The call of Disney is an unmistakable one, now that my kids are getting a bit older. However, I’ve done the theme parks, and as much fun as they are, I’m not sure my youngest is quite ready for a week of ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disneyland or Disney World. Enter the Disney Cruise. The Disney Cruise Line is specifically designed for family adventures balanced with some well-deserved R&R for mom and dad – all with the first-class style and service you’ve come to expect from anything Disney.
Recently I decided to sail off into the sunset with my family and Mickey on a cruise to Mexico. To be honest, Mexico would not have been my first choice of destination right now because of the ongoing safety issues, but because it was a Disney trip, I was willing to give it a chance. And I was right; there was never a moment where I felt like the company had not done due diligence to ensure the shore excursions were safe and that I couldn’t trust our tour guides to provide a great Mexican adventure.
If you’ve ever travelled to any of the Disney properties, you know that the service they provide is second to none. The Disney Cruise Line continues this tradition. Every employee in the kids clubs is fabulous with the children (and I don’t get the impression it’s because Goofy slips something special from the Magic Kingdom into their coffee every morning), always willing to bring out a new activity or craft, and each one makes an effort to make your child feel special, even when the area is full. The servers who follow you from restaurant to restaurant each evening make it possible for mom and dad to savour a long meal. They immediately appeared as soon as my kids started to squawk about wanting to leave, and were quick to produce a Jack Sparrow hat out of a napkin or a Mickey Mouse shaped ketchup dollop on their plate. Each day the kids cups would be decorated with their names and stickers of their favourite animals and treats appeared for dessert at the end of every meal. If it were not for the staff in the restaurants, we would not have had such a great meal experience each day. I asked if they were by chance take-home souvenirs included in the all-inclusive packages, but sadly, was informed they stay with the cruise line at the end of the adventure.
The ideal age group for the Disney Cruise is hard to pinpoint. I would not recommend investing in a Disney Cruise prior to your child being toilet trained, however if you are an adventurous family, you may even want to consider waiting awhile longer, as many of the shore excursions had a restriction of five-years old. It also is important to mention that children who are not toilet-trained cannot swim in any of the five pools on board. Try telling this to my two-year old who watched his big sister slide down the Mickey Mouse hand into a Mickey Mouse pool. There is a splash zone for those kids who are not yet potty trained, but it is inconveniently located next to a really, really cool pool. My little one was not impressed with this feature of the cruise.
Tips and tricks
If you have a chance to cruise with Disney, you MUST take the opportunity to book yourself a reservation at Palo, the premier, adults-only restaurant onboard. The food there was some of the best food I have ever eaten. In fact, just thinking about the polenta with wild mushroom sauce brings a tear to my eye. Make sure you book this reservation at least six weeks prior to sailing – yes, you read that correctly. If you wait longer, you won’t get in. Presumably because it’s the only eatery on the boat where your server won’t decorate your plate with a Mickey Mouse-shaped dollop of ketchup.
If you have a little one under the age of three, they will go to the nursery when you and your significant other are in need of some adult-only time (and no, you may not drop them off the moment your cruise sets sail and pick them up just prior to de-boarding the ship). To make sure you get the times you want, (read: to get to go to eat at Palo), book this early (online) as well.
My six-year old discovered the Kids Club the first day in. The ship that we were on, The Wonder, had two different rooms: The Oceaneer Club was a pirate ship with a climbing area and room to dance and move, while the other, The Oceaneer’s Lab, was geared to an older crowd, with computers, craft tables, cooking experiences and video games. On a regular basis, as my daughter sat focusing on a craft, a character like Goofy would swing in and sit down beside her. Her reactions were pretty incredible. We had a hard time getting her to spend time with us – mom just can’t compete with Cinderella.
The spa aboard the Disney ships are award winning. Being rocked by gentle waves as someone rubs my back, massages my toes or extracts my pimples is my idea of a vacation. These are not cheap, but they are definitely worth the cost – again, book in advance.
Every evening features a live theatrical performance at 8:30. Each one of these shows was Broadway quality and totally worth keeping your little ones up for. We learned from some of the more experienced cruisers to get your kids in their jammies prior to the show, then throw them into bed as soon as it is over. The pirate themed night is worth going out for. Get your best swashbuckling duds on and head to the show and fireworks, or walk the plank (forgive me, I couldn’t resist). The Disney Cruise Line is the only cruise line in the world allowed to have fireworks at sea and it is worth the show.
The Disney shore excursions in the Mexican Riviera included whale watching, swimming with dolphins, city tours and even tequila tastings (for which I would recommend booking a spot in the nursery immediately following). We chose to go swimming with the dolphins in Puerta Vallarta. Although it cost close to $400 for two of us to go, we did spend almost an hour in a pool with a Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin. The ratio of people to dolphins was 5:1 and it was some of the best money I ever spent. Seeing my daughter hop onto the belly of a dolphin and ride it around a pool like Roy Rogers (had he had an aquatic adventures) will be one of the greatest vacation memories I have ever had. Again, the staff was amazing, and we really felt like we got a great experience with the dolphins in a clean and safe environment.
Okay, I know you are going to ask me about the cost of this little adventure. Yes, it is an investment. Once you are on the ship, you can expect to pay for gratuities, nursery/childcare costs, alcohol, shore excursions, more alcohol and spa services. You may want to choose where you want to focus on and invest your cruise budget there. Or just blow your entire RRSP and have a really amazing time! Just kidding. Okay, not really – I wanted to move onboard.
– Kathryn Bechtold