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The Disney Dream Cruise: What to Know Before You Go

The good, the bad and the obligatory character photo ops.

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Cruises are not the sort of vacations to book haphazardly. Since you and your family will be stuck, er, living on the ship for a few days, you need to do extensive research before you charge thousands of dollars on your credit card. Most importantly, you need to read about what it's actually like on the ship. Which is why Trips + Giggles has hit up Tracy, a mom of three (ages 12, 10 and 8), for her first person account of a trip on The Disney Dream Cruise ship this past summer.

Have a specific question about what else is on the ship? Send it to us and we'll answer it for ya. And be sure to read this updated post from Tracy that answers a reader's many questions. 

In true Disney fashion, the Disney Cruise Line exceeded the expectations of its guests at every possible turn. Our ship, The Disney Dream, lived up to its name in creating lasting memories for everyone in our family. It will be a trip that will be difficult to top. Even the weather was perfect, with clear skies and calm seas. It is amazing the magic Disney can perform. smile

THE GOOD

When you arrive on the ship you are greeted by a line of “cast members” who announce your arrival and welcome you onto the ship. The kids feel like movie stars as you are escorted into the lobby of the ship which is reminiscent of ships from the golden ages. Beautiful artwork, chandeliers and ornate staircases transport you into a time when travel on ships was only for the elite. Nothing has been skimped on on this ship!

The beauty of the common area carries throughout to the staterooms. They are kept at such a level of pristine cleanliness you wonʼt mind a stray Goldfish being eaten off of the floor. The stateroom staff services the room twice a day and it shows. They know when you leave for breakfast and what time your dinner seating is, so you are never interrupted by housekeeping. Your stateroom is transformed from a living area during the day to a sleeping area at night, making it functional at all times. The beds for our three children in our “deluxe family stateroom” completely disappeared during the day. That combined with plenty of storage space and two bathrooms, (one has a shower/bathtub and sink, the other a toilet and sink), and our family of five had plenty of room to stay out of each otherʼs way.

There is something for everyone, large and small, and you will run out of time before you run out of things to do. Every evening you receive a “Personal Navigator” in your stateroom, listing all of the next dayʼs activities. There is also an app that can be activated for free on your phone. The trick is you must activate it before you leave port or you will be unable to access it since there is no internet or cell service (See below.) We found it to be a huge help because you can search for exactly what you are looking for instead of scouring the Navigator.

Our favorite activity was the live shows. They are Broadway-worthy productions that were enjoyed by everyone. They are somewhat crowded, but are timed around the dinner services to make sure everyone gets a seat. We arrived late and still had no problem sitting together. Movies are shown throughout the day to give you another option if the sun and fun gets to be a little too much. The theaters have stadium seating ensuring a good view for even the smallest of moviegoers.

Castaway Cay, Disneyʼs island, was also a fan favorite. We were a little concerned that we were unable to rent a cabana since by the time we looked into it they were all booked. Our concerns were unnecessary. We had no problem getting chairs on the beach, right up close to the ocean. The kids loved the water obstacle course and the slide, as well as snorkeling for “hidden Mickey”. The island lunch buffet was crowded but manageable. Get there as soon as the ship docks, or stay until they throw you off smile and you can practically have the island to yourself

Every night is a different “theme night” with a party and activities centered around it. Our favorite was “Pirate Night." Boys and girls both loved getting dressed up in full pirate costumes for this one. Bring your own costume, or purchase one on the ship for your favorite pirate. They put small pirate themed accessories in your stateroom, so even if you donʼt feel the need to purchase something, your child will not feel left out from the festivities. The dance party went well into the evening, with plenty of cast members on had to dance with the kids. They even had an exceptional fireworks display! We were told they are the only cruise line to have a shipboard fireworks display. The kids thought it was amazing to see the fireworks “up close”.

While we did not use the babysitting or the kids club, we did utilize “Edge”, the “tween” club. I think we could have left the kids there for the entire trip. What I expected to be a bunch of pre teens staring blankly at video games and t.v. turned out to be anything but the case. Enthusiastic cast members engaged the children in game show type trivia contests, scavenger hunts and mad science activities. They begged to go back!

The restaurant staff is top notch, and will travel with you to each of your assigned restaurant locations (unless you dine “adult only”, those restaurants have a separate, dedicated staff). They go above and beyond to make sure all of your expectations are exceeded. We had four servers for our family of five within five minutes on the first night, they knew our childrenʼs names and interests and acted accordingly. When our older children took off for Edge halfway through a dinner but our younger one refused the kids camp, one of the servers sat at our table for the rest of our dinner to entertain her while we enjoyed our adult time. By entertain, I donʼt mean a coloring book and crayons. He showed her magic tricks, brought out items for her to make a sundae and even crafts for the theme night. They will do basically anything to make you dinner easier, right down to cutting all of your childrenʼs food smile

That being said, there is a reason for all of the attentiveness. Most of the staff work almost exclusively for tips. You will be presented with cards in your stateroom with the “suggested minimum” amounts for the members of the crew who have provided you with services. You are expected to give these out on your last day. If you would like to avoid the awkwardness, you can pre-pay the tips when you book your trip.

THE BAD

While the good far outweighs the bad the Disney Cruise, there are a few things that require some, ahem, "management of expectations." The character photo op experiences on the ship are one. The characters on the ship are like rock stars. Expect long lines of star struck kids (and adults), anxiously awaiting a photo and autograph. Line up early if you donʼt want to get shut out. A better option is to go to the photo ops that are at odd times. Late in the evening and during the first dinner seating worked well for us.

There is no cell service on the ship. Once you leave port, say goodbye to your electronic devices! The ship utilizes “wave phones”, old school looking cordless phones, to allow you to communicate with your family. There are only two per stateroom, leaving you to decide which family member is most likely to need to contact another and then giving it to them. They were difficult to use and if you donʼt remember to rotate them in the roomʼs one charger you will be woken up in the middle of the night to a low battery beep. Certainly Disney can do better!

The first stop on our cruise was Nassau, Bahamas. It had been quite a while since we had been there, so off the ship we went to take in some of the local scenery. Big mistake. Once you leave the dock you are accosted by locals trying to sell you everything from gum to taxi rides. From others we spoke to, you either have to pay a fortune for the excursion to The Atlantis Resort or else, stay on the ship. There must be a better place they could find to go to port!

As for staying on the ship (which we did after our brief tour of Nassau), expect the pools to be crowded. Really, really crowded. New York City public pool crowded. It was very hot during our trip, there is no breeze on the decks due to the plexiglass covering all of the railings. The only way to beat the heat if you want to stay outside is in the pools, which seemed too small for the amount of people onboard. Seating in the shade is also very scarce. Be prepared with lots of sunscreen! Keep in mind that due to laws of some kind, they are unable to allow the shops to be open while in port. So if you have forgotten some sort of essential item you are out of luck until they open the shops up in the evening.

Dinner service is extremely rushed. You no sooner order your meal then it is sitting in front of you. Even when we requested it to be dragged out, we were told they were unable to do so. That's a big plus when traveling with young children, but we have worked long and hard to get our older kids to the point where they will sit through a longer meal and not explode. If you want a more leisurely experience, stop for cocktails at one of the bars beforehand (they will happily make mocktails for your kids), or dine in one of the adult only establishments.

Beware of cocktails/mocktails, bottled water, or anything that comes in a “themed” cup of any kind. Even though they are handing it to you as you go walking by, they are not comped. They will catch up to you eventually to charge you for them. Disney is unique, however, that they will allow you to carry on bottled water and alcohol to the ship. While we didnʼt find the prices on their alcohol to be outrageous, the prices for the bottled water were. There is a refrigerator in the stateroom to keep things cold and bringing the water on saved us a fortune. Purchase a cooler in the giftshop, fill it with ice & bring it with you to Castaway Cay. They charge around $40 for a cooler of water when you get off the ship.

While you can take the Magical Express to and from the airport or Disney hotels to the ship, there is now a charge for it. At $70 a person, it can add up to quite an expense for a family of five, not to mention then you are on their time, not yours. We found it much more convenient and economical to rent a car at the airport and drive to the port. You get to the port on your time, depart on your time, and the cost of the car and parking was significantly less then the charge for the Magical Express. Parking is located right next to the terminal, and you can drop your bags with the cruise line valet so you donʼt have to lug them across into the terminal.

THE BOTTOM LINE

All in all, it was our favorite trip. When you return home, you receive a little memento of thanks, as well as your membership into the Castaway Club, the cruise line “frequent” traveler club. When you travel on the cruise again (and you will), you get little perks like a welcome back gift, a dedicated booking line, as well as earlier access to booking some of the things on board that may sell out. We received all of those perks, even though the last time we cruised was eight years ago.

A three-night Bahamian cruise on The Disney Dream next month, leaving from Port Canaveral, Florida, begins at $2,315 for two adults and two children. That does not include ground transfers or air travel nor gratuities for the staff. However, if you book air travel through Disney, the ground transfer will be included.

Have you taken a Disney Cruise before? Share your experiences in comments below! 

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