Families thinking about a long weekend at Disney World might want to consider visiting Mickey Mouse on the high seas instead. Depending on the dates, a three-night Bahamian itinerary on the Disney Dream runs a family of four between $2,000 and $3,000, not much more than 3-day Park Hopper passes, Disney hotel stays, parking and meals.
The Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy (which does week-long cruises) sail from Port Canaveral, but in the winter Caribbean season, another of Disney’s ships sails from PortMiami.
Here are nine reasons to take this year’s Disney vacation at sea.
▪ All-you-can-eat: Anyone who’s cruised before knows you spend at least half your time eating. The Disney Dream features three beautifully-decorated dining rooms (The Royal Palace, The Enchanted Garden and The Animator’s Palette) and above-average cuisine. The Cabanas buffet, open for breakfast and lunch, is a more casual, but equally tasty, option. Another nice perk you won’t find on many cruise lines: unlimited soda. Contrast that to Disney World, where even the fast service options are pricey.
Rather than wait an hour to ride Splash Mountain, hop in an inner tube and brave the AquaDuck, the world’s first “water coaster” at sea.
▪ The AquaDuck: Rather than wait an hour to ride Splash Mountain, hop in an inner tube and brave the AquaDuck, the world’s first “water coaster” at sea. This 765-foot series of transparent tubes takes riders out over the side of the ship — 12 decks up — and then traverses both the port and starboard sides of the pool deck. It’s alternately relaxing and exhilarating, and the wait varies from five to thirty minutes.
▪ Castaway Cay: If you’ve cruised through the Caribbean, you’ve probably spent a day on a cruise line’s private island. While these beach destinations have seen increased amenities over the years, Disney’s Castaway Cay remains at the top of its class. This pristine Bahamian island features water slides and playgrounds for the kids, a private beach and cabanas for the adults, snorkeling, stingray interaction and a massive outdoor barbecue. Best of all, Castaway Cay has a large enough pier for the Disney Dream to dock at. That’s right, no tendering!
▪ First-Run Movies: In addition to theme parks and cruise ships, Disney has been known to dabble in the movie business. And in the Disney Dream’s Buena Vista Theater, a spacious and lovely Art Deco venue, passengers can watch new releases on the big screen for free (though popcorn costs extra). If your timing is right, you might even get to attend a premiere at sea. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shown at midnight on the Disney Dream the same day it opened across the United States.
▪ Character Greetings: If you’ve ever waited in line for 45 minutes so your child (or you) can meet Mickey Mouse, you know that rubbing elbows with Disney’s characters can be tough. Not so on the Disney Dream, where your kids (or you) have many opportunities to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, several Disney princesses and some lower-tier characters with very little waiting. You can even dance with Minnie on Castaway Cay.
▪ The App: Staying in touch with family members scattered around a cruise ship can be difficult if you don’t spring for an expensive data plan. Knowing adults and kids can have very different itineraries, Disney Cruise Line has always included two portable shipboard phones in your cabin. Now they’ve gone one better, creating a smartphone app that allows cruisers to text for free. The best part, according to my kids: a selection of Disney-themed emoji including Pixar and Star Wars characters. In addition to texting, the app includes a detailed map of the ship, restaurant menus and more.
The most impressive addition is an interactive scale model of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Located in the Oceaneer Club play area, the set-up lets you take Han Solo’s seat and make the jump to light speed.
▪ Pilot the Millennium Falcon: The Disney Dream is only four years old but she’s not too young for a minor facelift. The ship went into dry dock for a few weeks last October and returned with several upgrades, including a new swimming pool, Vanellope’s Sweets & Treats candy store and a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique salon for princess and pirate makeovers. But the most impressive addition is an interactive scale model of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Located in the Oceaneer Club play area (for children ages 3-12), the set-up lets you take Han Solo’s seat and make the jump to light speed. Not to worry, adults and older children, the Oceaneer Club goes into open house mode several times during the cruise.
▪ Adult Time: The Disney Dream is a family-friendly cruise ship, but in the words of one cast member, “family-friendly doesn’t just mean children’s activities, it means something for everybody.” The Dream features quite a few adults-only amenities, from a spa and juice bar to a pair of 18+ swimming pools and two high-end, reservation-only restaurants. Additionally, the aft end of Deck 4 is dedicated to a series of imaginative bars, including Pink, decorated like the inside of a champagne bottle, and Skyline, where the backdrop changes to feature different cities of the world.
▪ Fireworks at Sea: Disney does fireworks right at its parks, but there’s something special about watching a pyrotechnic display in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. On the cruise’s second night, an elaborately staged pirate show (starring Jack Sparrow) kicks off the festivities, which culminate in an explosion of lights against the starry sky. Since the Norwegian Breakaway canceled its own fireworks display last summer, Disney Cruise Line is the only line to feature fireworks. In fact, you’ll see other cruise ships sail as close as they’re allowed in order to watch the Dream’s display from afar. After the light show, the whole upper deck transforms into a raucous dance party.