Monday, 16 December 2013

When Fantasy Became Reality

USA Trip 2013:  Blog Post #9

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths". - Walt Disney 

It took a lot of persuading (and perhaps a bit of begging) to get Scott on our first cruise.  He had created a stereotype in his mind of the typical cruiser and it wasn’t us.   Perhaps more like a silver-haired couple called Bill and Mavis whose idea of fun is to discuss the hijinks of Coronation Street over club sandwiches and a nice hot cup of tea.  

Having the lovely husband that I do, he finally gave in and agreed to give cruising a go for my sake.   We spent a week travelling around the Easter Mediterranean and a week is all it took to have us hooked on this style of travel.  Gone are the days of cruising being only for the old and retired and now more and more young couples and families are discovering how carefree, fun, and affordable a cruise holiday can actually be.  I’m yet to get feedback from someone who’s tried cruising and hated it. 

In 2011 we took Oskar on his first cruise.  It was a New Zealand coastal cruise that I discovered one morning on one of those last minute grab a deal websites.  It was sailing during school holidays, it was priced from as little as NZ$25 p/p per day, and within 10 minutes I had snapped the deal up.  I still look back on that cruise proudly as being the most spontaneous holiday I have ever organised as well as the cheapest. 

At the price I paid, it almost feels wrong to complain about any part of that cruise.  However, it needs mentioning that the kid’s club on that ship was downright awful.  The youth staff seemed unhappy and unmotivated, their English was barely comprehendible, and their idea of entertaining children was sitting them in front of movies for hours on end.  On the first day Oskar lasted an hour at the club before we got a call that our child had been crying non-stop since we dropped him off. 

As happy as we are spending time with Oskar, we also enjoy cruising for the quality time we get to spend as a couple.  After a gentle talk and perhaps a little bit of clever bribery, Oskar agreed to give the club one more try.  Three hours later we picked up our bored, miserable son and agreed that we wouldn’t be sending him back. 

While I know that not all cruise lines have such poorly run kid’s clubs, it’s fair to say that this experience put us off cruising for a while.  Scott and I made a decision right then that cruising holidays would be put on hold until Oskar was a teenager and we felt sure that he would be happy to spend at least two or three hours of each day away from us. 

That was until I discovered the DisneyCruise line.   If there was ever a cruise company with kids clubs that Oskar would enjoy attending, surely it had to be Disney?

Beautiful peacock-inspired chandelier in the Disney Fantasy atrium.
I did some research and was blown away by just how much these Disney ships offered for both children and adults.  Then when I saw pictures of The Disney Fantasy, I became more excited about the prospect of cruising on this ship than I have about any other holiday.    It turns out I was right to be excited; this ship is stunning!   While our whole USA holiday was amazing, the cruise of the Fantasy was the undisputed highlight. 

A porthole with a view

One of three adult-only pools
Adults-only hot tub with glass bottom floor
I did have some reservations before this cruise that the adult areas and entertainment would play a poor second to all the child activities on offer, but I needn’t have worried.  With relaxing adult pools, beautifully themed bars, delicious adult-only restaurants, and affordable cocktails, I can understand why there are many adults who choose to cruise Disney even though they don’t have any children.    The pay-off for traveling on a ship with such a large percentage of under-age passengers is that the adult-only areas were peaceful, uncrowded and had no shortage of empty deck chairs.  While the same can’t be said about the family areas of the ship, we always managed to find the space to do what we wanted, when we wanted.

My other concern was around the weather.  Going into this cruise I was fully aware that September is the peak of the hurricane season.  The payoff to cruising at this temperamental time of year is cheaper cruise fares; it’s pretty much the reason we were able to afford to travel on this ship in the first place.  However, it also meant not getting our hopes up about any of the ports.  (A good captain will sail around a storm even if it means a complete change of itinerary). 

I felt like the weather gods were shining down on us this whole trip as our plans were only negatively affected by rain once during our 25 days travelling.  Our 7 nights cruising consisted of 6 ½ days of sparkling sunshine and ½ a day of scattered cloud and light showers.  Staff onboard commented that for this time of the year it was some of the best weather they had ever seen.  Apparently the poor cruisers on the journey before ours got 7 days of rain.

From my seat in the sun I could turn to the left and see Castaway Cay, this adults only pool, and some very talented live musicians.
I could turn the right and order another mojito.
If I had to criticize one part of the whole Fantasy experience it would probably be the food.  With the exception of Palo which was excellent, most of our meals sat somewhere between very good and mediocre.  I am prepared to forgive the Fantasy for it’s small handful of food-related errors given that every other part of the cruise was so wonderful.  But if there is one area that they could do with a bit of improvement in, I think it would be this. 

Our cruise was 7 nights with 3 full days spent out at sea, and 3 days docked at Eastern Caribbean Islands.  The first port day was at the Dutch and French Island of St Maarten/St Martin, the second was at the US Virgin Islands of St Thomas and St John, and the third was at the Disney’s own private Island, Castaway Cay.   Each of these destinations is a blog post on it’s own, as is our experience with the ship’s food, entertainment, kids clubs, and stateroom.  With so much I would like to say and document about this very special week, I have a feeling that this Fantasy post is going to be the first of many.

A stunning ship down to the tinniest details.

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