The Disney Dream cruise ship stops at Castaway Cay, which features a water play platform.

The Disney Dream cruise ship stops at Castaway Cay, which features a water play platform. (Disney)

We woke up Saturday morning on the Disney Dream cruise ship to what looked like bad weather, judging from the virtual porthole in our stateroom. But despite a poor start, Day 3 on the Dream ended with the finest food and best entertainment of our Bahamian cruise.

Full coverage: Read the Day 1 and Day 2 dispatches and view photos from the Disney Dream.

Saturday’s blustery, overcast and chilly weather forced the cancellation of most of the ocean-related excursions on Castaway Cay, Disney’s 1,000-acre private island and the final stop on our three-night cruise out of Port Canaveral, Fla.

We decided to give Castaway Cay a try despite the foreboding skies. Because the Dream can dock right along the beach, there's no need to tender, and the ship remained accessible throughout the day.

We'd rented snorkel equipment ($25 per person) to explore the trail of sunken treasures in the bay, including a replica of the submarine from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." But when we got to the beach, there was only a handful of people in the frigid and choppy water. The few brave souls who populated the Pelican Point water-slide tower in the middle of the cay kept repeating the same teeth-chattering refrain: “It’s so cold.” The snorkel shop gladly refunded our pre-paid equipment fee.

We dropped by the acre-sized sand box called Scuttle’s Cove and the In Da Shade sports play area, but my 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, wasn’t interested. Both locations lacked the typical Disney imagination.

With nothing to do, we did what you do on a cruise: eat. The hot dog and hamburger picnic fare at Cookie’s BBQ failed to impress. I opted for the pork ribs, which left me picking gristle and bone shards out of my mouth. Nancy loved the German potato salad, but the island buffet seemed like a poor replica of the on-board Cabanas quick-serve restaurant, which I’d purposely avoided throughout the cruise.

We declared Castaway Cay a bust and beat it back to the ship just as the rain began to fall.

Back on board, the upside of the bad weather meant that Hannah got to ride the Aquaduck water coaster seven times in a row with no waiting in line while my wife, Nancy, returned to the spa for a bit of relaxation. I took the chance to play the addictive treasure-hunt game that employs "enchanted" art scattered throughout the ship.

Disney Imagineers have created about two dozen artist's sketches, travel posters and animation cels that come to life as passengers pause to examine the artwork. My favorite was a pair of side-by-side pirate portraits that engaged in an animated frame-to-frame battle, complete with cannon blasts and flaming sails.

The art also serves as an interactive platform for a ship-wide treasure hunt in which passengers search for clues to help them capture a villain in one of multiple story lines. To unlock hints, I used a virtual key with a bar code to activate a motion sensor hidden in the picture frame. Popping balloons with a virtual pushpin revealed clues to the puzzle. The game easily took an hour to play and required an extensive tour of several of the ship’s decks.

Later in the evening, we ate dinner at the princess-themed Royal Palace. It turned out to be my favorite meal of the cruise – and I liked Nancy’s delicious escargot appetizer and delightful French onion soup more than my first two courses. The delicate and tender rack of lamb that I ordered as my main entrée sliced like scissors through paper. Throughout dinner, "princesses" popped by our table and posed for photos with Hannah, who delighted in voguing with Snow White and Ariel.

Our lunatic clown waiter, Suleyman, who entertained a crying kid at the next table by pretending to pull himself up by a rope from behind the server’s stand, let us order four deserts for our party of three when Nancy couldn’t decide between the strawberry shortcake sundae and the crème brulee .

After dinner, we filtered into the 1,300-seat theater for "Believe," a series of vignettes from Disney films hosted by Genie from “Aladdin,” who taught a father to believe in magic.

From the moment the curtain rose, I could tell “Believe” had a stronger storyline, better sets and catchier songs than the previous two shows on the cruise.

Among the best moments:

-- a fantastic chimney-sweep dance set to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins";

-- the bright, colorful Mardi Gras number from “The Princess and the Frog";

-- the forks, napkins and other animated dinnerware from “Beauty and the Beast” dancing to “Be Our Guest";

-- and Tinker Bell sprinkling pixie dust around the stage’s proscenium.

This was our first cruise -- something I’d always wanted to do once and only once when Hannah was a tween. And I knew it had to be on a Disney cruise ship. I’ve always enjoyed exploring a city on my own during a vacation rather than feeling stuck on a guided tour. A cruise always seemed like a guided tour that lasted five to 10 days.

So now I can say I’ve checked "cruise" off my vacation “to do” list. And although I wouldn’t call myself a cruise convert, I can say I’d consider a return to a vacation at sea – maybe when we retire.

For now, though, we’ve had a great trip on a great ship. And in a few short hours, we’ll be back in port and on our way home to California. The three days seemed to just fly by.

So what did I hate and love on this cruise? Here's my list:

The good, the bad

For the most part, the Disney cruise regulars I spoke to marveled at the Dream, calling it bigger, brighter and better than its older cousins, with many more bells and whistles.

Dislikes

-- The endless incidentals costs on what was billed as an all-inclusive cruise.

-- The much-too-small stateroom, which nonetheless seemed to grow larger as the days passed.

-- The woeful “Villains Tonight” stage show, which besmirched the Disney name.

-- The disappointing "Animator’s Palette" dinner show, which seemed more like virtual wallpaper than the stunning visual entertainment I had expected.

-- The omnipresent, screeching-child soundtrack that turned an otherwise luxurious ship into a Chuck E. Cheese.

Likes

-- The only mildly thrilling but thoroughly enjoyable Aquaduck water coaster.

-- The ship’s luxurious and glamorous Art Deco styling.

-- The virtual porthole in our interior stateroom. I only wish the animated characters that popped up on screen appeared more often.

-- The Oceaneers Lab play area for kids, where Hannah would have been happy to remain until she started high school.

-- The Disney characters that seemed to show up every time you turned a corner.

-- The delectable desserts at every meal.

-- The tireless crew, many of whom were still learning the ropes of the new ship (and, in some cases, the language).

And here's some practical information:

The Disney Dream sails on three-, four- and five-night cruises from its home port of Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas. Fares start at $1,200 per person.

Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Magic sails in spring, fall and winter from Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Caribbean and in the summer from Barcelona, Spain, to the Mediterranean.

The Disney Wonder has been repositioned to the West Coast, sailing in fall and winter from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera and in spring and summer from Vancouver, Canada, to Alaska.

The new Disney Fantasy will begin service in March 2012 from Port Canaveral to the Caribbean.

To learn more:

Disney Cruise Line, (800) 951-3532.

In case you missed it: Day 1 and Day 2 dispatches from the Disney Dream