Disney's prodigious stage shows always draw a full house with their intricate sets, beloved songs and captivating performances. You could easily forget youre at sea. The Walt Disney Theater on Dream offers up much-loved favorites like the "Golden Mickeys" and "Villains Tonight," as well as an all-new show: "Disney's Believe," directed by Broadway veteran Gordon Greenberg.
A host of old-time favorites make an appearance, including Peter Pan, Genie from "Aladdin" and Cinderella, but the story of a workaholic single father who reconnects with his adopted daughter is refreshingly new.
Character experiences are the backbone of Disney cruises, and like the other ships, there is no shortage of opportunities to greet Mickey and the crew onboard. This vessel affords kids a much more intimate experience than the parks do. Instead of paying the high cost of character dining or waiting in insanely long lines just to snap a mediocre shot, the characters are accessible. If you miss the formal greetings, you can count on seeing them around the ship, and they'll always stop for a photo.
The popular "Pirates in the Caribbean" party has become two separate events, happy news for parents unable to keep little ones up late. There is a sing-along early in the evening for kids called "Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean," followed by "Club Pirate," in which Jack Sparrow rappels off the funnel; a short performance with special effects ensues. The same great fireworks found on Disney's older duo take place between the shows.
For adults, Disney has added more variety. (There are a dozen different places to buy a cocktail, and we might have missed a few). The adult-only "district" is home to the girly (but fabulous) Pink's Champagne Bar, 687 for sports fans and Evolution for wee-hours dancing. Our favorite adults-only spot was the top-deck Meridien; a wine bar, it's tucked between Palo and Remy and has a gorgeous alfresco terrace. Down notes there? The wine is fine but priced accordingly (it would be nice to have a moderate option), and the service was lackluster on several visits.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The ship's pool deck features a large, family-oriented area, complete with hot tubs and a pair of pools (Donald's and Mickey's), similar to those on Magic and Wonder. The Mickey pool prevails as the most trafficked area, its spiral slide hosting a constant parade of happy 4- to 10-year-olds. Designers got rid of the hot-tub ears (good call), so it's all open space, and kids don't need to run around the corner to climb the slide anymore -- a minor but much-appreciated fix. Goofy's Pool from Magic and Wonder is Donald's Pool here, but otherwise it's cut-and-paste: five feet deep, offering a front-row view of the 24-foot-tall LED screen that's mounted on the ship's funnel. The toddler splash area has a new Nemo theme, and it's moved to the center of the ship on Deck 11. The new home provides better shade, and huge glass panes mean parents can easily monitor the kids.
The highlight for many? Of course it's the AquaDuck, the first-ever watercoaster at sea. Clearly visible atop the ship, the coaster features a transparent, acrylic tube that propels riders along on a raft, up and down four decks of the ship -- at one point swinging out 13 feet off the side, 150 feet above the ocean. While not a scary ride by any means (adults expecting an intense thrill will be disappointed), there is a 42-inch height requirement, so prepare younger siblings.
Nemo's Reef is a small water park area for the youngest passengers.
A big letdown for us was the Quiet Cove, Disney's adults-only pool area. It pioneered the concept (now followed by lines like Princess and Carnival), and it's gorgeous on Wonder and Magic. On Wonder, it's small, too shady and really rather dismal.
The Senses Spa is beautiful and offers the usual range of treatments, from salon-oriented haircuts and manicures to more exotic fare like hot-stone massages and mud baths. Kudos to Disney for introducing Chill, a spa just for teens that's within the Senses facility.
The Fitness Center offers the usual treadmills, stationary cycles and the like. Classes in yoga and Pilates are taught; there's an additional fee to participate.
We've noted that the Sports Deck is less than a stellar option for recreation (particularly when you compare it with facilities on lines like Royal Caribbean). Expect a sports court that can be adapted from soccer to basketball, and there's mini-golf. Oddly, the Ping-Pong tables are out in the open air (good luck trying to hit a decent shot while at sea), and there's a walking track for fitness buffs.
Disney's acclaimed kids' clubs are what keep many loyal families coming back. It's not just the innovative, engaging spaces for kids and familiar characters that make them such a success -- the counselors are truly extraordinary. They offer far more than smiling faces to greet you at check-in; indeed, these men and women are experienced, attentive and downright fun, with a keen eye for spotting children who need encouragement, a friend to play with or a major timeout.
The Oceaneer's Club and Lab (ages 3 to 10) are connected on Dream (hooray!) so kids can roam back and forth, effectively doubling the space available to them at any given time. While they could visit both areas in the past, they had to request an escort.
Highlights in Oceaneer's Club include the adorable Andy's Room, which has oversized characters like the dinosaur and pig from "Toy Story" for little ones to climb on, and the Laugh Floor, where kids can measure their own volumes on the "laugh-o-meter" and hang out with Mike and Sully of "Monster, Inc." fame. The Lab has a maritime theme, a new animator's Studio and a mini Sound Studio. A notable addition to both the Club and Lab are the MagicPlay Floors, which are ridiculously popular. Picture a dance floor with a giant square in the center (20 by 20 feet). On it, kids play interactive games, controlling the outcome by where they step on the floor -- similar to the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution, but minus the music. Disney's innovative approach of allowing kids of ages 3 to 10 to access the same clubs -- but with separate rooms and activities geared toward different age groups -- means that siblings can hang out together if they choose. Inspired!
Dream has a kids' club dedicated entirely to 'tweens, ages 11 to 13. True to its name, the Edge is located in the funnel on Deck 13, far removed from the other kids' clubs. What seemed like a decent idea in theory doesn't work here; we didn't like seeing preteens hanging out in the staircase, unsupervised. Inside, however, it delivers with an 18-foot-tall video wall, video karaoke and computers with access to an intranet-based (limited to the ship) social media app. The 9,000-square-foot teen club Vibe (ages 14 to 17) has modular furniture, a fountain bar and its own outdoor space (new for Disney) with a sun deck and wading pools.
Gratuities -- which are given to the waiters, assistant waiters and stateroom attendants (and dining room maitre d' if you've been provided with outstanding service) -- are $12 per person, per day. There's an automatic 15 percent levy for service on cocktails and other beverages.
In a sea of new ships boasting dozens of dining options, Disney Dream's five main restaurants (excluding the buffet at Cabanas) may seem comparatively limited. But, Disney does more with five than others do with twice that many, and it reminds us in the process that quality trumps quantity. Each of Dream's three themed main dining restaurants -- Animator's Palate, Enchanted Garden and the Royal Palace -- has its own appeal, and all have elaborate themed decor. It's in this area, in creating magical, whimsical spaces that come to life, where Disney really triumphs.
The addition of the adults-only Remy (French) and the return of adults-only Palo (Italian) are other dining options. The Rotational Dining system in place on Disney's other ships carries over to Dream, so you rotate to each of three themed restaurants each night while your servers follow you. While it's fun to move to a new setting nightly, and we appreciate getting to know our waiter, Disney still sticks to traditional assigned dining times, and on this trip we found we longed for more flexible options.
At Animator's Palate, also on Magic and Wonder, screens adorned with Disney art begin in black and white and then transform into color during meals. In keeping with the theme, the screens take you to an underwater world with fish, bubbles and appearances by Bruce the Shark and other "Finding Nemo" characters. Also promising to entertain you while you eat, the Versailles-inspired Enchanted Garden (which thankfully replaces the tired Parrot Cay) throws a bit of pizzazz into the dining experience by cleverly transforming day into night with lighting effects. The Royal Palace will tickle princess-lovers with its hand-painted portraits of "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty," character stop-'n'-chats and waiters decked out in royal duds who make you feel as if you're about to witness the changing of the guard. Little imperial touches are everywhere, right down to bread baskets in the shape of Cinderella's coach. A bit much? Sure, but it is Disney after all.
Overall, the quality of the food was very good, though success varied from venue to venue. The pan-seared sea bass at Enchanted Garden was outstanding and cooked perfectly, as was the double-baked spinach souffle at Royal Palace -- so tasty we ordered a second. The wild boar was getting rave reviews, though we didn't partake. Items for the kids were adequate but a little disappointing. The children's menu could use a few more healthy (or just more interesting) menu items for the younger set. The macaroni & cheese and chicken finger thing is getting tired.
Our servers were amicable and timely and had great banter with the kids. We didn't wait long for our meals, and special requests were delivered without a raised eyebrow. But, we did have some communication issues with the bar waiter on more than one occasion. Inquiries about our wine plan were met with a befuddled look, followed by several trips to the kitchen and back before it was cleared up.
Remy, a new restaurant concept on Disney Dream, is so very French that you may want to have your French-English dictionary handy. The venue -- named after the star of "Ratatouille" -- is, in our minds, the first cruise ship restaurant to vie for a Michelin star. (Its menus were created by a Michelin two-star chef in France and Scott Hunnel, the head chef at Disney World's award-winning Victoria & Albert's.)
Remy means serious business when it comes to food, and it charges serious prices, with an industry-high service fee of $75 per person just to set foot inside the door. (And, don't even think about coming if you're not properly dressed in 50th-anniversary gala kind of garb.) Having said all that, Remy really is a wonderful special-occasion restaurant; the $75 cover really is value for money. It was that memorable of an evening.
Cocktails and wine are additional, and a wine-pairing option costs $99 per person. Passengers are invited to meet with Remy sommeliers before their meals to plan wines for the evening. Go for it -- it's a great chance to learn something, and the menu's marvelous. The lobster with vanilla sauce and veal chops with sweetbreads were outstanding.
Palo, the ship's other adults-only venue, is a familiar and friendly face. This Italian/Mediterranean eatery, worth every cent of the $25 cover, serves dinner nightly, as well as a Champagne brunch on select days. The fish and seafood entrees were superb, and the panna cotta with fresh berries and chocolate souffle are dreamy. The brunch is equally enticing, with a cold buffet (meats and cheese, shrimp, salads, desserts) and a selection of hot made-to-order items (omelets, fish).
Cabanas, on Deck 11, is a food court with food and drink stations and the predictable selection of hot and cold buffet items -- including a few we found noteworthy: lamp chops and made-to-order omelets and sandwiches. Seating is indoors or out. Flo's Cafe has quick eats like burgers, chicken fingers, wraps (the fresh mozzarella wrap was delightful), mediocre pizza and a salad bar that was never busy.
One of the most gorgeous atriums afloat, Disney Dream's three-deck central piazza has a golden hue and a winding staircase worthy of an entrance by Cinderella. It's primarily a place you walk through on the way to somewhere else -- restaurants, theaters, shops -- with the exception of the occasional character appearance or cocktail party. But, it sets an elegant tone for the ship -- one that's not easily topped.
While Disney Dream has the usual Internet cafe, the ship also offers access via wireless for those who bring their own mobile devices or laptops. (The Cove coffee cafe is a particularly good place to check your e-mail.)
One of the least impressive areas onboard was the selection of shops with the usual ho-hum merchandise (jewelry, duty-free liquors and perfumes, and logo-wear). But, of course Disney fans will find plenty of fairly pricey memorabilia on which to splurge.
Disney Dream, like Magic and Wonder, offers neither a library nor a casino.
Disney is strongly influenced by American and Canada travelers, and its primary market, of course, is families (especially those with kids younger than 8). Its new approach to teen cruisers may help the line appeal to families with older kids, as well. Beyond that, Disney has strong appeal for multigenerational travelers, and its superb spa, bar district and alternate dining facilities mean that adults of any age will find their own spaces onboard.
It's been more than a decade -- 12 years, in fact -- since Disney Cruise Line last launched a ship. Disney Magic made its dramatic debut in 1998, followed by Wonder in 1999, and then ... nothing. The industry has evolved, and today's ships are bigger, bolder and smarter than their predecessors.
So it's not surprising that 128,690-ton, 2,500-passenger Disney Dream (4,000 max occupancy), which debuted in January 2011, is 40 percent larger and two decks taller than Magic and Wonder. Yet, aside from its beefed-up size, at first glance the ship is not show-stoppingly different from its fleetmates. Rather than trying to create a new identity, Disney has kept the same classic design we love. Inspired by the ocean liners of the 1920's and 1930's, Dream has a navy blue hull and bright red funnels, but this ship is far from the same-old -- a closer look reveals many innovative features and spaces.
The first impressions of Dream are grander than those made by its older counterparts. The lobby is large and luxurious and definitely has a "wow" factor. The Art Deco decor is elegant and jazzy, with a colorful glass chandelier, and there's also the requisite bronze Disney statue to greet passengers at the foot of the marble stairway -- this one is Donald Duck.
Deep blues and reds in the ship's public spaces offset rich yellow and impart an old-world luxury, mostly refined, but with a touch of glitz. The influence of the Mouse is subtle, if omnipresent. "Hidden" Mickeys can be found just about everywhere on the ship: in artwork, on railings, on dinnerware, in cabins. What's endearing to some, though, may be overkill to others.
Exploring the ship on our two-night preview cruise, we saw many enhancements to familiar spaces, as well as several Disney firsts: the snazzy new AquaDuck watercoaster; redesigned, tech'ed-up kids' clubs; and a huge amount of beanbag-chair- and Wii-filled real estate dedicated to 'tweens and teens. All reveal a noble effort to better cater to older children, especially the older-than-8 crowd, for whom the signature character experiences may be starting to lose their appeal. And, in an attempt to please adults traveling without kids (or parents looking to escape theirs), the new $75-a-head French dining restaurant, Remy, is causing quite a buzz.
Most of the changes we saw on Dream were successes. There's a great stage production, "Disney's Believe," and innovative uses of technology throughout the ship. (The virtual portholes in inside cabins are genius.) Dream is wired with new technology, which touches most areas of the ship. Paintings and pictures called "Enchanted Art" adorn the walls of hallways and come to life as you admire them. Kids can also pick up a packet at the Mid-ship Detective Agency and use the digital works to solve a mystery. MagicPlay Floors, a ship-limited social network and a sound studio enhance the kids' clubs, and wave phones in every cabin can be used to call or text other passengers. The phones also replace the old beeper system for Oceaneer's -- messages from the counselors now come directly to parents' phones.
But a few areas were definitely overlooked. The ho-hum adults-only pool area, so welcome on Magic and Wonder, seemed an afterthought on Dream, and don't plan on breaking a sweat on the new "sports" deck.
Some people (mostly those who've never cruised on a Disney ship) are under the mistaken impression that this line is only for families with little kids -- kids who love Mickey Mouse and princesses. Sure, young Disney fans are the line's bread and butter now, and they always have been. But, Dream offers further evidence to debunk the myth that a Disney cruise is only for kids.
While the scales may not be evenly tipped, there's definitely something for everyone. The experience for children is brought to life through those groundbreaking kids' clubs, rousing stage productions and entertaining dining experiences. And, while not all are hits, the adults-only spaces are largely successful in their own right.
And, that's good, because in the words of Walt himself, "You're dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway."
Disney has some of the largest standard cabins at sea, and it's amazing how far a few extra square feet go for four people sharing the typically tight space of a cruise ship stateroom. On Dream, outside staterooms start at 202 square feet (verandah cabins at a roomy 246), while insides start at 169 square feet. (Deluxe insides are the same size as outside cabins). Ample closet space, the option to eat room service without bumping elbows on the couch, and split bathrooms will please even those not traveling with kids. The split bath setup -- which provides one room with a shower, small tub and sink, and another with a toilet and sink -- is a simple but ingenious concept that Disney pioneered on Magic and Wonder. Two vanities are a godsend, and beds have been raised on Dream, with room enough to store a pair of medium-sized suitcases underneath. Cabins each have a 22-inch LCD TV, iPod docking station and a pair of rechargeable "Wave Phones" that can be used throughout the ship.
Those opting for an inside cabin can check out a nifty industry first: Magical Portholes. They're flat screens designed to look like portholes above the beds, which project a real-time view outside the ship by means of high-def cameras and a live video feed. Stare at the screen for long enough, and you may catch a dancing hippo or two.
Verandah cabin balconies each feature two chairs and a small table, deck lights, railings covered in plexiglass (or solid white walls) and childproof locks.
Editor's Note: As of November 15, 2013, cigarette smoking on cabin balconies will no longer be permitted.
For those requiring more space, Disney has introduced Concierge Suites, as well as roomy Concierge Family Cabins, located on Decks 11 and 12. Both offer access to Dream's concierge facilities, which -- even though they're not particularly noteworthy, comprising only a small lounge and a private sun deck area with some chairs -- do offer easy access to free food and drinks and coveted extra space. Concierge cabins start at 306 square feet, and one-bedroom suites start at 622 square feet; most have connecting doors. One-bedroom suites have queen-sized beds, sitting areas with double convertible sofas, single wall pull-down beds in the living rooms, walk-in closets, and two bathrooms (with a whirlpool in the master).
Really want to spoil yourself? The 1,781-square-foot Royal Suite has all that plus a living room, wet bar, kitchenette, media library and hot tub on the verandah.
Dress code, similar to that of Disney's higher-end resorts, is casual during the day and resort casual most evenings. (Think jackets for men, but no ties, and pants outfits or summer dresses for women.) Recently, though, the cruise line tweaked its definition of resort casual to include shorts, which means passengers may wear shorts in the main dining rooms in the evening. However, Disney cruisers love to dress up -- whether it's princess gowns for young girls or tuxes for dads. Specifically, the dress code on Disney Dream's three-night cruises features one night each of cruise casual, pirate night and semiformal. On four-night voyages, there are two cruise casual evenings, a pirate night and a semiformal. And, on five-night sailings, plan on three cruise casual, along with the pirate and semiformal evenings.
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