After weeks of anticipation, the day was finally here. Our first-ever girls-only Disney Cruise - a short Martin Luther King weekend cruise aboard Disney Magic. We climbed out of bed and got ourselves ready - three women and one guy competing for the one bathroom. After reminding us a half-dozen times if we had everything ... passport, boarding passes, cruise docs, our luggage - my faithful husband drove his wife and 2 daughters to the airport and bid them a fond farewell before heading to work.
FLIGHT: Non-stop from Providence to Orlando on Southwest. The flight was on time, and the weather was perfect for flying. We checked our two bags with Disney tags appropriately attached, with the hope that they would be picked up by the cruise line and delivered to our staterooms later in the day, as promised, when purchasing Disney transfers.
DISNEY MAGICAL EXPRESS: Since we were flying in the day of the cruise, we chose to buy transfers on the Disney bus. Disney picks up your luggage, and you don't see it until it shows up at your cabin later in the day. It was strange skipping baggage claim, and we wondered if we would ever see our bags again, or would we be wearing the same clothes for 4 days. The 45-minute ride to the ship flew by, and we were entertained with videos showing the Disney characters getting ready for their cruise, ads for the ship, and some classic Disney cartoons. I felt like a kid again already!
EMBARKATION: The process was smooth, quick and painless. Don't forget to grab a copy of the ship’s newsletter - the Navigator - from a crewmember on your way to board the ship. We forgot and figured we'd just see the same one in the cabin. But there wasn't one waiting for us in the cabin on that first day, nor was there a deckplan. Minnie Mouse was available for photo ops and autographs during the brief wait in the terminal. One little touch that makes Disney stand out from the rest - the announcement of our family by name as we entered the atrium through a line of applauding crewmen, as if we were royalty. Very Disney, indeed!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Since this was my first cruise on Disney, I did not see the ship before she was “reimagined” and so I can’t comment on the improvements. But on first glance, the interior of the ship is elegant and classic, with lots of polished wood mixed in with gold tones and, of course, the ever-so present Disney theme, accompanied by familiar Disney recorded music. The decor is not gaudy in the least, but tastefully decorated in warm, muted colors.
THE CABIN: We went budget on this cruise, and booked an inside cabin for the three of us on Deck 7. It was a sufficient size for us, and was clean and comfortable. The drapes separating the bed from the sofa are really nice for privacy. The bathroom was clean, the fixtures looked new, and there was a shower/tub with lots of space to maneuver – something not found in any other standard cabin I’ve seen. Our steward, Kenneth, was a friendly man, but we didn't see him much due to the short length of the cruise and the fact that we didn't spend much time in the cabin.
DINING: The buffet, Cabanas, is the typical grab-your-plate-and-line-up approach. The food was good, with prime rib, shrimp, lobster claws, and a large variety of typical buffet fare. While it was difficult to find a table inside during peak hours, there was no problem finding one outside on deck.
"Pinocchio’s Pizzeria": The pizza was okay, but not the best I’ve tasted at sea.
"Pete’s Boiler Bites": Good chicken fingers and “just okay” burgers and hot dogs.
The soft ice cream machine had a melt down the first day - no pun intended. A couple of the dispensers stopped working mid-afternoon.
"Cafe Cove", the coffee bar in the adult section of the ship, was a regular stop for me every afternoon for a specialty coffee pick-me-up. They were worth the extra charge.
As far as evening dining goes, I loved Disney's rotational dining set up. You are assigned a table, and then you, your waiters and your dining companions move to a different dining venue each night, Carioca’s, Lumiere’s and Animator’s Palate. The food in each was well prepared and delicious. We were seated at a table of 6, and matched up with a nice family from Georgia - mom, dad and young adult daughter. We got along well and had plenty to chat about. We loved the food and the atmosphere of all three restaurants, especially Animator's Palate, the much-talked about dining room with the continuous animated sketches taking shape all around the room, culminating in an animated and musical feast for the eyes and ears. Just one more piece of magic that makes Disney cruises stand out from the rest.
ENTERTAINMENT: "Twice Charmed", "Villains Tonight" and "Disney Dreams" were all top-notch live productions, everything you'd expect from Disney, with a first-rate sound system and superb acting, singing and choreography.
LIVE MUSIC: If there is one area where Disney is lacking, this would be it. While the Disney live productions are excellent, I did miss the live orchestras heard aboard the other lines I’ve sailed. However, the live singers in the shows all had great voices, and there were a number of very good live performers on board to entertain in the lounges and outside on deck.
CHARACTERS: Scheduled at specific times throughout the day, favorite Disney friends can be found for pictures and autographs. Line up early, as the lines get long, and you wouldn't want to be disappointed.
ACTIVITIES: Like any cruise, there was plenty to do on the ship to keep the whole family occupied. Kids, of course, were abundant on this holiday weekend cruise, over 1,000 we were told, and though I didn't have any with me, the kids looked like they were having an awesome time. The featured movies were Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks, with several others shown on the outdoor screen and on stateroom TV. I can't comment specifically on the kids clubs, but being Disney, they must be good.
PIRATE NIGHT: There was lots of family fun at the pirate party out on deck, where the characters come out on stage and get the crowd dancing. Pirate costumes are encouraged during dinner and throughout the night, and many passengers were dressed in full pirate attire or some sort of pirate gear. If you’re sad that you didn’t bring a pirate costume from home, don't worry - the shops sell an assortment of items. Also, a bandanna is given to each guest at dinner, so there’s no need to feel left out.
More Disney magic happens on Pirate Night when Mickey Mouse zip lines from one of the ship's trademark red funnels down to the stage, followed up by a fireworks display.
POOLS & WATER FUN: Due to a bad knee and not much courage, I didn't try Aquadunk, but it looked like a lot of fun. Despite the chilly ocean air, it was very popular on our sea day, and the waterslide for the kids was, as well. The AquaLab, Splash Zone, and Twist ‘n’ Spout were a kids’ dream. Since I was looking for a little peace and quiet, I mostly lounged in the Quiet Cove pool area with the other grownups.
WEATHER: I was concerned that the weather would be cold, given the recent chilly temps recently in Florida. It was a bit nippy for the pools, but very sunny and pleasant to enjoy time - both out on deck and at beautiful Castaway Cay.
CASTAWAY CAY: I initially wasn't sure I would get off the ship at Disney's private island. Since it was such a short cruise, I thought we might use the time to benefit from the lack of crowds on board and enjoy the quiet while everyone was in port. In the end, we decided to go ashore, and I'm glad we did. Since we were not traveling with kids, we took the tram straight to Serenity Bay, the adults-only side of the island. While I usually seek out the shade on a hot tropical day, it was sunny but chilly on this mid-January morning in the Bahamas, and I chose to worship the sun instead. The beach was absolutely beautiful and not very crowded. The complimentary BBQ was good and fulfilling, and after lunch we got back on the tram back to Pelican Point. This is where it's all happening, the family areas, beach toys, water slides, snorkeling, bike rentals, and everything else a kid would love.
I've only been to one other cruise line's private island - Princes Cays, which pales in comparison. No need for tendering, as the ship pulls right up along side the dock, where the tram awaits to take you back and forth from ship to beach, though the walk to the family beach areas is a real nice one with plenty of photo ops along the way. This island has lots of space, plenty of chairs, Disney characters and loads of fun for all.
DISEMBARKATION: Disney does things a little differently than other lines when it comes to disembarking the ship. Instead of holding areas to await a number being called for your turn to leave the ship, everyone returns to the previous night's dinner venue for sit-down breakfast. First seating arrives first for breakfast at 6:45 a.m., followed by the second seating at 8:00 am. No one is required, of course, to do this. Early disembarkation is available for those who want to carry off their own bags or for this who just want a head start home. Just make your way to the gangway when you're ready. It was a relaxing way to end the cruise, and a nice way to say farewell to your servers and tablemates. Breakfast was quick, and we were off the ship, through customs and on the Disney bus back to the airport by 9:00 am.
DISNEY BUS RETURN TRIP: The bus will wait to fill before leaving, so if you have an early flight, keep this in mind. Just like the trip to the ship, the ride back to the airport was a relaxing and comfortable one.
FINAL WORDS: I’d never considered a Disney cruise, feeling that the price was high compared to other cruise lines. However, the long Martin Luther King weekend beckoned, the prices are cheapest in January, and that was good enough reason as any to try a Disney cruise. Was it worth the extra expense? I think so. Disney Cruise Line is all about families, putting it in a class of its own. The line’s food, service, entertainment - and the whole experience – was excellent. There seems to be plenty going on, both on the ship and on shore, to keep everyone happy - young and old. The line does a fantastic job of enforcing the over-18 rules in the adult areas and activities, so that those traveling without kids can enjoy their vacation, too. I look forward to one day introducing my grandson and the rest of the family to their first Disney cruise.