Seven Days of Bliss

One week ago yesterday we returned from a seven day sailing aboard Norwegian’s newest ship, the Bliss. This sailing was the National Conference for our organization, and like last year’s voyage on the Harmony of the Seas, I don’t feel like we can accurately review everything about the ship since we were in sessions during the day and cocktail parties at night, as those kept us from experiencing some of the normal things you get to on a regular non-work sailing, but I certainly want to recount the things we did experience.

Before we get there, let’s talk about the itinerary. We were originally set to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas, but mother nature had other ideas. Hours in to our sailing, while we were attending our first cocktail party on the evening we departed, the captain came over the PA to let everyone know that the storms closing in on our target area meant a complete change of schedule. To avoid the area and keep the ship and passengers safe, our stops were now San Francisco, San Diego, and Ensenada. Here’s my post of the itinerary change, along with a shot from NOAA of what the storms looked like at the time:

This is the first time we’ve experienced an itinerary change first-hand, so as agents it was good to see for ourselves how things played out. I completely empathize with those who were upset that the warm beach vacation they expected was gone, and that we were headed for a first stop where the high would be in the 60s, I really do, but I thank Norwegian for keeping us safe. The storm was not of their making obviously, and with limited options for ports, they gave us the best choices available. I know there are still people who are upset over this, mad at the line, etc, but personally I’m satisfied with the way they handled it. I understand if people are upset that there was no indication before boarding that Norwegian was even considering a change, but frankly, they had little time to evaluate the situation. Willa formed early on the morning of our departure, so direction, timing and future strength were pretty uncertain, and Vicente hadn’t formed much earlier (the day before) and was a lot further south. Most of us would have been on our way or at the port by the time either of these really became a threat to our itinerary, so an early warning to passengers when it was pretty uncertain whether either would impact us would have been an impossible call, and one I don’t envy them having to make. In my eyes, Norwegian did the right thing, and while they weren’t the stops anyone anticipated, they still gave us ports to go off and have fun in without the threat of sailing into heavy storms. I’m not here making excuses for Norwegian, I’m stating fact. They made the call, and we as passengers could either be upset and let it negatively impact our week, or we could accept it and choose to have fun. We chose the latter. Jen and I actually got a good laugh out of the change, as we’d been in San Francisco on vacation the month before, and had spent the 3 days leading up to the cruise in San Diego visiting our daughter, and would spend the 3 days after the cruise back there doing the same.

The itinerary change aside, we still had work to do. Our headquarters team did an amazing job getting everything rescheduled so that most (if not all) of our sessions were still held, in some cases at different times or on different days. I’m sure none of that is of interest to those reading this, so I’ll get moving on an actual review of the Bliss.

First up, the ship! The design is similar to the Escape (which we sailed 3 years ago), and as such, is just as beautiful. Even though it’s part of the same Breakaway-Plus class Escape is, the Bliss fixed a number of the things I took issue with on the Escape, as listed in that older post. Examples:

  • Movement of the ship was so much better. Maybe something was wrong with the stabilizers when we sailed Escape, but as mentioned in that review, movement/rocking in even calm seas was noticeable. In less than perfect seas, it was negatively impacting me, and I never get seasick. I was really happy to see the Bliss had no more movement than any other large ship we’ve been on.
  • I never felt like there was a lack of bar staff, as most of the time I was able to walk up and get a mudslide whenever I wanted without much of a wait, if any.
  • Margaritaville never had the waits we saw on the Escape when I walked by, or the day we ate there. Granted, when we were on the Escape it was free, which changed shortly after that sailing. I’ll talk more about the charge and experience in my restaurant post coming up after this one.
  • I was probably a little harsh on the main theater last time, but on the Bliss, I really had no issues with it. Good sight lines all around, and while the cup holders are still small (and I assume still don’t fit the soda cups), they fit everything else we threw at it; bar glasses, plastic bar cups, etc.
  • Outside space, especially around the main pool, is more plentiful. Here are comparison of shots I took of the main pool area on the Escape and Bliss to illustrate what I mean (Escape on the left):

My number one complaint from last time, the smell of smoke in the atrium due to the casino allowing smoking in an open area, has mostly been addressed, too, and I couldn’t be happier to see it. Did I still smell smoke? Yes, but only on the floor the casino was on, and nowhere near as bad as on the Escape. How has Norwegian accomplished this? By putting smoking gamblers in a box, literally. As mentioned on Norwegian’s blog, those who wish to smoke while gambling must do so in a separate room, complete with more than 100 machines and 6 table games. Some of that smell has made it out, but it’s far better and much more contained than it was on the Escape. Kudos, Norwegian!

Let’s move on to our cabin. Much like last time, we went with a standard balcony cabin, this time on deck 11 (11732, specifically). It was a pretty standard room with plenty of space to move around, and ample storage. Honestly, neither of us have anything negative to say about our cabin. Take a 360 degree look around both the room and balcony:


Now before we get to the fun stuff, like go-karts and water slides, let’s talk about the staff. I’m sure they were told that there were going to be a thousand travel agents, along with executives from NCL and other lines onboard, but even so, they were awesome all week. Again, we didn’t get to interact with them as much as we would normally, but when we did, we always got smiles, a “how’s your day”, and all out good attitudes from them. I walked around one my own a bit without anything identifying that I was part of the group, and there was no change in attitude. Additional little things, like the always-happy attitude on the guys at the buffet doors ensuring people were sanitizing (the “washy washy” guys) and the girls walking around Taste and Savor at breakfast handing out additional little treats while brightening your day with a song were awesome touches. If you were on the ship and don’t know what I’m referring to, you missed out! Fortunately, some friends of ours managed to get it on video!

Really, the only crew issue I encoutered was at Margaritaville, but we’ll talk about that in my upcoming food post.

Next up on page 2, the good stuff; go-karts, waterslides, and shows!

Vilamendhoo Resort – Paradise Found

As I mentioned at the start of our Dubai post, deciding on a destination for this trip was a painstakingly long effort, one that we didn’t finalize until early April. Once we decided on the Maldives, narrowing down our resort selection took a while too, with Jen spending a decent amount of time talking to various vendors. Our goals we simple, we wanted and over water bungalow at a resort that offered an all-inclusive package and the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. That’s not too much to ask for, right ;-)?

Being focused on the first two requirements, we narrowed our choices down to Kuredu and Conrad, but the Conrad didn’t offer all-inclusive packages. One down. Contacting Kuredu, she was informed that they didn’t have whale shark excursions, recommending instead that we look at one of their sister resorts, Vilamendhoo, as they were closer to the area whale sharks frequent. In talking to them, we learned that in addition to offering an all-inclusive plan, they offered excursions throughout the week that would give us the chance to see and swim with whale sharks, among other sea life. After a little research on our own, with fairly glowing reviews, we booked! This post will cover the resort arrival, facilities, activities, and rooms we stayed in. You may want to keep their site map open in another window as a reference, it definitely helps put things in context:

https://www.vilamendhoo.com/overview-map

Here’s a shot I took of the map, too:

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Getting to Vilamendhoo from Malé, as with many of the resorts in Maldives, means taking a short floatplane ride, in our case around 30 minutes. We were pretty excited about this, it was the first time any of us had flown in one. One caveat going in, your checked and carry-on luggage is limited to lighter weights than a typical plane ride, with the one checked bag each person is allowed being limited to 44lbs and the carry-on no more than 11lbs. Anything over that incurred a fee before you could get your ticket for the float plane. We knew this ahead of time, and with my suitcase and carry on both exceeding those, were prepared when they told us we’d be assessed a $40(USD) fee based on that overage. That’s a one-time fee that covered both directions, as well. We paid that and then were shuttled over to Vilamendhoo’s private lounge near the float plane terminal. We had around a half an hour before boarding, so we relaxed, grabbed some free sodas and got mentally prepared for what was to come.

Once the plane was ready, we headed out to the docks and hopped on the plane. There were two other couples on our flight, so the plane was pretty empty, not that it seats a huge number of people. The ride over was pretty smooth, and gave us some amazing views of the area, as you’ll see in the video linked below. After you land, the plane pulls up to a small floating dock just off the island. We all exited the plane and boarded the boat that was waiting to take us and out luggage (that the resort was fully handling for us) to paradise. We were obviously incredibly excited at this point. Frankly, I don’t know that I’ve ever looked forward to a destination this much before, so I had really high expectations going in. On the ride over, one of the Vilamendhoo staff members welcomed us gave us the rundown on how the check in process would work once we docked.

As soon as the boat hit the dock, we all disembarked and were led to the main guest services building, where they sat us all in different sections of the room. We were then greeted by the guest services staff, given what can only be described as an amazingly delicious fruity drink, and walked through the check-in process.

It was relatively painless, and after a few minutes we were headed out as another staff member led us to the jacuzzi water villa we’d be staying in the first half of our stay. Having booked so late, the over-the-water rooms were only available the first four nights, having already been fully booked during the last four nights of our stay. This meant that we’d have to change rooms, but we’ll get to that later. For now, on to the room! I put together a video showing our journey from Malé to Vilamendhoo, which ends with a walk-through of jacuzzi water villa 318, our home the first four nights. I know it’s a bit long, but I wanted to be sure and capture as much of the experience as possible. That floatplane ride was amazing, something I’ll never forget.

As you saw in the walk-through at the end of the video, it’s a good-sized room situated over the beautiful blue water of the resort. The mini-bar includes a number of sodas, water, wine and beer that are included with the All Inclusive Plus package we were on. Just take your drink, note it on the little sheet above the fridge, and the item gets refilled the next time housekeeping comes. The snacks above the mini-bar are not included, however. The couch was converted into a 3rd bed for Bayley to sleep in, and I’d say we had plenty of room for all of us, including storage space.

The real star of these rooms is obviously the balcony. Sitting over the beautiful lagoon waters, you can lay in one of the two loungers, sit in one of the chairs, or head down the stairs right into the warm waters of Vilamendhoo’s lagoon. We loved every minute of our time in this room, as it’s one of the coolest places we’ve ever stayed, right on par with our night in the Kirkenes Snowhotel in Norway last year. I’ll add that in addition to my walk-through, be sure to check out Vilamendhoo’s video tour of this room type, it was spot on. You don’t always see a company accurately represent a room in a walk-through, but this one hits the mark. In addition to the videos, here’s a 360 shot of the room and the view from the balcony. Once you’re done looking around, move on to page 2, where we look at the Jacuzzi Beach Villa we spent the second half of our stay in!


Four Days in Dubai

To kick off my series covering our most recent vacation, we’re looking back at the first few days of our trip, spent in Dubai. First, it’s prudent to give a little history on how we got here. Our daughter graduated from college this year, and as both a present to her and a last hurrah before she goes off into the workforce, we decided to let her choose where she wanted to go for a graduation trip. Initially she was looking at Bora Bora, and at least once we were within a couple of clicks of booking a trip to that area on either a Paul Gauguin or Windstar cruise. She really wanted to swim with whale sharks, and once we discovered that it’s not really the season for that in the south pacific, we started looking elsewhere. Along the way, I came across some package rates to the Maldives, one of the few places where whale sharks are prevalent this time of year, so we started looking closer. As I looked at the various packages, I came across a solid deal on an 8-day Maldives trip that included a 4 day stop in Dubai first. We all fell in love with the idea of seeing this city, and in early April pulled the trigger on it!

The trip started off when we boarded an Emirates A380 from JFK to Dubai direct. The flight itself, while long (12 hours), was pretty uneventful. There’s plenty of legroom in economy on these planes, and while it was fairly comfortable, none of us slept all that much.

We arrived in Dubai around 8:30am local time Sunday morning and headed to our hotel. Being the offseason, and Ramadan, we got a great rate at the JW Marriott Marquis in what’s referred to as New Dubai. On arrival at the hotel, we decided to take them up on a pretty reasonable upgrade to a corner suite on the 61st floor, complete with a large living room, master bedroom, and good sized master bath. Click on those links and check out the 360 degree views of our room, A6106.

After cleaning ourselves up and grabbing a bite to eat in the hotel’s outstanding breakfast buffet, we decided to hop the Marriott’s shuttle to the Dubai Mall, one of the 56 malls in the city, and the one containing the huge aquarium and the entrance to the Burj Khalifa tour. After a bit of a walk around the mall (it’s huge), we decided to grad some lunch. Being Ramadan, almost every restaurant was closed, so our best option was the food court, as it was barricaded off, allowing those who weren’t fasting the ability to eat. The main food court in this mall is huge. Larger than any mall food court I’ve ever seen. We ended up eating Shake Shack, and which breaks our main travel rule of not eating anywhere we can eat at home, but under the circumstances, I was happy with the choice.

After some more mall walking, we headed back to the room to get some rest before dinner, as we had a busy day on tap the next day. We ended up eating at the hotel again, this time in the executive lounge. Executive club access is something we added for a pretty reasonable charge, and it was werll worth it, with the breakfast buffet included, along with snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) included in the benefits. The small buffet in the executive lounge each evening had some delicious items as well.

Monday morning brought our first excursion of the trip. We’d booked a private guided city tour with Tours by Locals, and were picked up by our guide at the hotel at 9am. Our guide Sunil was outstanding, and this tour was definitely the highlight of our time in Dubai. We started off with the Dubai Mall, and since we’d walked that the day before, he just showed us a few of the highlights before we moved on to the Emirates office tower area as one of our first picture spots. The architecture in Dubai is amazing, and this was the perfect place to really kick things off:

Next up was Za’abeel Palace for another photo stop. This obviously isn’t a place where you can just walk up to the gate, so we hung out by the Mercedes police G wagon and took a few pictures:

Our next stop was a local fish market, which was really cool. We were warned before hand that the vendors selling would be on us as soon as we walked in, but would back off if we ignored them or said no thank you, and he was right. For those familiar with pushy vendors in Caribbean ports, this wasn’t even close to as bad as some of those can get, frankly it was pretty mild. Inside, there were a ton of fish lined up, but being Ramadan, the place wasn’t completely full of vendors. We walk through the fish area, the meat area, and ended in the fruits and vegetable area. Note that this isn’t for the faint of heart, as you do see things like cow heads in the meat area. All in all, I’m glad he added it to the tour, it was cool to see how a normal market worked in the area.

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After a short stroll through the small attached mall, it was off to walk around a couple of the souks in the area! This was probably the highlight of the tour, and at times felt like something out of either the Amazing Race or Indiana Jones. He took us through a gold souk before giving us a little instruction, setting a time to meet, and sending us off on our own to explore. Again, the vendors will approach you, but nothing as pushy as some Caribbean ports, and they were always friendly. We did buy a couple of items, with Bayley picking up a hanging glass ball decoration and Jen getting a scarf. Our guide did help us negotiate the price of those two, these vendors will haggle. After walking a few streets here, we hopped on a water taxi to another park of the city to stroll through a few more souks:

After finishing up the time-lapse above, which was Sunil’s idea, we walked over to the Dubai Museum. While not overly large, this has various exhibits giving you the opportunity to learn about Dubai’s history. This was followed by a walk down a few more areas, including stops at a local art gallery, coffee museum and coin museum. From the time we started our initial walk through the first souk until we got back to the car, I think we were on our feet for around 2 hours. Considering the heat here, that’s a long time, but having hydrated before we got out of the car, it wasn’t a big issue.

I should take a minute to point out that while Ramadan prohibits eating or drinking in public during daylight hours, our guide did have water available for us in the car, so had we not brought our own, we would have been fine.

Following all of that walking, we had a bit of a break to cool off, as it was a bit of a car ride to our next stop, Jumeira Mosque. This is the only mosque that allows non-Muslims to tour the facility, however, they weren’t doing tours at this point, so we were just seeing the outside. On our guide’s recommendation, we did go back for the official tour on Wednesday, and I’d agree with him, it’s worth the time, very interesting and informative!

After a couple of other short picture stops to get views of Burj Al Arab, we headed in the direction of Palm Island. We had a couple of options, ride with them up to the end of it where the Atlantis is located, or take the monorail from the trunk to Atlantis. We chose the latter 😊. Riding the monorail is fun, and I highly recommend (on his recommendation, actually) being in the front cabin so you can watch the trip.

After the monorail ride and a short stop outside of Atlantis and one other spot along the branches for pictures, we headed back to the hotel quite happy with the tour we’d chosen. This is probably one of the best we’ve ever done, as both Sunil and our driver were outstanding. They showed us a large part of the area, ensured hydrated and fed even with Ramadan happening, and added stops upon realizing we had plenty of time for them along our 8 hour tour. I’d be more than happy to book with Tours by Locals again!

After cleaning ourselves up and resting a little, we decided to end the day by heading over to a spot Sunil recommended, Dubai Garden Glow. This is an awesome little place that packs three separate areas in to one facility, including and ice park, dinosaur land, and a while section with lit up displays to enjoy. You don’t have to do it all, as they sell tickets at varying prices that allow access to some or all of the park. Considering that we have no idea if we’d ever make it back to Dubai, we bought the full pass.

It was a fun walk through the whole thing, with the glow garden section being the longest walk. They’ve got a ton of lit displays, typically the kind of thing you only see around Christmas in the US. After a pretty lengthy walk through that area, I was ready to hit the ice park and cool off. Even though it was night, it was still pretty hot and humid out. Entering the ice park, you’re handed a coat and some gloves, and you head in to a large warehouse type setup with a bunch of ice sculptures. Most of it appeared to be landmarks from around Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa, some camels, and Palm Island. This is the shortest walk in the park, as it’s not really that big, but it’s definitely a good way to cool off while in the park. After leaving our icy detour, we headed into the dinosaur section, which is basically just a bunch of outdoor dinosaur exhibits you walk around. Here’s a look at some of the things we saw in the Dubai Glow Garden:

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Our first full day in Dubai was tiring, but really fun! Next up on page two, a day of skiing, penguin hugs, and off-roading in the desert!

Spring Break on the Disney Fantasy – Part 2

Let’s start this off by talking food. As I mentioned in part 1, we’d managed to secure a reservation for brunch at Palo on the first sea day, which was the first full day of the cruise. We’d eaten here last year on our Disney Dream sailing and liked the entire experience so much that booking it again was a no-brainer. If you’ve had the pleasure of brunch here, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

On arrival at the restaurant this time around, we were led to our table by our awesome server Silvio. On the way, he took us over to a round 6 person table with a city-scape in the background. He had us all sit together against the wall and took a few pictures of us with the flash enabled, saying that this booth was designed to really come to life when lit properly. Wow was he right! This is one of my favorite pictures of us from the sailing!

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Once pictures were done, we headed to our table, which was once again by the window, providing an amazing view. Now, I won’t bore anyone by repeating the whole experience here, it was almost identical to last year, so you’re welcome to stop by that post to read up if you’re considering dining at Palo for the first time. Service was once again outstanding, the food was incredible, and we were left quite satisfied. We enjoyed a number of things from the buffet tables as well as the set menu itself, including pizza, lasagna, and that parmesan crusted chicken breast that Bayley loved so much last year. It was all just as good this year. Brunch at Palo is worth every penny in my opinion.

Moving on, our rotational dinner assignments this time around were (in order): Art of Animation, Enchanted Forest, Royal Court, Art of Animation, Enchanted Forest, Enchanted Forest, Royal Court. For those who aren’t familiar with rotational dining, you rotate between the three main dining rooms on board all week, with your servers following you each night, providing a nice change of scenery each night while giving you a consistent service experience. Last year we were a little down on the speed of dinner service, with a couple of nights taking well over two hours. This year we had no issues with MDR service, our team was outstanding and were able to keep things moving so that we didn’t miss any evening activities. Kudos to Ignacio and Severine, they did an amazing job!

The food throughout the ship was excellent all week, I honestly don’t have anything to complain about here. I think the only negative would be the buffet pizza (Palo’s is really good). It’s better than Carnival or Royal’s pizza, but unsurprisingly nowhere near as tasty as MSC’s. That’s a pretty small complaint thought, as Disney’s food game across the board is on point, some of the best we’ve had on any line. I mean come on, can you beat a Disney sundae (or 9)? I think not!

Moving on, let’s talk about the ports! As I mentioned in part 1, we never actually planned on sailing over spring break, it was a very last minute choice. After we found and booked this sailing, we looked around at excursions, but in the end decided we weren’t going to get off the ship anywhere except Castaway Cay. We’ve been to the rest of the stops (Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth) multiple times and decided it’d be better to save some money for our summer trip than repeat any past excursions. We did get off the ship in Jamaica to check out the shops, but that was Bayley’s call, since that day was her birthday. Not much to report there, we just walked the shops right there at the port, stayed out maybe an hour, and got back on the ship.

The one stop we did take full advantage of on this trip was Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. After getting off the ship, we decided that instead of riding the tram, we’d just walk from the ship to the beach. Along the way we did a little shopping and even managed to catch a few characters!

Last year we headed over to the adults-only side, Serenity Bay, and camped out on a couple of hammocks most of the day. We’d planned on doing the same this time, but after arriving there, realized it was way too windy, which made it cold, and the beach was almost unusable, being covered in piles of seaweed. No biggie, we headed back over to the family side and found a spot. It was pretty busy by then, so we weren’t right up on the water, but we were still on the beach, and that’s all that matters!

We didn’t really do a lot on the island, some napping on our beach chairs, eating, and wandering. One thing I do want to mention here is that in people’s reviews I’ve seen complaints that lines for lunch can get pretty long on the faily side, but we didn’t see that at all. I ate right as they opened, and with 6 lines at the one I was at, combined with multiple lines at the other food stand, I had no wait at all. Jen and Bayley ate later while things were in full swing, and again, no wait.

We hung around until about 2pm, at which point we headed back early to get a run or three on the AquaDuck before everyone got back on board. Love this waterslide, it’s always a good time!

While it was a fun day on the island, I’d say we enjoyed the previous visit more due to our time on the adults-only side of the island, but couldn’t be helped, the weather was just more condusive to the family side this time.

That about covers it for this post, next up, Star Wars Day at Sea!

 

Spring Break on the Disney Fantasy – Part 1

We’d originally planned on staying home over spring break this year, but as the date got closer we started rethinking that plan, realizing that with our daughter graduating college this year, family getaways like this would probably be few and far between. With that in mind, we started casually checking out a few cruise options in January. After a bit of a search we narrowed it down to a couple of different itineraries, one on the Crown Princess and another on the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam. As we were headed down to see visit her at school in early February, that quickly changed. I was getting a little work done in the car and happened to check Disney’s travel agent rates, and sure enough, they had availability on the Fantasy the week we were looking at, and even better, it was a Star Wars Day at Sea sailing! In the blink of an eye, our minds were made up!

One thing to call out before I get started with this, it won’t be a day to day account like some of our posts are, as a lot of what we experienced was similar to our Disney Dream sailing last year. Think of it as more of a multi-part summary, which will also compare our experiences this year to the positives and negatives I laid out in my final post from that sailing. Frankly, I was surprised at how wrong I was in some of my perceptions last year, but we’ll get to all of that.

First, I’ll admit to breaking one of the big packing rules for any warm-weather vacation: Never forget your bathing suit. Yea, I forgot it. Even though my packing list is somewhat out of date, it still includes at least one bathing suit, but with all of the cruises we’ve been fortunate to do over the past few years I’ve grown a bit complacent when it comes to packing and didn’t even check my list. We were about two hours in when I realized I’d forgotten it, so I ended up stopping at one of those large beach stores to pick one up. You know the type of place, large store full of cheap beach crap that might hold up for three or four uses if you’re lucky. Oh well, the one I got worked fine.

On the day of our sailing, my ego slightly bruised from the bathing suit incident the day before, we got up and prepared to head to the port. We once again stayed at the Radisson right near the port, and while we could have used their included shuttle service, decided to grab a Lyft to the ship, as I’m all for not dealing with the crowds that come with hotel shuttles if I don’t have to. We’ve read stories online of others who claim it’s hard to get a driver that wants to deal with the port, but having now used both Uber and Lyft to get to and from Port Canaveral, we have yet to experience issues. Our driver arrived at the hotel about 5 minutes after we requested one, and after a short ride to the port, we headed inside! It was around 11am at this point, check in was pretty smooth with no real wait in the Castaway Club line, and with boarding number 17, we settled in for a bit of a wait.

Boarding itself moved along pretty steadily, and if I recall, we were on the ship by around 12:15. No major issues, but every time we get on a non Oasis-class ship, I’m reminded of just how efficient Royal is with the boarding of those things. They run a tight ship (pun intended) and keep things from getting crowded or bogged down along the way. Back to the Fantasy, as soon as we boarded we split up and headed two places: Bayley and I to guest services to see about Frozen gathering availability, and Jen went to line up in front of Animator’s Palate to see about Palo brunch reservations. Both worked out flawlessly. Bayley was easily able to get tickets for the Frozen gathering on the first sea day, and Jen able to get us brunch reservations on the same day. With as much amazing food as Palo offers, doing it on the earliest day possible is recommended (they only offer it on sea days). I can’t imagine trying to enjoy that spread after stuffing myself during the 5 days leading up to that second sea day.

Boosted by our early successes, we headed for lunch in Enchanted Garden, the same place we had our first meal on the Dream. This time we somehow managed to score one of those circular booths you see as you walk in!

After devouring some tasty eats, complete with the first Disney sundaes of the week, we headed to the room to drop our bags. For this trip, we went with the cheapest option available, an inside, specifically cabin 9023. It’s been 7 years since I’ve been booked in an inside cabin, and I admit I was a little worried about not having a balcony to relax on. I did miss it a few times, namely in the morning when I’d wake up before the rest of the family, but overall this was a cool little room, complete with Disney’s magic portholes, but more on that later when I get in to the room review. This first visit to our room also gave us an opportunity to show off a little surprise to Bayley. Her birthday fell in the middle of the cruise, so we decided to have the room decorated. In addition to the decorations, the spa had also left a $50 gift card on the door!

We hung out there for a little bit to relax, and during that time before the muster drill, all of our suitcases arrived, which seemed pretty fast! The rest of day 1 was filled with typical stuff, the sail away party, muster drill, an activity or two, and the first show of the week, which was a comedy juggling thing with Jeff Civillico. We really enjoyed all of Jeff’s events the two days he was on, frankly we wish he’d been on longer, and you’ll hear more about his activities in the next post. We also boarded on St Patrick’s Day, which meant a themed trivia event in O’Gill’s. Maybe it was the whisky, but the questons in this trivia session were stupid hard, a theme we encountered during the other one or two trivia events we attended. Pretty sure we gave up halfway through (as did a few other tables) as we’d answered only one of the first 10. Still, a glass of Irish whisky on St Patrick’s Day hit the spot!

As we had last year, we were assigned late seating for dinner on this cruise. Normally we’re not big fans of eating that late, but there seemed to be fewer kids in second seating last year, so we decided to stick with it. Our first dinner aboard the Fantasy was set for Animator’s Palate, our favorite main dining room on board.

For those not familiar with how rotational dining on a Disney ship works, the short version is that you rotate between 3 main dining rooms all week, with your servers following you along the way. You can find a longer write-up on it here. For our first night, we were alone at our table for 6, as our table-mates had dinner at Remy to celebrate a birthday (as we found out later). Dinner was delicious as usual, with most of mine consisting of pasta, followed by another delicious sundae. In fact, aside from having a pasta dish instead of steak as my entree, my meal was identical to what I had last time! I covered Animator’s Palate pretty well in that last post, so I won’t repeat it, but suffice to say, it was another outstanding meal aboard a Disney ship, filled with the fun of watching people chat with Crush along the way!

Following dinner we caught the Match Your Mate show in The Tube, one of the adults-only venues back in the nightclub area at the aft of the ship. Good stuff, but already being a little tired, and with a full week of fun ahead of us, I was happy to get to bed. We did end the day with a little treat, as we called room service for some Mickey bars before bed. I do love that these are included at no additional cost 🙂

Next up: Palo, characters, and all-around fun as our Disney Fantasy series continues!