Monday, 26 March 2012

A True Cruise Fantasy

We are just back from a 3-day media preview cruise aboard the new Disney Fantasy, the fourth ship in the stylish Disney Cruise Line fleet.

A sister to last year's Disney Dream, the Fantasy is a slightly tweaked version to cater for the fact the newcomer will offer the line's 7-day Caribbean voyages out of their main base in Port Canaveral, Florida (just an hour from Walt Disney World).

There is an extra kids' water-play area, called the AquaLab, a new small-pool in the adults-only Cove area, a bigger version of the superb Skyline bar and a completely re-themed entertainment district, called Europa instead of The District.

The cabins remain larger than average and there are two exclusive new shows in the superb Walt Disney Theater - Dreams (which starts out like High School Musical but morphs into classic Disney musical territory in superb fashion) and Aladdin, a full-scale musical presentation. Both feature the theater's amazing technological variety and staging wizardry and have a young, vigorous cast that deliver with great verve and energy.

Dining quality seems to have been quietly kicked up a notch, too. We ate in each of the Royal Court, Animator's Palate and adults-only Palo and, while the latter remains a stand-out location, the other two were not left in the shade by any means.

(As a quick aside for non-Disney regulars, Disney Cruise Line operates a rotational evening dining system that goes through each of the three main dining rooms in turn, changing the style, mood and menu each time. Hugely imaginative and also great fun, especially for families)

The new show that goes with Animator's Palate is also every bit as impressive as advertised. It starts with every guest being able to 'draw' their own cartoon figure (on a standardized template that makes it easier than it sounds) and these are then incorporated into the dining room's big finale presentation in dramatic, eye-popping style. One of the cruise's 'Don't Miss' moments.

Fantasy is also decorated in 1930s Art Nouveau fashion (as opposed to Art Deco on Dream) and there are some genuinely beautiful and classic design touches throughout which really hark back to that Golden Age of cruising (while providing every mod con possible, like the interactive 'Enchanted Art' throughout the ship, which comes to life when a guest passes by). 

The current Disney mania for interactive games in its Walt Disney World theme parks is now extended to the ship, too, with the Muppets featuring in an adventure quest game using the Enchanted Art pieces in an interactive scavenger hunt/puzzle. Great fun for all ages.

We were also impressed, as we were with Dream, with the adults-only options and areas, which continue to make this a great proposition for couples as well as just families. Disney simply has THE most impressive children's facilities anywhere, but the 'grown-ups' are not left out at all, and, with the exception of the main dining rooms, the overt 'Disney-ness' is not all-pervading or at all off-putting. This is a genuinely sophisticated and engaging cruise experience that - most importantly - still harks back to cruising's maritime traditions, and does it very well for everyone aboard.

Finally - Castaway Cay, Disney's private Bahamian island (below) continues to get better and more feature-packed seemingly with every visit. There are SO many activities here now you would probably need a week to try them all, but just chilling out on the well-provisioned beach, surrounded by blissful views and the impossibly azure waters, remains one of THE great experiences in the cruise pantheon.

Three days is definitely too short a time to spend aboard - but the new alternating 7-day east and west Caribbean itineraries are well worth considering.

Be sure to order your Summer edition of World of Cruising magazine as we will have a full review, with extensive photos, from our preview.

For booking options, be sure to check out this link with the UK's leading cruise agent specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.