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Cruise with a Toddler on Disney Magic: the Good, the Bad and the Magical

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 🙂

The bribe

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.

Castaway Cay + terrible threes

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

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Author: Leana

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.

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22 thoughts on “Cruise with a Toddler on Disney Magic: the Good, the Bad and the Magical

  1. Awful toy review videos, lol. My kids watch those, too.They are the worst!

    Sorry your cruise didn’t go quite as planned! I have two girls – ages 6 and 8. We’ve hard our share of “why did we come here?” vacations as well. It is getting easier and better as they get older!

  2. Tania, I got a kick out of your trip report. Especially the part where you quickly drank the wine before picking up your son. Sounds like something I would have done, LOL Thanks for sharing!

    • Leana,
      I am happy to bring a fresh perspective. I would never leave my $12 glass of wine go to waste. I was raise well. Clean your plate and your wine glass.

      • @Tania Haha! Absolutely. It’s not proper to let good wine go to waste! 🙂 Oh, and my son also loves toy reviews on YouTube. I feel like slashing my wrists when he watches those.

  3. Disney “Stan” here. We had the opposite experience on our first Disney Dream cruise. Our children are older so that probably factored into it. Anyway, it’s great to read different perspectives about DCL.

    • Natasha,
      Older kids have a blast. They can walk around alone, go to the kids club as they please and eat ice cream all day long. I am looking forward to go back to DCL but in a couple of years.

  4. I appreciated this post. I have mom guilt for not taking my kids on a big Disney trip yet. I even live near Disney!!!! I see everybody’s magical Disney trip reports, but I just haven’t ever planned a trip. I really need to get on the ball soon though because they are definitely the perfect ages (5 and 8). But then again, I just saw a post for a special for Florida residents on LegoLand passes. I’m seriously considering that. So Disney may have to wait again.

    • Jennifer,
      Being a parent is not easy. We always trying to do everything for our kids. Regrets are part of parenthood. I felt so bad when my son told me he didn’t like the cruise I almost cry ( I am lying – I CRIED). Disney is a lot of work. The parks are huge, expensive and crowded. If you live near Orlando try to do one or two parks at the time. No stress. You still have plenty of time to enjoy the theme parks when your kids are older. I go to Orlando once a year to visit my son’s father and I did one park with him last summer. It was enough. Next time we will do one more.

  5. Tania–I enjoyed reading your trip report! I’m sorry your son didn’t take to the kids club or the beach. 🙁 It does get better when they are older. On our first 7-night cruise on the Fantasy, my middle son got sick, and even though he had a blast at times, he told everyone when we got back that he didn’t like the Fantasy. He only liked the other ships, LOL. We went on the Fantasy a second time and he changed his mind.

    I agree with you about Castaway Cay–I love that place! Our very first Disney cruise had two stops at Castaway Cay. I would love to book another cruise with two stops there again. I’m tempted to book one for November 2018 because of that itinerary, but I don’t think we can save up enough by then.

    • Nancy,
      I have high hopes for the future. I agree with you 100% about two stops at Castaway Cay. Cayman Island is nice but Castaway Cay is paradise. I could stay there for 3-4 days.

  6. I love a real and honest review! I’d love to get a Disney cruise but still looking for some sort of better price!

    • That’s why Leana encourage me to write the post. DCL has plenty of rave reviews, but I found almost none about having a not so magical experience. If you want to book a cruise follow Nancy’s tips on how to book in advance to get better deals.

  7. Thanks for the trip review. We are in the middle of the terrible 3’s and it was so reassuring to know that our experience with meltdowns is not unique. Also, I also HATE those to review videos! But the kids inexplicably love them. I was thinking about splurging for the Disney cruise, but I think we’ll wait until the kid is older.

    • Atl mama,
      I met other families having a great time with younger kids but most of them were traveling with extended family and more children in the mix.
      Disney cruise is very expensive but like I said I have no regrets. I realized 3-4’s are hard age to travel. Even though my son travels often a to visit my family in Brazil and his dad in FL going on vacation was not great for him. He missed home and his toys.
      He still talks about going back to Miami because I have friends in town. But if I mentioned the cruise he says: I” don’t like Mickey Mouse boat.”
      And I wish I invented the toy reviews videos so I will be set for life 🙂

  8. So sorry to hear about your trip…we waited until my youngest was 4…guess what…my kids DO NOT like the Disney Cruise Kid Clubs. They need to be more structured with activities for my kids to actually stay more than 30 minutes in them. We have been on 3 DCL cruises with them, and they have been with me the entire time (good thing I have hubby because one day I almost had a meltdown because I just needed a flippin moment to myself….so I walked on Deck 4 outside in the cool Alaska air and felt so much better).

    I love Castaway Cay, and we all can’t wait to go back. Now that my kids are older, they don’t need to be with me 24/7…they’re old enough to be on their own for a little while…but I won’t let them loose on a ship like others do (don’t get me started with kids playing on the elevators).

    • @Stephanie I’m working on a post on the subject of how much freedom to give kids on a cruise ship. It’s controversial, for sure!

  9. @Nancy…haha…I’m hoping we’re on the same page because I don’t understand the false sense of security some of these parents feel when on a cruise ship. A child can be victimized anywhere…so protect your them especially while on vacation.

    • @Stephanie Yes, sadly there have been incidents on cruise ships. My oldest is going to be 13 and he can go in and out of The Edge since there is no sign-in for that group. But, we only let him go to/from the club or to/from the ice cream machine, absolutely no going into anyone’s cabin. My middle son is 9 1/2 and we need to decide if we are going to let him have checkout privileges or not. Disney lets kids have that option at age 8!

      • @Nancy Wow! That seems way too young to let kids do it at 8. But maybe I’m just an overprotective mom. I personally wouldn’t let my 9 year old daughter roam the ship unattended. But then again, she tends to have a mind of her own. I would be concerned about any potential detours or weird people engaging her in a conversation.

  10. Stephanie,
    My son didn’t last more than 20 minutes at kids club. If they had planned acitivities with the characters he would do it. He loved PJ Party with Pluto. I understand now kids under 5 need routine ALL THE TIME.
    And don’t get me started as well on the kids running around alone. Parenthood is very stressful and challenging but in my opinion the ship is not much safe than other places. Creeps have a tendency to hang out in places with a lots of kids. And about the kids on the elevators and had to control myself not to reprimand the loose cannonballs. 🙂

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