Here were our impressions of the Magic and the Disney cruising experience:
CHECK IN / BOARDING THE SHIP: This took about an hour once we arrived at the port terminal. While that seems like a long time, NOBODY herds crowds of people through long lines as artfully as Disney. The hour came and went painlessly and before we knew it, we were on the ship.
CAST MEMBERS aka THE SHIP'S SERVICE CREW: In the 'mass hospitality' industry in general, Disney sets the standard as far as training their employees to treat guests like gold. Our DCL experience was consistent with that, starting with the greeters who welcomed us aboard, to the dinner servers and bartenders, right down to the maintenance staff. Every single crew member consistently said "hello" and smiled even when they were not serving you; even if, for example, you caught their eye while passing them in the hallway.
The service was always prompt, friendly, and outstanding and no one even gave a hint of attitude that they were taking the customers for granted. At no time did we feel that we were just "cattle" being farmed for gratuity money (even though as a cynic I know that is fundamentally true). They definitely work for their money, though, and leave you wanting to tip more than the minimum.
Again, this all boils down to training. I even heard secondhand that one of the crew was overheard being berated by a superior for "not being friendly enough"! Employee friendliness is evidently an aspect of the cruise that Disney takes very seriously!
STATEROOM - SIZE, AMENITIES, AND CLEANLINESS I found the stateroom to be more than adequate for two people. I doubt I would have been comfortable squeezing into it as a family of 4. However, it is possible that my requirements for personal space might diminish once we have kids. I am told by my wife it was "about the same size" as her RCCL stateroom was, though Disney claims their rooms are larger.
The bed was king sized which was great and was relatively comfortable. The pillows are soft and very squishy, which I prefer. There was also one quite firm memory foam contoured pillow in our room, but I was not clear on whether that was standard or had been accidentally left behind by another guest. The first night it did not have a pillowcase, but starting the second night, our stateroom host started putting a pillowcase on it. The blankets on the bed are nothing to write home about, and are not very heavy. My wife and I like the feel of a heavy comforter on us, so we used the bed cover on top of the blankets. After the second night, our host figured this out and stopped hiding it under the bed when he turned down our covers during dinner.
The AC kept the room at a perfect temperature and did not make any noise to speak of. For people like my wife who need white noise, this was not a problem, as the ship's engine generates plenty of its own droning white noise.
The TV was large sized (24" LCD flat screen) which was visible even with the curtains open. There was typically good programming to catch while getting ready for dinner, and several good current movies on the movie channels if we wanted to nap in front of the tube for a bit. The sofa flips into a twin bed which was frankly more comfortable to lounge on than the sofa.
Electrical outlets in the room are few, and they are not thoughtfully placed in the cabin. If you need to plug in a charger that hangs down below the outlet, like a camera battery charger, the only spot to do it is behind the TV. The other outlets have no clearance below them, as they are nearly flush with the desk.
We had a balcony, of which I made frequent use. I liked how private it was; when you're out there, no one else could really see you unless they happened to be in the adjacent room and they craned their head all the way around the divider to deliberately invade your space. However, the balcony is fairly small. It can comfortably accomodate two people sitting down, but no more. I was concerned at how vulnerable they were to secondary cigarette smoke; however, we lucked out and were not placed near any smokers. I never once detected a whiff of tobacco while out there. Lucky us, I guess. The people we sat with at dinner were not so lucky.
The split bathrooms are a fabulous idea, says my wife. Having two sinks is ideal for expediting the shaving/teethbrushing part of the cruise. Also the bathtub, while not big enough for two, is definitely adequate for one average-sized adult. We were very impressed with the ingenuity and layout of the bathroom area in general.
Closet space was minimal but adequate for one week. Disney provides plenty of hangers (about 20) which was a real plus. Dresser space was unfortunately lacking. We ended up using the desk as a second "dresser" which worked out Ok, but again, if we had two kids I don't know where we would have put their clothes.
FOOD / DINING: This is one of the highlights of the ship, again lending credit to Disney's expertise in the 'mass hospitality' arena. Disney's servers are trained to give you whatever you want. Period. Want two appetizers, two salads, and/or two entrees? That's fine! Want something not on the menu? Fine! Want to start with dessert first? I never tried that one, but I suspect it would be just fine.
The quality of the food overall was 5/5. The fruits and vegetables were always impeccably fresh and crisp. The appetizers were thoughtful and there was great variety. The salads were always very good. The soups were hit-or-miss, particularly some of the fruit-based soups. Nearly every entree I tried was a complete success. The chefs definitely know how to maximize the flavor in ingredients that are designed to present a cost-effective mid-to-high range meal with mass appeal. At no time did I feel that Disney was skimping on quality to save money during dinner; the meals were all, at minimum, comparable in quality to something you would get at a nice chain restaurant. Most were better.
The only complaint I have is regarding the desserts; they were of lesser quality than the other courses and were very repetitive. They re-used the same basic ingredients and just found different shapes and names for them throughout the week. Their cheesecake, specifically, is pitiful; it tasted like one of those no-bake Jell-O cheesecake mixes. Granted, those are yummy in their own right, but they aren't actually cheesecake and shouldn't be called such on a menu. They re-used the same chocolate ganache and chocolate cake, the same custard base, and that awful Jell-O cheesecake mix in nearly all of their desserts.
We also dined at Palo. Palo uses more expensive ingredients in many areas of the meal and is easily worth the upcharge if you are culinarily savvy enough to appreciate the difference. The service is also more energetic and personalized in Palo; the waiters in the general dining area get promoted to Palo if they are good enough, so you are getting the best of the best of Disney's service here.
Palo's food is comparable to that found in a very expensive restaurant; caviar, king crab, exotic cheeses, etc. As with the other restaurants, you can try as many things as you want, so don't be shy here. Not every dish will resonate with everyone, but the increase in food preparation expertise and in ingredient quality is undeniable even in dishes that "miss" with your expectations or preferences. I must add here that Palo's dessert selections were a welcome change after a week of the repetitive desserts in the other restaurants.
The lunch buffet at Topsider's and the quick-service locations were delightful, in my opinion. I had expected much lower quality food in these locations, and I was consistently impressed to the contrary. Even the pizza in Pinocchio's Pizzeria was darn passable. Imagine how difficult it must be to bake pizza and keep it from getting moist, in 95% humidity at sea level. I don't know how Disney did it, but they did it.
ENTERTAINMENT - SHOWS: Disney's shows are top-notch, Broadway-quality, but as you'd expect, they are all Disney themed, which got quite boring after two or three days of it. I found myself wishing for a NON-DISNEY themed show, just something random for variety's sake. Guys and Dolls or Brigadoon or something. A magic show. A stand-up comedian. Anything. Just please, give us a break from shoving Disney down our throat once in a while!
It especially got dull when people started reprising their roles from the previous shows, later in the week. For example, the same actors in their same costumes for Cinderella and Prince Charming in "Twice Charmed", later appeared in TWO other shows afterward. Show me Cinderella waltzing with Prince Charming once, okay, that's a nice refresher. Twice, three times, it just gets old and does not warm the heart or feel magical anymore. It's sort of like the dining room chefs re-using the same dessert ingredients and calling it a new dessert. It doesn't fool anyone, we know it's the same dessert with a new name.
The Disney-written one-hour shows were very thin on plot, and were mostly just flash and costume wrapped in brilliant vocals singing all-too-familiar (read: tired and overplayed) Disney anthems. The actors that Disney employs are far too talented to be wasted on this. These kids can sing and dance at the highest levels needed for stage theater. Disney should put them to better use than they currently are. Twice Charmed and Disney Dreams are keepers, but the rest of the shows need to be reworked or replaced.
ADULT ENTERTAINMENT - THE REST OF IT (NOT THE SHOWS) If you're an adult and you like: a) the bar scene b) the nightclub scene c) playing bingo all week d) lounging around a pool (or your stateroom) all week e) bidding on overpriced wall art prints at auction ...then you'll be fine.
Chances are that most people can probably fill a week being "comfortably bored" aboard the Magic. I frankly do not enjoy most of the activities they had scheduled for adults, but I managed to deal with it because I enjoy downtime, and I was there for a relaxing vacation filled with empty leisure time and a ton of great food, which is exactly what I got.
However, I can easily see how an adult in need of more engaging activities than Bingo and teenybopper-style deck dance parties could feel out-of-place and bored on this cruise.
OVERALL My wife says she will never go on a non-Disney cruise again if she can help it. It was heads and tails better than her RCCL experience, which she has always raved about prior to this cruise.
Since this was my only cruise experience, I have nothing to compare it to, but I would rate it 5/5 on a scale of 1 to 5. The gripes I listed above about show variety, adult entertainment and activity variety, and dessert variety are minor, and are easily overlooked during the span of a week.
I have heard stories about other cruise lines that make them sound like a weekend in Las Vegas. I definitely appreciate Disney's family-friendly atmosphere compared to a seedy-feeling party boat.
Overall, now that I've tried it, I don't think cruising is my favorite way to vacation, though I will probably cruise again in the future. It is just too expensive for what you get. I could eat like a king for a lot less money elsewhere, if all I'm going to do is lounge around or read a book in the meantime.
Speaking of value, I understand that Disney in general is more expensive than other cruise lines. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to compare values for you. All I can say is that the Disney service was impeccable, their service is top-notch, and the food was excellent. I am not blinded by a love of Disney, those are my true opinions about what I got for my money. I'm a frugal man and I don't see the value in cruising, in general. However if I were going to cruise again, based on what I've heard, read, and experienced first hand, I would probably spend the extra money and cruise Disney again. It was an excellent experience.
Castaway Cay is a place I wish every Disney cruise spent more time. The layout was perfect; an adult beach separated by quite a bit of distance from the family and kids' beaches, each section having its own bar and barbecue restaurant. And there were frequent trams to cart people back and forth. The snorkeling was great, the water was warm, and the setting was serene. If I had a complaint it would be that there were not enough beach chairs at Serenity Bay.
Even though we only had about two hours here before it thunderstormed, cutting our best port of call far short of what it could have been, my wife and I had a great time and would gladly go back to Castaway Cay. I would rather spend three days here and skip all the other ports of call.
Unfortunately, the easygoing nature was most prevalent in their bartenders, who did not seem in a hurry to serve us drinks even when my wife and I were the only customers in the bar.
Furthermore, you could not even walk on the beach without being accosted to rent two chairs, an umbrella, and a bucket of beer for $15.
I definitely did not feel like a welcome visitor to the island; it was more like I was wading through a vat of leeches and horseflies.
St. Maarten gave off the impression that, SOMEWHERE on the island, there was peace, quiet, and natural beauty. I can only assume that these things were located far, far away from the port and the downtown area. However, the hassle and expense involved in getting that far from the ship was prohibitive.
The lack of personal space and a sense of humanity made it overall a negative experience for me and for my wife. I would not deliberately return to St. Maarten again.