Published Mar/Apr 2005

Multigenerational family groups are cruising more than ever before, and Disney Cruise Line is offering them an array of activities and ports of call.
By Dennis R. Heinze

At one point during our seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Disney Magic, I didn’t know where most of the 13 people in our family group were, and it was wonderful. I was having too much fun to search for them, and so were they.

Later I learned that while I was at the children’s pool watching my 5-year-old son careen down a curling slide with a splash into the Mickey Mouse-shaped pool, my 8-year-old son was at a plate decorating class with his grandmother. And my wife was shopping for souvenirs while other members of our group were relaxing at a quiet pool reserved just for adults.

Disney Cruise Line specializes in offering a range of programs and activities for every member of the family, which is why our extended family embarked on this reunion cruise. Our group of family and close friends had members ranging from 6 months old to nearly 60 and everywhere in between, and we converged at Port Canaveral in Florida for the voyage from three different states.

Multigenerational and multifamily travel is a burgeoning trend not only for Disney but also for the cruise industry in general. According to Cruise Lines International Association, multigenerational families are one of the fastest-growing segments of the entire cruise market, with nearly 1 million children sailing last year with their families.

“Over half of our guests vacationing aboard Disney Cruise Line are traveling in some type of multi-family group,” said Christi Erwin, a publicist with the cruise line. “With something for every age group aboard, Disney Cruise Line is one of the perfect places to travel with these types of groups.”

From babies to adults

One of the first things we did once we boarded the Disney Magic was register our children in the free programs. For children 3 through 7, the Oceaneer Club offers activities that include crafts, games, shows, storytelling and more. And for children 8 through 12, the Oceaneer Lab features computers, video games, science experiments, sporting activities and craft projects.

During the cruise, my 8-year-old son enjoyed making a picture frame and a mouse pad with his picture on it. He also starred as a pirate in a short play the children produced. And my 5-year-old was fascinated by the Nemo puppet show, and he raved about the pajama party.

The youngest member of our group, my 6-month-old nephew, spent some time in Flounder’s Reef, an under-the-sea-themed day care setting for children under 3. The service was much appreciated by his parents who could enjoy a few dinners without having to take turns eating while the other one held the baby. There is a nominal fee for the service, and parents need to sign up early because slots fill up fast.

Parents who register their children in the programs receive a beeper so they can be contacted if necessary by the staff. To ensure the safety and security of the children, Disney requires a password for parents to check their children out of the clubs.

Although we didn’t have any teenagers in our family group, they would have had their own place, as well. The Stack is an area where teens can dance, watch multiple televisions, access the Internet and snack with friends without parents around.

Some of the adult members of our group weren’t traveling with children, and they had their own places to go, too. There’s an adults-only entertainment district with three separate bars, as well as a pool where children are not allowed. And some of our group visited the Vista Spa and Salon for massages and a nutritional consultation.

Ports of plenty

During our western Caribbean cruise, a nice mix of days at sea and ports of call afforded something for everyone in our group. Sometimes we ventured into port together, and other times we booked separate excursions based on our individual interests and ages.

In Key West, we explored the city by foot as a group, shopping for souvenirs and enjoying the sights, like the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Little White House Museum, which President Harry S. Truman used as a vacation retreat. Then my wife and I rented an electric car that resembles a Volkswagen bug and toured the island with our children, while some of the other adults visited such Key West landmark pubs as Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Café.

While in Grand Cayman, we split up for different excursions. In the morning while my wife shopped in town with other members of our group for silver jewelry, I took the Nautilus Undersea Tour with our sons. The boat had an underwater observatory with windows around the hull, offering views of the ocean bottom. During the tour, my sons were amazed at the colorful fish swimming just inches outside the windows, and they were more fascinated by the two actual shipwrecks that we floated over.

In the afternoon, my wife swam with the children in the ship’s pools while I joined other members of our group on a tour to Stingray City. We took a short voyage to a three-foot sandbar out in the ocean where dozens of stingrays glide through crystal-clear water. After the captain gave a brief talk about how to safely encounter the rays, we got in the water and could feel the rays’ velvety skin as they swam around our legs. Some adventurous members of our group fed the stingrays small squid the captain provided.

Our group decided to spend the day together in Cozumel where we took the Beach Break excursion at Playa Sol Beach. My older son and I took a paddleboat out into the gentle surf and stopped at a huge inflated, floating trampoline, where he happily jumped around. When we tired of the beach, we enjoyed lunch and a relaxing pool with a swim-up bar.

The highlight for everyone was Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, where we spent the day swimming, building sandcastles, relaxing and taking tours. For me, the most thrilling experience of the trip was the Personal Watercraft Eco Tour. We sped off around the island on Jet Skis following a guide, who stopped occasionally to talk about the abundant marine life around Castaway Cay and about the colorful history of The Bahamas.

Other members of our group rented snorkeling equipment and explored the 12-acre snorkel lagoon. There were trails to follow and sights to see along the way, including a submerged statue of Mickey Mouse. Still others in our party took a parasailing adventure, soaring 1,000 feet above the island on a parachute tethered to a speeding boat below.

Magic in the details

After spending the days going our separate ways, we always met again at dinner to regale each other with our day’s experiences. The dining rooms offer different-sized tables to accommodate families and groups of any size.

Dining was an experience itself, with a rotating schedule so guests eat in three different restaurants during the trip. Lumière’s is a grand dining room with a French flair, and Parrot Cay is a casual restaurant inspired by the vibrant colors and architectural styles of The Bahamas. Finally, Animator’s Palate offers a multi-sensory experience with black and white sketches of Disney characters on the walls that are transformed into colorful images as the dinner progresses.

You have the same wait staff in every restaurant, and after the first night, all of them knew each of our names. When the waiters delivered hamburgers or chicken fingers to the children in our group, they would dollop ketchup on a plate in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. And the head waiter occasionally stopped by and performed magic or table games with toothpicks or crayons.

The best choice for dining, however, is Palo. Located high atop the ship, the restaurant offers northern Italian cuisine in a luxurious setting. Guests must make reservations, and diners must be at least 18 years old. There is a nominal fee, but it’s well worth it for the handmade pizzas, crabmeat and eggplant stuffed tortelloni and homemade ravioli. Don’t miss the champagne brunch, which features wonderful eggs benedict, crab legs, smoked salmon and a mind-boggling array of other choices.

The production shows on board also were terrific, especially a relatively new show called “The Golden Mickeys” featuring many of Disney’s most famous and infamous characters. Entertainment without the children was fun as well. During an ‘80s dance party, members of our group joined the Go-Gos and Bon Jovi in a battle of the lip-sync bands. It was no wonder that the girls won with the most applause since they were wearing only bath towels reminiscent of the Go-Gos’ “Beauty and the Beat” album cover.

With so many different activities on board and ashore, our multigenerational group found multiple ways to have fun. Throughout the cruise, most of the decisions that have added stress to other family reunion trips, such as where to eat and what to do, were taken care of already. All we had to do was worry about enjoying ourselves, whether we were doing things as a group or individually. Even if I didn’t know where everyone was all the time, I was sure they were having a good time.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of the “AAA Midwest Traveler.”

Below: Aboard the Disney Magic, a curling slide looks as if it were being held up by Mickey Mouse’s hand.

Before You Go
Stop by your nearest AAA Travel office to book your next Disney cruise. View a list of offices.

Search Disney cruises online

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Disneyland in southern California this year, the Disney Magic will offer 12 consecutive seven-night cruise vacations from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera between May 28 and Aug. 19. Guests can book pre- or post-cruise stays at Disneyland Resort to celebrate the park’s milestone birthday.

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