My family just had one of the best times of our lives. And we owe it all to a Disney Cruise.

Captain Mickey

We realized we were going to have a special time when Mickey himself walked out to take pictures with those who were waiting to board the Disney Magic in Barcelona. My 2 year old is at that amazing age where all things Disney are awe-inspiring. As we approached Mickey, he greeted my kids with hugs and high fives. My two-year old wasn’t the only one who was star struck; seeing Mickey brought my inner child out in full force. Smiles were already painted on our faces as we walked on board and were greeted by the Cast and Crewmembers that would take such great care of us throughout the next 7 days. After experiencing all the magic of a Disney Cruise, here is my rundown:

 

Rooms: We chose an adjoining deluxe inside stateroom, one for my wife and me and one for our three kids, instead of one room with a window or balcony. While Disney Cruises offer balcony staterooms that sleep five, we wanted the extra space (and extra bathroom) afforded by two rooms. Our youngest could take a nap in one room, while we relaxed in the other, and bedtime with separate rooms was easier too. Apart from naptime and bedtime, we were barely in the room though.

And the reason for that was…

Iron Man

Activities and Entertainment: With a Disney Cruise, there is always something to do. There are 3 pools on board the Magic, one of which is an adults-only pool (so I was hardly ever around that one). The other two pools are, like the ship, kid-friendly. One is a splash pool with sprinklers, while the other one is a small swimming pool with a huge screen showing Disney movies around the clock. Nothing beats watching a movie while in a hot tub. Two waterslides add to the fun, one of which drops a floor out from after a voice counts down from 3. It may be the fastest waterslide that I’ve ever gone down.

If pools aren’t your thing, there are nightclubs and lounges on board, but my wife and I were too tired from all of our excursions and from participating in all the fun on board to stay up late at one of the bars. I did peak inside from time to time as I walked around with my toddler. Next time O’Gills… next time.

One place that my wife and I did not pass by was the Senses Spa and Salon. We enjoyed a couples massage in a private suite (complete with Jacuzzi) overlooking the Italian coast. I may have dosed off while a masseuse kneaded out all of the knots accumulated from years of carrying around kids.

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There is plenty of entertainment on board, from movies to live shows to everything in between. We caught Guardians of the Galaxy, Malificent, and Captain America in the movie theater, a few of the Broadway-style shows, and a magic act. Unfortunately, if I have one complaint about the cruise, it is around the entertainment. The live shows fill up quick, so you have to arrive early to snag a good seat. The problem is, I have a 2 year old that doesn’t like to sit still, so I have a short window for him to enjoy a show. Instead of launching into the main event, though, Disney spent the first ten minutes of each show with announcements related to the next day’s activities, ports of call, etc. By the time the show actually started, my 2 year old’s attention span was gone. I understand why they were given and their importance, but judging from the faces of other parents (and non-parents), I wasn’t the only one frustrated with the long announcements.

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My kids had a great time exploring the ship and participating in all the fun activities on board geared towards them. My preteen spent most of his free time at Edge, and my eight year old made good use of the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab. They both relished their independence and came and went as they pleased. And we didn’t need to worry about them. Each kid is given a bracelet that can track their whereabouts and there are 2 wave phones (inter-ship cell phones) per cabin. As a result, it was never difficult tracking down my kids. We gave them guidelines and meeting times, and we had them call us from time to time. And even though the ship is huge, bumping into their happy selves occurred quite often.

My 2 year old, obviously, was not free to roam around by himself, but we took advantage of the nursery when we wanted to do something without him, such as head to the spa or relax and enjoy our dinner without having to chase a toddler around.

And speaking of food…

Food: Before we took the cruise, we had heard a lot of complaints about cruise food, but it was not an issue on the Magic. I thoroughly enjoyed all of our dining experiences and appreciated the family that we sat with at dinner. Disney uses rotational dining, meaning you sit with same group each evening and have the same servers, but you rotate between three restaurants each evening. In addition, there are snack bars and a buffet that you can eat from for lunch or dinner. On one special night, my wife and I ate at Palo, which is an adults-only restaurant with a surcharge. The food was delicious and could rival any of our restaurants that we frequent at home in NYC.

We typically ate breakfast at the Cabanas buffet, which had something for everyone – from hot dishes from around the world to cheese and cold cuts to fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal. Formal dining service was available at Lumiere’s, but we prefer buffets for our breakfasts.

For lunch, it was so nice to be able to grab something to eat poolside or grab something from the buffet. My 10 year old son, who is a bottomless pit when it comes to eating, was especially thankful for the opportunity to eat pizza and hamburgers whenever he wanted. My daughter, however, frequented the ice cream machine much more than we would have liked. But hey, I frequented the ice cream machine much more than I should have as well. But that’s okay, because we worked off all the extra calories during

Amazing port adventures

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Port Adventures: We didn’t always stay on the “big boat,” as my toddler called it. We enjoyed port adventures in Villefranche (French Riveria), La Spezia (Pisa), Civitaveechia (Rome), and Naples. There are a few ways you can experience a port. For Villefranche, we went with a Disney Port Adventure. For La Spezia and Civitaveechia, we chose our own route. And for Naples, we booked an independent tour that took us to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.

Here are my thoughts on choosing a port adventure: if you are not familiar with a location or appreciate being catered to, go with the Disney Port Adventure. They take care of all the details and you don’t have to worry about a thing. For Villefranche, we chose a tour that included a wine tasting in Nice (with grape juice for the kids) and a trip to the charming village of Eze, perched high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. And the best part? All we had to do was show up. Excursions booked through a cruise tend to be a bit more expensive, but you are paying for ease and peace of mind.

To save a few bucks, you can book an excursion through an independent tour operation. For our tour of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius (which wasn’t offered by Disney), we booked a tour through Viator. We loved it and had a great time, but there were moments of “who is picking us up?” and “where are they?” In the back of my mind, I also worried that we would be late returning to the ship and it would leave without us, a fear that didn’t come to fruition.

For La Spezia and Civitaveechia (Rome), I wish we would have had less to worry about. We missed trains and were late at both places, causing frustration and disappointment. While both trips eventually worked out, mostly because my wife had researched things well and we stayed flexible, it wasn’t seamless and it wasn’t stress free. Note to future self, go with the Disney Port Adventures if you are doing anything more than walking around the port town.

*             *             *

But back to the reason why it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. My kids loved it. Nothing brings me as much enjoyment in life as watching my wife and children have the time of theirs. There were times that I would peek into the various youth rooms and my heart overflowed with joy as I saw my kids running around as happy as can be and making new friends with other vacationers. It would be nice to bottle up that enjoyment, which, I guess we did in our memories. And those memories of that magical week will last a lifetime.

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Lastly, here are tips in brief if you skimmed through the post:

  • Go with the Disney Port Adventure to save hassle and avoid stress.
  • Let your older kids run wild on board and keep track of their whereabouts with cell phones and tracking bracelets.
  • Have a date night at Palo.
  • Go for a massage to loosen up those traveling muscles.
  • Eat pizza poolside.
  • Beware of long announcements before live shows.
  • Take advantage of the nursery and enjoy some kid-free dinners

 

 

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