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This is a guest post contributed by reader Tania. Some of you may remember her from this post where she was kind enough to provide travel advice for single parents. Tania lives in New York, but is originally from Brazil. Warning! If you are looking for yet another glowing Disney cruise review, this ain’t it. #KeepingItReal
I want to start my post by giving you some background history. I am a single mother of a 3 year old boy and I work in the hospitality industry. I also worked for Walt Disney World in Orlando for 7 years before I moved to New York City. It was my second Disney cruise, and first one with my son.
Confession: we are not a Disney obsessed family. My son watches Disney Junior shows, but he has no interest in Disney movies (not even “Frozen”). This introduction is to show I had very high expectations after reading rave reviews – insert rolling eyes emoji. Big mistake.
I booked a 5-night cruise from Miami on the Disney Magic. The itinerary had 2 stops – Cayman Island and Castaway Cay. I got a deluxe oceanview room. It cost me around $2,300 with port fees and tips for two people. We flew from New York to Fort Lauderdale. I couldn’t find availability with Delta Skymiles to fly to Miami, so we took an Uber to port.
I decided to arrive the day before in order to avoid any potential last-minute changes due to weather. I transferred UR points from Chase Sapphire Preferred to Hyatt and booked the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables so we could enjoy the swimming pool. The area was very “blah”, but I found an Argentinean bakery (dulce de leche croissants!!) to buy breakfast the next morning. No Diamond status, so no upgrades or free breakfast. The hotel had a large swimming pool and my son loved it.
Check-in process and settling in
The big day finally arrived. We took an Uber to the port around 1pm. The lines to check in were very long, with small kids having a meltdown and miserable parents arguing. Because I had sailed in the past, I got Castaway Cay Silver level and skipped the line. As a miles and points fanatic I just love getting extra perks!
After entering the ship I was told our room was ready. But first we headed to the Oceaneer Club to get a band and register for the activities. It took a long time. We were really hungry so we had our lunch super late. I loved the room because it had curtains separating the bed from the living room area. My son slept on the sofa bed so I had a huge king size bed all to myself.
We said goodbye to Miami and off to sail away party we went. Around 5:30pm we headed to Oceaneer Club for the open house. It was great and Stitch came to play and dance with the kids.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and exploring the ship until dinner time. I chose 2nd seating for dinner because we eat around 7pm at home. Dinner was B+. Our servers really hustled to make sure we were happy, but I found the service a bit intrusive (to get good reviews and tips, I assume). The servers mentioned way too many times that they hope I review them positively. I get it. I work in hospitality but it made me uncomfortable.
Off to exotic ports we go!
DAY 2 – Day at sea
The next day it was sea day and I was ready to drop off my son at the kids club, grab a drink and read a book. Off course, 15 minutes later I got a call to pick him up. I drank my wine fast and ran to the kids club. I showed up a little tipsy but my son was happy to see me.
We tried to go to the swimming pool, but it was super crowded and older kids were a little too excited. So we skipped the pool. Did I mention my son didn’t enjoy the wet area for toddlers? He wanted to go on the water slide and swallowed so much water riding it we had to go back to the room due to a major meltdown. I had an exhausted toddler, so we ordered room service.
DAY 3 – Grand Cayman
We arrived at Grand Cayman early, so the port was not crowded yet. After reading some cruise blogs I decided to burn some precious CSP points and book a hotel room. The island was super crowded (6 ships = 20,000 passengers) and I didn’t want to partake in the expensive shore excursions.
We hopped on a shared van and arrived at the Marriott Beach Resort. It was worth 30,000 points. We got beach chairs, umbrella, toys, free fruit snacks and swimming pool. My son didn’t want to stay on the beach at all. Since when doesn’t he like the beach? So we spent most of the day by the swimming pool.
I was very excited about the pirate party. I had pirate outfits for us, but my son didn’t want to participate! Of course, being a great mom, I forced him to dress up in exchange for chocolate and taking a picture with Minnie Mouse. The pirate party was too loud for his taste and he fell asleep during dinner.
The calm before the storm, aka toddler meltdown 🙂
DAY 4 – Castaway Cay
There are not enough words to describe how beautiful Castaway Cay is. As previously mentioned, I cruised in 2007 and I had fond memories of the island. Castaway Cay is even more breathtaking than it was before. Disney spared no effort in order to make it special and magical.
It was characters galore without theme park lines, peaceful beach and warm water. The weather was perfect and we spent the entire day at the family beach. We tried Pelican Plunge and I had a great time. My beach hater 3-year-old gave Castaway Cay a C-. He loved the ice cream, chocolate chip cookies and potato chips, but didn’t enjoy the beach.
DAY 5 – Disembarkation day
We arrived in Miami super early and took a cab to Miami Beach. I got lucky to score two nights at The Shelborne. Unfortunately, the hotel is no longer part of Wyndham chain. We had a great stay: nice swimming pool and decent size room. But the best part for my son was free wi-fi so he could to watch those horrible toy reviews on You Tube kids. After 2 days in Miami we flew back to New York. My son couldn’t wait to get home.
To summarize: I made some rookie mistakes. No naps during the day made my sweet boy turn into the son of the devil. Second seating for dinner was way too late. Kids club is great for older kids. I had really high expectations when it comes to food.
Don’t get me wrong, the food was good but nothing memorable. It was basically “Cheesecake Factory” quality. Overall, we had a good time, but it was very expensive for my middle-class budget. And despite all the money I’ve spent, my son keeps telling people he didn’t like it. What?! Note from editor: You can take NCL or Royal Caribbean cruise for about half of what Disney charges.
Would I return? YES. But I have to wait until my son is older. For a detailed review of Disney Magic ship, check out this website
My credit card sign-up bonus strategy
Amex Delta personal and business cards- to cover round trip airfare from New York to Miami. I had to be flexible and ended up flying to Fort Lauderdale instead, and took an Uber to Miami. On the way back to New York we flew from Miami airport.
Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature – to cover the hotel in Miami Beach for 2 nights (read about the card here)
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard – sign-up bonus covered $560 of cruise costs.
Chase Sapphire Preferred – I transferred points to Hyatt and Marriott to cover hotel in Miami before the cruise and day use at Grand Cayman (read about Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Chase Sapphire Preferred here)
Out of pocket – $1,800 cruise, $100 transportation and $100 meals in Miami/Grand Cayman.
As Leana and Nancy always say, traveling with points and miles is not free. I am very grateful that I’m able to play this game and travel more often.
P.S. If Tania’s post didn’t dissuade you from booking a Disney cruise, you’ll be happy to know that itineraries for fall of 2018 have just been announced. The booking window will open on May 18th, 2017. You may also want to read Nancy’s post 10 Tips for First-Timers on Disney Cruise Line
Leana is the 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.