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Photo credit: Disney Cruise

Photo credit: Disney Cruise

My Mickey ears were cast aside in my teens when I graduated to American Band Stand and Woodstock.

Later in life, as a parent, I bought new ears on our numerous family visits to the Disney parks, but I thought our Disney days were over when our daughters reached their teen years. Not so!

A few years ago we took a cruise we’ll never forget. Our teens begged us to spare them the excruciatingly long visits to museums and cultural sites of previous trips to Europe.

They wanted two things:

Hang out with other teens and to swim in warm water, in a hot climate.

Dad wanted a stress-free getaway, time to relax and read books. I wanted to see my family happy, and hopefully I wouldn’t have to cook any meals. I even dreamed about a day at a spa. What could we do, in one week, to satisfy everyone?

“What about a cruise?” my husband suggested. Typical of teens, my girls, age 14 and 17, rolled their eyes and made jokes about floating geriatric wards. I started researching family cruises.

Disney came to the rescue. We booked the West Coast cruise, sailing from Los Angeles with stops in Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

We booked the Mexican cruise in a Mickey milli-second and didn’t give it another thought until we started to pack, when we began to have serious doubts. How much Mickey Mouse is too much? Would we be fed-up with endless Disney magic, oceans of little kids and Goofy, Cinderella and Donald making guest appearances? We wondered if we adults could get away from it all, and questioned if there be enough personal space for four of us in one stateroom.

We knew from previous cruising experiences that your stateroom is your private retreat on the sea — it is more than a place to sleep. How would we ever manage with one bathroom and two teen girls? Our fears were unfounded. Our stateroom was really two rooms in one, with a privacy divider down the middle and a large verandah. my husband and I took over the queen-size bed, and on the other side of the divider, the girls occupied a convertible sofa, and a wall pull-down bed. There was plenty of space to store our clothes. My favorite feature was a split bath; one bathroom with a shower and sink, and another with a sink and restroom plumbing. Amazingly enough, even when all four of us were dressing for dinner or an evening show, we had no problems thanks to the two bathrooms and the privacy divider between the sleep areas. No waiting for someone to finish shaving or using the hair dryer before you could shower.

In no time, the girls discovered the “teens-only” hangout, high up in the ship’s funnel with a view of everything on deck. The place is packed with music, video games, TVs, a lounge area, Internet access and lots of other kids. It’s the hub for everyone from 13 to 17 to kick back, get away, party and chill with other teens from around the planet.

All day long and well past midnight, they hung out with their friends and joined supervised activities, like dodge ball, deck hockey, on the sports deck, “gotcha” (survival of the cleverest, or sneakiest), “go fetch” (ship-wide treasure hunts), splash down pool parties and midnight to 2 a.m. dance parties.

That’s right, at midnight, when parents go to bed the teens take over one of the nightclubs and blast their own music, dance and create mayhem. Sound wild? Not really, the kids are safely supervised by crew and hey, on a ship with 1,500 parents, and over 1,000 crew members, there are 5,000 eyes watching your teens. Disney doesn’t screw up, and in a gentle manner, they make sure your kids don’t either.

Where were all the rest of the kids? The younger ones? They were splashing around in two kids’ pools or in one of the clubs. Stretching nearly an entire deck of the ship, children’s clubs, open every day from 9 a.m. until midnight, feature supervised activities for five age-specific groups. The Founder’s Reef Nursery is for ages 3 months to 3 years. The Oceaneer Club is themed like Captain Hook’s pirate ship, offering a play area with slide and rope bridge, a “captain’s closet” filled with costumes, toys and games and open areas for arts, crafts and movie watching. Counselors keep tots entertained with activities ranging from dance parties, songs and dances with Snow White, a detective school, tea with Wendy, (Peter Pan’s pal) and for the older kids, an interactive science lab, space men and rocket games. Parents can enjoy the ship “worry-free”, thanks to a pager given to them, so if a child wants to see their parents, they can be beeped at anytime.

Disney caters to children of all ages.

The ship was filled with grandparents with grandchildren and large multi-generational families, ranging in age from 1 to 81.

A special feature of the Disney cruises is the dining arrangement. Dinners are served at 6:30 and 8:30 pm in one of three themed family dining areas. Over a three day period, we had dinner in a different restaurant each night, while our attentive, personable waiters remained with us, also rotating to different restaurants.

One evening at dinner we were given red bandanas to wear to the Pirates of the Caribbean Deck party. Little pirates wore more elaborate costumes, with plumed hats, eye patches and plastic swords. Under a full moon, a band rocked the decks while hundreds of pirates of all ages danced and sang. Fireworks capped off the magical night.

Disney characters still entrance visitors with surprise appearances. Much to our surprise, our teens jumped up and hugged Mickey when he stopped at our table, and yes, we had lots of photos taken with him. Dozens of young children squealed in delight when the Disney characters visited their tables. At times like this, we reveled in the escape from a real-world environment.

Did my husband and I find time to relax and be together, away from the razzamatazz of the Disney activities? Yes, for many quiet hours we relaxed on deck chairs, forward or aft, or on our verandah, far from Mickey the little ones. One afternoon we saw whales spouting and dolphins playing in the surf. One evening we dined on exquisite Northern Italian cuisine, with a delicious Oregon Pinot Noir at the elegant and peaceful Palo, the adults’ only restaurant. Another day, seated by the window and sweeping ocean views, we indulged in a champagne brunch at Palo. For a $10 cover charge, any adult wishing to avoid family dining can opt to eat at this upscale adult-only restaurant, but advance reservations are necessary.

We kicked back at the quiet cove pool, reserved for guests 18 and over. Several evenings, around 6 p.m., after sweating it out on the machines in the fitness center (also for adults only); I finished my work out with a swim and a dip in the whirlpools, nearly deserted at the sunset hour. One afternoon I made a blissful escape to the Spa and luxuriated in a massage and facial.

The theater provides a 977-seat showplace of state-of-the-art sound, lighting, staging and set design. The curtain is lifted after the sun drops and original Disney musicals, variety acts and films entertain all ages. A new show, “Twice Charmed: a Twist on the Cinderella Story” was a fairy tale with lavish costumes, sets, special effects, new songs and familiar Disney songs. As you might expect, there is no casino on board. However, adults can find a variety of evening entertainment in a number of lounges and nightclubs.

Our shore excursions were anti-climatic compared to the onboard activities and fun with new friends. my husband and daughter, the 17-year-old went deep sea fishing in Cabo. JC, the only female aboard, caught the only fish, a four-foot tuna, which she named “Arnold, the Governor”.

As we watched the scarlet sunset over the Pacific Ocean on our last evening at sea, we admitted that, despite our misgivings, we were touched by the “Disney Magic”. We wondered if we should we have done this cruise when the kids were younger. Although our teens had a blast, we agreed that perhaps, we’d come again someday, when we have grandchildren and we’d hug Mickey and dress up and dance together under the full moon at the Pirates party.