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Living the Dream: An early look at Disney's newest cruise ship

27 January 2011 by By Clay Clifton - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

— We rode on a 4-story water coaster, lined up for pictures with Princess Tiana, sang along to a Broadway-style show featuring favorite Disney characters and capped the night off with a thrilling fireworks display.

A day at Walt Disney World? Not quite. My family shared these adventures out at sea on the 130,000-ton Disney Dream, the newest ship in Disney Cruise Line’s expanding fleet.

My family and I joined the Dream’s inaugural sailing, an abbreviated voyage for media and contest winners. Our two-day trip wasn’t nearly long enough for us to experience everything the ship has to offer, but it did provide an exciting preview of what’s being billed as the most technologically-advanced cruise ship in existence.

It all starts with AquaDuck, described by my 8-year-old daughter Sophia as “the most awesomest thing in the world.” AquaDuck is a massive water coaster that shoots you on an inner tube across its 765-foot length, at one point arcing 12 feet out from the side of the ship, where nothing but a hard plastic cylinder lies between you and the ocean 150 feet below. This is a worldwide first, a theme park roller coaster on a cruise ship.

Another first is the fireworks display, which accompanies an elaborate on-deck pirate show featuring Jack Sparrow repelling down the Dream’s central tower. To coincide with the ship’s Caribbean itinerary, pirates arrr everywhere.

My family has taken several cruises on a variety of lines but this was our first time on a Disney ship. Full disclosure: We are big Disney fans, annual passholders to the parks and first in line to the studio’s movies. Between our DVD shelf and my daughters’ pajama drawers, we could run our own Disney Store outlet.

When we boarded the Dream, our family’s name was ceremoniously announced as we walked into the ornate lobby. This is a tradition on all the Disney ships, and the sort of touch that makes each guest feel special despite being one of thousands.

Eighty-eight percent of the Dream’s 1,250 staterooms feature ocean views (901 from private verandas) but the 150 inside rooms offer a unique touch – “magical” portholes that show hi-def images of those same ocean views. Every once in awhile a Disney character floats by – Aladdin on his carpet, Up’s Mr. Frederickson with his balloons, and 18 others.

All of the rooms are spacious and feature such amenities as split bathrooms with tubs, energy-saving lighting systems, iPod docks and cellular phones guests can use to stay in touch with their party across the ship.

The Dream contains three 700-seat, elaborately themed dining rooms. The best of them is the Enchanted Garden, a stunning room that looks like a princesses’ backyard. The Royal Palace calls to mind a room from the Beast’s castle – after Belle moved in. Animator’s Palate is a bright space decorated with sketch work and featuring “windows” that come to life with hi-definition underwater scenes. An unwelcome surprise is the occasional appearance of Finding Nemo’s Crush, the surfer dude turtle who enters loudly and interrupts diners’ meals for small talk. Crush puts on a funny show at Epcot, but he’s an annoying intrusion for those cruisegoers, like us, who chose to keep their children in the kids' camp to enjoy a quiet meal.

Like many cruise lines, Disney sits you at a table with other cruisegoers, encouraging socialization whether you want it or not (I don’t). We were told that families of four or more who would prefer a private table can request one upon boarding the ship, but to act fast because not all requests can be granted.

Couples wishing to dine in privacy will have to pay an additional fee to eat in one of the exclusive adults-only dining rooms. Palo, serving Italian fare, costs an extra $20, while French restaurant Remy requires a whopping $75 per person (not including alcohol). That strikes me as extreme, but Remy is booked solid for the next three months.

For those looking for more casual dining, Cabanas is a huge buffet offering tasty dishes of all sorts. One nice touch is that a host or hostess will find you a seat, doing away with the mad, stressful dash for an open table at busy meal times.


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