I attended the 2017 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration ~ Land & Sea. This year’s conference included a 3-day cruise aboard the Wonder at a discounted price, so I totally jumped on it. This post is attempting to be both insanely useful and a ramble of my personal experience. Let’s go!
I had been eager to try a Disney Cruise but unable to convince my husband, Alec, so when the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration (AKA DisneySMMC) invited me to join this year’s conference with a discounted cruise, I jumped at the opportunity! I was personally thrilled to bring my real-life, opinionated, bad-mannered children to the high seas Disney-style to test my hypothesis: If you can’t relax on a Disney Cruise, you can’t relax anywhere.
It turns out I was partially right: I can’t relax anywhere!
By the first sunset, my children broke the rules of the upscale dining room by wearing swimwear at dinner (Ugh, how embarrassing!) and not eating the food (my little picky one does not suddenly try new things on vacation – shock!). But the really good news is that their kinda poor behavior does okay in an immersive experience built to bring joy to families. The staff knows how to roll with a kid who (literally) only eats rolls at dinner.
About that childcare
My children were all eligible for the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab for ages 3 to 12 (must by potty-trained!). My older son was also allowed to come and go into Edge, the tween clubhouse for ages 11 to 14. There’s an even older teen program, too. Each of these allows children 9 and over to check themselves in and out without a parent using a special id. Kids under 9 need a parent to be present and know a secret password. These kids’ clubs are included with your cruise payment whether you use them or not.
For children 3 and under, babysitting care in the nursery costs a bit extra and may require advance reservations during busy times.
Pro tip: Visit the kids clubs early and use them often! Just casually say, “Oh hey, let’s check this place out. I heard it was cool,” and then stand back.
Plenty of room to free-range your big kids
Against my parental instincts, we let the nine- and 11-year olds roam the ship after we returned to our stateroom (the fancy name for a ship’s hotel room) to put our five-year old to bed around 1opm. They visited the supervised kids club (more on that below), and returned about a half hour later with new knowledge and confidence. I’m pleased we made that counter-intuitive choice because they loved the feeling of freedom and independence AND they felt inspired to enjoy the kids’ activities throughout the remainder of our trip. These kids clubs allowed my husband to have happier days at sea while I attended conference programs.
11-year old Holden misplaced his key three times but figured out how to get it reissued all by himself. Baby steps toward taking personal responsibility. Parenting achievement unlocked.
Pro tip: Older kids can explore the ship pretty safely as long as they understand where the maps are and can remember their room numbers. You know your kid.
On board fun and food included
My family has never been on a cruise together before. I understand that any cruise voyage includes basic lodging, food, and entertainment. But the Disney team takes it up another notch.
Our cabins were stellar. Cute beds made up each evening and magically put away in the morning. The staff kept the mess of five people sharing a small space manageable in a way that I can’t do in my own house. My kid dumped a pocket-full of sand on the carpet and it disappeared before bedtime.
All-you-can-eat food. After having come from the Walt Disney World theme parks where, for budgetary reasons, I was forcing my children to share a bucket of popcorn each afternoon, the all-inclusive meal plan was a huge change of pace. We rotated through three different dining rooms for dinner. Each nice restaurant (see Tiana’s above) offered a kids menu and our waitstaff quickly learned our preferences. They served me 2-3 desserts without giving me side-glances, while my youngest ate only bread for every dinner.
In addition to the restaurants, there were quick-serve pizza, hot dogs, and sandwiches available in other areas of the ship until very late. For breakfast, we could visit a huge buffet or order room service.
Impressive entertainment. With OMG Disney character appearances; movies running in very nice theaters and playing at the swimming pool; Broadway-level evening performances – no joke!; Musketeer-worthy dance parties; and more standard cruise activities like BINGO, there was always fun stuff to do for each of our family members.
I loved the Frozen Spectacular with fake snow, lights, amazing sets, fantastic singing. But my little one chose video games in the kids’ club instead. You want to skip an amazing production for a different crazy fun experience? No problem.
What’s extra? Our additional expenses were quite minimal. Expect to pay for the nursery (three and under), shore excursions, some tips, massages, fancy coffee drinks, and alcohol. We bought a few beers and rented bikes on our shore day.
Solo parents will still have a blast
During the Disney Social Media Moms conference program, I was meeting with other bloggers and learning from guest speakers about new shows, movies, rides, attractions that Disney has planned this year. As I sat with the Disney presenters and attendees, I wondered whether Alec was actively parenting three wild boys, riding the water slides with Sawyer, watching Star Wars Rogue One in 3D, or enjoying chill time by the shipboard swimming pool while all boys were in childcare. The reality was a free-flowing combination of all-of-the-above.
He was definitely able to relax, watch classic movies on the poolside screen and grab ice cream cones whenever the mood struck.
Our three-night cruise had a theme night for Pirates including crafts, costumes, characters, and an all-out dance party with fireworks off the ship! Five of us got in line to see Pirate Mickey, but only three of us made it to the front of the line.
After Alec carried our flipping-out five-year old away from the excitement, they both agreed he’d enjoy downtime in the Oceaneer Club instead of another sit-down dinner with decent manners required. What little kid wouldn’t pick that? And it was easier for us, too.
Other Disney cruises have theme nights for Superheroes or Star Wars. I have to admit, we are all crazy for Star Wars, and I’d love to experience that.
Our shore day
One of the shortest cruise the Disney ships take involves a stopover at Castaway Cay, a private island in the Bahamas. As an extension of the ship, all childcare clubs are running on land and the food is included. It is the easiest day at the beach you’ve ever had. Towels are handed to you as you disembark and cold water is waiting at the end of the day.
How much does it cost?
Browsing the Disney Cruise website for comparable cruises. I invented a family of two adults, one baby, and one toddler. The cruise I just did was about $2600 total before any hidden taxes and fees. Prices vary wildly based on time of year, destination, duration, and type of room.
Bottom line: Would I do it again?
On the flight home, I found myself daydreaming about what excuse would get our family on another Disney cruise. It was really magical! I would love to make it work. In my personal frugal opinion, it is expensive to take one of these trips, but there are sooo many benefits crammed into the price, I’m sure I will continue to rationalize the splurge in my head for some time!
I hopped onto the Disney Cruise website and started browsing for European adventures. Doesn’t this sound fun? For my family of five, tickets are just over $10,000. Gulp.
Thinking about other trips closer to San Francisco that would involve no additional airfare, I could spend a long time playing on this website trying to plan my next family adventure at sea.
Thanks to the 2017 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration ~ Land & Sea for inviting me to come along. My ticket price was subsidized. All opinions are my own.