Disney's Mediterranean Cruise: Preparation, Reservations, Hotels and Flights As an intro, let me cut to the chase and say that I loved this cruise. My somewhat skeptical French husband loved this cruise. My 4 year old was in preschool nirvana and even the 18 month old came home a Mickey convert who now makes "kissy" noises every time he sees a photo of Minnie Mouse. But, as those of you who know me are well aware, I have 5000 ways to say that I don't like something. So I am going to break down the cruise into the good, the bad and the stupid. Once again, there was enough good to make us book a Caribbean cruise on Dec 10th, 2011 while still on the boat, but there is always room for improvement. .. and complaining.
At the end of each section here, you will find a 1 to 4 star rating for all encounters.
Pre-prep and planning
To start with, I had not planned or foreseen that we would be going on the Disney Cruise this spring. I had not spent hours of time researching and plotting, like I used to do when I was young and childless. Now, with two boys under 5, plotting, obsessing and compulsive behaviors are purely leisure time activities. The initial setup for going on this cruise started something like this.
Julien: You know, Lucas has a school vacation. Me: No, again?? He just went on vacation. When does it start? Julien: April 16th Me: Oh.
We had this conversation sometime around March 25th. Now you must understand that school vacations in Paris are sacred family time, and therefore most of the interesting things to do were already booked by more organized parents ....or the extraordinarily wealthy. So, I got online and started researching options in somewhat of a blind panic. We had pretty much decided on going to Djerba la Douce Club Med for 7 days, but it was going to be 4500 Euros and honestly, I didn't really relish the idea of lying around feeling like "I am the Walrus" on a beach in Tunisia in lukewarm weather. In addition, the kids programs looked like they were great if your kids were 9 and above. It didn't seem so great for younger kids. I had looked at the Disney cruises, and even went so far as to call and ask about their childcare option but it just seemed too expensive.
So, I went to the Disney cruise site again just for hyucks and giggles. Once there, I found a standard inside stateroom on the April 24th 11 Night Mediterranean Cruise for 3500 US dollars if I booked through the US site! 3500 dollars vs. 4500 Euros. 11 nights vs. 6 nights. I thought it was a no brainer, but called Julien to see what he thought. Of course, he agreed. But by the time I went back to the site, the room was gone and the next nearest option was $5000...much swearing ensued before I was able to calm down enough to go to bed. But the next morning, the lovely husband got up at 5 am and checked the site again, and it was back, so he booked immediately. So, we were on! We decided not to tell Lucas until we got to the ship, which was really hard for Mom! I also had to have all the cruise info routed to my sister in Nashville, as that is the only US address we had, but my fabulous and organized sister was kind enough to forward all of our info to us in Paris, at some expense to her (love you, Myra!). All we had to do then was book our plane flight to Barcelona for the day before the cruise, get our hotel, and pre-book our "Flounder's Reef" nursery time. "No biggie" I thought....hmmmm. Let me take these one at a time, as some things I could have controlled but most I could not.
First, I tried to book one of the hotels that was recommended on the Disney site. All of them were fully booked. So, I called the customer service line to have us put on the waiting list. In the meantime, I did some research and could not find anything remotely decent for under 350 US dollars per night. I later found out from our friend Nick Lesser, that there was some sort of festival in Barcelona, but this resulted in us booking a fairly expensive hotel called the Hotel Boria. When I next checked on line with the Disney Cruise website ( which takes for *(*#@ ever to log on to and then can't reach your intended destination half the time) it told me that I owed 750 US dollars NOW or my cruise would be canceled. You can just imagine how bad my blood pressure went up during the 4 hours that I had to wait in order to call them. As it turns out, they had just added a hotel room once it became available without checking with me. Let me repeat that. They had 1) added 750 dollars to my bill 2) without telling me 3) for a HOTEL room and 4) had the audacity to come across with a threatening tone on the god awful website. Now, unless the room comes with , I don't know, Johnny Depp, who offers additional add ons, then I can't fathom a hotel room for 750 dollars for one night. I know they exist, but let's face it, with 2 kids in tow, there is nothing that will be worth $750 dollars a night...not even with sexy celebrity man because I would be too tired to make any use of him. So, I called, I shrieked and they took it off the bill sheepishly. So, Hotel Boria it was. After meeting Nick Lesser in Barcelona, I found out we could have gotten much cheaper if we had called him...so that was a learning.
Flounder's Reef Nursery: BE FOREWARNED.
This is a big development area for Disney Cruise and they are a bit evasive about it when you call. The Oceaneer's clubs are for children starting at 3 years old and are open from roughly 8 am until midnight ....and they are included in the price of the cruise. This is NOT true for the nursery, which is your only option for kids 3 and below. Your are fairly limited on the number of hours you can reserve ahead of time, and on the hours you can book in general. When I was researching the cruise, I found that the website did not provide any information on how many hours of nursery time you could book. They were upfront about the incremental cost ( 6 dollars per hour) but very evasive about the time. This resulted in the one bad phone call that I had with Disney customer service.
They allow you to reserve up to 28 hours or so of Flounders reef nursery time before you get on board for an 11 night cruise. I called to find out how many more hours they might allow you to book once you got on board. The customer service representative said , basically, that I should be happy with 28 hours. I told her that this was less than 3 hours a day if you could manage to split it up that way. If you happen to want to take one of their all day adults excursions, that eats up 10 to 12 of your hours and you are then left with roughly an hour a day. What I wanted was to be able to get and keep Seb on a schedule of spending the morning with us and then going to the nursery after his nap until dinner time.
The woman at customer service told me that SHE ENJOYED spending time with HER grandchildren and would never consider putting them in the nursery that long. I responded by saying, "Excuse me, but are you insinuating that I am a bad mother because I want a vacation?" to which she responded "Oh no, some people just don't like to be with their children as much as others". At this point, I hung up, called back and asked to speak with a manager and recounted the story with as much dry ice and acid as I could muster. I will say that they responded appropriately by falling all over themselves to apologize and upgrading my room, but really, how did this person slip through the cracks of the Disney armor.
Once on board, we did manage to wheedle enough hours to create a little bit of a routine for Seb, but it was far from easy. In addition, there are few, if any, places on the boat that are both contained and specifically for toddlers. They are not allowed in the pools unless they are potty trained, so be prepared to chase your toddler around the boat and put up with his protests when he can't get in the pool.
All this being said, the nursery itself was great and well designed. After the first couple of days, Seb stopped complaining about being dropped off and actually bonded quite well with the care givers.
What can I say? Iceland blew up. Who knew? But our airline came through, so good on ya Iberia. So we had made it to Barcelona, to the hotel, and were ready to get on the cruise for the next day!!
The Ship, the Characters, the Clubs and the Crew
The Disney Magic is Ginormous!! The thing is at least 13 floors, with some possibly hidden beneath where the White Rabbit sleeps. And it must be fairly well designed as it was put to the test on the last full day of our cruise when we encountered a somewhat scary storm. The waves were big enough that they closed the port in Nice. We were already at sea when it hit and it was truly spectacular. The waves were high enough that some of the spray made it over the top of the ship. They closed all the decks but the clubs remained open. Lucas and I spend time in the Oceaneers club bouncing from one side of the ship to the other when the ship lilted. He said it was "like flying". At some point, the ship's captain came on board and said that this was a rough storm but that we were not in any danger. He also said that the Disney Magic had been through 2 hurricanes without incident. However, they decided to take the ship closer to the shore and between two islands to minimize the discomfort for us. I am not normally prone to believing things people tell me, but my gut told me that we were never in any real danger. The ship felt incredibly stable. Given the size of the waves, even the rocking was minimal. While a lot of people stayed in their rooms, there were a few of us who were not prone to motion sickness out and about and enjoying mother nature at her finest. I have to say that this was a truly memorable experience for me and I was actually quite glad to have experienced it. My poor husband might not feel the same, as he ended up with seasickness on his birthday. But the rest of the family was fine and enjoyed the show. In short, the ship itself felt super solid and as safe as you can be. It goes without saying that there are railings everywhere, most with plastic covering them. The stairs are such that there are few places that a child can fall very far. And there are Disney crew members roughly every 6 feet. For those with kids who don't sleep, this cruise thing has an added bonus. The gentle rocking of the boat keeps the kids asleep and makes it much easier for them to soothe themselves back to sleep. Both of our boys have been notorious non sleepers. Our oldest just now sleeps through the night, and he is 4. The youngest wakes up multiple times. On the cruise, they both generally slept through. So it is a real vacation for you parents who don't sleep. I forgot how much energy I can have if I get sleep.
The Stateroom & Stateroom Attendant : We had a deluxe inside stateroom. This means that the layout consisted of one queen bed, 2 single beds in a bunk bed arrangement, and a crib for Sebastien. The bathroom is "split" in the deluxe stateroom which means that there is one room with a sink and tub / shower and another with a sink and toilet. This proved quite useful in the "getting ready" process. A nice addition is that they put a sliding drape between the queen bed and the rest of the room, so that after the kids go to bed, you can still have a light on in the parent area. You also have a small fridge, a TV and a tiny table.
Let me say that I liked the inside stateroom, as we could control the "environment" and create a bedtime atmosphere whenever we wanted. The lack of window didn't end up bothering me at all. In fact, it all felt quite cozy...so much so that this is what we chose for our second cruise. When it comes to upkeep, they come to clean your room just about every time you leave it, even if it is only to go get a snack. We are AWFUL when it comes to making messes. I mean, really world class. One day, Sebastien decided to climb on the unmade bed and eat at least 1/2 dozen cookies. Then Lucas joined him. So when we left the room, in addition to all our usual mess, there were cookie crumbs on the unmade bed, the floor, the walls, the TV, the counters and in the tub. When we came back from lunch, it was completely spotless, crumb free and our suite attendant had made the towels into hanging birds. Truly amazing. After a week of this, he actually sent us a bottle of wine at dinner. Let me repeat. HE sent US a bottle of wine. All I can figure is that he likes a challenge. The Pools: This is another of the "development" areas for Disney, when it comes to toddlers. In general, there are three pools on the Disney Magic. First, there is an adults only pool area with a small pool, a Jacuzzi and a bar. This seemed nice enough and really was kid free. But I must admit, we only used the bar part of this area. Once we had a couple of hours of non kid time, we didn't really want to waste it in the pool...and Jacuzzis gross me out as I have been in one too many that seemed to be growing either new life forms or fat, randy men. Instead, we went to the pool bar, got a drink, sat on the deck and soaked up the scenery. This was great for us, so I am not complaining at all.
Second, there was the Goofy pool that was one of two family pools. This one was a bit confusing to me as I could not really see the benefit. The pool itself was small and was located right in front of the big screen TV which showed constant Disney movies. So, I guess this is where you are supposed to watch Little Mermaid and get appropriately water logged. But having a pool there really seemed a bit superfluous. Maybe when my kids are older it will make more sense. It did have some nice deck chairs to sit in and watch the movie though.
The last was the Mickey pool, which was the hub of most activity. It was surrounded by all the outside eateries like Pluto's dog house, where you could get hotdogs, chicken nuggets, burgers, tacos and the like. There was also Pinocchio's pizza near the Goofy pool which serves...well...pizza. In addition to kid food there was also a Goofy Grotto that had nice sandwiches and fruit. The pool itself was shaped like Mickey's head, and thus divided into three sections. There was the regular pool with a waterslide for the older kids...which Lucas loved loved loved. There was a couple shallow "ears" for kids who were potty trained but too small to swim. Then on the side there was a water play area for the toddlers. This was where I have my "issue". The water play area is right next to the pool area but the toddlers are not allowed in it until they are potty trained. So, Sebastien could see ALL THE FUN the other kids were having in the pool and wanted to go. As the area is not closed off, it meant that we spent all of our "family" pool time with one of us chasing him as he made his mad dashes for the pool, the stairs, the bathrooms, the handicapped door leading to the elevators, you name it. OK, it wasn't intolerable but it would be much better with fewer escape routes.
The Oceaneers Club/ Lab and Flounder's reef and Character Experiences:
This is the heart of it. This is why you came. This is why you chose Disney rather than Royal Caribbean or Princess. This is what they do...and they do it better than anyone else. And let's face it, no one else has Mickey and the Princesses. I am lumping all three of these things together, as I feel they are really at the core of your child's experience...and the joy they will have. There are lots of pluses here and a few negatives.
When I called about this cruise, one of the nice customer service reps told me that you don't want to book this cruise if you want serious bonding time with your child. He was mostly right. The Oceaneer's Club and Lab are hard competition. These clubs are for ages 3 to 11. The Oceaneer's Club is more for the younger set. It has a play area with a pirate ship theme. There are slides for sliding, ropes for climbing, a large open area for games, activities and general running around, and a back room area with a bank of computers loaded with age appropriate games, in addition to blocks, crayons, paper, books and just about everything else you could imagine. Just about every hour there is some activity lead by a unnaturally enthusiastic counselor or an actual character. During the course of the cruise, Lucas was taught how to fly by Peter Pan, how to dance with Snow White, and how to be a pirate by Captain Hook. He also had story time with Belle, surfing lessons with Lilo and Stitch and a pajama party with Goofy. And this is not all of them but merely the ones that seemed most memorable to me. The only downsides to this area are that there are movie screens here that show Disney movies almost nonstop, so if your kid is a TV addict (like mine) you will want to tell the counselors to make sure that your child is engaged. I must say that they did a great job with this, as most of the times that I came to pick up Lucas, he was playing rather than watching the tube. The other downside is that the play area is a little dark but the kids didn't seem to mind at all. After Lucas' first day in "the club", we were awakened each morning with "I want to go to my club". When we came to get him for dinner, we were met with "I want to eat in my club". We did get him on a couple of excursions, but in retrospect, I would have pared that down significantly. By the end of the cruise, he was more open to doing things with us again, as he had participated in so many of the activities that he didn't feel like he was missing out anymore.
The Oceaneer's lab is more for the over 7 set, although both clubs are accessible to ages 3 to 11. The Oceaneer's lab has more by way of manual activities. They have a kitchen, blocks, computers and it seems like a gazillion interactive video games. You can also bring your toddler into either of these clubs to be with their siblings as long as you stay there with them. Seb seemed to enjoy these areas almost as much as Lucas, and got a thrill out of bullying the bigger kids. Flounders Reef is the nursery where you can book time for your infant or toddler. I have mentioned the problems here earlier but to reiterate, you MUST book your hours in advance as they fill up. You are also very limited in the number of hours that you can book, so be prepared for that. In addition, you will need to bring your own diapers, wipes, formula and baby food , if needed. If your child is eating regular food then they will serve them meals. There is a service that allows you to preorder diapers, wipes and the like before the cruise, but I didn't book early enough so we couldn't use this service. I would recommend it as diapers take up lots of room in your suitcase. Once you get past the annoyances of booking and logistics, the nursery itself is quite good. There is a slide in the area, games, toys and a TV as well...which they seem to use sparingly. There is also an area in the back with cribs for sleeping. The counselors all seemed to be that special type of person who bonds to infants and toddlers. All were very patient and loving. After the first 2 days of whining at drop off, Seb got quite used to it. I think he felt that he had to have a token whine at every drop off but it only lasted until they took him in the room and he saw the slide. Then it was "mom and dad, who?"
One additional point to add about the counselors in general is that they treat your kids like rock stars. Walking down the corridors of the ship, the counselors would say " Hi Seba" or "Hey, Lucas, are we going to dance today?" They remember names, and usually there are one or two that specifically seem to bond with your child. I don't know if this is planned but it certainly seems to work out that way. Julien and I joked that we were clearly just" those people" standing next to SEBASTIEN in the hall.
There is also a club for tweens, as well as one for teens, but I had no experience with these so I can't comment with any authority.
This ship is a character-fest. There are two basic types of character encounters: the scheduled and the ad hoc. Scheduled Character Events: For anything scheduled, I cannot stress enough the need to READ THE PERSONAL NAVIGATOR that is delivered to your room every night. And I mean read the full content, don't just read for the holding (for all you lawyers out there). They have a schedule that tells all of the times and places for character experiences. It also lists shows, which are character based. We found that a lot of the character experiences occurred between 5:30 and 7, which was a bit hard for us, as we had dinner at 6. So this is one benefit of having a later dinner. There were also character experiences around the lunch hour. Twice during the cruise, they had the massive Princess Fest. During the course of the cruise, one sees the Princesses at dinner, or in the clubs or other random places but this has most of them in one place. In ours, we had Princess Tiana, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora..along with Alice in Wonderland who wandered down the line to entertain all the little girls dressed in their princess attire. BE FOREWARNED IF YOU HAVE GIRLS, they do sell some princess gear at these events and I saw more than one screaming meltdown because someone could not have YET ANOTHER set of gloves that she already had. Make sure you bring your autograph books to this one, and your camera. They will take pictures but we found their photos really too expensive, and didn't buy any of them.
Ad Hoc Character Experiences: There are also lots of ad hoc character moments. We had a fun encounter with Donald duck at breakfast one morning. Most of the princesses made occasional appearances at dinner. For example, Beauty AND the Beast came to Lumieres one night. For the older crowd, they also have a Pirates in the Caribbean deck party one night. It started at 9:30, so it was a bit late for younger kids, and Lucas was hard pressed to stay up. In addition, the theme was that Pirates (including Captain Hook and Captain Jack) take over the party for a while. This was a little scary to Lucas, even though Mickey saves the day at the end. However, it was worth it to see his face when they had the fireworks. Apparently, it is the only cruise line to do fireworks at sea, and they did a great job. Once again, BE FOREWARNED, they sell a lot of stuff at this, and I had to deal with a whiny 4 year old until I finally gave in and bought him yet another plastic pirate sword. I don't give in that much, but I didn't want to spoil the moment and I figured it was an example of "pick your battles".
On the whole, the character experiences are great. The drawbacks are the lines at the scheduled events. It seems better to go a bit late rather than early but that was just our experience. The ad hoc experiences were much more memorable and fun.
The Crew in General:
Anyone who has done any significant traveling has, sooner or later, learned one fact. People who work in tourist areas hate tourists. Maybe it comes from the fact that the most obnoxious tourists are usually the most visible and vocal ones. Maybe it is simply a case of "you hate what you need". Whatever the reason, it is what it is. So my expectations for any adventure where I must be in contact with those providing services for tourists go something like this. 15% will be new hires ....and the other 85% will hate me on sight. Of those who hate me, only 5% will be able to completely mask that fact, while 20% will be openly hostile. The rest will fall somewhere in the range between vague contempt and barely contained annoyance. On the Disney Cruise, I was pleasantly surprised that the aforementioned ratios did not seem to apply....with a couple of notable exceptions. The restaurant staff, housecleaning staff, room service and pretty much everyone else was so pleasant that I had to wonder a bit if Disney issues drugs with the uniforms. The fact that the cheerful attitude rarely seemed forced made me all the more suspicious that happy pills are used. Either that or they have a truly kick ass selection process and every naturally happy person who is born is recruited to work for Disney while still in diapers. Hmmm, this may explain a lot about the state of the world. In any case, all of the people who interacted with my children were great. Most of the ones who interacted with me were also fairly fabulous, except the Vista Spa and Guest Services...of all things. I will cover Vista Spa later, but let me rant about Guest Services now.
OK, I expect a few things from Guest Services, which are 1) that they are able to answer my questions 2) that they do so with a pleasant attitude and 3) if I am face to face with them when this is happening, that they better be #@%$ing smiling...particularly if they are telling me something I don't want to hear. About half the people I encountered at the Guest Services desk failed on all accounts. Therefore, I gave up going to the desk and just used the phone after the first few days. As these people were useless, I won't mention them again. (Note to Disney: these people hurt your brand...fire them)
Dining,the Vista Spa, and all the things I left out.
Dining at Disney
I have already mentioned the various kids offerings around the ship. Besides this, there is a fairly nice buffet called Topsiders, which is open often. There is also room service, which is open ALWAYS. Really, always. I called a 2 am to get slices of white bread for a hungry and grumpy Seb. They delivered it within 15 minutes...and with a smile. But the heart of the Disney dining experience is your evening meal.
As you will read in any decent Disney cruise book, they have a rotational dining system. Every night you eat at one of 3 restaurants: Parrot Cay, Lumiere's or Animators Palate. But, the nice thing is that, as you rotate through these 3 restaurants, you have the same wait staff. Our servers, Grace and Laurent, got to know our kids so well by the end of the cruise that they automatically brought them strawberries as an appetizer without having to be asked. (My kids only eat red fruit...sigh). In addition, you also share a table with another family, who rotates with you. Normally, I am not super keen on eating with strangers but we were paired with a really lovely British couple, Emma and Jim. They had two children very similar in age: a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. Coincidence? I think not. This is the kind of attention to detail that makes Disney different. By the end of the cruise. Elliott and Lucas were chasing each other around the table screaming, and the toddlers were enjoying Baby Einstein dinner dates. "? This system also means that the boys automatically had someone that they knew fairly early on in "the club", and I saw Lucas and Elliott playing together there as well. As an added bonus, I got additional insight on the excursions from Emma, as they were much braver than us and did the "Rome in a day" extravaganza. When they appeared at dinner that night, they both looked a bit like war survivors. In short, the takeaway seemed to be "what were we thinking"? They also had a bad Tunisia experience, but with the market in Tunis. I will she or Jim comment, if either feel inclined.
A note on dinner planning. "READ THE PERSONAL NAVIGATOR", she says again. It tells you (on the top right heading for those who overlook headings) the dress code for each evening. There IS a formal night, and we completely missed that little piece of information. We showed up in rumpled sundress (for me) and rumpled khaki's (for Julien) as we had made zero effort. I won't even mention the state of the kids.
The staff was super attentive and fairly amazing during almost every moment of our cruise.... except for one. Here it comes. Our head waiter, Grace, asked me THE question...the one question you never ask a woman who has kids. The question you should really know better than to ask if you are a woman who has had kids. So, there I am, about to dig into my delightful appetizer of scallops when Grace says (loudly) "so I never asked you when you are due?" Yes, she did. Dinner suddenly turned to ashes. God, I hate this question. Mind you, I have gotten it fairly often because I am a fairly thin woman in all areas except the belly, where my muscle tone and cartilage have been shot to hell after baby number 2. As I have been told by a doctor that this cannot be fixed with anything besides the longed for tummy tuck, I will have to come up with a better quick response to this question than " Uh, um, I'm not pregnant" which is what I said to Grace. I could not really see her blush, as she was from Jamaica, but she began stuttering like crazy and back pedaling.....but damage was already done. Really, one should know that one does not ask that question unless one has been TOLD that the woman is pregnant or unless she YOU SEE THE HEAD CROWNING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. I will say that she had the good sense to avoid me like the plague for the rest of the meal but the ego takes a huge hit after this sort of thing. In a way, I felt bad for her as she did such a lovely job otherwise, but still. Note to Disney Training folks: you need to train on this...end of story. Overall , the restaurant experience was fun and lively. Be prepared for characters. Be prepared for parades. Be prepared for Opera singers who may force you to sing in a microphone. I will say no more.
The Vista Spa
For the most part, were exactly what I would expect at your average spa on land...but they were not "Disney". They were polite but not particularly pleasant. The woman who did my pedicure was subtly hostile about her work experience, but didn't seem to take it out on me or my toes. The person who cut my husband's hair was irritable but did a good job. Thus, it was not unlike any other spa experience and better than quite a few. Happy Feet in San Jose comes to mind :). But none of this would keep me from going back because they offered at least one really unusual service...the Exotic Rasul.
The Exotic Rasul is basically where they take you and your husband to your own private room. This comes equipped with tiled floors, a shower and a plethora of body scrubs, lotions and oils. The other area is a steam room. They spend about 10 minutes telling you about the products, close the door, and leave you alone to do whatever you will do for the other 50. At the 50 minute mark, they knock discreetly and you come out sheepishly whenever you can. Before going in, they stress that the couples LOVE this and that this is YOUR time. So, for us, this was a not so subtle way of saying "go , have sex, with our blessing". With that in mind, we didn't really need the 10 minute diatribe on the different oils but one must keep up appearances. Also, the steam room was a bit treacherous from that perspective. But, all things considered, this was a very lovely experience that couples can use however they see fit. From other readings, I have found that other couples did not take the hint and wore bathing suits, actually tried all the oils and tentatively played in mud. To my mind, all that is fine if you were doing this alone, but there is a reason your mate is there. Enough said.
I thought it was quite amusing that after we came out, the staff who wandered by merely smiled knowingly and avoided eye contact. No one said anything to us and they let us leave at our own pace. Tons of fun, and surprising from Mickey!!
Shore Excursions: Mickey is NOT responsible. Let me make one BIG forewarning about the excursions. They are NOT, repeat, NOT run by Disney. They are run by vendors hired by Disney. As this was only the second season (I believe) for the Mediterranean cruise, there were definitely some vendor management kinks to work out. The shore excursions, on the whole, were spotty and bifurcated in range of experience. I will break down the ones we attended but there were many more, so do your homework before hand, and you may avoid some of the mistakes I made. For the Disney shore excursions, see the port reviews below. For the non Disney ones, read on.
Non Disney Excursions
After the first two planned excursions, we decided that we would not do anymore planned excursions that we had not already bought. Instead, we did a few on our own, and all of those were wonderful. Julien and I got off in La Spezia and took a cab to Portovenere, where Byron was inspired and not too far from where Shelley died. It was a glorious lovers day, and definitely worth a visit. In Villefranche, we took the kids to the beach ourselves and all of us had a great time. It cost nothing and the boys were in toddler and preschool heaven. So, the takeaway is 1) for simple pleasures, do it yourself and 2) for non simple pleasures, do it yourself. For the extraordinary things, like the winery or perfumery, you can't really do it yourself and it is well worth it. But be conservative as the shore excursions are very expensive and will eat up your budget faster than anything else. Ratings: Dining Experience: *** ( would be a 4 but for THE comment) Vista Spa: **
Summation :) I want to put in a caveat here in that, believe it or not, I have not covered everything in this review. There are lots of additional adult bars and activities that we didn't really have the energy or inclination to do. There were all sorts of classes and tastings, such as cooking classes, how to make the towel animals, sangria tasting, margarita tasting for those who want to either get educated or get toasted. For the "let's all share a family activity" types there was karaoke, something that seemed vaguely like "Family Feud", a family dance club and bingo. For the "let's get away from the family" types there was a sports bar, a dance club, a couple cocktail bars, a coffee house and several adult only shows at the clubs. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there is a club for the 11 to 13 set, as well as "the Stack" for teens. There was also a gym which I avoided like a vampire avoids the light. I mean, this is a VACATION after all. For those gym rats who actually enjoy working out (my husband, Matt and Shelley come to mind) this might be useful but it is unlikely to be the gym of your dreams. Julien went a couple times and thought the facilities were OK but not great. Lots of the bikes were broken and they had no way to fix them as the vendor was back in the US. In short, I think this gym exists really for those who have eaten a bit too much and want to spend 20 minutes in the gym so that they can alleviate the guilt...but that is just my perception. As we didn't really use any of these things, I can't really make any assessment of how worthwhile they are. I can only say that these things exist, along with lots of other options, so it is fairly hard to get bored unless you really dedicate yourself. All in all, taking into consideration all the pro's and con's, this was a great family vacation. In truth, it is probably one of the best "family" vacations that I have ever taken...including family vacations taken when I was a kid. It was not perfect, but that is part of the joy of the family vacation. It is not going to be perfect. Kids will be kids. Things will not be what you expected. Plans with go awry. Someone will eat poop. But maybe it is these moments that we remember most vividly and talk about most frequently, like veterans remembering a war (or lawyers remember law school). What Disney does, and this cruise did exceptionally well, is mitigate the pain of these things so that you can enjoy the moments more. You have to love the fact that their onboard store had : Infant Tylenol, children's Tylenol, Benadryl, Dramamine, diapers, wipes, various baby foods and a couple of binkies...just to name a few. They seem to know that your children have sucked the intelligence right out of you, so they pay attention to all the details that you are incapable of concentrating on for more than a few moments. They also know that togetherness, to be truly enjoyed, must be paired with time apart.
As a result of all this, and before the cruise was even half over, Julien and I had waited in the surprisingly long line to book our next cruise. So, for Christmas 2011, Sebastien, Lucas, Julien and Lexy Delorme will be joining "Auntie M" and "Uncle Bean" on the Disney Magic for the Western Caribbean Cruise. Between now and then, I guess the boys will have to be content with Disneyland Paris :).
Ratings: Not covered below Disney Customer Service Line: *** (annoying grandma woman aside) Disney Cruise Line Website:* (their website sucks, don't get me started) Flounders Reef Hours:*** Flounders Reef staff and care: **** Hotel Boria Customer Service Line:** Hotel Boria:*** Nick Lesser:***** Iberia:**** The Ship ***** The Stateroom Attendant ***** The Pools *** The Oceaneers Clubs ***** The Character Experiences ***** Guest Services *