A child’s world of wonders

The fourth ship of the luxurious Disney Cruise Line, the ‘Fantasy’ abounds with animation and adventure.

The Fantasy (photo credit: MCT)
The Fantasy
(photo credit: MCT)
The tone for a cruise on the Disney Fantasy is set when passengers step into the atrium, a three-deck Art Nouveau space designed for grand entrances. A member of the crew announces each family’s name over a loudspeaker as if it were a state dinner, and the receiving line applauds.
The atrium has a gorgeous cascading chandelier in peacock blues and greens, fluted columns, a sweeping staircase and a bronze statue at its foot that is as elegant as the rest of the room. If it weren’t for the fact that it is a statue of Minnie Mouse and that the abstract twists of decorative metalwork around the room sometimes curl into mouse ears, you might not recognize it as a Disney creation.
But then Goofy dances down the stairs, the ship’s horn blasts out the opening notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a little girl shows off her Sleeping Beauty dress, and there’s no question: This mix of kid-oriented magic, cutting-edge technology and fanciful detail could only be Disney. This space is fit for a princess – a good thing because I count six Disney princesses over the course of the cruise.
The Fantasy – 130,000 gross tons, 1,115 feet long, 121 feet wide, 1,250 state rooms with a capacity of 4,000 passengers – is the fourth ship for Disney Cruise Line. It made its inaugural cruise a few weeks ago from Port Canaveral, where it will be based year round, making week-long Caribbean cruises.
It has a few visible differences with its sister ship, the Disney Dream, launched just over a year ago: AquaLab, a water playground with pop jets, geysers and bubblers “created” by Donald Duck’s mischief-making nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, replaces the Waves bar on the pool deck.
Europa, a five-club adults-only complex, is designed to make guests feel like they’re clubbing in Europe. Satellite Falls is an upper deck adults-only splash pool with a curtain of rain. The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers princess and pirate makeovers. And in Animator’s Palate restaurant, the Animation Magic show brings guests’ sketches of themselves to life so that they dance across video screens.
And, of course, the Fantasy has different signature characters: Dumbo hangs off the stern, and Mademoiselle Minnie, with parasol, presides over the atrium – places held by Sorcerer Mickey and Admiral Donald Duck, respectively, on the Dream.
“If you take a look at the Disney dictionary, the word ‘same’ is not in it,” says Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line. “Every one of our ships has a unique personality.”
OTHER DIFFERENCES are not so readily apparent. The Fantasy is set up for seven-night cruises, the Dream for three- and four-night cruises, so they have different programming.
The Fantasy needs more entertainment – more shows, more games, more toys, more varied dining – to fill the longer time span, especially the days at sea.
So you’ll find a new Muppet adventure game, a sort of scavenger hunt for clues using the ship's “enchanted art” that also serves as an introduction to the ship. There are more animated characters for the video “portholes” in inside cabins. In Animator’s Palate, guests are entertained one night by the animation of their sketches, one night by Crush, the surfer-dude sea turtle from Finding Nemo. There are more live shows in the Walt Disney Theater, including Disney Wishes, a musical created just for this ship, and more opportunities for meet-and-greets with at least 20 Disney characters who also happen to be sailing on your cruise.
“We hope you’ll walk around the ship and see things and scratch your head and say, ‘Wow! How did they do that?’” says Joe Lanzisero, Disney Imagineering’s senior vice president, Creative.
Another element that is not visible is that the Fantasy could mark a turning point for Disney. With four ships and 13,200 berths, the line’s capacity is twice what it was at the beginning of 2011. Then it was a small, specialty line – one might say a boutique line – that had a disproportionately powerful influence for its size on how other cruise lines catered to families. Now it is on the cusp of becoming a major line, especially if, as Disney executives hint, there are plans for expansion.
“Right now we’re focused on these four ships,” says Holz, “but in my mind there is an opportunity beyond four ships.”
Already, Disney Cruise Line wants to cover more regions of the world than it can with just four ships.
With the two new ships sailing the signature Bahamas and Caribbean cruises out of Port Canaveral, the line has been sending its two older ships, the Magic and the Wonder, on other itineraries, including the Mediterranean and Alaska. For the first time, a Disney ship – the Magic – will do cruises out of New York, starting in May, before moving to Galveston, Texas, in September. Because it is testing New York cruises, Disney won’t have a ship in Europe this summer. The Wonder, which has been sailing the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles, will move to Miami this December for Caribbean cruises.
Holz says that porting in Miami will give the cruise line an opportunity to look more closely at the potential for South American cruises. He says there’s high interest in Disney among South Americans, especially Brazilians. And with two Disney parks already in Asia and a third under construction in Shanghai, Holz sees opportunities for cruises tied to the theme parks in that region.
Talk to travel agents, and they have no doubt that the demand for Disney ships – even with fares higher than most premium cruises – warrants more new ships.
“We’re having the best year we’ve ever had with Disney,” says Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager of the CruiseOne travel agency. “They definitely know how to create a great buzz.... Disney has always been a premium product, and they really do not have to do anything in the way of discounting to get people on board those ships.”
A search on Cruises.com for week-long Caribbean cruises in June, when many ships have moved to Europe or Alaska, found that cruises on the Fantasy were the most expensive of what is available – fares starting at $1,750, double occupancy, for an inside or balcony stateroom. By comparison, the world’s biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, offers inside cabins from $1,269 and balcony staterooms from $1,399 that same month.
Next January, when there are far more ships in the Caribbean, the Fantasy, at $1,113 for an inside cabin, is costlier than all the premium ships – Celebrity, Princess, Holland America – and cheaper only than the luxury lines, Seabourn and Silversea, on Cruise.com’s listings.
DISNEY DOESN’T charge for some things that other cruise lines do. There’s no charge for using the kids’ clubs (except the nursery), for example, or for soda (except at bars), which can add up to quite a bit on other ships. But when it does charge for something extra, the price can be high. A glass of the ship’s private label Jessica Rabbit champagne, made by Taittinger, is $26. At the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, prices start at $34.95 for makeup and can go to $184.95 for full costume and makeover. A CD of photos from a week-long cruise runs $349. Rental of a cabana on Castaway Cay for a day ranges from $499 to $699 for six to 10 people.
Disney executives are unapologetic about prices. “We believe in delivering value,” says Holz. “We believe in the concept of all-inclusive.
We’re not going to charge you 20 bucks more to have a filet in the dining room. We’re about experiences that fans value. We want to make sure that when our guests come off the ship, they say, ‘That was worth every penny.’” And they do, says Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompetes.com. Parents and grandparents say they want what is best for their kids.
“There are things you can get on Disney ships that you can’t get anywhere else. If those are things that are important to you, you’re willing to pay extra for it.”
Disney introduced its ship to travel agents, the media and special guests with a pair of three-night preview cruises to Castaway Cay just before its official inaugural cruise last month. The ship had only about 2,300 passengers on the first of those cruises, so service and events may not have been representative, but what the experience underscored is that these ships were built for kids. While other cruise lines have children’s clubs and special programming for youngsters, on the Fantasy, it is the adults who have their own clubs and special activities. The rest belongs to the kids.
Here are some vignettes from that cruise.
TONIGHT MY traveling companion – I’ll call her T.C. rather than her real name because she’s a teacher who’s playing hooky to go on this cruise – and I are going to learn to dance the merengue in the D-Lounge. I’m surprised when T.C. and I get there a little early and find that the karaoke session we’ve walked into is for families, and that what’s being sung is more likely to be from The Little Mermaid than Lady Gaga.
When the merengue lesson starts and I’m trying to move my hips in an up-and-down figure eight, I’m out there with adolescent siblings dancing with each other and moms dancing with young sons. They’re all having fun. And they’re all picking up the merengue moves faster than I am.
My margarita and T.C.’s mocktail – a Minnie Mango Pango with pina colada mix, mango and Grenadine – arrive and I’m grateful for the excuse to remove my uncoordinated self from the dance floor. I’ve just noticed that short passages from classic Disney stories – The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast – are woven into the carpet, when I hear cheering and look up to see Donald Duck walking onto the dance floor. A minute later, T.C. is dancing with him. Yes, I have photos.
Nearby, a dad is dancing with his teen daughter. He’s beaming, she’s smiling tolerantly.
It’s like a triumphant moment from Believe, one of the ship’s theatrical productions, about a father in danger of missing out on the important moments of his daughter’s life.
THE NEXT evening, T.C. and I take our assigned seats in Enchanted Garden, a restaurant inspired by the gardens of Versailles, with lighting designed to look like sunshine – and later, moonlight – pouring in through the glass roof of a conservatory. There are red pirate bandanas at our places. Our waiter carefully folds the bandanas and ties them around our foreheads à la Jack Sparrow.
It’s the night for Buccaneer Blast, Disney’s pirate party at sea with fireworks and dancing on the pool deck – literally. The crew has moved planking over the pools, creating a giant outdoor dance floor.
The Disney Dream, which also holds Buccaneer Blast, is in the area to show off its new sister ship to its guests, and the fireworks over each ship are visible to the other. In the distance, we can see the lights of other big ships that have paused to watch the pyrotechnics.
Afterwards, a deejay presides over the music, and Jack Sparrow leads the partying.
Young and old dance together, their images live-streamed onto Funnel Vision, the giant LED screen on the ship’s forward funnel.
By midnight, the dance party is over. As the deck clears, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies starts on the big screen. People drag out chairs, a few wrap themselves in blankets, and within minutes, the pounding, seething dance party is transformed into a quiet movie-watching party.
THROUGHOUT THE cruise, there are scheduled meet-and-greets with Disney characters.
These appearances always draw lines of kids who want a photo with Mickey or Cinderella or Buzz Lightyear. Adults, too – T.C. collects photos of herself with 17 characters over the course of the cruise.
On the last night, a mass meet-and-greet is scheduled in the atrium. It’s a testament to the popularity of the characters that it is scheduled at 10:15 p.m., past bedtime for the younger set, and still attracts a crowd.
Chip and Dale are over there, on either side of a girl in a throne chair. Minnie is sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, her arm around a little girl. A boy is hugging Mickey.
The grins, the hugs and kisses, the highfives and the photo snapping go on for some time before the characters start to leave. The last few – Mickey, Minnie, Sleeping Beauty – run up the stairs, wave from the balcony and disappear.
Then from the ceiling, confetti rains down.
It’s special confetti – tiny gold mouse ears, that land on hair and shoulders and the floor. Girls and boys try to catch it, and little girls get down on the peacock-colored carpet and sweep together little piles that they carry back to their rooms. One tiny girl in a princess dress and upswept hair gives a few pieces to her grandmother to save for her. Another girl in a dress printed with little pink mouse ears lies on the carpet, her fingers pulling in the gold confetti, handfuls of a child’s stardust.