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Disney Fantasy Cruise Inauguration

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By way of introduction, I thought I'd post a bit about my experience onboard the Disney Fantasy for its inauguration in New York. I've covered a number of destinations for Fodor's, but this was my first cruise assignment. And by "assignment" I mean juggling a flute of Tattinger as I photographed celebrities; dining on a tender steak and lobster dinner in the astounding Animator's Palate restaurant; and finally, barhopping my way across Europe in the ship's nighttime entertainment district, exploring lounges and pubs from Italy, France, London, and Ireland.
I think I like covering cruises.
This was one of the most exciting events I've ever attended, and it's all leading up to a preview cruise on the Fantasy I'm taking with my family at the end of March. My director Doug Stallings and I have been gathering intel on this glorious vessel for the past couple weeks. He recently took a tour (http://www.fodors.com/news/story_5265.html) to discover the wondrous technological innovations throughout the ship that are sure to delight and beguile passengers.
Doug and I boarded the immense, immaculate ship for a celebration that started with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. I was famished, concerned that a couple dinky appetizers would not sustain me until dinner, which was more than an hour later. Doug, a veteran of cruises, assured me, "no one goes hungry on a cruise ship." Especially a Disney ship. Salmon with cream cheese, venison with pureed cauliflower, mini filet mignon---the servers were deployed with these delectables in Sorcerer's Apprentice-esque fashion, multiplying and spreading throughout the galley. Hunger vanquished.
Next we proceeded to the Walt Disney Show Place, a 1,300-plus seat theater that will feature entertainment every night of each sailing. And who bounded onstage to host the evening's entertainment? Billy? Whoopi? Nope. Doogie! Neal Patrick Harris, that is. And he launched into a hilarious self-parodying, soft roast of Disney with a song-and-dance routine that was way better than recent turns by any Oscar hosts. To the tune of "Supercalifragilistic…," Neil summarized the Fantasy's extravaganza as a "a super-spicy-synergistic-glitzy-celebration!" The choreography and arrangement were quite intricate, and Neil just nailed it. (I hope members of the Academy were present) The energy level of the audience soared, and the next entertainer only raised it higher. To most everyone's surprise, Neil introduced Jerry Seinfeld, who came on to do a full set. And I have to say, he killed. He riffed on marriage (he's been married for twelve years now) 5-hour energy drinks ("that's a weird amount of time!"), and sundry topics for a terrific 30-minute set. Then we got single-act previews of the on-ship musicals: "Wishes" "Aladdin" and "Believe." Each one was spectacular, with large ensemble casts and world-class talents in the leads. I look forward to seeing the full productions.
Appropriately dazzled (additional star wattage in attendance included Tim Gunn, Alan Cummings, and Ty Pennington), we filed out of the theater for the christening of the ship. Escorted from the top of the main lobby's grand staircase by Mickey Mouse to join Disney CEO Robert Iger at the bottom was none other than Mariah Carey (introduced by hubby Nick Cannon). As many of Mickey's friends---Minnie, Goofy, Cinderella, Snow White, et al---looked on, and we raised our glasses, Mariah and Mr. Iger popped the cork on an outsize champagne bottle. The confetti floated, the champagne flowed, and the Disney Fantasy was christened. Fantastic!
Dinner followed, and we were seated in the Animator's Palate restaurant (one of 3 family-dining restaurants). Doug describes the magic that takes place here in his blog post, and I'll just add that it's one of the most compelling attractions I've witnessed in a long time. You draw a character on a sheet of paper, hand it to your waiter, and 40 minutes later, it's on jumbo screens throughout the restaurant dancing and frollicking with all your favorite Disney characters. I heard that it took two years to develop the software that enables the drawings to interact with the surrounding animation with such grace, and I believe it (actually it almost seems too short a time for such a technological feat!).
The meal choices, all of which will be offered on the cruise, were sea bass, steak and lobster, duck, and lamb. Plating was elegant, and the food was delicious. It's true: No one goes hungry on a cruise. Almost any single dish will delight sophisticated palates and younger taste buds as well.
To wind down, we were granted access to much of the rest of the ship, and to explore the entertainment district, Europa. I only made a brief sweep through the lounges and pubs that take you on a tour of Europe. But as I passed from room to room, even fleetingly, the transitions were dramatic, the sense of place authentic.
So, the inauguration was stunning, a super gala that certainly surpassed my expectations. But what will a family vacation aboard this floating wonderland be like? Next, I will be bringing my wife and my 14-year-old son for a 4-day cruise from Port Canaveral to Castaway Cay (Disney's private island). I'm reasonably sure that our assessments will be measured by degrees of awesomeness. My son will have key-pass access to his own teen lounge and pool area. There's a 700-foot waterslide that snakes around the ship (stay tuned, we're going to try to outfit our iPhone with waterproof casing that will allow me to shoot video within the slide's winding tubes). And there's going to be more entertainment options than we can possibly get to.
Did I mention that I think I like covering cruises?
See you in a few weeks!

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