If anyone tells you that you work in a "Mickey Mouse organization" you should thank them: Disney does things right! My family recently enjoyed a lovely 6-day cruise on the Disney Dream which included 2 delightful days at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay (located in the Abacos island chain in the Bahamas), a fun day in Nassau, and a relaxing day at sea. In true Disney style, the cruise was Magical!
When I was researching and anticipating our trip, I enjoyed reading detailed reviews, so I am providing many details as well. I've tried to organize the info into categories so you can quickly scan through to find items of interest. I hope you find it helpful!
We are a family of 4 (me, my husband, daughter age 13, and son age 16). We are active travelers, and this was our 2nd Disney Cruise (having sailed on the Wonder in 2005). On this trip we travelled with another family, and Disney linked our reservations/activities so that we could dine together and coordinate excursions/activities, etc.
Tip: Book early if you want to reserve adjoining staterooms. The Disney Dream has many adjacent cabins, but they get booked up fast.
Getting there was a breeze. Landing in the Orlando airport around 9:00 AM, we were on the Disney Cruise Line shuttle bus by 10:00, at the port by 11:00, and on the ship before noon. I highly recommend the Disney Transfers - we were able to check our bags at the airport in Philadelphia and then Disney took it from there, delivering the luggage outside our staterooms that afternoon. Conversely, at the end of the trip we put our bags outside our staterooms on the last night of the cruise and didn't touch them again until Baggage Claim in Philly. Loved the convenience!
Tip: Use the Disney Cruise Line web site to complete the required paperwork before your trip, and bring printed/signed copies with you. This will expedite the registration process at the airport (or port) and get you on board your shuttle/ship quicker.
Disney plays a video on the shuttle bus (partly informative, partly entertaining) and it is timed perfectly to end just as you arrive at the port. Excitement mounts as we all catch glimpses of the Disney Dream for the first time in person. It is impressive!
We exit the bus into the port terminal, go through a security check, and are assigned "Group 5" for embarkation. The hall is huge and it is crowded, and excitement is in the air! Nobody can board until the ship clears customs, which in our case was about 11:00 AM. There are plenty of seats, so we were comfortable while we waited.
Once the ship clears customs they start boarding passengers in groups. This process goes very quickly. Before we know it, they call group 5 and we are on our way!
Tip: If you don't want to get a picture with Minnie Mouse in front of a model cruise ship, you can skip that initial long line and proceed directly to the back of the hall and board the ship that much faster.
ABOARD THE SHIP:
The Disney Dream is aptly named, it's an elegant and immaculate ship... and it is massive: 14 decks tall, holds 4,000 passengers, and 1,600 crew (do the math!).
As we enter the ship, the smiling happy Disney people announce our name. I can only imagine how they can stay so perky after making about 1,500 of those announcements!
The ship is absolutely beautiful. The main atrium is several stories tall, with a GORGEOUS multi-colored crystal chandelier overhead, and wrought iron/brass balconies overlooking the main floor. There's a grand piano, and a bronze statue of Donald Duck. The room is flanked by grand staircases like you might see in Beauty and The Beast... You can look for the "hidden Mickeys" everywhere... They're subtle, but they are most definitely there.
We are whisked up in a glass-enclosed elevator to Deck 8 where we attempt to locate our cabins. However, cabins are not accessible until 1:30 p.m. (and not a minute before), so we make do by reviewing the Deck Map to see where we'll be staying, and then head to lunch and explore the ship until the cabins are ready. The adventure begins!
We booked 2 adjoining standard inside staterooms on Deck 8 Midship. OK, "stateroom" seems a bit grand for the 169 sf of space that you get, but it's pretty well designed, and between the 2 rooms the 4 of us are pretty comfortable. One neat innovation is a "magical porthole" where they have a porthole-shaped screen that displays real-time images of the view from the bow (and every few minutes different Disney animations breeze by). Very clever way to make an interior room not feel claustrophobic...
Closet space was ample, but I must say that drawer space in the cabins is surely lacking. Thankfully, suitcases fit under the beds, so that was a big help given the limited space.
The configuration of each of our standard inside staterooms was a rectangular room with a very comfortable queen-size bed (lovely linens too), magical porthole above the bed (with a wall switch to turn it on/off), privacy curtain, sofa (that could be converted to a single bed), desk with shelves, storage ottoman (handy for storage, but sort of a tripping hazard considering the narrow space), full bathroom, and closet area (including a mini frig and small safe). The rooms are decorated very tastefully, and it was a comfortable (though small) room for the week.
The stateroom "host" turns down the beds at night, makes the beds in the morning, and always ensures fresh towels are there when you need them. Each night they make a cute "towel animal" and leave a few chocolates. Very nice!
Before the trip we'd debated whether to book a single Verandah cabin or the 2 inside staterooms. Our friends opted for a Verandah (mainly because one of them is a smoker), and we were able to check out their accommodations. It was very nice, but a little cozy for the 3 of them. While having a Verandah would be enjoyable, having the extra overall space (and privacy) worked well for us.
Tip: Be aware that if you book the "standard inside stateroom" they only have a single standard bathroom (not the "split bathroom" featured in most other cabin categories). This wasn't an issue since we had 2 cabins (and therefore 2 full bathrooms), but could be an inconvenience if you have more than 2 passengers in a single cabin of this type. I remember from our 1st cruise that those split bathrooms came in extremely handy at times.
ISSUE: If I could ask Disney to change one thing it would be how the lights operate in the cabins. They have an energy saving system in place (seems like a great idea), but it requires you to have the stateroom key card inserted into the slot by the front door to operate any of the lights. For a single cabin this wouldn't be an issue, but it was a problem for us because of our adjoining cabins. Many times one of us would enter a cabin and then need to access our other cabin, so that would mean we'd need to go through the connecting door and feel our way through the dark to find the other key slot to activate the lights (assuming we could borrow the needed key - without that, we couldn't turn those lights on at all). Seems like there should be a better/easier/safer way...
The only other real negative to me about the Disney Dream was the incessant waiting for elevators during peak times. They have 4,000 passengers to move, and things just get backed up. As the week went on the elevators got more and more crowded, as people realized how long they'd have to wait for one that wasn't already jam-packed.
Tip: Taking the stairs is often a quicker option!
As with all cruises, food is plentiful to the point of ridiculous. Try not to order dessert, they'll bring you one (or two) anyway. Mention that you can't decide between 2 entrees, they'll bring you both. Don't finish your entrEe? Beg them not to bring you another selection! They have 3 main dining rooms (each with a different theme), and you're assigned a "rotation" for where to dine each night. The servers are assigned to you for the duration, so they very quickly learn your names and what you do or don't like... They were great. Generally speaking the food was very good (with a few things that I didn't care for, and a few that were excellent). We took advantage of the adults-only Palo (Italian) restaurant for brunch on our "day at sea" and for dinner on the last night of our cruise. That was outstanding... Well worth the $20 pp surcharge.
In addition to the main dining rooms, there is also Cabanas (very good buffet style food for breakfast and lunch, with both indoor and outdoor seating), a few grills/fast food type places on the main pool deck, ice cream ("Eye Scream"), etc. On top of all that, 24-hour room service is available. You are never lacking for food on this cruise, believe me!
Tip: There is no need to queue early for dinner. All tables are reserved, and they have seating down to a science. Simply show up at your appointed time and enjoy.
Because of their ages, our son could go to the "Vibe" club for 14-17 year olds, and our daughter to "Edge", a "tween" club for 11-13 year olds (but she could get special permission to move up to the teen club if needed). Both clubs turned out to be a hit. At first our son didn't want to go to his club, but we encouraged him to give it a try, and then we couldn't get him out of there. Likewise, our daughter wasn't sure if she wanted to go to their "Tween" club, but of course she ended up loving her club and felt no need to invade her brother's space (whew!). Both clubs were open until very late, and we let the kids stay as late as they liked. At their age they could come and go to their clubs as they pleased, they didn't need us to check them in and out. I think they really got a kick out of having that much "freedom'. What the heck, we're all on vacation!
We visited Disney's private island (Castaway Cay) twice on the trip (on Monday and Thursday). For our 1st visit we pre-booked a parasailing trip in the AM, which was awesome. What a fantastic view of the island! We soared well above the very top of the ship, and that is saying something! One neat thing: We booked 3 tickets for this activity (our son didn't want to go so he joined his friends at the teen beach "Hideout" instead). Rides were being given in tandem, and with the odd number, they ended up giving our daughter 2 rides - one with mom and one with dad. We weren't expecting that, but what a nice treat for her (and us)! In the afternoon that day we enjoyed family time on the family beach. It was a little crowded, but not bad (and there wasn't any issue with getting chairs and shade).
I must say that CC is quite improved over our last visit there in 2005 (they've opened more beach space, provided lots more chairs and shade, added another eating area, etc.) and we finally made it over to the adult beach for the 1st time ever on our last day there (while the kids were busy doing their "Teen Wild Side" kayak/snorkel/bike trip). Wish we'd found it sooner! It's called "Serenity Bay" and it lived up to its name... LOVED it there! They even grilled lobster tails for lunch, wow! Did NOT want to leave that place!
Tip: If you book an island activity, bring a little cash with you for tips. Also, the ship-provided Wave phones work fine on the island (just don't get them wet). If you're an adult and have a chance to go to Serenity Bay, by all means GO!!!!
NASSAU PORT EXCURSIONS:
In Nassau, my husband and son went scuba diving, while the rest of us went to Blue Lagoon for a Dolphin Swim. Their Dolphin Swim is much less expensive than the one offered at Atlantis, and it was a great choice. We started with a brief classroom orientation followed by a generous amount of in-water and hands-on interaction with trained dolphins, capped off by a thrilling "dolphin push" at the end (where a dolphin or two propels you across the lagoon - really cool!). Both trips were very enjoyable (though the return from the scuba dive was very close to our early dinner seating, but they made it!).
We were very pleased with booking our excursions through Disney. They are very organized, their prices are quite comparable to what you could find on your own, and they take care of all the details. We all felt that Disney Cruise guests got preferential treatment at our various destinations too.
Tip: When returning to the ship from Nassau, you actually have to go through the "Festival Place" straw market (large bright yellow building) to get to the dock. Basically you head back and to the right in the market to go through the security checkpoint (signs are marked).
DAY AT SEA:
We had one "Day at Sea" where we had plenty of time to explore the ship. For the most part the adults in our party hung out at the "Quiet Cove" adult area, since the kids were off at their clubs anyway. This is the most crowded day on board since EVERYONE is there. Expect the pools to be wall-to-wall people!
The AquaDuck water coaster is a lot of fun. We all rode it at least once, and I bet my daughter rode it 20 times or more! The wait times were generally 30 minutes or less during the day, and we found that in the evenings there were virtually no lines at all. The AquaDuck is open until midnight, so there's plenty of opportunity to give it a try.
Tip: I'd recommend riding this at least 2x - once during the day for the view, and once in the evening to see the lights. It's fun!
There was plenty of nightlife too. We hit most of the bars over the course of the week. A favorite spot was a place called Currents, which was an outdoor area on one of the upper decks (we perched there to watch the fireworks on "Pirate Night"). Another cool bar is called "Skyline" where they have floor-to-ceiling video projections of 6 different world cities (the sky line changes every 15 minutes or so, as does the background music depending on the "location"). Our friends wanted to go dancing, so we joined them for about as much disco as we could stand... Which isn't a whole lot! The Disney Dream has 2 large theaters on board, both for live productions and for showing movies (Disney movies naturally!). The movie theater is state-of-the-art with 3D and 7.1 sound. Over the course of the week we saw "The Avengers" and "Brave"... I actually wanted to see a few more films, but was too busy doing other stuff to work them in. We passed on the live stage shows this trip; our friends saw "Villains" which they didn't like, but we've heard that "Believe" is much better.
Another cool thing about the Dream is that in the main pool area (where the family pools are), they have what they call "Funnel Vision" on one of the adjacent smoke stacks, which is a HUGE screen where they show movies day and night... So you could hang out in the pool (or on deck) and catch a flick there if you like. And of course food and beverage is right there too..
What can I say, it was a delightful cruise but of course it ended far too quickly. Per instructions we had to pack and leave our luggage outside of our staterooms on the last night (Disney checked everything through, so we didn't see them again until baggage claim in Philly - gotta like that service!), and we had to report for breakfast on "debarkation" day at 6:45 AM. Before we knew it we were on the shuttle back to the airport and back to reality!
Tip: You'll need to bring your carry-on items with you to breakfast on debarkation day. Breakfast time is set according to your dinner seatings - people with early dinner seatings on the cruise go to the 6:45 AM breakfast, and people who had the late dinner seating are assigned the 8:00 AM breakfast on the last day. If you're undecided about which dinner seating to choose, this might help sway your decision.
While our children are now past the age where they get excited about seeing the Disney characters, we were happy to see that character appearances were plentiful, both on board the ship and on Castaway Cay. When we sailed on the Wonder they were considerably more limited, so this is definitely a positive improvement for families with young children. And let's face it, even us grown-ups still get a kick out of seeing them too, even if we don't need to get in line to get their autographs!
Disney employs a number of professional photographers who will take your pictures throughout the cruise (typically when first boarding, at various dinners, and other candid shots ad hoc). You can also schedule formal pictures to be taken in the atrium or on the grand staircase. You can go to "Shutters" (on Deck 4) to view /select/purchase your photos. If Shutters is closed, you can scan your stateroom card at a kiosk to see digital displays of the photos.
Tip: Don't wait until the last minute if you want to buy any of the photos. Shutters will be a madhouse on the last night of the cruise. Prices are $19.95 per 8x10, and $12.95 for 5x7 prints (but you can only get whatever size print they made for you for any given picture). They also have "package pricing" available if you plan to buy a lot of prints or get the images digitally on CD.
MISC. ADDITIONAL TIPS:
The daily "Navigator" flyer is a great source of information to help you plan each day. It is greatly expanded and fancier than the Navigators we got on our first Disney cruise. Attending the "Ship Tour" on the 1st afternoon is useful to help you get your bearings (and the "Mid-Ship Detective Agency" game is a fun way for kids to explore the Dream).
Do not expect to simply "walk off" the ship to get to your scheduled island activities, there is often a line waiting to go through security so you need to allow extra time for that (10-15 minutes during peak times). Bring your "Key to the World" cards with you (for each and every passenger), or you won't be able to get off the ship.
Towels can be claimed/returned on Castaway Cay (between where you exit the ship and enter the island). The ship-provided Wave phones work fine on the island (just keep them out of the water). There are a few shops scattered throughout Castaway Cay, and you can use your Key to the World card to make purchases. No need to bring cash except for things like tipping the excursion guides. You can take the tram(s) to navigate the island, but it's a relatively easy walk to the family beach (less than 10 minutes from the ship, with a paved and level walkway). Again, if you're an adult and have a chance to go to Serenity Bay, by all means GO!!!!
Enjoy your day(s) in paradise, we certainly did!!!