Let's get right to the point: Character meet-and-greets are the heart of a Disney cruise, and you'll see Mickey and Co. everywhere onboard, from the sailaway party and shows in the D Lounge (a family-friendly gathering spot featuring karaoke and the like) to random sightings on Castaway Cay and in the atrium. As excited as kids can get at the theater productions and interactive events, nothing brings bigger smiles than snapping that one-on-one photo with Minnie.
That said, the stage shows are unlikely to disappoint (unless you love -- as we do -- DCL's "Golden Mickeys" production, which isn't in the Fantasy repertoire). The lavish Walt Disney Theater is home to "Wishes," a new 45-minute musical centering on three teens worrying about the ramifications of growing up (don't we all?). Before you know it, a steady stream of Disney characters is warbling to the trio. It's harmless, infectious, big-budget fun. Ditto "Disney's Believe," which premiered on Dream and focuses on the story of a workaholic single father who reconnects with his daughter. Another host of old-time favorites make song-and-dance appearances, including Cinderella and Peter Pan.
Our favorite show is "Disney's Aladdin -- A Musical Spectacular," which lives up to its title. A Disney theme park fave, the show is making its debut at sea on Fantasy. Don't skip this one: The special effects are terrific, the jokes timely, the music lovely and the story familiar if you've seen the flick.
The popular "Pirates in the Caribbean" deck party is broken into separate parts on Fantasy, though darned if we didn't think the kids' portion was just as fun as the one for adults. A sing-along early in the evening for little ones called "Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean" is followed by "Hunt Fer Jack," a live-action show featuring Jack Sparrow rappelling off the funnel. The latter ends on an explosive high: Disney's now-iconic "Buccaneer Blast" fireworks. (Tip: For an unobstructed view, catch it from the Currents bar on Deck 13.)
Afterward, the family-friendly Club Pirate has everyone shaking their (pirate's) booty. It ends, unfortunately, precisely at midnight -- just when things really start to rock.
That's when adults can head to Deck 4's retooled "entertainment district," comprising a European-themed quintet of bars and lounges (hence its Europa moniker). On Dream, the area seems an afterthought, with winding corridors, empty bars divided by a tiled path and no real theme.
Not so on Fantasy: The areas include La Piazza, an Italian fun zone with a giant bar in the shape of a carousel; O'Gill's, an Irish pub packed with sports fans; Ooh La La, a sumptuous, garish French Champagne bar; and the Tube, a late-night club awash in a London vibe, complete with phone booths you can boogie in, subway-like seating and illuminated dance floor. Skyline, which features large-scale photos of European capitals that change every 15 minutes, is the only repeat from Dream -- though DCL wisely brought it back a bit larger. Look for the dancing Mickey in one of the photos.
Other watering holes include the aforementioned Currents, one of the few spots onboard that allows smoking, and the top-deck Meridien. The latter is a cocktail bar tucked between Palo and Remy; its outdoor terrace doubles as a cigar lounge.
Love Disney flicks? You can catch a wide variety for free on demand in your cabin or in the lovely Buena Vista Theatre, which features first-run movies (some in 3D) as well as classics. Movies, sporting events and music videos are also shown on the poolside jumbotron.