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Old 05-16-2013, 05:30 PM   #1
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 52

Thoughts from last-weeks Fantasy Cruise

Initial thoughts: We returned from our cruise to the Eastern Caribbean on the Fantasy last Saturday (May 11, 2013). I don't have enough interesting things to post an trip report, but wanted to share some of my thoughts. This was my families first cruise (I took a cheap Baja cruise as a teenager). It was with my wife and two young girls.

The Fantasy was breathtaking. What a work of engineering and art put together. It was spotless everywhere we went. In many ways, it was nicer than a Ritz Carlton I stayed at.

Boarding. Boarding was way better than expected. We had the earliest boarding time. Arrived at the port about 15 minutes before that. The longest line was getting through security (about 10 minutes). There was almost no line to check in. The kids club registration was short enough that we got it done while my wife saved our place in line to meet Mickey. By the time we did all that, they started boarding. We were in boarding group 6 and were called within 5-10 minutes . I was impressed right from the start.

One improvement they could make in boarding is to make a bypass line for pictures. We knew we didn't want the boarding picture. The background wasn't appealing to us. But there was no way to get around the two picture lines. We waited at least 5 minutes there (seemed like forever considering the excitement of just about to get on the ship). When we got to the front we scooted around a few people to walk right by the picture takers. No big deal though.

First Day. I have wonderful memories of boarding the ship on the first day, eating a quick lunch at Cabanas, riding the Aquaduck three times, letting the girls ride the yellow slide a few times, and taking a dip in the pool with them, all before the ship got too crowded.

Pools. The pools were emptied and scrubbed clean several times due to children going number 2 in them. I was impressed that Disney was so careful about cleaning them, but we did not go in the pools after the first Saturday. They were always super crowded and cloudy looking. We can swim at home and there were so many other things to do on the ship that we never missed the pools. We did ride the Aquaduck several times one evening. Riding at night is something that shouldnt be missed. It wasnt crowded right after the first dinner each night.

Seasickness. The first night, the ship was rocking a lot. It creaked and moaned in out stateroom. By dinner, we were all super sick (not having taken anything in advance). My oldest daughter was crying she was so sick. But we pushed through it and all ate dinner. We sat in that room the first night and seriously considered flying home from our first stop. We wondered what we had signed up for not having experienced cruising much before. But we learned the next day that a storm had caused the rocking. The captain announced that it would get better as we sailed South. We took some medicine and by that night, the ship was only making a gentle rolling motion. We didnt need to take anything for sickness the rest of the vacation.

Shows. On sea days we saw the theatrical shows at the 3:00 pm showing. I didn't know this was going to be an option and it was a pleasant surprise. It is during the time of the day that we were ready to just chill, it ended with plenty of time to prepare for dinner, and it allowed us to relax in the room or on deck after dinner instead of seeing a late show. We are early birds, so it was perfect for us.

I have great memories of retiring early with the girls and watching Disney movies in the room. They have so many to chose from. We watched a lot of old classics. I even made my family sit through Flight of the Navigator. A favorite from my childhood, which they havent taken to with enthusiasm. Maybe it is a boy thing.

The first night we were too sick to go to the show. I was surprised that it wasnt broadcast on our tv as I had expected. So the last night, when we didn't have a chance to see the show during the day (because of Castaway Cay), I called guest services to see if the show would be broadcast to our room. They said yes, but it wasn't. That was disappointing. The shows were broadcast on the other nights why don't they broadcast the first and last shows?

Food and Service. I didn't know what to expect with the food so many different opinions on Dis-Boards. My wife has a gluten allergy. The ship was fantastic for that she would pre-order the next day's food and they would tell her to order anything she wanted for breakfast and lunch. They literally made anything she requested gluten free. Dessert was always recommended to be "Chefs choice" and was usually good. I loved the oatmeal they served for breakfast with all the toppings (dried bananas, coconut, cranberrys etc). It was better than what I make at home. Lunches were good we usually ate at Cabanas. Dinners were good to great. I thought most were much better than what you get at most of Disneyland's eateries (I've never been to Disneyworld), better than most chain restaurants, but not as good as a fine dining restaurant. This was a pleasant surprise after having been disappointed with what Disney offers in the parks for ridiculous prices. Of course, the food varied a bit. Some nights were delicious (the sea bass and short ribs for example). Some were so-so (lobster). But none of it was inedible. I think the sides were the most lacking. They often too small, not very creative, or flavorless. The server gave great suggestions to me each night. I even liked the popcorn soup, which is a love it or hate it thing on these boards. By the end of the week though, it all seemed to have a similar flavor or was less appetizing I was tiring of the food for some reason. Probably had just eaten too much.

Palos brunch was nice. But by the time we went on Thursday, I never felt hungry, even skipping breakfast. Because of that, it probably didn't enjoy it as much. Also, the server wasn't that impressive. He showed us around the buffet, said here are the things you can order, and then never came to see what we wanted to order. I finally hunted him down to place our order. One of the servers was showing her group their options and said, "whether your table orders this dish or not, I am ordering for you because it is too good to pass up." That is the kind of pampering I was hoping for. Instead, our waiter made the rude remark "now I will translate what she just said to English." He was trying to be funny, but she was offended and it made it awkward for us. The food didn't seem that much of an upgrade from the dining rooms. Shortly into our meal they said they were closing the kitchen down and to place any final orders (we had a 12:45 seating), which I didn't think was very classy - at least they warned us. That said, it was a great date with my wife and I am glad we did it. The view and ambiance were great.

The service at dinner (and the other sit down meals for that matter) was stellar. Especially considering how busy the wait staff appeared to be. We are not the most social people in the world, but we got to know our waiters surprisingly well. On the last night, the server said that he was sad to see us leave because we were one of the best families he had served. He may say that to most his guests, but he seemed very genuine and it was a nice compliment. I tipped the server and assistant server $40 extra in addition to their suggested tips. I wanted to be generous but stay in budget. It didn't feel like enough considering the excellent service and extra work for my wife's gluten allergy. But when you have three people to tip, it adds up quickly. I was sure to write their names and providing exceptional service on our comment card. How does $40 extra compare to what all of you tip for excellent service on a Disney cruise?

We did get the excellent speech. But it was low-key and not offensive. It was about half way through the trip. I just told the server that the service had been excellent and that I was planning on marking excellent. I was afraid the service would change once I told him that, but it didn't. Also, I don't get the head-server thing. He walked around once a night and talked to us for all of 30 seconds. I guess if you had a problem, it would be good to have him. But I felt odd tipping him at the end. I guess I shouldn't have felt odd, as the excellent service we received from the server and assistant server were under his direction.

Bibidi-Bobidi Boutique: My girls had fun getting makeovers. It was overpriced for what they got - $60 each for some nail polish, hairdo, and small hair clip (but we expected that). But, they felt like princesses and I am glad we did it. I was surprised that we couldn't tip. They said to let guest services know that we had great service instead. They gave us two cards to complete and drop off there and said that the employees would get recognition (Palos meals, time-off, etc) based on feedback from guests.

Most disappointing food item: The chocolate chip cookies from room service. I was really looking forward to them, but they were overcooked, dry, and flavorless.

Food item that I hadn't heard of, but was excellent: The wraps they served at lunch on the pool deck (same place they serve sandwiches, next to the burgers and pizza). They came in 3-4 varieties and were fresh and tasty.

Food item that exceeded my expectations: The self-serve ice-cream. I expected it to be extremely low quality. It kind of was, but the flavor was great. It may have been the setting and hot sun, but it tasted fantastic. I had one each day.

Event that exceeded my expectation: Castaway Cay. I was expecting it to be fun. But the beauty of it surprised me. It was almost as pretty at Trunk Bay was on St. John. Add Disney facilities and service to it, and it is a bit of paradise. The barbecue lunch was good too. FYI - there were many more fish in the swimming area (a few actually bumped up against me) than the snorkeling area.

Something I didn't expect: I thought that with three sea-days we would see more movies (wife and I saw Iron Man 3, never saw any movies with the children). But, we were enjoying just relaxing so much, plus the 3:00 theatrical shows, that we never got around to it. We also never got around to going to the adult clubs at night. We were just too tired and content being with the girls in the stateroom. I also didn't expect that we wouldn't participate in ship activities. We never took the cooking classes, galley tours, etc. I thought we would, but once on board they seemed less appealing than just enjoying downtime and the ship.

Service that Exceeded my Expectations: The morning room service and nightly turn-down service. I never guessed how much I would appreciate this. We kept the room picked up, but the host made the room look brand new twice a day. To have the beds ready to go when we came back for the evening was also great. We tipped the host an extra $40 (in addition to the recommended tip) because of how much we appreciated this. How does this compare?

Crazy thing that happened: The day we were sailing from St. Thomas, they started paging a family about ten minutes after we were supposed to leave. It was obvious they were not on board. We waited, and waited, and waited. After close to an hour, a taxi pulled up and the family of two adults and two children ran down the pier. The dad was last out of the taxi and was carrying all kinds of stuff. I felt very sorry for the stress this must have caused them. The worst part was the people that booed them from their balconies (only a few compared to the people cheering them). I am sure it really hurt those passengers to have to sit in port an extra hour - we still made it to Castaway Cay on time. But, I am not sure it is good policy for Disney to tell everyone that a minute late will be too late, but wait an hour for a single family. It seems that people will come to expect it and wont make an effort to be back on time. But I was glad that this family made it back on board. I want to post separately about this to discuss.

Final thoughts: I have extremely high expectations going into this cruise. I kept trying not to build them up in my mind for fear of disappointment. But, the whole experience exceeded my expectations. The service of Disney blew me away. The ship was amazing. The time with my children without stressing over where we would eat at night, or driving to a tourist site, etc, was priceless. It was a vacation we will always remember.

Is the first cruise always better than the rest? Or are they all just as magical?

Last edited by brentm77; 05-17-2013 at 10:03 AM.
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