Episode VII: Castaway Cay

Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise

The sun rose over a lovely calm sea and the Disney Wonder rotated slowly into place next to the dock at Castaway Cay. We finished breakfast and headed for the forward gangway. It was time to go ashore in paradise.

Castaway Cay, Merrytime Reunion
Christmas on Castaway Cay!

Ben and I walked ashore, took some quick snaps and then walked straight for the cabana check-in desk. (If you don’t feel like walking, you can wait for a tram at the “Kargo Handling Tram Stop” and ride past the “Scuttle’s Cove Tram Stop” to the “Pelican Point Tram Stop.” The check-in desk for the cabanas is next to the shaded tram stop.)

We hopped into our golf cart and made it out to our cabana bright and early.

Castaway Cay Cabana 21 - Merrytime Reunion cruise
Grand Family Cabana!

We made ourselves at home, laying out our items on the counter, claiming spots along the deck and slathering everyone in copious amounts of sunscreen.

The kids and I played in the cove. Counted fish. Splashed and squealed. The water in December isn’t exactly hot, but it’s still plenty warm enough for wading and floating in tubes.

Small silvery fish darted through the clear waters and after hours of frolicking on the beach, swinging in hammocks and snacking on fruit, chips and barbeque (fetched from Cookies Too!), the boys decided to go back to the ship.

Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
Shells of every color.

The girls fetched a few dozen of the most beautiful shells to decorate the tables. Then fell to sipping cans of soda and sunning themselves. I love reading. I love reading and lounging even better, so I was game to hang about at the cabana as most of the guests headed back to the ship. Midafternoon, Kylee and I headed back to the ship ourselves.

Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
Back to the ship.

I don’t know if it was because there were so few guests on the way back to the ship or if it was only a coincidence, but we spotted many lizards, a toad and a hermit crab along the path back to the Wonder.

Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
Carols on steel drums and garlands fill the island.

Those sweet moments when I can talk to my daughter one on one and slow down to see the world from her point of view? Priceless.


Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
She’s a little short for a stormtrooper.

Kylee spent her souvenir money in the Star Wars store. Ewoks are her favorite, Wicket particularly. When she’d spotted a stuffed Wickett in the store that evening, she knew just what she’d pick for her souvenir.



Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
Nothing quite like Castaway Cay around Christmas!

Despite Wickett joining us for “So You Want to Be a Mouseketeer,” we were not selected. Maybe next time!

Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
Sunset as we leave Castaway Cay.

Kylee headed into the Oceaneer Club while Ben and I headed up to the top deck to watch as the Disney Wonder headed back out to sea during an amazingly gorgeous sunset.

Castaway Cay Merrytime Reunion
Captain’s Gala Menu

After all day laying in the sun, a long quiet dinner (with four children) seemed just the thing to do. The children wanted to eat quickly and head into the Oceaneer Club, but we ran into one of Kylee’s best friends on the way.

Castaway Cay Merrytime Cruise
Chance encounter with Belle in her Christmas dress.

Our family chose to skip Toy Story the Musical in favor of a nice evening listening to music, romping in the kids clubs and walking around the promenade deck looking at the starlight.

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Disney Wonder
November 27, 2015
Seven Night Bahamian
Extended Family Reunion

  1. MerryTime Reunion
  2. Anchors Away!
  3. Character Overload
  4. Key West
  5. Nassau
  6. Castaway Cay
  7. More to Come!
  8. Personal Navigators for our 2015 MerryTime Cruise

Magical Back to School Printables

WDW Road Sign First Day of School Free Printable

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Red Loop. Today we are sharing Disney inspired back to school ideas.

Disney Wait Time First Day of School Printable Back to School
Unless you have a FastPass+, of course.

There is something about back to school season. The joy. The anticipation. The shopping.  The lists. The smell of fresh school supplies in the dollar spot at Target. The bulk packs of Kleenex (and some to send to the school as well.) The adorable outfits. The endless hunt for an orange pocket with brads folder.

WDW Road Sign First Day of School Free Printable Back to School
Next stop, school.

I love scrolling through Facebook. All the kids are so pulled together. Exclaiming over how much my friends children have grown and looking at their cute back to school outfits is almost as good as it gets. By the end of September (if not the end of the week) the kids are back to regular clothing. But for one day at least, they’re super adorable.

Wonderland First Day of School Free Printable Back to School
If we’re honest, everything can be a little crazy during the back to school season.

As I looked at photo after photo, I noticed a sad lack of Disney back to school signs. Well that’s no good! To help you add a little pixie dust to your first day of school photos I created some free Disney inspired first day of school printable signs. For fun in my free time.

(Yep, free! No signups or anything.)

The first day of school was never so magical!

Free Printables

First Day of School Nemo Inspired
WDW Road Sign First Day of School
Wait Time Back to School
First Day of School Wonderland

Click on any link above to download your free first day of school printable. I’m thinking I’ll use the Wonderland one with my daughter and the Wait Time sign one for my son.

(Click on a link above to download your free first day of school printable.)

May all your worms be bookworms. Back to School

Have a magical first day of school!

For more Disney inspired back to school ideas,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Red | Back to School | Disney Inspired Ideas Loop:

The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation

I know my way around saving money on Disney Cruise Line, but Walt Disney World always leaves me feeling a little bit at a loss. How do I find a good deal? Is the website my best way to go or should I work with a Travel Agent? Packages or room only discounts or park hoppers or free dining? Tickets? Does going in the off season really save any money? And airfare. Always the airfare.

The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation Review
“How to Easily Save Thousands on Your Next Trip!” Who Knew?

Then I read The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation thanks to a free copy of the book from a Blogorail friend, Kevin Barry.

Hi. I’m Lori and I’m a Disney Tips Pinterest addict.

(Hi Lori!)

So I pin hundreds of pins that explain different methods to save and spend at Walt Disney World. The problem is that these tips are floating around in my head with no clear plan of which ones work best. (Which is perhaps why I love using a good travel agent when I go to WDW, but I digress.)

Rather than overload with tons of ways to save a dollar here and there, Kevin Grady’s book focuses on the big ticket items in a vacation budget (transportation, tickets, resorts/hotels, and food) and focuses on a few good tips for each to save hundreds of dollars in that category. This is doable.

The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation – How Much Did I Save Using Just One Hint?

By following just one tip in each of the categories on our upcoming last minute vacation, how much could we really save?


We are traveling to soon to use credit card airline miles toward our trip, but by choosing to fly Thursday and Tuesday at odd hours, we’ll be spending $152 round trip each. Which is less than the best price on the weekends ($208 round trip each) or more if I wanted better flight times ($367 round trip each), even last minute. That shaved off $56 per person.

Savings on Transportation – $168

Total savings so far – $168


I always have been a park hopper girl. It’s what we book. It wasn’t until I started doing detailed trip reports that I realized quite how much vacation time is eaten by hopping. Never mind the financial cost.

Four day tickets are currently $325 for an adult and $305 for a child but if you add park hopper options they jump to $394 and $374. That’s not an insignificant price to be paying to spend extra time traveling between parks rather than staying in one park all day enjoying it.

Savings on Tickets- $207

Total savings so far – $375


I’m perfectly happy using any of the value resorts and taking advantage of the free transportation both to and from the airport and to and from the parks. However, rack rate (the cost of the hotel without booking it as part of a package) can be quite a bit higher than I’d prefer.

I wish for a way to save money at Walt Disney World! It's like wishing for more wishes.
I wish for a way to save money at Walt Disney World! It’s like wishing for more wishes.

Rack rate for Pop Century is currently $120.20 per night. By booking our room and tickets together as a package, the cost per night drops to $96.16 per night. We’re staying for five nights. Always check if the room only rates or the package rates are better for you!

Savings on Resort- $120 and change

Total savings so far – $495


We’ll have to wait and see if we save any money in this category, but we sure stand to! I’m a big fan of splitting meals, we always pick character breakfasts over lunch or dinner, free cups of water over buying bottles and love eating our big sit down meal at lunch time rather than dinner.

All food tastes better when it's Mickey shaped.
All food tastes better when it’s Mickey shaped.

All of these add up to savings but I am not going to get into the nitty gritty for the time being. I’d estimate that the overall savings is generally at least $50 per day.

Savings on Food- $250

Total savings estimate – $700-800

If I can save that much on a last minute trip for a few people when I’m only utilizing a few easy tips, I’d imagine that you can easily save thousands from a well planned trip for the whole family.

It's kind of fun to keep them in the dark about our upcoming trip.
It’s kind of fun to keep them in the dark about our upcoming trip.

To repeat, these are some of the easier tips (and ones I’d heard before) and I could easily have saved another $500 had I booked my trip a little earlier. With a little reading, your dream trip is in reach.

Happy savings!

You can find The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation on Amazon. It’s currently on sale for Kindle too!

Kids Review Walt Disney World

Parenting is hard. My daughter broke the distal end of her first metatarsal on her right foot at the very end of June. (Yeah, she broke her foot. Right where her big toe meets her foot.) The doctor was sitting there explaining how this meant no swimming, running or climbing and without missing a beat my little ninja asks, “No parkour?”

Judy Hopps and a broken foot. Kids Review Walt Disney World
Yes, we blinged out the boot. Glitter duck tape to the rescue!

Christopher is so patient with her and her foot. He hasn’t complained much about staying in more (possibly because he’s naturally a homebody). He also seems to be more helpful. Like he’s matured a little overnight. Weird but I definitely appreciate it. Also in a little over a month he will be the big 1-0. Which in Disney ticket and meal pricing is an adult. #DisneyMilestone

Kids Review Walt Disney World
Seriously. Where does the time go?

Friday was the one month mark. One month of broken foot.

After a quick doctor’s appointment, she found out she’s a slow healer and earned an additional two weeks in the boot then a slow rehab. She shut down. Rather than cry into our Dole Whips for another month, I decided to plan a surprise trip to Walt Disney World in late August to celebrate her (by then) healed up foot.

Minnie Mouse hair Kids Review Walt Disney World
No dancing, climbing, zip.

I am the world’s worst secret keeper. So I’ve never done one of those exciting trip reveals where the kids hop around on YouTube (or the equally amusing ones where the kids take it badly). This time we decided to make it a surprise. So if you know me or my kids in real life, please don’t tell them! Or your kids either. Because kids.

Shhhhh! It’s a Surprise!

Which puts me in a quandary…how to plan a last minute trip without the kids input (with the aid of a jogging stroller if she can’t get around by then). So I came up with a kind of genius idea. Ask the kids for their favorites (and a skip) for each of the theme parks for a blog post…

Kids Review Walt Disney World!

My kids offered up five (or more!) favorites for each of the four major them parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and one attraction they’d rather skip.

Kids Review The Best and Worst of Walt Disney World
Last trip, Chris was 8 Kylee had just turned 6 (and was finally 44″ tall).

Their most recent trip, back in January of 2015 involved nine days exploring Walt Disney World. All Star Movies served as our home. We enjoyed a class or two through the Disney Student Seminars (formerly known as Homeschool Days).

Memories were made.

Pixie Dust flew.

And after such an extensive trip, they formed quite a few opinions on Walt Disney World. (For example they adored the now closed Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie set/playground/best place in Walt Disney World to momentarily lose sight of your child.)

Code Name: Adventurer Boy

At the Stave Church

Name: Christopher
Age: 8
Specialties: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, and Wilderness Explorers. Anything interactive.
Height: 48″
Favorite Park: Epcot
Very Favorite Attraction: Test Track “I love testing and making the vehicles. It’s just so exciting getting to test what you make. I like the part of Test Track right at the beginning and right at the end when they test your pace. I liked when our car won the categories.”

Magic Kingdom Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. Tomorrowland Speedway
  2. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  3. Mousters, Inc. Laugh Floor
  4. Wishes (fireworks show)
  5. Tom Sawyer Island
  6. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  7. SKIP The Haunted Mansion. “It’s really scary.”

Epcot Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. Test Track
  2. Mission: SPACE (Orange Team)
  3. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
  4. Illuminations
  5. Soarin’
  6. SKIP The Meet and Greets, except Mickey. “Too princess.”

Disney’s Hollywood Studios Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. Toy Story Midway Mania
  2. One Man’s Dream (seriously proud and shocked this made his list)
  3. Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
  4. Star Tours
  5. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater
  6. SKIP The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. “I just don’t like falling from the sky. Literally. No one’s laughing right?”

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. The Boneyard
  2. Wilderness Explorers
  3. Rivers of Light (He hasn’t seen it yet but loves that Animal Kingdom will have later hours because of the forthcoming evening show.)
  4. Festival of the Lion King
  5. Finding Nemo- The Musical
  6. SKIP It’s Tough to be a Bug. “There are spiders in the ceiling that are actually robots and they scared me a lot.”

Code Name: Adventurer Girl

Mouse ears on an airplane.
Fun with sequins.


Name: Kylee
Age: 6
Specialties: Adrenaline Junkie, Meet and Greets
Height: Just Over 44″
Favorite Park: Animal Kingdom
Very Favorite Attraction at Walt Disney World: Expedition Everest. “It goes backwards really fast and I like that part. Pshewww! It’s really fast and I like that! It’s the best”

Magic Kingdom Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. Plaza Ice Cream Parlor
  2. Space Mountain
  3. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  4. Barnstormer “For sentimental reasons. It was my first coaster mom!”
  5. Splash Mountain (Which was closed for refurbishment on all of her trips and is the only “mountain” she hasn’t ridden on.)
  6. Wishes
  7. SKIP The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Epcot Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure
  2. Test Track
  3. Universe of Energy “Dinosaurs are cool.”
  4. Mission: SPACE (Orange Team)
  5. Germany Bier Stand “They have the best pretzels at Disney.”
  6. Illuminations.
  7. SKIP Some of the meet and greets. “There’s too many. Except Duffy. And Belle. She’s the best. And a few princesses.” Yeah. Slippery slope little one.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. Star Tours
  2. Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  3. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  4. Fantasmic
  5. Toy Story Midway Mania!
  6. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre
  7. SKIP Mupper Vision 3-D (Okay, it physically hurts me to type that in. I LOVE the Muppets.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Must Do’s (and a Skip)

  1. The Boneyard
  2. Expedition Everest
  3. Rivers of Light (Again, sight unseen.)
  4. Finding Nemo – The Musical
  5. Festival of the Lion King
  6. Wilderness Explorers
  7. SKIP It’s Tough to be a Bug “I just don’t like creepy crawlies.”

Armed with the kids’ review of Walt Disney World our surprise trip plans began to gel. FastPass+. ADRs. Airfare. We’re ready to go.

16291649610_a1fd1bde3b_z Now I just need to figure out the best way to surprise them!

Texas Renaissance Festival School Days

Where can Robin Hood, Shakespeare, the Joust and Queen Titania come to life before your very eyes?

The Texas Renaissance Festival of Course!

During the School Days, my children enjoy rubbing elbows with some of their favorite mythical and historic characters who populate New Market Village. As much as we loved exploring the year before we delved into the middle ages and renaissance, they took away such an understanding of the culture, crafts and time period, that our homeschool discussions of afterwards rang with the phrase “just like at the RenFest!” This family friendly event made history and culture spring to life faster than any book.

Texas Renaissance Festival School Days


Reading about Robin Hood? He’s just a story.

Meet him as he swings out of a tree in the midst of some Merry Men?  He becomes real and the story becomes part of their life. Furthermore, that book about Robin Hood waiting back at home becomes fascinating, along with all the other books we can find on the middle ages and the renaissance.

On our return to New Market the following year, my kiddos enjoyed examining the demonstrating artisans more closely. The glassblowing, weaving, printing press and spinning demonstrations all accurately sharing techniques that lasted for hundreds of years. My daughter likely could stay and watch the weaver all day long.

Off to the Renaissance, be right back.
Off to the Renaissance, be right back.

Located in Todd Mission, Texas, the Texas Renaissance Festival (or RenFest) turns 55 acres into a bustling 16th century village for eight weeks in October and November. Between the hundreds of performers, crafting demonstrations and the authentic shops and cobblestone pathways, it’s hard to remember that you haven’t stepped into an entirely different time period.

My sister and my daughter at the RenFest

Our don’t miss list includes: the always interesting Birds of Prey demonstration, breaking the sound barrier with the Fire Whip Show and of course a turkey leg or funnel cake.

For more about the Texas Renaissance Festival here. To learn more about the school days, visit their website or Facebook page:

Texas Renaissance Festival 11th Annual School Days November 1 & 2, 2016

All contest registrations and scholarship applications will open August 1.

The Texas Renaissance Festival invites all public, private and home school educators and students to join us for the 11th Annual School Days, when our faire is open only to teachers and students! Students step back in time as they enter the sights and sounds of New Market Village, an authentic recreation of a 16th century European village. Students will interact with hundreds of costumed characters representing the courts, culture, art, science, and literature of the Renaissance Period.

Jousting knights, musicians, jesters, and magicians perform on stages and arenas throughout the village. Students will have the opportunity to learn courtly dances, the ancient art of falconry, and the history of arms and armor. Artisans in period dress illustrate the technological advances of the Renaissance age through live demonstrations in pottery, glass blowing, blacksmithing, armor making, and other arts and trades of this amazing period.

Hours: 8:30-4:00

Tickets: $9

Optional lunch vouchers: $10

Episode VII: Nassau

After a pretty fantastic day in Key West, we decided to kick around the ship for most of the morning.

Nassau - MerryTime Reunion
Two little swimmers wearing their cover ups to breakfast.

Starting with a nice breakfast meeting up with Abigail and her parents, we soon ended up Mickey Pool. Both girls swam for a really long time. Abigail headed off to warm up. Kylee however, wanted to go visit a codfish.

Nassau - MerryTime Reunion

Turns out she and Captain Hook got along swimmingly. After a little sword fighting, they even settled down for a picture. Eventually everyone tired of swimming. After some quick showers for the kiddos, we dropped Kylee off at the club. The counselors verified if we were be heading to the island. (We weren’t.)

Nassau - MerryTime Reunion
Watching docking

Ben and I hung out in Outlook Café for a while, then we picked up Chris for some quality time hanging out on the verandah. We like to take a day on each vacation for time alone with each kiddo and today was Chris’ day.

Nasssau - MerryTime Reunion
This is why they tell you not to feed the gulls.

We watched the Wonder pull into the Nassau port, spinning to back into the pier. Someone down the ship didn’t listen to the “don’t feed the gulls” note and the whole side of the ship echoed the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” of the flock. Chris thought it was funny, but I’m glad mom wasn’t on her balcony.

Nasssau - MerryTime Reunion
Deck the Deck Party!

We collected Kylee and headed up to the pool deck to dance and party with Mickey, Stitch and our entertainment staff at the Deck the Deck Party. The kids divided into groups to participate in candy cane Limbo and other holiday games on stage. Kylee loved playing hula hoops with Pluto.

Nasssau - MerryTime Reunion
Pirate Time!

Everyone dressed up in their pirate best and headed back to dinner. We distributed wristbands to the family for our adventure on Castaway Cay the following day. I couldn’t wait to see the Grand Family cabana, especially after the way we ended up with it. After dinner, we headed straight up to the Pirates in the Caribbean Deck Party.

I am so glad that they moved they party time to in between the dinner seatings rather than after second dining; it’s much easier to take the kids to a party then. The Good Dinosaur didn’t appeal as much as football, so the kids headed over to the club and we hung out in Diversions.

Nasssau - MerryTime Reunion
Our abstract towelgami of the evening.

We arrived back to our room in time to find some chocolate doubloons (left from the pirates, perhaps?) and a chocolate challenge from Anna. Sorry for the short post, but we loved just lazing around for a day. Especially with Castaway Cay right around the corner!

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Disney Wonder
November 27, 2015
Seven Night Bahamian
Extended Family Reunion

  1. MerryTime Reunion
  2. Anchors Away!
  3. Character Overload
  4. Key West
  5. Nassau
  6. Castaway Cay
  7. More to Come!
  8. Personal Navigators for our 2015 MerryTime Cruise

Episode VII: Key West

Key West - MerryTime Reunion

I woke up early for a nice jog on deck, the humidity wasn’t too bad and the sea was pretty even so it was a good run. I think we were a bit off of Key West. The headwind suggested we were moving along at quite a clip rather than parked offshore.

Key West- MerryTime Reunion
My favorite jogging track.

Ernie joined me around sunrise so I walked with him for a while. The Wonder wouldn’t arrive in Key West until 11:30 so we had plenty of time.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Taking a moment to watch the sunrise over the water with my father in law.

I headed back to my stateroom for a shower then we hit Beach Blanket Buffet for a relaxed breakfast. Diana and Ernie met up with us and we hung about for a while.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
I love braiding Kylee’s hair back from her face. On port days, they can go from the pool to the port and even formal night without much more than a quick brush down of the ends.

And Kylee took some time for a swim. The pools are heated. The air is not. My kids, despite being born in the south, have no problem swimming when the air temperature is around 70. I do, but more power to her.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
She rode the Mickey Slide pretty much continuously for an hour.

I wonder why she had the slide and pool all to herself. Oh yeah. Because she’s crazy. I wonder if she’ll swim during our Alaska cruise? Chris headed down to the Oceaneer Lab rather than help supervise swim time, but Ben kept me company.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Waiting for the ship to dock. #firstworldproblems

Kylee eventually realized there weren’t any other kids and asked to go to the club until we arrived in Key West. Ben and I lounged around on deck enjoying the breeze until we were closer to port. We met up with the Ketchersides up on deck 9 around 11.


Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Chris and Ben hanging on deck 9.

Most of us ate burgers while we waited for everyone to gather since we anticipated Key Lime based deserts in the offing. The kiddos headed down to deck four to engage in perhaps the least well organized game of shuffleboard ever.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Shuffleboard anyone?

Think Alice in Wonderland croquet without the flamingos.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Girls on Key West.

Once the crew announced all ashore, the kids all streamed down onto the dock. Docking at Mallory Square means that we were only two blocks from Duvall Street. Even the shortest legs in our party easily made it to Kermit’s.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
If you don’t go to Kermit’s did you even visit Key West?

Between all of us, I think we still only tried a fraction of the available desserts. Kylee (who was in the midst of adding dairy slowly back into her diet) licked the chocolate off the outside of her frozen chocolate dipped Key Lime Pie. I nibbled on my Key Lime jelly beans.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Key Lime snacks for everyone!

A few slices of classic Key Lime pie disappeared. Several limeades. Key limeades, naturally.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Mallory Square

We all walked back toward Mallory Square. Dad and Mom wandered off to take some pictures and window shop while Abigail headed back to the ship with her parents. Nancy and Shawn took Sydney to poke around the shops for some souvenirs.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Disney Wonder in Key West.

We took advantage of the perfect weather to wander up the coast and take some pictures.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
I guess Kylee comes by her photobomb tendencies honestly.

And goof off too.

By the time we headed back to the ship, the kids wanted to switch into comfy (read less sweaty) clothing and relax for a while. For Chris this means the Oceaneer Club.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Nothing is more relaxing than a dance party.

For Kylee it means heading to Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball. The Snowbelles, Santa and Mrs. Claus and the Fab Five all hosted a singing dancing indoor party. If you missed the one in the afternoon, they offered another one after the second dinner seating too.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Belle meets her predecessor in the princess lineage.

Kylee popped into the club to get her face painted like a peppermint while we caught a football game with Matt in Diversions. Actually I think they were watching at least two games simultaneously. There might’ve been a third as well. I don’t follow sportsing that well.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
The only dog Kylee isn’t scared of.

We would be enjoying dinner in Triton’s so we caught up with Pluto on the way in. Dinner, though yummy took a very long time. Chris walked himself up to the club before us adults received our main courses. Kylee wanted to leave too but was waiting to split my entrée. After a bit of window shopping in Treasure Ketch (and some legit souvenir shopping too) we headed to Cadillac Lounge.

Key West - MerryTime Reunion
Cute little penguin.

We dropped off our purchases in the room then collected the kids to go watch Mike Super with Diana and Ernie. Chris turned to me a few moments after being seated to exclaim, “Wow. That’s really lucky. He has a great last name for a magician.”

The magic show itself was interesting and there were a few that were simply astonishing. After such a magical evening, Kylee wanted to be carried back up to our stateroom. Ugh. Not if I’m in heels and the ship is rocking. Thankfully everyone survived the five minute walk up to our deck seven home away from home.

As the kids fell asleep I browsed through the personal navigator. Tomorrow is Nassau. What kind of trouble could we possibly get into?

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Disney Wonder
November 27, 2015
Seven Night Bahamian
Extended Family Reunion

  1. MerryTime Reunion
  2. Anchors Away!
  3. Character Overload
  4. Key West
  5. Nassau
  6. Castaway Cay
  7. More to Come!
  8. Personal Navigators for our 2015 MerryTime Cruise

Episode VII: Character Overload

I woke up early the next morning and headed out for my morning run and empty ship photo walk. It’s nice to clear my head before a day that promised to be filled with nothing short of character overload.

Deck 4 in the dark.
How early? You really don’t want to know.

Suffice it to say that it was early enough that the waves on the left side of the photo are reflecting moonlight and I had plenty of time to run before our “early” Disney Junior Character breakfast.

We scheduled all of our character ticketed events back to back to back on our first sea day. We’ve found it easier to schedule around one day of character events and I’ve nearly forgotten later in the week tickets. Besides, to the girls meeting the characters is a major part of vacation and it’s much easier to bypass the line for Ariel if you already met her earlier in the week during a princess gathering.

Jake and the Neverland Pirates Character Breakfast - Due South
“Yo ho, let’s go!”

On itineraries of seven nights and more, the Disney Junior Characters host a character breakfast. The kids downed Mickey waffles (and so did a few of the adults) as Doc McStuffins, Jake (from the Neverland Pirates), Princess Sofia and as a special guest, Donald Duck greeted the tables. I don’t know if no one wanted to wake up early on the first day of vacation, but the characters managed to spend tons of time at each of the five or six tables with guests at the first seating. The entire center and far side of the restaurant stood empty.

Disney Junior Character Breakfast-Due South
Everyone loves meeting Donald! The surprise character at the breakfast rotates, so you may meet one of the classic characters (Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Daisy or Donald) with your Disney Junior friends.

Christopher does not like the possibility of Princesses sneaking up behind him, so we seated him toward the wall by the parents while the girls sat on the opposite side so they could easily slip in and out to meet the characters.

Bed Disney Cruise Line - Character Overload
Our room was already shipshape. This room attendant was on the ball.

Matt and Becky took Abigail up to the sports deck to play basketball and soccer while Chris and Kylee took a quick dip before the club opened. Chris popped over to the club while all the Ketcherside girls joined up to meet the princesses at the princess gathering.

Character Overload
Princess Gathering

Cinderella, Belle, Ariel and Rapunzel were out for the Princess Gathering, so everyone got to meet her favorite. Princesses vary cruise to cruise and somewhat ship to ship, so it’s best to keep an open mind about which princesses you’ll meet.

PawPaw and Mimi joined up in the atrium and all of the Ketchersides (except Chris) trooped from the Princess Gathering down the hall to Animators Palate

Frozen Meet and Greet- Character Overload
PawPaw likes photography.

Two gatherings down, one to go!

Character Overload
Let it go!

Seven princesses, a stuffed animal doctor, a duck with anger issues, a preschool pirate and a singing snowman later, we dropped the girls off in the Oceaneers Club.

Fruity Drinks-Character Overload
Because I could take a solemn artsy looking out the window pic…but it’s Ben.

Ben and I relaxed with fruity drinks in Diversions for a while. Matt and Becky headed up to the pool deck to track down Minnie Mouse with Abigail and lunch came and went uneventfully.

Character Overload
Walking with Kylee

Except that when we dropped by the club midafternoon to check on Kylee and Chris, Kylee hadn’t eaten lunch. Her special request (no dairy) lunch hadn’t been delivered. Some kind of miscommunication between kitchen and club staff. This became a running theme this cruise, though they did fix it by the end of the week.

We took her off to the pool deck for a quick burger, then she did what all good blogger kids do: asked to take photos of the unique carpeting patterns.

character overload

Kylee headed back into the Oceaneer Club and Ben and I made it downstairs just in time to join in on Disney Tunes Trivia in the Promenade Lounge.

I missed one.
I missed one.

Do you know what state “Song of the South” takes place in?

I do now.

On walking up to collect my prize (a Mickey medal), I noticed a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. Alexia and her family relocated to Asia for work, but came all the way back to Texas to meet up with her extended family for this cruise.

Anyway, as I started to turn and head back to my table, the entertainment staff member started calling after me “If you want to keep the prize you have to sing for us!” Totally in jest. Alexia at the front table yells back “she’s in church choir!”

Side note: I was. Back in 2009. It’s been a while.

Anyway, everyone in her family starts calling to me so, to make a long story even longer, two minutes later I find myself singing and clapping along to a piano rendition of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. Along with most of the member of the promenade lounge who mercifully joined in around “Mister bluebird’s on my shoulder.”

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh, my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!

Mister Bluebird’s on my shoulder
It’s the truth, it’s actual
Everything is “satisfactual”

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
Wonderful feeling, wonderful day!

I’ve done musical theatre, but this was nothing like that. This was without any rehearsal, without any sheet music, without any lyrics and without any warning. I’d put this squarely in the “bucket list/terrifying/awesome” category. I have no photos (for obvious reasons) but for the right price, I’m pretty sure my husband would leak his copy of the video. It’s not my best vocal performance.

I walked back over to my table, or I assume I did because my in-laws (who’d arrived when I started singing, naturally) and Ben both stood there laughing and having an amazing time rehashing the whole thing. I still think it was the oddest most out of body style experience of my life.

Ben and I headed off to do some shopping before collecting the kids to get dressed for formal night.

Formal Night.
We clean up nice.

After dinner in Parrot Cay, where, per normal, my kids ate as fast as possible to be able to go to the Oceaneer Lab for Pluto’s Pajama Party. I trailed Chris most of the way to the club at a distance, but let him use his check-in privileges by himself to feel like a big kid. Kylee we still have to walk all the way to the club or lab (and plan to for a while yet.) Ben and I hung around the Cadillac Lounge enjoying Tim Ross on the piano and the chill atmosphere. There is something magical about getting to dress up and act like a lady. It almost makes me wish it were the fifties. Almost.

We fetched the kids in time to watch Ensign Bensen rescue the Golden Mickeys. This show grew on me. On first viewing I liked it, but after several rewatchings, I love the simple underdog message.

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Disney Wonder
November 27, 2015
Seven Night Bahamian
Extended Family Reunion

  1. MerryTime Reunion
  2. Anchors Away!
  3. Character Overload
  4. Key West
  5. Nassau
  6. Castaway Cay
  7. More to Come!
  8. Personal Navigators for our 2015 MerryTime Cruise

Episode VII: Anchors Away!

A dozen Ketchersides handed our boarding numbers over then headed past the official ship photographers. (Pro-tip, if you don’t want to stop and get a boarding photo, just walk past the photographers and proceed toward the ship. It’s totally optional and it gets you to the ship just a tiny bit faster.) We scanned in our cards and climbed the stairs (again, faster than using the escalator or elevator) and stopped just before the gangway.

Anchors Away MerryTime
Welcome Aboard and Merry Christmas!

The scent of gingerbread wafted out to greet us as we stepped aboard to cheers and applause. Cast members beckoned us into the lobby. As they stood ready to answer questions and directions to first time cruisers, we side stepped directions to dining locations and headed directly to Wavebands.

All the things we used to have to queue for on boarding are now available for prebooking online.
Last minute bookings.

We picked up tickets for the Frozen character meet and greet, the princess gathering, the Disney Junior character breakfast and gingerbread house construction for later in the week.

Sidebar: I am stoked to book onboard activities on the website ahead of time. Now they’re available when your booking window for port adventures opens. This caused some first time cruisers concern that they will get cut out of the meet and greets, but so far, they’re readily available at all booking windows, so it’s not an issue.

The dozen Ketchersides headed down deck three to Parrot Cay for a relaxed boarding buffet then divided up to explore at our own pace.

Shirley Temple - Anchors Away!
It’s not a cruise until there are fruity drinks.

We played some checkers and backgammon in Diversions and enjoyed some fruity drinks. The sports bar stood empty except for us for quite a while. Around 1:30 we headed upstairs to check our our new home away from home, 7062.

Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah on the Disney Wonder.
Spot Duffy!

As huge fan of non-standard rooms like royal suites, secret porthole rooms and extended verandah staterooms, this was our first voyage in a standard “Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah.” (All staterooms except for the standard inside staterooms are designated deluxe. In Disney speak, deluxe means there is a split bath configuration and an additional thirty square feet of space.)

After quick visits by our family’s staterooms, we went on a quick exploration of the ship. Then unpacked our suitcases and headed downstairs to our muster station.

Inside a Disney Cruise Line lifeboat.
They were busy training several new crew members on these lifeboats both before and following muster.

The kids liked getting to peak into a real lifeboat on the way to muster drill, but on the way back were far too excited to stake out our favorite spot for the sailaway party! Becky and I blocked out a small section in front of us to let the kids dance like crazy people without being in danger of getting stepped on.

Actually, once the cast members handed out the streamer sticks, we were probably in more danger than the kids were.

We enjoyed our first meal at Animator’s Palate. A few members of our party started to be glad that they’d brought motion sickness medication as they started to notice the motion once seated. Then there those of us who thrilled to the color of the walls and the excitement of vacation in a wonderful way.

I promise, I do try to teach her manners.
I promise, I do try to teach her manners.

Christopher bolted his dinner and made a beeline for the Oceaneers Lab. Kylee hung out with her cousins for a bit before similarly wishing to disappear to deck five. Ben walked her up and then he and I talked a bit more with mom and dad before they left for the evening. Ben and I headed over to the Cadillac Lounge to listen to piano and talk for a bit before the show began. I honestly don’t remember if we went to “All Aboard: Let the Magic Begin” or not, but we did return to the room shortly thereafter.

MerryTime Reunion
Our stateroom host left us a lovely little towelgami creation.

The kids fell asleep and were fast asleep in an inkling. And so did we.

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Disney Wonder
November 27, 2015
Seven Night Bahamian
Extended Family Reunion

  1. MerryTime Reunion
  2. Anchors Away!
  3. Character Overload
  4. Key West
  5. Nassau
  6. Castaway Cay
  7. More to Come!
  8. Personal Navigators for our 2015 MerryTime Cruise

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Family Reunion Disney Cruise

As an early Christmas gift (and to celebrate a big anniversary and some birthdays too), my in-laws took the entire extended Ketcherside family on the Disney Wonder for a Very MerryTime Reunion cruise.

(Thanks again mom!)

Family Reunion Disney Cruise
How many Ketchersides fit in an elevator? Not all of them.

Very MerryTime cruise on Disney Cruise Line?

Yeah, we’re so there. Having done a cruise or two during the holidays, as well as several that weren’t, I’d say that there’s definitely a little extra pixie dust around Christmas.

Our MerryTime Reunion Crew

Being a crazy large reunion cruise, we’d be sharing this wonderful vacation with the grandparents Ernie and Diana, better known as Mimi and PawPaw. They’re no strangers to Disney Cruise Line. Most recently, they costarred in my Liberty of the Seas Live Blog.

Sunrise breakfast with Mimi and PawPaw.
Sunrise breakfast with Mimi and PawPaw.

My brother in law, Shawn, his wife Nancy and my niece Sydney (9, like Chris) joined up. They hadn’t cruised Disney beforehand, so I anxiously awaited their thoughts on our vacation…

Kylee, Abigail and Sydney listen to an incredible, hilarious story from Uncle Shawn.
Kylee, Abigail and Sydney listen to an incredible, hilarious story from Uncle Shawn.

My other brother in law, Matt, his wife, Becky and my niece Abigail rounded out our new cruisers. Abigail was going through a clingy stage so they weren’t sure how much time, if any, she would want to spend in the Oceaneer Club with her cousins.

Abigail, Matt and Becky join in the selfie craziness.
Abigail, Matt and Becky join in the selfie craziness.


Then there were the usual suspects.

Merry and Bright!
Duffy made it into the picture, but Kylee not so much.

Ben, Chris, Kylee, Duffy the Bear and I rounded out this motley crew. This would be our kids’ fifth voyage aboard Disney Cruise Line, but only their second on the Disney Wonder and their first on the Wonder for a longer itinerary. Ben and I would be on our seventh Disney Cruise and counting…

Planning a Cruise Reunion

Ready to cruise!
Ready to cruise!

Unlike our previous cruises, we needed to coordinate four family’s calendars in the days between the announcement of the itineraries and the opening of bookings. I answered questions and sent spare copies of Passporter’s Guide to Disney Cruise Line Guides to each of the first time cruisers in advance of bookings. In retrospect, the two day turn around between announcement and booking is quite short.

After collecting everyone’s booking numbers, I waited a few days for the craziness to die down then called up to link our staterooms for dining. Other than reminding everyone when their booking windows arrived and planning for a surprise or two, a cruise more or less plans itself and is perhaps the easiest way for a large party to enjoy a Disney vacation together.

Matchy-matchy pjs for the kids? It's a vacation thing.
Matchy-matchy pjs for the kids? It’s a vacation thing.

It helps that everyone involved knew how to make their own magic!

Before Embarking

Bear ready to go!
Bear ready to go!

Since our cruise embarked on Black Friday, it was a bit of a mishmash until we met up at port. Diana, Ernie, Matt Becky and Abigail stayed at the Moody Gardens Hotel the night before (planning to avail themselves of a deal to stay and then enjoy a shuttle to and from the hotel). Shawn, Nancy and Sydney would drive in from the western suburbs on the morning of and we would all meet up easily well before our boarding time.

With our bags waiting in readiness by the door, it was only a matter of waiting for the kids to wake up before our adventure began as it always does.

With Mickey pancakes at our favorite diner. I know we could go there anytime, but we only seem to go out for breakfast when we’re going on vacation. For me, this is when vacation begins, MerryTime reunion or not.

MerryTime Cruise
That’s his “I’m on vacation!” smile. Chris looks pretty happy too.

Before we arrive at the restaurant, last minute reviews of lists, verifying paperwork and checklists occupy my thoughts, but after a nice slow fun breakfast? I’m on vacation.

Yeah, we still have to drive clear across town, over a causeway and to port. But mentally, I’m already drinking a fruity drink and feeling the sea breeze through my hair. Which is probably why Ben drives.

MerryTime Reunion
Driving? What driving?

We hang out at a little coffee shop just down the beach from the cruise terminal and I enjoy listening to various cruise staff as they pop in and sit down to enjoy the free stateside WiFi. At an hour until boarding we can’t wait any longer so we head over to our favorite no frills car park, EZ Cruise Parking.

MerryTime Reunion Cruise
Riding the shuttle to cruise terminal number two!

This is the point that Ben starts to act like he’s on vacation (after double checking that we have our proper documentation of course.) A very short shuttle ride later and we’re standing on the porch of cruise terminal two.

MerryTime Reunion Cruise
After five cruises they aren’t still excited or anything. Oh. Wait. YES THEY ARE! If anything knowing what to expect makes them even more excited.

After some quick pictures (and despite the fact that the first port arrivals don’t begin for an hour) we join the queue that runs halfway down the length of the building. Ben and Chris hold our place in line as Kylee and I say hello to half a dozen of our cruise meet friends, including a family from Nebraska that we’d cruised with the year before as well.

Diana and Ernie showed up shortly after us, followed quickly by Matt, Becky and Abigail. Once we were through security and checked in we did our usual check at the supervisors desk. As per normal, we were greeted by a “Captain Mickey is Sailing With a Full Ship” sign; no upgrades available.

MerryTime REunion
Together at last!

Kylee very nearly pulled Abigail off her feet in her excitement over seeing her cousin again while Chris and his bear played with Diana. Several texts and much speculation later, Shawn, Nancy and Sydney arrived. Just in time for them to settle in for a minute or two, wander over and meet Mickey and then….

MerryTime Reunion
Mickey and Minnie alternate meet and greets at the far end of the cruise terminal. It’s easy to miss them if you aren’t looking for them!

it was boarding time!

Episode VII: Merrytime Reunion

Disney Wonder
November 27, 2015
Seven Night BahamianExtended Family Reunion

  1. MerryTime Reunion
  2. Anchors Away!
  3. Character Overload
  4. Key West
  5. Nassau
  6. Castaway Cay
  7. More to Come!
  8. Personal Navigators for our 2015 MerryTime Cruise