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Old 05-18-2013, 03:04 PM   #1
jaybo22
Earning My Ears
 
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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.
.
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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Old 05-18-2013, 07:34 PM   #2
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Off to a great start.

I will say, I've always been able to order a smaller taster portion of pasta (usually the lobster ravioli) to go along with my entree in Palo.

I totally agree on your comments on Remy. It is a fantastic experience. In fact, I booked the Dream for my birthday in October just so I could eat at Palo again.

Jill in CO
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Old 05-18-2013, 09:29 PM   #3
jaybo22
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A taster portion at Palo would have been perfect if our server had offered it. Our Palo experience may have been fast-tracked since we arrived late. From what I could tell from overhearing other servers, the recommendations and flow of the meal could be quite different depending on the server. Ours was a fun and entertaining character, but he moved us through the meal quickly and had some strong opinions. He chose the appetizers (all 4 were great). He strongly discouraged ordering the lamb (the beef was great). And we didn't even see the dessert menu (the souffle was great).
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Old 05-18-2013, 09:32 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jaybo22 View Post
A taster portion at Palo would have been perfect if our server had offered it. Our Palo experience may have been fast-tracked since we arrived late. From what I could tell from overhearing other servers, the recommendations and flow of the meal could be quite different depending on the server. Ours was a fun and entertaining character, but he moved us through the meal quickly and had some strong opinions. He chose the appetizers (all 4 were great). He strongly discouraged ordering the lamb (the beef was great). And we didn't even see the dessert menu (the souffle was great).
Wow...too bad....your experience could have been so much better.

Jill in CO
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Old 05-18-2013, 11:43 PM   #5
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Part 2 of the TR

Oceaneer Club
Lesson Learned: Oceaneer Club is very well done and could be the highlight of a kidís trip.
Lesson Learned: Wash your hands at Oceaneer Club, itís awesome.

The kids club is an amazing part of the ship that sets DCL far apart from the competition. Almost half of a deck is dedicated to the club/lab showing what a priority this is to DCL. As far as I know, this is a unique experience that you cannot get anywhere but on a DCL ship. If money were no object, I can still see why a celebrity would take their family on a DCL to cruise to get give them this experience. This is a first-class facility that is available on-demand from morning until midnight and is included in the cost. If DCL costs more, this is one of the reasons why and it is worth it.

My son had a ton of fun and rarely reported any problems with other kids so I have to assume that the staff do a good job at encouraging the kids to place nicely together. There is usually one or two per room monitoring and interacting with the kids. They arenít just lifeguards or referees. Much to our surprise and delight, our son requested to go to the club when given an option. We found him mostly in Andyís room and the Monsterís Inc room, but he go around to other areas. It is open to a broad range of kids so they gravitate to the rooms that interest them which clumps them with the kids in the age group.

The staff is professional in keeping the kids safe and secure. The check-in and check-out process runs smoothly and they do a good job at reducing bottlenecks. They do feed your kids if they are in there during a mealtime but they were aware of our sonís allergies and checked with us before feeding him anything. They checked his epipens in at the front desk each time we dropped him off. Our son did not come away with any favorites that he talked about by name but due to the free-form nature and the large number of staff this is understandable.

One tip for anyone on the ship. Try to go to the Oceaneerís Club to wash your hands in the automatic hand washing machine they have. Itís like a spa for your hands. A genius innovation that had kids eager to wash hands.

Nursery
For our 1yr old girl, we did use the Nursery a few times. Since she does not spend much time away from her parents, she was not as happy to be left with strangers. We only used this service a few times as a result. The staff did not flinch at all when we handed over our crying girl and never called us to come get her. If we texted on the Wave phone to check on her, the staff would respond letting us know how it was going. The facility is large and clean with plenty of toys to play with as well as rockers, bouncers and a room with about 20 cribs. This is a for-fee service, but at $6/hr it is a bargain compared to the mainland.

Wave Phones
Lesson Learned: Use the Wave Phones, they allow you to relax and spend more time enjoying your vacation.

The Wave Phone is another genius innovation that enables a more relaxing and stress free trip for parents. Being reachable by the kids club or nursery allowed us to go about our vacation without having to constantly worry. As I said previously, the kids club would call to check on my sonís allergy restrictions before serving him any food and the nursery would respond to messages when we wanted to check in on our daughter. Us parents were able to communicate while we were apart as well. Typically my daughter would be taking a nap while I took my son to the pool so we could sync up on where to meet or when it was ok to come back to the room. This is another service that is a differentiator that makes taking a cruise vacation with young kids doable.

As a smart-phone user on land, I canít imagine how we texted on a numeric keypad for so long.

Family Activities
Lesson Learned: The family activities on the boat are great and should be part of your itinerary.
Lesson Learned: Try to get to know the Cruise Staff, they can make your experience a little more personal.

In addition to the kids clubs, there are many activities for kids that families can participate in such as Disney Junior, Pirate, and Dance Party related events. The are short and simple, but can add some variety to your trip. Many of them were held in D Lounge and run by the Cruise Staff who were really great. The Cruise Staff report up to Assistant Cruise Director and run these events as well as many events around the ship. You will see these folks all around and you can get to know them pretty easily.

Pools
Lesson Learned: Head to the hot tub for a quiet, relaxing escape with your kid.

We went to the pool every day but usually just for one session based on what my kids wanted to do. This was the most parent-sacrificing time of the trip. My son enjoyed the Mickey Pool which was shallow and the perfect depth for him. Based on the near-drowning a few weeks before we left I was on alert. I have to say, even when sitting on the edge of the pool with my feet in the water it was hard to keep a constant eye on my son since there are lots of distractions (Funnel Vision) and about 5 other boys that looked just like him in the pool. The crowd level in the water was just fine. Plenty of room for the kids to play. As a parent, you have to accept that youíre going to get splashed in the face, a lot.

There is a family area hot tub as well. Unlike other ships, this one is a large rectangle off to the far side of the deck. This made it a shaded and quiet area and not designed as a party area. There were always kids in there but they did not splash. My son and I enjoyed going in there to relax. The hot water makes the air above a cooling sensation. One hidden treasure of the hot tub is that it has a clear floor allowing you to see straight down the side of the boat.

My son also loved to play in the AquaLab and Nemoís Reef slash zone areas. Nemoís Reef is nice for a parent since itís a contained area but it gets loud and there arenít convenient places to sit. We spent a lot of time up at the AquaLab. Finding a shady spot is the challenge for parents up there. Since it has entry on both sides of the deck, you have to be vigilant as to where your kid is. We took our daughter to Nemoís Reef since it allowed kids in swim diapers but she would have preferred to go in the pool with us. I never did make time for myself to swim in an adult pool or go on the Aqua Duck. Always next time.

Midship Detective and Magic Artwork
Lesson Learned: Start Midship Detective early and work on it throughout the cruise.

The artwork that comes to life throughout the ship is a ďmagicalĒ addition to the ship on itís own. The addition of the Midship Detective Agency games is another genius innovation. They are self-paced and fun for kids and adults. Itís another thing to keep people occupied and spread activity around the ship. This is a good filler to do in the in-between times. We only managed to complete one based on the interest level of my son. I know there are some threads on the boards with more game specifi tips if you think youíll be interested.

Bingo
Lesson Learned: To win Bingo, you have to spend money to win money.

We didnít necessarily plan on it but we ended up playing bingo 4 out the 6 times it was offered since it was a lot of fun. The Cruise Staff that runs this are a lot of fun and kids are accepted. They offer paper punch cards as well as computers. In my opinion, paper cards are for nostalgic fun and computers are the way to win. The buy-ins were different based on the session, but I think we paid $50 for 48 cards in the early session and $90 for 72 in the final session. We got three bingos (shared) in early games two out of 4 sessions which had us in the black until the final session. There were a couple of other people/groups that did a lot of the winning. They invested heavily in multiple machines with a max number of card which increased their chances of winning. If I were to do it again, Iíd buy in big to the early sessions to try to win a large pot before the crowds grow. Yes, casual players will resent you for winning too much.

Tastings
Based on what I read on the boards, I knew that tastings were popular and that you had to sign up early. On the first afternoon, I went to Guest Services who sent me down to La Piazza. All of the mixology classes were booked by that time but all other tastings were open. It was tough to find times that worked well but I chose a Rum tasting and a Tequila tasting. The tasting was held in the Meridian with a very scenic view out the back of the ship. The tasting itself was disappointing because it was mostly average liquor store stuff. We tasted Rasberry Bacardi, Captain Morgans, and Myers Dark Rum which are mostly considered mixers vs sipping rums. We did get to taste Pusserís 15 yr which, for me, was something different and enjoyable. We ended with a Caipirinha cocktail which was light and refreshing. The staff were nice and the location was nice, but they did not deliver on offering a flight of rum worth tasting.
I had to cancel to Tequila tasting since it conflicted with other plans. I went to Guest Services who told me I needed my paper ticket to cancel. So I went back to my room to search for it only to find that I didnít have one. I called back down to GS to eventually find out that my name wasnít on the reservation list after all. I guess that worked out in the end. I didnít interact with them much, but Guest Services were my least favorite and least helpful, ironically.

Photos / Pictures / Shutters
Lesson Learned: Donít miss the See Ya Real Soon Party for great personal photos opps with all the characters.

We liked the photography staff. They were fun and easy to work with. They tried hard to get all four of us to smile at the same time including our serious, frowny baby girl. There are tons of photo opps throughout the week. We would eye-ball a line for a character photo opp and jump on if it was about 10 families long. The setting and posing for the photos does get a little repetitive however. You might consider mixing it up yourself just for variety so your family is not in the same pose for every shot. The purchasing options are not that awesome. Much like PhotoPass, they charge a premium for your memories. We were frustrated that they would not print an 8x10 in a different size for us. But they can reprint to remove red-eye. The photobook was a good choice for us to get a copy of all the pics of the kids with the characters.. It costs $150 which is about 2-3x what a similar book from Snapfish would cost but of course you are getting the photographers service as well.

One secret I will share that the last night is the best night for taking personal photos with characters. There is no cruise photo staff on the last night for the See Ya Real Soon party so the lines move very fast and everyone is starting thing about packing so the crowds are thin. They held this event two times that night. We were able to get pictures with our own camera with almost every character with very little wait.

Fish Extenders
We participated in a large FE group on our sailing and were happy that we did. It was fun to receive the gifts throughout the trip and the variety and thoughtfulness of the gifts was great. We got edible gifts, practical gifts, souvenirs, games, toys, decorations. We can tell that our FE group put a lot of time, thought, effort, and money into the FE gifts and we really do appreciate it. Many were hand-made and many were personalized. For me, I liked door decorations because we used them immediately and it was fun to see our door get more and more decorated as time went on. The trend seemed to be include a to: and from: on the gift. We quickly lost track of it all and our gifts were given anonymously. So, thank you FE group!

Still a bit more to come.
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Old 05-19-2013, 10:59 AM   #6
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Enjoying your trip report. We will also be in room 9574 on the Fantasy next October. Could you tell me where the muster station for the safety drill was? Thanks in advance.

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Old 05-19-2013, 01:41 PM   #7
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Enjoying your trip report. We will also be in room 9574 on the Fantasy next October. Could you tell me where the muster station for the safety drill was? Thanks in advance.

Jen
The Muster Station was in the bottom rows of the Buena Vista Theater. We got to sit comfortably in the AC through the drill.
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Old 05-19-2013, 02:32 PM   #8
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Thanks much for your response Hope we enjoy the room as much as you did. Hope my daughter doesn't get lost on the verandah
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Old 05-19-2013, 10:23 PM   #9
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We are in Raleigh too... going on the Fantasy in Sept! Thanks for the great trip report .
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Old 05-19-2013, 11:39 PM   #10
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Part 3 of 3.

Characters
Lesson Learned: You will have many opportunities to meet the characters, so choose a time when the lines are short and you have the time.

Access to all the characters is another bonus of a DCL cruise. What people wait on long lines for at the parks or schedule 6 months in advance, you have multiple opportunities to do throughout the cruise with relatively short lines if you look for them. There are few, if any, one-time opportunities so you can be selective of when you feel like waiting. Most character meetings were photo opps that had a professional photographer. The photographer would only use their camera but the character helper would use your camera. Most of these folks are entertainers who do double duty during the day so take a while to talk to them about the shows while you wait. Meeting characters out in the open is rare. They will interact with guests when they are going from one place to another however. When there are Oceaneer Club/Lab open houses they often have characters come visit. As I mentioned previously, the See Ya Real Soon party on the last night is the best opportunity to meet all of the characters with short lines.

My kids are too young to be into character signatures so we did not carry an autograph book. We did drop off a photo mat at Guest Services along with a set of colored markers to be signed by the characters. We were very happy with the result and will mount one of the pictures of my son with Captain Mickey in it.

Entertainment
Deck Shows - the deck shows like the Sail Away party and Pirate Night shows are put on by the Cruise Staff and feature the Characters. These are main attractions on the ship and are not to be missed. You have to celebrate Sailing Away, but it was hot, loud and crowded so we didnít linger too long. They do have both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of the featured boat-drink so our kids were able to join in the fun and refreshment. (Anyone want to buy a set of souvenir Disney hurricane glasses?) Both of the early and late Pirate shows were great. My kids were back in the room during the night show and slept through the fireworks without trouble.

Stage Shows - We have watched the theatrical stage shows on previous cruises but only made it to one this time. I was really glad that they had matinee showings but when the time came to decide what to do, my son preferred to go to the kids club and we found other things to do like play bingo, look at photos, deliver FE gifts. We went to late showing of Believe on the 3rd sea day. My daughter made it 5-10 minutes through before we had to take her back to the room for bedtime. My son and I stayed to watch it and thought it was pretty entertaining. My son called it a ďPeople MovieĒ.

I also caught a late night ďadultĒ showing of Buckets and Boards. They are two guys who bring a street performance to the stage. I didnít expect as much tap dancing, but I guess thatís the ďboardsĒ part of the act. They bang on buckets, tap dance, sing and tell jokes. It was only a half hour show, but a fine way to enjoy a drink before bed.

Movies - We never made it to the theater as a family since the showtimes and features never aligned well for us. After the kids went to bed, I was able to head down to catch a late night showing of Iron Man 3 while my wife stayed in the room and read. At that hour, the theater was only 5-10% full. I really enjoyed the whole experience. You can bring your own beverages in.

Ports
St Martin
Lesson Learned: Guavaberry Rum is a unique and delicious.

With our young daughter, we didnít feel up to an adventure on land and wanted to spend some time on the ship with fewer crowds. We ended up just stepping off the board to explore the shops at the port. At the coconut stand we had a delicious coconut smoothie and also got a whole fresh coconut. They cut a hole in it and gave us a straw to drink the milk. Once we were done, they cracked it open so we could eat the meat. This fun for the kids, but they preferred the smoothie and left most of it to me. Next door is the Guavaberry Rum shop. I tasted a couple of samples and bought a bottle of their Guavaberry Mash Up Rum. They take credit. It is delicious and Iíd recommend this to anyone stopping in St. Martin. I enjoyed on the rocks back on the ship. Thanks DCL for not taking this from me when we re-boarded.

St Thomas
Lesson Learned: St Thomas taxis have set rates to/from most popular destinations. Look for one that is being filled, as youíll have to wait for driver to add more passengers if you get on a large open-air truck.
Lesson Learned: If you miss the boat, they will at least leave your luggage on the dock for you.

Again, we didnít plan to be too adventurous but that didnít play out as planned. We had planned to check out the port shops and ride the Skyride up to get a view of the island and have a cocktail. Unfortunately, the Skyride was closed for maintenance while we were there. Itís located close to the dock so it is a pretty easy walk. Since it was closed, we decided to keep on walking into town rather hail a taxi. This was actually a pretty long walk, about 1.5 miles but we didnít know that at the time and it was a nice day so we went for it. Luckily itís pretty scenic and safe. After the Havensight Mall, there is a marina/open air mall that is very upscale. You can get some great pictures of the ship from here. We docked first, but two other ships docked at the pier while we were there. Once you clear the mall you walk along the bay on a paved sidewalk into town. We did some shopping and had some drinks and snack. The taxi back to the ship from town is a fixed rate of $4/pp. Two families missed the all-aboard time which delayed our departure. There are probably other threads where you can get a lot more of the details and see videos, but I heard that they brought their bags and belongings down to the dock and were prepared to leave them there. Since the teenage kids were still on board the ship, they were more relucant to leave.

Castaway Cay
Lesson Learned: Upon arriving at Castaway Cay you might feel like you joined the Dharma Initiative.

Based on previous cruises, I knew that the private island stop can be the highlight of the cruise since it brings the service and amenities of the ship on the shore. CC was great and I wish we had more time there. (In fact, we did OBB to book the 5 day Bahamas itinerary on Wonder which stops at CC twice) It seems odd, but we docked at 9:45 and had to be aboard by 4:30 so we didnít quite have a full day there. I had a hard time preparing for CC in advance since the maps that exist are not very detailed.

Tram
Lesson Learned: Walk to the beach on Castaway Cay instead of dealing with the tram.
There was a large mass of people waiting to get on so we had to wait a couple of cycles to get on and the queue isnít very organized. I didnít know much about the two stops so we chose the second, Pelican Point, thinking that more people would be taking getting off at the first. The walk from the boat to the first beach isnít very far (especially not in comparison to the walk we took on St. Thomas) so if/when we go again, I might just choose to walk. Who wants to wait on line with a bunch of grumpy, sweaty people when you are on vacation.

Chairs/Umbrellas
Lesson Learned: You just might be so busy on Castaway Cay that finding a chair with an umbrella will not be necessary.

We took a right at the Pelican Point stop toward the second family beach and had a hard time finding chairs with an umbrella as most had been staked out. We went back to check out the ďfirstĒ family beach and were able to find a nice spot along the far edge of the snorkeling area. With a young child, we felt an umbrella was important. In reality we were on the go a lot either in the water, at lunch or checking out other activities that we didnít really use the chairs much. I wonít stress about finding an umbrella as much next time.

Sand
Lesson Learned: The sand on Castaway Cay is pretty rough.

The sand on Castaway Cay actually pretty coarse and rough containing large chunks of sharp rocks. Both on land and in the water. It is not at all like the soft smooth sand like we see on the East Coast. Iím sure this results from the being build on a coral reef which they probably ground up to create the beach. Just an FYI.

Ocean Water
The ocean water in May was very pleasant. I didnít get a temperature reading but it was cool at first but very refreshing. Not to the ďbathwaterĒ stage yet.

Cookies Too
We liked our meal at Cookies Too. The rotisserie chicken and barbecue ribs were my favorite. Also, the little banana muffins were awesome.

Spring-a-Leak
Our kids both enjoyed the Spring-a-Leak splash zone. It is a nice contained area for the kids to play and cool off. My wife stepped out to do some shopping while I watched them.

Iím not entirely sure what this is related to, but we had an scare on CC. We noticed that my son had broken out in a rash under his swim shirt. My first reaction was that it was an allergic reaction. But since it was a rash on his belly and not hives on his neck, we took a step back. I took him over to the showers and rinsed him off. This reduced the rash so I have to assume that there was something in the sand or water that triggered it.

Bikes
Lesson Learned: Biking on Castaway Cay is fun, but it can be a long and hot ride for young kids.

At nap time, my wife and daughter went back to the ship so we decided to ride bikes. We walked right up and had no trouble getting a bike. My son is just learning to ride a pedal bike so I considered getting him a training wheel bike. I ended up just getting one bike with a kid seat on the back. The bike trail is actually pretty long which made for some decent exercise. My son had fun on the back and talked to me the whole time pointing out things as we rode by. Families with kids struggled a bit and most likely turned back early after the first loop. I donít recommend going out to the end of the trail unless your kids are used to riding several miles. Thereís little shade so be sure to bring sunscreen. At the end of our ride, I traded in our bike for a training wheel bike for my son to try for a little while. The staff was laid back but helpful and didnít check my ticket to see if we were over our hour.

Lost
If youíre a fan of Lost, you may get the eerie feeling that you just stepped off the boat and joined the Dharma Initiative.

Back on the ship...
Internet
I know that Iíve used the internet on past cruises but I was able to disconnect and survive just fine this time around. I have AT&T and was able to touch base with the world on my phone when we got to St. Thomas.

OBB
You can read all about On Board Booking, dummy cruises, etc. We decided that we'd be definitely be doing it again sometime when our daughter was older enough for the Oceaneer Club so we went for the OBB. We reviewed the listings in the booklet and filled out the form to get a quote. They sent it to our room and we liked what we got so we returned the form with our confirmation. I might have been informative to talk to the on-board booking staff but we never found time to do it so going the paper route worked great for us.

Debarkation
Lesson Learned: If you donít pack your swimsuit in your suitcase so you can ride AquaDuck by yourself on the last night.
Lesson Learned: Use the porters to make debarkation fast and easy. Well worth what you choose to tip.
Lesson Learned: Park at the port to keep the stress free vacation going as long as possible.

Unlike some other cruises, debarkation was pretty simple and did not require us to go to a specific location to wait to . You can leave as early as 7:45 but have to be off by 9:00 am. We grabbed breakfast at Cabanas and then headed out.
Upon stepping off the ship the porters were waiting and we happily agreed to use one. He guided us through finding our bags and carried them on his hard cart all the way through customs, out to the garage and all the way to our car. Awesome service that is no fee, just tips. For services like this where a real value is provided and I want to make sure it stays around in the future, I have no problem paying. I thought $20 was fair for 4 bags.

Celebrity Sighting
After we got back, we heard a rumor that there was a celebrity who booked the two big Royal Suites, one for them and one for the kids and nanny. I havenít heard any more details.

Hope you find this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions. Happy Cruising!
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Old 05-19-2013, 11:46 PM   #11
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We are in Raleigh too... going on the Fantasy in Sept! Thanks for the great trip report .
Thanks for the feedback. Have a great trip!
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Old 05-19-2013, 11:51 PM   #12
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Thanks much for your response Hope we enjoy the room as much as you did. Hope my daughter doesn't get lost on the verandah
It was a great room. The Stateroom Host is a reserved guy but he observed us, adapted to our routine, and took good care of us. We did our best to straighten up and not give him too much dirty laundry to deal with. Dirty diapers were enough.
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Old 05-20-2013, 02:32 AM   #13
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"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 neighbors 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."


You got to 3? There's a lock on the door isn't there?
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Old 05-20-2013, 11:14 AM   #14
LadyMac428
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@Jaybo - thanks for the excellent report! Very useful!
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Old 05-20-2013, 01:40 PM   #15
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Just One Addition

As the fantastic wife of the author of this review, just wanted to add on to my husband's comment about the issue with our initial room. When I called Disney I asked to speak to a manager and he said that he was sure there was an option available we'd be happy with but I would have to call our travel agent. In addition to wanting a privacy curtain so that we could at least read a book while our kids slept instead of having to lights out for all of us at 8 every night, we were worried about safety because we were worried about the open bathroom with no tub because of our daughter who's new to walking slipping and falling on the tile. This room in particular had no tub, and we only found that out by doing a ton of research to get details on our room. Anyway, I called the travel agent, she called Disney and the only option available was to downgrade to an inside room, from guarantee outside deluxe family that we had originally paid for. We definitely didn't want to go smaller since there were four of us and we wouldn't have booked that cruise at all if they didn't have the large room we originally booked. They had no other options for us, so we just sat at home and worried until we finally got to the upgrade desk and they had another room we paid extra for. I will say we LOVED our room, BUT were not happy to feel forced to pay all of that extra money to have a room layout and size that we had originally paid for (minus verandah) in the first place. It definitely took away from our enjoyment of the lead up to the cruise, but fortunately that was the only real negative to our entire trip. Once we just accepted that the extra money was spent, we had a fantastic cruise!
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