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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Disney Fantasy: The Christening


On a lavish stage, where a packed audience count the seconds until showtime, the curtains part and the gathered masses go wild as a familiar man, all smiles and smart suit, takes to the stage.
“I’m Neil.” he announces. “How amazing is this theatre?”
He’s not wrong. Everything around him, from the auditorium, to the curtains and seats still has that ‘new car’ smell and look.
I’m in New York for the launch of Disney’s latest enterprise, but it’s not a new stage show like their Broadway smashes The Lion King or Mary Poppins (which had wowed me the night before).
Our MC is Neil Patrick Harris, scene stealer of sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and occasional guest on American Idol and Glee. It’s clear he’s as impressed with his surroundings as the rest of us.
“Dudes, we’re on a ship!” he exclaims, reminding those that might have forgotten; It is possible below the top deck of this floating behemoth the size of several city blocks.
Following Neil’s hilarious send up of assorted Disney show tunes, I had to pinch myself as legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld brought the house down with a few rib-tickling one-liners.
Then, having collected the world’s media and assorted guests in the lobby, the Mouse empire’s big cheese Bob Iger welcomed Mariah Carey, who christened the craft by activating a huge champagne bottle packed with glittering paper and streamers.
Welcome to the Disney Fantasy, the latest gamble for one of the world’s best loved entertainment industries which is packed with more opulence, lavish furnishings and attractions than you can shake a bedknob or broomstick at.
A year ago I was lucky enough to enjoy the christening and inaugural voyage of sister ship the Disney Fantasy as it sailed from Port Canaveral, Florida to Disney’s private Bahamas island, Castaway Cay.
It was my first voyage on any cruise liner, let alone a brand new one, and having become an instant convert to the world of luxury seafaring, I was like a kid on Christmas eve as I waited months to see how the Disney Fantasy would compare in 2012.
After a sublime first class flight on Virgin Airways from Heathrow to New York’s JFK, I enjoyed a six hour tour of the new craft.
Some tours can leave me yawning, so the fact this deck by deck assessment flew by is testament to the amount of goodies on board, many of which are genuinely jaw-dropping.
The grandiose Art Nouveau entrance hall, complete with bronze Minnie Mouse statue and 22 foot wide, 15 feet long chandelier, may be reminiscent of the Disney Dream‘s Art Deco entrance, but the effect is different enough to tell its own story.
Like the Dream, the Fantasy is also 1,115 long, has 1,250 staterooms and suites, and has a passenger capacity of 4,000.
And catering for so many people with different tastes and ages means whether you’re a toddler (with advanced reading capabilities) or are awaiting a letter of congratulations from the Queen, there’s something here for all tastes, whether its entertainment, food or just taking it easy.
Having kept a close eye on the Fantasy’s construction in Germany (via construction films on the Internet) there was one thing I was desperate to see repeated from the Dream: the Aquaduck.
This transparent water tube rockets riders around the ship, and like its success on the Dream since January 2011, should also prove to be one of the Fantasy’s most popular attractions.
Keeping the family entertained on any cruise is the secret to any successful holiday, so while youngsters are transformed into princesses and pirates in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, teens and tweens can opt for the Chill Youth Spa, or Vibe teen and Edge tween club. Meanwhile, adults may want to try the Quiet Cove Pool, or assorted treatments at the Senses Spa and Salon.
Now I like a good burger and fast food like most folks, and the cabanas do a fine job of catering for those with a love of tasty treats, but man, woman (and mouse) cannot live by fast food alone, so it was good to see two of the Dream’s finest restaurants, Remy’s and Palo, were also present on the Fantasy.
Sandwiched between those two ends of the culinary spectrum is the Animator’s Palate, one of the most engaging restaurants I’ve ever seen.
The food is mouthwateringly good, and the desserts are to die for, but as all good dining needs an element of theatre to perk up the taste buds, one of the many jewels in the Fantasy’s crown has to be seen to be believed.
While waiting for your food, diners are invited to draw a character within the blue lines of a placemat.
Within 10 minutes of handing in our masterpieces, myself and several other seasoned journalists sat slack of jaw as their characters were brought to life on nearby screens.
The result, like the real time character interaction of cartoon alien Stitch at nearby kids’ party area Oceaneer Club, is pure genius.
And it’s sucker punch moments like that, where the impossible becomes a reality before your eyes, that keeps millions of Disney fans coming back for more, regardless of their age.
If you fancy following that with a night at the theatre, then two new Broadway-style spectaculars: Wishes, a 45 minute tale of three best friends, and Disney’s Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular should tick those boxes admirably.
The nightlife region Europa also offers some welcome variations on the successful Dream layout.
A series of clubs and lounges inspired by parts of Ireland, Italy, France and London, are a must see for grown ups, including the bar Skyline which offers views of European cityscapes (and some eye-popping cocktails).
The Scissor Sisters may not feel like dancing, but if you do, I’d recommend The Tube, a stunning nightclub you won’t need an Oyster card for. Just a lot of energy and a comfy pair of shoes.
Decked out to look like London’s iconic transport system, as well as a couple of old red phone boxes (perfect photo ops), the place is more fun than a party hosted by Peter Kay.
Though I didn’t get to stay in a Fantasy cabin on my flying visit, it was good to see the assorted staterooms were just as well finished as those on its sister ship, the Dream. (The beds are among the most comfortable you will ever sleep in).
Sadly you won’t get Neil Patrick Harris, Jerry Seinfeld or Mariah Carey on your cruise, but what you do get is something for the whole family, or just couples who prefer to get away from it all in style.
Personally I’m gutted that another Disney cruise liner isn’t planned for next year as I’ve become shamelessly addicted to the wealth of sea bound attractions and genuine magic on offer.
However, that does give my wife and I an excuse to sample earlier crafts, such as the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, which are adding Uncle Walt’s unique sparkle to American, Caribbean and European routes in the months and years ahead.




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