We were a party of 3 adults traveling with no children. We are very much Disney fans and, while we have traveled on dozens of cruises to worldwide destinations, we were quite excited to try a Disney cruise.
I have posted my comments into 3 categories: cons, pros, and suggested tips. I realize that each of us looks for different things, but I hope this helps readers follow this review.
EMBARKATION was pretty smooth, although I did not care for the boarding photo backdrop; too austere and a long line that gets jumbled up at that point. Otherwise, very good. We were aboard by noon and our luggage was outside our stateroom door by 3...excellent! Try eating in the Enchanted Garden dining room after boarding to avoid the crowds at Cabanas.
DISEMBARKATION was a breeze. Effectively no delay for customs and immigration and our luggage was right there. A quick trip out the door and we were out awaiting pick-up to our off-site parking within minutes. Note that they do pick-up luggage outside your stateroom earlier than most cruise lines, so make sure you follow their "place outside" times carefully.
SHIP: Beautiful with amazing details everywhere. From the "sand castles" of each Disney park found in Cabanas to the beautiful mosaics throughout the ship to the themed touches in each dining room, Disney excels at details. Even the carpets and doorway entrances were beautiful. And don't forget to take a look at the very cute golf course. Try the Aqua Duck, too.
BARS: We usually don't even bother with the bars aboard a ship; not big drinkers. But on this ship, they were wonderful. Unique and eclectic drink choices as well as solid standards. Tasted excellent, fairly priced for what you got, and they certainly did not short us on the alcohol! My favorite was Skyline where the staff was fun and the "view" changed among nightscapes projections of some of the world's beautiful cities. Pink is another great place to stop; very quiet (good sound proofing) given it's position on the ship. And don't forget Meridian for a quiet, more secluded spot.
For some reason we decided to try some "tasting" experiences this cruise and found them very informative (and really well-priced for what you received in product): the champagne and the cognac tastings were great.
ENTERTAINMENT was superb. The shows were marvelous, although "Villains," while entertaining, was not quite at the stunningly wonderful production level as "The Golden Mickeys" or "Disney's Believe." The size of the entertainment staff and the quality of their performances was Broadway level, just amazing! We choose only to attend the production shows, but having 3 wonderful shows on a 5-night cruise was terrific. One other night we watched "Brave" as a 3D movie in the theater...great...and my first 3D movie at that!
Also, the outdoor screen on the pool deck was perfect; you could see it even in the brightest daylight. On pirates night, we watched "Muppets Treasure Island"(a favorite family film for us) on the outdoor screen (although they did not allow chairs on the viewing deck in preparation for the later pirate celebration), and then moved to another location away from the crowd to watch the fireworks, so we did not see the party associated with Pirate's night (we watched the fireworks from the aft Meridian bar area and had lovely drinks instead of fighting the crowds of dueling kids).
And if you have children (especially under 12), I cannot imagine anything better than the plethora of character greetings, activities and fabulous kid's centers that are a mainstay of this ship.
STAFF: All excellent, from sales to cabin hostess to waiters and bar staff...they tried very hard to please. And the character actors were incredibly beautiful and so patient!
SPA: Did not try a treatment, but really liked the steam room in the Rainforest area; very nice glass wall with a view that overlooks the ocean (and Castaway Cay when parked there). This was, however, an extra fee for our cabin level.
CABIN: Our cabin was actually one of the newly designated 4E (extended balcony cabins on deck 5), formerly designated as 5A. Love having the second partial bath. The toiletries were very good and plentiful. The hair dryer in this cabin was was a prestige brand and worked so very well. The storage space was also plentiful even for 3 adults. The extra large balcony (we were the farthest aft one on the port side, so we had a wrap around view that was quite extensive) was lovely. HOWEVER, this takes me into my CONS....
That extra large balcony? Well, as lovely as it was, we noticed a smell in the late afternoon of departure day. In addition, I noted discolored spots on the deck (and the smell was strongest in those areas as well as dried "biological debris" on the webbed deck chairs. Looking up from the balcony you could see that this extended balcony jutted out almost twice as far from the ship as the balconies above. This means that anyone throwing something off their balcony above you (or becoming ill over the railing...yuck), it will hit your deck...and that's what probably happened. We called the cabin hostess who was unable to thoroughly clean the deck until the next day, but they did a thorough job once we identified the problem. However, I kept noticing cigarette butts on the deck and ash on our chairs (we are nonsmokers) so I am guessing folks above were jettisoning their debris "overboard" and then onto our deck. So, if you have one of these cabins, be aware that those above you can look down on you and don't leave anything on the deck that might be damaged by "falling" debris or that could be ignited by a smoker from above.
Overall, I think the view and space is worth the risk, but just be aware.
Also, when the couch is made into a third bed it is awfully uncomfortable and certainly not intended for a full-size adult (or anyone who can't tolerate a poor sleeping surface). There was nothing the staff could do to change or enhance the paltry sleeping surface that was a thin "mattress" more akin to one used on a camping cot than on a bed. The primary bed, in contrast, was very comfy with rich bedding materials.
FOOD: While the dining rooms were beautifully themed, they were very tightly packed, so there is a sense of crowdedness in these rooms. The food was average at best. I found the food basically limited: the presentation was lacking (the decor in the dining rooms was amazing, however, so maybe most people don't notice the food itself). There was basically only one salad dressing each night and very limited side dishes with your entree, a conspicuous lack of vegetables (a few carrot or strips of asparagus at the very best). It seems Disney is saving money on vegetables, perhaps because they figure people are more interested in the primary meat or entree? Don't know, but I love creative and tasty side dishes and they just were not on the menu. Also, the fish was generally far too overcooked and the meats too aged for my preference. Lamb and veal were quite good, however. We also enjoyed the rotational dining experience; great fun there (especially enjoyed Animator's Palate)! Again, our waiter team delivered experienced and smooth excellent service, and I am sure that changing dining rooms can be particularly stressful for them. But I cannot give a very positive review of the food itself.
One bright note: There are lots of crab legs and shrimp around everywhere, but only one sauce (cocktail, no tartar); so if you are a fan of previously-frozen shellfish, you will be delighted.
We tried and then avoided Cabanas. WAY too crowded and long lines everywhere with no crowd control or queuing lines. We usually enjoy our breakfast in a casual or buffet style, but not in Cabanas. One of our party waited in line for 10 minutes to have a turn at the eggs and bacon self-service area; after just taking some scrambled eggs and reaching over to serve a few strips of bacon, the staff started to lower the partition on her hand as she was serving herself (without any warning or notice) abruptly and rudely saying they were now closed and she had to go to the other side of the ship to get her bacon. She bluntly said, "no I waited for 10 minutes with no indication that I could not serve myself," took her few bacon strips (the entire encounter of which took maybe 5 seconds...less time that to object)...what a way to irritate a passenger. NEVER would have this happen to a passenger on another cruise line.
Also, ordering an omelet is a nightmare and it takes 10-15 minutes before you are served even in the dining room for breakfast. Omelets take much longer than other cruise lines, way to long to enjoy your breakfast with your companions who may not have waited for an omelet. And don't waste calories on the tasteless, firm, tiny Mickey-shaped "waffles?" in Cabanas...yuck.
One question for Disney and Cabanas...where's the salad bar? Yes, there were some prepared salads available, but nothing notable. Miss my salad (I am a veggie person).
There are no late snacking or dining options. Cabanas does serve a few items until around 11 PM, but very limited. Only recourse is room service (which we did not try).
The only beverage station open in the evening (and all night) is on deck outside the pool area. It is hot and muggy out, and there is no nice place to sit and enjoy your beverage. I guess this may be why we frequented the bars more than usual...wait, there may be a sales tactic embedded here: divert us to the indoor bars and pay-as-you-drink coffee spots versus leaving a station open inside Cabanas (which was also pretty warm during the day anyway)! If you are a soda drinker, however, you will be very pleased with the free sodas.
We tried Palos. The service was excellent, but they served me raw (as in bleeding and colder than room temperature) lamb when I asked for medium rare. It was a fabulous piece of meat, but I had to ask them to take it back and hopefully, just add some cooking time to that chunk of meat. Unfortunately, they can only serve you a new portion, not recook your serving. Equally unfortunate, it took another 20 minutes for me to receive my new order and this serving of lamb was tiny and fatty. I said nothing and simply ate my entree (the rest of my party simply waited for me as they had already eaten their entrees). Only as we were leaving did the chef come out and apologize that my lamb was substandard. I thought he meant the original problem with the undercooked portion, but after talking with him I realized what he was referencing and what had happened. My original order that they they could not recook was the last serving of lamb they had available for Palos kitchen. They instead got a serving of lamb from a dining room venue and cooked that for me. I would have far preferred they simply tell me this upfront BEFORE I dined on my replacement serving and had had a chance to select a different entree. If you are going to serve something substandard, at least comp my meal or change the service charge for it (and yes, I realize that the service charge is theoretically for the server, but really, it is also for the improved meats and food in the specialty restaurant). I still left additional gratuity (above the service charge)for the server as she was excellent, just not too pleased with the outcome of my meal...it was such a lovely initial piece of lamb to see it wasted!
Food on Castaway Cay was average (again, lacking the variety of side dishes I like to see even in a beach venue). The rib eye steak at the adult beach was thin (just the right serving size, however) and very nice.
Overall, the food was akin to that found in most chain restaurants (dining rooms) or cafeterias (Cabanas) which is probably OK for kids or those who are not really into food. I know all the justifications that meals aboard a large ship are more banquet quality than gourmet, but still...if other cruise lines can do it better...I expected at least competitive quality from Disney.
See a show in the movie theater. It was fun (especially 3D).
See all the Broadway-style production shows. You will be absolutely amazed and very entertained. They were simply enthralling and magical and reminded our party of childhood memories.
Try one of the off-site parking locations; drop-off and pick-up worked very well for us.
Try the aquaduck at least once. I mean, where else can you glide over the open ocean on a water ride? And try the water slide on Castaway Cay, too.
Try the miniature golf. It's very cute.
Arrive before the airport buses. Noon worked well for us, but those who came just after 11 AM had no waiting at all.
Stop by the Skyline bar and watch the cityscapes change. Great drinks!
Take your camera everywhere and have it readily available. Never know what and when you will want to quickly snap a photo.
Avoid the adult pool area; quite minimalist and not much going for it.
Also, make sure you have your luggage outside your cabin door the night before disembarkation early (while we had ours out well before the time, they picked ours up right at the stated time, so be prompt).
OVERALL, I give this cruise huge positives for the beauty of the ship and decor, as well as massive kudos for the wonderful shows. I give it an average for dining room food (although excellent staff, so that helps the rating), but a poor rating for Cabanas. Choose this ship if you have children who love Disney, if you are a rabid Disney fan, if food is not a high priority for you (or you prefer to to pay to eat at specialty restaurants...which can also not quite work out), and...especially..if you love the beauty and sentimentality of Disney stage shows, because these shows (and the bars) where the highlights for us.
Do not choose this cruise if you don't particularly like the beach or if ports of call are important to you. And certainly if you don't appreciate Disney, there is not much for you here (we love Disney). We may sail again on a Disney cruise with younger members of the family (under 10 as it would be fun to watch them in awe), but not simply to repeat this experience. For me, I'll stick with my Celebrity to Europe.
Sorry for the long review. Hope it helps.