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Day Five: Reflections

Lisa's Dispatch: The inaugural cruise of the Disney Magic ended with a sloshing ride across the Atlantic last night. I have to admit that I found the rolling and lurching of the ship to be quite fun. But the vibrations from the ship's engines, which were churning the Magic along at 21 knots, kept me awake in our aft cabin.

That left plenty of time to reflect on the cruise. So here's some advice and observations for those of you who are booked or are thinking of booking the Magic:

First, keep in mind that we experienced the inaugural cruise of a new ship of a new cruise line. Disney hasn't been in the cruise business before. Sure, there were glitches, but Disney -- being Disney -- will figure things out and make them right. Cruisers a few months down the road will have a completely different experience than we did.

Now for some specifics:

  • Dressing: This is an extremely casual ship. I took two dresses and a pantsuit to wear to dinners. Because of the ship's casual atmosphere, I never wore the dressier dress. And on Junkanoo night, I wore a pair of khaki walking shorts and a sweater to Parrot Cay without feeling underdressed. My husband wore knit sports shirts and dress pants to dinner; my son wore short-sleeved knit shirts and dress pants. Sure, some people dressed up, but you won't be out of place if you don't.Daytime apparel ranged from T-shirts and shorts to resort-like wear: matching blouses and shorts for women and knit golf shirts for men. Again, there was hardly any way to go wrong here.
  • Staterooms: The staterooms I saw could easily accommodate three people with a queen bed and a couch that folded down to make a single bed. Some cabins had bunk beds. Each has a small color TV that offered a surprising array of channels. There was also a desk, a bureau with plenty of storage, a roomy closet, and a small safe for valuables.Stateroom amenities include a "bath and a half'' -- the toilet and a small sink are in one room and the shower/tub and a sink are in another. We found this to be a wonderful arrangement that broke up the monopoly on the bathroom by one person.
  • Children's programs: The Oceaneer Club, for younger children, and the Oceaneer Lab, for 9- to 12-year-olds, got high marks from parents and participants. Both venues offer free time and planned activities lead by counselors. Many parents dropped their children off for the evening, where they were shepherded to dinner at Topsiders while their parents enjoyed a meal at one of the ship's four restaurants.Teens have their own coffee shop -- Common Grounds on Deck 9. There are also organized programs for them, such as a nighttime volleyball game on the Wide World of Sports deck.
  • Castaway Cay: Had the cruise ship skipped Nassau and spent two days here, I would have been very happy. The short day we spent at Disney's private island just wasn't enough. It pays to get off the boat early and be one of the last back to the ship before it sails at 5.Just as on the ship, expect lines at the barbecue buffet. Go early to avoid standing in the hot sun.Get on the beach early for the best lounge-chair selection, and take plenty of sunscreen.The price of snorkeling equipment was high -- $27 for adults and $19.50 for kids -- but it was worth it. This is about as close as you can get to experiencing the real Bahamas on this cruise. My son and I had a terrific time exploring the lagoon's sandy bottom and spotting an array of tropical fish.
  • Dining: If you want a night out at Palo, the alternative adult restaurant, go immediately to Guest Services when you arrive on the ship. Otherwise, you are automatically scheduled to rotate through the ship's other three restaurants.The evening meals at Parrot Cay, Animator's Palate and Lumiere's are very good, while the lunch menu is a little limited.Other dining alternatives are Pinocchio's Pizzeria and Pluto's Dog House, as well as Topsiders Buffet, which has satisfying though somewhat mediocre food.
  • Staff: I don't know what they're paying these folks, but it's not enough. Every crewmember I came in contact with -- from waiters to housekeepers -- seemed genuinely concerned about making each passenger's journey a pleasant one. The staff in the children's area seemed particularly adept at making kids feel welcome. And I found it touching that our waiter, Regi, and his assistant, Louise, both addressed my son by name when they served him.Arline's Dispatch: On our last night aboard the Magic, we dined in Animator's Palate, the last of the ship's three themed restaurants. We found that, as a shipboard dining experience, this room comes closest to delivering what Disney is all about. The aptly named Animator's Palate is a set piece -- its decor is entirely black and white; but during dinner, the room slowly metamorphoses into a colorful expression of the artist's art.Color infuses columns tipped with laser light, waiters switch to wearing colorful vests and oversized video screens scattered on walls around the room broadcast a medley of Disney's most well-loved animated images. Even the multi-tidbit appetizer is creatively presented on a palate-shaped porcelain plate, with the food arranged on it like daubs of paint. An ice-cream dessert -- a colorless confection with a Mickey-shaped morsel in the center -- invites passengers to add color with a selection of sauces for ''painting.'' It is a very clever evening.We found the food here a notch above the ship's other two restaurants. Though, at this point in the cruise, the wait staff was obviously feeling the pressure of the previous three days' confusion and passenger displeasure. They seemed overworked and under obvious strain and trays were dropping like flies. It was heartbreaking.It was sad, too, to witness the clearly visible disappointment of Disney's terrific and able staff, amid the fallout of the ship's less-than-ecstatic reception. Behind the scenes, Disney is no doubt poised to make changes, though you probably won't see these for months. It was quite disheartening for many of us to see the long-looked-forward-to maiden sailing of this exquisite ship shatter the promise. In the end, the lesson to be learned is -- don't sail on inaugurals, unless you're a cruise veteran who understands the pitfalls these bring.(As an aside, on night's when there is a ''Junkanoo'' dinner, and all restaurants are decked out for a Caribbean-type celebration, Animator's Palace does not, well, animate.)Tonight, there was a distinctly more elegant ''feel'' aboard ship, though. Passengers -- who, until now, have epitomized casual dress -- looked spiffier, even seemed happier. It was hard to tell whether this was because they had been placated by Disney's belated gift-giving -- (Disney actually chartered a jet to fly in special gifts for passengers who felt particularly spurned by Uncle Walt) -- or by their relaxing day in the sun on Castaway Cay or because we get off the ship tomorrow.The Magic is low-key in terms of its tipping process; you practically have to ask for the line's official suggestions. But one nicety is that we're allowed to put our tips onto our stateroom account, so you needn't worry about carrying too much extra cash on board (most likely, most passengers have no cash left anyway after all their shipboard shopping.) The line's suggested guidelines for tipping are slightly higher than the industry average.For the four-day cruise, Disney suggests the following (these tips are quoted per passenger): dining room server, $14.00; assistant dining room server, $10.00; and stateroom hostess, $14.00. However, the line also suggests tipping $2.50 to the dining room head server; this is the guy who points you in the direction of your table and, unless he provided unusual personal attention, really does not need to be tipped. The line also suggests tipping the concierge at your discretion.This morning's disembarkation process went quite smoothly and already may be a harbinger of better things to come; Disney arranges port-side check-in for passengers who are booked on airline flights and this is a terrific convenience.After busing to the airport, our few hours' waiting time before our flight home gave us time to reflect: In the end, Disney may have cared more about how the Magic looks than how well it works for cruise passengers (indeed, the ship was designed from the outside in -- quite a reversal for ship design.) Of course, cruising is an entirely new venture for Disney, but the flaws on the inaugural still left many passengers disappointed.The diehards, in particular, were so disappointed that earlier, at a dedication ceremony for the post office on Castaway Cay, the passengers who gathered there actually booed Disney Cruise Line's president. In the end, Disney may have shot itself in the foot: It may be trying to be all things to all people. Long-time fans who expected more of Disney were less likely to forgive Magic's problems. The passengers felt like canaries in a cave, and weren't happy about testing the waters during the shakeout period. They expected perfection.If we had to sum up the Magic experience, we'd say the ship has too much of the Disney World philosophy for non-Disney fans and not enough Disney World for the die-hard Disney fans.As for whether this was a Mickey Mouse cruise with just a Goofy beginning, it's hard to say. Disney has delivered a gorgeous ship; they just haven't yet delivered a fabulous cruise.
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