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We’ll Be Back Again and Again: Disney Cruise Line

ships-overview-fantasy-g01

At the end of our dream-like 7-day Disney Fantasy Cruise, a theme was prevalent on the ship. “See You Real Soon!” was the theme of a parting dinner and even a party on the last night on the cruise. Disney cast members truly make you feel like a VIP for seven days at sea, and it’s no wonder that families truly take that invitation and return to Disney Cruise Line again and again. This was our second Disney Cruise experience, and I can say with utmost certainty that yes, we will be back again. In fact, I was so sure that I did something parents really have to be careful about – I promised our kids that we would return.

Disney Fantasy Cruise for families of 5

In a post prior to our vacation, I highlighted 7 things I was most looking forward to on the Disney Fantasy Cruise, so it’s only fitting to return to those highlights and share our thoughts on them for you in a full review! How did my expectations turn out?

On the first day, you can choose from a variety of places in the afternoon for a bite. This was at Royal Court from the huge buffet.
On the first day, you can choose from a variety of places in the afternoon for a bite. This was at Royal Court from the huge buffet!

1. The Food

I knew from our prior experience that the food on Disney Cruise Line is stellar! The Disney Fantasy has a rotational dining experience for dinner each night so we were treated to dinner at Enchanted Garden, Animator’s Palate or Royal Court, depending on our assignment each night.

Animator's Palate Disney Fantasy

Pirate Night is a ton of fun on any Disney Cruise – guests are encouraged to dress up and the menu reflects the event. We dined at Animator’s Palate that night!

Disney Fantasy yes they cut your meat for you

And yes, it’s true – Disney Cast Members are more than happy to help out kids and adults alike by cutting their food up when needed. Everleigh (4) appreciated the attention cutting up her fruit and Elijah (11) had his salmon cut up. Children are able to order from the adult menu if they prefer, which is what my son did most nights. He also had the opportunity to sample salmon, duck, lobster and more which is a change from his favorite steak and potatoes.

quick serve food on Disney Fantasy

The quick-serve areas on Deck 11 of the Disney Fantasy (poolside) offer a variety of menu items for everyone in the family. My kids loved the hot dogs and french fries, and on the Star Wars Day at Sea even the quick-serve menu reflected the special event! Menu offerings on Deck 11 include burgers, hot dogs, pizza, wraps, chicken strips, salads and more.

 

dining at Palo restaurant on the Disney Fantasy

Beyond the evening rotational dining and daytime quick-serve or restaurant buffets, guests on the Disney Fantasy can make reservations at Palo or Remy, the two adults only (18+) restaurants on board. We were so fortunate to be able to dine at Palo twice – once for a group dinner and once for a cozy buffet. Service, not unlike everywhere on the cruise ship, is top notch but even more-so at Palo, where you’re treated as a VIP from the moment you walk in the door. Choose from buffet-style offerings at brunch, and then order your entree from your wait staff (or order two, they may insist on bringing you a favorite “just to try” as well!)

If you can get a reservation, I recommend visiting Palo at least once on your cruise (check any Disney Cruise groups or message boards online and you’ll hear the same!) Yes, there is an additional cost to this meal ($30 US per person) so you could be frugal (like I am!) and determine that your alternate meal that night is already paid for with your cruise, and that’s true, but a visit to Palo is well worth the additional expense. You will NOT experience a meal and service (not to mention the view) in your hometown for this price.

Tip: Book Palo or Remy ahead of time before your cruise, as reservations go quickly. Once on the ship, you can also visit and request a reservation. At the nightly rotation at the restaurants on ship, if you don’t like your first choice of entree, it’s OK – you can order another! Kids are also not stuck ordering from the kid’s menu if they’d like to try something more appealing to them on the adult menu.

Disney's Oceaneer Club

2) The Kids Clubs

Before we left on our vacation, we told the kids we would let them enjoy the activities and fun in the Disney Fantasy Kids Clubs as much or as little as they wanted. Our girls were touch and go – some days they wanted to spend a solid three hours playing and other days they’d rather hang out with us by the pool. My 11-year-old son, in contrast, was completely predictable and spent the majority of his free time in Edge, the tween club on Deck 13 on the Disney Fantasy.

Edge Tween Club on the Disney Fantasy
Edge Tween Club on the Disney Fantasy

A secret we kept while on our Disney Fantasy Cruise is that we were extras on CTV’s The Social! Cynthia and Jess experienced the magic of a Disney Cruise and we tagged along for some of the shots. Here’s a segment shared on The Social that highlights fun for kids on the ship, including Oceaneer Club!

 

Having our 11-year-old doing his own thing at Edge was a real change from our life at home – it offered him more autonomy and when he’d call us on the ship’s Wave Phone (two are provided for each room, they’re like old school cell phones to communicate with each other on the ship) to ask to stay at the club “just one more hour” in the evenings, it was a glimpse into the years ahead back at home. Edge offers more than gaming (though admittedly he loved that part!) The cast members also provide ample activities like dodgeball, basketball on the outdoor deck, scavenger hunts throughout the ship, cooking and more.

I suggest utilizing the Navigator that arrives in your room each evening, detailing the events happening the next day everywhere on the ship. Bring a highlighter to make note of events in the kids clubs that can’t be missed! Then, plan your day to ensure your kids get in on the fun, and parents have some free blocks of time as well for the spa, a movie, the pool, or even a nap!

Tip: Register for the kids clubs ahead of time online or on the first day when you set sail. Encourage your kids to visit the first or second day, even if for an hour, to get a feel for the area and meet other kids (parents are able to accompany their kids to these Open House events). Often by the third or fourth day, some friendships and grouping can be found which makes it a little harder to meet new people (but not impossible, the cast members are great ensuring everyone is included and involved in the activities).

AquaDuck Water Coaster

3) The Aqua Duck

Every member of our family, from our 4 year old daughter up to, yes, both almost-40-year-old parents, loved the Aqua Duck on the Disney Fantasy. We discovered that it’s not at all scary so kids of all ages will love it! As you can see from the video I took below, it doesn’t propel you very fast either, so it’s more of a leisurely fun ride than a heart-pounding experience, which is a good thing on a cruise ship focused on families.

Beyond the Aqua Duck, the pools on the Disney Fantasy are always a great way to spend any portion of your day.

mickey pool on disney fantasy

Mickey’s Pool has a very shallow area, and then a deeper portion that is still perfect for kids to touch the bottom on. It’s surrounded by chairs for parents to lounge and view the kids, or you can catch some sun sitting around the pool. If you look closely at the corner of the second photo above, you can see actor David Burtka (husband of Neil Patrick Harris) lounging with one of their kids. Yes, you can even bump into celebrities on Disney Cruise Line (but remember, they’re on vacation too.)

Hot tub on the Disney Fantasy, enjoying the ample space while at port in Cozumel, Mexico.
Hot tub on the Disney Fantasy, enjoying the ample space while at port in Cozumel, Mexico.

My kids loved the hot tub (what a view!) and the pool. One frustration that I had was the limited seating available by the pools. There are plenty of chairs but unfortunately even though there are signs everywhere asking guests not to “save” a chair with towels or items, I saw many chairs abandoned for more than an hour with towels or bags left on them to save the spot. It’s frustrating and I’m not sure what Disney cast members can do about it other than, like me, hope that people are more courteous.

Nemo's Reef Disney Fantasy
Nemo’s Reef – a splash and play area just behind Mickey’s Pool for children ages 8 and younger.

Tip: Visit the Aqua Duck in the morning when the pool opens to avoid lines (we never waited more than 10 minutes) or in the evenings for a totally different experience as the tube has lights at night. The same holds true for the pools – visiting earlier in the day will ensure you get a chair (use it responsibly) and the pools aren’t crowded. If you’re not going to take an excursion on a port day, this is an excellent day for pool time as many people venture off the ship.

quiet-cove-pool-00

4) Quiet Cove Pool

We had the opportunity to visit Quiet Cove Pool, the adults-only pool area on the Disney Fantasy, while our kids were in those fabulous kids clubs. Just like the regular pool, lounge chairs get ‘saved’ and taken fast, so the same suggestions apply. Get there early if you can, and be responsible on your use of the chairs. Still, the area is lovely for a soak in the pool or hot tub, or to have an adult drink while soaking in the sun.

believe-show-00

5) The Live Shows

Oh, how I love the live shows on Disney Cruise Line! Use your Navigator and ensure you see as many shows as you can while on your cruise. Try and see them earlier in the week if you can because people realize mid-week that they haven’t seen any or as many shows as they’d like, and they will fill up.

We saw Disney Wishes, and Disney Believe – both were perfect for all ages, were packed full of song and dance, and of course taught children and adults a like a lesson that we all need to hear. We also caught a family variety show which was full of laughs.

Tip: You can line up outside the theater doors 30m prior to show time. The Walt Disney Theater seating is really good regardless of where you sit, but we liked being as close to the front as we could for Disney Live shows. If you arrive early to line up, this will ensure a closer seat.

The Tube night club/lounge on the Disney Fantasy on the last night of sailing.
The Tube night club/lounge on the Disney Fantasy on the last night of sailing.

6) Nightclubs and Lounges

We checked out The Tube, La Piazza and Skyline while on the Disney Fantasy (there are others, too!) The main takeaway from my visit to all three is that, despite the photos on the Disney Cruise Line website showing partying adults, there’s no reason to be intimidated and feel that you’re going to be thrust into a party scene you gave up over a decade ago. All the adult nightclubs and lounges are pretty low-key, and I attributed that to the adults in the clubs being as exhausted as I was after a day with the family. Let’s face it, we just need a place to get away, enjoy the atmosphere, and have a drink or some nibbles. I was impressed by the spots we visited, rather than feeling like I’d be out of my element or bored. If you have the opportunity to stop in for a pint or a glass of red, do it!

Tiki Beach Grand Cayman

7) Port Adventures

In my first post I shared our excitement at being able to visit Disney Castaway Cay, the private island just for Disney Cruise Line guests packed full of adventure and fun. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t in our favor the day we were to visit and the Disney Fantasy could not dock safely. It was raining and yucky out anyway, so I doubt many would have ventured off the ship had we managed to. Our first port stop at Cozumel, Mexico was another rainy day so we didn’t go on land their either, even though many people did.

And so, after Cozumel and yet before Castaway Cay, I am so glad that we made the decision to go on a Port Adventure in our second port of call – Grand Cayman! We booked the Family Beach Day at Tiki Beach through Port Adventures on the cruise ship (you can book online ahead of time or right on the ship)

Grand Cayman Tiki Beach

Of course there are many port adventures available at Grand Cayman, but for the ages of the kids in our family (4, 8 and 11) this was a great choice that everyone could participate in. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more crystal clear water in the ocean, and the kids had a blast searching for fish and playing in the sand. Drinks (alcoholic and non) were available anytime we needed them, and burgers and fries on the beach are kind of what makes a day perfect for this mom. We had such a wonderful time and it was really one of the highlights of our vacation. I so wish we could have visited Castaway Cay, but that will have to be saved for next time!

Tip: You know your family best. Are you a chill beach-family or are you adventurous and love to experience new things? Port adventures are a chance to try some once-in-a-lifetime experiences including dolphin experiences, snorkeling or submarine expeditions. Yes, these are an added expense but ask yourself when you’d have that opportunity again! I took the opportunity to play on the beach with my kids in crystal clear ocean water, that to me is an experience I won’t get again soon either.

What started out as a post sharing our experience with the 7 things I was most looking forward to on the Disney Fantasy has turned into a short novel. There’s just so much to say and share! Look for more posts on our experience with Disney Star Wars at Sea Day, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Senses Spa and Salon and more coming soon!

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