As my near 11 year old son pointed out to me, at this time next week we will be waking up to our first full day at sea on our very first DCL cruise. We are die hard WDW folks who wanted a change this year, but wanted to stay with the service and comfort of Disney. After some family discussion, we chose a cruise on the newest member of Disney’s fleet, The Fantasy. We have chosen a seven night Western Caribbean cruise, making stops at Costa Maya, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
Being an experienced Disney trip planner, I had high hopes that I would breeze right through the planning of this cruise…yeah, not so much. There are a lot of differences between a DCL cruise and a WDW resort stay, and it starts right at the booking process. The deposit is a percentage of your total cost, and not a flat fee, and you must pay the balance off seventy five days before your cruise, not fourty-five. Minor differences, but I was not prepared for them. Then, just as you must pick a resort level, you will need to chose what type of cabin you will be staying in. There are inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, and staterooms with verandahs. (There are also suites and concierge level, but those were out of our budget, unfortunately.) My husband can get overcrowded, and at Disney, I can always get us away from the crowd for a little bit. I was worried that on a cruise I wouldn’t be able to do that, so on the advise of our friend Kerri, who is a seasoned cruiser, we chose a stateroom with a verandah. There are also two ways to book your room; you can pay full fare and choose your actual stateroom (pay attention Mickey, you could upcharge a TON at the resorts for this service) or you can pay a lower fare called a “guarantee” and allow Disney to choose your room for you about thirty days before the cruise. We chose the guarantee, and are quite pleased with our stateroom assignment, at least on paper. More on this when we return.
The dining is also an entirely different process. There are three Main Dining Rooms (MDRS) on the Fantasy, and you are assigned a different MDR, as well as a seating time, for each night of your cruise. Here is the interesting part…your wait staff rotates with you. I am highly intrigued by this process, and you can expect a detailed report on this when we return as well. There is also a buffet style restaurant, as well as several counter service eateries that are open each night for those who prefer not to eat at the MDR at the assigned time. The Fantasy also has two adults only restaurants for the grown ups who want to get away from the little ones for an evening. We have chosen one brunch, at Palo, on our first sea day. If this one lives up to the hype, I am going to be one happy lady in exactly one week. The big difference with the dining? Everything is included. EVERYTHING. There are a few exclusions: smoothies, alcoholic drinks, specialty coffees and the adult only places, but other than that, it is all included. You want three entrees at dinner? No problem. You want breakfast from room service? Yep, that is included, too. There is also soft serve ice cream available, all day. My son nearly wept with joy at that discovery, and has been dreaming of unlimited ice cream for months. In short, there is no counting “meals” as you would on the Disney Dining Plan. I am certainly looking forward to losing that worry, as I have always been in charge of keeping track of how many meals we have left.
With no ADRS to plan, I was free to obsess over our Port Adventures. There are again, two ways to do this. You can book with Disney, or you can book with independent contractors on your own. The difference? If you are late getting back to the ship, they will wait for you if you are on a DCL Port Adventure. You are on your own if you didn’t book with Disney. My husband wanted to book independently, for the cost savings. My response to that was, and I quote “I love you honey, but not enough to go to Mexican jail.”. We bit the bullet and planned two excursions with Disney, on Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We are just going to explore the port in Costa Maya, and we rented snorkel equipment for Castaway Cay. I may regret the expense later, but the whole “The boat will leave without you” scares me more than I can convey in words.
There are also little differences. Apparently door decorating is a big deal. The doors are all metal, so folks make door magnets. I gave into this one, but not to the FEs. What are FEs, you ask? I asked as well, and FEs are “Fish Extenders”. The staterooms apparently have fish with hooks on the outside of them, and folks make little holders to put on them, sort of like Christmas stockings, Disney style. Then, groups are formed and each family puts a little gift into the FE of every other family in their group. This seemed like a lot of work, and I will admit I was a little intimidated by the type of gifts some of our cruisers were bringing, so I chickened out. I am sure with all my research, I missed a ton of things, but I am certainly excited to start this new chapter of our Disney Adventure.
I will have a full report, with pictures, upon our return, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them…Bon Voyage!
More from Phyllis’ series on The Fantasy and Disney Cruise Line
A Fantasy Come True… (Part 2)