Disclosure: I received a reduced Disney Cruise conference rate. All opinions are my own.
As part of the 2017 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I had the opportunity to bring my family. The first part of the conference took place at Walt Disney World Parks, and the latter half included a 3-day Bahama cruise on the Disney Wonder out of Port Canaveral, Florida. I had never sailed on a Disney Cruise, but had always heard how much more family-friendly it was compare to other cruise lines.
I found this to be true. Our Disney Cruise catered to families with not just older kids, but also those with younger ones. While other cruise lines provided limited accommodations for infants and toddlers, Disney Cruises embraced them with open arms. For example, other cruise lines we’ve sailed with had no child care options for children under age three. But Disney Cruises created a nursery for children ages 6 months (the ships’s minimum age to cruise) to 3 years.
Though I sailed specifically on the Disney Wonder, all Disney Cruise ships have similar accommodations. On the Disney Wonder, diaper changing facilities were available in five locations throughout the ship. Parents could request a diaper disposal unit and crib/playpen from their stateroom host/hostess.
Guest Services held limited quantities of strollers, bottle warmers, and bottle sterilizers. If parents forgot to bring supplies, the ship’s store sold wipes, diapers, lotions, formula, food items, baby bath supplies, and pacifiers.
Each day, cruisers received a Personal Navigator, or itinerary of daily activities. The Personal Navigator was very helpful as it listed events by children’s clubs and by age: Oceaneer Club for 3-12 year olds, Edge for 11-14 year olds, Vibe for 14-17 year olds, and Adults. The Fun for All Ages section included activities for infants and toddlers.
I’ve highlighted information and tips below on everything caregivers need to know when bringing infants and toddlers on a Disney Cruise.
Child Care for Infants and Toddlers
As mentioned before, Disney Cruise offered child care for children ages 6 months to 3 years old. Whether parents were attending a conference or just wanted time to themselves, It’s a Small World nursery provided their children with excellent care by trained counselors.
Children loved it there, too. My toddler was sad to leave when we picked her up. Looking at the nursery, I could see why. Though the counselors did not allow us to take pictures inside, I saw that the facility was decorated whimsically with painted landscapes, geometric shapes, and lots of soft pastel colors to provide a welcoming environment.
The nursery consisted of three areas:
- Acclimation Zone – Designed to help children adjust to the new environment.
- Main Play Area – An interactive area that featured a 3D façade of the Disney “It’s a Small World” attraction.
- Quiet Room – A separate area with cribs for naps.
Soft mats lined the floor, and kid-sized tables and chairs provided a comfortable area for reading books, playing toys, watching Disney movies on the flat-screen TV, or just hanging out.
One really cool feature was the oval one-way window in the sign-in area. Closed to the general public, counselors opened the shade to this special window for parents who wanted to check on their kids without having little ones see them (and potentially react by crying, whining, or becoming clingy).
When checking into the nursery, the counselors asked parents to complete a form to list any allergies, nap times, or special requests. For example, we requested that my toddler take a nap at 1 pm and to place her in the sleep sack we provided. They were very accommodating. Bring along diapers, wipes, an extra set of clothing/pajamas, bottles and milk/formula for infants, sippy cups, baby food in jars, and any security items like a favorite stuffed animal.
The nursery also provided lunch and dinner. When parents picked up their kids, the counselors told them what foods their little ones ate as well as how long they napped.
Unlike the complimentary older kids’ clubs, It’s a Small World nursery rate was $9.00 per hour for the first child and $8.00 per hour for each additional sibling. Charges were applied directly to guests’ credit cards on file. We’re glad we reserved our nursery dates and times early as space was limited on a first-come, first-served basis. Prior to the cruise date, we had the option to reserve up to 10 hours at the nursery. Once the cruise began, we could add more time if necessary.
Advance online reservations timeline:
- Concierge and Platinum Castaway Club Guests – Reserve online up to 120 days ahead
- Gold Castaway Club Guests – Reserve online up to 105 days ahead
- Silver Castaway Club Guests – Reserve online up to 90 days ahead
- All other guests – Reserve online up to 75 days ahead
Guests could cancel without penalty 4 hours or more before the reservation time. No-shows forfeited the entire cost of care for the time reserved. Guests who canceled less than 4 hours before the reservation time forfeited half the cost of care.
For our cruise, here were the nursery hours:
Day 1: Arrival day offered limited hours 12:30-3:30 pm and 5:30-11:00 pm.
Day 2: Open 9:00 am–11:00 pm
Day 3: Open 8:00 am–11:00 pm
Disembarkment Day – Closed
Disney Cruise Food
Disney Cruises offered Main Seating starting at 5:45 pm and Second Seating starting at 8:00 pm. For children like mine who went to bed early, it was important for us to eat at the Main Seating. The cruise assigned a rotation of restaurants so that guests could experience the range of dining offerings. Guests’ servers rotated as well which helped them to know the families and any special requests. Families received a table number that was used each evening at the different restaurants. Menus listed kid-friendly options to ensure that even the pickiest of eaters were happy.
I was impressed that even before entering the restaurants, crew members passed out hand wipes. Some restaurants had a giant sink with soap located by the entrance. In my past trips with other cruise lines, I’ve never seen such a proactive approach to tackle illnesses. None of our family members fell sick during our Disney Cruise.
All restaurants were stocked with high chairs. In fact, our server made sure to have one ready at the table prior to our arrival. Our servers also provided our kids with plastic cups with straws as well as lids written with our children’s names on top.
For breakfast and lunch, we visited more casual restaurants such as Cabanas. We ate there for breakfast each day as it was convenient and offered something for everyone’s tastes. The restaurant provided small plastic cups for kids but no lids, so make sure to bring a sippy cup to avoid spills.
There were also dining options by the pool such as Pinocchio’s Pizzeria (open 12:00 pm-12:00 am), Daisy’s De Lites and Pete’s Boiler Bites (both open 10:30 am-6:00 pm). A 24-hour Beverage Station offered fountain drinks and hot chocolate. The popular Eye Scream (10:30 am-11:00 pm) cranked out soft serve ice cream.
Adults (18+ years) could make reservations at Palo which served Northern Italian cuisine and boasted a 270-degree ocean view. Servers did not follow guests to Palo, and as such the restaurant applied a $30 cover per person.
Disney Cruise Beach and Water Fun
Our Disney Cruise featured several pool areas with lifeguards on duty (except at the adults-only pool). Our ship included a large, yellow twisty water slide for older kids and adults.
The U.S. Public Health Service required that all children be potty trained to enter shipboard pools and spas. The exception was Dory’s Reef (11:00 am-6:00 pm), an enclosed area that consisted of interactive fountains. Decorated in homage to Disney’s “Finding Dory” movie, this area was ideal for young children in swim diapers. The cruise also scheduled a daily Splash Zone time at Dory’s Reef just for toddlers between 3:00 pm-3:45 pm. Staff brought in toys for children to play with.
Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, was a day-long opportunity for sun and water fun. Once guests left the ship, they boarded trams that took them to one of two drop-off stations. Along the way, guests viewed the beautiful white sand and clear, blue waters.
Instead of bringing our own stroller, we took advantage of the free Castaway Cay beach-friendly stroller. There were also pull wagons available. Both strollers and wagons had extra-large wheels for easy travel over sand. These were available near the drop-off stations on a first-come, first-serve basis.
For water fun, an island landmark was a twisty water slide that guests swam up to. At the beach, lots of little kids played on the edge of the water under the watchful eyes of lifeguards. A separate sprinkler/fountain area just for toddlers was located near the beach. Parents could check in children ages 3-12 years into Scuttles Cove which was like the Oceaneer Club. This spacious area was sandy just like the beach. There were plenty of toys, water tables, play sets, water (from hoses to make sand castles), and more to keep kids happy. Castaway Cay did not offer child care for infants and toddlers. Guests looking for this should place their children in the It’s a Small World Nursery on the ship.
Castaway Cay included a BBQ lunch for guests. Two outdoor restaurants, Cookies and Cookies Too, provided the meals. Both offered high chairs and plastic kid trays with pre-divided sections to hold different foods.
After a half day outside, we knew our toddler was done and ready for a nap so we went back to our cabin. While the youngest one slept, my oldest child played on the ship’s water slide with her father. It was a great time for them to go as it wasn’t crowded.
Disney Cruise Entertainment
Disney Cruise lines scheduled plenty of opportunities for meet and greets with favorite characters. These events took place at various times throughout the ship, though popular times appeared to be in the main Atrium area before the first dinner seating. Professional photographers took pictures of guests with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Captain Hook, Goofy, Pluto, Daisy, and Jack Sparrow. Refer to the daily Personal Navigator for times and locations.
The ship also scheduled Toddler Time, or a toddler play area, on select mornings for 45 minutes. Other activities included getting stylized at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Here, stylists transformed children into princes, pirates or princesses through makeup, glitter, and hairdos. The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques in the Walt Disney World Parks were often booked up, so it was nice to have another option via the cruise to for this opportunity.
Restaurants at dinner time entertained the whole family. At Tiana’s restaurant, a performers played instruments and sang family-friendly songs. Princess Tiana made her way through the restaurant to greet guests at their tables. Triton’s restaurant featured a friendly shark character who posed with guests. Animator’s Palate restaurant showcased the artwork of classic Disney characters who then came to life on framed screens on the restaurant’s walls.
Between main seating time and the evening show, families participated in many activities. We used this time to shop or to attend events such as the Family Dance Party at Azure club. There was also Bingo, pin trading, game shows, live music, and more.
The impressive nightly theater shows provided Broadway-quality performances. Guests could arrive up to a half hour early to pick seats. The theater offered complimentary plastic chair boosters to give little ones a better view. Our Disney Wonder shows included The Golden Mickeys, Disney Dreams An Enchanted Classic, and Disney Frozen A Musical Spectacular. All featured amazing high-quality stage sets, singing, dancing, and acting to keep audiences engaged. With our main dining seating time at 5:45 pm, we watched the 8:30 pm shows. Though this was late for our toddler, she either fell asleep in our arms or managed to stay awake to watch the shows which lasted for about an hour.
Pirate Night, or the Pirates in the Caribbean Party, took place on the outdoor deck by the pools. The party, complete with singers, dancers, characters, food, and fireworks, began at 10 pm. It was a late start for our little ones. My eldest was able to stay up with me while my husband went back to the cabin with our sleeping toddler. Up by the stage, the crew members blocked off a Kid Zone area. However, this crowded area was mostly filled with older kids and even some adults so it would not be ideal for an infant or toddler. To get a good view of the entertainment, try going to the top deck to look down on the party.
Sleep Time for Infants and Toddlers
Stateroom host/hostess remained the same for guests throughout the trip. Our hostess cleaned the room in the morning. She returned in the evening while we were at dinner to turn down the beds and tidy up.
We originally requested a crib, which ended up being a playpen. It was a bit small for our toddler, but was doable for her naps. For night time, our stateroom hostess set up the bunk beds (that folded into the wall). Tip: Disney Cruise lines supplies bed guard rails. I had no idea until our stateroom hostess got one for our toddler. On a side note, our room also included an additional twin size Murphy bed should we have needed it.
I loved that our room had a privacy curtain that divided the kids’ sleeping area from the adult side. This allowed us to stay up later than our kids without disturbing them.
I also appreciated that we had two bathrooms – one had a toilet and sink while the other had with a tub and a sink. This was so convenient as we never felt impatient for the bathroom since we always had access to part of it. The tub was ideal for giving my toddler a bath who otherwise may have freaked out in a shower.
Given all of the above, it is no surprise I recommend a Disney Cruise for families — especially those with infants and toddlers. Disney Cruises proactively think of the little things that make a difference when it comes to traveling with young children. They’re are notoriously more expensive than other cruise lines. But if families are able to swing it, Disney Cruises are at the top of its class and provides an impressive high quality experience for families worth every penny.