My family went on our first Disney Cruise and can't wait to go back on another one (we have done one Carnival cruise in the past). We love Disney so this cruise was a great match for my family. First of all, save yourself a little time and process the pre-check in on-line. It makes things quicker I would have to say- especially the kid registration for their clubs.
Upon entering the ship, you immediately know you are on Disney property. EVERYTHING is immaculately adorned and cleaned! We came from Disney world and arrived around 1:30pm after having a 10am breakfast at the Polynesian. If you want to arrive early, you can board early and begin enjoying the amenities. However, bring what you'll need in your carry on because your room won't be ready until after 1pm usually and your luggage probably won't arrive until around 5pm depending on how early you arrived.
We LOVED our room. It was a deluxe inside state room with a magic porthole. We decided to just orient ourselves to the room before the muster drill. The sail away party is on deck 11 of Dream. Every staff we encountered was very friendly. We received great service in every aspect of our voyage. There was ALW'AYS something to do- for the young and old. I wasn't completely sure I wanted to leave my five year old with perfect strangers on the ship. However when I checked the Oceaneer's Club/Lab out and saw how they worked the security, I was good with it. By the last day, our son preferred visiting the cub to hanging around with us- go figure!
The food would be our biggest complaint. It wasn't as good as I had expected though we enjoyed the arrangements and the rotational dining. The size and number of pools are another mild complaint. They were way too small for the number of people on a cruise ship. You mostly bob up and down in a tight space with others who are doing the same! The Nemo Reef splash area and Mickey slide were popular with my son. We rode the Aqua Duck two times. It was fun- it went by quicker that I expected...so I wouldn't wait in very long lines to ride it. You are going very fast and you don't see much of anything but the on-coming water. One other are of dissatisfaction were the character meeting times. The characters are spread out and you have to line up for them a minimal of 30minutes if you want to meet them because they close most of the lines very quickly. The characters may only be there for 30minutes. I would recommend checking your Navigator every night to make plans for the next day- especially if characters are big on your list.
The shows were Disney quality. We loved the current movie theater. I would suggest joining a 'fish extender group' for your particular voyage. We did it and it was great fun!! There was so much to do that we want to go on a seven night cruise next year.
As far as time off the ship goes, we opted to stay on board instead of visiting Nassau. Crime has been on the rise and we just didn't feel like it was worth it...especially with a young child. We used the day to enjoy the ship. It seemed like most people chose to do the same thing because the boat felt pretty much the same. We watched "Planes" and had pizza and ice cream- how much better can life get for a five year old ( we found out what movies were going to be playing before we left to make sure that there was something he hadn't seen before so it would add to the experience).
Our voyage was the first Halloween on the High Seas. It was fun but I think they need to work on organizing it because it was pretty chaotic during Halloween events!!! So if you're bitter about not getting to go on a Halloween cruise...don't be!
Castaway Cay was beautiful and also had lots to see and do. The pirate night was fun and my son was amazed at the fireworks off the ship. He danced the night away. Disney has a cool 'library' where you can go and see all your pictures to purchase. Debarkation was smooth. The benefit of second dining rotation means you get to sleep a little later and be the last off the ship so you might want to keep that in mind when trying to decide which dining group you prefer. All in all, we had a great cruise and would suggest you give it a try!!