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Boarding Day

Screenshot from Disney Cruise Line App showing 0 days to go!
Screenshot from Disney Cruise Line App showing 0 days to go!

5am. We woke up (involuntarily) at 5am. UGH.

We slowly got up, went downstairs to get some breakfast, watched Olympic ski jump, and got ready. Since it was a 30+ minute ride to the Port (Terminal C), I elected to call a Lyft Lux.  The Lexus ride was quite comfortable- except the driver who obviously had an affinity for techno music. Ugh.

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Kara: FUN FACT: Gayle and I have arrived at the terminal by car on four occasions now - once at Port Canaveral when my Aunt and Uncle dropped us off, once in Barcelona, once in Vancouver and once now in Miami. I’ve actually had one more arrival by car when I went on the Alaskan cruise with my parents. Typically, we take the bus.

Let me start with a theme statement: The Port of Miami is NOT the same as Disney’s private terminal at Port Canaveral. (If you ever sail out of Miami, do not hold the terminal & experience there against Disney.) I think it’s safe to say of all the ports we’ve departed from, this was by far the worst experience (for “Disney” standards).

Our Port Arrival Time (PAT) was 10:45am, but a very nice gentleman let us in at 10:30am. (SHHHH!) We were corralled to testing, where a woman was screaming the COVID test instructions to us as we trekked through the queue switchbacks.

Kara: …the woman “running” the COVID testing line. She was a hot mess - asking if we heard her instructions and then asking us to repeat them which she kept changing each time we heard her go through them. This DEFINITELY is not the well-oiled machine of port Canaveral

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Honestly there weren’t that many people there, but it was LOUD.

At this point we could already tell there were more first-time cruisers on this sailing based on their lack of knowing “what comes next” or how to complete the COVID test. The testing itself was streamlined and we soon made our way to the Waiting Area by 10:47am. There were again monitors setup to indicate test results, but we quickly figured out they weren’t synced. It was easier for us to check the Safe Passage website on our phones anyway.

Within 35-40 minutes, we saw the only thing we needed: Clear to Sail!

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Next we were herded to Check-In. (This step is very minimal these days, as most check-in is handled online in advance and key cards & lanyards are in the staterooms.) Interestingly, the Check-In line is where a “different side” of Kara came out.

For this step at Port Canaveral the crowd is divided among 5 lines: First-Time, Castaway Club (loyalty program) Silver, Gold, & Platinum, and Concierge. This is not the case in Miami. There was only one separate, virtually hidden, line for Concierge. This was highly frustrating for us and many other parties.

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I’ll admit it’s a difference between who knows what they are doing and just want to get on the ship and those who don’t. The bigger issue is this is supposed to be a perk for Castaway Club members, which is one in a list of Platinum benefits that have been removed, including not needing to choose a PAT, being given Board Group #1-2, and complimentary Palo.

As we waited in the line we assessed one of the reasons might be the layout of this terminal simply doesn’t allow for that expanded human navigation, or perhaps Miami doesn’t have the staff for the differentiated check-in desks.

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Kara: FUN FACT: This is the sixth terminal we’ve sailed out of together: Canaveral, Long Beach, San Diego, Vancouver, Barcelona, and Miami.

Kara: I am going to dive in a little more harshly on the ridiculously poor check in experience (other than with the very nice person who actually scanned our information and the fact that my amazing travel agent takes care of the vast majority of the check in activities well in advance of us ever arriving at the terminal.)

As individuals on our 15th (Gayle) and 13th (Kara) cruises, we are well versed with the Boarding process and, yet, there was no separate line for Castaway Club members. One of my biggest complaints with Disney in general is that they take loyalty for granted rather than rewarding it. Disney created a cruise loyalty program and then has regularly degraded and devalued this program. This is yet another of those examples. Everyone waited in the same line. The woman working the end of the line also had no idea how to answer questions about this which just was another way Disney demonstrated it does not have its act together in the Port of Miami.

(P.S. Had she had a simple explanation as to why they couldn’t handle this here or even known what we were talking about I don’t think I’d be nearly as upset about this as I am.)

Anyway, we simply showed our passports as the desk agent confirmed we had done everything else online. We were then directed to another waiting area until our Boarding Group (#4) was called. The speaker system here, of course playing Disney music, was inhumanely loud - for no good reason. As we waited I assisted an older first-time sailor in locating her Boarding Group.

I’d guess in roughly 10-15 minutes our number was called and we trekked with others to the ship as most of us traded stories of our efforts to escape Landon. As is our tradition we skipped the pre-boarding photo (& went around about 30 other guests). We showed our QR code virtual boarding pass again and basked in the sun on the gangway.

Kara: I will continue to advocate that there should be a “no boarding photos” express line which could speed this process even more.

Welcome Aboard, Kara & Gayle!

Spoiler! - If you don’t want to see Disney’s unique boarding, do NOT play these two videos! Also did he say “bale”?!

Video URL: https://youtu.be/VI2TikpeGXk

Welcome Aboard “show”

Video URL: https://youtu.be/RVov4lZ2PUY

We have an equivalent of this from the Fantasy, which is slightly different due to the different layout of the ship.

I love the Magic. Yet, it was at this point I remarked how small/narrow the (3 story) Atrium (Deck 3) felt, which I’m sure was in comparison to the Fantasy that we sailed in Oct. Let me assure you, two cruises in four months is NOT our norm!

Kara: Gayle and I talked a lot on this cruise about the differences in the ship and nothing made that more apparently than watching this show on a Dream Class ship and then watching it again just four months later on a Classic ship. The Classic ships are much more intimate which I like. This show really makes you appreciate that though.

We also spied our first Marvel Day at Sea photo backdrop! I was SO excited!

Kara: Me too!!

Marvel Day At Sea Photo Backdrop
Marvel Day At Sea Photo Backdrop

Keeping to the Marvel theme, the next aspect however produced Hulk Gayle. Every guest was directed (assertively) to Fathoms. I indicated, no, we were going up to Deck 4 to handle our required Muster Station check-in. “You  must go to Fathoms.”  What is going on?! This has not been the routine for any of my other 14 Disney Cruises!

Entering the multi-functional entertainment space it was immediately clear they were instructing guests how to access the “Disney-Guest” cruise-only onboard wifi and link their cruise in the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. I ALREADY KNOW HOW TO DO ALL OF THIS! WHY ARE YOU KEEPING ME IN THIS SPACE?! While the App is not new (it was in place pre-COVID), yes it has far more (required) functionality. I know they didn’t know we’d just sailed recently, but the black Castaway Club lanyard (indicating Platinum status) should have been an indicator to them. At minimum, they could have asked.

Kara: Or told us why we were going there - or better yet - have provided this information in the know before you go information that we STILL READ IN ITS ENTIRETY multiple times before every cruise. As a consultant who has a specialty in IT, I understand why they want to get what is definitely frustrating for many people out of the way right from the start but again, don’t punish those of us who do follow all the instructions in this way.

So there we sat. Trying and not able to join the wifi. No one in the room could access it. And the crew didn’t even have phones to test the App themselves, so they kept instructing as if it were user-error!

I can’t remember if Kara was able to access it, but I definitely was not. As the effort by the crew quickly dissolved, we simply left. As originally intended we headed for our Muster Station. This time I’d noted our station letter and had researched at home the location. Which I didn’t need to do. The stations are based on your stateroom location and since we tend to stay in the same area, we were at our usual Muster location: Animator’s Palate.

Kara: I wasn’t able to access the app until we got into lunch and the wifi kept dropping out. Definitely NOT a user error.

The poor crew member was having to juggle 4 binders of guest lists. Since we couldn’t join the wifi and had no access to the App, we couldn’t complete the photo task at the Muster Station. Luckily the crew member manually checked us off.

Still in frustrated speedy mode, I went to turn toward the elevators to get to our usual Cabanas for lunch. The crew member said something I didn’t catch, but between Kara and him, I stopped and asked. He noted the table service restaurant open for lunch was Rapunzel’s Royal Table.

Stop. Side Note: We typically go to the buffet so we can get exactly what we want and in preferred portions. (Actually I just wanted poolside chicken tenders, as for some unknown reason they taste better here than anywhere on land. Kara thinks it’s the salt from the sea air!) Plus the main dining rooms tend to outline a casual (read: slower) service. However, Kara knows I love Rapunzel’s. In fact, it’s my favorite across the fleet. So trying to shift into cruise mode and knowing we wouldn’t have access to our stateroom for a while, we took one flight of stairs down to Rapunzel’s. Ahhhh.

Shockingly there wasn’t anything I was really excited about on the menu. And not caring as well as knowing we’d have less time on this cruise, yes, I ordered from the kid’s menu: chicken tenders and mac & cheese. (Yum, but still not as good as poolside.) And based on the time it took I will presume the server went up to the pool grille to get my requested BBQ sauce!

I was too busy fighting with the App and trying to figure out what to change with dining, but here’s my lava cake! Dessert is always most important!

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Kara: I love to get the “peel and eat” shrimp at Cabanas but the lobster salad was a delicious choice for lunch today and started this cruise off under the guise of healthy eating. Don’t worry - it won’t last long. Also, I’m not a big Disney dessert fan as I don’t like gooey foods. That said, I had two desserts in a row at Rapunzel’s that were delicious. This one and one coming up later in the cruise.

Here is Kara’s beef empanada appetizer, lobster salad, and carrot cake.

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If you are super interested in this menu, here’s a shot of the paper menu (since the App wasn’t working)!

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Throughout lunch most of the dining room was fighting with the wifi and app. (We later learned they had done a system update that morning between the cruises.) Kara finally got it to work, but not me. I turned my phone off & on. Tried many times. Finally after removing and reinstalling the App all was again right with the world.

Here are some photos of Rapunzel’s Royal Table, a rarity with daylight!

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Fun fact: There are “hidden Pascals” throughout the restaurant!

Kara: The fun of us writing these together and then collaborating after the trip is that I get to add comments like, “I wish you would have reminded me of that on the trip! I love looking for hidden Mickeys and other hidden things. I will add that we spent quite a good amount of time in Rapunzel’s during the day on this trip which gave us the chance to notice a lot of the gorgeous little details that are along the walls - echoing her paintings from the film. It’s hard to take all that in at night during a single or even a double dining rotation in that restaurant so if you get a chance to visit the restaurants during the day, absolutely take it and enjoy the extra special touches you can see in regular lighting that may not even be as noticeable during dinner “show” lighting.

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During my struggles I asked Kara to find our dining rotation in the App. We were assigned AARRL = 2 nights in Animator’s Palate, 2 nights in Rapunzel’s (as requested), and 1 night in Lumiere’s. It seems as if a rotation from a prior cruise wasn’t being applied to ours (plus I have a habit of asking for things that don’t exist), so our first night in Rapunzel’s would conflict with our Palo reservation! Sigh.

The easiest thing to go was actually move Palo to this first night, which Kara accomplished via the App Chat with the Dining team. Since we boarded so early we had confidence our luggage would arrive in time to change for dinner, something we hadn’t anticipated.

Once all this was done, it was only then I felt like I could exhale and truly feel like I was on my Disney Cruise. After lunch we took a bit of time to capture some photos from around the ship. We definitely got the sense this sailing had a bit higher guest ratio than the Fantasy in Oct, which had 1080 guests with a capacity of 4000 (27%). Our Head Server later communicated there were 967 guests on this sailing; the Magic can accommodate 2700 guests. So our ratio was 35.8%. And it definitely seemed like there were more kids, which is expected on a shorter, themed cruise. Finally, there were definitely more First-Timers/lower loyalty guests based on the evening poll in the theater (& general overhead conversations, etc.).

The forecast for our cruise was:

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FYI, we never experienced one drop of rain!

Since our stateroom wasn’t yet available, we secured a quiet end of the Promenade Lounge. Here we spent useful time working through the App and “trying” to mark our “Favorites” to make for quick reference later in the trip.

Due to last minute change in travel plan and other priorities, I hadn’t taken the time I wanted to study for Disney Cruise Line Trivia.

Kara: After lunch we did a little photo safari for G’s travel photo library and then hung out in promenade. We did some studying for DCL trivia and I called my dad and sister for the final time before we set sail.

As Gayle mentioned, I have MANY thoughts on the Disney app - most of them not that good. I’m going to jump around a bit in our trip but compile them all here so you can skip them if you want. First, it’s nearly impossible to find the regular easy stuff you want in the app (I’m talking to you Castaway Cay map and daily weather). These should always be accessible from the page for that location’s activities. Yes - they are there. No - they are NOT easy to find. Second, this is the second cruise in a row that I’ve watched Gayle futz with the app over and over again. While I don’t have exactly the same issues of it not updating that she does (her iphone vs my android), Disney needs to deal with this as Gayle is NOT alone given how many people we heard frustrated by this on the trip. And third, FAVORITES. UGH! I can’t even. I have NO idea if I was seeing only my favorites or our shared favorites in the app. Given that we used to sit with highlighters with the paper navigator (in two colors - one for each of us) on those occasions we wanted to do something different, I still knew where she was from “the app of its day”. This is still a FAMILY vacation Disney. Let me know what my family is doing without having to mentally keep track - and let me know WHO picked which activity (maybe put my avatar in a heart like EVERY OTHER SOCIAL APP ON THE PLANET DOES). And, make the favorites easier to deal with overall. Without loads of scrolling and switching between screens I can’t actually tell if I’ve chosen five different activities in the same time slot (which I did multiple times). In general, Disney isn’t actually good at day to day user technology no matter how innovative and creative they are as a company. They certainly do not take care of the basics in any of their areas from booking to on board apps.

Note 1 about Trivia: This is one of our favorite/regular activities onboard across many subject areas. I honestly don’t remember the first time we won, because at that time they were giving away random gift; ours was a bound journal and maybe some other type of memory keepsake? The one I remember was a few cruises ago because the topic was “Disney Cruise Line Trivia”. I was most proud of this as  it further substantiates my knowledge base to benefit my travel clients! So now I felt pressure to win every time!

Note 2 about Trivia: We were shocked to have won the Marvel Trivia on the October cruise, especially because another guest crushed Marvel Super Fan Face-Off, which is intense! We were happy and relieved for that win, as we openly presumed this being a Marvel cruise, it would have far more and deeper experts on the topic than we are!

So anyway, we also used this time to create some study sheets (while we still had internet access)! Kara will forever be an educator as she joined me to “divide and conquer” some expected facts. We openly embrace #Geeks! (Stay tuned to learn how this turned out….)

Kara also used this time to call her Dad & sister, which was really code for checking in on Kona the Mini Double Doodle.

Kara: Then it was off to our stateroom to meet our host, Saddam from India. My bag was already at the door and G’s arrived about 10 minutes later so we unpacked and enjoyed the verandah for a while.

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Especially on the Classic ships, we prefer the 7A-Navigator Verandahs, which I term a semi-enclosed Verandah. It gives fresh air for both of us, sun for me, and shade for Kara. It’s an especially great choice if you expect your cruise to be windy &/or chilly. In Feb., we expected at least the chilly part. This time we were shockingly and happily WRONG!

No matter when they decide to finally retire the Magic (GASP!), I will be heartbroken. An unfair aspect is we had just sailed the Fantasy in October and it was clear that during her COVID docking, she got a new paint job. Not even when we sailed the Fantasy on her on her 51st week did the white paint appear so bright! All the ships are so well maintained! My one fault on this sailing was with the sofa/fold-down bed. It was immediately obvious our sofa had gotten overworked on one end. Plus, the “mattresses” (I use that term loosely) on the sofa beds aren’t really intended for grown adults.

As Miami is the busiest cruise port in America, we were all lined up: Norwegian, one of the “monster” Royal Caribbean, us, and a Carnival. It usually feels like we are the first or last to leave the dock. So true to form, we were the first ones to set sail. (We’re pretty sure this is intentional when possible, as they blow the “When you wish upon a star” horn at least once as we go sailing by the other ships, which they undoubtedly find super annoying! LOL!

Kara:

We went up on deck for the sail out from Miami. It was pretty, but it was no San Diego. In terms of the sail outs we’ve done, it’s easily into the third spot behind both San Diego and Vancouver.

Gayle:

Agree. South Beach has nothing on the others.

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Due to the timing and schedule change, we’d already attired ourselves for dinner, now that we were going to Palo.

(Kara thought it was weird I wanted to stop by our main dining (Animator’s Palate) to let our team know we wouldn’t be there. It felt respectful, and likely aids their pacing. That definitely made an impression on our Head Server. Then back up to Palo where the App issue continued….)

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Kara: We made our way outside to Deck 10 Aft where it was time for our dinner in Palo. The guest services team member I had chatted with through the app earlier had not actually put our reservation in the system for Saturday. That said, the incredible Palo team handled it beautifully and we were quickly seated where we met Igor (Croatia), our server. Or perhaps, were reintroduced. Igor and I both agreed that we think he served us once before.

The amuse bouche was a fried gnocchi in a wild mushroom sauce which was divine. I had the Caprese salad, the pappardelle, the pan roasted mushrooms, and the mixed berry gelato.

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G had the arancini, pappardelle, and, of course, the Chocolate Soufflé.

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The pan roasted mushrooms and the gelato were fabulous. We both thought our pasta (and lobster) was slightly overcooked - but still delicious. Gayle: I was also disappointed in the arancini. In addition to rice, it is supposed to have a filling, most commonly cheese. Neither of us could detect any discernible filling.

I would have preferred just a little more salt on the Caprese Salad but it was also beautiful and delicious. While these may sound small, this is the first true food “miss” we’ve had in more than 20 combined meals at Palo so it is shocking. Gayle: But my souffle was as perfect as ever!

And don’t forget our parting “shot” that is a combination of prosecco, limoncello, & something else?

Kara: I think the something else is apple brandy

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This was the second time we have eaten off of the new ala carte menu in Palo and we’ve found that our selections do change a bit and we definitely went lighter than we’ve gone before. In order to take advantage of the Platinum benefit ($45 off your meal) you are required to spend at least $45 which both of us barely got to. Additionally, there is now an 18% auto gratuity added to each check which is split amongst the entire Palo service team and then anything additional goes directly to your server. I’m not sure how the other service team members had been paid prior to this change, but our belief is that people were not tipping appropriately in Palo and Palo servers started to see reduced wages after the deduction taken for the other service team. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but it’s a reminder to all that the experience of Palo is not free and you do need to properly recognize your server.

We wrapped up in Palo just in time to head down to the theater for the show, with a quick stop in the shops on the way (unimpressive yet again). Gayle: The shop merch is definitely saving my budget, as yet again I purchased nothing. Disney Cruise Line - Please stop making most of the ladies apparel in white or white horizontal stripes!

The show, Disney Dreams, is universally one of our favorite shows.

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(Gayle: It’s my favorite across the fleet!) Just like in Oct., we were seated 3 seats from another party and every other row empty. While I didn’t need Frozen added to this show and I thought Elsa was way, way too much in this specific performance, overall it was very good. Circle of Life continues to be one of my favorite parts of this show. Gayle: I was creeped out by Elsa! She would have made a great Cruella! We’re also pretty sure they might have been understaffed with the Entertainment staff, as I remember more characters in the previous Under the Sea section. Yet, no “normal” cruiser would have ever noticed.

After a long embarkation day combined with a little heat we were both exhausted so it was back to the room to journal and bed before the big MARVEL day at sea tomorrow.

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P.S. I was super excited to see the chocolates are now not only Disney Cruise Line branded, but officially also Dove! (Now if Dark Chocolate were an option….)

Disclaimer: I (Gayle) am a travel agent with Authorized Disney Travel Planner agency - Off to Neverland Travel. Contact me today for a no-obligation quote!

Next up: MARVEL DAY AT SEA!

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