A DISNEY REVIEW FOR ROYAL, CELEBRITY, PRINCESS CRUISERS
First, some background info: I'm 59, DW is 56, DGD is 3. We've cruised about once a year for the past 9 years, mostly on Royal Caribbean, although our last four cruises are Royal's Enchantment OTS, Celebrity Eclipse, Crown Princess, and now Disney Dream. In addition, we had a Carnival Miracle cruise we had to cancel due to Hurricane Sandy, so I read up on a lot of Carnival info. My goal in this review is to try and compare Disney to those cruise lines. I would only add that you can't really compare any of these ships to Allure or Oasis due to their size; we have cruised Liberty OTS which is a much more comparable ship.
We booked our own airfare from Central New York, added a one night pre-cruise stay at Disney's Pop Century. Pop is one of the lower priced Disney properties, but we thought DGD would enjoy all the large cartoon figures (we were right), plus having a full Food Court made things easier. We also booked Disney transfers. This is one area where Disney dropped the ball a bit in my opinion. We had transfers from the airport to Pop, but when we gathered our luggage we couldn't figure out where to go. Disney has a great luggage program where they will send your luggage directly to the ship, but with a pre-night hotel stay I was worried about not seeing our luggage until the cruise. We had to lug 3 suitcases and carry-ons around, asking several airport workers where to go before finally getting the right directions. I guess I expected to see someone holding up a Disney sign (something Royal and Celebrity did for us on other cruises), but we didn't see anyone. Once we found the bus it was only a five minute wait in line to get to the hotel.
Another note about transfers: we had marked online a 12PM boarding time. The Pop desk told us the Transfer guides would be in the lobby at 11AM. They showed up at 11:15; the bus didn't leave for the port until 12:30PM. It would have been nice if someone had told us we couldn't choose our port arrival time, but no big deal. I should add that the older woman working as a bus guide was the only unpleasant Disney employee we encountered the whole trip -- she didn't seem to enjoy her job. The bus itself: leave it to Disney to add little details that make things special. The bus windows look like portholes. The nearly 1 Â½ hour bus ride featured tvs with ship info and Disney cartoons.
Embarkation was a smooth and quick process. I heard there were lines earlier, but by time we checked in (2PM) the area was pretty empty. Another Disney touch: as you board the ship they have several crew members who shout, "Welcome aboard ____ family!". Cabins are ready after 1:30PM. Since it was already 2PM we went straight to our Inside Cabin.
Inside Cabin 9103: I mentioned above having to cancel a Carnival cruise late October, and this was one of the few cruises we could find that fit our available time/work schedules. I booked an Inside Guarantee cabin and was very pleased with the result considering how late we booked. I expected a Deck 2 Aft or Forward cabin; instead we were almost mid-ship, 9th deck. Our previous 3 cruises were all balcony cabins. I specifically chose this cabin because of the "Magical Porthole". If you're not familiar with the MP, the Inside cabins have a large screen tv that looks like a porthole and shows outside scenes. The best part (again, a special Disney touch), is that every half hour a Disney character will fly or float by your "window". We saw Mickey flying a plane, Goofy on a surfboard, hippos dancing in the ocean, and (DGD's favorite), a starfish that stuck to our window and waved to her. Higher priced Dream cabins have 2 sinks. We had just a standard cruise ship bathroom, but it did have a tub which was great with a 3 yr old. Cabin storage: The Queen bed had plenty of room to store suitcases underneath, but overall the amount of storage space was less than what we remember from Royal, Celeb or Princess -- fine for a short cruise, but it might be tight for a 7 day, one exception being the large number of hangers. The cabin was immaculate, our "Host" did a great job of making towel animals and supplying whatever we needed (he was in the Hall almost every time I left the cabin), and the tvs have a wide variety of Disney movies and shows to choose from.
NOTE: If you've read my reviews before you might know it's a good time to take a break, because I ain't close to done yet!
Dining: Booking late, we had no choice but to accept late dining and be wait-listed for early. Traveling with a 3 yr old whose usual bedtime is 8 to 8:30, an 8:15 dinner doesn't work well. The first night we had a table for just the three of us; the waiter worked extra hard to make our meal quick. The last 3 nights we were switched to early dining and sat with a nice family with 3 kids. Our new waiter also did an excellent job of moving things along; kid's meals were brought out in quick fashion. The waiter and assistant did a good job of entertaining the kids. A good example of going the extra mile: one of the children, when asked what he wanted for dessert, said, "Nothing". When the waiter brought desserts he presented the child with a plate with "Nothing" written in chocolate syrup. Dream has 3 dining rooms -- you rotate among the DRs. Menus depend on which DR you're in (you eventually get all 3); the exception being Pirate night when all 3 DRs have the same menu. One aspect to consider: all 3 DRs share the same kitchen facilities, so if you want something you enjoyed in a different DR they'll get it for you. As for food quality, I've never had a bad meal on a cruise ship. Portions were smaller than Princess or Royal (still plentiful); food quality and presentation were probably a bit above the other lines. Some of it was a bit fancy for my particular (very plain) tastes, so I ordered appetizers 2 nights off the Kid's menu. They were also accommodating about switching potatoes or other sides.
Less Formal Dining Venues: This is an area where Disney has it all over other lines we've cruised. Cabanas buffet featured crab legs and shrimp every day. The buffet layout was somewhat confusing and repetitive; you could find omelets and fried eggs for example, but you had to walk past islands of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs next to a section of bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs, next to a section of, well, you get the picture. Decent pizza -- not great but on a par with other cruise lines (I think Princess had the best). Burgers, hot dogs, brautwurst, sauerkraut, daily specials at the Fast Food area like chili and philly cheese steaks. Lots of fresh fruit. My wife commented, however, about a lack of salads -- available in the buffet area, but not much of a selection. The Royal ships with salad bars in the DR for lunch do a better job here, but that's a minor issue for me. Soft serve ice cream was available in chocolate, vanilla, twist, strawberry, banana flavors. To me the most amazing thing was no lines ever for fast food or ice cream. Another big win for Disney: free soft drinks 24 hrs a day. Also iced tea, lemonade, coffee. OJ and Apple juice whenever Cabanas was open; never saw Cranberry juice, but we did order it for DGD in the DR with no problem. We also had free iced tea and sodas in the DR. I'm not a big soda drinker these days, but it was nice to have it available. We still bought 3 sodas (cans weren't free) for the shows, and having popcorn ($) was nice. We were never pressured to buy drinks; if anything it was sometimes hard to find someone going around taking drink orders. Disney allows you to bring 2 bottles of wine onboard per cabin, a practical thing other lines are now practicing. Room Service: we only tried breakfast -- Continental only, not a full breakfast.
Activities: for kids, no one can really compare with Disney because of their history. Our DGD got to meet Mickey & Minnie several times, numerous Disney princesses and characters. The play areas are themed after Disney movies which, even at 3, our DGD knows. The pools and pool play areas really weren't terribly crowded considering the large number of young children on board. The family pool near the kid's pool did get crowded on the last day due to the kid's pool having to be shut down and emptied twice, apparently due to "accidents" of a biological nature -- one of the hazards I suppose in cruising with several hundred toddlers. This cruise was really something we booked with our DGD in mind, and we spent all of our time with her (except for some time she spent in kid's programs), so I can't comment on adult activities except to say they seemed to have many options (Karaoke, nightclub, etc.). Oh, no casinos on Disney ships. That just meant I came home with a little more money than usual.
Excursions and Ports: It's a Disney ship. Our only real port was Nassau, been there several times, not overly impressed, plus we were in port with Allure OTS and a Carnival ship. 10,000 cruisers in Nassau at the same time? No thanks, we stayed on the ship (so did most people) and enjoyed the facilities. Castaway Cay: of course Disney does it up in grand style. We missed the usual snowflakes they mentioned (too windy?), saw Jack Sparrow and the regular Disney crew, missed Captain Hook as our DGD (who's been to a beach several times) suddenly developed an aversion to sand. DW and I both give Royal's Labadee an edge for activity, but Castaway Cay was very nice.
Shows: Hey, its Disney! Again, you really can't compete with what they offer. One night had a Juggler/Comedian, similar to entertainment on other ships. The shows reminded me of shows in their theme parks, only much more theatrical. If you're a Disney fan you'll love the shows. And, as adults you certainly know the little green light floating above your heads is a stage tech pushing a switch, but you'll never convince DGD it wasn't Tinkerbell!
Fellow Cruisers: If you are someone who enjoys dressing formally and expects your fellow cruisemates to dress formally, Disney Dream isn't the place for you. I think I only saw 2 men in tuxedos; dress is much more relaxed than any cruise I've been on (3 or 4 day cruises are usually more casual anyways). No one will stop you from dressing up certainly, and as long as you don't mind dressing formally while your table mate is wearing jeans -- no problem. I commented to someone that this cruise had the best behaved children of any cruise I've been on; they replied that it had a lot to do with the multitudinous activities Disney offers for kids. One thing I enjoyed was Pirate night. I remember when we started cruising Royal Caribbean would have theme nights (Caribbean, Western, etc.), but they got away from it. There's nothing like seeing cruisers ages 1 to 100 dressing up in pirate gear. Where else are you going to see an 80 yr old guy wearing Mickey ears with a skull and crossbone design? And, let me repeat: this cruise had the most well behaved kids I ever cruised with.
Okay, what else? Cleanliness was A++, there was always crew going around revarnishing or painting areas. I can't say I saw anything that wasn't in perfect condition. Good wall insulation -- didn't think there was anyone in the cabin next to us because it was so quiet; it actually had 2 kids and a parent. Magic pictures in many hallways -- DGD had to stop and watch Alice falling past the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat -- you stand in front of the pic and it becomes active. Another nice touch. Elevators: My God, they were actually pretty quick, another cruise oddity. Some elevators had Disney drawings on the walls that you passed while ascending/descending. The mid-ship or forward elevators: Mickey's hands point to the floor its on. Lots of seating areas, shops with all sorts of Disney merchandise.
Disembarkation: Another win for Disney. Instead of an assigned departure time, you leave when you want (within reason of course). You had to vacate your cabin by 8AM. While departure time was your choosing, Dining Room breakfast was determined by your early or late dining. We were told if we wanted breakfast in the DR we had to be there at 6:45AM (didn't work with a 3 yr old). However, Cabanas was open until at least 8:30AM. Another nice Disney touch (I know this is offered by some other lines, but I believe for an extra charge?): they print your plane boarding passes for you; you put your luggage out the night before and don't see it again until you reach your home destination. We disembarked around 8:30AM -- no lines to get off, minor wait for customs, then right to our Disney bus for the one hour ride to the airport.
Summary: Is Disney just for kids? No way! There were many adults traveling without children and everyone I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I still like Royal Caribbean as my favorite (best DR service and best overall atmosphere in my opinion), and Disney seems to be a bit pricier, but considering what you get, its worth a price difference. One thing about Disney cruisers (and I'm not the first to say this): most seem to be Disney fans first, cruisers second. That's not a good or bad thing, just something to point out. I personally love cruising. I like Disney's theme parks, but if it wasn't for kids and grandkids I wouldn't visit them often. However, that being said, I'd be perfectly happy with another Disney cruise, with or without DGD. Thank you, Disney, for providing an enjoyable cruise experience, one which (especially by our DGD) will not be forgotten.