Sunday, September 8, 2019

Disney Cruise Review June 2019 - Transatlantic Disney Cruise and Mediterranean Europe Disney Cruise

In June 2019, Katy, the beloved Travel Concierge at Trips with Angie, took a cruise on the Disney Magic. She left Miami on the Transatlantic and connected to the round trip Mediterranean Sailing from Barcelona.

Here's her review that she wrote just after returning:

I am just back from 3 weeks of cruising onboard the Disney Magic, Disney Cruise Lines original cruise ship. We actually sailed back to back cruises. The first cruise was a 13 night transatlantic crossing departing from Miami, FL and ending in Barcelona, Spain. Ports of call included Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Cadiz, Malaga, and Cartagena. The second cruise was a 7 night Mediterranean cruise roundtrip cruise from Barcelona with ports of call of Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno (Florence, Pisa), and Villefranche (Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo). This was my first time on a Disney ship, and my first time doing a transatlantic crossing. What an amazing experience!

Taking a longer cruise with Disney like the Transatlantic offers so many more opportunities that you don’t get on a shorter cruise. Our cruise had 7 days at sea, 6 of which were in a row. 

Events that we got included Freezing the Night Away Celebration, Officer Ball, Officer Pool Party, Crew Talent Show, Special Guest Entertainment in the Walt Disney Theater, Canvas and Cocktails event, Daily Scavenger Hunts, food seminars, cooking classes, a Boat Building Bash and a lot more. We also had additional character appearances beyond the normal characters you would expect from a shorter cruise including Marvel Avenger Characters, Vampirina, Joy, Doc McStuffins, Olaf and additional Anna and Elsa Meet and Greets beyond the ticketed event.

One of my favorite character interactions occurred on the last sea day. My daughter and I were just walking through the Atrium and happened upon the princesses, Pluto, Goofy, and Sofia the First. They were all just walking around the open area on Decks 3, 4, and 5 interacting with the guests. I have some of the sweetest photos of my daughter walking hand in hand with Ariel and Cinderella down the hallway. Belle also sat on the steps outside Lumiere’s and read a story to the children in the Atrium. Shortly thereafter I was on Deck 10 by the ESPN Zone and Goofy dressed in a tracksuit was shooting hoops with the kids. It was such a magical experience seeing the characters this way. 

Another nice thing about a longer cruise is that you really get to know the crew. We developed a friendship with our server in the Dining Room and plan to keep in contact. 

Our cruise also included a Pirate Night which is found on many of the itineraries. What a fun event! Disney is the only cruise line authorized to shoot fireworks from their cruise ships. Almost all of the passengers got into the spirit of the night and dressed up. There were meet and greet opportunities with Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise as well as Captain Hook and Mr. Smee from Peter Pan.

After we boarded the ship on the first day and my daughter Audrey was introduced to the Kids; Club, I didn’t see much of her except at dinner. She made a group of friends and spent most her time with them in the Club, at the Pool, or the ESPN Zone.  Since she is 9 she had the freedom to check herself in and out of the kids club. I really appreciated the fact that each time she did the Disney Cruise Line App alerted me to it. Children ages 3-12 wear an Oceaneer Band on their wrist, much like the Magic Bands at Walt Disney World. They are scanned when the enter and again at departure. They also must wash their hand in special hand washing machines found outside the entrance before they can go in. 

We opted for the Early Dinner Seating since we were traveling with my parents. One of the things that is unique to the Disney Cruise Line is their rotational dining. You rotate along with your servers to one of three restaurants each night with a different theme. The restaurants on the Disney Magic include Animator’s Palate, Rapunzel’s Royal Table, and Lumiere’s. Lumiere’s is also open for breakfast and lunch. Our server, Silvana was from Chile and she was amazing. We learned pretty quickly to take her recommendations each night. One night I ordered the California Sushi Roll, because I love sushi. She said it wasn’t very good, but I really wanted it. Well she was right, worst California Sushi Roll I had ever had. After that I followed her recommendations. Always listen to your server! If you do end up ordering something and you don’t like it, they are always happy to bring you something else. 

The evening shows were held in the Walt Disney Theater. We found that we much preferred the Disney Production shows over the guest entertainment the cruise line brought onboard. Production shows on the Magic included Twice Charmed, An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story, Tangled the Musical, Once Upon a Song, and Dreams-An Enchanted Classic. 

One of our favorite activities onboard as a family were the animation classes where they taught you how to draw different Disney characters. These classes were often taught by Gus, a member of the Entertainment Staff from Argentina. He had a real passion for drawing, a great personality and made the classes really fun!

Audrey’s favorite event onboard was The Royal Court Royal Tea. Before the cruise I had read mixed reviews of it, but having now gone to it, I was very impressed. There is an extra fee for this, and it is quite steep for kids, but they get a lot including time with the princesses, an autograph book, special pen, Cinderella doll, jewelry, music box, and a framed photo with the princesses in addition to the food and the entertainment at the tea.

One of the things that impressed us most was Disney’s commitment to cleanliness onboard the ship. All guests were strongly encouraged to wash their hands at special sinks outside Cabanas, the ship’s buffet. Hand wipes were handed out to guests as they entered the main dining rooms, the kids club had special hand washing stations, and there were canisters of hand wipes in most public areas of the ship. The stateroom attendants could frequently be seen wiping down the walls of the hallways, and other public areas.

I was very excited about visiting our various ports of call on both cruises. I had never been to Portugal, Italy or France before. I traveled to Spain my senior year of high school so I was excited to go back, especially to revisit one of the cities, Malaga. 

Our first stop on the Transatlantic was Ponta Delgada in the Azores. What a beautiful island! The Azores is actually made of up nine major islands formed by volcanoes. After spending 6 days at sea, I wasn’t sure walking around the city of Ponta Delgada was going to cut it, so I booked a Port Adventure, what Disney calls an excursion, for myself and Audrey. We went on the Furna Hot Springs and Botanical Gardens Adventure. After an hour’s drive from the port we arrived in Caldeiras where we admired the mineral pools, thermal springs, and fumalores. Afterwards we got back on the bus for the short drive to the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens were beautiful. The Azores has brought in much of its plant life from around the world. The Gardens also had several pools fed by natural springs that visitors could swim in. After an hour at the Gardens we stopped at two lookout points on our way back to the ship.

Our second port of call was Lisbon. We didn’t book a tour for this port. We just decided to walk around and explore. Disney offered free shuttle service to and from the city center and we utilized it to get there. After we got our bearings we walked around exploring the many shops. The streets were also filled with many sidewalk cafes, street performers and padarias or bakeries. We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant and enjoyed some delicious paella. Afterwards we stopped at a padaria and picked up Pateis de Nana, Portuguese Custard Tart, so, so good!

Our third stop was Cadiz. Again we did not book an excursion. We walked around the city at first but did not find it very easy to navigate, so we decided to do a Hop on Hop Off bus tour to see the city. It is a beautiful city with a lot of great history. Our original plan was to ride the Hop On Hop Off bus back around to the beach for lunch, but our first loop took much longer than expected we ended up just getting back on the ship for lunch.

Our next stop was Malaga! This beautiful beach resort area is where many snow birds from northern Spain and other parts of Europe come for the winter.  We booked a tour that took us to Mijas about 45 minutes from the port. Our tour was to visit Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory and make chocolate. This was my daughter’s favorite excursion of the entire trip. My daughter loves cooking, and anything hands on so this was right up her alley. We got to create 3 chocolate bars to take with us and then we had an hour to explore the area and shop before returning to the ship. 

Our final port on the Transatlantic was Cartagena. We booked another tour through Disney called The Great Spanish Bake-off. This tour was a little disappointing. It started off great, we were met by the guide at the port who spoke great English and had a wonderful sense of humor. Sadly things went downhill when we arrived at the bakery. None of the employees spoke any English, it wasn’t very hands on, and the kids on the tour were pretty disappointed in the experience overall. We left the bakery an hour earlier than expected. Our tour guide offered to drop off in the city to shop or return us to the ship. We opted to shop and walk back to the ship.

Out first port of call on the Mediterranean cruise was Naples (Pompeii). We booked Naples City and Pompeii Half Day Sightseeing Tour.  I was very excited to see Italy being that my father is 100% Italian and his grandmother was born in Naples. Naples was a disappointment, it was very dirty with trash and graffiti everywhere. After our driver picked us up we drove through the city, and toured the Naples Cathedral, before making a stop at a cafe for a snack. We had the most amazing pastries and cappuccino before heading to Pompeii. Our day in Naples was cool and rainy, and it poured on us several times while at Pompeii. It was also very crowded at Pompeii and hard to see a lot with so many people. It was late when we exited the ruins and I really wanted to eat pizza in Naples, but we settled on pizza from a stand right outside the ruins. It was ok, not quite the experience I was hoping for. I was starting to worry that Italy wasn’t going to be everything I had imagined. 

Our second port of call was Civitavecchia (Rome). Most people arriving at this port have their sights set on a day in Rome which is 1 to 1.5 hours away. We had booked a private tour, and our driver picked us up right on time. We got to Rome after an hour and went straight the Vatican. The lines were so long to get in. Thankfully we had skip the line tickets. I can’t recommend getting skip the line tickets enough. It’s everywhere in Europe, without skip the line you wait hours and hours and in some cases you won’t get in. We toured Vatican City for several hours and saw St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square, the Gardens, and several museums. We headed for lunch at this little Italian restaurant with the most amazing food and wine, or is it possible it was just amazing because we were eating pasta and drinking Italian wine in actual Italy!?!?!? I don’t know, but it was so very good. After lunch we headed to the Colosseum, which was a family favorite spot in Rome. After a short visit to the Colosseum we ended our day with a visit to the Roman Forum, which was really interesting. This is the location of many of the oldest and most important structures of ancient Rome are located. We didn’t make it to the Trevi Fountain unfortunately. Our time was so short with having to get to and from the port, but I loved Rome and hope to go back someday. 

Our third port was Livorno (Florence, Pisa). We opted for a tour to Pisa which is about 20 minutes from Livorno. Florence is located about an hour and a half from where the cruise ship docked. We were not sure after the long day in Rome we were up for another long day to Florence. Bummed these two ports were back to back and there wasn’t a sea day to recover. Pisa was ok, not what we were expecting. We spent about an hour touring the area. We did not climb Pisa. They only let so many visitors at a time and only so many visitors each day can make the climb due to the condition of the structure. We had a little free time in Pisa and did some shopping as well, before a driving tour through Livorno. After the tour, our driver dropped us at the city center in Livorno for lunch and shopping. While walking around we came upon a farmer’s market with tons of fresh produce, flower, meats, seafood, and vegetables. We had lunch in a restaurant recommended by our driver of pizza, pasta, wine, and gelato. Gotta have gelato somewhere in Italy. Did you know gelato is healthier than ice cream? After lunch, we did a little more shopping before grabbing the free shuttle back to the cruise ship.

Our final port was Villefranche (Monte Carlo, Nice). This was a tender port so getting off and on the ship was a little more challenging. We did not have an excursion booked through Disney so we had to go and wait in a theater until Disney had space for us on a tender to disembark and head to the terminal. Our wait wasn’t too bad, maybe 20-30 minutes. The tender ride was short. We spent the day walking around the beautiful town of Villefranche. We shopped, had lunch along the water and spent some time at the beach.

Prior to leaving for our cruise we had booked some of our excursions through Disney and some through Viator. We had hits and misses with both.

The benefits of booking outside of the cruise line, is that it is often cheaper, and you can more easily book smaller or private tours. Not booking through the cruise line is a risk if you are late getting back to the ship in time for All Aboard. You could miss the ship, and depending on your tour provider you could be on the hook for the costs associated with catching up with the ship in the next port. In the case of Viator,  another risk you take is that they contract with local tour providers in the various ports, so you may not necessarily get what you paid for. We booked a private tour in Naples for 6 people to tour the city and go to Pompeii. Our driver picked us up and took us to the Naples Cathedral, and then a driving tour of Naples. After a stop at a cafe for a snack, he announced we were picking up a few more people before proceeding to Pompeii. After arriving in Pompeii our guide informed us we were waiting for a few more people to join before the tour. Once everyone had arrived our group of 6 swelled to 45 for our Pompeii tour. Not exactly a small private tour. On the flip side we booked a Baking excursion in Cartagena through the cruise line and none of the employees in the bakery spoke any English, which was a bit frustrating for the guests who were all Americans and mostly only spoke English. 

If you do a back to back sailing with Disney be prepared that you will have to disembark the ship, check in again, and then you can get back on once the ship is cleared. If you are staying in the same stateroom for both sailings you can simply leave your belongings onboard. If you are changing staterooms you will need to pack all of your belongings and the cabin attendants will move them to your new stateroom for you. For those of us doing the Mediterranean cruise after the Transatlantic, Disney had us meet in a ship lounge by 9:45 in the morning. Crew members took attendance and then we were escorted off the ship in a group. We lined up to check back in and then we sat in the waiting area. Once the ship was cleared we were the first passengers permitted to board the ship. Once we boarded we were limited to certain lounges until noon when most areas of the ship with the exception of access to the staterooms opened up. We were able to access our stateroom at 1:30 pm. 

Disney Cruise Line is trying to do away with their paper Navigators. The Navigator is the daily schedule of events happening onboard the ship. On our Transatlantic cruise they were delivered each evening to our stateroom for the next day. On the Mediterranean cruise they were only available at Guest Services. The schedule is also available on the Disney Cruise Line App which you can access from your mobile device. I know many veteran cruisers of Disney are upset that they are trying to do away with the paper, but honestly I liked the app. 

You can see all of the events, by day for your entire cruise in the App. You can filter the events by age range, area of interest, and location. Another nice feature is if you miss a meet and greet for Mickey Mouse for example you can easily check his schedule to see when he available again for the entire cruise. To the right of each event in the App is a little heart. If you click the heart of an event you are interested in, it will remind you 15 minutes before the event is about to start so you don’t miss it. You can also view what’s on the menu in your dining room for the evening. The App also allows you the ability to text other guests on the ship. There can be a bit of lag time for guests to receive the text messages. Disney also provides wave phones in the staterooms that you can use to keep in contact with other members of your party. We found that the wave phones are getting old and don’t always work very well.

Have you been on a Disney transatlantic or Mediterranean cruise? What excursions did you love?

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