PART ONE: Flying in and Embark Travelers: Me, DH, DS16, DD13, & DGM (my mom). This was also our third cruise with my friend from graduate school and her family DH, DD10, DS8 (previous cruises together Med in 2011 & Alaska in 2012; the 40+ year old girls also did a cruise together out of NY last Sept). Thanks to a great DVC promo last June, DS13, DGM and I had been on the Fantasy before for a cheap scouting trip, but it everyone else's first time on one of the new ships. This also meant that I was the first gold Castaway Club cruiser in the group (6th DCL cruise). I might flung that gold lanyard around once or twice during the cruise As we were coming from the opposite coast, we flew out a day early. DS16 and DD13 had to miss a day of school, but they soldiered on. Yes, what troopers! I'm a big Virgin Atlantic fan and I must say that after flying Virgin America for the second time, Richard Branson really knows what he is doing. It's quite a bit like Jet Blue, but even more civilized. The people were lovely, the flight was extremely comfortable (DH who is 65 had plenty of leg room), the setting clean and hip, and we arrived a few minutes early with all our luggage. I know, unbelievable, right? It was almost like seeing a unicorn. MCO is one of my least favorite airports and it did not disappoint. The help desks acted like we were bothering them (twice) and the Avis car rental took way too long. We really couldn't figure out what the problem was, but it took us over 30 minutes at the counter with one person in line ahead of us and 3 counter agents working. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time just to pull up the reservations, etc. I'm car company paranoid after reading so many reports of people being charged for dings after drop off, so my hubby convinced me to spring the $20 or so for the comprehensive vehicle coverage so we didn't spend time taking pictures and writing down every scratch on the car in both directions. I must say it was money well spent (it saved a lot of hassle, especially on the drop off side, which I will get to). The car was great though and pretty cheap (Dodge Caravan for $88 MCO to Port Canaveral and $72 for Port Canaveral back to MCO). Considering there were 5 of us with 4 large suitcases and 5 carry-ons it was the way to go if you aren't going straight to and from the airport. We decided to stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott in a 2 bedroom suite, and it ended up being a great choice. The hotel was no frills comfort and extremely convenient to the port. I think we paid $240 for the room, which, especially as it included a great hot breakfast, seemed reasonable. I'm bug bed paranoid so we always inspect the room (mattresses, behind beds, etc) and it was pristine. The mattresses and bedding looked brand new and there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. More impressive than many 5 star hotels I've stayed in, actually. Nice surprise. We also had a great dinner recommendation from the lady at the front deskIzzy's Bistro. We all loved our dinner and the hotel gave us a card for our first drinks free. Bonus! 4/13 (all aboard!): The much awaited embark day arrivedfinally! I'd done a lot of research on these boards to try to figure out the best way to get to port, the best time, etc. I should not have listened to those people who tell you not to get to port before 11, they won't let you in, etc. I should have gone with my gut and had DH drop off us well before 10:30. Instead, he dropped us off at 10:45 or so and we were nowhere near the first people in port. In fact, it was packed. We had to wait a few minutes at the gate for the man to check our IDs and then wait again at security. The issueand why it would have made a big difference to be dropped off those 15-20 minutes earlierwas that it took DH time to drop off the Avis rental car, and they started boarding concierge at 11:20! Yes, 11:20. I was really looking forward to being one of the first on the ship, but that was not to be. By time DH arrived back at the port (about 11:45), they were on boarding group #7. Again, the Avis rental car return took way longer than it should have. DH said he spoke to a guy in line who'd done the drop off thing before, and it was much worse this day for some reason. DH had to wait for a shuttle van, and then the draw bridge was up when he got to port. Our friends, also concierge, did the Hyatt MCO stay and took the first bus to the port, but they too missed the first boarding. Ironically, they finished checking in about a minute before DH arrived, so we boarded together. We were able to fast-track it through the separate concierge line to get on the ship, but the delay also meant the concierge lounge was full by time we arrived, and we had to wait to meet with the team. No big deal in the realm of things, but I was still wishing I listened to my gut. Moral of the story: the one way rental with overnight stay near port is a great way to go. I would definitely do it this way again, but I would probably rent from Hertz (closest to the hotel and the port) and either (1) drop off the car early and taxi over to the port together (preferred) or (2) have DH drop us off at the port a little after 10 before returning the car. We only had to wait a half hour or so before a table opened up in the lounge, and we were able to meet with the concierge team of PJ, Kemisha and Julia. It's funny, after reading so many trip reports on the boards, I almost felt like I knew them, but it's impossible to get a sense for how wonderful the team is from trip reports. You really have to experience it for yourself. Not only are they all incredibly friendly and nice, but they also bend over backwards to make your trip perfect. They anticipate things you might like and volunteer to do things well before you've even thought to ask. One of the most frequent topics on concierge threads/trip reports is the age-old question: is it worth it? I was skeptical after previous Disney concierge experiences, but after reading a number of the glowing trip reports on these boards, I really wanted to check it out for myself. Within a few hours, I had my answer. For our family, it's an unequivocal yes. As DGM said to me after walking into the room, It's going to be hard to get the girl back to the farm. I'll say. My $.02 on the worth it question? I think there are three things that it comes down to: (1) do you value superior service like that you would find in a 5 star hotel? (2) do you value extra space to spread out in your cabin (3) do you need a place to escape from the crowds? Do I need all those things? Of course not. But is it worth a 75-100% up-charge to me to have them? Yes. Especially since my family of four usually gets two rooms anyway, making the up-charge a lot less since with the suite we can all fit in one room. Since my mom was with us, we had two rooms in concierge for this trip, but normally we would only get the one bedroom suite. The bigger room, lounge, and concierge team turn a great vacation into an exceptional one. The ship was packed and every time I ventured out into the public areas, I was so glad I had somewhere quiet to go. So glad. IMO Disney has done a very good job on cornering the market on good service. The marketing team is also fantastic at making people believe they are getting excellent service. But compared to 5 star hotels like the Four Seasons or Ritz, Disney doesn't come close. We stayed concierge at the Grand Floridian a few years back and it was extremely disappointingtotal cattle call with no individual attention. Our Yacht Club concierge experience was better, but still not anything to write home about. But after our Fantasy concierge stay, I can say that it is a true concierge/VIP product. The lounge is an important part for me, and I'm still skeptical as to the value of concierge for the classic ships, but that awaits further study. Back to day one: After meeting with the concierge team we were able to get into our rooms right away (about 1:15). We had a 1 bedroom suite and connecting family on Deck 11. The suite was amazing. Pictures do not do it justice. The wood, the fabrics, the furniture . . . beautiful. DGM and DD were in the connecting family, and I'm not sure I would pay the up-charge for that alone. For us, the space of the one bedroom suite made a huge difference (see my #2 to is it worth it above). I loved the separate living room area, dining room, and the enormous bathroom replete with jacuzzi tub. The verandah was also wonderful. Compared to other cruises, I spent much more time on the verandah. At first I was bummed to not be on the 12th floor, but I ended up loving the bubble verandah (kept out the wind) on the 11th floorin spite of the noisy neighbors. The first day went by in something of a blur. We managed to eat lunch at Enchanted Gardens, tour the kids clubs (DD13 was happy to be able to move up the Vibe & it was nice for us as DS16 is special needs, and she is good at watching out for him), go to a DVC presentation (pretty boring with same giveaways and not very enticing best offers ever for AKL and Aluani), stop by the DISmeet, unpack, go to the first night show, and go to Palo for dinner. Scheduling Palo on the first night is our new thing. It's usually quiet that night and is a fun way to kick off the cruise. Living in CA makes one spoiled when it comes to good food, and I never really understood the high praise thrown in Palo's direction. But after 20+ nights on DCL the past year, I've come to appreciate it. Compared to the main dining rooms, its a vast improvement. Those menus got old quick for me.