A Disney Mediterranean Cruise Review – Disney Magic
Disney Cruise Updates
This post was written after our first two Mediterranean Disney cruises. Our third cruise, in Northern Europe, wasn’t as good, mainly because the cold weather drove everyone inside which led to overcrowding and highlighted issues that we kind of glossed over on previous sailings. My open letter to Disney cruises on what they can improve is HERE.
Then in 2023 we took our forth Disney Cruise, on the Disney Fantasy, in the Caribbean. My review is HERE.
Planning for a Disney Cruise
January is a perfect time to think about not only doing a cruise with your kids this coming summer but doing a cruise with your kids next summer. Disney announces their summer cruise schedules roughly 16 months in advance and some of their popular and unique itineraries sell out quickly. If you’re interested in one of their sailings, grab a reservation before it’s too late.
So, that begs the question: should you be interested in one of their sailings? That depends on your family and your budget, but in general my answer is yes. It’s a great vacation for young and old alike, with some caveats.
We’ve now gone on two Disney Mediterranean cruises with our three kids. The first was to/from Barcelona, stopping in Malta, Palermo, Naples, Civitavecchia, La Spezia, Corsica, and Villefranche. The second of our Disney Mediterranean cruises traveled from Venice to Barcelona, visiting Athens, Ephesus, Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, and Malta. Our kids were 1, 3 and 5 for the first cruise and 4, 6 and 8 for the second. After a total of 24 nights on the Disney Magic, here are my thoughts:
Best Ages for a Disney Cruise
I touched on this in my post about the best ages to travel everywhere. We’ve seen everyone from babies just a few months old to people in their 80s on the cruises. Disney cruises do a good job of entertaining everyone, but it always looks to me like the teenagers are having the most fun on the ship. I honestly don’t think that kids under two are going to get much out of Disney cruises. Any other age will be able to find things to do.
Disney Magic Kids Club
A lot of people ask me about the kids’ clubs on Disney cruises. Honestly, of all of the things to do on the ship, the kids club hasn’t been a top choice of my kids. The club is well organized and well supervised, and there is an ever-changing agenda of things going on (like fairy tale hours or science hours), but whenever our kids have chosen to spend some time there, they invariably get bored after half an hour or so and want to leave. That’s likely not representative of all kids though.
Disney Magic Ship Activities
There are activities on Disney cruises for every age beyond the kids club. Our default on our Disney Mediterranean cruises was always the pools. The pools are good and never seem overly crowded, even on days at sea with 1,000 captive kids on the ship. Our kids enjoyed the waterslides, but I would highly recommend waiting to go them. The line for the Aqua Dunk – the slide that drops suddenly and shoots you in a tube over the side of the ship and back – was over half an hour the first day of our most recent cruise. But by halfway through the trip, there was no line at all.
If you don’t feel like the pool on your Disney cruise, there’s shuffleboard. There’s a sports court. There are movies always showing, including new Disney releases. There are constant character appearances. There are classes on napkin and towel folding. There are cooking classes. There’s a spa. There’s a gym. There’s Bingo (the only gambling on the ship). There are decent-quality, Broadway-type shows. There are magicians for kids. The list goes on. I always kind of preferred to relax with a book, but I think I was in the minority.
Disney Magic Rooms / Cabins
We booked a two-room Concierge suite on the first of our Mediterranean Disney cruises. It came with a personal attendant who would do things like bring us DVDs and popcorn, and surprise the kids with stuffed animals. The setup of the room on our Disney cruise was nice, with a larger bathroom and a dining table, but it wasn’t worth the money. We didn’t really need the option to dine in our room, and we didn’t watch too many DVDs or eat too much popcorn.
So the second cruise we instead booked two connecting rooms with balconies. This was far less expensive, and although there was a little wasted space in that we didn’t really need four sinks or six beds, it worked out great. Disney even removed the balcony divider for us so that we had one long balcony instead of two smaller ones. Just another reason to book far in advance: there aren’t many connecting rooms, so if you’re a family of five or more, you need to reserve them quickly.
Disney Magic Food
The food on our Mediterranean Disney cruises ranged from not good to very good. There are three restaurants that you rotate among, with the same servers at each. While my foodie wife was fairly disappointed in the food quality, I was decently happy most nights (except when I ordered fish – it was usually really dry). My kids were nicely adventurous, going for venison, Cornish game hen, duck, and other more unique entrees off the adult menu far more often than they ordered off the kids menu.
One of the biggest letdowns during our Disney Mediterranean cruises was Greek Night, but really how is a kitchen catering to 2,500 people going to compete with the lunches in the local tavernas on the islands that we were eating every day?
Disney Mediterranean Port Excursions
On our first cruise we did three official Disney port excursions. One was good and uncrowded – to Montserrat in Spain. One was decent but very crowded – to Pompeii. And one was terrible and crowded – a pottery-painting workshop for kids in Palermo, Sicily. What we took away from this was: never book the cruise-sponsored excursions! On our second cruise we did research well in advance, determined where we wanted to roam around by ourselves (Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini) and where we wanted guided tours (Venice, Athens, Ephesus, and Malta), and then booked the tours with the top-rated guides on TripAdvisor.
All tours turned out to be far better than the previous Disney excursions, they were all at our pace, and they were all far less expensive than if we had booked through Disney. An added benefit was that each tour was timed to avoid the crowds from our ship and other ships. Every night on the ship when we were listening to other cruise-goers complain about their tours, we felt like we made the right decision.
My post on every one of our Disney cruise port stops, what we did and what we would recommend, is HERE.
The Disney Element
So obviously the cruise experience is largely Disney-themed. You’ll see characters walking around and posing for photos, hear a constant Disney soundtrack, and be very much surrounded by Disney while dining. What’s interesting is that the Disney experience is a bit of a time warp. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Chip and Dale – the old-school characters? They’re everywhere. And there’s a night dedicated to Pirates of the Caribbean – the 2003 movie more than the theme park ride.
But if you’re looking for characters from the most recent movies? Well, the younger passengers are dressed like them, but Disney largely ignores them. Frozen, the biggest animated movie of all time? There were a couple of character appearances, some screenings of the movie and a themed kids menu one night, but otherwise there was no sign of the movie – not at Animators Palate, the animation-themed restaurant, not on the soundtrack and and not in the shows. And we cruised a full eight months after the movie came out – plenty of time for Disney to have taken elements from it and incorporated them. Brave, Tangled, Up and Cars? Barely present. Yet if you’re a fan of the Emperor’s New Groove and Hercules, which not coincidently came out close to the Disney Magic’s maiden voyage, you’re set.
My kids liked the overall Disney presence. I was fine with it. My wife by the end of the cruise very tired of the Disney theme and forced cheerfulness of all employees/cast members, feeling like she had been trapped in a theme park for 12 days. And even when you get off of the boat it’s not over – on the bus to the airport in Barcelona they were showing yet more Disney videos. Two weeks in Paris post-cruise worked nicely to remove us from a Disney mindset. And no, we didn’t go to Disneyland Paris or into the Disney store on the Champs-Elysees.
Quality of the Experience
Having been subjected recently to a cruise on Royal Caribbean, I have to say that Disney cruises are far nicer, and Disney just does things better. On Royal Caribbean, there was a constant push by the cruise line to get you to spend more money – on alcohol, art, jewelry and gambling primarily. Disney cruises don’t hit you over the head with any of that. Sure there are the Disney Vacations desk and a few stores, but otherwise, there’s an overall appreciation that you paid in advance for the all-inclusive cruise experience and, other than wine, laundry and pirate costumes, there’s not much to add to the room tab.
Disney Magic Feedback / Summary
One thing that annoyed me on both of our Mediterranean Disney cruises is that there are plenty of areas in which Disney could improve, but they don’t seem to want to hear about them. There is a “comments and feedback” form at the end of the cruise that everyone is encouraged to return, but really it’s just a series of ratings and there’s no room for actual comments. And when I asked Disney about this on their web page, they quickly deleted the comment.
Despite that, I would recommend a Disney cruise if you want your kids to have fun in a safe environment for a week to two weeks, with (largely) interesting port stops. But definitely book in advance. When we took our Greek cruise in 2014, the following summer’s Norway cruises were already sold out. We booked our Summer 2016 cruise early in March 2015. Check Disney’s website (http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/) for current availability.
Have you gone on a Disney cruise? What was your impression?
Mark Prior says
Kids or no kids I would certainly echo the point about organising your own excursions. I’ve only done one non National Geographic cruise, on Silversea in the Caribbean, and the organised tours were largely rubbish. I noticed that a number of people were hiring taxis and that was possibly a better option but now having searched for personal tour guides through Tripadvisor I would certainly do that if I was crazy enough to take another cruise.
Another tip I discovered too late was a number of people left the ship at the last port stop (in USVI) and avoided the two days at sea to get to Port Lauderdale. If you’re time poor (or have better things to do, like flying to Rio 🙂 then cutting off a sea transit by flying out of the last port of call is something to consider.
Good advice on leaving the ship early, but it really depends what your goal of the cruise is. If you’re just looking for transportation to ports, then absolutely, cut off the last couple days. But with Disney, as far as the kids are concerned, days at sea are more fun than the port stops. If you’re there to make your kids happy – which really is the main goal of booking Disney in the first place – you wouldn’t want to shorten the cruise at all. You’d just be throwing money away.
Very informative and well written article! Thank you for sharing your adventure as we are very interested in exploring a Mediterranean cruise with Disney Cruise Lines. We just returned from our first Disney Cruise on the Disney Dream, and we are definitely hooked!
Christine @ Adventure, Baby! says
I’ve just booked our first one – to the Caribbean in June. We are not cruisers and prefer more active holidays, but are so exhausted that we are trying a bit more of a “relaxing” holiday. Thanks for this well-balanced review.
Eric Stoen says
Your daughter will love it! We’re doing our third this summer. Future ones will depend on whether the kids still find them fun and whether there are new, interesting itineraries. Would love for them to add an Asian loop!
Hi! We just booked the 7 day Meditteranean cruise for Sept. 2017 with my 7 year old and 9 year old. I don’t know the geography well of the ports so my concern is if we don’t book excursions in every place are there things to do in walking distance of the ports or would we need to get a taxi or other transportation. Thanks!
Eric Stoen says
Hi KaraBeth. Once we’re back from our Disney cruise this summer, I’ll write up a blog post on what we did in all of the ports on our three cruises. In general it’s always fine to walk around where Disney docks. Civitavecchia isn’t interesting, but otherwise we’ve enjoyed exploring all of the places we’ve gone. Disney doesn’t provide much information on the ports on board, so do some research in advance – maybe print out city maps and figure out playground locations and good kid-friendly restaurants. Then you’re set. We’ve found that to be more enjoyable for the kids than joining excursions, and it gives you the flexibility to return to the ship whenever you want.
We have also booked for sept 2017
I would be interested to know your plans for excursions
We don’t want to get off at every port but feel Rome is a must visit
although I don’t fancy being on a coach with a lot of people for a day
Eric Stoen says
KaraBeth and Emma – I’ve just posted my breakdown of every one of our Disney ports, including Rome: https://travelbabbo.com/2016/09/disney-cruise-port-stops-and-excursions-in-europe/.
Hello I’ve booked for Sept as well can’t wait I don’t know much on excursions either xx
Eric Stoen says
Have a great time! My post on all of our port stops and what excursions we did is here.
Hi! Can you please give me an inside scoop on how hard it is to get off and back on the ship for excursions?
I’m looking to book a Mediterranean cruise in 2016.
Eric Stoen says
In most ports you can walk off the ship and into town. In some you need to tender in. Regardless, it’s never taken us more than a few minutes to disembark or get back on the ship. In some places like Naples we went on and off the ship several times during the day since it was so easy and close to the center of town.
Candace Craine says
Keep in mind that some ports do not let off in the “center of everything”. It all depends on what you’d like to see: Civitavecchia is a good two hours drive from Rome. Livorno is also about 1.5 hours from Florence and 30 minutes from Pisa. It is also about 30 mins to Pompeii from Naples.
Eric Stoen says
But those have been some of our favorite ports. Well, not Civitavecchia – there’s not much to see there. But we liked Naples a lot, just wandering around from where the ship docked. And when we stopped in La Spezia we spent the day in the small town and loved it. I’m not a fan at all of trying to see Florence or Rome in a day. A couple hours of driving each way to walk through one of the world’s great cities with 50 other people, take quick photos in front of a few major sites, and spend lots of time waiting for others during bathroom breaks? Nope, definitely not the way to experience an amazing destination. And crazy travel days like that aren’t kid-friendly either.
Thanks a lot for sharing your experience . we are thinking about doing our first cruise with the kids this summer . Looking forward to read your review about Disney cruise , summer 2016 .
by the way , did you have any problems with weather in the sea? strong wind for example ? and what about motion sickness , was it a problem ?
wish you a pleasant vacation 🙂 and thanks again
Eric Stoen says
Hi Maha. On the two that we did so far, there was virtually no motion at all. Maybe once did we feel the ship rocking slightly? But that was in the Mediterranean. This time we’ll be in the north Atlantic, so it could be a little more exciting. Will keep you posted. When we traveled to Antarctica with NatGeo/Lindblad we had 32-foot seas – it felt like that scene in Frozen where the parents’ ship hits the huge storm! So anything less than that wouldn’t worry me too much. Others may be more sensitive.
Lesha Foshee says
We just booked the 10 day Mediterranean cruise for 2017 summer. Are the excursions included or extra $$ If extra how much per person? Thanks
Eric Stoen says
Have a great time Lesha! Excursions are all extra, whether you book them through Disney or privately. I’ve found that with our family of five, private excursions can be comparable price-wise and offer a lot more flexibility. Excursions are anywhere between $50 and $200 per person depending on the activity. I usually budget $125 per person which is a reasonable average, for Disney or for private. The entire Disney list is at https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/port-adventures/europe/.
I enjoyed your article! There’s much less info about European Disney Cruises compared to their Castaway Cay ones. Thanks for the info!