The Disney Wonder
So you can't call something like this a boat, it's got to be known as a ship. Some others terms to know, it's not left and right, but port and starboard, not front, center and back, but fore, mid, and aft. Also, there are not floors, but decks, and there's no cockpit, but a bridge instead. This goes on for awhile, but that covers the main terms.
This is a nice aerial shot of the ship. The four main structures on the top from fore to aft are the bridge/spa and fitness center, the two stacks for the exhaust, one of which also includes a getaway spot for teenagers, and lastly the buffet and Palo dining areas. In between these four structures are the three guest pools.
The side of the ship has an open deck on 4, lifeboats on decks 5 & 6 and balconies for the really expensive outside rooms on 7 and 8.
Disney owns two ships, the Disney Magic, and ours the Disney Wonder. The Magic usually goes on 7 day cruises, while the Wonder goes on 3 and 4 day cruises. This 10 night cruise was the longest that the Wonder had ever gone on, which will then be followed by an 11 night cruise, and then two weeks in dry dock.
One of the ever present Disney characters, this one happens to be Daffy Duck painting the side of the ship.
Unlike the Titanic, this ship is prepared for any situation. Plus there is the distinct advantage that the water is 82 degrees and quite comfortable to swim in.
Deck 4 is where the lifeboats could be boarded, and it is also the only lower deck that is open to the outside of the ship. This deck also doubles as a nice running track.
The ship is so large that one lap around Deck 4 is 535 m, or one third of a mile. It's fun to try and run around while the ship is swaying back and forth, and it also really strengths your calf muscles because you get a lot more lateral motion than you normally would.
So how do you tie up a ship this large? Well you use a lot of ropes. These are the ropes tying up the aft of the ship, along with what would normally seem like a large boat in the background.
Here are some more lines tying down the ship, plus a hidden aft deck used by the staff.
This pool shaped like Mickey's head with the two ears is set aside for kids only. The ears have fountains draining in them to keep it sanitary for kids who aren't potty trained yet. So it's basically like swimming in a warm toilet, just what you always wanted, right?
The one really nice thing the kids get that they somehow don't include for the adults is the water slide down into the pool. Seriously, why do the kids get all the good toys?
The circular gazebo houses one of the four hot tubs on the ship, however for having the pool water at 80+ degrees, the hot tubs never felt warm enough and were usually crowded. Although from 2200 to midnight you could usually get a fairly empty hot tub and pool.
The mid pool is the pool for everyone's use, and is the only wave pool on a cruise ship. Unfortunately that means most of the water gets spilled out, so it's usually only about 3 feet deep.
The fore pool is for adults only and is where I spent a lot of my daytime cooling off. The part in the center is nice to swim in whenever there is room, and then there is also a large patio beside the pool that has about 3 inches of water in it. This is a really nice spot to both lie in the sun and cool down it the water at the same time. I really like the idea, and I'm surprised I haven't seen any similar pools anywhere else.
Here's another picture of the pool, along with the outdoor shower and hot tub. Conveniently this shower was actually hot, unlike most pool showers that you'll find. You can also see one of the bars in the back left. Almost everything except alcohol is included with the room fee, but otherwise you can spend a whole heck of a lot of money drinking.
This hidden pool in the very front of the ship is for the crew members, although considering the crew members make up about one third of the people on the boat, this pool never seemed to get much use.
This is the mid stack on the ship. There is a hidden room on Deck 11 that contains a party room for teenagers only. I missed the open time to go up there, so I don't really know what its like.
This is the onboard basketball court for those times when you really want to play basketball in a 30 knot wind. It makes the nets a necessity for those often missed shots.
In case you've missed it so far, this ship is really large. In fact one the comedians on board told a really good joke about how everything is so large..., that is, except for the state room. This is our cozy little room in one of its cleaner states. We were in room 2133 in the Aft part of the second deck, which means we are close to most of the food, but far from the pools and also close to the engine.
The staff works incredibly hard to make everything nice, and one of the extra touches is that every night you come back to a different towel animal. This is my favorite one from the trip, the sea turtle.
So one thing not mentioned much yet is the food. The food is really good, and there's a lot of it. Once again, there is a lot of food! And it's free! Every meal for 10 days is an all you can eat buffet, plus room the 24 hour room service is also free. This, Parrot Cay, is one of the many dining facilities and probably my favorite because it's at the aft end of the ship and has a whole side to side view out the windows to the waves and the rain and lightning that hit when we first left the port.
The Animator's Palate is another of the large dining areas on board, and probably the most Disney of them all, with pictures and lights everywhere that will all change colors throughout the meal. The other large dining hall is called Tritons, but unfortunately it was closed when I was walking around taking pictures and I never went back for more. All these areas can sit about 500 guests, and there are two dining rotations plus a variety of smaller supporting restaurants, so as I said before, there is a lot of food.
This is one of the smaller lounges that has a stage, and off to the side where you can't see it in this picture, is the small internet cafe. It's small because it's 75 cents per minute to go online, so checking my email as fast as I could still ran me about four bucks each time. I think I checked it three times throughout the cruise, so that's about 12 bucks and I think I only got two actual useful emails during that time. This is definitely one of my complaints about the ship, but the one benefit is that it forces you to be disconnected from the rest of the world, and actually be on vacation.
Ships now admit that however unlikely it is, it is still possible to sink, so there is a mandatory life boat drill before the ship will ever leave the dock. Here's Sara and Sean in their nice bright orange vests. The vests are foam instead of air filled and have reflectors and signaling mirrors plus a whistle, so they're pretty well designed.
One of the first things in the ship you see is this large chandelier that looks like something you would see in the Little Mermaid. This entrance to the ship is actually three stories tall and is quite impressive as you walk on.
This hallway leading to the onboard gift shops and Disney Theater feels more like you are in a nice mall store or hotel than on board a ship.
Of course I need a picture of the large Mickey Logo in the floor. I couldn't actually get the whole thing in the picture because it's about six feet wide.
Here's the doors to the Walt Disney Theater, which was unfortunately closed at the time that I took the pictures, but it seats about 1000 people and has a very nice performance stage. There is also a 500 person movie theater on board, but there was a movie playing at the time, and I also forgot to go back and take pictures there. I did get to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and then later got to see the Flying Dutchman in person.
Here are the large windows on deck 3, which is a good place to watch the waves if you don't want to go outside.
It was a sunny day, so you can't see Sean or Sara much, but they are lying in one of the windows that has a nice ledge to sit and lookout from.
Another theme they had in the fore part of Deck 4 is Route 66. This is the area that lead to some of the lounges and smaller stages and went well with the movie Cars, also playing in the theater.
This is the Route 66 hallway with a display at the end. One of the nice features is how many different architectural themes and moods that the one ship contains, and how smooth the transitions are done between them.
This picture is another of the fairly dark indoor pictures that I took, but it shows the smaller adult only lounge and stage where the late night shows take place. We had a musical comedian one night and a ventriloquist comedian the next night, who were both very entertaining.
I previously mentioned the enormous amounts of available food, so luckily there is also this fitness center. However, if you don't know to look for this place, then you'll never find it, because it's hidden in the very back of the spa, and there is only one small sign that points to it. It's nice because there is a wonderful view of the bridge, but not so nice in that there isn't enough room for most of the guests, so they are planning on expanded the size at dry dock, but are going to lose the view of the bridge. Although I figured out that I could sleep in while most people choose to work out, and then in the hot afternoon this place and the track on Deck 4 would be almost empty. I've never understood why people would want to workout to lose weight, and then don't want to do it when it's hot and they might have to work harder, sweat more, and actually lose weight faster.
If you manage to actually find the fitness center, then you will have walked through the really nice looking spa. This mosaic and coffee/tea stand is one stop through the twisting hallway. The spa is actually really popular and needs to be booked right away, despite the $100+ price tag for a 45 minute massage.
One last feature to make it not feel like a ship at all is the large art gallery. There was a nice black jack portrait one night, but then it disappeared so someone must have bought it before I ever saw the price tag. Throughout the cruise, there were also many opportunities to get your picture taken, and just beyond this hallway was another setup where they would post all the pictures for you to buy. Sean and Sara got a lot of them, so hopefully I'll get some copies to post here eventually.
Now on to the islands. Our first stop was a fairly quick half day stop at St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands. This map shows roughly where we are, although half the time I didn't even know what country we were in. One advantage to still being in a US territory was that my cell phone worked without having to do anything fancy, and I was able to call my parents. I never could figure it out from the other islands, even through I got a signal. I later looked up the trick and needed to start the number with a "+" by holding down the zero key.
This photo was framed just right, so I had to get a picture. This is me and my brother at the top of Paradise Point with the capital of St. Thomas in the background.
This is a picture of the harbor and the also shows the capital this time without anybody standing in front of it. There are still a lot of other boats in the water compared to the other islands we went to, so this seems to be a pretty popular place.
You might be wondering where these nice almost aerial photo opportunities came from. We either hiked up a small mountain in the tropical heat, or we took this cool little Sky Lift up to the top. The cruise ship has preplanned shore excursions that you can purchase through Disney and they do all the negotiating for you, so you can walk off the ship with your ticket already in hand, which saves a lot of hassle from the endless haggling you get everywhere else.
Here's a picture as we are riding up the lift with some nice flowers along the hillside. One of the things that stood out to me on all of the islands was all the green weeds everywhere. Of course, we did come right during the hurricane season, but if you've ever been to Arizona, then it's basically the exact opposite of that.
Here's a beautiful shot of the Disney Wonder sitting in the bay. All the other sailboats look like toys next to it.
Beyond this bay they were many beautiful tiny little islands popping out the water that you can see in the distance. The buildings in the foreground are mostly shops catering to the tourists that come in off the ships. Also if you need a taxi, don't worry, you'll get three offers in ten feet. Then after you've turned all those down you'll get four more offers from the next group of guys who somehow think you must have just changed your mind and now really need a ride.
This picture is a little blurry because it's beyond the reasonable zoom limits of my camera, but it shows a sea plane right as it was taking off it in the bay. This is probably the plane that took off with some of our earlier entertainers, and then the staff had to move around the shows, because we were supposed to pick up some new ones here, but they missed the ship and had to meet us at the next island.
This is a beautiful butterfly, however the scale is really lost here. That's not actually a purse it's on, but is about a two foot suitcase, so this butterfly is at least six inches across. It also happens to be right next to some performing parrots that could skate board and roller skate, but you had to pay for pictures there, so I've got nothing to show for them.
My brother and I spent about fifteen minutes talking on the phone here, and then I saw this fairly camouflage gecko, but I don't think I saved any money on my car insurance. I think I either have the wrong gecko or I was supposed to call someone other than my parents, but I'm not sure which.
Barbados had a totally different atmosphere and was my favorite island of the cruise. Of course it helps when a concert band plays for you as you get off the ship. I happen to be in a military band and have played at similar sorts of venues, so it was very enjoyable to see it the other way around.
On this island we took a four hour bus island tour, which drove basically the entire island and stopped a couple places along the way. It's a little weird to be able to tour an entire country in four hours, but it was a fun and informative trip. This picture is out the bus window and shows one of the lookouts that used to be used in times of war.
This is a statue we passed along the way. I've seen similar statues in other Asian countries, but I never have heard the explanation of the symbolism behind the orb that always seems to be present.
One of the stops along the way was a church over-looking this vantage point. I'm not much of a fan of churches, but this view was spectacular.
Same shot, different people, awesome view, enough said.
Here's the actual church. Nice building.
Please be appropriately dressed for the church, because God doesn't want to see you naked. Even though that seems to be the way He made you come into the world. Yeah, whatever, I'm wearing a swimsuit and sandals, good enough for me.
This is an absolutely beautiful cemetery with a spectacular view. Can I tear it down and build a house here? I don't think the dead people are enjoying their view. Okay, have I made enough fun of the church yet? Wait one last thing, in Barbados it's said that wherever there's a church, there's a bar next door. Seems that all the workers would bring their families to church and then spend the sermon time drinking. Glad to know the message got across.
I had to stare at this flower for awhile to convince myself that it actually was real since it just looked too perfect. I did check, and there is dirt in the pot and some dead leaves down lower, so this is a real flower.
This sign caught my eye as one of those signs that we just really don't need. I didn't get pictures of some of the other signs around the island, but instead of yield signs, there are give way signs, and instead of no passing it's no overtaking. Also metal signs with yellow backgrounds and black wording seem to be universally replaced with wooden signs and red wording. Driving also got confusing, because all the islands use the left side of the road. Although St. Thomas still uses American cars with the steering wheel on the left side, so it's like driving backwards from the passenger side. You can usually ignore the weird feeling until you get to a right turn and have to wait for all the traffic and make a really wide turn.
This is the tree that you need to beware of. Looks like a great climbing tree to me. Barbados has a lot of mahogany trees growing on the island, although my pictures of them through the bus windows didn't turn out. I'm not sure what type of tree this is.
This was a friendly bird waiting for scraps of food in the parking lot. It must be really used to tourists, because I probably could have fed it out of my hand.
This bird wasn't quite as friendly, but deserved a picture, too.
One way to feel at home anywhere in the world is to find a familiar animal. People look different, but cats and dogs are pretty much the same everywhere. This cat was sleeping in the shade while everyone else was watching the monkey.
A monkey isn't quite as common of a sight. This guy had fun climbing around his stand and entertaining the guests. Of course, you could also find entertainment in the rum punch available next door. One thing Barbados is very proud of is their rum. Apparently the stuff they usually give tourists is on the milder side, meaning it might still be legal (under 140 proof) to export, while the stuff they really like has to be consumed on the island. There's a reason they mix it with fruit punch, or also popular during Christmas time is the rum cake.
You can't have a good picture of a monkey without a video
of him monkeying around, right?
Traveling anyone? Well if you want, then this sign can be a good starting point. I just hope you can swim well.
Barbados was the farthest east point of the cruise and was only about 4000 miles from Africa. That makes Africa a little farther away than LA, but closer than my home near San Jose, CA.
My dad loves to watch the weather channel, mainly because he has to put up with the weather when it decides to be bad. Tropical islands have a little bit simpler forecasting method. See below for a close up.
Let's see, weather forecast from the ship today, low 76 (wow that's cold), high 84 (way too hot), currently 82 and sunny. Yeah, there's a reason the water stays 82 degrees, and luckily for us the one nearby hurricane decide to go play in the Bermudas instead.
Here's a picture from roughly the same viewpoint as the church but about halfway down the hill. When I say hill I mean it to. The bus drivers on the island have to be a little bit crazy to take these winding roads to nowhere. The horn is a quite popular way to say hey, I'm coming, look out. The mailmen also earn their living by knowing where everyone lives, because most of the houses don't actually have a street address.
This is a view out the eastern side of the island, which is only bordered by the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Africa.
If not for the slightly tilted angle and glare from the bus window, then this would be a picture worthy of a post card. The bus slowed down to allow this shot, but it would have been nice to actually get out for it. We did end up going down to that big boulder you see in the center.
This is more towards the center of the islands, but shows some of the rolling hills just covered with green vegetation.
Here's another shot from the center of the island out towards the water. All those little specks are houses that have roads to get to them, but I don't understand how anyone gets where they want to go.
The beaches on this side of the island get the nice waves from the Ocean and are fairly popular places to surf. I grew up entirely on the West Coast of the U.S. and am only 45 minutes from the Pacific, but this was actually my first time setting foot in the Atlantic Ocean.
So all the beautiful hills of the island are actually made of corral, because the island itself is not volcanic. This is one of the bigger pieces that stands out by itself, but anywhere you look along a cutout ditch or side of a hill, you can see that the dirt and rock really is just corral and not volcanic rock. It's weird to think that an island this large and high can be made that way, and how long it must have taken to form.
One last picture of the waves rolling in and then it's on to another island. Besides the fabulous tour I think the main thing that made me appreciate the island was that the people I talked to liked living there and were proud of their island. The health care is supposed to be one of the best of the Caribbean and prescription drugs are free for children and elderly people, while they also say that they drive on the right side of the road, even if it happens to be on the left. I used to see this same feeling in America, and hopefully it will come back, but right now we seem to be missing it sorely.
The next stop, and the last of the four commercial islands in the southern Bahamas, was Antigua (pronounced An-tee-ga). This shows the shops and downtown area next to the dock. A lot of the time the large cruise boats will pull into industrial areas, but this area was actually pretty nice without having to drive anywhere. Plus the prices here were pretty good, and you could tell that because it wasn't just people from the ship buying things, but the natives actually shopped in some of these stores, too.
This buoy is bigger than my parent's boat! I think it should do the trick.
The shore excursion for this island was actually another boat. This time it's a forty foot catamaran that will take us to a private snorkeling area, and then to a deserted beach.
Most of the time we were actually under engine power, but they did unfurl the sail for part of the trip. Here's a picture taken while lying directly under it.
The snorkeling area was a nice location. It was actually a reef that sticks up in the middle of nowhere. You could only tell you were close because the waves had white caps all of a sudden, and then there was a sunken buoy in the middle of nowhere to tie up to. The guide warned us to watch out for the black spiky things on the bottom because their stings could really hurt, and then you might see a jelly fish, but they are fairly small ones that don't hurt that badly. "Might" turned out to be a huge understatement, because they were pretty much everywhere, although a little hard to see, there's one in the center of this picture. My brother was actually the smart one this time and stayed out of the water. I wanted to try out my new snorkel, and it worked well until I got stung twice and decided to get out. Some other people actually stayed in for about 45 minutes, but everyone who did got stung more than a few times. The sting feels like a bee sting at first, then calms down to a bad mosquito bite, and then goes away after about 20 minutes, so it's not horrible, but not my idea of fun either.
Our guide for this part loves his job a little too much, and would actually push the bigger jelly fish down deeper to keep them away. He also came back up with a souvenir for the ride home.
A close up of our new guest. Dinner anyone?
After the snorkeling, we headed towards a nice beach. This is an old building on one of the ends of the island. It was pretty much only us on the beach, so it was nice. Some people did come to sell some stuff, but everyone on the tour was more interested in swimming, so they didn't make any money on us. Plus it would have been a little hard to buy something nice and then have to swim it back out to the boat to go home.
So the island is not only rock outcroppings, but there are also really expensive houses. The large ones in the background here go for many millions of dollars.
Welcome to Castaway Cay, and in case you are wondering, Cay is pronounced Key, but don't ask me why, I really have no idea. Anyway, what's one of the few things better than visiting a tropical island? Well how about visiting your own private tropical island. Disney owns Castaway Cay, and the only way to get there is by boat. There is an old landing strip on the island, but it is no longer maintained.
There are huge advantages to owning the island. It's only populated by the people on the cruise ship, so no one is trying to get you to buy something, and even better than that, it's really an extension of the ship, because they also feed you another buffet, and of course, it's free! As shown on the map, there is a huge bay and a short ride on the shuttle will take you to the left side of the island for a private adults only beach.
Here's a view of the huge bay to swim and snorkel in. I did a lot of both, and this time I saw a lot of beautiful fish and no jelly fish, so it was quite enjoyable. If you look around long enough there is also a hidden Mickey statue buried underwater, but I didn't buy a waterproof camera or it would have made quite a picture.
Here's a picture of the start of the beach. It actually extends all the way around the next point and continues for about twice as far as shown here.
Of course right by the free food and the rope structure and snorkeling area is the most popular place on the beach.
If you are looking for a calmer time sitting in the sun, then the adult beach is the place to be. This water stays about three feet deep for a couple hundred yards, although there is some corral to watch out for, so my advice is to bring some aqua socks if you want to go walking out there.
Another advantage to owning an island is that if you happen to have a haunted ghost ship lying around from a movie set, then you can bring it here. This is the Flying Dutchman from Disney's movie the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which I also got to see for the first time in the free movie theater on board the ship.
Of course a ship for a movie needs to have a way to film events inside, so this side used to have big cutouts as evidenced by the metal plating.
A nice perspective of the Flying Dutchman in front of the Disney Wonder. The ghost ship is coming for the cruise ship, but sometimes size does matter, so I think we've got a good chance. Although I don't think we have any cannons on board.
Here's a WWII era plane on the old landing strip. This island used to be a good spot for planes to land and refuel when they were looking for submarines along the coast.
So you might be a redneck if you cut your grass and find a car, what happens if you find an airplane?
Mother Nature decided to say goodbye to us as we were leaving this last island. The wind started kicking up quickly and rain was visible in the distance, but we made it away before it hit. It did however turn into quite a lightning storm to view that night. From here we sailed home, passing the sister ship the Disney Magic along the way and then a nice long flight home from there. Overall the trip was a blast and I'll probably take another cruise in the future, it really is a nice way to get away from everything and completely relax.