Cruising Europe On The Disney Magic With Kids
I know that many people will be horrified that I took my family to Europe for the first time by cruise ship. Even worse, we sailed on the “Americanized” Disney cruise ship. For those critics, all I have to say is that I’m adventurous but not insane. Have I ever mentioned that I have a 4 year old?!
I have dreamed of taking my kids to Europe for several years. I even booked a European cruise 2 years ago, and reluctantly canceled it.
At the time, we decided that Murray was to young to handle a 10 hour flight. In reality, we were not willing to handle him on a 10 hour flight. In any event, it turned out to be a good decision because it gave me 2 years to plan our cruise to Europe on the Disney Magic.
We had previously sailed on the re-imagined Disney Magic, so we knew it would be a good fit for our family of 5 (ages 4, 10, and 12).
My only concern was to keep our first experience in Europe authentic, even though we were on a Disney cruise.
I wanted the ease of traveling from port to port by cruise ship, the comfort of Disney service & the Disney cruise kids programs we have grown to love. However, I did not want to tour Europe in “follow the leader” style with 40 other fanny-pack wearing tourists. No offense Disney, its just not our thing.
Thus, I spent 2 years researching the best private tour guides in each of the Western Mediterranean ports we would visit. This is by no means the easiest way to do a Disney cruise in Europe. Disney makes it incredibly easy to book Disney port adventures.
Like I said, cruise ship excursions are just not our style.
Day 1 & 2 : Barcelona
We spent 2 nights in Barcelona pre-cruise, and hired Barcelona Experience to take us to the top attractions in Barcelona. I wrote an entire post on the top things to do in Barcelona, so I won’t rehash it here.
Day 3: Day At Sea on the Disney Magic
After 2 days of hard core sight-seeing, it was nice to have a day to just chill. The kids hit the water-slides while we sipped on a cocktail watching them have a blast. The girls LOVE the aqua-dunk on the Disney Magic, and did it as many times as they could before it was time to get ready for the 6:30pm show. (P.S.- You can read more about the Disney Cruise experience in our previous reviews)
Speaking of the Disney Cruise shows, they never get old. Even my 13 year old still loves them. After the show, we headed to dinner where we met our table-mates for the week. They live in Gibraltar.
Geographical lesson number #1. Where the heck is Gibraltar? Hint: It is near Morocco. Don’t feel bad if you did not know, because we had no idea prior to this dinner either.
The good news is that they did not hold it against us, and we ended up being great friends by the end of the cruise! Daniel’s “British chap,” as he now refers to him, even outfitted him with pirate attire for pirate night.
Day 4: Ville Franche, Eze, Sainte Agnes & Monaco
I emailed back and forth for quite some time with a lady by the name of Ingrid at Kultours. Ingrid finally convinced me to lay all of my assumptions of what we should see in France aside, and let her plan our perfect day in France. I had never even heard of Sainte Agnes or Eze, but I had faith that Ingrid wanted to show us the “real” French Riviera. (FYI: Ingrid informed me that the French don’t use the term ‘French Riviera,’ rather Cote D’ Azure.)
We made a few scenic stops in hills of Ville Franche to admire the Mediterranean Sea.
Thereafter, Ingrid took us to Eze France. She wisely took us there first, as this is one of the places that people love to visit for obvious reasons. However, she knew that most people don’t arrive until after 11am. As Ingrid stated, Eze village loses some of its charm between 11am-3pm.
We barely saw anyone else while in Eze, and the charm of the tiny village was overwhelming wonderful. I can’t imagine it any other way!
We were told that only 30 people live in the medieval village of Eze, due to the intrinsic difficulties of living in an area where motor transportation is not an option. It is still fun to dream of living amongst narrow cobble stone streets with awe-striking views of the Mediterranean sea. Check out the Eze village “library.”
Morgan Freeman & Jack Nicholson apparently had similar emotions, as they starred in a movie aptly titled “The Bucket List” about Eze France. More specifically, the “Bucket List” movie focused on the Chateau De’ La Chevre hotel in Eze.
The Chateau De’ La Chevre hotel, otherwise known as the “golden goat,” is typically off limits to tourists. I would like to think that our charm & good looks got us through the gates. If the truth be told, Ingrid obviously knew the concierge.
Regardless, I had my “bucket list” moment in Eze at the Chateau De” La Chevre hotel.
Ingrid promised a surprise on our next stop, and boy did she deliver! Ingrid took us to an unmarked, hidden spot on the hilltop where we could see three countries all at once : Italy, France & Monaco. This was a pretty darn cool moment for adults and kids alike. I hope the tourist buses never find this spot! Ingrid says not to worry, because the roads are to narrow for the buses 🙂
It was time for lunch, and Ingrid had another surprise in store for us. As we headed up the hill, Ingrid pointed to the tallest point on the mountain to show us where we were having lunch. It’s even higher than it looks in this picture!
We walked through the tiny village of Sainte Agnes, and had lunch with this breath-taking view!
After lunch, we were off to Monaco for our last stop of the day. Don’t ask me why, but I felt like I had to see Monaco with all its glitz and glamour. Turns out, I could have skipped it.
I might have felt differently if there were not thousands of tourists playing “follow the leader” during the time we visited Monaco. Monaco felt like it was for “show,” instead of being authentically fabulous. I’m no authority on Monaco, so feel free to ignore my assumptions during our brief stopover.
I also found it slightly humorous that Prince Albert himself spends most of his time outside of Monaco. Apparently, he has a home located near the area that we had just left. Anyway, I took the obligatory picture with an insanely expensive car in front of the Monaco casino.
This is how Murray felt about Monaco! I tend to agree.
Day 5: La Spezia & Cinque Terre
La Spezia was the only city that I did not have a driver or guide picking us up directly at the port. All we had to do was take a 15 minute train from La Spezia to Monterosso (1 of the 5 villages in Cinque Terre). Sounds easy enough, right?
It wasn’t easy, and I passed the bar exam. The La Spezia train station sucks! Here a few facts that might help you out if you ever find yourself there:
1- If you plan on using a credit card, think again. The machines require a “pin number,” which does not exist for credit cards.
2- If you plan on using Euros, start running around the station looking for one of the few machines that will actually take Euros.
3- Don’t assume that your train ticket will actually tell you which train to get on.
4- Don’t assume that anyone in the train station will help you find the “hidden screen,” which tells you which train to get on.
5- Don’t assume that the trains will be on time. They might leave early or late. It’s a toss up.
6- Hold your hat & ticket tightly when the train actually does show up, because it will come by like a freight train. Literally.
This was me after chasing our “golden ticket” that the freight train blew right out of my hands. I hate the Italian train stations….just sayin 🙂
Cinque Terre was exhausting, for the reasons listed above, and also amazing. I had dreamed of visiting the picturesque five Italian towns perched on the Mediterranean sea for quite some time. I knew that our time would be limited, so I booked a boat tour of Cinque Terre with Angelo Boat Tours.
Angelo, a full bred Italian, and his unmistakable American wife live directly on the Monterosso harbor with their school age child. Not sure how that union happened, but their family home is where we met everyone for the boat tour.
Two couples joined us, one from Australia and the other from Colorado. Both of the couples were staying in the Cinque Terre region for a week. Murray was not in the best mood (a polite way of describing a kid who is behaving like a total brat). Thus, I spent most of the day worrying that he would ruin the day for the other couples on the boat.
We were extremely lucky. The other couples were nice, laid-back and seemingly unaffected by his mood swings. Angelo nicknamed Murray the “boss” rather quickly. It must not take to long to figure out our family dynamics 🙂
Angelo’s boat tour starts with appetizers, wine and an overview of Cinque Terre. Next, we stopped for lunch in Riomaggiore which is another one of the five villages in Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore is the town pictured below.
The table at the restaurant was already set up for us, and the Italian lunch began with the wine flowing. Boy oh boy do those Italians know how to eat! I truly thought the “appetizer” portion of the meal was the entire meal. Little did I know that the meal was just getting started. To be honest, it was a little long for the kids. Thus, I walked around town with them in-between dishes being brought to the table. All in all, I was happy that the kids got to experience the Italian way of savoring a meal amongst family and friends. Americans could use a little more “La Dolce Vita” in our lifestyle!
Next, we went for our first swim in the Mediterranean Sea. I must have missed the memo, because the Mediterranean is cold as crap! We were the only wimps who could barely handle the 75 degree water. Everyone else thought it was “refreshing.” Look who swam directly to the rocks to get out of the water (hint: They all belong to me)
I opted for Angelo’s homemade Limoncello instead 🙂
Just when we thought the tour was over, Angelo and his wife took us to a local cafe for the “after dessert dessert.” I told you that those Italians know how to eat!
Thereafter, we gave everyone a hug & said our goodbyes. We also managed to figure out the Monterosso train station, and made it back to the Disney cruise ship just in time for the show and dinner. You know the drill by now 🙂
Day 6: Rome
To be honest, I was the least excited about Rome. I envisioned long lines with thousands of other sweaty tourists, and 3 less than impressed kids. Once again, my private tour guide research paid off. I emailed back and forth with a lady by the name of Katia with Appetitours.
Katia & I worked together on a Rome itinerary that would limit our wait times, and hopefully keep the kids interested. Katia’s tour included a private driver from the Civitavecchia port to the center of Rome and back, which is approximately an hour each way. Katia encouraged us to add additional time with the driver, so we could see more of Rome. While it was not cheap to have a private driver for a day in Rome, it was definitely worth it.
First, Katia took us to the Coliseum with essentially no wait time. Katia pre-purchased VIP tickets that enabled us to walk right into the Coliseum.
Katia made the story behind the Coliseum and gladiators come alive for the kids. Murray decided he was a gladiator.
Next, Katia introduced us to “underground Rome.” We toured the archaeological remains of opulent Roman palaces & a Church underneath the Clementine Chapel that date back to the 1st century. Even more interesting, they were both really underneath modern-day Rome.
The Palazzo Valentini tour of the underground Roman palaces was brought to life by a light show as we walked over glass displaying the remains. It was amazing to see how much of the Roman homes were still in-tact. I do not have any pictures of either of these stops, because cameras were not allowed. Nonetheless, I highly recommend both of these tours in Rome. The kids were engaged & very interested.
As for Murray, he remained in gladiator character and continued to slay tourists along the way. Luckily, he was in a better mood today so the gladiator slaying came across as cute instead of evil 🙂
We then stopped for lunch, and gelato outside the Panthean.
We also made a quick stop to see the Panthean Temple on the inside. Murray held onto my dress all day….good thing it was long!
Last, we went to the Piazza Navona square in Rome. Katia made the famous fountain come to life with the real story of how and why it was built.
We survived Rome with 3 kids! Claire even voted Rome as one of her top 2 favorite European cities on the Disney Cruise. Katia is a magician, because Rome is not an easy city to tour with kids.
Day 7: Naples & Capri
We had heard enough about Naples to know that it was not a place we wanted to spend very much time. Thus, we took the ferry straight to Capri for a boat and walking tour with Capritime Tours.
We started the day by meeting up with our lovely tour guide who took us straight to the boat. Thereafter, we boated around the entire island of Capri with several stops to admire the multiple grottos and arches.
Our guide planned a lunch stop at Il Riccio, which was easily our favorite restaurant on the entire trip! Not only was the food delicious, the restaurant itself was stunning and the views were to die for!
The Il Riccio temptation room was worthy of another trip to Capri itself.
Happily full of every sweet that Italy has to offer, we headed to Ana Capri by open air taxi. We were all in for a huge surprise, because we had no idea that we would be taking a chair lift to heaven!
While it was not technically heaven, it certainly felt like a heavenly view!
Disney saved the best for last. Our family unanimously voted Capri as our favorite day on our 7 day Mediterranean Disney Cruise.
I’ll spare you the boring details of our last day at sea on the Disney cruise, as I spent most of it doing laundry while Daniel napped. It was a good thing that the kids could enjoy the Disney cruise kids clubs, because mom and dad were DONE!
We had one more night in Barcelona, but we were honestly all “toured out” and ready to get home. Taking 3 kids to Europe for almost 2 weeks was very tiring. I would do it all over again in a heart beat 🙂
If you liked our Disney Cruise review of the Western Mediterranean, please comment below. I write these family travel reviews to inspire other families to travel with their kids. It means a lot to know that my family travel reviews are inspiring, helpful or just plain humorous. If you don’t already know, this job pays only in compliments 🙂