When the Walt Disney Company entered the cruise business in 1998, then-CEO Michael Eisner challenged his designers to “out-tradition tradition.” He wanted his ships to actually look and feel like ships, not follow the trend for floating hotel blocks.

The first two offerings, Disney Magic and Wonder, fully lived up to that ethos, providing a classic profile, two-funnel configuration and lavish art deco and art nouveau touches. They still weighed in at a whopping 83,000 tons, but they looked drastically different to anything else in the new-build world and they turned heads wherever they went.

Fast forward to 2011, and Disney Cruise Line welcomed its third ship, Disney Dream, up to a hulking 130,000 tons – still small compared to the behemoths of Royal Caribbean but pretty substantial by anyone else’s measurement – and flirting dangerously with hotel-block territory.

Three extra decks were added, along with 151ft in length and some 15ft in the beam. Suddenly, we were talking about something far more sizeable in cruise ship terms.

Happily, the design team kept their sense of proportion – and history.

The Dream may have been bigger but the sharp prow and two-funnel profile remained, along with a vivid sense of Art Deco styling throughout the public areas and a Concierge level that added genuine Golden Era glamour.

And, while other ships increasingly made their focus more internal, Disney maintained the sense of maritime heritage with a proper wrap-around promenade deck, wooden steamer chairs, an outward-facing upper observation sun-deck and, lo and behold, round windows.

Okay, so they also added a range of new technology like the innovative ‘virtual portholes’ for inside cabins (circular windows showing a real-time sea-view video) and Enchanted Art (animated paintings that come to life when a guest walks by), but it was all done with that traditional approach in mind.

And then they brought out Disney Fantasy this March, and even managed to increase that feeling of sea-going history, opting for an art nouveau overlay in key public rooms, small design elements that attested to the classic liners and more open deck space to account for the ship’s seven-day routine with more time at sea.

It all amounts to an impressive package of cruise enjoyment that keeps passengers in touch with the ships of yesteryear while providing the service and entertainment quotient of today.

Most impressively, the Fantasy’s design was deliberately tweaked with the seven-day Caribbean itineraries in mind, adding theAqua Lab water-play area for kids, a second deck of the open-air Cove adults-only area and the superb Satellite Sun Deck (also a kid-free zone), with its whimsical rainfall curtain pool around one of the ship’s satellite domes.

It remains a BIG ship, though, 1,115ft long and carrying 4,000 passengers in 1,250 staterooms, 901 of which have a balcony. Almost six full decks are given over purely to accommodations, while the 21 suites and 20 Concierge-level staterooms are all located forward on Decks 11 and 12.

The top three decks provide all the outdoor fun and games, as well as the immaculate Senses Spa, the Cabanas buffet dining restaurant and the video arcade.

Five pools, the Aqua Lab, four bars, four counter-service food outlets (a grill, pizza servery, sandwich bar and ice-cream kiosk) and the two adults-only alternative dining restaurants – Palo and Remy – are also located in this area, along with the Sports Deck, which consists of a nine-hole mini-golf course, basketball/volleyball/soccer court, table tennis, table football and two sports simulators.

The main pool deck is also home to a large-screen video system for films and other entertainment, which includes the on-deck parties, music, dancing and Disney’s signature fireworks-at-sea show once every cruise, as well as the other trademark element, the AquaDuck ‘water-coaster’ flume ride, which runs around much of the deck.

Down below, there is one deck given over exclusively to the extensive – and truly mind-boggling – kids clubs, with a dazzling array of activities and programmes, the Nursery and teen hangout, The Vibe.

Main dining is split between three separate restaurants, each of which is visited in turn (in addition to the adults-only options), the princess-themed Royal Court, vibrant Animator’s Palate and the conservatory-style Enchanted Garden. All feature overt-but-subtle Disney imagery while the food has come along in leaps and bounds from their early convention-style offerings.

I especially enjoyed the Roasted Wild Boar Tenderloin at the Royal Court and the Ginger-Teriyaki Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna at Animator’s Palate, while dinner at Palo on the final evening was an absolute triumph of Italian-themed cuisine, with a crisply-fresh antipasto prepared tableside by our Danish waitress just the start of a major culinary adventure – and one of the best meals I have had at sea in at least five years.

Many cruise lines now try to create adults-only and family areas, but it was Disney who pioneered this development with their first two ships, and it really hits the heights on the Fantasy.

While children have the full run of ‘their’ part of the ship, the grown-ups can retreat to the Cove area on Decks 11 and 12, complete with the blissful Cove Caf