Category Archives: Travel

Travel Plans for 2021

Introduction

My travel plans for 2021 are coming into sharper focus, at least for leisure, now that the US is opening up more and more as I write this in late May. I’m pretty sure I will be back on the road this fall for work, but I haven’t been given an exact date.

I did have an unplanned cross-country drive back in January with my sister that I’ll talk about a bit. The trip to the Bay area coming up this summer is a replacement for one to Japan for the Olympics. And the final venture is still not 100% assured to happen but has been on my calendar since mid-2020.

This post is part mini-trip review and part survey of upcoming plans. So a bit of a mishmash!

Cross-Country Drive

One of my sisters lives in the San Francisco area, and, like many of us, she started working from home in March of 2020. Suffering from a major case of cabin fever, she decided to do a cross-country trip last fall when the infection numbers were dropping in much of the country. She took her time, stopping to visit family and friends along the way, and arrived in the Philadelphia area in November.

After quarantining at a Residence Inn plus getting a negative COVID test, she spent the next couple of months splitting time between our parents’ houses.

BTW, the Residence Inn worked out really well (and didn’t cost me much in points) since she could cook for herself. That was a nice savings over doing takeout. Plus the extra space was perfect for her on-the-road work setup.

Come January, she was ready to be home. Originally, she had planned to take the northern route home and stop to see friends in the Dakotas. But the numbers were starting to spike everywhere, and she decided to just get back ASAP.

So I agreed to go along so we could split the driving and minimize the number of days on the road. Amazingly, especially since this was in the middle of January, we did it in 3.5 days with minimal problems.

Crossing the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa
Crossing the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa

Luck was on our side with regard to the weather! We somehow managed to find the exact right time between the snow storms in the northern plains. There was evidence of a prior bad storm along the highway in Iowa, in particular, with jackknifed tractor trailers along the sides of the road for miles.

Massive windmill blade being hauled on a truck trailer
Massive windmill blade being hauled on a truck trailer

Heading straight across the country, following Route 80 for the most part, we had three overnights in East Moline (IL), Laramie (WY), and Sparks (NV). I saw parts of the country I had never been through including Wyoming and Utah, which I really enjoyed.

Wyoming 2021
Wyoming 2021

The salt flats to the west of Salt Lake City were like nothing I had ever seen! And, as many times as I have been to California, this was my first time in the Sierra Nevada: just stunning.

Sunset in Nevada January 2021
Sunset in Nevada January 2021

My sister and I had a great time! We played too much 80’s music and stopped at the largest truck stop in the country (world?), among other delights LOL.

Dinosaur statue at Little America truck stop
Dinosaur statue at Little America truck stop

I stayed with her for a few days after we got back to California, in part because I discovered just how stripped back the airline schedules were. I was used to there being multiple nonstop flights between San Francisco and Philadelphia per day. At that point in the year, American was operating only a few per week! So we visited, each did some work, and watched the inauguration.

The flight back home was my first in nearly a year and was both weird and oddly normal. I had indulged in first class for the one-way flight (for greater space) and was surprised at how full it was.

The flight attendant for first was chatting with me and the guy sitting next to me and mentioned how glad she was to see some of her Executive Platinums starting to travel again (my seatmate, like me, was clearly another road warrior in normal times, with top status). Apparently, it was true what I had been reading on various outlets: leisure travelers – as opposed to business travelers – were a far higher percentage of passengers than normal. And the flight crew definitely noticed the difference.

Crossing from Utah into Nevada January 2021
Crossing from Utah into Nevada January 2021

Trip to Japan That Never Was

I’ve been home since that cross-country jaunt in January. But looming this summer was a trip that a couple girlfriends and I had been planning since 2018: Japan and the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo April 2018
Tokyo April 2018

Obviously, we had to cancel everything last year. I had booked our flights and most of our hotels on miles and points, so they were easy to deal with. Plus, travel companies were super-flexible last year when everything started falling apart. With the Olympic committee announcing they were simply doing a lift-and-shift of everything to 2021, we rebooked everything.

And, then

Once again, no problems canceling the travel plans.

Getting refunds for the Olympic event tickets will take months. And I’ve heard there could be a class action lawsuit in the works against the ticketing agency because of how they’re handling refunds. Fortunately – at least under the circumstances – we had been able to get tickets to only a few of the less-expensive events, so we’re not out the thousands others are.

San Francisco and Monterey

But my friends and I decided we had to plan something in its place. We might not be able to spend 3+ weeks in Japan this summer, but we could still get together and have a fun time.

After much debate, we settled on 10 days in San Francisco and Monterey. We started making plans back in March understanding that we would have to keep an eye on how much would be open in California while we were there.

Fortunately for everyone, vaccinations are going well there – as are the infection numbers – so the state plans to be fully open by June 15th.

Perfect timing!

I’ve been to San Francisco many times since my sister has lived in the area for over 20 years, although I’ve not been down to Monterey. My friends have never been to the area and want to do all of the usual tourist stuff. I’m sort of dreading some of it (how many times can you go to Pier 39?), but it’s more about spending time with friends.

And I’m really looking forward to whale watching and the aquarium down in Monterey.

Weekend in NYC

In the category of First World Problems, I have a couple of free night certificates from Hyatt that expire at the end of the summer. I did not want these precious items go to waste!

One of them was for a hotel up to a category 7 which makes it particularly valuable (the other is up to category 4).

What to do? Since I’m not sure yet when I’ll be traveling again for work, I wanted an easy weekend destination. And one with a Park Hyatt, since I’ve never stayed at one.

My choices came down to either DC or NYC, and I chose New York. Not my favorite place to be in the middle of summer, but I’ll manage! I’ll probably head to a museum, do a little fabric shopping, and enjoy a nice meal or two.

I still have that category 4 to use. A couple options are on my radar, but I’m holding off on making any arrangements for a few more weeks.

Weekend at Walt Disney World

Several of my friends live in the Orlando area. We’ve made an annual tradition – a chain of almost 10 years broken last year – of a girls’ weekend every year that includes Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party plus Epcot’s Food & Wine.

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom at Halloween 2018
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom at Halloween 2018

So when Disney announce the “After Hours Boo Bash” replacement for 2021, we debated going. The cost, however, relative to the reduced experience just didn’t seem worth it. And we nixed the idea.

But I kept thinking about going to the parks, which is unlike me. I enjoy Disney but it’s not really my vacation of choice: I go as often as I do because my Orlando friends love it (and one of them works for the company, so I have rarely paid to get in). Maybe my desire to go is about it being representative of getting back to normal?

Well, whatever the reason, I decided to indulge myself and plan a solo weekend trip in October (sorry, even September is too hot for me in Florida). I’m going to try out the new Swan Reserve and already have my park passes for Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Just waiting for the Boo Bash tickets to go on sale.

Usually when I go with my friends, we’re just doing quick service restaurants for various reasons. But I’m hoping to try a couple of the nicer table service options. Counting down to when the dining reservations window opens for my trip 🙂

Disney Cruise

I did a back-to-back Disney Cruise a few weeks before the lockdowns started. It’s a bit surreal to look back on that trip, for sure.

As I usually do, I booked a placeholder while on that cruise. Basically, you put down $250 and then have a certain number of months to book a specific cruise while keeping the usually benefits of booking while onboard (for example, a reduced deposit and a certain percentage off the fare).

For whatever reason, Disney did not extend the required booking window for the placeholder, so last summer I had to pick a sail date. DCL doesn’t open their booking calendar as far out as the other lines, and I wound up picking a date in fall 2021 to maximize the odds the cruise would happen. I’ll be doing a 7-day on the Fantasy, one of my favorite ships.

It’s still unclear, however, if this specific sailing will take place. In just the past couple of weeks it’s become more likely that several of the major cruise lines will start sailing from the US this summer (the Celebrity Edge just announced for June 26th!).

But we’ve heard nothing yet from Disney.

So, fingers crossed.

Closing Thoughts

So there’s my travel plans for 2021 thus far. Seems odd to not have a big international trip planned. Yes, I realize the cruise will go to other countries, but I’ve visited them all before.

But it’s more than I realized once I wrote it all out. Plus I have a couple other short jaunts in the “maybe” column that might be added to list.

Not bad, all things considered.

Affordable Holiday Gift Ideas for 2020

Introduction

It’s an annual tradition on many blogs: lists of gift-giving ideas! They’re fun to pull together, can actually be useful to the reader, and are generally a perfect opportunity to insert some affiliate links LOL. I know items #1 and #3 are true for this contribution to a parade of similar posts, and I certainly hope that’s also the case for item #2.

These are all items I’ve personally used over the years. I try to give you a little information about each based on my experience with them.

Gift Ideas for the Traveler

We’re not traveling much right now in late 2020, particularly internationally, but at some point that will change. While we’re waiting to get back on the road or in the air, start planning ahead with some helpful gadgets and resources.

Belkin 3-Outlet Surge Protector with 2 USB Ports

I have one of these surge protectors, and it’s a great option when traveling. Hotel rooms – and airports – never seem to have enough outlets, so having some sort of power strip is essential.

It’s nicely compact for packing coming in at 5″ long, although it will stick out about 2.25″ from the outlet which can add to the challenge if you have to use one that’s behind a piece of furniture. But still one of the best options out there for the purpose.

Buy from Amazon.com

Streetwise Street Map

Yes, we all use our phones for directions, but I am a great believer in having a backup plan. I’ve been using Streetwise maps for years and will continue to do so. They are very compact, sturdy, and offer exceptional detail for the size.

Each of these maps folds – accordion style – to 4″ wide x 8.5″ high. The unfolded size can vary by the city. For example, my London map (one of the largest) unfolds to 32″ x 8.5″ while Baltimore is 19″ x 8.5″. But they’re very easy to use without completely opening them up: you can sort of flip through the panels while keeping it mostly closed for discreet reference.

The maps themselves are highly detailed with street names, key landmarks, parks, transit, and other important highlights. A street index is also included. Depending on the city, you might also get a transit map (think London’s Tube), a close-up view of a highlight area with even more detail (for example, Downtown Los Angeles), or an airport map.

The publisher has also offered “Artwise” versions in the past for certain cities that focus on museums and other arts organizations. As you might expect, these tend to be for locations such as London, Chicago, Florence, and New York City. Amazon still has a few of them, albeit at inflated prices.

The printing is high quality, and I’ve been impressed with how much they fit into the space in such a clear manner. Each of these maps is printed on sturdy stock and is laminated on both sides for long life. I have several that I’ve used for well over 10 years without any problems.

The biggest drawbacks with these maps are

  • While the coverage is worldwide, they’re limited to larger cities. There’s also a few specialized transit versions such as for the Paris Metro, New York/New Jersey transit, and European rail.
  • Inventory – whether on Amazon or at brick-and-mortar shops – varies a LOT. You can see the current offerings at the company’s web site (interestingly, it appears it’s been recently purchased by Michelin), but they don’t sell direct to consumers. You can use the provided ISBNs to hunt for the latest versions at your preferred retailer.
  • The print can be small, especially on the street name labels.

Buy from Amazon.com

Pimsleur Language Courses

I genuinely believe it’s good manners to try and learn a few things in the language of the country you’re visiting. Even if it’s as basic as hello, thank you, and, of course, where is the toilet.

For comfort in speaking and predictable acquisition of basic language skills, I have had great success with Pimsleur products. The method operates on a system of listening, response, and repetition in 30-minute sessions. You build up day by day listening to and mimicking native speakers. These are oral courses – there are no reading or writing components for most languages.

They have a wide range available, including English for native speakers of several different languages. I’ve tried a variety – including German, Japanese, French, and Korean – to gain some confidence in basic interactions during my travels.

The big plus for me has been the speaking practice, which has always been my weakness when studying languages. I find I have to speak out loud to get my brain around the feel of a new language, and that’s something tools such as Duolingo do not really offer.

Amazon mostly offers Pimsleur courses on CD from what I’ve seen. Depending on the language, you might find them packaged with various numbers of lessons, from 16 to 30.

I will also note that you can get Pimsleur products on iTunes. You can usually buy a single lesson as good way to see if the method works for you.

Buy from Amazon.com

Ideas for the Skincare Aficionado

Gua Sha Tool

After seeing one too many YouTube videos on the topic, I finally gave in and purchased some gua sha tools to try out the technique. I’m not ready to ascribe to all the anti-aging claims some practitioners tout, but it’s very relaxing as part of a nighttime routine and has helped with some puffiness.

There’s approximately a zillion options out there given the popularity of it, but this is one that I’ve been using. This tool has a classic shape perfect for facial gua sha, feels good in my hand, and is smoothly finished.

Buy from Amazon.com

Innisfree Jeju Orchid Eye Cream

I first purchased this in Seoul on a trip a few years ago. Happily, I discovered I could get it in the States courtesy of the booming Korean skincare trend!

I love this product: it’s hydrating but not oily or heavy. I have found it to be an excellent everyday eye cream as it absorbs quickly. Perfect for the dry winter months.

Buy from Amazon.com

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Facial Cleanser

This gentle facial cleanser is an excellent option for anyone with dry or sensitive skin. I have used it as my 2nd cleanse product (after makeup removal) as part of my evening routine.

I would describe this cleanser as a creamy liquid, and it comes in a pump bottle. In my experience, a single pump is usually plenty per use, so it can offer excellent value. A bottle can easily last several months.

It’s free of soap, sulfates, and fragrance. My skin has definitely become more sensitive as I’ve grown older, and this cleanser has never irritated it at all. The ingredients include some key ceramides and niacinamides.

Buy from Amazon.com

Closing

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to explore. Remember: you don’t have to spend enormous amounts of money to get that perfect gift. Sometimes it just takes some thought and creativity.

Affordable gift giving ideas for 2020 - beauty and travel.
Disney Cruise Line Dream From Terminal

Back to Back Cruise on the Disney Dream

Introduction

I took a back to back cruise on the Disney Dream during the last week of February 2020. Writing now in September 2020, it’s interesting to realize I took one of the last cruises before everything started shutting down in March.

Travel is an important activity for me, so I do prioritize it in my spending and will continue to do so. This forced hiatus, however, is causing me to rethink exactly how I want to travel in the future. So we’ll see how that shapes up. In the meantime, I thought I would share this experience from the “before times.”

While this post isn’t intended to be a traditional trip report, I will provide a few highlights. Mostly I plan to go over things that are specific to a back-to-back sailing as compared to a tradition schedule.

What is a Back to Back Cruise and Why Take One?

A back to back cruise is one where you take one cruise then take the next one on the same ship. Most will finish one sailing in the morning and then leave later that same day on another one. This practice exists largely because the cruise companies need to maximize the use of their very expensive ships.

So when you book two or more cruises in a row on the same ship, you’re doing a back to back.

I never even knew this was a thing until about 18 months ago on a prior cruise. I was chatting with some other passengers who had just booked one, and I was genuinely intrigued by the idea. So why did I decide to try this out? Several reasons:

Cost

For the week I was looking at, it actually cost less in total to do a 3-day + 4-day than a single 7-day cruise. The difference wasn’t huge – maybe a few hundred dollars – but still not insignificant.

Status Qualification

With Disney’s frequent cruiser program, Castaway Club, status is based on the number of eligible sailings. With a back to back, I would get 2 credits toward the next level.

This might seem trivial, but higher status gets you earlier booking windows when the new schedules open. I’d love to get on an early sailing when Disney’s new ship, the Wish, comes online. It’s going to be in high demand – especially now that it looks like it will be delayed until at least 2022 – so those extra credits improve my chances of getting onboard.

Different cruise lines have different ways they calculate status. So this aspect might not be a factor for you.

Interest in the Process

I was honestly just interested in how the whole process worked. I found a little information out there on how Disney handles things, but not a lot of details. And I’m a real logistics junkie!

Could I stay on the ship? What happens to my luggage if I have to change staterooms? How many people really do this? Lots of questions 🙂

Plus, I did know I would have the opportunity to photograph the ship while almost completely empty.

Extra Day at Castaway Cay

An extra bonus that I hadn’t really thought of initially is that I would get 2 days at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Each leg of the back-to-back had a port day there, so I had 2 in a week.

Disney has only a few cruises each year that have 2 stops at the island built into the itinerary. So it’s a rare experience to get multiple on one vacation.

Costs & Itinerary on Disney

Breakdown of Fares

As I mentioned above, the cost was a bit less than if I had done a straight up 7-day cruise the same week (which would have been on the Disney Fantasy, BTW). Disney cruises are on the pricey side for their category to begin with, so I was pleased I could shave off a few hundred dollars total. Also keep in mind that I was paying the single supplement.

Here’s the breakdown for my balcony cabin, midship deck 8:

  • 3-Day: $1,764.03
  • 4-Day: $2,310.63
  • Total: $4,074.66

I can’t find my notes from when I was researching my options as to the exact cost of the 7-day, but I know the difference was in the $200-300 range. So I saved about 5%-7% by choosing the back-to-back option.

Itineraries

The above numbers do not include ground transfers (which I added) or insurance (which I did not). I have an umbrella travel insurance policy, so in the past I’ve rarely purchased the cruise line’s option. That will probably change in the future given what’s gone on in the world this year.

The itinerary for each leg was pretty standard. Other than the stops at Castaway Cay, I wasn’t focused on the ports as I’ve visited Nassau multiple times before.

3-Day

  • Depart Port Canaveral
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Castaway Cay
  • Return to Port Canaveral

4-Day

  • Depart Port Canaveral
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Castaway Cay
  • Sea Day
  • Return to Port Canaveral

The Dream basically repeats this pattern week after week when it’s sailing, so you have a lot of flexibility in how long of a vacation you put together if you want to try this. I met a family that was doing a back to back to back (i.e., 3 in a row). And this wasn’t the first time they had taken this approach.

Advantages & Disadvantages

So what are the pluses and minuses to doing a cruise like this?

Pluses

I’ve talked about most of the advantages already – cost (at least in this case), extra credit toward status, 2 stops at Castaway Cay. But I also found things to really enjoy about the process on the day switching between cruises, what I’m calling the crossover day (details to follow).

It was a genuinely relaxing experience for me. Empty cruise terminal. Use of a private VIP seating area before re-boarding. Free specialty drink at one of the onboard coffee shops. It was fun to explore an almost empty ship and then listen to the boardings. Disney has this thing where they announce each group as they step onto the ship with crew standing around to applaud. A bit cheesy but also a neat touch.

Minuses

Of course, there are things to be aware of and that might make this the wrong option for some travelers.

Because you have to get off the ship and then re-board, you do lose part of crossover day. You get back on well before any other passengers, but you’re still off the ship for several hours at least. And very little is open when you initially get back on board.

If you can’t book the same cabin on each leg, there’s a certain level of hassle because you need to repack your bags the last night of the first cruise. The crew will, however, move your luggage to your new stateroom. I was lucky and was able to book the same room for each leg.

Unless you arrange a tour or similar for the crossover day, I would not recommend doing this with younger kids (toddler, elementary age). There’s not a lot for them to do otherwise while waiting to get back onboard. One family I met was there with their son, but he was about middle school age and was home schooled (so I think more used to occupying himself). Only one other party had a child, and she was an infant who mostly napped LOL. I chose to hang around the cruise terminal, reading and taking pictures.

Start of the Vacation

Flight

Since I live in the Philadelphia area, I obviously have to travel regardless of where I sail from. And this usually means flying. This trip was no different since the sailing was out of Port Canaveral.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about my flight – Philadelphia to Orlando is a little over 2 hours in the air. But I was looking through my photos from the trip, and it’s weird to remember just how packed the airport parking was! I had to really hunt to find a spot and wound up a terminal away from where I wanted to be.

I’m an advocate of arriving the night before your cruise if your travel includes a flight. Especially in the middle of winter! There’s just too many variables to risk missing the cruise. But this does mean a hotel night.

Hotel & Transport

While usually not a bargain option, the Hyatt Regency in the Orlando Airport is by far the most convenient choice when taking a Disney cruise out of Port Canaveral. So I simply include the cost in my vacation budget. It’s literally in the airport concourse, sitting over the TSA security checkpoint for terminals 2 and 4. So you don’t even have to leave the building to enter it.

The picture below was taken from my room late in the evening. You can see the entrance to the hotel on the right (escalator – they also have an elevator). The rooms actually go all the way around in a big rectangle with the concourse below like a courtyard. The stanchions in the lower right corner are for the airport security lines.

MCO Hyatt Regency View to Concourse
MCO Hyatt Regency View to Concourse

In the morning, I had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There’s a great view for plane spotting!

MCO Hyatt Regency Restaurant View

I then grabbed my luggage and walked downstairs to the Disney transportation area on Level 1 B-Side. I checked in for the bus, handed over my luggage – would not see it again until it showed up at my cabin in the afternoon – and was on my way.

Disney Cruise Line Luggage Dropoff at MCO
Disney Cruise Line Luggage Dropoff at MCO

A super relaxing way to start my vacation!

A comment about convenience vs. cost: I always use Disney transportation to the port which is an added expense – $39 each way per person in February 2020. If you have a large party, it might work out better to get a less-expensive hotel closer to the port and arrange some other transportation from the airport. For one or two people it’s often a wash.

Cruise 1: 3-Day to Nassau & Castaway Cay

A Relaxing First Half

The first part of my trip was notable mostly because the seas were quite rough the first night. Interestingly, I slept really well and woke to much calmer seas as we approached Nassau.

In what I think was a harbinger of things to come, the excursion I had booked for Nassau (chocolate factory!) was cancelled by the tour operator. Too few people had signed up. And I was starting to realize the ship was definitely not full the way Disney cruises usually are.

And, at Castaway Cay, my parasailing was cancelled due to high winds. This is has become something of a running joke among my friends and family: I’ve been booking parasailing every cruise since 2015 and it has been cancelled literally every time. Some day I will get to try it!

Preparing for the Back to Back Process

The dining manager checked with me at dinner the last night to see if I wanted to keep my same seating and serving team on the next leg. Disney has a distinctive rotational dining system where you move to a different dining room each night with your servers following you. They were a great group, so I asked to keep it all the same.

I had a letter in my cabin that evening detailing what would happen the next day.

Perhaps the biggest question you might have is: Are you required to leave the ship? You might have inferred this from my earlier comments, but, yes. U.S. Customs requires all passengers to disembark.

But those of use doing a Back to Back had some special procedures and considerations.

  • I had to disembark no later than 9:15am and was reminded to bring my proof of citizenship. This time is a little later than I was normally assigned to leave the ship.
  • My luggage could remain onboard. If I were changing cabins I would have had to have my luggage repacked by 8:00am for the crew to move. In my case, I didn’t have to do anything but carry a small day bag to get me through the next few hours.
  • They included a special boarding card (collected later) that gave me priority access during the re-boarding process. I was also given copies of the usual boarding paperwork.
  • After clearing Customs, I could come back (through Security) to the main hall of the terminal to check in for my next cruise. This didn’t work out quite how they implied in terms of timing, but I’ll discuss that below.
  • Once back on board all normal services would be suspended until 11:20am, and there would likely be maintenance work going on. But I would be able to get complimentary drinks and pastries at either of the 2 coffee shops (Cove Café and Vista Café).

The next day we were back in Port Canaveral, and it was time to disembark.

Crossover Day

Off & On

So how did things actually happen once we were back at Port Canaveral?

The morning felt more leisurely than usual on disembarkation day. I enjoyed my breakfast in Animator’s Palate and chatted with my Assistant Server a bit before heading off the ship. The line for Customs & Immigration was still a bit long, but I was through by 9:00am.

So, based on the wording of the letter from the previous day, I thought I would be able to just turn the corner and come right back into the cruise terminal. Turns out that was not the case. Security wasn’t open yet, and I had to wait. I got the impression they had to wait for verification all passengers were off the ship and U.S. Customs gave the OK.

Fortunately, it was a gorgeous day there on the coast of Florida. I found a comfy bench, did some people watching, and read. A cast member did check in with me to make sure I wasn’t waiting for transportation or anything like that, which I appreciated.

After about 45 minutes, I became aware of a couple heading toward Security, and it was clear they were getting in. So I joined them and was back in the terminal.

An Empty Cruise Terminal

Upstairs on the 2nd floor, the check in hall was eerily quiet. Usually it’s a bit of a madhouse with people checking in, getting pictures with characters, checking out the giant model of the Fantasy, and just generally milling about.

Instead there were a few cast members and about 4 other passengers.

Disney Cruise Terminal Empty
Empty Disney Cruise Terminal

They had a couple of stations open, and I was checked in within a few minutes. Staff directed us to wait in an enclosed area at the far end of the terminal. I didn’t think to get a photo of it specifically, but you can see the frosted glass walls just to the right of the big yellow and black Mickey boarding entrance.

Disney Cruise Terminal Empty
Empty Disney Cruise Terminal

It wasn’t particularly fancy – just a selection of comfy chairs and sofas. But it was quiet and a refuge from the growing noise that could be heard on the other side of the wall in the terminal. And had this amazing view.

Disney Cruise Line Dream From Terminal
Disney Cruise Line Dream From Terminal

When I checked in, the cast member said the wait would be about an hour. It wound up being less. By the time we were all gathered up to board, there were about 15 total doing a back to back on this cruise.

We were brought on board through a door that was actually inside the private seating area. Which explains why I was never aware of this process! Anyone in the rest of the cruise terminal can’t even see what’s happening. The staff member collected our precious yellow boarding cards as we went through the door.

And I was back on board!

Back On Board

I had been looking forward to being able to explore and photograph the empty ship and had a fun time doing so for the next half hour or so. I went up to the pool deck which was empty of all but a few maintenance staff but was not quiet: they were doing some sort of cleaning that involved a giant, noisy vacuum.

The interiors, on the other hand, were oddly quiet with just a few housekeeping staff vacuuming the hallways.

Disney Dream Empty Lobby
Disney Dream Empty Lobby
Disney Dream Empty Photo Shop
Disney Dream Empty Photo Shop
Disney Dream Empty Elevator
Disney Dream Empty Elevator

Disney is big on its soundtrack. Normally, there’s music playing everywhere but in the staterooms. But it was not playing before the main boarding time. When it suddenly came on at 11:10am I knew other passengers would soon be arriving.

Disney Dream Empty Pool Deck
Disney Dream Empty Pool Deck
Disney Dream Empty Pool Deck
Disney Dream Empty Pool Deck
Disney Dream Lifeboat Interior
Disney Dream Lifeboat Interior
Disney Dream Empty Cabanas Seating
Disney Dream Empty Outside Cabanas Seating
Disney Dream Loading Luggage
Disney Dream Loading Luggage

After my wander, I settled in at the Vista Café on Deck 4 and enjoyed my complimentary cappuccino and a pastry.

That’s where I met the family doing 3 cruises in a row. They were specifically trying to get their status to Platinum before bookings for the Wish opened. The husband worked remote (before all of us did), and the wife home schooled their son. So they didn’t even consider the time a full vacation. Nice arrangement! All in all, a very interesting conversation.

Regular boarding started at 11:20am, and cruise #2 was underway.

Cruise 2: 4-Day to Nassau & Castaway Cay

So what really became clear on this part of my vacation was the dampening effect the spreading pandemic was having on travel already. This part of my cruise started February 24, 2020, only a matter of days and weeks before the lockdowns started in much of the world.

After being assigned a shared table on the first cruise (common for solo cruisers), I had a table to myself on the second on. And there were quite a few empty tables in the dining room.

I was chatting with the Head Server for my section, and he told me that the sailing was short about 300 passengers of being sold out. This translates to their being at about 90% capacity which was unusual for a Disney cruise to that point based on my past experience. And the reduced headcount was noticeable everywhere I went on the ship.

I never had a problem getting a lounger on the pool deck or a spot in the hot tub. Decent seats were easy to find in the shows. Attendance at a lot of the on board activities was noticeably sparse. How much of this was because people were already trying to avoid crowds and how much due directly to lower headcount it’s hard to say. But a sign of things to come.

Final Thoughts

So that’s my experience with Disney’s procedures for back to back cruises.

Would I do again? Absolutely. Depending on how things fall out in the coming months with a potential vaccine, I might even do another early in 2021 if the price is right. It was sort of fun and a different way to do a cruise vacation.

Stay tuned!

A Back to Back Cruise on the Disney Dream
A Back to Back Cruise on the Disney Dream