Written by Molly Demmer
When I first found out I was going on a Disney cruise for an educational trip, I was excited, but I had my reservations. To me, there seemed to be two ends of the cruising spectrum. On the budget end, I envisioned margarita glasses larger than my bathtub and hoards of people fighting for a deck chair. Yet to me, ultra luxurious cruises sounded just as scary, featuring dress codes that would require me to dust off old prom dresses just to eat dinner. There are travelers who swear by either option (and who would surely label my stereotypes as inaccurate), but since neither style appealed to me, I’ve always thought that I’m not a cruiser. And while I have a special place in my heart for classic Disney movies, I feared a constant shipboard soundtrack of “It’s a Small World” and activities closing for an 8 p.m. bedtime. I pictured myself stuck at a dinner table with caffeinated 6-year-olds who skipped their naps or worse, listening to parenting discussions about the best brands of diapers. Either way, I didn’t think I’d fit in.
Disney provided none of the cruise experiences I feared, and the more I researched the approaching trip, the more excited I became. So as I boarded my flight to Florida to embark on the Disney Dream to the Bahamas, my remaining reservations about cruising disappeared with the Minneapolis skyline.
Although I like to think of myself as a seasoned, mature 24-year-old, I’ve been told on numerous occasions that my energy level is equivalent to that of an 8-year-old. In fact, I have an inkling I was sent on this cruise because I’m the closest substitute for a kid that works at Travel Beyond. Therefore, I feel like I’m fully qualified to deem our itinerary completely enjoyable for both kids and adults.
Here’s what I loved about my cruise:
1) The entertainment – Each night, Disney performed a unique show in the ship’s theatre, combining musical numbers from classic movies and recent releases. Each show featured Disney magic in upbeat dance numbers, a full cast of talented actors, onscreen character interaction and exciting special effects. Each show—from the classic Golden Mickey Awards show to the delightfully evil Villains Tonight—reaffirmed Disney’s commitment to quality entertainment. My personal favorite, Believe, showcased a workaholic dad’s transformation to a believer in magic, culminating in a precious scene celebrating father-daughter relationships that had the audience searching for Kleenex. (Full disclosure: I may have blinked back a few tears too. Just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean I don’t have a heart.)
2) Adults-only areas— On a family friendly cruise, the adults-only area provided a quiet cove to relax and rejuvenate. On the Dream, the adults-only decks offered comfortable chairs, the best views on the ship, casual bars and a refreshing pool. I enjoyed pre-dinner drinks on adults-only Deck 12 while watching the sunset, but early morning plans meant that I didn’t spend much time in The District, a collection of themed bars on Deck 4 that stay open late into the night.
3) The service— Every staff member I encountered greeted me with a relaxed smile and a willingness to help. Even off-duty employees said hello during my morning runs on the impressive jogging trail on Deck 4. I never had to wait in long lines or struggle to flag down a server. In true Disney style, each step of the journey from embarkation to disembarkation was smooth and pleasant.
4) The accommodations— I opted for a suite with a verandah, knowing how much I’d enjoy sitting outside and watching the waves. Inside the cabin, I was impressed by the little details that confirm Disney’s expertise in family travel: a split bathroom made it easy for multiple people to get ready for dinner while extra room under the bed allowed for simple storage. The couch flipped into an extra twin bed, and the closets had plenty of hangers for clothes and swimsuits.
5) The AquaDuck water coaster— Disney redefined shipboard entertainment by building the first onboard water coaster tube ride, which jutted off the ship before circling the deck. The ride was fun and adventurous enough for adults to enjoy, but slow enough for cautious kids. The clear tube allowed for stunning views of the ocean and horizon for an unparalleled cruise experience.
6) Kids programs— Without kids in my party, I didn’t have a firsthand encounter with the kids’ programs, but judging by the number of kids I saw signing in, it seemed to be a very popular draw. Giant TV screens, video games and teen-centered activities kept the teenagers busy in their lounge, while the separate pre-teen area entertained the “too-cool-for-kids-programs” crowd with their own games and activities. For the young ones, each half hour brought new crafts, games and adventures or space to play and explore on their own. Parents could specify whether the kids could check out on their own or had to be signed out, and complementary ship-only phones allowed families to keep tabs on each other throughout the day.
7) Port excursions— The Dream’s first stop was in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas. The discounted shopping lured some fellow cruisers to explore the port on foot, but I boarded a bus for Atlantis, Disney’s luxury resort in the Bahamas, for a deep water dolphin encounter. My childhood dream of becoming a dolphin trainer collapsed at the tender age of 8 when I learned the career path would involve much-dreaded science classes. Yet dolphins continue to fascinate me and inspired “Swim with dolphins” as #37 on my bucket list, an opportunity that was presented as a shore excursion on this cruise. My dream-come-true excursion involved a hug and a kiss from Michelle, a Hurricane Katrina rescue dolphin, a deep water swim with three dolphins (aided by water propelled scooters) and a thrilling dolphin-powered boogie board ride across the pool.
8) Castaway Cay— Every Disney itinerary in the Bahamas stops at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. With gentle waters perfect for swimming, beautiful beaches and activities galore, Castaway Cay stole the crown for my favorite part of the cruise. Beach chairs and umbrellas were plentiful, the beaches were never crowded, and the energy level was contagious. What impressed me the most, however, was the abundance of activities in which I could participate. I started off the morning with the Castaway Cay 5K run, followed by relaxing yoga on the beach, snorkeling through a Disney-created “shipwreck” and testing out the slides and water platforms off the shore. With all those activities, I still had time to relax in a beach chair, enjoy some soft-serve ice cream and take in the classic Caribbean view.
The 3-night cruise was the perfect relaxing precursor to exploring all of Disney’s parks. I didn’t hear “It’s a Small World” once while on the ship, and 8 p.m. was just the start of evening activities. I wasn’t stuck at a kids’ table, nor did I hear a single conversation about diaper brands. Instead, I met travelers of all ages. I had dinner with two mother-daughter pairs celebrating college graduations. I saw many intergenerational trips celebrating family reunions or grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversaries. There were high school class trips, groups of 30-something female friends, and honeymooners. Disney provided entertainment and activities for every age, and those of us who feared otherwise were happily proven wrong. In classic Disney fashion, I disembarked the ship with a happy ending.