I have submitted this to the review section but thought I'd post it here as well :)
If you don’t want to read the whole review and just want the nutshell version, here it is: The ship was nice. Service was top-notch. Shows were unparalleled. The food selection and availability was poor. The pace of the ship was somewhat frenetic, and the kids seemed to run wild a lot. Granted, the free sodas probably didn’t help the situation, as they were all overcaffeinated and oversugared. The kids’ activities were mostly geared towards older kids, and many of the other activities were adults only (as in, literally you could not come in with the kid, even if they were asleep). We MAY sail Disney again in the future when our child is older, but for now I’m looking forward to our January cruise on NCL, where their “Freestyle cruising” fits our lifestyle better.
Introduction- This was our first Disney cruise, and our second cruise with our 18 month old son (he sailed with us on NCL at 8 months or so). We’ve also sailed Princess, Royal, and Celebrity. Our toddler is pretty flexible and social, so we thought he’d enjoy the cruise. We chose Disney partly because they leave out of Port Canaveral, and we didn’t feel like driving far to a departure port, partly because my son loves Mickey Mouse, and partly because we’d heard it was top notch. We did pay a little more than the other 4 day cruises, but there are not many 5 star ships that sail shorter itineraries, and I will gladly pay extra for a nicer ship.
Embarkation- We parked at the port, which is much smaller than other ports I’ve been to, and therefore more convenient. The lines moved quickly and smoothly, and we were through security and off to the ship within ten minutes. One cool thing that Disney does is announces each family over the microphone as you board the ship.
Stateroom- We had booked an interior cabin and for the first time ever we were lucky enough to be upgraded to an oceanview. We had a bed, sitting area with a table that we pushed aside, a shower/tub combo, and a water closet. Storage space was ample. There was an LCD TV that was on a swing-arm that could be aimed either at the sofa or the bed, which was nice. The bathroom was convenient in that it had a tub, and the shower/bath products were nice, but I would have gladly given up the split bath for more cabin floor space. I’m sure if we were a bigger family with older children I would have appreciated it more.
Production shows/character appearances- There is simply no comparison to shows I’ve seen on other cruise lines. The shows were so good that I would have gladly paid to see them on land. My son was enraptured, which is saying a lot for an 18 month old. He also enjoyed the characters; they made plenty of appearances and though there were lines at times, other times you just would encounter them hanging out in a quiet corner with no crowds.
Kids’ clubs- I can’t speak to this much, as my son was not old enough to be checked in to the main club. We did leave him in Flounder’s Reef for an hour or so while we went to the spa, and he seemed to do okay. We took him to the regular kids’ club several times to run around and blow off steam- the staff will let you do this as long as at least one parent stays with the child. At times this was fine, if the older kids were engaged in another activity, but at other times the club resembled a scene from Lord of the Flies. Kids running, jumping, screaming, and although there were plenty of yellow Disney cast member shirts, no one seemed to be doing much to corral the kids. The kids’ area itself was pretty nice. There were a lot of larger-than-life props with soft edges, a slide, a stage, a large climbing structure, and a computer lab. There was a separate area across the atrium, the Oceaneer’s Lab, that was also utilized as a kids’ club. The lab had a few organized activities, like Ratatouille cooking school and Flubber, but those events seemed super packed. As far as entertainment for smaller kids, there was a Disney Playhouse dance party that my son enjoyed (not held in the club), but again most activities were geared towards older kids.
Pools- Obviously, since my child isn’t potty trained, we couldn’t go in the main pool, but he did enjoy the splash area. The Mickey pool looked pretty murky and questionable to me, the Goofy pool (where the movie screen is located) seemed mellower, and the adults only pool was serene just about 24/7.
Food- Let’s start with the good. The food in the restaurants is excellent, as is the service. I didn’t think I’d care either way about the staff following our dining rotation, but it was actually nice. The restaurant décor was fun while still being classy, and I thought the menus offered a decent variety. The portion sizes were larger than what I’ve seen on other lines, especially the red meat (which by the way was delicious). I liked the option to order three of the desserts in miniature. One of the things I hate most about cruising is the feeling of guilt over wasted food. Being able to order each of the desserts in smaller portions was really nice. Also, DCL did the best jobs at chocolate desserts of any line I’ve been on.
Now for the not-so-good. My husband and I are not food snobs. Not even close. However, we were completely underwhelmed with the buffet. The variety and tastiness of the food was totally lacking. Also, the hours during which the buffet is available are not adequate. I’m not talking about “I’m on a cruise and I want to gorge myself every second” available. I’m talking about “I have late dining (8:15) and my 18 month old eats around 6:00” available. In order to not have a nuclear meltdown at 8:15, he needs to be well-nourished beforehand. Yes, the fast food poolside service was available, as was room service, but I thought it was a little ludicrous to have such limited dining hours on a line that caters to little people and little tummies. The mac and cheese, clearly a kids’ staple, was inedible. After trying the buffet on day one, we tried to stick to the restaurants whenever possible. For future cruises, I will probably only sail on lines that have some kind of anytime dining.
One other thing that I noticed during mealtimes, which maybe was a fluke but maybe not, was the fact that any time my husband had to step away and leave me with a cranky baby, a cast member would invariably come over to entertain my son. Every time. It was really nice to have some extra distraction, but a little odd too.
Non-show entertainment- There seemed to be a fair amount of activities on board, but next to many of them was an ominous message: “adults only.” On DCL, they really mean this. Please don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate that some adults sail without children and don’t want to be around them. Some adults sail with children and don’t want to be around them. However, some adults (us, for example) sail with their children, who enjoy listening to live music and people-watching. They even can nap through questionable comedy so they aren’t scarred forever. No matter, on Disney it wasn’t even an option. Again, I understand why, but it was very disappointing not to be able to go to much of the live music, as my son LOVES music. The clubs were totally dead, too, so it’s not like he would have been a buzzkill.
The ship- The ship is mid-sized, and is pretty well-designed. There are not as many public gathering areas as I’m used to, and a high up bar affording forward views is absent, unless I somehow missed it. The elevators are too small, but they are quick. The theater is accessible from only one floor, but traffic going in and out wasn’t bad. Restaurants are conveniently located (on some ships you potentially have to take two elevators as there is no end-to-end access). The Chihuly piece in the atrium is nice, but sort of gets lost in the space.
Spa/Fitness Center- This was the first time I splurged on a spa treatment, and I’m glad I did. The treatment area was really nice, as was the rainforest room. I wish I had more time to enjoy it, but my son was in child care and we were nervous that the pager was going to go off at any minute. The receptionist in the spa took us back to show us the spa villas. Now that was amazing. They are private spa treatment areas with a Jacuzzi tub, balcony, and massage tables. Wow. If the cruise itself hadn’t been so expensive I might have tried it out. It looked blissful. The fitness center was nice. There wasn’t a separate aerobics room, but it didn’t matter since the gym was never crowded. I managed to make it there twice, and everything was pretty standard and in good working condition.
Castaway Cay- This is the nicest private island (granted, we’ve only been on one other) that we’ve sailed to. It’s expansive, with lots of shops, two family beaches, the new waterslide, shops, a pretty sizable splash pad, bars, plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs, and covered seating near the buffet. They do have trams, but we walked. I actually ran out to the adults beach, which is maybe a mile away on a wide paved road that looks like (is?) a landing strip. They had a yoga class on the beach there, which was nice. It looks like there is quite a bit of expansion underway on the island too, possibly a second (third if you count Serenity Bay) eating area.
As I said earlier, we probably won’t pay the Disney premium again, at least for a while, especially since NCL will be in Port Canaveral beginning later in the year. It was a good experience, and we’re still in the process of trying different lines to see what suits us best. With our needs changing as our son grows, I’m sure our views will change.