The Trip That Goes Wrong, Part 2

You know those times in life where you think to yourself, “This could go either way”?

Sometimes, you find yourself at a crossroads, and you know things are about to turn out really well or totally go down the toilet.

Let me give you a quick recap. In a matter of a moment, my future had changed. I didn’t think I would be able to get on the Disney Wonder cruise ship, but my friend Sela broke into my house and sent me a photo of my birth certificate. In just one text—a picture of a piece of paper with my name and place of birth—the answer miraculously changed from “no” to “yes.”

Embarking the Disney Wonder

Marlene, the Disney Cruise Line Cast Member, was printing my Key to the World card that would serve as my stateroom key and credit card onboard. As it finally began to sink in that I was about to embark the ship and not have to call an Uber to take me back to the airport, I suddenly felt dizzy. I realized I’d been sweating, and my head hurt.

Before Marlene handed over my Key to the World card, I blurted out, “May I have a Silver Castaway Club lanyard, please?” You see, returning Disney Cruise Line guests receive a lanyard at check-in. This lanyard is incredibly handy because you need your Key to the World card multiple times per day, and it allows you always to have your card immediately available.

Was it selfish to ask for the lanyard when I almost wasn’t going to set foot on the Disney Wonder? No, I decided. I jumped through all the hoops to get here, and I wanted my lanyard for the convenience—and the status!

So, at last, I was official. We were ready to board. Rochelle and Kelly were doing a happy dance, but I felt like I was about to fall over. The emotional toll of the morning was finally getting to me. We snapped a quick photo in front of a Disney Cruise Line banner, and we walked up the ramps to the gangway.

One of the coolest parts of boarding a Disney Cruise Line ship is that a Cast Member announces your name as you enter Deck 4 and walk into the expansive lobby. Other Cast Members in gleaming white uniforms clap and cheer, and it’s a memorable moment. If there are multiple last names represented, you have to select one last name, and the Cast Member will announce it with great enthusiasm. Rochelle and Kelly insisted that we enter the ship as “The Morrell Family” after all I’d been through in the past two hours, so the Morrell Party was heralded and we were officially on vacation.

Exploring the Ship

What do you do first when you arrive on a Disney Cruise Ship? The answer varies. If you have children, you will want to visit the kids’ clubs immediately to help your children get acclimated the play areas and meet the amazingly talented counselors. If you are a foodie, you might want to visit Guest Services and ask if there are Palo reservations available (or Remy reservations if you are on the Fantasy or the Dream). These adults-only, specialty restaurants have limited numbers of reservations available during the online check-in, but they offer more spaces when you board the ship.

In our case, we had no children and we already had our Palo reservations (thanks to my attentive friend, Sonya), so we dropped off our luggage in our room and headed up to Deck 10 to Cabanas, the main buffet. After our late lunch, it was time for the Sail Away Party, an absolute must on a Disney Cruise Ship, Everyone gathers on the deck to wave goodbye to the onlookers onshore and dance with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy. There’s music, confetti, and lots of grandmas and kids cutting a rug with Cast Members. It’s pretty entertaining.

That night, we had dinner at Animator’s Palate, my favorite of all the restaurants on the ships. There are blank screens all around the dining room, and during the meal, you can see sketches evolve on each display from pencil drawings to full-color cells. During dessert, the full-color illustrations become animated. The night ends with a medley of favorite Disney songs to accompany the animated scenes, and it concludes with an appearance from Mickey himself. It’s sweet and emotional, and I often see a tear or two in dads’ eyes as I look across the dining room at all the families.

The Vibrating Beds—No Coin Required

I was exhausted after getting up at 3:00 a.m. that morning, so I was ready for bed after dinner. We were in room 2640, a stateroom in the back of the ship on the starboard side (right side). I had never stayed in a room below deck five on any cruise ship. In full disclosure, we used our travel agent discount for this sailing, and we enjoyed significant savings. When booking the travel agent offer, we had the choice of an interior stateroom with no window, an oceanview room with a window or a porthole, or a verandah stateroom with a balcony.

Because it was a short cruise, we decided we did not need a verandah, but we agreed we would be happier with a window, so we chose the oceanview room. Our travel agent offer was for a “guarantee stateroom,” so we selected an “Oceanview Guarantee.”  This means we were guaranteed a category of at least an oceanview stateroom, but if an upgrade were available, we could be eligible.

About a week before sailing, Disney Cruise Line notified us that we would be in stateroom 2640. We were crossing our fingers for an upgrade, but we ended up with the entry-level oceanview room—in the back of the ship on deck 2. All three of us were optimistic. We had never stayed on a lower floor of a cruise ship, but we were glad to have the experience so we could share our findings with clients. How bad could it be?

It ended up being bad.

Really, really bad.

Every night, our entire stateroom shook. It seemed to come from the floor, and I felt it most acutely when I was lying in bed.

I’ve heard stories about Magic Fingers, the electronic device in 60s and 70s motels that made your bed vibrate. For just a quarter, you received fifteen minutes of “tingling relaxation and ease.” A gently vibrating bed might sound magical, but when your bed shakes all night long (for all the wrong reasons), the enjoyability factor is zero.

Let me also remind you I was overtired, congested and developing one of the worst sinus infections I have ever had in my life. My head felt huge, my balance was off and I couldn’t breathe out of my nose.  I also found out that a shaking bed also makes you feel like you have to go to the bathroom all the time. During my several trips to the bathroom every night, I found myself completely off balance and knocking into walls and closets.

Being sick and unrested during the cruise made me feel like I was in a daze most of the time. Our wonderful stateroom steward, Omar, said the shaking was from the rudder of the ship which turned hard at nighttime to steer us toward Cozumel, our one port of call during the four-night sailing. When Omar would come to the room to deliver our towel animal or put chocolates on our bed in the evening, he’d ask how I slept the night before. The two nights on the return to New Orleans would be better, he promised.

To me, it never got better. My head rattled, my teeth were shaking, and I laid awake all night.

Tornadoes in Tennessee

Tuesday morning was beautiful and sunny. As luck would have it, all the shaking stopped during the day and only resumed at night. I was just starting to feel able to greet the day when Rochelle said, “Rachel, I hate to tell you this but you might want to check in with your kids. Someone in Franklin, Tennessee just marked themselves ‘Safe’ from a tornado.”

Yes, a tornado hit middle Tennessee in the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, when I was gone on the cruise.  If you read my first blog post, you might remember that my kids were staying alone at home for one night between March 2 and March 3 because my husband was at a conference. The tornado hit during the short period that both parents were gone. My 17-year old is one of the most responsible young adults I know, but no amount of competency or planning is adequate in the event of a tornado.

Texting from a cruise ship is not possible, so I had to email my husband to check on the kids. The few minutes of wait time was horrible. He emailed back and said the tornado hit north of our town, and the kids had slept through it.

I stumbled through the rest of the day, feeling moments of panic about the tornado but gratitude that my kids were safe and seemed utterly unaffected. My friends and I did a ship tour, played trivia and met up with other travel agents on the ship. I also delivered my Fish Extender gifts. These are small gifts that you can pre-arrange to exchange with other guests on your sailing. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s fun. My contribution to my Fish Extender group was a Star Wars lanyard from the most recent movie, The Last Jedi.

Our one port of call was Cozumel, a tiny island off the Yucutan peninsula of Mexico. I pride myself on being a Mexico specialist, and I try to visit as often as I can. In fact, I had just been in Cozumel three weeks earlier with my husband for a short stay at the Fiesta Americana Cozumel. During our hours in port, I went on a food tour of the island with my friends Sonya and Rhonda. We visited the local markets and enjoyed hand-pressed tortillas, tacos, fresh-caught fried fish, ceviche, pastries and water flavored with cactus, hibiscus, barley, tamarind, and cucumber.

My Rainforest Room Regret

As a present to Rochelle and Kelly, I bought us passes to the Rainforest Room on the Disney Wonder. The Rainforest Room is in the Senses Spa, and it includes heated chairs, saunas, steam rooms, and showerheads with various settings. We used our passes on the last day of the cruise because we had visited Palo on our first sea day and this was our final sea day before we disembarked.

The Rainforest Room is a great way to relax for a few hours, and I highly recommend it. Because we had no kids with us, it was easy to take our time and not feel rushed. I was hoping that sitting in the steam room would help clear my sinuses so I could breathe better, so I spent at least an hour sitting on the wooden benches breathing in the warm steam.

Although I felt temporarily better while I was in the steam room, I soon felt intense pressure between my eyes. It seemed that my sinus infection got much worse after being in the steam room.  When we got back to our stateroom, I wanted to lie down but that just made it worse. I felt like my head was a balloon!

Isn’t it odd that the most fun experience like a cruise can be completely changed if you do not feel well? I knew I should be enjoying every moment with my friends because I rarely get to see them, but all I could think about was how sick I was.

A Fond Farewell

The final night at dinner was at Triton’s. It was a special night to say “thank you” to our fantastic serving duo. Charlie, our assistant server, was from Indonesia and Clyde, our server, was from India. They were so jovial, kind and funny. Charlie had a new crayon trick each night. He’d create a formation with crayons,  and we had to move a crayon to make a unique shape. Clyde would always play jokes on Charlie and tell us funny stories, and they created a dynamic team together.

We also had to say goodbye to our tablemates at dinner: three sisters from Nova Scotia. They were energetic and bubbly, and they always bought the drink of the night with the themed light-up Disney character or Disney straw. We still keep in touch with them on Facebook, and we might have to visit Nova Scotia to see the winery where Margaret works.

Disney Cruise Line was playing an exclusive preview of Onward after dinner. The movie was being released in theaters the next day, Friday, March 6, but we got the opportunity to see it one day early. The preview was at 11:00 p.m., and I wanted to see it. Kelly, Rochelle and I found a seat in the middle of the theater, but at the last minute, I had to bail. I was just too sick and tired!

I always suggest my guests go to the Guest Services Desk the night before disembarking to make sure their account is correct. Because I was feeling so sick, I skipped this critical step and went immediately to bed. Later, I discovered my account was not accurate, and even after four phone calls post-cruise it never got settled. I finally filed a claim with my credit card company and got my money back immediately.

Home Sweet Home

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Malcolm says of Cawdor, “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it,” meaning the best part about his life was the end of it.  And that’s how I felt about this Disney cruise. Nothing was so sweet about this cruise as the leaving of it.

Sinus infections, shaking beds, tornadoes, and overcharged accounts made for a memorable homecoming, and I have never been quite so happy to sleep in my own comfy, STATIONARY bed!

On reflection of the cruise, I have some thoughts.

  1. Do not skimp on your stateroom. Sleep is important!
  2. Be careful if you choose a guarantee stateroom. Assume you will get the lowest subcategory room within your selected category. This way, you will only be pleasantly surprised.
  3. If you want the least amount of movement in your stateroom, have your travel agent find you a room that is mid-ship.
  4. Take several kinds of over-the-counter medication with you during your cruise, including cold remedies, Dramamine, and sinus medication.
  5. There is a doctor on board every cruise ship. Looking back, I should have visited the clinic. I kept thinking I would get better, but I ended up feeling worse as the cruise progressed.

In the end, I am glad I went on the Disney Cruise. I wouldn’t trade spending time with some of my closest friends, even if it meant sleeping in the Magic Bed and having a horrible sinus infection.  It makes for a great story and funny memories. But I’m going to give my family a crash course in tornado preparedness before I go on another trip!

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