It may only be July, but Disney has already gotten a jump on the winter holidays: The dates for the 2018 Disney Very Merrytime cruise — the Disney Cruise Line’s winter holiday cruise — have already been announced. The Disney Parks Blog recently highlighted the variety of winter-themed activities that will be at your fingertips if you decide to celebrate the November and December holidays on the open seas with Disney, and, uh, friends? I have never before felt the desire to spend the holidays on a boat — but I do now. It looks truly, truly magical, and, well… I’m a sucker, all right? I admit it. It’s fine. Hand me my candy cane hot chocolate and snowflake-adorned mouse ears. I’m ready for this.
The Disney Cruise Line officially launched in 1998, with the Disney Magic taking beginning its very first trip on July 30 of that year. The Disney Wonder joined the ranks just about a year later, taking to the seas on Aug. 15, 1999. Both ships have since been refurbished and updated with new spaces and experiences — the Rapunzel restaurant, for example, recently opened on the Magic — and two more ships were later added to the fleet: The Disney Dream set sail in 2011, with the Disney Fantasy following in 2012.
The experience of a Disney cruise is designed after the luxury ocean voyages that were de rigueur during the 1920s, updated with all the modern bells and whistles you could ever want. Accordingly, the ships take their décor cues from the Art Deco era while remaining family-friendly for the contemporary traveler (there are plenty of hidden Mickeys aboard if spotting them is a favorite activity of yours). Between stops at your cruise’s ports of call, you’ll have access to live, Broadway-style shows, pools and other shipboard activities, plenty of restaurants, deck parties, live music, and clubs for kids, teens, and adults.
Disney cruises always feature a ton of theming, of course; the whole point of a Disney vacation is the immersive experience: The attention to detail of all aspects of such a getaway make the whole trip seem like actual magic. But several times of year, the House of the Mouse goes above and beyond—namely, for holidays. There’s the Halloween on the High Seas cruise, of course, which celebrates the spookiest season of the year; there are event for both Thanksgiving and New Year’s; and there’s the Very Merrytime cruise, which brings Disney’s spectacular winter holidays celebration to the high seas.
In honor of the winter holidays, the Very Merrytime cruises see each of the Disney ships decked out in their wintertime best, including a life-sized gingerbread house, a 24-foot-tall Christmas tree, and lots of lights and garlands. The deck parties for which the ships are known get a festive makeover as the Deck The Deck Tropical Holiday Party; the characters you’ll see around the ship and at meet-and-greets don new outfits worthy of the season; Mickey’s Tree Lighting Magic Ceremony puts a Disney twist on a classic tree-lighting; Hanukkah services; and much, much more. Santa and Mrs. Clause are even both on board: Mrs. Clause holds a storytime activity for kids, while Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball forms a key experience of the entire cruise. Given that the Disney Parks Blog also notes that “a pair of royal sisters whose appearance causes a flurry of ‘frozen’ fun” during the ball, it’s safe to say that Anna and Elsa have a big hand in the festivities for that one.
For the curious, here’s what the giant gingerbread house aboard the Disney Dream looked like in 2014:
And here's a still photo to drool over:
Heck, and yes.
Speaking of gingerbread, a review on Passporter pinpointed the gingerbread-making class as a high point of the Very Merrytime cruise; wrote reviewer Amy Wear, “Our girls thoroughly enjoyed making the gingerbread house and equally enjoyed devouring it back in our cabin!” Mouse Steps went into a little more detail in their 2014 review, noting that each participating family received their own gingerbread house kit; a pastry chef then leads everyone through the building process, showing their own technique as they go. Even though, at the time of Mouse Steps’ review, the class didn’t cost anything extra to take, the reviewer did say, “I would pay a nominal fee for the fun we had.”
Oh, and hey, guess what? Castaway Cay gets in on the wintery fun, too. Formerly known as Gorda Cay, Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas; it’s reserved exclusively for Disney Cruise Line guests (although it was also used as a filming location for the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl). Disney purchased a 99-year land lease for the island from the Bahamian government in 1997, developing about 55 acres of 1,000 acres of available space and opening it up as a port of call for the Disney Cruise Line in 1998. During the winter holidays, Castaway Cay features “snow” flurries, a Christmas tree, sentient snowpeople, and a redesigned island tram made up to look like a reindeer.
Most of the Very Merrytime cruises include a stop at Castaway Cay, but, as Passporter pointed out, not all of them do, so if that’s something you’re interested in seeing, make sure the cruise you’ve picked out includes it before you book. Also, sometimes weather conditions can affect whether or not the ship is able to dock at Castaway Cay; Mouse Steps, for example, was “unable to dock due to high winds” during their cruise in 2014. Whomp, whomp.
I’ve admittedly not been on any of the Disney cruises, let alone a Disney Very Merrytime cruise; I have, however, been to both Disneyland and Disney World during the winter holiday season, and despite the massive crowds, it really is a delightful experience. No one does the holidays quite like Disney; the decorations alone are worth it. And hey, the added benefit of doing it as a cruise is that there’s a hard, fast limit as to how many people will be along for the ride with you, right? According to the Los Angeles Times, it’s believed, although has not been confirmed, that Disneyland Park’s max capacity is around 80,000 — a number it allegedly hit on Christmas morning in 2014. (Disney hasn’t commented publicly on the park’s capacity, reports the LA Times.) The Disney Magic and Wonder, meanwhile, each hold a maximum of 2,713 passengers, while the Fantasy and Dream can hold up to 4,000.
The precise dates the Very Merrytime cruise is available differs slightly depending on which ship you choose to sail on, but generally, you can celebrate the winter holidays while sailing the ocean blue between early November and late December. In 2018, the Disney Magic will be celebrating with the Very Merrytime cruise from Nov. 10 to Dec. 23; for the Disney Wonder, the dates are Nov. 2 to Dec. 21; the Disney Dream gets its holiday cheer on from Nov. 9 to Dec. 24; and for the Disney Fantasy, the cruise is available between Nov. 10 and Dec. 22. Dates for 2019 are available already, too, so if you’re someone who plans really far in the future, Disney has you covered.
Head on over to the Disney Cruise Line’s website for more info — and if you go on one of these cruises, I have one request: Take me with you!