We sailed this last week on Disney Fantasy Eastern Caribbean sailing out of Port Canaveral. My wife and I had previously cruised on Carnival years ago, and had not been able to get any of our friends to go with us on another cruise. Rewind to March 2012 when some good friends told us they were going to cruise on Disney Fantasy for summer 2013. We jumped right on the opportunity. I'll tackle this in a chronological orientation:
1. Booking was amazingly easy. We booked through a Warehouse Club, but the website took us to the Disney Cruise Line website to do all the booking. We were presented with the categories and an easy comparison tool to weigh the pros and cons of each accommodation level. We selected an Oceanview Deluxe family stateroom, and were even able to select our specific stateroom at that time.
2. Information packet arrived very soon after we completed payment for the cruise. Between the information packet and the website, we felt we were very well informed on what to expect when boarding the ship.
3. Our appointment arrival time was 1 PM, and we did arrive at the terminal a little early at 11:30 AM (habits of travel). The embarkation process was very smooth and systematic; check in at the security gate with bags, check in at the desk with travel documents, check in at Kids Activities desk to get the kids band. The last one was the only one with a line. The kids had cartoons running in the terminal building, and several characters came out for greetings/photos. They do board by group numbers. We were assigned group number 19, and when we got there they were already on group number 12. They call two numbers at a time, about 5-10 minutes apart, so we walked up to the gangway entrance about 45 minutes after we arrived. In comparison, our friends travelling with us (same 1 PM boarding time) arrived at about 1:30, and were immediately allowed to board. They had the same boarding number, so your boarding number is tied to your appointment time, not your actual check in or arrival time.
4. The "getting onboard" was a little long, in that there was both a metal detector for you, an x-ray for your carry on, and a group photo that had to be negotiated prior to actually boarding the ship. I'd say that process took close to a half hour. Longest line in the whole embarkation process.
5. Lunch onboard at Cabanas. Easy to find something for everyone. It was a little crowded, and not easy to find a place to sit if you had a large carry-on bag. Probably wouldn't be a problem if you plan to arrive after 1:30, since the staterooms are ready after 1:30. Go to your room, drop your bags, then go have lunch.
6. The ship. Fantasy is a big ship, with so much to do. We did not have time to do it all in one week's time. A dedicated movie theater playing great movies, the Walt Disney Theater shows were good to excellent (Aladin show is not to be missed. Believe was very sweet, too), the Kids clubs, the grown-up clubs, the water attractions. Like I said, a lot to do. The two main pools are full of kids at all times (including the hot tubs) so if you want to do some quiet contemplative soaking, do so at the adult pools. The Satellite Falls pool was empty every time I went by it.
7. The Food. It was good to very good. I like the fact that the only assigned seating meal is dinner. For breakfast and lunch, you have the option of sit-down table service or buffet. Previous cruises I have been on all meals in the dining rooms were assigned seating, so you felt compelled to begin your day with your assigned seating for breakfast. If you were early seating for dinner, it meant you were having breakfast at 7:30 in the morning. On the Disney ship I felt that I could set my own schedule and have breakfast on my own timeframe. Some days I was up early to go work out and would have breakfast at 7:30 in the morning at Cabanas. Some days we slept in a bit and would go have breakfast just before service shut down at 11 AM. Either way, it was all good. One thing I can contrast with other cruise lines is that DCL seems to prefer quality over quantity. The dining options were very good, but the portions were not exaggerated. If you wanted more, order a second entree or go to the buffet. It really helped me control any over-eating issues. It was nice to have the ice cream machines available for the kids, as well as the self-service food area. You just never know when a kid or person needs a snack. The food at the self-service was okay, but I do have to report that I got some food poisoning from some Tuna Salad I had at the self-service sandwich counter. Not my imagination as both my wife and I experienced the same thing after eating the tuna salad wrap.
8. Overall, we were very please with our experience and felt that our money was well-spent.
What were some of my minuses/things I would change/advice to future cruisers?
1. There needs to be mention if characters are only going to appear once during the whole cruise, or if a particular appearance will be the last for a character. My daughter is a big Phineas and Ferb fan, and missed her opportunity to meet them as they only appeared twice and only on the first two days of the cruise. I kept telling her that they would put in another appearance, but it never happened.
2. Note the opening and closing times of the restaurants as listed on the Navigator every day. I went down to Enchanted Garden for breakfast one morning at 8 AM, only to find that they didn't open until 8:30.
3. Arrive early for character appearances. They do cut off the line at a certain point.
4. For our Eastern Caribbean cruise, note that Pirate Night is between two ports of call. That bit me in the behind when we were up early and out all day on St. Maarten, Then all the Pirate Night festivities got my kids to bed past 11 PM. An 6:45 AM wake-up call for an 8 AM Port Adventure was not well received by my crew the next day!
5. Get yourself packed up on your last day at sea. The last full day of the cruise is Castaway Cay, and if you are like us, you will make it back on board just in time to get changed for dinner. You will be bone tired and in no mood to start packing your bags which have to be ready by 10:30 PM. You are much better off packing everything up the night before Castaway Cay, then enjoying the Disney island, dinner, and the last show, then bed. Debarkation day starts early the next morning if you have the early dinner seating (only time you have assigned seating dining for breakfast) and goes very quickly from there.
6. Make sure your kids do the Pajama party and the "Boot Camp" at the Kids Club. They take home a couple of freebie souvenirs from each of these.
7. If there is even the remote chance you will take another Disney cruise in the following 18 months, go ahead and book it. There is no penalty to cancel, you only have to put down 10%, and you get a 10% discount on the prevailing rate. We went ahead and booked our next cruise, then when we got home did some comparison shopping. True to their word, the rate they quoted us was better than what we found on our own.
Good luck and smooth sailing to any future DCL vacationers. Definitely a vacation to remember
We had such a wonderful time in St. Maarten. We had a full day in port that started with a walk to the beach in Philipsburg. Its under a mile from the ship to the beach (walk out of the port gate, then turn right, follow that main road past the shipyard and you will start to see stores after about 10 minutes. Through those stores there is a walkway that puts you right on the beach). If you get off the ship early, the beach is practically empty. There are plenty of folks trying to get you to rent chairs and umbrellas. We got 4 lounges with 2 umbrellas for $15 for the day, which included WiFi access. Note that the beach in Philipsburg is small, and the water taxis run right up to the beach marker, so you don't want to go too deep into the water They have no respect for swimmers other than to gesture to them to get out of the way. We also had guys trying to get Jet Ski rental business run their skis right into areas where people were swimming. A little dangerous in my opinion. There is no lack of food or drink or shopping on this little stretch of beach, and prices are reasonable (especially for drinks as compared to what you are paying on the ship!)
Our great adventure, though, was renting scooters to go all around the island. My wife and I are experienced motorcycle riders, so we felt fairly confident in taking our daughters (ages 7 and 8) as passengers on scooters. Now, if you are not used to being in traffic on two wheels, do NOT ever do this. The islanders are tolerant of scooters and other two-wheeled conveyances, but there was the occasional arse that would cut you off or not respect your lane space. Just ride like everyone on the road is trying to kill you and you will be fine. Note that intersections are for the most part roundabouts. If you are not used to negotiating roundabouts, again, do not get on a scooter.
We did ride from Philipsburg all the way around the island, to the french side and to the town of Marigot. We stopped at the Marigot Visitor Information Center on the southern end of the market. The folks there were very helpful and pointed us to the entrance to an old fortification. It provided a wonderful view of the market and the bay. After a brief stop in the open market, we continued around the island through some very rustic countryside and some wonderful views, and came around to Orient Beach. The bay it sits in was very pretty, but we did not stop at the beach since we had kids with us and had heard that the beach was clothing-optional. Not our thing especially as a family! We continued our scooter tour, and got back around to the Dutch side and ran right in front of the cruise port. We dropped off the girls with a friend, and took the scooters back to to the rental shop. We had the scooters for about 5 hours, and the cost was $50 per scooter (plus the about 6 liters of fuel). Definitely would recommend it to anyone that is used to riding motorized cycles and is not afraid to get lost a couple of times!