For my morning kick, I join a queue of wee boys and girls in swimsuits, bobbing on the balls of their feet.
But it isn’t their chatter that rouses me. On my turn I sit on a raft, and am lunged forward into a watery funnel. In seconds, the tube turns transparent—I am whizzing over the topmost deck of the ship, high above the wildly blue Atlantic Ocean. Twisting and turning, the AquaDuck ride roller-coasters down four decks and 765 feet. Silhouettes of Mickey Mouse look on from the two giant funnels of the vessel.
The Disney Dream outruns imagination and, for the most of the time, my camera frame. When I first saw the mammoth, 1,30,000-ton vessel at Port Canaveral in eastern Florida the day before, it reminded me of a gleaming sea creature. I took in some of the 4,000 people milling around the port, my shipmates for three nights aboard the Dream, all ready to set sail to two islands in the Bahamas. Everybody was here for a 72-hour Disney overdose—musicals, deck and pool parties, pirate makeovers, photo ops with Mickey, Goofy and the army of air-kissing Disney princesses. As the gates to the ship were thrown open, we walked into the lobby awash in gold, right from the swirling staircase, the banisters, the flooring, even the chandelier.
Later, I mulled over my own place in this animated scheme of things: I didn’t grow up as that kid who wringed her hands at the fate of Snow White or Cinderella or poor Little Mermaid. Mickey was a sweet but vague presence, Goofy entertaining; I loved Mowgli though, and chortled extra during The Jungle Book because the theme song had the word chaddi in it.
Though most passengers queue up for the AquaDuck water ride by day, gliding above the Atlantic Ocean at dusk is a surreal experience (top left); Staterooms with verandahs (top right) offer lovely views of the ocean. But it is worth spending days sparring with Storm Troopers (bottom left) in the entertainment areas, or bumming by the beach at Castaway Cay (bottom right). Photos Courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
A six-year-old in a shimmery, powder blue gown and cape scurried past me. “Like Elsa. The cursed princess? From Frozen?” one of my companions supplied helpfully, fishing out her own velvety, polka-bowed Minnie hairband. Suddenly, we both lost balance. I steadied myself beside a porthole in the corridor, and saw that we were sailing. I had cruised along rivers, but calling an ocean home for three nights was a different feeling. This would be fun.
The Disney Dream is like stepping into a Disney film; actually, into every Disney film ever made. At set hours, Belle, Tiana, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie waltz onto the gilded lobby, greeting a queue of children— shrieking, shy, or plain stunned—and their gushing parents, as official photographers capture it all for a fee. There are no meals on this ship—there are only all-out feasts. Every morning, I head to the Cabana’s restaurant, alongside children piling their plates with Mickey-shaped pancakes, waffles with cream, Danishes, hash browns, sausages, French toast, and omelettes. Peckish after the morning swim? There are six types of pizza near the pool. And burgers. And fries. Tacos, too, and everything else that is fried golden and tastes doubly wonderful. At various corners of the ship, the cola never stops flowing, and vanilla and strawberry ice creams are had by the tub. You unwind in lush spas, lose your cool over a game of foosball, shoot hoops or play golf in the sea breeze. Come dusk and couples make their way to elegant restaurants and lounges. On the first night the waters are a tad rough, so I sway Jack Sparrow-like into the Palo, feeling like I’ve stepped into northern Italy when I try its piquant dover sole, cooked with nut brown butter and pappardelle pasta, tossed in lobster tarragon sauce and white truffle oil. Palo is one of the two adults-only restaurants here. Couples on the ship can leave tots behind at the nursery, and older kids at Disney-themed clubs (with a GPS tracker on their wrists). Tweens have their own spaces for video games and movies. Every evening, elevators swarm with stiletto-ed teens heading to their own lounges for karaoke and dance parties. I catch a Disney-themed musical one evening and a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed deck party on another. Late every night, I head to a lonely deck to watch the inky darkness and ocean fold onto each other.
On my second morning, I wake up to a lighthouse outside my balcony, and water so brilliantly blue that I feel like I need new vocabulary to do it justice. The Bahamian capital Nassau is the ship’s first port of call, and the Dream docks here for a whole day of exploration.
The real Bahamian surprise however is its capital Nassau, where conch meat (top and bottom right) is a delicacy and makes for life-affirming salad. Residents like Anita Butler (left) are always up for a friendly chat about Nassau of the ’70s. Photos by: Kareena Gianani.
Paradise for doubloon-trading pirates in the 18th century, Nassau is now a bustling city with a rhythm geared for cruise ship passengers washing up on its shores. Most of them bum around the port, buying straw hats and cigars, sipping on sky juice (coconut water and gin cocktail) in beachside shacks, or sampling rum cake in shops. But Nadly Flerosier and Lashan Jones, saleswomen at a ceramic store in the heart of the touristy Bay Street, tell me, “Nassau isn’t only about tiki bars,” says Jones. “We Bahamians love dancing, we enjoy the land and its bounty. We are laid-back.”
I ask a cab driver to take me where Jones and Flerosier said they lived, driving beyond the boutiques and Georgian buildings near the port. I hop off near a clutch of local restaurants to watch a boisterous bunch of septuagenarians play dominoes by the street. Stefan, who doesn’t reveal his last name, claims that he comes—and wins—daily here (his friends titter). Further ahead, Montagu Beach is quieter, bluer, and filled with stalls peddling piles of pink-grey conch. Its meat is a delicacy in Nassau. I pass leafy neighbourhoods with pastel-coloured homes, and drive farther east into the ghetto. Anita Butler, a long-time Nassau resident and lover of striped skirts, stands outside the orange kiosk where she breakfasts every day, choosing between mackerel ham, steamed tuna, corn beef sardine, or tuna salad “souse.” “I remember Nassau before the tourists came. It was blessed,” she says, and then no more.
With an hour to go before the Disney Dream sails, I walk up by the beach to Da Fish Fry, to finally try conch. Most shacks offer conch fritters, conch chowder, and cracked conch (conch marinated in lime juice is dipped in egg and cracker meal, and deep fried). I, however, go for conch salad, a tower of conch meat, pineapple, mango, tomato, onion and green pepper with oodles of lime juice. It tastes like the summer and sea in a bowl.
For evening entertainment, guests aboard the Disney Dream choose from musicals (right), nights of fireworks (left), and pirate parties on deck. Photos Courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
The next morning brings a new view of a new port. I slather sunscreen in dollops as the Dream has docked at Castaway Cay, a private island Disney owns in the Bahamas. All day is a haze of coconut palms, sizzling barbecues, snorkelling and hair-braiding. Around dinner that night our group turns wistful about the morning’s departure. Perhaps this is why we need the last meal at Animator’s Palate. With paintbrush-shaped pillars and palette-like tables, the restaurant resembles an animator’s studio. Marlin pops up on large screens to tell the story of how his character shaped up, and later, Crush chats with children over a meal. It is just like the movies, but admittedly, just a little better.
To read about Walt Disney World’s theme parks, go here.
The Disney Dream offers several plans for a Bahamian cruise from Port Canaveral throughout the year except June, Sept and Oct (disneycruise.disney.go.com; 3-night Bahamian cruise doubles from $1,480/Rs95,565).
is Senior Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.
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