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Sue Holland

Disney Cruising to the Western Caribbean

Friday, June 22, 2001
Text and photos by Sue Holland, MousePlanet staff writer

Disney Cruise Line (DCL) recently announced that beginning May 11, 2002, its cruise ship the Disney Magic will alternate seven-day itineraries between the Eastern and Western Caribbean. DCL has already updated its Web site to show the dates for each itinerary through 2002.

The Western itinerary had one fewer day at sea than the Eastern, which is bound to be popular with the majority of cruise guests. Both Eastern and Western cruises include a day spent at Disney's own Castaway Cay. The published itinerary is:

  • Saturday - Sail at 5 p.m.
  • Sunday - Key West, FL noon to midnight
  • Monday - at sea
  • Tuesday - Grand Cayman 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Wednesday - Cozumel 11 a.m. to midnight
  • Thursday - at sea
  • Friday - Castaway Cay 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday - disembark by 8:30 a.m.

Having experienced a couple of Western Caribbean cruises on another line recently, let me provide you with an overview of what to expect and things to do in Key West, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.

First stop - Key West!

It may feel very strange to get on a cruise ship at Port Canaveral, cruise all night long, and then arrive at the first port of call and have it still be Florida. In my case I could have easily driven there from home in less time, but Key West is actually a very nice stop on a cruise. Key West is a small island, only two miles wide by four miles long. Its history is full of shipwrecks, pirates, yellow fever, wars, and smugglers. Points of interest include the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, which highlights his discovery in the 1980s of the treasures of sunken Spanish galleon La Nuestra de Atocha, the Ernest Hemingway House, and the marker indicating the southernmost point of the United States.

The Conch Tour Train, an open air ride with a narrated driver, gives you a good overview of the island. I was amazed to see how closely Disney's Old Key West Resort resembles the original old Key West. There are many shops you can browse through, and for a more active day, you can rent a bicycle or scooter and tour on your own. There is a tourist information office at Mallory Square, where the ship usually docks. The helpful people inside provide free maps and answer questions.

As sunset nears, Mallory Square becomes a hub of activity -- with street performers, food vendors, and lots of fun. Since the Magic doesn't set sail until midnight, you can choose to participate in the festivities. Just make sure to pay attention to what time the sun sets during your cruise, and choose the right dinner time if this is important to you.

Note: Because Key West is a U.S. port, all non-United States citizens must be seen by immigration officials before being allowed off the ship. If you fall in this category, you are given a special notice so you know where to go and what documents to bring.

Second stop - Grand Cayman!

Grand Cayman is listed as one of the top four diving locations in the world, so expect many shore excursions that include diving and snorkeling. Grand Cayman is surrounded by coral reefs, and to my knowledge no cruise ships are permitted to dock at the island. Expect to anchor off shore and ride a smaller "tender" boat to the dock. Unlike many of the other islands, on Grand Cayman you won't be openly solicited by local citizens wanting to sell you something. There are many tour operators and cabbies at the dock, but they do not "hound" you.

Popular tourist attractions include the turtle farm and Stingray City. At Stingray City, you are in the water with stingrays that are surprisingly docile and non-threatening. Both tours generally include a stop in Hell, a tiny island village. Many people mail postcards from here just to get its postmark!

If you prefer a beach, then head to Seven Mile Beach (by cab). With its crystal clear water, it's one of the finest beaches in the world.

Just next to the dock is a very small beach area called Eden Rock. Here you can rent snorkel gear very inexpensively and snorkel right off the beach over a reef. For someone who's curious to try snorkeling but isn't sure spending $35 to $50 for a Disney snorkeling trip is a good value, Eden Rock might be just the ticket. If you've got your own snorkel gear with you, the snorkeling is free!

Third stop - Cozumel, Mexico!

The big attractions here are diving and shopping, but most cruises usually provide a few excursions to some of the area's ruins. Because you may have a fairly strenuous walk, and get back to the ship after your dinner has passed, be sure to understand all of the details before signing up. Keep in mind that Cozumel is downright hot in the summer, and could still be very warm as late in the year as Thanksgiving week, as some people at our table who did a ruins tour commented!

The shops are all located in the downtown area, surrounding one of the three piers and close to another. From the third pier your cab ride to the shops is three miles long. On one of the Eastern Caribbean ports, Disney told us that the selection of piers by cruise ships is first come, first served. The Magic may get relegated to the furthest pier because it doesn't arrive at Cozumel until around 11 in the morning.

If you're too far from the shops, visit the nearby hotel and snorkel off their beach. A neighborhood dive shop rents full snorkel gear for $6 per day! This may be a good activity if you have teens who'd rather stay behind and snorkel than shop all day with you.

Speaking of shopping, you can get some real bargains if you look around. In 1999 I bought two bottles of Kahlua for $15 total, when a single bottle of the same size sells for around $26 in the States. Mexican blankets are also plentiful and inexpensive. Jewelry can be found in all ports, but check prices before you leave home to make sure you're really getting a real deal. The same thing applies to electronics, although you have the added concern of gray market products (not intended by the manufacturer to be sold in the U.S., and which voids its warranty when you take it home with you), as well as brand name products whose internal components are swapped out for cheaper knock-offs. Shop workers are more aggressive than I'm used to in the U.S., and it's fairly common for them to stand at the doorway and call you over in an attempt to get you into their shop.

Cozumel is also home to Carlos 'n' Charlie's, a restaurant/bar frequented by many cruise ship passengers as well as the officers and crew. The establishment is famous for its margaritas, and has its own souvenir shop (must be taking lessons from Disney). Since the ship doesn't sail until midnight, it's possible to head here for drinks after dinner - just don't forget to return to the ship in time! Cozumel is pretty at night with all the lights reflecting off the water.

Even if you cruise this itinerary more than once, you'll find that it's impossible to see everything in a single day. If the port is not of interest, simply stay on board the ship to relax while almost everyone else is gone! It's so relaxing, since it's probably the quietest and most peaceful day of your entire vacation; you'll actually be able to take a vacation from your hectic vacation!


Contact Sue at sue.holland@mouseplanet.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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