Our Disney Cruises

In 2013, Eric and I decided to plan a Disney Cruise for our 2014 yearly family vacation. Neither of us had ever been on a cruise, but we wanted something relaxing and fun that would be a good bet with an almost-two-year-old. I also happen to love all things Disney, so as soon as Eric mentioned it, I was sold. We immediately fell in love with cruising and the Disney Cruise Line in general, so much so that we eagerly went back in 2017, this time with a five-year-old and a three-year-old, and in 2018 when our girls were 6 and 4. It did not disappoint.

Having never cruised on another line, I can’t compare Disney to anything else, but I will say the level of service we experienced is unparalleled to another vacation we have taken. As the maitre d’ on our first cruise told us, “Disney knows that if we keep the kids happy, the parents are happy!” And keep everyone happy they do.

What I can compare it to is a Disney parks vacation. We did do a brief trip to the Disney parks in 2016, and while that had magical moments as well, what we love about cruising at this stage in our lives is

  1. For most of your trip, your room is never more than an elevator ride or brief walk away. You can pop back in to drop things off, have a nap, change or just take a few minutes to breathe. At the parks, your room is usually  a “walk through the park, wait for a bus, bus ride and more walking” away.
  2. Two words: kids clubs. Now, we go into each cruise understanding that this is a FAMILY vacation, and as such we will not get much adult time. But we do get some, and it’s priceless! The kids clubs kept our kids busy for an hour or two here and there so we could grab a drink, take a rest, dine in peace or get in a little pool time. As we don’t travel with parents or babysitters, that wouldn’t be possible at the parks.

A note on cost: As you might expect, Disney cruises are pricier than their counterparts, and we definitely splurged on activities as well. Personally, we feel the level of service and the Disney experience justifies the cost, but it’s a personal decision. I also saved money for quite awhile to be able to give us all some magical moments on the trip.

As several people over the years have asked for my opinion or advice on Disney cruising, I decided to put together this blog post with all of my words of wisdom and impressions. It is by NO means exhaustive – there are countless online resources with even more info. But it’s an overall picture of the things we have loved, disliked and found most fun and helpful.  For more specifics, I recommend:

Disney Cruise Line
The Disboards Disney Cruise Line Forum
any of the various Facebook groups on Disney Cruising

Those are great resources for learning about the different ships, what to book, when to go, and a million other things I don’t cover here. There’s still a lot in here though, so just skip to the parts you need.

Now, on to my comments. These are based on the three cruises we took which were:

A 2014 5-day Western Caribbean itinerary on the Disney Wonder out of Miami. We cruised in late February; weather was warm enough for swimming.
A 2017 7-Day Halloween on the High Seas Western Caribbean itinerary on the Disney Fantasy out of Port Canaveral (we originally booked an Eastern Caribbean itinerary but it was switched shortly before due to hurricanes). We cruised in early October; weather was warm to hot with a bit of rain but nothing that ruined anything.
A 2018 7-Day Western Caribbean itinerary on the Disney Fantasy out of Port Canaveral, which we took with Eric’s brother and his family. We cruised in August so it was pricier and we did run into one big storm, but nothing was majorly affected. The weather was hot but not unbearable.

Things to Book Ahead of Time

Use a Disney travel agent! A lot of people don’t realize that using a travel agent has no cost to you – they make their money through incentives from the companies they book with. Using a travel agent that specializes in Disney travel is a great idea because they know lots of tricks to getting the most bang for your buck – on our first trip, our agent was able to book us a balcony room that, because it had a slight overhang (and I mean slight), was priced at a lower rate. Disney agents also usually offer onboard credit for booking with them and can offer lots of advice on your trip as well. We used and highly recommend Monica Lahr with Mousekeplanner.

Flights and hotel: I don’t know about you, but I’d be a nervous wreck if I were flying in on the day of the cruise. We always fly in the night before and get a hotel.

Transfers: On Cruise 1, we used Disney transfers (Disney Magical Express) to and from the Orlando airport. On Cruises 2 and 3, we rented a car in Orlando and drove to Port Canaveral. We dropped it off and rented another car for the trip back. Both things worked out well, so it’s mostly personal preference.

Passports: Passports are strongly recommended; take care of this as soon as possible as it can sometimes take awhile.

Spa: I’ve heard good things about the spa, Senses. I think you can buy a day pass or length of cruise pass and they have things like hot tubs and different shower experiences. On Cruise 1 I was pregnant so I couldn’t take advantage of any of it and on Cruises 2 and 3 we just didn’t have time! I got a facial on Cruise 1 and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was quite overpriced.

Photos: On Cruises 2 and 3 we splurged on the Disney photo package you can purchase through My Cruise Photos. You get a discount by purchasing before you get onboard, which is what we did. Again, it’s pricey, but the picture quality is excellent and there are tons of photo opportunities. In addition to photographers at each character experience (with the exception of the Disney Jr. breakfast), they have photo opportunities at the cruise terminal and when boarding the ship, before dinner most nights, and in front of the ship at Castaway Cay. You present your room key to each photographer and all of your pictures magically show up on a flash drive you pick up at the end of the trip. You can also view these photos at Shutters throughout your cruise and order prints and photo books. I LOVED having this service and not having to worry about getting the best shot every time we met a character. However, a couple of notes: each of the pictures Disney takes comes with a decorative Disney border on it, and these borders are NOT removable. From an aesthetic viewpoint, they don’t bother me – however, they bother me because the images are NOT standard print sizes. If you try to print them on your own by ordering prints from a photo service in a size smaller than 8×10, the borders will be cut off. I believe there are online services that will do prints to the specific ratio, but I haven’t done this yet.

Youth Clubs: You can register your kids for the youth clubs when you complete your online check-in. More about the youth clubs below.

Dining: When you check in online, you have the option to choose early seating or late seating for dinner. If you don’t get your first choice, you still have the opportunity to ask to switch when you get on board. More on dining below.

Cruise Activities: Once you’ve booked your cruise you should find out when booking opens for all of the other fun things you’ll want to do on your vacation. For first time cruisers, this is currently 75 days before your trip, but if you’ve cruised with Disney before you can book further out. These include things like Port Adventures, specialty dining reservations and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (see below for more details about what we did). There are other specialty activities as well, such as the Royal Court Royal Tea we did on the second cruise (more below).

You can also snag tickets to  things that are included with your cruise but still need tickets. On our 7-night cruises this was a Disney Junior Breakfast, a Princess Gathering and a Frozen Meet and Greet. They do set aside tickets to these that you can get on the ship, but I’d advise getting them ahead of time if possible.

Here was my strategy when deciding when to book things on the second cruise, which was much busier than the first! (details about our activities will be below):

Day 1: Embark
Day 2: At sea. I booked the Disney Jr. breakfast for this morning as a fun kick-off to the cruise. I also booked the girls at the boutique for Under the Sea Makeovers. I figured it was a nice way to get in the cruising spirit, and it came with a bathing suit they could rewear. I booked this midmorning so they could enjoy their makeup all day.
Day 3: Cozumel, Mexico. We did an excursion for most of the day. I booked a morning time to leave us time to get back to the ship early if we wished and in plenty of time for dinner.
Day 4: Grand Cayman; I booked an excursion for late morning.
Day 5: Falmouth, Jamaica, and Pirate Night!; I booked the girls and myself for Pirate League makeovers at the Boutique for late afternoon; this let them swim during the day if they wanted and gave us time to get to dinner, but still let them enjoy their pirate garb for awhile.
Day 6: At sea; we did the Princess Gathering in the morning and then Eric and I did brunch at Palo; that afternoon we had the Royal Court Royal Tea, so it was a day of princesses!
Day 7: Castaway Cay; we did the Frozen Meet and Greet first thing in the morning then headed off the ship. We also had a late morning excursion.

Fish Extenders: A strange name for a fun activity! Attached to the wall outside the door of your stateroom is a metal fish, which cast members use to leave you notes, your tickets to events, and things like that. A cult has grown up around these fish where people hang “extenders” off of these fish – usually a strip of fabric pockets with your family name or individual names on it. You can join “fish extender” groups where you will be paired with other families (usually around ten families total, although we have been in a larger group.) You and the other families can then leave little treats and surprises for each other throughout the length of the cruise! Usually, you fill out short form or spreadsheet about your family and their likes/dislikes, then plan what you’d like to give as gifts! We have never had a minimum or maximum spending amount and it’s truly a “give what you’d like” experience. We have gotten store-bought gifts, handmade gifts, candy, pirate accessories, glow sticks, beach toys and lots of little things local to each family. For Cruise 1, I handmade Disney “Mad Libs” which I put in sheet protectors and paired with dry erase markers. For Cruises 2 and 3, I bought Disney Mad Libs and added Play Packs for little ones, crayons, Disney pens and packets of Del’s Lemonade, a drink local to New England. It’s incredibly fun and exciting to open your door to see your Fish Extender stuffed with little treats, or come back from the pool to a fun surprise. I highly recommend the experience, but do be aware it adds cost and work to your trip planning. You also accumulate a lot of little trinkets. We joined our groups through DisBoards the first two times times (find your specific cruise group here), and Facebook the third. You can make your own Fish Extender or buy them on Etsy – ours are beautiful and are from Bullfrogs and Butterflies.

Packing

Here are a few things I recommend that you may not have thought of:

Checked Luggage
– Pirate gear –  On our cruises, one night was always themed as “Pirates IN the Caribbean” and many guests have on at least some form of pirate gear – and some people go all out! Bring as much or as little as you’d like. Disney usually provides pirate bandanas and sometimes eye patches.
-other costumes, such as princess dresses
-men need pants and shoes to dine at the adults-only restaurants onboard
-list of addresses for postcards
-any lists you need related to your Fish Extender group, if you’re participating, such as family names and stateroom numbers
-some people like baby powder and paint brushes for removing sand after the beach
-a stain stick, which I was really glad to have on several occasions. Handy for getting chocolate out of princess costumes.
-we packed puddle jumpers for our girls on Cruise 2, but they only used them a little at a pool on one of our port adventures. Disney provides floaties onboard.
-door magnets or decorations – Many people decorate their doors, but keep in mind you can’t use tape. The doors are magnetic.
– I like to pack a nightlight and a clip-on air freshener for the bathroom
– hair dryer – I have long, thick hair and just use the travel-sized dryer they provide, but if you’re particular you may want to bring your own
-Plastic bags in a few sizes to corral random stuff. I also bring a couple of trash bags, which are handy for packing wet things on the last day. I always throw in a handful of safety pins and some Band-Aids as well.
-gum, if you want it, as it’s not sold onboard
-beach toys – I bought a small set that was easy to pack
– glow sticks for nighttime deck parties
– a pop-up hamper – I never thought we’d use one, but someone in a Fish Extender group gave us one and it was really handy.
-light card – To turn the room lights on, you have to stick your room key card in a slot next to the door and leave it there. Lots of people bring extra cards just to put in there so they don’t stick their key in and forget it. Any credit-card sized card will work, but you can also buy special cards on Etsy, such as cards with important ship locations listed on them, etc. One of the Fish Extender gifts we received was a card with a magnet attached – so simple but GENIUS! When you pull it out you just stick it to the wall, which is magnetic, and it’s there for later.

Ship Carry-On

Your luggage won’t arrive at your stateroom for a few hours sometimes, so you’ll want to pack a carry-on bag with things you might need
-check in documents and passports
-alcohol, if you’re bringing your own – check Disney’s policy for how much you’re allowed
-things you’ll need before your bags arrive at your room – pool gear, phone chargers, , medication, etc.
– autograph books – We actually ran out of room in ours!
– water bottles – They do provide water on the pool deck, but the cups are small.
– purses – I like to pack a lightweight tote bag to carry around the ship with me. I put a folder in it along with pens, other things I need. Every night you will get a “Navigator”  for the next day with your turndown service. This has all the times and info you’ll need for that day (this is also on the Disney Cruise app but I am visual and like to see things all laid out). I put this in the folder and also use it for things we pick up along the way, such as art the girls make and other things I want to save. I also use pens and highlighters on it for things we don’t want to miss. I also pack a smaller crossbody purse that will still fit the stateroom’s Wave phone (it’s about the size of an old-school Nokia).

Embarkation

Port arrival: When you complete online check-in, you will get a Port Arrival time based on your flight times and things like that. Your arrival time is kind of a suggestion, kind of not. You can show up earlier, but you may end up having to wait around. We have always shown up around our PAT and haven’t had long waits. There are lines, but they move pretty quickly. Make sure you have all your documents and passports ready to go. Also they have characters coming through the terminal for pictures and to say hi. After checking in, you walk up the gangplank, stop for a few pictures, and walk onboard! They announce your family name and clap for you and you cry. Good times.

Things to take care of: Once you’re on board, now’s the time to take care of anything you weren’t able to take care of during online check-in. They will have a designated time and area to go to if you want to ask about changing your dining time or rotation. You can also check with the main desk to ask about any excursions, dining or activities you weren’t able to book online. You may also want to visit the Youth Clubs to get your kids checked in and get their bracelets. Pro tip: ask them to make sure notifications are going through to both your Wave phone and the app on your phone while you’re standing there – this is how they will notify you if a child wants to be picked up from the club.
After we’ve taken care of those things, we like to go grab something to eat at the buffet (note: on the Fantasy, there’s a sweet shop just outside the buffet, and the desserts there are NOT included in your cruise price).

Right as the ship embarks, there’s a “Sail Away Party” that’s really fun – there’s dancing and splashing in the pool and the horn toots “When You Wish Upon a Star” and you cry.
Cell Phone Data: Make sure you turn off data your cell phone once your’e out of port. Eric purchased extra data but was burning through it really fast and couldn’t figure out why. They have someone onboard just to help you figure this out – check your ship map or ask someone to find the desk. The Disney Cruise app works while your’e onboard without using your data.

Onboard Activities

Now, the fun stuff. Here’s more information about all the goings on while your’e on the ship!

At noon every day the ship horn plays a bunch of Disney melodies.

Scene From That Night I Went Upstairs with a Young Chris McDaniel During A Frat Party

For reference: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/senator-chirs-mcdaniel-mississippi-birth-control-abortion-liberal-women-marches-washington-dc-a7542636.html

So this is your room, huh? Nice. I like it. Very neat. I could probably bounce a quarter off those sheets, ha ha. No, no just a joke. I like your flag. Very Sam Eagle, all of it. Cool Scarface poster. Oh, you want to sit down? That’s cool. I’ll just sit right here on the bed. Should I use a coaster under this or–thanks. Can I flip through your CDs? Oh – you want to make out for awhile? Sure, sure. You’re right it is hot in here. I am better without my top on, thanks! Oh – one thing before we get started – I’m not on birth control. Yeah, well, it’s like $50 a month out of pocket and I am on a student budget…I guess maybe when I get married I can split it with my husband, but for now, it’s just me! I typically ask the guys I sleep with to contribute, if I’m in a relationship I just send a Venmo request once a month. I call it Pay to Play, ha ha. But sometimes they argue they shouldn’t have to pay if they didn’t get enough sex that month, so it gets tricky. Then I started figuring out, like, the “cost-per-bone” in advance, kind of like a vagina admission fee, before I just quit altogether. So condoms it is! You don’t mind, right? I’m sure that’s what kids these days are switching to now anyway. All condoms, all the time. That’s what you guys wanted, right? You must be super pumped! I mean, I brought some, but do you have some too? Whose should we use? We could switch off, I guess. Do you want me to start a spreadsheet so we can keep track? Oh you know what – mine is expired. I got it from Planned Parenthood so I guess that tells you how old it is! Do you think it still works?

I mean, I guess if you wanted we could try the “Rhythm Method.” I’ve done some reading, I think I could figure it out. Question though: if I make a mistake and end up pregnant, is it totally my fault or just half my fault? Do you still have to pay child support? Maybe you should just come check my cervical mucus with me and tell me if you think it looks like egg white or not. Or would that totally kill the mood? No, no I get it. You could feel my cervix instead if you – no? Oh ok. It’s no big deal, right? We’ll just take our chances. You look smart, you could probably support a kid or two right now! Ooh, hey, can I borrow this Nickelback CD?

Look, I know what you’re probably thinking now, and you’re right. We definitely shouldn’t be having premarital sex anyway. I really admire your principals. I totally agree – I’ll get dressed now. Thanks for helping me through that weak moment. We should totally go remind everyone else downstairs too. Maybe even go to a few more parties, hit the streets when the clubs get out at 2:00. No sex for anyone, ha ha! I’m sure they’ll agree. Can you hand me my underwear? Thanks!

Quick question though – I mean, I’m sure all 107 million-plus unmarried adults in America won’t have a problem being celibate – I mean, look at you and your friends! You’re all doing awesome! I’m sure you’ll TOTALLY all stay celibate until marriage, just like me and all my friends! But when we DO get married, can we use birth control then? Married guys like condoms right? Unless you’re super fancy and can afford birth control out of pocket…oh excuse me while I take my diamond pillbox out of my gold purse, lol. They probably just take their chances with NFP though; married people can have all the kids they want and no one cares! I’m sure my body can handle a ton of pregnancies, I’m pretty strong. As long as I don’t need back to back c-sections. I mean there’s only so many times they can saw through your abdominal wall, amirite? It’s cool though, I know back in the day lots of couples just went cold turkey after the first couple kids – I mean, it was like a whole subplot in Gone With the Wind and everything. If Ashley can do it, anyone can do it! He’s such a guy’s guy. Oh it’s just this movie that – actually, you probably shouldn’t see it, things don’t go so well for Mississippi.

Anyway, I don’t mean to scare you off with all this marriage talk, I’m totally not one of those girls. Unless you…no? Ok. So anyway, yeah. Thanks for the pep talk – I am officially “Closed for Business.” I’ll spread the word back at the sorority house too. With any luck, soon it will be lights out for pretty much everyone! Wow…I’m almost jealous. You’re going to be super popular for kicking this off. Good times ahead for sure. I’m so glad you and your friends were around to talk some sense into everyone. We’ll probably get a lot more done with sex just totally off the table. Maybe we’ll finally figure out this whole “Israel” thing, or come up with a viable replacement for the Affordable Care Act! That’s what you want, right? Well, if you change your mind, let us know. Just send maybe like, I don’t know, 4.6 million guys should do it. Send them over – they can walk, it’s not that far. Ok then! So like, should I put my number in your phone, or do you want – oh yeah, that’s right Jeff is dating Macie’s roommate, and she and I have a class together, so…yeah, you know where to find me!

Is this just fantasy?

About a week ago, Eric’s Biological Gadget Receptor¹, or possibly his New Project Induction Enzyme² alerted him to the fact that he hadn’t bought anything that requires electricity in several weeks and he decided that, after six years of Keurig ownership, we needed to stop cramming landfills with K-cups and go back to a good, old-fashioned coffee pot. I was promptly emailed a link to a good, old-fashioned coffee pot³ to purchase, and, through the magic of Amazon Prime, it arrived on our doorstep two days later. Continue reading “Is this just fantasy?”

Meal Prep Step 2: Menu Planning

Menu PlanningThe second step to prepping your meals is…menu planning!

I try to plan my menus about once a week. I sit down with my planner or the calendar on my phone and look at our schedule for the week. I usually only plan about five meals because I know that on the weekend we tend to see friends and family or order out, and there’s usually at least one other night a week where cooking just doesn’t happen. I also try to include a variety of protein in our meals, including seafood at least once and one meatless meal. I really only plan dinners since we have mostly the same things for breakfast and lunch. Continue reading “Meal Prep Step 2: Menu Planning”

#fearful

It was sometime last night between 8, when we started trying to get Joanna to fall asleep in the Pack ‘n’ Play in her cousin Sophie’s room, and 10, when she finally fell asleep and I could get up off the floor and stop singing Disney and Nick Jr. songs, that I made my resolution. It just came over me in a wave, while I sat there with my phone in one hand, scrolling through all my different social media accounts and watching the old year roll over into the new. Watching the women I follow use the same words over and over: “goals,” “resolutions,” “action,” “fears,” “excitement,” “challenges.” I felt like a kid with her face pressed to the glass window of a candy shop. Their photos were so glossy. Their art was so beautiful. Their brands were so polished. They were so confident. In reality, I had my face pressed to the carpet and I was singing the same line of a Wallykazam! song over and over because I’d run through my retinue of showtunes and had nothing left. I have a blog I never blog on, a house I don’t decorate, clothes I don’t wear, plans I don’t plan. And at the same time, these women don’t have anything I don’t have. I am literally standing in my own way.

All the cliches washed over me at once. I had cliches about my cliches – a lightbulb moment about letting it go, an epiphany about staring fear in the face to do the thing I could not do. What would I do if I knew I could not fail? I finally feel ready to find out the answer.

I’ve done it before – been afraid, and pushed through it. Shed my insecurities and trusted myself. But it feels like a really, really long time since I was that brave. I miss that. I miss surprising myself instead of being so predictable. Which is why I never make resolutions. I know myself too well. I know I won’t keep them. I don’t even remember the last time I even thought about making a resolution. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies , setting yourself up to fail, and self-doubt. I must be fun at parties.

So this year, I’m making them. I’m making ALL THE RESOLUTIONS. Because why not? Go big or go home, right? The more I make, the more chances I have to keep them.

I was reading something today about not making grand resolutions and instead breaking them down into smaller action items. You know what? Screw that. I have grand plans. I want to write a book. I want to blog. I want a puppy. I want so many things for myself and my family. And if I read this one year from now and I’m no closer to any of those goals, I’m not going to be embarrassed. Because this year, I’m not going to not try because I’m afraid of what might happen, or what people might think. Because honestly, I don’t think I’m afraid of what people will think if I don’t try – I’m afraid of what they might think if I DO. Like my ambitions will somehow infringe on their personal space. I keep ruminating on my cousin Christina’s words at my Nana’s Irish wake, that Nana had high standards for herself and everyone else, and that was ok. I am just like her. I, too, have high standards – the difference is, I’m not holding myself to them. I’m letting myself get by on good enough. And I’m worth more than that.

So this post is going to be my vision board. My touchstone that I can come back to when I’m losing my way. Like so many of the women on my social media feed, I am choosing a word for 2016, a personal mantra. My word is fearful.

Being fearful does not make me weak. Without fear, we can’t be brave. I am fearful – I am full of fear. I am full of strength to overcome those fears. Google has two definitions for fearful, and the second is “very great.” When David said that he was “fearfully’ made, he was saying he was made by a person of whom he stood in awe. I am fearful, and I am awesome. 

So where will I get my inspiration? From my social media feed, yes. From The Reset Girl and her goal-setters club, because it’s never too late to reset my life. From Lara Casey and her Power Sheets. From Ira Glass*, Ted Talks, and my daughter Klara, who stands in front of our full-length mirror and marvels with glee over how big her butt is getting, because she hasn’t yet learned that girls are supposed to be ashamed. From Elsa, who I hear every day reminding me: “I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let it go.” From Glennon Doyle Melton, a fellow warrior, and Jessica Kirkland, who taught me my new favorite phrase: “As for my girls, I’ll raise them to think they breathe fire.” From Dean Sanderson on “The Grinder,” who has given me a new way to answer every fear that pops unbidden into my brain: “You can’t write about that, no one’s going to care.”  But what if they do? “You can’t do that” But what if I could? From the Disney songs I sing Joey to sleep with: because dammit, if I keep on believing, the dream that I wish will come true.

I’m tired of not writing on here because it doesn’t have a consistent tone, or theme, or message. I like writing, so I’m going to write. The rest will follow.  I wrote this, and I’m posting it, and I’m proud of it, and now I’m going to bed, because my first resolution is to get more sleep.

 

*It’s worth hearing him say it in his own voice.

 

 

My Nana

12282026_10101524770744017_1860977700_o



 

On the way into Nana’s funeral today a lady who knew her from church stopped me to say what a lovely woman she had been…and always so well dressed! What she closed with hit the nail on the head: They don’t make them like her anymore. Nana never wore pants a day in her life, and wore heels until she could no longer walk, despite crippling arthritis. Born a DeFransisco, no one had more Irish pride – or made a better spaghetti sauce. She liked her seltzer ice cold, her soup boiling hot – or it got sent back – and her French fries “cremated.” She tried to order medium-rare hamburgers at McDonald’s. Continue reading “My Nana”