After having kept this secret for months, when we finally pulled up our car to the Disney Dream cruise ship last Friday in Port Canaveral, our kids’ reaction to the surprise was priceless. With fear in his eyes, Arjun promptly responded I don’t want to go on that boat; Asha made a disappointed face and said but where is Disney Land.
My own feelings about this whole thing were no more cheerful, I have to admit. I am used to pushing a stroller up and down hills in Spain, and walking for miles each day on the cobblestone streets of Lisbon and Paris; a Disney cruise to the Bahamas seemed like cheating, like a fake travel experience that would soften us, and ultimately let the cat-out-of-the-hat for our kids, who up until now believed that climbing the Delicate Arch was the coolest thing we ever did!
Yes, I understand the stupidity of this thought, and yes, I have experienced the magic of Disney parks first hand (when I was 17), but just know that I am also the person who doesn’t like hot-tubs, bacon, and sports. In other words, I am a little strange, and can’t be trusted with being rational all the time, especially this time.
In fact, I was so worried about this trip that I even Googled “advice for moms who don’t like Disney Cruises”. And Guess what? NOT A SINGLE relevant search result came back. Every single hit was about moms who spoke so highly of the Disney experience; talk about feeling even worse. Was I the first one in modern history to question Disney? The thought that I don’t love my kids enough also briefly crossed my mind.
Thankfully, there is one thing that can shut me up pretty quickly, and that’s a good hotel; I might have mentioned a few (hundred?) times before my weakness for luxurious and well appointed hotels. So even though I was a bit overwhelmed with the ship (which indeed is magnificent), when I opened the door to our stateroom cabin with veranda, I knew things would be okay. This was our first cruise experience but based on our friend’s comments, I could tell that our room was definitely a lucky draw. It was my ultimate dream of tiny living that was comfortable, practical, and fun. Disney had managed to think of all the details, so that the endless amount of stuff we brought with us fit effortlessly in the cabinets leaving so much room for play. The view from the veranda was killer of course. The beds were super comfortable. The bathrooms (yes, two) were super awesome and I would have traded mine at home for them. BEST OF ALL, our room connected with our best friends next door who also have three kids. So between the veranda and the connecting doors our kids had so much fun running around and playing all sorts of games including hide and seek. Disney, I’ll give you this much….you know how to make kid-proof and parent-approved rooms.
Now that Disney had won me over, I was ready to keep an open mind for the rest of our 3-night cruise. There were things that I absolutely loved and things that made me wish I was sedated, but overall, the good definitely won over the not-so-good. And going back to my Google search, I figured I need to solve this glitch and make sure at least one result pops up for any future parents who are worried about going on a Disney Cruise. So here you go …
Advice for Moms who Don’t Like Disney Cruises
- Don’t spend too much time googling for advice: The amount of information out there on how to make the best of the cruise is so overwhelming that it will instantly make you feel like you have to spend a ton of time packing right, making crafts to take along, or tackle other tricks of the trade. This need to conform to a sub-culture will stress you out. So just book your trip and know that Disney will take care of the rest once you get there.
- Do prepare yourself for the boarding terminal: When we walked into that terminal at Port Canaveral, I wanted to run back home. It was an endless sea of matching shirts, Mickey ears, and so much happiness and cheer that I couldn’t take it. Again, it made me feel like something was wrong with me because I wasn’t feeling the same amount of excitement. Just breath through it and know that the boarding process is quick once it starts.
- Don’t let the buffet get to you: Unlimited meals are part of the deal and the variety of what is offered still has me floored. But it is precisely this abundance that seems so out of control. Trying our kids to sit through breakfast and lunch buffets was not easy. There was inevitable questioning of “why can’t I have three donuts like that kid right there”. Too many choices made them go crazy I think. And they were forever trying to run away to do other things. I also think the variety of stuff made it so easy to waste food. Many times, Devang and I would skip a plate and instead help finish what we had already gotten. Even so, we couldn’t help but throw away some food. And the kids caught on in no time that they will always have pizza so it was hard to get them to try other things (something we look forward to while we travel to new places). We also found it very helpful to rely on the Disney staff, all of whom were more than happy to provide an extra set of hands to move things along.
- Do give into the non-stop, ever-present, self-serve ice cream portal: I think I had more ice-cream than water on this ship. No matter the time of the day, one could have their choice of (at least) chocolate or vanilla soft-serve ice cream cascade into a sugar cone. I made sure that it is not all the kids were eating of course but it was fun to see them indulge. It is easy to control the amount of ice-cream that goes in the cone, so the servings didn’t have to be pilled high (which is a bad idea anyway because it melts super fast in that heat). I might or might not have stepped out of the room at 10:30pm once or twice and made myself a strawberry cone to eat as I walked around the deck. Why not!
- Don’t lose it at the pool: There are two pools, a hot-tub, a kiddie splash area, and a giant elevated waterslide on the Disney Dream. There is also a TV screen several stories high on this deck that plays a Disney movie; needless to say it’s a busy area. I don’t like the idea of submerging myself into bodies of water with so many kids, so Devang was more than happy to step in. There were also plenty of life jackets around for the kids to use so no need to bring one from home. It was overwhelming to keep track of all the kids especially since ours were young. I am sure things are much easier when you don’t have to watch your kids like a hawk and they are old enough to run around on their own. The blessed swim diaper also got me a few times. We were out there for so long that Arjun would inevitable pee through one in front of a nice audience. He did this once again as I put him on the chair to eat his lunch in the buffet area.
- Do be amazed with the cleanliness of it all: So speaking of all the pee and the free flowing soft-serve ice cream, one would think that the whole ship would be covered in filth. BUT, magically everything got cleaned properly by the countless amounts of staff that was always lurking for such moments. I was truly amazed and wanted to shout hallelujah every time someone quickly came and swept away the mess that my kids were making.
- Don’t feel like you have to do every single activity: We watch and love Disney movies, but by no means is ours a Disney family. This means, I had no interest in standing in long lines and waiting to take a picture with Mickey, or whoever was visiting. I was definitely amazed at how many kids were indeed waiting without complaining, but in our case, it would have been me and not the kids who would complain. So, we have no pictures of the kids with any of the characters and that’s okay. Asha did participate in the princess gathering and loved meeting Belle, Rapunzel, and Tiana but that was the only thing we signed up for. The daily social and activity calendar is super intense. In our case, we took our time to wake up and let the kids play around the room; we didn’t feel like we needed to run to an event, and didn’t except the scheduled dinner.
- Do watch the live stage shows and 3D movies: It was so cool that the ship had a full size auditorium for live shows and a full size movie theater. Asha, Ajay and I watched Beauty and the Beast one of the nights and LOVED it. It was so well done!!! We also watched A Wrinkle in Time and Black Panther in 3D. This is the kind of stuff that is hard to do at home so I was glad that we could experience it here.
- Don’t forget to appreciate where you are: By this I mean the ship itself. My head was spinning when I saw the size of it up close. By all accounts, it is a mini city floating in the middle of the ocean with more comforts and entertainment than your home. The tapestries, the furniture, the chandeliers, and oh the bathrooms! I LOVED every bit of this. In fact, the bathrooms were such a hit that my kids developed a super active bladder wanting to use the bathroom every time we sat down. They were excited about the shiny bathrooms with fresh flowers and sinks they could use themselves. Even with so many people on board, everything felt so clean and beautiful.
- Do take this trip with other friends and family: Unless your kids are old enough to leave you alone, make sure to go on this voyage with friends and family. Ajay and Arjun were too young for the free kids club, and Asha too didn’t spend more than a couple of hours there at a time. It was priceless to have the company of our friends who not only provided a helping hand with the kids but also great company to catch up. Without them, I would have jumped ship.
In the end, I am thankful to no longer be a Disney cruise virgin. As far as becoming a fan of them, I think I am still a few years away from when my kids can be trusted to use the bathroom on their own and can do all the activities on their own. But in the meantime, if someone else wants to pay for me to stay in one of the nice rooms, please don’t hesitate to send the invitation (hehe).
I should mention that we didn’t actually end up disembarking to see the Bahamas (we took the easy path to let the kids continue their Disney activities), but from the ship it looked colorful. May be next time! We did however visit Castaway Cay (Disney’s private Island) on the second full day for a few hours and thought it was good. Better than the pool deck for sure!
I loved a comment that our friend Chris (a Disney vacation pro) made while on this trip. He said the first time is about learning the ropes and then the subsequent trips become incredibly fun. I believe him wholeheartedly.
As fas as my fear of the cat being out of the hat for the kids and the implication of this catered vacation on our future trips, I am so pleased to say that the only thing they have said they miss over and over again are their friends. If that isn’t soul melting, I’m not sure what is!