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Vacation is made easier cruising with a mouse

By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001


These days when my 2-year-old refuses to eat, get dressed, get undressed or go to bed, her mantra is the same each time: "Mickey Mouse boat. Mickey Mouse boat. Go back to Mickey Mouse boat, pleeeeeease."

I have to agree with her. It would be nice to be back on the Disney cruise. I'm a Disney sucker, so when my parents and I talked about splurging on a family vacation, the cruise was tempting. Still, we were a little nervous about spending so much money on what could become floating chaos with screaming kids on sugar highs and lounge singers in Mickey Mouse ears.

But everything was better than we thought it would be. I would definitely do it again.

We took the 3-night cruise on the Disney Wonder to Nassau, Bahamas, and the private, undeveloped, Disney-owned island Castaway Cay. There are also four-night and weeklong cruises. They all leave from Port Canaveral.

The cruise has so many activities for passengers any age. One afternoon our 4-year-old Olivia was in the camp playing croquet with Alice in Wonderland, our 2-year-old Charlotte was napping, my mother was in the adjoining cabin reading, my father took in the movie Pearl Harbor on the balcony, and my husband and I were at the adults-only pool, completing sentences without interruption.

But within an hour we were all at the kids pool, Olivia swooshing from the deck above to the pool in a huge yellow slide held by Mickey's white-gloved hand. Charlotte was racing around the pool, about 2 feet deep throughout, splashing in the fountains.

The boat was beautiful. The rooms can sleep up to five, with bunk beds that fold out of the wall. Even the porthole rooms I saw were plenty big and the porthole, about 5 feet across, offers a nice view. There were around 2,500 people on board, though I rarely saw a bottleneck.

The food was creative and tasty but, as it's cooked for the masses, expectations shouldn't be too high. There was a lot of it, from huge buffets at breakfast to chicken nuggets and French fries always set up by the pool to room service any time you wanted. Food is included in the price, which starts at around $500 an adult and $230 a child depending on availability.

As for Nassau, my mom and I enjoyed about an hour seeing the locals' Labor Day parade and bargaining at the straw market. But parents who took their hot children into town said it was a waste to leave all the boat had to offer.

Castaway Cay, the second day's destination, was a lot of fun. It's easy for me to say that, because I spent the first 45 minutes getting a massage in an open-air cabana at the "adults-only" Serenity Bay Beach while my dad and husband chased our ecstatic girls in the turquoise water at the family beach.

My husband spent a lot of time hunting down floats to rent for $6 each and trying to find a bucket for less than the $20 set they sold at the island's only shop. We had a cookout under a big pavilion where Charlotte was the first to spot Pluto, then Goofy, then Minnie as they worked the crowd and visited each table.

Olivia waited in the 30-minute line to get her hair braided on the beach, which she says is one of her favorite things on the trip.

There were as many as 100 kids in the boat's "camp" at one time with about 10 counselors. They were energetic and affectionate with the children and don't pop in those Disney movies until 10 p.m. at night. There were several groups broken down by age. Children 8-12 had a separate camp and did things like make green Flubber goo, learn about and try animation, and tell ghost stories in the dark. The camps are open from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. and you can drop your children in and out as you please. You have a pager at all times. Kids keep a bracelet on the whole cruise.

Teens have a teens-only coffee shop by the pool with Nintendo and other computers. On the island they took a bike tour together and a snorkeling trip. Some parents from Washington, D.C., said it was the first place they had been where the teen activities were "cool" enough for the 16-year-old to want to participate.

The playroom for children under 3, which costs an additional $6 an hour, was open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight. You have to make your reservations the day you board because slots are limited. The small room has only one small window and there's not near as much to do as the other camps. But Charlotte was happy playing with all the new toys the one time she went there for about an hour. There are plans to remodel it soon with more room, light and atmosphere.

We all ate together at two kid-friendly restaurants. At Animator's Palate, scenes from Disney movies change from black and white to color throughout the meal. Finally, thunder roars and the villains' pictures flash, then peace and goodness are restored and the heroes and heroines come back on to talk to us during dessert.

Our last night the girls went to camp while the adults ate at the top deck Italian restaurant. It was all glass with a vast view of the ocean. After dinner, all six of us went to the final live show, Disney Dreams. This was our favorite production with highlights of about 10 classic movies.

"Be prepared to be shelling out money left and right," said Stuart Farquhar, who brought his wife and two children from England. He rated the children's activities the best he'd seen anywhere. Like many on the boat, they were headed for Disney World in Orlando after the cruise. "Oh, yes, we're still in the grasp of Disney for six more days."

My only other complaint: I never saw a changing table out of about 20 public bathrooms.

- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at Oliviachar@aol.com; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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