Little kids love birthday parties and our daughter is no exception. We found it a little strange when her birthday was approaching but she made no mention of her own party. If she was going to let us decide what would happen on her birthday, then we were going on vacation.
We’re now at the age when Disney becomes the thing to do, but Mira’s petite and wouldn’t meeting the height requirements for a lot of the fun rides. Nor did we really want to spend our entire trip running between lines in the park. It’s the characters she’s likes and you can get that on the cruise. Quality family time and relaxing sounded like a great way to usher in year 5.
With the tickets booked, we made another choice: we weren’t going to tell her. The cruise departed Port Canaveral on Monday afternoon, which meant that we had to leave our house at 5am. We normally left at 7 for school and it was already dark. We could mess with the clock and Mira wouldn’t figure it out. As it so happens, we lost power the night before so that was taken care of for us. I was worried that she’d be tipped off something was up When we got in the car and we gave her her headphones and phone. It’s a unusual for a morning school drop-off but Mira wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Surprise intact.
Sleepiness and TV meant that she missed that we didn’t take the turn towards her school. Success! A few minutes later she looked up, noticed we were on the highway and this happened:
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful, leaving Atlanta for Florida at 5am makes for some pretty light traffic. On the way down Mira and I played a little game where we asked ourselves if the boats on trailers were the one we were about to go on. We might have fooled her about school but no fooling over the difference between a ship and a boat. She knew what a Disney cruise was all about.
When we got to the port we were immediately impressed with how easy everything with Disney was. Our last cruise on Carnival was full of long lines and waits. Even with all the families with kids and strollers we were parked, through security, and on the boat in almost no time at all. Once boarded, the first order of business was to eat then get some drinks.
Heat, ocean, and Bud Light Lime, our companions this sea adventure. Scurvy is a real threat on the high seas
The boat took off right on time, there was a little deck party, a safety drill, then it was time to go to the stateroom to get ready for a show and dinner. Our Disney stateroom was pretty awesome. There was space for us, storage space for our bags under the bed, and a couch that converted into a bed for Mira, along with a curtain for privacy. Mira really enjoyed the cruise staple of turning the towels and other items sitting around the room into animals.
The first night we had a bunny as our towel and blanket animal
Something rather unexpected (and reaffirming of our decision to cruise instead of theme park) was how on schedule Mira was. She used to have no problems staying up and having fun, but not anymore. No FOMO here, when it was bedtime, it was time to be asleep.
Our dinner time staple, Mira falling asleep on the way to the dining room
On the flip-side, Mira loved having her own little bed even to the point of lounging there for a bit in the mornings. For mom and dad that was substantially better than her in-home behavior of jumping into our bed and waking us up at ridiculously early hours.
Mira loved how the couch turned into her bed. She actually slept there.
One of the reasons to do a Disney cruise is for the character experiences. Like any Florida based attraction, there’s a long line for all the announced character appearances. However, there are plenty of characters walking around and willing to take a photograph, including when you are on the way to breakfast.
Mira with Stitch, just one of the characters we saw
The first full day of the cruise had us in Nassau, Bahamas. On the way to our excursion, Mira found her second favorite thing on the boat after the ice cream machines.
Mira loved the circular seats on the portholes. She would have spent the whole cruise here.
Sonali with Nassau forming a backdrop from the balcony in our stateroom
Mira is still learning how to swim which pretty much ruled out the excursions involving snorkeling or the resort at Atlantis. We opted for the mini-sub tour complete with a narrated tour of Nassau Harbor. All the highlights were there, from the island Dad-jokes and the celebrity house sightings. The mini-sub worked out great. There were plenty of fish and the sub went over the remains of a shipwreck. We even saw a few rays.
Mira and Sonali looking at the fish outside the sub
After the sub we took advantage of the kids club, easily one of the best parts of a Disney Cruise. It’s a large, fully staffed set of activity rooms for kids of all ages. You can drop your kids off and pick them up at your leisure. Getting a break from thinking about how to keep your kid entertained means that you can actually relax. The kids love it too since there are so many good activities. Our dinner companion never wanted to leave and Mira actually regretted not spending enough time there.
We took advantage of the time to do some reading and rode the big water slide. But the thing about the Disney experience is that there are also lots of really fun things to do with the kid. Every day there’s at least one deck party with music and characters. On this night we let Mira take a long afternoon nap, skipped the show, and went to the deck party instead.
Mira enjoying dancing on the deck during the party
Our long afternoon nap resulted in the first, and only time, Mira was awake for dinner. She had her mac and cheese, then made it to the dessert course, with an ice-creme sunday and Mickey bar.
Mira having her dinner desert
We’ve done the all inclusive resort and cruise thing in the past. In each situation we found the food to be alright. Sometimes it looks really fancy but the taste would be close to a high-end cafeteria. All the food on this cruise was legitimately really good. All the kid staples were perfect for their picky palates. Everything for adults was executed to a high degree and suitable for a nice restaurant.
The following day had the boat at Disney’s private island, with the major attraction being the snorkeling area and beach behind a breakwater. This meant extremely calm water perfect for all the little kids. Since this was Disney’s island, all the ship-board amenities were available, including the kid’s club and the bar.
Mira and I gave Sonali a little personal time and played on the beach. We built some sand-fish, practiced her swimming, and did one of my favorite water activities which I call the “turbulent ocean game.” Thankfully the real seas weren’t that rough.
Playing the Turbulent Ocean Game with Mira.
All that swimming works up a bit of a thirst. The Caribbean air subtly reminds you that some rum is likely in order. The staple is rum and coke, which Sonali choose. The dark clouds rolling in were a sign that I should order a dark and stormy. The drinks were good, but reception I got when I returned to the beach was even better.
Mira and I on the beach at Castaway Cay.
Of course, it’s not Disney if there isn’t a dance party with a character.
Dance party with Goofy on the main promenade
The Bahamians do not get a monopoly on making bad jokes
On her last night of being 4 years old, our monkey got a monkey as a towel surprise. She also got Elsa and Anna sheets fitted to her bed. No surprise, the day out on the beach left her a little tired.
A monkey for our monkey
Mira falling asleep on the princess chair
Just like the food, the entertainment was really good. There is an expectation with Disney and the casts delivered. The show on the first night was well scripted and acted and could have easily been the first act of a larger production. On this night they had the “Nightmare before Christmas” playing in 4-D, but this scared Mira, so we went to the theater and watched “Cars 3” instead. This night there was a pirate take over of the ship, including an appearance by the one and only Jack Sparrow. Mira was too scared to watch the entirety of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but that did not dampen her excitement at seeing him live. Once the ship was safely recaptured from the pirates, there was a fireworks celebration.
The ship under attack
Captain Jack Sparrow appearing from one of the exhaust towers
The next morning we no longer had a 4 year old. Our baby was 5. It was also our one full day at sea.
We started off by playing some mini-golf. Mira was only a few strokes over par, not bad for a first timer. We got her hair braided, watched “Inside Out” from the pool, got her face painted (she picked one of her favorite things, a rainbow), had some lunch, and then the “best thing ever” happened.
Mira on the Mini-golf course
We had gotten ourselves a stateroom with a balcony because with a kid you’re going to spend a good amount of time there. It was already worth it, but this stole the cake. As we were settling in for some TV/Nap, Mira shouted “Look behind you!” I thought she was pointing out another cruise ship on the horizon, but no. There was a perfect double rainbow.
The perfect birthday present, a double rainbow
The rainbow looked straight out of a fantasy book
An extremely happy and excited 5 year old girl
There was another great show in the evening about the importance of magic (we needed no convincing), and it was time for the birthday dinner. True to form, Mira was out. Not even a special birthday Mickey Bar could wake her on this night.
Ready for her birthday dinner
Too sleepy for a Mickey Bar
On the last day the breakfast crew is the same as your dinner crew. They felt bad that Mira never got her birthday dinner, so they made her a Mickey cake out of donuts, muffins, and fruit loops.
An impromptu Mickey Cake made by our wonderful waitstaff
It was now time for our Halloween on the seas to end.
Disembarking from our Halloween on the High Seas Cruise
We had one more birthday surprise left. We weren’t going home yet, we were going to go see some rockets!.
I had some concerns about visiting the Kennedy Space Center right after the cruise. Mira’s a pretty good mix of girly-girl and tomboy, equally excited about getting her nails done with mom or helping her dad fix something in the house. But it’s been 4 days of princesses and magic, would she find space interesting?
I shouldn’t have worried. One look at the Rocket Park and she was off.
Mira posing in the Rocket Park
Her favorite thing were the cutouts of the space capsules where should could pretend to be an astronaut. They had Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules to try out.
Mira standing in a Mercury capsule
Most of the rockets are reconstructions from spare parts
The KSP is huge. Most of it is only accessible on the bus tour. The tour takes you across most of the highlights, including the two launch pads and the Vehicle Assembly Building, the 525ft tall 1 story building that was used to build the Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle.
The massive Vehicle Assembly Building. It looks somewhat normal from a distance
Something I found fascinating were the tracks made by the transporters that move the rockets from the VAB to the launch pads.
The crawlerway 130ft wide and 7 feet deep. The stones that make up the crawlerway were selected because they don't spark
The transporters made their mark in the asphalt.
The tour has one stop, a large building that houses the mission control room used for the Apollo missions and an example of a Saturn V rocket. When you enter the facility, you are taken back to December 21, 1968, the day of the first Apollo Launch. The control room is setup to show you was it was like to be in mission control at the launch, complete with blinking lights and vibrating shutters.
One of the launch pads used by Nasa
The newest exhibit is dedicated to the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Mira and Sonali posing in the Atlantis sign
In true middle Florida tradition, there were some theatrics here as well. Entering the complex takes you to a room playing a video that ends with shot of Atlantis that raises to reveal the space shuttle.
The space shuttle Atlantis
The exhibit had highlights of the space shuttle’s accomplishments, including it’s involvement with the Hubble program. There were also some hands on activities, such as a slide that simulated the G’s that the astronauts would feel. However, my favorite part was that they did not refurbish the shuttle after re-entry, allowing you to see the strain and damage to the Thermal Protection System caused by re-entry.
The bottom wing section of Atlantis
Close-up of the individual tiles that make up the TPS. All these need to be replaced every shuttle flight
Seeing the history of the space program was inspiring, but it is an inspiration tempered by the sacrifices made by those that took part. Off the main path, in a little quieter section, there is a monument to those that lost their lives in our pursuit of the stars.
Memorial to the fallen astronauts
If there was anything missing from the cruise, it was good Mexican food, which we remedied after leaving the KSP. It was one time for one night in the hotel and then it was time to go home.