Report: Disney Dream Maiden Voyage a Nightmare for Many

(Okay, first of all, nightmare is a HUGE stretch here, but catchy titles sell)

Disney Cruise Line’s newest and largest ship, the Disney Dream, saw its official maiden voyage this past week and for all the improvements in both form and function on the ship — which is nearly 150% larger than the ‘classic’ ships — there were also plenty of disappointments to be found for many of its passengers who were essentially guinea pigs for the ship which just may not have been ready for prime-time.

Before we get to the details in which the Devil is patiently awaiting us, let’s toss around a few interesting statistics about the maiden voyage:

While all of the numbers are surprising extremes, the only low number is the total number of passengers. Despite a capacity of 4,000 passengers, the Disney Dream Maiden Voyage saw only 3,100. This was a result not of being unable to sell the staterooms, but rather the large number of single passengers that offset families and the theoretical maximum based on 2,500 available staterooms.

Of the 3,100 passengers, a whopping 500 cruisers were at the Disney Cruise Line Castaway Club platinum level, meaning they had been on at least 10 cruises with DCL prior. Coupled with the number of Silver and Gold level passengers, first-timers, although represented, were in the extreme minority.

Finally, a relatively high number of 100 staterooms had opted in for a back-to-back cruise.

Now it’s time for the nitpicking. What was it about the Disney Dream that sometimes made passengers wish they could wake up and find themselves back on solid ground:

As one passenger quipped, ‘you would have thought they would have had five or six cruises by now.’

Passengers noted multiple areas in which glass had broken during the Transatlantic trip and had not yet been replaced, instead having some sort of netting in their places.

Multiple guests reported issue with the in-room safes not working as well as issues with the stateroom Cisco phone system in which messaging did not work at all for most of the cruise and often gave guests difficulty when dialing extensions throughout the ship. One guest informed me that she had much trouble with scheduling her wake-up call which ultimately insisted on calling her stateroom multiple times, even after she had answered the phone to the sound of nothing. Another guest, intent on simply using the provided in-room alarm clock radio had tremendous difficulty trying to operate it.

The worst of the complaints I head, however, came second hand and centered on a passenger who shared an adjoining stateroom with a stranger and was unable to keep the door between the rooms shut. Ultimately crew ‘remedied’ the situation by keeping the door closed as much as possible using plastic tie wraps.

On a personal note, I witnessed a couple of issues with the enchanted art such as the interactive ship’s wheel on deck 5 never working and even one enchanted art monitor appearing to be completely off at one point. Despite reporting it to guest services and even Cruise Director Rachel Quinn, I never once got to see the wheel in action, although I’m told it worked on prior cruises.

On debarkation day, the circular button panel at the elevator bank closest to my stateroom was apparently being held in place by two strips of packing tape.

Choose your room carefully as many passengers learned the hard way (or make that the heard way) that their stateroom location wasn’t inducing the sweetest of dreams.

The largest number of gripes I heard came from those in the Deck 5 Forward area. Despite having an outside (almost hidden) entrance to teen club Vibe on Deck 4, it didn’t take long for the patrons to realize there was a much more easily accessible entry point on Deck 5. Although the door at the end of the hall was meant only for wheelchair access, we hear it was completely unpoliced and unenforced and when it came time for last call at Vibe after midnight, the teens didn’t have to go back to their stateroom, but they couldn’t stay there. And in fact, many teens would congregate in other areas of the ship for hours after closing time.

Guests staying above the Buena Vista theater, where first (and second) run Disney films are shown throughout the day learned quickly that a lot of bass and action in films such as TRON: Legacy made them feel like they were part of the action as well. TRON: Legacy, which has a running time of over two hours, started at 10:30 pm on two nights of the ship, meaning it was well after midnight before those guests received some peace.

Those dining at Remy and Palo on Deck 12 were also in for an added, unadvertised bonus treat: Goofy’s Sports Deck on Deck 13. We have since learned that Disney Cruise Line was aware of the issue already and had even kept that area off limits during initial cruises just to work on dampening the noise of the balls bouncing on the basketball court. Long story short, it didn’t work.

One significant issue was the inordinate number of new hires for the ship. We hear that up to 75% are new hires, many of whom had never worked for any cruise line. The remaining crew, from the Disney Wonder and Magic, were mostly managerial and on the back-end. In fact, Rachel Quinn wasn’t the only Cruise Director on board, so was Brent Davies who was providing support in the back-offices as Rachel gave more face time to the passengers and media on board.

With the new hires came several inherent problems. Although there were several cruises prior to the Maiden Voyage, this was by far the largest group of passengers they had to support, and it can only get worse here-on-in.

For starters, many of those on board started in Germany back in September/October and that meant that by the time the Maiden Voyage happened, they had already fulfilled about half of their contract. Many had made this the first time they had worked for a cruise line and while none had anything bad to say about Disney in terms of how they were treated, many just weren’t prepared for the harsh realities of giving up their lives and families for several months and have just decided that when February, March or whenever rolls around, they will not be looking to extend their contracts.

Perhaps knowing that much of their staff would already be on short-time, there was little emphasis on training as that seemed to be the heart of many of the trip’s complaints.

For example, multiple guests told us that they opened their refrigerators to find leftovers from cruises prior to the Maiden Voyage. While one simply found canned beverages, another found half-empty bottles of alcohol, which is, of course, a huge safety issue on many levels.

At Castaway Cay, one frantic family was running late for their stingray excursion and went to guest services on the island for directions. The guest services crew member whipped out a map of the island and helped them out by pointing in a direction for them to go only to learn several minutes later when the family angrily returned, that he had given them the wrong direction.

In his defense, he explained to me that this day was only his second on the island and he had never been further than 50 feet beyond the guest services kiosk. He expressed genuine concern in regards to the lack of exposure to the island and its services prior to having to serve it, let alone the lack of training he received. He also was concerned that he had no phone or radio so he couldn’t even turn to anyone else for support. Instead, he could only do the best he could and just hope he was giving the right advice most of the time. To bolster his argument, he added that every single one of the guest services crew was a new hire.

From personal experience, as I alluded to the difficulty of finding the regular entrance to Vibe which was on Deck 4 Forward, I asked no less than six crew members and not one of them had a clue where it was, one even going as far as to send me to the Aft side of the ship (apparently confusing the teen area with the adults-only area, The District).

There’s certainly one area that Disney has never had a problem with and that’s making money, particularly when it comes to merchandise. However the company sometimes has issues with logistics and the Disney Dream was just no exception.

With a high number of SKUs promoting the Maiden Voyage as well as the year-long (but still physically limited) Inaugural Voyages collection, many items became hot commodities at the shops which would open at 6:30 pm on most nights, while the ship was at sea. While this worked out tremendously well for those who would line up early and fight the cramped space, particularly in Sea Treasures which had little space for the guests who crammed into it to grab everything they could — and everything, they did.

The problem lay in the fact that 6:30 pm meant that approximately half of the ship was dining at the time and did not get the first picks at merchandise when the shop would open. An officer involved in merchandising confirmed to me that they did not anticipate passengers with eBay dreams grabbing everything in site so essentially all of the available merchandise was laid out for opening with little or no consideration given to those who were at first seating.

Lastly, to add insult to injury, despite having four or five (or more) crew at Guest Services at most times during the day, the line would constantly be incredibly long and slow. So much so that one passenger recounted being on line when Disney executives happened by and immediately made note of the situation. Shortly thereafter, an area consisting of lounging chairs across from the guest services was replaced with a queue of red ropes so that the line didn’t extend into the elevator area.

It wasn’t all bad however, there were some unanimous decisions in the pro column for the ship. Everyone we heard from raved about the food on the ship and the new staged production, Disney’s Believe failed to leave any dry eyes by the time its curtain fell. And I will gladly go on the record as saying each of the crew I had encountered and dealt with were tremendously helpful and courteous, often going above and beyond the call of duty. If only that level of service ever reached the parks…

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20 thoughts on “Report: Disney Dream Maiden Voyage a Nightmare for Many

  1. “If only that level of service ever reached the parks”…. I am new to your blog(part of being followed by you on twitter, I think?), but I felt this last sentence was a bit misleading. Possibly it has to do with your last fateful rainy visit to WDW, but I’ve had some pretty ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ experiences in every one of the parks. I’ll not bore everyone with each time it’s happened, but suffice to say it’s pretty regularly that something ‘magic’ happens. Maybe the aloofness of being fortunate enough to afford such “regular” experiences as being on maiden voyages and multiple visits to WDW have dulled your senses?

    • that’s a completely fair assessment (and thanks for coming along on the
      ride). You are 175% correct and my statement absolutely isn’t as clear as
      it should be. There are plenty of cast members at the parks (moreso than
      Walt Disney World than Disneyland in my own personal experience) that
      provide exceptional service. What I really meant, however, is the
      percentage. I would put my DCL experience really at 95% or higher of every
      crew member being a service gem while at the parks, that percentage is
      quite frankly much lower. But gems are everywhere and they definitely
      deserve to be recognized. So thank you.

      On Tue, 01 Feb 2011 19:48:40 -0000, “Disqus”

  2. Interesting piece. Great reporting job. This is why, having spent some time in the cruise industry, I would NEVER want to pay for a cruise on a brand-new ship. Give it time, the kinks will get worked out. For better or for worse, the passengers on any early cruises on a new ship are always going to be guinea pigs.

  3. I was on the preview cruise for the EarMarked travel agent conference. There were a few panes of glass that broke or shattered on that cruise and they were replaced within 24 hours. Broken glass was likely not from the crossing but something that happened on that sailing. I was curious as to why it was happening – we noticed 3 on our sailing – as we didn’t have rough seas and were hardly “under attack” from anything other than the occasional bird, but I would doubt a seagull could break that glass!

    I can also say that the wheel in the interactive art was working on our sailing (1/23 – 1/26). I even have a video of it somewhere in my electronic stack of “to be edited” stuff!

    I had a tough time with the in room alarm clock too! Once I figured out how to set it, I couldn’t figure out how to STOP it from going off! I ended up unplugging it and just plugging it back in the next night when it was time for bed.

    The issues we experienced were all very easy remedied and most had to do with inexperienced crew members. Our dining team, who were very enthusiastic, friendly and attentive, did not know what “dine and play” for the kids was at our late seating dinner so most of the time our kids didn’t even have their main course by the time the kids club staff came to collect the kids from the dining room. I ordered room service one morning and requested a 7:00 – 7:30 delivery as I had a conference session starting at 8:00. My family reported that it arrived at 8:40. The next morning it was there by 7:10 so all was well that day!

    I am confident that they will have the issues worked out in no time. I hope that guests mentioned these things on their comment cards so that the staff is aware of what needs to be improved upon. If not, I would encourage them to email DCL guest services with a friendly note just saying we had a great time, but we felt like these areas could use some improvement. Not something seeking compensation, just a note so they get the feedback.

    Lori Hardegree
    Magical Memories Travel

    • I hadn’t seen the broken glass elements, but the guests that reported it
      to me were told that it was during the Transatlantic voyage, but who knows
      really. I really wonder why the enchanted art wasn’t working for me.
      Rachel, whom I told because I spotted her on Deck 5 when I was trying it,
      almost seemed incredulous by my question (wish she had just gone over with
      me to confirm, but in fairness, she was talking with other passengers)

      On Tue, 01 Feb 2011 21:02:25 -0000, “Disqus”

  4. I saw the ship in the shipyard and was on the 2night inaugural voyage. I saw no broken wondows nor heard about any broken living artwork.

    I had no problem getting wakeup calls and I found guest services had people helping folks in line and answering simple questions.

    You were on a shakedown cruise and certain irregularities are to be expected. But I think it went a well as any ship inaugural I have seen (and I have seen many).

    I think you protest a bit too much – perhaps looking for problems rather then focusing an what was good about the ship.

    • given that we all paid a premium to be on this “maiden voyage”, i think his comments are quite fair. as a passenger who was able to relive the glory that is the tron soundtrack every couple of hours and was nearly trampled in a fevered rush for dooney bags, i can unequivocally say that i would NEVER go on any type of inaugural type event like this again. the combination of (mostly) well-meaning but inexperienced crew members/CM and cut throat passenger (yes! alot of “us” were just pathetic!) was jut not my cup of tea.

  5. My husband and I totally agree with everything that you said. We found out that it isn’t a Disney ship, new or old that makes a Disney cruise, it’s the castmembers. Being that it was our ninth cruise with Disney, we don’t intend on taking another cruise on the Dream for many years, and we cancelled our reservations for the Fantasy Maiden Voyage, they can’t handle it. And quite frankly, neither can we! Too much money for too little. If I had paid less for the less than good service, I would have been okay, but since we paid premium, we expected premium.

  6. I have been on 8-10 prior disney cruises..did the maiden voyage–and I loved it- -how can you not love a cruise–but YES–from a critical perspective.. there were many disappointments– castmembers–especially in food services–even the experienced ones– just didn’t always have “the magic”–they seemed stressed, pressured– some confused— a few even noticeably irritated and rude [more in the beginning of the cruise]…
    other things could be improved too [I love the new animator’s palette but ..come on.. keep the grand finale waiter show I miss that !– more importantly, why was there only ONE cabaret show- ONE version — ONE time ever o nthe whole cruise? [and hardly any game shows?]– the # of activities was WAY less than Magic/Wonder]

    • I wholeheartedly agree on the activities. There just didn’t seem a lot to
      be going on, especially during sea day.

      On Wed, 02 Feb 2011 14:37:32 -0000, “Disqus”

  7. I was also very dissapointed. I really must say Disney dropped the ball on this one. Being the maiden voyage, I truly expected a big super star on board. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Rhema was great but it left an empty feeling on this cruise. This was my 7th Disney Cruise and I can honestly say it was the worst one. Our server was great but the assistant really had no clue. I talked to the Maitre D and he actually was upset I even mentioned it to him. Again, Disney dropped the ball completly and I won’t go on another Inagural Cruise again. We heard that apple juice had run out, as well as bread and bottled water. What is this coming to??

    • I would have to say that the welcome aboard entertainment left a lot to be desired. While the master of illusions had my attention and “how did he do that” thoughts, I thougt Rhema was a disaster. Yes I feel bad that a child lost her Mom at a young age, but come on it was like listenting to any child sing. She was not that great and the songs are not age appropriate. I think her family is looking at $ and exploiting. Overall this show was not maiden voyage quality.

  8. We were on one of the cruises before the maiden voyage, and had a great time! I will agree that our server was the weakest link in the chain, and don’t get me started on the merchandising – it was reminiscent of Black Friday at a Walmart when those doors opened!

    Otherwise, a beautiful ship and wonderful experience!

  9. It’s obvious the castmembers require training and the cruise has a lot of kinks, that is should not have given the inflated prices DCL charge. I would prefer to see Rachael on the front line, far better CD than Brent (who has in my opinion to interest in passengers) I once heard him remark, he makes money out of other persons misery. On anther note-dont bother with the questionnaire if you have a suggestion or complaint, Rachael, Brent all CD’s and Hotel Directors have assistants who pull them before sending off to Celebration. If Dinsey cruises are expanding-maybe it’s time for them to bring in the professionals? Rachael and Brent have a back ground in the kids clubs, Clayton-has no talent, maybe why he left for Carnival then came back, Ray cannot be a CD due to his onboard relationship with a certain shore excursion manager, so it’s all down to Christiaan??

  10. My wife and I, along with our three year old daughter went on the maiden voyage. It was our first, and will be our last cruise experience. The four-day maiden voyage cruise cost about 5K and was a major disappointment for our family. Here were our concerns:

    1. Safety – many concerns here – Disney has some major work to do in this area. Many areas of the ship were unfinished and some areas were in dire need of repair. Along the deck beside the pool area, three huge plate glass panels were completely shattered, being held in place only by the film coating on the glass itself. These panels run all the way from the floor to the top of the deck – meaning that a child or anyone could just run right up to the panels – and I would suspect that if one were to run into it, they’d run right through it which would have put them right into the ocean. These areas were not roped off, no signs, nothing!

    There was absolutely no communication on the ship – the captain only made one announcement during the cruise and that was to announce that he would be passing a sister ship at castaway cay where they blew the horns back and forth to each other like a couple of children. At no time were we made aware of life boat drills, port arrival, the weather, etc. In fact, we did not get a copy of our personal navigator until the third day (it’s that little grid like paper that tells you what’s going on each day). That’s when we saw the optional life boat drills.

    In the closet, there are life jackets. Great idea! But…..they are only for individuals that weigh more than 20kg. Our daughter is three years old and weights 30 pounds. hummmm…she didn’t have a life jacket. Don’t you think disney would foresee small children being on board? I would…..

    The worst disaster was getting off the ship. Many people lined up beginning at 6:00AM when the ship arrived back in port. Then others just filled the lobby later in the morning. There was absolutely no order whatsoever. My wife even called it to one executive’s attention (his name was Patrick and we was wearing a suit- looked like some sort of supervisor). He assured my wife that they would be calling everyone to order and that they would be organizing people so as to have an orderly exit. This never happened and when the “ropes” were unclipped, people hoarded forward, some people fell onto the ground, the poles and remaining ropes were trompled over – it was absolutely unbelievable. Disney should understand crowd control. It was an extremely unsafe and disorderly event – What on earth would have happened if there had been an emergency? It would have been pandemonium in my opinion.

    Customer Service-
    Our cabin boy – his name was Suta – was a problem. On our first night, he presented our three year daughter with a gift. We were headed out of our state room at the time, so I put it up in the cabinet to be opened when we got back. Later that evening – with the “Privacy Please” sign on our door, Suta knocked on the door. When I opened the door, he said that the gift he gave us was a mistake and that he had to enter our room when we were gone and retrieve the gift. He said it was supposed to go to another state room. So, he went through our things and took the gift back when we were not there! Then, over the course of the next couple of days, he left other gifts on our bed I guess to try and make up for it…..not good at all, AT ALL. There were two other occasions where he knocked on our door with the “privacy please” sign on the door to ask if we wanted turn down service. On our last day, we went out and left my daughters card in the door. When returning, and after Suta serviced our room, her card was gone. I left him a note to return it back to the cabin slot, and it was returned when we got back in. Hmmm……
    Is it me here, or is this how it is on cruises??????

    The food was marginal at best. NOONE knew when the food bars would be open, or where things were located. More times than not, we’d ask something and the staff member wouldn’t know, said they would go ask, then disappeared. There was a total lack of knowledge. My wife even witnessed a supervisor fussing on a well-inteneded staff member for being out of her area. The staff in general seemed very uninformed and stressed. Our head waiter was just OK, the assistant was absolutely terrible. He kept placing sharp knives at our three year old’s place setting – I kept removing them, he kept replacing them. I had to tell him to stop. On the final evening, our head waiter (who said he had three daughters of his own) recommended some rum-filled desert for our daughter. Ummm….no thanks. At the Enchanted Garden restaurant, a waitress give our little girl a balloon made out of a latex glove….though well-intended, this was very problematic since our daughter then didn’t want to give up the blown up glove, it is also a safety issue for children to have latex balloons. Disasterous….yet another example of an untrained staff member who was obviously oblivious to the safety concerns relating to children.

    When we booked the cruise, the rep talked me into PREPAYING for our tips! What a mistake. In my opinion, our service staff may should be fired, much less received a tip!

    Needless to say…..we will never go on a disney cruise again. Zero communication, long lines, unknowledgeable staff and plenty of safety concerns – especially with crowd control. Disney has A LOTTTTTT of work to do……..

    Oh, and I put all this on that little feedback card that you leave in the little box before leaving the ship. I would WELCOME contact from Disney, and seems to me, if anyone ever was deserving of a refund, it’d be us. I’m pretty certain that we will not be contacted and certainly, we won’t receive a refund. The least I can do is let others know about our experience.

  11. i think you should think about how to make your time happy not unhappy. we are all human and we have good days and badlook for the good. people who take care of other people can have bad days you try to make it good.we only have so long and i fore one would love to go on any ship. we don’t all get to

  12. This was by 4th cruise with Disney and we were disappointed with this Maiden Voyage of the Dream. Yes, there were plenty of kinks with this cruise. The staff wasn’t all that helpful, but it might of come from them just being nervous. I mean they are human too, guys. How would you feel if this was the cruise where you had to do your best because of all the returning cruisers expected you to? It has to be very scary for them to do that. And as I said, yes there were plenty of things wrong such as the hoarding of “Maiden Voyage” items in the gift shops, crowds on getting off of the ship, and just total disorganization. Thank you for reading.

  13. We just got back from our first ever cruise. My husband, our 3-year-old daughter, and I were on the Disney Dream. We had a wonderful time. When there was an issue, the staff was very helpful. For example, we had requested a 6:00 dinner but were apparently put on a wait list and instead signed up for the 8:30 dinner. Once onboard, my husband talked with our maitre’d, and we were changed to the 6:00 dinner. This messed up our 7:00 shows, but we were able to get into the shows at 9:00. Our stateroom attendant was wonderful. He was very kind and respectful, and our daughter absolutely loved him. She wanted to tell him all about her day when she saw him in passing in the hall. All-in-all, we were very pleased with the Disney Dream, and we’d love to sail on her again!

  14. I just got back today from 3 day Dream cruise. A good time but not a great time. This was our 3rd DCL. Dinner was way too long for kids (2 hours ). Food was great though. Everything was really clean, safe, and nice. Every server at dinner looked stressed and it made me feel stressed for them.

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