Scotland on Sunday Travel - All at sea with Mickey, Minnie and friends on board the Disney Magic for the cruise ship’s inaugural UK summer staycation.
Steam cyclones off the gently rippling surface of a 40-degree whirlpool spa like clouds of freshly spun candy floss and my tired muscles surrender to the kneading jets of water.
As I recline, my upside-down panoramic view of the adults-only Quiet Cove on deck nine of the Disney Magic cruise liner suddenly falls into shadow.
A six-foot tall bloodhound and pointer mixed breed with white sailor’s cap perched jauntily atop his head is waving at me, a candy apple tongue lolling from one side of his mouth. With exaggerated paw gestures, Pluto playfully motions me to make room in my swirling oasis.
Just then, a serendipitously timed horn signal comprising the first seven notes of When You Wish Upon A Star startles him – and not for the first time on my Disney Magic At Sea staycation cruise, full-throated laughter gurgles uncontrollably from my body.
International theme parks and resorts are currently off-limits due to Covid-related travel restrictions so these family-oriented two or three-night cruises exclusive to UK residents bring immersive Disney storytelling and entertainment to waters around London Tilbury or Newcastle upon Tyne until early October.
Cruises head out to sea so health screening before boarding is scrupulous. Adults must submit proof of full vaccination (seven days after the final dose as defined by the NHS) while under 18s require proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test result costing £79 through Disney Cruise Line’s third-party partner.
A further negative test result from a self-administered nasal swab at the port grants giddy admission to the liner and a personalised guard of honour into a lustrous Art Deco atrium guarded by a bronze statue of Mickey dressed as a helmsman.
The ebullient mouse and his coquettish girlfriend descend a sweeping staircase to deliver a rousing musical salute, which segues into a muster drill beneath distinctive yellow lifeboats, supposedly the same colour as Donald Duck’s webbed feet.
Hand sanitisers discreetly proliferate and face coverings are mandatory indoors for guests aged 11 and older except when eating and drinking.
To promote physical distancing, maximum occupancy of 2,700 passengers has been reduced.
As a cruise debutant, I’m pleasantly surprised by a spacious stateroom with private veranda, which can snugly sleep four. Curtains between the queen bed, single sleeper sofa and upper berth politely divide the room.
Seventy percent of staterooms have ocean views and most have split bathrooms – a bath/shower and sink separate from a second sink and toilet. It’s an American ship so pack an appropriate adapter.
Busy daily programmes of activities, accessible via the free-to-download Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, begin at 8.30am and include bingo, karaoke and violinist Anna Bachkalova performing Disney songs.
Meet and greets are replaced with frequent “appear and wave” sessions where princesses, Disney characters and Marvel superheroes enjoy socially distanced encounters and pose for masked selfies.
The 40-foot-wide proscenium stage of the 977-seat Walt Disney Theatre hosts two performances daily of Tangled: The Musical while the 278-seat Buena Vista Theatre screens blockbusters and animations including Black Widow and Cruella.
Outside, where masks can be removed, Elsa, Anna and chums belt out songs from Frozen in the aptly named Freezing The Night Away celebration, which culminates in a snow storm to the melody of Let it Go.
Children aged 3 to 12 have their own dedicated spaces where The Oceaneer Club hosts storytelling and character interactions in themed areas including Andy’s Room from Toy Story with a Slinky Dog slide.
Nearby, the Oceaneer Lab invites escape to Never Land aboard Captain Hook’s pirate ship with a hands-on arts-and-crafts studio, animation station and video games.
Connecting to the ship’s wifi network to access the Navigator app is free but posting on social media and accessing emails necessitates the purchase of additional data.
A unique dining system rotates guests through signature themed restaurants at two nightly seatings.
Oversized palettes feature at Animator’s Palate, which harnesses Tinker Bell’s pixie dust to transform a cavernous dining room festooned with static black and white hand-drawn animations into a colour-saturated multimedia spectacle.
Angus beef tenderloin dusted in ginger teriyaki, served on a bed of molten wasabi mashed potatoes, is a particular highlight of the main courses.
In Rapunzel’s Royal Table a participatory Tangled-themed dinner theatre hosted by the Snuggly Duckling Thugs an appetiser of Ahi tuna tartare served with a sesame wonton crisp and sweet chili mayonnaise is buoyant on taste buds.
With the exception of Palo specialty dining on deck 10, exclusively for adults with a formal dress code, all meals are included in the price. Soft drinks are complimentary with meals but additional charges apply for beer, wine and bottled water.
Alcoholic beverages and sodas in the three bars and lounges on deck three also incur extra charges but there is a free soft drinks beverage station including tea and coffee on deck nine.
Sloshing water abounds in Goofy’s Pool, which welcomes families to a splash zone of pouring paint cans and a double-looping Twist ’n’ Spout waterslide.
The loudest screams are reserved for AquaDunk on deck 10 where the 212-ft long waterslide sends guests along a translucent tube that curves over the ship’s side.
Having fun can be exhausting so the Senses Spa & Salon on deck nine provides a perfect retreat with a gym with treadmills looking out to sea and a 50-minute Swedish massage (£94) is deliciously soothing. I’m sure my masseuse credits her dextrous handiwork for my contented grin as I recall Pluto in the whirlpool spa. However, in the aromatically scented moment, it’s unabashed puppy love.
How to plan your trip
Disney Cruise Line (disneycruise.co.uk; 0800 171 2317) offers two or three-night UK staycations sailing on Disney Magic from London Tilbury or Newcastle upon Tyne from £2,392 for two adults and two children (ages 3-12) sharing a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom including full board meals, inclusive entertainment, taxes, fees and port charges. Price based on September 17, 2021 departure for a three-night staycation from London Tilbury. Costs for additional services and experiences on board and Covid testing apply.
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