The UnDisney family floats again - NYC-San Juan - Merrytime (oh my) - Nov 10-15, 2019

Conorama

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jul 18, 2012
Mandatory Introductory Info about The UnDisney family and this cruise.

Greetings and happy November (if there is such a thing) to all.

I am writing this having just realized (for the first time, I swear), that I failed to finish my last report, that I was 100% sure was done. Oops. Blame middle-age. I will finish it, but as that will take a bit of digging for photos, I'll do this one first (and finish it).

So- with that stellar opening, I bring you our latest adventures on the Mouse Boat, as a family of folks who still don't like Frozen, who skipped all opportunities to see the previews of Frozen 2 (or 5, or whatever it's at), and who only barely recognize any Disney characters that are not Pixar-based or part of Mickey's original crew.

We have just returned from a 5 day/night cruise from the proverbially Big Apple, to San Juan and, oh my, it was a Merrytime cruise. I didn't find a lot of TRs about this cruise, so here we go.

For those who have not met us, (virtually speaking), I will provide introductions.

We are a family of 3 (not counting 2 very poorly behaved cats), hailing from middle-sized-town Ontario, Canada. We do not love Disney. We have never been to the parks. As noted above, we haven't watched many of the movies. However, many years ago now, we were convinced to try DCL, and we appreciate Uncle Walt's smarts (on his ships anyway) and approaches to keeping adults and kiddos happy, so, we seem to keep going back. This was cruise number 8 for us. This is beyond belief, really, but well, it is what it is.

Other important info:

DH: 50+UnDisney dad, who doesn't know the difference between Anna and Elsa (I had to study myself)
Me: Not yet 50 (ha!) mom who generally feels like she will break out in hives if she hangs out near the Princess gatherings.
Conor: 11.5 (exactly as of yesterday) year old figure-skating, Harry Potter-loving, chef-boy, who loves the ships, but won't watch most of the movies.

And here is our cruise itinerary - on the Magic.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.33.38 PM.png

And, per tradition, I'll give you how we ended up on this cruise, and our general planning details, because I like to plan, and I feel the need to pay it forward by sharing details.
 

bcwife76

DisneyMomma
Joined
Dec 10, 2014
Woohoo!!! I'm first! Can't wait to read up on another Un-Disney adventure for you 3 :thumbsup2 :flower1:
 

Conorama

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jul 18, 2012
Background and pre-planning

When we last met (virtually), I was apparently still stuck on the Magic somewhere of the coast of Scotland or England in the summer of 2018, for our misnamed "Norwegian Fjords" cruise (there were no fjords unless you found one yourself). As I didn't finish that TR (sorry!) I will note that we did successfully disembark, and returned to Canada and did not in fact spend the last 18 months on the Magic (which would actually not be a good thing in our books!)

I will admit though, that DH and I decided to book a placeholder while on that trip "just in case". Within a couple of weeks after we returned, we found this 5-night cruise. It appealed mostly because:

A) It was a very short flight for us to get to NYC (compared to the whole "fly to/from Europe" deal we had just completed.
B) It meant we could spend some time in NYC beforehand (we've wanted to go for quite a while).
C) It was short (10 nights was a lot but worth it for Europe)
D) It was an itinerary we had not done before at all

So- we plunked our placeholder down on that cruise, and we pondered for a while (as we usually do).

Long story short- in the spring (2019) we decided to commit to the cruise, so planning began in earnest.

For those who have not read my reports before, be prepared (or just skip through the next few posts) that I try to give lots of 'deets' (words I use to mortify the 11.5 year old -- this one meaning details if you don't speak annoying-parent-trying-to-pretend-to-be-cool), because that's what I look for in a trip review.

And so...

How much time in NYC?

This required much discussion and came down to 2 days due to not wanting to have the kid out of school too long, or me away from work too long, and, well, wanting to not have to sell off family jewels (if we had any) to fund the trip.

Thus- Thursday the 7th was a travel day, and we spent the 8 and the 9th exploring cool stuff, until we boarded on the 10th.

Where to stay in NYC?

I give full credit to DH- he found us the Homewood Suites in Midtown Manhattan. It was a good landing spot for newbies. More on this later.

What to do in NYC?

Not the focus of this, of course, seeing as it's a DCL report but for completeness said I'll mention that we wanted 1 show, 1 fancy bucket-list dinner, and 1 museum. We got all 3, plus 1 bonus "hey- this is actually educational' trip to the UN, which was oh-so-conveniently covered at the beginning of grade 6 for Conor this year.

Having perused tickets to shows, (and having rapidly ruled out anything Disney related), we checked out a few videos and Conor picked Stomp. Kiddo fell in loves with drums a few years ago when they had one class (ONE!) on Djembe drums at his school, so now he does drum lessons just for fun. (This is what happens when they put arts into schools ... parents end up with kids with new interests. It's horrid :) ) Happily, Stomp was on the low-end of ticket prices, so we felt justified to get the slightly premium seats, which promised more interactivity.

We scoped out various bucket list restaurants and narrowed the list down to 3 or so, so that on the day reservations opened (about 1 month out), DH could hopefully get one. We got our top choice, Babbo, one of Joe and Lydia Bastianich's restaurants. As the kiddo is a big fan of MasterChef, and loves to cook, this was a major score.

We decided to just play it by ear re: which museum we would visit (living dangerously, I know).

And finally... the UN was a no-brainer, as we are all major geeks, so we were interested anyway, and when it was a big source of interest to Mr. I Am In Grade Six now, DH procured tickets on-line.

How to get to NYC?

As usual for us, this involved checking out a bunch of options as our tiny local airport involves tiny planes that are frequently cancelled (there is a Twitter feed dedicated to the cancelled flights), and only 1 airline is involved. As usual, this was quickly ruled out.

Not per usual, driving to Syracuse won out, because wow, are tickets cheaper if you fly domestic in the US.

After much checking around, we settled on United from Syracuse to Newark; and then Jet Blue from San Jan to Syracuse via Orlando (it was originally via something else, but Jet Blue changed things around.) Initially we were getting in just after supper, and then it was more like 9:00 p.m. As we were flying in on a Friday night, we just sighed (loudly) and accepted our fate. (Foreshadowing....!!!!)

And finally, we used the same company to drive us to and from Syracuse, so as not to worry about parking, hotel rooms, and the unlikely even that the weather would think it was winter. (Feel the irony there, as you'll see where that headed.)

How to get to port/from port?

This was far less worrisome than usual. NYC = Uber to port (it was about a 15 minute drive on a Sunday morning). San Juan = taxi to resort for a day, and then taxi to the airport. All quick and reasonably cheap (well, take that as you will in NYC.)

What's this about resort for a day?

Ah - right. Our flight left San Juan at 2:20 p.m. and if you plan on the usual "get off the ship" at about 8:00 a.m.-ish, with way too many suitcases you need a plan. I was assigned the task of figuring out a plan. Many folks recommended a restaurant where you could check your bags for free, but that would then involve planning out the whole morning... so we ruled that out.

We had used resort for a day previously, so we put down the rather minor deposit for the Marriott Stellaris in San Jan for a day pass. We picked it because a) it was close to port and to the airport, b) it had a beach and pools, and (well) c) it was the only one available on ResortForADay. :)

So- that was our advanced planning for the before and after the cruise part of things. In terms of timelines, we booked the hotel and flights in August. DH was watching prices and seemed to find that to be a good time. (How's that for precision?)

I assure you the rest of this report won't be this dull. Or I hope not. To keep you from giving up, I'll give you this photo of us visiting St. John's, Newfoundland in June (DH is from Newfoundland and I met him while going to school there). It was actually sunny every day except this one, so of course we picked the rainy day to get a photo on the top of Signal Hill.


IMG_1614 (1).jpg
 

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  • Conorama

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 18, 2012
    Last bit of planning- what to do at our one and only port; and then the usual arrangements at home

    What to do in Antigua?


    The attentive reader will have noticed that the cruise involved 3 days at sea, and then one day in Antigua and then, off you get in San Juan.

    This limited planning, considerably.

    Mucho discussion occurred however. Do we do a beach day, because of having been on the ship for most of the 3.5 previous days? Do we just wander around the town on our own? Or do we find something else to do?

    We most definitely were NOT going to do any sort of DCL excursion. We are totally done with the paddles of power and random Disney characters on stickers. Too many lines, too much sitting around, and, if I am being honest, too little control. :smooth:

    After much back and forth, we decided on a "Tours By Locals", particularly asking for Emelda, as she came highly recommended on various sites we checked. We hoped for a half-day tour, and then we would meander back to the ship.

    Once this was confirmed, we moved on.


    DCL on-line booking

    The more we do cruises, the less we book on board, it seems. We were pretty minimal this time.

    We went for 1 Palo brunch and 1 Palo supper. We elected to miss pirate night at the main dining rooms for Palo supper.

    And that's about it.

    Well, except that then there was this hysterical discussion that started up about the Merrytime blanket. I had been sort of watching this emerge from afar, and I freely admit I got sucked in. I will admit that we love our Star Wars Day At Sea blanket - it is very fuzzy, and warm (key in Canada), and, well, it has Star Wars on it. It has held up well after 3 years or so.

    So, despite the great "but it's not as nice as last year" and "what on earth does it say anyway", I waited until it was available on-line (I hate talking on the phone.. so I was not phoning to ask for it), and I nabbed one, with all the other glorious room decorations, mostly to irritate DH, and to give Conor some joy. (Honesty is key in our family.)

    Oh, and DH did book some tastings for us.

    No rainforest room (don't love it on the Magic), and no spa (saving money).

    And yes, we did sign up for Fish Extender joy, and an ornament exchange.


    Arrangements at home

    Somewhere in about August, I started making my lists. I used to use Excel spreadsheets, but my computer was acting up so now I have (and I love) The Book of Lists. I use this for work, for life, for trips, for everything. My family hates the book. I love the book.

    I made lovely to-do lists, packing lists, and lists of lists, and all was well.

    So - from this I can tell you that we:

    • Arranged pet sitters for the bad kitties
    • Notified the school
    • Notified all of Conor's activities
    • Did not book snow removal (not needed in early November.... usually)
    • Sorted out phone roaming plan
    • Lined up friends and family to provide extra visits to naughty cats
    • Completely forgot that we signed up for a fall version of our CSA (community supported agriculture) so failed to arrange an alternate pick-up date :)

    This is an equally not-thrilling post, so I'll amuse you all with photos of our feline scoundrels, enjoying the heated bathroom floor.

    IMG_0936.jpg

    Next up- the thrilling few days before the trip and we hit the road! (But that will be for a post tomorrow.)
     

    Conorama

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 18, 2012
    The Glory (not) of the last few days before you leave in my world

    As always, for whatever reason, of the 18 or so days before we left, I worked all but 2 days. This meant that I had to be "annoying mom" when I was at home in order to actually ensure we had what we needed on the trip.

    Annoying mom is always making lists, and even gives lists to other family members to complete. One of these lists, nicely printed on a convenient post-it note, was actually crumpled up (after it was completed, to be fair) and, (accidentally I'm sure), tossed in my general direction by DH. :duck:

    Annoying mom (can you imagine) forces the 11 year old to (perish the thought) try on clothes to make sure they still fit. And then, when they don't, annoying mom mandates (the horror) that clothing shopping happens (on my 2 days off), where, once again (oh the humanity), you have to try on *more* clothes.

    Annoying mom also contacts the school to get homework. And actually gets the homework. And mandates that appropriate school-type stuff be packed.

    Anyhow- annoying mom was in full force, and as a result, all bags were packed, and (I'm pleased to report in retrospect) we weren't missing anything important. (I am still recovering from the great lack-of-sock incident of 2017.)

    General packing tips/thoughts for this cruise

    From a packing planning point of view, this was an interesting challenge because you start out in a very cold place (for a few days from our point of view), and then it (you think) gradually gets warmer over the next 5 days. But the question is- how warm? As in- how many days of shorts do you plan for, vs. light pants, vs. all-layers-on-deck? Alaska was different- it was warm, then cooler (but not really Canadian winter cold), then warm again. Ditto for Europe.

    Fear not. We are Canadian. We know layers.

    In general, we went with:

    • 3 days of cold weather clothes - with a plan to do laundry on the day we board the ship in case we needed more.
    • 4 days of hot/summer weather clothes (plus swim stuff)
    • 2 days of stuff that can swing either way ... :) so- zip-off pants for the kiddo, but also pack the long underwear in case more layers are needed on cold days.
    • 1 outfit each only of dressy clothes- covered off fancy dinner in NYC, and any nights anyone felt like dressing up on the ship (and make use of DCL laundry services for it if things get spilled at supper)
    Otherwise, it was our usual stuff: Our fish extender, DH's magnets (he has fun with them), a laundry bag (not hamper), at least 2 decent backpacks, coffee travel mugs (very important on cold cruises), and my mandatory first aid kit.

    We are finally leaving!

    November 7th involved me getting up early to finish packing and the last load of laundry. I'm a morning person anyway, so 5:00 a.m. doesn't scare me. We were being picked up at 10:30 and I work well with a firm deadline.
    I was super-productive for an hour, and then Conor got up. Productivity screeches to a halt. Fortunately, I plan for this. After making omelettes (new skill for him) to put him in a less grouchy mood, I handed him his list. Tween drama ensued, but ultimately, he is my kid, and he loves crossing things off the list.

    The espresso machine (same one that apparently died an untimely death in August 2018 - the day we left for our European cruise), was working (it just needed a vacation and a good cleaning), so productivity was rediscovered.

    As per our usual packing mornings, we had our usual process:

    I annoy everyone with lists
    DH acts smug that he is packed, until I hand him a list.
    Conor is grand, until he is not, and then we throw him outside (works every single time)
    Cats do not help.
    Things are crossed off lists.

    For variety this time, to get in the Merrytime mood, I broke out Christmas tunes, which also served to annoy DH.

    A few photos of the morning:

    My helper in packing strategy/flattening of itemsIMG_0716.jpg


    Oh, and did I mention that Uncle Walt decided to make this all very Christmas-sy for us? We do get snow in November, but not usually on November 7th and not usually so that it stays.

    It snowed. A lot. Voila kiddo who has been dumped outside, in his hastily-dug-out-of-storage winter coat and snow pants. The goggles are his idea. I questioned whether they were a bit much, and got in reply:

    "Mom! 'A bit much' is my MOTTO."

    Right.

    IMG_0727.jpg

    Kiddo made a mini-snowman by taking snow off my car. He then insisted on placing it behind the wheel of our airport limo (not a real limo- just a car this time), so as to crush it prior to our leaving. Our driver happily complied.

    And finally, we asked for a stop at Starbucks on our way out of town, to recaffeinate, and because the holiday cups were out.

    IMG_0732.jpg

    Thus, fully caffeinated/snacked-up, with all luggage carefully arranged, and everyone reasonably content, we sat back for our ride to Syracuse.

    Up next - airport adventures, filled with thrills and close calls, and way too much sitting around in between...
     

    Conorama

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 18, 2012
    Woohoo!!! I'm first! Can't wait to read up on another Un-Disney adventure for you 3 :thumbsup2 :flower1:
    Thanks! I honestly thought I was done the last one. I think it was around when my laptop started having major issues so I got behind and forgot to check back. It is feeling much better now, thanks, (finally), so we're back in business.
     

    Conorama

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 18, 2012
    Airport fun

    I'll keep this one brief as things will then get to the fun part.

    We had an uneventful drive to Syracuse, but then realized that we were not exactly in a position to not rush through the airport. Fortunately, it's a nice small airport, so getting to the check-in kiosks, checking in and then moving briskly to/through security to the gait is not terribly time consuming. Regardless, we were a bit anxious about our bags arriving with us due to how close we had cut things. (The Starbucks stop took a bit too long...)

    United was ... OK, I guess. We had diligently followed the rules of one personal item only for carry-on only to find that others didn't, and that wasn't annoying at all. :)

    The flight was on-time (yippee), short (yippee), and our bags were first off the carousel at Newark (yippee!)

    Unfortunately, our string of luck broke in a spectacular fashion as it took 90 minutes for our booked transportation to find us. To this day, we don't know what went wrong, but DH called them repeatedly. They (booking agency) said that the driver was trying to reach us, but couldn't. This repeated for way too long until they finally figured out a way to patch the driver through to us.

    Finally, after 90 minutes, a not-so-friendly driver found us, did not apologize for being 90 minutes late, and then led us in sullen silence out in the rain to where he had parked. He then (I kid you not) left the luggage cart in the middle of the lot (as in... right in the middle) as we left.

    60 minutes later, we arrived, tired, hungry, to rainy NYC, promptly got very wet, and checked into our hotel a lot later than planned.

    Fortunately, NYC (and Manhattan in particular) is well equipped with a gazillion meal delivery services, so we picked a place that had quick delivery, and order was restored, and vacation mood was rediscovered. We all agreed to an early bedtime, and that was easy enough in our room, which was (blessed relief) very quiet.

    And now... get get going with the vacation.

    (OK- brief segue here to the Homewood Suites- for those who want to know. Our room had a King Bed, plus sofa bed for kiddo. It also had a very complete kitchenette with 2 burner-stove, full-sized fridge, dishwasher, plates, cutlery, basic cooking stuff. It had a nifty table that nested under the desk - sorry- I failed to get a photo - and this allowed for nice quite meals when we needed them in the room. The hotel has the basic buffet breakfast, which was fine... and included. :) It's very walkable to lots of things. )

    With that... NYC fun!
     

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  • iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Are you coming back? I hope all is ok. I would really love to read more, as we are considering using our placeholders for this cruise in 2020 (Tortola instead of Antigua)! Would you recommend it?
     




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