We've taken seven cruises with NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) and decided to take our first cruise with Disney to celebrate our 5 year old daughter's birthday. Having searched reviews before to see the differences between NCL and ... Read More
We've taken seven cruises with NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) and decided to take our first cruise with Disney to celebrate our 5 year old daughter's birthday. Having searched reviews before to see the differences between NCL and Disney without success, I thought I would use this opportunity to share what I discovered on this trip.
We did Disney, Sea World, and Universal Studios in the 5 days prior to our cruise. Cruising post-theme parks was the right idea we discovered. Relaxing on the ship after walking parks was well worth the wait. Couldn't imagine going the other way. We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Cape Canaveral the night before the cruise. This hotel was only about a mile from the Disney Cruise Terminal and had a shuttle service available at $3 per person. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Rusty's on Port Canaveral the night before and watched all the cruise ships depart the port.
The process of checking in to Disney was similar, but smoother to our past experiences with NCL. Disney owns their own terminal and has this process down pat, versus NCL often using random terminals and employees that work for other cruise lines as well - but still it was much faster with Disney. Going through security, a guard had to take my daughter's birthday ballon "for security purposes", which made no sense. She was bawling. Out of the blue, that same security office found us in line and gave her a stuffed Minney Mouse - which quieted her right down. Nice touch Disney!
Having recently sailed on the Norwegian Gem, which was built around the same time and at the same shipyard as the Disney Dream, I expected many similarities - but found few. The Dream was certainly a bit more glamorous but I didn't enjoy the ship layout as much as I have found on the NCL ships we have sailed (The Jewell, The Gem, and The Sun). While the casino was obviously absent on the Dream, I didn't like that the adult nightclub areas were buried at the back of the ship. Not many people ever found them and they were often vacant of people at night. In fact, there was really no nightlife in the adult clubs on the Dream at all compared to the NCL ships. The pools on the Dream were the smallest cruise ships pools I have ever seen. They were instantly filled with kids all the time and didn't look inviting. Still, I liked the display overhead of constant Disney movies. The hot tubs on the Dream were two metal tanks on the edge of the ship that reminded me of cow troughs versus hot tubs. On NCL, they have several round, welcoming jacuzzi tubs about their ship. Still, the water features for the kids were nice. The Aqua Duck waterside was worthy of a two trips down it. Both of my kids were board with it after two rides and never did it again. It wasn't all that it was made out to be in the marketing and TV commercials.
One thing I liked on Disney verses my past experiences on NCL is that Disney actually enforces their rules - to a point (more later). For example, they have adult areas on the ship and adult pools. Those areas were great and it was nice to take a break away from children. It would nice to see NCL do this on an outside area of their ships during the day rather than just in their nightclubs. Still, I learned quickly that even if I tried to walk my child through an adult area, a Disney crew member was quickly there to remind me that no kids were allowed. On NCL, in my past experiences, there were signs with rules, but they were never enforced.
One of the most important features for cruising for my family, which in addition to my 5 year old daughter includes my 11 year old son, is the kid's club areas. While we expected Disney to knock the socks off NCL in this department, we were deeply disappointed. Sure, the Dream had three times the kids' club that NCL ships have. They were top notch facilities with all the bells and whistles. I am sure no one at sea has a better kids club area for kids than Disney Cruise ships. However, it was a kid factory on the Dream, and I mean that in a negative sense. The staff in the kids area on the Dream were impersonal, and almost not human. They were like drones. When we dropped our daughter off, none would take her into the club unless we begged them. The first time we did drop off, my daughter walked in and no one greeted her, welcomed her, or anything. She quickly started to cry - which we could observe by peeking around the corner. After 30 seconds of seeing no staff was coming to attend to her, I went in to see her. Unlike on NCL, the Dream kid's club staff did allow parents into the Kids Club, the only other perk I found verses NCL. I spent some time going from station to station with my daughter. The staff kept recommending my daughter go to one of their numerous computer labs to make a fairy or a Minnie on a computer. No one ever asked if my 5 year old daughter could read. I quickly learned that none of their computer programs worked unless you could read. In one lab, I quickly found myself helping 4 other 4 and 5 year olds use the computer while a staff member was attending to another kid in the corner. After one kid beside me was crying uncontrollable for over a minute, I finally called that staff member over since she seemed oblivious to it, and she finally attended to the crying kid. I ended up just leaving with my daughter and no one asked why she wasn't staying. While we did go back to the kids club two more times during the cruise, and my daughter did end up staying both times - we were very disappointed and urned for NCL's kids club. On NCL, the kid's club staff remembered our kids names and greeted them whenever they came. When they departed, they acted sad to see the kids go. On NCL, they bonded with our kids and that was more important than all the fancy toys and gadgets the Dream offered. For this one reason, we will cruise on a NCL ship again with our daughter while she is young verses a Disney Ship.
In past reviews about Disney, people either say they love or were disappointed in the food. Again, with only NCL as a comparison, I will say that the food on the Disney Dream was about 15 to 20% better than food we have had on NCL ships in the past. We never had any meals that weren't really good at all. On NCL, sometimes you get a hockey puck of a steak and the buffets sometimes have some rubbery veggies. We had no complaints about any of the Dream's food and thought dining time was one of the better parts of the cruise. It was our first experience away from "Freestyle" dining that NCL offers. I thought I wouldn't like it, but ended up liking it better on Disney. We were set for the first dining at 5:45pm and it was nice to walk right into the restaurant and be seated right away. On any NCL ship we have been on, we've always had to wait with a buzzer for our turn to eat when going to the common restaurants. We didn't dine in any of the specialty restaurants on the Dream, nor did we ever feel the need to. The Animator's Palate wasn't all it was made out to be as far as talking to Crush the turtle (he came by once during our meal and only talked to the table next to us for 3 minutes, then we never saw him again - so that was quite a disappointment - unless your seat is right next to a big screen, Crush won't come to you), but that, the Enchanted Garden, and the Royal Palace, as well as having the same servers each night was a much better experience for us than we have had on an NCL ship.
One thing we noticed differently about NCL versus Disney was the crew demographic. On the Dream, the crew we interacted with was mostly from India on 6 month contracts. They were very friendly of course - but a bit more stand-off-ish than we were used to on NCL. On NCL, the crew in the dining areas and kitchen are mostly from the Philippines on 9 month contracts. We found that the crew on NCL was just slightly more friendly and easier to interact with than the Disney crew - but we aren't sure whether that was a result of their nationality and demographic, or by policy. It seems like there were always more officers available to talk to and address concerns with on NCL verses the Dream. On the Dream, the Indian people didn't have as many officers as the Filipino's have on the NCL ships. Again, not sure why that is? Not a deciding factor either way - both crews were top notch.
We enjoyed our cabin on the Dream versus cabin's we have had on NCL ships in the past. The separation of the toilet and shower was a nice amenity. As was access in our cabin to all the Disney movies ever made on-demand. Other than that, the cabins and service were about the same.
The shows on NCL were far better than shows on the Dream, which was surprising. Granted, our daughter liked seeing the Disney characters in the shows, and that was well worth it. For adults however, NCL has never let us down. The Dream's shows were just, "okay".
The second major difference between NCL and Disney besides the kid's club was the activities on the ship. We were so overwhelmed with all the things to do on the Dream, we actually felt less relaxed and under pressure more than we wanted to attend and do as many of them as possible. By my 2nd day on a NCL ship, I have usually seen and used most of the ship features. After 4 days on the Dream, I know I only ever saw half the ship. I only learned about a mini-golf course on the back deck of the Dream while I was debarking at the end of the cruise and another passenger mentioned it. This isn't to say that NCL doesn't offer enough to do, but Disney is certainly over the top. As I said, I kind of wish I had less options on the Dream so I wasn't so pressured to not miss something. I never really go to enjoy one feature on the Dream very long.
The third major difference on the Dream between other NCL ships we have sailed was the Spa. This is the 2nd most important area of the ship for us after the Kids' Club. While the Spa staff, reception, massages, and treatments on the Dream were comparable to NCL ships, we were disappointed by what the daily spa pass offered on the Dream versus what we have experienced on the Norwegian Gem or Jewell. For $29 a day on the Dream, we had access to a coed room with 8 or so heated chairs, two small whirlpools with almost no jet power, and two steam rooms. This was a far cry from the large adult's only pools, powerful jetted tubs, and large men or woman's private areas on the NCL ships on what was around a $100 pass per cruise. We expected much more from Disney in this area and were very disappointed. If you are a Spa-at-sea person, NCL beats Disney hands down in this category.
A quick mention on the port visits on this cruise. We did Atlantis Aquaventure in Nassau . It was our second visit to the water park at Atlantis and it is well worth the money for the visit. The water park there is AMAZING. One warning, the "Lazy River" is anything but. In fact, I don't think that ride would even be legal in the US. My wife cracked her head and has a major bruise on her back from the ride down that rapid river ride. My 5 yo daughter has bruises and bumps all over her. I survived without a bump - but there should be more cautions there to protect people from banging off the walls and bottom of the river. Fun ride - but not for those that aren't well prepared! Castaway Cay blows NCL's Great Stirrup Cay out of the water of course - but if you are just looking for a beach day as we were, that didn't matter much to us. The Disney lifeguards were quite "giztabo-like" in managing the rules on Castaway Cay, which got annoying. It seemed they were always yelling at someone for something. They used old voice-powered loud hailing tubes versus more modern ones and you could never understand what they were yelling. At times the life guards started yelling for missing people from families, etc, and I gave up trying to listen to what they were yelling about.
In summary, with the exception of the Spa and Kid's Club, I would say that the Disney was about 10 to 15% better at what they do and offer than NCL. However, if having your kids cared for in an area where the counselors seem genuinely interested in them and relaxing in a larger spa is important to you, NCL is the place to be. We certainly weren't sold that Disney was better than NCL and will probably go back to NCL, even if the steaks may not be as nice, or the line for the freestyle dining is a bit longer. We are happy that we cruised on the Dream and will have wonderful memories of that trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip however and a chance to see how Disney does what it does. Seeing all the Disney characters and enjoying their show as very satisfying.
A few quick final observations. We never saw so many adult couples fighting randomly as we did on the Disney Cruise. Not sure if was a weird anomaly or what - but it seemed whenever we were in an elevator, waiting for one, or in a theater before a show, there was at least one couple nearby in a some sort of a "couple's love fight". While on our cruise, Vanna White and Pat Sajek came onboard to film a promo for Wheel of Fortune. The camera crews set up in public access areas, but on both occasions that I approached the filming areas, out of line-of-site of the cameras, I was rudely told to "go away" by Disney crew and not approach the filming areas. The crew should have either roped off the area or filmed in a location not accessible to Guests if they didn't want us checking things out. I was a bit put off by this. It went back to Disney's constant willingness to keep it's Guests in line. One time, I went to use the main staircase in the lobby area only to be yelled at by a crew member that I couldn't use the stairs. I looked around and couldn't figure out why. So, I asked the guy yelling at me and he said it was because they were setting up to take photos of Guests. Okay - so if they were setting up and no one was using the stairs yet, what was the big deal of stopping me from using them for a minute - no one else was around? The same thing happened on Castaway Cay when we arrived early at their water slides on the family beach. There were no lines and hardly any people there, so I swam under the rope to go do the slide again with my daughter after doing it the first time. I was practically physically attacked by a life guard for that action! He made sure I knew that I had to swim all the way back to the beach and cross over the rope there, not any earlier. I left the slide area after that. Read Less