Despite being big Disney fans, we'd never taken a Disney cruise. However, hubbie came home from the 2011 D23 expo armed with a 2012 cruise brochure, and that just set planning into motion! We knew we wanted to sail on the newest ship (at the time) Dream. Prices during late Jan/early Feb seemed to be lower than normal rates. And Castaway Cay (CC) just looked amazing. So in order to maximize our time enjoying the ship and get two stops at CC, we decided to book a back-to-back 4 night/3 night Bahamas. This review covers the 1st half (4 night).
Hotel Info (if any)
The point of the trip was to maximize Disney so of course we stayed the night before the cruise at WDW! We got a great rate (thanks to a friends & family discount from a castmember relative) at Caribbean Beach - 1st time staying at this moderate resort. We had a room in the Trinidad North complex which is a fantastic location within the resort. Room was pleasantly themed and comfortable. It was a little chilly in the morning so we scrapped plans for a morning swim and instead just decided to sleep in, take a stroll around the extensive grounds, and eat an early lunch at the Old Port Royale food court before our DCL bus transport to Port Canaveral.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We used the DCL bus transfer option. Our pickup time from Caribbean Beach was 12:30pm. We made one more stop at Pop Century before we got on the road. We arrived at Port Canaveral terminal about 2:00pm.
Since we arrived later in the afternoon, the initial boarding rush was well over. As 1st time Disney cruisers, we were directed into the non-Castaway Club registration lines. We spent maybe 5 min in line and got through the process very promptly. One thing unique to Disney is that when you cross the gangway into the ship atrium, your family name is announced. I wonder how many people miss that because they're just too excited getting on board and looking around the atrium with awe & wonder!
I have not sailed in an inside stateroom since our very 1st cruise, but I was willing to do so again on Dream only because 1) Disney's inside staterooms have as much sq footage as most of our Princess balcony staterooms if not a little more 2) the Magic Porthole! and 3) it was a way to offset the premium you pay for a Disney cruise.
We definitely had enough room for the type of cruise we were doing, and I don't think having a balcony for a Bahamas cruise is a must have. I just wish the "magic" was more often - we'd catch something out of the corner of our eye, turn to look at the porthole, and then stand there for a few minutes waiting. But when we did see an animation, it was really neat!
Prior to this cruise, the best bed we'd ever had was on Celebrity Equinox. Now the best bed title goes to Disney Dream. Perfect pillowtop mattress, comfy pillows & linens, and a normal rectangular bed shape (foot of bed was curved on Equinox and if you're tall and laying on side of bed, your feet can hang off).
The split bathroom was nice. Hubbie had his stuff in the shower one, I had the toilet one. This allowed us to unpack most of our toiletries and not be cramped for space getting ready.
Nitpicky items: The closet area could have used a few more cubbies for underwear/socks, and the nightstands definitely needed more drawers to be truly usable. The clock radio has an intense blue display so be warned if you're light susceptible, you'll probably be turning it upside down so you don't have a day-glo room.
We had high expectations for the Dream - and we were not disappointed!
It was easy to find our way around the ship. Because we don't have kids, we tried to maximize our time in the adult-only areas: specialty dining (see below), spa (see 2nd half b-t-b review), Quiet Cove pool, and the District night clubs.
We did purchase an Internet package. Unlike other cruise lines, there is no Internet center/cafe, so we used it via wi-fi on our iPads in our stateroom.
We didn't spend any time in the fitness center (too much to see & do in a short time period). On this first half of our b-t-b, we didn't do any spa treatments. And of course there is no casino on Disney ships.
The Walt Disney theatre (for the production shows) was nice with comfortable chairs. The Buena Vista theatre (for movies) was absolutely superior to any other cruise line's movie theater - as good as any state-of-the-art movie theater on land.
As I would expect from Disney, there was a wide variety of DCL/Dream merchandise available in the shops, so we spent a little money there!
The daily newsletters were all in color and very nicely laid out. On the first day, they included the schedule of all the production shows, and movies so that was great to be able to plan your future days.
And free pop (or soda for those so inclined) was great - although we wished we had brought along mugs so that we didn't have to keep going back to the pool deck for refills.
Because we were doing a back-to-back, we chose to spread out our participation in activities. For this cruise, we went to bingo, various character signings, and Art of the Theme Ship Tour. We also rode Aquaduck at night - no wait around 11:15pm of Pirate Night!
Again, we had high expectations because well it's Disney, and those expectations were met. Doing a back-to-back helped too, because we had a chance to form a relationship with our cabin steward and dining servers. If you're only on the ship for a 4 night or 3 night, that's hard to do.
Port & Shore Excursions
For this cruise, we only had two ports - Nassau and Castaway Cay. This was my first time in Nassau, and neither of us had ever been to Atlantis. I did extensive research on the pros/cons of doing the ship tour for Atlantis vs. DIY via the Comfort Suites. In the end, I determined that there wasn't a significant enough cost savings for 2 adults to warrant the extra hassle & stress. So we took the ship tour Atlantis Aquaventure. We didn't do any excursions on CC - just enjoyed the adults-only beach Serenity Bay.
The most perplexing, frustrating, & annoying part of the entire cruise had to be the buffet. The quality of the food was good, when you could actually get food - the hours were just bizarre and totally unlike anything we'd experienced before. On embarkation day, it closed at 3:15pm so by the time we got on board & unpacked, it was already closed. On Pirate Night, it was open for a whopping 45 min for the pirate buffet, starting at 10:30pm (only 30 min after those of us with 2nd seating finished with dinner - hello we're not hungry yet!). On the sea day, it didn't open for lunch until noon and closed by 2. If you wanted a little late afternoon snack (especially for 2nd seaters), you were forced into room service (which we didn't try) or going to the Flo's Cafe options (get the chicken tenders!) on the pool deck - which is where you really felt like the ship was crowded and kid overwhelmed!
MDR - We had the dining rotation AERR, and we followed that except for the 2nd R night when we went to Remy (see below). AP: Sensory overload! It was hard to get to know our tablemates (all adults at our request) when there was so much to look at & watch on the video screens. EG: My favorite of the three decor & atmosphere wise. RP: Nicely elegant - napkins folded like a suit jacket, bread basket in the shape of Cinderella's coach. We had the regular menu in AP & EG and the Pirate menu in RP. Of all the menus, I was looking forward to the Pirate menu most - in fact, we ordered all of the appetizers because we just couldn't choose! For the regular menus, we were pleased with the selections and were generally able to find an appetizer, soup/salad, entree, and dessert that we liked. In the case of EG, two desserts!
And then there was Remy. Wow - what an experience! Is it worth the $75/pp charge? YES - you would pay at least $200 for a comparable experience on land and you probably wouldn't get the variety of choices. I had the Saveur tasting menu and hubbie had the Gout tasting menu (both without the wine pairings). So many good courses! And the custom made cheese plates before the dessert course were delicious. Superlative service made the 3 hr dinner an absolute pleasure.
Again since we were doing a back-to-back, we could pick & choose which entertainment to do this cruise vs. the second half. For this cruise, we went to the Sailing Away party, the Villains Tonight production show, Pirate Deck Party, Fireworks/Club Pirate, Adult Cabaret w/ Ronn Lucas, Cruise Staff Farewell, and saw The Muppets in the BV theatre.
So even though we were on a back-to-back and in the same cabin (otherwise what's the point really?), we did have to disembark sans luggage. We got off at 9:30am at the end of the rush, walked through customs (wish there had been a no-luggage express line!), and headed right back up the escalator to the registration area. Now officially Castaway Club members, we were ushered over to the folks processing the back-to-backers - about 15-20 of us. Then we were directed to the priority embarkation waiting area where we had about 45 min to wait, taking advantage of cell service to catch up on social media. Then about 10:20am we were allowed back on board, with the caution that most shipboard services were closed until general boarding started. See my 2nd half of the b-t-b review for the rest of our cruise experience on Dream!
Our 1st time cruising on Disney and we thoroughly enjoyed it as adults without kids. I would certainly recommend a Disney cruise to adults who enjoy going to WDW or Disneyland. If an adult wasn't really into Disney, I think they could still enjoy it for the food, service, and quality, but I would probably recommend they look to another cruise line like Princess or Celebrity.