DINKS Cruise Disney – The Beginning
DINKS Cruise Disney – Pre Planning (Mickey and Minnie Called, Pirate Night Prep)
DINKS Cruise Disney – Time to Go
DINKS Cruise Disney – Onboard (Multiple Posts Throughout: Initial Thoughts, Around Disney Fantasy, Answering Reader Questions)
DINKS Cruise Disney – Parting Thoughts
Cruise Review – Parts One, Two, and Three
MrsMJ and I spent a week aboard the Disney Fantasy earlier this spring, sailing on the March 15, 2014, Western Caribbean itinerary. No, we don’t have any kids, although we did travel with friends of ours and their kids, and grandma too. It was spring break in Florida, and there were a lot of kids. It’s Disney Cruise Line, so no surprise there. But to answer the burning question of the day – Yes, DINKS can and do cruise Disney. Yes, DINKS can cruise Disney and have fun. In an administrative note, I have historically tried to keep general cruise reviews down to one post. The more I worked on this review, the lengthier it became. There’s just a lot to say about any cruise, especially this one, so I’m breaking it up into three parts. Part 1 will focus on booking the cruise, getting to and onboard the ship, and the stateroom. Part 2 will be ports of call and dining. Part 3 will focus on general out and about on the ship, and disembarkation. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get on with Part 2 of the review.
Ports of Call
Our itinerary for the 7-night cruise was the Western Caribbean “B Itinerary” and our schedule was as follows.
Our first full day on board was spent at sea. I love sea days, and I really love starting a cruise with a day at sea. Sea days offer you the opportunity to sleep in, unwind, and reconnect with being on a ship at sea. As a guy who tends to wake up with the chickens, I managed to sleep in all the way until 9am on our sea day. 🙂
We arrived in Grand Cayman in the mid morning after a relaxing day at sea. MrsMJ and I elected not to book any shore tours on the island, opting instead to do our own thing. We’ve visited Grand Cayman before, and the island is a tender port meaning you have to board a small boat for transit to shore. Doing things on our own allowed us to relax in the morning, enjoy breakfast and let all of those more eager rush for shore. Disney runs a relatively well organized tender operation, but I’ve never walked away from a tender operation saying “wow, that was awesome.” The truth is that tendering involves moving a lot of people off a large ship on to small boats over a relatively short period of time. My advice is if you are tendering to shore as part of an organized tour, be sure to show up at the appointed time. If you don’t have a tour, enjoy the ship and let the more eager rush to shore first.
With no tour planned, our agenda was to find wi-fi, check some emails, grab a little lunch, and perhaps do some shopping. We managed to successfully accomplish all of that. After a little shopping around the port, lunch and wi-fi were found across the street and within site of the port area at Breezes by the Bay. (Tip: the wi-fi is best by the bar area.) Here’s a little pano shot from the deck at Breezes.
After a couple of hours, we were ready to return to Disney Fantasy. We timed our return just right as we were able to immediately board a tender, and head back across the bay for the ship. It was a little windy, and there were some decent sized waves making the tender ride choppy. I like that, so we were all good. 🙂 I did manage to catch a good view of the ship on the way.
We had never been to Costa Maya, so we booked a shore tour through the cruise line along with our friends called “Salsa and Salsa.” Basically, you make salsa (and guacamole), dance salsa, and do a little drinking too. The tour itself was just as the Disney site advertised. Staff was pleasant, and beverages were plentiful. The event was held at a relatively decent looking beachfront resort, and there was time for swimming and beach play after the organized activities. We (along with most on the tour) elected to forgo that and return to the pier. We were provided taxi transportation back to the port.
The port itself had several shops and restaurants along with a sort of beach – pool area that looked about as inviting as anything else I saw in town. If I were to return to Costa Maya, I’d probably just elect to enjoy the ship, and wander over to the port area for drinks and pool time. In short, Costa Maya really didn’t “do it” for me. YMMV. Here’s a shot from Disney Fantasy as we were docking in Costa Maya.
With many visits to Cozumel under our belt, we weren’t really sure what to do. We’ve taken ship tours and we’ve done our own thing. This time, we booked a ship’s tour, “Fury Catamaran Sail, Snorkel, and Beach Party.” We’ve enjoyed our Fury adventures in Cozumel, Key West, and other ports of call, the staff is usually good, and the boats seem well maintained, so we went for it. We were not disappointed. Snorkeling was grand, but I really just wanted to enjoy the beach…and I did. It was also here that I learned an entire generation of our Nation’s youth now preface 75 percent of the words they speak by uttering the word “hashtag.” But that’s another blog post. Keep in mind, it was spring break for college students too.
I enjoyed Cozumel, always do, but my favorite thing about our visit happened well after sailing away. Perhaps, it was my favorite thing about the whole cruise. It was Pirate Night! Yes, I dressed up….no, I don’t have a good picture…. my bad. What I do have is a video of the fabulous (for a ship at sea) fireworks show following Pirates In the Caribbean.
MJonTravel Disney Cruise Tip: Get up top early for a good viewing position for the Pirate show and the fireworks. Seriously, my video does not do the whole thing justice, but I think it gives you a flavor.
The next day was spent at sea sailing towards Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.
The number one feature of Disney’s private island in the Bahamas is that Disney built a pier. No tendering involved. Score one for Disney. Another feature of Castaway Cay – the place is absolutely beautiful.
Now that the cruise is over, I wish I’d paid slightly better attention to what kind of airplane that was. 🙂 MrsMJ and I took our time exiting the ship, but when we did, we made our way over to Serenity Bay, aka adult beach. Serenity Bay is at the far end of the island and can be reached on foot or via shuttle service. If you’re the least bit mobility impaired, don’t walk it…it’s far, including a hike down a now closed runway, but no matter how you reach the beach, it’s worth it.
While I wish I’d photoshopped that person out of the scene, I think the photo still captures the general scheme of things….the beach was beautiful. The water, pristine. The sunshine, just awesome. Serenity Bay was equipped with its own facilities including spa service, a bar, and buffet area. Bar service was plentiful and friendly no matter where you sat on the beach. While dining is part of this post, I will tell you now, the luncheon served on the island exceeded that of your average mass market cruise line. Of course, the usual suspect like burgers and hotdogs were available, but so was mahi-mahi and steak. It was too bad that the island and the island barbecue were the last stop of the cruise, because both really personified the whole Disney cruise experience. Castaway Cay was my favorite port of the cruise.
Let me say from the outset, I am not a foodie. I wouldn’t know 5 star from 3 star. That said, I do know what’s good, and the dining aboard Disney Fantasy was not just good, it was very good. Sometimes it was excellent. Our Remy experience was no doubt the finest meal I’ve enjoyed at sea and among the finest I’ve had anywhere ever. That said, let’s take a look at the basics which begin with your “Key to the World Card” aka your room key.
That rather pitiful arrow is pointing to some random letters, but we’ll start at the beginning. Our dinner was at 8:15PM. But what about ERAERRA? Main dining on Disney cruises is split among three dining rooms, Enchanted Garden (E), Royal Court (R), or Animator’s Palate (A). At Disney, you rotate among 3 dining rooms in the order listed on your card. In our case it was Enchanted Garden, Royal Court, Animator’s Palate, back to Enchanted Garden, then 2 nights in Royal Court, and ending with Animator’s Palate. While you rotate, your server team does not, they follow you so you keep the same servers throughout your cruise, and I love that. I probably love that because our servers were among the best I’ve had on a cruise. They were awesome! I mean awesome in a way that I really felt like I didn’t want to leave them to enjoy Palo and Remy, the specialty restaurants. In the end, Remy was worth the temporary breakup, Palo, not so much.
Throughout the cruise, our main dining experiences were wonderful. The food was very good, sometimes excellent. The service was always beyond excellent which I think just makes the food better! I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I speculate that your average Disney cruise dining room is filled with an above average amount of younger eaters. Somehow our servers managed to deal with that and still provide the adults with an excellent dining experience.
But the mouse always abides. 🙂
I’m not going to pay much attention to Palo ($25 per person upcharge), the Italian eatery here. The food was OK, but not really better than that we got in the main dining room, even if it was presented a little more cutely. The service was OK for most of the time, but somehow, the waiter never even offered us coffee at the end of the meal. I just don’t quite know how to describe the whole thing. The atmosphere was pleasant enough. Maybe the waiter had more tables than he could handle. I don’t know….just color me disappointed with our particular Palo experience.
But then there was Remy ($75 per person upcharge). Let me disclose upfront that our friends happened to run into some other friends who were also on for spring break who knew some people….that’s all I’ll say. Long story short, Remy offers some unique dining experiences, and we enjoyed dining in the wine room. As I’ve already said, I’m not a foodie, but without a doubt, our dining experience in Remy was the finest meal I’ve ever had at sea, and among the top meals I’ve enjoyed anywhere. The multi course meal with wine pairings was beyond my non-foodie ability to describe. Suffice it to say we went with the “enhanced” wine pairing menu available for an additional charge. We enjoyed a combination of small plate options prepared by both French and American chefs. I simply don’t know how to describe it.
Dessert. More divine. If nothing else, Remy taught me that I must invest in a camera capable of taking pictures in low light situations. I can’t do the meal justice. In the end, all I have to say about Remy is you had me at Taittinger. That is all.
Of course, main dining, and fine dining do not summarize all dining aboard Disney Fantasy. Yes, we made it through the casual buffet, Cabanas. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. A cruise ship buffet is a cruise ship buffet, but the quality of food offered in Cabanas was a cut above your average cruise line. Food here was very good at all times. I was particularly impressed with the seafood on offer. I did not take dinner in Cabanas, but in the evenings they transform the scene into a tablecloth setting and offer many of the same selections as the main dining room in a casual setting.
There were a number of other food service options around the ship including casual options by the pool deck which we tried on a few occasions. Basic, but reliably decent food. You can review all food options aboard Disney Fantasy here. For me, 7 days wasn’t enough to try everything…..seriously.
The ports of call were basic Caribbean, but enjoyable. After the winter we have had, anything warm with blue water will do. We enjoyed our ports of call, especially Castaway Cay. For me, dining is where Disney Fantasy both surprised and delighted. Food quality and service were more akin to what I might expect on Celebrity Cruises, which has a well deserved reputation for great food. I really enjoying dining aboard Disney Fantasy.
Coming next week – General details and experiences aboard the ship, disembarkation, and an answer to the ultimate Disney Cruises question.