Halloween on the High Seas: What to Expect on a (Not So) Spooky Cruise With Disney

November 18th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Costumes? Check. Candy? Check. Mickey Mouse in the middle of the ocean? Huh? This past Halloween, I found myself aboard a cruise — and not just any run-of-the-mill “bring a costume” cruise. A Disney Cruise. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of The Mouse, but when I was assigned to cover the line’s “Halloween on the High Seas” aboard Disney Dream, I was mildly excited. I love the fall, I love Halloween, and kids are pretty cool, too.

Sure, lots of lines do Halloween by allowing costumes for the holiday, so I was expecting that there would be some people dressed up. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was exactly how well Disney does Halloween (and “some people” was a gross understatement). As I left the three-night sailing, my aforementioned mild excitement had turned into sheer glee and awe.

Here’s a recap of the All Hallows Eve festivities onboard and what you can expect if you plan a Disney cruise during October 31.

Halloween on Disney Cruise Line


The ship’s atrium rises three decks; because it’s located just off the gangway, it’s the first thing you’ll see when you board. Deck railings were decorated with purple valances and artificial pumpkins in the shape of Mickey heads.
Next to a statue of Admiral Donald, which stands proudly on Deck 3, facing the direction in which the ship is sailing, there was a real pumpkin, complete with Mickey ears, carved in the shape of the famous mouse’s face.

The piece de resistance, however, was the Pumpkin Tree, anchored in one corner of the atrium. Two decks high, the giant, smiling tree — yes, it has a face — is a curiosity that presides over the hub’s activities.

There weren’t many other decorations, but I did notice some jack-o-lantern face window clings on the portholes that line the hallway to the Royal Palace and Animator’s Palate, two of the ship’s three dining rooms.

Cruisers are allowed to decorate their cabins, and there was plenty of door decor to ogle while walking down the corridors on the accommodation decks — everything from cardboard cutouts of zombies to Minnie Mouse witch magnets and cobwebs. I also noticed festive pouches and bags hung outside of several doors. By the time Halloween was over, they were stuffed with treats. (We’re guessing fellow cruisers brought candy and went door-to-door to hand it out.)

Halloween on Disney Cruise Line


On the night before Halloween, children and adults alike gathered in the atrium, around the Pumpkin Tree, to hear about the history of Halloween. The event culminated in a poetic chant, which lit up the tree as it began to speak, threatening a surprise the next day. (Fair warning for parents: While it’s a fun event, the tree could be too much for children who are easily frightened.) When we awoke on Halloween morning, the tree had “bloomed” with artificial jack-o-lanterns.

Games and Activities
On the evening of Halloween, after everyone had fun ashore and slipped into their costumes, a family-friendly party was held in the atrium. Complete with children’s games, dancing and more costumes than I’ve ever seen anywhere collectively (the ship holds roughly 2,500 passengers, and we swear 2,499 of them were dressed up, many as families following various and staggeringly creative themes), the space was even more packed than the pool deck on a sea day during prime sunbathing weather.

Character meet-and-greet opportunities abounded throughout the sailing. (One perk of cruises with Disney is that Mickey and his usual gang of pals are far more accessible than they are in the Disney parks.) On Halloween, however, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Chip and Dale headlined the atrium’s three-deck DJ-spun dance party shenanigans — in costume, naturally.

For kids who were all about the candy, trick-or-treating was offered in the evening (in conjunction with the atrium party) at the onboard shops, just past the Guest Services desk on Deck 3.

Pirate Night
Halloween or not, each sailing also features Pirate Night, encompassing costumes (adults, too), afternoon pool deck fun, a pirate-themed dinner and after-dinner “Pirates in the Caribbean” fun — games and music on the pool deck, as well as Mickey and his friends in pirate garb. The highlight of the event was Captain Jack Sparrow, who rappelled from high atop the ship’s funnel to “rescue” the vessel from evil pirates; his victory kicked off an impressive fireworks display. (Disney is the only cruise line to offer fireworks at sea.) Although Pirate Night is enjoyable, it’s normally scheduled on October 31 for sailings during Halloween, so unless you and your little ones want to trick-or-treat as pirates, prepare to pack — and change into — at least two costumes for that day.

Adult Fun
Kids aren’t the only ones who get to have fun on Halloween. Sure, it’s Disney, but it doesn’t have one of the best kids clubs at sea for nothing. Drop the brood off in the Oceaneer Club or Oceaneer Lounge after hours, and head to The District — an adults-only (after 9 p.m.) area comprising the 687 pub, District Lounge, Pink Champagne bar and Evolution nightclub, where grownups enjoyed dancing and a costume contest. Those wishing to participate were told to head to the dance floor, where judges handed out cards for the most impressive costumes in several categories: best Disney theme, best group theme, most creative, scariest, etc. The audience then picked winners based on applause after each contestant gave a brief interview. (As a side note, Halloween for adults — especially women — can be an excuse to wear skimpy clothing and drink heavily. Due to the family-friendly nature of the ship, I was impressed with the level of taste exuded by the adults onboard. Similarly, the level of creativity and effort that went into most costumes was jaw-dropping. Kudos to Cinderella’s fairy godmother, an elderly woman who not only won in the best Disney theme category but who also made — by hand — her costume and the costumes for everyone in the family group with which she was traveling. Among them were Syndrome from “The Incredibles” and Cinderella’s stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella.)

— Ashley Kosciolek

More From Family Vacation Critic:
Disney Cruises for Families
10 Best Cruise Ships for Teens

Boating Fun at Disney World

November 16th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

For most of my adult life, I thought of central Florida as not much more than acres upon acres of swampland — the exclusive domain of crocodiles, frightening bugs the size of a toddler’s fist, and of course, a certain big-eared Mouse with a dainty little laugh. While all of those are indeed longtime residents of central Florida, there’s also vast natural and manmade lakes, some of which serve as a watery frame around the most magical place on earth.

Fireworks at Epcot in Disney World

For many who visit Disney World, boarding and disembarking a boat is very much part of the experience. Ferries run guests from resort to resort and also to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom, but the boating options at Walt’s ever-expanded family oasis don’t end with a commuter trip.

Disney World Pontoon Boats

Every evening, the sky above Epcot’s World Showcase becomes aglow with breathtaking fireworks. You can certainly try to elbow your way to the front of the crowd so your kids can watch the show or, better yet, your family can climb aboard a boat from the dock outside of Disney’s Yacht Club to watch the stunning IllumiNations firework show. Experiencing this nightly event from the cushioned comfort of a 10-person pontoon boat is as first class as it gets at Disney. You can even rent an entire boat for your family and have it decorated to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary! Free beverages and snacks on board add to the occasion.

SeaRaycer in Disney World

During the day, you can rent one of the pontoons used for the bass fishing excursions (and fireworks cruises) from nearly every resort that touches water — including The Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Polynesian Village — to scoot around as a family, have a picnic on the water or just feel the warm wind in your hair as you cruise in front of Space Mountain and the Magic Kingdom.

The most exhilarating boating experience at Disney for kids is hopping in a two-person SeaRaycer from one of six locations (Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts Marina, The Captain’s Shipyard, Seven Seas Marina, The Boat Nook, Teton Boat & Bike Rental and Fort Wilderness Marina), and zooming around the many waterways of Disney World. At less than $50 per hour (for two people), this boating adventure is extremely affordable, and because kids as young as 12 are allowed to captain the cute little SeaRaycers, it is a family activity your tweens and teens will remember forever.

Boating in Disney World

— Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Disney World Resort Hotels
9 Secrets to Saving at Disney World

2015 Lancaster County Christmas

November 13th, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

You can celebrate the holiday season just about anywhere, but Lancaster, Pennsylvania is especially charming this time of year. Plan a visit to Amish Country and enjoy an authentic Lancaster County Christmas.

National Christmas Center in Lancaster

National Christmas Center
The National Christmas Center is open year-round, but is especially festive during the winter holidays. Exhibits include Vintage Christmas, Christmas Around the World and Toyland Train Mountain. Visit between Nov. 27 and Dec. 20, 2015 for a chance to meet Santa!

Country Christmas Village
Hosted at Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum, this event allows families to experience holiday traditions both old and new. Activities include cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts and a chance to write to Santa. You’ll also meet “der Belsnickel” — another version (German and Pennsylvania Dutch) of Santa.

Holidays at Dutch Wonderland

Dutch Winter Wonderland
Bundle up and head to Dutch Wonderland, otherwise known as Dutch “Winter” Wonderland during the holiday season. The kids will enioy themed rides, holiday lights and treats — hot chocolate included!

Magic Lantern Show
The Amish Experience and the American Magic Lantern Theater are excited to present this fantastical slide show, new in 2015. The show includes presentations of popular stories — including “The Night Before Christmas” — told with special effects and music. For more information, visit the official website for the Magic Lantern Show.

Strasburg Railroad

Christmas Trains at Strasburg Railroad
Experience a real-life version of The Polar Express via the holiday train rides at Strasburg Railroad. Options include The Night Before Christmas Train, Christmas Tree Train, Santa’s Paradise Express and Christmas Feast. Pajamas are recommended!

–Amanda Geronikos

More From Family Vacation Critic:
5 Best Cities for Holiday Window Displays
26 Holiday Hotel Packages for Families

Holiday Events in Tallahassee, Florida

November 11th, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Did you know Tallahassee is the site of North America’s very first celebration of Christmas? The city continues the tradition with a host of festive events in November and December. These are some of our favorites:

Bradley Country Store in Tallahassee

Bradley Country Store’s Fun Day

On Nov. 21, visit Bradley Country store for cane grinding, syrup making, pony rides, a petting zoo and live music.

Tallahassee Winter Festival

This festival will take place downtown on Dec. 5, and feature lights, music and craft displays. The fun is free, and also includes live entertainment and festive food for purchase.

Holiday Lights in Tallahassee, Florida

Camellia Christmas at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park
Visit Afred B. Maclay Gardens State Park for a fantastical display of lights – there are more than 250,000!

Winter Solstice Celebration

On Dec. 12 and 13, you can celebrate the winter solstice with shopping, history demonstrations, stargazing and more.

For more vacation ideas in Tallahassee, go to VisitTallahassee.com.

–Amanda Geronikos

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Polar Express Train Rides
10 Best Holiday Hotels for Families