It’s been a while for us, but my husband and I decided that it was time we had a real adventure with the family. One of my best friends lives in Orlando, and she has girls the same age as ours so we decided to plan an epic vacation where we’d visit Florida and then embark together onboard the Disney Dream.
We chose the 3-night adventure to see how the kids would adjust to their sea legs. They took to it like true pirates, thankfully, because it’s not a cheap vacation. But it’s very worth it!
If you’ve been reading my blog for any time, you might have noticed that I once lived in Miami. During that time, I’d been to Nassau before. Most Floridians feel like the Bahamas is a home away from home because 1) it’s so close and 2) it’s just so easy and breezy there. The people are kind, and it’s a lovely place to visit.
I’ll detail more about Nassau below, but if you’re hoping to head on a Disney Cruise, why not head to Port Canaveral, Florida, and get on board the Disney Dream? Here’s what you should know.
Table of Content
Onboard the Disney Dream
I’ve been on cruises before, and though it’s been some time since I’ve ventured out into open water by way of a cruise ship, I was thoroughly impressed with the Disney Dream. There were just so many special touches and true attention to detail, it bowled me over.
Once you board the ship, they announce your party as if you’re royalty. Everyone claps and welcomes you aboard. After you get over the flattery of this, it’s time to discover the ship. When you board, you’re not allowed to go to your stateroom before 1:30 pm, so the next best thing you can do of course is going to eat!
We all went to Animator’s Palate for lunch. The restaurant features big screens where Crush from Finding Nemo as well as other characters say hello (though only at the dinner). The décor is like that of an artist’s studio, and we all found many subtle things hidden throughout the dining room.
Let me just get this out of the way before I get lost in my thoughts…the food on the Disney Dream was absolutely incredible! Kids get the usual kid choices if they prefer (you know – chicken tenders, mac n’ cheese, and pizza) which comes with steamed veggies and fries. The best part is the wait staff will put ketchup on their plates in the shape of a Mickey head.
Also, there’s no worrying your kids are going to break any of the plates. All kids are served on plastic plates and plastic cups. The cups have Mickey head outlines all over them, another beautiful touch!
We made our way to our rooms. We had an ocean view stateroom with a verandah. All the other cruises I’ve ever taken just had a porthole so I was just delighted that I could stand on my balcony. And not to worry …there’s plexiglass to keep little ones safe from slipping out.
The rooms come with a pull-out sofa that converts into a bunk bed. Your stateroom host or hostess will put this down for you when you go to dinner each night and during your daytime outings, will come back and fold it back into a sofa again, so you have more room.
There’s much to see and do on this ship, so depending on how many nights you’re onboard, you might not get to see it all. Here’s my quick list of stuff to hopefully help you plan a great vacation on the Disney Dream!
Things to Do on the Disney Dream
First, before I list all the fun things on this ship (there are SO many things!), you should know:
- There is a nursery for babies ages 6 months to kids 3 years of age. As my girls are too big for it (more on that in a second), we didn’t use it. They have reasonable fees listed on the Disney site though, $4.50 per half hour.
- For kids 3 to 12, there’s the Oceaneer Club, which we could NOT get our kids out of. They loved it and barely even acknowledged our existence when we dropped them off and picked them up. They are fully supervised there and can’t leave on their own unless you authorize it. They have tons of amazing activities too. Our kids made cupcakes (and ate them), met Doc McStuffins and Stitch, made Flubber, and did all kinds of fun things.
- Tweens and teens have stuff just for them too. There’s Edge for age 11 to 14 and Vibe for ages 14 to 17. Since our kids are too young for that, we didn’t get to see it, but you can find out about it here.
Okay, so you’ve dropped the kids off at the Oceaneer Club. Whatever should you do? Oh, just rekindle your romance with your husband, of course!
- Head to the Quiet Cove Pool where there are whirlpool spas and pools and NO KIDS!
- Go to the fitness center (hahahaha! I know, right? My husband went, but my diet was off during this cruise). He said it was wonderful, though.
- The spa has plenty of ways to pamper yourself. I’m totally doing this next time. They have a raffle as soon as you get on board to win free spa treatments, but alas, I was not a winner.
- Adults-only dining can be had at Remy or Palo. These restaurants cost an additional fee to dine at, unlike the other 3 restaurants you’ll rotate through during your evenings (I’ll talk about those shortly). We did not experience them because my husband said we paid enough for our vacation, and from the food we received that was included, we were more than delighted with our decision.
- There’s an entire district of bars, clubs, and lounges with live entertainment. A pub features plenty of TVs to watch sports (my husband was thrilled he could watch soccer) while right next to it, one of the bars had live Irish music one night.
I should mention here that the Oceaneer Club is open until midnight! Yes, really! And the drinks are really reasonable. I ordered a mojito, and it was only $6.50. I ordered a high-quality glass of wine, and it was only $8.50. And they filled that glass up full.
If you want to save on the cost of booze on your trip, you are allowed 2 bottles of wine (750ml each) or one 6-pack of beer.
– There are soft-serve ice cream machines by the main pool area on Deck 11. You and your kids are going to live off this ice cream likely. They had chocolate, vanilla, banana, strawberry, mango, and blueberry.
– Also by the pool, you can grab a pizza (I had a portobello mushroom slice that was amazing), sandwiches and salads.
– You can also hit up the buffet at Cabanas. I found the sushi sampler they had during lunch hours to be perfect, though my husband ate his weight in crab claws and peel-and-eat shrimp. On Pirate Night (the second night of the cruise), they had a taco buffet, but I was too stuffed even to try it.
– They serve Mickey waffles in the buffet restaurant and the Royal Palace restaurant.
– You rotate restaurants every night from the included restaurants in your cruise fees, but you get the same two waitstaff people assigned to you, and they go above and beyond to make your cruise amazing.
Each restaurant kind of deserves a special nod so here goes. Please note that dinner service is at 5:45 or 8:15 pm so you need to choose which seating you’d rather have before you embark. We took the earlier seating because of the kids.
The food is French and heavenly. It has the kind of décor you’d expect of a Disney-style palace without feeling cheesy. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the art as you walk through to your seats. You’ll be amazed!
The floors are marbled, and everything has such a luxurious feel, yet it’s kid-friendly. Things like escargot, French onion soup, and roasted rack of lamb are what you’ll find on the menu here. Gourmet and grand, we adored our meal here.
We also enjoyed the Royal Palace for breakfast on the morning we docked at Castaway Cay. The music was background music from when Arielle was invited to stay at Prince Eric’s castle. With impeccable service (filling up my coffee before I could even open my mouth to ask and giving us Danishes and pastries for our bread plates) and food that made me happy enough to cry, I think this might be one of the things I miss the most about being home.
Speaking of music, as a side note before I proceed, the whole ship plays Disney music but not in some unctuous way that will make you wish for it to cease and desist. By the elevators and in most common areas, you’ll hear the usual Disney songs (“Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me…”) but in adult-only areas, it’s very spa-like and peaceful.
This was where we had lunch when we first boarded. For dinner, it was a fantastic experience with the interactive video screens featuring characters we all knew from Finding Nemo. The food was also indulgent. I couldn’t decide between a salmon tartare and some parcels of crab and cheese, so our server brought me both. The key lime pie dessert was some of the best I’ve had in years.
It looks like Versailles, a beautiful green vine-covered garden yet it’s indoors. It’s so elegant and refined. The Ahi tuna tower was the perfect appetizer. I also had an asparagus soup and a perfectly-cooked prime rib that made me realize I could never entirely go plant-based (sorry!).
Incidentally, each restaurant features pieces of bread to go with your meal. At the Enchanted Garden, they served a fresh hummus with it that I wish I could have more of right now.
Stuff for everyone
And now, here’s what you can all do on the ship!
- See a movie! They offer first-run Disney movies that are currently in the theater. We saw Aladdin with Will Smith. It was outstanding!
- Catch a real show! We saw Beauty and the Beast, a live performance that was every bit of Broadway as you can imagine. The scenery, the acting, and the overall quality of the show were the same as something you’d pay $50 per seat AT LEAST on land.
- You can also buy popcorn and concessions at an additional fee. I didn’t though because I was just too full even to attempt it.
- Mini golf! We missed out on doing this since we went up to the top deck to play while we were docked. Apparently, they won’t let you golf when you’re in port because it’s dangerous for those on land. Who knew?
- Swim! There are pools you can go with your kids. They have lifeguards there, but please watch your kids! The pools face a jumbo screen where you can see older Disney movies (I saw Finding Nemo while I was swimming with my youngest).
- Waterslides! There’s a water slide only for bigger kids. My eldest went on it maybe 50 times. No joke.
- Kids’ splash area! My youngest is too big for it, but we walked by, and it’s this little enclosed splash area with cute creatures and water spraying. The little ones in there looked like they were having a blast!
- Aqua Duck! Ok, so this is the onboard waterslide roller coaster. You ride in a raft with a partner (or go solo if you prefer) through a big, clear tube where you can see a view all around the ship. It was indeed loads of fun but my advice…catch it when everyone goes to port, or you’ll be standing in line for ages.
With so much to do, you really don’t even need to get off the ship. Oh, but explore you should! Here’s a bit about Nassau followed by Disney’s Castaway Cay!
As I mentioned, Nassau is a friendly place. It was colonized by the British so they drive on the left and there’s that British politeness mixed with island charm. Right off the bat, there will be women offering to braid your hair and both men and women offering taxi services around the island.
We didn’t do anything fascinating in Nassau, I’m afraid, though there is much actually to do there. There were a couple of reasons for this. The first of them being that we didn’t arrange to do any of the shore excursions. There are TONS to choose from, but we wanted to be more spontaneous. Plus, anything my husband and I thought about doing like snorkeling wasn’t a good idea for our youngest. Many are reasonably priced though so do feel free to book them with your cruise.
A tour of the city would have been great (the tour price is low too!) but the other reason we didn’t do it was because we didn’t want to commit to several hours of activity not knowing how our kids would react. Good thing too because all our kids (my friends’ kids included) were very agitated because it was so humid outside. Not just hot but humid.
Being away from Miami all these years, I forgot the level of humidity. It was horrible. So, we grabbed some souvenirs from the famous straw market (definitely do that at the very least!) and a $13 plate of conch from one of the little stands close to the ship. As a bonus, everyone was still at the port, so we had plenty of room to enjoy the pool and slides.
Bring sunscreen (make sure you wear it before you even leave your cabin), a hat, water (lots of water!) and have the kids wear comfortable shoes. Even then though, in summer, try to plan an activity that will keep you all cool or in the water, or you’re going to hear LOTS of whining.
That was my experience for this trip, but I know you are itching to find out more to plan your adventure. Not to worry…I’ve got the lowdown!
As I mentioned, it was hot and humid when we were there in July. For most of the year, it tends to be hot or warm, though, in winter months, it’s a lot less humid. For July, the highs hover around 90F while the lows are around 76F. January and February will be the ‘coldest’ times to visit with highs of 79F and lows down to 64F. The good news is that whenever you visit, the water temperature will always be just right. In the colder months, it’s about 72F to 75F. In the summer, you’ll find it like a warm bath at 80F to 83F.
Food and Drinks on the Island
Now, with so much food and drink available on the cruise, you might want to save room for what you’ll find on land in Nassau. Granted, I did get my conch-fix at one of those little places you’ll see when you get off the ship. Incidentally, you can find some cheap souvenirs there too like magnets and keychains and those sorts of things which are perfect for grabbing when you’ve got a bunch of people to bring back gifts for.
If I didn’t have the kids with me on this trip, I’d have gone for one of the amazing food tours. The Nassau Cultural Walking Tour sounded wonderful, a way to taste all the foods I was spoiled on when I lived in Miami. You can also be a winemaker for a day, take Bahamian cooking classes, or even have a rum tasting.
Speaking of drinks, you’ll find the ideal places to grab a rum-filled drink, like Fat Tuesday’s, The Green Parrot, and Senor Frogs plus a whole bunch more, all on West Bay Street. In fact, depending on which side of the ship your stateroom is, you’ll see them as you ship off later on.
As I was telling my dad about this, he said that next time, I should go to his favorite restaurant in the Bahamas. We had actually planned on doing so, but with the kids getting so whiny about everything, we gave up that dream. Athena’s Café is a Greek restaurant that’s super-close to the cruise port. Every time my parents have been to the Bahamas, I have to drool for about 10 minutes on the phone while they describe how fantastic the grilled octopus is or the kefalograviera cheese that they set aflame. Oh man. I feel sad I didn’t get a chance. Well, at least I got my conch!
Things to do in Nassau
Further above, I dropped the link for how to set up cruise excursions through Disney. But what if you’re like me and just not sure what you want to do until you get there? It’s good to have a general idea of what you can do so you can jump into it. Again, depending on the age of your kids, you might not want to be locked into a cruise excursion that could last several hours just in case they get squirrely.
If you’d like to get in the water and carry on the luxury, catch a day pass at Paradise Island’s top resorts, including the famed Atlantis. Heading to the beach is a cool idea too, especially if you’re not from a beach setting. Cable Beach is definitely one of the most popular spots that everyone in the family can enjoy.
Perhaps your parents are along for the adventure, and if so, if they wouldn’t mind watching the kids, you can head to one of the many spas or see if you’ll come out ahead at the casinos. Atlantis is one of the most famous places of all for any of this. At the very least, you’ll want to catch photos of it from the water. One thing I don’t recommend though is renting a cabana. Lots of people complain that it’s not very private, and there’s so much more to see. You’re better off putting the kids in the Oceaneer Club on the ship and heading up to the adults-only pool and spa areas to indulge in privacy and relaxation.
The Nassau Straw Market
And finally, if your kids don’t thwart you, keep walking from the port down to Bay Street and past all the high-end boutiques, you’ll find the famous Straw Market. As I mentioned, I didn’t get to go on this trip, but I’ve been before, and it’s just beautiful. You get so many more choices for souvenirs to take home from cool mugs to straw bags and hats. Puka shell necklaces, conch shells, and all kinds of other things await here too.
One last thing…you can use US dollars here, so there’s no need to exchange for cash. So bring your money and get ready to enjoy yourself in Nassau!
The next morning, we woke up and were already docked in Castaway Cay. Or “key” as it’s pronounced (Lord knows why perhaps to make me nuts but anyway…). It’s Disney’s own island, but it doesn’t actually OWN it (it’s a lease…who knew you could lease an island?!?). However, only Disney Cruise ships can dock there. If you’re looking on a map, it’s near Great Abaco Island.
The island boasts beautiful beaches and turquoise waters, and the whole place is beautifully maintained, as you’d expect from Disney. When you get there, you’re instructed to grab some beach towels and make yourself at home in the area you’d like to enjoy. There’s a family beach which is where we spent all our time because of the kids.
At the family beach, the lagoon-like setting allows for easy swimming, even for little ones. There are no massive waves to knock them over, and it’s a safe space. My girls took to collecting shells that they wanted me to mail to their grandparents.
There is also a twisty waterslide though my eldest has never been a beach person and kept asking to go back to the ship to ride the Aqua Duck again and the other slide for kids. For younger kids, there’s a water-play area called Spring-A-Leak which looked fun, but we’d already had it with the humidity and scorching sun.
Learn if you should come under the sun if you have a C-section.
Speaking of that, in the summer for BOTH islands, please remember to apply your sunscreen and reapply it. Like every 20 minutes. No joke. That sun was so hot I felt like bacon.
There are character greetings, and even an island club for kids 3 to 12 called Scuttle’s Cove which I didn’t know existed until after we got back on the ship. It’s like the Oceaneer Club on the boat, but on the island. It was just as well though, for as much as we were grateful for the staff at the club to watch our children, we wanted to spend time together as a family on the island.
When you’re hungry, Cookie’s BBQ has a feast for you. Ribs, huge burgers, hotdogs, and all those picnic-style foods are done with great care. It’s all quite delicious, though I found mine hard to eat simply because I was still stuffed from my princess-style breakfast. Plus, my husband and our friends had quite the story to tell me when I sat down with my food.
I’d taken our youngest to the bathroom, then got our trays of food. We found them at the nearby pavilion to sit and eat, all of them laughing so hard they had tears streaming down their cheeks.
This is interesting:
It turns out; there was a table of Chinese tourists from our ship nearby. One of them innocently turned their back on their tray of food to get something from their bag, and suddenly a flock of awaiting seagulls seized the moment, stealing all the food in seconds. I couldn’t stop laughing either and could see how that could happen.
So, watch your food, and just know if it gets taken away by the seagulls, the Disney staff is terrific. They came by promptly to check on that table and offered to grab them new trays of food, without laughing! I’m sure they see this all the time, but that’s got to be funny!
There’s also more soft-serve ice cream at the BBQ buffet which helps cool you off, though I headed to the bar for a traditional pina colada. But even that couldn’t save me. We were very hot and sandy, which my eldest kept complaining about, so we decided to go back to the ship.
If you stay, you can find plenty of other things to do. There’s an adults-only part of the beach, a place just for teens, shopping, a pavilion of games in the shade, boat rentals, snorkeling, and gobs more.
I know my experience is likely helpful, but I want to round it out by giving you a bit more information about Castaway Cay.
As for the weather, it’s very similar to the Bahamas. In the summer, expect temperatures to hover around 88F. It’s only slightly cooler because of the sea breeze. In July, this didn’t seem to make much of a difference for us.
In winter, the high is around 74F. For the water temperature, you’ll enjoy temperatures of 84F in summer and 75F in winter.
Foods, Restaurants, Bars
For other food options besides Cookie’s BBQ which is near the Family Beach (the one where the seagulls snatched the food), all are included in the cost of the cruise too. Cookie’s Too is on the far side of Family Beach, and if you’re going sans kids or have them in the kids club, Serenity Bay BBQ is where you can dine among adults.
Castaway Cay 5K
One thing we noticed when we got on the island was a sign marking the 5K. I remembered to inquire about that on the ship later, and our stateroom host was most informative. He told us that there’s a Castaway Cay 5K which starts first thing in the morning. You need to meet up on the ship around 8 am to join in the initiation. No reason you can amble along with it at your own pace later on if you’d prefer not to compete, but if you’re a fitness fanatic, definitely ask Guest Services about it.
Castaway Cay Activities
I briefly talked about some of the island adventures above that we did or had hoped to explore, but now I’ll lay out some other info for you because we all have a different version of what paradise should be.
- Rent a bike for $13 an hour. They have all different sizes, and those under 18 must wear a helmet (also available). The island has about 1.5 miles of paved bike trails to enjoy, which gives you a chance to explore more on your own.
- You can also rent boats. There are all kinds from kayaks to Hobie Cats to paddleboats, and they all range in price, starting from $16.
- How about a glass-bottom boat? It’s an hour-long voyage that’s $49 per adult and $34 for kids that are between 5 and 9 in age. A Banana Boat ride is also available, which is more thrilling, but kids must be at least 8 to ride it.
- You can also snorkel though rentals can be pricey. If you or your kids snorkel at home or at least have snorkeling equipment, pack it and bring it along to the island.
- A better option if you’re going to rent things and you want to do a bit of everything is trying the Castaway Cay Getaway Package. This allows you to lump together some rentals like snorkeling and bike to create your adventure for less.
- There’s a stingray adventure too, not to mention fishing, jet skiing, parasailing, and much more.
There are no hotels on the island, but some cast members do call the island home. It’s beautifully-maintained for this reason. You might love it here, but you’re not allowed to stay the night. Don’t worry though…you can also buy souvenirs on the island if you’d like. Pails and shovels are available too so little ones can dig and play in the sand.
Just a couple more things about Castaway Cay
As incredible as it is and as relatively safe as it is,
One of my friends with a teen heading off to college this year asked me if the drinking age is lower in Castaway Cay. Sorry kids, you have to be 21 to drink here, just like on the ship, but in Nassau, the drinking age is 18 so as long as your parents approve, enjoy it responsibly!
Quick Tips and Tricks
Before you go booking your Disney Dream Cruise vacation (and you totally should …it’s worth it), there are some other things I want to tell you to maximize your vacation on the ship as well as at each port…
- Enjoy the ship when it’s docked at port. Most of the other guests go off on longer excursions. If you don’t select a long excursion, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the ship’s amenities, like a short line for the Aqua Duck and fewer people in the pool.
- Play the detective game. There’s a cool interactive game to follow around the ship. You can get everything you need by the Oceaneer Club on Deck 5.
- Buy Disney souvenirs on the ship. They have some super-cool Disney stuff you can’t get at Disney stores or the Disney parks on land. I got my girls Tsum-Tsum Sailor Mickeys that they love.
- Order room service. It’s FREE. Unless you order alcoholic beverages or M&Ms. There’s a big book in your guestroom that has a menu. We ordered Buffalo wings, a Greek salad, and pizza and it was absolutely delicious!
- Don’t leave your things on your verandah when the ship sets sail. We were fortunate enough to have pulled our swimsuits off the deck or else they would’ve blown overboard.
- Set a wakeup call on the last day. You have to get up SO early to get off the ship, but you can enjoy one last fantastic breakfast with your dining crew first. The wakeup call comes from Mickey himself, another treat.
- Know the attire for your dinners. Most things are casual, but Disney will send you an itinerary of the events on the ship. For our 3-night cruise, the pirate party was the second night, and the fancy dinner was on the last night.
- Bring your notebook and pen for character meetings. And keep it with you…we ran right into Rapunzel and then into Belle another time, and they were both happy to pose with us and sign our girls’ notebooks.
- Download the app. There’s a Disney Cruise app that you can use on the ship which won’t use your Wi-Fi. Speaking of, Wi-Fi is pretty affordable on the ship. It was $19.99 for the basic package, which made it easy to text each other while we were in other places.
And one last thing…
Put your phone on airplane mode! You don’t want those roaming fees, believe me!
Have fun on your Disney Cruise, and if you’re lucky, you just might bump into us the next time we go!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.