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August 5, 2014

Disney Cruise Line continues to improve its Navigator app

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If you haven't sailed on a Disney Cruise Line ship in the past year, you may be surprised to learn that Navigators -- the printed daily schedule of activities that are left in staterooms each night -- now are available on a free app that connects to the ship's WiFi at no charge.

I'm among those who have not had the opportunity to test the app for themselves, but I have to think this is a step in the right direction for many passengers. Even if guests prefer to turn off their phones to save money or "disconnect" while cruising, the reality is that cell-phone cameras now are used more than any other type of camera, so a lot of us are carrying our phones around the ships anyway to document our vacations. Why not check the day's schedule digitally instead of also toting around the mangled paper navigator?

The appropriately named Disney Cruise Line Navigator App launched last September on the Disney Fantasy and now can be used on the Dream, Wonder and Magic. If you are planning a cruise, download the app - available for free in the Apple App Store for iOS devices and Google Play for Android devices - before you arrive at the port. You can set a fun countdown clock, which was added during one of the upgrades in the fall. (The app is designed for smartphones but also functions on tablets. The app does not work on BlackBerry or Windows phone devices.)

Once onboard, turn your phone to airplane mode and connect to the ship's WiFi network. The DCL-GUEST network is complimentary for app use only. If you use the network for other functions, such as e-mail, surfing the Internet or texting, you will be subject to charges. You can pre-purchase blocks of time, if you wish to use other functions on your smartphone or other devices.

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So, what exactly can you do with the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App? The cruise line says you can "share details on everything from operating hours, Disney character experiences and ports of call to onboard activities, dinner menus for Main Dining locations and deck plans. Guests can even bookmark their favorite activities for easy reference." An update in June added "reminders," a feature that sends a reminder 15 minutes before the start of an activity you favorited. In addition, guests can see other details found in the paper Navigator, such as the drink of the day, the evening's suggested dining attire, and even a weather forecast. Perhaps one of the best features is that passengers can view details for the entire sailing, not just the next day, as they would with a paper Navigator.

One exception is while the ship is docked at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island. The network is disconnected there and cached content is displayed.

One thing that the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app does not do is store and display information about activities you have booked, such as meal times, excursions, spa appointments. It is not customizable, like the My Disney Experience is at Walt Disney World. That's a shame, because many regular guests during the past year have come to rely on the My Disney Experience app for keeping track of everything they have planned while on property. Still, we just bet that upgrade is coming, especially because Disney Cruise Line has said they are continuing to add features to the app with each upgrade.

It doesn't appear that Disney Cruise Line is planning to phase out the paper Navigators any time soon. That's good news for those who don't have smartphones or guests who don't want to use them while onboard. Or maybe you're like me and would prefer to have both options. I would use the app on the ship and save the paper Navigator for my scrapbook!

What would you do? Tell us in the comments.




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February 8, 2014

Celebrate true love with a Disney Cruise Line wedding

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With Valentine's Day right around the corner, many of us are thinking about ways to celebrate love. Wedding ceremonies are, of course, a very public declaration of romantic love, and since 1995, Disney has taken the celebrations to a whole new level. Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons is known for the elaborate and customized destination weddings that its consultants plan at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. But what if your dream is to be married in a more exotic locale? Disney Cruise Line can make that happen, too.

I have seen brides onboard when I was sailing on two different Disney ships and wondered about the planning. After all, organizing a traditional wedding can take months of work that often is stressful for some because of all the decision-making and efforts to stick to a budget. (If you've forgotten what was involved or have yet to go through it, I recommend watching "Father of the Bride.")

Happily, a Disney Cruise Line wedding is one that can be accomplished with just a little planning and a set budget, so the two of you can focus on starting your new life together. Ship weddings really are geared toward couples who will have a small number of guests in attendance. In fact, the basic packages allow for eight guests, though you can add more at an additional charge. And although brides have choices to make, they are not open-ended because of the limitations of being at sea for the wedding. And perhaps that is just as valuable as having numerous choices -- because once the choices are made, the couple can relax and leave the rest in the Disney consultants' hands.

Disney Cruise Line offers two basic cruise ceremony packages -- one that allows the couple to have their ceremony onboard for $3,000 and one in which the couple marries on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, for $4,000. Those rates are in addition to the price of the cruise. Included for the onboard ceremony:

** On-site ceremony coordinator to coordinate your ceremony day events
** Choice of personal fresh floral for the couple (You may also opt to include floral for your bridal party, available at an additional cost)
** Solo musician (pianist) for the Ceremony and Cake & Champagne Celebration
** Officiant to perform the ceremony
** Cake & Champagne Celebration onboard the ship which includes an elegant 2-tier wedding cake with keepsake cake topper, one bottle of champagne and one bottle of sparkling cider (non-alcoholic) for the toast, served by host or hostess
** Dinner for the couple at Palo on night of ceremony
** Disney Cruise Line Commemorative Ceremony Certificate
** Steaming for the couple's ceremony attire
** The ceremony couple will also receive a $100.00 onboard stateroom credit that may be used towards merchandise, spa treatments, other onboard activities and port adventures. (Any unused portions are non-refundable and non-transferable.)

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For those who get married on Castaway Cay, the package also includes transportation for the couple and their guests from the ship to the ceremony location, which usually is at Pelican Point, overlooking the water with the docked ship in the background. The Cake & Champagne Celebration still takes place onboard the ship.

Photography packages for both types of ceremonies cost extra.

Now for the smaller decisions " If you get married onboard one of the ships, you'll choose between two venues -- a private outdoor patio or an elegant lounge tucked away from the other guests. That was easy, right?

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Brides select their bouquets from six designs that have been created not only for their beauty but also for their ability to stay fresh during the cruise. (Some weddings do not take place until the end of the vacation, but everything must be loaded onto the ship when the guests embark.) Choices include:


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** Solid French Rose Bouquet - Available in red, white, ivory, hot pink, lavender, yellow and orange. You may combine up to 2 colors.

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** Tropical Bouquet - Made with eye-popping shades of hot-pink, orange and yellow

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** Oceanfront Elegance Bouquet - A beautiful all-white arrangement of roses, lilies and hydrangeas

** Garden Bouquet - Delicate pastel shades of lavender, green and white with violet accents

** Orchid and Rose Bouquet - Red roses with fuchsia and green orchids

** Calla Lily Bouquet - Available in crystal white, garnet glow, majestic red, orange mango and Florex gold. Colors may not be mixed.

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The groom's boutonniere is made to match the bride's flowers. Plus, there are more floral options that can be added to your package: crystal accents for the bride's bouquet; adding flowers for other members of the bridal party, and even a basket of rose petals for the flower girl; floral cake toppers; rose wands; orchid leis; and island-inspired décor of palm branches, shells and floral tiki torches for Castaway Cay.

Two decisions made and two to go! The wedding cake is a two-tiered confection iced in white fondant for a classic look. Couples choose the cake flavor, fillings, and the design from these four options:

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** Touch of Character - The familiar 3-circle Hidden Mickey emblem adorns both tiers

** Touch of Whimsy - Cutout dots of different sizes stud both tiers

** Touch of Romance - Wreaths of roses trim the base of each tier

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** "Under the Sea-" Beautifully molded white chocolate seashells and starfish adorn an otherwise-plain 2-tier cake, emblematic of your romantic wedding at sea. (This is considered an enhancement therefore is available at an additional cost.)

A cake topper is included, but couples are welcome to bring their own, too.

Finally, you can select your music for the ceremony and celebration from a set list of traditional and Disney-themed music, or you can bring your own music on a CD.

One thing to note is that the actual marriage takes place on embarkation day as a civil ceremony with an officiant because the ship's officers are not able to legally marry couples.

So, for all the unwed couples enjoying their flowers and boxes of chocolates next week, remember: If you do decide to take another step in proclaiming your love to one another, wedding bells don't have to be in your future. Maybe a ship's horn will be, though.

To get started planning, call Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons at 321-939-4610 or visit the website, https://www.disneyweddings.com/cruise/



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December 13, 2012

Disney Fantasy's newest port of call: Puerto Rico

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For Disney guests who book a magical cruise, the island of enchantment now awaits.

Disney Cruise Line recently added a new port of call on the Disney Fantasy's Eastern Caribbean itinerary: San Juan, Puerto Rico. And the cruise line offers passengers a wide range of opportunities to explore the island through its 26 shore excursions.

Last week, I was among the guests exiting the ship and stepping into the rich history of the U.S. commonwealth. For me, it even was a homecoming of sorts because I lived on the island when I was in elementary school and hadn't been back to visit in more than 20 years.

Although my family chose to visit our favorite places on our own, I can tell you that Disney Cruise Line's offerings will give guests a true taste of the Puerto Rican culture. What and how you experience it depends on your selections.

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There are typical Caribbean outings such as a beach day in Isla Verde, snorkeling from a catamaran or scuba diving. My family always enjoys these types of excursions, but I think choosing them in Puerto Rico is almost doing yourself a disservice when there are so many unique experiences to be enjoyed.

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The Disney Fantasy docks in historic Old San Juan, and this part of the capital is marked by narrow brick streets with many artisans' shops, authentic Spanish and Caribbean restaurants, piraqua (shaved ice) vendors in parks, and two of the oldest Spanish forts in the Caribbean. Passengers from many cruise ships wander this area without guides, and it generally is considered safe for tourists.

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Still, Disney Cruise Line offers walking and bicycle tours and shuttle excursions of Old San Juan, too. Some include the exploration of San Cristobal fortress, and one allows passengers a hands-on cooking demonstration and lunch.

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Another wonderful place in Puerto Rico to explore is its tropical rainforest, El Yunque, which is part of the United States National Forest System. Disney Cruise Line offers port adventures for hiking, horseback riding and ATV exploration of El Yunque. These excursions begin with a 75-minute ride from the port to the rainforest. Once you arrive, be on the lookout for waterfalls and listen for the persistent sounds from coquis, Puerto Rico's native frogs.

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Passengers who enjoy active adventures also can experience the natural beauty of Puerto Rico from a kayak or zipline. A less strenuous taste of the island can be enjoyed with a tour of Puerto Rico's famous Bacardi rum distillery, the largest in the world.

Finally, Disney Cruise Line offers its passengers the opportunity to create their own customized itinerary for the day by choosing a private car and English-speaking driver for 4 or 8 hours. (Spanish and English are official languages of Puerto Rico, and English is spoken in all major tourist areas.)

The Disney Fantasy is scheduled to stop in San Juan on select Eastern Caribbean sailings through April 2013.


December 11, 2012

Sailing aboard the Disney Fantasy during its first holiday season

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There's little doubt that sailing on the Disney Fantasy during its inaugural year is a memorable experience for most, but I recently discovered the holidays make it even more special.

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As soon as passengers enter the terminal at Port Canaveral, they will notice that the cruise line already has decorated for the season with a Christmas tree, wreaths and large ornaments.

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Once they board, the decorations are beautifully themed to each area of the ship. The lobby is elegant, with its giant tree and bountiful garlands. Other trees are whimsically designed to coordinate with their location. For example, the tree outside Animator's Palate has miniature paint palates. Cast members onboard the ship are even wearing red-and-white winter scarves as they greet the guests.

In addition to the decor, Cruise Director Brent has many holiday-themed activities planned for those who are interested.

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King Triton's Tree Lighting

On the first night of each cruise in December, the three-deck-tall Christmas tree in the grand lobby is the star of "King Triton's Tree Lighting" ceremony. We were fortunate to see the first such performance on the Fantasy on Dec. 1. A child is chosen from the audience to help MIckey Mouse and Minnie Mouse use the powers of the sea to bring the tree to life. Other children were selected to help throw confetti from the deck above the ceremony.

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The tree lighting is a short ceremony that takes place on Deck 3 and the grand staircase. Passengers can gather in the lobby or along the railings on Decks 4 and 5 to view the festivities.

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Tip: Arrive a little early for a good viewing spot and the possibility of your child being chosen to help with confetti.

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Gingerbread houses

It's impossible to miss the giant gingerbread house that has been constructed in the lobby on Deck 3. It smells delicious, and the sweet details are exquisite. Apparently, it's also a little too much temptation for some of the younger passengers who attempt to sneak a taste. A cast member told me that they have to make repairs about twice per week during the holiday season.

Guests ARE encouraged, however, to eat the gingerbread houses they make during a special session held in Animator's Palate. In part, that's because passengers cannot take such food items off the ship when they return to port.

To participate, guests must sign up for the traditional holiday activity held on one sea day during each cruise. Building the miniature treats was so popular on our cruise that the staff added multiple sessions as they filled up. The activity is limited to one gingerbread kit per stateroom, though the number of people working together is not restricted.

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In Animator's Palate, a chef walked all the budding architects through the process of constructing the house, and his instructions were shown on the video screens throughout the restaurant. My 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter and their cousins were able to follow along with just a little help from the adults in our group.

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Then, they were encouraged to decorate and sample their creations. With the exception of a few missing gumdrops, our gingerbread houses made it back to our staterooms intact and we enjoyed them for the remainder of the cruise.

Tips: Be sure to sign up as soon as possible if you're interested in participating in this activity. Also, many guests thought of creative ways to incorporate hidden Mickeys, so put on those thinking caps.

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Deck the Deck Tropical Holiday Party

On a port day, passengers were invited to a Deck the Deck Tropical Holiday Party on Decks 11 and 12 -- the pool and recreation areas near Donald's family pool.

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During this late-afternoon event, the characters appear on stage decked out in their holiday attire and they interact with selected children. The party kicks off with Chip and Dale hosting a limbo competition and continues with hula-hooping with Goofy and Pluto, a pass the coconut game with Lilo and Stitch, and dancing with Mickey and Minnie.

Unfortunately, our show was cut a little short by rain, so I'm not sure if there was more to come. I suspect there was.

Tip: If your child is not shy and would like to participate on stage, plan to be on Deck 11 at least 15 or 20 minutes before the party starts. Cast members will ask for young volunteers. They only can take 20 children, so once that number is reached, there is no wiggle room for more. (My son was in the Arr-cade when my daughter was chosen for the show, and he was disappointed to find out he couldn't join his sister in the party when he returned to our deck chairs.)

Castaway Cay

Although there weren't holiday activities per se on Castaway Cay, there is a nice photo opportunity on the pier for families wanting to capture a Christmas or winter image.

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On another note: Participants in the Castaway 5K are again receiving medals for completing the island race. There was a period in which paper certificates were being awarded instead of medals and many guests were upset about this. The medals are a nice holiday surprise for participants, no doubt.

For a look at Disney Cruise Line's exclusive holiday merchandise, please see my previous blog, and stay tuned for more details from my Disney Fantasy voyage.

November 6, 2012

Disney Cruise Line's holiday season begins in just 2 weeks

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It's difficult to believe that Disney Cruise Line could pack any more magic into its sailings, but it happens during the holiday season, which begins in less than two weeks with Thanksgiving week cruises.

Passengers who will be giving thanks at sea can enjoy traditional activities, if they choose. A bountiful Thanksgiving Day feast will be served in the dining rooms, and Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and their friends will be dressed in their Thanksgiving finest. Football games will be broadcast live on the ships' outdoor jumbo LED screen, Funnel Vision, located near family pool on each ship.

Those cruises set sail:

** Nov. 17 -- Disney Magic, a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise
** Nov. 17 -- Disney Fantasy, a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise
** Nov. 18 -- Disney Wonder, a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise
** Nov. 21 -- Disney Dream, a four-night Bahamian cruise

I'm paying just a little more attention to the cruise activities this Christmas because I'll be onboard the Disney Fantasy in December, during its inaugural holiday season. I'm really excited about seeing the ship all decked out! (Photos included in this blog are from Jason of disneygeek.com He sailed on the Disney Dream during its first holiday season last year. With the Fantasy being its sister ship, I would expect many of the same types of decorations.)

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Did you know there are more than 300 custom-designed holiday decor pieces on each ship? For the Fantasy, that means 39 Christmas trees, ranging from 2 to 20 feet. The tallest is the centerpiece in the atrium lobby that sparkles with more than 20,000 white LED lights. There are 27 Christmas wreaths onboard Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, including some up to 5 feet in diameter.

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You think garland is a pain to hang? Try putting up 931 feet of it on the Fantasy! That's almost enough greenery to stretch stem to stern.

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Of course, Disney Cruise Lines' decorations are themed to each room, much like guests do in their own homes. There are bright colors in the kids' clubs, holographic foliage for the teen and tween spaces, and elegant accents for the adult areas. Customized ornaments include a paint brush and palette in Animator's Palate, Mr. Potato Head in Oceaneer Club and colorful tropical fish in Cabanas.

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Guests sailing on Disney Cruise Line ships in December can experience many Christmas activities, including two special celebrations in the atrium lobby. "King Triton's Tree Lighting" takes place the first night of each cruise. Guests onboard the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder will have a holiday edition of the character farewell, "Til We Meet Again."

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Throughout the cruise, families can take part in holiday crafts, such as decorating stockings, building gingerbread houses, making holiday cards and creating holiday animation cells. Plus, there are storytellers sharing tales of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. There's even a special story about celebrating the holidays on a ship.

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Holiday favorites will be served in the restaurants, too.

The holiday spirit even extends to Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. Guests will be greeted by "snow flurries," holiday carolers, and Christmas trees. Kids can participate in holiday-themed activities and crafts.

On Christmas morning, Santa Claus and his elves will have surprises for all the kids, along with cookies and milk, the ships' lobbies.

Christmas and Hanukkah services will be held on the ships.

Voyages that include New Year's Eve will have a special party to ring in 2013, and guests will receive sparkling wine in commemorative flutes.

To see a preview of Disney Cruise Line's first holiday merchandise line that will only be available on ships, please read my previous blog post.

October 30, 2012

What you should know if a hurricane threatens your Disney vacation

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As a longtime Sunshine State resident who has survived 18 hurricane seasons, I really feel for East Coast residents and what they are facing because of Hurricane Sandy. It's frightening, to say the least, to see a massive storm slowly approaching your home.

For my husband and I -- and most of Central Florida -- the scariest events in recent years occurred in August and September 2004 when Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne passed over the Orlando area. Our son was almost 2 years old and I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter when Charley devastated our area, ripping roofs off homes, knocking power out for days, and stopping traffic with a forest of downed trees.

Two of those storms forced Walt Disney World to close its parks, which is a rare occurrence. Last year, Hurricane Irene neared Disney Cruise Lines' private island, Castaway Cay, and Sandy just hit it on the way to Atlantic City. So, what can guests expect when a hurricane threatens their Disney vacation?

First, when you are planning a trip to Port Canaveral or Orlando, know that hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30 -- half of each year. The peak months for storms are August and September.

If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area or your place of residence no more than seven days before your arrival date at Walt Disney World, you can cancel or reschedule your Magic Your Way vacation without any fees imposed by Disney. This policy only applies to stays booked directly through Disney, and it doesn't guarantee you will receive any offers or discounts from your original booking. It also does not apply to dining experiences, special events, or sports and group packages.

Guests who book their trips through travel agents or tour operators will need to contact them directly for information about cancellation policies. This also is true for airlines, rental-car companies and other related services.

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But what if you're already at Disney World? In 2004, the Disney World parks were open for half a day on the day Hurricane Charley was expected to make landfall. As you would expect, they were quite uncrowded. Then, guests were asked to hunker down in their hotels as the hurricane made a nighttime pass over Central Florida. Cast members worked to inform everyone what to expect, and even offered extra entertainment to pass the time indoors. The parks opened again in the morning, after what had to have been a very long night for maintenance crews working to clear debris.

AllEars' Anita Answer was staying at Saratoga Springs Resort when Hurricane Charley hit Orlando. Here is her account of that day.

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Reader Barbara from Pennsylvania was staying at POP Century Resort during Hurricane Frances. You can read her report, too.

When a hurricane threatens Disney Cruise Line guests, there actually isn't much you can -- or should -- do. Ships have enough time to to steer clear of hurricanes. This may result in alternate ports or some rough waters, but passenger safety generally isn't an issue. Plus, at one week before departure, passengers will forfeit the entire cost of their cruises if they cancel. DCL may change the ship's departure date, as it did in 2004 when the three hurricanes affected Central Florida.

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When Hurricanes Irene passed near Castaway Cay last year, it did damage the idyllic Bahamian island. Cleanup delayed one ship's visit by a day, but that was the only information DCL officials released. (There is a hurricane "bunker" on the island for permanent residents, I'm told.) Hurricane Frances also damaged the island.

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Hurricane Sandy, though, passed directly over the island, last week, which presumably would cause more damage. Disney Cruise Line officials, though, have not released any details and typically prefer not to discuss damages. The next ship is scheduled to dock at Castaway today.

Perhaps the best advice from longtime travelers and travel agents is to purchase trip insurance for your Disney vacation. Be sure you understand what your policy coves when it comes to weather.


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About Castaway Cay

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Castaway Cay category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney Cruise Line Navigator App is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.