Monday, May 11, 2009

The Happiest Place On Earth, Part I

Disney claims it's Anaheim, but I figure Orlando is close enough, in Disney-speak.

I've spent the last three weeks on the road, with multiple stops in Orlando, Florida. While I'm typically not a Florida person (despite being born in Key West, I've lived most of my life in colder climates), I've truly enjoyed the last three weeks.

First adventure: A Disney Cruise!

I travel a ton, but have always balked at the idea of a cruise. I like to be flexible with my plans, seeing whatever interests me most on a given day. If you're vacationing at a hotel and don't like it, you can go somewhere else. You can eat in whichever restaurant catches your attention at whatever time of day you please. But if you're on a ship? You're stuck with their food, their schedule, their rooms. However, after watching a Travel Channel show about the Disney Cruise Line, I thought, "Hmmm...that looks pretty cool. And they go to Key West. And Grand Cayman. And I can take in the Mayan ruins in Tulum. Not bad!" And though I like Disney as much as the next person, I've never wanted to spend a vacation with Chip and Dale. But the Travel Channel show made it clear that you can see Disney characters...or not. There are lots of things to do on the ship that do NOT involve Mickey. (Spa, anyone? Late-night sports bar?)

So off I went to Orlando, ticket in hand to board the ship at Port Canaveral. And within two seconds of stepping aboard the Disney Magic, I knew I'd made the right decision. You tell me, is this not spectacular?

I love the elegant, Art Deco lines. And the interiors were just as gorgeous. Check out these shots, taken inside a suite:

(Note the officer demonstrating proper use of the life vest on tv. Reassuring, huh?! "Welcome to our ship. Here's how NOT to drown....")

All the polished wood was to die for. Far more swank than 99% of hotels. But the best part of a Disney cruise is OFF the ship. As we left Port Canaveral, a group of dolphins jumped alongside, escorting us out to the Atlantic. (I asked my husband how much Disney had to pay dolphin trainers to pull off that particular trick.)

From there, the ship went to Key West. I took the Trolley around the island, then toured Truman's Little White House. And yes, I did eat a Key Lime pie on a stick. For all of a minute, I wondered how many laps it'd take around Deck Four to burn it off. Then I decided it was so good, I didn't care. (Plus, it was so overwhelmingly sweet I doubt I'll ever eat it again!)

I had the chance to see where I was born, in a barracks building at the Navy health center. Very fancy, isn't it? I bet everyone on the cruise ship would trade their rooms in a cold minute to stay here. The barbed-wire fence gives it quite the prison ambience:

I also had the opportunity to see alligator heads for sale. If you've ever purchased an alligator head, please enlighten me. What does one DO with an alligator head? Put it on the mantel? Make a lamp out of it? Hide it inside your mailbox to scare the mailman? (No, I didn't buy one. The photo was enough for me.)

Finally, I wrapped up the day by engaging in some Mallory Square people-watching from an amazing vantage point (namely, my verandah!) Doesn't this look like the best place to hang out at sunset?

Tomorrow, in Part II: Nic vs. The Stingray.

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