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Old 05-18-2013, 03:04 PM   #1
jaybo22
Earning My Ears
 
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Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 28

Fantasy Eastern Caribbean 7-Night May 4-11, 2013 - Review and Lessons Learned

Thanks to everyone who contributes to DIS Boards. You all provided a ton of useful information for preparing for our trip that really help maximize the good times and minimize the hassles that can bring a trip down. Iíll do my best to give back what I can here.

Hereís a little background to put this in perspective. My wife and I are in our late 30's and my son is 4 and my daughter is 15 months. Before kids, we went on 4-5 cruises on the other major cruise lines. Weíve successfully done WDW Dumbo-or-die style with the kids 2-3 times including the Friday before we cruised.

Booking
Lesson Learned 1: Read Disboards before booking.
Lesson Learned 2: Book a specific room over a guarantee unless you really will take anything you get.
Lesson Learned 3: Once you go with a large verandah room once, itíll be hard to go down to anything less.

We read about Disney Cruises on a few popular Disney websites and heard some very high praise from friends so we decided to book a Disney cruise for our 10th Anniversary. Traveling with a 4 yr old and 1 yr old, we felt this offered the best mix for both the parents and kids. I didnít start reading these forums until after I booked, so there are a few things regarding booking that would have been nice to know then.

We went with ďanotherĒ Disney travel agent recommended by a website because I had learned about the benefit of the onboard credit by using a TA. The credit was the primary benefit we got from the TA and didnít get very much ďinsiderĒ guidance. We selected category 8B, Deluxe Outside Family stateroom - GTY on the Fantasy on the May 4th Eastern Caribbean 7-night cruise. We liked the large port-hole rooms and at the time we only saw this as a chance to get the same or higher category. We didnít see the down-side that you donít select your room and there are a few rooms that may be a higher category but you may find undesirable for some reason.

Around 50 days out, we got our room assignment of 5018, Category 8A, Deck 5 Forward. We researched the room on the boards and saw that it is a big room (plus), but it has a handicap accessible setup (no tub, no separate toilet/shower), no curtain, and awkward TV placement. Based on these concerns for us travelling with young children, we called Disney directly to request a change. We were told that they could not change the room and that we could either call our TA to upgrade or downgrade. We sat on this info for a while and tried to roll with it.

About a week out from the departure date, I called the TA to see if any more desirable rooms were available. Only inside rooms were showing available at that time so once again we decided to roll with it. Based on what I had read on the boards, I knew that Port Upgrades were available.

So, on embarkation day we proceeded through our normal check-in and then asked about upgrades. We were sent down to Window 31 to talk to the Supervisor. Luckily there were a couple of upgrade rooms available. I think the room we got was likely the room of someone else who upgraded to Concierge (thanks!). We jumped on the offer and moved to 9574, Category 4A Deck 9 Midship for $770.

So, the moral of the story for us is that if we booked a specific room with a tub and a curtain, we probably would have stuck with it, enjoyed it, and saved a bunch of money. But, that being said, we really loved the room we got. The space, great location, and verandah were great. I donít know what it would have cost if we chose to book this room from the start but we were quoted 4D for about $500 more than we paid for the 8B.

Getting There
Lesson Learned: Drive if you can.

We drove from Raleigh, NC down to Orlando on Thursday. We hit Magic Kingdom on Friday and then drove over to Port Canaveral Saturday morning. It was a long drive, but I found that driving was a lot less stressful (no missed/canceled flights, no transfers, no baggage limits). If you are within a dayís drive, I recommend it. We brought a big 28 in suitcase, a 26 in, and two 22 in suitcases plus carry-ons and a stroller in our Honda Accord. Based on what I read on the board, we opted to pay the premium to park at the port directly. With the kids and luggage, we were glad we did.

Packing
Lesson Learned: Know yourself, donít over-do it, pack just enough, and roll with it.

Since we drove, we didnít hold back on packing. We read a lot on the boards about For the kids we brought a couple outfits per day. We had collared shirts and pants for every night and a little blue blazer for my 4 yr old son. I, the man of the house, ended up packing 3 jackets (1 tux, 2 sport coats). Ok, so I own a tux which I never have a need to wear. I thought the kids would get a kick out of me wearing it on the cruise. I donít regret it, but I was one of maybe 5 people in a tux that night. Since we did formal night, semi-formal night, Palo and Remy, the jackets got plenty of use. For casual nights I wore khaki pants and button-down Tommy Bahama style shirts which I did re-use the during the daytime the next day. I did not wear a tie to Palo, Remy or Semi-formal night. We were glad to have gotten my son a pirate costume for Pirate Night, but the rest of us were fine with the bandanas they gave us. My main unworn clothes were a couple of t-shirts and socks. The kids didnít need as much backup clothes, but I felt it was good insurance to have. We had plenty of space for toiletries in the 2 bathrooms and didnít miss having a shoe organizer. I did not bring or need a power strip or night-light (our room and enough sockets and a built-in night light.

In our carry-ons, we brought the usual swimsuits and sunscreen. I carried on champagne and a handful of airplane bottles of alcohol. I debated if we should carry on more water, milk, or alcohol. Based on us and how we cruise, I was fine with what we brought and didnít regret my decision. We brought our Disney Parks Dining Plan mugs which we used to fill with water or drinks to bring back to the room. We enjoy adult beverages but donít drink a large volume as part of our daily routine, especially not with two young kids keeping us occupied. On our 3rd day we stopped at St Martin where I picked up a bottle of the legendary Guavaberry Mashup Rum ($24) which I enjoyed for the rest of the cruise along with drinks we bought from the bars and restaurants.. My son has a milk allergy so he usually drinks Rice Milk at home. We did fine without bringing our own by just choosing non-dairy beverages and skipping cereal for breakfast.

Check In
Lesson Learned: Parking at the port is fast and easy. Park on the 3rd deck to take the skyway right over to the main floor to scan your carry-ons.

Check in was a blur. We had very little waiting. We went through the scanner without issue. (The family behind us brought a huge jogger stroller that they used primarily as a shopping cart to carry a couple of cases of water.) We went from check in to upgrade desk to the gate to board the boat directly. I have no idea what the inside of the Port Canaveral facility is like since we spent about 15 minutes there.

Room
Lesson Learned: do not leave children unattended on the verandah.

Our Category 4A room on Deck 9 was awesome. Being located Midship, we only had to head straight up and down for all of the main attractions. The motion of the ocean was not very noticeable to us in the room.

Our 4yr old son slept in the pull-down bunk without any issues. We had the pack-n-play for our daugher which remained open the whole time so it was always ready for nap time. The diaper genie was a nice touch as well.

We had plenty of room under the bed for the bags and very nice closet and drawer space to unpack into. The bed linens were awesome! So comfortable. The mattress a little firm since itís compact and lacking a box spring.

Another reason that a nightlight is not needed is that the clock in the room is super bright. Borderline too bright, but I didnít do anything about it.

We appreciated the tip of using another card than your KTTW to activate the lights. We used our Magic Kingdom ticket card for this. Itís actually a very easy way to shut off all the lights in the room when you leave to raise the card up just enough to deactivate the lights while keeping it in the slot. Our room attendant was hip to this of course and kept it there the whole time.

The TV is small. The On Demand Disney movies got a lot of use during morning wake-up and to wind down at night. Even with the curtain, we didnít feel like we could watch TV at a comfortable volume with the kids in the room.

For us, the verandah was nice to have but not a key part of our vacation experience. On the Fantasy, it seems that 80% of the rooms available are verandah with the left-over spaces given to other room types, so I would recommend a verandah room to anyone.

So one story that is pretty funny in hind-sight is how we lost our daughter on the verandah. On three separate occasions, she crawled into one of our neighborís verandahs. The first time we panicked when we looked out at the veranda and she was gone. We found it odd to hear the neighbors rearranging their deck furniture so we peeked over and saw our little girl playing next door. She is a toddler who walks primarily but her world is only 2 feet off of the ground. She must have seen something that caught her eye and crawled right under the divider. The first two times we lured her back with a toy and then pulled her under the wall again. The third time, our neighbors were on the verandah so they were kind enough to deliver her to us out in the hallway. Again, it is pretty funny now since no-one plummeted off the side of the ship. We also had to tell our son (multiple times) to never-ever-ever stand on the furniture on the verandah.

Elevators
Lesson Learned: Unless you have a stroller or physical ailment, take the stairs as much as possible.

During peak crowd times, you will have to wait a while for an elevator. If you are a family with a stroller you might not have a choice even if youíre going up one floor. Donít bring your stroller to peak crowd times if at all possible. Muster Drill is the worst of the worst in terms of crowds, especially since the Sail Away party happens right after. Peak crowds can be an unruly time where you have to be in the right place at the right time to catch an elevator. Press both up and down buttons and get on the first car that arrives that you can get to. Or you may be better off walking to the front or back to less crowded elevator.
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Strollers
Lesson Learned: Donít bring anything bigger than an umbrella style stroller.

Bring a stroller if you have young child but bring the smallest one you can get. We brought a Maclaren umbrella stroller for our 1 yr old and it worked very well. The 4 yr old had to be a big boy and walk. Some folks brought their larger strollers and had a much harder time squeezing onto elevators and I can only imagine that these took up a lot space in their rooms as well.

Bathrooms
Lesson Learned: Never fear, nice bathrooms are near.

One thing that I noticed and appreciated is that the public restrooms were very nice. They very stylish, very clean, and have kid height sinks to make it easy to wash hands. Even on the pool deck where the bathrooms get heavy use, they were always clean and being cleaned. They even have diaper genies in most bathrooms as well.

Dining
Lesson Learned: Thereís no amount of Disney magic that can make young kids quietly and patiently enjoy a 4-course meal.

Main Dining Rooms
Overall, I did enjoy the food on the ship. I was rarely unhappy with a dish and did appreciate the variety with offerings such as wild boar, escargot, and popcorn soup. I didnít occur to me until the end of the trip but I found myself missing bold flavors. The menus rarely offer ethnic or spicy flavors like mexican, thai, chinese, indian, or bbq. I understand why menus have to have broad appeal, but I found myself reaching for those foods when I got home.

We had table 44, RAERAER. Our Servers were great and gave us a very nice experience. They gave us good recommendations, looked after our food allergies, gave general tips on logistics, and did little things to take care of the kids like cutting food, pouring ketchup in the shape of Mickey. Our server even got my son to take a couple more bites before clearing his plate!

The main dining rooms were the most challenging part of the trip. Our kids just arenít used to 4 course meals. They would bring the kids meals out quickly, but my son would finish and be falling off his chair and rolling on the ground by the salad course. I did not enjoy meals as much or take time to enjoy them because of it. This is just the reality of living with and vacationing with young kids. On the plus side, every table has their own form of craziness going on. You blend right in on DCL which would not be the case on other cruise lines. I do wish they would have the Oceaneer Club staff come and round up kids in the first seating like they do in the second seating.

Having been on several other cruises before having kids, I found that the quality of service and food was on par with the other major lines. The big differentiator is that kids are perfectly welcome and accommodated on DCL. It would be hard for us to consider another line for another 8-10 years.

Royal Court - Coincidentally, we ate here all three times so this was our home base. It has a nice, sophisticated decor and is the least theme-y. We got the best service in this dining room and were most comfortable there as it felt like we had more space.. This was the loudest of the bunch, however.
Enchanted Garden - This dining room has my favorite decor, but we had an undesirable seat location up against the back of one of the big booths and far from our waiterís station. We had much nicer experiences here during breakfast buffet.
Animatorís Palate - I liked the more casual and fun decor but we were mismatched with our Formal night attire. Our table was located far away from the screens, so we had no direct interaction with Crush on the first night. I didnít realize that you had to get lucky in where you were seated. The drawings and show on the second night were very cool. We had Palo reservations on the same night as the second AP night but we wanted to take our son to see the AP show. As info, the show starts just before 7pm. If you want to take the kids to see the show, order the popcorn soup appetizer for fun and get a 7:30 dinner reservation at Palo and Remy.

Food Allergies
Lesson Learned: Work with the staff and they will do a lot to make food allergies a non-issue.

Our son has food allergies. He has serious allergies to tree nuts and shell fish. We carry an epipen at all times just in case. He also has a mild dairy allergy that will give him digestive problems, but will not cause shock. We handle it well by checking ingredients and avoiding risky foods. Thankfully, we havenít had issue with ďtrace amountsĒ or ďprocessed in a facility that processes...Ē. After reading about other peopleís stories on the boards, I knew to tell DCL about his allergy in advance. We had a great experience and allergies did not hamper our experience at all.
In the main dining room, our wait staff was aware and worked with us. We usually got dairy free rolls (nice crusty roll) on the table each night and a dish of rice-milk ice cream for dessert each night. We took a look at the next-nightís menu each night and picked something that would work well for our son. Turf, no surf. Pasta, no sauce. Etc. In the buffets, we just picked safe foods and didnít involve talking to the chefs. In Cabanas, they had a pint of Rice Dream in the ice cream counter and a pint of sorbet so they could serve that up if you ask for it.
In the kids club, they will feed the kids if they are in there at lunch or dinner time. They called us on our Wave Phones to discuss what he could eat. Most of the time, we asked them not to feed him and we just picked him up for our meals. When we had Remy reservations, our Main Dining servers told us that we could ask the Kids Club to get his pre-ordered meal from the dining room.

Palo/Remy
This cruise was for our 10th anniversary so we wanted to take advantage of the child-care options to get some adult time so we did both Palo and Remy.

Remy - We had a great table, great service, great food, and great wine. It was a memorable experience. After the hectic MDRís, we really appreciated the space and serenity of Remy. The highlight for me was the cheese course which was extensive and a really nice addition to the meal. A friend told me that he really enjoyed MDR meals and asked if Remy was really worth it. At $75/person, that is a very good question, especially if you have prepaid dinner that you know youíre going to like waiting for you. The food has some more sophisticated preparation and some higher end ingredients like foie gras, Maine lobster and Wagyu beef, but that isnít enough to justify it. In the end, we would definitely recommend it and do it again to get that special experience of a very nice, quiet, romantic meal with excellent food and service.

Palo - After Remy, Palo did fall a little short. It was more of a dinner than an experience. The hardest part to deal with is that you only get 3 course selections. Appetizer, Entree, and Dessert. They list Pasta, Fish, and Meat all as Entrees and allow you to pick one. I would much rather have smaller portions and be able to have a pasta course and a fish/meat course. We had a nice spacious table here as well and enjoyed the peace. For less than a 3rd of the cost of Remy, Palo is a great value and a very nice meal.

Cabanas
We ended up eating lunch at Cabanas almost every day. Breakfast several times too. With kids, one in a high-chair, we did the hectic buffet-relay to incrementally get each person food and drink. Next time, I might try to add in a couple MDR lunches. I was happy with the variety, quality and selection. Here is where I saw more adventurous dishes like thai, indian, sushi in addition to comfort foods like German spaetzle noodles. I was very happy to have smoked salmon with all the fixings on a bagel every day.

Room Service
Lesson Learned: Get room service and use the time to relax and enjoy your room.

At the urging of what I had read on the boards, we were sure to use the room service option. We ordered continental breakfast items available a couple times and enjoyed the eating in the room while watching some on-demand movies or on the verandah while casually getting ready for the day.
The wings were pretty good and welcome since I hadnít come across wings anywhere else on the ship. The cheese plate is a nice snack, but if you a real cheese fan, be sure to get the cheese course at Remy. Caesar salad was Ok and the Pizza wasnít great.

Coffee:
I am a regular coffee drinker but since I was on vacation and didnít need to function at a high level, I didnít made this a big part of my vacation. We had a parentís coffee date at the Cove Cafe one morning which was very peacful and relaxing. Cove Cafe is not a Starbucks, but a bar with an espresso machine. You can get espresso based drinks but not a cup of coffee. My wife had a latte and I had espresso. I had coffee at seated breakfasts and with dessert each night in the MDRs and restaurants and found it to be just fine.

This is the first installment. More to come..
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