The real truth about taking a Disney Cruise with a toddler. Are you ready to travel on DCL with your toddler, or should you wait it out? Let’s find out.
In a previous post, I shared about everything we did to prepare for a Disney Cruise with our toddler. While writing it, I found myself compelled to bring you more informative information about our experience with the cruise itself. Eventually, the post became more like a mini-book. The whole topic about preparing for and taking a Disney Cruise with a toddler encompassed more information than I felt fit comfortably in one post. So, I chose to divide it up and offer a second post sharing our actual experience on a Disney Cruise with our toddler.
I’ll tell the good and the bad of cruising with a toddler. Hopefully you’ll have enough information to help you determine if taking a cruise with a toddler on the Disney Cruise Line is something you should consider.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re packing and taking with you, it’s time to embark on your journey. Spend a few minutes online pre-registering you and your family on Disney’s Cruise website! You will get all the boring and tedious contracts and waiver documents done online which will save you a lot of time in the line. You can also schedule your arrival and boarding time in advance! We chose the 2:00 – 2:30 arrival time and were processed rather quickly (aside from the wait in lines). Since boarding opened at 1:30, we were able to immediately board the ship.
Our Bahamian cruise was in early September on the Disney Dream for 4 nights from Port Canaveral, FL. It was myself, hubby, and 2-year-old daughter in celebration of her 2nd Birthday and our 4 year wedding anniversary.
What to Expect on a Disney Cruise with a Toddler
Check out what we did to prepare for our family’s Disney Cruise.
I’m disappointed to find that we paid the same cruise fair for our two-year-old vs. children of other ages. She wasn’t eligible to participate in the free children’s programming and was limited to the splash pad because she isn’t potty trained. If we wanted baby-free time, we had to utilize the nursery at $6 per hour.
Pricing for the cruise, in general, was a little more than we wanted to pay, but the experience being geared to children made our minds up. Plus, she was able to see Mickey and his friends more than we could have if we’d visited Disney (in my opinion)!!
Book Your Shore Excursions and On-Board Activities
DO THIS AS SOON AS THE SYSTEM ALLOWS! We waited a while to register because we were waiting for my passport to arrive to be sure I was actually going to be able to cruise. And, because we waited until 4 weeks before the cruise, when it came to booking our adult dinner and several other onboard activities, there were little to no availabilities for the things we wanted. There were only a couple of dinner reservations available on the 1st night of the cruise and one or two slots in a virtual golf simulator for hubby to do on the full day of sea. Private cabanas on Castaway Cay were all booked as well as many shore excursions for both Nassau and Castaway Cay. Lesson: book your activities as early as the online system allows!
Children’s Activities On Board the Ship
Children 3 and under can go into the nursery
At the time I originally wrote this post, the charge per hour was $6 (with a discounted hourly rate for subsequent children in your party).
When we began looking at cruises, we were disappointed that we had to pay for our 2-year-old to join us AND we would have to pay by the hour to use the Nursery as she wasn’t eligible to use the other “clubs” (aka Children’s Programming). We did use the nursery one night and were happy to have a quiet adult-only dinner for one night. The other thing to note is that, based on the length of the trip, we could only utilize 10 hours of nursery services for the entire 4-night cruise.
If you’re looking to put your child(ren) into the nursery, I’d recommend booking this at the time you’re doing the rest of your bookings to ensure they can take your child(ren) when you need it.
Swimming and Splash Pad
Because our 2-year-old wasn’t fully potty trained, she wasn’t able to use ANY of the onboard swimming pools, which we hadn’t realized at the time of booking.
The Nemo’s splash pad was the only on-board water activity available to her. While it was adorable and had a cute water slide, baby girl kept asking to go to the pool. I would love to see the addition of an UN-potty-trained toddler-friendly pool – this feature would have been a greatly appreciated amenity to my daughter.
Children aged 3 and older are eligible to participate in the children’s programming that doesn’t cost extra. They still must be fully potty trained to use the swimming pools onboard the ship. This leaves us at a huge disadvantage when taking a Disney Cruise with a toddler. There were plenty of areas that the little one wanted to explore. Plus, mom and dad would have liked a little more alone time to enjoy the pools or other activities together.
I was pleasantly surprised by Disney’s food in the main dining rooms. Excellent quality food was served with a good amount of spices, though the portions were sometimes small. The food was presented as an upscale restaurant would do, which isn’t necessary, in my opinion. I’d prefer an ample amount of food on my plate in lieu of making it look pretty.
Prepare to rotate dining rooms throughout your time on the ship. You’ll receive your dining room assignments on tickets in your stateroom the day you board the ship.
Additionally, you’ll be assigned to a table with at least one other family who will dine with you throughout the cruise. We were lucky enough to get a family with a daughter approximately the same age as baby girl. The conversation was just enough to not be uncomfortable without also being overwhelming. Definitely got lucky!
There were ample character greets and photo opportunities.
If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, you know the lines for character greets can be nearly as bad as lines for rides. This is one major benefit of a Disney Cruise with a toddler. The lines to meet characters were never more than a few minutes, even if you weren’t one of the lucky few in the front! But, you know any wait for a toddler is overwhelming.
The end result, however, is totally worth it when your toddler FINALLY gets to hug his/her favorite character.
For Nassau, we chose to pay $169 per person for the Atlantis Aquaventure. Children under 3 were free (and the system will not allow you to select them for the excursion) and it included lunch for the two paying adults. I have mixed feelings about the excursion. Firstly, the park is HUGE! We weren’t prepared for how much walking was involved. Honestly, I felt tired by the time we arrived to actually start playing in the pools because I’d walked a lot with a toddler in my arms.
Since baby girl wasn’t charged, they didn’t supply us with a meal ticket for her – if she had wanted a lunch, we would have had to pay for her. When we asked about her meal, the staff told us that we should have gotten a meal ticket from our cruise line. I suggest contacting Disney directly if you book this excursion to make sure your child receives a meal ticket in this instance.
In general, for this particular trip, we chose to use ONLY Disney’s site to book our excursions. Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island so we couldn’t use a non-affiliated site to book anything for that day anyway. You could potentially save money using another site for shore trips, not on their private islands, but you also assume the risk of not making it back to the ship should something happen. I’m not against non-affiliated sites either though.
The excursion we chose in Castaway Cay wasn’t terribly expensive or long. We decided a glass-bottom boat ride would be nice for the whole family. Turns out, this isn’t a typical glass-bottom boat and didn’t end up being as exciting as I’d thought. When I think of a glass-bottom boat, I think of one that has a full glass bottom with seats surrounding the floor so that you can just sit and enjoy the view. Not the case. In order to see out the glass bottom, you had to stand up and look over the railing down into a pit. There wasn’t as much sea life as I’d hoped to have seen and trying to feed the fish over the side of the boat was impossible for small children. It seemed most of the children were bored with the ride.
The night before disembarking a Disney Cruise with a toddler, you are posed with two options for your morning departure. You can either a) have everything but carry on items packed and set out of the room by about 10:30 (maybe it was 11:30) p.m. with non-electronically coded tags if you want assistance or b) get off the ship a little earlier with no assistance with all of your baggage.
Well, we chose to put our baggage out of the door the night before and go have our final breakfast in the dining room. Turns out, we didn’t really gain any more from the option we chose, other than eating breakfast that we didn’t have to pay for.
Here’s what we discovered:
* Breakfast in the dining room was rushed and we didn’t receive the same level of attention from our waitstaff
* We were directed to luggage pickup. You had to remember the color of your tags with what character in order to locate the luggage yourself. One of our pieces couldn’t be located easily because it was hidden behind a larger bag. Because nothing was coded, there would have been no way to track your luggage.
* If you wanted assistance with your luggage to the car, you had to pay someone. That’s fine and all, except that’s not how it’s presented.
* There was still a waiting line to get through customs
Truthfully, neither option seemed better than the other when it was all said and done. Like I said, at least we received breakfast on the final day that technically we paid for in the cost of the cruise anyway.
Overall Experience: The Reality of a Disney Cruise with a Toddler
I had a great deal of fun and I bet it would be amazing to do this again in the future when S is out of diapers and can participate in the kid activities that are included in the price of the cruise. At the time we went on this cruise, we didn’t feel comfortable paying extra for daycare services.
That said, our enjoyment of the cruise and inability to experience some of the activities at night made it nearly impossible for us to believe it was worth the price to take a Disney Cruise with a toddler again.
We later priced a stay at Nassau for the same amount of nights, just to compare costs. Booking a hotel that included unlimited access to Atlantis water park and factoring in flight costs, a trip would cost us nearly $1k less and we’d have to freedom to eat where we liked.
Tough call. Tons of fun and the little one loved seeing the characters. Still, I believe we should have waited until she was older so she could stay up later (allowing us to catch shows/fireworks), enjoy the pools, and to let her enjoy the free children’s activities.
What do you think? Is it worth going on a Disney Cruise with a toddler?
If you’ve taken a Disney Cruise with a toddler, I’d like to know about your experience! If not, do you think you want to, or are you waiting until the kids get older?