All aboard

Disney does cruising right


Cindy Richards

Kid-tested travel The thing about Disney is the company knows how to do fun. We spent four days on a Disney cruise followed by three days at Disney World and there wasn’t a moment when things weren’t going great. It was, my well-traveled children declared, one of the best trips ever.

First stop was the Disney Wonder, one of two 2,700-passenger cruise ships where everything is about family, with plenty of options for hanging out together or apart. There was a nursery for ages 3 months to 3 years and special activities from 9 a.m. to midnight for kids 3-4, 5-7, 8-9, 10-12 and 13-17.

My tweens spent some time signed into the kids club activities, but they were responsible enough to spend time alone while my husband and I had a special dinner or took a stroll. A highlight for them was being able to get what they wanted (pizza, ice cream, chips, ice cream, soda, ice cream) when they wanted.

Our stateroom cabin was small, but big enough for four, with a couch that turned into the bottom level of a bunk bed, the top of which pulled down from the ceiling.

Eat ‘til you drop

The dinners were fabulous, with plenty of terrific food and a kid-focused waitstaff. Levi, our wonderful server, was always ready with a magic trick or puzzle to keep the kids from getting bored while we waited for our next course.

Disney’s approach to keeping dinner fun was to have three themed restaurants and rotate diners and their wait staff to a new one each night. Our favorite was Animators Palate. The décor changed with the courses—the pictures on the wall were black and white when the meal started and then became colorful thanks to some lighting magic. They showcased scenes from some Disney classics ("Peter Pan," "101 Dalmatians," "Cinderella," "Lion King") and got us reminiscing about our favorite films.

Dinner and brunch at Palo, the adults-only northern Italian fine dining restaurant was worth the extra $10 a person—not only were there no kids to complain about the exotic fare but the food was so good.

Concerns about cleanliness (not a bad thing on a boat teeming with kids) meant there were hand sanitizer stations everywhere on board and workers stationed outside each restaurant, armed with sanitary wipes.

Dinner was planned, but the rest of the trip required some work. The Personal Navigator was delivered to our room each night with two pages of activities. I studied it and we still managed to miss things we would have enjoyed.

But we never missed the nightly shows. After all, this was Disney, and the slickly-staged shows were terrific. One surprise: the humor was more PG- than G-rated, (for some mild language) but still family-friendly.

Scary stingrays

Our four-night cruise included stops in the Bahamas at Nassau and Castaway Cay (pronounced key), Disney’s private island. Nassau was the place to shop. We’re not big shoppers so we found little to hold our interest.

However, Castaway Cay was terrific.

At the behest of Disney, we tried Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure ($35, $29 kids), which offered a chance to feed and touch the gentle creatures followed by a half-hour of snorkeling.

The stingrays were fascinating, but the snorkeling was a disappointment. Nearly every kid under 10 was terrified by the stingrays swimming around their legs. The viewing was best after the feeding ended and most of the snorkelers were gone. Then, we got a clear view of the stingrays simply by standing calf-deep in the clear Caribbean water and letting them swim around us, which we could have done for free.

The family beach was crowded, but we found a nearly secluded beach and spent a lovely day feeling as though we had the island to ourselves.

Prices for the four-night cruise start at about $500 per person, not including airfare, transfers to the boat, tips (about $45 per traveler total), drinks and shore excursions (up to $120 per person).

The entire operation ran with classic Disney efficiency. The only slight glitch was boarding. After a three-hour plane ride and a one-hour bus ride, we weren’t ready for a half-hour wait at security.

By the time we got on board, everyone was tired, hungry and crabby. A little lunch and a dip in the pool took care of that quickly.

In short, this trip has plenty for kids and adults and a way to separate the two for short periods of time.

(Warning: Disney Cruise Lines does not allow pregnant women past 24 weeks, or babies under 12 weeks to travel.)

It’s hurricane season (June 1-Nov. 30). Does it even make sense to head to Florida?

Maybe. Disney Cruise Lines spokesman Jason Lasecki says cruises are less vulnerable to hurricanes because, unlike land-based destinations, the boat can alter course and even head to different ports of call to avoid the weather. In fact, during our full day at sea, the captain steered this way and that in a successful effort to "keep the decks dry" as storms raged on the horizon.

The only hitch can come if the hurricane hits Port Canaveral, Disney’s home port. It can affect flights into Florida and the loading and unloading of the ship.

On land, Walt Disney World can’t outrun a storm, but it has been recognized by the National Weather Service as a "StormReady community." That means it has a 24-hour emergency operations center and the ability to monitor local weather and respond to it.


Cindy Richards is the senior editor and travel editor for Chicago Parent and the mom of Tess and Evan.


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