Fabulous new Fantasy
I full enjoyed a 7-night Preview Cruise this week to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Disney's private Castaway Cay on board the brand new Disney Fantasy sailing from Port Canaveral FL.
The first two days at seas were spent exploring this beautiful new vessel, an expanded and technologically updated version of Disney's original ships, the Magic and the Wonder. Two additional stateroom decks and an added 150 feet in length accomodate 4000 passengers and over 1400 crew members very comfortably, and without making you feel as though you must take a five-mile hike to get to dinner. Disney creativity ("Imagineering") is evident everywhere: framed artwork comes to life when you approach, lighting and A-V systems in the staterooms are state-of-the-art, and the evening entertainment productions rival anything you might see on Broadway. Inside staterooms provide a "virtual porthole" showing real-time video images of the same view enjoyed through an actual porthole in an outside room. All More
staterooms include two on-board cell phones to easily keep in touch with your cabin mates and anyone else on the ship. Tyhe "Aqua-Duck" water slide is unique to this ship and was a big hit with both kids and adults.
This particular trip was heavily populated by Disney employees and VIPs, so I was not able to get dinner reservations at Palo's, the superb northern Italian restaurant which is very popular on Disney's other ships. It didn't matter. The food and service in all of the regular restaurants was excellent - and even better than expected - even off the ship at Castaway Cay.
Of course, there is a strong focus on children's activities and there was no disappointment. Well-loved Disney characters (and photo opportunities) were plentiful and, while I did not travel with children, it was obvious that there was a lot of catering to their interests and needs - including well-populated programs for tiny tots, teenagers, and everyone in between.
There were a surprisingly large number of areas and activities set aside for adults only. While the kids were well cared for, parents could enjoy quieter pool areas, lounges, cafes, dining, and entertainment.
More new production shows are in final rehearsals and, after one more week with with media and special guests, I think Disney is going to have another big "Hit" with the Fantasy. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Just like on board the ship, Disney has done an excellent job of providing for both children and adults - separately, if you prefer.
There are many choices of water activities (extra costs for anything more than just swimming), including an interesting opportunity to feed and swim with sting rays close to shore. For snorkeling newbies, there are real and artificial reefs which host a variety of colorful fish.
A lavish lunch buffet is included, providing very good food and plentiful selections.
Too many organization, - including Disney - apparently believe that everybody wants to hear loud music all of the time. My one complaint about Castaway Cay was being constantly assaulted by loud music - everywhere - including in the toilets! Gimme a break.
Car rental at the cruise port in St. Maarten can be tricky. If you are making your own arrangements, BE CAREFUL. Be sure that you understand what insurance may or may not be provided by your credit card. Your Own car insurance probably does NOT APPLY. REYNOLDS CAR RENTAL promised "All New 2012 Cars". After you agree and give them a credit card, they tell you that they are "all out of cars - how about a Jeep?". At their car lot, it appeared that ALL of their vehicles were very used Jeeps in various states of disrepair. Ours had an all-or-nothing air conditioner(somebody had stolen the control knobs) and a hair-trigger accelerator. They never asked for a driver's license and the only thing they filled in on the cursory rental form was to write "Paid" on the "Liability" line and a large "90" across the front, indicating a $90 total fee for rental and insurance. Gas is very expensive on the island. Plan on 75 cents per mile to refuel.
Roads are pretty rough (worst on the Dutch side) and driving will keep your adrenaline pumping. Do not expect your home town driving courtesies. Here, there is sometimes a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere. Parking in towns can be very cramped.
The Butterfly Garden is about 15 minutes east from Philipsburg and was interesting and educational with a very good "tour" provided. Kids will enjoy chasing and holding the various butterflies. Regular admission is $14, which includes re-admission several times if you're staying for a week. As one-day cruise visitors, we got a $2 discount.
We were on one of four large cruise ships in port and number three in line at the dock, so it was a fairly long walk from the ship just to reach the shoreline. There were plenty of taxis ($4 each way to/from downtown). Roads are much better than on St. Maarten.
Ship Excursions or locally-arranged water activities (snorkel, scuba, sailing, etc.) are plentiful.
The primary purpose of this island seems to be SHOPPING (my least favorite activity). As many shore excursion focussed on shopping we chose to simply wander around and enjoy the scenery and architecture. Many historic buildings and sites can be identified with a little advance research.