Disney Cruise Line operates some dreamy cruises for kids and kids-at-heart. A three-night sail to the Bahamas invoked me into considering a career at sea. By Vishwaveer Singh
Your first cruise will always be a special one. From the get-go, I was told that I was lucky to be losing my cruising-virginity to a Disney ship. “There isn’t a better experience out there,” proudly announced a fellow traveller and self-proclaimed cruise junkie who’d been aboard almost all the major cruise lines. “It’s the experiences they pack in that make the difference,” he added.
An hour’s drive from Orlando, I reached Port Canaveral in Florida, where the behemoth that is the Disney Dream waited to take me and 4,000 others across the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Over 340 metres long and weighing in at 1,30,000 tonnes, the ship from the House of Disney Cruise Line is a floating world of its own. A 1,400-strong crew caters to the needs of guests who inhabit the 1,250 staterooms inside, while the ship comfortably sails over choppy waters at a top speed of close to 24 knots. Imagine one of the popular Vegas hotels sailing on the Atlantic, and you’ll get an idea of how I felt looking up at the Disney Dream.
Boarding the ship is fuss-free. There’s a quick check-in process, where your luggage is loaded in advance, to be delivered straight to your stateroom. A hassle-free passport scan later, you step into the ship’s impressive lobby, which is reminiscent of Disney’s grand palaces, flowing staircases and all. For those travelling with family, it can be quite a mesmerising experience, with ushers calling out your name as officers welcome you with applause, and a Disney character in full costume takes selfies with you.
It’s easy to get lost on the big ship, each guest taking a few hours to find their bearings. Staterooms are larger than industry standards, with split bathrooms allowing families to use the facilities without tussle. Most sea-facing verandahs have a sitting area, ideal for whiling away time with great views of the infinite sea, which changes hues according to the sun’s whims. The staterooms have all the usual bells and whistles that come with any five-star hotel. A designated attendant makes sure your room is brushed up twice a day with personalised attention to detail. For those looking to splurge, the ship has a great selection of larger suites, including the Walt Disney Suite that has two bedrooms, an expansive balcony with its own Jacuzzi and patio, where you can host a party for two dozen people.
The first day includes an emergency drill, where all guests are expected to assemble at their designated emergency zones in preparation for the worst-case scenario. Images of Titanic immediately come to mind, but then you’re reassured that this is the 21st-century equivalent of a space shuttle on the sea and that such a thing would almost never occur.
One might imagine a three-night cruise to be action-packed, but the level of activity you want to take up depends entirely on you. The ship’s in-house spa, called Senses, has a quaint, glass-walled room that looks out to the sea, sauna and steam rooms, and a water bed on which I was given a salt scrub—possibly the most relaxing sensation in the world. The open-air decks on the top level have adults-only areas, where guests can relax on sunbeds, with majestic views of the Caribbean Sea and a handy bar nearby. There are plenty of such spots on the ship where guests can spend some ‘me time’ and be completely unaware of the 4,000 others onboard.
A favourite of mine was the Skyline lounge, a dimly-lit bar with giant LCDs mirroring the skylines of some of the world’s most impressive cities. One moment, there was the Empire State Building, as the music changed to a track right out of a New York jazz bar; as Oriental music filled the air, the Hong Kong skyline appeared—it was as if I had entered a surreal rooftop bar on a skyscraper that changed location every few minutes.
DIETING IS A PIECRUST PROMISE
Disney takes great pride in the food they serve aboard their ships. There’s a massive variety of F&B options, making it impossible to savour all the delicacies on offer on a three-night cruise. An all-day diner called Cabanas serves the majority of guests who opt for a buffet. The options are limitless here—giant crabs and lobsters occupy the platters on display, while succulent meats are grilled nearby with designated chefs serving up customised dishes. Asian fare, Italian perennials like pizzas and pastas, a dessert section that could put Willy Wonka to shame! For those wanting a more refined experience, the Disney Dream offers Palo and Remy, fine-dining restaurants for Italian and French cuisines respectively.
I had the good fortune of savouring an osso buco at Palo that transported me to Tuscany, paired dreamily with a 2014 Tignanello, which acted as the proverbial cherry on top of the cake. Remy was equally impressive, offering Wagyu in a setting that rivalled the bistros of Paris. For families travelling with me, Animator’s Palate was an instant hit. The restaurant creates an interactive experience, where characters of Finding Nemo talked to guests through giant digital windows, giving them all the underwater feels. An all-day, buffet-style cafe that served pizzas, burgers, hotdogs, and salads stood next to the giant swimming pools on the ship’s top deck.
BEAUTY IS FOUND WITHIN
The Walt Disney Theatre on board allows guests to experience Disney musicals every day of the cruise. Beauty and the Beast, The Golden Mickeys, and Disney’s Believe were playing when I sailed. To see Broadway-quality acts as you enjoy popcorn on a cruise ship—that, my friends, is truly priceless! The acts themselves are performed by an array of theatre professionals, who use the effects and backdrops that Disney has become famous for, impeccably. There’s sparkling dust and confetti, pyrotechnics and prosthetics, outfits that make you fall for the illusion hook, line, and sinker.
If you’re not a theatre person, the ship has its very own movie screen that shows unreleased Disney blockbusters. There’s also a Pirate Night, where you dress up and join fellow passengers in grooving to popular tracks. Be ready for an overdose of eye-patches, golden earrings, and faux hand hooks. As you’d expect, there are hundreds of tiny toddlers parading about in outfits ranging from Tinker Bell to the Little Mermaid, some even going all-out and masquerading as Ursula and Captain Hook. All this in the foreground of an impressive fireworks display that illuminates the night sky.
For kids, the amount of stuff to do on board is mind-boggling. They have their play lounges, stylishly themed to suit different age groups. The teenagers have PlayStations and plunge pools at Vibe, while younger ones can enjoy a plethora of entertaining activities at the Oceaneer’s Lab and Club. Toddlers have a nursery, aptly named ‘It’s a Small World,’ modelled after Andy’s room, where Woody and Buzz Lightyear lived. There’s a candy store called Vanellope’s Sweets & Treats on an upper deck; I highly recommend that you steer clear of it unless you want to spend hours with your kids going bonkers on a sugar high. There’s even a full-sized waterpark on the upper deck, complete with a giant AquaDuck ride and waterfall.
SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST
The Disney Dream stops at Nassau, Bahamas, for a day, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, for another. The destinations play second fiddle to the cruise line itself, but can be fun nonetheless if you’re looking for a bit of sun, sea, and fresh air. The cerulean waters around the islands please Instagrammers, while the bars at Nassau leave you happy and hungover. The Bearded Clam Sports Bar and Señor Frog’s, we were told, were two such establishments where you could drink till your liver decided to sail back to the mainland.
For me, a trip to Nassau would have been incomplete without a tour of the imposing Atlantis Hotel and Casino, its pink façade gleaming as the Bahamian answer to the Taj Mahal Palace. Later, a wily cab driver overcharged me, as he showed me around the Old Fort of Nassau and drove past the late Anna Nicole Smith’s house. The former Playboy model is also buried on the island; the offer to visit her grave, I politely declined.
For shoppers, Nassau offers a smorgasbord of outlets that cater to all your souvenir needs. The Bahamian dollar trades equal to the US dollar, allowing you to pay in USD or use one of the ATMs. There’s even a sizeable Gucci showroom bang in the middle of the island.
A night’s cruise later we arrived at Castaway Cay, which was picture-postcard perfect, thanks to the weather Gods’ mercy. You’re given an entire day here to explore the island’s sights and sounds, which range from kid-friendly beaches to shacks serving Bahamian Pina Coladas and Mojitos. There are plenty of stores to pick up Disney-themed gifts, and an adults-only beach that looks like it should have been the location for the DiCaprio starrer The Beach. A plunge in the cool waters is recommended, so is lathering yourself with dollops of sunscreen, lest your skin turn to a shade of pink more suitable on the Atlantis Hotel.
I chose to pick up a bicycle and wander around the island. There’s no better way of discovering Castaway Cay, not least because it has clearly marked bike routes that make riding an absolute treat. There are even designated spots for you to take water breaks, and lookout posts that give you a bird’s-eye view of the island.
Alas, three days on the Disney Dream tend to pass by rather quickly. And even though I managed to pack in all the experiences I possibly could, there was a lingering yearning to stay on. Do they have an opening for a deck hand perhaps, I wonder now?
CRUISE INTO FANTASY
Disney Cruise Line’s four ships are high on luxury and entertainment.
The three-night Bahamas and Castaway Cay cruise for two adults and two children starts from INR 1,90,242. Disney offers three other destinations—Alaska, Northern Europe, and the Mediterranean/Greek Isles.
KIDS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Activities for teens, tweens, and little ones run the gamut, making it easier than ever to keep everyone entertained.
Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Symphony of the Seas, has a one-of- a-kind Ultimate Family Suite—a two-storey guest accommodation with an indoor slide (it connects the kids’ bedroom to the living room), an air hockey table, and a climbing wall, among other amenities. It sleeps up to eight and averages INR 41,42,640 for a seven-night cruise.
READY TO RACE
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss has a two-storey go-kart track on the top decks where the cars can reach 48 km per hour. Scores go up on an electronic display at the end of the 15-minute race.
INTO THE WILD
Princess Cruises has rolled out shore excursions across the fleet in partnership with Discovery and Animal Planet. Look for active, outdoorsy experiences, such as a ride on the crab-fishing boat from Deadliest Catch and opportunities to meet animals, including sloths in Costa Rica and sharks in Hawaii.
It may come as a surprise, but luxury ships welcome plenty of children, especially during the summer and holidays. Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity just went through multi-million-dollar overhauls, and their redesigned kids’ clubs offer cookie baking, galley tours, and even sushi-making courses.