This month we’re spending some time focusing on some of our favorite travel destinations as we gear up for our summer vacations. Last week Wendy talked about some of her favorite spots in Portland and this week it’s all about the Disney Cruise!
Someone once told me that Disney should give every family a free cruise because they would have customers for life, and after our first Disney cruise a few years ago, I believe that to be true! I was just looking through our pictures and our first Disney Cruise was almost four years ago. The kids look so squishy in those photos, I wish I could go back in time to that trip.
My kids had a school break in October and there was a great last minute deal on the cruise that saved us a ton of money. Unfortunately, my husband’s work schedule didn’t line up with our trip so I made the decision to take the kids solo. We had the BEST time! We only did the five-day cruise for a few reasons, but I found myself wishing we had more time.
What if I’m not a fan of cruising?
This is a great question, and if you don’t like cruising then you don’t like cruising. My husband and I like taking cruises and now that we know that our kids do too, it’s something that we’ll continue to do as they get older. I wasn’t sure if my kids would get seasick or really hate being on the boat, so I opted for a shorter cruise just in case. It turned out to be a non-issue, but Disney offers cruises of every length if you want to try them out.
What kind of room should I get?
This is hugely dependent on your budget and personal preferences, but I personally prefer verandah staterooms. I like the extra space and the view. When I was cruising alone with my children, we would order room service breakfast every night before bed and breakfast delivery would serve as our wakeup call. I would take my coffee outside to the verandah every morning. (Every Disney movie is available on demand on the cruise, so the kids would have a little downtime in the morning before we would head out for the day.)
My experience with the Disney cruise versus other cruise lines is that they have quite a bit of extra storage space in the staterooms, and a verandah certainly isn’t required. The nice thing about cruising with Disney (as with most cruise lines) is that there is so much to do, you really can just use your room as a space for sleeping and showering. Choosing and inside or oceanview stateroom is certainly one way to save money on your cruise. (More on that, later!)
How can I save money when booking my cruise?
Like I mentioned above, your room choice will largely dictate the cost of your cruise. Decide what’s most important to you when choosing your room, as that will significantly impact the bottom line.
Book in January! January is a notoriously good month for booking cruises when it comes to extras and on board credits. Check travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia, travel agents like Costco, and the prices of the cruise line and compare. We booked our upcoming cruise via Travelocity and they were offering the same bonuses that the cruise line offered, as well as some pretty sweet on board credits of their own. We booked our Disney cruise via Costco and got Costco cash after we traveled.
Use eBates! I’ve long been a user of eBates, but never remembered to use the service for traveling. Fortunately I remembered when booking our upcoming cruise and I’m really looking forward to that cash back! Most cruise lines don’t work directly with eBates, but travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia do. You’ll want to take into account all of your credits, bonuses and any other deals you’re getting when making your final decision.
Travel in the off-season if you can. We took our trip in October and our cruise was a STEAL! We also waited until six weeks before sailing to book our cruise. It’s a gamble, but if there are rooms that aren’t being sold, there’s a good chance the cruise might be discounting them or offering specials. I like Vacations To-Go for quickly comparing cruise rates side by side.
How’s the food on the cruise?
Let’s talk food. I desperately wish Disney would go to an anytime dining situation on their ships, but I suspect the reason they haven’t and likely won’t is because their dining operations are well-oiled machine. You rotate through a series of restaurants on your trip. My kids and I were seated at a small table alone, but there is a chance you will be seated with other passengers if you are in a small group. The great thing about dining is that your server rotates through each restaurant with you. Your server gets to know your family and your drink order and little things like the fact that my kids didn’t like the sprinkles that come on their ice cream for dessert.
I originally thought that a seated dinner every night would be a bit much and that we might take advantage of the buffet or room service options for dinner. Turns out, we NEVER did this at dinner. Dining in the restaurants was such a fun part of our trip and my kids never got fidgety or bored, and quite frankly, being the only adult on this trip I was pretty happy to have someone else do the serving. Even the kids’ meals come out in courses, plus they were always wiped out from the day’s activities, so they weren’t bouncing off the walls the way they sometimes are in restaurants.
With a few exceptions, all of the food is included, which is a HUGE convenience when traveling with kids. We ordered room service a few times – the peanut butter and jelly was a huge hit with my kids although yours may have a more refined palette.
I think the food is fine, while not five-star restaurant quality, we never went hungry. I thought dinner was fantastic, especially on pirate night! The menu changes between each restaurant, but on pirate night every restaurant serves the same menu and it’s fantastic!
Will my kids like the kids club?
I can’t speak for your kids, but mine were BEGGING to play in the kids club. On embarkation day we visited the club to get the kids registered and the club is open for kids and parents to play together so we could all get a feel for the place. On our first sea day I used the club as a chance to get some one on one time with each kid. I spent time at the pool and waterslides with each child as the other played to their heart’s content in the Oceaneer Club. They have scheduled activities and family play time and there is always quite a bit to do including movies, video games, puzzles, crafts, etc. You can check out the specifics of each ship’s Oceaneer Club here.
There are mobile phones available in every stateroom available for communicating with other members of your party while on the ship and this is also how the Oceaneer Club will contact you if they need to reach you while your kids are in their care.
What the heck are Fish Extenders?
Fish Extenders are a means of participating in a small gift exchange program while on board the ship. You can find the basic information about Fish Extenders here and you can find the group for your upcoming cruise here.
What’s not to miss?
I spent a ton of time on the Disney Cruise line boards on Cruise Critic prior to our sailing so I felt like I had a good feel of what to expect. There is PLENTY to do and information is well-communicated via the nightly Navigator newsletter and the Navigator app (new since we cruised!) so don’t feel like you need to spend too much time preparing prior to cruising. However, if you want to have a few things in your pocket prior to traveling, here are my suggestions.
- Mickey Rice Krispie Treats. Many forums reported that these were no longer available via room service, but I ordered these every single day of our cruise. They were also available in the gift shop for about $5 each. It’s worth a phone call to room service to see if they’re available. Our cruise had them in both dipped and undipped form. These are my favorite Disney treat!
- Speaking of treats, my kids made good work of the self-serve soft serve ice cream stations. Don’t miss these!
- Castaway Cay – If your trip involves a stop at Disney’s private island, definitely disembark and enjoy the island! The food is included as part of your cruise package and they have more of the ice cream stations mentioned above! These are available before lunch is open, so if your kids are like mine and need a 10am snack, then ice cream it is! (Hey, it’s vacation after all.)
- Animator’s Palette – This was my favorite of the three main dining rooms. If you’re planning to take a night off from the main dining rooms, don’t miss your night in AP.
What should I bring?
What to pack on a cruise is largely dependent on your cruise itinerary, but I do have a few cruise must-haves that work for all cruises. I highly recommend an over the door shoe organizer for keeping track of key cards, phone chargers, hair clips, sunscreen, and shoes, of course. In addition, power outlets can be in short supply, so a power strip is never a bad idea if you have lots of devices to be charged at the end of the day. If you get seasick, SeaBands can be a lifesaver. And finally, make unpacking a breeze by organizing your things using packing cubes.
1500 words later it’s pretty clear that I’m a big fan of cruising and I think Disney does a great job of making your cruise unforgettable. I know there is SO MUCH that I didn’t cover, so feel free to comment below with any questions!