Celebrating the Holidays on Board a Disney Cruise
Editor’s Review by Pamela Settle
The Most Magical Place on Earth takes its magic to the high seas every time a Disney cruise ship sets sail. We couldn’t believe just how magical this cruise would be, but our family was enchanted from the time we set foot in the terminal until the time we left with our luggage to go home. The magic still lingers in our memories and we can’t wait until the time comes to sail again.
We sailed the Fantasy for a seven-day trip to the Western Caribbean with port stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. But truly, the ports are secondary as the ship is the main reason to sail on this particular cruise line. Castaway Cay is a unique experience and only for Disney cruisers, so that stop was worth the day there.
Like so many of the other families on board for the Thanksgiving-week cruise, we traveled with extended family and had adjoining cabins with verandas. This may be the most perfect way to spend a week with family, as it had just the right amount of togetherness and separateness. The veranda cabins were a price upgrade, but depending on your budget, may be worth it to have the open door access to the ocean breeze. We all thought so.
As veterans to the Disney experience my family had a little idea of what to expect, but it was fun to witness the magic through the eyes of our relatives who don’t live in Disney’s back yard and haven’t yet been to the parks with their children. It started in the terminal where Mickey and Minnie were on hand to greet guests, and the super-friendly staff moved large crowds of people with the efficiency and speed that Disney does so well. Each family is piped aboard by chipper crew member who announced in our case, “Now coming aboard, the Settle family!” which was met with cheers from a row of smiling crew members. Now that’s a great way to feel welcome!
We entered in to the ship’s Atrium which is designed to have the glamour and style of the early cruise ships but enough whimsy and color to give it the Disney signature feel. The peacock inspired chandelier and carpet merged nicely with the elegant rails and staircase. It was beautiful.
With rooms not ready yet, our first day on the ship started with lunch in the main buffet dining hall, Cabanas. We were greeted by Aries, a most-friendly young lady from the Philippines who swept the children away to help them get lunch while the adults settled into the table with our carry-on luggage. My sister-in-law was immediately taken in by this level of customer service and was sure from that moment that she wanted to take Aries home with her. We discovered that this would be our experience for the entire cruise with most all of the crew on board the Fantasy. Crew members on our ship hailed from 60 different countries, and each one of them was well-trained and well-suited for providing this level of personal care and comfort.
The ship events never disappointed either. The Sailing Away deck dance party with characters set the happiness tone for the entire cruise. We would dance under the sky again for the Christmas show and on Pirate night. I’m not sure who had more fun, the kids or the parents. Each day’s newsletter is filled with activities that start with Sunrise Stretch on deck at 7 a.m. and end with dancing in their clubs past midnight. The hours in between are filled with classes, youth activities, shows, movies, crafts and games, all suited for the variety of ages on board. The versatile and talented entertainment staff could lead men through a fantasy baseball draft in the O’Gill’s lounge and then lead the high-energy kid’s show on deck, or karaoke and Bingo in the activity rooms.
That entertainment staff put on some fabulous shows in the gorgeous Walt Disney Theater, too. We saw three musical productions that week that carried the same quality as the shows you see in the parks, complete with singing, dancing, characters, puppetry, pyrotechnics and special effects. Three generations of families were together in front of live entertainment, something that probably doesn’t happen much at home – making the experience all the more memorable.
When families weren’t together at shows, at meals or in port, kids were in their camps. The targeted age group for their kid magic is three through 12 with two clubs, The Oceaneer Lab and The Oceaneer Club. These adjoining areas are a kid’s dream come true with video games, movies, animation lessons, dancing, crafts, contests and an opportunity to play in Andy’s room from the movie Toy Story. Younger children can spend time in the It’s a Small World Nursery and teenagers hung out in Vibe or Edge to enjoy age-appropriate activities like cooking classes, crafts, dances and games.
Parents got to play and relax, too, especially when the children were securely occupied at their camps. They took in shows, attended classes, watched movies, sat poolside or maybe even took a very well-deserved nap in a quiet room. The adult-only area is at the front of the ship with a private pool, whirlpool, sun deck, bars, fitness center and spa. The Senses Spa and Salon offers facials, massages, manicures and hair services.
On the Cozumel day, the ship was quiet and I managed to carve out time for myself to enjoy a relaxing half day at the spa with a collagen facial and time in the Rainforest, probably the best kept secret on the ship. For less than $40, you can purchase a day in this part of the spa that has a sauna, steam room, hot stone lounge chairs and private whirlpools. They give you a body scrub and a loofah and turn you loose to sweat, soften and rinse in their rain forest showers. Follow that up by melting into those heated stone chairs and you can barely get back to reality. I can tell you that this busy mom loved the bargain of those magic moments. The spa services are priced a little more than what you pay at home, but make a nice treat for moms who want to indulge a little while everyone else plays.
The food. Oh my goodness, the food is abundant and varied and going hungry is never an issue. The highlight is that you have three dining rooms for a sit-down dinner and you rotate each night, carrying your same serving staff with you. While Enchanted Garden and the Royal Court are beautifully appointed, the Animator’s Palate is by far the most creative way to dine. Screens throughout the dining room bring Crush to life to converse with diners and drawings on placemats are animated by staff behind the scenes. This is the type of Disney magic that cannot be found on other cruises and is pure delight and one-of-a-kind fun. Overall the food quality was above average. There were some lighter, healthier options if you looked hard, but most of it was rich and tasty. The children’s menus could use a little work, though. Seven nights of the same burgers, mac and cheese and pasta got old and all of it could have used a little more flavor. For older children, the adult menu’s lighter fare items were a good compromise.
The family togetherness for Thanksgiving week was a blessing and we all highly recommend this is as a family vacation. (Be sure to book the holiday weeks early as those fill up very quickly.) The Thanksgiving meal and Formal Night were occasions to dress up and take pictures, but it was Pirate Night that will stand out in our memories. There is nothing like seeing thousands of people, from infants to 80-year old grandparents all dressed as pirates. From the dining rooms to the deck Pirate show, “Aaargh” was in the air and junior swashbucklers waved their plastic swords with dreams of seeing Jack Sparrow in person – and they did!
By day seven, I had another seven days in me. And so did everyone else as the common feeling was wanting more. Granted a Disney cruise will cost more than other lines, but if you are looking for an experience that is family-friendly, positive, happy and full of magical moments, then this is the way to cruise for you. On my cruise I ran into two other families from Pinellas County and between the two of them they had been on a total of 37 Disney cruises! They have become vacation club members to take advantage of discounts, but they also recommend using a travel agent that has cash-back bonuses and watching for the occasional Florida resident specials that are posted on Disney on Mondays.