We made it! Our first official big family vacation in the books: Disney Cruise to the Bahamas – check!
And before the magic wears off, I wanted to share my tips and tricks for how to best navigate a Disney Cruise, because as I’ve learned now, there is always a significant learning curve to these things (theme parks and Disney stuff in general), and if you’re anything like me, you want to get the most bang for your buck on the first try!
Cocoa Beach, Florida
We set sail out of Port Canaveral, Florida on the Disney Wonder. For our trip, we scheduled a couple of buffer days on either end of our cruise so that we could not feel so rushed with the kids from one travel day to the next, because that sounds anything but relaxing. This day at the beach/pool was just what we needed after traveling cross-country with three kids! I would highly recommend the resort we stayed at in Cocoa Beach on the front end of our trip. There were waterslides, it was 100 feet from the beach, an awesome pool, and free sno cones to boot – the kids, and us, were in heaven!
The Disney Wonder – 4 Night Cruise
First of all, there is a premium that you pay for a Disney Cruise that doesn’t exist on other cruise lines, and when traveling with (little) kids, I can confidently say that everything that we experienced on the cruise was TOP NOTCH, and totally worth it. We opted for two interior state rooms instead of something more luxurious (like a veranda, balcony or suite) and we’d choose that over again all day long for our family. The ability to have the kids in one room, shut the door, and us in another was the difference between sanity and insanity (especially in the morning hours!).
To help you out, here is basically the “hidden” menu (kind of like at In-N-Out) of all things Disney cruise, that can hopefully help you as you plan your next trip!
- On Board Experiences
- These booked up almost completely before we even logged in. Most people who have been on cruises before apparently know to just snag all of the experiences ahead of first time cruisers which can feel a bit defeating. BUT, what they don’t tell you is that they reserve some spots for people to walk up and book once you board the ship. So make sure first thing when you get on board, to go to Guest Services and ask for any available appointments for Princess Meet-N-Greets, Wine Tasting, Adult Only Dinner Reservations and Spa Appointments. So if your cruise is booked and you see that all of the on-board experiences are already full, don’t fret – there are still some available on first come, first serve basis once you board. You’ll just have to do it immediately once on the ship!
- Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique
- Despite my efforts, all of these appointments were booked. No big deal though. We brought Brynley’s princess dress and found out that Pixie Dust is always free and available. I had a great tip from a follower on Instagram as well who used to be a Fairy Godmother in Training (!), that even if you don’t have an appointment, you can send your own dress and shoes up ahead of time and they’ll set up your dress in their fancy dressing room and then do Pixie Dust – all for free! For us, with a 4 year old, she didn’t know what she was missing without, so the free Pixie Dust was literally the perfect experience for her and she still felt special. My middle guy also wanted to participate, and they were happy to accommodate him for that as well!
Nassau, Bahamas – Atlantis
We wanted to spend the day at Atlantis to experience all of their fun and exciting water slides – called Aquaadventure. If we booked through the cruise, there was a significant up-charge and so we ventured out on our own and saved literally HUNDREDS of dollars. The trick is to book a room through the Comfort Inn Suites, which is next door to Atlantis. With each room booked, comes 4 wristbands for access to the waterpark (Brynley didn’t need one since she didn’t meet most of the height requirements for the big slides).
You’ll need to take your own transportation to the Comfort Inn Suites, but that should only run you $4/person each way and there are TONS of taxi’s at the port. Just approach them with confidence and you’re fine.
I will say that this method is a lot of walking and does come with a certain level of “hassle” because it’s not just taken care of for you the way it would be if you went through the ship. But we’re savvy enough to navigate our way around the resorts and island (it’s like a 10 minute cab ride from the port), that it was well worth the savings for us to do it ourselves and not book through the cruise.
On Board Childcare – Kids Club
Halle-freaking-lujah, half the reason we booked this trip was because there was INCLUDED childcare on board the ship!
My kids LOVED all of the kids programming and more often than not, ASKED to go get checked in. This is GUILT FREE mamas and dads! Yes, we were on a family vacation, and trust me, we made PLENTY OF MEMORIES, but checking them in during dinner one night and throughout each day so that we could have a couple of hours to ourself to relax, was literally the best thing that we could’ve done the entire trip – FOR EVERYONE! Utilize the childcare, 100%. My boys were old enough to check themselves in, and so we let them have that freedom, and they loved it. Honestly, we were all better for the childcare options, and I’m not sure how we can do another vacation without this option moving forward. We’re ruined now for life – trips with childcare are the only way to go!!
Castaway Cay, Bahamas
- Oh yes we did. There is a great kids club option available (FOR FREE) on Disney’s private island as well. Again, mom and dad were looking for a little bit of R&R time, so we checked them in (which they do feed them in there too – all included!), and set up shop on the beach. Since there was no water in the Kids Club at Castaway Cay, once we were relaxed, we grabbed the kids so that they could do the waterslides and swim in the ocean. Again, this is all guilt free and was the perfect combo of kid time, family time, and adult time. I’d highly recommend utilizing the Scuttle’s Cove childcare at Castaway Cay – even if just for a couple of hours to give yourself a breather.
- Castaway Cay 5K
- At Guest Services on the first day on the ship, this was one of the things we signed up to participate in. Well, we were more ambitious on day 1 than we felt on day 5, so we ended up skipping this. If you’re a runner though, definitely sign up for this. It’s totally free and looked like a great way to see the island. I’m not a runner though so I’m not sure what I was thinking that first day when we signed up. 🙂
Also, I know that I left you with some of the things that we were packing for our cruise (which you can read about in this post). We didn’t end up using the sea bands or the Dramamine for the kids – thankfully there was no sea sickness! And because we had no cell service, I never got a great picture of the kids in their matching jammies or T-shirts (so those are getting returned). That’s okay though – it was simply the vanity in me that wanted it for me…the kids would never care, and it affected our experience zero. 🙂 Otherwise, everything else was a go – we even saw at least 4 other mamas wearing my same matching shirt – thank you Amazon. 😉
Food & Dining
The food was DELICIOUS. I’m talking like escargot, duck, lamb, pastas, sirloins – literally every thing delicious under the sun you could think of. We took advantage of everything being all-inclusive and ordered basically one of everything every single night off the menu – including (and especially) dessert! There are multiple restaurants, and dining options on the ship, each offering something a little different. Each restaurant was extremely kid-friendly and I can’t say enough positive things about the staff – they were beyond top notch, taking the time to do magic tricks to entertain our kids, patience with their ever-changing orders, and even cutting their food when asked.
Each passenger is allowed to bring 2 bottles of wine or a 12-pack of beer, and we actually only took advantage of bringing along one bottle of wine, and purchased cocktails throughout the trip because they actually were very reasonably priced.
PRO TIP: for the rebels out there, I filled one of my toiletry bags with airplane shots purchased from the grocery store ahead of time. Don’t tell anyone, but ordering a soda water and a slice of lime is free, add my little tequila, and mama was sitting pretty. 🙂
What is the perfect age for a Disney Cruise?
This was a question that we debated for YEARS, and the short of the long is that each family is going to have a different answer. For us, our kids are 4.5, 6 (almost 7), and 8. The agenda, itinerary and activities were all perfectly suited for kids their age. The only caveat is that activities go WELL into the night (like 10-11pm and beyond), and after swimming and sun, it made for a really long day for the 4.5 year old. Thankfully, she can rally and is similar to an energizer bunny, but her head wasn’t hitting the pillow until close to 10/10:30pm each night. She even had to miss fireworks and a deck party one of the nights because she just couldn’t make it. But for our boys – no problem! They were EXHAUSTED, but living their best life for sure.
Will you do a Disney Cruise again?
If our towels and underwear were made of money, my answer to this question would hands down be YES! Like I said, the service, the entertainment, the food, the staff – all of it was perfectly catered to our family having the best experience possible. With that said, we would like to try another Cruise line with the kids in the future. We’ve cruised before without the kids (twice) and had GREAT experiences on non-Disney ships, so I’d be interested to check it out in the future again with the kids as they get older. I would assume nighttime entertainment and general programming would not be catered to young families, so that’s something to consider.
Overall, it was an AMAZING trip and seeing the joy in the kids was totally worth it. In my opinion, our kids’ ages were really good for this type of experience! Our boys will for sure remember it, and the little one was convinced that every princess and character she saw was absolutely 100% the real thing, which was worth the price of admission in and of itself. Disney does it right and does it well and I will forever be a fan of this trip for families (and especially with friends too!).
Are there any other questions you were hoping to know about Disney Cruises? Leave them below and I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge!
If you’re just at the beginning stages of your trip planning, don’t forget to check out my full post on Packing Essentials for your Disney Vacation, or go straight to my full list of goodies on Amazon for your Disney Vacation.
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