Admittedly, when we told friends we were heading off on a Disney cruise, we were met with a few raised eyebrows. The fact that the destination was the Bahamas, and that the trip kicked off with a night in New York, did go a long way to explain it, but still “Really, you two, a cruise?” was more often than not the response we got.
Not that there is anything wrong with a cruise of course – far from it. It was simply that as a 20- and 30-something couple in their first year of marriage, we’re not exactly in the typical cruising demographic.
Our last trip had been exploring the length of New Zealand, so “weren’t we worried we were going to find this a little staid?”. As for the Disney bit: “that’s for kids, right?”. Oh, how wrong they were (more on this later).
Oh yes, and we were taking my in laws along too.
Perhaps we did fall into a gap in the middle of the typical or expected passengers on this particular cruise ship but actually, this holiday was exactly what we needed and wanted. I have a reasonably stressful job that involves long hours and occasional burn out; my husband runs his own business, set up in the middle of the downturn, which puts his stress on a barometer far outstripping mine; and the first seven months of 2012 had seen my in laws deal with a hip replacement, sciatica and an unplanned major repair job on their home. The need for R&R was running high.
And from the moment we stepped onto the Disney Magic, to a “Welcome aboard, the Spaaaaarks family!” announcement, that’s exactly what we got. Sailing out of New York, past the Statue of Liberty (a view enjoyed from a front row seat, in the spa, enjoying a pedicure) and saluted by a fire ship, was a pretty good start, as well as being a spectacular way to enjoy the city’s skyline.
Of course, Disney does ‘family’ like no one else, and the ship was geared towards children like nobody’s business. From kids’ and family pools and 'Funnel Vision' (near constant broadcasting of Disney movies on the ship’s funnel overlooking the family pool), to classes, quizzes, meet and greets with Disney characters, Broadway-esqe stage shows scheduled several times a day, a state-of-the-art cinema showing new releases (we watched Brave, 3D), and a ‘Pirates in the Caribbean’ theme night complete with fireworks, there’s not much likelihood you’ll hear “I’m bored!” coming from the little darlings on the Disney Magic. And with more food and drink than you could shake a stick at, not much chance of “I’m hungry!” either.
The entertainment is run like clockwork on board, with tannoy announcements from Darren, the cruise director, throughout the day, accompanied by the notes to “When you wish upon a star”. No detail is left to chance. And if you miss Darren’s run down of what’s on, there’s also a daily programme, called the Navigator, delivered to your stateroom (cabin) each evening for the next day.
It was surprising to learn that Disney underestimated how popular their cruises would be with young families – the ship’s nursery was originally a kitchen. These days, there are kids clubs and nurseries for children of all ages to use as much or as little as they like. With one-way glass so parents can pop by and check they’re having fun, to a soundproofed tunnel to get the kids from one end of the ship to the other, while letting them make as much noise as they like, again are examples of that attention to detail.
But enough, for now, about the kids, for our motley crew had a mean age of around 50, with no under-agers in sight. This meant we spend most of our time on board in adult-only bliss, from bubbles in the hot tub in the adult-only pool section, to spa treatments, cocktails in the piano bar (where the pianist took a shine to my mother in law and dedicated songs to her every night) and a later dining sitting (8.15pm).
It’s worth mentioning Disney Cruises’ clever dining set up. They have a system called ‘rotational dining’, which means you alternate between the Magic’s three main restaurants (Caribbean Parrot Cay, French Lumiere’s, and Animators Palate) ensuring you experience all of the dining options more than once – although the menu varies on each visit. You are allocated two servers on your first night who follow you to your restaurant each night. It is extremely effective: the servers know you by name, and you get to know the people in the surrounding tables as they follow the same rotation as you. There are other, informal dining options, specifically a buffet, so is possible to deviate from the rotation should you wish.
[Related feature: Disney Magic 11-night Med cruise review]
Palo also do a spectacular brunch (think table upon table of gourmet treats from the finest buffalo mozzarella to caviar).
Service in Palo, as with the rotational dining, really was second to none. Our waiter, walking past our table, spotted that my poached egg was rather overcooked. The next thing I knew, it was whisked away and redone, without me having to utter a word of complaint. And for my father in law, a special dish was devised for our last night (unfortunately it was pasta, not his favourite but then he was gambling by going off menu in an Italian restaurant), and spicy (again, not his thing), but still it made him feel special – something the entire Disney Magic crew were adept at.
Nothing was too much trouble, from the nightly towel art (my husband loved it so much he bought the towel origami book and has now perfected the monkey, much to the delight of guests to our house) to the bar staff who remembered your name after you’d ordered just one drink, and our housekeeper who managed to find me a not-for-sale Disney Cruise Line dressing gown (it’s fleece-lined and divine) to buy.
There were three shore days, or ‘Port Adventures’, where we left the comfort of the Magic to enjoy some on-land Disney fun. In Nassau we swam with dolphins (bucket list entry now ticked), on Castaway Cay (Disney’s private Bahamian island) we opted for (more) down time and indulged in nothing more strenuous than snorkeling, a glass-bottomed boat ride, and floating in the bath-like Caribbean sea. There were plenty more adrenalin-filled activities for those more adventurous (less lazy) than us – friends we met on board raved about their paragliding experience.
We loved sailing into port in our handsome, art deco-inspired ship, the black hull, white mid section, and touches of red and yellow on top (classic Mickey colours, naturally) standing out next to the ‘floating milk carton’ typically white cruise ships docking alongside us.
The final port adventure was a trip to the Disney parks in Florida, on the return leg up the American coast back to New York. It was my in laws first time – we squeezed in both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom – and inevitably we had a ball. Admittedly, however, we did all feel an undeniable sense of contentment when we bundled back onto the coach to return ‘home’ to our stateroom and ship.
So, it’s pretty safe to say, we’re Disney cruise converts. We were already looking into booking another one while still on board (that ‘20 per cent off if you book it while still on board’ offer is pretty tempting), especially as the Disney Magic is coming a little closer to home next year, with four, seven and 12 night itineraries departing from Barcelona and exploring the best of the Med.
It really was a very special holiday for all four of us – I don’t think one of us can remember being as relaxed. There was a lot of fun, and a lot of laughter. And while we might not have had children with us, it undoubtedly released the inner child in each of us. At risk of sounding like a Disney tourism ambassador, you are never too old to enjoy the magic of Disney – it’s pure escapism, and isn’t that really what holidays are for?
And I certainly felt like a child again as we trundled reluctantly up the gangplank to disembark at the end of the trip. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt such foot-dragging, don’t-want-to-leave, end-of-holiday blues. Even the promise of another day in New York stretching before us before flying home wasn’t enough to make up for it.
Four-night Mediterranean Cruise on Disney Magic from £699
Virgin Holidays Cruises offers four nights on ‘Disney Magic’ from Barcelona to Villefranche, Palma and Barcelona. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing an 11c inside cabin on a full-board basis and includes resort transfers, flights from a London Airport and $50 onboard credit. Based on departure date 9 July 2013. Offer is subject to availability and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Book by 15 November 2012.
To book: Visit www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk, call 0844 573 4398 or visit one of the 100 stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s nationwide.