Monday, March 14, 2016

Cruisin'

We got back from a lovely spring break and Disney cruise a week ago and have been trying to get back into the swing of things ever since. We were making progress too until daylight savings rained down a terror of disorientation and lateness yesterday morning aaaaaaand now we're back to square one. Piles of laundry with a generous uptick in exhaustion.  But I'll take it as the cruise itself was fantastic. I wasn't sure I was going to do a cruise recap post, but when one reader asked for a recap including what it's like to travel on a cruise ship with accessibility issues, I thought it was a great idea!

Warning: Long travel post with lots of photos, reminiscent of a 1960's era vacation slide show ahead. Proceed with caution.

First, lets talk Disney. I don't talk about this a lot, but as a kid I loved Disney. Hard. Nerdtastically hard. My entire childhood I dreamt of being a Disney animator and spent hours upon hours drawing every Disney character I could and making up my own characters as well. (You can see some old sketchbook pages from 8th grade here.) 

Along the way, that dream evolved--as dreams do--and I lost my desire for animation and my intense love for all things Disney. As a mother, I've both loved the magic Disney has brought to my children's lives (as it brought to my own childhood) and resented that wily mouse and all the targeted corporate marketing aimed at my clueless children. As a mom of girls princesses are everywhere and walking that line of fun indulgence and overdoing it is a tricky one. Yay for fun dress-ups, make believe, storytelling, and childhood fantasy! Boo to princess EVERYTHING (fruit snacks, spaghetti-o's, diapers), the damsel in distress storyline, a lack of diversity and that weird missing mothers thing. Although I appreciate all the effort Disney has made to course correct many of these negative messages with recent movies like Brave and Frozen.

As much as I loved Disney everything as a kid, as an adult I felt both that I had outgrown that love and I wanted to resist the lure of all that shiny, pre-packaged, targeted-marketing fun. Buuuuuut, dangit... Disney does it right. And who am I--a mere mortal--to resist their cunning ways? And by cunning I mean great customer service and high quality everything. Who does that?

When you do a Disney cruise, you're not just paying for character encounters, mouse-shaped ketchup piles and soft serve on tap. You're paying for every single employee greeting you and your children with a smile, bend-over-backwards customer service, and the unshakable feeling that they were more invested in our family having a good time on the cruise than we were. Maybe that last point was a bit of a stretch, but really I can't think of a single complaint from our time there. OK,  I can, and I'll get to it, but this is an issue with some of our fellow passengers, accessibility and not the cruise or the staff themselves. Overall, we had a great time. Now on to the pictures!

Day one was spent exploring the boat...we didn't board until 2:00, but it's a pretty easy-breezy schedule that first day.
We explored the different decks,
got excited about bunk beds,
(or not excited)
and our private verandah.
Now everyone knows that rooms aboard a cruise ship are notoriously small and in fact, in our first (and only other) cruise (also Disney) 6 years ago when I was prego with Lamp our room was super small. No window, no veranda. But one of the wonderful perks of having a wheelchair user in the family are the spacious handicap accessible rooms! If you've read The Fault in Our Stars you know about "cancer perks." The husband and I lovingly refer to these things as "limb difference perks" and my goodness we take em! Yes there is a real need for rooms to be more spacious when you have a wheelchair, but outside of the need it's also just really nice.

Next came the Bon Voyage party where they invited all the kids up at the end to dance on stage. It warms my heart to no end seeing these two girls getting jiggy with it on the Bon Voyage party dance floor.
Another "limb difference perk" if you will comes from there being a special section reserved for people with wheelchairs and disabilities to get right up close and personal. I hesitate to say "perk" in these instances, because again these are part of what it means to making spaces and experiences accessible for everyone. In fact I'm going to nip this little joke in the bud--accessibility isn't a perk and I'm going to stop referring to it as such. 

It's impossible for a person, especially a small child, in a wheelchair to see anything in a standing room only situation as you're waist level with everyone else. I often feel this need to pre-emptively get defensive about people being annoyed at accommodations for people with disabilities...I assume people want to say things like "Well my daughter is 3 and she can't see above waist level either!" or "Why does someone with a wheelchair get to go in front of other people in line just because they're disabled?" No one has actually said these things to me, but in case you're thinking them, here is my answer: Because the places, events, and experiences in the world that are not accessible and therefore will never be available to anyone in a wheelchair or with other accessibility issues will always be an irrationally high percentage--think 99 to 1--and we will gladly, happily, proudly and with no hesitation jump at the chance to be in front, up and close, and involved in each and every situation and event that is made accessible.

OK, moving on. :) With a smiley face so you know I'm not agitated.  See?  :)

And oh yes, there are ample opportunities for everyone to meet their favorite characters. True, some you have to sign up for in advance and get tickets--the Aarondale Sisters for one are quite popular--but for most of them there is a daily schedule and if you show up 10-15 minutes before the meet and greet you'll won't have to wait very long. 
Just minutes before this picture Zuzu would not go near Goofy with a 10 foot pole and knowing what a little Mickey lover she is, I was hoping she wouldn't let her shyness get the best of her. So when she ran to him, and clung onto his leg for dear life my heart burst. She wouldn't let go. Micky was doing an awkward little shuffle step trying to make room for a sister picture and it was adorable.
Of course this picture was taken after the older girls got the royal treatment at the Bibbity-bobbity bootique. We opted out of any big excursions (trying to navigate Nassau with a wheelchair was not going to happen. I'm sure it's possible, but honestly I have no idea how easy this would be.) and surprised the girls with a visit to the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique instead. They loved it. They got their hair did, their nails painted, some sparkly makeup and of course each girl got to pick out a new princess dress that came with a crown, a wand, oh and they got to keep the make up and nail polish too. Ooh-lala. They ate it up and so did we. 
Initially Lamp choose Rapunzel's dress but after a few hours she was itchy and uncomfortable. So we went back to the Boutique and of course, they let her try on several other dresses to gauge the itch-factor and choose an alternative dress and Anna's dress won out in the end. Another example of them being very, very accommodating. 
Ready for another accessibility issue and behind the scenes look? Every night there are Broadway style shows on the ship and wheelchair users get to go down a special elevator, followed by a special hallway, that takes you down by the cast members room and into another special elevator that Lamp got to operate herself. The coolest part of the elevator for the girls was by far that it had no walls! And then of course we were able to get front-row-joe seats for each show. And we usually got to make the nightly behind-the-scenes trip with other wheelchair families who we got to know a little by the end of the trip. It's one of those experiences where you never say a word about power chairs and accessibility, but there is this understanding that passes between you as you do these things a little differently than everyone else. An instant connection. 

And while the girls really enjoyed having this little detour, I think it really depends on the way you look at it--for now, at the age of 5, it's exiting and fun to get to do something a little different than everyone else. As you get older I wonder if a lifetime of having to take the long way around, back entrances and feeling like an afterthought might get a little old. I don't know. For now I'll choose to see the excitement of it all. 

While we didn't disembark at Nassau, we did get off the ship at Castaway Cay which is Disney's private Island. We were lucky that our best weather day was spent here on the beach. I was unlucky however, that I didn't change the white balance on my camera before taking all these pictures, therefore our beach day comes with a heavy blue filter. Hashtag amateur.
Many an hour was spent at the pool watching movies and eating ice cream cone after ice cream cone. 
I also thought I'd post this pic for anyone who wants to know what amazing sleep ninja's we are. Sleeping with the whole family in one room can be tough--some of the rooms have a curtain that you can draw across to sort of separate the space...not this one. So we put the pack 'n play next to the closet, jimmy-rigged a blanket with some hangers with clips on the side doors and voila...Zuzu had her own private sleeping cove. Just taking us out of her line of sight works remarkably well when sleeping in the same room as a toddler.
Also, it should be noted that the food is good. Sometimes excellent, some times just good, but it's good and there are a lot of choices. 

We took advantage of the kids club and nursery and checked all the kids in while we went to one of the adults only restaurants one evening. Date night on a cruise in the middle of the Caribbean? Yes please. Also, because I know someone out there is wondering, those are non-alcoholic cocktails. 


Overall, it was a great trip. In a lot of ways traveling with a power chair/wheelchair is super easy. People are often willing to give you extra help and certainly on a Disney cruise, the staff went out of their way to be extra friendly and accommodating. They offered to help in any way they could--including the guy who took care of our room during our stay getting two bed rails for the bottom bunk of Lamp's bed---if she didn't have a rail that went along the entire side of the bed we were going to have to put her mattress on the floor. Or the serving staff (the same one follows you to each restaurant each night) who made sure to always have a high chair ready for her in a space that was easy to get to.

Accessibility on the cruise by and large was not an issue. The only time (and my only complaint) was that often the elevators would get a little jammed up and more than once people would bee-line in front of Lamp--a little girl in a wheelchair, a girl who has no option to take the stairs--to get in an available elevator. Oi. We're not afraid to get a little vocal when needed--"excuse us, is there any room for our daughter who has a wheelchair?"--but sometimes this behavior was really disheartening and frustrating. However I was also grateful for some of our fellow passengers who spoke up for us , "Hey there's a girl with a wheelchair right here, can you let her on first?"(reminds me of this video and using your privilege to speak up for others) and who would willing opt to take the stairs when things got really busy.  It wasn't a huge issue and certainly not specific to the cruise, but more than once the advocacy-mama-bear in me was getting ready to rumble. Verbally rumble. I don't actually rumble. 

In short, it was dreamy. Many people have asked if I would recommend a Disney cruise and if you don't know by now the answer is absolutely. (I'm not getting paid to say this FYI as I will always acknowledge a sponsorship.) Also, it should be noted that our specific cruise ship was just named best overall cruise ship in the world. Not bad Walt.


Notes:
--Everyday there is a new schedule with a list of all cruise activities including movies you can go watch in the theatre (older and current box office movies are shown), activities on different decks, character experiences, etc. You can also pay for excursions and extra activities at the ports. We opted out of doing any of these and were still plenty busy. The extras we did participate in were the Bibbity-Bobbity Boutique and dinner at one of the highly rated, adults only restaurants. Of course you can have a great time without paying for any extra activities.
--All kids ages 3-12 (who are potty trained) get to be a part of the kids club. It's a huge place where they have games, activities, science experiments and all sorts of fun things for kids to do. This is included in the price of the cruise and allows you to check your kid in and have some alone time by yourself or with your partner. Of course if you have a younger child, like we did with Zuzu, you can pay $9/hour for them to be in the nursery. Every child has a max. of 10 hours of nursery time while on the cruise and you have to be sure to book these times early as they can fill up fast! We took advantage of both the kids club and nursery so we could have some time just to hang out with each other. So nice! It's like bringing a nanny on your trip.
--There are two different dinner times on the ship--5:30 or 8:00-ish. We had the earlier dining time and I'm so glad! Once you book your trip you can usually switch these times to whatever works better for your family, but again you have to do this fast as the main dining time--5:30--fills up faster.
--There are also clubs for teens and adults. We didn't really do either of these, but just so you know there are plenty of adult only sections--even different decks that are 18 and over. 
--B and I tried to guess how much it cost to build a ship like this? My guess was in the 20-30 million range... B said, No way! Easily 300-400 million. Well we were both way off. It cost 1 billion to build the ship and another billion to decorate! A 2 billion dollar cruise ship ya'll!

Has anyone else been on a Disney cruise? Have you been on another cruise line as well and do you have some thoughts on comparing the two? It seems that Disney is seen as one of--if not the--top dawg in the cruise line industry...although I'm not sure if that's only because I've been on Disney cruises and have heard that from Disney employees. Also, are you a Disney lover, hater or indifferent? Sometimes I'm wondering if I'm over thinking it all. Also, any other wheelchair users want to add their two cents about accessibility and cruise ship traveling? 

5 comments:

  1. Not a wheel chair user here but my son does have many many food allergies and restrictions. We did a Disney cruise a few months ago and they were fantastic with allergies! Maybe even too careful sometimes:) they went above and beyond to make sure he ate exactly what he wanted, and whenever he wanted. They truly take any restriction/disability and make everything perfect for you.

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    1. Amanda--I'm so glad you commented, this is fantastic! I know how difficult it can be for parents with children who have severe food allergies to go anywhere, let along a cruise! So nice that they were that accommodating!

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  2. I'm always so impressed with how much ASL the characters know - I'll never forget the look on my son's face when he signed to Mickey - AND MICKEY SIGNED BACK!

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  3. YAY! Thank you for the cruise post! I am so glad that everything went well and the cast members were so accommodating and awesome. I will only ever go on a Disney Cruise since I trust them. I felt like you could smell all the other cruise ships when we were in port with them in Nassau.
    Husband and I are waiting for their new 2017 itineraries to be announced before we book another. Thinking Europe. Then the next one will probably be with our kid.
    When we went a few years ago we did feel like the other travelers on the ship felt like they were more entitled than everyone else around them. It was discouraging. Glad you were vocal. Some people need to be called out when they are being crappy humans.

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