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As our bus charter pulled away from our hotel to the waves of Disney cast members, our kids seemed a tad let down that no more rides awaited. Their mood brightened a bit when the driver, in a rare moment of Disney candor, asked whether we were glad that overly cheerful Betty, our send-off hostess, was not riding with us for the 90-minute trip to Port Canaveral.
But it was like a whole new world when they got their first glimpse of the ship. Built in the style and appearance of great ocean liners, the 964-foot Magic features yellow lifeboats (Mickey's shoes), red smokestacks (pants) and black vents (ears). Not to mention an ear-splitting horn that announces your departures and arrivals to the first seven notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Once aboard, we went straight to our stateroom, which was unlocked by the same key card that opened our hotel room and served as a credit card for all our expenses (your kids get identical cards, but thankfully, they only open the door). The room was billed as comfortably accommodating five people, and it did. But coming from a hotel room, it was an adjustment for our landlubber kids. Once they figured out how the beds folded out from the wall, however, they thought it was better than a tree fort.
The Magic has 11 decks and 875 staterooms, including many with private decks, three pools, including one only for adults, a spa and fitness center, and fast-food bars that never seemed to close. Each night of our three-day cruise featured dinner at a different restaurant: Lumière's ("Try the grey stuff, it's delicious," says the children's menu), which requires dressing up; Animator's Palate, where the room and meal evolve with illustrations, and Parrot Cay, a Caribbean feast. Your doting wait staff moves with you from restaurant to restaurant.
paul, if i were trimming, i'd clip these next three grafs, or pare them down seriously
We tried mightily to persuade our kids to take part in one of the elaborate programs set up for different age groups. More hangout than day care, they were well-staffed and loaded with computer play stations, video walls and comfy lounge areas. A separate video arcade (here again, only the parent debit card pays for tokens) was always busy. Teens had their own themed coffeehouse, with games, music and outside activities.
Our set seemed more entertained by the pool, which was a bit small considering how many people used it. Then again, it was set up in front of a stage that featured a crazy afternoon pool party led by Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Chip 'n Dale. After dinner, there were stage shows at the Walt Disney Theatre, movies, bars with live entertainment and a comedy club. The evening highlight for our kids was shortly before leaving port at Nassau, when fireworks exploded from the ship's smokestacks.
Our three-day cruise sailed through the first night and reached Nassau by 9 a.m. For the first time in six days, we were forced to use cash to buy anything. In addition to on-your-own shopping and excursions around the city, Disney offers shore packages (extra charge) to Atlantis, a glitzy resort with a huge casino, along with boat and snorkel tours.
The second night at sea ends up at Castaway Cay, a small island owned and operated exclusively for Disney cruise guests. There's no small-boat trip to shore -- the ship's gangway unloads you onto the island. A short bus trip takes you to biking, boating and hiking or just laying on the beach, floating or snorkeling in a secluded bay. A children's play area is set up in the water, with a lifeguard close at hand, and other beaches are reserved for teens and adults.
Our grand plans for a family snorkeling trip were canceled when my son developed a fever that kept him in our stateroom all day. So he and I read books while the girls hit the island and got their hair braided (hint: don't get sea water in your hair beforehand!). Later, my daughters came back and watched their brother while my wife and I enjoyed an hour and a half in paradise.
We didn't even fall asleep.