An Open Letter to Disney Cruise Line
We’ve just returned from our third cruise with you in Europe. There are a lot of things that you do well, and I’ve recommended you before in my Disney Cruise Line Review and Things to Do in 2016 posts. But Disney cruises aren’t perfect, and especially given the premium price you charge, there are a lot of improvements you should make. The Questionnaire that you distribute at the end of each cruise doesn’t have room for comments (despite staff referring to it as a “Comment Card”), so please consider this my actual Comment Card.
Disney Cruise Line: Cabanas
The food in Cabanas is good – especially the lunches. The atmosphere, though, is pure chaos. The majority of breakfasts and lunches on your Disney cruise line were incredibly crowded, with seemingly everyone on board attempting to dine at the same time. The seating areas filled up quickly, and the overflow seating is outside. This works well on your warm-weather cruises, but in the north Atlantic people were shivering outside, even with the blankets that staff sometimes brought around.
To their credit, the staff saw this taking place and, on Day 8 of the cruise, opened Carioca’s as a second breakfast buffet. It worked out perfectly, and we were able to have two subsequent breakfasts there. It would have improved the cruise experience considerably if Carioca’s had been open for breakfast all 12 mornings of the Disney cruise line instead of only three of them.
The only positive to Cabanas being extraordinarily loud when it’s overcrowded is that it drowned out the breakfast soundtrack that hasn’t changed in the five years we’ve been cruising with you – literally the same songs in the same order. Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley may be great for the Caribbean, but sailing up the coast of Norway they’re out of place, regardless of the theme of the restaurant on your Disney cruise line.
One more comment on Cabanas: the knives are terrible. There is no difference between the top edge of the knife and the bottom. We tried to cut through a lime one day and couldn’t do it. My kids struggled to even cut pancakes. Given that you have sharper knives in the other restaurants, with real serrations, I’m not sure why you restrict Cabanas to butter spreaders? Do people get so annoyed at the overcrowding that they start looking at the knives as weapons? Towards the end of the trip we purchased disposable plastic knives in one of the ports and brought them to Cabanas for breakfasts and lunches, greatly improving our ability to actually cut food.
Have you sat in one of your dining rooms and attempted to hold a conversation? Disney does a good job on every cruise of matching us with another family, but it’s hard to talk since the rooms get so noisy. In Lumiere’s while in port in Reykjavik, the dining room was 2/3 empty and still it was hard for five of us to hold a conversation at our table. A little sound dampening would go a long way.
Every night in our cabin, there was a Port Shopping Guide and Map for the next day’s destination. And every guide/map on our three cruises was terrible. Very few of the maps showed pedestrian walking areas or parks. None showed playgrounds. What if you made these handouts really good guides to the cities for the people who wish to wander around town? Map out all of the kid-friendliest walking destinations. Give transportation options. Have a list of the top 20 family-friendly local restaurants (per TripAdvisor or Yelp) and note those on the map.
Check out the map below. This is typical on a Disney cruise – a very basic map with lots of wasted space. It wouldn’t cost you any more to print a good map instead of a bad map, except for a little bit of initial research. And I fully understand that these maps are funded by the advertisers on there, but what are you getting from them – a few hundred dollars? A thousand dollars? The passengers on our 12-night Disney Magic cruise paid at least $6 million (my rough aggregated estimate) to sail with you. That passenger revenue should be prioritized/recognized over the tiny amount of port advertising revenue.
The Disney Magic and Cold Destinations
I appreciate that you add different European itineraries every year. We had previously done two Mediterranean cruises and the ship was perfect for those warm-weather destinations. With the pool being a major attraction, the rest of the ship never felt crowded. We could find seats at the movie theater. We could always find a table in Cabanas for breakfast or lunch. However, in northern Europe the ship didn’t function as well since virtually no one used the pool. Several times we tried to go to a movie or a show in the Walt Disney Theater and it was standing room only. It’s simply not as enjoyable to be on the Disney Magic when there’s not attractive weather.
Disney releases new movies every year, but the constant Disney soundtrack in the hallways (just like in Cabanas) hasn’t changed in five years, and given the songs, it’s probably been in place a lot longer than that. Likewise, Animator’s Palate restaurant doesn’t have any animation on the walls newer than Cars and on the screens newer than Brave. Other than one cold deck party and a couple of character appearances, Frozen was barely represented on the ship (sailing, ironically, though Norway). Most of the kids on this Disney cruise line ship weren’t alive when Hercules and the Emperor’s New Groove came out – it’s time to replace those older less-popular movies with themes/characters/music that people associate with Disney in 2016.
Lines / Queues
Our third Disney cruise was by far our worst cruise ever when it came to waiting in line. In Copenhagen, we arrived during our check-in window and…an hour and twenty minutes later finally got to the front of the line to start the 10-minute check-in process. It’s a terrible way to start a cruise. And at several ports, the lines to get back onto the Disney ship were extremely long. The second photo below was in Bergen where it took people more than twenty minutes to embark in the pouring rain.
In Bergen, our last stop in Norway, there should have been a Customs station near the Disney Magic for people to get their VAT refund forms stamped. I witnessed over a dozen people asking the check-in personnel and Guest Services staff about this and no one had a good answer. Global Blue states on their website that they send someone onto ships at the last stop in Norway to coordinate customs stamps/refunds, but they were nowhere to be seen, and we never did get our Norwegian customs forms stamped, costing us NOK635 in lost refunds. Iceland worked far better – customs was right outside the ship. What happened in Norway?
Disney Cruise Line Wish List
Other changes I would love to see:
1) A change in the auto-check-out policy of the Oceaneer Lab and Club. I wanted to give permission for my six-year-old to come and go from the kids clubs with her 10-year-old sister. I was unable to. If we trust her to find the cabin by herself, and we trust her sister to watch her, it would be great for the kids clubs to allow us to sign off on that.
2) Healthier food at lunch – or rather rearranging the food at lunch. The very first section of the buffet in Cabanas every day had mac & cheese and tator tots, corn dogs, chicken tenders or fish fingers. So that’s what a lot of kids loaded up on. What if you made the first station grilled chicken and other non-fried options? Small changes can make a big difference.
3) Berries. At most of the post stops in Northern Europe we walked through local markets with amazing berries. Yet there was virtually no sign of berries on board – maybe a blackberry in a fruit salad here or half a strawberry on a dessert there. Please make local berries a breakfast option!
4) Espresso in the cabins. Your ships are essentially floating upscale hotels. Upscale hotels worldwide now provide espresso in the rooms – generally via small Nespresso machines. We would have loved to be able to make our own espresso throughout the cruise, even if we needed to pay to rent a machine from you.
5) Tiramisu that resembles real tiramisu. The bland layer cake served when I ordered tiramisu isn’t anything like authentic tiramisu (pictured below). You have numerous Italians on staff. Disney cruise lines can do better.
6) The Head Server shouldn’t be a tippable position. Ours stopped by most nights just to ask how the service was. The one night that service was excruciatingly slow, with most other tables finished with dessert before we were served our main courses, we never saw him. Oh, and he would stop by and tell the kids to “save room for dessert.” No. No. No. We want the kids filling up on vegetables, thank you, and not leaving healthy food on their plates so that they can eat more sugar. To be billed automatically for his tip was annoying.
7) A real Comment Card at the end of the cruise, with room for guest feedback. There are exactly four three-inch lines on the form now, two of which are reserved for problems and two for the recognition of “magical” castmembers. See below. I can’t see that this gives you all the feedback you need about your sailings?
Again, there’s a lot that Disney Cruise lines does well, but given the money that people spend to cruise with you, there’s a lot you can do better.
I would sincerely appreciate a response, either here or via email at email@example.com. Are these reasonable comments? Are they issues that you were aware of? Do you have already have plans to fix some of these? Or am I expecting too much?
And if you only take two things out of this entire letter, please improve the Port Maps, and please buy new knives for Cabanas!
Eric | Travel Babbo
I had a good call with Disney Cruise Line after I posted this, and they acknowledged a lot of the issues, and indicated that there were changes coming. I have not sailed on the Magic again (we moved on to the Celebrity Edge, which we loved). If you’ve sailed on the Disney Magic recently in a cold weather destination, please report back! Was it a better experience than I describe above?
I do have this report from Jodi Grundig, who sailed on the Magic in January 2019 in the Caribbean:
This past January (2019), I finally had the opportunity to travel on the Disney Magic. In my 10 prior sailings, I’d only experienced the other three ships. My four-day cruise on the Magic included two ports – Disney’s Castaway Cay and Key West, Florida.
There have definitely been some improvements made to the ship since 2016. Carioca’s has been replaced with Rapunzel’s Royal Table, a lively restaurant that featured Tangled-themed food and a stage show with the characters. There’s also a new Tangled stage show at the Walt Disney Theatre. On the night of the show, O’Gill’s Pub transforms into the Snuggly Duckling, the pub from the movie.
During our cruise, we also dined at Palos for their brunch. This premium, adult-only dining experience is offered at an additional fee, although it’s complimentary for Platinum Castaway Club members. The experience at Palo is fantastic – with delicious food and great servers.
Some things on the Disney Magic, however, have remained the same. The weather on our January cruise was unseasonably warm, so the outdoor areas at Cabanas were well utilized. I can see that the indoor seating area would have been very crowded it if was too cold to eat outside, however.
The port map we received was also focused on the local shops in the area. The Disney-owned Castaway Cay map is very different with all points of interest highlighted. My post is here.