by Charlotte Cullinan, The Telegraph, July 23, 2019
Disney certainly knows how to get first-time cruisers into the swing of life on the waves. As we hugged the Norwegian coast, our inaugural deck party was in full swing.
On stage, a gigantic snowman was fist-pumping the air to a souped-up version of 'Let It Go', the anthem from the film Frozen. Bubbles, fake snow and streamers blasted across a throng of passengers – all wielding light-up snowflake necklaces – and excitement levels went into overdrive.
I was on-board Disney Magic with my husband, Dan, our five-year-old son George, and two-year-old Harry, and this high-octane performance propelled us from being veterans of land-based family holidays to novice cruisers.
It turns out, an overseas holiday without the stress of an airport, is bliss. Within 30 minutes of our arrival at Dover cruise port we’d cleared security, checked in, and were on-board checking out the kids’ clubs.
Savvy UK cruisers are onto this as, while many Americans were on-board, the majority of the 2,700 passengers were Brits.
Magic is the smallest vessel in Disney Cruise Line’s fleet, but we still managed to get lost several times on the first day. But after a day’s exploration we’d got the hang of this cruising business, and Harry and George high-fived familiar crew as we bowled down corridors. With our newfound confidence we strutted off the gangway and into Copenhagen on day three to brave the brilliant Tivoli Gardens amusement park.
Finding magic ashore
We sailed overnight to Oslo, and the ship jostled for space in the harbour while we headed off to do some sightseeing. Next up was Kristiansand, where we boarded a vintage steam train and chugged past vast lakes and glorious hills clad in fir and birch. We were racking up destinations, but I’d only unpacked once. Cruising certainly made life easy.
On all our other stops we opted for Disney-organised Port Adventures. Never underestimate the joy it will bring a parent to let someone else plan the minutiae of transporting four people and a buggy around the top sights.
However, it was time for a bit of self-guided exploration, so we headed out alone to explore Stavanger, packing in a museum about sardines (much more interesting than it sounds), plenty of strolling around, and a park visit. But with small, hungry children in tow, the lure of a cruise-ship buffet was strong, so we made a quick pit-stop back on-board for lunch.
Our itinerary was bookended by two days at sea, giving us time to explore the ship. It was awash with entertainment for the kids, but also plenty for adults. We met a lot of couples travelling without children, who loved the friendly atmosphere, lack of casinos and swanky decor; the Mickey touches hidden among the glitz and Art Deco styling are surprisingly low-key. Grown-ups were often found escaping from younger travellers in the adults-only pool and spa, pub and late-night bars.
We stayed in a deluxe ocean view stateroom with veranda, which was clearly crafted by someone with children. There was more cupboard space than our legion of suitcases could fill, and they even squeezed two bathrooms in.
But the room’s crowning glory was the floor-to-ceiling curtain that divided the boys’ sleeping area from ours. This simple act of genius meant that while the boys slumbered, we had the lights on, sipped cocktails courtesy of room service and watched Disney classics, albeit with subtitles on. Cruising had won me over. But what about Dan and the boys – were they converted?
For me, the main event was always going to be the food. It turned out it was impossible to get substandard food on-board. Everything, from the breakfast pastry mountain to the fresh-from-the-oven pizza, was absurdly delicious. We were allocated one of three themed restaurants each evening, which all catered well for children.
Our excellent serving team moved around with us so they knew everyone’s preferences – a highchair for Harry and three blobs of ketchup in the shape of Mickey’s face on George’s plate.
As a family we had our favourite dining experiences in Animator’s Palate restaurant. Throughout the first night-animations appeared on the wall screens, building to a colourful montage of Disney clips, complete with a light show and stirring music. On our second visit, drawings that we’d made appeared on the screens. It was true Disney magic, and George and Harry were delighted when Sorcerer Mickey came dancing through the restaurant.
It’s rare for Charlotte and I to have child-free meals on holiday, but we left the boys in the kids’ clubs to test out the champagne brunch in Palo, the elegant adult-only Italian fine-dining restaurant. There was a $30 (£24) surcharge, but it was worth it for the serene atmosphere and delicious cuisine.
I’d also had high expectations for the on-board film offering. Disney premieres movies on the same day at sea and land, so I took George on his inaugural cinema trip to see Incredibles 2. After stocking up on popcorn from the stand outside, we grabbed the last two seats and George was rapt. Disney films were also available on our stateroom TV, which was very helpful when encouraging the boys to have some downtime.
George and Harry’s view
“We love Mickey!” was George’s verdict on our cruise. All of the boys’ top moments involved the characters, who had true superstar status on-board, and the long queues moved quickly for the popular meet-and-greet sessions.
In the Character Dance Party numerous Disney big cheeses busted some serious moves on stage, and George was desperate to catch a glimpse of Minnie. All of a sudden she was in the crowd, dancing next to him as he pogoed around and One Direction’s 'Best Song Ever' blasted out. It was the stuff kids’ dreams are made of.
However even after meeting Minnie, George was adamant that the most magical person on-board was Aldo, our stateroom host. He won this title by mysteriously converting a sofa into Harry’s bed each evening, and making a top bunk bed appear from nowhere. It wasn’t until the third day that George spotted the join in the ceiling for his drop-down bed. “Now we know how Aldo does his magic!” he giggled.
There were complimentary kids clubs, and George was quick to explore the huge Oceaneer Club and Lab, for children aged three to 12. “I loved Andy’s Room [themed around Toy Story] the most,” he said. “The big Slinky Dog slide was the best thing, and I liked the massive Mr Potato Head. They had some cool games on the iPads too.”
While Harry enjoyed these clubs with us during the regular open-house sessions, we could only leave him in the It’s a Small World nursery, which was $9 (£7.20) an hour. Given his age he wasn’t as keen, but the room was very colourful with extremely welcoming staff.
After a week at sea we said farewell to Disney Magic. We got home and the cruise blues set in. We missed life at sea, with a new destination to explore each morning. We missed Mickey waffles for breakfast each morning and dancing with Minnie. There was only one thing for it. We started planning our next cruise.
Charlotte travelled as a guest of Disney Cruise Line (0800 169 0742; disneycruiseline.co.uk). Seven nights on-board Disney Magic round-trip from Dover to Northern Europe, leaving on August 30, 2020, costs from £1,205pp excluding flights. Prices are based on two adults and two children sharing a standard inside stateroom cabin on a full-board basis.