Nonsensical but true: My mother was too scared to hang out in big, bad New York City, less than an hour from her house, but she hadn’t a problem traveling all around the world with her church buddies—even to destinations that weren’t exactly the safest places for the holy rollers of St. John’s Baptist Church. Egypt, Alaska, Guyana, Greece, Mexico, Jerusalem—she went everywhere. I even have pictures of her posing with an armed guard at the Israeli border. Both of them are grinning like they’re at a Chris Rock concert.
And if she could cruise to her destination? All the better. Indeed, this was her preferred mode of travel; she loved being able to float to faraway lands, hit a few tourist spots during the day, then get back to the safety of her cruise ship before the sun set, only to float on to the next big adventure (read: tour/shopping excursion). She’d come back with all kinds of wonderful gifts—spices from Guyana, Egyptian gold, Grecian cloth—and fantastic stories of her travels. My Mari would hang on her every word. And my mother would always end each tale with the same promise to her grandbaby: “One of these days,” she’d whisper in Mari’s ear, “I’m going to take you on a Disney cruise.”
My mom never got to take Mari on that cruise—she passed away before Mari was old enough to go with her. For sure, when I went on The Disney Wonder as part of the Mommy Bloggers Cruise last week, Mommy, who would have been 68 today (happy b-day, my sweet), was on my mind. At every turn, I wondered whether the cruise and its activities would have satisfied her seemingly insatiable cruise addiction, and certainly, what kind of time she would have had with her granddaughter.
Here’s what I know she would have liked:
Recently rated the No. 1 large cruise by Conde Nast, The Disney Wonder lives up to the hype. A gorgeous statue of The Little Mermaid’s Ariel welcomes guests into the glamorous three-story atrium, where sweeping spiral staircases usher guests up to and through the halls of the ship. The staterooms, comfortable and grand, can accommodate three people easily, but with a pull-out bed in the couch, a family of five can fit, too. I watched the sunset on my veranda as I noshed on chocolate covered strawberries, brie and crackers, and champagne, and giggled imagining my mom feeding my Mari eggs and toast for breakfast while they watched the ocean waves tickle Mickey Mouse’s floating house. Outside the room, Disney whimsy danced everywhere—from the hand-drawn cartoon art decorating the staircases to the larger-than-life themed restaurants to the Disney characters who charmed young charges in practically every hallway. My mother loved casual luxury—she would have found plenty of it on the Disney Wonder.
The Star Treatment
From the moment you enter the rich three-story atrium lobby, Disney treats its guests like stars. A handful of greeters announces everyone’s name as they enter the ship, and then applauds wildly while you take a star bow—a welcome I’m sure my mother and daughter would have gotten a kick out of. Everyone from the guy turning down the beds at night to Captain Henry, the commander of the ship, made us feel like they were our biggest fans and their sole mission was to make sure we had everything we wanted. Shoot, Captain Henry even let us sound the Mickey Mouse horn as we were pulling away from Disney’s private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay. Yup, Bettye, who reveled in the finer things in life—and deserved them, too—would have appreciated the hospitality.
There was something for everybody on the ship: four different kids clubs for children from infants to teens; a pool for families and a grown-up one with a poolside bar for adults looking to get away; a game room; several clubs—family-themed and adults-only—each packed with games, karaoke, drinks, and light food to keep it interesting; a full movie theater with repeat showings of the latest Disney movies; and, three adorable plays that showcased some of Disney’s most memorable characters. The sets were simply incredible—layers upon layers of eye candy, from moving images splashed across the back wall to shooting stars, snow, and pixie dust falling from the theater “sky” made audience members feel like they, too, were a part of the production. My favorite was the incredibly colorful stage rendition of the modern Disney classic, “Toy Story,” but I think my mom and Mari would have been all into Disney Dreams, a retrospective of all of Mari's favorite Disney characters—the princesses, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, and the like. For sure, if my mother needed a break with baby girl, she could have safely left her in one of the clubs to get in some quality grown-up time, like when the girls and I hit karaoke night. But I’m betting my mother would have been too busy having fun with Mari to want to leave her in someone else's care.
The Off-Ship Excursions
Our group had a blast touring an old water preserve on our own Segways; our Segway coach, Deena, was as beautiful as any model and as daring as any athlete—and encouraged us to let our machines rip. My mother wouldn’t have dared, but she would have certainly enjoyed strolling the beaches of Nassau and pointing out the lighthouse to Mari, and I’m sure she would have had a time snatching up all kinds of homemade goodies in The Straw Market. I know she wouldn’t have bother with the conch at the authentic Bahamian restaurant, Conch Fritters, but Mari would have really loved the spiciness of the curried chicken and the crunchiness of the restaurant's namesake. She also would have really dug Castaway Cay, the private Disney-owned island we visited on our second off-ship excursion day. There was sand, every kind of water sport imaginable, and plenty of barbeque to fill tanned tummies. We saw Mickey taking a jog as we made our way over to feed and swim with the stingrays. I wasn't a fan of all those fish swarming around my legs, and I'm pretty sure my mother wouldn't have played that, either. But Mari? She would have been front and center, letting those fish glide right up to her little fingers.
The food is delicious—no standard cruise ship fare here. Diners alternate between the three restaurants so that you get to experience a different setting and cuisine each night of your getaway. Chicken, steak, seafood, risotto, pasta, vegetarian fare—you name it, they had it. And if you didn’t see it on the menu, or wanted something different from what was offered, the chef was more than willing to hook you up. The cool part is that your servers remain the same each night, which means that not only do they know your name, they know your tastes. By the second evening, our server, Stacey-Ann, knew to keep the Kir Royals and red wine flowing, and even when I insisted my thighs couldn’t stand one more morsel, she insisted on bringing more food. When I told her I didn’t want anything for dessert, she brought me just that: a plate of nothing! On the last night of my trip, the Mommy Bloggers, along with our gracious Disney hosts, dined at Palo, an upscale, adults-only restaurant with an eclectic menu. The food and service there held up nicely to some of the finer landside restaurants I’ve frequented, for sure. It’s $15 extra per adult to dine there—definitely worth it, though, again, my mother probably wouldn't have wanted to part with Mari to attend by herself.
This is, for sure, the reason why my mother was so intent on taking her grandbaby on the Disney cruise. She was no Disney fanatic, but she so enjoyed the look in Mari’s eyes as she stared at videos of her favorite Disney movies and sang all the songs and mimicked all the movements and recited all the words. That same look was in the eyes of countless little girl cruisers who, decked out in the costumes of their favorite princesses, rushed up to Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Ariel, and of course Mickey Mouse and his girl Minnie, looking for a hug/high-five/autograph from their heroines.Simply put: They were mesmerized. I can’t say that I had that same warm and fuzzy feeling; I, like many of my fellow African American moms, have always railed against allegiances to the Disney princesses—because they don’t look like us, because they seem to promote being “saved” by a guy, because they just don’t seem as strong as the independent women we’re raising our little girls to be. Still, I couldn’t help but imagine how wonderful it would be if my daughters, decked out in their favorite costume, could glide around The Disney Wonder, looking to give out hugs and kisses to a princess who looks like them. Frankly, I can’t wait for The Princess and The Frog, Disney’s newest princess, to join the team. She’s African American, and, if the trailer for the new movie, set for a Christmas release, is any indication, Princess Tiana (voiced by Dreamgirls’ Anika Noni Rose—love her!) will be quite the independent spirit. Take a look at the trailer; Tiana is kinda fly. (Not so much the firefly, whose grill leaves a lot to be desired.) Anyhoo, if Princess Tiana’s in the house on The Disney Wonder, I'll be sure to make good on Gamma Bettye's wish to take Mari on a Disney Cruise.
(Note: This post is the fourth in the MyBrownBaby series on the 2009 Mommy Bloggers Disney Cruise. For more information on a Disney Cruise vacation, click here.)