Having been aboard Disney Cruise Line's first two ships for nine cruises in the past seven years, our family's first concern about cruising aboard the new larger Disney Dream was that it will feel crowded, losing the intimate feel of the smaller ships. We had cruised on the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Sea that frequently felt too big. It was easy to feel overwhelmed by the crowds in large cavernous spaces. The main shopping area on the Mariner is very nice, but when over a thousand people gather it was too much. On top of that there was the long lines for food, on occasion it made the trip trying.
The Disney Dream, however, was designed differently and the spaces never felt crowded. It was even easy to find seats in the restaurants and amazingly we never saw a line of more than a few people in Cabanas. After being aboard for two days, I realized what Disney engineers had done to create this feeling.
The architects of the Dream used three features to keep the feeling of intimacy in the larger ship; curves, divisions of space and shorter straight lines. By carefully manipulating space the only time we even saw a large crowd was at the Pirates in the Caribbean party when it was expected.
Curves can be seen most clearly in Cabanas and the District, the area that becomes adult-only after 9:00 and contains a couple adult-only lounges all day long.
In Cabanas, there is one large eating area that is arranged in a semi-circular layout similar to the Beach Blanket on the Wonder and Topsiders on the Magic. Sight-lines are broken so at no time will you be able to see more than a hundred guests at one time sitting at their meals.
The best illustration of these curves is seen in the District. Located on deck 4 aft, this area can be access from the outdoor promenade or from indoors mid-ship past the art gallery. There is a single passage that connects all six lounges that meanders from the port side, diagonally to the starboard side then back to the port. This passage has very few straight lines and trains dramatic curving walls and round spaces to reduce sight lines and noise. With a possibility of seven distinct areas of the District crowds are actually smaller than the same crowds in the three (or four) available spaces on the smaller ships.
These curves also give the ship a more organic feel through the ship without evoking the expected sea-sick feeling that I expected.
Divisions of space keeps the small feel in the larger Cabanas restaurant on deck 11 aft. This is the place that serves food throughout the day but smaller seating areas and stations in a cafeteria style floor plan make it easy to navigate.
Unlike the equivalent restaurants on the Wonder and the Magic, the seating area in Cabanas is divided into six area; five indoor spaces and one outdoor space. Not only is there sufficient seating, you never have a complete sight line that allows a guest to see much of the crowd. This cuts back on both sound and the subconscious feeling of being in a huge crowd even though there is plenty of space for everyone.
Secondly, the serving area of the restaurant is not organized as one long food line on each side of single single buffet with plates on the start and drinks at the end. That works fine on the smaller ship's capacity of 2600, but with a capacity of 4000 guests lines and wait time are automatically eliminated. Plates and flatware are available for every 20 feet or so. Drinks are served, not from the 'end of the line' but from four separate stations throughout the restaurant that are never crowded. Food is divided by nationality and type in smaller walk-up sections where individuals spend only a few moments looking and getting servings of their desired dishes. Finally, there is plenty of space to get around the occasional line that may form in one spot or another keeping traffic flowing at all times.
On a cruise ship there are a few times passengers expect long straight lines. On both the Disney Magic and Wonder the long corridors used to access cabins can be almost dizzying to walk from one end of the ship to the other. On the Dream there are no corridors that are half as long as the ones on the smaller ships, a real surprise if you are used to cruising.
To make shorter straight lines there are as many as four dog-legs on a single deck that keep the sections short and manageable. Also, more decks incorporated a walk-around to get from one side of the ship to the other in as many as nine places along the deck. With all the turns and cross-overs the ship actually feels smaller than the smaller ships. At the same time, it is harder to get lost than the smaller ships since there are fewer dead-ends.
Over-all, it looks that the Disney Dream was designed with more intelligent design than any of the eight cruise ships I have been on. Once again the company known to set high standards in the entertainment industries has raised the bar for all cruise lines when designing such large ships. Disney Cruise Lines proves one more time that the guest is the most important feature of their property, not an accounting formula that tries to get the most dollars out of every cubic foot of space. Thank you, Disney. We are happy to be booking cruises on all ships you operate!