Dina's and Peter's FANTAS(y)TIC First!!

iloveeeyore

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 12, 2003
DH and I just returned from our first DCL experience, the Fantasy Western Caribbean, January 4-11. It was amazing!! This is our trip report. Please enjoy, and feel free to ask any questions! We have gained a lot of knowledge from DISBoards over the years, and love to share some of our experiences so others might benefit.

We have wanted to try DCL for soooo many years, it just felt like the right time to go for it now, for a number of reasons. We have recently lost some very close friends to crazy illnesses, and we know life is too short to keep putting stuff off to “someday.” We are in our 50's, and for the past 20 years, every vacation we took was with our kids (who are now 25 and 23). We LOVE travelling with them (we might be somewhat biased, but we think they are AWESOME) and wouldn’t trade any moment of our time with them for anything, but it was time to spend some quality time on our own, with greater focus on romance and relaxation. We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in 2020, and thought a Disney cruise would be the perfect way to kick off our 30th year together. Even though it wasn’t technically our anniversary, we noted on our reservation that we would be celebrating our anniversary…who knew what kind of pixie dust would happen?

We booked through Dreams Unlimited Travel, kind of last-minute (around 6 weeks out, around Thanksgiving week), which is not usually how we book cruises. It was pricier than most cruises we have taken, which is why we have always hesitated to try DCL, and it was even MORE expensive than usual due to the last-minute nature of the booking. DU offered a generous $200 on-board credit, so we decided to give them the reservation. We put in a request for a quote and were randomly assigned to Eileen Smith, who has been wonderful and attentive, even now that we’re back. What I’m trying to get at here, is that this cruise was kind of an impulse buy (at least for us)…seemingly very against our usual, very meticulously planned vacation pattern…and we loved it that way!!

Here we are with our lovely gift basket from DU:
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iloveeeyore

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 12, 2003
Friday, January 3 - Travel Day

Our closest and most convenient airport is Westchester County (White Plains HPN), but we usually use LaGuardia, Newark or JFK because they have more options and lower prices. But since it was just DH and I travelling this trip, we chose the more convenient, though slightly more expensive HPN. It used to be a quonset hut and a runway, but in recent years it has been modernized. There are 3 direct JetBlue flights to MCO per day. and that's almost about it. Seriously, I checked out the departures board and there's about 2 flights per hour on average!

After some last minute packing early in the morning on Friday, January 3, our son drove us to the airport. Well, I mean he accompanied us so he could bring the car home. We left the house at around 7:50 am for our 10:20 flight. We wanted time to grab breakfast at the airport.
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We reached the airport around 8:10 am on a pretty dismal, though not-so-cold day.
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We didn't go through security yet, because we hadn't been there in quite some time, and we weren't sure what kind of breakfast and coffee options were on the other side of security. So we explored the modern, expanded airport ;)

The observation lounge was not open at this early hour.

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  • iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Friday, January 3 Travel Day

    We had so much time at the airport! We have become accustomed to long security lines at the city airports, but here at HPN, we noticed there was a line of like...3 people! So we took our time taking pictures and having a leisurely breakfast. Our son gave us these great rope bracelets with anchors on them for Christmas, and we wanted him to see how much we were enjoying them.
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    Breakfast options at HPN include some grab-and-go items from the news stands (there is one before security and we later remembered, one inside security), or sit-down at the Purchase Country Diner. With so much time on our hands, we chose the diner!
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    At 8:45 am, we had our choice of tables! We were surprised to find the waitress was familiar to us, as she used to work at a neighborhood diner that we frequent. It's a small county!

    The diner seemed a bit pricey (around $12 for a short stack of 2 pancakes, $13 for a cheese omelette), but I guess that's what you get in any airport. We thought the egg sandwiches were the most reasonably priced and they are also our go-to diner breakfast, so we both ordered the same thing - bacon, egg and cheese on a roll with coffee! The sandwiches were about $6.50 each and the coffees around $3. Breakfast was good, not the best egg sandwiches ever, but certainly far from the worst! The rolls were soft and fresh, and the coffee was pretty decent...little did we know how much we would come to appreciate a decent cup of coffee in the coming days.
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    After the satisfying breakfast, we went through the growing security line (probably 7 people ahead of us at this point), which took about 10 minutes. This is what it looks like at the gates of the marvelous and convenient HPN.
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    We were amused because sometime during breakfast, I had received an e-mail from JetBlue reporting "important information about a gate change" for our flight. Ok, but haha, I took this photo from about 20 feet to the right of the gate from which we would depart, and you can see the door of the other gate before that orange wall in the "distance." I know, I'm sure JetBlue sends those e-mails for all gate changes to all passengers, and I imagine in LaGuardia it might have mattered, but here we were in HPN where there are 2 gates and they are about two cartwheels distance from each other. Fortunately, we found the right gate and sat for a while until it was time to board the plane!
     

    iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Friday, January 3 Travel Day

    Once on the plane, we started to get REALLY excited! This thing was finally happening!
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    The weather was still very dreary as we pulled away from the gate right on time at 10:20 am
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    The weather couldn't possibly dampen our moods, which were soaring for sure! By about 10,000 ft, we were treated to our first glimpse of the actual sun.

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    I neglected to mention how much my family loves eating! Well that means that this report will include plenty of food porn, most of which is soft porn, including the JetBlue snacks on the plane.
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    Somehow, I managed to focus enough to retain the few chapters I actually read. I thought I would have more time and focus to read during this vacation, but surprisingly, I never got back to the book until the plane ride home.

    About 30 minutes before landing, as we began our decent, we were treated to gorgeous views of the sunny Florida coast. I was looking for the Dream down there, around where I calculated Port Canaveral should be, but I wasn't able to make her out.
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    The forecast was for a gorgeous day in Orlando, but worsening weather that night and into the next day, with gale force winds predicted in Port Canaveral on Sail Away. We were already preparing ourselves for an indoor Sail Away party, but looking forward to a nice day on Friday. At this point we hadn't decided what we would do with the rest of our day once we landed.

    Stay tuned...
     

    iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Friday, January 3 - Travel Day

    We booked a combination hotel room/transportation through GoPort on line. This included transfers from MCO to our hotel, Friday night stay at hotel, transfers by coach from the hotel to the port, and transfers a week later from the port to MCO. A wide range of hotels and price points are offered, and we selected the Hampton Inn & Suites Orlando Airport at Gateway Village, because we are Hilton Honors Members, the hotel offered free breakfast, and most importantly, they offered early pick-up at the hotel for one of the earliest times arriving at the port. Also I believe it was on the less expensive side of the options, especially among those offering early port arrival.

    We were very happy with this service. I had read a few nightmare reports on line, some claiming that the bus never came to pick up the passengers at their hotel, so I was slightly nervous, but as soon as I booked it I received an e-mail with an extremely detailed itinerary, itemizing exactly what numbers to call when I arrived at the airport, where to meet the bus in the am, what to do when disembarking, etc. My sense is that the people who didn't get picked up somehow didn't pick this whole package but rather booked only the transport portion and were perhaps at an entirely different hotel? There are SO many hotels with similar names, maybe the contract was actually for a different hotel? Well anyway, it worked out for us and we would easily use this service again.

    The hotel was very nice and clean, though perhaps a tiny bit dated. I believe it's slated for a rehab later this year. As Hilton Honors guests we were given a little snack when we arrived. By the time we arrived at the hotel around 1:50 (landed at MCO 1:05, taxied 1:15, gathered our bag 1:30 and picked up by 1:40 for our 10 minute ride), we were hungry enough for a snack and very thirsty! We had a bunch of choices and we chose the Coconut Patties and the Lorna Doone's. Of course, Peter and I went with our favorite Diet Cokes.
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    I took a pretty crazy number of pics of the normal hotel room. What can I say, I was super-excited to be on vacation!
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    The bed was so comfortable!

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    We agreed that the shower was incredible!! Just the right amount of pressure and it got super hot! Peter and I both took showers and settled in for a power nap before deciding what to do for our 1 night in Orlando.
     
  • iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Friday, January 3 - Disney Springs!

    In the weeks prior to the trip (yeah, we only had weeks to plan), we had spent many an hour discussing what to do on our one night in Orlando. We could have easily walked across the street for an inexpensive, leisurely dinner and drinks. There were lots of options within walking distance of our hotel, the most intriguing of which was Korean chicken place. We also considered taking an Uber or Lyft to a Disney Resort (most likely Poly or WL) to check out the holiday decorations, have some dinner, and maybe even watch fireworks from an MK resort. We considered Disney Springs, which we had visited briefly 3 years before, just around the time it went from "Downtown Disney" to "Disney Springs," while it was largely under construction. Finally, we thought of taking this opportunity to see some part of Downtown Orlando, which in our many visits to WDW, we had never done. Ultimately, we decided to play it by ear, no pressure, decide what we felt like when we got there.

    When we woke up from our power nap, we were rarin' to go and decided to splurge on a Lyft to...Disney Springs! Now, neither Peter nor I had ever used an Uber or Lyft before, and it was time to learn, you gotta start somewhere. So Peter first tried to establish and Uber account but he was unable because he uses a Google Voice VOIP account, which is not allowed by Uber. So he tried with Lyft and he was able to do it, so Lyft it was! this worked out great, as we were able to avail of a coupon of 50% off (for a maximum savings of $6.00) for your first 5 rides. The cost turned out to be a little under $30 each way, so basically we saved the tip.

    He went through the process of getting a car and we were in the car by around 3 pm. Traffic was pretty bad at this time of day, and we were dropped of in the Lime Garage at about 3:35.

    It was a GORGEOUS day, almost a little too hot in the sun, but fortunately at this time there were plenty of shadows, so always shade to be found. Peter was on a mission! Since we had first heard of this place, he's been dying to try it, and as we exited the Lime Garage it was right there, so how could we resist?

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    The Daily Poutine! Peter had only ever tried authentic poutine at LeCellier and he wanted to try it at another venue for comparison (I have been to Canada a bunch of times as a kid because my brother was a hockey player, so I have had my share of real poutine).

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    We decided to share one order because we wanted to save room for dinner, and he ordered ("surprise me") while I used the restroom. He went with the Classic, since that's what he was here for.

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    This was...okay. I can't say it was even close to the best poutine I've ever had, but it was true to the poutine I remember from real Canada. Peter wasn't overly impressed, and we're glad he got the poutine curiosity out of his system. The problem was, it wasn't hot enough so the cheese curds weren't melty and the curds themselves were too big so they weren't distributed well throughout. The fries alone were maybe the problem...maybe they had been sitting a while under a lamp, and that's why the whole thing just didn't quite make the grade (I didn't see it made because I was in the restroom)? The gravy was delicious and hot and saved the dish from being a big fail. Like I said, we got it out of our systems and won't need to get this again ever...there are way too many other places we want to try in Disney Springs anyway!

    We walked around quite a bit, did lots of browsing, I took photos of every available loungefly backpack for my daughter, who really wants one for her trip in April. I'm not going to share those photos, but if there's anything you want to see, please ask.

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    I didn't take as many pics as I wanted, I found we just kind of ambled along in awe...of the changes since we had last visited, of the beauty of the whole place, of the gorgeousness of the day, of actually being there at all, pinching ourselves the whole time!
     

    iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Friday, January 3 - Homecomin'

    We had no dinner reservation and couldn't decide where to go, as there were so many amazing options. We LOVE Raglan Road but had dined there many times before, and Peter kept teasing me about really wanting to go back there. I also really wanted to go the the Hangar Bar for a drink before dinner, but we knew that might spoil our appetite,s and we vowed we were still up for a drink after dinner, we would go there. Ultimately, we were trying to choose between Polite Pig and Homecomin' for dinner. We discussed how we have a bunch of places near home where we could easily find great BBQ brisket, but no southern cooking places for amazing fried chhicken that we know of, so that was the deciding factor. We walked up to the podium around 5:30 and were seated immediately!

    We were seated very close to another couple who was so nice, we got to talking about our common love for all things Disney. They were DVC owners and were telling us about all their wonderful experiences with DVC, as well as all their amazing times dining at Homecomin' (multiple times per trip). It was a delicious dinner as well as a surprisingly fun social hour.

    We appreciate the environmentally conscious straws:

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    Delicious moonshine spin on classic drinks! We ordered a peach sangria and a margarita. The margarita had tequila and moonshine and the sangria had prosecco and moonshine. They were soooo good!! No need to go to any other bar with drinks this good here. I wanted to stay and taste more but we were so full after dinner!

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    An appetizer to share, fried green tomatoes! These were delicious and it was kind of ironic because we were trying to order the lighter fare, but this ended up being absolutely huge and very filling. I wasn't crazy about the ham on top, I pushed some of it to the side, which lightened it up a little tiny bit.

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    While we were working on our appetizer, Chef Art Smith made rounds over to our table. He was familiar with the couple next to us, as they had eaten there so many times. I wanted to ask for a photo with him, but I got a little shy about it. It's always nice when the chef stops by your table, and he was very affable, asked where we were from, told us about his place in Grand Central Station which we promised to try.

    The couple next to us told us not to miss the mac and cheese, so while we were working on the appetizer, our waiter came over to check on us (amazing service at Homecomin', by the way, and we asked him to add a side of mac and cheese to our order. It did not disappoint! Soooo good, one of the best mac and cheeses ever!

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    For our mains we ordered the shrimp and grits, and the fried chicken. Both were amazing, but honestly, we couldn't finish them! Luckily there was a fridge back at the Hampton Inn! We brought back half of the chicken and potatoes, and at least half of the mac and cheese. So filling!

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    The biscuit that comes with the fried chicken, OMG!
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    Well we were full...but we were on vacation!! So we HAD to find some room for dessert! We were going back and forth between the Shine Cake and the Hummingbird Cake. Normally we would have ordered both (I repeat, we were on vacation), but we were just too full! Our new friends recommended the Hummingbird Cake, and we had seen a few orders of it coming out, so we figured how could we go wrong? We didn't. It was amazing. That icing! So delicious!

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    We practically (literally) rolled out of Homecomin' with the feeling that we couldn't wait to return and try more drinks and different items on the menu. A+ to Chef Art Smith and the cooks and servers at this place. We highly recommend!! No need to even discuss any other food or drink venues after dinner, but we did feel a need to walk off some of our stomach lumps, and what better place to do this than Disney Springs?!
     

    iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Friday, January 3 - Disney Springs

    We did quite a bit more walking and browsing. One of our favorite shops was the Boathouse shop, which had so many items that we loved, and we also really enjoyed the vibe in there. And the smells coming out of the Boathouse were pretty great; we feel like we'd like to try that place on a future visit as well.

    We were about to summon a Lyft ride back to the hotel when we stumbled upon the Christmas Tree Trail! We didn't know this was a thing, but we are so glad we found it. There were trees devoted to all the popular Disney movies and attractions. There was even fake show pumped in occasionally so you felt transported to a winter wonderland...which is what we were trying to escape, so we didn't spend TOO much time here, but we did linger long enough to stop by each tree. Here are a few examples of what we saw.

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    This is Peter with the Mulan tree (his favorite character is Mushu)

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    This is where you would meet Santa at the end of the Tree Trail before Christmas, I guess. There was no Santa here at the time we went through.

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    We got a Lyft around 7:40 (waited around 5 minutes for our car) and were back at the hotel by around 8:05.

    I asked at the front desk about a liquor store within walking distance and the guy behind the front desk told me that there would be a liquor store run in about 15 minutes. There was another guy going to the liquor store already waiting, and a young couple who were going to hear live music at a local bar called Fish on Fire, which sounds like a place I'd like to go! So we waited in the lobby and took advantage of the van ride to Conway's? (overpriced) liquor. Wish I had noticed the Publix across the street. I'm sure the prices there would have been better. We bought a few bottles of prosecco to carry on board and tipped the van driver for his time. Such a wonderful benefit for our hotel.

    We were back in our room around 9:20 and probably asleep by 9:30. It had been a long, exciting day, and we had an early appointment in the morning!
     
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    tundra1

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 25, 2019
    Sounds like a fun trip you had! I can't wait to read more! We are going in November and Homecomin' is on our must try list! :flower1:
     

    iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Saturday, January 4 - Embarkation Day breakfast and GoPort

    We were so excited, we were both awake before the alarm went off. It was a dreary day in Orlando but we didn't care!
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    We took long, wonderful showers and packed up our stuff and left everything in the room for convenience and headed down a little before 8 am to the included breakfast. It was fine, a typical Hampton Inn hot breakfast buffet with the option to cook your own waffle, which is what Peter did (I only eat waffles when they're shaped like Mickey).

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    We also may have supplemented the buffet with some leftovers from Friday night's dinner at Homecomin'. Well...we couldn't just throw them in the garbage, they were way too good!

    Our reservation with GoPort was for a 9:30 pick up,with instructions to be in the lobby with our tagged bags by 9:15. We went back up to the room around 8:50 and were back downstairs around 9. We were having conversations with other families, one of which was coming on the fantasy, but most others were sailing on Carnival or Norwegian ships. It was a big crowd and it turned out we would be traveling by bus (not what I expected). We started boarding around 9:15 and it took the whole 15 minutes.

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    In cleaning out our fridge on the way out of the room, Peter remembered that he had found this in the liquor store the night before, a treat that is not available anywhere in the NYC area.
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    Our driver went over his check list and it turned our there were 4 people missing. He went into the lobby to seek them out and we ended up waiting about 8 minutes on the bus. The people never showed up, and we had exactly 4 empty seats on the bus.

    We were so excited to pull away from the Hampton Inn & Suites at 9:38 in our front of the bus seats.
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    The short, exciting road to Port Canaveral

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    The shape in the lower right corner is the head of our friendly driver. That was our amazing view. I tried to capture Fantasy in the distance but those photos didn't come out so great. Believe me driving up to port was very exciting as we went over bridges and started catching some glimpses of the beautiful cruise ship ahead and to the left (which I guess was toward the northeast)!

    The bus pulled into the cruise port at 10:19, making it's first stop at the Carnival terminal at 10:22. By 10:30, we were off the bus and collecting our luggage at this spot. I believe those poor souls lined up along the fence had just disembarked from the Fantasy moments ago...where we would be a week from that time, sniff sniff, let's not think of that now!

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    iloveeeyore

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 12, 2003
    Saturday, January 4 - Embarkation Day - port check-in

    We breezed through security in about 5 minutes and must have entered the check-in line by around 10:40 or so. We had to spend a few minutes gawking at the terminal first.

    I had done a lot of thinking and imagining what the terminal would be like. I'm so glad we did our first cruise before they shut down terminal 8 for rehab. It was exactly as we had expected. First of all the space is very large and light and airy with big bright windows. It's also so welcoming and Disney-fied. And like Disney Springs, it was still decked out with Yule-tide cheer.

    It's not Disney until you can find the DVC info!
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    Here's Peter excitedly entering the Check-in area. You can see on the right in the distance the line for Captain Mickey meet was already getting pretty long.

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    The wreath and bows for the holidays and the already pretty long line to check-in. It didn't matter, it moved so quickly because they had so many agents! We were done checking in by around 10:50.
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    I was surprised we scored such a low boarding number. We had a port arrival time of 12:15-12:30 (the earliest one available at the time we booked). This really got my hopes up about possibly boarding early and scoring Palo Brunch!
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    We got right in line to meet Captain Mickey. We were so excited to meet him. The wait was around 15 or 20 minutes. About one or two parties ahead of us, Mickey took a breather and he was replaced by Goofy! Not a problem for us, we love Goofy! It was a phenomenal character interaction, Goofy is so funny. The cast members were wonderful and took photo package pics and also about a billion with our cameras. Here's one.
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    By the time we were done with that Goof it was around 11:10 and we still had plenty of time to wander around exploring the terminal, which started to get more and more congested and the excitement of imminent boarding was really getting to people, especially us!

    I absolutely loved all the sea creature ornaments on this beautiful tree. It struct me that so few passengers ever get to see this in the dark, but I bet it's gorgeous.
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    You gotta have at least one photo of the Magic model (I have a few more TBH)
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    My pic is blurry, getting too excited, but around 11:22 they started announcing that boarding would begin shortly.
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    We went out onto the observation deck and noticed they were off-loading the holiday decorations. Our cruise would be SWDAS theme, not a Very Merry theme.
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    Getting ready to go through the ears!
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    kaysmommie

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 27, 2006
    Subscribing to your trip report. I love it so far! We are cruising in spring again on the Fantasy. Looking for some new ideas for western Caribbean excursions. 😊
     
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