Writing a mostly uncomplimentary review of a Disney Cruise is more difficult than I imagined. First, let me be clear. I enjoyed this cruise a great deal, but as this review will make clear, there is more................or less to a Disney Cruise than meets the eye. First, I am a long time cruiser with double-digit cruises under my belt. Before Disney, my wife and I sailed with Norwegian, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean. In fact, the fact that this was not my first cruise is most certainly a factor in my disappointment with this trip. Disappointment is the "key" word here. I think I just expected more from Disney, and, in this case Disney failed to deliver. Did I over-expect? I honestly don't think so, but to each his own. The most concise description I can offer is simply this; if you are an eight year old, a Disney cruise is AWESOME, but if you are not, a Disney cruise is just AVERAGE. While there is much that Disney does right for a children's themed cruise activity, there is also the overwhelmingly obvious fact that when it comes to the more traditional "cruise" experience for everyone else, Disney simply rests on its laurels and does only enough to "get by." There seems to be an attitude that pervades the entire ship that says, " we are Disney and we can sell as much of this that we want all day long, so why make any extra effort." And in reality it is true. They don't have to compete with other cruise lines for the "traditional" cruise customer. Why go to the trouble of having live entertainment, lavish production shows, an orchestra or high quality food offerings when you can sell your product with canned music, a handful of mediocre performers, and second rate food fare? They are wildly successful without making the extra effort. There is nothing wrong with that, but potential cruisers should be aware of the fact that there are much better cruise experiences out there for a whole lot less money.
The Disney Dream is a beautiful ship and its crew is pleasant, helpful, and efficient. However, much of the design of the ship seems curious. Long hallways, a small centrum style lobby that seems to have no purpose other than to serve as a photo backdrop for hundreds of rabid Disney fans, and, again I have no problems with Disney fans. I'm kind of one myself. The children's swimming areas are crowded and small. The water park area for toddlers is almost too small to be useful. The so-called adult pool area is so embarrassingly plain and dull that it basically screams, "afterthought."
Our cabin was a Family stateroom that adjoined that of our son and his family. The rooms were beautiful. Spacious, well designed, and comfortable. The huge porthole window seats were hit with our two grandsons. The dual room bathroom is novel, and it works very well. The "trick" of using your ship card to activate the power in the room is neither intuitive or useful, but it is something that you eventually will get used to. The only downside was the location of our cabins. They were situated in the aft section of deck seven, and the Dream has an unpleasant habit of "wagging its tail" in heavy seas. The ride was a bit rough from time to time.
The "Cabana" food buffet area is ridiculously small and poorly designed with a confusing array of food kiosks laid out in a conventional "one line" style that is both deceptive and hopelessly confusing. The individual kiosks are meant to be approached at random to select the offerings but due to the conventional layout no one on the ship seems to be able to figure out the process. This leads to dirty looks and rude comments as people "think" you are cutting the line, when in reality you are simple using the facilities as the Disney advertising describes it. Royal Caribbean does this much, much better. In reality however, not much is lost here since anyone who has ever been to a Disney amusement park can attest, Disney does many things well, but food has never been one of them. The food on the Disney Dream continues this unfortunate tradition.
The facilities for children on the Dream are in a word, "outstanding." The Disney Oceaneer Lab is wonderful with multiple play areas, ample counselors, and a wrist band GPS system to keep the kids secure and accounted for at all times. They provide clean, safe, and imaginative play time for all ages, and the staff is excellent. Keep in mind that 90% of the facilities onboard from the swim areas, to the sports deck, to Goofy Golf are geared for young people. After all, its Disney, and it's great.
Also, keep in mind that if your cruise includes a "day at sea", it will be just that. No cruising involved, just a day of controlled drifting in the area of Castaway Cay. This is not a problem unless there is no breeze coming across the deck which results in a very hot day.
The highlight of our four day cruise was our day at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. As a past guest of other "private cruise line islands" I can attest that Castaway Cay is head and shoulders above them all. The ship actually docks so there are no tenders to hassle with and the island is clean and well maintained with the usual pleasant Disney cast members there to serve. It is a fun place and a great place to spend a day.
The embarkation and debarkation experience at Port Canaveral continue to be among the best in the industry. Ease of parking and efficient handling of passengers seems to be the norm there.
There are two things that stand out a deserve special mention. They are the Disney "wave phones" that are provided in each cabin, and the Disney "Navigator" app that takes the place of the traditional daily printed activity sheets that are the norm in the cruise industry. The phones allow communication between you and your party throughout the ship and on Castaway Cay. The app makes planning your daily activities and getting around the ship a much easier process. Both great ideas that should be copied by other cruise lines.
In conclusion, our four day Disney cruise to Nassau and Castaway Cay was enjoyable and because my grandsons enjoyed the experience, it was totally worth it to us. Just be aware that what you get from Disney for the additional money that you will pay is heavily steered toward the children in your party. Nothing wrong with that. Just be aware. If children are not part of the equation my advice is to look elsewhere to get more bang for your buck.