I Took My Three-year-old on His First Cruise — and It Was Surprisingly Awesome
On a first-time mother-son sailing, T+L’s Editor in Chief succumbs to the whimsy, fun, and sheer sensory overload of a voyage with Disney Cruise Line.
We came bearing costumes. Lots of costumes.
Armed with a suitcase worth of witch capes, Superman T-shirts, and plastic swords, our merry little trio — me, my mother, Pat, and my three-year-old son, Bobby — boarded the Disney Dream, after flying in to Orlando and driving for an hour to Port Canaveral. We had high hopes for this three-night sail to the Bahamas. There would be costume parties, of course: one involving pirates and another with actual trick-or-treating, since ours was an October, Halloween-themed cruise. There would be Mickey photo ops, for sure, and beach time at Castaway Cay, the line’s very own private island. And there would be fireworks — real fireworks, at sea!
We ended up batting two for four on the above, missing the fireworks and both costume parties because I have the only kid in the world who hates costumes. The type-A traveler in me first saw this as an epic fail. But with a little hindsight comes acceptance and, eventually, understanding. Because here’s what I learned about a Disney cruise — something that holds true whether you’re sailing the fjords of Norway or the isles of the eastern Caribbean on any of the four vessels in the fleet: there’s so much damn stuff to do on the ship that it’s impossible to do it all. So you just embrace the screaming children and thrilling waterslides and do the best you can.
In our case, that meant grabbing a photo with Mickey at check-in, before we even boarded the 3,500-passenger Dream. While waiting in line we made friends with a family from Japan. They were just a few of the passengers whom Bobby somehow took a liking to, whether it was in the massive, airy atrium, where a violinist would happily perform Disney tunes in the afternoon, or in the grand, wide hallways ringing the sides of the Dream, where we often found ourselves waiting in line to see yet more characters.
There was, it turned out, plenty of sun and fun over the course of eight hours at Castaway Cay, most of which we spent in one of the 20 private family cabanas, available to guests for a surcharge. These cushy pads come with a hammock, loungers, and snacks. So there, on our own little slice of sand by a tranquil lagoon, while Pat had a mojito and I attempted to read, we watched Bobby splash random teenagers. We also saw him swim unassisted for the first time ever, which was pretty great.
The beauty of Disney, no surprise, lies in its intuitive, attentive customer service, from the cabin attendants who will stock your room, no questions asked, with a Diaper Genie to the waiters who will bring your kid milk in under five minutes if they see a meltdown coming on. The events, activities, and meals are all coordinated down to the microsecond, from the Broadway-caliber shows to the character sing-alongs in the Oceaneer Club, which has a dazzling Magic PlayFloor that lights up and replicas of both Andy’s room in Toy Story and the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. One look at all the bells and whistles and friendly faces in this place will have any adult with a heart wanting to rewind 30, 40, or 50 years to become a kid again.
A part of me is still sad we missed the fireworks. But my consolation prize was a three-hour dinner with Pat at Remy, the French fine-dining restaurant that is an oasis of calm and Bordeaux. We left Bobby in the nursery, and found ourselves spellbound by yet another well-choreographed Disney moment, this one a seven-course meal on Bernardaud china. We could hear the fireworks just one deck above. That would have to do.
To book: disneycruise.com; two-night sailings from $699 per person.