I had heard about the GOES Trusted Traveler (Global Entry) card issued by the federal government and decided it was something we had to have. As you can tell from the blog, we are avid travelers. We loathe the whole standing in line at the airport process. And traveling with a baby makes the airport lines even more annoying. I thought I would explain the process that we went through so others can decide if this is something that they’d be interested in obtaining. (This article was originally published on our other page in early 2014.)
We filled out our online application Sunday evening, December 1st and paid $100 per application. We were notified December 10th that we were ‘conditionally approved’. This notification came by an email that told us to check our GOES account. My husband was approved first, even though I submitted mine a couple hours before his. I have a feeling they did an alphabetical mass emailing situation and as such his arrived first… (We have different last names.) Upon learning of his approval I asked to check the dates available to interview. He was given a date 2 days later. I said let’s wait until I am approved so we can go together. A few hours later my email arrived. So we went online to schedule our interviews- the first place we checked was available sometime in January. Sigh. So we checked at the airport and they had a time for Christmas Eve at 5 pm and then nothing until New Years Eve. We went to our “interview” on NYE. On the notice it did remind you to bring your passport and the conditional approval letter (which has your GOES account number). They also requested another photo id like a drivers license when we arrived for the interview.
The interview was really nothing. (My understanding is it could be lengthier if there is something in your history that interests them.) They did our interview together. They asked if we had traveled to Mexico and Canada in the past 5 years. They also asked if we were ever charged with a crime. And if we had gotten finger prints taken before by a government entity. They did not ask any questions to or about our 6 month old baby. We were advised that we had been approved that day and that the baby’s approval would come in a few days since they couldn’t do finger prints for him. [His approval came later that day.]
Our cards arrived on January 6th. A mere 6 days after the interview, and those 6 days included a weekend and a holiday!!
Getting through the lines at the airport will be more convenient with our card as it also allows you to get through the TSA Pre✓™ line at the airport if you are you flying on a participating airline.
We have since used our Pre✓™ status flying Delta at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and at Miami International. Detroit had the LONGEST line, but then most people were going through the normal security process at the end of the line. Upon our reaching the first TSA individual, he noted the TSA Pre✓™ on our boarding passes, scanned them and we heard the 3 beeps sounding our approval to move to through the to the Pre✓™ screening. Wow, it was so nice! We were traveling with our infant, so I just carried him through. My shoes remained on, and they scanned our bags and stroller. They did a quick test on the water that we had (because we were travelling with an infant) and we were through. I LOVE PRE-CHECK! What an easy system. Likewise in Miami we were able to proceed through the quicker security. They did tell us there that the baby’s water should all be in a separate container instead of some in my backpack and some in my husband’s. Miami’s Pre✓line was SHORT. Honestly it was a dream and the best spent $300 I spent this year. I don’t want to praise it too much as everyone will want it, but man was it nice. Please respond if you have any questions!
(This post was previously published by Christy in May 2015 on another page that we are moving away from.)
This past winter (2015) I was able to cruise Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line/Royal Caribbean International (RCI) within 6 weeks of each other. Cruising so recently makes a comparison that much easier. This comparison of Disney vs. Royal Caribbean will go through many of the main components of each cruise.
Cruising were myself, my husband, our 21/22 month old and his grandmother (my mother). The first cruise was on the Disney Magic and the second was on the Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship. We all really enjoyed ourselves on both cruises but there were some standouts to each. [My family cruised the Disney Fantasy a year ago so that experience comes into the review as well.]
Let’s start with a comparison of the most important aspect of a cruise- the food! All joking aside, food likes are very subjective. For the most part we enjoyed our meals on both cruises.
Meals in the dining room. The food quality was slightly better on DCL, but we still very much enjoyed our RCI meals. My mom thought the lobster she was served on RCI was some of the best she had ever had, and she had several pieces. The service in the dining room for dinner was better on RCI. I have celiac and thus have to eat gluten free (GF). I had less problems for the most part with delays with my meal on RCI. One dinner, I waited over 45 minutes to receive my first course on Disney. There was one lunch at RCI that I had some gluten contamination in the dining room no less. [What makes this interesting is RCI told me to eat in the dining room in order to avoid cross contamination with gluten.]
Meals in the buffets. The service on Disney was better. They were really happy to walk me through to look for GF options. RCI tended to want to push me to the GF section that had one bland looking entrée and an even worse side dish (think plain white rice.) [I’m not sure why people confuse gluten free with no taste or seasonings.] My picky eater husband felt that he had more choices on DCL. The drink service at the buffet was better on RCI. They were terrific at getting you drinks while you were you dining in the buffet.
Other dining venues. RCI wins for the average eating with options for food throughout the day. One of my biggest complaints about DCL is the limited hours of operation of the buffet and the dining choices when the buffet is not open. The “quick service” on DCL is usually mediocre at best. RCI has several dining choices on the promenade as well as longer hours with offerings at the buffet. Disney wins however for gluten free pizza. It was fresh and amazing. Sbarros on RCI served me a “soggy mass”, as my husband described it.
As for the specialty restaurants – our experience was definitely effected by my need to eat gluten free. Disney was amazing. It was almost as if the chef at Palo made it his personal mission for the week to find me amazing food to eat. On RCI we dined at Giovanni’s Table for our specialty meal. I had to ask 3 times if something was GF only to find out that what they served me was not. We were also very unimpressed with the service at Giovanni’s which tainted the whole experience.
Room service. Neither line is great, but both were okay. You can get Mickey bars on Disney, and at one time, rice crispy treats (I don’t know if they are still offered though.) Both offer cheese plates. Neither offer gluten free crackers. Royal Caribbean is starting to charge for some items, but Disney offers less in the first place.
The cabins. People LOOOVE the split bathrooms on Disney. There is a shower (with a little tub in most categories) and sink in one room, and a toilet and sink in another. My family is not big enough, nor is my son old enough, for the split bathroom to matter. But I can see why people get excited about that. The little tub provided by Disney is awesome for those with little ones. To get a tub on RCI you need a suite. And those tubs are the large soaking tubs which does tend to make it more difficult to bathe a little one. The cabins are larger on Disney. In fact, the cabins on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships keep getting smaller and smaller. Disney also has a curtain to separate the kid’s sleeping area from the parents.
As far as amenities provided- in my opinion, Disney has the best body lotion of any line. They also provide every cabin with bar soap and a separate shampoo and conditioner. RCI does the combined bulk shampoo/conditioner attached to the wall in the shower. For the price point, I think this is a little cheap of them. [Suite guests are provided with a separate shampoo and conditioner.] I would say the cabins are close on both lines, but ultimately Disney slightly edges out RCI.
On to entertainment and activities. Both lines offered evening shows each night. The shows were past my son’s bedtime so we didn’t watch any in the theatres. We did watch the Disney productions on the TV in our cabin. For child orientated entertainment, Disney obviously wins by a landslide. Each evening there are shows that would be entertaining to both children and adults. RCI’s entertainment is not created with children in mind. I am sure older children will find the shows enjoyable but your typical toddler would not likely sit through it. Royal Caribbean does have an ice show on its ships with a rink. My son was mesmerized by the show. He sat through the entire 45 minutes. Both lines offered a Love and Marriage (Newlywed) show for adults that were equally entertaining.
Toddler organized activities. RCI has a great toy lending program where you can sign out a bag of toys. Disney didn’t have anything like that. Royal Caribbean also offered an open play with toys and books. It was in located in the teen night club. Disney takes the win though for organized toddler activities. They have staff there to play with the kids. They offer different activities at various times of the day. It is a scheduled event so some people may not prefer that, but we preferred it over just open play for the whole day. Disney also offered dance parties with the characters which were SO MUCH FUN. My son LOVED it. The characters would come out and dance to about 3 songs. Disney definitely wins on this area for us.
Kids Clubs. To get to the kids club or the toddler play areas on RCI you had to walk through the arcade. This is VERY irritating to me. Of course your child will want to play with the brightly colored arcade games while walking through. And then even if you limit charging privileges for your kids in other areas of the ship, those limits apparently do not apply in the arcade, per the sign on the machines.
Toddler outdoor water areas. The smoking section is very close to the toddler/infant wading pool on RCI. And the brightly colored splash pad for non-diapered kids is right next to and in full sight of the toddler section. This is a problem with older toddlers that can clearly see the fun brightly colored splash pad for bigger kids. DCL has a dedicated splash pad for toddlers. On the newer ships there is even a little slide in the Nemo’s reef area. On the Magic Donald’s nephews have a little splash pad that is adorable. The splash pads on Disney are definitely designed for toddlers and infants in mind. The theming is terrific. The win goes to DCL for sure, even on the smaller older ships.
Shore excursions: Cabanas. The only ‘shore excursion’ that we did on both cruises were renting cabanas for the day on the private islands. Disney’s cabana is 3 times the price of RCI, but there are so many extras and that was worth it to us. The main difference was that the beach was just for people in the cabana. Royal Caribbean allows the beach to be used by those in the cabana and everyone else. There was a lot of smoking on RCI’s beach (we were at Labadee). It was just crowded and people put their chairs everywhere! Just below the stairs of the cabana were people’s chairs we would have to walk around to get out of the cabana. This was not ideal. The definite nod goes to DCL.
Shopping. The shopping was all around better on RCI. We loved the promenade. There were many choices of things to purchase. Disney basically just had their own items for sale. The ship’s salespeople on the Freedom (RCI) in the jewelry shop were very PUSHY. That was the only real disadvantage of RCI. Overall though RCI definitely wins for shops.
Character Experience. RCI has the DreamWorks characters on board. Disney, hands down, is just better with the whole character experience. RCI offers a DreamWorks parade, which in concept is a great idea, it is just not executed very well. Disney wins with characters.
Taking our toddler out of the mix for entertainment, then RCI would be more competitive. The rock climbing wall is awesome and the ice skating rink is unique. They also offer a surfing experience. All of those neat extras are included in your cruise fare.
Extra miscellaneous comparisons. Royal Caribbean offers a drink package where you can prepay for your alcohol or coffee drinks. Disney allows you to carry on as much alcohol as you’d like to consume for the week (see the end of this paragraph for an update on this information), but it isn’t comparable. People don’t want to run to their room to get a drink; they want to drink by the pool, and drink at dinner, etc. The prices though to pay out of pocket for a drink on RCI seemed a little high this last cruise – it was $9 for a gin (Tanqueray) and tonic. On RCI, you can bring on 2 bottles of wine, but no liquor. [Edited in September 2015 to note that Disney has changed their alcohol policy for sailings after approximately Sept. 27, 2015 that liquor is no longer allowed to be brought onboard, beer in limited amounts is okay, and 2 bottles of wine per cabin is allowable. This does even the playing field as far liquor is concerned.]
The thing I disliked the most on Royal Caribbean – smoking in the casino. The smell would waft up from the casino on the 4th floor to the promenade on the 5th floor. According to my mom, the slot machines they offer in the smoke free section of the casino were “dumb.” Such a wordsmith my mother. Either way, she and my husband would have gambled more but for the smoky casino.
We really enjoyed both cruises. In fact we have future cruises booked on both lines. Disney is without a doubt more expensive. But they truly do cater to children, toddlers specifically. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the lines in the comments below or share your thoughts comparing both lines.
To see pictures of both cruise lines, check out my photos on Instragram.
I used to think that cruises were only to be taken in the late fall/winter when Michigan was too cold to be outside. I live in Michigan and it is beautiful in the summer here. I thought we should just be doing ‘up north’ vacations orstaycations. The other thought I had was that summer cruises were just for those people with school aged children that didn’t want to take their kids out of school, or finally it was for teachers that couldn’t get away for a reasonable rate any other time. I WAS WRONG on all of my assumptions.
This June I became OBSESSED with taking a summer vacation. My son had just turned 2 and except for meltdowns when he didn’t get his way, he was at a really fun age. I started thinking of all of the different options for taking a summer vacation- going to see family out of state, going up north, going to Florida. I determined that those options seemed either entirely too hot, or like too much work. I wanted to relax with my family and I wanted it to be the easiest possible vacation.
Ahhh, so was born the thought of taking a cruise as our summer vacation. On a cruise I don’t have to make my bed (as if I do anyway), I don’t have to cook, or do dishes, or pretty much anything. As a travel agent I am enabled the opportunity to take a last minute cruise at a discounted rate. I searched all the lines. We needed something which had a splash pad/pool where diapered babies/toddlers could play. [There is an regulation that requires children to be potty trained before using a pool, or any shared water. Swim diapers are not allowed.] We also wanted something before it was too late into the hurricane season. [Hurricane season technically runs June 1st – November 30th in the Atlantic. But the reality is there are rarely hurricanes that affect travel before mid-August. I find mid-late October to be safe, or less risky, but I am not a weather professional.] There were some options for us to cruise in early July but unfortunately those didn’t work with my husband’s work schedule or our previous family obligations.
We ended up choosing a week long cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy in mid July. It was a great week! We relaxed, we played, it was just all around fun.
The seas were the absolute calmest I have ever experienced in 30 years of cruising. (It saddens me that I can say that my first cruise was 30 years ago! I shouldn’t be old enough to have that long of a frame of reference. But I digress…) It was calm. I barely needed motion sickness medicine, I never had that feeling once we were back on land of still being on a moving ship. It was SO CALM!
It was also quite warm, as would be expected. But the Caribbean breeze did make things reasonable.
So that is how I came to take my first summer cruise. I would definitely do it again, and I would definitely recommend it to others.
Have you ever cruised in the summer? What were your thoughts?
A recap of where I went and what we thought of it in 2016.
Paris, France. My husband had to be in Europe for work and it saved his employer significant money for us to be in Paris for a few days before his work meeting. It was a remarkable adults only trip. While it was only 3 days, we hit all the major landmarks and really had a terrific time.
Disney Cruise aboard the Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean. We had a great week. Traveling was my husband, son, and mom. We all really enjoyed ourselves. We upgraded our cabin to a concierge 1 -bedroom suite at the pier and really enjoyed the concierge benefits and service. If you’re interested in upgrading at pier, here’s the information on how to do that. This cruise was originally booked as a Royal Caribbean Cruise with some extended family. But the family members had to cancel and we moved our cruise to Disney. I just picked the week with the least expensive 7 night cruise on the Fantasy. We had a terrific time and were glad we made the switch. Disney offers so many activities for kids under 3.
Cozumel, Mexico. Secrets Aura. I have friends that married on Leap Year. Each Leap Year they celebrate their anniversary with a bunch of their friends at a new destination. Most of the group stayed a week, while we were there 3 nights. It was a terrific short getaway for my husband and I that included a lot of book reading at the pool.
He’s free before he’s 3 Walt Disney World Vacation. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. The premise of this trip was that it was the last time my son could enter the parks for no charge (free) and could eat buffet meals for no charge. It was an amazing trip. However, it was our most challenging at Disney World with our son. He was one month shy of 3 and was very opinionated, plus a bit all over the place. I.e. one day he wanted to ride the train over everything else, until the train arrived, then he wanted nothing to do with it… But the trip overall was great. At some point you have to make a deluxe king room at the Grand Floridian work, even if it’s just a couple days. If you get one of the corner rooms you can hear the band and piano player play while you are in bed. It’s one of my favorite vacation memories of the year.
Disney Cruise aboard the Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean. (Yes, we did this itinerary twice in 1 year.) This cruise was immediately following the DW vacation. That was the first time we combined both a land and cruise trip together and we really liked it. My mom joined us for the cruise and we all had a great time. We booked this cruise as a 5 year anniversary vacation for us and we were booked in a 1 bedroom concierge cabin. The concierge hosts really make it a remarkable cruise.
Fort Lauderdale. The Westin Beach Resort. I attended the Signature Travel Network regional meeting and spent 2 nights here. I had a whole 3 hours to myself before the start of programming and I did my best to enjoy my time. I was not overly impressed by the size of the pool for this “resort”, but I was very impressed with their gluten free offerings. I ate a convention meal, as well as 2 meals at the pool and a breakfast from room service. They even offer gluten free bread here. Anyone who eats gluten free knows this is a fun find.
Jupiter Beach, Florida. Jupiter Beach Resort. We were invited to a wedding for one of my husband’s friends. We honestly had such a good 24 hours at this hotel. The food was great- very gluten free friendly. The beach was awesome, as was the pool and bar service. We really packed in a lot during this quick night away. I would definitely return here for a family vacation in the future.
Disney World. The Swan & Dolphin, and Disney’s Grand Floridian. I was thrilled to be selected to attend Disney’s Agent Education Program which is a 3 day training program held at their resorts. My husband and I added on an adult only quickie trip the 24 hours before my programming began. We really crammed in the fun. Our day included fun at Epcot where I was able to ride the new Soarin’ Around the World, as well as Frozen Ever After, plus we enjoyed the Dessert Party for the Star Wars Fireworks at Hollywood Studios. We never spent so little time in a hotel (the Swan.) The next day we hit Downtown Disney – Disney Springs, which was all revamped before I began my training that afternoon. It was such a great trip. Part of our programming included dinner at Tiffins, in Animal Kingdom. It was a remarkable and memorable meal- I want to return here for sure.
Disney World. Four Seasons Orlando. I thought that I needed one more flight in order to secure gold medallion status with Delta Airlines for the year, so we booked this trip about 3 weeks prior to departure. Hurricane Matthew ended up pushing us back a day, but it still turned out to be an incredible 2.5 days away. We managed to enjoy some pool time at the adults only pool at the resort, spend the day at Epcot, have an amazing birthday dinner for my husband at Yachtsman Steakhouse, and catch Wishes (the Magic Kingdom fireworks) from the rooftop balcony at the Four Seasons. This truly is a luxury property. Their attention to detail puts them at the top of the list of Orlando hotels. No one compares.
Beaches Turks and Caicos. Sometime during the summer I decided that I needed one more family vacation for us. I booked us at this family resort and didn’t regret it. It is a large property, and they move a bit like they are on an island with no where to be, but we really enjoyed our 5 nights here. The resort offered many activities but we didn’t participate in many really. It was my goal to scuba dive here as it is included, but I had a nasty chest cold that wouldn’t go away. I did register though in case I was better, but it didn’t work out. We swam. For 5 days and nights, we swam. We loved the many pools and swam in 4 of them. When we weren’t swimming, we were eating or napping. We really enjoyed this trip with just the 3 of us.
Wow, what a year. It looks like the only months we didn’t have a trip was April, September, and December. (And I’m guessing my husband may have traveled some of those months for work- I don’t track his trips, just my own.) This was a record year of travel for us. Check out more of our vacation photos on Instagram and on Facebook. How did your year pan out?? What was your most memorable vacation memory or trip?
On a cold cold miserable day in Michigan in mid-December I decided that I needed to get out of town. (And prior to my next family vacation at the end of January.) It so happened that my husband had to travel out of the country for work in early January. That’s when the idea was formed to escape to Disney World for a few nights. I decided that if I had to solo parent what better place to do it than the happiest place on earth! I am cheating a little on ‘solo parenting’ though because my mom decided to join me.
Disney was so kind as to help me with my plan by having a 13 months for the price of 12 months annual pass offer for all passes purchased through January 3rd, 2017. This really helps because my family has a plan to travel to the World for short trips around cruises in May & June, plus a week long trip in November. The plan is to then return at the end of January 2018 to get another week of use out of our AP. Since I could get 13 months for the price of 12, all of these trips, including my late January/early February 2018 trip, would be covered under the same pass. Disney math makes things feel like a deal!
Since we were planning to purchase AP’s we then searched for Annual Pass Room discounts offered in January 2017. Fortunately there were plenty of options to choose from.
Money saving tip: Do some math to see if it makes sense for at least one person in your party to be a Disney Annual Pass Holder before a trip. We were able to save $100 on the price of the hotel for the 3 nights we have planned to be at Disney World. We also will save 10% on several dining locations where we plan to dine during our trip, and finally they are currently offering 20% off merchandise purchased at Disney World with your annual pass. Those savings can really add up, especially over a course of a week and with a larger family.
So we had the park ticket secured, I had purchased plane tickets, and now it was on to planning the rest of the trip. I needed to decide where to stay, followed by which parks to visit on which days, followed by where to eat, and what fast passes to select.
Deciding where to stay. I was looking to do this trip a little more affordable, and I also wanted to check out the Cars section of the Art of Animation Resort. My son is truly addicted to the movie Cars right now. I also liked that it had a dedicated bus for the property, a coffee maker, and kitchenette in room, plus 2 separate sleeping areas. I’m curious to see our thoughts.
Our plan. The next step in our planning is to decide what to do each day and where to eat. We figured we’d go to 2 parks during our stay. All 3 of us love the Festival of the Lion King at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I also love the safari. So we decided we’d do the Animal Kingdom one day and Magic Kingdom the other. I used the Touring Plans crowd calendar to decide which park to go to on which of our available days. The calendar advised us to hit the Magic Kingdom first and then Animal Kingdom.
After deciding which park to spend what day, it was time to pick our dining and fast pass + selections. Fast Pass + would be selected within 60 days of your trip, and since mine was in 3 weeks- it was time to select. Fortunately the only option that we weren’t able to choose is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the MK, but my son wouldn’t ride that right now anyway. (He was a little scared on Barnstormers on our last trip.)
For dining we went with our favorites. Since I’m celiac (medically need to eat gluten free) there are certain places that I love and that aren’t my favorite. I’m really into anything with gluten free gravy at the moment. So I have a reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern for our Magic Kingdom day. Their gravy is amazing! We have also reserved lunch at Tusker House on our Animal Kingdom day. I made a late breakfast reservation here with the plan that we will start with breakfast, and then if someone wants lunch, that will be out eventually too! Plus it is a little less expensive to dine here for breakfast. We are usually back at our hotel at dinner time so we will likely eat a couple of meals at Landscape of Flavors at the Art of Animation. We will also probably head over to Disney Springs for dinner one night as well.
Overall I’m pretty happy and excited about the trip that I threw together in late December over the course of 2 hours on an, “I’m cold,” whim.
This is my trip report/review of my family vacation aboard the Disney Fantasy. We traveled mid-July 2015 in cabin 5650. Traveling was myself, my husband and our two-year old son. Grandma also came with us and was in a handicapped accessible cabin (8184) by herself.
We booked this cruise less than 4 weeks before the departure date. As a result we were forced into second seating for dinner which just wouldn’t work with my toddler. [Dinner would have started a half hour after his bedtime.] We were placed on a wait list and I am very happy to report that our request was approved and we were moved into main/early dining before the start of the cruise. [I was able to confirm this by logging into my account and reviewing the cruise details. Under the cruise details it indicated we were in main dining.] I received this information about 3 days before the cruise. This took so much stress away for that first day. Had I not secured main dining before the cruise we would have had to go to the designated area the first day of the cruise to make the request one more time. The one time we experienced this in the past we were moved, but not until the second day of the cruise. [If you have any questions about how this works, feel free to ask me in the comments. I also have a full post on moving your dining time here.]
We were on the Fantasy, the newest of the Disney ships. She is stunning. Her atrium is absolutely gorgeous. There is a whole peacock feathers theme going that is just beautiful.
5650 is an extended verandah cabin on the 5th floor on the Disney Fantasy. (Category 5E.) The Disney literature indicates this is a ‘family stateroom’ meaning the interior of the cabin is larger than the standard sized cabins. It was wrong! The cabin itself may be smaller than a standard verandah cabin but I cannot be sure. It was small and tight in the cabin. The balcony however is amazing! It is one of the largest I’ve seen. It has two chaise lounge chairs, 2 regular chairs with a small table, and 2 lounging type chairs with adjustable backs. Plus there was room for my little one to run around. (And the running track was beneath us and not another cabin so we weren’t disrupting anyone.)
As you can see, the cabin is tight. On our first Disney cruise on the Fantasy, we were in a family verandah cabin. Our umbrella stroller could fit open next to the closet- that would not have been the case in this cabin. There was also a coffee table in front of the couch, as well as our son’s pack and play that made moving around the cabin impossible. We eventually opted to have the chair under the desk removed, where the coffee table (which we doubled as a toy box because it had storage space) fit perfectly. We also removed the pack and play and our son slept on the couch with bed rails. That ended up working really well and gave us much-needed floor space.
This cabin is adjacent to a portion of the kids club. The hallway actually dead ends into the kids club, Disney’s Oceaneer Lab; however, it is not accessible from this end of the hallway. Outside in the hallway you can hear ruckus from the kids club but rarely in the cabin. The biggest problem was at night when they would clean the Oceaneer Lab. We use a sleep machine at night in our house so we have an app that does something similar when we travel. [The app we use is Sleep Machine Lite, version 3.0] The sleep machine mostly quieted the noise, but there were a couple of nights where the late night cleaning woke me from sleeping in the middle of the night.
The best part of this cabin was the balcony size. The size of the interior of the cabin made it a little tough overall. (We definitely prefer a cabin with at least a little more square footage.) The location, except for the kids club noise, was good too!
Sailing in the summer vs Winter:
I’ve been on a LOT of cruises and this was my first in the summer. The biggest difference was how calm the seas were. There was no weather really to speak of. As of the 5th day of this cruise, it only really rained significantly once. And that was at about 6:30 p.m. It also rained really hard for 25 minutes or so when we were at Castaway Cay. One of the other main differences is the heat of course. It is much hotter and more humid in the summer than the winter. Finally there is the amount of daylight. It doesn’t get dark until later which is nice. It was often a surprise to walk back to the cabin after dinner and still be able to see outside. When you cruise in the winter it is always dark by 6 p.m.
Activities on Board and Random Bits of Information:
As soon as we booked the cruise I went online to Disneycruiselineblog.com to look for postings of the Navigators (Disney’s daily paper with times of activities, among other things) from a recent previous cruise with the same itinerary. I noted that they had a Disney Jr. character breakfast and I also noted the times of the shows, etc.The itineraries won’t be exactly the same, for example the same character won’t be in the same location on the cruise from week to week, but they remain similar.
As I indicated, upon boarding the first day, we would have had to change request to be changed to first seating, but the cruise line had us on a wait list and they had moved us before the cruise- that was a fun surprise.
That first day we also went to get our tickets from guest services. They did, in fact, offer a Disney Junior breakfast. They also offered tickets for the Princess meet and greets and for Anna and Elsa.
In our room was a schedule for toddler specific activities. We went to Wake Up with Disney Junior, The Disney Junior Pirate and Princess Party, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. There was also ‘toddler time’ advertised that we never made it to. (At toddler times on past cruises they would have various toys or games out specific for toddler aged cruisers. The parents could participate with the kids or watch from afar.) Wake up with Disney Jr. was our favorite. There were a bunch of songs and dances that were enjoyed by the 4-5 and under crowd. My son loved watching the songs with movements, but didn’t participate much. Spoiler alert: during this cruise and the previous one, there was a character that would make an appearance at the end for the last couple of songs during Wake Up with Disney Jr.
My son, mostly with his grandma, did a few character meet and greets as well. There are decent sized lines for them, but he really enjoys them, and it is a good activity for he and grandma to do together.
We visited Nemo’s reef- the splash pad for diapered babies and toddlers. Officially from Disney it is for children under 8 (which is a bit old in my opinion) and is the only water area that can be used by those in diapers. We found it was the calmest and the least crowded before lunch. There would be older kids there that would run free and I personally wish Disney would do something to limit that. If your child doesn’t need to be supervised, they shouldn’t also be where the diapered children are. There is another splash pad for older children.
On the morning of the last sea day my son just wanted to take it easy and hang in our cabin. Grandma wanted to take him somewhere (I believe to see the princesses) but he wasn’t having it, so we just watched a couple Disney movies on their on demand system. There is no additional charge to watch the on demand movies. I believe this service is just available on the newer ships- the Dream and Fantasy.
We took a couple of opportunities for family pictures towards the end of the cruise. You don’t have to pay for these pictures either, but you can purchase them if you want. They were even able to crop one of the pictures to make it better suited for us.
The Ports of Call: Our cruise stopped at St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private Island.)
We got off around 9 a.m. and went to the beach in the downtown area that is a water taxi away. It was $7 per adult and children 3 and under (I think) were free. Blake was for sure free, I am just not sure at what age you have to start paying for kids.
This particular beach is right off the ferry. A pushy lady immediately stalked us to buy a chair from her, which we ultimately did but on our terms. She wanted $25 for 2 chairs with an umbrella and pushed us towards the edge. We moved over more (where we wanted to be) and I told her we would pay $15- she tried for $20 but I stuck to $15 and that is what we paid. Honestly, they gave us great service because we wanted a larger umbrella and it would close or needing adjusting, and they were there for that. We also received wifi- it was not that great of a signal on the beach, and so that might be something that others would want to look into before committing to a restaurant/bar to buy the beach chairs from. I also went into their bathroom and it was not better than an outhouse. I was not impressed, but it was better than not having one I guess. We were only at the beach for a couple of hours (which is why we chose this particular beach location) because we wanted to be back on the ship for lunch and then to put my son down for a nap.
On this day we were also out early and went to a resort. I was able to set up a day pass ahead of time as a travel agent, but you could contact your travel agent to have them book you a day pass at a hotel/resort offering day passes in the area. We went to Dreams. Our son really enjoyed playing at the pool a little and on the beach. We had some issues with them not being able to handle food allergies, so we couldn’t stay long. My husband also wasn’t a fan of their food at all. Initially we were going to have my son just nap in the stroller but we ended up having to get back for me to have lunch and so we put my son down for a nap on the ship.
Other Misc. things:
We did take our car seat because we needed it for the plane and transportation to the ship. In a standard room – not a family sized room, there would have been no place out-of-the-way to store the car seat in the cabin… We were fortunate that we just put it in my mother’s room. We really were happy to have the car seat. We used it in St. Thomas and that made me more comfortable than the open air taxis which are the norm there. To get a standard taxi we just asked the person directing people where a standard taxi was located. It was about a block away.
This was also the first time that we had my son not sleep in a pack and play when we traveled. On Disney the couch folds down/flips over and there is a bed for kids to sleep. We put on bed rails and used pillows across the top and bottom and my son slept pretty well there. He was apprehensive at first but it worked out.
We did participate in some adult only activities during the cruise. They usually have a singer or duo that play and sing a variety of songs and this cruise was no different. The woman on our particular cruise played in various lounges around the ship. We also participated in trivia one day.
Our favorite was dining at Palo for dinner and brunch. Palo is for guests 18 and up and is an extra charge restaurant. The food is terrific. Brunch is offered on sea days and has a buffet of breads, meats, cheeses, cold seafood, and desserts. Then they do made to order breakfast and lunch. The portions are such that you can order several different choices and they are all amazing. My favorites are the eggs benedict and chicken parmesan with risotto. SO GOOD!
Dinner at Palo is all sit down plated dining. Our favorite meal is the filet of beef. It is just amazing. We also always really look forward to the chocolate souffle. The best part is they are able to do a gluten-free option for me!
For most Disney cruises you are able to find a facebook group for your particular sailing. The group for this cruise organized a private mixology class for the adults. It was nice to do it with the group because it gives you instant friends. We learned about bar tending and drink making. During the class we made and drank 5 drinks (some are half servings…) The cast members doing the class were great and interactive. There is a surcharge for this of $20, and it is usually customary to add a small tip. One drink had to be modified to be gluten-free for me and they had no problem doing this.
Overall I think Disney ships carry noise a lot more than on other cruise lines. Or people let their kids go crazy more on Disney lines. One thing to remember is that kids can have fun without interfering with the enjoyment of others. So no loud behavior in the halls (is true for both adults and children), no allowing your kids to run through the halls, or play on the staircase, etc. Sadly people feel their children are on vacation and can just be kids. They forget that they are on a luxury cruise ship and it is not their entire playground.
All in all it was a great family vacation and we would not hesitate to cruise again in the summer. For more of my thoughts on cruising in the summer, check out this post.
For more information about cruising Disney, check out this post which goes in-depth about Disney and also compares it to Royal Caribbean.
The how to’s of moving your dining time on Disney Cruise Line. I also discuss your options if your move is delayed until after the cruise starts, or if it never occurs. This article specifically deals with going from late seating to first seating (main) but it could be used in reverse if there was ever a need.
I’ve been scheduled for late dining but needed early for 4 Disney Cruises within the past 2 and a half years. In all 4 cases I’ve eventually been successful in my request to move to early dining. For the first 2 cruises I booked REALLY last minute- the week before for one trip, and 3 or 4 weeks before for the other trip. I put my request in my reservation both times to be placed on the wait list. Both cruises were 7 nights on the Fantasy. For the second cruise, which was this past summer, we were moved before we set sail! I was actually able to log into my account and see that I was moved several days before we cruised. What a nice feeling!
On the first cruise, we weren’t moved to early dining before setting sail. I had booked this cruise one week before we sailed and I put a request in (wait list) for early seating, which was not granted. Upon boarding the ship I had to go to the designated area to request a seating change, in this case it was the Royal Court dining room just off the entrance. I was like 15th on the list as we didn’t board until around 2:45 pm. I was told I would be notified that night about getting moved – they really didn’t notify us. Since we weren’t notified, or moved, we just ordered room service and ate in the room. The whole thing was disappointing.
In the future if we aren’t moved before the cruise starts, we will just eat quick service outside on the pool deck. Disney offers sandwiches, pizza, salads, etc. They even have high chairs in the seating area outside the quick service stands for my little guy. That would have worked out much better, which is why I am no longer concerned if my dining time doesn’t get moved right away, or ever. On the cruise mentioned above, we were ultimately moved to first seating by the morning of the second day. They notified us around 10 am. The plan for the future if we aren’t moved is to eat at Cabanas (the buffet which turns into a table service restaurant at night) for the nights they are open. Cabanas isn’t available the first or last night of the cruise. On those nights, we would just eat quick service.
Our third Disney cruise was booked 4 weeks before departure and as a result we were once again forced into second seating for dinner which just wouldn’t work with my toddler. [Dinner would have started a half hour after his bedtime.] We were placed on a wait list and I am very happy to report that our request was approved and we were moved into main/early dining before the start of the cruise. [I was able to confirm this by logging into my account and reviewing the cruise details. Under the cruise details it indicated we were in main dining.] I received this information about 3 days before the cruise. This took so much stress away for that first day. Had I not secured main dining before the cruise we would have had to go to the designated area the first day of the cruise to make the request one more time. My kiddo is sleeping before the second service begins, so that seating is just not an option right now for my family. But like I said, with the other options. I am just not worried at all anymore about being moved.
Finally, for our fourth Disney cruise, which was during a busy winter week, we were once again forced into late dining. We booked that particular cruise about 6 months before the cruise. Luckily for us, we were moved into early seating before we were even able to do on board check-in. Once again I noticed this by logging into the system and seeing we were in main dining. Disney does not send any notification if you are moved before the start of the cruise.
Those were our experiences. If you have any questions about how this works, feel free to ask me in the comments.