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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sail Away With Mickey, Goofy and the Gang

I had always thought Mickey a bit of a wimp, until I met him in Disney's private cruise terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, sashaying arm in arm with Minnie across a terrazzo floor map of the Caribbean. With his triple-E shoes, chunky white gloves and wide-eyed plastic grin, the Disney Magic's unofficial captain managed to charm me and my 10-year-old son, Danny, a stalwart Goofy fan, into posing for a picture with him and his mate. Like so much aboard Disney's first cruise ship, and in Disney World itself, the quality costuming and elegant setting had transformed a potentially cheesy moment into a beguiling bit of silliness. Even my 16-year-old cynic, Alex, trying to be as unobtrusive as humanly possible in the glassy 6,300-square-meter expanse, admitted he had almost been "sucked in by the cuteness."

It is no small tribute to the Disney Magic's designers that despite the abundance of mouse ears and duck tails on board, the 83,000-ton ship is anything but "cute." As long as the Chrysler Building is tall, and just as sleek, it is reminiscent of the grand ocean liners of the past, with a slender black hull and two red smokestacks sporting Mickey's silhouette. From the three-story atrium lobby with its sweeping grand staircase to the stadium seating in the ESPN Skybox sports club, the purposeful design and relentless attention to detail enable differently themed areas to flow together in a deco-Disney collage of warm woods, steel curves, swirls of deep turquoise and sea green and frequent, strategic splashes of primary colors.

The Magic was built according to the plans of several Norwegian and Finnish architects at the Ficantieri Shipyards in Italy, where its sister ship, the Disney Wonder, is being outfitted for a spring 1999 launching.

The cruise coordinator hopped onto the bus to Port Canaveral and shouted: "Are you people going on a cruise?" The driver to Blizzard Beach tried to strike up a round of "If You're Happy and You Know It." As the signs said, Disney employees are not a staff but a "cast."

After the 50-minute bus ride, we entered not a cabin but a stateroom f over 7 meters long and nearly 2 meters wide with a spacious veranda and two bathrooms, one with a sink and a 1.2 meter-long tub, the other with a sink, toilet and hair dryer. My favorite was a framed 1934 photograph titled "Mr. and Mrs. Walt Disney on Deck." It shows a windblown Walt holding on to his wife with his left arm and, with his right, a long-nosed Mickey puppet that actually looks like a rodent.

Our bags were waiting for us in the stateroom, along with a 12-page time chart of meals and activities, from wine-tasting to mouse-hunting, that made excellent reading material on the long line for the buffet lunch on deck nine, which was struggling through its third and final hour with lots of fresh shrimp and cold meats, accompanied by half-cooked rice and barely defrosted rolls.

But all was forgiven when the ship's foghorn blasted out the first seven notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star." As the Magic began its 13-hour cruise to Nassau, we dressed for our first-seating dinner at Lumiere's, the most formal of the ship's four restaurants.

Disney's rotation-dining system places guests in a different restaurant, but with the same table number and servers, each night. Our table for six had two empty seats, which were filled by a retired New York police officer and his wife, who generously shared the Beaujolais given them as recompense for a mistake in their seating assignment. Among the six of us, we sampled nearly every item on the five-course menu.

Lumiere's golden Parisian glow and our table, right by a large porthole, were lovely, but our three servers were overly solicitous f to the point that when I was asked for the fifth time how everything was, I finally blurted out that, to be frank, the fish was dry (for which I received a dramatic expression of sympathy but no Beaujolais).

My son Danny and I visited the Oceaneer Lab, a midship play space for 9- to 12-year-olds, when "Disney Dreams," the most elaborate of the ship's three family musicals, was canceled "due to technical difficulties." The beeper I was given after signing Danny in at the "lab," part of a clever system for locating lost parents, proved unnecessary. A half hour later we found Dan sitting in the K'nex corner waiting to leave. He had never gotten a turn at the large round table filled with computers, and no counselor had introduced him to any other activity. To be fair, it was just not his kind of place. The rest of the ship was, however.

Despite the bars and the clubs, the elaborate spa and workout rooms over the bridge, this was a cruise for children, of all ages f from the water slide and kiddie pool that was cleaned and refilled with fresh water every morning to the continuous stream of Disney tunes piped through passageways and decks. Even dinners were entertaining, especially at Animator's Palate, where columns are paintbrushes, sketches of Disney characters line the walls and desserts must be decorated before being eaten. The tender herb-crusted veal cutlets were on the oily side f but who cared? Of the three restaurants for families, this one was the masterpiece, literally revealing its colors as the evening progressed.

On a cruise with 2,150 passengers (maximum capacity is 2,400), 700 of whom were under the age of 18, and a crew of 920, we marveled at the empty tables in the bars and on deck, the uncrowded elevators, the absence of screaming children, the overall sense of space and privacy. Even at Nassau, our first port of call, where we had headed straight to the cooling waves of Paradise Island, we saw only a few of our fellow passengers lining up to disembark.

But then we arrived at Castaway Cay. Looking at the rows of beach umbrellas covering the silky sands of Disney's 100-acre private island, we wondered where everyone had been hiding. By 10 a.m. all but a few of the lounge chairs on the kilometer-long family beach were occupied, and the 4.8-hectare snorkeling lagoon was filled with hundreds of bobbing air pipes following mapped-out routes around bits of sunken ships that were beginning to attract a small number of tropical fish.

Danny and I went our own way, desperately seeking Goofy. Having missed his few early-morning appearances, we were thrilled when we finally found him f swinging in a hammock half-hidden between two palms f just before the ship's horn summoned us.

Back on board, the bouncy strains of "Hakuna Matata" filled the halls as we walked on down to dinner at the Caribbean-themed Parrot Cay, a riot of palm leaves and bright island colors. The food, as usual, was imaginatively presented, the jerk-spiced sirloin perfectly done, and our servers cheerful as always, though looking a bit pale in their multicolored tropical shirts. This time, when they asked how we were, we purposefully returned the question. Yes, they said, sometimes it was difficult working long hours and missing home (all of the ship's restaurant staff are European) f and the plastic cordiality they had learned became genuine.

My boys always ate dinner with us, although burgers and fries, hot dogs or pizza were available on the pool deck between noon and 10 p.m., and ice cream until 8 p.m. It was not the continuous flow of delectables that I had promised our son with the hollow leg, but after my elder son Alex's first night on the boat, he no longer needed any enticements from me. The Disney approach to teen-agers is brilliant in its simplicity: Leave them alone.

Only people ages 13 and 17 are allowed in Common Ground, an enclosed space on the pool deck with video games, a jukebox and a bar serving coffee and nonalcoholic drinks. Alex met teen-agers from all over the country there and at dance parties, as well as on the Teen Junkanoo Jam Cruise, a Saturday night boat trip around Nassau harbor, with a live band and no parents. He was the last one back to the cabin every night, obviously reveling in his first tastes of freedom and romance.

How To Get There

A week-long combination of a cruise aboard Disney Magic and a stay in a hotel near Disneyworld in Florida costs around $2,500 for a family suite with verandas that sleeps four or $1,300 for a standard room with an inside cabin. Prices vary seasonally. Hurricane season (now) is value season. Until the end of November, Delta flies daily to Orlando, Florida, via New York for $550 plus airport tax.