A Disney cruise is always a fun vacation option. We’ve been on seven so far, and I have gotten fairly comfortable when it comes to planning everything. But when you add a large, multigenerational family party to the mix, things get challenging. Here’s what I learned when we took a bucket-list Disney cruise last summer to Norway, Iceland and Scotland.
- Don’t be afraid to split up the group.
Our group included my 85 year old mother, my sister and her husband, and me, my husband and our two tweenage daughters. My mom is spry, but uses a walker for long distances. At first I was stumped: how we could possibly see everything everyone wanted to see with only a certain number of hours in each port? Oslo had a peninsula with far-flung museums that would require a ferry and then a long walk. We wanted to hike partway up a mountain in Bergen and then go on a walking tour of the historic waterfront. It would have been way too much for my mom.
Then I had the notion of asking my mother whether in those two ports she might want to take the Disney Port Adventure that was a panoramic bus tour of each city. And you know what? That was exactly the kind of sightseeing she loved! She saw all the sights, heard some interesting commentary from the local guides, and wasn’t tired out. I just made sure that I chose an excursion that had an activity level of “mild,” and pointed my mom in the right direction to meet up with her group. She had a blast!
In Kristiansand, another Norwegian port, we were going to tour some WWII historic sites and a museum. My daughters were completely uninterested. We were only going to be in port for a few hours, so we left the kids in the clubs while the adults went ashore. I was very reluctant to do this, but of course the girls were perfectly fine with the wonderful Disney Youth Counselors, and they were *much* happier to be left on the ship.
The other time we split up was so the adults could enjoy brunch and dinner at Palo. The girls ate dinner together in the dining room under the watchful eye of our wonderful serving team and felt very grown up, although they have told me numerous times that they can’t wait until they are 18 and can go into Palo themselves!
- But also plan family activities that include everyone.
With so many activities to choose from, it would be easy for everyone to just do their own thing and go their own way on the ship. Kids especially like to disappear for hours on end into the clubs. But we also made sure to carve out time to be together as a family. Except for one night at Palo, we all ate in the main dining rooms. And most days we had lunch together as well. We also spent many afternoons together in O’Gills, either playing board games or participating in trivia contests. My daughters loved it when we went to an origami class together.
- Think outside the box when it comes to excursions.
Let’s face it: Disney Port Adventures can be expensive. Some of the longer excursions in Iceland and Scotland were nearly 300 hundred dollars per person, and we had a group of 7. It was clear that we would need to come up with an alternate way to affordably see the sights. We did look at private tour operators, but they either were pricey or didn’t go to the locations we wanted to see.
So in four of our ports, we ended up renting vans and doing DIY excursions. This cost a fraction of the price of the ship tours and allowed us to see what we wanted and to go at our own pace (particularly important for my mom – if we went to a physically challenging location, she could stay in the van or in a shop while we went on ahead).
Planning your own excursions requires a lot of research and emailing/calling around. I haunted online forums like Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic. I emailed tourist bureaus, car rental agencies, museums and national parks. I also created a detailed itinerary with distances and times for each port with a plan B just in case something went wrong.
- Plan ahead.
I touched on this above, but even if you are only going to use the cruise line’s Port Adventures, it’s essential to plan ahead. Know when your booking window opens up so you can score Palo reservations, excursions and meet and greets.
If you are going to skip the ship’s excursions and see a port on your own, be aware of opening hours (in Norway, several times the ship docked so early that the museums and sights weren’t open!) and which things might require reservations. In Scotland, we saw tourists get turned away from whiskey distillery tours because they had not made prior arrangements. Almost every tourist attraction has email or an online reservation system these days, so it’s not that difficult to make plans, even in a foreign country.
- But also “wing it” sometimes.
Some of our best memories of this trip come from unexpected things that we didn’t expect to do or see. Waterfalls that we stopped at on the side of the road in Iceland. Stopping to watch bagpipe players serenading us as we cast off from Invergordon in Scotland. Learning how to fold napkins into intricate shapes. By not planning every second of every day, we were able to have a trip where we saw amazing sights but also relaxed and reconnected as a family.
Have you sailed with multiple generations? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re looking for more great cruising tips, read Darlin’ Diva’s Day at Sea recommendations or Cruisin’ Diva’s how cruising with an infant compares to touring Disney World with an infant.
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