Let's start with the basics and background information. On this trip were my wife (Darlene), our 9-year-old daughter (April), and myself (Bill). We are from Salt Lake City, Utah. In the past we have cruised 3 times with Princess and once with Premier on the Big Red Boat (Oceanic). This was our first cruise with Disney but we have been to Disney World and Disneyland many times.
We arrived in Orlando a week before the cruise to enjoy the theme parks and made our own air arrangements to save money. However, we did purchase Disney's round trip transfers from the airport to the ship. We were dropped off at the airport about 11:15 on the day of sailing and had no problem finding the Disney busses that would take us to the ship. There are plenty of Disney reps to help direct you to the right place. We were the first passengers on the next bus heading to the port and only had a short wait before we were on the road heading east. Disney handles this part of embarkation very well.
On board the bus a 40-minute video about the ship and boarding procedures is shown. It's more commercial than informative but it did help pass the time quickly. Upon arrival at the pier the luggage is unloaded and you just have to pick up your carry on bags and head up the escalator to check in. Be sure to tag your non-carry on bags with the tags that Disney supplies so they can be sent to your stateroom.
At the top of the escalator are 25 or so check-in lines. The first three, to the left as you stand in line, are for non-US citizens. We were in the first line after that which moved faster than the others because if there weren't any non-US citizens checking in they would wave the next person in our line over. This was the short line. After receiving our room/charge cards we got in a second, very very very long line to board the ship. Considering how long the line was, it did move fairly quickly and I was too excited to be bothered by it anyway. :-)
Once onboard we had a "welcome aboard" photo taken before stepping into the ship's atrium. Disney's attention to detail is fabulous. You are met by a bronze Mickey at the helm and the staircases have iron carvings of many of the characters up the walls! Once onboard you are free to roam the ship or go straight to your stateroom, and we choose the latter to drop off our bags and see our home for the next week. We were in a Navigator's Veranda cabin, #7122, and it was by far the best stateroom we have ever stayed in! The bathrooms are unique and very convenient when traveling with 3 people. One bathroom has the toilet and a sink, the other the shower/bath and a sink. There is plenty of space to store your toiletries in both bathrooms. There is also ample space in the closet and dressers and desk to stash all your stuff when unpacked. Our only minor problem was storing the suitcases because 2 of them were too fat to fit under the bed. We solved this by opening one suitcase up and sliding it under that way. The other fit in the closet and still left plenty of room for clothes.
At 4pm you have a mandatory fire drill, making sure everyone is present and knows what to do in the unlikely event of a real life emergency! At dinner (we had the 8:30pm seating) we met up with our "table-mates". We were lucky as they were all great people -Robin and Tony from San Diego with their daughter Lauren, and Jenny and Dave from Ohio - we all laughed, joked, told stories, and shared our experiences the whole time.
The ship itself is beautiful. Depending on where you are it ranges from elegant to fun. Although there is Disney stuff everywhere, you don't feel hit over the head by it, because most of it is subtle. There are plenty of characters about for those photo opportunities if you need proof that you went on a Disney cruise! :-) The restaurants are beautiful (Lumiere's) and fun (the others). The lounges are comfortable, and the main show theater is wonderful, with great sight lines. There is plenty of deck space. The Mickey and Goofy pools can get a bit crowded by late in the morning. Even the Quite Cove pool filled up on our days at sea. If you have kids that want to use the slide, get them up to the Mickey pool by 9am and they will be able to get a few trips down before it gets crowded and they have to stand in line. Everything is kept clean and in good condition. Seems like we couldn't walk very far without seeing a crewmember cleaning something.
They always had 24 hour self serve milk, water, ice, coffee, decaf, tea (with a wide variety of tea bags) outside of Topsiders deck 9. This was a convenient way to grab a quick cup of coffee and sit out on the veranda before heading out for breakfast.
The 4 restaurants on the Magic all have different themes. Palo requires you to make a reservation and pay an extra $5 per person but it is well worth it. The food there is outstanding! The best I have ever had on a cruise and better than 95% of the restaurants I've eaten in. Be sure to get the souffle for dessert, it is to die for! :-). When going to the other restaurants, arrive a few minutes later than your seating time. This will save you some time of standing in line. Our waiter's name was Dave, from Jamaica, and Boulent who is from Turkey assisted him. They both made dinner a pleasure for our tablemates and us.
I would rate the overall food quality as a step below what we are used to on Princess. Certainly not bad quality but not as good as it could be. The pizza from Pinocchio's on deck 9 was pretty good but the hamburger I had from Pluto's, also on deck 9, was poor. I didn't try the ice cream from Scoop's, deck 9, but my daughter says it was good so I'll take her word for it. :-)
Animators Palate has a black and white decor that changes to color by dessert. There are numerous screens around the restaurant with sketches from Disney movies that change from black and white to color. I really expected the change to color to be more elaborate and dramatic than it was but it did make for an interesting dinner.
Parrot Cay has a tropical theme and was probably my favorite restaurant as far as the decor is concerned. It is the most festive of the bunch.
Lumiere's is the most elegant with a large mural in the back featuring Beauty and the Beast and other characters from the movie. Note the use of roses in this restaurant. I thought it was a nice touch, though you might not 'get it' if you haven't seen the movie. :-)
Speaking of movies, one advantage to a Disney cruise is access to first run feature films. On our cruise we caught 'Atlantis' and I stayed up late one night to watch 'Pearl Harbor'. These movies are shown in the Buena Vista Theater on deck 5, aft. Some of the other movies playing were 'Castaway', 'Chocolat', 'Spy Kids', and 'Recess: School's Out'. I think there were a couple of others also. There are two movie channels on your stateroom TV as well. One played Disney animated classics and the other live action shows from other Disney studios.
We signed April up for the Oceaneer's Lab but she really didn't spend too much time doing their activities. She hooked up with a couple of friends she made on the ship and spent time 'exploring'. :-) We felt perfectly comfortable letting her do this with the 2 way radios we had taken with us. Just give her one and let her go!
Ports of call are St. Martin, St. Thomas, and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. We'd been to St. Martin and St. Thomas before so there were no surprises there for us. Disney does offer a wide variety of shore excursions on both islands.
We chose the Golden Eagle Catamaran excursion on St. Martin. This includes as an hour or so ride over to an island for swimming and snorkeling as well as snacks and sandwiches and an open bar on the way back. Guess which part I liked more! The trip over was against the waves and very rough. Everyone in the front of the boat, where I was, got soaked from the waves. It was actually pretty fun.
On St. Thomas we took the Atlantis Submarine trip. This was probably worth doing once but is one of those things that now that I've done it I don't feel the need to ever do it again. One of the more interesting parts of the cruise happened as we were leaving St. Thomas. I was on the top deck watching us pull away from the dock. The ship was probably 30 or 40 feet from the dock when I noticed us stop and move back towards the dock! That's when another person up top with me noticed people on shore running for the ship. Talk about cutting it close! I don't know if they had lost track of time or had some other problem but I'd have a heart attack if I saw my ship starting to leave without me on it! I never found out who those people were, and I wonder if the captain might have paid them a visit later. :-)
Castaway Cay is a great private island experience. However, if you want a beach chair under an umbrella on the family beach you must be one of the first off the ship. We didn't get off for about 45 minutes after we were cleared and had to sit in the sun for the most part. We did manage to sneak a chair close enough to a palm tree to get some shade for the morning.
Disembarkation - In the morning you can have breakfast at the same restaurant where you had dinner the night before, or catch the buffet at Topsiders. First seating is served at 6:45 and second at 8:00. I was very glad to have second seating and catch that extra sleep. After breakfast you are free to leave the ship at your leisure, as long as it is by 9:00. :-) Found the bags easily, walked about 100 yards to the Delta check in area, and then hopped on the bus. It is a very smooth and easy transition back to the real world. If you're carrying a lot of bags you might want to consider using one of the porters to help you through customs and to the bus area.
Overall I thought this was a terrific vacation. Although Disney probably won't be my choice for our next cruise, I would not hesitate to cruise with them again someday. If you were considering Disney, I'd say go for it! It's not a completely traditional cruise experience but it is a lot of fun!