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Disney cruise is for kids of all ages

September 5, 2014

It’s noon, an unlikely time for a dance, but I have turned up because my grandson said this was where we had to be. When the music begins, characters in costumes appear and we are swept on to the floor.

A moment later I realize I am dancing with Goofy.

It is none other.

Looking back, it was one of many crazy, fun-filled activities on the Disney Fantasy, a ship designed to bring the kid out on everyone. It is the newest of four, a whopping 130,000 tons and with a capacity of 4000, plus 1450 cast and crew members.
But this is not big ship brash, nothing like many of the mega-ships cluttering up the Med. This is a beauty, a quality ship with grand decor recalling 1930s nautical elegance.

Of course it’s not just for the kids. It’s for the whole family, grandparents included, who are often the ones picking up the bill. Disney calls it multi-generational travel,

On the beach at Castaway Cay

On the beach at Castaway Cay

and it is a wonderful way to get all the family together, quite often at Orlando, Florida.
This is the location of Disneyworld (Disneyland is in California), home to the Magic Kingdom – and three cracking golf courses, for many years home to an annual PGA event.

Smart travelers will gather here, then take a private shuttle to nearby Port Canaveral on the coast to board the vessels. We did a seven-day Caribbean cruise taking in San Juan, St Thomas and Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay.
It all starts with the captain blowing the ship’s whistle, which rather than the usual deep grunt, plays “When you wish upon a star.” That brings a smile to everyone’s face; Disney’s magic spell has been cast.

Disney Fantasy is an amazing ship with something for everyone, Of course the main thing is giving the kids the time of their lives, and boy does it do a good job.

First and foremost are the characters — Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and the gang are all over the ship, with scheduled 
appearances for close-up contact and photographs. Nor do you have to make appointments — you just show up with the kids, whose reaction is total awe. It has to be seen to be believed.

So has the top of the ship, deck 12. This is an outdoor paradise of water and fun, starting with the AquaDuck, an exciting, transparent tube water coaster that transports occupants on an exhilarating journey off the side of the ship, through the forward funnel and down four decks into a splash landing.

Nearby are water play areas with pop jets, geysers and bubblers, the kind of place with water everywhere for little kids to run around safely, and do it all day! There’s a main pool, a children’s pool, and believe it or not, an adults only pool located in an area that is off limits to kids. All kids who enter are taken below, flogged and sold as slaves. Just joking.
Fact is the kids have everything laid on, starting with a nursery providing care for little ones three months to three years.
Then there’s the Oceaneer Club, a children’s activity centre where younger kids dress up as their favorite princess or hero, play computer games and enjoy a vast array of supervised themed activities.

Anyone for the Muppets’ Adventure Game? Or hang out at the Edge, a tweens-exclusive space, a hip hotspot where kids ages 11 through 14 can watch television, listen to music, play videogames, surf the Internet, partake in various activities and make new friends.

The Vibe is for older teens, plus the D Lounge where kids and their parents can have fun.

With all that going on, hunger sets in, and Disney Fantasy has a novel approach to dining. Each family is assigned to one of three themed dining rooms each night, and they move from one to the other with the same seating arrangements and the same waiters. So need to tell your server a second time that young Johnny does not like onions.

If parents want a break they have the choice of an Italian or a French restaurant that are off limits to kids. And Disney is good at keeping its word, not like Club Med where I have seen shock and outrage at a stroller taken into a supposedly adults only restaurant. An over-reaction? Not really when you consider that many of the others had paid steeply for baby sitters to get a kid-free evening.

Disney does everything very professionally, and that goes for the shows on board, as good as you will see anywhere on shore.

The Walt Disney Theatre takes one’s breath away, a lavish live-performance venue that recalls the grandeur of the dashing theatre palaces of yesteryear, providing a dramatic setting for original, Broadway-style Disney live shows, as well as first-run and digital 3-D films.

Then there’s the Buena Vista Theatre, a chic cinema that screens first-run movies and digital 3-D films, and features plush stadium-style seats, a giant movie screen and advanced projection with Dolby sound.

Adults can drift from an Irish pub to the Tube disco, which has an illuminated Union Jack on the floor, to the Ooh La La lounge and night club.

For the morning after there’s the spa, a gym and Goofy’s Sports Centre, which has virtual sports such as golf.

That’s what was on our minds as we docked at St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Known as a duty-free shopping haven, it also has good beaches – and a wonderful golf course, Mahogany Run. Delightfully challenging and scenic, Mahogany Run is rightly famous for its Devil’s Triangle which includes a par-3 high over a rocky inlet.

Clubs and shoes can be rented, and well-prepared visitors bring a dozen experienced golf balls to deal with the water hazards.

That was a great day, but more was to come — Castaway Cay. Disney’s private island is the kind of place pirates of old would have hidden away, but I doubt if all their pieces of eight would have bought the infrastructure Disney has built in here. First there is a big dock, then there are roads, a transport system, and 20 cabanas. You have to book and pay for the cabanas, but my advice is not to hesitate.

Cabanas are at the water’s edge, they provide shelter from the sun, a place for kids (and seniors) to nap, and drinks can be ordered to complement the delicious buffet enjoyed by all passengers.

Castaway Cay has a series of walking paths and biking trails, and it is also possible to participate in a hands-on training experience with sting rays during a 60-minute, instructor-led session.

San Juan is one of the Caribbean’s better ports of call. Columbus landed here on his second voyage and it became the Spaniards’ base for further exploration. It has a fine natural harbor and a mighty citadel, which fought off many a pirate including Sir Francis Drake.

These days its cobbled streets (the stones shipped as ballast from Spain to be replaced with gold, it was hoped, for the return voyage) lead tourists through pleasant streets not unlike the old town of Marbella.

Then back to Disney Fantasy, and Goofy and the guys, ready to set off again with “When you wish upon a star” on the whistle. Want to be a kid again? Take this cruise.

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