So many family travelers wait to do certain kinds of travel until their kids are “old enough.” After recently cruising aboard the Disney Wonder with my 3 year old son and his 7 year old big sister, I can definitively say that a Disney cruise is not one of those experiences that needs to wait. Disney Cruise Line handles the toddler and preschooler set well — very well. We adored the experience so much so that our family is already looking into Disney cruises to Alaska for next summer.
But face it: travel with toddlers and preschoolers anywhere can be a challenge, even at the places that cater to them best. Their little legs can’t walk as much, they may still need naps and early bedtimes, and they often have a short fuse. Travel with toddlers without preparation at your peril. I know from my extensive toddler travel experience with both of my kids that planning is essential. I personally did a lot of research before our cruise to make sure we knew what to expect with our 3 year old especially. And I was constantly on the lookout during our trip for things that would matter to other toddler and preschool parents as well.
Here are the essentials you need to know about cruising with Disney with toddlers and preschoolers so you can be prepared too!
Disney Cruise Cabins with Toddlers
I’ve cruised on a number of cruise lines over the years and have seen a wide variety of cruise cabins. I can honestly say that Disney has the best cabin I’ve ever seen, particularly for families with little ones. The staterooms are bigger than on other cruise lines, giving families more room to move around. The sleeping arrangements, bathroom design, and amenities work well in tight spaces.
Sleeping Options. The bed options are especially well-designed. Standard rooms have a queen bed in the center of the room. There is also a couch facing the room’s main desk and vanity that converts into a twin lower bunk bed. A top bunk comes down from the ceiling above that. The bunk part of the room (which is next to the balcony or porthole side of the ship) is separated from the rest of the room with a heavy curtain divider. This allows you to put your children to bed without having to turn the lights off in the rest of the cabin. As you can probably imagine, the sleeping arrangement is as good as it can get in such tight quarters for families.
Toddlers who are comfortable in a real bed are best put on the bottom bunk. Disney has bedrails available for extra safety.
Disney also has ample Pack N Plays if your little one still prefers a crib-like option. Just ask your cabin steward to deliver one after you arrive in your room. We had a Pack N Play in our room and it made things a little tight around our balcony door, but we were still able to manage quite well. I’ve even heard of families managing two Pack N Plays in these cabins with twins!
The Bathroom. The bathroom layout on a Disney cruise ship is pretty ingenious for families. It is split into two rooms, one of which has a sink and toilet. The other room has another sink and a tub/shower combination. This means that two people can be brushing teeth or getting ready in front of a sink at the same time. Or someone can use the toilet while someone else is taking a shower. The extra space is essential for families.
And if you noticed, I said tub! Like many toddlers, mine son much prefers baths to showers. Being able to bathe him in a real tub was a huge plus. The tub isn’t full size, but both of my kids were able to get in together successfully for a quick bath so it’s certainly big enough.
Storage. Storage space in the cabins is exceedingly generous and well-thought out, with drawers and nooks and crannies everywhere. Suitcases of any size fit easily under the main bed for space-saving efficiency. We had no trouble unpacking our family of four completely (my aunt was also along for the fun). Believe it or not, we ran out of drawer space earlier in our trip when were staying in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. Our Disney hotel room ultimately didn’t have as much storage space as the cruise cabin did!
Other Little Extras. All cabins on Disney cruise line have a mini-fridge, which is huge for families with young kids. We used ours to store milk for our son, as he still loves his morning and bedtime sippy cup full of milk. It was also great to store a few snacks so we didn’t need to call room service or go up on deck for a quick bite.
The other little amenity we loved was the pair of wave phones that comes in each room. You can use these phone to text or call on board and at Castaway Cay. They are also essential for the childcare centers to communicate with you if your child needs to be picked up from the kids clubs. And speaking of kids clubs….
Childcare on Disney Cruise Line with Toddlers & Preschoolers
Childcare on Disney cruises is pretty amazing, both for the kids who get to attend and the parents who get to have a break. Depending on the age and needs of your toddler or preschooler, you have a couple of options.
“it’s a small world” Nursery. Kids under age 3 or who aren’t yet potty trained can only go to the it’s a small world nursery. The nursery charges $9 an hour. Due to more rigid staffing requirements for the little ones, reservations are recommended.
Oceaneer Club & Lab. Once your child is three years old and potty trained, they are eligible to head over with the big kids to the Oceaneer Club. The club is where most of the younger kids hang out, although it is also connected to the Oceaneer Lab which has a different set of activities that many older kids will prefer. Kids can roam as their interests dictate. Security is, of course, top notch so no need to worry if you have a preschooler escape artist. Kids wear special Magic Bands and have to be checked in and out with a secret security word and a scan of the band.
The Oceaneer Club is pretty much a dream come true for young kids. Younger ones like my 3 year old will probably spend most of their time in Andy’s Room, a Toy Story themed area with a slide. Every time I picked my son up from the club, his face was bright red and forehead glistening with sweat because he was climbing up and sliding down so many times.
My son was only 4 months past his third birthday on our trip, so he was right on the dividing line between the nursery and the Oceaneer Club. He was potty trained but not what I would call 100% self-sufficient. We usually made sure he went to the bathroom right before dropping him off and never left him in the club for more than a few hours at a time. After spending all morning in the Oceaneer Club the first full day day, he actually asked to go to the nursery for a bit of a break. He had a blast being the big kid there and playing with the little ones. But he ultimate was drawn back to the Oceaneer Club for the rest of the cruise – Andy’s Room and the slide was too tempting. But we found it really nice to have the nursery option too, especially if you have a more sensitive child who needs more staff attention.
Activities for Toddlers on Disney Cruises
It’s Disney, so it probably goes without saying that there are activities galore for kids of every age, including toddlers and preschoolers. There’s always something to keep them busy, from movie showings to special events like the Pirate Party or sail-away party. The must-dos for toddlers and preschoolers include:
Character Meet & Greets. There are ample opportunities to meet and greet your toddler’s favorite characters on a Disney cruise. With toddlers, I would recommend planning ahead if your child is character obsessed. You can pre-book many of these experiences online before your sailing which saves time in line. But even if you don’t pre-book experiences, characters make appearances for photos before some of the dinners and are abundant on Castaway Cay. Since we had just been to Disney World right before our cruise, our children had plenty of character interactions there so we didn’t seek them out quite as much as we might otherwise have done.
The Pools. On the Wonder, the biggest hit with my three year old was Dory’s Reef, a themed splash pad area. Disney is one of the very few cruise lines that has this sort of water play splash area where even children in swim diapers can participate (swim diapers are not allowed in any cruise ship pools). Even though my son is potty trained and could go in the pools, he preferred the splash pad anyway. Bonus that the water was much warmer on our February sailing!
The Shows. All of the shows aboard Disney Cruise Line are appropriate for kids of all ages. And no one gives you dirty looks on a Disney cruise if your kiddo makes a little noise in a show either. Fellow cruisers totally understand if you need to get up and take a toddler out. Whether you want to take your toddler or preschooler to the evening shows, of course, depends on your child’s age and attention span.
One our 3 night cruise, we took our son to one of the the three evening shows and that was about right. He made it through about 75% of the Golden Mickey’s before getting antsy and needing sleep. We intended to take him to Frozen: A Musical Spectacular the final night (he’s a huge Olaf fan), but he was having so much fun in the kids club at the time he refused to leave. My best advice when it comes to shows? Just gauge your child’s mood at the late night hour and make game-time decisions when it comes to shows.
The Food & Dining Experience Aboard Disney Cruise Line
If you are worried about what your toddler or preschooler will eat on a Disney cruise, don’t. My three year old is the pickiest eater on the planet and even he did better than usual on the ship. He may have ordered macaroni and cheese for dinner every night, but he actually ate it which can sometimes even be a challenge for us. And he may have finished it off with a Mickey Premium Ice Cream bar, but hey – that’s vacation. There were healthy choices every night too if you have a toddler who eats better than mine!
Disney cruise ships have three different sit-down restaurants for dinner, with two different seatings. Families with young children will likely do best choosing the earlier 5:30 seating as we did. While the advantage of choosing the later seating is that you get to go to the evening shows earlier, the obvious downside is cranky and hungry kids who can’t make it until 8pm to eat.
On the Wonder, the restaurants are Tiana’s Place, Triton’s, and Animator’s Palate. Other ships have slightly different choices. Your server, assistant server, and maître d’ rotates with you each night as your table cycles through the restaurants. Our servers got to know our kids well, playing games with them and helping keep them happy. We actually succeeded in keeping my toddler at the table for an hour plus long sit down meal for three nights straight which is near impossible. Disney clearly had the magic touch. Kids menus came on cute coloring and activity sheets with crayons. And the dinner entertainment certainly helped. At Tiana’s Place, there was a full New Orleans jazz band and our evening at Animator’s Palate had a magical show to end the cruise with a bang.
For other meals, the options are pretty endless. We ate breakfast at the main buffet at Cabanas most mornings. The choices – from fresh fruit to cereal to all sorts of hot options – were almost so extensive as to be overwhelming. The Mickey waffles and entire wall of donuts might have caught our kids’ eyes.
For quick bites, the pizza counter out by the pool deck is convenient and easy. There’s a soft-serve ice cream machine around the corner too. Room service is available in a pinch if you find yourself stuck in the room with a sleeping toddler and you get hungry!
Castaway Cay with Toddlers & Preschoolers
Disney’s Caribbean itineraries stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Castaway Cay deserves a whole post all its own because there is so much to do and see. But there are a few things to know specifically about making the most of your day on Castaway Cay with toddlers and preschoolers. The essentials:
- Consider taking the shuttle as the walk to the two family beaches can be a bit long for toddler legs. I was worried we’d lose time waiting for shuttles, but they ran often so they were well worth it.
- Leave the stroller behind on the ship (if you have one). Castaway Cay has strollers available to borrow for free as well as wagons to pull your child and stuff if you prefer that alternative.
- Want to enjoy a family bike ride? Disney rents adult bikes with child seats and also has the tiniest child-sized bikes if your preschooler is already a bike-riding pro. Helmets are, of course, available.
- Life vests are available all over the beaches to borrow for free.
- There’s no nursery on Castaway Cay. Only kids ages 3 and up who are potty trained can go to Scuttle’s Cove, the island kids club. Scuttle’s Cove is located away from water, so it’s totally safe and enclosed!
- Don’t try to do too much with toddlers and preschoolers on Castaway Cay. Sand and water play time may be all they want to do.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Land & Sea Celebration in 2017, which included a three night cruise aboard the Disney Wonder. Disney provided my family and me with discounted conference admission, tickets, and lodging. Disney and its conference sponsors also provided me with additional gifts during the event. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Traveling to Disney with Toddlers Loop:
- 1st Stop – Love Our Crazy Life | 5 Reasons Not To Go To Disney With Toddlers
- 2nd Stop – Trips with Tykes | Tips for Disney Cruise Line with Toddlers & Preschoolers – YOU ARE HERE
- 3rd Stop – Saving Up for Disney | Walt Disney World Guide for Toddlers at Magic Kingdom
- 4th Stop – Distalgic | Our Kids’ First Trip: Arriving on Property
- 5th Stop – Disney Mamas | 3 Tips for Handling Your Toddlers Schedule Disruptions at Disney Parks
Tuesday 6th of July 2021
He is the cutest little boy!
Tuesday 7th of January 2020
If you ask to be waitlisted things open up, they did for us about 2 months out. Also on departure day, go to guest services and ask, they often have a few spots saved for just such a situation.
Thursday 25th of April 2019
These tips are great if you have cruised with Disney before. We are going on Disney cruise for the 1st time, I have been on several other cruises on other companies. I could get NOTHING that we would have liked to do as a family including 1st seating dining because all were taken by cruisers that have used Disney before. If I had known this before putting down money Disney would not have been the cruise we chose no matter how much my grandson loves Mickey.
Saturday 27th of October 2018
Hi! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with a little one. I noticed that you mentioned going on a 3 night cruise. Did you feel like this was enough time to experience all the things the ship has to offer and at the ports? Did your vacation feel rushed? Were you local or did you have to fly into the departure port? Was it worth all the hassle for just 3 nights? I just go back and forth whether we will feel too rushed on vacation with two kids and if its a waste. Any thoughts would be appreciated!
Thursday 22nd of February 2018
Hi there, really appreciated your opinions here. We are thinking on doing a Disney Cruise when the kids are 4 & 2 (my sister-in-law is having a big group sail for her 40th bday). My main concern is that we will be divided as the 2 year old will not be able to join in on the 4 year old things...did you have any of that division during your experience? How did you handle? I just am afraid it will be too much having the 2 separate age groups and wonder if we should hold off for when we can all 4 participate together.... I appreciate any feedback and/or advice. Stephanie Gonsalves Chesapeake, VA
Thursday 22nd of February 2018
The nursery (where the 2 year old would be) is totally physically separate from the Oceaneer Lab & Club where the 4 year old would be. So there is no way for them to be together if you drop them off in the childcare. But of course, the kids aren't in childcare all or even most of the time. The nursery is super cute and tons of fun so as long as your 2 year old is used to doing some separation (like in daycare or with a babysitter), I'm sure it would be fine! If the kids are unhappy, you will get a call to pick them up.