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 Caribbean Cruise with Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line in the Caribbean
The Magic and Wonder of Disney

by Doug English

It’s a sultry July evening aboard Disney’s cruise ship, the Disney Magic. I should be leaning on the rail, gin ‘n tonic in hand, watching the aquamarine waters of the Bahamas slip past.

Instead I’m inside, sitting on the floor, interviewing Cathy Pearson, 4, and her brother Gary, 6, of Des Moines, Iowa.

Cathy and Gary are among several youngsters, most first-time cruisers whose opinions I sought.

Why? Because if Disney Magic doesn’t fly with kids, it isn’t likely to fly with moms and dads.

The kids verdict? They loved it! What kid wouldn’t? Instead of hanging around with boring old adults, they can head for Disney’s Oceaneer Adventure, dedicated to children 3 to 12, staffed with 50 counsellors and open 9am to 1am.

Disney’s Oceaneer Adventure consists of Disney’s Oceaneer Club, with separate activities for kids ages 3 - 5 and 6 - 8, and Oceaneer Lab, with programs for kids 9 & 10 and those 11 & 12. When the ship docks for a day at Disney’s private Bahamian Island, Castaway Cay, Club or Lab members can play ashore with their counsellors and new pals. They can even eat lunch and dinner together if parents agree. Children wear an ID wrist band and each set of parents is issued a pager for peace of mind.

Structured activities are also available for toddlers (under 3) but parental supervision is required. Teenagers have their own hangout, called Common Grounds, with tabletop games, laptop computers and music.

What do the young Oceaneers do? On Castaway Cay, Cathy and Gary went snorkelling and saw fish – “three live fish and one dead one”. In Disney’s Oceaneer Club, Gary liked playing Memories, Candy Land and Charades. Cathy enjoyed the dress-up area where youngsters can pretend to be Disney movie characters. Who did she play? “Tinkerbell .... without the wings.”

Karen Lundquist, 10, of New York, thought Disney’s Oceaneer Lab was “really fun”. The computers were great and the listening centre (music) was good .... lots of new stuff and old stuff. “There’s a lot to keep you busy!” On Castaway Cay, she went on a simulated archaeological dig and “actually found a fossil!”

Kim Simpson, 9, of Columbus, Georgia “did art and played on the computer” in Oceaneer Lab, dug up “whale bones” on the cay and was rewarded with a gift of a real shark’s tooth. (Her mother, travelling with her husband, Rick, and a son, 6, said this was the family’s third cruise in three years, and she thought the children’s set-up was “wonderful”.)

What is there for parents to do? Bear in mind they won’t be at sea all that long. Three and four-night Bahamian cruises, and seven-night Caribbean cruises are available, as well as a seven-night land and sea package that gives them the first three or four nights at the Walt Disney World Resort and a pass for all the parks. By the time they reach the ship at Port Canaveral, about an hour by bus from Walt Disney World, most parents will be ready to offload the youngsters and enjoy some R&R.

One day will be taken up at Nassau, another at Castaway Cay. In between, mom might relax at the Vista Spa & Salon; dad might unwind in the ESPN Skybox which Disney claims is the only interactive sports club at sea. It’s actually inside the forward funnel.

Three large-cast, Broadway-style musicals are presented in the three-deck-high Walt Disney Theatre, starting as early as 6pm, featuring, Hercules - A Muse-ical Comedy, Disney Dreams, Morty the Magnificent, and a Disney-themed Trivia Game Show.

There’s no strictly adult stage show but there are three nightclubs and Studio Sea, created for guests of all ages.

There’s no casino either. Disney executives don’t think gaming jibes with Disney’s image. Besides, Nassau has several casinos.

What else is different about Disney Magic?

• Rotation dining. That means trying three different dining rooms but keeping the same table number, the same table mates and the same servers. A fourth diningroom “Palo” is adults only, requires reservations and charges $5-a-head service.

• Staterooms. Disney says they are 25% bigger than the industry average, 75% of them with ocean views, and 44% have private verandahs. Bear in mind they are being shared in most cases by couples and children.

• Being able to step off the ship and onto Castaway Cay – Disney's own private island. Cruisers who’ve waited for shuttle boats will appreciate the touch.

• An international crew. They’re from 41 countries, speak 54 languages – home is printed on their name tags – and they give the vessel an international flavour.

• Lots of first-time cruisers. Disney banks on its name and reputation tapping into the 90 to 95% of people who’ve never gone to sea. Disney executives have told me that “half of our bookings are from guests who have never cruised before”.

• What Disney executives call a “seamless vacation”. Buses take arriving passengers from Orlando airport to their resort and departing passengers from the ship to the airport for the flight home. At the resort, a card is issued that serves as a room key on land, cabin key on the ship, pass for all the theme parks and water parks, and as a charge card.

Photo: Mickey Mouse, Goofy and their seafaring pals await all those who sail aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. Photo courtesy Disney Cruise Line

Doug English
Doug English is a freelance travel columnist whose weekly column on leisure travel appears in the London Free Press every Saturday and in other SunMedia newspapers in Canada at other times. He has twice been honoured by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, receiving The Globe & Mail Travel Media Award, one of TIAC’s National Awards for Tourism Excellence, in 2007, and TIAC’s 1991 Explore Canada Award for Canadian Print. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo Doug English courtesy London Free Press

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