Three Days on the Disney Dream
A family trip report
Day Three on the Disney Dream
Our last full day on the Dream, we docked at Castaway Cay, Disney's private Caribbean island, an exclusive stop for passengers on the line's four ships (the Magic, the Wonder, thei and the Dream). But before we disembarked, I had one more tour to take, that of the ship's four kids' clubs. My kids had been only to the Edge, for tweens, so it was great getting a peek at the spaces for babies, kids up to 10 and teens (click here for photos and details).
After a breakfast buffet at Enchanted Garden, which my husband and I had missed at dinner the previous night due to our Palo interlude, we grabbed our Key to the World cards and some sunblock and headed down to the gangplank to Castaway Cay. It was a windy, choppy day (as you can see from this picture taken at the boating dock), which meant that, for our second time at Castaway, the excursion we had so been looking forward to — parasailing — was canceled due to weather. (Apparently, they could get us up in the air but couldn't promise they'd get us down again!)
No matter. We had enjoyed the tube floats, Pelican Plunge slide and beach views on our previous trip, so this time we headed over to the bike rental shack. Wheeled and helmeted up, we rode over to the Lookout Tower (which gives a great view of both the resorty and unspoiled sides of the island), then over toward the adults-only beach (there's an on-island kids' club to leave parents unfettered here, too), past a golf cart carrying a waving Captain Jack Sparrow, fresh off a meet-and-greet. The path was smooth and the 5K ride left us hungry for some BBQ at Cookie's, all part of the inclusive meal plan. We had a bite, shot some hoops and played ping-pong in the sports lean-to, then made our way back to the ship in time for one of our favorite Disney experiences — character drawing class.
We first tried our hand at drawing Disney characeters during our third trips to the Orlando parks, at the wonderful Animation Academy in the Magic of Disney of Animation building at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Over our visits, we've drawn Buzz Lightyear, Dopey, Pluto, Stitch. A lower-key version of this program is offered on the cruise ships, and it just wouldn't be a Disney trip without getting our sketch on. Held in the all-ages nightclub D Lounge, this class focused on side views of Mickey and Pluto. I won't be hired as an animator anytime soon, but I was pretty happy with my handiwork this go-round.
After class, we packed our luggage so we could enjoy the last night aboard without the onerous chore hanging over our heads. Dinner was in the Royal Palace, a marquis restaurant space decked out with princess portraits and a chandelier adorned with Cindy's glass slippers. Menu highlight: the escargot appetizer, with meaty morsels and crusty bread in a yummy buttery sauce. My kids first tried (and loved) escargots on our Fantasy trip and they devoured the dish once again. Because we had to disembark the ship early the next morning, we'd miss our appointed sit-down breakfast. So this was our last chance to say goodbye to Storm and Estawar — and time to give them their gratuity envelopes. Disney makes tipping the easy, charging a standard amount per crew member to your stateroom, then providing you with a printed coupon whose total you can adjust before you turn the envelope over to your hard-working server or stateroom host.
Post-dinner it was off for one last show in the Walt Disney Theatre — Believe. The only repeat performance from our time on the Fantasy, Believe got me right in the mom heart both times I've seen it, trotting out the tearjerking "Baby Mine" and throwing in a dash of Mary Poppins, my all-time favorite movie heroine.
Not ready to give up the ship just yet, the kids and I (sans one pooped-out husband) made our way to the lobby for "Sea Ya Real Soon," a musical good-bye from Captain Mickey and mates preceded by last-chance character meet-and-greets. We grabbed a shot with Chip and Dale, and once we told Daisy Duck she shared a name with our puppy, my younger son got extra kisses.
Speaking of extras, we had one final stop to make, back to the Buena Vista Theater for an 11pm screening of Muppets Most Wanted. I love me some Kermit, Fozzy and Animal, not to mention Rickey Gervais and Tina Fey, but this flick didn't land with me the way Frozen had just two nights earlier. The kids loved it, though, and were loath to leave their seats, knowing that was the last gasp of the trip.
Bright and early next morning, docked again at Port Canaveral, we gathered our luggage, wheeled it over to Cabanas for one more breakfast buffet, then took our spot on the express checkout line. At 7am on the dot, the queue moved forward quickly, and before we knew it we were off the ship and whisked through customs, awaiting our ride back to the airport. As it turns out, our flight was delayed and we would have had time for the traditional sit-down breakfast with our servers and the return trip to Orlando on the Disney Cruise Line shuttle. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
And there will be a next time. . . . Despite all we packed into three days, the ship had so much more to offer than we'd had time to sample. We were lucky to have already known the ship's deck plan–we spoke to fellow passengers who were just getting their bearings when it was time to leave. This three-day trip only whetted our appetite for more; we've already priced out and started saving toward the weeklong Wonder cruise to Alaska for next summer.
Day Two on the Disney Dream
Day 2 of our three-night Caribbean cruise on the Disney Dream started with an immersive experience: a rare capuccino-fueled Q&A session with the Dream hotel director Lisa Picket and cruise director Christiaan Abbott. They filled us in on just what it takes to ensure smooth sailing for everyone aboard, guests and crew alike.
Breakfast followed at Cabanas' buffet. The boys loaded their plates with bacon strips and Mickey waffles, while I chose something a bit more Mediterranean, smoked trout, salmon, capers and tomatoes. We ate on the outside deck overlooking our port of call for the day, Nassau (at right). According to Christiaan, about half of Dream guests typically disembark to explore the Bahamian capital during the three-night cruise; we chose to stay on board and explore the ship's amenities.
For the boys, that meant water play and sports. We booked them a half-hour in Goofy's Sports Simulator, where they worked on their hockey slapshots, then hit the Aquaduck. As they had on the Fantasy, they had a blast on this most unique of water coasters, loving the way you can look out at the ocean while speeding through the transparent parts of the tube. They didn't love the windy weather, though, and spent the majority of the afternoon on Goofy's Sports Deck, playing pick-up basketball, mini golf, foosball and ping-pong (a bit challenging due to the wind). Here, they also had proximity to a constant food source, running down a flight to the pool deck to Luigi's food window for pizza, itself located around the corner from Mike's Eye Scream & Frozone station, where they no doubt squeezed out cone after cone of self-serve soft-serve ice cream.
I don't know the exact cone count because at that very time, my husband and I were popping the cork on a bottle of Prosecco while lounging on heated tile recliners in the Rainforest Room at Senses Spa. After a blissful hour of just sitting, we hopped among the room's other attractions, including a variety of shower pods that shot water out at different temperatures and rhythms as well as three separate saunas (bathing suits are required throughout). Hammam, our favorite, was a steam bath with a dry, Southwestern feel that reminded us of the New Mexico climate we so enjoyed on another great family vacation we'd taken to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Primed for some extra pampering, we then went our own ways for separate hourlong spa treatments, a luxury shave/face massage for my husband and a hydrating facial for me (it's been a brutal, drying winter).
Super-relaxed now, we met back up with the boys to plot out the rest of the night. They were scheduled to eat at the Enchanted Garden rotational restaurant with another teen we'd met onboard while my husband and I ate at the adults-only Italian respite Palo.
Having experienced a Palo dinner on the Fantasy, we were eager to return. The elegantly appointed space offers breathtaking views out of its panoramic windows, and the food is as elevated as the atmosphere. Our server, Simone from Italy, expertly assembled an antipasto while we sipped our cocktails (the "Gin Garden" was noteworthy). My meal is pictured below: a pesto shrimp appetizer, lobster papperdelle in a light creamy sauce (there's that pasta again) and the restaurant's signature chocolate souffle (served with chocolate and vanilla sauces). It was the perfect way to end the grownup portion of our cruise.
The show in the Walt Disney Theatre that night was Villains, a musical mashup of the most dastardly bad guys ever animated (Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar, Cruella DeVil), hosted by Hades himself, after Hercules had bested him. Silly stuff, and the kids dug it.
After the curtain fell, it was time to don our swashbuckling best (in Disney speak, pirate bandannas with Mickey or Goofy ears attached) and head back to the pool deck for Pirates IN the Caribbean. This 10-minute Captain Jack Sparrow-led stage show is followed by fireworks at sea, a rarity Disney Cruise Line pioneered. The effect is incredible and, almost more amazingly, the firework shells used are eco-friendly; they turn into safe fish food once they're shot off.
There was a pirate dance party on deck after the fireworks, but we instead made our way back to Cabanas for a go at the late-night buffet. I was still stuffed from Palo, but the boys wanted to tuck into the emu-sized turkey legs Disney serves on its ships and in the parks. Needless to say, the turkey legs won that round, as the kids finished just a fraction before surrendering. They knew they had to pace themselves; we had one more very full day ahead of us.
Two weeks ago, my family and I flew down to Florida for a three-night cruise on the Disney Dream. Being die-hard Walt Disney World-goers and having spent a highly entertaining week in 2012 on the Dream's sister ship, the Disney Fantasy, traveling with extended family (eight adults and five kids, ages 5 to 13), we happily accepted Disney's generous invitation to experience the long weekend-length sailing to see if the seafaring would offer as much family fun for just our nuclear unit — me, my husband and our two sons, 14 and 11. The answer: a resounding yes. I'll tell you why over the next three blog posts, each covering a day of our oceanic adventure.
The Disney Dream: Day 1
Getting to the Dream
Disney makes getting to the ship foolproof. The night before sailing, we returned from the Magic Kingdom to our room at Disney's Yacht Club to find our embarkation marching orders: Leave our luggage (save for a day bag with travel essentials) tagged with a set of provided ID labels inside our door by 8am, then meet by 11:45am at the adjacent Beach Club's Solarium for a noon drive to Port Canaveral. By 8:04am, bell services had picked up our luggage, giving us time to leisurely stroll the Boardwalk area while our fellow guests hustled to get to the parks in time for their first Fast Pass. By 11:30am, we were checked in at the Solarium by two efficient cast members who escorted a group of 50 or so of us to a Disney Cruise bus that, as promised, rolled out of the lot promptly by noon.
Much like Disney's Magical Express, which transports guests from Orlando International Airport to the WDW resorts, the Disney Cruise shuttle travels among the airport, Walt Disney World's various resorts and Port Canaveral. You can tell the difference between the two, as the cruise buses have big portholes for windows as opposed to the Magical Express' traditional rectangular ones. The hourlong drive passed quickly, with a cruise preview, trivia game and Disney cartoons playing on the TV screens.
Once we were cleared to enter the port, we moved briskly through an airport-like security checkpoint, then got on a well-managed registration queue. Because we had sailed with Disney before (which meant they had vital info like our passport numbers and photos on file) and had completed our registration documents online prior to the trip (a real time-saver once you get to the port), we were checked in and issued our Key to the World cards (our stateroom key and de facto credit card) in no time and ready to board the ship.
A stroll through a cut-out Mickey (above) put us in a line for a quick preboarding family photo, then at the cusp of the grand lobby, where we were greeted by a cast member with mic in hand. She asked our name, then announced us regally as crew members applauded our entrance. As on the Fantasy, that first glimpse of the luxe lobby, dramatic staircase and exquisite chandelier's (left) a breathtaking one. Luckily, as the Dream's a near twin of the Fantasy, we knew exactly where to go next.
The boys were famished, so they and my husband headed off to the buffet-style restaurant Cabanas, which serves an astounding spread for breakfast and lunch every day. While they gorged themselves on cracked crab legs, shrimp, mac-and-cheese and assorted comfort foods, I was privy to the Art of the Theme Show, a tour any passenger over the age of 18 can take.
On the tour I learned, among other cool tidbits, that the ship's decor is a modern interpretation of the splendor of cruising's golden age and the hull's painted in colors reminiscent of Mickey Mouse, down to the Disney-patented "Mickey yellow" of the lifeboats. Every space contains an elegant nod to Disney characters, from the Remy-silhouetted chair scrollwork in the adults-only restaurant named for the little Ratatouille hero to a tiny Dumbo suspended in a blown-glass bubble, a "pink elephant on parade" in the Champagne bar Pink. (See pics of this fun tour on our Disney Dream Decor Pinterest board.)
A Dream of a stateroom
Given the economy of space necessary on a ship, the spaciousness of our stateroom was again a happy surprise. A comfy queen bed is raised off the floor, so luggage can slip underneath (after being whisked away from us at the Yacht Club, ours was efficiently waiting for us at our cabin's door). A couch turns into a single bed for one of the boys; a bunk unfolds from above for the other. Two bathroom areas, one with commode and sink, the other with a full tub/shower and sink, allow for several members of a party to get ready simultaneously. We also had a private verandah, which we happily used to take in the ocean views during the minimal prep time we spent there during the day. Other stateroom perks: a TV tuned into satellite with plenty of channels, individual temp control and ample closet and cabinet space.
Above: Our stateroom, verandah and pull-down bunk. Next page: on-board activities, entertainment and an animated dinner that Crush-ed it!
Afternoon activities delight
In our stateroom, we found that day's Navigator, the daily four-page guide that gives passengers all the info they need to know about the activities, land excursions and weather of the day. Sectioned by time slot and age group, the Navigator's truly easy to navigate, and along with your Key to the World card it's the only thing you absolutely need to take with you around the ship.
After the mandatory (and very brief) lifeboat safety drill (only the crew members don life jackets as a demonstration), we were off to the shipboard Sailing Away party, where Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and a few other characters (including my family's perennial faves, Chip and Dale) danced the ship out of the port. The party takes place on the pool deck (at left), giving guests their first real view of the massive Funnel Vision movie screen above the Mickey pool, the smaller Donald pool, the Nemo-themed preschoolers-only splash-park area and the Aquaduck, the tube-enclosed water coaster that races round the upper decks. To close the opening festivities, Captain Guus tooted the ship's horn, which plays nautical renditions of seven recognizable Disney tunes. We were steaming toward Nassau.
Knowing that most of the other 4,000 or so guests were just getting to their staterooms, the boys wanted to take advantage of the uncrowded halls by playing a round of the Midship Detective Agency. This interactive mystery game lets players solve clues embedded in the "enchanted artwork" throughout the ship. When you approach a given painting, you raise a card (at right) that unlocks an animation, and Mickey, Goofy et al. walk you through a whodunit that allows you to explore nearly every deck on the ship, fore to aft. It takes a half-hour or so and is tons of fun. Before we knew it, we had figured out the art-thief culprit (Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove, though the villains change each game) and were ready to head to dinner.
Day one dinner: Animator's Palate
Dining on a Disney cruise ship is unlike dining on any other lines. Formalwear is not necessary (cruise casual's the dress code; my kids wore button-down shirts and khaki shorts) and guests rotate through each of the three main dining rooms; adults are also given the option of making a reservation at either of the 18-and-up luxury restaurants, the Italian Palo and the French Remy, for a reasonable upcharge. Each table is assigned a server and assistant server who rotate through the restaurants with you, so they get to know your standing drink orders, food sensitivities, likes and dislikes. It's a great system that makes guests feel well cared for; our Dream team, Estawar from Colombia and Storm from South Africa, were professional, personable and fun to be with. Every night, Storm kept the kids thinking with new brainteasers and riddles.
Dinner on day one was at Animator's Palate (below), a culinary production only Disney could pull off. Amid the giant paintbrushes, Mickey-backed chairs and cartoon-strewn walls, Nemo, Dory, Squirt and Crush swam from one large screen to the next, engaging guests between courses. Crush himself swam up to us and, like the totally righteous dude he is, inquired all about our trip. We'd never conversed with a giant sea turtle before, so if we confused him a little, we're sure he understood. We were too happy eating the yummy food (I started with a salmon tartare, then moved to a pasta bolognese gluten-free me allows myself only on special occasions and ended with a sinful cookies-and-cream sundae). Even my older son, who is prone to motion sickness and felt a little queasy, couldn't help himself and plowed through his Make Your Own Pie dessert. (He soon learned to sway with the ship's motion and felt better shortly after.)
Mini golf, The Golden Mickeys and Frozen at midnight
After dinner, we made a beeline for deck 13 and the nine-hole, Goofy-themed mini-golf spread on the aft of the ship. We played in the windy moonlight and were having so much fun, we could only laugh when a pair of oblivious tweens literally played through the hole we were on as if we were invisible, putting in the middle of our turns. Anywhere else, I'd be judgy about their lack of manners; here, the situation was somehow hysterically funny.
By 8:30pm, it was time to go down to deck 3 and the resplendent Walt Disney Theater, on whose red-curtained stage we'd see a different Broadway-style show every night. Having started my career in theater, I'm a tough critic, but the caliber of performance on the Disney ships, which so impressed me on the Fantasy, remains strong. Tonight was The Golden Mickeys, a Dream-exclusive show that combined scenes from classic Disney movies with a mock award show complete with red-carpet guest interviews. (Fun fact: Jennifer Hudson got her start performing on a Disney cruise in The Golden Mickeys.) The show's highlight? Snow White leading a chain of hand-holding dwarfs, six bearded young 'uns, with Dopey bringing up the rear.
The show lasted a good hour, which gave us a little time to grab a bottle of water for the 10:45 showing of Frozen in the Buena Vista movie theater on board. The only way I can get my boys to watch a "princess" movie is in a Disney atmosphere, propped up by popcorn. (Sigh.) By the time the movie ended, it was well after midnight and we needed to rest up for a packed Day 2 schedule. But it was worth it. Apparently, I'm the last person on Earth to find out that Frozen is, as Crush would say, "totally awesome, dude."