Earlier in my pregnancy with baby number two, my husband and I considered packing up our 2-year-old for one last hurrah as a family of three, but feeling tight on time and unsure where to go that would appeal to us all, we bagged it. I was about to book a parents-only weekend in Vermont instead when I received an invite to check out the Disney Dream, one of Disney Cruise Line's four ships, which was setting sail in late October after undergoing a three-week dry-dock renovation. With the promise of new kid features, family-friendly entertainment, a private island excursion, and more, a Disney cruise seemed to check all our boxes. Turns out, it was just what the OB ordered. Here's why:
Logistically, the trip was a breeze.
Getting to Port Canaveral, Florida, from where we live near NYC was painless, even for a preggo and a preschooler, which made sliding into vacation mode easy. So did our comfortable stateroom that had some nice conveniences of home: a surprising amount of storage and sleep space, a diaper pail(!), and my favorite feature (standard to every Disney Dream stateroom): a bathtub. Anyone who's attempted to bathe a child in one of those tiny cruise-ship showers can appreciate this luxury! We also loved unpacking once yet being on the move and free to enjoy the Bahamas without the hassle of schlepping our stuff.
A boatload of age-appropriate fun meant Joey had a blast.
With big changes on the horizon, it was nice to have uninterrupted Joey time and watch his little face light up with each new thrill. He was pumped to meet Mickey and Pluto, and captivated by the live entertainment onboard, particularly The Golden Mickeys, a performance of classic Disney tunes by the characters. Above all else, though, was Nemo's Reef, a brightly colored splash pad featuring Nemo and his friends, shade cover, and water spouts galore. Joey spent hours shrieking with excitement as he cooled off and played. This splash pad was designed with diaper-wearing cruisers in mind, and we were grateful for such an awesome alternative to the big-kid pools and waterslides Joey was too young to try.
Spending Halloween on the Disney Dream didn't disappoint either. My dates for the evening—Curious George and The Man with the Yellow Hat—had a ball trick-or-treating at Mickey's Mouse-Querade Party. And special spooky touches, like the chocolate-mousse spider our waiter surprised us with after dinner, delighted Joey. As if we hadn't had our fill of dessert on Halloween, we couldn't resist indulging him at one of the ship's new additions, Vanellope's Sweets & Treats, a candy and gelato shop inspired by Wreck-It Ralph. Divine!
It wasn't all about the little guy.
As much as my husband and I enjoyed the kiddie fun, we also appreciated the ship's more sophisticated offerings. I spoiled myself one afternoon with a prenatal massage at Senses Spa, a quiet, serene space with expansive ocean views. We also took advantage of It's a Small World Nursery, the ship's child-care center, and had our best meal in a long time at Palo, an adults-only Italian restaurant. I had my doubts about leaving Joey, but a couple hours of grown-up conversation and calm on an otherwise bustling ship was worth it, and he had fun with the other children. (By the way, the kids-only zones just get cooler as the kids get bigger. The recently reimagined Oceaneer Club, for ages three to 12, has a high-tech Star Wars: Millennium Falcon-themed area and a Disney Infinity game room—a must for Joey on our next cruise!)
For us adults, our time on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, was utterly sublime. We disembarked early, passed on the long list of water-sport excursions, and headed straight for the white sand and turquoise lagoon, where we spent the majority of the day. With a frosty refreshment in hand and Joey blissfully bobbing around in his tiny life vest, there wasn't anything more we could have possibly asked for.
I'm not sure if it was the Disney magic, or just the magic of getting away, but I'm so happy we had this experience with Joey before his sister arrives. It's true we could have savored special family time closer to home, but escaping it all the way we did was just what we needed to reconnect, and I'll forever cherish the memories we made.
Michaela Garibaldi is managing editor of Parents. She has a 2-year-old son and baby girl coming in 2016.