Standing a dozen floors above the ocean, I feel my heart race. I’m about to launch myself through a Plexiglass tube that loops around the entire top deck of a cruise ship, juts out over the water and lands a full floor below its entrance. Remarkably, just a few days earlier I was a tightly wound mom, nervously shepherding my whirling 8-year-old son, Aidan, on a mommy-and-me Disney cruise. And now, somehow, I’m letting him take the reins on our final day. Predictably, he led me here: the swirling entrance to the AquaDuck, a mechanized high-speed “water coaster.”
Such is the magic of the new Disney Fantasy: Everyone, it seems, succumbs eventually to its charms.
A few days ago, the grown-up elegance of the Fantasy charmed me. The mahogany interiors and marble corridors felt like Fifth Avenue, not Main Street Disney as I had feared (although I did spy Mickey in a captain’s uniform). Of course, most of the interior was a blur as Aidan and I ran down the length of the 4,000-person ship, whizzing past the three-story atrium with its peacock-colored art nouveau chandelier, barely pausing at the pool deck’s (free!) soft-serve machine.
Time was of the essence. A valuable prop was missing from the Muppets’ storeroom, and we held the only key to finding it. Well, not really. But you wouldn’t know it from the breakneck pace we used to unlock clues from the “enchanted” art tucked around the ship with our oh-so-cool QT coded detective badge. With a wave of our badge, a static painting became animated; another wave, and Kermit spoke to us. I was dazzled by the technology; Aidan was mesmerized by the mystery, and we were both out of breath when we finally found Kermit’s missing banjo. Swinging his hand with mine on the way back to the stateroom, Aidan proclaimed it “the most fun ever!”
The next day, news of “super sloppy science” in our daily planner had Aidan off and running to the Oceaneer Lab/Oceaneer Club. The cutting-edge kids club was staffed to the gills with enthusiastic counselors. Aiden jumped at the chance to make an oozing, mess-creating volcano. He didn’t even glance back at me when the green-haired, goggled, lab-coated “professor” got the barely controlled chaos off to a riotous start, chanting, “We’re going to make a mess, and we’re not going to clean it up!” Glorious words for my boy.
On my own for the first time, I peeked in at Europa, which offers an Epcot-worthy array of bars: a Parisian champagne lounge, a London disco, a Skyline, where the cityscape changed as I walked through the room. My favorite? A cozy Irish pub. So cozy, it coaxed me into trying something new on a family vacation: a grown-up dinner with a friend. At adults-only Palo, I watched the ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows, dined on white-truffle-topped risotto and splurged on a chocolate souffle. It was as restorative as a spa treatment (and cheaper too; just a $20 surcharge).
Back at our comfy stateroom, Aidan and I snuggled up to compare notes on our fun evenings out, and having now hit maximum vacation mode, we ordered milk and cookies (free room service, score!) for a bedtime snack.
On our last day, I survive AquaDuck, and as Aidan has promised, it’s great. Turning to my dripping son, I ask him what he thought: “It was fun, but way more fun because we were together.” Exactly.