Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Spring Break 2014 - Cruising on the Disney Fantasy
We bit the bullet this year and splurged on a Disney cruise. Since three out of the four of us have never been on a cruise before, Disney was definitely the right way to start. Once you force yourself to forget about the cost, and let Disney work its charm, it becomes a pretty amazing adventure.
Disney makes everything so easy! We were originally supposed to fly into Tampa, rent a car and drive to Port Canaveral, where the Fantasy docks. However, the Tampa flight was cancelled, as we sat there in the airport. We scrambled for alternate options that would get us there before the ship left, and wound up taking a flight to Orlando instead.
There, we found the Disney cruise buses, which conveniently pull up and whisk you away to the boat. Yes, they charge, but they were so incredibly efficient about organizing your bags, getting you in the right lines, and transitioning you to the boat, it was easy to shell out the money. Coming from Bermuda, where it sometimes seems like everything is a hassle for tourists and natives alike, Jeff and I kept shaking our heads at the efficiency of the Disney tourist machine.
What we could learn!
Here the kids pose in line while a Disney cast member photobombs the background. Gotta love it.
Embarking on a cruise is a bit of work, and line-standing, but again, Disney breezes you through it. They had a pre-registration station for the Oceaneer's Club - the on board Disney kids club for our age group. They kids got their electronic bracelets affixed to their wrists (hostages!) and we went through the process of confirming any allergies, who could pick them up, whether they were allowed to leave the club by themselves (heck no).
Jordan proudly declared he was allergic to grapefruit, which is completely untrue (grapefruit is not recommended when you take cyclosporine as it interferes with the absorption of the drug he takes for his heart. I've explained this to him many times, but in his mind it's easier to translate it into an allergy. Of course then it becomes a competition and Mina needs something to be allergic to as well. The closest thing she can find is a body lotion that once made her break out into a rash. So, for the record, she is allergic to Eucerin cream.)
But the staff took him seriously and added the information to his check in so there would be no mistaken grapefruit servings during his time on the boat. And no one would dare slather Eucerin on either of them either.
Despite the self-imposed ban on grapefruit, the boat did not lack an abundance of food. When Jordan realized that I wasn't going to limit his dessert options, the glee on his face was akin to the proverbial kid in a candy shop. Then he discovered the free, unlimited soft serve ice cream stand near the pools on Deck 11. Jeff counted one day - four servings for him alone.
We also noted that one week on the cruise and Jordan gained two pounds. To put this into context, you have to realize that it typically takes a year for Jordan to gain one pound. I will decline noting how much I gained.
There is no shortage of activities on the boat. In preparation for the trip, I spent a long time researching the message boards on a site called cruisecritic.com. The section devoted to the Disney Fantasy was very helpful for someone like me - with no cruise background. I got to see what other families did each step of the way, what to pack, what activities to pre- register for, what port adventures were worth the money, what little things we could look forward too, how the restaurant rotation worked, what we could bring on board with us, etc.
There are three main restaurants on the ship - The Enchanted Garden, The Animator's Palate, and The Royal Court. You rotate through each of them and you are assigned either an early seating (5:45) or later one (8:15) . We got the later one, which I actually appreciated because it gave us more time during the day and I didn't feel rushed to get to dinner.
The kids were tired, definitely, (see pic above) as they are used to eating around 6 and typically in bed by 8. But, we were on vacation, so most of the rules went out the window.
There are also two restaurants on board exclusively for adults - Remy (high end French) and Palo (Italian). We went to Remy and it was impressive. Having been lucky enough to eat at some very fancy restaurants over the years, I thought Remy did a good job of aspiring to that caliber of dining - attentive staff, exceptionally prepared food, attention to detail, wine pairings, ambiance, and catering to the concept of dinner as an experience.
Apart from restaurants, there's also fast dining options close to the pool - Cabanas is a buffet style restaurant where we typically ate breakfast. They also had lunch. There's also quickie food stations on the same deck for hamburgers, hot dogs, Paninis, wraps, pizza and salads.
Animator's Palate is awesome. The kids loved it. You get a chance to doodle a drawing on your place mat, which your waiter then whisks away. Later in the meal, the animation comes to life on the screens surrounding the restaurant. The kids were also big fans of our waiters, who stay with you through each of your rotations. I think they loved best was that once the waiters figured out the kids loved chocolate milk, there was a big cup of it waiting at the table each night when we arrived. With their names on it. Magic.
Obviously, I can't take those away.
One of the things I noticed on the message boards was the commentary about the unlimited free drinks. This is true - on Deck 11, they had stations where you could fill up to your heart's content on free soft drinks, water, lemonade, coffee or juices. People kept saying you should bring the big water bottles so you could carry around your water or soda all day. I guess I just don't get this. I definitely pushed for hydrating all day, especially when we hit the warmer climate zones, but I was surprised to see kids and adults juggling around these monster sodas at 9:00 in the morning.
That's the kind of thing that wouldn't rank on my list if I was putting a message board post up. I did appreciate that Disney allows you to bring your own alcohol on the ship. We didn't as I'm pregnant and Jeff couldn't be bothered. But if we were to do it again, I would. That to me is a bigger cost savings option. There's plenty on board, of course, but I'm not a big fruity cocktail with wee umbrella drinker. Just give me a crisp glass of Sancerre and I am fine.
I did love the message boards for the commentary on port excursions. We did the seven day cruise and stopped at several ports - Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Disney's Castaway Cay. At each of those ports, you can sign up for adventures off ship. Once you're registered for the cruise, you can sign up online, which I recommend. You can and should sign up for amenities like beach cabanas as well since those go really fast. We didn't get one, and it wasn't the end of the world. The kids played happily on the beach and I relaxed in the shade anyway.
The kids did all the ports - climbed ruins in Costa Maya, played on the beach in Grand Cayman, watched the dolphins frolic in Cozumel and snorkeled with the stingrays in Castaway Cay.
I can't think of anything negative about the cruise. Apart from the cost, of course. But for us, vacations are the one thing we're willing to spend money on.
My favorite parts of the experience were giving the kids the freedom to explore the boat on their own under the guise of solving the Muppets Mystery Adventure, the Disney live shows in the Broadway theater, dining at Remy, feeding the sting rays, and indulging in feeling of not having to cook or clean or stress about anything for a week while being indulged every day. Being such a germaphobe, I loved how hyper sanitizing the staff was. People were cleaning all day long, and every time you walked into a restaurant, a staff member handed you a hand sanitizing wipe to use immediately.
The kids would say they loved the ice cream. And the "sleepy chocolates" they left on the pillows every night.