Embarking on our very first family cruise with the kids, we were not sure what to expect. My husband and I had cruised just once before on the Celebrity Constellation and wanted to introduce cruising to our 3 children, age 14, 9 and 7. Our family loves the Disney parks and we buy into the general unbridled optimism that accompanies All Things Disney, so the Magic was an obvious choice for us, especially after comparing pricing with the Fantasy. We chose a 4 night cruise not knowing if everyone would tolerate cruising, not wanting to be stuck in a stateroom with a puking child for 7 days or more.
As concierge guests we were literally the first passengers on the ship. Check in was a breeze as the concierge guests have a separate area and a very comfortable waiting room. The children were overjoyed when our name was announced upon boarding and before we had even been seated for lunch they declared that it was already "the best vacation ever!"
One of our children has food allergies, always a source of anxiety for us, but the Magic crew handled it expertly. Shortly after we were seated near the buffet, a chef came to our table and took our daughter on a "tour" of the buffet, letting her know exactly what was safe for her and what was not. From that moment on, everyone on board made sure that her meals were prepared safely and that she always had something she liked. We had experienced this same treatment in the Disney parks and hotels and were glad to see that the cruise staff was as diligent. Food was outstanding at all venues and each of us was pleased with what we ate. As the wait staff traveled with us to each restaurant, the children got to know and love them. They were all unbelievably attentive and pleasant, and I cannot say enough about how much we appreciated them. We chose the late seating (8:15) thinking there would be fewer small children there and we were correct. The only downside to that is that our children made many friends on the ship and most of them were eating early so they didn't see them as often in the children's clubs.
That brings me to the kid clubs….. I'm not sure what Disney is serving them in their sippy cups, but whatever it is, they should bottle and sell it. All the kids on the ship were surprisingly well-behaved and pleasant! Our children absolutely loved the kid activities onboard, and begged us to take them to the kid clubs each night after dinner. Our youngest two children went to the Oceaneer Club/ Oceaneer Lab and our eldest chose Vibe, the teen club. (Technically at age 14 she would have been allowed at either the Teen or Tween club but after checking them both out, she chose the teens.) The oldest did not have to sign herself in or out which could be a little scary depending on the kid, but the ship provided Wave Phones in our stateroom (like a cell phone that works on the ship) so we were always in contact with her and knew when she was coming or going. The phones were also the means of communication with parents who had children at the Oceaneer Clubs. (They even send a reminder text close to closing time if you haven't picked your children up!) All the little ones get an RFID wrist band so they know where every child is at any moment, which is comforting.
We didn't use the pool area much, though the kids did the AquaDunk, the new adventure water slide. Most of the pool deck food was about as expected, though the pizza was actually pretty good, much better than we expected. The highlight was the soft serve ice cream machine - I think they had 6 flavors - and we ate lots of it. The sail away and Pirate Parties were fun, especially the Pirate Party fireworks. We were unprepared and didn't bring our pirate garb, but you can bet this girl will be ready next time!
Unfortunately we were cruising during the polar event that froze the eastern seaboard, so our weather was pretty lousy, though we really couldn't complain too loudly….we were in the Bahamas, after all! We had signed up and paid for the Dolphin Adventure at Atlantis and were originally scheduled to do the water park as well. Because of the rainy, windy conditions, they allowed us to downgrade our tickets to dolphins only, which was fortunate because it was really, really cold! Dolphin Cove provided wet suits and we had the opportunity to purchase their photos, and we are glad we did it, though we were glad to get back on the ship. Had the weather been better, we would have enjoyed spending time at Atlantis.
Castaway Cay was a great stop for us. Still cold, it was at least not raining when we docked! I reserved Cabana #9 based on the reviews I had read previously, and found that to be a good decision, though the cooler weather meant we could not take full advantage of everything. Although the cabana was pricey, we basically had a private beach, a cooler filled with soft drinks, snacks, someone bringing us adult drinks at the push of a button, big comfy chaise lounges, beach chairs, a hammock and lots of big beach towels, not to mention the sand toys and tubes that were available to us. Our cabana was near the end of the row which meant it was a bit of a hike to use the restroom, but we had almost no traffic on our end of the beach and we had a perfect view of the ship. The food on the island was fine, not as good as that on the ship. Our 14 year old went to the island version of the teen club, but the younger 2 just stayed and played in the ocean while my husband and I watched them from the comfort of the cabana and deck.
The one bedroom suite was unbelievable with lots of storage (walk in closet!) great living space and a HUGE balcony. The best part was that we had 2 full bathrooms. The bed was comfortable and the linens were nice. Our youngest slept in a murphy bed which was located in the bedroom, and the girls slept on the pullout in the living room. There was a wet bar and refrigerator with soft drinks, and we were provided daily snacks. The toiletries they provided were wonderful and I brought the rest of the shampoo home because I loved it so much. Our cabin attendant took good care of us, making sure we had chocolate and towel animals every night. Did I mention everyone had a plush robe in the right size??
Disney does an excellent job taking care of adults on board as well. There were many bars and lounges where the childless (or those with kids at the Oceaneer Club) could hang out. Their beer and wine menu was not as robust as we would have liked. Also, Disney does not offer a true "Beverage Package" like Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, though I guess that's understandable on a family oriented cruise. We ate one dinner at the adult-only Palo, an unforgettable dinner from the tasting menu. The service was impeccable and we will absolutely go back on future cruises.
We saw 2 first run movies: Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks, and saw 3 different theater shows while on board, all of which were outstanding. The theaters were beautiful and comfortable. One small gripe - they charge you for popcorn.
The day we had to disembark, our children cried real tears. They begged us to find a way to extend our trip. I must say, I was feeling the same way. We chose to keep our own luggage and walk off the ship with the first group of guests so we could get to the Magic Kingdom that day. We had a rental car parked in the Preferred Parking lot and were on the road to Orlando by 8 a.m. It was very efficient, and customs at Port Canaveral is a breeze, so much easier than anywhere else I've ever been.
I'm afraid we have spoiled our kids for any other cruise line, so I guess we'll have to go back to Disney. We have already booked our next cruise for next January on the Fantasy. We will see if it is worth the additional cost for the newer ship!