After all, Disney Cruise Line (DCL) sailings promise to make family cruising a Disney experience in at least two distinct ways: the activities and entertainment offered on its ships and on Castaway Cay.
But even Disney Park veterans may be pleasantly surprised by how much Disney there is aboard the ship itself, and how the experience differs from a day at the parks. Most of the stage shows bring a Disneyfied touch to a Broadway-inspired musical show, presented in short version; “Disney's Aladdin—A Musical Spectacular” is a favorite of many DCL guests, especially those who have visited Disneyland Resort and seen its version.
Another favorite Disney experience for guests, and one of our entertainment highlights, was Pirate Night. This themed evening is part costume party, part deck show and dance party, part themed dinner…and all fun. Guests are encouraged to dress up in pirate garb, whether it’s a simple t-shirt or an all-out homage to Captain Jack Sparrow, to enjoy the evening. We highly recommend joining in the fun. Catch a spot for the deck shows, watch the fireworks, and then grab a turkey leg.
Based on our experience on the Disney Fantasy, the “Disney Difference” exists in DCL’s approach to its public areas, where there’s family fun to be found at every turn.
- The AquaDuck water slide is a must-do, if something where your timing should be spot-on to avoid the lines. (We recommend embarkation day or staying onboard on a port day).
- The Midship Detective Agency takes guests on an exploration of the ship by way of solving (some not-very-difficult) mysteries of this interactive game. Kids loved the experience, bonding over the game with family members or banding together with other kids to enjoy their run of the ship. We, too, enjoyed testing our analytical skills, and used to game to enjoy each deck’s décor and art.
- Goofy’s Sports Deck helped us work on our mini-golf handicap. And on Deck 4, we shuffled our way through our first shuffleboard games when we weren’t doing laps on the track.
- We saw the “premEAR” of “Muppets Most Wanted” on the Fantasy’s Buena Vista Theatre, which offers first-run Disney movies.
All that, and we didn’t have time to take a Disney towel animal class, learn how to draw a Disney Character, play board games, or test our Disney trivia knowledge.
DCL Youth Clubs: All about the children (almost)
One of DCL’s big selling points is its focus on children, with designated youth clubs for different ages offering special activities and programs. Kids can leave their families and enjoy special places and entertainment designed just for them. The Disney Fantasy has the it’s a small world Nursery for children 3 months to 3 years; Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Disney’s Oceaneer Lab for kids 3-12; Edge for pre-teens 11-14; and Vibe for teens (14-17).
We visited Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab and the Edge area during some of the open-house periods, when all Disney guests may drop by to see the youth clubs and participate in the activities. Like the rest of the ship, these areas are beautifully designed, with each are consisting of several areas and activities to appeal to kids’ different interests. The counselors were all friendly and very comfortable both talking with adults and interacting with children.
DCL presents these areas as being about the kids, for the kids. Our tour definitely supported this perception as the kids, especially at Edge, had obviously taken ownership of the spaces; they were comfortable with the activities each other and their counselors. But DCL also smartly promotes its youth clubs is part of what allows adults to enjoy their Disney vacations, too, as they provide structured experiences so that grown-ups can have “me time.”
So what surprised us – even made us a bit jealous – was how much fun there was to be had in these places. We were ready to spend the whole day in Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, where we tried to navigate a virtual version of the Disney Fantasy out of port and were ready to go all “mad scientist” in a Super Sloppy Science experiment with Professor Make-O-Mess.
A small part of me wanted to have a “Freaky Friday” experience with one of the kids, switching bodies so I could spend more time in the clubs. But then again, DCL makes sure grown-ups have their own spaces to play in. And that’s where we spent most of our ship down-time.
Adults at play: Disney Cruise Line offers grown-up fun
DCL hasn’t forgotten about the adults on its ships. There are places just for grown-ups, and I don’t exaggerate when I say a large portion of my pleasure during my sea days and mornings on the ships were found in these areas.
Every morning we would head to the Fitness Center, inside Senses Spa and Salon, for a workout. The equipment was in good condition, with a small variety of machines. The Fitness Center was always crowded in the early a.m., an indication it designed to handle much demand, and somewhat frustrating because of that. On future trips, I might schedule a fitness class or be tempted by a spa treatment – although the latter’s hard sell during a first-day tour was a turn-off.
On this trip, though, working out was more of a prelude to enjoying the Disney Fantasy. After the Fitness Center, I would stop by Deck 11’s Cove Café, near the Quiet Cove Pool for adults, for a morning beverage. There I would hang out with a book in one of the comfy chairs and lounges. Later, there might be an afternoon cocktail at Cove Bar, especially if we looking to be social – this pool became our place for chatting with other adult guests.
For true quiet and down-time, we spend our time at the Disney Fantasy-exclusive Satellite Falls area on Deck 13. We loved that it was away from the active fun of Donald’s Pool and the Mickey Pool on Deck 11 and of the AquaDuck and AquaLab on Deck 12. Reserved for guests 18 and older and slightly out of the way, Satellite Falls became our go-to retreat for book reading, lounging, and sitting in the splash pool to soak up some sun.
At night, there were several opportunities to enjoy DCL’s version of adult nightlife on the Disney Fantasy at the Europa district on Deck 4. Guests can pick a theme for the night, with the lounges and clubs of Europa offering a different theme, such as the cityscape of the Skyline Lounge made for cocktails (although the menu is more extensive than that) or Ooh La La’s French-inspired décor made for sipping champagne. We enjoyed our casual beer at O’Gill’s Pub during the day, but headed up to Meridian on Deck 12 when we wanted a quiet drink.
What about the DCL’s ports of call?
Had the ports not been one of the enticements for taking a Disney Cruise Line (DCL) vacation, I might have stayed on the ship during port days. But the ports did offer their siren song, and were well worth visiting.
I won’t address our port itineraries here. Options, Port Adventures and travel preferences vary so much. Plus, I’m focusing on first-time impressions of DCL. That said, it’s worth noting that port visits are, to a large extent, what you make of them – as active or relaxed as you’d like them to be.
Port Adventures (available for an additional fee) certainly seemed to give us more of a sense of “being there” then an unstructured visit to a port where shopping and sightseeing were spontaneous activities. Our reaction, however, very much fits our personalities and many DCL guests thoroughly enjoyed such unstructured time.
Now, that’s Disney entertainment!
After seven nights on the Disney Fantasy, then, we left the ship with the impression the adult areas were generally well conceived to balance the kid-centered fun of the many of the public areas, activities and entertainment. And in a positive counter to our expectations coming into the trip, DCL’s kids-focused things were designed to help all guests find the fun in the cruise experience. The activities certainly helped us channel our inner (Disney) kids.
Note: I sailed aboard Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, on a 7-night Western Caribbean itinerary. I booked travel with Michele of Pixie Vacations, a travel agency specializing in Disney vacations. Michele’s help was invaluable in helping me plan my trip. I paid all my own travel expenses and my opinions are my own.