Disney Cruise Line Trip Report #46

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Trip Report #46: Back to the Magic

My husband and I had planned to take a West Coast cruise on the Disney Magic in July, but his job schedule forced us to cancel it. We were deeply disappointed, but then a last-minute opportunity came up to take a Western Caribbean trip on November 5. The travel agency I work for had a group cruise on that date, and there was a cancellation at final payment time. I was able to take over the reservation at a very good rate, so hubby and I decided to replace our West Coast trip with our favorite Caribbean itinerary.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Wilma forced a bit of a change. Cozumel is my favorite port…it’s such a lush, gorgeous place, and even though I’ve been there many times, there are still so many things I want to do. So far, we’ve been to Xcaret, Chanakaab, on a jeep “safari” to the beach, and horseback riding. But sadly, the hurricane caused major damage to the island, so the itinerary was changed to Costa Maya. We’re scheduled for a “double dip” Castaway Cay cruise in May, with Costa Maya as one of the ports, so we looked forward to the sneak preview.

On the morning of our cruise, we took our time heading out to Port Canaveral. We had heard about the new boarding procedure (boarding in numbered groups, like other cruise lines and Southwest Airlines), and I’ve had very bad experiences with that on Royal Caribbean. The idea is to eliminate the line by encouraging people to sit until their group is called, but human nature being what it is, people tend to get up early and congregate by the entrance anyway. We decided to arrive late, when the crowds and potential mayhem would hopefully be gone. I endure the cattle call on Southwest much too often when I fly between Florida and Illinois, so I didn’t feel like kicking off our cruise in a similar manner.

It’s nice that one of the biggest reasons to arrive early (the “ressie scramble”) is now gone in large part. In the old days, if you wanted specific Palo, spa, and/or Flounders Reef reservations, you needed to arrive early and be among the first onboard. Now you can book most of your reservations in advance online. Granted, concierge guests and Castaway Club members have an advantage (105 or 90 days in advance vs. 75 days for everyone else), but if you’re diligent (and lucky), you can get much of the ressie scramble out of your hair before you ever reach the ship.

On our way to Port Canaveral, we stopped by The Perfect Gift to visit Shirley and Norm (two of the sweetest people I know…if you ever cruise and need a gift basket, be sure to visit their website at www.theperfectgift.cc). By the time we got to the port, it was after 1 p.m. There were very few cars waiting to enter the luggage area, so we dropped off our bags and I headed into the terminal while hubby parked the car. On the left-hand side, there was no one waiting at Security; the right-hand side was packed, since a bus had just disgorged its load of passengers. I thought we had missed the worst of the crowds…until I got to the top of the escalator! The line to board the ship was non-existent, but the check-in line was packed solid.

I wasn’t in too big of a rush, since hubby was still parking the car. On Wonder days, cars are parked in the lot across the street. For the Magic, they are parked in the lot adjacent to the terminal. Soon enough, hubby had parked our vehicle, and we were ready for our vacation to begin.

We headed on board a little before 2 p.m., the latest we’ve ever boarded. Since the staterooms are ready by 1:30, we were able to drop off our day bags before lunch. As I headed down the familiar deck 5 aft lobby towards stateroom 5650, the differences between the Magic and Wonder were quickly apparent. Instead of wood tone, the hallway is a silvery color. When we got to the stateroom, I noticed the absence of my favorite over-bed picture (instead of a ship, it’s a bar of music). Also, for some odd reason, 5650 on the Magic doesn’t have a middle drawer in the dresser. I tend to spend half the cruise reaching for it, as it’s where we toss our key cards, receipts and other stuff on the Wonder.

But there was one good difference: I loved the new bedspreads on the Magic. The Wonder changed its bedspreads a few cruises back, and I hate the loud new pattern of brown over light blue. The Magic’s is loud, too, but it’s a lovely deep blue with bold, red and white pattern of flags; very nautical.

We headed to Parrot Cay, which is only two decks down, for lunch. They were getting ready to close, but they said we were welcome if we didn’t mind that they’d be shutting down the buffet shortly. Fine with me…it sounded like a good way to limit my caloric intake. Hubby and I loaded up our plates and headed to our table to indulge in the first meal of seven nights of decadence. I was pleased to see the cold mango soup, which is my idea of dessert. Hubby took soup, too, but he also visited the dessert table. It was rather odd, because there was no cottage cheese on the salad bar and there was no meat carving station. But I definitely didn’t suffer because there was delicious salmon for me and plenty of cold shrimp for hubby.

After our meal, we collected a new set of kids’ navigators and investigated some of the dry dock changes. The pizzeria got an upgrade, with a new brick oven, and the old Scoops ice cream place, which also used to serve wraps and fruit, has been transformed into Goofy’s Galley. Before, the non-ice-cream items seemed like an afterthought, since it was originally designed for ice cream only. Now, there is a nice, big refrigerated case where the sandwiches and fruit can be displayed attractively. It will be a nice place to pop in for a quick snack.

Ice cream is still available, too, although you’ll need to go around the corner. Sadly, because it is self-service, they don’t have the M & Ms and other toppings anymore. Also, even though I didn’t see anything gross going on, I refused to take self-service ice cream after seeing a kid literally sucking the spigot at a Ponderosa once…ugh! I’ll just stick to the heavenly gelato at Palo.

There is also a new kids’ area down on deck two. It features all sorts of games, but the runaway winner is a simulator that allows you to dock the ship (you can choose from Port Canaveral or Castaway Cay). It is so cool! There is also a neat little area where kids can make their own stop-motion movies by moving figures around and taking a sequence of shots. It is a great additional for families.

Next, we headed off for a spa tour. The spa was the one area we were especially excited to see, since it had undergone a major renovation during dry dock. We noticed the difference immediately as we stepped onto the new tile that had replaced the old carpeting. The treatment rooms are pretty much the same, but the gym has been expanded to impressive proportions. It now extends out over the bridge rather than simply overlooking it, with lots of added equipment.

Best of all was the new “villas,” private treatment suites for singles or couples. They are in the area where the fitness studio used to be, and each is quipped with indoor treatment tables and an outdoor verandah complete with cushy lounge bed and a private Jacuzzi. We were drooling the moment we saw them; I had already booked our spa treatments, but fortunately we were able to change two of them over to villa treatments. The luxury comes with a stiff price tag (over $400 for a couples package), but it’s well worth it as a special treat.

Whenever I see one of the Disney ships post-dry-dock, I’m amazed at how they keep morphing and improving. I sailed on the eleventh cruise of the Magic, way back in 1998, and after seven years there are areas that are totally unrecognizable from the original. The old Offbeat comedy club is now Diversions Pub (changed two dry docks ago), and although I still miss the improv comedy, I must confess that I like spending some time in Diversions. They have neat events like beer tasting, martini tasting, and margarita tasting, not to mention games and trivia competitions, as well as lots of sports events playing on the plasma screens throughout the club. I also love how the old teen club was transformed into a coffee bar (also a couple of dry docks back), and the teens have a wonderful area in the old ESPN bar, which became The Stack.

When we first started cruising, we sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas to do a direct comparison to Disney. The first thing that struck me about Sovereign was how old and untidy it looked. Granted, at the time I was comparing it to the brand-new Magic, but it was apparent that RCCL wasn’t putting much time or money into the vessel.

In contrast, the Magic is seven years old now, but it is still in wonderful shape, and Disney keeps adding new areas and revamping the old ones. It may be a “different” ship from the one that I took my first cruise on, but it’s just as lovely and well-kept.

By the time we were done wandering around, it was almost 4 p.m., time for the safety drill. We donned the new style lifejackets, which are much more comfortable than the old ones, and headed down to Lifeboat Station Q in Animators Palate. Having been through the routine 40-odd times, I could do it in my sleep. But if I ever doubt the importance, I pop in my “Titanic” DVD to remind myself why I need to have the safety procedures engrained in my brain.

After the safety drill, I had a reflexology treatment scheduled, so I headed to the spa while hubby unpacked. He is in charge of luggage in our household, and it’s best to simply stay out of his way when he’s doing anything involving suitcases. I was amazed that several spa therapists I knew from the Wonder were onboard the Magic now. The reflexology was the perfect way to kick off the cruise. I lay in a daze, just barely hearing the ship’s whistle that signaled we were leaving Port Canaveral and heading out to Key West.

We weren’t planning to go to the welcome show, so when I returned to the stateroom, hubby and I went up to the Cove Café for coffee. Actually, it was Jamaican coffee for him and flavored steamed milk for me. We sipped it on deck 9 for a while, then brought it down to our stateroom to finish on the verandah. It’s wonderful to have a stateroom with a balcony on the seven-day cruise. It’s nice on the three-day, too, but it can be difficult to find the time to really enjoy it, especially if it’s your first or second cruise and you’re trying to cram in as many activities as possible. Over the course of a week, there are many opportunities to spend some quality verandah time just relaxing and watching the ocean roll by. Better yet, the Magic got new, reclining chairs for all the verandahs in dry dock, so it’s more comfortable than ever.

Soon it was time to eat again. Our dinner rotation kicked off in Lumiere’s, themed after “Beauty and the Beast,” complete with roses in the light fixtures and a gorgeous mural on the back wall. We were on the “adult” rotation, meaning that our start time for late dining was 8:30 p.m. Each of the three rotations has its own start time; the other two are 8:00 and 8:15 respectively. You start at your assigned time throughout the cruise, in whichever restaurant you’re eating in that night. It’s less confusing than it sounds, and it allows some of the people who weren’t able to get early dining to at least start the late rotation a little earlier.

Our dining team was Anastasiya, Sachin, and Aleksandra, and they were great. It was so nice to have a whole week to get to know them. On a three-night cruise, we typically spend one night in Palo, so we only see our dining team for two dinners. On a seven-night cruise, we have plenty of time to relax and chat with them. Anastasiya knew my drink order right after the first night (it never varies from iced tea), but hubby switched his around as he worked his way through various wines.

My only disappointment was that we were alone at our table. I love being at large tables and meeting new people, but it’s hard to do that on a three-night cruise because it goes by so fast. The weeklong cruises give you more of a chance to chat with your tablemates, just as it does with the crew. Ironically, later in the cruise we discovered that two of my client couples were at a table for four right next to us.

I always get the vichyssoise (cold potato soup) as my appetizer in Triton’s, so I did the same at Lumiere’s, opting for the camembert cheese, too. For dinner, hubby got the vegetarian curry, which I had to sample. Our server was from India, and he was surprised to discover that we are both major curry fans. Throughout the cruise, we had some excellent curry meals. If you like it, too, check out the vegetarian options in both Lumiere’s/Triton’s and Animators Palate. By the time I was through with multiple appetizers and the main course, I was too full for dessert.

It had been a long day, so after dinner we headed back to our stateroom to crash. I love the new cushy comforters and the thick pillows in the staterooms; they make drifting off to Dreamland so easy. Soon we were lost in Disney dreams, gathering energy for the busy week ahead.

Sunday was Key West day, but hubby and I didn’t have any big plans, other than doing our own little walking tour to see the hurricane devastation. First, we were planning to go to the cooking demonstration at 10:15 a.m., and then we had Palo brunch booked for 11 a.m.

The chef doing the demo was none other than our old friend Chef Vinnie from Jamaica. We’re known him for years; ironically, we met him at a cooking demo, although that was one the four-day Wonder. I still drool when I think of his delicious scallops.

This time around, he was preparing crab cakes. Even though it was still early in the morning, everyone was soon eagerly awaiting their taste of the appetizer. The audience gets to sample whatever is being prepared, and also a specially paired wine. The yummy sample put me in the perfect mood for the sumptuous brunch that awaited upstairs at Palo.

As soon the Chef Vinnie’s demonstration was over, we hustled up to deck 10 aft, home to Disney Cruise Line’s special adults-only restaurant. We always have dinner at Palo on the Wonder, but the three-day cruises don’t offer brunch or high tea. Since we so rarely do a four- or seven-day cruise, brunch is a real treat for us.

Even better, our old friend P.J. from the Wonder is now the Palo manager, so we had a happy reunion. We settled into a window seat with a lovely view of Key West and eyed the other diners who were plowing through heaping plates of pastries, crab legs, eggs benedict, stone-oven pizza, and other delicacies. Since it’s a champagne brunch, you’ll be toasting the feast with a mimosa, too.

Our server took us on a tour of the buffet and also pointed out the items we could order from the kitchen. Although the buffet was very tempting, I tempered my greed to save room for some fresh eggs benedict and pancakes. I did take some cucumber salad, sun-dried tomato salad, crab legs, and a Danish. It was hard to pass up the other salads, cheese, fruit, and even caviar.

I am a breakfast person, while my husband tends to opt for lunch. The brunch has something for every taste…he ordered the beef tenderloin and was very happy with his choice, raving about the delicious soft and the tenderness of the meat. Personally, I was pleased with my eggs benedict; it’s one of my favorite breakfast meals, and the hollandaise sauce at Palo is superb.

Once our bellies were full, we headed out to walk off a few calories in Key West. The hurricane damage was evident almost from the moment we walked off the ship. There was yellow “caution” tape all down the walkway, and most of the vegetation had turned brown and dry from the salt water pounding it during Wilma’s wrath. As we headed into town, we could see that many buildings were still boarded up, and many more showed evident damage. The stores were open, but some had the unmistakable smell of mildew. I could imagine them flooded with standing water just two weeks earlier.

We headed toward Mallory Square, as our Shopping In Paradise map indicated that there was a Tortuga Rum Cake shop nearby. We usually buy our rum cakes in Grand Cayman, but hubby was lobbying to just stay onboard on Tuesday, so we decided to stock up in Key West instead. Besides, it looked like the shopkeepers could use the customers. The woman at the rum cake shop said that we were one of the first ships in since the hurricane. We bought two mini-cake assortments of six cakes each; they make wonderful Christmas presents.

We strolled several blocks down Duval Street, popping into a t-shirt shop to buy a shirt that caught my eye. Unfortunately, it’s not one that I can easily wear in public (it has a drawing of Rick James, with a caption that says, “I’m Rick James, B---ch…and I’m dead,” which fans of Dave Chapelle will understand).

I was also looking for sunglasses, too, but I didn’t find any. I tend to buy only cheapies, since I have a knack for losing them, and none were cheap enough for me. I did purchase a fresh key limeade…mmmmm! It tasted just like liquid key lime pie. Now that I spend so much time in Florida, I’ve learned what true key limes look and taste like. When I’m in Illinois and I see key lime pie on the menu, I always ask if it’s “real.” If I get an odd look (or if it’s bright green, since the authentic version is yellow), I know not to order it.

When we returned to the ship, it was time to get ready for our spa villa experience. I cringed at the cost, but what the heck. We’ve been working hard, so we figured that we deserved a little pampering. Besides, there are currently no villas on the Wonder, so we knew we couldn’t do them again until next May, when we return to the Magic.

The first thing you do in your private villa, after a foot washing ritual, is to soak in the hot tub with your choice of bath synergy (we used Muscle Ease, hubby’s favorite). There is more than enough room for two in the Leisure Bay spa, which sits out on your private verandah. I discovered that we were right above the Key West Cat Man, so I could catch most of his performance. I love to see him when we’re in Key West. Normally I’m not a fan of using animals in entertainment, since the poor creatures are often trained cruelly and kept in such unnatural conditions between shows. But I own cats, and I know that most felines (my spoiled, pampered pets included) don’t respond to abuse. Cat Man’s cats are loose and could run off at any time, but instead they willingly go through their paces. It’s obvious that they’re motivated by food, which I can relate to, since my cat Farquaad could probably be trained to do anything for lunchmeat or raw hamburger.

Normally, there is a huge crowd around Cat Man, but on this evening there were less than a dozen people. Other than two cruise ships, I don’t think there were many tourists on the island. Hopefully that will change, as the tourist dollars are so important to the local economy.

Once we were done with our soak, we plopped facedown on the massage tables. My massage would have been perfect if it weren’t for the fact that I was serenaded by hubby’s snoring. I know that’s always a risk when we do a couple’s treatment, but somehow having our own separate villas just didn’t seem too romantic.

After the massages, we were astonished to discover that the sun had disappeared while we were comatose. Darkness had suddenly descended over Key West. Now it was back onto the verandah for our fresh brewed tea. We both chose a delicious, minty concoction, served with plate of fresh fruit skewers. Since we were the last booking for the night in our villa, we were able to take our time in leaving. We took a few extra minutes to sit on the verandah and admire the city lights below.

Soon it was time to get ready for dinner in Animators Palate, Disney Cruise Line’s “signature” restaurant. Everything starts out black and white, but the walls start to light up with color throughout the meal, as music drifts through the dining room. The experience culminates in a grand finale show, where virtually everything (including the servers’ vests) turns to color.

For his appetizer, hubby had the flatbread with duck and goat cheese (also a favorite of mine), while I opted for soup. We had the vegetarian curry as our main entrée, and by the time we were done, there was no room for dessert.

We’ve seen the grand finale show too many times to count, but this time we were in for a special treat. On the Magic, it ends with an appearance by Sorcerer Mickey! A long time ago, Mickey used to come out, but that hasn’t happened for years on the Wonder. On the Magic, it was a treat to see the Big Cheese himself.

After dinner, we headed off to Rockin’ Bar D to see the adult version of Freddy Fusion’s show (he’s a comedy magician). There was a band performing beforehand, and we were absolutely amazed at the size of the crowd. Fortunately, since smoking is now prohibited in Rockin’ Bar D, I no longer have to be fussy about where I sit. In the bad old days, much of the smoking section was right behind non-smoking, with no barrier in between. If I couldn’t get a table far enough away, I couldn’t stick around because smoke triggers my allergies. Now, I spend more time in Wavebands and Diversions on the Wonder, and that allowed me to visit the clubs more often on the Magic too.

We managed to locate two seats wedged in among the crowd and watched Freddy’s show. He is a typical cruise ship magician, performing card tricks and mind reading feats. 60s night came up next, but we were exhausted already and trekked off to deck 5 aft to crash.

Monday was a very busy day, as sea days always are. Sure, it sounds relaxing to spend a day doing nothing but tooling around the ocean, but Disney makes sure that the Navigator (activity list) is packed chock-full of tempting activities.

On Sunday night, I took a stab at a tentative schedule for Monday. The lead-off was our character breakfast, scheduled for 9:45 a.m. We were toying with the idea of cutting it short to head out to the dessert-making demonstration at 10:15.

The character breakfast is a great opportunity to get photos with a contingent of characters such as Mickey, Minnie, Chip, and Dale. You can bring your own camera, and the ship photographers will also be on hand to capture some shots. It works like the character meals at Disney World…the characters come around to each table, pausing for photos and autographs. You don’t have to worry about making reservations, as each dining rotation on the ship is assigned automatically to a character breakfast.

Our plans ended up working out well; our dining team is quick and efficient, so we managed to put away chocolate pancakes and Mickey waffles, and also get several character photos, before slipping out to Studio Sea. Hubby was quite amused watching the little boy at the table next to ours, who wanted no part of the characters. Finally, one of the photographers managed to get his attention while Minnie slipped silently into the shot. He got the picture before the little boy noticed that a giant mouse was standing next to him.

By the time we slipped out, we had only missed about 5 or 10 minutes of the cooking demonstration. Chef Vinnie was preparing poached pears, and the audience was served a sample, topped with vanilla ice cream, as well as a paired wine. Vinnie didn’t stop with one preparation; he showed three or four different ways to use poached pears in mouth-watered dessert concoctions. He is quite a character, and a great crowd-pleaser as he weaves anecdotes about cooking with his grandmother and his adventures as a chef into his presentation.

After that, we headed off to see the DVC presentation. We never bought into DVC, since we generally bought an all inclusive package when visiting WDW. Then we switched over to cruising, which doesn’t have a good point exchange rate. But it’s fun to see the properties, plus they bribe you with a chance to win a $300 stateroom credit. We didn’t win, but it was still enjoyable.

Next, I found a wireless hot spot near the deck 5 aft elevators, since Promenade Lounge was gearing up for the art auction. It is very convenient; I just head down the hall from our stateroom to a little group of chairs. It’s not listed as an official “hot spot,” but it probably rides on the coattails of the Promenade Lounge two decks below. I got some work done while hubby had some lunch on the oriental buffet in Parrot Cay. I was getting hungry myself, but I had committed to saving my appetite for high tea at 3 p.m.

Next up, we slipped in some relaxation on the verandah before we headed to the “Golden Mickeys” matinee. We knew we’d have to slip out early to make high tea, but most of our favorite parts are towards the beginning. Actually, one of my favorite parts is gone. I noticed it on the Wonder a cruise or two back. Instead of Roy Disney helping to emcee the show, it’s now Whoopi Goldberg. While Whoopi is okay, it irks me that the “Disney Connection” is gone. Roy is one of the last remaining links to the “old” Disney company, and there was something special about his introduction as the old clips of Walt played on the giant screen.

“Golden Mickeys” is an award-show style musical with a simple plot (a backstage crew member is suddenly pressed into service as the hostess). It’s a great show if you like your entertainment fast-paced and if you’re a fan of Disney music. It has scenes from “Mulan,” “Tarzan,” “Hunchback,” “Toy Story,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “101 Dalmations,” “Pocahontas” and “Lion King,” among others. Hubby still prefers “Disney Dreams,” another show featuring lots of Disney favorites. I was won over by “Golden Mickeys” when I first saw it, but now that the intro has been changed, I think “Disney Dreams” is winning me over again.

We chose seats in the last row, next to the soundboard. I enjoyed watching the operator at work almost as much as the show. We stuck around until the “Toy Story” number, then slipped out for a quick change so we could head up to Palo.

While hubby prefers brunch, I am a huge high tea fan. Ever since my grandmother got me hooked on fresh-brewed chamomile (made with a strainer, NOT tea bags), I have been a lover of “real” tea. The Wonder has some good options at Cove Café, but on the Magic a nice selection of teas can be found at Palo, too. I am also thoroughly addicted to scones, so high tea offers the perfect combination. The fresh, warm scones are served with devonshire cream, raspberry jam, and apricot jam.

You choose your tea from a list of several varieties. Hubby tried two (African Nectar and Blackberry), while I stuck with Citrus/Chamomile. You also get several types of finger sandwiches (curried chicken, cucumber, salmon, and prawn), a selection of little cakes, chocolate éclairs, and a trifle. By the time you are done, you will be on a major sugar buzz!

Once high tea was done, I prepared for my spa appointment while hubby headed up to the fitness room. I was having a massage, and for some reason I thought the repeat cruisers party was right afterwards, so I brought a shower cap to keep my hair free of massage oil. I figured I’d quickly toss on my clothes and head over to Rockin’ Bar D. After 46 cruises, I make it a point to never miss the party, although hubby is more ambivalent. He had a seaweed wrap scheduled a little later in the afternoon, and he definitely preferred basting in a warm seaweed mix to chomping on hors d’ouvres.

I had the same therapist who had done my reflexology, and his massage was divine. I caught myself drifting off, and it was hard to drag myself back to consciousness when it was time to turn over. I hurriedly dressed and sprinted to Rockin’ Bar D, only to discover that the Castaway Club party wasn’t until the following day. Oops! I headed back to the stateroom to read on the verandah until hubby returned.

While channel surfing, we discovered that “Golden Mickeys” was on television. Sometimes Disney televises the main stage show for those who couldn’t make it to the theater. I’ve seen “Hercules” and “Disney Dreams” on the Wonder, but never “Golden Mickeys.” It was already halfway through, so we saw the parts we had missed earlier. We decided to watch it again after dinner, since the last broadcast was at 10:30.

Tonight’s dinner was in Parrot Cay, which received a makeover during dry dock. Be sure to look for the parrot pattern on the carpet! It’s still a very noisy restaurant, but I don’t think that will ever change; it’s impossible to alter the acoustics very much due to its design. I always feel odd spending formal night in the most casual of the dining venues. I was getting a kick out of seeing the kids’ formal wear. There were lots of little girls decked out as princesses, and one little boy had the cutest sailor suit.

I was tempted by the crab appetizer, but I was swayed away by the onion soup. It was different than I had remembered it, and absolutely delicious. I am a major soup lover, and the more exotic the better. Although I love Disney Cruise Line much better than Royal Caribbean, RCCL does have one advantage: they have a variety of strange soups every day. The oddest one had to be cold apple soup. But DCL has a pretty good variety, so I can’t complain too much.

When we returned to our stateroom, we were greeted by a towel pig. That was a new one! With all our Disney cruises, I thought we’d seen every animal possible, but our stateroom host, Orlando, managed to surprise me.

I hustled out to the wireless hot spot to check my email before “Golden Mickeys” came on. I made it back to the stateroom just in time and was rewarded with a wonderful surprise: The televised version was the original version, featuring Roy! I had thought I would never see that again, but there is was right on my t.v. screen. I wished there was some way to record it, but I had to be content just watching. Oh well, maybe they are screening that same version on the Wonder now. If so, I’ll probably opt for television rather than the stage show.

Grand Cayman is a lovely port if you’ve never been there before; everyone should swim with the stingrays at least once in their life. But now that we’ve been there several times, hubby and I decided to simply stay on board the Magic and have an extra “sea day.”

We didn’t need to get up too early, so we ordered room service for 9 a.m. It would serve the dual purpose of nourishment and a wake-up call. Sure enough, the food arrived promptly at 9, so we had our breakfast out on the verandah. The ship doesn’t dock right at the island. It anchors offshore and delivers passengers via tender boats. Thus, we had a view of the lovely blue ocean, with Grand Cayman off in the background, so it really did feel like a day at sea.

I had a hankering for a massage, but I hadn’t pre-booked anything in case we decided to go ashore. Now that we had decided to stay onboard, I called the spa to see if they had anything open. It’s not as challenging to get appointments on port days, since virtually everyone disembarks. Sure enough, there was an opening at 10:30 a.m. I headed down to the spa, while hubby planned to work off some calories in the gym.

The massage was lovely, as always, and afterwards I decided to continue my relaxation in the Rainforest. It’s a large area containing several saunas, steam rooms, and showers (both scented and unscented). But my favorite part is the four heated tile loungers. They offer the perfect spot to curl up with a good book (which is what I did). I read for a while, and finally hubby dropped in to tell me he was ready for lunch.

We headed up to Topsider’s Buffet on deck 9. The spread was labeled “American Buffet,” just as it is on Nassau day of the Wonder three-day, but it was quite different. There were different pre-made salads, and the carved meat was chicken rather than turkey. Even the salad bar had different items, such as artichokes and hearts of palm. Best of all were the grilled-to-order sandwiches, since goat cheese was one of the items you could request. I had a turkey, tomato, and goat cheese sandwich to go along with my salad selection, topped off with bread pudding and blueberry cobbler.

We decided to slip down the “secret” aft staircase, which you can access from inside the restaurant and take all the way down to deck 5. By the time we got to deck 7, we decided to visit the “secret” deck 7 aft verandah (a large public area that is often nearly deserted because people don’t realize it’s there). Sure enough, we were the only living souls on the verandah. It was dotted with cushy, blue-cushioned deck chairs, so we gave in to the urge to sunbathe for a bit before returning to our stateroom.

Next on the agenda was the matinee of “Twice Charmed,” a show that was introduced on the Magic during the Panama crossing and the West Coast cruises earlier in 2005. It replaced “Hercules,” which can still be seen on the Wonder.

We had never seen the new show, although I knew it was a different take on the Cinderella fairytale. We sat in the back of the theater so we’d have a good view of the entire stage, and hubby brought his camera to get some good shots. He uses the night option, not a flash; personally, I think people who repetitively take flash shots, ignoring the announcement not to and blinding all those around them, should be keelhauled.

The story centers around Cinderella’s jealous stepsisters and their mother, Lady Tremaine, who are fit to be tied after her wedding to the prince. But their Wicked Fairy Godfather, Franco Fortunato, arrives with an interesting proposal: He will turn back the clock and help them prevent Cindy from marrying the prince. If they are successful, one of the stepsisters will be the lucky bride. If not, a lifelong curse will be placed on the trio.

Confident in their odds for success, mother and daughters okay the deal. They steal the second glass slipper from Cinderella, then break it, and Fortunato shrinks her down to the size of her mouse friend, Gus-Gus and Jacques. They also manage to break the remaining glass slipper when the duke visits their home; since they are supposedly the only two maidens in the kingdom who have not tried it on, the law of deduction indicates that one of the stepsisters must be the mysterious girl from the ball.

The prince is not easily fooled, and despite his father’s pleas to marry one of the stepsisters for the sake of the kingdom, he flees to search for his true love. Meanwhile, poor Cinderella is ready to give up hope, but her mouse friends urge her to contact the fairy godmother for help. Will she be restored to normal size in time to find her prince? Or will he give up, give in to the call of duty, and marry one of the sisters (now turned gorgeous by more of Fortunato’s evil magic). This is a Disney story, so you can probably guess the ending.

“Twice Charmed” reminded me of “Voyage of the Ghost Ship,” one of the original shows…not because of it’s storyline, but because it resembles a Broadway production more than a variety show. “Golden Mickeys” and “Disney Dreams” are both essentially clip shows, built around loose plots that serve as a segue between songs from various Disney movies. “Twice Charmed” has an original storyline and its own original music. I think “Ghost Ship” never caught on because it had no familiar characters. “Twice Charmed” uses the story of Cinderella as a basis, so people will be more comfortable with it even though it offers a new twist on the fairytale.

I was very impressed with the staging, which makes extensive use of the projection screen to fade animated scenes into the live actors on the stage. I also loved the special effects; there were lots of lights, costume changes, and pyrotechnics. My favorite part of the show was Fortunato’s big number, “It’s Never Too Late,” which he sings on a staircase with color changing stairs (sort of like the “Billy Jean” video) before the whole thing turns into a tap dance number. I would have liked to see more of him. He’s a very interesting villain that reminds me a bit of Hades in “Hercules.” I wished he had foils like Pain and Panic to improvise some humor, but improve probably wouldn’t work in such a meticulously staged show.

We enjoyed “Twice Charmed” so much that we ended up seeing it twice. The second show was at 6:15, so in between we watched the sailaway and then headed to the Castaway Club party in Rockin’ Bar D. It was 800 people strong, so the overflow ended up in Diversions. We managed to get places at the bar and sipped delicious green Castaway Punch drinks as we watched the crowd pour in. I’m used to the more modest parties on the Wonder, where Wavebands (the Rockin’ Bar D counterpart) is generally barely full.

I enjoy the party because it’s a chance to chat with the crew. Many of our old friends are aboard the Magic, such as Tracy, Mike, Brent, and of course Captain Tom, so it was nice to have a chance to say hello. Also, after more than 40 cruises, it’s also a matter of pride to attend. I fancy myself the Platinum Castaway Club member, so of course I must go to the returning cruisers party. Heck, I remember when there was no party (my first repeat cruise was in February of 1999, only six months after Disney Cruise Line set sail), and then the very first parties, where the officers outnumbered the guests. Those days are long gone; on the Magic, there are typically hundreds of repeaters, although I don’t think any have matched us yet.

Afterwards, we slipped up one deck to the theater to watch the second performance of “Twice Charmed.” The matinee had been pretty well attended, but the evening show was packed. Hubby was able to relax and enjoy it, since he wasn’t frantically snapping photos. I liked it just as well the second time as the first…I’m going to miss it when we head back to the Wonder. I’ll be looking forward to seeing it again in May. The singing is very strong, and the production values are amazing.

After the show, we headed to Studio Sea for “Seafarers Saga,” a nautical version of “To Tell the Truth” where you have to determine which of three silly characters is giving the correct definition for a series of words. It’s always good for lots of laughs. By the time it was over, it was time for dinner in Lumiere’s.

Tuesday was the first night of the menus we don’t get on the Wonder. I know every item on the rotational menus by heart, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had the special menus. Tonight it was Master Chef’s, and hubby was very enthused to see that there was a mussel appetizers (personally, I opted for the cold potato dill soup). The most interesting-looking dinner item was the venison medallions, and there were many tempting choices for dessert. I chose the citrus sherbet sundae (yum!), while hubby indulged in some sort of cheesecake with Oreo crust (which I of course had to taste).

While we were eating, Stitch came through the restaurant. Because he is my favorite character, I kept an eye on him and noticed that he spent a lot of time in the atrium for autographs and photos. I don’t think it was an official photo session because there was no ship’s photographer, and the crowd of people was minimal. He even sat down on the ground with a big group of kids to play some sort of game. It was a really neat moment of character interaction. The official sessions can get so crowded, but it was neat to see delight on the faces of the kids who just happened to stumble across Stitch.

It was 80s night, but since we had an excursion planned for the next day, I decided to call it an early night. In the stateroom, a towel dinosaur was waiting (another new one for me). Meanwhile, hubby headed off to the theater to see “Flight Plan.” There is always a full slate of movies on board, including Disney’s latest (our cruise featured “Chicken Little”). I usually don’t go to see them because there is so much else to do, but every now and then it’s nice to relax and catch a flick.

I was sad when Wednesday dawned, since it marked the last half of our cruise. But I was excited at the prospect of visiting a new port, especially since we will be returning in May. Costa Maya is one of the ports on the double Castaway Cay cruises. Now, since Cozumel had been badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma, we’d be getting a sneak preview. I had heard that it’s a “newer” port, and therefore not as built up as the areas that have been touristy for a long time. I dearly love Cozumel and Cancun, so I was hoping that it would be comparable.

We had turned our clocks back an hour the night before, so we woke up “early” due to the change. We had ordered in room service so we could once again dine on the verandah. We hadn’t reached the port yet, so we ate while sailing towards the Mexican coast.

We had booked a horseback riding excursion that didn’t leave until 12:45 p.m., so we spent a lazy morning. Hubby did a workout while I read on the verandah, and then we stopped at Parrot Cay for a light lunch before heading to Diversions, the meeting place for our shore trip.

It was a small group (only a dozen people), so as soon as we were all gathered, we turned in our release forms and headed to the pier. There is only room for three ships, and the berths were all filled. Besides the Magic, there were also Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships. There is a free tram to take you from the disembarkation point to the shopping area, but it’s not too far, so we all opted to walk. When we got to the main area, I noticed an inviting-looking swimming pool and several bars, food counters, stores, and vendors. It was a small but clean and pleasant place…nowhere near as built-up as Cozumel.

Our guides walked us to the van that would transport us to the ranch, a 45-minute drive from the dock. As we headed out of the port to the main road, we noticed a line of ATVs heading off on their own excursion. Hubby immediately decided that he wants to do the ATV trip when we return next year.

The weather was almost perfect for horseback riding; it could have been a bit cooler, but other than that it was a gorgeous day. Even though there were a few clouds, the sun was beaming down brightly. I was glad that hubby had insisted we douse ourselves with sunscreen.

At the ranch, we learned some Mayan history. Then, we were given a quick demonstration on how to control a horse, and then we were matched up with our trusty steeds. Before mounting, we had a chance to visit the restroom, and I’m glad I took it because the ride ended in a different spot where there were no facilities.

Even though I own horses, I am a timid rider so I requested a nice, tame mount. They gave me a little bay gelding and put my husband on Poppy, the gray horse used for the riding demonstration. Soon our whole group was up in the saddle, so our guides took their positions in the front and back and led us off into the forest.

My horse seemed nice and calm, suitable for a nervous rider like me. All of the horses appeared to be in good shape (something I always check for when I visit a stable). I made a deal with my mount: I broke off a leafy branch to serve as an impromptu fly whisk, and I promised him that if he didn’t go on a rampage or try to buck me off, I would keep his neck free of flying pests. We both kept up our ends of the bargain.

The excursion was lots of fun. The ride took about 45 minutes, and the pace never went faster than a walk, so it would be suitable for any experience level. We passed through open areas and shady stretches, through a patch of wild orchids and a butterfly haven. In an area near a Mayan well, we paused while the guides dismounted and took photos for those who had brought cameras. At the end, we passed a pen containing a deer and a wild turkey. Then we reached the dismounting area, where ranch hands helped us off our horses. We piled into the van for the return trip, which seemed to go by a lot faster than the trip out. We made it back to the port a little bit after 4 p.m., so there was plenty of time to shop before the 6 p.m. all aboard time.

Hubby and I poked around the shops a little bit, and he bought a couple of shirts. We saw another swimming pool, with a lovely surrounding area that had beach chairs and hammocks. It was adjacent to a bar for ease of enjoying a margarita or two. We plan to do another shore excursion when we return, but I think it would be just as nice to wander off the ship and spend the day at one of the pools.

When we got back to the ship, hubby’s knees were killing him. One of his legs has had an inflamed tendon for several days, too, so he decided to buy some Refreshing Gel at the spa. If you’ve ever had a massage on the ship, Refreshing Gel is that lovely, hot/cool gel that they rub on you at the end of your treatment. We use it all the time at home, getting a fresh supply as needed on our various cruises.

Since I had slipped in an extra massage, I told hubby he should see if there was an appointment available before dinner. We were booked at Palo at 7 p.m., and it was only 5, so we had a couple of free hours. The spa is usually slow on port days, so he lucked out. They were able to take him immediately, so I left him on deck 9 and hiked back to our stateroom to take a shower and read on the verandah until dinnertime.

When he returned to the room, hubby looked 100 percent better. He was refreshed, in less pain, and ready for a delicious Palo meal. We donned our dress clothes and headed up to deck 10, visions of Italian fish soup, mouthwatering filet and homemade hazelnut gelato dancing in our heads.

We have our favorite dishes that we order on most of our cruises, but this time around we were dazzled by the nightly specials. Instead of fish soup, hubby was drawn away by the pan-seared tuna appetizer. For dinner, both he and I opted for the sea bass. Bass used to be a regular item on the Palo menu, but it was removed quite a while back. We remembered how delicious it had been, so we were pleased to be able to have it once again. I asked for half a portion of the fish and half a portion of mustard-crusted lamb (a regular menu item).

Palo also has a very interesting martini menu. I was planning to stick with iced tea, but one of the tempting concoctions won me over. I don’t remember what it was called, but it had Kaluha and Frangelico, and it went down soooo smooth!

At Palo, the meal isn’t limited to your menu choices. You will also be presented with bread and three godly dipping sauces (my favorite is the garlic mayonnaise, which is even better on the Magic than the Wonder because it also has mustard seed), as well as some antipasto items. By the time your appetizer comes around, you’ll already be well on your way to being stuffed!

But no matter how good the main items are, you MUST save room for dessert. The most famous and well-loved Palo dessert is the chocolate soufflé, and I’ll admit I’ve eaten more than a few in my day. But recently I’ve been won over by the wonderful homemade gelatos. The best of all is the chocolate hazelnut, but passion fruit runs a close second. Hubby sticks with his personal favorite, the pistachio torte, but he usually gets a scoop of hazelnut gelato on the side.

Our Palo meal was delicious, as always. By the time we were done, it was difficult to muster the energy to drag ourselves back to our stateroom. When we arrived, we were greeted with the best towel creation so far: A giant heart with swans in the center, with our initials on either side! Orlando had definitely outdone himself.

Hubby was looking forward to getting photos of the Magic’s “Pirates in the Caribbean” party, with the new Jumbotron screen over the Goofy Pool. I was too lazy to join him, as I knew that the fireworks show would be visible from our verandah. Instead of heading up among the crowd, I could sit in a deck chair and watch the sky light up right from my own balcony.

Thursday was a bit melancholy, since I realized that our cruise was almost over. But the sadness was tempered by remembering that we had a spa villa appointment that afternoon. We slept in a bit and had breakfast on the verandah once again. It was so nice to have time to relax and enjoy our stateroom. It will be hard to go back to three-day cruising.

There was an Art of Entertaining presentation on making entrees, but after nearly a week of cruising we were already overwhelmed by food. Instead, hubby went to the workout room, while I worked on my trip report on the verandah. Then I headed down to my private “internet café” down the hall and checked my work email. By the time my husband returned, it was time for lunch (on a cruise, it always seems to be time for one meal or another). He was looking forward to the seafood buffet, since he is a sushi lover, but I wasn’t too excited about that. I headed up to deck 9 to get a taco and French fries from Pluto’s Doghouse. I brought my chow back to Parrot Cay and linked up with hubby at his table.

He was a bit disappointed because he likes hard-core, raw fish sushi, but most of the options were more like California rolls. But the rest of the buffet made up for it, and he declared it as good as Cape May Buffet at Disney World. His plate was piled high with shrimp, mussels, monkfish, and other sea life. I was quite content bathing my fries in the godly honey mustard sauce.

We headed off to the villas, eagerly anticipating our treatments. Hubby had signed up for a seaweed wrap (his favorite), while I had opted to try something new. I love the Frangipani oil that they use in the spa for massages and for the scalp treatment, so when I saw a Frangipani wrap as an option, I decided to try it.

As before, our villa experience started with a foot rinse and 20 minutes in the Jacuzzi. It was even nicer than Key West day, since we could watch the ocean as we soaked and were massaged by the jets. The time flew by, and soon it was time to climb onto the massage tables for our treatments. While hubby was slathered with a warm seaweed mixture designed to sooth his muscles, I was given a ginger and lime salt exfoliation. Then both of us were wrapped in foil like giant baked potatoes, me covered in Frangipani oil while my husband basked in the seaweed. We were both anesthetized with scalp and foot massages while we sweated the toxins out of our bodies. Then it was off to the shower to rinse off before our half-body massages.

Once the massages were over, we headed outside on the verandah to enjoy our tea. Last time, we hadn’t heard anything in the adjoining villas, but this time we heard an odd, rhythmic splashing noise next door. We glanced at each other, wondering…nah, it couldn’t be! But then the noise stopped and resumed a minute or two later, this time as squeaking on the lounge bed. I’ve heard of people “making a souvenir” in the Rasual (couples mud bath), but apparently the villas may achieve notoriety, too.

We were less adventurous; we settled for lying back on the lounger and enjoying our fresh-brewed tea. All too soon, our time was up, and we had to vacate our cushy digs. The concierge suites definitely need hot tubs on the verandahs!

We headed to Diversions to meet one of my clients. Even though I miss the old improve comedy club, I really enjoy the pub-style atmosphere of Diversions. It’s a nice, comfortable place to have a drink, and they have some fun special events too. We’ve done the beer and martini tastings on the Wonder, and we noticed that there is also a tequila and margarita tasting on the Magic. I wanted to check it out, but we ended up not having time. That’s probably just as well, as I would be quite loopy after working my way through five potent alcoholic beverages. Even though they’re “tastings,” the portions severed at the beer and martini events are quite generous. Normally, my husband and I split one set of the drinks between the two of us.

Surprisingly, Diversions was empty. Since it was a day at sea, I was surprised that there weren’t at least a few people hanging around. We ended up chatting with my client until it was time to head to the Walt Disney Theater to see “Disney Dreams” for the 40-somethingth time.

“Disney Dreams” is the cruise line’s signature show, and it remains my husband’s favorite. I love it myself and always enjoy seeing different casts. It was especially interesting to see the show on the Magic, since there are slight differences between the versions on the two ships.

Hubby wanted a front row seat, so we took the aisle seats on the left-hand front side. As the show started. I noticed one difference immediately: No laser “Disney Dreams” projected onto the curtains. I thought that both ships had the laser; maybe it just wasn’t working that night.

Soon we were both engrossed in the story of Anne Marie and Peter Pan, watching Anne Marie’s efforts to “find her own magic and learn how to fly away to the play where dreams come true.” The show includes songs from Disney favorites like Aladdin, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, and The Lion King. Normally, one of the African-American muses from the Hercules stage show sings “Circle of Life.” But now that Herc had been replaced on the Magic by “Twice Charmed,” the song is performed by a white female (I think it’s Cinderella from the new show, as she is a very strong singer). Her performance was very good, but after seven years of seeing a muse in the role, it took some getting used to.

Although I like the Aladdin and Little Mermaid numbers, my favorite part of the show is towards the end, when Tinkerbell sprinkles the ship with pixie dust. After the requisite happy ending, hubby and I headed back to our stateroom to get ready for dinner.

Once we had changed, we headed to Studio Sea for the “Who Wants To Be A Mouseketeer” game show. My husband loves the real “Millionaire” game, but I find it much too slow-moving. There is too much unproductive gabbing in between the questions. I like an uninterrupted speed show, but I guess they’d have to give away too much money. It’s easier to fill network airtime with inane blather.

Still, I usually go to Mouseketeer for the enticement of the grand prize, a pretty little crystal piece. To win it entails double luck…first, having your number picked by the computer to play, and second, answering five questions correctly. I always ace the questions from my spot in the audience, so with all of our cruises, the odds may eventually be with us to be selected. I’ve seen the show so many times that I’ve actually memorized quite a few of the questions.

You get two lifelines: 50/50 and “Ask the Audience.” Sometimes the show is played “straight” (i.e. no hints, and audience help is not allowed unless the contestant is using a lifeline), and sometimes it’s more like a raffle with a question interlude because the host gives hints or the audience is allowed to “help” without admonishment through vocal cues and/or applause. This show was the raffle type, but even with the host’s subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) hints, he practically had to force a couple of contestants to change their incorrect answer. A bit of advice for potential future players: If the guy running the show is pushing you towards a certain answer, go with it!

I did get into a dispute with hubby over one of the questions. It asked which restaurant at Epcot is modeled after a castle, and I immediately chose Marrakesh, the restaurant at the Morocco pavilion. I’ve eaten more times than I care to count in the plush surroundings of a sultan’s castle. Hubby insisted, “No, it’s Norway.” While I had to agree that he was correct, too, I think that Marrakesh could be justified as correct. Good thing I wasn’t in the hot seat or there would have been a dispute!

Fortunately, the contestant chose Norway, which was the official “correct” answer. But when I got home, I had to do a quick search of the web to see if others share my opinion. No lesser an authority than allearsnet.com (the leading unofficial Disney World website) says the following in a review of Marrakesh:

“Stepping into the dimly lit Marrakesh transports you at once to another time and place. Reminiscent of a sultan's castle with its marble pillars, intricately carved decorations, and plush carpeting, the atmosphere is at once exotic and luxurious.” Vindicated!

After the show, it was time to head to Parrot Cay for dinner. It always feels odd to be in that restaurant on formal night, since it has a casual, tropical theme. Captain’s Gala is the night for steak and lobster, and both were available aplenty.

After dinner, I wanted to go to the 70s party, but I also wanted to get up a little early on Castaway Cay day (tomorrow). I ended up falling asleep while watching “Disney Dreams” on the stateroom television.

We decided to be lazy on Castaway Cay day, toddling out of bed whenever we felt like it, so we didn’t pre-order any breakfast. However, we had a stingray excursion at 11 a.m., so we couldn’t sleep in too long.

It was such a beautiful day that we didn’t feel like sleeping too long anyway. The sun was peeking in through the curtains, and the island stretched out invitingly in front of us. We decided to disembark a little bit after the ship was cleared so we would miss the first big “wave” of people. It can get quite crowded on the deck one gangway, and I hate being in the midst of a huge, disorganized line.

We donned swimwear and slathered each other with sun block. My skin is nearly albino, so I have to be diligent if I don’t want to turn into a lobster. Normally we head over to Serenity Bay, the adult beach, but we were worried that there might be a lot of seaweed left over from Hurricane Wilma. Although the island didn’t get hit too badly, the rough seas came ashore and browned a lot of the plant life. We decided to set up base camp on the farthest end of the family beach, which is usually very quiet. As a bonus, it is also near a restroom and close to the stingray excursion area.

Our timing was good; when we got to the gangway, there was only a handful of people. We stepped out onto the island…and quickly discovered that the big, initial swarm of people was still out there! There was a huge mass of humanity heading in a herd towards the beaches. We got our towels, which are handed out right after you disembark, and began to weave our way through the crowd.

There is a tram that will take you to the beach, but it’s often faster to walk if there is a big crowd waiting. Besides, we figured that we could use the exercise after nearly a week of indulgent meals. We bopped and weaved through hoards of people, most of whom were walking several bodies abreast (after 46 cruises and countless visits to Disney World, we’ve become expert at negotiating crowds). Soon enough, we had made it to Gil’s Fins and Boats, where the beach begins.

We noticed that several characters were out, scattered at various points along the way to the beach. For those who didn’t bring a camera, the ship’s photographers were on hand to snap a shot.

I noticed an amazing thing: as soon as a patch of beach was in sight, the crowd began to thin. It was as though they felt compelled to head right for the first spot they saw. That’s not a good idea, since everyone else does it, too. If you are willing to walk a little farther, you can easily snag a prime patch of beach. But people have that herd instinct, and they bolt like sheep as soon as they see someone else doing it. Oh well, all the better for us. We continued on our way, with the people in front of us melting away like magic.

By the time we got to the far end of the beach, we were virtually alone. We tried to gauge the movement of the sun and pick lounge chairs that would be shaded by both palm trees and umbrellas as the light shifted throughout the day. We had a little bit of time for relaxing before we headed to Castaway Ray’s the stingray area, for our 11 a.m. encounter.

The stingray experience is not like Grand Cayman, where you head by boat way out into the ocean to the Stingray City sandbar. The rays are in a netted area just off the shore, so you simply wade in to interact with them. It’s suitable for any age or swimming ability, since much of the water is shallow.

The rays are all wild ones tamed and training by Disney. Their barbs were clipped (they are like fingernails, so this will need to be done periodically) and they were marked with identifying chips. The trainers taught them to swim up onto floating feeding stations, where guests can easily hand out food. Their “target” is a Mickey head; you feed them when they swim over it.

Before entering the water, we listened to a 15 minute orientation where we learned the above information, as well as some trivia about stingrays (various types, sizes, etc…for example, the males are much smaller than the females, and the rays we would be feeding are Southern Rays). One of the clipped barbs was passed around; it’s NOT something you would want to encounter on an angry ray!

Originally, there were about 35 rays, but the hurricane raised the water above the netting and scattered them. However, 25 have returned so far seeking their free meals, and it’s possible the rest will find their way back, too. As we were interacting, my husband noticed a ray outside of the netting swimming around like she wanted to come in. I don’t know if she was one of the missing ones or a wild ray hoping to be captured in exchange for easy chow.

We were all given snorkel geared, and we waded into the water. The rays knew what was coming and circled us excitedly. However they weren’t as frenzied as the rays at Grand Cayman; this would definitely be a better experience for nervous people or small children. We split up and gathered around the two feeding stations, where guides handed out fish and shrimp. The rays obediently swam up onto the feeing stations and sucked the food out of our hands.

We had an underwater camera, but the ship’s photographer was also on hand to take photos. We ended up buying the picture (actually, on this cruise, we bought a LOT of pictures; on the three-day, there aren’t as many photo ops, but on the seven-day there are a lot, and many of the pics are hard to resist).

After 20 or 30 minutes of feeding, we were allowed to snorkel around the area, checking out the rays in their underwater habitat. Many of them buried themselves in the sand, and it was fun to try to spot them (you can see their tails sticking up). Other rays hung out near the shore, eagerly awaiting the next feeding time. The entire experience took about an hour, and we really enjoyed it. It’s definitely something we’ll do again on one of your 2006 cruises.

By the time we were done, it was noon…time for lunch. We headed over the Cookie’s Barbeque to fortify ourselves with a good meal. I took a cheeseburger, potato chips, and cole slaw, with pineapple cake for dessert. Hubby opted for the salmon and lots of fresh fruit. Then we headed back to our beach chairs, where he blew up my inflatable raft. You can rent rafts and inner tubes on Castaway Cay, but since we cruise so much, we just bring our own cheapies. It serves two purposes: when we’re sick of them, we can just pitch them since they only cost a few dollars, and because they are unique (bright green), people can’t easily steal them.

Hubby headed off to check out the new bike trail, and I paddled out into the water. It was almost a perfect day; hot enough to swim, but not humid. The breeze could be a bit chilly, but overall it was one of the nicest weather days I’ve had on the island. It felt so good to bask in the sunshine while floating on the turquoise ocean. I guess that the weather had attracted virtually everyone off the ship because the beach was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it. Even our secluded little corner was now packed with people. I guess it was just too beautiful out to stay onboard.

When hubby returned from his biking, I gave him the raft and curled up in the shade with a book while he went for a float. I had a spa appointment in the afternoon, so reluctantly we decided to return to the ship. It’s always sad to leave Castaway Cay, but at least we were heartened by the fact that we’d be returning in less than two weeks. I just hope that the weather is as gorgeous!

My massage was lovely, although I cringed to think about the spa bill we’d managed to run up over the course of the cruise. Thank goodness we usually sail on the Wonder, as there’s only so much damage you can do in three days, especially since they don’t have the spa villas (yet).

We weren’t planning to go to the Farewell Show, and we know the disembarkation speech by heart, so it was a nice, lazy evening. We had some time to pack and do last-minute chores (I always bring thank-you cards because by the end of the cruise there are always many crew members who deserved a little thanks).

Dinner was in Lumiere’s, where we had started…it was hard to believe that it had been a week ago already. The last night is fun because the chefs parade around the restaurant with flaming Baked Alaska. Then, all of the servers come out with flags and do a round, singing, “It’s a Small World.”

Back in the stateroom, we finished packing and crawled into bed to rest up for the early morning disembarkation.

I’m NOT a morning person, and knowing that I have to get up and leave the ship makes it all the harder on the last day. We were in no big hurry to leave the ship, since we were giving a couple of my clients a ride to the airport. Normally, I’m not quite THAT much of a full-service travel agent, but since it was on the way, we invited them to ride with us. They were planning to meet us at 9 a.m., so we knew we could sleep in a little and vacate our stateroom by 8:15 (I couldn’t remember whether the “you MUST be out of the room” time was 8 or 8:30), and we’d have plenty of time to meet them.

On the last morning, you are assigned a time for a sit-down breakfast based on your dinner seating. Alternately, you can eat at Topsiders buffet if you want to leave earlier or later. We always skip breakfast, even on our three night cruises. After eating so much, we’re ready for a break on the last morning.

We carry our own luggage off the ship rather than putting it out the night before for delivery to the terminal building. Someone accidentally took our bags once, and they ended up in another state before returning home to us, so forever more we’ve kept them with us. Since there are three decks above 5 with guest staterooms, it’s nearly impossible to get an elevator car going down with enough room to squeeze in. We’ve learned the trick of simply going up, since those cars are usually empty. We do a round trip, going up and then down; it’s quicker than waiting for an empty car.

When we got down to deck 3 midship around 8:15, there was a line waiting to enter Lumiere’s for breakfast, but no line at all to disembark. Now that DCL has gone to numbered group boarding, I hope they never change their wonderful disembarkation process. On most cruise lines, you are placed into a group and have to wait (sometimes literally hours) until you are called. With DCL, you walk off when you want to. Sometimes there is a line, but I’d rather do it that way than play the Waiting Game.

We headed off the ship, down the elevators, and into the Customs area, where we presented our ID and customs form. Then it was off to the parking lot to cram in our bags and wait for our companions. It would be a somewhat tight fit, since hubby and I had brought everything but the kitchen sink, but fortunately the clients had brought much less than we had. Hubby squeezed in their luggage, and we all piled in for the trip to Orlando International Airport.

The trip home always seems to go by faster than the trip to the port. Soon we had arrived at the airport; another Disney cruise officially over. Oh well, at least our next cruise is coming up quickly. I’m just not quite sure how well I’ll adapt to the Wonder after a week of decadence on the Magic!