Just like with camping, cruising is an activity that everyone we know has done at least once. So when a friend of ours planned for a group family cruise trip, it was the chance to check another item off our bucket-list. Having company is great on cruises and there were three of us families who went along. We did the trip last December and I had the post in the drafts for a while. Posting this now before it gets more than a year old.
The lack of a friend for our 15 year old put a slight damper on the planning but once on the ship, he managed with on-board movies and on-shore activities. Good food everyday cannot really tie anyone down for long. We went on the Disney cruise line and of course no one can beat the Disney way of doing things! It was a four night trip with two days on port at Key West and Castaway Cay and one day at sea. The efficiency with which Disney runs the operation in all its aspects without losing any of the friendliness is just unbelievable. Every single employee was courteous, friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Kids or not, Disney is the way to cruise. Our departure was from Port of Miami, so we flew to Miami from San Francisco a day earlier. Stayed at a hotel room with a panoramic view of the Biscayne Bay. There were scattered showers on arrival and so we room serviced dinner and breakfast and thus had a good segue into our cruising days.
South Beach.On D-Day we reached the port at our assigned check-in time and were ushered in by a friendly porter who took care of all our luggage. Our ship was the aptly named Disney Magic which can carry about 2700 guests and about a 1000 employees. A ratio of 3:1 is a sign of good things. Ate the buffet lunch that was waiting for us at the Cabanas and found our room which had a porthole to see outside.
Navigator app was useful from day 1 and helped to chat/text with all the people in our group and to plan activities for each day including the dinner menu! After a very energetic deck party to celebrate leaving port at 5PM, we set out to watch Michael Barron's magic show. It was geared towards kids and they enjoyed it. The Walt Disney Theatre is as big as a real theatre with comfortable seating. Then we all changed for dinner which had a pirate theme. Every evening there was a towel animal and chocolates waiting for us on the bed when we got back from the evening shows.
Animator's Palate and the the beginning of the 4-5 course dinners we enjoyed during the cruise. I had smoked salmon tarter for appetizer, butternut squash soup and lemon-thyme chicken for main course. The chicken was perfectly herbed and moist and tender. Mango mousse for dessert was not too shabby either. Afterwards H and I went to checkout the pirate party and fireworks on deck. Our daughter was mostly with her two other friends doing their own things. The three of us went and watched newly released Disney's blockbuster Star-Wars - The Force Awakens. My son had watched it 2 days before at a friend's birthday party but that was no deterrent. I couldn't help squealing with delight when Han Solo and R2-D2 made their appearance. Little BB-8 is a cute addition.
Mallory Square in downtown. From there we took a trolley tour of Key West. Then came the unexpected surprise and my personal highlight of the cruise. It turns out Key West was also home to none other than Ernest Hemingway, America's cherished writer. I had read 'Hemingway's Boat' few years back and the memory was still fresh. Key West is a small island off of Florida coast and the ambience is not that different from the port town of our own Kochi. Yes, even down to the hot and humid climate, banana plants, and coconut trees galore. The three of us got off at the 5th stop next to the writer's house while molu opted to stay with the rest of our group and continue with the tour.
Our trolley driver had told us that Key West is the only stretch of land in the US where coconut trees can grow with the very tropical climate. When we found a street vendor selling coconut water, we couldn't resist getting us some of it, the same as if we were in Kochi. Hemingway's house is meticulously maintained and is a pleasure to walk through with his pictures, books and movie banners for his books adorning the walls left and right.
The green green tropical garden only helped to remind more of green and tropical Kerala. One thing I had not known was that the Hemingways had cats who still live in the property. They were not neutered ad there are now about 54 cats longing and playing around the house and the grounds! In fact they are the real owners and have unrestricted access everywhere including the cash register counter. This gave us some solace from the missing of our own Zeus whom we had left at home.
southern most point of US soil from which Cuba is only 90 miles away. This explains the heavy presence of cubans on this island and Miami. Molu and company made a real stop there and took some good pictures. We all walked around Mallory Square for a short time and then got on the trolley back to the ship to catch some late lunch. Rested a while in the room and watched the evening Disney musical 'Twice Charmed' which has a twist on the familiar Cinderella story. Dinner this day was at Carioca's with a latin american themed fair. Enjoyed my sea bass along with a delicious cuban salad and the rest of it. And to end it all, a coconut tres leches cake, yum! Since the next day was at sea with no port activities to get up for, we walked around a bit. It was also Christmas Eve. Attending the quick and energetic salsa dance class was fun with an unexpected visit from the Donald to mix things up. We always stopped at the Promenade where a lovely couple played music all evening. Molu and friends spent quite a lot of time there both singing and listening. The couple were engaged and their love for each other made it all the more sweet to listen and watch. The girl was from Columbia and the guy was from Wales and here they were, engaged to be married and singing in a ship full of people from everywhere! Although tired, the four of us picked ourselves up and went for the midnight mass offered at Walt Disney Theater. It was a great to attend the mass on a gently rolling ship with people from all over the world including employees praying together . This mass made us happy and peaceful.
We all enjoyed the christmas celebrations and character meet ups and the extra cheer on-board on Christmas day which was spent at sea on the ship. While enjoying breakfast, lunch and other snacks with kids swimming away in the pools, the adults all got to watch 'The Bridge Of Spies'. Tom Hanks is not a favorite actor but the guy somehow lands in awesome movies. I knew without doubt this was the work of a master artist just few minutes into the movie and when the credits rolled at the end showing Spielberg as the director, it made perfect sense. Do watch it. Disney presented the 'Tangled' that day which was spectacular. The actress who played Rapunzel was so bubbly and energetic that one couldn't help but fall in love with her. Cocky Flynn Ryder was not far behind either. After the show we did some minor shopping on the on-board shops.
The next day we got ready, had breakfast and was on-shore by 9-10AM. This was Castaway Cay, pronounced Castaway Key. It is an island that Disney has leased from the Bahamas for 99 years. So officially we landed in foreign territory that day. It was a day of fun and frolic on the Caribbean sea. Kids and dads went snorkeling while the moms got tubes to float in the calm and luxurious blue lagoon. I don't know how to swim although both kids can and H can manage. There was a line touching the water that separated the snorkeling area from tubing. I caught on to that line and pretty much had a good time floating alongside. Molu climbed on board for a short time while Kannan opted for the shore. The BBQ lunch with fresh mangoes to accompany was the best lunch of the trip. Banana ice cream in cones were had by yours truly a little too may times.
Later while the girls went off water sliding, the three of us went biking. Bikes were easy and the roads were made for biking. Had a really good time doing a few rounds. Molu and friends had their hair braided and they all looked as pretty as mermaids. Few more stops for last-minute pictures and we went aboard one last time. Freshened up in time to catch the last Disney musical. It was called 'Disney Dreams'. Many loved this last musical that brought out every single Disney character - at least all the famous ones - and enacted worthy bits from Ariel, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and the Lion King. Dinner was at Lumier's. I have fallen more in love with French food. Gaston's escargots gratines - snails and cheese - were sensational. The delicious soup got me ready for my main course of roasted duck breast on potato puree and ended with the grand mariner's souffle. Our table hostess surprised us with naan, rice and butter chicken which some of us enjoyed. Then it was time for goodbyes on the ship.
We actually might do this again...