Think Disney is just for kids? We invited two twenty-somethings, Oliver Hughes and his girlfriend Robin Evans, to take a cruise on Disney Dream and rediscover the magic
I’ll be honest, I thought I’d outgrown it. But from the opening bars of Be My Guest in the stage show Beauty and the Beast on board Disney Dream, I realised not only did I have a big smile on my face, I’d gone full Disney.
That’s the wonder of the Disney cruise experience: it’s so innovative and pioneering. We were enchanted from the moment we boarded the ship at Port Canaveral.
Our deluxe stateroom had a balcony so we could really enjoy the spectacular views, a big comfy bed and split bathroom, which made it easy for the two of us to get ready.
Disney cruises use a unique ‘rotational dining’ feature meaning you dine at different restaurants each night, but have the same waiting staff each time who know you by name. You become very friendly with them, and they made a huge effort to accommodate our every need (Robin is vegan, and they offered off-menu selections, which kept her happy).
The restaurants are individually themed. Our favourites included Animator’s Palate, which is full of Disney magic, with décor paying homage to their animation legacy and entertainment with Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo appearing on screen and interacting with guests; and on the final night, we dined in the romantic, Venetian-inspired Palo, illuminated by moonlight.
Of course there are lots of onboard attractions aimed at families, though adults have an 18-plus section with its own pool, café and bar. But most of the time we found ourselves enjoying the activities aimed at kids as well, particularly the AquaDuck, which is probably one of the best waterslides at sea – the kind of slide you want to go on again and again.
As you’d expect, the entertainment on board is first-class. Beauty and the Beast is an inspired production of the classic fairy tale, while the awards ceremony-style Golden Mickeys is hilarious. There’s a proper theatre, as well as a cinema with screenings, some in 3D, of the latest Disney movies as well as classics (we caught the stellar Black Panther).
It was just as well that, on a four-day cruise, we had one day at sea, or we wouldn’t have been able to come close to fully exploring everything the ship had to offer.
Our first full day was spent in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, first taking an excursion to the Blue Lagoon Island where we had an encounter with sea lions who had been rescued after Hurricane Katrina.
Then we sailed to Disney’s private island of Castaway Cay, where we were able to spend the day on the adults-only beach, Serenity Bay, which is probably as close to a Caribbean idyll as it’s possible to get: warm, crystal-clear sea, and powdery soft golden sand. Here we had an amazing barbecue, with gorgeous locally caught fish and vegetarian options (all included in the cruise). We also relaxed in a giant hammock on the beach with cocktails until it was time to have a couples’ massage in a beach hut.
Although we were both a little nervous about this, never having had a massage before, the staff were very professional and helpful and I didn’t want it to be over. We finished the day with a swim in the sea, where we saw a passing stingray, before getting the tram back to the ship, mildly sunburnt.
After returning to Port Canaveral we had a few hours to explore Epcot, and it dawned on us then just how fast the trip had gone, and how much we didn’t want to go home. Turns out, you’re never too old for Disney.
I was going to start by saying that every little girl wants to be a princess, but I suppose I can’t speak for all girls. What I do know, however, is that I definitely wanted to be a princess, and now that I’m in my twenties, very little has changed. My first ever cruise was every bit the magical experience I hoped it would be.
We spent a few days in the parks before embarking on our cruise, and they’re bursting with things to see and do. It’s difficult to choose a favourite, with fast rides at Hollywood Studios, delicious food and drink at Epcot and the safari at Animal Kingdom (and DinoLand, where I ended up finding my favourite ride in the parks), but the highlight for me was Magic Kingdom. The parade and the fireworks were stunning, plus I’ve wanted to see Cinderella’s Castle up close for as long as I can remember.
Our first stop on Disney Dream was picturesque Nassau in the Bahamas, where we caught a boat out to Blue Lagoon Island for a morning surrounded by sea lions, dolphins and stingrays before heading back to enjoy a quick lunch and cold drink out in the sun.
Sea lions in particular are some of my favourite animals, and it was reassuring that educational leaflets and flyers were provided, and that we were encouraged to ask plenty of questions about the wellbeing of the mammals. I loved the opportunity to learn more about them and see them up close.
Next was our day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. After a casual buffet-style lunch and a little nap in a hammock, we headed over to the huts for our couples’ massage. Having never had a massage before, I was a little apprehensive, but the masseurs were friendly and I found the experience very relaxing.
With about an hour to spare before we had to board the ship, there was no question about what to do… run across the beach and jump straight into the sea for a swim.
The final full day on the ship was a day at sea, and we made the most of the onboard entertainment. If you’re all about the soundtracks when it comes to your favourite Disney films, the theatre shows on the ship are an absolute must. We saw the Golden Mickeys and the new Beauty and the Beast musical, both of which had me completely captivated and singing along to every word. I think my boyfriend was singing, too.
Our evening ended with excellent food and drink at Venice-inspired restaurant Palo. I’m vegan, so I was pleasantly surprised by how accommodating the waiters at Palo, and the other restaurants we ate at on the Disney Dream, were of any dietary requirements.
Already I want to go back. The magic in the air at Walt Disney World and on board Disney Dream made me feel like I’d been thrown into a real-life fairy tale and I adored all of it, especially the way it was socially acceptable for me to insist on wearing a tiara at the dinner table.
GETTING THERE: Virgin Holidays Cruises is offering a four-night voyage on board Disney Dream departing 4 November 2018, sailing from Port Canaveral and calling at Nassau (Bahamas) and Disney’s Castaway Cay. Priced from £1,439pp, based on two sharing an inside stateroom on a full-board basis, including return economy flights. Offer subject to availability. Includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges. Call 0844 488 3084, see virginholidayscruises.co.uk or visit one of their 126 stores located in House of Fraser and Debenhams stores nationwide.