Line: Disney Cruise Line
Built: January 2011
Passengers: 4,000 passengers
Class: Sister ship of Disney Fantasy
Itineraries: 3- and 4-night Bahamas cruises out of Port Canaveral, Florida
Disney fanatics and families with tweens, teens, and even smaller children.
People who don’t like to be around kids, crowds, or people in character costumes.
- Castaway Cay is an idealized beach experience for families.
- Family-sized cabins are large and comfortable.
- The “Finding Nemo” water park for kids is such a great space that kids of all ages use it.
- The AquaDuck "water coaster" is so much fun that passengers happily wait in long lines for repeat runs.
Disney Cruise Line is often declared the best line for families with young children, and it’s easy to see why from the minute you board. Walk through the mouse ear-shaped entrance in Port Canaveral, and Mickey Mouse himself welcomes you by name.
I sailed on the three-night cruise out of Port Canaveral with my sister and her 2-year-old daughter in order to experience a Disney sailing from a small child’s viewpoint. My niece was thrilled with literally every aspect of the cruise and raved to her daddy when she got home that it was “too much fun!”
From a grown-up’s perspective, while traveling with hundreds of children — who easily outnumber the adults — may be loud at times, it’s impressive to see how catering to their every whim makes this young crowd, well, happy. Overall, kids were well-behaved and friendly with one another. They’re also welcome to join in just about every aspect of the cruise, to run, jump, sing along, and play in all but a few spaces on the ship. From the sail-away party to the final evening, when a band played to the crowd waiting for the 8:15 dinner seating and the most exuberant dancers were the small children twisting and shouting, Disney Dream is a cruise ship that's designed for kids.
Tip: Take advantage of the complimentary option to have Mickey call your young travel companions in advance of their cruise; it will help them get excited about the trip, too.
Part of what makes Disney Dream such a great ship for families with young children are the loaner items available from the line. You can have a crib and Diaper Genie® diaper disposal system delivered to your cabin; you can also borrow a stroller while onboard, and have a high chair or booster seat placed at your dining room table every night. In addition, Disney has a unique program that allows you to preorder diapers and wipes to be sent to your cabin upon arrival.
On top of that, all staterooms have a few special features that also set the line apart from competitors: Bathrooms are divided into two spaces, with a sink and shower — which has a small tub for children’s baths, and even large bottles of kid-friendly bath products — in one and a sink and toilet in the other. This is a huge plus for families, especially those trying to get two kids ready for bed at once. Cabins are also divided into two with a curtain, allowing parents to move about without tiptoeing once the little ones are asleep.
In addition to a queen bed and a pullout couch, most cabins also have a Murphy bed that pulls down to a bunk bed. And, since this is a ship with services designed especially for the youngest cruisers, turndown service always includes towel animals.
Since everything went so smoothly, we found ourselves dreaming up extra ways the line could impress small cruisers: “Wouldn’t it be nice if they left coloring books and crayons, and tiny robes and slippers in the room when you check in? What about Disney books at turndown?” Which just goes to show that there really wasn’t anything to complain about.
Tip: The in-cabin TV service has plenty of channels, but — aside from ESPN, CNN, and ABC — most of them show Disney-branded entertainment, which is great for kids but less so for grown-ups after the little ones go to bed.
Activities and Entertainment
The trip starts with a sail-away party that firmly sets the tone: This is a cruise ship that’s designed for families with children. Gold streamers are passed out, and the band stars Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The two small family pools suddenly feel even smaller as they fill up, elbow to elbow, with children of all ages, who spill over into the line for the AquaDuck ride and the water park.
The playrooms on Disney Dream as impressive as you would expect, with a series of spaces designed for different age groups’ needs. My sister and I used the babysitting service at It’s a Small World Nursery on the night we dined at Remy and were impressed by the confidence of the attendants and their willingness to report updates on my niece so that my sister could relax.
Older kids can take advantage of the miniature golf course and basketball court, the serve-yourself soft serve and beverage stations, as well as all-you-can eat pizza, burgers, and chicken fingers, which are served all day long. There’s also a movie theater — which shows a mix of Disney classics and first-run films throughout the day — as well as the impressive evening stage shows.
Adults are catered to as well, and I saw couples that appeared to be traveling without children. There’s an adult-only pool, an adult-only area on Castaway Cay, and adult-only restaurants, Remy and Palo. The ship has a small spa and a well-equipped gym. In addition, bars include 687, which (during the day in the fall and winter) is set up like a sports bar, with live football games airing on various screens and a happy hour buffet of chicken wings.
Tip: Get to Castaway Cay, the line’s private Bahamian island, early. Passengers can disembark at 8:30 am, and those who do will enjoy having the shoreline to themselves until the latecomers arrive and the family beach fills to capacity. (Your other option: Rent a cabana for $499 a day, and you’ll get access to the oft-empty private section of the beach.)
Disney hits a real home run with its dining services: Waiters rotate with guests through the three main restaurants and, after the first night, high chairs are in place and drinks are waiting on your table when you arrive. The staff addresses all of the little girls on board as “princess,” (as in, “Good morning, princess! Your milk is on the table. What would you like for breakfast?”), a move that clearly charms the little ones. The staff also replaces dropped silverware and cleans up spilled drinks with what appear to be truly genuine smiles.
Royal Palace, Disney Dream's main dining room, wowed us from breakfast — where the healthy options impressed us as much as the more decadent choices — to dinner, where our meal of perfectly cooked horseradish-crusted salmon and lamb chops ended with a duo of desserts (including a chocolate-dipped Mickey head ice cream on a stick and a strawberry shortcake sundae) for my niece, who grinned as she double-fisted her selections and laughed at the waiters’ magic tricks.
Animator’s Palate is designed around a “Finding Nemo”-inspired animated video, which is shown on the walls. While the 5- to 10-year-olds loved the interactive show, older kids seemed a bit bored, and small children weren’t sure what to make of the talking turtle, fish, and shark. The experience at Enchanted Garden, inspired by Versailles — and just as over the top as you would expect — also has a sense of whimsy. Here, the walls change colors, and flower decorations appear to “bloom” as you watch.
Remy, on the other hand, is clearly a magical place for adults. This specialty restaurant is based on a “Ratatouille” theme, but — fortunately — doesn’t take the concept past subtle décor choices. The food itself, French and served à la française, is memorable (picture complimentary Champagne cocktails mixed tableside, followed by an amuse-bouche of foie gras foam blended with caramel and macadamia nuts, and brioche served with an unnecessary but decadent bowl of whipped butter and a silver bowl of sea salt). And that’s before you even order.
Tip: At Remy, don’t skip the complimentary course of French cheeses, no matter how full you feel or how much you fear your child’s bedtime is approaching.
Traveling with very little ones? Ask at It’s a Small World Nursery for the list of changing tables and Diaper Genie machines that are placed around the ship. Also be sure to check the daily schedule for the list of character photo ops — as important for little fans as they are for those traveling with children who may be fearful.