As one of the lucky media types invited to preview the brand-new Disney Dream a couple weeks ago for its Inaugural Christening Cruise, I was frankly bowled over by this 4,000-passenger ship. Forty percent bigger—and two decks taller—than its sister ships the Wonder and the Magic, the Disney Dream is chock full of amenities and services that delight families, from the live musical productions in the 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre to incredibly tricked-out kids' clubs to its crowning glory: the AquaDuck water coaster, a first in the cruise industry.
That said, a Disney Dream Bahamian cruise may not be ideal for all families. With a call at Disney's private island Castaway Cay, guests step off the ship to enjoy a ton of gorgeous white-sand beach, but not one iota of authentic Bahamian culture. What you give up in genuine Caribbean experiences, however, you gain tenfold of all things Disney—from the show tunes piped into the public spaces to the "Hidden Mickeys" (subtle Mickey head-and-ears symbols) woven into the shower curtains to the Donald Duck, Pluto, and princess characters you'll see all over the ship, all day long, meeting and greeting their fans.
Indeed, the ship isn't all pixie dust and fairytales, but if you're looking for a family vacation that is relatively hassle-free (the all-inclusive nature of a cruise makes family travel so easy), relatively short (three to five nights on the ship), and overflowing with entertainment—and you can tolerate (or embrace!) a large helping of the big mouse—check out just a few highlights you'll experience on board the Disney Dream, as well as some tips and notes to help you make the most of your vacation.
AquaDuck Water Coaster
Sailing through an acrylic tube that juts 12 feet over the side of the ship and 150 above the ocean below? Pretty darn cool. Adults may not be as impressed with the slow-ish speed of this raft water slide, but kids absolutely love it—and they'll love you, mom and dad, if you ride it with them.
Note: You must be 48 inches tall to ride the AquaDuck; kids as short as 38 inches can twist and turn down the one-story slide at Mickey's Pool.
I found the deluxe ocean-view stateroom with verandah plenty big enough for me and three young children. The two ten-year-olds in my group shared the plush queen-size bed (elevated high above the floor to store luggage underneath), while I bunked on the surprisingly comfortable sofa bed and my eight-year-old son slept in the pull-down-from-the-ceiling berth above me. Split bathrooms are convenient, so one person can be showering while the other is brushing teeth at a sink behind another closed door.
Note: The supplied hairdryer is horribly weak; prepare to spend a lot of time drying your hair or going with it slightly damp to dinner. Same goes for the stateroom Internet service (available for a fee); go to a public area of the ship for a better signal.
Tip: No need to pack two-way radios to communicate with one another on board; guests can use complimentary wireless "wave phones" provided in each stateroom.
Awesome Kids' Clubs
Each age group has its own playspace on board, including the It's a Small World Nursery for babies and toddlers (only a $6/hour additional fee for babysitting here), Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab for ages three to ten, Edge for tweens, and Vibe for teens. My kids over age eight loved the independence of being able to check themselves in and out of the Oceaneer areas. Their favorite activities included playing interactive games at dozens of computer stations and group games on the Magic Playfloor, where their leaps and dance moves control the action.
Tip: Be sure to try the touch-free hand-washing stations at the Oceaneer Club or Lab; it's a minute-long massage for your fingers.
Note: Typically in the evening, kids can be supervised until midnight or 1 a.m.; but double-check hours of operation in the daily printed Personal Navigator, so your children aren't waiting for pick-up while you're dancing up a storm in the nightclub Evolution or downing Bellinis in the champagne bar Pink.
Variety of Dining Options
Family sit-down dinners take place at the three a la carte restaurants on board the Disney Dream; you're given a 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. time slot (request early or late when booking) and assigned restaurants, while your waitstaff "rotates" with you. Expect lots of stimuli in the dining rooms—whether it's cartoon characters talking to you from big video screens in Animator's Palate or the ornate carpeting, sparkly chandelier, and heavy gold drapes in Royal Palace. I think my favorite restaurant was actually the casual Cabanas, with its light and airy beachy feel—and vast array of food items on the buffet.
Note: Unlike some cruise lines that charge extra for soda, it's included on the Disney Dream, and self-service fountains are easily accessible to kids on the pool deck.
For more features of the Disney Dream that cater not only to families, but to adults (hello, Senses Spa!), check out the very detailed information on the Disney Cruise Line website.
Kara Williams blogs about travel at TheVacationGals.com, where she has posted a video of her first AquaDuck ride from a rider's perspective!
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