Previous Family Vacations: We have been fortunate to take many different family vacations over the years; Ritz Carlton Beach Resorts and Ski Resorts, Four Seasons Beach Resorts, Club Med all inclusives in the DR and Mexico, Disney World (Animal Kingdom and Grand Floridian), Beaver Creek Colorado in summer and winter, Legoland California, even a fantastic Dude Ranch vacation in Colorado.
Expectations: Based on the price tag, we had pretty high expectations of the Disney Dream. We booked a concierge one-bedroom and connecting family stateroom on Deck 12. Disney really touts their concierge service and I felt that we were entitled to some pretty special treatment based on what we paid.
Pre-Cruise Concierge Services: Great. No problems booking our massages, dinners at Palo, excursions, etc. We were provided with luggage tags, but decided to carry on. I didn't hear any nightmares about lost bags, but I didn't want to be the first one. We did use Disneys pre-check service for one of our bags (just to see what would happen) and it arrived about 30 minutes after they said it would. We got the back at 5:30. It could have been a problem if all of our clothes were in it and we needed to change for our 5:45 dinner, but it didn't affect us since we had carried on. Advice: Go ahead and check the bags, but carry on your swimsuit, cover up, and change of clothes for the first night's dinner just in case.
Embarkation: Fantastic with the Concierge service. Staff was amazing! We were taken to a special desk, given our Keys to the World, given our kids' Mickey Bands for the kids' club and taken to the front of the line to board the ship. The entire process took 20 minutes.
Stateroom: More than we needed. We had the one bedroom suite which has a full ridiculously sized bathroom, complete with jacuzzi and tv in the bathroom mirror (no problems getting our kids to bathe on the ship!), another split bath, walk in closet, 2 more closets, drawer space, dining area, lounge with another tv, sofa and chairs, separate bedroom (with yet another tv) that can be completely closed off like a little cocoon, nice sized verandah, fridge, etc. Then we had a connecting family stateroom with another queen sized bed, bunk bed, pull out sofa, full split bath, two more closets, more drawers, another fridge, etc, etc, etc. It was a lot of space for just the four of us. We would have been fine in just the one bedroom suite.The stateroom was beautifully decorated and Jose, our stateroom host, took wonderful care of us. The room was immaculate from the beginning to the end. I've read some reviews where people complained about their towel animals. Seriously?! For anyone who cares, our towel animals were adorable each night. The fact that Jose didn't come up with an entirely new creation every night was really not a problem. All I can say is that with the amount of work that these folks have to do and the fact that they do it with a genuine smile all day long, give them a break if you only get a crab, elephant and lobster. Whatever!
Concierge Staff and Lounge: Very, very nice. Our concierge staff included Rodrigo, Eddy and Melanie. They were incredibly helpful in every respect and very friendly. We lost our 7 year old one evening and they put out the APB and had him located at guest services before I could begin to panic. They were able to make all of the last minute changes we wanted for dining reservations at Palo and Remy, help with photos, give us great hints about quiet spots on the ship, recommend excursions, etc. etc. etc. I can't think of any way they could have been more helpful. The cocktails in the Concierge Lounge were a nice touch, as was the cold continental breakfast you could grab there if you didn't want to deal with the masses that early in the morning. You cannot get a hot breakfast delivered to your room, but room service will bring you a continental breakfast if you like. Lots and lots of things were MUCH easier to deal with because of the concierge service. All of your photos are delivered to a specific folder for you up in the lounge for you to review, they will help with just about anything you ask. The only time I heard "no" was when I asked if we could have food delivered to our cabana at Castaway Cay. Not the fault of the concierge, this is Disney's policy. More about the cabanas later. The lounge is very nice. There is some sort of snack there almost all day long, the coffee machine (as reviewed by others) is AMAZING! The private concierge sundeck on Deck 13 is very pretty, but it was so hot on our cruise that you couldn't really hang out there, even with the mister. I went up a couple of times at cocktail hour with one of my friends and saw no one else.
Cruise Staff: I am amazed at these people. There are 1200 screaming children of all nationalities on this boat and I never once saw anyone lose their cool, say an unkind word, or do anything other than smile and ask how they could help. From the guys cleaning the ship (all day long in jumpsuits in 100 degree heat), to the dining staff running around like chicken with their heads cut off to serve the meals in a timely manner, to the kids' program counselors dealing with who knows what down there in the Oceaneer's Lab and Club, they were 100% professional, respectful of the guests, friendly, happy looking folks. I had previously read about the crappy morale on the ship, but saw not one iota of evidence of it. There were plenty of kids (and adults) that I thought deserved a good kick in the pants and a swim overboard (pushing, shoving, cursing in front of my kids, cutting in line, etc), but the crew of that ship handled everyone beautifully. Hats of to Disney for some unbelievable crew training program in customer service.
Dining: Let's face it, it's Disney World on a boat. They are preparing and serving 10,000 meals per day. The food was fine. It was edible. Some dishes were good, most were average. It's not gourmet or anything close to it, but it was fine. If you are a regular person, the good news is you won't starve, but you're not going to gain weight on this cruise. On the other hand, if you are like some of the folks on this cruise, you will be stuffing your face from sun-up to sun-down. Wow! I could not believe the amount of food that some of these people ate.
Here's the breakdown on the restaurants: First of all, they are LOUD! Lots and lots and lots of people. Service was great in all of them. Animator's Palate is not to be missed. Crush came and talked to our kids; it was one of the highlights of their trip. Royal Palace was ok. I have boys so they weren't interested in Snow White, who was making the rounds during our dinner. We skipped the Enchanted Garden (I think that's the name), as we were at Palo that night. I really appreciated that they were willing to make a grilled cheese sandwich for my picky eater and I loved that they at least had a green vegetable on the kid's plate. Suffice it to say that we weren't expecting much from the regular dining choices and we were pleasantly surprised that the food was edible.
Cabanas is the lunch buffet. It is a ZOO! Buffets kind of gross me out, especially on a cruise ship where I was thinking Norwalk Virus in the back of my mind. The actual food choices were nice and some were even relatively healthy. But there were a lot of people sticking their hands in there and I just ate a snack every day in the Concierge Lounge instead. The other choice for lunch outside is Flo's Cafe, which has pizza, pressed sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs. Typical Disney fare. One of my kids ate so many hot dogs on this trip that I'm pretty sure he's glowing from all the nitrates and nitrites.
We tried both Palo and Remy. Both were very good. If you consider how little you're paying ($20 upcharge for Palo; $75 upcharge for Remy), you could say they were great! The staff in both restaurants were well trained, ready for any special requests and we had delightful evenings in both restaurants. If you can spring for the extra cost, go for it! Feed your kids at Flo's, order room service for them, or put them in the kids club for dinner and enjoy a nice evening meal. Totally worth it.
Room service was unimaginative, but fine for the kids. I was very impressed with how quick they delivered the food. No more than 30 minutes from the time we called and we used room service on 3 different occasions.
Pool and Aqua Duck: I read so many negative things about the pools that I warned my kids they wouldn't be swimming too much. Yes, they are small. Yes, there are a lot of kids trying to use them. I did not think they presented the least bit of danger due to overcrowding as I had read in a couple of the reviews. They were fine for cooling off, but you probably wouldn't want to hang out in them all day. Frankly, there was so much to do on the ship that my kids barely went near the pools.
The Aqua Duck was a big hit. It's not really a thrill ride, but it was super fun. We never waited in line more that 20 minutes and it didn't seem like such a big deal. It wasn't like Space Mountain's line or anything. It was kind of annoying when some jokester would deliberately fall off inside and then they had to shut the whole thing down for 30 minutes.
Other Deck Activities: My kids LOVED the Sports Simulators on Deck 13 at Goofy's Sports Deck. They're kind of hidden, but look for them behind the miniature golf course. I wouldn't have known about them if the Concierge hadn't told me about them. Super fun! Mini golf was fun and we didn't have any line. We stayed on the boat on Nassau day (we have already done Atlantis), and took advantage of ship's amenities while the masses were away. Good choice.
Entertainment: Really, really well done! The shows were incredible. I can't stand the shows at Disney World, but this was more of a Broadway show with a bunch of Disney magic thrown in. The theater was beautiful and holy smokes, the technical effects were incredible. Performances were terrific! I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Don't miss the Golden Mickeys and Believe.
My kids LOVED the mid-ship detective agency. That's the game with the talking paintings that sends you all over the ship. After a test run with the wave phones, we let them do it themselves. They loved doing it so much, they did it 4 times. I think that the last 3 times were mostly due to the new found freedom we had given them because of the wave phones. At home, we don't let them get the mail by themselves!
Bingo was super fun too. Ashley, the bingo caller, is great. Great activity for the whole family that doesn't involve watching a screen.
3-D movie theater was also very nice and ran movies ALL DAY LONG and until 12 am. That's a lot of movies.
Characters: Again, home run Disney! That's why we pay the big bucks for the Disney product. My kids were so enchanted when they ran into Pooh on in the hall on the way to the kids club, or chased Chip and Dale around Deck 5, high fived Donald on the way off the boat to Castaway Cay, and grabbed a quick picture with Jack Sparrow on the island. I guess the lines to see the princesses looked a little daunting, but again, I have boys. To them, the princesses are gross.
Oceaneer's Lab and Club: A+ all around. The staff was great, the facility was beautiful and fun, my kids loved going there. They made friends, they played games, did crafts, etc. etc. I don't know why people said that all their kids did was play video games in there. My kids played lots and lots of fun group games and met other nice kids. The counselors were amazing with all of those kids. Loved the hand washers that they have to use coming and going. I think my kids washed their hands 500 times on the ship. They are super cool things you stick your hands in the holes and they automatically wash them for you. Genius! Security about putting them in and taking them out was great.
Weird Disney People: I love Mickey as much as the next person, but some of these people are certifiable. They live and breathe Disney. They spend hours talking about their pins, they got married at Disney World, they know every single character, they have autograph books. There were quite a few of these strange people on board and quite frankly, they gave me the creeps. It's like they don't understand that Disney is make-believe. And I'm talking grown ups folks, not kids. Really, really odd.
Senses Spa: I had a nice massage, which was followed by the usual pressure to buy products. Could've done without that whole selling spiel when I only had 50 minutes to relax before the kids dragged me to the next activity, but I kind of expected it. If I didn't have kids and found myself on the Dream (because someone had kidnapped me and made me), I would have spent my entire trip in the Spa, on Deck 13 and in the Cove Cafe. Great places to run away and hide from kids and weird Disney people.
Castaway Cay: Okay, we did the private cabana on both days. This one was a rip off. It's $499 to rent the thing. You get the following: Nice little hut with fan and lounge chairs and private hammock on quiet side of the family beach, snorkel, float and tube rentals included, but you still have to schlep to get them, drinks and cold towels in your fridge, couple of bags of potato chips, beach towels, and golf cart service from the cabana to the tram stop. For that price, here's what I think they need to add: private bathroom in the cabana area (we were at the end of the cabanas and the bathroom was a hike), food delivery to the cabana (schlepping that food from the buffet was a pain!), delivery of the snorkel equipment before you get there (just ask people who rented them for their shoe sizes before disembarking on the island), golf cart service from the cabana directly back to the ship instead of just to the tram stop. $499 is a lot of money for what we got. I had originally booked the cabana when I thought my handicapped mom was coming on the trip with us. She ended up not going and I should have canceled the cabana. My kids had no interest in sitting at the cabana all day, so I spent most of my time chasing them all over the island anyway. If you have someone in your party who has limited mobility, the cabana might be worthwhile. The island itself was nice, there were some sea lice in the water, but no one was bit/stung too badly.
Wrap up: The Disney Dream is a beautiful ship, but very big and FULL of kids. You should expect that; it's Disney! It's pricey, but lots of fun and Disney magic and customer service. The food was average, the entertainment was excellent, the level of customer service was outstanding. My children cried when we left the boat; they said it was the best vacation ever!!! I am so exhausted from chasing them all over the place that I need a vacation from my vacation. My husband always says that if the kids are with us, it's a family trip, NOT a vacation. The Disney Dream was an AAA++++ Family Trip.