First of all, I want to explain my wife and I have been on a few cruises in the past. We have always loved the experience and were hoping to really be blown away by DCL. We went all out and booked a concierge level suite for our family at a significant expense, but after all - you cannot place a price on a magical experience, could you?
I must admit, I was a little disappointed right off the bat. Perhaps I expected too much, but I really believed getting on board would have been more of an experience for us. It was fairly quick, but almost nothing worth noting. the announcement of our family name on board the ship was nice however.
We had a suite and it was great. I recommend it for all families. Gave us enough room to move around the cabin, and enough bathrooms for everyone to stay happy. We also had a table which was nice. It gave us a place to sit down as a family and have room service, etc. A mini counter area with fridge and sink that was needed for our infant son. A nice room overall. Would I say its worth what we paid? Likely no, but I get it.
Ship look and feel/amenities
The ship is fairly aged but looked good. Everything was spotless. The washrooms were always super clean and the decor was very tasteful. The pool area was suited for families and the overall layout seemed practical.
We booked a couples massage day 2 and it was a nice facility. The massages were good as well. I cannot believe how much pressure those little ladies can exert. We left relaxed.
As for the children's clubs, we used the nursery for our 3 month old and oceaneers club for our 4 and 6 year old. The nursery was great. Our baby was well taken care of, we had no worries. The club was a mixed bag as our 6 year old seemed to like it, but our 4 year old cried murder when we wanted to send him the third time. I believe it is a good service overall, but we did not use it as much as we would have liked to.
Along with others, I was bothered that the buffets had time restrictions. This was new to me. Never have I seen buffets NOT open practically 24/7 which lets face it, is part of what makes cruising great :). On Pirate night they had a late night buffet open for 45 minutes to serve over 2000 people! By the way, don't bother asking for a tray to take your food away, we were told we could not have one! If you are going to the buffet for breakfast/lunch, try Parrot Cay before Topsiders (which very much has a cattle being herded into trough feel). you fight for table that are never available, and are almost pushed down the buffet line. In Parrot Cay (although a buffet as well), you are at least seated down, and fellow guests appear to show a high level of manners.
For dinners, you are rotated among the 3 restaurants. Although the food served was not the best we have ever had on a boat, it was good. Meals were enjoyable. My daughter ate Mac and Cheese 7 days straight, but she was happy too. The dining experience at Palos however, was likely the most special few hours of the cruise for my wife and I. Dinner was likely in the top 5 meals I have ever eaten, just fantastic. The waiter was excellent, 5 stars all around.
Ports of Call
Here's where is gets ugly for us. We missed Castaway Cay since the weather was bad. They tried docking multiple times, but could not so we left Bahamas completely. This gave us a full day in Port Canaveral and 4 hours in Key West. Not a strong itinerary by any means. Perhaps the fact the weather was cold put more of a damper on things, but we did not enjoy what was for the most part a first class trip to Disney world the best cruise experience. I get they cannot control the weather, but I hoped Disney would have tried to 'make it right' in some way. Change itinerary perhaps, give us a short time somewhere else? Buy us a drink? Anything? Nope, only empty apologies.
Disney world was a long day. We did receive park hoppers and transportation because of the cruise (included in cruise fare). We signed up for the Illuminations firework dessert port adventure at Epcot. Please folks, if you ever see it and are travelling with kids, avoid like the plague. First off, there is nothing for the kids to eat there, its pathetic (unless you think chocolate chip cookies are worth $50). Next, the important part of the show is blocked by trees from your 'prime' vantage point. As for our specific experience, we waited over an hour in the freezing cold (in the 40s) after the show ended because they did not order enough buses! Mothers and children were crying, it was horrific. We arrived back around midnight to the boat and needed to clear customs security! (even though we never touched foreign soil). We had to take our 3 month old out of his stroller. Every kid in line was inconsolable. Whats worse was port adventures management wanted to do nothing. We needed our concierge to intervene (more on that later)
Definitely geared for the little ones which is OK since I am a kid at heart. Shows were very good, Broadway calibre. The Disney 'Dreams' production was excellent. Not enough for adults to do in my opinion. There could have been more movies, entertainers for the parents at night.
We had excellent staff all around. from the room attendant to the wait staff - top notch. Our waiters Adrian and Kristina made my kids feel special every night. I expected this being a cruise experience, but it was still nice to see. A special thank you goes to our concierge. We never had one before this cruise, but I will say its spoiled us. Ask and you shall receive. We had our dining time changed in minutes, mid day snacks brought up daily complimentary, fought for a partial refund for us for the terrible port adventure... Concierge is the way to go if you can get it.
One of the worst I have seen on any boat we've been on. basically we were left to form our own line (of 2000 guests!) with no staff assistance. Its like DCL was basically saying 'party's over now get off and we don't care how you do it'. Many upset people over this. When we get to the terminal with our luggage, we were forced to use a porter. Buses leaving to the parking were disorganized. I just found the whole process left a sour taste in my mouth.
Overall, the kids will tell you it was a great experience for them. Which ones wouldn't when they get to meet Mickey and the gang with regularity over the course of a week. I felt it was a decent cruise, but lacked the little touches that would make it special. People are paying a premium to be on a DCL cruise and it did not deliver the value to justify that premium. We likely will not be back on another Disney Cruise unless we were to receive an unbelievable deal. I feel it takes more than just throwing the Disney characters on a boat with overpriced merchandise to deliver a magical experience. Perhaps we expected the moon. We paid for the moon. Given the level of greatness I know is possible with the Disney brand, it was lacking for us.