Disney Cruise

Yes, it’s true – there is MAGIC.

We have just returned from a cruise aboard the Disney Magic.  We began and ended in Miami, with a day in Nassau and a day on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private Bahamian island.  All together, our group included eighteen family members from four generations, including seven grandchildren (four of whom are two years old). We had an amazingly good time and began to plan the next Disney Cruise before we got back to the dock.

Here is, from my perspective, what you need to know.

The crew are world-class hosts and professionals.

They made us feel special from the moment we boarded the MAGIC, with a chorus singing to each family in the main entry hall.  Nothing was too much trouble. Every preference was accommodated. They gave us individual attention despite this being a big ship (2,800 passengers on 11 decks, 984 feet long and 171.5 feet high).  They genuinely wanted us to enjoy the ‘magic’.  The crew is from all over the world and the international community is reinforced by nametags which include each staff member’s home country. They are happy to talk about where they come from and where many of them still spend their months off.

I am told that McKinsey brings clients to Disney to show them what an outstanding service operation looks like. No kidding.

There were few lines and little waiting. 

Despite traveling aboard a full ship, we never felt overly crowded.  We were relaxed.

Easy

From the time we arrived at the pier, there were people to help with luggage and show us where to go.  We had a family member who used a wheelchair supplied by the ship – no trouble.

Safe

Four two-year-olds, at sea with 4, 5 and 7-year old cousins – what could possibly go wrong?  The ship is so well designed that we all felt that the children were safe at all times, even on staircases and balconies.  Children wear wrist bands and could be located immediately, but no one ever got lost. The childcare facilities do not permit adults to enter (aside from the trained staff) and kids can only be “checked out” by an authorized family member who knows the child’s “password”, a verbal code that the parents set. Each guest on the ship has his or her picture taken, and so staff can verify the person picking up any child.

Clean

I never found a sticky surface. After much written-about viruses spreading aboard cruise ships (not Disney ships, as far as I know…?) the Disney fleet implemented a rigorous cleanliness protocol. There were handwashing stations at the entrance to every dining space, along with antibacterial wipes.  The ship was clean – everywhere.

Comfortable cabins.

Our 8th deck family suites were small, but cleverly laid out so they did not feel crowded (think: a bunk that drops from the ceiling, plus a murphy bed and convertible couch, all of which make a “living room area” transform into a well-considered bunkroom for kids at night). The queen beds had a supportive mattress with a plush topper and crisp, luxury sheets. Collapsible cribs were provided in each room with a two-year-old. We returned to new ‘origami’ towel creatures each night.

There were USB ports at bedsides to power our inevitable devices.  We needed to keep our phones charged to take all the fun photos.

The TV had all the Disney movies – which include Pixar, Marvel and the Muppets.

The bathrooms are divided into two small rooms – one with a shower and sink, the other with a toilet and sink. This was great for families.

As hosts, my husband and I chose a concierge suite with a long verandah, a sitting room and access to concierge services and a lounge.  More on this in my final recommendations.  We spent significant time on our verandah both in port and at sea in comfortable chairs and a small table.

The food was plentiful and varied.

As expected, lots of chicken fingers and pizza, but more surprising were the fresh options which were tasty and interesting.  The service was, as usual, extraordinary.

The menus  were more attuned to our eating habits than I expected.  There was lots of fresh seafood and salad.  Portions were not crazy.

Our assigned dinners were in three differently themed restaurants over four evenings.  The magic was that our head waiter, Bennet, and his team moved restaurants to follow us and serve us each night.  They knew how my dad liked his martini and that we drank the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.  They knew which kids like cucumbers and which parents made them finish a first course of vegetables before they got pasta.

The children’s food comes almost immediately – which makes everybody happy.  Staff will escort children over three to a ‘club’ when they are finished if the adults want to enjoy a more leisurely meal.

The dining room staff went above and beyond to take care of us.  We enjoyed the poached pear salad one night.  They offered to bring one to our table in a different restaurant the following night – if that would make us happy.  It did.

We did not bother with the upgrade to the Italian restaurant since we have access to great dining on land and this was about the kids.  We didn’t miss it.  There are endless dining options and you will find your way.

Most room service is free.  We heard that the Mickey Mouse ice-cream bars were an afternoon treat on many verandahs.  Our daughters were clever enough to order hot coffee to their staterooms each morning.

The restaurants are experiences born of the imaginative geniuses at Disney.  Animator’s Palate has screens in picture frames above the tables in which characters are created with pencil strokes.  It feels like were looking over the shoulders of an artist.  Get out the crayons and follow along.  I am told that on the new ships, your drawings will be turned into animated video.

The absence of commercials, merchandising and upcharges.

The cruise itself can be pricey depending on the season, but almost everything is included in your fare.  You will pay for drinks, but they are reasonable.  Laundry was inexpensive; it was only $2 to wash a child’s sleep sack.  I didn’t find the shop until the last day, but even there I thought prices were fair.  The kids clubs are all free except the Small World Nursery (6 months to 3 years) which charges $4.50 for each half an hour.

An abundance of activities all the time and with a few exceptions, no need to plan ahead.

There are few key things to book ahead – babysitting for the ‘under three crowd’ and a cabana on Castaway Cay.  I will elaborate in my recommendations.  Characters pop up all the time – and Mickey is everywhere from the ice-cream bars, waffles and three dollops of ketchup on the kids’ plates – to the main hall where he will pose for family pictures – not bad for a 90+ year old character. Princesses and pirates abound.

Two year-olds take over shuffleboard

There is always something interesting to do for every person on the ship from toddlers to great grandparents. Waterslides, pools, basketball, classes on everything from dancing and whiskey tasting to sketching characters and folding towels into the ‘origami’ animals which were laid out on our beds each night.

I noticed that the lines to meet characters were long on the first day because of the novelty of it. I would suggest waiting until later, especially the day at sea, by which time the lines had diminished significantly.  The characters all visited the kids club.

Adults and kids alike loved the movies, which are all flicks that are still in movie theaters. The kids saw “Frozen 2” and the adults all caught “The Rise of Skywalker” which they claimed was improved by being able to take beers into the screening with them.

Family shows: In the evening, the chaises lounges around one pool become recliners for Funnel Vision – a Disney movie projected onto the funnel of the ship.  Each night there are live shows. Our daughter took her little girls to one and found it spectacular; high production value, special effects, singing, flying, and great Disney characters and themes.

As with all first-timers – I think we got most of it right and I would have done a few things differently.  Here is my advice:

If you can swing it, step up and book at least one Concierge Suite.

Our suite entitled us to advance booking for cabanas on Castaway Cay, early boarding for us and up to four other staterooms, our choice of disembarkation time and access to the small concierge lounge.  The lounge itself was like a concierge floor in a hotel. It always had nice snacks and comfortable chairs.  The magic here is the concierge team.  They answered questions, helped with transportation and generally made everything easy.

Prepare for Pirate Night.

We must have failed to read the fine print.  Seemingly every other family came with costumes for Pirate Night.  My advice is play along and at least bring some blue and white striped sun shirts to get into the mood. Disney provides pirate bandanas.

Personalize your cabin doors.

Our blank doors revealed us for the Disney Cruise rookies we were.  Those in the know had personalized door magnets, white boards for notes and generally looked more fun than we did. This was an “upsell” on the cruise website under “onboard gifts”. Etsy will make you some magnets.

Ask for character sheets for your kid’s beds.

We didn’t know that this was an option, but why not sleep in princess, pirate or Mickey sheets?

Bippity Boppity Boutique.

You can book princess or pirate makeovers for kids in advance of the cruise. This was sold out by the time we were on the ship.  We wish we had signed up.  It can feel a little “stage mom” but the kids really wanted to do it.  Book on the day at sea.

Most room service is free, except tips.

Next cruise, we will begin the day with coffee delivered to the cabin.

Get a cabana on Castaway Cay.

Pay up.  This is worth the premium.  We had two cabanas with shade, fresh water outdoor showers, butler drinks service, fresh towels, floats, and bikes.  In short, we were set for the day.  In contrast, the one complaint I read about is a scramble for shades and chaises on Castaway.

Each adult guest can bring two bottles of wine or six-pack of beer aboard.

If you want an extraordinary wine or a specialty beer, you can bring your own.  There is a corkage fee if you bring your bottle to the restaurant.

Schedule ahead thoughtfully.

Don’t book anything to conflict with your time on Castaway Cay

Massages get booked ahead for the day at sea.

Babysitting for young children fills up at mealtimes and on the day at sea.  We were actually surprised and impressed by how flexible the babysitting signups were.  They only allow parents to sign up for 10hrs in advance, but we were able to add hours at will.  I think this may vary depending on the demographics of the particular cruise.

The dinner seatings are at 5:45 and 8:15.  We chose the early dinner because we were trying to keep young ones on a sleep schedule.  As soon as your children are old enough to manage later dinner, choose it.  You can go to early family shows or play on the water slides at the end of the day before you clean up for the evening.

I had a few minor struggles and disappointments.

The Disney app which is designed to connect the phones of members of your group on the ship for free – is complicated to set up.  Things seemed to go more smoothly when my daughter took over.

Staying connected with the outside world when you are at sea is shockingly expensive.  Our staterooms came with a minimal allocation of 50 MB on a free internet account.  If you can bear to live in the moment – turn off the cellular on all of your devices at sea.  We heard grumbling from people who had inadvertently racked up hundreds of dollars of charges by leaving an iPad on.  In port, my AT&T international plan gave me unlimited internet for $10/day.

We had four two-year-olds who needed to go to bed early and would not go to sleep in the nursery.  Disney does not offer babysitting in the staterooms, so at least one parent needed to turn in for the night when the first child went to sleep.  This limited our evening activities.  With older children there are free ‘clubs’ for each age group, so parents are free for the evening.

The couch in our suite folded out to a double bed for one daughter, but it was not very comfortable.

For the Miami-Nassau-Castaway Cay itinerary, I would have preferred the starboard cabins – better views in the ports and of the spectacular fireworks on the final night.

I have been asked repeatedly what the ideal ages are to take children on the Disney Cruise.

Under three, the children are amazed, safe and happy.  They are well looked after in the Small World Nursery, but  I don’t think they got the full benefit of the wonder of Disney and a few were scared by the characters.

We had grandchildren from ages four to seven.  It was magic for them.

The Oceaneer Club for ages 3 to 12 was well supervised and full of fun.  Edge (11 to 14) and Vibe (14 to 17) looked like the kids were having a blast.

Next?  Disney has cruises to Alaska, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Mediterranean.  Three new ships will join the current fleet of four ships.

 

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