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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
(Send an email to Mark Goldhaber)
Mark (@MPMark) is a veteran of dozens of trips to Walt Disney World starting in 1972, with a few Disneyland trips thrown in for good measure. As a Disney stockholder and a Disney Vacation Club member, Mark is always in touch with what's going on with The Mouse. Mark serves as MousePlanet's Walt Disney World content coordinator. Mark is a senior information technology manager working for the State of New York. He lives in the suburbs outside Albany, New York, with his wife and son.