The Walt Disney Company prides itself on being a family-friendly brand. Whether it’s animated films, theme park resorts, or a trip to the Caribbean, Disney thinks of itself as accommodating to all ages. But what about a Disney cruise? Let’s see…
A Disney cruise has many positive elements that you will not find on other lines, such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean. For starters – Disney characters! Every day (at least on our recent trip) there are multiple character meet-and-greet opportunities. Although the lines can often be long, they will always be better than it is in the theme parks. And even if they are long, at least you’re indoors on a beautiful cruise ship sailing the seas…and not standing outside in 90-degree Florida heat. In addition, you will find many elements of Disney magic throughout the ship, including stage shows that rival those you will see in Disney parks, interactive activities at dinner, and Disney-themed trivia, parties, and karaoke.
Some may consider this a negative, but depending on your needs and wants as a young family, a smaller ship may be a positive. It mean less walking with your toddler, less of a need for strollers, and also make it much easier and quicker to dart between venues or even back to your room in the case of an emergency. The Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish are all larger than Disney Wonder and Disney Magic. However, it is not comparable in scale to what you may find with some of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships.
One thing to note is that a smaller ship also means smaller walkways, smaller elevators, and less restaurant space for highchairs and strollers.
One element that truly sets Disney apart in the industry is a bathtub in your room. Most cruise lines only stick guests with a shower (and a small one at that). Disney, however, provides every stateroom on board with a bathtub, making it easier for you to bathe your little one.
Small World Nursery
Disney cruises also offer a daycare center for your baby or toddler right on board. This feature – one you will never find at a Disney resort or theme park – allows you and your partner to grab a nice dinner together or enjoy some alone time at the pool while trained cast members watch your little one. The “it’s a small world nursery” has toys, snacks, and even a giant television that plays Disney movies and TV shows.
Less Baby/Toddler Friendly Areas
This one may sound shocking, considering we are talking about Disney. However, it’s something worth mentioning. Piggy-backing on the concept of a smaller ship, this also means less space for families and little ones. Disney cruise ships often have to use shared spaces for special events, parties, or activities. And usually, that means certain venues become adults only at a particular time. Although this provides an excellent opportunity for Disney adults to enjoy the entertainment and amenities of a Disney cruise, it comes at the cost of taking space away from young families.
Adult-only areas (including pools) are commonplace on every cruise line. However, it seems (at least in this reviewer’s opinion) that Disney has put too much effort into ensuring adults (and teens) have their own space. In contrast, families, babies, and toddlers have less general areas to be in. I mean…it’s not like Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World has adult-only rooms. So even though it’s a common practice in the cruise industry, it’s one element that you think Disney may buck the trend with. But they have not.
One example of this that we experienced on a recent cruise was being denied service at the only coffee shop open on board. Why? Because it was in the “adult only” area. And even though it was 7 am and empty inside, the cast member still refused to serve us because we had a sleeping baby in a stroller. Again, this is not something you’d expect to experience on a Disney cruise. However, Disney did attempt to remedy the situation.
When you go to a Disney theme park, it’s expected that fireworks or a nighttime show such as Fantasmic! will take place at night and when it’s dark out. However, there are still afternoon parades and shows in front of the castle during the day. But not on a Disney cruise. Any entertainment is exclusively at night. Although this makes sense for many families of older kids and adults, it’s not something you can enjoy with a little one. If you have a young child who goes to bed anytime before 10:00 p.m., remember they may miss character shows on deck, fireworks at night, and even the nightly stage shows.
Having been on nearly a dozen voyages with various cruise lines, Disney’s time change policy was unique. On our recent trip, the ship crossed from Eastern to Central time. This is not unusual, especially considering almost every cruise ship does this. But most cruise lines keep the time “as is” for the duration of your cruise. This is called Ship Time. It’s often a strict rule to ensure guests keep track of time on an excursion – especially in a foreign country. Our Disney cruise, changed the ship times twice, to accommodate the ship itself changing time zones.
Although this may seem trivial, it can pose a big problem for little kids who are used to a particular circadian rhythm or sleep schedule (and eating schedule). Babies and toddlers onboard may have already had to adjust to time zone changes during the flight to Port Canaveral or Miami (or whichever port the ship departed from). But adjusting two more times – all within a five-day period sets the stage for many problems with little ones. Fortunately, we did not experience significant issues with this back-and-forth, but other parents on the cruise did.
A Disney cruise can be a great vacation for your family! Disney cruise line does like to cater to families – but make sure you know all the pros and cons before you book. The food is often excellent, the shows are spectacular, and the service is usually superior to others in the industry.