Queens at sea
Even with kids and families around, two gay travelers found the Disney Wonder three-day cruise one of the happiest places on earth. Now here’s your look at the extra chapter from their travel guide, Queens in the Kingdom: The Ultimate Gay and Lesbian Guide to the Disney Theme Parks
Unless youre a diehard Disney fan, the average gay or lesbian traveler might not think of taking a Disney cruise. After all, one thing you can count on is children everywhere. While thats not a problem if you have kids, many gay couples dont feel comfortable being a couple in the presence of munchkins who arent relatives. And for singles looking to embark on their Love Boat fantasy where they will set sail and end up engaged to Tom Wopat three days later, this isnt the trip for them either (Eddies Charo impersonation notwithstanding). But surprisingly, for everybody elsemost especially die-hard Disney fansthis is the trip to take. Even with kids of all ages everywhere, there is ample opportunity for grown-ups to escape into plenty of adults-only areas. While the Disney theme parks advertise themselves as an opportunity for families to reconnect and spend quality time, the cruise line is an opportunity for family members to avoid one another for days at a time, each doing their own thing in activities tailored to their age group. So forget your preconceived notions, and welcome aboard. Its lo-o-ove. Oh, waitmaybe not.
The Disney Cruise line has two ships, the Disney Wonder, which embarks on three- and four-day cruises each week, and the Disney Magic, which sails for a full seven nights every week. The two ships are virtually identical, and since we were uncertain whether we could tolerate a cruise with all of those kids (as well as each other), we opted for a three-day journey on the Wonder.
From the moment you step on board the Disney Wonder, youre in for something special. The entrance atrium is a beautifully designed and gracious lobby which, like the Disney theme parks, is maintained with painstaking attention to detail. Every inch of it is clean, tidy, and gorgeous. And while you may want to spend time admiring it, you will want to get to your stateroom and away from the blond über-perky cruise director who oozes molasses cheer all over the lobby. Unless, of course, youre the type who has a thing for blond women in uniform. Were not, so off we went in search of our cabin.
There are 12 categories of stateroom on board, each with its own price range, and the levels are largely delineated by how many family members you fit into each one. The basic rooms are well-decorated and more spacious than expected. But, snobs that we are, while the floor plans of these rooms are similar to the larger ones, the drawback is that they are in the ships interior, which makes them dark and gloomy. But if you are looking for a bargain, those rooms make sense. After all, how much time do you actually spend in your room? These basic cabins feature separate sleeping and sitting areas (separated by a curtain), roomy bathrooms, and, unlike on many cruises, TVs. The exterior rooms range from those on the lower decks with portholes to pricier staterooms with private verandas. Now, we said the interior rooms are OK, but we lied. We were really just trying to make you feel better about your stinky interior roomwere snobs, remember? We loved our spacious stateroom, sitting on our veranda sipping champagne at sunset, and watching the ship pull into port in the morning. So, if you have money to burn, the veranda rooms are the only way to travel.
Before the ship leaves harbor, all passenger areas are open for inspection, so while it is tempting to jump into a bathing suit and hit the pool, we recommend a little exploration. On decks 9 and 10, the best place to start since the first of the ships buffets is up there (try the strawberry and banana soup), youll find three pools. The one farthest aft (thats the back, for those whove never boarded a ship) is the most raucous with an attached kiddie pool and slide. The family pool sits in the middle, and finally there is the adult pool, which is for grown-ups only. Considering how close together the pools are, its amazing how well soundproofed they are. Lounging at the adult pool, you are never aware of the shrieking infants and pumping music nearby. All three pools have bars and an all-day pizza, burger, and soft-serve ice cream station. Also on the upper decks are a basketball court, an ESPN Zone Skybox, a coffee bar, and the Vista Spa. This adults-only spa and exercise facility houses some cardio equipment to help you work off the buckets and buckets of food youll eat. Dont count on spending a lot of time on the treadmill unless you are really a diehard or youll miss out on all the fun. There is also a steam room, but before you get excited, know that its coed and clothing is required. Pilates classes and a beauty parlor are also offered but are largely occupied by soccer moms, mainly because gay people know enough not to get their hair done on a rocking boat.
Decks 6 to 8 are mostly occupied by staterooms but deck 5 does have a few family-friendly features. The Oceaneers Club and Oceaneers Lab are day care dumping stations where parents can leave their kids (for hours, or the week) to play with their own kind in highly supervised and creative-activity settings. Deck 5 also features a movie theater that screens current Disney films around the clock. Sadly, our cruise coincided with the release of The Alamo.
Author Jeffrey Epstein has been saved.
Decks 3 and 4 house the ships nightlife areas, with three restaurants, a family dance club, and the adults-only area (Route 66 on the Wonder, Back Street on the Magic) featuring a piano bar, lounge, and dance club. There are also two retail stores and an Internet café. On deck 4 youll find the Disney theater, where live stage shows are presented nightly. The theater seats 977, much larger than youd expect on a cruise ship and much more opulent. The lower decks feature more staterooms and the crew quarters. Sadly, crew quarters are strictly off-limits, which makes us wonder how it was that Julie McCoy bagged as many passengers as she did over the years.
Nassau, Bahamas: Our first morning, Eddie was up bright and earlyeasy for him since he didnt consume too many shots during the Time Warp 80s dance party the night before. From our veranda we had a stunning view of Nassau, and the rich blue sky was matched only by the royal blue water. So naturally, Eddie decided to go see a movie on board. Lucky for him Home on the Range was playing. Jeffrey, on the other hand, caught a few rays at the adult pool before we went down to meet our tour group. We signed up for the Ardasta Gardens and City Tour ($36 for ages 10 and over; $26 for kids 3 to 9). There were other excursion options, including snorkeling, a historical city tour (zz-z-z), and a tour of the Atlantis Casino and Resort. Jeffrey has been to the stunning Atlantis resort before and decided it wasnt worth the large fee for the privilege of walking around. As we disembarked, we saw dozens of Bahamian women braiding the hair of excited Caucasian women. (Memo to Caucasian women: there is nothing uglier than a white woman with beaded, braided hair, unless youre Bo Derek, so please do not commit this atrocity. Save yourself from photos you will be embarrassed to look at five years from now.) Anyway, Ardasta Gardens is a zoo known for its marching flamingos. Most interesting was that many of the animals (bright pink flamingos included) were not in cages, which made photo opportunities a snap. Theres a walk-in cage where you can feed lorikeets, birds so brightly colored youd think they belonged in a gay pride parade. We had an hour in the gardens, which was enough time to see all the animals, including cougars, snakes, monkeys (all in cages, or wed have much more interesting photos), and a very large iguana that fascinated Eddie, perhaps because its leathery skin reminded him of an ex.
Jeffrey Epstein and co-author Eddie Shapiro are strangely attracted to anything with the word "queen" in it.
Following the gardens we continued our city tour, which began to get tedious because the most exciting sights of Nassau are the fire station and the post office. The tour ended at a place called the Queens Staircase. No, were not kidding. Its a gigantic stone staircase named for some royal British biddy who set foot in the place. You can't expect us to keep track of these things, can you? We were too busy taking pictures to pay attention to the guide. Following the tour, we set out around Nassau (which was mainly closed because it was Good Friday, leaving Eddie to drool in front of the Gucci store). The main tourist drag, the Straw Market, was full of well, crap. As Jeffrey handled a hideous snow globe with a floating plastic dolphin, the price went from $8 to $6 to $5without Jeffrey having to open his mouth once. Ever the bargain lover, he bought the eyesore.
Before returning to shore, Jeffrey needed to replenish the alcohol in his system, so we leaped to Señor Frogs, a dockside Mexicanish restaurant that boasts massive green margaritas. After three of them he wanted more, but Eddie dragged him back to the ship and the tour day in Nassau was over. For those who do not have a great interest in visiting Nassau, there are many things to do on the boat while docked at port, like lying in the sun. And because most people do choose to disembark, the ship is relatively calm.
Castaway Cay: Castaway Cay (pronounced key) is Disneys own private island that boasts millions of amenities and excursions on its immaculate white beaches. While we were skeptical at first as to just how much fun the day on a Disney–controlled island might be, our doubts vanished once we realized that as immaculate, organized, and (usually) well–run the Disney theme parks are, Castaway Cay leaves em in the dust. Our first adventure was hopping on the Seahorse Catamaran Snorkel Adventure ($49 for adults; $29 for kids aged 5 to 9). The water was a bit nippy (it was 9:30 a.m., after all), but the reef is gorgeous. Pretending he was Nemo, Eddie flipped his fins too far from the coral reef, causing our guides to swim after him. There were massive schools of fish that were relatively unalarmed by us humans, and it was a breathtaking way to start the day. No sooner had we returned to the cay that it was time for parasailing ($70 per person), which means donning a harness (Eddie was already thrilled) attached to a parachute. As the boat accelerates, you lift higher and higher above the water. After an exhilarating takeoff, Eddie sang songs from Peter Pan as he reached an altitude of 800 feet, and Jeffrey took his camera (at your own risk) and snapped incredible shots of the ship, island, and, of course, himself.
Eddie, under the influence of fairy dust.
Once back on land we rushed to lunch (it had been a couple hours since our breakfast buffet, after all), and we chowed down on the Cays elaborate lunch buffet. The food is standard picnic fare, but Jeffrey particularly enjoyed the lobster burger, and Eddie had ice cream. Well, more ice cream. We then headed to Serenity Bay, a private haven thats just for those 18 and over. At this isolated beach we had some downtime before we were each escorted to a private cabana for a full body massage (no, not that kind, peoplethis is a Disney cruise). The massage ($125) was heavenly, but the joy of receiving a massage on the beach is lost two minutes into the rubdown with your face down on a massage table. Aside from the sound of the surf (available at a record store near you), the massage could be done pretty much anywhere. So save your time for the Vista Spa and spend cay time on the beach. Serenity Bay is located next to the crew beach, so you may spot the hottie crew members in their birthday er, bathing suits. After an hour of lounging our long day was over, and we headed back to the ship relaxed, tanned, and stuffed.
Basics for dinner: The Wonder has three regular restaurants: Animators Palate, Tritons, and Parrot Cay. Each restaurant has two dinner seatings, at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. You choose the seating before you go, and Disney assigns a specific table number and rotation (meaning which restaurant you eat at and with whom). If youre in a small group, you may be assigned to dine with other people. Wisely, the Disney crew look at the profiles of the people traveling with you (i.e. just adults, a family with teens, or a family with screaming brats), and decide which restaurant to start you out in. You can make special reservations at Palo, the restaurant for passengers 18 and over, for an additional charge of $10 per guest for dinner.
Tritons: Our first night we were sent to Tritons, which according to our brochures serves fine seafood. With only two seafood items on the entrée list (a shrimp cocktail and an herb-crusted Sea Bass, both of which Jeffrey enjoyed), the surprise of our dining experience was Sylvia and Jerry, a couple from Duluth, Minn., who sat with us. Despite being from Duluth, these great-grandparents spoke like they were straight out of the film Fargo. Sylvia enjoyed informing us about all of their 10 kids, their lives in Duluth, and their many cross-country road trips. Oddly enough, neither of them asked us anything. We think they may have suspected we were Jewish. Aside from the underwater landscape, there was nothing in the restaurant to suggest it was actually a seafood restaurant. That didnt stop us from eating like whales, and the food was all goodnot spectacular, but considering they were cooking for 2,500 people, it was very satisfying. This is the one restaurant you dress up for, although many just wore T-shirts and jeans.
Animators Palate: Without a doubt, the design of this eatery is the most eye-popping and dynamic of any restaurant in the Disney empire. As you walk in, its like youre in a pretornado version of The Wizard of Oz: everything is in black and white. The walls adorned with portraits from Disney animated films, the table linens, the waitstaffnothing is in color. Luckily the same cannot be said of the food, as Jeffrey enjoyed a butternut squash soup so intoxicating he nearly proposed to Sylvia. (Yes, Jerry and Sylvia were back.) A variety of orchestral Disney songs play during the meal, and with each song the corresponding portrait on the wall bursts into color before fading back into black and white. (So, for example, as The Bare Necessities plays, the picture from The Jungle Book goes Technicolor.) This all culminates in a predessert grand finale where the entire room explodes in color. It was one of the most breathtaking Disney moments of the trip.
Palo: Every time Palo is referred to as the adults-only restaurant we giggled, half expecting Chi Chi LaRue and Jeff Stryker to be waiting tables. But the food at Palo, Spago-like continental cuisine, brings more pleasure than a Stryker box set. After waiting a few minutes for a table, the culinary festivities began. From the sumptuous mini pizzas to the grilled portobello mushrooms with polenta to the seafood risotto, every bite was a little bit of heaven. The service was exceptional, with everyone on the staff going out of their way to make our meal perfect. Palo is a must-eat stop on any Disney cruise, and its now one of Jeffreys favorite meals of all time.
Breakfast and Lunch: Buffets are available at Parrot Cay and the Beach Blanket Buffet. There is also sit-down service available at Tritons. For these meals you can sit wherever you like, except on the captains lap, as Eddie quickly learned.
Nighttime/Late Night: Near the lounges and by the pool. buffets are set up after dinner is finished being served. Because seven meals a day just aren't enough.
While not all of you are theater geeks, for those who are we suggest seeing all three of the Disney stage shows. We did and arent the least bit sorry. Our expectations of cruise entertainment were low, and our experience at Disneys theme park shows made them even lower. So we were thrilled with the quality of the shows, each running just over an hour. Of course, it didnt hurt that the casts were full of adorable men and divas with killer chords. Hercules: The Muse-ical (get it? Muse?) was first and probably featured the most adult humor, including a drag-queen muse. The second night featured the brand-new Golden Mickeys, an awards show that was actually much less cheesy than it sounds. And it did feature full numbers with Cruella DeVil and Tarzan, so we were pretty much won over. Dreams is the third show, and while its not as inspired as the other two it still managed to charm. The very talented cast, most of whom perform in all three, seem to have a good time performing. As did we. After all, drinks are served in the theater, and nothing spells family like a drunk parent, dont you think?
Tarzan give us jazz hands in his big number.
The one thing no other cruise can offer is access to the classic Disney characters. Yes, we know theyre around largely for the kids, but we couldnt help but get giddy when we ran into a princess or that mincing villain Captain Hook. On the cruise line the Disney characters are everywhere you turn, from scheduled photo opportunities in the lobby to drop-ins at breakfast. They can also be found periodically wandering the decks, but theyre never intrusive. The same cant be said for the camera people who follow them around, who will stop at nothing to get you to pose and then buy the damn pictures later.
In addition to the movie characters, Disney employs a significant number of crew members (not cast members, as other Disney employees are called) whose job it is to get the energy going throughout the ship. These are the people who lead bingo and karaoke, work the front desk recommending shore excursions, and feign excitement when they dance on deck. And while we tend to despise being tortured by these people, feeling equal parts annoyance and pity, we have to say that for some reason (Disney magic? Jack Daniels?) we went along with their shtick and fully enjoyed it. OK, yes, we did hit a low point when we were made to lip-synch to Bon Jovishirtless and sporting flowing wigsbut it was worth the free drink. And while Jeffrey would have been happy to give himself over even further, there are strict rules about crew members in passenger cabins.
While most things are included in the price of your ticket, there are some things you have to pay for. Juice, iced tea, and sometimes soda are included; booze isnt. So if you plan on taking a sip here and there, be ready to pay for it. Luckily, cocktails average $6, so you wont go broke too quickly. Unless youre Jeffrey, of course. And if youre a big soda drinker, you may want to invest in one of their all-you-can-drink commemorative mugs that you can fill up a at any bar or restaurant (prices vary depending on the length of your cruisetheyre sneaky that way).
Vista Spa and Lounge: Disney has a fabulous 8,000-square-foot full-service spa on board to serve all of your needs (well, not all of them, but maybe you can find a willing crew member to help you out with those other needs). While the basic but state-of-the-art gym facilities are free, everything else will cost you, including massages, facials, the aromatherapy chamber, and haircuts.
Shore excursions: As you read above about our days at the ports, playing is fun but not free. You can investigate excursions on the Disney Cruise Line Web site before you leave, and as soon as you board youre given a full schedule of excursions. Theres a large excursion desk in the ships lobby where crew members can book you on tours and explain what each adventure entails. But be warned, dont overbook or youll be tired when you disembark. We learned that the hard way after we booked three things on Castaway Cay (snorkeling, parasailing, and cabana beach massages). It was definitely one thing too manyand we could have done even more, because Disney offers banana boating, a glass-bottom boat trip, kayaking, nature walks, and something called bottom fishing, which Jeffrey is pretty sure he does most weekends in West Hollywood. Also, make sure you get your moneys worth. Our Ardasta Gardens and City Tour was $36, which we say is a great price for everything we did. But be aware when they try to get you to shell out $60 for the privilage of using the beach at the Atlantis Resort. Cmon, people, it's a beach.
Laundry and dry cleaning: If you run out of clothes, have no fear, Disney is herefor a price, of course. You may also use the self-serve guest laundry, but youll have to pay. And really, did you go on a cruise to do laundry? We didn’t think so.
Gratuities: At the bars your gratuities are included, and thats the good part. The complicated part is everything else, because youre expected to tip your dining room server, your dining room assistant server, the dining room head server, and your stateroom housekeeping staff. This can run from $30 to $70 for a weeks cruise. Disney generously provides suggestions on how much you should tip. After the mess you made in the bathroom and with all your crazy food demands these people deserve it.
Internet: The ship has an Internet lounge where you can access the Web any time for a fee. When you get on board, you can enter the contest for free Internet access for the length of your stay. Jeffrey actually won this contest, and Eddie took advantage of his winnings by spending hours in chat rooms we'd rather not name in this article.
Phone calls: Your cell phones will work for an hour into the cruise, and thats it, unless youre with a company that provides international service. Ship-to-shore rates are pretty outrageous, so wait until you get back home to tell Aunt Petunia about the cute dolphins.
Babysitting: For all you queer parents out there, theres babysitting on board for kids 12 weeks to 3 years. There are also free programs for kids older than three at the Oceaneers Club (ages 3 to 7) and Oceaneers Lab (ages 8 to 12).
THE BORING DETAILS
Before departure the Disney Cruise Line Web site or a travel agent can help answer most questions about booking cruises and prices. We did the three-night cruise, and while it was fabulous, it just didnt feel like enough time. And while a one-week cruise may be ideal for others, we would have killed each other by day 5. So we recommend the four-night cruise. Suffice it to say, depending on the time of year, the length of cruise, and the kind of cabin you want, a trip can run from $409 per person for the cheapest three-night to $2,400 and up for a peak-season veranda room on the seven-night. But considering all your meals and the entertainment (and lodging) are included, its a good bang for your buck. You may also want to check out the shore excursions before you go so you can plan some fun activities. Youre responsible for getting to either the Orlando airport or Port Canaveral. As long as you arrive on the day of departure, Disney will have representatives swarming the airport to pick up wayward travelers, and once on board, youll have to participate in a mandatory assembly drill to know how to safely evacuate the boat.
Dont forget:You need your passport every time you go ashore. Also, bring sun block, film (and your camera), basic toiletriesall of which are available on the boat but cost more than they do anywhere else, as Jeffrey learned. Its also smart to pack extra clothes (even if youre not Carson Kressley you will want to wear something a little nicer at Tritons or Palo. Dont pack your entire wardrobe, but pack smart.)
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