Our overnight accommodation in Orlando was the Homewood Suites, which is part of the Hilton family of brands. We needed something inexpensive, comfortable and close to the airport given our long day and late hour of arrival (nearly 1am). The Homewood Suites provide self contained accommodation and also a free breakfast each morning.
Jet lag had us awake early, so we were quickly on the road to Port Canaveral. Even checking in at 11:00am there were long queues to get on board but we managed to secure an upgrade to a balcony cabin and also week long passes to the spa - mission accomplished!
DAY 1: DEPART PORT CANAVERAL
The Navigator's brother and 9 year old niece joined us for this cruise so it was a wonderful opportunity for quality family time.
A dance party is held at sail away which is tremendous fun. However, our attention was on the waterslide. Many cruise ships these days have waterslides but only Disney has a slide which travels for 765 feet, manages to go up and down like a rollercoaster not once but twice, and slides through a clear perspex tube giving spectacular views from both sides of the ship. Countless rides were taken.
Before dinner we took advantage of the spa. There are three different steam rooms, including a hammam style room where we use a body scrub of salt, sugar, oil and aromatics. The Navigator takes tangerine and The Navigatrix has chocolate but their is also vanilla-orange and a wonderfully soothing lavender. There are also aromatherapy showers, heated day beds and two jacuzzies with a view of the ocean. We go into the spa as first sitting of dinner is served, so have the space almost to ourselves. Afterwards there are oversize showers with great water pressure, Elemis soap and shampoo - so much better than the shower in the cabin which The Navigator can barely stand up in. As there are only 45 passes a cruise, the spa becomes a haven of tranquillity - multiple times a day.
We have second sitting dinner and a table just for four. Our fabulous servers are Sercan from Turkey and Cesar from Peru.
DAY 2: SEA DAY
Our route took us past the Florida Keys and only three miles off Havana, Cuba. We were so close to Cuba the mobile phone signal kept picking up the Cuban network. The Navigator's brother (let us call him Navbro for convenience) was a bit worried about making a telephone call in case he ended up on some FBI list.
The weather was fine and warm so mini golf, more sliding and the pool was the order of the day.
In the evening we slipped into the spa again to take our scrub and lie on the heavenly warm beds.
DAY 3: COZUMEL, MEXICO
We go to the Mayan ruins at Tulum on the mainland, while the Navbro and Navniece head for some jet boat fun near Cozumel.
Our trip involves a 35 minute ferry boat ride from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen on the mainland and then an hour bus ride to Tulum. Along the way our incredible guide Uc teaches us about the Mayan culture. Did you know the word 'chocolate' is Mayan?
The countryside is thick jungle - "the second biggest set of lungs after the Amazon rainforest," says Uc. Along the side of the road, barbed wire and security posts keep unwanted visitors out of the resorts and vacation villas.
The ruins at Tulum are apparently the second most visited site in Mexico. They were built around 560AD And were continuously developed. The Mayan calendar works on a 52 year cycle based on alignment of a solar and lunar calendar, so every 52 years there would be a new level of construction as a celebration.
When the Spanish arrived in 1518, although they recognised the Mayans as a civilised race, this did not stop them destroying the culture. The buildings at Tulum were abandoned and became completely overgrown before being rediscovered in the late 19th century.
Uc gave us a wonderful tour of the ruins but made a very timely departure just as an enormous thunderstorm hit the area. We had wisely brought umbrellas but despite this we had no choice but to shelter as one is not supposed to do in a thunderstorm - under a tree and standing in pools of water. We helped an Argentinian woman shelter her baby granddaughter - the parents had disappeared in the blanket of heavy rain.
"When I find them," muttered the Argentinian woman. "I kill them."
The rain cleared after 20 minutes so we made our way down to the beach and swam in the warm waters.
Back at the shops we bought souvenirs and USD1.00 Corona beers.
"Please spend money with us," called out a Mexican. "We have to pay for a wall... to keep Trump out!"
On our way back to the ferry in Playa del Carmen we saw these strange creatures. We are yet to find out what they are.
DAY 4: GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN
The Navbro and Navniece went to swim with dolphins and stingrays. We instead rented a car and drove to the opposite side of the island to visit Starfish Point.
Grand Cayman is a low lying limestone based island - a true cay. The tax free status means it is quite a wealthy island with well maintained buildings and roads. The locals all have that sing-song Caribbean accent.
At Starfish Point we marvelled at the dinner plate sized starfish in the clear, warm water. We waded around and picked up creatures of all different colours and sizes. Huge iguanas scrambled amongst the foliage and in the trees. The area was almost deserted except for a charter yacht.
We had lunch at the nearby Kaibo Yacht Club (pronounced "Cay-bo") where The Navigatrix had what she proclaimed as "the best fish and chips ever."
"Where is everyone?" we asked the staff.
"It's rainy season," they replied. "And it's usually much hotter than this."
Our server at the restaurant was from Slovakia.
"How did you end up here?" we asked.
"I wanted to live where English is the main language and where it was warm."
"But Grand Cayman?"
"I applied to live here and they accepted. Why not?"
Why not indeed.
The staff at the rental car company advised us to allow plenty of time to get back to town. Lucky, as we were caught up by the school buses taking children home. As with the American and Canadian systems, the bus can stop anywhere and traffic going in both directions must stop to allow the kids to safely cross the road.
Cruise ships have to moor off the island and tender passengers to the wharf. We had a late morning arrival and picking up then dropping off the car meant we did not have time to visit the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Gardens as planned.
We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in the Caymans and would gladly come back again.
"Fly next time," said the lady at the rental car company. "Then you can spend longer here."
DAY 5: FALMOUTH, JAMAICA
The Navbro and Navniece did ziplines and river tubing. Once again, we could not find an interesting excursion so chose to wander through town.
The contrast between sedate and orderly Grand Cayman and Jamaica could not be more stark. Falmouth was noisy and chaotic, with car horns beeping, music of all kinds blaring from loudspeakers and hawkers yelling. "Yar, mon"... "No problems, mon"... "Hey, mon. Da bus is leavin' now. Now now!".
Falmouth is tiny - one could walk from side to side within ten minutes. We found a local supermarket to buy Ting (a sparkling grapefruit juice and a Caribbean staple). It is delicious and goes even better with rum.
Plenty of cruise passengers were offered "herbs" as they walked around town. A group in front of us were offered... a group behind us were offered... but not us. The Navigatrix was mildly annoyed - "It's the principle," she complained.
We walked to the Anglican church on the edge of town and rested in the cool interior. The inscriptions on the memorials tell the tales of so many men who died in their 20's, 30's and 40's. Jamaica must have been a harsh place in the 18th and 19th century. The rest of town has the remnants of the Georgian English settlement.
We so wanted to love Jamaica but came away disappointed. Falmouth is chaotic, much like St Johns in Antigua and St Georges in Grenada. It is a strange destination, as one must travel 45 minutes to an hour away from town to do anything - even to go to the beach.
The souvenirs are very average - either "I've been to Jamaica" T-shirts, Bob Marley T-shirts or Rastafarian hats. We were pleased to find some clear vanilla extract and also cinnamon extract, both grown locally.
A lot of money has been spent at the cruise terminal to provide an environment which is less chaotic for those visitors who are easily put off. Here the thousands of passengers which disgorge from the Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney behemoths can do their souvenir shopping, buy tanzanite and drink in Starbucks or Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville. All the familiar comforts of travelling... but in Jamaica... and behind gates to keep all the scary Rastas out.
DAY 6: SEA DAY
We headed north again between Cuba and Haiti on our way to the Bahamas. After three days of go-go-go we took the opportunity for a sleep in. More food, swimming, sliding and the refuge of the spa for as many moments as we could.
DAY 7: CASTAWAY CAY, BAHAMAS
Like most of the other cruise lines, Disney has a private island in the Bahamas where the ship docks and the facilities are exclusively for the ship's passengers. Everything is provided for you from the towels, daybeds, hammocks, soft drinks, a BBQ lunch and soft serve ice-cream.
In the morning we parasailed. The Navigator has done it before but this was the first time for The Navigatrix. After a microsecond of trepidation we soared high into the air and she enjoyed every moment. We rode in tandem and considered this must be like flying, with no noise and just the breeze in one's face. We saw a large grouper swimming below us. Other flyers saw turtles.
Alas it was over too soon but not before the driver dunked our legs in the water as he pulled us in.
Back on dry land we found some chairs, the shade of an umbrella and just sat. Eventually we found the Navbro and the Navniece who had gone on the banana boat ride and then snorkelling to the delight of the Navniece as she swam along with a turtle. The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming in the calm deep water of the sheltered lagoon.
It was a perfect day and The Navigator and Navigatrix were amongst the last 100 people to return to ship.
In the evening we managed a spa, a Broadway quality show in the theatre, dinner and then one final spa. We certainly made the most of our week long pass - on most days we managed at least two visits. Tonight they closed the doors behind us as we were literally the last to leave.
This is our seventh Disney cruise and the first for the Navbro and Navniece. As repeat cruisers we obviously love it and cannot fault the crew from the room attendant, to the servers in the restaurant, the spa staff and all the other crew who come to recognise your face (amongst 3,500 others) and ask about your day. The Navbro and Navniece loved it too. Disney Cruise Line has all ages on board, from extended family groups to honeymooners and is a perfect family holiday.
10 out of 10. Is it possible to rate it an 11?