Live From Disney Fantasy

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    When Disney Dream joined the fleet in 2011, it heralded a bigger-is-better era for the Mouse. Now comes Disney Fantasy, which is the same size but thinks even bigger. Because Fantasy will be plying the Caribbean on seven-night cruises (rather than Dream's three- or four-nighters), there are more shows, more space on deck for adults to lounge, (even) more activities for kids and a retooled playground of sorts for grownups. Pictured here is the Tube, a London-centric club that's one of the funkier parts of the European-themed bar "district," which also has an Irish pub and an Italianate lounge boasting a bar in the shape of a carousel.

    Intrigued? Cruise Critic was allowed to roam the ship during a three-night sampler, March 23 - 26 -- and we've got the stories to prove it. Read on for 14 snapshots from Fantasy.
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    1 p.m., March 23, 2012: First stop on a new cruise ship? The buffet, of course. While several key areas have changed onboard Fantasy, much is the same as Disney Dream. You'd be hard-pressed to notice any differences between the two ships' Cabanas foodfests, but this struck us: "Roasted steamship," which sent us scurrying to Google to figure out exactly what it was we were eating. It's basically just a big hunk of beef, and Mouseke-eaters were lining up for it. Naturally, we joined the queue. The verdict? Eh.
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    4:30 p.m., March 23, 2012: Hey, Disney does everything big, right? While the sailaway party didn't change too much -- save for the appearance of Disney Cruise Line president Karl Holz, who couldn't really compete with Mickey and Co. -- there was the matter of the complimentary Champagne and cool souvenir glasses. Shortly thereafter, the ship began its inaugural voyage out of Port Canaveral -- and not a moment too soon.
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    5 p.m., March 23, 2012: The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab kids havens haven't changed much at all, but during a preview for the crowd onboard, the most buzzed about aspect was the automatic hand cleaners. Yes, the hand cleaners. Forget about the awesome games, interactive floor, faux volcano, etc. People were literally lined up to try their, ahem, hands at the techno-marvels. Stick your hands in, wait a few seconds and a whirl of water deep-cleans your fingers. They don't dry them, mind you. There are paper towels for that. Goodbye, norovirus. Hello, odd little thrill.
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    8:45 p.m., March 23, 2012. Ok, we got yelled at taking this photo, and rightfully so (no picture-taking during performances, please). Because Disney Fantasy will be offering seven-night cruises -- unlike Disney Dream, which does three- and four-nighters -- the line has upped the ante when it comes to entertainment. "Wishes" is a show in which three teens bound for graduation agonize about their futures and are taught a lesson by various songs in the Disney vault. It's typical, harmless, entertaining Mouse fare -- though the "Kiss the Girl" number from "Little Mermaid" is a particular people-pleaser.
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    11 a.m., March 24, 2012. It's a sea day on Disney Fantasy, so we checked out the top-deck features. AquaDuck? Check. Pool area for kids? Check. Massive, improved serenity area for adults? Check, and thank goodness. The forward area on Dream is a bit of a vast wasteland, but new covered areas and more loungers have been added to Fantasy. The promised "rain curtain" on the pictured pool was off because of wind conditions, but it's still a sweet spot in a ship teeming with kids. Inset: the "funnel puddle" fountain/foot-dipping pool and new stage.
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    2:30 p.m., March 24, 2012. The kids haven't quite discovered the AquaLab on Disney Fantasy yet, but they will. Without the long lines of the AquaDuck, AquaLab is geared toward getting you soaking wet, while explaining the backstory of the watercoaster. It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, but who cares? Water pours down from above, shoots up from below, squirts out from the side. Watch out, kids. Mom and Dad may steal this one for themselves. (Side note: Waves, a cool bar on Dream that no one ever went to, used to occupy this space. Now it's a weird cubbyhole without bar chairs directly behind the 'Lab.)
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    4 p.m., March 24, 2012. One thing that always scores big with Disneyphiles is the cruise line's cabins. We're in a verandah cabin midship on Deck 7, and we're loving the bathroom. It's a split bathroom, per the norm, but instead of a shower/tub configuration, there's now an expanded shower with a sunflower showerhead. There's a deep basin in the shower that you have to step into, with a ledge affording plenty of room for storing shampoo and such. In a smart move, parents can also fill the basin and wash the little ones. But that showerhead? Pure pleasure.
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    10:45 p.m., March 24, 2012. It doesn't matter whether you like fireworks or not. Fireworks at sea are just plain cool -- and passengers got a double dose when Fantasy's sister ship, Disney Dream, passed nearby during this pre-inaugural run. Although there'd been some murmuring that the two ships would fire away simultaneously, Dream began its show first, followed by Fantasy. Then Dream scooted into the night, and the line's signature pirate party got into full swing. Arrrrr, that music is loud, but it's hard not to have a good time.
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    12:30 a.m., March 25, 2012. If Skyline is not the best bar at sea, it's at least one of the coolest. Dark wood, a fake fireplace, deep couches and a drink menu that lights up when you open it are certainly crowd-pleasers, but it's the changing cityscapes behind the bar itself that dazzle. Skyline evidently wasn't on the original drawing boards for Fantasy, but when it became such a success on Dream, Disney wisely included it in the plans -- and made it bigger. It's longer than the version on Dream, but just as intimate. We sat through all seven city changes (Paris, Budapest, Athens, etc.), but don't ask us how long that took. We have no idea.
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    Noon, March 25, 2012. Hey, look kids, it's Disney Dream! Even though we're docked at Castaway Cay, the line's private island, there was still a throng onboard who rushed to get to the bow when the captain announced that Fantasy's (slightly) older sister would be passing by. The ships exchanged bellowing horn toots (set to familiar Disney tunes like "When You Wish Upon a Star"), then Dream turned and left. We're told the ship visits Castaway Cay tomorrow and was just killing time at sea, but it was quite a sight. Plus, it was rather touching watching Fantasy's excited crewmembers lining up for pictures in front of the passing vessel.
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    2:30 p.m., March 25, 2012. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is a child's dream come true, possibly a parent's worst nightmare (it's expensive!). This adorable space midship has teeny tiny gowns aplenty, so that little princesses can become, well, little princesses. We stopped in to look around and saw a little girl getting gussied up, we think, in Snow White attire -- complete with hair and makeup. The popular transplant from the Disney theme parks already seems to be striking gold on Fantasy: The decks were sick with pint-sized royalty.
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    4 p.m., March 25, 2012. It's a perfect day to be stranded on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Because this three-nighter precluded visits to many ports, this is the sole stop on itinerary -- and no one is complaining. There's wide agreement that Castaway is among the best of the cruise line havens, and it's the attention to detail that does the trick. Here, four old metal tanks are painted in homage to the Disney Gang of Four, with Fantasy poking up in the background. There's no real reason to have a "Mount Rustmore" (Disney's moniker, not ours) on the island, but then again ... why not?
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    4:30 p.m., March 25, 2012. Is it us, or is the AquaDuck better on Disney Fantasy? We just tested out Disney Dream's version -- the first "watercoaster" at sea -- a few months ago, and we remember it being a rather sluggish affair. Fantasy's? Not so much. You start fast and zip through the first half before the loooooong, uneventful stretch at the end. We've been asking those in the know on the ship if anything was tweaked on AquaDuck 2.0 and have just gotten shrugs. For a little perspective, this is the view of the 'Duck's first curve from the pier at Castaway Cay -- and, yes, it really does jut over the side of the ship.
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    6:40 p.m., March 25, 2012. The Muppets have arrived at sea, and they've done so in hilarious fashion. They're part of Fantasy's interactive Midship Detective Agency game. You can choose from several mysteries featuring Disney characters or the Muppets -- and the latter's "Case of the Stolen Show" was just about the only game we saw people playing. You register at a kiosk, then dart around the ship to the various pieces of "enchanted art" onboard (paintings that come to life when you wave a card in front of them). We’re longtime Muppet fans, so we were absolutely thrilled to see that the kids were as mesmerized by these golden oldies as we were. (Hey, Miss Piggy hasn't aged a bit.)
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    7:30-11:30 p.m., March 25, 2012. It's a spirited debate among Cruise Critic readers: Why opt in for a $75 meal (plus $99 more if you want the wine pairings for each course) when you can eat for free elsewhere on the ship. Here's one reason: It's tres magnifique! This is the exclusive wine dining room within one of the most exclusive restaurants at sea, but just about any seat at the adults-only Remy is a beaut -- and comfortable, a good thing seeing as you'll be dining on rich French food for at least three hours.
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    24/7, March 23-March 26, 2012. Here's a shot of our verandah stateroom on Disney Fantasy, though it only looked this nice for about 10 minutes. (Thanks, Donovan, for keeping the place tidy for us.) Past passengers on Disney Dream will recognize the same standout features here: a queen-size bed (no twins pushed together) with ample under-the-bed storage; a long desk that's ideal for piling on Disney doodads, toiletries and reading material; a comfy couch that doubles as a bed; and a table/ottoman/storage box perfect for late-night room service trays. We give bonus points to the color palette as well, which largely eschews garish Caribbeana hues in favor of boutique-hotel-ish mauves, browns and blues.
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