In my Disney Cruise review part one I looked at the Disney Cruise Line staterooms, service and food. In this post I’ll continue with the other areas of the ship, including some of the things I like most about cruising with Disney.
4) The Kids’ Clubs
Most cruise lines offer kids’ clubs of some sort and many are excellent, but this is an area where Disney Cruise Lines really stands head and shoulders above the competition. The kids’ clubs take up a huge portion of the ship and they are open most days from first thing in the morning to late at night. For very young children, Disney offers one of the only nurseries at sea for kids up to three years of age. This is the only section of the kids’ club where you have to pay by the hour and book in advance. The nursery is a calm and peaceful area with excellent caregivers and space for both toddlers and babies. We booked our son in the nursery a few times when we cruised with him at 22 months of age and he seemed happy enough to be there, although it wasn’t really that much different than any preschool or nursery. It was great to have the option for a baby or young toddler, though, since most cruises don’t offer anything for that age group.
After age three, the kids’ clubs really start getting exciting. The ships each have two main areas for kids aged three to eleven. The Oceaneer’s Club is geared to age three to seven or so and the Oceaneer’s Lab is geared to the older kids although kids of any age are welcome to go to either. In the Wonder and the Magic they are two separate areas, while in the Dream and the Fantasy they are linked and kids can go from one to the other on their own. Each area is divided into smaller rooms with different themes such as Toy Story or Tinkerbell’s Nook. There are activities going on throughout the day and kids can join in or play on their own. There are also “open house” times when parents can join their kids in fun activities.
Overall, my kids loved the clubs, but there were a few things that weren’t ideal. We have only cruised with preschoolers and I found that the clubs were a bit too stimulating for kids that age at times. Our kids are pretty bold and used to being in a group with older kids, but I could see how a shy three or four year old could easily feel lost in the crowd amongst a couple hundred older children. The older ships were a bit better for this since the separate Club and Lab space meant that the crowds were smaller and the ages were more grouped together. While I still feel the Disney kids’ clubs are great for preschoolers, I think my kids will enjoy them even more on their next Disney cruise when they’ll be six and almost five.
The clubs also have a strict check in and out policy with wristbands tracking the kids’ movement throughout the club and ID checks at the gate. While this is great overall, it can lead to long waits to check in and out at busy times. The areas were also a little heavy in the use of screens as well. While I know my kids loved that there were Disney videos and games everywhere they looked, I’d be quite happy for them to not have that option all day.
Disney also has a club called the Edge for 11-13 year olds and the Vibe for 14-17 year olds. We’ve haven’t been in those spaces yet for obvious reasons, but I’ve heard great things about them. One other thing to note is that teens aren’t allowed in the Vibe after their 18th birthday even if they’re still in high school and yet the drinking age is 21 in the clubs and bars, so that may be an age where there isn’t a lot to do for an older teen on Disney. And speaking of clubs and bars…
5) Public Spaces
The Disney ships are just plain gorgeous. The decor is classic and subtle, unlike the garish theme on some other cruise lines and everything is very well maintained. You may think that a Disney cruise would be overrun with kids all the time, but we found that on a Disney cruise it’s actually easier to get away from the kids. All the ships have a huge adults only area with great clubs, bars and restaurants as well as an adult pool. Speaking of pools, we weren’t terribly impressed with the Disney cruise offerings overall. They seemed much too small for the numbers of people in them on days at sea and were so crowded that they seemed a bit unsafe to me. One thing we loved on the Dream was the water play area on the pool deck and we spent more time there than in the pools. Another feature of the Dream that we loved was the interactive art throughout the ship with pictures that come to life and even interact with each other. There are touches of magic like this throughout the ship and we were still finding new things to discover on our last day of the cruise each time.
A major feature of each ship is the show theatre at the front of each ship. Family friendly entertainment is offered each night of the cruise including several major Broadway type shows on each cruise. Obviously Disney has a huge advantage over the competition in this department. Even at age two and three, my kids would sit through each show, enchanted with the familiar music and characters. Unlike some other cruise lines, the main theatre shows are never racy in any way, although a few scenes and special effects can be a bit scary for little ones. Each ship also has a theatre that shows first run movies.
There are also great entertainment options for all ages throughout the day. At any one time there may be a Disney Junior dance party in one lounge, a cooking demonstration in another area, a teen karaoke contest somewhere else, an entertainer singing in one of the adult clubs and a band playing reggae music out by the pool.
Another thing we love about Disney Cruise lines is the characters. They appear in the shows of course, but they are also around the ships at various times. There are scheduled meet and greats almost every day but what we liked even more were the spontaneous encounters with the characters. You never knew when you’d find Tiana coming up the atrium stairs or Donald Duck waving at you from the upper deck. I remember going to pick up my son from the nursery on our first cruise and arrived as Chip and Dale were coming out of the nursery after playing with the toddlers there. As far as he was concerned, they were there to see him, not the other way around!
So, is it worth it?
That ‘s the million dollar question. Disney cruise lines has a lot of great features, but so do all cruises. What it really comes down to for us is the “magic”. The look of wonder on our kids’ faces when they see their favourite character or when they’re watching a great show. But of course, we’ll only pay so much for the magic before it starts getting a wee bit less magical. The prices on Disney Cruise Lines seems to have been going up faster than many of the other cruises and it’s getting harder and harder to find a decent price. So for us the answer is a qualified yes, but for others it may not be worth it. But if you ever get the chance, I’d recommend you try them out so you can decide for yourself.