We (myself, my husband, and my 11-year-old daughter) are experienced cruisers who have previously sailed Princess, RCCL, Holland America, Carnival, and most recently, many times with NCL. This was our first experience with DCL, which we ... Read More
We (myself, my husband, and my 11-year-old daughter) are experienced cruisers who have previously sailed Princess, RCCL, Holland America, Carnival, and most recently, many times with NCL. This was our first experience with DCL, which we never really previously considered due to the cost differential between DCL and other lines. The Star Wars Day at Sea was a big lure to try this cruise for us; also, some friends cruised on the Fantasy a couple of years ago and spurred our interest. So, we bit the bullet and tried it while our daughter is still young enough to get into the characters and movies and so forth.
We loved this cruise! From the very outset -- from before embarkation, even -- this was a quality operation. From the customized booklet we received about a month before our trip, to disembarkation day, I felt there was plenty of communication from the cruise line. I typically write very long reviews but will try to sum this one up in less words in a few categories:
We were very happy overall with the meals we were served in the main dining rooms, Cabanas, and Flo's Cafe. We did not eat at Palo or Remy; we wanted to enjoy all the "regular" dining experiences first (including both "shows" at Animator's Palate, etc.). I heard one person complaining on board about the food and saying she would only eat at Palo; personally, I think you'd have to be looking for a bad time to not find ANYTHING you might enjoy in the MDR's. I also loved the rotational system, and we had wonderful waitstaff -- Stefan, Jaithip, and Witt were all lovely and helpful and hardworking. Having been on NCL for several years now, with the "Freestyle" cruising, and RCCL which when I was last on it 5 years ago had implemented "Anytime" dining, I have to say that the return to traditional, two-seating dining was like a mini-vacation in a vacation. Not having to plan where or when we were going to eat was GREAT (although maybe I am saying that because I am the one who usually has to do all the planning). Cabanas for breakfast every day had far more seating available than most cruise buffets I have experienced -- we never had trouble finding a seat, and the food overall was very good.
DCL wins hands down in this category over any cruise line we have been on in recent years. The stage shows had really high-quality performers -- "Aladdin" was my favorite -- and the juggler/comedian was also very good. The ventriloquist was talented but that's not my thing. The movie offerings onboard were vast (because Disney owns them all!), and while I have NEVER been a person to go on a cruise and "waste" time watching a movie, you couldn't help but want to on the Fantasy because they were "events", like the airing of the new "Beauty and the Beast" live action film, or airing "Rogue One" on Star Wars Day at Sea (more on that later). They even have popcorn and movie candy outside the theaters! (Charge for candy if you must -- but I'm sorry, they should not be charging for popcorn. How about serving small paper sacks instead of gigantic tubs? But that's a quibble. Who needs more food when you have other offerings available for free?) We also loved the movies on "Funnel Vision", the big screen out by the pool. My daughter would go to "swim" but really be bobbing up and down in the pool with a lot of other people watching "Toy Story".
There are two pools on the main Deck 11 area for families -- one very shallow, for wading or sitting, the other deeper, but still really just for "playing" -- not nearly big enough (or empty enough of kids) to actually swim in. But I actually never went in either one because I discovered the Quiet Cove pool, on the same deck but Adults only. There was a lot of shade here (I don't care for lying in the sun), some very comfortable loungers, a nice deep pool (and a couple of shallower sections for sitting/chatting), and two hot tubs. I was always able to get a nice chair here despite there being 4000 people aboard.
My daughter always loved visiting the kids' club on NCL but was super-excited to be able to go to "Edge" on the Fantasy, which is a tween club (11-13). She was also still eligible for the Oceaneer Club as that goes from ages 3-12, so while she spent most of her time in Edge, she also was able to visit the Oceaneer Club if they were having an activity that she had missed in Edge. (Most activities are offered in each of the kids' clubs at different times throughout the cruise.) This was the first cruise where she was able to sign herself in and out and she loved the freedom. Meanwhile thanks to the DCL app, we could text each other FOR FREE throughout the cruise so mom and dad were always comfortable we knew where she was. Lastly she enjoyed the Midship Detective Agency activity and over the course of the week she completed all three of the mysteries. Of course Disney also had character greetings scheduled at various points throughout the day, every day, but I will say that despite the VAST amount of greetings available, I found the lines ridiculously long for these characters, and my daughter is just old enough that there was almost no one she would want to wait in line that long for. She did attend the (ticketed) Princess greeting and this was far more civilized. I think it would be great if DCL just scheduled ticketed greetings for each stateroom, in which you can meet ALL characters ... and call it a day! I guess I'm saying I don't understand why people felt they needed to have photos taken with pirate Mickey, and Captain Mickey, and regular Mickey. Maybe if less people did multiple photos with the same characters, more passengers would get a chance to experience these greetings.
We have been sailing on the Haven on NCL which I guess is more or less equivalent to sailing Concierge on DCL (although without the private pool and restaurant that the Haven offers). However Concierge on DCL seems CRAZY expensive, and in reality I can sail on Haven in NCL for the same price as a balcony on DCL. So, that's what we could afford. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of storage space -- my big fear going in was we have gotten so used to lots of space in our Haven suites, that we wouldn't have anywhere to put all our stuff. But there was ample closet and drawer space for the three of us, and all our suitcases and carry-on bags stowed easily under the bed, so the room never seemed overly cluttered. Loved the curtain dividing the bed from the sofa bed, so my daughter could go to sleep before we were ready. I wasn't a big fan of the divided bathroom. I have read lots of kudos for this design but for me, personally, I found it a little annoying. If I needed a hairbrush, of course it would be in the OTHER bathroom; then I'd need sunscreen, have to go back to the OTHER one. Maybe it was just bad unpacking on my part but I couldn't find a way to make it make sense. I just wanted everything together. This design probably contributed to the tight squeeze in the hallway entering the cabin, and also meant there were several instances of doors bumping into one another or not being able to get through the hall without closing and reopening doors. But, all in all, the cabin was comfortable enough.
From the entrance into the Atrium, to the decor in the dining rooms (especially the wonderful screens in Animator's Palate), to the funky "Europa" section on Deck 4 aft with O'Gill's Pub (where we loved to play trivia and watch a game), the public rooms and areas were all EXCELLENT.
Star Wars Day at Sea:
As I said previously, this was one of the reasons we booked the trip, and it was excellent. Lots of people in costumes, plenty of characters about, ticketed "experiences" for each family (our daughter did Jedi Training and we got to "meet" R2-D2 and C-3PO), Star Wars music on the speakers all day, Star Wars-themed menus in the Cafe for lunch and the restaurants at dinner (Bantha Burger, anyone?), and all capped off by a stage show on deck and our second night of fireworks on the cruise (the first being Pirate Night). Not sure what the typical movie showings are during a 7-day cruise but during this trip if you wanted to see all 8 Star Wars feature films, you could have over the course of the week. And the merchandise! It is no surprise to me that Disney knows how to do merchandise, but the shops on board were vast compared to those on NCL. And they were filled with stuff that any Disney or Star Wars or Marvel fan would WANT, as opposed to NCL shops with jewelry or junk. So not surprisingly the shops did a HUGE trade during the week, particularly in Star Wars Day at Sea merchandise, which -- unexpected BONUS! -- was 50% off during our cruise as it was the last SWDAS sailing of the 2017 season.
I would love to see a more varied group of itineraries to choose from. The standard "Eastern/Western" Caribbeans do get old. How many times can you find something to do in Cozumel? I never do this but in Jamaica my daughter and I actually stayed onboard while my husband went to play golf. I know DCL offer a Southern itinerary, but it is just a few weeks a year, not a regular thing. Also the only voyages they offer the SWDAS are the Eastern/Western Carib. This was our first visit to Castaway Cay, and from the buildup online I was really looking forward to it, but I was somewhat disappointed. It was GORGEOUS, but the first beach we went to there wasn't a seat to be had -- plenty of shoes and towels were enjoying the shade of all the umbrellas however! We did finally locate an umbrella and some chairs, but either we were missing something, or maybe you really do need to book something "extra" to fully enjoy Castaway Cay. Or maybe we are just not people who can sit on a (not-very-comforable beach chair) for 8 hours straight. Which would be our problem, not DCL's. :-)
Great service, beautiful ship, good menus and food quality, wonderful entertainment. We definitely would do this trip again (and may do it again) if it is financially feasible to do so. It won't be an every year cruise though because of high cost (which more than enough people are willing/able to pay, so I don't blame Disney for charging it!), but I'm OK with sharing my business around a bit! Read Less