With the launch of Disney Cruise Line in 1998, families were offered yet another reason to take a cruise. The magic of a Walt Disney resort vacation plus the romance of a sea voyage are a tempting combination, especially for adults who discovered Disney movies and the Mickey Mouse Club as children. Mixed with traditional shipboard activities, who can resist scheduled opportunities for the young and young-at-heart to interact with their favorite Disney characters?
Although Disney Cruise Line voyages stuck to tried and true Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries in their formative years, and sailed exclusively from Port Canaveral, Florida, where a terminal was designed especially for Disney ships, the line has branched out to other regions, including Europe. Shipboard entertainment leans heavily on popular Disney themes and characters. Parents are actively involved in the audience with their children at production shows, movies, live character meetings, deck parties, and dancing in the family nightclub. Teens have a supervised, no-adults-allowed club space in the forward fake funnel, where they gather for activities and parties. For adults, there are traditional no-kids-allowed bars and lounges with live music, dancing, theme parties, and late-night comedy, as well as daytime wine-tasting sessions, game shows, culinary arts and home entertaining demonstrations, and behind-the-scenes lectures on animation and filmmaking.
A giant LED screen has been affixed to the forward funnels of both original ships. Passengers can watch movies and special broadcasts while lounging in the family pool area.
Don’t expect top chefs and gourmet food. This is Disney, and the fare in the two casual restaurants is all-American for the most part, with a third restaurant being a bit fancier, with French-inspired dishes on the menus. Naturally, all have children’s menus with an array of favorite sandwiches and entrées. Vegetarian and healthy selections are also available in all restaurants. A bonus is complimentary soft drinks, lemonade, and iced tea throughout the sailing. A beverage station in the buffet area is always open; however, there is a charge for soft drinks ordered from the bars and room service.
Palo, the adults-only restaurant serving northern Italian cuisine, requires reservations for a romantic evening of fine dining. Although there’s a cover charge for dinner, it’s a steal and reservations go fast. A champagne brunch and high tea also command a surcharge.
Fitness and Recreation
Three swimming pool areas are designated for different groups: for children (Mickey’s Pool, which has a waterslide and requires a parent to be present); for families (Goofy Pool); and adults (Quiet Cove). Young children who aren’t potty trained can’t swim in the pools but are invited to splash about in the fountain play area near Mickey’s Pool. Be sure to bring their swim diapers.
The salon and spa feature a complete menu of hair- and nail-care services as well as facials and massages. The Tropical Rainforest is a soothing coed thermal suite with heated tile lounges. It’s complimentary for the day if you book a spa treatment or available on a daily or cruise-long basis for a fee. Introduced on Disney ships are seagoing SpaVillas, indoor-outdoor treatment suites, each of which has a veranda with a hot tub and an open-air shower. In addition to a nicely equipped fitness center and aerobics studio are a jogging track and basketball court.
Disney Cruises appeal to kids of all ages—the young and not so young, singles, couples, and families. Multigeneration family groups are the core audience for these ships, and the facilities are ideal for family gatherings. What you might not have expected are the numerous newlywed couples celebrating their honeymoons on board.
One-week cruises schedule a semiformal evening and a formal night, during which men are encouraged to wear tuxedos, but dark suits or sport coats and ties are acceptable for both. Resort casual is the evening dress code for dinner in the more laid-back dining rooms. A sport coat is appropriate for the restaurants designated as fancier, as well as the adults-only specialty restaurants; however, you won’t be turned away and could probably get by without the sport coat.
As expected, Disney ships have extensive programs for children and teens, including shore excursions designed for families to enjoy together. Parents are issued a pager for peace of mind while their children are participating in onboard activities and to alert them when their offspring need them. Complimentary age-appropriate activities are scheduled from 9 am to midnight in the Oceaneer Club for ages 3 (toilet training required) to 7, in Oceaneer Lab for ages 8 to 12. Activities include arts projects, contests, computer games, pool parties, interactive lab stations, and opportunities for individual and group play. Ocean Quest on Disney Magic, designed for 10- to 14-year-olds, has video games, plasma-screen TVs, and a ship simulator where young mariners learn to steer the ship. The emphasis is on fun over education, but subtle educational themes are certainly there. Coffeehouse-style teen clubs offer music, a dance floor, big-screen TV, and Internet café for the younger set. Scheduled activities include challenging games, photography lessons, sporting contests, beach events, and parties, but they are also great places for teenagers 13 to 17 to just hang out with new friends in an adult-free zone.
An hourly fee is charged for child care in Flounder’s Reef Nursery, which is open during select hours for infants as young as three months through three years. Supply your own diapers, and nursery attendants will change them. Private, in-cabin babysitting is not available.
Friendly service is extended to all passengers, with particular importance placed on treating children with the same courtesy extended to adults.
Suggested gratuity amounts are calculated on a per person-per cruise rather than per night basis and can be added to onboard accounts or offered in cash on the last night of the cruise. Guidelines include gratuities for your dining-room server, assistant server, head server, and stateroom host-hostess for the following amounts: $36 for three-night cruises, $48 for four-night cruises, and $84 for seven-night cruises. Tips for room-service delivery, spa services, and the dining manager are at the passenger’s discretion. An automatic 15% gratuity is added to all bar tabs.
Castaway Club membership is automatic after completing a Disney cruise. Benefits include a complimentary gift (such as a tote bag or beach towel), communication about special offers, priority check-in, invitations to shipboard cocktail parties during subsequent cruises, and a special toll-free reservation telephone number (800/449-3380) for convenience.
Choose This Line If
You want to cruise with the entire family—mom, dad, the kids, and grandparents.
You enjoy having kids around. (There are adults-only areas to retreat to when the fun wears off.)
Your family enjoys Disney’s theme parks and can’t get enough wholesome entertainment.
Don’t Choose This Line If
You want to spend a lot of quality time bonding with your kids. Your kids may not want to leave the fun activities.
You want to dine in peace and quiet. The dining rooms and buffet can be boisterous.
Disney ships are the first ships since the 1950s to feature two funnels.
Many cabins on Disney ships feature faux steamer trunks for storage and efficient split-use bathrooms.
There are no casinos on board Disney ships, and smoking areas are strictly limited.
Disney ships have a classic style
Top: Dining in Palo, the adults-only restaurant
Bottom: Family fun at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private isle in the Bahamas
Good to Know
Silhouettes and abstract images of Mickey Mouse are cleverly hidden by Disney’s creative designers throughout the ship, just as they are in the theme parks.
You can buy pins and autograph books on the ships, but the gift shops won’t open until after you sail. Drop in at a Disney store before your cruise and purchase them for your kids; they’ll appreciate being prepared from the get-go.
Prior to sailing, go online to reserve shore excursions, a table at the adults-only specialty restaurant, and babysitting in the nursery. Children can also be registered for youth programs, and adults can make spa appointments.
If you didn’t do it ahead of time, you can register the kids for their age-appropriate programs in the terminal while you wait to board.
Top: A day ashore
Middle: Making a splash in Mickey’s pool
Bottom: Disney Magic and Disney Wonder at sea