You probably know about Disney Cruise Line (DCL). And you might know about Adventures by Disney (AbD). But did you know that you can combine them into one completely over-the-top travel experience? Here’s what you need to know…
What does “Adventures by Disney Supplement” mean?
On most cruises, you select your port excursions on an ad hoc basis, choosing the bits and pieces that seem most interesting and/or affordable. With the Adventures by Disney supplement, your excursions are pre-selected by AbD experts to give a well-rounded overview of the opportunities at each location. The AbD supplement also gives you the constant guidance and expertise of two Disney-trained guides during all portions of the cruise.
Is this available on every cruise?
No. Currently the AbD supplement is being offered on the 5, 7, 9 and 13 night 2014 Mediterranean voyages on the Disney Magic. In the past, the AbD supplement has been offered on Alaska sailings on the Wonder.
Have you done this?
Yes, I’ve been on several regular DCL voyages, and several standard AbD trips, as well as one DCL trip with the AbD supplement. Ours was a 7-night Med cruise originating in Barcelona and stopping in Villefranche, France (Monaco); La Spezia, Italy (Florence); Civiatavecchia, Italy (Rome); Naples, Italy; and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Additionally, we purchased the “Barcelona Escape” three-day, pre-cruise AbD package, which is only available to guests sailing with DCL.
What will I get with Adventures by Disney that I won’t get by booking regular excursions?
In addition to the actual AbD excursions (trip to the Roman Coliseum, for example), there are a number of benefits to the AbD package:
- Continuity of Guides: When you book individual excursions on your own, you’ll have a different guide for each event. Some may be good, some may be meh, but none of them will get to know you. With the AbD supplement, in addition to having local expert guides at each location, you’ll also have two Disney guides who remain with you throughout the entire voyage. This allows them to get to know you and your individual needs. For example, if you have a medical issue, you won’t have to re-explain it over and over again. You’ll also develop a personal connection due to the opportunity for extended conversation and interaction. I’ve been on six AbD trips so far and have maintained personal contact with guides on four of them, even years later.
- Continuity of Guests: In addition to having the same guides throughout your voyage, you’ll have the same guests with you as well. Again, this allows for more extended conversation and interaction. When I’ve done ad hoc excursions, I’ve rarely gotten to know the other travelers on anything more than the most superficial level. I’ve made real friends on AbD trips.
- Ratio of Guides to Guests: The maximum number of guests allowed to participate in an AbD supplement is 40. Often fewer than this will be enrolled, which means that your absolute maximum guest to guide ratio is 20/1. If you factor in the constant influx of local guides and helpers, the ratio is really more like 10/1. On regular excursions, a typical ratio is 30/1. You’re simply getting more personal attention with AbD.
- Quality Control: If DCL is offering an excursion on its website, then it will certainly have been vetted to some extent; however, with the AbD excursions, you’re getting the creme de la creme. You simply will not be stuck with a bad driver or a guide with questionable translation skills. If something does go wrong, the Disney guides have the initiative and ability to remediate in a way that third party guides simply cannot.
- Excursions Not Offered Elsewhere: There is some general overlap on regular DCL excursions and the AbD excursions. If you’re stopping in Civiatavecchia, you can visit the Roman Coliseum with or without AbD. However, some opportunities, such as a day at a family farm near Naples, a chance to make your own gelato, or a private boat tour of Capri, are only available via AbD, not to the general public.
- Safety: Not surprisingly, Disney takes guest safety seriously. When on an AbD excursion, the buses will have seatbelts, the driver credentials will have been checked, and extra security will have been hired whenever there is even a hint of danger. For example, during a visit to Rome with DCL/AbD, we had the two Disney guides, a local guide, and two plain clothes security guys whose job it was to continually survey the group and protect us from pickpockets. Extra measures such as this may or may not be taken on a privately-booked excursion. AbD will even pick you up at the airport and bring you to the ship or your hotel, eliminating the need for any potentially suspicious middlemen.
- Time/Energy Balance: When booking on your own, it’s more than possible to plan to do too much (being active to the point of exhaustion) or too little (missing out on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities or sitting around bored). AbD has done lots of research and testing to make sure that your trip is well balanced.
- Comfort Extras: The AbD guides are there to make sure you’re comfortable. They always have ample snacks and bottled water. They’ve got hand sanitizer at every meal. When it’s hot they’re prepared with fans and misters. They’ve got a supply over the counter medications and sunscreen. They’re trained to troubleshoot – on one AbD trip the guide noticed before I did that my oldest daughter was not feeling well. The guide got her electrolyte tablets and a quiet place to rest, fending off more serious illness. And most importantly (in my mind anyway), they know where there are ample clean bathrooms at every stop.
- Magical Extras: On an AbD trip, there a little extra every day. For example, at the Trevi Fountain, the guides immediately handed us coins with which to make a wish. They got us postcards at key sites and mailed them for us so that we’d get the international postmark and pretty stamps. If it’s your birthday, you’ll be feted within an inch of your life. You also get pins of the day throughout the voyage. The AbD guides function as personal photographers. They’ll use your camera and theirs to take hundreds of pictures during the trip. Photos taken during all the excursion are included, as well as all the pictures taken on board the ship by the PhotoPass photographers. Usually the surprises are small, but they’re always charming.
- Food Extras: The majority of your meals are included with AbD excursions. This may not be case with self-booked activities. Typically, the meals you will experience with AbD will be MUCH nicer than those on a standard excursion. For example, when we stopped in Monaco we lunched atop the poshy posh posh Hotel Fairmont Monte Carlo with a view of the harbor – incredible food with an insane view. Additionally, the guides will routinely do things like stop and buy ice cream for the group if you pass a cute shop, or pass out an assortment of the local treats on the bus ride home. Also, a special private dinner at Palo is typically included with the AbD package. When I dined at Palo with AbD we had an expanded menu, extra courses, and lots of adult beverages “on the mouse.”
- Tips: All mid-trip gratuities are covered during your excursions. You won’t need to tip any drivers, waiters, or other excursion staff during your trip. However, you will need (and want) to tip your AbD guides at the end.
- Priority on the Ship: The AbD group is given priority over other guests going on excursions. For example, the AbD group will be guaranteed a spot on the first tender out in the morning. The AbD group is also the only one that has the ability to hold the ship’s departure. If you’re on a regular excursion and your bus breaks down, the ship will leave without you. If you’re on an AbD excursion and your bus breaks down, they’ll find you alternate transportation to the port and wait until you get there.
Won’t I miss the flexibility of choosing my own excursions?
Possibly. If you have very specific plan for how you want to see the ports, then AbD may not be for you. For example, during the Villefranche stop, AbD visits Monaco and Eze. However, there are other, non-AbD, port excursion that visit Nice and Cannes. If it’s been your life dream to see the site of the film festival, then no amount of extra guide attention is going to make the AbD itinerary OK.
What happens if I don’t want to do all the activities?
While the vast majority of guests participating in the AbD supplement will do all the AbD activities, it is possible to switch out a few if you really have your heart set on something. For example, during the Naples port stop, the AbD trip does not visit Pompeii (though we did drive by). During my DCL/AbD voyage, one family loved almost everything about the AbD itinerary but was desperate to see Pompeii. On that day, they chose to book a regular DCL excursion and meet up with the group back at the ship.
What happens on days at sea?
Days at sea are less structured than days in port. During sea days there will typically be just one or two planned group activities, which are optional. The rest of the time you’re free to enjoy the regular amenities of the ship. However, your AbD guides will still be available at all times to offer advice and answer questions.
Is Disney “In Your Face” During the AbD excursions?
Not really, certainly not to the extent that it’s in your face on the ship. The only Disney influence (other than the guides’ training) that you have during the AbD excursions is that they’re likely to show you a Disney film if you happen to have a long bus ride as part of the excursion. That’s really it. On the flip side, the guides can help you with Disney-related stuff if you want it. For example, my DCL/AbD guides learned that I am a Disney geek. They made a point to tell me where the Disney store was in Florence, but they weren’t pushing this onto other guests.
Are there any people who might want to consider the AbD supplement more strongly than others?
The AbD supplements are open to everyone (assuming that your kids meet the minimum age requirement). My own pretty textbook family (two parents, three tweenage kids) had a wonderful experience. However, there are some categories of guests who might find the AbD supplement particularly appealing:
- Singles: If you’re traveling alone, you might enjoy the extra measure of attention and safety of having dedicated guides and specific group looking out for you.
- Single parents: Again, having dedicated guides and a specific group means that there are extra eyes looking out for your kids. This takes away some of the pressure to be “on” 24/7.
- The Stressed: If you’re overwhelmed with work/life and want to be ON VACATION while you’re on vacation, then AbD may be for you. One woman on my DCL/AbD trip like to say that AbD allowed her to “check her brain at the door” and focus on enjoying the sights and enjoying the kids without having to worry about anything.
- The Non-Planner: If you like going on trips, but don’t enjoy the detailed planning of trips, then AbD may be the way to go. You don’t have to weigh options, or spend hours online, or get on the phone. They do it all for you.
What’s up with the pricing?
Honestly, it’s not cheap. You will be paying a premium over booking excursions on your own. However, in my opinion, you also get more. I’ve been on standard excursions that were just OK, rarely does this happen with AbD. There are also occasional ways to economize. For example, some guests will use a travel agent who gives on board credits. Some guests will book through Costco Travel which gives Costco rebate vouchers. We paid for some of our trip using Disney Vacation Club points.
Do I need trip insurance?
Only you can make that call based on your own needs and financial position. However, I will say that I did purchased trip insurance for my DCL/AbD combined trip. For me, it was just too much of an investment to leave unprotected. As it turned out, we did use the insurance on that trip. Due to a major storm in the Eastern US, our flight home was delayed, cancelled, and then cancelled again. The insurance ended up covering almost all our expenses while we stayed in Europe for a few extra days. (You feel sorry for me, I know.)
Have you ever combined AbD with DCL? Did you find it worth the price? Is this something you would consider doing in the future? Let us know in the comments below.