Was fortunate to be on Fantasy's 2nd full week cruise. In one word - Amazing!
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We are a family of 3. Dad, Mom, and our 9yo girl. We are relatively seasoned cruisers having been on 8 cruises with most of the big box brands (RCCL, NCL, Carnival, Costa) but this was the first Disney Cruise.
My expectations: I was not looking forward to a Disney Cruise. I had thoughts of screaming kids, faulty swim diapers, and Mickey shaped chicken finger dinners. Plus I do enjoy late evening casino tables which I had become accustomed to on the other cruise lines. I also enjoy quiet times and relaxing without an agenda as my job is high stress and I needed a break.
Embarkation: - We arrived at the Cruise terminal at about 1pm. We were suppose to fly in Friday and stay at the Embassy Suites but due to a sudden emergency missed our Friday morning flight and had to settle for a Red-eye through Atlanta. Not an optimal way to start the cruise but we made it. After previously being told that the cruise was sold out I expected long waits and lines. We literally walked up to check in and 10 minutes later WERE ON THE BOAT. They do have a separate area for checking into kids club in the terminal that had a lengthy line but the staff gave us a hint to just do it at guest services after we board. Perfect! One note: when you walk into the ship atrium they ask you your name and announce you on the ship to staff applause. I told them to announce us as Princess Mia (my daughter's name) and Family. This did not go over so well with my daughter. I guess I can be a little embarrassing at times
The Ship layout and decor: The atrium was beautiful as I expected. It didn't seem overly "Disney" at all. All I can say is it was very tastefully done - everywhere. Take some time to view pictures of the ship. The biggest difference from all the other ships to me was the fact that it was flawless. Not a mark on it anywhere. No wear and tear. But that's expected when you are on a brand new ship. I guess I really like NEW. I also noticed that the decks were not real wood. Looked like Trek style with lines painted on it to look like real wood. It looked great. There's too much detail to go through everything. The 2 things that stood out to me the most were: The ample amount of adult space on the ship and the kids club both of which I'll cover in overall impressions below.
The Cabin: We were on 9 midship with a balcony. The first thing I remember when I walked in was thinking, "Wow this is a lot bigger than I expected". Maybe it really wasn't - it just felt that way. I really like the curtain that would separate me and my wife from my daughter. The TV was in the center and on a swing mount so it could be moved from one side of the curtain to the other (clever). On my daughter's side was a couch/bed but she immediately noticed the ceiling had a spot for a pull down bunk and like most 9yo wanted to sleep up there. The room steward had no problem dropping it down every night for her to sleep in.
I really like the "separate bathrooms". Two rooms back to back one with the toilet and a prep area and the other with the shower/tub and a prep area. I though the shower - it was round and felt much roomier than expected - was great design. I bet they get alot of calls on it because the on/off lever is tricky. Turned left for the overhead Rain head, Right for the Wall head and straight up for the tub faucet. It has a separate know for temperature.
Another tricky thing was the balcony door. It's a slider. We've never had a sliding one so my wife kept trying to pull it open with the handle. We got a chuckle out of it.
The main bed has lots of space underneath for storage which we used for suitcases and some of the lifejackets as they took up to much of the limited closet space.
The Restaurants and the Food: Overall the food was OK in the main dining rooms. The concept is different from most cruises as you switch restaurants every night. Our first night was in Animators Palate. It was a awesome treat for our daughter as they have big screen TVs all around and do a show where the Disney Turtle, Crush, interacts with your children by name. On the second night in Animator's Palate you draw a cartoon character which they incorporate into a live TV show. Very FUN!! I would say the food in this Animators palate was OK but the portions were significantly smaller than any other cruise we had been on. Not a bad thing, just a surprise. The other 2 Restaurants were the enchanted garden and the royal court. Both were very nice. Not much different from other cruise ships. '
Of the two "pay" restaurants, Remy and Palo, we ate at Palo twice. The best Osso Buco I have ever had. Service was fantastic. You should do this at least once. We never made a reservation until the day of and both times got in at 7:30 no problem even though we tried to reserve a couple of weeks earlier and the web site told us they were not available.
Restaurant Service: Unfortunately our service initially in the main restaurants was NOT GOOD. Our head waitress was dis-interested and went through the motions several times mixing up the orders. Our assistant server was better but it was quite obvious they did not work as a team. The servers follow you to the different restaurants each night so after night 2 we asked for new ones and the rest were GREAT! One of the staff told me that 30% of the staff were new hires to Disney for this ship. I noticed two things about the staff. One was that they were significantly younger than most of the staffs we had experienced in the past. The second was that there were far more native English speakers (US and Canada) than we were used to.
I'll go quickly through this section. First off we are not planning on doing any excursions this trip. We've done them most before.
Grand Cayman: We got off to do some browsing, have lunch, and go to the beach. 7 mile beach was disappointing at best. It may have been 7 miles long but seemed like the entire cruise ship was packed into .1 mile. The beach terrain was not that good either. I've done stingray city before in GC and I would highly recommend it as a must do.
Costa Maya: Nothing there. Wasn't worth our time to even get off.
Cozumel: Same old stuff. We had some lunch here and enjoyed it but I get tired of the same old shops carrying the same stuff each trying to woo you into there store.
Castaway Cay. This place I loved. They had all the water toys and activities you could want. Something for everyone. If you want a little more quiet walk as far as you can towards the water slide as it is less dense, less rows of chairs. They have a private snorkel area where the fish essentially chase you expecting food. That freaked my daughter out. I didn't like it much either.
The Shows: They were REALLY GOOD. The sets were top notch. My daughter is an aspiring singer, actress, "pet"tranarian and she loved them. One of the staff, Laura, met my daughter at kids club and arranged a meeting with two of the show's main stars at the Ice Cream counter on board. They talked to my daughter for 30+ minutes. OUTSTANDING.
Few other quick things:
On the formal night I did wear a tux. I would say less than 10% do this. I actually forgot my shows and even though they do not have a formal wear rental shop on board like other cruises a quick stop at the Service Desk yielded me a pair of tux shoes from wardrobe.
On the pirate night we did purchase and bring costumes on board. I would say about 15% of the people on board do this. They do provide head scarfs at dinner that evening and beads that night. In the stores they do have pirate costumes for $85+
My daughter got a big kick out of our costumes and we got lots of compliments from fellow cruisers (probably directed to my wife ) so it was well worth bringing the costumes which were about $45 each.
On the last evening of the cruise my daughter mentioned that we didn't see the BBB so I decided to check it out with her. Turns out there were two stylist there and no customers. I said "why not" and we paid $56 for the choice of 3 styles and a princess crown. Mia got the "princess" style and it stayed good for almost 4 days! We went to disney world for 3 days after the cruise and the disney world staff all called her princess. I would have paid $100 just for the smile on her face.
One more note to pass along on cruise photos. I get annoyed when they are "forcing" photos of you every time you get on and off the ship, at your dinner table, etc. Disney had less of this. I was glad. There were plenty of picture opps but I felt I was being sold to less. I also LOVED the way you didn't have to hunt for your pics as they keep them all in one folio and you use your room key to determine where they are in the photo "library".
They were expensive though - you could buy the digital dvd for $350 - I would have for 200 but not 350. We ended up buying $120 worth. We also literally saw people using high end cameras sitting down with their folios and snapping pictures of the pictures. Crafty yes - but I though that was not right. The photographers need to eat too.
Final Thoughts and Overall Impressions: I have to mention the kids club. It is without comparison. The layout, staff and activities are the best. You could literally bring your child there in the morning and leave them till midnight and they would thank you for it. I expected to have zero "alone time" with my wife but it was quite the opposite Thanks kids club for a job well done!! I also want to comment on the adult space. There seemed to be literally more adult only areas than kid areas on the ship. A pleasant surprise. While the kids pool areas were very OVERLY crowded the adult areas were sparsely populated. The aquaduck was cool albeit short for the typical 35 minute wait. Go at dinner time or later and you'll almost walk right on.
Overall we loved it. I may go as far as saying that even if we didn't bring our daughter along I would highly consider Disney. With kids, It is worth the extra money you will pay without question. THANK YOU DISNEY!