Day One: Getting on Board
We boarded the ship as early as we could in order to spend as much time on the ship as possible. Think about it, cruises are not cheap, so the more we spend on the ship, the better bang for the buck we get.
Once aboard, we took the advice from other seasoned travelers and went straight to the lunch room as our stateroom (that’s what they called our room) were not yet ready. Many chose to went swimming before having lunch. We went to our stateroom around 1:30PM to find our luggages ready outside the door.
Dinner was very nice. The portions seem little, but we got very full because of the appetizer, bread, main course, then dessert. If you have food allergy like I do, then let your server know as soon as you pass the introduction. The same server will serve you for the whole duration of the trip, so you don’t have to repeat what you said, which is nice.
After dinner, we went to the theater and got in line early. Seatings in the theater are limited so be there early to get a good seat. The cruise director advised not to save seats for your party, so you need to all be there or risk losing your seats. We highly recommend going to the theaters after dinner and do not miss any show. These are the kind of shows that back home might cost anywhere from $50/ticket to $150, so you might want to maximize your money’s worth.
Day Two: at Sea
We spent the second day exploring the ship. Since we did not bring a lot of clothes, we started searching for self-service laundry room. The one we used had about four washers and four dryer. We purchased detergent and dryer sheets right in the room using our keycard. These are not cheap: while detergent and dryer sheet cost about two dollars each, adding to that the cost of operating washer and dryer, the cost per load is about $10-$12. Budget-conscious travelers might want to bring detergent and dryer sheets from home. We highly recommend of bringing dryer sheets: they add almost no weight to the luggage, but save a lot of money. If you bring them, make sure to keep them inside zip lock bags or they will loose their magic freshness.
Day Three: Grand Cayman
We did not buy on-shore packages from Disney. Instead, we just played it Russian-roulette style: We got off the ship and “shop” around for destinations. We ended up in wonderful beach which I forgot the name.
Grand Cayman is part of the British-oversee territory and it showed in the way people drive on the left side of the road. From the beach, we could smell the pungent smell of durian. Except for our younger daughter, we all love durian. However, if you don’t like (read: are terrified of) durian, let your driver know.
We spent most of our time on Grand Cayman at the same beach. Originally, we wanted to explore the town, but our daughters did not want to leave the beach. Being from Seattle, where the water is too cold year-round, we could not blame them.
Day Four: Costa Maya, Mexico
We decided to book through Disney for our excursion to see the Chacchoben Maya Ruin–a set of pyramid structures. When we got ashore, we got on one of the buses heading to the site, which took about an hour. Unfortunately, it was raining on that day, but the pyramids were an incredible sight. Since the trip took four to four and a half hours to complete, we disembark as soon as we could.
Since it was raining, the site was muddy and slippery. It was a good thing that we brought with us the raincoats that the cruise staff gave us. The rain prevent us from taking many pictures and video, but we did manage to capture a few shots. For those who care about history or anthropology, this is a must-visit place.
Day Five: Cozumel, Mexico
My daughters wanted to go on the Dolphin Discovery excursion, but instead of booking through Disney, we chose to book it ourselves to see if we saved any money. As soon as we got on shore and walked outside the fenced area, we saw a busy street full of shops and taxis. We asked for direction to “the dolphin place” which many people gave different answers. Finally, we booked through a middleman, who told us the price would include taxi ride to our destination and back.
When we arrived at Chankanaab, dolphin discovery park, we learned a few things. First, the price is identical whether we booked through an agent on the street, or at Chankanaab. However booking at Chankanaab is safer because we did not have to pay the middleman cash deposit. Second, we were swindled as the price did not include any taxi ride back, which costed $12 (prices in US dollars). If we were booking from Disney, the price would be $112 x 2 = $224 with transportation. When we booked ourselves, the price came to $79 x 2 = $158. Add $12 for transportation, we ended up spending $170 for the two kids–a $54 saving for two kids, or $27 per person. Also, in order to get into the park area to watch our kids, both my wife and I had to pay entrance fee of $21/person, which would be $26 if booked through the middleman. Fortunately, we did not. So, the lessons I learned from this excursion are:
- Learn the name of your destination to make it easer on your transport
- Take a taxi ride (or other mode of transportation) there. Do not book through any agent or middleman.
- If you want peace of mind, book through Disney. It might worth $27/person premium.
Once we arrived at the park, we had an hour before the next dolphin session. At this point, our family can get into a large pool, a mini lagoon, or hang around the bars, shops within the park. My wife and I chose stay dry while the kids had a good time around the pool. They preferred this pool over the one on the ship since it was larger, and much less crowded.
The park did not allow parents to accompany the kids in order to take pictures, unless we paid yet another fee. We chose not to do that and enjoyed ourselves at the Cove–their restaurant. The Guacamole and chips was good and the price was right: about $5.75 (US dollar).
Our kids had a great time with the dolphins, we could see it in the pictures the park took. However, they demanded $37 per picture, or all 24 of them for $124. Again, we chose not to purchase due to the high price.
Day Six: at Sea
On this day, we continued to explore the ship. We spent our morning at the pools and hot tubs. We also visited the movie theater and saw The Lone Ranger. We also took this opportunity of taking many photos at various places, especially with the Disney characters. At night, after the nightly show, we went to a club and found that they played disco of the 70’s. What a night!
Day Seven: Castaway Cay
We decided to go on shore as early as we could and it paid off: when we got the the beach, it is already full of people and we were lucky to find some chairs. Castaway Cay (pronounce: key) has to beaches. If you don’t find any chairs from the first one, continue on to the second one.
Next to our beach, Disney has a private beach for those who pay or belong to some sort of clubs. We recommend to to pay, unless you like to have an empty beach to yourself. We did not find may people there, only a handful.
- Check in at least three days in advance so you can choose the time that is convenient. Disney said the check-in time is from 1:00PM to 3:30PM, but we arrived early and was able to get in around 12:30PM.
- Once on board, you can immediately hit the pools on deck 11 since they are not crowded.
- Another option is to have lunch, also on deck 11. For the kids, they offer the “kid-comfort” food by the pool: pizza, burger, sandwiches… For the adults and kids alike, head the rear (aft) of deck 11 for the Cabana, a buffet-style lunch-and-breakfast place.
- Don’t waste for first hours checking out the ship–you can perform your inspection later. Instead, go swimming or have lunch.
- If you get seasick, head to the guest services on deck three midship and ask for some pills.
- Buy bottled water and bring them onboard. I saw many families who bought them by 24-bottle cases and the cruise will bring them to their staterooms. While drink is free on the ship, there is no water in the staterooms, unless you take a long walk to the dining rooms and get them. You can also buy bottled water onboard, but it is expensive.