On a significant sunny day in Italy in May 1997, I had the good fortune to be part of a press group in Venice, on hand to report on the Float-Out ceremony of the not-yet-finished Disney Magic and alert the world to the debut of Disney Cruise Line. Magical memories returned full-on during my recent 7-day voyage in the Eastern Caribbean on board the Disney Fantasy, when I dined in a deliciously romantic restaurant called Palo. In both menu and decor, Palo is an artful homage to the City of Love, where the line’s first ship sailed out of the gate.
My still-surviving notes from 1997 include this on-target declaration from a Disney executive: “This is the first ship ever designed to appeal to so many market segments.” Not only did Magic’s 1998 inaugural sailings back up these words in spades, but every ship introduced since—Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy—has proudly fulfilled the promise. (As newcomers slated to bow in 2021, 2022, and 2023 are predictably certain to do.) Consider the many Fantasy stateroom doors I saw that were decorated with colorful signage identifying cruisers by name as a family group, an anniversary couple, repeaters, or honeymooners. Not something you typically encounter at sea.
“While kids are a focus on the Disney ships, they are not the only one,” notes travel advisor Steve Griswold, owner of Pixie Vacations. “Adults can look forward to designated areas where they can relax and kick-back. Also, parents can feel at ease knowing that there is a family-friendly environment on board, so shows in the theaters are free from ‘adult’ humor, and there are no smoke-filled casinos.”
Fans of all ages flock to the frequent appearances of iconic characters from Mickey and Cinderella to Captain Hook and Buzz Lightyear—cavorting with admirers in the stunning three-deck, art nouveau-styled lobby atrium, and dropping by for hugs at breakfast tables. Lavish facilities geared to different age groups from nursery-size to teens are so enchanting that the young at heart can only wish they would be allowed to hang out for a while. Oh, for a crack at the Oceaneer Lab’s Super Sloppy Science Experiments. All of which not only entertain the kids but provide free time for parents to skip off to the spa or a movie or a tequila tasting, dive into port adventures, shop ports the likes of St. Maarten and St. Thomas, and pursue other activities for grown-ups, which are numerous and multiplying. A prime location is the tranquil adults-only oasis centered by the Quiet Cove Pool and its swim-up bar. Steps away are whirlpool spas and the Cove Cafe, a coffee bar. A deck above is Satellite Sundeck, with a circular splash pool and cascading rain curtain. From time to time, there’s soft live music. Hello, bliss.
Launched aboard Fantasy in 2017 are such sparkling-new, age-spectrum lures as the Oceaneer Club’s Star Wars Command Post that whisks Jedi wannabes to a galaxy far, far away; and a glittery Tiffany & Co. boutique with display cases full of fashionista enticements. Still happily at hand are some of the coolest cruise components on the waters, such as the line’s staterooms with signature split bathrooms. “They were planned with thoughts of families, but we find that couples love them too,” says Alberto Besco, hotel director. Then there are the exuberant Broadway-style productions; Fantasy was staging “Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular” when I was on board, and the ever-popular pirate shindig on deck, where Jack Sparrow swashes and passengers in eye patches kick up their boots while soaking up a fireworks-at-sea spectacular.
Restaurants, complete with always-sunny servers, come in a similarly grand variety, from the main dining rooms—Animator’s Palate, Royal Court, Enchanted Garden, and Cabanas—to the oceanview, adult-exclusive environs of Remy (classic scenes of Paris and multiple tasting courses of fine French fare, with wines to match) and Italian-accented Palo. Even though Remy and Palo have an extra charge, Besco observes, “some guests choose to go there all week.”
Post-dinner, they head straight to the adult assemblage of nightspots collectively called Europa. In the mix are high-energy clubs and chic lounges inspired by evenings in Italy, France, Ireland, and London.
One idyllic day is devoted to Castaway Cay, Disney’s own pristine, private island in the Bahamas—a stellar offering of sailings from Miami and Port Canaveral for Fantasy fans, its 7-night itineraries in the Eastern and Western Caribbean. “Castaway Cay is everyone’s favorite,” says Sue Pisaturo, owner of Small World Vacations. “There is a family beach and an adult beach, Serenity Bay. Cabanas can be rented on either, and it’s literally paradise.”
Disney Cruise Line: disneycruise.disney.go.com