Disney Cruise Line are well known for their Caribbean cruises – so how do their Mediterranean cruises measure up? Cruise International Editor Liz Jarvis finds out
It’s snowing on the audience in the Walt Disney theatre on board Disney Magic – tiny flakes, falling from the glittering ceiling, as Belle and the Beast twirl around the stage. A few minutes earlier, Ariel, the Little Mermaid, rose from a shell, accompanied by a proliferation of bubbles and gasps from the children in the front row. Even the teenagers in our group are impressed. There’s magic. And then there’s Disney magic.
Disney was the first cruise line I ever sailed with, and I can still remember the look of pure joy on my son’s face as we snorkelled in the crystal-clear waters of Castaway Cay, their island in the Bahamas.
So I was very curious to see how they would handle a European cruise itinerary.
We boarded Disney Magic in Barcelona, and had two full days at sea before arriving at our first destination, which gave us ample time to explore.
Our stateroom – a double veranda – was probably one of the largest I’ve ever stayed in, and could easily have slept a family of four; the split bathroom is definitely a bonus.
With the exception of the kids’ clubs, the animation touches throughout Disney ships are subtle. Character encounters take place daily in the atrium (queuing starts very early for these). You might see Minnie Mouse or Princess Tiana wandering around, or Chip ‘n’ Dale pull up a sun bed when you’re relaxing with a cocktail by the adults-only pool (this actually happened), but it never feels “in your face”. Still, I’m yet to meet an adult who doesn’t start squealing like a child at the sight of Captain Mickey.
What the cruise line does very cleverly, in fact, is to conjure up the “golden age” of cruising, with art deco flourishes to the décor. It’s classy and elegant.
The teenagers we were with – usually so shy about talking to strangers on the ’phone – delighted in being able to ring up and order room service for themselves, which meant sandwiches and cookies being delivered at all sorts of odd times; they also loved hanging out on the pool deck, although they were envious of our adults-only pool. For smaller children, there’s no shortage of pools and kids entertainment. The kids’ clubs have good facilities (although these were being given an exciting “reimagineering” shortly after our cruise, along with other areas of the ship).
Of course, it’s also incredibly family-friendly.
Visions of Donald Duck guiding us round the Colosseum or Lilo and Stitch accompanying us to the Leaning Tower of Pisa were quickly banished, however. Our experiences in the ports of call all felt authentic, and were very well organised.
At Villefranche, a complimentary boat was waiting for us to take us to the port, where it was a short walk to the station to board trains for Nice, Cannes and Monaco – completely stress-free.
In Livorno, we chose the “Florence and Pisa On Your Own” excursion. Our charming guide gave us a brief but informative tour before our ample free time; we chose the same option in Rome, and were dropped right by the Vatican, armed with maps and essential tips, and saw everything from the Colosseum to the Pantheon.
In Pompeii, we chose the guided tour and our guide – an archaeologist – brought the ruins to life for both kids and adults alike.
Back on board, entertainment of a different kind: the Broadway-quality shows the cruise line has become known for. For everyone in our party, the shows were a revelation, with extraordinary sets and costumes, first-class performers, lively storylines and of course those well-loved songs. Add in the deck parties and firework displays and you have some truly unforgettable experiences at sea.
Food on board was, on the whole, very good; but the Italian adults-only restaurant Palo is superb, well worth the cover charge, and I would definitely recommend the brunch, which has a mouthwatering array of Italian specialities. The rotational dining system means you get to eat in all three of the non-speciality restaurants on board – we enjoyed Animator’s Palate, but our favourite was Lumieres, because of the atmosphere and the sense of occasion. Personally I love dressing up for dinner at least for a few nights when I’m on holiday, and I like the kids to dress up too. We had one formal night during our cruise and everyone entered into the spirit of it, as they did for pirate night. Eye patches and parrots optional.
Your dining team moves with you on a Disney cruise, to every restaurant (apart from the speciality ones), so you get to know them well; at the end, as well as tips, there were hugs for all the cast and crew – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this on a cruise before.
Following its recent makeover Disney Magic will be the same cruise ship, the same experience, but enhanced. And let’s face it, we all need a little bit of pixie dust sometimes.
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