Disney Cruising – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

everything you need to know abut a disney cruise family vacation

I hope you’ve enjoyed following our daily adventures on our Disney Cruise! I wanted to go ahead and do a recap, with a few overarching topics that may or may not have come up in the other posts… essentially, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Disney Cruising.

I’m going to go ahead and start with The Ugly. I really want to end on a high note, so this seems like the best plan. Okay, here it is… LATE DINING SUCKS (and so does seasickness). That’s really all I’ve got for The Ugly. I originally booked our cruise for January 2nd last spring. Midway through the year, we booked a New Year’s Eve wedding. So, our plans of driving to LA were out the window. Once I started trying to book airfare, I realized how crazy expensive it was going to be to fly on January 1st. So, long story short (or more like long story long), I changed the date of our cruise to January 29th.

When you book your cruise determines whether you get main dining or not. By the time I booked Jan. 29th, main dining was full, so we got stuck with late dining, which starts with 8:15 pm. I called before the cruise and requested a change. I also requested a change when we boarded the ship. Unfortunately for us, we were not able to get switched to main dining. Couple that with a two hour time difference that I had failed to take into consideration, and you had a recipe for disaster. Well, not a disaster, but a less-than-ideal situation.

Seasickness was another issue we faced. (Please don’t think I’m blaming this on Disney! I’m just trying to give you a heads up on what you could expect.) We did not expect Josh to get seasick and we certainly didn’t expect him to be as sick as he was. It really put a damper on the trip. I had purchased over-the-counter medicine before we left, as I figured I would get seasick. He took the medicine, but it wasn’t strong enough to really help. Next time we cruise, we’ll opt for the prescription next time. (I highly recommend considering prescription seasickness medication just in case!)

If I had to do it all over again, I would have booked a cruise out of Florida and made certain that we were able to get on main dining. I think those two things right there contributed to our lack of extreme enjoyment (which is what I expected). Now, this is not to say we didn’t have fun. We did! But, our fun was definitely overshadowed by LATE LATE nights and 2-3 hour naptimes every afternoon.

Now, moving on to The Bad. There are several things I would throw in this category, though please understand I am using the term ‘The Bad’ very loosely. My definition would be more like “not ideal”. In The Bad category, we have food, swimming pools, and the kids clubs.

Now, don’t go freaking out on me about the food. Let me explain. The breakfast and lunch buffets are open for about a two hour window every day. The timing of the buffets did not work out too well for us due to the fact that we were eating dinner so late. We weren’t really hungry for lunch at 1 pm. And, the buffet food was so-so. It wasn’t awful, but certainly not anything to get excited about. One day for lunch, I tried the sit-down restaurant. The menu was very limited and the only thing that sounded good was a cheeseburger. Again, it was okay, but not fabulous.

If you miss the buffet, your only options are room service or one of the ‘fast food’ places on deck 9 (pizza, burgers, chicken strips). We ordered from room service a few times, but most of the food was mediocre. (I did enjoy the cheese plate though!) The kids loved the pizza, but I didn’t really enjoy it (sidenote: I love pizza normally!). I’m totally not complaining. I think I had too high of expectations because when you tell people you’re going on a cruise, all you hear about it is how awesome the food is. I’m just warning you that the food on the cruise (with the exception of dinner) was okay, but nothing to get super excited about.

Another thing I wasn’t fond of concerning the food was the lack of kid-friendly options. Maybe my kids are just SUPER picky (this is probably true), but I was shocked by the lack of kid foods. There was macaroni and cheese available at every meal and through room service. But there was never any plain chicken, chicken nuggets, fish nuggets, spaghetti and noodles, or any other kid favorites. Our kids lived on mac n cheese and pizza for the entire week. And vegetables were practically non-existent! I had to request peas every night for the kids at dinner because the options they had available typically involved broccoli and cauliflower.

Now, on to the swimming pools. As you could probably tell from my previous posts, I think the pools are WAY too small. The adults only pool was pretty much always empty and was bigger than (or it least it seemed that way) the Goofy pool (4 ft pool). The Mickey pool was great, but was closed several times. I totally understand that it’s not Disney’s fault that the pool was closed for cleaning due to accidents and kids throwing up. Either way, it was disappointing.

Now, the kids clubs. Don’t get me wrong, Disney made their kids club programs SO awesome! There was always something exciting happening AND they have adjusted the program so that all kids 3-11 (maybe 12, not exactly sure) can be in the Oceaneer’s Club or Oceaneer’s Lab together. The times that Max and Ava were in the clubs, they had an absolute blast. My only disappointment stems from being misinformed early on. I was under the impression that we would be able to hang out WITH the kids in the club for the activities.

For us, we really wanted to maximize family time on the cruise. Once we arrived on the ship, we were informed that we could only stay in the club with the kids during open house hours (typically a 3 hour time window each day which did not work well with our late dining schedule). The rest of the time was what they called a secured program, meaning kids and counselor ONLY, no parents. I totally understand why they do it that way, and I’m probably in the minority for wishing they had more open house hours. Either way, that’s my reasoning for being disappointed in the program. We wanted to be able to do more of the activities they were offering with the kids and not have to just drop them off.

Okay, now it’s time for The Good! This section is going to have lots of things! Included in this category are food, service, entertainment, wave phones, port adventures, and character meetings.

I’m going to start off with food since I’m sure you already noticed I included it in The Bad and The Good. The food every night at dinner was OUTSTANDING. I think they spent the majority of the food budget making sure dinner would rock your world. It sure did! Every night, we had fish and seafood options on the menu, as well as steak most nights (and I believe there was a vegetarian option as well). There were several choices for appetizers, soups, salads, and of course, dessert! We were allowed to order anything we wanted and we both got multiple desserts on more than one occasion ;).

The service on the cruise was simply above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Our stateroom host was Sam, who was friendly and kept our rooms SPOTLESS (that’s kinda hard to do with our family too!). He left towel animals on our bed nightly, as well as Disney chocolates (yum!).

Our servers were Carlo and Andre and they were just amazing! They both went out of their way to get meals and drinks the kids wanted and Carlo spent a good deal of time entertaining our little ones every evening with tricks. Several days into the cruise, we walked into the lunch buffet and Ava started squealing like she’d just seen Mickey Mouse. Nope, it was Carlo! I hope that gives you an idea of how awesome they were… Ava especially is extremely shy, but all of the kids really opened up to both Carlo and Andre by the end of the cruise.

Carlo and Andre also went out of their way to take care of the grown ups. Every night, Carlo would have recommendations for the best items on the menu. I was never disappointed when I took his advice! He often brought me out extra shrimp (mmm… I love shrimp!) and one night he brought me three desserts when I was struggling to decide exactly what I wanted! He also special ordered Indian food for our whole table on two different nights.

In addition to our personal servers and host on the cruise, I have to say, every single crew member we encountered was just awesome! They were always smiling, happy, helpful, polite, and genuinely excited about their job. It was really magical! Sidenote: We’ve been told (not 100% certain if it’s true) that the stateroom hosts and servers only get paid 100% in tips. That would definitely explain their desire to provide top-notch service. (So keep that in mind when it comes time to tip!)

I’m going to talk just briefly about the entertainment. I have rambled on in every post it seems about just how great the entertainment is. It really is! If you enjoy Disney movies (I hope you do if you’re going on this cruise!), you will just LOVE all the shows! The kids really enjoyed them, and I just loved them! In addition to the live musical Disney performances, they brought in several other entertainers, a magician, a juggler, a hypnotist, and a ventriloquist. I could not believe just how much the kids loved the shows. (Sidenote: it kind of reminded me of going to Disney World. Before we went, I thought, why would we pay all that money to get in the park, and then go watch an hour long show? Now I realize that is a HUGE part of the experience.)

The wave phones are something I touched on briefly in one of my posts, but never really explained too much. They were AWESOME! One of the hardest things about being at sea is being disconnected. Josh and I usually have our iPhones with us at all times and we can easily communicate via text message or a quick call. We knew that wouldn’t be feasible on the ship. We were pleasantly surprised to find the wave phones in our rooms. They are like small cordless phones that work only on the ship. You can call between the phones and also send text messages. (Note: the text messaging was very hard for me… I think my iPhone has spoiled me!) These phones were invaluable during our cruise as they allowed us to stay connected to each other even when we were apart.

Next up, Port Adventures. When I first started looking into the Port Adventures, I was pretty bummed. They have SO many awesome choices, but our kids are too small for almost every one. We ended up booking the Las Caletas Hideaway excursion and we were thoroughly pleased with it! It was kinda pricey, but in the end, worth every penny. After visiting Cabo with no Port Adventures booked, I definitely see the benefits of booking directly through the cruise line. Trying to do anything through local vendors was stressful and chaotic to say the least!

The last thing I want to mention is the characters. Before leaving on the cruise, I was very unsure about whether there would be any princesses on board. There was no need to worry! All our favorite princesses were there (except Rapunzel, who I think is just too new). There were many many opportunities to meet and take photos with all the characters they had on the ship. We also got to have a character breakfast (very similar to the character meals at Disney World) one morning and the kids thoroughly enjoyed that. If your kids are prime age, the character meetings will be a huge part of their enjoyment of the cruise!

Okay, so this was LONG! Sorry about that… I hope you find it helpful if you are planning a Disney Cruise. Overall, we had a good time. I think the late dining coupled with the two hour time change put a damper on our fun. BUT, that being said, we will likely do it again in a few years. Next time, I’ll make sure we take a cruise out of Florida (one hour time difference the other direction!) and that we get main dining. And I will head into the cruise with proper expectations. To be honest, I read a guide book about the Disney Cruise and the authors’ enthusiasm led me to set too high of expectations. I don’t think any vacation could have lived up to my expectations. So take my advice, go with proper expectations, get main dining, and pay attention to time changes. If you do, you’re on your way to an awesome family vacation!

Disney Cruising – Day 8

Note: This post was originally written on Sunday, February 5th.

We got up super early this morning. We didn’t really have a choice. We had to be out of our stateroom and at breakfast by 8:30 am with all of our stuff. We set our suitcases out last night so they could be loaded off the ship while we were sleeping.

The ship arrived into the Port of Los Angeles around 7 am. We packed up the rest of our things, woke up the kids, and headed to Triton’s for our final breakfast. We all had usual breakfast fare: pancakes, eggs, sausage, and pastries.

We said our final goodbyes to our new friends Karen, Dan, and Luka and to our awesome servers Carlo and Andre. We dawdled, as we usually did at meals and were one of the last families off the ship. The customs line was LONG, so we waited for about an hour.

It seems pretty overwhelming to go through customs, but it’s a very simple form that you fill out, one per family (as long as you have the same last name and live at the same address). You show the form and your passports (or birth certificates and ID’s), they ask you a couple questions, and you’re done.

After we got through customs, we headed down the Goofy luggage area, picked up our suitcases, and headed out to wait for our friend Brad to pick us up. We had to wait for about an hour because I was misinformed about what time we would be off the ship.

Before we left, I called the Disney Cruise hotline and they told me we would be off around 12 pm noon or 1 pm. On the night before the cruise ended, we found out that everyone had to be off the ship by 9:45 am. So we waited and the kids were antsy, but it wasn’t too bad. But my advice to you is to plan for a ride in the late morning and not early afternoon!

Note: In the hustle and bustle of the day, we didn’t actually take any pictures today. By the time we got to our friend Brian’s house, I had a bad headache that later turned into a migraine. And the craziest thing is, I still felt the rocking of the ship all day long.

Since we didn’t take any pictures today, I’m going to share some that we took last Saturday at Seal Beach. Standing with my feet in the sand, watching my kids splash in the waves and squeal with delight, I’ve never felt so at home. In that moment, an overwhelming rush of this-is-where-we-belong washed over me. I’m not sure if it’s just the pull of the tides or if people in general are just drawn to the ocean. Either way, I’m hoping we can make another trip this summer. (Josh’s note: Or just find some miracle way to move out there. The Solars are ocean folk.)

Thanks for following along with us on our Disney Cruise! Coming up tomorrow, I’ll be sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly about Disney cruising.

portraits of my kids on Seal Beach, California.My son at the Pacific Ocean.Little girl holding a sea shell.Little girl holding her mom's hand by the Seal Beach pier.Kids jumping in the Pacific Ocean waves.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Girl by the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing in the sand.Mom and daughter playing in the Pacific Ocean waves.Mom and daughter playing in the Pacific Ocean waves.Boy jumping in the ocean waves.Girl shadow on the beach.Girl running in the ocean.Boy running in the ocean.Girl running from the cold ocean water.Boy on the beach.Mom and daughter playing in the ocean together.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Boy playing under the Seal Beach pier.Boy playing under the pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Girl playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Girl rocking out by the ocean.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Kids playing under the Seal Beach pier.Portrait of my daughter on Seal Beach in California.The Solars written in sand by my son.

Disney Cruising – Day 7

Note: This post was originally written on Saturday, February 4th.

Lia got up bright and early this morning. Josh took her up to the Beach Blanket Buffet for breakfast. They brought back a giant tray of food for Max and Ava. I got up shortly before breakfast was over and ran upstairs to get some food too. Max and Ava woke up, we all ate, and I started packing.

Josh took Max to the Oceaneer’s Lab to play with his new friend Luka. He took the girls to the Oceaneer’s Club for open house play. They ran around playing on the pirate ship playground. Once open house was over, Josh took Ava to the Lab to hang out with Max and Luka. Lia didn’t want to stay, so she came back to the room with Josh. I finished packing up and Josh headed out for some fresh air.

Lia and I met our new friend Trina and her daughter Rowan who were already in line for the princesses. We chatted and waited for almost an hour and then took pictures with Belle, Ariel, Snow White, and Cinderella. Lia looks mildly scared or unimpressed in her pictures with the princesses, but she was just being shy. Every time she was done with a picture, she came running at me with a giant grin on her face! After that, we picked up Max and Ava, met up with Josh and Trina’s husband Brad and their son Adam for lunch.

We headed up to the Beach Blanket Buffet for the seafood lunch buffet. I was pretty excited about this one… crab legs, shrimp, fish… that’s my kind of buffet! The fish was dry and overcooked and the crab legs weren’t too good. The shrimp was great though!

After lunch, we headed to Wavebands for the 2 pm show with Michael Harrison. He did another ventriloquism and magic show and then he showed the kids how to do a couple tricks. He also did a short lesson on ventriloquism. They really enjoyed it!

After the show, Max wanted to go back to the Oceaneer’s Lab with Luka. The girls wanted to go swimming with Rowan and Adam. So Josh dropped Max off and I took the girls to the Mickey pool. The girls had a blast splashing in the pool with Rowan and Adam while Max did marshmallow olympics with Luka in the Oceaneer’s Lab.

We decided to skip naptime today since it was our last day of the cruise. After swimming, Josh picked up Max and all the kids took a bath. It was very handy having two staterooms (and two bathtubs!) when it came to bathtime. The tubs are way too small for three kids, so we split them up and they still bathed at the same time, just in different rooms.  Once everyone was cleaned up and dressed, we headed down to the Promenade Lounge for the Mix, Mingle, and Dance family event. It was pretty much empty and not what we were expecting. So we decided to wander around the ship a bit and take some pictures.

Around 6 pm, we headed to the Walt Disney Theatre for our final show, Remember the Magic. There were some performances from the Disney characters, along with another hilarious show by Michael Harrison, the ventriloquist. After the show, Max started crying. It was SO sad. He was crying saying he didn’t want the cruise to be over. That turned into him crying because he wanted to buy some Mickey hands from the gift shop. He had already spent his money, but he convinced Ava to buy them with her money.

So, we went to gift shop once again. We bought the Mickey hands. And then, we went to dinner. Dinner tonight was at Triton’s. Josh had steak and I had a shrimp appetizer, a spinach salad, and orange roughy. For dessert, we had chocolate decadence and strawberry cheesecake. Josh also had some baked Alaska.

We finished up dinner and headed to the lobby for the Till We Meet Again final farewell. The kids took a picture with Mickey and got in line for Donald. Unfortunately, we were a few people back in line when they pulled all the characters for the final hurrah. All the characters waved goodbye and bid us a “see you real soon!” The kids were exhausted, so we headed to the room for bed. I can’t believe how quickly this week went by. Vacations always seem to fly by, but this one really went fast!

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