We recently sailed 6 nights on the Disney Magic with the whole family (my parents, brothers, and sister-in-law). This was our second Disney cruise but first time for the rest of the family. Because our previous cruise had been so great and since it was our first whole family vacation in 12 years expectations were sky high. We were not disappointed with Disney at all, but we did have to work through some issues specific to traveling with our little ones!
- What: We ended up slightly changing plans once we got to the port. A driver offered us $25/person (kids free) transport to and from Buccanos Grill and Beach Club. This included entry, beach chairs and umbrellas, use of the pool, and free tequila samples. He claimed this was the best snorkeling and it was cheaper then what we had planned to do (Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park). As he dropped us off he recommended we walk a little ways down the shore to start snorkeling at a small dock and use the current to guide us as we snorkeled back to the main beach area.
- Result: We really enjoyed our time here. We stayed from about 10 am until about 1:30 pm, which was enough time for most people to do 2-3 snorkel runs, have lunch, sample the tequila, and play a little with the kids.
- The snorkeling was very good, lots of fish and some corral. I’m personally a weak swimmer and learned that I actually have a bit of a phobia so I did the abbreviated version of the snorkel run. It was great though.
- The beach was nice with good sand. The surf was a little strong so I wouldn’t recommend letting young children play unless an adult is right there with them.
- There were a ton of chairs but it wasn’t very crowded while we were there. It rained on an off (never on for longer then a minute at a time) so that may have helped with crowd control. The crowds were definitely picking up in the early afternoon when we were leaving.
- The tequila “tour” and tasting was short and fun. The tequila tastes were small little shots but they would’ve let each of us have up to 8 of them (sample each of the bottles they had brought). They have a little shop where they sell it, so this is more of a sales pitch then anything. There was a tip jar but the salespeople didn’t come on strong at all.
- The restaurant was OK. It wasn’t quite the cultural experience I would have hoped and the prices were typical beachside fair. We paid $14 for some shrimp quesadillas which were served with a green mystery sauce that was quite good. We also got some chips and guac and my daughter was very vocal that this was delicious.
- Grand Cayman
- What: We had pre-booked a day sailing with Sail with Friends Cayman and we had to take a short taxi ride to the marina. It was $6/person. From the marina they took us out to Stingray City and then a favorite snorkel spot of theirs. After that we spent some time on Starfish Pointe and then opened up the sails back to the marina.
- Result: This was the highlight of our trip. It was a beautiful, relaxing day with the perfect mix of new adventures (stingrays!), fun (snorkeling), and relaxation.
- The taxi ride to and from the marina really showed off the incredible wealth and beauty in the Cayman islands. I hadn’t seen anything like this elsewhere in the Caribbean and generally expected to see poverty right outside the resort walls. The taxi driver explained that there is a $500 fine for littering and jail time. The beautiful, wealthy, clean drive definitely had us all talking about getting a house there. We certainly only want the best though, so we will need to save about $5 million.
- Stingray City was already crowded when we got there, but we still had our own little patch of sandbar. Alice from Sail with Friends had brought some food to attract the sting rays and they came pretty quickly. As they approach they try to touch each persons legs to get a feel for the environment they are in. It’s definitely a little scary watching them come through the water at you and then feeling them brush against you leg, but it was also really cool! The kids were neither impressed nor scared. They both touched the stingrays but only with encouragement.
- Everyone agreed the snorkeling spot they took us to was awesome. Definitely the best snorkeling of the trip, if not the best snorkeling we’ve experienced. The kids stayed on board, since it was deep and the water was not especially calm. We also weren’t the only boat in this spot and we came home with underwater pictures of random people. 🙂
- We saw 4 starfish at Starfish Pointe and they were pretty sweet but not very interesting beyond the initial excitement. We mostly played in the sand or threw the frisbee here. Alice brought some pizza out to us on the beach and that was a huge hit.
- Sailing back to the marina was my highlight of the day. Our entire 10 person family sat on the front of the boat and talked while my daughter slept in my arms and we all snacked on the fresh fruit Alice had brought.
- Castaway Cay
- What: Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. The plan was to do the 5k, go parasailing, and then spend the rest of the day on the beach.
- Result: We had a rough start on this beautiful island but ended up really enjoying our time here.
- The 5k didn’t happen for us. We were all in line at the appropriate time. K was in the nursery and HJ was coming along to be dropped off at the kid’s club on the island. At the last minute as we were filing out of the room to get off the ship, I sent Chris to grab the wave phone out of someone’s bag. I filed out of the room as the line moved but then stepped aside at the entrance to wait for him. Well he ended up ducking through a back exit to avoid the line and we missed him entirely. He got off the ship and about a mile down the road before he realized we were not actually ahead of him. He had HJ’s room key so we couldn’t even get off the ship. We ended up sending my brother to go get him, but then decided to take K out of the nursery and just get new room keys. My brother got back the same time we were ready to exit and by the time we got to the rest of the family the 5k had long since started. Everyone in the family would probably give you a different moral of this story, but the good news is it didn’t put a damper on things for long.
- We were able to get a series of beach chairs with an umbrella to set all our stuff, but it was about 5 rows in from the water so we couldn’t even see the water straight ahead of us. Next time I would skip the 5k and go straight to the beach (or send representatives straight to the beach) to get front row lawn chairs.
- We rented 2 inner tubes for $10.75 for the day and had a ton of fun floating in them with the kids on our laps. I highly recommend always traveling with young men who are willing to push you back out to sea 100 times or so. The waves definitely wanted to wash us ashore though and it probably wouldn’t count as a relaxing activity if you were constantly having to get off and swim back out.
- We ate lunch on the island a the “Cookie Too” buffet. Comparing this to the buffet on Royal Caribbean’s island, CoCo Cay, I though this was much better. The chicken was especially good but they ran out of dark meat early.
- In the afternoon the boys played pool on the island and the rest of us lounged in the shade while the children napped on beach chairs completely obscured by towels protecting them from the sun. It was a nice way to spend a couple hours and when K woke up he could play in the sand right there.
- We had reservations for 6 adults to go parasailing but it got cancelled because of rough seas. I don’t think anyone missed it much, but it would’ve been fun.
- My parents took HJ down the waterslide and we still can’t figure out exactly how that went down. It sounds like she was scared but didn’t have a full meltdown, like I would have expected. I’m so pleased that she did it, but her description goes, “The slide was scary, Oma pushed me, I didn’t like it.” The description of how she came out the bottom is the one part of the story that really made sense, on her stomach desperately trying to climb back up.
- The characters on Disney cruises are great! They’re so accessible and sometimes you run into them just walking through the halls. Moments after we boarding the ship HJ ran into Cinderella just walking through the halls!
- They had several dance parties and the kids lit up every time a character came on stage.
- The characters visit both the kid’s clubs and the nursery. The impression I got is that the kid’s clubs are mostly all schedule whereas the nursery is random. I think it’s also exclusively princesses in the nursery, since the bigger characters can’t easily interact with tiny tots.
- We had signed up for tickets to the Princess meet-and-greet and the Frozen meet-and-greet and that meant very short lines to meet multiple princesses!
- The Princess meet-and-greet had Cinderella, Tiana, Rapunzel, and Belle. HJ had something to say to each princess and they all took a little time to hug her, talk to her, and take a pictures. K was less comfortable with the princesses, but he was very interested and gave them all high fives. HJ dressed as Elsa for this and one of our favorite details was Rapunzel said “Look it’s Elsa and a ruffian!” My ruffian is so cute 🙂
- The Frozen meet-and-greet has Elsa, Anna, and Olaf. I missed this because I was watching Rogue One (so good!) but I heard it was nice and well organized. I’m proud to report that my not-quite-one-year-old son has added “Elsa” to his very limited vocabulary.
- Live Shows
- Twice Charmed: We all enjoyed this one and my 19 year old brother was especially impressed with the production value. The story was original and there were some good songs. HJ was captivated and when Snow White made a camio she screamed “Snow White! Mommy it’s SNOW WHITE!” So that made everything worth it!
- Tangled: This is the same story as the movie, but we enjoyed it. I think they could work on how they animated the hair glowing but they did a great job with the lantern scene. HJ was transfixed by this one as well but had no outbursts, so I rank this one slightly worse than Twice Charmed. 😉
- Disney Service
- You can’t beat Disney for hospitality! We were treated so well on the cruise and have zero complaints about the service. Our dining room server was especially on point and you could see the first couple nights he was checked a note pad to help remember all our names but by the end of the week he had them down pat!
- My Mom sprung for passes to the rainforest room for the adult women on the trip. This was a special room in the spa area where you could relax on a heated stone lounge chair, try 2 different steam rooms, try 3 different showers, or relax in the sauna. It was really nice, but I think you’d be able to get your moneys worth a little more if your kids are older then mine and can both go to kid’s club. We never felt we could justify putting K in the nursery if it wasn’t for dinner time. I ended up going 3 times and it was very nice and relaxing each time. I wish I had had a chance to read a book in the lounge chairs.
- Chris and I enjoyed a couple’s massage as a gift from my brother and sister-in-law. It was incredibly relaxing and definitely one of those experiences where you time travel and then say “it’s already been an hour?”
Pitfalls for the Preschool Crowd
- The Oceaneer’s Club allows unlimited screen time. They always have a show or movie on as well as iPads to choose from. The Oceaneer’s Lab always has iPads available. I certainly don’t blame Disney for this but if your child is a screen monster whose behavior gets worse with exposure, then this is something to be aware of. HJ asked to go to the kid’s club a lot, and it was always because she wanted to watch TV. The only time we know she was in there and not having screen time, she was participating in a cooking class, which was awesome.
- The dinners are long and, we decided after the first couple nights, much more enjoyable without the small fries. They spent 3 nights of the cruise eating dinner in the kid’s club/nursery. We have no idea if they ate, but Chris pointed out that they were hardly in danger of starving and would have no problem letting us or the club staff know if they got hungry.
- Traveling with extended family was great for having built in babysitters, but there was some stress between Chris and I as far as when it’s appropriate to ask family to babysit. We didn’t want them to miss out on anything! We would have been happier if we’d embraced the kid’s club/nursery earlier, especially during dinner.
Overall we give Disney Cruise Line a big thumbs up, but we’ll probably wait a few more years before going on another one. We had quite a few meltdowns so when the kids are too old for naps is probably the next time we’ll go. I have my eye on the Norwegian cruises though!
We ended up with 3: Cozumel, Cayman Islands, and Castaway Cay. We could have even picked one up from Miami, I think we spent enough time there to justify it, but that will have to be the next visit!