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Things I Love: Magical Overload Aboard the Disney Magic

This weekend, I went from 80 degrees to zero in the span of a few hours, as my week-long spree of warm honeymoon bliss came crashing back down to normalcy. After basking in sun aboard the Disney Magic cruise ship for a week, the cold slap of Chicago winter is a harsh adjustment, especially considering the euphoria of honeymooning with my husband in the encompassing glow of Disney. The past week has been one of the best of my life, thanks in large part to the nostalgia-packed restaurants and the immaculate service therein.

Initially overwhelming and dizzying, it’s a blast to explore the cruise ship and drink in the sights. Meandering around the ship, I felt like a little kid exploring a playground for the first time. And with 10 floors and dozens upon dozens of colorful public spaces, there’s lots to explore on the Disney Magic, a vessel holding upwards of 3,000 guests for the week of our trip.

Among the myriad locales on board, there’s a movie theater where we saw the new Star Wars movie for the second time (this time with added shrieks from rambunctious children!), numerous restaurants where we had organized group dinners each night of the week, an adults-only pool area, a waterslide that plunges you straight down and (for a brief, terrifying moment) over the edge of the 10th deck railings, a grand theater that played host to musical performances each evening, an “After Hours” area filled with bars and lounges for the grown-ups, gift stores, an art gallery, a boozy coffee shop, and more.

(Animator's Palate, aka one of my favorite restaurants in existence)

One thing that sorta comes with the cruise territory is the omnipresence of food and drink. Seeing as all dining is included with the cruise price, it’s no surprise there’s an excess of resolution-crushing cuisine to be had morning, noon, night, and late-night. I resigned myself to eating buffet-style food during the day, oftentimes scarfing chicken tenders mid-afternoon, before getting dolled up for dinner at one of the ship’s signature restaurants. My favorite facet of the cruise is Disney’s dining program, which matched us up with two other couples as table-mates for the duration, dining together with the same service team each night at different restaurants. There’s the French-accented Beauty & the Beast-inspired Lumiere’s, South American Carioca’s, and my personal favorite, Animator’s Palate, a restaurant bedecked with Disney illustrations that change colors and come to life throughout dinner.

There’s nothing especially noteworthy about the cooking at any of these restaurants. Rather, Disney plays to its strengths: impeccable service, meticulous attention to design detail, and above all else, sentimentality. The sheer nostalgia is enough to make me break down and weep, and seriously consider throwing away my career for any random gig aboard the Disney Magic. In each restaurant, while the vittles play out as a ho-hum medley of low-tier ingredients in cutely ambitious preparations reminiscent of a Wolfgang Puck airport eatery, the overall experience is more powerfully endearing than just about anything I’ve ever tasted. Combined with service so astonishingly nice that I wished my waiter could adopt me, each restaurant does a masterful job of showcasing that quintessential Disney charm, be it a series of rose-adorned chandeliers at Lumiere’s or folded napkin hats for guests at Carioca’s. At Animator’s Palate, the restaurant I most remembered from my inaugural Disney cruise as a 13-year old, the nostalgia is especially potent. As the evening progresses and plates of white chocolate fudge cheesecake disappear down my throat with alarming ease, the imagery decorating the walls changes from one iconic character to another. It culminates after dessert with portraits transforming into videos, and a small Mickey Mouse-guided parade through the dining room.

As the cruise fades to cherished memory, it’s not the dishes and rum-filled tropical cocktails I’ll remember most, but the ladies and gentlemen who served them and the company we kept. It’s the glorious decor and the childhood memories re-imagined. It's the lasting friendships we forged. Altogether, it’s the beautiful magic that truly comes to life, giving the cruise ship its apt name.

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