Recently, my sister Sue and her husband Frank went on a Disney cruise to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. She had a marvelous time as they sailed from Fort Lauderdale, FL through the Caribbean and since I’ve never cruised before, I thought it would be fun to interview her about their experience.
Me: What drew you to the idea of taking a cruise for your anniversary trip?
Sue: We both wanted to go somewhere warm and we liked the idea of an all-inclusive vacation.
Me: Why did you choose a Disney cruise?
Sue: Most people don’t know this about me, but I’m a closet Disney fan. My husband works with a few people who are former Disney employees and they brought up the DCL (Disney Cruise Line). It was a done deal once he suggested it to me. (Sue also worked at the Disney store when she was in high school)
Me: Do you think a non-Disney fan would enjoy this cruise?
Yes, and I was thinking of that since we didn’t bring our kids. We’d definitely be more immersed in the Disney-ness if we had kids with us. Forget the fact that there’s Disney music playing throughout the ship and all the artwork is Disney, I think it would be fine. You still get the best guest experience without Disney being shoved down your throat. Though I admit, every time I saw Mickey walking around the ship, I’d get excited (on the inside, that is).
Me: Did all the kids bother you since you were on a romantic vacation for two?
Sue: I think since we didn’t have our kids, we could tolerate the kids on the cruise and there were A LOT of kids. But who doesn’t want to see cute five-year-olds dressed up as their favorite princesses?
Me: Tell us about the ship!
Sue: The ship is amazing. We sailed on the Disney Magic: the first ship in their fleet of four. It first set sail in 1989 and was completely renovated in 2013. The Magic (along with its sister ship, the Wonder) are the two smaller ships and the Dream and the Fantasy are larger. We took a tour one day and I really enjoy those kinds of tours with all the secret information and fascinating tidbits (we’re so related!).
One thing I love about the Magic (and all the ships in the DCL) is that they’re modeled (somewhat) after the Titanic in form and structure. Disney wanted something more than “a milk carton sailing the seven seas” and the ships really do stand out when you compare them to other cruise lines. There’s so much to tell that my words won’t adequately express how amazing the ship really is.
Me: Talk to us a little bit about the decor and other thoughtful details you mentioned to me.
Sue: One of the things I really loved (and love) about Disney is that everything is intentional; there is a lot of thought behind the decor and everything represents an idea or an image. When they decided to start a cruise line, they wanted to carry over everything from the parks and carry out all those ideas on the ships. One thing that stood out was the carpeting: Disney wanted to create the appearance of ocean levels as you ascended from Deck 3 to Deck 5, with the sun as the focal point. The sun is represented by three gorgeous crystal chandeliers on the ceiling of Deck 5. And from Deck 5, you can look down to Deck 3, which they also refer to as the Atrium.
Another area that was beautiful was the 18 and over restaurant called Palo (which you could only dine in by making reservations for a champagne brunch or dinner). There’s also a gorgeous wall-sized mosaic of a Venetian gondolier in the Captain’s dining room.
Me: We’ve all heard about the vast quantities of food on cruises, but what was the quality like?
Sue: The quality of the food, dinner especially, was excellent. It certainly didn’t feel like 2,500 other people were getting the same meal we were. This was particularly true at Palo where Frank and I both thought the pineapple had been picked for us and the fresh mozzarella was just made on the spot. SO fresh and delicious.
Me: I’ve heard the service is outstanding. Can you tell us about that? Was a request for something ever denied?
Sue: Another Disney-specific feature is their rotational dinner service. Normally on a cruise, you have one restaurant that you eat dinner in every night; on a Disney cruise, guests rotate through three different restaurants, all serving different foods. Our server, Emily, “traveled” with us to our assigned restaurants, so she knew our names, what we liked to drink, etc. We formed a relationship with her and our assistant server, Adrian. They were wonderful.
And no, the servers preferred that we said something if we didn’t like a dish. The first night, I tried an ahi tuna and avocado tower that I really wanted to love. But I didn’t, and that was okay. Emily rushed it away and returned with an empanada that I loved. They never made you feel like you were ordering the wrong thing, or too much of something. Starting on the first night, Emily ordered dessert for us which meant she was bringing out all five desserts for us (us being Frank and me). She did it every night for each of the couples we dined with and I have to say, we all loved it. If you wanted to eat chicken fingers and French fries every night, that was an option, too. But who’d want that on a Disney cruise?!
Me: Did you ever feel claustrophobic, being on the ship with all those other people and not being able to ‘escape’?
Sue: No, I never felt like that. It was so open and spacious that it still amazes me. One day the sea was rocky and we felt it during dinner, the window coverings were swaying, etc, but aside from that we knew we were on a ship and were totally fine with it.
Me: Give us a rundown of what was included in your stateroom. Was it just like a hotel room?
Sue: Our stateroom was pretty spacious, considering it was on a ship. We chose a room with a (large!) porthole so we had lots of natural light. Our room could have slept 3-4: besides the Queen-sized bed, there was also a sleeper sofa. There was a lot of cabinets and shelves, a good-sized closet and under-the-bed storage (this is where we kept our luggage, huge space saver!). There were two bathrooms; one had a sink and a toilet, the other had a sink and tub with a showerhead.
The TV played Disney movies 24/7 and there were a couple informational channels, including one where we could track our journey through the Western Caribbean. At one point the sea depth was over 10,000 feet! The shampoo, conditioner and soap were pretty high quality and I knew that beforehand so I didn’t bring my own. I liked them so much that Frank bought me normal sized bottles in one of the onboard shops!.
Me: What sorts of activities did you guys do in between meals while onboard?
Sue: The days at sea were the ones we liked best. We strategized to make the most of our days by planning when we got up, ate breakfast, and snagged our spots by the pool. Once settled in, Frank would check out the Navigator app. So this is great: every night, our stateroom host would turn down our bed, make an adorable towel animal and give us the Personal Navigator for the next day. The Navigator summarizes the activities for each day of your cruise; the activities are grouped together by age, and it lists all the movies playing that day (we saw The One Hundred Foot Journey and Big Hero 6 in 3D). The Personal Navigator is also available on your smartphone, which we loved– especially the countdown feature! It was so much fun seeing the days, hours, and minutes tick by until our cruise started!
We took a mixology class and a tequila & margarita class on two of the days. Frank took a drawing class on how to draw Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) and he really enjoyed it. We both loved just sitting by the pool, reading, and maybe having a drink. That’s why we went on this vacation: to relax.
Me: Tell us about the nighttime entertainment!
Sue: Frank and I aren’t night owls, so we didn’t experience anything that was scheduled for 10 pm or later. But we heard from our dinner mates that a few of the shows were really funny. The shows we did see were Broadway-caliber performances that took place in the Walt Disney Theater, which holds almost 1,000 people. It never felt like we were on a ship while in there!
One night before dinner we went down to Keys (an 18+ piano bar) to listen to a pianist who sang a selection of Elton John songs. She was talented and it was interesting to hear his songs sung by a female, but she pulled it off. My favorite performance was on the second to last night of the cruise. The story involved a mashup of a handful of Disney movies like Peter Pan, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. That won an award for best show on any cruise line, so that’s pretty cool.
Me: I feel like i wouldn’t have been able to stop watching the sunrise/sets. Did you see any notable ones? What’s something you couldn’t stop photographing?
Sue: The sunrises/sets were beautiful, I saw more rises than sets mostly because we were either seeing a show or sitting down to dinner at that time. I couldn’t stop photographing the food. I think I have a photo of every dinner and dessert we ate! (If you guys had any doubts that we’re related, there’s the proof!)
Me: Tell us about the ports you stopped at. Had you been to those destinations before?
Sue: The ports we stopped at were Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Castaway Cay (Disney’s island in the Bahamas). We hadn’t been to any of those places prior to the cruise. There are lists of port adventures that you can sign up for (none of them are free and some were quite pricey). The one thing we were looking forward to was clear kayaking and snorkeling in Cozumel but unfortunately, it was canceled due to rough seas. We walked around a bit in Cozumel (super touristy!), and soon decided to return to the ship since it was a pretty hot day. It turned out to be one of the best days of the cruise: we relaxed poolside and enjoyed the peace and quiet of a mostly empty ship.
Me: What was your favorite thing about being off the ship at those places?
Sue: The one port we looked forward to was Castaway Cay (pronounced key), Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. We kept hearing how it was the prime reason people went on Disney cruises, and I totally get it now! Serenity Bay is the beach for ages 18 and up and it couldn’t have been more peaceful. If you didn’t know it, you’d never believe that kids were a half mile away.
Me: What impressed you the most about your overall cruise experience? What surprised you the most? Did anything disappoint?
Sue: I was most impressed with the service. Everything from our dinner servers to our stateroom host to the crew members throughout the ship were friendly, helpful, and always happy to answer questions (or get you a drink ;)) whenever you needed them. This is what sets Disney apart from other companies – their service.
One thing that surprised me was how good Disney is at catering to every age group. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. They know how to accommodate everyone from the youngest child to the oldest adult. Almost every act that we saw performed a family show earlier in the evening, but also an 18+ show later that same night. It was great!
Nothing disappointed. It was amazing. It was all the things I had hoped for, researched and read about. We can’t wait to go again and we’ll probably bring our youngest son next time 😉 One more thing: you know how everyone says I need a vacation after this vacation? We didn’t need a vacation after this one, we just wanted to keep it going.
Thank you, Sue! I admit I’ve always been wary of cruises because of their strict itinerary and less-than-desirable carbon footprint, but this whole experience sounds amazing. Have any of you ever been on a cruise? Was it a romantic trip, or one with kids (or friends)? What’s your favorite/dream cruise destination?