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Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Cruising

It's the holiday season! Many associate the Christmas holiday with cozying up by the fire, but for me, there's no better way to spend Christmas Day than in a tropical location (as the late Jimmy Buffet sang, hang your stocking on a coconut tree). My family, a.k.a. the Shinglebells, set sail on our first Christmas Cruise in 2009 (when I was 18, and my sister, Rachel, was 16 years old), and we had such a wonderful experience that we have cruised over Christmas every year since (with the exception of 2020 for obvious reasons).

Over the past (almost) fifteen years of Christmas Cruising, we've spent the holiday on five different cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, and Celebrity), on small and large ships (ranging in size from the 670-passenger Pacific Princess to the mega-ship Harmony of the Seas) to a variety of warm-weather ports of call. There's nowhere I'd rather spend the Christmas holiday than out at sea. I hope that I can share my experiences so that you can determine if cruising over the holiday would be a good fit for your family!

Shinglebells Christmas on Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas, 2011

I've cruised over Christmas for nearly half of my life, so cruising definitely feels like Christmas to me. However, whether or not it would feel like Christmas on a cruise ship was a question that we had before our first Christmas Cruise. Each cruise lines celebrate the holiday differently, but all cruise lines that I've sailed on over Christmas have decorated the ship and include special holiday programming.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - Rating & Review

Sailing on Disney Cruise Line over the holidays has always been a dream of mine, but I didn't expect it to become a reality anytime soon due to the popularity of DCL and the astronomical holiday prices. However, we lucked out with a discounted Cast Member fare which actually made the Disney Fantasy our most affordable option over New Year's. I really wish that they had left the Christmas decorations up for the week, but I understand that they have to schedule decoration removal based on the availability of the shoreside teams. Maybe one day I'll get to go on a Merrytime Cruise and experience the ship's Christmas decor!

I first sailed on the Disney Fantasy in 2014, so it was interesting to see how the cruise compares nearly a decade later.

The rating system is based on ten components of a cruise vacation which I find important - itinerary, ship novelties, pools, activities, dining, bars and lounges, service, design and aesthetics, and stateroom.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - Glad I Did/Wish I Did

Glad I Did/Wish I Did posts are a fun way for me to quickly share with others what worked and what didn't. It's been really helpful for us to refer back to over the years when preparing for our next cruise.

Glad I decorated our Stateroom Doors

Door decorations are very popular on Disney Cruise Line, and I'm always glad to partake. In the past, I've printed the door decorations onto magnetic sheets. This time, I made the door decorations out of metallic cardstock because I wanted Mickey's hat and shorts to be shiny and festive for New Year's. To magnetize them, I used super strong Neodymium magnets that I stuck to the paper with double-sided removable glue dots which ended up sticking to the door much better than the magnetic sheets. Because I went with fancy paper, I wouldn't say this is a cheaper way of making magnets than with the magnetic sheets, but at least this way I can reuse the magnets for our next cruise door decor.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 7] Castaway Cay

We spent our final day of our New Year's Cruise at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Personally, I would much rather have spent Day 6 at Castaway Cay and Day 7 at sea. After spending the day at the private island, it's a little hectic to come back and then have to pack everything up. I also wouldn't have minded a reversed itinerary where we spend the first day at Castaway Cay (that way they could take advantage of the close proximity to Florida).

Most of the guest-facing personnel on the island are the crew members aboard the ship - servers, bartenders, and activities directors are a few of the familiar faces on the island. There's around 140 cast members who live on the island year-round and work in facility maintenance, engineering services, horticulture, custodial, transportation, etc. Then they'll boat in additional employees from adjacent Bahamian islands who run excursions, work at some of the stores, hair braiding, etc.


Castaway Cay (formerly known as "Gorda Cay") was purchased by Disney in 1997 from the Bahamian Government in a 99-year land lease.


The island is 1,000 acres and still largely undeveloped, as only 55 acres have been developed for the cruise line private island.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 6] At Sea

Our 6th day on the Disney Fantasy was a sea day! Personally, I would prefer to spend Day 6 at Castaway Cay and Day 7 as a Sea Day..... but I suppose due to distances/routes/fuel savings, Day 6 was our final sea day.


We started the morning with breakfast at Royal Court. When you go to the dining room for breakfast/lunch, they always ask you your room number. Stove was at the podium and gave his room number as "eighty-six sixteen." The host repeated back, "eighty-six sixty?" And Stove said, "Yeah!" We all heard the mix-up, but didn't think it would be a big deal.

We were seated in the middle of the dining room for once, and when our server approached the table, he welcomed us and followed with, "You have food allergies." We responded, "No, we don't." He looked confused and looked down at a yellow printed ticket, "It says here that you're allergic to eggs, gluten, soy...." (he listed off I think six allergies). "Oh, no, that's not us! We don't have any allergies." He looked surprised and then immediately relieved. "No food allergies?" "That's right! No allergies!" We then all proceeded to order eggs and gluten.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 5] Falmouth, Jamaica

We had an early morning in Falmouth, Jamaica! The Fantasy arrived in port at 7:30 AM, and our River Tubing excursion departed at 8:15 AM.

I booked our excursion through Shore Excursions Group, which is the cruise excursion booking platform for Cruises Only, which is Marriott Bonvoy's cruise booking portal. As I was searching for excursions, I came across a 5-star review that really sold it to me written by none other than Boyd Shingleton (a.k.a. "Stove").

We went on this exact River Tubing excursion when we were in Falmouth in 2017 on the Norwegian Escape and had such a great time that we decided to book it again.


The Historic Falmouth Cruise Port opened in 2011. It's located 18 miles east of Montego Bay, and 59 miles west of Ocho Rios.


We were in port with Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 4] Palo Brunch & Pirate Night

On Day 4 of our New Year's Cruise, the Disney Fantasy arrived in Grand Cayman. After dealing with tender boats and a mostly closed port the week prior on our Celebrity Summit cruise, I was happy with our decision to stay on the ship today.


We started our day with 10AM brunch at Palo, one of the two adult-only restaurants on the Disney Fantasy. In the past, I've had not-so-great dinner experiences at Palo, but we really enjoyed brunch at Palo on the Disney Dream.

Palo Brunch can be a difficult reservation to get. The trick is that it is much easier to book on a Port Day than a Sea Day. If you really want to dine at Palo for brunch, I would recommend booking on a port day for a port of call you've experienced several times already (Nassau and Cozumel are also great choices).

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 3] Cozumel

Good morning from Cozumel! Thankfully, the weather was looking much nicer than it had been on our Christmas Cruise just a week earlier.

I spotted a Royal Caribbean ship approaching in the distance. I think they were headed to the International Pier.


We were docking at Punta Langosta Cruise Terminal which is the older, smaller cruise ship pier in Cozumel. Disney ships typically dock at Punta Langosta. The International Pier (where we docked on the Summit) is located farther south.


We were scheduled to dock at 8:45, and planned to disembark immediately so that we could beat the crowds to the beach.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 2] At Sea

Gooooood morning! The sun was shining, and we had great weather - hooray! This view isn't a bad way to start 2023.


Rachel and I had agreed to walk Deck 4 with Judy at 8:30 AM.... pretty ambitious considering how late we were up, but somehow we made it.


It was very quiet - I think a lot of other people were sleeping in that morning.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Disney Fantasy New Year's Cruise - [Day 1] New Year's Eve

Rise and shine, it's Embarkation Day!! (Again!)

I thought that I had allowed myself plenty of time in the morning to get ready and pack... and then I realized that all of Aaron's clean clothes were hanging everywhere since our laundry day and needed to be folded and packed - eek! The careful tetris job of packing everything made it very challenging to repack so it all fit. If I were to do it again, I'd have Aaron pack his own checked bag, rather than us sharing a checked bag. Aaron said that if he were to do it again, he would only pack his suit and brown dress shoes, and not his velvet blazer and black dress shoes, and then he wouldn't even need a checked bag.

Needless to say, everyone was waiting on me.

As we left Central Florida and headed toward the coast, it became very cloudy.

I'm not sure why, but the line of cars for the Disney Terminal at Port Canaveral is always horrendous. It's been like this since our first ever cruise in 2001. I've yet to experience anything similar with any other port/cruise line.


We were in port with the Norwegian Escape. We sailed on the Norwegian Escape over Christmas in 2017.