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Double Dose Of Magic

by Georgina Cruz

June 2014:With my husband and I living in Florida and our daughter, Veronica, son-in-law Kyle, and two grandsons, Aidan and Julian, living in New Hampshire, we can’t see each other frequently—our last get-together had been six months ago over Christmas—so when we can have a reunion, we have to make it count. This summer we did, enjoying a seven-day Western Caribbean voyage aboard the Disney Fantasy from Port Canaveral. And for a double dose of magic, we took advantage of some of the new pre- and post-cruise attraction options that abound in Orlando, a 45-minute drive from the port.

Among the novelties that had just been opened at the time of our sailing in June was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World. This was the last component in the expansion of New Fantasyland that doubled that section of the park that is so popular with families. Located in the heart of New Fantasyland in the Enchanted Forest area, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is themed to the beloved fairytale and Disney animated classic, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” A musical ride through the mine “where a million diamonds shine,” its vehicles feature new technology that allows them to swing back and forth like mine cars. It is billed as a “family coaster”—and it is not too scary, even if you are like me: not too big a fan of roller coasters. I thought it was of similar intensity as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, also in the Magic Kingdom, but it seemed a bit smoother.

Another novelty we enjoyed at the Magic Kingdom is the Festival of Fantasy Parade. Replacing A Dream Come True parade, it features all-new floats, costumes, theme song and soundtrack with songs from popular Disney movies including “Peter Pan,” “ Tangled,” “Pinocchio,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Brave,” “Dumbo,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Frozen.” Arguably the most spectacular moment in the parade is when the fire-breathing Maleficent Dragon parades down the park’s Main Street and the cutest instance is perhaps the Mickey and Minnie float which has the beloved characters in a hot-air balloon.

New on the resorts front at the Disney property is the projected early August opening of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. Amenities at the resort include a spa, golf, a lake, gardens and an island with diversions for kids. If your visit, like ours, occurs before August, the newest accommodations on Disney property that are already open are the Villas at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa with studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom Victorian-inspired villas with the comforts of home on the Magic Kingdom monorail line—ideal for family reunions. The Villas at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa are a time-share property but non-members like us can book them when space is available. We booked a three-bedroom villa and enjoyed such conveniences as full kitchen, entertainment center, washer and dryer as well as being on the Magic Kingdom monorail line (and with a transfer to another monorail, service to Epcot) and such whimsical touches as a bronze fountain in the lobby with penguins themed to Mary Poppins,

After our stay in the Grand Floridian Villas, we were relaxed and ready for a second dose of magic: our Disney Fantasy voyage. Disney Cruise Line’s fourth and newest vessel, launched in 2012, and a sister ship to the popular Disney Dream which debuted in 2011, the 130,000-gross ton/4,000-passenger Disney Fantasy was built, like her sister, at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, and like previous Disney ships, is inspired in the grand ocean liners of the 1920s and 1930s. Also like her predecessors, she has scrollwork and Disney characters and Mickey Mouse colors on the hull, as well as plenty of magical features for all ages.

Our grandsons, Aidan, 13, and Julian, 10, had been on this ship two-and-a-half years ago during one of our three-generational cruises, but she still elicited “wows” from both of them when we set foot in her spectacular lobby. The three-deck atrium lobby is grand in dimensions and decorated, like other public areas, in Art Nouveau style with that gracious style’s details and patterns in tones of blue, green, pink and gold. A chandelier, 22-feet in diameter, descends 13 feet in a cascade of blue and green crystal and stained glass beads. A bronze of Minnie Mouse also graces the lobby, with Mickey’s sweetie dressed in vintage clothing with a parasol and steamer trunk.

Arguably, the atrium lobby’s most magical touches are meet-and-greet sessions with Disney princesses, Mickey Mouse in his captain’s outfit, Donald and Daisy Duck, and other characters. The characters sign autographs and ham it up, kissing ladies’ hands and hugging and dancing with the kids. Often more magic happens as families interact and chat among themselves while they wait. “It’d not be good to tell Donald that there is roast duck on the menu tonight,” Aidan joked. And Julian and I discussed how the peacock feather-theme of the atrium’s chandelier is echoed in its carpet.

Other magical touches in the atrium include pieces of Enchanted Art (artwork that “comes to life” when a guest comes in front of it). Children and the young at heart can use the Enchanted Art to get clues to play, such games as “The Case of the Stolen Show,” along with the Muppets. Guests move about the ship at their own pace to discover clues as to who stole Kermit’s banjo, Fozzie’s squirting flower, Gonzo’s crash helmet, Animal’s drum sticks and Swedish Chef’s cleaver.

Princess and pirate fantasies of young sailors can come true in the ship’s 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. Our grandsons, alas, no longer wanted to don full pirate regalia, deeming those activities to be for younger kids, but one of them put on the complimentary pirate bandana left for guests in their cabins.

The Disney Fantasy features a “rotational dining” concept, introduced with the Disney Magic in 1998, in which guests and their servers go together from one restaurant to another—Enchanted Garden, Royal Court and Animator’s Palace—on different nights of the cruise.

At the Animator’s Palate, guests dine twice during a seven-day cruise and find two different shows that charm youngsters and the young at heart. 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 simple 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 popcorn soup, 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 magical 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. Our grandsons got a kick from their beverage glasses: they had plastic covers labeled “Prince Aidan” and “Prince Julian.” 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 caught both youngsters’ and adults’ eyes most were 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 breakfast and lunch, 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 in the restaurants to be friendly and attentive, and the food delicious throughout.

Alternative restaurants for adults only are Palo (Italian, fee is $25) and Remy (French, fee is $75) both with ocean views and ideal for a special occasion at sea (since we were traveling with our grandkids we did not dine in these restaurants).

Cabanas is the buffet-style restaurant for convenient quick-out-the-door meals that we patronized often for breakfasts and lunches (everyone could find what they wanted as there are 16 food stations) and we also enjoyed an occasional table-service casual dinner there. Located on Deck 11 aft and inspired in California beaches, some tables are “sheltered” under trees and umbrellas. Ocean views are on three sides, and offerings include stir-fry, pizza, pasta, comfort foods and grilled specialties.

In between meals or for fast, light 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 fruit smoothies and soft-serve ice cream. These hit the spot when we returned from port adventures like a sea lion encounter and snorkeling at beautiful Chankanaab Park in Cozumel, and climbing the spectacular Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica.

Most evenings we headed to the three-deck, 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre where musical productions for the whole family 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 and the favorite with our group was “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 highlight is the magic carpet ride as Aladdin and Jasmine soar to the tune of “A Whole New World.”

Other production 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 (“Maleficent,” “Frozen” and others during our spring sailing) in the Buena Vista Theatre (some movies 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 including the “Buccaneer Blast” fireworks display.

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 youngsters.

Other whimsical features of AquaLab include inventions by the ducks that enable kids to spin wheels and pump handles to “control” the water temperature, speed and cleanliness of AquaDuck, a water coaster introduced with the Disney Dream. AquaDuck on Deck 12 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. Most exhilarating of all: 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 breathtaking moment for AquaDuck riders is a 335-foot stretch of “river rapids” before the splash down to the end of the ride. Both our grandsons gave it raves and rode it every chance they got.

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 and include the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab including a huge interactive floor filled with sights and sounds, for children; and other clubs like Edge for tweens and Vibe for teen-agers. Both Aidan and Julian spent a good deal of time at the clubs.

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’s an area catering to teens); plus the Cove Café with coffees and snacks, and an entire entertainment district, Europa, themed to popular European destinations. Clubs and 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 guests retire to comfortable and attractive staterooms with split bathrooms and nautical accents. We had two adjoining and connecting balcony staterooms so the whole family could spread out. Interior cabins offer a bit of techno-wizardry: a “magical” porthole that features real-time views of the sea and appearances by cartoon characters.

The Disney Fantasy offers alternating seven-night itineraries to the Caribbean year-round from Port Canaveral, Florida. Our Western Caribbean run stopped at Cozumel, Mexico, where we spent an adventuresome day at Chankanaab Park swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters and hobnobbing with a sea lion; Falmouth, Jamaica, from where we headed to climb Dunn’s River Falls, one of the Caribbean’s most iconic sights; and Grand Cayman, where the docile inhabitants of Stingray City and the aquamarine waters of Seven Mile Beach awaited. At Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, we splurged on a private cabana and spent a blissful day by the sea. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat!

IF YOU GO — For information on pre- and post-cruise options at Walt Disney World, visit disneyworld.com. For details on the Disney Cruise Line, log on to disneycruise.com.


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