|07-02-2013, 01:28 PM||#1|
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Feb 2012
Fantasy June 22-29, 2013 Western Caribbean
Background: My wife and I, and our daughters, their husbands and our grandson were on the Disney Fantasy Western Caribbean Cruise June 22 – 29, 2013. This was our third cruise (Carnival and Royal Caribbean), our older daughter’s second, and the first for our younger daughter and her family. So while we certainly don’t have the cruise credentials of many of those on this forum we are not novices either and we have traveled a lot both domestically and internationally.
Arrival: All of us arrived Thursday before the cruise and stayed at the Doubletree in Cocoa Beach. After some on-line research and looking at reviews, I selected Executive VIP Lime of Cocoa Beach to provide transportation from the airport to the Doubletree and from the port to the airport on return. I contacted the owner, Michael Robinson, several months prior to the cruise to reserve a stretch limo, which he thought would be adequate for our group of seven. A few days before arrival he called to make final plans.
My wife and I arrived on one flight, the rest on a second but because of mechanical delays on one of the flights arrived within 10 minutes of each other. Shortly after I was in the terminal Michael called and explained that because the lime of too long he could not get into the normal arrival area but would need to take a shuttle to the Holiday Inn (5 minute drive) and that we were NOT to pay for the shuttle or tip the driver. After all of us had our luggage I called Michael and he told us where to meet the shuttle. We were then transported to the Holiday Inn and loaded into the limo. The need to take the HI shuttle probably added 15-20 minutes the whole process but it was not too inconvenient.
The drive to Cocoa Beach was about an hour and included a stop at the ABC store in Cocoa Beach to purchase some wine and other drinks for the hotel stay and to take on the cruise. At first I was not in favor of carrying this on board but it worked well. We were able to have a drink or glass of wine in our stateroom prior to going to dinner, which saved a few dollars and also was a bit more relaxing. While lugging around a heavy suitcase with wine a little awkward I would do it again.
We arrived at the hotel about 4:30 pm, about 2 hours after the last flight arrived in Orlando.
Doubletree Cocoa Beach: I booked this hotel so I could use my Hilton HHonors points and also be right on the beach. Overall it worked well. There is a Publix directly across the street where we purchased some snacks for use at the hotel. There is a nice pool and the beach is maybe 30 steps from the pool. The only negative is that there are no restaurants within walking distance, at least for my wife who has some mobility issues. I will write a more complete review of this hotel on TripAdvisor.
Transportation to the Port: At Michael’s suggestion we used Cocoa Beach Pay What You Want taxi – and it is just that. No meter, just get in and pay whatever you want at your destination. I called the company Friday afternoon and explained our needs – he said we would need two taxis and to call an hour before we needed them Saturday morning. I called at 10 am Saturday and both taxis were at the hotel by shortly after 11 am.
As we were loading the first taxi another group, who had been waiting for their transportation to the dock, tried to commandeer our second taxi. After fending them off and telling them there was no way 15 people + luggage could get in two taxis, we were off.
Arrival at Port: We arrived at the port about 11:30 am, our port arrival time. Our bags were quickly unloaded and checked, I tipped the baggage man and paid $20 for ride, maybe too much but I thought it fair. We then went through two security checks: the first checked passports and the cruise document, the second an airport-like security check. This entire process took perhaps 10 minutes. It was then up the escalator in the large hall where we directed to the Check-in Desks. No wait in line there, directly to the person who checked our documents, took our picture, gave us our Key to the World cards, and our boarding number. For some reason the person checking us in thought were had been a Disney cruise before so gave us each a Castaway Club lanyard.
Our boarding number was 9 and they were boarding numbers 6-7 when we arrived. Our wait to board was about 10 minutes and by 12:10 pm we walking on board.
Arrival on board and first couple of hours: When we boarded our grandson led the way and was introduced as “Nathan and his royal entourage,” which he enjoyed. Then we made our first tactical mistake: Despite reading about what to do when you first board, we stood around like we didn’t know what to do, because we had no plan. A crew member came over and suggested we take the aft elevators to deck 11 and get lunch at Cabana’s. As was to be expected Cabana’s was quite full so we trooped through with our day bags in tow until we found a table near the forward end of the pool. We dropped the bags, grandson and uncle were soon in the pool, and the rest of took turns watching the luggage while the others got some food and explored the 11th deck including Quiet Cove and Satellite Falls; I went up to 12 to take a look at the Meridian Bar, Remy, and Palo.
We left for our rooms about 1:50; the exodus had started about 1:20 but we saw no reason to rush.
What I would do differently next time is to immediately take the mid-ship elevators directly off the atrium to deck 11. This will put at the forward end of the pool (where we eventually ended up). It is less crowded in this area and you don’t need to drag your bags around.
Staterooms: We all had 4C Deluxe Family Stateroom with Verandah. Compared to the rooms we had on Carnival (Penthouse Suite) and Royal Caribbean (Grand Suite) this room is smaller and costlier. Instead of the more rectangular configuration of these other rooms, the Disney stateroom is long and narrow. Obviously this provides the opportunity to have more outside and verandah rooms but is does make them seem smaller. I know to some people the room doesn’t make much difference because they are seldom in it, but I do enjoy a bit more space.
However, it was adequate. It was nicely furnished and everything (except the middle desk drawer which fell out if opened too far) was in excellent condition. The bed, sofa and chairs were comfortable. After a little trial and error we were able to get the A/C under control at the temperature we liked.
One feature that I was not too keen on is the separate toilet and shower. I could see how this would be a real benefit for families with children but didn’t add value for me and my wife. But I fully understand that this is a feature that is appealing to families and is “part of the deal.” I do wish however that there was drawer space to place toiletry items so I didn’t have to use my travel kit for storage. Not a big deal but a little annoying.
Our stateroom hostess was a joy. Maria kept the room clean and furnished with towels and other needed items. She was always smiling and had a good word to say. She made sure there was a bucket of ice every afternoon. And she raved about how well we looked for the formal and semi-formal nights and really got a kick out of our pirate costumes. I am not sure there could have been a better hostess.
Then to top it off: While waiting for our plane in Orlando we had lunch. As we were leaving who should be see but Maria! She was going home for several weeks to see her family (including two small children). She seemed genuinely happy to see us again as we were to see her because we had not been able to give a proper good bye. These are things that I will remember long after I have forgotten some excursion.
Guests: This has been discussed so all I can do is repeat what others have said. There are lots and lots of kids, lots of parents, and lots of grandparents. And all were for the most part well behaved and just having a good time.
I read on one of threads here something to the effect that not every child (or adult) is going to be well behaved and respectful; accept that, overlook the behavior that you might not like and get on with enjoying your travels. Good advice. There were kids running in the hall and up and down the stairs; adults who cut the buffet lines; who stopped in a large group right in the middle of a walkway not allowing others to pass. Accept it and move on. (The one incident troubled me was when a man holding his child forced his way onto an already jammed elevator. He thought there was unused space that could crowded into; what he didn’t know was that there were several little kids there who had to be scooped up by a parent. I tried to tell him that but he mumbled some words about not getting along. Oh well, accept it and forget it.)
On Board Activities: Again this has been discussed at length so I will only add a couple of comments. I wasn’t sure if our 8 year old grandson would enjoy the Oceaneer Lab and Club as he is not always the best in new situations. I worried for nothing. After the first day he referred to it as “the Lab” and couldn’t wait to go. He spent a lot of time there during the day and after dinner. That allowed his parents to relax more and not have to worry about entertaining him. And when they did have him he thoroughly enjoyed the pools, even though they were crowded.
We saw two shows (Aladdin and Wishes, not An Unforgettable Journey ). We decided not see the last show because it was on the last night and we wanted a bit more relaxing evening with cocktails in Meridian prior to dinner. We also saw a couple of movies and spent some time at Satellite Falls. We participated in the Champagne Tasting and Chocolate Tasting and I highly recommend both. We did not attend the wine, beer, whiskey, or Cognac tasting but I heard they were also good.
Meals: I ate breakfast daily at Cabanas; my wife ate there about half the time and the other times had room service. The breakfast there as very nice with a large variety of all types of food plus it was all good tasting! The service staff kept the serving areas, tables, floors and drinks area spotless. The only trouble was that on sea days it was very crowded but we were always able to find a table without waiting very long. We also had lunch at Cabanas several times and the same comments apply.
We had late dining which corresponded more to our schedule at home and also allowed for a more relaxing approach to the meal. Some of us would meet in our room to have a glass of wine or cocktail and order a couple of “All Hands on Deck” cheese plates which was a great appetizer. I think they only began to serve pretzels on Thursday (at Flo’s) and we then added them to our appetizer menu. After that a few us would go for another cocktail (O’Gills, Skyline, Meridian) then off to dinner.
A comment on room service – extremely fast and accurate. I am not sure how they can get a room service order to the room in 10 minutes (5 minutes in one case) but they do.
First the food: Overall it as very good but not exceptional. I understand that serving 4000 guests in four hours is a challenge. I also know that taste is an individual matter; what I might love someone else might think is terrible. A couple of things were outstanding(Caesar salad, mushroom soup, crab cakes, steak – tasty even though pretty thin I guess to aid cooking quickly). I was disappointed in the lobster –very rubbery. So while I was overwhelmed by the food I certainly was able to leave the table satisfied.
Our servers, Mario and Jelena (assistant) were outstanding. They responded quickly and accurately to our requests; were there when something was needed; and offered excellent recommendations of what to order. It was fun to be served by this team.
The only thing that I didn’t like was that Mario seemed press us to order. No sooner did we sit down, usually before the drink or wine order was taken, he would be around telling us about the menu for the night. Then five minutes later he was back to take orders. I realize that there are many meals to serve but this seemed a bit too quick. However, once the appetizers were served then we could control the pace a better; he did not push us to finish one course before serving the next. So I guess it all worked out.
The wine selections were very good with prices about restaurant average meaning about 2x retail. But there was a nice selection in the $30-40 range, and good choices of more expensive bottles. The Remy and Palo wine list is excellent; a good thing we didn’t eat there or my bar tab would be quite inflated. By the way I drink Manhattans and they were about $7 with a call bourbon or US whiskey. Beers about $5 to 7 (I only drank one at O’Gills and it was $7). The Martini’s at Meridian were higher as they were essentially doubles.
A couple of comments on dress in the dining rooms. The formal night was Sunday and I noticed a significant number of men in suits, with a few in tuxes; the young men and boys in suits or at least nice shirts and slacks; and the ladies and girls dressed very nicely, of course. I did not see any shorts or tee shirts, some sport and golf shirts but everyone looked pretty nice. On the “cruise casual” nights most of the men wore sport shirts and slacks; the ladies slacks and causal shirts etc. I did see a couple of guys in shorts. For the semi-formal night (Thursday) there were a few men in suits (including me) but most were in slacks and sport shirts.
Pirate Night: Everyone I saw at least had the bandana around their head or tied to their belt. A significant number (40%?) of the adults had more elaborate costumes, some very elaborate. My wife put together a pirate outfit for me with clothing items bought a resale shop for less than $10 plus a nice pirate hat she purchased when she attend Pirate of Penzance opera. Her costume was also made from resale shop items. I thought the whole evening was fun even though grandson fell apart at dinner, maybe just too much going on. But he recovered after a brief stroll and finished the dinner in good form.
Staff: In addition to the specific staff already mentioned, the rest of the crew members were always smiling and had a greeting or kind word. It is hard not to feel special. When I got to the Orlando airport and smiled and said good morning to a worker there, he looked at me like I was crazy. Well back to the real world.
Ports/Excursions: My wife and I only did the Cozumel Beach Break excursion, and it was great. It was a large resort with a nice large pool, a children’s water play area, a large water slide, and of course an excellent beach with lots of activities. The servers there were as friendly and eager to serve as those on the Fantasy. This is an all exclusive spot so soft drinks, water, beer and some rum drinks are included, as are umbrellas which are needed if you want to avoid a nice burn. There is also a buffet lunch that was nothing special but again the servers there were always around to get drinks, clean tables, really to do whatever is needed to make a pleasant meal. Getting to the resort required a rather long walk from the ship to a bus; on return we were dropped off much closer. All in all, this was a very good day on the beach with my family. We did not visit the shopping area in Cozumel, other than the one in the cruise terminal that you need to walk through to back to the pier.
I was disappointed my visit to Grand Cayman. I tendered in to visit the shopping area. It was not pleasant at all, rather run down. Next time I will do an island tour so I can really get a better idea of what this island is like.
Costa Maya was interesting. After a walk or shuttle ride from the ship to land you enter a rather nice shopping area with good shops, a few bars and a large swimming pool. We decided to take a shuttle to the town of Mahahual, about a 5 minute ride. I am glad we did this. It is a small town right on beach. There is wide sidewalk between the beach and a number outdoor restaurants and bars. We stopped in one and had a beer and snack, a nice break in nice setting. The price for the shuttle to the town is $3/person; return by taxi is $2/person.
Castaway Cay was another great day. The kids all had a good time in the water swimming, snorkeling, etc while my wife and I laid in shade. The In da’ Shade play area is very nice with ping pong, pool, basketball hoops, checkers and chess. We ate lunch at Cookie Too. It consisted of hamburgers, fish, chicken and a number of sides – all very good. I didn’t care for the ribs too much but everything else was good.
I tried to walk to the observation tower but I really think a bike is needed. I gave up after 15 minutes, shortly after I came across a very interesting artifact that I won’t mention so anyone going there will be as surprised as me. I did not go to Serenity Bay but is far removed from the main beach area so should provide a quiet retreat for adults.
Tipping: With only three cruises I am not expert but I can tell you how I tipped on these cruises. I tipped the standard amount to the room host, server, assistant server and head waiter, then added some except on the Carnival cruise where the room steward was essentially a non-entity who I never saw and provided only the basic level of service. On this Disney cruise I added roughly 40% to the basic tip to each person who received the standard tip. For drinks and other services to which a 15% tip was added, I included an extra amount to get it up to 20%, so it might be $1 for a drink and about $3-5 for a bottle of wine. This included wine and cocktails served by the assistant waiter during dinner.
Debarkation: Not much to say here. We got our luggage out the night before and had breakfast in the Royal Court. It was a great chance to say goodbye to Mario and Jelena. By the time we got off the ship our luggage was waiting for us. It took maybe 15 minutes to get through Costumes and Immigration. By this time we had been in contact with the driver who was to take us back to the airport. It took a few minutes for her to get through the traffic (things were very busy at the place where private transportation picked up their customers) but we were at the airport shortly after 10:30 am.
One Request to Disney: I wish Disney would provide copies of the chits you sign when at bars and for drinks at dinner. It is hard to reconcile the printed statement unless you are very methodical about recording every expense.
Overall: This was a great cruise for our family. There are enough activities on board and in the ports that we did not have to spend 100% of our time together. I would recommend this cruise for families (and extended families) with children. My wife and I decided, though, that we would not consider Disney if it was just us cruising or cruising only with other adults. A line like Royal Caribbean is more our style if we are not with our grandson.
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