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Pleasant stay at Castaway Cay

Fantasy ship sets sail for Disney's private island

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NOTHING says you've made it quite like owning a private island. However, being a bit cash-strapped, I have Disney buy the island and my family and I just use it whenever we want.

"That's fine with us," says Disney Cruise Line president Karl Holz with a laugh when I run into him on the inaugural cruise of the Disney Fantasy, the spectacular new ship that's plying Caribbean waters.

"Castaway Cay (Disney's private island in the Abaco chain in the Bahamas) is clearly our most popular port of call. There is, of course, the cachet of it being there exclusively for us and only us. But it's also a spectacular setting with something for everyone in the family to do."

True that.

The buzz around Castaway among passengers starts at the beginning of the cruise.

And it's quite the buzz considering the Disney Fantasy can carry 4,000.

Our nine-year-old daughter pragmatically points out it's not really our private island if we have to share it with 3,997 others.

But we're not here in this tropical bliss to split hairs.

The ship slips into Castaway pre-dawn, positioning itself perfectly for that grand reveal when you get up and see this little piece of paradise resplendent in the sunshine as you draw back the curtains in your stateroom.

The excitement builds.

Our daughter wants to immediately walk the gangplank and get on the island.

But there's breakfast to be had first in Cabanas on deck 11. So the anticipation only builds as we eat and the island beckons.

Finally we're disembarking (that's cruise-speak for getting off the ship) and Castaway unfurls its attributes one by one.

There are four glorious beaches, waterslide complex, stingray enclosure, snorkelling lagoon with sunken treasure, bike trails, gift shops, restaurants and bars.

We decide to cycle first before it gets too hot. The bikes are decidedly single-gear retro and the trails decidedly deserted island running through the interior mangroves of this three-mile by two-mile speck in the Caribbean.

We cycle to the observation tower in the middle of the island to survey our domain and then detour to the adults-only Serenity Beach on the north shore. My wife and I have a quick peek while our daughter impatiently taps her foot on the peddle. She wants to hit Tour de France speed to get back to the family beach.

And what a beach it is.

Spanning the entire south shore, it's a respite of powdery sand, protected lagoon waters, comfy loungers and colourful beach umbrellas.

We swim, sun and take a few runs on the waterslides before a lunch of marinated chicken and spiced mahi mahi at Cookie's Beach BBQ.

Initially we were going to skip the snorkelling because Castaway doesn't have a reef or the coral heads that attract an array of fish. But we're told Disney has sunk a submarine, giant anchors, massive clay pots and even a statue of Mickey Mouse to create habitats for sea creatures.

So the snorkelling is back on and doesn't disappoint with colourful angel fish, tangs and snapper making appearances.

While Castaway is our cruise highlight, the ship itself is a destination.

We first celebrate the fact we've scored a deluxe ocean-view stateroom complete with oversized balcony on deck 5.

Then we take to deck 11 for a sail-away party that only Disney can do with champagne toasts, a song and dance show featuring Mickey and Minnie and a storm of streamers.

Since deck 11 is party central we'll return time and time again for everything from the nighttime Pirates in the Caribbean extravaganza and fireworks (the only ones at sea) and riding the AquaDuck watercoaster (again the only one at sea) to lounging by the pools and dining.

Our favourite family restaurant is Animator's Palate, where you draw characters on your placemat and with the magic of Disney (and some uber-powerful software) they are animated and integrated into some Mickey cartoons for a show on the eatery's big screens following the meal.

Our favourite adult-only dining is by far Remy, the top deck exclusive French restaurant that is currently the most expensive at sea with a $75 per person surcharge, excluding wine.

But it's worth it.

Disney's hit the perfect balance for family cruising.

Of course, kids drive the business, but there are also lots of adults-only pools, cafés, restaurants, nightclubs and bars.

Kids' clubs are divided up into It's a Small World (infants and toddlers), Oceaneers (ages 4 to 12) and Vibe for teens.

Even our otherwise cynical nine-year-old wants to spend time at Oceaneers for the kickin' video games, interactive floors and tables, magic shows, cooking lessons and, of course, the odd Disney movie.

-- Postmedia News

The just-launched Disney Fantasy is the sister ship to the Disney Dream, which was introduced last year and takes to four the number of vessels in the Disney fleet.

The Fantasy is doing seven-night return cruises from Port Canaveral (close to Disney World in Orlando, Florida) alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.

The eastern route has St. Maarten, St. Thomas and/or San Juan and Castaway Cay as ports of call.

The western option stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Castaway Cay.

Rates start at about $1,700 per adult based on a family of up to five sharing a cabin.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2012 d7

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