The Professor becomes a Captain — a (non-Disney) cruise report

Regular readers will know that, after an uncharacteristic bout of indecision, I have booked one of DCL’s Magic At Sea cruises to nowhere, departing from Liverpool in the UK, sailing round the Irish Sea for a few days and then returning to Liverpool.

I don’t set sail for 64 days, but there’s lots to write about on the subject of actually booking and planning a DCL cruise, so that’s where I’ll be starting.

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:sweat_smile::rofl:

I can’t wait to follow this trip report!

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So let’s start with the initial planning.

On offer were 2, 3, and 4 night cruises from four different UK ports. They run from July to October.

On board, Disney runs what it calls rotational dining, meaning there are three different restaurants on board and each night you eat at a different one. Obviously someone on a two-night cruise is going to miss out one of the restaurants, and someone on a four-night cruise will double-up on one of them. So three nights is the sweet spot.

Three nights actually means one half-day (boarding day), two full days, and one nothing day — because on departure day they throw you off the ship at 7.30am.

For me, date of departure rather than port of departure was the principal concern. Initially I had looked at late August, which fitted in with my summer plans, but the prices were literally a third higher than mid-July. Given that, as a solo traveller, I pay exactly the same as a couple, that was really difficult to justify. (We’re talking $3,300 vs $2,500 for one person for a three night cruise.)

Actually, finding out the cost of a cruise is more complicated than you might expect. They don’t tell you until the booking window opens. And the booking window opens at different times for different people. Those who have been on DCL cruises before get priority. These people start Facebook groups and post the prices they’ve paid (and what they’ve specifically booked for those prices) to give everyone else an idea of what to expect.

Once booking was open to me (actually, some weeks afterwards, because I faffed around for a couple of weeks) I clicked on a three-night cruise in mid-July. The next choice that confronts you is type of stateroom. There are four options at this stage: inside cabin (no window), ocean view (circular window), veranda (balcony) and concierge (ridiculous rip-off for snobs with too much money — literally double the price of the stateroom I ended up booking).

I had already decided that I wanted a veranda room. I had romantic visions in my head of waking up and strolling out onto my balcony with a cup of tea in my hand, drinking in the magnificent views of the ocean. Also, because we live in COVID times, I wanted somewhere to escape to if the rest of the ship seemed busy, or if wearing a mask was getting tiresome. Having a private space with an outdoor area seemed essential. And, in the event that I was confined to my room, I’d rather have one with the possibility of fresh air.

There are three types of veranda room.

The first are cleverly called navigator’s verandas. This is a triumph of marketing. They sound good, don’t they. Well, they’re not terrible. They look like this:

I can see some people being quite attracted to these. They do look kinda cosy. But you are inside a metal box with a circular cut-out. You’re not quite getting the full magnificence of the ocean.

Next up are white wall verandas:

So a less obstructed view. However, if you sit down, you’re staring at a white wall. And if you’re in your stateroom sitting down, or on the bed, you’re looking at a white wall.

I opted for a regular veranda:

As you can see, you still get a pretty good view, even when you’re inside:

The price difference between these different types of veranda isn’t actually all that large. Only about $100.

Now you’ve chosen a room-type, your next decision is which part of the ship you want to be on: aft, midships or forward. Midships tends to be recommended to newbies like me as the motion of the ship is at a minimum and you’re less likely to suffer from seasickness. So, that’s what I went for. Again, the price difference is pretty minimal.

Next you choose which deck you want to be on. Higher is generally considered to be better as the views are more expansive. I’ve also read that it’s better to be surrounded on all sides: above, below and opposite, by other staterooms. Being above a nightclub might not be ideal. So this is what I picked.

Finally, you actually pick your specific room number. For a planner like me, this is a nightmare. Being given choices implies to me that there is a best choice. But which? There are reviews of individual staterooms online, but these seem to often be extremely old.

In the end, I chose a room near the stairs / elevators on the seventh deck. This deck has rooms above and below it, and being near the stairs is apparently not as noisy as you might expect (there’s a wall that separates it from the stairs themselves) and it is obviously very convenient.

(There is another option. You can select a “guaranteed” room. This means you will get a room of that type or better, but the specific room will be allocated by Disney at some point before you board. There is a small discount for this. The problem with this, it seems to me, is: what rooms will be left for them to allocate? Many DCL cruisers have been on multiple cruises and know their way around the ship. They know the good rooms and the bad ones. And newbies like me do their research. So surely, it will only be the least desirable rooms that are left over for Disney to allocate to you.)

Once you’ve got your room sorted you get one last choice. Pay in full now. Pay a deposit now. Or pay nothing now and have three days to think about it.

I took a couple of days to sleep on it and then I committed and paid a deposit. Right now the cancellation terms are pretty good. I can cancel up to 30 days before departure with no penalty and a full refund. After that I can cancel with no penalty if I get COVID or have to self-isolate, right up to the moment of departure. Of course this works both ways. In order to board you have to (a) have been fully vaccinated, and (b) take a COVID test right before departure. If you fail the test, you don’t get to board. You have the option of a full refund, or you may reschedule to a later cruise.

So I’ve paid my deposit. The balance is not due until 30 days before departure. No point paying early, right? Wrong. You cannot book onboard activities until you are fully paid. Most of these are not of interest to me — wine tastings, princess tea parties and so on. But one might be. Although the three rotational dining restaurants are included in the fare, there is an adult’s only, upscale restaurant, Palo, that carries an up-charge. And you have to book it in advance. Which I can’t do because I’m not fully paid. From what I’ve heard from the Facebook group for my specific cruise, pretty much anything you can book at this stage is fully booked now anyway. I’m not planning on paying the balance until the end of this month (to fit with my credit card’s billing cycle). I would like to try Palo (for brunch, not for dinner — I want to try each of the three rotational dining restaurants for dinner) but I’ll just have to roll the dice. Apparently there are last-minute spots you can book once you’re on board.

At 30 days before boarding everyone gets to book seating for the (free) shows and embarkation time. This opens at 5am UK time. I guess I’ll have to set my alarm.

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I might be wrong, but I think that this was just another unique situation for the UK Staycation cruises. Possibly because of the will they-won’t they situation, I don’t know. But I can see Wish pricing now for most of 2022 and the cruises aren’t bookable yet.

This is why I would have booked a 4 day cruise. All three of the regular rotation restaurants plus Palo. :sunglasses:

So what am I getting for my money? (£1,800, i.e. $2,500)

Aside from my very nice stateroom, an enormous amount of food. It really does appear to be unlimited. For example, when you’re having dinner in the table service restaurants, you can order three starters, five main courses, and two desserts if you want. You can then go back to your stateroom and order room service. On the way, you can stop off and get some pizza and ice cream. It’s all included.

What you do have to pay for are fancy drinks, i.e. anything other than regular tea, coffee, water and soda. So speciality coffees, cocktails and other alcoholic drinks, bottled water. And — weirdly — you have to pay for snacks in the theatre. Though, of course, you can take your own in. You can get a tub of free ice-cream from the soft-serve machines, or even a Mickey Bar from room service, and take it right in with you.

Although Palo — the upscale, adults-only restaurant — has an up-charge, it’s only $40.

A word about rotational dining. As I’ve said there are three main dining rooms — one themed on Beauty and the Beast, one themed on Tangled, and one called Animator’s Palate, which has video screens that put on some kind of show at the end of the meal. You dine at each one over three nights. What’s quite clever is that your table server comes with you. The idea is that they get to learn your quirks and cater for them. So, in theory, on night 2, your favourite drink will already be on the table waiting for you when you arrive.

There are two seatings for dinner. One at around 5.30pm, and one at around 8pm. The later one is likely to have fewer children in it and it’s the one to which I was allocated. You can request a change if you wish.

When you’re not eating there are other forms of entertainment. There are two theatres. One is a movie theatre and shows first-run movies. I’m guessing Cruella might be one of them during my cruise. The other features “broadway-style” productions. It’s not yet clear what those are going to be on these cruises. Nor whether or not you’re guaranteed to see one or more of them. These being COVID times, you can’t just show up. There’s a booking system, that opens at 30 days before boarding. I’ve joined a Facebook group for the very first cruise so I can try to get a jump on what the process actually is.

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Four day cruises are obviously a lot more expensive than three day ones. But Palo is open for brunch and my hope is that I’ll be able to book that. Then I’ll have brunch at the regular restaurant on the other day and I will have tried all the possibilities.

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Excellent!

A couple of thoughts about two upcharge options.

First, concierge level. I’ve never really understood concierge level in general. It seems like a lot more money for . . . what? On DCL (as opposed to WDW) I think you do get a bigger room. And you get access to the concierge lounge. But I’ve seen video footage of the concierge lounge and — frankly — it’s embarrassing. It looks like a works canteen. There’s free food in there, but there’s free food everywhere. There’s free alcohol, too, though. I think. On my cruise, concierge level was literally (pretty much to the dollar) double the cost. Unaffordable for me, and makes no sense anyway. Even if the room is bigger, I’ve already got a whole stateroom to myself.

Second, the Royal Court Royal Tea. This is aimed at children, principally girls. You get afternoon tea with princesses and various souvenir items to take home. To do it properly, you really need to have gone to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique first. The cost is mind-blowing. It’s $220 per child, plus $69 per adult. Since a child has to be accompanied that’s $289 for mommy and her daughter. BBB will run you a minimum of $99 (and an insane maximum of $450). So you’re looking at around $400 for mommy and daughter if they slum it on the cheapest package. And over $700 if you really love your daughter. Wow. You people really spoil your kids.

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Hahah looking forward to seeing the trip that was a maybe become a reality.

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Yes, your trip report threads are notoriously short.

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That room looks amazing!!

I have no idea if it’s possible, but what if you found another solo traveler on the cruise who has access to the fancy upscale restaurant Palo and befriended them? Or would that just be too weird?

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Very cool!

Ordinarily that would be a possibility. However the conditions of these cruises insist that you can only book with members of your own family or bubble, ie: you either share a house / flat / apartment or have formed a “Covid bubble” with someone else. Essentially that means someone living on their own, or a single parent can join with another family or single person - to avoid loneliness etc during lockdowns.

And Disney will not let you dine with another group under any circumstances. So for this cruise it’s not an option.

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This is all extremely helpful. Thank you for being so detailed. I’ve always been interested in cruises but have been overwhelmed by the complexities of the decisions that have to be made. A question on the pricing that you’ve mentioned a couple of times – if DH and I booked the same room you did, it would be the same price you paid? No upcharge per person? What if it’s a family? The price of the room is the total paid, or is there an upcharge per person above 2 people?

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There is an upcharge - a single supplement. But DCL has one that is lower than the industry standard. I believe it is 150% and not 200%

A family would have lower rates for passenger (pax) 3, & 4 (& 5 if stateroom for 5). This would cover the additional food and amenities, I believe. Then there is ample gratuities, as well, that are pp.
These numbers CONSTANTLY change. Constantly.

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A mock booking is probably the best way to get a feel for it.

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Solo does pay double. The only savings is on the taxes and fees so negligible when talking thousands of $.

Nope. Singles pay double. They even warn you when you change the number of passengers from the default of two to one.

If you add more people to the room, the price goes up.

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