So we went on a 7 day Disney cruise with a 5 year old and a 17 month old and lived to tell the tale. Barely. First of all, if you are thinking about a Disney cruise, you can prepare by finding a few (fake) $1000 bills and lighting them on fire. If that doesn’t give you anxiety about your ability to retire, you may be able to afford a Disney cruise. People that cruise a lot say they cost more, but you get more bang for your buck. We just got to delay replacing hour house’s flooring for a year. But, this was our big “before the big kid goes to Kindergarten and we’re a slave to school schedules” trip. We also had this brilliant thought that the 17 month old would be cheaper, so yay. But you have to pay for the nursery on ship, so that negated any savings from him not eating steak.
We flew down the night before. We drove 2 hours to get to an airport with direct flights to Orlando, because the travel gods don’t like me, especially in winter. I believe my karma has been used up by several successful flights for work. The baby is an experienced traveller (read: he falls asleep once the flight land and is taxiing), ands we got a seat for him this time since he’s more mobile. Turns out, he has a visceral hatred of seat belts. Unfortunately for others on the flight, they all found this out. Baby did not nap, despite us flying during peak nap time. On the way back, he kindly napped in the airpot before the flight, and he missed some grandma time (who flew into Orlando a couple hours before our flight out).
We made it and stayed in a POS hotel near the airport because we figured we had spent enough and did not want to stay in the $300 in airport hotel. It was convenient to a local seafood joint that we tried to get into, but it had a 45 minute wait that and I did not want to subject them to a cranky no-nap baby. So we went to the McDonald’s next door. The next morning we took a shuttle back to the airport to get on the Disney Cruise transportation to Port Canaveral. After a chaotic (but I can offer no suggestions for logistical improvement), we were on a bus for an hour to the cruise port. After which we proceeded to wait again for our time to bored. Both kids had had it with more than 24 hours of lines and waiting, and I was done with the whining.
We got on the boat (the Fantasy) and proceeded to…wait for it…get in line to make sure we can get the cruise events we have to register for. We tried to advance register for things like fancy dinners, character meets, and nursery time, but things filled up. When you take a Disney Cruise, you get to book these things based on how many cruises you’ve been on, and since this was our first, we were the last to register. Honestly, Disney’s online system for booking these sucked, and my husband who programs databases for a living, could talk at length about what was wrong with their system. But, we did get everything we wanted, we just had to wait for it.
Everything you read about the cruises say you should bring your swim wear and once you board, go straight for the deck and the pool. Ha! We just had to drag our swim wear around while we waited in line. Once we had time, we ran up to the deck to get some lunch, as it seemed the big buffet was the only thing open that first day. After that, to maintain family unity, we got the 5 year old registered for the kids club and left him there. We took the baby to our room, where we happily found a pack & play, so we let him pass out while we got our bags delivered and sorta unpacked (and enjoyed some quiet). After napping, we got the big kid out of the kids club, put everyone in swim clothes (finally) and went up to the deck for the going away party. After that, we let both kids splash – the big one in the Mickey pool and the little one in Nemo’s Reef splash pad. All was well. Eventually we dragged both kids in, explored the ship, and got ready for dinner. We had 2nd seating for dinner, which didn’t start until 8:15 (we thought pre-cruise that it was 7:30). That’s because we booked the cruise only 6 months in advance, not the year plus you probably should. That means we’re last minute traveller by Disney standards. Still, I’m not sure we’d make it to a 5:45 dinner, and we tend to eat later anyway, plus being on Central time…
The first two days were at sea, and our routine was sorta sleep in, go eat the buffet for breakfast, do stuff on deck until the big kid whines to be in the kids club, do something with the baby, eat lunch at the fast pizza place on deck, bring the baby to the nursery for a nap, and enjoy being adults for a couple of hours. It quickly became the big kid whining he was with his parents and not the kids club, finding something to do with the baby (character meets were ok…the baby is shy but fortunately never freaked out being hugged by someone in a giant costume), and spending a couple precious hours as adults without kids. We did a fancy desert tasting at Remy (the super fancy french restaurant) which was fun, although expensive (we got charged for water, ya’ll), and some Rainforest sauna thing Joe found out about in the spa (relatively inexpensive, but not sure if saunas and showers are worth it. I just enjoyed the quiet, no kids allowed area). The parents also had a nice dinner at Palo, which had a mark up, but not as crazy as Remy and was worth it to us. One entertaining thing we did with he baby was Baby Jack’s Diaper dash, where they have babies crawling in races, made funny by the unpredictability of babies. Unfortunately, our baby decided to finally walk a week before the cruise, so we couldn’t allow him to embarrass our family.
Taking about food..it is good! Not extraordinary (I admit to high standards), but it was nicer than what we’d have on a typical night. The dinner we had at Palo was definitely more what we consider date-night fare, but if you’re standards are lower, every night was nice too. There were generally several choices of meat/seafood/pasta/vegetarian. I generally had a good steak (but still not as good as my husband sous vides), or seafood (lobster pasta, seared scallops). Stuff we went at home only occasionally because of cost. The kids pretty much had a choice of macaroni & cheese, chicken fingers, and something else. It got a big boring for them, so we had the big kid get stuff off the adult menu. He tried escargot, chateaubriand, and some fried brie. We ordered him a pork chop one night (a favorite at home), but it had gravy, so he threw a fit and the waitress brought him macaroni (without consulting me). Having late dinner meant having grumpy tired kids. And there was usually some sort of deck party after dinner (Pirates, Star wars, etc.), where the kids could get even more tired. I never thought big kid would sleep through fireworks.
We had two island visits, Tortola and San Juan. In Tortola, we put the baby in the nursery and set out on an excursion to The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The baths are a series of inlets created by giant volcanic boulders. It was a fun place to explore, though there was waiting in line to go from inlet to inlet, and there was a strong current making it hard for the big kid to swim. That, and the big kid whined the whole time that he’d rather be in the kids club. So we stuck in there in the afternoon and the adults went exploring around the port, which wasn’t much, though my husband found some local hot sauce he likes. In San Juan, I didn’t book an excursion because I wanted to see the old town, but knew that my kids would not put up with a walking tour. So I had dreams of wandering around old time with my family, seeing quaint old buildings and doing some shopping, but my family was about to mutiny me. We made it to El Morro (the big fort), and spent a little time there, but everyone was done, so we had a quick lunch in which big kid spilled his soda over everyone’s food, and took an Uber back to the port. We dropped the kids off at the nursery & kids club, and the adults took a rushed Uber across town to Casa de Bacardi, where we fortunately got a strong drink included with our tour price.
The next day was the Star Wars Day at sea, which was kicked off at 10pm the night before by Darth invading the ship. We’re not huge Star Wars fans, but it was fun meeting the characters during the day, doing a (very hard) porg scavenger hunt, and seeing some of the crazy costumes. There were always Storm Troopers around usually saying something snarky to people in costume. This was the day we realized the kids were turning feral and the big kid was behaving horribly to get kids club time. In other words, kids club time became a reward, so there was a lot of time out time between visiting characters.
The kids club is what made the trip. You could drop your kid off and they’d entertain them while you got to be an adult. When I went in to drag him out, he was doing stuff like baking cookies, playing iPad games, kicking bigger kids’ butts at math games, playing dodgeball, you name it. I thought it was a lot of screen time, but heck, we were on vacation. Given the choice between the pool and kids club, kids club always won. I’m not sure the kid would’ve seen daylight unless we made him (and he whined about daylight). The nursery was good, too, but there was a cost, and you had to schedule it in advance. Babies are just more high maintenance.
Our last day was at Castaway Cay (key for those of you language challenged like us). Basically, it is a Disney created resort island that rivals any other beach resort. We didn’t explore it enough because kids, but we enjoyed it. We spent the morning at the beach, having brought inflatable kids inner tubes (not paying $15 to rent giant ones), and then did a glass bottom boat tour. The tour was ok, the reef was fine, and the kids were not terribly entertained except when they fed the fish. We ate lunch, and the baby fell asleep with pizza hanging out of his mouth. I took him back to the ship nursery for a nap, we checked the big kid into the Castaway kids club, and went to the adult beach. That was the highlight for my husband and I – we put chairs in the surf, got (expensive) fruity drinks, and read for a couple hours.
Was it worth it? We had a ton of fun, and I haven’t had time to go into every detail (I’m surprised you’re still reading). There were a lot of other fun things to do as well, that we were either too cheap to do, or just didn’t have time. Also, be prepared for the people who take Disney stuff wayyy too seriously. I’ve always been more of a wander through Europe kind of traveller, and I had to let that go, which was frustrating to me (I tried in San Juan, but failed). If we go again, we’ll wait until the baby is 3 and is potty trained so he can go to the kids club. The kids club is like vacation daycare so the adult can mostly have an actual vacation. Disney apparently has the best kids club of any cruise lines, and that cost made it worth it for us. So, next time we go, the plan is to dump the kids off and go to the adult side of the deck. The introvert in me really craved some quiet time that was hard to find. We got him and slept a lot; this was an exhausting vacation.