Once upon a time…
In a land not really very far away, there came a ship, which many had wished for, for a very long time. They had rubbed their lamps, planted lucky coins, sprinkled their fairy dust, wished for Magic and Wonder and dared to Dream. For this is the tale of the new Disney Dream and her maiden passenger sailing.
A few years ago I first sailed with Disney and I certainly felt the magic, and saw the wonder. The first two, Italian built vessels, sailed extremely profitably for the Disney corporation for a number of years and whilst other cruise lines multiplied and multiplied capacity, Disney seemed to stand still, with long talked of but never realised new order. Then came the announcement many had waited years for, Disney had signed a contract with Germany’s Meyer Werft for 2 vessels, the Dream (entering revenue service 26 Jan 2011) and the Fantasy (to follow in April 2012). Remarkably the new Dream was to be placed on short trips of 3 to 4 nights duration, remarkable because she is the largest and most expensive new ship ever placed immediately into service on such routes.
When first introduced, Disney brought many innovations to the cruise industry, but perhaps their most unusual was the rotational dining concept. In this, you have an assigned table each night, but you, your wait staff and your table mates rotate through different restaurants aboard the ship. This system continues on the Dream, and as she is doing some cruises as short as 3 nights, Disney kept to the 3 main dining rooms formula, after all every passenger would surely want a chance to eat in every restaurant so more were not needed.
Disney ships sail from a purpose built, Ocean Terminal like, building at Port Canaveral, just down the road from the main theme parks. Passengers arrive on Disney cruise buses, complete with portholes and in true Disney fashion, are entertained whilst en route by a Disney character infused video explaining how cruising works. Disney brings your luggage direct from your Disney or the airport Hyatt hotel to your cabin and hence most passengers arrive at the terminal with only hand baggage. The terminal was built before the level of current passenger numbers and security were present and slightly struggles to cope with arriving passenger numbers, although most have already got their key, with the check in process for many done at the airport or even their Disney hotel wherein their original room key doubles as a cabin key.
From the Quayside the Dream was glistening. In the terminal there were pennants celebrating this inaugural voyage and a band played. However there were more people in the terminal than it could realistically handle and all were glad when boarding started.
Just as on the previous ships, one boards directly into the atrium and there a ‘cast member’ announces your arrival to applause and you are escorted to the lift. My cabin was an aft facing Veranda on the uppermost deck.
Onboard, the Dream is a fairly conventional layout with great similarities to the preceding pair of ships. This being Disney, there is again a superb theatre and separate movie house. This time the theatre has grown to incorporate a balcony level. Around the midships atrium are the Art deco style Guest Services desk and Bon Voyage bar. The Guest services desk has a large map behind if showing the world, with giant silver metal Disney ships which can be placed in the ships’ operating areas, reminiscent of the map on the old Cunard Queen’s showing their positions on the transatlantic track.
As on previous ships, there is a large shopping centre, selling mostly Disney branded goods, and just prior to entering the theatre lower level, one finds preludes, the bar where you can purchase drinks or popcorn.
As on previous ships, the forward funnel is a dummy and houses the teen club. Above it is a private venue that can be used for functions. A bar service can be provided here and there are good views forward, but the room is not used as part of public programming.
In common with the previous ships, there is a horizontal division of accommodation at the based of the superstructure, with a vertical division up top. On the lower levels, decks 2 and 3 are for everyone. Deck 4 includes an adult’s only section and deck 5 contains the kid’s facilities. Those facilities continue the combination of babysitting; entertaining and educating present on the previous ships and use technology to the max. There are secure tags for the children so that they cannot leave the area without being collected and adults without children cannot enter.
With the atrium Midships, the poshest main restaurant is located off here. The Royal Palace Restaurant takes its inspiration from the palaces in Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and Cinderella. Throughout, there are discreet references to these. This includes carved wooden slippers, apples and crowns on the backs of the restaurant chairs and a marble entrance with a coat of arms with a quadrant symbolising each story. Each restaurant has special menus, china and uniforms. One touches which shows the level of attention to detail here is the bread basket, which is shaped like a carriage, and into which a loaf shaped like a pumpkin is placed. The cuisine in the Royal Palace is French inspired.
Below it is the Enchanted Garden restaurant which is modelled on the gardens at Versailles, complete with central fountain and light fittings in the shape of a flower, which open up as the day goes on.
The final of the main restaurants is the animator’s palette. This restaurant is a technological marvel. With the décor referencing animation throughout, this includes knives shaped like paintbrushes and similar details. However what is most remarkable is that when diners are seated, the walls quite literally come to life. They slip back to reveal giant plasma screens with characters from finding Nemo passing by. Then, just before desert course, the characters pause on the different screens and begin actually interacting with the diners. They ask you questions and react to your responses. Needless to say, children and the young at heart, marvel at how well this is all done.
The interactive animation is also shown in some of the artwork on the ship. Known as enchanted art, these pictures literally come to life as you pass. With some, you can even undertake a ‘midships detective agency’ quest to help find the missing puppies or paintings. With this you are given a detectives badge and simply wave it at the painting for it to come to life. It knows who you are and does different things if you interact with it a second time.
For a special dining experience, perched atop the stern of the ship, Disney has 2 extra tariff restaurants. Palo’s, Italian inspired venue, is common to the other ships. New though is Remy’s. Inspired by the gastronomic heights of the ratatouille film, this $75 cover charge venue provides exquisite French tasting menus. There is even a private dining room with décor taken directly from the private dining room in the animated film.
Situated between those restaurants is the Meridian bar, so called because it is on the midpoint. With seats like suitcases, a sextant in the floor and etched maps on the windows, this is a lovely place for aperitifs or digestifs.
One of the crunch areas on the previous Disney ships was the Lido buffet, which had a design that promoted crowding. On the new ships Disney are keen to emphasise progress here with a food court style. So keen in fact that you are now shown to your seat and en route, it is explained that you don’t need to queue. However in reality low ceilings and a relatively cramped layout mean that this space is along way from the best in the business, which I would currently suggest is exemplified by the Solstice class ships of Celebrity, built at the same yard.
For daytime food venue’s, Disney expect many passengers to eat outdoors and there are numerous outdoor sandwich, pizza, burger and sweet treat outlets. These are themed midships around characters from the Cars movie, complete with a Pitstop.
Disney Dream offers nine categories of accomodations. At the top of the list is the Concierge Royal Suite with Verandah (1781 sq. ft.)which can sleep five. Next is the Concierge 1-Bedroom Suite with Verandah (622 sq. ft) which can sleep five. The Concierge Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah (306 sq. ft.) also sleeps five.
The Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah (299 sq. ft.) normally accomodates four but some have room for five. The Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah (246 sq. ft.) sleeps three or four while the Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom (241 sq. ft.) accomodated four or five.
The Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom (204 sq. ft.) sleeps three or four, as does the Deluxe Inside Stateroom (200 sq. ft.). The Standard Inside Stateroom (169 sq. ft.) on Disney Deream accomodates three or four.
The adult’s area on the Disney Dream is known as the district. Its central idea is that you are entering an area of a city for a cocktail and to attend a glittering function. One enters along a red carpet with the walls showing silhouettes of people to one side and the paparazzi on the other. Those paparazzi flashbulbs go off as you walk past and then you pause before a wall showing signs from the sponsors. In this case the sponsors are the names of the venues. There is the District lounge, a central bar space, Pink champagne bar (where one feels like one is sat in a glass of pink bubbly with pink elephants as the motif), 687 sports bar (named for the ships’ yard number and featuring numerous images and artefacts from the building). There is the evolution nightclub and Skyline bar. This latter takes an idea from P&O’s Ventura and has a bar facing onto a city skyline with city themed cocktails. Of the adult venues, it is perhaps a little disappointing that only the sports bar has windows meaning that this is very much a night time space.
Up on deck the adults also have there own space, forward of the funnel with the Quiet Cove pool. There are overhanging whirlpools and the coffee shop is here too. This pool is really very very small indeed for the ships size and did feel crowded on our sea day.
The headline grabbing facility on the Dream is the Aquaduck coaster, a fun waterride on the top deck. Starting atop the aft funnel, one boards a raft for a water-propelled journey out over the side, along the deck through the forward funnel, out over the other side, back to the aft funnel and ending at its base. True to form, Disney thought that guests would prefer not to have to carry their own rafts up the funnel and built into the aft funnel is a raft lift meaning guests only need to climb the stairs and there are there.
The midships pool has movable flooring and is covered over at night for deck parties, including the famous ‘Pirates in the Caribbean’ deck party which includes fireworks and abseiling pirates.
As you would expect from Disney, organisation is great and the entertainment is top notch. One disappointment for me is that the main shows are not performed with a live orchestra, perhaps that would lead to too much variability? However they remain good quality, family friendly, Disney focused. First run films are also shown and there are plenty of activities scheduled during the day. One tip for ship lovers is not to miss the ship tours, where informative guides take you round and point out some of the more subtle design touches which may otherwise go unnoticed. In our tour I was interested that Disney cite Albert Ballin as their inspiration for ships that are more than just transport.
Disney Dream sails on three-, four- and five-night itineraries to the Bahamas and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.
All in all, Disney have introduced another superb ships with fantastic little touches throughout. For my tastes, they have significantly improved the food quality since my previous trip and the entertainment remains top notch. Technology is used extensively to update the ideas from Magic and Wonder, to good effect. Yet despite all that, I can say that I was slightly disappointed with the Disney Dream for although she is beautiful, well built etc, she really offers very little new for ship design or the concept of cruising and there certainly are not the big changes which the first ships brought out. What’s more, some areas whilst improved from the first ship are still a fair way from what I consider best practice in design.