Friday, January 29, 2016

11 Free Activities Onboard the Disney Dream Cruise

I was worried we would run out of things to do on the Disney Dream cruise ship, especially since our sailing had an entire day at sea. As it turns out, we ran out of time to do everything we wanted. What I liked best is that tons of activities are included without additional charge — or as my kids call it, "Free!" You probably already know about the Youth Activities Clubs. Goodness sakes, I bet that's why you picked a Disney cruise in the first place. There's so much else to do together as a family or just for adults that don't involve spending extra money on your vacation. Some activities are ongoing throughout the cruise. Others are special events, so be sure to check the schedule in your Personal Navigator.

1. Gawk at Fireworks at Sea

Disney cruise
Buccaneer Blast Fireworks

One of the unique things about a Disney cruise is their fireworks at sea display. On our sailing, the Buccaneer Blast Fireworks capped off the night's Pirates on the Caribbean theme. After getting in the mood with pirate bandannas and paper hats at dinner then a celebration on the pool deck, the ship blasted "cannons" that shot fireworks high above the crowds and over the water. Afterwards, head down for the late-night Pirate buffet if you're not still stuffed from dinner.

2. Ride the water coaster, watch movies and party on the Pool Deck

Disney cruise
Sailing Away party on the Pool Deck with the AquaDuck running above it all

Watch kid-friendly Disney movies, TV shows and videos day and night on Funnel Vision, a large LED screen that looms over swimmers in Donald's Pool. My girl loved taking a ride on the AquaDuck, a river of water blasting through a 765-foot-long, clear, overhead tunnel above the pool deck and very briefly out over the side of the ship before splashing down into a landing pool. This water roller coaster is a popular attraction, and the shortest lines were during dinner seatings. Sometimes, the pool is covered up for Deck Parties such as Sailing Away and Pirates of the Caribbean. 

3. Marvel at Digital Puppetry at Animator's Palate

Turtle Talk with Crush while you dine

I am truly impressed by the interactive animated show at the Animator's Palate dinner restaurant which every guest will have on the dinner rotation at least once per cruise. It's the same as Turtle Talk with Crush at some Disney parks and similar to Stitch Encounter and Stitch Live! The dining room is surrounded by video screens that simulate looking into a vast aquarium. Crush the Turtle floats around from screen to screen pausing to have a little chat with some of the diners. "Hey you with the spiky hair and red Hawaiian shirt!" you'll hear him drawl in his laid back, surfer dude voice.  Look at the nearby tables, and it could be your neighbor or even you that he's talking to. After an unscripted conversation with the diner where the animation is done on the fly, he swims off to talk with someone else. I know that hidden cameras, microphones and motion-capture is involved, but I'd really like to one day learn exactly how they pull off this cool show.

Tip: If you pre-booked an extra-charge, adult-only dinner at Palo or Remy on the same night as your assigned Animator's Palate seating, you have until 2PM on the day of reservation to cancel it if you'd rather dine with Crush.

4. Fold adorable Towel Creatures

Disney cruise
Check out the elephant I made out of folded towels

Every night, my family enjoyed entering our stateroom to see what adorable towel creature the room steward had left us. We got everything from a large turtle to a monkey hanging from the ceiling. So, I jumped at the chance to learn the craft of towel folding in high hopes that I could dress up my guest bathroom at home. (Note: I haven't.) 

5. Learn to draw Disney Characters

Yup, I drew those myself which is a real testament to how good the instructors are.

I don't consider myself very good at sketching. Copying simple line drawings is the extent of my talent. Still, I sat in on the Disney Animation Creating a Character class. The artist patiently demonstrated step-by-step how to draw Mickey Mouse and Stitch. I was quite satisfied with my results and still can't believe that it's solely my own work. 

6. Eat your way through the Iron Chef Ice Cream challenge

Ice cream sandwich, root beer float, and an ice cream cone

Free, unlimited ice cream? Yes, please! Chocolate and vanilla were always available, and other flavors like banana or mint rotate throughout the day. My family wasn't satisfied with mere cones, though. So, we had our own mini Iron Chef ice cream challenge limiting ourselves to incorporating other free food on the ship. While pepperoni pizza a la mode was never a contender, ice cream coupled with chocolate chip cookies from the lunch dessert turned into a tasty ice cream sandwich. Soft serve in a cup with some of the ever flowing free soda became an ice cream float. Yummy and a great excuse to eat even more ice cream.

7. Run the Castaway Cay 5K

Disney cruise
Displaying my finisher medal for the Castaway Cay 5K before eating more ice cream

While technically not on board the ship, I'm including it since Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, is a typical stop for their Caribbean and Bahamas routes. The 5K Fun Run is open to everyone, even kids. It's free, and all runners (and walkers) get a medal if they cross the finish line in under an hour. Yes, you have  as much as an hour. After that, the camp counselors race officials figure you must have decided to lay out on the beach, so they leave. This will probably be the only runDisney medal I ever get. Then for the rest of the day, you can tell yourself that you ran a race that morning and have totally earned multiple servings of soft serve ice cream.

For more details, see The Slowpoke's Guide the runDisney Castaway Cay 5K

8. Clap along at Character Performances

Disney cruise
Sea Ya' Real Soon

The cruise ships don't have parades like the parks, but they do have character performances in the public areas. It's similar to the lively atmosphere when a parade float stops en route and Mickey and his friends get the crowd clapping and dancing.

Character Meet and Greets are also free but the really popular ones like Anna and Elsa require obtaining one of a limited number of tickets from the Port Adventures Desk beforehand. Go early to nab one so you're not like the dad I saw boo-hooing at the desk about how sad his girls would be.

9. Sleuth to solve a mystery

Disney cruise
Figuring out Who Did It with the Midship Detective Agency

The Midship Detective Agency is a scavenger hunt that takes you throughout the ship looking for clues. Kids can start the activity anytime at the kiosk on Deck 5 Midship where they'll get a card that serves as a detective badge card as well as a pamphlet to keep track of the clues and suspects. Paintings around the ship are actually video screens in disguise that come alive when you flash a badge card at it. After successfully completing a game on screen, the kids get their clue before running off to the next stop. What I really liked is that the same screen plays different videos so that you're not watching the same thing over and over while you wait for your turn. There's enough variety that you are not necessarily following the same route as the team in front of you either. We had so much fun we played it more than once.

10. Take a romantic stroll hand-in-hand around Deck 4

Whenever people finally meet my hubby, they remark "That's why your kids are tall."

Deck 4 is one of the quieter areas on the ship to take in ocean views and the salty sea air. If it were olden days, I'd imagine ladies with parasols and long, bustled dresses strolling along with a hand resting lightly on a gentleman's forearm. But it's the 21st century, so you'll see shorts and flip-flops or sports sandals instead. Hubby and I took an hour or so while the kids were otherwise occupied in the Youth Activities Clubs to take a romantic walk around the ship. Joggers kept lapping us, and we had to go around a shuffleboard game or two, but it's nowhere near the level of activity by the pool. Lounge chairs gave us a place to relax and read a book or just stare at the watery horizon. 

11. Kick back at the movie theater or live show

The Buena Vista Theatre has G or PG rated movies going from morning until night. Check the Personal Navigator or the marquee for showtimes. I was pleasantly surprised that it was showing first-run movies including ones that premiered the same week we set sail. One guest I met planned ahead by finding out what movies were showing on our sailing and then avoiding them beforehand in regular movie theaters so she could watch them for free on board. (Note that the popcorn is not free.)

Best of all, the Walt Disney Theater has two live performances every night full of top notch singing and dancing. They are typically musical revues with original storylines pulling characters from multiple Disney movies. It was a different show each day, and they run at about the same time as the two dinner seatings. Attend the later show if you have the earlier dinner seating and vice versa.

Disney cruise
Sitting on the beach of Castaway Cay is free. Going snorkeling is not.

We have another cruise on the Disney Dream planned for a few months from now, and I'm keen to try a few new things that I didn't have time to do before. The Art of the Theme Show Tour is a guided tour of the ship highlighting one-of-a-kind features of the design. I'd also like to attend an Anyone Can Cook cooking demonstration, as if I need more excuses to eat on the trip. I can hardly wait and am already counting the days.

Have you been on a cruise? What's your favorite free thing to do?

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  1. What a lot of fun. I would be especially interested in the towel folding - I am forever wondering how they are able to make such amazing animals from towels.

  2. I am not a big fan of cruises, but I have to say they have some conveniences that you won't find anywhere else.

  3. The fireworks look awesome! My husband is the cruise fanatic - he loves them and would probably go on one every year! I just love laying by the pool. Oh, and the ice cream!

  4. I have inspected plenty of cruise ships while I worked in the travel industry but never actually been on a cruise! Looks like so much fun

  5. I tend to worry about days at sea in cruise ships too. But, like you have mentioned here, there is plenty to do. My cruising experts friends have rave reviews and stories about Disney Cruises. So, I am not surprised to read all the things you guys did (well, the fireworks surprised me). I can't believe you ran a 5k.

  6. How much fun! Love it.

  7. You made me smile, Michele. They do keep you busy when you go on a cruise.
    One of the things I looked forward to on our cruise years ago was returning to our cabin and finding those towel treats on our bed. I'd pull it apart trying to figure out how they did it. Hope you do put your skill to work on your guest bathroom!
    And yes, your hubby is tall!

  8. we really loved the drawing academy class we did at Disneyland, so I would be doing that every day on the ship. Disney Cruises are always more than other lines to similar destinations, but there is clearly a lot of value in their pricing.

  9. my kids are desperate to go on a Disney Cruise. We've never been on a cruise and I tend to get serious sea sickness. It would be an expensive mistake. This looks like it would be a lot of fun!

  10. I got seasick on the last day. Ugh. I definitely should have taken the meds earlier.

  11. I agree that you do get more than at other cruises which makes the paying more not feel as bad.

  12. My teen boy took over the old guestroom, so I now spend my time making it presentable and scrubbing toilets whenever guest come instead of folding towels into darling animals.

  13. I think my main motivation in doing the 5K is that so many people seemed incredulous that I could possibly do it.

  14. The family was in need of a lay-around-and-do-nothing type of vacation instead of the packed day of sightseeing that usually describes our travel. A cruise fit the bill.

  15. I was really glad that there were plenty of room stewards there to help guests figure out what they were doing wrong. Mine definitely needed to be tweaked a few times.

  16. I think I just turned my kids into cruise fanatics, too.

  17. I never thought that there'd be so many things going on a Disney cruise! It looks fun!

  18. I'd love to do a Disney Cruise, but they don't seem to sail to Asia or Australia.

  19. we haven't been on a cruise, but here i europe I think there aren't disney cruises :(

  20. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do. We weren't bored at all.

  21. Sounds like the perfect excuse to head to Europe for one of the Disney routes there.

  22. My friends really enjoyed a Mediterranean Disney cruise they went on last summer, and I think Disney's Norway cruise is getting very popular because of the movie Frozen.

  23. I've never been on a Disney Cruise, but I am not surprised that it would be especially fun for families with children.

  24. Yes to free ice cream. All I can draw is stick men so it would be nice to attend the classes too.

  25. These Disney Cruises are incredible and I'd never heard of them before reading your blog!

  26. One can't go wrong with a Disney cruise and it's even better with all the freebies. I love all these free things they offer. We went on the Wonder years ago and my kids have asked to go on a Disney cruise again. We'd love to go on the Dream. That Castaway 5K is awesome. It's still one of the best islands out there. This post makes me want to book a Disney cruise.

  27. free ice cream here :p
    Download Movie HD


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