Before You Go
For more information about Disney or for reservations, call or visit your nearest AAA Travel Agency. A list of offices to serve you is on page 31, or visit Or call 1-888-FON-4AAA (1-888-366-4222).
Cruise passengers also can combine Disney Cruise Line vacations with visits to Walt Disney World Resort. Land and sea packages are available. Just ask your AAA Travel Agent for details.

Magic voyage
Disney Cruise Line’s new western Caribbean itinerary enchants more than just children

Published: Nov/Dec 2002
By Dennis R. Heinze
Regional Editor

Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, is a paradise of palm trees, water sports, sand castles and relaxation. /Disney Cruise Line photo
Walking aboard the Disney Magic to a party atmosphere with rattling maracas and Mexican music, a crew member quietly asked our name and then announced over a microphone to the mass of passengers entering the ship, “Everyone welcome the Heinze family. Saludos amigos!”

As we headed to our cabin, our 5-year-old son looked puzzled.

“How did they know our name?” he asked. “Was it magic?”

We assured him it wasn’t, but he and his younger brother didn’t believe us. For the rest of the cruise, they thought that the ship had some enchanting powers. By the end of the voyage, we tended to agree with them.

Parents who travel with young children know that vacations aren’t typically relaxing. It’s more like work when you must find family friendly places to eat, activities that different-aged children will enjoy and pack everyone in and out of the car to get around. Finding time just for mom and dad is nearly impossible.

But we found it all on the Disney Magic, which is now sailing on a new, seven-night western Caribbean itinerary from Port Canaveral, Fla., with four captivating ports of call. Surprisingly, the trip was just as enjoyable for extended family and friends who accompanied us and who don’t have children of their own. The magic, it seems, works on children, parents, grandparents, singles, couples and teens.

Catering to everyone

To accommodate a variety of different cruisers, the Disney Magic offers an array of activities, programs, shows, restaurants and entertainment options. The three pools are a good example of how the ship caters to its diverse passengers. A shallow pool, designed in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s famous head, is for toddlers and young children, and a deeper pool is for families. And away from the symphony of shrieks, giggles and splashes of the first two swimming areas is a quieter adults-only pool.

For younger passengers, nearly one entire deck is devoted to them. Disney offers extensive children’s programming, with age-specific activities for children 3 months through 18 years.

Our youngest son spent some time in the Flounder’s Reef Nursery, which is available for children under 3 on an appointment basis for a fee. We had to book the service early because space is limited in the bright and cheerful day care setting.

Older children will find plenty of choices to keep them busy. The Oceaneer Club offers an array of activities for children 3–7, all organized by high-energy Disney counselors. In addition to some play areas with a slide and mock pirate ship, there are tables for arts and crafts and a stage where staff put on interactive shows.

The Oceaneer Lab on the ship offers plenty of hands-on activites for children 8–12. /Disney Cruise Line photo
For children 8–12, the Oceaneer Lab features a variety of hands-on lab stations filled with gadgets, video screens, computers and experiments. They can make their own batch of “Flubber” goo, learn how to draw Disney characters, produce a newscast and more.

Parents of children under 12 who participate in any of the programs receive a pager so children can contact their parents at any time. The children’s clubs remain open until midnight each night, and on a few select evenings, they are open until 1 a.m.

Teens have their own separate area called Common Grounds, which looks like a New York-style coffee house. There’s music, games, a large-screen television, an Internet café and more to keep them busy. Adults are strictly forbidden from the area so teens can relax without their parents interfering.

Though most of the passengers aboard are traveling with children, surprisingly, about one-fourth of the passengers on our cruise were there without children. Disney Cruise Line is experiencing an increase in the number of multigenerational families who are choosing to cruise, so accompanying many families are aunts, uncles, older brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins and friends who don’t have little children of their own.

For those adults traveling alone or for the parents whose children are in programs, there are activities designed for them. The three nightclubs in the entertainment district called Beat Street are reserved for adults only after 9 p.m. And there’s an extensive exercise room for working out and a spa and salon for soothing tired muscles and becoming beautiful.

Dining and destinations

The slide into the children’s pool onboard the ship is held aloft by Mickey’s famous hand (above). Adults can take soothing massages in cabanas on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, where the ocean breezes and sound of the surf will help you relax even more (below). /Disney Cruise Line photos
Disney employs an innovative system for dining whereby guests rotate through three themed restaurants during the cruise instead of eating in the same dining room every night. In each restaurant, the food arrives to the table quickly, especially the children’s meals, which helps avert the restless impatience that children–ours notwithstanding–often exhibit at restaurants.

Of the three dining rooms, Lumiere’s is the most refined, featuring Continental cuisine served with a French flair. The walls of Animator’s Palate are decorated with drawings of classic Disney characters, and as your meal progresses, the images transform from black and white to full color. The final restaurant, Parrot Cay, was our favorite with its festive and colorful décor of the islands, including chandeliers made of bunches of bananas with parrots perched on them.

We took advantage of our time while our sons were in programming to visit Palo, a separate restaurant not on the rotation that is reserved exclusively for adults. Guests must make reservations for the elegant Italian restaurant, but the fee is only $5 per person. The cuisine was the best we had on the ship, highlighted by a 270-degree view of the sea. We feasted on pumpkin-filled raviollini with shrimp sauce, and grilled eggplant with triple tomato balsamic relish. The restaurant also hosts a fantastic champagne brunch on one of the days at sea, which should not be missed.

The cruise also offered a delicious smorgasbord of excursions at the four ports of call. A range of choices was available for adults and for families with all ages of children. The excursion information you receive on the ship, which you can check out online at before your cruise, notes what age guests must be for each tour.

In the first port, Key West, we took an hour-long Conch Train tour of the island, which was a good choice for our young sons who haven’t developed the longest attention span yet. We saw the Harry S. Truman Little White House where the former president vacationed, Ernest Hemingway’s home and a marker noting the southernmost point in the United States. The tour begins and ends in a shopping district where you can find plenty of t-shirts and souvenirs.

The ship stays in Key West until late evening, so cruisers can soak in the sunset festivities in Mallory Square adjoining the port, where locals and visitors celebrate the setting of the sun every day of the year. Street performers, vendors and revelers all intently watch as the sun casts its warm glow on the Gulf of Mexico, slowly sinking below the horizon.

In Grand Cayman, which is part of the British West Indies, we opted for the Beach Break excursion to the renowned Seven Mile Beach, where the crystal waters were so inviting. Other members in our party took a trip to Stingray City where they petted velvety stingrays as the graceful creatures glided around them.

The island of Cozumel offered a chance for us to explore Chankanaab National Park. Shady paths snake through this botanical garden setting that surrounds a lagoon, where our sons and I watched members of our group pet a dolphin that swam past a submerged platform on which they were standing.

The highlight for us was the final port, Disney’s private island paradise called Castaway Cay. We spent a lazy day on the beach building sandcastles, taking out a paddle boat and swimming in the gentle surf. Other members of our group went snorkeling and had massages in beachside cabanas. On the island, there’s also a secluded beach called Serenity Bay that is reserved for adults only.

Searching for Mary Poppins

While my wife and I were enjoying ourselves, we could only imagine how our sons felt at seeing so many activities, shows and little touches aimed directly at them. Children are the priority on board, and it seemed nearly every crew member tried to make the experience fun for them, which helped explain how roughly one-third of the passengers on our sailing were repeat Disney cruisers.

Our sons had a running challenge with our stateroom hostess to hide a pair of sunglasses from her, which she would inevitably find and put on the whimsical towel animals she created and left in our room at night. The wait staff created paper hats and boats for the boys, and other crew members were always ready with smiles or high fives.

When our older son declined desert for several nights, our waiter was stunned that a small boy didn’t want cake or ice cream. So on the fourth night of taking his order for “nothing,” the waiter produced a plate covered by a stainless steel lid. When he lifted it up, on the plate was written “nothing” in chocolate sauce, which made our son’s eyes light up.

For the rest of the cruise, he ordered “nothing” every night after dinner, giving new meaning to the phrase “lick the plate clean.” On the last night he even asked for “nothing” topped with whipped cream.

All of the children on board were obviously elated every time they saw one of the Disney characters. The ship posts a schedule of appearances every day so guests can get pictures or autographs from their favorites. While our older son was disappointed that he never saw Mary Poppins, he found a new cast of characters to cherish when he watched “Return to Never Land” in the Buena Vista Theatre, which shows first-run and classic Disney movies.

Some of the characters from “Peter Pan” and other Disney movies made appearances in “Disney Dreams,” one of the ship’s excellent original stage productions in the 977-seat Walt Disney Theater. There was also a vaudeville-style salute to Hercules and a delightful show about a bumbling magician who becomes able to cut a woman in half and escape from a tank of water while handcuffed and suspended upside down thanks to Mickey Mouse, who grants his wish to be great.

After the show, I tried to explain to our sons about the concept of magical tricks and slight-of-hand illusions, but they didn’t buy it.

“I know about tricks, Dad,” our older son replied with a heavy sigh, “but this was real magic, right?”

I could only agree, seeing the effect that the show and the entire cruise had on him and our extended family.

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