I love cruises—I write about them for a living—but I don’t have kids nor have I ever lived with them (aside from my three brothers when we ourselves were kids). After spending five days aboard Disney Magic with 2,628 other passengers on a Spring Break sailing with a Marvel Day at Sea (so there were tons of kids), I wasn’t exactly wishing upon a star to do it all over again.
And yet thousands of childless couples, empty nesters and singles are enthusiastic Disney cruisers; I met quite a few of them—some on their 12th or 15th or even 19th sailing. They love the food and service (both of which are excellent) and they have an affinity for all things Disney, not to mention a tolerance for the boisterous atmosphere of a family-friendly ship populated by dozens of larger-than-life costumed characters. Many had already booked future cruises on Disney’s four ships, and three new vessels scheduled to debut from 2021 to 2023 are a sign the company expects its loyal legions to grow.
What I did appreciate is that Disney knows how to entertain passengers of all ages and has created adults-only environments to give weary parents and Disney-loving childless cruisers places to chill. I had fun in these grown-up spaces—although I eventually had to head back into areas where youngsters were running amok. So, because there’s not enough pixie dust in the universe to make children on vacation be quiet, here are a few tips for finding some Zen (and having fun) on a Disney cruise.
Book a Stateroom Without a Connecting Door
Stateroom walls are notoriously thin, but if there’s an even thinner connecting door with parents and two kids on the other side, you’ll know their family dynamic pretty darn quick (and if you can hear them, they can hear you). I never actually saw my neighbors, but based on the father’s booming voice, I imagined him as Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.” When booking, check the deck plan to make sure your stateroom isn’t one that connects.
Reserve a Dinner in Palo
Not only is this refined Italian restaurant worth the $35-per-person fee, it’s also adults-only. The food is expertly prepared with options that include perfectly fried calamari, divine lobster pappardelle and yummy rack of lamb. Tips: On Disney Magic, if loud dinner theater performances with clapping and stomping aren’t your thing, book Palo for the night your dining rotation lands you in the new Rapunzel’s Royal Table, a vast “Tangled”-themed banquet hall. And on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, there’s a second adults-only dining option, French-themed Remy.
Avoid Holidays and School Breaks
This is a general rule of thumb for any cruise ship with family-friendly amenities, but it’s especially apropos for Disney. The ships’ Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, winter and spring break, and summer vacation sailings are typically filled with families. For a more adult-centric ambience, opt for cruises in May, early June or September in Europe or Alaska and late April, early November, early December or January in the Caribbean.
Bring Your Own Booze Aboard
Unlike most cruise lines, Disney allows you to bring wine and beer aboard at embarkation, with each adult permitted two bottles of wine or Champagne or two six packs of beer (or a combo) in their carry-on. Your veranda becomes your own calm cocktail lounge with a sunset view.
Wash Your Hands Often
Take it from someone who rarely gets sick: I caught a head cold while aboard Disney Magic, probably because I have no immunity to kiddie cooties. Be especially vigilant at the free beverage stations, where germ-laden little hands endlessly press buttons for juice and soda.
Stake Out a Chaise at the Quiet Cove Pool
It’s popular, so you’ll need to get there early on sea days to nab a chaise in the sun or shade. On all four ships this adults-only enclave is just steps from the family-friendly pools, so it’s not completely quiet. But it’s a reprieve from the Funnel Vision movie screenings and giggles and screams emanating from the waterslides.
Try a Tasting
Are you a whisky or bourbon lover? Or perhaps martinis or wine are more your thing? If so, sign up for a beverage tasting before boarding—they sell out quickly and cost just $20 to $25 per person, making them a nice way to chill out on a lazy afternoon.
Choose Your Seats Wisely
Location, location, location—it matters when you’re watching a movie or stage show and don’t want kicks to the back of your chair or chattering children to disrupt your enjoyment. Arrive early and grab a seat in one of the back rows near the door. And for the deck parties, go up the stairs so you can overlook the action without being right in the middle of it.
Head to After Hours or The District
Aside from Keys, a rather mellow piano bar, the two other night spots (O’Gill’s Pub and Fathoms) in the adults-only entertainment enclave on Disney Magic (Disney Wonder has a slightly different bar/lounge trio and Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have their own larger area called The District) offer fun and games for grown-ups: karaoke, trivia, silent disco (dancers wear headsets) and a Match Mate contest during which couples often reveal TMI (too much information). You’ll laugh like little kids—but you won’t be surrounded by them.