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Disney’s Truly Magical Voyage

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 31 - 2001

Last October, I had the pleasure of cruising aboard the Disney Magic. Along with its sister ship, the Wonder, Disney hopes to recapture the old-fashioned allure of cruising.

Both ships are designed to emulate classic liners of the past with their navy and white color scheme, two classic red smoke stacks (one is functional, one is fake and hosts an ESPN sports bar!), longer bow, and large bridge. Both ships are simply stunning, and not just on the outside.

The Magic is 83,300 tons of fun, and carries 1,760 passengers and 945 crew. I expected a lot more “Disney” type atmosphere onboard, and I was surprised with what I found. With an art deco ambiance, classic teak decks, brass fixtures, and intimate configuration, the ship is very user-friendly and easy on the eyes.

While subdued, the Disney touch is still there with many whimsical yet endearing features: from a bronze Captain Mickey statue in the atrium, to characters hanging from the back of the ship, public address announcements which always say “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls”, and the ship’s horn which plays “When You Wish Upon A Star”.

And yes, Mickey and Minnie are onboard and available in person for autographs before dinner in the atrium. Other Disney characters welcome guests as they return from Castaway Cay, the line’s private island. Overall, the Disney touch on the high seas is both elegant and innovative.

Unique Staterooms

Every stateroom includes a picture of Walt Disney and his wife on the deck of a cruise ship, which I found to be a nice testament to the man who started it all. Our cabin was a category 6 (Disney’s categories go from 1 to 12) deluxe stateroom with verandah.

Our verandah stateroom was magnificent – the nicest I’ve experienced at sea thus far. According to Disney, the cabins on the Disney Magic are about 25% larger than industry average. Disney offers cabins that have a separate space, dividable by a curtain, for as many as three extra persons. In fact, every cabin on the ship has a third berth in the form of a convertible sofa – comfortable to sit on as well as sleep on. Available in some cabins is a fourth bed placed into the ceiling, and in some cabins, a fifth extra bed is placed into the wall.

Another major innovation in the cabins is the bathrooms, which are divided into a shower/bath compartment and a toilet compartment. Each compartment has its own sink, mirror and toiletries cabinet. This is really a great innovation, especially for families.

Unique Dining Experiences

The food onboard is excellent. We enjoyed every meal. Disney has a new concept called “rotation dining”. The rotation dining system is where passengers dine with the same people and waiters every night, but in three separate themed restaurants with very different menus. This was a lot of fun for my girls. At ages 5 and 2, they can get antsy with a five-course meal. This system makes it fun for all.

Lumiere’s

On our first night, we were assigned the most formal restaurant: the French inspired Lumiere’s. The dining room theme is elegantly based on “Beauty and The Beast,” and you will find roses everywhere. Food was more formal but nonetheless very traditional. As with all dining areas, there is an extensive children’s menu.

Animator’s Palette

The next night, we dined at the Animator’s Palette. This is one dining room with a lot of atmosphere. The room, done entirely in black and white and covered with drawings of Disney characters, gradually comes to full-color, animated life. It’s really something to experience. The menu is “California cuisine” but offers a variety options. Everyone gets the same desert platter with an array of choices. The kids get Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars.

Parrot Cay

Parrot Cay is a buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch, however, at night it turns into a full service dining room. The ambience is colorful, with a Caribbean flair. The menu offers wonderful, Caribbean-inspired cuisine.

Palo’s

While I didn’t get a chance to experience Palo’s – the adult only dining area – the raves from those who did dine there make me want to cruise this ship again! It is reservation only, and books up quickly. Palo’s offers Northern Italian cuisine and a vast selection of wines.

Entertainment

Walt Disney Theatre

What would a Disney experience be without grand entertainment? The Magic offers three original musical productions in its three-deck-high, 955-seat Walt Disney Theatre. The shows with talented entertainers make use of state-of-the-art sound, lighting, staging, props and special effects. My 5-year-old loved the shows, but my 2-year-old couldn’t sit still for more than 30 minutes, so we had to leave early two nights out of three.

ESPN skybox

If you’re a sports fan and are worried about missing the big game while cruising, chances are this bar will carry it. It offers satellite sports so there’s always something on. The bar is located in the forward faux smokestack. This was a lively place as we were cruising during the World Series: the atmosphere was fun and boisterous. The bar is filled with multiple TV screens, and one towering two-story tall screen. The back of the bar is all glass and overlooks the deck below. It’s quite impressive and unique to cruising.

Buena Vista Theater

You can eat popcorn, and watch Disney movies in the Buena Vista Theatre. The theater also offers character shows and greetings.

Adult-Only Entertainment

Disney is heavily marketing the ship to adults traveling without kids. In fact, during our cruise I noticed there were more couples on board than families with children. Disney is going all-out for this group by creating adult-only areas, dining and entertainment. There is an adult-only pool, an adult-only entertainment area, and on Castaway Cay, an adult-only beach (Serenity Bay), with private cabanas where massages are offered.

For passengers looking for some pampering, the Magic’s spa offers a variety of beauty seminars and exercise classes in addition to treatments available for a fee.

Activities onboard included: a cooking demonstration by a chef from Walt Disney World, a lecture by a Disney animation artist, a line-dancing lesson, a wine-tasting (for a fee), as well as bingo and other adults-only games and deck sports. The no-kids ban in the entertainment areas enables the performers to use adult humor at the ship’s comedy club – the only one at sea. There are also three lounges onboard: Promenade Lounge offers live jazz, Beat Street and Route 66 offer a variety of musical entertainment. The one adult feature Disney does not have is a casino. However, you can find gambling during your Nassau stay.

Just For Kids & Teens

Talk about playing with a full deck! Disney has the most expansive kid offerings at sea: nearly a full deck area is devoted to just the little ones. Kids’ programming runs from 9 a.m. until 1 a.m.

There are two separate spaces: one for little kids and one for big kids. The Oceaneer Club has activities for 3- to 5-year-olds and 6 to 8-year-olds. The Oceaneer Lab has interactive activities for 9 & 10-year-olds and others for 11 & 12-year-olds.

For a fee, group babysitting is available for children twelve weeks to two years old in the Oceaneer Club. Guests must sign up their children on embarkation day. The cost is $11 per child per hour, and $1 per additional child per hour.

All supervised activities are overseen by an extensive number of kids’ counselors. When you check your children in for activities, you’ll be given a beeper, so counselors can contact you at anytime. I found this to be wonderful.

For teens, there is the Common Grounds: a New York-style coffeehouse with music, games, large-screen TV, a lounge area, a coffee bar, and shipboard programs like photography, movie-making, and improvisation. There is also the arcade area, which has an expansive number of games and activities.

Castaway Cay

Disney’s spectacular 1,000-acre private island, which is nestled on the northern tip of the Bahaman island of Abaco (actual name is Gorda Cay). We were very fortunate to be able to dock during our voyage. Disney advised me in September that we would not be able to visit Castaway Cay. Hurricane Floyd damaged the island so badly that it was shut down for 4 weeks. Fortunately, it had just re-opened the week before our cruise.

When you step off the ship, there is a tram to take you the Family Beach and the adult-only Serenity Bay Beach. The place is pure paradise: a mile-long white sand beach with clear, turquoise waters. Hang out on one of the beaches, under an umbrella, a hammock, or go beachcombing. Take a swim, boatride, or try a variety of other activities. The most popular activity was snorkeling, as adults and kids alike had a blast spotting fish and fake sunken treasure.

Sip a Pina Colada and listen to the live Bahamian band play reggae and calypso tunes. The kids have their own area called Scuttles Cove, which is supervised by the kids’ counselors.

You can have lunch on the island at Cookie’s Bar-B-Q, named after the island chef. A lunch buffet with barbecue ribs, shrimp, hotdog, fish, burger, dessert, fruits. The disappointing part was that everyone had to be back on the ship by 4:00 PM. I wish Disney would cut the Nassau stay and spend more time at their island paradise.

Wish List

Without a doubt, the ship and its amenities are the best part of the whole cruise. I would go on this ship again anytime. There are some areas, however, that Disney really needs to improve upon – most notably, dining room service.

I had the unusual occurrence of going on back-to-back cruises: the Carnival Destiny in September, and the Magic in October. The service on Carnival was superior to the Magic, which may surprise some. Veteran cruisers I met aboard the Magic agreed: the dining room staff needs a bit more refining. Point blank – many people felt rushed at several meals. The staff is very young and seemed to be overwhelmed with many duties. I’ve never felt rushed on any of my previous 15 voyages.

Itineraries & Price

If you want to experience this fantastic ship, you have several options. Current itineraries are three- and four-day cruises with stops in Nassau, and Castaway Cay. In August, however, two big changes will occur:

Starting on August 12, the Magic will offer seven-day cruises to the Caribbean with stops in St. Thomas (with excursions to St. John), St. Maarten, and Castaway Cay. The cruises are slated to run through at least May of 2001. Also, in August, the Wonder will add a new port-of-call to its four day itinerary by stopping in Freeport, Bahamas.

Most Disney Magic passengers are booking the three- or four-day cruise offerings as part of a seven-day package that includes a stay at Walt Disney World. Disney has developed a system where one only has to check in once for the ship and land vacation. One key card opens the hotel room and cabin doors. The same key card serves as a charge card at Walt Disney World and on the ship. Cruise ship passengers travel between Walt Disney World and the ship, as well as to and from the airport, in motorcoaches.

When Disney first started the cruise line back in 1998, the prices were astronomical and out of reach for an average family of four. In 1999, Disney cut prices for children on an average seven-day cruise-and-resort package (without air). The price for children ages 3 to 17 traveling as a third, fourth or fifth guest sharing a room was cut from $749 to $399. Children under two cost $80, and adults (18 and over) pay $599. Depending on the category and time of year, the first two adults pay anywhere from $799 through $4029 per person.

To book or learn more about this and other Disney Cruise Line vacations, see your travel agent, or call (800) 951-3532 or visit them online at Disney Cruise Line.

Editor’s note: This story was written in December, 2001.

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