Last year, my wife, two daughters and I took a Disney cruise. We were aboard a ship called the Disney “Fantasy,” that at that time hadn’t yet officially been opened to the public. They basically offered the cruise to various Disney employees because it was a training week for the crew. So we were in the company of many other Disney executives and other employees and their families, and I think we were without a doubt in the minority for being first-time Disney cruisers. So for those of you who haven’t been on one yet either, let me give you a little overview from a first-timer.
Think of what it’s like to be at Disneyland. Everything is clean and beautiful and well-crafted and well-engineered. There are rides, of sorts, basically in the form of an indoor water park with something called the Aqueduct, which is a huge tube slide. There are several pools. There are shows and activities, all top notch, going on literally every hour of every day. There are three different restaurants, all of different scale and scope and personality, and your food at any restaurant you choose is all included. And there are the Disney characters roaming around — they’re everywhere, in a really great way. For example, walking down a hallway you might bump into Chip n’ Dale, or Snow White might come sit with your kids and chat them up over a meal. But the thing that makes it all even more intense than Disneyland, however, is there’s an exclusive nature to the cruise. Whereas at Disneyland you might have to wait in lines for the rides or food or to get to meet the characters, everything on the cruise is available to you at will. You can run into and meet Chip n’ Dale three times a day every day if you really wanted to.
As far as the kids go, it’s almost needless to say that the cruise staff has really got it down when it comes to kid care on the Disney cruises. The kids on the ship are segmented into groups according to age, and so all the activities are completely age-appropriate. They have a nursery, a kid’s club, an Oceaneer’s Club and an Oceaneer Lab which is sort of like a boys-and-girls club on steroids. They do science labs and make cookies and everything in between. There are also interactive dance floors, digital computer games, and movies playing around the clock. Kids can play with the Wii, or do crafts. There are magic shows, Piston Cup races, even baby crawling tournaments. There is something going on for everyone of all ages at all times.
For my daughters, ages 9 and 12, there was a feeling of independence for them that was great. They could check themselves into club rooms. Kids on the ship wear sensor bracelets so that when they enter one of these, they are accounted for and someone knows where they are at all times. My older daughter was in a club called The Edge which was ages 10, 11, and 12 year olds. There was one called The Vibe for teenagers. These destinations were always available for the kids, all day long. So they always had a place to go and relax and be away from their parents. And meanwhile, on the flip side, we always knew where they were, and we always knew they were safe and doing things appropriate for their age. That’s where the relaxation and down time would’ve come into play for my wife and me if only we hadn’t been so enthralled and on sensory overload ourselves by all the fun stuff to do.
So that’s just the experience on the ship itself. Of course, there are also stops to various ports. Our cruise stopped at St. Maarten, St. Thomas, as well as an island that is owned by Disney called Castaway Cay which for me was the highlight of the whole trip.
Castaway Cay is a nearly perfect place. It has this gorgeous lagoon type bay, with that postcard-crystal-clear water. Similar to the cruise ship, the island has different areas and beaches and activities that are geared toward different age levels. For adults, there is a quiet adults-only beach where you can really relax, get a massage if you want, or rent a private cabana. For kids, there’s the same high level of supervision and intensely fun and active stuff to do. There are waterslides, and snorkeling, and bicycling and any number of other things. And the actual construction of everything on the island — it’s all designed to look like it’s weathered and has been there for 25 years. There’s real synergy in the way everything looks and feels on Castaway Cay. Namely, it feels good. You get off the boat, and it’s very calming. It’s the place where I finally had that moment in the vacation where I felt—okay, this is serenity.