Sunday, September 6, 2015

Disney World and the Nordic Empress - 1990


During the summer of 1990, Barbara and I had been dating for about 18 months and had already taken one vacation together. That year we decided to go on our first cruise preceded by a visit to Disney World. This is the story of that trip.

Saturday, July 28

We arrived in Orlando around noon, and by 2:30 were checked into our room at Disney's Caribbean Beach, a new, inexpensive (for Disney) lodging.  The room was slightly better than one would expect at a newish Red Roof Inn, and the setting was much nicer.  It cost about twice as much. Besides the nicer setting, having rooms on Disney property allowed us to make dinner reservations at EPCOT and MGM in advance.  It also allowed us to park for free anyplace in Disney World.
We reached EPCOT at 3:00 and much to our amazement found very little in the way of lines.  For instance, we waited a grand total of 5 minutes to get into Spaceship Earth, about 20 minutes to see Captain EO, and not at all to see the World of Motion.  The longest we waited was an hour for Body Wars.  After making it to the front of the line, I heeded the motion sickness warnings and elected not to ride. Instead the attendant let me watch Barbara ride on a little tv monitor they have at the control panel.  It was fascinating to watch people react to what was happening on the screen (and what the simulator was making them think was happening to their bodies!)  We had dinner at the Mexican exhibit (a fine meal I might add), and spent a little more time walking around other exhibits before heading back to the room and to bed.
Dinner at EPCOT

July 29

Sunday morning, bright and early, found us waiting to be admitted to the Magic Kingdom. By getting there early we accomplished two important things: 1) we managed to get lunchtime reservations at the Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree, and 2) we managed to ride a couple of the more crowded rides without waiting in long lines. We pretty much saw everything we wanted to without terribly long lines except for the Jungle Cruise (where the wait seemed interminable). By about 3pm, the heat and lines had gotten to us and we decided to more or less forget Tomorrowland, and did a little shopping on Main Street.  We were back in the car by 4:30pm and in MGM by 5pm.

Our intention was to walk around MGM to say we had been there.  We had heard that the lines were incredibly long and were not at all interested in standing around waiting.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover that there were hardly any lines at all.  We waited at most 15 minutes for one of the rides, and much less for the others. We especially enjoyed Star Tour which apparently is similar to Body Wars at EPCOT, only better.  This one I rode (Barbara talked me into it) and I was quite impressed.  With this technology, I'm sure that the Disney folks could put together an "impossible" rollercoaster without having to actually build one.  For the Monster Sound Effects show, I was picked to do some of the sounds.  After doing the backstage tour, it was time for our reservation at the Brown Derby, where we had an excellent meal, before going back to our room. Instead of going right to bed, we walked around the lagoon a while.  A very pleasant evening.

July 30

Monday, bright and early, we checked out and drove to Fort Lauderdale airport.  There we were met by representatives of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines who arranged transportation for us to the M/S Nordic Empress at the Port of Miami. (The Nordic Empress eventually was retired from the RCCL fleet but is still sailing as the Empress as part of Pullmantur Cruises, a subsidiary.) We reached the ship about 2pm, and immediately boarded.  As approached from land, the ship looks more like a smallish Hyatt Regency than a ship.  Once on board, we were greeted by a hostess and a string quartet, and marveled at the multi-story lobby atrium complete with glass elevators...again, just like the Hyatt Regency.  Our room was on floor 9 out of 10 (they really referred to them as floors, not decks) and was quite spacious. The room was equipped with a closet, bathroom with shower, two twin beds (which were made into a double), two nightstands, a sitting area with a sofa, a chair, and a table.  The was a closet with a chest of drawers, and some shelf space.  Also, outside the glass door, a balcony with two chairs and a table.  Waiting for us in the room was a iced bottle of Champagne, sent to us by our travel agent.  Shortly thereafter, another bottle of champagne arrived, this sent by my parents.

The ship was not to sail until 5pm, so we took advantage of the time to become familiar with the ship, and to have a buffet lunch in the Windjammer Room on the 10th floor.  They offered hot dogs and chicken sandwiches along with salads and desserts.  Quite good.

At 4:45 the ship's horn sounded, for a lifeboat drill, and shortly after 5pm, the ship left port.  Barb and I opened the bottle of champagne and sat on the balcony watching Miami recede.

We had signed up for the second sitting for dinner, and at 8:30 found our table.  We were at a table for eight, consisting of four couples. Two of the other couples had just gotten married two days before.  The other couple was engaged. They were all somewhat younger than us. The dinner that night had an Italian theme, and was well presented and quite good.  There were five or six choices for each course, and I suppose they would have been happy to serve more than one of the choices.  Since there was ample opportunity to eat on the cruise, I can't imagine anyone being hungry enough for two entrees!
At Dinner on the Nordic Empress
After dinner, was an hour long musical revue, complete with magician and comedians.  It was very well done.  By the time we got out it was almost time for the midnight buffet.  Since we had just finished dinner at 9:30 or 10:00, neither of us were terribly hungry, so we just walked by to see what was on it.  We couldn't believe the piles of food we saw on some people's plates.

Regarding food: on a typical day there were the following opportunities to eat:
  • Breakfast: continental served in your room, buffet served most of the morning, or sit down, served in the dining room.  You could do all three if you were so inclined.
  • Lunch: buffet served from noon until 2pm, or sit down, served in the dining room.
  • Tea: a buffet with sandwiches, salads, ice cream sundaes, etc.
  • Dinner: two seatings.
  • Midnight Buffet

July 31

Tuesday morning found us in Nassau, where Barb and I spent a few hours shopping before returning to the ship to sit by the pool.  As we left the ship Barb spotted some vendors selling starfish. I tried to talk her out of buying one, but it was only $5 and she did. She named him Freddy. About 20 minutes later Barb turned to me and said (with a smile) "Freddy stinks!",  and about 5 minutes after that he found himself in a street side garbage can.
The short life of "Freddy"
In the evening, after the Captain's cocktail party, and dinner, we left the ship again, to go over to Paradise Island to win some money from Merv.  Having accomplished that goal, we returned to the ship just prior to its sailing.

August 1

Wednesday morning found us at an island owned by RCCL with lots of beaches.  We had a great time snorkeling, and otherwise enjoying the beach.  Late afternoon as the ship sailed, I was busily giving some of Merv's money to the cruise company at their three level casino.  (I eventually won it back.)  That evening, after dinner, there was another show, this time a broadway based review. Again, quite good.  This was also the evening of the Captain's gala midnight buffet, where the buffet was decorated with ice carvings, etc.

Snorkeling on the private island
August 2

Thursday morning found us in Freeport.  We took a taxi over to a place called the International Bazaar and enjoyed looking through the shops, though a heavy rain and thunderstorm made it less fun than it might have been.  We spent a few minutes in the casino at the Princess Hotel, and turned $10 into $22.50 before heading back to the ship for another afternoon of sun bathing, etc.  That night, was the farewell dinner, which had an American theme (other nights had been French and Caribbean). There was also a farewell show, which was excellent.
The formal portrait

August 3

The next morning, by the time we got out of bed, the ship had already docked at Miami.  We cleared immigration, went and had a final breakfast in the dining room, grabbed our carry on suitcase (the others had been picked up the night before), left the ship, found our suitcases, cleared customs, gave our suitcases to the USAir representative at pier side, and boarded a complimentary bus for the airport.  A few hours later we were back in Pittsburgh, exhausted, but having thoroughly enjoyed the vacation.

Would we do it again: you bet!  Would we take the Nordic Empress again: yes, if we wanted a four day cruise.  It appears to be the nicest of the ships in that marketplace (better, for instance, than the new Carnival ship, and much better than the old Carnival ship and the NCL Sunward II...though that ship looked very nice).

I would rather take a newish, small ship, with one dinner seating, for our next cruise, mostly to avoid the crowds.  But this was great, and the crowds hardly mattered most of the time.


About two months later I asked Barbara to marry me, and we tied the knot the following July. We've taken several cruises since that first one (all on much bigger ships) and have visited Disney World once more (this time with Lizzy, her half-brother Chris, and his family.) After that visit I told my daughter Lizzy that if she wanted to go to anything Disney again it would be with someone else!

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