Still not sure if we love cruising, or if we love DCL, but without a doubt this was our greatest family vacation ever! And we have had some wonderful trips. Let me describe our family - DH and I are in our 40's with a 10 year old daughter. When we travel, we keep price in mind, but we do enjoy splurging on vacations. While at Disney World, we have stayed in 10 resort hotels, ranging from value to deluxe properties. I love staying deluxe, but I'm not too good for values and have an equally good time there.
We booked the highest level of oceanview on DCL and were upgraded to an aft balcony with the solid wall verandah. I think I'm now a cruise "snob" lol and will always want a balcony.....
Embarkation - DCL port is very nice but there is really nothing to do but wait to board, especially if you arrive at 10am like we did. Boarding was a bit of a cattle call, but once you enter the ship, your family is announced and Disney makes you feel as if you are the only guest on the ship. Magical!
Cabin - I've read that DCL has larger than average cabins in the industry and I was not cramped at all. Yes, smaller than a hotel room, but we didn't spend much time there and it was laid out great. The split bathroom is a MUST with a sink/shower in one room and sink/toilet in another. Great idea Disney! And I was surprised at how comfortable the bed was!!!
Public areas - in keeping with Disney, everything was very clean and "new" looking, despite this ship being 13 years old. Crew members were always polishing or cleaning the decks. Activity directors made sea days so much fun with pool games and music. I really felt like I was on vacation all the time.
Activities - We were lazy and spent most of our sea days at the pool deck. But there is more to do than you could ever fit in in one cruise. From towel folding, to character drawing, to guest speakers, to beer/wine/martini/tequila tasting, to first run movies, etc. There were games shows, bingo, all kinds of family entertainment. But you are free to do as much, or as little, as you like.
Kids club - With a 10 year old daughter, only child, this is very important to us. After one day, we gave her sign in/out priviledge, so we would not need to accompany her to or from the Oceaneer's Lab (ages 5-10) or Oceaneer's club (5-7 but also some activities for older kids). She met friends and they were on their own. This made the cruise better for her, and gave us some time where we didn't have to worry about entertaining her and we could relax at the Quiet Cove Pool for adults only. The staff in the kids clubs were wonderful and really kept the kids entertained. From making flubber, to baking chocolate chip cookies, even just laying around on bean bags watching movies, the kids were free to pick their own activities as there were so many to choose from.
Dining - We had 3 rotational restaurants, as well at Palo tha charges a $20 surcharge per person. Let me just say that I am somewhat of a foodie. Olive Garden is by no means fine dining to me, yet I'm not too good for it either. I do not think Ruths Chris is fine dining, but you can get a pretty good steak there. But from time to time I do enjoy "fine" dining. I have had a few incredible meals in my life, one being at Bistro Savannah in Savannah GA, and the other at Palo. I had a sea bass that was like nothing I've ever tasted before. Absolutely worth the $20 surcharge and then some.......
The rotational dining was a sold "B" for the trip. It was very good, and even a couple of exceptional items (blue cheese/asparagus risotto!!!!). Service was very good and I loved getting to know our servers. Each dining room had a unique theme with Lumiere's being the most formal and styled after Beauty and The Beast castle. Parrot Cay had an island flair and was more "fun" but Animator's Palate was very unique. It starts out all black and white and as the meal progresses the colors change as the movies come to life. From b&w prints on the wall to full color movies by the end. And Sorcerer Mickey comes dancing in for fun at the end! Even the servers vests change color by the end of the meal. Lots of fun!
The quick service dining was also very good. Pluto's has burgers and fries (and surprisingly good burgers!), Goofy's Galley had very good and unique sandwiches, wraps. paninis, and fresh fruit, and Pinnochio's had pizza that our 10 year old declared "the best!"
Topsiders Buffet had above average buffet fare and was themed each day for lunch. The Italian and Asian buffets were good, but the seafood buffet was below average for me......
All areas were very clean.
Entertainment - It's Disney so the broadway style shows rate an A+. This is the only area of the cruise where it was over the top Disney. Dining, pools, public areas, you would never know you are on a Disney ship. But the shows are very Disney centered. But top notch entertainment.......
The guest entertainers on our cruise were a ventriloquiest and a hypnotist who both performed family style cabaret shows early in the evening, and then adult cabaret shows later. Even "adult" shows were very tame and not filled with vulgar language or insinuations. Both entertainers were great on our cruise.
And since it's not offered as a port to review, I'll just say that Disney's private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, was the highlight of the cruise. Sadly, it rained, but that did not keep us from enjoying the snorkeling, bike riding, barbeque and just the beauty and cleanliness and the wonderful Disney theming.
Value - I can argue this one both ways - Disney is Proud of their line and they charge a premium for it. But you get what you pay for. Knowing that our daughter was safe when she was roaming the ship alone is worth a LOT for me. I don't know that at this age I would feel comfortable with her alone on another cruise line. But 90% of the people on this cruise were with families, not bachelorette parties or spring breakers. And after waiting for photos and autographs from characters in WDW when our daughter was younger, I loved the intimacy of running into Donald and Daisy while walking down the hall and they would stop for a photo. NO line. Nobody else around. Does Disney overcharge? Maybe. So I can't cruise DCL as much as I'd like, I appreciate what they offer and will just consider it a treat when I do cruise with them again.
Overall - Like I said before, best vacation ever. A++++++ for this family.