Age: 36 to 45
Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Disney
Ship: Disney Magic
Sailing Date: November 8, 1999
Itinerary: 4 day cruise
This was our first cruise, myself, Sue my wife and the kids, Thomas (age 10) and Rebecca (age 7). It was a marvellous holiday and one which I would not hesitate to recommend for families. We combined the cruise with 3 days in The Polynesian Resort in Disneyland, the entire package was seamless, easy and very relaxing. However we were very glad that we booked an additional week in Orlando after the cruise:- there simply wasn't enough time to see everything.
Having read other reviews from more experienced cruisers they all commented on the ease of boarding. This was true, but as a non US citizen more time consuming than for Americans. I rather resented having our passports taken away by the company. However once on board the atmosphere was pure Disney, friendly and fantasy in equal measures. On boarding the ship your family is announced over the PR sytem to be arriving - rather nice. The cabin (stateroom seems a somewhat over-enthusiastic term) was comfortable. The 3rd bed was well hidden and its apparent absence caused some discussion.
The cabin overall was good with the open air balcony a real pleasure (very well guarded to prevent children going overboard). There is also an (empty in our case) minibar fridge. We stocked this up with cans of soft drinks for the kids (soft drinks are not free except at meals). I also found that it was good to be able to escape from the madding crowd and sit on the balcony with a cold beer and a book. The room steward was helpful (by the way they do not get a salary and rely on tips)and efficent.
Most Europeans will not be used to the amount of tipping expected. A 15% tip is added automatically to any drink you buy. Disney offers you a "recommended amount" to cover the steward and various waiters. This added up to around $160 for the four of us. Although our tour company had pre-paid this for us it could be an expensive surprise.
We had a very calm sea for the trip, but I did not notice when the ship started to move, rather the hooter blasted out the first few notes of "when you wish apon a star" You just have to go with it. I didn't see anybody being seasick and at times you didn't know the ship was moving.
One of our concerns prior to boarding was perhaps rather silly, but we were concerned about the children falling overboard. In fact the main deck that the children use is glassed in, really very reassuring.
For families the facilities are marvelous, with entertainment throughout the day. There was a show in the main theatre for 3 nights and a family show in the afternoon on the day when there was no evening show. All were worth going to. The cinema showed a range of family and adult films. There were family quiz shows each night, also good fun. There are excellent clubs for kids of various ages where you could theoretically leave a child from 7am to 12 midnight (you are issued a beeper for emergencies or when they get fed up).
The food was good but not outstanding. There are 2 sittings for the evening meal, 6.30pm and 8.30pm you specify which one at the time of booking your cruise. It is worth knowing that this choice affects the time of breakfast on your last day:- those who attend the 6.30 sitting have breakfast at a very unrelaxed time of 7.00am. The kids graze all day on burgers, hot dogs, fries and ice cream which were available more or less all the time. The soft drink bill soon adds up - they are only free during adult meal times! You rotate restaurants each night, the same service team accompany you, we found our servers to be excellent and helpful:- making up a makeshift bed on the floor for overtired children was no problem (childless couples may wish to avoid viewing such spectacles by eating in the adults only restaurant!). However I think it fair to say that you don't take this cruise for the quality of the food.
The day at Nassau is potentially very good or alternatively mediocre. We had been previously warned that the organized trips were expensive and a little disappointing, our fellow passengers who took them seemed generally to agree with this assessment. The islanders seem to regard the cruise ships as fruit for picking and we got 3rd world hassle at 1st world prices when walking the streets. We had previously arranged a dolphin swim with Dolphin Encounters over the internet. They are not the most organized of companies but the whole family loved this - do it if you can, but book months in advance as space is limited. You are boated out to an idyllic island and small groups (8 people in ours) have about 40 minutes of really close contact with these marvelous mammals. Take a towel, its $15 for the cheapest if you have to buy one there. You can buy a video of the event after for around $50.
The following day was a day at sea. In fact all the ship did was go round in circles. This is fine because being on the ship was a pleasure, but another port of call, or indeed 2 days at Castaway Cay would have been much better.
Castaway Cay was great, a really beautiful island. Get off the boat early if you are planning to stay on the beach near the boat, as the hammocks soon get snapped up. Towels are handed out as you get off the boat. There are plenty of loungers to go round. There are 2 snorkeling trails (equipment hire extra!!) with lots to see (fish, artifical reef which needs some time to become interesting, and I even saw a turtle). The snorkelling area is netted off from fish with big teeth and is watched by quite zealous lifeguards who don't like you swimming outside of the rope.
Lunch is barbeque food which took about 40 minutes to get because of queues. No bicycles were available for hire because the hurricane had scrapped them, but a walk of about a mile past the adults only beach brings you to a deserted but beautiful sandy area where you can happily play Robinson Crusoe (no shark net though). I would head straight here with a picnic on a return visit.
The debarkation was pretty grim as a non US citizen. We were told that we had had to present ourselves at 6.30 to US immigration in one of the bars on board. In fact we overslept and were woken at 7.00 with a phone call and did not have to queue at all. I'd recommend this approach, as frankly getting up at that hour is most un-holiday like, and it is being done purely to allow Disney time to clean the boat before the next trip which leaves in the afternoon. Still the immigration officers were surprising pleasant.
Overall I would highly recommend this as a fantastic family holiday. Surrender to the atmosphere and you'll love it. Don't imagine that you'll get away without spending money on board, the cheapest bottle of wine with dinner was $26, cokes etc are $2, tips are expected, Nassau is expensive and things like snorkeling equipment add up. But go, you'll love it. We did.