NOTE: The article below was written by DIS Unplugged listener Elizabeth Lade who recently returned from her very first Disney cruise! Read on to see what she thought versus what her expectations were of the cruise.
I’ve been a listener of the DIS Unplugged for several years, and of the DCL Show since I was thinking about booking a cruise over two years ago. Cruising is a bucket-list item of mine, and being a Disney fan, booking a Disney Cruise seemed like a no-brainer. As each DCL show was released, I listened with an excited ear but also made sure to focus on the information Pete and his staff were putting out there. I wanted to be an informed cruiser. I wanted to make sure I knew important details so there were no surprises. I wanted to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. I watched videos, I watched dining reviews, I branched out to other cruise videos in case maybe they covered things the DCL Show may have missed or glossed over. They didn’t, but the reassurance was comforting. As such, it’s one thing to hear about other people’s cruise experiences, it’s another thing to actually experience it for myself. Would it live up to the expectations I had? Would it match the experience I’ve heard about on the show? There’s only one way to find out!
I booked my first cruise ever back in 2020 for a sailing in January 2021, with the impression that this whole COVID-19 thing would be behind us by then. You see how that’s going. I also decided, since this was very new to me, that I should book with a travel agency since they know this industry better than I ever would. Obviously, I chose Dreams Unlimited Travel, not just because of The DIS connection, but also the onboard credit and the gift basket. I’m a sucker for free stuff. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, having a travel agent would become invaluable when cruising came to a screeching halt and everything had to be rebooked. I had just received the email from Disney Cruise Line about my 2021 cruise when I suddenly received an email from Debra, my agent with Dreams, letting me know what my options were for a refund or rebooking. This lady is good! I took the generous rebooking offer from DCL and planned for a January 2022 sailing. This would give me even more time to prepare and be even more informed, as well as be cautiously excited as the year progressed. January 2022 finally came around and I was finally able to experience my first cruise ever and my first cruise on Disney Cruise Line. Did it live up to the expectations that have been built up from the last two years of DCL Show podcasts and videos?
It blew it out of the water.
First, let’s talk about the ship itself. I knew there would be Disney touches on the ship. My expectation was it would be classy but not in-your-face like some of the resorts, so that expectation was met. We’re at the expectation bar. What pushed it over the bar was all the subtle touches. Mickeys in the carpet, statues in the dining rooms, the character references of the counter services signs, the duck who had crashed into one of the stacks by the AquaDuck, the two murals in the main atrium. It wasn’t over the top, but it was enough to make me want to look around and see what else I might have overlooked.
Along with that, were the characters themselves. I knew there would be characters. I didn’t realize how often I would see them. On my way to dinner one night, I stepped out of the midship elevator and in the main atrium were Cinderella, Belle, and Jasmine. I’m used to the WDW system of standing in a queue and hope to get a chance to meet a character before they have to leave. These ladies were just out in the atrium (behind a velvet rope, but still). No queue, no Lightning Lane, they were just there. The next day, I was lounging on one of the upper decks and I could see on the deck below were Chip ‘n’ Dale just walking by and waving to people. Chip and Dale! Just casually strolling around like this is a normal thing they do! Later that evening at dinner, I was talking to my server when there was a knock on the window next to my table. It was Goofy! Just passing by and wanted to wave. Then a few minutes later, Donald Duck did the same thing. Donald Duck! This is incredible!
I have to talk about food next because this is where the expectation versus reality ebbs and flows. I had zero expectations when it came to room service. I used it for breakfast because I foolishly booked a very early salon appointment, so I filled out the room service card and left it on the door before going to bed. Right on time the next morning was a knock on my door. The very nice gentleman came in and set my tray down. Everything I had requested was there, including sweetener for my coffee which didn’t have a checkbox for it. It was a continental breakfast, but it was great and you can’t beat the convenience. Then all it took was a phone call to let them know I was finished, and me figuring out how to get this tray outside of my door (the staff made it look so easy!). So that expectation was met, but the convenience from ordering to eventual pick-up elevated my experience and I wish I had taken advantage of that more.
Breakfast at Cabanas was not as terrible as people make it out to be. It was totally fine! I have absolutely zero complaints about breakfast or the coffee that they brought me. For me, personally, I thought the buffet was just fine and I really appreciated the handwashing stations outside for pre- and post-meal cleanup. The staff was very attentive and I did not mind following my plate down the line because I was presented with the exact breakfast that I wanted and I enjoyed it tremendously. The view was great and with reduced capacity, finding a table was very easy.
Lunch was another meal where I had low expectations, based on others’ experiences. One day I tried a burger, hot dog, and fries. The burger was great, they only put on toppings that I requested. The hot dog was fine. The buns were freshly toasted. The fries weren’t terrible. And the bowl of fruit I picked up as well made it a healthy lunch! The next day I went back and tried a turkey burger, bratwurst, and fries. (and a fruit bowl, because healthy!) I had to wait for the turkey burger, which was slightly annoying but that meant it was cooked fresh and not sitting in a warmer. I’ve never had a turkey burger before and I enjoyed it! The bratwurst was a miss for me, but that’s because I’m from Wisconsin, and we boil our brats in beer before putting them on an open grill. Well, it’s Disney, so there’s no boiling in beer and I don’t think there was a charcoal grill back there. Maybe I should have gone back there with a few cans of cheap beer and showed them the proper way to make a brat. They’d be cool with that, right?
Dinner was where the hits were better than the misses. Luckily, I remembered that you can order more than one item off each part of the menu, and believe me, I took advantage of that. I’d order one appetizer which turned out to be not the greatest, then I’d order another appetizer that was phenomenal. Maybe the nugget of lobster with 3 chilled shrimp wasn’t the best, but the fried brie I had after that was phenomenal. The lobster ravioli was slightly disappointing, but I found myself craving it later, so was it really that disappointing? The shell pasta with lobster wasn’t all that great, but the crispy duck I had next was outstanding. I raved about that duck until dinner the next night. I wasn’t even going to try the black truffle purseittes because I don’t like mushrooms. It was fantastic! The orange souffle was odd and I wasn’t sure I was pouring the sauce correctly, but the opera cake after that was unbelievable! I wasn’t sure I’d even like the sticky date pudding, but I tried it, and I loved it. As I said, the hits were way better than the misses. At least I know what to skip next time.
The last item I wanted to discuss was the service. My expectation was that the service would be phenomenal. Everyone raves about the service. I had high expectations about the service. The level of service I experienced was nothing short of stellar. It’s not phenomenal, it’s stellar. It’s a level of service I’ve never experienced before. On top of that, it wasn’t just a few key people. It was everybody. It was the bartenders, it was the stateroom attendant, it was the dining staff, it was the quick service staff, it was the people at the drink station, it was the lady dusting the stairwell who I talked to briefly who later stopped me to say hi as she was dusting another area of the ship. I’ve never stayed at a 5-star resort, but I imagine this is 5-star resort-level service. This is the level of service I assume celebrities get. It was unbelievable. The only non-stellar service I experienced was the customs agent on disembarkation day. Mr. Grumpy McGrumpypants. Maybe because he wanted to go on a cruise.
After the first night, I knew I had to do this again, so I booked a placeholder to use for another cruise around the same time next year. While it probably won’t be on the Dream, I know that no matter which ship I’m on, it’s going to be as amazing as the experience I just had. All in all, after years of planning, preparation, and anticipation, my first Disney cruise turned out to be better than expected. Can’t wait for the next one!
Long-time Listener, First Time Cruiser
Elizabeth Lade, guest contributor