It came with pink dresses, martinis, and bows. Don’t forget the fabulous shows. It came with a few tears, tempting meals and plenty of Mickey Mouse ears. A Disney Cruise may take you to a beachy shore but we are here to tell you that there is so much more. Hand in hand we boarded the luxurious Disney Cruise liner with our two-year-old toddler, slightly anxious if she was ready to embark on such an adventure.
Up the gangway, we fumbled, sounds of applause echoing in the distance. As we approached the entrance it became clear that the applause was for each guest/family that was being announced while boarding the ship! In true princess fashion, my daughter embraced it, soaking up the first bit of magic like a sponge. Within minutes our anxiety jumped overboard leaving us with one of the most spectacular family vacations full of lifelong memories.
A Guide To A Disney Cruise With A Toddler
The magic of a Disney cruise does come with a nice price tag. A lot of planning goes into a Disney Cruise especially if you contemplating pulling children out of school go. I recommend reading this article for guidance on that decision.
To help ensure that you make the most of your cruise we have put together a great guide on taking a toddler on a Disney Cruise. We took our not-fully potty trained, Halloween-loving daughter aboard the Disney Dream for Halloween On The High Seas.
One will quickly discover the first way to secure cruise success with a toddler starts before you step onboard.
Choosing The Perfect Stateroom
Ultimately this will come down to your budget because without a doubt the Concierge Royal Suite would be the ideal room for everyone! Who wouldn’t want a separate bedroom, a dining table, and more than six feet of space to move around in? Sadly, the magical price tag on that is hefty. Since the majority of us are looking for something on the more affordable side here are a few tips when choosing the perfect stateroom on a Disney Cruise with a toddler.
To Veranda or Not To Veranda
A toddler on a veranda often invokes horrifying thoughts of them going overboard. However, I am here to tell you to put your fears partially at ease because we got a veranda with a toddler on our Disney Cruise.
There are actually three types of balconies offered on a Disney Cruise. According to the Disney Cruise Line website:
- The standard verandah features an open-air balcony skirted by an acrylic wall, allowing for a full view of the horizon even while seated.
- The whitewall verandah offers open-air lounging with a solid wall from the deck to the railing. Most of these staterooms are located in the aft portion of the ship.
- The navigator’s verandah is enclosed for greater privacy while still affording a stunning view and sea breezes through a large, open-air porthole above the railing
The verandas on a Disney Cruise are designed to be as safe as possible, however, NEVER leave your children unattended on the veranda. The minute we took our little gal out she immediately tried to climb on the furniture. Instant heart attack.
After barricading the furniture into the furthest corner of the balcony we felt at more ease so long as we were with her. We had the whitewall verandah that was a solid wall from the deck to the railing. Overall, the veranda ended up giving our family more of our own space. The balcony doors are childproof and actually quiet.
This brings me to my next point. Get the balcony for you. This is your vacation too! Once your little one goes to sleep for the evening having a place to retreat will make your cruise more enjoyable. Many glasses of wine were enjoyed under the stars on our balcony while our daughter was rocked to sleep by the waves. You can easily see inside the cabin with ease so no monitor is necessary.
Does Size Matter?
To be completely honest we were only in our stateroom for sleeping and showering. Sitting in a small room with a toddler is the last thing I want to do when there are tons of great activities going on around the ship.
The size will come into play depending on how many people are sleeping in your cabin. The majority of rooms have a couch that converts to a bed with an upper berth pull-down bed.
Cribs and pack-n-plays are available upon request. YES! They do provide them! They also provide Diaper Genies! There is also a heavy curtain that separates the sitting and sleeping areas. Perfect for tots who can’t sleep if they lay their eyes on their parents.
Choose Your Location Wisely
Once you have determined the type of stateroom you will be staying in then you get to pick your location. Here are a few quick things to consider while picking your location:
- Look at what will be directly above you. Is your stateroom right above the pool area where kids will be running? Or perhaps your room is below the nightclub!
- Being near the elevator giveth and taketh. Easy access comes with noise. Families waiting for the elevator, elated children running to their staterooms, and the general foot traffic of the entire deck passing by your room.
- If motion sickness is a concern consider getting a room on one of the lower decks in the middle of the ship.
- Keep in mind the exact same room can cost more or less depending on where you are located on the ship.
Pre-Registering For Small World Nursery and Oceaneer Kids Club
Your room is booked hurray! Bust out the champagne! After completing your online registration you can start enrolling the kids in the youth programs aboard the ship.
In the words of Ursula, “Here’s The Deal….” the youth clubs are included in the price of your cruise BUT your child has to be completely potty trained and three years old or older to be able to attend. If they’re not then you have to go to the Small World Nursery…and PAY!
That’s right angelfish if you want to enjoy a few hours child-free, which I highly recommend, then you will have to register the kiddos in their appropriate areas. The Small World Nursery does charge for childcare on the Disney Cruise. To see what the going rate is, hop over to the Disney Cruise website.
Keep in mind the Small World Nursery does have a limited about of space so plan accordingly. Especially if you are looking for an evening at an adults-only restaurant. Registration can be completed on embarkation day but who wants to spend time doing paperwork when you could be exploring! At some point during the first-day families will need to check into the youth clubs to finalize their registration.
Disney Cruise Adventure Packet
Prepare your little cruisers with a Disney Cruise Adventure Packet to get them ready for their time aboard the ship. This is going to be a whole new world for them with new rules and boundaries. Help them understand what is going to happen with this great free packet from Disney.
Book Your Shore Excursions
Many of the popular and desirable shore excursions can book up quickly. My advice is to do your homework. Have two shore excursions picked out that your family would enjoy at each of the ports of call.
When the time rolls around to book the excursions, you have your primary excursion and a backup ready in the event it is full. That way you don’t have to regroup to see what would work while everything books up around you.
However, I will give you an insider tip: Staying on board while the ship is in port is the best way to have the ship’s amenities to yourself. Pools are practically empty, with no lines for waterslides, food, or anything!
Don’t forget to check out all the great activities there are in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.
Book Onboard Experiences
This is where I felt like I failed miserably on our cruise. Little did I know they had a special meet and greet with all the princesses in the lobby called the Royal Gathering! It is a completely free time to meet and greet with the princesses, but it reservation only and I missed it.
However, after closer examination, I realized that I never had the opportunity to book it. Disney opens up onboard experiences to those who have sailed previously so by the time it came around to first-time cruisers there was nothing left.
Naturally, we would be walking right by this royal event which invoked sheer delight in my daughter who was only met with disappointment when we couldn’t meet them. Now that we have “paid our dues” by getting our first sailing under our belt hopefully we will be able to make reservations next time for prime onboard events.
Other important events to book ahead are the Bibbity-Boppity Boutique, Princess Tea Times, and much-needed spa services for the adults.
Early Dinner Vs Late Dinner
Beef ragout, cheese souffle, pie and pudding on flambe! Sample all the culinary delights throughout the ship with a wide variety of dining options available. While buffets, bistros, and snack shacks are always available it is the fine dining we suggest.
Disney is on a rotational dining plan, meaning that each night you will be having dinner in one of their special themed dining rooms. The location of the cruise may yield different regional menu items. A great example is for those going on a Disney Alaskan Cruise.
There are two dining times that you get to choose from. The main seating is at 5:45 pm and the second seating is at 8:15 pm. The seating times correspond with the showtimes. If you want to catch the early show, sign up for the second seating and vice versa.
This decision was a tough one because after pouring over endless blog posts on which time would be best we ultimately choose to go with the main seating for two reasons. One, because our daughter has always been an early eater and waiting would likely result in a toddler typhoon of misery. Second, we keep her on a somewhat strict bedtime that was past the time of the second seating.
A few of our cruise mates opted for the second seating because they wanted their kids to see the show and knew the later dining time would fit perfectly. They would have a snack/early dinner at the buffet, show and then if they felt like it they would venture to the later dinner. In the end, it really comes down to what will work best for your family.
Food For Thought
- The main seating is more crowded. While service is always fast, the second seating seemed to have dinner presented faster.
- Keep in mind that you will likely be sharing a table with another family. It is a great way to meet new friends aboard the ship. Special requests can be made if you choose to sit with only your family.
- In the event you don’t make it to your scheduled dinner time there is always the buffet, bistros, and 24-hour room service available.
- Disney Cruise lines have mastered the art of entertaining a toddler during dinner. From their own special menu and coloring book, to the entertaining waitstaff helps makes dining out easier.
Download The Disney Cruise App
I recommend downloading this app right now if you have a Disney Cruise booked. The app has everything you need at your fingertips. It even works on the ship so you can pull up the Navigator (The daily schedule of events), make reservations, and so much more.
Toddler ABOARD! Great Activities For Toddlers On A Disney Cruise
It’s time to change into your swimsuit and hit the sundeck to catch some rays by the pool. Prepare yourself because there are three pools that are often very crowded. The hot tub transforms into a mini fourth pool with more kids than a sardine can in it.
The Funnel Puddle is a wading pool that is perfect for little ones. I feel this one is not AS crowded as the pools located one deck below. There is also an adults-only pool with a bar that makes for a great escape from the family poolside chaos.
It is now time to answer the ever-popular question of does my child need to be potty-trained to go into the pools on a Disney Cruise?
The answer is yes. Swim diapers are not allowed in the pools and they are monitored. This can be a huge bummer for little ones but Disney has addressed that with an awesome Splash Pad that you can wear a swim diaper in! Our daughter was mostly potty-trained and likely would have done great in the pool but we were not going to chance her having an accident. An accident would mean the entire pool would have to shut down for an extended period of time. That spoils the fun for others and we all paid good money to have fun on vacation.
One awesome thing about Disney is that soft drinks are included! Other cruise lines will often charge by the can, while here they flow like milk and honey. A drink station is conveniently located next to the pools. There is also free soft serve ice cream located next to Donald’s pool.
Nemo’s Reef, Our Favorite Activity On A Disney Cruise For A Toddler
This is one of the main reasons we booked a Disney Cruise over any other cruise line. They had a splash area designed for little ones in mind. Nemo’s reef is perfect for little crawlers, toddlers and those under 8 years old. While there were older kids in the splash area, keeping a watchful eye on them is helpful as I saw quite a few little ones knocked over in the midst of the excitement.
Nemo’s reef has a small kiddie-slide, a soft wet-deck surface and best of all it is completely shaded! Fun characters from Finding Nemo are found all throughout the large splash area with tons of fountains, bubblers and pop jets.
This water coaster is one of the first things your kids will beg to go on. This unique water ride will take you through 765 feet of the tube giving way only to stunning views of the ocean and ship below. At night it becomes alive with tons of multicolored lights tempting guests for just one more ride. Depending on when you go wait times can get pretty long. We managed to sneak on it, without Soph, while the ship was at the port with very little wait.
Per the Disney Cruise Line here are the requirements to ride:
- AquaDuck is designed for Guests 42″ or taller
- Single riders must be 54″ or taller
- Children under 7 must ride with someone 14 years of age or older, provided the child is at least 42″ tall
- No snorkel equipment or swim masks are permitted
Another great feature is the Mickey Slide that is designed for guests 4-14 years of age. The Mickey Slide is supported by the massive huge gloved Mickey hand. The height requirement for the Mickey Slide on the Disney Cruise is between 38″ (3′ 2″) and 64″ (5′ 4″) tall.
Open House For Small World Nursery and Oceaneer Club
In the event, you have a child who is not old enough to participate in the kids club they host open houses during select times for everyone to participate in. Even parents! This is when you will want to scoop up those littles to discover the play areas inside. Sophie thoroughly enjoyed discovering the different areas, crafts, and games that they played. I’m fairly confident during our next cruise she will want to leave us to go play!
This should go without saying but Disney sure does know how to put on a show. Every night there is a new and spectacular show playing in the Walt Disney Theatre. We had the opportunity to watch Beauty and the Beast which was marvelous. They were even running it on the Disney Cruise TV in the event one missed it or needed to see it again. A very popular word amongst the toddler crowd.
Be sure to check your Navigator for special shows and events that might be happening. Special deck parties, storytelling, and character greetings will all be listed there. Don’t worry if you miss a character, there is a strong likelihood that they will make random appearances throughout the ship.
Special Toddler Events
Lo and behold sitting in our stateroom was a calendar of events just for toddlers. From dance parties to water games in Nemo’s Reef, every day had a handful of activities aimed just for them. Characters will oftentimes make random appearances at these events. A prime example is Sophie was one of two toddlers at a dance party when Goofy walked in. It’s not every day you get your own private dance party with Goofy.
Goofy’s Sports Deck
Looking for a little friendly family competition? Head up to Goofy’s Sports Deck to play a round of mini-golf or shoot some hoops. Sophie preferred to run around the basketball court chasing the basketballs. The mini-golf has nine holes with a goofy twist. Crooked and bent golf clubs are available as golfers attempt to follow in Goofy’s golf lessons.
Additional Things To Know About A Disney Cruise With A Toddler
In lieu of formal night, Disney has Pirate Night. This is where guests get dressed up in their pirate best! Let me be the first to tell you that the vast majority of guests do dress up for this occasion. Disney does leave pirate bandanas in the rooms to encourage everyone to participate if they want to. My advice is to not pay an arm and a leg for your hook and peg, but rather snag those costumes at a discount rate after Halloween.
CHECK OUT OUR ULTIMATE DISNEY CRUISE PACKING LIST so you don’t forget important things like a pirate costume!
Decorate Your Stateroom Door
Be ready to be amazed at the creativity that your fellow cruise mates demonstrate in decorating their stateroom doors. Many guests opt to decorate their door in Disney or seasonal holiday decor. My daughter would immediately notice if our room was not decorated therefore we had to participate in this! It also helped her in locating our room amongst the long hallway of staterooms.
This is not an official Disney Cruise activity but rather something that fellow cruise mates put together prior to sailing. Right outside each statement room is a little fish or sea themed wall hanging. Families that are participating in the Fish Extender hang a nice bag or pocket from the fish for others to drop off little gifts in.
The gifts exchange is set up through an online group. To find a Fish Extender group simply search Facebook for the name of your ship and sail date. Often times families sailing together will only do the exchange between themselves. We opted to not participate in it this year for a few reasons but mainly because we didn’t have the extra room in our luggage to haul yet even more stuff and Sophie wouldn’t quite appreciate it. Kids did love coming back to their staterooms to see what treats were left in their Fish Extender.
Have The Most Magical Vacation Ever
As we packed our suitcases the evening before disembarking one of the fondest memories happened. My daughter climbed into bed, snuggled next to me and we spent a half-hour just watching Mickey Mouse cartoons. We laughed at the silly antics while sharing one last Mickey Mouse cupcake. That evening the ocean rocked us to sleep one last time then it was back to reality. We didn’t want the magic to end so we spent a few days at Walt Disney World afterward the Disney Cruise. The Disney Cruise was so enjoyable that we already booked our next one! We hope that this guide will help you make the most of your Disney Cruise with a toddler. Happy Sailing!