Before cruising with Disney, every conversation I had about the holiday went the about same way. "I'm heading off on a cruise from Florida to the Bahamas." "Ooh, lucky you. So who are going with?" "Disney."
"I didn't know they did cruises. You don't have kids, do you?"
First, let's expose the seemingly little-known fact that Disney do indeed do cruises. The Disney Dream is the third ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, joining the Disney Magic (maiden voyage in 1998) and Disney Wonder (maiden voyage in 1999). The Disney Cruise Line has enjoyed massive success in America, and is now casting an eye on the European market. A fourth ship, the Disney Fantasy, is expected to enter service next year.
The Disney Dream holds 4,000 passengers, 1,500 crew (a dozen or so who happen to be Irish), has 14 passenger decks, and measures 1,115 feet in length. It contains some 1,250 staterooms and suites, and is packed full of theatres, shops, restaurants, clubs and lounges.
I'm not going to play the 'cynical, jaded travel journalist' card and say I wasn't expecting a good time -- I was. When boarding the vessel, I delighted that there were crew members there to welcome me with a round of applause as my name was announced on the tannoy and my picture taken -- as they do with every guest.Impressive
This is part of the Disney experience — and you can't help but dispense with cynicism. The Disney Dream caters for all kinds — yes, it is big on families, but adults travelling without children have a good time, too.
The littlest guests aboard can be as young as three months old with a fully staffed creche for babies and "wobblers" aboard. But it's what Disney has to offer to older children that's most impressive.
The Oceaneer Club allows children aged between three and seven to play among larger-than-life characters from Toy Story in Andy's room. Other areas include the Laugh Floor with Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc, and, if you're up for it, you can dive under the sea with Nemo and friends, or take a stroll to Tinkerbell's forest.
For the older, more discerning child (up to the age of 10), you have the neighbouring Oceaneer Lab where you can play at being a pop star, try your hand at animation and navigate the ship through digital seas.
Both venues feature a Magic Playfloor, an interactive floor which allows children to engage in group activities where their movements control the action. It's also worth mentioning that these areas are staffed by Disney counsellors -- fully qualified childcare assistants, so parents can leave their children in their care while they go off to explore the ship.
Teens and Tweens have their own 'chill-out' zones from which adults are banned. Located by the forward funnel of the Disney Dream is Edge, a lounge for tweens (aged 11 to 13) filled with hi-tech entertainment. Teenagers (aged 14 to 17) have their own exclusive club, Vibe, where they can create videos, play computer games and try their hand at mixing dance tracks. They also have their own outdoor area.
And if that's not entertainment enough, live shows that are up to the standard of musicals on Broadway take place in the Walt Disney Theatre every night.
There are many jewels in the crown of the Disney Dream, but the family outdoor area is undoubtedly one of the brightest. It is home of the AquaDuck, a water ride featuring twists, turns, drops, uphill accelerations and river rapids -- all traversing the upper decks of the ship.Fireworks
The outdoor areas, which contain pools for young children, become a show area at night. On the second night of the cruise, we were treated to a mighty fireworks display while anchored in the Caribbean.
Rotational dining, where the same staff follow you to each restaurant, is a Disney Cruise Lines creation. There are three elaborately themed restaurants on board -- and world-class cuisine to match.
At the Animator's Palate, interactive screens feature Crush, who will chat to guests. The Royal Place restaurant is inspired by Disney's classic films Cinderella and Snow White, and the Enchanted Garden, by the gardens of Versailles.
There are also two fine-dining restaurants: Remy, with award-winning French cuisine, and Palo, Disney Cruise Line's signature specialty restaurant where you can dine al fresco.
Another great thing about the Dream is the adult-only areas, which are discreetly screened away from the children.Nightclubs
The District is one such area and is home to four bars and a nightclub. This area features sophisticated lounges, each with its own unique look. The other end of the ship contains an outdoor pool area for adults, with a cocktail bar, a lounge and a Jacuzzi.
The Senses Spa and Salon allows us big guys to get away from it all with 17 private treatment rooms, spa villas and private outdoor verandas. Also, it offers a state-of-the-art gym and yoga classes -- perfect for working off the previous night's fine feast.
We docked in Nassau, in the Bahamas for a day, a fine port city with plenty of attractions for tourists. But it was the stop at Castaway Cay that impressed the most. The Disney-owned island contains a beautiful, unspoiled coastline. The island is used exclusively by Disney -- the only people you'll come across here are fellow guests and staff. It felt like a real treat.
A few of my friends were sceptical about a single, childless woman enjoying a Disney Cruise. All I know is that during my three-day break, I really relaxed, switched off my phone and laptop, and disembarked feeling 10 years younger.