Disney Cruise: All At Sea With Captain Mickey
"And welcome to the Tweeeeeeeedie family!" boomed the man on the microphone. Rarely has the beginning of a holiday been so public, so wince-inducing, but on a Disney cruise it is best to accept one’s fate. You are there to be hap-hap-happy, so get used to it.
Officers in immaculate whites formed a guard of honour as the four jet-lagged Tweedies, guided on to the ship by crewmen equipped with giant Mickey Mouse hands, emerged warily into the atrium of the cruise liner Disney Magic. There was a momentary air of expectation, as though we were supposed to do something. But what?
Break into song? Tap dance? Maybe they were going to sprinkle us with fairy dust and transform us into the perfect American nuclear family, with megawatt smiles, therapy and a somewhat intermittent understanding of those lands far, far away known as the Rest of the World?
We moved forward, embarrassment seeping from every pore. No matter, we were already history. There were 2,700 passengers to load, about a thousand of them children, and the guy doing the announcing had a lot of greeting to do.
“Welcome to the Weintraubs!” Or whoever. Desperate to escape the relentless gaiety, we headed for the top deck in search of gin and tonic and a view of the Manhattan skyline.
I had not been on a cruise, and neither had my wife. My experience of the sea was based largely on two near-catastrophic journeys in small craft undertaken for work. One was in the Shetland Islands, with an amateur sailor the headline-writers called Captain Calamity on account of the series of expensive air-sea rescues he had needed.
The second was in the Pacific, when a Melanesian islander taking me to an atoll threatened by sea-level rise decided to divert some of the money paid to him for fuel to fund his not-inconsiderable marijuana habit, resulting in the engine cutting out kilometres from shore. Given these introductions to the marine environment, the prospect of going to sea in something bigger, something safer, something with a decent cocktail bar on it, was an attractive one.
So what is a Disney cruise like? Who would it suit?
To find out, we joined the Magic in New York at one of the terminals on the Hudson River used in a more elegant age by the great transatlantic liners. It was an eight-night cruise taking the ship from New York to the Bahamas and Florida, and back again.
Being British, we were in a small minority, with a contingent of Canadians. Americans, mostly from the north-east states, made up the vast bulk of the passenger manifest.
A European voyage with Disney: Mickey Mouse In The Mediterranean
Guess who made this list? 5 Best Water Parks On Cruise Ships
Think cartoon characters are weird? 10 Bizarre Cruising Customs
Farewell to New York
We left New York to the sound of the ship’s horn and its signature, the opening notes of When You Wish Upon a Star. It was a privilege to depart Manhattan as the passengers on the great Cunarders had done, the skyscrapers slipping by to port as we made our way south towards the ocean.
A fireboat switched on its cannon for the occasion, framing the Statue of Liberty in curtains of rainbow-flecked water, and the horn sounded a final blast as we passed the southern tip of Manhattan, a tribute to the fallen of 9/11. New York’s bustle receded swiftly and soon the only sounds were the swish of the great ship cutting through the water and the mournful toll of a bell buoy heralding the open sea.
You don’t have to be travelling with children to sail with Disney. Adults sign up in surprising numbers for a voyage with Captain Mickey (the Magic’s real captain is a Dutchman).
“During our last cruise we had three or four honeymooning couples, and couples with no children who had been on several cruises with us,” Darren McBurney, the ship’s British cruise director, told me. “There’s a couple on this cruise who have three more cruises with us booked, and they have no children. One of the things we pride ourselves on is the adult-only entertainment.”
Why grown people travelling without children would want to spend their holiday being surprised on deck by a foam-rubber Captain Hook is a mystery to rival the Mary Celeste. But then, the British do not quite get the quasi-religious devotion that attaches to things Disney on the far side of the Atlantic. Mickey Mouse, that falsetto-voiced rodent, occupies a central position in American iconography.
Taking the Mickey
His silhouette, those three interlocking circles, is to be found everywhere, on walls, towels, bar stools, funnels, you name it. When Mickey sped across the top deck on a zip wire during the fireworks party, they cheered; and when he posed for photographs with little ones in the ship’s atrium, they queued. Complimenting a member of staff on the quality of food, my wife added naughtily: “This place is very good – except for the vermin problem.”
“Sorry ma’am?” he gasped.
“The big black mouse I keep seeing.” Horrified silence.
Don’t dare make fun of Mickey Mouse. Burning the Stars and Stripes at a meeting of the National Rifle Association would be less inflammatory.
We were not completely cynical. Eventually, all that smiling by perma-tanned princesses gets to you. The ship’s crew were universally pleasant and open to conversation, despite long working hours, and the theatre shows were of consistently high quality, enjoyed thoroughly by our daughters, aged 13 and 10. It really was like being on Broadway or in the West End, the highlight of each evening.
When the brand went to sea, Michael Eisner, the chief executive of Disney in the 1990s, envisaged Disney Magic and her sister, Disney Wonder, as “modern classics”, marrying tourist functionality with the elegance of the ocean liner age. The ships, which have classic navy-blue hulls, white upper works, red funnels (the front one is fake) and rounded sterns, are certainly more handsome than the slab-sided monsters built in recent years to cater for the burgeoning cruise market.
Food for thought
Dining was good, the food always tasty and well-prepared, refined on occasion, and the wine good to excellent. Disney operates a novel system in which waiters and waitresses follow guests as they move from restaurant to restaurant on successive evenings.
This is fine if you like the staff allocated to you, not so fine if you don’t. We could not have been better cared for by those waiting at our table and it was a pleasure to meet them each night.
The three restaurants used for this rotational dining vary in decor. Parrot Cay is gaudy Caribbean, Lumiere is cartoonish French, and The Animator’s Palate has an entertaining black-and-white set that evolves as the meal proceeds into a coloured array of illustrations.
Palo, a Venetian-themed restaurant on the upper deck, is an option for those wanting a quieter (i.e. child-free) and more refined atmosphere. The outlets on the upper deck serving breakfast and fast food were less impressive. Fewer over-fried offerings and more fresh food would have been welcome at the latter.
We liked our cabin, a cosy billet, just big enough for four. Our little balcony was a haven, enjoying an uninterrupted view of the horizon, a place to sit and reflect at the end of the day as tropical storms marbled the night sky with bursts of lightning. We would often retreat to it, relieved to be on our own.
As a novice, I cannot now imagine going on a cruise and staying in an interior cabin. The whole point of the exercise is, surely, to see the sea.
The Tweedie family tend to stick together on holiday, whatever the time of day, but for parents who need a break, Disney Magic offers a range of playgroups and clubs where children (surely the point of a Disney cruise?) can be offloaded. They are open from breakfast until after midnight and cater for all ages up to 17.
Vibe, situated in the false forward funnel and targeted at the oldest children, is the most attractive of four secure venues. The playrooms for younger children are deep in the ship, dark and rather depressing. Leaving our children for more than a short time in these places, had they been young enough, would have been unthinkable.
All in all, it was fun. Parents with children young enough to gasp at the sight of an ersatz Ariel or Aurora should consider an outing on the Disney Magic. Even if you find it hard to buy into the Disney myth, you can sit back and be amused. Just don’t be too obvious when taking the Mickey.
Set sail on a dream holiday with CruiseAbout
This article was written by Neil Tweedie from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.