?Photo Illo by Sarah Olin | Source images Courtesy Disney Cruise Line
Never fails: tell a gay person that you're going on a cruise and their eyes light up. "Atlantis? RSVP? Windstar?" Nope, Disney. "Ohhh..." they say warily.
Why is that? Plenty of gay people frequent the Disney parks -- with or without kids in tow -- so why is cruising with Walt such a leap? It shouldn't be. You won't find, say, a toga party on a Disney cruise, but you will find a great deal of other fantastic diversions that consistently surpass expectations. Obviously, if you hate Disney or children, this isn't the boat for you. For everyone else, though, it's pretty fantastic. Full disclosure: My name is Eddie Shapiro, and I am a Disney Cruise Line addict. Truly nuts. But even though I have a problem (well documented in my very own A Million Little Pieces), I'm still objective. An alcoholic can judge the quality of a martini, can't he?
Earlier this month, with the help of Neil Patrick Harris, fairy godmother Mariah Carey christened the fourth ship in the Disney fleet, Disney Fantasy, which departed on her maiden voyage last week. Attending the party, I was giddy with irrational glee (well, champagne, too, but I digress) because while all four Disney ships are truly spectacular, Disney Fantasy is the crown jewel.
That first cruise wasn't such an easy sell. It took some prodding to get me aboard. I was skeptical. The very thought of being trapped on board with scads of children scared the bejesus out of me. Yet what I found was a plethora of adult-only areas -- two restaurants, pool, gym, coffee bar, spa, sun deck, and nightlife district -- where I could escape the little muffins if I chose to. They were more than busy with their own lavish activities anyway. And I experienced the "Disney Difference" from the moment I stepped onboard. Yes, that meant a lot of Mickey Mouse, but it also meant Disney's unparalleled service and attention to detail. Only Disney has ships designed by Imagineers, the same people who create their parks, with both glamor and whimsy. And Disney crew members are trained not only to be super friendly (we're talking Stepford friendly) but to be inclusive. A round of drinks to whoever can name another "family oriented" environment that is so gay friendly?
Only on a Disney ship will you find fireworks at sea, restaurant servers-cum-stalkers who travel your dining rotation with you, so that they know you and your preferences, and split bathrooms in the staterooms so two can primp at once. Disney Fantasy (like its sister ship, Disney Dream) ups the ante with new innovations like a water coaster, "Enchanted Art" that comes to life as you walk by it, and virtual portholes in interior staterooms (complete with occasional swim-bys from the likes of Nemo and Ariel).
?Then there's the entertainment. Yes, all cruise ships have shows, but take the Walt Disney Theater on the Fantasy: it's as big and as technically advanced as a Broadway house and the three shows,Wishes, Believe, and Aladdin (Hel-lo, Aladdin!) are eye-popping. And, of course, roaming Disney characters. Sure I don't need my picture with Belle, but who can resist a princess gathering? Or happening upon Jack Sparrow in a speedo (me, not him)?
Bar hopping is taken equally as seriously. Disney Fantasy's adult-only nightclub district, Europa, features five connected spaces: Irish pub, champagne lounge, British dance club, an Italian piazza, and Skyline, a "penthouse" with panoramic city views that alternate between seven locales. Is it Chelsea or WeHo? Well, no. But is it easy to find and meet other gays on board? You bet!
And once you meet 'em, there's no better place to hang out than Serenity Bay, the adult-only beach on Castaway Cay, Disney's immaculate private island of white sandy beaches and warm turquoise water that every seven-night Fantasy itinerary in the Caribbean ends with. There are activities aplenty (parasailing, biking, jet-skis, snorkeling, sailing) but the server carrying the rum concoction of the day beckons. Repeatedly.
So no, there is no T-dance -- there is a Pirate Deck Party; not quite analogous -- but there is that unique Disney Magic. Pixie Dust. Whatever you wanna call it. It?s terribly addictive. See you in rehab.