Story at cnn.com
(Tribune Media Services) -- It's grown-up time.
Disney Magic in the Mediterranean
But this is no movie-and-dinner night.
We're in Monaco people-watching and gambling. A member of our group won more than 900 euros at the famous Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. As we sip our pricey drinks at a postcard-perfect outdoor cafe, we expect James Bond, or at least a movie star, to stroll by any minute.
This fantasy-come-true (or at least this very pleasant evening out in a world-famous locale) has been brought to us courtesy of Disney Cruise Line, though Mickey isn't anywhere in the vicinity. We're all passengers aboard the Disney Magic, anchored about a half-hour away, where our kids (at least those under 18 who couldn't come along) are happily ensconced onboard, in supervised activities or, if they're teens, simply hanging with their friends in the ship's teen area, the Stack, complete with smoothie bar, overstuffed couches, music and movies.
We're at the tail end of an 11-day cruise that has taken us from Barcelona through some of Italy and now the French Riviera (there is still limited availability the rest of this summer). Many cruise lines report a growing number of families on their European cruises, but on our ship there are 2,480 passengers, more than 900 of them children -- triple the number on other cruise lines. Well over half of the passengers have cruised Disney before, though the majority have not been to Europe.
"When they get tired, they have their own space and when the kids aren't tired they have their own space," says Julie Levi, cruising from San Diego with her husband, two kids and her parents. "This is such a great way to see places they've read about and to decide where we might want to go back to later. We just want to show the kids the world so they realize the United States isn't the center of the universe."
After 10 days aboard this ship, I can't think of a better way to do exactly that -- and get a little rest and relaxation in the process, thanks to the organized programs for kids. How about creating a wall of art in Italy or making crepes in France? Each child gets a journal packed with fun facts and games. Did you know St. Peter's of Rome is almost as long as two football fields? New pages for that day's port are delivered the night before, complete with words in Italian or French for your kids to learn.
"My kids love it," said Julie Levi, whose daughters are 9 and 11. "They like the idea of reading about something and then going to find it."
And, of course, Minnie Mouse is there to greet you when you get back to the ship. There's also a fireworks display, a Pirates of the Caribbean party, ice cream and chicken fingers all day long and always-smiling waiters who move with you as you move from each of the three restaurants aboard ship.
Sure you only get to spend one (exhausting) day in Rome or Florence, but realistically, how much culture can the kids take at one time? Anchorage, Alaska architect Jeff Koonce originally mapped out a more than two-week trip to Europe that would have taken his wife and two teens from city to city via train. "They would have died on that itinerary," he laughs. "The history is incredible, but they need their sleep."
He also figures that he saved some money because with the dollar so weak against the euro, a trip paid in American dollars that includes transportation, food, lodging and onboard entertainment (yes, there are plenty of Broadway-quality Disney shows) is a good deal. (Disney, www.adventuresbydisney.com, also has land-based European adventures for families with availability this summer, complete with kids' and adult guides.)
Just as important, rather than navigating unfamiliar roads (or train schedules) checking in and out of hotels, seeking restaurants, The Mouse does all the work for you, even organizing your forays into foreign cities, as long as you're willing to tool around with 50 other people. Though some of us opted for private guides (in Tuscany, we had a great time with American Donna Scharnagl from www.discovertuscany.biz), and also enlisted help from www.onestepcloser.net, many are more comfortable letting The Mouse lead the way.
"I know if anything happens -- even a flat tire -- that the ship won't leave without us," said Patricia Pasechnick, a hairdresser from Teaneck, New Jersey, who traveled with her mom and her daughter. "I feel safe."
And that's no small thing for families traveling abroad, especially for the first time.
Just as important to moms, smiling stewards will make your bed, leave animals fashioned out of towels for the kids (yes, there are lessons in this art, too) and serve your meals. Does your teen want three servings of beef tenderloin, or will your 4-year-old eat only plain pasta? No problem.
In fact, if parents have any complaint at all, it's that the tours sometimes are too all encompassing. I discovered that firsthand in Rome with my 13-year-old niece, Erica Fieldman. The trip was her Bat Mitzvah present, but I learned very quickly that if an excursion didn't involve shopping or ice cream, she wasn't interested.
We peeled off from our tour group in Rome at The Forum -- to the guide's consternation -- and did our own mini-tour of the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps -- lots of shopping and ice cream, of course. Then we met up again with the group for the special after-hours tour of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums that Disney had been able to arrange. Amazing can't begin to describe Michelangelo's ceiling, the centuries-old tapestries and other artwork in the museums. The other teens in the group were busy snapping photos. Erica didn't seem impressed.
Maybe she's too young. Maybe it's because she lives in Las Vegas. Maybe she'll laugh about this "boring " trip to Rome with her aunt when she returns with her own kids.
"The memories won't go away," Jeff Koonce promises.