Palm tree-shaded hammocks rocked by the Bahamas breeze. Fresh fruit carts filled with chilled bowls of tropical mango, papaya and pineapple. Crystal blue, protected waters for snorkeling alongside gentle rays, bright coral and sea turtles. All the ice cream cones a kid — and their parents — can eat. “Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, is our whole family’s favorite place on earth,” says Windi Measimer, of Mount Pleasant, N.C.
Hanging out at Disney’s tropical island paradise is not the reason Windi and her husband, Chris, and their two children — then 3 and 9 — boarded a Disney cruise six years ago. Back then it was because they happened to see a good deal and decided, on a whim, to check it out. But the bliss they found on that first trip is the reason they’ve returned almost every year since. “After that first experience, we were sold. It was just amazing,” Windi says.
The Measimer family has always loved Disney World, but cruising is special, Windi adds, because it gives the family time to unwind. “When we go to Disney World, it’s fun and we love it, but we’re out and about, walking 12 to 15 hours a day,” she says. “On a cruise, you get all the magic of Disney — the characters, the shows, even the fireworks — less the exhaustion. We come home and we feel totally rested and renewed.”
That first year, Windi’s 3-year-old daughter found herself in a living fairy tale, running from one princess to the next, as her big brother spent hours snorkeling, confident he would eventually spot the submarine from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. “Today, my daughter enjoys the activities in the Kids’ Club because she gets to meet new friends,” Windi says. “And my now-15-year-old son loves that he can go by himself to the activities that interest him, whether it’s the Teen Club where they’re having video game tournaments or just ordering room service. No matter what other alternatives we offer for a family vacation, they continue to ask every year to go on a Disney cruise.”
Windi can’t imagine a day when her family might age out of the experience. “In fact, if Chris and I had our choice of anywhere to go on vacation and were going to take another honeymoon — without the kids — we would pick a Disney cruise in a heartbeat.”
Happiest Place at Sea
Charlotte, N.C., mom Halee Erbe’s first multi-generational Disney cruise was a Christmas gift from her in-laws, Sarah and Gil. “Sarah created a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning for our two boys, ages 5 and 8,” Erbe remembers. The first clue hung from the Christmas tree; the second was printed on a puzzle under the dining room table. Finally, a chalkboard in the toy room pronounced, 26 Days Until Your Disney Cruise. “Our youngest screamed for three seconds when his big brother read it out loud to him!” she remembers.
No stranger to cruising, Erbe says the multi-generational Disney cruise was on another level from any other ship she and her family had sailed on in the past. “It’s hands-down worth every single penny, starting from the moment you get on the ship,” she says. “The food is better. The service is better. Regardless of how old you are, the overall experience is just better.”
Sure, there are the obvious awe-inspiring Disney details, like the AquaDuck water coaster, which stretches 13 feet off the ship out over the ocean, zipping its thrill seekers from between the ship’s funnels.
But there are also the little things that, for parents, are pure magic. “The wait staff travels with you every day,” says Erbe. “Right away, they realized my 5-year-old was only going to order chicken nuggets. So, they would just go ahead and bring them out.” And then cut them into bite-size pieces, she adds. “They were like, ‘you’re on vacation, too. Let us do it.’”
For multi-generational cruisers, the little things can lead to big memories. “Sarah and Gil are the type of grandparents who want to spend a lot of time with their grandkids, so we both had veranda rooms that attached,” Halee says. If she and her husband wanted to stay out late one night, the boys and their grandparents could tuck in — still in their own spaces or together, watching a movie and ordering room service.
Or if Halee, Matt, Sarah and Gil decided to meet up for a meal at the adults-only Italian restaurant Palo, they could take their time, knowing the kids, too, were having the time of their lives in the Kids Zone. “One night, Pluto came, and they got to decorate pillow cases and take them home for a pajama party. In another room, they got to do these crazy fun science experiments,” she says. “I’d look at the schedule in the morning and think, I really want to take my kids to the Kids Zone at 3 p.m. because Black Widow is there teaching them how to do karate kicks.”
But the real show-stoppers — no matter your age — Halee says, are the musicals. “They are incredible. They’re like Broadway shows on a cruise ship,” she says. “The first night we saw Twice Charmed, which is the Cinderella story. It was so cool. They were changing her dress magically, and there were some really neat touches, like fireworks inside the theater.”
On their final night, the entire family gathered for Marvel Night out on the deck. “On Marvel Night, all the characters come, and they fight the bad guys,” Halee explains. Noticing that Spiderman was not in attendance, one of her boys looked around and spotted him on the side of the ship. “He is literally climbing up the side of the big exhaust tube on the back of the ship,” she says. “All six of us were delighted. And then came the fireworks! Really, who else does that? Only Disney.”
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