I'll start by saying this is my very first cruise review, and I feel compelled to write it because we had such an amazing time. Also, having read some of the not-so-shiny reviews from other cruisers, I wanted to address concerns that future cruisers might have.
I'll start with the entertainment, because it is here that I think Disney was heads above the rest of the cruising industry. I didn't see the first comic musician (John Charles), but my mother went, and she raved about it for the rest of the cruise.
The restaurants are entertaining in themselves. Firstly, they allow the kids to scribble all over the tabletops every evening, which, I must admit, is a real plus. My daughter colored every evening. And some places, like Animator's Palate, have enough entertainment going on that it sometimes distracts from what is supposed to be happening (eating!) But I'm not complaining. With kids, you want as much to do as possible, and I thought Disney came through in this regard.
The three main shows were: Villains Tonight, Disney's Believe, and the Golden Mickeys. Believe and Golden Mickeys were a tie for supreme Disney awesomeness. I think the "Broadway quality" label is well-deserved here. The actors were fantastic, the music wonderful, the emotions real and the tears flowed!! However, the Villains Tonight show fell flat. Not b/c is wasn't well-executed...it was. The actors were great, and the the effects were cool. But the script/storyline just wasn't very catchy. Also, I'll say that my 4-yr-old daughter did NOT attend Villains, and I'm glad for that, as it was kinda scary in parts for little ones. So...if there's a show that is skippable, it's Villains Tonight. However, I stress that the Golden Mickeys and Believe should NOT be missed. They are well-worth getting to the theater early.
I also enjoyed the fact that movies were on every evening, although I didn't get to see any. War Horse was playing, but I didn't have time to see it. (Rats!!)
On the whole, the "didn't have time" is pretty accurate for my cruise experience. The Dream provides SO MUCH to do that it's literally impossible to do it all (maybe if you had 7 days, and never went into the ports?) But the "animated art detective agency" and the digital portholes and the Aquaduck and Nemo's Reef and minigolf and shuffleboard and a very long jogging track (only 2.5 laps for a mile!)...it was plenty to keep us occupied and then some. I would go back to do everything I missed.
The food was great. It wasn't gourmet every evening, but it was sometimes. It was certainly good enough to please me. I was happy to have fresh fruit and yogurt and Royal Palace's Eggs Benedict was AMAZING.....so maybe I'm easy to please? But honestly, I never had anything that WASN'T good, and the staff was very accommodating (i.e. when I didn't finish a meal, they were very concerned that I didn't like it, and offered SEVERAL times to bring me something else. I was just full in reality, and it had nothing to do with the food.)
Cabanas was typical buffet. Pizza and fries and wraps were available on Deck 11.
One of my complaints was that food was NOT available for the very early risers (such as my 18-month old) who are awake at 5 AM every morning. No food is served until 7 AM...so we started banking food in our room fridge for our son's early morning nibbles. I think this could be improved, but we adapted, and the in-room fridge allows flexibility.
We also dined at Remy during our last evening. It was wonderful, and a typical gastronomic experience (if you've ever eaten at Everest in Chicago, or a Michelin-starred restaurant, then you'll have a good idea of what to expect). Very quiet, very AMAZING food, and very friendly, unobtrusive, yet very personal, service. Great experience at Remy overall. (When I asked my husband if he had anything to add to this review, the one thing he mentioned was that Remy was the complete highlight and it was awesome)
A note about the last day breakfast: It's skippable. They serve a limited menu, and it's pretty early (our time was 0645) So if you need to get out early to drive back to work or catch a flight, don't feel bad. You're not missing anything that last morning (except saying goodbye to the awesome wait staff :)
No one does it better than Disney. I was just knocked sideways by the size of the children's areas (at least ten times the size of most children's program areas on other ships). And the locator bracelets, the wave phones that can be used on the ship AND Castaway Cay...these are bonuses. Just...very well done.
We used the nursery for our son about ten hours total during the trip. No complaints there either. They even fed him in there without us asking. (They do this in the kids' programs as well.) However, the nursery is on first-come-first-served basis...so make it a priority. We never had a problem fitting him in though, and I encourage parents to use the wait list (we were put on it twice, and we were called twice to say that spots had opened up).
Castaway Cay ALSO has Scuttle's Cove, so even while on the island, you can STILL take your kids and have a few moments of peace if you desire. We used Scuttle's Cove one day, and played with our daughter on the beach during other Cay day.
NO ONE DOES CHILDREN'S PROGRAMMING BETTER THAN DISNEY. Period. (as it should be, right?)
Fine. This was my fourth cruise, so I've come to expect towel animals and turn-down service. No complaints, and nothing out of the ordinary here. I will say that one cool aspect was the digital porthole (we had an inside stateroom. In fact, as this "magical porthole" allowed us to see what was outside, as well as magical Disney characters floating by, AND we could turn it off at night...I think I prefer the inside stateroom.
Also, my daughter slept in the Pullman bed, and above it were stars. That was a nice touch. Storage in the coffee table was also appreciated. And although inside staterooms only have one bathroom instead of the typical Disney split-into-two baths, it still had a bathTUB instead of just a shower...so this is always nice for kids.
PORTS: (2x Castaway Cay, 1x Nassau)
Castaway Cay is my kind of beach. I'm not a "beach" person...in fact, I slather myself with sunscreen and find shade and only stay out for two hours maximum, in general....but still, this was the kind of island I prefer. I visited BOTH days with the kids, and still, plenty of things we didn't get to do because there was SO MUCH to do. There's an "adults only" bar and beach area, and plenty of things to eat/drink/do. I liked the fact that Castaway Cay was still a part of Disney (characters on the beach, the wave phones work, there were children's dance parties and other programming, and the BBQ was free!!) And the water and beach itself was beautiful. I've traveled to 31 different countries, and I live in Florida...and this may have been the loveliest beach I've seen yet. Really worth visiting. Just magical!
Nassau: Hmm. I'm pretty sure it's true what they say: Nassau, in English, means "Stay on the ship."
You can bring alcohol on the ship. Definitely can save you money.
Magic portholes. Tres chic.
The animated art DETECTIVE game onboard!! Neat-o.
The art gallery...visit it! And ASK about the art. There are really cool things hidden in a lot of the paintings, and the art itself is pretty cool and whimsical. We purchased a small Peter Pan painting to remember our trip. ( I wish I could have afforded the large one...but I didn't have a Grand to drop on art, unfortunately).
Remy/Palo: I've heard GREAT things about Palo, even though I didn't go. But if you eat at one of these, you'll get to go to Meridian (a special Bar just for these.) It's very romantic and lovely view!!
You can find quiet areas in the adults only sections. If you are NOT traveling with kids, you could, technically, spend a decent amount of time alone. There are TONS of children...so I won't say they are avoidable...but you could still read/sunbathe/etc. alone with little effort.
I really enjoyed the character experiences. Get in line early if you want to see the Princesses, but all other character lines move quickly. I like Disney music as well, and you are INUNDATED with it whilst onboard. This constant music annoyed my husband after awhile, but I enjoyed every moment of it. However, in the adults area, they play other music (or no music) besides Disney.
New, technologically awesome, and BIG. WE ALL LOVED IT. And the Aquaduck was pretty nifty too :) Fun. Not crazy or anything, but worth trying and getting quite wet!
THE BEST PARTS:
Seeing my kids light up at the Disney magic...this was honestly the coolest aspect. There is a "window of opportunity" when kids still truly believe, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it. We will be going on another Disney cruise as SOON as we can afford it.
I think the main takeaway is that, after you've taken a Disney cruise with kids (and I've cruised with my youngins on RC and Carnival as well), then you'll never want to go back to another cruise line. The extra price is worth it for the awesomeness of the children's programming. (I'm speaking for children 10 and under...while I heard cool things about the Tween/Teen areas, I can't speak about those as I have zero experience with them personally). I can't imagine a better cruise experience with kids than one you can get with Disney.
We took our 18-month-old, and, while there was accommodation for the very young---which is NONEXISTENT on many other lines---we still think we'll wait until he's three years old to cruise again. We all would have had a much more relaxing experience if he had been old enough to participate in more of the programs. (but that had nothing to do with Disney...just our timing! In fact, Disney does the under-3-yr-old set better than anyone else out there, so, if you must cruise with infants and toddlers, I encourage Disney all the way!!)
There's so much more to say. I'm going to encourage my mother's husband to write a review as well. He's legally blind (uses a cane, though he can see pinpoints of things), and he was quite worried about tripping over children during the entire trip. But even HE was wowed by Disney's shows, music, service, and technology. And he's said he would go on the Dream again in a heartbeat!! (yep, it's that cool.)
Young families and Disney lovers (and even those who liked Disney only when they were young....) GO!!! You'll return to your childhood state of wonder, and I promise you'll enjoy yourself.