Took our 8 year old daughter on her 1st cruise, my 7th, my wife's 8th. Went with Disney for the obvious reason: 8 year old daughter.
Embarkation was VERY smooth and fast. Had registered online and been given a 3P check in time. Arrived at port @ 2P and were on the ship by 2:45P. DD running and skipping up the gangway!
Had booked an 8A guarantee. When we received documents we had been upgraded to a Verandah Cabin on deck 7 - room 7030 to be exact. Stateroom 7030 is forward on deck 7, port side. 4th verandah from front. Just slightly back from where the bow of the ship widens out to full width of the ship. Except for 1st night this was a great location. The stateroom is pretty standard. A little small for the 3 of us, but we enjoyed it, especially the verandah. We actually skipped the sail away party and enjoyed the sail away on the verandah, just the three of us - as a family. (My wife and I had never had a verandah/ balcony before so we really enjoyed it.) Seas were a little rough first night, heard reports of some people getting sick. Saw evidence after the fact - ships crew cleaning - evidence of some sick passengers. Rest of cruise was smooth sailing.
Dining was great. Compared to our last cruise - 2001. I'm sure the other lines have gotten better. We were main seating and had table 16. We shared a table with another family of two girls whose ages were inline with our daughter's - one of them 8 years old, too. Our waiters went out of their way to make sure we enjoyed our meals. Even doing a magic show every night while waiting for desert. Which, of course, led to all three girls trying to figure out how the trick was done. Whenever any of the girls had ranch or ketchup, the waiter would make either a Mickey head or a footprint shape on their plates. Special requests were met with enthusiasm and if you had not eaten much of your main course or any other course they would ask if they could get you anything else. These cast members work very hard, but make you feel like you are their only concern. They even work in Cabanas during breakfast and made a point of saying hello to my daughter whenever they saw her.
Pools were very crowded during the sea day, but, that's to be expected... There's nowhere else to go! Aqua duck is fun and, of course, very popular. Only complaint I have about the pools is this: no lifeguard means no supervision of kids. Kids would stand on the side and just jump in, even if there was someone under water where they were going in. Never let my daughter in that pool alone, too risky and she swims in the Atlantic during the Summer!
The shows were top notch, Disney shows. Pulling from almost every Disney animated movie n existence, even some of the more obscure ones: Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan. Really enjoyed the Believe show. As a father who has to travel a lot for work it really hit home. Really enjoyed Villains. My wife had read that people didn't like the show. They must have a stick up their - say what!?! Very funny show and great numbers. TIP: sit mid balcony, front to get full view of show, sit mid theater, main area if you want to get some of the confetti. The illusionist was funny in both the main show and his "adult" show. He was actually upstaged by a 10 year old boy during his main show when the boy exposed how he did one of his tricks: "your name starts with a G, it's ! It's amazing how I guesses that, right?" Boy: "No, it's on my Oceaneer Lab wristband" (holds up wristband to audience.)
Castaway Cay was not too bad. Since we live 5 minutes from the beach here in NC we can visit a beach anytime so swimming, etc didn't impress us as much as, say, someone from Ohio or another landlocked state. But, the water was very clear and warm - something the Atlantic is not at this time of year. We did the bike ride, snorkel and float rental. Little overpriced but, hey, want can you do, the bike ride was fun and a great way to get away from the crowds. The bikes could be in better shape: Schwinn single speed beach cruisers and various Schwinn boys/ girls BMX bikes, little bit of rust, sun fading, but they are left exposed to the elements on a tropical island... TIP: if you buy the cooler bag or bring your own and do the bikes, get a bike with an infant carrier and you have a great place to carry the cooler. The beach was crowded, but so is any beach on a beautiful, sunny day (for a more private beach go to Blue Lagoon while in Nassau and follow trail to sea side of the island and you will find a smaller beach that's not crowded with tourists or vendors. The BBQ place was typical: hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, blackened tilapia. Not the best, but will fill you up. The snorkeling at Castaway is fun. Disney has placed several 'artifacts' for to explore. The literature says you can discover on your own, but if you ask a lifeguard they will point out what is where. Once you get past be shore the water clears up and you can see a lot. I liked the fact that they keep the snorkel area separate from the swimming area. Plus, the snorkel area gives you a great vantage point for some photos of you with the ship in the background without a lot of other people around - just make sure your camera in waterproof.
Nassau is, well, Nassau. This was our third time in Nassau and since we were traveling with an 8 year old there wasn't much we could do. We did the Blue Lagoon Dolphin Encounter with my daughter and I in the water and my wife watching. I picked this excursion for one reason: for the past 5-6 months my daughter has been saying that she wants to be a marine biologist. What better way to encourage her interest than an excursion that puts her in the water with dolphins and allows her to be pushed across the lagoon by 2 dolphins - the squeals and laughter from her for those 20 seconds was worth more than the price we paid!
Internet is SLOW, but useable. Did the per minute plan for brief bursts for email. There's wifi in Nassau at the Festival place as well as a few areas beyond. Blue Lagoon has wifi, too. We are on AT&T and got a signal as we sailed close to FL on the way back in. Roughly when we were parallel to Vero Beach. Of course we were port side to the ship, starboard may not get it. I know I lost signal shortly after entering the Atlantic when we left port.
Overall: the Dream is a great ship. In Nassau we were docked alongside one of the mega RCI snipe and a smaller Fantasy class Carnival ship. Those two ships helped cement in my mind that the Dream is a better ship. The mega RCI looks like a barge with a high rise Myrtle Beach hotel atop, it looks like a good crosswind could flip it over. The Carnival Fantasy ships look like a 16' Boston Whaler compared to the Dream. Except for debarkation I never felt crowded on the ship. My daughter and I enjoyed the MidShip Detective Agency game, taking us all over the ship - lots of exercise but fun. My daughter went to the Oceaneer Lab area three times and only really enjoyed it once - the same time our table mate's daughters were there. We think it was mostly due to going in after dinner and the show after a full day, too. Next cruise we will take there earlier and we think that she will enjoy it more: she's normally very outgoing and not shy at all.
We want to do another Disney cruise, maybe next year. Hopefully Disney will juggle ports around and maybe give Tampa a chance. But the proximity of Port Canaveral to Orlando (1 hour and change as opposed to almost 2 hours to Port of Tampa) will probably keep Disney at Port Canaveral.
There's a reason you pay a premium for a Disney cruise. They know how to keep you happy, especially if you have young children.