Mari's Moments

Finding "Me" and "We" time on Disney cruise line

This wasn't a typical date night.

My husband and I were feted in the most luxurious way on board the Disney Magic, which was somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico at the time. We watched the sunset from our dinner table and our lovely hostess brought course-after-course of Northern Italian cuisine to us.

As I was taking my last bite of a delectable chocolate soufflé, I looked into my husband's eyes and gave a sigh of serenity. Then, I realized something was missing.

There was no noise. No 2-year-old screaming for crayons. No 11-year-old wanting to play with his iPod at the dinner table. No family fusses.

It was just my husband and me enjoying a date night in peace.

This is the magic of a Disney cruise.

More than 1.1 million Texans took a cruise in 2010, making Texas the second-largest state for cruises behind Florida, according to the Cruise Lines International Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

From adult-exclusive dining at the Palo restaurant to the children-only clubs on board, the Disney Cruise Line, which began trips out of Galveston in 2012, allows Texas families a chance to sail their stress away.

It's a unique way to spend some quality time with the family as well as find time for yourself.

Fun with food

paloPhoto: Star-Telegram/Maricar EstrellaMost cruise lines offer several dining options. The Disney folks have a unique system in which the same servers will follow your family to each dining room. The dining rotation allows the servers to pick up on all of the likes -- and dislikes -- of each family member.

On the first night of our 7-night cruise, my husband told our server that the Jamaican jerk chicken wasn't spicy enough. The next night, he was surprisingly served a spicier version of the dish. Apparently, our server had found a Jamaican cook on board to redo the dish for him. At every dinner, our drinks of choice were already at our table before we even ordered and the baby's chocolate milk was poured into his sippy cup as if he requested it.

This attention to detail is what truly separates the Disney cruise experience.

When asked what makes the staff so attentive to guests' needs, Disney Magic Cruise Director Peter Hofer said it's because the cruise line takes care of the crew by allowing them opportunities to grow with training and fun incentives.

"A happy crew means a happy guest," Hofer said.

When we went on our on-board date night to Palo, we were comforted in knowing that our children were in good hands. Our 11-year-old son had made friends fast and spent his time at the Edge club, for ages 11-14, where he could play video games, eat pizza with the other kids and enjoy some independent fun. Our 2-year-old boy was safely tucked away at Flounders Reef Nursery. For $6 an hour, this babysitting experience was not only affordable but quite professional. He was served his own chicken nugget dinner and when we picked him up, we noticed all of his sippy cups were labeled with his name so as not to avoid confusion. He didn't cry when we left him and he was happy when we picked him up.

Finding some alone time

Every morning before my boys woke up, I popped out of bed and took part in the free 7 a.m. "Stretch and Relax" classes at the Vista Spa or walked on Deck 10 to watch the sunrise. The open-air track is about 1/3 of mile in length so it was a nice little exercise and a perfect way to center myself before the day's activities.

My husband and I took turns with the kids so I could explore and enjoy some of the adult activities offered on the ship. The "Art of the Theme Show Ship Tour" was a great way to learn about the "secrets" of the Disney Magic and get clues about the "Hidden Mickeys" on board. (Hint: You can spot one in the atrium lobby, where this huge chandelier by American glass artist Dale Chihuly hangs.)

chiluly1Photo: Star-Telegram/Maricar EstrellaWhile my husband and kids learned some new magic tricks, I splurged on my favorite "activity" -- a day at the spa where I took advantage of one of the daily Vista Spa deals offered in the ship's newsletter. For $135, I received a full body exfoliation with one of the best hot stone back massages ever (and I've had a few) along with a foot and ankle massage and a facial.

tea2Photo: Star-Telegram/Maricar EstrellaI even snagged a free ticket to one of the more popular events on board: "Tea with Alice." As a mom of boys, I never get to do girly stuff. It was great fun to watch moms and daughters practice the perfect tea etiquette with Alice in Wonderland and friends.

I capped off one of my "me" nights by attending one of the fabulous Disney productions. One of the best shows was "Disney Dream...An Enchanted Classic" a wonderful mash-up collusion of all things Disney in song and spirit.

Intimate experiences

What separates this Disney cruise experience from the big parks is the true interaction with the Disney characters. During the tea, some of the guests were chosen to be at the table with Alice. Throughout the cruise, there were several opportunities to take photos with characters including Mickey, Daisy and Jack Sparrow. At each character photo op, parents are allowed to take their own photos. If you missed a character, on the final full day's breakfast, characters rotate to each table where families can get one final shot at photo ops.

Before the formal dinner, there was a parade of princesses in the atrium. Each princess-to-be was introduced to the likes of Belle, Cinderella, etc. One mom said she cried when she saw how much attention each of the Disney princesses gave her daughter.

PiratesPhoto: Star-Telegram/Maricar EstrellaOn "Pirates IN the Caribbean" night, my boys dressed as pirates, of course, and we're treated to a swashbuckling party and fireworks on Deck 9. My toddler danced the night away in the Promenade Lounge without a care in the world.

MicoDancingPhoto: Star-Telegram/Maricar EstrellaOn our last evening at sea, my husband and I sneaked away to our private veranda. We chatted about little things and snuggled as we watched and listened to the waves crashing. In a few hours, we would be back to our busy, bustling lives.

But for now, this was bliss.Maricar Estrella is the editor and administrator for

Twitter: @maricare

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