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All Aboard for Family Fun

Our cruise experience began with the happy dance in our kitchen when the itinerary arrived at our blustery Kansas City front door two weeks before departure.  As I took in the agenda for our 6-night Caribbean cruise aboard the Disney Magic, it hit me that we were really doing it! 

Our Disney cruise departed from Galveston, TX.  We opted to drive to the north side of Houston, spend the night and make the final 1-hour drive to Galveston the morning of the cruise.  For Kansas City cruisers, the drive is doable (about 11 hours to Houston), and we enjoyed the convenience of setting our own schedule and the opportunity to cut expenses.  Air travel into Houston is also a convenient option.

Once at the Galveston terminal, boarding the boat was a breeze despite the 2,600 other passengers.  Somehow, Disney makes it work—and as we stepped aboard, we began to discover that a Disney ship is a beautiful thing. The lobby’s grand staircase with a bronzed Mickey Mouse at the helm is just the beginning. Each of us felt giddy that the Disney Magic was to be “our ship” for a week!

As we crossed the atrium, we were ushered toward the kids’ Mickey pool area, the very place our preschooler had been pining for as she had repeatedly visited the cruise website. She was off to the water without delay.  We camped at a nearby table and enjoyed the warm sun and the lunch buffet.  (We quickly got over the strange sensation of eating meals without paying for them!) Soon came the departure celebration where our kids spotted two dolphins off the back of the ship, and I felt a surge of excitement as the ship eased out of the harbor.  

As we watched land slip out of view, my husband commented that we’d already had a lot of fun, and the Disney Magic was just leaving port!

Our spacious stateroom was a lovely retreat where we enjoyed spending time.  The view outside our sliding glass door always proved to be an “I can’t believe we’re doing this!” experience.  It was made all the more special by the over-the-top Disney service that included a magical evening transformation of our room by our staff, complete with chocolates and a different towel animal every night. 

Our six nights aboard the Disney Magic included two dinner rotations at three different restaurants, a unique Disney cruising concept.  Our servers, Kapoor, Raphael and Bawa, accompanied us to each restaurant and quickly learned our preferences and personalities.  They aimed to please!  We got to experience different dining styles and cuisines nightly, and even my plain-foods kiddo ventured to try shrimp cheesecake and Asian potstickers with the assurance that there were always chicken strips and pizza as backups later on.  Putting cloth napkins in our laps and ordering multiple courses was quite out of the ordinary for our family!

As the cruise experience unfolded, we discovered one concept that describes the difference between a Disney cruise and other types of vacations: balance.  We made memories as a family, while also carving out time for some relaxation and individual interests.  Everyone was refreshed.  And when we went our separate ways, our kids had a blast. 

Included in a Disney cruise are top-notch age-appropriate kids’ spaces and programming for ages 3-17.  (A nursery is also available for little ones for an additional fee, and reservations are required.)   Our older kids also enjoyed swimming and relaxing on deck, playing basketball and Ping-Pong, running on the ship’s track, taking in movies at the Disney theatre and the spectacular nighttime open-air entertainment.   Our preschooler got to meet Captain Hook and Mickey during the many character opportunities aboard the Magic.  Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Goofy, Pluto and, of course, Donald and Minnie, were also among the many characters on hand for photos and hugs.

Our preschooler also hopped right into the Oceaneer club, the kids’ program designed for her age group.  We checked her in one evening so that my husband and I could dine at Palo, Disney’s adults-only, fine dining restaurant located at the top of the ship.  When we had finished with Palo’s famous chocolate soufflé, we returned to pick up our little girl, only to have her inform us that she wasn’t planning to leave just yet.  “I’ll call you when I’m ready,” she informed us as she continued coloring her  pillowcase (now a favorite souvenir).  She finally did send for us after four hours of fun.  Our older kids also checked out Vibe, a special space in a spectacular top-of-ship location created just for teens.  

When it comes to activities and entertainment, the Disney cruise experience can be summed up like this: Something for everyone.  The variety is wonderful, as is the uniform family-friendliness.  One evening Disney staged a rocking outdoor Pirates of the Caribbean party that ended with fireworks (a Disney exclusive)! We were told other cruise ships were hovering nearby to take in the show!  Nightly shows in the Walt Disney Theatre rivaled Broadway productions. 

Our cruise included two stops: Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel, Mexico.  Disney offered planned excursions available for an additional fee, including stingray and dolphin experiences, tours of the town or historical features of the island, submarine tours and beach activities.  Passengers also had the option of exploring the area on their own.  We opted to head to the beach on our own in Grand Cayman, and in Cozumel, we chose a Disney beach excursion where we tried kayaking and other water activities.  Getting on and off the ship proved easy, and Disney staff were waiting at the end of our treks with cool towels and drinks. 

No chronicle of our cruise experience would be complete without a nod to our Disney Magic crew.  Hailing from more than 50 different nations, they were cheerful, friendly and efficient.  The senior Disney officers aboard the Magic identified their crew members as their most important asset, and that rings true.  Our servers, room host and all the other crew members we met at their various stations onboard made a huge impact on our cruise experience.

Now back in our Kansas City-area home, the memories of our cruise aboard the Disney Magic are a sweet souvenir.  What’s more, we’re intrigued by the knowledge that there are three other Disney ships and many Disney itineraries that might beckon to us in the future.  All aboard! 

Back on land, Maria Dean lives with her husband and four kids in Shawnee where she can generally be found navigating the family minivan.

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