My wife and I have deemed this year our family's "year of adventure" and one of these adventures was to take a cruise. We sailed with our two children (9 & 11) and save for a hiccup in St. Maarten (not a Disney fault), it could not have been a more perfect cruise. This was our first family cruise, my wife and I have cruised (Carnival) before, and surely will not be our last.
Embarkation – Disney has this process down to a science. We were supposed to board at 1030. We were running a bit late and instead arrived to the counter by 1100, showed our paperwork, took our picture (for security, boarding) and were on the Fantasy by 1130. The longest wait was with taking the boarding photo (optional). All in all, it was better than having a FastPass...
Disney Fantasy – When boarding you are "greeted" onboard by Disney CMs. I don't want to "ruin" what happens here, in case you do not know, but let's just say it's a nice and fun touch. After boarding, the wow factor kicks in. The Fantasy is a big and beautiful ship. From the public spaces to the small details within the bars, Disney has done a fine job. There is a lot to see and do and trust me, we tried to see and do it all.
As far as crowding, we had heard that she was going to be full (4,000ish passengers + crew) so we were a bit wary, but we later realized that with all of the things happening on the ship that appeal to mostly all ages, the ship never really seemed to get overly crowded. Everyone seemed fairly spread out so there never seemed to be huge crowds of people in one location. The only "congestion" that we experienced was lines for character pictures and just prior to seating for dinners, as folks tended to cue within the passageways. Cabanas, which is the buffet restaurant serving breakfast and lunch, would get busy but there always seemed to be a seat available. As a matter of fact, we were always able to walk about and find a seat at a window. In addition there are two sides serving the same thing which seems to dilute the crowd.
Cabin – Perfect. There were four of us and we fit nicely. Storage was sufficient for my wife's 89 pair of shoes and all of the other items (clothes, costumes, things) she/we brought along. We have a Sleep Number bed at home, and I did not miss it once. The Wavephones (basically shipboard cell phones) are an excellent way to keep in touch with the kiddos throughout the ship and after a small learning curve, are easy to use. Pull the trigger on a verandah room too...worth it.
Fitness & Recreation – Keeping it simple, the gym or fitness room onboard this ship is terrible (i.e. small). Maybe Disney did some research and learned that people on cruises don't really workout, or maybe they just simply ran out of space filling the ship with other means of awesomeness. Who knows, but if you are going to try to burn off those added cruise calories, bring yourself and your hangover to the gym when it opens at 0630. If not, hahaha! However we did use the top-notch spa, a couple’s massage, which was perfect.
Enrichment Activities – The whole cruise was an enrichment activity... So, yeah.
Dining – (Late) Always a center point of a cruise and Disney does not disappoint. We did not try Remy or Palo, due to what we thought would be logistical issues with the kids, plus family dinner time is (and should be...) a big deal. My kids are not your typical McDonald's babies. They eat, and like to eat QUALITY GOOD, so we were not going to upset this experience. However, our plan for the next cruise (already booked ;) ) is to either dine early (but not eat - well maybe an appetizer and some wine) with them, and have reservations for a later seating at Palo/Remy. This way we can fill their demanding bellies with happiness then send them off to enjoy one of their activities or clubs while we try Palo/Remy. Makes sense? Good. You should try that too.
Entertainment – We watched every show. EVERY. SHOW. We all loved the experience. Disney does a wonderful job with their productions and the variety acts, both adult and family, were great. Highly recommend to try and catch all of them if you can.
Service – Impeccable. Order a drink once and the server will know your name the rest of the cruise. Smiling faces greeting you everywhere, just perfect. Our servers Mircea (Romania), Zsolt (Hungary) were EXCELLENT X 10 to the point that our children were teary eyed when we had our last meal with them. I cannot say enough about these two gentlemen. Professional yet fun, they were amazing. Definitely added to our experience and overall enjoyment; promote now Disney! Jerry (Ireland) the bartender was in the Meridian during our cruise. He knows his craft, is a kick in the pants to talk to, and his passion for mixology is impressive. Find him and let him make you a drink. Donovan (Jamaica) was our room steward was quiet yet friendly and did a fantastic job taking care of our cabin while dodging my wife's 89 pairs of shoes.
Shore Excursions – St. Maarten: Due to a paperwork hiccup we could not swim with the dolphins in Anguilla so we switched to the Rhino boat excursion. Very fun, but now I owe my daughter a dolphin swim... St. Thomas: Tree Limin' (zip lines), do it. Super safe (seriously) and the guides are funny but very professional. Castaway Cay: Perfect. We got the snorkel/tube/bike package and were very happy. Take the bike ride, very fun and you get to see just how beautiful Castaway Cay is.
Value for Money – Remember, this review said "Disney". I think I just paid $5 for saying Disney. Value for money here is relative. When it comes to money, Disney knows how to make you enjoy spending…a lot of it. We are huge Disney fans, so yeah for us it was a good trade-off. I know Disney definitely enjoyed us spending our money. Seriously though, this ship is not practically rated the best in every category (except the tuna can gym) for nothing. It’s worth it.
Overall – Simply perfect. So much so that we have already planned our next cruise, requested our same waiters and are already counting down the days until we are welcomed back aboard the Disney Fantasy!