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Walt Disney Cruises: Games or Gamed?

I am just finishing my first trip on a Disney Cruise. What a surprising disappointment. I guess like the slowly withering service in Disneyworld, noticed only by veterans like my family who are heading there in a week, the ships of Disney are unfortunate. The Disney cruise is a vastly over-rated vacation experience.

We arrived after a long drive to be met by the Disney character "GRUPPY" at the Disney parking lot. It was exciting to know Disney characters were in the parking lot, but sadly, this was just a grumpy old man. We asked where we might go to the bathroom and he ignored us repeatedly. After persistent bladder appeals, we were finally told there was a humid hot portable potty. He pointed like a drunk. He also referred us to the Disney terminal. Of course, you must check your bags and pass through airport style checking before using a Mickey toilet.

Childcare options, sensitive service and full spa, are promoted, yet we found them surprisingly lacking.

The Child "Services:" Insensitivity to Children

  1. Today a close friend needed three hours of supervised care. He and his wife had a date and were excited about the promoted "Disney" responsible child-care and supervised child entertainment. Unfortunately, after decades of experience in working and entertaining children, the Disney executives decided all childcare for the massive ship would be entirely off the ship. Amazingly, they never considered that not every child likes to go with complete strangers to a foreign beach. They had nothing for my friends -- so much for the date. So in the monotone care of Disney: children either love sweaty, salty, humid and sticky beach options, or forget the child supervision.
  2. On the printed schedule for our friend's daughter, it was printed she would be eating with her age group. The four of us picked her up and she was starving. Her first words were: "Am I going to be fed!" The schedule said she would be fed. She was fed nothing! What gives?
  3. Another thin boy was told by the "child service" worker he was only allowed to eat three things for dinner, "That's it!" Frankly the youth was thinner than the staff, so why is he telling a child whom he knows knowing about, what he can eat? This was not a weight watchers cruise.
  4. The child food options were poor in general and out of the 1980's. It was even worse in room service. As you know, many children feel like kings or queens when they are brought room service. Yet, the options were primarily hamburgers, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, fair cold pizza or macaroni. Surely on a cruise we do not have to limit a child to common junk food?
  5. I was surprised that the Disney cruise provided medical mediocrity. All the children at out tables began feeling very unstable, dizzy, upset and miserable the first night at sea. Simply, they were seasick. The only instruction on this was from a single basic sheet found in the most distant reaches of the bottom cabins in the medical department. Not limited to useless 1980's medicine, I applied transdermal medicine to my loved ones and friends, which helped.

    But it never occurred to me that big boats rock just like small ones. I learned this from a foreign friend that noticed our entire table was feeling poor. When you care about children, instead of merely dressing up if fluffy Disney 1950's costumes, you prepare for possible distress a child might feel. You do not assume dizziness should be kept private. You educate them before they wonder why their body is feeling weird. Even adults were shaken up with uncertainty. One should not have to go to the medical center to learn about cruise seasickness! But I guess this is the secret to keep sales high.
  6. Disney advertises "camp" for their supervised children. Be careful that your child does not come to expect that a Disney camp is the camp they prefer. "Camps" are like people -- none are the same. We found others who agreed with us -- many other resort options cater very well to children of various ages and have thrilling and safe camp experiences.
  7. Boredom is unacceptable in a child supervision service. I tell parents, if you come home after a date, and the children were bored with a sitter, try to find one that is more motivated to play with children. When I went in to see one on my child relatives on the Disney Camp activity, he was terribly bored, was being lectured on trivia about how dead Walt had an animated character stolen away. Are we talking to small children or college animation students?! The kids do not care! 1/2 of them were bored. And do not confuse sitting quietly and a desire to please the speaker with true interest and enjoyment. The lecture was so absurdly ignorant and untailored to the audience as to be stunning.
  8. Fancy outdoor ship game areas were unequipped. When we attempted to use the onboard hockey sticks, I learned that these were for children. Yes, I requested to use them with my friend and his children.

    "No, the children had to have been part of the park camp to use them." Whatever. Apparently, parents could not play with their children! I guess the sticks were on the foreign sticky humid beach with all the childcare workers.
  9. The top ship deck was a common area for children to play. It was also a way to breath passive cigar and cigarette smoke.
  10. On another occasion, the child center intake staff were so impaired they took over ten minutes to register one man's child. Finally, my friend just left friend and dragged his child to a spa appointment. Forcing father, daughter and hairstylist to break the policy of "no kids in the spa area" -- and of course the child loved sitting in a boring stool for 45 minutes.

In conclusion, my friend's son come by tonight.

I asked him, "Disney, what do you think?

"Doctor J, I never want to come again and I got to do nothing fun!"

Bring a Moped

My friend finally tried the trip to the beach. The transport vehicle started 1/2 way to the beaches and had a sign joking about being unreliable. He was carrying a heavy bag for his three children.

Room Service for Water

He asked for a cool drink for himself. He was told it would take 35 minutes. Again, this was not a steak order, but a mere beverage.

Bizarre Staff and Children

On the ship's deck we attended the mandatory safety drill. You are supposed to put on the massive life preservers and then walk many floors to your deck. We all arrived on time and were asked to put on our tight neck life preservers. The pugnacious little "director" could not have cared less that the children around us were very uncomfortable standing and waiting. They asked to remove the very tight neck devices and told not to remove them.

Finally, an autistic mentally retarded child was screaming so loud and repeatedly, that the "Disney director" asked him to leave. She wanted the rest of us to make sure that "the instructions were given and heard." It only took our precious Disney Nazi 15 full minutes, and only after direction from a superior, to permit the massively distressed autistic child to be "allowed to leave." Why would a Disney Cruise be surprised at a common child problem? Our group found them sadistic and grossly cruel to the child and his caretakers.

So if your child is fond of neck skin stretching and pinching, sign on. If your child is a quiet mentally retarded child, you might be pleased. Perfect kids are welcome. Gifted kids will be bored quickly. If your child is unsettled by loud noises or enclosed environments -- look elsewhere.

Who Serves Whom?

I was surprised that on such a short cruise, it seemed Disney spent more time applauding and recognizing their employees, than in serving us. We were formally instructed in writing on gratuities. Disney's instructions included people who popped over to say "hello" for trivia, while you were in private conversations, so that you would tip them at the end of the cruise. Their complex gratuities system was unclear.

We were told dining room servers get room and board, but NO PAY. So after paying a fortune for the cruise, you are expected to pay for the survival of the Disney cruise employees.

Further, unless you want sugary lemonade, stimulating tea or tap water, expect to pay for hydration.

All soda or bottled water was billed. In the dining room one might pay $2.00 for a bottle of water and then be pressured to pay a significant tip in the dining room for the water.

Simple Things or Simpletons?

During the experimental electrical generator test, the elevators went off and the TV went fully off line. I guess you are supposed to know you might be hiking from deck 1 to deck 9, or that after a _ hour of messing with the TV set, you will eventually call them for service. It never occurred to multiple families that their room electrical system would be taken off line and need resetting. I guess thinking ahead of customer inconvenience did not occur to Disney.

Bedding Comfort

I think our mattress was the one ole Walt died on. It was so beat up, worn, and so far beyond useful it was stunning -- like an old sofa bed mattress.

Do you think that the Disney School, and all their lean students, who are "taught" customer service, is able to truly create empathy and true compassion?

What I am seeing is that Walt is dead and the fantasy kingdom is a Hollywood business that thinks nothing of absurd waiting lines and objectifying children and their parents. Mickey is a business and whether you are cared for or not is trivial. Tomorrow the next boat of salamanders boards our boat after our dawn departure. Who cares if some kids were unsatisfied? More sardines and masses of people come tomorrow.

Surprisingly, Disney has a lot to learn about children, and it is stunning they are clueless about true childcare, true child thrills and customer service when they are supposed to be leaders in this area. I guess good movies mean nothing. Their cruise is on a downward slide!

The Spa

We slammed down a 5-minute bite upon arriving, and flew up the stairs to the Spa -- it was the only way to have solid and reasonable options. As it was, we took fair unwanted times. Also, the Steiner Spa that Disney uses on board manipulate the therapeutic relationship for cheap sales -- by having those who are therapeutically touching you, hawking expensive cosmetics relentlessly.

If you want an escape, hire a caring attentive playful sitter and go to the Ritz! Or go to a resort that actually entertains children and does not just worry about losing one and getting sued. Or go to a bed and breakfast.

I offered this material to multiple Disney Administrators on the ship, approximately nine, but they were so limited and non-functional, that I was unable to gain access to one disk drive after 2 1/2 hours of trying. Their sophisticated computer center has no place to read a floppy. I also mailed to them some time ago and never received a reply. I assume they feel they are beyond the reach of improving and of being criticized.


James Schaller, MD

Some names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.

Bank Towers, Tamiami Trail, Naples, FL
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