Thursday, October 4, 2012
"Princesses and Genies, Candlesticks and Kings!" - My Very First Disney Cruise Part 2
In today's post, I'll be talking about the food and entertainment we experienced during our Disney Cruise.
First, a brief explanation of how dinners work on Disney Cruises. When you get your Key to the World Card (room key/on-board charge card/thing that gets you back on the boat/tiny but vitally important item that an OCD sufferer must check over and over to make sure it's on their person), it will have one of three codes that explain your dining schedule. We had the coveted APLAP, which meant we were eating at Animator's Palate the first night, Parrot Cay the second night, and Lumier's the third night, then cycling through Animator's and Parrot again for the last two nights. Since the last two nights each had unique menus, we had an entirely different experience for each dinner during the voyage.
All that said, you will always be eating with the same group of people at your table and you will always have the same wait staff. This is a terrific idea that actually works out, as your wait staff gets to know you during the voyage. They are extra sympathetic to any special dietary needs you may have (for example, they reviewed the next night's menu with one of our dining companions to discuss what would be safe for her to eat), and will input such information to a profile accessible by all food areas by inputting your room number. Our wait staff and dining companions were all very nice.
Now the food Disney serves you on the cruise is... decent. In general, they focus on dinner, and the food during our other meals was pretty lackluster. We liked all the appetizers, and all the deserts were very nice. The main courses were, again, decent. Nothing especially stands out, but I should note that the seafood was just frightening.
We only had one "signature cocktail" since the one from the first day (a pina colada/daiquiri combination I dubbed Brain Freeze in a Souvenir Glass) was so blah. We never even invested in what dad and I excitedly referred to before the cruise as the "every hour is happy hour" mug since the beer on tap selection was so abysmal. The smartest thing we did was opt to pack out own wine, which Disney is remarkably lenient about.
Without question, the best gastronomic experiences on the boat were the Art of Entertaining cooking classes, which came with a free sample of the demonstrated dish and an accompanying wine, and a wine tasting we bought $15.00 tickets for on a whim. It ended with a glass of the sparkling wine pictured above, which is normally only available at Disney theme parks, etc. to the tune of $15.00 a glass!
Now as far as the individual restaurants go, Animator's Palate is by a wide margin the most fascinating, but not for the food. Here, you get dinner and a show. And up until the very finale, it turns out the show is more subtly presented than I ever would have expected given what I'd heard. It's one of many aspects of the Disney Magic I wish I'd been less cryptic about, because nobody else at my table noticed what was happening until I told them to stop chatting and pay attention for half a minute. Heck, the only people in the entire restaurant who seemed to be keyed into what was happening around them was a group of small children at the table next to ours who absolutely lost their minds over it -- much to the annoyance of their parents who wanted them to just sit down and shut up and eat.
So here's the concept of Animator's Palate. You enter a restaurant that is almost entirely monochrome aside from giant "magical paintbrushes". The walls are covered in line art of various Disney characters, ranging from the famous to the obscure to the "I can't believe they're even acknowledging them!?"
The ambient music is all instrumental versions of signature songs from Disney Animated Canon films. As each song plays, the artwork of the characters from the film starts to change through a pretty impressive special effect, and, in the words of one of the excited children from the neighboring table, the paintings "REALLY b'come REEEEEEAAL!!!"
(The effect is more impressive in person, I promise. Also, obligatory: animation does not work that way! Though I suppose CAP Technician's Palate or Animator's Tombow Mono Pencil doesn't have the same ring to it.)
So this is really cool and it sucks that most of the people in the middle of it are just there to eat and don't give a crap about the changing scenery. It feels as though this restaurant would be much happier in one of the theme parks, where the show would be the main attraction.
The finale happens right before dessert and consists of a montage of mood-whiplashy clips from almost every film in the Canon shown on screens throughout the now-darkened restaurant. It's then that most of the diners realized anything special was going on. After the montage, this happens:
This is as good a time to mention, since I don't think I have already, that anytime Mickey Mouse showed up in person (?), everyone completely lost their sh*t. Which doesn't sound too weird given that it was a Disney ship. But I don't think I have emphasized the demographics of our cruise enough: this was a school week and there were by FAR more parties consisting only of adults than there were parties of families with young children on this cruise. Hmm... Also, most of the people on the boat had taken several cruises on this same boat (we met a person who'd cruised on the Magic eighteen times before), and had presumably seen all this before. I knew Disney fans could get frighteningly loyal but...?
Costumed characters were the main attraction for most of the deck parties, so let's segway into those. The most surprising thing for me was, given that some deck parties were built up as major events, they were all really short! The characters only put in a few minutes appearance in each party from my reckoning, and once they left there was no real incentive to stick around. I'm guessing this has to do with the fact that these ships, and their traditional scheduled events, started in much hotter climates. They never bothered to modify them for the cold north Atlantic.
Hell, it's even still Pirates IN The Caribbean even though... they aren't. Now on the ship this was one of two much-hyped shows, so we were expecting something huge and elaborate and unforgettable. What we got was less impressive, and not really even all that fun. Extenuating circumstances are partially to blame here; we'd literally just eaten a big huge dinner, we'd had a hectic day of racing through hilly uneven terrain in Halifax, and I was exhausted. This was the only time I wasn't happy with our wait staff; I felt as though they were pressuring me into dancing and partying during our dinner and it really felt like everyone was giving me a hard time since I wasn't as into it as I would have been if I wasn't about to puke and/or flat-out snow crash any second. I'm guessing this event usually happens on a sea day when there's a lot less going on, and therefore plays very differently.
Anyway, the deck party itself is another twenty minutes of random costumed characters dancing around to very not-piratey music. We arrived just in time to not miss the highlights of the show: Mickey ziplines down from one of the ship's funnels to school all the other pirates and starts a fireworks show at sea. The fireworks are launched right off one side of the boat, apparently, and are pretty cool to see - if you happen to be standing in exactly the right place when they go off. They aren't the most elaborate pyrotechnics Disney has ever done, but they are awesome because you are on a boat.
And frankly, the "it's awesome because we're doing it on a boat" assessment can go for most of the live stage shows as well. The Walt Disney Theater is an impressive piece of work, to be sure, with trap doors and moving sets and other, crazier stuff. We lucked out and saw each night's performance. "Adventures Away" was at once informative and hopelessly cheesy. It has to be seen to be believed, but it was a good introduction to our entertainment staff and some of the performers. I missed the beginning of "Twice Charmed" but saw enough to come to the slow realization that -and I am not even kidding here- I was basically seeing a stage show version of "Cinderella 3". One night was given over to a premier of "Finding Nemo" in 3D.
The most hyped of all the shows, the one that everyone assured us was the best of the lot, the one that had won multiple awards we were told, was "Disney Dreams", the final live show of the cruise. It's the show pictured above.
Now, call it a lack of whimsy on my part, but I'm not sure what the big deal was here. I am not even sure how to describe it. We open on what can only be described as a 21-year-old preteen girl sitting in her room full of Disney toys. She wishes on a star for "Princesses and Genies, Candlesticks and Kings!" (Yeah, I don't know either.) In flies Peter Pan to bring her on a magical adventure so that she won't grow up into a skeptical adult and will forever stay a faithful child with a wonderful imagination! (*sigh...*) And what does this wonderful imagination dream about? Why, random Disney characters wandering in, singing songs from their films, and leaving! Of course!
Needless to say, given what we've seen Disney do with limited space and resources in the park shows, we were less than impressed. There were a lot of technical problems during our show (the houselights right above us kept fading in and out in random scenes, and certain on-stage effects just flat-out failed to work), and that did not help our opinion one bit.
Oh, but then...
In the middle of the week, in the middle of all the other sappy saccharine stage shows, they had an unheralded, underhyped show with the title "Villains Tonight!" We expected absolutely nothing at all from this show and, go figure, it turned out to be the best of the lot! Heck, it might be my favorite experience on the ship as a whole! I think it's because the villains are the only "face" characters who are allowed -and even encouraged- to be (gently) rude and sarcastic. This resulted in a screamingly funny show! It's seriously one of the most surprising and unexpectedly un-Disneyish things I've ever sen Disney do, and all the other live shows couldn't help but look hopelessly square after this one.
Man, reliving this magical voyage is exhausting. Next week, I'll talk about our port adventures.
Seascape of the Day!