Is it totally cool with you that I say that the week spent on the Disney Magic was life changing? Because it was. I experienced more happiness, more magic, and more joy in that single week with my oldest daughter than I ever thought possible. Every day was better than the previous day until the day we had to get off (yes, I actually cried). Having just gone on my very first cruise with my husband back in August, the whole experience was fresh in my mind and I can tell you that we will be cruising with Disney for the rest of our lives, with or without kids. Every detail was taken care of, when I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to the crew of the Disney Magic they all beamed when they talked about how much they loved working for Disney Cruise Lines and that happiness shone through from the captain to the maintenance crew painting the banisters. When there’s that much happy in one place only good things can happen.
A Disney Cruise is basically the best family vacation ever. No phones or internet to distract you, no “Where are we eating tonight?” or “What are we doing tonight?” arguments to be had. No “I’M BORED” or “ARE WE THERE YET” complaints from the kids and best of all? No cooking or cleaning, just enjoying your family the way you were meant to with the charm and magic of Disney surrounding you.
If you’ve never been on a Disney Cruise, have only considered it or are booked to go on your first (or even your third) here’s a few things I learned on our cruise that may help you in planning yours.
1. Take The Later Dinner Seating If You Can
If you’re with older kids, on your own, with just adults, or perhaps you’re from the West Coast, opt for the later dinner seating (8:15) and earlier showtime (6:30.) Both your dinner and your show will be less crowded with fewer small children. When I talked to an usher at the theater he said that no matter the cruise, the earlier dinner and later show are always much busier and louder. Another great perk of the later dinner seating? The youth counselors come in at 9 p.m. to take any restless children over the age of 3 back to the kids’ clubs so the adults can finish the rest of their meal in peace or attend an adult only show after dinner.
2. Character Calls And Door Decor
You can schedule a free character call online from either Mickey or Goofy for before your cruise. I chose to tell Addie we were headed to Texas for the weekend and as soon as we got to baggage claim in Houston a call came through for Addie from Mickey telling her how excited he was that she would be going on a cruise with him. Keeping the surprise nearly killed me, but it was worth it in the end. Another thing I was prepared for was door decorating, some people go all out, while we went with some simple Ariel decor and a birthday countdown (only rule is you have to use magnets to attach any decor to your door.)
3. Rotational Dining
Disney Cruise lines do what is called ‘Rotational Dining’ meaning you’re not eating at the same table in the same restaurant every night. Throughout your cruise you will rotate through three different themed restaurants, staying with your same dinner party and same servers throughout your entire trip. Each restaurant has one ‘special’ night featuring a menu special to that particular restaurant while other nights are the same throughout all three restaurants (Pirate Night, Prince and Princess/Formal Night) The change of scenery does wonders compared to eating in the same boring dining room every night.
4. Adult Restaurant
Each ship has an adult dining restaurant aboard and I demand you eat there at least once, particularly for the brunch. I’m pretty sure 3 of the 4 pounds I gained on our cruise came straight from Palo. Everything was so delicious, so well thought out, so well presented and the service was outstanding. It’s a great way to have a truly ‘adult’ escape on a Disney Cruise. Dinner was equally delicious, just the smell alone in the kitchen during dinner was intoxicating. The only problem with dinner was I wanted everything, and while I could have ordered everything, I would have felt very slovenly. If you’re prefer a little less Sophie’s Choice in your dining experience, go for brunch. Oh, brunch.
5. When In Port
Don’t feel obligated to get off the ship in each port. The ship is equally fun in port as it is while at sea with the extra bonus of less people. Need a perfect time to hit the water slide? When the ship is in port. While my daughter was old enough for many of the excursions, I didn’t love the idea of traipsing around a foreign country when she was traveling on just her birth certificate and it was just the two of us. We did do one excursion in Grand Cayman and I can assure you the excursions are carefully screened by Disney Cruise Lines before being offered to guests on board.
6. Perfect For Couples And Families
There is this belief that Disney Cruises are overrun by children, I’ve heard that this is true during the ‘kids sail free’ promotions, but while we were on board? There were more places for kids to get away from their parents than any other place I’ve ever been. There were a couple of ill timed trips to the pool when it was completely and totally packed with kids, but after a couple of days we learned when the ideal times were to go to the pool as well as when the kids’ clubs and buffets weren’t overrun. The adult only areas of the ship were equally fantastic, the pool was never crowded, the restaurants were never packed and the lounges and bars were always comfortable and inviting. Even the late night adult shows were better because it was a more intimate setting. (Although I will say hearing adult jokes on a Disney Cruise took a few nights to get used to.)
7. Best Keepsake Ever
You can bring just about any item to the guest services desk on the first day of sailing along with some Sharpies and they will have the item signed by the characters of your choosing (all princesses, everyone, just the fab five) and return it to your stateroom the last night of your cruise FOR FREE. I took an 11 x 14 mat from one of those signature wedding frames from a craft store along with 10 colorful Sharpies and requested that everyone sign it. Y’all? Best souvenir ever. I’ve also heard of people bringing pillowcases, t-shirts and hats as well. The best part is the signatures are all perfect, often times the signatures in those autograph books are a little wonky given the character is signing it with a giant four finger glove. Besides, you can’t really hang those autograph books on the wall forever.
8. Pirate Night
Pirate night is amazing. When I heard that people bring full costumes for pirate night I didn’t believe it at first, but just in case I brought plenty of pirate gear with me to make sure we were decked out (pun!) come pirate night. What’s more is all the characters wear pirate gear as well so it’s a whole new opportunity for pictures made even better if you’re in your own pirate costume. Of course you can always buy pirate accessories in the gift shop and everyone is provided with a bandana at dinner so even if you forget to pack some you won’t be left out completely. Addie and I played a pirate themed game show on pirate night and totally won.
9. Formal Night
Formal night on the ship meant anything from slacks and a clean shirt to tuxedos and ballgowns. Not realizing there was a formal night on my first cruise I felt a little silly in my simple dress next to bedazzled gowns and black tie suits. On a Disney Cruise pretty much anything goes as long as you’re covered but it was a lot of fun to dress up super fancy with my daughter as we pranced around and met princesses before dinner.
10. Character Greetings
Character greetings were a little bonkers the first couple of days on the ship, the good news is that the main characters rotate out throughout the day and throughout the week as their costumes and outfits change. If you miss Mickey in his sailor gear on day one, he’ll be back out in his pirate gear or tuxedo later in the week (with much shorter lines.) There were limited time or one time only greetings such as Captain Hook and Smee as well as Jack Sparrow on pirate night but the one to really pay attention to is the Princess Gathering. All the princesses all at once, and yes, you may have to wait in line up to an hour to see them but it only happened twice on our cruise and we missed it both times (sad.) Considering we waited 20 minutes for just Daisy Duck? We could have managed an hour for six princesses.
11. Character Dance Party And Breakfast
You cannot miss the character dance party, it only happens once so when it does be there. Fun music, amazing photo and video opportunities and a chance for your kids to dance with their favorite characters. There’s also liberal confetti tossing, which I totally support. It’s only a half an hour and even if you watch from the upper decks it’s a fun half hour. Same for the Character Breakfast, make it happen.
All of the shows were amazing. Some were funnier than others while some were elaborate and involved stage productions (IT SNOWED IN THE THEATER GUYS.) If you’re with younger kids who can’t make it through an 8:30 show, consider the earlier show then eating at the buffet or ordering room service afterwards. If you’d rather stick to your assigned dinner time and get your kids in bed the ship streams the theater shows live on the in-room televisions, so while you may not be there in person, you’ll still get to watch the show.
The buffets on our Disney Cruise shined where our other cruise fizzled. So much fresh fruit, lots of tasty entrees, as well as kid-friendly options. Whenever we went to the pool we’d get a big plate of fresh fruit as well as some rolled sandwiches and little slices of pizza. Another perk that is unique to Disney Cruise lines? Free soda, juice, coffee, milk, tea and hot chocolate for your entire cruise. On other cruise lines you have to purchase a soda card meaning you have to drink a lot of soda to justify the purchase. Cherry on top? Crunchy ice at the soda fountains.
14. Room Service And Classic Movies
Room service is free as well, meaning at the end of the night when our shows were over and dinner was digested we would head back to our room, order cookies and milk and watch classic Disney movies in bed until we could barely keep our eyes open, for me this was one of the very best parts of our entire cruise. Classic as well as new release Disney movies run on your in room TV 24/7 so you always have something kid friendly and entertaining to watch (also a great way to introduce kids to many of the classics.)
15. Tips And Key To The World Cards
For anyone who has never been on a cruise, Disney gives you a “Key to the World” card upon boarding that serves as your wallet and ID while on the cruise. You can swipe it just like a credit card to buy things like adult beverages or Minnie ears at the gift shop, that way you don’t have to carry cash or credit cards with you at all times. Super convenient. Tips are also handled a bit differently at the end of your cruise as well, assuming you prepaid your tips you will get four envelopes as well as four vouchers containing each of your service staff’s name and amount of tip they will be receiving from you. Addie wrote a note and drew a picture on each envelope and loved handing them out on the last night of our cruise, it also gives you the opportunity to tip extra if one of the crew members assigned to you went above and beyond their duties to take care of you. Those who take care of you really do become friends, and you really are sad to say goodbye.
I know I forgot something, I know I’m not doing something justice but honestly I’m not sure there’s any way I could do the whole experience justice with just pictures and words. I noticed that a friend just returned from the same ship and same itinerary this last weekend and her whole family was positively glowing in all of their photos. When I saw one of them at brunch I proclaimed “BEST BRUNCH EVER!” We then proceeded to swoon over the pancakes (THE PANCAKES!) My expectations were pretty darn high knowing what Disney is capable of and I’m shocked that not only were my expectations met, they were absolutely blown away.
If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a short little video of our first three days on board the Disney Magic.
A special thanks to Disney Cruise Lines for hosting my daughter and me for a week on the Disney Magic.