Cruises

On Disney Fantasy, it’s a child’s world. Adults get their own pool and nightclubs

Disney Fantasy’s shipboard water coaster, AquaDuck, sweeps guests away on a flume ride around the ship’s perimeter, propelled by powerful water blasters.
Disney Fantasy’s shipboard water coaster, AquaDuck, sweeps guests away on a flume ride around the ship’s perimeter, propelled by powerful water blasters. Disney Cruise Line

Originally published April 8, 2012; updated 2019

The tone for a cruise on the Disney Fantasy is set when guests step into the atrium, a three-deck Art Nouveau space designed for grand entrances. A member of the crew announces each family’s name over a loudspeaker as if it were a state dinner, and the receiving line applauds.

The atrium has a gorgeous cascading chandelier in peacock blues and greens, fluted columns, a sweeping staircase and a bronze statue at its foot that is as elegant as the rest of the room. If it weren’t for the fact that it is a statue of Minnie Mouse, and that the abstract twists of decorative metalwork around the room sometimes curl into mouse ears, you might not recognize it as a Disney creation.

But then Goofy dances down the stairs, the ship’s horn blasts out the opening notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a little girl shows off her Sleeping Beauty dress and there’s no question: This mix of kid-oriented magic, cutting-edge technology and fanciful detail could only be Disney. This space is fit for a princess — a good thing, because I count six Disney princesses who make an appearance over the course of the cruise.

The Fantasy — 130,000 gross tons, 1,115 feet long, 121 feet wide, 1,250 staterooms with a capacity of 4,000 guests — is the fourth ship for Disney Cruise Line. It made its inaugural cruise a week ago from Port Canaveral, where it will be based year-round, making week-long Caribbean cruises.

It has a few visible differences with its sister ship, the Disney Dream, launched just over a year ago: AquaLab, a water playground with pop jets, geysers and bubblers “created” by Donald Duck’s mischief-making nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, replaces the Waves bar on the pool deck.

Europa, a five-club adults-only complex, is designed to make guests feel like they’re clubbing in Europe. Satellite Falls is an upper deck adults-only splash pool with a curtain of rain. The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers princess and pirate makeovers. And in Animator’s Palate restaurant, the Animation Magic show brings guests’ sketches of themselves to life so that they dance across video screens.

And of course the Fantasy has different signature characters: Dumbo hangs off the stern, and Mademoiselle Minnie, with parasol, presides over the atrium — places held by Sorcerer Mickey and Admiral Donald Duck, respectively, on the Dream.

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The three-deck atrium lobby on the Disney Fantasy features Art Nouveau-inspired details reminiscent of the Golden Age of cruising-- plus a cast bronze statue of Mademoiselle Minnie Mouse dressed in vintage 1920s fashion. Matt Stroshane Disney Cruise Line

“If you take a look at the Disney dictionary, the word ‘same’ is not in it,” said Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line. “Every one of our ships has a unique personality.”

Other differences are not so readily apparent. The Fantasy is set up for seven-night cruises, the Dream for three- and four-night cruises, so they have different programming. The Fantasy needs more entertainment — more shows, more games, more toys, more varied dining — to fill the longer time span, especially the days at sea.

So you’ll find a new Muppet adventure game, a sort of scavenger hunt for clues using the ship’s “enchanted art” that also serves as an introduction to the ship. There are more animated characters for the video “portholes” in inside staterooms. In Animator’s Palate, guests are entertained one night by the animation of their sketches, one night by Crush, the surfer-dude sea turtle from “Finding Nemo.” There are more live shows in the Walt Disney Theater, including “Disney Wishes,” a musical created just for this ship, and more opportunities for meet-and-greets with at least 20 Disney characters who also happen to be sailing on your cruise.

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“Disney Wishes” is a Disney Cruise Line stage spectacular. The cast performs original songs and classic Disney tunes with a contemporary twist, including “I’ve Got No Strings” from “Pinocchio.” Matt Stroshane Disney Cruise Line

“We hope you’ll walk around the ship and see things and scratch your head and say ‘Wow! How did they do that,’ “ said Joe Lanzisero, Disney Imagineering’s senior vice president, Creative.

Another element that is not visible is that the Fantasy could mark a turning point for Disney. With four ships and 13,200 berths, the line’s capacity is 2 1/2 times what it was at the beginning of 2011. Then it was a small, specialty line — one might say a boutique line — that had a disproportionately powerful influence for its size on how other cruise lines catered to families. Now it is on the cusp of becoming a major line, especially if, as Disney executives hint, there are plans for expansion.

“Right now we’re focused on these four ships,” said Holz, “but in my mind there is an opportunity beyond four ships.”

Already, Disney Cruise Line wants to cover more regions of the world than it can with just four ships. (Editor’s note: Disney Cruise Line has since announced that it has three more ships on order, due to be delivered in 2021, 2022 and 2023.)

With the two new ships sailing the signature Bahamas and Caribbean cruises out of Port Canaveral, the line has been sending its two older ships, the Magic and the Wonder, on other itineraries, including the Mediterranean and Alaska. For the first time, a Disney ship — the Magic — will do cruises out of New York, starting in May, before moving to Galveston in September. Because it is testing New York cruises, Disney won’t have a ship in Europe this summer. The Wonder, which has been sailing the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles, will move to Miami this December for Caribbean cruises.

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In true Disney fashion, the Disney Fantasy stern is adorned with the characters Dumbo and Timothy from the classic Disney film “Dumbo.” Kent Phillips Disney Cruise Line

Holz says porting in Miami will give the cruise line an opportunity to look more closely at the potential for South American cruises; he says there’s high interest in Disney among South Americans, especially Brazilians. And with two parks already in Asia and a third under construction in Shanghai, Holz sees opportunities for cruises tied to the theme parks in that region.

Talk to travel agents, and they have no doubt that the demand for Disney ships — even with fares higher than most premium cruises — warrants more new ships.

“We’re having the best year we’ve ever had with Disney,” said Dwain Wall, former senior vice president and general manager of the CruiseOne travel agency. “They definitely know how to create a great buzz. ... Disney has always been a premium product and they really do not have to do anything in the way of discounting to get people on board those ships.”

A search on Cruises.com for week-long Caribbean cruises in June, when many ships have moved to Europe or Alaska, found that cruises on the Fantasy were the most expensive of what was available when it debuted in spring 2012 — fares starting at $1,750, double occupancy, for an inside or balcony stateroom. By comparison, the world’s biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, offered inside cabins from $1,269 and balcony staterooms from $1,399 that same month.

The following January, when there were far more ships in the Caribbean, the Fantasy, at $1,113 for an inside cabin, was costlier than all the premium ships — Celebrity, Princess, Holland America — and cheaper only than the luxury lines, Seabourn and Silversea, on Cruise.com’s listings.

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Disney Fantasy is the fourth ship from Disney Cruise Line. Disney Cruise Line

Disney doesn’t charge for some things that other cruise lines do — there’s no charge for using the kids’ clubs (except the nursery), for example, or for soda (except at bars) — which can add up to quite a bit on other ships. But when it does charge for something extra, the price can be high. A glass of the ship’s private label Jessica Rabbit champagne, made by Taittinger, was $26 in the ship’s debut season. At the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, prices started at $34.95 for makeup and could go to $184.95 for full costume and makeover. A CD of photos from a week-long cruise ran $349. Rental of a cabana on Castaway Cay for a day ranged from $499 to $699 for six to ten people. And at the ship’s gourmet adults-only restaurant Remy, dinner in 2019 is $125 ($230 with a wine-pairing menu), which makes it the most expensive specialty restaurant at sea, according to CruiseCritic.com.

Disney executives are unapologetic about prices. “We believe in delivering value,” Holz said. “We believe in the concept of all-inclusive. We’re not going to charge you 20 bucks more to have a filet in the dining room. We’re about experiences that fans value. We want to make sure that when our guests come off the ship, they say, ‘That was worth every penny.’ “

And they do, said Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompetes.com. Parents and grandparents say they want what is best for their kids. “There are things you can get on Disney ships that you can’t get anywhere else. If those are things that are important to you, you’re willing to pay extra for it.”

Disney introduced its ship to travel agents, the media and special guests with a pair of three-night preview cruises to Castaway Cay just before its official inaugural cruise last month. The ship had only about 2,300 passengers on the first of those cruises, so service and events may not have been representative, but what the experience underscored is that these ships were built for kids. While other cruise lines have children’s clubs and special programming for youngsters, on the Fantasy, it is the adults who have their own clubs and special activities. The rest belongs to the kids.

Here are some vignettes from that cruise.

MAGIC PLAYFLOOR

Disney doesn’t allow adults to intrude into its “secure programming” in the youth clubs, so the crew is going to give adults a demonstration of the Magic PlayFloor in the Oceaneer Club before banning us.

The floor made its debut last year on the Disney Dream and was a huge hit. An Imagineer tells us that when an early prototype was being tested by kids in Southern California, the adults who drove their children to the test site watched, then demanded to know when they would get their turn to play on it.

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The Magic PlayFloor in the Oceaneer Lab is an interactive floor that allows children to engage in group activities where their movements control the action. Diana Zalucky Disney Cruise Line

The Magic PlayFloor is like a giant video game that you control by moving your feet. The 15-by-15-foot center is made up of 28 monitors that display the game. There are 16 light pads around the edge that you jump on and dance and slide your feet across in order to make a frog zap a bug. In a flash, the guys who play video games figure out how things work and score the most points. A few kids edge in. We play another game, and the same team wins again.

Then the purple tip of a pointed ear flicks on the big screen on the wall. Tiffany, our unstoppably perky host, calls the ear and its creature out of hiding. It is Stitch, the fugitive alien who lands in Hawaii and teams up with a girl named Lilo, in the Disney movie “Lilo & Stitch.” He talks to us, asks us questions, and it’s clear an actor is watching us from a hiding place because these are real conversations. It’s the same technology — Disney is not about to explain how the magic works — that is used in Animator’s Palate when Crush talks to diners. In both venues, the guests are charmed.

THE D-LOUNGE

Tonight my traveling companion — I’ll call her T.C. rather than her real name because she’s a teacher who’s playing hooky to go on this cruise — and I are going to learn to dance the merengue in the D-Lounge. I’m surprised when T.C. and I get there a little early and find that the karaoke session we’ve walked into is for families, and that what’s being sung is more likely to be from “The Little Mermaid” than Lady Gaga.

When the merengue lesson starts and I’m trying to move my hips in an up-and-down figure eight, I’m out there with adolescent siblings dancing with each other and moms dancing with young sons. They’re all having fun. And they’re all picking up the merengue moves faster than I am.

My margarita and T.C.’s mocktail — a Minnie Mango Pango with pina colada mix, mango and Grenadine — arrive and I’m grateful for the excuse to remove my uncoordinated self from the dance floor. I’ve just noticed that short passages from classic Disney stories — “Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” — are woven into the carpet, when I hear cheering and look up to see Donald Duck walking onto the dance floor. A minute later, T.C. is dancing with him. Yes, I have photos.

Nearby, a dad is dancing with his teen daughter. He’s beaming, she’s smiling tolerantly. It’s like a triumphant moment from “Believe,” one of the ship’s theatrical productions, about a father in danger of missing out on the important moments of his daughter’s life.

PIRATE PARTY

The next evening, T.C. and I take our assigned seats in Enchanted Garden, a restaurant inspired by the gardens of Versailles with lighting designed to look like sunshine — and later, moonlight — pouring in through the glass roof of a conservatory. There are red pirate bandannas at our places. Our waiter carefully folds the bandannas and ties them around our foreheads a la Jack Sparrow.

It’s the night for Buccaneer Blast, Disney’s pirate party at sea with fireworks and dancing on the pool deck — literally. The crew has moved planking over the pools, creating a giant outdoor dance floor.

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The skies above the Disney Dream explode with brilliant colors during Buccaneer Blast!, a pirate party and pyrotechnics show. Matt Stroshane Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Dream, which also holds Buccaneer Blast, is in the area to show off its new sister ship to its guests, and the fireworks over each ship are visible to the other. In the distance, we can see the lights of other big ships that have paused to watch the pyrotechnics.

Afterwards, a deejay presides over the music and Jack Sparrow leads the partying. Young and old dance together, their images live-streamed onto “Funnel Vision,” the giant LED screen on the ship’s forward funnel.

By midnight, the dance party is over. As the deck clears, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies starts on the big screen. People drag out chairs, a few wrap themselves in blankets, and within minutes, the pounding, seething dance party is transformed into a quiet movie-watching party.

MEET-AND-GREETS

Throughout the cruise, there are scheduled meet-and-greets with Disney characters. These appearances always draw lines of kids who want a photo with Mickey or Cinderella or Buzz Lightyear. Adults too — T.C. collects photos of herself with 17 characters over the course of the cruise.

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Minnie Mouse keeps company with a young guest in the atrium of the Disney Fantasy. Marjie Lambert mlambert@miamiherald.com

On the last night, a mass meet-and-greet is scheduled in the atrium. It’s a testament to the popularity of the characters that it is scheduled at 10:15 p.m., past bedtime for the younger set, and still attracts a crowd. Chip and Dale are over there, on either side of a girl in a throne chair. Minnie is sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, her arm around a little girl. A boy is hugging Mickey. The grins, the hugs and kisses, the high-fives and the photo snapping go on for some time before the characters start to leave. The last few — Mickey, Minnie, Sleeping Beauty — run up the stairs, wave from the balcony and disappear.

Then from the ceiling, confetti rains down. It’s a special confetti, tiny gold mouse ears, that land on hair and shoulders and the floor. Girls and boys try to catch it, and little girls get down on the peacock-colored carpet and sweep together little piles that they carry back to their rooms. One tiny girl in a princess dress and upswept hair gives a few pieces to her grandmother to save for her. Another girl in a dress printed with little pink mouse ears lies on the carpet, her fingers pulling in the gold confetti, handfuls of a child’s stardust.

THE SHIP

Length: 1,115 feet

Gross tonnage: 130,000

Beam: 121 feet

Passenger decks: 14

Passengers: 2,500 at two per stateroom; 4,000 total capacity

Class: Disney Fantasy is the line’s second Dream-class ship

Maiden voyage: March 2012

Builder: Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany

Itineraries: Caribbean/Bahamas cruises out of Port Canaveral.

Marjie Lambert is the Miami Herald’s local government editor. She has spent most of her 40+ years in the newspaper business as a reporter and editor covering government and related news. She was the Herald’s travel editor from 2009 to 2016 and has also written eight cookbooks. She loves roller coasters.
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