10 Things to Expect When Aboard Disney’s Very Merrytime Cruise
I should start this blog by saying that I typically prefer a “land” vacation – one where I can really settle in, explore all the hidden (not-so-touristy) gems, and most importantly avoid crowds and buffet food.
BUT, like all of you, I’ve seen the pictures and read the blogs about how magical a Disney Cruise is. I mean, if it costs that much money, it must be awesome. Right?!
So, before Mallory Grace, our daughter, officially aged up into the double digits, we decided to bite the proverbial bullet and book not just any Disney Cruise, but the ultimate one—Disney’s Very Merrytime Cruise.
Never have my friends and family been more interested to hear about one of my trips. That said, without hesitation, I offer each of you the “lowdown” on this once in (our family’s) lifetime holiday voyage.
Spoiler alert: it was pretty magical.
1. Broadway-Style Entertainment
I’m talking the kind that well exceeds a typical cruise vacation.
Disney does a great job arranging a family-friendly evening schedule of dinner and a show. With two performances each night that correspond with dinner seatings, we were able to enjoy a leisurely dinner from 5:45 – 7:30 p.m., stop to get an adult beverage and popcorn for the kids, and great seats for the evening show. FYI – they flip-flop this for the second dinner seating for those who prefer to watch the show before filling up on food.
The entire family loved the live performances, which included Beauty and the Beast and Disney’s Believe. In fact, my husband (who will do almost anything to get out of watching musicals or plays) said the shows were his favorite part of the cruise. They also aired the new Mary Poppins movie, which was still in theatres.
Needless to say, we were exhausted the first night and chose to skip The Golden Mickey’s. I can only assume it was as great as the other shows we saw, which were Broadway quality inside the ship’s intimate theatre.
One thing you won’t want to miss? Disney’s Believe featuring every last Disney princess and the always hilarious Genie, from Aladdin. We all squealed and shouted the name of each princess as she made her entrance – as if each one was a long lost friend. It was a great ending on the last night of the cruise. Overall, the entertainment was a highlight of our vacation and anything but a “cheesy cruise number.”
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Purchase the popcorn bucket on first night for unlimited $1.50 refills to enjoy during show nights throughout your time on board.
2. Fun Onboard Parties + Events
The two big deck celebrations included the Sailing Away Party and Pirate Night. As the name of the former celebration suggests, the ship’s crew offers up a dance party as the ship sails away to get everyone hyped up for the cruise. This was also the time when we enjoyed the first sightings of Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and the rest of the gang. I have to say that I felt like a six-year-old girl again—full of anticipation for the four days that lie ahead.
But, PIRATE NIGHT! Now, that’s another story. I completely underprepared and planned for this party. Families went all out with their costumes, eye patches, swords, gold hoops, and head scarfs. After dinner, the pirates put on a party for the younger kids up on the pool deck because the main show doesn’t start until 10 p.m., and it includes a live theatre style performance, fireworks, and a dance party.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: The Bibbity Bobbity Boutique offers pirate theme dress-up reservations for Pirate Night for both boys and girls. Book WELL IN ADVANCE, however, to secure a spot on this popular day. Also, bring your own pirate wear or stop at the ship’s store to purchase fun pirate gear. We got the pirate ears for around $15 and telescope for less than $10. Our cabin attendant left Disney pirate scarfs in our room for that evening’s special gift.
Last, but not least – one of the special events aboard Disney’s Very Merrytime was the Winter Wonderland Ball, which took place on Christmas Eve in the ship’s main entrance.
In addition to a “snowfall,” Santa, Mrs. Claus, and all the Disney characters showed up to remind the kids to get tucked in and fast asleep to await Santa’s big arrival.
This was a really special moment and served to elevate the excitement and magic of Christmas morning!
3. Frequent Character Sightings
Intimate, frequent and up-close access to the characters was perhaps the highlight of the cruise. Nearly every 30 minutes, a character was scheduled to make an appearance somewhere on the ship. It was common to pass by Cinderella in the hall, see Pluto playing cars with kids on all fours, or bump into Goofy without any effort at all.
For this reason, I wouldn’t suggest paying extra for character meals or experiences. Your children (and you) will get plenty of no-cost opportunities to hug your favorite Disney characters.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: As long as you’re in line by the scheduled “end time,” you’ll get to see the character. Catch the Christmas Eve show to see all your favorite characters at once! But, just be sure to arrive early and get a seat down in front.
4. An Out-of-this-World Kids Club
The ship’s kids club was seriously out of this world. The supervised area consisted of smaller sections made up of the Oceaneer Lab and Club, which are really the same interconnected area.
It includes a Star Wars Death Star Simulator, craft area modeled after Pixie Hollow, Andy’s Room play area – with Slinky, Woody, and the whole gang, play floor for group dance activities, an area where you can virtually dock the ship… I could go on and on. Not to mention, the ongoing science experiments, cooking classes, and planned crafts. One time, I picked Mallory Grace up and she was on the dance floor with Stitch!
Best of all, the kids club is free, and open all day and into the evening – making it super easy to do things together as a family or spend time away as a couple (with zero guilt). We ended up having friends onboard with a son Mallory Grace’s age, so they loved hanging out there together even more.
5. Five Star Service + Cleanliness
Disney does a stellar job with the overall cleanliness and service aboard the Disney Dream. We had expected friendly service, which was absolutely the case. But, operationally, they had everything figured out.
There was a general ease and efficiency at meal times, getting on and off the ship at ports, and everything in between. They also manned all dining areas with sanitation wipes for each guest prior to entering, hand washing stations for kids at the kids club areas, and manned each public rest area for cleanliness at all times.
We appreciated that this level of service continued through customs with an abundance of porters and staff members to expedite more than 4,000 guests coming off the ship.
6. A Busy, Kid-Centric Experience
Boy were we happy that we scheduled four nights of relaxing vacation time following the cruise! We did get away for some spa time and a few hours of alone time each day on the pool deck or at the adults-only bar. But, we were still busy during our time on board.
We were suffering from the same FOMO (fear of missing out) that many adults feel when at the Disney parks. We didn’t want to miss a character, show, party, port adventure, or anything in between. So what did we do? We went from sunup to sundown, from one fun thing to another.
There was literally something fun scheduled every minute of every day. For example, a Christmas movie showing on the pool deck, family karaoke, gingerbread house making, character greeting, and fitness class might all be happening at the same time.
For this reason, I would suggest parents book the cruise with the understanding that it’s a time to create memories with your kids and have fun. Not necessarily to relax and recharge.
7. Dining Experiences that Rival the Food Itself
If there was one area that didn’t blow us away it was the food on board the ship. What Disney’s Very Merrytime Cruise lacked in taste, however, it made up for in the overall dining experience. Our eight-year-old daughter could not get enough of the magic tricks performed by our charming and attentive server each evening.
Out of the three family-friendly dinner venues (included with your cruise), we liked Animator’s Palate best where a very real-like “Crush” talks with the children during dinner.
You can make dinner reservations at the more “upscale” venues on board, which are adults-only. I did hear that the food was very good and included many courses. We, however, opted for treats at Vanellope’s Sweets & Treats Shop, which was perfect for post-dinner candy, ice cream, and treats (at an extra cost).
Tripbound Traveler Tip: You’re assigned the same wait staff team for dinner time throughout your cruise. They also pre-assign restaurants for the duration of your stay so you can try all three during the voyage. You are able to visit the Guest Services desk to request a change in the dining schedule.
8. A Sweet, Beautiful, Fun + (Not-So-Private) Castaway Cay
Albeit a cloudy, windy, and occasionally rainy day on Castaway Cay, we couldn’t help but to appreciate all the holiday touches and Disney magic on this tropical Caribbean island.
Just minutes off the boat, we were greeted under the giant Christmas tree by Captain Hook himself. Not long after, Goofy, Mickey, and Stitch showed up in their beachwear to join the fun.
We pre-booked the package that included floats, snorkel gear, and the stingray adventure. But, due to the weather, we fed the stingrays, put Mallory in the on-island / sand-covered supervised kids club, and had a fruity drink in a hammock on the tranquil, adults-only side of the island.
By the way, that’s exactly what I would recommend for your time on the island as the main beach area is a teensy bit packed with your fellow shipmates.
Going back to our pre-booked package, however, the stingray adventure included snorkeling with them in the enclosed area, which would have added value to the cost of – assuming your kids are willing to do this. Our daughter (and I) were freaked during the 10-minute feeding exercise (despite the fact that they are barb free). Rain or shine, neither of us were snorkeling with those rays.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Wait to book port adventures that don’t have limited availability such as Aquaventure in Nassau and the Stingray Adventure on Castaway Cay. Why? Because you can’t cancel once you’re inside the three-day window, and you just never know if the weather will cooperate.
9. Adults-Only Areas that Make You Want to Hide Out All Day Long
Disney does a great job at making sure the adults in your travel crew can have a place to relax and recharge, too. Located just past the main pool deck, the kid-free area offers a first-class spa & salon, huge state-of-the-art fitness center and juice bar, sun deck, pool and jacuzzi, two bars and a coffee bar.
In addition, there are several adult cocktail lounges, offering every possible theme imaginable – from martinis and sports lounges to karaoke, and (my favorite) the Pink champagne bar.
One of my favorite memories aboard the Disney Dream was the Couples Choice Spa Treatment – affording us 2 ½ hours to enjoy the spa therapies of our choice along with time in the private oceanfront suite, which was complete with a jacuzzi for two, champagne, and a few treasured quiet and relaxing moments with each other away from the kids areas.
You can also purchase a pass to visit the ship’s rainforest area, which includes a body scrub, steam room, oceanfront dry sauna, and combination of showers to simulate a rainforest experience if you’re looking for a more affordable way to get away and recharge during your stay.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Ask about the daily morning drink special – think $4 Bloody Mary’s until noon. Also, reserve fitness classes as soon as you get on board. They fill up very quickly.
10. Disney’s Magical Details + A Regret-Free Splurge
When I got back to the office, the question all my fellow mamas wanted to know was: “Is it worth the cost?”
Full disclosure, the cruise was $5,870 for the three of us in a balcony stateroom for four nights on Disney’s Very Merrytime Christmas Cruise from 12/24-12/28.
A similar four-night cruise on Royal Caribbean during the summer months (same room type / number of guests / similar ports) would cost around $2,800 (current promotion included). So, that’s double the cost, and some of that is holiday vs. summertime + the promotion.
But, the question remains: “Is Disney’s Very Merrytime Cruise magical enough to make it worth the cost?”
My answer is: Yes, ONCE. And, while the kids are little (I think ages six to nine is the sweet spot). I do think you can get away with the three-night cruise, which makes going during non-peak times totally doable on a long weekend.
Ultimately, magic can be found in the details like the pictures that come to life, magic tricks performed by your waiter, Mickey-shaped waffles, and even the ship’s Disney theme whistle.
But, the most magical of all? The smile on Mallory Grace’s face and the memories I know she’ll have forever. Call me cliche.
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