This was my 2nd Disney cruise and 5th overall cruise. 2 summers ago, my wife and I took our then 3 year old son on a 3 day Disney cruise out of Florida. We had so much fun and such a great experience with our son that we really wanted to take him again when he got older.
With my son's 5th birthday on January 25th and Disney coming back to LA in 2011, this was the perfect opportunity to book this cruise.
Embarkation was fairly normal. We got to the port in San Pedro at around 11:30am. We checked in pretty quickly and got our pictures taken and our key to the world cards within about 15 minutes.
We received a number (12?) and waited in the big waiting area. I took this time to go stand in line to get my son checked in and to get his wristband. The line took forever. They started boarding the ship at around 12:30. They hadn't even started boarding when I stood in line to get the wristband so I figured that at my group, I would be done in plenty of time. Think again...my number was called as I went to the front of the line. By then I had invested 1+ hours in line so I just waited and boarded with the number after me. The energy in the waiting room was pretty good though and you can sense the excitement in the air. Mickey showed up for a little while to take some pictures.
Once on the ship, they did the whole thing where they announce the family boarding. We were directed to have lunch in Parrot Cay or up on deck 9 at beach blanket buffet. We decided to head up to beach blanket. We just figured there would be less people up there and more room to get a nice table, etc. We were right.
We had a nice lunch and then I went down to Wave Bands to try to get a Palo reservation. I was lazy and didn't make a reservation online. I got to Wave Bands and there was another line. It took me about 30 minutes of waiting but I got to speak to the reservation guy and he was able to make a reservation for me on Wednesday night at 8pm. I had the early seating and wanted a late reservation so that I can still have dinner with my son and then head up to Palo. Turned out Wednesday at Pirate night.
After my reservation, I went to my room because it was ready. The rooms are nice and had been renovated a bit since my last stay on the Disney Wonder about 1.5 years ago. The TV is now a flat panel LCD type TV instead of the tube. The rooms come with 2 wave phones which are basically like cell phones that you can use on the ship to sent text messages to each other, call each other, etc. There was no need for my walkie talkies.
I quickly got settled in...put my luggage under the bed, plugged in my surge protector so that I have enough outlets, etc.
Since this is a 7 day cruise, you eat at all of the dining rooms twice...and the 1st dining room 3 times (in my case, Animator's Palate).
Our server Marko (from Montenegro) was great. Our assistant server Lenka (from the Czech Republic) was also pretty good.
On the first night at Animator's Palate someone spilled some water on the marble floors near our table. Marko fell while carrying 2 dishes. He was able to save the dishes though when he fell.
Our head waiter was Thomas (from Austria). I rarely saw him.
The sail away party was great. They handed out big cardboard hands to wave to everyone on shore.
Entertainment on the ship was top notch. Disney definitely brings in some good talent. Their own shows were awesome. Golden Mickeys, Toy Story, and Dreams were great for the whole family. They also had a beat boxing juggler, ventriloquist who played the keyboard, etc.
The kids section was cool. My son spent all of his time in Oceaneer Lab playing video games. He spent a little bit of time at the Oceaneer Club as well but just liked the lab much more. We took him to the lab about 2-3 hours/day. The staff is great.
The kids area do get pretty busy early in the cruise but towards the end, they emptied out a lot more.
The adult area (route 66) is pretty fun. There's a nice lounge (Cadillac Lounge), a cool pub (Diversions), and a night club (Wave Bands). I spent most of my nights at Wave Bands.
Wave Bands usually had an adult show (comedy, ventriloquist, etc.). These shows weren't really "adult" but they just didn't let kids in during that time. The comedian Don Friesen was freaking hilarious. If he's on your ship, I highly recommend him.
The band is called the All Stars and they do a decent job playing the hits.
My only gripe with Wave Bands was that the place was just sort of dead the whole time. I would go to a show at around 10:30 where it would be packed. At 11, the band would start playing and everyone would leave. A few random people would dance for 1-2 songs and then leave for the night. By around 11:30, the place was pretty much a ghost town. By 12:30, you'd pretty much be the only one in there. I didn't expect Disney cruises to be a party atmosphere but I was hoping for a little more. Maybe next time I'll bring some of my party friends along...:)
We had most of our breakfasts and lunches in the buffet or the outside casual dining areas. Goofy's galley servers up some pretty good bratwurst, hot dogs, burgers, fish burgers, chicken tenders, fries, etc. Pinocchio's Pizza servers up pretty decent...pizza.
For dinner, there was one night where they served lobster tail. I usually ask for 2 tails and Marko had no problem with that. What I didn't expect was the size of these lobster tails. I was stuffed after eating 2 of these.
At 11pm-midnight, they lay out a small dessert table on deck 3 in front of the Promenade Lounge as well as in route 66. It was usually decent. There was one night when I got there at 11:55 after watching a movie but they had already cleared it out. I was a bit disappointed but probably for the better anyway. Ronald (a head waiter) was reprimanding the staff for closing it out early. Ronald seemed like a good head waiter.
Disney cruises are awesome because of the great movies that they play. Last time, I watched Up a few days before the actual theatrical release. This time we watch a lot of great movies such as Tangled 3D, Tron 3D, Toy Story 3D, Secretariat, Prince of Persia, Alice in Wonderland 3D, etc.
The cruise director is Christian Abbott. I believe he was the cruise director the last time I was on the ship and he's great.
The fitness room is also great. It was pretty crowded in the mornings at around 8am but if you avoided the 8am-9am slot you'd be ok. They have yoga, spin, pilates, etc...for free but there isn't a lot of space. It was a little weird running on the treadmill and having someone doing yoga at the bottom (if I pulled a biggest loser slip and fall off my treadmill, the lady would have been crushed by my weight...).
The ports were Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas (twice). This is my 3rd Mexican Riviera cruise so I didn't really care too much about the ports. We got off at Cabo and walked the pier and the downtown area a little bit and came back. We went to Wal Mart in Puerto Vallarta. We stayed on the ship the second time we went to Cabo.
Soda is free 24 hours a day up on deck 9. Awesome. I don't drink much soda but I drank some this trip.
Deck 10 has wide world of sports...a nice basketball court and soccer goals.
Deck 4 has shuffleboard which is kind of fun. I only play on cruise ships.
The swimming pools are nice. My son likes the small mickey pool. The adult pool is nice and peaceful. The sun lounges have cushions so that's always nice. The area is also pretty empty so there's no need to fight for chairs like other cruises.
Even on sea days there were plenty of chairs and tables to go around. Of course that didn't stop this one family from grabbing the best table at the mickey pool on the last sea day, putting their stuff on the table, then leaving for 4 hours....only to come back to play for an hours...and leave again for 2 hours. The staff should enforce the rules a bit more and just cleared out their stuff.
The room steward was great. His name was Sam from the Philippines and he made towel animals every day and kept our room clean.
I brought 2 bottles of wine on board and got a corkscrew from room service. I like Disney's alcohol policy.
The character pictures were very popular but we didn't really participate. My son doesn't seem to care too much about that stuff.
There was a character breakfast where they all come in and walk around the table for pictures. That was a fun breakfast.
The ice carving demo was also a lot of fun. The sculptor was good.
Disney Dreams is still the best show on any cruise ship. Watch it. Toy Story is also a don't miss kind of show.
Palo dining was nice. I actually preferred the dining restaurant Sabatini's on the Sapphire Princess because that was more of a tasting menu where you got to try everything on the menu. Palo is great but it's just a regular menu so to get to try many of the items you need a large group of people. We had 4 people in our party so we were able to mix and match a lot of the dishes but we still had a few that we would have liked to try but weren't able to. There is a $15 charge with an additional option for gratuity. I know about all of the regular cruise gratuities but didn't really know about the additional optional gratuity for Palo so I wasn't sure how much to put. For 4 of us, it was $60 ($15 surcharge * 4) so I gave the waiter $10 tip but I don't really know if that was enough or not enough.
Our dining companions were ok. We had 5 in our group and we were seated at a table for 8 with another family of 4 so they added 1 chair so it was a little awkward. The first day we sort of sat across from each other (4 of us on one side, 4 of them on the other side, 1 of us at the head) but that was kind of weird. So after that, we tried to sit where we had us 5 on one side and left 4 seats on the other side for them. But sometimes they would get to the dining room before us and they would take the head so one of us would sit on their side, etc. It was all a bit awkward but worked out I guess. I've always had good experiences with our table companions in previous cruises and this family was pretty nice and cool but we just didn't really click in terms of conversation, etc.
One night was the Gala dessert buffet. It was very pretty but I was so stuffed from dinner that I didn't eat much of it. It was nice to look at though.
The pirate's party is one of the highlights of the trip. It's a really fun time so I encourage everyone to go.
Overall, it was a fun trip packed with fun, mixed with relaxation, and sprinkled with the magic pixie dust that is Disney. I plan to cruise Disney exclusively while I have young kids.