Disney Cruise – The Ideal Family Vacation

Here’s what I have been telling anyone who will listen ever since I first set sail with Mickey Mouse and friends in 2007: A Disney Cruise is THE ideal vacation for families. Whether you have a baby, kid, or teen…everyone’s needs (and wants!) are met on a Disney Cruise. Plus, the children are so entertained and catered to, parents are free to do something so rare on a vacation with kids…relax! Here are just some of the reasons I am such a big fan of cruising Disney-style.

disney's magic

Disney’s  ship, Magic

During my Disney Mediterranean Cruise, I was accompanied by my husband and then 2.5-year-old daughter. My son was stowing away in my belly too, as we discovered while on board the ship! Some of my favorite memories as a family of three took place during this vacation.

Incomparable Service

The service we received aboard Disney’s Magic was beyond belief. Our waitress cheerfully brought us extra dessert when we couldn’t decide on just one and even stopped by to cut up our daughter’s pizza while inquiring about our day. Our room steward made sure our cabins were kept in tip-top shape, always greeted us by name, and transformed regular bath towels into bunny rabbits and stingrays each night. Everyone went above and beyond to make sure we had an unforgettable experience.

towel sculpture aboard disney magic

It was a treat to return from dinner every night to find a different towel creature, like this elephant, waiting for us

Disney Cruise dining

During our 10-night cruise, most days we chose to eat room service breakfast on our stateroom’s balcony, taking in the view of various picturesque port towns as we nibbled on fresh fruit, yogurt and baked goodies. On our last day at sea, we attended a character breakfast with Lilo and Stitch doing Elvis impersonations and dancing the hula in one of the ship’s restaurants.

Our lunches, for the most part, were eaten onshore. During at sea days, we grabbed quick, easy meals from the ship’s eateries, like Pluto’s Dog House (which serves hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and the like), Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, or Goofy’s Galley (with healthy options like wraps and fresh salads).

Each evening, we were seated with the same family (a wonderful foursome from Eden Prairie, Minnesota) and we kept the same wait staff for every dinner. However, we rotated through three restaurants: Lumiere’s (with a French ambiance), Animator’s Palate (with walls that start out black and white but which come alive with Disney characters in colorful lights), and Parrot Cay (with a Caribbean theme). The menus on our cruise were themed to the Mediterranean, serving Spanish, Italian, and French meals plus some standard American options and kid favorites. Even the meals onboard a Disney ship are magical – just as our little one would start to get too squirmy, Beauty and the Beast would come waltzing through the dining room!

disney formal night

Dressed up for formal night at Animator’s Palate

Carrying the tradition over from Disney’s Caribbean cruises, one night’s theme was Pirate Night, during which diners sported free pirate bandanas or dressed up in more elaborate garb brought from home or purchased on the ship.

The crème de la crème was Palo, an adult-only fine-dining restaurant that requires reservations. We partook of the scrumptious brunch and a to-die-for dinner but didn’t have time enough to book a high tea this time around.

Awesome kids clubs

A Disney Cruise is paradise, especially for children! Instead of offering a casino like most cruise lines, Disney puts that space to use for its various clubs for kids of all ages. Parents can indulge in a spa treatment, relax by the adult-only pool, or dine at Palo sans kids without guilt, knowing their offspring are having the time of their lives at the onboard kids’ clubs.

Our tablemates even had a hard time convincing their six-year-old and nine-year-old sons to join us for dinner each night because they wanted to stay at Oceaneer kids’ clubs (for ages three to 12 years) and play, play, play! There is also a teen club on each Disney ship, where kids aged 13 to 17 enjoy dance parties, board and video games, and Karaoke.

Most cruise lines’ childcare programs do not accept children until age two or three, but babies as young as three months are welcomed in the Disney Cruise Line nurseries. We worried when we dropped off our daughter at Flounder’s Reef Nursery the first time and she began to wail. But then we stopped by five minutes later to take a peek at her though a giant one-way window and saw her happily playing with the counselors and a rainbow of toys. This put our minds at ease, allowing us to enjoy our date night free from worry.

On our last night my husband, Phil, told Karissa she was all done with Flounders, which set her off crying and carrying on once more…this time because she wanted one last chance to return to the nursery!

Entertainment

The live shows aboard a Disney Cruise are Broadway caliber and feature favorite characters from movies like Toy Story and Cinderella. Even our wiggly toddler stayed entertained through most of the performances.

golden minnie mouse

Karissa was in awe of Minnie Mouse in her gorgeous gown following the Golden Mickeys live stage show

There’s even a movie theatre aboard the ships in which new-release Disney movies are shown on-screen. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was in theatres on land and at sea during our sailing.

There are bars and nightclubs onboard the ship too but we were never up late enough to explore those much. Instead, Phil and I enjoyed a glass of wine or two on our stateroom’s balcony after our daughter was tucked in for the night. I have heard the party scene aboard a Disney ship is much more subdued than other lines though. So, if you’re looking to party-hardy – a Disney Cruise is probably not up your galley!

Family-Friendly Staterooms

Not only are Disney’s staterooms larger than most cruise lines, but also they offer some special amenities that cater to families’ needs. First of all, they offer not one but TWO sinks to make getting ready for the day easier.

Disney is the only line I know of that offers a privacy curtain that can be pulled shut to separate the adult sleeping area (with a queen bed) from the kid sleeping area (which is usually outfitted with a single bed or bunk beds, depending upon which room type you book). This is absolutely fabulous for parents traveling with young children whose bedtimes are much earlier than their own. Rather than turning in before sunset, Phil and I were able to quietly watch television, read in bed, and snuggle up a bit!

disney magic's bunk beds

Our toddlere tucked into her single bed in our stateroom with a stuffed Mickey Mouse

Disney’s new ship, Dream, will offer virtual portholes for interior cabins that will display a live view of the scenery, plus animated Nemo characters swimming past every now and then!

Water Fun

Most cruise lines do not allow non-potty-trained children in their pools for sanitary reasons. However, Disney offers a fountain pool with a special filtration system that allows babies and toddlers to have a splashing good time aboard their ships! There are also family pools, an adult-only pool, and even a small staff-only pool!

The new Dream ship will offer a sweet looking waterslide called the AquaDuck that will send riders out over the ocean in a see-through tube slide! Plus, the Dream’s Nemo’s Reef splash area for kids looks like buckets of fun!

disney cruise toddler pool

Karissa and I splashing in the toddler pool

Shore Activities

During our cruise through the Mediterranean we explored the ruins of Pompeii, perused museums and shops, ate long lunches of pasta and vino, and lazed on sandy beaches. Some days we chose Disney-organized shore excursions while on other days we opted to explore on our own. Even on days filled with lots of grown-up activities, our daughter was content, especially when she was greeted with a big hug from characters like Donald Duck or Minnie Mouse the minute we returned to the ship.

mickey mouse bread

Kids got a chance to roll out foccaccia dough as part of our Sicilian “Day on the Farm” Disney shore excursion Here’s a little Mickey-shaped dough creation one of the guides made

With Disney, kids aren’t just tolerated on shore excursions, they are catered to! This year, for example, the Highlights of Rome for Families excursion includes a 45-minute puppet show for kids supervised by Disney youth counselors at Villa Borghese while parents have a bit of time to themselves to shop or sightsee. Of course, there are excursions that cater to an older crowd too, like a Cooking Lesson in Tuscany for those aged 21+ in La Spezia, Italy or the Screamin’ Eagle jet boat ride just for teens on the Caribbean cruise to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Disney Does Europe

Disney Cruise Line is sailing through Europe for the second time this summer. The itinerary for the Mediterranean cruise has changed somewhat since we took that cruise, making me drool even more over this year’s schedule! For the first time there will also be cruises through Northern Europe and Scandinavia. (Drool again!)

Are you dreaming of a Disney Cruise too? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with other Travel Mamas and Travel Daddies in the comments below!

A Note from the Travel Mama: My family paid for this cruise and I did not receive any compensation or goodies from Disney related to this story. I will always let you know if I receive any money or products related to a blog post.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is a mom of two and the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of THE TRAVEL MAMAS' GUIDE, she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen teaches blogging classes and has given travel tips on television, radio, and as a paid video blogger. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing.

Comments

  1. I’ve been DYING to go on a Disney cruise for about two years. The only problem: it’s more expensive than a typical trip (for us, “typical” means 6-8 nights within the continental US). It sounds like you do get your money’s worth, but we’ve had trouble committing to the idea given the cost.

  2. Find yourself a travel agent who specializes in Disney Travel and have them watch for promotions for you. I recently found out about a coming promotion; kids sail free… 175 of my friends and family (who are also clients) were able to sail for drastically less than normal… You have to move fast during these promotions and you may not get the exact stateroom/dining you want BUT I have sailed Disney Cruise Line 7 times; Inside Stateroom – Outside Stateroom and Balcony… I have never had a bad time… Disney Cruise Line is Phenomenal !…

  3. Sarah – I totally understand your concern about the cost of a Disney Cruise but if you really want to try one out, you could choose one of their shorter (3-4 night) Bahamian cruises, watch for deals (like the Kids Sail Free deal that Cydne mentioned above), and/or book an inside cabin at a lower cost. Keep in mind that most of your food and entertainment is included in the price of the cruise. Also – since the standard staterooms are often bigger on Disney than on other ships, you can book one of the less expensive rooms and receive what might be considered a “suite” aboard another line. I hope you get a chance to sail Disney someday – it really was such an incredible experience!

  4. I’m a mom and the founder of a company dedicated to making travel with a baby easier. Disney Cruise Lines works exclusively with Babies Travel Lite to make cruising with a baby easier by lightening your load. Babies Travel Lite delivers all of your baby supplies — diapers, formula, food, bath products, etc. directly to your cabin. Our service is availabe for sailings from all ports worldwide.

    Don’t carry all your supplies and pay the airlines huge baggage fees. Order everything and have it waiting for you. You can order online at http://www.babiestravellite.com/DCL.

  5. What a wonderful service you provide to traveling parents, Natalie! This definitely would have made packing for a 14-day trip overseas easier for us during our Mediterranean Disney Cruise vacation.

  6. What a FUN vacation. I think I’d like to plan a Disney Cruise vacation for when our kids are a little bit older.

    Thanks so much for the detailed review.

  7. Stephanie –

    I hope you do decide to take a Disney Cruise someday. I know you won’t be disappointed if you do! :-)

  8. Wow! This sounds like the perfect kid-friendly cruise experience. Drool indeed.

  9. We are thrilled to be going on the Disney wonder in just a few days! However, I can’t seem to find an answer to whether life jackets are provided on the ship or on shore stops for the kids. I have 2 that swim well & 1 that still needs a lifejacket for my comfort. Should I pack one?

  10. Hi Andi –

    I am so excited for you that you are going on a Disney Cruise! I know you will have such a wonderful time! Of course life jackets are provided on the boat for safety at sea reasons but I assume you are looking for safety in the pool and at the beach? I can’t remember is life jackets were available. However, you might want to check out the Passporter boards and ask the Disney afficianados on there. There is a specific chat board just for Disney Cruises. You can probably find a “meet up” for your specific cruise and make some friends too! Go to: http://www.passporterboards.com/forums/

    Bon Voyage!

  11. I am considering a Disney Cruise and will have a 6 month old at the time of sailing. There are a few shore excursions I want to go on that he will not be allowed on. Can you leave the baby in the nursery and if so, has anyone done that and are you comfortable with it? I am nervous about being away from the ship without him.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Allie,

      We left our then 2&1/2-year-old on board Disney Wonder in the nursery one night during our Disney Mediterranean cruise. It was only for a few hours and it was during one of the last night’s of our 10-night cruise so she was already comfortable staying there. I might leave a baby in the nursery for a short (half-day) excursion after the baby has gotten accustomed to the sitters. Personally, I would be uncomfortable leaving a 6-month-old for an all-day excursion but it really depends on how YOU feel about it. Go with your gut! Have a wonderful time on your Disney Cruise & let us know how it goes after you return!

  12. We are taking a cruise next May for my son’s 10th birthday. Does anyone know if they do anything special for guests celebrating a birthday? Thanks!

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  1. […] Our ship, Disney’s Magic via travelmamas.com […]

  2. […] Broadway-caliber shows that entertain all ages, pools and splash areas for all ages (including babies!), family-friendly dining, plus adult-only spaces make Disney Cruise Line a great option for families with children of various ages. With cruises in Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and more there’s sure to be a destination that will please travelers of every variety. Disney even tailors shore excursions to meet the needs of children of various ages (and their parents!). Read more about why I love Disney Cruise Line for families. […]

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