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All Aboard For An Eastern Caribbean Family Cruise on the Disney Fantasy

By Georgina Cruz


August 2016: Like Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan, who were often seen doing meet-and-greets with guests in the ship’s atrium, another “character” our family loves, Mother Nature, would have felt right at home posing for photos and signing autographs aboard the Disney Fantasy on our seven-day Eastern Caribbean sailing. If she had been there in her white flowing robe and laurel leaf crown, hobnobbing with Snow White, it would have made the perfect poster for our voyage, as it had both magical and natural aspects for three generations of our family: my husband Humberto and me, our daughter Veronica, son-in-law Kyle and grandsons Aidan, 15 and Julian, 12.

The itinerary, with stops at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands; St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, was filled with opportunities to enjoy nature’s charms. “Cool places with cool things to do,” as Darren McBurney, cruise director, put it. Azure lagoons to swim in, angel-like creatures of the deep to encounter while snorkeling, forests to explore and just about most everything else in between.

Some members of our family enjoyed arguably the most scenic beach in the Caribbean, The Baths in Virgin Gorda, on an excursion from Tortola. The centerpiece of The Baths National Park is this idyllic beach by the same name, highlighted by amazing granite boulders, some as large as 40 feet in diameter, that appear to have been strewn about by a mysterious gigantic hand. Caves and crystal-clear aquamarine pools form among the boulders.

“Cool, particularly the caves,” our grandsons called the awesome sight of this white sandy beach, caves and its calm waters.

Tours from the ship, easily arranged pre-cruise or onboard, took to The Baths at Virgin Gorda and included lunch. Other Tortola family favorites easily booked pre-cruise or onboard included dolphin encounters, forest hikes and catamaran sails. Members of our family who had already been to The Baths arranged for a Tortola island tour through Callwood’s Taxi Service taking in such sights as the Crafts Alive Village, idyllic beaches like Brewers’ Bay, Bellevue viewpoint with panoramas of some of the 60 British Virgin Islands and Callwood’s Rum Distillery, which has been operating on Tortola for centuries.

Other family-friendly port adventures that immersed guests in natural beauty in ports of call included a tour to lovely Magens Bay Beach in St. Thomas, an idyll that consistently makes the10 Best Beaches of the Caribbean lists, and an excursion from St. Thomas to nearby St. John for snorkeling in the crystalline waters of Trunk Bay.

We concluded our port adventures with a private cabana rental at the Family Beach at Castaway Cay in the Bahamas ($549 for up to six guests in the family beach; $399 for up to four guests in the adults-only beach). It was a wonderful day of swimming and snorkeling in the aquamarine waters for all ages, and thrills for the younger set on the Pelican Plunge water slide. The cabanas come with non-alcoholic beverages, fresh fruits and snacks, bike rental, towels and chilled towels, floats and snorkel equipment—all the elements needed for a fun day of sea and sun with the whole family. Our cabana, #2 on the Family Beach, has a breeze-fanned terrace, hammock, outdoor shower, mini-refrigerator and furnishings steps away from the sea and the barbecue area.

Back on the ship, the magical aspects of the voyage would take over after our natural-beauty family adventures. Disney Cruise Line’s fourth and newest vessel, the Disney Fantasy debuted in 2012 as a sister ship to the popular Disney Dream that was launched in 2011. A 130,000-gross ton/4,000-passenger vessel, she was built, like her sister, at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, and like previous Disney ships, she is inspired in the grand ocean liners of the 1920s and 1930s. Also like her predecessors, she has scrollwork, the beloved Disney character Dumbo, and Mickey Mouse colors on the hull, plus lots of pixie-dusted offerings for her guests of all ages.

The three-deck atrium lobby is grand in dimensions and decorated, like other public areas, in Art Nouveau style. It typically elicits “wows” from people boarding the ship. A spectacular chandelier, 22-feet in diameter, descends 13 feet in a cascade of blue and green crystal and stained glass beads. And a bronze of Minnie Mouse dressed in vintage clothing with a parasol and steamer trunk also graces the lobby.

Arguably the most magical touches in the atrium lobby are the meet-and-greet sessions with Disney princesses, Mickey Mouse in his captain’s outfit, Donald and Daisy Duck and other characters, which distinguish Disney Cruise Line from other lines. As guests wait to interact with the characters that sign autographs and often ham it up—kissing ladies’ hands and hugging and dancing with the kids—more magical moments happen with families chatting among themselves. “It’d not be good to tell Donald that there is roast duck on the menu tonight,” Aidan joked once while we waited for the world’s most famous duck. And Julian and I discussed how the peacock feather-theme of the atrium chandelier was echoed in the carpet, making that space even more attractive.

Also there are pieces of Enchanted Art (artwork that “comes to life” when a guest comes in front of it) in the atrium’s area. Children and the young at heart can use the Enchanted Art to get clues to play such games as to find out what villain took the puppies from “101 Dalmatians” that have gone missing.

Princess and pirate fantasies of young sailors can come true in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at sea and The Pirate League on the Disney Fantasy. Here little girls can be transformed into Cinderella or their favorite Disney princess with the perfect makeover before dinner in the princess-themed Royal Court restaurant onboard. And during the Mickey’s Pirates IN The Caribbean deck party and fireworks, youngsters can become buccaneers and join in the festivities. The makeovers can be pricey ($40 for a pirate face package; $100 with costume), but complimentary pirate bandanas are left in guests’ cabins.

Also entertaining for all ages is the ship’s “rotational dining” concept in which guests and their servers go together from one restaurant to another—Enchanted Garden, Royal Court and Animator’s Palate—on different nights of the cruise. We have been surprised to see no other lines have followed suit on this innovative rotational dining concept as it is fun to go to other restaurants, not the same one every night.

At the Animator’s Palate, guests find two shows. Restaurant décor has giant pencils and brushes, character sketches, maquettes (three-dimensional character models) and filmstrips. During one of the shows called “Animation Magic,” Mickey Mouse invites diners to draw their own character on a template on their placemat awaiting them at the table and, through the magic of technology, they then see their character come to life along with Disney characters on monitors all around the room. When guests receive their drawing back after the show, it has a gold seal that proclaims them to be official Disney animators. Menu specialties for the “Animation Magic” dinner include beef Wellington and roasted red snapper.

Another dinner show at Animator’s Palate, “Undersea Magic,” is themed to Crush, the turtle from the “Finding Nemo” movie. Guests are immersed in an undersea world and Crush makes an appearance on screens next to the tables and engages diners in impromptu live conversations as they munch on such dishes as sesame-flavored rock shrimp, Angus beef tenderloin and cookies-and-cream sundae.

The Royal Court, with a storybook palace setting, is inspired in the Disney classics “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The ambiance includes such touches as glass slippers, roses, tiaras, chandeliers, sconces and columns with marble bases and fluted tops adding details from the fairy tales. Handcrafted tile mosaics depicting the princesses and their princes grace the far wall. Palatial menu items here include lobster and jumbo shrimp, escargot, beef tenderloin and Dijon-roasted rack of lamb.

The third of the main “rotational dining” restaurants, the Enchanted Garden, is inspired in the gardens of Versailles and elegant conservatories in France and it transforms from day to night. Adornments include white trellises, green arches and landscape artwork, but what catches both youngsters’ and adults’ eyes most are the “flower” light fixtures, light columns and a fountain with cascading water rising seven feet tall and featuring a whimsical touch: a cherub Mickey Mouse on top. At daytime, the Enchanted Garden is bright with the light of a blue-sky day; at dinnertime the illuminated ceiling transforms into a constellation of twinkling stars, the “flower” light fixtures “bloom” with color, and the fountain is bathed with light. The cuisine matches the ambiance with a seasonal menu with market-fresh ingredients. We found the service friendly and attentive in the rotational restaurants and the food delicious throughout.

Alternative restaurants for adults only are Palo (Italian, fee is $30) and Remy (French, fee is $85) both with ocean views and ideal for a special occasion at sea. Since we were traveling with our grandsons, we did not patronize these eateries. Cabanas, the buffet-style restaurant (no fee) for convenient quick-out-the-door meals, was the one we headed for often (there are 16 food stations) for breakfasts and lunches as well as table-service casual dinners. Located on Deck
11 aft and inspired in California beaches, tables are “sheltered” under trees and cabana umbrellas, ocean views are on three sides, and offerings include stir-fry, pizza, pasta, comfort foods and grilled specialties.

In between meals, there is plenty of opportunity for snacking and munching at such venues as Flo’s Café (pizza, salads, sandwiches), and Eye Scream Treats and Frozone Treats, two quick service venues on Deck 11 featuring sweet treats such as soft-serve ice cream—these hit the spot for young and old after returning from The Baths in Virgin Gorda and other shore adventures.

Most evenings on the Disney Fantasy we went to the three-deck 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre for its musical productions for the whole family that bring Disney stories to life. “Disney Wishes,” the ship’s signature show, is a 45-minute journey by three friends who visit Disneyland to celebrate their high school graduation and are unsure as to what the future will hold. Along the way they discover that the secret to being a happy adult is to keep in contact with their inner child. The show presents a cavalcade of Disney characters including Rapunzel, Hercules, Pinocchio, Lilo, Stitch and others, as well as special effects including a Hawaiian sequence during which the stage fills up with giant windsurfing sails, kites and surfboards, and one of the youngsters gets on a surfboard to “ride” a giant blue silk wave.

Another excellent show for all ages, and our favorite, is “Disney’s Aladdin—A Musical Spectacular.” The Broadway-style production presents Aladdin, his wisecracking Genie, the Princess Jasmine, the evil Jafar and other characters from the popular animated feature. A spectacular highlight is the magic carpet ride as Aladdin and Jasmine soar to the tune of “A Whole New World.”

Other shows presented in The Walt Disney Theatre include “Disney’s Believe” (the story of a workaholic father who discovers what is truly important in life) and “A Fantasy Come True” (the first evening’s welcome show). Still other entertainment offerings include first-run movies in the Buena Vista Theatre, like “The Jungle Book,” “Pete’s Dragon” and “Finding Dory” during our summer sailing (some movies are in 3-D); films on a giant screen on deck, and the “Mickey’s Pirates IN the Caribbean” deck party with buccaneers rappelling from atop the ship’s funnel and other swashbuckling fun, and the “Buccaneer Blast,” fireworks display at sea.

Families encounter daytime H2O fun at the AquaLab water park, a 1,800-square-foot area on Deck 12 that has “water experiments” by Donald Duck’s mischievous nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, with the results being squirting walls, bubblers, geysers, falling water, pop jets and more. The Ducky Dinghy, one of AquaLab’s features, is popular with its many leaks and every so often a fish comes out from a big bucket in the front of the dinghy and sprays water at the youngsters. Other whimsical features of AquaLab include inventions by the ducks that enable youngsters to spin wheels and pump handles to “control” the water temperature, speed and cleanliness of AquaDuck, a hugely popular water coaster introduced with the Disney Dream.

Located on Deck 12, AquaDuck is a 765-foot long, four-decks-high flume ride that sends guests on a high-speed journey on inflatable rafts through drops, twists, uphill climbs and turns. A swing-out loop sends passengers sliding 13 feet over the side of the ship in a transparent tube for a look at the sea a whopping 150 feet below. Another exhilarating moment for AquaDuck riders is a 335-foot stretch of “river rapids” before they splash down to the end of the ride. Our grandsons proclaimed it “awesome,” and rode it often. The record—which they did not break—is 23 times for most Disney Fantasy AquaDuck rides in one day, a member of the staff told us.

The ship also boasts the Goofy’s Sports Deck with a nine-hole miniature golf, ping-pong, basketball court and other pastimes as well as swimming pools for families and adults.

Clubs and facilities for all ages abound, including the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab with a huge interactive floor filled with sights and sounds for children ages 3-10; and other clubs like Edge for tweens and Vibe for teen-agers. For the little ones, there is the It’s A Small World Nursery. For the whole family, D Lounge functions as a family club. Adults have the Senses Spa & Salon with a state-of-the-art fitness center and separate treatment rooms (there is an area catering to teens); plus the Cove Café with coffees and snacks, and an entire entertainment district, Europa, themed to popular European destinations.

Lounges in Europa include La Piazza, inspired in Italian squares; Skyline, a chic lounge that features changing vistas of European cities; O’Gills Pub, a rollicking Irish bar; The Tube, recalling London, and Ooh La La, an elegant French champagne lounge.

After days filled with activities and entertainment we retired to comfortable and attractive staterooms with split bathrooms and nautical accents—we booked two cabins, one with veranda and one ocean-view so the whole family could spread out. The only thing I’d change in the cabins is add a pocket door connecting both sides of the split bathroom for more convenient access between the two sides.

IF YOU GO—The Disney Fantasy offers alternating seven-night itineraries to the Eastern and Western Caribbean year-round from Port Canaveral, Florida. All itineraries stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Visit disneycruise.com.



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