Disney Dream Christening Cruise – January 19-21, 2011

BY MARY WARING

Disney Dream at Castaway CayI was among the fortunate few hundred members of the media who were invited along on the Christening Cruise of Disney’s newest ship, the Dream. Our two-night, one-and-a-half-day cruise was both wonderful and a little frustrating: the ship is so big and so amazing that there was literally no way to see everything. Fortunately, I had already booked a cruise on the Dream for February 2011 before learning that I would be sailing on the Christening Cruise, so I was able to return to the ship a few weeks later. Based on the two cruises, I’ve now expanded the information on the “Planning Advice” and “Onboard Advice” pages.

One of the things that makes the Dream so completely fantastic is its creative use of technology. Disney has incorporated flat screens in many locations to accomplish “magical” lighting effects, create windows where there are none, and more. But I’ll get back to that as I go along. For now, let’s start with the ship’s size. The two original Disney cruise ships, the Magic and the Wonder, each have 875 staterooms, with a potential capacity of 2400 passengers. The Dream has 1250 staterooms and a potential capacity of 4000 passengers. If every berth is filled, a Dream sailing will have 40% more passengers than a Magic or Wonder sailing.

That is a lot of extra people, and clearly Disney Cruise Line was concerned that it might have a negative effect on the passenger experience. So Disney has done many things in order to prevent problems. It expanded its cruise terminal at Port Canaveral. It has also added a number of new locations and features on its private island, Castaway Cay (click here for more about that).

On the Dream, the public spaces are expansive, providing a feeling of spaciousness. The theaters are larger; there are more and bigger shops; even the elevators are larger than on the other ships. There are more decks to accommodate the extra staterooms and additional amenities.

The three rotational restaurants are larger than on the two other ships, but the spaces are broken up in order to preserve a somewhat intimate atmosphere. There are two completely new restaurants: Royal Palace, which is Princess-themed in an elegantly restrained manner; and Enchanted Garden, a slightly more casual place that uses technology to create transformations in the restaurant’s atmosphere, so that it has one feeling in the daytime and another at night.

The Dream also has a restaurant called Animator’s Palate, as on the other ships, but it is completely different from the earlier versions of the concept and uses a totally different technology to create an amazing dining experience in which you are able to interact with a Disney character. I don’t want to give too much away, but Animator’s Palate on the Dream is an absolute do-not-miss.

The ship’s buffet, Cabanas, has a much-improved traffic flow, with the food stations divided into “pods” that make for a lot less standing in line. Whether you want pasta, a hot entree, a sandwich or a salad, you can go straight to the appropriate station.

In addition to duplicating the adults-only restaurant, Palo, from the other ships, the Dream has a second premium restaurant called Remy, with a super-premium price tag: $75 per person, on top of your cruise fare. Mike and I dined at Remy on our February cruise and thought it was the best cruise ship restaurant we’ve ever experienced. (We’ve sailed on several non-Disney cruise lines including Holland America and Crystal, and eaten in those lines’ premium restaurants.) It is a very similar experience to the 5-Diamond Victoria & Albert’s restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, and well worth the money if you enjoy elegant dining experiences.

There are many more lounges and bars on the Dream than on the earlier ships, and some of them are truly fabulous. Pink, which is styled to look as if you’re inside a bottle of pink champagne, has to be experienced to be believed. Photos just can’t capture the ambiance. Skyline, which features huge flat panel displays that create “windows” on a changing city skyline, was my favorite, and judging by the number of passengers squeezed into the small space, it’s a favorite of many others.

There are two new fun experiences onboard for families: the AquaDuck water coaster and a miniature golf course. I was so busy exploring the ship that I never got to try the AquaDuck, but I did ride it in February and it was great fun. I found it thrilling without being too scary.

The Spa is much bigger, has more treatment rooms, and additional features, including a hammam (a tiled dry sauna), a barber shop for men and the most stunning couples’ suites I’ve ever seen. The suites each have a treatment room with two massage tables, a huge shower and a private deck with its own hot tub. There is also now a teen spa called Chill, which has its own special services.

I toured the kids’ clubs extensively. They have been massively expanded and improved. The Oceaneer Club is now conceived almost like a Disney park, with a central “hub” surrounded by differently themed “lands” where kids can do activities. It connects directly with the Oceaneer Lab, allowing kids to flow back and forth to participate in activities that appeal to them, rather than being rigidly divided by age, as in the past. The Oceaneer Lab has perhaps the single coolest thing I’ve seen in awhile: a play floor that allows kids to participate in interactive gaming on a giant grid of 28 flat panels surrounded by 16 LED sensor panels. Kids move their feet on the sensor panels to participate, which encourages physical activity in a fun way.

The teen club, Vibe, is a truly awe-inspiring hideaway with all kinds of high-tech gadgetry. The lighting scheme and music suggest a very, very cool nightclub. Teens can do all kinds of activities, from lounging on huge floor pillows to playing Kinect games on an immense screen with a stage in front of it. There are built-in, padded oval wall pods where a kid can lounge and watch a movie on a personal screen, or plug in an iPod. There is a smoothie and coffee bar, and best of all, teens have their own private sundeck with splash pools, cool furniture and privacy. I said to a friend, “few things would make me want to go back to being a teen, but Vibe is one of them.”

The only slightly disappointing kids’ space, in my opinion, is the “tween” club, Edge, which is located in the forward ship’s funnel. It’s hard to reach (which I’m sure tweens would consider a benefit) and rather small by comparison with the other clubs. It has the requisite huge television, a bunch of seating and some computer monitors. While it’s cool enough looking, there are no small cozy spaces where a shyer kid can retreat: it’s all out in the open. Knowing Disney, it’s probably well-suited to the desires of tweens, but it doesn’t appeal to me very much. The best thing about it, in my opinion, is the portholes that allow the kids in the club to watch AquaDuck riders going by.

A Few Observations

Virtual Porthole on the Disney Dream cruise shipThe “virtual portholes” in the Dream’s inside cabins are the most brilliant idea Disney Cruise Line has ever had. Basically they are round video monitors that deliver an image from a camera positioned on the ship’s exterior. It is a remarkably effective illusion that makes an inside cabin feel much more open. Just to add a little extra Disney magic, the virtual portholes occasionally receive visits from Disney characters such as Nemo! The virtual porthole rooms are already proving so popular that I heard two things from the travel agents on the Christening Cruise: 1. people are asking NOT to be upgraded from their inside cabins on the Dream; and 2. on some sailings, inside cabins are now more expensive than outside cabins, due to the demand!

While the Dream staterooms are a little smaller than on the Magic and Wonder, they don’t feel smaller. I think that’s partly because the bed is raised up on legs, providing visible space underneath, so light passes through the room better. Also, the bed can’t be divided into two twins, as on the other ships; twin beds take up more room. There are built-in flat screen television sets, so those take up no space.

The Dream staterooms have clocks with iPod docks, which is a nice improvement. The television system has a limited number of free “on-demand” movies (Disney films and some other family-friendly titles) that you can pause as necessary.

The stateroom phones use an LCD screen instead of a lot of buttons. Their functions are not always intuitive, but once you figure out how to navigate the menus (use the up/down arrows) they are fine.

As on the Magic and Wonder, staterooms now include mobile “wave phones” that you can use (for free) to communicate with your family and friends while on the ship and on Castaway Cay. They work great and come in handy since using a cell phone at sea is often impossible, and when possible, expensive.

Tips and Tricks I’ve Learned So Far

Key Cards

The Dream’s stateroom doors use a new technology. You simply tap your key card on the lock. This is great and much easier when you have your hands full.

When you enter the stateroom, you must insert your key card into a slot inside the door in order to activate the power inside the stateroom. This energy-conserving feature is common in European hotels, but not familiar to most Americans. While I applaud the good intentions behind it, this system presents two challenges:

  1. You have to remember to remove your key card from the slot every time you leave the room, or you’ll be locked out.
  2. Once you’re used to removing that card, it’s easy to forget that doing so will throw the bathroom into darkness. So let’s say your husband is in the bathroom and you want to run up to the Cove Cafe for coffee. You call out “hey hon, I’ll be right back,” pull your key card out of the slot, and head down the hallway. Well, he’s instantly in the dark. For some reason the bathroom lights go out immediately; the rest of the stateroom lights stay on for another minute or two.

Here’s a trick: any card about the same size and thickness as your key card (such as an old hotel room key card, used up gift card, etc.) will work in that slot to keep the lights on! (Business cards are too thin and don’t work well.)

If you don’t have a credit card-sized item to use for the light slot, MouseSavers.com reader Bill V suggests: “ANY thin object with appropriate thickness and firmness will work… there is a perfectly good item available right next to the switch in every room… the “Do Not Disturb” doorknob hanger! The whole hanger is too wide to fit in the slot–but either of the wings at the top (the ones which wrap around the knob when the rest of the hanger is hanging) will fit, without any damage to the hanger. Just turn it upside down, stick either wing into the slot, and your lights will operate.”

Coffee Cards

The Cove Cafe is an adults-only space just off the adults-only pool. It offers espresso drinks, for which there is a reasonable charge. If you aren’t offered a “coffee card” when you order your coffee, ask for one. This is a punch card — buy 5 coffees, get one free. I was told the cards never expire and can be saved for a future cruise — and in fact I had no problem using mine on my second cruise.

Getting From One End of the Ship to Another

The Magic and the Wonder have all their decks open from forward to aft, meaning you can walk the length of the ship on any deck without interruption. This was not possible with the Dream’s design. So there are a few locations that can be tricky to access because “you can’t get there from here.” It’s especially confusing and challenging to access Palo and Remy, and the teen club Vibe. You may have to go up or down one level in order to pass from Midship (center of the ship) to Aft (rear of the ship), for instance. This is actually quite common on cruise ships, but it’s not something past Disney passengers have experienced.

Stairs and elevator banks are in three locations, as on most cruise ships: Forward, Midship and Aft. Since some of the decks don’t have passageways all the way through the ship, if you need to traverse the ship, it’s easiest to do so on one of the decks exclusively devoted to staterooms (Decks 6-10). On those decks it’s a straight shot up and down the length of the ship. It’s also the fastest way to travel, because you aren’t dodging masses of people, furniture, pools and winding passageways. At most you’ll have to duck around a few housekeeping carts.

So for example, if you walk out of your cabin on Deck 8 Forward and you need to get to Animator’s Palate on Deck 3 Aft, stay on Deck 8 and walk all the way back to the Aft elevators before going down to Deck 3.

Likewise, if you’re eating in Cabanas (Deck 11 Aft) and you want to get to your room on Deck 6 Midship, it is much easier to take the Aft elevator down to Deck 6 and amble along the nice clear hallway instead of working your way through a buffet teeming with people moving in random directions to get to the Midship elevators.

To see what I mean, you can click here for a PDF deck plan.