Magic At Sea Staycation Disney Cruise - Overall Review
Welcome to Mickey From The UK’s Magic At Sea Disney Cruise Series. We share reviews, experiences, and more of the Magic At Sea Disney Cruise staycation happening in 2021. After you’ve read this article, feel free to click here to view all our Magic At Sea content or click here to signup to our email club to get these articles delivered to your email inbox.
What Is Magic At Sea?
For those who don't know, this summer, UK residents can set sail on a unique staycation aboard the Disney Magic. There will be limited 2-, 3- and 4-night cruises departing from Southampton, Newcastle, and London Tilbury (Liverpool is now sold out).
The Magic Begins
I'll start by saying these cruises on the Disney Magic ship is a dose of Disney magic we've all not had in what has felt like a very long time. It's so good to have something that feels like an actual holiday, only made better with the fact it's something Disney. We bumped into two girls on the first night, they looked at us dressed in our Disney attire and she said "it's so good to be around my people again". I couldn't have said it better myself.
Parking & Testing
To experience Magic At Sea all adults 18+ must be fully vaccinated, and children who are not fully vaccinated must submit a negative PCR test up to 5 days before sailing. On embarkation day, all guests must take a rapid flow test before boarding.
We arrived by car and headed into the cruise parking area. There were cruise parking teams and Disney cast members directing cars into the car park. I wasn't sure how the embarking process would go, but it became clear that we would drop off our bags and then get our rapid COVID test (LFT) while we're still in the car before we park up. We're greeted by one of the Prenetics (Project Screen) staff members who hand us our swab and a bag. You either swab your throat and one nostril, or just two nostrils. You place the swab in the bag, hand it back, and park up. At this point, you wait in your car for the email to say you're negative. It was so incredibly nerve-wracking waiting for the email to come through, and looking around at all the other guests waiting in their cars, the feeling was quite mutual. If you test positive for COVID, you'll have a chance to take another test and go through some health screenings. If you are denied boarding due to positive tests, you don't have to worry, you will be fully refunded. After about half an hour, we got the email to say COVID was not detected and we could head for the terminal. Excitement intensifies. We left the car park and located the area where we check-in (after getting a little lost), and from there we were bused over to the ship.
We got off the bus and headed towards the ship. This was my first time seeing any Disney cruise ship in person, and I was a little taken back by the size and beauty of her.
As I have not been on a Disney cruise before, I generally had no idea what to expect when I entered the ship. When you board the ship, a cast member is waiting for you who welcomes you aboard and sends you up the lift to deck 4. You're greeted by a cast member who assists you in getting connected to the wifi and making sure you have the Disney Navigator app set up correctly (we'll come back to that). Another cast member then calls you forward and asks for your family name. The cast member then (through his microphone) announces you and asks you to step into the Atrium. When you turn the corner and look down, Captain Mickey & Minnie are there welcoming you aboard.
I won't lie, this choked me up. I totally didn't expect or know they'd greet us, and it was just so, so, so good to see them again. After a wave and a few photos, we did our mandatory emergency drill where we find the location of our meeting point incase of an emergency. Because of COVID, all you have to do is go to your specific point and scan it with your phone. Cast members will be on hand to assist you.
After our drill, we went up to deck 6 to our room. There are three sections of the ship, the aft (back), midship (middle), and forward (front). The Atrium was in midship and our room was in Aft, so we went up the lift and headed towards the back of the ship. Our bags were not there yet, but our Key To The World card keys was, so we went straight in and checked out our room.
At Walt Disney World, you used to get Key To The World cards before Disney introduced MagicBands, so it took me back seeing them again on this cruise. This card is your room key and displays important information. The big letter at the bottom (for me it was N), is your meeting point on deck 4 in case of an emergency. Deck 4 is where the lifeboats are located. You'll then see your dinner time and table (which is the same for every night) followed by three letters. These three letters indicate which restaurant you'll be eating at for each night of your cruise. As you can see below, mine says "ARL". This means on the first night, I'll be eating at Animators Palate, the second night I'll be eating at Rapunzel's Royal Table, and the third night will be at Lumiere's.
The cruise itinerary, virtual queues, and menus are all done through the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app. You don't have access to all of this until you're onboard, but when you are, you'll see all the activities happening throughout the day, and get access to the virtual queue for the kids pools.
When you're at the restaurants, each table has a little QR code you can scan which opens up the menu within the app. Paper menus are available on request for those without phones.
The app can also be used to chat with guest services (which I used on a few occasions), and you can chat with other people in your party through the built-in messaging feature. Although, not everything is listed on the app. There were a couple of character pop-ups that weren't on the app, but they were on the today section on the "watch TV" channel on the in-room TV's. It's worth watching it each morning to see what's going on that day.
COVID-19 & Cleaning
I can happily say Disney is going all out with their cleaning. It seems like every corner you turn there's a cast member wiping surfaces down. They're constantly wiping down banisters and railings all over the ship at all times. Our servers in the restaurant were constantly sanitising their hands as well. They weren't doing it in a way to make it obvious to people, for example, just for show. A lot of the time they were just holding their hands beneath their stations and applying some sanitiser quite discreetly, but I was specifically watching out for it. Whenever you enter a shop, restaurant, or area, you are required to sanitise your hands. There are sanitiser stations on exits as well for your use, but cast members are stationed at entrances to make sure everyone sanitises.
There are three fine dining restaurants onboard. If you're doing a 3- night, you'll eat at all three. If you're doing a 2- night, you'll eat at two (picked by Disney), and if you're doing a 4-night, you'll eat at all three and one of them twice (the repeat picked by Disney as well). Disney offer what they call "rotation dining", which means that the servers will follow you around for each night of your cruise. So when you dine at each of the different restaurants, you'll have the same servers for each one. This is great because they remember your preferences, drinks, etc which improves the overall service. Although it adds to the sadness of getting to know your servers when you have to leave on the final night.
On that note, a big shout out to Elvin and Ariyasa for being fantastic and friendly servers, and also Felice for making sure everything was going smoothly for us. There's nothing they wouldn't do for us, and they did a brilliant job on each of the nights.
All three restaurants were fantastic. It might seem cliche but there is no part of either of the restaurant's experiences that we didn't thoroughly enjoy. Also, even though it's fine dining, you can eat as much as you like. You can order whatever you want, have as many courses you want, drink as many soft or hot drinks as you want. You can eat and drink until you burst. It was quite daunting at first. Free tip: bring loose clothes. On the first night, we ate at Animator's Palate. The restaurant has such an amazing Disney animation vibe and really kicked the cruise off to an amazing start. I wanted to steal a couple of the Steamboat Willie chairs, they're stunning.
You're presented with some paper and coloured pens to draw your own character, which later in the evening is brought to life. It was so much fun.
On our final night, we dined at Lumiere's. Lumiere's has such a beautiful and calming atmosphere. There's a pianist playing Disney tunes throughout the evening, and the restaurant has such a soothing elegance to it.
For breakfast and lunch, one of two of the above restaurants do open (with different menus), as well as Cabanas. We went to both Lumiere and Rapunzel's for breakfast and lunch at least once, and they were both serving fantastic food throughout the day. The Southern Hash was my favourite.
If you don't fancy having a sit-down breakfast or lunch, you can visit Cabanas. Which is a quick-service type of restaurant that's open for most of the day for quick-service meals. You can also visit Duck-In Diner for burgers and hot dogs, Daisy's De-Lites or small healthier options, or Pinocchio’s Pizza. There's also an ice cream station where you can go grab a cone (or three) of vanilla or chocolate ice cream.
If you prefer to just chill in your room and order room service, you can do that. It's available 24 hours a day (except on the final night) and you can order whatever you like, as much as you like. On the first night, we turned in around 11pm and ordered some room service to try it out while watching Frozen 2 on the TV. You just use the phone in your room, press room service, and ask for what you want! What's amusing is the cast member kept offering us more things (things that were included). "You want some extra fries? Some glasses of water?" It arrived within half an hour, and we just ordered a selection of American favourites to nibble on.
There are some items that are not included which have an additional fee (like wine and bottles of alcohol), but those are clearly marked on the menu. We only ordered things that were included.
All your hot and soft drinks are included. This applies to the restaurants as well. There is a section at the back (aft) of deck 9 where you can go and get a drink. There is a selection of sodas, water, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. In normal times this would be self-service, but at the moment they have cast members stationed there who will pour the drinks into cups for you. You don't have to order them one at a time. You can order 5 cups of Minute Maid Lemonade and take them with you. They'll even provide you with a tray! Next to the Ice Cream station, there is a shop where you can buy specialality smoothies, these are not included, but an option if you want something a little more fancy. If you need some top-quality coffee, you'll want to head to Cove Cafe (however this is in the adult section of the ship). The coffee here does cost extra, but they're so good.
Bars & Lounges
There are five main places onboard to relax and get a drink. We have the Promenade Lounge and D Lounge open to all guests which has a full-service bar, and the former has live musicians in the evening. The other lounges are for adults only, and they start with the deck 9 outdoor pool bar called Signals. Inside there is O’Gills Pub, an Irish-themed pub. Fathoms is a nightclub inspired lounge, and Keys is an elegant piano bar. Finally, there is Cove Cafe, where you can purchase speciality coffees and cocktails. (Specific Bar & lounge reviews coming soon)
Off We Sail!
On the first night, we finished our dinner around 730pm and noticed we hadn't left Liverpool port yet, so we headed up to deck 9 and noticed people gathering on the starboard side of the ship. We found a nice socially distanced spot and looked over and saw a small crowd of people back on land waving us off. At around 745pm, the captain honked the when you wish upon a star horn and then confetti cannons and smoke on the port started firing off with Circle Of Life playing on the speakers. And then... fireworks! It totally caught me off-guard and made me jump! Fireworks going off with guests cheering and Circle Of Life playing in the background got me all choked up as well.
Let's Go Explore
After we set sail, we explored the ship. The ship is beautiful and it's great fun finding all the little Disney touches everywhere. Both the lower decks and upper decks are stunning, and even the photos below don't do it justice.
A Disney cruise would not be complete without characters, right? Thankfully, there's plenty of them. You'll see the fab 5 in various costumes throughout the voyage (including dressing up as their favourite Marvel characters). There were also lots of princesses and Marvel characters as well.
You'll find characters all day in the Atrium area (deck 3, 4, 5) as well as characters popping up on random parts of the ships. Sometimes up on deck, and sometimes just walking around. On the second morning, some characters were in the Buena Vista Theatre dressed as Marvel characters, and they looked fantastic.
The characters were stood down on the Buena Vista Theatre stage, and it's not wheelchair accessible down there, and after we met Donald and Pluto the party behind us were stood at the top of the theatre but couldn't go down the stairs to meet them. The cast member at the top asked if they wanted to go down, and they said they couldn't. The cast member then called to Donald & Pluto to come up the stairs to meet them at the top, which was really nice to see.
However, what amused us greatly was the cast member who was at the bottom near the characters didn't realise what was going on and just looked up to see Donald & Pluto walking off the stage up the stairs. She got in a bit of panic and she said in a stern tone "our friends are meant to be down here", to which the cast member at the top replied, "but our friends up here cannot travel down the stairs to see our friends". I'll never forget that interaction and how cast members are taught to address each other in heated situations.
As I've said, characters pop up at random times and places. They even pop up at some of the game shows, so make sure you check them out! Mickey & Donald surprised us at the end of the Mouseketeer Madness game show.
Things To Do
Disney runs events and game shows throughout the day. Other than the alcohol tasting activities and Bingo, it's all included. We did a few of the game shows - all of which were a giggle - and as I said earlier, you sometimes get a surprise character or two pop up! You can check the Navigator app at any time to see what's coming up. You can "heart" activities later in the day and you'll get a notification 15 minutes before it's due to start. We also took part in Bingo which costs extra, however, we won! Our bingo, game show & entertainment review >
A lot of the alcohol tasting experiences were sold out when we first went to book some, but a few days before sailing we noticed the Champagne tasting one pop up and decided to book it. The cast member explains the story behind Champagne and all its history while we sit there in a calm and relaxing area sipping different Champagnes.
If you don't want to be buzzing around doing game shows and hunting for characters, you can just relax on the top deck pool areas. There's plenty of places to chill with sun loungers everywhere and two family pool areas and one adult-only pool area.
No Cash, Onboard Account
I only used cash once, and that was to tip the room service cast member. Although I didn't even need to do that because he had a slip to charge a tip to my onboard account. Everything is charged to your room on these cruises. You don't need to get your wallet out at all. When you order at a bar or buy something in the shop, you just supply your room number, the cast member checks the photo and name, and it gets charged to your room and off you go. You can view the current balance on the app at any time.
Disney Dreams (Walt Disney Theatre)
Each guest can book (30 days before your voyage) a seat in the Walt Disney Theatre to watch Disney Dreams. Each guest will be able to book at least one show, and if there's extra availability onboard, you can see it again. The reason for this is because of the physical distancing in the theatre. The show was incredible. Disney requests guests not to take any photos or videos of the main show, so we didn't. However, Mickey & friends come out for a little pre-show before the main show which was greeted by thunderous applause.
Celebrating The Return Of Magic
This whole experience was very emotional overall. From seeing Mickey & Minnie again after what has felt like a very long time, to the fireworks on our departure. On the third afternoon, the captain made an announcement that at 2pm cast member servers will be coming around with complimentary drinks (rum cocktail, beer, or mocktail) so everyone onboard can raise their glass to celebrate Disney Cruise line back in operation. We were playing Bingo in Fathoms at the time and it was a great moment with everyone raising their glass celebrating the return of some Disney magic.
Expectations & Issues
There's only one issue I had on my stay, and that was the air conditioning in the room not being particularly effective. I used the guest services feature on the app and they sent over a maintenance cast member to look into it, and the issue was fixed. Guest services followed up to see I was happy with the fix, and even our stateroom host knocked on our door to make sure we were happy with it as well, which was really nice of them. For those who throw your phone at the wall when My Disney Experience doesn't play ball, I'm happy to say the Navigator app is very stable. I think it crashed on me once when I was copying and pasting some text to guest services chat, but other than that, it worked like a treat.
I didn't have many expectations going into this cruise. I've never done a Disney cruise so largely didn't know what laid ahead. The food and service were all fantastic, the cast members were as friendly as ever as I hoped and expected, and there's plenty to do if you want to keep busy or you can just relax and have a calm and zen cruise. The restaurant experiences blew away my expectations, as well as the number of cast members they have keeping everything clean. Even things like Disney reducing your onboard account by 2% to take into account bank fees due to them charging in USD. I've never seen them do anything like that. (Of course, you should just use a 0% international credit/debit card and just pocket that 2% discount).
As you might have already guessed I've been itching for something Disney since Disney World was cancelled in 2020, and it feels really good to be able to do something, and this cruise filled that void perfectly. It was great to see the characters again, great to see the cast members so excited to be back, and amazing to see fellow Disney fans together again. Even pushing aside getting emotionally caught up in what's happened in the last 18 months and finally being able to do this again, this cruise was a great experience. Even from a critical unemotional perspective, there was so much to do, so many surprises, and fantastic food. Major kudos to all those involved to have this new UK staycation type cruise run so smoothly after so long not in operation. Would I Disney cruise again? I'll be honest, I'm looking at adding a little 3-night cruise on the new Disney Wish at the end of next year's Disney World holiday...
The Magic At Sea UK Disney Cruise staycation is sailing on select dates through the summer of 2021 from multiple ports. Prices and dates are listed here, or you can click the link below to be directed to the Disney Cruise Line website for the most up to date information and booking options.