First Impression: Who's Afraid of the AquaDuck?
(Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. EST) -- Well, we're onboard. And, indeed, the excitement that was building as we crossed the gangway and onto Disney Dream was palpable -- if the thousand tiny voices are to be believed. Okay, maybe not a thousand, but there are loads of kids.
My first impression is that this ship is big, for a Disney ship anyway. It's 40 percent larger than its two sister ships, but I wasn't expecting to feel the size difference as much as I did. More space means more kids, so this will be one hopping ship.
The only things my kids (ages 9 and 4) are interested in at the moment are the waterslides -- especially the AquaDuck (the first-ever water coaster at sea) -- so we headed straight for those. AquaDuck looks just as awesome in person (though, surprisingly, not nearly as scary), but we haven't gotten to ride it yet. Boo!
Mickey's slide, which is geared toward younger kids, was a huge hit with my two -- anything to get wet. It's warm and sunny, so they're planning to swim until their toes prune, then head to check out the kids' club this afternoon.
Taking a Plunge Into the Oceaneer's Club
(Wednesday, 5:40 p.m. EST) -- Since Disney really sets the standard for kids clubs at sea, we had high expectations for the new Oceaneer's Club and Lab. And wow, this is where Dream really delivers.
If you're trying to decide if a Disney Cruise is worth the extra money, consider how much time your kids will be spending here. If it's a lot, think yes. The photos don't do these spaces justice.
What they've done here is a great example how smart design can be. These two clubs for ages 3-10 (more on the separate 'tween space later) occupy roughly the same square footage as they do on Disney Wonder and Disney Magic, but here they are divided into several small, themed rooms (Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story, among others) in order to make it easier to accommodate all age groups together in one place.
So what's our take on the space? We love this! It makes the area seem so much larger. Everything is interactive, colorful and engaging. My kids' favorite part: the fact that the two areas connect, so kids can easily travel back and forth to find each other. They also enjoyed the giant interactive floors that kids step on to play team games.
There's only one word to describe it: Cool!
Dining on the Dream -- Your Options
(Wednesday, 10 p.m. EST) -- There's never a "perfect" time to eat with my kids, so I have mixed feelings about Disney's rotational dining program, which has been carried over to the Dream. You have either early or late seating and rotate to a different restaurant each night, while your waiter follows you. I know there is some benefit in getting to experience each; but I'm not crazy about being forced to visit each on a particular night, and find myself longing for the flexibility being adopted by other lines. My kids say they love having the same waiter each night, and they really do develop something of a friendship. Even so, if given a choice (and only sometimes do I give them a choice) my kids would much prefer to eat in the Oceaneer's Club with their friends, so I'm glad that's an option. The dining staff onboard has been very accommodating to my kids' fussy (and allergic) palates. Where do they find these people? They know every magic trick, every joke in the book.
As far as the restaurants go, all three, Enchanted Garden, Royal Palace, and Animator's Palate have a unique appeal for kids. The kids and I ate dinner at the Enchanted Garden and although the food was very good, I thought the décor leaned more toward the cheesy than the enchanted (our tablemates at dinner wholeheartedly disagreed) but my whole family loved the feel of the Royal Palace -- the one we weren't expecting to be wowed by. Animator's Palate is fantastic, but if you've cruised with Disney before, it isn't new.
One of my favorite features of the dining program is the Oceaneer's pick-up service. The family can go to dinner together, and counselors will come to the dining room (well before dinner ends) to pick up the kids and escort them to the kids' club. This means I can finish my meal, and even have a glass of wine in peace. How civilized!
The Dream also offers the character dining and greetings that are such a huge draw for parents whose kids want up-close-and personal Disney character experiences, and so many do. My youngest stopped to hug a dozen of her favorites in the halls today, and danced with Goofy more than once. In this way, a Disney cruise is much different than a park experience -- it's more intimate, and the characters are more accessible – a big plus for Disney fans. But if your kid is like my oldest was as a toddler, and screams at the mere sight of an overgrown furry creature coming at him, you will be in hell.
There are two adults-only restaurants on the ship, Palo (also on Magic and Wonder) and the new Remy, which have gotten rave reviews -- but aren't on our list this time around.
Something for 'Tweens and Teens
(Thursday, 9:30 a.m. EST) -- The more I get to know the ship, the smaller it's starting to feel. And it's becoming apparent that the kid-friendly activities are not just for the 10-and-under crowd. Granted, the Magic and the Wonder both offer activities for the tough-to-please 'tween and teen age groups, but the Dream is clearly making an effort to cater to them even more.
The 'tween space (called the Edge, ages 11-13) is unique just by virtue of the fact that it exists. Many lines group them together with the younger kids, despite the fact that they have very different needs and interests. My oldest, at 9, even asked if he could hang out there -- not because there isn't enough to keep him entertained in the Lab, there is -- but because he's becoming more sensitive about being considered a "kid." Their club, called The Edge, is high-tech and feels much more grown-up than Oceaneer's. The fact that it's in the funnel on Deck 13 makes it special because it's removed from the other kids' clubs, which are on Deck 5. There's a huge video wall (18 feet long) for video games, and computers that give kids access to an intranet-based (limited to the ship) social media app so they can post videos and photos of their trip.
Disney has also done a better job on this ship on cater to teens, and I love that the 9000-ft teen club Vibe (ages 14-17) manages to look and feel very unlike a Disney ship. There is chic, modular furniture, a fountain bar, and a really great outdoor space with a sundeck and wading pools. I don't have teenagers yet but I might have been inclined to hang out here myself if they'd let me. Sorry, no parents are allowed. Disney also added a small spa area for teens on this ship, Chill, which has two separate treatment rooms and a few cute treatments like the "Fabulously Fruity Facial" an "Ice Cream Manicure".
I was thinking that Goofy's Sports Deck would appeal to this age group too, and the basketball court seemed to attract a few teens; but the mini golf is definitely geared toward a much younger crowd -- kids 5 and under will love it.
Quotes from the Kids
(Thursday, 10:30 a.m. EST) -- As usual, the kids have had plenty to say. Here's snapshot of some of the feedback I'm getting from them:
Tyler, after finally getting to ride the AquaDuck, four times in a row: "I was thinking that was going to be so much scarier. It wasn't scary at all, even the part where you go off the side of the ship, because the raft makes it hard to see straight down!"
Tess, after playing Princess and the Frog on the Magic Play Floor in the Oceaneer's Club with her brother: "Finally, a computer game I can beat him in, Mom. I think it's because I'm smaller and my feet move faster!"
Tyler, when asked if he wanted to see last night's show, The Golden Mickeys: "Not if the Lab is still open, no way."
Tess, after seeing Pluto's mini-golf:
"Cool! Can we ask Daddy to build one of these in my room?"
Tyler at lunch at Cabanas: "This macaroni and cheese is worse than yours, and that's hard to do. I want to try the lamb chops."
Tess at bedtime after climbing onto the top bunk: "Look, there are stars on the ceiling! I guess I can go to sleep now."
The Story So Far
(Thursday, 12 p.m. EST) -- No question, the Dream is a ship that caters to kids of all ages and interests, even more so than its sister ships. So far we have been most impressed with Decks 11 and 12, where all the action takes place. We've noticed lots of little changes, things that might go unnoticed to folks traveling without kids, but changes that to us make a big difference. For example: On this ship, the steps to the Mickey slide are actually ON the slide, rather than around the corner like on the other two. This means you can sit in one place and see them going up and down, rather than wondering if they jumped ship around the corner, out of sight.
Another big change is the water play area for toddlers, which on the Dream is so much cuter, and has a theme, Finding Nemo. They got smart and moved it to the center of the ship, and added large glass windows so you can watch your kids from outside. It's almost impossible for them to escape unnoticed! The Aquaduck experience was every bit as cool as my son had hoped, though I have still not had a chance to try it out myself. The height limit is tough, though; there were many disappointed four- and five-year-olds who didn't make the 48" cutoff.
I'm also impressed with subtle changes and the additions in the cabins. Traveling with kids means plenty of bags; and they have lifted the beds higher so you can store suitcases underneath, rather than stacking them in the closet -- bravo! Little touches like the stars on the ceiling above the kids' bunk were also appreciated.
And, the larger size of the ship, which I noticed immediately, seems less noticeable as I get to know the ship better. Though I definitely feel it every time we walk to our cabin, which is all the way aft on Deck 9.
A Pirate's Life for Me
(Thursday, 11:45 p.m. EST) -- My family's last night onboard the Dream ended with a bang. Actually, several of them. The kids and I managed to stay up late (yes, 10:30 p.m. is late for us) to check out Disney's Buccaneer Blast, the largest fireworks display at sea, and the wickedly entertaining Club Pirate, a show that brings deck party to an entirely new level.
The fireworks were great -- though the kids were a little concerned to see them explode over their beloved Aquaduck. Club Pirate began with some pirate-themed deck games like toss the cannon into the pirate ship (Bo-ring); but the real fun began when Jack Sparrow appeared mid-way up the ship's funnel, and repelled down to Deck 11 to a crowd of cheering onlookers. How this choreography takes place in the dark, while the ship is moving, is beyond me.
A chase between Blackbeard's bodyguards and Sparrow ensued, and what has always been a great production become even more dramatic, with awesome special effects, music from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie and a wacky narration from a giant skeleton head on the giant LCD movie screen above the pool. By the end of the evening, my kids were exhausted little zombie pirates, donned in red scarves, still waving their swords, as we carried them back to the cabin.
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