Disney's acclaimed kids clubs are what keep many loyal families coming back. It's not just the innovative, engaging spaces for kids and familiar characters that make them such a success; the counselors are truly extraordinary. They offer far more than smiling faces to greet you at check-in. Indeed, these men and women are experienced, attentive and downright fun, with a keen eye for spotting children who need encouragement, a friend to play with or a major timeout.
The Oceaneer's Club and Lab on Deck 5 (ages 3 to 12) are connected on Dream (hooray!) so kids can roam back and forth, effectively doubling the space available to them at any given time. Club activities are geared to younger kids and Lab for older, but Disney's innovative approach of allowing kids of all ages to access both clubs means that siblings can hang out together if they choose, and children can pursue their own interests.
Highlights in Oceaneer's Club include the adorable Andy's Room, which has oversized characters like the dinosaur and pig from "Toy Story" for little ones to climb on, and the Laugh Floor, where kids can measure their own volumes on the "laugh-o-meter" and hang out with Mike and Sully of "Monsters, Inc." fame. The Lab has a maritime theme, a new Animator's Studio and a mini sound studio. A notable addition to both the Club and Lab are the MagicPlay Floors, which are ridiculously popular. Picture a dance floor with a giant square in the center (20 by 20 feet). On it, kids play interactive games, controlling the outcome by where they step on the floor -- similar to the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution, minus the music.
Dream has a kids club dedicated entirely to tweens, ages 11 to 13. (Yes, 11- and 12-year-olds have access to the Oceaneer Club and Lab, as well as the tween club.) True to its name, the Edge is located in the funnel on Deck 13, far removed from the other kids clubs. What seemed like a decent idea in theory doesn't work here; we didn't like seeing preteens hanging out in the staircase, unsupervised. Inside, however, it delivers, with an 18-foot-tall video wall, video karaoke and computers with access to an intranet-based (limited to the ship) social media app. The 9,000-square-foot teen club, Vibe (ages 14 to 17), has modular furniture, a fountain bar and its own outdoor space (new for Disney) with a sun deck and wading pools. It's located forward on Deck 5.
The kids clubs also have an outpost on Castaway Cay, so parents can enjoy some private beach time while kids hang out with their friends in a supervised setting on the island.
For the tiniest tots, there is the It's a Small World Nursery on Deck 5 midship, reserved for those from 6 months to 3 years. (Babies as young as 12 weeks are allowed onboard through 2014 and are grandfathered in to 2015 bookings made before the change in age restrictions was announced in July 2014.) The price is $9 per hour for the first child, $8 for the second, and it's open from 9 a.m. to midnight. The nursery offers an age-appropriate playroom, as well as a quiet area with cribs, swings and rocking chairs.
Note that all children enrolled in the nursery and Oceaneer Club/Lab, for which they need to sign in and out with a special wristband, will be charged a $12.95 fee for the band. If it's returned at the end of the cruise, the charge will be removed. (Neither the fee nor how to avoid it was made clear to us on our sailing.)
If you want to play with your child in Dream's kids clubs, look for Open House hours in the daily newsletters. These are times when the clubs are open for unsupervised (by Disney staff) play, and age restrictions don't apply. You can let your toddler explore Andy's Room or experience the MagicPlay Floor. There are also special toddler play hours in the Nemo's Reef splash zone and in the waiting area outside the Enchanted Garden restaurant for safe baby play.
For parents with babies and toddlers, the ship can provide Pack 'n Plays and diaper pails in your cabin, as well as high chairs and pureed food in the restaurants. You can buy diapers, wipes, formula and other baby supplies onboard at the Whitecaps store.