Well, we're back from Disney Dream – our first cruise with DCL. I thought it was an amazing holiday – but certainly not a relaxing one. We're currently booked for Fantasy for next spring break, but I'm not sure if we will keep the reservation or not. You can see my cruising history in my signature which gives some perspective to some of my comments. While we/I love Disney, I don't view Disney through rose-coloured glasses.
Characters – I had an amazing time on Dream. However, I did not feel it to be a relaxing holiday (my own doing). I felt somewhat rushed to take everything in. I never wanted my kids to miss a character, so it felt like one of us was always standing in line for something. There were a couple of disappointments when we'd been standing in line only to be told that we were now lining up for a different character. At the Farewell, we also got cut off when we were the next in line for Chip and Dale. All that being said, the characters were AMAZING. They spent sooo much time with each child, often singing and dancing. On our sailing we had, Snow White, Cinderella, Tiana, Aurora, Ariel, Jessie and Woody, Tink, Remy, Smee and Hook, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale, Pluto and Goofy, Pinochio, Peter Pan, Mr.&Mrs. Incredible, Lilo&Stitch, and probably a few others too. We'd sometimes encounter characters coming/going to a photo op, and they ALWAYS stopped to give a hug and chat. The character experience was truly magical. The character experience was a zillion times better on DCL than it was on the Dreamworks cruise on Royal (FOTS).
Autographs – we dropped off our photo mats at guest services. My son did not want princess signatures, so I wrote NO PRINCESS on his bag. My daughter ended up with almost all the signatures. My son however, only ended up with the VIP (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy,Pluto, Goofy and Chip&Dale). He was heartbroken that he did not get any "boy" characters like Woody, Hook, Smee etc. At 9:30 on the last night (when the photo mats were delivered to our room), I ran to guest services and came across the most amazing cast member who wanted to spread some Disney magic to a sad little boy, and ran about the ship to track down the characters and have them sign my son's photo mat. The hard part is now picking one of 600 photos to put in the frame!
DH – I was really unsure how my DH would fare on DCL. We are far from gambling addicts but we do enjoy gambling on our cruises. I had kind of thought that without a casino, we would have tons of free time to do as we pleased. But we seemed to be kind of bored. We only ever had small pockets of time between shows/characters/meals that we were not sure what to do with ourselves. As I note above, we're not sure if we will keep our Fantasy reservation or not. DH was kind of Disneyed-out, and I admit, so was I.
Keys – We had a lot of trouble with our room keys. We had to go through 3 batches before they would work. I'm not sure what the trouble was, but it ate up about 2 hours on first day trying to sort this out. Even after that, we only had our keys working, and could never use the kid's keys to open the doors. I just got tired of pursuing it.
Wave Phone – the wave phone concept is great and I saw many using them. I'm not a techno-expert but I'm pretty savy, and I had trouble figuring out how to use the phone. I probably should have taken the phones to guest services and asked for a tutorial!
Splenda – if you're like me and you like splenda – bring your own! They ship had little yellow packets, but they were not splenda – they were nutrasweet.
Food – overall the food was pretty good. I found the food at Cabanas to be much higher quality than the buffet food found on other cruise lines. The food in the main dining room was very good, but I would consider it to be on par with other cruise lines. Be warned that the breakfast in Enchanted breakfast is buffet, and the lines are long and slow. If you want a sit down breakfast go to Royal Palace and if you ant buffet go to Cabanas. I found Disney did an excellent job of fish (sea bass was excellent!) and an excellent job of roasts. I like my beef medium rare and it was always perfectly cooked. I was disappointed with the desserts. I don't think there was a single dessert that I ate in entirety (other than a mickey bar!). I buy my pastries and cakes from some fine bakeries, so I guess I have a demanding dessert palette. I enjoyed the Celebration cake the most, but if I had paid money for it in a restaurant I would have been disappointed.
Service – this is DCL's strongsuit. The service was excellent. I might still give the edge to HAL for service though. One of the things I most noticed was the service during breakfast/lunch – which are open seating. On most ships, you have excellent service at dinner when you have your dedicated wait team who are working for their tips. The wait staff on Disney watch out for each others guests, and they give phenomal service to all guests. This truly sets Disney apart. Even with open seating at breakfast/lunch, the waiter always made a point to find out our names before they came to our table so they could personalize the service. Even the head waiter was excellent.
Tips – DCL is also quite unique in this area in that there was NO BEGGING for tips, which is often found on most cruiselines. Many cruiselines start telling you on the very first night, with a big sell on the last few nights that you need to tip, tip, tip. I can't recall if there was even any mention of this at all. We asked one water how DCL was as an employer compared to the other cruise lines and we were asking him about compensation, benefits etc. When this question is asked on other lines, they very quickly tell you that they are not paid at all. This is true for Disney, but we had to pull this information out of him, whereas on any other ship, the waiters try to find a away to let you know they work for tips.
Service Questionnaire – At the end of every cruise on any lines, guests are asked to complete a satisfaction survey. Usually, on the last few nights the CD makes a point of soliciting 'excellent' reviews telling guests that they must report excellent because the cruiselines view "very good' as not good enough and that even "very good" ratings get held against them. We received no such pressure from the DREAM CD. In fact, Disney goes so far as to ask if you were pressured in any way to give an excellent rating. Kudo's to Disney for wanting honest feedback. Entertainment – was excellent! We saw Golden Mickeys, Villians, and Believe. All 3 shows were excellent. We also had Mike Super on the ship, and he was truly lavenous.
Kid's Club – was good. I think given the number of kids' they have going through the club, they do an excellent job. My kid's really enjoyed the kid's club but not as much as they have on other ships. They never begged to go to the kid's club and I think that had to do with the number of kid's in the club. On other ships (HAL comes to mind) they have so few kids onboard, that they are able to give amazing personalized service to each family. I asked my 6 year old daughter to rank the kid's clubs and she ranked them in this order HAL, Disney, RCCL, Carnival.
Family Environment – I found that Disney did a very good job of the "family" environment. There were no hairy chest or beer belly contests that I've found on most ships. On other ships, we've enjoyed family activities such as family mini golf tourney, family scavenger hunt, family trivia etc. I'm not saying that Disney didn't have these events, but if they did, they were timed for older families (with teens) later at night, or they were timed when they conflicted with shows or character events. You can't do it all on any ship, and that is the case with DCL.
FE - I panicked before leaving when I read someone write here that the FE space is very narrow and it was! I had made my FE to about 10 inches and it was at least 2 inches too wide. We were on an inside cabin that crossed through the ship, so our cabin steward was not too concerned. If we cruise Fantasy next year, I will use the same FE just shorten my stick from 13" to 10.5" so the stick doesn't stick out as much. The FE was a wonderful experience. We only had 9 families in our group which was perfect. It was easy to manage from a cost perspective, and did not eat up too much time running around the ship. Almost every time we came back to the cabin there was a gift waiting. We gave out the Wilton Mickey Cookie Cutters and a package of Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix. We received 2 music cds, sleep masks, pez dispensers, silly bands, buttons, water pistols, stickers, markers, pencils, notebooks, candy, pirate stuff, St. Paddy's stuff, and much more.
Private Table in MDR - We requested a private table for the four of us and received it. I had heard wonderful stories here of Disney pairing guests who forged friendships after their cruise. I contemplated changing our request, but never did. Our table of 4 was always paired with another table of four who based on demographics were a good match for us. They looked to also be in their early 40s and had kids the same age as ours although their daughter might have been a year older and their son a year younger. We were certainly within speaking distance, and made several attempts to make eye contact or engage with them. There were several times when i'd smile at the other mom, and rather than smile back, she'd look away. When DH attempted to speak to them, we'd get brief answers and then they would terminate the interaction. My point is that Disney does a pretty good job of demographic match-up but they can't account for people who are not social.
Formal Night – I see a lot of questions about formal night. On Disney Dream - I am not certain there was one. Usually, cruises make a big deal (in the navigators and by the announcements) of letting you know when it s a formal night. Usually, the night before, the wait staff will also tell you that the next night is formal night. We came prepared with formal wear for 2 nights. For my daughter, every night was formal! We asked at Breakfast on Day 2, and were told that you could be formal whenever you wanted and that most people were dressier on nights they were in Royal Palace. By Night 4, I noticed that people were dressier, as I was walking around the ship, so we broke out our formal wear for nights 4 and 5. Don't stress over it if you don't want to be too dressy. I think business casual is perfectly acceptable on DCL. A 7-night cruise might be different though.
Magical Porthole – loved it! I don't think we ever felt like it was a true ocean-view. But, there were a constant parade of characters. I also liked that we could shut it off at night. I love the black-out you get with an inside cabin.
I think that is pretty much it. I'd be happy to answer any questions, especially from anyone who wants information comparing DCL to other cruise lines.