Our cruise history is fairly repetitive. We did Alaska once, and it was borderline life-changing, but otherwise we've got a long series of round-trips to the Bahamas and do mostly the same things in different combinations of days at sea and stops in Nassau and Castaway Cay, ranging three to five nights. It's harder to take Simon out of school now at this stage, so vacations often have to be tied to his time off. Against my better judgment, in terms of cost, we decided to finally do something cool for a New Year celebration, and booked seven nights to the Virgin Islands aboard the Fantasy, the only of the four Disney ships we had not been on.
Let me get that pricing thing out of the way. I fully understand there being a premium on those fares, because of the holiday, but it was annoying that at no time did they disclose that there was a blackout against the usual 10% off that you get for booking a placeholder reservation while aboard a prior cruise. We've enjoyed that discount on every cruise other than the first two. Fortunately, they did at least honor the onboard credit, which is $200 for a 7-night cruise. Still, I can only imagine the margins that they enjoyed on this cruise, which was more than twice what we paid for seven nights in Alaska in 2016. I can say that while we had a good time, felt very taken care of and can now say we did a New Year's cruise, we will never do it again. It's not worth it.
The Disney Fantasy is the newest of the four ships, and debuted about a year after the Dream, which is the ship we've spent the most time on. It's strange because most of the ship is exactly the same, to the point where if you were kidnapped and dropped on the ship, you'd never know the difference in many areas. The style of the Dream is art deco, while the Fantasy is art nouveau. I have trouble telling the difference, but the latter feels "softer" in terms of lines, and in this case the color palette feels more gentle. The lobby atrium is beautiful and invokes peacock colors. It's far more attractive than the Dream to me. Beyond that, the night clubs are very different, but it's a mixed bag as to whether they're better themes or not.
After departing Canaveral on Saturday, we enjoyed two days at sea, really hauling ass at 18 to 20 knots. The motion was really pleasant, especially when sleeping. At-sea time is some of my favorite times, because of the glorious disconnection and a wonderfully slow pace with no urgency around much of anything. I saw three movies total (Mary Poppins Returns, Ralph Breaks The Internet and Ant Man and The Wasp). Simon autonomously enjoyed the Midship Detective Agency game (a scavenger hunt around the ship using QR cards and "paintings" around the ship).
We had two alcohol tastings. The first was a rum tasting session, because hey, we were in the Caribbean. I now know what 12-year-old rum tastes like, and it's pretty damn good. Sipping drinks is not something I've ever taken a particular interest in, but I do appreciate the craft and the aging process. Rum is probably my favorite kind of liquor because it's really versatile. I used to hate on Malibu in particular, but it's such a great, easy-drinking rum to mix with a hundred different awesome things. The second tasting was actually a mixology class. I wasn't as fond of this bartender's lineup as much as the one we did last summer, but I did learn some things.
The shows on the Fantasy were mostly new to us, though Believe is familiar territory. The other two shows were solid and at the very least entertaining, with Aladdin being the signature show for this ship. It was more of a "spectacular," and their genie was right out of Believe. This was a very strong cast overall though, one of the best that we've seen. However, among the big shows, Tangled on the Magic is easily the best, with a close second to Frozen on the Wonder. I continue to be annoyed that Disney does not in any way recognize their actors or stage managers at people, not just on the ships but also the bigger shows in the theme parks. I think that's lame. Even the Cedar Fair parks put their names up outside the venues. I don't know if they're worried about spoiling some kind of "magic" or some other bullshit, but it's lame.
The second night at sea was New Year's Eve, and I have to hand it to Disney, they throw a pretty good party. The dining staff roamed the decks with trays of fancy finger foods in the hours leading up to midnight, and despite hard selling champagne packages the prior two days, they made very sure that everyone had a drink in their hand, including kids with sparkling apple juice, in the last hour of the countdown. It was relatively inexpensive prosecco, but I know I'm not that picky. For about 2,000 people hanging out drinking, it was a surprisingly family friendly environment, without feeling lame. Of course you could have stayed in the adult areas if you wanted to, but they had a pair of pretty solid DJ's. Simon was right up front, in the pit. They had "fireworks," but of course, the bar is impossibly high living next door to Magic Kingdom. People were into it.
The first stop was in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We did not book any shore excursions in advance, figuring we would just wing it. Unfortunately, I see why after the hurricanes last year Disney stopped sailing there entirely. It's in pretty bad shape. There's really nothing to do in town, and buildings are in dire need of repair, there are literally dumpsters sitting on the waterfront. I didn't feel unsafe, but was happy to return to the ship. There's a desperate hustle just off the pier to get people on to sketchy transportation to go see stuff around the island. I initially considered ferrying over to the adjacent island to see "the baths," a bunch of interesting rock formations off shore that you could walk through, but when I saw the ferries, I was glad we didn't.
The next stop was at St. Thomas, which was in much better shape and frankly like any coastal Florida town, only with people driving on the wrong side of the road. The list of things to do there is huge and overwhelming, and I think if it was just Diana and I we would have been more ambitious. Instead, all we really did is a tram ride up the side of the mountain, knowing this would make Simon's day. Fortunately, and not surprising given that it's a US territory, there was a Payless a block from the pier, where I was able to replace my broken flip-flops for $4.
From St. Thomas, we actually got close enough to Puerto Rico to hit their cell phone towers, and I would very much like to visit that island someday. We spent another day at sea, which included a number of opportunities to hear Suzy and Alex, a lovely British duo that was performing a range of music, but specifically some alt rock tunes that probably no one else in the bar knew. That was very cool.
The last day was at our beloved Castaway Cay, home of the best beach day ever. This one did not disappoint. The ship arrived about an hour later than the usual Bahama itineraries, so we weren't ashore until about 9:45. We parked at our usual spot, opened some drinks and enjoyed ourselves. The last time we did a winter cruise I couldn't even get in the water, because it was too cold, but this time I sucked it up and just ran into it. Problem solved! It was definitely cold though. Before lunch we walked as a family out to the observation tower, which wasn't a great idea because chafing when we were all wet. There were still a few walkers left on the 5K as we went out. It wasn't very sunny that day, so it was mercifully not too hot. One of these days I want to rent bikes. After lunch, Simon checked into Scuttle's Cove, while we plopped down at Conched Out, the bar near Cookies One and our usual beach chairs. Such a beautiful place with fantastic service all around.
That night unfortunately was the start of Diana's stomach flu, making for a very uncomfortable night and worse morning. It was a crappy way to end the cruise (no pun intended), and Simon and I suffered the same issues the next week.
As I said, we had a great time, but I'll never spend that much to cruise to the tropics again. It's not worth it. I could quite literally lap Alaska twice on the Wonder next summer, or do two weeks around the British Isles and into Scandinavia on the Magic. I think the fact that Tortola was so shitty was the biggest factor, and I wonder if replacing it with San Juan or something would be better. I know we were largely paying for the holiday, and I accept that, but it's not going to be a repeat trip.