By Brian Hancill

Before I begin to tell you about my family’s Disney Caribbean Cruise, my two teenage daughters would like a quick word.
Melanie and Sophie want to say it was the best holiday that has ever been invented in the whole universe, ever.
They loved it so much they are now waiting for us to win the Lottery so they can spend their whole life on a Disney liner. Failing that, they will happily leave school tomorrow and join the crew. Anything to make those seven days in paradise last longer.
Our Western Caribbean cruise on board the Disney Magic was such an overwhelmingly happy experience that I’ll quickly run out of superlatives, but here goes anyway...
There’s the cheerful and friendly crew. The mouth-watering menus in four superb restaurants. The luxurious 975-seat theatre (bigger than many in the West End). The 275-seat cinema with a full-size screen. The three swimming pools. The top-class entertainment. The superbly-run clubs for children and teenagers. The colourful ports of call.
But most of all, there’s the care, professionalism and efficiency that go into making every moment as much fun as it possibly can be for 2,400 passengers at a time.
From the moment you first see the Disney Magic or its sister ship the Disney Wonder at Florida’s Port Canaveral you know it’s going to be a special experience.
Instead of the garish white finish adopted by rival cruise lines, Disney’s dark blue and gold livery harks back to classic liners like the Queen Mary. Except that the ornate gold filigree work around the bow picks out an image of Mickey Mouse. And there’s a giant model of Goofy hanging over the stern giving the ship one last lick of paint.
At 964ft the Disney Magic is almost as long as the Eiffel tower is tall, and when you step on board the liner you enter a magnificent soaring atrium of marble, glass and polished wood. Every little detail is a work of fine craftsmanship and the whole effect takes your breath away.
With a liveried officer announcing your name, you could be arriving at a high society ball. But then you see Donald… and Goofy… and Snow White... and Mickey in his captain’s uniform. It feels like we’ve been sprinkled with pixie dust and ushered into a beautiful new world.
After a quick look at our cabin (our luggage is already waiting ), a luxury lift ride to the top deck takes us to a welcome party with all the Disney characters and entertainment staff singing and dancing the ship out to sea.
There’s a real lump-in-the-throat moment as the Disney Magic slips away from dockside and ship’s horn booms out the tune to When You Wish Upon A Star.
Then it’s time to move in properly. Disney Magic cabins are 25 per cent bigger than most other cruise lines, and every one is classed as a stateroom. Three-quarters are outside cabins and nearly half have their own verandah. Rooms sleep from three to seven and they all have double bathrooms, so getting out in the morning is much quicker.
Each block of staterooms have their own room hostess to make sure everything is shipshape. So when you come back to your cabin after a day of fun you find chocolates on the pillows - and in a typically thoughtful touch your new towels are cleverly twisted into a new animal shape for every day of the week.
And then there’s the food... there are three main restaurants on the Disney Magic. Lumiere’s has a classic movies theme, Parrot Cay a tropical island ambience and in Animator’s Palate the walls (and the staff uniforms!) magically change from black and white drawings to full-colour Disney cartoons as you dine. For a special night out you can try Palo’s, the stunning adults-only Italian restaurant on the top deck with a 270º view over the stern.
The waiters you meet at dinner on the first night stay with you all week as your party rotates from one restaurant to another. Emanuel from the Philippines and Ivan from Croatia were friendly, attentive... and witty too. When one of our table-mates, Christi from Alabama, waved away the dessert menu, saying “nothing for me thanks”, they came back with a plate bearing just the word “Nothing” in carefully iced letters.
As newcomers to cruising, we wondered whether we would find enough to do on board, but that was never a problem. Even if the weather turns bad you’re spoilt for choice with activities, exercises, demonstrations and shows. Sport addicts can get a fix 24 hours a day with multiple-screen coverage at the ESPN Skybox built into the forward funnel.
Some of our group were nervous about feeling seasick or getting to sleep at sea, but the Disney Magic seemed to cut through the roughest of waves with no up-and-down motion or swaying, and as you lie in your bed at night there’s none of the engine noise or vibrations you feel on an overnight Channel ferry.
When the ship pulls gracefully into its ports of call you can go ashore and explore at your own pace or choose from dozens of excursions. The new Western Caribbean itinerary takes you to Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Castaway Cay and the Eastern cruise calls at St Maarten in the Antilles, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and also ends up at Castaway Cay.
Nearly a whole deck of the Disney Magic is taken up with special areas for kids and teenagers. There’s a nursery for under-threes, clubs for ages 3-7 and 8-12, plus Common Grounds, a teenage club based in a Friends-style coffee shop. So parents can enjoy late-night entertainment while their children have fun making new friends.
If your kids prefer to do their own thing, they can use the supervised swimming pools, the laid-back loungers on Deck 4, the free snack bars, video game arcade and even an Internet cafe (how cool is it to email your mates from a Caribbean cruise?)
Talking to other passengers, it was amazing to note how all the parents praised the family facilites, while singles and couples said they hardly even noticed the children on board. Another triumph for that Disney pixie dust!
Now check out the cruise diary below for a day-by-day guide to our week of magic.
Melanie and Sophie are still plotting new ways to make it all happen again, but I’ll leave it to on-board comedian John Charles to sum up the experience.
It’s the Disney Dreams show during our last night on board, and at the end of his hilarious routine he stops and tells the packed Walt Disney Theatre: “Hey, I bet all you people think this is a real ship and you actually went to all those places. Wake up! This is Disney… it all runs on rails!”
Just a joke… but in terms of sheer fun and happiness, our Disney Cruise really did run on rails.

Our cruise was topped and tailed with stays at two Disney resort hotels in Orlando, including tickets to the famous theme parks. The night before setting sail we stayed at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, just a short walk from EPCOT, and afterwards we stayed at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, a ferry-boat ride from the Magic Kingdom. On our final morning we caught a Disney bus to the Animal Kingdom to get our final fix of magic before we said a reluctant farewell to Florida and caught our scheduled British Airways flight home.



Board the Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida. Welcome party on deck followed by “Welcome Aboard” show at the Walt Disney Theatre. Dinner at Lumiere’s restaurant then explore the ship.


Arrive at the laid-back and funky town of Key West, most southerly point in the continental USA. Take a trolley bus tour, have a slice of key lime pie, go for a beer in Sloppy Joe’s, author Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar. See the famous Mallory Square sunset from top deck, sipping cocktails as band plays local hero Jimmy Buffet’s big hit, Margaritaville. Dinner at Animator’s Palate.


Full day at sea with coast of Cuba only a few miles to port. Sauna and steam treatment in Rainforest Spa, sunbathing on Deck 10, High Tea at Palo’s, see movie Return To Neverland and theatre show Hercules The Muse-ical. Superb dinner at Palo’s.


Arrive at Grand Cayman in tropical storm and moor off port of George Town. Storm over, we take a tender to shore. Sunbathing and swimming on unspoilt Seven Mile Beach (alternatives include snorkeling with stingrays or playing golf). Then we shop for souvenirs. Gold and gems are cheap here, but we stick to Cuban cigars, local rum and Tortuga rum cake. Back on board for “Who Wants To Be A Mouseketeer” game show at Walt Disney Theatre. Dinner at Lumiere’s, then wildly funny cabaret with guitar player/comedian John Charles who even gets laughs with jokes about obscure Led Zeppelin songs.


Arrive at Mexican holiday island of Cozumel, enjoy sea lion show and go snorkeling among teeming tropical fish at Chankanaab wildlife park – one of world’s best undersea locations. Other options include drive-your-own-jeep safari. More shopping – gold, silver and emeralds available at knockdown prices, along with T-shirts, hats, local crafts and, of course, tequila. Mexican-themed dinner at Animator’s Palate, open-air dancing on Deck 10 then chilling out on Deck 4’s comfy loungers.


Full day at sea, with a champagne brunch of wonderful delicacies at Palo’s. Dozens of afternoon activities on offer –tempted by an ice carving demo and wine tasting, but laziness triumphs and we sunbathe on Deck 10 until the Walt Disney Theatre’s enchanting Disney Dreams show. It’s “formal dress” night and the ship is awash with (non-compulsory) tuxedos and glittering ball gowns. Pose for photos with Mickey, Donald and the real-life captain, Henry Andersson. Dinner at Palo’s then dancing until 1am at a Seventies night with excellent house band Free Reign.


Arrive at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Three miles long and two miles wide with two superb beaches – one for families, one just for grown-ups. Whole place bursts into life when Disney Magic docks at end of family beach. We swim, snorkel, eat, drink and enjoy scorching sunshine with help of familiar faces from crew who run bars, restaurants and shops. Back on board just in time for Farewell Variety Show, then “Small World” dinner at Lumiere’s when crew parade round room under their national flags. Can’t bear thought that magical cruise is almost over, but it is. Early next morning we dock at Port Canaveral, leave ship (sob!) and head back to Orlando on luxury Disney coach.

An edited version of this article was published in the Sunday Mirror newspaper on September 22, 2002


Huge official site, including detailed excursion info plus stateroom and deck plans.
Unofficial site aimed especially at UK visitors, with a message board for exchanging tips.