Disney’s latest ship feels more like a classic liner than today’s floating tower blocks – but it comes at a hefty price, writes John Honeywell.
Having made his cinema debut at the wheel of Steamboat Willie in 1928, Mickey Mouse first got into cruising 70 years later with the launch of Disney Magic, followed in 1999 by Disney Wonder. It was last year before another ship joined the fleet, in the shape of Disney Dream. Now comes Disney Fantasy, a further development on a popular theme. There are detailed differences in design and a few innovations – including an appearance by The Muppets – but the main alterations are to cope with the fact that Fantasy will regularly be sailing seven-day voyages instead of the three and four-night cruises of Dream.
The great thing about Disney ships is that they have been designed to look like ships, rather than floating apartment blocks. The two funnels hark back to an earlier age (although only one of them is a genuine smokestack) and the colour scheme of dark blues, gold and white is almost regal. The terminal building at Port Canaveral has a ’30s feel to it; check-in is swift and efficient, especially for passengers who have completed the formalities, including credit card registration, online.
Pull-down beds and bed-settees are the family-friendly way of providing for up to 4,000 passengers in 1,250 cabins. Storage space for a week at sea is more than adequate, and the separate bathroom and toilet arrangement is one that should be adopted more widely. Baths in standard cabins and suites are small and round – more like deep shower trays – and certainly more suitable to a quck scrub-down for pre-school toddlers than long, relaxing soaks for mum and dad.
Faultless and friendly throughout Disney Fantasy, with the unfortunate exception of the main dining room waiters, who need to cultivate a little more understanding – both of their customers’ requirements and of the menus and wine lists from which they are serving.
In the main dining rooms – of which there are three through which passengers rotate night by night, it is way above any expectations of theme park fast food outlets, yet falls a little short of the high end gastronomy to be found on competitor cruise ships with lower fares. Don’t be put off by finding venison on the menu right after watching Bambi on a video screen, or by surprise items such as popcorn soup – both were delicious. At breakfast and lunch the self-serve buffet fare in Cabanas is top class, and for an extra fee there’s the adults-only dinner options of Palo ($20) and Remy ($75). By contrast, kids of all ages can indulge in unlimited soft drinks and ice creams at no extra charge.
Four big production shows in the lavishly-equipped 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre include debuts for the portmanteau musical Disney Wishes, and a scaled-down musical version of Aladdin which really comes alive whenever the wise-cracking Genie takes to the stage. First-run films, some in 3D, are shown in the 399-seat Buena Vista theatre, and there’s popcorn available from a kiosk outside. The giant screen out on deck comes into its own for sailaway parties and the Buccaneer Blast pirate show, with its unique fireworks finale.
The AquaLab water park, supposedly allowing children to regulate the water flow through the AquaDuck water coaster, is new to Disney Fantasy. Some of the other innovations are designed to accommodate the inactivity expected on the ship’s extra days at sea, so there are more canopied and shaded areas on the sun deck, and Satellite Falls takes advantage of a transmission receiver to provide a relaxing sitting area behind a curtain of water.
Highlight for the grown-ups is the Europa nightclub area which gathers together a smart Martini bar (Skyline), an Irish sports bar serving both Guinness and Murphy’s stout (O’Gills), a French champagne bar done out like a luxurious hotel boudoir (Ooh La La) and a nightclub with decor inspired by the telephone boxes and public transport of London (The Tube). All of these are located around the Italian-themed Le Piazza which uses a vintage Vespa scooter and a collection of Venetian Carnival masks to create the right atmosphere. One of the best ways to explore the ship is by taking part in the Muppets Adventure Game, which involves interacting with the animated art throughout the vessel in order to solve a mystery puzzle.
Exploring ashore is not really what cruising with Disney is all about. The most popular port of call is the private resort island of Castaway Cay in the Bahamas, as clean and scrubbed as you would expect from a Disney property with hardly a blade of grass or a grain of sand out of place. No tenders required, just walk off the ship and jump onto a landtrain. Those with the energy can hire snorkelling equipment, or take a bicycle to explore miles of trails or to head for the adults-only beach at Serenity Bay.
The Senses spa and salon spans two decks and covers more than 16,000 square feet, with 17 treatment rooms for a selection of massages, body wraps and facials. Two lavish villas provide – at a price – the opportunity for couples to indulge in a steamy session before chilling out on the balcony with a glass of Champagne and a soak in a whirlpool hot tub. Passengers wanting to look their best for the photographer can book teeth-whitening sessions as well as appointments with the hairdresser. The coolest teens even have their own Chill Spa offering facials and manicures.
There’s something for all ages, from the Small World nursery to the Vibe teen club for 14 to 17-year-olds and accessible only by swipe card – which keeps out the inquisitive parents. The 11 to 13-year-olds have their own Vibe Club in the fake funnel, and for younger children the Oceaneer Club is so good and has so many things to play with it’s almost unbelievable. The only downside must be the inevitable tears when it’s time for junior to leave. And it’s all included in the fare.
If you are looking for casino action or hoping to succeed in a World’s Sexiest Man competition, then Disney Fantasy is not for you. Fantasy becomes reality with fun for all the family, from impressionable toddlers to indulgent grandparents. It comes at a premium price – although most things are included in the fare, Disney would like to take $399 off you for a collection of all the photographs taken during the cruise, for example – but it’s a cost many are prepared to pay. For a full Disney immersion experience, combine a stay at the theme parks of Orlando with a cruise to the Caribbean – and then take more time off to recover from the excitement.
FINAL VERDICT 90%
|Length: 1,115 ft|
|Beam (width): 121 ft|
|Cruising speed: 22 knots (max 23.5)|
|Passenger decks: 14|
|Passengers: 2,500 (dual occupancy), 4,000 (total)|
|Gross Tonnage: 28890|
|Cabins: 1,250 (150 inside, 199 ocean view, 901 balcony)|
|Concierge Royal Suites: 2|
|Concierge Suites: 19|
|Concierge Staterooms: 20|
|Disabled access: 25|
|Exclusively For Adults: No|
- Destinations: Disney Fantasy sails from Port Canaveral on seven-night Caribbean itineraries – alternating eastern (St. Maarten and St. Thomas) and western (Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel). Special Eastern Caribbean sailings, January through April 2013, stop at San Juan, Puerto Rico. All Disney Fantasy itineraries include a day at Castaway Cay.
- Who travels: Families, many of them adding on a cruise to a hotel stay in Walt Disney World, Orlando.
- Currency: US $
- Contact: Tel: 0800 028 3179 / or visit disneycruise.disney.go.com
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