Cruising with Disney

Disney Fantasy

We’re back from our seven-day Bahama cruise on the Disney Fantasy™ and while the kids seem to have rejoined the Real World without a hitch—though with some magnificent tan lines*—my husband and I are still staggering around on sea legs humming “Be Our Guest”.

And doing loads and loads of laundry.

As many of you know, I approached this vacation with a high amount of anxiety about what we would need and what we would do and how I would handle the possibility that my family wouldn’t let me escape the experience without wearing a swimsuit.  In public.

But for the most part, it was a blast—a relaxing blast—and it was comforting to know that we were surrounded by families who understood about random pre-teen surliness and the low boredom thresholds of small fry in formal restaurant settings.  When I noticed a fellow passenger standing in a corner and lecturing their child through gritted teeth, I knew that these were my people.

The staff was terrific, the staterooms were comfortable, the showers were pure heaven, and the food was wonderful.  There were little touches, like towel animals and pillow chocolates and wait staff with impressive memories for preferences and a good supply of riddles and brain twisters.**

The Disneyness of the place, while obviously a fundamental theme, wasn’t oppressive at all.  Some people dove in head first and Lived the Disney Experience™ but the rest of us just skimmed the surface of our personal nostalgia, avoided the Princess Photo Op Corral, and/or took advantage of the company’s rights to the Marvel movies to see Ant-Man once or twice.  Three times tops.

My husband and I are already plotting to take another cruise, though next time, I’ll be referring back to this list of things I wish I’d known before we sailed:

disney-cruises-logo

1. Decent walking shoes are essential

 Sandals and flip-flops are usually good enough on board*** but don’t let packing space or weird tan lines prevent you from wearing decent arch support when you go ashore.

I brought my sturdy pair of walking sandals, but my mother’s quest for “that one shop” she remembered on Cozumel^ still nearly did my poor feet in—you know you aren’t doing well when the hawkers stop telling you about the bargains in their shops and start luring you with benches and band-aids.

 

Towelephant!

Towelephant!

2. Go off the grid

I decided to leave my laptop at home, figuring I’d write longhand and pay the minimum to connect to the ship’s WiFi through my phone to check my e-mail,^^ but I only tried once or twice with no joy—my phone couldn’t detect the signal.  My husband ended up borrowing a ship laptop to check in on my MIL, but the connection was very slow and intermittent, and ultimately wasn’t worth the bother.

Good thing we paid by the meg and not the minute!

And barring a bit of blog and texting withdrawal, I didn’t miss being plugged in at all.  My phone did come in handy for on board photo ops and to entertain Sunny on the nights when we were assigned to the boringest most formal restaurant, but I kept it in Airplane Mode the whole time.

 

Towel Baby!

Towel Baby!

3. Don’t care about the hair

You know how your hair reacts to your hometown humidity, but in equatorial, oceanic humidity, cowlicks go gleeful.  Arguing about this with styling implements, smoothing products, and bad language doesn’t help.

I gave up by day three—I’m stubborn—and generally wore my sunglasses as a headband indoors to keep the whole mess back.   By the time we reached Jamaica, I was able to walk through the windtunnel of Falmouth without care—and when the nice young lady trying to sell me a $2000 pendant told me she loved my hair, I thanked her instead of laughing in her face.^^^

 

Towel Rhino

Towel Rhino with nose blurr!

4. All body types are welcome

This ain’t the Love Boat—this is parents and grandparents and kids who are all too busy having fun to give a hoot how you look in your swimsuit.

Assuming you know what strangers are thinking about your body is defeatist and damaging . . . unless you’re focusing on all the strangers of your general size and shape who aren’t letting anything get in the way of their fun.  You can totally assume that these people think you’re fabulous and would like you to leave your towels and cover-ups behind as you stroll to the water, so they can check out the adorableness of your swim-shorts.

 

Towel Monkey!

Towel Monkey!

 3. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen.

At all times you are emerging into the open air, even if you’re only going to the buffet by the pools.  Reapply twice as often as you think you should.§

I had sunburned knees from sitting in the surf, even though the stuff we use was rated waterproof for 80 minutes, and I wasn’t in there that long.  I would think that the waters near public beaches would be 30% sunscreen anyway, but it apparently doesn’t work like that.§§

 

Towel Bear!

Towel Bear!

4. Save your receipts—there will be a quiz afterward!

The last full day of your cruise, your steward will deliver a copy of Declaration Form 6059B, courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection.  THis form will ask you which foreign ports your household members visited and how much they spent there, itemized by general category.

I saved my receipts because I do that, but my husband had to go through a few bags to jog his memory.  It was a blessing that the nine pounds of beach shells Sunny brought back, not to mention all the hitchhiking sand, didn’t count.

Of course, if you really want to be prepared, you can check the list of Things That Custom Agents Frown On before you go shopping . . . but what’s life without a little risk?

 Towel Monkey Again! We like Towel Monkey!

Towel Monkey Again!
Because we love  Towel Monkey!

4. Check every single drawer after you pack to go home, even if you remember doing it.

Because you might remember packing all your clean underwear and good bras from the upper drawer of the cabinet to the left of the connecting door . . . but  if you don’t make absolutely certain, it will become evident that you did not and tragically so, if you aren’t traveling directly home after disembarking.§§§

 

Snorkel Sunny!

Snorkel Sunny!

5. You aren’t actually obligated to do anything.

This is your vacation, too.

You can spend time with your whole family, part of your family, or enjoy some Me Time.

You can go swimming all day, every day, or never go near the pool.

Pirate Buffet!

Pirate Buffet!

You can eat at your assigned restaurant every night or skip it in favor of the buffet or a poolside food stall—or even room service.¤

You can see all the shows or none.

You can spend the whole day in the movie theater or never go at all.

You can stay in your room the whole trip and watch Disney stuff on television (or never turn it on after the suggested Shipwide PSA feature).

Princess Corral!

Princess Corral!

You can stand in line to get a photo taken with various Disney characters or avoid that noise altogether.

You can dance, play, write, nap, party, work Sudoku, take towel-folding classes, shop . . . or not.

You are paying the Disney Cruise Line to entertain, feed, and clean up after your family—let them take care of you, too.

 

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*Sunny’s skin went brown and her hair went platinum.  She looks like a walking photo negative.

**Joseph, our amazing assistant server, managed to stump the whole family twice—we still maintain that our answer to that one about making four triangles out of two by moving one crayon was perfectly right.  So there.

***Though it’s a bigger ship than you think and most of it, oddly, is inside, away from the pools.  So you don’t actually need ventilated, water-friendly footwear all the time.  And unless you become addicted to Elevator Roulette (I did, at one point, for the sheer challenge of it all), you’ll be taking the stairs out of sheer frustration.

^I’m not sure we ever found it, but the ones we did find were well worth the blisters, if not the walk back.  At one point, I was seriously considering hiring a taxi to take me the remaining six blocks to the port entrance.  Guh.

^^On advice, I was careful to shut down the automatic updates on my apps the day before we left; the last thing I wanted was to waste all my allotted megs accidentally updating Fruit Ninja.

^^^I’ll admit that I might have been stunned by the price of the pendant at the time.  I managed to extract myself with relative dignity and bought a nice, kitchy, CZ frog necklace at the duty-free for . . . somewhat less.

CZ Froggie

CZ Froggie

§ Especially if your idea of setting a base tan is to glance briefly at the Midwestern sun as you scurry from your air-conditioned library workplace to your air-conditioned car.

§§ Except for Sunny, who never had so much as a pinkish blotch on her.  Though we still squirted SPF50 in her direction whenever she gamboled past.

§§§Thanks again for running that emergency load for me us, Dad!

¤But if you go on the Fantasy™, try the Animator’s Palate at least once—it featured interactive shows guaranteed to make 8-year olds abandon Tetris.  According to the aforementioned 8-year old, they also have the funnest desserts.

Mickey Cupcake!

Mickey Cupcake!

Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to Cruise I go . . .

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I hate traveling.  I like being places, but getting there, for me, is never half the fun, especially if it involves airports.

disney-cruises-logoBut Mom and Dad wanted to take the kids on a Disney cruise and invited my husband and I along for the ride—and I may be a travel curmudgeon with a serious hate-on for how certain airlines treat their passengers, but I’m not passing up a free week on a floating amusement park that exists solely to take over the entertainment needs of my high maintenance offspring.

So on Thursday, we’re driving the seven hours to my parent’s house, then flying out to Port Canaveral the next day,  to catch the boat the day after that.  Nice and easy—and plenty of time for Plan B, C, and even D, in case cars break down and planes are missed and luggage is lost.

So this time, the big problem is getting ready to get there.

Since my only experience with an ocean cruise thus far has been reruns of The Love Boat (I love me some Bernie Kopell), I’ve been spending the last few days spinning in panicked circles wondering what to pack and what  not to pack, reminding myself that the Disney Fantasy c. 2015 is not the Pacific Princess c. 1979,* reading every article about Disney cruises I can, all of which have differing ideas of what to pack and what not to pack.

But I’ve made a list of things to take (Sunscreen, extra contacts, Jane’s inhaler, manuscript, PASSPORTS), and another of things that need to get done before we go.  It’s not that bad, really; all I have to do is pack for me, assemble boredom bags for the car ride, clean the whole house, pack for the kids (one of whom wants to take everything and the other of whom has a decidedly minimalist/grunge approach), get Jane’s hair trimmed, write out instructions for pet care, get to the bank, sort out my purse, buy toothbrushes and sunscreen, and return that butt-ugly dress I bought in a panic over “formal dress night”.  And maybe a few other things . . .

WiFi may or may not be affordable, so you may not hear much from me for a week or two, until I come back with a sunburn and pics—and maybe even a manageable sleep deficit.

Disney is supposed to be all about making dreams come true, right?

 

Ever taken a Disney Cruise?  Any advice?

Who was YOUR favorite Love Boat crew member?

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* I will not, for example, be meeting Isaac, however much I might need him, nor will I be on the prowl for anything other than an empty lounge chair and a nap.

Recent Reasons to Smile

♥ Janie asked me to have a Five-Minute Sit Down Breakfast with her in the middle of this morning’s chaos.  We managed two, but with a little practice . . .

 

Give Peas a Chance♥ Give Peas a Chance by Morris Gleitzman. A collection of kid-oriented short stories written by an Australian with an uncanny talent for balancing poignancy with humor (The first one in the collection is here).  The audio version (read by the author and the delightful Ruth Schoenheimer), which I’m listening to in the car right now is even better.  

My favorite so far is “100 Text Messages you must Read Before you Die”, which proves that actions speak louder than words and there’s nothing more actionable than a father’s love for his daughter.

 

♥ Friends who snark out of affection.

 

♥ I woke up humming a favorite song that I hadn’t heard in over a year—and it played on the radio during Two-Minute Sit Down Breakfast so I could groove to it in front of the kids.

 

♥ Pomegranate and Blood Orange Skittles.

Darkside Skittles

 

 

 

 

(And also the concept of “the other side of the rainbow”)

 

♥ Air-conditioned workplaces.

HOT

♥ Kids in superhero costumes who are happy to have a serious discussion of the merits of Batman versus Captain America with you until their parents coax them away from the library desk.

Cap Shield

Fresh Paint app♥ Children who can be bribed into vacuuming their rooms and setting the table with a pad of drawing paper and an hour on my Fresh Paint app, respectively.

 

♥ That I managed to discover a continuity error in my WIP and managed to fix it all by myself yesterday.

 

♥ A Harry Potter/Hot Fuzz crossover fanfic series that works far, far better than it should.  Especially when it calls Dumbledore to task for some of his shenanigans and eventually has Ron in it.

Potter Fuzz

♥ That I had something to blog about after all.

 

The Time You Need

Once upon a time, nearly seventeen years ago, my husband mentioned that the cat of a friend of his had produced a litter of kittens and was looking for homes for them. Long discussion short, he brought one home.

TobyThis little, dark gray scrap, dressed in white shirt front and spats for the occasion, sat at attention, his tail neatly wrapped around his feet, for the next day or two in our spare room, refusing to give an inch to catnappers, even though he was swaying with exhaustion, his green eyes closing every few seconds before snapping open.

We named him Toby, though he had a lot of nicknames over the years: Tober, The Tobes, Tobias Eater of Toes, Howler Kitty, and Bean Brain.

By the time I was carrying Jane, he had forgotten his old life and had taken up his role as Firstborn Son and Heir Apparent. He stretched around my distended tummy, and when Jane poked out a foot, he poked back at her. He wasn’t impressed with her during those first introductions, and spent several months elated when we took her out with us and utterly disgusted when we brought her back. I’ll never forget his face when she took her first steps: “Holy $#&%! You didn’t tell me these things were mobile!”

Typing!He acted exactly the same way when Sunny appeared—there’s a reason we dubbed him Bean Brain. But to the kids, he was part of the family and was always included in school drawings, a small, gray, betailed blob next to Mommy, Daddy, Sister, and Me. Sunny put him in her genealogy tree project last year as an adopted sibling with his own dotted line.

Cat Butt BagHe never met a glass of water he didn’t try to tip over or a blanketed foot he didn’t try to gnaw. He’s the reason I know that a jab to the eye does make you see stars—red ones—and that it hurts when a cat butts your shoulder with the top of his hard, little head when you’re trying to sleep through his bout of the Sudden Terminal Itchies.  He liked to shove things off my desk in the middle of the night, just so I’d wake up and keep him company.

But over this past year, I couldn’t help noticing some changes, though I tried my best.

He couldn’t reliably land onto the counter from the kitchen table anymore, and when he failed, he didn’t bounce up for a do-over. He couldn’t hit the litter box when he was standing in it and it took him a lot of effort to climb in and out—so much so that he rarely bothered. The levels in his food bowl weren’t changing and he didn’t seem to care for wet food or any of his favorite forbidden people treats.

A few days ago, I realized that he weighed less than a full coffee mug and I could feel his bones wherever I touched him. His hind heels were wearing through his white boots and his swagger was worn to a painful hobble.  He couldn’t sit down on my lap, because his hind end didn’t fold anymore and he stopped sleeping on my pillow, because the mattress was too high for him to jump.

He no longer did his nightly opera solos and would disappear from his usual haunts for the whole day. Sometimes two.

I’m not new to the ways of cats. I know what all this means.

Yesterday morning, I called the vet and made the appointment.  I spent the afternoon telling myself I was doing the right thing.

My husband told Janie before I came home from work and she cried and snuggled with Toby until her eyes nearly swelled shut.  “Why?” she cried.  “Why do people have to end?”

I told her that I didn’t know.  But that I was glad we’d given Toby a good home and loved him while he was here, because that was so much better than never knowing him at all.

“Yes, but he’ll be gone.”

“I know.”

“Why can’t we just keep him here until he . . .”

“Because we have a responsibility to take care of him,” I said, not entirely to her.  “He doesn’t know what’s happening to him and we can’t let him suffer just because we don’t want to let him go.  That’s not the right kind of love.”

“Oh, God, Sunny,” she said.

“I know.”

“Don’t tell her.  I mean, let her ask first.”

“If you think it would be better that way.  I won’t tell her until she’s home from camp.”

“Good.”  She teared up again.  “They won’t hurt him?  At the vet?  Don’t you let them hurt him!”

I told her that the vet would take his pain away and he wouldn’t hurt any more.

His pain,” she said. “What about our pain?”

“Time and good memories and hugs,” I said, giving her one.  “They work slowly, but that’s what we have.”

“This sucks, Mom.”

“Yes.  It does.”

Toby HelpAnd it did.

My husband cleaned the pet carrier last night and I put a towel in it early this morning.  After a search that wasn’t helpful to my state of mind, Toby was found and put into the carrier with no fuss, but he let me know the car ride upset him.  It was the first time he’d made a sound in a week and I almost turned to car around—if he could complain, he was okay, right?  That’s the Wesson way, right?

An elderly woman was waiting outside with her barrel-shaped dog.  She smiled as I passed by and said that the weather was beautiful after all the rain we’ve been having.  I said something agreeable and went in.

The receptionist was gentle with both of us and gave me a form to fill out to keep me busy.  Toby rubbed up against the vet when she examined him, friendly, if wary of her probing fingers, and unable to get his hind end to line up right.  He kept going back into his carrier and looking up at me; he was done here and wanted to go home.

So did I.

The vet told me that she could do bloodwork, if I wanted to make sure, but from his general appearance, he had thyroid and kidney problems, which would be chronic.  If she was right, there were treatments, but those would maybe give us a couple of months together, with shots and side effects, ending back where we were.

I signed the papers, marked my preferences for his cremation—I didn’t want his ashes, or a commemorative paw print plaque, I wanted my Toby to be healthy and playful again—and told them I wanted to be present.  I was the one who’d made the decision.  I would be there to see it through.

They took him away for a moment to prepare him with a catheter and I grabbed a handful of tissues and called myself terrible things.

An assistant brought him back, wrapped in a blanket and angrier than I’d ever seen him in his life, but I rubbed his neck until he calmed down, his hard little head pressed against my stomach, like he’d done when he was small.  The vet came back and he tensed up again . . . then relaxed, all at once . . . and was gone.

They told me to take as much time as I needed, and I wondered, not for the first time, if there was some way we could be offered that kindness before the final partings.  And maybe we are, if we’re smart enough to spend it wisely, with spilled water glasses and midnight howls and gnawed toes and fond exasperation.

As I left with the empty carrier and a handful of soggy tissues, the nice elderly lady was just coming in.  She took one look at my face and held the door for me.

Her dog bumped my legs with a cheerful doggy grin.  “Rocket!” she said, pulling him away, but I told her he was helping, too.  “Bless you, honey,” she said.

My husband was home, waiting until the last possible moment to leave for his class so he could give me a hug.  Then I cried for a while, sat down, and wrote this out.

Is it overshare, a 1300+ word, detailed  eulogy for a cat?  Yeah, probably.

But the choices that led up to this post were made for him.  This one is for me.

Time, memories, and hugs are what we’ve got.

And I’m going to miss him.

 

Reflections on Summer Camp

This Sunday, my husband and I will be dropping Sunny off at a week-long overnight camp.  She’s in a cabin with her best Friend in the Universe, Gail, and their shared excitement and anticipation could power every town between (and including) Chicago and St. Louis, if we could get them to stay still long enough to hook ’em up to the grids.

She would have packed the moment we told her, but she didn’t have a suitcase, something she reminded us about at least twice a day during the course of the last month.  My husband finally took her out last night to get a handled backpack affair that she filled to the brim ten minutes after they brought it home . . . except for her spare gym shoes, which have gone walkabout in the way peculiar to children’s shoes that were last seen in that exact spot yesterday, for given values of exact, spot, and yesterday.

awesomeshoesThe absence of these shoes has left a rift in her very soul.  She’s searched absolutely everywhere for those shoes!  Those shoes have disappeared off the face of the earth!  She has to pack those shoes!  The shoes are on the camp packing list!  The camp won’t let her in without those shoes!

Heaven help the parent—seriously, I could use it—who suggests that her method of searching absolutely everywhere, which consists of standing in the middle of her room and staring straight ahead at one corner of it, might not be the most efficient use of her ocular senses or pattern recognition.Laundry hamper

Nor, by the way, will that parent win any cause-and-effect argument over the possibility that since all her clothes are packed, she might well be running around stark naked by Friday.  Or that it might be necessary for a parental figure to UNpack her suitcase to make sure all items of clothing pass the two essential Does This Item Have More Cloth Than Holes? and Have You Been Packing From The Dirty Hamper?? tests.

I’m beginning to suspect that this kind of behavior is nature’s way of encouraging parents who are perhaps uncertain about sending their child away for a whole week to not only make the decision to give their precious baby a taste of independence, but also to call the camp to see if they can be dropped off a bit early.

Like, say, Thursday.

Jane, of course, is thrilled about Sunny’s impending departure as well, though no one would choose a preteen to power anything except a universal sense of sullen ennui.* She is visibly happy about having the bathroom to herself, presumably so we won’t have another repeat of this morning’s argument:

“Move, pleathe, Janie.”

“I’m brushing my hair.”Toothbrush2

“Buh ah havtha thpit out mah foofpathe!”

“You’ll have to wait until I’m done!”

“Ah wath ‘ere furtht, ‘anie! Moo-ooom!”

Please not that in that bathroom, the mirror and counter both stretch the length of the room. But in Janie’s estimation, only the part of the mirror in front of the single sink provides the One True Reflection** by which her hair may be accurately parted, for a given value of accuracy. ***

On further thought, perhaps we should have signed both kids up for camp. It would be nice to see what having a toothpaste-free countertop is like.

_______________

*We wouldn’t even need cables—it’s all in the cloud.

** I personally like to stand on the left side, where the vent wafts warm or cold air on my toes, depending on the weather, but it’s been made clear to me that I’m too old to get anything I don’t get.

***Oooooold.