It seems like a long time ago now, but we had one of our best family vacations ever last month on our amazing New Year’s Disney cruise. It was a five day cruise departing from Miami on December 30 and visiting Nassau, Disney’s private island Castaway Cay and Key West before returning to Miami on Jan 4. We’ve enjoyed other cruise lines over the years, but I have to say that no one can really match Disney Cruise Lines for great family entertainment. Here are a few of our favourite parts.
There are characters everywhere on the cruise ships! When you’re used to have to wait in lines in the parks to see the costumed characters it seems like such a treat to just have them wandering around the decks, ready for a quick high five or a hug. There are lines for characters at times and you may have to wait if there’s a specific character you just have to see, but we found that there were enough random encounters to keep everyone happy. Another bonus is that you can get free tickets to greet the most popular characters like Anna and Elsa or Jake the Pirate. You just pick them up the first day on board and go to the appointed place at the assigned time to see them with minimal waits. It really feels like you have an all access pass to the characters while you’re on board.
We’ve never really had an experience with seriously bad service on a cruise, but the staff members on Disney Cruises really do seem to be a cut above the rest. From waiters who cut your kids’ food for them and play magic tricks to entertain them while waiting for dessert to sparkling clean public areas and staterooms there was really nowhere that we could find fault with the service on our Disney cruise.
3) Castaway Cay
Our cruise included a stop at Disney’s private island and it really is a little piece of paradise. This is coming from a person who really doesn’t even like beaches. From the soft, perfectly groomed sand to the abundance of beach chairs and umbrellas to the lifeguards scattered everywhere it was a perfect place to check off “take kids to the beach” from the list of things I feel that I should do for my kids every once in a while. Did I mention there’s also a secured area where you can check your kids in for supervised sand play and games while you and your partner take a tram to a separate adults only beach for a few hours? If that’s not paradise, I don’t know what is. And speaking of child care…
4) The Kids’ Clubs
Most cruises have some sort of children’s programming and childcare, but like everything else, Disney takes the concept up a notch or two. There are two huge supervised areas where you can check your kids in at any time of the day or evening called the Oceaneer’s Club and the Oceaneer’s Lab. They are both open to children aged 3-12 although the former is more geared toward kids aged about 3-7 and the latter for the older kids. There are also two areas for older and younger teens. Our kids spent most of their time in the club where there was a huge pirate ship climbing and play area as well as craft tables, computer games and a small stage where they have small shows and character appearances. The kids participated in things like Toy Story Boot Camp, Pluto’s Pajama Party and Storytime with Belle. No other children’s programming comes close.
5) The Classic Ship
We cruised on the Disney Wonder, Disney’s oldest ship and one of the two smaller “classic” ships. The other two ships, the Dream and the Fantasy are almost twice as big and much newer. The new ships are filled with all kinds of flashy extras that the older ships lack and we really enjoyed the fantastic amenities on the Dream on our last Disney cruise back in 2013. I was worried that we’d be disappointed in the Wonder after experiencing a new ship but our experience was actually the opposite. Despite a packed Holiday cruise we found that the ship felt less crowded and it was so clean and well maintained that you couldn’t tell that it was older. Another huge bonus was how much less crowded if felt on our Castaway Cay day; a couple thousand people less on the island really does make a huge difference.
So, is there anything we don’t like about Disney Cruise lines? Well, for sure the biggest thing is the price. We actually took advantage of a pricing glitch that occurred on the website on the day new itineraries were released to get this cruise. When I clicked onto the Dec. 30 five day cruise just out of curiosity the Dec. 3 four day cruise pricing popped up by mistake. I quickly put in our names and slapped a deposit onto the credit card before it was changed. Disney corrected the glitch almost immediately but they honoured my booking and I saved a bundle. How much? Well, I ended up paying less than half of the opening day price! So, while we love cruising with Disney, I’m aware of how lucky we were to get on the boat this time. As much as I love them, I don’t think they’re worth upwards of US$1000 per family per day, which is often the rate during school breaks, the only time we can travel. But we’ll see, I may be able to work something out someday!