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The Magic of a Disney Cruise

Talk about fun for all ages. How three generations sailed their way to the ultimate girls-only family reunion.
Mimi, Nina, and Nina’s mom, Bonnie.
Mimi, Nina, and Nina's mom, Bonnie. (Nina Willdorf)

Waiting my turn to careen down a waterslide isn't normally within my comfort zone. And yet here I am, standing in line in my suit, surrounded by a bunch of total strangers.

After awkwardly squeezing myself into the seat of a rubber raft, I take off on a supersonic roller coaster/waterslide, circum-navigating a cruise ship in a 765-foot-long clear tube. Sixty-five thrilling seconds later, I'm spit out into a pool. I spot my mom and daughter, who are having their own shriekfest, with fake fish squirting water at them. My hair is a wet rat's nest, my suit is sticking to me in unmentionable places—and I'm having the time of my life.

I'd been trying to set up a multigenerational girlfriend getaway for a few months. My 2-year-old Mimi is at a fun, fairly easy stage, and my mom has been through hell over the past few years, nursing my father through two bone marrow transplants. Out of the woods, at least temporarily, the woman needed some R&R, and nothing seems to give her as much pleasure as spending time with Mimi. I invited both of them to join me on a voyage to the Caribbean on the Disney Dream, the company's first new ship in more than 10 years. My mother is more bookish Francophile than theme-park lover; in fact, on my one childhood trip to Florida's Magic Kingdom, we never actually made it to Disney World. We hit Epcot instead, where we could partake in formal French gardens and éclairs, naturellement.

From the moment we embark, high-fiving Mickey, the three of us are completely on board. With four separate play zones for kids, plastic cups and straws at every turn, and even a Diaper Dekor in our room, the ship is obviously geared toward families—although not to the exclusion of parents. My downtime includes just the right respites: a gym with spin and Pilates classes, a beautiful spa, and delicious dinners. The three of us spend our evenings watching pirate shows on the pool deck and Broadway-caliber musicals in the 1,300-person theater. I have a dumb smile on my face most of the time, toggling between paying attention to the show, snapping shots of Mimi dancing and clapping in the aisles, and observing my mom, glowing and taking it all in. I can't remember the last time I saw her so happy. And more important, the ship transports us to an entirely different frame of mind; somehow, all the characters, glitziness, and general pageantry manage to be simultaneously manufactured and uncheesy. In a word, it's awesome.

To be fair, there are moments when I feel as if I'm taking care of both my toddler and my mom, steering them away from walking into poles, pools, and puddles. But the staff (or cast, as they call themselves) materialize at exactly the right moment with a helping hand that's part good service and part unexpected child care. Our waiter, Duane, won't let me get up at dinner the first night to go find Mimi, who's running around the dining room. "I've got it, don't you worry," he says, chasing her in between tables while my mom and I relax and sip our Chardonnay.

On our last night, we drop Mimi off to play in the nursery for a few hours—and once she spots some new friends, she doesn't even look back. Then my mom and I get all dolled up for a night at the schmancy Italian restaurant. We start with champagne and antipasto, and finish with a perfectly rare beef tenderloin. "Thank you so much," she says. "This is just what I needed." I knew that this would bring my daughter untold joy—I just didn't realize how much it would bring me and my mom.

Three-night cruises start at $389 per person; visit disneycruise.com.

 
Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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