A Magical Fantasy, or Fantastic Magic? Comparing Disney Cruise Line Ships

by Everett Stephens
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 3, 2014 Issue #767 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

DCL Welcome SignIt's hard to not love Disney Cruise Line … anyone joining Mickey and the crew at sea can look forward to a fabulous time both aboard and in port. Each ship's classic look, timeless decoration, fantastic food, and plethora of exciting opportunities make any a wonderful vacation. Showered with many travel accolades and awards, DCL is dedicated to providing an outstanding experience.

In 2014, all four ships are sailing out of Florida — either Port Canaveral (Fantasy, Dream, and Magic) or Miami (Wonder). This presented such a great opportunity that my family and I grabbed a spot on the Magic for a short Bahamas cruise. Being Fantasy veterans, our family anticipated an incredible time. But would it be more of the same, or an entirely new experience? Join us as our family enjoyed this new adventure, as we compared the newly renovated Magic to the newest DCL ship, the Fantasy.

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The Fantasy and her sister ship, the Dream, are truly vast. At 129,000 tons, 1,458 crew and up to 4,000 guests in 1,250 cabins the Fantasy and Dream are magnificent ships. The Fantasy is more than three football fields long — 1115 feet. This also means that it is both longer and heavier than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the largest warships afloat today. The Fantasy, at least at this time, is alternately visiting the Eastern Caribbean or the Western Caribbean for week-long cruises.

The Magic is certainly more mobile, having visited both coasts as well as several European ports. Weighing in at only(!) 83,000 tons and 964 feet, it holds 950 crew and a maximum of 2,400 passengers in 875 staterooms. The Magic is the original DCL ship and some think it's still the best. Its extensive and impressive renovation in 2013 updated the rooms and the public spaces and added several new features. The AquaDunk is the Magic's answer to the Fantasy's AquaDuck, and it is similar to many land-based water slides. But no land-based slide will take you over the edge of a sea-going ship approximately 100 feet above the sea!

Standing next to either ship while docked is a great way to get a feeling for the massive nature of each ship. Both require well over 20 feet of draft to stay afloat and seem to stretch on forever while floating next to the pier. It seems easier to forget the scale of a modern cruise ship while on board, so I recommend spending some time dockside appreciating these massive creations.

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FantasyWhen we arrived at Port Canaveral for our trip on the Magic, our anticipation was high. Among the earliest to arrive, we were rewarded by being in the first group to board. Embarking the Magic with the typical Disney fanfare, we immediately felt at home. The Atrium felt familiar, yet different enough to keep us looking around the next corner. The surprise of the next new decoration, the next new restaurant, or the next new location was familiar yet exciting.

While so much felt familiar, some differences were more obvious than others. The scale of both interior and exterior spaces was slightly smaller on the Magic than Fantasy. While the size difference might seem obvious when comparing the stats of the ships, unless you were taking careful note of the space it is not that apparent while onboard. The care with which DCL Imagineers used the larger spaces on the Fantasy speaks of the innovative and functional original design of the Magic. Features such as the central location of the Oceaneer children's spaces, the large and stately Walt Disney Theatre, and the pool/outdoor features are common among both ship classes. Even some of the venues — D Lounge, Vista Art Gallery and Shutters — take a slightly different tack yet are functionally consistent among the ships.

The most apparent differences between the ships are the atrium and on the pool deck. While both are larger on the Fantasy, they don't seem cramped at all on the Magic. For example, it seemed harder to find a space to watch the Sail Away party and the Pirates party on the Fantasy despite the larger deck space. On the Fantasy, the common spaces sometimes have trouble handling larger crowds. The pool deck fills up rapidly during sea days on both, but other entertainment options helps to distribute the crowds.

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AquaDuckOne of the many upgrades to the Magic in 2013 was the addition of the AquaDunk. Entering from Deck 10, several flights of steps lead to the launch capsule. The clear cover of the AquaDunk's capsule opens, you step in, and the cover closes, leaving you standing on the trapdoor. Even though you can't see the drop tube from the launch capsule, it seems to cause some apprehension among those waiting in line. The AquaDuck on the Fantasy offers a different experience. On the AquaDuck, you are loaded on your raft on a launch belt… all while on the safety of the deck. Two entirely different feelings. Unlike the AquaDuck, the AquaDunk seems to inspire some attrition. We passed several on their way back down the stairs. Along with the attendant launching guests in rapid fashion, the line of the AquaDunk seems to move somewhat faster than you might expect!

Both ships feature a fun splash area. On the Fantasy, the Aqua Lab is almost hidden from the main pool area and could be missed by some guests. On the Magic, it is directly in front of Cabanas and in the middle of the action. Toddler areas (Nephew's splash area) are engaging on both ships, although smaller on the Magic.

Neither ship's pools are huge, most likely owing to their location on the ship and subsequent weight. Both pools can be converted to a party area by a movable floor. The Fantasy has two adjacent pools, where the Magic's 'deep' and shallow pools are separated by ship's structural elements.

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Children of all ages will be wowed by the Oceaneer's Club and Lab on both ships. All feature multiple rooms with different themes, activities and events. This is probably the area of greatest difference between the ships — the wonderful yet unique theming of all the Oceaneer's areas. If only there were such neat and fun places to visit when I was young. But wait, I am young! Outta the way, kids!

The Buena Vista Theatre is a lovely place to watch any recent theatrical release. The Walt Disney Theatre, the premier venue, features Broadway-class musicals and entertainment. Each ship has different presentations and on both ships almost always play to a full house for good reason.

The beautiful weather of the Caribbean is a great excuse to get out in the sun and play. The pools and water attractions are hard to miss on either ship, but don't forget to check out the sports entertainment featured on both. The Magic has a large basketball court and adjacent sheltered table sports area. On the Fantasy, a whimsical nine-hole putt-putt course is a blast for all ages. The nearby indoor golfing simulator is apparently top-notch on the Fantasy. It does require reservations, so if you're a golfer, be sure to call early.

The Fantasy, being the newest addition to the fleet, benefits from the changes in technology over the last decade. The Midship Detective Agency on the Fantasy takes advantage of multiple screens scattered around the ship that become interactive when presented with the keycards. I missed the constant pitter-patter of feet on the stairs of the Magic, but it also meant the elevators were easier to catch.

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Among the many upgrades of the Magic's refit was the dining areas, including addition of the Cabanas buffet on Deck 9. It is almost identical to the Fantasy's Cabanas, even down to layout and featuring both indoor and outdoor seating. The food quality is excellent at both locations. On the Magic, much of the food is cooked right behind the serving line and transferred to the buffet.

Both ships have the same rotational dining plan of three dining rooms on each ship, with somewhat different cuisine. Lumiere's (Magic) and Royal Court (Fantasy) both feature French cuisine. Animators Palate is a staple on both ships, but each location has a different show. Enchanted Garden (Fantasy) serves American food, while the newly renovated Carioca's (Magic) features South American Cuisine. Several recipes are shared among the ships, which is a good thing! At night, Cabanas hosts table-service dining with a limited selection of the main dining's menu.

For on-the-deck dining, I appreciated the addition of Daisy's De-Lights, a quick-service specializing in healthy eats, such as wraps and fresh fruits. Both ships have several quick-service venues, including pizza and hamburgers/chicken tenders. Adjacent to Boiler Bites, the Magic did have a shawarma booth with fresh gyros and pitas, an interesting addition.

And who can forget the ice cream? Serve yourself ice cream at Frozone's is sure to be a hit no matter which ship you choose.

On Castaway Cay, both BBQ restaurants were open. This provided a less congested dining experience. A windy day thinned crowds somewhat, but had the entire ship debarked there still would have been plenty of room to spread out.

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Mascot MickeyVista art gallery is only a corridor on the Magic, but it gets its own shop (albeit small) on the Fantasy. Speaking of art, both ships feature many unique pieces of Disney artwork. It is truly worthwhile to wander the stairwells of both ships to appreciate the many treasures hidden therein.

Adults are indulged on both ships as well, including live entertainment and meetings such as mixers in the adult-only areas. The Fantasy carries a slight edge for creativity in their adult nightlife spaces including Ooh La La and O'Gills (which has been opened in the Magic refit albeit in slightly different layout), but activities are essentially equal.

I did not visit the spa on either ship; my nails are fine just as they are… grease and all. The exercise areas on both ships are both well apportioned with treadmills, ellipticals, a limited selection of strength training machines, and a few sets of free weights. Runners can visit Deck 4 for where they'll find a track.

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All in all, the two ships complement one another wonderfully, much like Disneyland and Disney World. You would really be selling yourself short if you didn't at least try the two different classes. If you sail on one, you will certainly want to try another… just like you can't take just one bite at dinner. DCL doesn't WANT the ships to be copies of one another. Each is an exciting experience and adds to the line with its individuality. Fantasy feels larger, because it IS larger. Magic doesn't suffer for being slightly smaller because the spaces seem to fit together very well and are not overwhelmed with the greater number of people. Fantasy carries off the grandeur of its size, but the public areas can become congested when one main event is occurring such as Pirates in the Caribbean, the Sail Away Party, and 'Til We Meet Again Party. Many features are equivalent, but executed slightly differently, such as The Cove Cafe and D Lounge. Perhaps the greatest attractions are the Oceaneer's areas, since they function the same but are entirely different in theme and execution (including the new Marvel Avenger's Academy on the Magic!). It is truly a treat to visit both ships.

We loved both ships, and it is hard to go wrong with either. But, if both were leaving dock and I had to jump on one (drum roll please)… I would probably run for the Magic, because it seems to fit my style better.

What about you? Do you have a favorite among the four Disney cruise ships?

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Read more about the Disney Fantasy and its "fantastic" offerings:

Disney Fantasy Overview:

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage:

Disney Magic Re-Imagined

Other Features for AllEars® by Everett Stephens:

Fantastic Diversions, January 8, 2013

Berthing at Stone Harbor, October 23, 2012



Everett Stephens lives outside Louisville, Kentucky, with his Disney wife and two children who required little coercion to become Disneyphiles. Somewhere along the way they ended up in Cape Canaveral, and well, as they say, the rest is history.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.