After university, I took a few months off to travel and work before settling into a career. To combine both objectives—and spend my days off in destinations such as Saint Martin—I chose to work as a kids counselor on a cruise ship. During this experience I had the chance to see how many families made cruising with kids possible.

Every day in the kids club, I’d see parents drop off their tots and waltz off to the pool, to the spa, or to a hot night out with coiffed hair, fancy resort wear, and an easy-breezy attitude I couldn’t place at the time. Even without kids at the time, I was already sold on cruising with my future family. 

Now, more than a decade, a husband, a dog, and a child later, I’ve moved up the ranks from cruise staff to passenger, knowing that sailing the ocean blue is a vacation type that lends itself to an actual getaway for every member of our crew. Plus, I wanted to know what it felt like put on a gown and a glass slipper again. 

These Cinderella wishes led me to Disney Cruise Line for its Fantasmic! ability to offer Mickey Mouse–caliber entertainment for kids (of all ages), and woo adults with Jack Sparrow–approved deck parties and Princess Jasmine–posh hideaways. 

When you wish upon a star

With a blow of “When You Wish Upon a Star” (literally, the ship’s whistle trumpets this tune—OK, technically seven) in September 2015, I set sail on the Disney Dream from Port Canaveral (near Orlando) to the Bahamas. 

It was a voyage I’ll never forget: As we were pulling away from port with prosecco flutes in hand, our 11-month-old took his first steps. (It was like Tinkerbell fluttered into our room and sprinkled pixie dust on our little one.)

Aboard the 1,115-foot ocean liner, the bubbly moments kept coming. As they did, I gleaned firsthand why parents of young children are “strangely” relaxed at sea. Almost everything is done for you; all you need to do is pack and show up. 

 

Cruising with kids at Disney Dream

Onboard oasis featuring funnel-size flicks

Take our first night in the one of ship’s whimsical dining rooms. We arrived to a table set with two chairs, a high chair, and a cup with my son’s name on it covered in a no-spill lid with a straw sticking out. At first, we were trying to be polite when asking about bite-size food for our little guy, but the staff insisted they tailor it to his age—no small task on a 130,000-ton ship filled with 120 cooks and 240 servers. 

Because our servers followed us to each of our dining venues—a Disney Cruise Line exclusive—from that point forward, every kid-size bite came to our small sailor’s liking (even if it wasn’t on the menu), meaning we could all have our cake and eat it, too.

Viewfinder Tip: The nursery books up fast. Select your babysitting times pre-cruise for choice slots—you can always inquire about additional open spots while you’re on the ship.

A hot night out

The next day, after exploring Nassau’s pastel-lined streets and lounging in a quiet spot on deck 12, we did our best impression of the moms and dads I remember when I worked with kids at sea: We gussied ourselves to the level of a Disney prince and princess (OK, not quite, but that’s what it felt like) and dropped our tired tyke off in the “it’s a small world” nursery. 

Once we were relinquished of our parenting duties for a few hours, we discovered a quiet, adult side of the ship that appeared as though it was supposed to be in an A-lister’s private yacht (think rich wood grains, leather maps, and plush seating). 

We started with drinks in the adults-only, glass-enclosed Meridian lounge at sunset, where we sipped our shaken martinis on the outdoor patio as the wind tousled our hair and the sun lit our faces with a golden glow—the kind that bathes you in a sexy supermodel light.

 

Drinks at Meridian

Martinis at Meridian

Dinner at Palo—one of the ship’s eateries—followed, where we cozied up together in a crescent-shaped booth to feast on charcuterie and balsamic-drizzled parmesan we selected from a cart of antipasti. This was only the first course. Three hours, three dishes, and two wine pairings later, we rushed back to the nursery only to find that our mini cruiser had been lulled to sleep in a swing that mimicked the natural motion of the sea.

Eight precious words

Then, with a twinkle in her eye, the nursery counselor uttered eight words I’ll never forget as a new parent: “You’re welcome to stay out a little longer,” as if she knew we were craving one more cocktail in the Caribbean. Obviously, we obliged, and dashed to Currents, a 10-seat, outdoor bar clinging to the ship’s contours.

Here, we plotted our next day: Taking our tot swimming in the bath-warm water at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, as well as another nursery time so we could find “serenity now” in Senses Spa & Salon, a sleek cedar and slate escape for the ship’s older set.

Sweating side by side in the sauna to the tune of pan flutes, we felt completely calm and carefree—the kind of contentment that comes from knowing that Disney is in the details. (See a video I made about the spa and our other seafaring adventures on TripStyler.com.)

Then it dawned on me. The parents I remember from my shipboard kids-club days beamed because cruising with kids isn’t code for chaos, rather an opportunity for every sailor to experience revelry and relaxation at sea. 

What kind of family trips do you think are ideal for blending relaxation with revelry?