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Disney Cruise Line - Wonderful or simply Magical?
What could be a more perfect way to spend a holiday than combining the magic that is Disney with the luxury of a Caribbean cruise?
My family and I have been extremely fortunate in that we have experienced the Disney cruise experience on more than one occasion.
Our most recent cruise was on the 7 night Western Caribbean itinerary aboard the vessel MS Disney Magic. We have also been on the 7 day Eastern Caribbean itinerary and the 3 day and 4 day schedules.
The ship departs from Port Canaveral on the east coast of Florida. Arriving at the port you see many large ships all waiting to depart to exotic sounding destinations and then into view comes the unmistakeable twin red funnelled outline of the Disney ship.
On the stern of the ship is a figure of Goofy washing the ship; whilst on the Wonder are figures of Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.
Many passengers arrive aboard exclusively provided Disney Cruise Line coaches, but as we were travelling independently we drove to the port and there is plenty of passenger parking at the terminal. As you unload your bags at kerbside, this is the last you see of them until they arrive outside your cabin door.
Through security and up the escalator brings you into the check in area. This is neatly separated into check in for US citizens and check in for foreign nationals.
After much form filling and ID checking, at last that special moment when you are handed your “key to the world card”. Lose this at your peril. Not only does it serve as the key to your cabin door, it is also the card you use for signing privileges onboard.
All the while that check in is taking place, many of the Disney characters, who are going to be spending the next week aboard with you, are out and about in the terminal for the first of many “Kodak” moments.
More security to pass through, you can’t be too careful these days, and at last you arrive at the entrance to the ship. And there, to greet you at the door is Captain Mickey looking resplendent in his uniform. Your family is announced to the assembled crew and you are cordially welcomed aboard.
Off to find your cabin, and if you are lucky and your luggage arrives quickly, you can use this time to unpack before the sail away fun begins, up on deck.
We have always had a cabin large enough for 4 people, ample wardrobe space and drawer space. A WC and wash hand basin in one bathroom, and a wash hand basin and bath with shower in a second bathroom.
So that you know what activities are planned each day a ‘Cruise News’ will be posted through your cabin door, each evening, giving you timings, venues, dress themes, and suggested hints and tips for your ports of call.
On this trip, our itinerary was Key West, a day at sea, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, a day at sea and finally at day at Disney’s Private Island in the Bahamas called Castaway Cay. 4 very different ports of call but ones that all blended well with each other.
As you would imagine on a cruise organised by Disney, it is full of activities geared up just for children from babies to teenagers. There are clubs divided up into different age bands and if your child has any inkling that they may want to take part in the club activities then I would strongly recommend that they go and sign up on the first evening. The key workers in this area are young adults from many countries around the world and take their role extremely seriously in looking after your child. The safety and security of your child is paramount and whilst you may resent the 15-20 minutes that it takes on that first evening to register your child and get your pager set up believe me it works a treat. The children get their own edition of the “Cruise News” each day outlining their own particular activities. For those parents aiming to “escape” from their children, you can safely leave them in the very capable hands of the staff between 0900 and not see them back again until 1000pm.
Eating is one of the most talked about subjects when discussing cruising in terms of quantity, quality and the number of times per day you have the opportunity to eat. On board the Disney Magic and Wonder is no exception.
From early in the morning you can help yourself to tea and coffee up on one of the decks, breakfast can be either taken fast food style at the plentiful buffet or can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace in one of the ‘more formal’ dining rooms. Your sit down breakfast and dinner time will be given to you on check in.
Lunch again becomes a choice. Either a sit down menu in one of the formal restaurants, or again buffet style which you can eat in or outside depending on the weather. You can mix and match from day to day depending on your mood, hunger and entertainment schedule.
Then when the sun is just starting to dip, you might feel a little peckish before dinner, so afternoon tea is served just at the right time. Cookies, ice-cream and fruit. This keeps the wolves at bay before the main eating event of the day – dinner.
Of course, burgers, hot-dogs, fries and pizza are available all day long, from Pluto’s poolside bar.
Each days Cruise News will give you the suggested dress code for dinner that evening. On the 7 day cruise there are 2 formal evenings when it is customary for the men to wear black tie and ladies to dress in their finery, although the floor length evening dresses of yesteryear have given way to cocktail length dresses and many evening trousers with sparkly tops. On these formal evenings there is an opportunity to meet the Captain and have your photo taken with him. (The real one – not Mickey dressed up as the Captain!!) Other evenings attire included a western evening and Caribbean beach party, the remaining evenings were casual wear.
On Board photographers (mostly from the UK) spend the week taking thousands and thousands of photos of the guests during the day, on the islands and in the evenings. These photos are then displayed in the gallery and are of course for sale. Somehow it is very difficult to resist that cute photo of the family with Mickey and Minnie to each side when dining at the character breakfast.
Unlike other cruise lines where you will be allocated to a restaurant, dining on board the Magic or the Wonder is unique in that you move restaurants each evening and your waiting staff move around with you, so you become familiar with them over the course of the week.
Each of the 3 dining experiences is themed. Animators Palate creates a stimulating, visual feast whilst you eat. Around the walls, animations of many of the famous Disney characters appear, first in outline then colours appear within the lines as if by magic until finally they are shown in all their glory in a 3D effect. The images are constantly changing. Parrot Cay is themed in strong, vibrant Caribbean colours and décor. The uniforms of the dining room staff are all colour co-ordinated to match each of the restaurants. The third of the dining experiences is slightly different on the Magic and the Wonder. On the Disney Magic, experience Lumiere’s. An evening of elegant French dining named after the candelabra in Beauty and the Beast. Whilst if sailing on the Disney Wonder, you will be treated to fine seafood in Triton’s named after the Little Mermaid’s father. Tickets handed to you on check in will give you the dining time you have been allocated (either 18.30 or 20.30) and in which order you will visit the restaurants. On several evenings, the dining room staff all take part in some form of evening entertainment around the tables which precedes the speciality desert for that evening. Do try the Cherries Jubilee flambéed at your table.
There is plenty of entertainment for all ages both before and after dinner. Naturally none of it is compulsory but take it from me, some of it you really shouldn’t miss. The entertainments staff put on at least 3 shows during the week, very often a movie is premiered on board before it is premiered on land, and many top entertainment acts are lured to sea to entertain the guests. These range from comedians to singers, to illusionists.
How could I have said so much without evening mentioning the “S” word yet? Yes ladies, shopping. Of course there is so much opportunity for this favourite pastime. Both on board in the shops and also on land at the ports of call. Whilst shopping at the various islands, many shops entice in the cruise guests by having lucky cabin numbers- guaranteed to win a prize or give you a special discount. There are some bargains to be had, just be sure of the price you would have to pay for the item in your home country to ensure that you really are getting a bargain and are not just carried away by the sparkling gems under the blue Caribbean sky. Diamonds always do look better on that slightly bronzed arm or throat!!
On the days in port there are always organised excursions that you might want to join, sometimes involving great opportunities that you might not necessarily be able to do as an independent traveller. Or of course, if you just want to do your own thing, there are taxis that wait at the dock that are very used to ferrying round cruise ship passengers to the most popular places on the islands. It is normal that the evening before arriving at a port, one of the Cruise staff (normally the cruise director or their assistant) will give a short talk about the island to be visited. They will recommend good places to visit, eat and shop. They will also give guide prices for taxis to some of the popular tourist destinations, so you know how much you can expect to pay.
The ports themselves are all different in their style the experience that they offer the visitor.
Key West: a city of Olde Worlde Charm just 90 miles from Cuba. Take the trolley bus tour around some of the older parts of town, visit Ernest Hemmingway’s house and see the cats with 7 toes or the Southernmost Point in Continental USA or simply soak up the atmosphere in Mallory Square where street artists entertain passers-by. A wonderful place to watch the sun slip down into the sea, whilst drinking the first cocktail of the evening.
From Key West it is onto Grand Cayman. Although now devastated by the recent hurricanes, it was a beautiful island. We chose not to go on an organised tour but to hire one of the plentiful MPV vehicles and drivers to take us on a tour of the island. First stop Hell. A small store with some very unusual rock formations at the back and yes you can send a postcard from here and it is post-marked Hell.
From Hell, it was onto a Turtle rescue centre where there were many turtles at various stages of their development, some new borns and some grand –daddy turtles. It is possible to pick them up, but very carefully as they can certainly give you a whack with their flippers. During our tour, we asked our driver if she knew how we could get out to “Stingray City” as independent travellers as we had chosen not to go on that organised tour. Very quickly it was all arranged for a mutually acceptable price. We rolled up to a small dock and along came Bob in his little boat and off we went, across the open water, to Sting Ray City. I think for me, this was probably the highlight of the whole cruise. Our very experienced boat driver took us right into the middle of the area and weighed anchor, some 3 – 4 miles out to sea, where there was a natural sand bank, and the water was only waist deep. We were then able to get down from the back of the boat into the absolutely crystal clear, warm waters of the Caribbean and for 30 minutes we swam with and held and learnt about the Sting Ray. Their skin was as smooth as silk and of no danger to us in the water at all. They didn’t feel threatened by our presence and were happy to feed from our hands.
The third port of call was Cozumel; interesting excursions to ancient Mayan ruins are on offer at this stop. We didn’t go on an excursion at all here, but just wandered down into the town, through the very new cruise ship terminal and had a leisurely lunch at the Hard Rock Café.
The final port of call for all Disney’s cruises be it the 3, 4 or 7 day cruise is their private island in the Bahamas known as Castaway Cay. An uninhabited island which has been “Disneyfied” to the extent that it even has its own post office for sending off those obligatory post-cards to friends and family just to let them know what they have been missing.
It is very, very hard to think of a single thing to not love about a Disney Cruise. It really does have something for everyone, from the very young to the young at heart, for those that relish being immersed in Disney for a week and even for those cynics who think “it’s just a mouse”.
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