Friday, March 15, 2013

The Magic of Disney



For those of you just tuning into our programme, we are about to embark on a miniseries of posts about our recent trip south to visit our family and friends. (Most posts will be much longer than usual with photos, so we apologize in advance!)

We begin this chapter by flying to Toronto, and I will mention first that our puppy Pepper was decidedly unhappy during his third flight (the first two having occurred the previous day, since we had to overnight in Winnipeg), and competed with the airplane's decibel level during take-off and landing.  I thought he quieted down during the flight, but it might be that the noise of the engines simply drowned him out. 
Glaring at us from under the seat
We were in our hometown for just under a day, so we introduced our little guy to our friends currently renting our house, and then packed him up and took him over to my parents' house in Mississauga. Originally, the idea was to surprise our families about our trip home; this worked much better on Lily's side than mine. 

Anyway, part of the reason for seeing them was of course because we missed them a lot, and the other reason was because Pepper hadn't met another dog yet, so we felt what better way to introduce him to dogs than by meeting my parents' beast, a 6-year old yellow Labrador named Miller (think David vs. Goliath for the difference in size). I wish we had videotaped this encounter (Dad got part of it on his phone) because it was truly entertaining. It began as I suspected, with Miller being curious and Pepper being terrified that Miller was going to eat him. After a lot of sniffing and Pepper narrowly avoiding being swallowed, the two dogs became, while not quite best pals, tolerable to each other. Towards the end of our visit, Pepper would climb on Miller, who would eventually snap at him. Pepper would run away for a second, then continue as before. I recognize this pattern, because it was similar to having a younger brother growing up (sorry Adam).

Yes, I know, this part was supposed to be about our cruise. Here we go. When we first talked about this vacation, we decided to spend an equal amount of time with both families, but we also wanted some time to ourselves to celebrate our first year of marriage, and we looked at cruise ships. I had sailed with Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Celebrity before (the latter being our honeymoon and Lily's first), and while we could have gone with those lines, the timing and logistics worked best if we went with Disney since it docked in Orlando, which is where we wanted to be to continue our Florida trip later.  Now, I remember when our Celebrity boat docked at a port on our honeymoon, and then a Disney boat followed us in. It looked like 4,000 screaming kids ran off, and I said to Lily, "thank God we're not on that cruise!"
The Disney Dream
So you can imagine my concern when we entertained the idea of doing that very thing. I won't bore you with all the details, but I will say this - it is possible to enjoy a Disney cruise as childless adults, as there are a number of areas/facilities that are 18+. You can walk past the main swimming pool with its thundering noise of hundreds of kids splashing and watching Finding Nemo on a giant outdoor TV, and then walk past one set of doors and suddenly, the chatter is replaced with serenity on the adults only deck. There are also some really cool lounges - Pink is designed to look like the inside of a champagne glass and is heavy on the colour of the same name (Lily's favourite spot for obvious reasons); Skyline has a 3D image spanning the entire length of the bar that shows different cities every 15 minutes. I kid you not, the graphics were so good it was like looking out of a high-rise window onto Chicago, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro, to name a few.
There was also a full theatre showing first-run Disney films, a lot of them in 3D, so we sat down for Wreck-it Ralph, which is now one of my favourite animated films. Lily was upset because the movie Oz was showing the week after we left and she really wanted to see it. The staff were super-friendly, and our housekeeping staff made us cute towel animals each day. I don't remember the first one, but they made us an elephant, and a monkey (that Lily said was creepy, so we disassembled it). Like every cruise ship, there are dozens of eateries, ranging from the buffet at Cabanas (which Lily couldn't stand) offering standard fare to the more upscale offerings at Palo, where we enjoyed a brunch that was on par with our favourite brunch spot at home  (think Mimosas, caviar, oysters, made-to-order pizzas and more). It was also a new experience for us because they had three distinctly different main dining rooms (the Royal Palace which looked like it was ready for a princess' ball, the Enchanted Garden which had scenery on the wall that changed as time went on to depict dusk to dawn, complete with twinkling lights, and Animator's Palette which had interactive screens where characters came to your table and had conversations with you during your meal) and you rotated each evening with your serving team, so you could experience a different menu and atmosphere. 
The cruise itself was OK. Because it was only a four night trip, we had two destination ports, Nassau, and Castaway Cay, a Disney-owned island catering exclusively to its cruise ships. We didn't disembark (that's "leave the boat" for you land-lubbers) in Nassau, both because we weren't super-excited about the options, and there were cautionary reports about the crime there (entire Disney tour buses have been robbed, we were told). Instead, we played it safe and I rode the AquaDuck, a water coaster than runs around half the ship and is suspended over the ocean  for part of it. If you're between the ages of 3 and 10, this would likely fall under the category "cool". For anyone in their mid-thirties, it's more like a faster version of the lazy river at Wild Water Kingdom.
Castaway Cay was much more entertaining. All of the Disney characters were out in force, so Lily got herself photographed with Stitch and Daisy Duck before we made our way to the adult beach, appropriately titled Serenity Bay. There, we soaked up some sun, and swam in the surprisingly chilly waters of the Caribbean. The highlight of the day was when Captain Jack Sparrow swaggered over, surrounded by a crowd of bikini-clad admirers. He had the look, the accent, and the flirtatious attitude down perfectly. If Mickey Mouse is the most popular character for kids, Captain Jack is far and away the adult favourite.
I mentioned that there was a lot of restaurants, the majority of which catered to kids, so the food was average - dinner options were better and we had some great dishes, but nothing in the main dining rooms, buffet or other areas blew us away like it did on our Celebrity cruise. The notable exception to this is the ultra-chic French adults-only restaurant Remy, named for the iconic rat in the movie Ratatouille (they even have a crystal statue of him at the front door). Lily wisely booked us for dinner at Remy on Pirate Night, where everyone else had to dress like a pirate for dinner, and all the restaurants served a pirate-themed menu. The shops sold pirate gear for anyone silly enough not to have brought their own, and the characters were out in full pirate gear (Lily has some photos of herself and Pirate Mickey) before the fireworks show and the big pirate party. You could tell who had sailed with Disney before, because some of them looked like they had walked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean.

There was a French restaurant on our Celebrity ship called Murano's, that was up till now the best restaurant experience I had ever enjoyed; Remy made it look like Burger King. I have never enjoyed a more succulent meal, nor been attended to by such impressive servers, in all my life.  The menu is designed by Diamond and Michelin star-rated chefs; in layman's terms, they are among the best in the world. On a Disney cruise! Go figure. There were two tasting menu options executed by two different chefs, and to maximize the number of dishes we could try, Lily decided to try the French tasting menu, and I had the American (mainly because it had Waygu beef on it, which is the American equivalent to Kobe beef from Japan). I splurged on the wine pairing, where I did not recognize a single wine on the list, but each one was perfectly suited to each course.
Us with the executive chefs for the evening
Before choosing the wine pairing option, I glanced at the wine menus (there were two). The first was entirely French, and the prices ranged from $22 to a very reasonable $4,500 per bottle. I recognized 6 out of 130 choices, so I decided to peruse the "best of the rest of the world", as the sommolier called it. I'm sure they were very good, but I elected not to sample them. The least expensive wine was a Californian chardonnay clocking in at $200 a bottle. For the more adventurous, there was a bottle of red dated 1947, and featured in the movie Ratatouille. At a mere $25,000, there are apparently only two bottles left in the world.

The food was superb (with a multitude of surprise courses we weren't expecting), and the service, as I mentioned, was beyond impeccable. They even placed a stool next to Lily's seat for her purse to rest on. When our meals came out, one server carried the tray, and two others lifted each plate and placed them in front of us simultaneously. Our head server told us that to apply to work at Remy, a waiter needed at least two years' experience in a high-end  restaurant, which explained why everyone was so professional and courteous, and everyone spoke fluent French to boot. We even had a dedicated cheese server when they wheeled out the cheese cart pre-dessert, who explained each kind and its origins. Dessert was decadent, and typical of good restaurants, we had to take some back to our room since they also had a plethora of surprises for us (homemade marshmallows are apparently all Lily will want in her s'mores and hot chocolate going forwrad), whereupon we were also given a thank you note and a box of handmade truffles in appreciation. A pretty penny for sure, but a gastronomical delight and a memory we will never forget.

Overall, the cruise experience was good, but not as great as our honeymoon. We still came away with over 200 pictures in 4 short nights, so we obviously appreciated the getaway after being north for so long. I'm not sure we would entertain another Disney cruise, although if you have kids, I would definitely recommend it. Barring a lottery win, we will perhaps look at doing another cruise for our second anniversary, but will perhaps try a different line.

-J

4 comments:

  1. :) Love it Love it Love it. You both look very happy.
    -Mere

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    1. Life is great to us, we have every reason in the world to look happy :)

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  2. Great fun. my mouth watered at all your food stories... I am also hungry. But anyway. ;)

    So happy you had a good time. I had no idea you guys were going on so many fun trips in your trip!!

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    1. Gotta make the most out of our expensive flight outta here!! :)

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