Updated: Feb 15, 2022
When we were given the opportunity to join our family on our first Disney Cruise, and a Christmas cruise might I add... it was a no brainer! You know how we feel about Disney, so exploring this new-to-us arm of the company was a really neat adventure.
All in all, we had a fantastic time with family and enjoyed a few really unique opportunities that we'll remember forever! In today's post, I'm sharing the top 5 things we loved about the experience and 3 things that we wished we could have mentally prepared for. I want to be honest and candid with you about what you can expect, particularly if you're a cruise veteran but new to Disney Cruise Line. Please feel free to ask any questions and/or share your thoughts in the comments section below. Without further ado, let the countdown begin...
What we loved...
5. Castaway Cay - Let me start by saying this is the most beautiful island we've ever been on. It's gorgeously manicured and it didn't hurt that the weather was incredible the day we were there.
Although we didn't take part in any of the extra activities on the island like snorkeling or renting the private cabanas, just relaxing on the beach was incredible.
Chairs and umbrellas were set up and didn't require an extra fee for use which was a nice perk. You can truly relax, take in the breathtaking scenery and feel totally safe... which as a parent (and a human in general) is a wonderful feeling :)
4. Unique on-board entertainment - I was super excited about this aspect of the experience from the get go. I mean, with Disney being an entertainment company... bring on the on-stage magic!! The Beauty and the Beast show on the Dream was absolutely incredible.
The sets, puppets, costumes, choreography and vocals were Broadway caliber and it was such a treat to enjoy. Every single one of us loved it! The Believe show on the last night had a very cute and magical second half... so I recommend sticking with it if you go to see it :) I also really enjoyed the fireworks on Pirate Night although they were of course not quite the same caliber as Magic Kingdom castle fireworks, but really can anything else compare to those?!
Another bonus element of on-board entertainment is that you can enjoy first-run movies in a family friendly space at various times throughout your trip. Taking our one-year-old to a theater to see a new movie at home just doesn't quite make sense for us yet. So when we heard that Frozen II was playing on the ship, we were so excited to take Tallulah to see it (and not feel guilty if we had to leave halfway through for any myriad of reasons.) She loved it and was way more engaged in it than I expected. (TIP - The theater was overflowing the afternoon/evening while we were at sea, but the early morning show on the Castaway Cay day was basically empty. We got to watch the movie and still have a full day at the beach.)
3. Very thoughtful stateroom design - We were insanely impressed by this aspect! There's a darkening curtain that splits the room in half and separates the queen bed from the kids sleeping area which includes a bunk bed for older kids that comes out of the ceiling at turndown... what?!?! This curtain was perfect when we wanted to watch something from the Disney+ style on-demand on the in-room tv while Tallulah slept.
Her side was dark and the TV arm could adjust to face either side of the curtain as needed. They also offered us a pack-and-play as well as a diaper genie. As you can assume, both were much appreciated :) Since we were traveling with my parents, sister, and her best friend, we were able to connect our room with my parents from the inside and our room attendant opened the balcony of all three rooms so we could walk between rooms from the outside.
It was a lot of fun and very helpful to have family right there when Tallulah wanted to roam.
2. Fantastic kids play areas - Although Tallulah didn't stay in the kids area or nursery on her own because she wanted all the Yaya and Poppy snuggles she could get :), we all visited the Oceaneers Club during one of their open houses, and it was awesome. There's Andy's Room, a Star Wars area, Pixie Hollow and a magic floor with all sorts of games and activities incorporated in each spot.
The Toy Story area definitely felt the most age appropriate for a one year old and she loved exploring the space (we also secretly became kids again when we saw Andy's room!).
1. Super sweet magic moments - We had some really unique interactions on the cruise that really set things over the top for us. For one, we didn't know that there was a Tiffany & Co. on board, but when we saw it, we thought the entrance would make for a perfect backdrop for a formal night picture of Tallulah. When we went for the photo, some incredible Cast Members who were going to close the shop invited us in for pictures of Tallulah with Tiffany shopping bags to complete the look.
Another magic moment was during Mrs. Claus' Story time. Since this was a Christmas themed cruise, we were so excited for this offering! Tallulah loved hearing the stories and when Mrs. Claus was done, she invited the kids to close their eyes, face the tree and make a wish. When they opened their eyes, Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Chip & Dale appeared in their Christmas cruise ensembles ready to dance and hug the kids. It was an amazing moment!!
Okay, so please take the following as simple honest comments from a momma trying to help you best prepare for your experience. I don't mean to sound negative, because we truly had a wonderful time together, but knowing these three things before we left may have helped us better mentally prepare for our trip...
3. Food and water are harder to come by than you'd think - I know this may sound odd since cruises are known for having incredible food at all hours of the day, but honestly I was surprised by how hard it was to track down good options when we were looking. On previous cruises we've been on food and water were never far away, which is great for a toddler (and adults) who like to snack and try new things. Unfortunately, when the one major dining option was open, then lines were pretty intense. Nobody is in their best frame of mind when they're hangry, myself and lots of other guests included.
I did like that for dinner we got to experience a different restaurant each night while our servers joined us in the rotation. However, the food at the dining locations also took quite a while to come. Although we're a fan of extended European-style dinner lengths normally, it was hard for a toddler whose schedule was already out of wack to be as patient as she needed to be.
Also, since soda is free on the ship, we were expecting to see drink stations all over, but they were quite hard to come by. I actually didn't see any water stations inside, in fact, I only saw them on the pool deck. So if you didn't pack your own water bottles, it wasn't an easy task to stay hydrated. (TIP - I highly recommend packing water bottles for your crew. If you're like us, you'll be thankful you did.)
2. Character meet and greets are harder to come by than we expected - When I first heard about the Disney Cruise of course I started getting excited about the character interactions. Although we had some great moments with characters, their set times were quite short and they were easy to miss. (TIP - Have a few members of your party wait in a character's line and jump in with your little one right before your family's turn.)
I wished we could just stumble upon the majority of the characters instead of having to plan out our day in correlation with 15-30 minute set times. (We did stumble upon Pirate Minnie and that was an incredible surprise.) The element of planning to such detail took some of the relaxation factor out of the trip. In fact even with planning, we sadly never were able to get a picture with Captain Mickey because his line got to capacity quite quickly. However, the character interactions we did have were incredible, so I highly recommend being a part of as many as you can :)
1. Be prepared to wait in various lines just about everywhere you go - We spent a very sizable amount of time on the cruise waiting in lines to meet characters, get breakfast/lunch, catch an elevator, get seats for shows, and disembark. For knowing what we know about Disney, we were honestly pretty surprised about this. I mean, in the parks lines are inevitable, but in a more intimate setting like a cruise with a higher-than-park-ticket-price-point we were expecting efficiency to be streamlined and lines to not even be a concern. Between planning and getting to actually partake in said activity, there was a standard hurry-up-and-wait mentality of fellow guests on the cruise that we honestly were not expecting since we haven't experienced that on any other cruise we've been on.
All in all, we had a fantastic time being together with family and exploring Disney in a new way. The Cast Members were so sweet to interact with and memories were made that will last a lifetime. We're so thankful we were able to experience a Disney Cruise and visit Castaway Cay! I hope this honest list gets you excited for what's awaiting you on your next cruise as well as provide some insight on how to best prepare for all aspects of the experience.
I'd love to hear your tips to share with first time Disney cruisers in the comment section below :)