So is the Disney Dream enough to make you consider your first Disney cruise?

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer
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So you've been hearing a lot about the Disney Dream, but you've never been aboard a Disney ship (or maybe even any cruise ship)? Are you wondering what the deal with this new Disney Cruise Line ship, or whether it's a big enough reason to finally take the plunge and go on your first Disney Cruise? I boarded the Disney Dream for its Christening Voyage wondering the same thing about taking my family for a vacation. Since I'd never been aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship before, much less on any ship in 15 years, you could say I'm looking at it with the same "newbie" eyes that you would be.

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix will be reviewing the ship from a Disney cruise veteran's point of view, but if you're a potential first-time cruiser, this is probably a good place for you to start. I'm going to try to compare a cruise aboard the Disney Dream to a visit to Walt Disney World. Let's see how we do.


Commodore Donald Duck welcomes guests to the Disney Dream's atrium. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Cost

"What's it going to cost me?" is always one of the first things anyone asks about a vacation. While the list price may give you pause, one thing to consider is that it may be the only price that you pay for the trip.

Let's not even go for the low-priced cabin. How about we do a Category 5D Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah? Picking a random cruise date of September 11-15 (because there was actually a cabin available on that date to price out), the cost for a family of four (two adults, plus two kids ages 7 and 12) is $2,554.88, including government taxes and fees.

Now, let's take a look at those same dates for the same family at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We'll give them five-day park hopper passes and the Disney Dining Plan to cover most of their food. That comes out to a total of $2,535.14, and there will likely still be some food costs or incidentals coming out of pocket.

That's a pretty close comparison, isn't it? Now, on the cruise, you'll also have to pay gratuities for your dining room server, assistant server and head waiter, as well as your cabin steward (more on that later). However, on land you'll still need to pay gratuities at any table service restaurant, as well as any food that isn't covered by the dining plan credits. You may also wish to tip your Mousekeeper for cleaning your room.

Seems like the cost isn't so outrageous, is it? Let's continue.

Staterooms

Not surprisingly, your cabin aboard the ship is smaller than a hotel room at Walt Disney World. That Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah checks in at 246 square feet. Compare that with 260 square feet in a Value resort on land. That Moderate room at the Caribbean Beach Resort is 314 square feet in size.


Beyond the glare through the curtains, this spacious Category 5A stateroom has a verandah with two chairs and a small table. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


Some Category 11 inside staterooms have bunk beds for the kids. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The smallest staterooms, the Category 11 Inside Staterooms, clock in at only 169 square feet. That's enough for a queen-size bed, a single convertible sofa or bunk beds, and a bathroom with a tub and shower. The room actually still feels pretty spacious for two, and it's designed with lots of open space in the middle, since with no verandah the bed can go against the back wall. But never fear, you still have a view of the outside—Disney Imagineers have provided a Magical Porthole, which provides a live view from outside the ship, with special visits from Disney characters at random intervals.


Take a look at the Magical Porthole room!

As on all cruise ships, each cabin is assigned a cabin steward. This person is available for you whenever you need anything. They make up your room, bring you any room service requests, deliver special gifts or necessary materials such as your Personal Navigator (your guide to what's happening on the ship) and a bag of towels for use on Castaway Cay. While I didn't really require much from Omar, my cabin steward on the Christening Voyage, the room was always made up, and things continued to appear on my bed every afternoon and/or evening.

In all cabins above the Category 11, bathrooms are split. That means that there are two bathroom doors. One leads to a toilet and a sink, the other leads to your tub/shower and another sink. In this way, you can have two people getting ready at separate sinks, or you can have one person showering while the other goes to the bathroom without any issues. One note: since there really isn't any extra space between decks, some of the necessary drainage and other mechanical items mean that the bathroom floor is raised slightly above the level of your stateroom floor. You'll also have to step over a short bulkhead seal to get in. It'll take a little getting used to, then you'll forget about it for the rest of the cruise.

Dining

Ah, food—one of the best parts of a Disney vacation! When at Walt Disney World, you may eat at a table service restaurant each night, or you may stick with counter service. On board the Disney Dream, you've got options across the spectrum. There are three large "rotation" restaurants, where you dine in a different restaurant each night. Your servers rotate restaurants along with you, so you won't have to explain your food preferences to somebody different each night. In my case, since the others assigned to eat at my table did not appear either night, my server Corinne (from France) and assistant server Tundi (from Hungary) provided excellent conversation and company as they stopped by during my meal each night.

The rotation restaurants are large, as they each have to accommodate one-sixth of the passengers each night (since there are two seatings per night). With maximum capacity around 4,000, each restaurant has to handle over 600 passengers per seating. Despite this, the clever partitioning of the dining areas keeps the feeling somewhat more intimate than you'd expect of a room that size. Each restaurant has a different theme.

The Enchanted Garden is themed to the gardens of Versailles (and, according to Corinne, they did a very accurate job, especially in the landscape images on the walls). The center of the restaurant features a fountain with Mickey as Cupid atop it. The lighting in the restaurant changes with the time of day, so breakfast and lunch diners will see a daytime sky above, rather than the evening sky for dinner. Enchanted Garden serves "continental market cuisine."


The Caramelized Sea Scallops with Roasted Asparagus, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Pearl Pasta, garnished with Caramelized Leeks and Veal Jus Reduction at Enchanted Garden may have been my favorite dish of the trip. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The Royal Palace carries a princess theme, though it's somewhat subdued. An insignia worked into the marble floor in the entryway and paintings of Disney princesses "before and after," along with their transformational magical moment, decorate parts of the walls. This restaurant had by far my favorite server costume, and even though the "liveried servant" look skews somewhat male in appearance, Corinne and Tundi still rocked it. French cuisine is served at the Royal Palace.


The crest features hints of Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, and Snow White at the entrance to the Royal Palace restaurant. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


Corinne suggested the Double-Baked Spinach Souffle at the Royal Palace, and it was excellent. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Finally, Animator's Palate serves Pacific Rim cuisine. While I did not eat here, the menu offerings looked wonderful. As with Animator's Palate on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, the restaurant undergoes a transformation during dinner. However, the Disney Dream has a special take, in that guests will be visited at or near their tables by Crush, from Finding Nemo, is a similar vein to his appearance at the "human tank" at Epcot.


Check out the special guest at Animator's Palate!

Not up for a table-service meal? You can head to the buffet at Cabanas, or visit the counter-service windows at Flo's V8 Cafe (themed to Cars), both on Deck 11. Fountain beverages are complimentary all day and all night at both locations, and it doesn't require a purchase of a refillable mug. You can also stop for smoothies or ice cream at Frozone Treats or Eye Scream (themed to The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc., respectively).

For those looking for a more upscale meal, there are two adults-only restaurants with more elite food and an additional price tag. For a $20 per person upcharge, there is Palo, similar to the restaurants by the same name aboard the Magic and the Wonder. For those looking for an even more spectacular experience, for a $75 upcharge you can dine at Remy, themed to Gusteau's from the movie Ratatouille. Word from a MousePlanet staffer who ate there on the Maiden Voyage was that it was 4.5 hours of culinary amazement.


Remy provides an elegant fine-dining experience for Disney Dream guests. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Of course, there are also lounges throughout the ship for your alcoholic (or non-alcoholic) pleasure, and desserts are also available at the Cove Cafe.

Adults should not miss The District. Even if you don't drink, you've got to check out these wonderfully themed locations. The District is home to five adult nightclubs: the District Lounge, a piano bar; Pink, a champagne-themed bar that makes you feel like you're inside a champagne glass; 687, a sports bar named for the ship's construction number; Evolution, a dance club; and the Skyline Lounge, themed as a penthouse above five of the world's largest cities, with a series of seven "windows" behind the bar showing images from those cities that are actually real-time images. In some of the cities, you can see even traffic moving along the streets. Cityscapes changes every 15 minutes with a pixie dust effect that also changes a piece of artwork on the opposing wall and even the background music that's playing.


Paris is probably my favorite of the five cities that appear in the "penthouse windows" of The Skyline Lounge. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Activities

As at Walt Disney World, special experiences are available for additional charge, and they're available from the Dream as well. Instead of a guided tour at the parks, however, these take the guise of guided shore excursions. When the ship docks in Nassau (it did not on the shortened Christening Voyage), there are guided excursions to various locations and transportation to other locations. Of course, you can opt to take the no-cost route and explore on your own, or even just stay on the ship and enjoy the less-crowded experience.


Comfy deck chairs allow cruisers to enjoy some quiet away from the pools. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


There are lots of little hideaways to relax quietly aboard the Dream. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

On Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, there is food (included in the cost of the cruise) at Cookie's BBQ and Cookie's Too, plus all sorts of beach activities that can be enjoyed at no cost (including the water slides at Pelican Plunge), plus there are some excursions and services (such as cabana rentals) available for additional charge.


No tenders here! Disney Cruise Line ships pull right up to the pier at Castaway Cay, with no need for tenders, allowing guests to leave and return to the ship at will. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, is so beautiful that you'll be disappointed that the ship is only docked for six hours or so. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


If you're hungry while at Castaway Cay, Cookie's BBQ (staffed by your ship's dining room servers) has some great barbeque food for you. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


There's no shortage of places to go or things to do at Castaway Cay. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Of course, there's so much available to do on the ship that you almost don't want to get off the boat, even in Castaway Cay (but don't miss the island, it's really worth the visit). From Broadway-style theater presentations in the Walt Disney Theatre to first-run movies in the Buena Vista Theatre, from the kids, tween and teen clubs to the nursery to the spa and salon (upcharge), from the deck parties to the movies on the "funnel vision" screen to the "Buccaneer Blast" fireworks during the "Pirates IN the Caribbean" deck party, from finding all of the "enchanted artwork" (made easier by playing Mickey's Midship Detective Agency game) to the Mickey water slide, there's so much to do aboard that you may not even notice that you're aboard a ship.


The main lounge at Vibe, the teen club, features a variety of seating in front of a giant video screen. Note the nooks along the wall where kids can plug in their iPods and watch videos on overhead or standard screens. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


I chat with some of the cast of Disney's Believe, one of the Broadway-style shows aboard the Disney Dream.

Oh, did I forget to mention the AquaDuck? The world's first water coaster at sea, the AquaDuck sends you 12 feet over the side of the ship (150 feet over the Atlantic), then down and up and down and up again, through the ship's front funnel (viewable from three portholes in The Edge tween club), and gives you a leisurely glide along the other side of the ship before coming to a stop on the outrun. It's an absolute rush, and no cruise aboard the Dream would be complete without a run or two. Check out my run below.


I felt so "Travel Channel" recording this!


The AquaDuck takes riders 12 feet past the side of the ship. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


Riders enjoy a run down the AquaDuck at sunset. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

So is it worth it?

So is a cruise aboard the Disney Dream worth it? My answer is an emphatic yes.

While I wouldn't completely forego Walt Disney World vacations for cruises aboard the Disney Dream, it is certainly on the map for recurring vacations—and my wife, my son, and I are already planning our first trip aboard this magnificent ship.

Comments

  1. By SJF510

    Great article, Mark. One comment on your cost analysis, however. There is an intangible that you forgot to consider (said with a huge smile). I would say it is unique to my family, but I have seen it come up in other discussions as well. If you take a cruise with DCL, the schedule typically will allow you to "swing by" for a few days at WDW as well. (Isn't that kind of them? ). And given the Disney geeks that many of us are, those couple extra days can stretch into a few etc. Working the other way, it is far less likely that if you have a WDW trip planned that you would "swing by" for a cruise. I think all things considered that makes a Central Florida vacation that includes DCL slighty more expensive/intensive then just a park trip.

    Believe me, I think it is a huge treat to be able to do both. We have a trip planned for May that includes park days and smack in the middle, 4 days on the new Disney Dream! But what started as a 4 day cruise is now a 10 vacation! (Poor us ) I say this mostly with humor, but it is something to think about.

  2. By Joysnote

    Loved your article! I have sailed with DCL previousley, twice on Magic and three times on Wonder and have been booked for Dream since February last year!

    For us, I have to agree it turns out roughly the same amount of money for a WDW or DCL vacation cost per day. I thought Disney Cruising would be out of our budget but it really isn't. We are a family of 5, so we generally have to stay deluxe and our options on Magic and Wonder were limited to the family stateroom but am very happy that Dream has a lot more options for families of 5. Having a verandah has been wonderful and couldn't give it up, but now there are some cheaper options. We personally would rather skip many shore excursuions in favor of the verandah but every family is different.

    It is all about timing just like with WDW, cruising in Jan, Sept, Oct and Nov really cuts costs and since we are a home schooling family, school isn't a factor.

    I also agree for us traveling from Ohio, it makes sense for us to add a trip to WDW before and or after cruising, if we're already down there, just makes sense to pop over to WDW!

  3. By Mark Goldhaber

    Quote Originally Posted by SJF510 View Post
    Great article, Mark. One comment on your cost analysis, however. There is an intangible that you forgot to consider (said with a huge smile). I would say it is unique to my family, but I have seen it come up in other discussions as well. If you take a cruise with DCL, the schedule typically will allow you to "swing by" for a few days at WDW as well. (Isn't that kind of them? ). And given the Disney geeks that many of us are, those couple extra days can stretch into a few etc. Working the other way, it is far less likely that if you have a WDW trip planned that you would "swing by" for a cruise. I think all things considered that makes a Central Florida vacation that includes DCL slighty more expensive/intensive then just a park trip.
    I agree. When working into a longer stay, the incremental cost differs largely because the cost of the additional park pass days is negligible vs. the cost of the first 3-4 days. That would hold even more true for a 7-day WDW stay vs. back-to-back cruises. However, the main idea of the piece was to show that, for the average family, a cruise isn't really that out of reach as a vacation idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by Joysnote View Post
    Loved your article! I have sailed with DCL previousley, twice on Magic and three times on Wonder and have been booked for Dream since February last year!

    For us, I have to agree it turns out roughly the same amount of money for a WDW or DCL vacation cost per day. I thought Disney Cruising would be out of our budget but it really isn't. We are a family of 5, so we generally have to stay deluxe and our options on Magic and Wonder were limited to the family stateroom but am very happy that Dream has a lot more options for families of 5. Having a verandah has been wonderful and couldn't give it up, but now there are some cheaper options. We personally would rather skip many shore excursuions in favor of the verandah but every family is different.

    Six cruises! I'm jealous! You're going to love the Dream. It's a magnificent ship.

    I'm not really big on shore excursions, expecially in Nassau. In fact, when we do go on our cruise, I'll be lobbying to stay on the ship during Nassau day. (You'd better believe I'll be getting off at Castaway Cay, though!)

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