My wife, Mona, and I set sail on the Disney Magic not knowing quite what to expect. From the reviews we had read, passengers either thought it was the best cruise they had ever taken or the worst. In fact, it's a little of both. You really can't compare Disney to other cruise lines because it does so many things differently. Some things Disney does much better than anyone else. Others fall short.
Embarkation is very smooth. New buses take you from the airport or the resorts to the ship in about an hour. Time goes by quickly as you watch a video on what to expect on your cruise. Disney's passenger terminal is new and modern, and check-in lines are short. We arrived at the airport at 11:30am. By noon our bus was leaving for the ship. And by 1pm we were in our stateroom. The ship was almost full: 2300 passengers.
The staterooms are relatively roomy, comfortable and well planned. Our steward never greeted us upon arrival, but otherwise was friendly and did his job well. One of the great things Disney has done is to put a bath-and-a-half in most rooms. One has a sink and toilet. The other has a sink and shower/tub. Both bathrooms are tiled. There's a bedroom area and a sitting area with a couch that can turn into a bed. There's plenty of storage space.
Beware of cabins on Deck Two toward the rear of the ship. I had read of mysterious engine noises in other reviews and wound up experiencing it myself. This was the worst engine noise we had encountered in all our cruising. It was not constant and may have been related to the thrusters. But when the noise occurred, it was very loud and disturbing and you could not possibly sleep through it. Avoid these cabins if you can.
The first thing most passengers do after arriving in their rooms is have lunch and make reservations for the adults-only restaurant, Paolo's. The best item on the buffet lunch is the jumbo shrimp. Everything else is just OK. But you're not taking this cruise for the quality of the food.
Dining on Disney is different than on other ships. There are three main theme restaurants in which you and your serving team rotate each evening. Animator's Palate has a show about animation. The restaurant slowly turns from black-and-white to color as you dine. Parrot Cay (pronounced "key") is a Caribbean restaurant. Lumiere's is a more formal French restaurant that's the nicest of the three, although our waitress said some passengers actually ask not to eat there because they've never dined in a French restaurant and they think they won't like French food. If you want to eat at Paolo's (and most people loved it), I would recommend you make your reservation for the night you would dine in Parrot Cay. If you have to give up one restaurant, I would make it Parrot Cay. You can have breakfast or lunch there one day to see what it's like. If you're on the four-night cruise, you can eat in Paolo's on the night you would repeat dinner in one of the three theme restaurants.
Overall we felt the food was good to very good, but inconsistent. We found the best way to order was to follow our server's recommendations. When we didn't, we were disappointed. This is not the fine dining you'll get on Princess or Celebrity; it's much less formal with fewer courses. On most menus, the food is grouped into starters and main courses, leaving many diners to believe you are expected to order one from each group. And most do. But you can order an appetizer, soup, salad and main course if you want.
In Animator's Palate, we liked the crab legs appetizer and veal chop entrée. In Parrot Cay, go for the shrimp cocktail and lobster. In Lumiere's, it's the escargot and sea bass. You also can get simply-prepared steak and chicken or vegetarian dishes in each restaurant. For dessert we had our server bring a variety of different selections -- most good, nothing exceptional.
During the day there are hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza and ice cream available on the Pool Deck most of the time. There are late-night snacks passed out by waiters in the lounges, but no traditional midnight buffet. Some passengers seemed to miss this.
One point about dining and entertainment times: unlike anything we had encountered before on cruise ships, on Disney when you have late seating dinner at 8:30pm, you go to your show before dinner at 6pm. So even if you have late seating dinner, you still start your evening at 6pm, the same time as early seating diners. The show runs about an hour, so by 7:15pm you are out of the show and still have one hour and 15 minutes before dinner. There are plenty of things to do during that time but it seemed like an inefficient schedule that defeated the purpose of late seating dinner.
The three entertainment production shows are excellent and all the singing is done live. They all involve Disney themes. The first night was a show about Hercules. The second night one about a ghost ship. The third night is "Disney Dreams," which showcases Disney fairy tales and which brought many people to tears.
Since I waited until now to talk about kids' activities, you have probably realized we didn't travel with children. But we did tour the facilities on the ship for children, and they are phenomenal. Kids are divided into three age groups, 3-8, 9-12 and teens. Each group has areas of the ship reserved just for it. And the organized activities are not just fun but educational and interactive, including using computers. Teens even have their own nightclub. And there are plenty of opportunities for pictures with Disney characters.
Adults also have their own parts of the ship, including a separate pool and lounge area, health spa, separate restaurant, ESPN bar, piano bar, comedy club, special movies and a disco. And there's a separate adults area at the private beach.
The Disney Magic is a beautiful, well-appointed ship but it's different from other cruise ships in its size and class. Some ways better, some ways worse. Some very unique, like a ship's horn that plays "When You Wish Upon a Star." With its two smokestacks, long bow and black-and-white paint, it actually looks more like a ship than many of the newer cruise ships. But you'll have a hard time figuring out who, if anyone, is in charge. Neither the full names of the captain and cruise director nor their pictures were ever printed in the daily newsletter. After awhile we learned that the captain's name was Hans and the cruise director was Rachel. The captain was very accessible during his cocktail party, but poor captain Hans was walking around looking for people to talk to, while captain Mickey Mouse had a line of people waiting to shake his hand and get their picture taken with him.
A few more differences -- there are no deck chairs on the promenade deck and there is no casino. While the décor is luxurious and creative, the lounges tend to be small and intimate, rather than grand and striking. The main show room has stadium-style seating and does not have drink service. If you want a drink, you have to buy it yourself at the bar outside and carry it in. There's plenty to do at night and we never even made it into some of the lounges.
Ports of Call
The ship only calls on two ports, Nassau and Castaway Cay (also pronounced "key"), the private beach island. Several tours are offered in Nassau, or you could just walk off the ship and explore the town on your own. Many passengers weren't very impressed with the town, and Nassau is not a shopper's paradise like St. Thomas. We took the all-day beach trip to the new Atlantis Hotel and really enjoyed it. The Atlantis is large and dramatic with outdoor pools, a water slide and beach area. Although it's privately owned and operated, it looks like the type of hotel Disney would have designed. It has a walk-though underwater aquarium that's definitely worth seeing. If you take the Disney tour to Atlantis, you can use the beach but not the pools and water slide.
Most people agree Castaway Cay is the nicest private beach offered by any cruise line. The ship docks at the island and a tram takes you to the beach. There are more than enough beach chairs and umbrellas. There's a snorkeling trail and water play area for the kids. We picked out a nice double hammock overlooking the water. My only complaint was the 20 minutes it took waiting in line for lunch, but I suspect much of the slowness was due to people taking a long time to decide what they wanted to eat. There were about six buffet lines and all seemed to be well-supplied.
Three nights is too short for a cruise. The morning after our great day at the beach, it was time to leave. Debarkation on the Disney Magic was the best we had ever encountered. There was no hanging around in lounges waiting for your color to be called. If you had early seating dinner, breakfast was early, 6:45am. But by the time early seating breakfast ended, the ship was cleared. When late seating breakfast began at 8am, the early folks were walking off the ship. When our late breakfast ended about 8:45am, we simply walked out the door of Lumiere's, turned right and, in 50 feet, we were off the ship. The luggage was color coded and easily retrievable. By 9am our bus to the airport was on its way.
One thing you notice right away about a Disney cruise is the kids, lots of them. Unlike other cruises, where parents can take their kids along, this is a cruise where children take their parents. If you're traveling with kids, this is the greatest cruise you could ever take; don't hesitate for a second. The activities for kids, from toddlers to teens, are excellent. If you're traveling without kids, you'll only like this cruise if you like Disney and you have the patience to vacation with lots of children.
The areas where Disney excels are embarkation and debarkation, stateroom comfort, activities for children, entertainment, and its private beach island. We felt it came up short in cabin and dining room service, cabin noise, the quality of food and the convenience of show times.
All things considered, we enjoyed the cruise. Disney has worked out many of the problems that occurred in its initial months. We'd definitely take it again with kids, but probably not on our own. Disney might want to consider running some seven-day cruises [Ed. note: Disney now does offer 7-day cruises], changing some ports of call, or having its two ships run different itineraries. Otherwise, once you've taken this cruise, you have a reduced incentive to take it again because the next one will be just the same.
Tom Giusto may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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