It’s a good job I decided to tell you about my Disney Fantasy trip in two bits, as there is tons I forgot to mention yesterday. Like our trip to see Mary Poppins on Broadway.
Disney is so good at putting on these shows – the Lion King is seriously one of my favourite musicals in the West End – and Mary Poppins was just as charming. We all think we know the cosy story, but this production brought out all the poignancy of the children, and the mother, trying to get the workaholic father to connect with his family. Mary Poppins herself was brilliantly cast, with a jutting chin that was reminiscent of the wonderful Julie Andrews, and a breathless energy that was all her own. It was when Bert the chimneysweep started tap-dancing on the ceiling, though, that we realised we were watching something really extra-supercalifragalisticexpialidocious. Unfortunately, jet lag did get the better of us in the end and we were the only people not to give the performers a heartfelt standing ovation – we were just too tired to move! But it’s very impressive getting so many curtain calls and an all-but-unanimous standing ovation on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday night. It’s really worth seeing if you’re in New York and I hope it transfers to the UK so I can take my little brood.
On Wednesday, we had a six-hour tour of the Disney Fantasy ship. Yes, that’s right, six hours. At first I thought it was a misprint on our wonderful, laminated schedules, provided every day by lovely Nikki and Laura. Then I thought, they must be planning to show us every rivet and porthole on the blimmin boat. But no, in fact, there were loads of bits of the ship we had to leave out. It is simply that big. It was built to welcome 4,000 passengers and about 1500 crew (or ‘cast members’ in Disney-speak). That’s a lot of people all floating around together. There are three main restaurants, all seating 700 people at a time (in case you’re good at maths, there is more than one sitting at each restaurant every night. Believe me, no one goes hungry on a Disney cruise – the food is fantastic). There are two posher, smaller restaurants which are adult-only and cost extra. Palo is $20 dollars more and Remy is $75. All the other restaurant meals are included in your package – including snackbars offering unlimited ice cream and hamburgers all day long. Eeek! There are also healthier choices on offer – though I’m not sure many children would opt for a salad instead of a chocolate chip ice cream.
One of the most fun things was our trip to the supervised play area, where we met a wonderful Australian lady who was inspired at whipping up childish enthusiasm even in a bunch of jetlagged British hacks. She soon had us jumping around like loons on the enormous light-up play mat, and then chatting with an incredible animated-yet-oh-so-real Stitch via an interactive video screen. This is a very clever piece of Disney magic, which also blew me away in Florida, where they have Crush from Finding Nemo really conversing – somehow – with the kids. Who knows how they do it? All I know is that it is quite amazing.
There are a lot of painstaking details worked into the Disney Fantasy, which make it simultaneously totally Disney, but at the same time really rather tasteful and restrained. The Royal Court restaurant, for example, has a Cinderella theme, but it’s picked up in subtle ways like the white-on-white pumpkin coach design on the plates, which you really have to study to notice, and the coach-shaped wire bread baskets. Some things work wonderfully well, like the cool Britannia adults-only bar The Tube in the Europa area, which borrows freely from various EU countries. Who would ever have dreamed that London Transport could be so, well, swish? With its authentically tiled booths with benches covered with travel pass upholstery, its swinging straps dangling from the ceilings, its ‘Mind the Gap’ cocktails, its telephone boxes to dance in and its overall Austin Powers cheeky-chic, this bar really is groovy, baby.
By contrast, I thought that Spain had got a somewhat rough deal, with only Gaudi-inspired loos to show us, though the matador and flamenco murals inside are stunning. The Italian-flavoured La Piazza bar, featuring a central carousel, two stationary Vespas and a multitude of Murano glass, terracotta, lush carpeting, Campari and a big dash of the dolce vita, is like no part of Italy I’ve ever visited – but does that matter? Not if you’re having an awesome Disney time, it doesn’t. And if it all gets too much, you can head for O’Gills Irish bar for a quick roister or, my own choice, sip a flute of Champagne in the Parisian-pink-tinted Ooh La La Bar.
The Fantasy will soon start floating off to the Caribbean from Florida, on seven-day cruises. These can be combined with a visit to Walt Disney World in Florida if you feel like making everybody’s dream come true. The other ships in the Disney fleet do shorter hops, some leaving next year from Barcelona, some sailing from Miami for the first time this December. The Disney Cruise line has come top of polls for people’s favourite cruises for several years now – it’s easy to see why. As well as stopping at all the interesting ports along the way, the ships also have shows on each night for guests, and there are special new ones for the Fantasy, including Aladdin and Disney’s Believe. Of course, if you don’t want to see a show, you can always watch the ocean from your stateroom. Many have decks onto the ocean, and those that don’t have special portholes streaming a realtime view into your cabin.
It was lovely to see such a beautiful ship being Christened in fine style, with what seemed like an ocean of Taittinger Champagne, and the help of songstress Mariah Carey, with Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Patrick Harris, Alan Cumming and the Mayor of New York – and, of course, our little gaggle of journalists – all raising a glass to say God bless the Fantasy, and the very lucky people who’ll sail away in her.