Our Bahamas cruise adventure – the holiday of a lifetime

Cruisefamily 
CRYSTAL clear waters lapping sugar-fine sand is what my holiday dreams are made of. A cruise aboard the Disney Wonder to the Bahamas is a break of a lifetime stuff.

Throw in swimming with dolphins and dining in sumptuous restaurants and you'd think everyone would be happy.  But, even in the most magical of surroundings, tempers can – initially at least – boil over, writes Linda Jones.

IT was a bizarre contrast, as our ship's horn belted out When you wish upon a star, a mum was having a full scale strop.

Think Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Like a hurricane of tiredness and stress, she shouted at her husband, her three young sons and anyone else who was listening.

Effing and blinding as if your life depended on it, really isn't very Disney.


Her boys ignored her, too engrossed in arguing about their Buzz Lightyear figure. Her husband appeared taken aback.

This lady's distress seemed more unsettling somehow in a cruise ship's lounge designed to channel the classic ocean liners of the 1930s, with its art nouveau elegance, clean teak lines and brass fittings.

Documents went flying and she broke down in a mass of tears. 

She couldn't find her ticket to the swimming with dolphins excursion which awaited us on Nassau.

Many in that opulently-decorated room chose to tut and point, how could she make a show of herself in such a setting? Couldn't she calm down and have a nice time?

But, really what parent can't identify with what she was going through?

Wherever your holiday and however magical you want it to be, it can also kick off with momentous stress as you feel a pressure to make sure you have the time of your life however much you have spent on it

"Relax, enjoy yourself," I willed her silently.

We left the ship and walked to a boat in Nassau which was to take us to the Blue Lagoon where we would swim with the dolphins.

By the time we reached the boat, the young mum was stemming her tears and now her husband had his arms around her as their three young boys fought on the path.

We lost sight of her when we took our seats, engrossed instead in the jaw-dropping villas lining the coastline in the shadow of the Atlantis Hotel and guessing who they belonged to.

I day dreamed about George Michael and John Barrowman. Inevitably everyone else said Simon Cowell, insisting these were the homes previous X Factor rounds could have been filmed at.

We were split into our groups to swim with the dolphins.

"This is amazing, Mum" said Melissa as we waited our turn.

"Isn't it just, sweetheart?" I answered, doing my best to ignore the fact I couldn't see my feet past my snug fitting life jacket.

And then we were in.

I cried as soon as the dolphins came out.

And then we were off.

 Bahamas dolphins

We touched the dolphins to see what they felt like – hard boiled eggs we agreed.

Then we kissed them, cuddled them, danced with them and swam with them – before a brilliantly exciting finish of being powered through the water by two dolphins pushing our feet with their noses. Actually, it took two attempts for them to get it right with me, but we'll gloss over that detail, thanks. I'm told it's because I moved my leg rather than anything bulk related!

Here's a promotional video: 

I have never seen Neil and my girls so happy and I'm afraid I cried some more.

The anticipation of this part of our hosted trip had taken our breath away. The real thing didn't disappoint.

One by one we were singled out for individual attention by the dolphin keepers and one by one we beamed from ear to ear as we were powered through the water in that grand finale.

And then we were out.

We spent the rest of the day chilling on Blue Lagoon's beach, the likes of which I'd never experienced before. We  drifted into happy relaxation while Emily and Melissa played in the sea.

Back on board, we dined at Parrot Cay, sampling a wonderful menu made up of fresh fish and succulently prepared meats. This is a buffet restaurant at breakfast time and full service Caribbean-inspired dining room for dinner. 

We knew the food would be good but didn't dare suspect it would be this good.

A rotation dining system means you get to sample the different restaurants each night with the same waiters.

Named after the king in The Little Mermaid, Triton's French eatery offers mouthwatering seafood specialities, along with an abundance of duck, steak or chicken dishes. We had snails smothered in garlic butter to start.

The Animator's Palette is an amazing display of black and white drawings of Disney characters .  As you eat, they gradually turn into full colour. This was quite a spectacle and something we will always remember – but unfortunately Emily was sick. The motion of the ship affected her a little. She slept it off in about an hour.

Next up was a show – the Golden Mickeys. This was an enjoyable musical romp  – some would say cheesy for sure – as various Disney characters were awarded gongs for their achievements. There were even surprise contributions from Tim Allen, Angela Lansbury and Roy Disney from two big screens bordering the stage.

But the actors were upstaged by a real-life proposal.

As a boyfriend got down on one knee and cuddled his son and wife to be, I cried some more.

We all drifted off to sleep that night dreaming of Mickey and romance and excited about the day ahead.

We awoke to see we were sailing into Castaway Quay, Disney's private island, greeted by the eerie sight of The Flying Dutchman.

Melissa and Emily craned their necks over the bannister of our stateroom's balcony, excitedly pointing at the ship from the Pirates of Caribbean.

I can't have been the only mum to wonder aloud if Johnny Depp was hanging about too as the ship's horn again sounded When You Wish Upon a Star.

"Where's Captain Jack Sparrow?" I squealed.

Sure enough, we later found a passable Captain Jack Sparrow patrolling the island -  suitably dashing as he posed for photos and signed young fans' autograph books.

Castaway Cay is Disney's private 1,000-acre island.

It wasn't as I expected, with apart from Captain Jack and a few familiar faces at the island post office, there was little Disney branding to disturb the atmosphere.

The powdery white sand, lilting palm trees and tropical blooms were just gorgeous.

A tram took us to the beach where we were signed up for another excursion.

This time we were snorkelling with stingrays.

This video from blogger Classymummy shows exactly what we did too:

We donned snorkels and masks before taking turns to feed the stingrays and marvel at the sights unfolding under the water. We each held a prawn in our hands and watched transfixed as the stingrays (thankfully with their barbs removed) took up their food.

As Emily, Melissa and Neil explored more sunken sights and tropical fish under the sea, I relaxed, sunbathing and pulling a chair into the water to cool off.

Neil headed for Serenity Bay, an adults-only part of the beach where he was pampered with a body massage. He said it was like a slice of heaven.

It was an idyllic day and I couldn't help daydreaming it could last forever. Back in our cabin, there was towel origami and cookies to greet us.

That night, while Emily and Melissa shared spooky ghost stories, played computer games and made new friends in the kids' club, we dined at the adults only Palo.

If we thought Triton's was heavenly, then this was out of this world.

I savoured the most beautiful slow-cooked lamb while Neil opted for a ravioli. And then came the desserts. Wow is all I can say – I'd never even seen a souffle before let alone tasted one.

Later we rejoined our daughters to watch a gasp out loud firework display. Emily and Melissa donned pirate garb and I'm afraid one rather buxom lady dressed as a buccaneer gave Neil quite a fright.

She had nothing on the great-grandmother dressed as Minnie Mouse I clocked in the lift.

As we drifted off to sleep, I thought about all the excited children hunting autographs from their favourite characters.

Porthole
They queued for a more youthful Minnie, plus Mickey and Chip and Dale and even Daisy, who, I'm reliably informed, doesn't come out to play that often.

Our final day of this four-night cruise was spent at sea. We swam, shopped and watched High School Musical on a giant screen in the open air. Neil watched a bit of Up in the cinema.

There was so much on offer, there's no way I could list it all. 

From a top notch spa and gym to a sports bar and karaoke, there really was, as they say, something for everyone. Each day a ship newspaper called Personal Navigator outlined activities. On the evening we were at Castaway Cay, G-Force was on in the cinema, there were treasure hunts, a 'whale dig', an 'all stars dance party' plus many many more things to do for kids and grown-ups. 

The Toy Story musical was also great fun.

And where I feared more educational sessions may concentrate on flower arranging or sugarcraft, which for some reason I had in my mind as what you do on a cruise, in actual fact the most informative talk flagged up was an exclusive chance to paint with Disney illustrator Don 'Ducky' Williams.

Little surprise then that the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have proved so popular that two more are set to be added.

The Disney Fantasy is scheduled to be ready for service in 2010, while the Dream is planned to be unveiled a year later.

I can see why.

But what of the lady who had the meltdown on our first morning?

Last seen grinning widely, lounging on a sun-bed, cocktail in hand.

Boy she looked happy.

And so did I. 

Tips from Disney to make the most of your cruise:

  • Guests should visit Disneycruise.comin advance to their vacation to pre-select and book port adventures, spa treatments, nursery and Palo dining. 
  • Families with infants should take advantage of the Babies Travel Lite service.
  • Families with young children can take advantage of Dine and Play 
  • Guests looking to meet the Disney Characters on board the Disney ships can call 7-PALS from any house phone  to get a daily listing of scheduled appearances.
  • The Personal Navigator ia a great resource of information to assist guests in planning their day. We recommend reading it every night to plan activities for the next day
  • Also don't forget the great kids clubs – the children can get so much out of them and the parents get time to enjoy the adult only areas like the pool and selected restaurants
  •  
    My tips for making the most of a family cruise:
     
    Cruising is a wonderful way to spend a holiday, but there is so much to see and do, you may be spoilt for choice.

    Make sure your cruise is genuinely family friendly – just because children can go, it doesn’t mean they are going to enjoy it. Look closely at the marketing material. Are children pictured having a great time or are all the images of adults sipping cocktails and gazing into each others’ eyes?

    Plan well ahead- ask all family members for their input so that they know there’ll be plenty of chances to do what they want, and minimise the chances of bickering!

    Research the destinations you will visit to help you make the most of them. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But with a fleeting stay in some places, prior knowledge is power

    Get to know your ship before you set foot on it!Check with your company to see how much information they can provide – for example Disney has a DVD of its ships, or you can find out more from other people’s stays on YouTube.

    Check out the staterooms or cabins – what are the arrangements for children’s sleeping? Are cots available and is there a fee to rent one during the day?

    Make sure you are clear about dining times and how these fit with your family. Is there an earlier sitting you can take advantage of? Choose an option that suits a time slot near to when your children usually eat so routines aren’t overly disrupted – even on holiday, this can lead to stress

    Think about money! While you can enjoy not having to spend cash on board, thanks to the all inclusive nature of cruising and supplying credit or debit card details at the start of your stay for gifts and drinks, the places you visit may have different currencies. Get the best exchange rate you can for each of your destinations

    Factbox:

    Prices for a four-night Bahamian Cruise in January 2010 start from £1,179 for two adults and two children sharing a standard inside stateroom.

    For more information, go to www.iglucruise.com

    Linda and family joined the Disney Wonder and a stay at Disney's Beach Club Resort as part of a press trip.