It’s “Wave Season,” according to The Today Show, when there are great deals on cruises. Among those mentioned was a See what’s it’s really, truly like to not only vacation on the ocean but also vacation with kids! Ahoy!
A vacation is one thing. A vacation on the sea is another. Everything is taken up a notch because you are eating, sleeping, playing,
One of the swimming pools on the Disney Wonder.
swimming, watching movies and stage productions ON THE OCEAN! Having never been on more than a party boat in my college years (that’s a tale for another blog), the idea of being on a cruise ship period, much less with my kids was a little daunting but very exciting. It turned out to be a better experience than any of us could have dreamed.
When we started looking into taking a family cruise, it just made sense to choose a Disney cruise. We figured who better to create a magical atmosphere for the kids and be as parent-friendly as it is kid-friendly? We set sail on the Disney Wonder ®, one of the popular Disney Cruise Line ships which now, conveniently, departs from Galveston, Los Angeles or Miami depending on the time of year. While the Disney-ness of it all can feel a little corny, just channel your inner child and you’ll end up loving it.
My first concern was what it was going to be like to be on the wavy ocean. If any of us got seasick, it was going to be a long seven days. Doubly equipped with sea sickness medicine and accupressure wrist bands, we boarded the ship. We didn’t feel a thing until we were at dinner the first night, as the ship pulled away from the dock. We were aware of gentle movement but never tossing. It was more like the feeling when you get up too fast. Our waiters assured us that we would get our sea legs by the next day but brought us preventative ginger ale anyway. As it turned out, we never needed the pills, bands nor even another glass of ginger ale. The ship is so large that you really only feel the waves when you are at one end of the ship or another or up on the very top decks. But even then, because you are either having a great meal, seeing a movie watching an exciting stage show or taking in the view of the ocean, you don’t mind the slight movement.
I’d always heard about the plethora of buffets on cruise ships. Disney ships are ships are no exception. Outside, there were three casual restaurants open from morning to night serving burgers, sandwiches and pizza. Inside, there was one buffet-only place where we usually had breakfast, a casual Caribbean-themed sit-down restaurant, Tritan’s formal, french-style restaurant and the Animator’s Palate, an amazing restaurant that literally becomes animated and colored. All of your food and drink (except alcohol) is included in the price of your cruise. The first day, my kids kept asking if I was absolutely sure they didn’t need to pay for their food. Imagine being able to have anything you want, including seconds, and not having to pay a penny. Even my pickiest eaters found no shortage of good stuff to eat including veggies and fruit.
Food is beautifully presented and you can, pretty much,, have it any way you want.
One of the best things about the Disney Cruise dining experience is the wait staff. You are assigned a waiter and wait assistant from your first meal. Every night, you have a reserved table at one of the sit-down restaurants, giving you an opportunity to enjoy different surroundings and differently-themed foods but with the comfort of your very own serving staff. Our guys became our anchors for the trip (pun intended). We looked forward to seeing them every day. They knew our names, our likes and dislikes, worried when our son stayed in the cabin with a stomach-ache and gave us great travel tips. The food was delicious. There was always a kids’ menu with plenty of choices and the adult menu options could easily be altered if you preferred broccoli over the green beans offered. We were spoiled! I had to remind my kids often not to expect this kind of treatment at home.
Depending on your budget, you can get cabins on the lower levels of the ship that don’t have a window, have a small window or even
The ship is beautiful at night.
sliding doors and balconies. We had a window and were very glad if only to be able to look outside and see what the increase in movement was about one slightly stormy night. But I’m funny that way. The beds were comfortable, even the sleeper sofas and murphy beds my kids slept on. The bathrooms are adequate and there’s a TV in every room playing constant Disney movies and helpful information about the ship and the day’s events.
Every room is assigned a cabin steward. Ours was wonderful, asking us daily if everything was alright, if he could get us anything, giving us directions around the ship and making those famous towel animals every night, awaiting us on the bed along with chocolates. A series of top-notch toiletries were always available in the room, so we needn’t have brought anything but our toothbrushes and toothpaste.
What to do, what to do
Disney is very good at making sure there is something for kids and adults to do all the time – if you want to. It’s perfectly okay to find a lounge chair and totally veg. There are three swimming pools, all of which are fun, clean and spacious enough, although not large. One of the pools sits at the base of a jumbo tron screen that plays Disney movies, old and new, all day. That pool also gets covered up to create a floor for one of several parties for guests that include singing and dancing by crew members and Disney characters (people in costume with giant Disney heads or lovely ladies dressed up as Disney princesses).
There are also classes for kids and adults, a large movie theater showing current Disney movies, another large, posh theater showing Broadway-quality stage shows that were very impressive, and clubs for kids.
Here’s where we can get a little break from our darling children and vice versa. There are kids’ clubs for babies and toddlers, older kids and teens, all with their own areas to hang out in and staff to guide them and keep mayhem from breaking out. While the kids are away, the parents can play in their own pool and deck area with super-comfy lounge chairs, internet cafes, a workout room overlooking the ocean (we saw a whale jump while on the treadmill!), classes on wine tasting, a very elegant restaurant called Palo, a spa and a variety of beautiful clubs for cocktails, watching the game or dancing the night away. I met several families that were there with the grandparents, kids and grandkids. A cruise like this is an ideal place to be able to meet the needs of multiple generations.
Kids and parents keep in touch with Wave Phones, basically cell phones for use only on the ship, that enable you to keep in touch with each other when you are apart. Brilliant idea because although the ship is contained, it is a large ship and there are many places to go.
Throughout the cruise, Disney characters, including princesses, are available for photo opportunities, for a hug poolside or to greet you while you are having dinner. Even though my children are a little past the age of getting giddy over seeing Belle or Micky, they loved it. For the younger kids sailing, it was all pure magic.
Every cruise, no matter where it travels, offers excursions – opportunities to get off the ship and explore. The ship has an entire
The destinations offer beautiful sites.
department that helps you plan your excursions although it’s best to do that ahead of time, online to ensure space. I was told by saavy travellers that all the same excursions offered on the ship can be planned on your own, directly with the vendors, once you disembark, for much less money. We did a combination, going to a resort to enjoy their beautiful sea-side swimming pools organized by the ship and also taking a motor boat to an island that we scheduled ourselves after considerable haggling. You might save money going it on your own but there is a real comfort in having everything planned out, where everyone is accounted for and it’s very well-organized.
Tip, although the Pirate Ship excursions sound really fun and the boats themselves are a hoot to see, all decked out in their piratey best, I was told by multiple people that the waters were so tumultuous, that most people spent their trip with throwing up over the sides of the boat. I’m glad I stuck with just watching the “Pirates of the Carribbean” movies on the ship!
Beautiful night on the ocean. The sunsets are amazing at sea.
I thought I would be in constant splendor and amazement over being on the ocean, mountain girl that I am. But I got used to it quickly. I mean, except for an occasional beautiful sunrise and sunset, the one whale we saw and a few dolphin sightings, we got used to being on the ocean quickly and kind of took it for granted. At night, you can see stars although not as many as you’d think because the ship is lit up. The white foam of the waves is lovely at night but otherwise, unless you are sailing with moonlight, it’s just pretty dark. We did love the smell of the ocean and the sounds. I am still in awe of the fact that we spent seven days in a vessel that was like its own city but on the huge ocean. I should have spent a little more time just staring out at it, taking in the magnitude of it, I guess. Well, that’s what the next cruise will be for, right?
Set aside some time – a lot of time – to check out the Disneycruise.com website to see which ships go where, from what port, during what time of year. It can be daunting. I recommend doing a little, early research, then use a travel agent to finalize everything.
All-inclusive vacationing is a wonderful thing, paying once and then never having to pay another penny (except for alcohol and things you buy in the gift shop). Being able to spend as much time together or apart as you want, with as many activities as you want or don’t want, is what a vacation should be.