Disney Wonder Panama Canal September 2013: Disney Wonder Cruise Review by DeckLife

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Disney Wonder Panama Canal September 2013

Sail Date: September 2013
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: Los Angeles
This 14-day cruise was the second cruise for my husband and me, who are in our 60's. The first was 7 days on Carnival this past spring.

Here are my impressions and comments.

As first-time Disney cruisers, we read a lot ahead of time on the forums so that we'd know what to expect. Overall, we had a very good time, but there were some problems.

First, we never got to see the Animator's Palate dining room do its full-color transformation. Our dining rotation had us in Animator's Palate on the second night, and that was formal night. It was all black and white. I asked at Guest Services why there hadn't been a color change, and was told the reason was to avoid color conflict with the dressy clothes (because of the photography, I guess). The second time we were to eat in A.P., an Indian buffet was being offered in Beach Blanket. Since the closest Indian restaurant where we live is three hours away, we jumped at the chance to have Indian food, which we love. That More was the one and only night on the 14-day cruise that the color transformation was done. We did not know this would happen only once. We were very disappointed as this was part of the magic we had looked forward to.

When I asked about the color transformation at Guest Services, I was told we were “through the dining rotation” so we were out of luck. This was confusing, since of course we rotated dining rooms throughout the cruise. It's not that big a deal, but some sense of sympathy from Guest Services would have been nice.

Because of peculiar scheduling, we also missed our character breakfast. Since we were on the late dinner seating, our dining host told us at dinner the night before not to miss a special breakfast surprise at 9:45 a.m. the next morning. When we got back to our room to see the next day's Navigator, we saw this conflicted with the next in a series of 9:30 a.m. lectures by a retired Panama Canal pilot leading up to the actual passage through the canal. So we called the desk to say we couldn't come to the breakfast because of the lecture. We didn't really know it was the character breakfast, although we later realized that's what it was.

It's unfortunate that the daily Navigator was not in hand when our dining host told us about the breakfast; perhaps we could have arranged something else with her. Or perhaps we could have been told that the lecturer's slides and comments would be shown later on the cabin TV, as we later learned. As first-time Disney cruisers, we felt that a small bit of extra care with us would have gone a long way. I should add that I never saw our dining “tickets” (?) till late in the cruise, since they had been buried under various papers, so we did not have them to refer to.

Personally, I think the Panama Canal lectures should have been scheduled for late morning anyway or some other time that wouldn't conflict with character breakfasts or other desired activities.

Some of my complaints, like those above, have to do with scheduling. The ship showed perhaps Disney's best movie ever, Mary Poppins, so that it conflicted either with show time or dinner, no matter which dinner seating one had. I inquired at Guest Services when it would be shown again and was told that they didn't know but they assured me the scheduled movies would be shown many times throughout the cruise. In fact, Mary Poppins was not shown again. It puzzles me that Guest Services wasn't able to look up the cruise movie schedule.

As novice cruisers we are curious whether all or most cruise lines keep planned activities a secret till the night before. Why not have schedules for several days ahead, or at least highlights for coming days? I do understand that changes might have to be made, but it would be nice to have an idea of what's ahead. Disney Wonder had a tastings schedule printed out for the whole cruise so that one could plan those.

My husband and I thought the evening shows by the Disney dancers and singers were fantastic. Truly excellent! The talent brought in from outside was also outstanding. I was impressed very much with the way they interacted with the audience, especially the children. Those interactions were highlights of the trip, along with the actual Panama Canal passage.

The Wonder is a beautiful ship. The hard floors on the outdoor decks throughout were kept clean and as dry as they could be to prevent slipping. The dining rooms were beautiful, the seats comfortable. The buffet venue was very crowded for breakfast and tended to be stuffy. The décor there was charming.

We loved the location of our stateroom, close to the forward elevator bank. The layout of our room was great, with the seating area next to the window and the sofa feeling more like a sofa than the bench-like thing in our Carnival cabin. The room could have been cleaner; dust coated the bedside lamps, and when my husband looked under the bed to find another electrical outlet (to no avail), he found bits of things that vacuuming would take care of. We learned later that the stewards have only about 20 minutes per cabin, with no assistant - at least in our part of the ship.

Our steward took really good care of us. He brought extra hangers and extra Navigators for us and changed the time on the cabin alarm clock for us since the instructions didn't help us do it ourselves.

One of the lampshades in the room was cracked in two places, and this had been repaired by wiring the sections together. There was only one place to plug in electronics and my fan. I was glad I brought an extension cord.

On the first day aboard, Saturday, a sprinkler head in the living room area leaked onto one of my husband's electronic gadgets (no damage). He told the steward, who put in a maintenance request. This would be a complex job involving plumbing, carpentry and electricians. On Monday, my husband spoke with Guest Services about it, and on Wednesday the repair was made, taking most of the day. The contents of the room were draped, so we did not have to move out, just stay out for most of the day. Problem solved.

We loved the idea of the assigned cellphones so we could keep up with each other; however, we did not succeed in reaching each other at any point because they were set to just vibrate and buzz at a very low volume. We could never hear them, so we stopped carrying them.

We appreciated being able to watch the news from time to time on the stateroom TV.

Pirate Night was fun, and the fireworks were awesome. These festivities were scheduled on the Cartagena port day so people were tired, though. (Again, odd scheduling, not to choose a sea day.)

The ship seemed to roll up the sidewalks, so to speak, pretty early. Most tables, chairs and lounges were roped off, stacked or otherwise put away by around 10 p.m. The tables and chairs in the adult area were still out, but the cushions on the adult poolside lounge chairs were removed in the evening. We read a lot but had a hard time finding outdoor seating that provided enough light to read by at night. The chairs in the Mickey and Goofy pool areas had mesh seats so were more comfortable to sit on than the wood-slatted ones in the adult area, but a large proportion of mesh chairs were put away at night.

We did not spend time in the indoor adult cafe but it looked very nice and calming.

As for daytime, the pool deck overall is so sheltered from the elements that cooling breezes were largely missing. We would roam around looking for a shady and breezy spot, or go back to the room to resume reading. There's no shade on the top deck. Deck 4 was wonderfully comfortable but did not have enough chairs and was a long way from the drink station. Some of the deck chairs were broken.

The dining room seating assignment was our biggest problem. We were seated with a young stay-at-home mother and her preschool child at a four-person table. Things were pleasant enough but conversation was very limited. The child did not talk to us at all, despite our efforts at engagement. The mother was quiet, too, although she did share some of her cruising experience with us when we asked her questions. We got along well enough, but surely they were just as uncomfortable as we were. We flirted briefly early on with the idea of asking for reassignment but we felt that would seem rude and disruptive. This was a really stupid seating assignment, and we were reminded night after night how much we appreciate simple adult conversation.

The food in the dining rooms was mostly very good. (By the way, adults should try the Mickey bar for dessert sometime  really good.) We ordered wine by the glass a couple of times but stopped because the servings were chintzy. (I would estimate 3 to 3.5 ounces, not even reaching the belly of the glass.) On the last night, I ordered “a glass of Chardonnay,” and then a second. It turned out that my drink server had chosen wine that cost $17 a glass. This was my fault for not asking for the wine list, but really, he should have offered.

We found the tastings (cognac, whiskey, etc.) to be fun experiences and a good way to meet people.

Although I'm not a particularly huge Disney fun, I had a blast watching the kids interact with the Disney characters. I took pictures of quite a few of the characters, and I had my picture taken with Donald and Daisy, though I didn't buy the photo. It was great not having photographers in our faces all the time the way they were on the Carnival cruise we took.

On the other hand, the Disney Vacation Club people were persistent, with fliers, brochures and phone calls. We had unfortunately talked with one of the representatives in the embarkation area, thinking he was just a friendly Disney rep and not knowing he was selling time-shares.

What else? I liked the attention paid to hygiene, with hand wipes offered before meals and trashcans placed near bathroom doors so that paper towels could be used when unlatching bathroom doors. At the drink station (yay, free soda and coffee!), there was only one container of wipes, on the coffee side, so most people were not using wipes before fixing their sodas. Public bathrooms were frequently cleaned, and I don't think I ever saw a bathroom counter with puddles of water.

Boiled shrimp in the shell was offered nearly every day for lunch at the buffet. Cookies too!

At the spa, I got a very nice haircut.

Our port excursions were very good. The buses were quite comfortable and well air-conditioned, thank goodness. They had seat belts, too. The excursions were less expensive than those we did on Carnival.

The disembarkation process seemed to fall apart in a push to get people off the ship. The person making the announcements had a very thick foreign accent that we could not decipher well enough to hear which groups were being allowed to go. The seven or more groups that passengers were assigned to suddenly became just two huge groups and within minutes one huge group and a very long slow line. The port terminal lines to collect our bags and then to go through Customs, though, were much longer. Baggage collection was easy because of the group assignments.

For this trip, we were fortunate to have gotten a great fare by which we paid in full for a cabin category, not a specific cabin, at a discounted rate. All in all, it was a pleasant two weeks, and Disney gave us a lovely limited-edition lithograph commemorating the cruise. Less

Published 10/02/13

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