Our first Disney cruise was met with MUCH enthusiasm as we'd heard so many great things over the years. We are a couple with no kids and really wanted to experience a Disney cruise without feeling overrun by children. Disney exceeded our expectations in just about every way.
The Port -- Disney's facility at Port Canaveral -- is amazing. Even the porters are Disney employees. It sets the standard for service and cleanliness even before you're on the ship. Check-in was a breeze and you can have your photo taken with Mickey before you even get on the ship, if you like! The walk to the gangway is preceded by an entry way shaped like Mickey's head. Again, a special touch.
Embarkation -- We had no idea we'd be greeted with a, "Welcome the Jacobs family!" announcement upon boarding. What a nice touch and something that differentiates Disney from other cruise lines.
Cabin -- Our 5A cabin (10026) was the first cabin on the port side near the elevators. It was the only one left in this category when we booked it, and we were very concerned about the sound level since it's so close to the elevators. Well, guess what? Disney got this right too. We never heard a peep of people in the hallway or anyone standing near the elevators. Obviously, the stateroom doors are sealed well. My favorite part of the cabin was the split bathroom -- one with a sink, tub and shower, and the other with a sink and toilet. It just made getting ready in the morning very efficient for both of us!
Adults-Only areas -- The adults-only open air decks were a wonderful respite during the day. Because Disney appeals to so many families, the adults-only areas always seemed to have lounge chairs available and ample space to feel like we were "away from it all". This was very noticeable any time we walked through the main pool areas where the masses were gathering. It really felt like it was too different ships -- the family area and the adults-only area -- they completely contrasted each other. The musician in the adults-only area played a guitar and sang adult contemporary music, mostly from the 60s and 70s. It was such a nice, welcomed change to what we're accustomed to on other cruise lines.
The District was such a great evening spot to sit with a drink and relax or to live it up and enjoy some nighttime entertainment that didn't scream "kids". My husband enjoyed 80s trivia in Evolution one night (his team won!), and we enjoyed the vibe here but didn't spend as much time here as we would have liked. Next time!
Castaway Cay presented the perfect spot to relax all day under an umbrella and just soak in the serenity of it all. We took the tram out to Serenity Bay and first toured a cabana. For $399 you get exclusive use of a cabana with cushy chairs, hammock, water toys/tubes, shade, fruits, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages stocked right there in your own fridge. There is a call button in case you need anything beyond that such as a cast member to bring you lunch. For more than 4 people, there is an additional charge of $50/person. For us, this seemed like overkill since Serenity Bay had ample space with either sun or shade right by the water.
Food -- The MDR food was REALLY good! We enjoyed the Royal Palace and Animator's Palate, and appreciated the vegetarian portion of the menu that was clearly outlined without having to request anything special. I'm a pretty low maintenance vegetarian in my 12th year, and have seen it all when it comes to how restaurants handle veggie food. My biggest accolades go to the cast members in Serenity Bay on Castaway Cay for their handling of the BBQ food in the adults-only section. When I simply asked how the veggie burger was prepared, I was told that Disney is very concerned about "cross contamination". What? That is music to my ears. Never did I expect them to use that term nor invite me to see the grill and how the veggie burger would be prepared separate from the meat with different utensils. This was unexpected and very much appreciated. This private island experience by far exceeded any other private island experienced with other cruise lines.
The buffet was great. While I prefer the use of "islands" in the buffet (as opposed to long counters), the food and service were both great. In fact, each morning, my husband would go grab us some food from the buffet and bring it to our cabin for consumption on our balcony. The first morning, he asked if they had any hard-boiled eggs, even though there weren't any in the buffet. A minute or two later, a chef came out of the kitchen with two hard-boiled eggs (whenever we asked for one of anything, we were always given two. I'm guessing this is a Disney policy). This was his routine each morning, and each morning he came back to the cabin with a hard-boiled egg.
We dined in Palo our last evening, and while the food was exceptional, the host/hostess service was not. It wasn't terrible by any means, but it was a little odd. There was some sort of a mix-up with the seating arrangements. We waited 15 minutes to be seated despite arriving on time for our reservation, and watched quietly as several other couples were seated ahead of us, though they arrived after us. Just as my DH was prepared to say something, we were seated. Shortly thereafter, a hostess came to our table and gave me my "Key to the World Card" but it wasn't mine. (They thought I had left it in the adjacent lounge, Meridian.) I told her my name was not "Kimberley". She looked baffled, then looked at our server who looked down at a piece of paper, and then they realized they thought we were a different couple and said we were supposed to be seated at a different table. It could explain why we waited so long to be seated. The whole mix-up really wasn't a big deal, but it was a bit surprising given how "on top of things" Disney was in every other way. From the appetizers to the main courses, to the desserts -- Palo does it right. We'll definitely dine here again.
Disembarkation -- Another differentiator here was that there were no assigned disembarkation times. We self-disembarked at about 8:15 along with the rest of the ship. We walked right off the ship, but experienced one of the longest customs lines we've ever seen. The great thing is that the lined moved quickly. We got through the line, to the car over on level 3 (there is a walkway from the terminal), loaded up the car, and were on I-95 by 9:15. Not a bad experience at all.
Overall, of our 20 cruises so far, this one ranks in the top 5. We have Disney to thank for that, and are already looking at Disney Fantasy sailings in 2014.