Post by Nathaniel Nelson
In a recent article, I noted how I was eager to introduce the magic of Disney to my 1-year old daughter by traveling on a Disney Cruise. I explained that I was excited to be making new Disney memories with my family. “That sounds magical!” the Disney fanatic would say, right? It certainly is.
However, as I’m penning this sentence, my wife is trying desperately to give my screaming daughter a simple bath; thus, I’m reminded how anything with a baby can go from “magical” to nerve-wracking in mere seconds. I can envision this out on the open-seas as if one minute things are going swimmingly-well with Ariel and then the next, Ursula has ascended from the deep. To mitigate any potential problems should my daughter (or dare I say, Ursula) get unruly, my wife and I decided that planning for our Disney cruise should be a top priority!
Here are the top 5 topics we thought most worthy to be considered by those brave souls (pun, intended) who dare to take up the open seas with baby-in-tow.
1) When To Cruise and How To Get To the Port.
From weather to the cost of the cruise, deciding when to cruise has many implications. As my wife and I will be traveling with our 1-year old daughter, we have the flexibility to avoid going during the more expensive and crowded school breaks and holidays. Though there’s appeal in cruising cheaply in October, we felt the risk of traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season with a baby was too big and carried with it the potential of ruining any Disney “magic.” So, we decided that cruising during the winter would allow us to escape the winter blues while experiencing less crowds and enjoying more savings. Since we were saving money, we were able to treat ourselves with a room with a verandah! This way, we can enjoy the ocean air and not have to be cooped up staying quiet while our daughter naps.
Another initial point to consider is how to get from the airport to the port. Disney does offer round-trip transportation, however, unlike the Magical Express service when staying at Walt Disney World, there is a fee ($70/person). This, along with the desire to arrive a day early to avoid any potential travel problems, made me research other transportation options. I was pleased to find a hotel that provided round-trip transportation from the airport, to the hotel, and to the port all for about $50 more total than the cost of Disney transportation. Though I would normally pay any amount to have the privilege of being transported by Disney, in this case I felt that enjoying an extra, more relaxed day of vacation would be better.
2) Optimizing my Disney Cruise While Considering My Baby’s Schedule.
Being first-time cruisers, we have had no prior experience to draw from to set our expectations. One way we educated ourselves about cruising with Disney was by reviewing the many Disney-related travel websites, such as wdwinfo.com. The information helped us to be ready to optimize our time, despite being limited by our daughter’s schedule. For example, we were able to read reviews of how Disney’s dining times work and how one’s dining seating selection determines scheduled evening entertainment. As our daughter can get a bit cranky as the evening progresses, we decided that requesting the first dinner seating would be better for us. Simply put, it’s easier to walk away during entertainment than the main course.
Our research also provided us with some great insight – there isn’t too much planning required for a cruise since excursions and on-board entertainment are already determined. Therefore, our biggest decision each day will be which pre-planned activities to participate in… or not depending on our daughter’s “disposition du jour.” Simply by being aware of all of the events planned throughout the day will give us the flexibility needed with a baby whose schedule can be, often times, unpredictable.
3) Packing enough without going overboard (pun intended).
As any parent knows, success while traveling with your little kiddo depends, in part, on how and what you pack (we typically don’t leave the house for a day outing without at least 2-3 baby bags). Recognizing the constraints due to air travel and limited stateroom space, we realized we would need to be strategic with our packing as our list of necessary baby items includes a crib, highchair, stroller, diapers, wipes, baby food, toys, blankies, swim diapers, sunscreen, a night light, and many other items to keep our daughter happy for a week. Luckily, there are options. Some of these items, such as the crib and highchair, are provided free of charge upon request by DCL. Others, such as diapers and wipes, can be purchased aboard the ship (though at a higher cost and limited quantities). Or, for those that want little to no stress, some of these items can be ordered ahead of time from a company such as Babies Travel Lite and delivered to staterooms (again for a higher cost). It’s nice to know there’s some choice and flexibility on this issue. As we get closer to our trip, we’ll be deciding the benefit of saving money versus saving luggage space. In addition, DCL will provide a limited number of strollers for rental; however we’ve decided to invest in a lightweight and compact Minnie Mouse umbrella stroller. This way, our daughter will be able to travel in Disney style and we won’t have to worry about the availability of a stroller.
On a final note, since our daughter will have outgrown all her summer outfits by the time we go on our cruise in January, we did some planning ahead and took advantage of the end-of-summer sales to get her some cruise-worthy outfits.
4) Ensuring quality time for parents with baby-in-tow.
Part of our desire to vacation is to spend time together so we also did some serious investigating into childcare options while on our cruise. Though we love our daughter to pieces, we’d really like to have a night-out on the town… or rather, on the ocean… by ourselves.
Once the online reservation system opens for our cruise, we’ll be reserving as much of our allotted 10 hours worth of babysitting services that we’re able to (Note: If there’s room, families are able to book extra time once onboard). As mentioned in my last article, though the childcare services cost extra ($6/hour), the cost is still significantly cheaper than it costs at home! For nervous parents, such as myself, there is an excellent review of the “It’s A Small World Nursery” conducted by a couple of the moms on the DISUnplugged that will certainly alleviate any fears.
Every online review we read suggested that Disney cruise guests make reservations for any special outings as soon as possible. So, again, once the online reservation system opens for our cruise, we’ll be making reservations for that special, adults-only dinner at Palo or Remy. On this issue, our planning truly paid of as we learned that the “show” at Animator’s Palate only occurs during the first dining rotation.
Thus, it’s beneficial to wait until later in the travel week to enjoy a special dinner at Palo or Remy to avoid missing the dinner show. We’ve also learned that there are plenty of “adults-only” amenities, activities, and presentations that DCL provides. So, getting that quality one-on-one time with my wife seems as easy as getting a Disney-inspired babysitter and heading out!
5) Understanding Disney and Customs regulations/policies regarding travel documentation.
Disney and Uncle Sam are quite clear on this one. Per the DCL website, “In order to board the ship, all Guests are required to provide proper travel documentation.” Therefore, no documentation, no cruise. So, be sure to learn about customs regulations and policies.
A special note for those seeking to obtain a passport for their child: Getting your child’s passport requires some additional planning and preparation as you’ll need the passport application, child’s identification form, evidence of relationship between you and your child, identification for parents, passport photos and fees. Further, both parents and the minor are required to apply in person, or one parent may provide a notarized Statement of Consent from the other parent if both parents cannot attend. A parent with sole custody must show a document proving that status. The point here is to plan accordingly!
Now that we’ve gotten much of the planning out of the way for our cruise, it’s now time to ramp up the promotion of all things Disney to our daughter so she’s not shy around the characters and princesses! Soon enough, however, our planning and preparation will be put to the test as we embark onto the open seas.
Will our efforts help make our time fly like the breeze? Or, will we have to roll with the stormy seas? Stay tuned…