Our reporter says Disney has the best family stage shows on the high seas. Other great family options, too.CruiseMates Family Editor
When it comes to family cruising, some kids prefer to spend the entire cruise in youth programming activities. While this is great, most parents would like to interact at least a bit with their kids during vacation since home life is usually too hectic for quality family time. On the other hand, there are other children who want to spend their entire cruise with their parents. Whether your child is the former or latter, you won't have any concerns while aboard a Disney cruise since there are outstanding youth activities in the kids' clubs (Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab) AND non-stop family activities held on the ship as well as Disney's private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay.
Recently my six-year-old son Ethan, 14-year-old daughter Alex and her friend Callie went on a three-night Disney Wonder cruise. Since my kids don't usually get to take a friend on a cruise, they were thrilled to run around the ship together checking out the many family-friendly activities that we could all participate in despite the disparity in the kids' ages. Here are the myriad of family activities that Disney offers on Disney Wonder or Disney Magic cruises.
Wholesome Stage Shows Hands down, Disney Cruise Line has the best family stage shows on the high seas. There isn't a show on either ship that is not geared to families and totally appropriate to bring children to. That means you don't have to be concerned about feathered dancers sporting suggestive clothes on stage as there sometimes are on other cruise lines.
On our April cruise, we saw the premiere of Toy Story -- The Musical. This is the first time that the Disney-Pixar movie has been adapted for the stage. The show features 35 toy characters and two human characters. What my kids enjoyed most -- as did I -- was the great stage effects whereby most of the toys and props were huge in order to transform the stage into a toy-sized world. For example, the toy chest in the opening scene is 12 feet tall and Rex the dinosaur is 9 feet tall. The show definitely kept Ethan awake despite a long day of traveling to the ship that day!
Toy Story joins a long line of top-rate DCL family stage shows. My daughter's favorite stage show at sea (she's 14 and went on her first Disney cruise when she was five) still is Disney Dreams, An Enchanted Classic. Disney Dreams is about how Disney characters (Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, Ariel and others) teach a young girl to follow her dreams.
The third stage show on a three-night cruise is The Golden Mickeys, a musical salute to Walt Disney and his animation. The kids got a kick out of the people dressed up outside the theater as 1930's-style movie ushers as well as the pre-show interviews of kids about their favorite Disney characters. This was then aired inside the theater as guests awaited the show to commence.
Since the Disney Magic sails seven-day itineraries, there are obviously more stage shows on this ship than ours. These include Hercules -- The Muse-ical, which is a vaudevillian-style review dedicated to Hercules. There are also welcome aboard and farewell stage shows on the Magic too which are full of Disney characters.
Family Festivities While I'm not a big fan of allowing my children to stand in long, hot lines in Disney World to get a photo or autograph of Disney characters, I welcome character greetings while on the Disney ships. They are much more low-key events with shorter lines than at the theme parks. Each ship has a board in the lobby which posts the time and place of character greetings each day so that you can plan ahead of time to have your kids meet their favorite Disney characters.
At the end of each cruise, characters gather late at night in the lobby all at once for a final farewell called "Till We Meet Again." This is a great opportunity to get close up pictures of all your child's favorite characters.
On seven day cruises, there are "The Golden Mickeys Backstage Pass After Parties" which feature a family and adult party where guests can be a part of the "Hollywood In-Crowd." Families can dance to live music and enjoy a sing-a-long at Studio Sea, while the adult party is in the nighttime adult entertainment district.
Both ships feature Pirate Night which begins with pirate motif bandanas placed at each guest's dinner table along with a menu printed like a pirates' treasure map. The activity gets ramped up many notches during the "Pirates IN the Caribbean" deck party with performers rapelling from atop the funnel; music; and Captain Mickey coming to save the day. Fireworks dazzle guests at the finale of the party.
Family Friendly Facilities Water activities are ever popular on the Disney Magic and Wonder with families. The biggest hit is the Mickey water slide which is cradled in a giant white gloved hand of Mickey Mouse. All three kids spent many happy moments enjoying the water slide.
Disney ships have three pools: Quiet Cove pool for adults only; Goofy pool for children and adults; and Mickey pool for little ones. The Goofy pool is very popular -- actually, too popular. That said, make sure you watch your child carefully in this pool since it gets very crowded and is very deep. The Mickey pool is great for littler ones since the water level is low. On the Disney Magic there are now two areas for those in diapers that have separate filtration systems: in one of the ears of the Mickey pool as well as in the separate Mickey's Splash Zone adjacent to the Mickey pool. At the latter, there are a few sprays to delight little ones. On the Disney Wonder, Mickey's Splash Zone is the sole spot for diapered children.
Another kid mecca is the video arcade. Located on the pool deck, this is a very loud and popular spot.
Poolside, there is a large outdoor screen for Disney movies. In addition, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have comfortable indoor movie theatres which feature different shows nightly. All new Disney movies are premiered in lavish Disney style on their ships in these theatres. And keeping with the Disney theme, there is a plethora of Disney movies shown around the clock in guests' cabins too.
Everyday Family Activities When it comes to programming, Disney makes sure there is always something available for families to do aboard ship. There is a special section of the daily program that highlights the daily activities just for families.
Here is a sampling of just a few of the many family fun 'n games you can participate in:
- Family Dance Party ala High School musical
- Family Bingo
- Family Karaoke
- Animation techniques at Animator's Palate
- Kite making (so that you can "Go Fly A Kite" just like Mary Poppins while at Castaway Cay)
- Games at Studio Sea: There is a huge choice of short, after dinner type games offered nightly, ranging from Pirate Trivia to Mickey Mania
What we liked a lot about the Disney programming is that there are family activities to participate in after first seating dinner. We always eat first seating when we cruise and on other cruise lines there is nothing to do after early dinner except walk around and wait for the stage show to start. This is prime family time since we're finally all in one place and were pleased to have something to do together then.
Castaway Cay Activities Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, is a family paradise. Actually, it gets such rave reviews that some seven-day itineraries call at Castaway twice per voyage.
There are a few different beach spots including a family beach, an adults only beach and a teens only beach. Water sports abound all over the island. You can rent a wide variety of water "toys" either ahead of time via the shore excursions desk or on the island that day.
We participated in Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure. This is a great way to encounter and learn about stingrays since you're only in ankle deep water. After feeding the stingrays you can snorkel with them. While I enjoyed both the feeding and swimming with the stingrays, my six-year-old son was a bit afraid of swimming with these gentle giants, so he hung out on the beach while I swam. Also, the stingers are taken out of the stingrays here so that they can't cause injury to participants.
School aged kids and teens enjoy Grouper Game Pavilion which is a covered area near Stingray Rays and the teen beach. There are many games here for youngsters to play independently including hoops, foosball, etc.
While there are organized youth activities at Scuttle's Cove under the direction of the youth counselors, there are also plenty of family activities for land lubbers if you'd prefer to spend the day with your child and not drop them off at Scuttle's Cove. There's an open "dig" at Monstro Point, which is a fake whale skeleton in the sand at Scuttle's Cove. (See daily program for times.) There is also a family scavenger hunt on the island.
However, Castaway Cay is such an idyllic place, your family might be very content just frolicking in the water; climbing and jumping off the jungle gym apparatus in the water; or just hanging out for a change. For if you take away all the bells and whistles, isn't a family cruise really all about having the opportunity to connect with your kids? Disney fosters this better than anyone on the high seas.