We just returned from our first voyage aboard Disney Cruise Line, on the Disney Magic. It had been a long time coming. Sarah has been asking when we can go on a Disney cruise for a few years, but I’ve always managed to persuade her that we have more pressing priorities. We “needed” to go to the parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and revisit Walt Disney World and Disneyland a number of times first, among other things.
My powers of persuasion finally failed me a few weeks ago when she spotted a sub-$400 per person rate on a 3-night Disney Magic cruise (my suggestion that we should first visit every US National Park wasn’t exactly well-received). Relative to other trips, it was inexpensive and it was short (my biggest requirement for our first cruise).
I don’t know if I’ll do a trip report for the cruise (I don’t have photos for some of the best aspects of the cruise, and I have a lot of redundant photos from parts that don’t bear discussing), but I wanted to do an overall ‘reaction’ post while the experience is still fresh in my mind as this was positively one of the best domestic Disney experiences we’ve had in years.
Before going, it’s not that I was necessarily opposed to the idea of a cruise, I just didn’t think it would be for me. I don’t take vacations–I travel. The distinction is in that I think the former connotes a certain level of relaxation, and I just don’t like doing that. I return from every trip we take exhausted, by choice. I like getting up early, being active all day, and staying up late. Because of this, I figured a cruise was a recipe for going stir crazy as I’d be confined to a small ship and basically ‘forced’ to lie around a pool.
For the days leading up to it, I was actually nervous about the cruise, and I’ve never been nervous or apprehensive about going anywhere. I was concerned about this loss of control, and that it would essentially amount to three days of lost time, anxiously sitting around a pool or beach. I know a lot of people enjoy lounging around a pool or beach for hours on end, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not one of those people.
Besides reading a couple of blog posts, I had done almost nothing in the way of researching Disney cruises, so I really didn’t know what they entailed. My fears started to ease as we watched the on-bus video as we transferred from All Star Sports (we stayed at Walt Disney World the night before our cruise as travel out of the Midwest this winter has been challenging due to weather) and I saw some of the options available. I also saw glimpses of the ships, their details, and entertainment. My mind also started racing with photo ideas.
My initial concerns about cruising seemed downright silly within an hour of being aboard the ship. I was immediately impressed by the Art Deco-meets-Disney design of the ship and knew I’d have a blast simply exploring the new environment…even if it wasn’t as expansive as a theme park. Beyond that, the cruise ship was much larger than I envisioned, and had a number of places and things to do. I expected it to be a series of rooms with some common areas, restaurants, and a place for shows. It was much more than that–and this was on the smallest ship!
This variety of places to be and things to see was a big thing for me, as it eliminated that feeling of confinement. It might seem strange, but I don’t mind not doing a lot so long as I have the freedom to do it. Often times, I’ll slow down and enjoy things; I’m not (always) bouncing all around like a hyper-active child.
It’s completely a mental thing, but that freedom (even if I don’t take advantage of it) is the big thing. Just by virtue of having so many spaces and unique things to see, I felt like I had that freedom, even if it only existed within the bounds of the ship. This may make absolutely no sense or not be at all rational, but no one ever accused this blog of comprehensible thought, so oh well.
That succinct point of that rambling is probably best summarized by saying that Disney Cruise Line didn’t feel like a cruise so much as it did a floating breed of Disney entertainment and environment. Like a hybrid of a Disney hotel and a Disney theme park. Hopefully that makes a little more sense. I don’t think I’ll ever completely be able to put my finger on how or why it works for me, but it does.
In terms of the individual components that I loved about the cruise, the best aspect of the cruise ended up being the dining. This wasn’t much of a surprise–even at Walt Disney World this has become a bigger draw for us than attractions. Our dining rotation consisted of Palo, Animator’s Palate, and Lumiere’s.
We initially booked dinner at Palo despite hearing recommendations to do brunch (brunch wasn’t available for online booking at the last minute). Our waiter at Palo told us they might have brunch availability and we loved dinner so much that as soon as we found out brunch was available, we jumped at that, too. Our meals at Palo were nothing short of amazing, and the other two restaurants weren’t slouches, either.
I’ll cover each of these restaurants in their own reviews, but one thing worth mentioning now is the service. It was Disney guest service at its finest at every meal, at a consistent level we haven’t otherwise experienced outside of Tokyo. (There’s something to be said for great service that’s also primarily in English, too!)
The shows and entertainment were also very good. I wasn’t a fan of Villains Tonight, but the other two Disney stage shows were very good (again, more on these in separate posts) as were the other entertainment options during the course of the trip. The crew members hosting each of these activities was engaging and made them work. Even in the case of the sparsely-attended late night adult offerings, we had a lot of fun because the crew members hosting the entertainment did such a good job.
Likewise, service was one of the big things across the board that made our experience on the Disney Cruise Line so great. Every Cast Member was friendly and helpful at a minimum, and most went above and beyond. It wasn’t just a feigned, “have a magical day!” type of friendless, but more a seemingly genuine interest in what we had been doing, how we were enjoying the cruise, and whether there was anything they could do to make it better. The crew members truly seemed passionate about Disney Cruise Line, and that was evident.
We found Disney Cruise Line fires on all cylinders in a way we haven’t witnessed at Walt Disney World in years. To be sure, Walt Disney World will always hold a special place in my heart and even now we love visiting the Florida parks. With the amount of across the board cost-cutting and slipping standards that have plagued Walt Disney World in recent years, it was refreshing to discover a new-to-us Disney offering in (or out of) Florida that reminded me of the Walt Disney World of old.
Everything on the ship was immaculate and looked brand new, and I didn’t notice a single spot where things looked worn. (To the contrary, on my early morning walks of the ship, I saw many maintenance workers and a lot of “Careful – Freshly Applied Varnish” signs on places that didn’t seem like problems the night before–the type of preventative maintenance for which Disney parks were once known!) Between the tip-top look of the ships and the exemplary guest service, plus great entertainment and dining, it was clear that the “Disney Difference” is alive and well on the Disney Cruise Line.
The Disney Difference is why I’ve been a lifelong Disney fan, and it helped reaffirm some of my passion for Disney. Even if I had felt uncomfortable or confined on the cruise ship for whatever reason, I would have had a great time thanks to that Disney Difference. In actuality, it turned out that I was not left wanting for things to do nor did I feel confined.
The entertainment lineup on the ship was full fleshed out with multiple options every hour, and while we did a good number of these, I found myself enjoying the new style of cruise vacationing. It was like a compromise between my normal always on the go style and a more relaxed vacation, and it was still very satisfying. While I could have ramped it up and done even more, I also could have done much less, too. I came back from the trip feeling both a sense of accomplishment and also less tired than when we left!
I could go on about the various things we enjoyed about the cruise in painstaking detail (I haven’t even touched upon Castaway Cay, the fireworks, the merchandise, etc.) but that’s not really the point of the post. The point is that the Cruise Line is Disney at its best, and is worth checking out even for those who don’t view themselves as cruise people. “Magic” is a fluffy word recklessly thrown around when describing Disney’s various offerings, and I’m normally not particularly fond of its overuse, but I think in the case of Disney Cruise Line, it’s appropriate.
While I discovered that I am (or at least can be on the Disney ships) a cruise person, I still maintain that cruises aren’t for everyone. Setting aside the people who get severely seasick (as I know nothing about the varying degrees of seasick-ness, the medicines for it, etc.), I think there a decent number of people who going on cruises won’t suit. The biggest category is the large contingent of Disney fans who are objective-driven, making tight plans and strategies to accomplish as much as possible.
I suppose there are things to accomplish on the Disney Cruise Line, but there aren’t nearly as many and the same degree of strategizing just isn’t necessary. These people might seem to be in the same category as me–the always ‘on the go’ type–but I think the difference is that my sense of accomplishment can be fulfilled by doing virtually anything, so long as it’s not aimless. Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference, I’m not really sure. It’s at least something for the plan-driven Disney fans to consider.
Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out which cruise to do next. Since originally publishing this post several years ago, we’ve become bona-fide Disney Cruise Line addicts. Last year, we did a few cruises, including the Norwegian Fjords cruise (read our full Norway Disney Cruise Guide for more), which has been our favorite cruise to date. For 2018, we want to do another big one. I’d love to go to Alaska, but Disney cruises don’t afford good opportunities to see its National Parks (at least not Denali or Gates of the Arctic). Sarah is game for whatever–she’s just ready to get back on those beautiful boats again. We’ll keep you posted as to where we head next, so stay tuned!
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If you’ve been on the Disney Cruise Line, what did you think of it? Anyone else have a similar experience of not thinking it would be for them? If you haven’t cruised, is there anything you’d like us to cover regarding the Disney Cruise Line in our upcoming posts? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments!