Set Adrift -- Sailing with
the Disney Cruise Line
Part I in a series

by Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor

(with excerpts from the "Magical Cruise Guide" by Mickey Morgan)

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 25, 2002, Issue #144 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of ALL EARS® articles on cruising with Disney. If you have cruised with the Disney Cruise Line, particularly on the Disney Magic, and would like to share your comments, please write to cruise@allears.net

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INTRODUCTION
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Having just taken my second cruise with the Disney Cruise Line, I have one thing to say: What a magical experience!

Now, before you start thinking, "There she goes again -- Deb just loves ANYthing that's Disney," let me stop you. Would you believe I used to be considered a cruise skeptic? My family and friends all wanted me to cruise, but I resisted: "You won't get me out on a boat with hundreds of people! Why should I spend my money out on the water? There are plenty of places in the United States I want to visit."

I was finally persuaded to sail the Disney Magic three-day cruise two years ago. Having never sailed with Disney or anyone else, I was a "cruise virgin," and I went reluctantly. But when those three days were up, I was totally amazed -- at how much fun I had, how much there was to do and how little time I had to do it all. I knew that if the opportunity arose, I would cruise again without hesitation.

When Disney announced it planned to start a seven-day Western Caribbean Cruise, I quickly checked the calendar to see if I could be on the inaugural voyage in 2002. That was more than a year ago. Now I am back home, having again had the time of my life! I am a cruise convert!

So what is it that makes the Disney Cruise Line so special? What keeps guests coming back for more, even though Disney charges top dollar for the privilege of cruising with them?

We intend to examine the appeal of the Disney Cruise Line in this series of articles. We'll hear from adult travelers, families, veteran cruiser and cruise guide author Mickey Morgan, and even get some insight from Passporter WDW authors Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx.

Let's begin our "voyage" with a look at how Disney got into the cruise business.

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DISNEY CRUISE LINE HISTORY
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The Disney Magic sailed her maiden voyage on July 30, 1998, to somewhat less than stellar reviews. (Disney had previously "tested the waters" of cruising in a cooperative effort with Premiere Cruise Line's Big Red Boats. Disney subsequently decided they wanted more control over the cruises and created the Disney Cruise Line, with the Magic as their first ship.) After listening to its customers, Disney made major changes in how the cruise was organized and structured. Today, you will find many repeat Disney cruisers on board every ship that sails. In fact, during the seven-day Western Cruise, more than half of all passengers were repeat cruisers. Now that says something!

On the heels of the success of the Magic, Disney launched its new ship, the Wonder, on August 15, 1999. The exteriors of the two ships are similar, yet inside there are many differences, including the decor and theming. The Disney Magic sports an art deco style, and deep nautical colors. The Disney Wonder features a more old Parisian, art nouveau style, with sycamore wood, blue glass and polished nickel railings. The atrium lobby of the Magic features Mickey Mouse in Sou'wester rain gear, whereas The Little Mermaid's Ariel is spotlighted in the atrium of the Wonder. Goofy paints the Magic's name on its transom, while Donald and one of his nephews do the job aboard the Wonder.

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GETTING STARTED
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A Disney Cruise Line vacation is truly is an extension of a Walt Disney World vacation. You can escape reality for the duration of your stay and let yourself feel young again. You can spend your days relaxing in the sun, drinking cool beverages poolside or at a beach, or you can go from activity to excursion to activity from sunrise to long after sundown. So how do you even begin to plan for a trip like this?

Planning for a Disney Cruise is as simple or involved as you want it to be, just like booking a trip to Walt Disney World. You can book with a Travel Agent who specializes in Disney Cruises and let him or her arrange everything from transportation to Port Canaveral to your accommodations on the ship, to transportation back to WDW or home. Or you can book your entire trip yourself using the "a la carte" method, booking each segment separately. (I chose to book my recent cruise through Kingdom Magic Travel in Florida. They had booked my first cruise, which had been a flawless experience, so I decided to let them handle the seven-day Western Cruise.)

I suggest spending the time to research all that is offered on the Disney Cruise Line. There are several excellent resources available online to help you plan. I'll just mention two here:

MICKEY'S MAGICAL CRUISE GUIDE:
Created by Mickey Morgan, this 60-plus page guide has been my chief reference when it comes to Disney cruising. Earlier this year, ALL EARS NET® and Mickey Morgan entered into a partnership to bring you the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available. Mickey's Magical Cruise Guide complements the Cruise information already found on Deb's site and can be found at http://allears.net/cruise/cruise.htm

THE PLATINUM CASTAWAY CLUB:
Created by Barb and Tony, veterans of 21 cruises, including four Disney cruises in 2002 already! In addition to their extensive trip reports, you can find photos, navigators (daily activity guides), information on excursions and much more. http://www.castawayclub.com/

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CHOOSING A CRUISE
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When you decide on a Disney Cruise, you need to determine which cruise you want to sail on. There are three- and four-day trips on the Disney Wonder to the Bahamas. And now the Disney Magic sails seven-day cruises, alternating between Eastern and Western Caribbean. All cruises include a stop at Disney's own beautiful private island, Castaway Cay. The three- and four-day cruises can be combined in a package that includes three or four days at Walt Disney World. Or you can do as I did -- book the cruise and then make your own plans for a few nights in WDW. A word of advice: if you decide to combine a WDW and DCL vacation, I recommend that you visit WDW BEFORE you get on the cruise ship! I've vacationed at WDW both before and after cruising, but have decided that from now on the last thing I want to do after a nice relaxing cruise is plunge into the hectic pace of Disney World! Of course, that's just me.

All Disney Cruises depart from Port Canaveral, which is about an hour from Walt Disney World. A brief description of the cruise types follows:

The Disney Wonder Three-Day Cruise leaves on Thursday, spends Friday in Nassau, Saturday at Castaway Cay and early Sunday arrives back at Port Canaveral. Rates for staterooms range from $439 to $1,749 (suites excluded) per person based on double occupancy.

The Disney Wonder Four-Day Cruise leaves on Sunday, spends Monday in Nassau, Tuesday at Castaway Cay, Wednesday at sea (some cruises spend Wednesday in Freeport), and early Thursday return to the home port. Rates for staterooms range from $539 to $1,849 (suites excluded) per person based on double occupancy.

The Disney Magic sails seven-day cruises to the Eastern and Western Caribbean (alternating each week). Both cruises leave on Saturday. The Eastern Caribbean Cruise spends Sunday and Monday at sea, Tuesday at St. Maarten, Wednesday at St. Thomas, Thursday at sea, Friday at Castaway Cay and early Saturday returns to Port. Rates for staterooms range from $829 to $2,999 (suites excluded) per person based on double occupancy.

The Western Caribbean Cruise spends Sunday at Key West, Monday at sea, Tuesday at Grand Cayman, Wednesday at Cozumel, Thursday at sea, Friday at Castaway Cay and early Saturday returns to Port. Rates for staterooms range from $829 to $2,999 (suites excluded) per person based on double occupancy.

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CHOOSING A STATEROOM
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Once you have determined which cruise to take, you need to determine your stateroom category on-board. I liken this to deciding what hotel at WDW you should stay at. There are different categories of rooms and different seasons to cruise in. Holiday season in a deluxe suite will cost much more than an inside stateroom in the off-season. There are 12 categories of rooms to choose from, beginning with an inside stateroom to an exclusive royal suite with verandah.

>From Mickey's Magical Cruise Guide: "The staterooms on the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder are larger than those on other lines. Each has a TV, beverage cooler, and a safe. Suites in the better categories have VCRs and multiple TVs. The Key to the World (your room key) activates the safe. Outside staterooms have a separate toilet and shower, which has proven to be very popular with many guests. Each stateroom is supplied with a hair dryer."

Outside rooms have one of three views, verandahs (sliding glass doors that open up to the balcony/verandah), navigator's verandahs (enclosed except for a very large glass porthole that gives you the feeling of openness), or ocean view (a large porthole, about 36" in diameter that doesn't open).

For some folks, value is the one and only way to go (like staying at the All Star Resorts). Categories 10, 11, and 12 offer inside staterooms in this price range. Categories 7, 8, or 9 offer deluxe ocean view staterooms (which I would consider akin to staying at a moderate resort). If you have deluxe taste and a pocketbook to match, then seriously consider rooms in Categories 4, 5 and 6, which include a full open verandah (balcony)! Categories 1, 2 and 3 are one- and two-bedroom and royal suites.

Unlike booking a WDW resort room, though, when you book your Disney Cruise you know exactly which stateroom you will be in. You can use this to help determine one category over another (as some folks prefer mid- ship or front or back).

Once you make these decisions, book the cruise! This means that within two weeks of making your reservation, you will put down a deposit ($200 per person is required) on your stateroom. The entire cruise must be paid for no later than 60 days before your departure date. (I used the time in between to gradually pay for the cruise. I found monthly payments were much easier to swallow than a huge payment for the balance of the cruise two months out.)

After you've booked, all you have to do is wait for your departure date.

And, to read more about what the cruise is like, you'll have to wait for our next installment in the series, coming next month!

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Continue on to Part II

 


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.