When Disney Dream debuted in January 2011, it was a watershed moment for Disney Cruise Line (DCL), which had been on the new-build sideline for 12 years. While maintaining the line's distinctive ocean-liner silhouette, the ship was bigger, bolder and -- let's face it -- better than its older sisters (Disney Magic and Disney Wonder). Despite all of its innovations and sleek design touches, there were areas onboard deemed lacking by some, particularly the top deck.
Enter Dream's sibling, the 128,690-ton, 2,500-passenger Disney Fantasy (4,000 max occupancy), which debuted in March 2012. Substituting brighter art nouveau flourishes for art deco and homing in on Dream's shortcomings, DCL has delivered a ship that seems light-years improved over its predecessor -- though it's only modestly different.
Unlike Dream, which embarks on three- and four-night excursions out of Port Canaveral, Fantasy is geared toward seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries (including a stop at Castaway Cay, DCL's private island). So the ship comes equipped with new shows and activities to kill time at sea, though these things would surely be welcome additions to Dream.
Indeed, Fantasy has many of the features already found on Dream, including the AquaDuck "watercoaster"; "Magical Portholes" showing real-time sea views in inside cabins; the uber-deluxe Remy French restaurant; and sophisticated venues for kids, teens and adults. Public spaces remain a sea of polished wood and Disney artwork, and cabins are largely identical. So what's new?
"Wishes" is a Broadway-style musical focusing on three Disney-loving teenagers who are facing tough decisions about relationships, dreams and adulthood as they near high school graduation. Also, a musical based on the Disney animated film "Aladdin" makes the leap from the Disney theme parks into repertory in the ship's Walt Disney Theatre.
The Muppets make their at-sea debut as part of an interactive mystery game that takes passengers around the ship in search of clues.
On Fantasy, the adults-only "district" -- here called Europa -- fills the same space as the one on Dream, but with different offerings and a reconfigured layout. Themed around European travel, all the bars and lounges have been tweaked, some dramatically.
The AquaLab is a new 1,800-square-foot water play area on Deck 12 (it replaces the under-peopled Waves bar). Expect pop jets, geysers, bubblers and all manner of watery mayhem.
The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is a Disney parks transplant making its premiere on the seven seas. This pint-sized salon turns girls into their favorite princesses -- for a (hefty) price. On Pirate Night, budding buccaneers can go the eye patch-and-scabbard route.
A new top-deck adults-only area called the Satellite Sun Deck is centered on a water feature called Satellite Falls, a circular splash pool with benches and a fountain that runs its circumference and drips water down on the overheated masses. In addition, the upper deck of the Quiet Cove Pool and Cove Bar, both line staples, have been reconfigured with protective canopies to provide shade and a small wading pool.
For the most part, dining options mirror those on Disney Dream, with one wondrous exception (more on that in a bit). The rotational dining routine unique to Disney remains on Fantasy, with diners moving from one eatery to the next each night, their regular servers in tow. The three main themed-dining restaurants -- Animator's Palate, Enchanted Garden and the Royal Court -- have each received a bit of an upgrade on the newer ship; for instance, a painted wall in Dream's Royal Palace is now an elaborate mosaic in Fantasy's Royal Court.
One thing: While you move from one restaurant to another each night, there are still prescribed times to dine, a bother if you'd prefer to chow down on your own terms.
Animator's Palate -- a colorful pastiche of giant paintbrushes, cartoon art and big-screen TVs -- is home to that aforementioned exception, the startlingly brilliant "Animation Magic" show. After you draw a character on your placemat (basically scrawl whatever you want in a template that looks like a person), they're scooped up by waiters. Then, about two-thirds into the meal, everyone's masterpieces come to life -- dancing, skipping, singing -- on the screens around the room. The effect is breathtaking. (Be careful with those drawings: Racy ones are censored backstage and won't make the cut.)
The show runs in repertory with "Undersea Magic," which features an animated Crush the Turtle from "Finding Nemo." He interacts in real time with diners, which can be both thrilling and a little off-putting if he starts chatting you up when you have food in your mouth.
The French countryside-inspired Enchanted Garden transforms from day into night depending on what meal you're at -- daytime for breakfast and lunch, nighttime for dinner (complete with starry sky). Meanwhile, the waiters at the Royal Court -- a richly appointed affair with a huge chandelier, plush furniture and myriad Cinderella references -- literally treat you like a king; they're lined up when you arrive and garbed in imperial costumes.
Overall, the quality of the food is good, with the surf-and-turf at Animator's Palate a standout (regular entrees include beef tenderloin and mushroom risotto). The Royal Court menu has a French accent, so expect such offerings as Dijon-roasted rack of lamb and a wine list that harks back to the Continent. Enchanted Garden is the sole member of the trio that offers three meals daily -- buffets at breakfast and lunch and a seasonal menu in the evening (think prime rib, sea bass and wild boar, with desserts like creme brulee).
The children's menus throughout the ship are predictable at best, but we have a confession: We spent a lot of time noshing at Flo's Café, with its side-by-side fast-food stations on Deck 11 in the pool area. The pizza, burgers, chicken fingers and wraps are terrific, and none too healthy.
Other dining spots include Cabanas, also on Deck 11, a mammoth, twisty buffet with a beach theme. Seating is indoors or out, and there's ample space to tuck into the decent variety of chow, including fresh-carved meat (turkey and, on our voyage, some huge hunk of beef called "steamship"), pasta, a salad bar and the like. The Cove Cafe, adjacent to the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool, doles out gratis snacks and for-fee specialty coffee drinks ($2 and up) and cocktails.
Room service is free and includes a limited menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.
Last but certainly not least are Fantasy's two alternative dining spots, both adults only: Remy, the French blockbuster introduced on Disney Dream, and DCL stalwart Palo, an Italian holdover from the line's other ships.
At $75 a pop, Remy remains the most expensive restaurant at sea, and if you add in the $99-a-head fee for the wine-pairing option, you may be talking about one of the most expensive meals you've had on land as well. Is it worth it? Up to you, but we were wowed by the exquisite service, languorous pace of the meal (three-plus hours) and, of course, the food -- seven courses of ultra-rich Gallic grub that we're still dreaming about.
Passengers are invited to meet with the sommelier pre-dinner to plan the wines for the evening (nice touch), and we were surprised to find a box of Remy chocolates on our bed when we returned from our gastronomical expedition. Yes, we ate them.
Palo offers al-fresco dining as well as seating in a warm Italianate space showcasing floor-to-ceiling windows with amazing views. This Northern Italian eatery serves dinner nightly, as well as a Champagne brunch on sea days. The cover is $25. Carb cravers may refuse to share the awesome bread basket, but don't fill up on those empty calories: Our lobster ravioli rocked, though we also coveted our tablemate's osso bucco. Brunch includes a cold buffet (meats and cheese, shrimp, salads, desserts) and a selection of hot made-to-order items (omelets, fish).
There's no neon, jam-packed bar or bank of glittery ascending elevators in Disney Fantasy's marvelous three-deck atrium ... just a bronze statue of Minnie Mouse, a grand piano, marble floor, a curving staircase and enough art nouveau flourishes to keep would-be designers in awe for days (the chandelier alone is a jaw-dropper). The entire affair takes its cue from a peacock, so there are feathery swirls aplenty -- even in the metalwork gracing the walls -- and a rich Caribbean palette of blue, green and gold. The balconies on all sides provide excellent vantage points for the events held here, including performances (vocal and instrumental), character greetings and a tree-lighting ceremony at Christmas.
While the shops onboard offer typical Mouse merchandise, jewelry and duty-free booze and fragrances, there is one newbie generating lots of buzz: the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique, a small-fry salon that turns children into princesses and pirates for a fee (from $55 for hair and makeup to almost $600 for a three-makeover package that includes a wardrobe). It's a lovely little space in what used to be a bland meeting room, but those prices are fearsome -- though not enough to scare parents away, so be sure to make reservations.
Like the other ships in the fleet, Disney Fantasy offers neither a library nor a casino. And while there is Wi-Fi throughout the ship, there is no dedicated Internet cafe. The Cove Cafe, a Wi-Fi hotspot, does have laptops you can use for an additional fee.
Each deck has a laundromat with an iron to work out the creases before dinner.
Disney's primary market, of course, is families, especially those with kids younger than 8; however, teen cruisers will find much to like in the venues geared toward them. Beyond that, Disney has strong appeal for multigenerational travelers, and its spa, bar district and alternate dining facilities mean that adults of any age will find their own spaces onboard. The passenger makeup is dominated by American and Canadian travelers.
Gratuities -- which can be prepaid or added to your onboard account and are given to dining room servers and stateroom attendants -- are $12 per person, per day. There's an automatic 15 percent levy for service on cocktails and other beverages.
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.
|Fitness and Recreation|
At first blush, Dream and Fantasy's top decks seem largely identical. Like that on Dream, Fantasy's pool deck features a large, family-oriented area, complete with hot tubs and a pair of pools. The Mickey pool -- whose spiral slide is supported by a giant gloved hand -- hosts a parade of happy young'uns as it does on Dream. Likewise, the bland, five-foot-deep Donald's Pool sits in front of the 24-foot-tall LED screen mounted on the ship's funnel. There's also a "Finding Nemo"-themed toddler splash area tucked out of the way in the shade.
But venture into the adults-only area and things start to change. The multi-deck Quiet Cove, Disney's adults-only pool area, has been tweaked on Fantasy; nicer loungers, canopy-covered shade zones and the "funnel puddle" fountain/wading pool have been added to the mix. And the forward area on Deck 13, a vast wasteland on Dream, has been transformed into the Satellite Sun Deck, with more canopied areas and Satellite Falls, a circular splash pool with a "rain curtain" that provides cool comfort on steamy Caribbean days. It's a splendid area with a big plus: We never had problems finding an open lounger.
The AquaDuck watercoaster remains the piece de resistance for, well, just about everyone. For some reason, Fantasy's seems a little faster than its Dream predecessor, but that could be wishful thinking. Riders on rafts zip through a transparent tube that rings the pool area -- at one point swinging out 13 feet off the side, 150 feet above the ocean. There is a 42-inch height requirement, so prepare younger siblings, and try to go in the early-evening pre-dinner hour, when the line dwindles to nothing.
Just behind the entrance to the AquaDuck on Deck 12 is the new AquaLab, which replaces the oft-empty Waves bar on Dream. Without the long lines of the 'Duck, the 'Lab 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.
The predictably serene Senses Spa & Salon offers the usual range of treatments, from haircuts and manicures to more exotic fare like hot-stone massages and mud baths. Teens can get pampered on their parents' dime at Chill, a youth-oriented adjunct located within Senses. The Fitness Center provides treadmills, stationary cycles and the like. Classes in yoga and Pilates are taught for an additional fee.
Goofy's Sports Deck on Deck 13 aft offers mini-golf, a basketball court, ping-pong tables and virtual sports simulators that allow passengers to play soccer, football, ice hockey golf, tennis and basketball via digitized graphics (perfect for rainy days, but there's a fee). Runners can head down to Deck 4 for a jog; one lap around the promenade equals .4 miles.
Muppets, anyone? Much of the buzz surrounding the ship's launch centered on the fact that Fantasy introduces the furry crowd-pleasers to the seven seas. Kermit and Co. are part of a multi-deck interactive game that has kids of all ages prowling around the ship looking for clues in "The Case of the Stolen Show." Passengers grab a map and a game card, then bounce from one piece of Enchanted Art (digital pictures that come to life) to the next. Our take: It's fun, but it takes patience and a lot of time, so you may find yourself breaking up the activity over several days. There are actually three Midship Detective Agency interactive mysteries, two of which are holdovers from Dream and feature Disney characters.
Still, the cruise line's kids clubs remain the big family draw on Fantasy. As they are on Dream, the Oceaneer's Club and Lab (ages 3 to 10) are connected on Fantasy, so kids can move freely between the two. The passageway from the Club to the Lab includes a pair of specialized areas where little ones can conduct science experiments or do art projects.
Highlights in the Oceaneer's Club include Andy's Room, featuring oversized "Toy Story" characters like Slinky Dog, and Monster's Academy, whose climbing structure mimics a scene from "Monsters, Inc." Pixie Hollow is home to Tinker Bell, her friends and a bunch of fairy costumes that will have little girls swooning, while the centerpiece of the "Finding Nemo"-themed Explorer Pod is a colorful submarine filled with interactive computer games.
The Lab has a maritime theme and includes the Animator's Studio, where kids can find their inner artist and bring their creations to life.
Both the Club and Lab have interactive Magic PlayFloors, which debuted on Disney Dream and have become instant icons. Each of the electronic marvels are 20 by 20 feet and are used for games and storytelling sessions.
Older kids are not forgotten on Fantasy, courtesy of two state-of-the-art clubs. 'Tweens (ages 11 to 13) find refuge in the Edge, located in the forward fake funnel on Deck 13. The space includes an 18-foot-wide video wall, lighted dance floor, video karaoke and computers on which the young'uns can leave one another messages and photos. All the way forward on Deck 5 (it's truly difficult to find -- just the way the kids like it), Vibe is a 9,000-square-foot club that caters to ages 14 to 17 and has an outdoor component. Expect modular furnishings, a media room, a fountain bar and a dance space, plus a sun deck with wading pools and games like Ping-Pong and foosball.
And for the tiniest tots, there is the It's a Small World Nursery on Deck 5 midship, reserved for those from 3 months to 3 years. The price is $6 per hour; hours vary, though it's generally available the majority of the day and well into the night. Parents who want to check in on their children can peer through a one-way window into the nursery's play area.
Dress code is casual during the day and resort casual most evenings. (Think jackets for men, but no ties, and pants outfits or summer dresses for women.) Recently, though, the cruise line tweaked its definition of resort casual to include shorts, which means passengers may wear shorts in the main dining rooms in the evening. Dress-up is part of the Disney shtick, however -- be it princess gowns for young girls or tuxes for dads. Many passengers dress to the nines on Fantasy's sole semiformal evening, and you'll be shocked at how many people throw themselves into pirate night -- so pack your eye patch and fake parrot.
Thankfully, Disney barely touched Dream's ultra-appealing cabins, among the largest standards at sea and deemed the best by Cruise Critic readers. It makes sense, inasmuch as a family of four can easily share the space in these well-designed wonders.
Outside staterooms start at 202 square feet (verandah cabins at a roomy 246), while insides start at 169 square feet. (Deluxe insides are the same size as outside cabins.) Here are a few of our favorite things: the ample closet space; a couch that converts into a single bed; an ottoman that doubles as a table and extra storage space; a single bed that pulls down from the ceiling; a heavy curtain that divides the room so the kids can take over one half while mom and dad get some shut-eye; and a long desk with shelving that's ideal for hiding doodads collected during the day. Queen beds are raised so that you can stow your luggage underneath, but they can't be split, posing a problem if you'd prefer to have two singles instead of one queen.
DCL's iconic bathrooms remain part of the deal on Fantasy. The split-bath setup -- which provides one room with a shower, small tub and sink, and another with a toilet and sink -- means there's always space to brush your teeth. (Note: Some cabins have rectangular tubs, others have small round tubs; the latter come with dreamy sunflower showerheads that you'll have trouble pulling yourself away from.)
Cabins each have a 22-inch LCD TV, iPod docking station and a pair of rechargeable "Wave Phones" that can be used throughout the ship and on Castaway Cay (which is a godsend if part of your group wants to stay on the ship).
Those opting for an inside cabin often have to move fast to book, because they sell out quickly. Why? The Magical Portholes. They're flat screens designed to look like portholes above the beds, which project a real-time view from outside the ship. But wait, there's more: Stare at the screen for long enough, and you'll see Disney animated critters creep into the video feed.
Verandah cabin balconies each feature two chairs and a small table, deck lights, railings covered in plexiglass (or solid white walls) and childproof locks.
Editor's Note: As of November 15, 2013, cigarette smoking on cabin balconies will no longer be permitted.
For those requiring more space, Concierge Suites, as well as roomy Concierge Family Cabins, are on Decks 11 and 12. Both offer access to Fantasy's concierge lounges, which provide free food and drinks and coveted extra space. Concierge passengers also have an exclusive sundeck on the top deck. Concierge cabins start at 306 square feet, and one-bedroom suites start at 622 square feet; most have connecting doors. One-bedroom suites have queen-sized beds, sitting areas with double convertible sofas, single wall pull-down beds in the living rooms, walk-in closets and two bathrooms (with a whirlpool in the master).
Really want to spoil yourself? The 1,781-square-foot suites named for Walt Disney and Roy Disney (aka the Royal Suites) have all that plus a living room, wet bar, kitchenette, media library and hot tub on the teakwood verandah.
A total of 25 staterooms equipped for passengers with disabilities are available in a variety of categories.
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