This year Spring Break was all about the mouse. Mickey Mouse, that is. We started our adventure on a 3-day cruise aboard the Disney Dream and finished it in a condo in Saratoga Springs Resort on Disney property for four fun filled days in the parks. I have a long history of Disney experiences, as I have grown up in a house with parents who adore the entire Walt Disney World experience. See my prior post The Disney Experience for the Jaded New Yorker for more Disney musings and a little about my Disney history. This post is a summary of the Disney cruise experience with two teenage girls.
I’ll start by saying, I have never cruised with any company other than Disney. I cannot confirm this fact, but I have heard from several other regular cruise enthusiasts that the Disney cruise exceeds all other cruises in spacious rooms, service, efficiency, and atmosphere. So, I guess we started at the top.
We easily boarded the boat in Port Canaveral on Friday afternoon, and the Disney Dream set sail around 5pm. Due to a series of unfortunate events, some of our party were unable to attend the cruise. We ended up being a mixed up group, which included myself and my two teenage daughters (without Dad), my 40yr old brother and his girlfriend, and my 24 year old nephew. Not the Disney target market, that’s for sure!
The first afternoon (Friday) was spent exploring the boat and looking at the schedule of events. Among the entertainment opportunities aboard the Disney Dream are 2 theaters, a pool with a giant screen playing movies all day long, a water slide, a sports bar, a night club, several restaurants, a kids club, a tween club, a teen club, and several adult only lounges. There are events for everyone, including one scheduled for singles (which had us wondering what kind of person would take a Disney cruise alone). One of our group was celebrating a birthday on arrival day and after getting an “Its my birthday” pin at check in, she was acknowledged by almost every staff member with a birthday greeting. (Note: Disney cruises staff the boat with a 2:1 ratio!) In addition, her room was decorated with a magnet on the door and a surprise inside.
The first night took some getting used to being on the water. Tip: We bought the Sea Bands to wear as bracelets and they helped quite a bit. For dinner, you need to choose in advance among two dinner seatings – 6:15 and 8:15. As a mostly adult group, we opted for the later seating. The seatings are set up so that you have a chance to dine in each of the three unique restaurants on the boat. Each evening you rotate from one restaurant to the next, along with your group and your wait staff, who are assigned to you on the first evening. The food in the restaurants was plentiful (as expected) and surprisingly good! Tip: Disney is known for their food accommodation as it relates to allergies, picky children (or adults), and preferences. The staff can almost always make something work! As soon as dinner was over, my kids (13 and 15) were off to enjoy the evening while the rest of us finished our wine. One of the best features of a cruise is that kids can safely roam at will. There is always some good clean fun for them to find, including riding the water slide, watching a movie in one of the theaters, popping into one of the teen clubs, random pool deck activities, and of course, the unlimited soft serve ice cream bar! I think they watched the film Beauty and the Beast, which just released that week, no less than 3x’s.
Our first port stop on Saturday, was in the Bahamas. While there were many activities we could have booked for our visit to the Bahamas, we chose to wing it and not spend any extra cash on an excursion. Tip: If you are on the cruise with kids, and you have never been to the Atlantis resort, it is totally worth spending the extra approx. $200 per person to spend the day on the grounds of this amazing resort. It is an experience you and your kids will not soon forget. Water rides, beaches, aquariums, lazy river rides, a casino, the list goes on. Having been to Atlantis on more than one occasion, we opted to disembark the boat and explore Nassau. We spent less than 2 hours ashore being accosted by the locals to buy their wares, before we realized that a quiet lounge chair next to a bar in the sun, while everyone else was ashore, was exactly what we needed. The kids even had the chance to go on the water slide without the line.
The second night, is the traditional Pirate party. If you are a well prepared Disney cruiser, you packed your best pirate costume in your luggage. If you are less well prepared, you stumble upon a pirate gift shop in Nassau and buy eye patches for everyone at $1.25 each! Either way, you are in for a post dinner dance party on the pool deck complete with ocean fireworks, a performance by the Mouse and his friends, and late night dancing. Tip: If you don’t have small children, enjoy the festivities from the deck that looks over the pool deck. It’s mayhem on the pool deck itself.
The highlight of the 3 day cruise happens early on Sunday when the ship arrives at Castaway Cay – Disney’s own private island tucked away in the Bahamas. I happened to be up early that day and could enjoy watching the boat pull into port.
I learned that about 60 people live on the island year round, and about 5 or 6 of them came running to the dock to help dock the ship. As soon as she was docked, dozens of staff came parading off the boat to unload the food needed for the big BBQ lunch served on the island. It seemed as if the forklift drivers were humming “Whistle while you work” as they transported the crates of food from the boat to trucks to be driven to the various restaurants on the island. Like a well choreographed dance, the entire transformation occurred in under an hour and was truly a spectacle to appreciate. Assuming the weather cooperates, the excursion to Castaway Cay, which is included in the price of the cruise, is an awesome experience. We began the day by renting bikes ($11per person) to explore land a bit before settling down on a beautiful sandy beach with turquoise blue waters for the remainder of the day.
A few tips about Castaway Cay:
- No matter what you plan to do, get your beach lounge chair set up as soon as you arrive on the island. If you wait, you may not find a chair with an umbrella.
- If you want to save a bit of money – do it here. The food and fun are included on this island so there is really no need to book extra activities for your day on Castaway Cay.
- Lunch ends promptly at 3pm. My kids were having so much fun in the crystal clear water and on the water slides, that they didn’t get hungry until after 2:30. By the time they got to the BBQ pit, the food was all packed up.
- There is an adult only restaurant at the opposite end of the island – its quiet and beautiful there, but too far (and too hot) to walk. Take the tram.
We stayed on our beach chairs until the last possible minute and returned, sun kissed and sandy, among the last people back on the boat. It was terrific!
My one single complaint about the 3-day cruise is all of the hustle that happens on the last night aboard the boat. Your luggage needs to be packed and outside your door by 9pm so the staff can get it all off the boat early the next morning. That means you need to be packed and ready to part with all of your things before dinner. It can make the evening routine with kids a bit challenging. In addition, the upper decks get closed early so the crew can start cleaning and turning the boat over for the next cruise. For those of you who want to squeeze in some last minute fun on the pool deck, it won’t happen. Finally, the last evening meal seemed a bit rushed by the wait staff who were anxious to get on with their duties of turning over the ship. If it were a longer cruise, I don’t think I would have noticed the abrupt end as much. Because we were only there for 3 days, it felt like we lost a big chunk of time on the last half of the last day.
Overall, although I am not a cruise enthusiast, I loved my experience aboard the Disney Dream and highly recommend it to families with kids of all ages.