Saturday, February 12, 2022

More Magical Than I Expected!

Last Saturday, I got off the Disney Magic in Miami after a 5-night Bahamian cruise. This was the first cruise my family and I have taken since our Star Wars Day at Sea cruise on the Fantasy in January 2020, so we were excited to finally be back.

In addition to just going on a cruise, I had a lot of new things to look forward to.  This trip was my second cruise on the Magic, but it was my first cruise with a Marvel Day at Sea.  It was also my first cruise with two stops at Castaway Cay and my first 5-night cruise.  Here's what the itinerary looked like:

Day 1: Miami
Day 2: Castaway Cay
Day 3: Marvel Day at Sea
Day 4: Castaway Cay
Day 5: Nassau
Day 6: Miami

This cruise was originally intended to visit Key West, but after we booked, the itinerary changed the day at Key West to another day at Castaway Cay.  I'd take Castaway Cay over Key West any day, so this change wasn't bad at all.

It's very blurry, but this is the first photo I took of the Magic on this trip, cropped so you don't have to squint over the car in the foreground.  This was taken from the grounds of the National Shrine of Ermita de la Caridad (Spanish for Our Lady of Charity), a beautiful Catholic shrine in Miami.  

If you've been on a cruise after DCL's restart, then you know that the embarkation day process is significantly different than how it was in the past.  However, the start of the process is pretty familiar:  You arrive at the terminal at your specific port arrival time, you check the bags that you don't want to carry around until your stateroom is ready, and you go through security.  After that, things get different:  You receive a COVID-19 test and go to a testing location to get tested.  After that, you go to a waiting area where you wait until the test results come back.  This took a little under an hour for my family, and thankfully, we all tested negative.  When we were approved for boarding, we did not get our Key to the World cards.  Instead, we walked across the gangway and were welcomed into the Magic's atrium.

In this photo, you can see the "Please Wait Here" markings on the floor.  While these were in many places around the ship (even the AquaDunk stairs), they weren't enforced very strictly, which I appreciated.
Normally, when my family and I board a DCL ship, Cabanas is our first stop.  However, the entertainment staff in the atrium had my family and a few other parties had us wait for a welcoming song featuring Mickey Mouse!  Because of this welcoming show, only a few parties boarded the ship at a time.  After the song, we were led to After Hours and then to Fathoms for a tutorial on getting connected to the DCL-GUEST Wi-Fi network and using the DCL Navigator app.  Cleverly, Mickey's welcoming show was used to entertain -and stall- guests while the previous group was still in the DCL Navigator app tutorial.

The welcoming show and the tutorial had me a bit concerned about the rest of the cruise's elevated safety precautions.  Would we be constantly directed around the ship by cast members?  

Thankfully, that was the only time.  However, we did have to go to a modified mandatory safety drill before the Magic left Miami.  At this drill, my family and I used the DCL Navigator app to check in at Assembly Station S.  This drill wasn't at a set time, it just had to get done before leaving port.  In addition to this drill, a safety video played on the stateroom TVs.  I prefer the normal drill, as it better prepares guests for what to do in case of an actual emergency, but this version was very quick and straightforward.

After becoming safe, went to up to Cabanas, where we were greeted by sinks that weren't there when we were last on the Magic.  They reminded me of the Cabanas sinks on the Wonder, which were added in 2016.  A cast member introduced my family and I to the new Cabanas process, which is a lot different now.  Most importantly, everything in Cabanas is served by crew members.  I think this was actually more efficient than when guests could get their own food, and the crew was very good at giving you as much or as little food as you wanted. Another change was the buffet itself.  Cabanas used to have a gigantic selection of food, but it is now drastically scaled back.  For both breakfast and lunch (Cabanas currently doesn't offer a dinner service like it has in the past) Cabanas had five lines around the restaurant.  Each of the lines had the same foods.  There was less to choose from, but the selection was varied and still delicious.

After a nice Cabanas lunch, we still didn't have our Key to the World cards.  We went down to our staterooms, where our Key to the World cards were waiting for us on the fish beside the door.  This doesn't seem very secure, since somebody could come to a room before the actual guests arrive and use one of the room's Key to the World cards to open the door.  I doubt anyone did this, but it's possible.  I guess this method is secure enough, because DCL wouldn't use it if it was a potential security problem.

Speaking of Key to the World cards, they look empty now that the rotational dining information (like restaurant order, table number, and seating time) isn't on them.  This information may be determined after the cards are printed, which would explain why the information is gone, but it's still a disappointing change.  Well, at least my family's dining rotation was really easy to remember:
Rapunzel's Royal Table, Lumiére's, Lumiére's, Animator's Palate, Animator's Palate.  

A change we noticed immediately was the different elevator buttons and panels.  Instead of physical buttons, the buttons outside of the elevators are now digital buttons:

Aside from updating the names of locations, this directory wasn't changed.
These are a lot different!  The screens inside the elevators say 2020, so they were likely installed during the pandemic shutdown.  Maybe that's what they were doing when all four ships went to France!  For the most part, the buttons to call the elevators worked, but some didn't like to cooperate.  This was a little annoying, but I guess that's why every elevator lobby has two sets of buttons.  I think I prefer the older, traditional buttons.  They weren't as fancy, but they were more reliable and they fit nicer with the classic theming of the ship.  I don't think the buttons will be changed back, so hopefully they're are more dependable next time, because that would really lift my spirits.

The back of one of the deck 11 midship elevators.  The back is glass, so you can see the people in the elevators as they come up.
I later went to Vibe on Deck 11 in the funnel, where I registered and met three very cool counselors:  Andrina, Shaunaugh, and Alex.  Because of the reduced capacity on the Magic, there were never many kids at Vibe.  This enabled the counselors to get to know everyone better, and it felt much more personal than it has in the past.  

These lights are in the middle of Vibe, hanging from the ceiling.

You can see them from outside!

One of the areas on the Magic that I was most eager to visit was the midship elevator mural.

This large mural was created by Steven Guarnaccia and titled "Up and About."  One of my favorite details is the man in the bottom left corner reading a newspaper:
The Magic News & Dispatch seems like a fictional Personal Navigator.  One of the headlines is "'Sessions' Launches New Cocktail."  Sessions was replaced by Keys, but it's nice that this reference to the past is still there.  Also, I like the "exotic" fish:
For some reason, the doors to the mural overlooks between the elevators were all closed off.  Maybe they're difficult to clean and to avoid having to clean them, they're just closed.

Guarnaccia created other artwork found around the Magic, like these constellation drawings:
As well as DCL's Sea-Worthy Facts on Deck 5: 

This last one is interesting.  First, the Magic is no longer 964 feet long.  In 2013, it was extended to be 20 feet longer.  At 984 feet now, it's still shorter than the height of the Eiffel Tower.  Also, the picture says, "the length of our ship compared with the heights of other world landmarks."  "Other world landmarks."  This sign is DCL's way of secretly saying that the Magic is a world landmark.  By that logic, the giant from Mickey in Giantland is also a world landmark. 

These facts were featured in the Disney Magic:  The Launching of a Dream book, which has a lot of information and renderings about the original version of the Magic, so these were probably originals from 1998!

In the later afternoon, the Magic sailed out of Miami.  There was no sail away deck party, but the horn still played!

The very big Norwegian cruise terminal.
Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas left after we did.

The Coast Guard was doing a good job guarding the coast.

The grassy area in this photo is South Pointe Park.
These buildings look expensive.
DCL mainly just uses US cities as homeports, so you won't see an American flag flying on the mast for most of a cruise.
Our first dinner was at Rapunzel's Royal Table, the last currently-existing DCL rotational restaurant that my family hadn't been to.  On our 2015 cruise on the Magic, Rapunzel's Royal Table was Carioca's.  I didn't have a problem with Carioca's, but I think Rapunzel's is better.  
The restaurant was celebrating Rapunzel's 18th birthday.  She must turn 18 a lot if they celebrate her birthday multiple times every cruise.

I never thought I'd see a drawing of a mace in a Disney Princess-themed restaurant.

The birthday cupcake sundae was delicious!

Hookhand and Vladimir, our hosts from The Snuggly Duckling, sang songs, yelled at us, and taught us the Snuggly Duckling secret code (Clap! Clap! Stomp! Stomp! Quack! Quack!).  There were also appearances by Rapunzel and Eugene.  This restaurant ties in perfectly with Tangled: A Musical Spectacular, and it would also fit perfectly on the Wish, since Rapunzel is the character painting its stern.  Food at Rapunzel's had some German influence.  For example, pretzels were brought out in the bread service, which was awesome.
Disembarking the ship at a port of call is a bit different now.  DCL encourages guests to join the virtual queue on the DCL Navigator app, but whenever I got off, there wasn't really a line.  This virtual queue is probably only necessary when the gangways first open and many people are eager to get off.  It's different, but it's not an annoyance.

On our first day at Castaway Cay, my mom and I went parasailing for the first time.  I'll have a separate post about Castaway Cay coming soon, but while you wait for that, here are a few photos that I took around the island:
Ah yes, the native wildlife of Castaway Cay.

We had a lot of fun on our first day at Castaway Cay, so please look forward to my more detailed post about it!

Just like on the Dream and Fantasy, the restrooms outside of Palo on the Magic are very fancy.  This one even had a peacock of towels!  It was too pretty to mess up by taking a towel.
That night, we didn't go to Lumiére's, our assigned rotational restaurant, since the adults in my family went to Palo.  
Instead of Lumiére's, I went to Duck-In Diner.  For some reason, this restaurant replaced Pete's Boiler Bites, which was only added in 2013.  It's pretty much the same thing, just with some cosmetic differences.  I think I'll have a later post about the Magic's poolside restaurants and more importantly, its ice cream selection.
This display was similar to the one on Star Wars Day at Sea.

The next day was Marvel Day at Sea.  I had an idea of what to expect, but there were many surprises, like humorous announcements made over the PA system (did Thor ever come collect his baggage?).  It was a fun day, but I didn't like it as much as Star Wars Day at Sea.  In addition to me not being a huge Marvel fan, Star Wars Day just had more.  I'm sure DCL's health and safety restrictions prevented some Marvel activities from happening, but I would've appreciated more on Marvel Day.

One of my favorite things about Marvel Day was the way the Magic traveled:
The Dream was in Castaway Cay on this day, so we had nowhere to go, so we just went in circles near Grand Bahama and Freeport. It was quite the well-rounded day.  Anyway, like Castaway Cay, a larger overview of Marvel Day is on the way.

Well, the restaurant is called Lumiére's...
Our Marvel Day Dinner was at Lumiére's.  It's a straightforward but elegant restaurant with a Beauty and the Beast theme.  I remember the glass roses in the lights from 2015, and they're one of my favorite touches from the restaurant.

After Marvel Day, we went back to Castaway Cay.  This day was warmer than our first day, and I decided to run the Castaway Cay 5K.  I didn't do it because I like running.  I only did it for the medal.     
It was hot, but it was worth it!  For anyone going to Castaway Cay in the near future, the current version of the 5K isn't a traditional race.  Instead of everyone gathering and starting at the same time, guests could start the race whenever they felt like starting.  After finishing, guests could go to the cast members at the bike rentals and get their medal.  
The view of the Magic from Castaway Cay's observation tower along the running/biking path.

After getting the medal, I spent some time at the beach, rode Pelican Plunge a couple of times (the slide on the right is fast), and went to the Hideout, where some people from Vibe we're hanging out.  After a lot of walking, I decided to walk back to the Magic.  It was mid-afternoon, so many people were still on the island when I got back on the Magic.

The AquaDunk queue area and the starting capsule are the highest guest-accessible areas on the Magic.  Officially, that's Deck 13!
A ride down the AquaDunk is short, but the slide actually is 212 feet long.
This photo is edited, and the AquaDunk doesn't really glow, but it would be cool if it did.

In the evening, I took advantage of the Magic's reduced capacity and rode the AquaDunk.  I rode this slide once in 2015, and I wasn't a huge fan of it.  I was afraid to ride it again on that cruise, so I was excited to finally give it another chance on this cruise.  I'm glad I did, because it's awesome!  In the evening, almost every time I went up the 63 steps to the top of the funnel, the capsule was open and the lifeguard was waiting for me.  The AquaDunk is fast and not a traditional water slide, so I can understand why many think it's scary.  If you ever go on the Magic, ride the AquaDunk!

I like the black and white color scheme of Animator's Palate on the Magic and Wonder.  It's simple, and it really draws your attention to the lights that color the restaurant like paint.

After the fun on the AquaDunk, I went to dinner at Animator's Palate for a modified pirate night.  Pirate music played in the halls, some people dressed up, and the restaurants had pirate-themed menus, but the deck parties and fireworks did not happen.  This is because the Marvel Day deck show involved fireworks, and there were two of them to spread people out.  In the new version pirate night, a few rowdy pirates came into Animator's Palate and helped us to join their crew by banging on the tables (I'm not sure how the servers felt about that).  It was pirate-ish, but it wasn't a true pirate night, since there wasn't a deck party or fireworks (those were on Marvel Day instead).  It was still better than nothing, though.

Lots of little boats like this one were moving around us all day.
To the left in this image is Atlantis.  My family and I went there on our last cruise on the Magic, but there were a lot of ships in port, so it was overcrowded.  We didn't have too much fun then, but I'm sure it's a lot of fun. 
Disney keeps their own DCL-branded gangways in Nassau!  I never knew this, but it makes sense.

Our last day was spent in Nassau.  In my experience, Castaway Cay tends to be a cruise's last port of call, and it's always bittersweet.  I liked ending with Nassau, since it's not nearly as fun as Castaway Cay.  In Nassau, the Magic was the only ship in port for the morning.  
Later, the massive MSC Meravigilia pulled in and made the Magic look tiny.  I stayed on the Magic in Nassau, and I'm glad I did.  I could've missed DCL trivia!  
Held in the Promenade Lounge, this trivia game asked various questions about Disney Cruise Line.  I noticed a focus on the Magic, which makes sense, because we were on the Magic.  Some questions were easy, along the lines of "What is the name of the piano bar on the Disney Magic?" and "During the Alaska season, where is the Disney Wonder homeported?".  Some were a bit harder, like "What US port did the Disney Wonder visit for the first time in 2020?" and "In what year was the Disney Dream's christening ceremony?". Some were really hard, like "Who hosted the Fantasy's christening ceremony?".  I had no idea about this one, but it was Neil Patrick Harris.  My dad and I were the only team that knew the answer to "In the original configuration of the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, what was the name of the sports bar in the funnel?". This sports bar was the ESPN Skybox.  We ended up winning, with 23 out of 25 correct answers.  It was a lot of fun and I hope to play it again with other questions in the future.
We both got medals for winning DCL Trivia.  I wore this throughout the day, and multiple cast members asked what I had won.  This was a really nice service touch

Treating Nassau like a day at sea was fun, but we eventually had to leave.  
Although the ports of call were over, the fun wasn't over.  You might think that I would've been tired of the AquaDunk after the many times I rode it the previous evening, but I wanted to keep going.  I spent the evening riding the AquaDunk with little to no line.  Over time, I noticed that the thrill of dropping into the slide wears off a bit, but it doesn't change the fact that the slide is really fun.  I wish DCL had decided to put an AquaDunk-like slide on the Wish.  Sure, the Wish's AquaMouse is certainly going to be more popular, but I hope the sixth or seventh ship gets an AquaDunk.
While I rode the AquaDunk a lot, I never rode the Twist 'n' Spout on this cruise.  It's much slower than the AquaDunk, so I liked it when I was younger.  In addition to being fun to ride, it's also good to take photos of.
Our final dinner was at Animator's Palate, with the Animation Magic show.  I always like to see the drawings that some people come up with (shoutout to whoever drew the chicken).  Animator's Palate is great, you never know what you're going to see.

After a nice dinner, I returned to our staterooms to find three Vibe hats and a nice note from the Vibe counselors addressed to me and my two brothers (one of whom isn't even in the Vibe age range, he just came during the open houses).  This was the first time I had gotten a personalized note like this!  Our Vibe counselors were amazing on this cruise, and they definitely deserved the 'excellent' on our comment card.

This was my last photo of the Magic from this trip, taken right before I got into a taxi.

The next morning, we returned to Animator's Palate for a final breakfast on the Magic.  The food was good, but it's always sad to go down to Deck 3 Midship for the last time on a cruise.  We left the ship, got the luggage we had sent to the terminal, and took a taxi from the cruise terminal to the Miami airport.  

Overall, this cruise was great!  I don't think it was our best cruise ever, but it was definitely much better than I was expecting.

While I would have preferred not having to wear a mask whenever I was in an indoor common area during the cruise, the restrictions could have been a lot worse.  One of the largest changes I noticed wasn't actually something guests had to do differently.  While there were still many scheduled activities every day (around 90-100 things listed on the DCL Navigator app every day), there wasn't as much variety as there had been in the past.  I thought there was a lot more trivia this time than in the past.  While I enjoy trivia, and it's definitely a COVID-safe activity, a greater variety is nice.  I'm sure that as restrictions decrease, the variety of activities will increase.

Another activity-related change I noticed was in Vibe.  While Vibe still held special scheduled activities, they weren't listed on the DCL Navigator app.  This wasn't a problem for me, and I liked the surprise of not knowing what was going on, but it would've been nice to have a similar schedule of activities like I've had in the past.

One of the most impactful changes was reduced hours.  At the poolside restaurants, Eye Scream, and even the youth clubs (Vibe sometimes closed for half an hour during the day, likely for cleaning), I noticed reduced hours of operation.  This never meant that you couldn't get food, since room service was always available, but it could mean that you could have to wait to get some pizza or other poolside food.  This wasn't an annoyance, but it did require a bit more planning ahead and checking the DCL Navigator app for opening hours.

While there were a lot of changes, on this cruise, I learned that not every restriction is a bad thing.  The ship's reduced capacity contributed to the more personal, friendlier Vibe and the nonexistent AquaDunk lines, some of my favorite parts of the cruise.  The service felt better than usual, and the food was really good.  Maybe reducing the variety allowed the crew to specialize on the food they were providing.

This post may be over, but there's still so much to talk about from this cruise.  Is there anything you want to hear more about?  Let me know with a comment!