I really never pictured myself a huge Disney fan - but the last 7 days changed my point of view.
We set sail on the Disney Fantasy on January 4th - we had been on cruises before (I’ve been known to get a bit green on the open blue sea) but this one was our first with our entire little family - we were there to relax, enjoy and spend time with Deb and the boys. We were delightfully surprised to spend the next seven days rekindling our relationships with our own inner children - it was fun, fun, fun!
The boat was well appointed - large staterooms (ours adjoined and had a veranda) with sofa, desk and even a bathtub. Our trip in was flawless (Tip No. 1 - book arrival through Disney as it includes your flight, room night prior and luggage transport to the ship) - the Orlando Airport Hyatt was an amazing atrium hotel built on top the airport terminal - fancy!
We were welcomed aboard with full Disney revelry making every guest feel very special. Our first day was spent getting our sea legs and learning our way around the boat. We sampled a cone or two of “soft” as Dominic liked to call the all you can eat soft serve ice cream (eye scream) stations. We had chosen the main dining at 5:45 which was a bit early but the 8:15 seating would have stolen the nights away.
The food was spectacular - we had amazing choices from delectable menus (Drake survived on chicken strips and fries, which I have to admit were delish). Our tablemates were the cutest family from Bangor, Maine. Darren, Julie and little Madonna became like family for the next seven days. I always love the serendipitous making of new friends and memories on vacation - but this trio was really something. It was like we had a magnet drawing us together - out of all the people aboard we would run into each other at random places and times. Super fun. The dining rotated between three dining rooms so we got a chance to experience a different bit of “magic” in each - There was formality in the Royal Court, becoming animators ourselves in the Animator’s Palette and feeling like royalty in the Enchanted Garden - the rotational dining really added variety and another fold of fun to the trip. Each night our servers tricked us with riddles and brain twisters while making sure our every whim was accommodated.
We were super excited for the port stop at Grand Cayman. Deb, Al and I had been here before and couldn’t wait to show it to the boys. It had been almost a decade and honestly nothing looked too familiar anymore. I can’t say if the lack of familiarity was due to old age or Hurricane Ivan but will go with the later for vanity’s sake! This port held of our first true adventure - swimming with the dolphins. We were not sure what to expect but suffice to say it was A W E S O M E. Really a once in a lifetime experience.
The dolphin experience was held about 30 minutes from the boat - we were shuttled to the venue in a taxi where the driver and our host were chalked full of local color and pageantry. From their dreads to their Rasta accents they were the real deal. We were ready to get in the water - but our guide took us to visit the turtle farm first. Thinking we were racing the rain, we were anxious, but there the farm had some huge and amazing turtles for Dominic and Drake to feed and even some babies to wade and play with. It was definitely worth the detour.
Next up - Dolphins! What a blast. All the dolphins were bred right there and well taken care of. We were lead into a pool and able to pet, smooch and even dance with Alma, our new friend. Each of us had the chance to have her give us a nudge with her nose on our feet and have the boogie board whoosh us back to the queue. It was exhilarating! They are really powerful animals - we saw her gentle side with a “belly” ride. This time we held out one arm and grabbed her fin and held on tight as she rode us back. The big hullabaloo was all about Al. Apparently the big kahuna of the pack was an alpha male named “Al”. The trainers and guides had a heyday teasing and chiding Alby. First it was all about the goatee - but then when his turn came up for the nose nudge - the trainers summoned Al (the dolphin) and Al (the sweetheart) got a two-nose push - it was super cool!
We did not have the good fortune of nice weather while at sea. They had to skip the port of Costa Maya because of high winds and adverse sea conditions the boat was unable to dock. We headed straight for Cozumel. Gramps and I played a round of “goofy” golf on the forward deck with the boys. We had to be careful not to get blown overboard - the wind was insane out there. It was a rocky night’s sleep (something like an eight hour earthquake that didn’t let up) which led to cancellation of our catamaran snorkel and sail in Cozumel. We were not the least bit bummed as we moved on to being Mid-ship Detectives fortified by non-stop ”softs” and poolside movies on the funnel vision. We made the most of every moment.
As night fell, we donned our pirate garb and headed out for Mickey’s Pirates in the Caribbean. It was a pirate celebration where all the characters and guests were dressed and ready for action. We got lucky with the weather clearing enough for a brilliant fireworks show off the top deck - it was glorious.
The days onboard were spent in a whirlwind of tubing the Aqua-duck (yep, picture Donald in a swimmer), a waterslide/rollercoaster that made an initial twist off the side of the ship then ascended and whooshed and turned and bended as riders, encased in a clear tube of rushing water (oh my aching back), squealed with delight; non-stop movies and shows (Saving Mr. Banks gave me a new view of Walt and his magic) and long soaks in the glass bottom hot tub (on Deck 11 high above the sea) and countless trips to the endless buffet at Cabanas.
Our final full day was spent on Disney’s private island Castaway Cay (pronounced ‘key’). The ship’s cruise director, Clayton, had encouraged us all to ask Mother Nature for a change in the weather - and ask we did! Guess what, it worked! Dominic and Deb had a great parasail ride while Al, Drake and I played in the sand, sun beating down on us, snorkeling and bobbing around in the rafts. We soaked up every bit of vitamin D available!
Our day on Castaway Cay was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. As the sun set we had our last fancy dinner, said goodbye to our new friends and began to pack for our journey home (Tip No. 2 -: onboard check in is the only way to go - luggage checked all the way home and TSA pre-cleared), although not without taking in one more show - “An Unforgettable Journey” - and unforgettable it was. Every last minute.