Disney Magic review: What it’s like to sail the original Disney ship 25 years later

Disney Magic review: What it’s like to sail the original Disney ship 25 years later

If cars are often considered classics after 25 years, how does that translate to a popular cruise ship that is sailing toward its 25th birthday?

Having sailed on Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, Disney Wish, which is still in its first year of operations, along with both Disney Dream and Disney Wonder, I was curious how my family would find things on the oldest ship in Disney’s fleet: Disney Magic.

Believe it or not, it’s been almost 25 years since Magic first set sail in 1998, so it truly is an older ship by U.S. cruise line standards.

However, age is just a number, as they say, so I was excited to experience the Disney ship that started it all. After more than two decades of service, would it be a timeless classic or a less-impressive version of the younger and bigger Disney ships?

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SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

On a chilly January morning, my family and I packed our Mickey ears and made the two-hour drive to the ship’s winter home port of Galveston, Texas, ready to find out how Disney Magic stands up to the other ships in the fleet.

How old is Disney Magic?

Disney Magic set sail on its maiden voyage July 30, 1998, from Florida to the Bahamas. However, the ship has had work done over the years, and not every piece of it is rapidly approaching 25 years old.

For example, some elements of the ship are just 5 years old because they were added or revamped during Magic’s last dry dock, when the cruise line took the opportunity to make some upgrades.

Updated attractions include the teen club Vibe, the adults-only coffee shop Cove Cave and the only “Tangled-” themed restaurant on the ocean: Rapunzel’s Royal Table.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Dry-dock refurbishments are a pretty routine occurrence, taking place every five years or so. That means the ship isn’t stuck in a 1998 time warp.

Instead, it’s quite similar in many ways to all its fleetmates except Disney Wish, which is really a part of the next generation of Disney ships rather than a continuation of the look and feel of the first four.

In other words, don’t let the age of Disney Magic scare you.

Related: 26 tips and tricks for sailing with Disney Cruise Line

The size of Disney Magic

Disney Magic may be the oldest (and tied with Disney Wonder for the fleet’s smallest ship), but it’s still a large ship at 11 decks high and 984 feet long. The 875-cabin vessel holds 3,658 passengers — 2,713 cruisers and about 945 crew members.

The ship features two theaters, five kids clubs, a spa, four restaurants (plus a buffet and quick-service food stalls) and three pools. In other words, you’ll stay busy exploring and enjoying the ship for at least several days.

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Restaurants and food on Disney Magic

Disney Magic debuted the cruise line’s rotational dining system, which is unique in the cruise industry.

Throughout the cruise, passengers rotate through three complimentary dining venues, and your serving team joins you in the different restaurants each night. Other dining options include the extra-fee, adults-only restaurant, Disney Cruise Line’s dedicated Italian restaurant. There are also casual grab-and-go venues on the pool deck.

Rapunzel’s Royal Table

My favorite of the three included rotational restaurants is Rapunzel’s Royal Table, found only on Disney Magic. Here, you get the unique experience of attending Rapunzel’s birthday celebration.

Floating lanterns dot the ceiling, and some of the stars of “Tangled” perform a musical show on a central stage while you dine. Eventually, many of the characters work their way around the room, so you can say hi to the movie’s villains and heroes. This dinner show was most similar to the Tiana-themed restaurant on Disney Wonder, which is also excellent.

Pro tip: Get the shrimp appetizer if you enjoy seafood — get two if you really enjoy seafood.

Lumiere’s

The most non-descript of the three main dining rooms on Disney Magic is Lumiere’s, which is “Beauty and the Beast” inspired. However, you’ll only know that from the roses on the ceiling and the painting on one wall.

Otherwise, it’s just a large restaurant that gives off major art deco vibes. If you need to miss a restaurant in favor of a meal at Palo or relaxing in your room, I’d pick this one as it’s the most generic of the three.

Animator’s Palate

All original four Disney ships have a version of Animator’s Palate, though it varies a bit on each ship.

The one on Disney Magic starts in black and white, but the room and the wait staff gain colorful adornments throughout the course of the meal. A special guest makes an appearance during the grand finale, which is when things really transform into full color, accompanied with exciting music and special effects.

The special guest (spoiler alert: Mickey in his rarely worn Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit) dances his way all around the room, so have your camera ready.

Our turn in Animator’s Palate happened on the final night of our cruise, so the entire wait staff came out for a round of well-deserved applause with Mickey, and it was honestly pretty emotional.

You do not want to leave early from this meal, so order extra dessert if you must and stay put until the end.

The most popular dish here may be the black truffle pasta purseittes appetizer, as it has quite the following, though it wasn’t my personal favorite. The smoked salmon tartar and vegetarian black bean chipotle cakes were the hits at our table.

Palo

The best $45 you can spend onboard a Disney cruise, to me, is unquestionably a meal at Palo.

This adults-only restaurant is open for brunch and dinner, and you can’t go wrong with either. There are sometimes last-minute openings. However, this is one meal you’ll want to book as far out as possible as it’s popular and has limited seating.

This is the only restaurant on Disney Magic where food costs extra, but the cost is reasonable for what you get. The essentially all-you-want-to-enjoy brunch costs $45 with can’t-miss items such as chicken Parmesan, wild mushroom ravioli, a seafood antipasti plate and chocolate souffle, along with flatbreads, omelets, waffles and more.

Favorite grab-and-go spots

Out on deck, you’ll also find many grab-and-go outlets, which are also included in your cruise fare. These venues serve up such basics as soft serve ice cream, pizza, fries and chicken tenders, but two of these fast-food stations were surprise hits.

Daisy’s De Lites mainly offers fruits, salads and cookies, but it also has a build-your-own chicken and rice bowl that was absolutely fantastic. Load your bowl up with everything on offer for the best results.

Another nice surprise was the Duck-In Diner counter that served pita, hummus and gyros — a welcome change from the admittedly also-delicious kid staples of tenders and fries.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: 7 ways Disney Wish surprised me

Waterslide on Disney Magic

If you want a thrilling ride on a Disney ship, by far, the winner in that category is found on Disney Magic with its mildly terrifying AquaDunk.

Where the new AquaMouse on Disney Wish is cute and family-friendly, the AquaDunk is something else entirely, making it an alluring attraction for the tween and teen crew.

On this waterslide, you stand in a booth at the highest point on the ship. When it’s your turn, the floor drops out beneath you, and you fall 40 feet only to be shot about 18 feet out over the side of the ship.

For this slide, not only do you have to be at least 4 feet tall, but you have to be OK with climbing into an enclosed capsule, having the door shut, hearing that countdown and then dropping and getting soaked.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

I tried it once, and that was enough for me to say I’ve done it. If that’s too intense for you or your kids, don’t worry. There’s a more traditional waterslide on Disney Magic, too. The Twist ‘n’ Spout slide by the AquaLab was the favorite spot for my 7-year-old.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: The best cruise ship waterslides and watery fun zones

Pools on Disney Magic

Disney Magic has a lot of strengths, but the pools are pretty basic.

Options include the AquaLab pool, Goofy’s main pool between the two funnels, a small splash area and the adult pool area. If you go during off hours, such as early or late in the day, it’s a great experience. However, the pools aren’t nearly large enough for the popularity of a midday swim.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

The adult pool area was my personal favorite of the three pools, though it’s not nearly as cool looking as the infinity pool on Disney Wish.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

In the interest of setting realistic expectations, expect pools to look much more like this (or worse) during the heat of the day.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Kid clubs on Disney Magic

Small World Nursery

While most of the kid clubs on Disney cruises are included, the one exception across all the ships is for the Small World Nursery. It’s available for little ones from 6 months to 3 years old at a rate of $4.50 per hour. This was a relatively basic space compared to the other kid clubs, but this age range is the easiest to impress.

Pro tip: There is a one-way mirror so you can check on your little one without them seeing you.

Oceaneer’s Club and Lab

The heart of Disney Cruise Line’s kid clubs are the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, which are connected and available to kids from ages 3 to 12 who are potty trained. Here, you’ll find a “Toy Story-” themed slide, crafts, video games, organized activities, competitions, an Avenger’s area and more.

Kids can enjoy free play or color, play video games or go on the slide at their own pace, but the youth staff also lead frequent group activities throughout the day. These may be a better fit for kids who need a little more support and structure to their fun.

My 7-year-old would consistently eat her dinner as fast as possible to head here and keep playing.

There’s no fee and no reservations required to come and play in these clubs. However, you will need to get a Magic Band from the kids club that is used to track the kiddos while they are in the clubs. If you return it on the last night of the cruise, you won’t be charged for its use.

Edge

Once your kiddo turns 11 (or 10 with parent permission and enough space), they can start visiting Edge, which has a submarine-under-the-sea look on Disney Magic.

It’s nearly identical to the Edge club on Disney Wonder. Youth staff lead organized activities and games in Edge at certain times during the day, but it also serves as a casual tween hangout spot the rest of the time.

Vibe

The teen club, Vibe, is open for to those ages 14 to 17, though you can get in a year early with parent permission, which is what my 13-year-old chose. Both Vibe and Edge are come-and-go clubs that don’t scan your kids in and out or track them with any sort of band.

The youth staff offer some structured games and activities, but Vibe is largely a place to hang out, play video games and get to know other teens.

Pro tip: If your teen wants to make friends on the ship, have them be active and present in the teen club on the first day when there are ice-breaker activities. Lots of unofficial cruise packs of friends form on day one, and then the teens roam the ship together, not necessarily hanging out in the club.

Related: These are the best cruises for teens

Rooms on Disney Magic

I’m sure there are some differences among the cabins on Disney Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy, but they all look the same to me.

The decor is heavy on navy, white, stripes and wood. Below is our cabin on Magic, which slept the three of us comfortably with the couch converting to a single bed. Unlike in some cabins we’ve had, this one did not have a bed that came down from the ceiling.

It did feature the split bathroom design Disney Cruise Line is known for. One small bathroom contains the sink and toilet, and a separate little room has another sink and a tub/shower combo. The layout is ideal for getting multiple people ready for the day or for bed at the same time.

Here’s a look at our most recent cabin on Disney Dream, as a contrast to Disney Magic (or lack of contrast, as the case may be).

Disney Dream. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Inside a $10,000 suite on Disney Wish

Adult areas on Disney Magic

In keeping with the approach on the other original Disney ships, the adult bars and lounges on Disney Magic are largely clustered in the same area dubbed After Hours.

Here you’ll find Keys, a piano bar and lounge with some top-notch whiskey; O’Gills Pub, which is a great place for a pint or to watch sports; and Fathoms, which is a mixed-use lounge that often serves as a meeting point for excursions or family-friendly activities during the day and as a club at night.

I enjoyed listening to a few songs in Keys after dinner a few nights. However, none of these spaces were fully my cup of tea, mainly because they were dark and not super inviting.

Also, the lounges’ layouts were not conducive to social interaction among the guests due to an emphasis on clustered seating rather than communal bar space. Or, maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, and the cruisers on Disney Magic were less interested in chatting with their shipmates than on my previous cruise on Disney Wish.

The unexpected upside of this was that I did not feel like I was missing out by ditching the bars for my room, where I could enjoy a glass of wine on my balcony.

Pro tip: This adult area of the ship is where you will find the most comfortable port holes for photos, reading a book or relaxing and enjoying the ride at sea.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: 5 reasons why Disney cruises aren’t just for kids

Shows on Disney Magic

If you ever get the chance to sail on Disney Magic — or any of the Disney ships — don’t miss the Sail Away party that takes place shortly after the muster drill as the ship pulls out to sea. It’s the most fun way to kick your vacation into high gear. Arrive a few minutes early to get a spot by the stage, especially if you have little kids.

Disney Magic, like the other Disney ships, has a movie theater where you can see first-run Disney movies. Since there is only one movie theater on Magic, it offers a smaller choice of movies than on the ships with two theaters, but it’s still a nice selection.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

The evening Broadway-caliber shows currently on Disney Magic are:

  • “Tangled: The Musical.”
  • “Disney Dreams — An Enchanted Classic.”
  • “Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story.”

We skipped “Disney Dreams,” as it was a repeat of what we’d seen on Disney Wonder. However, all of these shows are worth seeing, with “Tangled” the strongest of the three offerings. “Tangled” and “Twice Charmed” are unique to Disney Magic, in case you need to prioritize.

Fewer temptations to spend money on Disney Magic

On the new Disney Wish, I found an abundance of temptations to spend money around every turn.

These included alcoholic popsicle drinks, the ice cream shop the kids passed multiple times per day (with see-through glass walls, naturally), the Star Wars-themed bar that jumps through hyperspace, the Bayou with pay-to-eat beignets, Nightingale’s next to the kid’s club with the cocktails served in balls of ice, the coffee and cocktails in the ship’s version of a buffet, Marceline Market and so many other fun and enticing ways to part with your dollars.

While Disney Magic does not lack places to buy a cocktail, it does not have a sweet shop, Untangled hair salon, Hook’s Barbery with the “hidden” drink cabinet or specialty snacks like beignets that aren’t included in your cruise fare.

I found it easier than on Wish to simply enjoy what comes with the experience instead of feeling like you need to spend $10, $20, $50 or more several times a day to get the full experience.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: How to save money on a Disney cruise

How I wish they’d make Magic more magical

I’d love for Disney Magic to add a slide into the kids club, a brighter and airier spa and some other elements of Disney Wish that we liked, but that’s easier said than done. I do have a shorter list of more realistic upgrades I’d love to see on Disney Magic in the coming years.

This original Disney ship would benefit from at least one brighter bar or lounge, as the ship can feel cavernous at times. As I mentioned, for me, the bars weren’t inviting spaces when compared to my own cabin’s balcony. This is in stark contrast to all the beautiful bars and lounges on Wish I was excited to spend time in.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

It would also be a real plus if Disney Magic integrated a magical scavenger hunt type of activity that you see on other Disney ships. This would layer in one more thing for the kids to do on a sea day or between other activities.

Also, this is personal preference, but while I enjoy and appreciate the bold nautical theme of the classic Disney ships, I do think there’s a way to pull that off without the striped decor in the staterooms that may have sailed a touch passed its prime.

Here’s a view of a Disney Wish cabin, showing the updated decor I’d love to see on Disney Magic. It retains the deep blue but steps away from the dated stripes.

Balcony cabin on Disney Wish. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: The 3 types of Disney Cruise Line ships, explained 

Overall impressions

Disney Magic was a fun and thoroughly enjoyable ship. It doesn’t feel old, but it is smaller and a touch more quaint than the line’s newest ships.

The ship’s smaller footprint with fewer onboard temptations to spend money can be a benefit in that it’s easier to get around and just enjoy — not only the ship but also where it’s going.

Without all the pay-to-enjoy distractions, my family went to more of the gameshows, spent more time at the pools or reading on the balcony and even watched the baby crawling races, which sound bizarre but are very entertaining. 

I would not hesitate to sail on Disney Magic again in its 25th year or in the future — no matter how many newer and bigger Disney cruise ships make their debuts. 

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