My wife, 20 month old son and I cruised on a four night Bahamas cruise in mid-January 2012. My wife and I had cruised on Carnival before with a large group. That experience led us to never want to cruise again and we had spent a majority of our vacations at nicer all inclusive throughout the Caribbean and Mexico. Following the birth of our son we decided to try a Disney cruise because it appeared to be family friendly. We are extremely happy that we did as all of us had a wonderful experience. We enjoyed it so much that we booked a seven day cruise on the Fantasy next year. This review will obviously be geared towards our experience with a toddler on a cruise and will hopefully help out as much as the reviews I read before we booked.
We flew into MCO three days before the cruise embarked and stayed at the Crown Pointe hotel near Universal Studios. We rented a car through Budget which we dropped off in Cocoa Beach the day of embarkation. Budget had a free shuttle to the cruise pier which worked out well for us.
We had a 12:30 embarkation and it was a breeze. We did bring a umbrella stroller for our son which helped us to keep him near with all of the commotion and stimuli going on with the process. We had a quick family picture before boarding. One of the nicest things about the photography on the ship was that staff would take pictures with your camera as well as the pictures they would take for you to purchase. While we did purchase some photos, most of the time there was no need if you had your own camera. Following the announcement of our family, a Disney cruise staff member took us aside and gave us a quick rundown of what to expect as well as answered any questions we had. This was a really nice touch and just a start of the incredible service we received during this cruise experience. We quickly went for lunch at Cabanas on deck 11. Probably ate at Cabanas for lunch twice and breakfast twice during this cruise. There was plenty of selection and the food in a whole was good. We had no issues finding appropriate food for our son and he is a very picky eater. Following lunch we "set up shop" at two of the beach loungers near Nemos Reef. Being that my son is not yet potty trained this was a great place for him and he absolutely loved it. It has a soft floor with all kinds of fountains based on the characters of Finding Nemo. We spent a lot of time here with him during the cruise, but it did work out for us as it is in view of tunnel vision, other pools, and the aqua duck so we could take turns with one of us watching him while the other could relax.
After dragging our son away from Nemo we went to the It's a small world Nursery open house as we had a few hours already booked for our son. The staff in the nursery are phenomenal, all of them! The nursery has lots of appropriate toys for toddlers and younger, numerous cribs and pack n plays for naps, plenty of play room, and devoted and attentive caregivers. We took advantage of the nursery 1-2 hours in the evening, half way through dinner until our designated show time. (Our son doesn't have the patience for a long evening meal so this gave us some relaxed alone dining time together.) We were also able to use the nursery on a very short notice and it was no problem changing our scheduled times around naps and activities. We felt safe leaving our son in the nursery and any problems that occurred were quickly relayed to us using our wave phones.
After getting familiar with the nursery, we were able to go to our room (1:30pm). We booked a deluxe family ocean view room and were very impressed with the size. Upon arrival to our room, our luggage was already there and the pack n play and diaper genie were already in the room. The separate bathrooms were a plus for us. The shower tub combo was nice. We had ample storage space and our sons pack and play was set up each night for our us. The couch and large desk provided extra room for us to spread out and relax. The fridge was nice to have especially for keeping milk in for the following morning, as it was easier than walking to the restaurants or calling room service first thing in the morning for our son. The large porthole window was great and provided a fun place for my son to look out at the ocean. At night we were able to pull a curtain that separated the room and allowed our son to go to sleep before we did. The television was also able to be swiveled depending on need. The Disney movies on demand became part of our sons bedtime routine.
Following the muster drill we went to deck 11 for the castaway party at 430. This was a lot of fun and the Disney characters as well as crew members definitely get you ready for vacation. The cruise director did a great job. You hear from him before each show and in the mornings. He highlights events going on. A nice thing was that he was not constantly pushing shopping or things that were meant to get you to spend more money which was definitely different from our previous cruise experience.
We had the 530 dinner time and our rotation went Royal Palace,Animators Palate, and the Enchanted Garden. My wife and I enjoy nicer dining, have strong culinary skills, and have pretty eclectic palates. While the food in the standard restaurants was not the strong-point of the cruise this was due more to the lack of consistency than the food itself. Our wait staff was amazing and our head waiter made the dining experience for us. We quickly learned to follow his suggestions and he would openly tell you not to order something if he believed it was "sub-par". Highlights of our meals included a nice fillet of sea bass, a nice chicken breast entree, duck appetizer, wild boar, and most of the desserts were good as well. We would each get the signature drink on the menu each night (it's vacation!) and they were hit or miss. We had no issues finding something for our son to eat each night and one night he wanted a grilled cheese so they sent someone to deck 11 to get this for him! Again I can't express how remarkable the dining service was. Georgi from Bulgaria is awesome and was very understanding to our sons needs and toddler outbursts! My wife and I were able to get a last second reservation at Palo for brunch after putting ourselves on the waiting list. This was absolutely wonderful and well worth the $20 pp surcharge. It included a buffet of nice cheeses,shellfish,shrimp,scallops,breads, and antipasto. You were also able to order small gourmet pizzas and a choice of breakfast or dinner entrees. There was so much food that we split the chicken parmigiana and risotto. A simple dish, but it was one of the best I have ever had. Finally they have a small dessert buffet with some excellent desserts. Palo has a beautiful view and again the service was excellent. The only complaint I had was that the basketball court is on the deck above Palo and can be quite annoying when you are eating at a nicer restaurant while listening to constant bouncing of balls on the ceiling above you. Even our server commented on the ridiculousness of this and stated he was amazed that they were doing the same thing on the Fantasy despite recommendations from staff. The drinks on the dream are good. The daily drinks are fruity concoctions that don't necessarily have a lot of alcohol on them but they are a vacation novelty. My wife and I purchased draft beer in a 16oz glass mug for about $12 plus cost of a beer. You get to keep the mug at the end of the trip but during the trip you can refill it for the price of a 12 oz draft $4.25. if you plan on drinking beer, this is a pretty good deal. You also don't have to lug the glass mugs around when you are finished, you can turn the mug in at any bar for a card to be turned back in the following day to get another mug with beer.
I can't say this enough, the staff on the Disney dream, from waiters and bartenders to cleaning crew and maintenance workers are so courteous and friendly and make the trip that much more memorable. Any request you may have, don't be afraid to ask, especially your stateroom attendant. Every night he is there to turn down the beds, leaving towel creatures and chocolates, and asking us how our day was and always asking if we or our son need anything. This cruise is definitely catered to the kids, no matter what their age, they are VIP.
Having a lightweight stroller was a necessity as the cruise ship is quite large and spread out. The hallways, decks, and elevators are wide enough for strollers and stroller parking. At dinner and during the shows, there is a stroller parking area for those that bring it. Anything wider then umbrella strollers would probably have a hard time entering staterooms. The stroller fit nicely folded up under our bed. On pirate night, when the majority of the passengers were going to the same place the elevators get quite full and if you have a stroller and are forced to ride, be prepared to wait quite a while for an elevator with room, or wait a while after the show has ended.
There were plenty of activities for us to do with our son during the cruise and we could have used more time to do all of the activities available.We attended all of the shows which as a whole were enjoyable and kid friendly enough to keep our sons interest the entire show. They have a movie theater that played movies all day including some in 3d. Unfortunately it was difficult for our son to sit through a movie,but the nice part is you can get up and leave whenever you want. We hung out at the d lounge one night which our son loved being able to dance around. We also did the detective activity on the last two days of the cruise. The sports deck has miniature golf and other sports activities for older kids. Our son loved the miniature golf course and did not want to leave. He also had fun "playing" shuffle board which did not seem to be a popular activity on this cruise but one that we enjoyed. An activity that we enjoyed were the meet and greets with the characters that occurred almost constantly on the ship. Lines can get long for the more popular characters but the amount of times available for character meet and greets almost ensure that you will be able to get some great pictures with Disney characters. (if you are on the ship while at ports, you have a good chance of surprise encounters with characters).
Because of the nursery we were able to get some alone time to enjoy several of the bars. Really enjoyed skylines and they make nice Manhattan. The meridian,attached to Palo and Remy has a nice atmosphere and you can enjoy a drink or cigar outside with a great view. The NFL conference championships were on while we were on this cruise and I was able to enjoy the games in the 687 sports bar which had a great atmosphere for the games. There is a small buffet outside of the 687 at night with finger foods. As much as we enjoy gambling we did not miss that there was not a casino and the smoky atmosphere that usually accompanies it. Really enjoyed the adult establishments, but would have liked some more live music available.
While we did do a beach excursion at Nassau, we have been before. Nassau has gone down hill so I would not leave the ship unless you are really interested in Atlantis. Instead enjoy the activities on the ship while less people are around. Castaway cay was definitely a great beach experience with a toddler. The water is calm, shallow and most importantly the beach is clean. It doesn't feel that crowded despite almost every family on the cruise being present. There are scheduled activities, a decent barbecue, and plenty of opportunities to meet Disney characters. I rented snorkel gear and snorkeled in the lagoon. The current was actually quite strong as it was a windy day. The snorkeling was not that best and I was actually stung by "sea lice" when I bumped into one of the ropes. Would have loved to have done the jet ski tour. We went back to the ship at about 230 and had the ship almost to our selves which was fun, but had I not been stung we would have stayed longer on the beach.
That night was the night of the pirate show and fireworks. Lots of people dress in pirate garb and everyone seems to get in the pirate mood. The show itself was not that impressive. The fireworks are shot off of the starboard side so the best view is on starboard deck 12. The next day was the day at sea which means that the pools and other activities will be busy. The pools at times are extremely packed and we never really used them. Even the adult area pool was busy on this day. Breakfast is at 630 the day you debark and at the same restaurant from the previous night. I would recommend sleeping and having breakfast at cabanas. Debarkation was easy and quick. We used the Disney transfers back to MCO which are pricey but convenient.
Overall this was one of the most enjoyable vacation experiences that we have had. I would definitely recommend a Disney cruise to any parents of a toddler as there really is something for everyone. Service is impeccable, things are always clean and sanitary, and the entire experience feels very safe which is very important while on vacation. We had such a great experience that we signed up for a future cruise while on board (nice discount and shipboard credit).Please contact with any questions I can possibly answer in regards to cruising with a toddler. Enjoy!