From my first step aboard the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream, I knew this three-day cruise to the Bahamas was going to be special. And not just because my two grandchildren, 11-year-old Jock and 9-year-old Scarlett, were with me. As our names were announced on the loudspeaker, we were welcomed aboard by crewmembers who clapped as we entered the ship. Special, indeed.
So, too, was traveling with my grandkids without their parents, which is part of a growing trend of “skip-generation” trips. Unlike multigenerational travel, a skip-gen trip leaves the middle generation — parents — behind so grandparents can bond with their grandkids on fun vacations. It was especially meaningful to me since I live on the opposite side of the country from Jock and Scarlett, and only see them a few times a year.
Turns out that a Disney cruise, the gold standard in family cruising, was the ideal way for us to have a memorable vacation together. Plus, since a cruise is all-inclusive and self-contained, the logistics — from where to go for dinner to how to fill each day — were effortless, especially helpful since I’m not used to spending time with my grandkids.
Photo by Matt Stroshane
Leave it to Disney to turn dining into a magical, whimsical experience. The genius is in the rotational dining system, whereby our waiters followed us to all three themed restaurants. It allowed the kids to bond with our Jamaican headwaiter, Linval, who did magic tricks at the table, and with our Indonesian assistant waiter, Arka, who made origami animals, inspiring Scarlett to make an origami “fortune teller,” much to his surprise.
Dinner became a highlight, instead of a trial: Each time we sat down, Jock automatically got his lemonade and Scarlett her Shirley Temple (thank you, Linval and Arka). Menus featured plenty of kid-pleasers (burgers, chicken fingers, mac ‘n’ cheese). And Mickey ears showed up in enchanting ways — in the shape of ketchup poured on a plate and of chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick.
Jock was smitten by dinner at Animator’s Palate, where Crush the sea turtle from Finding Nemo chatted with us in surfer speak — “Totally righteous, dude!” — from his underwater world shown on a giant plasma screen adjacent to our table. Meanwhile, for lunch one day, Scarlett and I laughed over her all-white meal of rice, bread, mac ‘n’ cheese and creamy cheesecake chosen from the endless Cabanas buffet.
Finally, kudos to Disney for Eye Scream, the 24/7 self-serve softie ice cream dispenser located near the pool. What a way to a kid’s heart.
Photo by Matt Stroshane
Cabins were both supremely practical and oh-so fun. With a sofa-turned-bed, a bunk bed lowered from ceiling and a queen-sized bed, we each had our own sleeping place but were close enough to make it feel like a cozy slumber party to me. Double baths — one with shower and sink and the other with toilet and sink — allowed me to keep my toiletries separate from the kids’, a brilliant design stroke by Disney. And Tina, our Filipina cabin attendant, delighted the kids each day with adorable “towel animals,” sometimes adorned with chocolate money.
Like elsewhere on the ship, you can’t escape the ever-presence of Mickey Mouse. We made a “Where’s Waldo” game out of finding all the hidden Mickeys lurking about the cabin. They’re on the shower curtain, the towels and linens (very subtle), a glass paperweight, the light switch (teeny), the drawer handle, the rim of the lampshade, and the emergency evacuation sign on the door. Walt would surely approve.
Entertainment That Sings
Photo by Steven Diaz
Count on Disney to make the entertainment on board sing. All three of us were captivated by each evening’s show in the Walt Disney Theater, with the elaborate sets and costumes, beloved songs and characters, and professional performances. The newest addition, Beauty and the Beast, could easily be Broadway bound. In fact, a Broadway veteran, Gordon Greenberg, directed the signature show, Disney’s Believe. Of the three musicals, we each picked a different one as our favorite, evidence of their something-for-everyone appeal.
Less formal but no less entertaining was the Pirates of the Caribbean show on the outdoor stage next to the pools on pirate night. Passengers packed the deck sporting the red bandanas provided in the cabins and oohed and aahed at the late-night fireworks that capped off the evening.
Photo by Veronica Stoddart
We kept things simple for our shore excursions. During our half day in Nassau, Jock and Scarlett shopped in the stores along Bay Street and were wide-eyed in the Straw Market, where they bought souvenirs (including thoughtful gifts for their parents), bantered with the market ladies, and where Scarlett proudly got her hair braided. They also saw their first steel drum player on the street, who let Jock try his hand at tapping out some notes, much to his amazement. Sharing such first-time experiences with them was pure gold for me.
The next day we spent on Castaway Cay, Disney’s gorgeous private island with a beach that could put postcards to shame. The kids snorkeled, saw their first stingrays, and endlessly repeated the ropes’ course over the water.
Fun, Fun, Fun On Board
Photo by Matt Stroshane
It’s no surprise that Disney excels at onboard activities for every member of the family — more than we could possibly pack into three days. Start with the immersive kids’ clubs, which serve ages 6 months to 17 years and are staffed with well-trained counselors. (I ignored the adult-only lounges, bars, restaurants and pools in favor of spending time with the kids.)
Jock hung out in the Oceaneer Club (ages 3 to 12), where kids can explore four themed play sections and interact with visiting Disney characters. He bee-lined for the Infinity Game Room with its cutting-edge gaming stations, where “you can play characters from Disney and fight bad guys, like in Minecraft,” he said excitedly. But once he discovered the Edge, a tween club for his “tribe” of 11- to 13-year-olds tucked away inside the ship’s funnel, he never returned to the Oceaneer. Magic/comedy shows, an 18-foot-tall video wall, computers and counselor-led games (Simon Says, Mr. Fox) kept him coming back — and even caused him to break our agreed-upon curfew on our final night.
Scarlett, on the other hand, stayed with me as we sampled the ship’s activities — to my utter delight. She swam in the two family pools; drooled over the princess gowns in the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, where girls can get their hair, makeup and nails done; played ping pong with me on the sports deck; and repeatedly rode the AquaDuck with a new-found friend. The first-ever water coaster at sea is a transparent, acrylic tube that shoots riders along in a two-person raft on a wild trip around the ship, at one point swinging out 13 feet off the side and 150 feet above the ocean. She proclaimed it her favorite thing about the cruise.
Photos by Veronica Stoddart
Jock’s favorite activity, surprisingly, was the many meet-and-greets with Disney characters. In fact, neither child could get enough of chatting and posing with these icons — even if it meant waiting in line. They ticked off four “princesses,” Tiana, Belle, Rapunzel and Cinderella; the Frozen sisters, Anna and Elsa; Daisy and Donald Duck; Pluto; Captain Hook and Mr. Smee; Stitch; Chip ‘n’ Dale; Minnie Mouse and, of course, the star himself, Mickey Mouse, who they clinched on our last night. As for me, I overdosed on memorable photos and videos.
And that’s not the only memory I’ll treasure forever. When he got home, Jock said to his mother, “I couldn’t believe how young Grandma seemed. She did everything with us. Sometimes she even looked younger than you, Mom!” Music to the ears of this very grateful grandmother.
By Veronica Stoddart