All photos by Jason Leppert
Disney Cruise Line
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
As Disney Cruise Line prepares to increase its four-ship fleet to six in the near future, it has now completed reimagining its first pair of sister-ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder. Most of the enhancements to the Wonder take their cues from those made to the Magic in 2013, and the ship shines bright accordingly, from the airier atrium (pictured below), minus one staircase and low-hanging chandelier, to the exterior ducktail grafted to the stern, for the sake of stability (not Donald's ego).
Of the exterior changes, the thrilling AquaDunk plunging water slide is the only addition that did not carryover from the Magic, but the elongated Twist 'n' Spout variety did make its way to the Wonder (pictured below), topping off the new interactive AquaLab water play area, at least. All in all, this ensures the ship's classy architectural aesthetic remains reminiscent of classic ocean liners inside and out. Now with a fresh coat of paint, she once again glimmers as one of the most beautiful cruise ships afloat to this day.
One of the most significant design changes, other than those made to the kids' facilities, which I'll discuss below, was the retheming of Route 66 to the new After Hours adults-only area of the ship. The new incarnation is certainly more refined than its borderline kitschy predecessor, but I still kind of miss the more vivid version. Thankfully, the timeless Cadillac Lounge is still in place, and the fresh Crown & Fin Pub (pictured below) is a nice new British venue to escape to that is chock full of fun Disney cinematic easter eggs, as is the ship as a whole for that matter.
The Disney Cruise Line was revolutionary when it first introduced family-friendly staterooms that were larger than the industry average complete with split bathrooms, but the company is not content to just sit on its laurels. Accommodations have again been improved with raised platform beds that better fit suitcases below, a new bank of additional storage drawers in place of steamer trunks and welcome extra electrical and USB charging outlets at the desk. Storage remains plentiful for families, although by now it would really be nice if beds could be split for different occupant configurations.
Meanwhile, the split bathrooms with a toilet and sink in one compartment and a tub/shower combo and sink in another continue to be a convenient touch for families in deluxe accommodations to be able to get ready together with greater privacy. The only caveat to this arrangement is that showers are narrower. Hopefully, these will be enlarged by the time the new ships come online. Nonetheless, there never seems to be a shortage of usable counters in the bathrooms or cabin itself, and even the split distribution of lighting from one side of the curtain to the other is well considered for those napping on different schedules.
The Disney Cruise Line really does manage to offer something for everybody to do, whether that is as a family or adults or children alone. By not including a casino in its floorplan, the Disney Wonder offers a larger footprint of kids facilities, and the Disney's Oceaneer Club and Lab have been updated with new properties and activity areas such as Club Disney Junior, Andy's Room from "Toy Story," Marvel Super Hero Academy and Frozen Adventures. The latter two are especially exciting for presenting digital interactivity as well as in-person visits from Spider-Man, Black Widow (pictured below), Queen Elsa, Princess Anna and more.
The teens' Vibe club has also been refreshed a bit, and the tweens' Edge club has been entirely relocated from the ship's lower decks to the pool deck, replacing the former video arcade with a cool new "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"-like theme (pictured below). For family game show fun, Studio Sea has been transformed into D Lounge, the spa has become Senses with a new teen chill spa room, and altogether the fleet is more consistent across all four ships than ever before while still cleverly offering experiences that are unique to each. Of course, a classic activity remains the ability to conveniently meet and greet your favorite Disney characters onboard with less wait than in the parks.
Other cruise lines have tried, but Disney seems to be the only one to consistently succeed with its rotational dining concept, wherein your party and waitstaff cycle through three complimentary main dining rooms throughout the sailing. Each restaurant has its own distinct theme, and the Wonder newly serves from Tiana's Place, perfectly telling the "Princess and the Frog" story in a delightful Southern supper club atmosphere complete with live jazz music, tasty creole cuisine and appearances by Tiana herself (pictured below). Animator's Palate has also been enhanced with new digital displays and the Animation Magic show which takes guests' placemat character drawings and brings them to life on screen.
Rounding out the three main dining rooms is the classic Triton's in an elegant setting inspired by "The Little Mermaid," beautiful with its marvelous mosaic mural and Sebastian wall sconces. The sit-down food across the board is great and a notch above most mainstream competitors, particularly at the Italian adults-only Palo specialty restaurant (Grilled Prime Beef Tenderloin and Pennette Pasta with shrimp pictured below). The buffet has also been updated to become Cabanas with easier access and much needed additional seating. Only deck food like mediocre pizza and room service is a bit lacking in comparison to the rest of the cuisine.
Disney Cruise Line sustains as the industry leader in entertainment at sea, and the Wonder's new "Frozen, A Musical Spectacular" solidifies the brand's position in the market with an ace production show that pulls at the heartstrings thanks to a magnificent cast of singers and dancers backed by all the classic and most modern theatrical techniques. "Disney Dreams" continues along for the ride as a classic that can't help but make you smile with Disney numbers and characters brought to life on stage. Only "Golden Mickeys" and its contrived awards show setup is growing a bit tired.
Back to being the only cruise line to offer fireworks at sea, Disney still astounds with its "Pirates IN the Caribbean" deck party and bombastic crescendo in the sky, and the line's ability to screen the company's first-run films for free is always a huge differentiating benefit of the fleet. The Disney Wonder plays movies at its arthouse Buena Vista Theatre, grand Walt Disney Theatre and on Funnel Vision at the pool deck. After all, only on Disney will films like "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" be premiered complimentarily on a cruise ship.
Just as Disney's shows have heart, so do its crew members, making the guest experience a personal one as great room stewards address you by name and wait staff get to know your drink preferences for dinner. Flavored soft drinks like cherry coke are free at the restaurants mind you. The bottom line, though, is Disney staff, while understandably not up to luxury standards of attentiveness, are actually special cast members and even fairy godmothers, in the case of the new Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique retail makeover experience (pictured below), intent on friendly interactions, and it shows.