Let's get one thing out of the way before anything else. I am not a big fan of children. They scream, they throw tantrums, they make a mess. And they scream. Did I mention they scream? Their parents are sometimes even worse. So why, do you ask, am I taking a Disney cruise? Simple: I love Disney. Despite the crowds, the noise, and the strollers, I have a deep-rooted, incurable love for Mickey and the gang, and the magic of Disney. So here is an unbiased account of the doings aboard the lovely ship called the Disney Magic.
Disney is a well-oiled machine, so I expected their usual perfection in herding the hoards of sheeple quickly and efficiently. I was not disappointed. This could not have gone any smoother. The cheerful guys at the terminal quickly unloaded our luggage and rolled it away almost before I got out of our car. My mother was just getting over a very bad cold, and since it was February, the air had a bit of a bite to it, which made her cough. One of the porters took her by the arm and said, "Let's get you out of the wind," and told the rest of our party where we could find her. That was the typical thoughtfulness expected of Disney cast members, and I knew we were in for an easy time of it. Once inside the terminal (which is enormous), we were directed to the counter without a smidgen of fuss, duly processed, and we boarded the ship based on an assigned number that was called over the intercom every few minutes. I was pleased to see not one, not two, but four "Welcome Aboard" photographer stations, which kept the wait to a minimum and kept the line moving. Our rooms were not ready yet, so the cast directed us to the cafe or the Parrot Cay restaurant for some lunch. And right on schedule, we were settled in our staterooms, and with a blast of the horn (which plays "When You Wish Upon a Star," how completely cool!), we were on our way.
I love cruising. It's the best way to travel. Where else can you go to sleep and wake up in a whole new location, and be treated with such lavishness while on board? Heaven! My favorite cruise line is Celebrity, and I found myself comparing the Magic to Celebrity many times on this ship, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
I will start with my major complaint, just to get it out of the way: the noise. Good grief, what a racket! The only quiet spots were the adult pool and our staterooms. The main area before dinner -- in front of Lumiere's restaurant, where children could line up to get pictures taken with characters -- was sheer insanity. Picture a hundred screaming kids (either shouting in play or having a meltdown), their equally loud parents, a hundred people trying to talk over each other, and a woman thumping out Disney capers on a piano, and you have the intro to ELO's "Fire on High" combined with a day at the Indy raceway. I wanted to stab my eardrums with a steak knife or beat my head against the wall within 15 minutes. The kid's pool (with the cool slide) was just as loud. I was thinking that the noise outside would be better, but apparently it bounced off the stratosphere and got regurgitated back down onto the ship. We would go up to the deck for lunch, grab something as fast as we could, and run down to the adult pool area. The noise in the restaurants defies description -- a casual conversation resulted in leaning across the table and practically yelling at the person across from you. I don't know if this had something to do with sound-proofing or building materials, or if it's because it's the first Disney ship, or if we just have extra-sensitive ears...but this, for me and my entire family, is where Disney lost a star in their rating.
The decor overall - Disney theming definitely beats your standard ship decor, no matter how opulent. If you're a Hidden Mickey junkie, you will be running everywhere to find the famous silhouette; it's everywhere you look -- in the carpets, in the banisters, even in the paintings in the elevator tubes. The ship is showing its age, though -- there were some threadbare carpets, lots of rust out on our verandah, faded or scratched paint, etc. The elevators are surprisingly, remarkably small. If more than 6 adults get on the elevator, an overload alarm sounds -- my family had to turn people away when we were in the elevator because it just managed to take the weight of all of us. We also had a lot of wooden shims tucked between the closet and the ceiling in our stateroom, which made us wonder how loud the creaking was before the shims were in place. Time for dry dock, guys. That didn't stop me from appreciating the overall effect of Disney charm and happiness, though -- I'm certain these things will be fixed in the future.
Shopping -- Well, the Magic has only two stores. One Disney store and one ship-themed store. Compared to the miles and multiple levels of shopping delights on other ships, this seems a little disappointing. But hey, think about it -- how many stores of Disney stuff do you really need? And the staff is extraordinary. My sister and I are avid pin traders, and the cashiers went out of their way to complete some of our sets, even digging in the back to find pins we had been looking for for a long time. We were decked out with the 2012 cast lanyard collections before we even got to Disney World, and the Disney World staff was amazed ("Wow, you got the paint can collection already!"). Major kudos to those guys, we had a blast.
Shows -- I always avoid cruise line shows. I think they're silly. And I avoided the ones on this cruise as well. But my parents love cruise line shows and always find something positive to say about them, no matter how silly they are. They couldn't say enough good things about the Magic's shows. They said there were more themed shows involving the entire cast, more than they've seen on other cruise lines. (Of course, Disney has more to work with involving themes.) From the pictures I've seen, they look pretty amazing. Now I wish I would have gone. Maybe next time. Because there WILL be a next time.
I don't know how many permits and promises and red tape Disney had to go through to get fireworks -- FIREWORKS! -- launched from their ships in the middle of the ocean, but my brain just could not wrap itself around that. Fireworks at sea! For fun! The Pirates in the Caribbean party should not be missed. (I unfortunately did miss it because I fell asleep, of course -- but I heard about it from other members of my family.)
The staterooms -- Despite what I said about the shims above, the rooms are really nice! There was lots and lots of space, and tons of shelves, nooks, crannies, and drawers, and the huge, lighted closet had lots of sturdy hangers. There were so many nooks and crannies that I actually forgot about some of my stored items, and ended up leaving behind two shirts and a pair of jeans. Check all those spots, folks! We were fascinated with our stateroom's "split bathroom," meaning there were two rooms, one with a good-sized shower and sink, the other with a toilet and sink. I thought of the number of times on past cruises where I left the room cross-legged in search of facilities because someone was in the shower. This is a stroke of brilliance that I haven't seen on any other cruise line. These aren't in every room; my sister had an "inside" stateroom and she had your usual bathroom -- all facilities in one room. Don't expect it in every stateroom, but it's a nice surprise when you have it.
I've always gotten a kick out of towel origami creatures, and our cabin steward was a genius at different critters every day. I was so taken with them that he kept them with us on the entire cruise, making a little menagerie on the couch. Our towel monkey even got a bandanna on his head for the Pirate Night. Excellent.
Overall, Disney = 4, Celebrity = 5. Fix that noise problem, guys, and you will give Celebrity a run for their money, guaranteed.
Again, Celebrity has always had my top vote for dining experiences. But now they're running neck and neck with the amazing Disney staff! I simply love the rotating restaurant concept -- eat in French-themed Lumiere's one night, then switch to a Caribbean-themed Parrot Cay the next night, and finally on to the fascinating Animator's Palate. All the while, your waiter comes with you. In the spirit of Disney fun, we even got a Character Breakfast one morning, which tickled me to death -- getting reservations for a Character Breakfast at Disney World is a difficult task because they're always sold out. It was a hoot getting our custom-made napkin origami hats and pictures with Mickey and the gang.
Our waiters, Louis and Jonathan, were exceptional, and if you are lucky enough to have Kapoor as your maitre d', you can bet that everything will be top shape. My dad loves Cherries Jubilee and always asks for it for dessert whenever we are on a cruise. The Disney Magic didn't have this on their menu and Dad just mentioned to Kapoor that they need to put that on the menu for future cruises. The next evening, Kapoor and our two guys came to our table with Cherries Jubilee that the kitchen made just for Dad. How awesome is that? Gold stars all around.
We took the 7-day Eastern Caribbean tour, and we have been to all the islands before, so we didn't set up any tours. I won't even bother talking about St. Thomas or St. Maarten because I'm sure you can read other peoples' reviews of those two islands (we love them, by the way). What I want to rave about is Castaway Cay. W-O-W! What a beautiful place, a little Disney World in the middle of the Bahamas. Tram cars take you everywhere you need to go on paved roads. There's beautiful scenery, clean white sandy beaches, colorful umbrellas, incredible food, great music...there just isn't enough adjectives to describe this place. It's too bad you can't stay overnight here. I would recommend a Disney cruise just to go to this island, actually.
This is where Disney knocked it out of the park for me. I have always dreaded disembarkation. It takes forever on other cruise lines, Celebrity included. But Disney has the power to move the herds of people, and they absolutely shine here. Let me give you comparisons:
The night before -- "Get tags for your luggage and set luggage in the hallway before 11pm." All cruise lines do this, nothing new here.
The next morning -- "Ship docks at 5am at home port, long before anyone wakes up, and luggage is quickly removed and sorted by room in the baggage pickup area." Nope, this was new for us. Every other ship gets in way past 9 or 10am. And sorted luggage? SORTED? That's a first.
"Eat breakfast at whatever restaurant you had dinner at the night before. Bring carryons with you." Really? Nope, every other line I've been on is go eat first, then go back to your room, get your stuff, and proceed to your designated waiting area.
"When you're finished with breakfast, feel free to leave the ship." Whaaaaat?! Seriously? No going to the auditorium, or Bar A, or Lobby B, and waiting for an hour or two before your tag color and group is announced on a barely audible speaker system? No fighting people for a place to sit? No wading through a pile of luggage to leave the room? No waiting for all strollers and handicapped people to leave first? No waiting for an elevator because every one of them is jammed to the gills? Nope. Just go. Like you're leaving to go on a tour. We were off the ship in 10 minutes. TEN. MINUTES. How. Freaking. Cool.
The staff outside were lined up outside, pointing the way to the baggage pickup area (all wearing Mickey Mouse gloves, naturally). We were met by a cheerful man who took us directly to our area (Grey Daisy Duck) and after asking our cabin number, found all of our luggage for us and put all 20-plus pieces on his cart. We were out by the curb in another 10 minutes. That guy got one hell of a tip and Disney Cruise Line got my forever respect. Every cruise line in the world needs to take a tip from this incredible disembarkation process. I have never seen its equal.
Well, there you have it. The only problem I had with Disney Cruise Line was the noise, and even that won't stop me from taking another cruise with them. Celebrity, you have some serious competition. All it takes is faith, and trust, and pixie dust. I'm a fan. I'll be back.