Tuesday, October 2, 2012
My Little Cruise Ship: Canada is Magic! - My Very First Disney Cruise Part 1
The Disney Magic is the oldest ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet. Built in 1998, she's been sailing the seas since 2000. This past summer, she made her way to New York City. As my family are Disney Vacation Club members, we received a special email offer for Disney's first excursions up to the Canadian Maritimes from New York City.
Since we've always been curious about Disney Cruise Lines, this was too good an offer to pass up. We opted for the September 12-17 cruise, which happened to be the final date for this particular itinerary before the ship sailed down to Texas for her winter schedule.
What follows is an honest assessment of the cruise as experienced by me and my family (but mostly me; it's my blog after all). Overall, we were all very happy to finally satisfy our curiosity about cruising with Disney after so many years. We met a lot of very nice and interesting people and had a lot of unique experiences. I'll assure my Canadian readers right away that we loved St. John and Halifax and dearly wish we'd had more time to explore them further (though you'll have to wait until next week for specifics). And we did have fun. We did!
But overall, our reaction to our first Disney Cruise ever was and is... mixed. Over the years, the Disney Cruise Line has essentially been built up in such a way that we essentially expected the Magic to be a Disney Theme Park at sea. The Magic is very definitely not that, but she isn't a conventional cruise either.
Now, if you've been reading my blog practically from the beginning, your prize is that you've made me very happy. You have no idea. But more immediately relevantly, you recall that I went on a cruise on the Norwegian Spirit some years ago. As it happens, that is the only other cruise I've ever been on.
And reading my trip report again, I feel as though I did it a disservice. Because given the choice between taking another cruise on the Spirit or another cruise on the Magic, I will opt for the Spirit, hands down, no contest, no second thoughts. And since I know some of you are blown away by this because you've never been on a Disney cruise and have heard just how incredible and breathtaking and incredibly awesome they are all these years, let me tell you why.
In two words: time and space.
Upon entering the terminal before boarding the Disney ship, you are given a schedule of the day's events. When you look at the schedule, it will appear as though you will have loads of free time. Well, simply put, and especially if this is your first cruise with Disney and you don't want to miss anything important, you won't. It sounds unbelievable from here, but it's true. As the song goes, there is always something happening and it's usually quite loud. You won't have any quiet time for yourself unless you actively seek it out. Hell, I only got about forty minutes of pool time!
See, events are scheduled every fifteen minutes rather than, say, on the hour. This means the schedule is crammed with activities every waking moment and that you will have to make some tough decisions. (Or, to be honest, not so tough. For example, "Brave" in Disney-approved 3D easily beats the crap out of Songs Your Mom Likes Dance Party and Publicly Out Yourself As a Huge Disney Nerd Trivia Night. Anyway, I already attended the latter. Three times. And won twice. My prize is a nifty pin lanyard and also that I am a grown-ass adult who watches a ton of Disney movies. Eh, at least I was among my people for five days.)
As I said, since this was our first cruise with Disney, we felt obligated to see all the major shows and attend all the special events. As it turns out, most people attend the deck/atrium parties and stage shows anyway. Deck parties never run against the stage shows, and the stage shows are each performed twice a night.
Now here comes the biggest wrench in the system. As I said, my only other cruise experience was on Norwegian and they've got a signature system called Freestyle Dining. You get to eat on the ship wherever you want and whenever you want. Nearly every other cruise company does not do allow you to do this. I am willing to bet that this kind of system works much better on ships where dinner is your only big scheduled commitment every night.
Disney schedules you at a different restaurant every night, and for every night of your trip, you will either be eating at around six or around eight and watching the main stage show at around six or around eight. Given that we were three adults who had a hard time adjusting to such a schedule (eat that much food at eight and all you will want to do afterwards is sit up and digest for a while and then sleep), I can't even imagine how families with small children handle this.
The good thing is that there are a ton of child-only events. We saw very few children at all during this voyage since they were busy having fun on their own -- but also because this was a school week and there were only maybe ten-fifteen families with children on the boat. In any case, the children's programs might be the single most outstanding feature of Disney Cruise Lines.
On to the issue of space. This is the "Grand Atrium" of the Disney Magic. The photographer I randomly caught here gives you a sense of scale. From here. it looks pretty big and roomy, doesn't it? Well...
Here's the same atrium, full of people. I naturally focused on the grand gathering of characters here, but the crowd of people in the corners hopefully gives you an idea of just how congested this area could get.
As an aside, character greetings were especially badly thought-out. The major ones took place in the atrium, in front of the stairs leading to the entrance to Lumier's, one of the three major restaurants (see the doors Goofy is standing in front of there), and the line snaked down a very thin-feeling major corridor.
Overall, the Dream felt very "small", which sounds absurd in writing, given that she's actually longer (though perhaps skinnier) than the Spirit. In any case, the atrium, the corridors, our stateroom, and even the pool deck felt really claustrophobic at times.
As far as our stateroom, we got a veranda on deck eight and I thank the gods old and new that we did since this is apparently the largest standard room available. The good news is that the room has two smaller bathrooms instead of one large one; one contains a toilet and sink and the other contains a shower and sink. It also has thick curtains to separate the room in half, allowing -ehhh- *some* privacy. The bad news is that the room is small. Like the boat as a whole it feels long but not wide. There's barely enough room to maneuver around the large main bed. Pure hell when two people are trying to retrieve things from the same end of the room. Supposedly this room could sleep five grown adults but I cannot even imagine how this would be possible without nightly fistfights breaking out, as space is even more at a premium in the rooms I saw where all five beds were deployed.
As for the pool deck, well, mentioning it brings up one of my big issues with the Magic, and the most likely reason why it was so large but felt so small. Have a look:
Note the "cages" around the entire pool area, the giant television screen, and especially the position of the deck chairs. All of the attention on this boat, ALL of it, is centered inward, away from the ocean. Disney basically wants you to forget you are on a ship at all.
This is my strangest and most lasting memory of the entire cruise. For me, looking out at the endless sky and deep sea is part of the appeal of being on a cruise, and my father and I can stare out at the water for hours. We loved how the Spirit had many quiet places where you could sit indoors out of the wind, yet still have an almost uninterrupted panoramic view of the whole ocean. The Disney Magic had nothing like that. It isn't like there weren't any windows at all, but they were all either small, blocked by bars and fences, or filthy. All three pool decks were almost entirely encased in plexiglass and thick metal bars. I get the safety issue on a boat that usually has lots of children on it, but it felt really excessive.
My favorite moment that exemplified this issue happened on the morning we pulled into Halifax. Mom was enchanted by the lighthouses and islands, so when we headed to Lumier's for breakfast, I asked if we could sit at one of the many empty tables by the (small and filthy as seen above) windows. I had to request this of three servers before we finally met one who got it, and we did get our window seat. But not before we were asked, "Wouldn't you rather sit where you can see the Princesses?"
On that note, I'm going to pause. Next post, I'll discuss the food and entertainment on board the Magic.
Seascape of the Day!
If I learned anything from the two cruises I've ever taken, it's that I love doing seascapes more than landscapes. No idea why, but here's the first one I managed to squeeze in time for.