We have cruised on Norweigian and Royal Caribbean several times. But, everyone (including travel agents) told us that DCL was the "best" and the "premiere" cruise line for families. We are a family of four (two adults in 30s and two children, ages 2.5 and 4). We also had grandparents in their 60s join us. So when we saw that DCL offered a "kids cruise free" deal out of Miami, we decided to skip Orlando and the long lines at Disneyworld and try the DCL cruise instead.
The Disney Wonder was mostly a good experience, but there were some disappointements, as well. The biggest disappointment for all of us was the quality of the food onboard. We just cruised on Royal Caribbean in December and the DCL food was just terrible by comparison.
Disney cruises are for kids and families. Period. Anyone who tells you that it's a great experience for an "adults only" cruise is lying. Everything is catered to children, from service at restaurants, food options (or lackthereof), shows, pools, entertainment, etc. This was specifically glaring in the restaurants and with food options and quailty of food. Be prepared to wait in lots of lines and be prepared to be "Disneyed-Out." Also be prepared to be surrounded by throngs of overstimulated and overtired rugrats. That is what a Disney Cruise is. Instead of waiting in lines at DisneyWorld, we waited in lines at sea.
(1)Embarkation. Pretty easy. We took the Disney transportation shuttle from Miami airport to the cruise terminal, and it was a relatively seamless experience and convenient. Since we didn't have car seats for our 2 year old and 4 year old, the shuttle bus was a must. No regrets on utilizing and paying for it.
(2) Room: We were in room 7106, which was a balcony stateroom. It was a lovely room, and we would book it again. The room was spacious by cruise standards, and easily fit two adults and two children. Much bigger than Royal Caribbean. Our 4 year old was in the sofa that converts to a twin sized bed. 2 year old in pack n play. Love the dual bathroom set up and especially the tub, which made it so easy to bathe the kids after a day on the beach. better than Royals shower-in-toilet set up. Be careful because the drawers roll in and out without guards, so we had two incidents with crying over pinched fingers. Water pressure was so-so. In the sink/toilet room the hot water was scalding and was difficult to adjust. Love that we got shampoo, conditioner, and lotion (Royal gave nothing at all). All good sized bottles. Lots of storage in the room, including ample room for a stroller. Would be nice if they had a step for kids to use to access the sink for tooth brushing, etc. we overturned a trash can and used that. Beds were very comfortable, so were pillows. (Better than Royal). Nice that there was a privacy screen to separate where kids were from where adults were, so we could read at night.
We found the shows to be quite wonderful for Disney themed shows. You aren't going to see variety shows or comedians or anything like that. On a Disney Cruise you get Disney Disney and more Disney. It's all for kids, and the Disney shows were amazing. Special effects, costumes, production, were all incredible. One thing we did notice that was interesting is that a lot of the time, the performers were singing to a pre-recorded track, so the chorus you hear isn't just the performers on the stage, but a large chorus of performers that is recorded, as well. On Royal, everything was "live" as far as vocals, as compared to Disney. Sure, the solos are live, but the vast majority of the music and singing was obviously pre-recorded. The Golden Mickey's show was adorable, and we loved the way they incorporated the audience and certain members into the performance. Same with Toy STory the musical. During our performance there was a technical problem with making the character of Buzz Lightyear "fly." You could see the wires attached to him, but for some reason there was a malfunction. When the stage went dark, there was a moment of panic and then a bunch of dancers came running in to entertain the crowd while the technicians tried to fix things behind the stage. It was a great cover! Our favorite performance was the final night "Disney Dreams" which included reenactments of several princess-themed musical spots. My 2 year old son was transfixed the entire time. Also neat was the confetti and bubbles and other crowd-entertaining experiences. Aside from the shows in the theater, there was also a variety of entertainment available for the kids. The Bon Voyage party included dancing and interactive activities for the kids, including these cute sparkle things the kids could wave and shake. And, of course, there was the famous pirate night and fireworks. Be forewarned, that the pirate party and fireworks are LATE at night, e.g., 10:30 PM / 10:45 PM, so the littlest pirates will not be able to make the show. Kind of sad. It would be nice to do the fireworks a little bit earlier, perhaps, so the under age 7 set can enjoy them.
(4) Activities - lots for kids to do on board. Especially neat were the character experiences. But be prepared to wait in LONG lines. We had to wait for 45 minutes to meet the Disney Princesses. It's not Disney World, but be prepared for lots of lines.
(5)Castaway Cay - this was amazing. Beautiful. Clean. Good food. Wonderful Beaches. And so nice to not have to take a tender into the island. The ship pulls right up and you can walk off. I would live there if I could! My daughter enjoyed playing in the rented inner tube. And there is also a water slide that is available for children who are over 38" tall. My 4 year old went down the water slide with a life jacket on.
(6) Nassau - Blue Lagoon Island. In Nassau we went to Blue Lagoon Island, which was terrific and worth the extra price for the beach. The island is gorgeous with warm blue water, an inflatable water park, and on-land bounce park, dolphin and sealion encounters, and a really yummy BBQ lunch included in the price. Just the ferry ride to the island is an adventure, as you get to ride past the gorgeous Nassau estate of Oprah! ONE major CON for this shore excurion -- What did surprise me though is that Disney Cruise Line charged $55 for my two-year-old to participate in this shore excursion. On Royal Caribbean we did the same shore excursion two months ago and he was FREE. What's that about? My four year old daughter was half priced on Royal, and Disney charged her a full price ticket. Same excursion. Same ferry. Same BBQ Food. But DCL charged a lot more!
(7) BYOB - Nice that DCL allowed us to carry on two bottles of wine, so we could enjoy a good glass of wine at half the price. Alcoholic beverages on DCL were also comparatively inexpensive at $5.75 for most mixed drinks vs. $9 on RCL.
(1) Food - Pretty bad. Disappointingly bad, considering the premium price for the cruise. The menu options were varied and promising, but the execution of the meals and the flavors were bland and sometimes awful. Buffet food was also sub-par. The "fast food" on the cruise (pizza, sandwiches, chicken nuggets, burgers, etc.) all around the pool area were tasty. But the sit down restaurants food was very disappointing. Fish was way overcooked and flavorless. Same with steak. Instead of a whole cut of tenderloin steak, they serve you a few pre-cut strips of a dry and tough meat. More surprising Lobster was not offered at all. In fact, I don't think there was any lobster on the cruise at all.
This is clearly a cruise where food is geared toward children, and not anyone with a gourmet palate. On Royal Caribbean we felt like we were eating at a fine dining restaurant every night because the caliber of the food was so great. Steaks, lobster, all kinds of seafood. On Disney everything was just bland and some dishes were down right ruined. It was a shame because the Disney Dining rotation was a neat concept. We ate in three different restaurants on three different nights, all with different themes. But the menus were all similar and the food was all equally disappointing. We had one decent dinner in Tritons on the second night. The sea bass. Steaks were not actual steaks, but strips of pre-cut steak badly cooked. An "avocado citrus salad" was two tiny chips of avocado sitting on a bunch of iceburg lettuce with some minute made condensed OJ drizzled on top. I tried a tuna-tatar appetizer with wasabi, but it just tasted bad.
The restaurants were clearly for kids. Which was nice because our kids could act out, make noise, etc., and no one would care. But if I was not part of a family and wanted to go on a relaxing adult cruise, this would not be it. Just because of the restaurants. Noise. Clanging. Crying. Screaming. Great for kids. Not so great for adults. But that's a Disney Cruise.
(2) Kids Club - This was another, surprising, disappointment for us. The kids club facilities were impressive...amazing, actually. Both the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab were gorgeous, taking up half an entire deck of the ship. But, facilities aside, we found the kids clubs to be disorganized, chaotic, and even a bit dangerous. There seemed to be no organized activities for the kids while our daughter was there. Just a huge mob of children running every which way. The kids scanned in and out with a special RFID bracelet. But there were no name tags for the children. No individual attention. No personalized attention. No organized activities from what we could see. There were groups of kids running here and there exploring and playing, but I did not see an organized group doing a craft. The only thing I did see was a halphazard "dance class" in the Oceaneer Lab. It felt like you drop off your child in this massive room with all this overstimulation, and then they fend for themselves. This wasn't very confidence-building for parents with younger children in the 3-6 age range, who require more structure. I could easily see a situation where a younger child gets hurt or injured due to the lack of ratio with adult care-givers and individualized attention. when we used the kids club on Royal Caribbean, it was a smaller program (and filled up quickly), but the children had name tags and there was much more structure, organization, planned activities and themes, and very strict ratios with adult caregivers. I had much more confidence leaving my 4 year old child in the Royal Caribbean staff care than Disney. The Disney kids club truly reminded me of "Neverland" and all the kids were "lost boys" running about, doing whatever they wanted, without any adult orgnization. Perhaps the club facility itself is enough. But if you have a child who is shy or easily bullied, there could be trouble. Another example of the lack of attention - My daughter spent 2 hours in the Kids Club on Castaway Cay while I went to the spa. When I checked her in, I specified that she had dietary restrictions (we do not eat red meat or pork). When I picked her up after lunch, she proudly explained how she "ate all kinds of different foods" (including a hot dog and a hamburger). She ended up with a bad tummy for most of the afternoon because she normally doesn't eat that stuff. While I realize this wasn't a big deal... it was a burger. It would be concerning to me if my daughter had much stricter food allergies or food intolerances. Just something for parents to note.
Pirate Night Be forewarned, that the pirate party and fireworks are LATE at night, e.g., 10:30 PM / 10:45 PM, so the littlest pirates will not be able to make the show. Kind of sad. It would be nice to do the fireworks a little bit earlier, perhaps, so the under age 7 set can enjoy them.
(4) CON - Disembarkation
Disembarkation - there is no buffet or room service available on the morning of disembarkation. This was hugely inconvenient for us. We were assigned a breakfast time of 6:45 AM at one of the restaurants, and if we missed it, we wouldn't eat breakfast. Imagine trying to wake two overtired kids up at 6am, so they can get dressed and get to the restaurant by 6:45 AM on vacation. Not good.
(5) CON - Service charges. Our cruise was four nights and we had close to $300 in gratuities and service charges added to our bill. On top of these "fixed" gratuities, it's expected that you give an additional tip to each of the head waiter, main waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin steward. DCL provides the envelopes and you feel bad if you don't give them more. My 2-year-old had the equivalent of $75 in tips prefixed for four days. Methinks excessive.
All in all we had an enjoyable time, and would probably go again. But we found the food to be sooooo disappointing for the price we paid for the cruise. I don't think that DCL lived up to the hype in our book.