Day Three: Nassau

? Charles Stovall
Teens can read, play games or just hang out in the Oceaneers Lab.

Lisa's Dispatch: We arrived in Nassau this morning. Since it was the Disney Magic's first visit into port, we were greeted by a fleet of small crafts - some of which seemed dangerously close to the ship - as well as a tug boat spewing water into the air. As we neared the port, a volley of fireworks let loose. A dark cloud made the colors of the fireworks a little more apparent against the mid-morning sky. Disney tunes reverberated across the water from a crowded deck of a restaurant on the bay. As if on cue, the ship let loose with its signature horn blast.

Disney offers excursions that it boasts "were designed especially for Disney Cruise Lines and its guests." Choices include an Historical Harbor Cruise, an "Island World Exuma Adventure", an historic Nassau city tour and a half day of deep-sea fishing adventure.

My husband, son and I chose a trip to Crystal Kay Marine Park. After disembarking the ship to a tango tune played by a Bahamian marching band, we boarded a water taxi for a 10-minute trip to an island across from the port. Though the marine park would pale in the shadow of SeaWorld, it had a variety of marine life on display. Turtles, stingrays and sharks were housed in small pools, alongside winding paths shaded by lush, tropical plants. There was even a snorkel course, set up in the shadow of an underwater observatory offshore. In the observatory, we watched as lobsters wiggled their antennae from dark crevices and as a colorful array of fish paraded past thick windows. The marine park took only an hour and a half to explore.

We were back on the ship in time for a special Junkanoo performance at 12:30 p.m., staged on the ship's Lido deck in honor of its first, historic visit to Nassau. Dancers in beaded, feathered costumes gyrated around the midship Goofy pool, pulling passengers out on the pool deck to dance. Several dancers chose small children, carrying them tightly as they swirled in circles to the upbeat, island music.

We've been told that tonight is Junkanoo night on the ship. Our drink waitress, Louise, says she will wear a splashy, tropical-looking uniform. Louise, from the Netherlands, and Regi, our French waiter, have followed us to two of the ship's three mainstream restaurants so far - Animator's Palate and Parrot Cay. Part of the ship's concept has us dining in each restaurant while our wait staff remains the same.

We return to Parrot Cay tonight. I can't say that I'm sad about it. Our meal there last night was wonderful. My husband and I chose the pork tenderloin, which was served over black beans with a spicy salsa on the side. My son broke away from the children's menu, which features classics such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a cheeseburger and grilled cheese sandwiches. Instead, he opted to make a meal of an adult appetizer - chicken broiled on a skewer and served with peanut sauce. His request for fries with the chicken was honored with ne'er a raised eyebrow.

Our only disappointment yesterday occurred when we dropped off my son at Oceaneers Lab. Instead of having free time to play a computer game or read a magazine, he and other 11- and 12-year-olds were asked to pick up pieces of building sets, scattered by a group of younger children. It took them about 40 minutes to clean up. By the time we retrieved him, my son had only about five minutes to play.

Today's Lab experience was better, though. With many people off the ship in Nassau, the children's area seemed less frantic and more orderly that yesterday. We dropped my son off for a "Marble Mania" activity. The kids, divided into teams, designed racetracks for marbles. Even though his team came in third, hegave the activity high marks - but not as high at QuarterMaster's, the ship's lively arcade.

Disney's entertainment bonanza continued last night with "Hercules, The MUSE-ical." I found it entertaining, with a splash of humor aimed at adults (including a quip by the character Hades that ridiculed the cruise line's tardy distribution of passenger's luggage). While not as good as "Disney Dreams," Hercules hit the spot with older kids including my son who picked up on quips that were sprinkled throughout the show.

During yesterday's day at sea, our stateroom became a wonderful retreat. From our veranda, we relaxed, read and picked out other ships on the horizon while my son perused the Disney movies and ESPN events on TV.

And a word about Disney's "bath and a half" - the concept may be the key for many families that cruise. With the toilet and sink in one room and the shower/tub and sink in another, bathroom logjams are non-existent in our cabin. And the tub would be ideal for parents with toddlers who are too young to shower.

? Charles Stovall
Sessions is a quiet, laid-back piano bar where adults can relax after dinner.

Arline's Dispatch: Day Three: Mickey doesn't have those big ears for nothing. He apparently has been eavesdropping. By the end of Day Two, Art Rodney - Disney Cruise Line's president, who is aboard this sailing - promised that future cruises will run better. In particular our room key cards, issued at Disney World resorts, will allow cruise passengers to embark the Magic more smoothly. A foul-up with these much-ballyhooed keys was the cause of the long delays at the terminal on embarkation day, he said. (These same room keys access the in-cabin safe, as well as the minibar.)

Noting that Magic has few daytime diversions for adults, Rodney also said that the Line may plan more programs geared to their interests.

Mickey deserves a round of applause for caring, but some things won't change. For instance, many passengers appear to be unaware that the dine-around program for dinner is pre-arranged and relatively inflexible. This regimentation has confused some of the more independently-minded passengers, who would prefer dining when and where they wish. Many passengers, particularly at lunch times, are still trying to figure out precise logistics for their seatings. Since the ship is in port today, lunch is open seating. Yet there are still lines outside the restaurants.

Last night, we dined at Palo, the top-deck, adults-only, alternative restaurant that had booked up so quickly on embarkation day. Lucky us. The semi-circular room is gorgeous - combining art deco touches with contemporary design. Soft lighting, jewel-toned carpeting, Venetian glass touches, inlaid wood, marquetry and a back-lit bar lend an ambiance that's truly sophisticated. The Northern Italian menu is the most innovative of the ship's offerings so far. Presentation was superb, as was everything we tasted - from the grilled eggplant appetizer to the rack of lamb. 28 varieties of wines are available by the glass, with prices ranging from $5.50-$25. This restaurant is truly Magic's best and made us feel closer to an upscale cruise experience. (Palo is serviced by its own, independent kitchen)

The kitchen, and hence the service, in this 120-seat restaurant was very sluggish during our dinner, however. After an hour and a half, we had only been served our appetizer. Service was so slow that we eventually had to leave, foregoing coffee and dessert. A couple at the next table was not aware that a $5-per-person cover charge was levied at Palo, and as first-time cruisers, they were startled enough by the fee to ask, "Is there a charge for the food?" We knew long ago that Disney planned to levy this fee; but once on board, found nothing in any of our shipboard information that indicated this policy was instituted officially. No signage in the restaurant or on the menu indicates this. The fact that there is a fee is not even listed in the "passport," an in-cabin information booklet for passengers.

Disney's entertainment, while whiz-bang, still focuses solely on the self-referential. That is, every big show extravaganza is a Disney theme. We prefer more adult-oriented shows and passed on last night's performance of "Hercules," though many passengers said it was enjoyable. Instead of attending the show, we relaxed in Sessions - a plush and intimate, art deco piano bar for after-dinner espresso and cocktails. The lofty room, with oversized portholes and comfy, club chairs, is among the prettiest public rooms on the ship; but if you are an adult who is fond of an after-dinner smoke, you are not permitted to have it here (or most anywhere else on Magic, for that matter).

Meanwhile, this morning, Magic slipped into Nassau, making its maiden call here. As it neared the dock at 8:15 a.m., we were treated to a welcome, arrival celebration. From our port-side veranda, we got a perfect view of spectacular, daytime fireworks. Appreciative fans unabashedly credit Disney for everything; and one passenger even remarked that Disney was thoughtful enough to put a darkened cloud behind the fireworks - "all the better to see you with my dear."

The ship entered the harbor to the music of "It's a Small World After All;" and when Magic's horn played "When You Wish Upon a Star," only Scrooge could resist being swallowed up by the wave of nostalgia. The Bahamian port pulled out all the stops for Magic's welcome, marching brass band and all. Passengers are ecstatic.

Most passengers will disembark for their Nassau shore excursions. Disney offers nine different excursions here, but we'll probably walk to the center of town, which we hear has been gussied up since we last visited Nassau years ago.

Reflecting on some other aspects of the ship, Disney's singular shoreside philosophy promotes putting aside the reality of the real world for the fantasy of the unreal. It's definitely at work here. There's not a single clock to be found aboard Magic; and, unlike on other ships, no news faxes get delivered daily to our cabin. But we are pleased to have CNN on our TV.

Here's a heads up, particularly for first-time cruisers. As on most ships, a 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all Magic's bar-service bills for alcoholic beverages, including juices and coffee at any bar. But when you are presented with the bill, another empty space below the total is marked "gratuity" in large letters. This amounts to a second tip, in addition to the 15 percent already added to the bill, and you are under no obligation to tip twice. When asked, the Guest Services desk said the second gratuity space is there "if you feel that service was extraordinary and want to tip extra."

A note to adults: There are 550 kids on this 2,400 passenger ship. Unless we're at poolside, we hardly notice them. But peeking over our veranda railing today - watching passengers disembark at Nassau - we noticed more strollers rolling down Magic's gangway than the combined total of wheelchairs we've ever seen on all of our previous cruises combined.

We also realized that costumed Disney characters seem blissfully scarce aboard Magic. In fact, we haven't seen any except for Goofy and Mickey we spotted once in the atrium. Maybe we're spending too much time in our stateroom.

We're anxious to get off in Nassau today. Magic will be docked here for 18 hours, a long sojourn with plenty of time to explore. We're hoping to head for a unique aquarium and maybe even gamble at a casino. Since Disney's luck seems to be getting better, maybe ours will too.

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