We recently sailed on the Disney Dream for the 4 night Bahamas cruise. On the trip: my husband and I (early 40's) and our 4 year old daughter. I have been cruising since 1983 and have been on many cruises and cruise lines over the years; my husband has been on about 8 cruises; and this was my daughter's fourth cruise. We booked this cruise to celebrate my daughter's birthday, but would not have done so if we had not been able to get the special Florida Resident discount rate. Disney has now fixed their website, but when we booked they had not very prominently advertised their new policy for Florida residents in which you had to fax/e-mail proof of residency. My mom, who had intended to go with us, spoke to an agent on the phone who told her she only had to show her ID at the port, so she did not send in her paperwork, and her cruise was canceled by Disney. They would not honor the rate after that, so she opted to skip the cruise. Just want to emphasize that they are currently really enforcing this policy, so please make sure to get in your paperwork right away if you are using the Florida resident rate!
We had the 12-12:30 arrival time, and got there around 11:45. No one even checked our paperwork, and it was no problem getting in. We parked in the port garage ($75 for 4-night cruise), which was fairly empty and easy to navigate, and crossed over on the to the port building via the 3rd floor bridge. There was a line to get through security, but it didn't take too long. Once inside we went to the regular check in desk. Another line, but got through in about 15 minutes. Then on to the line to take a picture with Mickey, who was switched to Minnie by the time we made it up there. We skipped the long line to check into the kids club at the port, and took care of getting my daughter checked in to the kids club quickly and easily onboard.
While the staff encourages people to go to Cabanas for lunch, we had read on the boards that Enchanted Garden is a better option. We were seated right away, but the line to get food (buffet) was very, very long. We waited at least 20-25 minutes on line. Not sure if this is a regular occurrence or not, but I think next time I'll take my chances at Cabanas...
After lunch we found our stateroom, which was a category 4D on the 6th floor, room 6116. Nice room, although starting to show some wear (staining in a lot of places, holes in the sheets). The room overlooks the lifeboats, but we did not find this to be problematic as far as our sea view. It was nice to be between the middle and aft elevators, and the room was quiet. Our room steward came to see us. He asked if we wanted ice daily, which we did. Unfortunately, while he made a note of this at the time, he subsequently did not bring us ice :) Finally, on the 3rd day of the cruise, we left a note asking for ice, and he brought it the one time. He also took forever to clean our room - one day we were gone 5 hours and came back to a dirty room. At that point we needed to take showers and rest, so needed to call later on to get the room cleaned. He also got to turndown service kind of late, and one night we missed it because we retire early (because of the 4 year old). Last issue with the room steward: he removed our used glasses but did not replace them. Again, we had to ask for replacements. Perhaps he is new? We did get chocolates and towel animals on the nights we had turndown service.
The ship itself is absolutely beautiful and extremely well-maintained in the public areas. There are a large number of opportunities to interact with the characters - some of these scheduled, and some surprise appearances. My daughter loved this. She also loved the deck parties and family parties. While my daughter liked to visit the kids club, which is a lovely facility, she didn't like going there without us because she was scared being in that big place with so many older/larger kids. The kids' club is very nice and has a lot of different things to do, but when there are no structured activities, it is a giant free-for-all, and we feel that our daughter was intimidated by the larger kids, who are not separated out from the younger kids. Our daughter went briefly a couple of times, but that was it. Perhaps it would have been different if she had siblings, cousins, or friends there with her, or maybe it wouldn't be an issue if she was older or had a different personality. I know many kids love it there, but my daughter is not one of those kids.
On a happier note, my daughter was tall enough for Aquaduck and we took her once, but it was a little too much for her, so she stuck with the Mickey slide after that, which she rode at least 100 times. She also loved watching movies while in the pool, and visiting Nemo's Reef. We skipped Midship Detective Agency because she seemed a little too young for that. We also skipped the fireworks because they were WAY too late for us (we put her to bed around 8/8:30pm), and a little too scary for her, too. One activity I would recommend avoiding: the family cooking demonstration (Anyone Can Cook). We did not realize that it was only demonstration - thought we would get to participate. But more importantly, the chef at the demo we attended was not very entertaining, and has a very strong accent which is magnified by the microphone he's using. We often found it very hard to understand what he was saying. It might be okay for adults, but even so a little dull. All other children's activities we participated in were great.
Like everyone else, we really enjoyed Castaway Cay. One bit of advice I'd give is to go back to the ship for lunch. They have crab, mussels and shrimp on the buffet that day, and it was quite empty on the ship. The lunch served at Cookies was okay if you want to stay on the island, but next time we'll return to the ship for lunch. When we got back to the ship after lunch we spent time using the pool and Aquaduck, which were empty. And our daughter rode the Micky slide over and over and over. It's definitely doable to return to the ship for lunch, maybe do the Aquaduck a few times, and then go back to Castway for some extra afternoon time.
We didn't get off in Nassau because we have been so many times before, so also used that day to utilize the pool facilities and do character meets. It turned out that we weren't the only ones who felt this way. A lot of people stayed on the ship in Nassau.
Overall the staff ("cast members") were very nice and well-trained, and things went smoothly. Our dining room servers were nice and helpful, but not particularly memorable. We did like our assigned dining companions, and our daughter really bonded with the other family's daughter.
For breakfast we ate at Cabanas, which was a bit more chaotic than other cruise line buffets, but okay. Coffee there and all over the ship was quite awful, in my opinion (I know this is very subjective). This includes the espresso-based drinks which cost extra. Next time I will bring a French press and my own ground coffee. We also tried room service, which worked well, and Royal Palace. Food at Royal Palace was good for breakfast, but we got more than a little annoyed that they kept offering a tray of donuts and pastries to my daughter (at least 3 times), even though we kept telling them "no please!" There are so many junk food temptations on the ship that it was really hard to keep her away from all of it. In fact, she got sick a couple of times from eating too many sweets.
My husband and I went to Remy for lunch, which was a wonderful experience - the highlight of our cruise. Food and view were wonderful, and it was nice to get the quiet environment and personalized experience. My husband got the champagne pairing and we split it, because if I had 4 glasses of champagne I would not be able to walk out of the restaurant, and he'd be in bad shape as well. It was nice to have the pairing, and they are fine with people splitting that. I found the service to be good, but not stuffy or in any way uncomfortable. While we were at Remy we got a page from the kids club that my daughter wanted to leave. Told the waitress, and she said it was no problem: the hostess would call and inform them that we were at Remy and that we would be there later. A few minutes later the restaurant manager came by and let us know that the club told him she was happily playing, so there was no problem. Now that's what I call service!
There are often queries on the Disney cruise boards from adults who are traveling without children about whether it is recommended to do a Disney cruise. While it is a lovely cruise line, if I were cruising without young kids I'd probably avoid this cruise line unless you are really into Disney and/or enjoy being around lots of young children. It is a very immersive Disney experience, and while they do have areas for adults, you still have to navigate the public areas of the ship which are swarming with children. We went during the low season when kids are in school, and our ship seemed to have a lot of cabin availability (nearly every category was available the day before the cruise), yet the ship felt like a large carpeting of children. It feels as though the whole ship is really geared towards families with kids. That doesn't mean that adults without children can't go and have a good time, but if it were me I'd avoid this cruise line if I didn't have a child/children going along with me. Perhaps the longer cruises (10+ nights) during the school year have somewhat fewer children (maybe transatlantic, Panama Canal, etc.), but I can't even imagine what cruises during school breaks are like. As a parent I really appreciate how nicely set up the cruise is for families, but even for me the number of children on board was a bit overwhelming. All this being said, there were several adults at the character meets who seemed to not have children with them. So the "Disney" experience is something that some people definitely get into, kids or no kids, and if you're one of those people, this is the cruise for you.
Finally, many people inquire about how Disney compares to Royal Caribbean. We have gone on the RCI Liberty of the Seas twice in the past 2 years, which is similar in size and capacity to the Disney Dream, so I can do a brief comparison of the two ships. One particular perk on Disney, which I know sounds small, but it really improved the quality of my cruise, is that towels are freely available on the pool deck, and are placed in convenient, frequent locations along with used towel bins. On Royal Caribbean there are only 1 or 2 places where you can get pool towels, and you must trek out there, get in a line, use your key card to "check out" towels, and when you are done you must return to the line, then get your card scanned when you return them, because if not they fine you $25 per towel. As you might imagine, there is quite a bit of towel theft, and the whole procedure adds stress and inconvenience. On Disney you simply grab a towel quickly when you want one and put it away when you are done. How lovely. We are not big soda drinkers, but for those who are, Disney offers free soda at the drink stations by the pool and in the restaurants at mealtimes, which could be desirable. Another plus for Disney: embarkation and debarkation were so much smoother and easier than on Liberty of the Seas. You can also get a tub in your stateroom (a small one, granted, but big enough for bathing a chid) at all category levels on Disney, whereas on RCI you need to get a Junior Suite or higher in order to get a tub. There was also significantly less up-selling attempts on Disney, which was refreshing. On the other hand, I found the RCI staff to generally be just as wonderful as those on Disney. In fact, both of the cabin stewards we had on Liberty were far superior to the one on Disney, and we thought the waitstaff on RCI was better. We thought the food was slightly better on RCI (with the exception of Remy, of course), but I realize that food is very subjective, and might vary from cruise to cruise and ship to ship. Coffee was SO much better on RCI, and involved brewed coffee rather than instant; the for-fee espresso coffees were also superior on RCI. Entertainment was good on both cruises. My daughter liked but did not love the Adventure Ocean program, but it seemed much more structured and smaller, so was less overwhelming. While RCI has some nice things for families and children, the whole cruise doesn't revolve around families with children. Parties are real parties on RCI, and not character shows, as on Disney.
I would sum it up this way: most cruises are cruises that have varying degrees of activities and facilities for families with children - some none, some a little, others more. On Disney Cruise Line you are experiencing Disney first and foremost, and just happen to be located on a cruise ship. It is really all about the immersive Disney experience, and everything is set up to accomodate families with children.
Bottom line: if you enjoy Disney and have kids, particularly younger kids who like Disney, and can find a decent price, then Disney Cruise Line is a good choice. If you love all things Disney and/or don't mind being amongst large quantities of children, then you would also enjoy it. We are looking to go again at some point if the price is right.