General: My family's second Disney cruise following an Alaska run last year. This time we went with an extended family group (7 adults, 7 children aged 9, 7, 4, 4, 2, 2 and 16 months) on the post Thanksgiving Western Caribbean itinerary.
Embarkation-Getting on is really a breeze unless you are trying to board right as boarding opens (which is really only important if you are trying to reserve something, e.g., Remy or Palo, that you couldn't get online). We got to the port around 12:45 and were on the ship within 30 minutes of port arrival.
Public spaces-The interiors are impeccably clean and the holiday decorations were essentially complete; very nice to see the ship decked out in holiday finery.
Character interactions-The highlight of our first Disney cruise was the personal interactions between characters and our children, and once again they did not disappoint. By the second meeting, more than one of the costumed characters remembered our kids More
by name. They obviously work very hard at making each child feel like they are having a real, personal encounter with their favorite character(s).
Entertainment-The three Disney productions (Aladdin, Wishes, and Believe) were all entertaining enough for my kids that they wanted to go back for another showing. The set designs are close to Broadway quality, and while the music is not up to that standard, it's better than what one would expect for a cruise ship. I particularly appreciated the last show, which had a real message that cut through to the truth at the heart of the Disney schmaltz...childhood is fleeting, and the happiness of children is the magic that really exists.
Dining-The best thing about getting off of the boat is not having to eat Disney's food any longer. The main dining room dinners are tedious slogs through course after course of insufferably bland food, frequently cool and usually overdone. The quick service food was worse...I'm not expecting miracles from a free hamburger stand on a cruise ship, but I do expect you to keep hot dogs, well, hot and serve fries that haven't been wilting under a heat lamp for an hour. If fast food joints and warehouse clubs can do it, so can you. The "BBQ" on Castaway Cay was simply dreadful. As on our last cruise, found the breakfast and lunch buffets the least bothersome. There were a lot of lousy dishes on these too, but one or two things were usually decent. And not having to wait a long time with small children to eat mediocre food is always appreciated.
We also ate at the upcharge adult restaurant, Remy. Service was very good, and the wine pairing, while no bargain, did complement the meal very well. I could quibble over a few of the dishes, but overall the quality was pretty good. I can't say that I found myself with passionate memories of many of the offerings. I don't think the meal is either a rip-off or a tremendous value for the price.
Service-The biggest disappointment on this cruise compared to the last was the quality of the main dining room service. Our servers were friendly but inept. Several times dishes we ordered never made it to the table. The assistant in particular seemed to have a lot of trouble remembering what was requested. Not at all the standard that we had come to expect from our first cruise.
Crowds-The ship was (I think) about 1000 passengers under its true 'full capacity'...but what we had was quite enough. Even more so than on the Magic class ships, the design of the Dream class really encourages people to flood onto the midship elevators; frequently we gave up and took the stairs. The number of people on board was most apparent at debarkation, which took a solid hour and a half from getting in line to actually getting through customs. I would highly recommend skipping the last breakfast to try to beat the crowds off the ship.
Ambience on the upper decks-On the Magic class vessels, one can stroll the length of the ship from bow to stern on the top deck. It's quiet and peaceful at night, and if you turn your back on the pools you really do get some of that 'classic liner' feel. On the Dream class, the flashing lights of the Aqua Duck are always apparent, and there's not really a convenient place to watch the wake of the ship (mini golf course on the top deck is probably the best option).
Overall: The dining experience as a whole was bad enough that I can't justify giving this the top rating, but the ship is beautiful and apart from the dining rooms the 'Disney touch' is still in full force. Two of the four families on board with us, including us, will definitely go back, one is on the fence, and the other is probably a no. Less
CC was fine...it took a pounding from Hurricane Sandy and a lot of the vegetation was dead. The water was cool but once you got used to it it was OK for swimming. Did not snorkel here but the snorkeling area was said to be quite good. Nothing other than the beach was particularly memorable. The buffet lunch was terrible...most of the soda fountains weren't working properly either. There are cheaper drinks here than anywhere else on the ship (2 for 1 specials in the afternoon).
Went to Chacchoben with an independent operator, departure point was within easy walking distance of port. We had a private van for our large party (14) at no extra cost. The ruins are very nice for children of all ages--saw some wildlife (spider monkeys, etc.) in additional to the archaeologic site. Most ruins can be climbed, at least part way. There is one portion of the tour where you climb a set of uneven stone steps up and down (about 3 flights of stairs worth), but this could be skipped for someone with mobility limitations. The tour guide was great and allowed us to move at our own pace, linger for photos, etc. At the time of our trip, there was quite a bit of construction on the road to the ruins, and several parties coming back (including the main ship excursion) got held up for 30 minutes or so. Tip would be to make sure your guide leaves before the Disney bus if you're on a private tour.
We got a cab to take all of us to Playa Palancar and wait for the rest of the day for 90 dollars. Officially, I believe they charge 2 dollars per person for chairs at this beach, but they made no attempt to do so. The waiter made a quick pass by when we first arrived and then we never saw him again! (We would have bought something, really.) There are some small rock formations in shallow water off the beach that present pretty good snorkeling opportunities, good for young children even. The beach also has peacocks. This is a lovely beach, clear water, and almost no one there looked like they were from a cruise ship. Great times.
Nice snorkeling, water about 8 feet I would guess? Again, waves off the reef were choppy and I would not be comfortable about putting an elementary aged child in this water unless he/she was a very strong swimmer.
Booked with an independent operator, they waited on the dock until all pre-registered guests were there before departing. Combined snorkeling/stingray expedition. From the description, I had envisioned this as calm, thigh deep water on a sandbar. The day we were there the water was quite choppy and waves from boats departing were often shoulder high. Still a lot of fun for my four year old, but definitely had to be held the whole time. Ample opportunities to interact with hungry stingrays.