You know you feel special when a cruise line picks your hometown as a departure port. We luckily got to tour the Disney Wonder prior to her first Vancouver – Alaska sailing. The ship, like the Disney Fantasy was elegant, filled with mystique and the first class service Disney always provides. Here are our top 10 favourite tips when heading to Alaska on the Disney Wonder.
To see your children happy. Isn’t that every Mother’s goal? I can’t get the vision of the ‘Mickey Pool’ out of my head. We had the great fortune to cruise on the inaugural voyage of the new Disney Fantasy. Modeled after the Disney Dream (the Fantasy is the sister ship to the Dream, and both are about 40% bigger than the Wonder and the Magic) the Fantasy has added a few extra pleasures including the Aquaduck – a see-through pipe waterslide that whisks you around the top of the ship in a raft. I’d be with the little son as the older one and his daddy waved hysterically through the slide’s clear glass. I don’t think I actually stopped giggling during the whole voyage.
As mothers, we feel it is our duty (and sometimes extra-special talent) to create happiness. We can take our children places, but it is ultimately our parenting that allows the kids to thrive in a new environment. The kids clubs on the ship, like the Oceaneer’s Lab and the Oceaneer’s Club, made this very apparent. These two rooms – one with life-sized toys replicating Andy’s Room in Toy Story – featured computer terminals, volcano-making, Tinkerbell leading activities and Disney films. How can a mother possibly compete? I must admit that I was a tad offended when I went to pick up the boys for dinner and they declined to join us. Oh. You’re having too much fun and I am not helping to create it. (And the ample staff taught them both how to use a computer mouse…If you think that’s amazing – my friend’s toddler came off the ship potty-trained!). Hmm. So I guess it’s a date night with my husband, then, without having to hire a babysitter. Right. Where to start?
Not only is there a toddler and child area though – but there are segregated sections for tweens (Edge), infants (It’s a Small World Nursery) and teenagers. The teen space is Vibe. The 14-17 year-olds need a special key card to enter and the chaperones are cool and educated. Teens can insert themselves into zombie movies, crash on the floor pillows or search for ghosts. Many parents I spoke with were confronted with the same shocking realization – Disney was doing a much better job of creating fun than we were.
So my kids are happy. My husband is thrilled. The food is spectacular. The kids are wired with GPS and I have been given a ‘wave phone’ which rings even if they just want to hear my voice (it never rang). So what is left to worry about? Hygene? No. The staff of the Fantasy wiped our hands every time we entered any dining area. The rooms are meticulous. The quality of the surroundings? Nope. Frette has made the linens exclusively for Disney and people are washing down every area all the time. The infant water area – Nemo’s Garden – has fresh water pumped in continuously so that tots in diapers have no chance of imbibing contaminants. So where was I? Safety! Yes. Not only do they have that down, but the actors from the spectacular shows run the drills so they are the most entertaining musters I’ve ever attended. (Actually better than most of the theatre I’ve seen lately). But I can apply the suntan lotion. And I can cut up the food for the kids. Oh wait. No – the waiters in the dining room do that. After they squeeze the ketchup into a Mickey Mouse shape. Oh – and when we arrived to dinner each night (you try each dining room and the staff actually rotates with your family) the kids’ names were clearly present on their cups.
So what struck me the most was my role as a mother, as part of a family. It became more and more clear that I wasn’t responsible to be everything to the kids. My job should include having fun too. And creating memories with my spouse and family. We had lots of time and made a thousand memories as a unit of 4, but I also relaxed as an adult – as a woman. And my husband and I bonded and reconnected. There were so many adult-only areas on the ship, and it was so over-the-top classy that I would return to any Disney cruise even without my kids in tow.
The decor was timeless. Like grand ships of the ’40s, the profile of the Dream and the detailing of the mill work throughout was incredible. Our stateroom had a bathtub – great for infants (and me) and the theatres were opulent. It was kind of like ‘choose your own adventure’. You could catch a film in the movie theatre as a family, take in the fireworks on deck, hit the arcade, chill in the family ‘D Lounge’, or eat (some more). A new addition from the sister ships is also the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I sent my husband out to purchase suntan lotion and he found himself at the Boutique. He returned ashen-faced and empty-handed. The boutique transforms little girls into Disney Divas or Fairy Tale Princesses. A full-on salon environment, the boutique allows little princesses to choose from packages with hair, nails, makeup and exclusive outfits and crowns. For the tiny princes, as well as girls and grownups (SCORE), there are pirate nights. “Applications of beards and bandanas, swords and scars, earrings and eye patches are all done with the savvy skill of a veteran pirate who shares his own tales of sea-sailing adventures.”
If you prefer an adult escape, you could ditch the kids and go to any of the bars and lounges in Europa, the adult area, like The Tube (a la London), Ohh La La (Paris boudoir), O’Gill’s Pub (Ireland), La Piazza (Italy), or the Skyline. It features full visual skylines of world-famous cities behind the bar and they change over the course of the evening. The Skyline single-handedly convinced my other half that St. Petersburg needs to be our next big trip. Thank you Disney Fantasy. I’ve been working on that jaunt for years.. There are also fun bars on deck, and of course the shows. But you wouldn’t really want the kids to miss those. And in the big scheme of finances – once they’ve seen a live musical on a Disney cruise, you don’t have to break the bank taking them to Broadway, because the performers are THAT good. (I used to do musical theatre). Save the cash for the St. Petersburg trip.
Castaway Cay is Disney’s private Island in the Bahamas. I could yammer on and on about the white sand and the snorkeling, the water sports, the teen beach or the adult-only areas, but I took one huge thing away with me and can’t get it out of my head. Mahi Mahi and fruit. When we arrived, there was a table covered in ready-to-eat fruit. For lunch, amidst burgers, chicken and ribs, was the most perfect Mahi Mahi I have ever experienced. Ditto for the kids. And that’s the thing – my kids ate better during this cruise than they have ever eaten (yeah – my Mom self-esteem is plummeting). I discovered that they LOVE white fish. Papaya. Scalloped potatoes. We tried to make a point of pushing them out of their comfort zones – they were so happy all the time they hardly noticed. (One restaurant – Animator’s Palace – actually encouraged you to draw a figure and then you could see it come to life on screens around the room as you ate!!) So many childrens’ menus do a disservice to our parenting and our children. And the colouring is always interspersed with the offerings of mac and cheese, hotdogs and garbage. At Disney I would have ordered off the kids’ menu. But could someone please cut up my food?
So when you’re not getting photographed with the princesses (there are tons of opportunities), getting the kids styled at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, you can head to the Shipboard Detective Agency on Deck 4. Many parents I knew on the cruise couldn’t get their kids to stop this activity. So you become a detective. You find clues within the art on the ship, and you solve a mystery. There’s even one involving the Muppets. (My kids love the Muppets because we saw a 4-D show in the Magic Kingdom which took me back to childhood. They could see my delight and now every time they see a Muppet commercial on tv the scream their heads off in joy to show me. And I think they are dying. But I digress.)
I’ve taken a few lessons home from Disney. Fun and relaxation instill progress and learning. Adult time is important. Try new things with your kids when you have the opportunity. Focus on your family and it’s unique qualities in determining your activities. Remember that no one person should pressure themselves to teach, entertain and care for the kids all the time. Share the responsibility. And if you still feel like a really crappy mother, hop on a Disney Cruise, dress like a pirate, watch fireworks and focus on the joy in your childrens’ faces. Your parenting has enabled them to feel this true joy, and Disney does a magnificent job in helping them bring it to the surface.
Disclosure: Disney Resorts provided accommodation, cruise fare, 1 airline fare for the family to travel to Florida in order to witness the ship and the inaugural sailing of the Fantasy.