Mini trip report: Disney Dream, 3-night Bahamas itinerary, December 2014

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

I'm not going to go into extensive detail about this latest cruise, since we've done it three other times (part 1, 2, 3). This is a super convenient itinerary because it leaves on a Friday, comes back in early Monday, and the port is an hour away. Basically this means I only need one day off of work, and if we don't have a ride, the $60 in on-site parking isn't the end of the world. The biggest change this time is that we decided to try concierge, and I'll get to how I feel about the value proposition later.

We checked-in at the terminal just before 11, and we were literally one of the first families on the ship with the now familiar, "Welcome aboard the Puzzoni Family!" We hustled up to deck 11 to Cabanas for lunch, which was just in the process of opening. We picked a nice table in the corner overlooking the space coast. The buffet meals in that restaurant are reliably fantastic, even for a picky eater like me.

Before noon, we rolled up to the concierge lounge, where one of the three concierge managers does a brief orientation with you to explain their services and give you a custom printed itinerary. They also have a shore-based crew that will get you set up with anything you can think of before you sail, and we used that to make sure they hooked us up with a half-dozen Uncrustables sandwiches, our backup for Simon's eating issues. Sure enough, as soon as we got into our room, they delivered the sandwiches.

The concierge lounge is kind of small, but comfortable. It also had stairs up to a private sun deck, which is probably four times as big as it needs to be. They have all kinds of finger foods there most of the day, and lots of "complimentary" alcohol. The bartended working the pre-dinner receptions (there is one for each dinner time) had a rum punch specialty that we very much took advantage of, and it was delicious. The lounge also has bags of popcorn, and you can even borrow an iPad from them if for some reason you can't keep your kids unplugged for three days. Service aboard the ships is already outstanding, and these folks take it to another level.

They try to get the concierge rooms cleaned earlier than the general 1:30 time for the rest of the ship, and I think they actually have more stateroom hosts per room. We wandered into ours just after noon and it was ready.

One of our goals this time was to do a meal at the adult-only Palo, specifically the brunch, but it wasn't meant to be. Simon had a bad experience in the Ocenaeer's Club last time, and we're not sure exactly what happened other than some serious separation anxiety. We took him in during the open house and he started to freak out about us leaving him there, so we had to cancel our Palo reservation.

We also hoped to see Big Hero Six, but unfortunately the best times were only showing in 3D, which Diana has issues with.

Again, we didn't disembark in Nassau, and that gave us a great chance to play around the pool area. Simon is now tall enough to ride the Aquaduck with one of us, and he seemed to be interested by the last day while we were at Castaway Cay. Being our child and frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, of course he decided to pass because the line was too long. Still, he did fully embrace the big yellow kid slide, and probably did it two dozen times.

Similarly, he wouldn't even walk barefoot in the sand two years ago, and now he rolls around in it and loves building sandcastles (mostly to destroy them). The interest doesn't last long, but what a relief that he'll do it. After the play on the beach, and a little lunch, he wanted to return to the ship for more slides and the pool, which was exceptionally warm. I'm really proud of his water play, as it feels like we beat one of his sensory issues.

We actually had a meal that wasn't very good, which is a first on any of our cruises. The chicken I had was really dry, and Diana's first choice of beef was undercooked and super fatty. It didn't matter that night, because we were so full of food and drinks from earlier in the day that we could barely stomach dinner in the first place. The rest of the food was delicious, especially the desserts.

Also new this time, Diana did an on-deck back massage. This isn't the full table treatment, just the chair thing. They were running a special that was $40-something, and she felt it was a pretty good value. The spa was apparently very underbooked, and they were running quite a few package specials.

On our Castaway Cay morning, we also signed up to walk the 5k, and brought Simon along. He technically is not a registrant, but since there's no stopping anyone from doing anything on the island, we just brought him along for the walk. I ended up carrying him on my shoulders for two 1,000-foot stretches, I think more because he was bored than tired. In any case, we finished last with a time of an hour and three minutes, which seemed pretty good considering the small 43" person we had along. I had them put my Mickey medallion on him at the finish line. Oh, this was also the first time we had been out on the former airstrip or the trail out to the observation tower. We definitely want to rent bikes next time.

Overall, our beach day was again the best day, and with a nap late in the afternoon, Simon made it to 10 o'clock after the show (Believe) in relatively good spirits. I still struggle with the fact that we don't get to do night stuff when we're not sailing with friends or family. (I'm looking at you, Team Jandes!) I think overall these trips are more fun with others, provided there isn't some unrealistic expectation that you have to spend every minute together.

So what about staying in concierge? I suppose it depends on how you value the exclusivity and extra service. I calculated that we consumed roughly $170 on "free" stuff from the concierge services. The price difference over the room we would have likely wanted was a little under $700 (they appear higher for next year), and if the pricing weren't so low for this particular weekend, there's no way I would have considered trying it. So the net difference in cost after the drinks and other stuff was around $500 and change for the three of us. It might be less even, because we've never spent so little onboard when you take out the new experience of Diana's massage cost.

Is that worth it? I'm on the fence. I think for a special occasion, if it were just the two of us, definitely. The base prices for the three of us in a good room with a verandah have always come out to around $400 a night, which is comparable to a nice hotel without any of the food, entertainment and the fact that you're at sea, so even the more standard experience seems like a good value to me. And I say that also believing firmly that the service is better than what you get at those hotels. Concierge does take it to another level, absolutely, but I'm not sure I'd pay for it during the higher rate seasons, and even then I think it would have to be a special occasion. I enjoyed all of the extra attention, but short of a crazy good rate, I doubt we will do it again. If we were going to spend extra money, it would be on a cabana at Castaway Cay, provided it's shared with another family/friend party.

Aside from some challenges we had with Simon, and my frustration about not having a chance to do the grown-up stuff more as a result, it was another solid getaway. It's so nice to be unplugged and not really have to think about anything other than where you're going to eat. With Simon getting more into the water stuff, that's making it more fun as well. We already booked a "placeholder" for the next one to get 10% off. I suspect we won't wait all that long to use it, and we're looking at some other itineraries as well. Would love to do Alaska or Hawaii if I can figure out the scheduling.


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