As part of our trip to Walt Disney World, we couldn’t resist the temptation to add a cruise to our holiday, and of course there was only 1 cruise line we wanted to use, Disney. We chose the 7 Night Western, not necessarily because of the ports, but because the date worked best in our itinerary.
The ports visited by the cruise were Key West in the Florida Keys, Cozumel Mexico, Grand Cayman Cayman Islands, and Castaway Cay Bahamas. More about the ports later.
We planned to arrive at the port early, a hint we learnt from Beth. So to achieve this we booked a Town Car, specifically a Suburban to ensure we could fit our multitude of bags, and to pick us up at 9am. What we didn’t expect was the stretched Lincoln Continental that rolled up to the lobby of the Caribbean Beach Resort in WDW. The morning was cold, probably the coldest we have had, and Orlando, including WDW was experiencing snow flurries. The Marathon was on this weekend too, so things were busy around the resort.
After an hour drive through the barren and flat rural areas of Florida between Orlando and the coast we arrived at Port Canaveral and first dropped off a couple of bags at the hotel we were staying at on our return. This was not a problem with either driver or hotel, and driver was tipped generously of course. Arriving at the shipping terminal, there was no mistaking where we were. The first ship we saw was a Carnival ship, but as we turned the corner, there it was, tucked in behind the party boat, the Disney Magic in it’s Blue, White and Red glory.
The terminal building itself is not a grand or Disneyfied structure by any means, but there is a lot of construction work happening at the site, so I expect this to change in the coming year or so. It was this point that things happened disconcertingly fast. We got out of the car and unloaded the bags, and whilst I was fixing up the driver, our bags were set upon by efficient dock staff and in an instant they were gone. Someone handed me a card and said they will be at your room after 5pm, and he too was off in an instant. This process worked extremely well which leads me to a second hint (the first about leaving early), make sure you put the supplied bag tags on your bags prior to arrival, it works great.
Once through the usual security checking, as per airport procedures, we went upstairs and arrived into a large open area which had check-in desks on the left, seating on the right, a model of the ship in the middle and a big entrance in the shape of Mickey ears in the far left corner. Ah, now that’s better. Checking in was easy because I had filled in all the necessary information online and printed it out before we left home (hint number 3, make sure you do this). We went to the non-US passport holders line and the process was short and painless. After that a short wait and then we all lined up for our photo to be taken and then handed the most important piece of equipment we would carry for the next 8 days, our Key to Word Card. We were in boarding group No. 4, thanks to our arriving and checking in early (remember hint 1?), and once boarding commenced it was only a matter of around 20 minutes before we were walking through the Mickey Ears entrance and into a whole new world.
First “port of call” was the obligatory boarding photo, which is nice to think of it being taken, but when you look back onto it, everyone looks a mess. After the photo, you then continue down the gangway and into the ship. But you just don’t stroll onto the ship and walk around, this is Disney after all. Every person or family who enters the ship is stopped and asked the family name. Then over the ships PA in the atrium area, they announce the boarding of that family. “Disney Magic welcomes aboard the Blater family”. Oops, oh well who cares if they got our name wrong, it’s Disney so it’s not all that bad. After a cheer and applaud by about a dozen crew waiting in line, we are then grabbed by one of them, asked if it’s our first cruise and then given a brief but informative run down of what to expect. The whole thing happens quite fast and is a little overwhelming, but it’s still a special way to start a special week on board the Magic.
Getting on board early cannot be recommended strongly enough. You get lunch on the ship in the buffet with not much crowd, you get to explore every part of the ship before your room is ready and get yourself oriented and used to the layout, you get to relax, like we did and watch other people board, sometimes with characters like Chip and Dale dropping by and having fun, and you get to use your room as soon as it’s ready and settle in before the mandatory safety briefing at 4pm.
From the first night, we are told that the entertainment on this ship is award winning, and industry best. Now everyone I’m sure likes to make these claims, and Disney is no different. Not that I doubted these claims for one minute, we know how good Disney entertainment can be, but the proof in this case is in the seeing; and seeing is definitely believing. Every night there are 2 show times (a late one for the early diners and an early one for the late diners), and every night the shows got better and better. Night 1 is an introduction style show where they introduce the comedians and then a show which includes highlights of the rest of the week, as well as a bit of a welcome aboard in there as well.
There is a show based on Cinderalla, a show about dreams featuring Peter Pan, a Princess based show, and the award winning show that includes many characters and great singing and entertainment. But my favourite has to be the show, which they said we were the first cruise to see, a show called Once Upon a Song. It was a concert like show where 5 of the main singers on board (3 men and 2 woman) did their own renditions of songs from the Disney Classic movies. They all sang excellently, but sang the songs with much passion and feeling, so much so that at times the lumps began to form and the dust in the theatre used to float around and get in our eyes. Those who know me know how much I like the Disney music and they just took these songs to a new level. Missing any of the shows on board is missing out on special, magical moments for sure.
All the comedians and other entertainers on board are also worth catching. They each do a family show at 7:30 and then an adult only show at 10:30 and each one are worth seeing. But the adult show wasn’t crass or vulgar, it was still Disney clean, but they were still very funny and the double meaning and innuendo used was very clever. One particular comedy duo were a couple of black guys from LA and they were probably the funniest. Their humour was based on the stereotypical image of blacks in LA and they did it very well. I recall sitting behind a dark family who are obviously very successful, and they didn’t really know whether to laugh or be disgusted. But being Australian with no such baggage they were a laugh. A lot of the humour that all comedians use is relevant to the ship and cruising, which makes it funnier in some respect. For example these 2 black guys always used to say that we had to laugh because Disney already has our $7000 so we may as well enjoy it.
Talk to people about cruising and the first thing they say is about the food, and the Disney Magic is no different. There are 3 restaurants that you rotate through on a nightly basis, and they all serve the highest quality food with the highest quality service. The restaurants are themed and are Lumiere’s, which is the “fine” restaurant on board and themed French of course with Beauty and the Beast throughout. There is Parrot Cay, which is themed Pacific style and is a relaxed environment, and there is our favourite, Animators Palette. Animators Palette is themed as the name suggests, around animation. On the walls are animated style frames which all contain screens and pictures of different characters from different cartoons. The pylons in the middle are shaped in paintbrushes and the roof is styled from a colour palette. Everything is black and white. The highlight of the week is the special night in this restaurant where all the black and white pictures in the frame turn colour and the wait staff all put on a show and change their black and white vests and ties into the most colourful display. We even get visited by Mickey for the show, overall a wonderful evening, not one to forget easily.
As I mentioned the food is exquisite. Beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, anything you can think of they offer it to order. The portions are not large so eating Entrée, Main and Desert is easy, and even eating a couple of each is not unheard of either. For example, in Lumieres, I ordered Escargot for the table on top of our normal entrées for us to try. I heard of quite a few people who didn’t dine at all in the dining room, which is a shame, because they are missing not only top quality grub, but also the opportunity to meet and dine with new people that you make good friends with over the cruise. Our dining family had kids similar age, and the parents were very interested in Australian wine, so of course we had to sample the Wolf Blas Cab Sav on the menu, and I also introduced them to the top quality New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as well.
Breakfast can be had in the buffet on Deck 9, which we did a couple of days, or in a nominated restaurant, which we did as well, or from one of the counters also on Deck 9 which we did for the kids when they slept in. The buffet food is also top quality as buffets go, and I had no problems heading up there for a feed. The Soda Fountains and hot drink stations also got a workout from us as well, which were very convenient. These were open 24 hours and were ideal for an early morning coffee or a late night hot chocolate or cup of tea. There is a proper coffee shop serving proper coffees, which we tried on the first morning, and enjoyed it so much, that we had a few more. You pay for these, and pay Gloria Jeans type prices too, but for the opportunity to finally have a proper coffee, it was too much to pass up. Another tip here, and a little known one too, on your first coffee, ask for the frequent drinkers card and you get a free coffee after buying 5. Not bad if you like real coffee. This opens quite early (7 or 8am from memory) so you can get your day off to a good start. Finally Palo’s is the “exclusive” restaurant on board, which we didn’t use unfortunately. We were talking about having Brunch there one day, but just didn’t get around to doing it. I’ve heard it is better food again (which I didn’t think possible), so worth a try one day for sure. There is a cover charge of (now) $20pp, and no kids under 18.
I mentioned before our breakfast for the kids when they slept in, and I imagine you were thinking at the time, “why would you sleep in or let kids sleep in on a cruise?” Well the reason we did that was because on a few nights they didn’t get back to the room until after 2am. They were both old enough (1 only just) to attend the Teen Club known as the Stack. Our youngest was gung ho keen to get up there and check it out when we first got on board and the older one was a slow starter, but warmed to it. But once they were both settled in, try and keep them out of the place. It is a great environment for the kids to just chill and hang out somewhere. They had computers, TV, DVD, games and just do whatever they want whenever they want. There is always a “counsellor” in there to look after them, but I think the counsellor is there to have as much fun as the kids do. Even now after the cruise, they still keep in touch with both the kids and counsellor on good old Facebook. Back to the 2am, a lot of the cool activities for the Stack start at around 9 or 10pm and aren’t scheduled to finish until as early as 12 or as late as 2am. So if the kids choose to do the activity that’s where they are and what they do. As parents though, we didn’t really mind, because you know where they are and there isn’t much chance for mischief, and besides, it also gives you a chance to have some “non-kid” time, which is also important.
In each port there are a myriad of opportunities to do a variety of shore excursions from sight seeing, to swimming with stingrays and anything in between. As a family we only did 1, and that was the Mayan Ruins and Cozumel Highlights tour when in Cozumel. It only lasted half a day which was appealing for us. It was OK, we visited a ruins site and our tour guide explained what had happened and why in regards to the civilisation and buildings etc. After that we went for a drive around the island past some beaches and had a couple of stops at little market places, surprise surprise. We refrained from parting with our hard earned on some of the offerings and made our way back to the ship at the conclusion of the tour for lunch.
Each port exists for the primary reason of selling something to the thousands of people who arrive there aboard a cruise ship. For example in Cozumel we counted 7 cruise ships in port at the same time, in Key West there were 3, and in the Grand Cayman there were 4. Disney managed to get prime docking location every time, with only Grand Cayman requiring a tender to reach shore. Best shopping for us was Grand Cayman and probably (with 1 exception) our favourite stop. Key West was nice, and would have liked more time and warmer weather to explore there. But for shopping, Grand Cayman being tax free, offered better quality stuff and a little more upmarket. The cars also drove on the correct side of the road, so less chance of getting run over.
The best port of call though was the final one, Castaway Cay. This small island in the Bahamas is Disney owned and is all but deserted. When you arrive there you are greeted by the Flying Dutchman in the bay near the dock which is a wonderful sight. There are 3 beaches, a family beach, teens only beach and adults only beach, and none can be seen from the other. The adults beach is on the other side and is a fair walk or tram ride over. We started walking and because I had my Eels jumper on, a friendly local worker, who happened to be from Queensland picked us up and had a good chat. The beach has it’s own eatery and bar. All food is included on the island and drinks can be purchased and also booked back to your room account. Lunch is 11:30 till 2 and for my next hint, make sure you eat by 2 because at this time everything literally shuts down so they can then get it all back onto the ship. 1 minute late and sorry, no food. There is an abundance of activity to do and too much to mention, but the great thing about this place is you can do as much or as little as you like. The kids of ours did the teen excursion where they snorkel, bike ride and canoe and they had a ball. Leaving the island at the end of the day gives you that sensation of leaving Disneyland the day you fly home, it is that good a place.
Every night there is something different and special. There is Formal Night where you get to meet the captain and dress up in your suits for the men and gowns for the women, everyone looks great. They have a semi-formal night, which we just treated the same as formal night, but the girls dresses were a little less wedding and more going to the theatre look, still stunning though. Then there is Pirate night. The official title for the evening is Pirates In the Caribbean and it is just a wonderful atmosphere. First everyone, and I mean everyone dresses up in something Pirate ranging from just a simple hat to the full Jack Sparrow look. Jack himself is out for meet and greet and photo opps as well. Dinner is themed around pirating and even the menu is a take home pirate map. After dinner they have the deck party, which also includes a full on dinner and desert buffet including the aforementioned gross Turkey legs. The entertainment at the party is usual Disney fare of good v evil and pirates everywhere, and includes Mickey zip lining from one of the turrets onto the stage. The climax of the show is the world cruise industry’s only permissible fireworks show, which is impressive for what it is and is shot from off the rear of the boat. Then a dance part roars until early in the morning. Pirate night is a highlight and dressing up is not mandatory, but why wouldn’t you.
I haven’t mentioned our digs yet. I need to start by saying that we did get upgraded and ended up on Deck 8 in a 5 berth family balcony suite. But I will add that we did book and pay for a balcony stateroom on Deck 6. So having cleared that up, I really suggest that if you were umming and ahhing over where to book, spend the extra and book a balcony. It is fantastic having that little piece of privacy to go back to and enjoy a coffee, cocktail or beer while watching the sun set or rise. The natural light you get inside as well is also relaxing. The bathroom is split which means the toilet is separate, and this is a good thing. The shower is a bath/shower combined thingo and there is adequate room. The beds are comfy as, even the pull from the roof or from the wall bunks. There is plenty of room inside, more than I expected and plenty of cupboard space to unpack and live a civilised existence for 7 days. The room staff are exceptional and the highlight of returning in the evening is seeing what magical towel animal they have made for you. It’s amazing how something so small can make your day like that.
I know this is long, and truthfully I could go on for another 5 pages, but I won’t. I think I’ve covered all the important bits about not only our cruise, but being on board a Disney Cruise Ship. I am happy to elaborate if anyone wants more information on what we did or any hints. To finish, we absolutely loved cruising and we loved being on a Disney Cruise Ship more. I would go again in a heartbeat, and will, just a matter of when. So if you’re thinking about it, don’t think anymore, just do it!