I thought I'd share my perspective of a recent trip on the Dream from an indifferent-to-Disney guy. This was our first cruise. We have a four-year-old daughter (and another cooking in Mommy's belly).
The ship really is magnificent. It's new and feels "new." Everything's very nice. I never once felt the ship "rock" or even move, except for the ride back to the home port, when we encountered some pretty strong winds, and even then the ship didn't move or rock all that much. I get motion sickness all of the time (I can get sick if I'm a backseat passenger in a car!) and I never once felt queasy on the ship. I never took a thing. (I was hopeful, given the size of the ship that I'd be fine -- and I was.)
The sweet spot for kids is probably about 6 to 10 years old, but our four-year-old daughter had a lot of fun. One of the shows was too scary (Villains) and we had to leave, but the other activities were a hit. She loved the kid's "play area" and it was remarkably well-staffed with smart and able people. You can leave your kids there all day -- they'll feed them meals and snacks -- and it appeared a number of parents took advantage of that feature. They keep the kids who need it well entertained and let other the kids play or explore on their own, all supervised. The whole system is very safe and secure, too. Each room is equipped with portable phones that work ship-wide and they'll call you with any problems or if your kid wants to be picked up. The kids are equipped with small electronic bracelets for the entire cruise, as well, which are needed to check in and out of the play area.
Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, has a well-earned reputation. It's beautiful. We sprung for a private cabana on the beach, which was way overpriced but quite nice to have. The shade and privacy were welcome. The included-service was nice, as well, since they kept the cabana well stocked with drinks and snacks.
We found the much-celebrated Disney service to be lackluster, at best. Service veered from too absent to overly smothering. Really. Dinner services were slow -- painfully so with a tired toddler. I don't think I'm wrong or too narrow to think that it felt like most everyone had their hand out -- doing things only for a tip. Service felt very insincere, but I put it in the "so-so" category (opposed to a con), since I imagine this is more of a "cruise thing" than a "Disney thing."
This was out first cruise, but I tend to think the food, overall, was probably above average for cruises, though it wasn't "great." I've had better meals at chain restaurants, for sure. The food's mass bought and produced and it all tastes mass bought and produced. Don't go for the food. Pretty decent "kid" food, though. The chicken fingers, hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries all looked above average. Our daughter ate like a happy pig throughout he whole voyage.
You really need to be a Disney freak to enjoy the entertainment. (As an aside, I saw four grown adults with "Disney" tattoos on the boat. Need I say more?) Personally, I was disappointed that there was no "neutral" entertainment (no magicians, no comics, no nothing not-Disney). The shows are "Broadway" quality -- with rather impressive effects and the theater is stunningly beautiful -- but all three shows were all crafted for people who love, love, love them some recent Disney films. (I confess, I find the stories for most Disney movies to be problematic. Our daughter's too young for most all of them and even if she was older, I'll still have reservations about most.) If you're "into" Disney, you'll likely find the shows wonderful.
All the reviews I read remark on the nice rooms, but I'd rate them "so-so." I obviously can't compare them other cruises, since this was our/my first, but I can compare them with what I know, and doing that does not leave me impressed. I saw a statistically high-percentage of obese people on that boat and no way were any of those people able to fit in the shower or ever be comfortable in any of the "regular" rooms. Part of my disappointment lies is also because my parents came on the cruise with us and they paid for a room on the concierge suite (our own room was a basic one with a balcony) and their room was what I was expecting. Standard-size everything instead of the miniature-size everything in our room.
The crowds. Period. They pack way too many people on that ship. Imagine Disney on its "worst" day. Thankfully our schedule missed the worst of the crowds (swam in the morning -- early meals and shows), but I felt bad for the others who endured shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in the pools and sunning decks. There are indeed ways to miss the crowds (luckily my wife found some great reviews on this site before we boarded) and if you go you should read some of that advice. (No need to duplicate it here.)
Times. Fireworks at 10:30pm? "Pirate Party" at 9:00pm? No respect for kids with toddlers. The times for most all of the evening entertainment stretched bedtimes in unreasonable ways, even on "vacation."
The cost. Honestly, I doubt if we'll do it again. For the cost, you can get a 5-star hotel on a great beach, eat out a great restaurants every night, order room service, see some "shows" and still save money over the cost of the Disney cruise. I was curious. I'd heard so many great things about this cruise, so I wanted to check it out myself. I'd consider going again if I got a decent discount or if someone reading this wants to pay our way, but it's nothing I'll yearn for or miss and, again, given that all our daughter really wants to do is swim in a pool and play on a beach (do young kids want any more than that?), there are much better values -- and a better experience to do that -- at too many other places.
The "4 day, 3 night" billing is a bit of a joke. It is really more of a 2 1/2 day vacation. On Thursday, unless you've paid for one of the exclusive rooms, you're not even getting on the boat until Noon. We swam right away (having read reviews that said "do that first"), which gave a bit more time that others, who were on "tours of the ship," but otherwise all you're doing that first day is getting on, having dinner, and seeing a show. Friday we spent the day on the boat while others hit Nassau, Saturday is Disney's private island (the highlight of the trip. I/we could have easily and happily stayed there for a couple days), and then Sunday morning they're literally trying to get you off that ship at 7am, sharp. Everything's closed Sunday except a rushed breakfast and there was announcement after announcement beginning at 7am about getting off.
If you're Disney fans, go. You'll likely love it. If you're indifferent to Disney -- like me/us -- then spend your money on something else. I'm glad we did it -- don't regret it at all. I just didn't think it was "amazing!" (like I've heard so many people write and say) and I absolutely didn't think it was worth the premium $s. As I said, I know there are far better values for the money and I, personally, would have rather spent that money for a longer vacation at a nice beach hotel, especially given I/we don't really care about all-things Disney. That's just my view.