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Disney Cruises

More than a dozen years after Disney Cruise Line (DCL) first set sail with the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, it launched its third ship, Disney Dream, in 2011. In 2012, the line's fourth ship, Disney Fantasy, debuted, expanding the line's cruise-ship guest capacity to more than 13,000. Disney's making waves with innovations aboard the Fantasy and Dream, from its shipboard AquaDuck waterslide coasters, the first of their kind in the industry, to virtual portholes in inside staterooms that provide real-time views from outside the ship. And, as of this writing, the Magic is receiving a full renovation that will introduce brand-new concepts in the Fall of 2013.

The cruise line continues to offer its popular excursions from Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Bahamas as well as to eastern and western Caribbean destinations with stops that include Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas. All Caribbean and Bahamian cruises include at least one stop at Disney's gem of a private island, Castaway Cay. DCL also offers a lineup of alternative sailings to the Mexican Riviera, the Mediterranean, and Alaska, and new itineraries include departures from ports in Miami and Galveston, Texas. A big Disney plus: you can combine an ocean getaway with a stay at Walt Disney World for a seamless land-and-sea vacation. You check in just once: your room key at your Disney resort hotel doubles as your boarding pass at Disney's terminal at Port Canaveral and the key to your stateroom.

Cruise Packages

Packages include room, meals (there are extra charges at the exclusive restaurants though), and most shipboard activities, but not shore excursions or, generally, transportation to and from the ship. Prices vary greatly, depending on the package options you choose, the stateroom, the destination, the time of year you sail, and which week you book. A Disney Dream cruise starts at about $450 per person for three nights, $600 for four nights, and $910 for seven nights based on double occupancy and not including taxes and fees.

Booking early may help you secure a better rate, but also a bargain may be obtained by booking at the last minute on a ship that hasn't filled. Dig for a discount on your Disney cruise with a travel agent who specializes in cruises. Find one at www.travelsense.org.

Disney Cruise Line. To book any Disney cruise or to check into vessels, staterooms, shore excursions, and more, contact the Disney Cruise Line. 800/370–0097. www.disneycruise.com.

Staterooms

Disney Magic and Disney Wonder each have 875 staterooms, 73% of which have ocean-view rooms and 44% of which have private verandas. Disney Dream and Fantasy are larger ships, with 1,250 staterooms each—88% are outside rooms, and 901 staterooms and suites offer private verandas.

Cabins are ranked by category and range from standard inside staterooms (category 11 on the Fantasy and Dream; categories 11 and 12 on the Magic or Wonder; 169–184 square feet, sleeps three to four) to deluxe family staterooms with verandas (category 4 on all ships, 256–304 square feet, sleeps five). Luxurious concierge suites are top of the line, with every amenity from whirlpool bathtubs to walk-in closets.

Budget-minded cruisers are often tempted to stick with the least expensive option, the inside stateroom, but this option lacks a valued amenity on Disney ships—the split bathroom. It features a vanity, sink, tub and shower in one area and a vanity, sink, and toilet in another—a real time-saver when it's time for you and your cabin mates to freshen up before excursions or evening dinners and shows.

The Port

Port Canaveral is the home port for DCL vessels and for Carnival Cruise Lines' Sensation and Ecstasy (three- and four-night Bahamian cruises) and Dream (yes, Carnival has a Dream, too; seven-night eastern and western Caribbean cruises) and Royal Caribbean International's Monarch of the Seas (three- and four-night Bahamian cruises) and Freedom of the Seas (seven-night eastern- and western-Caribbean itineraries).

To learn more about other cruises departing from Port Canaveral, visit www.portcanaveral.com and click on links to each cruise line, or contact a travel agent or cruise discounter.

Quite a few of the staterooms have a clever pull-down bunk-bed setup that saves space until bedtime and draws cheers from children. All rooms are elegantly appointed with natural wood furniture.

Disney does a commendable job of keeping rooms and much of the rest of the ship smoke-free while setting aside some deck, bar, and private veranda areas for smokers.

For Guests with Disabilities

Accessible staterooms for people with disabilities have ramps, handrails, fold-down shower seats, and handheld showerheads; special communications kits are available with phone alerts, amplifiers, and text typewriters. Assisted-listening systems are available in the ships' main theaters, and sign-language interpretation is offered for live performances on specified cruise dates.

Shore Excursions

At various ports of call, Disney offers between one- and two-dozen organized excursions, from snorkeling and diving to sightseeing and shopping. For example, at Grand Cayman you can visit a butterfly farm or sign up for a trip to Stingray City—not really a city, but a long sandbar where you can swim with hundreds of rays. During a stop at Cozumel you can explore the Mayan ruins of Tulum and strike a bargain for handcrafted Mexican hats, toys, and knickknacks. All activities are rated from "leisurely" to "strenuously active."

Adult Activities

Poolside games, wine tastings, and behind-the-scenes seminars are among the adults-only diversions. Each ship's spa is a don't-miss for those who need some pampering—book early!

For a romantic dinner, the intimate, adults-only Palo (all ships) offers sweeping ocean views. Expect a fantastic wine list and dishes such as grilled salmon with creamy risotto and grilled filet mignon with a port-wine reduction and Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Reserve early for this hot ticket. The champagne brunch on four-nights-or-longer cruises is another great Palo dining event.

The decor in the Dream's and Fantasy's exclusive 80-seat restaurant, Remy, is a nod to the movie Ratatouille, and, of course, the cuisine is French-inspired. The eight or nine tasting dishes served each night might include Kurobata pork tenderloin and belly with corn ragout and wild turbot with lemon capers and spinach. Wine pairings are amazing; so are the pastries. Book as far ahead of your trip as possible.

Children's Activities

On all four ships, there's nearly an entire deck reserved for kids. When you drop them off, pick up an onboard mobile phone to stay in touch with the activities counselors. Babysitting is available on the Magic and Wonder for children under 3 at Flounder's Reef Nursery for $6 per hour (two-hour minimum) and $5 an hour for each additional sibling. Disney also offers a groundbreaking online service, Babies Travel Lite, which lets parents order all of their baby's travel products, including diapers and formula, and have them shipped to their stateroom before the cruise begins. Similar services are offered at the Fantasy's and Dream's It's a Small World Nursery.

The well-run Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab on each ship provide nonstop activities for kids ages 3–10. Little ones have a ball in the Club playroom designed to look like Captain Hook's pirate ship. They can scramble around on a rope bridge, watch a Disney movie, and make crafts at the Toy Story Boot Camp (Magic andDream) or Pixie Hollow (Fantasy). Counselors customize activities to kids within different age groups.

At the high-tech Lab, there are science experiments, sports challenges, and karaoke jams. A program inspired by the High School Musical craze features a Mad Cap Caper talent show. Disney revamped its kids' program approach so that children have more options to tailor their experiences to their interests.

Tweens and young teens (ages 11–13) chill out at a getaway called Edge on each Disney ship; older teens (14–17) have their own hangout at Vibe . They can tune in to music, watch plasma-screen TVs, play board and video games, or just hang out and meet new friends. Organized activities for teens include trivia games and evening dance parties. Internet message-, photo-, and video-posting also are available.

Restaurants

Coordinators arrange for you to alternate restaurants each night so you can sample a variety of offerings. Disney offers early and late dinner seatings, too. Early ones are best for families with small children. Also, look into the Dine and Play option, where servers speed up the kids' service, and then the ship's activity counselors whisk youngsters off so older family members can relax. If you miss your seating altogether, you can always find a casual dining option.

At Animator's Palate, scenes featuring Disney characters change from black-and-white to Technicolor as the meal progresses on the Magic and Wonder; on the Dream and Fantasy diners are surrounded by an artist's studio where famous film scenes line the walls and fiber-optic "brush pillars" paint oversize ceiling "palettes" vibrant colors. Dining is slightly more formal at Lumiere's, on the Magic, where beef tenderloin, lamb shank, and other entrées are served French-style in a classic ocean-liner-style dining room.

At Triton's, on the Wonder, seafood, roast duck, pasta, and other selections are served in an elegant, art-deco, under-the-sea-theme dining room. The Dream's Royal Palace and the Fantasy's Royal Court are inspired by Disney's princess films, with menus that may include crowned rack of lamb, beef Wellington, and other royal dishes. At the Caribbean-themed Parrot Cay restaurant (Magic and Wonder), the mood is both casual and festive. On the Fantasy and Dream, Enchanted Garden is the whimsical, more informal rotation restaurant. Character breakfasts are offered one morning on most seven-nights-or-longer sailings.

After-Dark Entertainment

During the Pirates in the Caribbean evening, swashbuckling servers dish up Caribbean and Bahamian taste treats, an "arghhh!" or two, a cup of grog, and (on seven-night cruises) a pirate bandana for every dinner guest. After dinner, you head off to a deck party where Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and others appear for some high-spirited action, dancing, and fireworks.

Lavish shows and variety acts entertain families every night of every cruise. The big hit on Disney Wonder is Toy Story: The Musical, a larger-than-life stage version of the film classic. The Golden Mickeys on the Wonder and Dream is a high-tech salute to the animation of Walt Disney in the form of a Hollywood-style awards ceremony. Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story is a Broadway-style production on Disney Magic that begins where the original Cinderella story ended.

Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic, on the Magic and Wonder, is a sweet bedtime story starring Peter Pan, Aladdin, Ariel, and other Disney characters. It combines animation, pyrotechnic, and laser features, snow effects, and mechanisms that let characters "fly" more convincingly. The Dream premiered the first full-scale musical revue dedicated to Disney's famous animated villains in Villains Tonight! Two new shows debuted on the Fantasy:Wishes and Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacle. Each ship also has a cinema screening classic Disney films, and every guest has the opportunity to experience a show or film featuring digital 3-D enhancements.

There are also many things geared to adults. At the Cove Café, on all ships, you can enjoy gourmet coffee, watch TV, check email, and socialize. On the Wonder, the Outlook Café on Deck 10 has floor-to-ceiling windows with prime views. Beat Street, a nightclub on the Magic, has the Rockin' Bar D dance club and Sessions, a piano bar. Route 66, the Wonder's nightclub, has the WaveBands dance club and the Cadillac Lounge piano bar. If you're looking for something more low-key, check out Diversions, a sports pub on both ships.

On the Dream, Disney expands its nightlife offerings at The District, with lounges, a pub, a sky bar, and a nightclub. Fantasy cruisers can visit the trendy clubs of Europa, influenced by European nightspots, including a rollicking Irish pub and a French champagne bar. Movie fans can see first-run films at the ships' plush Buena Vista Theatre, where full-length features really pop with digital 3-D technology.

Castaway Cay

Disney has its own private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay, with white-sand beaches, towering palms, and swaying hammocks—it's a key stop on many Disney cruises. You can relax on the beach or join a snorkeling or parasailing excursion.

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure lets adults and kids ages 5 and up touch, feed, and even snorkel with stingrays in an island lagoon.

If you're traveling without children, or if you've dropped them off at Scuttle's Cove to take part in the kids' programs, hop a tram to Serenity Bay, an adults-only beach where you can melt under the influence of a cabana-sheltered Swedish massage or sip a rum punch from Castaway Air Bar. A lunch buffet is served on both the family and adult ends of the island. Sand-accessible wheelchairs are available for guests who need them.

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