Disney Dream review: Build for the kids with grown-ups in mind

A view of Mickey's pool on Deck 11 during the official christening cruise of the Disney Dream from Port Canaveral in January 2011. (Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel)

MIAMI — The new Disney Dream has a water ride, the AquaDuck, that propels guests through a clear tube that loops out over the edge of the ship. It has two interactive game floors that parents want to play on. too; a 3-D theater that screens Disney films; "virtual portholes" in windowless cabins that stream real-time views of the ocean; "enchanted art" that comes to life when someone walks by; a spa for teens; video screens where Crush from "Finding Nemo" has two-way conversations with kids over dinner, and a dance club where teens can be the deejay.

The creativity and high-tech gadgetry on Disney Cruise Line's new ship make it clear that bringing a few characters on board — whether they're Mickey and Donald (Disney), Shrek and Princess Fiona (Royal Caribbean), or SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer (Norwegian) — is only the beginning of creating a cruise for families with young children.

"This space is all about magic and pixie dust," Lysa Migliorati, an Imagineer — a member of Disney's creative team — said as she showed off the Oceaneer Club, one of the kid zones. But she could have been talking about the whole ship, which made its inaugural cruise a few weeks ago.

It's not that other cruise lines aren't providing increasingly creative entertainment for kids — they are. But they're following Disney's lead, and nowhere is the child-oriented creativity as deeply ingrained as it is on this new ship. If executives of other lines thought they were catching up, Disney has just sprinted way out in front again with its first new ship since 1998.

But with a Disney cruise ship, the question is never whether there's enough fun for kids. It's whether there's enough for adults.

With that in mind, the Disney Dream — which is 40 percent larger than its sister ships — devotes a substantial chunk of real estate to grown-up fun. While Disney's two older ships have spaces that are off-limits to children, adults-only areas on the Dream are more expansive. They include a bar/nightclub complex, two extra-fee restaurants, spa, pool, sundecks and an Italian coffee bar.

The idea, said cruise line spokesman Jason Lasecki, is to give adults the opportunity for a date night (or several) while Disney entertains the youngsters.

Are the adults-only facilities so extensive that a grown-up could sail on this ship without coming in contact with children? Probably not. In fact, an adult Mickey fan traveling without children might find some of the ship's features downright annoying (example: When Crush the animated sea turtle comes to life during dinner in Animator's Palate, conversation is impossible).

And it may not be the right ship for a family with older teens, said Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners. Disney ships "are the perfect choice if you have small children — seeing the princesses, being able to take your picture with Mickey and Minnie. And if the grandparents want to tag along, it's a good fit. But if you have 16-, 17-year-olds, that's where other cruise lines might be a better choice."

Parents will pay a hefty price for the innovations on Disney Dream, some of which will be added to the line's two older ships. The Dream sails cruises of three to five nights from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas. A check of cruises on CruiseOne.com found three-night cruises on the Dream in March starting at $679 per person double occupancy for an inside stateroom, while comparable cruises on Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian all start at less than $250. One reason is that the other lines put their older ships on the short cruises, but Disney prices traditionally are higher.

When the Dream's twin, the Disney Fantasy, now under construction in Germany, joins the fleet next year, Disney will have four ships and 2 1 / 2 times the capacity it had just a few weeks ago. Cruise line executives won't comment on the price, but the Orlando Sentinel reported the Dream and Fantasy will cost a combined $1.8 billion.

The two new ships will be based at Port Canaveral, doing short Bahamas cruises and weeklong Caribbean cruises; the Disney Wonder will be based on the West Coast and do weeklong Mexico and Alaska cruises; and the Disney Magic will do Caribbean cruises in winter and Mediterranean cruises in summer.

It's a big jump for a niche cruise line, which now is looking at expanding its reach into Asia.

Karl Holz, Disney Cruise Line president, twice quoted a guest he overheard saying that Disney had "recreated the Golden Age of cruising with magic and elegance." Standing in the ship's three-story atrium, where Disney princesses sweep down a grand staircase under an Art Deco chandelier, it's easy to think he might be right.

These impressions of the ship are based on a two-night media preview cruise, which was not enough time to check out each restaurant, club and show. The ship carried about 2,300 guests, far less than its capacity of 4,000, so it was hard to judge how well the Dream's staff and facilities operate under crowded conditions.


The ship has 14 public decks. Guests enter on Deck 3 into the three-story atrium, where they are announced much like a guest at a state dinner. There's a statue of Admiral Donald Duck in the atrium, while Sorcerer Mickey dangles off the stern of the ship.

Decor is a combination of nautical and Disney character motifs, mostly in red, white and blue. Although there are plenty of "hidden Mickeys" for ardent fans to seek out, most of the character decor is subtle rather than in your face.

"The ship was done in such great taste," Fee said. "It isn't overboard Disney. When you walked in, you felt like you were in an upscale hotel with all that wood and brass."