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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?