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but the Parks
All you can do without visiting the theme parks
Disney Cruise Line with Kids
Friday, May 10, 2002
Vacationing on a cruise ship was once considered an option for those who had both time and money primarily senior citizens and the affluent. Although adults still outnumber children on cruises, cruise ships have begun attracting a broader audience including singles and families as the number of ships increased and competition grew stiffer.
Although almost every cruise line has a children's program during summers and school vacation periods, none that I know of has designed itself with as much a focus on children as Disney Cruise Line. It should come as no surprise that the company with all those theme parks and child-suitable entertainment would want to grab a piece of the cruise market.
One obvious advantage to a cruise vacation is its all-inclusiveness. Everything is covered in the cost of the cruise fare, including lodging, meals, entertainment, and travel between ports. The only things a passenger must pay for separately are alcohol, between-meal beverages, tips, spa treatments, shore excursions. and merchandise.
Once notorious for tiny cabins, newer cruise ships, including the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, were built with larger staterooms. Although they are still smaller than a room at the Walt Disney World All-Star Resorts, they are quite an improvement over ships from 20 years ago.
One particularly nice Disney feature not seen elsewhere is the split bathroom. Rather than one room with a toilet, sink, and shower, there are two rooms. One has a sink and toilet while the other has another sink and a tub-and-shower combination, which provide much more convenience for a family.
Children make up a large percentage of the passenger list on the Disney ships, and parents have many opportunities to enjoy time with each other while the children are occupied elsewhere. Families can also share activities together, starting with the Bon Voyage party held by the family pool, where the characters make an appearance and lead the crowd in dancing to the music as the ship prepares to sail. While cruise ships are generally exciting for children, adding Disney characters to the experience may make them think they are living a dream!
On days where the ship is at sea, the children's areas are open from 9:00am until 1:00am. The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab take up a large portion of deck 5, with children grouped by age (generally 2-3 years within the group).
Activities are scheduled throughout the day and evening, and it is possible for children to spend their entire time in the clubs. In fact, some parents report difficulty getting their children to leave the club or lab in order to spend time with the family.
Children can even eat dinner with the other children, at a special buffet set up at the buffet restaurant on deck 9. Older children are allowed to sign themselves in and out of the club freely, while younger ones must be picked up by a parent. Disney provides beepers to the parents, so cast members can quickly beeps the parents if there is an emergency or the child simply wants to be picked up. Both the Club and the Lab have a sign-up period on the day the ship sails, with many children enjoying their new friends that same evening.
Teens have their own area on Deck 9, called Common Grounds. Set up like a New York-style coffee house, teens can hang out, play games, listen to music, and socialize. There are fewer structured activities, since many teens prefer to just hang out with other teens. Some teens use Common Grounds quite a bit, while others find friends and spend more time in the pool or on the Sports Deck playing basketball.
The Disney ships have three swimming pools, and children are permitted in two of them. Children are not only prohibited in the pool designed for adults age 18 and older, but are generally discouraged from even being in the immediate area (nothing like an approaching child to get a deck full of adults watching like a hawk to make sure he does not linger in the area).
Younger children can enjoy the 18-inch-deep pool shaped like a Mickey Mouse head. This tends to be the most crowded area because of the large number of families traveling with small children.
The pool has a very fun water slide, but for this one children must be shorter than the height requirement older children are not permitted. Child-friendly food and ice cream are available right next door, and there are several tables in the shade on deck 9.
Older children find Goofy's Pool more to their liking. It is a traditional pool about four feet deep, and is the logical place for children who want to splash around and have fun. Music is played at each pool throughout the day, with the adult pool having calm music and the music at the Mickey pool being the most peppy.
When a live band plays, they perform on the stage near the Goofy pool, and one afternoon Goofy will have a fitness deck party for the children. Both children and adults join in the fun while the adults try to work off some of the calories they are consuming on vacation!
Dining on a Disney ship is definitely modified because of the number of young children on board. My experience has been five-course dining, but on Disney it is three-course, which I assume is because they realize many children cannot handle sitting through an additional two courses every night.
Children can eat from their own menu or order anything from the regular menu, and the servers tend to pay them extra attention. Strollers are a common sight in the dining rooms, as are high chairs and booster seats. The most talked-about dining room is Animators' Palate, where the walls and pictures convert from black & white to full color during the meal.
All of the ports the ships stop at have shore excursions suitable for families, and in some cases may have excursions strictly for teens. For many passengers, the highlight of the ports is Castaway Cay, Disney's own island. There is a children's area on the island, but many children join their parents on the family beach for a day of sand and water. The barbecue lunch has many child-pleasing foods. The one drawback to the family beach is it gets extremely crowded too crowded for my taste so it is important to get off the ship as early as possible in order to secure enough chairs together, especially if you hope to get a hammock!
On the seven-day cruise there is a character breakfast on the days at sea each stateroom receives a ticket notifying them of which day and time they are allowed to attend. A family "tea" with Wendy Darling is also offered more than once. All of the main shows presented at night (such as Disney Dreams) are appropriate for the entire family, with adults needing to go to the adult area (Beat Street or Route 66) for shows that are unsuitable for children.
Disney characters make many appearances throughout the cruise for the children, and photographers are available to take portraits of the children or families with the characters. Formal night is a particularly popular night for this, with even Mickey and Minnie dressing in their formal attire.
Some parents wonder if their young children will be safe on a cruise ship, and the answer is yes. On a cruise ship, there are fewer opportunities to get into trouble, and it is difficult to get lost. The railings are high enough that nobody is going to accidentally fall overboard, and children would have a difficult time getting over intentionally. The verandah staterooms have sliding glass doors with locks that are well above the reach of children, and are somewhat difficult to unlatch although children should always be supervised.
Each night after dinner, passengers are given a schedule of the next day's activities, including a separate list for children. Beds are turned down, a chocolate left on each pillow, and it is possible a towel may have been transformed into a cute creature, much to the delight of both children and adults.
The bottom line anyone thinking of taking their children on a cruise vacation will find them welcomed with open arms on any Disney cruise!
Contact Sue at email@example.com.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
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