My husband and I have taken a number of cruises on both coasts and in Europe, so we decided to take our adult children and 2 grandchildren (age 6 and 7) on a Disney Cruise in early December in the Western Caribbean, stopping in Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Castaway Cay.
We arrived in Florida one day early and stayed in Cocoa Beach, using a one-way car rental from Dollar Car Rental at both ends of the trip. Embarkation was a breeze - we arrived in the middle of our assigned arrival time ( 11:30-12:00). Signing up for the Kid's club was more time intensive and could have waited until onboard. We walked right in, stopping for a few photos along the way, were greeted and directed to Parrot Cay for a very nice buffet lunch. Since we took all our bags with us (we only had carryons), it was great to put them out of the way and go eat in a relaxed setting. Our grand-daughter (7) discovered Disney's Mac & Cheese that day and never varied from it.
My daughter was very impressed with their large inside cabin - the arrangement with the kid's bunks (i.e. couch) off to one side and then the queenbed at the far end of the cabin made the room seem very open. Our oceanview room had the couch (single bed) by the window, so the room wasn't as large feeling, but still very well set-up. The split bath was helpful with 3 adults (or 2 and 2). Storage for clothing was quite good -- we used the tip about over-the-door organizers, which worked well.
We thought the Magic, though an older ship, was in good condition -- never had any issues. The size of the ship is nice -- we generally prefer smaller ships, and not having a casino was a big plus for us -- mostly because there wasn't smoke all over the center of the ship.
The abundance of activities was a bit overwhelming, even for the children -- we're used to a more laid-back style of cruising, but this was all about the family and the kids. The main evening shows were wonderful -- probably the best we have seen on a ship. The children loved them. The kids went to the Oceaneer Club a few times, but the highlight of the trip was the Mickey Pool -- I thought it would be too shallow for them, but it was great for playing. I was disappointed in the Goofy pool, however,- very unattractive with its straight sides, no gradual depth, etc -- about the most uninviting pool I've seen on a ship. We were also disappointed to have no hot tubs in the Mickey Pool area. We were generally able to get at least one lounge chair near the pool, but there didn't seem to be much in the way of pool attendants monitoring and removing used towels from unoccupied loungers.
The service on the ship was fine -- but not over-the-top wonderful as we'd heard. Several times our room went several hours without being made up even though the linen cart was right outside the room and we'd requested service. The dining staff tried hard, but didn't quite make the grade compared to other cruises we've been on. They were also a bit too "cutesy" for us -- my adult daughters had had enough by the time the week was over. They did really try to connect with the children, with moderate success (we have rather non-responsive kids regarding strangers). The dining options on the pool deck were actually some of the best we've had and since it's the only option for off-dining times, that was good.
We had some issues with specific food needs -- the no sugar added options were extremely limited -- and nothing available except in the dining room. After two days of requests, our server (and head server) ordered special bread (whole grain) from the kitchen -- we have several family members who have to limit carbohydrates for medical reasons, so the fun, white breads weren't workable for us. Probably the biggest issue regarding dining is having the buffet closed so much -- that you had to use the "fast food" options if your schedule didn't match the dining hours -- very frustrating when you return from town at 2:00 and want lunch. Also, having the dining rooms open at all different hours was confusing.
We do not generally take ship excursions, but we had great days in port -- thanks to many bits of advice and recommendations on Cruise Critic and Tripadvisor.com.
Castaway Cay isn't on the port list - it was a hit. After the rough seas at Cayman, the kids were hesitant in the sea, but renting the large, clear inner tubes worked really well -- they could see a few fish from the tube. We were disappointed that the snorkeling area was so far out that the kids couldn't snorkel out there -- even my adult daughter who is a very strong swimmer felt that it was too time consuming to swim that far out. The food was good at Cookies II -- and never really very busy. Rain sent everyone scurrying back to the ship at about 3:00, so the tram lines were long -- most of us walked back, which wasn't all that far. A couple of good hints we'd found online -- the wagons at the tram are free to use as are the snorkel vests (we had our own snorkels) at the lifeguard stands.
Disembarkation was a breeze -- since we only had carry-ons, we didn't need to wait for baggage, but it appears that Disney doesn't clear the ship until bags are out and available. Having to show up for a 6:45 breakfast was a bit much - you are assigned a time based on your dinner time (early or late) -- wished we'd known that before -- we would have planned something more for that morning onshore.
Probably the best thing we did on this trip was to go to Blue Spring State Park in Florida (slightly north and inland from the Port Canaveral). During the winter (late November thru February), the manatees are in the spring -- we saw over 70 in one morning, including mothers with nursing babies. I would highly recommend it for a post-cruise activity unless you have to go straight back to the airport.
Overall, I would say we had a great trip, but I probably would not choose to cruise with Disney again -- even with the grandkids, I would choose something not quite so "over-the-top" cute. It was fun to do once, but I'm afraid that the Disney Cruise just didn't meet my expectations.
A note about Dollar Car Rental -- they have, by far, the best price for one-way rentals to Port Canaveral BUT the service counter at Cocoa Beach is not very efficient. There was a huge line waiting for the shuttle to the port (we took a taxi - $3.00 per person -- well worth it) and the counter was processing both returning cars and outgoing cars all at once. After our return, we had to wait for four shuttles at the port (and there was still a long line behind us) -- we didn't have a schedule, so we waited -- this time the service counter was going much better and soon we were on our way in a brand new minivan. I'd definitely use them again, but would plan for more time at the rental lot in Cocoa Beach.