I recently took a Disney cruise on the Disney Dream, a 4-day with stops at Castaway Cay and Nassau. I did not think I would ever take a Disney cruise. I’ve been on about 20 Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruises and didn’t think I would ever spend the extra money for the Disney experience. But, now that I have, I’m glad I was able to see the difference and had a lovely cruise. I’ll try to explain a few differences between the Disney Dream and Royal Caribbean, in case you are trying to decide between a Disney cruise and a lesser expensive line.
Booking: We booked the cruise by calling the 1-800 Disney cruise line phone number. We asked for two ocean view rooms, which connected. The ocean views we had were on Deck 8 and the ocean view windows were lovely. The windows were big with cushions for kiddos or small adults to sit and relax. From what I saw while on the cruise, there are other ocean view rooms with smaller windows (and are probably less expensive) but we were not offered this option, even when we asked for the cabins to be less expensive. I should have done more research on my own before booking the cabin offered by the phone agent. But, our cabins were lovely and there were plenty of room for storage. The coolest feature of the room, which Disney has over every other line, is the separate bathroom… one with a sink and potty and the other with sink and bathtub. The bathtubs are very, very cool. There is an overhead shower, a bath option, and a hand-held option. The bathtubs are great for kids and are just very cool in general on a cruise. Room service worked really well. The food was good and delivered quickly. The rooms had great Disney On Demand and tons of movies, which was nice for our kids. This was a nice perk you don’t find on other lines (the variety and amount of free movies).
A note about “boarding time:” Going into this cruise, my biggest concern was getting on board the boat, as our “boarding time” was 1:30pm, which I did not like. I performed all my online check-in’s about 3 weeks before. I should have performed this sooner, but so be it. Since I am very familiar with cruises, I didn’t think I should have to wait until 1:30 to get on board the boat. With Royal Caribbean, we are used to getting on board at 11am or 11:30 on really, really big boats. I inquired with Disney customer service line several times about getting an earlier boarding time. With three phone calls I didn’t get anywhere. But, on the morning I left for the cruise, I called one more time to inquire and was told I could probably get on board a little sooner at Port Canaveral (rather than cruises which leave out of Miami). This was wonderful to hear and I arrived at the port a little sooner and was able to board about an hour before my “assigned boarding time.” There were numbers for “boarding times” but I acted like I didn’t see them and just got on board. I’d recommend getting to Port Canaveral about an hour before your “boarding time” because it takes a bit of time to get through security and get checked in.
Embarkation: Upon entering the ship, it is quite lovely. The entrance is fun with how they announce families on Deck 3, where folks enter is big, gold, and lovely. We went directly up to Cabanas for lunch. My son loves buffets and I would have preferred to have lunch at the Enchanted Garden. Cabanas was totally crazy. Tons of people, not enough space to sit, as this is typical on the first day of a cruise. But, the food was tasty and we just tried not to let the crowds bother us. After lunch we went to our cabins, as they were ready right at 1:30pm.
Cruise App: We downloaded the Disney cruise app and was looking forward to using it. All of our activities booked online were loaded through the app already. The app also gives updates on most of your signups, but not all (or at least I noticed our Bippity Bobbity Boutique appointment did not pop up). We were able to see the schedule for the ship on the app. But, the printed schedule can also be found on Deck 3 at the customer service desk. We didn’t figure out the texting part of the app, but had we wanted to take the time, it could have been fun. There are plenty of fun things to do on board. There are tons of activities, characters, food, and fun. The kids club is also well marked on the schedule. The kids club is very, very impressive. The kids club is massive and has tons of fun activities, movies, crafts, books, video games, you name it. It is truly large and very impressive! If your kids enjoy going to kids club and parents are looking to have some alone time, Disney should really, really be considered. The kids club is also very safe with code words and lots of security. The kids club also texts and calls the cabins if kiddos want to be picked up. I liked this feature.
Food/Drinks: The rotating Dining Rooms were fun. The food on the Disney cruise was fine… I would say as good as Royal Caribbean. The buffet Cabanas had really nice roast beef and ham for the slicing. Cabanas also had peel and eat shrimp, crab, and oysters, which Royal Caribbean does not offer. On Disney, the soda is included. If you or your kids drink a lot of soda, this alone is a good reason to take Disney. The soft serve ice cream is also better than Royal Caribbean. There are more machines, more flavors, and none of the machines are broken. I attended the champagne class and it was very informative and the champagne was delicious. On Disney, you can purchase drink packages too. But, they are very different than Royal Caribbean. For instance, when I inquired about getting a beer package, it would have been about $60 for a dozen beers. It was not the price that bothered me; It was that they deliver the beer to my cabin for my fridge. I wanted to be able to grab a drink at whichever bar I was near, which was not an option with a package. Also, it has to be the same type of beer… no mixing and matching. The best price I found for a draft beer was on deck 3 across from customer service. It was at least $2 cheaper than the bottled beer, which was a nice treat!
Characters: Yes, there are tons of lines. We didn’t want to wait in line for Mickey. But, we stumbled across him, just as he was leaving. My mom, who is quite elderly and moves very slow, motioned for us to run ahead. Mickey saw this. Mickey left his spot, walked over, and escorted my elderly mom back to the spot for the picture. It was beautiful and it brought me to tears. It reminded me of the “old days” when I was young and I could walk up to Mickey at the park’s entrance and embrace him without all the lines and chaos of today. I wish I would have told Customer Service about this wonderful moment. If you are looking for a moment like this with characters, perhaps a cruise should be your choice and you should skip the parks. If you book the Princesses and Frozen Friends ahead of time, the line moves quickly and it’s manageable. I recommend getting online and booking the day you’re able to (the agent who takes your reservations will be able to tell you the exact date). There are characters at many times during the day and those lines are very, very long. If you want to “do it all,” I can see how it would really stress you out. We just did what we could manage without getting frustrated.
Castaway Cay: I’m from Florida and we have beautiful beaches. I’ve been to Coco Cay (Royal Caribbean) many, many times, and I love it. So, I had really, really high expectations for Castaway Cay. If you’re from somewhere without beaches, you will think it is paradise. The private island is lovely, but very compact and crowded with a long walk to get anywhere. I would try to avoid going right to the beach, where thousands of other people are. Or, I would skip the beach all together and splurge on a cabana or head directly to the adults only beach. I didn’t care for the beach part where everyone seems to congregate. Too many people in a small area. The beach/ocean for the water sports is much more expansive, but hardly anyone was over there (not saying I recommend it, b/c I just saw it from afar) One of my dear friends who has taken many Disney cruises waits to visit the island until after lunch. This would be my strategy if I ever go back. The lunch on Castaway Cay is just plain bad. And since Royal Caribbean has really beefed up their island lunches, Coco Cay blows Castaway Cay away for island lunch.
Movies/Shows: The movie theater is very cool on the Dream. Movies are readily available and also movies which are current in the theaters, which is a nice perk. The Golden Mickey show was cute, but the gift shop should not charge $40 for the trophy of the Golden Mickey. Just plain mean. Beauty and the Beast is astounding; an outstanding show. The set, the special effects, the music… just beautiful. The soda is complimentary outside the theater (unless there was a mistake) and the popcorn should be free, but it is inexpensive to purchase.
Games: The Detective Agency interactive game on board should not be missed (your kids will see it, don’t worry). My kiddos loved it and we performed all three challenges. If you are worried about time… the game can be played quicker by skipping to every other deck. For instance, you must visit every deck in the game, but the games are forward and aft on every other deck. So, you would want to hit decks, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 at one time and then go back for the odd decks another time (to save time). It was a highlight. When you see the game on Deck 2 (outside the Enchanted Gardens) or on Deck 5 (by the kids club), grab a map of the game, primarily to use as an on board map. The maps on Deck 3 at the service desk are too small to read.
Aquaduck: The Aquaduck ride is very, very cool. You must be 54” to ride alone. I had my son measured at the pediatrician just several weeks before the cruise. Although he was 54” on our home ruler and 54” at the pediatrician, he was too short to ride by himself, as I don’t believe their measurements are accurate on the Dream. I got into it with the lifeguard… it’s a long story. Just be aware the ruler could be inaccurate, which makes a difference if you have smaller children and everyone wants to ride (two seater floats). The lines are quite long and we waited up to 45 minutes. But, on the night of the Pirate Show, there was not a line for the Aquaduck and its open for an hour during the Pirate Show. My son and I skipped the show (it looked really dull anyways) and we went on the Aquaduck during the show, round and around for an hour straight without a line. It was the best part of the cruise. We were the only ones in bathing suits on the whole deck, but we were absolutely having the most fun. It’s a memory of my son I’ll treasure forever. So, please skip the show and go on the Aqauduck. Or, skip the island in the morning and go on the Aquaduck when everyone else is getting off the boat. It’s worth it.
Service: We are nice, friendly people, so we get good service on other cruise lines. But, Disney really blows everyone away with service. The dining room service was outstanding. They really catered to my elderly mother and helped her over and above normal service. They also catered to the kids. The room attendant was also really accommodating. Even the staff in the halls were super friendly. We always have great service on Royal Caribbean, but it was even more noticeable on Disney.
Disney Visa: If you have a Disney Visa card, and you tie it to your on board expense account, you receive 10% off on retail items. I don’t remember getting anything else 10% off besides the shopping. This was a nice benefit I did not expect and did not see advertised anywhere.
Spa: I went to spa and purchased the Rain forest Package, which included the private access to the aromatherapy showers, the heated lounge chairs, and two small Jacuzzi's, which have a great view. The package is for the whole cruise, so you can spend as much time as you’d like. It was very private, away from kids, and relaxing. I would recommend getting it.
Departure morning breakfast: We didn’t know we had to be at our dining room when the dining room opens. We were turned away when we arrived late. We were banished to crazy Cabanas before departure. This is not the policy on Royal Caribbean, as you can arrive in the main dining room whenever you want. Just something to consider when making your decision.
If given the choice, I would still choose Royal Caribbean, primarily because of the price and the perks I get because I have cruised so much with that line. But, I’m really glad I tried Disney and I may even go on another Disney cruise someday in the far future. Thankfully, I didn’t get too spoiled and I’m still happy to cruise on other lines. If you are planning to cruise very infrequently, or maybe only one or twice in a lifetime, I would choose Disney, as you are probably going to have a wonderful experience. If you live near a port or cruise often, I would choose a lesser expensive line… you will still have fun!