Wednesday, September 8th, 2021
Disney Cruise Line has finally returned to the waters after a long and difficult 17 months. Recently, I was invited to sail on a 3-Night Bahamian cruise aboard the Disney Dream with two stops at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. While it’s amazing that cruising has returned, it hasn’t been able to do so without challenges. Specifically, regarding the strict rules in place to step foot on board. These rules depend on your vaccination status, where you are traveling from and what ports of call your ship is making.
To add some sheer “fun” to the mix, these rules are continuously changing. For example, as a mixed dose recipient of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine, I was able to step on board with proof of a negative PCR test taken between 5 days and 24 hours prior to my sailing. But as I’m writing this, not only are Guest’s with mixed doses such as mine currently unable to sail to the Bahamas (including Disney’s Castaway Cay), but negative PCR tests for the unvaccinated must now take place no more than 3 days prior to sailing.
While what I’m about to suggest may sound like nothing more than a shameless plug, I assure you it’s not. And that is how right now, it’s more important than ever to use a Travel Agent. As per TICO (Travel Industry Council of Ontario), it is the responsibility your Travel Agent who works for a TICO registered Travel Agency to be on top of and advise you of these ever-evolving rules and changes, so that you don’t have to be!
Regardless of the rules at the time of your sailing, you will deal with Safe Passage before being able to board your Disney Cruise. Safe Passage is a third-party company that Disney has hired to ensure the safety of all Guests before boarding the ships for the foreseeable future. And from first-hand experience, I can confidently tell you that Disney couldn’t have found a company with nicer staff to take care of this for them. They made the entire process so much easier than any of it sounds. Staff was super friendly and just as excited as us when we were given the ‘clear to sail’ notice following our rapid COVID tests.
The onboard experience has understandably changed to reflect the world during its slow return to normal. The biggest change is that masks are required at all indoor locations, except inside your stateroom or when actively eating or drinking. Which was not at all a big deal, as I must wear a mask here at home anyhow. And believe me, I would MUCH rather wear one on a Disney ship than at my local Walmart. What’s nice, is that Cast Members will allow you to slip your mask off to take an indoor photo.
Next is to social distance yourself from other parties. Luckily, Disney makes great effort to worry about this on your behalf. As an example, Cast Members are on hand at theatres to seat you in every other row and to leave three seats between you and the next party. And on Castaway Cay, you are asked not to move the beach chairs, as they have all been positioned to keep a minimum of 6 feet between you and other parties.
Little ones are not yet able to hug and obtain autographs from Disney characters. Rest assured that they can still chat, interact, and take a selfie with so many characters onboard the ship, but hugs will have to wait just a little bit longer.
Currently the Small World Nursery (ages 6 months to 2 years) is not available. Additionally, time for children (ages 3-12) to spend at the Oceaneers Club is limited in advance, but more time can be reserved (based on availability) once on board.
If you’ve never cruised with Disney before, I doubt you would know anything else has changed. However, for those of you who have sailed with Disney in the past, there are some additional changes that you will more than likely recognize. For starters, there is no sail away party. That being said – in true Disney fashion – they have created a cute little socially distanced welcome on-board celebration as a replacement.
There is no more mandatory muster drill. Boo…that is so sad, right? Because every Guest who’s muster station was outside LOVED waiting in the heat, standing too close to other people and listening to the message that repeats the phrase “in the unlikely event of an emergency” about a zillion times. In case it wasn’t clear, that was my sarcastic voice. Good riddance muster drills!
Instead once on board, you simply proceed to your designed Assembly Station and check in with the Cast Member before setting sail. And…you’re DONE! I’d like to file this change under ‘good ideas regardless of what’s happened in the last year that probably should stick around forever’. Along with; no more self-serve for ice cream, at the soda station, during Cookies BBQ or for the food inside Cove Café.
Your Key to the World Cards will now be waiting for you on the fish extender outside of your stateroom door. Speaking of your stateroom, during the closure, Disney Cruise Line upgraded the air filtration system in all staterooms onboard all four ships. As a result, the air in your stateroom is no longer being filtered through the hallways or next door.
Mickey Waffles are not available at Cabana’s for breakfast. What was odd is that I could opt for a breakfast at an à la carte style restaurant and order Mickey Waffles from the menu, so why weren’t they available at Cabanas? I decided to inquire, and the reason is due to social distancing for Guests. Now when you enter Cabanas, you are allocated to a station for food and each station offers the exact same items, so that they can easily spread Guests out. To be fair to everyone on board – if one food station is unable to make a particular menu item – then that item is not an option at any of the other stations. Simply put, not all stations have a Mickey waffle iron, so Cabanas is unable to offer them. But rest assured that the à la carte style restaurants still do!
We didn’t have the Pirates IN the Caribbean Deck Party. And, in order for Disney Cruise Line to still offer fireworks at sea while keeping with social distancing rules, they currently set off two sets of fireworks with the all-new fireworks show, Disney Ever After. I personally preferred these fireworks. And no matter how many times I witness it, there is something simply breathtaking about watching fireworks on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
If Disney Cruise Line took my advice (which they don’t, but IF they did), I would strongly recommend that they allow Guests to use their app before boarding. While the app is very user friendly, I would have preferred to not waste time figuring out how to do things while at sea. This criticism has nothing to do with current the rules in place, as Disney Cruise Line has had this app for years. However, it is without a doubt needed a lot more now. The app acts as your daily navigator, allows you to tip your drink servers, book a virtual queue to disembark the ship at Castaway Cay and much, much more.
I welcomed these changes, as not only do they allow me to sail safely, but I felt that some of them streamlined things I would normally wait for. Which was FANTASTIC, because who doesn’t want more chill time on vacation? But with all of these changes and new rules, was it still possible to enjoy the magic and relaxation of a Disney Cruise? The answer for me is a resounding YES!
My return to the seas was as glorious as I had dreamt over the past year that it would be. I’ve sailed many times with Disney, but I will never cherish any of those sailings quite like this one.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the cruise was sailing with an extremely low Guest capacity due to social distancing. No wait for the AquaDuck, no need to make a beeline to a lounge chair at the pool and I could have swung a baseball bat and not hit anyone in the family pool.
I lost count of how many times I forgot to put my mask on before stepping outside of my stateroom. Which was such a great thing because clearly the magic of Disney was able to whisk me away from the reality we live in, relax, and enjoy some much needed vacation time.
For the first time, I saw the Broadway style production of Beauty and the Beast (this live show is only performed on the Disney Dream). I now know why it’s the only production at sea to have received an IAAPA award. I enjoyed Jungle Cruise (Disney Cruise Line shows first run movies in their theatres), absorbed some much-needed vitamin sea and my scale tells me that I indulged in far too much good food.
Palo still has the most delicious chocolate soufflé you’ve ever tasted, walking on deck 4 is just as peaceful as ever and Castaway Cay still beacons you with its turquoise blue waters to explore it.
So I say take the cruise! You won’t be sorry that you did.
– Christine Fiorelli
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