Disney Magic and Disney Wonder

The Disney Wonder and her sister ship, the Disney Magic, are part of the Disney Cruise Line fleet. Onboard a Disney ship, guests find a vacation experience that every member of the family feels was created especially for them. (HANDOUT, MCT)

We took a cruise with 912 children, 911 of whom were not ours. For people who don't like other people's kids in quantities usually encountered at theme parks, or who believe that cruise ships are floating tubs of gluttony and indolence, this must all sound like a nightmare.

There was a moment when the poolside noise level was enough to make Davy Jones swim up to the surface and tell us to hold it down, but Davy Jones was actually at the party. At least everyone went quiet when the ship launched the fireworks. Yes, fireworks.

One cruise line has the right to blow stuff up at night: Disney.

It was a Disney cruise, and it was magical! The ship was called the Magic, too! Everything was Magical!, since every Disney's utterance apparently must use the word "magic," as in "have a magical day," "have a magical vacation," "have a magical hamburger," and so on.

The relentless cheerfulness, the stable of licensed characters and the two-handed milking of every frame of every Disney movie might make you think the ships are gaudy monstrosities in primary colors — fun for kids, but a cartoon hell for an Adult of Discernment.

I'll say this: Pity the people who feel they have to have kids to take a Disney cruise. Sure, you'd feel left out if you didn't. But the Magic is one of the finest, most elegant ships I've ever been on, and from the moment you step aboard and your family's name is announced to cheers from the crew, to the moment you shuffle off to find your luggage in the Purple Minnie section, it's … well. You know. That word.

The appeal is for families who don't want to get lost, it seems. Disney vacations are hermetically sealed experiences. That can be a plus. When we arrived in Barcelona, fuzzy-headed and mute with jet lag, I found myself sitting in the baggage area, wondering what the devil we were supposed to do next. Strange country, don't know the customs, where's the port; then I spied three people wearing enormous Mickey Mouse hands. They gently guided us to plush buses, and the minute we pulled out, the Disney welcome video played, just as it does in the United States. Same narrator. Same movie. It could have been Fort Lauderdale, really.

But it wasn't. Obviously. If that town is gaudy, Barcelona is, well, Gaudi, and the tour guide points out all the interesting architecture and historical notes. We took a tour of the town while the crew frantically vacuumed and polished and restocked tons of provisions (the ships dock in the morn, disgorge their sun-kissed multitudes, reload in the afternoon and steam back out).

Eventually we were dropped at the cavernous boarding hall with its echoing shrieks of giddy kids and faint perfume of salt and mildew, waiting for our number to be called. This was the worst part, but we knew it would all change the moment we started up the gangplank, entered the ship and — well, you know. That word.

A few hours later the ship's whistles blew the first few notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star," and we were off. Here are some back-of-the-envelope notes on the ship and its pleasures, if you're considering a Disney cruise. (Shorter version: Go.)

—The ship itself:

The Magic is 964 feet long, and it holds 2,400 passengers, and apparently 94,297 crew, 14 of which materialize instantly if your child drops her ice cream. It has a sister ship, the Wonder, and a new ship, the Dream, was launched this year that is 40 percent bigger and, presumably, 40 percent more magical. Its twin, the Fantasy, is under construction, recession be damned.

The Disney experience means different things at different ages: The tots want Mickey and Goofy, the older kids like the characters but know there's someone in the costume; the tweens and teens want their own faves from the Disney TV shows. The adults just want a drink. So the top deck has three portions: a pool for the water-wings set with a big slide cradled in an enormous Hand of Mickey. In the middle, a pool for all with a stage and a Jumbotron-scale video screen. Near the bow — that's the pointy part of the ship for you lubbers — there's a pool for grown-ups only, as well as a civilized bar from which non-adults are banned. There are children's clubs for each demographic, and you can leave your kid while you go ashore if you don't want to push a stroller around Naples.

Your first impression is enormity, but Disney's skill at making everything a theater set makes almost every space feel intimate.

You're surprised how sparing they are with the characters. Aside from the statue of Mickey in the grand lobby, you can walk around most of the main deck without seeing a single character, except for the occasional piece of framed art, and more often than not it's a drawing from a 1934 Sily Symphony.

No characters in the rooms, either. Speaking of which: Comfortable beds, flat-screen TVs (with Disney movies! knock me over with a feather) and split baths, shower in one room and commode in the other. Any family that's tried to get ready in half an hour using one bathroom will realize that this is the greatest innovation in maritime history

—The food:

I've had better on cruises; I've had worse. The obligatory morning buffet turns out exactly what you expect: mounds of industrial eggs, waffles in the shape of Mickey Mouse, and that cruise-ship specialty, a huge tray of overcooked bacon.

The poolside food is the usual unspeakable fare, but it's nice to know there's a place that has pizza at midnight. The evening meals are fine, but anyone who's taken a cruise longer than three days knows that you begin to tire of so much good food, course after course.