On a ship filled with up to 4,000 people, it ought to be a daunting task to make each guest feel like a VIP, but on a Disney Cruise Line cruise it’s simply the norm. We’re talking royalty status: when strangers know you by name; when your room is made up based on preferences you didn’t even vocalize; when just about anything you want to happen, can happen. Indeed, when you fly the Disney flag, nothing is impossible. And during our recent voyage on the line’s newest vessel, the Disney Fantasy, we felt like Cinderella as she rides off to the castle with Prince Charming by her side. And if we felt that way, you know your clients’ kids (and mom and dad, too) are going to have a vacation of a lifetime all wrapped up in fairy dust.
a magical welcome
Any parent seeking some R&R during their vacation might not immediately opt for a Disney cruise, concerned that it’s going to be long days with thousands of screaming, crying, and badly behaved children. Well, we can say from first-hand experience, that just doesn’t happen on the Disney Fantasy, so tell parents it’ll be a vacation for them, too.
Kids aren’t given even a small chance of falling into a funk. As soon as we parked the car and approached the ship (picture a busy terminal full of voyagers waiting in line eagerly to get on the ship), Captain Mickey was waiting—in his formal blues, no less—to greet, hug and hold kids of all ages while their parents completed last-minute paperwork before embarkation. Then as families crossed over the gangplank onto the Disney Fantasy, their names were announced over a loudspeaker in welcome, and a semi-circle of smiling, waving crew members clapped and shouted hoorays that they had arrived. Now that’s a “welcome aboard!”
x marks the spot
The ship lives up to its name, too. It truly is a fantasy, especially for kids, with playrooms and discovery areas including Disney’s Oceaneer Lab and Club, where they can play out their favorite Disney stories on stage, and the ever-popular Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which transforms boys and girls into princesses and pirates. Little ones are welcome at It’s a Small World Nursery, while teens can escape from their parents at Vibe, which offers its own private sundeck and dance area, plus TVs, video games and more. The ship’s famous 765-ft. AquaDuck waterslide is a must-try, which takes thrillseekers for a tour of the ship’s upper deck via clear plastic fully enclosed tubing, and kids love Nemo’s Reef water play area, too. For some dry fun, Goofy’s Sports Deck offers putt-putt, volleyball, basketball and sports simulators.
So with the kids being well catered to with never-ending game shows, dance parties, live interactive shows, character meet and greets, and surprising mealtimes, parents do get plenty of opportunity to relax. They won’t have to work to keep their children engaged, and “Mommm, I’m boreddd” may never have been uttered aboard a Disney ship in the entire fleet’s history.
In fact, the crew does such a good job of keeping children entertained that the unbelievably relaxed atmosphere aboard Disney ships can feel almost deceptive.
“We fully expected to be overwhelmed with the number of children on board,” says Deena Gainor, owner and travel consultant at Global Getaways in Wheaton, IL, who boarded her cruise ready to deal with “many bouts of temper and inappropriate behavior. On the contrary, we rarely ever saw the children aboard…and we were quite shocked when a crew member revealed that there were over 1,000 kids sailing with us.”
Disney has really made a market for itself in family cruising, with plenty of options available for all ages—even for those who don’t take kids along at all. Adults-only sundecks, the Quiet Cove Pool, Senses Spa & Salon and Europa nighttime lounge are just a few examples. “I would definitely recommend a Disney cruise for multi-generational families. There’s so much to do, for children, for families together, and even for couples on their own,” Gainor adds.
“be our guest”
It’s a famous quote from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and the cruise line makes full use of this phrase at every meal they serve. Breakfasts and lunches can be as formal as you like, with full-service options always available, but most guests take this time to visit buffets and quick-service areas in order to get to the sun and fun as soon as possible. It’s during dinnertime when culinary efforts aboard the Disney Fantasy truly shine.
Dinner aboard the Disney Fantasy isn’t just a meal; rather, guests’ tables become front-row seats to yet another premium entertainment experience. Servers—who follow guests as they travel from one restaurant to another—do magic tricks and tell jokes; they cut children’s food into bite-sized pieces; even pour kids’ ketchup into Mickey-shaped puddles. And at Animator’s Palate—our favorite restaurant by far—dinner guests’ drawings come to life, animated in a compilation show of dining scenes from all of the Disney movies.
Guests’ dinner tables will change nightly, as part as the Dine-Around program, allowing them to experience a different restaurant each night. A seating at Enchanted Garden will convince the little ones that they’re in the midst of a scene straight from “Sleeping Beauty,” while dinners at Royal Court are hand-delivered from the ballrooms of Prince Charming’s and the Beast’s castles. As always, adults-only options are always available, with two exclusive gourmet locations, Remy and Palo. Both of these venues require reservations though, so be sure to set those up for them or let your clients know.
dream away the hours
Like everything else aboard a Disney cruise ship, cabins on the Disney Fantasy are designed with families in mind—meaning plenty of bedding that magically disappears during the daytime, and plenty of storage space built into places you’d never think to look.
When we first entered our accommodations—a Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah—we found a spacious split bathroom, a queen bed, a sofa, a coffee table, a large vanity and a closet. In short, it was a room that we would consider spacious enough for two, with a nicely sized living area. However, when we returned, the room was transformed—as if by magic, one might say—to include a queen bed, a full bed (what used to be the sofa), and a twin bunk that, honestly, we didn’t even realize was hidden away. All of a sudden, the cabin easily accommodated five.
Hiding our belongings away was pretty simple, too, with beds tall enough to accommodate suitcase storage underneath, a coffee table that opens to reveal storage space, and the incredibly spacious aforementioned closet. And that doesn’t even take into account all of the shelves, cabinets, hooks and drawers in the vanity and bathroom.
Oh, speaking of that, let’s take just a moment to appreciate how ingenious a split bathroom is on board a cruise. With one small room containing a sink and small tub/shower combo, and the other featuring a sink and toilet, getting ready in the morning and getting the kids ready for bed at night becomes a mother’s fantasy all in itself, where one can shower while the other brushes their teeth, and no one is in anyone’s way. Sigh—a dream come true!
The spacious balcony deserves a mention, too. More than 70 percent of cabins aboard the Disney Fantasy offer private verandahs, and the sunrises, sunsets and views of the Caribbean that your clients will witness from that private, tranquil spot will surely be enough to inspire their dreams.
itineraries and destinations
The Disney Fantasy cruises 7-night Eastern Caribbean itineraries (visiting St. Maarten or San Juan, St. Thomas/St. John and Castaway Cay) and Western Caribbean itineraries (visiting Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Castaway Cay) out of Port Canaveral, FL. Rates start at $1,085 pp.
The rate, which may seem high, doesn’t always have to be, according to Inna Reznik, owner and partner at R and B International Travel in St. Petersburg, FL. “Most client s with children are familiar with Disney cruises, but think they can’t afford to book this product. However, if Disney cruises are booked far in advance, there are many promotions that can make them more affordable, and Disney cruises offer many inclusions that are an additional charge with other cruise lines. We don’t have any complaints from clients we’ve booked on Disney cruises…and almost all of them are choosing a second and third Disney cruise after their first sailing.”
Archived related articles (available on recommend.com):
Fabulous Family Voyages (September 2011)
A Quick Peek at 2013 Itineraries
Disney Cruise Line’s 2013 itineraries promise plenty more magical experiences, with new ports and itineraries lined up to last throughout the year:
• In Port Canaveral, FL, the Disney Dream sails 3-, 4- and 5-night Bahamas cruises, with fares starting at $450 pp.
• New to the Port of Miami, the Disney Wonder and Disney Magic will sail 3-, 4- and 5-night cruises to the Bahamas and Western Caribbean. Rates start at $609 pp dbl for three nights; $500 pp dbl for four nights and $575 pp dbl for five nights.
• In June and July, the Disney Magic will return to Europe with 4-, 7- and 12-night departures from Barcelona. Rates start at $796 pp for four nights; $1,015 pp for seven nights and $2,244 pp for 12 nights.
• Beginning May 27, the Disney Wonder will embark on 7-night Alaska cruises from Vancouver. Rates start at $1,015 pp.
• Disney Cruise Line will continue operating 6-, 7- and 8-night Western Caribbean sailings out of Galveston, TX, aboard the Wonder, Magic and Fantasy. Rates start at $750 pp dbl for six nights, $840 pp dbl for seven nights and $920 pp dbl for eight nights.
Disney Cruise Line might have help from Tinker Bell’s sparkly fairy dust to create all the magic on its onboard offerings for the under-aged set, but a couple of other cruise lines know how to create some magic of their own and keep the little princess and prince plus their whole entourage smiling out in the open sea.
• Royal Caribbean International (cruisingpower.com)
The line’s Adventure Ocean program is kids’ fun central catering to ages 3-17 and divided by age group—a definite plus in any parents’ eyes. Activities include finger painting and space night for 3-5 year olds; pajama night and talent show for 6-8 year olds; karaoke and boys vs. girls scavenger hunts for 9-11 year olds; pool parties and sports tournaments for 12-14 year olds; and DJ training and casino night for 15-17 year olds, as well as island activities such as water balloon toss and beach volleyball. And the teeny-tiny ones, ages 3 to 36 months, are pampered with their very own Royal Babies and Tots Nursery that features a variety of Fisher Price developmental toys via specialized programs. Parents get some pampering of their own with the cruise line’s Babies 2 Go program—they can order baby food, diapers and wipies right up to their staterooms.
• Celebrity Cruises (cruisingpower.com)
Celebrity Cruises, too, has an array of kid-appropriate activities with programs divided by age, but one of the most innovative things for children on board is the line’s relatively new collaboration with The Nerdel Company. They worked together in developing an interactive program focused on educating youth about wellness while also having fun. The interactive program, aimed at 3 to 8 year olds, features activities themed around healthy choices and starring a puppet named NERDEL. Live puppet performances, puppet workshops, children’s puppet performances and lessons on the art of puppeteering are at the core of Celebrity’s onboard NERDEL activities, including participating in a healthy pizza-making class.
• Norwegian Cruise Line (ncl.com/nclweb/secure/partners.html)
If there’s one Norwegian Cruise Line ship all the kids are going to want to be first in line for is the Norwegian Breakaway, which will debut the fleet’s largest youth- and teen-dedicated facilities when it sets sail in April 2013. The youth area, named Splash Academy, will span two decks located adjacent to the family-friendly staterooms and feature areas designed specifically for three separate age groups. Teens will have their own dedicated space, Entourage, located on Deck 16, and babies and toddlers under age 3, along with their parents, will also have their own dedicated play space with activities.—Paloma Villaverde de Rico