The View from Stateroom 7076:
A Family's First Cruise with the Disney Cruise Line

By Rosanna Scott, AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the October 17, 2006, Issue #369 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

A vacation where we could relax, spend time together and the children would be happily entertained with quality children's programming. That's what we were looking for. Disney Cruise Line assured us that all of this and more would be possible. We were ready to put their claims to the test. And, boy did they pass the test. Not only did they meet our expectations, they exceeded, by far, our opinion of what a family vacation should be.

The Itinerary: seven nights sailing around the Western Caribbean, with two stops in Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. Additional ports-of-call included Cozumel and Costa Maya.

Truly, you must experience the Disney Cruise Line's Magic to believe it. From the moment we arrived, Disney went above and beyond to create a stress-free vacation for us. We were a little unsure of the customs process, having never traveled beyond U.S. borders before. However, before we even went to the terminal counter, a friendly Disney representative assisted us by making sure all of our paperwork was in order and ready for approval. While I took care of the paperwork, my husband took our children to register them for the children's programming. If you haven't already signed up online, you may register your children in the kids' program before boarding the ship. And, if hunger pangs are striking, snacks are available in the terminal and can be charged to your stateroom card. This entire painless process lasted less than 30 minutes and before we knew it, we were boarding our home for the next seven days -- Disney's grand vessel, the Magic.

Our sons, ages 9 and 4, were wide-eyed at the grandeur of the ship. I must admit, my husband and I were a bit starry-eyed ourselves. Our first stop was our cabin, 7076 on the seventh deck -- we were midship on the port side. "Wow, this is big!" came from 9-year-old Mitchell. I'm quite sure this is an uncommon comment heard about a cruise ship cabin but, indeed, our stateroom was roomy. The balcony stateroom featured a queen-sized bed, a fold-down sofa for one child and a single bunk that could be lowered from the ceiling for another child. The bathrooms were a surprise. The ship featured a bath and a half. Both baths featured sink and vanities, while one offered a toilet and the other, a tub and shower. This was a wonderful amenity for our family. No shouts of "Are you done yet?" were heard the entire week!

Other stateroom jewels were the cooler (perfect for storing an extra glass of milk for bedtime), a desk with two AC outlets, a television with the latest Disney movies playing, a coffee table that could be raised and lowered, and plenty of storage room. At least it would have been plenty for us had we not packed so much. A key to simplifying the week is to pack fairly lightly. You really don't need to overpack. For laundry needs, there are washers and dryers available throughout the ship.

We needn't have worried if the kids would need us. It turns out, they didn't. Our boys were always asking, "Can we go to the kids' program now?" Even our 4-year-old, who still has separation anxieties at times, looked forward to the programs. His favorite counselor, Desta, went out of her way to make the transitions easier for him. They kept busy digging for whale bones, swimming, playing ping-pong and basketball, learning animation, creating their own volcanoes, dancing with princesses and meeting new friends.

Nearly an entire deck is devoted to this outstanding children's programming. The Oceaneer Club is for ages 3 to 7, while the Oceaneer Lab is for ages 8 to 12. Activities are further separated by appropriate age groups. For example, the 3- and 4-year-olds are in one group, the 8-and 9-year-olds in another, etc. There is also a nursery for ages 3 months to 3 years and a teens-only supervised program.

Disney's commitment to a secured safe program was reassuring to us. They took the security of our sons, and all of the children on board, very seriously and are constantly upgrading their security measures. Pagers are given to the parents so if a child desires to be picked up, Mom and Dad are only a quick page away. A password, which is provided at the beginning of the voyage, must be given for designated members of the party to pick up a child.

While we expected our children to be happy and entertained on board, we were surprised by the emerging maturity of the children. Deavan, our 4-year-old, came to love his activities, and our 9-year-old, Mitchell, exhibited the signs of the mature young man that is to come. Having met a new best friend on board, the two were inseparable. By giving him check-in times and appropriate rules, we gave him the boundaries to have new experiences. Through these experiences, he gained greater self-confidence -- self-confidence that has remained with him upon our return home.

While the boys were happily engrossed in their programming, my husband and I were free to spend time together, relax, attend shows and wine tastings, and to make new friends of our own. A highlight of our "adult" time was our spa experience. Disney's spa villas are completely unique. Our indulgence began on our private villa veranda where we each received a relaxing foot soak. This was followed by a 20-minute hottub soak while we listened to the sound of waves against the boat, and this blissful time was followed by an hour-long massage. After the massage we again retreated to the veranda where we relaxed on the chaise lounges and watched the waves.

While we truly enjoyed the time alone, we equally enjoyed the time we spent with our children. Much of our time together was spent up on Deck 9. There, a huge 24-by-14-foot screen was visible both by day and night. While in the Goofy pool area (the family pool area) we were able to swim, sun and relax while watching classic Disney movies. A poolside dining area, Goofy's Galley, featured grilled panini sandwiches, fruit, salads and wraps. There is even a 24-hour soda station available in the area. For adults traveling without children, these sorts of amenities may be appreciated, but for parents with children who are often hungry and thirsty, the ready availability of such goodies is priceless.

On the Magic, we truly were Pirates IN the Caribbean. We simply cannot imagine a better deck party. It is forever in our minds as one of our favorite family events aboard the ship. Beginning with the evening meal, children and adults alike were encouraged to don their favorite pirate apparel. Character pictures before the meal featured none other than Captain Hook and Jack Sparrow. The evening meal was jovial and entertaining. Following the meal, we headed up to Deck 9 for the big party. The event featured dancing along with the stage show, a barbecue and buffet. The spectacular fireworks display was incredible. The children were absolutely thrilled with the fun. The show's ending was quite fitting as "Captain" Mickey Mouse himself flew by on a zip line to save the ship from the clutches of Captain Hook. Finally, a screening of the film "Pirates of the Caribbean" capped off the night. To say we had fun would be an understatement.

There are simply so many moments from this cruise that will be forever blazed on our hearts and in our minds: watching our children's eyes dance with joy, playing in the swimming pools, getting a hug from Mickey Mouse, sharing a quiet moment with my husband, watching the sunsets from the veranda, seeing our children "graduate" from their children's programming complete with Mickey graduation caps, watching our children splash in the ocean, searching for seashells and relaxing on the beach. These are but a few of the moments we shared. Yes, it's a truly magical time on a Disney cruise.

We have taken family vacations before and while all family vacations are important, this cruise was more of an investment in our family than a vacation. During our last evening show, our hostess shared the following quote. "What you can't see with your eyes, lives in your heart." I know that children grow, time will pass, but memories live on. I'm thankful this will forever be a memory in my boys' lives. And, I'm thankful to have shared it with them.

I know that many families dismiss the idea of a Disney Cruise because of the cost and fear that the family might not enjoy it. We found that when you add up the benefits, you really are getting a bargain. And it's something that the entire family will enjoy!

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TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME
CRUISING FAMILIES
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1. Work with a Disney Cruise Line specialist or a certified Disney travel agent to plan your cruise. Disney representatives walk you right through the paperwork process with their typical helpfulness. It's reassuring to know that you are being guided through this part of your cruise. Not having the right paperwork can cost you time, money and even your ability to board the ship. And, don't forget to purchase the insurance. Hopefully you won't need it but it will be worth its weight in gold if you do.

2. Budget wisely. While you may have prepaid for the cruise, remember that you'll want to bring home a souvenir or two, or even have a glass of wine with dinner. Pre-planning for those small onboard extras will keep you from feeling financially stressed when it's time to go home.

3. Arrive the night before the cruise. If your time allows, stay at a Disney resort the night before your cruise. This ensures no flight delays or car trouble will keep you from missing your cruise. This extra time buys you peace of mind. The morning of the cruise, hotel staff will take your luggage from the hotel to the port, and you and the family will be free to enjoy breakfast and await your own ride to the port.

4. Get a room with a view. It's tempting to reserve the most economical cabin available; however, you may be much happier with an upgraded cabin. For many families, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Do you really want to spend it without being able to enjoy the view? Our family enjoyed breakfast on our veranda and simply sitting privately together as we sailed. Those memories are very special to us.

5. Pack lightly. A mistake commonly made, and one made by us, is to overpack. Yes, there are the formal nights to consider but beyond that you can really get by with just a few outfits. Daytime apparel is mostly shorts, swimming suits and t-shirts. Khakis, polo shirts, sundresses or dress pants are appropriate for dinners. There are washers and dryers throughout the ship for washing clothes.

6. Let the kids go off without you. We thought we would feel guilty if our children were in the children's programming while we were off enjoying adult activities, but the kids actually wanted to go to the programming. They would often ask if they could stay longer when we would go to pick them up. The kids have so much fun with the unique and interesting programs and they get to meet new friends from around the world. So, bottom line, there's no need to feel guilty!

7. Say cheese! For the cameras, that is. Disney photographers will be on hand throughout the entire cruise to capture your family's moments on film. Buying these pictures separately can get very expensive. You're much better off to buy a package up front and keep track throughout the week of the photos you want to purchase.

8. Pre-plan your port excursions. Ports can be awfully crowded and busy. Pre-planning your shore excursions is very helpful. Not only do the excursions fill up quickly, but Disney representatives will guide you through the crowds. Also, be prepared for the many merchants desiring to sell their merchandise at the ports.

9. Take some time out. A cruise is jam-packed with fun and activities for both you and the kids, but the last thing you want is to come home from your cruise only to need another vacation to recuperate. While the kids are enjoying their activities, check out the spa. Disney offers blissful treatments that will have you feeling relaxed and pampered. If you do desire some onboard pampering, pre-plan your treatment. The spa schedule fills up quickly.

10. Have fun! This is your time. Relax and enjoy it. Let Disney do what it does best -- take care of you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Travel writer Rosanna Scott and her husband Craig reside in Ohio. They have two sons. As a family they enjoy traveling and all things Disney.

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RELATED LINKS
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Disney Cruise Line: http://allears.net/cruise/cruise.htm