Thousands of people apply annually to be on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, a hand-picked group of diverse, die-hard Disney fans — not all of them moms — who help others plan Disney vacations by answering questions and offering tips online (www.disneyparksmomspanel.com).
Beth Shea of Vernon Hills is one of a dozen new panelists to come aboard in 2017. Her area of expertise: the Disney Cruise Line.
A veteran cruiser who’s traveled on all four Disney ships, including a honeymoon on the Disney Magic, Shea is especially passionate about encouraging parents of children with special needs to give vacations at sea a try. Her 2-year-old son, who needs a wheelchair to move, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
In January, she and her family returned from their third cruise together, a four-night voyage to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream. It marked Beth’s 15th Disney cruise — and counting.
This is an edited version of our conversation.
Q: What advice do you have for parents of children with special needs who want to take a Disney cruise?
A: If you visit Disneycruiseline.com, there’s a phone number for Special Services (407-566-3602). They’ll be able to tell the Special Services team what accommodations their child might need. For example, my son is unable to eat anything but pureed food. We informed Special Services of that. They tell our dining team, who talks to the chef about what food he or she is able to puree for my son. I also advise guests to really take into consideration which itinerary they choose, because some of the ports of call may not be very close to hospitals in case there’s a medical emergency.
Q: As a panelist, how many questions do you answer in a day?
A: Our target goal is between 15 and 20 questions a week.
Q: What are some common things people ask?
A: What should I wear, and am I allowed to bring bottled water aboard? I always say pack a variety — a swimsuit, comfortable clothes for going out on excursions. It’s nice to dress a little up for the dinners. For the gentlemen, a collared shirt. For the ladies, slacks or a sundress. On most cruises, there’s a pirate night, so always pack your eye patch. And yes, bottled water is allowed onboard, unopened, in its original packaging. It has to fit in your carry-on bag when you board the ship.
Q: Have any questions been particularly tough to answer?
A: Some of the questions regarding specific port adventures take an extra long time. Although we’ve been on many port adventures, we haven’t been on them all. Also, I don’t know the family very well. Something we might love — adventure and zip lining — that might be terrifying to someone else. I always guide them back to the port adventures page on the Disney Cruise Line website (disneycruise.disney.go.com/port-adventures).
Q: What advice do you have for rookie Disney cruisers?
A: Start the planning process early. The sooner they book, the more availability in staterooms they’ll have. And download the complimentary Disney Cruise Line navigator app onto their smartphone or tablet before leaving home. They’ll have access to a schedule containing all of the day’s activities, as well as deck plans and restaurant menus. They’ll have the ability to message — for free — with other family members sailing with them. And I always tell first-time cruisers to pack a coordinating outfit for the family if they want to get a photo of everyone together on their way to dinner by one of the onboard photographers.
Q: If couples want to honeymoon on a Disney cruise, what’s a good pick?
A: I’d have to suggest the cruise we went on, the trans-Atlantic. (They took a 14-night trip to Europe aboard the Disney Magic). It was a long voyage, so there were a lot of relaxing days at sea, followed by exploring all of these countries in Europe. It was romantic, exciting. We met another couple who was also on their honeymoon — they were our tablemates — and we’ve stayed in contact with them.
Side note: The first day when you embark, everyone is going through the safety drill, and you see tons of kids. After that first day, the kids seem to disappear because they’re completely immersed in the kids clubs and playing in the pool. And there are adult-only areas of the ship.
Q: What do you get out of being on the Disney Parks Moms Panel (besides the free family vacation panelists get at Walt Disney World Resort)?
A: I love talking about Disney. I have a passion for planning Disney vacations that started when I was a young girl. I was very fortunate; my parents took me to Disney World each year. I have vivid memories of helping my dad plan Disney vacations, choosing what ride to go on and what restaurant to eat at. To help guests plan their Disney Cruise vacation is an opportunity of a lifetime. I get paid in pixie dust.
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