Sailing away to Castaway Cay!

Last weekend, I spent my Saturday soaking up the sunshine at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. The fam and I had sailed away a couple of days prior from Miami aboard the Disney Magic on a four-night Bahamian cruise. While the ship made a stop in Nassau, we stayed aboard the ship, a much more pleasant option than venturing into town. We also had a day at sea, which was a pretty rainy one for the bulk of the morning but our Captain took us a little off course to find some sunshine later in the day. That was Super Bowl Sunday and many guests were parked in front of a screen watching the event, while our family found ourselves able to explore an even less crowded ship that we had been enjoying. The Disney Magic’s normal guest capacity is just over 2,700 passengers. Our sailing had 1,035 passengers and 1,037 crew!

The Magic docked at Castaway Cay

Sailing right now, while modified to support COVID safety protocols, is a blast with fewer guests. While I selfishly love the low crowds, I know that isn’t sustainable for any cruise line long term, so I hope that the sailings come back closer to regular capacity in the coming months. I believe Disney is still restricting their sailings to a maximum of 70% of guests but that information isn’t published anywhere to confirm. With the newest ship in the fleet, the Disney Wish, taking its inaugural voyage in July, I think the goal will be to get back to as close to 100% as possible before then.

I last sailed with Disney in September, on the Disney Dream. The COVID protocols are pretty similar now to what they were then but some of the processes feel more streamlined. While you still do have to wear a face covering indoors at all times (unless in your own stateroom or actively eating/drinking), it does feel like we are sliding into what will become the ‘new normal’ for a while. With all guests age 5 and up required to be fully vaccinated to sail and all guests required to take a COVID test prior to being allowed to board, the comfort level felt good while sailing.

Our dinner server also let us know that they are tested ever other day, which seems insane, and also are required to wear face coverings. The overall feeling from the crew is that they can’t wait for the ships to be back at capacity and they wish the CDC didn’t push the negative stance they seem to hold with regarding to cruising. While the CDC finally announced that they lowered their warning level from ‘very high’ to ‘high’ for cruising a few days ago, it really should be lowered further in my opinion. The cruise lines are doing so much more to keep guests safe than is even being done in your own hometown. Disney’s cleaning processes had always been stellar but you can tell that they have stepped those up even further now. Social distancing in theaters is strictly enforced (and great for the guest!) and tables in the restaurants have been spread farther apart to allow for more distancing there as well. The buffet at Cabanas is no longer self-serve, which is amazing as far as keeping other guests’ grubby paws out of the food and the serving utensils from getting sticky and dirty. Even the ice cream is served by a crew member and that’s just fantastic! No more spills around the ice cream machines, long lines while you wait for the guest in front of you to figure out how to work the machine, etc. Love it! The one thing I do really miss though is pin trading with the crew. However, we made a pin ribbon and hung our trading pins outside of our stateroom door so other guests could come by our stateroom and trade with us! That was fun and gave us a little taste of the trading that we were missing.

We spent a lot of time enjoying the variety of entertainment offerings onboard during this cruise. We watched movies on the funnel, participated in several animation classes, made origami, tried our hand at trivia many times, took photos with characters, and watched as other guests took part in some of the family game shows. We won Marvel Trivia and did well on some of the other trivia games but man, competition is fierce!

One of my favorite things about sailing with Disney is seeing the Broadway-style shows that are performed most evenings. On our sailing, we enjoyed Tangled and Believe. Both were excellent and gave us back the live entertainment that we have missed during the pandemic. During dinner each evening, shows are performed in the main dining rooms as well. On our last evening, we dined at Rapunzel’s Royal Table and were treated to a show with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. This restaurant is beautiful to begin with but with the lanterns in the ceiling mimicking the lantern festival from the Tangled movie, it becomes truly a magical experience.

Rapunzel and Flynn celebrating her birthday and the lantern festival

Oh! Another unique form of entertainment aboard Disney’s Bahamian and Caribbean cruises are the fireworks at sea! It is always a blast to head up to the top deck in the evening to watch the fireworks explode overhead while adrift in the ocean.

Disney Ever After fireworks show

Our day at Castaway Cay was incredible, as always. Even though it started off on the dark and stormy looking side, the end of the day brought beautiful blue skies and a rainbow as we sailed away from our island paradise. On Castaway Cay, guests have free access to plenty of beach chairs, loungers, and umbrellas to use during the day on a variety of different beach areas. A treat that you can purchase is a rental of a private cabana for the day. These cabanas are extremely hard to book and typically booked up by guests staying in concierge staterooms on the sailing or guests who have sailed with Disney many times before (called Castaway Club members.) Castaway Club members are divided into three levels: Silver (cruised at least once with Disney but less than 5 times), Gold (cruised more than 5 times but less than 10), and Platinum (cruised more than 10 times.) We are Platinum members but I actually just lucked into a cancellation of a cabana about four days before our sailing. I wasn’t planning on getting a cabana since they are fairly pricey (generally in the $600-$800 range) but saw that the weather was looking iffy for our island day. When a cancellation popped up, I grabbed it. While these are a splurge, they are truly worth it for the experience. Your own cabana with comfortable furniture, a changing curtain, freshwater shower, hammock, sand toys, sunscreen, safe, upgraded towels (that you don’t have to carry from the ship!), free sodas/waters, cool washcloths, floats and tubes, and the private beach area make this upgrade worth every single penny. For those of us who can get sunburned in the rain, this is such a dream come true.

Each evening, we ended the day with a fun towel/blanket animal and some delicious Dove chocolates on our stateroom bed. Funny how when you get home, there are no more towel animals or chocolates. Hmmm… Those stateroom hosts truly do help make your vacation all the more special!

You know the saying though, all good things must come to an end. We flew back home to Virginia, where we had narrowly missed yet another snowfall, and started dreaming of our next adventure.




Return to the Epcot Festival of the Arts!

I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping up with my blogging duties over the last month. I neglected to report on my New Years trip to Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort (TL;DR version, Hilton Head was a blast as usual very relaxing and perfect weather!) but I wanted to be sure to capture the highlights of my return to the Epcot Festival of the Arts in mid-January!

Pluto was happy to see us at Hilton Head!

Epcot has four festivals during the year: Festival of the Arts, Flower and Garden Festival, Food and Wine Festival, and Festival of the Holidays. If you’re unlucky enough to visit in a small frame of time between festivals, well boo. They are pretty spread out to cover most of the year but there are pockets of time where the festivals are changing over and you can easily end up in one. Festival of the Arts is my absolute favorite though. So much to do in Epcot that is directly related to the beauty of art and features things like artists on-site creating new art and signing their work, food booths offering beautiful tapas-style items for purchase, and life-size paintings you can become a part of. The level of talent that these artists showcase is incredible!

Let’s talk about chalk art. If you’ve never seen chalk art up close, let me tell you how amazing it truly is! The details, the colors, the scale and size of the work… not to mention the artists have to sit on the ground or crouch while creating these masterpieces! And the rain! I don’t know how they don’t just break down in tears when it starts to rain after they have worked so hard on a piece. Que serĂ¡ serĂ¡ I suppose. Two of my favorites are Leigh Alfredson (thechalkteacher on Instagram) and Nate Baranowski (nate.baranowski on Instagram). Their work is crazy good. Nate does large-scale chalk art that you can ‘step’ right into. You have to check out their Instas. Talent in every shot. When it rains, they take their work indoors and keep the magic flowing!

Leigh’s completed Luca, her work in process of Pico from Encanto (indoor chalking that day due to weather), and another artist completing a National Geographic piece.

One of my most favorite parts of this festival is the paint-by-number that everyone can participate in. You are given a small foam brush and a cup of paint. Each color is numbered and the huge canvas is squared off with each square assigned a number. You are allowed to paint eight squares numbered to match your color. When done, it all comes together in a gigantic mural. I could literally stand there and paint squares all day. You’re given a bookmark that shows what the finished mural looks like. Cast Members say that each mural takes about two days to complete. This year’s mural is a take on Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which is my absolute favorite painting!

All of the festivals have a scavenger hunt available for a small fee. After your hunt is complete, you redeem your completed game piece for a prize. This year’s prizes, appropriately, are little figures that you paint and we chose Figment! How fun is that!

Pro tip: Don’t panic if you can’t complete the scavenger hunt! You can still pick up your prize at one of the redemption locations.

I love going through the countries of World Showcase and looking for the hidden character art! You have to look hard sometimes to find the friends that are hiding in each country! Abu might have been trying to pocket some pans here in Morocco!

Hidden art!

There are so many life-size pieces of art throughout the park that you can step into and recreate for yourself. Track them down and get your pose ready!

Stepping inside of the paintings is such a ‘Scream!’

Of course, it is the artists of the past and present that make this festival what it is. We love to be able to purchase art from our favorite artists and be able to have them sign their work. These folks really make the festival so much more special!

Rob Kaz is an official Disney artist but also has his own line of work that is not Disney related. You can find him on Instagram @RobKazArt

We spent a ton of our trip time in Epcot for the festival but also wanted to try out some new things not related just to that. We had lunch at the new Space 220 restaurant (delish food, beautiful preparation, inventive options, and carefully designed atmosphere), saw Minnie (yes, there are still characters in the parks, quite a few in Epcot actually, you just can’t hug them or get autographs still), and meandered into Club Cool for some soda samples from around the world!

We did make time to visit Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios on this trip as well. Since we were staying at the Beach Club resort, we were able to walk right into Epcot and take a short boat ride to get to Hollywood Studios. Beach Club, Yacht Club, and the Boardwalk Inn all share this same fantastic location and are so convenient to Epcot and the Studios. Of course, no visit to Disney for my family is complete without at least one (or two, or three, or…) visit to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. We flew the Millennium Falcon a couple of times, fought the First Order on Rise of the Resistance, and managed to spend a few credits on some new droid pins at Droid Depot.

Have you ever heard these droids making noises? Did you know that is caused by other guests using the Play Parks App? Try it!

Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show that started on October 1st, Enchantment, has been so popular that we had not been able to watch it until this trip. It is always so crowded and I just am not willing to stake out a spot far enough in advance to get a decent view. This time, we splurged on the Treats and Seats dessert party and wowza was it worth it! We’ve done dessert parties in the past and enjoyed those, but this one feels different with the COVID impact. This is the seated party option where you have desserts/drinks and then watch the fireworks while seated at the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant. The tables are no longer really close together and you have a great view no matter what table you are given when you arrive. Other bonuses besides the food and drinks (alcohol too!) would be the bathrooms that are right at the seating area, not getting trampled to death, and your small children (or short adults) being able to see. The last time we tried to watch Enchantment, we were uncomfortably close to a heated argument, near fist-fight, and very unpleasant exchange between several guests stuck in the crowd as the fireworks began. Every penny I paid for the dessert party was worth not having that experience again. Did I mention free Moscato and POG juice — what a way to cap the evening!

Alas, all good Disney trips must come to an end. Before we knew it, we were back in the skies on the way home, filled with new memories and a carry-on full of art!