About a month before the release of Captain Marvel (the origin story film), my adult son Rocky and I slipped away for a 5-day Disney Cruise out of Miami aboard the Disney Magic, the original ship among Disney’s four-ship fleet. The attraction of this particular cruise was the Marvel Day at Sea theme. This theme cruise is available only on the Magic from January through April.
The Magic is the oldest of Disney’s four ships and was launched in 1997. It was dry-docked just last year for upgrades and repairs. In spite of some online criticism I read, we found nothing to complain about. In fact the wonderful new Rapunzel’s Royal Table is quite a treat. The primary difference in the Magic is that this is a smaller ship in an industry and at a price point where the trend and expectation is that bigger is better.
Beginning in 2021, Disney will add three new larger ships to its fleet. One each year. We learned at the onboard welcome party for Disney Vacation Club members that the exteriors of these ships will look very similar to what we have seen in the past with the deep navy hulls, yellow lifeboats and trim, and red accents. However the interiors are supposed to look entirely different from any of the other ships in their fleet. The names of the new ships have not been released.
This was my fourth Disney cruise and I have now taken one aboard each of their currently available ships. The newer two, the Dream and the Fantasy, feature upgrades and additions and are larger ships. However, the interiors really are in line with what the line started with the Magic and then the Wonder. Following industry trends, the three new ships will be even bigger.
Like many cruise lines, Disney’s bread and butter is Caribbean itineraries. Originally, they were designed as 3 or 4-day cruises with guests spending the balance of their week at the parks in Orlando. These options are still available, but Disney now offers longer and more exciting and far flung itineraries in the Mediterranean, Alaska, and Scandinavia. They offer a repositioning cruise from the West Coast to the Gulf of Mexico through the Panama Canal (or the reverse) that is on my bucket list.
For us, Disney cruises are less about the ports and much more about the onboard entertainment. Disney cruises are priced slightly higher than other cruises in this category and for years I didn’t see the point of spending the extra cash for the Disney option. All that changed after my first cruise with them. The amazing onboard entertainment is worth the higher price tag.
I have been on over 30 cruises and the choice to take almost all of them has been itinerary driven. The choice to take a Disney cruise is the exception. We take Disney cruises because of the entertainment options. We chose this cruise because it offered Marvel Day at Sea. In fact, we didn’t even get off the boat at one of our two ports.
Personally, I don’t often bother with cruises for less than a week, but the attraction of this 5-day itinerary was the Marvel Day at Sea. Rocky and I took a week-long cruise aboard the Fantasy for Star Wars Day at Sea. It was so much fun for a Star Wars fan. It was that experience that first got me thinking about the Marvel option.
While the Marvel (like the Star Wars) themed entertainment is only for one day, the bug is there all cruise with passengers sporting their Marvel attire and the on-ship movie theaters showing lots of Marvel films, particularly in that late night time slot. The photo option backdrop was in the lobby from day one. (On the Fantasy for the Star Wars cruise, they had some of the larger props from the film The Force Awakens right there in the atrium lobby.)
The themed cruise doesn’t mean they take anything away, the traditional Pirate Night complete with fireworks offered on each of their Caribbean cruises, the large production show musical, and the other production shows are all still there. They just add all the Marvel entertainment on top it. As the cruise director noted, they just do seven nights worth of entertainment in a five-night itinerary.
Traditional Disney cruise ship dining is found aboard the Magic. You still rotate with your staff between each of the ship’s three themed dining areas. We started in Lumiere’s just off the atrium. Intended as the most elegant dining spot, it offers nothing special in the way of entertainment. That didn’t bother us the first night when we were tired. Our second night in Lumiere’s happened to be on our last sea day, the Marvel Day at Sea, so the themed menu gave us a bit of a special evening there.
The second night’s dining was at Animator’s Palate which is just a little different in design and show at each of the Disney ships we have been on. On the Magic, screens feature both black and white and color sketches of characters and scenery from Disney films. Often what you are seeing are the early drawings of characters or backgrounds and not the final iterations that make it into the film. Sorcerer Mickey also makes an appearance in this venue.
The third main dining location is in the newly-introduced Rapunzel’s Royal Table. Found in the location of what was the Caribbean-themed restaurant (at least that is what it would have been aboard the Wonder), the new concept was introduced when the ship went back into rotation after last year’s renovations. The production show on this ship is Tangled, and the focus is carried into this dining venue. The decor is top notch with notable touches from the film. Characters from the Snuggly Duckling (the pub in the film) greet you as you enter and strolling minstrels perform around the restaurant and on stage. Later in the evening, Rapunzel makes an appearance and actually stops at each table for pictures. Likewise, Flynn Rider later joins her and makes the table rounds.
The entertainers and the dinner production were better than I expected. The at-table photographs were a particularly nice touch. They close the show with the floating lanterns, which is lovely. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might be a bit confused, but I think this is a really nice addition to the restaurant rotation and a way to carry the musical theme unique to this Disney ship. The Magic is the only ship which features the Tangled full scale production show.
My only complaint about Rapunzel’s Royal Table is that with the crowd and all the talking, it is almost impossible to hear most of the dialog and music. Such a shame. I am not sure how this might be easily corrected. We weren’t even at the farthest tables and it was second seating with fewer screaming children but it was still a problem. Fortunately, the special themed decor and the visits at our table by all of the characters made up for some of our disappointment.
Our dinner rotation happened to coincide with the production show schedule. The night we saw Tangled, we also dined in Rapunzel’s Royal Table. That night, characters from the film’s Snuggly Duckling also take over McGill’s Pub in the adult entertainment area. It was Tangled overload.
Our five-night cruise felt like a five-themed night cruise. There was Welcome Night (day one), Pirate Night (day two), Tangled Night (day three), Marvel Night (day four), and Farewell/Island Night (day five). There were production shows of each of these nights.
About now, some of you are thinking the title of this post is a bit deceptive, but I am getting there. Prior to boarding the ship or at guest relations when you get aboard, you can make reservation for some of the character greetings (crowd control). If you want an arranged time to see the Princesses, the principals from Frozen, or specific Marvel characters, you get a specified time for greetings, autographs, and photos. Although the Princesses appear briefly on the last night (and only for photos, no autographs), there is no other way to meet these other characters while on-board.*
*It is possible that these characters go to the children’s clubs, but I can not confirm that. Characters do regularly appear in those venues.
We actually arranged to meet Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy and the New York Marvel characters (as Disney refers to them in reservations) the following day before we got off the ship at Castaway Cay. If your party is willing to do that, it is a good way to free up some of time on the Marvel Day at Sea. We saw Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Iron Man, as well as Groot, on day five .
There are some very special lectures on these themed cruises and really they are not to be missed. For Marvel Day Sea, there were Marvel Origins and Meet the Masters presentations. That said, Rocky and I did miss the first one because we wanted to get a picture with Captain Marvel. I admit, we are those people on the cruise ship (or in the parks) that want to get pictures with the characters. Some parents actually complain when adults are in line thinking this entertainment is just for kids. Remember I paid for this cruise too and if what I want to do is get a picture with a character I can do that. It is my time and my vacation.
Ok, it may seen silly but we are excited that a month before the movie even comes out, we already have a picture with Captain Marvel. We had heard the lines would be long for her, so we went to the first offering. The way that Disney does its open character visits is that the character has a slated 15-minute time slot. You can get in line any time within that 15 minutes and are guaranteed to meet the character. However, you might have to wait as long as 45 minutes.
Some of the characters roam around the ship without a specific location or queue (although people create a line anyway). On Marvel Day at Sea we saw Captain Marvel, Loki, Thor, and Captain America by waiting in character lines. We also got photos with Hawkeye, Black Widow, Star Lord, and Gamora while they were roaming around. We got a photo of Dr. Strange just before he went into his special mystical arts production show in the Walt Disney Theater.
We did make the “lecture” (Meet the Masters) with Bill Rosemann from Marvel Games. He gave us his history with the Marvel Company and the inside scoop on the evolution of some of the story lines. He talked about how much fun they have with the “Easter eggs” and that they even create characters to show diversity and acceptance. Comic book characters historically have tackled sensitive issues before they are otherwise fully dealt with in society. My favorite story that Bill related was of the the hearing impaired boy who refused to wear his hearing aid. His mother called the company and Marvel created a Super Hero, Blue Ear, who wore a hearing aid. The young boy found a role model in a comic book character and started wearing his hearing aid.
Bill Rosemann is actually the writer who pulled together the current Guardians of the Galaxy group by selecting old characters that had not been featured in a long time. He mentioned that when his wife saw the profiles on the table, she asked if he was really going to include a squirrel when she saw the picture of Rocket (who is actually a modified raccoon if you are uninformed). Rocket is voiced by Bradley Cooper in the films.
We loved the lecture and suggest if you ever have the opportunity to see one of these presentations aboard a themed-cruise that you always take advantage of them. The lectures aboard the Star Wars Day at Sea cruise were equally impressive.
There are Marvel lectures, character greetings, trivia contests, costume celebrations, drawing classes, art projects, children’s themed-events, movies, and announcements throughout the day. There was even racing (crawling) babies dressed as superheroes in the atrium lobby. Something for every taste. You can also just go and enjoy the pool if you are not into the Marvel activities. I liked some of the little touches, the daily schedule (Navigator) that looked like a comic book and the restaurant menu with Marvel-themed names to all the options. The cast members wore special name tags and even the food options in the buffet line had identifying tags that looked like comic book dialog balloons.
The production show that day was a Dr. Strange mystical arts show which was definitely geared for children. In the evening, the Marvel character greetings ended and then the most familiar Disney characters came out with Marvel-inspired outfits. That is one thing about a Disney cruise. You can take a picture with Mickey everyday and he is dressed differently for the theme of that particular day.
Some of the characters really get into this-Donald’s Hulk was the very best! We also saw Goofy as Iron Man, Minnie as Spider-Gwen, Chip and Dale as Thor and Loki, and Daisy as either Gamora or Black Widow (we weren’t sure which). Mickey was inspired by Captain America. It was a fun way for those of all ages to enjoy the theme.
Between the dinner seatings was a character show, but the real highlight to the evening was the upper-deck show billed as a Stark Industries demonstration of new technology, complete with a roving reporter and a greeting from “Captain” Stan Lee (bittersweet given his recent passing). All the Marvel characters that are on-board (and a few extra villains) are featured. The fireworks are creatively incorporated into the show. I loved the Spider-Man climb. I usually go out for these deck shows, but find them really cheesy and laugh at a lot of things that are meant to be as serious, at least in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. I wasn’t alone; there were lots of people that found it humorous. However, not everyone approved; one guest even yelled out “stop laughing”.
That said, this show was really well executed and was a great way to feature all the characters. It was worth parents keeping the kids up for the 10:15 pm start time. Honestly, it is the best deck show that I have seen on any Disney ship. We got back to the cabin that evening to find our towel in the shape of Thor’s hammer. It was a fun day.
We rounded out our five-day cruise with a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s privately leased island in the Bahamas. After our ticketed character greetings that morning with Spider-Man, Black Panther, Iron Man, and Groot, we headed to the 18 and over Serenity Bay Beach. It was my 4th visit there and by far the best weather day I have ever experienced on the island. The beach at Serenity Bay has plenty of chairs and beach umbrellas, walk-up and roaming bar service, and an adults-only dining area. It was a great day and an excellent way to round out the trip.
I want to offer a warning for those traveling out of Miami on this cruise. We waited a long time for the ship to be cleared by customs on the morning of our return to Miami. Ship departures started 45 minutes late and there were long slow lines on the ship and in the terminal. At times, they held everyone just to clear certain areas. Never book a flight departure before 11 am, even though the Miami airport is extremely close.
All of our Disney cruises have had a special theme. Our first on the Wonder was during the holiday season and in celebration of Rocky’s birthday. Our second on the Fantasy was for the Star Wars Day at Sea. Our third was on the Dream as a post marathon vacation. (My niece Maggie has now run the Dopey Challenge twice. First Day is a 5K; second day a 10K; third day is a half marathon; and the final day is a full marathon. Then she wanted to run the Castaway Cay 5K off the ship to earn an additional two medals.)
This 4th Disney cruise was on the Magic for the Marvel Day at Sea. Returning to an older, smaller Disney ship and with a theme that I wasn’t as excited about as Rocky was, left me a little leery that the trip might disappoint. I should not have been worried. We had a fabulous time. Some big pluses on this itinerary-smaller ship meant we made some new Marvel friends (both guests and characters), excellent Tangled musical production, a wide(r) array of character greetings, Rapunzel’s Royal Table was a new and entertaining venue, execution of the Marvel theme was better than expected, and the best Disney upper deck show in their repertoire.