THE GREAT: Getting on board was awesome. We arrived at the time we'd signed up for, and there were only about five people ahead of us waiting to check in. We finished at the counter and walked right onto the ship. It was the best ... Read More
THE GREAT: Getting on board was awesome. We arrived at the time we'd signed up for, and there were only about five people ahead of us waiting to check in. We finished at the counter and walked right onto the ship. It was the best onboarding experience I've ever had! I will be forever grateful because getting on and off a cruise ship is generally really exhausting and the worst part of the trip. It's been around 10 years since I've been on a cruise, but my recollection was standing in line for hours. Disney has done a great job with this!
Our dining room servers were absolutely wonderful. They made sure that we had everything that we wanted and made us feel very special. I got the general impression that everyone loved the staff assigned to them. Some of the servers did magic tricks, and they all had something special for the kids. One thing to keep in mind is that the head waiter, the waiter/waitress, the assistant waiter/waitress, and the cabin attendant do not receive additional compensation from Disney - they work only for tips. I don't think people realize that, and the amounts they recommend for tips are really not that much. I think that this is the same across all cruise lines, and I didn't mind the built in tip for any of the refreshments that we ordered (one person went out of his way to get a glass of wine that I liked when I was in the theater that wasn't stocked there and I didn't even request that - extra tips are really in order for super service, and you will experience a lot of super service). There are some drinks that are free, and you can buy a cup for your child that comes in two sizes for a nominal amount ($6.50 and $8.50, I think) and they will fill it with smoothies or Shirley Temples, or anything non-alcoholic that would otherwise be charged to you for the entire week - the cup comes with a removable character that lights up.
I don't mean to discount our cabin attendant in discussing the dining room staff. She was very responsive and made it a point to ask us several times if there were any things we wanted or needed and anything that we weren't pleased with so that she could fix it (there weren't - we only wanted an extra bar of soap so that we could have one on the sink and in the shower - that's it - everything was else was perfect). We really appreciated the follow up though.
The last visit to the Animator's Palate was incredible. Everyone draws a picture within a larger form and it will come to life on the screens while you're waiting for dessert. It was really, really cool. I took a video with my cell phone and showed people at work - they were amazed. You rotate through the three dining rooms, so on a seven day cruise, you end up with your first restaurant on the first and last days for dinner (and also for breakfast on your departure morning). Because of that, we were only in the Animator's Palate twice - I wish we could have had them first. All three dining areas are nice, but the Animator's Palate was my favorite because the characters flitted across the screens and talked to you. If you want to skip a night in the formal dining rooms, there is a very nice restaurant on the 11th floor (meaning nice by adult standards) and that is also kid inclusive on the 11th floor (Cabanas) - they switch over from casual during the day to a more peaceful environment for dinner. They served the same things that we'd had for dinner the previous evening in the formal dining room, but that wasn't a problem - it was all good.
I loved how they handed you a hand sanitizing wipe before you walked into any eating area and had a hand sanitizing stand located at the ramp when you boarded the ship when coming from shore. So much better than getting the stomach flu!
We loved the live shows - they were really of a high caliber.
We also loved the people who staffed the Bingo games. They made it fun to lose our money LOL (we are still singing the B-11 song). The final jackpot was a bit misleading though - I think everyone expected a $10,000 grand prize, but they probably gave away $10,000 in total that session. The grand prize winner took home around $7,400, which is still significant. Still a positive because it was a lot of fun.
Even though getting off the ship was no fun (see below), I loved that Disney has a service where they will actually take your luggage to the airport and check it for you onto your flight. I have always hated having to pick up heavy bags after getting off the ship and haul them around because the last day of a cruise is usually just as awful as the first. This was such a nice touch and there was no charge. We saw the $25 per bag fee on our final bill, but that was just the cost that the airlines charged us per bag. They paid it in advance for us and were simply requesting reimbursement. Thank you, Disney!
Free ice cream! Our child was in heaven. It would have been nice to have a change of flavors (it was the same all week), but they did have a nice selection - strawberry, banana, chocolate, vanilla, and a spout in the middle to get half-chocolate/half-vanilla twist. I wish they would have had cups near the ice cream dispensers (my kid hates cones) so that we didn't have to walk down to the drink dispensing area to get one, but that was just a minor thing. I would imagine that parents with smaller children would have appreciated having cups available as well.
Disney will even cut your child's food at dinner - a surprising and nice touch.
There were lots of fun and kid-friendly activities on the ship, and we had no problem filling our time on sea days (I actually wish we had even more sea days!). I didn't need to visit the exercise facility - my pedometer told me that I was walking at least 8,000 steps a day, and there were two days I walked over 15,000 steps. It kept me from gaining weight on the cruise, which was a bonus.
Fireworks display on the upper deck on pirate's night were beautiful.
The cabin was awesome! It was large, relatively speaking, and had lots of storage space. We had a double length deck with two (sort-of) recliners, two regular chairs, and a small table. We had so much fun we didn't get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. The bed was heaven and I was always so tired from the activities of the day that I swear I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Our couch converted into a bed as well, and it was comfortable too (though not as comfortable as the bed). I also liked that there were separate rooms for showering and going to the bathroom, and each of them had a sink - it made it so much easier to get ready in the morning. I had a chance to peek into the inside staterooms, and it looked like they had a port-hole sized screen that gave you the view from the bridge video, which was kind of cool. I prefer an outside stateroom with a balcony because I would feel claustrophobic, but this was a nice touch on the inside.
THE NOT SO GREAT:
There are only two seating times for dinner. We chose the 8:15 seating. You learn quickly not to show up on time unless you want to stand in a horribly long and wide line, packed with people, waiting for the doors to open. I wish they had "any time" dining as we experienced with Princess in the past. I HATE the cattle calls. It really is better to not leave your stateroom until dinner is supposed to start or a few minutes later. That way, you'll miss the entry crowds and the server will catch you up.
Speaking of the 8:15 seating . . . children under five really shouldn't be allowed to have dinner this late. You don't leave the dining room until at least around 9:45, and that's just too late for kids who are still napping during the day (and who may have missed their naps during the day). Alternatively, parents with kids under five should be matched only with other parents with kids under five. We were treated to an extended toddler temper tantrum six out of seven nights, and it absolutely ruined the dining experience for us. The child could not be comforted, and the behavior continued until the kids club representative came and the parents had the child taken away to play around 9:15 so they could finish their dinner in peace. It was obvious that the kid was tired, and I really don't think that this was typical behavior for the child. This is really a deal breaker for us - when we consider Disney again (and we certainly will), if we can't have some consideration for being seated by ourselves or at a non-toddler table during the later seating, we will probably pass on the cruise. It was really that bad. The 8:15 dining room was always full (as was the cruise, with around 4200 people I think), so it wasn't a question of asking for a reassignment - there was nowhere else to go (and the earlier seating had a waiting list before the cruise started so that would have been out of the question and we didn't want that anyway, having asked for the 8:15 time before the cruise began).
An additional irritating issue had nothing to do with Disney and everything to do with the parents on the cruise. A significant number of parents seemed to want a vacation from parenting and let their kids run around the ship unsupervised (or didn't get them to bed at a decent time or allow them to nap, which caused meltdowns that should have surprised no one). The kids club for kids between 3 and 12(?) (which is the one that worked for us) is open until 12:00 on port days and 1:00 on sea days (yes, that's 1:00 in the MORNING). There is no place for the kids to nap (nor do I think there should be). It's just something to keep in mind - there will be kids underfoot and a large enough percentage of them will be screaming and crying and perhaps unsupervised in large enough numbers that you will notice it. (This is not the case with the majority of kids, and you will be treated to the sight of hundreds of little girls dressed in their favorite princess clothes - they are so cute!)
Getting off the ship was a bit of a pain because everyone needed to get off by 9:00 in the morning. They final breakfast time is based on when your dinner seating was, and there is no room service that day. I was grateful that we had the later seating because our breakfast time was 8:00. I'm not sure how the parents were able to get their kids to the dining room for the ~6:15 breakfast time (and you were expected to leave the ship following breakfast without returning to your stateroom). There were large crowds waiting to get off, but the hold up was because US Customs could only process so many people at a time and was not Disney's fault at all (they were trying to be helpful).
They were doing deck work during the afternoon and the smell of the epoxy (or whatever it was) was horrid. Not sure why they couldn't do it during a port day or in the evening when no one was relaxing on the deck. It only happened once.
NO casino! Since they advertise something for everyone, that would have been nice. It wouldn't prevent me from booking again, but I'm just used to having a casino to go to when I'm on a cruise ship and missed having one this time.
You have to pay for refreshments, candy, and popcorn if you want them during movie and live performances. I didn't mind paying for most of these things, but if I could get it at no charge while on deck (like apple juice for my child), it was irritating to have to pay for it at these locations. I suppose we could have ordered it outside and brought it in; never tried that, but it would be an unnecessary aggravation.
THE MILDLY ANNOYING BUT NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL TO US:
We forgot our child's toothpaste and she hates mint. They had a few different kinds of toothpaste, and they would have given us a complimentary tube at guest services, but they were all mint flavored. Given the number of kids on the ship, it would have been nice to be able to purchase a more kid friendly flavor like watermelon, bubble gum, etc. and I suspect they would have a hard time keeping it in stock.
For some strange reason, they closed the Aqua Duck around 10:00 on our last night of the cruise for 20 minutes (they literally shut off the water with no explanation other than it was going to close for 20 minutes). My child was really disappointed because it was the last time to go on it, and it was getting too late to wait until they opened it again (if they did at all). It closes at 11:00; not sure why they couldn't have waited to do whatever they needed to do after 11:00. We were able to go once, but we'd planned on going several times that last night.
Room service requires that you actually be in the room to receive room service. I suppose that this is normally what happens anyway, but we only wanted a plate and a knife so that we could eat a rum cake that we'd purchased on shore, and we didn't feel like hanging around for a half an hour until they could come (too many fun things to do). We ended up taking a few plates and a set of silverware from one of the outside eating areas.
Lunch at Castaway Cay should run until 2:30. We purchased tickets for an activity that started at 12:00. It was too early to eat before (because it involved a tram ride to and from the food area, which is further in than the activity area we were at), and by the time we got out of our swim clothes and took the tram to the food area, it was about 1:50 (they stop serving promptly at 2:00). The food isn't as good as on the ship, but I wouldn't expect it to be (it's advertised as a BBQ, and you can always take a tram and eat on the ship if you want, I think?).
We'd brought a special pillowcase and picture frame to be signed by the characters with special markers that my child had chosen. We got someone else's markers back (entirely different colors) and our things were signed with the other markers. Our markers and materials were clearly marked with our cabin number. I mentioned it to guest services, because I thought someone might want their markers back. By the end of the cruise, they returned our original markers but there wasn't any way to return the wrong set to whoever they belonged to. Minor screw up, and my child was still happy with the color of the signatures.
We'd signed up for a rain forest hike and were told when we showed up at the gathering location that it was cancelled for safety reasons. Fair enough, and we were able to get on another (less desirable tour to us). When we were in the gathering location for the substitute tour, they were calling people for the second rain forest hike, which started only an hour after ours! I asked why ours was cancelled and the second tour was not and never received a satisfactory answer beyond there was a high probability the second tour would be cancelled which was delivered in kind of a dismissive manner (as in no further discussion please). It wasn't clear that the second tour was cancelled, which begged the question why - surely if the trails were too wet an hour earlier, they wouldn't have miraculously dried in that short of a time. We talked to a second family who was had signed up for the first departure and ended up on the same substitute tour, and they felt the same way - no one had an issue cancelling for safety reasons, but the reason for the cancellation was certainly called into doubt when we overhead the second tour being called to leave.
In sum, we really enjoyed Disney, and there really is a "Disney difference." The only thing that would keep us away from a Disney cruise again would be if we couldn't get a dining room assignment for the 8:15 seating that did not include a toddler. We may end up on another cruise line for our next cruise anyway because it looks like Disney is stopping the southern Caribbean cruises; I didn't see any for 2015. ) : Read Less