For those who have taken their families to Disney’s theme parks, it’s no surprise to hear that Disney nails the cruise experience.
There is no better choice at sea for those traveling with kids, especially small children and babies. Disney Cruise Line ships have cabins with one and a half baths, enabling adults with little ones to handle bedtime with ease. Disney also offers everything from in-cabin delivery of formula and diapers to loaner Diaper Genies, bottle warmers, and strollers, making this an easy cruise for the whole family. Kids play areas, as on all lines, are divided by age groups. But unlike many other lines, on Disney ships there is a nursery for the littlest cruisers, plus an (actually cool) teen lounge.
The programming is extensive for every age group, such as character meet-and-greet photo ops and first-run movies. There’s a special “Star Wars”-themed area with a Millennium Falcon cockpit, and the Avengers Academy for 3- to 12-year-olds, which was created in partnership with Marvel comics. At night, live productions of crowd-pleasers such as “Aladdin: The Musical,” “Tangled: The Musical,” or “Toy Story” are sure to impress the whole family.
For grown-ups looking for a little quiet time on their sailing, there are many adult-only spaces on board Disney ships, including a pool with a swim-up bar, a variety of bars and lounges, and specialty restaurants, such as the modern French masterpiece, Remy. (And, yes, it’s named after the lead character in “Ratatouille.”) Plus, on Castaway Cay — the line’s private Bahamian island — you’ll find an adults-only beach with a quieter barbecue buffet restaurant and private cabanas you can rent.
Castaway Cay, however, is really a highlight of the Bahamas cruises for all age groups. Children can find meet-and-greets with characters, a splash park (not unlike the one on the ship), waterslides that plunge them into the warm Caribbean Sea, and activities including a 5K run, bicycle rides, and crab races. Of course, you can also sign up for a shore excursion, such as a snorkeling or diving experience, and many include boat rides around the island.
Back on board, sea days are filled with plenty of time for playing in the splash park and on waterslides, as well as checking out the gathering of princesses or the opportunity to meet Elsa and Anna (both events require tickets), and Jedi knight training that comes complete with a visit from Darth Vader. Restaurants include plated options in the main dining room, and extensive buffet, room service, and casual options by the pool — including everything from salads and cut fruit to pizza, French fries, and properly crunchy chicken fingers. While you have to pay extra for sodas (or get a soda package) on most mainstream lines, Disney includes soft drinks in the fare and offers self-serve fountains in the buffet and on the pool deck.
At night, passengers rotate through the main dining rooms, taking their table numbers and waiters with them, which creates a far more seamless service experience than you find on other ships when you leave your assigned table. Best of all, even dinner is geared toward families with the waitstaff performing magic tricks for the smaller cruisers and challenging older ones with brain teasers.
And, while the nighttime spaces on board include everything from a karaoke lounge to a sports bar, Disney has eliminated the omnipresent casino, which on many ships can be just a source of noise and smoke for those who don’t play slots or cards.
Most sailings include a theme party on one night, such as a pirate theme (complete with fireworks) or a “Frozen” deck party, and the sail-away party on Disney Cruise Line ships includes performances from, say, Donald Duck and friends. Adults may not feel like they’re the intended audience of this performance, but it sure is fun to watch the tots scream and swoon over the characters like fans once did for Elvis. After all, there’s no denying here that the characters are the star of every show.
Sherri Eisenberg is the New York City-based editorial director of ShermansCruise.com.
Kristen Boatright is the New York City-based senior video editor of ShermansCruise.com.