First Impressions: No Mickey Mouse Operation
(Wednesday, 4:05 p.m. EST) -- Fresh from its christening, the ship looks immaculate. It smells of German precision -- it was, after all, built at Meyer Werft's Pappenburg yard, a vessel-building factory that's gained a reputation for craftsmanship (Celebrity's Solstice-class ships are built there; NCL's next ships will be built there).
I've only been onboard for a couple hours, but here are a few initial observations:
While you'll never forget that you're on a Disney product -- Goofy was seen bumbling about, Donald has his own water slide -- the Mouse's brushstroke is lighter than expected. The adults-only spaces feature only trace Disney elements. For instance, the kid-free Cove Café, a half-moon-shaped Italian coffee bar on the stern, has a few framed pictures of Walt Disney and Mickey, but little else. The atrium likewise seems to have been designed by a Mouse intent on creating a fantastical setting rather than plastering the iconic rodent's mug everywhere (but maybe I'm just missing the "hidden Mickeys").
I've sailed with Carnival, Princess, NCL and Royal Caribbean, so Disney Dream's unique cabin setup was immediately apparent. As I walked into my standard verandah cabin (9644), there were two doors to my left. The first contained a toilet and sink, the second a small bathtub and sink. Compartmentalization is key for families, and while some lines have created special bath-and-a-half configurations, Disney makes it a standard feature.
A passenger who describes herself as a salad bar connoisseur (it's literally the first spot she checks on any ship after embarking) told me she wasn't impressed with the limited offerings at Cabanas, Dream's buffet. (The venue, by the way, was mobbed by ravenous cruisers, many of them tiny and running.) More impressive were a colossal animal hock and popular self-serve soda machines. There are no souvenir refillable mugs, special stickers or Coke cards on Dream -- although for Disney's premium price tag, "free" soft drinks should be expected.
The mommy bloggers have descended like ants. And with kids and husbands in tow, the family units lend a sense of realism to the cruise. Oftentimes, pre-inaugural sailings are gala events featuring open bars and roving merrymakers. With so many families onboard, the focus is more on kids' clubs, to which children are being signed in en masse, and chicken nuggets, which I've been told are the best in cruising.
But the goal onboard Disney Dream -- as it seems to be in any Disney resort or theme park -- is to blend classic with the modern. The 21st-century Disney relies on technology: 3D versions of the new Tron movie; the enchanted artwork that doesn't just interact with passersby, it recognizes faces so you don't see the same animation twice in a row; the virtual portholes in inside cabins that offer a digitized view of the ocean with the occasional dancing hippos. Yet the ship's design is retro, evocative of 1930's ocean liners. Old school and new school, the outcome is still the same: create Disney immersion through many intimate experiences.
From a cruise ship perspective, I'm not nearly as impressed with Disney Dream as I was with Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class twins -- those ships can't be matched in terms of moving cruise travel in a new direction -- but I am impressed with Disney's microscopic attention to detail. It's why the line can charge vastly more than any other mainstream operator.
The show is an hourlong montage of the best-known songs from Disney movies, those melodies glued to your soul whether you've seen the film or not. Rafiki, the creepy witch doctor from "The Lion King," belts out "Circle of Life." Belle and Lumiere (the candlestick) from "Beauty and the Beast" perform "Be Our Guest." Mary Poppins floats in for a rendition of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," complete with dancing chimney sweeps. The set changes for each song, and the show utilizes video screens to showcase animated characters, LED lighting (Tinkerbell zips across the ceiling), holograms and old-fashioned costuming. Wizards disappear behind clouds of smoke. Confetti rains down on the audience.
Full disclosure: I rarely sit through cruise-ship shows. I did for this one.
The bridge between the soundtrack is the genie from "Aladdin," a portly gent who references Cecil B DeMille and gets a brain freeze when he drinks a frozen cocktail too quickly. Robin Williams would be proud. The father, you see, wishes that he could believe in magic for his daughter's sake. Genie on the spot.
At the start, believing in magic would get dad "laughed out of the Fraternal Order of the Knights of Botany." But, after his magical journey, he realizes his daughter -- and not some sick devotion to scientific study -- is his happy place. He believes. A fellow writer needed a tissue. She had only paper from her reporter's pad.
It's a really nice touch, whether you're trying to coordinate a meeting with colleagues on a preview cruise or getting a big group to the same seats in the theater.
Bring the portable phone with you, and you can make onboard calls from anywhere on the ship. Wave Phones are also supposed to work on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, but I couldn't get service during our visit. Parents with kids in the youth clubs are required to carry the phones in case they need to be contacted. ("Little Billy won't stop crying and calling for his blue blanket. Please come and collect him.") You can also send text messages. (Stop crying little Billy, mommy's coming.) You can even set alarms on the phone. ("It's time to pick up little Billy.")
One small gripe: The phone feels very chintzy. And, don't lose or damage it. Mobster Mickey will extract 250 clams from you.