We took this cruise for a five day stint as first time cruisers for any cruise line. Before reviewing anything at all, I will let the reader know that the five day cruise for the non experienced cruiser is not enough. I will explain why in greater detail below but will simply state that in sum, that by the time you get the hang of what to do, the cruise seems to come to an end.
Warning, this is not a short review, but I will break this down into 32 things that will help you as a cruiser on the Dream. I will break this down into precruise, during cruise and post cruise helpful hints. I will not tell you how to book the cruise as that is a personal choice experience (be it online, via Disney cruise line, travel agent etc), but I will give you some hints that allow you to navigate what to do after you have booked your cruise.
First, and this is for you folks who have a Chase Disney Rewards Card. Make sure that you contact the people at Chase and transfer your Disney Rewards Dollars to a Chase Credit Card that can be used on the ship. You will see where it comes in very handy at the end of this review.
After you book your cruise, Second, I would recommend that you book a Disney mid range hotel, such as the Port Orleans (I just reviewed this hotel) on TripAdvisor as well) one day before you arrive for the cruise. Although I traveled with the ever reliable Jet Blue, there is always concern that having a flight arrive on the same day of the cruise can be a bit unsettling, especially if the flight is delayed for any reason. The ship will not wait for you and unless you have awesome travel insurance, good luck getting any money back if you don’t show up on time. I recommend a mid range Disney hotel because you will be afforded the benefit of the Magical Express that will pick you up at the airport and will ensure that your luggage is delivered directly to your room without you having to deal with baggage claim.
Third I would highly recommend using Happy Limousine for transport to Port Canaveral, where the cruise ship departs from. There are those who would say that one could use the Magical Express for Cruise lines which is also offered, but the problem here is that you arrive with a busload of people at about 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. and it is a bit of a glut to get on board the ship. Book Happy Limousine and if you are lucky, you will get a driver who is text savvy and will stay in touch with you via text before arrival to pick you up at your hotel to take you on the ship, and will also text you the moment you arrive back at port to coordinate pickup time.
Fourth, Book the Atlantis Excursion if you have children who like waterparks. The Excursions will be discussed in the during cruise part of my review but I put this part of the discussion here simply because it is part of the pre cruise process. If you do not have a particular penchant for waterparks, the Atlantis Excursion is going to be nothing more than a couple of fast moving water slides, with or without inner tubes with a lazy river experience. You can experience this at almost any stateside waterpark and I the only difference is that you get to waterslide in a tunnel immersed in a shark aquarium tank. Don’t let the commercials fool you though, you are going through these tunnels in a blink and won’t notice the sharks. I would rather recommend, if you don’t have the kiddies in tow, that you consider exploring a little bit of the Bahamas shopping and local environment. It’s safe if you have an escort and most importantly do not arrive on a Sunday. Why Sunday? Well, if your ship docks at port on a Sunday, most shops are closed. So if a Bahamas excursion/experience is on your plate, this is worthy of consideration.
Fifth, While I recommended booking a hotel prior to your cruise, so that you would have a buffer to ensure prompt arrival for the cruise, I would recommend you book an afternoon flight back to your home city on the same date of debarkation (fancy words on the cruise for when your ship comes back to port to boot you off the boat). The ship arrives at port at about 6:00 a.m., and you will be fed at 6:45 (if you chose the earlier dining time – which I will also discuss next) and you will be off the boat and through customs by about 7:45 the latest (assuming you haven’t declared anything unusual on your customs forms and have US passports etc). The ship is prompt and you will be out of port fast, assuming you booked Happy Limo See hint second above and thirtyone below). You will be bound for the airport by about 9:00 the latest and if you have an early afternoon flight, you will have absolutely no problem getting the flight.
Sixth, Two items to bring that you wouldn't think to bring: 1. An extension cord since the staterooms are a little sparse on electrical outlets and if you have tablets, computers, MP3 players etc, you will run out of charging areas. You can't bring a power strip, but there does not appear to be a ban on an extension cord with maybe 3 outlets on it. 2. Another item to bring is a waterproof case for your cell phone so you can take it with you on excursions and take pics of what you are doing.
Seventh: Your cell phones will not work on the boat - no service, no internet, no email, no youtube, no facebook etc... but hey! You are on a Cruise so get over it. You should load the Disney Cruise App on your phone well in advance of cruise day, since it has a neat countdown function whenever you turn the APP on, which tells you how many days are left for your cruise. With the app, you will be able to use your smart phones to text eachother, if your family is using smart phones. The room provides you with two phones that are like personal communicators that you can use to converse with eachother on board the ship. You can also text eachother, but only exclusively on these phones - try as I might, I could not get these phones to text to my mobile phones. That was the only minus, I could report. I would think that with all the money being spent, that the Ship would provide a phone per person using the Stateroom. It's a big boat and they seem to think that a family of four would pair up leaving two phones per couple. That's not practical, since the activities are geared to literally everyone's personal tastes and you will be tempted to venture off on your own, but still want to be in touch with family.
I will first discuss a bit about the process of boarding and then what to do when you get on the boat.
Once you are dropped off at Port Canaveral, you can wait on a line to get into the port building that is the Disney Port’s building. It’s a very big air conditioned building that has a basic metal detector that you will need to pass through. It’s not as complicated as the airport security detector (ie shoes off, computers out and in separate trays etc), but it’s still a security checkpoint. Once you take the escalator upstairs, you come into an atrium which you learn is a processing center. You need only ask any uniformed Disney person (who sports the large Mickey Hands) what to do next and they will guide you. That being side, you will get on a line to present your passports to a checking counter where they get scanned and a plastic card gets printed up for you. This card is the equivalent of your wrist band that you would have on any Disney property, as it has you personal info, stateroom number, credit card info etc all rolled into one. It also makes a pretty coot souvenir after the cruise. THERE ARE NO WRISTBANDS ON THE CRUISE, EXCEPT…. If you have a child whom you want to enroll in a club (who is under 12 years old).
Eighth: Register your under 12 year old child for the under 12 clubs so that they can be deposited in these clubs or if they are confident enough, can check themselves into the clubs during your cruise. Once you are processed and your child is registered (if you have one under 12), you can go sit on one of the sofas in the waiting area and wait for your group number to be called for boarding. I would take this time to take a few pictures of the model ship. Once youre group number is announced, you board. Your name is announced as you enter the doorway of the ship and you receive an ovation from white uniformed staff. Pretty cool!
Ninth: for DVC members. You will see that there is a small kiosk where DVC will welcome you right before you enter passport processing. They will give you lanyards to hold your key card (which is great because you don’t have to buy one on the ship this way and you have the benefit of having access to DVC events and gifts that are handed out on days’ one and two of the cruise. There is also a sales pitch party which is set at about 2:30 p.m, disguised as an orientation of sorts for DVC members, where you can get some other souvenirs(we loved the DVC cups because they were reusable and you can get unlimited soft drinks and water to carry around the boat)… You’ll never not be hydrated.
Tenth: Have some lunch! You can Aquaduck anytime! Other sites have stated that you should hit the waterslide on the boat ASAP. Wear swimsuits and go on this ride when you get on board. Well yes, if that’s your thing, I suppose it’s important. But believe me, you, your spouse and kids will be hungry by the time you get on the ship. You don’t have your luggage yet, so you are probably still traveling light with just carry on stuff. Go to the Cabanas buffet. It’s the first meal of the cruise and first impressions are key with Disney. You will not be disappointed and believe me there is anything and everything available, starting from carving tables to different breads for consumption. So as soon as you board, go and eat. Get some energy or just grab some grub so that you can settle into your stateroom for a quick nap prior to the ship leaving port.
Eleventh: Yes, there is a party where you will be asked to assemble on Deck 11 and 12 of the ship. Check it out at about 4 pm when the boat leaves. But it’s not Gavin McLeod’s love boat with confetti being tossed onto the docks from the departing ship. Disney’s port is truly utilitarian and no one except the dock people are on the dock. It’s a cute kickoff party so it’s a great idea to go see what all the buzz is about. There is a huge screen in the mid/forward part of the ship, in front of the pools, which also sits above a stage for the shows or DJs or any events that will later take place. The party will have everyone assembling for a kickoff and it is exciting.
Twelfth: You will need to attend an evac drill, where you will be assigned a letter, where you would be expected to assemble in the event of having to leave the ship. It is mandatory to attend, so do not think you can skip it, like you would wander off or read a magazine when the stewardess is telling you about how to put on your oxygen masks. It’s not as rigorous, say as the emergency instructions you get when you are waiting for a plane to take off, but there are life vests that are in your stateroom closet that the crew encourages you to try out on your own time. However, they will demonstrate the actual donning of the vest and verify that you and your family have assembled at your designated latter on Deck 4 of the ship, which is next to all the lifeboats. What’s kind of neat is that this deck is also the running deck for you runners out there. The letter signs that also provide great markers as you are running if you need to know exactly where you started and where you want to stop.
Thirteenth: Become familiar with your navigator handout. When you are done with the drill, you might want to squeeze in some time to check out what’s going on before dinner, and after the drill.
Fourteenth: Opt for the early dinner! You are getting a fresh staff and you are also given the options of attending fun activities after dinner. The dinner times are at 5:45 and 8:15. If you grab an early meal, you will have enough time to digest before passing out on your not very healthy (but tasty) meal. The great thing for an early dinner is that turn down service will happen during this time while you are away.
Fifteenth: Check out the movies at the Buena Vista Theater, located in the forward part of the ship after dinner. Disney runs recent and new releases. We were fortunate enough to catch Tomorrowland, Inside Out and Monkey King, on the ship when they were released to theaters. The great deal is that the movies are all free! The Popcorn is not, but if you’re smart, you can grab some snacks at breakfast or lunch at Cabanas and save them for the flick. Also, you can grab free ice cream in a large cup and bring it in with you.
Sixteenth: Enter the Buena Vista from the 5th Floor. The theater has 2 levels and you won’t hit a crowd, essentially coming in from the back end top of the auditorium.
WOW, THAT WAS JUST DAY 1
Your second day will be at on shore at Castaway Cay (pronounced Key). It’s Disney’s private island with beaches, snorkeling, simple water slides and little souvenier shops with Disney flavored (and some seemingly local/Bahamas style trinkets).
Seventeenth If you are a crazy beach enthusiast, eat light and get on a tram for a 5 minute ride to get to the first or second beach. The itinerary says you are supposed to be at the Cay for 9:30, but that’s not mandatory. The only reason to get to the Cay is that I believe that you can only get the buffet lunch at the Cay and that there’s no food service on the ship. I did not think to inquire, but I would tend to believe that for people who stay on ship, there must still be food to eat. If you are interested in the beach activities, then go early, get an umbrella, enjoy the day and get back by 4:00. The neat thing about the Cay is that although you are warned about making sure you return to the ship on time, there’s no other ships at the island and you will more likely than not have your boat within view from wherever you are so you have the security of knowing you have not been “marooned”.
Eighteenth: Lunch at the Cay is mostly standard mid grade stuff you’d probably see at a BBQ. You can have anything from Ribs to Hot Dogs to cous cous. Stay away from the Corn on the Cob (nothing was wrong with it really, it just was a little gnarly and surprising considering this was Disney Sanctioned food). The sodas and dessert are free flowing but again not blue ribbon fare that you will see on the ship – ship buffet included. Lunch starts at the Cay at 11 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Remember you will be stopping at the Cay on day 4, so if you do want to stay and explore the ship and take chances on dining on board, it is a worthy exploration of options and you will have a very uncrowded boat. I do not know if all activity ceases (shops close, pools close, aquaduck closes, arcade closes etc), but I did note that on the days that the Cay was in the itinerary, the Navigator did not imply that activities cease on the ship. It seems that people have said that they encourage you to leave the ship for the Cay days, but I do not think it is absolutely mandatory. As I said before, you will only know what you can get if you try.
Nineteenth: Get back earlier from the Cay and make use of the spa. Guys… get a haircut and a shave. I’m a straight forward no nononsense guy who usually frequents the mall salon (no appointment necessary) when I remember to get a haircut. I shave with a disposable razor (which overstays it’s welcome long past the time I should have disposed of it) in the shower. I had never experienced a facial, shave and haircut. I had the chance to chat politics with a friendly South African stylist who’s amazing facial earned the incessant caressing of my 11 year old daughter at dinner, who could only exclaim that I actually looked 10 years younger. My wife had the massage spa experience and loved it.
Twentieth: Grab another movie after Castaway night 1. Or see a live Disney themed musical show. Check your Navigator. I would tell you to avoid the comedians, magicians and “adult” style entertainment (Don’t worry, it’s not R-rated entertainment, it’s just a little edgy but boy let me tell you, it is 2nd and 3rd rate stuff). The musical performers were good, though, but they pervade the main hall during the evening hours, near the grand staircase which is mid ship. They also alternate playing at clubs that are on board the lower decks of the ship. As I said before, avail yourself of the musicals which have great special effects and are very entertaining. We made the mistake of trying the comedians and missed a couple of shows. I won’t repeat that experience.
Twentyfirst: Try room service! It’s fun and you can find out what you can order, literally any time, to be brought to your room. Again, it’s not the same blue ribbon fare you will see at the restaurants or at Cabana’s but it’s not bad food either. Other reviewers have denigrated the food quality of room service on the Cruise Line, but remember, it’s just a convenience thing and if you are still vigourously awake, you can grab a late night snack after you have seen your movie, grabbed your show (and if you don’t feel like free ice-cream again). It’s similar fare to what you would receive at the Theme Parks (sandwiches, pizza, French fries etc), but it’s a cruise! Chill out and enjoy it! If you are a foodie or food snob, rest assured you will be seated at one of the restaurants the next morning.
Twentysecond: Royal Palace cannot cook vegetarian to save their lives! If you are a vegetarian, we consistently found that the Royal Palace restaurant was sorely lacking in making Tofu flavorful and undercooking veggies. I have had Korean Vegetarian Tofu dishes, cooked to simulate chicken etc. and the Tofu was excellent – so I know it’s not criticasting but reasonable to expect decent tofu dishes. I did find that they meat dishes were adequate. However, the Beef Wellington was cooked properly, but the pastry around the wellington was soggy. I had a Gordon Ramsay potty mouth moment playing in my head from “Hells’ Kitchen” . That being said, Animator’s Palate and Enchanted Garden were excellent. If you can set up your dining experience ahead of time to limit your dining rotation to only one time at Royal Palace, that’s ideal. Perhaps by the time I go back, RP will be up to snuff! I’m hopeful.
Twentythird: Ask for seconds at dinner or two entrees/desserts(or both) at a time. If you are hungry, your server will bring you more than one entrée or side dish. Leave your modesty at home. If you see something interesting that you wouldn’t normally try, give it a whirl. Your server will bring it to you, so long as you are not completely cramping up their efficiency. Remember, they are running two dinner shifts so try not to be too late to dine.
Twentyfourth: You sit with your family during dining. There was a time, it appeared, that you sat with others (and I suppose you could if you wanted), but you are limited on this ship to your family. You have an assigned table number and it rotates with you as you rotate from different dinner restaurants nightly. You will be seated if you get there on time or a little later. You won’t be waiting. That’s cool!
Twentyfifth: Wake up early and enjoy a sunrise. Coffee is brewing at all hours on deck 11. Get up at 5 and get it. You have solitude and the ship is at its quietest. Watch the sun rise. There's no comparison to a sea sunrise!
DAY 3 NASSAU, BAHAMAS
You will see the boat pull into Nassau. I already commented on Atlantis vs. touring the island. Again, I would advise you to leave the boat on this date. I do not know if there is any food service but know that all stores have to be closed when the ship is docked in another country. So this particular date, you are encouraged to take your excursion shoreside. Next time, I tour and avoid the waterpark. The only caveat is that you are on your own for dining that day if you do not go to Atlantis.
Twentysixth: On Pirate night....Get back to the boat, shower up and put on your Pirate Costume early. There is a Pirate's of the Carribean party with a show that's at the Funnelvision stage. But you will not be able to see the show, unless you get there with some time to spare. If you followed my advice and took the earlier dinner seating, then go dine in costume! Remember, it's going to be hot, so if you like an elaborate costume, then be prepared to lose few pounds dancing. The little children love elaborate costumes and it's fun. If you don't have dinner, don't fret, there's a full dinner/like buffet right after the party that's on Deck 11 at Cabanas, although it's later in the night. If you don't have all the necessary pirate regalia, the Disney Ship's stores will have costumes, tee shirts, toy pistols, toys swords, and even a Captain Jack Cap with dreadlocks (which I bought).... AAARRRRR!
Twentyseventh: Regarding Castaway Cay I undertook the Stingray Adventure. There is a snorkel rental area right next to the entrance, so you won't need to bring Snorkeling Equipment with you. The adventure begins with a 20 minute class tutoring you on the types of Rays at the Cay, their origins and habits. You then enter a shallow beach area, which has been cordonned off and populated with Rays that will assemble on a table with your host and eat from you, if you feed them. They don't bit and have no external teeth. If you are daring, you can opt to feed them mouth to mouth. My host told me that I was the only one who ever took him up on the offer. It was an interesting experience. You will have an hour on for this activity and it goes fast, but beware, the rays don't really swim up to you as promised. They move about but don't really show interest, unless you are with your host at the "dining" table. The other caveat is that the host tells you that you will get a badge/pin for having been part of the adventure, and that this pin is tradable with other Disney pin fanatics (at the equivalent of being valued for 3 pins). Beware, it is not true! My family and I don't really do the pin thing, but my 11 year old daughter was curious about the validity of the bold claim. The pin was worth nothing, but it does make a keepsake of the experience, if you weren't taking pics with a waterproof camera/cell phone I described earlier.
The rest of day 4 pretty much goes along with Day 2, so I won't belabor the point.
This is a great day to shop on the ship, do some of the things you didn't get to do earlier (like hang out on your verandah if your stateroom has one, or get that massage or haircut etc). Get your ice cream and pizza and bring it back to your room and chill out for a while! Get to really use your Navigator and take in any and all live musical shows! I stated this earlier but it bears repeating.
Twentyeighth: Beat the crowd to settle your bill. There is a lot of stressing out by people who wait to the last minute to settle the bill with guest services on the last day, especially as night rolls in. So you have an idea of what's coming, I'll break down my experience for you. You will find little envelopes left in your room by staff for tips for your head server, server, drink pourer and person who makes up your room everyday/gives turn down service with the chocolates etc. Note, that you can authorize the tip to be taken from your credit card(which is what I did since I didn't feel like leaving cash/or carrying loose cash either. The total left was $300.00 for the 5 nights, which got apportioned out between the four persons mentioned above. I've heard that people haggle this up or down, but I would suggest not stressing out over it and just go with the suggested tip and the suggested amount (which is what I mentioned above). This monetary figure ($300.00) may not be your tip amount, since I had a party of four people. The only other gripe I could state is that how can one justify tipping the guy who just brings a bottle of wine to the table and pours it, who is not the same person who is actually having to take your order, process it and bring this back to you. I had to wrap my head around the idea also tipping the head server (who really does not serve you but is more a trouble shooter if you have a problem). I settled my bill at the reception area/front desk area of the ship and this was great because there were no surprises
Twentyninth: Here is where your Disney Dream Rewards Pays off! If you have a Disney Chase Card which gives you points and you've been saving them, you can square off your bill with any Disney Dream Rewards Dollars that you have racked up. It cut my final bill in half.
Thirtieth: Pack smart for departure. You will be given all instructions on gathering and leaving your bags in the hallway at 10:30 that night, so that they can be gathered up and taken to the luggage area for quick offloading. Keep a day back with your clothes for the next morning (or keep them in your closet) and to hold you PJs and toiletries when you leave. Do not pack any thing that you'll need to declare (such as the expensive Jewelry) since you will be facing customs when you get off the boat. You will get Cardboard Disney character tags that will be identical and you will fill in your names on these tags as well as indicate how many pieces you have (for example your first luggage tag will have your name, address etc and state Bag 1 of 3). You then fill in the remaining tags accordingly. Also, fill out the declarations page (real short 1 page document - don't make any mistakes on it. Don't fret though, there are extras at that reception area of the ship (where you settle your bill).
DAY 6 - THE DEPRESSION SETS IN
Your ship pulls into port at 5:30 a.m.. You will be asked to attend breakfast which is a very meager dish, as compared to what you were offered for the days before and then. It is quick and efficient, but well mannered (you are not hurried off the boat or anything, but you will leave in an organized manner, much like how you entered five glorious days earlier. Once you enter the customs area, you are met with reality. Your luggage will be put together on racks that you collect and walk over to the Customs Officers. NOTE that if you lost anything, Disney has a lost and found it works! My son misplaced a shirt that he removed to go on Aquaduck on Day 2, and the shirt wound up here. Note, The customs agents are not ill mannered but they are not paid to make you feel special. So they will rather indifferently direct you to an officer/agent who will ask you some basic questions and ask you for declarations.
Thirtyfirst: Happy Limousine Rescues again! If you used HL to get you to the boat, your driver, if he is tech saavy will text you that he is either en route or waiting out of the pick up area and when you give him a final text advising that you are nearing customs, he or she can be ready to meet you within minutes.
Thirtysecond: Here's a personal choice issue but I would advise you to book an afternoon flight to return home on the same day the cruise returns. The ship is very prompt and you will be out of Port Canaveral by 8:30 a.m.. I stayed an extra day at the Port Orleans on Disney Property but it was probably an unnecessary expense. It was enjoyable but not needed. Happy Limo can just the same get you directly to the airport and you can be home bound.
Thirtythird: Start thinking about your next cruise at the end of this one. It's the only way you can beat the sadness that has set it.
I cannot say enough about how great this cruise line is, starting from the little details, friendly staff and the fact that it is Mickey's nicest boat! My family and I will be likely undertaking an Alaskan Cruise in a couple of years, courtesy of the "Ears" and this time will make it a 7 day gig.
I hope it was worth your read. Read Less