We are a family of four, Dad & Mom plus our 12 year old daughter and 3 year old son. We have taken 2 cruises before, both on the Disney Dream. This review is long and detailed, but I think you will find it helpful.
We flew into Orlando the night before sailing and stayed at the Hyatt MCO. We chose this hotel because it is right in the airport and they have a program where they take your luggage to DCL transport from your room the morning of the cruise. This is very convenient. The hotel is right in the airport, so you walk right from baggage claim to the check in desk. While I was checking us in, a bellhop gathered all of our bags onto a cart and waited to take us to our room. Very nice touch. If you are using DCL Transport for your cruise, you have to let the person checking you in know this. They add you to the luggage pick up listing and will give you an instruction sheet. We requested a room with two double beds and that is what we were assigned. It seemed to be a good size and included a desk/chair and also another stuffed chair with a side table. The bathroom was modern and clean. We had a balcony with a runway view -- the kids thought that was neat.
The next am, we left our room around 8 am to go to the DCL transport desk -- left all but our day bag in our hotel room as Hyatt would be taking care of that for us. I think we were third or so in line to check in -- at this time you get your key to the world card and your boarding number -- so that when you do get to port you only have to go through security and then wait for your boarding number to be called. We were on the first bus to Port Canaveral and had a boarding number 2. The bus ride takes about 45 mins and they play an informational show during the ride.
Once through security we went to the youth services desk to get our son his band so he can go into the kids club. Since we were at the port so early we were first in line. We waited about 45 mins but they were having computer troubles. Since our boarding number was called we figured we would just get his band on board later. We were on the ship by 11:30 am and had lunch at Cabanas when they opened at 12 with virtually no crowd.
We had a category 5A stateroom -- which is a Deluxe Stateroom with verandah. It was the second to last verandah aft on the port side. We were right at the elevator bank and stairs -- which was perfect! 2 floors up and we were in Cabanas. The split bathroom is very nice, as is having a bathtub. The bed is the most comfortable I have ever slept on. There are plenty of storage drawers and closets. Lots of movies on demand on the tv. Balcony had table and two chairs and a slight obstruction on the left side by a decorative vertical beam.
I think our room hostess was new, however she did a pretty good job overall. There was one time our berth was not brought down at bed time and another where our room was not serviced at all in the morning even though we were gone for a few hours. We had called to have it serviced (and the sofa and berth bed put back the way they should be for daytime) but no one ever showed. Other than those two blips our room was always clean and serviced, towel animals and candies were given each night, ice bucket filled in the morning and at night.
There are so many things to do on board we surely did not cover them all, or even close to all of them.
What we did do:
Character greetings: Get in line early by about 30 minutes -- even if you think the character is not popular. The lines get long fast, and the characters are only out for about 30 minutes so they do cut the line off. For the princess greeting you may want to line up an hour early -- no kidding at all here! The lines were not as bad on my last two cruises but I went in Jan and Feb. I think there were more kids in general on this cruise then in the past even though the total number of people sailing was lower, hence the longer lines.
Pirate League (pirate makeover): On Pirate night they offer pirate makeovers in the Bippity Boppity Boutique. My son had this done, and an hour later was out of his costume and only the make up remained. I do believe he enjoyed the experience however so it was worth it. Aside from the face make up he was given a bandana, pirate coin necklace, sword, and sash.
Sail Away Party: Crowded, Crowded, Crowded, on both deck 11 where the party takes place and deck 12 where you can overlook. If you arrived too late you couldn't even view from the deck above. I enjoyed these parties on the past cruises so was a bit bummed that I arrived too late to get a viewing spot at the very least. I figured I would just watch Port Canaveral as we sail on by but it seems we left a bit late -- after the party had ended. The Fantasy did not play all of her horns either -- as they sailed by the various restaurants, like the Dream had done in the past. The Sail Away on the last two cruises got us all pumped up for the rest of the vacation. While the songs/dances etc were the same on this sail away, leaving after the party was over and the lack of horn play really diminished the magic. Lucky for me I ran into a fellow boards member on the deck so we hugged and chatted for a while before it was time to get ready for dinner.
Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean is the first part of pirate night. This is another instance where we experienced crowds. I saw people claiming their spots as earlier as 1 hour and 45 mins before the show. If you had early dinner, you would be out of luck since you would probably get out of dinner just 30 mins before show time and most spots were taken. Very reminiscent of WDW parades ... I expect that when I go to WDW but honestly I don't want to waste hours a day waiting in line on my cruise. It wasn't as bad on my last two cruises, so I think it could be just the additional children on board that this can be attributed to. The show itself is very cute and lasts about 30 mins -- includes the classic characters -- along with Hook and Smee. Lots of singing and dancing. The kids will enjoy it.
Buccaneer Blast is the fireworks show. This skit prior to the fireworks starting included Capt Jack Sparrow and his enemies. The skit and show are NOT the same on the Dream -- even the score of music played was new. We arrived to deck 11 maybe 20 mins prior to show start and got a good spot this time -- so perhaps people were not as worried about arriving early for this. The show is always entertaining and the fireworks display is fun to watch. We thoroughly enjoyed this.
Club Pirate is the last part of the deck party. It is like a family deck/dance party. It is geared toward the older kids and young adults as it is later in the evening but if your little ones are still awake they will enjoy it too. Basically it is just a dj spinning club/dance music and there are CMs dressed as pirates dancing around as well.
There is also a buffet at 10:45 on pirate night in Cabanas. It includes a taco bar, baked potato bar, turkey legs, and a nice dessert buffet. It also gets fairly crowded, so I just grabbed a plate and filled it up to take back to our room to share. Much easier than trying to navigate the kids through to pick out what they want.
AquaDuck: So much fun. This is one place where I really never saw terribly long lines, even on sea days. That is also in contrast to my last cruises because there was always a 30 min wait or more in the past. I rode a few times and my daughter probably rode a few times each day. You must try it at night as well, when it has the lights going. Not too extreme though, just the right amount of fun!
AquaLab: So many water jets and sprinkles, and a nice large area for the kids to run around. There were never more than 5 people playing here each time we would go. Great addition to the ship
Nemo's Reef: We played here probably daily. Lots of fun water play for the little ones. Beware the parents who leave their kids in here unsupervised :\ Otherwise a fun time with water squirting fish, a waterslide "stingray" and many other jets and waterfalls. A little slippery, water shoes are advisable.
Pools: Lots of fun in the Mickey pool. Both pools were crowded, but not overly so, on sea days. Again -- decking gets slippery and hot, so be prepared with flip flops or aquashoes. The pool deck in addition to the fast food area and beverage stations and ice cream bar was seemingly always crowded however. Perhaps too much jammed into one space?
Gym: I did go to the gym a few times (go me!!) and used the machines. Never overly crowded - great view of the ocean while jogging on the treadmill.
Spa: I had a day pass to use the rain forest room. The heated tile loungers are FANTASTIC. I took a bit of a nap on one. There are saunas of varying heat levels, and showers that have different sounds, lights, temperatures, spray pressures etc. It would be great to do everyday
Breakfast: For breakfast you can get continental food delivered via room service, have a sit down meal in Royal Court, or have buffet style food in Enchanted Garden (small selection) or Cabanas (larger selection + omelet station). We tried each venue and never tried room service breakfast although we have in the past. The sit down was probably my favorite even though it was a limited menu/same menu each day. The food was good and it was nice having everything brought to us. It wasn't a slow service and drinks and coffee were plentiful and refilled quickly. The buffet in Enchanted Garden was limited, but good. In this venue waiters do bring you drinks unlike Cabanas. It is less crowded then Cabanas too. Cabanas breakfast had the most options though the offering barely varied from day to day. In this venue you are responsible for getting your own drinks. It would be crowded here fairly often if you waited too late to go. When/If that was the case I would just make plates and take them to our staterooms (trays would have been very helpful -- but they do not have them) I never had anything at any of the breakfasts that I did not like -- no complaints on food quality at all.
Lunch: The same venues that are open for breakfast are also open for lunch. In addition there are quick service food options. We only had lunch at Cabanas, Quick Service, or Cookies (while on Castaway Cay) Cabanas: Different dishes every day, great variety. There were always two carved meat stations in addition to stations for seafood, Italian, pizza, grilled offerings, comfort foods, cold cuts, desserts, salad etc. Everything was the proper temperature and tasty. This is my favorite lunch venue on both this ship and the Dream. There is something for everyone here. Luigi's Pizza/Filmore's Favorites/Towmater's Grill: This is the quick service location. They offer 4-5 different pizzas, hamburgers, hotdogs, grilled chicken, chicken fingers, fries, wraps, salads, fruit plus special offerings each day. Some days that was pulled pork, chili, bacon burgers, spicy chicken and more. It was a nice place to grab a quick bite, but being on the pool deck it was often crowded. The food was always good though.
Disney has 3 main dining rooms that you rotate throughout the cruise for dinner service, and your servers follow you. Each dining room has its' own set menu and then on the other 4 nights there are special menus that are the same no matter what dining room you are in. The food was really the star here. All dishes were expertly prepared and delish.
Unfortunately, our service was just not up to the standards we are used to with Disney. This is where Disney normally shines and one of the main reasons I choose to spend my money with Disney. I actually did not look forward to going to dinner each night, and we did skip it one night. For the most part our server was not very engaging and seemed to be reading from a script. One night he forgot my husband's soup -- and didn't realize until he came to give us new silverware for the main course. He then brought the soup mumbling something about running low -- which was clearly not the case by looking around the dining room; others had received soup well after I had received my dish. My husband did refuse the soup at this point -- since I had been finished my appetizer and it would only delay our main course. We also discussed our displeasure with our server after the meal was over, with hopes that he would get better, but he never really did. Our assistant server tried to small talk but maybe we didn't mesh well, or maybe because we were frustrated with the server or even her service it showed and therefore we just didn't ever engage with her either. I would order a drink at the start of dinner. Her bringing the drink was normally slow but I quickly became fine with that because I realized that she never asked to see if I wanted another drink or even offered coffee or after dinner drinks. Truly maybe I should thank her since we saved money here, and Disney lost money, because most nights I would have ordered a second glass of wine and my husband would have ordered another drink as well. With dessert, I may have ordered a specialty coffee or after dinner cordial. With this type of service you would think we would complain to our head server, and while we did see him every night, he would only come by quickly enough to say hello and be on his way. He also seemed very stiff and scripted. Never once did he even acknowledge the kids, ask how our service was etc. I am partly to blame as well. I don't really feel comfortable having to complain about my service and then see these same people I just complained about again. We had really fabulous servers and head servers in the past -- so perhaps our standards were then set too high but Disney prides themselves on excellence and this is one area that I could not even rate as good. Dinner service was uncomfortable almost to the point of stress each night.
One night we skipped our normal dining room and chose to eat at Cabanas. They do sit down dinner service here as an alternative each night. THIS was the Disney I remembered. Funny as that is, because the servers in Cabanas are in TRAINING. You would think the service here may have some bumps but no, it was fabulous. The menu here every night is a few selections from each of the MDR menus so the food is the same quality as if you were to eat there. The service here really shined. Our server did magic tricks, chatted with us, chatted with the kids, and always had a smile on his face. His assistant was pleasant to converse with and also engaged the children. Drinks came in a timely fashion and refills and coffee were both offered. I wish I had this experience every night in the MDRs
We had one additional dining experience. We did the Remy Champagne Brunch. There is a charge fee for the brunch of $50pp and an additional $25 for champagne pairings. Dress here is semi-formal I would say. This is a very exclusive brunch -- only 80 spots open -- offered on the last sea day. You will have 5 courses plus dessert and treats; one glass of champagne is included with the first course even if you do not purchase the pairings. This was the best meal I have probably ever had. We aren't "fancy folk" and don't have many opportunities for fine dining, although we can appreciate it. The food was just excellent. Two of the courses were seafood. I normally do not like seafood but figured it I was ever going to enjoy fish, it would be here. To be quite honest I really enjoyed the fourth course as one of my favorites, which was sea bass over egg with a Thai sauce. The service here was excellent, the presentation was fabulous, and the view of the ocean from our table couldn't be beat.
My children both enjoy the clubs. If I had let her, my daughter would have spent the whole cruise in the preteen club, Edge. It is a great space with lots of games and activities organized by the youth staff. There was a staff member who she even remembered from our last sailing on the Dream. The space is amazing, with green screens, gaming screens and funky furniture. I wanted to be a pre-teen.
My son enjoyed Oceaneers. It was more crowded than our last two cruises -- so I didn't feel as though he had the same attention paid to him from the staff, but still a very good time. On our last two cruises we had club staff calling out his name when we would walk in the hall, he was always remembered by name when he checked in... this time none of that. It did not diminish the experience in any way BUT it did not feel as special. There are several themed areas such as Pixie Hollow, Nemo's Sub, Andy's Room, Laugh floor ... plus they have the huge light up play floor. There are computer games, many organized activities, toys, board games, movies and more. Pretty much something for every type of child. I doubt the kids clubs on any other line could come close.
We saw Aladdin and Believe. Both are spectacular -- off Broadway caliber shows. Great sets, storylines, and performers. The shows are short enough at 45-50 minutes, to keep the attention of even my youngest.
Disembarkation: Not so bad, bit of a line at customs but other than that it went smooth. We skipped breakfast and walked off.
Beautiful ship, lots of entertainment for young and old. Food is good to amazing, most crew members are fantastic. Would definitely recommend, but perhaps during a less crowded time of year.