Disney Cruise Line - October 2022
Ever since my first cruise experience, I have been curious about whether a Disney Cruise was worth the hype. I can definitively say yes. In this article, I will discuss my experience on the Disney Magic in October 2022.
A quick introduction: In this trip, my son AJ and father Joe traveled with me. It was a Halloween on the High Seas sailing and, of course, featured a Pirates in the Caribbean night.
Here is an outline of what we will cover.
Travel to NYC
As usual, our trip began in Jefferson City Missouri. This time we got a ride to St. Louis the night before our trip. After spending the evening with my parents we went straight to St. Louis International airport... and then the fun began. Due to some fog in NYC our flight was delayed multiple times. This would not have been a problem except that our plan was to spend the day exploring New York City. Let this be a lesson to everyone, including me, don't be tempted to skip the pre-cruise stay in the city of departure. We could have made the ship but only just barely had we not had the day planned in New York. Other than the delay, Southwest Airlines provided an excellent direct flight.
Before the Cruise
I wish I could describe the sights on Ellis Island or how my son loved seeing the various aircraft on the flight deck of the Enterprise aircraft carrier but, see travel to NYC above, I cannot. On the plus side, this just means that we need to travel to NYC again in the future to see these things. What we did end up doing though was still a lot of fun. Armed with some recommendations from a friend, we planned an easy day in the City. This started by traveling from Laguardia to our hotel. The commute was a bit more difficult than I would have thought as there is not a direct train to that particular airport. We took a bus to the subway and were able to make it within a block of our hotel. This brings us to lesson number two; don't over pack. It was easy enough to bring luggage on the busses and subways but my son and I each had a suitcase. As AJ is three, I, most of the time, also had to carry him. Again, not a problem but we could have condensed a bit and saved a little stress carrying bags up and down stairways into and out of the subway.
This was an amazing experience. First off, everyone tells you that you must arrive to the port at your scheduled arrival time. In the past, with other cruise lines, I thought of this as a guideline. With Disney, you were not even permitted to check your bags with the stevedores unless you were within your arrival window. This made for one of the most enjoyable embarkation experiences I have ever experienced. We walked through from station to station. It is important that you have all your documentation ready to go because, literally, from the time we walked through the doors to the point that we were waiting in chairs was less than five minutes. In that time we had our boarding passes checked, vaccine status verified, travel authorization examined, passed through passport control, and confirmed our on-board account setup. From there, we waited in chairs for less than ten minutes before entering the atrium to the works:
Welcome aboard, the Sartorius Family!
I don't really care how often you have seen it on YouTube videos, that phrase hits you like a rock to the head causing you to revert to a smiling child. A character is, of course, waiting to welcome you on board. Honestly, the only way to describe walking onto a Disney Ship is Magical.
This is where a Disney Cruise really shines. When I first cruised I was convinced I would be bored to tears. I was wrong (I am big enough to admit it) but cruises are, for the most part, a low pressure relaxation vacation. On a Disney ship, there will be far more things that you would like to do than you ever could do in the time you have on board. I will describe a few highlights but, keep in mind, I traveled with, and catered to, a three-year-old. Adults, teens, tweens, and older children all have designated activities and there are many more family friendly events that I was unable to attend.
Let's start by talking about the kids club: they are all amazing. I was really nervous that my son would not enjoy them or that the activities would not be the sort of thing he was interested in. From the first night when kids decorated pillow cases at Pluto's Pajama Party to making slime, the programming here left him asking when he can go back and play. Don't worry if your little one is a bit nervous though. They have open houses where mom and dad can accompany their child on tours of the kids club areas. Don't forget to take a trip down the slinky dog slide.
There are numerous deck parties. On most cruise lines these don't really appeal to me. Assuming Disney would be the same we went to sail away for my son's sake. Once again, Disney blew me away. I could literally feel my body and mind easing into vacation mode as I watched the countdown to departure. All of the deck parties featured Disney characters and other dancers. There was a dedicated kids area up front so they could dance and see what was going on. Best of all, everyone knows that there are fireworks at sea but, what shocked me, was that the show was surprisingly well done and lasted for several minutes. My thought was that such a show in the ocean would be very short and unworthy of the hype.
If fun in the sun is your cup of tea, there's no shortage of outdoor activities. From a basketball court to several pools and slide, this was the place to be if you crave sunshine. My son very much enjoyed the water slide and hot tubs. If you prefer less UV intensive activities, all day there is trivia, music, movies, character meet and greats, classes, and so much more. I really regret that I was unable to attend the "Behind the Magic" class which tours the ship and talks about the inspiration behind the designs and art of the ship. Maybe next time.
As many probably expect, Disney entertainment cannot be beaten. The shows were amazing. As is the style of Disney, shows were easy for children to understand. The writing, acting, musical talent, and quality left plenty for adults to enjoy as well. As legally blind people, the ship was also able to accommodate my son and I so we could see all the action. If you would like to learn more, I will discuss this in a coming article.
Our cabin was also amazing. While this ship is more than twenty years old, she is impeccably maintained. We enjoyed plenty of space and a veranda. The split bathroom design was convenient in that everyone could get ready at once. I also loved that I had a tub. giving a bath at sea is much easier than trying to coax a three-year-old to shower in those tiny stalls.
This is the one thing that didn't live up to my expectations. That said, the food was amazing; my expectations were simply too high. After all the reviews, I expected main dining to be the sort of thing that would make my top ten list for last meals (should I ever have to plan one). Because of this, what was good fell short. The food is on par with a nice restaurant shore side, the sort of place where you go for a nice meal to splurge a little but not the sort of place you take the Mrs. for your ten-year anniversary.
Everything was extremely well-prepared and all the dishes were served at their proper temperature. This is a major feat, as I am sure you are aware, the crew literally serves hundreds of each dish at once. To polish off the dining experience is an amazing waitstaff. These are some of the most fantastic people at sea. Most people say this about the dining staff on cruise lines but Disney really goes above and beyond. In the dining room they offered to cut up my son's food, knew our drink orders without us asking, made amazing recommendations, entertained us, and dispensed ketchup in the obligatory Mickey silhouette. Once the meal was over, the fun didn't stop. If we saw any of our wait staff around the ship they greeted us by name, asked about how our day was going, and, otherwise, just made us welcome and feel special
You may have heard that Disney has less food available than other ships. This is true in part. While you cannot go to a midnight buffet (something other lines have been ending and the ice cream machines do get shut down at a certain point, you can always find food during the hours that most people are awake. If feasting on pizza at four in the morning is what you crave out of a vacation, it may be difficult to do but if you are willing to confine your culinary adventures to more, shall we say, reasonable hours, you should almost always find something good to eat.
Two notes on hidden places to grab a snack. While Disney makes no secret of these, they are also not super well advertised. If you crave a delicious scone or other delectable treat, the Cove Cafe always has free items in their display case for you to choose from. Additionally, if you are playing trivia with a beer in the evening, you should not miss the complimentary snacks served in most of the bars before diner.
I have been to a lot of islands at this point but Bermuda is really special. First, they have a great, modern transportation system with tickets available just off the ship. Excursions are available but many of the things you might want to do are easily accessible on your own and at a significantly discounted rate. We did not do much on the island. Partly because it was raining... a lot, but, also, our main focus was to explore as much of the Disney Cruise Line experience as possible. We did play mini-golf in the old navy yard and loved it. It was one of the most engaging courses I have ever played and each hole is themed after a famous professional course around the world. If you have ever dreamed of playing at St. Andrew's but, like me, lack the skill to get the ball half way down the fairway before you are invited by the remainder of your party to spend the rest of the day at the "nineteenth hole," then these links in miniature golf are just for you.
The ship was docked at Kings Wharf overnight so, not only did we enjoy two days at this island but we also had the unique opportunity to get off the ship at night. Albeit only for a quick photo, this was a cool aspect of the trip.
If embarkation was easy, this took the cake. We always do self assist debarkation as I find it far too difficult to find my luggage in the sea of baggage once off the ship. Because of that, we had a leisurely breakfast, said goodbye to our waitstaff, and walked off the ship. I honestly don't think that we stopped moving from the time we got in line to leave until the point where we emerged back onto the streets of Manhattan.
I really don't know how I can sum up a Disney Cruise. As I write this the only thing I am thinking is, "when can I go again?" I think that this is a very expensive experience but if you like cruising, Disney does it better. Every little detail has that Disney touch. I want to be very clear when I say this, I don't mean that animated mice are going to be shoved down your throat every possible chance, I mean that Disney thinks of the details and how each little thing can be optimized so your vacation is as good as it can be. If you are hunting for a bargain, you can find a much cheaper cruise, but, if you are interested in ensuring that you have the best experience then I can't imagine what could beat this one. Throughout the entire journey, I kept encountering things that I consider to be standard on other cruise lines that Disney put a little more thought into and transformed it to a much better experience. Everything had a digital component like the menus, muster drill, and schedules. The chat functionality enabled us to communicate on the ship and, for apple users like me, even send SMS messages back home. Little details seem trivial but when you add them up it is something special.
Is it worth it? The answer for me is almost certainly yes. I began to develop these feeling during our March Disney trip but, really, could articulate this idea after sailing with Disney. As a parent of two young children, who, for the most part, are well-behaved, I can't help but feel slightly anxious whenever we venture into public places. While the ship has something for everyone, including a whole section for adults, it is so DISNEY that the kids fit right in. For example, I told AJ he needs to quiet down as he was singing at the table during lunch. His response was "but Dada, if I don't sing loud then all the people won't be able to hear my voice." Before I could respond, a woman at a nearby table, consisting entirely of older adults, said, "that's right Dada, we want to hear him sing." It means a lot to me that Disney is the sort of place you can take your kids on vacation and, without judgement, they can just be kids. For us, that's a benefit worth paying a little extra for. little extra for.