A quick note about embarkation, we stayed and did some park days prior and then got to port (we park offsite), had a fine experience getting our shuttle and getting to port and getting right on. We were eating lunch on deck by 12:30 and if we had gotten out earlier, we could have been on even earlier than that. Embarkation at Port Canaveral is a breeze, even with a crowd.
This was our second Disney cruise, and one that we planned far in advance (as opposed to the first one on the Dream last year which was short notice and we didn't know a lot of what to expect.) Our 2013 Dream blew us away so we booked a 4 night this year on the updated Magic. Because we loved our Blue Lagoon Sea Lion experience at Nassau so much, we decided to do over the same itinerary as last year, and both islands again wowed us. (Nassau and Castaway Cay.) As for our cruise experience, overall, its definitely in one of my top cruises.
A big part of this is due to the incredible staff we experienced all over the ship. Special kudos to their Adult Cruise Entertainment Director Andy from England. From the very first 80s themed night and Magic "Quest", he and his crew had us literally (and I mean quite literally!) rolling all over the floor in absolutely laughter. It was one of the funniest nights of our life. It was wonderful that Disney had the adults only entertainment that was top notch without needing 4 letter words or getting a bit too uncomfortable. Perfect balance here. We actually spent time every single evening in the AfterHours area in O'Gills Pub (with trivia, and also had a wonderful nacho, veggie and dip and appetizer bar which helped get us to our 8:15 dinner), and Keys (incredible pianists and very relaxing and the best Martini our friends had ever had), and Fathoms (with karaoke, or game shows, or dance club, or trivia, or bingo, a little bit of everything.)
Continuing on the Entertainment theme, should be a very special mention for the Twice Charmed stage show. This show currently sits in my top favorite due to its high end look and feel (even though it is about Cinderella, it wasn't overly juvenile). I felt like I was watching a colorful, perky version of Cinderella meets Les Mis, that is how good the caliber of talent was. The set and costumes were top notch. Prince Charming, is this guy for real!? 5 Stars there alone for him! :) A close second was the very enjoyable but somewhat more juvenile Disney Dreams stage show. Big applause goes to their Peter Pan, who committed every minute to his character. I would have loved to play all night in my room with him like Ann Marie did. All the talent in this one was good also, and lots of good effects. It was like every Disney movie you have ever watched: Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Lion King, Peter Pan, Pinnochio, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and so on. Definitely not one to miss, but slightly less appealing to me than Twice Charmed. If you like Disney parades, you would like this show. It had a staged parade feel to me with all the characters. Very fun and a great way to the end the cruise. In third place was the variety ventriloquist who had the kids laughing in the aisles (and we enjoyed it too.) A very distant fourth place mention goes to the Magic version of Villains Tonight! We had seen this show on the Dream, and its set and talent were quite a bit better (nothing against Ursula or Cruella though). It seems like they needed something to fill the night, and it wasn't nearly as elaborately done as the Dream version. Hades did carry his roll and there were laughs, but I was glad that they placed it on the opening show night, since it got dramatically better from there. Unfortunately some of our group who went to Villains didn't bother coming back to Twice Charmed the next day, which as you can tell, I find very unfortunate! Since that was the star for me. Still, anyone of these shows blows away the competition for any of the other cruise line staged shows I've seen. Not at any point did I wish to have my 45 or so minutes back. And the Twice Charmed and Dreams left us utterly delighted. In addition to these live entertainers, we enjoyed thoroughly the new Captain America movie that played in the giant theater on the sea day. We packed the place out, it was a cool enjoyable afternoon and we appreciated the movie admission included. Never made it to Frozen, unfortunately. Speaking of which, the Kids karaoke, that was about all any of them sung! If you go to the DLounge for Family Karaoke (typically a favorite), be prepared to hear a TON of Snowman and Let it Go! since they just got those songs in about 2 sailings ago. My condolences to the karaoke crew!
Moving on to dining, we had top notch experience again. Bo from Croatia was impeccable. He was perfect for our mostly adult needs (in that he didn't do magic tricks, but he got all the orders right), and you can tell he likes delivering professional service. The beverage waiter, although highly recommended, seemed a bit behind this time. However, I got plenty of tea and coffee so I can't complain. Andre from South America was our Palo brunch waiter. Bo and Andre were both STELLAR for handling out Gluten Sensitivity. We had placed this on our reservation early, and we had all kinds of goodies waiting every night. The chef would already order a GF desert for us so it would come with everyone elses. Additionally, Levent from Hungary was our Head Waiter. I would dearly love to take that man home with me! He ordered an entire apple pie made for our table (not the kiddie pie) since my husband LOVES apple pie, he made sure all of our allergies were handled (I think he was the one ordering the GF deserts for us), and even had 2 platters of GF chicken tenders made for us, and warmed up for later since we weren't able to pick them up at 6 before the show. This is a Head Waiter who earns every bit of his tip. (Normally on cruise lines, its like who is that guy? NOT so with either of the Head Waiters on Disney.) Top marks to all our dining teams. Andre would snap his fingers and order us GF pizzas, and the king of the Palo brunch for us: DEATH BY PANCAKES, gluten free. Where else could we ever eat so decadently and not pay for it later? I give our dining a 99% grade. And as far as dining goes, this one fits snuggly right in between DINING and ENTERTAINMENT as we got to experience the highly anticipated interactive drawing show in Animator's Palette on the last night. It was MUCH more involved and delightful than I had thought. They even inserted the characters into classic Disney scenes, and we had just drawn them a few minutes earlier! Major kudos for this technology. It was REALLY special. I was glad, because last year's Nemo themed Turtle Talk in Animator's on Dream blew our family away, and they had high expectations. My favorite dinner choice was Carioca's, because it was a meat/seafood paradise. Although I did enjoy the brown rice risotto (it was off the vegetarian menu but they added tiger shrimp for protein for me.) Some kind of pink marshmallow dessert the chef sent us was our favorite desert and we are still talking about it. Also, the cheesecake was great too. We couldn't finish it before Pirate night, but we took it back to the room with us and had it with tea before bed. In all instances, having a good sensitivity presented no problem at all. I would give the food a solid 90%! And we had great service from quick service at Pete's Boiler Bites too. The shwarma stand was well received in general. Another note about Palo brunch, my steak and potatoes man did not like it, it was a waste for him. My oysters rockerfeller loving brother in law was in pure HEAVEN and thought the cheese plate alone was worth the extra fee. So if you have a husband that like burgers and steaks, skip the brunch. If your husband (or you) LOVE seafood, than sit by me and we will enjoy it! :)
Moving on to the actual ship, I have already mentioned the updated Animator's Palette, which was high tech and BEAUTIFUL. Carioca's, lively and exceptional menu and pretty as well. These are new updated areas. We did ride the Twist n Spout (felt the seams along my back, and a bit slow for adults, but you gotta try it right?) We also did AquaDUNK. Not Duck, DUNK. Thrilling, most definitely. Fast, like lightning. My experience featured getting tons of water EVERYWHERE it could go. In my eyes, in my nose, and more, but I'll leave it there. Time and preference meant I only rode it once. I ended up in the Quiet Cove hot tubs more than on the slides. Nice guitar music, I LOVED that area. Somehow, despite the rock concert loud pool deck, this spot really was quiet! Unless you happen to be in the hot tub when the ship horns sound to leave the island, like we were. What? I can't hear you! Talk about an UNQuiet Cove at that moment! (The horns are right above us.) But this was a lovely area in general. Adults only too, but they didn't seem to be entirely strict about that. We have the premise that as long as you don't bother us, we don't care. None of the "are they really 18?" bothered us, so we didn't care.
The halls, the atrium, the dining areas, the show areas, the AfterHours areas, all the NEW areas were every bit as nice as the Dream. Unfortunately, the staterooms don't come close. The bathrooms were not part of the update, and you can definitely tell. One stateroom (7129) in our group had a continual leak, but they didn't complain because it's more Disney's problem than theirs. We had an AC vent (7127) that was creaking and clamoring all night, and when an officer in the atrium asked, my husband told him about it. It never did creak again (they might have had maintenance come while we were on the island because it was much quieter after), but I had constant telephone calls from Guests Services the entire cruise asking to follow up about it, (and 2 bottles of wine were left in our room as apologies. Sadly, we never got to open them, but we did appreciate them! Family drove back with them since we were flying, and they will be our next family reunion goody.) The biggest complaint came from our parents in 7130, a solid wall veranda. Turns out, that solid wall is QUITE high, so even though I told my parents it would be solid, they couldn't see past it at all. That wasn't necessarily Disney's fault, just fyi to everyone else out there. They claim they would have paid more for a see-through one, but who knows. Their chief complaint about their room came from some sort of floor problem. Either a major dip or hole or some kind of big bump under the carpet. They complained throughout the trip. On the final cruise morning, the staff finally moved them to another room, and this time they could see through the veranda. So guest services did finally do the right thing and move them, but with one night left. Not sure how much of this was my parents complaining or an actual concern that with them being aged, they could actually trip over it. Our room was comfortable, but the consensus of the group is that there is a lot more to be desired for the room conditions and their updates. The beds slept GREAT!!! They were so comfortable, the carpet and hair dryers (although they left the nasty old ones up?) were great updates. I also just now remembered that our friends in 2139 actually got stuck in their bathroom when the door jammed. The room steward busted them out, but someone else I met on the cruise talked about actually having to be let out by maintenance. We didn't spend much time in our rooms, our room steward was wonderful, and after they fixed the vent, we slept well. But the dry dock did not fully address the rooms, and as I have been told, they are still continuing to work on the AC and plumbing problems. This was the biggest part that we noticed that could use more pixie dust. The youth counselors didn't effect me personally (no kids here), but friends that were with us noted that they seemed very overwhelmed and did not give their service or their activities as high marks as their Dream counselor activities. The 8 year old with them was glad when we picked him up from Castaway Cay clubs, and that was in stark contrast to his first Dream cruise on Castaway Cay where he begged and begged to stay longer. We also dropped him off after 12 since he went on the catamaran snorkel with us, so it could have been timing too. They wouldn't let him do the whale dig after that.
In general, I can say that the ship entertainment and dining and guest services staff did a wonderful job with what they had, which is a really pretty older ship with new carpeting and water slides, updated dining and adult areas, and atrium, and a fresh coat of paint. But its still an older ship and you can tell. It was fine for me for 4 days, but I was not jumping at the gun to book it again for something as expensive as Europe. After my 4 days, I felt like I had done everything I needed to do and enjoyed my trip immensely, although the family complaints were a bit annoying. The non cruise of the bunch (brother in law) actually said he had no complaints and thought nothing was wrong with the cruise. That is about as good as we could have hoped. We had great weather, great experiences on the islands again, but the ship did feel crowded to us (and most of the time, people think Dream is more crowded) and the island did too. I feel like the entertainment staff outdid themselves because they had perhaps less people so they could connect more with us, or maybe its because we were there every day. It felt very personalized.
I have been on some beautiful newer ships on other cruise lines that I couldn't wait to get off because the staff was so unprofessional and rude, or unfriendly and not helpful. So to me, I appreciate the wonderful ship experience in terms of the people. We got photos with Rapunzel and she was SO fun! (But there were lots of lines for characters, I even saw one mother about to jump the handler if she didn't get a photo with Jack Sparrow when he informally cut the line off.) The photographers took wonderful photos and we bought a few, and they also took some with your own camera. So the experience was definitely Magical! It does make me question booking on the Wonder though. Family members still preferred the Crush show on the Dream to the interactive animation show. Others lamented that their weren't the midship detective interactive games all over the ship, and I was hoping for the on demand channels similar to the Dream, although we always found something good to watch when we wanted something. I think for us, we will stick to the newer ships if we are with our family. Regarding Pirate Night, we still preferred the Dream with Jack Sparrow as the pirate dance party seemed much, much more geared for young kids. (Although lookout for Stitch's awesome moves! Wowee!) Mickey comes down the zipline, and its ok. But the fireworks still receive great marks! But it wasn't the same as the Dream for us, it was just for the younger crowd. (Thankfully, it was 2 for 1 happy hour so I enjoyed myself anyway! And we got GREAT pirate costume photos!)
We really enjoyed our catamaran snorkel on Castaway Cay, although they didn't take you very far around the island (so not a lot of boat time), but we did see lots of fish and even a barracuda and had wonderful service on that excursion as well. Our Blue Lagoon sea lion was changed up a bit due to sea lions in encounter training (the one we had last year was recovering from some sort of ailment so they had to bring in a younger one), and so the majority of the encounter was out of the water and it was HOT (even though they had shade.) The last part in the water was nice, but not as good as last year. Still, they are much more concerned about their animal's welfare and for that, I appreciate and salute them. The dolphins were great to watch, and one came and threw a basketball up to me while I was waiting on the deck! We passed it back and forth, so that was neat. Bottom line, I wouldn't hesitate to book the encounter or go to the island in a minute as it still wowed everyone anyway. Thankfully, all the rain that came through the few days prior had stopped and we had nothing but sun, and LOTS of it. We also had calm seas the entire time and not a bit of ship motion. Thank goodness!
One note about cleanliness, which Disney typically receives incredible remarks for. A few of the public restrooms' conditions surprised me. I figured the cleaning crew hadn't been by yet... On a different note, we used the fitness room on the Magic, and while it was really cramped, there was plentiful equipment and it was as good as any gym I have used on a cruise ship. It didn't look old and was well kept up. Everyone on the machines had fun things to choose, such as movies or even games like solitaire.
If it is just me, I would cruise Magic or Wonder in the future since I loved the personal experience and entertainment and don't need moving pictures to make my cruise. In general, everyone had a really great time on the cruise, and it was as successful as one could have hoped. (Which is more than I can say regarding the Land portion in the parks with their new fast pass system. But that's not the cruise line's fault.) However, as a group, I would consider only the newer ships from here on out. We started on the Dream, and the Magic was just slightly under that from a ship point of view.
Another quick note about debarkation, we let our parents collect our luggage that we put out the night before, and we ran to breakfast, got through customs at about 7:40am and made it to SeaWorld by 9:20 (we had to wait for a few others, or else we would have been even earlier.) Our parking shuttle was right there waiting for us even at 7:40, and it was easy peasy to debark the ship.
I hope this summary helps you in your cruising future!