Disney, on sea

By Josie Clarke

Magic for kids, and the ship's bars are mercifully Mickey-free, writes Josie Clarke.

A three-storey slide entertains the older kids aboard the Disney Magic cruise liner. Photo / Supplied
A three-storey slide entertains the older kids aboard the Disney Magic cruise liner. Photo / Supplied

As someone whose childhood did not involve a lot of Disney, those Mickey ears are a constant source of amazement.

It starts on the coach ride to the port of Barcelona, when a collective shriek goes up as soon as they appear.

Disney knows a thing or two about what children like, and the big black ears take pride of place on the top deck of Disney Magic, the elegant Art Deco ship on which we'll cruise the Mediterranean for a week.

Most of the mothers in my local circle, though well-versed in all things Disney, had no idea the company runs a sideline in cruises, but it turns out we're a little late to the party. The four ships (itineraries also include the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Alaska) are wildly popular and our sailing sold out months in advance.

The Magic, the first to launch in 1998, recently had a major refit. The prospect of going on a Disney Cruise made the heads of my four-year-old and two-year-old children spin.

I admit to a little trepidation at travelling on my own with two active excitable youngsters, but the company's obvious consideration for the logistics of family cruising are evident from the moment we step aboard.

There are staff everywhere, intent on engaging with the children, although my own youngsters are keen for lunch before the deck party to celebrate our departure from the dock - an energetic affair complete with Mickey and his mates plus lots of enthusiastic dancing and singing. Even the confetti that rains down is in the shape of the ubiquitous ears.

Both children have slightly maniacal grins on their faces, while I'm giving thanks for the Perspex-lined railings that make it near impossible for even the most agile toddler to disembark ahead of schedule.

The cabins are lovely. Designed specifically for families, they are spacious and well-appointed with loads of storage, and bathrooms split into separate toilet and bath/shower areas.

But some of the real excitement is up by the pools, where the deck has been ripped up and replaced with new waterplay areas and the AquaDunk, a three-storey slide with a near vertical launch through a translucent tube that extends about 6m over the side of the ship.

Most of the restaurants have had a makeover and the ship's food is the real revelation. Disney may not have always made this a priority at their parks, but dining on board is a pleasure.

Disney Cruise Line runs a clever and well-organised rotation system that has guests eating dinner at all of the three main restaurants, but with the same two servers every night. Our servers, Andre and Cornel, were wonderful with the children, learning their likes and dislikes and remembering to bring us a glass of warm milk to take back to the cabin each evening.

My daughter, who discussed her day's activities with them every night, was genuinely sad to say goodbye at the end of the voyage.

There are also lots of adults-only areas in the form of bars safely tucked away on the top deck where a late-night drink can be taken with not so much as a "Mummy, can I ... " to be heard.

Our days became a whirl of kids' clubs, half-day excursions to Nice and Pompeii, swimming, eating, and meet-and-greets with Disney characters.

Their appearances are scheduled but you are just as likely to come across Goofy or Pluto exiting the lift.

At one point, my son sprinted off down the corridor in hot pursuit of the Mouse himself, screaming, "Stop, Mickey, stop!" Mickey duly stopped for a chat and a hug, and my little boy still talks about it.

Despite the full days, the highlight for my children was the evening show. After bubbles and snowflakes rained down from the ceiling, a screen showed Tinker Bell spreading pixie dust over the bow of the ship as thousands of fairy lights lit up the theatre.

Back home, my daughter reported: "Tinker Bell was there and she lit up the whole ship. She magicked the whole ship."

CHECKLIST

Further information: See disneycruise.disney.go.com.

The Cruise Critic website contains useful articles and tips about cruising with children.

The writer travelled as a guest of Virgin Holidays Cruises.

- AAP

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