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Smooth Sailing with Internet Friends
by Rose Folan
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the March 11, 2003, Issue #181 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I'm sure you can imagine the excitement of anticipating your first Disney cruise -- any big trip like that is enough to get a person's heart pounding, isn't it?
But what if I told you that when I took my first Disney cruise it was with 30 people I'd never met in person before? That we'd only ever "met" through the Internet?
I think you can understand why I was not only excited before I went, but also a little anxious.
Traveling with ANY group can be intimidating -- it's normal to wonder if you'll get along with the others day after day. But on top of that, I had to consider all the horror stories I'd heard about folks who'd met through Internet chats. You might wonder how I got around these issues and if I had a successful trip. Well, let me explain, and offer a few tips based on my experiences:
I belong to an online email list called the DisneyDollarless List (www.themouseforless.com). The members of this group, which has been around for a few years now, exchange ideas for ways to save money both before and during trips to Walt Disney World.
A few DDL members got together back in 2001 and took Disney's 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise. They had such a good time, a few of them decided to arrange another cruise. The plan was to sail the Disney Magic's newly instituted 7-day Western Caribbean itinerary in January 2003. This offered plenty of time for saving, planning and inviting friends.
Little did they know how this small band of cruisers would grow.
Over the next several months, more and more DDL members began to sign on, excited by the opportunity to both take a Disney cruise and meet some of the people they'd been corresponding with in real life. This long-range plan offered the perfect opportunity for these cost-conscious folks to take advantage of some great savings, like the Disney Cruise Line early-booking discount, as well as the best availability of cabins, and special incentives available to large groups.
TIP #1: Start planning early. You can take advantage of early booking discounts that are often available for hotels, resorts, and even airfare.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
What made this trip more than a group of acquaintances traveling together was how we got to know each other before sailing. An online, members-only, Yahoo discussion group was opened on January 2, 2002 -- more than year before the trip -- for those who paid the cruise deposit. This wonderful idea offered a way to get to know each other, share information, ask questions, and make plans before sailing.
The most recent Disney Magazine quoted a Travel Industry of America statistic that "22 percent of adults in the United States traveled to family reunions in 2001." Well, our group may not have been your traditional "reunion" but, after sharing our thoughts and getting to know each other for a year, we certainly felt like "family."
TIP #2: Communicate. There are many ways to share information. You could consider having a few pre-trip get-togethers, weekly telephone or Instant Message chats, or even a group newsletter.
Along the way, things didn't always go smoothly. The group worked with a travel agent who simply was unable to handle the workload for such a large group. A new agent was assigned, but not before mistakes occurred and some members became frustrated and left the group.
Even after setting sail, we still encountered errors and problems that our travel agent should have communicated to us or resolved. For example, we expected that, since we were booked as a group, our dining-table assignments would be in the same area. They were not, and by the time we found out it was too late to do anything about it.
TIP#3: Check the details. Although most trips aren't "'perfect," you can smooth out some rough spots when you know about them in advance.
This group had lots of great ideas. One was to post our photos to the private group, so we could start putting names and faces together. Another great idea was getting group t-shirts. A few months before our sailing, the Disney catalog happened to offer family-reunion T-shirts These shirts featured a Disney copyright graphic (we ordered Mickey and the gang for our group) and allowed the "family" to compose its own saying. We chose: "DisneyDollarless 'Magic'al Cruise, Disney Magic Western Caribbean, January 18-25, 2003."
On sailing day, we all put on our T-shirts and found our DDL shipmates at the port or on the ship, happily "reuniting" with folks we'd only met through email or online before!
TIP#4: Do something to identify members of the group. You can do this yourself with anything that has a common theme -- T-shirts, hats, badges or nametags.
Once we were aboard the ship, the excitement built quickly. We were greeted Disney-style as we entered the ship's beautiful towering atrium. It was immediately on to lunch and some exploring, then off to find our cabins before the required lifeboat drill. Time went quickly and it was sailing time before we knew it.
Our group's first planned meet was at the Sailaway Party. It was cold, so those special Disney T-shirts were sometimes hard to spot beneath jackets and sweats. But that's where those pre-trip photos helped. Finally, most of us were together, sipping festive drinks and saying our first face-to-face hello. Another planned activity, later in the cruise, was a group trip to Stingray City in Grand Cayman. It was a fun day together (even for someone who spent most of the day seasick!). In hindsight, I wish we'd planned even more opportunities for group activities. But it was fun to run into 'friends' everywhere on the ship, and even in the ports we visited. Plus, there were plenty of impromptu gatherings during the cruise.
TIP #5: Plan group activities. You don't have to make get-togethers a big event. Consider little things like setting a time for morning coffee, or a walk/ jog, and anyone who wants to join in can be there.
IT ALL ENDS TOO SOON
Now that we're back home, don't think the fun has ended. We've had a great time sharing our memories online and seeing other shipmates' photos. What a wonderful opportunity to get a variety of photos to add to our own collections! We're also finding that many of us have future travel plans to share.
We may have started as a random group of DisneyDollarless members, but now we're "family" and, who knows? Another reunion may just be somewhere on the horizon!
TIP#6: Share the memories. Remember, your trip doesn't have to end on the day you return home!
EDITOR'S NOTE: You can read more of Rose's ALL EARS® features at: http://allears.net/btp/rose.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.