Palo Aboard the Disney Magic

Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of articles from Intrepid Traveler publisher Kelly Monaghan as he makes his way from Galveston to Barcelona on the Disney Magic (and beyond).

No cruise aboard the Disney Magic would be complete without a visit to Palo, the specialty restaurant that wraps majestically around the ship’s stern on Deck Ten. Here is a chance to escape (if that is the right word) from the laughing children and the happy (if mute) costumed Disney characters — a chance to dress up and enjoy being a sophisticated adult.

Colorful masks are part of the decor at Palo. (Photos by Kelly Monaghan)

The word “palo” means “pole” Italian and the restaurant takes its culinary theme from Venice. The reception area is lined with the fanciful masks worn during the Carnivale de Venezia, although the Italian theme fades away once you are led to your seat by one of the wait staff, which hails from all corners of the globe, primarily Europe.

There is a $20 per person supplementary charge for dining at Palo, but the quality of the food, the view (for those with a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows) and the personalized service more than justify the expense. There is more good news on the expense front — the wine list and the prices are pretty much those you’ll find in the main dining rooms.

We found the food to be quite good. A tasty risotto, buttery osso buco, and perfectly done fish were fitting preludes to sinfully rich desserts.

Dining at Palo.

After dinner, we were glad we had thought to book a brunch at Palo later in the voyage. This is a brunch buffet to put all other shipboard buffets to shame. Yes, there are the usual calorie-laden pastries, but those who choose to eat more sensibly won’t be disappointed. I especially enjoyed the grilled and marinated vegetables of all descriptions.

In addition to the buffet offerings, Palo’s brunch offers a number of prepared-to-order hot dishes. You can choose a breakfast omelet or lean to the lunch side of the concept with a nicely rendered veal saltimbocca.

And of course, there are desserts, all in sensibly sized portions that encourage you to sample two. Or three. Or four.

Palo bookings should be made the instant you firm up your sailing. We had the luxury of a 15-night transatlantic crossing and, perhaps because of that, neither of our meals were sold out, so we got a window table both times. I was told that on other nights, the restaurant was quite full. Of course, on shorter three- and four-day sailings, space is probably at a premium. So it’s a good idea to choose an early seating. Dinner hours are from 6 to 9 p.m. Brunch (only on cruises of four nights or longer) is from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Palo is not without its minor problems. We found the service could be a bit smothering, but that may simply have been because when we dined the restaurant was far from full. Tablemates from our regular dining rotation reported being offended by guests arriving in shorts and flip-flops, while a woman at the next table carried on a loud, 10-minute cell phone conversation — on speakerphone, no less. Apparently, the staff is powerless to enforce the stated dress code or normal restaurant decorum.

Still, the odds against your encountering problems like this are slim and shouldn’t dissuade you from making your booking as early as possible. Palo will very likely be one of the non-child-related highlights of your Disney Magic voyage.

Disney Magic Sails To Dry Dock

Editor’s note: This is the third of a series of articles from Intrepid Traveler publisher Kelly Monaghan as he makes his way from Galveston to Barcelona on the Disney Magic (and beyond).

After 15 years at sea, millions of martinis and untold vats of vino and barrels of beer — not to mention the intense partying of a whole menagerie of costumed characters — the Disney Magic is going into rehab. Make that refurbishment.

The Magic has been prettied up before, the last time just five years ago during a two-week or so dusting and cleaning. But this time the overhaul will be much more extensive, lasting more than a month.

Word is the “new” Magic will be much different. The stylish and sedate décor that harkened back to an earlier era will give way to a more modern, colorful, contemporary look. Parrot Cay, which one cast member told me was rated the least favorite restaurant by passengers, will be replaced with a Brazilian-style churrascaria. Animators Palate will be redone to take advantage of the latest technology, so the transformation that has wowed so many passengers in the past should be even more amazing. And the Topsider casual dining venue will be completely overhauled and extended out over the stern of the ship.

I was fortunate enough to join the Magic for its last transatlantic crossing prior to entering dry dock in Cadiz, Spain. From June to September, the ship will ply the western Mediterranean out of Barcelona. So if you want to see the Magic as she used to be, this is your last chance.

Truth to tell, the Magic can use a little TLC, even short of a major revamping. Carpets have faded, paint has chipped, and rust pops up here and there. What hasn’t suffered the ravages of time is the incredible Disney service, which has made the line so successful in an era where gigantism and overkill seem to be the watchword for cruise ships.

A transatlantic sailing offers many contrasts to the shorter 3-, 4-, and 7-day itineraries most guests are used to. For a start, the large number of sea days (10 on our crossing from Galveston to Barcelona) offers a chance to get to know the ship intimately. It’s also possible to enjoy the luxury of dining at Palo two or more times!

Another noticeable difference was the relative absence of children. There were 400 on our voyage, as opposed to the 2,000 that throng the shorter Caribbean itineraries. Of course, the Disney characters were still kept busy, since it seemed every adult on board wanted their picture taken with the whole lot of them. I couldn’t help thinking that the profits from

Docking at Castaway Cay (Photos by Kelly Monaghan)

photos alone make these sailings a sure-fire money mill.

As you might suspect, Disney doesn’t stint on the entertainment. Rather than recycling the same performers and shows, the Magic flew in a dazzling variety of specialty acts to keep things fresh during the long stretch from Castaway Cay to Madeira. All this in addition to the Broadway-style spectacles put on by the ship’s core company.

Speaking of Castaway Cay, during the stop there, the Dream dropped by to salute the Magic on its voyage to dry dock. It offered guests the rare chance to see two Disney ships at Castaway Cay at the same time.

Of course, a long open-ocean voyage can have its drawbacks. Rough seas have been a problem on some trips, but ours was smooth as glass. The only choppy patch, interestingly enough, was between Madeira and Gibraltar.

It was hard to leave the ship after 14 days, but we made new friends whom we will surely see again. Indeed, this is one of the nicest souvenirs any Disney cruise has to offer.

Cruising the Aegean Sea

The Louis Cristal awaits the return of passengers at Kusadasi in Turkey.

ATHENS, Greece — I sailed on a regularly scheduled cruise out of Athens that took me to several Greek islands.

Independent travelers have the alternative of traveling to the islands by ferry, but the structured cruise has the advantage of allowing the first-time island-hopper to sample several choices in a fairly short time.

I had seen Athens a few times, but never the islands. So I agreed to sail with a small press group aboard the 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal, operated by the Cyprus-based Louis Cruises.

The Louis Cristal awaits the return of passengers at Kusadasi in Turkey.

The weeklong trip in the Aegean also included three port calls in Turkey, which were not new to me, but I especially love revisiting Istanbul.

Ours was a well-rounded itinerary of the type that is typically available each year in the cruising season, which generally runs from mid-March to early November.

We boarded the ship at Piraeus, the Athens port, in the morning. This process involved a security check much like that for getting on an aircraft. Also, the cruise line held our passports for the duration of the journey, which I found a little unsettling.

Our embarkation day offered quite a bit of time for getting to know the ship. I first became acquainted with the spa by having an hourlong massage and then, as if determined to undo the relaxing benefits of that, I carried my laptop to the only Wi-Fi

The quieter section of the Rendez Vous Lounge on the Louis Cristal.

hotspot known to me, in the Rendez Vous Lounge, an activity and entertainment hub.

Aboard the Louis Cristal, the Rendez Vous Lounge, setting for live entertainment, trivia quizzes and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

I checked e-mail against the background of singers who offered their “dancing and listening melodies.” On another occasion, I checked e-mails with a trivia quiz in the background, resisting the temptation to shout an occasional answer.

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