The Dream is the newest ship in Disney's fleet. It is beautiful, grand and loaded with fun! So much to do and (what seems) so little time.
Let's start at the terminal. You will be assigned an arrival time when you register online. I tend to disregard that and always arrive as early as possible so we can enjoy most of the day aboard in port. We got there at 9:30 AM while the previous cruise was still disembarking, and there was already a line to get in. We were allowed to enter the terminal around 10:00 and given a number (3) indicating where, in order, our party was for boarding. You can register your children for the kids clubs while waiting to board, and that was also a HUGE line. Unfortunately, my wife waited in the line with my daughter only to find out she did not have to register because of her age. It would have been helpful if someone from Disney was at the beginning of the line informing parents whose children looked to be in that age group. So make sure you ask before you get on line. Anyway, the real disaster was when they began calling numbers for boarding, around 11:45 AM. The assigned numbers indicated that you were part of a group for boarding. The problem here was passengers with higher boarding numbers were waiting directly in front of the queue area, resulting in a mass exodus when their numbers were called. For example, everyone who was in the "3" group had not yet made it to the gangway when "4" was called. So, the passengers in that group, who were already blocking the gangway entrance, simply pushed forward and created a huge mess. This went on all the way down the list of numbers. Disney should have several staff members managing the queue, with separate areas of the terminal for each boarding number group. This would make boarding more efficient and maybe even enjoyable.
Once onboard, it was breathtaking. The main atrium is spacious and beautiful. While the staterooms are not ready until 1:30 PM, you now have the entire morning to explore the ship. Pools are open and food is available, so make sure you have a carry-on bag with swimsuits, a change of clothes, medication, etc.
Unlike almost every other cruise line, Disney does allow you to bring alcohol aboard. It must be in a carry-on bag that you do not check. We even brought a case of water with us. Yes, we had a few carry-ons, but we saved a bundle in water and mixed drinks. There is a soda station on deck 11 with small cups. We packed a couple of large "Typhoon Lagoon" cups, cutting down on the number of trips to the soda station. We even used them to make mixed drinks while relaxing on deck. As long as you keep a low profile when doing this, you will not have any problems. Here is a link to Disney Cruise Line website page that explains this policy: http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/faqs/prohibited-items/food-storage-containers/
Dining was completely enjoyable. The rotation schedule keeps things interesting by visiting a different restaurant each evening. Every meal at dinner was appealing, appetizing and delicious with a wide variety to choose from. I can't understand why some earlier posters had negative things to say about the cuisine. The quality of the food was only surpassed by the service. In typical Disney style, everything, especially the service, was top-notch. Our waiter and assistant waiter were gracious, attentive and considerate. For sure, our expectations were exceeded. As a side note, this is the first time, in many cruises on different cruise lines, where we gave more in onboard tips than is suggested by the cruise line. In my mind, this says something about the quality of the service.
The crew was always cheerful and friendly. Everyone said "hello" when passing you in the hallways. Cleaning was an around-the-clock affair. Everywhere we went, any time of day or night, there was someone cleaning, removing dirty plates or glasses, squeegeeing water from the deck, wiping down tables or counters, etc. (you get the idea) Every time we entered a dining room or buffet, we were handed sanitizing wipes. The buffet tables and counters were immaculate.
The ship has an onboard water coaster ride and there was even a fireworks display one evening, both a first for us onboard a cruise ship. I honestly don't know how any other cruise line can compete with Disney. They may very well be the only cruise line we use from now on.
As far as the difference in cost between Disney Cruise Line and all the others, I can only say "you get what you pay for". Keep in mind that there are no casinos on the Disney ships, so my theory is that this might be a reason for the higher fare, since there is no gambling revenue each cruise.
The only real negative comment I have is regarding the behavior of some guests. As usual, there are many (though not all) inconsiderate guests who feel that, because they paid good money for their vacation, their rights extend well above anyone else's onboard. One example; guests are instructed not to save deck chairs, but there were many, many chairs that had only towels, shirts and bags on them for the entire day. Because of the number of passengers onboard, space, elevators and deck chairs are at a premium. You will notice this more on your days at sea, when no one leaves the ship. Another problem is "absent" parents who consider the ship as a whole to be their babysitter, leaving bands of preteens roaming the ship at all hours of the day and late into the evening. Because the "Edge" preteen club allows the children to enter and leave without parental consent, it seems that the parents of these children feel comfortable giving them free reign of the ship. We were on a full elevator where 3 young boys hit every floor button between decks 2 and 12. They had no concern that the elevator was full. It appeared to be "something to do" to alleviate their boredom. Another situation involved 2 little girls, who looked to be about 5 and 7 years old, stepping alone onto our elevator. At this sight, all the adults looked at each other in disbelief, even holding the door open to wait for the "parents" who never followed. When someone asked the girls where their parents were, they didn't answer. We continued upward and the girls got off on the next floor - alone.
I have a message for these absent parents - cruise ships, although loaded with modern technology and an emphasis on safety, are the same as any other public places. It could be a dangerous environment, especially for unsupervised children. It's not the crew's or other passengers' responsibilities to look after and care for your children while you are sunning yourself or sitting at one of the bars. While it is truly "your vacation too", remember that your children are with you and need your attention and protection. This is not only common sense for you as a parent, but a consideration for the comfort of other guests onboard, who, by the way, also paid "good money for their vacation".
Another incident involved a mom taking food off of her child's plate at the buffet and putting it directly back onto the food in the steamer. Because they were right in front of me in line, I had to say something to her, asking politely (but annoyed) if she was aware of what she just did. She didn't respond, appeared to be flustered and quickly walked away, leaving her child to run after her.
Wait, there's one more thing..... the light switch in our staterooms. Apparently, someone at Disney had a "bright" idea (and probably got a corner office from this one). You have to put your stateroom key (card) in a slot just inside your stateroom door to activate the lights and TV in your stateroom. I can't imagine how many people may have locked themselves out of their stateroom by forgetting their key was still in that slot. I don't know what they're conserving by requiring guests to do that, but I'm sure there is a good reason. It's a real inconvenience, and not nearly as much as it could be if you lock yourself out. NOT A GOOD IDEA, MICKEY!
Please don't let my few complaints deter you from cruising on this magnificent ship. We would definitely go again (and again)! We are already planning a 2013 cruise on the Fantasy and looking forward to it! Make sure you take advantage of the discounted rate and onboard credit by booking your next Disney cruise while still onboard. You can't get that deal after you leave the ship. You can even set up a "dummy" reservation that can be transferred and still get the discount and onboard credit. My advice: do this early in the cruise - there WILL BE LINES on the last evening. It doesn't take long and the staff is knowledgeable and helpful.