Why Disney Cruises Are Actual Parent Vacations

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Disney Cruise Line)

If you’re a mom then you know that despite the many, many joys of child-rearing, it can leaving you feeling a bit haggard. If you are like me, you will find yourself day-dreaming of endless sunshine and a Cinderella-style night out in glass slippers. You will want, in short, a real vacation — and not just a trip somewhere in a car where the final destination has a kitchen and in-laws are involved.

If this is the case, then I encourage you to consider a Disney cruise. You hate Frozen, you say? You’ve heard that GD song one too many times and you can’t hold it (i.e. your true feelings) back any more? Hear me out. Walt knows a thing about sprinkling Tinker Bell’s pixie dust on every age — including adults.

Once my little one was old enough to hit the high seas — kids have to be 6 months old on embarkation day — we set sail with Disney Cruise Line and, spoiler alert: It was awesome.

The magic started the minute we pulled away from Port Canaveral on the Disney Dream, a 4,000-passenger vessel with a 2,500-pound Mickey hanging from the stern. When an announcement was made notifying us the ship’s whistle would blow, we quickly covered our little guy’s ears until the first note sounded. Instead of a body-shaking horn, the tune of “When You Wish Upon a Star” serenaded us as we started sailing (it’s one of seven songs the ship’s horn can sing).

Feeling strangely emotional, I cried literal tears of joy, namely because it’s a song I’ve been singing to my son since he was one day old. Oh, Disney.

Here’s what else you can expect.

1. Disney’s fleet is actually really classy.

Before my sailing, I was worried the cruise might be veer too far into cartoon territory, but Disney’s fleet is all class, channeling the throwback grandeur of a transatlantic voyage. While there are numerous programs for kids — and Peter Pans who never want to grow up — there’s also a secret world of adult enclaves. Cue the adults-only spa, yacht-like lounges, mosaic-tiled pools cooled by misters, and intimate fine-dining restaurants that feel “knots” away from the everyday.

2. When it comes to feeding your kid, they think of everything (so you don’t have to).

At our first meal our server had pre-planned every detail before we even sat down: There was a highchair between us, a sippy-cup for a spill-free evening, an arsenal of toys, and 30 meal suggestions ready for our 11-month-old. When we settled on chicken for him, our server begged us to let the kitchen pre-cut it into baby-friendly bites.

3. Your dining staff will come to know and love (or at least pretend to love) your kid.

Throughout the week we got to know our dining staff well since they joined us as we rotated through each of the ship’s dining rooms — a Disney exclusive. To borrow one of Walt’s terms, the idea of rotating through each shipboard restaurant with your servers is well-imagineered: They learned our preferences the first night and from that point forward everything was anticipated.

(Image credit: Trish Friesen)

4. You can have a real honest-to-goodness date night out.

Knowing the ship had two adults-only fine-dining restaurants, we reserved a table for two at Palo, the ship’s bellissimo Italian restaurant perched over the ship’s stern, as well as a spot for our son in the It’s a Small World Nursery. (This is the entry point in the kids’ program, which has age-appropriate areas that start at 6 months and extend to teen clubs.)

Obviously we were nervous about leaving our baby, but we established an impressive litany of details with the childcare staff, including a safe-word that had to be uttered at the time of pick-up. There was also a wristband granting us access to the nursery and a “wave phone” so they could contact us with any questions (ingenious!).

We were ready for a romantic dinner for two.

Carts of balsamic-drizzled antipasti, flutes of prosecco, and two mounds of pasta later, we headed happily back to our little guy — although we should have called the nursery with our wave phone because when got there we learned our mini cruiser had drifted into dreamland. A string of magic words followed: “He’s happily asleep; feel free to stay out longer.”

Our first thought was to end the evening with a splash on the AquaDuck, a 765-foot water coaster that winds its way over four decks and is suspended 150 feet above the sea; however, it had just closed for the night. Instead, we scurried up to Currents, a 10-seat outdoor bar, where we enjoyed a cocktail in the warm Caribbean breeze.

5. You might visit a private island.

If you’re on a Caribbean Disney cruise, you will probably visit Castaway Cay. This is Disney’s 1000-acre private slice of paradise in the Bahamas, equipped with a dedicated cast of caretakers making sure the cycling paths, family and adults-only beaches, and every piece of surf and turf looked ship-shape.

We spent the better part of the day licking ice cream and introducing our little man to the bath-like waters and sugary sands of the Caribbean hideaway. Then, once our son’s nap beckoned, we called the nursery to see if they had a free crib for his siesta. Fantasmic, they did. We hightailed it to the adults-only beach, aptly named Serenity Bay.

While sunning at Serenity Bay, I had my wave phone in one hand and a beer in the other. Eventually, I put the phone in my bag and stopped worrying how long my little guy would sleep. In other words, I was really and truly on vacation.

Have you sailed with Disney Cruise Lines? Tell us your experience in the comments below.