Disclosure: I was provided with this experience from Disney Cruise Lines. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.
Recently I was super blessed with the opportunity to sail the seas with Disney Cruise Line. I knew it was going to be an amazing time (because – Disney) but I had no idea what I was in store for. I brought my 3 and 5 year old and my mother with me and we made memories that will last a lifetime. My husband and I were already researching a Disney Cruise when I got the invite to go. I admit, we had been nervous that our daughters were too young so this was sure to be a great tester to find out. I immediately discovered that they are not, by any means, too young. Disney makes sure that there is something to do for everyone – and I mean everyone. From 0 to 100, everyone is sure to have the time of their lives on a Disney Cruise. But if you are planning a cruise with preschoolers, here are some tips that I learned aboard the Disney Dream.
Download the Navigator App
Before you get on the boat, be sure to download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. It was our go to for activity times, character meet and greets, and even dining options the entire cruise. Every morning, I would pull up my app to see what events we would like to try to be at. I would mark them as a favorite and my app would remind me of them about 15 minutes before they were happening (complete with the deck number they were on!). My favorite feature of the Navigator app however, is the chat function. When you sign in to the app on board, you are given a chat number. Pass that on to the rest of your party or friends you meet on your cruise, and you can stay in touch easily. This is great when members of your party split up or you want to meet a friend for a show. My mother and I split up with the girls a couple of times and this came in handy when we were trying to find each other again. Best of all – it runs on free Wi-Fi, so don’t worry about any charges you might incur using it, there won’t be any!
Every night, your stateroom host or hostess will leave you a paper Personal Navigator. This includes a schedule of the events that will be going on the following day. We did use this, but when traveling with kids, sometimes it is hard to pull out a piece of paper and take a few minutes to look at it without kids trying to pull it out of your hands. That is why I loved the Navigator App. I could search easily by character appearance, family fun, or kids events – and trust me it was a lot easier to browse while holding a tired 3 year old than a piece of paper. I did let my 5 year old carry around the paper schedule and it made her feel very important. It is nice to have both on hand, but I ended up using the app a lot more.
Bring an Autograph Book
My daughters and I were shocked at the amount of characters we saw on the Disney Dream. We expected to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but we also got to meet Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Peter Pan, Doc McStuffins, and so many more! I wish we had brought an autograph book along with us because we would have started collecting autographs from the moment we stepped on board. We did pick one up later on, but we were a day behind on the autographs. In my opinion, bringing along an autograph book – maybe even a personalized one – is a must!
We have been to Walt Disney World many times and I have autograph books with the girls’ names and the dates of the trips on them. I usually get the kind where you can add the photos with the characters next to their signatures – or I just add in the photos myself with a little glue and/or tape. We always have so much fun looking back at them – they are something we will treasure forever. I wish I had a personalized one for this cruise – but I will be prepared for the next time, that is for sure!
Don’t Miss the Shows
The shows we saw aboard the Disney Dream were incredible. I am a huge fan of Disney Villains and one of the shows was called Villains Tonight!– so I knew it was one I did not want to miss. In fact, I had dinner reservations at Palo, Disney Dream’s adult only restaurant, right in the middle of the shows, but I made it work. The first one started at 6:15 and the second at 8:30 – my dinner was 7:00 – 9:00. My family went to the first show and left around 6:45, I dropped the kids at The Oceaneer Lab and was off to dinner. Right after we finished off dessert, we grabbed the kids and headed back to the Walt Disney Theater – we happened to walk in during the exact song we had to leave during, perfect timing! So no matter what, make the shows work. The kids will LOVE them. My girls were completely entranced with the characters and the musical numbers.Villians Tonight! is hosted by the Lord of the Underworld himself, Hades, and was a very interactive show. My girls loved booing the villains as they appeared, laughing at Pain and Panic’s jokes, and helping Hades fill up his Evilometer. The comedy was great, and there was even some adult jokes slipped in there. They update the jokes to stay current, for example we heard some about Taylor Swift and Donald Trump that made me laugh out loud! On our final night, we watched Disney’s Believe, which was one of the best Disney Shows I have ever seen – and I have seen a lot. I felt a little sappy when I teared up – not just once, numerous times. I don’t want to ruin it, but if you have seen it, I am sure you know what part really got to me being a mom of two little girls (I am literally tearing up as I write this). This show is interactive as well, and one of the dancers even ran off the stage and gave my girls each a bead necklace (which they have treasured and tell everyone about) during the song with Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen. At one point, Belle is on stage – we were in the second row – and she waved at my 5 year old. The look on her face alone made the entire trip worth it. I have never seen her smile so big before and I swear I saw tears in her eyes.
When I chatted with Trent, the Cruise Director of the Disney Dream, he let me know these shows are specific to the Disney ships (some crossover – for example Disney’s Believe is on both the Dream and Fantasy, however Villians Tonight! is only on the Dream). The shows are updated every now and then, but they usually have a run of 6 to 8 years. That is just one reason to check out all of the ships that are a part of the Disney Cruise Line! Besides these two shows, there were some great deck parties, and even a Buccaneer Blast show on the deck, followed by some incredible fireworks over the ocean. The fireworks did not start until about 10:45, but the girls stayed up and boy am I glad they did – they loved the show and the fireworks display.
Don’t Make Them Nap
Traveling with little ones can be tough. If they fall asleep part way through the day and you have some downtime, great, let them rest. But I made the mistake of letting my 3 year old nap on our last day and she was so mad that she missed running around the boat and solving a Mickey Mouse Detective mystery – I don’t think she will ever let me forget it. I say let them power nap in your arms as you wait for things – or at shows if they must (but I highly recommend trying to wake them up so they don’t miss the magic). There is so much to see during your cruise and naps are overrated. You know your kid though, and if you think they need a nap to be able to stay up late, then play it by ear. I discovered that by forcing them to have a specific nap time, they were missing out on things they would love and actually ended up taking a long time to fall asleep – making our downtime longer than we wanted. On our second day, if I had made them lay down during their normal nap time, they would have missed meeting Captain Hook & Mr. Smee as well as the Jake and Sophia Pirate and Princess dance party! Now, we can’t have that, can we?
If you are going on a 3 day cruise especially, you want all the time that you can get. They can sleep on the way home I say! My husband and I have had the girls doing 15+ hour days with us at Disney World before, and we never regret it. They always get a second wind – and honestly, they sleep better at night when they are up most of the day. There is so much for the kids to see on board the ship – from special shops (check out Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats on the Disney Dream – amazing!), to helping Mickey Mouse solve mysteries on board the ship, to shows, to character meet and greets, to becoming a princess (or pirate!) at the Bippity Boppity Boutique, to activities and fun at The Oceaneer Club! In fact, I highly recommend flying in the night before if you can, that way they can sleep in late and be ready to experience everything that first afternoon on board. My girls wanted to take a nap when we first got on the boat because they had to wake up early – and that bummed me out because I wanted to explore the ship with them. You can even stay at Disney Wold hotels and get free transportation to Port Canaveral in the morning (there is free transportation from the Orlando airport as well)!
Utilize the Oceaneer Club and Lab
It might seem strange to go on a family vacation and then leave your kids with “strangers” for part of the trip. I know my husband and I said there is no way we would do it during a cruise, but trust me, everyone in your family will love the time the kids spend at The Oceaneer Club and Lab! These areas are for kids ages 3 through 12 (they must be fully toilet trained) but there is the It’s A Small World Nursery for those 3 and under (or not fully toilet trained). There is so much to do in this kids area, I was blown away when I saw it. So much, in fact, that I will be writing a full article just on the club & lab soon, so stay tuned for that. I had to literally pull my girls out practically kicking and screaming when I wanted to spend time with them!
There is nothing to worry about when leaving your kids, the staff is handpicked by Disney, so you know they have the experience that you want them to when watching your little ones. Plus, every cabin is equipped with two wave phones. These can be used to keep in contact when families split up (especially useful when older kids are traveling with you) but also to be notified if your child wants to be picked up, or if there is an emergency. When at dinner at Palo one night (more on that later too) I received a text that my youngest wanted to be picked up. When I got there, however, she didn’t want to leave because she was making cookies with a chef that had come in to visit the kids. The cast members there told me that this happens quite often – and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.A very cool fact that I learned on board, the 5th deck (where the Club, Lab, and Bippity Boppity Boutique are) has a lower ceiling than any other deck on the boat – all to make the little ones feel more safe and at home. Take advantage and let your kids have a blast while you have some much deserved adult relaxation (and fun!) time – the kids will even thank you for it!
Overall, there is truly something for everyone aboard the Disney Cruise Line ships (check out what my friend over at Candypalooza misses about the cruise already). Also on the cruise with me was Jessica from Young at Heart Mommy – read her 10 Reasons to Sail on the Disney Dream here – and Juan from Juan of Words – read about his Disney Dream adventure here! You are sure to have a blast no matter your age. Don’t let traveling with young kids scare you, it is worth every second seeing their faces. I hope I helped you make the decision to take your little ones aboard a Disney Cruise. I will have lots more tips and information coming (this is just the first article in an eight part series), so be sure to check back each week. Go ahead and book your Disney Cruise today – we have already booked our next one!