Oh, grow up! Disney's not just for kids

Editor in chief Arnie Weissmann spent a week aboard Disney Cruise Line's Magic on its new western Caribbean route and was surprised by the large number of adults he met who were traveling without children. His report follows:

teve Vogt of Albany, N.Y., stood on Deck 9 Forward, surveying the scene. His sunglasses, with the Southern Comfort logo on the left temple, reflected only adults -- he was, after all, at Quiet Cove Pool, where no one under 18 is admitted.

Steve is definitely older than 18. His mustache has a bit of silver in it, and the tattoo showing below the sleeve of his Hawaiian shirt is not a trendy Gen-X design, but is more in keeping with his profession as a truck driver.

His wife, Doreen, stood next to him, leaning against a towel cabinet. She gave a tug at her seashell-shaped gold earring as she began to speak.

"Haven't been on the other cruise lines," Doreen said. "Not interested."

The Quiet Cove Pool is an adults-only oasis on Disney Cruise Line's Magic. This is the third Disney cruise for the Vogts. Most of the other adults lounging around Quiet Cove Pool have dropped their kids off at Flounder's Reef Nursery, or the Oceaneer Club, or perhaps to see a film at the Buena Vista Theatre. But not the Vogts -- they have no children.

Some agents may only think about selling Disney Cruise Line when they have a family with children sitting in front of them, but on a recent western Caribbean cruise aboard the Magic, it wasn't hard to find adults traveling without kids.

The Vogts, like many of the kid-free adults, are big fans of Disney. They honeymooned at Walt Disney World in Orlando and have been to the parks 14 times. And they find that the Disney attitudes toward customer service are dependable whether on land or sea.

"If you have a problem, they bend over backward to make it right," Steve said. "You know what to expect, and when you're on vacation, that really helps."

The Vogts praised the ship's cleanliness, personable crew and good service. "They pick nice ports, and we feel secure walking around ..." Steve began.

"I'd feel safe even if I were by myself," Doreen broke in. Steve nodded. "We even go to the stores they recommend in port.

"The first time, we did a land and sea package," Steve added. "We found the ship to be relaxing, and as soon as we got back home, we booked the seven-day eastern [Caribbean] itinerary. Now we're on the western, but we've already booked the eastern again for next year."

"I like the days at sea," Doreen said, looking past the pool to the water at the horizon. "The eastern has two extra days at sea."

What little criticism the Vogts have of the cruise is tempered with understanding. "The food -- well, it's adequate, not really high-end," Doreen said. "But given the number of people they're feeding, it's as good as it can be."

The couple participates in much of the programming for adults: They see the cabaret shows at night, grab the mike during karaoke and enjoy the dance parties. They're glad there's no casino: "Too tempting," said Doreen.

She's not tempted, however, to pose with any of the Disney characters who walk around the ship. "They never age," she said. "You'd look at the photos and see that you keep getting older, but they never age."

A Disney spokesman said as many as a third of all cabins are occupied by adults traveling without children. Most fall under one of three categories: honeymooners, adults traveling with a family that has children (such as grandparents or neighbors), or adults, like the Vogts, who have a strong affinity with Disney.

Axel Ramiriz doesn't fit neatly into any of those groups. The 19-year-old electrical engineering student from Carolina, Puerto Rico, sat at the Signals bar, a silver chain necklace showing above the neck of his tank top shirt, sipping a lemonade. "Some people told me this was the best cruise, so I wanted to try it," he said.

He wasn't disappointed. "With Disney, you get the whole package -- parties, bars, music -- or if you want, you can feel like a kid."

Ramiriz admitted to going to the game arcade, the Hercules musical production and posing for pictures with Mickey Mouse. But he also closes down the bars each night ... drinking lemonade. "Back home, the drinking age is 18, but here, you have to be 21," he said.

He snorkeled at the Key West port call and jet skied in the waters off Grand Cayman, but when the ship docked in Cozumel, "I hit the bars. No one cards you in Mexico."

He particularly was impressed with the level of service on board. "The treatment people give you -- I never found it anywhere else. Never, never, never."

Not quite so impressed with the Disney experience was 21-year-old Keith Hoffmann of Philadelphia. Standing shirtless and sipping a mid-day beer out of a tall mug with the ESPN logo on it, the business administration student lamented that "for the 18- to 25-year-olds, there's not much excitement."

"I'm from a big city," he said, "and there's really no late-night action here. That's what's missing."

Given the choice again, he wouldn't choose Disney. "I met a girl on the beach at Cozumel who was on a Celebrity ship. Now that sounded great."

He did confess that he got a kick out of being among a bunch of happy children. "It's good seeing smiles instead of frowns," he said.

"I do enjoy being out of the country and on my own," he said. "I needed a break, to kick back. I'm making the best of it."

Donna LeFever, co-owner and chief operating officer of 3-year-old Dreams Unlimited Travel, in Blackwood, N.J., an Internet agency that specializes in selling Disney vacations, said she sells "a nice mix" of adults traveling with and without children. (She's one of those who goes without. She'll be sailing on her seventh Disney cruise in November.)

"A lot of those who travel alone are simply Disney addicted. Having a Disney experience is more important to them than drinking, gambling or partying," she said. "From an adult perspective, it's quite satisfying."

Steve and Peg Nelson of Houston couldn't agree more. Peg, a legal administrator, and Steve, an engineer, were relaxing in one of the two adults-only hot tubs next to Quiet Cove Pool. They're on their fourth Disney cruise, but their first without their daughter, Niki.

"She's 14. Last year, she was at the age where she felt she didn't fit in with either the older kids or the younger kids, and wanted to stay at home this year," Steve said.

But her parents didn't. Child or no child, they wanted to keep the annual Disney cruise tradition alive. Though they were going childless this time, they didn't even consider going on a different line.

"This experience is so first class, we can't imagine any other company living up to the Disney standard," Peg said. "Besides, on other cruise lines, you can't feel like a kid again."

The couple sees all the big shows in the Walt Disney Theatre, and Peg acknowledged that "some of them bring tears to my eyes."

Steve said the experience wasn't too different from when Niki was with them. "She did different excursions," he said. "Or she was involved with the kids programming."

The Nelsons feel certain Niki will come back into the fold sooner or later. "This is a freak year," Steve said. "She's still interested. She called and asked us to bring the itinerary for the teen club to see what she was missing."

They'd like Disney Cruise Line to add more routes -- "We'd love to do Alaska out of California" -- because they plan to be cruising Disney annually long after Niki has left the nest.

"Our biggest dream," Peg said, "is to share this with our grandchildren some year in the future."

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