This was not our family's 1st Disney Cruise. We took a Western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Magic in 2009. That cruise was exceptional. We had come to expect high standards with Disney's high price tag. (That is an objective statement. Comparative cruises on Royal Caribbean & Carnival cost less.)
The Good - Our stateroom 1032 cat. 9D was very nice. It was roomy with a nice daylight view out of the the 2 portholes. Our stateroom host as well as our dining room servers were all competent & pleasant, but by no means exceptional. We did find exceptional service in the Vista Salon from Kellen. She was a lovely Jamaican lady who did my daughter's nails on my daughter's birthday. Entertainment from ventriloquist Michael Harrison was hysterically funny. The stage shows were well done, and the movies on board were enjoyable.
The Bad -Lines...Long lines to see the characters, Lines... at Beach Blanket buffet where the food was cafeteria at best, the Family pool was closed some days because some mommy let her little one contaminate the pool, the shore excursion in San Francisco ran way over time and the guide wouldn't listen to the people on the bus.
Embarkation - The problems begin! Los Angeles was a mess. We arrived later to port than desired. We stayed a night at the DCL arranged hotel. The bus could not get out of the parking lot because nobody could figure out how to open the gate. The terminal was worse. Guests stood, hot & hungry, in line with cranky children while the computers kept crashing. Announcements were made 'thanking us for our patience and telling us to please continue to enjoy the cruise terminal'. We failed to enjoy a spartan building. DCL was quick to say they were sorry. No refreshments or snacks were offered. Nothing was done to show they were sorry.
Customer service has declined. Our phone did not work in our stateroom. The wave phone was broken. It took 2 days to get repaired. We were told 'we are sorry' with no results.
The Youth Program - Disney's biggest failing yet. In recent years, Disney changed the structure of the youth program. The past program was age appropriate for ages 3-4,5-7, & 8-10. Disney likely caved to whiny parents whose special younger children wanted to do what the older children do. Of course younger children WANT what the older children have. That's natural, but younger children lack the social & motor skills to do the older activities. The current program permits ages 3-10 to do whatever they want. The end result is that Disney's Oceaneer Club & Lab are a loud, chaotic, mess. Little children were crying for Mommy while older children ran about in crowded spaces. The staff spent more time checking monkeys in & out of the zoo rather than interacting with the children. The past age-appropriate activities were better structured & organized. Our only salvation came from the fact that my daughter actually turned 11 on the cruise and aged into 'The Edge' program. This particular cruise did not have a ton of 11-13 year olds, as that program's space is quite small, so it worked out well. The tween program seemed much better run.
Debarkation - This was also a mess. We were instructed to go to a particular lounge and await further instructions. The group we were assigned to had the earlier flights. An announcement came for those who had their luggage with them to disembark. Confused, several in our group asked a DCL representative what we were supposed to do. The clueless girl called somebody, and told us to go to the lobby. We were then stopped in the lobby for 30 minutes by another DCL cruise staff who said we should not have been directed there.
While on board, we rebooked with Disney for the yet-to-be-launched Fantasy. We are considering canceling. I send DCL a polite letter expressing my concerns. I received a response back with typical boilerplate language expressing heartfelt apologies. We were offered no real explanation as to why we had such troubles in the first place. Despite the wording of the response, I'm not convinced Disney took the feedback seriously.
Disney's letter to us closed with, "We look forward to welcoming you aboard the Disney Fantasy next year." At this point, our family is beginning to think Royal Caribbean might be a better fit for us.