Steam cyclones off the gently rippling surface of a 40-degree whirlpool spa like clouds of freshly spun candy floss and my tired muscles surrender to the kneading jets of water.
As I recline, enveloped in stress-quenching heat, my upside-down panoramic view of the adults-only Quiet Cove on deck nine of the Disney Magic cruise liner suddenly falls into shadow.
A six-foot tall bloodhound and pointer mixed breed with honeyed fur and white sailor’s cap perched jauntily atop his head is waving at me, a candy apple tongue lolling from one side of his mouth. With exaggerated paw gestures, Pluto playfully motions me to make room in my swirling oasis.
Just then, a serendipitously timed horn signal comprising the first seven notes of When You Wish Upon A Star startles him – and not for the first time on my Disney Magic At Sea staycation cruise, full-throated laughter gurgles uncontrollably from my body.
International theme parks and resorts are currently off-limits due to Covid-related travel restrictions so these family-oriented two or three-night cruises exclusive to UK residents bring immersive Disney storytelling and entertainment to waters around London Tilbury or Newcastle upon Tyne until early October.
Cruises head out to sea to chase the sunshine so health screening before boarding is scrupulous. Adults must submit proof of full vaccination (seven days after the final dose as defined by the NHS) while under 18s require proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test result costing £79 through Disney Cruise Line’s third-party partner.
A further negative test result from a self-administered nasal swab at the port grants giddy admission to the liner and a personalised guard of honour into a lustrous Art Deco atrium guarded by a bronze statue of Mickey dressed as a helmsman.
The ebullient mouse and his coquettish girlfriend descend a sweeping staircase to deliver a rousing musical salute, which segues into a muster drill beneath distinctive yellow lifeboats, supposedly the same colour as Donald Duck’s webbed feet.
Hand sanitisers discreetly proliferate and face coverings are mandatory indoors for guests aged 11 and older except when eating and drinking (or contentedly napping in staterooms).
To promote physical distancing, maximum occupancy of 2,700 passengers has been significantly reduced.
As a cruise debutant, I’m pleasantly surprised by a spacious stateroom with private veranda, which can snugly sleep four. Curtains between the queen bed, single sleeper sofa and upper berth pull-down politely to divide the room.
Seventy percent of staterooms on the Disney Magic have ocean views and most have split bathrooms – a bath/shower and sink separate from a second sink and toilet to streamline families’ morning ablutions. It’s an American ship and uses a US power supply, so pack an appropriate adapter.
Busy daily programmes of activities, accessible via the free-to-download Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, begin at 8.30am and include bingo, quizzes, karaoke and violinist Anna Bachkalova performing Disney songs.
Meet and greets are replaced with frequent “appear and wave” sessions where princesses, Disney characters and Marvel superheroes enjoy socially distanced encounters in key locations and pose for masked selfies.
Black Panther seems particularly energised one afternoon by a throng of children caterwauling “Wakanda forever!” and confidently somersaults along a balcony.
The 40-foot-wide proscenium stage of the 977-seat Walt Disney Theatre on deck four boasts Art Deco and Art Nouveau design flourishes and hosts two performances daily of Tangled: The Musical.
This 70-minute West End-quality adaptation of the animation is exclusive to the Disney Magic and boasts a life-size articulated puppet of Maximus the horse and three new songs.
Up one deck, the 278-seat Buena Vista Theatre screens the latest blockbusters and classic animations including Black Widow, Cruella and Jungle Cruise.
Outside, where masks can be removed, Elsa, Anna and chums encourage frenzied dancing and ululations as they belt out songs from Frozen in the aptly named Freezing The Night Away celebration, which culminates in a swirling snow storm to the irresistibly infectious melody of Let it Go.
Children aged 3 to 12 have their own dedicated spaces on deck five. The Oceaneer Club hosts storytelling and character interactions in four themed areas including Andy’s Room from Toy Story with a Slinky Dog slide and the Marvel Super Hero Academy dominated by a life-size Iron Man.
Nearby, the Oceaneer Lab invites imaginative tykes to escape to Never Land aboard Captain Hook’s pirate ship with a hands-on arts-and-crafts studio, animation station and video games including a fiendishly difficult cruise liner simulator.
Connecting to the ship’s Wi-Fi network just to access the Navigator app is free but posting pictures and video on social media to taunt jealous friends back home or accessing emails necessitates the purchase of additional data on board.
Multiple devices can be linked to one login. I comfortably used more than half of the largest 1000MB data plan during my two-night cruise so exercise caution.
Disney operates a unique dining system on its liners including the Magic, which rotates guests through signature themed restaurants at two nightly seatings. Dedicated teams of severs rotate in unison, getting to know guests by name and their food and drink preferences.
Oversized palettes balanced on giant paintbrush columns are a masterful design feature of Animator’s Palate on deck four, which harnesses some of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust to transform a cavernous dining room festooned with static black and white hand-drawn animations into a colour-saturated multimedia spectacle.
Angus beef tenderloin dusted in ginger teriyaki, served on a bed of molten wasabi mashed potatoes, is a particular highlight of the main courses.
Rapunzel’s Royal Table on deck three is a participatory Tangled-themed dinner theatre hosted by the impish Snuggly Duckling Thugs with woodland decor and a hand-carved Pascal the chameleon concealed in decorative carpentry.
Princess Rapunzel and Flynn Rider’s swoonsome duet I See The Light is garnished with a procession of lanterns around the dining room. An appetiser of Ahi tuna tartare served with a sesame wonton crisp and sweet chili mayonnaise is buoyant on taste buds.
With the exception of Palo specialty dining on deck 10, exclusively for adults with a formal dress code, all meals are included in the price. Soft drinks are complimentary with meals but additional charges apply for beer, wine and bottled water.
Alcoholic beverages and sodas in the three bars and lounges on deck three also incur extra charges but there is a free soft drinks beverage station including tea and coffee on deck nine.
Sloshing water abounds to whoops of delight in Goofy’s Pool, which welcomes families to a splash zone of pouring paint cans and a double-looping Twist ’n’ Spout waterslide.
The loudest screams are reserved for AquaDunk on deck 10, behind the ship’s crimson forward smokestack. The floor of this 212 feet long waterslide falls always like a trapdoor, sending guests along a translucent tube that curves tantalisingly over the side of the ship.
Having fun can be exhausting so the Senses Spa & Salon on deck nine provides a perfect retreat from the gloriously controlled madness and hosts a gym with treadmills looking out to sea.
A 50-minute Swedish massage (£94) in harmony with the ship’s subtle movement is deliciously soothing. I’m sure my masseuse credits her dextrous handiwork for the contented grin flooding across on my face as I recall Pluto in the whirlpool spa. However, in the aromatically scented moment, it’s unabashed puppy love.
How to plan your trip
Disney Cruise Line (disneycruise.co.uk; 0800 171 2317) offers two or three-night UK staycations sailing on Disney Magic from London Tilbury or Newcastle upon Tyne from £2,392 for two adults and two children (ages 3-12) sharing a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom including full board meals, inclusive entertainment, taxes, fees and port charges. Price based on September 17, 2021 departure for a three-night staycation from London Tilbury. Costs for additional services and experiences on board and Covid testing apply.