“It’s Mickey!” screams one little boy. Immediately throngs of children swarm Disney Magic’s atrium area. A three-year-old girl dressed as Cinderella clings to her daddy’s hand and two tuxedo-clad boys in Santa hats roll around on the floor. Where else at sea could you get a photo, signature, and a hug from Mickey Mouse? This is why so many families flock to Disney Cruise Line. And with good reason.
The experience starts at Disney’s cruise terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, where Disney characters dressed in their season’s best greet passengers as they check in. On board, the Disney Magic is decked stem-to-stern with Christmas trees and boughs of holly that highlight the ship’s classic retro interior.
Holiday sailings on Disney feature a vast range of celebration-themed entertainment and activities. In the main atrium, a tree-lighting ceremony features faux snow falling on the crowd along with plenty of Disney characters. Elsewhere, guests can participate in the “Winter-Sunnyland” conga line around the pool, and families can gather to design and decorate crafts.
At Thanksgiving, Mickey, Minnie and friends dress in traditional Thanksgiving attire and NFL football games are broadcast live on the jumbo pool screen. On Christmas day, multiple faith and inter-denominational holiday services are held, and “Santa Goofy” pays a visit and distributes gifts to all the children onboard. Of course it wouldn’t feel like the holidays without traditional feasts. On both holidays customary fare is held in the ship’s three dining rooms. In fact, during my Thanksgiving sailing some 1100 turkeys were cooked!
Every detail from the characters in holiday attire to snowflakes on the ship and on the line’s Bahamian island, in typical Disney fashion nothing is overlooked.
It had been eight years since my family and I sailed on the Disney Magic. On this third voyage over the Thanksgiving holiday, I quickly discovered, like a fine wine, the 10-year-old, 2,700 passenger ship has become better with age.
Both classic and modern, Disney Magic was designed to evoke the aura of grand transatlantic liners of yesteryear, but with a twist. The ship boasts a number of innovative features, including extra-large staterooms for families, several restaurants through which passengers rotate throughout the cruise, fantastic Disney-inspired entertainment, separate adult pool, restaurant, and lounges, and the biggest kids’ facilities at sea.
In September, Magic underwent an extensive dry dock, which added a series of upgrades that included: new flat-panel LCD televisions in all staterooms, renovated Vista Spa and Salon with luxurious indoor/outdoor “spa villas” and an expanded fitness center, more dedicated space for youth activities on deck 2, a new jumbo LED screen, and a toddler-only splash area adjacent to the Mickey Pool.
By cruise standards, Disney staterooms are large and are still the best-designed of any large ship. All feature two half-bathrooms—a great component for families. Standard inside and outside staterooms are a generous 173 square feet, while those with verandas measure 253 square feet. One popular stateroom that comfortably sleeps four or five people in 291 square feet, sells out quickly. Suites of 591 square feet feature a separate bedroom, while deluxe suites have two bedrooms, can sleep up to six, and come with private concierge service.
Onboard dining is always a treat, but Disney adds a fantasy approach to its restaurants. The Magic offers scheduled rotation dining, where guests and their waiters move from one themed dining room—Lumieres, Parrot Cay, and Animator’s Palate—to another. Of course, the biggest thrill for kids is breakfast with the characters. For those seeking an alternative to the rotation, there’s the Topsider Buffet and quickie food outlets: Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, Pluto’s Dog House, and Scoops ice cream and fruit bar, and an extensive room service menu. Palo’s – the adult only pay-as-you-go dining area is the best $15 you’ll spend at sea. In the evening, the venue with panoramic ocean views serves up amazing Northern Italian cuisine and for an additional charge a large selection of wines. On sea days, Palo’s has a Champagne Brunch (also $15) and a High Tea for $5.
What would a Disney experience be without grand entertainment? The Magic offers original musical and other productions in its three-deck-high, 955-seat Walt Disney Theatre. Highlights during my sailing included the premier of the new Disney movie “Bolt” shown in “Disney Digital 3-D”, and the amazing “‘Til We Meet Again,” show with all the characters and ship’s crew. Not to be missed is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” deck party where everyone gets in touch with their inner Captain Jack Sparrow, even Mickey Mouse, who zip-lines between the ship’s funnels then repels down to save the day from the bad pirates. And if that’s not enough, the event is capped off with a spectacular five minute fireworks display – Disney is the only cruise line in the world to do this.
For the kids
“This ship is all about the kids,” says Magic’s Cruise Director Christiaan Abbott. Indeed, and it not only extends to the hardware, but the personnel onboard. The crew is trained to focus on children’s needs foremost from addressing them first for dinner selection, to keeping them endlessly entertained. No cruise line comes close to what Disney offers kids – there are two pools and five dedicated venues encompassing over 13,000-square-feet staffed with 55 youth counselors.
The Mickey Pool is sheer pandemonium with excited children splashing around and sliding down the two-story slide. Babies and toddlers not yet toilet trained have the new “Mickey’s Splash Zone” that features interactive fountains, a soft play surface and splash zones. The mid-ship Goofy Pool allows kids to swim, participate in organized games or watch movies on the jumbo screen.
For babies and toddlers under three-years of age there is Flounder’s Reef Nursery, where for a small hourly-fee, the littlest ones are coddled Disney style. Three-to-7 year olds have the Oceaneer Club that offers a Neverland-themed play space, and for 8 to 12 year olds, there is Oceaneer Lab, a whacky and interactive laboratory space. During drydock three conference rooms on deck 2 were transformed into a brand new hang-out for kids ages 10 to 14 called Ocean Quest. With a nautical feel the area provides the perfect location for kids to chill-out and play computer or video games, participate in arts and crafts, or watch a movie on one of the multiple plasma screen televisions. For teens, there is The Stack, which is packed with music, movies, video games, big-screen plasma TVs, a lounge area, dance floor, Internet café and teen-only activities into the wee hours. There’s also a deck for sports such as basketball and soccer.
While kids participate in the clubs, parents of young children are given pagers and coming soon will be a unique way for kids to check-in to the youth activity areas. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology will be embedded on wristbands, allowing children to simply tap a sensor to check in and out of the clubs.
There were 1,100 children on my cruise and Disney does a good job keeping adult areas serene. Quiet Cove, is adult pool area with hot tubs, cascading waterfalls, and plush teak lounge chairs. Adjacent is the Cove Café, the ship’s gourmet coffee lounge.
As a spa-junkie I found nirvana in the Vista Spa’s “spa villas”. You won’t find these on any other cruise ship. These three villas come complete with an indoor spa treatment suite which is connected to a private outdoor veranda with personal hot tub, open air shower and luxurious chaise lounge. I indulged in a two-hour “Quiet Time” package that incorporated a long dip in the Jacuzzi, a 55-minute massage, and a relaxing post-treatment tea time all while watching the sunset – complete bliss!
In the evening, adults have their own entertainment that includes comedy shows, dancing and live music. The one adult thing Disney does not have is a casino. However, no one seemed to miss losing money at sea.
All Disney voyages make a stop at their spectacular 1,000-acre private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay. And when cruises during the holiday period put in at the island, the celebration continues with snow flurries, decked-out Christmas trees, and holiday carolers. Of course, there’s the usual Caribbean music and a beachside barbecue that set the backdrop for a fun day. Adults have their own beach, Serenity Bay, where they can indulge in a massage in a private cabana located right on the beach. Teens even have an exclusive beach and, of course, there is the main family beach.
There are a number of shore excursions to partake in and families have lots of choices from bike riding around the island, to a faux “whale dig” to a stingray tour. These aren’t your average stingrays, these rays have been ‘Disney-fied’ where their stinger barbs are clipped (every two months) and they only eat their meals from a black Mickey Mouse shaped plate!
Happy crew — happier guests
One thing that stood out for me was the cheerfulness of the crew. I asked James Willoughby, Magic’s Food and Beverage Manager, the reasons for their upbeat attitude. He says much of the crew are veterans and take a lot of pride in their work. “Our crew takes ownership of the product and the service reflects that,” said Willoughby. Disney is able to retain these quality folks by offering better working contracts than other lines. Disney prefers its crew members to work on the ship six months at a time. Six months is a long time; however, the industry standard is ten months. I’ve been on enough ships to see the difference immediately. In my opinion, ten months is too long to be onboard ship and service does suffer. Crews are human after all.
Cruising on Disney isn’t for everyone and should be avoided by those who want gambling, and don’t like being around large numbers of children. Surprisingly I discovered a number of childless couples onboard who really enjoy the family atmosphere. One elderly couple I met had planted themselves in chairs above the atrium each night to watch the pitter patter of little feet below. Their smiles say it all.
If you go:
Cruise rates can be steep, but the magical entertainment, cheerful service, great food, fireworks, and a private island is worth the price. Disney Cruise Line offers three-, four- and seven-night itineraries to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The Disney Magic will embark on new itinerary in The Baltics for the 2009 summer season. The Disney Wonder is running a special where kids aged 12 and under sail free when accompanied by two full-fare paying guests in the same stateroom. To learn more about Disney Cruise Line visit their Web site.
Faith, trust and some pixie dust! Enjoy some terrific images from the Disney Magic’s Thanksgiving holiday sailing.
Disney Magic & Disney Wonder meet at Castaway Cay
This has only happened twice before in the HISTORY of Disney Cruise Line — the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder meet in Castaway Cay. Watch this magical moment where the Wonder and Magic have a “When You Wish Upon A Star” horn battle.
Disney Magic & Disney Wonder meet at Castaway Cay
This has only happened twice before in the HISTORY of Disney Cruise Line — the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder meet in Castaway Cay. Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Wonder bumped up its departure date to Wednesday instead of its usual Thursday sailing. Due to this unusual scheduling and the fact that the Magic was double dipping at Castaway Cay on Friday the captains of both ships thought it would be neat to meet. So, they worked together to create a magical moment where the Wonder would pass by Castaway Cay and have a “When You Wish Upon A Star” horn battle. It was a great moment for passengers on the Wonder and better for those of us on Castaway Cay to see both ships saluting each other.