The Disney entertainment empire knows how to treat people right, and a Disney cruise certainly meets the high expectations developed over many decades of theme parks and media entertainment.
For families with young kids, no other cruise line can touch Disney, which custom-designed its vessels, its onboard experience and even its shoreside programs to cater to that exact demographic. In true Disney fashion, everything is orchestrated to produce a specific sense of fantasy and wonder. Where Disney’s parks are centered around a fairytale castle, Disney cruises are centered around its ships —
Disney Wonder and
Disney Dream — which were designed to evoke the fairytale world of early 20th-century ocean liners, with their sharp bows, art deco and art nouveau interiors, and even multiple funnels, even though one of those funnels on every Disney ship is fake — but they sure do make a cool place to hide the teenagers’ clubs.
Disney Cruise Line For Kids
The heart of the Disney cruise experience is the kids’ and teens programs, which have no equal in the cruise business. Staffed by dozens of Disney-trained counselors, the programs cater to kids from age 3 months to 17 years, with supervised activities available from about 9am to midnight. Aboard each ship, about half a deck is devoted to play and learning areas for kids, including a nursery for babies and toddlers and the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab for kids 3 to 12, where kids can take part in princess- and pirate-themed activities, put on shows or listen to storytelling sessions, watch movies, work on art and animation, conduct fun science experiments, and just generally play.
Disney Cruise Line For Families
Outside the kids’ areas, activities aboard the Disney ships are mostly family oriented. During the day, there are basketball games, trivia contests, drawing classes, backstage theater tours, screenings of Disney movies, and tons more, plus some adult-oriented activities like wine tastings and cooking classes. As you’d expect, Disney is one of the best lines at sea for family entertainment, staging elaborate shows that draw on beloved Disney characters and storylines. There are also film screenings, meet-and-greets with Disney characters, and special deck parties such as “Pirates IN the Caribbean,” in which Captain Hook and his crew swing in from the funnels and lead the crowd in a round of dancing, before they’re rescued by Captain Mickey. The evening ends with fireworks launched right from the ship — something no other cruise line does.
Dining On Disney Cruise Line
The dining experience aboard Disney’s ships is different than at any other line, in that guests automatically rotate among several different restaurants, and bring their waiters with them. On one night, guests dine in the ship’s elegant main restaurant; on the next, they’re in a second, more whimsical restaurant with a tropical or enchanted-garden theme. And the next night, they dine in Animator’s Palate, a kid-oriented restaurant themed on a film animator’s studio. There’s also a romantic but casual, adults-only restaurant called Palo, serving Italian specialties. And, aboard the newer Disney Dream, there’s Remy, a high-end dining spot that goes for a sublime, Parisian feel, with French-inspired cuisine.
Disney Cruise Line For Adults
At night, moms and dads can check their kids into the children’s centers and nurseries until midnight, and enjoy a little downtime at the ships’ dedicated adults-only zones, which offer dancing, piano music, jazz, comedy, and other diversions in a range of lounges, from sports bars to chic cocktail clubs.
Disney Cruise Line Staterooms
When it’s time for everyone to hit the hay, Disney’s staterooms cater to families like no others in the cruise world. Standard cabins are extra-roomy, able to sleep at least three or four through fold-out couches and bunks that pull down from the ceiling. The majority of staterooms come with two bathrooms — one with just a toilet and sink, the other with a bathtub and sink. There’s also a little fridge, lots of storage space, and subtle Disney themes worked into the classy decor. If you need them, Disney will even provide cribs, playpens, strollers, bottle sterilizers and Diaper Genies. They really do think of everything.
Disney Cruise Line Itineraries
Disney Cruise Line operates primarily on Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries and, during the summer, to Europe and Alaska.
These People Will Love Disney Cruise Line
• Families with children: This almost goes without saying with the Disney name, but a Disney cruise vacation obviously offers plenty of excitement and entertainment for the kids.
• Adults too: Disney cruises are not just for kids, and there are sections of the ships, as well as activities, that are “adults only.”
• Anybody who wants visit Walt Disney World: The obvious tie-in with the central Florida theme park is a huge tie-in for Disney as many guests go directly from Walt Disney World.
What’s Included On Disney Cruise Line
• Good food and plenty of it: Elegant dinners, casual buffets, character breakfasts, themed deck party buffets and other exciting options make dining on a Disney Cruise Line ship a memorable experience for guests of all ages. Disney Cruise Line originated the rotation dining concept that allows guests to experience a different restaurant each evening for dinner while their servers and tablemates remain the same.
• Health club access, with cardio and weight-training equipment, although there are charges for spa sessions and instructor-led classes such as Spin, Yoga and Pilates.
• Shipboard Entertainment includes everything from comedians to cabaret singers in the clubs and lounges to live musical spectaculars stage in the large auditoriums. Disney weaves entertainment into dining and deckside activities, too.
• Youth Programs. Aboard Disney Cruise Line, it’s good to be a kid. Both ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, have nearly an entire deck dedicated to entertaining children ages 3 months to 17 years, with each age group in its own special activity area. Parents can enjoy the ship “worry-free,” thanks to an onboard paging service that allows children to contact their parents at any time during the cruise and anywhere on the ship.
Life Aboard Disney Cruise Line
• Offers something for everyone: Of course a Disney cruise is great for the kids, but adults will enjoy enrichment programs, including a wine tasting and a behind-the-scenes peek at onboard entertainment. The Quiet Cove Pool with adjoining whirlpool spas is a haven for adults, and on the private island Castaway Cay, Serenity Bay is just for adults with a private beach, open-air bar, couples’ hammocks and even private massage cabanas.
by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.
I do not like going shirtless in front of people. But one night on a Disney Wonder cruise, I found myself doing just that — in front of a few hundred people. It was 70s night in the adults-only entertainment venue known as Route 66, and Sasha, a young Croatian, came up to me on the dance floor, put a medal around my neck and said, “I’m going to need you in a moment.” Sasha returned to escort me and four other men to a hallway outside the nightclub. The Village People (of “YMCA” fame) had been unable to make a scheduled appearance on the ship, Sasha explained. Could we help? Before we could answer, he ordered a round of shooters and handed us “Village People” character props.
I donned the construction worker helmet. After several minutes in the hallway, Sasha had choreographed us to the point that we were confident we could pull it off. Just before going on stage, however, he said he needed another favor: our shirts. That’s how, moments later I found myself performing with four other shirtless men to an audience doubling over with laughter.
Disney Cruise Line entertains not only kids but also parents, and that’s the beauty of a Disney cruise. The company attempts to weave entertainment into every aspect of its cruise vacations.
Consider the numbers: Each of Disney’s two ships feature 10 hours of live performances daily, carried out by an entertainment staff of 250, including 40 main stage actors. Each ship carries 1,600 costumes, 300 pairs of shoes, and 400 wigs, which require twice-weekly visits from cosmetologists to maintain. More than 300 pieces of pyrotechnic product are fired each week.
Entertainment begins with embarkation, where Disney characters meet and greet passengers. During our four days on the Disney Wonder, the challenge was to schedule our days so that we could enjoy the variety of entertainment, along with a full day of activities at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.
Nearly an entire deck is devoted to children’s programming. The Oceaneer Club is for ages 3 to 7, while the Oceaneer Lab is for ages 8 to 12 (activities are further divided into appropriate age groups; 8 and 9 year olds, for example, are grouped together). Disney also features a nursery for ages 3 months to 3 years, and teen-only areas.
Our kids learned animation — they still have their Mickey Mouse sketches — made Flubber, excavated “real bones,” my son says, on an archaeological dig at Castaway Cay, watched Disney movies, joined scavenger hunts, and even performed with the other kids a wonderfully choreographed musical that ended with the children singing the Mickey Mouse theme song.
Our kids wanted little to do with us. They were much too busy with the activities and vowed to miss nothing.
With its obvious tie-in with Walt Disney World, Disney Cruise Line is an absolute no-brainer for families who want to cruise. Disney’s Caribbean itineraries can be blended with a stay at Walt Disney World and a cruise that stops at Disney’s highest-rated (by passengers) port: Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. Some complain about Disney overload, but the post-cruise reaction is nearly universal: Disney does it right, whether you’re 7 or 70.
The kid programs on both Disney ships rank among the largest and most comprehensive at sea. The 15,000-square-foot playrooms and kids facilities are spacious and well equipped. The activities are creative and fun, and the counselors know how to take care of the littlest ones, with fun stuff lined up for each age group. For ages 8 through 12, Oceaneer’s Lab offers high-tech play, including a new simulator allowing children to try steering the ship in and out of port. Teens do not need to ruin their vacations hanging out with little kids as they have their own dedicated space, decorated like a cross between a college dormitory and trendy coffee shop.
Too Much Fun
The evening entertainment on the Disney ships is a family friendly mix of revues and musicals that should keep you up to date on the Disney oeuvre. Don’t miss the “Pirates in the Caribbean” deck party, when passengers become pirates, and the special buffet, presented on parchment menu, is followed by a deck party that features, Disney characters, stage performances, fireworks and more – with Mickey topping off the event by arriving on a zip line.
Best Adventure, or THE attraction
The day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private Caribbean island. The ship docks at the pier (as opposed to tendering passengers ashore) so that you can come and go from the ship with ease. With long white-sand beaches, Castaway Cay offers snorkeling, kayaking, bike paths, walking trails or just a relaxing day at the beach under one of the many beach umbrellas. The entire island is, typical of Disney, landscaped and equipped just right, and Castaway Cay is a cruise highlight for many families. And in case you aren’t traveling with kids, Serenity Bay is an adults-only beach where drinks are served and private cabanas and you can get a massage in an open cabana looking out on the sea.
Keep’em Happy/No Shuffleboard, Dad!
On Castaway Cay, a supervised children’s area includes a “dig” at a replica of a half-buried whale skeleton. Overall, Disney does a fine job with all age groups of kids but deserves special recognition for the work they do with the kids under 5. Better than most, Disney has the resources to take care of the littlest ones without causing a parental-anxiety crisis.
Timing is everything
Although Disney has done an impressive job making its cruises appealing to adults without children as well as families, the best values on a Disney cruise are available when the kids are in school. This can work to the advantage of families with preschoolers. If you plan to cruise during the summer, spring or winter breaks, make your reservations well in advance in order to secure the best cabins.
Avoid the Crowds
Disney offers an integrated land/sea vacation package that eliminates a lot of the normal hassle. When the cruise is combined with a stay at a Disney hotel, you check in once, and the key that unlocks your hotel room also works on your cruise cabin. Increasingly a trend among cruise lines, guests can also use on-line tools to check in before they arrive at the pier. It also merits mentioning that there are adults-only areas, including a coffee shop, for guests who want to escape the happy squealing.
On Eastern Caribbean itineraries that call on St. Maarten, sail aboard an exciting catamaran to the French side of St. Maarten. Upon anchoring approximately 50 feet offshore, dive in for a swim and snorkeling adventure or retreat to the beach for a relaxing hour and a half of sun and sand.
Disney’s innovative dining plan calls for a different dining room each evening, with wait staff that travels with your family from restaurant to restaurant. Each restaurant has a theme that is enhanced by the tableware, linens, menus and waiters’ uniforms. For breakfast, Parrot Cay is probably the favorite, but the evening meal at Animator’s Palate may be most memorable. The room appears to be black and white as you enter, but it is transformed into exciting swirls of color with projected animation on the walls as the evening progresses. This is a memorably fun meal. For parents-night-out while the kids gorge at Goofy’s Galley, Palo is the intimate adults-only restaurant featuring Northern Italian cuisine. Reservations are required, and there is a $15 per person cover charge.
It’s hard to imagine a better family cruise vacation than on Disney Cruise Line. Combined with excellent on-ship amenities that cater to kids, its own private-island (where the ship docks instead of tendering passengers ashore) and a stay at the Orlando theme parks, Disney offers a vacation that not one member of your family will soon forget.
Paradise Found - Castaway Cay
by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.
A Day At The Beach
Talk about a Caribbean cruise, and one of the first images that jumps to mind is a sun-drenched beach where children splash in the clear, blue water while adults watch and relax, alternating between sips from refreshing beverages and dips in the gentle surf. Quite understandably, people love the idea of a peaceful tropical paradise where the only pressing concern is how much sand is stuck to their feet when they slip back into their sandals.
The idyllic beach day may be a favorite image associated with Caribbean cruising, but the fact is that the typical week-long cruise actually includes very little time dedicated to sun and sand. At major Caribbean ports like Nassau, St. Thomas or Cozumel, ships disgorge passengers for shopping, strolling or shore excursions. While some of the excursions offer activities that allow you to get wet, fairly few would be classified as “a day at the beach.” Enter the private island.
Only a handful of cruise companies feature a long day docked at a private island, providing one of the favorite days of the trip for many passengers. In fact, private islands have proven to be so popular that some itineraries feature two stops at private islands. These islands are owned (or leased) and operated by the cruise lines for the exclusive use of their guests.
Because private islands typically cater to only one ship a day, they serve as a perfect paradise that’s free of the crowds and the hassles that occasionally diminish the quality of visits to other ports of call. A day on a private island is a relatively hassle-free day, as there are no shuttles to meet or schedules to keep – other than catching the last tender back to the ship. Meals on the island are included, and anything else can be billed to the shipboard account.
A big plus for parents: The cruise lines run complimentary kids’ programs for each age group, making it easy for adults to grab a little time for themselves. The kids and teens are just as enthusiastic because they can hook up with friends they’ve made on board, joining a beach volleyball game or a treasure hunt. They can eat all they want when they want without needing money or parental supervision.
Besides providing a picture-postcard setting complete with beach chairs, umbrellas and shaded hammocks, the private islands are set up for every sort of fun that can be organized on a public beach. The cruise lines provide beachside bar service specializing in tropical mixes, and they also offer a multitude of water sports, ranging from snorkeling to parasailing. Frequently, there are massage and spa services available, and a band will provide a pleasant soundtrack.
But perhaps more importantly, the private islands are notable for what they lack. On the private islands, cruise passengers will get none of the hard-sell from street peddlers who are often working other stops on a Caribbean cruise. And as the islands accommodate one ship at a time, with few exceptions, congestion and overcrowding are not problems.
Disney Cruise Line operates Castaway Cay, situated in the Abaco Islands, and the only private island where the ship docks, allowing guests to walk ashore without time-consuming tendering.
With long white-sand beaches, including a secluded cove just for adults, Castaway Cay offers snorkeling, jet-ski tours, kayaking, miles of bike paths, walking trails or just a relaxing day at the beach under the beach umbrella. Biking and hiking are so popular that a second nature trail was recently added. At the adults-only Serenity Bay, open-air cabanas serve as treatment rooms for massages.
Numerous excursions can be booked, with activity levels ranging from more passive glass-bottom boat tours to blood-pumping parasailing. One of the most popular is feeding and interacting with stingrays – whose barbs are blunted for safety.
Of course Mickey, Minnie and the gang make frequent appearances for photo-ops, and the entire island is, typical of Disney, landscaped and equipped just right. For instance, the 12-acre snorkeling course, with separate areas for beginning and experienced snorkeling, are sprinkled with amusing Disney characters that the fish use as habitat.