After 18 months of waiting/planning our first Disney Cruise finally came. A little about the players: DH (41), me (Mom/DW) (40), DS (8), and DS (4) are all certified, card-carrying Disney fanatics. We have traveled to WDW numerous times and we love all things Disney! We booked our cruise in late June, 2011 and chose the Deluxe Family Ocean view room for the extra space and large porthole. We really wanted a balcony but with DS only being 4 my nerves couldn't handle it ?. DH and I read many reviews and posts on various subjects while planning the cruise. With 18 months, we read A LOT!!! We chose the Eastern Caribbean because we had never been there. We tried in 2010 on a different cruise line, but two back-to-back hurricanes re-routed us to the Western. This was our family's first Disney Cruise and both sons' first cruise ever. DH and I have traveled Carnival several times. We originally planned on not telling the boys until we left but I could not wait so 3 months prior to departure, we told the boys. I am so glad we did. Hearing my 4 yo talk about "Mickey's boat" and "the cruise" was priceless. That pretty much summarizes us so on with the review. This is my first review of any trip we have taken so thanks for tuning in.
I will start with the cost. A Disney cruise for 4 people is expensive. A trip to Disney for 4 people is expensive. In comparing apples to apples -- most notably the size of the rooms that Disney provides. You have to start with a suite level on both Carnival and Royal Caribbean to get the roughly the same size room and for a family of 4 the cost is almost equal. Can you cruise cheaper than Disney? Of course, you can. What you spend on a vacation is a matter that only you and your family can determine. Disney does not nit-pick the little extras with you. Sodas have been mentioned numerous times but something I would not have thought about happened in San Juan. It was a typical Caribbean rain storm when we docked. I jokingly said to my husband "I wonder if they have the ponchos they sell at the parks for sale today?" His response "I'm sure they do". As we are leaving the ship, there are several cast members handing out (no extra charge) the very ponchos we had talked about. One cast member sees me making knots in my youngest son's so that it would fit better and he walks over and hands me a child size and says "this may fit better".
The Ship: By far the most gorgeous ship we have been on. We love Disney but we love subtle Disney. The Fantasy does Disney subtle. Yes there are Mickeys (hidden and overt) everywhere but the characters are so well done, you forget that you are surrounded by cartoon characters. The main chandelier is indescribably beautiful! I took several pictures of it and still don't think I did it justice. The ship was decorated for Christmas and we loved it! The giant gingerbread house was fabulous. We have not seen the one at the Grand Floridian but this one has to be close, just not big enough for people to go in. The art work both interactive and just art work is great. We LOVED the Mid-ship detective agency! You get your walking in which is good because you eat from the time you wake up until just before you go to bed ?!
Service: I will tell you the service on the Fantasy is top notch! We had a great dining team and a wonderful room steward. Every cast member we came in contact with was smiling, polite, and went above and beyond to ensure our vacation was superb! A couple of examples: while at Flo's Cafe for an afternoon snack, one of the officers was also ordering lunch. He sees me, steps back and insists that I order before him. All I wanted was a couple of chicken fingers for a snack. The gentleman serving the food asked did I want fries with that, no I said. He asked how many fingers and I said three. He smiles and looks up at the officer and says "He's my boss, aren't you sure you don't want more? We have plenty". All three of us laugh. We are working on our mid-ship detective agency when around the corner comes Goofy. He stops, gives the boys high-fives and proceeds to "talk to us". He acts out who he thinks the culprit is and my boys eat it up. I could go on and on with stuff like this.
Our room: perfect size for our family of 4. Plenty of storage space. I try really hard to "pack light" but unfortunately I never succeed. All luggage, as many have mentioned, fits easily under the bed. The table in front of the sofa/bed is a storage chest so we could keep our dirty clothes out of the way. The split bathroom is awesome! Having one boy in the shower while the other was brushing teeth/hair and not all in the same space....fabulous! Made getting dressed a snap. Oh and Mom had her own dressing table in front of the sofa. I had read how you don't need to bring your own hair-dryer because the one Disney provides is great. About 5 days into the vacation after not being impressed with the wattage of the dryer, I plug the dryer into the full wattage outlet (all the converter outlets were being used with battery chargers for our cameras) and get a surprise...the dryer is great! So for all you women out there, don't plug the dryer into the converter outlet (it does fit by the way) use the round one (don't know what it is called ?). It makes a huge difference.
Food/dining: There is plenty of it! We loved rotating restaurants for dinner. Dinner menus had a great variety. I had some super good dinners and some that were just ok. I don't remember anything that I did not like. My husband had one appetizer that he did not like but that had more to do with his personal taste than the dish. Cabanas had options for everyone. Breakfast and lunch was always great. Flo's Cafe is also great. I have fairly picky kids when it comes to food. They don't like to try new things but when they do, they do generally like it. I say that to say, they frequented Flo's because that is their kind of food. I do have to say that Cookies (and Cookies Too) food is fantastic. Even with the downpour that occurred just before lunch on Castaway Cay, the food was terrific. My boys frequented Eye Scream as did the adults. We did not do Remy or Palo as this was our first cruise. We had booked a Palo lunch but had to cancel it because it conflicted with another event that we did as a family.
We had late seating and we are so glad we did. With the time difference, it would have felt like eating at 4 in the afternoon on some days. We had a table for 4. We did not request it because we have always enjoyed meeting new people at dinner. I must say that we did enjoy having dinner just the 4 of us each night. Disney does great job with dine and play. Dinner starts at 8:15 and the servers get the kids appetizers, entree, and desert completed in an hour all while not rushing the adults. At 9:15, kid's club counselors meet at the front of the restaurant and take the kids back to the clubs for the rest of the evening. It is the best of both worlds, mom and dad get a sit down dinner (a rarity for our family because we are always on the move at home) with the boys and the boys do not have to endure a 2 hour meal.
Our dining rotation was AERAERA which we thoroughly enjoyed. We got Animator's on pirate night and Royal Court and Enchanted Garden on formal and semi-formal night. Crush show is FANTASTIC!! Very similar to Turtle Talk with Crush in EPCOT. What impressed us the most is that we could not figure out how/where the microphone was hidden because when Crush was talking to our boys it was hard for us to hear what they were saying much less the turtle. The boys still talk about that night. The animator show is just absolutely amazing. We all loved drawing our characters and seeing them on the screens. This is the only night the boys did not leave dinner to go to the clubs. Royal Court and Enchanted Garden are both beautiful! Loved the changing from day to evening in Enchanted Garden.
St. Thomas: our youngest son is 4 but not the least bit scared of water and water adventures. Disney has a 5 yo cut off for all of their snorkeling excursions so we had no choice but to book on our own which we would have done anyway. We have found that you can get better and cheaper port excursion on your own if you do your research ahead of time. We booked a full-day (6 hr) sail aboard the Rumbaba out of Red Hook Bay. The sail included breakfast bread, appetizers, a full lunch, two snorkel stops, anything you can think of to drink, and a gorgeous day of sailing.
San Juan: the day started off wet but after a couple of hours cleared up beautifully. My cousin lives there so we had a personal guide as we toured the island and waited out the rain. We walked through the old Spanish fort at the mouth of the bay. The boys really liked "shooting the cannons at the pirates". We ate lunch at a local restaurant and had mufungo (I hope I spelled that right). It is a dish made with meat (I had beef) and smashed plantains. It is absolutely delicious!
Castaway Cay: How do you describe a perfect island in the Bahamas with a touch of Disney flair? You can't. We were on the bow of the ship as we are docking and all we could say was WOW. It is this small island that has been perfected by Disney. There is a sea wall that is to keep out "big" sea life. The island is divided into a boating both motor and manual area, two family beaches with snorkeling area, and the adults only area. When we arrived it was low 70's but we knew that was not going to last long as there was a storm approaching. We played on the beach for a couple hours. We wanted to do Pelican Plunge but for us the water was just too cold. We were just about to take out the bikes that we had rented to explore the island when the bottom fell out. I mean real tropical down pour. It rained for almost an hour and during that time the temperature dropped about 10-15 degrees. After lunch we through in the towel and returned to the ship. Because of the weather, the crew had added some more activities for the afternoon so the boys and I went to see Wreck It Ralph while DH took a nap. After the rain and clouds cleared, the sun came out and it was again a perfect island. Only down side was the 30-40 mph wind gusts and change in temperature. We would have loved to have had more time on the island but no one can control the weather.
Kid's clubs: My boys RAVED about them! The Oceaneer Club and Lab are for ages 3-12. My youngest took most of the week to realize that he could go to the club even though his brother stayed in the Lab. There was so much for the kids to do that we would sit down each night and highlight each person's activities for the next day. We made it to most of them but missed some too. My oldest loved making flubber and the WII challenges and my youngest loved the magic dance floor and having the characters come and read stories or play with him.
Overall this was one of best family vacations we have taken. Does it replace WDW? For our family never! Does it stand on its own merits? ABSOLUTELY yes! I can say that this cruise is the only one DH and I have taken that when we left, we looked at each other and said we will do this cruise again -- same ship and itinerary. And we did, we are booked for August, 2014. Can't go back next summer because we have to go to WDW ?. It's been 18 months since we were last there. Thanks for reading! I am sure that I have missed something but I hope you have enjoyed our adventure. We sure did!