17 Hits & Misses from Disney Dream

  • 1
    Hit: Remy
    It takes guts to name a Michelin-seeking restaurant after a rat. But Disney means business with the French-inspired Remy (named for the "Ratatouille" hero), its new alternative eatery. We were skeptical, not just because of its industry-highest tariff ($75), but because it threatened to be a three-hour experience. But it was worth it. Just dress up (men must wear jackets), make sure the kids' club is open late (it really is a three-hour-plus meal) and starve yourself beforehand. Request the wine-tasting option (another $99). Then sit back and enjoy.
  • 2
    Hit: "Disney Believe"
    If you're a fan of "Be Our Guest," "Circle of Life" and the rest of Disney's musical canon, you'll be singing in the aisles during "Disney Believe." The show in brief: A workaholic scientist father has no time for his daughter the dreamer -- even on her birthday. But Dad wishes he could believe in magic. And when you make a wish in a Disney musical, a fast-talking blue genie usually appears. Genie takes Pops on a vision quest, and a dozen hit songs later -- complete with animated characters, holograms and flying nannies -- you'll be reaching for the Kleenex.
  • 3
    Miss: The AquaDuck
    Given the claims -- 20-foot-per-second speed, 10,000 gallons of water per minute -- we had great expectations for the AquaDuck, cruising's first "watercoaster." It looks impressive: 765 feet of clear, acrylic tubing that starts at the top of one of the ship's red funnels and circles the sun deck, even jutting over the side. But the Duck was a bit too plodding for us and lacked in thrills. Younger riders, however, will likely disagree, and those in the 48-to-60-inch range may quickly lose count of how many times they've ridden the quacker.
  • 4
    Hit: Oceaneers Club and Lab
    Disney sets the standard for kids' clubs at sea, and the Oceaneers Club and Lab doesn't disappoint. The new layout of these engaging spaces into smaller, themed rooms makes it easy to separate activities by age, while still keeping siblings together. Every area of interest you could think of is covered, from computer games to cooking to science experiments. Bonus: The two clubs connect. The bulky bracelets, however, are a miss. With all the new technology on this ship, this is the best they could do?
  • 5
    Miss: Sports Deck
    We had higher hopes for the new "sports deck." Instead of creating a space for families to take part in outdoor activities, this area seems like an afterthought. The golf, while cute for toddlers, is small and not really suitable for older kids or adults. The sports court is nothing special, and the basketball nets are too low. While a step above what you'll find on Magic and Wonder, Disney has a long way to go if it wants to compete with lines like Royal Caribbean.
  • 6
    Hit: Cabin Bathrooms
    It surprises us that other lines haven't channeled Disney's brilliant bathroom scheme, which debuted on Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. Basically, there are two bathrooms -- one with a toilet and sink, the other with a bathtub/shower and sink. The smartest thing Disney did here? It left it alone. It has toyed with the bathtub concept in some family cabins (it's more of a shower than a traditional tub), but still ... NCL's Norwegian Epic, which flopped with its attempt at an innovative bathroom, should ask Disney for advice.
  • 7
    Hit: Buena Vista Theater
    With all the entertainment options onboard (and the impressive Walt Disney Theater), it's easy to forget about the Buena Vista Theater. The Art Deco flourishes, deep blues and rich fabrics make it a cozy, warm space, ideal for movie-watching with super-comfy stadium seating. It shows Disney movies throughout the day and evening, including first-run films and flicks in Disney Digital 3-D. There's a concession stand just outside with popcorn and snacks.
  • 8
    Hit and Miss: Meridian Wine Bar
    The Meridian, a wine bar on Deck 12, is a new and pricey concept (a glass of vino starts at $12), and much of it is wonderful. It's got cozy seating, beautiful views from the aft (with windows on three sides) and, best of all, alfresco seating. Plus, the wine list is one of the few onboard that allows you to explore beyond Mondavi. (There's also a full bar.) On the downside, the lighting is too harsh, and service is a bit indifferent -- which, at these prices, is unacceptable. With some tweaks, however, this could be a best-at-sea escape.
  • 9
    Hit: Character Meet-and-Greets
    A cornerstone of the Disney experience is the chance to meet Mickey and Co. On Disney Dream, the Mouse flails his large, gloved hands and offers his plastic cheek for a kiss. Disney's princesses pose with little girls in costume gowns. Jack Sparrow rappels down the funnel to do battle with Blackbeard. The line's character cache is unmatched, and the ship's size allows for a much more intimate experience than you'd find in the parks. Just watching a youngster gleefully barking orders at Donald -- "Touch your toes!" "Cover your eyes!" -- is enough to melt the heart of the most cynical passenger.
  • 10
    Hit: Tech-Enhanced Entertainment
    This ship is wired with new technology: Enchanted Art comes to life as you admire it -- and can be used to find clues and solve a mystery through the kid-friendly Midship Detective Agency. The MagicPlay floors in the Oceaneers Lab and Club bring games to life, while the sound studio lets kids compose their own music and record it. All in all, we give it a big thumbs-up.
  • 11
    Hit and Miss: 'Tween Club
    While we love that Dream has a separate club for 'tweens, we wish it were located somewhere a little less secluded. The Edge's prime real estate in the forward funnel provides awesome views (plus you can watch AquaDuck riders zipping by), but if you're allowing your kids to come and go on their own, make sure you double check the operating hours, which vary. We saw several 10- and 11-year-old boys hanging out on the staircase and banging on the locked door, with no parents to be seen.
  • 12
    Miss: Concierge Stateroom Complex
    We're fans of cruise lines that offer extra-service enclaves, in which the occupants of staterooms sequestered in a dedicated space have exclusive access to areas like lounges or sun decks. This one's weird, however. First, it's accessed by a wrought-iron gate that clangs shut behind you. The concierge lounge, which is the area's heart, is okay but not half as charming as the Cove Coffee bar, which is elegant and peaceful -- and open to all passengers. And the added concierge sun deck, which is just a row of lounges (no extra pool), isn't special enough to tempt us.
  • 13
    Hit: Techno Cabin Touches
    Water laps against Castaway Cay's rocky shoreline, the ocean bobs and an occasional hippo dances by. This is the view through Disney Dream's virtual portholes (pictured), found in the ship's inside cabins. Disney Dream's portable Wave Phones (also available on Wonder and Magic) are another fantastic in-cabin touch. Call or text a fellow passenger, or set an alarm as a reminder to pick up Junior from the Oceaneer's Club. iPod docks, which are fast becoming an industry standard, and raised beds (carry-ons can now slide underneath) are other vacation-improving cabin additions.
  • 14
    Hit: Family Pools
    The Disney Dream pools were clearly designed with families in mind. In addition to the AquaDuck, there are three pools, plus a relocated "Nemo"-themed splash zone for toddlers. Donald's Pool has the best view of the ship's 24-by-14-foot LED screen, just above on the funnel, so it's best at night. With its popular spiral water slide, Mickey's Pool attracts the most kids, and Dream's version has a much-improved staircase to boot. (Ok, they might have made the pools a little bigger, as there seems to be a lot of deck space.)
  • 15
    Miss: The Quiet Cove Pool
    When we first cruised on Disney (Disney Magic in 1998), its adult-only Quiet Cove pool -- a pioneering concept -- was a sanctuary. There was soothing jazz, an adult bar and plenty of space. On Dream, we expected an evolution of the concept (which already has been improved upon by lines like Princess). Instead, Disney has regressed. The cramped pool is surrounded by a narrow sun deck (even at high noon most chaises are shaded), and the bar -- with its stools planted firmly in the wading area -- aims mindlessly for a Vegas-like swim-up ambience.

    --Photo appears courtesy of Teijo Niemela and Cruise Business Review.
  • 16
    Miss: Shopping
    Heaven help you if your airline loses your luggage, leaving you with nothing to wear, because apparently the only stuff worth selling on a Disney cruise is logo merchandise. Certainly there's some fun to buying a Mickey Mouse potholder, a Snow White T-shirt or a Lion King lunchbox, but the dedication to all-Disney-all-the-time is a bit banal. Then again, we saved a lot of money not buying gorgeous jewelry or leisurewear onboard -- and at least the duty-free liquor and such were brand names.
  • 17
    Hit: Senses Spa
    In recent years, it seems as if big-ship lines have consulted with Greyhound bus station architects, creating spa facilities that are loud and bustling. Disney's spa, operated by the ubiquitous Steiner, is anything but. There's a dedicated check-in desk and a small ante-room where you fill out a "health" form. But beyond that, serenity rules. Our treatment room had floor-to-ceiling windows, and the extra-cost Rainforest, with its Jacuzzis set on a glass-enclosed balcony, is worth every penny. A nice extra: There's a teens-only facility called Chill.
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