Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Smile 'til your face hurts

I can’t describe the Disney Fantasy any better than that. But I’ll try.

I’ve been on a few cross country adventures since June. THIS was the trip with the hub’s stamp of approval. I doubt that he would have joined us but he was excited to read about all that this ship has to offer. He and I talked about taking our kids and grandkids on this most special adventure.

Gramma and Noah in the 'Duck"
Staff told us that Disney Cruise Lines decided to bring the Disney stamp to this industry. Its ships, 4 in all, are chocked full of goodies, activities, adventures and just plain old fun for children from infant to geriatric. As I walked the deck, family groups from youngest to less young strolled along. As this is vacation time from school, many of these groups had their own T-shirts in bright colors to identify themselves.

After "Duck"
The Fantasy is Disney’s newest ship and features one special thing that the others don’t: The Aqua Duck. It’s a huge Plexiglas flume that circles the upper deck, jutting over the edge just a bit. It’s a partner ride on a blue inflated mat, taking about two minutes from start to finish. I told the boys that all I wanted from this trip was to see them ride it once. If they were charging per ride, at this point, THEY could pay for the next cruise.

As one of the few who has never been to a Disney Park, I was unprepared for the highest level of quality, detail, diversity, and cleanliness all over the ship. Staff members smile. Parents smile. Babies smile. Teens smile. Grandmas smile. AND my boys, 7 and 9, keep finding new things to smile about.

My Crew
We boarded (to staff applause) and disembarked at Port Canaveral, Florida. We sailed to St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.

Our itinerary was 3 days at sea and 3 in port. On this ship, there’s childcare for babies. Kiddos 3 – 14 can go to a dedicated place, the Oceanaire Club, and stay all day and into the night. If they want to skip meals with the parents, no problem. Staff feeds them, entertains them, and if it gets late, spreads out cots for the children to sleep. While boarding, each child received a GPS band that identifies him or her if misplaced.

Teens have a dedicated space and although I did not check it out (TEENS ONLY!), I did question a few kids in the elevator. They, too, were unanimous with their votes:  great. Don’t want to leave. And, no adults.

Noise and laughter are all around. There are many kiddies not yet knee-high. And, once underway, the costumes come out. I have personally spoken to quite a few princesses and pirates. Disney stars keep popping up, for hugs and photos: Pluto and Mickey are favorites. I was present at a Disney Princess Dance, where Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bell and Tiana glided down the winding staircase from Deck 5 to Deck 3, waving those elbow-length, gloved hands and swirling a bit in their taffetas. Once at the bottom, they were greeted by many, many, many children.

Andy and Noah in a momentary chill
We have enjoyed several live shows plus some first rate (Disney) movies. On this cruise, both “Frozen (3D)” and “Saving Mr. Banks” are playing, both of which just opened in theaters.

And then there’s the food. Cruisers always talk about the food. It’s spectacular and plentiful. Disney assigns us to one of three dining rooms. Then, we rotate each night taking our service team with us. By day 2, Anthony and Terry have our drinks ready before we arrive.

Like many cruises, the food is all over the place and available almost 24/7. Up on the pool decks, you can get pizza, burgers, wraps, and etc. between meals, just to hold you over. PLUS, they have a make-your-own-cone station, with 20 spigots, half of them kiddie height, a popular spot.

Also, and this is important, there’s plenty of adults-only space, mostly at the back of the ship. (AFT) So a gramma who has had enough of the good thing can climb up, stretch out, and enjoy the sun and heat without something sticky being dropped upon her.

I found a perch in a corner café (with very good lattes) where I could watch the interactions. Happy people meeting other happy people. And, for me, most interesting, was watching the staff. I’m not a cynic by nature but I couldn’t help looking for just a twinge of strained smile, an eye-roll after turning away from a guest, a suppressed sigh. None. NONE. Even in the kid areas where the results of diverse parenting skills are on display, lots and lots of smiles.

Got it? Smiles.

We stayed in some very nice rooms with verandahs and murphy beds (when pulled down, the ceiling is full of stars), not the most expensive on board. But there are lots of bargain rooms, internal rooms, which offer all the same fun. And on Disney, if you have an inside room, you still have a porthole: animated friends swim by all of the time.

So, I’m a fan of the Disney Cruise. We toasted to the New Year, remembering all the blessings of 2013. How blessed I am to welcome 2014 with these loved ones.

Commercial over. Cruise over. Back to the real.

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