GALVESTON, Texas — My wife and I, along with our two youngest kids, recently took a six-day cruise aboard the Disney Magic that included stops at Grand Cayman and Cozumel. It was delightful — and not just because the toilets worked.
Foremost among the delights was that Disney paid for our cruise in exchange for this article. We paid for the kids to fly from Oklahoma City to Houston and for whatever we bought during the cruise and shore excursions. But Disney picked up the rest; it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of bargain.
So I can wholeheartedly endorse a free cruise with Disney. You'd be a fool not to take advantage of that.
Having said that, I must admit that I had never seriously considered loading up the family for a six-day cruise. I wasn't sure if I would really enjoy being on board a ship along with 2,640 other tourists, including about 600 kids. And it's not the cheapest of vacations.
Trust in Disney
If any organization knows how to entertain a captive group of tourists, it's Disney. The ship's staff numbers about 1,000 people, and for nearly all of them, your enjoyment is their main objective.
The kids' activities are key to the success of the Disney experience. Frankly, I was a bit worried when I spotted young girls — many in costume and some near hysterics — waiting in long lines in the ship's main entryway to meet one of four Disney princesses. Most of the girls carried Disney-branded autograph books to obtain signatures from these fictional characters.
But such activities were easily avoidable for adults and older kids beyond the lure of such childlike attractions. It turned out that few of us can escape Disney's marketing might. By week's end, I had donned a headscarf for dinner to participate in pirate's night.
Our children — Lucy, 11, and Joey, 9 — spent much of their time at clubs with other kids of the same age. Lucy's group met at the Edge, tucked into a lower deck. The room was filled with cool activities, including a wall-sized video display where one could steer the ship into port. Tweens were allowed to come and go, with young Disney employees providing supervision.
Joey had two age-appropriate clubs to choose from, Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, with dress-up and storytelling the main draw of the former and more active play the focus of the latter. With our permission, which we granted after getting comfortable with the setup, Joey could check himself in and out of those clubs.
The kids loved the freedom of being able to come and go, and enjoyed the activities. One caveat: sometimes it's hard to track down the kids, even though Disney provided free cellphones that work onboard. On one of our first nights at sea, I found the kids after midnight in the electronic arcade, where the Edge staffers had set all the games to play for free. Hey, if I were 9, it's where I would have been.
The left side
of the menu
Like any cruise, food is a major draw on the Disney Magic. Food ceases to be measured by quality (average to very good) or quantity (infinite), but by time — as in, “we ate dinner for 90 minutes.”
Dinners are a distinctly Disney production. Unlike any other cruise line, Disney rotates dinners among three 462-seat dining halls: Lumiere's, a white-tablecloth restaurant with details drawn from “Beauty and the Beast;” Animator's Palate, where the artwork, walls and staff transform from black-and-white to full color during the course of the meal; and Parrot Cay, a Caribbean-themed eatery.
Your staff — waiter, drink server and captain — rotate along with you from night to night. By the fourth day, our waiter, Louis, knew better than to embarrass me by asking if I could eat three lobsters — he just brought them to the table. The quality of the food was constantly good, if not great. Steaks, for instance, always seemed to be cooked medium no matter how you ordered them, and a fair amount of items showed up a bit less warm than I would have preferred.
The servers called our kids by name, even playfully scolding them for ordering pizza rather than at least trying the sea bass. Our restaurant captain visited our table each evening near the end of the meal to remind us of special shows or events. Such levels of personal service delivered in a restaurant serving hundreds of diners simultaneously is remarkable.
My wife, Mishelleen, and I also dined at Palo, an upscale, smaller (only 130 seats) Northern Italian-themed restaurant atop the ship, with a $20-per-person additional charge.
It was tony and very tasty.
We ate for two hours at Palo, where the cooking improved as the demands placed upon the kitchen were lessened considerably.