This year, my husband and I wanted to take our first family vacation with our 4-year-old daughter, Chase. I was concerned about finding a vacation that would suit all of our desires for eight days — entertainment for our daughter, activities for all of us to enjoy and, most of all, babysitting services.
After some research and feedback from other families, we decided on a week-long Disney Cruise through the Western Caribbean.
When we arrived at Port Canaveral, via a Disney bus from the Orlando Airport, we checked-in while marveling at the size of our cruise liner, the Disney Magic. As we were waiting to board, Minnie Mouse appeared in her sailor’s outfit. My daughter was awestruck with the adult-size version of her favorite cartoon character and agreed to stand in line to get her picture taken with her. However, she was too afraid when we finally reached the front of the line and instead, ran away in fear. My husband and I ended up having our picture taken with Minnie as our daughter sulked in the distance.
Once on the ship, the first thing Chase wanted to do was swim in the pool. There were three different pools on the deck — the children’s pool, shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head with a water slide; the family pool, with outdoor movies and entertainment and always very crowded; and the adults-only pool, the quietest and least crowded, with a bar and jacuzzi (which appeared to be the only place on deck where you actually could relax!).
My daughter immediately jumped into the kids’ pool and played in the water, but there were so many other children, she didn’t have a lot of space. This didn’t seem to bother her since she was used to fighting for space in crowded places, being raised in Queens. As soon as my husband got into the water to play with her, a bunch of kids spotted him and shouted “grown up!” Immediately, the children rushed toward him and climbed on him, like a human jungle gym. My husband played along for about 10 minutes and then escaped to the jacuzzi, where he sat for an hour to recuperate.
The food on the Disney Cruise was very good and the three restaurants on board had different cuisine themes every day. We were seated next to a nice family from Ohio, the Patels, a couple with a daughter a year older than Chase. We were told that we would be seated at the same table with the Patels every night for dinner — which concerned me because I was afraid it would end in disaster if we didn’t like each other.
Luckily, we all hit it off. Both of the Patels’ parents were from India and had been to Jackson Heights many times to shop in the Indian stores and supermarkets and eat at the Indian restaurants. We spent a good amount of time exchanging stories of our experiences visiting the neighborhood.
I had always heard that when you go on a cruise, you gain 10 pounds, so I was conscientious about portion control at the meals. My husband, on the other hand, is very active and can lose weight quickly. While the Patels and I were careful not to overindulge, my husband ordered two entrees and two desserts every night. Needless to say, he became pretty well-known with the dining staff.
As the cruise progressed, the Disney characters made their rounds at the dining tables. They also appeared at different areas throughout the ship, and kids could be photographed with them and get their autographs. When my daughter met them, she calmed down and finally posed for the camera. Girls of all ages dressed up at night as the different princesses and the crew and staff usually addressed all the girls, whether or not they were in costume, as princesses.
This was the third Disney Cruise for the Patels and they gave us a lot of good advice about things we could do, like the evening theater shows that were Broadway-quality productions. We joined them some nights, and I thought the shows were wonderful — they left our daughter completely entranced, sitting on the edge of her seat, gazing at the stage and singing along, which made the people sitting next to us chuckle.
Every night when we came back to our cabin, our sheets were turned down with mints, a program of the next day’s events and a towel sculpture, or “towelgami.” The first night our daughter was afraid to come into the cabin when she saw a big lobster made out of terry cloth sitting on our bed. However, after several nights of being welcomed home by a swan, elephant and turtle, she would run back to the cabin to see what creature awaited us, but mostly she was looking forward to eating the chocolate mint.
There were plenty of activities to do to work off all the calories we were consuming. My husband ran the jogging path on the ship’s deck one morning. At the fitness center there were yoga and exercise classes, but my husband and I opted for the spa, where we worked up a sweat sitting in the sauna for two hours.
Every time the ship landed in a port, we would sign up for an off-shore excursion. Since my husband took a day trip in Cozumel to go scuba diving, I chose to take our daughter to Xcaret, an ecological swim park in Cancun. I had been to Xcaret before and loved the rivers that flowed through lagoons and underground caves.
When we arrived, our Mexican tour group company gave all the Disney guests life preservers, walked us into the river and assured us none of us would drown. As I was pulling my daughter through the river, since she could not swim, she screamed and hollered at the top of her lungs for her father. At the end of our river adventure, we stayed on the beach and had lunch. We were then given a couple of hours to venture off and see all the animals, birds and fish. Unlike the older children on the tour, my daughter had no interest in seeing the wildlife. All she wanted to do was swim in the water and see how much sand she could put down her bathing suit.
At the next port in Nassau, I decided to put our daughter in the babysitting service for half the day. The ship had an entire floor devoted to children’s activities where there were so many security measures to keep track of all the kids, it would take nearly 10 minutes to just drop off or pick up your child.
At Castaway Cay it was sunny and cool and we got a chance to enjoy the beach and go bike riding. When I asked one of the staff members on the island where I could throw away my trash, she took the sticky garbage from my hands and threw it out herself. If there was one outstanding feature of the entire Disney Cruise, it was the amazing level of customer service.
The last night of the trip was my daughter’s fourth birthday and the dining staff came out with a cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Before she blew out the candles, I told her to make a wish. Later that night when I asked her what her wish was, she said she wanted to go on another Disney Cruise.
Since my husband had just paid on board for a Disney Cruise for next year, her wish had, in fact, come true.