Miami-based itineraries are planned through the first half of 2014, alternating between the Disney Wonder and Magic.
“[Miami] is such a great, vibrant city; it’s so much fun to be [here],” Cruise Director Christiaan Abbott told me as my family and I sailed on the four-night Bahamian itinerary onboard the Disney Wonder, with stops at Key West, Nassau, Bahamas, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
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Hotel Director James Willoughby said the cast and crew is enjoying Miami’s cultural mix, as well.
“We also see this incredible opportunity to take these four- and five-night cruises based in Miami,” Willoughby said. “The idea of having Grand Cayman, Cozumel as options and having Nassau and Castaway Cay as options, Key West, they’re great ports. Four- and five-day cruising is so successful for us, and we love it. We can offer so much in that short time period. It makes you feel as if you’ve been away for a week. Our guests are loving it. It’s so simple.”
My family and I started our adventure with a short drive to the Port of Miami, which offers ample parking for $20 a day within walking distance to the main check-in building. We checked our bags outside so we could explore the ship luggage-free and have lunch while our stateroom was being prepared. Our room was ready by 2 p.m., so we had a chance to relax before the sailing-away deck party with all my kids’ favorite Disney characters.
The staterooms are designed with families in mind — split bathrooms with two sinks and a bathtub, spacious closet (we fit our double stroller and one suitcase), bunk bed that tucks away in the ceiling, etc. — and many have private verandas.
Guests are put on a dining rotation on the Wonder’s three family restaurants, with either a 5:45 p.m. or 8:15 p.m. seating. The servers move with you as you rotate restaurants each night, which makes your experience more personal.
“Get to know your dining room servers because they are incredible at connecting with families,” Willoughby said. “We’re talking about cultural learning.
The Disney Wonder’s three family restaurants include Triton’s, based on “The Little Mermaid,” Animator’s Palate, which has black-and-white décor when you arrive and changes to color by the time you leave, plus an appearance by Mickey Mouse, and Parrot Cay, a Caribbean-themed eatery. There is also a range of quick-service dining options that open at different times throughout the day and night. The freshly made pizza at Pinocchio’s Pizzeria was our family’s favorite nighttime snack.
Parents, your experience won’t be complete without a date night. Take advantage of the ship’s fantastic children’s programs, and head to Palo, Disney Cruise Line’s signature adult-only restaurant serving unforgettable northern Italian dishes. Reservations are required; I recommend making your reservation as far in advance as possible because spots fill up fast; the same goes for the Flounder’s Reef Nursery (for infants to age 3).
The night of our reservation, we dropped off our daughter, 1 ½, in the nursery, which is impressive both in its security and quality of care, and then took our 4-year-old son to the Oceaneer Lab, where he went “to infinity and beyond” taking part in space- and science-themed activities. The Oceaneer Club across the hall is themed to Peter Pan’s Never Land, and there kids can climb on a pirate ship, play dress-up, do arts and crafts, watch movies and more. Kids are given trackers, so the counselors — who must meet certain training requirements/certifications prior to being hired — can keep track of your children at all times. Both the Oceaneer Club and Lab are for kids ages 3 to 10. Teens and tweens can hang out in either the Vibe or Edge, which both have activities and spaces to just chill.
“Walt Disney said, ‘I would rather entertain and hope you learn something than educate and hope you were entertained,’” Abbott said. “In the youth activities program, I want them to learn, and I want them to be entertained because they are on vacation … but I want them to take something away, and I want them to educate their parents.”
While in Key West, we took the Old Town Trolley or Conch Train Tour, a 90-minute sightseeing tour that takes you to many of the area’s famous landmarks and historical sites. You have the option of getting off the train at one of its stops to explore and then hop back on another train (they come by every 15 minutes). You can either book the tour through Disney or buy tickets at the train station, which is a short walk from the ship.
For Nassau, we booked a Disney shore excursion — the Seaworld Explorer Semi-Submarine tour — since we were not familiar with the Bahamas. Our group met on the ship, and a guide led us to the proper dock. We hopped on one boat, where we received a tour of Nassau Harbor on our way to the semi-submarine boat, which took us to the marine park at Athol Island. We went downstairs in the vessel to view fish and sea life in three reefs.
Castaway Cay was our last— and favorite — stop.
“Castaway Cay remains our No. 1 rated port all over the world,” echoed Abbott, adding that families love the aspects of safety and fun in a remote Bahamian island.
Willoughby said the weather is beautiful year-round, and families “just have fun all day long and relax, too.”
There are many rental and activity options, including a stingray encounter, glass-bottom boat rides, snorkeling, kayaking and more. We rode bikes around the island, floated in the serene, aquamarine waters on inner tubes, made sand castles and enjoyed a barbecue lunch (food is included at Castaway Cay).
Not all Miami-based cruises have days at sea, so if you want to enjoy the ship, set out early, whether it’s for an excursion or just to browse around a port of call, so you have time to try out all the pools, entertainment and activities onboard before dinner.