Three years ago we went on our first cruise (on the Disney Dream) right before Thanksgiving. This year for Christmas, we decided to go on an eastern Caribbean Very MerryTime holiday cruise. After months of planning and preparations, we just got back from a week of relaxation and recreation on the Disney Fantasy, and we had an incredible time.
We did way too much to write about in detail and I don’t feel like breaking it up over seven posts for seven days, so I’ll do a quick day-by-day summary instead.
Day 1 (Saturday, Port Canaveral)
We drove over to Port Canaveral Saturday morning for our 10:30am check-in time and were on-board before lunch. It was a chilly/windy day at the port (a one-day cold front had come through) so we didn’t do the AquaDuck like last time. We toured the ship to get our bearings, registered my daughter for the Vibe teen club, met our stateroom attendant Anantha, got unpacked and settled into our stateroom, all before the ship left port. After the Sailing Away party we got some photos taken with the various Disney characters in their Christmas attire. We had the late dinner schedule again, and met our dining staff (Thana, Alexandre, and Anil) in the Enchanted Garden. That evening, my daughter went to the icebreaker event at Vibe while my wife and I went to the Tube and were selected to play Match Your Mate (kinda like the Newlywed Game, and we actually lost to the newlyweds).
Day 2 (Sunday, at sea)
Unlike our 4-night cruise on the Dream, we had three at-sea days on the Fantasy. Which gave us time to experience a lot more of the on-board entertainment in the various lounges, clubs, and theaters (tonight’s presentation was the Broadway-style presentation of Aladdin). Tisa the entertainment director was always a hoot at every show/game we went to. Sunday night was also formal night, so everyone was dressed up for dinner (next in our rotation: Royal Court) and family photos (we also met Captain Thord and had him sign our Christmas ornament of the Disney Fantasy). Later in the evening I got to watch some Sunday Night Football on FunnelVision (the giant display on deck 11).
Day 3 (Monday, at sea)
Another relaxing day at sea, along with a time change as we sailed east into the Atlantic time zone. The on-board entertainers were Michael Holly (we enjoyed both his family and adult shows) and the comedy duo Buckets and Boards (we kept running into Gareth (boo-ya!) the entire cruise). We also learned how to draw Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in the D Lounge animation session. After dinner at Animator’s Palette I watched a little Monday Night Football on FunnelVision too.
Day 4 (Tuesday, Tortola)
I got up early Tuesday morning to watch us dock at our first port of call, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. This was the first time a Disney Cruise Line ship had docked at Tortola, which just recently opened a new cruise ship dock (a lot of the construction around the port was still going on, despite signs saying it was opening in 2015 … only a few days left to go!). Shortly after we docked at the sleepy island, I watched as the MSC Orchestra backed in right next to us. It’s pretty impressive watching these huge ships back into and connect to a tiny strip of concrete.
Even more impressive, the full rainbow that stretched across the harbor as a light rain storm passed through (see my photo below). It was incredible.
We were originally supposed to go mountain biking over on Norman Island, but had discovered yesterday that the excursion had been cancelled. Scrambling to find something to replace it, we signed up to watch as my daughter swam with a dolphin at Dolphin Discovery. She had a great time getting to “hold” Venus the dolphin, shake her flippers, get a kiss, and get two rides (one holding on to her fins, the other by being pushed on a boogie board by her feet). The place was crowded and a little disorganized at first (I don’t think they were prepared for the onslaught of tourists from two cruise ships at once) but once my daughter was in the water everything went smooth and we had a fun time.
After getting back to the ship, we cleaned up and then my daughter and I got in line for the first showing (PremEAR at Sea) of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It was great getting to see new new movie in a packed theater full of fans cheering, applauding, and really enjoying the new film. We saw it in 3D first and then I saw the regular version a second time later in the week.
That night was Pirate Night but instead of the swashbucking-themed dinner at the Enchanted Garden my wife and I had reservations at Palo. Afterwards, we met up with our daughter and went up to deck 11 for the fireworks and pirate dance party.
Day 5 (Wednesday, St. Thomas)
We woke up Wednesday morning docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. While my wife did some shopping in St. Thomas and enjoyed a spa day on board the Fantasy, my daughter and I went zip-lining at Tree Limin’ Extreme … wooo!
Back on board the Fantasy later in the afternoon, we were part of the studio audience at special taping of the Cruise Director Morning Show with Peter and Trent (pretending it was 5am the following day when the show would air).
Day 6 (Thursday, at sea – Christmas Eve)
Christmas Eve, another relaxing day at sea. We watched “The Good Dinosaur” (or, as I called it, “The ‘Meh’ Dinosaur” or “Pixar Presents: Look How Awesome We Can Animate Water Effects Now!”) in the Buena Vista theater. My daughter got to build a gingerbread house and also got her hair cut at the Senses Spa.
We had Christmas dinner at Animator’s Palette and were delighted by the dinner show. You get to draw a character on your place mat at the beginning of the meal. Then, while you are eating, the staff scans the sheets into what I can only assume is a cool software program that animates your character and inserts into classic Disney animation clips. It’s really cool seeing your static character come to life walking or dancing up on the screens in the restaurant.
Since it was Christmas Eve, we went to Midnight Mass in the Walt Disney Theater before turning in. Will Santa Claus find us in the middle of the Caribbean?
Day 7 (Friday, Castaway Cay – Christmas Day)
Merry Christmas from Disney’s private island in the Bahamas!
This was quite the different Christmas morning for us. Instead of having breakfast and opening presents around the tree, the family split up first thing in the morning: my daughter had an extreme teen excursion (biking, snorkeling and a powerboat ride) with her friends from Vibe and my wife and I had signed up for a hike and kayak excursion on the Cay. We all eventually did meet up again later in the afternoon and spent some time calling our families back home to wish them a Merry Christmas.
It’s hard to believe the week is already over. Tomorrow it’s back to port (and reality).
Day 8 (Saturday, Port Canaveral)
We had an 11:45am flight out of Orlando to Cleveland for our after-cruise vacation to see family, so we had to do the express walk-off first thing in the morning. Unlike last time, when we basically walked off the ship alone and were through customs in 5 minutes, there was a long line winding through the atrium of people and luggage waiting to debark. Even so, the line moved quickly and we were through customs and in the car on our way to Orlando by 8:15am.
Some of my thoughts from our last cruise still apply. For example, the on-board photo service (Shutters) is nice for professional photographs (like on formal night). We definitely purchased more printed photos this time than last time. But the lack of options (no choice of photo sizes, unless you want to pay for the digital versions) and the intrusiveness of the photographers at dinner are still turn-offs. This could be a better experience I think.
On our last cruise, I lamented the fact that you couldn’t get the Navigators or day’s entertainment schedule ahead of time, which made it hard to plan. Well, the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app was a welcome addition to our cruise planning this time. When connected to the ship’s WiFi network (free) it let us browse the entire schedule of events across the whole week of our cruise. You could easily mark favorite events which would automatically set up a 15-minute reminder on your phone. It even had a built-in messaging feature for texting friends and family on board. My only suggestion would be to allow us to add our own events to the app’s schedule (like excursions or spa reservations).
We didn’t use the internet at all on our last cruise, but it was a short one. This time we took advantage of the first-day “free 50mb” package so would could occasionally check e-mail or social media while cruising. I made the mistake, though, of only doing this on one device, thinking we’d share as a family. I should have signed up all three of us separately to get 50mb per phone. Also, since St. Thomas is a US territory, using our phones on AT&T there was just like being in the continental US (so my daughter got a lot of text messaging and Facebooking done that day!). We did get a package of mobile minutes for the cruise ship from AT&T so we could call family on Christmas Day, and in case of an emergency.
Overall, we had a fantastic time and a wonderful vacation. Having the full seven days on the ship really let us get to know the cruise staff, ship crew, and our fellow cruisers. We got to enjoy a lot of the entertainment opportunities and yet still relax on the verandah at night with a glass of wine, watching the sun set.
It was a perfect family vacation … and it’s not over yet! We still have a trip to Ohio and then more time at Disney World in the next week!