Let me preface by stating that I am a Disneyophile so it pains me deeply to provide anything less than an excellent for anything Disney. We are DVC members and stay with Disney several times a year and have cruised all three of their ships on various itineraries. We caught the excitement and booked a cruise for the week before Christmas this year. Some pros and cons follow:
We have never sailed on a more gorgeous ship.
For the 17 and unders, a remarkable agenda.
Castaway Cay remains a Disney jewel - it makes Disney Cruises.
The castmembers (Disney word for staff) work harder on this ship than anywhere else in Disney. I have never seen servers run so hard - literally.
Cabin Stewards are still a Disney plus
Inside Cabins are great
It is Disney
This was the loudest ship I have ever sailed on, it was like Disney World on its busiest day, amplified. This was not due to the generally well-behaved children, it was due to the tremendous overcrowding in virtually every venue.
Restaurant quality gets a fail. Most of our meals arrived cold, dinners were misplaced at the table, drink orders confused. You pay a premium dollar for Disney but I would rate the dining experience with Carnival. We just came off a 7 day cruise with NCL in June and the fare was far superior. Limited choices, few options, nothing you would pay for on land. They do have pay restaurants, Palos is nearly impossible to get into, even as a Castaway Club member, and Remy's is ridiculously overpriced. One of the big pulls for Disney is its free drink station, but this is located on one very busy deck.
Dining experience overall. Horrid. As my wife says, you can overlook a lot of things on a cruise if the food is good. It looks like Disney took the same plan, and almost the same space, from the Wonder and Magic. The dining experience works on the Magic and Wonder, but the cookie cutter does not work on the dream. My recommendation to Disney is you add another seating. The noise in the dining rooms makes conversation impossible except for screaming across the table. The servers cannot hear and the patrons cannot hear the servers. The tables are stacked so closely that the drink servers cannot get to all the seats without reaching across or jamming between seats. Patrons cannot get in and out of their seats without moving the one behind them. My other recommendation is to recognize that the Dream is challenging and only bring over the best staff/crew from the Wonder and Magic. Many of the crew who were new to Disney struggled. Our drink server continuously confused our orders. We found ourselves waiting with empty glasses for extended periods. Impossible to add anything else on or order drinks without completely disrupting our servers progress. The servers also had to fight the mad congestion, and were running back to the dining area, literally, and simply unable to provide a three star dining experience in a buffet restaurant atmosphere. To compensate for the kids, Disney turned the volume up in the Animator's Palate to ear-splitting levels. Unlike the Magic and the Wonder, there was no time for the personal server interaction or the serving staff pre-desert show. Nope, Disney completely lost the magic on this one. Did I mention the food was unimaginative, cold, and generally not that good?
We had two cabins. My wife and I shared one, and my adult children, 19 and 23 shared the other. First of all, the beds do not split. So unless you are an adult couple or under the age of 12, that layout is tough. We had a Veranda room and an inside room. Both were great with great service. But the bed thing was an issue and our 19 year old, who is full-length, did not fit on the couch and slept on the floor. A lot of money to sleep on the floor.
When you pay for a Disney Cruise, you subsidize the activities of the younger bunch. There are decks for their play and entertainment. It works for the older set because it keeps the kids entertained. It works for young parents because it takes the kids away and gives the parents some alone time. However, Disney completely fails, on all of its cruise ships, for adults without kids. And it completely neglects the 18-30 year old singles. Disney needs to re-look their definition of family. We met several families of different forms, to include several like ourselves traveling with grown children. Despite virtually tripling the amount of passengers on the ship, the agenda for those 18 and above seemed to be even less than it was on the much smaller Magic and Wonder. The teen club has some fun things to do, but when a teen turns 18 and cannot drink, there is not a lot left for him/her to do. So, if you are 18-30 expect to be tremendously bored on the Dream. Sometimes we cruise because we want nothing to do, but not at the Disney price.
Entertainment. Come on Disney. You charge some of the highest rates at sea. You pack your ship with passengers until it is overfilling which leaves you no flexibility to meet customer needs, like cabin changes. Even your cruise staff that books future cruises aboard admits that there are some cabin spaces that are bad, really bad. Why not knock out the bad cabins and add another dining venue and so more adult entertainment? The Disney Broadway shows are fantastic, geared towards the 10 year old, but good family entertainment. But they are the same shows we have seen on the other ships. You cannot mix up the line-up or add a new show. We had a magician/illusionist, Dave Super I believe, and I would not have gone to see him on land if they gave free tickets. About 4 illusions in a hour long show. Disney used to rule the seas with entertainment, but if you are going to step up and enter the big boys category with big ships like NCL and RCL, then you need to enter the game in all venues.
Debarkation was a nightmare.
The crew is under such intense pressure to meet the Disney standard that they begged for ratings. It was explained as such, anything less than an excellent and they will basically be in hot water. They said they are scored, excellent is a 90, very good is a 70, and good and below are all failing scores. Therefore, Disney has painted itself into a corner with no constructive method to solicit feedback without having to ask the passenger to write a litter of dismissal for an overworked crew-member. This crew is not as happy to be there as they are on the Wonder and the Magic. An anecdotal sound-bite, my daughter went up to the fast serve on the pool deck and asked what was good. The staff member's response was "I don't know, we are not allowed to eat this food." You cannot make this up, and believe me Disney you can sense the have and have-not attitude in several of the crew members. We are working people as well, we choose to spend our recreation money cruising, so I do not understand the resentment. I got one of the servers to explain the process and standards for becoming crew and evidently it varies. Some have to really work and earn it and others, the ones from closer countries do not have as rigorous a standard. It shows.
Wrap-up. Will I cruise with Disney again? Of Course! I believe in Disney and believe they will sort this out like they do all things. Disney needs to find a way to solicit some honest feedback because many on the ship felt the same. For now, I would not recommend the Dream to anyone. Cruise on the Magic or Wonder. Disney gets it right on those ships. Disney made a big mistake because it entered a new cruise category and did not create a new cruise model. They simply cut and pasted. It would be like taking the Magic Kingdom model and moving it over to Epcot. Two different experiences. And, as Disney expands its cruise line, it is going to have to accommodate different forms of families to include the new young adult generation that grew up Disney, and love Disney, but are not recognized unless they have small children.
I am booked to cruise on Disney again in December 2012 and March 2013.