11.2021 — Dreams-YenSid Travel Disney Cruise trip report — Part 2: during the cruise

I am just back from a 4-night Very Merrytime Cruise on the Disney Dream. In my earlier post, I detailed what it was like getting on the ship, particularly in light of the new safety protocols. In this post, I will focus on what to expect during the cruise itself, focused on the changes, particularly given those new safety protocols.

A big caveat for this — and all three posts: This is a snapshot of the situation as it was for this particularly cruise at the beginning of November 2021. As we have learned, the situation is fluid and things change — sometimes they change quickly. Just days after I got off this cruise, Disney Cruise Line announced it will require vaccinations for guest 5-years and older starting in January 2022. If you book with me, I will keep you updated on those safety protocols as best I can. Regardless, it is worthwhile spending time with the Disney Cruise Line Know Before You Sail pages. That is where you can find all the information you need.

Find the post in this series:

In this post:

  • One big thing — Did I feel safe on the Disney Dream
  • Masks
  • Key to the World Card
  • Disney Cruise Line Navigator app
  • Stateroom
  • Dining, lounges
  • Entertainment
  • Virtual queue
  • Going ashore
  • Pools
  • Character meetings
  • Book your next cruise — and save
  • Kid’s clubs
  • Magic is back
  • Tipping

ONE BIG THING — Did I feel safe on the Disney Dream… and is the magic still there? (Spoiler alert — Yes and YES!)

Personally, I absolutely did feel safe — maybe the safest that I’ve felt in a long time. Disney Cruise Line has done an amazing job of maintaining the remarkable Disney Cruise experience.

The safety question can be a challenging because people have very different assessments of their safety. Just to give you an idea as to where I am coming from… I am careful. I have cancer so I am in a high-risk category. That being said, I also believe that we need to make risk assessment. We do things all the time that are dangerous — driving a car, for example. (Based on the number of people I see texting while driving, making risk assessments is not something humans are very good at, but…) I have worked hard to be smart about the risks I take. I have not gone to large group events, especially where they don’t ask about vaccination status. That being said, I have been to the Walt Disney World Resort… several times. But I have also felt that the Walt Disney World Resort addressed the issue in a careful way — limiting numbers and requiring masks, for example.

I tend to take COVID much more seriously in situations where others do not take it seriously. Therefore, I feel fairly safe with Disney. In my experience, Disney faced the challenges head on and the priority was the safety of their guests and crew. Some of these protocols can be a complex — yes, even frustrating at times, but… Disney takes a comprehensive and nuianced approach to a challenging situation, and I deeply appreciated that.

One important note: Our cruise on the Disney Dream, by most accounts, has about 1,100 guests — with about 400 kids. Given the capacity of the Disney Dream is about 4,000, there was plenty of open space on the ship. There were times when it was VERY noticeable — on Disney’s Castaway Cay, for example, and on the usually packed pool decks — if you have cruised before, you have seen the ‘kid soup’ in the family pools. In most cases, the reduced number of passengers was very nice. There was plenty of availability at the Senses spa, for example. And we were able to get spots in various alcohol tastings, which are normally booked up almost immediately, but on this cruise, there were openings. And the Disney Cruise Line service was just exceptional on this cruise — above and beyond.

There were times when it felt… odd. During some of the shows, for example, there was just a different energy level because of the reduced capacity. (Jokes seem to fall a bit flat when the room is not filled.)

In general, it was lovely.

Which leads to the larger question: Is the magic still there? For me — absolutely… totally… whole heartedly. The experience is different, undoubtedly. But the Disney Cruise Line has made a real effort to maintain the overall experience. If something is missing, it has been replaced with something. For example, there isn’t a “Sail Away” party when the ship leaves port, but that has been replaced by a welcome aboard show that allows groups to maintain their distance.

While the Walt Disney World Resort has been criticized for changing more for less, the Disney Cruise Line experience continues to feel very special.

I was traveling with my friend Kristen. She had never been on a cruise, let alone a Disney Cruise, and she enjoyed the experience enough to book a placeholder for another cruise. (More on shipboard placeholders below — including how you can connect your placeholder over to Dreams Unlimited Travel.)

OH — and a very magical experience for me — we floated by Disney’s Castaway Cay on our “sea” day and we got to see the Disney Fantasy at the island. (And people on Disney’s Castaway Cay noticed the Disney Dream floating by too!)

Finally, I will note that the Disney Cruise Line has a very detailed Know Before You Sail page that includes an entire section what what to expect while onboard and at ports. It is worth spending some time on the Disney Cruise Line Know Before You Sail pages.

MASKS

One of the most asked questions: ‘Are masks required?’

The short answer is… YES. For this cruise, masks were required indoors except while you are actively eating or drinking. And it is enforced… enforced with a smile, but it is enforced. (You do not need to wear your mask in your stateroom, of course.)

You do NOT need to wear a mask outside, however. Given the nature of a cruise, you are going in and out often. I was happy that I got a mask strap/lanyard from Etsy that I found VERY useful given that I was taking my mask on and off all the time.

SENSES SPA, GYM, AND THE RAINFOREST ROOM

They did not require

KEY TO THE WORLD CARD

For those who haven’t sailed Disney before, your Key to the World card is ‘key‘ to your stateroom door. But previously, it was really essential. I always felt like I pulled it out ever few minutes. That is why I always recommended people get a lanyard. And the Key to the World card is still essential — you can’t get on or off the ship without it — but its role has definitely been downgraded. You used to use your Key to the World card to make payments. That isn’t really the case any more. Now, you may need it, but more often than not, crew have a tablet for payments payments — they just ask your stateroom number.

Disney Cruise Line Navigator app

The Key to the World card may have been downgraded, but the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app got a upgrade — and a update. It was always important. It is now pretty essential. It has everything from your dining time and location to everything that is going on. Some of the critical tools on the app:

  • Onboard texting (no additional WiFi needed);
  • Virtual queue to get off the ship at ports (more on this below);
  • Chat functionality for communicating with guest services — or even for making an appointment with guest services;
  • View your bill;
  • Activities — you can book some activities right from the app, and I hear this is going to be more robust over time;
  • Dining time and location;
  • Debarkation information
  • Cruise itinerary
  • Future cruise credit purchases — More on this below
  • Even the pre-departure, emergency drill or muster drill is done via the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.

The app has become a fairly critical piece of your Disney cruise.

One thing that did NOT get an upgrade is the on board Wifi. It is expensive — and it isn’t worth what you pay. I haven’t cruised non-Disney ships, but I understand that Disney is an outlier these days. But be prepared — the WiFi connect to the InterWeb is NOT good.

Stateroom

Our stateroom was delightful. Our room attendant was exceptional, even through we hardly saw each other, but… they do an amazing job. They always have, but… it was nice to be reminded. (In heaven, I sure hope there is turn down service! I’m just saying…)

Dining

Most dining locations and lounge restaurants have reduced capacity.

In the dining rooms, there is space. At lounges, there may be times when we went to a lounge to be greeted by a sign saying VENUE AT CAPACITY. This wasn’t a huge problem given the overall reduced capacity of the ship — there were plenty of options, but… it was different.

For dining room dining, I was traveling with a friend, and we were seated just the two of us. No being seated with another family. We had signed up for second/late dining — I always do Main/first seating because I have a kid and I wanted to try out second seating, but… after the first night, we requested to change to main/early seating and it was not a problem.

You dine alone with your own group — there is no co-mingling these days. For some people, that is a big plus. Personally, I’m fine with it either way. I’m a fairly outgoing person and I enjoy meeting new people — and my son made pen pal friends with other kids. But right now, I totally get it.

Menus have been replaced by QR codes. (There are QR codes everywhere. How did we survive before the QR code?) They will bring you a menu if you ask for it. (Reading a wine menu on the app was too much for me.)

The food was really exceptional. I always find dining in the main dining rooms to be good, and it is exceptional when you consider they are preparing meals for SO many people. (This has not always been the case — Disney Cruise dining has come a long way.) But the food on this cruise was really outstanding. That could be because of the reduced capacity. Whatever it was… it was great.

I mentioned above that Disney Cruise Line has done a great job of providing alternatives when something is canceled. One case in point was the popular Pirate Night. They aren’t having a pirate party on the top deck at the moment. Instead they have buccaneers who come in during pirate night dining, which is very fun. On another night, we had a parade of characters.

Entertainment

There is plenty of entertainment on the ship — we had Disney’s Believe and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on our voyage, and I loved them both. Guests are spaced out throughout the Walt Disney Theater, given assigned seats and asked not to switch seats. The limited capacity does have an impact on the energy level in the theater, but the shows are still very fun.

It was also fun to have other entertainment around — a violonist, lots of trivia, and fun family and adult games. While they are distanced, it was good to be around all those forms of entertainment again.

Character meet and greets

Not to sound like a broken record, but… Disney has done a great job with the character meet-and-greets. No, you can’t give them a big bear hug… in Balu case, it would be an acutal bear hug, but… there are great opportunities for meeting, particularly with the ‘face’ characters. And there are characters everywhere, which is delightful.

Virtual queue

In some cases, to get off the ship — at Nassau and/or Disney’s Castaway Cay — Disney will institute a virtual queue. This is to avoid scores of people jamming cordors. The process is easy — you join the virtual queue right from the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, and you get a — wait for it — QR code. On our cruise, on Nassau, they used the virtual queue, but there was ostensibly no wait. Just be realize that your virtual queue is a window and if you wait too long, you can miss that window.

Going ashore

There are also can be certain restrictions at destinations based on local regulations. The Bahamas, for example, requires everybody to be vaccinated. And they required masks in most places.

Kids who were not vaccinated — elementary school age vaccinations had just been approved at this time — could only leave the ship if they went on a Disney Port Adventure. And everybody on the Port Adventures were required to stay together. People who wandered away from the group could be subjected to a 24-hour quarantine, which would mean one would ‘miss the boat,’ so to speak.

These rules were communicated both by nnouncement, and via the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app. (At this point, I’m just hitting Function Key F4 to input the importance of the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.)

Pools

I mentioned above the ‘kid soup’ that used to be the family pools. Well, there was no ‘kid soup’ on our cruise. For our cruise, Disney Cruise Line limited the number of people in the family pools at any one time to about 10 people. (To be fair, I didn’t count, but it looked to be about 10 people.) If there were people waiting, the lifeguards would clear the pool every 15 minutes to give a new group of people a chance.

There were not that many kids on our cruise — about 400 is what we heard. So that meant the restrictions weren’t that onerous. In fact, one afternoon, I was able to sit in the Mickey kids pool and while watching The Little Mermaid on the Funnel Vision… and I was there by myself for most of the time.

It didn’t appear there were any restrictions on the adult pools.

Kid’s clubs

This was an adult trip — my son was in school so was not able to join me on this journey, much to his chagrin. Therefore I had limited experience with the kids clubs. Generally at the moment they are restricting the amount of time kids can be in the kids clubs, and there is less of a ‘go where you want to go’ atmosphere. Instead, it is apparently more structured. The time restrictions, however, were not strictly enforced. The smaller numbers gave the crew more flexibility.

While my son was not on this cruise, given that he is 10 and approaching the end of his window in the regular kids clubs, I did check out The Edge, which is for Tweens, the The Vibe, which is for teens, and both looked pretty amazing. On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the teens get their own outdoor area at the very front of the ship — and adults are not allowed.

BOOK YOUR NEXT CRUISE ON YOUR CRUISE

It is hard to find a deal on a Disney cruise, right? One of the best deals is to purchase a onboard booking for your next cruise. You pay a refundable deposit — and you have two years to cruise. Disney typically offers a 10% discount on future sailings when you rebook onboard. They will typically offer a half price deposit on itineraries that are 7 nights or longer.

At the moment, you don’t book a specific cruise. Instead, you can purchase one or two placeholders for a future cruise. And you do it right from the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.

You can tap the Disney Cruise Line onboard booking offer. You pay fully refundable $250 deposit. Disney Cruise Line will send you a reservation number. You will need to use that on a cruise that sails within 24 months.

And you can still use Dreams Unlimited Travel. (Fine print — The shipboard credit is smaller for onboard bookings.) Then, when you’re ready to redeem this offer, you can just contact me and we can make it happen — and you can get as much as a 10 percent discount on that cruise. (NOTE: You can transfer that placeholder to Dreams Unlimited Travel. When you get your placeholder, be sure to forward the confirmation to me… or fill out the transfer form — and be sure to request CHRIS VOROBEK as your agent. There are some difference from a standard reservation, but… we can definitely help with that reservation.)

Tipping

Finally, just a word about tipping. Tipping on the Disney Cruise Line feels enigimatic — and needlessly so. For what it is worth, Dreams Unlimited Travel Disney Cruise frequently asked question page has a helpful section specifically on tipping, which can be helpful.

Essentially, the tips are added to your onboard account. You can change the amounts with guest services. You can also pre-pay gratituties before you go. You just have to let me (or your travel agent) know… or call Disney Cruise Line.

The Disney Cruise Line Blog has a tip calculator to help you determine amounts, which can be also be helpful: https://disneycruiselineblog.com/cruise-planning/tip-calculator/

But The Dis’s Pete Werner noted on The DCL Show that recent events have been challenging for all of us, but it has been particularly challenging on the amazing staff and crew of the Disney Cruise Line. They really do rely on tips as a way to supplement their pay… and they really do an amazing job. (See Pete’s comments in part two of The Dis’s DCL Show below.

Resources:

Find part one of this post here, which focuses on all the pre-cruise stuff… Find part three here, which focuses on getting off the ship.

The Dis’s DCL Show had a two programs about getting back on the Disney ships — part one here… and part two here.

Changes are happening all the time in the Disney world — both parks and cruises — and the Universal universe. You can keep up with daily events with The Dis. The YenSidTravel newsletter will provide you with updates on discounts, planning tips, and breaking news. I work to updates regularly — and when important events break — not SPAMish.

Find more here: https://linktr.ee/YenSidTravel

You can always reach out directly:

  • ChrisV@DreamsUnlimitedTravel.com

You can also join me here:

Looking forward to helping you plan a magic trip.

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Dream vacation consultant - https://linktr.ee/yensidtravel

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Chris Vorobek

Chris Vorobek

Dream vacation consultant - https://linktr.ee/yensidtravel

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