Though we’re fans of Disney family travel, as Pit Stops for Kids readers know, we were cruising newbies before we departed for our three-night cruise on the brand new Disney Fantasy. As active family travelers, we worried a cruise would limit our adventurous travel style, feel overcrowded, and be all about the food. Now that we’ve experienced the Disney Fantasy, were our cruising fears allayed? Where do we stand on cruising as a family vacation option?
Disney cruising promises a ‘no stress, no worries’ vacation.
I sailed on the Fantasy as a solo parent with my three school-aged kids. While some vacation destinations would have been stressful to navigate and enjoy without another adult to help out, it was a breeze on a Disney cruise. Two parents traveling with kids will find it just as relaxing. The benefits of an all (or almost all) inclusive vacation cannot be measured in dollar amount. I enjoyed my cruise all the more not having to worry about dining costs, snack costs, soda costs, and entertainment costs at every turn. Everything we needed was at our fingertips, and thanks to the ‘Disney Difference’, the guest service we experienced was unparalleled. From the moment we stepped off our plane and onto a Magical Express bus until the moment we stepped back off of one, Disney took care of the logistics. That was magical.
Families can be as active (or inactive) as they want on a Disney cruise.
I’ll admit it: I had a preconceived idea that cruising was ‘lazy’. The truth is, we ran ourselves ragged (in a good way) on the Disney Fantasy for three full days, and still never got to everything offered onboard (or even close!). On Castaway Cay, we took advantage of the entire window of island time, pursuing activities from 9 am until 4 pm, and still didn’t experience all on offer. A list of the things we did pursue in our four days cruising: swimming, riding the AquaDuck, basketball games, miniature golf, sports simulators, Disney-quality shows, countless kids’ club activities, cooking lessons, snorkeling, bike riding, shuffleboard tournaments, jogging, ping-pong, and game shows. Had we been on a typical seven day cruise, I’m sure this list would have doubled.
Families spend ample time together (and apart) on a Disney cruise.
My kids loved the Oceaneer’s Lab and Club and the Edge (the tween hangout) onboard the Fantasy, but even with them running off every evening to enjoy club activities, we still spent more quality, relaxed time as a family unit than we had on any of our most recent trips. How is that possible? The word ‘quality’: so little of our vacation time on the Fantasy was spent worrying about logistics or in transport, that we were able to enjoy each other and what we were doing together as a family far more readily.
Crowds on a Disney cruise can (mostly) be avoided.
I cannot address crowd control on a Disney cruise completely, as the Fantasy was not full on our sailing. Even so, there were moments it felt too crowded for my kids’ and my tastes; specifically, during deck parties. During the Sailing Away party and Pirate Night activities, my kids had moments when they thought it was too chaotic and too loud. What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was how easy it would be to escape these crowds. Even with foot-stomping, loud music thumping fun only one deck above us, our stateroom was a quiet sanctuary. And if these big parties aren’t your thing (or you just need momentary escape as we did), the other 12+ decks are nearly empty while pool deck events are ongoing. Disney Cruise Line also does a great job of crowd management. The two evening show times are scheduled to work with the two dinner seating times, so that half the ship is eating while the other half is enjoying the entertainment, and vice versa. (And of course, you could opt to skip one or both for some quiet time.) The line for character greetings and the AquaDuck were small to nonexistent, and my kids played round after round of miniature golf without a wait. (Again, our ship was not full.)
Culture and educational experiences can be had on a Disney cruise.
I might have said it wasn’t possible to experience culture and educational opportunities on a Disney cruise, but I already knew better: Disney always goes the extra mile to include rich storytelling and cultural immersion where they can. On a Bahamian cruise, where can they? On Castaway Cay, families can learn about the history of the island (would you believe it was a drug runners’ paradise?) and get a detailed lesson in marine biology during the Stringray excursion. On longer cruises with additional ports, more opportunities arise (though I’d describe most of the available excursions as more ‘adventurous’ than ‘educational’). However, our greatest cultural gift on the Disney Fantasy was completely unexpected: Disney Cruise Line hires a very international Cast Member staff. Our evening servers were from Croatia and the Dominican Republic, and our stateroom host was from Haiti. Just speaking to them about where they’re from and how they view the world they’re traversing in their career was a rich cultural lesson for the kids (and me).
The food on a Disney cruise is…abundant.
And maybe we’re alone in this, but we didn’t love this. We like to feel hungry for a meal, not constantly stuffed! But if you don’t like to overeat, there’s hope: because food is always available, I didn’t feel the need to ‘try everything’ at every meal. And fresh fruit and healthy seafood and veggies were always on offer. And it was nice not to worry about when the kids were going to declare they were ‘starving’ (which usually happens every 15 minutes on a vacation). Still, if you’re a parent (like me) who tries to teach healthy eating, good luck. My kids were enamored with the fact that they could help themselves to ice cream, soda, and pizza at any hour, and it was exhausting to try to limit them. I kept a firm rule of one soda a day, which I kept until the last day (when I caved), but otherwise, I let them eat the treats they wanted. They were certainly burning it off in the pool.
Am I won over?
Yes, and no, and mostly yes. Disney, as always, won me over with the detail and care they put into every aspect of everything they do. At any and every moment on the Fantasy, something surprised, whether it was the smiling kids’ club counselor remembering my son’s name, the detail in the ornate hanging chandelier in the atrium, the whimsy of the Oh La La bar, or the sight of Goofy golfing on the deck mid-afternoon (or the sight of my child spotting Goofy golfing on said deck).
Should a Disney cruise be the only vacation families take?
Definitely not. I believe it’s important for families to experience not only the world, but navigating the world together, whether they start in their home state or across the globe. Despite peppering their excursions with cultural and educational experiences, a Disney cruise will never be a worthy substitute for a trip to a new city, country, or national park or landmark. Nor should it be. Instead, it’s a wonderful escape during which a family’s prime immersion will be in each other and activities they enjoy.
Pit Stops for Kids experienced the Disney Fantasy as working media on its media preview sailing. While we were glad to ‘be their guests’ as they say in Beauty and the Beast, all opinions and first-hand accounts are our own (and always will be on PSFK).