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Disney's Magical Nursery

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While most cruise lines with youth facilities accept children starting at age two or three, Disney is the only one with a fleet-wide nursery for infants and toddlers from 12 weeks to three years old. During our recent Disney Magic seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, my seven-month-old son Ethan spent time at Flounder's Reef Nursery on three separate occasions. Based on that experience, I can highly recommend this facility, which is well equipped and staffed with caring counselors.

Bigger and Better

When Disney Cruise Line launched its first ship, the Magic, in 1998, it offered private babysitting for kids less than three years old--and for those over three who were not potty trained. However, due to high consumer demand, the line added the Flounder's Reef Nursery by the time the Disney Wonder was launched two years later. So popular have these nurseries become that they were recently expanded on both ships.

Flounder's Reef Nursery is a reservations-only facility. As soon as you board, head for the facility on Deck 5 near the Oceaneer Club and Lab to make reservations for your little one. During a few nights on our cruise, the nursery had a waiting list. Since the line is careful not to overcrowd the nursery, only a limited number of spots is available at any given time. According to Brandy Krell, the counselor in charge of Disney Magic's nursery, she never books more than four infants to each counselor. However, whenever I stopped by the nursery, the ratio looked more like a very comfortable two counselors to every child. The ratio for toddlers to counselors is six to one.

The facility is generally open from 5:30 p.m. to midnight daily; 1 to 4 p.m. on three days during the cruise; 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on two days of the cruise; and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on one sea day. The fee is $6 per hour for the first child, $5 for the second child. There is a two-hour minimum per visit.

Caring Environment

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Ethan is used to going to daycare, but we haven't often left him with sitters in the evening because he does not go to sleep easily. However, we put that aside that concern to enjoy a dinner at Palo, the Disney Magic's wonderful adults'-only restaurant. Another night we brought Ethan to the nursery so we could eat in the dining room with just our eight year old daughter.

I made the mistake of going to check on Ethan during his first stay and found him crying. But by the time we finished our meal, he was happily being carried around in the arms of a calm counselor who seemed eager to give him one-on-one attention. By the end of his second and third visits, he was smiling and reaching for the counselors when it was time to leave the nursery. I took this to mean that he was well cared for and happy in Flounder's Reef.

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The nurseries feature a separate sleeping room with eight cribs, two strollers and 30 mats for toddlers. The playroom has a TV showing Disney movies, large age-appropriate toys, three swings, three bouncy chairs and several rocking chairs that were always put to good use when I was in the facility. The counselors did not seem to get flustered when the little ones cried, and they appeared very willing to rock a child on their laps until the baby calmed down.

"What I regret is that you finally get to know the babies and then it's time for them to leave," said Marianne, one of the counselors who gave Ethan plenty of TLC. This young woman was so experienced with little ones that she gave me some great advice about burping Ethan--a method I had never heard of even though he was my second child!

"They think of everything"

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One parent who had used the nursery told me, "Disney Cruise Line really thinks of everything when it comes to taking care of kids." For example, on the three sea days the nursery was open for two hours free of charge to parents and tots for Family Time. No reservations are needed for parents to bring their little ones to enjoy the toys in the facility during this time--and plenty of families seemed to enjoy this option.

The counselors make sure that parents bring everything to the nursery that might be needed for the proper care of their little ones--diaper bag with wipes and diapers, pre-made bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, security items like blankets, and jarred food so that they can feed babies if necessary.

By the end of the cruise, my only regret was that more cruise lines don't have such a facility for children less than two years old!

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