Why we only take 7+ night Disney Cruises, and why you should too.
It’s no secret that we love Disney Cruises. We’ve been on nine so far, with two more coming up in the next 12 months. We took our first Disney Cruise five years ago, when our oldest daughter was a year and eight months old. We’ve sailed on all four of the current Disney ships, to itineraries near and far, but one thing we’ve never done is taken a cruise that is shorter than 7 nights. We’ve been on two 11-night cruises, one 13-night cruise, and the rest have all been 7-night (including one back-to-back combo of a 3-night and a 4-night on the Dream, which I’ll talk more about below).
When we booked our first Disney cruise (a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise on the Magic over Spring Break) I had friends telling me I was “crazy” , or at best “brave”, for taking my then one-and-a-half-year-old daughter on a cruise that long. Later, when our second daughter was born, her first cruise was an 11-night Southern Caribbean cruise, which she took just after her first birthday, before she could even walk (Bonus: as a crawler she was able to compete in, and win, Jack Jack’s incredible Diaper Dash)!
I have a lot of friends who have taken Disney Cruises with their kids, and anecdotally it seems that the shorter their cruise, the more “meh” they felt about it. They all agree they’re magical and fun, but only those who have taken longer cruises like us came home completely enthralled, the way we did. I have some theories about why that is the case. So here is why we recommend only taking longer cruises, even with very little kids, and how our 3-night+4-night experience helped confirm that opinion:
So, some of the assumptions that people make about traveling, and cruising specifically, with kids are spot on. It can totally throw off their schedules, especially when cruising because there are set dining times and activities, and all of this can be a little tough for kids to adjust to. Also, sleeping on a moving ship can be a hard for them to adjust to, and we have certainly had our share of rough nights and delayed bedtimes as a result. So I can understand the perspective of those who feel a longer cruise would be “crazy”, based on the expectation that it will be 7+ nights of cranky, sleep-deprived kids, instead of only 3 or 4.
However, in our experience this is not the case. Now, all kids are different, but what we have found on the cruises we have taken is that there is an “adjustment period” on the ship where the kids are figuring out the rhythm of the ship, adjusting to the schedules and routines, and just getting comfortable with their new surroundings. Around the third day they usually settle in and from there it’s smooth sailing (haha). By then, our kids have the stateroom version of the bedtime routine down, they have their sea legs, and they’ve figured out the snack and meal options on board. The thing is, if you’re on a 3-night cruise, your kids have settled in just in time to disembark.
Having done a 3-night and a 4-night (albeit back-to-back) and comparing them to our longer cruises, I can tell you that the character access is exponentially better on the longer cruises. You can definitely still greet those essential characters on the shorter cruises and you get plenty of opportunities each day, but there’s an atmosphere of urgency on the shorter cruises because there are fewer opportunities and everyone wants to get their photos in. The lines are longer, the crowds more mob-like, and in general it feels similar to the character experience at Disney World than it does on longer cruises.
Hands down the best character access comes on the 8+-night cruises. On our first 11-night cruise we were blown away by the character interactions, having only been on 7-night cruises up until that point. Not only is there more variety on the larger cruises (we got to meet characters like Max, Aladdin, Peter Pan, and others) but there are also more casual interactions. You might come out of dinner and run into Tiana walking around in the halls. You might be on the pool deck and see Stitch just walking around and posing for photos. You won’t see this on the 3-night and 4-night cruises (or at least, we didn’t). The schedules for the character teams are just too tight on the shorter cruises, and the crowds too desperate.
After our 11-night cruises we thought the character access couldn’t get any better, but then we took a 13-night transatlantic cruise, and once again the character access took it to a whole new level. One fringe benefit of the longer cruises is that there are fewer young kids (particularly on the 8+ night cruises and on cruises during-the-school-year) so already your kids can spend more time with the characters, plus the kids clubs are less crowded. On embarkation day we stopped by the nursery open house only to find that Mickey was there, just hanging out, and we had the whole nursery to ourselves. My two kids played racing cars with Mickey for a FULL 30 MINUTES all by themselves. Later, Doc McStuffins showed up and sat and colored with my kids at the craft table. This was before the ship had even left the port! Throughout the cruise I would drop my younger daughter off at the nursery and spot a character in there, just playing with the kids. Sometimes I would pick her up and she would announce “Tiana was in the nursery today!”. These interactions go so far beyond the usual meet-and-greet, but they’re only possible on the longer cruises.
In the evenings, some characters and princesses hang around the lobby atrium before and after dinner, dancing and chatting with passengers. These are not necessarily photo ops, although plenty of people snap some quick photos. But there are no lines, no Shutters photographers. The whole thing is very casual. One night my younger daughter (A.K.A. Cinderella’s biggest fan) got recruited into an epic game of hide-and-seek around with Cinderella, Ariel, and Tiana. She paired up with Cinderella, and for over an hour she clung to her hand, going from floor-to-floor, forward to aft, looking for, or hiding from, the other princesses. She dutifully stuck by Cinderella’s side, occasionally casting a “can you believe this?!” glance back at us as we followed along. Other kids would come and go for a little hiding or seeking, but our daughter didn’t let go of Cinderella until the whole game disbanded over an hour later. We kept calling her the “silent sidekick” because she was so in awe of Cinderella as she obediently and silently following her all over the ship. At one point Cinderella said to us “she makes a great hider because she’s so quiet!” For our daughter (and hey, for us too!) it was an incredible night that she would never forget. For the rest of the cruise Cinderella and the other princesses greeted her by name, and we joked that to her it was probably the greatest moment of her entire life. It solidified Cinderella’s position as her “favorite princess” and it was something that she could not have experienced anywhere else. Now, I’m not saying that if you go on a transatlantic cruise that you are guaranteed to play hide-and-seek with a princess, but I am saying these special opportunities happen all the time on the longer cruises, and you never know when a magical moment might happen.
Not surprisingly, the pacing on the longer cruises is a lot more laid back. We have speculated that this is for multiple reasons. First, the type of family that is willing or able to take a 7+-night cruise, and their expectations for their cruise, are probably a little more relaxed. You have more time to settle in and get your photos and activities in, so there’s just fewer crowds at everything and people feel more dispersed around the ship. More activities and greetings are repeated on the longer cruises, so while you might get only one opportunity to do a photo with Stitch on a 3-night or 4 night, there are going to be multiple greetings and multiple days to see him on a longer cruise. The same is true for the activities, movies, and events around the ship, including the kids clubs. A short cruise may only offer one opportunity for Animation Cels or GAGA ball, but on a longer cruise there are opportunities to attend these every couple of days, so you can be more relaxed with your kids’ schedule.
Less Crowded Kid Areas
The shorter cruises tend to have more kids on board, and on average these kids have a younger median age than the longer cruises. On the longer cruises there are fewer kids (this is especially true on cruises that occur during the school year, but we also found this to be true in the Summer). This means it’s easier to get times in the nursery, your kids get more attention in the kids clubs, the kids events are more intimate, and the kids get to know the counselors better. On our 11-night cruises we received little notes and trinkets from the nursery almost daily, such as magnets with our kids’ names, stickers, cards, etc. This doesn’t happen on the shorter cruises, but on the longer cruises I think the staff has more time on their hands, and it is one of those little unexpected things that makes Disney cruising so magical.
In addition to having greater familiarity with the counselors, the longer cruises allow you to get to know the rest of the staff too, in particular your dining staff. Just like it takes your kids a few days to settle into the routines of the ship, it takes your dining staff a couple of days to really figure out what works best for you and your family. By the time they’ve worked this out you would be disembarking from a 3-night cruise. On the longer cruises our dining staff would have our kids’ drinks ready as we arrived, and a second basket of bread (their favorite dinner item) at the ready. This familiarity helps dinner run smoothly, which, admittedly, can be one of the more stressful parts of the cruise.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cost of the cruises, because of course one of the reasons people like to take the shorter cruises is because the bottom-line price is lower. However, the daily price per person is almost always higher on the 3 and 4 night cruises, and sometimes the prices on the 3-night and 4-night can rival the 7-night cruises, particularly at off-peak times. Of course, time off from work is also a consideration, but if you have the time and the means, the longer cruises are almost always a far better deal. By far, the greatest value was the 13-night transatlantic cruise we took, which cost only $91 per night per person. When we factored in the money we saved by having 2 weeks out of daycare plus not having to grocery shop for two weeks, the cost of the cruise was practically a wash. In a future post we will talk about some cost savings hacks for Disney Cruises, such as using placeholders, giftcards, and special discounts that make prices like this possible.
There are lots of considerations when it comes to deciding on what Disney Cruise to take. But, if you’re on the line about whether to start with a short cruise or jump in with a full 7-night or longer, we absolutely recommend the longer cruises. There’s even more magic on a longer cruise, and you and your family will have more time to settle in, relax, and enjoy all of the opportunities on board. However you decide to cruise, we want to hear what you think! Did you have a magical cruising experience? Do you agree or disagree with our experiences and observations so far? Let us know in the comments!