By Linda Norton, The Magic for Less Travel
Maybe you’ve been bitten by the Disney bug but don’t necessarily want to do the parks. Maybe you’ve “been there, done that” and want to try something different to satisfy your Disney fix. Maybe it’s time to experience the Magic and the Wonder of the Disney cruise.
Cruising is totally different from a land-based vacation. You go to your (floating) luxury hotel, unpack once, and get taken to some really fabulous places, all while being pampered by happy and gracious cruise staff who are there to help you have a phenomenal trip. Cruises are mostly inclusive (although tips and adult beverages are not included in the price, and can be a sizeable expense) so you get meals, entertainment, children’s programming, and other activities just by showing up. On a cruise you can do everything…or absolutely nothing. The choice is yours.
Just as we all don’t live in the same type of houses or drive the same type of car, one cruise line does not fit every person. Cruise lines are categorized, just like hotels, and you can have a budget experience or an ultra-luxurious trip where the sky’s the limit. The Disney Cruise Line (DCL) is considered a “premium” cruise experience, and as such you will be paying a more premium price than if you went on another cruise. However, DCL is not stiff or stuffy — it’s casually elegant. I have sailed on several cruise lines, all with at least one child with me, and each cruise line offered something different. The Disney cruise, though, is probably the best available for families and children. The children’s programs on DCL are like really great daycare. Many children don’t want to leave the Oceaneer’s Club and Lab on DCL once they’ve experienced some of the great activities. Teens have their own hangout, as well as their own activities. Entertainment on DCL is also family-friendly and you will not have to worry about what the children will see in the shows or on the television. No casino, either — and the lack of the “casino donation fund” is probably what contributes to the higher cruise fare.
How many nights?
With a Disney cruise, you have some itinerary choices: 3- and 4-night Bahamas cruises on the Disney Wonder, or 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries of the Disney Magic. If you plan far enough out, are very adventurous, and have a lot of time (and money!), there are other options, too. The Disney Magic will be heading to Europe in April 2010, and returning back home on October 1, 2010. During summer 2010 the Wonder will be doing 4- and 5-night Bahamas trips too, from Port Canaveral, which is about 45 miles from Orlando International Airport. For purposes of this article, though, we’re going to stick a bit closer to Florida and focus on the Bahamas and Caribbean cruises.
With many choices in length of cruise and itinerary, what determines which cruise you should take? Not everyone enjoys cruising, and I myself was a reluctant cruiser, as I couldn’t imagine being “captured” on a ship for several days — but I confess to getting over that really fast once I boarded the Disney Wonder for my very first cruise in June 2006. Because I had never cruised, and was with two children and no other adults, the 3-night Bahamas cruise was a good place to “test the waters.”
The 3-night cruise is a “long weekend” with one port each day. Typically on DCL, you sail from Port Canaveral at 5 p.m. on Thursday, are in Nassau, Bahamas, on Friday, Disney’s private island called Castaway Cay on Saturday, and you’re back to the port and off the ship by 9 a.m. on Sunday. Besides being the least expensive option on DCL, the 3-night cruise helps you determine if you can live with your travel party in a cruise cabin, how well you deal with the motion of the ship, and whether or not you actually like cruising.
The 4-night Disney cruise also sails to the Bahamas with a departure on Sunday. You visit Nassau on Monday, Castaway Cay on Tuesday, have a day at sea on Wednesday, and go back to port on Thursday. Price-wise, the 4-night sailing usually is more expensive than the 3-night cruise, but you get the added benefit of a day at sea to explore the ship.
So, should you choose three nights or four nights? Well, let time and budget be your guide. Personally I love sea days, but have not yet found the 4-night Disney Cruise to work for my schedule, mainly because it’s pretty close to a 7-night cruise. If I’m going to be gone for four nights, I might as well be gone for seven and just live it up and be pampered for a while.
The Disney Magic sails 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries departing Saturdays from Port Canaveral. On the 7-night Disney cruise, you typically have three port days and three sea days. Both the Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises visit Castaway Cay, so you don’t miss out unless for some reason the ship is unable to dock. (Unfortunately, this can happen due to bad weather, but the Captain and crew are responsible for the safety of the ship and her passengers and take their job very seriously.)