The first and last cruise that Pam and I ever took was for our honeymoon over eight years ago. It was The Grandeur of the Seas. Even back then, it wasn’t the biggest ship in the fleet, but it really was the ultimate vacation for a newly married couple looking to get away from it all.
Last month, the MTBS team was invited to take a three night “preview” cruise on Disney’s new Fantasy cruise ship. Fourteen decks high, this behemoth of a ship features over six restaurants, a shopping mall, a Dolby 3D movie theater, live shows, and more. How could we say no?
While we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to, I’m hoping our 3D coverage will give a taste of what the Disney Fantasy has to offer.
A rule of thumb with cruising is that if you’re single, you can save some money by getting an inside room without a window or balcony. You can easily enjoy the ocean on the deck, and you are going to be super busy exploring the ship so much, you will only be using the room for sleep anyway!
However, if you have a family and need something to do while the kids are sleeping…a veranda can’t hurt. Disney spoiled us rotten with our deluxe room. It was fully outfitted with a crib, a queen sized bed, a dresser with desk space, a closet, and a partitioned bathroom that had two sinks, a tub/shower mix, and everything you really need to get through your day. Don’t get excited about the tub, though! It’s not at all useful for adults (I tried!), and is really intended for small children.
The power outlets support international standards, but with all our electronics, there weren’t enough to go around. If you are a gadget guy like me, bring a power bar!
There is Internet access in the room, but I wouldn’t stake my business on it. I had this fantasy of sharing daily updates, but I was really just grateful to get my emails. I know – it’s crazy to complain about getting Internet access in the middle of the ocean – I’m just setting your expectations. Also, while Internet was free for media, it is something you will likely have to pay for when you cruise for real.
In some ways, the best meal you get on a cruise is the first. We didn’t have a wink of sleep the night before we left, and to finally have the chance to shed our luggage and sit down to a dignified meal was…heaven.
Attached to the pool deck, Cabanas is the Fantasy’s buffet spread, and is usually open for two to three sittings a day. While we’ve heard people complain about “cruise food” in general, that wasn’t the case here. We enjoyed eating every time, the food always tasted fresh, and you didn’t have to spend extra for non-alcoholic drinks like soda, coffee, and iced tea. If Cabanas is closed, there are cafes available that serve burgers and pizza all day long, so there is always something to eat if you have a hankering.
For sit-down dining where food is brought to your table, the standard options include The Animator’s Palate, The Enchanted Garden, and The Royal Court.
Animator’s Palate is an activity based restaurant. The moment we sat down, we were asked to draw on our placemats which would be later used as part of the evening’s entertainment. I don’t want to ruin it for everyone, but it was a creative use of my otherwise untalented scribbling.
As shown above, all the meals are both elaborate and tasty. We enjoyed jumbo lobster tails on our first evening, and the kids menu is filled with comfort food for the finicky eaters. While I got full faster than I would have liked, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one order. You like the appetizer? Get another one! Don’t like the sautéed vegetables? Get a side salad instead. While you can’t stray from the menu, there is flexibility to make sure you get a full meal and then some.
Things get a little fancier with The Enchanted Garden. I didn’t think to take pictures of my food, but I remember enjoying some sushi, a good steak, and dessert.
What made this meal unique was each eight day cruise features a “pirate night”, and everyone had fun wearing a Pirates of the Caribbean bandana around their head.
To exemplify the service you can expect with Disney, not only did the staff have a baby seat waiting for our son DJ, they had a labeled cup of water waiting for him as well. They clearly made an effort to remember the special needs of each guest.
The Royal Court was the last restaurant we sampled. This was by far the fanciest of the three restaurants we ate at. Heck, even the table napkin was dressed in a suit! This time around, we had onion soup, escargots, and a choice of entrees.
The remaining restaurants were Palo and Remy. These are considered the fanciest of the restaurants aboard the Disney Fantasy, and feature an outlook over the water.
They aren’t free, and you could easily spend as much as $100 for your meal. We’ve been told the food is even fancier and customized compared to the other restaurants, so I encourage you to try it if you get the chance.
The only restaurant we didn’t care for was Cookies. One of the ports of call is Disney’s Castaway Cay, a private island in the Bahamas. Admittedly, we got there a bit late in the day. The food choices were burgers, hotdogs, potato salad, and some other odds and ends. I know it’s supposed to be barbecue style, but the food didn’t look very appetizing by the time we got there, and they definitely needed more options. A good salad bar would have made a big difference.
While I mentioned Cabanas in passing, this will be a high point for many. Sliced turkey, ham, roast beef…they’ve got it. Ice cream, pastries, fresh fruit…they’ve got it. They even had well cooked minute steaks ready to go. Cabanas has theme nights too! For example, after the Pirates of the Caribbean show, they had a midnight pirate buffet on the ship featuring Mexican food, crepes, awesome deserts, and more. One of the other passengers I spoke with skipped out on the fancier restaurants to go to Cabanas because the food quality is pretty close, and there is a lot more variety to choose from.
If you are lucky enough to enjoy a cabin with a veranda, or you are stuck in your room because your kids have to get to bed, there is always room service! We didn’t have a chance to order the more elaborate meals, but comfort food is readily available 24 hours a day. Our recommendation is to order the cake of the day, and even though it’s not on the menu, get a “Mickey Bar” as well. Just be aware that even though room service is free, you should give a gratuity to your server for getting the food to your room.
The Movie Theater
We regret not having the time to take in the Broadway-styled shows on the Fantasy. We were just too tired the first night, and we really wanted to try out Dolby’s 3D movie theater!
We don’t know what their full repertoire will ultimately be, but The Fantasy had a schedule of first-run Disney flicks including John Carter, The Muppets, Cars 2, Tangled, Toy Story 3 and more. We wanted to get the best of both worlds, so we watched Tangled in 3D on the second evening, and The Muppets on the third. We really had a ball!
There is nothing like sitting in a brand new movie theater with clean cushy seats: there was no gum under the chairs, no annoying people sitting in front of you, and a big screen to boot – it was just wonderful! The 3D was directly competitive to anything you can get in a local theater, and if the right movies are available, it’s an easy way to get the family to agree on something to do.
I was a bit disappointed that you had to pay to get food from the concessions stand. I mean, if you can get a filet mignon for dinner with crème brulee for dessert, surely a bag of popcorn with a coke isn’t too much to ask! No biggie as we had room service to look forward to!
Now maybe it was the nature of the cruise or the people who were on the cruise, but there was a friendly ambience with going to the movie theater. For example, while watching The Muppets, some of the audience members couldn’t resist quietly singing some of the classic songs in the movie. That wouldn’t work in our local theater, but on a cruise it was just fine. Besides, you’d better be nice because you could be eating dinner with your fellow movie goers!
Dumping the Kids
I don’t know if many of our readers can relate to this, but what do you do if you have a young child and you really just want to get away from it all? Cruising isn’t any fun if you can’t get to do things on your own once in awhile.
If you have kids that are over three years old, you’re in luck! The Oceaneers club is a day/night camp that you can drop your kids off whenever it’s convenient. They have everything from art classes to group video games and theme rooms. The best part is the service is free, so it won’t add to your cruise bill every time you want to have some adult time to yourself. With everything going on, your kids will probably want to get away from you more than you want to get away from them!
If you have a young toddler or infant, they offer experienced babysitting services in the “It’s a Small World” nursery. They are fully supplied with cribs, diapers, and baby formula. At just $6 an hour, it’s a good deal!
It was kind of funny because DJ had a line of crying babies ahead of him, but he was A-OK with the whole thing. I really don’t think he missed us after we dropped him off each time.
Swimming will definitely be a big hit for all cruisers. In addition to having the standard pool, hot tubs, and waiting pools, there is also a water slide roller coaster!
When I went on it, the wait time was estimated to be about 30 minutes, and the whole thing lasted for about 90 seconds. I know it’s a big hit because when I asked some kids who were in line what they thought, they looked at me puzzled and asked “you haven’t been on this before?!? It’s awesome!”
If you have a toddler or infant who isn’t toilet trained, there is hope! Get yourself one of those swimming diapers, and head off to Nemo’s Splashworks. Featuring lots of fun characters and sprinklers, most of the kids enjoyed running through it. I say most of the kids, because DJ was crying all the way through.
Onboard the Disney Fantasy, there is an adult section where children are forbidden from entering. Names become nouns, and you can get yourself “Mickeys”, “Goofies”, and “Plutos”. If you have more than three “Donalds”, they escort you back to your room. Just kidding, of course (about the Donalds)!
The highlights are Ooh La La, the immaculately designed night club, and Skyline, a bar where the walls literally change according to the time of day and showcases different parts of Europe. There was also a cool pub called O’Gills which made it easy to forget you are on a ship, and they allowed you to bring your kids until 9:00PM. If you are on the pool deck, there are adult sections too, complete with private sunning areas and a bar.
There is a funny story here. It’s traditional when taking a cruise that each night, they turn down the bed and fold the towels in the shape of animals or something cute. For example, one night you will get a pair of swans in the shape of a heart, and another you will get a turtle, etc.
One night, they left a friendly reminder card on our dresser to the effect that if anything is missing from the room, we will be charged. At the same time, there was a hanging monkey on top of our bed that almost looked as though it was hanging from a noose. It was as though Disney was saying “Better return the stuff, or you’ll end up like this guy!”
We immediately contacted room service to make sure everything was in good order, and were relieved that the cards and monkey were standard for all the rooms that evening. Everyone had a good laugh, though I would suggest picking a different monkey / reminder card mix for future cruises.
Monkey shines aside, the cleaning service was immaculate. The staff are always on standby just down the hall, and they really worked to impress.
If you have never travelled on a cruise before, make a point to bring extra cash for tipping the staff at the end of the trip. You should reserve a few dollars per day for each employee including the server, head server, and maid service multiplied by the number of people staying in the room.
When you take a full length cruise, there are usually multiple ports of call with all kinds of onshore activities to choose from. In this case, the port of call was Disney’s private island Castaway Cay.
Similar to the original Far Cry game, the water is crystal clear, and there was nothing like feeling soft sand between your toes (minus the machine gun fire). There are all kinds of activities that happen on the island for all age groups. While we were content to just enjoy the sun on the beach, you can also go snorkeling, feed Stingrays, and more. There is also an adult section of the island which we didn’t have time to check out.
Just be aware that you’re going to an ocean beach, not a swimming pool. When I walked into the water with my son, I noticed a black dot circling me. Then I saw another black dot. It took me a few seconds to realize that these dots were pupils attached to several big fish! There is nothing to be scared of in the least – just keep an eye out.
I realize that this is an odd review to write for a 3D gaming site, but the fact is we are all getting a little older, some of us have kids, and it’s good to break away from the computers for awhile and disappear. We would have disappeared longer if we could!
Disney has a reputation for being more expensive than the other cruise lines, but they have a good thing going. We did a cursory search of competitive cruise lines when we got back, and Disney rooms tend to be bigger, their entertainment is branded with familiar characters that kids know, and you really have peace of mind that people of all ages will have a good time on the cruise. I would go so far as to say that instead of being an add-on service to appease kids, the Fantasy is designed from the ground up to meet the needs of children so that the adults can enjoy their vacation even more.
Cruising offers the convenience of having all the food and entertainment you will ever need just steps away, every day offers a change of scenery and port, and it’s a fun way to explore the world! The Fantasy meets these needs with the added magic of Disney.