DISNEY DREAM CRUISE SHIP — DECK 11 — LATE AFTERNOON
A HUSBAND and WIFE relax on deck chairs. They are quiet, having abandoned their conversation for a reverie that's broken only by the clink of ice in their cocktail glasses. The woman turns to her husband.
"You know, that was the longest conversation we've had since you started working nights again."
HUSBAND (gestures with his drink to the adults-only surroundings)
"You're probably right. Even with all there is to do on board, I'm content just to relax here with a book for the entire cruise."
WIFE (exhales audibly)
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That scene took place last fall aboard the Disney Dream. My wife and I wanted to experience the ship's holiday trimmings — they begin in earnest well before Halloween — but what's most impressive is the holiday that couples can take from their hectic lives, no matter what time of year they choose to cruise. We like to call it the extended Disney Date Night. And we're hardly unique.
Just ask Dream cruise director Christiaan Abbott, who says he's always surprised when he asks guests how they liked one of the ship's attractions — such as Disney's Believe stage show, for example — and they often answer that they hadn't ventured off their stateroom balcony or deck chair.
"It's whatever you want it to be," he said of the experience during the ship's short Caribbean sailings, "whether you want to finish your book or have cocktails."
And whether you have children or it's just the two of you, the ships in the Disney cruise line — Dream, Magic, Fantasy and Wonder — can indulge your mood.
How indulgent is, of course, up to you (and your budget).
From Port Canaveral, which is about two hours from Tampa, there are three- and four-night Bahamian cruises, as well as seven-day Western Caribbean sailings. For Floridians, the three-night cruise like the one we took is that perfect extended date night, departing on Friday afternoon and docking early Monday morning. (My wife worked until noon Friday and was back in her office by noon Monday.)
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Marisol Lopez, a mother of two teens, and her husband, Carlos, find that the cruises provide a "mental reconnection."
"I can't believe we can have a couples vacation and a family vacation at the same time," said Lopez, who works for a Lakeland utility. "I can think of times we were sitting on our (cabin's) veranda and we thought, 'Wow, we are alone.' "
That's because the ships sprinkle in some Disney magic: supervised activities and entertainment for the kids while parents enjoy the adult amenities.
"My daughter loves the Oceaneer Club and Lab," said Joe King, 42, speaking of the play area for kids ages 3 to 12 aboard the Dream. King, an IT executive from Columbia, Md., has been on three Disney cruises with his wife and daughter.
And kids now have even more reason to love the Dream's Oceaneer Club. The 4-year-old ship spent some time in dry dock last fall for renovations that included — most notably — an interactive scale-model cockpit of the Millennium Falcon spaceship from Star Wars in the club.
Lopez, 46, says some people are hesitant to try a Disney cruise because they don't have children. But she stresses that the experience is as geared toward adults as it is to kids. And she should know. Her Disney cruise count is now in the double digits, and she's a former member of Disney Mom's Panel, an advisory board that offers online advice to theme park guests. Lopez even did a series of YouTube videos on the Disney Cruise Line in Spanish.
"These people," Lopez says of the DCL, "are specifically trying to make (adults) come back."
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So how do they help adult guests reconnect? Here are some of our favorite ways to have a date night from the perspective of DCL veterans and personal trips.
Spa time: The Senses Spa & Salon can be a couple's activity, whether you sample the activities together (such as with a Swedish massage) or separately (a shave for him, and perhaps for her a spa sampler — facial and neck, shoulder and foot massage). Of course, these services cost extra, so be sure to check out reservation and pricing information online before you sail.
Our tip: Check with the front desk on how to enjoy the spa's various misting rooms. The proper procedures aren't clear without instruction.
Nightlife: For evening entertainment, the ships offer a collection of themed night spots, so it's easy to make a night of it by hopping from club to club. On the Fantasy, for example, the chic collection is called Europa. One favorite is an intimate lounge on the Fantasy and Dream called Skyline, where the bar's background changes to depict the skylines of different cities at night.
Our tip: The bars are less crowded in the late afternoon and are a good way to unwind. "We spent one memorable late afternoon in Skyline," King said. "We were pretty much the only people in the bar, and loved relaxing in a space that seemed just for us." Most night spots close at midnight.
Castaway Cay: Disney's private island features an adults-only beach called Serenity Bay. Even if there are younger children with you, it's easy to spend couples time here. Your kids might even ditch you. Just ask King, whose daughter spotted the Castaway Cay kids club on their first visit and proclaimed: "I want to go there!"
So King and his wife checked her in and headed to the beach. "We relaxed on the beach and read, and spent some time at the bar there with a couple of great bartenders. It was a blissful morning, and then we spent a fun afternoon together as a family."
Our tip: You can arrange for beachside massages or to rent a private cabana if you want even more indulgence, but be prepared to pay extra.
Disney dining: Foodies — and those seeking an intimate dinner — can splurge in the DCL's two adult-exclusive restaurants, Palo (Northern Italian) and the even-pricier Remy (French; Dream and Fantasy only). Both require advance reservations and an extra fee.
Our tip: Palo is an additional $30 per person and may be the best money you can spend on a Disney cruise. The service is almost overly solicitous, the entrees refined and the sea views — especially at sunset — romantic.
Movie time: Still, if you want to actually see a movie in a comfortable art-deco space, you might want to skip a shore excursion for a morning movie at the Dream's Buena Vista Theatre. No worries about a sitter or the cost of popcorn.
Our tip: Let the other cruisers do the touristy shore excursion to Nassau while you catch a Disney classic or first-run movie in comfort.
Deck-adence: Choose from a variety of adults-only spots on deck for relaxation: shaded lounge chairs facing the water, an open-air lounge and bar area at the top of the ship, a shallow pool with benches around the edge of the Quiet Cove Pool and a bar with stools that let you dangle your feet in the water.
Our tip: Chat with the servers. We've had fascinating conversations about their native countries and life on a cruise ship.
Sip and learn: Not sure if you like Scotch? Why is it called bourbon? Can a drop of water really change the character of whiskey? There are also small-group tasting opportunities led by bartenders for wine and spirits aboard ship. They cost extra and prices vary. It's great way to meet people and bond over shared tastes.
Our Tip: The drinks are poured beforehand, but guests who reserve a spot often don't show up. So there's always an opportunity for some extra sipping.