By Anastasia Mills Healy

To tell the truth, I was apprehensive about boarding a ship with 1,200 other families. My worries disappeared when we explored the decks to find lots of adults-only spaces, cool kids’ clubs for different age groups, and the pièce de résistance for our family: a help-yourself, no-fee soft serve ice cream machine.

I questioned why one would fly to Orlando to get on a Disney cruise instead of going to Disney World but after a three-night cruise in September aboard the Disney Dream, I found out. First of all, there’s no trucking your kids and strollers and bags of stuff around a hot park. There aren’t any rides on the Dream–except for a fun, kids-only waterslide contained in a see-through tube that encircles the upper decks. But that doesn’t mean there’s no entertainment. In fact, there are more than 200 things scheduled to do on board every day for all ages. Not kidding: There’s an app called the Disney Cruise Line Navigator that lists what’s happening when and tabulates the number of events. It’s essential to use it so your kids don’t miss Tinker Bell reading a fairy story or the Toy Story green army men leading kids on a drill. There were also classes on how to make flubber and draw Disney characters; a family Disney trivia contest; a whisky tasting; and what seemed the crowd favorite: dressing like a pirate and gathering on deck for fireworks and a pirate dance party complete with deejay Captain Jack Sparrow.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised by how great the kids’ clubs are. This is Disney. The clubs on Dream blow every other kids’ clubs I’ve seen completely out of the water. Not only are there special scheduled group activities like science and cooking classes, glow jam, and karaoke, but there are also stations throughout the clubs where kids can be engaged on their own with high tech digital amusements. Children can take a selfie with R2D2 and settle in to pilot the Millennium Falcon. Pick a three-inch character from a glass case and put it down in front of a screen to begin a video game starring that character. Stand in front of a different game and enter that world as themselves. The Magic PlayFloor also uses impressive technology to allow children’s movements to tilt a virtual maze, fly over London with Peter Pan, and step into the world of Tron.

There’s a nursery (called It’s a Small World); the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club, connected areas for kids 3-12; the tween club Edge for ages 11-14; and one that I was jealous of – Vibe for those 14-17. Just below the bridge, Vibe is a 9,000-square-foot private haven with both inside and outdoor spaces to chill. Outside, a pool and hot tub are in the center of a sundeck; inside, circular pods line a screening area. Here teens can create videos, play computer games, and mix dance tracks. Vibe also has the only free smoothie bar onboard.

Kids can eat in the kids’ clubs or dine as a family and then leave for the club with a cast member who circulates in the dining rooms on the lookout for squirmy children. Why would you want your kids to eat at the kids’ club? If you wanted to enjoy a quiet, high-caliber adults-only dinner.

Adults Only

With offspring happily ensconced in the kids’ clubs, parents can have a little adult time. There are two lovely adults-only restaurants on the Dream: the Italian Palo and the French Remy.

A row of nightlife spots was a surprise. There’s a highly stylized Champagne bar, a sports pub, a small bar specializing in martinis, and a travel-themed lounge. Those are in addition to several places to get drinks on the pool deck, which brings me to the adults-only pool, sundeck, and waterfall feature you can sit under.

For a real treat, head to the spa to try out the sauna, steam room, rain showers, heated lounge chairs, and small whirlpools that overlook the ocean. Ahhhhh….

The Ports

The sailing I was on was round trip Port Canaveral, which is an hour both from the Orlando airport and from Disney World. The two ports were both in the Bahamas: Nassau and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. Neither showed signs of the wrath of Hurricane Dorian, which decimated other areas in the Bahamas. Disney Cruise Line offers many shore excursions in Nassau and there are also taxis readily available at the dock. We jumped in a taxi for a short ride to Atlantis to walk around and see its aquarium displays. It was an enjoyable hour but definitely not worth $44 per person.

On Castaway Cay, we had a package that included rentals of bikes and snorkeling gear. The island is flat and the trail is paved and well marked. A tip: Upon disembarkation at Castaway Cay, you’ll see a multiple-car trolley. Take it, as the walk to the area with the beach and rentals is pretty far, especially in the heat, with kids, and carrying towels and other gear. Lunch on the island is a BBQ buffet. There are kids’ clubs on Castaway Cay and an adults-only beach, neither which we experienced.

We disembarked at 7:30am back in Florida and our flight wasn’t until 6:30pm so there was plenty of time to check out the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge world at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The Cabins

Eighty-eight percent of the staterooms on the Disney Dream have an ocean view. Of those, nearly 90 percent have a private verandah. We had a deluxe ocean view room with a verandah and our family of four was very comfortable. The sleeping set up was a queen bed, a couch that turned into a single bed, and a bunk bed reached by ladder (in a classic Disney whimsical touch, the ceiling over the top bunk featured a nighttime scene with constellations and Peter Pan).

In a cruise industry first, most staterooms on Disney ships have a split “bath-and-a-half” design, with a sink and tub/shower in one room and a sink and toilet in a separate room. We LOVED this. There was plenty of storage space as well. And we didn’t have to wear life vests at the requisite muster stations drill.

Inside cabins have a fabulous tech addition: a “magic porthole” that shows a live outdoor feed.

Info & Tips

Cruise info and booking: Disneycruiseline.com.

Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to keep on top of all the fun activities and also to message your spouse or kids with phones. You can use the app in airplane mode so you don’t incur charges yet can communicate with family members when you’re not together.

There are two shore phones in every cabin that you can use to communicate with your group onboard at no charge if you need something in addition to the app.

The TV in the cabin has a selection of Disney movies so if you are beat and want to settle in with a movie, you can tuck the kids in and watch something in your cabin at no charge.

Three things not to skip on the Dream: dinner at Animator’s Palate (for a chance to talk to Crush from Finding Nemo); the Broadway-caliber Beauty and the Beast production; and a trip to the spa.

Room service is no extra charge so if someone’s napping, hungry between meal service times, or you just don’t feel like getting dressed for dinner, go ahead and order room service.

Make reservations online ahead of time for shore excursions as well as onboard activities and events like character meet and greets, spa appointments, adults-only dining, and beer tastings as they are popular. Also make sure to register your kids for the kids’ clubs ahead of sailing.

Something we didn’t know about ahead of time and still don’t fully understand is an exchange among passengers of Disney-themed items. During our three-night cruise, we received two gifts from two passengers we didn’t know. They put little items—a laminated license plate that spelled MICKEY and a Mickey pin–on our door and identified themselves by name and cabin. I don’t know how we were chosen or if we were expected to reciprocate. It was all a charming mystery.

Disney Dream Stats

Disney Dream has the capacity for 4,000 passengers in 1,250 staterooms.

Staff prepares 10,000 meals a day.

Guests enjoy 5,000 self-serve ice cream cones daily.

There are two or three weddings per voyage.

More fun facts about the Disney Dream

Photography By Jimmy DeFlippo, Steven Diaz, Kent Phillips and David Roark