If you read my most recent Week In Review post, then you already know that I went on a 2 night “Staycation Cruise” on board the Disney Magic, sailing out of Southampton. Even with just 2 nights there is SO much I can tell you, so thought it best to write separately about my experience. With so much to include, I’ve decided to split this into three parts, each looking at different aspects of the cruise. It should be noted that some of these things may change (some things were already different from the initial sailings) and there was so much more available to do than we could possibly fit in, so my account will barely scrape the surface of all the magical opportunities available on board.
Ready to learn about booking and embarkation day? Let’s go!
Booking and Online Check In
When these UK-only cruises were announced, my sister and I found the idea intriguing. In the absence of any other Disney-related travel opportunities this summer, it sounded like something we could do to get our Disney fix, so we kept an eye out for further details being announced. Unfortunately, when those details were announced we initially believed we would not be able to go due to the requirement to be fully vaccinated (which I totally understood and supported). At that point I hadn’t even had my FIRST dose of the vaccine, and with the gap between vaccines standing at 12 weeks back then, there was no way I would meet that requirement within the summer holidays. However when the gap between doses was later reduced to 8 weeks and I found myself with a blue envelope detailing my second appointment date before the end of term, we looked at it again to see if there were any sailings still available at a price point we were prepared to pay (and a time we could sail!). The 2 night sailing out of Southampton was really our only option as everything else fell within the Scottish school term, and the price was ok – a bit more than I would normally pay for a 2 night trip, but in a climate of “revenge travel” and several cancelled trips from 2020, I was happy to pay.
Booking was very simple online. We initially booked the cheapest stateroom available – Oceanview (so a porthole window) on deck 2. We could have paid a little more to go up one deck, but we really only planned to be in there to sleep so it didn’t seem worth it for us. We could either pay in full or pay a deposit, but we just went ahead and paid in full since it was already late June at the time of booking and full payment had to be made before you could check in online (30 days before sailing).
We were also able to book any paid add on experiences we wanted such as spa treatments, wine tasting or photo packages. The only one we wanted was brunch at Palo, an Italian inspired dining experience, since I had heard this was a “must do” and booking brunch rather than dinner meant we wouldn’t miss out on seeing any of the main dining rooms.
30 days out from our sailing date we were able to begin the online check-in process, again fairly simple, just a little time consuming. We had to upload ID (we used our passports), an up to date photo (which would be attached to our account so our ID could be easily verified at any time), attach a payment method to cover each of us for any onboard purchases and then choose a port arrival time.
This was also the moment at which we could book an arrival time to attend an evening show (at this point, just one show which would be performed, twice, on both evenings to allow as many guests as possible to attend) so as to facilitate reduced capacity in the theatre and social distancing, and my sister wanted to use the onboard gym so was required to book a 45 minute time slot (again, a safety measure to reduce numbers). These were both added to our plans in the Cruise Line Navigator app (a necessity to keep up to date with onboard activities and get reminders of plans). This actually changed a few days before our sailing as restrictions began to ease. Rather than have an arrival time for one show, we were notified that there would now be more performances available to us and we could simply choose which one to go to without booking – even go more than once if we wanted to! Similarly, the need to book a time to use the gym was removed, although other safety measures such as arriving ready to work out remained in place.
As well as being fully vaccinated, there were some other health requirements to consider. Firstly, we had to upload our proof of full vaccination to the account we set up with the third party Disney was using to manage this. Everyone over 18 needed to provide this proof and anyone under 18 (who did not as yet have the option of the vaccine) needed to take a (paid for) PCR test and upload the result to the same website. Once verified, this generated a QR code which was checked at the port before we could advance any further.
In addition, EVERYONE had to take a rapid antigen (lateral flow) test at the port and have a negative result before being allowed to board (no additional charge for this one). Anyone testing positive (and those in their party) would not be able to board the ship. Throughout term time I had been taking these tests for work and my sister had used them too since her job is customer-facing, so neither of us were too bothered by this. But since we were travelling from Scotland to Southampton, we both took tests at home in the days before leaving, particularly the night before, so we knew we were negative for Covid at that point and were unlikely to get a nasty surprise!
These requirements, in addition to the enhanced measures on board – reduced capacity, social distancing, masks, enhanced cleaning, extensive use of hand sanitiser – made me feel confident that this was a controlled environment (unlike going somewhere at home when you have no idea what the vaccination status of others might be) and I was perfectly comfortable to be on board, much like when we visited Disneyland Paris last summer and felt incredibly safe on Disney property, even at a time when case numbers were rising.
All guests have a designated time to arrive at the port, this prevents everyone arriving at once and streamlines things a little more. We left ourselves plenty of time to get to the port and got there about 15 minutes ahead of our port arrival time. We fully expected to have to wait, but one of the many members of staff on hand told us we were fine to go ahead and drop off our luggage then join the queue to begin the pre-embarkation process.
First, our QR code for our proof of vaccination was checked alongside our booking number. Then we were put in the queue for the lateral flow tests. The queue moved quite quickly and there were loads of cubicles in operation (a whole party would go to a cubicle together).
A member of staff from the third party company guided us through the testing process (in essence what we had been doing at home, but with a couple of tiny differences) then took the tests away to be processed. Meanwhile another member of staff guided us to a waiting area and took us to specific seats (think school assembly hall being filled from the front) so we could wait safely. My sister was the lead name on our booking and had also set up the account with the third party testing company (with profiles for each of us) so the results of the tests were sent directly to her email really quickly.
Negative test results in hand, we were able to move into the next room to show ID and confirm our check in, go through security, then into the departure lounge to wait for our boarding group to be called. They were a couple of groups ahead of us so we maybe had 20 minutes to wait, then were called forward to join the queue to board. Our boarding documents/ID photos were quickly checked, and we were on our way!
At Southampton the ship is right there (I think at some other ports there was a bus to take guests to it) and we walked through a gangway to the ship. The part I was most excited for at this point was being announced on board. They have a member of staff to greet you, check the family name then announce over microphone:
“Disney Magic, please welcome on board the [insert name] family!”
During the announcement, guests move into the main area (known as the atrium) and are guided to a spot to stand (social distancing). Meanwhile the staff, other guests and, most importantly, Captains Mickey and Minnie (who were waiting on the atrium stairs) applaud.
Once a certain number of parties have boarded, a crew member steps forward to welcome everyone and everybody’s favourite mice dance to “Come on Everybody, Get Your Ears On”. I loved that the Disney touch was immediate, so there was no doubt about where we were.
From there, a couple more things have to be done and we were guided the whole way. Come to think of it, from arriving at the port there was quite a lot of being shunted from one thing to the next, but everyone is so lovely that you don’t really notice.
First up, we were taken through to Fathoms, one of the evening entertainment venues, where a member of staff made sure we were all set up with the app so it could be used on board.
Finally, we had to go to our muster station for the modified muster drill. Rather than have everyone gather at a certain time and listen to safety instructions, we had to visit the muster station fairly soon after boarding then use the app to take a photo of the sign there to show we had attended. The safety instructions played as a video within the app and on the stateroom tv.
With all that done, we were able to go to our stateroom. Oh, and when we got our stateroom assignment a week or two before sailing, we realised we had been upgraded from deck 2 to deck 5. I liked that location as the atrium covered decks 3-5 so it was easy to pop over throughout our sailing to see what characters were appearing there to wave and interact with guests.
Every guest gets a “key to the world” card which is basically your room key but is also scanned before any purchases to verify identity (that photo uploaded during the online check in), this also allows crew members to address guests by name, which is a really nice touch. On a cruise with port excursions, this would also be scanned as guests leave and return to the ship The cards are on the wall outside your stateroom when you arrive, and your luggage is delivered there too (I believe cases were being sanitised before being brought on board). Our cases weren’t there immediately, but there was still plenty of time for them to get there and next time we returned to our room they were waiting for us.
Within moments of arriving there was a knock at the door and our stateroom attendant was there to welcome us on board, let us know what he would be doing to look after us and see if we needed anything. Our attendant Gede, much like other crew members we encountered, drew our attention to his name badge and repeated his name during the conversation to ensure we knew who was looking after us. He was appropriately friendly and any time we encountered him in a hallway he would wave and call hello. Another touch I really liked as it made me feel welcome, comfortable and at home on board.
Things To Do
We spent a few minutes looking at the app as we were now able to see the activities available. This was when we noticed that a different show was listed for that evening. This was confirmed later when the Cruise Director made a ship-wide announcement letting us know that they were now able to offer TWO shows (one per evening, performed twice each time) and that we were on the first sailing to have this. For our first evening, we were going to see Tangled. A recording of this was actually released on one of the Disney YouTube channels during lockdown last year and I had enjoyed watching it, so was excited for a live performance. At time of writing, the recording is still available here.
We headed off to explore a bit and almost immediately a member of staff outside the onboard cinema asked us if we would like to meet Belle. Of course we did! She was doing a meet and greet and there was nobody else in there, so I had a great interaction with her. I happened to be feeling mermaid-y (what else would I pick for an at-sea adventure?) and on our way out another member of staff gave me a hint about where I might find Ariel the following day.
From there we headed to the top deck where we took some pictures, grabbed a snack then sat down to listen to the mandatory pre-sailing safety announcement. That done, we headed to the theatre (pausing only to peer in the windows of the not-yet-open merch locations!) for the first performance of Tangled (because we were on the second sitting for dinner – the show times are designed to work around that and those on first sitting would see the second show).
The show was excellent and unsurprisingly I shed a tear or two. I think it was a combination of really relating to Rapunzel in lockdown last year, finally being on board and seeing a live theatrical performance. I’m one of those people who cry at Disney anyway so I knew it was going to happen (if I’m honest, I’d already had a few tearful moments) but I think it was the live aspect that really got me.
On our way out of the theatre the shops were open (although there was a queue to get into each of them) so we decided we had time to go into just one (the one with the shorter queue!) whereupon I made sure to buy a pair of ears – I never feel like I’m truly at Disney until I’ve done that! Had I known how quickly some items were going to sell out, I might have got a couple more things at that point rather than leaving it to the next day, but you live and learn. If you’re going on one of these cruises, my advice is if you see an item you want to buy, don’t wait!
Rapunzel’s Royal Table
Next up, we got changed for dinner. While there is no requirement for formal dress (attire is described as “cruise casual”) I did want to put a dress on, not least because I had been in my other clothes since about 3am!
I loved the theming in the restaurant, with replicas of “wanted” posters from the movie, the sun logo from the Kingdom of Corona and lanterns everywhere. Perfect for the Tangled fan.
Menus for each restaurant were accessed through the app, or there was a QR code on each table to help you if you needed it. The menu looked great and although we opted for a standard three courses, the beauty of all-inclusive cruise food is that you can have whatever you want, for example multiple dishes within one course because you can’t decide or want to try something. I was pretty hungry, but was also feeling rather tired by this point and had probably gone past the stage where I could manage to eat a great deal. A bit of a shame, but I did try something from each course (my starter was particularly delicious, and as for that dessert…yum!)
We chose to have soft drinks to accompany our meal (included with the cruise price we already paid) but could have purchases an alcoholic beverage should we have wanted it.
Throughout our meal there were mini shows on a stage in the dining room featuring Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and a couple of ruffians (no doubt regulars at the Snuggly Duckling). Each one was a different short scene, with the final one bringing in the service team to parade through the room with lanterns. I suspect this may be a modified version of a show from pre-Covid times, but it was still good fun. My only quibble would be that while the sound was excellent, the view from our table wasn’t the best.
Freezing The Night Away
There were further activities available in the evening, including quizzes, bars with musical acts and adult only areas (for a quiet drink sans children). We wanted to see the Frozen-inspired show on the top deck, Freezing The Night Away. This had been performed a couple of times already and this was the final one (it was only on for this one night). We knew it was set up to be socially distanced, with each party standing in a marked off area, and with it being later on I wasn’t worried about it being really busy.
We had plenty of time and, realising it was quite cool (we were “at sea” by this point, after all) we quickly nipped back to our stateroom. My sister actually put her pyjamas on, along with a hoody, and I grabbed the spirit jersey I had been wearing when we set off early in the morning and flung it over my dress. Not my finest look, but I was glad of the extra layer!
The show was fun and included all the main characters from Frozen either on deck in front of us or on the “funnel vision” screen. At one point it even “snowed” on us! A great way to round off our day.
After the show we thought it would probably be best to get some sleep,. We both wanted to be up sharp to really maximise our day at sea, and were already exhausted from a looooooong day. We made our way back to our stateroom for the evening (where our stateroom attendant had already been in for the turndown service which included a chocolate each and a towel animal – love those!).
On the way there I ran into my good friend who works in Youth Activities. I had managed to see her briefly not long after boarding, but we had time for a good chat at this point and a quick picture – we hadn’t seen each other since November 2019 since up until the world stopped, she had been based on one of the other Disney ships and was mostly sailing out of Port Canaveral. It was so good to see her in person (plus Chip and Dale were interacting in the atrium at that point too!).
And so, to bed. Next up, details of what we got up to on our day at sea…