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Cruising with the Mouse

It was a special occasion calling for a special family gathering. To celebrate both Christmas and Ellen’s birthday, which occurs only three days apart, the family came together on a cruise, and since the family includes grade-school grandchildren, we chose a Disney cruise. We heard Disney provides kids with plenty to do, but what about the adults? Turns out, they could have a great time too, especially if the kid in them, like me, is still alive. Much of a Disney cruise offers the same experiences as other cruise lines, but then there are notable differences.

You’ll get a similar sized cabin with an attentive cabin hand keeping things tidy and clean and providing a couple of chocolates on the bed along with an animal made from towels. The layout of the ship is the same as other cruise lines that only ten years ago were considered large at 2,500 passengers and 1,000 crew. We sailed with Celebrity and Princess on similar ships and had you instantly placed me on any of those ships in the middle of the three-story atrium with glass elevators they all have and let me walk around, I could not tell them apart from the Disney one. (Well, perhaps Mickey and Donald images in the filigree would tip me off.)

In San Juan, a ship carrying over 3,500 passengers pulled up beside us at the dock. It seemed that a huge Miami Beach hotel was slipped onto a barge and pushed out to sea. Except for the enormity, I’m guessing it’s much the same too.

Now for Disney differences. First, Disney characters abound (duh). In the photo accompanying this article, I’m with Goofy who was jogging around the deck. Tiny girls in princess dress meet Disney adult princesses that have been created over the years. (I thought Cinderella carried off being regal particularly well.) The Disney character menagerie has expanded over recent years and now includes Star Wars, which Disney bought from George Lucas recently, and all the Marvel superhero collection. Although not on this cruise, I understand you are as likely to meet Darth Vader as you are Mickey Mouse.

Which leads to another unadvertised advantage: On the cruise, you will view the latest Disney movies, some of which may have premiered the week of the cruise. We saw the newly released Star Wars, Rogue One in 3D, Dr. Strange, and the animated Moana. The movies made at-sea days distinctly different from other cruise lines.

The cruise had not one, but two, activity centers for our grandchildren. There is also a nursery for babies, a club for preteens, and one for teens. Not every child adapts easily to leaving their parents for a club. Our granddaughter was cautious; our grandson, fearless. But they both spent a lot of time in the clubs, nonetheless.

The ship, recognizing the need for ‘adult time.’ does a fine job of cordoning off space for adults only. Two of the pools on the top deck were water parks for kids, one with a large screen showing Disney classics throughout the day, but a walk behind a wall marked “You must be over 18 to enter,” presented a serene pool environment, quiet except for a man preforming classical guitar. Ah, to grab a drink from the on-deck bar and relax on a chaise.

Dining is what you expect from any cruise, with notable exceptions. It is the same experience in that half the passengers are at an early seating and the rest at a later seating. You have the same servers every night. However, there are three dining rooms. You receive your assignments to each spelled out on a ticket in your cabin and your wait staff follows you to each of them. Our head server was very personable, made interesting objects from napkins for the kids, and our grandchildren loved him.

One dining room, the Animator’s Palate, was especially entertaining. Screens around the room displayed animated figures taking shape over the course of the meal. On the first night in this dining room, color was gradually added to what started as black-and-white animation. Then, suddenly, everything exploded in color. Even the wait staff clothing changed from black and white to color. The second night there held something else in store that blew me away. We arrived at the table to find a paper place mat that seemed to be for the kids. However, the wait staff explained that everyone was to draw a person on the mat. Then the mats are collected. I’ll not spoil what eventually happens to the drawings, but it is truly amazing.

A few cruise lines in the Caribbean have their own private island for exclusive use of the ship’s guests. Disney has one called Castaway Cay. It has pristine white sandy beaches with plenty of lounge chairs and separate areas for kids and adults. There are water slides and activities. My granddaughter had her hair braided, and I went parasailing. The food was an extension of the boat’s, meaning there was no additional cost, and it was a welcome change from the ship food with ribs, potato salad, and other cook-out food. Castaway Cay was the best day of the cruise.

I’ve taken cruises, but don’t consider myself a “cruise person.” I’ve been to Disneyland and Disney World, but don’t consider myself a “Disney person.” Although both denials may be due to a touch of snobbism by a person who likes to rent a place in a foreign country and drive around on my own. Yet, when I put that behind me, I must admit, the Disney cruise was a blast!

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