This overview of the Disney Fantasy is brought to you by Amy Whitley, who writes about travel with her three school-age sons at her blog Pit Stops for Kids. It originally appeared on Expedia in April 2012.

Generally my family and I gravitate toward adventure travel, outdoor travel, and cultural travel. Because we don’t like crowds and strive to be in control of our itinerary and stops, we’d never tried a cruise. We do enjoy Disney theme parks, however, so the question was, would we like a Disney cruise? Expedia sent us on the newest ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the Disney Fantasy, where we learned just how fun and (are you listening, parents?) completely carefree a Disney cruise could be.

My kids are school-aged at 12, 10, and 7, which most cruisers we met agreed were the perfect ages to experience all the ship and our port of call had to offer. We spent three and a half busy days running port to stern (or port to aft?…I never did get that straight) trying to experience it all. We failed: despite being some of the most active people you’d ever meet, we simply couldn’t do it all on this mega-ship. But that just means we’ll have to go back, right? 

Embarkation on the Disney Fantasy

As complete cruising novices, we were unsure what to imagine at Port Canaveral. Would boarding the Fantasy feel like waiting in an airline terminal? Would we have all the paperwork we needed? What would we do with our luggage? This was the first of many instances in which we’d experience firsthand what Disney likes to call the “Disney Difference.”

Viewfinder Tip: Pack your swimsuits in your carry-on bag, in case it takes a while for your luggage to be delivered to your stateroom after embarkation. Chances are, your children will want to hop in one of the ship’s pools!

Upon being picked up in a Disney Cruise Line bus at our pre-cruise resort in Orlando on Monday morning, we handed over our luggage, and didn’t have to deal with it again until it appeared in our stateroom. In fact, because we used Magical Express (free with a pre- or post-cruise stay at a Disney World resort), we didn’t have to worry about transporting our bags or ourselves from the moment we stepped off our plane. The port terminal was a little chaotic, but if Disney’s mastered anything, it’s crowd control. We found ourselves walking through the Mickey ear gangplank tunnel with very little fuss.

A few tips to make the embarkation process even more worry-free:

 

1. Fill out all your pre-cruise paperwork online. It will be available to you on the Disney Cruise Line site as soon as you’ve made your reservation. Excursion, spa appointments, and specialty dining reservations will be available pre-cruise, too: if you want one, be sure to snag it early online!

2. Make sure you’ve brought the ID and proof of citizenship you need. For U.S. residents, that means a photo ID (a passport is highly recommended) for all adults, and birth certificates for all kids under 18. They really, really, really won’t let you board without it!

3. If you have kids ages 3 to 10, register them for the kids’ clubs online, then get their wristbands activated at the desk at the terminal. Then there’s no need to check in at the Oceaneer’s Club or Lab upon embarking; they’ll be good to go!

4. Place a credit card on file for charging purposes, then put your wallet away. You won’t need it until you disembark. (Good luck even trying to pay for extras with anything other than your Key to the World card!)

Once onboard, we were directed toward lunch downstairs in the Enchanted Garden. I’m really glad I listened to veteran advice and declined the busy dining room in favor of exploring the upper decks. Next to the pool on Deck 11, Cabanas buffet is also open, and much less crowded. Plus, we could eat lunch with a nice view of the sea. 

I was also glad I packed our swimsuits in our carry-on bag, because everyone wanted to swim after lunch, and our stateroom wasn’t ready until 1:30. By the time we’d tried out the Mickey Pool (shallow and warm), the Donald Pool (deeper and colder), and the hot tubs (just right!), it was past 2 p.m., and we walked down a floor to check out our room. (When you can, take the stairs. The elevators get crowded and wait times are long!) 

Staterooms on the Disney Fantasy

We’re pretty savvy travelers, hardly newbies to hotel rooms, but stateroom categories are confusing! We were assigned a Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah, which is a Category 4 and sleeps 4 to 5 guests. Families can save a bundle by opting out of a verandah, but I’ve got to say, it was awesome to have one. Still, Disney makes even inside staterooms fun, with ‘magical portholes’ showing real-time ocean views. Our deluxe family stateroom included a queen bed, convertible couch single bed, upper berth pull-down bed, and wall pull-down bed. Even with all the beds open, it truly didn’t feel cramped. Best of all, Disney Cruise Line features split bathrooms, in which families get a sink and shower in one bathroom, and a sink and toilet in the other. Oh, and the shower converts to a bathtub, which is golden for families with young kids.

Muster Drill on the Disney Fantasy

Before our Fantasy voyage could depart at 5 p.m., every guest was required to take part in the muster drill. (Think of a fire drill at school, and then double the people and add a lot of Mickey ears.) It really wasn’t too bad: you just walk to your appointed muster station on Deck 4 (where the big yellow lifeboats are stowed), line up, listen to a short spiel on safety procedures, then let a cast member swipe your Key to the World card. We were in and out in about 15 minutes.

Learning the ropes aboard the Disney Fantasy

Our first afternoon and evening onboard, we walked in a few circles, hunted for the light switch for 10 minutes until we remembered someone’s key card has to be placed in the appointed slot by the door to activate the lights, and were late to dinner because Toby, age 7, was distracted by every character who ambled by (be sure to leave 15 minutes early so you’re not rushed!).

We’re annoying health nuts, so the constant availability of food and beverages on the ship truly took some getting used to. I was subjected to a chorus of “can I have…” from the kids until we set some ground rules (which I gave up on by Day 3). If your kids drink a lot of water (and really, everyone should, as it’s easy to get dehydrated on the ship), bring water bottles to refill at the drink stations. And remember that while water and soda are included (an industry first), your card will be charged for all alcohol.

Lastly, this ship is a beast and once on open sea, we couldn’t feel it moving at all. But as it departed from (and returned to) Port Canaveral, we could feel it rolling a bit. Since my ten-year-old is prone to airsickness and carsickness, we didn’t take any chances with seasickness. He wore a SeaBand and had no problems (even as we rocked out to sea right at dinner time).

What are your tips for cruising with Disney?