East Coast Disney Cruises and Castaway Cay – and some reflections on the Disney Dream!

Last week, many of those awesome moms I follow attended a Disney Social Media Mom’s Conference, which reminded me of our great cruise aboard the Disney Dream in Summer 2016. While I’ve blogged about my recent tour of the Disney Wonder and anticipate a cruise on the Wonder in the near future, I wanted to review the unique experience of sailing out of Port Canaveral (or any Florida/East Coast Caribbean or Bahamas – bound port) and visiting Castaway Cay.  All four ships visit the Cay at some point in their annual year crusing the globe, but the Dream and the Fantasy sail itineraries in this area year-round out of Port Canaveral – the Dream for 3-4night cruises, and the Fantasy for 7-11 night cruises.   For all photos of my trip on the Dream, check out my Facebook page.  

My mom and I did the Dream cruise in June 2016 as a last minute travel agent deal for a Mom and daughter getaway. At the time, I had clients that had recently sailed and were sailing soon out of Port Canaveral, and I wanted to experience it for myself to help them out.    Based on notes I made back then, I wanted to highlight a few parts of our Disney Dream 3 day Cruise experience to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay. 🙂IMG_9553.jpg

Beautiful Castaway Cay 

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Guests exploring the deck of the Dream 

We stayed the night before our cruise at Hyatt MCO.  It was very easy –  you deplane, get bags down below in baggage claim (or pay a fee for Hyatt to find them for you), check in at Hyatt, and tell them you’re going on Disney Cruise.  Hyatt will put you on the list for bag pick up in the morning and give you instructions – you tag your bags with DCL Luggage tag and  a bellman picks them up around 830-45 AM from just inside your door (you don’t have to be present). The  Disney Bus Cruise Transfers from MCO to Pt Canaveral start around 9 AM. The Hyatt MCO also has day rates for people on layovers or with a long time after their cruise before their flight! You can use the pool, shower, etc.  Great place!  Check out pictures here. 

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Hyatt MCO is very convenient! Even has runway views!

Inside the Orlando Airport – signs for WDW Magical Express and Disney Cruise Transfers in Terminal are there but limited. Hyatt gave a helpful map, but I saw lots of confused passengers and WDW Guests during our stay (and during subsequent visits for WDW trips).  Magical Express and DCL Transfers are both in Terminal B, Level 1 (two floors down from where you exit security area, Baggage Claim is Level 2).  Once you get down there, it can be confusing with sparse/sporadic signs until you get to the general Disney area, where Cast Members will direct you. Once you get close, it’s very easy and there are CM’s helping.  It’s definitely friendly, just something to be aware of during your travels! 🙂 

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Cruise line busses are right by Disney’s Magical Express

On the bus Ride from MCO on the DCL Transfer to the port – They will load any luggage in bus you don’t want at seat.  They play a video getting you excited for the cruise with info about check in and what’s on the ship. They fill extra time with Disney Cartoons and Trivia.  It’s perfectly timed to end just as you are approaching the ship!

Port Canaveral Check In is super smooth at the Disney-owned terminal. If you take take a ship transfer you just take your carry-on and go through security with lots of direction.  Those who take private transfers or rented cars give checked luggage (with tags) to porters, and take carry ons through security. *It’s important to have swim suit and any necessities in carry on. Rooms were not ready until 1:30 PM, with the exception of Concierge*     After going through security, go upstairs into the terminal. Very organized – check in is very quick especially if you have done everything you can online ahead of time and printed/signed contract, have passports out. Disney takes a photo of everyone in your stateroom together when you check in – (diff from other cruise lines in my experience).  This makes getting off/on ship very easy, as if one person in your party scans card, they see photo, see who is with you, and don’t have to scan their card as well.  Disembark/embark at ports of call and after the cruise is made very easy because of this feature.  *Make sure all of family is there at check in for photo, you can’t just leave people waiting out of line while one person checks in* 🙂 

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Boarding through Mickey Ears! 🙂 

Disney assigns you a card with your boarding group number, based on the boarding time you requested with online check in.  There are lots of lounges and entertainment in the terminal, with character taking photos to entertain while you wait, a viewing deck of ship, restrooms, penny machine, etc.  You can also can check in kids/register and get their magic bands in the terminal. You wait  until your group is called, board through Mickey ears, and take a photo – super easy!

Once On Board – Bears repeating – they tell to pack swimsuits in carry on, and they mean it! 🙂  Staterooms were not ready for any one (except Concierge) until 1:30 PM.  You are sent right up to the pool deck where drinks and lunch are available and everything is open, but you need a suit on.  I would even wear it under clothes to make things easy if possible, depending if you fly in that day or not.  When you’re cruising in the summer, it is HOT in the humidity and the pool is a popular place on that ship!  

 

Aqua Duck and Pool areas – These are simply awesome.  First of all, lifeguards everywhere, HUGE on safety – life jackets, tons of supervision, WAY WAY better than other cruiselines I’ve been on in this area.  Yay for safety and kid focused safety!  The Aqua Duck is the coolest thing ever, a mini Disney attraction on a ship. They have even done little signs and subtle theming about its “story”, and the double tubes are brought up on a conveyor belt so nobody is lugging them up the stairs. Brilliant.  The ride actually goes out over the side of the ship and all around with some lights in the tunnel and mild effects, its super fun.  The lines get long FAST though – when I got on it was 10 minutes, quickly up to 30-40 within an hour and stays that way constantly except at night or when at Castaway Cay. Slightly shorter when in other ports but it depends on port popularity and how many people want off. Best times to ride are early in morning and at night, when it’s a fun ride with the lights and stuff, kids had a blast doing it around the deck during Pirate Party bc they had whole thing to themselves and were waving at everyone. The other pool areas for kids are great too, Nemo’s Reef is fun splashpad for toddlers (who cant go in a pool by law on any cruise ship until potty trained), there’s a kids only Mickey slide, plus the adult pools are plentiful and really nice. It’s nice to have 18+ areas on the ship that are kid free, much quieter with nice facilities on all decks. The last day we found the Cove Cafe right by a pool that was dead except for Disney managers and entertainment Cast Members! Haha! Super fun.  

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So fun!

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Splash pad area for kiddos in diapers 

 

Kids area – WOW.  Oceaneer’s Club is fantastic… the Dream actually has a Millenium Falcon set up on board where kids can pretend to fly it, plus Disney Infinity Video games, Andy’s Room, tons of corners with crafts, movies, other activities. Kids don’t want to leave, I know mine wouldn’t, it’s truly spectacular, and HUGE.  I didn’t even go in the nursery area for the babies/kids under 3, or the teen areas, each age range has their own room.  The check in process with the wrist bands is cool and efficient. I felt the security was very good!  On the other Disney ships, the kid’s club has varying themes and such but the same overall “wow” factor and dedicated space onboard.  

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Fly the Millenium Falcon! 

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Craft area 

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Toy Story Kids Area 

There are kid areas on Castaway Cay as well, and they will come and take kids during dinner (feed them first) so adults can enjoy themselves! This is only available during second seating and something to consider when making your dining plans.  Disney is truly going for “family time” and “adult/kid separate time” balance in vacation. I would agree with my clients that Disney has truly ‘thought of everything’ when it comes to this model and making it easier on parents and fun for kids, but also for the adults! 

 

Rooms – I love the dual bathrooms on Disney!  One with full bath and shower, which is unheard of unless you have a suite on most cruise lines. The balcony is a little smaller than other lines, but this is due to the bigger stateroom. The towel animals each night are awesome, they don’t do these as much on other lines any more, and Disney flair in the room is fun!  There is lots of space for a family in the state room! The connecting room option is very cool and my clients love to utilize it. People on Disney Cruises really get into decorating their stateroom doors with the magnets, have group shirts, etc.  and the Fish Extenders (hung on the fish with your state room) groups are very in and worth investigating!  

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Dining/Food – We love the rotating dining rooms,  as this is a fun and unique Disney idea. All have their own theme, menu and are well done.   Our wait staff was awesome!  The food was good, but I’ll confess in my experience it’s nothing “amazing” to stand apart from other cruse lines. We have actually had better food on other more moderate cruises.  Palo however has awesome food and service – but this is $30 extra a person. We did brunch there, and had a great time, it’s 18+ and the kids can have a great time in the club while the parents/adults have a nice meal.  Remy is the more expensive option with French cuisine, available only on the Dream and Fantasy.   Most adults we met cruising without kids did at least one meal if not more at Palo.

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Palo is delicious!

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Yummy Palo 

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Remy 

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Turtle Talk in Animator’s Palate!

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Our super fun wait staff! 

Free soda and ice cream all the time were awesome and kid heaven, many cruise lines have gotten rid of free soda so this is a nice perk of Disney! Animator’s Palate is super fun, on the Dream it has Turtle Talk with Crush and he goes around joking with diners all over the room and swims over your head, does a little swim party at the end -a very cute idea! It’s worth nothing that Animator’s is a bit different on the Wonder and Magic, where it’s literally animation on the walls and involves the Guests in creating art.

 

Adults – There are a fair amount of kid free cruisers, even regular Disney cruisers, because they like the adult only dining and adult only area on the ships. 

The adult-only bars and lounges are very nice. One of them, Skyscraper, changes between the sky lines of major cities every 15 minutes or so. They are all very quiet and have some nice music back there with specialty cocktails and a better wine list. A bit hard to find/get to… was told on the other Disney ships they are better, and some felt they enforce the “only 18+” rule more (which they liked) on the older ships then the newer ones. 

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Adult-Only Pool Area

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Loved Skyline Lounge! 

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Beautiful music and scenery!

Castaway Cay – this is fantastic, basically a Disney Resort on an entire island.  It has a tram to different areas – again, lifeguards EVERYWHERE, huge focus on safety – a huge water slide area, snorkeling lagoon (with hidden stuff and Disney theming), sting ray excursion, tons of floating/swimming waiting areas in the calm Bahamas water, restaurants, bars (all part of the ship), and the private Adult only beach is FANTASTIC. (There is a kids club/childcare on the island or you can leave your kids onboard :P) You can sit in a lounge chair literally in the calm pool-like ocean drinking a cold tropical cocktail with no kids. It’s a full tram ride away separated from the rest of things. A hotel on this island would do very well, but I doubt it will happen! 🙂   The BBQ food here was actually some of my favorite of the cruise, they have their own kid-free restaurant with lunch and ice cream.IMG_9551.jpg

Beautiful Castaway Cay

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Ahoy Mickey!

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There is a 5k on Castaway Cay for each ship that stops in port, complete with merchandise and lots of extra fun. The water slides and activities for kids extend to all areas of the island. Characters are of course around available for photos, too! The coveted cruises are those that get to stop at the Cay twice! 🙂

Pirate Night/Fireworks – this is a big deal on all Disney Cruises!  People get into the pirate dress – all are provided with a Mickey bandana and it’s encouraged to get into the theme.  The show itself is cute, basically training Mickey’s pirate crew, who’s then attacked by Captain Hook, of course Mickey wins… they do this in between first and second dinner seating. Then after second dinner seating, at 1030, which I found quite late, but I guess they have to do with dinners, are the fireworks. It’s preceded by a Jack Sparrow Pirate show that’s very fun and intense, and then ends with fireworks shot off right from the ship. All other cruise ships in the area circle around for this and know when it happens which is quite funny, as it’s a Disney novelty. This was extremely impressive and also scared the $hit out of me a bit as well because we watched the crew collect the mortars off the deck after –  but wow, the fireworks are literally RIGHT there! Disney music accompanying the “mini” version of a Resort show and everything. According to the people I talked to, the reason Disney is alone with this is they are the only ones paying for the insane permits and insurance it takes to do so on a cruise boat.  This was very magical! I assume they know what they’re doing and no tragic fire occurs 😛

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Ready for Pirate night!

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Complimentary Bandana

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Seriously close fireworks!

Entertainment – In general, superb and far above other cruise lines with the talent Disney attracts – cute shows, story lines, made for all audiences.  The Walt Disney Theater is beautiful and has some nice Walt Tributes. The new Beauty and Beast show is supposed to be fantastic!  Some of the shows were better than others (meaning I’d skip some if I went back) but all were fine and definitely none a waste. My biggest annoyance here was that they charged for popcorn… a cute idea, but even for a paper cup of it was $3. C’mon now.  🙂 

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Characters – So fun to see them in cruise attire, lots of them everywhere… Lots of long lines … as a Disneyland local I am character spoiled, as are my kids, so I’m not sure how many lines are worth it for the Disney regular, though they’re still worth it for the non regular Disney vistor!  HOWEVER, they recently did a fast pass ticket system you can pre book when you do your pre cruise check in stuff, and I tried one to see Anna and Elsa – super easy. Walked right in, no wait!   I even had them make a video for my kids that they still watch years later!  So I highly recommend using the reservation system for whatever you can! Also on the last night, there were no lines when all characters were out for final farewell, if you caught them in first 5-10 minutes you could get photos here.  

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Met some friends in the lobby!

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Tickets to see Anna & Elsa = super easy!

Photography – On the Dream they have a cute “library” of “books” and you scan your key card and it tells you where to find your photos. You can also view them digitally and print them, even get a printed photo book of your memories right there.  Well done Disney! 

Disembark – Super easy. No groups, can either walk off with all luggage or tag it the night before and find it after you get off by character group, but can walk off whenever starting at 7 AM, all are off by 9:15. I credit the photo system they use to do this as all other cruise lines ive done it’s never that fast.  Customs was a breeze, walked right out to the transfers where many go to WDW Resorts, many to MCO like I did, some take cars home.  

 

All in all, Disney is a magical cruising experience for families, couples and singles. They’re in the top tier of rated cruises for good reason! We hope to cruise them again this year and try the different options, including the Magic in Europe and the Fantasy over in the Caribbean.  I have many clients who return to Disney over and over, and happy to help you plan your own Disney Cruise as well – especially Ca

 

2 thoughts on “East Coast Disney Cruises and Castaway Cay – and some reflections on the Disney Dream!

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