Disney Dream cruise with 2 year old and 4 year old
Our family just completed a 4-day cruise itinerary on Disney Dream for the dates of 6/23 - 6/27. For my wife and I, this was our 4th cruise (3rd time with Disney). But, this was our first cruise with children. For those of you sailing for the very first time and sailing with children, your perspective will certainly be different.
First of all, I can't stress enough how terrific the Disney Cruise Line crew and staff are with kids. This is the very best cruise line for children. Whether your children are laid back and easy-going or high-energy wild kids, they will equally think this was the best vacation ever! Our kids most definitely fit the latter description with a large helping of emotional intensity mixed in.
We had sailed twice previously on the Disney Wonder. What became quickly apparent is that although passenger capacity is considerably larger on the Disney Dream, the common areas aren't proportionally larger (albeit larger than the Wonder). So, it is easy to overdose on crowds if you are not so inclined to that sort of thing. The second thing that we quickly realized is how many activities are offered on board with a number of activities being scheduled at conflicting times. It is very important to read through the Personal Navigator and prioritize your interests. We used to joke that it was impossible to see and do everything on a cruise ship, but it is also now physically impossible to do on the Dream!
Embarkation was really easy and quite organized considering all the crowds. We had pre-registered for an 11:30AM check-in time, which got us onto the ship shortly after noon time. We scrambled through lunch at the Enchanted Garden, registered the children at the nursery and kids club, went to our room, changed, and then scurried to the pool deck. By then, every deck chair on the pool level (Deck 11) was taken and the line for AquaDuck was already an hour in length. So, the first piece of advice is to either slow down, relax, enjoy a leisurely lunch and nix the immediate pool plans or ditch lunch and head straight for the pool.
One thing I really enjoy doing the first day of a cruise is partaking in the drink-of-the-day special. I always expect cocktails to have an inflated price on cruises, but be warned that those fruity rum drink specials (in a souvenir glass) are $10.50 on a Disney cruise. In fact, even if you are a light drinker, expect to rack up a few hundred on your stateroom tab. As a further example, 4 glasses of wine at Palo were $82.00 (for wine-by-the-glass, not the bottle). If you are a social drinker, I highly recommend packing a backpack with alcohol before boarding (perfectly acceptable, but only for consumption in your stateroom).
Did I mention that the Disney characters on the ship are great? My 2 year old is wild about the characters and would uncontrollably run to and hug the characters whenever she spotted them. Even when it was not the most convenient time for that sort of thing, they would go out of their way to give her a quick squeeze and a kiss. Character appearances are really amped up from our prior Disney cruises. Nearly every hour of the day (even until 11PM at night) there are many photo opportunities scheduled with several different themes (Princess Minnie, Pirate Goofy, Captain Mickey, etc.).
Coordination of shows, events, dining, kids clubs, and naps was quite challenging. Having been on prior cruises, we always noticed families opting for the first seating at dinner, so we did the same. The first seating is at 5:45PM. Knowing the kids would be impatient for a long dining experience each night, we scheduled the nursery for a 6:30PM drop-off for the 2 year old (no appointment necessary for the Oceaneer's Club or Lab for older children). The thought was to order their food to arrive during our appetizers, whisk them off to the kids' clubs, enjoy a relaxing finish to dinner, and then pick them up in time for the 8:30PM show after some leisurely after-dinner drinks. Of course, like any best laid plans, the logistics didn't really line up that well. First of all, the dining rooms are packed and we often weren't seated until 6PM. By the time we ordered for the kids and their meals arrived, it was usually 6:25PM. Then, it is quite a hike to the kids' clubs from the dining rooms (usually going from Deck 3 Mid-ship to Deck 5 Aft). By the time the check-in process was complete, the separation anxiety was dealt with, and we made our way back to the dining room, it was usually 7:20PM or so. We always found ourselves rushing out of dinner to grab the kids and rocket to the theater to find only obstructed-view type seats remaining in the upper balcony. A better option to consider is the second seating for dining where the kids' club counselors round up the children in the dining room midway through dinner and entertain them until the meal is over. Oh yea, the other thing to consider is that breakfast seating for those in the first seating on disembarkation day is 6:45AM as opposed to 8AM for second seating.
The other challenge that we had with the kids was in terms of the shore excursion in Nassau. We booked a submarine glass bottom boat excursion that we were sure the kids would love (cost was around $146 for the 4 of us). Our oldest child decided last minute that he absolutely didn't want to get off the ship. He wore us down enough that we simply had to skip it and forego any reimbursement since it was within the 3-day nonrefundable window of time. My advice would be to either forego booking in advance and risk some excursions selling out, or have that discussion with your children well in advance. Castaway Cay, on the other hand, was a huge hit with the kids!
By the 4th night, our kids had finally hit their stride on the cruise, which was obviously too late for real enjoyment as we were getting off the ship the next morning. I'd suggest booking a 7-day cruise instead, but we were all very worn out after all the running around. I suspect that a follow-up cruise would be more enjoyable now that the kids know what to expect.
The cruise was definitely first rate and we had a great time. The bad news, however, hits the last morning when the statement with your stateroom charges is delivered to your room. If you booked a shore excursion, used the nursery services each day, and enjoyed a few cocktails and wine expect $500 to $800 in additional charges. But, maybe it can be viewed proportionally to how much fun you had on the cruise :)
Thanks for sharing your experience and insights. It's especially helpful to hear about the drink prices and ship space.
This was a great description of your experience with younger kids. I am not wondering about my meal time and going straight to the pool after we board. But I am wondering since we are traveling in Sept, that the crowds should be smaller. here's hoping!
Thanks for the helpful post! My son will actually be turning 4 our 2nd day of the cruise and am thinking about switching to the late seating for dinner since the counselors will pick them up during dinner.
Thanks for the great tips! :thumbsup2
We are traveling with 6 adults and a 2.5 & 1 year old...should be interesting! lol! Thanks for the tips!
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