Santa brought the Vollmer family a four-night Disney cruise vacation! The trip happened to coincide with our youngest son’s birthday. In a very uncharacteristic move, my husband and I agreed to take our sons out of school for a solid week and drove out to Port Canaveral, Florida, the home port to the Disney Dream, the Disney Cruise Line’s most-recently christened ship.
Learn more about Disney Cruise Lines through their website. Check out Wikipedia for the Disney Dream‘s amazing statistics. Or better yet, how about the Disney Dream by the Numbers?
I don’t plan to discuss too much about the cruise itself. Anyone can write about taking a cruise, right? We stopped in Nassau, Bahamas, and on Disney’s island, Castaway Cay. Our sons got to experience snorkeling for the first time. I’ve cruised with Carnival in the past, but that didn’t hold a candle to a Disney trip! My family was geeking-out at some of the amazing little subtleties that make the Disney Cruise Line experience second-to-none!
1. Hidden Mickeys everywhere!
Need I say more?
2. Characters everywhere!
Obviously, there are Disney characters on a Disney cruise, right? After having experienced many hours in line over the years waiting to meet Mickey, Minnie, Pooh Bear, Rafiki, Buzz Lightyear, and Mr. Fredricksen at Walt Disney World, it was a breath of fresh air to not have to wait long for characters at all. My sons filled up their autograph book on a family trip to Disney World in 2009, so they were rather laissez-faire about the characters this time around. In fact, we only waited in line for one character: Jack Sparrow! Most of the others we encountered almost by chance throughout the cruise ship.
3. The Key to the World
Like other cruise lines, many things are tied into the key card. Disney calls their card the “Key to the World,” whether you’re on the cruise or staying at a Disney resort on land. If you are combining a cruise with a Walt Disney World vacation, the same card will have your resort key, park tickets, and Disney Dining Plan information loaded onto it.
On the Disney Dream, we used the key card to enter our stateroom, turn on the lights, enter/exit the ship at ports of call, drop off/pick up children from the Oceaneer Club, and charge beverages and souvenirs. It was even tied into a photography account when the on-board photographers take snapshots.
The Disney Dream was so new at the time that instead of swiping the key card in many places, we instead had a touchpad that was similar to MasterCard PayPass touchpads. To enter/exit our staterooms, the kids didn’t even have to remove the key cards from their lanyards. Just touch the card to the pad. We used similar touchpads for entering/exiting the ship.
Another thing the key card is used for is to control the electricity in your stateroom. I found this a great energy-conservation tool. There was a slot near the front door for the key card. A card needed to be in the slot before lights or the television could be turned on. I discovered that it didn’t matter what card was used for the switch—I’m guessing it was a manual connection switch in the slot somewhere. I saw a stateroom host using a Sleep Inn key card while cleaning a nearby stateroom. Ha ha!
Using key cards to control room electricity is not new technology, I know. It’s been commonplace in hotels in Europe and Asia for years.
4. RFID bands for the kids’ blubs
I didn’t get a picture of the wristbands, but each child ages 3-10 who wants to participate in the Oceaneer Club or Oceaneer Lab kids’ clubs on the Disney Dream are outfitted with waterproof wristbands. These two kids’ clubs together (they’re connected) offer over 10,000 square feet of playspace, covering everything from playground space to arts and crafts to interactive play. You may fit the children for the wristbands in the cruise terminal before boarding, at the registration temporary office as soon as your board, or any time during the cruise at the Kids’ Club check-in/check-out area (which I don’t recommend because there’s often a line of parents that you tend to hold up while the attendant is printing and fitting the wristband).
It seemed simple enough for the kids to tap their wrists to the gate to enter and exit. Very secure! You provide a password through the Disney website that approved adults can use to check out the kids from the secure areas.
Note: As a safety measure, the kids’ club policies changed significantly starting in January 2012. Whereas previously parents could freely participate with their children at any time, now the kids’ clubs offer “Open House” and “Secured” areas. If you desire your child to be at the kids’ clubs without parents present, they have to go to the “Secured” area and no other parents are allowed in. Only DCL child care employees. If the family desires to do the kids’ club activities together, they can take advantage of “Open House” periods in 2-4 hour blocks throughout the cruise.
Another hidden feature of the RFID bands—the geeky part—is that in the kids’ club spaces, the wristband is transmitting what rooms you child travels to. This helps the counselors maintain their ratios and helps the parents quickly find their children when it’s pick-up time.
5. The automatic hand washing machine!
Also in the kids’ club areas were these most awesome machines. Automatic hand-washers! The kids simply stick their arms inside and the machine automatically starts. Water spirals around your hands and forearms, then soapy water, then another cycle of fresh water. All in about 25 seconds. Take out your arms and dry them off! Even my youngest son, for whom washing hands always seemed to be a monumental task, was looking forward to this cool machine.
6. The amazing cast
Unlike other cruise lines, families aboard Disney Cruise Line trips are assigned the same service team for dining and stateroom care throughout the entire cruise. This has both benefits and drawbacks.
Of course, a benefit is that you get to know several of the cast members. This is great for the kids. We had very friendly servers and the stateroom host was a sweetheart. At the end of the cruise, you are presenting gratuities to the servers and stateroom host themselves, instead of their pooling the money. Our boys learned quite a bit about Bulgaria from our server, Dimi. Dimi was relatively new and was practicing his Mickey-Mouse ears-shaped ketchup patterns every night.
One of the drawbacks is that I could imagine if someone received substandard service (which wouldn’t be tolerated for long by Disney Cruse Lines, I’d imagine), you’re left with that server for the duration. I didn’t see this, so let’s just hope this is purely hypothetical.
If you’re celebrating while on-board, stand back! Disney gives you several opportunities to tell them whether you’re getting married (there were several weddings during our cruise), celebrating an anniversary or birthday, or on a honeymoon. Since our youngest son was celebrating his 7th birthday during the cruise, they gave him a button to wear. Cast members left and right would say “Happy Birthday” to our son as we were walking throughout the ship and on Castaway Cay.
7. Disney movies galore at the Buena Vista Theater
Are there any Disney films in theaters while you’re sailing? If so, you have several opportunities to see them during the cruise for no additional charge.
Since we sailed in January 2012, I was thrilled to see Beauty and the Beast 3D being offered, but I didn’t get to see any movies during the cruise. It’s tough debating what items to cut from the packed schedule.
War Horse and The Muppets were also showing. Other movies offered included The Help, Cars 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
8. A cruise ship tradition: Turn-down service, Disney style
Anyone who’s been on a cruise vacation knows that the stateroom host makes up your room in the morning, and then during dinner he/she comes in and performs a “turn-down service.” For our particular stateroom, this meant pulling the bunk bed down from the ceiling, laying out chocolates, and leaving the kids a cool towel origami animal to enjoy.
Stay tuned for additional posts about our family trip aboard the Disney Dream. Coming soon: The Midship Detective Agency (and other biometrics), the Animator’s Palette, AquaDuck! and the stunning Disney art on the ship.