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When Disney Cruise Line launched its inaugural ship, Disney Magic, in 1998, the entire family-travel world took notice. For Cara Goldsbury, chief executive concierge with Corpus Christi, Texas-based Glass Slipper Concierge, the news was thrilling — her clients adored Disney experiences on land, and she knew they would line up for the opportunity to have seafaring adventures with the same exemplary brand.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years later, and Goldsbury still says Disney Magic holds a special place in her clients’ hearts. That’s because much of what was great about the ship when it first sailed — its nostalgic look, imaginative youth clubs and family-friendly staterooms with a split-bath configuration — remains the same. Additionally, the ship’s 2013 refurbishment brought in a slew of updates, such as three-story body slide AquaDunk, a complete overhaul of Oceaneer Club and redesigns of onboard dining and entertainment venues.
As the mother of a Disneyland-loving toddler, I couldn’t wait to experience all of the above with my husband and 3-year-old daughter, Olivia. So when we boarded the 2,713-passenger Disney Magic for a three-night sailing in the Bahamas this past New Year’s Eve, we immediately got down to business, poring over our Personal Navigator — a handy brochure listing the day’s activities — while resting our feet in our veranda stateroom.
Must-do activities for Olivia were penciled in first. We picked up reserved tickets to popular character meet-and-greets — Olivia was able to twirl with Belle and pose with Cinderella at the Princess Gathering, melting my heart a little more with each photo — and played in the jets and fountains of splash pad AquaLab. At the early New Year’s party, held in the refurbished grand atrium, a sparkle-clad Mickey and Minnie Mouse danced to top pop songs until “midnight” (aka 7:30 p.m.).
If the number of parents singing along was any indication, the party was a huge hit for all ages — not just Disney Magic’s littlest cruisers.
Disney Magic, refurbished in 2013, was the first ship launched under the Disney Cruise Line brand. // © 2016 Disney Cruise Line
Staterooms feature nautical decor and split bathrooms. // © 2016 Disney Cruise Line
The AquaDunk waterslide attracts thrill seekers of all ages. // © 2016 Disney Cruise Line
Young cruisers might splash in Goofy’s Pool while favorite Disney films play overhead. © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
The Oceaneer Club offers games, play areas and events for cruisers ages 3 to 12. // © 2016 Disney Cruise Line
“Tangled: The Musical” is one of several incredible stage shows onboard Disney Magic. // © 2016 Disney Cruise Line
A family game of shuffleboard on Deck 4 is a fun way to enjoy the ocean breeze and views. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Parents might reserve a table at adults-only Palo for a fine-dining experience. // © 2016 Disney Cruise Line
Littles ones can greet and even dance with their favorite Disney princesses. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Three-night Disney Magic itineraries out of Miami dock at Castaway Cay, a scenic Bahamian island. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
A play structure in the middle of the island’s family swimming lagoon // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Paths connecting Castaway Cay’s multiple beaches are great for biking. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
When it was time for some adult recharging, Oceaneer Club occupied Olivia with movie-themed play areas, iPads loaded with colorful apps and special events, including a late-night pajama party with Pluto. While we were initially nervous to leave Olivia in the club, smiling attendants and the high-tech MagicBand system diffused our worries. She scanned into the venue with ease, and pickup was secure — photos of our faces popped up on computers when we arrived. The wristband also tracks a child’s whereabouts within the club; if I couldn’t spot Olivia, the computer would direct me to the correct play area.
Confident our kiddo was safe, my husband and I indulged in some child-free fun. Cocktails in hand, we played jackpot bingo in the nightclub. In the chill Cove Cafe, lattes and quiet magazine reading were the name of the game.
But the ultimate adult-exclusive experience onboard is surely dinner at Palo, the northern Italian fine-dining venue. After the hustle and bustle of the pool deck and energetic dinners at Animator’s Palate or Carioca’s, it was a pleasure to sip fine wine and eat fresh-baked bread, risotto and a chocolate souffle without the usual hiccups that come with dining with a toddler.
What impressed me the most about the ship, though, was the number of onboard activities ideal for the entire family. We loved “Tangled: The Musical,” an original live stage production that debuted last fall on Disney Magic, as well as the family-friendly magic show starring Michael Barron, which incorporates audience members of all ages. Swimming in the crystalline waters surrounding Castaway Cay was the icing on the cake.
Months later, Olivia still talks about seeing fish swim near her in the sea, dancing with Mickey Mouse and watching “Finding Nemo” on the giant Funnel Vision screen above Goofy’s Pool. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.