My wife, 6 year old daughter and I sailed on the Disney Magic from Los Angeles to Florida on the Eastbound 2008 Panama Canal 15 day voyage. We had a great time, detailed below.
Embarkation- LA was not as smooth as Disney's port Canaveral terminal. Different officials gave conflicting information, and boarding was quite slow, but we were on the ship by about 1:15pm, having arrived about 11am.
On board Service- Polite, efficient, knowledgeable, and friendly without exception. What more could you ask for? Anyone that didn't like this crew is impossible to please.
Food-main restaurants were good, with appetizers & salads better than entrees. There were occasionally disappointments, especially beef dishes. Fish and chicken dishes were always better. I heard several people say that the food wasn't as good as it used to be but I found it to be about the same as our last cruise on DCL 2 ½ years ago. Disney really sweats the details, and made sure that our assigned dining seat mates had children of similar age to our daughter, and we enjoyed their company very much. At Palo, the reservations only restaurant, the food was outstanding. I had hoped that on a 2 week cruise we could snag a 2nd Palo dinner reservation, but we were too far down the wait list. We did get brunch there, however. I don't care for Topsider's buffet. At the price we pay for DCL, I have no desire to carry around a cafeteria tray looking for a place to sit in this cramped space. Parrot Cay restaurant also has a breakfast buffet most days, but a host takes you to a table and it is much less crowded and less cafeteria-like than Topsiders, so it's a better option.
Children's activities- Still a top notch program in terms of staff, but there was a small glitch for us. On our first DCL cruise our daughter was 4 and loved the program so much she asked to go. Now at 6 ½, she wasn't so thrilled and only went when we needed her to. The problem is this: There is a very well set up space called the Oceaneers Club that is perfect for the 3&4 year olds. There is another space called the Oceaneers Lab, with computers and more sophisticated gadgets, for the 8 to 10 year olds. Our daughter's group, the 5 to 7 year olds, split their time between these two spaces. As a result, our daughter only wanted to go if the activities were scheduled for the Lab, as she felt the Club was for babies. The difference between 3-4 year olds and 5-7 year olds is like night and day, so the 5 to 7 year olds need their own turf. I hope the new ships take this into account. . (There are also spaces for pre-teens and teenagers.)
Ship's condition and design: Our veranda stateroom and most public interiors were in excellent condition, and very clean. However the pool deck is showing its age, with visible rust stains, chipped tile and worn finishes. I understand the upcoming drydock (September 08) will involve a major re-working of the adult pool, with new cushioned deck chairs and waterfalls from the whirlpools into the pool. The kid's Mickey pool will get a new water play area similar to the one already added to the Disney Wonder. For the crowds they get, the main "Goofy" pool needs to be larger but this can't really be changed. Topsiders buffet is also very worn, but everywhere else it still felt like a first class ship. During drydock the cabins are also slated to get flat screen TVs and I believe new bedding. The Art Deco interiors are timeless, and aren't looking dated like flashier interiors on other ships.
Spa and fitness-This area is in excellent condition, good equipment, rarely crowded. The rainforest room (steam/sauna/heated lounges and showers, an extra fee required) is a pleasant retreat. I paid for a pass for the length of the cruise but felt like a bit of a sucker for doing so, as there is no attendant so no one checks to see if the people in here paid for it. Anyone could walk right in.
Entertainment: Still first rate, with excellent shows every night with high quality performances and special effects in a well designed theater. Two exceptions: The magician (Darrin Romeo) was an over the top Vegas style singer/magician that just did nothing for me, and the previously excellent show "Twice Charmed" had problems. Several props and sound effects didn't work, and it seemed to throw the cast's timing off. It was actually kind of funny. In one scene, the bed was supposed to spin around while Cinderella cries out; but the bed just sat there while she cried out for no apparent reason! There are many performers in several venues each night, so you are bound to find something you like. It's not all Disney characters. Wine tasting seminars by Michael Jordan (not that Michael Jordan...) were excellent. There was a concert by Disney stars Allie and AJ which I didn't attend (I'm showing my age by admitting I had never heard of them). My wife took our daughter, and said the kids in the audience loved it and were screaming for more.
The crowd: This was the only down side, of course not DCL's fault. Any ship has a handful of selfish types who save lounge chairs at the pool or push in line at the buffet, but since this was a 15 day special itinerary with over 80% repeat DCL cruisers, there were a lot of what I will politely call "Disney-philes". These are primarily middle aged moms who would steal candy from a baby if it was in the shape of Mickey Mouse. Their pushy, aggressive, entitled attitude was off-putting to say the least. At one point there was a deck party for kids, and they were offering spray-on fake tattoos of Mickey, the kind kids love. My daughter wanted one but was pushed out of line by a horde of Disney-philes, who just had to have one, not for their kids, but for themselves...yes that's right, grown adults pushing aside the kids for fake tattoos. Sad. One of the children's program staffers noticed my daughter's disappointment and gave her some small toys that were left over prizes from the games they had for the party. Like I said, there isn't a bad employee on this ship. The Disney-philes also loved to save 10 or 20 prime seats in the Theater despite constant announcements saying seat saving was forbidden. They were starting to get to me, but my wife reminded me that I could choose to be bothered, or just relax and remember that we were fortunate enough to have two weeks on a great ship, with a terrific crew and amazing sights to see. After that wise advice, I just viewed the Disney-philes with amusement the way one views zoo animals, watching them push and herd from event to event, and imagined them chanting "mine...mine...mine..." like those dead-eyed seagulls in the movie "Finding Nemo". These creatures couldn't have had much fun, always worrying about being first, getting more.
Itinerary: Since this is a rare itinerary for DCL, It isn't too useful to get detailed about each port, but I would rate Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta as pleasant, and Acapulco as forgettable. To be fair, we only hade half a day in Acapulco and it was raining. We did a dolphin encounter in Puerto Vallarta, which allows you to get in the water and touch the dolphins, and learn about them. The Dolphin swim had been sold out, but it wasn't much different except that they get to go around the pool once holding on to a dolphin's fin. The photos taken by the park's staff were a stunning $17 a piece so we passed on them but very much enjoyed the experience. The passage through the Panama Canal was fascinating, the highlight of the trip, and they narrated the voyage and had great seminars beforehand by a retired Panama Canal Ship's pilot. If you ever go through the canal, don't worry too much about snagging a space up top at the bow (crowded and reserved at 5am by the previously mentioned pushy Disney-philes anyway). You see more from the side of the ship, watching the locomotives and operations as the ship is moved through the locks. The promenade deck was an excellent viewing position, and if you have a veranda cabin that works well too. Aft decks were less crowded than the bow and offered a fine view. People on shore and on freighters watched and waved to us too, as the Disney Magic is a striking ship that grabs attention. We also stopped at Cartegena, Columbia. It looked like an interesting city but we made a poor choice of excursions, taking a Mangroves boat tour. Lots of waiting around, a brief paddle through the mangroves and then sitting out on a lake for an eternity. There was no narration by the boat operator, and some boats were taking on water and had to be continuously bailed out! We should have just walked around Cartegena's old town, and skipped the cheesy tour. We also stopped in Aruba, which was much nicer than I expected, and everyone I talked to liked it. Here, we went on a tour to DePalm Island, a beach/water activity park that was clean and very well run. The price included beach access, snorkel gear, a water slide complex, and lunch. There was excellent beginner Snorkeling with large Parrot Fish and calm, warm water. The water slide complex was a lot of fun. Finally it was off to Castaway Cay, which is still a great spot, written about in many other DCL reviews. Our timing was perfect, as we were too far south when Hurricane Gustav passed and too far west for the approaching Hurricane Hannah. On the Caribbean, the water was almost glass-smooth. I had heard the Pacific could be rough but we had no problems.
Disembarkation: We signed up for on-board airline check in. If you have purchased Disney bus transportation to the Orlando airport, this service is offered at no extra charge. You register at the beginning of the cruise, and then you get your airline boarding passes and baggage tags delivered to your stateroom the night before the end of the cruise. Your checked bags are taken from stateroom to airport for you so you don't see them until you get to your home airport. Once the ship was cleared, we walked through customs, got on the bus, then at the airport we skipped the hassle of ticketing and baggage drop off. It worked perfectly and I recommend it. Your departure flight needs to be leaving after 1 PM to participate in this program, and not all airlines participate, so ask at cruise check in.
To sum it up, DCL once again did a great job and gave us an easy, worry free time with plenty to do. I have no hesitation in recommending it as a terrific family vacation.