Friday, December 15, 2017

Day 2 of Disney Very Merrytime Western Caribbean Cruise: At Sea

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As much as I love visiting exciting ports of call, and plan my cruises based on their itineraries, sea days aboard Disney Cruise Line are my favorite! There's so much to do, or not do, depending on your preference.


The deliciously aromatic gingerbread house in the atrium of the Disney Fantasy

There are multiple areas of the ship where you can relax regardless of your age. There are water activities ranging from several pools and splash areas to a splashtastic water coaster called the Aquaduck, fun games and activities such as the Midship Detective Agency and Goofy Golf, and of course there's also the incredible Senses Spa, not to mention movies, arts and crafts, cooking demonstrations, and so much more. You can read much more about many of these activities here.

The artsy Animator's Palate Christmas tree

We certainly weren't able to do all of these things in a single sea day, and we didn't even manage to do them all on this cruise, but it's just great knowing you have options.


This was our first morning waking up aboard the Disney Fantasy, and I unwillingly woke up crazy early and took the opportunity to wander the nearly silent cruise ship taking uncrowded photos of the gorgeously festive atrium. I was out the door by 5:40 am and definitely made out well on the photo front. Not a soul in sight.



Peacock-inspired decoration to match the themeing of the atrium

I also got to enjoy the calmness of the jogging track on deck 4 before the sun officially peeked over the horizon. It was stunning and an incredible way to begin our fun-filled day.


A short while later, we headed up to the Quiet Cove area of the pool deck, which is the 18+ (adults only) section. There we made out first stop of the week at the Cove Cafe to indulge in their specialty coffee drinks and pastries.


The pastries are complimentary but the coffees are an additional cost, although totally worth it! You also get a frequent customer card which earns you a free specialty coffee drink after 5 purchases.


There were three of us this morning, so we each tried one of their special holiday-inspired drinks. I chose the Gingerbread Latte, which was probably my favorite of the three, although I tasted and enjoyed all of them.

My sister's Candy Cane Chocolate Mocha along with a selection of sweets

Gingerbread Latte

Also, check out this amazing cold brew set up. It looks like a science experiment!


I wasn't too hungry after eating my fair share of pastries, so I grabbed a few items from the buffet at Cabanas and enjoyed them window-side in our stateroom. We love getting the Family Oceanview Staterooms as they are larger than standard Oceanview Staterooms, and feature large porthole windows with seating.


After breakfast we spent some time at the pool, along with a couple trips on the Aquaduck. Before we knew it it was time for lunch already! We headed to Royal Court for a sit-down meal.


While we perused the menu, my youngest nephew David decided to wear his new pirate eye patch from one of his Fish Extender gifts (that's an unofficial Disney Cruise Line gift exchange with other staterooms) on the middle of his forehead over his third eye. What a clown!


For my appetizer I selected the Sliced Serrano Ham with manchego cheese and tomato bread. This was nearly identical to my appetizer the previous night at dinner, except this featured tomato bread instead of bread with olive tapenade. I preferred the tomato bread much more, as it was way more flavorful, and both the ham and cheese had a less dry texture at lunch.


I picked a second appetizer as well in lieu of a soup or salad. The Fried Calamari was served with aioli, lemon, and cherry peppers. I'm from Rhode Island, land of calamari, so I'm a pretty big critic. This calamari was actually quite good. It was tender (not chewy), crispy on the outside, and very well-seasoned. Good job, Disney!


My entree choice continued with the seafood theme, but was disappointing compared to the calamari. The Glazed Filet of Halibut with white wine, tomato, olive, and garlic reduction with saffron rice was just ok. The fish itself was somewhat dry and terribly underseasoned. The other components on the dish were good, and I filled myself with rice, tomatoes, and olives.


After lunch I rushed off to wait in line to see my BFF Minnie Mouse. She was wearing her Princess Minnie outfit, and was fabulous as always.


We actually had pre-booked tickets for myself, my sister, and my youngest nephew David for a Frozen Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa. This is a popular experience, and you really MUST reserve your tickets ahead of time.


Our time slot was for 1 pm which gave us just enough time after seeing Minnie in the atrium to head over to Animator's Palate to meet the ladies from Frozen. David LOVES Frozen, has since he was a toddler, so he was really excited to meet them.


He showed off his new snowman bracelet (also a Fish Extender gift), and even got a kiss from Elsa which he had proof of on his face afterwards!



This afternoon we sailed incredibly close to Cuba. Cast Members said it was the closest they had sailed by Havana. Not sure how true this is, but we were close enough to make out the skyline of the city, and even see details of buildings when zooming in with my telephoto lens.


Dinner tonight was formal night, and our dining rotation put us in Enchanted Garden for the evening. We generally prefer this dining room to the others on the Fantasy as we find it to generally be the quietest, and Animator's Palate to be the loudest.



Once again I selected two appetizers and skipped the soup/salad option. My first appetizer was the Applewood Smoked Bacon Wild Mushroom Tart with creamy leeks. It was basically like a mini quiche with bacon and mushrooms. It was good but very rich, especially when paired with the creamy leeks. I ate about half and then shared the rest with my brother-in-law.



My second appetizer was one that I typically order every time I dine from this menu, the Ahi Tuna and Avocado Tower. It's a good choice, but something about it this time didn't live up to my experiences with it in the past. My family agreed. I'm not sure what it was, but it just didn't seem as great as it was before. I wonder if they changed something. Maybe the quality of the tuna? Or the temperature of the dish? It seemed pretty cold (almost too cold) and that could have impacted the flavor and texture perhaps. Hmmm.


My entree was another tried and true favorite, the Pan Seared Sea Bass with fava bean and pea risotto, sliced fennel, and dill-chive Riesling wine sauce. The fish was cooked and seasoned well. Very tender. The only downfall (on a minor note) was the risotto. It wasn't perfectly executed (and yes, I know how hard it is to make risotto in massive quantities). Some of my grains of rice were undercooked, and the risotto had a slightly chalky feel to it (probably from the undercooked rice). It just didn't seem like it was cooked evenly. It wasn't horrible, it was pretty decent, but if we're splitting hairs here it was not as good as the same dish on past cruises. With that said, I'm holding Disney to a higher standard than most would. This is a food blog after all. The food on Disney Cruise Line is arguably some of the best at sea, and my parents who have sailed on several other lines have confirmed that.


Onto dessert!


While the Southern Style Pecan Tart may be listed as the Signature Dessert, I would suggest the Warm Sticky Date Pudding with butterscotch sauce, vanilla ice cream and phyllo crunch. It is pure decadence, and truly the definition of comfort on a plate.


Here's a photo of the Orange Yogurt Cake my sister ordered. She really enjoyed it as well!


After dinner I dragged my mom with me to see Thor: Ragnarok, which I had already seen in theaters but needed to see again since it's so amazing. After getting out of the Buena Vista Theatre at the end of the show we happened upon a crowd in the atrium, so we figured we should see what was going on. Turns out we were just in time for Santa's Winter Wonderland Ball, which is when Santa and Mrs. Claus make their first appearance on the ship. Afterwards, Anna and Elsa greet the crowd, and Elsa uses her magic (oh yes!) to make it snow in the atrium!


What an incredible surprise, and something totally magical even for adults. Who would expect a massive atrium filled with (artificial) snow swirling through the air. It was definitely one of the coolest (see what I did there?) experiences from the trip!


Here's a video of Minnie busting out the dance moves while it snows in the atrium. God I love Disney Cruise Line! There's just nothing like it :)


Tune in next week for more adventures from our Very Merrytime cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Day 1 of Disney Very Merrytime Western Caribbean Cruise: Port Canaveral

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It had been almost two years since my last Disney Cruise (the horror!), but I just got back from one and am so excited to share the experience with all of you! Anyone who reads this blog must know by now that I'm Disney obsessed, so it's no surprise that a Disney Cruise is one of my favorite vacations. I just got back from my seventh, and it still hasn't gotten old after so many sailings. I'll keep going for as long as I'm able.


Let's rewind for a second to late August and September and back to back devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria that ravaged many of the Eastern Caribbean islands. The Virgin Islands (both US and British) were particularly hit hard, and as luck would have it (or not) our original itinerary for our cruise was supposed to visit both St. Thomas and Tortola as ports of call.


Disney along with many other cruise lines made changes to itineraries visiting these storm-struck islands. Of course we were disappointed as we love Eastern Caribbean itineraries, and had selected this cruise because it's not only our favorite ship but had an itinerary we loved. We rolled with the punches, and when our Eastern Caribbean cruise quickly became a Western Caribbean cruise we tried to make the best of it.


I'll be honest, I was pretty disappointed at first but at the same time so thrilled to be going on another Disney Cruise that I would go wherever it took me. Turns out I really enjoyed our new itinerary, maybe even more so than the previous Western Caribbean cruise we had done a few years back (it visited Jamaica which wasn't my favorite).


We flew into Orlando a day early on Friday and spent a night at one of my favorite Deluxe resorts (and one of the best to visit at Christmastime), Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

The incredible Christmas tree at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

I also spent some time checking out Disney Springs and the awesome Christmas Tree Trail containing tons of beautifully themed Christmas trees. It really started off the vacation on the right foot. Here are pictures of a few of our favorites, although all of them were amazing!







The next morning, we boarded the Disney Fantasy in Port Canaveral for our first Very Merrytime Disney Cruise. Very Merrytime cruises are offered fleet-wide around the winter holidays, and feature incredible decorations, holiday festivities, and so much more. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing daily trip reports from our cruise, and there will be tons of magical Merrytime surprises that we enjoyed on our trip. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we are hoping to do another Very Merrytime cruise in the next couple of years!

I love the Very Merrytime Cruises paper cups on board! Cold cups were green and hot cups were red :)

One of the big changes we noticed once we boarded the Fantasy (and we were told this was something new they were trying out these past couple weeks) is that instead of offering buffets in two different restaurants for the embarkation day lunch as they have for years and years, they were keeping the lunch buffet at Cabanas, which is normally a buffet for breakfast and lunch, but changing the menu at Enchanted Garden to table service in lieu of an additional buffet. We went to Enchanted Garden expecting the usual buffet, but were pleasantly surprised by this change! It made for a less hectic first meal on the ship as we were all settling in.


My dad started with the Sliced Smoked Salmon appetizer and commented that it was so tender it melted in his mouth.


I picked the Beef Empanada with red chimichurri, which was also great!



My dad also tried the Leek and Potato Soup with soda bread. The soda bread was more like a biscuit than actual soda bread (I think Irish brown bread when I hear soda bread).


My mom enjoyed her Seafood and Chicken Gumbo with Cornbread, which was chock full of okra and a tad on the spicy side, but very good.


I skipped the soup and went straight for my entree, which was Pennette Pasta with tomato-basil Provencal sauce, goat cheese, and spinach pesto. The spinach pesto was not exactly pesto, but rather a chiffonade of spinach. The pasta was pretty good, but could have used more goat cheese in my opinion.


Dad went with the Sliced Roasted Beef Sirloin with double baked potato, green beans, and thyme red wine jus. He loved it!


Mom picked the Grilled Salmon Salad, which was served with iceberg lettuce, citrus-marinated couscous, spinach, artichokes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. She also really enjoyed her selection.


My sister tried the Chicken Caesar Salad, which was lightly dressed and not very cheesy. It probably could have used a bit more excitement. You know, like more cheese.


We all skipped dessert (only this once!), and headed up to the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, which are the two parts of the kids' club. There's an open house where parents can register their kids, if they haven't previously done so, and everyone can explore this fun space that is normally reserved just for kids. Since our previous cruise on the Disney Fantasy, there were some changes made to the Oceaneer Club. Namely the Nemo Submarine area was converted to a Star Wars Command Post, and the Monsters Inc area switched over to the Marvel Super Hero Academy. Both of these changes were a huge improvement in my opinion. Makes me wish I were a kid again...











At this point we were able to head to our staterooms, which become available at 1:30 pm. My sister had paid for a special holiday package where Disney decorates your stateroom with fun holiday decorations. What a festive way to start your cruise!


Window sticker!


I followed this up with my first (of many) soft serve ice cream cones of the cruise from Eye Scream. I went with chocolate and banana swirl. Yum!


We then visited another new spot that was added since our previous Disney Fantasy cruise: Sweet on You. It's a specialty ice cream and sweet shop. Items here are NOT included in the price of your cruise so you have to pay extra. With all the free ice cream on board, it's not as enticing to go and pay for ice cream here, but I will say we wandered through and were VERY impressed by the selection. Everything looked beautiful, and the prices honestly aren't too bad.












After the lifeboat drill, and quickly checking out the Sail Away Deck Party it was time to get ready for dinner.


Disney Cruise Line offers rotational dining, which means you rotate between three different restaurants throughout the cruise, and you are assigned to a certain rotation ahead of time. Your serving team travels with you from dining room to dining room each night as well. Our first dinner was at Animator's Palate.

The first night in Animator's Palate is the Undersea Magic show, which is the one where Crush and his pals from Finding Nemo take over all the screens in the dining room and actually talk to and entertain guests. It's a really cool show, but because of its nature the lighting in Animator's Palate is usually really bad (ie weird colors of light, like deep blues) and can result in bad food photos. I can't share a photo of my appetizer because the lighting was so bad, but I chose the Serrano Ham with manchego cheese and olive tapenade. I had a similar appetizer the following day at lunch (stay tuned for my next post) which I actually preferred over this. The ham and cheese were a little dry and tasted like they had been sitting out longer (I'm sure they had been pre-plated for a little while), and the olive tapenade had little to no flavor.

Next I had the Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup with bacon bits and chives. I've had this before, and it's pretty good. Nothing Earth-shattering, but a reliable choice.


My entree selection was the Ginger-Teriyaki Dusted Angus Beef Tenderloin with wasabi mashed potatoes, bok choy, and tamarind barbecue reduction. This is also a decent choice. My steak was cooked perfectly, and in general the dish was well seasoned.


For dessert I tried the signature offering, the Lemon Icebox Pie with lemon curd and berry creme. It was refreshing and not too heavy or sweet. It was a nice finish to the meal.


After dinner we quickly headed to the lobby atrium for Mickey's Tree Lighting Ceremony. It included a fun little show with holiday performances by Mickey and Friends as well as a bit of magic as the lights illuminated not only on the massive Christmas tree but on all the garlands around the atrium.



Here's a video of the big moment!


We had an amazing start to our Very Merrytime cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy. Tune in throughout the coming weeks for more of my daily trip reports from our week sailing around the Caribbean.

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