Disney characters up close and personal

(DAY TWO) — Teen attack!  It is 10:30 p.m. Saturday night and The Stack at the top of the ship is packed with 100 teens and their three energetic counselors the kids are from all over the world though the majority are Americans. The two 14 year old boys we’ve got with us didn’t go. They are asleep but earlier, they’d stopped by Stack and declared the crew “too friendly,” and didn’t want to have anything to do with the place. That’s the thing about traveling with kids of any ages. There can be the best youth facilities in the world—and Disney’s are pretty spectacular—but the kids have to want to participate. (On this ship, roughly 85 per cent will, Shannon Quinn, the youth manager tells me later.)


From an adult perspective, it seems The Stack (completely removed from the centers for the younger kids) seems well appointed for teens-comfy couches, giant screen TV blasting music videos, the latest Xbox, Wii and yes, even old fashioned board games, free soft drinks and three counselors who seem to speak the teen’s language.


Laura Evans says that of the 200-plus teens on board this cruise most will find their way to the Stack where they can connect with other teens and from the cruise line’s perspective- stay out of trouble. “Don’t hang out in the stairwells,” the counselors tell the kids. “The security guys will make you move so you might as well come up here.”


“We make them laugh,” said Evans, who is from England. On the first night of the cruise, the teens have gathered to meet one another. “You have to go to The Stack the first day to make friends,” says 16 year old Susannah Leed, a veteran of 10 Disney Cruises—and to decide, with a lot of help from the counselors who appear in various costumes (Harry Potter, 70s Rock Star, super hero), what they will doing the first couple of days of the cruise. The exercise will be repeated. There are so many choices–Karaoke, glow stick dodge ball, scavenger hunts around the ship, smoothie hour… they can bring food up (pizza, burgers, ice cream) from the deck below — ping pong tournaments, dance parties, the chance to learn about animation, movies….the list goes on and on.


The best part: The teens are choosing for themselves. They are engaged.  And though this 11 day cruise is just a few hours old, they seem to already be connecting with other kids on board. That’s a very good thing because as any parent knows who has traveled with a teen, if the teens are happy, everyone is happy. If they are sulking, mom and dad can be miserable.

Sixteen-year-old Amanda Emberson, from Dallas, is a veteran of a dozen Disney cruises, this time traveling with her grandparents while 18 year old Kayla Collazo, from suburban Chicago, who opted for this trip for her high school graduation—meeting up with another teen and his family she’d met on an earlier Disney Cruise. Fifteen year old Merin Vale from England is enjoying his third trip.  “Don’t knock the Disney cruise until you go,” says Kayla.   “Even if you aren’t a Disney person, you’ll love it. There is something for everybody.”


And that includes at The Stack, where counselors are willing and able to do whatever you like–organize a dodge ball contest, a ping pong tournament, karaoke. “It’s nice to have a place to go without parents,” said Amanda. “Disney is great for little kids but they are very accommodating for older ones too.”


No, Disney isn’t too babyish, says Amanda Montalvo, 17, cruising with her mom to celebrate her high school graduation.  “I love Disney. The movies make me cry!”


Even college kids who can’t drink on board give the cruise a thumbs up (though we are in Europe, Disney adheres to U.S. law on board which prohibits drinking under 21). “Good family time. I never see them at home,” explains Nineteen year old Aryana Geit who is from Waterloo, Ontario and a college student. The best part: “You get to relax and swim and eat as you are moving from country to country.”

A lot better than sitting on a train or a bus!”