On June 12, 2010, my husband and I embarked on a long-awaited 12-day Disney Magic cruise to the Northern European capitals. We had cruised three times previously on Disney Cruise lines, including a 10-day Mediterranean cruise on Magic in 2007 (thoroughly delightful) and two four-day cruises on Disney Wonder, in combination with Disney World packages. We are also Disney Vacation Club members, although we did not use any points for this cruise. We are veteran cruisers, having cruised on RCCL, Princess, Holland America, American Hawaii, Oceania, Delta Queen/Majestic America, and Cunard in addition to Disney (we ended our trip after this recent cruise with our first transatlantic voyage on the QM2). We do not have children, but had found Disney Cruise Lines to be quite amenable in the past to cruisers without children; my elderly father came with us on the Mediterranean cruise and one of the four-day cruises and he really enjoyed it. He was also a veteran cruiser, with 44 cruises under his belt.
We boarded the ship in Dover and immediately had an issue. Our assigned cabin was 6588, mid-ships on Deck 6 (balcony cabin). This cabin was located directly across from a self-service laundromat open 24 hours; our room was filled with the smell of bleach and laundry detergent and we could hear people congregating in the laundromat and the hallway, talking loudly (why people were doing their laundry on the first day of the cruise was a mystery). I have severe asthma and could not stand to be around the smell of the chemicals, so we immediately went up to Guest Services to get our room assignment changed. This was a very expensive cruise, costing upwards of $11,000 for two people for a category six cabin, not to mention a one-night hotel stay in London booked through DCL that was nearly $600 and included a lovely view of huge HVAC equipment. We were extremely disappointed that DCL chose to assign us this cabin on the ship in this poor location. The laundromat does NOT show up on the on-line deck plans or on the deck maps that were available at Guest Services, so we did not know about this problem in advance.
We were told that any move to another cabin would have to wait until we sailed, due to issues with loading any last-minute travelers. We found out from staff members, while waiting in the public areas, that the cruise was only at 60% capacity and we knew it was highly unlikely that anyone would shell out thousands of dollars on the day of sailing to embark. We finally had to force the issue at 6:30 pm by being extremely emphatic and emotional about not accepting this room (this was ninety minutes after sailing, giving us very little time to unpack). The Guest Services folks finally reacted to my "hissy fit" and moved us to another balcony cabin in a much better location on Deck 7.
This issue with the assigned cabin was a negative start to our cruise adventure, but we were happy that it had been resolved, although it took a significant amount of time. On the QM2 transatlantic, we also had an issue with our assigned room due to extreme engine vibration and noise from the Queen's Room, but the staff reacted immediately and offered to move us in the middle of the night. And that cruise was near capacity!
In addition to the room assignment problem, we found the ship to be in poor repair (and it was supposedly in dry dock in 2009). This was very surprising, considering how meticulous Disney is about their facilities. There were broken chairs in Animator's Palate, our balcony in our new cabin had big rust spots in several locations, our bedspread looked like it was an original item from the inaugural sailing in 1998, our bathroom floors looked worn out, the plastic deck chairs by the pools were faded and worn out, there were stains in carpets in several locations, lights were not working in Animator's Palate, etc. Once you start seeing flaws, then you see more and more evidence of neglect.
The third issue was the quality of the food in the dining rooms, which was wildly variable, veering from almost inedible to above-average in a few cases. The food in Palo was excellent, as usual. Our server could see that we were not happy with the food on the second night, in Lumiere's, when three of us at our table of four had Beef Wellington that was mediocre at best. After that evening, our assigned table-mates disappeared from the dining room for several nights, preferring the Topsider Buffet! Unfortunately, the Disney response to this issue was to be overly solicitous to the point that we were completely annoyed. One evening in Animator's Palate, we had a very decent shrimp and pasta dish, but at the end of the meal our server brought us (without asking) a pork chop dish that we had praised from a previous dinner in Parrot Cay. We were full, but she stood there looking hurt until we ate several bites of the pork chop, treating us like recalcitrant children. My meal the last night (a seafood pasta) was indeed inedible, so this was very disappointing. In contrast, the very low key dining room service on Oceania and Cunard is wonderful and they would never dream of intruding in this manner. The Animator's Palate first-night "show" was also trimmed down in its effects and seemed almost ludicrous.
The fourth issue had to do with the incompetence of the shore excursion staff. I have some recent disabilities and use a cane or travel wheelchair, depending on the circumstances. I carefully researched every shore excursion that we booked in advance of this cruise and determined which ones were accessible or would not require much walking. Because of these issues, I would prefer to be near the front of the bus if at all possible so I don't have to try and walk down the narrow aisles. At our first port, we asked one of the staff about getting access to a seat near the front of the bus. He shrugged and told my husband "to run" to the bus pushing me in the wheelchair! At other ports, they were more aware of the need for handicapped seating and helped us get to the bus, but it was always a stressful situation and the rudeness of some of the able-bodied passengers didn't help, as they ran to the bus to get the front rows. This issue culminated in a shore excursion in Saint Petersburg that was advertised as "accessible" but required me to inform the shore excursion staff in advance. I did inform the staff (twice), but was almost forced to walk through the Hermitage, including navigating over 200 steps (I don't do steps well at all). The tour company, at the last minute, brought in a second guide to help us through the Hermitage using the single elevator.
The fifth issue: Unruly and uncontrolled children. We have "talked up" Disney to disbelieving adults without children that they can enjoy the experiences on the ship without having issues with the kids. Unfortunately, on this cruise, children were running down hallways and through lounges, cutting in front of disabled persons and making a lot of noise, rivaling the worst we have seen on other family cruise ships. Not sure what happened to the vaunted children's activities.
The sixth issue: This was our fourth cruise on Disney, totaling 30 days at sea, but we are still at the "silver" level in the Castaway Club, while someone who has done five 3-day cruises has reached the gold level. The levels do not take into account the cost and length of the cruise at all. After one cruise on Cunard, we are at silver level. Not sure it matters - Disney rarely gives discounts on cruise bookings anyway.
The seventh issue: We brought two Bluetooth keyboards with us to use with our iPads on this trip. We put them on the desk in our room and ended up not using them during the cruise. We did not remember seeing the keyboards the day we packed prior to debarkation the next day and they were not in our luggage when we got home. DCL has not yet contacted us about the left items. (We arrived home on July 1 and will contact them after the holiday weekend).
Eighth issue: The internet connection was extremely slow and unreliable on Disney Magic. As we had a similar experience on Regatta in March this year, we didn't think much of the situation, until we got on the QM2 and had the same MTN service, but it was very quick and reliable. Interesting...
Not all of our experiences on Disney Magic were negative. We thoroughly enjoyed the friendliness of the bar staff, loved hanging out in Cove Cafe (great staff), had terrific character interactions, and the entertainment was good (as always). We do plan to cruise on Disney again next year, a 3-day cruise to check out Disney Dream booked using our DVC points, but we believe they need to resolve some issues that were quite disappointing on this cruise. Being long-time Disney fans, we hope that this was an aberration and not what we can expect in the future.