After doing many cruises from Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Carnival, we had a variety of experiences and were looking forward to the Disney experience. We needed a shorter cruise and my 6 year old was the perfect age to enjoy the Disney experience. Since it was shorter, I could afford Disney - a 5 day Disney cruise is the same cost as a 7 day Royal Caribbean. I'm not sure why though, from my experience I can't see what warrants that extra cost. My daughters favorite part was being a part of the fish extender group from DisBoards. But that had nothing to do with the ship :)
The port was fine in Miami, though freezing cold inside. I had multiple flights for this trip because we weren't do a straight round trip flight. Because of this I forgot to do the online sign in and we got there at 11am before anyone was boarding and I took care of everything there, only to find out we got number 36 out of 37 for a boarding number! So be aware, even if you arrive VERY early, you are PUNISHED for not doing online check in. Luckily one of the guys guarding the stairs had pity on my poor freezing child and we got on around group 10 an hour or so later. Now onto the boat!
As a single mom, cruises are our one big vacation of the year. They are affordable and offer relaxation for me, and fun for my daughter. This was my daughters 3rd cruise, and since the first, it has always been what she asks for when we talk about vacation. She was excited about the Disney cruise, and while she had fun, even she was let down in a few areas.
First I'll start with the cabin. It was nice! Great set up, lovely decor and well maintained by our cabin steward. He turned her couch into a very comfy bed each night and had it turned back into a couch in the morning. The separate shower/sink and toilet/sink was nice, but not necessary. I could see it being a big help if you have 4 people in the room instead of 2. We spent more time in this cabin than on normal ships because of the lack of evening activities... so I was glad it was comfortable. Tip for those who usually take magnets to put their cruise papers on the walls etc.... the walls in these rooms are not magnetized so your papers will be everywhere :)
Kids club: was split into two large rooms, club and lab. While I typically dropped her off for things like Flubber (which she actually didn't enjoy much) and the Lava demonstration (which she really, really liked), it was typically club where she chose to play. She said she didn't really like the games that they played though, sometimes kids were bossy and pushed other kids away so they didn't get a turn - I think its an age issue. Disney has a HUGE range of kids in this club, from 3-12 year olds! This means their activities have to try to incorporate all of those ages. On a Royal Caribbean ship, the kids are divided into ages 3-5, 6-8, 9-11 and then the teen groups. This allows for much more age specific activities and smaller groups. On a Royal ship, my daughter begs to stay and play with her friends. On the Disney, she enjoyed it and wanted to go there, but I noticed a big shift in actual excitement.
On one port day, I left her on the ship while I took a long excursion to ruins, which I knew she wouldn't enjoy. She is normally very excited to stay on the ship! One of her favorite times on a Royal ship is lunch, where they take small groups to the buffet and they get to choose their own lunch. That *freedom* to pick exactly what she wants without mom saying "why dont you eat some...." is a huge exciting thing for her. On the Disney ship they just brought them turkey and cheese sandwiches and fruit to club. My daughter is not a fan of turkey and cheese unless its loaded with lettuce and tomato and stuff. So when I picked her up from club at 5 that afternoon, she was SOOO hungry!! When asked what she had for lunch? "Watermelon and apple juice" was her reply. It was very disappointing both her and I. Obviously I could never leave her on a Disney ship again if we were to port somewhere. With 900 kids on the ship, you would think they would bring an assortment from Goofys kitchen of chicken fingers, hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids to choose from as well - we ate up there both sea days, and that food was great. What is a bit concerning is that they didn't seem to care that they didn't eat.
Pools: they were packed like sardines! Literally (I have pics). There were over 900 kids on the boat, yes I said 900! There were 2 small pools for the kids to play in, the mickey pool and the goofy pool. They were beyond crowded. There was a life guard, which I was very happy about, since I could see a kid accidentally pushing another kid down in the water to get around them. It allowed me to sit back and relax and read a book over at a nearby table which is nice. The goofy pool should be double the size. The deck is taken up by a ton of deck chairs, which would be fine if there wasn't so many kids wanting to be in the pool. There is plenty of space on the deck above, surrounding the pool, to have the chairs for those who want to lay out - there WERE chairs up there, but they weren't even used. Which means the chairs taking the deck space is a waste of space and the pool should be bigger - kids LIVE to be in the pools, this pool is smaller than your standard hotel pool. The slide was fun though, she really enjoyed that once she figured out how to get in there.
The adult pool was nice, not crowded at all (like a typical cruise), so you could actually swim. However it was incredibly cloudy! You could NOT see to the bottom at all. I've never seen a pool so dirty. The 2 small hot tubs were nice. I would have loved a bit more time in there!
Shows: Excellent! They were so well done. The actors were great, the story lines were cute and we were well entertained. This was the best part about this cruise, hands down. I would choose a Disney cruise over another line for the shows if the other issues weren't so huge and the price so much higher.
Time zone issue: Disney does NOT take into account that people come from different time zones other than EST. I never realized what an impact this has! I always try to keep my kid close to HER time zone since it helps with jetlag when we get back. One thing I love about cruises is the late dining, late show option. Being from the west coast, the late dining at 8:15pm means we are eating dinner around 5:15pm PST(perfect). A normal cruise follows dinner with a show, which works well. If I wanted to put my daughter to bed at HER time zone at 9pm (12am ship time), that works well. Instead, Disney puts the show BEFORE dinner. There are a few ig problems with that.
1) We love that on other ships, the pools are typically more empty around 5 when people who have early dining are getting ready for dinner. It gives us 2 hours to enjoy the pools before we have to go shower and get ready for our evening. On the Disney ship, we have to go to the show at 6:15, the same time as everyone else's dinner, we lose that 2 hours of nice quiet pool time.
2) The halls and elevators are crowded with everyone getting to dinner or the show at the same time. The is easily avoided, yet this is their schedule.
3) The show is 1 hour. Which means our show that starts at 6:15 ends around 7/7:15pm Which means we now have to waste one full hour until our dinner time! This is SUCH a waste of time! EVERY night we would go back to our room to twiddle our thumbs and have to wait out the hour before dinner. I'm sorry, but that is just a very stupid schedule. A few times my daughter asked to go play at club so she didn't have to sit in our room doing nothing. Its not like we can go swimming that hour since we are ready for dinner. If the show started at 7:15 or even 7, that would give us a bit more time at the pool before it and not have such an terrible waste of time. But the show SHOULD be after dinner. If I'm trying to keep my daughter as much on HER time zone as possible, we finish dinner by 7:30 HER time! The show should follow dinner for anyone who is trying to keep their kid closer to their own time zone.
**SO in summary, having the show before dinner makes us lose valuable pool time, loses an hour wasting time between the show and dinner, and leaves us with hours after dinner with not much to do! Leading to a disappointing evening EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT.
Food: I typically enjoy dinner very much on cruise ships. I like the variety of fruit soups, creative appetizers and exciting entrees. And sometimes the best part of the day is the conversation with a large table of people from all over laughing and telling stories. On most ships I enjoy a table of 10-12 people. On the Disney Wonder I was sat at a table with 3 other single moms and their one child. After I got over the awkward "exiled from the family tables" feeling, it was ok. One poor mom was from the East coast, so she would have MUCH preferred the early seating since her daughter was used to going to sleep at 8pm - which she did, about 20 minutes after sitting down, on top of her mom. So her poor mom could barely get her dinner in. I suggested she go to the Maitre'd that night or during the next day to get swapped to the other supper time, she said it was not an option when she signed up for the cruise, but I assured her they would likely find room (though maybe not at a secluded single mom table). I didn't really have good conversation with the few ladies at my table so I switched. I had met a lovely lady the first day before we even sailed away, and our kids got along very well. So I found her table the next night (also single moms with 1 kid) - the table sat 8 but there were only 4 of them so I joined them.
I only ordered room service once, and I was happy to say they were very prompt! Much faster than any other cruise I've taken. We all loved the food at Animators Palate. The decorations were great. The menu had a lovely variety that included pasta (which was oddly rare in any of the restaurants). After 3 nights of bad-ok food, we were excited. All of us ordered 2 main dishes and were were finally not disappointed. We even had 2 desserts that looked great so we tried both. It was by far our favorite meal and we SO wished we could have dined there every night.
Tritons was ok. If you are a seafood lover, than the food on this cruise was probably awesome for you! Beware if you are not a seafood lover. You are limited to 1-2 choices. Dont feel like lamb? You will have to choose the skirt steak. The next night, don't feel like beef twice in a row? You will have to have the chicken and pray it isn't dry. There wasn't pasta except for the night in animators palate (or if there was, it was seafood so I skipped right over). Parrot Cay was the WORST. I literally was shocked at the food. The offerings for appetizers did not look good, so I didn't have any (those at my table that did, were not impressed). The main course was so so... I left half of it on the plate. Got a baked potato with said dry chicken one night, and there wasn't even sour cream offered with it. And the offerings for dessert were even so pathetic we didn't order and just left to get soft serve on the pool deck. The first night there was so bad I was dreading the fact we HAD to go again due to their arrangements of how they sit people for dinner. I was very jealous of whoever got to go to Animators Palate twice.
Why didn't we skip it and just go to the buffet? If you have been on a Royal Caribbean or Carnival cruise you will understand that the buffet is huge. There is a large salad bar, an area with pastas, pizza, sometimes fresh hamburgers, sandwich fixings, asian food area, tacos, etc etc. When we arrived on the ship we made our way to the buffet for lunch, which is what we normally do when we get onto a ship. We got our try and plate and put small bits on it as we worked our way down the buffet line. My plate was about half full with salad and samplings of things when I turned the corner to go to the next buffet island only to find there wasn't any. That was it. It was about the size of a cafeteria. The salad bar area was lettuce and just a few things to add to it - Carnival's salad buffet area is the BEST on any ship I've been on. No less than 20 things you can add to your salad! There was a pork chop thing that I wouldn't have chosen had the guy beside me said he had already had it and said it was good. We took our trays and sat down and I found that there was am area with a pasta and rice bowl. So I grabbed some pasta since I knew my kiddo wouldn't eat much that was offered on our way through the buffet line. Breakfast was much better. We enjoyed the french toast a lot, very good! I was hoping to enjoy eggs Benedict the last breakfast day before we got off the ship, but sadly it was basic breakfast in the restaurant and not available (had I known I wouldn't have waited until the last day - so I heard the eggs Benedict in Tritons was good, but I didn't get to try them myself.)
The overall feel of the restaurants is very much like a standard 3-4 star family restaurant back home. You won't get the crisp white linens, fine dressed wait staff or the feeling of being in a 5 star restaurant you will get in the main dining room of a Holland America (best food), Royal Caribbean (runner up), or even a Carnival dining room (though their food is so-so too). If you want to feel like you are out at a special dinner, this isn't going to be it. If you want to just feed your kids and get it over with, this is more your style. Your drinks won't be on the table when you get there (bummer) and most of the time my tea or soda didn't arrive until after my appetizer! Sad service considering the tables weren't full. Not at all the service I've received elsewhere.
I did miss the option for the kids to go to kids club - if it was available, no one used it so I'm not sure how to. On a Royal ship they are very, very quick to get the kids their food. My daughter loves on other ships that her milk and fruit cup are waiting for her - she doesn't like pineapple, and on our last Royal cruise the wait staff was SO excellent they made sure her fruit cup was pineapple free and always there when she sat down. She got to order and her main course was served with our appetizer She finished her food and I would walk her to the entry of the restaurant where the kids club staff was ready to take her for a night of fun and planned activities. I would go sit and enjoy the rest of my meal with the other adults and have great conversation about the day and adventures everyone had that day knowing that my kiddo was well fed and off having a fantastic time in kids club. On the Disney cruise one boy at our table finished his food and was old enough to make his way to kids club so he would after a few bits of his entree. The other two weren't old enough so we made sure to bring stuff for them to do. There was no rush to get out, since there was no show after dinner.
Palo - I didn't do it simply because from all of the reviews I read it was a huge seafood buffet and I could not justify the price for seafood when I'm not going to eat it.
Adults: Which brings me to last of my review. Lack of adult fun! There were very few things for adults to do afterhours. I've already discussed the fact that Disney doesn't take into account anyone that is on a different time zone. After we talked our way through dinner as long as possible, it was around 10EST (which is just 7pm my time) and we were roaming the halls looking for what to do. The kids typically wanted to go play in kids club, which was fine. But there weren't adult comedy shows, the main evening show or even adult trivia games going on in the bars. I went to their version of "love and marriage" one night, which is always a favorite, and it was enjoyable - but that was the first night. There wasn't anything like that any other night. The few "singles" activities were typically lunch in the middle of the day. Hey here is an idea, have a singles trivia game in a bar at 11! There were some family game shows but nothing else for adults other than live music in a few places - not my cup of tea, but no other options. So most nights I was back in my room at 11pm wide awake (it was 8pm my time). I would have loved to go to a movie in the theater, Captian America was showing and I would have gone to that, but it started at 10 and the kids club closes at 12..... Captain America is over 2 hours - which means I would not have gotten to kids club in time to pick her up when it closes. Makes that 12-2am $7/hour extra baby sitting on a Royal ship feel very missed since I would have gladly paid the $7 to be able to go to a movie at least one night. But alas, I picked her up from club and we went back to the room and I read while she watched tv until 12 or 1am when we actually fell asleep. We have been known to get our suits on and go relax in the quiet empty hot tub together on a Royal ship. But that was also not an option... pools close at 10.
So while we weren't entirely miserable on this cruise. I don't think it was worth the money. Someone who hasn't been on another cruise may not know how great it can be so they may have an awesome time. Or they may not care so much about the food, the pools or activities. Perhaps their vacation is just hoping their kids are happy.... but my kid was just as happy (if not more) sailing Royal Caribbean - which might have to do with the bigger, emptier clean pools, the food, the age separated clubs and the later night fun. I had a few friends who said they really enjoyed the Disney Fantasy... but to be honest I typically have about a $1600 budget for our week long cruise, and that doesn't even pay for 1 person on that ship! So I doubt I'll even be able to review that ship.
I think if Disney put their late dinner show after dinner it would ease the pain of no late night adult fun and allow some less crowded pool time - it would be the fastest, easiest way to make a huge improvement. I'm hoping to do Princess and Norweigan cruises sometime to compare those.