ABOARD THE DISNEY FANTASY — Ask Disney Cruise Line President Karl Holz what he likes best about the new Disney Fantasy and he’ll tell you, “The smiling faces of happy passengers.”
For him, it’s all about the reactions of the guests, “the sparkle in their eyes.”
“People have been blown away by the atrium lobby, for example,” Holz said.
The atrium is, indeed, a work of art — art nouveau, actually — with a 13-foot-long chandelier made of stained glass and crystal beads; Italian marble in shades of blue, green and pink; and hand-tufted carpet sporting an elegant peacock motif.
A bronze statue of Minnie Mouse, dressed in 1920s garb, stands with steamer luggage at her side, adding a bit of whimsy to the setting. The whole scene is a real eye-opener, and it’s the first thing passengers see as they step aboard the 4,000-passenger ship. (View a slideshow from the Disney Fantasy and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, here or by clicking on the photos.)
On our three-night media and VIP preview cruise, which sailed from Port Canaveral, Fla., on March 26, there were just 2,100 passengers aboard, so the ship seemed particularly spacious. More than 100 of them were reporters, including radio and TV broadcasters who took over the outdoor decks with enough equipment to cover a major presidential speech.
The Disney Fantasy is a pretty ship, and it was designed for seven-day cruises, with all types of lounges and activities.
Three main dining venues, two alternative restaurants and a three-meal-a-day buffet area called Cabanas provide a nice choice for passengers.
Guests rotate for dinner through the three main venues — Royal Court, Enchanted Garden and Animator’s Palate — eating at each one at least twice over the course of the cruise. The rotation is assigned at check-in but can be changed at the start of the cruise. Two seatings per night are held at each restaurant.
Animator’s Palate has been a big hit. This is the restaurant where diners draw cartoon characters on their placemats after being seated. The drawings are collected, and at the end of the dinner seating, everyone’s drawings are animated, mixed in with Disney characters and projected onto a big screen.
I thought the Royal Court was a nice dining venue. I ate there one night and enjoyed not only the food and the service but also the colorful tile mosaics that adorn the walls, each depicting a familiar scene from a Disney movie or show.
Alternative restaurants Palo, with Italian cuisine, and Remy, with French, are offered for charges of $20 and $75, respectively.
I dined at Palo one evening and enjoyed first-rate service and excellent food. It features antipasti and fish, meat and pasta dishes. A chocolate souffle is its signature dessert. I didn’t try one, but they certainly looked to be sufficiently gooey and tasty.
This being Disney, there’s a never-ending array of activities for children, both inside and on the outdoor decks. Character appearances are held throughout the ship, and youngsters can have their pictures taken with Cinderella, Aladdin, Mickey Mouse and scores of others.
A full range of supervised kids’ programs is offered, and outdoor play areas include Nemo’s Reef, two pools, Goofy’s Sports Deck and the AquaDuck water coaster, which extends over the side of the ship. It’s an enclosed tube, 765 feet long, that Disney calls its “twisting and turning scream machine.”
I didn’t try that, either.
The Disney Fantasy caters to adults with the Satellite Sun Deck and Quiet Cove Pool, both reserved for those 18 and older, and the Senses Spa & Salon.
Europa, an adults-only area with five themed lounges, offers the fancy, French-inspired Ooh La La bar and the Irish pub O’Gills, for example. But don’t expect to find a casino onboard.
According to a public relations spokeswoman: “We’re totally PG here. Casinos mean indoor smoking, and we wouldn’t want that.”
Disney passengers, she said, don’t miss the ability to gamble.
There are aspects of the Disney Fantasy that appeal to kids of all ages. One is “Enchanted Artwork.”
Twenty-two pieces of art are arranged around the ship, each depicting a set of Disney characters and each equipped with technology that senses the presence of anyone who approaches.
Step up to one of these pictures and its characters spring to life, performing a short skit with a musical accompaniment.
As Randy Garfield, president of Walt Disney Travel Co. and executive vice president of worldwide sales and travel operations for Disney Destinations, said over a cocktail one evening: “We’re an entertainment company that evolved into a travel company. We’re basically storytellers.”
Three Broadway-style shows will be performed on each cruise. “Disney’s Aladdin,” “Disney’s Believe” and “Disney’s Wishes” all are fun musicals staged in the ship’s 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre.
Pirate deck parties and fireworks displays add to the ship’s celebratory atmosphere.
The Disney Fantasy is homeported at Port Canaveral and offers cruises alternating between the eastern and western Caribbean.
Follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.