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Mom’s Guide to the Disney Cruise

The Most Magical Vacation on Earth

Have you been checking out your friend’s vacay photos from the Disney cruise and wondering if you should invest in the trip for your family? Well, the short answer is yes! It may be the best family vacation you will ever take!  

Truth time — I don’t typically like cruising. I tried three different cruise lines before going on the Disney Cruise Line, and I was not impressed. All-you-can-eat (nasty) food, gambling in a smoke-filled room and dancing in cheesy nightclubs was not my idea of a quality vacation. After trying the Disney Cruise Line (Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy), I can tell you: My eyes are now open! A Disney cruise is a must-do family vacation.  

The quality of the Disney Cruise Line ships’ décor, food and service is far superior to other cruise lines I’ve experienced. In fact, the Disney Dream cruise was voted the No. 1 Best Cruise Overall by the Cruiser’s Choice Award, with the Disney Fantasy cruise coming in a close second. Disney Cruise Lines offers mind-blowing experiences for kids while pampering parents in luxury.

Save your dollars for this epic family getaway. Here are my tips for getting the most out of your trip.

CRUISE PREP

Photo opp with Captain Mickey before boarding

Pack pirate wear for everyone, and don’t forget the princess dresses and Mickey Mouse ears. Bring a lot of sunscreen and Dramamine (Disney can’t stop the boat from swaying). Book the late dining time (8 p.m.); I’ll get to why later. Purchase a one-day Rainforest Room pass at Senses Spa. It’s not a spa service (like a massage or facial), but it’s just as good. 

WHEN YOU ARRIVE

Wear your bathing suit under your clothes so you can head straight to the pool deck. Skip the sit-down meal at the restaurant (you’ll have plenty of time for that later) and grab a quick bite at Cabanas café (equally delicious food). Don’t forget to show the kids the self-serve ice cream station. Now you’re ready to celebrate at the bon voyage party on the pool deck. This party is certain to get everyone amped up for the great trip ahead!

Mom Tip: As you will see, the AquaDuck waterslide will have a long line. Don’t wait in it. I know your kids (and you) will be excited to ride, but there’s no line for the AquaDuck during other parts of the cruise (I’ll get to that later).

View from our Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah on Disney Dream

Once the ship sets sail, people will make their way to their staterooms. Three quarters of the ocean view staterooms have spacious verandahs (definitely opt for a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah when making your reservations.) We had a queen bed and bunk beds on our last four-day, three-night weekend getaway cruise on the Disney Dream. It provided plenty of room, with two bathrooms — one with a toilet and sink and the other with a shower, tub and sink.

Here’s a video showing you the how the bunkbeds look when they’re turned down for you in the evening (during the day, where the bunkbeds fold into the wall and a couch is there instead):

Three things to knock out first: 

1. Wait in line for your Disney Princess character meet-and-greet reservations. This is the only line you’ll stand in, but it’s worth it. You can reserve a time to meet Anna and Elsa (one reservation) or a time to meet all the other princesses (a different reservation). These spots go fast, so hit the Port Adventures Desk on Deck 5 to get the tickets between 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. on day of embarkation. If you snooze, you lose.

The Oceaneer Club (kids only) is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination and cast members are hands-on making sure all kids are having a magical experience.

2. Register your kids at the Oceaneer Club. They’ll each receive their own Oceaneer (wrist) band that will serve as identification and method for check in/out of the club.

Mom Tip: Divide and conquer! After you grab two adult cocktails, Mom can wait in line for character meet-and-greet reservations (while reviewing the Personal Navigator), and Dad can take the tykes to register at the Oceaneer Club.

Midship Detective Agency kiosk

3. Meet back up at the kiosk where you pick up your clues to participate in the Disney Cruise Midship Detective Agency. This high-tech scavenger hunt is cool and fun to do while exploring the ship. Players use cards to activate animated artwork throughout the ship. It’s a really fun (and clever) way to get acquainted with the ship’s layout.

Okay, now that the business is out of the way, it’s time for the fun to begin!

DURING YOUR CRUISE

You’re going to be a little overwhelmed by how many activities there are on the ship, which is a good problem to have! There’s a movie theater playing Disney movies (movies also play in your room). There’s basketball, fantasy baseball, mini golf and yoga. There are tequila and cognac tastings. There are character appearances and dance parties. There’s the Bippity Boppity Boutique (now on both the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy), plus tons more shops. There are Broadway-style shows. But the Oceaneer Club and Lab for kids 3 to 12 years old trumps it all.

The Oceaneer Club is the coolest place on the planet for kids. And here’s the best part: no adults allowed. Adults can go in during scheduled open house tours, but parents are booted when the real fun begins. The Oceaneer Club has everything from interactive video games that project on the floor to wacky science demonstrations to up-close-and-personal character visits. Yes, your kids will run into Mickey more on this cruise than they will anywhere else — ever. The staff at the Oceaneer Club is superb. They interact with the kids the entire time. When your child is ready to be picked up, a counselor will call you on the ship phone you get when you arrive. There’s no limit to the time your child can spend in the Oceaneer Club. It’s impressive, and you can feel that safety is the staff’s utmost concern.

There are clubs for your older kids as well. Edge is for kids ages 11 to 14, and Vibe is for teens ages 14 to 17. Here’s a little-known fact: While Vibe amenities are typically off-limits to those outside the 14 to 17 age group, anyone can hit the pool at Vibe during the open house hours. If you want to skip the crowds, then take your clan to this hidden gem.

While the kids are preoccupied, visit the many adult-only areas of the ship, like the Quiet Cove pool, Senses Spa, or one of the bars. Ladies will love the Pink Elephant lounge that is beautifully decorated with champagne and bubbles, complete with pink velvet furniture. It’s a must-see! Dads will feel like kings watching their favorite sporting events in manly leather seating in front of several big screen TVs at the posh sports bar named 687.

You’ll receive your dining restaurant schedule when you arrive (it’s printed on your key card). All families rotate through the three restaurants: Animator’s Palette, Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden. My favorite is Animator’s Palette, where the walls include underwater animations that come to life during dinner (on the Disney Dream only). Crush (from Finding Nemo) makes an appearance and blows everyone’s minds by interacting with the guests on a first-name basis. It’s really … wait for it … magical. If you decide to organize a date night by putting the kids in the Oceaneer Club and reserving an adult-only dinner at Palo or Remy, make sure not to do it on a night you’re scheduled for dinner at Animator’s Palette.

Dine & Play

Enchanted Garden restaurant on Disney Dream

Opt for the later dining time (8 p.m.) to get the added benefit of Oceaneer Club counselors who come by the restaurants to pick up the kids (saving you the hike). You can check the kids in from your seat at the restaurant! Just inform your server that your children would like to participate in Dine and Play. Your kids will receive expedited meals, and counselors will arrive approximately 45 minutes into dinner to escort them to their respective youth activities groups. You can then enjoy the remainder of your dining experience sans the kids. After dinner, take a romantic stroll on deck or head to the adults-only nighttime entertainment district for dancing, drinks and excitement. This is such a nice little perk and is only available during the second dinner seating.

Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App prior to getting on board. This will list every character meet-and-greet time and location.

PORT OF CALL

Disney Cruise Lines sails to several different areas, but most Central Florida families take the quick three-night weekend getaway cruise (Friday to Monday) to the Bahamas. This cruise also stops at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. You can upgrade to try out several different on-shore activities during the ship’s stop at Nassau. I’ve noticed that many people stay on the ship, so the pool is packed. There are different options for excursion packages, but if you want to have the vacation of a lifetime, go to Atlantis.

Mom Tip: Consider going rogue and book your Atlantis excursion on your own. Just call Atlantis directly for a day pass to Aquaventure, the water park at Atlantis. You will save hundreds of dollars this way if you have a family of four or more. Grab a taxi and head to the Discover Atlantis desk in the Coral Towers to pick up your arm bands.

Your second evening on the three-night cruise is Pirate Night, where everyone is encouraged to wear their pirate gear to dinner, celebrate with pirate games and an awesome pirate show, and watch the famous at-sea fireworks display (only offered on the Disney Cruise Line). The fireworks are at 10:30 p.m., which is pretty late for little ones. You might want to flip a coin for who will head back to the cabin and who will stay up for the fireworks show.

CASTAWAY CAY

This is the day to hang back and let the masses rush to the island shuttles while you enjoy the AquaDuck (almost) all to yourself. Once you’ve ridden it a few times, visit Castaway Cay. Highlights for kids include the hermit crab races and the Pelican Plunge, a floating dock with a water slide and spray guns. Grab some BBQ lunch, then check the kids into Shuttles Cove (the supervised children’s area) while you hit Serenity Beach for some relaxation and fun in this adults-only area. There’s a lot to do on the island, such as snorkeling, riding wave runners and bicycling. Heck, you can even run a 5K!

Here are a few of my family’s favorite things about Disney Cruise Line vacations.

Rainforest Showers (light, aroma and water therapy showers)

My favorite thing: The Rainforest Showers at Senses Spa is the best kept secret of the ship! After this luxurious hydrotherapy experience, I melted into the heated lounge chairs facing a wall of windows overlooking the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. It was heaven!

My hubs and son on the Aquaduck while everyone else was on Castaway Cay

My husband’s favorite thing:The Aquaduck water slide and the many food options. He specifically enjoyed Cabanas, which serves delicious buffet-style food almost any time of day.

My son couldn’t get over the all-you-can-serve-yourself ice cream on board.

My 10-year-old son’s favorite thing: Serve yourself ice cream bar, Pirate Night and (of course) the Oceaneer Club.

My daughter enjoying the indoor/outdoor splash area at Nemo’s Reef.

My 4-year-old daughter’s favorite thing: The Disney Princess meet & greet and Nemo’s Reef splash area adjacent to the pool.

Heather Reneau
Written by
Heather Reneau

Heather Reneau is an Oviedo mom of two and a graphic designer/art director with a natural flair for writing. Her entrepreneurial spirit has led her down many business paths, including conceiving and producing PLAYGROUND Magazine back in 2007. It's her passion to celebrate local people and spread the word about quality family businesses, services and events in Orlando and beyond.

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Heather Reneau Written by Heather Reneau

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