by Liz Fleming

Aboard the Disney Dream, you’ll recapture the magic of childhood while enjoying all the best grownup pleasures.

Mickey and GoofyCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

“So…sweetheart…where are you from?”

The oldest pick-up line in the book somehow had a strange new appeal coming from a smiling, toothless turtle.

Swimming just behind and above me on a movie screen that stretched around the whole Animator’s Palette dining room, the animatronic turtle was more lively and interactive than many human dinner companions. He dazzled with witty repartee, asking and answering questions until I was completely carried away by the Disney magic. Thanks to cutting edge animation technology, I believed in that turtle…and you will too. Sailing on the Disney Dream has a way of returning you to your childhood innocence, while catering to all your grownup tastes.

We were sailing on a Disney ship sans children and had wondered if we’d feel odd – like the only people at the playground without a kid in tow. Our own two sons are now in their late twenties and we’re still without grandchildren to bring on these adventures. Would we feel like interlopers in Mickey’s floating world?

Never. It turns out Disney has something for every cruiser – no matter what age or stage.

Disney DreamCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Disney AtriumCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

A fascinating balance is struck on-board the 4,000-guest ship. While the Disney brand is everywhere - even your bedside lampshade is trimmed with tiny Mickeys – you never feel gagged by kitsch or smothered in cuteness.

We began to appreciate that balance on our first day at sea. Though we love children – our own in particular – we’d already had a couple of days at Disney World, enjoying one of the many packages that include both a couple of nights’ stay at the resort and a four-day cruise. While the parks were fascinating and endlessly entertaining, by the time we boarded the Disney Dream, we’d had loads of time with OPCs (Other People’s Children). Understandably, we weren’t terribly keen to dive into the sea of little ones splashing and screeching in the main pool while a cartoon movie played on the several-storey’s-high screen beside them.

Disney_Satellite FallsCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Disney_Remy'sCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

No worries. One of the ever-smiling Disney cast (not crew, cast) members directed us to the adults-only pool where we were able to lounge in sunny, blissful silence. Later, feeling relaxed and entirely grown-up, we dined at Remy, one of the romantic adults-only restaurants where the French service was impeccable and the gourmet cuisine was fabulous – nary a child nor a Cheerio in sight. We could have been in a five-star restaurant anywhere in the world.

Even on our beach day at Castaway Cay, where we were prepared for swarms of sandy, squealing little people, we were instead guided to an exquisite grown-ups beach where the only sound was the gentle lapping of the waves and the quiet slurping of tall, cool drinks. As we relaxed in our beach chairs, pedaled around the paved cycle trails, lolled on floating pads, and were briefly visited by Captain Jack Sparrow in full costume, we imagined that there might be children somewhere...maybe…but we saw no evidence.

Don’t let the fact that we so thoroughly enjoyed the Disney Dream’s adult-only offerings lead you to believe that we didn’t love all the kid-centered activities as well. We were, in fact, among the first to line up for a turn on the massive waterslide that circles the outside of the ship and also among the opening night crowd for the release of “Big Hero 6”, a first-run animated movie. Though we resisted the urge to dress up in Disney princess costumes (available in the gift shops in a variety of sizes!) for the photo ops with Snow White, Belle and Princesses Aurora and Tiana and the rest of the royalty on board, we did tie on the pirate bandannas that appeared in our suite so we could be properly attired for the pirate-themed fireworks display. It’s important to look the part!

Disney_TangledCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

We were huge fans of the shows that lit up the Walt Disney Theatre stage each evening and saw every one. Big, glitzy affairs featuring sparkly costumes and impossibly good-looking cast members with huge smiles and big voices, these were the kind of extravaganzas that are designed to make Grandma grin and get the kids dancing in the aisles. Don’t look for plots or larger messages – this kind of entertainment is just all about feeling good.

If the shows filled our eyes and ears, our stomachs weren’t left out either. The ship was a floating dining op, with a huge variety of choices – from the formal Palo - an adults-only restaurant serving delectable Northern Italian cuisine, to the almost-as-fancy-but-family-friendly Enchanted Garden, to the ultra-casual Cabanas where buffet style goodies ranging from fresh-made stir-fry to hot-from-the-oven pizza were available from dawn until late into the night. For those families who couldn’t bear to leave the pool, the grill offered up burgers and dogs with French fries on the side that were worth every calorie.

Disney_DiningCourtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Most good cruise lines offer great dining and nightly entertainment and commodious suites. Many have water park facilities and all the mini-putt you can play. What is it, then, that sets Disney apart from the competition? It’s an attitude that permeates every on-board experience and begins on shore, in the theme parks. Disney understands that for many guests, their holiday is a once-in-a-lifetime experience - something to be remembered and treasured forever. Every minute needs to be perfect. No frowning servers in a restaurant, no running out of ice cream at the help-yourself bar, no long boring lineups, no empty moments – Disney’s staff is ever-present, ever-helpful and ever-cheerful. Every second is as perfect as they can make it.

On our last night aboard, we stopped to watch a little girl posing for a photo with a bevy of Disney princesses. As she gazed up at them, dressed in a sparkly dress any of her idols would have envied, the camera flashed and there were literally stars in her eyes. One day in years to come, an older girl will look at that photo and remember a magical moment when everything in life seemed shiny and perfect. Maybe she’ll even be able to recapture some of that feeling.

If we could bottle the sense of all being exactly right with the world, we’d be millionaires – but we can’t. Like vapor, that feeling evaporates in the cool light of the real world but luckily, once in a while, we can put our faith in Mickey and his friends and rely on the magic of Disney to create it for us.

Originally published in Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Winter/Spring 2016 issue

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