Our priority was Disney; the Caribbean was merely context. While we loved reliving our childhoods, though, we spent every day in gratitude for the warm sun.
We booked our cruise through The Magic for Less Travel, and our travel agent, Laura Augenti, was a steady correspondent and full of great information. I especially appreciated the on-board credit that we earned by booking through her and by using my Disney credit card; the on-board credit covered the gratuities for the week plus some small purchases.
While we booked our own flights, we used the Disney bus to reach Port Canaveral, which was easy, fun (our bus driver LOVED his job!), and informative. The preparatory movie they showed gave valuable insight to activities and opportunities on board.
I have heard people complain about the staterooms being too small, but ours was the perfect size for the two of us, especially since we were rarely in there. Indeed, I am amazed that so many amenities could be fit into every single room on board! It was very well lit, the couch turned into a bed, there was plenty of storage space, and the TV rotated to face any direction. Our favorite part was the window: though we had an inside room, there was a fake porthole that showed live feed of the outside view, and every now and then a Disney character would swoop past on the screen!
Our host took very good care of us, as did the hosts of all the surrounding rooms. They were always around, greeting us with big smiles and making sure we were having a wonderful time. They knew us by name within a day. I loved the international diversity of the ship hands--they were from all around the world! One of my favorite parts of Disney vacations is the customer service, and Disney Fantasy did not fail me.
We ate like princesses every night. Both of us are light eaters and had some of the strangest requests (can we order two appetizers? Can we share this dish?), which our server handled very cheerfully. Because we were so young, she went out of her way to mother us. She had great recommendations for every part of the menu. One time when we ordered a specialty drink that we did not like, she promptly removed it from our bill, without fuss.
While Disney Fantasy has a plethora of activities for children of all ages and for adults, they are still striving to fill the gap for that awkward 18-21 age range. Those of us in that range had luncheons and gathered to watch shows together. The caterers can improve their activities for the "18-21 Club," but they're on the right track. We put our best foot forward to participate, and we made a few good friends.
We loved the Disney movies shown all day long in multiple theaters, including the deck so we could watch from the pool. There was a huge hullabaloo in honor of new-release Monsters University. We loved the nightly live performances. We loved the Disney trivia, where we found out how little we knew and learned a lot. We loved the detective game that sent us running throughout the entire ship, hunting for clues. We loved the animation courses, just like at Hollywood Studios in Disney World. We got to meet Peter Pan! We were very well entertained.
In our down time, we lounged on the adult deck. Through some engineering feat (or Disney magic), we could hear no noise at all from the kids swarming the rest of the ship. I have never found it so easy to relax and do nothing. There were plenty of lounge chairs for everyone--in the sun and in the shade, in the breeze and well-harbored. We even had private adult pools.
My one complaint about the ship is the limited shopping opportunity. I would have loved a generic Disney store, especially for clothes, but amazingly, they didn't have one! There were stores, but almost everything was marked "Disney CRUISE." We were left longing for Downtown Disney in Orlando.
On the days that we docked, we planned our own excursions for two reasons: to save money and to avoid the Disney children. We had wonderful experiences with guides that were kind, knowledgeable, and attentive to the necessity of returning to the ship on time. Though I am curious about how Disney excursions went, I do not at all regret taking our adventures into our own hands.
At Grand Cayman, the shops were diverse and quiet, without vendors shouting at us. The locals were kind and patient, especially the drivers, who had numerous opportunities to run us over. Our excursion for the day was horse-back riding in the ocean through Spirit of the West (http://www.seahorses.ky/). Their correspondence by email is very informative, full of all the information we could possibly need to know. Because our ship was leaving in the early evening, they bumped up the ride from their normal 2:00 start time to 1:00 for us--we didn't even have to ask! Though we had trouble figuring out exactly where the van would pick us up, some locals set us straight, and everything from then on went perfectly. As opposed to some ranches, this one was not picky about clothes: you could wear whatever you want, including shorts and flip-flops. Definitely wear your swimsuit; it's easier than changing on the beach. The horses were well-cared for and loved by their handlers, and our guide was friendly and helpful. The ride lasted an hour and a half to two hours (it was not rushed!), with a few minutes taken to unsaddle the horses for a 15-minute ride in the ocean. A photographer was present to take pictures while we were in the water. Afterwards, because we had extra time, they dropped us off at their favorite beach and recommended some local foods, and they informed us about the bargain price for the bus ride back to the port. All in all, this excursion could have been hosted by Disney, its customer service was so amazing.
Costa Maya was a different story. I did not have an excursion planned for this port because we were only there for a few short hours, and I expected to lounge the afternoon away on a peaceful beach. Not only was there no beach, but there was also no peace! The port is crammed with vendors; it is a regular tourist trap. We tried to get out of there by purchasing access to a private beach, but when we got on the bus we thought the salesman had pointed to, no one knew what we were talking about! By then it was too late to go back, so we simply got off at the next stop. There, we found a FREE quiet beach with FREE kayaks and FREE lockers and very kind vendors who gave us FREE drinks. Unbeknownst to us, this method of greeting tourists is common; the vendors make their money off of tips. Lessons of the day: do not stay at the port, and do not pay for the beach. Pay a few dollars for a bus ride and a few dollars as tips, and relax.
Cozumel was better. We used Sarah Rodriguez's Cozumel Concierge (website: http://cozumel-mexico-vacation.com/index.html) service to go SCUBA diving. Sarah was a steady correspondent before and after, putting us in touch with our diving instructor and following up to make sure we enjoyed our experience. Our teacher, Jorge, was funny and instructive; it was very easy to trust him as he taught us to use our equipment and then led us on our adventure under the sea. The location was secluded and simple but not lacking in amenities. Definitely worth the money! However, there were some bumps in the road. First, I had trouble getting a straight answer about how much money we owed; I had a ballpark figure in mind, but no matter how many emails I sent, I never get a definite number in response. Luckily, my ballpark figure was correct, so there was no lasting problem there. Second, even though we double-checked the date and time of our excursion, Luis still scheduled it for the wrong day, so he was not available when we showed up! Jorge saved the day by promptly canceling his plans and filling in for Luis. Third, while Cozumel is famous for its reef, we did not get to see it because we were beginner divers. We had an amazing experience where we did dive, but it would have been nice to know what we would be seeing beforehand. Still, I recommend Cozumel Concierge because they are trustworthy, fair-priced, and good-natured.
Our last stop was heavenly Castaway Cay. Save your "do-nothing" beach day for Castaway Cay, which is mouth-wateringly beautiful, clean, and fairly quiet. The shopping opportunities were limited, we indulged in a complementary barbecue, and we floated for hours in the sea. As a result, we enjoyed ourselves without spending an extra penny.
When the last day finally arrived, Disney adeptly cut through our depression to usher us off the ship. They are always smiling! We accidentally left our bags in our room while we went down to breakfast (our rooms were supposed to be cleared by 9:00 AM), but no big deal. They waited for us. The chipper Disney bus back to the airport was ideal because it weaned us off our vacation more gently than a taxi or rental car would have. Of course we left with plans to return one day.
Somehow Disney had so thoroughly vacationed us that we were at peace with returning home. We had enjoyed a tranquil week of sunshine and laughter, and we could carry that spirit home with us. We were rejuvenated, in the truest sense of the world: Disney had made us children again.