If I can say one thing about a Disney Cruise, it’s that you’ll never run out of things to do, whether onboard or onshore and whether you’re an adult, a child, or an eternal “kid at heart.” In this final installment of my Disney Cruise review, I explore the many entertainment options available to Disney Cruise Line passengers, as well as some of the Ports of Call, to show that the Disney Cruise is an excellent vacation choice, guaranteed to be fun for your entire family.
When it comes to entertainment, the Disney Cruise line offers non-stop, quality fun for the whole family… all without even leaving the ship. I would wager that every family that travels on the cruise line comes back with memories that will last a lifetime. For me, I am filled with such joy and delight as I think back on our adventures. From the squeals of delight my daughter gave after she daringly conquered the splash area, to the laughter I heard from my wife as she watched the show at Animator’s Palate, to the smiles we all had on our faces as we interacted with the characters, our Disney cruise gave something to each of us – that feeling of being a child. It’s funny because on the evenings we had put our daughter in the nursery, instead of heading to the adult-area lounges, my wife and I were more interested in partaking in whatever family activities were going on. For example, one evening we learned to salsa and meringue with Donald Duck, another we dominated the Disney trivia challenge, and another we sat quietly while watching family karaoke! I think we enjoyed these events so much because not only were they fun, but also it was so worthwhile seeing other families truly having fun. From an entertainment perspective, I can say that if I were a kid, I’d be in heaven aboard the cruise. Where else can kids run around with Peter Pan through the halls taunting Captain Hook as he poses for pictures?
The only problem with the entertainment available is that there’s too much to do! (For those of us that want to do everything, it can be quite overwhelming!) To help plan, there are two ways to know what’s going on during the cruise. The first is the daily Disney Navigator, which provides the information for everything you could possibly do on the ship, including, for example, character appearances, movie and show times, kid’s club activities, etc. For days at a port, it also includes some background information on the port. We were glad we packed a highlighter as it helped us organize what we wanted to do and when! The second option available (for those traveling on the Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Magic—and will soon be available for the Disney Wonder) is to use the free Disney Cruise Line app on your cell phone which details the same information while onboard the ship. (Future cruisers: If using your personal phone, remember to set it on “airplane mode” to avoid cell phone charges.)
Judging from all the smiling kids we saw running around the ship, I can confidently say that the Disney youth program is doing something right! A major benefit of a Disney cruise is that there are specific Disney-themed areas of the ship dedicated to specific age groups, all run by Disney cast members. It’s worth noting that the youth activities cast members on the Disney cruise are first-rate as they are professional, courteous, and have a passion for children.
Onboard the Disney Fantasy there was It’s A Small World Nursery (for infants and toddlers), Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab (for the younger kids), the Edge (for tweens), and the Vibe (for teens). As our daughter was 15 months old at the time, we didn’t check out the older kids’ areas but the most common comment we heard from other parents was, “We haven’t seen our kid all week!” For us, though it cost extra, the nursery was wonderful!
We used all of the hours we were allotted and we never felt worried leaving our daughter especially knowing we could be contacted on our Wave Phones if we were needed (Wave Phones are phones that can be used to make calls or send text messages aboard the ship and on Castaway Cay). One of our favorite activities with our daughter was “Toddler and coffee time.” This was an opportunity for parents to bring their toddlers to play in a room set aside just for them. My wife and I really valued this time since we were able to meet the youth cast members while taking a little break as our daughter played with them. Another major benefit is that the cookies they provide are delicious!
The Fantasy offers a few options for entertaining the whole family. The Walt Disney Theater holds the nightly live entertainment, including a few Broadway-style shows and variety acts. The Buena Vista Theater shows various Disney movies throughout the day and night. Since we haven’t had many opportunities to see many new movies since our daughter was born, we enjoyed seeing Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks in a venue where there were other children! The D Lounge is a family-focused venue where we enjoyed some Disney trivia, practiced some dance moves, and watched Disney-flavored, family karaoke. There’s also an interactive mystery game onboard for kids (and adults, too!) featuring the Muppets.
The most popular onboard activities for family entertainment are the pools, the characters, and the pirate party. And, all 3 make a Disney cruise unique.
There are several pools onboard the Fantasy, each with its own distinct character. Our favorite adult pool was quiet and relaxing and included a swim-up bar. However, we spent more time at the family pools, as they are at the center of it all and more lively. Both family pools offer views of the ship’s FunnelVision, which is a huge screen that shows Disney movies pretty much at all hours. Also near the family pools is Nemo’s Reef, which is a Finding Nemo-themed splash area for diaper-wearing children. During our cruise, our daughter loved exploring this area, with all its water fountains. To top it off, the AquaDuck is an elevated water-coaster. It’s a really fun ride that offers great views of not only the ship but also the surrounding scenery. Both my wife and I rode it separately and together and enjoyed it every time! We found that the best time to ride it was either late at night or while many were still off exploring ports.
Meeting Disney characters is always exciting. But, meeting Disney characters on a Disney cruise is extra fun! Unlike at the Disney parks where there are very long lines and no guarantees that you will actually be able to meet the character, the cruise is able to offer shorter lines and the promise that you’ll meet the character as long as you’re in line by the announced time. Plus, as all of the character appearances are published in the Navigator, it’s quite easy to plan ahead and get a spot in line early. I frequently went down to wait in line with my daughter while my wife finished getting ready for dinner. The other major reason why meeting characters is better onboard a cruise is that you get to spend more time with them. As a result, you feel like your time spent waiting was more worth it. And, because you spend more time with the characters, they start to know you! During our cruise, both Belle and Cinderella remembered not only my daughter’s face but also her name. It was certainly pretty “magical” when we brought our daughter up to Cinderella and she addressed our daughter by name and invited her to sit on her lap! The other neat thing about Disney Cruise characters is that you might see them anywhere! One evening we found Belle roaming the hall and on another we found Chip ‘n Dale playing in the window curtains.
Finally, the major event onboard was the “Pirates IN the Caribbean” party. The evening kicks-off with some pirate games, allowing kids the opportunity to play out on the deck, followed by an entertaining show featuring Disney characters, including Captain Jack Sparrow. *SPOILER ALERT* The night concludes with Captain Mickey saving the ship and an impressive display of fireworks set to the soundtrack of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” During the evening there is a great vibe throughout the ship as many guests, and all the characters, dress up like pirates! Being a popular event for the cruise, the main deck does get quite crowded just like a parade would at a park, however, the crowd is manageable. We found that arriving a little early and getting a spot on the starboard side on deck 12 worked out well. We were able to see everything perfectly since the pirate show occurs on the deck 11 stage and the fireworks went off right over our heads.
Ports of Call
The various ports of call that the ship visits are another important piece of any Disney cruise. As this review is mainly about the onboard Disney cruise experience, I will simply say that the ports of call offer a nice addition to any cruise and it is certainly worthwhile to spend some time exploring each port. During our cruise, we chose not to book any “Port Adventures,” or shore excursions, and, unfortunately, I think we missed out on a lot of what the ports had to offer. We were cautious about committing ourselves to anything that we might not be able to follow through with as we were traveling with an unpredictable toddler. However, when we cruise again we plan to take advantage of the Port Adventures since we learned that walking aimlessly around the ports’ shopping districts isn’t exactly exciting for children (and some adults). In addition, as the sun is stronger and hotter in the Caribbean, a stroller wasn’t too comfortable for our daughter. All this being said, we actually enjoyed returning to the ship early and relaxing by the pools when they were a little quieter.
The best day of our cruise was our day at Castaway Cay. Though we had a great time while onboard the Fantasy, our time at Castaway Cay was truly magical. As Sebastian sang, “Such wonderful things surround you, What more is you lookin’ for?”
In a nutshell, Disney created the quintessential Caribbean island for their guests to enjoy while still providing the same family-friendly atmosphere as on their ships. The beaches are pristine and offer plenty of seating and just like on the ship, food and non-alcoholic drinks are included. There are a variety of things to do on the island including shopping, biking, hiking, getting massages in private cabanas, swimming, snorkeling, and jet skiing. For the athletes out there, be sure to sign up for the Castaway Cay 5k! I signed up and though it was hot, I really enjoyed this unique opportunity, as it was a great way to see the island!
My wife and I enjoyed Castaway Cay as much as we did because the island offered so much for our daughter to do. She absolutely loved playing in the sand and splashing around in the sea (we realized that she had never been on a beach before!). There is also a great splash area for kids, offering a safe space to run around. The other reason we enjoyed the island so much was we didn’t have to worry about where we were headed like on the other ports. Instead, we could just simply walk around, enjoy the Caribbean sun, and, of course, meet characters!
Finally, don’t forget to stop by the island’s post office on the way back to the ship to send yourself a special post card direct from Castaway Cay. It takes about a month to be delivered but it’s a nice reminder of your trip and makes for a unique souvenir. Note: stamps must be purchased with cash so bring some change!
Though I love to visit the Disney Parks, I have to say that I almost now prefer a Disney cruise. Unlike when visiting the parks where you know that you are one of millions, the Disney Cruise provides a more personal touch. Your servers learn your dining habits. The stewards prepare your room based on your likes. And, even some of the characters begin to know you by name. Also, though the parks offer unlimited excitement and opportunity, they can become draining by the end of a week. However, a Disney cruise seems to offer the perfect blend between relaxation and adventure. Each day you have the choice to either sit and enjoy the sun, or participate in one of the many quality activities planned.
The Disney Cruise was the perfect choice for our family. My wife and I were able to strike that perfect balance between spending time together with our daughter, while also getting some quality one-on-one time that we don’t normally get. It was nice not always having to pack bags upon bags of baby items as we knew our stateroom was never far away. The best part of the cruise was there wasn’t as much pressure to have that “perfect angel” at every moment because there are so many other kids onboard.
Our time on the Disney cruise was exactly what I was hoping for – a time where a family could have fun, together. I think Walt Disney, the man, would be very pleased to see what his successors created in the Disney Cruise Lines – a safe, family-focused environment that allows even the oldest of adults to feel like a kid again. I can think of no better way to summarize my thoughts on the Disney cruise experience than by saying… my family can’t wait to sail again!
Category: Disney Cruise Line