Although we'd taken 13 previous Disney cruises, they were all 3 and 4 day, so even tho' boarding a Disney ship is like coming home for my husband and I, our 1/27 7-day cruise had all the makings of a new adventure.
We had previously done a week on Royal Caribbean's mega-ship Voyager (complete with ice rink and rock climbing wall), so we were anxious to see how the Mouse measures up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, just like on the shorter Disney cruises, an adult couple traveling with no children can find PLENTY to do. But I'm getting ahead of myself...let me start at the beginning:
GETTING TO THE PORT: Normally we take the Disney bus, but this time we used a Happy Limo towncar, which turned out to be a good choice. ATA took forever with our luggage, and our driver Kahn waited patiently with us. With the buses, we would have been behind the crowd and would probably have had to wait in line for a bus or two. Instead, Kahn assisted with our bags and we hopped into the towncar and were immediately on our way, passing the Disney Cruise bus on the highway. (HINT: Disney usually starts embarkation well before the stated time of 1 p.m., so you'll want to get to the port early, if possible, to be one of the first on board to get Palo and spa reservations. A towncar is often cheaper than the bus, depending on the size of your party. For rates, check out www.happylimo.com).
EMBARKATION: There is a priority check-in line for Castaway Club members who have sailed Disney before, but the line was longer there than in the regular area. By the time we were checked in, the embarkation line was quite long, but it started moving within 10 minutes and soon we were crossing the Magic threshhold. As a last nod to the real world, you must go through airport-style metal detectors and x-rays on your way.
Navigators (activity lists) are handed out as you board. (HINT: Check the navigator ASAP to find out what time Palo, spa, and shore excursion reservations can be made. Since these times often overlap, bring two-way radios so members of your party can split up and each take care of a different thing).
THE CRUISE BEGINS: After chowing down on the jumbo shrimp at the embarkation buffet and making all our reservations, hubby and I settled down to enjoy the cruise. We donned swimwear (HINT: Pack swimsuits in the day bag you bring on baord so you don't have to wait until the rest of your luggage arrives) and took a soak in the adult whirlpools until the safety drill. For me, this always marks the official beginning of our Disney cruises. It's so much fun to watch awestruck people wander by. Voyager has a lot of detail, but it is more generic. Disney definitely wins in the theming category.
THE SHOWS: I'll start off with a review of the onboard shows, since this was one of our first activities. The variety shows (Welcome Aboard and Farewell) were the standard cruise line fare, with comedy, juggling, music, and dancing. The performers are constantly rotating, so you won't know who is going to be on your cruise, but their acts are all pretty similar. It was good mindless entertainment.
Hercules was as corny as ever. You'll appreciate it much more if you've seen the movie first. As always, Hades stole the show. C'est Magique was new to us, and I definitely preferred it to Voyage of the Ghost Ship (which is now on the Wonder only). This show is not near the caliber of Disney Dreams, but it was quite entertaining. Magic tricks are mixed in among classic music and dances by artwork that comes to life. I especially enjoyed Disney's take on the old "saw a lady in half" trick. The grand finale is a daring water escape.
Of course, we saw Disney Dreams (this makes the 14th time), and we still loved it just as much as ever. This is a show for Disney fans of any age, featuring your favorite characters and songs from movies like the Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Beaty & the Beast. (HINT: DO NOT miss this show!!).
Our cruise also featured a showing of "The Emporers New Groove in the main theater (there were some showings in the regular theater too). I liked this movie much more than I thought I would, and it made me laugh out loud. But the projector kept breaking down, and there was never any annoucement on when (or even if) it would be fixed. One breakdown lasted over 15 minutes, and many people left in disgust.
You will also get a chance to win a free cruise on "Who Wants to be a Mouseketeer?" Contestants are chosen at random by seat numbers, and you answer Disney trivia questions. There are even lifelines, just like in the regular show. We didn't see anyone win the grand prize, but all the contestants left with some extra money applied to their shipboard accounts.
Overall, we though the 7-day cruise offered a nice mix of traditional cruise line entertainment and Disney-style stage shows. Many of the variety performers also gave other shows in the nightclubs, some geared to families and others to adults.
THE FOOD: We have seen three major revampings of the Disney Cruise Line menus, and at present the food is quite good. A major part of any cruise is the dining, and Disney does not dissapoint in this arena. I won't recap the menus, as they are available on my website at www.disneycruiser.com. But my favorite dishes in the regular dining rooms are the maple-glazed salmon in Animators Palate, the lobster at the Captains Gala, and the chocolate lava cake on Master Chefs night.
For those who aren't familiar with Disney, you will rotate into one of three different dining rooms each night, and you always have the same serving team. Our servers were attentive and couldn't do enough to please us. Since it was our 14th cruise, they even cooked up some special surprises. For lunch, you can eat anywhere among several options and anytime within the specific hours. We are our lunches at Lumiere's, which offers sitdown food. There is also a buffet or fast service outlets offering pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and tacos at lunchtime and throughout the day.
Another option is room service. We pre-ordered breakfast from them each day, which served a dual purpose. It was a wake-up call, and it also allowed us to enjoy the meal out on our verandah. There is a buffet or a sit-down breakfast for those who prefer it. (HINT: Pop is free at sitdown meals, but it costs extra at any other time. If you are a big soda drinker, purchase the refillable mug. Otherwise, coffee, tea, and water are available free 24 hours a day on deck 9).
You can also make reservations at Palo, the adults-only restaurant, for dinner, high tea, and/or champagne brunch. There is a nominal cover charge, but it's well worth it. (HINT: Don't miss the chocolate souffle for dessert!). Palo has its own galley, so the food is made to order, and it ranks right up there in quality with some of the best at Walt Disney World.
ACTIVITIES: Disney has a well-rounded schedule of activities that will keep you from ever feeling bored. We missed the "Art of Entertaining" series, as it was held in the morning when we were just regaining consciousness. But we loved the "backstage" tour of the theater and the talks with the ships officers. There is also a galley tour, which we skipped since we've done it before.
Our all-time favorite was the speaker, who was Don "Ducky" Williams on our cruise. Don paints the originals for all the marketing art for WDW. You have probably seen his work on the Disney billboards in Orlando or on the park info. brochures. He was so interesting that we attended both of his talks, and he drew me a picture of Figment that is now my favorite Disney Cruise souvenir. Other speakers have included costume designers, actors from Broadway Disney plays, and much more.
Our only complaint about the daytime adult activities was that many of them overlap, forcing you to choose one over the other. It's much too hard of a choice!
The fun keeps coming at night with game shows such as Sailors Tales and Magic Quest (there are adult and family versions), Match Your Mate, the 50's Party, and the 70's Party. I normally love the 70's party, which features guest appearances by John Travolta, Gloria Gaynor, and the Village People. Unfortunately, on this cruise, my knee cap suddenly popped out of place during the second dance! I was rushed off for emergency treatment, but don't let my tragic tale scare you away from this event--it's a blast!
There are also Dueling Pianos shows, but we didn't bother to attend, as we've seen this on the Wonder. I miss the old improv comedy shows. We attended almost every one of those, but for me the piano shows just aren't something that can hold my interest more than once.
There were plenty of Disney movies playing in the Buena Vista Theater, but there was too much else going on so we never made it in to see one. We figured that we could rent them on video, so we didn't want to give up any of the cruise-exclusive activities.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: There are plenty of fun things to do in St. Thomas, St. Martin, and on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. I won't list them here, as you can find them on my website at www.disneycruiser.com. But rest assured that you'll find something appealing. We did two Disney excursions (a sea plane ride and the 12 meter regatta sailboat race), and we also did some things on our own (horseback riding on both islands, and the tram in St. Thomas). (HINT: Sign up for your shore excursions before the talk; otherwise, you may miss out on the ones you want. If you do something on your own, agree on a price for the taxi BEFORE getting in).
I didn't get to do much on Castaway Cay due to my knee injury, but hubby put me into a sand wheelchair and carted me out to a lounge chair on the adult beach. I relaxed in the sun while he snorkeled (HINT: There is some wreckage near the adult beach that attracts a lot of fish. You won't find any "official" info about it, but it's worth seeking out. Do the regular snorkel area first, then head out to the adult beach when the crowds come and the sand gets kicked up in the regular area).
THE SPA: The area where hubby and I tend to spend the most money is the spa, but it is well worth it. We both recommend the surial bath, a one-hour couples experience. I love the seaweed wrap, while hubby prefers traditional massages. One word of caution: some of the treatment rooms are under the basketball court, so you may hear lots of bouncing from overhead!
The Tropical Rainforest is also a nice place to spend some time. There are scented saunas, steam rooms, and showers, and a weeklong pass is available, as well as a sea days pass. We went in a couple of times, and it was never too crowded.
DISEMBARKATION: There is a talk on the last night of the cruise to tell you everything you'll need to know about disembarkation. (HINT: You can skip it because it will be repeated throughout the night on your stateroom t.v.).
Disney truly has Royal Caribbean beat in this arena. You can pretty much get off whenever you want once the ship has been cleared. There is a sitdown breakfast based on your dinner time, but you are welcome to skip it and have breakfast at the buffet if you want to get off earlier (or later).
You place your luggage outside your stateroom the night before, and you pick it up in a color-coded area in the port the next morning before going thru Customs. (HINT: Put some sort of eye-catching identification on your bags. Someone took two of ours by mistake, and we didn't get them back until a week later). Going through Customs is usually as easy as turning in your form and being waved through.
It took us a long time to get out of the port building, since hubby had to push me in a wheelchair due to my leg injury and since we had to fill out lots of lost-luggage paperwork. But since we had a towncar, Kahn was waiting for us when we finally made it out. I was grateful to be able to stretch my leg out in the backseat instead of trying to cram it into the bus, since I was unable to bend it.
RETURNING CRUISER BENEFITS: As Castaway Club members (returning Disney cruisers), we received the standard benefits of a stateroom credit, a gift (currently a sports bag), and we were invited to a special party with the captain and officers. The party features drinks and tasty hors d'ouvres, although I was surprised that there were no sweets or desserts (plnety of those at the Wonder's party).
In addition, since we have cruised Disney so many times, the whole crew went out of their way to make us feel special. Just when I think it can't get any better, there are some new little surprises. This is what keeps us sailing on Disney.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Since we have done so many of Disney's shorter cruises, I was worried that we might be bored over the course of a whole week. But we weren't--on the contrary, there was so much more I wanted to do!! We were wondering how the Magic would stack up to Voyager, since Disney's ships were built for short hauls and didn't have as many built-in activities (mini golf, ice rink, rock climbing wall). But we didn't miss those bells and whistles because there was always so much going on and way too much to do.
There is talk of possibly adding a Western Caribbean itinerary for the Magic. If that happens, we will definitely slip in a 7-day in 2002 (or whenever it happens). In the meantime, we have 3 more 3-day trips planned on the Wonder, and I know that we will enjoy them, but they're going to seem waaaay too short now that we've been spoiled by the Magic!
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