A Disney cruise is something you’ve saved for and dreamed of for months or even years. (Just ask the irate mom in the viral video who almost missed her Disney cruise!) A family cruise with teens and tweens can be smooth sailing or troubled waters – it all depends on how you prepare. Here are some important tips to ensure you can make the most of your Disney cruise with the teen and tween set.
7 Tips for a Disney Cruise with Teens and Tweens
Disney Cruise Line gets top marks from families for its exceptional service and offerings. This is especially true for the teen and tween set. Between youth-centric clubs with activities and games, movie theaters, a private sun deck, and media rooms, it’s enough to (almost) make parents want to go back in time to when they were teens and tweens. (Only we didn’t have such cool stuff!)
Cruising with teens and tweens can be an amazing experience because of the independence these youth are gaining and the connections they can potentially make. We sailed on the Disney Fantasy for a Western Caribbean seven night cruise including a Star Wars Day at Sea, and my teen and tween had the time of their lives.
Here are a few pointers I would offer to make the most of your Disney cruise with teens and tweens.
Let Them Make Choices
Disney Cruise Line knows exactly how to entertain and meet the teens and tweens where they are. Movie theaters, shows, arcade, miniature golf, pools, and self-serve ice cream are just some of the ways your teens and tweens will stay busy. Letting them make choices on what activities and excursions they do will also go a long way in letting them take ownership of their vacation.
Review the Personal Navigators online (daily paper planners) on the Disney Cruise Line Blog ahead of time. You don’t have to memorize it, but any opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the variety of activities will help you hone in on what is really important for you to do while on your cruise. Sure, you will eventually get the hang of things, but you won’t want to wait until Day 5 of your seven night cruise.
Once our teen made friends, she wanted to spend as much time as possible with them. That meant going to the Star Wars Summon the Force Deck Party as a group and watching the fireworks together. (Curious about these Star Wars themed sailings? Check out this fabulous teen perspective on the Star Wars Day at Sea.)
Midship Detective Agency was one activity our tween definitely wanted to do, and happily he could do the activity multiple times without it being repetitive. There are three unique story lines for the Midship Detectives that lead them all over the ship on a scavenger hunt. Detectives search for the clues to each mystery in the interactive photos that their pass will unlock, ending with the big reveal. It also turns out to be a great way for tweens and teens to find out where everything is on the ship and learn their way around.
Tour the Teen and Tween Clubs
Isn’t it awesome that Disney Cruise Line has separate clubs for kids, tweens and teens? Edge is the club for tweens and Vibe is the teens-only hangout. At Vibe, teens even have their own pool deck.
The Youth Activities Open Houses for Edge and Vibe are on the first day from 12-3:30 p.m., and 4:30-7:30 p.m. in Vibe. Additional open houses are held throughout the week on the Fantasy with the intention that parents come in only during an open house time. This gives parents a chance to check out the programs with the kids and see where their kids will be hanging out and all the cool activities.
Make your teen and tween go to program activities on the very first night and next day of the cruise. Teen and tween friendships often form within the first 24 hours of the cruise, so you don’t want them to miss out on this window of opportunity. That said, don’t force them to keep going if they don’t enjoy it.
My tween son liked the dodge ball activity they played on the first night in Edge, but didn’t really connect with anyone while in Edge. So instead, he liked bringing his remote controlled BB-8 down to the lobby to play with it. He had many onlookers and really enjoyed interacting with people talking about BB-8 and Star Wars.
Have Clear Communications about Curfew
Our teen loved going to the Vibe teen club with friends, and Vibe is often open until 1 or 2 a.m. We didn’t go into the cruise having established boundaries for curfew. So naturally teens are going to want to hang out with their new found friends and not be the first on back to the cabin. My number one tidbit of advice for teen parents is to be unified and clear on what you expect your teen to abide by for curfew.
We weren’t expecting how little time we would be spending with our teen by the week’s end, so if togetherness is important, set limits on when you all have family time or what activities you hold sacred as a family and stick to it. With the exception of one dinner, we expected our teen to have dinner with us and to spend part of the evening with us before joining up with friends.
If your idea of a vacation means ALL of you together ALL the time, then maybe you should book something other than a Disney cruise. If you have a social teen who makes friends easily, then your teen will LOVE a Disney cruise. But set clear expectations about how you will spend your time together and apart. Otherwise, both parents and teens will be frustrated with the result.
The Disney Navigator App is a Must Have for Your Teen and Tween
If your teens/tweens have phones, then download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator for them. This enables everyone to have a means of messaging on the ship instead of the Wave phones in your stateroom. We could even set up group messages to communicate with all members of our group. And it gives them a way of talking to friends. As always, be sure to keep tabs on your teen or tween’s use of this technology.
Make the Most of Your Couple and (Han) Solo Time
If your teens and teens are off gallivanting on the ship without you, then by all means maximize your solo or couple time!
Senses Spa: I highly recommend a spa treatment at Senses Spa or the Rainforest Room. Specifically, the bamboo massage is AH-mazing! Han, my massage therapist, had a sweet temperament and was a delight to talk to as I enjoyed the benefits of the bamboo massage. Designed as a warm, soothing massage, this treatment uses bamboo shoots of various sizes soaked in essential oil to massage your muscles. I even spotted a hidden Mickey in the light fixture! I could have oozed down the hallway afterwards, I was so relaxed.
TravelingMom Tip: Go to the Senses open house on the first day and see what the spa specials are. Often they combine several treatments together at a fraction of the cost. Or you could choose a Rainforest Room Cruise Pass, which is really a steal! The pass gives you unlimited entry to the scented showers, aroma steam, sauna rooms, private Jacuzzi, and the coveted warm loungers, an area off limits to other spa goers. A week pass is $ 144 for singles and $193 for couples. There are a limited number of these passes available, so if you want one, jump all over it! (You can also pre-purchase online a day pass while available for $ 16 a day.)
Remy and Palo: You’ve probably heard of the two adults-only dining options onboard Disney Cruise Line ships, Remy and Palo. Remy is fine French dining onboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, and Palo is Northern Italian cuisine on all four Disney ships.
Yes, they are extra. Of course, you’ve already paid for your cruise food, so why pay the extra $55 per person for Palo or $85 per person for Remy? Because it is a culinary experience and gosh darn it, you’re worth it! Actually, this may not be for everyone, but for those who really love outstanding food, impeccable service and a dining experience, reserving one of these fine dining experiences for brunch or dinner is a MUST.
Don’t panic if you don’t score dining reservations to Remy or Palo online in advance of your cruise. The cruise holds back many spots for booking while on ship. Your teen and tween can even do the regular dining rotation and your servers will take excellent care of them in your absence. My two were the only ones at our table of eight since the other couple had Palo reservations that night and their kids ate elsewhere.
Mixology and Tasting Classes: Our other favorite activity was a mixology class in the Skyline bar. We learned how to make five drinks and sampled them all! The Peanut Butter and Jelly, which contained Chambord (black raspberry liquor) and Frangelica was mindblowing! Nika, our bartender extraordinaire, came up with the most inventive concoctions.
Hands down, Skyline was our favorite bar because of the decor and the seven “windows” which were actually HD television screens that highlight seven cities: Paris, London, Barcelona, Athens, Florence, Budapest and St. Petersburg. The scenes changed depending on what time you are in the bar and reflected the time of day you are in Skyline. Hint: Look for the hidden Mickey waving to you from a Paris apartment!
My favorite place for adult relaxation turned out to be Satellite Falls. This special sanctuary for adults only on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy has a wading pool with cascading rain, shady spots, and a laid back vibe. Chill out on loungers, order drinks from roaming bartenders, and hang out with friends while your teens and tweens are doing their own thing. You’ll be so glad you did!
Book Activities in Advance or ASAP Once You’ve Boarded
If you want to try the Virtual Sports Simulator or Golf Simulator, make those reservations online before your cruise. They are some of the hardest to snag onboard and usually the only spots available are on port days when guests are planning to go ashore.
The golf simulator is for the already skilled golfers, so I recommend the sports simulator for tweens who love basketball, soccer, hockey, baseball, and football.
TravelingMom Tip: we only signed my son up for this experience, but all of us were able to play along with him. Pretty good value for $ 22 for an hour.
Another indulgence for your teen: book a spa treatment at Chill, the spa designed for guests ages 13 to 17. Teens can choose from facials, massages, manicures and pedicures.
Choose Exciting Excursions (and Make Sure You Read the Fine Print)
The quality of the port excursions can make or break your cruise, so be sure to look at all the offerings and select the one that suits your family best. This is time where you’ll have your teen and tween away from the ship and should be earmarked as family time.
TravelingMom Tip: Always read the fine print with excursions. One of our ports was Grand Cayman, so we knew we wanted to try Stingray City. The excursion we selected was titled “Stingray City Reef Sail and Snorkel.” The adventure was described as an opportunity to “[s]ail by catamaran to a series of shallow sandbars where you’ll see tropical fish and stingrays galore at close range” and that the location was “[h]ome to Hundreds of Rays.”
We saw ONE stingray. Seriously.
While the catamaran sail and snorkel were fun, I must say that the excursion did not live up to our expectations. We were very disappointed. When we expressed our dissatisfaction, we were first met with the quotation of the excursion fine print: “Note: This tour goes to the original Stingray City site, not the Stingray Sandbar.”
Well, just what does that mean? Apparently, the difference between HUNDREDS of stingrays and ONE. Most people expect to see hundreds of stingrays when they go to Stingray City (regardless of whether it is the old location or new sandbar.) But after a little more “discussion,” Disney Cruise Line officials made it right and went out of their way to make sure we were happy, even going so far as to refund the cost of our Castaway Cay booking. They also sent a bottle of wine for the grownups and arcade cards for the kids. So kudos to them for making amends. Still, buyer beware (to put my legal hat on) and read those excursion descriptions carefully.
On Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, you can do a little or a lot, depending on whether you want to be active or veg out. Teens and teens’ choices abound. My kids’ preferences? My teen loved splashing in the water with friends; Hideout, the teens only club; the hammocks; and making photos together.
My tween liked Pelican Plunge; the ropes platform in the Swimming Lagoon; and our bike ride around the island and climbing Exploration Tower, a two story outlook point overlooking the marsh with sweeping views of Serenity Bay and the beckoning Disney Fantasy.