Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 3: Swimming/AquaDuck, Safety Drill, & Sail-away)

Swimming and AquaDuck

AquaDuck at nightNight-time view of the AquaDuck.  Somehow, I never took any daylight photos.

One useful tip that I picked up while researching for the trip was to pack swim clothes in a carry-on as the pools tend to be pretty uncrowded during embarkation afternoon. Checked luggage can arrive any time up to around 6pm (our bags arrived one at a time over several hours), so having swimming items in carry-ons is a necessity to take advantage of those relatively sparse crowds.

The Dream has three swimming pools: the Mickey pool for smaller children, the Donald pool for families and the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool. None of the pools are particularly deep, with the Mickey pool maxing out at 2 feet, the Donald pool at 4 feet and the Quiet Cove pool at 4 feet. Unusual for a cruise ship, the pools on the Dream (like the pools on the other Disney ships) use chlorinated fresh water instead of sea water.

One of the most talked about new features of the Dream is the AquaDuck, a 765-foot tube-style water slide that starts on deck 12 and twists and turns around the upper decks of the ship, including a section that extends over the side of the ship. Guests ride on oversized inflatable rafts which each hold one or two people. It is billed by Disney as a “water coaster” and does have a roller-coaster like feel.

Close-up of AquaDuck tube
Night-time close up of one of the tubes. The ride was closed when these were taken.

I was excited to ride the AquaDuck, but my son, who is not yet a strong swimmer, wasn’t feeling ready for it. My wife also wanted me to try it first so I could describe it to her in order to help her guess whether or not it would aggravate her back condition. Therefore, I left them in the Mickey pool and headed over to queue for the ride.

The wait time was posted as about 30 minutes, which was pretty much the shortest posted wait that I saw during our cruise. I found that estimate to be pretty much exactly right. A large part of the queue is outdoors and mostly un-shaded, so make sure to wear sunscreen. I’d also strongly recommend getting some water shoes of some sort. I didn’t think to do that and found that the surface was uncomfortably hot on my bare feet during parts of the queue.

The last 10 minutes or so of the wait is an indoor area leading up to the loading platform. This indoor area has some cute cartoons on the wall featuring Donald Duck, Hewey, Dewey & Louie, and Uncle Scrooge. These provide a lightweight story that gives the ride a bit of theming. The layout of the cartoons was a bit strange, though, in that I found myself essentially following the story backwards.

The rafts are brought up from the ride exit to the loading area using a mechanical conveyer system. A ride operator transfers the rafts from that conveyer to the slide entry way and then helps the passengers get on board. The entry way to the slide also uses a conveyer belt, activated manually by the ride operator, to launch the raft into the slide itself.

When I first saw the oversized rafts and the seating, I actually wondered if the rider even would get very wet on the slide. Very shortly into the ride, I got my answer when I went down the first drop and a wave of water gushed over me. This is repeated several times over the course of the ride. The ride is a lot of fun, although it doesn’t give quite as much of a sense of speed as I had been expecting on a slide of that length. The view from the ride is pretty spectacular at times, although you are going too fast to appreciate it for long. The ride is quite smooth. My wife didn’t opt to ride it that afternoon, but did ride later in the week and she said it was no problem for her.

After my ride, I re-joined my family at the Mickey pool for a while. One nice thing about the design of the pools and the overall environment of the cruise ship, was that we were able to give my son a bit more freedom than we have in the past. While I was on the ride, my wife had even felt comfortable with briefly leaving my son at the pool while she went to the restroom. On another visit to the pools later in the trip, we all found ourselves scattering to different parts of the pool areas, with only occasional check-ins to make sure we always knew where our son was.

Safety Drill

After we finished at the pools, we got back to the stateroom with enough time for each of us to shower and change clothes before it was time for the mandatory safety drill. Every cruise ship is legally required to have a drill shortly before departure to make sure that all the passengers are aware of the emergency procedures and the location of their designated gathering location.

The emergency gathering location is assigned based on the location of the stateroom and ours was inside of the Buena Vista Theater, the ship’s movie theater located on deck 5. This was kind of a nice location for it as it is indoors and we could sit in comfortable theater seats during the drill. I joked to my wife that they should have set the mood appropriately by showing Titanic or The Poseidon Adventure in the theater during the drill.

In the past, guests were required to don life vests before leaving the stateroom for the drill, but this is no longer required. As guests arrived at the theater, crew members did their best to check off each stateroom number. Guests were arriving too quickly for the crew members to keep up very well, though, so eventually they took to the stage and called out the stateroom numbers that had not yet been checked off.

The crew members also gave a short talk on how the emergency procedures worked and also demonstrated how to properly don and use a life vest. All of this took about 20 minutes or so at the most, after which an announcement was made that the drill was over and everyone was free to resume the fun.

Sail Away Party and Departure

Sail-Away Party
Sail Away Party

After the safety drill, we headed to the upper deck for the sail away party and to watch the ship’s departure. The sail away party is basically a dance party where they play fairly current, family-friendly pop music while Disney characters dance around on a stage. We watched for a few minutes and actually found that wasn’t of much interest to us, so we instead got some drinks from the soft drink station and then found a table with an ocean view and sat down to watch the departure.

We could still hear the sail away party just fine from where we were, including a short welcome speech by the ship’s captain that was then followed by a countdown to the ship’s departure time. When the countdown reached zero, the ship’s horn played “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”. The horn on the Disney Dream plays a number of different Disney tunes, although this one and “It’s a Small World” were the only two that we heard on our trip.

Obviously, the ship was supposed to pull away from the port at the end of the countdown, but it didn’t actually happen.  We could see that a Carnival Cruise Line ship was making its way out of the port at that same time and my guess is that ship was delayed for some reason and we couldn’t pull out until after it had cleared the area. We didn’t actually start moving until about 15 minutes or so after the scheduled departure time (and the end of the countdown).

It actually took a minute or two for us to realize the ship was moving as we really couldn’t feel the motion at all. On both of our previous cruises, the rocking of the ship was very noticeable pretty much whenever it was in motion. Fortunately, none of us are prone to seasickness, but it did take a bit of time to find our sea legs on those trips. On the Dream, I never really felt the motion at all. I don’t know if this was a result of the larger ship or if it was due to the time of year, but the entire cruise was exceptionally smooth.

Coming Up Next: Kids’ Clubs and Dinner

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