You’ve probably noticed me link to Savingforadream blog a few times. Nancy who runs it, is one of my loyal readers who stuck with me through all the crazy twists, rants and turns. Why, I have no idea! Well, recently she had a series of posts on her family’s Disney cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. So, I’ve asked her if she would be willing to write a condensed version for my blog. Plus, I think readers can benefit from a normal blogging style now and again, no?
I’ve been curious about Disney cruises and wondered what makes them special enough to get away with charging double compared to other lines. I thought perhaps it’s just Disney name and nothing more. Well, I hate to admit it, but I can see why many folks are willing to pay extra. In fact, I’m seriously thinking about taking my family on Disney cruise within the next few years. But more on that later.
Without further ado:
Cruising to the Eastern Caribbean on the Disney Fantasy
My family of five took a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral last month on the Disney Fantasy. This was our fifth Disney cruise and our second time on the Fantasy. While my family enjoys Walt Disney World and all things Disney, we LOVE Disney Cruise Line (DCL) the most due to top-notch service and unique entertainment for every age group.
Our cabin was a Category 8C that fits 5 people (queen bed, bunk bed and pull-down bed near the porthole). It also had 2 bathrooms (one with shower and sink, one with toilet and sink) and two closets.
Ports and Shore Excursions:
Our cruise traveled to three different islands: Tortola (British Virgin Islands), St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island in the Bahamas). With three kids in tow, I wanted to make things easy when we got to each port, so I scheduled port adventures through Disney for Tortola and St. Thomas.
In Tortola, we boarded a catamaran and headed to the Baths at Virgin Gorda. The Baths are a geological masterpiece! We played at the beach for a few minutes before making our way through the caves. Going through the caves was a challenge, but the kids enjoyed our adventure!
In St. Thomas, we boarded the Kon Tiki boat for a trip to Honeymoon Beach on Water Island. We learned about the history of St. Thomas, saw some sea life through the glass bottom viewing areas on the boat and enjoyed about two hours on the beach.
Our day at Castaway Cay was cut short due to rain. We played at the beach for a few hours and ate lunch on the island before returning to the ship.
Tip: Book your shore excursions as soon as your booking window opens, as some excursions sell out quickly. Our excursion to the Baths at Virgin Gorda sold out early.
If I’m being honest here, the kids’ clubs on DCL are THE major selling point for us. The clubs are typically open from 9 a.m. until midnight, and they also serve lunch and dinner to kids inside. DCL clubs differ from other cruise lines because they are open during dinner hours, and there is no additional charge for the late-night hours. The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are for ages 3-12, the Edge is a tween club for ages 11-14, and the Vibe is the teen club for ages 14-17.
The clubs are slightly different on each Disney ship, but they all have activities that kids can do throughout the day at any time (like video games, art work, slides) as well as organized activities with and without characters. My 8-year-old son went to a PJ party with Pluto, and my 5-year-old daughter played games with Stitch inside the club. Castaway Cay even has a kids’ club on the island, Scuttles Cove.
This was the first time my oldest son was eligible to go into the Edge tween club. This club had computers, video games, karaoke, and a production studio to use throughout the day. The counselors also organized group activities like gaga ball, four square on a light-up floor, dodgeball and scavenger hunts around the ship. My 11-year-old enjoyed some independence in the Edge, and he especially liked playing dodgeball at midnight with his friends.
Tip: Don’t stand in the long line at Port Canaveral to get wrist bands for the kids’ clubs; go to the clubs during the open house on the first afternoon for minimal lines.
While our kids were having a blast in the clubs, my husband and I got to have some “dates” in several areas on The Fantasy that are for adults only.
We had dinner and brunch at Palo, the Italian restaurant for ages 18+. Before our dinner, we relaxed at the Meridian bar and watched a gorgeous sunset.
One morning, we had coffee/tea together at the adults-only Cove Café that is right outside the adult pool and hot tub area. We also relaxed and read books on the top deck at Satellite Falls. This area is at the very front of the ship and has a waterfall wading pool for adults.
My husband and I are not big drinkers, so we did not frequent the Europa adult district that has four bars and a nightclub. We did enjoy listening to the piano music before dinner in the La Piazza bar, which is designed to look like a carousel.
At Castaway Cay, we enjoyed a peaceful meal at the adults-only beach, Serenity Bay. In total, we had six “date” meals on our cruise!
Tip: Don’t try to see and do everything on the ship, as you won’t have time to slow down and enjoy a date with your spouse in one of these fabulous adult-only areas.
The entertainment on DCL is phenomenal, and there is something for every age group. The daily navigator lists activities for toddlers, kids, teens, families and adults.
Of course, the Disney characters make appearances every day. The characters appear in different outfits on different days (cruise attire, island attire, pirate attire, formal wear, etc.), so you can get a different photo each day. DCL gave us assigned times for the Anna and Elsa meeting, a character breakfast and the Princess Gathering. It was nice to not have to stand in a long line for each event.
My daughter visited the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique one afternoon for a hair style and manicure. She did this on formal night so that she would be all dolled up to meet the characters in their formal wear. While she was at the boutique, she received an invitation to a Prince and Princess Processional with Cinderella later in the week. We didn’t really know what this would entail at the time, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the cruise. About 60 girls dressed up in their princess dresses, and one by one they were escorted down the stairs by a prince. Cinderella instructed all the future princesses on the proper way to wave and curtsy.
In the evenings, DCL offers Broadway-style Disney musicals as well as comedians and variety acts. On this cruise, we watched Disney’s Believe show, which we had never seen before. My daughter was enthralled with the singing, dancing and special effects of this show. We also saw two comedians and a ventriloquist that had us rolling on the floor laughing!
Tip: Arrive at the theater for the evening musical shows 20-30 minutes prior to show time to get seats towards the front. Some of the special effects (bubbles, snow, confetti) only land in the lower part of the theater.
I can’t write a summary of our trip without mentioning the outstanding service we received on DCL. The pampering starts the minute you board, as Disney crew members applaud each family upon entering the ship! Our stateroom host must have been stalking us every time we came back into our cabin from a beach, because an hour later there would not be a trace of sand in our room. Every cast member greeted us in the hallway with a cheerful disposition.
Our dining servers stayed with us for the entire week as we rotated through the main restaurants, and they memorized our drink and food preferences. Our main server drew a picture of our daughter to entertain our kids while they were waiting for food to arrive. We were given free Disney rain ponchos on the gangway when it was raining on Castaway Cay, and fruit-infused water was waiting for us on the dock after returning to the ship on the warm port days. The service on a Disney ship is truly outstanding.
For this trip, we had booked a placeholder cruise on board during our last sailing, and then transferred that to this specific date on the first day the cruise was released. For our family of 5, the price of our 7-night cruise on the Disney Fantasy was $4600 (which includes the 10% discount, but does not include tips, alcohol, excursions, etc.). We received a $200 on-board credit from Disney and a $150 on-board credit from our travel agent to use for our on-board expenses.
The same itinerary in summer would cost us over $10,000, which is why we pulled our kids out of school to travel during the off-season. We used Southwest points for our flights from Denver to Orlando, and points from my Barclay Arrival + card to offset the cost of a round-trip private shuttle to the port.
First of all, huge thanks to Nancy for putting it all together! I thoroughly enjoyed her trip report and I’m sure my readers did as well. A couple of observations… While the cost is significant, it’s probably not much more compared to what you would spend on 7-night Disney vacation in Orlando. Have you seen the prices of park admission lately?
So, perhaps, this could be a nice alternative, especially if you are willing to go off-season. Not every school will let you do this, but it won’t hurt to ask, and you can offer to take homework with you. It certainly would be worth it if you can save $5,000.
This was a seven-day cruise, so if you are on a tight budget, consider doing a 3-day version instead. You’ll still get the whole Disney vibe and perks to go along with it. You can check prices here Also, check this page for special rates and discounts. I did a sample for 4 people in a stateroom, and these were the lowest rates all-in:
That’s total for everyone in the stateroom. Believe it or not, many sailings for 2016 are already sold out, so these cruises are quite popular. While $2,000 for a 3-night cruise is a lot of money, remember, you are getting lodging, meals, entertainment and babysitting in this package. Oh, and you don’t have to spend hours in line to get on Disney rides! While it won’t pay for the entire cruise, you can consider signing up for cards like Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture Rewards to offset some of the expense. Read about both bonuses here
Something Nancy mentioned is that there are no casinos. To me, it’s a nice benefit because I don’t gamble and don’t like walking through casino in order to get to various places on the ship. I suspect there is probably less smoking and heavy drinking, a big plus. Disney Cruise Line definitely carved out a niche for itself and is doing extremely well filling the need for a wholesome family cruising experience done with a Disney flair. And that Prince and Princess Processional? My daughter would go nuts for it. Darn you, Disney!
Readers, are you considering splurging on a Disney cruise?
P.S. See my comments section for other Disney cruise savings tips from reader Erik.
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.