Disney Dream Cruise Ship Review – A First-Timers Guide
While I haven’t had the chance to set sail too many times, I love cruising. From the delicious food and fun activities to waking up at an exciting port of call to all the friendly people you meet along the way, there’s just something magical about it.
And honestly, what could be dreamier than listening to the sound of the waves as you stare at an endless blanket of twinkling stars? Enjoying it all from the Disney Dream, that’s what (as I recently discovered).
Disney Dream-ing on the High Seas – Setting Sail on Our First Disney Cruise
Prior to traveling on the Disney Dream, my only cruise experience was a couple of sailings with Carnival. Now, I know that there are some cruise snobs out there who would never set sail with that fun-peddling cruise line.
However, I always thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was – an affordable entry into the world of cruising. So, needless to say, it doesn’t take much to please me. After all, I’m on vacation! That being said, I still had some concerns.
Disney Cruise Line is a natural choice for families with children. But, for this trip, I’d be traveling with my sister and sister-in-law, two first-time cruisers, on our yearly sisters’ trip. Would there be enough adult-friendly activities (and distance from the kiddos) onboard to keep us happy? Would all the pixie dust be too overwhelming for our girls’ getaway?
As it turned out, the only thing we needed to worry about was whether Hurricane Ian would blow our vacation out of the water or, at the very least, send it reeling to the Bahamas instead of the Cayman Islands. Fortunately, despite a depressing parade of downed trees and powerlines as we made our way to the port in Miami, our trip went off without a hitch.
Our cruise on the Disney Dream departed from the Port of Miami, which, though at least three and a half hours from the Walt Disney World bubble, touts stunning views of the city’s skyline as you set sail and typically slightly less expensive rates.
The three of us tend to be slightly anxious travelers, especially with all the travel uncertainty swirling around due to the hurricane. So, we decided to get to Miami the night before we embarked to save ourselves some stress.
Then, the next morning, it was time to drive to the port. Although overnight parking is available directly at the port for $22 per vehicle per day – a steep fee for our five-night cruise – we opted to park in an offsite lot instead. Plenty of options are available online, with rates ranging from as little as $8 per night to $15 or more nightly, and most include shuttle service directly to the port. Alternatively, for those flying into Miami International Airport, a shuttle to the port is also available.
By the time we finally made it to the port, we were ready for adventure – with a sprinkling of pixie dust. Luckily, since we completed the online check-in prior to our arrival, the process was smooth sailing from the moment we dropped off our bags to going through security to the time we finally got into our stateroom.
Plenty of people were on-hand to assist us along the way, whether grabbing our checked bags, checking our passports or just wishing us a happy voyage. Best of all, unlike my past cruises with Carnival, there wasn’t a single long line to speak of.
Finally, with our Key to the World Card in hand, it was time to climb aboard. As we walked into the ship’s atrium from the gangway, the only thing more dazzling than the Dream’s Art Deco chandelier glittering above us was the welcome we received from the crew members. Between the excited cheers and being greeted by name, talk about making an entrance!
Like the theme parks or Disney hotels, Disney Cruise Line ships are chockful of design details, and the Dream is no exception. Every ship in Disney’s fleet blends the romantic charm of the golden age of ocean liners with a heaping dose of pixie dust – and, in the case of the Dream, the rich colors, decadent details and glamour of Art Deco style and the Roaring 20s.
As someone who prefers my Disney magic in measured doses rather than a 24/7 bombardment, I was a little worried that I’d be pixie-dusted out before we even left port, let alone making it through an entire five-night cruise. Happily, Disney does an excellent job of balancing everything out so that it never really feels like it’s too much.
From the ship’s exterior paint job inspired by Mickey Mouse’s iconic black, red and yellow color scheme to characters hidden in elegant architectural details and other bits of “Disney whimsy,” each ship incorporates the magic of Disney in a way that feels more subtle than in your face.
What’s more, unlike Carnival cruise ships, which often felt like Las Vegas hotels at sea, the Disney Dream feels surprisingly elegant, even with scenes starring Disney characters in the elevators, enchanted artwork, Disney Princess-inspired mosaics and other in-your-face touches.
Plus, with dedicated areas for adults, teens and kids, each with its own thoughtful design touches and varying amounts of pixie dust to match, there is very much a choose-your-own-adventure vibe to the Disney-ness of it all.
With three women traveling together – and more outfit changes than we needed for a five-night cruise – we knew that space would be tight, especially when getting ready for the day or before heading out for dinner. So, we opted to book a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Navigator’s Verandah.
While this wasn’t my first time cruising, it was my first cruise with a balcony – and let me tell you, there’s no way I’m going back to an interior stateroom. Sure, the enchanted “windows” that interior Disney Dream staterooms offer are charming, but nothing compares to ordering room service and enjoying a cup of coffee as the sun rises over the ocean or listening to the lapping waves before bed.
Located on Deck 9, our 246-square-foot stateroom felt snug at times while still offering more than enough room for the three of us. When it came time to sleep, the most comfortable spot was easily the cloud-like queen bed. However, the single sofa bed and pulldown bed were also comfy enough, particularly after a full day of cruise adventures.
Storage space was also surprisingly ample, with several drawers, plenty of hangers and a mini fridge for stashing leftover room service croissants and chilling champagne for mimosas. Best of all, with two separate rooms for the shower and toilet, including two sink areas and mirrors, all three of us were able to get ready at the same time without too much hassle.
For our Disney Dream cruise, we set sail on a five-night voyage through the Western Caribbean, complete with stops in Grand Cayman and Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, along with two days at sea. And while many Disney cruises feature a Pirate Night during their trips, thanks to the timing, our aquatic adventure also included another fun evening and overall cruise theme: Halloween on the High Seas.
We spent much of embarkation day enjoying the Sail Away Party or simply trying to get acquainted with the location of everything on the ship. In fact, there’s so much to see and do on the Disney Dream that we only really started to feel like we had figured things out on the fourth and fifth nights, and even then, there was so much we still hadn’t experienced.
Days at sea, meanwhile, meant lazy days by the pool, in the hot tub or on a lounger – occasionally with the latest alcoholic drink of the day (available for $5.50, or $6.49 including tax and tip) in hand. When we weren’t soaking up the sun, we were busy enjoying the stacked slate of onboard activities, from trivia games and interactive shows to Broadway-style productions and Disney character meet-and-greets.
Aside from getting a taste of Grand Cayman and Castaway Cay (more on the last one a bit later), some of the highlights of our Disney Dream itinerary were definitely Pirate Night and Halloween on the High Seas. Previously, we were unsure of how we felt about dressing up in costumes instead of flowery jumpsuits or beachy maxi dresses for theme nights. (Yes, we were perpetually overdressed, and we’re ok with that.)
However, between the special entertainment and activities, themed menus in the main dining rooms and the overall fun of getting dressed up and seeing everyone else decked out for the occasion, they ended up being some of our best evenings onboard the Disney Dream.
Thanks to an impressive selection of amenities, we never felt bored or like we weren’t sure what to do, even with two entire days at sea. In fact, we had more anxiety about deciding which activity not to do. (Lobster ravioli cooking class or an interactive, adults-only game show?)
Here’s our take on everything we tried aboard the Disney Dream.
Restaurants & Menus
No matter where I’m traveling, food is a huge part of the journey, and cruising is no different. So, after hearing how good the food was on Disney Cruise Line, I was pretty excited. Fortunately, reality mostly matched my admittedly high expectations, thanks largely in part to our server’s exceptional service.
The Disney Dream, like other Disney Cruise Line ships, uses rotational dining for dinner. In other words, your dedicated server accompanies you while you rotate through the ship’s various dining rooms, including Animator’s Palate, Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden. Not only does this provide a sense of ease and consistency, but it also sets the tone for some incredible service.
Although we heard great things about Palo and Remy, we decided to skip out on these adults-only, additional-cost restaurants and solely enjoy the complimentary dining options. Ultimately, we were pretty happy with our decision.
With the exception of the Caribbean-inspired menu on Pirate Night, which felt slightly forced and wasn’t as good as what was offered on other nights, the food was typically very tasty. And with a wide assortment of dishes available, including soup, salad, steak, seafood, pasta and more, there’s something for everyone. Best of all, there was no upcharge for premium options like steak or lobster.
All those options can be overwhelming for someone like me. Fortunately, our server never shied away from giving his ranking of the night’s top dishes. Needless to say, with as many dishes as we wanted included with our cruise, we fully took advantage.
During the day, meanwhile, cruisers can choose between casual dining options like Cabanas, the ship’s buffet offering, and kid-friendly counter-service outlets such as Tow Mater’s Grill, or revisit one of the main dining rooms for a full, sit-down meal. With the exception of breakfast on debarkation morning at Royal Palace and a random lunch of chicken strips and pizza, we opted to stick with Cabanas most mornings and afternoons onboard the Disney Dream.
While things started to get iffy if we cut it too close to closing time, the food on the buffet usually met or exceeded our expectations. Was the orange juice a little watered down? Sure. Are the scrambled eggs slightly questionable? Absolutely. But that’s what the coffee and fresh-made omelets were for. In fact, compared to the sad excuse for a chorizo hash during breakfast our last morning, which featured one measly nibble of the spicy sausage, that spoonable slab of scrambled eggs was almost preferred.
Need a sugar rush during your day? Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats scoops up all sorts of confections (for a price), from ice cream with your favorite mix-ins to colorful desserts straight from the bakery case. Or, make like us and enjoy cone after cone of complimentary soft-serve from a self-service stand on the pool deck.
What about a java jolt? Spots like Cove Café and Vista Café brew specialty coffee drinks all day long. Though they aren’t included like regular brewed coffee, the variety of offerings, an assortment of milk options and a loyalty punch card make them a worthwhile splurge for those who can’t function without caffeine.
Along with plenty of delicious dining opportunities, the Disney Dream also features an array of recreation offerings, whether you’re in the mood for a friendly game of mini golf, a refreshing plunge in the pool or down a waterslide or a warming dip in a hot tub.
When it came to relaxing poolside, we spent most of our time in the adults-only area away from the family pool deck, which featured a wide selection of loungers and a couple of pools and hot tubs, as well as a swim-up bar. Luckily, since our cruise was sailing at less than 50% occupancy – around 1,800 people out of the max 4,000 – we never felt like we needed to fight for a spot in the pool or an empty lounger.
Although we didn’t spend too much time there, the family pools on the ship seemed busy even with the lower occupancy levels, making me dread what things could be like on a mostly full sailing. That said, sections like Nemo’s Reef splash pad and the AquaDuck, a 765-foot water coaster that circles the deck of the Dream, are sure to excite thrill seekers, whether young and old. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of waiting to ride the AquaDuck until our last night and missed out on it entirely. Next time!
Wanting something a bit more active? Goofy’s Sports Deck on Deck 13 offers up all kinds of outdoor fun, including basketball, ping pong and nine holes of putt-putt, along with some incredible views. Alternatively, make like us and slow things down with a visit to Senses Spa.
This serene retreat is a relaxing place to get in a workout, indulge in a soothing spa treatment or drink in the views over a glass of fresh juice. Though massages and other services can be pricey here (oh, the upsells!), there are some deals to be had, especially if you visit the open house on the very first day.
We snagged a Perfect Day package at a price that was much lower than if we had booked each treatment separately. And while the massage was light on pressure, it did not disappoint in terms of relaxation. Or, for an even more affordable option, consider booking a day or cruise pass to the popular Rainforest Room.
Of course, as this is a Disney cruise, there are also special places to hang out for younger cruisers. Exclusive recreation areas are available for guests as young as 6 months up to those in their late teens. With the exception of the It’s a Small World Nursery (ages 6 months to 3 years old) which charges $4.50 per half hour with a one-hour minimum, kids, tweens and teens clubs are completely free.
These are also some of the most heavily themed parts of the ship and feature appearances by Disney characters, hands-on activities adult supervision. Other kid-centric spaces include the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab (ages 3 to 12 years old), Edge (ages 11 to 14 years old) and Vibe (ages 14 to 17 years old).
As this is a Disney cruise, it’s no surprise that one of the highlights is the entertainment, and there is a lot of it. From feature-length Broadway-caliber productions with a full cast to more intimate trivia contests, drawing lessons, cooking classes or game shows led by just a few crew members, there is always something to do.
We were fortunate to enjoy three of these big, Broadway-style shows during our trip, each held in the Walt Disney Theatre, including The Golden Mickeys, Beauty and the Beast and Disney’s Believe. While The Golden Mickeys could use an update (hey there, Bob Iger!), the cast that helms all three shows is incredibly talented, and each production features beautiful vocals on much-loved songs, popular characters, impressive staging and plenty of drama, action and comedy.
Speaking of Disney characters, cruisers have lots of opportunities to meet their favorites, with appearances happening on and off all day long and into the night. Most meet-and-greets can be easily experienced by simply hopping in line, while others, like those with the princesses, require an advance reservation. While we didn’t do too many of these, it was nice to see some of our favorites in unique outfits or with a shorter line than we would at Walt Disney World.
In addition to character appearances and Broadway shows, guests can also pass the time with smaller, crew member-led shows or a showing of a Disney film. During our sailing, they even offered numerous showings of Hocus Pocus 2, which premiered the day before we embarked.
However, as tempting as it was, we skipped it in favor of activities like karaoke and trivia contests. Why? The crew members! The friendly staff that runs these activities are just as fun as the activities themselves, and we often found ourselves returning again and again in hopes of seeing our favorites once more.
You might think that a Disney cruise ship with great nightlife is a bit of an oxymoron, and to some extent, you’d be right. Compared to the previous Carnival cruises I’d been on, the Disney Dream seemed downright tame by comparison, with most of the ship feeling quiet and empty by the time midnight rolled around.
While you will find a few adults-only lounges on the Dream located in The District, the ship’s relatively pixie dust-free nightlife area, they tended to be pretty mellow affairs even by the time happy hour rolled around. Unless there was a trivia contest, some game show or another activity going on, we never saw more than 10 or 15 people hanging out at any given time.
Still, considering we were going on the ship more to relax than party, the chill vibes were just what we needed, even if the nighttime fun did fizzle out quicker than we would have liked. Fortunately, we found the desolate late-night hours to be the perfect time to snap crowd-free photos in typically busy areas like the atrium. That said, there were a few lounges that we found ourselves returning to over and over.
Evolution in The District was our spot from the very first night. Though billed as a dance club, the only dancing we saw going on in this butterfly-themed bar was during a semi-awkward though completely hilarious silent dance party.
After all, it’s hard to want to bust a move to a tired soundtrack of songs that are tricky to dance to – expert DJs Disney Cruise Line is not. Fortunately, the bulk of the events happening in Evolution were focused more on PG-13 fun than cutting a rug, making for a great place to let loose and laugh.
Pink, the ship’s champagne bar, is a fizzy confection of rosé-hued blown glass that is inspired by the iconic pink elephants’ scene from Dumbo and the ideal spot to relax with a bubbly cocktail as you listen to live, acoustic takes on your favorite pop songs.
Located right next door to Evolution, the Skyline Lounge was the spot I was most excited about. Evocative of a lofty sky bar, guests drink in sweeping scenes of some of the world’s greatest cityscapes – with a dedicated drink to match. Sadly, when we stopped in, Skyline was depressingly empty, and we left soon after.
While not an onboard amenity, we can’t talk about the Disney Dream without mentioning Castaway Cay. Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay is a tropical oasis and the highlight for many guests on a Disney cruise. And it’s not hard to see why – between the stunning blue water, soft sand beaches and cookout classics on offer at Cookie’s BBQ and Cookie’s Too, like grilled hot dogs, barbecue and corn on the cob, there’s a lot to like.
The island has something to offer cruisers of all ages, whether you’re in the mood for waterslides and snorkeling near the front or the kid-free serenity of the adults-only beach. Naturally, after snapping a photo with Captain Jack Sparrow, we booked a bike rental ($13 per hour) and high-tailed it to the relative peace of the adult side of the island.
As anyone who has ever battled it out for perfectly shaded loungers at Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach or other aquatic hot spots can attest, finding a landing pad for the day can often be stressful. As a result, armed with towel clips and beach bags, we went in ready to wage war for the best spot.
Thankfully, even though we got a slightly later start than we had intended, due to the ship’s low occupancy, finding and keeping loungers was surprisingly simple. Were they lacking some shade? Yup. Did we (and by we, I mean me) get a little too much sunshine? Also, yes. Did we still have a great time noshing on potato salad and reading our books with our toes in the surf and sand? No doubt about it.
Is Sailing with Disney Cruise Line Worth It?
And now, the big question: Is going on a Disney cruise worth it? In my opinion, absolutely. The food was plentiful and, for the most part, delicious. Even though some things could use a few updates, the entertainment was excellent. With sanitation stations and crew members handing out wipes, cleanliness was never a concern. Plus, there is truly something for everyone, whether you’re cruising as a family with small children or with a group of adults like us.
However, what will have me coming back to cruise with Disney again is undoubtedly the people. From the moment we stepped on the ship to our final goodbyes to our server, the service we received on the Disney Dream was no less than exceptional. And personally, it’s those little connections and crew members’ thoughtful attentiveness that make the price tag worthwhile.
True, the ship’s lower occupancy levels undoubtedly had a positive effect on our experience. But, while most people won’t be lucky enough to sail on the Disney Dream when it’s less than 50% full, if there’s anything we learned from our server, who just marked his 14th year with Disney Cruise Line, crew members are experts at making magic no matter how many people there are onboard.
Have you had a chance to sail on the Disney Dream? How about the other ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet? What is your favorite part of cruising with Disney? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how to save on your next vacation with our Disney discounts.