Disney Re-Imagined on Land and at Sea
(The Disney Magic, fresh from a drydock update, now boasts a slew of new spaces and features including Aqua Dunk, a thrilling outside water chute.*)
By Georgina Cruz, senior contributing editor and Disney expert
Like a fairy godmother who wows with one potent “bibbidy bobbidy boo” after another, the Walt Disney Company continues to enchant with new attractions, resort and dining novelties as well as a re-imagined cruise ship.
Here's a look at what's new for and what's next for Disney Cruise Line, as well as some new features at Walt Disney World in central Florida.
At Sea: A Refreshed Disney Magic
Arguably, making the biggest splash this winter season is the re-launched Disney Magic, which was completely transformed from top to bottom during a shipyard drydock in Cadiz, Spain between Sept. 7 and Oct. 10, 2013.
Originally launched in 1998, Disney Magic is now "re-imagined" with a slew of new spaces and activities.
She's the matriarch of the four-ship Disney fleet, as she was Disney's first ship and a sister ship to Disney Wonder.
The ship sails during winter 2013-2014 on roundtrip itineraries from PortMiami (shown in the photo at right*) in South Florida. Expect to see many new public rooms and refreshed spaces.
Without a doubt, Disney Magic's most spectacular new feature is the body slide, AquaDunk (Editor's Tip: The slide is not for the faint of heart, but if you like thrills, this is likely something you'll want to try.)
Inspired by the popular AquaDuck water coaster found on the line’s newest ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the AquaDunk is a different type of thrill ride.
Guests enter a vertical tube at the top of the ship. Then a trapdoor -- yep, that’s right -- opens. As the floor gives way, guests are propelled downward 30 feet. They zap through a transparent tube slide that extends up to 20 feet beyond the ship's sides.
I'm not much of a thrill ride or body slide fan, so I passed on the AquaDunk, but kids and teens –and plenty of adults on our sailing – couldn’t get enough of it.
Editor's Tip: Best times to ride the AquaDunk, if you dare, are in the evening when there are fewer riders.
Other water-related novelties on the Disney Magic include the AquaLab, with a 250-foot slide, geysers and other fun features, and the Nephews’ Splash Zone, for little sailors, an attraction that is themed to Donald Duck’s mischievous nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.
And the water features are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to novelties on the ship. Here are other highlights for guests boarding Disney Magic.
Art Deco Atrium
When guests board the Disney Magic and stroll into the grand atrium (as shown in the photo above*), they're welcomed via a personalized, PA system greeting:
"Now, please welcome the Delgado family aboard the Disney Magic" or "Join us in welcoming Susan and Tom to the Disney Magic." The goal is to provide a personalized guest experience right from the outset.
Guests entering this ship's three-deck Art Deco lobby will look up to see a magnificent chandelier as they stroll across hand-tufted, custom-made carpet in vibrant coral, blue and aquamarine seashell-like designs.
Opulent furnishings, a grand piano and giant portholes recall the days of early 20th century ocean liners.
The lobby's centerpiece is a cold-cast bronze statue of “Helmsman Mickey,” recently given a new luster to its golden hue.
Editor's Tip: Guests should check the daily program of activities for meet-and-greets in the atrium with Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, the Disney Princesses, Chip 'n Dale and others. Guests love having their photo taken with the characters.
New Children's Spaces
Disney’s Oceaneer Club, open to children 3 to 12 years of age, is a re-imagined, supervised children's club that fuels the imagination with activities focused on brave super heroes, adventuresome toys, fanciful fairies and Mickey Mouse and friends.
With Marvel now a part of the Walt Disney Company family, this marks the first time the Super Hero icons of Marvel are onboard any Disney Cruise Line ship. Marvel’s Avengers Academy now calls Disney’s Oceaneer Club its new home.
In a multi-day experience, children participate in activities designed around the premise that young crime-fighters are transported to a high-tech command post used by The Avengers for special missions and training Displays feature Iron Man’s suit of armor, Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer.
But the most impressive feature is the virtual reality big screen and electronic floor.
Presto, a young recruit is "virtually" dressed on screen in the appropriate super hero attire and can begin to save the day, simply by making moves on the floor. (as shown at left*)
Other new features of Disney's Oceaneer Club include Andy’s Room, where stars from the Disney-Pixar “Toy Story” trilogy seemingly come to life.
The two-level Andy's Room is "anchored" by a large Slinky Dog (shown in the photos below*), incorporating a slide. Kids will also enjoy other well-known characters such as Mr. Potato Head.
For small children, Pixie Hollow is themed around Tinker Bell.
Kids may put on costumes hanging inside a teapot (shown in the photo at right*).
At times, Tinker Bell herself might make an appearance.
You'll also find computers here tailored for use by young guests.
One new colorful area of Disney Oceaneer's Club -- The Mickey Mouse Club -- harkens back to 1950s television or the more modern series of the same name.
Today's club for kids is splashed with Mickey’s signature colors of red, yellow and black.
Here young children utilize computers, create crafts, watch movies and play games on – you guessed it – ear-shaped tables.
(The Mickey Mouse Club, a children's play area within Disney' Oceaneer's Club, is shown in photos above and below.*)
Separate from Disney's Oceaneer Club is the pirate-themed Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, also for 3-to-12-year-old children.
An animator’s studio, a pirate workshop and lab offer kids hands-on experiments and art projects.
For example, the Navigator Simulators allow young buccaneers to steer a ship through the mysterious waters of the Caribbean. (The simulators are shown in the photo above*).
It's not as easy as it seems, as many adults learned during the recent media open house onboard the ship; many had their ship "sunk." Kids, though, are typically adept in the virtual world. We observed them successfully firing cannons at other ships and taking shots at a nearby fort.
Another separate children's space on Disney Magic is the It's a Small World Nursery, designed for those three months to three years.
Trained counselors supervise the little ones. There are cribs (shown in the photo at left*) for babies.
You'll also discover toddler-sized furniture and toys and books appropriate for the littlest guests.
Older kids also have their own dedicated clubs, Edge for tweens and Vibe for teens; these were essentially left as is during the recent drydock without major changes.
Editor's Tip: Sign up your children for the kids’ clubs when you board and encourage them to attend the first get-together or activity. After that, most children typically don’t need any encouragement to attend.
One interesting feature of Disney's Oceaneer Club is that, unlike many other lines, they don't split the kids into different ages. Many siblings participate in the supervised club together. So Disney lets the kids naturally gravitate to children they're comfortable playing with -- all under the watchful eye of trained counselors.
Dining Around on Disney
Disney has a one-of-a-kind approach to dining at sea. Guests have either early or late fixed seating but they and their waiters also flexibly rotate with them through three different main restaurants each cruise.
A card placed in guests’ staterooms on embarkation day indicates which restaurant to go to each evening for dinner.
It's a great way to mix things up. With the same waiters each night, children feel comfortable and parents have the ease of knowing their waiters automatically know family preferences.
For example, a guest might request vegetarian fare each evening, such as a salad (as shown in the photo above right.*)
One of the most popular of those main dining rooms is Animator’s Palate (shown at right*), newly updated on Disney Magic with new animation-adorned walls and larger high-definition flat-screens.
During the “Drawn To Magic” experience, the restaurant’s black and white “blank canvas” explodes into color as favorite characters, such as Rapunzel from “Tangled” and Remy from “Ratatouille,” come to life.
Also, on Disney Magic cruises, the “Animation Magic” dinner show invites guests to create their own characters on a paper placemat pre-dinner. Once your creation is complete (anyone can draw in this activity), waiters take them away.
Presto, after dinner, the lights go down, the music comes up and the animation on the screens around the room begins. Guests "ooh" and "aah" as they watch their own drawings come to life and dance with characters on the screen nearest to their table.
Fortunately for most of us there is no "judging" of artistic talent. All drawings, regardless of talent or lack therof are used, as long as the content isn't offensive. It's great fun for all.
One new dining space on Disney Magic is Carioca's, which has a Rio de Janeiro vibe; it's in the space formerly occupied by Parrot Cay. It's also on the dining rotation.
Festooned with lighted lanterns, Carioca's (shown in the photo at left*) is designed to be fun by day, elegant by night. The menu also has a decidedly Latin flair.
Another new restaurant to the ship is Cabanas, a casual dining restaurant with various food and beverage stations.
Replacing the ship's former Topsider Buffet, Cabanas is themed around Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.”
In the recent drydock, this restaurant's indoor, air-conditioned space was expanded by nearly 3,400 square feet. Guests also now move from station to station in a more free flowing manner, helping to avoid lines.
Palo, the upscale restaurant for adults only, also received a makeover with stylish new fixtures, glass artwork and new stone floors.
Red and white striped poles (or “palos”), reminiscent of those found throughout Venice, are an attractive design feature.
Night-Time Entertainment at Sea
Disney Magic offers big city-style fun within After Hours, the nighttime "adults-only" entertainment district.
After Hours replaces Beat Street and offers a new line-up of clubs for dancing, comedy, music and variety shows.
Fathoms nightclub is a celebration of the sea --utilizing special effects, lighting and sound to create different ambiances from early evening to night.
For guests seeking a low-key experience, the Keys piano bar and lounge awaits
(Keys' glowing blue entrance shown in the photo at left.*)
O’Gills is a traditional Irish pub and sports bar designed with rich décor, comfortable booths, tables, high-style chairs and tables with chessboards.
This pub also offers live music and live televised athletic events.
Editor's Tip: Since Disney Cruise Line attracts many families with children, couples and singles typically find no huge crowds in the night-time adult entertainment district. That's often also the case in other adults-only areas of the ship. For example, deck chairs are usually readily available around the adults-only pool.
Larger Shipboard Spa
The ocean-view Senses Spa & Salon has been re-designed in a contemporary style.
(The guest service desk at the spa entrance is shown in the photo at right.*)
Senses Spa is also now larger, with the addition of 725 square feet. The spa now encompasses 11,500 square feet.
New spa services?
- A new Smile Spa offers teeth whitening services.
- A new barbershop offers haircuts and shaves for men.
- The new Chill Spa has treatments for teens.
New at Walt Disney World Resort
Here's a look at some of the land-based updates recently made at Walt Disney World Resort in central Florida. Many cruise clients combine a stay at the resort with an ocean cruise.
Spa lovers should know that Disney opened a new Senses Spa at the Saratoga Springs Resort in July 2013. Disney-owned-and-operated, the two-story spa may be a welcome respite after a long day walking amid the crowds and "doing it all" in Orlando area theme parks.
Senses Spa & Salon incorporates springs, nature and the storyline of health in its theme featuring design materials and textures including natural stone.
It's designed to replicate the feel of guests might have in Saratoga Springs, NY, famed for its "healing" natural springs that have drawn people for centuries.
With 10 treatment rooms, the spa has an array of services including water therapy, massages and facials.
You'll also find three manicure stations and four pedicure stations, as well as heated loungers. The wet areas have a whirlpool and steam room.
Elsewhere in Walt Disney World, the California Grill, a relaxing restaurant atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, re-opened in summer 2013 after receiving a makeover from the Puccini Group in San Francisco.
Guests will now encounter a wall of wines at the restaurant's entrance and they'll have spectacular views of the Magic Kingdom and its surroundings from every table inside and from two outdoor viewing areas.
Chef Brian Piasecki also has tweaked the menu, although the focus remains on fresh, seasonal creations.
Editor's Tip: For a romantic evening, couples can book a table at the California Grill to enjoy the sunset or the nightly fireworks in the Magic Kingdom. (See photo at right.*)
New Grand Floridian Disney Vacation Club Villas opened in October 2013. These Victorian-styled accommodations are studio, one-, two- or three-bedroom units.
Studios and one-bedroom accommodations sleep up to five guests; two bedroom villas sleep up to nine guests and three-bedroom villas sleep up to 12 guests. All units feature either kitchenettes or full kitchens. One-bedroom units and multi-bedroom villas have washers and dryers.
Essentially, these are time-share units that can be rented by the general public when available. The villas are conveniently located next to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort in the Magic Kingdom resort area. They're also on the monorail line, so it's just a short ride to the Magic Kingdom.
Editor's Tip: In addition to featuring all the comforts of home, the Grand Floridian Disney Vacation Club Villas features such luxuries as a television embedded in the bathroom mirror.
A stroll away from the new villas are the Grand Floridian’s recreational amenities including two pools, white sandy lagoon beach and marina, movies under the stars by the Courtyard pool, a jogging path by the lagoon, game arcade, and boat rentals.
The resort has multiple dining venues including the Mediterranean-inspired Citricos; the intimate gourmet restaurant, Victoria & Albert’s; and 1900 Park Fare featuring breakfast and dinner buffets with Disney characters.
Editor's Tip: For brides-to-be, the Grand Floridian Disney Vacation Club Villas are located by the resort’s romantic, Victorian-inspired Wedding Pavilion with views of Cinderella Castle across the lagoon for fairytale nuptials.
The New Fantasyland
Disney is continuing its expansion of what's being called "The New Fantasyland" in the Magic Kingdom theme park. Opened in fall 2013, the Princess Fairytale Hall is home to the Disney princesses.
The castle-like entrance has walls of stone and stained glass windows that open up into a large gallery -- an airy space with a high ceiling.
Portraits of the princesses adorn the walls (as seen in the photo at right*).
Inside, guests may meet Cinderella, Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty” and Tiana of “The Princess and the Frog” fame, to name a few of the princess encounters.
When it’s time for their royal audience, guests proceed to one of four elegantly furnished chambers to meet their favorite Disney princess. Each chamber accommodates up to two princesses.
Editor's Tip: The new Princess Fairytale Hall is a Fastpass attraction. To obtain a free Fastpass, visitors place their theme park ticket in a Fastpass machine at the attraction; it's returned with a pass enabling the guest to come back within a stipulated period of time and skip the long lines.
The next big opening within the New Fantasyland will be The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. Expect swaying ride vehicles. The coaster will open this spring.
In another meet-and-greet development, for the first time in October 2013, Mickey Mouse began talking – yes, talking in his cute high-pitched voice – to visitors at the meet-and-greet Backstage With Mickey Mouse attraction near the Magic Kingdom’s entrance.
In addition to greeting guests with such phrases as “Hi, there” and “Come on in,” Mickey also has a longer bit during which he performs a magic trick, asking guests to “Pick a card, any card.” Mickey’s mouth moves in synchronization with the words he speaks and he also blinks.
What else is new? A new float is coming this spring to the “Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade” at Magic Kingdom.
The 35-foot-long Maleficent Dragon from “Sleeping Beauty” will soar 26 feet above the parade route. (The new float is shown in the photo at left.*)
It’s been designed in partnership with Tony Award-winner Michael Curry. His previous collaborations with Disney Parks have included Epcot's “Tapestry of Nations” parade and Disney Animal Kingdom's “Finding Nemo – The Musical.”
In major news, Disney just announced basic details about an $800 renovation and expansion of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The goal is to turn the park into a full-day destination that will attracts visitors well into the evening.
The centerpiece of this multi-year expansion will be the new AVATAR-themed “land,” based on the popular movie of the same name. It will open in 2017.
(Above is an artist's rendition of one ride within the new AVATAR land at Disney's Animal Kingdom; it will open in 2017.*)
Experiencing Pandora, park guests will fly with the banchees, encounter the Na’vi and visit a rich cultural environment with mountains that float and interactive plants that glow at night.
Beyond AVATAR, a new evening show is being created for Disney's Animal Kingdom; it will combine live music, water screens, animal imagery and floating lanterns. The theme park will also have a night-time version of the popular Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.
For More Information
Walt Disney World: www.disneyworld.com
Disney Cruise Line: www.disneycruise.com
A veteran cruise journalist, Georgina Cruz is our senior contributing editor and Disney expert. Georgina's articles have appeared in dozens of regional, national and international publications over the years. Along with her husband, Humberto Cruz, she writes a weekly nationally-syndicated column, Retire Smart, often dealing with touring and cruising topics. Cruz, who also contributes to the Sun Sentinel in South Florida has sailed on dozens of cruise lines and is a veteran of two World Cruises.
* Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Susan J. Young, Disney Cruise Line or Walt Disney World Resort.