No matter how old you are, a Disney stay-and-cruise holiday offers non-stop magic and fun, says Liz Jarvis

Disney cruise ship Caribbean beach
Disney Dream at Castaway Cay

There’s no sign of Han Solo or Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon but R2-D2 is bleeping away and there’s already a crowd of young would-be Jedi Knights (and their parents) starting to gather, eager to take control of the many computer screens and try their hands at steering the space ship through a galaxy far, far away.

Welcome to the latest innovation on board Disney Dream, a ship where fantasies will, and really do come true.

In addition to the new Star Wars-themed immersive space, children can be transformed into a princess, pirate or other hero from their favourite Disney films in the new onboard Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. And if you’re an adult who wants to chill out in a swim-up bar, enjoy indulgent spa treatments, or drink martinis glowing with illuminated ice cubes before hitting the nightclub, there’s nothing to stop you (although I’m hoping Disney will introduce a Bibbidi Bobbidi experience for grown-ups at some point – who doesn’t want to dress up as Elsa or Captain Jack Sparrow?)

As with all Disney Cruise Line ships, the décor is sophisticated, evoking the spirit of Art Deco and cruising in the 1930s, but with every contemporary convenience; there are occasional subtle character references around the ship to make you smile (including the interactive ‘enchanted art’ – there’s even a detective adventure game you can play); the glamorous atrium sets the ambience with its sweeping staircase and glorious chandelier.

Our deluxe ocean view stateroom with verandah is extremely comfortable, with a good-sized seating area, desk, TV (showing Disney classics of course), privacy curtain, double bed, sofa bed and cabin beds. As I’m sharing with my 19-year-old niece, Harriet, for whom travelling light is a totally alien concept, the split bathroom and two wardrobes come in very handy indeed, and there’s plenty of space to relax and enjoy room service, which we decide to do for lunch on our sea day.

Turtle talk with Crush at Animator's Palate
Turtle talk with Crush at Animator’s Palate

Of course, with a stay-and-cruise holiday that starts in Walt Disney World you can get into the spirit of the House of Mouse from the moment you touch down in Orlando. Our hotel was the very comfortable Disney’s Beach Club Resort, close to Epcot, and we had plenty of time to go around four of the parks, enjoying classic rides including The Tower of Terror, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad. We used the new FastPass+ app to beat the crowds on some of the more popular rides. We also enjoyed dinner at Disney Springs, where we had a ride in a genuine vintage Aquacar, which took us sailing on the lake.

Our four-night cruise included ports of call in Nassau in The Bahamas, where we snorkelled (the first time for Harriet, who was absolutely enchanted) with all kinds of tropical fish, stingray and very small sharks; and a day on Disney’s very own private beach, Castaway Cay, with its idyllic powder white sandy beaches and crystal-clear warm turquoise water.

There we swam in the sea at the adults-only Serenity Bay, had an indulgent massage in one of the ocean-front cabanas (where you’re lulled into total relaxation by the sound of the waves – it’s utterly blissful) and also devoured the freshly-grilled barbecue lunch.

Disney Dream's adults-only Quiet Cove Pool and Bar
Disney Dream’s adults-only Quiet Cove Pool and Bar

On our one sea day we enjoyed all the amazing facilities Disney Dream has to offer: the AquaDuck – a high octane water slide that goes right round the edge of the ship; the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool and Bar; and the Senses spa, with its wonderful ocean vista, Jacuzzis, rainforest showers, sauna, Roman-style caldarium steam room, hammam and heated beds.

Food throughout our cruise was of a consistently impressive standard – the rotational dining experience means you can enjoy dinner at Animator’s Palate, with the interactive Turtle Talk by Crush, as well as in the Enchanted Garden and Royal Palace. For a cover charge of $30, you can dine in the only onboard speciality restaurant, Palo, with its authentic Italian menu and delicious steaks. And no matter how old you are, nothing beats the thrill of having Mickey Mouse waffles for breakfast – with lots of maple syrup, of course.

The Millennium Falcon is just the icing on the cake as far as the kids’ clubs are concerned; with the Toy Story-themed Andy’s Playroom, babysitting, a teen club with its own pool and computers and toys galore, the facilities are quite simply some of the best I’ve seen at sea. Everything is designed to encourage imaginative play and social interaction.

Entertainment is of course superb, with Broadway-quality shows featuring favourite Disney characters and songs, and the rather spectacular Pirates of the Caribbean-themed fireworks (with plenty of would-be Johnny Depps around – everyone dresses up). And it doesn’t matter how old you are, nothing beats the thrill of getting up close to your childhood heroes – Goofy in my niece’s case, and in mine, the main mouse himself.

Disney Dream's upper decks illuminated at night
Disney Dream’s upper decks illuminated at night

We finished our stay-and-cruise holiday with some bargain-hunting at one of the Orlando malls, where Harriet bought herself a hat that could have belonged to Cher and several dresses. Snorkelling, fantastic food, rollercoasters, fireworks, a ride in an Aquacar, shopping and the chance to meet her favourite Disney characters – what more could a girl or her aunt possibly want?

GETTING THERE: Seven nights in Orlando with Walt Disney Travel Company, including return economy flights with Virgin Atlantic departing London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at Disney’s Beach Club Resort including one free night with their Free Nights Offer, Disney’s 14-Day Ultimate Ticket for the price of a 7-Day Ticket and a four-night cruise on Disney Dream, costs from £2,478pp. Price is per person based on two adults and two children travelling on 4 April 2016 and sharing a Deluxe Club Level room at Disney’s Beach Club Resort and an inside cabin on a full-board basis on board Disney Dream. Includes transfer to Port Canaveral from Walt Disney World Resort and transfers to and from Orlando International Airport as well as all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Walt Disney Travel Company is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. Prices are correct at the time of print. Prices shown are guide prices and may change at any time, price will be confirmed at time of booking. For more information and to book, visit disneyholidays.co.uk or call 0800 169 0730.

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