Fabulous food and family fun are on the menu on cruise ship Disney Magic. Charlotte Cullinan and her kids test-drive its features
Hey, nice ears!” is a compliment I quickly get used to hearing onboard Disney Magic. Perusing the rows of Mickey Mouse ears lining the gift shop on the first day, I opt for a snazzy gold sequinned pair, which turns out to be a deft choice.
It’s impossible to be over-dressed on a Disney Cruise Line (DCL) sailing – everywhere I turn there are legions of tiny passengers dressed as princesses. My sparkly ears blend in perfectly.
As veterans of land-based holidays, my husband, Dan, and I have been lured to sea by the promise of an easy family holiday with our five-year-old, George, and two-year-old Harry.
Our seven-night Norwegian Fjord itinerary departs from Dover, and we’re instantly won over. Forget the faff of tackling an airport with children – within 30 minutes of arriving at the port our bags are whisked away, we clear security, collect our keycards and stroll on to the gangway.
Capacity: 2,713 guests and 950 crew.
When to go: Magic returns to Greece next summer after a five-year hiatus, and will be calling at Gdynia, Nordfjordeid, Plymouth, and Zeebrugge for the first time.
Tipping: Suggested discretionary service charge is $94.50pp for a seven-night cruise.
Drinks: Soft drinks included but alcoholic beverages are excluded. A glass of wine costs around $8.
While we spend most of our first day getting lost, by day two we’ve got the hang of life at sea. George’s favourite location is the Oceaneer Club and Lab kids’ clubs, which are packed with toys, games and crafts for 3- to 12-year-olds. He adores the Toy Story-themed Andy’s Room, with a giant Mr Potato Head and huge Slinky Dog slide.
Harry joins fellow under-threes in the colourful and toy-filled It’s a Small World Nursery. It’s the only club that incurs a charge, at $9 an hour. The entertainment continues with several
pools – we love the spray guns and three-storey water slide. A toddler splash zone caters for those in swim nappies.
However, the main attraction is undoubtedly the world’s most famous mouse, and our week is peppered with Mickey sightings. We pack in dance parties, meet-and-greet sessions and shows with all the Disney stars. Passing Goofy in a tuxedo becomes one of the highlights of heading out to dinner.
We’re having so much fun onboard that we almost forget the cruise also involves land-based activities. The majority of Disney-organised Port Adventures have a focus on museums, and often involve lengthy coach journeys, so advise families to choose carefully and book early. Led by local guides, we brave Copenhagen’s magnificent Tivoli amusement park and enjoy a tour of Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park and Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Tower.
Half-day excursions work well with our easily bored children, and a ride on a vintage stream train from Kristiansand receives high praise from the boys.
In Stavanger, we opt to stroll around the city’s child-friendly attractions and parks ourselves. The Norwegian Canning Museum is a surprise hit, where the boys enthusiastically learn how to pack rubber sardines into cans.
While Magic made its maiden voyage in 1998, significant renovations have kept it feeling modern, and the 11 decks are packed with sparkling chandeliers and art deco touches.
Renovations in 2018 overhauled the teens’ club and adults’ cafe, and introduced the Rapunzel’s Royal Table restaurant, which is inspired by the Disney movie Tangled.
More than two thirds of the 875 staterooms are outside, with 229 offering an ocean view, while ours is one of the 384 that includes a verandah.
Most feature DCL’s “bath and a half” design, with a sink and bath in one room, and a sink and a toilet in another. There’s ample storage, and the thick privacy curtain that separates the boys’ beds from ours in the evening is a stroke of genius.
We’d heard a lot about the sheer volume of food on a cruise, and Magic doesn’t disappoint. Each evening we’re assigned to one of the three main, themed restaurants, which rotate with the same serving team. The food is always superb, with excellent kids’ menus, but the backdrop is dramatically different. Lumiere’s is sheer elegance, while we love the live show at Rapunzel’s Royal Table.
Our favourite evenings are in Animator’s Palate, which serves up a magical light and animation show. We all draw portraits, which are then brought to life on huge screens.
DCL isn’t just for kids. Around 40% of passengers travel without children, and the seasoned cruisers we speak to praise the friendly atmosphere along with the absence of casinos and heavy drinking.
Our ship is home to several adults-only areas, and while the boys are in their clubs we sample Italian specialities during the champagne brunch at Palo. It also offers dinner, and both incur a $40pp charge, but it’s worth it for the serene atmosphere and panoramic views.
As we come to the end of our week at sea, we realise there’s been a distinct lack of meltdowns – all the children onboard have been too busy enjoying themselves. Thanks to the hard-working and incredibly friendly crew, there haven’t been the niggles that often cause a holiday tantrum, like pointless queuing or stressful mealtimes.
Disney has truly mastered the art of the family holiday, and converted us into cruisers.
Book it: A seven-night Northern Europe cruise on Disney Magic starts from £1,227pp, based on two adults and two children sharing a Standard Inside Stateroom full-board. Departing Dover on 30 August 2020, the cruise calls at Amsterdam, Nordfjordeid, Alesund and Stavanger. Includes taxes, fees and port charges. disneytravelagents.co.uk
Smarter: Babies can cruise from six months, and kit available includes nappy bins, cots, playpens, prams, bottle warmers and sterilizers. Fold-up prams fit under the main bed.
Better: The DCL Navigator app doesn’t require a wireless package and allows free messaging with fellow passengers.
Fairer: Each DCL ship has an environmental officer, and condensation from the air
conditioning units is collected and used to wash the decks, saving more than 30 million gallons of water a year.