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Surprises #Everywhere On The Disney Dream

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I had never boarded a cruise ship prior to the TouringPlans #Everywhere event in October, which tasked my family with sailing on the Disney Dream. I had knowledge of Disney Cruise Line from colleagues, relatives, podcasts, and random people in theme parks. Plus, I did the technical work for the Disney Cruise Line portion of the TouringPlans.com website, so I’ve been exposed to plenty of facts about sailing with Disney. Still, Disney Cruise Line (and cruising, in general) was full of surprises for me, some good and some bad. I share some observations as a cruise novice below, well aware of the fact that what surprised me would not have shocked someone more familiar with cruises.

Pools are boring.

There’s a pool in the shape of Mickey’s head! Doesn’t swimming in his ear sound great? Well, the pools are tiny and crowded, so you won’t do more than sit or stand. It’s neat that you can watch a movie on the giant Funnel Vision screen while wading, and my kid enjoyed splashing around in the Mickey Pool, but the pools are not at all like the pools at Disney Resort Hotels. That said, the slides are fun, and there are plenty of great swimming opportunities on Castaway Cay and on many shore excursions.

Disney Dream Deck 11
Doesn’t this look fabulous? Looks can be deceiving.

Masses of humanity abound.

Upon arriving at the terminal by car, I had to wait in line to park. The security line to enter the terminal was short, but the Port Canveral terminal building was abuzz with an insane amount of activity and people. Fortunately, Disney processes guests efficiently; we waited in a long line (the whole family needs to be there to show ID and take photos for security), but it took only 20 minutes. Upon entering the ship, I was directed to eat at Cabanas, where I struggled to find a table in a gigantic buffet restaurant. (For dinner, you won’t have this problem: everyone has an assigned table.) During the cruise, I found crowds to be unpleasant during any of the “party” events held in the lobby, as well as during the Sail Away Celebration and Pirate Night events on top of the ship. And when I was ready to leave the ship, I couldn’t see the end of the the line of guests waiting to leave; it snaked  out of the lobby and down a hallway toward the aft of the ship. There are a lot of people (up to 4,000 guests) on the boat, so any time many of us wanted to be in the same place, patience was required.

Port Canaveral Terminal
The terminal check-in desk may have more people in line than Soarin’!
Dancing Cruise Staff at Sail Away Party
If dancing cruise staffers are your thing, arrive early for the Sail Away Celebration or end up with this subprime view.


Late Night Activities on Navigator
Plenty of Family Activities After 10 PM

Staying up late is extremely useful.

I should have figured this out when I saw that the kids’ clubs run until midnight, but many cruise activities do not start until the late evening, around 9:30 PM. And when I walked around the ship at 10:00 PM, it was still too early for the adult areas to be busy (I felt sorry for the cover bands playing to empty venues). I now realize that late evening is the only time when dining and ports do not distract guests, so it’s good time for ship-wide activities. If your family cannot stay up late, you’re going to miss out on a lot. My kid resisted napping and couldn’t stay awake even for an 8:30 PM theater show, let alone 11:00 PM Family Superstar Karaoke in D Lounge.

Kids’ clubs are NOT amazing for my 3-year-old.

After hearing about kids who visit the Oceaneer Club/Lab and never want to leave, I had high expectations for the youth activities. For me, it worked fine for daycare, but I didn’t think it was much of a place for a preschooler to learn and explore. Aside from a few elements in the nicely decorated Andy’s Room, there was not much in the way of toys. Instead, there were lots of screens at which to stare. My kid had fun, but he wasn’t mature enough to participate in most organized activities, so his preferred entertainment was attempting to play ridiculously simple computer video games or watching movies. That’s not bad, per se, but he was happy to leave when we picked him up.

Andy's Room in Oceaneer Club
Andy’s Room was good for kids.


The stateroom video-on-demand system is great.

It’s rare that I agree with colleague Derek Burgan, but I like technology, and the system backing the televisions in the rooms is better than I’ve seen at any hotel. A good chunk of the Disney animated film library was available (certainly it’s more comprehensive than what’s on Netflix), and the system was sophisticated enough that you could watch part of a movie, stop it, and resume from that point later. It also was fairly easy to navigate.

David on Pirate Night
How much would you pay for this photo of me on Pirate Night?

Cruise guests really like photos.

Lines to see characters in theme parks are bad, but on Disney Cruise Line you don’t even need a character to merit a long line for a photograph! I saw people line up 40 deep to get family photos taken behind a backdrop associated with a theme of the night. Plus, a photographer snapped individual photos at a meal one night. I was not tempted to pay $20 for portraits of each of my relatives sitting at a table, but someone must be. If you like photos, you’re not alone, and you can make having your photograph taken a major activity.

Disney will compromise the guest experience to cater to the media.

On my cruise, there were about 10 radio stations that had broadcast tables set up on Deck 11, near the windows. During the day, this robbed guests of a chunk of seating close to the pool. The media folks were also allowed to cut the line for the AquaDuck on the morning of our Castaway Cay day to record video of their water-coasting experiences, making the line for paying customers longer. Although it probably cost me only 5-10 additional minutes, it was annoying to watch deejays excuse themselves through the line to hop on their special rafts with mounted cameras.

Route of 4-Night Bahamian Cruise on Disney Dream, Itinerary A

My ship went nowhere.

I caught the end of an information session about  the Disney Dream, and the host said the ship could get from Port Canaveral to Nassau in an hour, if necessary. A bit of research reveals that he was exaggerating and/or familar with a double-secret Turbo Boost button (Nassau is over 300 miles from Port Canaveral, so it’d take more than 10 hours at the Dream’s normal cruising speed), but that was the longest journey of our cruise. Other itineraries cover greater distances, but the short Bahamian cruises are most most definitely not about transportation or visiting foreign lands; I stayed on the ship while docked at Nassau, and the AquaDuck line was 45 minutes, so lots of people were on this itinerary for the ship’s activities and for Castaway Cay. The ship spent most of its time driving slowly and/or circuitously to our destinations so that guests could play (and presumably spend money) on the ship.


Did anything surprise you on your first cruise, and/or on your first Disney Cruise Line voyage?

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33 thoughts on “Surprises #Everywhere On The Disney Dream

  • After a grand total of two cruises (one Royal Caribbean, one Disney) I’m of the thinking that parking at the Port is a “rope drop” situation. My RC cruise went out of Port Canaveral and my Disney one out of Miami, and both I showed up early for and had very little problem parking and getting through the port process. However, the place became packed very quickly, showing the amount of people that are pictured in the article.

    As David mentioned several times in the article, one of the biggest takeaway I got from my cruise is how amazing Disney is at getting so many people in and out of things in the most efficient way possible. Whether it was getting through the port, getting on the ship, going to the quick service places on deck, or getting off the ship, Disney had RC beat at every part of that game. I completely agree that the pools are too small, and while we stayed primarily at the adults-only pool, I would often walk by the family pools and it would be a madhouse at times. I can’t imagine that would be fun.

  • Oof. This post could have been renamed “Disney Cruising: Auschwitz At Sea.” I definitely would never book a Disney cruise after reading this if I hadn’t cruised before. I’m sorry you had such a bad time. I thoroughly loved my Disney cruise. The only negative I can find is that, yes, the deck parties are crowded. But certainly far less crowded than, say, watching Wishes in the hub in the Magic Kingdom.

    • And speaking of deck parties, the author’s photo caption is …Subprime View…)

      If I had his at an Elton John concert, it would be a $500 ticket.

      I thought his Subprime View was VERY close to the show with no one standing infront of him. I’d take that Subprime View at any deck party!

  • I was looking forward to my first cruise next month, first cruise for my husband, my kids, and my mother who normally lives 6500 miles away and flying in to spend time with her grandchildren on a Disney Cruise, and after reading reading this article I feel like an idiot for planning this trip in the first place. We worked so hard to save up for this trip and were so excited for some fun, relaxing, special time. I knew it’s not perfect. The reviewer is not the only one on the web who wrote about things that were less than ideal about Disney Cruise (yes, I read about the small pool, read the Navigators to notice that some events were late, and some people saying their kids didn’t like the kids club as much). But this article is the only one that made me regret my decision. When the article started with “…full of surprises for me, some good, some bad”, I wasn’t expecting 1 good surprise and 7 bad surprises. I don’t want sugar coated review, but I hope it was titled “things that I was surprisingly disappointed with about DCL” – at least that would’ve been fair. After reading the article along with 2 photos of completely bored/annoyed looking reviewer, I really wish I hadn’t planned this trip. For what we paid, getting a great selection on on demand movies just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. I hope my family will forgive me.

    • AN,
      The evening shows are amazing, Broadway quality, (yes, all with characters and a lot of Disney in them but you are going to a Disney Cruise after all). Crowds are there at times but didn’t bother me as much. There’s a great cafe in the adults area and the kids don’t mind the small pool. You can hang out in the adult’s pool and jacuzzi when kids are at the club. The spa is beautiful and I recommend at least one treatment (we did the chair massage except I asked for it to be inside and they were fine with it). Meals are really good, the atmosphere is great. There is no perfect vacation but for me having quality time with my family and extended family was great. Focus on the positive and enjoy 🙂 Castaway Cay is gorgeous, I recommend bike riding or just enjoying the beach and slides there – water is cold though. I don’t think you’ll regret!

      • Thank you, MW. I read lots of reviews on DCL before, both good and bad, so I can have reasonable expectations for our trip, but this article brought me to tears. All I could picture was my family looking like the man in the photos – bored, irritated, uninterested and checked-out. I kept picturing them rolling their eyes at me, making sarcastic remarks for 7days: “I never thought the pool was THAT small!” “I’m so surprised that 4000 people would get hungry around the same time as I do!””I’m shocked that you’d even WANT any family photos!””What, I’m being honest!” I feel better now – I never expected a perfect cruise, but I’m sure we can find things that we will like. Castaway Cay sounds like fun 🙂 And anyways the trip is about our family being able to spend time with my mom – we only get to see her once a year (if that), so we wanted something special. Thank you for cheering me up!

  • When did you cruise? We went in October as well on the Dream (4 night) and feel pretty much the same, except that for a mom of 3 I loved not having to cook, clean and knowing I had great meals waiting for me at dinner. My kids, age 8 and 10 were often found playing games on the computers so I was a bit disappointed they didn’t participate in the events at the club. My 4 year old loved playing there with his cousin though. Kids would spend 2 hours a day there and the rest with us. I also got great 30 min massages. It was the only massage that was worth paying for… ($46 plus tip) the others were insanely priced! We checked in at noon at Port Canaveral and there were no lines. Lunch buffet was busy as you said. Also Aquaduck had no lines at 9am when they opened. The hot tubs were always full of people so wish they had more of them. We didn’t use the pools, just the slides and Nemo area. We had great rooms with oversized balconies on Deck 5 and I highly recommend them if you have family in the rooms next door. We connected 3 of the balconies and it was great going from one to the other! Can’t wait to go back on a cruise, there were more pluses for us than negatives.

  • This is almost exactly the post I would have written about my first cruise – three days on the Wonder in 2003, back when the Wonder was a thing. I was honestly shocked that the pools weren’t huge like they looked in the promotional brochures. I was claustrophic in the buffet line and my daughter (age three at the time) was in a separation anxiety phase, so she barely went to the kids clubs at all. Needless to say, it was not our best vacation. It was a long time until I was willing to cruise again.

    Fast forward to 2011 and my husband finally lured me back onto a ship by convincing me that it was a great way to introduce the kiddos to Europe. I reluctantly agreed. With a bigger stateroom, older (and more outgoing) kids, and a better (for me) itinerary, we had an absolutely fabulous time and have now been back on many more DCL voyages.

    Like many things, much of cruising is a matter of timing.

  • I think it’s important to know some draw backs. For example I always tell people to check for press events if they can. One time at Epcot we had a fireworks cruise canceled, and then dinner at Mexico (canceled), and rescheduled at Rose and Crown and then that one was canceled a few days before we left. All due to a press event at EPCOT. We got “bumped” for people with press badges.

  • I’m generally ok with the author being negative, and I have experienced several of the things that he did (like terrible crowds at the embarkaction day buffet.) It’s a BLOG entry, so I am not sure it has to be fair and balanced…it’s an opinion…and it’s only one opinion from a new cruiser.

    But, as the author has not cruised before he does not know there are crowds on nearly all cruise ship lines, and that they don’t always need to go full steam to get somewhere, and that photos are expensive. These things are cruise ship norms.

    But it was REALLY negative. Cruise Critic, US News and World Report, Conde Nast, all rate the Disney line very highly and I personally put a lot of trust in the Disney brand.

    Anyway how can you not at minimum like the split bathrooms?

    • There was not a split bathroom in my inside stateroom (Category 11C), but I knew that in advance (I recall that DCL was an innovator in the stateroom bathroom arena), so the stateroom bathroom situation would not have surprised me.

  • While I appreciate the honest review, I agree with the others that this post came across as all negative, all the time. I think the idea of offering suggestions or alternatives that one reader posted is a great idea.

    I have cruised 3 times on other lines, and while I always look at the Disney boat and dream of sailing on it, I can’t figure out what would justify paying 2x as much as the cruise that I am on. Your review especially turns me off- for it seems that their are lines and planning involved in everything- which may be normal for Disney World, but not the case on any other cruise I’ve been on.

    • There is plenty to do on the ship without doing a lot of advance planning; I apologize if I made it seem otherwise. As with any vacation, though, research can help you enjoy a cruise more efficiently.

      I can’t comment on how crowds and lines compare to other cruise lines or ships, but I think any ship with a similar capacity would have comparable challenges with parking and at major ship-wide events like the Sail Away Celebration. Although the size of the crowds is a sight to behold (and that’s what surprised me), I didn’t suffer a lot because of them. And although I attended events with 2,000+ attendees, I also went to events with 10 attendees; many different experiences can be found.

  • I have to say I 100% agree with everything the blogger said based on my cruise (except the media as I didn’t see any media on my cruise. I wish I had read this before I took my family on our Disney Cruise. Everything I read prior to my cruise (which was a lot) had my expectations sky high. We still had a great time on our cruise, but the same disappointments the blogger had, my family had as well.

    The pools were so small, you could ‘be’ in the pool, but not ‘swim’ in the pool. I didn’t find a ton of activities the kids loved in the kids clubs. I expected more interactions with characters in the clubs and I found that since we were escaping a Canadian winter on our cruise, I never felt like it was fair to send them somewhere that was totally indoors when we were in the beautiful sunshine! But the main disappointment for me was that so many of the activities were so late at night. My little ones were up early in the morning and sometimes we were wandering the ship looking for something to do. There was barely anything happening before 9am. We were often sitting beside the pool waiting for it to open (we were on the Wonder where the pool opens later than the newer ships). And in the evenings I felt like we were sitting in our state room missing out on all the fun. We missed many of the shows, the pirate party, etc because there was just no way our kids could stay up that late.

    There were a ton of fun things on our cruise too though. Any food you wanted, any time you wanted. What a treat! Castaway Cay surpassed my expectations and we had the best day of the cruise there by far. The water slides were fun. The kids got to meet a ton of characters (who were all fantastic!). And we escaped the snow for a few days!

    The article was about things that surprised the blogger; things that were different than his expectations. I’m sure there were tons of things that he expected to be great, that were. But it’s always great to have a realistic idea of the good and the bad before you go on the trip. I know for my family, we had a ton of fun on our Cruise, but realized that it probably won’t be the vacation of choice for us in the future.

  • I am personally not expecting wholly glowing reviews for all Disney trips, whether they be cruise, parks or otherwise. But it should be noted that this is not exactly a comprehensive review either. What about the guest service? How was the food? What activities on board were tried, if any? What did you think of your stateroom? What expectations did the author have going into it (clearly they weren’t met)? What did you think of Castaway Cay? I recognize that sometimes parts of a trip fall so far short of expectations that the positive aspects of the trip simply don’t outweight the negative aspects. But this review makes no mention of so many other parts of a Disney cruise, that I can’t consider it a complete review.

    • I agree with the middle ground you’ve staked out. One of the (many) reasons this site and the books are worth the investment is their honest appraisals. And I did value the blogger’s honesty, since I don’t understand why any cruise is so appealing. But knowing it’s not my cup of tea would encourage me to make much more of an effort to be thorough and balanced with my reporting. There is no mistaking that behind this brief, honest review is a truckload of bad attitude… Which for this reader is just as annoying as the couple of ‘all sentences must end in exclamation points’ gushers who post regularly. Time for this site to thin the herd by 3 or 4 bloggers, in my opinion.

  • I found this post to be very helpful. It confirms some things I’ve thought about cruises – lots of time spent watching the ocean go by. And provides useful information about some other things – I would not have anticipated the crowds.

  • Also, I wonder if the host that said the ship could get from Port Canaveral to Nassau in an hour was a former WDW bus driver – it sounds like one of the crazy “facts” that drivers add to their spiels to fool with the guests.

  • Thanks for your honest assessment.
    Seeing both positives and negatives in the reviews makes me more confident that I’m getting fair advice with my subscription, rather than a mouthpiece for Disney’s social media operations.

  • This is a disappointingly negative post. I would think that if my boss paid for me to take a cruise I could at least find one or two pleasant surprises to write about.

    • Surprise! Not everything at Disney is 100% rainbows and Mickey bars. I think if my boss ran a website dedicated to honest reviews, he would appreciate real opinions without sugar-coating everything.
      I think it is good to have real opinions. Plus, David was impressed with the in room video service.

    • Tammy, I think you’re missing the point our of trips. They are for research. If David had sugar coated his review, it would have been time and money wasted for us. If his article helps improve a reader’s DCL experience then our work is done. In the end, we want to help readers and subscribers make the most of what is for most of us limited time and money. If that decision is to do things differently or even skip a cruise until everyone in the party can enjoy it, that’s what people read the blog for – not for the Disney party line.

      • Honestly, I thought this was a disappointingly negative post as well- I understand the research aspect, but as someone who is getting on a cruise, a disney cruise at that, for the first time in a couple of weeks this post left me wishing I was getting my money back. I have a 3 year old, I have kids who will want to go to bed early…before this post I have been nothing but excited for this but this post left a bad taste in my mouth. What might have helped is after each negative talk about a possible way around the negative or something positive that could be in its place- for example, the “day care” piece about the 3 year old could have been followed up with something the 3 year old did enjoy. Only hearing the negative doesn’t help me when I get on the boat in 3 weeks. Boy I hope you are wrong about what my experience will be on the cruise because you sort of ruined my morning, to be honest!

      • While I don’t totally disagree with anything in the article, my experience with a Disney Cruise could not have been more fun for our family. My (somewhat older) kids loved the kids club, we found lots of activities to keep us busy during the day, and the kids even enjoyed the crowded pool! Also, the adult only pool was never crowded on our cruise. Hope you enjoy your cruise!

      • My kid enjoyed plenty of things: miniature golf, movies, splashing in the pool and in Nemo’s Reef, running around hallways, sleeping on a couch that turns into a bed, playing in sand, eating soft-serve, trick-or-treating, and more.

        We ate dinner with a family whose slightly older 3-year-old male requested to go to the kids’ club; my experience is specific to my kid. I think he would have found the kids’ clubs more alluring if he were a few years older. And, to be clear, he didn’t object to the kids’ club. I’m certain that he enjoyed many other cruise activities more, but I’m also certain he enjoyed the cruise experience, as a whole.

      • Nicole, my not quite 3 and a half year old LOVED the Club to the point that he cried pretty much every time we picked him up to leave. And it wasn’t all the screens – he loved doing the scavenger hunts and several of the character-led interactions. So it probably depends on your kids. It didn’t feel like day-care to me at all since the counselors were so engaging.

      • Hi Laurel. I have subscribed to the Disney World and Disney Cruise Touring Plans sites for a number of years now, and I do not do so for the “Disney party line”. However, like AN, Adam, Sarah, and some others who have commented, I find this article to be overly negative and in fact it turns me off of cruising altogether (despite having already done extensive research into DCL and having put a hefty deposit down on a 2015 cruise). I find that this story does not present the balanced view I generally find here on Touring Plans. Instead, it seems that David has a chip on his shoulder that overshadowed this particular article. Honest, objective reporting is appreciated: curmudgeonly nit-picking is not, and I would expect better on this site.

    • This piece is not presented as a comprehensive review of a cruise on the Disney Dream, and it intentionally has a bit of attitude.

      The positives of Disney Cruise Line get plenty of attention and were — at least to me — very evident at the time of booking. That’s why the good things were, for the most part, not “surprises.” It should surprise no one that service, food, amenities, and entertainment were all very good and that Castaway Cay was beautiful. DCL is successful because it does lots of things well.

      I didn’t like that Disney gave radio personalities special privileges, so that “surprise” is an outright complaint. Aside from that, my “surprises” are meant to be educational, providing a bit of realism to go along with the pretty pictures you see in advertisements. If you know what to expect, reality isn’t as traumatic, especially if you can make adjustments to enhance your experience. We’re all about this sort of thing at TouringPlans, and lots of people rely on us to help get more out of their vacations.

      For example, if I had learned about the late-night activities in advance, I would have tried harder to skew my family’s schedule so that we could stay up later. The pools are fine if you don’t expect them to be something they’re not. And I think it’s important to remind people that there will be crowds with 4,000 guests in a confined space. Disney Cruise Line handles them well, but the sheer magnitude of the ship’s operations were hard for me to comprehend before witnessing them, myself.

      Thanks for reading!

      • I’ve seen radio media taking over large sections of the pool deck on DCL cruises too. As a paying guest, I find it seriously annoying. This has happened on 2 of 10 cruises for me, but it’s usually for an occasion – like the first Magic cruises after the drydock. David, did you see any reason for the media presence on this cruise?

      • As far as I know, there was nothing special about this sailing that merited media coverage. There were Halloween activities, but those had started a month prior. My guess is that Disney regularly gives away rooms to media on sailings that are unlikely to sell-out.

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