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December 14, 2013

Disney Cruise Line expands Halloween on the High Seas to all ships and keeps more Christmas sailings in 2014

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Next year, pirate parties won't be the only themed events on all four Disney Cruise Line ships. The fleet recently announced that it will increase its holiday offerings in 2014: Halloween on the High Seas will expand to all four ships and Christmas activities will once again be available for six weeks.

"If you look at the trends, people are engaging more in holidays," Jennifer Haile, manager of Disney Cruise Line marketing strategy, told me. "Halloween continues to grow and grow, not only for kids, but also for adults. Adults are putting on costumes and trick-or-treating along with the kids. We realize that this is something where the whole family really gets in the spirit, and why not do it on the ship?"

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Halloween on the High Seas is a collection of activities that debuted in 2013 on the Disney Dream. Among them were: Halloween Tree (a multi-day experience in the lobby); Mickey's Mouse-querade Party (trick-or-treating, games and a dancing with the characters in the atrium); Haunted Stories of the Sea (story-telling on the deck); spooky movie marathon; and an adult costume party. Some of my extended family members experienced Halloween on the High Seas and you can read about it and see plenty of photos here.

Perhaps the most popular event, though, in the first year was Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing and Scream. This interactive experience was described by some as a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" for families, and it ends with a special meet-and-greet with Jack Skellington and his love, Sally. In the last year, Disney has begun offering character experiences with the pair and they have commanded hours-long lines at Walt Disney World.

"We did the 'Nightmare' Sing and Scream, which was very popular," Haile said. "At the very end, there is a scene where Jack and Sally are posed, and we had the scene end with the spotlight on the Walt Disney Theatre curtain and you could see their reflection right through it. Then the curtain rose, and they were in that pose and everyone went wild."

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The same entertainment will return for 2014 Halloween on the High Seas, Haile said, but Disney Cruise Line staff is tinkering with the schedule to better suit passengers' needs, based on guest feedback. The most difficult task is on the three-night sailings on the Dream, where they add the holiday programming to an already jam-packed schedule.

"It was difficult for us because we haven't taken anything away from our typical cruise experience so we had to decide where do you sandwich these [Halloween events] in," she told me.

Also returning next year will be the longer, six-week period of Christmas celebrations.

"We're taking a cue from the [Disney] parks to transition earlier," Haile said. "We're rolling it [the Christmas programming and decor] out in early November."

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The Very Merrytime Cruises feature King Triton's Tree Lighting Ceremony; Deck the Deck Holiday Party; family activities, such as making gingerbread houses and meeting Santa Claus and his elves; holiday storytellers; and a holiday edition of 'Til We Meet Again farewell party.

My extended family and I sailed on the Fantasy at the beginning of December and experienced most of these events. To see photos and read about our experiences, click here.

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December 15, 2012

How Disney Fantasy voyages are different from other Disney Cruise Line vacations

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Formal night with Minnie Mouse

Sailing on the Disney Fantasy, which only makes weeklong voyages, is in many ways a different experience than shorter trips aboard other Disney Cruise Line ships. And it’s not just the number of days at sea that is different.

I have been fortunate to sail on the Disney Wonder for three nights, the Disney Dream for four nights, and, most recently, the Disney Fantasy for seven nights. The most obvious difference is having ample time to explore all the activities on the ship. For a guest like me who wants to see and do everything, that means a more relaxing vacation, knowing that rushing isn't necessary.

Dining

Having seven nights for dinner means that each guest can dine in the three main restaurants -- Royal Court, Animator's Palate and Enchanted Garden -- twice and one restaurant three times. The menu, and the entertainment, will not be the same on each visit, though. Pirates In the Caribbean typically is celebrated on the fourth night of the cruise and it has its own menu that is offered in every restaurant. Without giving too much away, you definitely don't want to miss your second night in Animator's Palate because the dinner show is amazing. Plus, there is a formal night for those who want to dress up on longer Disney cruises.

With so many nights, adults also can choose to dine at Palo or Remy for an additional charge and not miss out on the other experiences with their families. These restaurants offer fine Italian and French food, respectively, and an adult-only, more formal atmosphere. We enjoyed dinner at Palo on the Dream and the Fantasy, and it was a great change of pace for everyone.

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On longer cruises, brunch also is offered at Palo. I was told that was an experience not to be missed, so we made reservations for the second sea day. The menu was delightful, offering guests egg specialties and pizzas cooked to order, a table of pastries, seafood -- including crab legs that were already cracked and shrimp that was already peeled, and other delicacies. Our party didn't even make it to the desserts!

Shows

In the past, my family and I did not want to miss any of the evening productions, so we rushed to one each night. On the Fantasy, like the other ships, there are three original Broadway-style shows, and the other nights feature entertainers and a movie. We chose to attend the performances and skip the rest. Instead, we spent more time at the pool and checked out family activities in the D Lounge, such as a family game show and Bingo. I definitely recommend making time to visit D Lounge if you have elementary-school-age children.

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Characters

On other cruises, my children have only been moderately interested in photos with the Disney characters. And that was fine with me. Because we live in Orlando and are fortunate to have Walt Disney World annual passes, I viewed the collection of autographs as something best done at home when our schedule wasn't so jam-packed.

This time, however, I made each of the four children in our group a cruise journal and they surprised me with how intent they were on completing the pages and filling others with character autographs. It became a weeklong quest for them to meet all the characters. Even my 10-year-old son and his male cousin wanted to meet the Disney princesses so they could have a "complete set" of autographs.

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Captain Tom Forberg autographs my son's model ship.

Kids clubs

Sailing for week onboard the Disney Fantasy definitely gave my children more time to enjoy the programming and freestyle activities in the children's clubs. We allowed them to check themselves in and out of the clubs, which worked out well. They scanned the navigator for activities that appealed to them and then got themselves there on time. The boys were especially excited about GAGA ball on this trip. My daughter made so many crafts that we have a whole shelf at home displaying her work.

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Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

My eight-year-old daughter loves visiting the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Walt Disney World, so it came as no surprise to me that she'd want to at least check out the salon that does princess makeovers on the Disney Fantasy. This sea location offers the same packages as the ones on land, but there are also several exclusive looks, too.

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The Under the Sea makeover captured my daughter's interest, mainly because instead of a princess gown, the girl can choose an Ariel style two-piece swimsuit with mermaid tail cover-up. The transformation also includes colored sun-block application, a Del Sol Floral Clip, a necklace and nail polish for $99.95. We opted to purchase the swimsuit and cover-up in the gift shop for about $50.

Disney cruise vacations of any length certainly offer their passengers a plethora of choices, but the Disney Fantasy seems to go above and beyond. What experiences have YOU found to be the most worthwhile about Disney Cruise Line's newest ship?


December 13, 2012

Disney Fantasy's newest port of call: Puerto Rico

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For Disney guests who book a magical cruise, the island of enchantment now awaits.

Disney Cruise Line recently added a new port of call on the Disney Fantasy's Eastern Caribbean itinerary: San Juan, Puerto Rico. And the cruise line offers passengers a wide range of opportunities to explore the island through its 26 shore excursions.

Last week, I was among the guests exiting the ship and stepping into the rich history of the U.S. commonwealth. For me, it even was a homecoming of sorts because I lived on the island when I was in elementary school and hadn't been back to visit in more than 20 years.

Although my family chose to visit our favorite places on our own, I can tell you that Disney Cruise Line's offerings will give guests a true taste of the Puerto Rican culture. What and how you experience it depends on your selections.

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There are typical Caribbean outings such as a beach day in Isla Verde, snorkeling from a catamaran or scuba diving. My family always enjoys these types of excursions, but I think choosing them in Puerto Rico is almost doing yourself a disservice when there are so many unique experiences to be enjoyed.

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The Disney Fantasy docks in historic Old San Juan, and this part of the capital is marked by narrow brick streets with many artisans' shops, authentic Spanish and Caribbean restaurants, piraqua (shaved ice) vendors in parks, and two of the oldest Spanish forts in the Caribbean. Passengers from many cruise ships wander this area without guides, and it generally is considered safe for tourists.

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Still, Disney Cruise Line offers walking and bicycle tours and shuttle excursions of Old San Juan, too. Some include the exploration of San Cristobal fortress, and one allows passengers a hands-on cooking demonstration and lunch.

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Another wonderful place in Puerto Rico to explore is its tropical rainforest, El Yunque, which is part of the United States National Forest System. Disney Cruise Line offers port adventures for hiking, horseback riding and ATV exploration of El Yunque. These excursions begin with a 75-minute ride from the port to the rainforest. Once you arrive, be on the lookout for waterfalls and listen for the persistent sounds from coquis, Puerto Rico's native frogs.

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Passengers who enjoy active adventures also can experience the natural beauty of Puerto Rico from a kayak or zipline. A less strenuous taste of the island can be enjoyed with a tour of Puerto Rico's famous Bacardi rum distillery, the largest in the world.

Finally, Disney Cruise Line offers its passengers the opportunity to create their own customized itinerary for the day by choosing a private car and English-speaking driver for 4 or 8 hours. (Spanish and English are official languages of Puerto Rico, and English is spoken in all major tourist areas.)

The Disney Fantasy is scheduled to stop in San Juan on select Eastern Caribbean sailings through April 2013.


December 11, 2012

Sailing aboard the Disney Fantasy during its first holiday season

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There’s little doubt that sailing on the Disney Fantasy during its inaugural year is a memorable experience for most, but I recently discovered the holidays make it even more special.

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As soon as passengers enter the terminal at Port Canaveral, they will notice that the cruise line already has decorated for the season with a Christmas tree, wreaths and large ornaments.

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Once they board, the decorations are beautifully themed to each area of the ship. The lobby is elegant, with its giant tree and bountiful garlands. Other trees are whimsically designed to coordinate with their location. For example, the tree outside Animator's Palate has miniature paint palates. Cast members onboard the ship are even wearing red-and-white winter scarves as they greet the guests.

In addition to the decor, Cruise Director Brent has many holiday-themed activities planned for those who are interested.

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King Triton's Tree Lighting

On the first night of each cruise in December, the three-deck-tall Christmas tree in the grand lobby is the star of "King Triton's Tree Lighting" ceremony. We were fortunate to see the first such performance on the Fantasy on Dec. 1. A child is chosen from the audience to help MIckey Mouse and Minnie Mouse use the powers of the sea to bring the tree to life. Other children were selected to help throw confetti from the deck above the ceremony.

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The tree lighting is a short ceremony that takes place on Deck 3 and the grand staircase. Passengers can gather in the lobby or along the railings on Decks 4 and 5 to view the festivities.

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Tip: Arrive a little early for a good viewing spot and the possibility of your child being chosen to help with confetti.

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Gingerbread houses

It's impossible to miss the giant gingerbread house that has been constructed in the lobby on Deck 3. It smells delicious, and the sweet details are exquisite. Apparently, it's also a little too much temptation for some of the younger passengers who attempt to sneak a taste. A cast member told me that they have to make repairs about twice per week during the holiday season.

Guests ARE encouraged, however, to eat the gingerbread houses they make during a special session held in Animator's Palate. In part, that's because passengers cannot take such food items off the ship when they return to port.

To participate, guests must sign up for the traditional holiday activity held on one sea day during each cruise. Building the miniature treats was so popular on our cruise that the staff added multiple sessions as they filled up. The activity is limited to one gingerbread kit per stateroom, though the number of people working together is not restricted.

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In Animator's Palate, a chef walked all the budding architects through the process of constructing the house, and his instructions were shown on the video screens throughout the restaurant. My 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter and their cousins were able to follow along with just a little help from the adults in our group.

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Then, they were encouraged to decorate and sample their creations. With the exception of a few missing gumdrops, our gingerbread houses made it back to our staterooms intact and we enjoyed them for the remainder of the cruise.

Tips: Be sure to sign up as soon as possible if you're interested in participating in this activity. Also, many guests thought of creative ways to incorporate hidden Mickeys, so put on those thinking caps.

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Deck the Deck Tropical Holiday Party

On a port day, passengers were invited to a Deck the Deck Tropical Holiday Party on Decks 11 and 12 -- the pool and recreation areas near Donald's family pool.

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During this late-afternoon event, the characters appear on stage decked out in their holiday attire and they interact with selected children. The party kicks off with Chip and Dale hosting a limbo competition and continues with hula-hooping with Goofy and Pluto, a pass the coconut game with Lilo and Stitch, and dancing with Mickey and Minnie.

Unfortunately, our show was cut a little short by rain, so I'm not sure if there was more to come. I suspect there was.

Tip: If your child is not shy and would like to participate on stage, plan to be on Deck 11 at least 15 or 20 minutes before the party starts. Cast members will ask for young volunteers. They only can take 20 children, so once that number is reached, there is no wiggle room for more. (My son was in the Arr-cade when my daughter was chosen for the show, and he was disappointed to find out he couldn't join his sister in the party when he returned to our deck chairs.)

Castaway Cay

Although there weren't holiday activities per se on Castaway Cay, there is a nice photo opportunity on the pier for families wanting to capture a Christmas or winter image.

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On another note: Participants in the Castaway 5K are again receiving medals for completing the island race. There was a period in which paper certificates were being awarded instead of medals and many guests were upset about this. The medals are a nice holiday surprise for participants, no doubt.

For a look at Disney Cruise Line's exclusive holiday merchandise, please see my previous blog, and stay tuned for more details from my Disney Fantasy voyage.

December 4, 2012

Sailing away on the Disney Fantasy this week

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While many of you are enjoying New Fantasyland, I'll be living my own fantasy aboard Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, the Disney Fantasy. I'm taking a break a break from blogging this week, but will be back next week with all the holiday happenings.

November 6, 2012

Disney Cruise Line's holiday season begins in just 2 weeks

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It's difficult to believe that Disney Cruise Line could pack any more magic into its sailings, but it happens during the holiday season, which begins in less than two weeks with Thanksgiving week cruises.

Passengers who will be giving thanks at sea can enjoy traditional activities, if they choose. A bountiful Thanksgiving Day feast will be served in the dining rooms, and Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and their friends will be dressed in their Thanksgiving finest. Football games will be broadcast live on the ships’ outdoor jumbo LED screen, Funnel Vision, located near family pool on each ship.

Those cruises set sail:

** Nov. 17 -- Disney Magic, a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise
** Nov. 17 -- Disney Fantasy, a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise
** Nov. 18 -- Disney Wonder, a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise
** Nov. 21 -- Disney Dream, a four-night Bahamian cruise

I'm paying just a little more attention to the cruise activities this Christmas because I'll be onboard the Disney Fantasy in December, during its inaugural holiday season. I'm really excited about seeing the ship all decked out! (Photos included in this blog are from Jason of disneygeek.com He sailed on the Disney Dream during its first holiday season last year. With the Fantasy being its sister ship, I would expect many of the same types of decorations.)

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Did you know there are more than 300 custom-designed holiday decor pieces on each ship? For the Fantasy, that means 39 Christmas trees, ranging from 2 to 20 feet. The tallest is the centerpiece in the atrium lobby that sparkles with more than 20,000 white LED lights. There are 27 Christmas wreaths onboard Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, including some up to 5 feet in diameter.

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You think garland is a pain to hang? Try putting up 931 feet of it on the Fantasy! That's almost enough greenery to stretch stem to stern.

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Of course, Disney Cruise Lines' decorations are themed to each room, much like guests do in their own homes. There are bright colors in the kids' clubs, holographic foliage for the teen and tween spaces, and elegant accents for the adult areas. Customized ornaments include a paint brush and palette in Animator’s Palate, Mr. Potato Head in Oceaneer Club and colorful tropical fish in Cabanas.

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Guests sailing on Disney Cruise Line ships in December can experience many Christmas activities, including two special celebrations in the atrium lobby. “King Triton’s Tree Lighting” takes place the first night of each cruise. Guests onboard the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder will have a holiday edition of the character farewell, “Til We Meet Again.”

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Throughout the cruise, families can take part in holiday crafts, such as decorating stockings, building gingerbread houses, making holiday cards and creating holiday animation cells. Plus, there are storytellers sharing tales of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. There's even a special story about celebrating the holidays on a ship.

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Holiday favorites will be served in the restaurants, too.

The holiday spirit even extends to Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. Guests will be greeted by “snow flurries,” holiday carolers, and Christmas trees. Kids can participate in holiday-themed activities and crafts.

On Christmas morning, Santa Claus and his elves will have surprises for all the kids, along with cookies and milk, the ships' lobbies.

Christmas and Hanukkah services will be held on the ships.

Voyages that include New Year's Eve will have a special party to ring in 2013, and guests will receive sparkling wine in commemorative flutes.

To see a preview of Disney Cruise Line's first holiday merchandise line that will only be available on ships, please read my previous blog post.

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About Disney Fantasy

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Disney Fantasy category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Castaway Cay is the previous category.

Halloween on the High Seas is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.