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Lebeau Family Trip Report 2015: Disney Dream Cruise Part 1

The Disney Dream

After having spent Father’s Day on a whirlwind tour of both Universal parks, we were headed to the main attraction of this year’s vacation; the Disney Dream.  This was the first cruise – Disney or otherwise – for everyone in the family.  We had previously approached the idea of a cruise with some trepidation.  Mindy is prone to claustrophobia which makes even a two-hour flight to Orlando difficult for her.  We were concerned she would feel trapped in a small cabin or stuck on a big boat in the middle of the ocean.  There were also worries about things like motion sickness and whether or not the kids would be bored.

During the planning stages of the trip, I did my best to minimize any potential problems.  By booking a Disney cruise, I figured the kids – and me – would be entertained.  The cabins on a Disney cruise ship tend to be a little larger than industry standard.  So that helped out a bit with the claustrophobia issue.  To further allay concerns, I sprung for a cabin with a verandah.  That way, regardless of room size there was always the option of stepping outside and getting some fresh air.  This kind of thinking lead me to the conclusion that we might as well shell out for a room on the concierge deck of the ship.

We ended up having a wonderful vacation.  Everyone is looking forward to taking another cruise someday.  The extra money spent definitely contributed to our enjoyment.  The girls quickly adapted to a life of luxury and Mindy says she’s not sure if she could ever downgrade from the concierge treatment.  It was truly a once in a lifetime type of vacation (unless of course we do it again).  Hopefully I can adequately convey some sense of what the experience was like.

Due to the length of this report, I’m including a Table of Context up front so readers can jump to the sections that interest them.

Boarding the ship

Kids clubs

Setting Sail

Dinner at Enchanted Garden

The Golden Mickeys

Castaway Cay

The Midship Detective Agency

Dinner at Royal Palace

Girls limo

Through a mix-up of some sort. we were riding to Port Canaveral from Orlando in a limousine.  According to our car service, Happy Limo, they had overbooked their sedans for the day and given us a free upgrade.  Regardless of the reason why, we were going to arrive at the port in style.  It was an amazing way to begin a very luxurious vacation.

Despite numerous trips to Florida, the kids had never seen the ocean before.  Our vacations had been limited to the part of the state in which theme parks were most abundant and beaches are purely man-made.  So when our limo passed the ocean, I pointed it out to them.  They got their first look at the vastness of the ocean.  It had been quite a while since the last time I saw the ocean myself so even I was pretty impressed with the view.  Mindy, who had been wanting a beach vacation for too long, was very satisfied.

For months leading up to the trip, I had been trying to prepare both the girls and myself for what we were about to undertake.  The girls had been on a little riverboat cruise and their expectations were based on that experience.  I told them repeatedly that this would be different.  Our cruise ship was much, much larger.  It would be more like a floating city than the kind of boat they were used to.  Not surprisingly, this abstract concept never really sunk in with them.

Dream - First Look

My preparation included reading a lot of trip reports just like this one.  There’s really no better way to get a sense of what a vacation is like than reading the first-hand accounts.  Just about every trip report I read included a moment when the ship first came into view.  Based on these reports, I was prepared to be awed by the size and grandeur of the ship.  But even with that information, I had to admit that first view was pretty spectacular.  The Disney Dream was both larger and grander than I was expecting.

I pointed the ship out to the girls and I daresay they were dumbstruck.  Nothing in their young lives had prepared them for a sight like this.  Sure, I had been telling them for nine months or so that the ship was big.  I had told them it was 14-stories high and longer than the Eiffel tower is tall.  I had compared it to a city.  And yet, this was more than they were expecting.  It was like seeing an alien space ship.  Even Mindy was impressed.

Based on what I had read, there are a few different approaches you can take to embarkation (that would be boarding the ship for cruise novices).  One strategy is to arrive early to beat the rush.  The primary advantage is that this gives you more time on the boat which is basically what you are paying for.  The drawback is that the port is likely to be crowded and you may spend a lot of time waiting around.

The other basic approach is to arrive a little later in the day after the port has been open for a while.  Sure, you’re giving up a little time on the boat, but as long as you don’t arrive at the same time as a load of Disney buses, your wait times will be minimal.  From what I read, guests who arrive after 1:00 can usually walk right on to the ship with little to no wait.

We were taking the early arrival approach.  I had been on the fence about this because both methods had their appeal.  Part of what sealed the deal for us was that we wanted to get tickets to some of the character meet-and-greets on board.  There were two popular encounters which required advance tickets; a Disney princess gathering and a visit with Anna and Elsa from Frozen.  Our girls had seen all of these characters previously at the parks at Walt Disney World.  But part of the appeal of taking a Disney cruise was the opportunity to see them again.

In the months leading up to the cruise, I had called the onshore concierge desk a couple of times to see if the tickets could be secured before boarding.  My travel agent made similar inquiries.  Each time, the answer was the same.  We would need to go to deck five upon boarding in order to obtain the tickets.  But since we were concierge guests, we would have the advantage of being among the first guests to board which would practically guarantee us a spot at the meet and greets as long as we weren’t late.

Port Canaveral Exterior

The timing worked out very well.  We arrived at the port just before the doors opened.  There was already a pretty large crowd waiting to be admitted.  A Disney cast-member came around collecting luggage.  We had fastened the provided tags to our bags so that they could be delivered directly to our room.  That would leave us with nothing but our carry-ons (which included a stuffed minion and unicorn which I was usually tasked with carrying).  The cast-member saw that we were staying on deck 11 and promised us we were in for a stress-free vacation.  He assured us the concierge team would take care of everything from this point on.

But before that could happen, we had to get on the boat.  We were still standing outside the port.  The kids whined a little.  I told you, impatience is a thing.  Mindy and I checked and double checked to make sure we had all of the required documents in hand.  A few minutes later, the crowd started moving towards the front gate.  We were on our way.  The excitement in the crowd was palpable.

As we started moving, I got a message from our travel agent, Stacy.  She told me that Disney was taking concierge guests to the third floor and that we should be sure to mention that so we would be directed to the right place.  I should mention that one of the reasons we settled on this particular cruise was that it was being organized by our travel agency, Kingdom Konsultants.  So there would be a lot of travel agents on hand should anything go wrong.  I figured that would be an ideal situation for a first cruise experience.  I mentioned the “third floor” to the Disney cast-member who checked our photo IDs.  It was very clear to me that she had no idea what I was getting at, so we just let the question go.

Port Canaveral Security

Upon entering the port, we had to undergo a security check.  This was very similar to the TSA procedure at the airport.  It wasn’t fun, but we got through it quickly and painlessly.  While we were waiting, we started talking to a couple of other guests that we presumed were mother and daughter.  Mindy admired their polka-dotted toenails which were reminiscent of Minnie Mouse.  The mother explained that the designs were actually stickers.  We didn’t know it at the time, but we would run into these guests and their toenail stickers again before long.

Dream model - cross section

Once we got through security, we entered the large open waiting area.  There are various desks to process different things.  I’m afraid I can’t be very descriptive here because we by-passed all of them.  Towards the center of the floor there is a large replica of the ship.  One side of the model shows the exterior of the boat and the other side features a detailed cut-away of the interior.

Captain Mikey - Port Canaveral

Captain Mickey Mouse was out meeting guests near the model of the ship.  The wait to see him was shorter than it usually is in the parks, but the girls weren’t interested in waiting in lines.  The day before, they had shown a reluctance to meet characters at Universal and that carried over into the initial phase of our cruise.  So we walked past Mickey to the concierge processing area.

Port Canaveral Terminal

There was a bit of confusion here.  A group of guests had gathered in front of the entrance.  We couldn’t tell if they were waiting in line to have their paperwork processed or if they were just inconveniently blocking the entrance.  I decided to ask and it turned out to be the latter.  Once that was cleared up, we made our way to the concierge services and everything got much simpler.

Next: Boarding the Ship

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Posted on July 5, 2015, in travel, Trip Report and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. daffystardust

    I’m glad you guys enjoyed your cruise!
    Especially glad that Mindy’s claustrophobia was not a big problem.

    I notice once you got on board we stopped hearing about those stuffed animals. 😉

    The one time I went on a cruise I have to admit that I got a little impatient with all of the repeated information and horrendously long meetings and presentations. Once the actual fun began things were much better, but I still remember those boring presentations. I should have had so much fun that I forgot about them, right?

    That Pinocchio painting next to modern Mickey would have kept me for at least a few minutes. Art on cruise ships can be expensive. It’s all in a house I don’t live in now.

    The photos are very engaging. I’m looking forward to seeing the next part!

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    • In this case, most of the dull info dump type presentations were avoidable. We walked away from the Sail Away party for example. We tended to get a lot of repeat info because we were first time cruisers. I’ll be interested to see how things change when we go again. I would expect less hand-holding from the concierge desk for example. Of course one can be rude like the lady who demanded to skip the presentation and be shown to her room. I wouldn’t go that far. But I think if I started getting cruising 101, I might gently prod them to speed things up.

      I didn’t really expect the claustrophobia to be much of a problem. I had literally taken every precaution I could think of. For example, I knew the room size was comparable to the one we stayed in at Port Orleans last summer. I verified with her that she didn’t have any problems staying in that room. The only real concern was that the concept of being out at sea would be too much for her. But on a ship this size, you don’t feel like you are out at sea. You feel like you’re in a gigantic hotel. So I figured we’d be okay there. I was glad to be proven right and relieved early on when I realized there were no panic attacks in our future.

      How much fun you have on a cruise is a pretty big variable. We ended up skipping a lot of stuff you’re not supposed to skip (like the Sail Away Party). But I don’t think that negatively impacted our fun quotient. A lot of the fun is going to be situational. We were having a blast because we were all together, everything was completely new to us and we were in paradise. There wasn’t a lot to complain about. It was hot, but not muggy. Other than the heat, the weather was perfect. We never wanted for anything. We could have done more and seen more and possibly had more fun. But we really just took things at our own pace.

      Under other circumstances, I could see the cruise being a lot less fun. I don’t know how much fun I would have had on my own. I enjoyed the beach because the kids were enjoying the beach. Without them around, things could have gotten dull. And I will be curious to see if the fun dips a bit the next time around. Part of the problem I have with Disney World is there is nothing new. If I go on enough cruises, will I feel the same way? The Disney Cruise Line updates shows and entertainment pretty infrequently. We’ll see I guess.

      I do think you would have fun on a Disney cruise just given your status as a Disney fan. But the degree to which you would enjoy yourself would depend on the circumstances. I would suggest any Disney fan put a Disney cruise on their bucket list. It’s worth skipping one or several trips to Disney World to make it happen. If you do, you’ll want to recruit some like-minded individuals. I imagine that your experience as a single guy would be vastly different than what you’re reading about here. It would probably involve more nightlife for example. But I really can’t imagine you regretting the experience.

      We actually came away with one piece of art. The concierge team always gives a print to their guests before they leave. You’ll have to wait until the final installment to see it.

      The stuffed animals spent the entire cruise in the cabin. But you can bet I carried them from the ship to our next destination and from there back to the airport. They were my responsibility whenever we were on the move.

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      • Interesting to hear that you think a single guy like Daffy would enjoy it. Your cruise sounded great but I was concerned that for me and my girlfriend, who have no kids and don’t want any, that it would be too kid oriented to enjoy. She is a big Disney fan though. If you think childless adults really would like it we may consider it.

        We’ve never been on a cruise before either. Though I’m more interested in an Alaska cruise than a Caribbean one. Probably because I’ve spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia and Central America, so the tropics don’t seem as exotic to me as to a lot of Americans. Just checking on it now it looks like Disney does Alaska cruises too! Who knew?

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        • I would definitely say that having kids is not a requirement. It’s not even necessary to be a Disney fan, but being a fan of Disney animation definitely helps justify the price tag. The information they kept drilling into us was basically that things are set up so that there are separate activities for kids, teens and adults. There’s also activities for the family to do together, but those can be enjoyed with our without kids. Lots of parents drop their kids off at the clubs and spend the majority of their vacation behaving as though they were a childless couple. So, yes, I would absolutely recommend a Disney cruise to you and your Disney-loving girlfriend. You will have a blast.

          I have read some trip reports from Alaskan cruises. They are generally longer than the 4-night cruise we took which is a good thing. There are some beautiful sights to see and the weather won’t be blisteringly hot. You would probably be booked on either the Magic or the Wonder which are Disney’s two original ships. The Dream and the Fantasy are newer and bigger, but there are advantages to being on the smaller ships. From what I hear, fewer guests means the public areas of the deck like the pools get less crowded. There will also be minor differences here and there. For example, all four ships have a restaurant named Animators Palate. But on the Magic and the Wonder, the gimmick is different than it is on the Dream and the Fantasy. On the original ships, the restaurant starts off in black and white and slowly changes to full color while you dine.

          Disney is known for being a leader in the theme park industry. They took that same attitude towards the cruise industry and reinvented it with the idea of “family cruises”. Now, all the other cruise lines are imitating them. I would argue that Disney has stopped innovating in theme parks these days. But they are still leaders in the cruise industry. The experience on a Disney cruise is up there with what all the others cruise lines offer whether you have kids or not.

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  2. This was very engrossing. I’ve never before read a cruise TR, and never really been intrigued by the idea of being on a cruise ship, despite years of being glued to “The Love Boat”. But those views of the ocean and the beach at Castaway Cay are spectacular. So happy that everyone in the family is having such a grand time, and enjoying the time together, which is what the best vacations are about.
    I was in south Florida last week, which has gotten to be an annual summer requirement that gets me through the rest of the year. As always, the short stay (3 nights) was nowhere near enough but eventually that will become a week. I love the majestic changing character of the ocean, and the living, lifegiving force that it is. One day the sand was smooth and littered with shells, the next day we had to fight through seaweed and strong waves.
    Back to work and reality tomorrow,… the peeling sunburn keeps the memory alive 🙂

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    • We’ve talked several times about my thoughts on the beach. When I was a kid, we went to the Florida beaches just about every Spring Break. I used to love playing in the waves and the sand. But that lost its appeal for me sometime in high school. These days, I don’t like salt water, sand or the smell of the ocean. So beaches aren’t exactly my thing. Mix in the dangers of the ocean and a beach vacation just doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me.

      We spent the weekend after the cruise at Cocoa Beach in Florida, so I’ll talk some more about that later. I know I’m in the minority on the subject of surf and sand. I will say that my feelings on the subject have softened. As beaches go, I’ll take Castaway Cay any day. That place was just amazing. We had a second day on the island, so you’ll get to see more of it in part 2.

      The main thing which you touched on was family bonding. I definitely feel like I formed closer relationships with the girls than ever before. This was an expensive trip, no two ways about it. But those memories and the tightened family bonds are absolutely priceless.

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