Like many other parents, I scoured the Internet to find tips and advice to best prepare for our cruise on the Disney Dream. I wanted to make the most of our adventure and found some helpful tips on both Pinterest and from friends that I thought I'd share. I'm also going to share my own positive/ negatives we experienced while cruising through the Bahamas.
Do it the first day you're allowed to! Book your activities. Register your kids. It makes getting on board that much easier and far more streamlined. I think we were able to "check in" 2 months prior to the beginning of our trip. Highly recommend! Plus you can always go in and add/ remove activities.
The ship departs around 4:30, however you can be at the port, ready to check in as early as 10:30, which is what we did-- and we were able to gain 3-4 more hours of fun. We flew in the night before and stayed at a local hotel and then drove over that morning. After checking in and going through security I think we were on by 1:15. Not bad and the Disney folks actually make the boarding process VERY easy. They're all adorable, in fact... older, but young at heart! Even though we were on board by 1:15, our stateroom wasn't available until 3:30 or so... so be sure to pack swimsuits/ sunscreen in your carry on so you have it with you until your room is ready. They have up until 5:30 to deliver your remaining luggage to your stateroom; my suitcase arrived at 5:20 so making our 5:45 dinner reservation was a challenge but we made it! :)
If I had a dollar for the amount of people that would get on the elevator at Floor 8-- only to get off at Floor 9, I would be a millionaire. The stairs are RIGHT NEXT TO THE ELEVATOR... call me crazy, but a little exercise could do us all a little good. Besides, everyone is constantly saying how they gained 5 lbs while cruising because of the unlimited food/ sweets. This is a good way to avoid that pitfall! We got our cardio in, everyday by avoiding the elevator at all times, unless necessary.
The food was average. I wasn't bad necessarily-- but not INCREDIBLE, either. Although, I am spoiled by all of the amazing restaurants in and around Chicago, so I may be a little biased. The kids, however, were happy to fill their bellies with hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and chicken fingers-- for every meal! Our assigned meal rotation was great and allowed us to eat at the three main restaurants (Animators Palate, Enchanted Garden and Royal Palace) on each evening of the cruise. We purchased the "premium wine package" on the first night.... which got us 4 bottles of wine for around $180 (one bottle per dinner, which for us was perfect). To give you an idea of their "premium wine list", we had Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio each night (retails for about $20 at your local grocer). So we basically got dinged $100 for them to chill and cork each bottle. On the flip side, our servers were sweet and attentive, especially with the kids. 5 stars for those folks! We didn't take advantage of Remy or Palo so I can't comment on those two restaurants, unfortunately.
Bring some fun stuff for the kids and adults to wear! We brought bandanas, eye patches and obnoxious teeth! People go ALL OUT for this night! It's fun for the kiddos, as well as adults. And don't worry if you forget to pack some pirate gear-- they bring mickey pirate bandanas to your stateroom prior to the party. It was fun-- but a long night for the little ones! The deck party (with Pirate Mickey & Captain Jack Sparrow) was around 7:30 and the fireworks weren't until 10:45... My little guy slept on my shoulder through the entire show-- and Ken and I were spent after a VERY long day.
- There are height restrictions for the Aquaduck/ water slides on the boat as well as at Atlantis and Castaway Cay. I talked relentlessly about how cool these slides were going to be, to both of my kids-- especially to my boy who turned 3 the day before boarding the ship. He wasn't able to ride any of the slides except one. I asked if I could go with him and was told no. MAJOR BUMMER for the birthday boy. Instead of sliding, he had to sit and watch his Dad and Sis repeatedly go. She however was denied at Atlantis for a few as well, so I guess that tipped the scales a little.
- If your child isn't 100% potty trained, expect some trouble! As I mentioned, we boarded the ship the day after our son's third birthday-- and he is nowhere near being potty trained; he wants nothing to do with a toilet, unfortunately. I should also add that we purposely waited to take this trip until he was 3, so he wouldn't be separated from his sister at the kids clubs (Oceanneer Lab and Oceanneer Club), that is for kids 3-10 years old. While checking him in, they spotted his diaper and said he would need to go to the nursery; no diapers are allowed in their kids club for children 3-10. If you ask me, that is ridiculous. My 5 year old has accidents sometimes when she is too busy playing/ having fun. How do they expect a 3 year old to be an expert at potty training. I fibbed and told them he was potty trained... was only wearing it as a precautionary effort. No go. They made me take it off. Same goes for ALL of the pools, except Nemo's Reef (the splash pad). So we left. We went straight to the bathroom where I "rolled" the diaper down and went back to tell them I removed it. I mean, do they REALLY want poop on the floor of Pixie Hollow...? I'm doing them a service by having that extra layer of protection! The following days, I rolled down his swim diaper and hiked up his swim trunks to conceal the diaper. I rolled it down for kids club as well. They must have made a note on Day #1 because each and every time I checked him in, they looked at their computer and asked me if he was potty trained... and I lied through my teeth. It did get annoying after awhile, I have to admit.
While the decor and staff were great, and the kids had fun-- I have to say I was a little disappointed. When we were planning our trip I envisioned spending a few hours on and a few hours off with the kids-- as if the kids clubs were open from 7AM-midnight! This was NOT the case.
We utilized the kids clubs for maybe a total of 8 hours... in 5 days, and sadly it wasn't by choice! On the first day, they had "open house" all afternoon-- which translates to: Come in and check it out, but don't even think we're babysitting your kids-- you're on your own today!
It's not a "drop-off" like one would think. They have schedules of times they are open and times they're closed. And their times of being open usually conflicted with our schedules.
They didn't open any of the kids clubs on day 1 until 5:30, and our dinner was at 5:45. On day two, we spent the day at Atlantis. The third day (at Castaway Cay) there is no kids club on the boat while the boat is docked... they have the kids club on the island instead. Which reminds me-- they saw his swim diaper upon check-in and said he wasn't allowed to wear it. So I tore it off, patted him on the back and said, "Well, good luck with that!". Thirty minutes or so later, we went back for the kids, for fear that if he DID have an accident they would quarantine him.
Kids club finally came in handy on the very last day when we were at sea, where we checked them in for 1 1/2 hours in the morning. Which reminds me, on the "Day at Sea", get to the deck early and grab your chairs! I couldn't find even ONE open seat when I went up at 11-- everyone is on board the boat that day.... and trying to enjoy the pool. Get there early and claim your spots! I would also like to add, when you're done with your seat, remove your towels so others can grab a spot to sit. I'm fairly certain that half of the chairs that were covered with a towel didn't even belong to someone.
The characters are making appearances at all times... In fact, we were able to get nearly every autograph except for a few. They make different appearances throughout each day so don't stress if you miss them on the first day; every evening you will receive an itinerary for what takes place the following day-- including what times and locations you can meet the characters. Also-- be sure to check in at the Port Adventures desk on the 5th floor to redeem your FREE ticket to "Meet the Princesses". I believe they do it on Tues and Thurs mornings. We signed up for a 10 AM slot on our "Day at Sea" and were able to get signatures and pics with all of the princesses in about 15 minutes.
Highly recommend The Golden Mickey's (on the first evening of the trip). The other shows were "so-so".
DON'T FORGET TO PACK:
- Bring something for the characters to sign! They allow two items per stateroom. We brought a plain white pillowcase and an 11x14 white photo matting, along with a ten pack of colorful sharpies. We dropped them off at Guest Services on the first day and on the last night, they were both delivered with all of the characters signatures. VERY COOL souvenirs for the little ones. The only prob we have now is who gets to sleep with the pillow each night-- they're already battling!
- Get some custom magnet decorations from Etsy to dress up your stateroom door! The kids loved it!
- Bring a power strip! It makes charging phones, iPads, and other electronics way more convenient than having one item in the bathroom, one on the desk and one on the nightstand.
- BOOZE. We brought a bottle of vodka as well as our own thermos cups. On deck 11, they have a complimentary drink station (lemonade, soda, etc) where we concocted our own drinks, using their ice, their mixer and our liquor. They have a VERY attentive wait staff that pushes their alcoholic beverages but I can't drink more than one of the fruity cocktails so making my own saved me a few calories as well as a few coins. No drinks are allowed within 4 ft of the pool... so there is no such thing as lounging with your legs in the pool with a drink in hand.
- You need to use your "Key to the World Card" for just about everything on the ship-- it makes it VERY easy to rack up your balance, trust me! If you lose one (we lost 3!) they replace them for free. WHEW! You even need this card to turn the lights on in your room/ bathroom... no joke. For the first 30 minutes of unpacking we were mystified with how to turn on the bathroom light so the little one could go potty. We had to call someone to come and show us how to do it. Very strange that you need a key to turn on the lights...
- Pictures- There will be tons of photo opps... and most will be captured by a Disney photographer who will ask for your "Key to the World Card", which matches all of the photos they take of you, to your card. When you visit "Shutters", the photo lab, you simply swipe your card by a kiosk and all of your pics show up. It's crazy, really! Like many people (suckers) we purchased the CD of all pics for the bargain price of $230... which came with a whopping 52 photos.
- Swim with the dolphins at Atlantis (or some other time in your life)! This was the coolest thing!!! We chose a package that allowed us to do a shallow swim with a dolphin (kiss and hug the dolphin, he does tricks and other fun stuff) and spend the rest of the day at the Atlantis resort. I was afraid of the dolphin at first, but left the experience regretting not becoming a marine biologist! They are the sweetest animals! Note: They don't allow you to take any of your own photos with the dolphins... but have a professional photographer on site, and you can purchase your pics afterward (surprise!!). They had individual shots as well as family shots doing kisses and hugs, which made it impossible to choose. Naturally, we bought the flash drive of all the pics for $180. Not cheap, but looking back, I really am happy to have them all. It was the best moment of our trip!
- We took the opportunity to watch a few movies while on board, too! We LOVED Maleficent! We saw "Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good very bad day" (or however the heck it goes!), too. Kids had fun!