Disney Cruise - Day at Sea

Our last day aboard the Disney Dream was our day at sea. We started by heading to the movie theater to watch Moana. Hey, when awake at 8:30 a.m. you might as well take advantage! While there, we ran into one of the girls from our dinner table, Mia. I invited her to sit with us since she was there alone, and once the movie was done, the girls decided to hit up kids club together since it had started raining. I went back to the room while Matt decided to go for a run, but as soon as I noticed the rain was gone, I grabbed the girls and told Mia to meet us at the pool! Soon her dad and sister joined us, and the girls took off. They rode the Aqua Duck again, hopped in and out of the pools and hot tubs, got themselves ice cream, and basically had the run of the deck. It was fun to watch Violet finally have the confidence to spread her wings a bit and run around with her new friend, and it was nice for me to let her go, knowing there wasn't really that much trouble she could get into. We went to eat at Cabanas and snagged an outdoor table at the very aft of the ship, which was a very relaxing way to eat, shady and full of fresh air. There were plenty of other huge ships on the water to watch as well.

We forced the girls back to the room to shower and change, then sent them right back to kids club with their new friends, because Matt and I had a date for a martini tasting! There were about 20 of us there, and we got to hear the history of the martini, taste various types, and I even got to head behind the bar to mix up a batch of Sour Apple martinis. Fun fact - as long as it's served in a martini glass, it's pretty much a martini. Other fun fact - the more ingredients it takes to make, the more I'm going to like my martini! While we were there, I got a text through the ship's onboard messaging service informing me that Annie had fallen asleep in kids club... win!

Martini time!
The theme for the evening was (optional) formal night, so I put the girls in cute matching dresses I had bought just for the cruise. Before we went to the final show of the cruise - Disney Believe - Matt and Violet went to the Mid-Ship Detective Agency and started solving the mystery of the missing puppies. The game involved using a QR code to activate various "paintings" around the ship, which would come alive and supply clues once you completed a challenge. Of course, this being Disney, the game, graphics, clues, all of it were pretty impressive!

Ready to watch Believe! (I cried. So good.)

Solving the case!

The picture came alive!

Activating the next clue!

One last stop at the Pumpkin Tree.
 Then we were off to our last dinner, right where we began it all, at the Enchanted Garden. Annie fell asleep again! This girl just couldn't hang! But it was nice chatting to the family we'd gotten to know over the course of our sailing and relieve all the great memories. The next morning, we returned to the same restaurant for breakfast and to say goodbye to our great serving team. I'm not going to lie, I cried a little again, just thinking about what a great trip it had been, how everything had worked out, how relaxed we'd gotten, how now they were kicking me off this beautiful boat to face the reality of report cards and parent-teacher conferences... One thing is for sure. This is not our last Disney Cruise!
We had a great time!

Disney Cruise - Castaway Cay

We're always cruising with a balcony from now on.

One of the most-anticipated parts of our itinerary was the stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. We had been warned the night before by the cruise director Trent that rain was in the forecast, but with a little faith, luck, and pixie dust (and a good rain dance) we could hopefully still have a great day on the island. Matt and I were planning to run the Castaway Cay 5K race on the island, so we were some of the first to exit the ship. We dropped the girls off at the island kids club and headed for the starting line with, I don't know, say 100 other passengers. What followed was one of the hottest runs I've ever experienced! The race took us along a paved path cut through the island's greenery and then along the runway to the adults only beach, and back.

Running selfies... harder than you'd think! But look at that finisher's medal!
When we were finished (under 30 minutes, might I add!) we staked out some beach chairs under an umbrella and headed to grab the girls. As luck would have it, we spotted Mickey on the way! There were only a handful of people waiting to meet him, so I told the girls it was now or never! See how overcast the sky was? I said a quick prayer that we'd make the most of our time on the island so even if it rained, it wouldn't be a disappointment. And it never rained! The clouds dissipated and it ended up being a beautiful day!

Meeting Mickey!

Christmas card!

Finally at the beach!

The beach was great! There were plenty of chairs and umbrellas, life vests for anyone that needed one, two restaurants serving up lunch of various BBQ options, even the unlimited soda and ice cream machines turned up! Basically the ship's staff get off the boat, run the island, and then pack it all up at the end of the day. It's quite an endeavor! Matt and Violet went on the Pelican Plunge, a rather swift waterslide that drops you right into the ocean while Annie and I explored. After lunch we happened to park it near another family from our county (the running joke was that everyone on the ship was from one of three counties in Atlanta on fall break) and when they headed back to the Dream, they left us their floats that we took to the water. The beach never felt too crowded and like I mentioned, the weather ended up great. Annie even fell asleep in a beach chair for a much needed nap!

Just look at that water! Talk about no filter needed!

We returned to the ship for Pirate Night! Everyone showered and dressed, then we took the girls to the club while we got a much needed cup of "real" coffee from the onboard cafe. We met up with the kids in D Lounge to watch a family pirate game show, where Annie got picked to help swab the deck in a relay race - she had to push a mop and bucket around. I continued to be amazed at the people working the kids clubs - this was no simple babysitting service. They were always engaged the kids, finding things to play with them, interacting with them. It's no wonder the girls were so willing to return time and time again! After another early dinner via room service, we took the kids up to the pool deck to watch the pirate dance party, where Captain Hook attempted to take over the ship but was thwarted by Mickey and his brave crew!

Yo ho, yo ho!

Violet with her class pet, Alfred, who got to spend the week with us. She had to take pictures and write in a journal all about Alfred's adventures... something tells me this might be the highlight of his year!

One of our Fish Extender gifts was this perfect pirate eye patch.

Look at those scalawags!

Thanks to Annie's beachside nap, she finally managed to stay awake through dinner, ha! During dinner, our girls and the girls from the family that shared our table hatched a plot to go to kids club before the fireworks, and we were happy to let them. Matt and I walked around the outside of the ship on Deck 4, trying to work off our enormous dinner. We grabbed the girls around 10:30 and brought them back to our room so we could watch the fireworks from our balcony. (Pro tip - get a room on the starboard (right) side if you want an excellent view of Castaway Cay and the fireworks!) And so we went to bed, already sad that the next day would be our last on this beautiful Dream.

Goodbye Castaway Cay!

Disney Cruise - Nassau

Breakfast of champions.

Just like Mr. Goodluck had promised, we woke up to beautiful calm seas. Our early-rising girls were quickly dressed and ready for action, so we were some of the first upstairs at Cabanas, the buffet on the pool deck. We ate and headed forward, hoping to watch the ship pull into our first port of call, Nassau, Bahamas! It was amazing to watch our huge ship aim for a slot between the breakers and slide into the port, then stop and spin in order to back into its parking space. Impressive! (Although apparently on the sailing after ours, something went wrong and the Dream bumped the dock on the way in, causing quite a bit of cosmetic damage! Oops!)

Contemplating life with coffee. (Spoiler alert - the coffee was meh.)

A windy sunrise!

Passing the lighthouse pulling into port.

Waiting for the pools to open.
We had already decided to stay on board in Nassau. The idea is that the ship will empty out and you'll have the place to yourselves, although more and more people are opting to skip Nassau excursions and I honestly couldn't tell a difference with the crowds. (Although side note, it never really felt that crowded on board. There were a few moments of craziness but for the most part, it wasn't unusual to be the only people waiting for an elevator or walking down the hallway.) Since we were already on the top deck, the girls took a quick paddle around the pools (there is a deeper one and a small kiddie Mickey pool) and then we decided to check out Goofy's Sports Deck and play some mini golf.

Hole in one?

Violet's new thing is making a peace sign in every picture!

Goofy Golfing Girls
Then it was time to quickly get dressed for our Frozen Meet and Greet! While there were always plenty of Disney characters and princesses around in the atrium, the girls were never interested in standing in line to meet anyone. But the Frozen princesses could only be accessed via (free) pre-booked tickets that gave you a specific time to show up. The princesses had a few minutes to talk to each visitor (our girls had a conversation about how sisters take care of each other) and then Anna suggested they all hold hands and make a "sister chain" for the picture. So cute! Violet is already skeptical - she informed me she knows that the characters are just people dressed up.

The sister chain!
We took the kids to kids club to play and then Matt and I checked out the ship's fitness area and hit the treadmills for a bit. It decided to pour buckets at this point of the day, so it's just as well the kids were at the club. We showered and decided to find something grown up to do while they were occupied. There was trivia happening at one of the pubs, and even though we showed up four questions late (and even though these were the most random trivia questions ever) we ended up winning, ha! The prize - two Disney Cruise Line luggage tags and bragging rights! Then it was time to get ready for our Halloween on the High Seas trick-or-treating party! We returned to the room, ordered the girls an early dinner through room service and got everyone showered. We were really hoping Annie would nap but no dice.

Let's get some candy!
Due to the previous rain showers, the trick-or-treating was moved from the pool deck to the atrium, and this was the only time I really felt overwhelmed by crowds. It was almost impossible to get through the hallways as everyone tried to get to the candy stations. But based on the candy haul the girls made, it was worth it! The kids were way more interested in their candy than the dancing characters inside. Then it was time to sail away!
We escaped the crowds for a few minutes!

So. Many. People.

"Moana" watching the Dream pull out of Nassau from our balcony.

A rainbow!
We headed to our show - a magic show this time - in the Walt Disney Theater, and then I decided to try a new tactic for dinner. Since Annie didn't take a nap, I'd just have to caffeine them up! So we headed to the pool deck (home of the free soda machines) and let them drink their fill while we watched the sunset. At this point, we were sailing on smooth seas, and I was so relieved that we weren't experiencing the wild rocking from the night before.

Ocean sunset!

Drink up, me heartys, yo ho!

The pool deck, so pretty at night!
Well, despite my best efforts, Annie could still not make it through dinner. Our wonderful serving team (you have the same waiters the whole trip, they rotate to all the different dining rooms with you) were so sweet and brought out extra tableclothes to serve as blankets. They also cut up the girls' food for them. Hello service! We ate at Animator's Palette, a very cool restaurant filled with giant tv screens that showed various Disney characters. Crush the Turtle from Finding Nemo showed up on ours and proceeded to have a personal conversation with Violet, asking her for her name (and when she was too shy to answer, he asked me!) and where she was from. We made it through dessert and then headed for bed, knowing that the next day we'd be heading to our private Disney island!

Disney Cruise!

Finally, the screen I've been waiting for on my countdown app!

I've never considered myself a cruise person. Having never been on one, sure, I don't really have much to compare it to. But being stuck on a boat? With all those people? And what about those horror stories you hear of everyone getting sick? Yeah, it's never really appealed to me.

Enter our neighbors, who have recently become Disney Cruise professionals! After hearing story after story of their amazing experiences (and knowing there is no way we're taking our kids to the Disney parks any time soon) we started wondering... Next thing you know, we had signed ourselves up for a Fall Break cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream. The countdown was on! I spent basically all summer working on cruise details, joining various Facebook groups (there was even a group for our specific itinerary and it was cool to get to know some people and have a place to share ideas), and planning Fish Extender gifts.

Fish Extenders are this whole thing where you join a group of ten or so staterooms, and then get little gifts for everyone. During the cruise, you hang a special bag with pockets outside your door on the fish-shaped hook, and then the people in your group leave little presents throughout the trip. It's like putting a stocking up at Christmas time. It's certainly not mandatory, but it adds a little something magical to your trip. Of course I just had to participate, and I knew I had to get it all done this summer because once school started, I wouldn't have time to think about the cruise at all!

And then, the hurricanes hit. I knew Harvey wouldn't be a problem, and Irma was too early to affect us (although there were fears the Disney Island, Castaway Cay, would be damaged). Jose spun himself silly in the Atlanta before getting close. But Maria. Oh, Hurricane Maria. Our FB group was hot with speculation, concern, prayer. After watching anxiously, things appeared to be okay and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Anyway, all that to say, after weeks of cruise gear growing on the dining room table, we finally had our princess costumes, pirate outfits, Fish Extender gifts, and luggage packed and stuffed in the car, ready to go! After a quick stop in Peachtree City to celebrate Annie's birthday, we hit the road Sunday morning for the long trip to Port Canaveral.

We're on vacation!
We stayed the night at a hotel just minutes from the port; we even had dinner there the night before we sailed off. The entire hotel was packed with fellow cruisers. Annie made quick friends with the family next to us for breakfast who had been on the cancelled Hurricane Irma cruise - they were just happy to be sailing! After we couldn't stand the wait any longer, we headed to the port.

Let me tell you, Disney has this thing down to a science. A well-organized smooth science. Everyone is assigned a specific port arrival time to keep the lines from getting clogged. We checked it, used our new passports for the first time, and after hanging about the terminal for a bit (it was crowded but not unmanageable) we were finally given the go ahead to take our turn.

I'll admit, I teared up just stepping onto the ship. I have such a nostalgic connection to Disney from my childhood. I used to say I was going to marry Mickey when I was little, or work at Disney World. My brother and I made it a mission one summer to watch every single Disney animated classic movie. Plus this was such a big trip, had been planned for so long, thought about so hard... When we announced as we walked on board, "Welcome to the Loughman family!" and we walked through a line of clapping Disney cast members into this huge beautiful atrium... it was an emotional experience.

Minutes away from stepping foot onto the ship!
From endless previous discussions, we knew the first thing the kids wanted to do upon boarding was head to the pool deck. And why not? We were on board before noon but our room wouldn't be available until 1:30, with luggage delivered even later. So we had our swimsuits on under our clothes in preparation. Day one is a great day to hit the pool as well, because the ship won't be fully boarded until 3 p.m. or so. Might as well grab a spot on deck while it's less crowded, right?

I'm on a boat!
The girls immediately wanted to try out the Aqua Duck, a water slide that wraps all the way around the ship. Annie was juuuust tall enough to ride, which was awesome! I had already emotionally prepared her for not getting to go, but perhaps turning four two days earlier gave her the extra bump she needed! We rode the slide, found the much-anticipated free soft drinks and ice cream machine, and had a blast.
View from the Mickey Pool! See the water slide wrapping around the ship?

Waiting for our turn on the slide!

Matt and Annie on the Aqua Duck!

Violet on another slide.
Next we decided to grab lunch. I'd gotten an insider tip that rather than eating at the buffet on the pool deck, we could have a sit-down table-service lunch at Enchanted Gardens, one of the ship's restaurants. It remains one of the highlights of our trip. Something about being just the four of us, in this beautiful restaurant (think greenery, cobblestones, a fountain), being served a lovely lunch complete with the girls' first Mickey Bars for dessert... After the crowds getting on the boat, waiting for the slide, navigating the elevators - it was a beautiful oasis of calm in our day.

Family Selfie

We were finally able to check out our stateroom and unpack our bags. One of the first things on the list was decorating our door. Yes, to make it cute. But more importantly, so we'd be able to find it again in a hallway of identical doors! We met our stateroom host, the person in charge of making sure we were taken care of the whole trip (and the person who'd be making those cute little towel animals for our bed every evening) - Mr. Goodluck.

See the Fish Extender hanging by the door?
We visited the kids club area during their Open House hours, went to the required muster drill (safety briefing), and watched the Sail Away Party from the pool deck, where Mickey and his gang come out singing and dancing. Then it was time to get dressed for the show - The Golden Mickeys! - and dinner. At this point, the ship was rocking pretty steadily. Whether it was due to rough post-hurricane seas or the speed of our travel, there was significant motion. People were stumbling in the hallways and the curtains were swaying. It was clear pretty quickly that Annie wasn't feeling good. We arrived at dinner, met the very nice family with two girls we'd be dining with each night, and were basically in crisis management mode with two exhausted girls. Dinner that first night was pretty much a bust. Matt ended up leaving with a crying Annie and Violet and I were out before dessert. Once both girls were asleep, Matt and I ordered dessert via room service and were happy to call it an early night as well, with promises from Mr. Goodluck that the motion of the ocean would by done by morning. He was right!

Family picture on the balcony!


Happy Birthday Annie!

A Mickey Pirate theme cake before our Mickey cruise!

This sweet girl turned four! Can you believe it? Annie really feels like a "big" girl now and you can tell how proud she is of herself. She's learning sight words and lowercase letters in school and sits in her "big girl" booster seat in the car, just like her big sister. She is one smart and sassy cookie, let me tell you.

We celebrated her birthday with our neighbors and Annie got two different costumes, perfect for our Disney cruise. The next day we headed to Peachtree City so we could celebrate with family.

Celebrating with the neighbors.
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