Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 4: Kids’ Clubs and Dinner)

Kids’ Club Registration and Open House

Oceaneer's Lab
Oceaneer’s Lab

Registration and an open house was held at the kids’ clubs (Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab) until 6pm on embarkation day. The time between the sail away and our 6pm dinner seemed like a perfect time for it. Our decision not to wait in the long line for kids’ club registration in the terminal was quickly validated as there was no line at all for registration at this time.

We had already filled out the registration form online, so the actual registration really only involved the issuing of the wrist band. Each registered child is issued a wrist band with his/her name on it and a small electronic chip that is scanned to confirm identity upon arrival or departure from the club. The wristband must be returned before midnight on the last night of the cruise or a charge is issued to the stateroom account to cover the cost of the electronic device.

The wristband is the kind that can only be removed by cutting it off, so the child does have to wear it through the entire cruise. They mentioned that it could easily be replaced if it did become necessary to remove it, such as if the child had trouble sleeping with it on. It is waterproof so it is no problem to keep it on while swimming or showering. We were a little worried that our son would be bothered about having to wear it the whole time, but it wasn’t an issue at all.

Oceaneer's Club Interactive Play Floor
Interactive Play Floor

The kids’ clubs are drop-off, allowing kids and parents to have some independence. The entry/exit is strictly controlled and a lot of effort is made to ensure kids only leave with authorized adults. At registration, parents provide a list of authorized adults as well as a password. When picking up a kid, the attendants scan the Key to the World card to confirm identity and also ask for the password.

When their child is in the club, parents are asked to carry a Wave Phone for emergency contact. They will also send a text message if the child asks to be picked up. If the parents will be somewhere like Palo or one of the shows, they can request that the attendants contact only in an emergency.

Although they will allow parents to accompany their children into the club, it is generally discouraged outside of a few designated family play times. The embarkation day open house was one of those times. After registration, my wife and I went in with our son to do some exploration.. It was comforting to have the opportunity to get a feel for the facility before we would later leave our son there while we went off to do other things.

Monster's Inc. themed play area
Monsters Inc. themed play area

The kids’ club is split into two different facilities, although both are connected and the kids are able to move freely between them. The Oceaneer’s Club is largely play-based, with several character-themed activity areas. The Oceaneer’s Lab is more activity-based, with a focus on high-interactivity. While both areas are officially targeted at ages 3-10, the Oceaneer’s Club tends to focus more on the younger end of that range while the Oceaneer’s Lab has a bit more to offer for older kids.

Andy's Room in Oceaneer's Club
Andy’s Room

The Oceaneer’s Club features four primary areas that are themed to Toy Story (“Andy’s Room”), Tinkerbell and other fairies (“Pixie Hollow”), Finding Nemo (“Explorer Pod”), and Monsters, Inc. (“Monsters Academy” which, possibly not coincidentally, is also the title of the prequel film currently in production). These rooms all branch off from a central area that is dominated by a large, interactive digital floor, essentially a large touchscreen used for a variety of games and activities. The central room also features a stage area used for storytelling and other presentations.

The Oceaneer’s Lab is more activity-driven than theme-driven, with areas for playing video games, watching movies on a big-screen TV, using computers and participating in various arts and crafts projects. The main lobby area of the Lab includes another stage for storytelling as well as a big-screen monitor (103-inches, according to the Disney Cruise website) that can be used for showing movies or, periodically, for interactive sessions similar to the “Turtle Talk” attraction at the parks or the show in the Animator’s Palate restaurant.

This first visit was pretty time limited due to our upcoming dinner, but we did get a good look at the area and it definitely whetted our son’s appetite for more extended time there. In fact, he was pretty much pushing us to promise that we would let him go back there for a little while later that evening.

Dinner at Enchanted Garden

Enchanted Garden
Enchanted Garden

Traditionally, dinner on a cruise ship is a pretty big deal. Meals are typically multiple-course extravaganzas, presented with personalized service and a fair helping of panache. The evening meal also typically takes about 2 hours or so, meaning that a certain amount of patience is also needed. Disney added an additional element of variety by including three main dining rooms on each of their ships and having the guests rotate through them.

The first night’s dinner on a cruise ship has a bit of a getting-acquainted element to it. Every night, guests are seated with the same tablemates and served by the same primary and assistant servers. Most of the tables in the dining rooms seat six or more people, so smaller groups will typically be seated with other guests. On this trip, we were seated at a table for eight along with an extended family of five.

Enchanted Garden
Enchanted Garden

The dinner menu is divided into four courses: starters, soups/saladx, entrees, and desserts. They are very flexible about what you can order. If you want to skip a course or have two starters instead of a soup or salad, it isn’t a problem. Typically, they will even accommodate if you want two entrees. One of the best parts of a cruise is that they really do try hard to meet individual tastes and preferences.  My wife is not an overly adventurous eater (and doesn’t like any kind of seafood) and often asked for customizations or even choices not on the menu.  This never really proved to be a major problem.

I started with lobster ravioli, which was very tasty and contained a very generous amount of lobster meat.  I didn’t get a soup or salad that evening, a smart choice as the ravioli was pretty substantial.  My wife had a tossed salad and my son had soup.  He is a big soup eater, something that had even become a bit of a running joke on our previous cruise.  I can’t recall what the soup was that evening, but I remember that he did seem to enjoy it.

Kid's Macaroni and Cheese
Kid’s Macaroni and Cheese

For my entree, I selected a roasted pork tenderloin, which was very good.  I really enjoy a good pork steak and it something that I don’t get very often, which made it a fairly easy choice.  My wife selected the grilled NY strip steak while my son had macaroni and cheese.  The kids’ meal macaroni and cheese had a particularly nice presentation, with the pasta served inside of a tortilla shell with a side-order of french fries.  The assistant waiter added ketchup to the plate in the familiar Mickey-head pattern.  My son’s only slight complaint was that the portion was a bit small, but they had no problem bringing him a second helping upon request.

My choice for dessert was a bananas foster sundae, which featured vanilla ice cream with rum-glazed bananas and caramel sauce.  It was really good and most certainly not on my diet!  The children’s menu offered the Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream bars like you find in the theme park and they had no objection to adults ordering them as well.  Both my wife and son went with those and we were pleased that the presentation was pretty nice.  Instead of just serving them in the wrapper, they were placed on plates and some additional chocolate sauce was drizzled over the top of them.

One problem that we encountered at dinner was that the drinking glasses had somewhat rounded bottoms while the tablecloth was fairly plush.  My son’s water wasn’t served in a more kid-friendly cup (although they had them) and he ended up spilling all over the table at one point.  This actually is really more than just a problem with not being kid-friendly as I actually spilled my iced tea at lunch a couple days later.  They should probably either re-think the type of glasses they use or at least provide coasters of some sort.

Another complaint we had was that Enchanted Garden is simply a bit too large for the theming to fully be experienced by all guests.  The show element of the restaurant is that the decor is supposed to change from daytime to night over the course of the meal.  This is mainly done through projections and lighting in faux windows located in the center back of the restaurant.  Our table was close to the front and on the far side, so I can’t say we really noticed that transition much.  Our table was also right next to a port hole, which caused real outside lighting to overwhelm the themed lighting.

To be clear, the meal, the restaurant and the overall experience were still very positive.  These minor problems just made it a bit less impressive than what we had experienced on previous cruises, something that pretty much remained true throughout the rest of the dinners on this cruise.

Coming Up Next: Shopping, “The Golden Mickeys” and The District

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