(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.
DISNEY DREAM MAIDEN VOYAGE — BY THE NUMBERS
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:
NOT READY FOR PRIME-TIME
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.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
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.
DON’T BLAME THEM, THEY JUST WORK HERE
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).
M STANDS FOR MERCHANDISE, MADNESS, MURDER AND MAYHEM
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…