Disney Magic grows up
A family of five gives this cruise another opportunity and discovers that the former snags had, almost magically, been sorted out
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Key West, a vibrant island haven for artists and other free spirits, seems much larger than its two-mile-by-four-mile area. This final Florida Key, located 150 miles south of Miami and 90 miles from Cuba, could just as easily in some ways be a million miles from the US.Skip to next paragraph
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Daytripping along notorious Front and Duval streets with my daughter and our San Francisco friend, Rada Brooks, and her daughter, Elisabeth, was an eye-opening delight. Chickens and pigeons mingled surprisingly peacefully with feral cats. Dogs gnawed on coconuts as if they were prime rib.
Wandering into the Clinton Square Market, the girls were delighted to discover an albino parrot hawking the bird show upstairs for her genial owner. The bird nibbled a metal ring out of Lyndsay's bucket hat, then hopped onto Elisabeth's waiting arm. Only the promise of tasting a local legend Key lime pie on a stick could tear the girls away.
Both quickly agreed that the famous Key lime a small, thin-skinned version of the common lime made this zingy, $3 frozen and skewered piece of real pie dipped in chocolate simply unforgettable.
A word of caution here: Daytripping is the only recommended way for families to wander about Key West. Sunset may bring out seedier Key Westers, especially along notorious Duval Street, dubbed Bourbon Street by locals for good reason.
British and beautiful, Grand Cayman is refreshingly different from Key West. Once a refuge of plundering pirates and shipwrecked sailors, the island today is home to some 39,000 friendly Caymanians who speak English with a lovely lilt a West Indian accent tempered with a Scottish burr.
Here, much of the fun is found beneath and around the surface (unless you're die-hard shoppers as my daughter and I are). This island is a hit with the whole family because of its aquamarine waters teeming with stingrays and other aquatic life, pristine, palm-fringed beaches, and what's billed as the world's only turtle farm.
We took the divide-and-conquer approach to daytripping on Grand Cayman: Lyndsay and I hunted (successfully) for Tommy Hilfiger deals (it's a British isle, after all), while the rest of the group fed handfuls of squid to the friendly inhabitants of Stingray City, a sandy, shallow reef just offshore. It's home to a flotilla of southern stingrays.
At our final port the feisty Mexican island of Cozumel we began the day with the customary beach party for the kids and a morning scuba dive to Palancar Reef for the adults. (We had an excellent time spotting lime-green eels and a big sea turtle.)
Then we had fun bargaining for hair braids and baubles along Avenida Rafael E. Melgar, the waterfront thoroughfare along the pier where the Magic berthed.
In contrast to Castaway Cay, Disney's private Bahamian island, where everything that happens on the beach is safely scripted, the kids got a real-life eye-opener walking the streets of Cozumel.
On this island enclave, best known for its white-sand beaches and awesome scuba diving and snorkeling, prices are negotiable. The kids reveled in haggling in rapid-fire Spanish. And the girls delighted in getting a "half-head" from crown to ear of tightly woven braids cinched closed with flower-shaped beads.
Although the residents are respectful of visitors big and small, the youngsters stuck close to their moms and dads. There's an aura of uncertainty in Cozumel that is palpable. This made our final stop a return to the predictable beauty of Disney's Castaway Cay sheer joy for families.
Disney had also made welcome changes here: Sports and water activities now qualified as "shore excursions" for which one could purchase advance tickets.