My long-time high school friend went with me on my first Disney cruise; the Wonder, 7 nights sailing the western Caribbean out of Galveston. I had no idea what to expect, on any level, and wow, was I pleasantly surprised!
We arrived at our parking lot about 10:30 and were immediately loaded on their shuttle bus and taken straight to the pier. Check-in was flawless, but we did have to wait a while before boarding. Seemed that everyone had boarding priority over us, regardless of when they arrived. Well, it wasn’t so long, and we had both brought books to keep us occupied while we waited.
When we boarded the ship we went straight up to the buffet on deck 9 and had lunch. It was very nice and was much like the embarkation day buffet on any ship. I was impressed with the beautiful boiled shrimp, cooked to perfection. As a matter of fact, it was on the lunch buffet every day, and always cooked just right. When you enter the Beach Blanket Buffet (deck 9 aft) they give you a tray with a plate, napkin & utensils on it. That makes it so easy to go outside to eat, or walk a little further to a quiet spot to sit and eat. There’s a beverage station in there also, as well as a dessert station and salad station. The hours of serving lunch in there are 12:00 noon till 2:00 pm each day.
After lunch our cabin was ready and we headed down to check it out. Our wonderful steward, Gusti, met us and was most eager to please. He took wonderful care of us all week, making us feel very pampered and special. Never having been on a Disney ship, I had no idea about the cabin bathrooms. There are two separate little bathrooms…LITTLE bathrooms. One has a toilet, sink, hair dryer, mirror & some small corner shelves; the other one has a tub/shower, sink, mirror & several towel bars. Even tho they were incredibly small, it was so convenient & handy for us to have essentially two bathrooms. Made getting ready so much more simple for two women.
The next thing that impressed me was the two walkie talkie/telephones on the desk. They were for communication among family members while on the ship. Even tho my roomie & I never used ours, they were a really great amenity to have for families who needed them, and I saw people using them all over the ship. There was more storage than the two us needed. We had entire cabinets & several drawers empty.
I must say, the hair dryer was different from any hair dryer I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. It was simply a flexible plastic hose, just like some vacuum cleaner hoses, with a sort of head on it. It didn’t have a button to turn it on & off; you just lifted the head off the wall unit & it came on. Then to turn it off you just snapped the head back on the wall unit. What was bad, was that the hose got VERY hot, and you couldn’t help but touch it because the head part that you actually held, was pretty small. It got to be a joke with us to see if we could get our hair dried without getting burned.
We had a nice flat-screen TV above the refrigerator, that swiveled. If you wanted to watch Disney movies or things on their in-house channels, you were in business. But the only one of the three major TV networks they carried was ABC, and it was "off the air” most of the time when we wanted to watch that particular channel. The Disney movies were good tho, but they ran the same ones over and over again all week. The refrigerator actually was cold and we used ours for a few bottles of sodas that we had brought on board, as well as a bottle of wine.
Another interesting thing Disney had, instead of the messy hand sanitizing gel at stations around the ship and at the entrance of all food areas, they passed out antibacterial hand wipes. I really liked this.
The intercom system on the ship did not have speakers in the cabins. To hear announcements when we were in the cabin we had to open the door. I found this rather strange, but I guess at least people would not be disturbed while sleeping when an announcement was made.
Our beds were very comfortable, and they had Frette sheets & comforters. Our cabin was very small but laid out well and quite comfortable except our sofa. It was a hide-a-bed sofa and was so uncomfortable to sit on that we usually just sat on our beds. It was hard and sunk way down and was not the quality of furniture I would have expected on a Disney ship. Our suitcases wouldn't fit under the bed...first time ever that happened. The bed frame legs just weren't quite tall enough, and believe me we tried everything.
The first morning we decided to have room service bring coffee & a few breakfast items. The food was just fine but the coffee was awful. I’m not a coffee snob by any stretch of the imagination, but that coffee tasted like it had been made with diesel. My roomie managed to drink a cup but I just couldn’t stomach it. I had ordered V-8 juice also and it was rancid. I tried V-8 again the next morning and it was good. I got bad V-8 one other time on this cruise, and it was at breakfast in the dining room; all the other times it was very good. It seems really strange, and I had to wonder where they were storing their V-8 or how old it was, for it to have been spoiled two different times.
Disney does their evening dining experience different from anyone else. It’s really a neat thing. They have three main dining rooms: Animator’s Palate (rather contemporary with animation & technology theme), Parrot Cay (rather casual with tropical theme), and Triton’s (more "traditional” MDR with a touch of elegance). You alternate dining rooms all week, and are given a ticket that shows where you are to go each night. And you keep the same tablemates and wait staff for the entire cruise. Our evening dining experience was really nice and lots of fun. The food was very good; I’d rate it equal to most other cruise lines. I always found something on the dinner menu that I really loved, and many, many things on the lunch buffet at Beach Blanket Buffet were excellent. Lobster was on the menu Thursday night, which was semi-formal night. I ordered two tails and they were both so overcooked and dry that I just couldn’t eat them. I didn’t know that it was possible to mess up a lobster tail, but someone managed to mess up mine. We had requested early dining but they were never able to make that happen, so we were stuck with late dining which was at 8:15. We were very blessed to have really nice tablemates tho and that went a long way in helping us adapt. We made up our minds that we’d make the best of the situation, so we enjoyed it very much, but ended up staying up/out quite late every night.
Lots of things were going on later at night, for adults, and we wanted to experience as much as we could. And "adults” on Disney isn’t the same as "adults” on other cruise lines. Nothing that we saw was raunchy, distasteful or offensive. …Except maybe the love & marriage game…the husband of one couple was pretty drunk and he had a pretty foul mouth. The show was still really funny and entertaining.
The entertainment was totally amazing. The theatre itself, Walt Disney Theatre (deck 4 fwd), was fantastic. There was no balcony and it didn’t have any poles or columns anywhere, so all seats were good, and the seats were quite comfortable too. The technology and animation used in the shows was totally mind-boggling. Their production shows were amazing. Sunday night, was "The Golden Mickeys”; Monday, "Toy Story the Musical”; Tuesday was comedy/variety show by Charles Peachock. We went to a late-night show of his also and all his shows were really good and highly entertaining. Thursday the production show was "Dreams”; Friday night was "Remember the Magic”, and also comedian/ventriloquist Michael Harrison. All of the entertainment was spectacular. The production shows were the most amazing ones I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship, and the other entertainers were fantastic also. Disney really knows how to entertain!
One thing I thought was rather strange. In the hall going into the Walt Disney Theatre, is a snack bar called Preludes. They sell candy, various popcorns, bar drinks, canned sodas and various other food items. You could stop there and buy something and take into the theatre to snack while the show was going on. With all the free food & beverages around the ship, why would anyone pay money for those things? And it was amazing how many people I saw buying stuff there.
They have a huge movie theatre, Buena Vista Theatre, (deck 5 aft) and show multiple movies every day. I saw my first 3D movie there, "Planes”, and it was amazing! Of course, all movies are Disney, so if you’re looking for more "adult” type movies and/or entertainment on a cruise ship, Disney cruise line is probably not the one for you. Everything is family oriented, and believe me, there were LOTS of families. I’m usually one who prefers cruises with less children, but I was quite surprised how well behaved the children were on our ship. I guess because there’s just soooooo much for them to do and see and be involved in, that they don’t have time for melt-downs. Of course, I witnessed a few, but very few. There were many, many grandparents with their grandchildren, some with the parents too, some not. It was really nice to see so many families enjoying a week together and having such a great time.
The Disney characters had scheduled appearances at various places on the ship. Children could have their autograph books signed and pictures taken with them. We would often stand on a balcony above one of the main locations for this, and watch for long periods of time. There was just something magical about seeing the youngsters so awe-struck at being with a real live Disney character, getting to touch them and hug them.
The Wonder also has the Beverage Station outside (deck 9 aft), near the pool. Ice, Coke, Diet Coke (no Dr. Pepper!), lemonade, fruit punch, iced tea & water in one little area and coffee, hot chocolate and hot water for tea just a few steps away; all self-serve. These beverages are free and are available 24 hours. Soft serve ice cream machines are just around the corner and they are open till midnight. Not much variety of flavors, most of the time just chocolate & vanilla. And right there in the same vicinity you could get salads & deli style sandwiches, hot dogs & hamburgers and pizza.
The gym is inside the Vista Spa & Salon (deck 9 fwd). You have to go into the salon, make two turns and walk down two halls to get there. It’s rather small and not many machines except lots of treadmills. You could get a cup of cold water in there, as well as a piece of fruit.
Wednesday night had a pirate’s theme and a great majority of the entire ship dressed up. Then at 9:45 there was a big deck party and at the end was a beautiful fireworks display. Since our sailing was the week before Halloween, one night they had Happy Halloween on the High Seas. Many dressed in costumes and there was an adult Halloween costume contest as well as a family deck party.
My favorite spot on the entire ship was the Outlook Café (deck 10 mid), which is up-stairs in the Cove Café (deck 9 mid). A little hard to find but well worth the trouble. It’s a glassed-in area that overlooks the pool and the ocean. Very quaint, quiet, relaxing and serene adult-only area with comfortable chairs to sit and visit or read a book in air-conditioned comfort. Little snacks are available from 10:00 a.m. till midnight, and a coffee & beverage bar is there for purchasing specialty coffees & drinks.
My next favorite place on the entire ship was an area called Route 66 (deck 3 fwd). When you step into the hallway, you’re walking on a carpeted map of U. S. Route 66, starting at Chicago, IL then on thru MO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ and ends in Los Angeles, CA. Off of this carpeted hallway are several lounges and entertainment venues…Wavebands, Diversions and Cadillac Bar. Most of this area is adult only, and all of it is after 9:00 p.m. This is the area where much of the late-night entertainment takes place. The decorations are very retro, 50’s & 60’s, and it’s worth several strolls down Route 66 just to see the décor; that within itself is fun entertainment.
Grand Cayman was our only tendering port. They use the big tender boats from the island instead of the ship’s boats. FYI…the tender loads from the ship on the top level but unloads on the island from the bottom level. If time is limited to get somewhere on the island or you like to be one of the first off, take note. I always go to an internet café in Grand Cayman to check my email. The one I used to go to behind the post office was no longer there. I was directed to the library and was able to buy 30 minutes for less than $3 (USD) and they give you change in Cayman Island currency. There are free wi-fi places around town also.
Falmouth is one of the newer of the western Caribbean ports of call. Over the last several years they have built up the dock area into a very lovely shopping area. It’s quite attractive & clean & safe, and the people there are very friendly. But it’s very unsafe to go outside of the gated area (unless of course you’re on a tour).
In Cozumel we docked at the Punta Langosta Pier. It’s a great shopping area if you don’t mind being accosted by every vendor there. There are certainly bargains to be had if you’re willing to wheel & deal with the merchants. Free wi-fi is available at Starbucks right across the street from the pier, as well as some other places in the immediate area.
Disembarkation was the best I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know what Disney does that the others haven’t caught onto yet, but it was amazing. They were organized and efficient and it certainly showed. We did the self-debarkation, were off the ship by 8:00 and on our way home before 8:30.
The service, friendliness and helpfulness of the crew was tops; one of the best I've ever experienced. This was an awesome and amazing cruise, and I must say I was really thrilled with Disney and the whole Disney experience…but next time I want to take my grandchildren.