When I was a kid in the mid-1980s, my grandparents took me on a several-day cruise aboard the “Big Red Boat” of Premier Cruise Line, which at that point was partnered with Disney to include its characters on the ship. The trip was also packaged with a number of days at Walt Disney World (my favorite place on Earth at that point in my life) and I remember the voyage being jam-packed with activities for children my age, so afterward I always looked back on it fondly as a favorite memory of growing up. In my head, that was what a “Disney Cruise” was, and I had no complaints.
Now, the Disney Cruise Line proper was not established until 1998, the year I left for college, and it’s been running very successfully ever since, but I haven’t had a real reason to check it out until more recently. As an adult, anytime I’ve found myself needing to scratch that Disney itch, I’ve gone to Disneyland here in Southern California where I now reside or on occasion returned to Walt Disney World back on the east coast. Spending a week at sea never really held the appeal to me that the Disney theme parks do, but the potential of a Disney Cruise has always existed in the back of my head, especially since I began my current career as a Disney-focused entertainment journalist about five years ago.
Watch Sailing Away Deck Party on Disney Fantasy 2020:
Fast forward to last month, when my wife and I had the opportunity (through my job here at Laughing Place) to embark on a seven-night journey through the Caribbean to check out Star Wars Day at Sea, which I’ve already covered in these pages with a collection of photos and videos. Our trip aboard the Disney Fantasy began, as usual, from the Port Canaveral terminal on the coast of Florida and made its way to Cozumel, Mexico, past Grand Cayman and Jamaica– our planned stops at these two locations were unfortunately cancelled due to adverse weather conditions– and on to Disney’s private island Castaway Cay for a day in the sun before returning to the mainland.
The first wonderful thing I noticed about the Disney Cruise Line is that each and every passenger aboard the ship could theoretically have a radically different experience during that week than their fellow cruise-goers or even family members, depending on that person’s specific interests and goals. Families with younger children seemed to spend much of their time either in the pools, watching a wide variety of Disney movies on the big “Tunnel Vision” screen, or dropping the little tykes off in the two kid-centric areas known as the Oceaneer Lab and the Oceaneer Club. Then we older travelers could while away the hours in the eighteen-and-over section on the top decks or in the impeccably designed European-themed bars at the ship’s aft.
My wife and I, being pop-culture aficionados, spend a good deal of our vacation trying our hand at an assortment of trivia challenges, though there was an afternoon where we both went our separate ways– she laid out on a lounge chair while I tried to guess Disney songs based on three-second clips. The great thing about having so many options is that we never felt pressure to commit to any one thing… or to spend every last moment doing what the other person was doing, for that matter. We won our fair share of Mickey medallions, but the emphasis was always on fun and relaxation above all else. We even committed a couple hours to checking out the “Midship Detective Agency” game, which partners you up with either Mickey and Friends or the Muppets in tracking down stolen props or dalmatian puppies via a series of interactive paintings hanging in the Fantasy’s many long hallways.
Of course, one of the best things about this and any cruise– as expected– is going to be the food. Because of my allergies, we found ourselves restricted to the gorgeous sit-down dining areas rather than frequenting the Cabanas buffet, but I do not mark that as a detriment in any way. We were waited on hand and foot by the Fantasy’s crack serving team, and our personal waiter Chris was so incredible and precise that he managed to track us down even during mid-day meals when we weren’t sitting in his area. He kept us laughing with jokes and puzzles between courses and was quick with suggestions that always panned out to our extreme liking. This very welcome attention to preference carried over to our interactions with the other Cast Members around the ship as well, and we undeniably formed bonds with the staff over the week. The Imagineering around us was amazing, but the live people working to make the magic happen were absolutely unforgettable.
There are big Broadway-style shows in the Walt Disney Theatre– we skipped “Aladdin” and “Frozen: A Musical Spectacular and Aladdin” because we’re familiar enough with their Disneyland Resort counterparts, but the welcome and farewell performances were both quite memorable, and another “greatest hits” show entitled “Disney’s Believe” saw the return of Genie alongside a plethora of famous faces and songs from throughout the company’s history. We also caught magic and ventriloquist acts, lounge singers, and a hilarious “Match Game”-style evening in the London-themed nightclub called The Tube. Then on Pirate Night, an impressive amount of guests dressed up in their buccaneer best to assemble for the “Mickey’s Pirates in the Caribbean” show in the open sea air.
Watch “Mickey’s Pirates in the Caribbean” and “Buccaneer Blast!” fireworks at sea on Disney Fantasy 2020:
Don’t worry– we didn’t stay dry the entire time. We took a few dips in the adults-only pools and jacuzzis and then rode the Pelican Plunge water slides and went snorkeling on Castaway Cay. I loved seeing the relocated 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine vehicles from the former Walt Disney World attraction among other sunken treasures. But one of the biggest thrills on the Disney Fantasy is the AquaDuck water coaster, which sends riders on a rip-roaring ride around the upper decks of the ship on a two-person tube.
Watch AquaDuck 4K full POV daytime & nighttime on Disney Fantasy:
We entered into our cruise with very open expectations. Outside of Star Wars Day at Sea, our ambitions were mostly to absorb the atmosphere, explore the ship itself, and generally have a good time. Using those metrics, we were wholeheartedly satisfied with the experience we received. Was it a little disappointing that we didn’t end up at Grand Cayman or Jamaica as advertised? Sure, but we understand that Disney doesn’t yet control the weather, and we knew the itinerary was always subject to change depending on unforeseen circumstances. Besides, we got a refund for the excursions we had pre-purchased for those days and used the money to buy a few extra souvenirs. The bottom line is that it was great to get away from the hubbub of Southern California and spend a week at sea with good fun, great entertainment, and even better people. We began the voyage thinking it would be a one-time adventure for the both of us, but by the time it was over we had already begun considering another Disney Cruise, perhaps a few years down the line. If that isn’t a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.