Reporting from aboard the Disney Dream
We're back for Day 2 from aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship, where we spent the bulk of Friday docked in Nassau, Bahamas.
Full coverage: Read the Day 1 and Day 3 dispatches and view photos from the Disney Dream
After a late night on Thursday, we were awakened at 6:45 on Friday morning by a knock at the door. It was room service delivering breakfast.
My wife, Nancy, was rising early for an 8 a.m. spa appointment I'd made for her as an early Valentine's present. While Nancy got ready, my 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, and I quickly fell back asleep after the startling wake-up call.
By the time Nancy returned at 9 a.m. from her pedicure, she was full of energy and coffee.
"It's a beautiful day outside," Nancy said, pouring another cup from the carafe.
And indeed it seemed so, based on the sunny blue sky above the capital city of Nassau on the virtual porthole above our bed. As if on queue, Tinker Bell appeared on the porthole, sprinkling pixie dust across the rooftops. Hannah let out a shriek of delight.
Still groggy, I washed down a petite croissant and mini cinnamon bun with a glass of orange juice. It was the perfect quick morning bite in the comfort of my PJs.
Fueled by coffee, Nancy recounted her experiences with the relentless up-charging on the all-inclusive cruise ("Everything you really want costs extra"), kids in the adults-only areas ("There was this 5-year-old with a squeaky toy in the spa waiting room") and the consistent lack of pampering on the top-dollar cruise ("The ship looks luxurious, but the service doesn't match the décor").
Then Nancy sat down at my laptop and wrote about her spa experience. Here's her account:
"The Senses Spa & Salon lacked the pampering attention I've received at most spas. When I checked in for my rainforest experience, the attendant took my card and pointed me to a hallway. Luckily I'd taken a tour earlier when we first set sail, so I knew where to find it.
"At many spas, you get a robe in your locker, but not here. So when I asked an attendant where to get a robe, she said I should have received one at the lobby check in. I expected her to immediately correct the situation, but she didn't. At this point, I'd changed into my bathing suit and didn't want to walk back to the front desk to get a robe. Turns out, I really didn't need one.
"In the Rainforest section of the spa, you go from each 'sensory' shower room to the next so fast, there's no time or need to put a robe on. You also don't need it while you're hitting the three sauna and steam rooms – which are co-ed, by the way. So if you're uncomfortable 'showering' near men with hairy backs and beer guts, the Senses Spa is not for you.
"In the Rainforest you have three sauna-steam rooms and various ocean-inspired shower rooms. It's fun to try them all and choose one you like best. At any given point, you can go from a soothing tropical rain showering your body to a cold arctic waterfall blast pummeling your neck. I liked the warm showers, the scented misting experiences and the hamam sauna the best. The latter was a cross between a dry sauna and a steam room.
"At first, I worried that I'd have to wait to try each room in private – given the co-ed conditions -- but I never fought for space for any of the 'sensory' showers or sauna rooms. It did feel weird to be next to a husband and wife sharing a Jacuzzi moment. I immediately left to give them some space.
"I did enjoy showering in the full size shower (much bigger than the one in our stateroom), though it also lacked the basic amenities found at many spas. For example, there were no trash receptacles in the shower area, where I found two used razors left in the soap dishes. Ick! It would have also been nice to have a small plastic bag to put my wet bathing suit in.
"Overall, it was not a bad deal for about $40 over the course of the three-night cruise."
Now that everyone was wide awake, Hannah was itching to get into the swimming pool. When we got to the top deck, the pool was teeming with gawkers watching "America's Funniest Videos" host Tom Bergeron film segments for two upcoming May episodes.
We chose a ride on the AquaDuck -- the first water coaster aboard a cruise ship -- which had a 15-minute wait. The water slide – billed as the Dream's e-ticket ride -- snaked above the top deck, through the forward funnel and even briefly over the side of the ship.
Powered by water jets, the two-person rafts race through clear acrylic tubes that offer panoramic views of the ship and sea as riders descend four stories along the 765-foot-long route. It's the perfect pink-knuckle ride suitable for kids and those of us who never fully grew up.
Hannah waved at passengers below as we passed panoramic views of Nassau and neighboring cruise ships in the harbor.
Before heading ashore, we swung by Flo's V-8 Café for take-away sandwiches to eat while we toured Nassau.
We'd been to the Bahamas before and decided to skip all of the port excursions, which included a catamaran cruise ($49 a person), cigar rolling and rum tasting ($189) and swimming with dolphins ($460).
If you've seen Nassau, you know you're not missing much. Just a bunch of port-of-call tourist traps. We probably should have just stayed on the ship, like most of the passengers. It was telling to look across at the completely empty Carnival cruise ship and compare it to the bustling crowd around the Dream's three pools.
After reboarding the Dream, we checked Hannah into the Oceaneer Lab, a clubhouse for kids ages 7 to 10.
The supervised play area lets kids hang out together while parents enjoy the ship on their own. Kids and counselors can contact parents throughout the day by cellphones issued at check in. But the reality is, most parents have to peel their kids out of the hands-on exploration-themed club. Kids can learn to cook, conduct sloppy science experiments, create hand-drawn animation, stage comedy shows, solve whodunit mysteries or watch movies on a 100-inch plasma TV.
The centerpiece of the Oceaneer Lab was the 15-foot-square interactive play floor, a giant video game that kids play with their feet. Up to 16 kids stomp on motion sensors around the perimeter to shoot targets or leap over a virtual jump ropes projected on 28 interconnected LCD screens. The 20 adrenaline-pumping games, tied to Disney movies, help burn off plenty of energy.
There are other supervised play areas throughout the ship for toddlers, tykes, tweens and teens. The teen hangout Vibe was tucked away in a hard-to-find area in the forward section of the ship. It's clearly designed to be a getaway zone for teens to sip on custom-blend smoothies and espresso drinks while listening to iPods and playing Xbox – away from Mom and Dad.
While Hannah played in the Oceaneer Lab, Nancy and I hit the District – an adults-only zone of dance clubs, piano lounges, champagne bars and British-style pubs.
We chose the more laid-back Skyline bar, where the "windows" were filled with ever-changing views of city skylines around the world. Once again, the convincing illusion was achieved courtesy of cleverly disguised LCD screens.
The panoramas cycled through Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Chicago and Rio de Janeiro, stopping at each city for about 20 minutes. Traffic flowed along Paris streets. The Empire State Building poked above New York's skyline. We ate dinner at the Enchanted Garden, which dramatically transformed throughout the meal from day to night under an arched canopy ceiling inspired by a Versailles conservatory.
I trudged through the dull lobster ravioli appetizer and the insipid duck consommé soup before encountering the best dish I'd yet to try on the ship: the pan-seared sea bass (the chef's favorite entrée).
By the time our madman waiter, Suleyman, delivered Bananas Foster to our table ("This will make you forget all your pains"), I'd arrived at a simple conclusion: Just eat dessert. I'd even say that's a good philosophy of life. Sweet treats work in just about any situation.
After dinner, we filtered into the 1,300-seat theater for "Villains Tonight," a musical comedy with unremarkable music and feeble comedy. It paled in comparison to the Thursday night show.
Hades, the villain from "Hercules," played the host of this fun look at hell, or as he put it, the "funderworld."
Hell served as an apt metaphor for the show -- as in putting patrons through an hour of it. The humor was forced, the music unfamiliar, the singing flat and the sketches forgettable. There was even a recurring passing gas gag. (I kid you not.)
The lowest of the low points in the show (and there were many) featured a scene involving the "Emperor's New Groove," a movie few people saw with a villain nobody recognized (Yzma -- seriously, that's really her name). The end of the number was met by widespread puzzlement and a smattering of mercy applause.
Late in show, when it seemed things might finally get rolling with a rocked-up version of "A Pirate's Life for Me" featuring a swashbuckling Captain Hook, the show veered into a ridiculous talk show segment with Jafar and Iago from "Aladdin" that derailed any hope of momentum. The villain and sidekick actually sang a duet of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." Yup, that bad.
The positives? I enjoyed the often-funny Pain and Panic evil minion sidekicks. And several of the digital backdrops were visually stunning.
But all in all, "Villains Tonight" was bad by any standard and unworthy of the Disney name. I felt sorry for the actors who seemed to realize they were hamstrung with a dog of a show. At the end of the performance when the audience was encouraged to "boo" the villains, the crowd responded with gusto.
All was forgiven a few minutes later, though, when a fireworks finale paired with "Peter Pan" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" music began on the upper deck – something no other cruise line offers. Rockets streaked across the night sky in a spectacular duel that simulated battling pirate ships.
At the conclusion of the pyrotechnics, Capt. Jack Sparrow took the stage for a mix of comic chases, slapstick fighting and rollicking swordplay. It was the best show we'd seen – simple, visual and memorable with a great soundtrack and a well-told story that thematically fit with our voyage.
When Jack finally vanquished his adversaries, the entertainment seamlessly transitioned into Club Pirate, a late-night family dance party atop the mid-deck pools – which were covered with a temporary dance floor. A deejay spun tunes that got the kids jumping (with some help from Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber) and their parents dancing (courtesy of the Black Eyed Peas).
And with that, our second evening came to an end.
Reporting from aboard the Disney Dream