Arrrgh! Pirates IN the Caribbean on Disney Cruise Line

Avast ye Cruisers! Most Disney Cruise Line itineraries feature a Pirate Night during the voyage to allow you to immerse yourselves in the Pirate’s Life as much or as little as you choose. There is a special pirate theme at dinner, pirate games to partake in, a high-spirited deck party awash with buccaneers, and on many cruises, a fireworks spectacle at sea! Here’s a quick rundown of the events our family enjoys participating in. Savvy?

Pirate dress & more at dinner

Some cruisers go all out with their pirate getups: eyepatches, striped stockings, scrawled-on scars, the works. Don’t fret if you neglected to pack your seafaring togs; the dining room has you covered. Our daughter models the Pirate Mickey scarf above that each family member will receive. Your waitstaff will also be donning pirate attire and the menu will likely feature themed dishes. Depending on the length of your cruise, you may also be in for a more immersive experience at dinner!

A Pirate’s Life For Me game show

The D Lounge, a hub for family entertainment on the Disney cruise line fleet of ships, hosts this pirate game show. Our girls were among the brave souls who spun the “Wheel of Destiny” and showed off their pirate prowess. It’s a fun way to get in the spirit, mateys. Other opportunities abound on the ship for games, dancing and general carousing.

Pirate Character Appearances

All the classic Disney characters are on deck for unique photo opportunities. You can choose to queue up for professional snaps or simply ogle Mickey, Minnie, Goofy & Co performing in their garb. As far as I’m aware, Disney Cruise Line is the X-marks-the-spot when it comes to catching this crew in pirate attire.

Mickey’s Pirates IN the Caribbean deck parties

Train to be a member of Pirate Mickey’s Crew at this high-energy dance party on the ship’s Deck Stage. It’s loud, it’s exciting, and all ages are encouraged to get their little landlubbing grooves on alongside the Disney characters. Your ship’s itinerary determines who’ll be starring onstage: will the nefarious Hook succeed in crashing the party? Will Jack Sparrow be sparring with a band of merry deckhands? And — our personal favorite — will a certain VIP Captain zipline in to save the day?

Buccaneer Blast fireworks at sea!

All Disney Cruise Line ships get to experience the spectacle of fireworks at sea. We find it the perfect way to call it a Pirate Night — though there are far more activities buzzing on the boat much later. A special Pirate Buffet is served to curb midnight munchies, many cruises continue the dance party at “Club Pirate”, and a movie plays up on the deck past our bedtimes. Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?

10 Things for Tweens at the Edge Youth Club, Disney Wonder

The Edge youth club on the Disney Wonder for ages 11-14 is the perfect getaway for tweens to meet new friends, hang out, and get some much-needed time alone with kids your age! From a recent awesome experience, I can tell you about my top ten reasons to go here:

1. Heroes vs. Villains: This is one of the big group activities done every day in Edge. At the beginning of the cruise, you split into two teams, and the game is on! Throughout the cruise you participate in activities such as dodgeball, trivia, and singing contests. The team with the most activities won by the cruise’s end is the champion (our team won, 6-5!).

2. The other fun activities: From Gaga Ball to trivia, from riddles and games to singing competitions, there is no end to the entertainment at Edge. I must have stayed out till midnight every night playing these games. Which leads me to mention…

3. Late-night hours: Usually, Edge operates until 1AM, so you can stay up late during Heroes vs. Villains. A huge sacrifice on your counselors’ part! Just make sure to let your parents know what time you’ll be rolling in. And speaking of those parents…

4. Liberation (at least for a little while!): If you want a little independence on your cruise, this is probably the best spot to go and hang out with kids your age. No little brothers, sisters or parents allowed here! Just you, your counselors, and the other members of Edge. However, there is an open house at the beginning so your family can have a long (and jealous!) look around.

5. Meeting new pals: Edge provides a huge chance to meet and interact with new friends. Challenge them to a game of NHL 17, play a board game, or do crafts with them. One of the best ways to get to know people is through Heroes Vs. Villains, where you’ve got to discuss strategy with your teammates.

6. Video games: Doesn’t every teen need them? Edge features giant sceens equipped with all the latest games, my personal favorite of which was Mario Kart 8.

7. Proximity to Eye Scream: Be sure to ask your parents, and if they grant permission, Edge is right across from Eye Scream, an all-you-can eat ice cream palooza! I used to go out and grab a cone every so often. Chocolate, anyone?

8. Prizes: Not a big draw, but if you win certain games, you can win cool prizes, such as Edge sunglasses and Disney Cruise Line backpacks!

9. The secret hideout on Castaway Cay: On Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, there is a secret teen/tween hideout featuring volleyball, soccer, Ping-Pong tables and more in this extravagant extravaganza! Plus, your club goes together to the Pelican Plunge waterslide area, and In-Da-Shade Games, where you can play shuffleboard, pool, basketball, and more.

10. Finally, a shout out to the cool counselors: These guys are what keeps Edge alive. Without them, there would be no Edge. They are extremely kid-friendly and nice. Hard to pick favorites, but mine was Mitch. We had a nickname for him, but that’s another story.

Location: Find the Edge youth club on all four Disney Cruise Line ships – Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy.

Spend a day on Castaway Cay’s family beach

Sunbeams on placid turquoise water, soft white sand under the feet, and a day stretched out ahead with nothing much in particular to do. It’s a dream come true in March for a family that hails from the snowy state of Minnesota. This island paradise, known as Castaway Cay, is an exclusive retreat for guests sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line. We spent a wonderful, relaxing day on Castaway’s family beach recently, much needed after months of cold weather. The kids were happy paddling around on inner tubes ($10 rental on the island), collecting shells (for pictures only!), and playing in the sand. During a relatively uncrowded cruise, we had no problem snagging lounge chairs to kick back in – not that our little ones allowed us to do much dozing in the sun.

MH castaway cay family beach

We felt completely comfortable allowing our nearly-9-year-old son the freedom to move between the beach and the nearby “In Da Shade” game pavilion. I’m still scratching my head as to why he was so taken with unlimited free games of pool and shuffleboard when the lagoon was beckoning, but that’s Andy for you. When the sun grew stronger he finally meandered his way to the water. The lagoon is clear and relatively shallow; lifeguards stationed at several points out in the water add an extra measure of safety for kids swimming and snorkeling. Not far out from the shore is a wooden play structure with bridges and ropes to swing from.

When it comes time to refuel, Cookie’s BBQ is just a short stroll from the sand (and the meal is conveniently covered by the cruise fare). In a cool, covered pavilion we devoured all we could eat of ribs, hot dogs, salads and soft serve for dessert. So the toddler dripped half her cone down her chin? The outdoor showers came in handy for more than just rinsing off the sand!

Location: A stop at Castaway Cay’s family beach in the Bahamas is included on select Disney Cruise Line itineraries.

Splash around on Nemo’s Reef on the Disney Dream

What to do when you’re three years old on the Disney Dream and can’t hop in Donald’s Pool with the big sibs? Why, you head straight for Nemo’s Reef and splash your heart out with characters from Finding Nemo!

PicMonkey Collage nemo's reefWhoosh down Mr. Ray’s slide, skip over fountains alongside the Tank Gang, and dodge Dory’s spray. A soft deck minimizes slipping and the entire area is glassed-in and shaded from the sun. Splash on, kiddos!

Location: Find Nemo’s Reef splash zone onboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise ships. Appropriate for kids ages 8 years & under.

Splash with Huey, Duey & Louie in Nephews’ Splash Zone on the Disney Magic

This post is short and sweet, just like the toddler who loved the Nephews’ Splash Zone on our cruise on the Disney Magic this past spring. The water play area features three spurting mini-boilers shaped like Uncle Donald’s nephews as well as a few pop jets for added thrill. It’s also completely shaded and glassed-in. Check out the nephews’ hand-drawn splash zone blueprint on the wall!

Location: Nephews’ Splash Zone is located within the AquaLab pool area on Deck 9, Disney Magic cruise ship.

Touring tip: Nephews’ Splash Zone is intended for children under 3 years of age and is great if you’ve got toddlers who are not yet toilet trained.

Spring Break Cruise on the Disney Dream

Spring break of 2014 our family took a cruise on the Disney Magic that left us so enchanted we took Mickey’s advice after we had somberly debarked the ship: “See ya REAL soon!”

tm disney dream

We returned to Port Canaveral, Florida, a year later for another dose of Disney at Sea — this time boarding the Disney Dream, a vessel nearly twice the size of its cousin, the Magic. We were sailing the exact same three-night itinerary as we had the previous year (with stops in Nassau, Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay), but our objective was to have new family experiences along the way. I’m sharing the top five of those experiences here:

1. All four of our children were of age to participate in the Youth Activity Clubs!
Far and away this was the most remarkable difference between our 2014 and 2015 vacations. Drop-in childcare in the clubs for children ages 3-12 is included in cruise fare, requires no reservation, and kids can actually check themselves in whenever they wish (at parents’ discretion, of course). Last year, we had to pay extra to send our toddler to the nursery during late mealtimes and had to book the times in advance of sailing. This year, after a rush to make sure she was fully toilet-trained (a requirement!), all of our kids were able to enjoy the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab, these incredible child play spaces, together. These are no ordinary care centers. The counselors engage the kids in myriad themed activities all day long – interactive games, science experiments, cooking class, art projects, pajama parties, you name it, they provide it. There are appropriate activities for the entire span of ages and our kids loved spending time in the clubs which, then, led to…

PicMonkey Collage disney dream - Copy

2. Actual adult alone time!
It didn’t amount to a whole lot, mind you (a couple of hours on concurrent days), but to a couple of parents who rarely spend time alone together (and are photographed together even less), it was golden. When the ship docked at Castaway Cay, the kids stampeded for the island version of the ship’s kids clubs and spent happy hours playing sand and water games with the benevolent counselors. TourDad and I sat under a palm tree and – gasp – managed to talk to each other without being interrupted every other sentence. We strolled leisurely on the beach without being constantly on high alert. Back in our stateroom, we relaxed and sipped drinks on our verandah. And speaking of our verandah…

PicMonkey Collage dream verandah - Copy

3. Upgrading to family staterooms with verandahs was worth the price
Six members in the family means we’ve long outgrown standard hotel rooms. The same goes for cruise ship staterooms. This year, we decided to spring for the “Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah” which, all fancy wording aside, essentially meant we were getting 299 sq. ft. per stateroom as compared to last year’s 214. Keeping the adjoining stateroom door open during the day and having adjoining verandahs meant the kids had much more space to move around in, diminishing some of that “on top of each other”-ness that often accompanies a family vacation. Though we certainly spent plenty of time enjoying each others company…

4. Exploring new restaurants, entertainment, and activities on the ship
There were new stage shows to attend, a new water-coaster to slide, new flavors of soft-serve at the unlimited ice cream dispenser, and endless nooks and crannies on the ship that set it apart from our cruise on the Magic. Like all the Disney ships, a rotational dining schedule allows a family to dine at a new restaurant each night of the cruise. The service staff travels with you, so they become familiar faces and are highly skilled at entertaining kids at the table. And speaking of dining with kids…

PicMonkey Collage disney dream dining

5. We were given the early dinner seating this trip (5:45pm) as opposed to late seating (8:15pm)
The jury’s still out on whether we prefer the first or second seating for dinner. This year, eating earlier, the children still had plenty of energy at dinner and were not dozing off in their chairs – and we included our preschooler in the meal as well, instead of sending her to the nursery for fear she’d have meltdowns in the middle of dinner. However, while eating a full dinner at 5:45 is normal back home, it often made us skip lunch on the cruise in order to be hungry at dinner. As there is a bounty of food everywhere you turn on the ships, it can be tricky to plan mealtimes.

That’s it for now. I hope I can further share more of our family’s Disney Cruise Line tips “REAL SOON!”

Slides and thrills on Disney Magic’s AquaDunk!

disney magic aquadunk“3-2-1 blast-off!” chorus nephews Huey, Duey and Louie before the trap door beneath your feet falls away and you plunge twenty feet out over the side of the Disney Magic before a dramatic splashdown. Wow! The new AquaDunk waterslide on Disney Cruise Line’s re-imagined Disney Magic ship is a total rush – at least from my mom-to-4 perspective. I’ll admit when I climbed into the launch capsule and the door closed over me I was feeling some butterflies. I had to slide, though, because I’d just bribed my 8-year-old before me to ride and assured him he would love it.

Love it might not be the best words to describe his reaction to the slide…though I’m convinced that if he gave it a few more go-rounds he’d change his mind. This is, after all, the kid who would ride the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror back-to-back for hours if given the chance. I think the AquaDunk lost a few points with him because you’ve got to deal with sprays of water in the face.

If you get the chance, head up to the forward funnel of the Disney Magic and give the AquaDunk a try. No way do the kids get to have all the fun on the pool deck!

Location: Find the AquaDunk waterslide on the Disney Magic, part of the Disney Cruise Line fleet of ships.

Touring Tip: Riders must be at least 48″ tall.

Spring Break Cruise on the Disney Magic

I should have followed my gut instinct and booked our family’s first Disney cruise months in advance. I didn’t, however, and instead drew up a much different spring break jaunt. My reasoning mostly had to do with cost; Disney is not exactly renowned for their budget-friendly cruise fares. But even with our second-choice destination’s airfare purchased, hotel booked and a game plan in shape, I was having nagging regrets about not going with the cruise. We were two weeks out from spring break when – after much persistence – a deal popped up while I was online getting cruise quotes. There was no time to waffle; we pounced. (In truth, as it usually goes, I persuaded the tolerant TourDad to pounce along with me.)

MH disney cruise line disney magic Two weeks later, we were boarding the Disney Magic in Port Canaveral, Florida. I was especially excited to be cruising on the Magic because I’d done lots of research about the extensive refurb the ship underwent in 2013. “Re-imagined” was how much of the press put it. The dining rooms were re-themed, the children’s clubs were updated, and a thrilling drop waterslide had been added to the ship among many other changes. I won’t go into exhaustive detail; suffice to say that the Magic was incredible. We were captivated immediately.

The itinerary was short but sweet: we departed on a Friday afternoon (kicked off by a high-energy deck party), spent much of the weekend docked in the Bahamas (we opted to stay on the ship in Nassau, but debarked on Castaway Cay for the beach!), and were deposited back in Florida on Monday morning. It was a great “starter cruise” for a family with kids who were cruising for the first.

MH disney cruise line castaway cay

MH disney magic aquadunkSpeaking of the kids – obviously, they were a big reason I was so keen to cruise Disney in the first place – it was virtually all smooth sailing with them. They adjusted well to eating a late dinner (we were assigned second seating at 8:15pm) and, in our toddler Erin’s case, she didn’t mind at all being shipped off to the nursery during that meal. The older kids were eager to spend time in the kids’ clubs (included in cruise fare), the pools and waterslides, and they all sat rapt through the Broadway-style shows presented nightly in the theater.

Was the price of our cruise worth not only the money spent but the hassle and stress that came with changing our plans? Absolutely. I hate to “go there” and use this word, but the trip was totally magical. The level of service from the crew was top notch. I loved that we were assigned beautiful staterooms with a connecting door – though our quarters were snug, it was invaluable to have a space apart from the older children. I loved that our dining room staff rotated through the various restaurants with us, and our servers were so attentive and friendly to our kids through late dinners. And I especially adored spending a day on the white sand beaches of Castaway Cay, soaking up the sunshine and warmth that had been absent from our Minnesota home for months. (Castaway Cay, I should clarify, is an island in the Bahamas developed and used exclusively by Disney Cruise Line.)

You’ve hooked us, Disney Cruise Line. Until next time…

Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story

Suppose Cinderella’s bitter stepfamily had gotten their paws on her glass slipper before the Grand Duke arrived for the fitting? That’s the twist this talented cast explores in the musical stage show Twice Charmed, performed exclusively on the Disney Magic cruise ship. Lady Tremaine’s Evil Fairy Godfather – Franco DiFortunato – is the villain responsible for throwing a wrench into Cinderella’s happily ever after. With Franco’s help, the clumsy, bickering Stepsisters get a second chance at snaring the heart of the Prince. It’s up to Cinderella (with a little aid from her own Fairy Godmother) to believe that her inner beauty will be sufficient ammo to win the prince back.

The 52-minute production, which plays in the grand Walt Disney Theatre, is generally fast-paced and feels familiar with classic characters and a couple of songs from the film. Our daughters loved it, and even our 9-year-old son (who tried to suggest that “Cinderella’s for girls”) had his eyes glued to the stage until the final bow.

Location: Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story is performed in the Walt Disney Theatre on all Disney Magic cruise ship itineraries.

New Experiences and Reimagined Spaces Onboard the Disney Magic

Later this month, Disney Cruise Line will unveil exciting new enhancements and reimagined spaces onboard its pioneer cruise ship, the Disney Magic. After completing a month-long dry dock in Cadiz, Spain, we can anticipate the following highlights when the ship re-launches:

Make a Splash!

The upper deck pool areas of the Disney Magic have received a major makeover. Three-story thrill slide AquaDunk will wow with a near-vertical launch and a translucent tube extending out over the side of the ship. Interactive water playground AquaLab will feature the looping Twist ‘n Spout waterslide in addition to pop jets, bubblers, and geysers. The youngest cruisers can enjoy water play in the shaded and enclosed Nephews’ Splash Zone, themed after Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Cool Spaces for Kids and Tweens

Both the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab children’s programs have been re-themed to bring new stories and characters onboard. Activities for kids 3 – 12 will continue to include games, crafts, movies and characters within new play spaces such as Pixie Hollow, Toy Story, and Marvel’s Avengers Academy. It’s a Small World Nursery, a whimsical child care facility for cruisers ages 3 months to 3 years, replaces Flounder’s Reef.

Adults Only

Beat Street, the current adults-only nighttime entertainment district on the Disney Magic has been transformed into After Hours with three newly re-themed spaces to enjoy. Fathoms nightclub will offer live music, variety shows and a full bar. For a quieter spot to wind down, Keys piano bar offers a relaxed retreat. O’Gill’s Pub will be the perfect place to catch televised sports and enjoy a pint or two.

Vista Spa & Salon has been reinvented as Senses Spa & Salon expanding both its space and menu of treatments. An added barbershop for the men as well as a Smile Spa for teeth whitening services are among the new offerings.

Delicious Enhancements

The popular Animator’s Palate restaurant will present the brand new “Drawn to Magic” show in addition to the “Animation Magic” show originally found exclusively on the Disney Fantasy. In other dining news, Parrot Cay restaurant has been reinvented as the Rio-themed Carioca’s and Topsider Buffet has become Cabanas for buffet meals by day and table-service dining by night. The elegant, adults-only Palo restaurant was made over with a Venetian motif.

Finishing Touches

To complete the Disney Magic’s new look, staterooms and suites received a redesign focused on maximizing space for families. And finally, the ship’s grand atrium lobby has gotten a fresh palette of colors, new chandelier, and a stately staircase. For sneak peeks at these upcoming changes and more information about the Disney Magic’s relaunch, check out the following video:

More magic coming to the Disney Magic!