Children will love cruising Disney-style but its ships are every bit as entertaining for adults, too, and the seamless holidays also include a stay at Walt Disney World
There was never going to be any problem remembering whose ship we were cruising on. From the moment we saw Goofy hanging from a cradle, adding the final brush strokes to the stern, to the time we set sail to the sound of 'When you wish upon a star' coming from the ship's horn, it couldn't be anything else but Disney at sea.
The 83,000-ton/2,400-passenger Disney Magic was the first of two cruise ships designed for Disney, which now has another two being built. The brief to the shipbuilders and the Disney “Imagineers” was to "out-tradition tradition", which is Disney-speak for creating a modern high-tech ship that still has the style of classic liners of the past.
They were also worried that people would think a Disney cruise is just for kids, leaving the ship empty outside the school holidays. But nearly half the visitors to Florida's Walt Disney World come without children and that's what they wanted for the cruises, too. In fact, the cruise holiday usually starts with a short stay at the theme park resort - three or four days - followed by either a four or three-day cruise to the Bahamas.
A fleet of Disney coaches, all showing Disney videos, transfered us from the hotel to Disney's exclusive cruise terminal at Port Canaveral. For once, I didn't feel guilty about finding I still had the hotel room key in my pocket, as this also opened my cabin door on the ship - all part of a "seamless" holiday experience, according to the Disney hype.
What Disney wants, Disney generally gets – hence permission from the maritime authorities to paint their lifeboats a different (Disney) shade of yellow. But apart from this colour change, the ship could easily pass for a classic liner from the outside. Her black hull and sweeping lines do set her apart from most of the other new cruise ships currently coming off the conveyor belt. Where they look more like blocks of flats resting on the ocean, Disney Magic looks like a real ship, a traditional oceangoing vessel.
Inside, too, there are classic touches, like the Art Deco Lumiere's, a French restaurant that could have been lifted straight off the old Ile de France or Normandie from half a century ago. But the traditional porthole, authentic or otherwise, is not in evidence. Nearly half of the outside cabins have their own private verandas; the rest have picture windows. Only a quarter of the cabins have no view at all.
The average cabin size is supposed to be larger than the norm but that isn't immediately obvious, probably because they've packed a lot into them, including large single beds (convertible into doubles), wardrobes and dressing tables, TVs and personal safes. The bathrooms are compact but cleverly designed to disguise it, and having separate WCs is a masterstroke, especially if your partner is prone to spending hours in the bathroom.
But cabins are not the point of this cruise. Three or even four days is hardly enough time to get out and about and use all the facilities on board. Disney's "family values" mean there's no casino, but that's about all that's missing. As you would expect, the entertainment options for children are extensive and state-of-the-art.
Almost an entire deck is given over to two huge play areas, one with a mass of computer and video technology for games that only the youngsters really understand. And they have their own pool with slide out on deck. Parents can sign their kids in and not see them again all day - but they are given a pager so they can be reached if necessary by the 50 counsellors who supervise all the games and other activities on board and ashore at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. All the kids' favourite Disney characters - Donald, Mickey, Goofy and co - make regular visits, too.
But this is only half the story on board. The kids enjoy their cruise, while their parents and other passengers have a completely different one, but with just as much entertainment laid on for them. There is a satellite sports café tucked away in a fake funnel, a state-of-the-art spa and fitness centre, sports courts plus a range of bars, a film theatre showing Disney and other new movies, and a live theatre with original Disney musical shows. On Castaway Cay, where the harbour has been dredged so that the ship can dock, there is a tram service between the different beaches, one of which is for adults-only.
But it is at meal-time that the real Disney magic comes into play. There are three restaurants and you eat in a different one every night, but with the same table companions and waiters. The food and service, from mainly Italian waiters, is first class. There is a fourth, reservations-only, Italian restaurant, too, if you want a more intimate meal - but no-one should miss the night in the Animator's Palate. Here, the decor starts all in black and white, including the waiters' uniforms. But as the meal progresses, colour is added to the walls and the Disney animation stills on them. By the dessert course, the place is a riot of colour - even the waiters have donned bright waistcoats - and everyone has the chance to design their own pudding, as the waiters serve it on a palette-style tray with different colour sauces in small bottles.
It sounds a crazy, even childish, idea but Disney has made its reputation by appealing to the child in all of us and in the Animator's Palate - and the cruise as a whole - it makes it work again.