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JeffG
07-25-2002, 04:20 PM
To help kick off this section, here is the trip report that I wrote after taking a 7-night cruise back in late 2000.

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INTRODUCTION

From September 30 through October 7, 2000, my wife Ilene and I went on the 7-day cruise on- board the Disney Magic. This was truly one of the most enjoyable and relaxing vacations that I've ever experienced. I was very glad that we selected to go on the 7-day cruise since it gave us a very good opportunity to experience much of what the ship and ports had to offer while still having plenty of time for relaxing out on the ship's decks or, more frequently, on our stateroom's verandah. We had originally booked a room with just a porthole, but as prices dropped (this was hurricane season), we decided to upgrade. After the trip, I now wouldn't hesitate for a moment to recommend spending the extra to upgrade to a verandah room.

The combination of tropical storm Joyce and Hurricane Keith resulted in some changes in our itinerary compared to what was originally promised. Originally, we were supposed to be at sea on Sunday and Monday (the departure day was Saturday), at St. Maartin on Tuesday, St. Thomas on Wednesday, at sea on Thursday, and at Castaway Cay (Disney's private island) on Friday. Because of the weather, we ended up going to Key West on Sunday while the captain waited to see where the storms were going. When we first came on board, we were told that we would most likely end up going to Nassau (in the Bahamas) on Monday and then to Castaway Cay on Tuesday. After that, they expected us to be at sea on Wednesday and Thursday with another TBA port on Friday. The word around the ship was that the Friday port would probably be Charleston, South Carolina. Fortunately, Tropical Storm Joyce shifted southward and we ended up with a trip closer to the original itinerary. The visit to Key West on Sunday replaced the stop at St. Maartin (meaning we were at sea on Tuesday), but otherwise the itinerary was as originally announced with stops at St. Thomas on Wednesday and Castaway Cay on Friday.

Instead of trying to give a day-by-day account of this trip, I'm going to jump around a bit to talk about some of the highlights of the cruise. I'm going to organize the report in categories, talking a bit about the food, the on-board entertainment, and finally each of the ports of call.

DINING ON THE SHIP

One of the best features of the cruise was, of course, the food. For those that don't know, pretty much all the food that you want is included. It is really quite an amazing experience to be able to order anything you want from the menu in a restaurant without thinking about prices. Each night, you are encouraged to order an appetizer, entree, and dessert. If anything you order turns out not to be to your taste, you are encouraged to ask for a replacement (something we never had to do). Between meal snacks (like at the ice- cream stand), fast food (there is a pizza stand and a hamburger/hot-dog stand), and even room service are also included. Really, the only things you have to pay separately for are any alcoholic or specialty beverages. They also charge for sodas except during meals.

There are 4 restaurants on the Magic. At the beginning of the cruise, you are given a schedule where you rotate among 3 of those (Lumiere's, Parrot Cay, and Animator's Palate). You are assigned a table number and dine with the same tablemates and even have the same servers each night. Interestingly, they make an effort to match up the guests at the tables. All four couples at our table were on our honeymoons. At the end of the cruise, you are also strongly encouraged to give fairly significant gratuities to your server, assistant server, and the head server. Our server and assistant server were outstanding so we actually tipped both of them above the recommended amounts. We were a bit irritated at the head server so we ended up not tipping him. Two of the couples at our table were given special cakes for being on their honeymoon while we and the other couple were missed. We found out that celebrating special occasions was towards the top of the responsibilities that the head server has towards the guests.

The remaining restaurant is a fairly elegant, adults-only restaurant called Palo. To eat there, you have to make reservations, which usually are sold out well before the end of the first day. We did have dinner there one night as well as a champagne brunch (probably the best meal on our cruise) on another day. Palo does seat each party separately and it was kind of nice eating with just Ilene for those meals, although we did enjoy the company of our tablemates the other evenings. The menu there is primarily Italian food. For dinner, I had a veal cutlet while Ilene had pasta with marinara sauce. They also had an absolutely outstanding chocolate and vanilla souffle which was one of the best desserts I've had. For the brunch, they had a terrific buffet of cold dishes (shrimp, crab legs, fruits and vegetables, pastries, and cheeses) as well as a number of hot dishes that you could order from the server. That was probably the most food that I ate at one sitting on the whole trip. There actually is a small extra charge for Palo ($5/person for dinner and $10/person for brunch), but we felt it was well worth it.

There were always a couple different choices for breakfast and lunches as well. For both meals, there was always a buffet available at "Topsiders" up on the upper deck as well as table service at Lumiere's. Parrot Cay offered a character breakfast, which was only available to us on an assigned day (we had it on Monday and the message that started this thread was actually posted right afterwards). It was a table service breakfast where we were seated at our usual table (our other tablemates didn't go) with our usual servers. It was ok, but we have had much better character breakfasts at both Disneyland and WDW. In fact, we went to the one at the Polynesian Resort the morning of our cruise departure and we generally found it to be a lot better with much more character interaction. Still, the food on the cruise character breakfast was good and was very plentiful.

The only really major complaint that we had about the food was that they weren't very accommodating of varied time schedules. If you didn't get up and on your way to breakfast before 10:30am or if you wanted lunch after 2pm, you were pretty much stuck with room service (which had a very limited menu) or the fast food stands. Since we had the late seating dinner (8:30pm) and also sometimes tended to be up pretty late, this wasn't too convenient. On a couple days, we actually ended up ordering cold cereal from room service for breakfast because we weren't up in time for anything else. It seemed to me that it would have made sense for them to have kept Topsiders open pretty much all day.

ON-BOARD ENTERTAINMENT

There are two major theaters on-board the Disney Magic. The Walt Disney Theater is a large, Broadway-style theater designed to house full stage productions. The Buena Vista Theater is a smaller theater primarily intended to show movies. Many of the most recent releases from the various Disney studios run pretty regularly on the cruise. We didn't have much time to spend in the theater (only went once), but the films showing on our cruise included "Dinosaur", "Fantasia 2000", "Tarzan", "The Tigger Movie", "Disney's The Kid", "Gone in 60 Seconds", "Duets", and "Remember the Titans".

Every night of the cruise, there was a production of some sort presented in the Walt Disney Theater. There were two showings of each night's presentation, one at 6:30pm (except one night where it was moved to 6pm) for those of us with the late dinner seating and another at 8:30pm for people that had the early dinner seating.

On Sunday, Monday, and Friday, they showed very elaborate, hour-long stage musicals in the theater. These are not typical theme park shows, but instead full-blown productions created by Disney Theatricals (the same group that did "Beauty and the Beast" and "Lion King" on Broadway).

Sunday night's show was "Hercules -- The Muse-ical", an adaptation of the film. The plot is slightly abbreviated to fit into the hour long slot, although certainly not to the degree that you find in the park shows that are based on the films. The show features nicely done production numbers of all the show's songs. One very clever element of this was the tendency to "break the fourth wall" by including performers portraying the show's director and his assistant. It even opens with the introduction of temporary replacements for a couple muses that called in sick. The big gag in that is that one of the temps is a man dressed in a moose suit. He eventually changes into the actual muse outfit and provides quite a few of the rest of the show's bigger laughs.

Monday's show was "Ces Magique", a new stage show that has been introduced for the 7-day cruise. This is a magic show, but done in sort of a Cirque-de-Soliel style with lots of classical music and references to classical art. What little dialog there is in the show is actually all sung to the tune of various classical music. I admit that my reaction to this show was a bit mixed. It was certainly interesting to look at and was really quite well- done for what it was, but I guess it just wasn't particularly to my taste. I found it a bit too abstract. Still, I suspect if this is your kind of show, it is one you would like a lot.

My favorite (and probably pretty much everyone's favorite...) of the shows was Friday's presentation of "Disney Dreams". The show is basically a tribute to Disney featuring production numbers of famous Disney songs, but the presentation is both accomplished and moving. The loose plot opens with a young girl sitting at her bedroom window and wishing on a star that she could go to a place where all of the stories that she loves will become reality. The Blue Fairy then arrives and informs her that her wish will come true if she can find that place before the clock strikes six. Peter Pan then arrives to help guide her through her search. The search, of course, involves big musical sequences featuring music and abbreviated presentations of the stories from "Aladdin", "Cinderella", "Little Mermaid", "Lion King", and "Beauty and the Beast" (I think I'm remembering all of them). The show's finale features some rather moving dialog and imagery enhanced by some downright amazing visual effects. Overall, this is an incredible show. I suspect something like this show is generally what the creator's of Disneyland's "Animazement" had in mind and perhaps that show's directors should look at this one for inspiration on how to fix their show.

On other nights, they had a variety of different presentations in the theater. Saturday night, they had a "Welcome Aboard" variety show that we missed because we were too busy exploring the ship. On Tuesday, they did a "premiere at sea" of "Remember the Titans" (due to the longer running time, this was the show moved to 6pm) with some character appearances and a little cheerleading presentation preceding a showing of the film. One clever bit here was having a red- carpet set up outside the theater with actors dressed as fans and reporters greeting everyone coming in as if they were movie stars. They had video cameras and big screens allowing those already in the theater to watch the reactions.

Wednesday night they did a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" show in the theater. We decided to skip this, partly because we are already tired of this whole fad and partly because I was a bit miffed that they have dropped a 4th full stage show (one called "Voyage of the Ghost Ship") in order to do this little bit of Disney cross-division marketing. There was a showing of "Dinosaur" in the Buena Vista Theater at the same time, so we decided to go see it instead. At first we were worried when large groups of small children from the ship's children's program were escorted into the rear rows of the theater. We figured we wouldn't be able to hear a thing over the kids. Surprisingly, the kids were almost completely silent during the film.

Finally, on Thursday they had a variety show featuring segments by a juggler and a stand-up comic, both of whom were quite funny and entertaining. They also did have the show cast (note that all three of the big musicals had the same cast who were also the greeters and cheerleaders at the movie premiere) do one musical number that evening as well. I guess they had to keep them busy. :)

During the daytime hours on the at-sea days, they offered a number of seminar series that were available for adults to attend (other activities were available for kids). Some of these included seminars on stage performing, wine tasting, and food preparation. We ended up attending a couple sessions of the "Navigator Series", which focused on a behind-the- scenes look at the ship's operation. One day was a fascinating 60 minute question and answer session with the ship's 1st officer and one of the 3rd officers. They were very open about answering questions about navigation procedures (including some fairly technical ones), the ship's capabilities, safety procedures, etc. The other session we attended was the bridge catwalk tour, which was pretty much what it sounded like. They took us onto a catwalk that overlooked the bridge and the first officer then walked around and explained what each piece of equipment did. Very cool!

For entertainment later at night, the ship has "Beat Street", which is kind of a miniature version of WDW's Pleasure Island. It included a dance club, a piano bar, and a comedy club. We actually only made it down there one evening (we typically found ourselves strolling the upper decks after dinner instead), and spent pretty much the whole time watching the "Dueling Pianos" show at the comedy club. It was quite funny, becoming more outrageous (and more R-rated...) as the night went on. The show that we saw was an "adults only" presentation that ran from 11pm-12:30am. They did have a "family show" earlier in the evening, but I suspect most of the funniest bits would be lost in that one. :) I particularly enjoyed "Old MacDonald's Dysfunctional Farm" with such animals as the Tourette's Syndrome chicken (more elaboration would probably prevent this from being a trip report suited for the whole family...)

KEY WEST

The stop at Key West was, as previously noted, an unscheduled one resulting from the fear of tropical storms. To be honest, we really spent very little time on-shore during this stop. It was the first full day of the cruise (originally scheduled to be an "at sea" day) and we were both generally a bit more interested in the ship than in the port.

After sleeping in a bit and having a good table service lunch at Lumiere's, we did leave the ship for a little while. The port at Key West is right downtown meaning that there is quite a bit that is an easy walk away. There were several shore excursions (mostly boat or bus tours), but we decided to just walk around for a while.

For the most part, we found the area to be the typical tourist trap of overpriced shops and restaurants. There were a few museums in the area, but neither of us were much in a museum- going mood at that point. We basically just walked around a couple blocks before the high humidity and lack of exciting surroundings drew us back to the ship. My guess is that if we had been more motivated and had more time, we could have travelled further away from the port into more interesting and less touristy parts of town. The one big advantage of stopping in Key West was that we were able to find a nearby convenience store and purchase a couple 12-packs of soda. The prices paid at a store so close to the port were way inflated (about $6 for each 12-pack), but they were still a lot cheaper than buying Cokes onboard. On the ship, you paid $1.50 for a really tiny Coke or you could pay $28/person for unlimited soft drinks. This does only apply to between meal drinks as Cokes are included at dinner and at the table service restaurants during lunch, but we still went through all but 4 of the 24 cans before the end of the cruise.

At the end of our visit to Key West, we saw one of the more unusual sights of the trip. At the scheduled departure time, we went out to the verandah to watch the ship pulling away from shore. It got a short distance out when it came to a stop. A small Coast Guard boat pulled alongside. It turned out that a family (two parents and a couple children) had missed getting back onto the ship on time! They had to throw them a rope to bring them on- board. Of course, all the people out on their verandahs and the decks above had a great time yelling comments ("Did you think to buy a watch while on-shore?") and applauding when they were finally on-board.

ST. THOMAS

When we woke up the morning that we arrived at St. Thomas, Ilene looked out the window and immediately announced that the ship now appeared to be parked on a street. :) It was really quite an odd sight. If you looked closely, you could see that the ship really was in water, of course, but there literally wasn't more than 3-4 inches between the ship's hull and the street. As an electronics/computer nut, I admit that I also found it oddly reassuring that there was a Radio Shack visible from our verandah. :)

For St. Thomas, we had purchased a shore excursion on the Atlantis Submarine (website at http://www.goatlantis.com/stthomas/default.htm). Even at $75/person, we found this to be well worth the price! The excursion began with us boarding the SubQuest, a passenger speed boat that would transport us out to the vicinity of Buck Island (which is a wildlife preserve). This was a rather bumpy ride, but that actually made it rather enjoyable in its own right. We agreed that since neither of us got seasick on the SubQuest, we were quite sure that we wouldn't get seasick anywhere. :) On-board the SubQuest, they had complementary water or fruit punch and even complementary rum to put into the punch if you so desired. They also warned that the restroom on the SubQuest was the last opportunity until after your submarine trip was over.

Near Buck Island, we then transferred over to the Atlantis Submarine itself for our 60 minute underwater tour. As we boarded the sub, we were immediately struck by a major sense of familiarity. The interior of the submarine consists of two rows of seats each facing a series of portholes on either side of the sub. It looks and feels almost identical to the now-defunct Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland!

Of course, unlike the Disneyland ride, this is a real submarine where you see real marine life. The submarine took us down to a depth of about 75 feet along a coral reef. We saw a lot of different types of fish and underwater plant life. We also saw a few small sharks. The live narrator did mention that they could attract large sharks into the area by chumming, but the snorkelers that explore the same waters would probably object. :)

Our return trip on board the SubQuest was actually quite a bit calmer (probably slower) than the trip out and actually made for a rather nice harbor cruise. Some of the best photographs that I took on the trip were during that ride. I did take a bunch of photographs from the sub as well (using 800 speed film and no flash -- thankfully they repeatedly emphasized the no-flash rule so that wasn't a problem), but they turned out way too blue. Oh well...

We had about 90 minutes left after we got back from the submarine until we had to be onboard ship. We spent that time walking around the are near the port. It was another touristy shopping area, but generally it seemed nicer and more upscale than at Key West. I do admit that we were getting kind of tired of the fairly-fancy cruise food by this time and we ended up grabbing lunch at the KFC across the street. :)

Overall, we really were very impressed with St. Thomas. It is a very beautiful place with lots of rolling hills and crystal clear water. I'd love to take another trip back there some time and explore the place at more length.

[continued in reply]

JeffG
07-25-2002, 04:20 PM
[continued]

CASTAWAY CAY

On the last day of our cruise, we visited Disney's private island called Castaway Cay (pronounced "key") As I understand it, Disney generally tries to have it be the last day of each cruise, no matter whether you go on the 3,4, or 7-day variety, although weather and sea conditions can sometimes change that schedule.

We both found Castaway Cay to be quite beautiful and overall rather impressive. The island is fully owned by Disney and is reserved exclusively for their cruise ships. Since the Magic and Wonder don't dock there on the same day, it is much less crowded and has more of a feeling of seclusion than other ports of call.

We first disembarked to explore the island a little before noon. For this initial trip, we didn't bother changing into swimsuits, instead opting for shorts and T-shirts for our first explorations. For some reason, it never occurred to me to grab my camera at this point, which I definitely regret. Because of that, we ended up not getting any pictures at Castaway Cay. Oh well, I guess that's a good excuse to take another cruise someday. :)

After you exit the ship, it is just a short walk along the dock to the first tram station (there is also a post office there if you want to mail postcards home). The trams are fairly similar to the parking lot trams used at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, although with diesel tractors. This first tram takes you over to the main beaches, gift shops, restaurants, etc. In that same area, you can board another tram that will take you to the adults-only beach. There are walkways that you can use instead of taking either tram, but each trip is a pretty long distance and probably would be pretty unpleasant in the Bahamas heat and humidity.

Since this is Disney, there is actually an entire story that has been created to bring theming to the island. Some of this is related via the spiels as you travel on the trams. I admit that I wasn't entirely able to pick up the whole thing, but it seems that the story has the island being named for a group of castaways that had made it their home. The idea behind the theming is that many of the structures and such on the island were built by these castaways, with some of the shops and such still supposedly being run by their descendents. There is a snorkeling trail that has been set up off the family beach, which I suspect probably allows you to pick up more of the story as you visit the shipwreck and such that they have placed there. I was hoping to try snorkeling there, but I was having some back troubles (I pulled a muscle while moving some of Ilene's stuff to my apartment prior to the wedding) and I didn't feel I was up to it. Oh well, yet another reason to come back...

After briefly walking along the (fairly-crowded) family beaches as well as looking around the gift shops (where you can get lots of Castaway Cay exclusive T-shirts and such), we headed over to Cookie's BBQ for lunch. This is a buffet-type restaurant featuring BBQ ribs, chicken, grilled hamburgers and hot-dogs, and the usual side dishes. Just like onboard the ship, the food here is all included. While I wouldn't say it was the most spectacular BBQ in the world (the quality was pretty comparable to Big Thunder BBQ at Disneyland), it was still a good, filling, lunch. One small oddity was that they didn't have any butter for the corn-on-the-cob. When we asked for it, they explained that they weren't allowed to bring butter onto the island for some reason. Must be some sort of a Bahamas customs regulation.

After lunch, we decided to head back to the ship and change into swimming suits. At that point, we also applied a liberal amount of sunscreen, although sadly it still didn't turn out to be enough. More on that later...

We then exited the ship once again and, this time, headed for the adult beach. The tram ride out there is actually quite scenic, with the roadway made to look like an old airstrip. In fact, I suspect it probably is designed so it actually can be used as an airstrip if necessary. Between the tram stop and the beach is a bar area that is made up to look like a hanger that a plane has crashed into. The theming is that the pilot crashed into the building and, thus, decided to just settle there and open the bar.

The adult beach itself was absolutely beautiful and wonderfully uncrowded. Disney really has done a great job of providing some separation between adults and children on the cruise. We saw no kids at all at the adult beach, making for a very peaceful environment.

The sand on the beach is a very pure shade of white and the water is a clear turquoise color. The water is also exactly what I would consider the right temperature, neither cold nor overwhelmingly over-warm. The place was really quite amazing.

Ilene and I rented a couple of floats and proceeded to spend the next couple relaxing out in the water. It was so pleasant and relaxing that we ended up spending quite a bit more time there than we had expected.

Unfortunately, that meant that we apparently exceeded the useful life of the sunscreen and we ended up pretty burned. We weren't alone in this, though, in that everyone on the ship seemed to be comparing sunburns that night. I actually got burned the worse on my feet and ankles, simply because it never occurred to me to apply sunscreen there! Walking was not that easy the next couple days. One thing that might be a good idea when visiting Castaway Cay is to look into getting a pair of waterproof shoes (such as divers use). That would protect feet from the sun as well as from the fairly rough rocks under the water.

After a couple hours at the beach, we made our way back to the ship at a nice leisurely pace. On the way, we stopped at one of the bar areas and bought a couple of the island specialty drinks. I had the "Conch Cooler", which was a mix of pineapple juice, coconut, and other tropical citrus juices. Ilene had a different drink that was a mixture of strawberry and banana. Both were very, very good (we each sampled a little of the other drink). The drinks were all available in either alcoholic or non-alcoholic versions. We both went with the non-alcoholic varieties.

Overall, we were quite happy with Castaway Cay. There were lots of things that we could have done there that we just didn't have time to do. Besides the previously mentioned snorkeling, they also offered bike rentals and a bike trail, as well as a variety of boat rides (peddle boats and the like). They do have quite a bit of undeveloped land on the island and we agreed that they might even want to consider building a small water park or other attractions there, but even now there really is plenty to do. Certainly, I hope that if they do any expansions, they will be careful not to harm the isolated, tropical feel of the island.

CONCLUSION

Although this isn't a thorough, blow-by-blow account of the cruise, I think I've covered most of the major highlights. I hope you have all enjoyed reading about it! This was truly a magnificent honeymoon and we did find ourselves leaving the ship already discussing when we might be able to take another cruise.

HTHBellcaptain
07-25-2002, 09:49 PM
Wow, great report. Thanks.

Lacrosse Boy
08-26-2002, 11:45 AM
WOW! you must have been outta breath!