Once upon a time (what better way to start a review of Disney Cruise Lines?)
there was a small but mightily innovative cruise line called Premier that
came up with a very good idea. Painting a small, former ocean liner red and
calling it the "Big Red Boat," Premier Cruises added the magic ingredient to
its cruise line in the form of the "Magic Kingdom."
Positioning this little Big Red Boat at Port Canaveral, as close to
Disney World in Orlando as possible, Premier packaged 3 & 4-day cruises on
the Big Red Boat with 4 & 3-day stays in Disney World. Their ships catered
to children, with lots of life-size cartoon figures (actually people in
costumes, but don't tell...) walking around.
Although Premier ran the Big Red Boat quite successfully for several
years, eventually Disney Corp. saw something good there, especially as the
cruise business went from being a tiny portion of the vacation market to
something the majority of Americans said they wanted to try someday. And so
Disney entered the cruise business with the 1998 launching of the Art
Deco-themed Disney Magic, a sleekly beautiful vessel reminiscent of the
transatlantic steamship era. Needless to say, they didn't ask permission
from the Big Red Boat to do this, and also needless to say, Premier Cruises
(even with four other fairly popular small ships) was bankrupt within a few
At first, the reaction to Disney entering the market from established
cruise lines was fear, after all, Disney is an entertainment juggernaut.
However, as the Disney plans became more visible, a modest two ships, both
of them sailing short 3 or 4-day cruises out of Port Canaveral, the other
cruise lines came to see the entrance of Disney to the market as a good
thing - legitimizing the cruise vacation for families and bringing lots of
attention to the idea of cruising as a vacation alternative. As it turns
out, the established cruise lines were very smart and accurate in their
predictions, as today Disney Cruise Lines hardly competes with the older
cruise lines at all. Disney draws the vast majority of its passengers from
the ranks of Disney lovers, not from other cruise lines. In fact, the vast
majority of Disney cruisers have never been on any other cruise ship before.
At the same time, people who started out with Disney for researching a
cruise, soon found that other cruise lines actually rate higher for kids,
and definitely the adults who bring them, as a cruise experience, and often
at a much lower price.
Nevertheless, Disney Cruise Lines has thrived, even though their cruise
fares range 1/3 higher than comparable ships, because of people who love all
The Disney Experience:
Art nouveau-themed sister ship Disney Wonder entered service in August,
1999, taking over the Disney Magic 3 & 4-day itinerary schedule. Disney
Magic switched first to seven-night cruises and now does alternating
seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Disney Magic now
sails seven-night Caribbean trips (alternating Eastern and Western) for most
of the year, while Disney Wonder handles three- and four-day trips, mostly
to the Bahamas; What the two floating theme parks do best is demonstrate
that "elegant" and "family friendly" can co-exist quite harmoniously. Both
ships visit Nassau and spend a day docked at Disney's private Bahamian
fantasy island Castaway Cay.
Disney Magic has actually scheduled 10 and 11-night Mediterranean cruises
in Europe in 2007. Would a Disney cruise be a good way for an American to
see Europe? Probably not, as this ship is a destination unto itself, while
what one desires in a ship for a European cruise is a comfortable conveyance
between port stops. Most likely, the ship will be marketed more to Europeans
while in Europe than to U.S. cruisers looking for a European vacation. But
with Disney fanatics who knows? They just might combine a European cruise on
Disney Magic with a trip to Euro-Disney.
While families with children generally rave about the experience,
childless adults are often disgruntled about the absence of casinos, discos,
and, to a much lesser extent, libraries. The grumbling began to subside
somewhat when the company lowered its price for a one-week package combining
a three- or four-day cruise with a stay at a Disney Orlando hotel and theme
park entrance fees, though Disney remains pricier than those of competitor
Carnival, whose (Port Canaveral)-based ships cater to the same prospective
As you might anticipate, the accent is on fun, and family activities to
ensure that you're having it, lots of it, are nonstop. Entertainment is a
huge feature on these ships, and one must credit Disney for bringing
shipboard stage production to a new level with bigger casts, more extensive
special effects, and those superbly timed and executed family fun shows that
leave all but crankiest curmudgeon smiling despite himself.
Rotation dining aboard these ships means that guests sample a different
themed restaurant every night. The ships' staterooms are enormous and
beautifully appointed, all with a bath-and-a-half, making them especially
popular with families. Forty-four percent of outside cabins have verandahs.
All come with bathtubs, a television, a mini-bar, a safe and a hair dryer.
Passengers often get to see Disney Studios films before those ashore.
There is a conspicuously unpopular adult-only entertainment area -- "Beat
Street" on Magic and "Route 66" on Wonder -- neither a casino nor a disco,
and an adult-only Italian gourmet restaurant, Palo, at which it's
predictably hard to secure reservations. The food elsewhere? Well, you won't
starve. The service is friendly.
New (post-2004) public areas include Diversions, Cove Cafe and a new
college-dorm-meets-coffee-bar place for teens. Cove Caf�, an adults-only
coffee bar adjacent to the Quiet Cove pool is a pleasant place to relax on
comfortable couches, watch TV, check e-mail, or read one of the many
magazines on the shelves. Sports fans, meanwhile flock to Diversions, which
is alleged to resemble an English sports pub. The swank Walt Disney Theater
resembles a plush venue on the Great White Way. Studio Sea, which offers
G-rated floor shows, is styled like a television sound stage
The gyms are scandalously small.
Taking The Kids:
As you might anticipate, Disney offers terrific programs and facilities for
little folks. At Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, kids enjoy a 15-acre
snorkeling course above a living reef, supervised games for all age groups,
bicycling courses and sailboats, kayaks and rafts for rent.
Disney Magic and Disney Wonder's Oceaneer Club span nearly an entire
deck, with supervised programs for children aged 3-5 and 6-8. Children aged
9-12 can enjoy high-tech interactive programs in the Oceaneer Lab, while
those 11-12 can compete in a marine biology knowledge quest game show and
send digital postcards to friends. And they'll see more Disney characters
than at the theme parks!
Disney is one of the few lines to offer a nursery for infants and
toddlers; Flounder's Reef Nursery was recently expanded to include a new
reception area, Little Mermaid murals, and enhanced lighting to create the
illusion of being under the sea. Teens (13-17) have their own private club,
Common Grounds, a New York-style coffee house, not to mention competitive
sports and nighttime activities.
Children's facilities are open from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Private
babysitting is available on a first-come, first served basis at $11 per
The kids' soda program entitles kids aged 12 and under unlimited soda
refills; the company is not responsible for their future dental bills. Sold
by hosts and hostesses at shipboard lounge areas, the option costs $12 on
three-day sailings and $16 on four-day sailings.
Disney's primary market is families with children, although you'll find more
adult couples during school vacation periods. one thing they all have in
common, they love Disney and have probably been to the theme parks more than
a couple of times
They're on the expensive side; for instance, snorkeling is $35 for adults,
$25 for children.
Disney has for the past few years sponsored an annual Film Festival at Sea
that typically features a sail-away cocktail reception with Roger Ebert and
Richard Roeper, previews of their favorite films from the Sundance Film
Festival, open discussion with the great men, and a book signing.
At Disney, gratuities can be charged to your shipboard account. The
recommended tipping guidelines are per person per cruise: Three-night
Dining Room Server $11.00
Dining Room Asst. Server $8.00
Dining Room Head Server $2.75
Stateroom Host/Hostess $10.75
Dining Room Server $14.75
Dining Room Asst. Server $10.75
Dining Room Head Server $3.75
Stateroom Host/Hostess $14.50
Dining Room Server $25.75
Dining Room Asst. Server $18.75
Dining Room Head Server $ 6.50
Stateroom Host/Hostess $25.25
On all cruises Dining Manager and Room Service tipping is at the
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar, beverage, wine, and
deck service tabs.