Friday, March 31, 2023

Epic Winter Road Trip - Wonder and EMBARKATION!

Back to The Mickey Boat for Christmas! (Our Shirts)

 Now we get down to the main event! This cruise was the reason we made the pilgrimage to San Diego.

 After our unexpectedly challenging Disney World trip in the Spring of 2022, we needed something more on the relaxing side to allow everyone to enjoy themselves. While a road trip is a fabulous adventure - nothing fits the bill quite like a Disney Cruise. The Impossible Girl has been begging to go back to 'The Mickey Boat' since we got off our first cruise in 2019. 
About to get on her first Disney Cruise, December of 2019

First Mickey Bar ever - on the first night of the cruise in 2019

Back in December of 2019, it seemed like an incredibly extravagant way to get away for Christmas. It was the gift that year. My Sailor got a bonus and leave which just happened to match up to a military discount on a Disney Cruise. We booked the whole thing a whopping 3 weeks out, and it turned out to be an amazing investment in our future.

 We had no idea how much we would rely on those memories to get us through the subsequent deployment and COVID lock downs that came unbidden in March of 2020. (Check out this blog  when the World Paused and we were called on to Seperate to Survive

 Talking about memories from The Mickey Boat kept us 'afloat' while we were struggling through school, park, store, and life shut downs. Every single day, the memory of our time on the cruise came back to shine a light in a terrifying time. 

When the stars aligned AGAIN (no bonus this time, but a significantly less expensive cruise that we could drive to in 20 hours) after all the stresses of reintegration we jumped at the chance.  This road trip took The Impossible Girl's entire winter break - but that also happens to be a time of year when My Sailor can get holiday Stand Down. While it's an expensive time to travel, making memories together means more than saving the money. 

After all, if Covid and military life have taught us anything it's "Seize the moment. Who knows what tomorrow may bring."

My brother graciously shuttled us to the port and said goodbye as we got on the Disney Wonder. 

We couldn't have asked for a smoother embarkation process or better weather to start this epic adventure. We didn't wait around in the San Diego terminal at all. We walked right through security, snapped a family photo, and were on board in no time. 

Our first stop was Cabana's, the buffet on the Disney Wonder. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we got a table outside to enjoy some rays and some lunch.

The Impossible Girl and My Sailor helped guard against the ever-watchful sea gulls while I grabbed my grub. 

Needless to say, lunch was fabulous. Even better than last time.
After lunch, My Sailor went to ask Guest Services about a few things while The Impossible Girl and I explored all over the ship.

Now, if you've never cruised this may be news to you. Rooms aren't quite ready when you hop on board, unless you enjoy boarding late. Like a floating hotel, it can take some time to turn over the rooms from the previous guests. We got on board at around 11:30am, and the rooms wouldn't be ready until closer to 3pm. Usually the pool is open along with the bars, spa, and at least one sit down eatery.

 One of the things we love about the Disney Wonder is that she is a small ship. While mega ships are basically floating cities (with over 7000 people on board), the Wonder is more like a small towns (max out at about 2700 if it were completely staffed and had every bed full). You can actually get to know crew members during some of the longer cruises, and it's a much more relaxed vibe than the megaships sailing the seas these days. 

That also means less shopping, activities, movies, ect, but we manage to have a great time and fill up our time despite the smaller size. Disney never disappoints.

We carried on things we'd need much like on an airplane, and schelped our backpacks around the ship for a few hours as we explored.
Watching planes take off from the airport just down the street - How cool is the Port of San Diego?! 

We went to ALL of the open houses of EVERY KIDS CLUB ON BOARD! It's one of the coolest things about embarkation day. Each Kids Club is in Open House mode - so anyone on board can come in and play. During normal operation, the kids clubs only allow in the counselors and the kids. 

The Oceaneer's Club has a couple fabulous themed play areas. The highlight is always the Slinky Dog Slide in an area themed like Andy's Bedroom. Typically, the Oceaneer's Club and the Oceaneer's Lab are for kids 3-10.

We also explored Edge. It's the kids club for ages 11-14. I didn't take pictures here, but we did some fun coloring and crafts there. 
Then we moved into the teenage club (14-17) - Vibe.

This might just prove what 'big kids' we are, but I feel like all of us could have hung out here for hours and hours... 

Finally our room was ready and we got to drop off our backpacks and check it out! 

Obligatory photo from the verandah, though still at port.

Now, let's talk about the Muster drill. For those new to cruising - before you leave your home port, each cruise line HAS TO have a muster drill, where they go over all of the emergency procedures on the ship, if there is ever a problem on board that would require evacuation. In our experience on Disney, this is accomplished by watching a short safety video on each room's TV, and getting to an assigned 'muster point', meeting the crew members that would be in charge of safely getting you to a lifeboat. It's a bit of a tense moment because it's the last bit of 'business' that needs to happen before the party of setting off on the high seas starts. It always includes blowing the ship's emergency whistle (in Disney's case, that means 3 loud blasts - and I mean LOUD.) It's a plain loud blast. Not the typical whimsical 'When you Wish Upon a Star' blast that the Wonder usually has. (Here's a fun little horn battle: Disney Wonder VS Royal Carribean, so you get the gist.)  While anxious souls may find comfort in all of the safety schpeel, it can also, obviously, increase anxiety as well.

Before our cruise, we learned that Disney will allow Guests who CAN'T sit through the Muster drill to check in with the crew member at their appointed station, and then go back to their room. Since The Impossible Girl sat through one a couple years ago (without the aid of headphones because back in 2019 - we didn't know what we know now) we were going to aim to sit through this one if we could. The ship gets pretty busy with EVERY guest trying to coral their families and check in at the right place. Another thing about the muster drill is that NO ONE CAN LEAVE until EVERYONE who was supposed to report to a station has indeed reported. Yes, they keep track. Yes, they know who's missing.  And Yes, they WILL track them down. While the odds of something going wrong on a cruise ship that would require evacuation are VERY low, it's still a good thing to participate in every time - and it's also a MANDATORY thing to participate in.

So the photo above was taken by My Sailor as we waited for the last folks to show up. What usually takes 5-10 minutes took over 30 (because someone didn't show up and it took FOREVER to track them down...). There is NO entertainment during this time. The pool and the free ice cream is even closed, so it makes NO sense to stay on deck and NOT participate. 

This was where we were on the edge of panic, but we made it through. She was begging to go back to the room and watch cartoons.

I really wanted to see the Sail Away party on Deck. I missed it in 2019 due to a storm making it impossible to dance outside (and the atrium, where they do it in the event of rain, was PACKED). While I was pushing, My Sailor knew there was a better way to handle it.

He'd stay in the room and watch cartoons with The Impossible Girl so she could unwind, and I'd go watch the Sail Away party solo. He recognized her overstimulation when I wasn't ready to, and showed the treasure of a Dad that he is. 

Moments like these are so good for them. Reintegration is one of the hardest parts of military life. Especially for kids. Daddy's and daughters have bridges to build any way they can in a typical family. Dad being away for months at a time out of contact doesn't help. Time for the two of them - especially when he 'gets' her - is deeply healing for both.

Off I went to the Sail Away deck party while they relaxed in the room. 

In the future, I'd be happy missing this shin dig, but it was a nice way to get the party started...
Only... we didn't sail away right after the sail away party. 
Due to fog, we were stuck in port for several more hours. 

Hard to believe it was sunny minutes before this massive fog engulfed us!

But after some rest, there was still a lot to do on the Wonder. As soon as the Kids Club was open, The Impossible Girl wanted to be dropped off, so we did! 

More to come later....