Eastbound on the 528 – Bigger than life the aft of the Disney Fantasy came into view as we traveled east along the Florida 528 towards Cape Canaveral. As we got closer we could make out Dumbo, painting can in trunk, adding the finishing touches to the word “Fantasy” painted in gold, this was going to be a very interesting vacation.
Hello, my name is Rob, relatively new Disney World nerd, first time cruiser and I’m going to be giving you my review of my family’s 7 night eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy from April 22nd to 29th 2017. My crew consisted of my wife, my mother, our 13yr old son and myself; all first-time cruisers. I could probably write an entire book size review if I tried to cover absolutely everything, so here I will touch on the basics and what we experienced or ourselves.
Port Arrival – The Disney Fantasy boards in windows of time and Disney is very strict about abiding by boarding times which make the arrival process much less crowded. As we arrived by shuttle from the rental car company we were dropped off curbside of the building and were met by porters ready to take our checked luggage right away; the porters are friendly and I could see them engaging with other guest who had question after question, they all handled it in true Disney guest service style. Once our luggage was handed off we followed the crowd to a gate where two cast members checked your identification and boarding documents. From there we were directed into the Disney Cruise Terminal. Inside we found a smaller version of airport security check complete with a carry-on baggage scanner and walk-through metal detectors, this process is very quick and the security staff seems to be in a better mood than your average TSA agent. Once through the quick security process you head up the escalators to the check in area. If you can; choose your port arrival based on whats more important to you, an early arrival means more time on the ship with fewer guests, a later arrival means less guests in the check in area which can make the process more relaxed.
Check In – modeled after your typical Disney Resort Guest Services, but a much larger row of cast members with the banded and post style que lines. The line went very quickly once we reached our check in cast member I found them to be friendly but all business. Our ids were checked again, our cruise documents scanned, we were given our Key to the World Cards and a “security” photo was taken of the family. We had arrived right in the in middle of our embarkation window so the boarding number we were given was already past and we could head right onto the ship. The check in area is decorated in sea foam green and blues, a marble floor designed in a map of the oceans and land masses. There is lots of seating around the side, and the center is a massive scaled model of a Disney Cruise Ship with a cut away side to see the interior layout. Your last opportunity at an on land bathrooms are located to the right as you come up the escalator into the main check in area.
Boarding – Walking through the Mickey ear shaped port hole onto the gang way gave me my first close up perspective of the Fantasy and its huge. You enter onto deck 3 into what is called the Atrium, your last name is announced and your applauded and welcomed by about 8 of the crew/cast members. First impressions? – Disney nailed it hands down, the Art Nouveau-inspired details of the Atrium are overwhelming to try and take in one viewing, thank goodness for 7 night cruises.
The Fantasy – the Fantasy is the newest ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet and first set sail in 2012, its 130,000 tons of fun! Painted on the bow is Sorcerer Mickey; relevant given the ships name. On the aft identifier, we find Timothy Q Mouse and Dumbo touching up the paint job on the ships name. The interior is a mostly art nouveau design, with modern touches. At a length of over 1100 feet, it has 14 decks, and has a crew complement of around 1500, with a maximum passenger capacity of 4000 in 1200 state rooms. We were told our sailing was somewhere around 3400 people.
Home away from home – Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom – Our 241 square foot stateroom could sleep up 5, but 3 was comfy especially since our 13-year-old was off at the Edge and Vibe kid’s clubs or hanging with new found friends for most the cruise. Sleeping arrangements are a queen size bed, single convertible sofa, and an upper berth pull-down bed. The split bathrooms are a well thought out touch, one has a round tub with shower, vanity and sink, and a vanity; toilet and sink in the other makes morning routines much easier. Our view was port side through 5-foot diameter porthole window with built-in seating. The bed…amazing best sleep I had in a long time, the mattress is a Sealy Posturepedic Premium Plush Euro-top mattress, the sheets are Egyptian cotton linens, and the bath towels very soft and plush. The main bed is elevated for suitcase storage underneath. H2O Plus products are stocked in the bathroom and are replaced daily if they get used up (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). A small flat screen is mounted on swivel arm and can be viewed comfortably from both areas of the room. The room even features the pull-out couch, desk and refrigerator. The night clock has two USB charging ports. The room can be divided by a heavy curtain splitting the bathroom queen bed side from the couch, desk porthole side. This comes in very hand for napping in complete darkness during the day. Storage, dresser and closet space is abundant. We always over pack and had more than enough storage space for the trip which I guess we thought (or hoped) was going to be a month long according to our suitcases anyway.
Food food and more food! – “Be their Guest Be their Guest Be their Guest…” – If you go hungry on a Disney Cruise then you weren’t on a Disney Cruise plain and simple.
There are three rotational dining rooms.
“The Royal Court” is themed in a French-inspired formal evening at the Castle, light fixtures look like Cinderella’s Coach, with tile murals showing classic Disney Castle scenes from Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella.
“The Enchanted Garden” takes you to the castles conservatory gardens, Disney magic transforms the dinning room as the ceiling lighting changes to simulate daylight changing to dusk, changing to evening.
“The Animators Palate” where animation is showcased, with art-inspired tableware, and artwork and décor in blacks and whites. Numerous large flat screens are built into the walls. One evening Crush from Finding Nemo came to entertain us on all these screens and interacted directly with individual guests, the second night our personally drawn characters done once we were seated came to life magically on the screens MC’d by Mickey himself.
Overall the rotational dining menus and service were amazing, plenty of options, beautifully presented and serviced by genuinely caring and attentive servers.
“Cabanas Buffet” – not on the rotational dining Cabanas is located aft on deck 11, and follows the curvature of the stern (back) of the ship. It serves all three meals in buffet style and has lots of window and veranda seating. Cabanas has something for everyone at all the served meals, and having been to Disney World many times the food quality was above that of most quick service locations.
Quick Serve Locations – on deck 11 surrounding the main pool area is are four walkup window food service spots; Flo’s Café, Luigi’s Pizza, Tow-Maters Grill, and Fillmore’s Favorites. Here we could get pizza, burgers, fries, wraps and sandwiches. Not far was a self-serve soft ice cream station, and the self-serve beverage station. These quick locations were more in line with what guests would think of when you use the term “park fare” when talking park food.
Activities and Experiences – when they say there is something for everyone its true, the full-size Buena Vista Movie theater was showing first run movies starting at 8am and ran till about midnight every day. The live action theater The Walt Disney Theater, did between 8 and 10 shows over the course of our sailing with four different shows – Disney’s Live Aladdin, Disney Wishes, A Fantasy Come True, and Disney’s Believe. We experienced Aladdin and Wishes and can attest that these are Broadway level shows and well worth the watch. Character meets are going on constantly over the cruise, if you’re a character junkie and love your autographs this is great venue to get them all, lines were never out of hand and the system was quick and efficient. When not signing their names, or being in guest selfies characters were part of events in the atrium, meeting little princesses, princes and pirates for dance parties and other interactions. Adults had their own section of the ship for night life and deck 4 forward with 5 bar/night clubs. In fact, there were many locations on the ship designated for 18 and older only, giving a nice buffer for the adult only cruisers or parents that needed a get away from the high-energy pool area on deck 11 and other kids friendly areas of the ship. The Senses Spa and Fitness area also adult only and is a serene location on the ship for getting your fitness on or to get pampered. Family friendly deck parties like the sail away party and the Pirate Deck Party followed by the fireworks at sea were well attended and seem to be guest favorites. All ships events and activities were announced in the daily “personal navigator” paper delivered to your room each evening, or on the Disney Cruise Line App.
Has anyone seen my kid? – Aboard the Disney Fantasy their are abundant kids only areas and “kid-minding” locations. We didn’t make use of the child minding services which are conveniently located before enter you the adults only section of the ship, but I will say every time we passed we could see the younger children well engaged by attentive cast members. Our 13yr old took advantage the kids clubs Edge for 11-14yrs and Vibe 14-17yrs. Our son started at Edge but found the crowd to hyper for his tastes. We made some inquires and he was then allowed to join Vibe, and actually had the run of both if he choose. The Vibe, where he spent most of his time had video games, TVs inside of semi-private cubicles, and a soda bar where you could get free pop and even design your own drink. There was an outdoor area with a smaller pool, outdoor games and a dance floor. Some of his favorite youth activities were playing a safer version of dodge ball, fuzzball tournaments, and when they made their own movie trailer. All supervised by super fun counselors who had good control over the group. He was never bored, with different activities each and every day sometimes going as late as 1am. We quickly got comfortable with him having the run of the ship and heading off to the kids clubs, movie theater and deck 11 pools as long as he checked in and answered the wave phone or ship app text messages. He made 5 new friends from different parts of the world and still keeps in contact with them through one form of social media or other.
Shopping – Three large stores are found forward of the atrium on deck 3; Mickeys Mainsail, Sea Treasures and Whitecaps carried everything from t-shirts to princess dresses to high end jewelry and pharmacy goods. All had hours the went well into the evening.
Ports of Call – Our cruise stopped in the British Virgin Islands – Tortola, the US Virgin Islands – St Thomas and the Bahamas – Castaway Cay. All could be reviewed on their own; but I will quickly mention Disney’s Castaway Cay. Disney has signed a lease with the Bahamian government for use of this little piece of paradise. Approximately 1000 acres it’s basically a Disney Water Park, actually at a beach, in the Bahamas! (Thats a “win-win-win” in my books!) with everything you’d expect from Disney. Transportation, water play features, shopping, dining but add all the beach and water sports you could think. My only complaint and I feel it’s substantial, and one Disney Cruise Line seriously needs to address is the private Cabana area of the beach. I’m all for Disney renting out Cabanas, but to also section off an area of the beach for Cabana renters only? We got off the ship in decent time and by the time we got to the family beach it was packed, horribly packed. But not 10 feet to the right of us was a sectioned off area of the beach signed for “Cabana Guest Use Only”, and it was almost completely empty, (I could count the people on that beach on one hand – no exaggeration. We were packed into our side like cattle and within a stones toss was empty beach. Not cool Disney, not cool.
Staying connected – Having a small business and an older teenage that stayed home it was important that we remained in touch with the poor saps back in the real world, so we visited the Connected@Sea desk on deck 4 near the atrium. The representative at the desk was probably one of the least Disney like cast members we encountered but wasn’t rude, just indifferent. We opted for 1000mb of shared data which cost us about 90 USD. The rep begrudgingly helped us understand our phones settings to shut off any apps, or background processes that might eat up that data too quickly. This would allow us to keep in contact with home over WIFI messaging apps. Now to keep in touch with each other on the ship all we needed was the Disney Cruise Line App, that could tap into the ships WIFI on its own for free. Built into app is a messenger app for texting each other, plus everything you’d ever need to know about what was going on around the ship, dinner menus and deck maps to help you navigate. The messaging portion of the app was VERY spotty, and was nonfunctional a lot of the time. In each stateroom however, they have two portable wave phones that guests can carry around the ship for calling within the ship and old style text messaging using the number keys to scroll through letters. We opted to carry these instead of relying on the Cruise Line App to keep tabs on our 13-year-old, and call him out of the kid’s club for meals. The flat screen in the room had a number channels dedicated to what was going on around the ship and valuable information like the disembarkation process.
Tipping – Prior to the cruise I questioned the 12$ per person per day tipping that Disney Cruise Line suggests. $255 seemed a little steep, but before our first night was done, I questioned whether it was enough. There are four main people that make your cruise magical. Your state room attendant, your head server, your server and assistant server. The connection between the magic of the ship and guests are the cast members and crew, but specifically the four previously mentioned. These four people became part of our extended family and friends, they made the cruise for us and were everything that Walt Disney himself envisioned for the guest experience. Above and beyond they are amazing people, HR got it right with these four. While I didn’t add to our tip and could have, we chose to get all their addresses and will be sending our own thank you packages very shortly.
A picture is worth a 1000 words – “Shutters” is the Disney Team of cast members that look after on-board photography. They had a photo shoots going on almost non stop in the Atrium and wandered the dining rooms, were present at all the parties and character meets and events, they even had photographers in the water at Castaway Key grabbing shots of beach fun. All the photos can be viewed in your own personal photo book, in a mini library on deck 4 surrounding the Atrium. You scan your card and it will tell you what book shelf, section and book number that your photos are all placed in at the end of each day. Photo prices are marked on the inside of the book, and their are a number of different options to choose from; buy a couple of photos, or buy them all on a thumb drive. A shutters member who took our photo at dinner one evening told us that over the coarse of the this cruise he will take many thousand photos.
Disembarkation – “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” – Most guests chose to use the character colored luggage tags that were left in your state room the night before disembarking. Guests would tag their luggage and put them outside their state room between 8pm and 10pm on the last night of the cruise. Porters would take their baggage away and guests would be reunited with them when the left the ship in color character and color coded pick up locations in the port the next morning. Everyone must be off the ship by 9am, breakfasts were served in the rotational restaurant the guest dined in the night before starting at 6am. We chose to do express walk off, which is taking your own luggage and being the first group to leave the ship starting at around 7:15am. We were told this put you about an hour ahead of regular disembarkation. We still had a full day in Florida before our flight home the following day and wanted to take advantage of our time. Account settling is made very simple with any additional charges being applied toward the credit card used to secure the cruise. You can ask for account details at any point in the cruise as guest services to check you balance. Once off the ship and back into the Port you make your way through que lines to a customs officer who asks your typical return to country questions about purchases and citizenship. Outside we made our way to the area for bus and shuttle pickup and found the line for our rental car company. Within about 20min were on our way back to our rental car.
See Ya Real Soon – Our seven-day cruise was amazing, I have only two complaints one I already mentioned about the beaches on Castaway Cay and the other was the elevators which most of the time were very difficult to get, and when they did arrive your floor were often at capacity. I don’t see a solution other than to say with all the food we ate it’s probably best we took the stairs as often as we did. Heading back west on the 528 we bid farewell to the Disney Fantasy but I felt confident that Disney Cruise Line will see us again.