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The Wonder of it all
Disney works its magic on a cruise that has generational appeal

By Marge Peterson
Published: Nov/Dec 2001

When I asked my 8-year-old granddaughter, Kalie, what she liked best about our Disney cruise, she said, “playing Ping-Pong with dad.”

I started to say, “Honey, you don’t have to go on a cruise to play Ping-Pong,” but I stopped, remembering that my favorite memories of childhood vacations were probably not the ones my parents expected.

Her second and third favorites were locking her valuables (Donald Duck stuffed animal and travel journal) in the cabin safe every time we left the room and swimming in the ocean at Castaway Cay.

Three-generation vacation

As part of a growing trend, my son, Dan, granddaughter and I went on our first three-generation vacation, spending four wonderful days cruising on the Disney Wonder.

We arrived in Orlando the day before embarking and spent a few hours at the Magic Kingdom using Disney’s convenient new Fastpass.

The next morning, we boarded a motorcoach for the 45-minute ride to Port Canaveral. On the way, we watched a video highlighting the ship’s programs and activities.

After boarding, we ate at the Beach Blanket Buffet, toured the ship and enrolled Kalie in the children’s program. Disney’s Oceaneer Adventure offers programs for four different age groups: 3–4, 5–7, 8–9 and 10–12. Parents receive a pager for the duration of the cruise, so the staff can reach them at any time.

The Sail Away Celebration featured the energetic cruise staff and Disney characters singing “YMCA” and other high-spirited songs. Then they formed a parade with all the kids and marched around the deck.

We enjoyed Disney’s innovative rotation dining. Guests are assigned to three different themed restaurants during their cruise but keep the same table number and wait staff. The first night we ate at Triton’s, a dress-up restaurant with a “Little Mermaid” theme.

Kalie loved the food and enjoyed being pampered and teased by the waiters. They brought her a second helping of shrimp cocktail after she told them how good it was. They remembered her favorite dessert (chocolate ice cream) and made a mouse from her napkin.

The second night, we ate at Animator’s Palate, where the restaurant transforms from a black-and-white sketch to a color masterpiece right before your eyes. The menu was on a postcard, which Kalie later sent to Mickey with this message:

Dear Mickey,
You are the best ever. I’ll try to be at all your shows. You and Minnie make a good couple. I don’t care if my brother doesn’t like you. I’m still watching your shows.
Love, Kalie

The night Dan and I dined at Palo, the adult-only Italian restaurant, Kalie ate with the young people from Oceaneer Adventure. After dinner, we tried to pick her up three times–the first time she was having too much fun on the Sports Deck playing “bulldozers and buildozers,” the second time she was engrossed with making flubber, and the third time she was watching “Peter Pan.”

Daily schedule

Every evening, a copy of the Personal Navigator was delivered to our stateroom featuring the on-board events and activities for the next day. Special editions were provided for children and teens.

Young people have lots of opportunities to interact with and have their pictures taken with the ubiquitous Disney characters.

Teen-agers, ages 13–17, have their own special hangout called Common Grounds, which is modeled after a New York-style coffeehouse.

“We have get-acquainted parties, PlayStations, laptops, jukeboxes, board games, karaoke parties and dances,” said counselor Chelsea McMillen.

Megan Ray, 14, of Elm Park, Mich., enjoyed the Teen Junkanoo Jam, a teen-only floating dance party for Wonder passengers, which was held on another ship in Nassau Harbor, Bahamas.

On our day in Nassau, several shore excursions were offered–a snorkel boat tour, a glass-bottomed boat tour, a historical harbor cruise or a trip to Discover Atlantis, the marine habitat aquarium. We spent a couple of hours in Nassau, shopping and warding off the hair braiders.

We all agreed that our favorite day was spent on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private 1,000-acre island. There are three beaches on the island–the Family Beach, Teen Beach and adult-only Serenity Bay–plus live music, a tropical-beverage bar and a barbecue lunch. We stayed at the Family Beach, and I took the tram to Serenity Bay for a massage in a cabana overlooking the sea, a delightful experience.

The ship’s Walt Disney Theatre featured Broadway-style musical shows every night with singing, dancing and lavish sets. Entertainment included karaoke, easy-listening music, dancing, dueling pianos, comedy and game shows.

Other ship features included three pools, a large fitness area, salon, movie theater, sports bar and a sports deck.

Seventeen family members

At breakfast one morning, I sat across from Bernard and Mary Gisonda of The Villages of Lady Lake, Fla., who brought their four children, the children’s spouses and seven grandchildren with them on a one-week Disney World Resort and Disney Wonder package. The grandchildren range from 1 to 19 years of age.

“We started making plans a year and a half ago, and it took three months just to find a date that was acceptable to all,” Mary said. “We wanted to leave them memories if anything happened to us.”

“It’s working out the way I thought it would and then some,” Bernard said. “They all seem to be ecstatic about the cruise.”

Just like the Gisonda family, we wanted to build memories, and whether those memories are playing Ping-Pong or swimming in the ocean, it really doesn’t matter.

Marge Peterson is managing editor of AAA’s “Home & Away” magazine in Omaha, Neb.

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