Intro: we are first timers on DCL (but Diamond members of RCCL) so this was a very diff cruise experience for us. MH, myself and DD (4). I do some side-by-side comparisons throughout of SCL vs RCCL, so bear with me! Its all we know!
Transportation: We purchased transfers from Art of Animation to the port. We opted to not have the hotel collect and transfer our bags, as MH doesn't like the luggage to be out of sight. No biggie. We just carried it on the bus with us and it was collected at the port. The bus ride was about an hour from WDW to sport Canaveral.
Embarkation: It only took us about 5 minutes to get through security. As luck would have it, we were escorted to the Concierge check-in area since there was no line there. We had our keycards in about 5 minutes and we were on-board! You enter into the main atrium and as you enter they announce on the PA system, "Let's give a warm Disney welcome to the XXXXX family!" followed by applause by a receiving line of staff. DDs initial reaction: "This is SO.AWESOME." (I cried a little, lol)
Room (stateroom 7088)
We ran for our room to drop off our bags and check it out real fast. We had a deluxe ocean view with verandah. The room had a split bathroom, with a sink and toilet in one and a sink and shower/tub in the other. So helpful when getting everyone ready for dinner! I was really impressed with the size of the room. We've only sailed Royal Caribbean as a family before, and always in a suite as their balcony rooms are tiny. The cost of any type of suite on Disney was prohibitive ($7k+ for the 3 of us!) so a balcony it was, and it was more than fine. Plenty of storage for everything. The couch folded out to a twin bed for DD, and another twin pops out of the ceiling for a 4th passenger. The queen bed was a little too soft for us but the linens were great. We were able to get faux-Tempurpedic pillows from housekeeping to sub out for the feather pillows. Not that we were in the room a ton, but the TV had every.single.disney movie you can imagine On Demand for free. We watched a new movie every day over breakfast. DD is now in love with Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, and Pocahontas.
One complaint about the room: You know how LOUD toilets are when they flush on a cruise ship? Well, every time someone flushed their toilet above, below or adjacent to us...we heard it. And Im not talking like a jingle of water trickling in the distance. It sounded like a trolley car was rushing through our room. It was really bothersome (especially when its happening every 1- seconds around 7am because everyone is waking up)and I know there was nothing we could do so I never complained to anyone. Just something to keep in mind.
Breakfast: Every day, I would go to Cabanas (main buffet) and bring breakfast back to the room where we could eat in our pajamas. This way we had more options than room service. (Secret: if you didnt know....the donuts on the buffet are Krispy Kreme. I saw them unloading them out of the dozen boxes. They must freeze them and have the defrost time down to a science, because they never tasted less than fresh to us.) We usually did eggs, fruit and a donut for breakfast (if you can't eat donuts for breakfast on vacation, then it's not a vacation!)
Lunch: We did lunch by the pool almost every day. In addition to Cabanas buffet, they have a pizza stand, grill (burgers, dogs,etc) , and sandwich station (paninis and wraps) by the pool. My go-to lunch became a giant plate of shrimp ****tail. They had a "raw bar" on the lunch buffet every day that consisted of shrimp, mussels, and crab legs. I've never seen that before!
Dinner: For those that don't know, rather than sitting in the same boring formal dining room every night, Disney has 3 dining rooms (each themed) and you rotate through them over the course of your trip, AND your waiters travel with you! So you get the same personal service every night, but the ambience is constantly changing. The Animators Palette dining room is animation themed. Giant screens show classic Disney cartoons and Crush from Finding Nemo actually swims around from screen to screen and interacts with the diners! Enchanted Garden is designed to feel like you are dining in the gardens at Versailles. Royal Court felt the most like a real "cruise dining room." It has the fancy chairs and chandeliers, as well mosaics and paintings of all the princesses and their princes. The bread baskets are actually little coaches with wheels! Very royal, lol. No matter what dining room you are in on any given night, the menu is the same in all the other dining rooms. We really enjoyed the food. It was fancy, but not pretentious. Most importantly, it was new to us. The biggest problem we had with Royal Caribbean was that after 3 cruises in 3 years, the menus were exactly the same every.single.year.
Beverage service: soda is free (at about 90% of the locations on the ship). thats a big deal considering RCL will charge you $50-60 for soda for a week. also, i found alcohol to be priced lower on DCL than RCL. the Drink of the Day in a standard cup was only $5 (incl tip). You can also BYOB, as long as its in your carry on (cannot put it in checked luggage).
Two customer service problems I had with the dining staff..the first one was that on multiple occasions when I asked for a modificiation to something on the dinner menu I was told it was already prepared in advance. For instance, DD wont eat pineapple. One night the kids appetizer was a pineapple and canteloupe cup. I asked for JUST a bowl of canteloupe and was told the fruit cups are already prepared. I just simply replied with Well, cant they make a new bowl of just canteloupe? The waiter winced and said hed take care of it. We got the bowl of melon, but never have I had anyone question a food request! The second issue I had was in Cabanas. At lunchtime, I was hunting for peanut butter, jelly and bread for DD. It was nowhere to be found. I knew that had it because I saw it out by the toast station at breakfast. I asked a staff member and he said it was strictly breakfast food and they dont put that out for lunch. Period. WHAT? So I tried to explain that PBJ is normal lunch food. Finally a head wait staff member came over and said he would try to find some for me. About 10 minutes later, he showed up with PB, J and little slices of french bread. ***??? It took another few minutes to communicate that we need real bread....square bread...WHITE bread. The next time I suspected DD might want PBJ for lunch, I just took the ingredients at breakfast and stored them in the fridge in our room. LOL.
There were plenty of adults on this ship without kids. I didn't get it before (who goes on Disney without their kids?) but I guess it works for them. I still wouldn't do it. There really are plenty of things to do, and they are def not characters and kid stuff EVERYWHERE. There is a quiet adults-only area with a pool, bar, and cafe. Lounge chairs here are far and few though. It's quiet though, if you are looking to escape the craziness of the main pool area.
The spa was nice. I opted for no massages this time (I usually treat myself to one, but I never walk away feeling it was awesome and worth the money). I did get a mani pedi though since I didn't have time before I left. It was OK but I'd rather get them at home for half the price. MH got 2 and had no complaints. We also purchased passes to a special pass-only area within the spa called the Rainforest. It had private saunas, hot tubs, therapeutic ceramic hot beds, and special showers with all sorts of fancy shower heads that have therapeutic benefits or something. We always go crazy at the spa since we don't drink at all. I think all weekI had 4 drinks and MH had none. Cheap dates we are, lol.
We dined in Palo one night and it was worth every penny. $20 surcharge per person for a 6 course meal: Cold Antipasti to start, the hot apps (mushroom polenta for MH, trio sampler for me (polenta, shrimp, and tuna tartar), salad (Caprese...the cheese literally melted in our mouths), pasta course (lobster ravioli for me, risotto for MH), main course (Osso buco for me, steak for MH) and dessert (chocolate souffle). Totally worth the money for the one child-free dinner and the amazing food.
Kids Stuff and Entertainment
The Aquaduck was fun. MH and I rode it 2-3 times each. DD was too short by an inch, but I'm not sure she would have gone anyway. We got her to go down the little kids water slide once and she screamed and cried the whole way down.
The pools...they were awful. There were 2 tiny pools in the center of the pool deck and they were beyond crowded. MH and I said it was like "kid soup." There wasn't free space to just sit and watch your kid. You were always getting kicked by another kid or splashed in the face. I can't even imagine how crowded it would be on an actual school vacation week! This really ruined it for me and I actually pulled DD out of the pool a few times because I couldn't stand it.
The kids club here is crazy! It is massive with a million activities. DD would whine every time we picked her up "why did you come so early?" They had tons of crafts, dress up stations, computers, themed rooms, and movies always playing. The only thumb down I give it is that it didn't seem they really organized it by age. Like, the Navigator would say activities for ages 3-12. Well, I dont think my 4 year old is really physically ready to play GaGa with 12 year olds, you know? And if they arent participating in the organized activity of the hour, they are just running WILD. On Royal Caribbean, they have organized groups by age (3-5, 6-8, etc) and do organized, age appropriate activities with each group.
We saw all the shows: Wishes, Believe and Aladdin. Aladdin was AMAZING! The actor who played Genie (who also appeared in Believe) stole the show, hands down. Wishes and Believe were both really good, but a little cheesy IMO.
We did miss the lack of live entertainment in the evenings. On RCCL, you can find salsa, string quarters, jazz, etc in at least 3-4 different places into the wee hours of the night. The only live music we found was that same duo from the atrium. After the shows, DD would go to the kids club and MH and I were like "now what?" We like to just sit and unwind and we found few places to do that (so we ended up in the Rainforest most nights).
Funnel Vision by the pool is just unbelievable. Disney movies by the pool on a two-story movie screen...almost 24 hours a day? Yes please. One particular sea day we spent the whole day sitting by (and in) the pool watching Beauty and the Beast and Princess and the Frog. A four year olds dream! And even when the sun is shining on the screen, you can still see the whole screen in full color, without glare (thanks the magic of LED technology!)
Pirates in the Caribbean was OK. Our waiter at Palo gave us the inside scoop on the best place to stand for the fireworks (starboard side, deck 12) but we didnt get there early enough to get spots to stand and watch the show going on down below. We did have a great view of the fireworks though, thanks to Luca!
Character meetings were abundant but lines were still LONG. For the princess meeting (Tiana, Belle, Aurora, Cinderella and Snow White), we got on line at 10:15 for an 11am start. We didnt meet our first princess until 11:30 (just to give you an idea). Fortunately, DD was a trooper and I was prepared with a book for me and her iPod touch for her to watch movies and play games. Occasionally, wed find a character wandering the ship and wed be able to have a semi-private meeting and photo op. On formal night, we found Cinderella just hanging out by herself in the atrium outside the Walt Disney theater. No line, no crowd.
We did the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique on a non-formal night. We opted for the Crown package (hair, makeup, nails) and brought our own dress from home. Grandma bought DD a brand new Merida gown just for the occasion I was nervous DD would compain about the hair pulling and whatnot when they made the bun, but she sat there as a quiet as a mouse. The bun lasted for 3 days before I forced myself to remove so we could wash her hair. The product washed out just fine, but over a week later, she still has pixie dust stuck to her scalp.
Costa Maya: We didnt get off the ship. We have been here twice before and unless you are doing a specialized excursion, the town is not worth walking around...unless you are in need of a sombrero or tequila.
Cozumel: We went back to Paradise beach Club. $15 cab ride each way. You cant beat $2 admission and a $10pp minimum on food and drink. DD was free. A plate of nachos, a few drinks and a light lunch and we more than fulfilled our end of the bargain. There are tons of chairs here, both by the MASSIVE pool and on the beach, and the staff is very attentive. Clean bathrooms and free WiFi. We were here from 9-3.
Grand Cayman: We didnt start tendering until 11;30am and had to be back by 5, so to me thats not worth the shlep and cost to get to a beach. We just ate lunch on the ship and got off around 1pm. Walked around the town and looked at tacky jewelry and I stocked up on a few duty-free, tax-free cosmetics. Back to the boat for more pool time.
Castaway Cay: Ok, here goes. We did not like it. At all. This is where Im going to get all RCLs Ladabee Kicks Castaway Cays A$$.
OK, first...there were not enough trams running in the AM. We ended up walking all the way to the far end of the first beach, which was a good half-mile walk in the sun. DD was NOT happy as we didnt bring the stroller.
On Labadee, we have always rented a cabana for the day. They range from $150-250 depending on the location. It includes floating mats, a cooler full of ice and Evian, and an upgraded lunch buffet. On Disney, they were pretty much cost-prohibitive. $400??? Really?
The beach was so damn windy. It wasnt enjoyable. With the only beaches facing the open ocean, there was nowhere to hide. Labadee has bay-side beaches (in addition to open ocean beaches).
The food at Cookies was fine. No better or worse than the standard lunch at Labadee.
Customer service: The day before disembarkation, we received a phone call from Guest Services that our flight home had been cancelled due to Blizzard Nemo. Guest services placed a ship-to-shore call to jetBlue for MH, allowing him to get our plans straightened out, as well as placed a FREE call to my parents so they could help us get our car rental and accomodations sorted out since wed be stuck in FL for a few days. They really handled the situation in an amazing way. I totally expected them to tell us to pay for the phone calls or use the internet at $.75/minute. DCL also ended up refunding us the ground transfers we had paid for to the Orlando airport (after providing proof of a car rental).
Disembarkation day: Since we were in no rush to get to the airport, we packed up and left the room at 8am (the latest you could stay) and had a leisurely breakfast at Cabanas. The line getting off the ship was crazy. It wrapped through the atrium, around the elevators, around the theater atrium...and then customs got backed up on the other end and the line didnt move for about 15 minutes. Eventually, we made our way off, found our bags immediately, got through customs in about 5 minutes and were off to get our car to drive down to Fort Lauderdale, where we stayed with my grandfather for a few days (so happy to have family we could crash with until our rescheduled flight on Tuesday).