By Simon & Susan Veness
Stop us if you’ve heard this before – Disney Cruise Line offers a tremendous sea-going experience, and not just for families.
It is the kind of statement that still takes people by surprise, even though the Disney company has been a maritime concern since 1998, and their current four-ship fleet continues to command widespread praise and attention.
For some reason, the House of Mouse gets scant recognition in Europe, despite a host of awards over the years, including the Number One Cruise Line of the Year EIGHT years in a row with the readers of Condé Nast (as of last month).
It is a catalogue of accomplishment that should make everyone sit up and take notice. Yet, much of their programme remains overlooked, even though Disney now sail as far afield as the islands of Hawaii (in May next year) and Sardinia (in July). The original Disney Magic will sail a full summer season in the Mediterranean, in fact, making it excellent value compared to the more expensive flights to the US.
And Disney does represent great value. While we are not usually fans of the mega-ships in general terms, there are a few we make distinct exceptions for, even though our children have long since left home.
In fact, we would go as far as to say, cruising with The Big Cheese is just as much fun – if not more so – for adults on their own as for families with kids. Astonished? You probably will be, when we reveal our Top 10 Reasons to Take a Voyage with Mickey and Co.
The Dining Experience
Whereas nearly all the major cruise lines have diversified their restaurant options in the last 10 to 15 years, Disney was ahead of the curve when their first ship came out, featuring three main themed dining rooms in addition to a full buffet alternative and lido deck grill. Even more impressive, guests get to experience all three thanks to a unique rotational dining system that visits each one in turn, with the same servers every time. It’s fun, imaginative and adds significantly to the overall dining experience.
Among those main restaurants, one is a shining example of the art of Disney’s designers (who go by the title of Imagineers). The Animator’s Palate is a true tribute to imagination, as it features a vivid celebration of story-telling, with the restaurant coming to animated life all around you during the meal. This is a real highlight of every cruise, and one of the reasons Disney Cruise Line regulars come back time after time.
While that is the big picture for families aboard the Disney Cruise Line fleet, there is even more in store for those without children, to the tune of two alternative speciality restaurants that seriously raise the bar for dining quality. All four vessels feature the northern Italian-inspired cuisine of Palo, a delightful adults-only bolthole that also offers a Champagne Brunch once every voyage, while the newer (in 2011 and ’12) Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy add the uber-elegant Remy restaurant, serving fine French cuisine under the guidance of Michelin-starred chef Arnaud Lallement and Walt Disney World’s award-winning chef, Scott Hunnel.
Need more encouragement for those travelling sans kids? The Quiet Cove Pool is a genuine oasis of peace and quiet aboard ship, while the Cove Café is a sophisticated hideaway for fine teas and coffees. Then there are a series of nightclubs and live music lounges that are strictly grown-ups only in the evening, including our favourite, the swish Skyline Bar on the Dream and Fantasy. All that in addition to the modern Fitness Centre and gorgeous Senses Spa.
For all cruises out of Disney’s central hub at Port Canaveral in Florida, there is the distinct lure of their private Bahamian island. Castaway Cay is a beautiful tropical idyll, fully catered for with its own harbour and dock – no messing about with tenders here, as many other lines with private islands still have to do – plus three beaches, restaurants and terrific activities, from beach volleyball and water-slide to snorkelling lagoon and (adults-only) Serenity Bay massage cabanas.
With a company as entertainment-centric as Disney, you’d expect the live entertainment to be impressive, and all four ships deliver a dazzling variety of big-production shows, musical events, on-deck parties and their unique fireworks-at-sea once every voyage. If you’ve enjoyed the likes of The Lion King and Mary Poppins in the West End, you can anticipate equally eye-popping stage performances at sea. Add in a piano bar and karaoke lounge, and you have a high-quality range of entertainment at every turn.
When you consider many service industries carefully study the Disney ethos of customer service, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the whole onboard set-up is geared around an attentive, seamless service that puts everyone at ease while ensuring a friendly, efficient demeanour at all times. For the size of the ships (with the larger pair catering for up to 4,000 passengers), this is a feat on par with many of the smaller, more deluxe lines.
Having said this can be a distinctive experience for grown-ups, it’s equally valid there are plenty of opportunities to get in touch with your inner child with the many Disney character meet-and-greets throughout each ship. And, while they certainly attract plenty of junior cruisers, it’s perfectly acceptable for adults to line up for a photo and hug with Mickey, Minnie and other favourites such as The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and The Incredibles.
For those with children, there isn’t a better cruise line to keep the young ’uns thoroughly entertained for the duration of the cruise. With elaborately themed studios and interactive sections (think Marvel Super Heroes and Star Wars), children often don’t want to leave the kids’ clubs at the end of the day, and many adults are envious of the fantastic facilities!
The Little Touches
Finally, Disney Cruise Line retains a proper sense of maritime heritage. The two newest ships boast exceptional Concierge facilities reminiscent of classic First Class days, and the addition of a proper cinema aboard is another nod to yesteryear. It is all topped off with a further sea-going tradition, that of being properly welcomed aboard by name, family by family, in the main lobby. Cheesy? A bit. But it sets the tone for a cruise you’re unlikely to forget – for all the right reasons.
Have you cruised with Disney before? What did you think of the experience and would you go again? Tell us all about it in the Comments section below.