A Disney Fantasy Cruise in the Western Caribbean
When I posted to Instagram that we were booked on a spring break Disney Fantasy Cruise, a lot of people DMed me to ask why. It’s a reasonable question – although we’ve been on a number of cruises, we don’t love cruises, and we’re not a big Disney family.
It goes back a decade. When my kids were small, starting at 1, 3 and 5-years-old, we did three 12-night Disney Cruises in Europe. We booked them because they were easy – unpack once and see a lot of cool places – and because Disney is, by definition, family-friendly. Our kids went to the kids club a few times, and waited in line for character photos every once in a while, but really they just enjoyed the ship and the independence, since they could run around by themselves, and we (the parents) liked the days in port.
There’s a sweet spot with Disney cruises, between maybe 3 and 10-years-old, when a lot of kids love Disney and the character interactions and shows are magical. Then the magic kind of disappears….except that my oldest daughter always watched the teens on the ship and thought they were having the most fun. On our last cruise she made us promise to bring her back when she was a teen. And this year, at 17, she took us up on it.
A Disney Fantasy Cruise for Spring Break
As I’ve mentioned before, my youngest daughter has one-week school breaks in February and April, and my two high schoolers have a two-week break in March. This year my wife and I took our 13-year-old to Thailand for her February break, and then I was tasked with the Disney Cruise in March. Looking at Disney’s cruises, they only had one option for a 7-night cruise that fit within our spring break dates – the March 11-18 Western Caribbean sailing. The port stops on the itinerary weren’t exciting, but this wasn’t about the stops; it was about my daughter (hopefully) having fun on the ship with other teens. We dragged my 15-year-old son along since he had nothing else planned for break.
This Disney Caribbean Cruise Review
I hadn’t intended to write about our cruise, but so many people have commented on my Instagram posts and stories with questions about the cruise, wanting my honest thoughts about Disney cruises for families and for couples, that I’m writing this up. Just keep in mind that it’s coming from a cruise skeptic and a non-Disney person. If you love cruises and you love Disney and your kids love Disney, you can stop reading now. Just book it! You’ll love it.
Disney Cruises – What Disney Does Well
We spent a few days at Universal Orlando before our cruise and then took an Uber from Sapphire Falls Resort to the Disney Cruise Terminal at Port Canaveral (1.5 hours with traffic, $58 plus a very good tip). Check-In was bizarrely easy. Getting out of our Uber, port personnel immediately took our checked suitcases. We then proceeded inside, well before our assigned arrival time, checked in right away with no wait, and were on the ship less than 5 minutes later. This was completely different than our last European cruise with Disney where check-in in Copenhagen was a disorganized nightmare. If you’re sailing from Port Canaveral from Disney’s Terminal 8, expect things to be easy. Then our luggage was delivered to our cabin a couple hours later, far earlier than promised.
The Disney Fantasy itself
This trip we sailed on the Disney Fantasy. The ship is very nice – the attention to detail is impressive, and the ship’s nicer than a lot of others I’ve been on. We had a “Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah”. The two bathrooms worked out really well – my son and I had our things in the bathroom with the toilet, and my daughter took over the one with a shower. Speaking of the shower, it was excellent – really well-designed and larger than most ship showers, and the water pressure was better than at a lot of hotels. I like that there was a curtain between my bed and the kids’ beds, effectively turning the cabin into two bedrooms at night. I loved the main cabin door – it actually closed quietly so I could sneak out in the morning for coffee and not wake anyone. The balcony was great too. FYI, we were in cabin 7090 and loved it – a perfect mid-ship location.
Dinners on a Disney Fantasy cruise rotate among three themed restaurants – Royal Court, Enchanted Garden and Animator’s Palate. Animator’s Palate is by far the best-designed – playful and creative, with interactive elements.
At the beginning of the year I traveled to Antarctica with Adventures By Disney on an amazing trip and I liked that there were Disney elements but not too many. Antarctica was the star. That’s not the case with Disney Cruise Line though. Disney art, characters, shows and music are omnipresent. If you love or even just like Disney, you’ll enjoy it. For us it’s fine – impossible to ignore and we wouldn’t book a cruise because of it, but not a big deal. It’s fun to see kids walking around dressed up like pirates and princesses – kind of Halloween in March. And there were current Disney films playing in the theater every day.
The Staff and Service
I was impressed with the efficiency at which the Disney Fantasy cruise staff got us on and off the ship at every port stop, with our server at every dinner, and with all other staff that we interacted with (with the exception of the Vibe teen club staff, but I’ll get to that). Our cabin attendant was pretty good as well. On other Disney Cruises I’ve questioned some of the automatic gratuities, feeling like people didn’t always deserve them. I had no such thoughts on this cruise though.
Food and soda are included in your cruise fare, with exceptions. And I was impressed that a Disney person handed out towels at every cruise stop. I forgot to pack towels and wasn’t sure if I should try to sneak some from the pool deck for our port excursions. No need – they give them to you. And free coffee is always available on the pool deck.
I’ve felt like staff on other cruises were always trying to sell us on things – drink packages, art, onboard shopping, port excursions, future cruises. Disney doesn’t do that. You can purchase any of those things, but they’re not in your face. I really appreciate that.
The Disney Cruise App
Disney used to deliver daily briefings, on paper, to every cabin at night. They were a huge waste of paper, especially in Europe where Disney didn’t have shopping partnerships and the briefings were sometimes 50% blank. They’ve moved everything to the Disney Cruise App, which works well on board. There’s passenger messaging within the app too, so I could communicate with my kids. If I could suggest three improvements, they would be:
- Please include the current time in the app. We had time zone changes and a daylight savings time switch during our cruise and people were often confused about what time it was, since we couldn’t trust our cell phones.
- It would be great to send photos within the messaging platform, like of the lunch buffet if one kid was still in the room.
- I’d love to be able to add my own things to the schedule instead of only selecting from Disney’s pre-programmed options. Through a Facebook group a lot of the solo parents on board planned get-togethers. I couldn’t add those to my daily app calendar though and missed some of them.
There’s no way to quickly get 3,800 passengers off a ship at the end of a cruise, but Disney does a pretty good job. It took us roughly half an hour to leave the ship, go through immigration/customs and get to the Disney airport bus. FYI, buses were leaving as quickly as they were filling up. We had a seated breakfast at 8:10am, got in line to leave the ship just after 8:30, were on a bus at 9:00 and at MCO airport at 10:00, well before our 12:34pm flight to LA. It would be amazing if they could add a Global Entry line at the port – it’s the first time we’ve waited in line for US passport checks in ten years! FYI, no issues on our flight back. We grabbed our car at LAX parking and were home by 6pm – not a bad travel day.
What Disney Could Improve On
Disney outsources its spa and fitness center to a company called One Spa World. One Spa World also manages the spas for most other major cruise lines, including Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Princess and Virgin. The problem is they’re publicly-traded and they, and their employees, have a financial incentive to upsell you. I booked a 50-minute massage for the first at-sea day. It was the worst massage I’ve ever had. The spa personnel and massage therapist tried to upsell me six times in an hour, which ruined the experience. Massages are supposed to be relaxing! And when I posted about it on Instagram, I received over 50 comments from others with similar negative cruise experiences that almost all went back to spas run by One Spa World. My massage, with gratuity, was over $180. But I also, according to them, needed an upgrade from soft/medium pressure to medium/firm pressure for $30, orthotics for $199, a skin brush for $45, body oil for $65 and refreshing gel for $59. Please put a stop to this Disney! This is a horrible experience for everyone getting massages on board. And after declining all of the add-ons, I’m pretty sure my masseuse dumbed down my massage. Of the 50 minutes I paid for, only 35 or so was spent on my body. The rest was a really weak head massage. Such a letdown, and not worth anywhere close to $180.
The food onboard the Disney Fantasy was ok. I mean, everything sounds great on the menus, but then it comes to the table and it’s…ok. One staff member even commented that he could make a certain dish better than Disney. I understand that the kitchen staff is feeding 3,800 passengers on board every day, which is a crazy undertaking that I don’t pretend to have a grasp of, but I wish things tasted a little better.
I should note that I had an excellent brunch at Disney’s adults-only restaurant Palo for $45, which is some of the best money I spent. But that just served to show that there are people on board who know how to cook well. The pizza at Palo was so much better than the poolside pizza at Luigi’s. Why not make better pizza for everyone?
Other thoughts: It would be great to have a buffet dinner option if you don’t feel like a rotational sit-down dinner. Indian entrée options would have been nice at lunch and dinner. And there’s a food dead spot between 6pm and 9pm at the casual places near the pool. That’s fine for people with the early dinner seating, but for us (with an 8:15 dining time every night), if we were hungry at 6:15 and needed something small to tide us over, the only option was room service. They should keep something open later than 6pm.
My daughter loves Diet Coke. It was free if she got it herself by the pool or in the restaurants, or if a server in a restaurant brought it to her. But if a server from the bar or room service brought it to her, there was a charge of a couple dollars. Given that Disney Cruises don’t usually nickel and dime guests, it seems like a strange thing to charge for. They should be 100% consistent – included means included.
The Vibe Teens Club
My daughter had a lot of negative things to say about the staff at the Vibe Teens Club (for 14-17-year-olds). She and her friends just wanted a place to hang out, but it sounds like that’s not an option. If there was an event like karaoke or Disney trivia planned and you were in Vibe, you had to participate, and the other areas of the club were closed off when scheduled activities were going on. So she and her friends had to constantly move elsewhere on the ship. And there’s a Vibe sun deck, but it wasn’t open most of the time. Overall she says the counselors treated the teens like little kids, and were constantly disrespectful (except Casey). I heard the same thing from other parents, so it wasn’t just her. So disappointing since this should have been the primary teen hangout and the counselors continually sabotaged that.
St. Patrick’s Day
St Patrick’s Day is my favorite food holiday and is always fun to celebrate. A lot of passengers wore green. Disney did…nothing. I wish meals had been St. Patrick’s Day-themed, with boxty, corned beef, potatoes, colcannon, soda bread and all other traditional Irish foods. There were no themed character appearances, no decorations, no green pools, no green soft-serve, no Irish food, no related activities – it was like every other day. Such a wasted opportunity to have fun! Beware if you’re booking a Disney Cruise over a holiday.
It seems like the most basic thing in the world to me: put bathroom light switches inside the bathrooms. That way if it’s dark you can go in, close the door and then turn on the light, so you don’t wake up everyone in the cabin by flooding it in light. Yet Disney put the two bathroom light switches outside the bathrooms. Every night my daughter came back to the cabin between 3am and 5am. She was quiet, but as soon as she turned on the bathroom lights, it woke me up. Grrrrr. How did you get this so wrong Disney?
3,800 people are too many on what’s essentially a floating resort. The pools were packed, especially on days at sea. We preferred the smaller Disney Magic (2,400 passengers), and we like smaller ships even more.
Our Disney Fantasy Cruise
Having said all that, we had a good cruise overall. The Disney cruise was my daughter’s idea and I went into it thinking she would be disappointed. But she made great friends and stayed out until 3am or later every night with them, so from her perspective it was a success. My son and I hung out, played shuffleboard, threw a football in our cabin a lot, went to the fitness center daily, read and relaxed. There are worse places to spend a week than on a really nice ship.
Our Disney Fantasy cruse port stops were in Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Falmouth, Jamaica and Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. We went onshore at all four. In Cozumel and Grand Cayman we walked around a little and got lunch. In Jamaica we hired a driver for the day, Richard Brooks of Excursion Ocho Rios. Richard picked us up at 8am, took us to Dunn’s River Falls for a fun hour of waterfall hiking, drove us all around Ocho Rios, and then took us to lunch before we returned to the ship at 3pm. It was a great day. Castaway Cay was a lot of fun – far more than I was expecting. We took a water ball, football and frisbee and threw all three in the ocean and on the beach. We also rode bikes around the island paths several times.
In a perfect world I would have selected more interesting ports, or at least places that I haven’t been before, but there weren’t any other options that fit into our spring break dates. A Disney Caribbean Cruise is more about the ship and Disney experience than the ports though – kind of the opposite of their Europe sailings for us. Our favorites were in reverse order of the stops: 1) Castaway Cay; 2) Jamaica; 3) Grand Cayman; and 4) Cozumel.
I highly recommend Disney Cruises for families with young kids – under 10 or so. For couples and families of older children, if you don’t really love Disney, I’m not sure that it’s worth it? I loved sailing on the Celebrity Edge, and thought the food on the Edge was better than on the Disney Fantasy. If Celebrity Edge-class sailings are priced better than Disney, and especially if the ports are more interesting, I’d probably opt for those instead.
How much is a Disney Cruise?
Our Disney Fantasy 7-night sailing was $8,864 for three of us. That’s a lot of money and the reason why I’m a little negative above. Disney overall delivers a very good experience, but can do better – especially when it comes to food, the spa and the Vibe teen club. I noted that we were in a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom. There are cheaper options available, including interior rooms. There are also more expensive rooms and, of course, if you have more people in your family it’s more expensive.
We Ubered from Universal Orlando for $58. We paid twice that, $117, for a Disney transfer to Orlando Airport after the cruise, since I didn’t know how difficult it would be to order an Uber or Lyft from Port Canaveral.
My massage was $185.82 with tip. Standard gratuities were $304.50. My daughter spent around $90 on internet access. Bicycles in Castaway Cay were $26 for two of us. Brunch at Palo was $55 with tip. Laundry was $7. Our driver for the day in Jamaica was $260. Dunn’s River Falls was $25/person. Internet seemed a little high at $24/device/day for the middle tier, and my massage was an absolute waste of money.
I should note that on our Adventures By Disney trip in January on an expedition ship gratuities were included, as were sodas and premium coffees, and there was coffee in the rooms. If Adventures By Disney can do that, I would think Disney Cruise Line could do that too. Automatic gratuities are like Resort Fees – completely unnecessary. Just build them into the overall pricing to make it easier for people to compare vacation options.
Disney Fantasy Cruise – Health
Passengers on our sailing seemed healthy, and Disney made sure the ship stayed clean. Most hand sanitizer stations looked to be empty, but staff handed out disinfecting wipes to everyone before heading into the restaurants. I only saw three families regularly wearing masks on board.
I averaged 12,000 steps a day while on the cruise and worked out daily. I lost two pounds and was in better shape after the cruise than before. I didn’t go crazy at buffets or drink.
I took along our medical kit from Duration Health but didn’t need it. My kids took maybe six Dramamine tablets total when they were feeling the motion of the ship. After Antarctica in January, I’m pretty sure I’m immune to minor ship swaying. We likewise didn’t need to use our travel health/cancellation policy from G1G Travel, but given how expensive the cruise was, and the fact that we would have lost 100% of the cruise cost if we canceled within 14 days and 75% if we cancelled within 29 days, I was glad we were protected.
Disney Fantasy Cruise – Packing
We packed light for our Disney Fantasy cruise. We didn’t bring door decorations or alcohol or clothes specifically for formal night or semi-formal night, and we didn’t bring costumes. The weather was warm everywhere. We easily could have gotten by with swimsuits, shorts, a couple t-shirts, slightly nicer shirts (and dresses) for dinners, sunscreen, flip-flops and walking shoes. I wore pants, a button-down shirt and nice shoes for my brunch at Palo, but Palo is optional. My daughter wore a hoodie for her late-night partying since the decks cooled down at night. We had two half-filled Patagonia rolling duffels thinking we may shop at the ports, but we didn’t buy anything. Per my Castaway Cay comments above, we were glad we brought balls and a Frisbee for the beach.
Disney Caribbean Cruises – Your Turn
Have you taken a Disney cruise in the Caribbean with your kids? How do your thoughts (pro/con/good/bad) compare to mine? Please comment below!
And I have a post on how to decide if a Disney cruise is right for your family, summarizing all of my thoughts from our four cruises.