We got back from our cruise last Friday and IT. WAS. AWESOME! We're already peeping the military discount list to see which cruise we want to do next. Here's the first and most important thing you need to know: don't listen to the people who are saying that "too much is missing" right now! We didn't get to even a fraction of the things we wanted to do onboard, and we hardly used a single thing out of the activities I packed. I was really cursing that 48lb suitcase in the airport! I decided to ask my Facebook group, "If you want to cruise right now, what do you want me to tell your family about health & safety measures and onboard experiences?" Here's what they asked for! Comfort with COVID precautions: I'll cover some specific COVID precautions for food/activities later. For me, knowing that everyone 12+ was vaccinated and every single person had a PCR test at the port really helped me relax when I (occassionally) saw people with saggy masks. For the most part, everyone cooperated because they were happy to cruise, and I felt like Disney had MANY overlapping procedures in place to cover any gaps. For example, you could be on the pool deck without a mask, so it was easy to forget to put it on when you walked into Cabanas. But all the entrances had crew members posted to direct people to the hand washing stations and remind them of their masks, and hand them a disposable mask if they forgot theirs. Then Cabanas also had food service precautions in place, and tables spaced out. On this cruise I heard that there were 1500 passengers, which is about the same as the number of crew for the Dream. Housekeeping crew was EVERYWHERE. You would even see them outside of the public restrooms in pairs, waiting to clean as soon as the restrooms were used. They are spacing out staterooms as well, and I felt like our stateroom host was always in our hallway. This is not exactly new, as Disney has always had the stateroom hosts clean your room twice a day, the hosts are always very available if you need anything, and there are often washroom attendants cleaning right away. But if you have never cruised before, it may set your mind at easy to know just how much cleaning happens on a Disney ship. Finally, if you need some data to look at, the CDC has a "Ship Color" status website where you can see reported COVID cases on cruise ships in the last 7 days.
Crowds, especially at the pools: As I said, this cruise was under 50% capacity; I've heard they are moving up to 50% now, or that it might be closer to 50% on weekends (they Dream does 3 Night Friday-Monday, and 4 night Monday-Friday). There were times in the middle of the day where the common areas were completely empty, like it was midnight and everyone was running for their pumpkin carriage. We rarely had to wait in line for characters, and sometimes we saw them just standing around waiting to talk to someone, so we detoured from whatever other activity we were doing to chat for a bit. It was a really neat experience for kids to just be able to chat up characters & Princesses, even if they couldn't hug! One thing that is really spreading around social media groups is reports of "lines at the pool" - we only experienced this on our at-sea day. We were at the pool every morning of our cruise and there were no lines for the pools or AquaDuck. On the at sea day, we went to the Funnel Puddle, which is a little known shallow pool with a fountain in the Family Zone behind FunnelVision. I think people think that it's the adults only part of the ship but this one specific area is like a quiet zone for families and has lots of shade. And of course, Castaway Cay felt empty! On CC there are all kinds of water activities, including snorkeling & Pelican Plunge. Many ports of call in the Bahamas & Caribbean also have resort excursions or beach days, too.
Activities: This is one where I don't want to say too much, because you would never notice "reduced" activities if you have never cruised before. The big one I have to mention is that "it's a small world" nursery for under-3 is not open right now. For kids ages 3-12 at the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, you can reserve sessions in advance. We had 2.5 hour sessions, except on Castaway Cay day, when she had 1.5 hours in Oceaneer Club and also spent an hour at Scuttle's Cove on the island. (Lil referred to it as "class" because she is homeschooled and most of her "classes" are like this, a small group that meets to do activities and crafts.) Characters still made appearances in OC/OL. Vibe and Edge, for teens, are open as usual and no reservations are needed. There were also 1820 Society (for young adults 18-20) meetups on the ship. The Buena Vista Theater is open for movies as well, and played Jungle Cruise, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings, Hocus Pocus, and Nightmare Before Christmas Sing & Scream. Lilly prefered the Funnel Vision screen at the pool and we watched Lion King, Frozen, and a couple others. One of the afternoons she was in the Oceaneer Club I rode the AquaDuck alone and watched Descendents on Funnel Vision. There were still many opportunities to do crafts, bingo, karaoke, and trivia contests, and it seemed to me like there were more tasting/mixology events than I have seen in the past. Our favorite entertainment was Midship Detective Agency, where you use clues and enchanted artwork all over the ship to solve a mystery, and taking pictures with the fun backdrops in the evening. Lil loves to have her picture taken and I think we posed for more pictures on this cruise than on any previous cruise! I'll share more about that when our photobook is delivered. Children under 12 are not allowed to do excursions unless they are booked through Disney. We just opted to stay on the ship on the Nassau day. Lil was annoyed by this but I had no idea how she was going to handle this cruise and just played it safe. I'm sure we will go back to Nassau again! Evening Shows: On this trip we had the Broadway style shows Believe twice, and Beauty and the Beast once. The shows are always twice per evening, and seating in the theater was distanced, and first come first served. If you're not comfortable in a theater just yet, or if you're like me and have a kid too old for naps and too young to stay up late without a nap, you can watch the show from your stateroom TV at 9pm. It was fun to watch the show in our PJs! The Sail Away deck party and Pirates IN the Caribbean deck party are paused for now, but they still had fireworks! They did two nights of fireworks, breaking the ship into two groups with each family in their own "zone" on the deck. Fireworks were at 10:45pm so we did not make it, but I could hear them from our verandah one night. This is one thing I thought was a little confusing on the app, and I should have dug into it more even though I knew we wouldn't be up that late. I'm getting to food next but one thing worth noting is that there was some kind of "show" in all of the dining rooms, which is new to me. Princesses wandered through Royal Palace, Animator's Palette had their normal Turtle Talk with Crush and then was also our Pirate Night with a surprise visit from a pirate, and Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy came to Enchanted Garden and did a song & dance performance.
Food: First, I loved that we had our own table at dinner. We have met some wonderful people at our table on past cruises, but we have also had families who were not into upscale dining and had to let everyone know. Seating families at their own tables is a change I hope is permanent. Likewise, having Cabanas as more of a cafeteria line seems like a smart move. The folks serving were very generous with the bacon in the morning! And several other guests agreed with me that taking away self serve beverages is probably smart. There was always a crew member available to fill our drinks and even water bottles. I would have been uncomfortable with other guests shoving their way into the beverage station or reusing cups. I really did not like sitting down in a nice restaurant and having to take my phone out for the QR code menu. Breakfast was especially delicious, but SOME of the food seemed to be suffering for quality or supply chain issues. The bread service in the restaurants was essentially the same every night, and boring. Some of the seafood I had was... very fishy. I wouldn't order anything like the tuna nicoise salad (Royal Palace), the ahi tuna tower (Animator's Palette), or smoked salmon (Cabanas) again. But on the flip side, the Chilean sea bass at Enchanted Garden was the best I've ever had, Grilled Salmon Salad at the Embarkation lunch at Animator's Palette was perfect, as was the fried crab cake appetizer at Animator's Palette for dinner. I've seen a lot of people say that Cabanas food selection is "drastically reduced" and I wonder if they had not ever noticed that the buffet has always repeated all the way around. There was maybe a LITTLE less but still a great variety. We did do more dining in the other restaurants for breakfast and lunch, and ordered room service as well, so maybe I just wasn't as tied to Cabanas as I have been on past cruises. I still think that the Wonder has better food overall, it's more fresh and international. One last thing I have to highlight, THE CREW! They were amazing. They are restricted to the ship right now, so show them a lot of love if you decide to go on a cruise. So many of the folks I talked to have worked for Disney for years, and Lilly and I kept a list of home countries to map when we got home. Eka from Indonesia, Leydar from St Vincent, Aziz from Turkey, Sebastian from Columbia, Lewin from India, those were just a few of the folks who made our cruise magical! As we docked we saw a large group of people line up at the cruise terminal and our server at Cabanas said, "oh, new family! They will be so excited to be back." Apparently people had been called back to work on the Dream to replace the folks moving to the Magic after this cruise. I can't tell you how many times I cried last week, because their return to normal is also our return to normal as travel agents. Overall, our experience was excellent! We're thinking of booking Marvel Day at Sea on the Disney Magic or Star Wars Day at Sea on the Disney Fantasy next, so Francis can join us. Which would you like to see?