The Ultimate (Financial) Mousetrap II
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In my previous post, The Ultimate (Financial) Mousetrap, I started chronicling my journey through the most
expensive magical place on earth, Disney World, which comprised just a short segment in the Xrayvsn Family Spring 2019 plans.
The bulk of our vacation was the 4-night Disney Caribbean cruise aboard the Disney Magic which will now be chronicled here.
The Cruise Booking:
Choosing the stateroom type was probably my biggest splurge of the trip.
Prior to this trip, the only time I had been on a cruise was as a resident and I happened to book a week long sailing on Norwegian Cruise lines for my honeymoon.
Even back then I splurged and got a room with a balcony overlooking the ocean, despite my negative net worth.
Now with a lot more zeroes in my favor, I actually felt that a splurge of this type was well within my means.
Disney definitely knows what they are doing when they lead you through the cruise booking process.
They break down the stateroom categories into 4 basic levels (Inside, Oceanview, Oceanview with Verandah (balcony), and Concierge).
With the exception of Concierge, which can be anywhere from 2-7x the price of the level directly below it depending on the dates and subclass categories, there is not as noticeable a price bump jumping up a level (typically $200 to $300 bump for each level).
My financial comfort level was at the Oceanview with Verandah category and I chose the highest subcategory which was classified as the Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah.
This particular stateroom provided 299 square feet of private space and was designed to bunk 3-5 people.
Disney also offered your choice of deck level with a corresponding upcharge dependent on how high you wanted to be.
I ended up choosing the highest level (Deck 10) which I believe was $300 more than the lowest deck offered (Deck 5).
The breakdown of the cruise booking:
- Adult 1 & 2: $2000 each.
- 1 Child (13 year old): $1040.
- Vacation Protection Plan: $537.
- Taxes, Fees, & Port Expenses: $197.
Grand total: $5,774.
Of course this was just the tip of the financial iceberg (bad reference I guess regarding ships) as there were so many more add-ons to be had during your voyage.
Even before I stepped foot on the ship, Disney had sent me a notice about some items I should consider to purchase ahead of time for a larger discount.
One such offer was having access to the photos taken by Disney photographers during the entire cruise length.
I purchased the photo package that gave me a digital copy of all official photos as well as one photobook, which totaled $270.
Monday (Disney Cruise Day 1):
My daughter, girlfriend, and I checked out of our Disney Caribbean Resort hotel and chose to again partake in the non-complimentary breakfast offered: $44.
We also decided to load up on some travel food supplies (cookies, chips, coconut water and regular water): $22.
For peace of mind and convenience sake, I chose to go with the Disney Ground transportation transfer option for 3 totaling $210 that included the following perks:
- Taking all luggage from the hotel room and delivering it right to your cruise stateroom.
- Transfer from the resort in Orlando to Port Canaveral.
- Picking up luggage on day of departure and checking it through to final destination (for some reason the return checked baggage fee was $25 rather than the $30 I paid for the outbound trip).
- Transfer from cruise ship to airport.
We arrived without incident and, after going through a relatively brief check-in process, found ourselves at the welcome aboard lunch buffet where I started to engorge on Stone Crab Claws to try and tilt the financials in my favor.
After lunch we headed to the stateroom and it definitely did not disappoint.
Our stateroom was actually better than the Disney resort hotel room we stayed in the prior two nights.
The bathroom, in particular, was much larger than the one I had on my first cruise and was smartly designed to be divided into two separate sections, a toilet with vanity and a shower section also with a vanity, so that two people could make use of them at the same time.
The shower was a little small with a round configuration but had a handheld shower as well as a rainfall shower head with quite impressive water pressure.
My girlfriend and I got the queen sized bed which was very comfortable.
My daughter had the choice of a queen sized sofa bed or the use of a twin sized bunk that descended from the ceiling above the sofa (she chose the latter every night).
Then of course there was the balcony/verandah which was put to good use throughout the trip with beautiful vantage points and much needed privacy.
As expected from a company like Disney, there was a lot of activities for kids of all ages.
My daughter quickly found a click of friends she constantly hung out with and gravitated to the Disney club called “The Edge” designated for the tweens (age 11-14) where there was always activities to partake in.
Disney has a designated dining rotation through the 3 main restaurants (The Royal Palace, Animator’s Palate, and Enchanted Garden).
The dining staff also followed the guests on the same rotation so that you always had the same attendants for every meal, which I felt was a nice touch.
We were assigned the late 8:15 pm seating for dining as opposed to the early 6:15 pm seating.
[Those individuals who have traveled on a prior Disney cruise get a distinct advantage over first timers as Disney gives them an earlier window to make selections such as dining and shore excursions.
Given the choice I would have preferred the early seating option but the late seating plan was manageable.]
Our first night was at The Royal Palace which I think was the most elegant of the 3 dining areas.
One word of warning is that the menus really did not denote what was included and what incurred additional charges (I really think they should have prices already listed next to items that cost extra rather than having to ask the waitstaff).
I would say the food was above average but nothing spectacular (I am not sure if my palate has changed and become more sophisticated since my first cruise but back then I was blown away by the food offerings).
Tuesday (Disney Cruise Day 2):
We woke up and found ourselves approaching our first port of call, Nassau Bahamas.
The view from the balcony was stunning as the waters took on the aquamarine colors associated with the Caribbean.
There were already two cruise ships docked when we arrived.
As mentioned in my previous post, for this spring break I was debating between staying at the Atlantis and going on a Disney cruise.
I therefore had booked a package in advance that included a shore excursion to the Atlantis resort and a chance to snorkel the ruins as well as access to the famous Atlantis water park ($282/person).
Unfortunately the night before I got a message on the ships phone that for some unknown reason, the vendor had to cancel this excursion.
Although most of the shore excursions were fully booked, Disney cruise members opened up additional spots to accommodate those who were displaced by this cancellation.
I ended up choosing the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Swim In Wonder/Aquaventure shore excursion that allowed both shallow and deep water interactions with the dolphins as well as access to the Atlantis resort and water park, which cost $1044 ($348/person).
My daughter absolutely loved it and she had the biggest smile throughout the dolphin interaction segment which I believe lasted almost an hour.
There was an Atlantis photographer that documented our entire dolphin experience which led to the next expense which was paying for those photographs.
There were many packages available but after looking at all the available photos taken, I decided the best bang for the buck was to get the Dolphin 6-photo digital package for $96.
There was an initial snafu in finding my photos and the employee threw in an additional digital image (bringing the total to 7) free of charge for the prolonged wait.
Of the whole trip, these are probably my favorite photos as my daughter was absolutely beaming while being pulled by two dolphins on either side of her.
There were also some nice photos of my daughter and myself on boogie boards being pushed from behind quite powerfully by a single dolphin.
We were given vouchers for lunch at any of the casual eateries at Atlantis.
The food was very basic and nothing to write home about.
My daughter, and subsequently I, chose to go tubing on the quite large lazy river rapids at the Atlantis water park.
It was so large that it took probably 45 min to complete a single loop.
The vacation took a turn for the worse when my daughter did not show up in the designated meeting area and I began to walk the very large park trying to find her while my girlfriend stayed in the meeting place.
With how large the park was, and the amount of people present, the search truly seemed futile.
I enlisted the help of an employee who assured me that “this happens all the time,” and “not to worry.”
I did inform him that there was a bit of a time constraint as we were supposed to be all on board the cruise ship at 5:15 pm which gave us a little over 90 minutes to work with.
We finally got security involved and I filled out a report (as I was leaving another parent came in for the same reason).
It was by far the most stressful feeling I had in a long time but thankfully my daughter, who said she too was trying to find us and did not see us at the meeting spot, went to security who promptly returned her to me with about 20 minutes to spare.
Crisis averted but it did mar an otherwise great excursion (because of the search we did not have time to visit the other main attraction which was the famous aquariums Atlantis is known for).
In front of the boarding site for the ship, multiple local vendors setup small shops selling jewelry, clothing, and various drinks.
Coconut water in the shell of a fresh coconut was just too tempting for me to pass and I forked over $6 to have the vendor machete one open for me to enjoy right before boarding the ship.
Luckily I had scheduled what ended up being the culinary highlight of the entire trip for that night which definitely improved my mood.
Although dining is included in the cruise package, Disney offers two premium adult-only restaurants onboard that you can make reservations to, for an additional fee.
Both restaurants also had a dress code consisting of a coat and button down shirt for the gents and dresses for the ladies.
On my ship these restaurants were Palo (which featured Italian cuisine) and Remy (which had two chefs, one French and one American).
I decided on Remy as I enjoy French cuisine.
For those Disney aficionados, you may recognize that Remy is the starring character in the Disney movie Ratatouille.
In the dining area there were some obvious and some hidden images of Remy scattered throughout the decor.
The waitstaff for this restaurant went far and beyond even the already great service from the Disney crew members.
They explained that the French chef was the owner of a 3 Michelin star restaurant and that the American chef had a 5 diamond rated restaurant.
My girlfriend and I have always been a fan of wine pairing events and I jumped at that option offered by Remy.
Since there was two of us, we decided to select the fixed course offerings from both the French side and American side of the menu so that we could share and each sample both (I highly recommend doing this for couples).
During the entire dining experience, which lasted 2 hours, the chefs would throw in complimentary courses along with bonus glasses of wine or champagne provided by the sommelier.
When all was said and done, we each finished a full 8 course meal and sampled some amazing wine (some bottles were priced at $1500-$2500).
The night was capped off beautifully by the head waiter handing my girlfriend a long stemmed, beautifully perfumed, rose and a gift box of chocolates.
Of course such an amazing dining experience at Remy has a corresponding price tag that lightened my wallet by $540 (mind you this was in addition to the built in charge for dinner at the normally scheduled restaurant).
Wednesday (Disney Cruise Day 3):
Morning came way too soon, especially after the previous night’s alcohol intake, and we found ourselves approaching Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
I had pre-booked two shore excursions for this last port:
- The Extreme Getaway package ($88/person) which included an encounter with stingrays, snorkeling, and biking.
- Parasailing ($110/person).
Unbelievably my bad luck continued with shore excursions as it was deemed to windy and the water too choppy to do the stingray encounter or the parasailing and therefore both were canceled.
Disney downgraded my first excursion package to just the snorkeling and biking component, which totaled $138 ($46/person).
I was most disappointed with the parasailing being canceled as that was something all 3 of us have never done and were looking forward to.
We still managed to have fun snorkeling around the beach where they strategically placed various statues and objects (including a sunken submarine).
The bike ride was surprisingly enjoyable as well taking us along the developed parts of the island and allowed us to explore a little.
There was an included BBQ buffet for lunch on the island and various shops to explore.
In the evening we were treated to a great magic performance by Scott Pepper.
This particular night Disney had a Pirate Night Theme and we were given complimentary Disney branded bandanas to wear.
Our dining rotation was in the Animator’s Palate, which was my favorite dining locale due to the large video walls that displayed pirate Disney themes.
[The dining rotation we missed due to Remy on night two was also at Animator’s Palate where apparently they simulated being underwater and had Crush from the Epcot attraction “Turtle Talk With Crush” interact with guests.
When booking Remy I was advised to book it on a day where I had a duplicate dining location but was also advised to not miss the pirate theme night.
In retrospect I think I would have preferred to have done Remy on the Pirate night as it seemed the kids had more fun with the talking turtle.]
The night was capped off with fireworks at sea.
Thursday (Disney Cruise Day 4):
Having hit both of the stated ports, there was nothing for us left to do than to head back to our port of origin and complete the 620 nautical mile loop.
Day 4 was therefore an entire day at sea.
This also happened to be the roughest seas encountered throughout the entire ship but still was manageable.
With no more shore excursions to go on, our schedule was pretty much open.
My daughter spent the majority of the day with her new found friends but did join us to watch Captain Marvel 3D in the main theater.
Later my girlfriend and I joined a guided tour of the ship that was quite informative and fun.
I capped off the rest of the free time with a mini movie marathon viewing Marry Poppins Returns and then the world premiere of Dumbo 3D (before it came out in theaters).
Our last dining establishment visited was the Enchanted Garden with a similar level of food as the previous two regular restaurants.
Friday (Disney Cruise Day 5):
All good things must come to an end, but must it be so early?
Despite having an afternoon flight, Disney Ground transport had the last bus scheduled to leave the port at 9 am.
We had to clear customs before getting on the bus and they therefore advised we had to disembark before 8:15 am.
Because of the early time, our farewell breakfast started at 7 am with some pretty sleepy-eyed participants.
I was handed an invoice of all the extra charges levied (gratuity was automatically charged at $54/person to cover the server, assistant server, head server, and stateroom host, totaling $162).
There were the incidental charges throughout the voyage for frozen drinks, alcoholic beverages, and the occasional gelato totaling $96.
For those who have been on a cruise before, you know that you essentially go dark in terms of internet access unless you want to pay a premium for on board internet service.
My daughter had some minor daily things she needed to do so I bought her 100 MB of internet data for $19.
Grabbing lunch at the stopover airport ran me another $41.
The flights home were uneventful and the last thing to add to this vacation expense was the off-site airport parking cost which I prepaid for $66.
Total for this segment of the trip: $8,553.
Grand total for entire spring break: $11,989.
Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?
My daughter had the time of her life and I was proud to see her ability to quickly make new friends and show more independence.
Apart from the scheduled events and dinners, my daughter shaped her vacation the way she wanted to gain the most enjoyment.
This left my girlfriend and I to enjoy a more adult experience.
Knowing that she was on a Disney Cruise ship gave me peace of mind that she was in a safe and constructive environment.
It was also comforting to know that the entire Disney team made sure to keep kids of all ages entertained throughout the voyage so that the adults could have a much needed break as well.
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