These days the number 1 Disney "park" is the Disney Cruise; with stylish Disneyesque ships and cruise itineraries that boast the magic of Disney at every turn, it's no wonder that Disney lovers far and wide are booking cruise adventures. As with all things "Disney", there are a variety of cruises to choose from as well as packages, and transportation options to fill the planning mind with choices, choices, and more choices…
Let's start with WHEN to cruise. Weather plays a predominate factor. If cruising on calm seas is important to you, eliminate the months of August, September, and October as the months of strong storms at sea (sometimes lovingly referred to as Hurricane Season). February and March are likely to have the coldest water temperatures if beach activities are your cup of tea. The other factor to consider is crowds. All school vacation times are "high" Disney travel dates - Spring Break, summer, and Christmas holidays. These leaves May, November (except for Thanksgiving weekend), early December, and January as the months with the best weather and crowd conditions for cruising. However, if your dates are determined by a celebration like a birthday or an anniversary, you can sail assured that Disney will change it's cruising course for storms and, no matter how crowded the ship, there are still plenty of seats and activities for everyone.
- TIP: Inform your Disney Cruise Line reservationist of any celebrations during the cruise, and arrangements will be made for Disney to help you celebrate.
How long to cruise is a question that involves several considerations, primary amongst them is whether or not this adventure will include time at Disney World. If this will be a "cruise only" vacation, Disney offers three options:
- Three-Day Cruise: first night sailing, second day and night in Nassau, third day at Disney's private island Castaway Cay, and third night sailing home to Port Canaveral.
- Four-Day Cruise: first night sailing, second day and night either in Nassau or (beginning August 2000) alternating with Freeport, third day and night at Disney's private island Castaway Cay, fourth day at sea, and fourth night sailing home to Port Canaveral.
- Seven-Day Cruise: First night sailing, second and third days at sea, fourth day in St Maarten, fifth day in St Thomas/St John, sixth day at sea, seventh day at Castaway Cay, and seventh night sailing to port
For cruise- only adventures, plan flight arrival for the morning of departure, and allow ample time to make the hour long drive to Port Canaveral. Boarding onto the ship begins between 12:30 and 1:00PM. Registration at Port Canaveral takes 20 to 30 minutes on average. Transportation options from the airport to the port include Disney's motorcoach shuttle, car rental, and towncar services… more on transportation later.
- TIP: To streamline the procedure, have all of your documentation filled out before approaching the Registration desk.
- TIP: Lines are often shorter further from the entrance.
If plans include time at Disney World, however, then the options increase to include:
- Disney Cruise Package: For both the Three-Day and Four day cruises, Disney has a package that includes resort, Unlimited Magic Passes, and transportation from airport to resort to cruise to airport. Resort options are determined by stateroom price - lower priced staterooms mean value resorts, higher priced staterooms mean deluxe resorts, etc. The package begins at Disney World with the cruise following the land portion. The primary upside of the package is convenience. Disney's system handles all of the details, and registration for the entire package occurs upon arrival at the resort.
- Independently Planned Segments: For those of us who LOVE planning the details of Disney adventures and getting the best deals on Disney resorts, planning the cruise and the "World" portions independently opens the door to several new options. Spending time at the World after the cruise as well as picking the level of stateroom independent of the resort level, determining passes based on value and use, and choosing from an assortment of transportation options become a new assortment of choices. While this may be a 'downside' for a person who wants the carefree convenience of a package, it is most definitely an upside for those who like to 'shop' for resort discounts and want more flexibility for touring the "World". For example, cruise debarkation occurs by 9:00AM. This leaves a full day of park touring for folks who head back to Disney World after the cruise. When making the decision to go with independently planned segments, the two factors to keep in mind are that Disney will charge deposits independently as well (while on the package, there will be only one deposit required), and independently planned segments will require check-in at the beginning of each new segment (i.e. resort, cruise, resort) while the package will require only one check-in for both resort and cruise.
Transportation options are a smorgasbord as well. Disney offers a motor coach service for $20 each way that definitely wins the 'best deal' award. This is the transportation that comes with the package. The buses are comfortable; the bus driver shares Disney tidbits and answers questions, and the details like luggage transfers are handled by Disney. For folks making independent arrangements, the Disney motor coach is still an option - just be sure to confirm with the Disney Cruise Desk and bell services to insure the luggage is picked up on schedule. Other options include car rental and town car service. Some car rental companies will allow drop off at Port Canaveral and provide a shuttle to and from the cruise ship. Otherwise, the price for car rental makes the price for the towncar, at approximately $200 round trip, seem more reasonable. The towncar, of course, offers the premium experience of convenience: curbside pickup and delivery at a personally arranged time (no waiting for buses to fill, etc).
OK. The dates, the resort, the touring sequence, the transportation… all that's left to do is plan the activities on board. And this is where Disney shines. Geared towards family cruising, there are enough options every day to keep both children and adults active - together and separately. There are programs for children of all ages, from babysitting for infants and toddlers to a teenage haven called Coffee Grounds where cruise staff provide a safe parent-free environment for teens to get together. For children three to eight years of age, there is the Oceaneer's Club where parents are given pagers for the duration of the cruise in case their child asks for them. Here, there are daily activities arranged for age groups three to five and age groups six to eight. Some examples for the three to five-year-old age group:
- Tea With Wendy Darling: Wendy Darling delights your children with stories about her good friend Peter Pan while demonstrating the etiquette of taking tea.
- Adventures of Simba: The world of the Lion King becomes your child's playground with storytelling and Timon and Pumba's Pig Out game.
- Sebastion's Magical Sea Search: Children join the search, gathering clues to find Sebastion's missing instruments.
- Welcome to Wonderland: Music and silly games let your young "Mad Hatters" create their own adventure! An unbirthday party with Alice is the perfect way to end a day in Wonderland.
- Planet Pebbles: Wearing lab coats, your children explore the fantasy of Buzz Lightyear in a program designed specifically for little hands and big imaginations.
- Where's Tinkerbell?: Tinkerbell is missing! A story with clues leads the children to discover her hiding place as she makes a magical appearance in the stars of a night time sky.
Some examples of activities for six to eight year olds:
- Gases In Action: This is a real gas for any child interested in experimenting! It may seem like magic, and it is a blast!
- Sebastion's Junkanoo Jam: "Shell" we dance? The dance floor awaits eager youngsters who enjoy singing and moving to Junkanoo songs such as "The Macarena", "Day-O", and "The Limbo".
- So You Want To Be A Pirate: There's a pirate onboard! Never fear, he's only on hand to tell the children adventurous stories tracing the history of buccaneers through time. Captain Hook may even stop by for a visit.
- Animation Antics: Children are introduced to simple animation techniques and put their new skill to use by drawing Mickey Mouse.
- To Infinity and Beyond: Your young Space Rangers are needed to assist Buzz Lightyear in his journey through the galaxy.
Older children, between the ages of nine and twelve, go to the Oceaneer's Lab. Once again, activities are arranged for both the nine - ten year olds and eleven - twelve year olds. Some examples for the nine - ten year old group are:
- Pastabilities: Holy macaroni! Building a bridge is a tough enough task, but what if the engineers can only use pasta and a glue gun?
- Spaced Out: Kids compete to see who will be named "Most Spaced-Out Cruiser". Teams join Admiral Phaeton in an intergalactic show that tests their knowledge of outer space.
- Apprentice Workshop: In this workshop, our apprentices will encounter sold liquids and make their own batch of flubber-like goo.
- Now A Word…: You get the chance to be part of the talented cast of producers, directors, and stars in our TV spots and the results are hilarious.
- Regatta Racers: Our sailors run a clean regatta as they build racers using bars of soap and other materials. This race is sure to be good clean fun and lots of laughs.
And for the eleven and twelve year olds:
- Mysterious Islands: Have you heard any good stories lately? Let us tell you "true" tales of ghost ships and lost squadrons as well as stories of mysterious islands that reportedly vanished overnight!
- Marblemania: Have you lost your marbles? You might think so as you work with a team to design the ultimate marble racetrack.
- This Just In: Rookie News Teams produce a newscast that's filled with up-to-the-minute fun! Don't just watch the news - make it!
- Goofin' Around With Animation: You'll learn animators' secrets as you draw one of our favorite Disney characters, Goofy.
- Science Sorcery: Things are not always what they seem. Using the magic of science, come conjure up some goo with us.
As you might imagine with programs like these, children are eager to participate. Parents give testimonials that their kids didn't want to leave the activities to have some 'family' time.
Dining on the Disney cruise offers a couple of choices as well. While seating for breakfast and lunch is open, dinner has two dining times with assigned seats. The early seating is favored for families with young children for one VERY good reason… we saw several children at the later dinner seating falling asleep at the table. Keep this in mind while determining your preference. The second seating is predominately adults and families with older children.
- TIP: If you would like a specific seating assignment (i.e. with friends or with just your family members), let your cruise reservationist know.
All shows and cruise activities are designed around the two dinner times so that everyone has an opportunity to experience the offerings. There is also an "adults only" restaurant, Palos, where reservations are required and there is an additional service fee. This restaurant offers an excellently prepared and presented Italian menu. For sample menus of all the restaurants, click on the menus link below.
The adult venue includes everything from luxurious spa offerings, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a wine tasting lecture, an 'adults only' pool to nightly live jazz music, nightly dancing, and comedy improv. To these, add the family activities like a movie theatre showing several first run features, the daily Disney Shows (a new one each day), and the games… before you know it, your day has been full of fun and the morrow promises only more. That's cruising Disney.