Let me start by telling you about our family's vacation style:
We are a high maintenance family (and we know it) with a strong love for all things Disney. We are DVC owners. We've been to WDW over 40 times. We have food allergies, as well as food and skin sensitivities. Our younger kids typically spend their days with a nanny or at preschool and are used to having personal attention and structure throughout the day; we also have a very independent, confident teenager. We consider ourselves free-range parents and like our kids to try new things and solve their own problems whenever possible. What we love about Walt Disney World and Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is that the cast members are never surprised by our requests or how to care for all of our needs. They often go above and beyond to accommodate us, which is what makes Disney destinations so enjoyable. We usually stay at villas so we have all the comforts of home. (My packing mantra is: if we left it at home we can always get it when we get there. Or as my aunt likes to say, all you need are your pills and money.) We don’t mind lots of walking and our kids often spend long hours in the car traveling to our various vacation destinations. One of us (the 3 year old) is very demanding and wants her needs met immediately and without exception; the rest of us can be relaxed and go with the flow. Staying well fed and rested is a key to our family happiness.
My expectations for this cruise were as follows:
- Our free range style would be an asset to cruising.
- Our kids would adore the kids club.
- Our servers and the chef at each dining location would meet my high expectations for eating with food allergies and sensitivities as they concistently do at WDW.
- There would be plenty for us to find to do at our own pace (as there is in the parks).
- We would adore cruising in the same way we adore all our other Disney experiences.
- Dining at Remy would be out of this world.
- Renting a cabana would enhance our Castaway Cay day.
- We would be able to have down time in our room the same way we do at WDW for nap time.
- Disney magic would find us everywhere.
- Our free range style was hard to maintain with such a strict schedule on such a short cruise. When I say strict schedule, I mean that unlike the parks, you can't choose from 12 dinner ADRs; there are two seatings. Take the time you want or don't eat in the dining room that night. If you want to see the show, there are not 4 times to see it, there are two. You will want to make sure you get there on time to find a good seat. We are not very good at that sort of thing as a family. We tend to get there when we get there. It was hard for us to adhere to a schedule we did not set for ourselves.
- Our kids loved the kids club at open house times, but hated the kids club when we were not there with them; they cried the entire time they were there. And even 30 minutes of them being in there alone (and crying) was not enough to convince them to stay. The counselors called us on the wave phone and requested we come get them.
- Our dining experience was exceptionally disappointing in the main dining rooms and with room service. Our food allergies and sensitivities made me feel like we were a burden. This has never happened to me with Disney before this experience. And my understanding is that it doesn't happen this way for most. I think our experience was abnormal, and my failure to research ahead hurt us, but still, it happened and our vacation was definitely worse off for it.
- There was plenty for us to do but not at our own pace; we found we needed to be much more regulated than we usually are, which contributed to our overall frustration with one another. There was a lot of hurry up going on with our family or deciding too late to try an activity.
- We do not adore cruising with toddlers. Especially our toddlers, who need lots of individual attention, cannot express their desires adequately, and require special food.
- Dining at Remy was out of this world and I loved every single moment. I would book that experience over and over again. Everyone from the sommelier, to our server, to the cheese master made our evening sublime.
- Renting the cabana on Castaway Cay saved our vacation. It was far and away the most wonderful thing we did. We finally felt like we were a part of something Disney. And we were finally pampered in every way imaginable. Even the little ones were happy to be independently playing in the water and able to spread out.
- Our children never napped. No not once. And trying to nap in the stateroom is a fools errand to begin with. The 5 of us maxed out the space in the room. While it was very nice for everything else, trying to rest midday was a total misfire.
- Disney magic was sparse on this trip. And that was the most disappointing thing of all. We certainly had some magical moments, and the concierge staff when above and beyond to make our stay as lovely as possible, but the overall tone of this trip was definitely in a minor key.
- We should have booked a longer cruise. This felt like a such a compact cruise with barely enough time to see and do the standard cruise things. We really needed AT LEAST another day to fully enjoy all there was to see and do, and to get there on our own timetable.
- Our toddlers are just not fit for cruise travel. They are slow moving, and they were tired and cranky for most of the time we were on board. Imagine having a 30-pound howler monkey tied to your hip for 3 days. That was us. The little ones simply would not spend any time on their own. I was actually in tears our third morning at the prospect of having to literally drag my family around the ship one more day. Fortunately, Castaway Cay saved me.
- Our food allergies and sensitivities made it VERY DIFFICULT to find food in any reasonable amount of time and our head server seemed very new to the Disney way. This was a huge disappointment for us. I'll do a whole write up on that later but suffice it to say, this was sorely disappointing next to the stellar service and quality we receive in the parks. In fact, it was the #2 reason our trip was so trying.
- We simply could not get what we had forgotten to bring with us. The ship's shops were closed every time we were in port (which on a 3-day cruise is every day); we would have purchased the things we forgot to pack (hoodies, sunglasses, packaged snacks and sunscreen) had we had the opportunity.
- I failed to do any substantial research for our cruise. I cannot emphasize this enough. I didn't even know about debarkation. THAT was a spectacular fail. I'll tell you all about it in a separate post. It's comical how badly we failed that; you would have to try very hard to do it worse than we did! I wish I had researched what to expect in the dining room, with food allergies, at the pool, and traveling with toddlers. All of that would have gone a very long way to make our vacation more enjoyable. If we hadn't had the concierges to guide us I think our entire family might have been reduced to bloody stumps of people.
Will we try it again? Probably. We would either wait a couple years for the little ones to be a bit more self reliant, or we would consider going just as the adults and leaving the little ones with the grandparents. And we would definitely book a longer cruise. Three days was just too short. And now that I know what I need to know more about, it can only help us to plan better and be more proactive about making sure our travel meets our expectations.
I'd love to hear about your cruise experiences here! If it was great and you love to cruise, share what makes it so marvelous for you. If you have grizzly stories, well, misery loves company! Bring them on. I'd love to hear about them too! Until next time, fellow Disney travelers, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!