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The Big Picture Goes to Sea
by Josh Olive
AllEars® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the September 11, 2012 Issue #677 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Having gone to Walt Disney World numerous times and having finally visited Disneyland, the next item on my list was to go on a Disney Cruise. This year, I got to realize that dream! I've planned a great many Walt Disney World trips, on my own and with the help of a travel planner, and I know all the nuances of booking a trip to the World. Booking a trip to Disneyland last year wasn't too much different -- it all felt very familiar, very comfortable. Booking a cruise, on the other hand, is a completely different thing altogether, and I was certainly glad to have the assistance of Coleen, a wonderful vacation planner with MEI and Mouse Fan Travel. For anyone who has not booked a Disney cruise before, I highly recommend enlisting a knowledgeable vacation planner/travel planner to help you out -- it's a daunting process with a lot of requirements, and I really enjoyed not having to worry about any of the details.
We checked in online as soon as it was possible, and we managed to secure the second boarding window, so we arrived at the terminal at noon and went through the last phase of the check-in process. A few easy steps, a wave to Captain Mickey, and we were off to the ship!
Disney certainly knows how to make sure people make an entrance! As you leave the terminal and dry land behind you, you step through a set of doors and directly into the grand atrium in the center of Deck 3, with a cast member announcing your arrival as though you were royalty. You really do enter a fantasy at that point, as you first lay eyes on the fantastical chandelier, the luxurious carpeting, the gorgeous marble, and the exquisite detailing -- it is a feast for the eyes!
While we waited for our room to be readied, we strolled on up to Cabanas for a quick lunch. Cabanas is the more available restaurant to visit when you want a quick bite -- food is served in a cafeteria style, and there is enough variety to satisfy just about any craving. The quality of the food here was not stupendous, but it was good, and we were quite happy with all of our selections (the pork lo mein was a real standout, I have to say).
When our rooms were ready, we were anxious to go check them out. Being a larger individual -- 6'6" and 400 lbs. -- I was a bit concerned that the room would be small and claustrophobic. I could not have been more wrong. We had an inside stateroom (9101, to be precise), and it was excellent. The layout of that room was a little different from most -- more of a square and less of the long, narrow rectangle most of the other inside rooms are. It felt spacious enough.
The Magic Porthole -- a wonderful touch, Disney! -- really only has one drawback: it is situated at the headboard of the bed, and it juts out into your sleeping space by several inches. At my height, I need all of a bed's length, and the Magic Porthole took up a little bit of that. That said, I have rarely slept on a bed as comfortable as that one. WOW. My wife and I both agreed that we would be thrilled to pack that whole thing up in one of our suitcases and just take it home. The beds on the ship are like sleeping on a cloud.
Where the room feels spacious and comfortable, the bathroom is a good reminder that you are, in fact, on a ship. Honestly, it's more than a little incredible that every stateroom has its own bathroom, with hot and cold running water and a bathtub with a shower. I can't complain too much that it was a bit small. They make good use of every millimeter of real estate on the ship, including in the stateroom bathrooms; it's actually quite impressive. The one thing to be careful of is the step up to get into the bathroom and the higher step into the tub/shower -- a couple of stubbed and bruised toes can testify to that!
Our cruise had a little bit of a rough start -- the first day and a half of our trip, we were trying to race around the southern edge of Tropical Storm Debby, and the weather was very rough. No one in our party got seasick, but we all felt the effects. Also, it was a little difficult eating soup in a fancy restaurant as the ship was noticeably and unpleasantly moving, but after the weather cleared up, things greatly improved on that front, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our time aboard the ship much more.
For the most part, everything on the ship is accessible to just about anyone of size. That's not to say that everything is perfect -- there are a handful of things people of size should be mindful of -- but, on the whole, as with everything Disney does, they are extremely accommodating.
The restaurants have a variety of seating options -- some booths, but most are table-and-chair arrangements -- so you should have no issues there. Our server team was wonderful, and a big thanks goes out to Abraham, Dewa, and Witt for taking such good care of us at dinner each night!
The Walt Disney Theatre and the Buena Vista Theatre are both wonderful, ornate show spaces. Much like an elegant theater on land, the Walt Disney Theatre, where they perform several Broadway-style theatrical performances, is amazing. They have all the special effects -- including flying wires, trap doors, and pyrotechnics -- you would expect to see in a large scale production in a fancy theater building. But it couldn't have everything -- the seating for those of us who are built on a bigger scale is a little tight, though it varies, depending on where you sit. Downstairs, the seating is a little more comfortable, but the seats are a bit narrow. The balcony combines slightly narrow seats with noticeably less legroom, which ended in some aching knees by the time the show was over. However, for anyone who prefers it, the two 'private' boxes on the upper level have chairs and stools in them to accommodate different seating needs, so you'll be more comfortable if you choose to try those options, and you'll feel a little bit like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets!
The seating in the Buena Vista Theatre is much more comfortable in general -- the seats are wider and there is significantly more legroom. The seats also have a built-in rocking capability, which is perfect for long movies, and the arms of the chairs can be raised or lowered, which is another great perk. We watched the Muppets in this theater and saw Pixar's latest masterpiece, Brave, during its first week in release! We were thrilled and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see this new film at sea four days after it was released in land-based theaters -- what an experience!
When you visit the bar/nightclub area of the ship, you will find the vast majority of seating to be plush and luxurious -- the couches and other seating in Ooh La La, with the dim lighting, almost invite you to, um, just rest your eyes for a few moments. O'Gills (LOVE the tribute to one my favorite old Disney films!) is decked out like a fine Irish pub. Skyline looked very sophisticated, but we didn't spend much time in there. In The Tube, the venue for most of the adult-oriented entertainment, there are a variety of seating options, and you'll want to choose wisely if you are someone of size. Most of the seating options are... unorthodox. Some of the seats are shaped like eggs -- very Mork and Mindy! -- and we saw couples sitting in them. I would not recommend trying to sit double in one of those for any larger person/people. The majority of the seats in this venue are strange, backless, yet somehow top-heavy looking things that appear to be a bit unsteady -- have no fear. They are actually quite sturdy and surprisingly comfortable. And you'll need to be able to get out of those seats quickly if you're participating in any of the activities that they orchestrate for the adults -- those are a lot of fun, and I highly recommend that you check out some of the events. Name that '80s Tune? A lot harder than I would have ever imagined! A big shout-out to Trevor, the Adult Entertainment Director on the Disney Fantasy -- his infectious energy and incredible sense of humor really made all those events worth going to!
Some of the excursions have weight restrictions, mostly ones involving riding horses or burros, but those are clearly identified in the descriptions, so you should be able to avoid any embarrassing situations simply by making sure your excursions don't include anything like that. I wasn't surprised by the limitations placed on these excursions, but certainly wanted to note that you should read everything you can find on excursions you're interested in before booking them.
My wife and I indulged in a couples massage at the Senses Spa, which is where I was surprised to find a lack of accommodation of size. The spa is luxurious, no doubt about it, but the one-size-fits-most robes they hand out when you walk in the door are in no way capable of accommodating someone of my size. There is a changing room -- one for men and one for women -- where you are expected to change into your robe (lockers are provided for your clothes and belongings), and then you go to a room where you fill out some information about the services you are there for and to note any particular aches and pains you'd like for your therapist to focus on. From there, your therapist will escort you to the various treatment rooms (which have excellent views off the front of the ship, by the way, though you only enjoy them for a minute or two before your treatment begins). The problem is that you're expected to walk down the halls in these less-than-ample robes, mingling with the other people coming and going from their treatments.
That was a surprising, uncomfortable situation. You're going to the spa to relax, and nothing will keep you from relaxing like the possibility that YOU might be the one to inadvertently turn a Disney cruise into a Touchstone cruise. Their robes were many sizes too small -- I had to wrap a towel around my waist to ensure modesty, and that wasn't a sure thing either. If you plan to experience the Spa aboard ship, which you should, it might be wise to bring a robe from home that fits you comfortably rather than risk any awkward moments.
Those few, mostly minor accommodation issues aside, I found the cruise to be perfectly accessible to just about anyone of just about any size. If you've been considering a cruise, but you've had reservations about trying it because of your size, don't let that be a hindrance to you! The cruise ship is equipped to accommodate people who come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the Cast Members, as always, are extremely attuned to meeting your needs and making sure your vacation is as wonderful as they can possibly make it. Bon Voyage!
About the Author: Joshua Olive, 37, is 6'6" and hovers around the 400-lb. mark. He's been a BIG fan of Walt Disney World since his first visit in 1979 and he just keeps on coming back. A proposal writer for a government contractor by day, Josh is a musician, an actor, a photographer, and a comic book store owner the rest of the time. He served as a peer reviewer for PassPorter's Open Mouse, a Disney guidebook for people with all types of special needs, written by Allears.Net's Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma.
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Read Josh Olive's other "Big Picture" features for AllEars® in the newsletter archives, including his report on a visit to Disneyland -- The Big Picture Goes West:
For more information on visiting the Disney Parks as a person of size, visit the AllEars.Net Walt Disney World "At Large" section:
For more information on the Disney Cruise Line, visit AllEars.Net's DCL section:
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.