We sailed on Disney Fantasy April 6-13 with three generations of family ranging from ages 4 to 77 (our kids are 4 and 5). This was our first Disney cruise although our family has cruised on other lines.
Generally expectations were met and some surpassed. Disney knows how to make kids happy. Very happy. And keep adults relatively satisfied as well. Service was impeccable. The ship particularly succeeds in its creative details and loads of activities. Complaints are what you would expect of any mass market cruise or amusement park. Yes, there are crowds, the food is average, and there's the near constant upselling. But none of those overly detracted from the experience.
Ship. The Fantasy is a large ship, attractive and well-maintained. The pool deck and buffet (Cabana's) are rather crowded, especially on days at sea. The main pools are small and the area around them tight. Same with the adults pool. There is a good portion of the deck reserved for adults but it's towards the bow and can be quite windy. I especially liked the feel of the Currents bar in the adults area with a nice view of the ship and sea. The Aqua Duck slide is fun but with a 30-45 minute wait a time investment. The atrium and interior areas are highlighted by clever and ever-changing digital art. Other than around meal times most of the ship's interior space is not too crowded. As a runner, I appreciated the .4 mile track on Deck 4, by far the best I've seen on a ship. We particularly liked the bar area in the evenings, especially the Irish pub. Bars are concentrated in a single part of the ship. Again, Disney plays to adults too. As for the ship's size, we definitely noticed it. There's a certain anonymity and impersonality that comes with never seeing the same people twice.
Room. We were in 6150, a deluxe oceanview with verandah. Because our family had 4 rooms next to each other, the balconies were opened up and combined. Rooms are small but very well-designed. By day they sport a couch and coffee table. At night they are magically transformed into a kids' room with bunk beds and a curtain. The dual bathrooms were novel and useful. Oh, and the towel animals! Each night brought a different creature. Again, Disney has thought of a lot of nice touches.
Food. Dining was about what we expected. Main dining room food was average. Surprisingly I thought the seafood dishes were generally better than the meat ones, which were often tough and flavorless. We mostly had breakfasts and lunches at Cabana's, which was fairly uninspiring and chaotic. One bright spot was the unlimited shrimp and crab at lunch. The food by the pool - both selection and quality - was quite poor. It would be nice if overall there were more adventurous options and different cuisines. Food is clearly not Disney's priority. That being said, we had quite good meals at Remy and Palo. Sure, they were splurges but we thought both exceeded expectations and were highlights of the cruise. P.S. The Mickey bars are really good with a nice dark chocolate shell.
Service. Wow, the service. If only Disney could train the world. From our stateroom attendant to waiters to staff all over the ship, Disney knows how to make everyone feel special. At one breakfast, the waitress cut our kids' food and wiped their mouths. That itself may be worth the price of admission. And the front desk recovered our 4 year old's lost stuffed Pua all of three times (sadly it met its demise when lost the fourth). The service at Remy and Palo was so attentive as to almost be overwhelming.
Kids' Activities. Kids are not bored on the Fantasy. And the kids' club is one of the really nice perks for both kids and adults. We dropped ours off almost every afternoon for a few hours. They seemed to have fun. That said, compared to our last all-inclusive at Club Med where the kids club had full roam of the resort and resort activities, there was something a little disconcerting about arriving each time to find our kids parked in front of a TV or video game. Outside of kids' club, our kids enjoyed the pools, dance parties, character greetings, the Disney Jr. breakfast, etc.
Nickel and Diming ($$$). Disney Cruises don't come cheap and once on-board you realize there's a lot more to spend money on. Alcohol, specialty restaurants and shore excursions, fine. But charging extra for soft drinks at meals, lattes, smoothies, ice cream and even popcorn at the theater somewhat offends the idea that you're paying an all-inclusive price in advance. Although those Mickey foam lattes might have been worth the extra expense.
Entertainment. The Aladdin show was on hiatus on our cruise. We attended two others - Disney's Wishes and Believe. Both were well done if not cheesy, one with an odd high school relationship plot that seemingly appeals to neither adults nor their young kids who predominate Disney cruises. Both are vehicles for delivering lots of choreographed Disney songs. When asked after the cruise about their favorite experience our kids both said the shows. So again Disney must be doing something right. Our kids also enjoyed the deck shows and other entertainment around the ship. I'd be remiss not to mention the "shows" in Animator's Palate at dinner. These are immensely creative and interactive. I'll echo others' advice that you should make sure to be present at those dinners.
Ports. Our cruise sailed to the Eastern Caribbean. In Tortola, with our group of 12, we chartered a private boat through Antilles Power Boats. Rosie and Phil were great hosts and took us around to Norman and Cooper Islands and the Willy T's for lunch. In St. Thomas, we took the ferry from the ship to St. John and a taxi to Trunk Bay. In my view St. John has some of the finest protected beaches in the Caribbean if not the world. And even on cruise ship days they're relatively uncrowded. As for Castaway Cay, it was nice in an artificial Disney World sort of way. If anyone can create an island paradise from scratch it's Disney. But I don't entirely get the profound love for Castaway over on the Disney message boards. We have been to many beaches in the Caribbean and generally prefer the ones without 4,000 people parked on them like sardines. Castaway is unavoidably crowded. That said, the barbecue lunch was one of our better cruise meals, and the 5K "run" (most people walked it) was fun if not a little strange on an unattractive air strip and path around the interior of the island.
Take-Aways. For full disclosure, there are people over on the Disney boards who boast of taking 5, 10, 15, 50, 100 (!!) Disney cruises or who regularly vacation at the parks. We are not among them. We enjoy different kinds of travel and intended the Disney cruise likely as a one-time experience. From this perspective, the cruise passed the test. Kids were happy, adults were happy, we went to nice beach destinations and were well taken care of.
Worth It? Disney cruises come at a premium, and such a question is subjective and dependent on personal factors. We don't have any regrets doing it, enjoyed the experience and felt good about the trip. Having cruised on most of the other major lines, we don't think anyone does it better for young kids than Disney.