We're a family of four who cruise only occasionally (NCL, Royal Carribbean) but had annual passes for Disneyland for 15 years straight...so our expectations for this cruise were more based on our Disney experiences than past cruise vacations. Here is a breakdown on what worked and what could be better:
We arrived in FL on Thanksgiving night and spent Friday at the Magic Kingdom. Rented a car at the airport on arrival and dropped it off at the Avis location in Pt. Canaveral (this was also cheaper than a transfer for four). Avis shuttle dropped us off right at the ship - so far so good. Immediately approached by a baggage handler in Disney outfit, who asked that we "take care of him" since he would not be involved with the bag delivery ship-side. Now, while I understand the mechanics of this, I do object to being hit up for cash first thing on a 5k+ vacation. Perhaps baggage handlers could be paid per piece as part of the pre-paid gratuities? There has to be a better way!
The terminal was spacious and not very crowded, but the bathrooms were deplorable. The lady (Wendy, I believe was her name) who checked us in seemed very confused and it took her a long time to produce key cards. We had two rooms and needed additional cards, but were brusquely informed that we would have to go to guest services shipside to get these. When I made mention that the check-in system seemed complicated, her reply was "Why? All YOU had to do was stand there!". NOT the kind of treatment I would expect from Disney. This really had me questioning the wisdom of my vacation choice.
2. Sail away
Once on board (the announcement is a nice touch), we obligingly got in line at guest services to obtain the extra key cards. Our grumblings were somewhat assuaged by the fact that the ship lobby was beautifully decorated for the Holidays and the GS representatives (Candice, who became our guardian angel) was extremely accomodating and quite appalled by the treatment we had experienced on arrival. Once in our spacious rooms (a balcony room for my partner and me, an inside room for my 18 and 12 year old), I started unpacking. After all, the big advantage of cruising is that you only unpack once, right? So best to get it out of the way. Everyone else was out and about, exploring or running errands, but before long, disturbing reports came back. Key cards would mysteriously not work, even those that had worked before! The Fantasy has state of the art technology and entry into state rooms is controlled by RFID...so instead of inserting the key cards into slots, you just wave them in front of the sensor. Now commenced a drama that would take the next 30+ hours to resolve. Twice we went back to have the cards redone, but each fix proved temporary. Frustration mounted as we missed lunch, the sailing away party...and peaked when we could not get access to a supervisor. We finally figured out that through lengthy trial and error that the keycards issued shipside, when used to open a door, would inactivate the cards issued portside! Stephon and Jim (supposedly a supervisor) re-keyed everything for a third time and vanished to test out their new arrangement...without as much as an apology and never to be seen again! Candace saw our predicament and got David involved...who simply moved us to different (upgraded) rooms (there was a sign stating that all rooms were occupied and they wouldn't be able to accomodate upgrade requests...turns out that wasn't quite the case).
So our balcony stateroom got a little bigger and the kids scored by having their inside upgraded to the large balcony...they were happy, but we now had a new problem: we traded our smaller but perfectly quiet balcony room in for one with constant engine humming noise...which drove my partner nuts. We ended up going to the show and dinner knowing that we would move again (so much for just unpacking once) and ended up in our final room (9108) on Sunday afternoon.
Easily the best of any cruise ship I've been on (not that many, but still). Brand-new and nice Disney touches throughout. Like everyone else, love the split bath. The bed is a queen size, not pushed together twins like on other cruise ship. While this eliminates all risk of a "visitor's crack", my kids would have preferred the option to have two twins. Luckily, my easy-going son was just fine sleeping on the convertible (futon style) couch, so no drama there. We had a smoker next door, which limited the amount of time we could enjoy our balcony. Agree with previous posters who are lobbying for a smoking section...Disney would be perfect to lead the way for the cruise industry. Housekeeping kept things neat and tidy, but can't say they were superior to others. On the last day, I actually ran out of conditioner and had to use my own (ammenities are relatively large bottles and are NOT replenished daily like in most hotels...I thought they were a bit stingy in this regard). Also, I brought two bottles of wine on board to enjoy on my balcony. Not once was my used wine glass replaced with a clean one. Candice had put us on some sort of treat list to make up for our early troubles and we had a new surprise waiting for us at the end of each day: chocolate covered strawberries, meats and cheeses, assortment of desserts....while arguably there is no shortage of food on cruise ships, it still was a very sweet touch. She consistently went out of her way to find us and make sure we were well taken care off and by day 3, the drama of the early days had finally given way to a sense of vacation.
We only ate in the main dining rooms since we didn't want to miss out on any of the "special" menues and still have a chance to experience the regular fare. Very unique environments and each special in its own right. Fantastic servers provided extra touches (of course, Candice had put us in for special consideration here, too). My kids, who practically grew up in Disneyland asked for the kind of Mind Juleps they serve in New Orleans square and which weren't on the menu. The restaurant staff was not familiar with these (after all, the Florida park doesn't have a New Orleans Square) but after I described what it was came up with a real close concoction...and had them waiting for my kids every night. The only small issue we encountered was that our table consistently adjoined one of the main busing stations...every day and in each room. At the Royal Court, we were seated in a small side room. I realize that someone has to sit there and am willing to take my share, but perhaps the more undesirable tables could rotate? Once we spoke up about this, they happily moved us (someone is always skipping dinner or eating at one of the specialty restaurants), but I think it would be only fair to all passengers to make this more equal. While the meals in the dining rooms were exquisite (noone in my family ever regretted any choice they made), the breakfast buffet was equally impressive. I usually don't "do" buffets (one of the reasons we don't cruise more often), but this one had exception quality even for "difficult" buffet food such as Eggs Benedict (hard to keep at the right consistency) or Hash Brown patties (perfectly crunchy and not oily). Their strawberry yogurt is made with real strawberries and we typically ended up skipping lunch because we filled ourselves up at a late breakfast.
Castaway Key was great, even though Hurricane Sandy had turned all the foliage brown. Really enjoyed the snorkeling and looking for all the sunken Mickeys, Minnies etc. All the other ports....eh. Of course, once you're off ship the Disney glamour goes away and you're just on a cruise port excursion. I think the next Disney cruise will be more ship-based for my family.
There are really two cruises going on, one for the younger families and one for older families/couples/surprising amount of retired folk. Pirate night, for example, kicks off with a stage show on deck with all the characters aimed at the pre-school set....and ends with an open-air nightclub with DJ and light show. My son made fast friends with other young teens and my daughter participated in the 18-21 club, so we saw neither of them much unless we were on a port adventure together or it was show and dinner time (our family time). Afterwards they were gone again. Grown-ups have the Tube and several bars/lounges, kids have the D Lounge which hosts Karaoke and family dance parties. Everything worthwhile seems to be happening twice on the ship, if you have older kids (or no kids), go to the latter version...much less crowded. Characters elicited lines, but the handlers kept everything moving briskly. Purchased the $ 149 memory book, which you can put together at the Shutters kiosk: holds up to 34 pics from the ship photographer (so get those character pics and dining room picks) and already has every page decorated with great Disney art...definitely a bargain compared to the $20 prints or the $349 all-pic package.
All in all, will definitely cruise Disney again (probably as early as next summer). Felt like royalty (after the first two days, anyway) and a great time to spend family time and still do your own thing.