On this cruise, we sailed with another couple along with one of their parents and a single friend of ours. Two of the group had never been on a cruise before. The other two had been on Holland America but not on Disney. We had previously sailed on the Wonder.
This trip had been almost a year in the planning and were all greatly looking forward to it. We had used DVC points to pay for the cruise while the others paid cash for theirs.
We used hotwire.com for hotel the night before as we had previously done and ended up at the Crown Plaza at the airport. It was okay. The property and the rooms were actually nice but the whole place has a musty, moldy smell to it as others have mentioned and we did notice that as soon as we opened the door to our room. After we were in it a little while and had the air on it wasn't so noticeable.
We used Happy Limo for transportation to and from the Port. We had used them before and this time had an actual stretch limo which was a lot of fun. Their service is impeccable and is a better value than using DCL transportation.
Embarkation was flawless. As before, we had selected the earliest possible arrival time of 11am. Some of our group had 11:30 but we were told to just present our 11am slip and tell them we were a group. That worked like a charm and we were on board having lunch by noon. We didn't wait in line at all to check in.
Just to summarize some key points:
Food - I suspect this is true of most cruise lines, but I would give DCL a 'B' overall for food. Some of the food in main dining rooms is great, some not so much. The quick service food by the pool is very much like fast food but tasty none the less. The pizza is good but not great. But if you like a particular style of pizza and that isn't it you will be disappointed. We ate at Palo for the first time and the food and service were spectacular.
Public Spaces - This ship isn't new. It is 13 years old and it went through a major dry dock at 10 years old. There are places where you do see some wear and tear, but as another writer said, your house probably has wear and tear as well. We did see them doing some maintenance here and there. I think I was looking at this with a magnifying glass after reading comments on here. There were some surprises - the adult pool area is surrounded in wood and there are places that doesnt' look very good. There are spots where you see rust in small amounts around the ship. We thought there was mold on the ceiling of this one spa room but when we inquired we were told it was rust and they were waiting for a special paint. Is it perfect? NO Is it fine? For us sure. Is it okay given a premium price? I'm going to say that unless a ship is brand new I would think you would see this stuff on most ships. We are on the Dream in February so it will be interesting to compare.
Shows - The shows are classic Disney and they are perfection. The audience and us loved them. Nobody can do this better in my opinion. I know RCCL has Chicago and Hairspray and they are probably great for that one show.
Drinks - We were pleasantly surprised by drink prices. Typically we found drinks to be priced comparable or less that what we would have paid at a local restaurant.
Service - Our service experience was excellent, worth every penny. Our dining team was terrific, the cabin host took care of everything you could imagine. I will also say that with two Disney cruises now under my belt that there is NO pushiness in my opinion from drink servers, photographers, etc. They may ask you if you want a drink but if you say no they just go away and the same one won't likely ask you again at that time.
So having said all that I have to take a step back and think about it from an objective place. I know if you are paying cash, DCL is a premium. We are planning a small group cruise in 2013 to western Caribbean and originally I planned on Disney Fantasy. However, I am now considering RCCL Oasis/Allure, as well as the HA Ryndam. They start at around $700 for inside while Fantasy would start around $1100 (both for inside room based on double occupancy). I think for the value comparison it is possible we will use a line other than DCL. I think we'd get comparable food, service, and rooms on the other lines. The entertainment won't be the same. We are a largely kid free group so cannot comment on the kids programs. I know I will sail on DCL again, particularly on the Magic and Wonder. Taking a group and recommending it, I may lean toward a different experience from the value proposition.
So, in the end. I love sailing on DCL. Is is perfect all the time? No. But I doubt any cruise line is...I could be wrong though. I will sail on other cruise lines also...trying a 3 night on NCL Sky in 2013 just to try another line.