having that and watching the ocean rush by was amazing.

So now that I was well rested and fed and feeling very good, I went shopping. I don’t do that very often but Rich and I made quick trips into the ship’s stores when we were in the neighborhood. I had decided that my souvenir of the trip was going to be a Disney Cruise Line keychain. We have three cars and I keep each set of keys on a separate keychain. I also have the house key on one of the chains so I’ll utilize this chain for that. And I got special gifts for Rich and Chris. We had seen Crush and Squirt (the cool turtles from Finding Nemo) plushes. I thought they were so cute. Rich loves the way Crush says “Dude” with a California accent. And Rich is always calling Chris Little Dude which is what Crush called Squirt. So I got a Crush for Rich and a Squirt for Chris. My big purchase of the trip. Up until now, my spending has been quite conservative, as usual.

Back to the room where Rich enjoyed my purchases but did say he felt bad about having to split up Crush and Squirt. I reminded him that kids have to grow up and move away, just like Chris did. Our attire for the semi-formal night was split. Rich went with just a long sleeve shirt and no tie but with his suit pants. I had gotten a nice silky shell dress at Ross Dress for Less (sense a pattern?) for a whopping $14 that was perfect. Colorful and kind of sleek. Too bad this might be the only time I wear it. We just don’t go out that much. Another reason not to spend huge bucks on a dress.

We collected the in-laws and then went for the dinner. Bobbie had mentioned that she really wanted lobster and was disappointed when we had the Meet the Captain thing earlier (on Tuesday for Pirates Night) that we hadn’t had it. I did a big sigh and mentioned that it was the Captain’s Gala and I had given the latest menus to Bobbie at Thanksgiving and she said she read through them. There was lobster tonight.

Before we left the room, I had given Ed the tip sheets so he could deal with them. He was primed and ready to take care of everything tonight. The deal with the sheets is that you will get a slip of paper back for each server or steward plus an envelope. The amount of your tip will be indicated on the paper but you can add any amount you want to the envelopes. That was perfect for Rich and me. Bobbie and Ed paid the minimum recommended amount but we could add whatever we wanted. And we did. The head server, Mac, got a few extra bucks just because he followed up on everything. Kristian and Michelle each got a little more because they tried hard. It was spotty service but they recognized the others during breakfast and on Castaway Cay. And Margaret, our steward, got a nice big tip from me just because it was a treat coming back to that room every night with a fresh bowl of ice and a clever towel animal somewhere. Most of the times, she used our sunglasses to highlight a camel or a monkey (who was hanging from the curtain rod – it was so cute). I couldn’t wait to see what she had fashioned during the day. I guess the big highlight was when I came back before an evening performance and Margaret was outside stocking up on things. She addressed me as “Miss Sheri” and asked if everything was going fine. She explained that they were trying out new toiletry products and would welcome any comments I had. So great experience with our steward. Bobbie and Ed, on the other hand, never saw their guy. They had OK service but nothing spectacular. Margaret got a little more just because she went a bit out of her way for us.

On the way to dinner, we had an interesting conversation with Bobbie and Ed. Rich and I were walking in front of them and Bobbie said she was concerned about Christmas shopping. She really hadn’t done that much. She asked what she should get us for Christmas. Rich and I just looked at each other and at the same time, turned around and said “this is it”. Meaning the cruise. I mean, this was a great Christmas/anniversary present, wasn’t it? That’s what we intended for it to be. Bobbie just laughed and then said “well, what do you want for your anniversary?”! I about fell over and so did Rich. Again, we turned around and said “this is it”. Bobbie then said, and I kid you not “you mean we can just get away with this cruise and we are done?” Oh gee, no, we want the stars and the moon while you are at it.

On to dinner which was great. Everyone ordered lobster, of course. I did an appetizer of baked clams but was disappointed. Baked meant stuffed with bread crumbs. Not what I expected. I ate as much as I could but waited for that lobster. Which didn’t disappoint. Kristian took it out of the shell which was greatly appreciated. I love the film The Little Mermaid but I think Ariel would be so upset with all our eating habits today. If I killed a cow earlier, we all practically drained the ocean today. Vegetarians, pick yourselves up from the floor now.

After dinner, we did our normal routine (checking out pictures, me going back to the room to get our mugs, and meeting at the theatre). We did have an encounter. As we walked the parents back to their room, Rich saw where the steward was mopping the floor or something. There was a bucket out in the hallway. The steward was concerned we were bothered by the whole thing. It was the reverse. We didn’t want the steward to go out of his way to accommodate us. Rich quipped “I don’t want you to kick the bucket”. It took just a second but then the steward just busted out laughing.

Then we had Disney Dreams. I had warned Rich that I would probably lose it during the performance but I didn’t. It was a cute show and Rich really liked it. The girl had Peter Pan show her how Disney Dreams really do come true.

We parted ways again and Rich and I headed for *gasp* the Rockin’ Bar D! Junction 21 was on again for 70s night plus Gary DeLena was going to do his adult show. This was the most crowded the bar got all cruise long. We spent a good three hours here just relaxing and enjoying everything. The music was great, Gary DeLena did a wonderful adults only show. Really, he brought out his New York attitude and I had a great time listening to a Yankee after almost five years in the South. I love where I live now but having that kind of humor was a great pick-me-up. The music was great and Junction 21 was dressed in 70s garb. So was the entire serving crew. Rich just said “why would anybody dress like that?” I had to remind him (gently of course) that the 70s were our decade. That’s what we grew up with. OK, so we pretend it didn’t happen but it did. It is amazing how many songs came off of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, though. I think we heard every single one of them.

We got back to the room well after midnight. I didn’t want to leave but we had Castaway Cay and our last day tomorrow. We crashed. Me on the couch this time. I was that tired. We did change the time back on our clock in the room. Silly me forgot one important time piece.

Day Eight – Friday, December 16, 2005 – WOW!

I woke up a little later (any wonder with the late night) around 9:00. I opened the curtains on the “porthole”/window. Oh my, my. We were backing into Castaway Cay. Which meant the island was on our starboard side. The next half hour was pure Magic. Do you ever have that vision of a perfect tropical paradise? Of white sandy beaches and no worries, no cares? That was my next 30 minutes. Words cannot describe how I sat there and just watched everything. Rich finally moved and came into the sitting area (that curtain in between was great) and said “whaa, where, whoooo?” Then he saw the image outside the window as well. Hello, Castaway Cay!

The phone rang then and shattered all our illusions. Bobbie and Ed were prepared for the normal deboating at 10:00. We weren’t going to make it. Why the hell would we even move with the view we had? The four of us decided that we weren’t going to experience Castaway Cay together. So Rich and I got slowly ready. Oh, that view was fantastic!

I don’t think we got going until after 11:00. If you’ve never seen Castaway Cay, then you have never lived. It’s Disney on a paradise island. Honestly. Yeah, I’m over the top sentimentally with Disney but this was the tops. I’m so glad they do this on the last day. If this was the first stop, the rest would pale by comparison. We decided to walk the entire way to the adults only beach and just take in all the stuff along the way. Bobbie and Ed had expressed an interest in snorkeling so we figured they would be out doing that. My goal was the Air Bar BBQ way out at the over 18 beach area. I knew Cookie’s was serving lunch but I wanted a much less hectic environment. And we got it. After a nice long walk.

Here’s a hint. Unless you REALLY want to experience walking down a long hot abandoned runway, take the tram from the family beach to the adults only beach. Glad we did the walk but quickly decided that mechanical power was better than foot power on the way back. But we made it and grabbed some lunch. Rich had the cheeseburger and I really appreciated the steak sandwich. Figured the cow was already dead and all. We enjoyed our lunch and then got ready for a nice time at the beach.

I had heard that that this stretch of beach needed some serious consideration with getting umbrellas and loungers. We didn’t need it. We had just entered the beach area and were prepared to walk down a ways if we needed to. A very cheerful fellow cruiser (who else would be on the island) saw us and said the lounger next to him was open and available and shaded. Perfect!

So we sat and then waded in the water. That’s all we were interested in anyway. But that water was COLD! Reminder for December. The Caribbean sure as heck ain’t heated. After our brief stop here (I could have spent all day but that book I brought along hadn’t even been cracked open so forget that), we decided to seek out other things. And Castaway Cay has something for everyone. Did I say how much I loved this island?

On the way to the tram, Rich spied the Castaway Air Bar and decided that a few drinks along the water were in order. Oh, joy! This was great. It was just the two of us in the outdoor area enjoying each other and some beverages. I know I forgot about everything in life at that moment. Did I say how much I loved this island?

But we finally made our way back to the tram stop. We got off at the family beach and started looking around. We thought maybe Bobbie and Ed were there snorkeling. We actually did find them! But they weren’t in the water. They agreed that the temperature was a bit cold. They were having a great time as well and we briefly passed some time. They had eaten where we did and we quite satisfied with the day so far. They did tell us to check out the game room, though. Said there were ping pong tables. Rich and I kind of laughed but that was a mistake.

We grabbed some drinks from the Heads Up Bar and then checked out the sports offerings. Huge mistake. Big mistake. What did we do for hours at Castaway Cay? We played ping pong. Oh, it was great. We were mad men. We went wild and crazy and competitive. We made a vow that once we get the basement cleaned up and cleared out, a ping pong table was going down there. We slammed, we bounded, we aced, we were awesome. Little kids couldn’t help but to stop and watch. OK, that last sentence was a stretch but we had so much fun for a long time. You can take all the video games of today and join them together but you will never duplicate the simple experience of some time with your spouse just bouncing a plastic ball back and forth. OK, and slamming the thing every once in a while. Did I say how much I loved this island?

My watch was telling me it was getting closer to that dreaded early dinner seating so we had to head back to the ship. Reluctantly. Did I say how much I loved this island? Disney got this one so right. Pure Disney Magic. Would it be a great day? Is this Disney?

We walked back to the ship with a stop at the post office along the way. We wanted to send a postcard to our granddaughter, Marlie. I had bought the card on the way in and just needed the stamp. And this American official really needed a dose of Disney magic. We had the cash. But our only problem was we only had a $5 bill. That was too big. A $5 bill? The man just groaned and complained that he would have to give our change in coins, would that be a problem? Rich did the happy Piglet Mentality and said “hey, it’s money, we’ll take it”. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon, I highly doubt dollar bills were scarce during the day. But we got the stamp and sent the postcard to Marlie. I still don’t think she got it but the thought was appreciated. Back for some Disney Magic, please!

Only to realize that I hadn’t sent my watch back that hour. So we reboarded quite early. All in all, a very fun day, though. We snoozed in the room. We were enjoying an afternoon nap. I was leaving Mickey wakeup calls for 4:30 to get ready for dinner. Tonight was our last stop in Parrot Cay and the ‘Till We Meet Again menu and presentation in the theatre. Featured were Gary DeLena (now a favorite) and Mike Super (a magician)

There was a debarkation presentation at 4:30 and Bobbie and Ed were determined to go there. I told them that we could watch it later on the TV but they insisted “it wasn’t the same”. For the record, Rich and I never saw the thing and amazingly got off the boat the next day without problems. But we did miss Brent’s perky presentation.

I had promised Chandra a great sundown picture for the cruise. And I got it. We were up on Deck 10 for the sail away party. Oh, that picture is now a screensaver for me. A perfect way to remember the cruise.

We met with the parents again for dinner and had to endure the Shutters ritual on the way. I liked the photo of Rich and me at dinner and wanted to get it. Rich said no. Grr. In the end, we did get it for The Kids. Well, Bobbie and Ed did.

Dinner was great and we had those darn tip envelopes to hand out. We gave Margaret hers earlier on since she was always there. She wasn’t obtrusive but just always around. With a smile on her face and a kind word to say. Needless to say, she got the most. We gave Kristian and Michelle their envelopes and got hugs in return. Unfortunately, Mac was on the phone as we were leaving. We handed over the envelopes and then got out of the dining room. Overall, I’d say the dinner experience was OK. Nothing that I would write home about but decent enough. Having the opportunity to eat four courses was a chore, though. I don’t do that in real life so I passed most of the time on all the chances. Even three courses were more than enough. I ate enough animal flesh to last me a life time. And the desserts! I don’t normally get desserts at home. Oh, maybe an ice cream bar or something at 10:00 PM but that’s it.

Dessert – for tonight, I had to do it. I just had to do it. Everyone else was going for the extravagant stuff. I knew what I wanted. I knew it from the moment I sat down. That was it. That was the cruise for me. That was everything for me. Well, until later. When Kristian asked me what I wanted for dessert I whispered it to him. Bobbie and Ed were intrigued. I told them to trust me.

And Kristian just smiled and said he’d present what I ordered. A MICKEY BAR! Total Disney Magic. I had seen the kids all during the week enjoying these and it was just what the doctor ordered for me. Talk about faith restored! A stupid little vanilla ice cream bar in the shape of a Mickey head and covered with chocolate. A thousand miles away from anything I know. But it was heaven. Kristian presented it with the same enthusiasm as anything else on the table. I was about 15 years old again when I made my first trip to Disney World. Everything was perfect. Could the night get any better? Is this Disney?

Tummies full but with foreboding since we had to pack that night, we headed out for our “normal” nighttime activity and met the in-laws at the entrance to the theatre. Tonight was the final night. UGH! I didn’t want to leave. I really did not want to leave. Like at Disney World, it was painful thinking about the end. But it wasn’t the end.

There was the performance. I thought with Disney Dreams, I had it OK. I wasn’t going to cry. But I did. This one was “Till We Meet Again” (since a trend?). It was just an OK skit with the message that you should dream Disney Dreams and Remember the Magic. I don’t know what it was. I think all the experiences, the love that this trip had involved with it, the phone calls back to The Kids, us being together, but the tears sure did fall with the finale. Rich didn’t say anything again. I took a few moments to collect myself in those final moments at the Walt Disney Theatre. I’d be back, right? Right? Some day.

With extreme reluctance, we went back to the room. Packing. Well, it was simple. I was smart when I did the initial packing. We brought the minimum. So everything that had been worn was dirty except what we were taking to Daytona Beach. We packed Rich’s three rum bottles into the biggest suitcase, put dirty laundry around it (who would want to be a customs inspector on the way home?) and just wheeled it out into the hallway. Crush and Squirt were in a carry on, much to Rich’s relief. Well, they would be the next morning. They were still sleeping with me on the couch. We passed up seeing Junction 21 one more time in Rockin’ Bar D (damn it!) to get packed up. Our three still overstuffed suitcases were dutifully put outside our room around 10:45. By 10:47, they were gone. So warning – if you put your bags outside your door, don’t expect to see them until after you are ready to leave the ship.

The in-laws had a bottle of wine that they couldn’t handle so we got rid of that until bedtime. I did NOT want to leave. I just did NOT want to leave. Our breakfast time for tomorrow was 6:00 and I knew we’d never make that (remember getting up at 7:30? UGH!) so I set a Mickey wakeup call and just tried not to realize we’d be back in the real world tomorrow already.

Crush, Squirt and I went on the couch. The porthole curtains were left open. Sad reality. That’s something to be said about Disney. You get away but then you have to come back. That sucks.

Day Nine, Saturday, December 17, 2005 – Life Comes Back in a Hurry but NASCAR Rocks

I woke up with no engines running. Damn it! We were back. We were back. It was a little early and we still had time until the final disembarking. (At this point, “who let the dogs out” was going through my mind). I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to be a stowaway. We did have a great view of the Port Canaveral Dock though. Drat that starboard side! This time, it was to see all those bags taken OFF the ship. So I worked on the report. OK, that’s what I pretended to do. Honestly, I sat there on the couch, looking out the porthole (picture window) and just cried. I had to do it. Cleansed my soul, my life, everything. Where else can you get that? This was an all time record for me crying at Disney. But you know what, it felt good.

Rich brought me back to reality by getting up. Love my husband but he’s not emotional at all so I had to wipe away the tears and get ready for the day. NASCAR awaited which would be a nice slide into a normal life again. There wasn’t much to do in the cabin since our bags were taken away last night. There would be no breakfast for us this morning. My stomach doesn’t wake up until much later. We got the carry on bags ready to go. Crush and Squirt were ready to leave. Once the ever perky Brent gave us the OK to leave the ship (I hated typing that sentence), we went to collect Bobbie and Ed. They were sure it would take forever to get off the Magic. Well, it would for me. I believed, I believed, I believed. Oh, and to actually physically get off the ship. It took five minutes at the most. Honestly, we were off that ship so fast it made my head spin. This time, it was the Disney porters that got the huge tip. Right there to help with the bags, taken out to where Art’s Shuttle was supposed to pick us up, friendly and cheerful at 8:00 AM. Damn them!

Art’s Shuttle lost some good things with the return, though. We were where we were supposed to be (try saying that three times fast) but no shuttle. Larger parties were being helped by the same line but not us four. Ed finally went down to a beleaguered driver and asked what we had to do to get someone to help us. Clearly, we were not happy. That driver radioed in and within a few minutes, we had a van with another family. Could you tell that I had to wipe some moisture from my face as we drove away? I kept thinking I’d dream Disney Dreams tonight and I’d Remember the Magic every day. That’s the only thing that kept me from getting out of the van and running back to the ship. That and the fact that I had no clean clothes except for tomorrow’s stuff. But it was tempting.

The other family was dropped off at their hotel which was further down on Route A1A than we were. Then we turned around and were delivered to the Best Western. Bobbie and Ed had another room set up for tonight. Rich and I wheeled and pulled and got all our bags into Elliott who was fine after a week without us. I know people are concerned with leaving their vehicle in an open lot but this worked out great for us. Both cars were fine and the staff here was wonderful. They even checked in the in-laws this early in the morning. So they could spend the entire day just relaxing and taking it easy before their train ride home tomorrow.

Then we wheeled and pulled all of Bobbie and Ed’s stuff into their new room. Same floor, just one door down from where they were a week ago. Only a week ago? Seemed like a lifetime. We had lived so many things in that one week. I had to really smack myself into the real world. NASCAR, here we come! Well, it isn’t Disney but with the new deal of coverage by ABC, it’s close. That’s a stretch too but I can connect the racing world with Disney. I can do it. I have those Disney Dreams.

I did get Bobbie’s reaction to this cruise versus their other ones. The verdict was that she didn’t like the kids. I didn’t either but it’s Disney and there were 2700 people on board and 1000 of them were kids (perky Brent told us that). The only time any child “annoyed” me was at the Pirates festivities. Otherwise, every child was so excited and well behaved. We saw them lined up with their nightly activities and they all were having fun. Would I go on a Disney cruise again without kids? You bet your butt I would. Because I really had a great time with all the adult things. Rockin’ D Bar was awesome. The adults only beach on Castaway Cay. The adults only pool on the ship. Sure, the shows were a bit noisier but the kids settled down once things started. Marlie will experience a Disney cruise before she graduates from high school.

Bobbie thought the food was “OK”. I will agree with that. Nothing spectacular but just OK. The service of the entire line got a huge thumbs up. Bobbie was impressed with all that. So was I but I thought I was remembering the Magic a bit much. From the time we boarded to the time we left, I never felt like I was ignored. Talk about service. Entertainment also got a high mark from Bobbie. It sure did from Rich and me. The in-laws didn’t do the Rockin’ Bar D or the trivia like we did but they still enjoyed everything. Disney entertainment just kicks butt every time.

It was only 9:00 (we were off that ship so fast!) but we hugged goodbye and started our journey to Daytona Beach. Back to life, back to reality. Back to us being responsible adults. That was tough.

The only thing motivating me was NASCAR. Darn Chandra for bringing that into our lives. Consolation was that we’d get to see Jeff Gordon’s car at the museum. Two and a half years ago (that long!!!!!!?????) Chris proposed to Chandra at this same place. Only in front of Michael Waltrip’s car. Daytona will take the winning car and preserve it for an entire year at the museum. Champagne soaked, confetti bound. I was a little ticked we missed seeing Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s car the year before. But Jeff Gordon is another favorite so this was fine. And we’d get to see it, not The Kids. But we’d call them. That was good enough, right?

Rich drove Elliott up Route 1 and then we had an adventure. For some reason, Kennedy Space Center was not allowing people through their facility. I think the Visitor’s Center was open but nothing else. We had a sign indicating heightened security. Rich mumbled something about the government again but I silently thanked someone watching out for us. It was a big slap in the face to realize that Christmas was in a week but people are out there and still hateful enough. We detoured around and continued on. Kind of a big comment on life, isn’t it?

We finally made it out onto I95 and went north. Boring but we found Speedway Boulevard and went in search of the hotel. It was the Daytona Inn Beach Resort. It was near the boardwalk area which we had loved on a very quick trip in August. This wasn’t the place we stayed at then (Rich’s company picked up the nice tab for that stay) but it was close to that location. I thought we’d just check in but not have a room. It was around 10:00. But the room was ready and we were set for the weekend. Cool. We left our one dirty laundry suitcase in Elliott and then got everything else upstairs. Only two floors so not a big deal. We had an oceanfront room and this is a decent place for a stay. The floor could be mopped every once in a while, though. We had a balcony, a refrigerator, microwave, and a couple of beds. And NASCAR was right up the road.

The weather today was not the greatest. Overcast big time with rain every once on a while. On the ship and the island, it was perfect. In the 80s every single day. And sunny. HUGE dose of normal life today. So Daytona was going to be dismal. Well, we’ll deal with it.

And did I say we were tired? The one thing we regretted from our only other visit here was we didn’t do the track tour. We were going to do that today. Plus, they added the awesome IMAX showing of the story of NASCAR. We had seen that back in Georgia the year before and loved it. Even bought the darn thing on DVD. So I was looking forward to that too. Can you tell we are a sports dominated family?

The $22 price tag was a bit much but in the end, it was well worth it. Let’s just say that I never saw the actual museum but was such a great day, overcast and all. First up was Jeff Gordon’s car. Personal moment (if you don’t get into those, move on). I stood in that room with a different car and just reflected on how my son’s life (and ours) has changed since that moment in May, 2003 when he proposed to a wonderful woman. Chandra is one of the few people in the country that will sport an “8” and a “24” on her window. I also am one of those people. OK, I can understand Bobbie’s mother moments. I had one myself.

Since we hadn’t had any breakfast, lunch was in order before the track tour. There was a meal of hot dogs and beer (souvenir cup, come on, we had to do it!). We did that and waited to board the tram. I expected a quick trip around the track to see the banking angles but we got so much more. First of all, the director was probably perkier than Brent. No, he was perkier than Brent. We got driven into the infield and were able to get out and see Victory Lane! Awesome! OK, if you’re not into NASCAR, you have no idea how cool that is. I even got a great shot of Rich standing there! A picture of Rich!!!!!!!!!!!!! We also could go up in the grandstands and Rich called The Kids. They weren’t home but he told them where he was calling from. Hehehehehehe. We will get them back here. Chandra turned us to the dark side of NASCAR and we’ll never forgive her. She took our son and gave us NASCAR. OK, she did give us Marlie. She’s forgiven.

I took so many digital pictures it made me sick to come back and download them. We saw everything. The tour director told us so many things my head spun. $22? I would have paid twice that much but I guess I shouldn’t say that, huh? But fatigue set in. We went back for the movie. The IMAX one. The terrific one. And we both almost fell asleep. We were that beat. At that point, we decided that the vacation was over. We did a quick trip through the souvenir shop but didn’t get anything (we had those souvenir plastic mugs after all). Then we left. A great, great time. But it was getting around 3:00, we were tired and beat from the last week. And the weather was getting worse. Fortunately, we hadn’t had any rain during the tour. They did have ARCA drivers trying to practice and we saw them waiting out the rain. Fascinating for us. Boring for everyone else reading this report.

So we left Daytona International. Really a great side trip from any Disney vacation if anyone in your party is remotely interested in NASCAR. Or racing at all. We got back to the room and crashed. Everything from the trip got to us. We did connect with The Kids and that was great. I guess that is what matters the most. Your family. Whoever they are, whatever they are. Bobbie has her quirkinesses, I have mine. But we are so good together. Add Chandra to that mix and well, we are undefeatable.

With naps and Disney Dreams, we needed food. Rich had seen the motel’s restaurant and wanted that. Which was fine for me. We headed down there but then there was the sign. SHELL’S! A decent seafood restaurant that we had enjoyed during our Disney visits. Right across the street. I was in such a cruise withdrawal that I never saw the sign before. I did the puppy dog eyes and we crossed the street (using the walkway so Bobbie would be proud) to have a great meal. Again, I apologize to all the veggies out there but cows and half of the ocean’s population were not having a great week with us.

After nourishment, we went back to the room. We had thought about going to the boardwalk for ice cream but the weather was horrible and we were tired. I did remark to Rich that it sure wasn’t like on the cruise ship. He agreed. So we decided to join the real world and went to the room and just did our normal stuff. I worked on the report and Rich read and we watched stupid American TV. The Disney Channel is where? Oh, not there. Worse things could happen. Like tomorrow.

Day Ten – Sunday, December 18, 2005 – Football Saves the Day

We didn’t bother to try and get up with an alarm. The weather helped us out. Or didn’t. It was nasty. Rainy, overcast, just horrible. In fact, it was so bad that the world famous beach was closed for driving. The waves were right up to the hotel. Nasty stuff. We made the sane decision to leave very quickly. Packed up and headed out. We didn’t even go to the front desk to check out but left the keys in the room. That’s how bad the weather was. Rich just wanted to get the heck home.

He drove us north and we had decided the night before to take a different route. I95 to I16 west and then I75 up to Atlanta. He got us to Jacksonville and Elliott needed some food so we switched drivers. The only thing that saved us on that boring drive on I16 was the NFL. We were listening to the Jacksonville game and that was horrible but at least it was sports. Can you tell we are a sports dominated family? Rich snoozed for a while and when we finally got to Macon, I pulled us over for a bathroom break and to switch drivers again. Rich got us back home a few hours later.

It was over. The entire trip was done. A year of preparation, lots of anticipation, and a ton of memories.

The Recap

Obviously, I didn’t want this vacation to end. We had our problems and downers but the good stuff far outweighed everything.

The Bad – The Dawn and Nicole Show before we left. Definitely not a good way to start a vacation. We dealt with that when we got back (another not nice scene but it’s over now). In the future, anytime I go on an extended vacation, I will clear my schedule the night before and the morning of and just relax before taking off. Despite Rich’s objections, suitcases will be packed as much as possible 24 hours in advance. No more last minute details that drive me crazy.

The schnauzer when we embarked. Never again. I should have just slowed down myself and met everyone later. I really wanted that first experience to be a lot better instead of following the masses to a buffet and lots of kids. And I’ll never follow another huge rolling suitcase for a couple of hours before our rooms are ready. One might have been fine if it was because of swimming suits for a family but two just because you don’t trust baggage handling is way too much. Heck, I thought taking the laptop bag was excessive.

The Islands – St. Thomas was my least favorite. If I go there again, I will skip the downtown and take a taxi to one of the beaches. St. Maarten was OK – the dock area was an eyesore. But I liked the shopping area and the beach was right there. The $1 beers didn’t hurt at all. Castaway Cay. Well, don’t even get me started. If you looked up the meaning of “tropical paradise”, Castaway Cay would be pictured. That whole day was perfect.

Things I Never Did That I Thought I Would – After that first day of embarking, I never went past midship on Deck 9 (except for pizza). Rich went every morning to Topsiders and the beverage station. I never saw the Mickey pool again. The only interaction with large groups of kids for me was every night when we went down to pick up Bobbie and Ed for dinner. Then, the kids clubs had the critters lined up and ready for their nightly activities. But all the kids on the cruise were extremely well behaved. The theatres were a bit noisy before the entertainment but things quieted down very quickly. I guess that’s my reaction to taking a Disney cruise if you are an adult only party. DO IT!

I never made it to the Rainforest Room. I never needed it. I was so relaxed and comfortable the whole time. It was nice to know it was there but to be honest, I forgot about it the entire cruise.

The Good – The handling of the cilantro and the cold soup stuff. Bobbie really is very picky about her meals. Extremely picky. After that first night, we never had to worry about cilantro. It is now another inside joke between Rich and me. We take notice of cilantro in every dish. Bobbie didn’t believe that her needs would be answered for the rest of the cruise but they were. Very nice touch.

The porthole room was wonderful. While I thought I’d love to have a verandah, it just didn’t matter. My times in the morning looking out the window while Rich was sleeping, showering, or consuming his breakfast was pure pleasure. I’m not sure how much Bobbie and Ed used their verandah but in our case, it wasn’t needed. I’m glad the extra bucks weren’t spent.

The Exceptional – As silly as it sounds, the damn ping pong. Just being silly with each other. A plastic ball, a couple of paddles, a cheap table and net. Spectacular.

The entertainment. After reading through the navigators posted on castawayclub.com, I was a little leery about the quality. Why didn’t I trust Disney? Everything was top notch. The nightclub-type entertainers were excellent (and it helped that we had seen Randy before). Junction 21 was fantastic! The shows were good and don’t get me started on the Golden Mickeys. I can see where repeat cruisers would be bored after the third time of seeing the shows but they were wonderful for us.

The whole cruise was exceptional. I know that every day I need to Dream Disney Dreams and to Remember the Magic. If everyone did that, the world sure would be a better place.

spectromen
08-24-2007, 08:06 AM
YES! I've been waiting for a Sheri report for months on end and it's just what I needed to get through Friday at work - even if it's almost 2 years old! Thanks S!!

<running to printer>

disnut8
08-24-2007, 08:20 AM
YES! I've been waiting for a Sheri report for months on end and it's just what I needed to get through Friday at work - even if it's almost 2 years old! Thanks S!!

<running to printer>

Thank you, thank you very much. Get ready for the onslaught. I've been writing the reports and waiting for a better method of posting them. This new way ROCKS so I'll be putting out two full years worth of reports in the next couple of weeks.

jcreek
08-24-2007, 03:22 PM
I love long trip reports! Thanks for posting. I'm definitely looking forward to more!

Jennifer

arnoldvb
08-24-2007, 07:39 PM
Quote: "The Islands – St. Thomas was my least favorite. If I go there again, I will skip the downtown and take a taxi to one of the beaches."

Sheri, as a St. Thomas native, I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience on the island. I read with interest your tale of taxi woes, and I understand completely. Although they provide a necessary service to the over 1 million tourists who visit the island each year, not all of them are courteous and place the highest priority on customer relations. Also, as you saw, the main street in the downtown area and the roads leading from the cruise ship dock to downtown are perpetually clogged with traffic on heavy cruise ship days. There have been discussions in local government circles to make the main street a pedestrian mall, which would make it much more enjoyable for our visitors, but the taxi lobby has always been successful in blocking that move. As for the gift shop barkers, the local government has taken action to stop the more aggressive and obnoxious ones, but some are still around.

Even with these negatives, the shopping experience is one of the main tourist draws on St. Thomas. Since you're not into the shopping, I suggest that if you ever have the opportunity to visit St. Thomas again, you take an island tour with a stop at Magens Bay. The vistas from the mountains and the beach at Magens Bay are worth the time. Also, there are several restaurants in the downtown area beside the American fast-food joints. The Green House, on the waterfront drive, is very popular with tourists because they can have a nice meal and/or drinks while they chill out for a while with a very nice view of the harbor. For those adventurous enough to try the local dishes, there are two popular downtown restaurants - Cuzin's and Glady's. Any taxi driver or gift shop employee would be able to direct to these places.

I hope you'll give the island another chance on a future Disney cruise. (And, no, I'm not involved nor related to anyone involved in the tourist industry on the island. Just a native who's proud of his hometown.) :)

Anyway, I've always enjoyed your trip reports on Mouseplanet and look forward to more of your reports here on Mousepad.

Arnold

wdwjan
08-25-2007, 05:53 AM
Wow, I can tell I won't get any work done this weekend.... Thanks SO much for posting this, Sheri! I love your trip reports!

Jan

disnut8
08-25-2007, 07:41 AM
Quote: "The Islands – St. Thomas was my least favorite. If I go there again, I will skip the downtown and take a taxi to one of the beaches."

Sheri, as a St. Thomas native, I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience on the island. I read with interest your tale of taxi woes, and I understand completely. Although they provide a necessary service to the over 1 million tourists who visit the island each year, not all of them are courteous and place the highest priority on customer relations. Also, as you saw, the main street in the downtown area and the roads leading from the cruise ship dock to downtown are perpetually clogged with traffic on heavy cruise ship days. There have been discussions in local government circles to make the main street a pedestrian mall, which would make it much more enjoyable for our visitors, but the taxi lobby has always been successful in blocking that move. As for the gift shop barkers, the local government has taken action to stop the more aggressive and obnoxious ones, but some are still around.

Even with these negatives, the shopping experience is one of the main tourist draws on St. Thomas. Since you're not into the shopping, I suggest that if you ever have the opportunity to visit St. Thomas again, you take an island tour with a stop at Magens Bay. The vistas from the mountains and the beach at Magens Bay are worth the time. Also, there are several restaurants in the downtown area beside the American fast-food joints. The Green House, on the waterfront drive, is very popular with tourists because they can have a nice meal and/or drinks while they chill out for a while with a very nice view of the harbor. For those adventurous enough to try the local dishes, there are two popular downtown restaurants - Cuzin's and Glady's. Any taxi driver or gift shop employee would be able to direct to these places.

I hope you'll give the island another chance on a future Disney cruise. (And, no, I'm not involved nor related to anyone involved in the tourist industry on the island. Just a native who's proud of his hometown.) :)

Anyway, I've always enjoyed your trip reports on Mouseplanet and look forward to more of your reports here on Mousepad.

Arnold

Arnold -

If St. Thomas was an island on another cruise I ws on, I certainly would not pass it by. It's not that I didn't like St. Thomas at all, it was just the least favorite of the three islands we visited. The next time, we won't spend that much time in the downtown area but will go to the beach areas instead. We just had never been there before and really aren't into the beach scene that much to spend an entire day there so we thought we'd spend our one day in the shops. Thank you for the suggestion of Megans Bay - we will definitely plan to spend time there if we have a chance to visit St. Thomas in the future.

We really weren't that concerned with the taxi ride or the rude guy hawking his wares to us. The taxi ride was just part of the adventure and it actually worked out better for us to be dumped in favor of the other family. If we had stayed with the original driver, we would have been in an open air taxi for the slow drive back to the pier instead of the nice air conditioned one we ended up with. And the traffic was no big deal to us. We live outside of Atlanta where it takes an hour to get anywhere.

So while St. Thomas wasn't our favorite island, it wasn't a horrible experience. I think I just pointed out the negative in comparison to the other two islands.

Sheri

arnoldvb
08-25-2007, 10:07 AM
Sheri, glad to hear that your stop on St. Thomas wasn't a total disaster. Not to belabor the point, since this IS a Disney site, but the link below is to a photo tour of the island on my website. The pics are a bit small, but you and other interested MousePad'ers might like to take a look. Arnold

http://www.sandcastlevi.com/travel/isles/stttour.htm

anniedg
08-25-2007, 09:33 PM
Thanks for posting Sheri -- I'm loving this so far (have only just finished your first posting). My in-laws have also taken us on some great cruises, but sadly never a Disney one. I think my SIL and her husband think Disney is beneath them. :eek: :confused: Anyway, I would LOVE to do a Disney cruise someday and am looking forward to all your details and comparing the differences and similarities to more standard cruises -- thanks!

raindodgerdorf
08-25-2007, 09:41 PM
I just spent most of my Saturday reading your report. (off & on admittedly) I loved it. Took me back to our adult only cruise we took right after yours. I loved "going again" today. Thanks bunches.

spectromen
08-25-2007, 11:12 PM
so I'll be putting out two full years worth of reports in the next couple of weeks.

OMG, you have no idea...with all the hell that's been going on in my life as of late, knowing that there'll be comforting reports to read for at least the next few weeks brings me insurmountable joy - thank you again... (fires up the printer)..

jmb910
08-30-2007, 10:58 AM
What a wonderful report! You brought back so many memories of my Disney cruise! My husband and I have been on 2 Disney cruises with no children and would reccommend it in a heartbeat!

We will be going on a cruise next year with his parents, and I hope that things go smoothly :).

Thanks again for a great report!

Jennifer

EJ4Disney
08-30-2007, 12:44 PM
An oldie but goodie! I loved it the first time and again the 2nd time. I love reading your trip reports. Your Rich so reminds me of my Doug. They sure act the same way!! LOL

Ellen
Atrue Nebraskan and Corn Husker!!! GO BIG RED!!!

Teenkerbell
09-04-2007, 12:25 PM
Once again, an amazingly honest, detailed and well-written trip report, Sheri. I absolutely love reading yours and can't wait for the others you have stored up. Surely there are some Off Kilter sightings somewhere in there. ;)

cheshirecatgirl
09-04-2007, 05:49 PM
Thanks for a great report! I always enjoy reading yours! And boy, it sure made me want to go on another Disney cruise!

SuefromRI
10-01-2007, 07:17 PM
Finally got around to reading another of you recent reports. I wish I had a relative or friend to take me on a Disney cruise-it sounds great. I laughed so hard at the part about the family can't make decisions--ours is the same way at meal times-what do you want or where do you want to go. That's why I think we like going to WDW where we have our familiar favorites and don't have as many problems. Is this a Polish thing? cuz my husband is Polish, so therefore my kids are too. The other familiar part was buying clothes at Ross-I just made my first ever trip to Ross in FL, looking for an inexpensive dress to wear to a wedding, hoping to see something different than the stores in RI. WOW-I found 2 "little black dresses" that were both $20 or less. I might have bought both if my hubby wasn't with me, and would have loved to have looked around more at the other depts. The biggest coincidence was that 2 hours after reading this I sat down to a cup of tea and changed the channel from the football game my Dh left on to the travel channel to see what might be on. What was is? A show on the Disney Cruise line and an interview with Brent, a cruise director with an accent. Also, I remember watching Randy at the pre-show of Hunchback many years ago and we were all very impressed, especially the Dh who gets dragged to these shows by his DD. I've been disappointed to not find him around anywhere else, but was happy to see him listed in MousePlanet's top 10 pre-shows article.
Knowing how much you enjoy NASCAR the trip to Daytona must have been awesome, especially with the personal touch of having a proposal there. We drove by it once, but that's it. Don't want to add salt to old wounds, but also glad that you didn't let the Dawn & Nicole show totally ruin your trip.
Just an extra reminder how thankful it is to have them gone. Your life was almost turning into "no good deed goes unpunished" between your generosity to them and getting injured on your return from your mother's funeral. Let's hope that is the end of negatives in your life for a long time!!

CHEERMOM
10-03-2007, 11:19 AM
Loved reading your report! It was such a coinsidence what you said about The Song of the South. We were just having a conversation with some friends the other day about this. They had no idea Splash Mountain was based on a movie, they thought the characters were created for the ride!:rolleyes: