Anchors Aweigh

Today we’re finally heading off to our family vacation, a Disney cruise to St. Maarten and St. Thomas for the next seven nights.

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This is the fourth year in a row that we’ve done this trip. I’ve written about it before, but I promised to post some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. Most important tip: Do not even consider going on this trip without children. The omnipresent shrieking and the inevitable meltdowns (adult and child) would make this experience a unique hell. Don’t do this to yourself unless you have kids of your own coming with you! Save your money and go somewhere relatively kid-free, like this place.
  2. Second most important tip, and this is what makes this trip tolerable: Go Concierge. Yes, these cabins are more costly. Yes, this is a luxury. But boy, are they worth it. On the two largest Disney boats – the Dream and the Fantasy – decks 11 and 12 hold the concierge cabins. The decor on this part of the ship is nicer than the rest of it. The halls are quiet since traffic is limited to only concierge guests. Plus:
  • You have access to the Concierge Lounge, which is stocked with desserts, snacks, cans of soda (fountain soda is free but cans otherwise come from room service and will cost you), a deluxe cappuccino/espresso maker, and – best of all – two gratis cocktail hours every day. Seriously, you can make up a lot of the expense right there. Tip: book the second dinner seating, and you’ll be able to hit both cocktail hours every day. Hour #1 begins about 5 PM, the time we’re usually starting to get washed/brushed/groomed for dinner. You can swing by the lounge for a cocktail or glass of wine to sip as you shower and get ready, and if you time it right, you can swing back for Hour #2, which starts at 7 PM before your dinner at 8 PM. Cost savings: $10 a drink x 2 drinks per adult per night x 2 adult drinkers x 7 nights = $280.
  • Concierge guests get to walk right on the ship. No waiting in line at the port. You have your own check-in area. That saves you about two hours right there.
  • You’ll be able to pre-book spa treatments for the busy at-sea days, adult dinners at specialty restaurants, and – if you have children less then 3 years old – the all-important Nursery Services (which are limited in space and must be reserved for the under-3 set) a month ahead of everyone else. With >3,000 people on board, the 2 PM massages on sea days go quickly. Get there first.
  • There’s a private sun deck. This is such an awesome perk. No more fighting for a deck chair that others have mysteriously “reserved” by placing towels down the night before. There are top-of-the-line lounge beds, free sunscreen, and misting machines to keep you cool. I want to live there.
  • Concierge cabins basically come in three flavors: regular rooms with a private terrace (no bigger than anywhere else on the ship but in a more desirable location), one bedroom suites, and luxury suites – the all-out “Walt Disney” suites that go for around $30k a week. Personally, I think that the best two cabins on the ship are 12004 and 12504. Both of these are the regular terrace rooms, but there’s something really special about them. The front five cabins on the ship – including two luxury Disney suites – can be purchased as a group and connected together. The decor is even nicer than the rest of the concierge rooms and they have a unifying nautical theme. If there’s a celebrity with a huge family or entourage on board, you can bet this is where they’ll be. Most of the time, however, the rooms aren’t booked en masse, and when the luxury suites are individually reserved, Disney will release the remaining rooms (including 12004 and 12504) for anyone else. We lucked into cabin 12004 on our first trip and loved peeking over our deck rails to see who was in the Disney suite (alas, no one glamourous). We asked for and got it again on our second trip, then last year we reserved it for Spouse’s parents who were traveling with us. This time and last, we decided to try a one-bedroom suite, which is super nice but honestly, I’m not sure the extra expense makes it that much better than a regular concierge cabin. Moral of the story: go concierge but stick to a regular room if you can get it.

3.  If you’re worried at all about being sea sick, bring scopolamine patches with you. While there is a small medical clinic on board, the hours are brief and they don’t stock the patches. You will be miserable if you need them and can’t get them. Play it safe and get a prescription before you leave home. If you don’t need them, toss them; they’re not that expensive. If you do need them, you’ve got gold.

4.  Consider staying on the boat if there’s nowhere you want to go in port. Some of the shore excursions are lame. Staying on board will guarantee lots of open space in the pool and no line at the waterslide.

5. Check out online boards ahead of time. Disboards is one example. People from your particular cruise will start to post a year and a half before embarking and virtually get to know each other before setting sail. This isn’t really my thing, but if you’re into it, then by all means make some friends in advance.

6. Discreetly give a cash tip – maybe $40 – to your server and your room attendant the first day. Especially since we have a daughter with a bad food allergy, we discovered that a cash tip on Night #1 is a great investment for above-and-beyond service the rest of the trip.

7. Get there the day before. Stressing about making the boat isn’t worth it. Stay at a Disney resort and they’ll pick you up and take you right to the port. It’s slick.

8. Liberally use the Kids’ Club. Ideally, I’d check MGM and Trixie into the Kids’ Club for at least 2 hours every day. Two delicious, quiet, nap-filled hours. 

Have fun. If you have kids, this trip is really a blast for them. Their happiness makes it all worthwhile. Our kids talk about the “Mickey Boat” all the time. Really, all the time. The experience is carefully curated, but when you’re five and six, it’s pure magic.

 

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