Baffled by the prospect of a cruise? There are plenty of misconceptions to contend with, and cruising today isn't neccesarily what it used to be. To get you started, here are seven lessons learned by a first-timer aboard a Disney ship.
1. The kids will be bored stuck at sea
Boredom doesn’t stand a chance. I took my first family cruise with Disney Cruise Line, on the Disney Magic’s Norwegian Fjords sailing with my five and two year old sons. There was so much for my boys to do that we couldn’t squeeze it all into one week.
There were four kids clubs, broken down into youngsters, tweens and teens, all packed with activities, games and Disney-inspired rooms.
The top deck pool area included hot tubs, water playgrounds with fountains and splash zones, pools and a separate area for those still in nappies.
Then there was a packed schedule of live shows, films in the cinema, character dance parties and meet-and-greets, and deck parties.
2. Surely it’s madness to take a baby cruising?
We found babies and toddlers were enthusiastically welcomed. Youngsters can cruise from six months old, and lots of kit is available to help streamline parents’ suitcases, including nappy disposal units, cots, playpens, strollers, bottle warmers and bottle sterilisers.
Our collapsible umbrella-style pushchair fitted neatly under the bed, and during the day the stateroom corridors were reasonably quiet, so provided a useful circuit for buggy naps.
We also used the friendly nursery, which cost $9 (£6.80) an hour, and enabled us to sample the adults-only restaurant.
And don’t worry about curious toddlers falling overboard – there are high, clear security screens on all railings and verandahs.
3. These big ships sound confusing, I’d get lost!
This one is probably true, as unless you are a human compass you’ll probably walk in the wrong direction several times. But it won’t take long to get your bearings at sea.
All locations on the Disney Magic are determined by their deck number, and which section of the ship they’re in – either forward, midship or ‘aft’ (that’s the back of the ship). There is a bank of lifts in each section, and stairs, making it easy to move around.
Our favourite trick was to check the corridor carpets, which feature an upholstered world map. If it’s the right way up, you’re walking towards the front of the ship.
4. Dinner will be stuffy
Fancy meals were certainly available – the Disney Magic’s chefs get through 450kg of lobster tail on a seven-night sailing – but the restaurants were far from stuffy.
We were allocated one of the three main restaurants each evening, two of which featured live shows while we ate, and all boasted fun and lively atmospheres.
Children’s fussy palates were well catered for, with excellent kid’s menus, and off-menu items were readily available.
Dining was also very flexible. One night we skipped the main restaurants to sample dinner in Cabanas with our youngest son, while his brother enjoyed food in the kids’ club. By day, Cabanas served a bustling breakfast and lunch buffet, but the night we visited there were just a handful of guests, enjoying calm waiter-service with panoramic views as we sailed out of Oslo.
It’s also possible to order room service, which is available 24 hours a day, or visit the upper deck to enjoy pizza, chips and burgers from the snack stands.
5. I’ll need a new wardrobe
During the day you can wear what you want, and evening dress codes for the main restaurants are outlined in advance, ranging from cruise casual – which includes everything bar swimwear and vests – to formal. The latter is optional, and diners showcase a range of outfits from simple attire to black tie.
Don’t fret about buying new clothes for children, as they won’t look out of place if they’re not dressed up, and lots opt for princess or prince outfits on formal nights.
6. Tipping is confusing
Tipping is customary on many cruise lines. Disney suggests a discretionary service charge for the three waiting staff who serve passengers throughout their cruise, and the stateroom host. This comes to $84 (£63.50) per person for a seven night cruise, and is applicable to children and adults.
Guests can pre-pay these or add them to their on-board account. While they are discretionary, the service we received was exceptional, and the tips felt most deserved.
A 15 per cent tip is also automatically added to bar orders, with an 18 per cent gratuity for spa treatments.
If you are working to a set budget, calculate your gratuities in advance and view them as part of the cost of a cruise.
7. A day in each port? I’ll never see everything!
Our ship docked in each port for eight to 10 hours. One day in each destination is never going to be long enough to fully explore it, so view it as a taster. If you like what you see, it’s inspiration for a longer holiday.
Use your time wisely – organised excursions are an excellent way to get an overview of a destination, and will normally include the top highlights, with insights from a local guide.
However if you do some research in advance, it’s significantly cheaper to explore an area yourself, and many destinations offer hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses.
What unexpected things did you learn on your first cruise? Join the conversation and leave a comment in the box below.