Trip Report: A Disney Fantasy Cruise with Little Ones

BY BETH S – MAY 2012

Preface: How We Got a Disney Cruise Deal for Beth’s Family

(by Mary Waring)

When our friends Beth and Danny and their two young daughters agreed to come along on our 7-night Eastern Caribbean Fantasy Cruise on April 21, 2012, we were ecstatic. However, it was just 7 weeks prior to sailing. Fortunately for us, the cruise was not full (we later learned that about 2,900 passengers sailed, out of a possible 4,000) and I knew that the Restricted Guarantee category had recently been available for our sail date. Sure enough, we were able to book them in a VGT (Verandah Restricted Guarantee). Their stateroom was assigned on April 9 (12 days prior to sailing) which seems to be about standard.

Beth and Danny were assigned stateroom 7064, a Category 5C Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah located near Midship, so they got quite a good assignment. They could have been assigned the lower Category 6 (Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Whitewall Verandah) or Category 7 (Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Navigator’s Verandah), both of which are somewhat less desirable due to slightly restricted views. All in all, I was quite pleased for them.

By booking the Verandah Restricted Guarantee on March 3, the cost was $4,699.38 for 2 adults, 1 child, 1 infant. Cost to buy the same Category 5C Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah on the same date and choose the stateroom: $6,515.88. Savings: $1,876.50.

Even though they were booking their cruise fairly “last minute” by cruise line standards, I recommended trip insurance. If something had happened to cause them to cancel their cruise, they would have lost the entire cruise fare. Additionally, if they’d had to cut the cruise short for some reason, such as a child becoming very ill, the costs would be astronomical to fly home from the ship or one of the ports. Those are exactly the kind of things covered by trip insurance.

I recommended the Allianz Classic Plan, which gives free coverage for kids. Cost of the plan was $150, and as you’ll learn in Beth’s report below, it came in handy.

Introduction

Me – Beth, I’m 32, mostly SAHM, from Colorado.

Husband – Daniel, he’s 40, works full-time, originally from South Florida.

Ella – She’s 3½ and goes to a part-time preschool. She’s fully toilet trained, and is comfortable in the water, but cannot swim solo yet. She rarely naps.

Mia – She’s 10 months old, and is home with me full-time. She can crawl and pull up, and is taking two naps a day.

When Mary asked me about our family joining her and Mike on a Disney Cruise, I was thrilled, but honestly I had never before considered going on a cruise. Not because it didn’t sound like a ton of fun, but because I get horribly seasick. I have been wretchedly ill snorkeling, queasy just walking on a dock, and have even gotten a little green standing on the beach watching the waves ebb and flow. I can’t go on merry-go-rounds, ride in the backseat of a car, or watch movies or videos with shaky camera footage without feeling sick.

However, I couldn’t wait to set sail, and was willing to risk a whole week of being drugged on over-the-counter remedies to be able to go. Before leaving I did get a prescription for a trans-dermal motion sickness patch, and it worked wonderfully. It’s not expensive: I think it was about $8 for the week’s supply, and we only have scant prescription coverage. The first 36 hours on the ship I felt a tad bit shaky, but never fully ill. After that I felt great, and by the end of the week I thought I would even be able to survive with no patch at all. (I decided not to test that theory.) I did have dry mouth and slightly blurry vision as side effects from the patch, but would absolutely recommend asking your doctor about it if you are prone to motion sickness.

Orlando, Hyatt MCO, Port Canaveral and Embarkation

We flew out on a direct flight from Denver to Orlando on Southwest Airlines. Flying with kids is never fun. Most of the time the anticipation of entertaining a baby / toddler through the duration of the flight is worse than the actual experience. Not in this case. The ten-month-old, Mia, was the screamer. She howled through most of the flight. Our three-and-a-half-year-old, Ella, did pretty well entertaining herself and watching Finding Nemo.

When we arrived in Orlando a few drops of rain began to fall as we cruised down the tarmac. By the time we were at the jet bridge it was pouring, with thunder and lightning to boot. The flight crew announced that due to lightning the crew wouldn’t unload strollers / wheelchairs to the jet bridge, so we were stuck carrying Mia through the airport. In fact, no luggage was unloaded for about three hours. Thankfully, we were booked to stay the night in the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. The hotel is located inside the Orlando Airport, and has easy access to shops, restaurants, and an outside pool area. Even with the pool closed due to rain there was enough to do to entertain Ella and Mia throughout the afternoon.

I highly recommend staying at the Orlando Airport Hyatt if your port of call is Port Canaveral. The hotel was nice, clean and quiet. The staff was friendly and helpful. Plus, they have a special arrangement with Disney Cruise Line (DCL). DCL guests simply leave their luggage in the room and the hotel staff will ensure it is transferred to the cruise ship. Since packing light when you are traveling with small children is a joke, this service was especially appreciated.

We dined at McCoy’s Bar & Grill in the hotel for dinner, and the food was very good. McCoy’s is located on the same floor as the Hyatt’s lobby, and if you have a long delay in Orlando it is a good dining option. They have a large selection of both typical kid junk food and healthier options including some gluten free and organic choices. The next morning we brunched at the Hyatt’s upscale restaurant, Hemisphere, and while the staff was a bit slow, the food was also quite good. Dinner cost approximately $70 including gratuity, and brunch was approximately $60 including gratuity. The dinner bill included a few well-earned beers for my husband who had waited three hours for the luggage at baggage claim amidst the masses.

The next morning we used Disney’s bus service ($35 per person) to reach Port Canaveral. It leaves from Orlando Airport’s first floor in Terminal B about every 20 minutes. We barely waited that long from arriving at check-in to stepping onto the bus. The driver was nice and helpful, and they showed an informative video about the cruise followed by some classic Disney cartoons.

We arrived at the port and the boarding group number we had been assigned at the airport was already permitted to board. However, we decided to get the administrative tasks out of the way on land. We registered Ella for activities and Disney Cast Members put on a “Mickey Band” bracelet to help keep track of her. The bracelet is a little bulky and was attached perhaps a bit tightly, but loosened as the week continued. It is completely sand and waterproof, and has to stay on children’s wrists for the duration of the cruise. It has some GPS capabilities, and the staff at the Oceaneer’s Lab / Club can use it to look up where a child is in the Club / Lab (kids can go between the two). If you do not return the Mickey Band at the end of the cruise, Disney adds a $50 charge to your account.

Once onboard we immediately went to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (Deck 5 Midship) to schedule an extreme makeover for Ella. Appointments are limited. They are now available for booking online, but were not at the time we sailed. If you aren’t able to book online, to get an ideal time slot, I would recommend visiting the Boutique upon arrival at the ship.

After signing up at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, we ate lunch by the Donald Pool. The food stands near the pool primarily offer standard grill fare, fried stuff and pizza. They also have a stand with sandwiches, paninis, and fresh fruit. There is a sparse salad bar open all day as well. My husband then discovered the buffet at Cabana’s and was very happy with the selection: stone crab claws, fresh shrimp cocktail, a nice salad bar, cold cuts, cheeses, even rack of lamb, and a few healthier options for the kids.

By this time, the excitement of the past 30 hours had finally caught up with Ella. She was a total wreck and badly needed a nap. After lunch we were able to get into our stateroom (available at 1:30 pm) and she put up almost no protest before crashing hard. Ella probably would not have woken up until late evening if not for the mandatory lifeboat drill at 4:00 pm. During Ella’s nap, Danny logged a good three miles on the jogging track on Deck 4 pushing still-sleeping Mia around in the stroller (2.5 laps around the boat = 1 mile). Our luggage arrived outside our stateroom mid-afternoon.

We had a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah on Deck 7. The stateroom was nice, with all of the finishes of a good hotel. The room was fairly quiet, with minimal audible hallway noise, and the blackout curtains for the door and room divider are quite effective. It features a compartmentalized toilet and a separate bath / shower with a sink. The space is small, but like an IKEA showroom, Disney has figured out how to maximize the small space with ample storage options, including under-the-bed storage for strollers and suitcases, and drawers, shelves and two closets for family items. The room also features a mini fridge and a flat screen TV with free OnDemand programming access to seemingly every Disney movie ever made. You can also watch ESPN, ABC, or the Disney Channels live. The room also has a built-in night light and an alarm clock with an iPod docking station.

Our stateroom hostess set up a Pack ‘n Play and brought a Diaper Genie for our use. I also packed a white noise machine, which really helped diminish any hallway noise and helped both girls sleep later in the morning when other guests were traversing the hallways. Mia co-slept with us for most of the trip, but I liked having the Pack ‘n Play as a playpen for her while I showered or needed to do something without her help. The balcony off of our stateroom was enclosed in Plexiglas and did not pose a risk for either child to fall from the ship; the verandah door also features locks that are out of reach for small children.

After the naps and the lifeboat drill, it was time for a much-needed cocktail and dinner. We missed the Sail-Away Celebration in lieu of said cocktail, and headed for dinner at the Royal Court. Our servers were excellent throughout the trip. They set our drink preferences by what we ordered the first night. So, on our first night Ella asked for an orange juice, and each night at dinner a kids’ cup with OJ was waiting for her. Disney service is top notch – the personalization, friendliness, and willingness to go above and beyond was apparent in all facets of the trip. I was thoroughly impressed with the crew members.

After dinner there was live music in the Atrium, and whole families danced and romped around together until it was bedtime for the littlest ones.

Continue to Part 2: First Sea Day, Oceaneer Club & Lab, Small World Nursery, Palo and Aladdin