Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Disney Difference

So, having evaluated the new Disney Dream from it's first-glance appeal, accommodation, dining and entertainment quotients, how should we sum up this glitzy new offering from Disney Cruise Line?

Well, it certainly remains a great proposition for families AND for couples without children, as the adults-only facilities remain some of the best at sea. And, should you so wish, you wouldn't need to even see a child aboard, let alone know you are at sea with several hundred of them at any one time!

There are, of course, the overtly Disney touches that could only come from the House of Mouse, notably the three themed restaurants, the superb (but distinctly Mickey-fied) big show productions, the many character meet-and-greet opportunities, and the outrageously outfitted kids activity centres, which only Royal Caribbean's biggest ships can touch for space, range and style.

The introduction of their 'magical portholes,' the virtual window onto the outside world which all inside cabins now boast, the Enchanted Art throughout the ship (special pieces of art which literally come alive when activated by a pssing guest) and the special fireworks-at-sea deck party also all point to the kind of imagination and invention which exists primarily with Disney's 'Imagineers.'

But the designers have continued to keep a handle on cruising's luxury and tradition-orientated heritage, with many touches which look and feel totally five-star. The Cove Cafe, glamorous Concierge Lounge and associated cabins, Palo restaurant (and new bar area), District nightlife complex and, especially, the gourmet dining of Remy all highlight a tendency which Disney began with the Magic and Wonder and have firmly continued with their latest vessel.

Their staff remains keen and eager to please and even the standard level cabins are wonderfully comfortable, practical and well-fitted, with the split bathroom arrangement putting them well ahead of most of the competition.

And, as befits a ship produced by the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, it displays a superlative level of finish and build quality. While the yards of Finland and Italy are not short on style and quality, I have never failed to be impressed by the end product out of this German marine production centre, and feel they go the extra yard to making sure everything is completed to the nth degree.

Take time to stroll along the classic internal promenade on Deck 3 (above), take time out at the Bon Voyage bar, walk the 'red carpet' into the Walt Disney Theatre and take a ride on the unique AquaDuck 'water-coaster' and you will have sampled four highly contrasting but all representative facets of this extraordinary ship.

Unlike the vast Oasis and Allure of the Seas, it is not a destination in itself; and it is not an out-and-out resort at sea, with all mod cons and little connection with the maritime world. It does have plenty to keep guests occupied without ever setting foot ashore (and, to be honest, it's 3 and 4-day cruising to the Bahamas is not guaranteed to have people flocking off anyway, with the exception of Disney's private island of Castaway Cay), but the onboard style still has more in keeping with cruise tradition than the all-mod-cons approach of others.

Are there elements that don't work especially well? Almost certainly. The deck space in the adults-only Cove Pool area is less than capacious; there are sure to be quite long queues to try the AquaDuck; and the main atrium area seems like a huge, empty void at times, as it is geared up for the many Disney character photo opportunities and is otherwise a pretty pointless space.

Their rotational dining system may not suit those who prefer to dine in one main location, especially for a 7-day (or longer) voyage, but it is hard to fault the novelty and attraction that it represents over just 3 or 4 days.

We absolutely love Castaway Cay, where we were able to cycle at our leisure, enjoy the adults-only Serenity Beach area, grab a quick lunch with ease and stroll along the main beach back to the ship, which is docked by the purpose-built pier. Brilliant thinking all round, and the family facilities here are the equal of any beach resort in the world.

Does it all add up to the premium price that Disney charges for such a short cruise? It can cost $1350/person for a 4-night cruise in a balcony cabin, which could get you a 7-night cruise (or even longer) on a few other lines. But you will certainly feel like you are in high-quality territory here, and the X-factor that comes with all Disney ventures is most firmly to the fore here.

All in all, it is a superb experience, a real one-off in the cruise world today, and one that is well worth considering. The rest, as they say, is up to you...!