This was my family's first cruise with Disney Cruise Lines. We have been on about 15 other cruises over several years, mostly on NCL, one on Carnival, and one on Princess. We decided to try Disney this time, as they were dong a "kids sail free" promo to the Mexican Riviera. We have pretty much been around the world on cruise ships, but the Mexican Riviera was a new destination for us.
The embarkation involved passing through security at the port, then sitting in a large waiting area until the ship was ready to be boarded. It had plenty of seating, as well as a big screen TV playing Disney Channel. We were there quite early (due to coming from our home in Alaska). It was very loud, with tons of kids of various ages running all over. There was no food/drink available besides two vending machines, so make sure you get food before you arrive.
They boarded the ship using numbers, based on when you arrived and got through security. This part of the process was very well done, as, once it was actually time to board, you got right on the ship, and they sent you to a specific restaurant to get something to eat. We were sent to Parrot Cay, where there was an excellent buffet and wait staff.
At about 3pm, we were allowed to go to our cabins. We were greeted by the cabin stewards, and the room was ready for us. We had a deluxe ocean view verandah cabin (5A), number 6532. It was near the stairs, forward, sixth deck. The cabin was in great shape, nothing broken. It contained a spit bathroom, with a toilet and sink in one room, the shower and a second sink in the other. There was a large closet in the room, and plenty of drawer space. The cabin had a flat screen TV with 20+ channels (not all Disney). The setup is similar to other cruise lines' balcony or family suites, with a queen bed, good size couch, and desk area. The balcony had a great view.
The restaurants were excellent. We rotated (with the same wait staff) between Parrot Cay, Animator's Palate (amazing dining room that cost over 4 million $$), and Triton's (the most formal). We had an early seating, and ate with a family similar in makeup to ours (two teenage children). The menu was different every night, and there was a different "theme" each night as well. The food was excellent, as was the wait staff service. The Animator's Palate has a multimedia show that is a must see.
The tipping is traditional, with suggested rates for the head server, your individual waiter, the assistant waiter, and your cabin steward. They were all well worth the gratuities we left. I would say that the single best part of the cruise was the quality of the service.
The shows each night were different every day. Some had pyrotechnics that were tremendous. There were a number of Disney-themed musicals, a first run film that was still in theaters (Muppets), and a hypnotist/comedian (family friendly). There was also a movie theater that showed both 3D and 2D movies, all day long. There was a good variety between Disney stuff and other movies. There were also a decent number of "adult only" events in the evenings.
Our younger son is 13 and was in the "Edge" program, and our 16 year old was in the "Vibe" program. Both programs ran until after midnight daily, and were drop-in variety. The Vibe program was on the pool deck in a smoke stack, and it was so cool, I even wanted to stay there...The Vibe program was on the 2nd deck, and had a large variety of activities, as well as pretty much every video game system available. They also had large plasma TV's. comfy bean bag chairs, and computer stations. All the staff were excellent, very helpful, and the kids loved them.
There are three pool areas. One has a huge outdoor movie screen that plays all day/night with a variety of shows and movies. The other pools are a kiddie pool area with waterside and an adults only pool, with two hot tubs and a nearby coffee shop. They really did enforce the "no kids" thing, too.
The ports (see other section) were excellent. There was a lot to do, and it was safe. The tender boats were run efficiently.
There were character greetings and photos everywhere, some with quite long lines and cranky kiddos. The only real issue we had with the ship was the huge number of kids everywhere, and some of them unsupervised or just plain ill mannered. We did kind of expect the huge number of kids, given that it was a Disney Ship and there was a "kids sail free" promotion. It did make things pretty chaotic sometimes. I would just advise that when you go on a Disney cruise, keep in mind that there most certainly will be a large number of kids of all ages, and it won't likely be the most peaceful cruise you've ever been on. Just be ready for a manic level of activity and tons of Disney positive energy and you'll be all set!!
Debarkation was pretty chaotic. There were adults and kids everyplace, with not much organization. The cabin stewards chase you out of your cabin as soon as they can (although they are polite about it). We tried to get to our assigned breakfast, but because of the chaos, we just went to LAX instead. This would be a definite area they could improve upon.
Overall, this was a great cruise. Disney service was unbeatable as always. This cruise would be best suited to families with children of any age.