My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our first Disney cruise aboard the beautiful Disney Dream! It was just us – we don’t have kids. But we are Disney annual passholders and attend the parks at least once a month. This was my tenth cruise, having cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean in the past. We had discussed trying Disney Cruise Line for a couple of years, but did not know if 1) it was fun for adults, and 2) if it was worth the extra money. (In my research over the past couple of years, I have found Disney cruises to be 2 and sometimes 3 times the cost of other cruise lines, depending on the time of the year.) But, we decided we wanted to cruise at the last minute and didn’t want to battle hoards of college spring breakers - we figured Disney was a safe bet. Obviously, this review will not include info about the child-specific activities, but I can say that the kids on board looked like they were having lots of fun! In this review, I have tried to be as detailed as possible so I can help you decide if a Disney cruise is the right cruise to spend your hard-earned money on.
Embarkation in Port Canaveral – “Smooth Sailing”
Since we are Florida residents, we drove to the port. We arrived at about 12:30 PM and parked in the parking garage ($20/per day) adjacent to the Disney terminal. It is a safe, secure garage. We dropped off our luggage with the porters before parking and made sure to tip at least $1 per bag. The lines were moving quickly and it took about 30 minutes to get on the ship. I will say that the ship was already bustling with passengers by the time we got on, so if you want to get there at the beginning of the party, the earlier the better. Even though Disney will give you a time to arrive at the port and tell you that no one gets on the boat until 1:00 PM, I know many folks got on the ship before that. When you do get on the ship and are about to step through the threshold into the grand atrium, they announce your family and everyone claps. What fun! Overall, we had zero problems with embarkation and all of our luggage was delivered to our stateroom by about 4:30 PM, so we were off to a good start!
Stateroom – “We Completely Lucked Out”
Since we booked at the last minute (about 5 days before sailing), we had very few stateroom options. The least expensive option was actually a Guaranteed Verandah stateroom. Now, we have never sprung for a stateroom with a balcony in the past. We just don’t stay in the room that much, and especially since this was a short cruise, I thought it was kind of unnecessary. (I have since discovered that the inside staterooms with the “magic portholes” are very popular and are in high demand. Leave it to Disney to figure out how to get people to want an inside cabin and actually, in some cases, pay more for one than an oceanview cabin!) But, money is money, and so we booked the guaranteed verandah room, not knowing what we would get or where it would be located. They don’t tell you your room assignment until you get to the port. Actually, the porter who took our luggage was the first person to tell us our cabin number. He also said our room, 5658 (aft, starboard), would be ready at 1:30pm (I believe the rooms are not ready until 2:00 on the other lines I have been on). It turned out our room was a category 4E (Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah) and the verandah was extended, i.e. double the size of the balconies above (ours could fit four chairs while the balconies above had two). Awesome! I figured we would get a tiny balcony with an obstructed view, but Mickey was good to us. We really liked the location because we were one Deck up from the nightlife area (The District). I thought it might be loud, but the room was very quiet and no noise came up from the bars below. And being more aft, less people passed by our cabin, so it was extremely quiet! The cabin also had a split bathroom (one part with a shower and sink, the other part with a sink and toilet), a small fridge (more on bringing your own beverages later), a sofa sleeper, safe, and the bed was raised to store luggage below. We would take this room again in a heartbeat! Our room steward was great – we never saw her but knew she had been there.
Ship Atmosphere, Pools, Etc. – “Approachable Elegance, Not Obnoxiously Disney”
This is the best ship I have been on. Prior to this, the Carnival Breeze and Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas were my favorites. The Disney Dream was immaculate and beautifully well done. Mosaics in the Cabanas buffet, art on the walls that you can interact with (literally), stunning dining rooms, etc. I commented to my husband that it felt like we were on a floating version of Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel, but just cooler. I know people rave about Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure, but not having been on those ships, I can’t compare them. A fellow passenger on the Dream stated she thought those two particular Royal Caribbean ships were probably the only true rivals of the Dream.
The adults only areas felt very open, especially on the upper sunbathing Deck (Deck 13, where there was also a blocked off private section for concierge-level guests). I could imagine that this would come in handy on a sea day, but on the three day cruise, these areas were not used much. There is an adults only pool (Quiet Cove Pool) on Deck 11 with a bar, hot tub and another bar, Currents, just above on Deck 13. The pool was nicely heated and the hot tub was a good 102 degrees. The hot tub has a partially see-through bottom that looks down on the ocean. The pools were not saltwater! Thank goodness. And, there was a very talented steel drum player by the adult pool in the afternoons (which is something lacking on the other lines). There is also an adults only bar and café (Cove Café) near the adult pool, which we peeked inside of, but never used. We did not use the spa, but spoke with a few folks that did – and they were very pleased with the experience. The fitness center was nice with high-quality machines. Disney does not have casinos onboard, but there were plenty of other things to do to keep us occupied. The one “kid thing” I absolutely had to try was the AquaDuck. It was a blast! Adults don’t be shy – there were lots of us in line. Don’t miss it!
Food – “You Had Us at Stone Crab!”
The first place we went when we got on the ship (since we had about 30 minutes until our cabin was ready) was Cabanas buffet on Deck 11. The first thing we saw was a buffet station with steamed mussels, peel and eat shrimp and stone crab! Touché Disney! The rest of the buffet food was also high-quality and delicious. Another great thing – free self-serve soda in the buffet and near the main pools! Soda was also free in the dining rooms. That saved us a few bucks on the soda card we usually have to buy on other cruise lines. The self-serve ice cream (near the Quiet Cove Pool) was also outstanding and included other flavors like banana and strawberry, besides the usual chocolate and vanilla.
The buffet for breakfast was also very good and the donuts actually tasted like donuts (unlike other lines where they taste like cardboard usually). We were a little unclear as to the buffet situation in the evenings for dinner. We asked and someone who said it was “heavy snacks” and not really dinner. We planned on eating in the dining rooms anyway, but we were just curious.
I think the most genius thing Disney did was the snacks in The District. At some point during what I would consider “happy hour,” a delightful buffet would appear with wings, chicken strips, ham sandwiches, turkey wraps, chips and salsa, etc. This was perfect for munching since we had the late dinner seating at 8:15 pm. And it was great if you got the midnight munchies. I loved that this was by the bars and not way up on “lido” Deck, like the late night snacks usually are on other lines.
They do have a pretty cool late night buffet in Cabanas on “Pirate night,” complete with those huge turkey legs they sell in the parks, tacos, beans and rice, etc.
We did not order room service, but I know it is available 24-hours, and is complimentary except for a tip to the staff member who brings it to you. We did not try Tow Mater’s Grill or Luigi’s Pizza, which both served food later into the evening.
Disney rotates guests through the three formal dining rooms, and the wait staff rotates, too. So not to worry if you love the idea of having the same wait staff for the duration of the cruise. The first night we dined in the Royal Palace, which was very pretty, but probably the most common of the three dining rooms. The second night it was our turn to dine in Animator’s Palate. This was dynamite. The room has over 100 screens on the wall and each changes with different underwater scenes modeled after Finding Nemo. Crush the Turtle will actually talk to a few tables, and as luck would have it, he talked to me! It was just so fun and the highlight of the cruise (maybe I have had too much of the Disney Kool-Aid)! On the final night, we dined in the Enchanted Garden, which turns from day to night as your meal progresses. This is also where we had a lovely sit-down breakfast on debarkation day.
The food was hands down the best food we have had on a cruise ship, as was the service. The assistant server is responsible for getting beverages at dinner, and our cocktails came from the bar in no time at all (something Carnival needs major help with in my experience).
We did not choose to dine in the extra-fee, adults only restaurants Remy or Palo. We wanted to experience the main dining rooms first, and we were not disappointed. Also, since I felt like we already paid a premium for a Disney cruise in the first place, Remy, especially at $75 extra per person (Palo is $20), seemed like a lot. I am sure it is fabulous, but the main dining rooms were so good and I am glad we didn’t miss them. Since you do not know until you board the ship what night you will be in Animator’s Palate, which is the most unique dining experience on the ship, you may miss it if you book Remy or Palo in advance, especially on the 3-day cruise. I assume on a 4-day cruise you would be safe in reserving the final night of the cruise in Remy or Palo (again, assuming you rotate through the three dining rooms on the first three nights and repeat a dining room on the fourth night).
My husband and I were paired with two lovely ladies (a mother and daughter from St. Louis) and they were the best table mates we could have asked for. We usually choose “my time” dining on other cruise lines and get a table for two, but I am so glad we went the more traditional route on this cruise. At the end of each dinner, our server, Leslie, told us about what was going on that evening and about the port times for the following day. He was awesome!
Cruise Attire “Very Casual”
On the 3-day itinerary, the first night is cruise casual, the second night is pirate-themed, and the third night is optional cruise elegant. I did not see one tuxedo on the boat for the optional cruise elegant and saw very few jackets and ties. In fact, I didn’t see anyone really dressed up. People did have fun with pirate night, with both kids and adults dressed in various degrees of pirate garb. All passengers are given a pirate bandana to wear if they want.
Bars/Live Music/Nightlife/Shows/Characters - “Fun for Adults”
Disney does not have casinos onboard, which is usually where we like to go for fun after dinner, but there were plenty of other things to do to keep us occupied. The first night onboard we bar hopped in The District on Deck 4, which contained several bars and a nightclub. We thoroughly enjoyed Pink, the champagne bar, which has a brand of Taittinger pink champagne that is made exclusively for the Disney Dream. At $19 a glass, it was worth a try and was served with a small mousse-like dessert flavored with raspberry or mango. The Skyline Lounge was a cool concept – the background changed to a different city skyline every 15 minutes. My husband enjoyed the sports bar, 687, which has its own special label draft beer. Evolution is their nightclub venue, but it was probably the most disappointing feature. It may have just been the crowd, but it seemed kind of lame. We attended 80s trivia there one night, which was fun, but then they have these dancers come out and do some choreography and it is kind of cheesy. Then everyone just cleared out and went to bed I guess. That is one of my only rubs— the live music ended too early and the only place else to go after midnight was the nightclub. There were other bars scattered throughout the ship that we didn’t even make it to. I guess we should do the 4-day cruise next time so we can visit them all!
While the champagne bar, Pink, was expensive, I thought the drink prices for beer and mixed drinks were comparable, or even slightly lower, than other lines. But if you want to bring your own booze onboard, that’s fine! If you can carry it on (it cannot be in checked luggage), you can bring it.
The District Lounge is where the live music was mostly in the evenings, rotating between a piano player and an awesome 3-person band. We spent most evenings there, and were sad when the music ended at midnight. The atrium featured a duo at some points, which was very good, and the steel drum player by the Quiet Cove Pool was a great addition. That sums it up for live music. The theater shows did not have a live band.
I thought the big production shows were really well done. The Golden Mickey’s, Villains Tonight, and Believe, were the three shows and I enjoyed them all (although I thought Villains Tonight was probably the weakest of the three). The performers were near-Broadway quality, some being Broadway-level and extraordinary vocalists. There were also opportunities for bingo, trivia, karaoke, etc. We didn’t even realize it, but since the new Muppets movie was starting in theaters on Friday, the Dream would be premiering the movie at 12:01 AM. So, we saw a midnight movie the first evening and that was a special treat. Their onboard theater is very big for a cruise ship theater!
There were lots of opportunities for young and old alike to get a picture with a favorite Disney character. Minnie Mouse is in the cruise terminal, so the character greetings start even before you board! We sought out Captain Jack Sparrow on pirate night and got a photo with him. He had the wistful, half-drunk act down to a science. The characters are part of the main production shows and in the shows on Deck. There are also some roaming around on Castaway Cay. I was very disappointed that we missed the big character send off on the final night, “See Ya’ Real Soon!” I heard it was very fun and all the characters showed up.
What Made the Cruise Exclusively Disney – “It’s the Little Things”
Obviously, this is a Disney cruise, so I expected lots of Disney-themed décor, music, shows and characters. It wasn’t too overly done in my opinion. I also expected the quality of the food, cleanliness of the ship, and courtesy of the staff to be outstanding, which it was. However, there were several things I found to be very smartly done on the ship and I noticed and appreciated them having cruised several times before. These were the little unexpected touches that I have never experienced on other cruise lines.
1. Towels – you just take what you need on the ship or at Castaway Cay. There is no signing in or out/threats of charging your card if you don’t return towels, etc. It may not seem like it’s that important, but it is a convenience thing and I noticed!
2. Pictures – before getting a picture, the photographer asks for your “Key to the World” card. Your pictures are all organized into a binder in the Shutters photo shop on Deck 4. There is no time wasted looking for pictures in a sea of 100s of photos. Genius!
3. Bring Your Own Booze/Soda/Water – if you can carry it on, you can bring it! So grab a soft-sided cooler and take in your favorite wine, spirit, beer, or non-alcoholic beverages. We had a small fridge in our room that was perfect for our stash.
4. Free Fountain Soda – in the buffet, on the pool Deck by the main pool, and in the dining rooms. I heard that if you order it from a bar, then you are charged, but we didn’t test that.
5. Ship’s Horn – I didn’t expect to hear the opening notes from “Yo Ho Yo Ho A Pirate’s Life For Me” blasted from the ship’s horn, or “When You Wish Upon A Star” chime in, signaling an announcement on the ship’s intercom.
6. Fireworks at Sea – That is uniquely Disney! There was another ship trailing the Dream that was positioning to watch the fireworks, too. We were told that the best viewing is up on Deck 13 near the Currents bar, and we grabbed a seat there and enjoyed the show. Deck 13 is adults only, so it was quiet and romantic – one couple even brought a bottle of bubbly with them!
7. Movies – Getting to see a movie at 12:01 the day it was released was so unexpected and wonderful. The other movies they were showing were all first run movies!
8. Steel Drums – I miss steel drum music on cruises. It seems like this has been replaced by DJs on the other lines. Thank you Disney for bringing it back!
9. Artwork for Sale – I get so tired of seeing the same (crappy, sorry!) artwork all the time. The artwork was all Disney, yes, but it was actually stuff I could see someone buying.
10. Interactive Artwork – you could get a special card and go on a clue-finding adventure where the art would interact with you in various spots on the ship!
11. Phones – our cabin came with two “cell phones” that we could use to stay in contact with each other on the boat. How awesome is that?!?!
12. Castaway Cay – the best private island ever! And no tendering!!!!!
Ports of Call – “Nassau and Castaway Cay”
First stop – Nassau! We have been to Nassau many times and we usually choose to visit either Atlantis or take a taxi to Cable Beach. Since it was March and the water was still not super warm, we opted to go to the Melia Resort on Cable Beach in lieu of spending the money on Atlantis. The cab ride is $15 each way and the Melia offers a day pass for $30 per person. The resort has a great beach, pool with a swim up bar, hot tub, and a nice little pool side restaurant. It also has a casino where we could get our gambling fix on!
Next stop – the Disney private island. Castaway Cay was way above our expectations. There is no time wasted on tendering, which is what you must do on all the other private islands. And, there is a nice tram that takes you all over the island. We didn’t get off the ship until 11:00 am, so we headed to the rental hut to get some snorkel equipment ($29 per adult set) and then it was off to lunch at Cookies. They had everything that is typical of a private island lunch buffet and more – ribs, chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, vegetable chili, veggie burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, cole slaw, potato salad, fruit, pineapple cake, banana bread, ice cream, and GIANT chocolate-chip cookies! And again, free fountain soda.
After lunch, we snorkeled in the snorkeling lagoon just off of the family beach area near the snorkel rental hut. Just FYI, a snorkel vest is required in this area. The water was clear and calm. Disney sank several items in the lagoon— little plaques, domes for fish to hide in, boats, and the crown jewel, a sunken Mickey mast head. It was quite a swim to get out there for me, since I am not an experienced swimmer. (The only improvement I might suggest is that Disney could add a dive platform in the middle of the lagoon like Royal Caribbean has at their private island. I think that would be good given the amount of kids in the water who may tire easily.) The amount and variety of fish was incredible! And, I saw my very first stingray in the wild. It was by far the best snorkeling off of any of the private cruise ship islands that I have visited. There were also plenty of bars to cozy up to and lots of umbrellas for shade on the island.
Later in the afternoon, we headed to Serenity Bay, the adults only part of the island. It was stunning! The water is super shallow and perfect for practicing floating and holding a drink at the same time! There is a bar there too, Castaway Bar, that serves a good mix of beer, cocktails, and frozen drinks. There are plenty of restrooms on the island and lots of other activities, such as a 5K run, bike rentals (I think it was only $10 to rent a bike), basketball courts, and other activities for the kids. We heard that there are select Disney cruises that port at Castaway Cay twice in one sailing– I will be looking for those itineraries, as Castaway Cay is totally awesome!
Debarkation – “But I Don’t Want to Leave”
You have two options to get your luggage (and yourself) off the ship. 1. You can place tags on each bag (your room steward will give the tags to you the last day of the cruise) and set your bags outside your room between 8:30-10:30 PM the evening before debarkation day. Your bags will be picked up and taken off the ship for you. On the morning of debarkation, you go to the luggage carousels to claim your bags. 2. You can choose to carry your bags off the ship yourself (express walk-off). In this case, you do not set your luggage outside your stateroom the night before debarkation, nor do you put the tags on them. Keep in mind you leave the ship on Deck 3, so if you have a lot of stuff you may not want to use this option.
In either case, they do request you be out of your stateroom by 8:00 AM. The first “All Clear” announcement was made at 7:00 am. You are free to leave the ship once that is called. But I wanted to get my money’s worth, so we planned on having breakfast before leaving. Since we had the late dinner seating, we could either go to the Enchanted Garden (the breakfast dining room assignment on debarkation day is the restaurant you ate in the night before) at 8:00 am and be served breakfast by our wait staff, or we could go up to the buffet. (If you had the early dinner seating, you had to be in your assigned dining room at 6:45 am.) We decided to experience the excellent dining service one last time. We rolled our luggage to Deck 2, placed it in the hallway, and went right into the dining room at 8:00 am. There was a full breakfast menu with lots of choices. (I was expecting a “here’s a pancake, now get out” kind of experience, but it wasn’t that at all.) After breakfast, getting off the boat was a snap!
Overall Experience – “Outstanding, 10/10, Exceptional, Friggin’ Awesome”
So, did Disney 1) provide fun for adults, and 2) deliver on the hefty price tag? The answers: YES and YES! As for fun, we enjoyed the nightlife, shows and absolutely loved Castaway Cay. As for value, the stateroom, ship amenities, food, and service were worth it. Will I cruise with Disney again? In a heartbeat! We will still cruise on other lines, but we now have set the bar a little higher after experiencing the Disney Dream. I would recommend this cruise for anyone! Even if you are not a huge Disney fan, the overall quality of the experience is well worth it. Well done Mickey! See ya’ again real soon…