What To Expect When You’re…Cruising with Disney and a Baby: Part 1

| March 26, 2014 | Reply

My wife, one-year-old daughter, and I recently embarked on a 7-night sailing through the Eastern Caribbean aboard the Disney Fantasy.  Starting and ending in Port Canaveral, FL, we sailed to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.  Cautious about taking a one-year old to an over-stimulating Walt Disney World, but eager to start creating Disney memories with our daughter, we figured we would give the Disney Cruise Line a shot.  After months of planning and not knowing what to expect, I can say that my wife and I were more than pleased with the Disney Cruise experience.  It provided the perfect blend of relaxation that we were seeking with just a dash of magical pixie dust to make it seem like a real adventure for our entire family.

As I roamed the Fantasy’s hallways and decks admiring the grandeur, as I played with my daughter and watched her experience Disney for the first time, and as I watched other families interact and truly enjoy each other’s company, I kept thinking about Walt Disney’s quote: “I hope we never lose sight of one thing… that it was all started by a mouse.”  Perhaps it is because I am now a father and I see the world completely different, but I was reminded just how much Walt Disney and his famed mouse have given to millions.  We millions certainly pay for our share of the mouse, but what we get in return is so much greater than any amount of money ever spent – memories, inspiration, relaxation, wonder, and a sense of nostalgia.  I write this reflection to say that throughout our Disney cruise I realized just how much I appreciated the man and his mouse.  For as long as I can remember, his imagination and inspiration have produced magical memories that I cherish.  Yet, even with all that, I have to say that our recent Disney Cruise was, simply put, one of the best vacations I have ever been on.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we have already begun planning our next sailing.

Embarkation Day

For the kid in me, the day we stepped foot on the Fantasy was the most exciting! When we arrived at the port and the ship was before me in all its magnificence, I was filled with child-like excitement.  For the parent and adult in me, the day we stepped foot on the Fantasy was also the most overwhelming!  Overstimulation would be the word I would use to describe my first day as I was inundated with the realities of embarking—instructions, timeframes, papers needing my signature, security, other confused people, and, among other things, a toddler requiring the full attention of her parents.  I want to point out that this is more of a reflection of my own personality and less Disney’s setup.  In fact, Disney’s cast members were quite organized and helpful throughout our entire check-in process.

Upon arrival at the port, the check-in process is pretty straightforward.  There is certainly a lot going on so I definitely recommend completing and submitting any paperwork online ahead of time.  This makes it much easier for you (and Disney) and provides you with the ability to pick a terminal arrival time before leaving home.  Your terminal arrival time is the time when you will be allowed to enter the ship and dictates which embarkation group number your party is assigned.  As Disney is always punctual, be sure to check-in online early and choose your terminal arrival time based on your realistic expectation of when your transportation will arrive at the port.  If you get there too early you won’t be able to board the ship and you’ll be stuck chasing your children around the terminal; get there too late and you miss valuable time aboard the ship!  We found our boarding time of 12:15-12:30 to be quite convenient as the terminal wasn’t too busy and it seemed to be before the busloads of folks on the Disney transfer buses arrived.

The magic begins immediately as you board the ship as cast members announce your family name and clap for you as you enter the atrium.  Once in the atrium, you’re free to move about the ship, though staterooms aren’t typically ready until about 1pm.  We used this time to go grab some lunch at Cabanas (the ship’s main lunch spot) and review the Navigator (the ship’s daily activity guide) to make our afternoon plans.  As most people were still boarding or checking out the ship, we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves and were able to get a seat out on the balcony to take in the nice views of Port Canaveral.  By the time we finished lunch, the rooms were ready so we were able to drop off our carry-ons and start exploring!

We found it helpful to get ourselves oriented by checking out the pool area, nursery, and other activity centers on the ship.  As guests’ luggage was being delivered to all the staterooms and guests were all going to their rooms, we found it difficult to navigate through the narrow corridors of the ship with a stroller.  Thus, in the future I’d suggest minimizing trips to and from your stateroom until most of the other guests are settled.  Also, as a general rule of thumb, I’d avoid the central elevators located in the center of the ship – they are always quite busy.

Once situated, your vacation can truly begin with the start of the “Sail-Away Celebration!”  Be sure to find a spot on the top deck and enjoy the “Bon Voyage” drink of the day to watch the show and get in the vacation spirit!  The “Sail-Away Celebration” is a great party where the crew and characters really do an excellent job getting everyone excited for their upcoming week of fun.  And, with the blow of the ship’s horn (with a special flare of Disney magic), you’re off!

The Ship

There is so much to say about the Disney Fantasy that a few paragraphs can’t do it proper justice.  When pulling up to the port, the sheer size of the ship is impressive. Compared to the other cruise ships in port, the Fantasy appeared so majestic and fit for royalty.  Disney’s decision to make their ships reminiscent of the transatlantic ships of years gone by was an excellent idea and it truly separates Disney from its competition.

The top decks include all of the outdoor activities (beverage stations, pools, lounge chairs, splash areas, sports complex, and the AquaDuck), the quick-service dining area, and the ship’s buffet restaurant, Cabanas.  Deck 11 is split between the adults-only pool and lounge areas and the family pools.  Though the adults-only area is very relaxing, it was sometimes difficult to find seating in the shade.  So, my wife and I often preferred the family area (even when our daughter wasn’t with us) as it had a fun and entertaining ambiance.  Overall, the family pool area was quite busy with activities and people but it never felt over-crowded.

The other major hot spot includes decks 3-5, especially if you are going with younger children, as these are the decks where the youth programs are as well as where most of the character meet-and-greets occur.  Deck 5 is the floor predominately dedicated to the kids of the ship with the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, It’s a Small World Nursery, Disney’s Oceaneers Club, and The Vibe.  Deck 5 was also where we seemed to find the most characters just wandering around!

In my opinion, deck 4 seems to be the most under-appreciated area of the ship. Not only is it great because of the walking/jogging track that circles the ship, there is also ample (and quiet!) seating along the deck with great views of the ocean.

This was a great area to find some quiet time and a much better place to run than on the gym’s treadmills.  We also found it a great place to walk our daughter while she was napping in the stroller.  We also enjoyed hanging around deck 4 in the evenings, as there was usually live music playing in the atrium and we enjoyed watching the characters!

The main point is that the ship is so massive, with so much space for activities, that we never ran out of places to go or things to do.  So, be sure to explore every nook and cranny that you can.  The ship is full of details, hidden Mickeys, and a few surprises along the way!

Accommodations

The staterooms aboard the Disney Fantasy are quite remarkable.  For our cruise, we chose the Deluxe Oceanview with Verandah stateroom and it worked out perfectly!  Our room came with a very comfortable queen-sized bed, a convertible sofa, a split bathroom, and the verandah.  The split bathroom was convenient for us as it provided two separate areas and, therefore, more privacy and space to get ready.  Additionally, having a tub was great for our daughter’s bath time.  Despite the room’s small size (although from my understanding the rooms are still larger than the average cruise room), Disney incorporated some great ways to maximize the space.  For example, our bed was sufficiently raised to allow luggage to be placed under it.  There are also two closets with shelving and hangers as well as several drawers throughout the room for miscellaneous items.  However, I would certainly still consider packing conservatively as space is limited and we didn’t wear half of the clothes we packed.

For families, I would highly recommend splurging for a verandah.  My wife and I found it priceless as it enabled us to sit outside while our daughter napped.  In addition, the views the verandah provided were incredible.  We really enjoyed watching the sun rise and set, as well as observing the ports of call.

Reflecting on our planning, I was glad I requested a quiet room as there are certainly a few rooms that, though convenient, tend to be louder due to their proximity to elevators, laundry rooms, the atrium, etc.  I was also glad that I requested a pack n’ play and Diaper Genie which tend to be in high-demand.  It was a nice treat to come back to our room in the evenings to find the pack n’ play already set up and the Diaper Genie emptied!

Part II…

To quote the kindhearted Lumiere, please, “Be our guest,” for Part II of “What To Expect When You’re… Cruising with Disney and a Baby” as the Disney Fantasy’s dining options are reviewed.  You’ll soon see why it’s so easy for the average week-long cruiser to gain 7-14 pounds…



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Category: Disney World