Monday, January 21st I set sail upon my first ever Disney Cruise aboard the Disney Wonder. I have to say I was impressed, though I’m pretty sure it was also my last Disney Cruise anyway, my boyfriend won’t travel on a ship without a casino – no way – no how. Regardless, I got to the port early (as instructed) and dropped my luggage at the curb and was directed to the port entrance where a man checked my tickets (actual tickets sent to me in the mail with REAL luggage tags included) and my passport and sent me inside to security and check in. Security was standard and check-in was as well except once I was checked in they gave me a little card with my room number and a number written on the bottom. I had my cruise card (Disney calls this the “Key to the World” card) and was directed to wait in a chair along the wall until my boarding number (22) was called.
I took a seat and took out a book to entertain myself while I waited. I read for about 15 minutes all the while listening to some very loud Disney music being piped into the area through some speakers. In this 15 minutes I never heard any numbers being called (let alone my own) so I got up and went to the person manning the line and asked how I was to know when my number would be called. She said that after 1:00 they no longer call numbers and you can just board at anytime. So why was I instructed to wait I wonder? Ok, I got on the ship and as usual there was a photo stop before a final passport check. I avoided the photo stop and nobody seemed upset by this (as they often are on other ships).
I entered the ship on deck 4 and was greeted by a staff member with a large white Mickey hand on and she asked my name. I told her and much to my annoyance it was then announced via microphone that “Leslie” is now on board! There were a row of White Uniformed Crew Members lining the hall who now cheered and clapped as I walked by welcoming me onto the ship. Can you say Awkward? They led me to the Grand Stair case and had me descend to the lobby level while they diverted their attention to the next unsuspecting guest to board the ship. In the lobby I was again greeted by a smiling crew member who instructed me that the restaurants on the third floor and the buffet on the 9th floor were now serving lunch and that rooms would be available at 2:00 pm. Since it was only 1:40 I went to the 9th floor and got some lunch.
The buffet was not your standard fair. First, there is a crew member who hands you a sanitizer wipe as you enter and another that sets up your tray with plates, silverware napkins and bowls. Special slotted plastic plates for the children and regular porcelain for the adults. The buffet is simple it includes fruits and cheeses, salads, some pasta, 1-2 meat dishes and a fish dish. Then comes the soda station – that’s right Soda is included on a Disney cruise. Once you’ve filled your plate you can visit the dessert table which has a bunch of different desserts all in bite sized pieces or cups so you can sample a few and still not have had that much.
After lunch I was able to explore the ship a bit. I choose to go to the adult only area called the “Cove” and sit in a chair in the sun for a while. Folded towels were laid out on the chairs and more were available in a wooden bin marked “clean towels” to be disposed in the bin next to it marked “dirty towels”. No need to check them out you just pull out as many as you need. I sat at the nice quiet pool for about 30 minutes and then headed down to my room.
My first impression of the room was, pretty much the same as other ships I’ve been on, all except for the bathroom that is. We had one room with a toilet and a sink and another with a sink and a shower/tub combo. I’ve never had a standard room with a tub before which I thought was great even though I never had time to use it. The tub was oddly shaped and because of this the shower head wasn’t really all that efficient – meaning you had to stand directly under it and even then it wasn’t doing the best job because the handicapped bar was sort of in the way. I did like the separate rooms though – nice to be able to shower without hogging the whole bathroom.
The rest of the room was normal, one large porthole window, a couch and two twin beds (or one king). This room did have more than normal drawer space too. Maybe because it was meant for 4 people (there was a pull down bunk bed, twin and the couch flipped over to a regular twin bed too). Lots of Micky decor in the room which was also expected but tasteful.
I had the late seating for dinner so that meant the 6:15 show was set for us 8:15 dinners. The shows were very Disney and I have to say spectacular. It was always an extravaganza with streamers from the ceiling, snow, stars in the sky (ceiling) and fireworks on the stage. People flew and danced and sang and it was really wonderful. It was also very Disney and so I’m guessing if you didn’t have the background, know the stories or like them you wouldn’t have enjoyed them. For me it was very nostalgic, for the kids it was fabulous, but for a non Disney fan it would probably have been torture.
The next major difference was dinner, well really meals in general. Let’s start with Breakfast – it is served in the Buffet from 7:30 am to 10:45 and on sea days in the dinning rooms from 8:00 am to 10:45. Breakfast was good, lots of healthy options and choices. Also on sea days you could have Brunch in Palos ($20 up charge plus tip). I didn’t experience this but was told it was fabulous just like dinner in Palos. Lunch was at the buffet from 11:30 am – 2:00 pm and in the dinning rooms from 12:00pm to 2:30 pm or there was burgers and pizza on the deck. The food in the buffet was good – not as many choices as usual but good choices and healthy options. The burgers and pizza were adequate not good, not bad but adequate. The food in the dinning room was, however, fabulous any time of day.
But seriously dinner was a production all in itself and a very good Disney difference in my opinion. Instead of one large dining room the ship had three smaller venues. You rotated between restaurants on a set schedule with your wait staff in tow. So each night you sampled different dining venues and the waiters and waitresses you’ve come to know (and who have come to know you) move to those dining rooms with you. People have remarked to me, and I’d like to mentioned here, that this was great if you liked your wait staff and not so much if you didn’t. But there are two responses I have to this. First you don’t get to change waiters on the other ships and you’re stuck with your wait staff for the duration so why should that be different here? Second, how could you not like your wait staff? These people are so service oriented it’s scary. They want to please you, they try very hard and they succeed. There is one person in charge of your beverages and the other in charge of your food. Everything is served hot that should be and cold that should be. The food is amazing and the service is even better.
My favorite part was dessert. They always had the “trio” option which was a small taste of three of the nights options. So you could sample and still have less than a regular portion on other ships! It was great. There was always a Micky bar or regular ice cream if all other options sucked, but I never got to that point.Dinner was the interesting part. The ship has three dining rooms (not including Palos) which are smaller than regular ships. You get to eat in all three on a rotational schedule. Your dining staff is assigned to your table and they move through the restaurants with you. Once you’ve been to all three you start the rotation over.
The Parrot Cay restaurant was dinner with a Caribbean flair. The parrot decor wasn’t to my taste, nor the wait staff’s uniforms filled with colorful parrots and palm trees. IT was too much like bad Hawaiian shirt night I’ve been exposed to on other cruises. But the food was good and they did a nice lunch seafood buffet in this restaurant too. Triton’s Restaurant was the most elegant of the three. There is a large mural on the wall made entirely of mosaic stone of Ariel, Triton and their Kingdom which is pretty fabulous. The food here was more typical cruise dinner food than at the Parrot Cay. And the third restaurant was called the Animator’s Palett. This one was very different and quite wonderful. It was based on animation and all in black and white when you entered the dinning room. The staff wore black and white uniforms as well. But as you sat there the light show began as sections of the room (and the paintbrush light fixtures complete with palette’s) became colored. Even the uniforms on the wait staff became full color by the end of the evening. This is hard to explain though and it’s really a see it to fully believe it kind of thing.
At night the atmosphere is very different. By 11 pm the halls are empty and there is little to no night life. What is available is all in the same area on Route 66. There is a piano player (classical) at the Cadillac Lounge, there is a theme (80’s, disco and such) in the Wave room and one night they had a deck party that was pirate themed with fireworks and a great show up on deck. This was completed by a late night buffet (not midnight but 10:30-11:30pm only). It was a great deck party with all the Disney characters joining in the fun on stage. Everyone was given pirate bandanas and the kids wore more elaborate customs and makeup. When it was over they played movie on the big screen.
Other differences where the indoor movie theater. Yes there was an outdoor one too but indoor played new movies like “Lincoln” as well as animated movies. They had no gambling, but they did have bingo – and it was much more money than on the lines that did have gambling. They only had 2 stores (shocking to me) which both had Disney stuff and some sundries. There was a duty free “store” but really it was just facings of liquor and an order form with the bottles, cosmetics and fragrances to be ordered and delivered. There were no bargains, no sales, no gold by the inch or giveaways of tanzanite. Overall the selling was very low key. Even the photography studio was low key and you were never ask to pose or by your prints. They took photos at dinner if you requested, with characters if you requested it and on formal night if you requested it and otherwise it was just a non-issue.
Here was my one issue. I was given a cabin that had a strange knocking sound all night long. I lived with it for 2 nights and then started to complain as I wasn’t getting any sleep. I have to say I was AMAZED that on night three I was sleeping in a new cabin with no knocking sound and I was asked at lesast 10 times by different staff members if it was all better and fixed now. I don’t know how they would have dealt with this issue had the ship been full, but I am glad they were quickly able to resolve the issue for me. That’s another Disney difference. I called once to complain and someone showed up to wait for the noise. They weren’t able to witness it so they came back until they did. They didn’t expect me to just suck it up and deal with the noise. They were very proactive and that impressed me. I’ve dealt with issues on other cruises and basically been told too darn bad for you.