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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.§§
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!
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.§§§
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.
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).
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.
*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.
§ 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.