PHOTO: The Disney Wonder will operate in Alaska this summer. Photo courtesy of Kent Phillips/Disney Cruise Line
Travel agents who sailed on the Disney Wonder following its 53-day dry dock late last year are raving about the ship. “It’s absolutely stunning,” said Monday Cleghorn, president and owner of Magic of Mickey Travel in Hartselle, Ala.
Not only does this 1999-built vessel look better than ever, it now offers exclusives that can draw back Disney die-hards and entice clients who haven’t tried Disney Cruise Line yet. One of those is a new stage production of “Frozen.” New areas for children and adults are found shipwide, and cabins were fully updated.
The first thing people see when they embark, the Atrium Lobby, underwent a facelift that opened the space and created more references to “The Little Mermaid.” One staircase was removed, and a ruby-colored chandelier – inspired by the flower that mermaid Ariel wears in her hair – was added. To reduce lines for character appearances there, passengers can now book those before sailing.
“Frozen – A Musical Spectacular” is staged only on the Disney Wonder. Real snow swirls over the audience, and the ingenious puppetry by Michael Curry (Broadway’s “The Lion King”) blurs the lines between the actors, who are visible, and their puppets. And when Elsa belts out “Let It Go,” her costume and appearance transform, eliciting a gasp from the audience.
The “Frozen” theme is carried through to the fully renovated Oceaneer Club for guests ages 3 to 12. “People will have to pry their kids out of there,” said Sue Pisaturo, owner and founder of Small World Vacations, based in Washington Township, N.J., who also sailed post-renovation.
A “Frozen Adventures” area re-creates Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, and characters like Elsa and Anna pop in to delight the kids. At the “Marvel Super Hero Academy” youngsters can join six missions led by Spider-Man, Captain America or Black Widow. “Andy’s Room” (which debuted on the Disney Magic) added more elements for active play, while Club Disney Junior games for the littlest kids hinge on characters like Doc McStuffins.
The refurbishment also included the installation of the It’s A Small World Nursery.
Another big change is a new main restaurant in the rotational dining scheme, where passengers move to a different venue each night, and their servers go with them. Tiana’s Place, a New Orleans-style venue, replaced Parrot Cay. It’s themed on Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.”
The menu features Southern and French Quarter-style dishes like New Orleans seafood pepper pot, Cajun-spiced sea bass, Creole chicken, pecan pie and beignets. Dressed in feathers and pearls, Tiana greets diners and a band plays Dixieland music. This builds into a party and parade where Tiana, the servers and diners join in. It’s lots of fun.
Animator’s Palate, another of the three rotational restaurants, was updated to offer the “Animation Magic” show, and incorporates Disney’s latest characters like the new Princess Moana, who debuted in the recent “Moana” movie.
The Disney Wonder’s pool deck now has an AquaLab interactive water play area, Dory’s Reef for toddlers, and a new Twist ‘n’ Spout water slide.
In other changes, a concierge lounge and concierge-level sun deck were added, and the adults’ coffee hangout, Cove Cafe, gained an upper floor. Small World Vacations’ Pisaturo praised the concierge areas and adjacent café as great spots for watching the scenery on Alaska cruises.
The adults’ nightlife district was modernized from Route 66 into the more sophisticated After Hours. The Crown & Fin Pub is new, with leather sofas, board games, sports broadcasts and beer tastings. In place of Wave Bands is the sleek, all-white Azure nightclub. And a shiny new model of the Cadillac Lounge offers handcrafted cocktails.
The Disney Wonder is now aligned with branded spaces across the fleet. The buffet-dining venue became Cabanas, brighter and better organized, with hand-washing stations and expanded outdoor seating. D Lounge, for family dance parties, karaoke and bingo, replaced Studio Sea. The spa transformed into Senses Spa & Salon, adding Chill for teens and couples’ villas with whirlpool tubs. There’s a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique now, too.
All 875 of the cabins were refreshed. Cabinets and drawers replaced the steamer trunks, and the new beds are elevated so luggage can be stored underneath.
Disney doesn’t reveal what it spends on refurbishments. In the case of the Disney Wonder, it must have been a bundle. No area was untouched, and the ship really does look new, inside and out.
Sue Pisaturo of Small World Vacations sends lots of first-time cruisers on Disney. “It transcends all ages and demographics. Disney speaks to the heart and soul of everyone,” she said.
In Pisaturo’s view, the Disney Wonder’s biggest draw is its Alaska itinerary, which she said offers “a different kind of relaxation from the tropics,” nature and “broad appeal.”
Don’t think Disney is just for families, advised Monday Cleghorn of Magic of Mickey Travel. The service, dining and Broadway-style entertainment make it ideal for couples, too. Disney may cost more, she added, but the amenities and service level merit that.
The Disney Wonder operates three- and four-night Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral until April 23 when it departs on a 14-night Panama Canal transit to San Diego, Calif. From there the ship sails to Vancouver, B.C., for a season of mainly seven-night Alaska cruises. The July 17 departure features a new port for Disney, Icy Strait Point, while the nine-night July 24 sailing includes Icy Strait Point and Hubbard Glacier.
Call 800-511-1333 or visit www.disneytravelagents.com.