Apr 202016
 

By Janine Pipe

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One thing is for certain – the Disney Dining Plans (DDP) are becoming extremely popular. Although people often tend to choose the full plan, many find that the counter service options provided in the Quick Service Dining Plan (QDSP) are more than sufficient to their needs.

So, what exactly is this plan if you decide to utilize it?

Well in a nutshell, the Quick Service Dining Plan includes 2 counter service (CS) meals and a snack, for each night of your trip. So, if you are staying for 5 nights, then you would have a total of 10 Counter Service meals and 5 snacks to use. You also get a Rapid Fill Resort refillable mug, which you can use at the self-service stations at any Walt Disney World (WDW) resort.

As with tickets, the Dining Plans are available for guests 10 and over, and for children aged 3-9 years. Children under 3 do not qualify for any of the Disney Dining Plans, but they may share with the adult, and often the meals are certainly large enough to do this without going hungry.

The plan is activated as soon as you check into your resort, and any leftover credits expire at the end. Now, it is up to you how you spread out those credits. For example, you may find that on one day, you chose to have a Counter Service meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, equally 3 credits. But the following day, you only use 1. This can easily happen if you book any table service meals which you pay for out of pocket (OOP) or if you chose to eat off-site.

Generally speaking, a Counter Service credit includes (for lunch and dinner) an entrée, a dessert and a non-alcoholic drink. So for example, if you were to eat at Columbia Harbour House (CHH) in the Magic Kingdom (MK) (one of my personal favorites), you could chose the Chicken Pot Pie (entrée), Seasonal Cobbler (desert) and a fountain beverage (drink). Breakfast however is just an entrée and drink, no dessert.

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So contrary to popular belief, quick theme park food does not have to be burgers and chicken nuggets, although there are plenty of those available too.

There have been some handy changes made to the ‘rules’ of the plan fairly recently too. You are no longer required to have the suggested dessert. Many Counter Service places offer the standard brownie or carrot cake, but now you can chose any other snack item available at that location. So you could swap your cupcake for a Magic Cookie Bar (go research this now – you’re welcome) or for an extra drink, which would be useful in the heat of summer! You can also exchange your drink for a different snack too.

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Another extra is that you can now exchange 1 of your Counter Service meal credits for 3 snacks instead. This could be particularly useful if you have a picky eater who would rather have 3 bags of chips than a meal, or if you have credits left to use up before you leave, as you can exchange them for things like cookies that you can take home with you. (Make sure to ask the Cast Member when attempting to make any substitutions.)

There are some great options when it comes to snacks too,; do not think that they are all cookies and chips! Some of my personal favourites are: jalapeno and cream cheese pretzel, carrot cake cookie, warm cinnamon roll, Norwegian school bread and a Butterfinger cupcake – mmmmmmmm. And don’t forget you can also get things like specialty coffees from Starbucks too as a snack credit. Awesome!

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So is the Quick Service Dining Plan a good deal? Obviously if it is free as part of a deal, then yes! But is it worth paying for?

The cost of the plan per adult per night is $44.13 including tax. So imagine I get a Warm Cinnamon Roll from Gaston’s Tavern in MK for breakfast ($4.49), the Chicken Pot Pie ($10.79), Seasonal Cobbler ($4.29) and a lemonade slushie ($4.69, total = $19.77) from CHH for lunch, and then dinner in the Lotus Blossom Café in EPCOT (Orange Chicken $9.99, large fountain beverage $3.29 and ice-cream $3.50 – total = $16.78). This would cost in total $41.04 BEFORE tax. And, you get the refillable resort mug to use too. Plus, I have picked average priced meals for this example, some of the CS entrees can be pretty pricey.

So in conclusion, I would say that you will at least make your money back on the plan, and it adds to the enjoyment of your vacation experience if things have already been paid for, and you just have to choose and scan your band, rather than searching for how much items cost and trying to find some cash.

The Quick Service Dining Plan can be a great way to enjoy the quick meals of Disney with little to no stress.

Apr 062016
 

By Roye Ann Morris

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In the 26 years since we took our first child to the parks, I have always been firmly in the camp of “Don’t take your child to Disney until they are old enough to enjoy and remember it!” Our son was barely two years old when he made his first visit to Disney World, and it wasn’t a pleasant trip for any of us. He was scared of most of the rides and the characters, refused to eat or sleep at regular times (partly our fault as first-time parents!), and really enjoyed the hotel room and pool much more than the parks. After that trip, my husband and I decided that any future children would have to wait until the age of five to go to Disney. And we stuck to that rule through the rest of our five kids!

Fast-forward to 2015. Our first grandchild was turning one, and we were planning a trip for the whole family. Disney World was, of course, our first choice as the place to go, but we had some serious doubts about whether taking a baby so young to the parks was wise. Visions of all the crying babies and toddlers (and sometimes parents) that we had always felt so sorry for in a hot, crowded park, danced before our eyes. We spent several weeks going over the pros and cons, both with each other and with our daughter and son-in-law. But because they were so positive it would work, we decided to give it a try. And in the end, although the trip was not perfect, we were so happy we did!

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We knew this would be a much different trip than we had become used to; our youngest child is now 16, so it had been quite a few years since we had taken someone still in need of naps to the parks! I am a planner by nature, so the first thing I did was to make a list of all the rides and attractions I thought our granddaughter might enjoy, those that might scare her, and the ones that would be a good place for napping. Then I tried to get used to the idea that we would not all be together all the time. With the age range of our group, I knew that we should plan to split up for part of our days, and possibly even be in different parks. The final plan was that we would stay together in the mornings, go our separate ways after an early lunch, then meet up again for dinner. For the most part, that’s what worked best for us.

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Magic Kingdom was the one park where we all wanted to be together. We all were excited to see our granddaughter’s reaction to the attractions there. We chose to take the ferry to the park from the Transportation and Ticket Center, and she loved it! Our first stop was The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as that was her favorite movie. Right away we could tell that she was a little overwhelmed, even with something as familiar as Pooh. The dark places in the ride and the loud music was a little too much for her; she didn’t cry, but she wasn’t thrilled either.

After that, we decided that rider swap might be a better idea for most of the other rides. She did enjoy the carousel, It’s A Small World, and Peter Pan, and took a great short nap in Carousel of Progress. Her favorite thing was being able to get out of the stroller and crawl around in the waiting area of the Hall of Presidents. And the cast members everywhere were great, going out of their way to smile and talk to her. I know they do that for everyone, but it always makes you feel special!

The surprise of the day was our ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority! This has always been my go-to ride for a cool place to sit down and enjoy the view for a while; we head here when the kids need a break, and sometimes it works for a nap, too! Our granddaughter was in the car in front of us, and she laughed and waved to us the entire ride. Her mom held her close and talked to her during the dark portion through Space Mountain, and she came out on the other side still smiling and waving. They rode the TTA a couple more times that day, and her reaction was the same each time. I would never have picked that to be her favorite!

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I must say that my daughter and son-in-law were very wise about taking breaks and having down time back at our hotel. They went into the trip knowing that their time at the parks would be limited, and were very committed to making sure naps and bedtimes stayed pretty much on schedule. We all took turns entertaining the baby so everyone got a chance to ride most of what they wanted in Magic Kingdom, and spent one day in separate parks so that the older ones could ride the thrill rides in Disney’s Hollywood Studios while the rest of us visited the animals in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We didn’t plan any character meals as we weren’t sure whether the characters would scare her. We did get a picture with Mickey Mouse, but she was sound asleep!

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and I would definitely do it again. I have switched to the camp of “Yes, you can take a baby to Disney and enjoy it!” With good planning and realistic expectations, you can make it work!

Mar 232016
 

By Tim Rogers

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So you’re taking a trip to Walt Disney World – great! One of the first things to think about is when you actually want to go. While for some people that is determined narrowly by work and school schedules, if you have more flexibility, the yearly calendar at Walt Disney World provides a wide range of special events and activities to make your trip special. While I won’t be discussing all of these (sorry marathon!), I will take you through some of the big times of year and why you should go then.

 

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There’s no time like the present – Spring has definitely sprung around the Walt Disney World resort. The biggest and most noticeable special occurrence during this time of year is the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.

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As seems to be the case with several of these festivals, the Flower and Garden Festival seems to get a little longer every year. This year, the festival began on March 2nd and will run through May 30th. This will cover most spring breaks and even last past when some early schools get out for the summer, and includes some relatively “low crowd” times, and some of the busiest times of the entire year (the week before and after Easter).

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At the festival itself, there are plenty of things to explore and enjoy. The most noticeable might be the wonderful topiaries that populate all of Epcot.

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Beyond that, the festival center has special speakers and exhibits related to horticulture. Additionally, on weekends you can see the “Garden Rocks” Concert series. The bonus is that, for this festival, pretty much all of these speakers, concerts, and exhibits are included with normal park admission.

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Some of the most recent, and popular, additions to the festival are the Outdoor Kitchens. These booths have great treats from around the world, and have given the beauty and educational value of Flower and Garden some of the energy that the Food and Wine Festival has enjoyed for years.

 

Early Fall

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Fall at the Walt Disney World resort is when the special events really pick up. The first of these is usually Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This party takes place in the Magic Kingdom, generally on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, from early to mid-September through the day after Halloween.

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The party itself features special character meets, trick or treating, a great parade and fireworks, and more. You do need a special ticket to attend, and some of the nights do sell out in advance.

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Also in mid-September is the start of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Running this year from September 14th to November 14th, this festival is a huge draw and you will routinely see the Epcot Area Resorts completely full throughout the duration.

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You can expect a few things from this festival. First, the Eat to the Beat concert series, which happens pretty much every night throughout the festival and is included with your admission.

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At the festival center, you can explore and learn about all kinds of food related topics, but several of those will cost extra.

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The big draw for the festival, however, has to be the kiosks. Located generally around the World Showcase, and spreading a little bit into Future World last year, these kiosks provide an incredible range of international food and beverage offerings.

 

Late Fall/Winter

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The Food and Wine Festival ends up overlapping slightly the next big activity, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. In fact, some visitors try to plan a trip every year that will let them attend the last Halloween Party, the first Christmas Party, and the Food and Wine Festival, while only staying for about a week.

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party starts in early November and runs through just before Christmas. Its schedule is about the same as the Halloween Party schedule and also takes place in the Magic Kingdom. At the party you can expect special characters, shows, a parade and fireworks, all themed to the holidays.

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However, the holiday spirit at Disney World is not contained to the Christmas Party. Starting just after Thanksgiving, Epcot hosts the Candlelight Processional, a celebrity narrated telling of the story of Christmas, complete with choirs and an orchestra. Also in Epcot are special performers and storytellers to show and discuss holiday traditions from around the world.

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You can also get into the holiday spirit simply by visiting the hotels on Disney property, especially the deluxe ones. Here you will see beautiful trees and decorations, and some astounding gingerbread creations.

So what is the best time of year to go? As with anything, that is a personal question, and honestly there are no bad choices. I am a Christmas fanatic so it would be hard for me to not choose that first. The fall activities are more numerous than in Spring (if for no other reason than Halloween) and the parade and fireworks during the Halloween Party are thought by many to be the best that Disney does all year. However, it is hard to describe how beautiful and exciting the Flower and Garden Festival is. Really, what I am trying to say is no matter when you go, it will be great – just make sure you take advantage of all that is being offered!

Mar 092016
 

By Ann Dunnington

 

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In November, my husband, his parents, and I went on a short vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort. My mother-in-law had a conference at one of the near “Good Neighbor” hotels near Disney Springs, so who were we to resist going along, too?? Twist my arm…

When looking for lodging for the 4 of us, there were a few hotels we were considering. We went back and forth between getting two hotel rooms on Disney property, two hotel rooms at the conference center (technically off Disney property, but Disney Springs was across the street), renting two Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Studio Villas, or renting a 2-Bedroom DVC Villa. Weighing the options back and forth and comparing pricing, it made the most sense for us to rent a 2-Bedroom DVC villa. Since we were booking kind of “late” by point rental standards, we had three location options that were available on our dates- Animal Kingdom Villas, Saratoga Springs, or Old Key West.

Once the person we were renting DVC points from gave us the three location possibilities mentioned above, it was a no-brainer for me to go with Old Key West. Here’s why:

  • The conference my mother-in-law was attending was near Disney Springs. This ruled out the Animal Kingdom Villas from strictly a location standpoint. We love ourselves some safari view-age, but it just wasn’t as important this trip.
  • Old Key West was the first DVC property at Walt Disney World. Since this was the first DVC property (built in 1991), the rooms were constructed with more space than the other DVC properties. With 4 of us being in one condo (and 2 of us being rather tall people), we knew that the extra space would be welcome.
  • Old Key West was less money for more space, and they just did an update on the rooms not too long ago, and they look beautiful!

Once we arrived at Old Key West, we were surprised at how close it was to the front of Epcot! A hop, skip and a jump, and you’re there. Not to mention being connected via a waterway to Downtown Disney… it’s a fabulous location. The check-in/pool/restaurants/gift shop are all near the front of the resort, and the bus transportation can take you up there if you don’t want to walk. THAT is super convenient, especially if your room is in the back of the resort. The whole feel of the resort is very relaxed and home-like. When you’re there, you’re ON vacation.

You have three lodging options at Old Key West – Studio Villa, 1 Bedroom Villa, and 2 Bedroom Villa. Some of the buildings are two stories, others are three, and most buildings have both stairs and elevators (but not all- so if you have a mobility issue with stairs like our party had, request a ground floor room). Each group of buildings has its own parking lot, so if you rent a car, you’ll be able to park right outside your room. This alone was a FABULOUS perk that the other DVC resorts do not offer.

Our 2 Bedroom Villa was enormous. It offered two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full size washer and dryer (bigger than I have at home!), a full kitchen, sitting area, eating area, and porch. We never once felt in each other’s space, and had all the amenities and comforts of home! If we ran out of tissues or toilet paper, the front desk sent someone over right away to help us re-stock. We had trash and towel service on day 4, and that was truly all of the housekeeping we needed.

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The kitchen was large enough for us to comfortably cook 3 meals a day, with a full size refrigerator, stove, microwave, double sink, dishwasher, and all the pots, pans, and utensils we could need. It also had dish soap, a sponge, towel, and dishwasher detergent as well.

The resort itself, as all Disney resorts are, was very well maintained, manicured, and themed. The villas were in the décor style of the Florida Keys with lots of pastel colors and charm (minus the plethora of cats…ha!). The guests at the resort bus stops were all very friendly and chatty, like old friends. If you’re staying at a DVC property, you’re most likely a Disney fanatic that knows the ins and outs of everything at Walt Disney World, so it’s very easy to make conversation and comradery. We shared what we had been doing all week, favorite rides and experiences, and chatted about Disney Vacation Club. DVC owners love to talk Disney!!

So overall, if I were to give Old Key West a rating of 1-10, 1 being the worst resort I have ever stayed at and 10 being the best, I would give it a 9.   Because I like Epcot and the Boardwalk area so much, that keeps this resort from getting a full 10. But, if I were coming down to Walt Disney World with a group again and the Boardwalk wasn’t available, I would have no hesitation whatsoever staying at Old Key West, and would totally recommend giving it a try! We had a fantastic stay and would love to go back whenever we get the chance!

Feb 242016
 

By Ginamarie Palmieri

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Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria is one of three table service restaurants within the Italy pavilion at Epcot. Located in the rear of the pavilion, the restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily, generally from noon until 9 pm. Although the eatery is known for its pizza, the menu has various Italian appetizers, entrees and desserts.

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The restaurant is bright and open, with its three giant pizza ovens located to one side of the main dining room. These ovens each represent one of Italy’s active volcanoes- Vesuvius, Stromboli and Etna. We found the environment to be very inviting and loved all of the colorful frescoes. True to the Epcot form, the wait staff at Via Napoli hails from Italy, the pavilion where this restaurant is located. So it’s a good opportunity to learn more about life (and food) in Italy.

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Being from New York, my family and I are pizza aficionados, and the pizza at Via Napoli has never disappointed us. It is a true Italian style slice, with a very thin, crunchy crust and toppings that are caramelized and crisp. The ovens at Via Napoli run extremely hot, and pizza is cooked quickly. There are many specialty pies and toppings to choose from, as well as a basic Margherita pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Pizzas can be ordered in three sizes: personal pie, large (for 2-3 people) or mezzo metro (for 3-5 people). The mezzo metro pies are the size of a large metal tray, and a good value for a large family. Our party of 16 people ordered two mezzo metro pizzas and a couple of entrees, and had leftovers to bring back to our room.

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If pizza is not your dish of choice, they also serve several different kinds of pasta, lasagna, and chicken dishes, as well as a popular Italian salad to share among the table. We found the pasta to be fresh and the sauce to be authentic, and our order of chicken parmigiana was large and delicious, with a crunchy batter and loads of cheese.

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Via Napoli also has a full beverage menu, which includes your normal soft drinks as well as Italian specialty drinks. There are options for Italian sparkling water and Italian sodas, but our favorite is the aqua fresca drinks, which come in blood orange and strawberry flavors. They are so refreshing! The restaurant also offers several specialty cocktails, Italian wines and beers. We ordered pitchers or Moretti lager and house sangria, and everything was delicious. Also, you will not want to miss having a cappuccino or espresso at the end of your meal.

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There’s no better way to cap off a meal at Via Napoli than by indulging in their dessert menu. The zeppoles were hot and soft, but most of us wanted gelato. One of their specialties, the gelato frizzante, which is like an Italian ice cream soda, was a family favorite. We tried all of the gelato dishes though, and each one was perfection. Via Napoli makes true authentic gelato, which is creamy and flavorful (rather than full of artificial coloring).

I highly recommend Via Napoli for a meal at Epcot, especially if you are looking for Italian food in a less formal atmosphere than Tutto Italia next door (which we also love). Via Napoli is on the Disney Dining Plan, where it uses one table service credit per person. It is also eligible for discounts with your annual pass, DVC membership or Tables in Wonderland card.

Jan 272016
 

By Teresa Pittman

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I strolled through the airport, dragging my Minnie Mouse suitcase behind me. A young couple smiled at me, and the wife said “Are you just back from Disney World?”

“Actually,” I replied, “I’m just back from a Disney cruise.”

“Oh,” she said. “We love going to WDW, but we figured the cruises were just for families with kids. Is there anything to do for adults?”

She may have regretted asking me that question, as I spent the next 15 minutes or so listing all the activities the Disney Fantasy offered for adults, but they seemed both interested and surprised. I’ve heard similar comments from other people I’ve met, too. Disney’s TV commercials have tended to focus on families, so they may have perpetuated that myth. But I’m here to tell you: a Disney cruise is a whole lot of fun for adults traveling without kids, too.

Like me. I’m single and a grandmother. I’ve cruised with my family in the past, but my last two cruises – one on the Dream and one on the Fantasy – were “girlfriend getaways” with friends.

So what can adults do on a Disney cruise?

  • You can relax. Really relax. Are you worried that your attempts to sunbathe or read a novel will be ruined by hordes of screaming children running past? Stop worrying. Just head to the adults-only decks and stretch out on a handy deck-chair. Every now and then a smiling CM will show up to ask if you want a drink. No kids in sight.
  • You can relax even more. If your past few weeks of work have left you exceptionally stressed, or you just want some pampering, a visit to the ship’s spa may be in order. Watch the Navigator for special offers – I had a great “anti-sunburn” treatment the day after spending too much time on the beach at Castaway Cay. And be sure to check out the Rainforest Room.
  • You can be entertained. You’ve heard that Disney Cruises offer Broadway-quality shows, and that’s true. Trust me, adults enjoy these as much as the kids do. There are also family comedy and magic shows throughout the day. In the evenings, though, many of those entertainers return to the stage with adult-only versions of their shows. It’s Disney, so we’re not talking X-rated by any means, but the humour is a bit more geared to an adult audience.
  • You can exercise your competitive side. Think you know everything about Disney? Or do you shine at general trivia games? You’ll have your chance at fun trivia competitions held throughout the cruise – and you could even win a nice prize or two. Or challenge your friends and family to a mini-golf game up on the top deck.

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  • You can learn something new. Take a tour or try a class. I learned to draw some Disney characters while discovering a bit about the history of animation. I also tried my hand at folding towel animals – let’s just say that wasn’t my best work. The mixology class gave me and my friends a chance to make and taste five different drinks while being entertained by a very skilled bartender.
  • You can shop. Until you drop, if that’s what you like. The shops on board have a nice selection of items, including clothing and accessories, and every port will have some attractive shopping options.
  • You can explore new places. One of the reasons cruises are so popular is that you get a chance to check out several ports, without unpacking, going through airport security or any of the other hassle travelers can face. You can book excursions ahead of time – Disney lists some, or you can go online to find others – depending on your interests. Or you can just wander around the port, do a little shopping or have a meal or a drink.
  • You can eat without kids. Each of the Disney cruise ships offers at least one adults-only premium restaurant, where you pay a little extra for a fancier meal and a kids-free experience. Even if you don’t choose that option, though, taking the second seating for dinner will usually work. Most of the kids who are present will leave as soon as they finish eating – whisked away by the kid’s club staff – and you can linger over dessert and drinks.
  • You can party! The nightclub section of the ship is as lively and fun as you could want. Wander from one themed area to another, or find your favorite and hang out there. You’re sure to find a place that plays the music you like. And at the end of the night, no worries about finding a cab to get home. The Pirate Party that ends with fireworks will have plenty of kids joining you, but the adults seem pretty good at getting into the pirate spirit.
  • You can be alone. Not the partying type? Hang out on your balcony with a room-service snack and drink, watching the waves. Cuddle up with your partner and watch a movie on your cabin TV. Pick a secluded corner on the adults-only deck and dream for an hour or two.

I’ve really barely scratched the surface here. Disney cruises are naturally fun for families, but they have just as much to offer for adults traveling without little ones. Of course, there’s one more bonus about a Disney cruise – if you want to, you can become a kid again! Get your photo with Mickey, scream as you zoom along the Aquaduck, solve the clues in the moving pictures and dance with the pirates on the pool deck. And maybe that’s the best way of all to relax.