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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