Disney Cruise Line Makes Changes To Kid’s Program

In December 2011, Disney Cruise Line rolled out several unannounced changes in the way that it administers its extremely popular kid’s program. The chatter that ensued was quite overwhelming, so we thought it might be time (now that the dust has settled) to take an objective look at what really has changed – for better or worse.

Disney Cruise Line has always offered one of the most comprehensive and extensive programming schedules for kids of all ages. In doing so, they traditionally allowed some degree of flexibility in the age categories, which was always much appreciated by parents who sailed with children who straddled age groups. Officially, the categories are and have been: Oceaneer Club/Lab (Ages 3-10), Edge (Ages 11-13) and Vibe (Ages 14-17).

The flexibility that existed at one time would allow 18 year-old teens who were still in high school or older developmentally challenged adults to participate in Vibe at the discretion of the counselors. From what we understand, one or more incidents may have led to a change in this policy. So, as it stands today, Disney is strictly enforcing the maximum age for Vibe.

However, there still appears to be some flexibility on the lower end. We are aware of situations where a 14 year-old has been allowed to downgrade to Edge and a 13 year-old has been allowed to upgrade to Vibe with parental waiver. One thing is clear, however, this choice must be made at the beginning of the cruise and it may not be changed.

That leaves an open question with respect to the Oceaneer Club/Lab. Although the guidelines state that the maximum age is ten, the “unwritten policy” has been that children up to the age of twelve were able to participate. We have seen guidance that leads us to believe that is still accurate. We are sailing at the end of February and will return with a full report on the implementation of the new guidelines.

If this were the only change, it would have caused a bit of a stir, but probably would not have received as much attention as it has among families. The change that seems to have elicited more concern among parents is the elimination of parents in the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab. According to the new guidelines, adults are only allowed into the secure space briefly for drop-off and pickup. Now, what “briefly” means is open to interpretation, but from passenger accounts it appears to translate into five minutes or less. Parents are also required to wear a badge during this time.

This change hits parents with children who are not potty-trained the hardest. Prior to this change, these toddlers were allowed to play in these spaces under parental supervision. Likewise, parents of children who require special assistance could also enjoy time with their children in these spaces. Now, they are restricted from using the space, which is what has caused the most uproar.

In order to offset the inconvenience of this new policy, Disney has added a daily open house where children and adults can participate in activities together. As a matter of fact, participating children MUST be accompanied by an adult. During this time, the opposite space (Club or Lab) runs the normal supervised program.

This setup has resulted in several complaints. First, the one secure space becomes overcrowded during open house. Second, children ages 3 to 10 are now vying to participate in activities within the same space. Third, times are not announced prior to sailing, so parents are unable to plan dinner or spa reservations with certainty. Finally, passengers have complained that the duration (3 hours) is too long. Our response – this is a work in progress and Disney will undoubtedly make adjustments that make sense for their passengers.

In the past, we’ve given Disney high marks for the flexibility in the kid’s program. Honestly, it really is what sets them apart from most other cruise lines. With this move, we’ve seen them move closer to Carnival or Celebrity in their implementation, so only time will tell if this will hurt their rating and popularity among cruising families.

Check back with us in early March for a complete first-hand account! In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

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7 Responses to “Disney Cruise Line Makes Changes To Kid’s Program”

  • digitaldave:

    We just sailed the Disney Wonder and hated the new “open house” in the club/lab. We have sailed over seven times on Disney and this was our first experience with the new open house everyday in the kids areas. The Navigator shows events in both the lab and the club, but doesn’t identify the events during the open house, making it extremly difficult to plan for both kids and adults. My eight year old hated the open house as they would get ready for an activity, such as baking cookies and then kick the kids out of the lab(or club). Normally Disney kids areas are very sanitary, as they have kids wash hands before entering. During open house however, they open the areas without any hand washing or wipes. It takes much longer to check-in and check-out kids now since there are typically lines to pickup/drop-off kids at the secure area. A big value of sailing with Disney Cruise was the kids programs and with this new open house policy, they have greatly decreased the value of sailing with Disney.

  • Dave, thank you for the honest feedback. We are sailing on the Wonder soon and will put the staff through the paces and take a really hard look at the changes, so stay tuned. I thought I remembered seeing Navigators with activity descriptions during the open house, but I may be wrong (or it may have changed). I do agree that this possibly is a dimunition of the Disney Difference, but time will tell.

  • JJ. D.:

    Did you go on the cruise in late February? Do you have the new first hand account? My family is going in June to Alaska, and my oldest loves kids clubs on cruises. I am not so worried about her because she is 7, and really would have fun in the lab OR the club (perfect age). But my little one is 3, and I am afraid she won’t. Luckily, DD7 is a dream, and will keep an eye on her baby sister and make sure she is having fun, and I’ll arrange for her to call for me if she isn’t. By the way, i know RCL no longer does pagers, but Disney still does, right? I don’t think I’ll be disappointed with the open house, only because I might as well be a little kid, and kinda can’t wait to play with my DDs. From my understanding they run activities during open house, and parents can help, yes? On the surface, this seems a good arrangement for me. We actually planned that the 3 year old probably wouldn’t want to go to the kids club much anyway, and we’re not the type to do the Spa anyway. Is there some other hidden problem I am missing? I expect a lot of the uproar was because of missed expectations, but since I know, I will set my expectations right. Thank you so much for this summary though as it was much clearer than trolling message boards.

  • Yes, we did sail and the reality matched very closely to what we had reported prior to sailing. Disney uses the new Wave Phones in place of pagers…much more versatile. During several open houses we assisted and participated in activities. At a couple, our kids were able to play with the counselors one on one, as well. You are not missing anything…I think that some folks were upset that they had to deal with breaks during the day. If their kids did not want to go to the opposite (Lab or Club), they would be stuck picking them up. Also, lines just before and after (during transition) open house tended to be longer. Honestly, we never had any issues.

    We have a 3 YO and he was totally cool with his 6 YO brother. He didn’t so much want to participate in activities, but loved watching the TV and playing on the slide. Your kids will have a fabulous time!

  • Melissa:

    I want to to shout it from the rooftop, or in this case the aqua duck, I HATE THE NEW POLICY. We just returned from the Fantasy in July and I was so disappointed that the policy had changed. We had been on 4 other cruises and loved that our children could participate in the activities in the Oceaneer club without feeling like their parents abandoned them on vacation. As a working parent, I have to leave my children in daycare every day. I don’t want to have leave my children under the care of an unknown person while on vacation too. And from personal experience of watching the counselors interact with the children in th last 4 years, I never felt comfortable with the counselor to child ratio. The counselors seem so overwhelmed with all the children and it never seemed to me that they really loved working with little ones. I’m leftt wondering if we will ever do another Disney cruise again.

  • I totally understand that perspective. It worked okay for us, but like you, we preferred the old policy, as well. It won’t stop us from cruising with Diseny, but we’re not thrilled with the policy.

  • The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are open each evening from 5:30 – 6:30 pm (except for embarkation evening) for the entire family to enjoy the space together.

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