By Hank Schrader, European Destination Specialist & Ocean & River Cruise Expert
My first ocean cruise was on the Disney Magic in 1999. To say the least, I was wowed and an instant convert to cruising. Disney is always special, just as when I was growing up, their movies and TV shows were so unique and classical, that everyone knows who they are. To me, it was no surprise, when Forbes Magazine in February 2016, named Disney as the most valuable brand in the world.
This November, Anne & I and our daughter’s family are going to sail on the Disney Wonder. I think it will be my 26th ocean cruise. I already know it will be Wonder & Magic! We will get to see Disney Cruises through our granddaughter’s eyes. So, let’s learn about this wonderful cruise line by recounting our experiences on the Magic that we sailed on the 17 or so years ago.
The Disney Magic 1999
To me, there were many unique features of a Disney cruise—these have remained with me since 1999. First, the very nice bathrooms were split, so two could get ready at the same time. Second, there were Disney characters everywhere—it was awesome! Third, as expected, the shows were great. Fourth, the dining was unique—it rotated between 3 different restaurants with your same wait staff. Really cool!
As with all things Disney, the brand is always consistent. Besides the Disney characters, there are hidden Mickeys throughout the ship. Disney even got a waiver from international maritime rules so the lifeboats could be painted yellow. Why, you ask? Because Mickey Mouse’s colors are red, white, black and yellow.
Our cruise was out of Port Canaveral. We had only two ports. They were Nassau, Bahamas and Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. Today, several cruise lines have private islands or are developing them, but in 1999 this was truly unique and Disney had really found a special way extend its brand by creating a Disney Island. They also leveraged a visit to Disney World by allowing folks to visit both the theme park and take a cruise—you didn’t even have to get a new room key as it would work on your Disney World hotel room and your stateroom cabin. It is the attention to detail that Disney is famous for and will no doubt continue on our upcoming cruise.
The rotational dining was also a Disney first in 1999 and is still unique in the cruise industry. The rotational night dining system uses 3 main dining rooms and you and your wait staff rotate together between these 3 dining rooms. The dining rooms were: Animator’s Palate; the French-inspired dining of Lumieres and the tropical themed, Parrot Cay.
Animator’s Palate deserves special mention. At the start of meal all paintings on the walls are black & white Disney characters; as meal progresses they turn to color—unbelievably Cool! The waiters even wear vests of black and white and by the end of the meal, they are in color also.
The Disney Wonder 2016
The Wonder will sail out of Galveston for the winter season of 2016-2017. It is the sister ship of the Magic, so we already know a lot about her—it will have many of the good features we first experienced in 1999. In September, 2016, the ship is scheduled for a refurbishing, with updates to the ship’s cabins, lounges, restaurants and spa area. The biggest changes will be to the pool area with the addition of a water slide. These upgrades are designed to make the ship similar to the Magic, who received its upgrade in 2013. During the Magic’s upgrade, some announced upgrades changed, so by the time we sail, some upgrades may change. On our 7 day cruise, we will visit Key West, Castaway Cay and Nassau.
Castaway Cay will be different from our first visit, but it will not have changed significantly. It has had some hurricane damage and there have been some changes, but the same theme of the island remains—it is built to look like a ship wreck area built from whatever is left over from the wreckage. To be honest, I really liked the place, especially since you are docked and can walk on & off the ship. The island has three beach areas—adults only zone, teens area and the large family area beaches. Here are some 1999 photos of Castaway Cay:
On the Wonder, there are 3 main dining areas. They are (presently): Triton’s, Parrot Cay and Animator’s Palate. As described above, each night, the guests rotate to another restaurant, sitting at the same table number, with the same wait staff. Each of the restaurants’ decor and menus are themed. Triton’s has an art deco dining room that serves French cuisine. Parrot Cay has a Caribbean grill house theme. Parrot Cay is scheduled to become Tiana’s Palace Restaurant during the upgrade process. It will be designed to replicate a New Orleans French Quarter supper club atmosphere. Animator’s Palate serves contemporary cuisine. Just as I described before, the restaurant changes color as the meal progresses—again, too cool for words!
Some More on Disney Ocean & River Cruises
Disney operates 4 cruise ships. They are the Magic, Wonder, Dream & the Fantasy. They sail in Europe, Alaska, and the Caribbean. Although they do not have a river cruise line, they have partnered with AmaWaterways (our favorite river cruise line) to offer some special family cruising opportunities (recommended age is at least 8+). They sail during the summer months on the Rhine River and the Danube River. The Adventures by Disney River Cruises are well designed for families. The itineraries offer a variety of experiences that all in the family can enjoy. Some examples are active excursions, castle and museum tours and unique on-board activities. There are Disney movie nights for Junior Adventurers and wine tasting for adults—leave it to Disney to make all happy! AmaWaterways also has upped their game—they have the first connecting river cruise cabins and have trained their staff to work with younger guests.
Sometimes folks tell me a Disney Cruise is only for families. We disagree! While it is true there is no casino (sorry Anne), on our cruise in 1999, we found many of the night time venues really uncrowded—the families were exhausted and in bed and the ship just changed character into an almost different vibe. Combined with the adults only pool area and an exclusive Italian Specialty Restaurant Palo (18 or over only), there are places to escape families and kids if desired. Also, there is an adult district on the ship and it is scheduled for some nice upgrades, including adding Cheers (an English Pub).
Disney just does things right. I know there will be Magic & Wonder in our cruise! We hope this will inspire you to consider a Disney cruise for your next vacation and let our expertise help you find the right one for you. Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at email@example.com so we can help you:
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