Disney does 2 things at sea better than any other line: 1) move people and 2) occupy and entertain children. The service is unparallelled in family cruising. If you have any sort of problem, just say something, and it's immediately attended to....
The trouble with the shorter cruises is that people cannot relax - passengers or crew. With the 7 night, there's a point at which you finally start to really breathe and take it in.... and the crew seems less rushed to pack it all in.
About those two things up above - 1. Disney can get you from point A to point B, off the ship, etc. better than anyone. You wait in line very little, or never. You see more characters, faster, on the ship than you ever could in the park. We never waited longer than 10 minutes. Unreal. We NEVER waited in a line to dine for a seated meal. And buffet lines were notoriously short. Disney also starts things on time. Punctuality is key when your clientele is a lot of small children who can be impatient. Disembarking is a breeze.
I will say this... I witnessed several instances of parents in huge hurries, red faced, agitated, etc..... They seem to be afraid to miss something.... slowing down and taking your time works just as well....and using the daily newsletter that has all the times and places for everything on board is a really easy way to make sure you're on time for lots of things. Realize, though, that some planning and forethought is required. The Mickey 200 vegetable car race (kids build cars out of vegetables) will be limited to 16 or so families... so arrive 15 minutes early, if you can to get a spot. Also realize that they run multiple events....The Feud is run at least twice.... if you miss one, it comes around again.
2. The children stay entertained. Yes, the pool is crowded. They didn't care. Yes, it can be difficult to get a deck chair. Get there earlier. Yes the kids clubs can seem dark.... they have great programs running all day. My 8 and 5 year olds loved every moment they had in the clubs. The counselors were outstanding - knew the kids on sight, by name. The entertainment is age appropriate and highly entertaining. The character sightings are both planned and spontaneous... and the kids loved every minute of it. The wait staff was very good and the children clicked with the servers.
I have never found the Magic or the Wonder - Crowded - and maybe that is because they follow a plan of movement so well. At times, the stores can be cramped, but you can also find late night times when stores are open and essentially vacant. Despite Disney's urging that you not save seats in theaters, people do, and yet, we had good seats for all performances, walking in 10 minutes before they began.
This is the one area where Disney should improve. The faster food on the deck is fine.... and the kids enjoyed. But the choices for children at seated dinners are really lacking. They are essentially the same each night. But the variety is lacking.
Our food was good, but never great. There were a few things that simply were not very good. Our server was not shy about steering us away from things he thought would not be good. Somewhat surprising, but we learned quickly to trust him.
We ate in Topsiders for two evening meals....and surprisingly, they were two of the better meals aboard.
Sit down breakfast is superior to the buffet, IF you have the time. With early morning excursions, you will not.
Disney Dreams - really great show - an amazing one at sea.
Villains Tonight - Good show, funny and clever. But Hercules is not one of the better known and beloved movies. But it's very good. Kids gave it high marks.
Twice Charmed - Very good show.
We had jugglers, a ventriloquist, a hypnotist, and a comedian on board. All were very good.
EXCURSIONS and PORTS
I wish our tour guides to Tulum had been better. Most of the drive to Tulum was about the language, not much about culture or history. The delivery at Tulum was fine, but it bores children. This is why they recommend that kids be at least 8 before going. Our 5 year old enjoyed it all, nevertheless. And the hunt for iguanas, which populate the ruins, was fun for them. The 8 year old "got something" from the tour.
I have to say, I read about Tulum before visiting, and I left unsure if what I heard on the tour was accurate or wishful thinking. The fact is, much of the history is lost. But the site is beautiful and the beach at the bottom is really wonderful. It was crowded but fun. Bring at least a change of shirt and realize that there are no towels or changing rooms.
The pit stop on the way to Tulum was inconsequential. I don't think it's good for souvenier purchases....high prices - very high. And the bargaining was relatively ineffective. Most of the folks on our bus did not purchase anything. The shopping near Tulum wasn't much better, but it was easier to haggle.
The tour guides politely push certain places and things to buy. You can get a child's name embossed on silver in Mayan heiroglyphics. You can get a Mayan Calendar with their birthday, etc. Expensive, but somewhat unique. I would not do this excursion again with small children, but I certainly enjoyed it. And the children all had positive things to say on the return to the ship.
We missed seated dinner on the ship because it runs so long.... and we were pooped. That's the night of the pirate party. Be forewarned.... it will take ALOT out of you.
1/2 the party did the Secret River excursion a 1/2 spelunking 1/2 wetsuit adventure below ground. Alot of lecture, but some very interesting information and tremendous site. They loved it.
We saw none of Cozumel and very little of Playa Del Carmen, but what we did see was very pretty.
Other 1/2 of the party did a Dolphin visit and Turtle Farm visit. Our 5 year old enjoyed interacting with the dolphin, but the Turtle Farm was the highlight of his visit. (That and the waterslide inside Margaritaville). They did an outstanding job. Be forewarned, dolphin excursions can result in great photos taken by the company, but they come at a price that is entirely too high. $100 for a CD (with one single print made). We haggled, and got the price lowered a bit. I urge you to try the same. They do NOT keep the photos for you to order when you are home.... it takes advantage of your desire to have nice photos of an experience, and they are gorgeous photos, but it's the gotcha of the trip.
This is a place I'd like to have longer to walk. The shopping is pretty good here....jewelry and watches. Don't forget to haggle. We did some T-Shirt shopping....scored nice embroidered T's for the kids....priced at $14.99 each.... I managed to get them two for $15, plus a hat for $4.
Del Sol is big here....the shirts that change color in the sun. Bargain for these... and remember, EVERY place has them.
You do have to tender at Grand Cayman, but here is where Disney excels. They move people better than anyone. And everything is right where you step off the tender. Those coming back from beach breaks seemed happy. We will wait until Castaway Cay and hope for good weather.
We walked the touristy area of downtown. I see why Parot-heads enjoy it, but again, with children, it's rather unspectacular. Key West is a port best reserved for the older teens, college students, and other lines. We had originally booked an electric car excursion, but it was no longer offered at the time of sail. I had heard it wasn't very interesting because it's self guided and somewhat of a bore for small kids - but I have to say, I think we would have enjoyed that kind of exploration more. This was, in a sense, a throw-away port for the Western Caribbean, but it didn't dampen spirits or lessen our view of the cruise at all.