There are no ports of call on these 'Disney Magic at Sea' sailings so guests can maximise their Disney experience. Next year, when the ship returns to our region from October 2024 to February 2025, some itineraries will include stops in Hobart, Eden or Noumea in New Caledonia.
There are plenty of things Australians and New Zealanders will love about Disney Wonder, but here are seven that impressed us on our three-night round-trip sailing from Brisbane.
If the thought of flying long-haul with young children fills you with dread, you've already worked out one of the reasons why taking your kids on a local Disney cruise could be a better option than visiting a Disney park in the USA (at least until your children are older).
Having Disney Wonder in our region means locals can finally experience the magic of Disney minus the jetlag, expensive flights and tantrums (from you, each time you pay for meals or accommodation for your family in the USA and do the currency conversion).
Plus, there are kids clubs on Disney Wonder, which means you’ll also get time to do what you want to do on holiday. And your kids will as well.
We’ve seen a lot of kids clubs over the years, but none of these even came close to the children's areas on Disney Wonder which had our 20-year-old wishing he was a kid again.
The Oceaneer Club for ages 3 to 12 has a Marvel Super Hero Academy, a replica of Andy's bedroom from "Toy Story" and a "Frozen"-themed space. We loved the animated Oaken, owner of Wandering Oaken's Trading Post in the movie, popping up unexpectedly in a fogged-up sauna window.
The adjoining Oceaneer Lab caters to the same age range and is connected to the Club via a 'secret' corridor. Here, there’s an Animator's Studio, arts and crafts space, pirate-themed Captain's Workshop and The Wheelhouse with a multiplayer game for young buccaneers.
Kids aged under 12 are fitted with a Disney Oceaneer Band that acts as a stateroom key and helps you and the kids club staff keep track of them onboard.
There's also a nursery called 't's a Small World' that caters to children aged six months to three years (bookings are required). Unlike the other children's areas onboard, this one is chargeable at US$9 an hour but the high carer-to-child ratio and highly qualified staff justifies the cost.
Overall, perhaps the most unique thing about the kids club areas on Disney Wonder is they can cater to all of the children on the ship at the same time, no matter how many kids are onboard. This means your children will never be turned away because their room is full, something that can happen on other lines during peak school holiday sailings when there are loads of families onboard.
Disney Wonder cabins come in multiple configurations that cater for up to seven passengers, and have a split bathroom design with a shower and vanity in one room and a toilet with a basin in another. This might not sound like a big deal, but when you're sharing a room with kids, being able to use the bathroom without having to negotiate access with someone in the shower feels like heaven.
Disney is known for its larger-than-average staterooms, and our veranda cabin certainly felt much more spacious than similar rooms we've sailed in as a family. We also appreciated the thick curtain that could be pulled across to divide the bedroom and lounge area for extra privacy.
Whether you're travelling with youngsters or an adult child who stays up much later than his parents like we were, this feature will make your cruise more enjoyable.
Dining times on Disney Wonder are fixed at either 5.45 p.m. or 8.15 p.m., and each of the three main dining rooms includes dinner and a show, which keeps mealtimes fun for you and your kids. Guests move from one restaurant to another in a scheduled rotation with their waitstaff who consistently go above and beyond, from diffusing tantrums with enviable ease to cutting up little ones' food.
On our sailing, we began our dining journey at my namesake's restaurant, Tiana's Place, which is themed on the 'Princess and the Frog' movie and hosted by Princess Tiana. This is the rowdiest of the three restaurants and was the perfect match for the excitement of our first night onboard.
Next, there was Triton's which featured a more upmarket atmosphere and table magic provided by the waitstaff. Our family's favourite, Animator's Palate (pictured), had walls lined with high-definition flat-screen TVs playing (silent) food-themed Disney clips to entertain us. I won't spoil the surprise, but you can also create your own animation magic as part of this dining experience.
It's quick and easy to meet your favourite characters on Disney Wonder, with multiple meet and greets going on daily and much smaller queues than some of the Disney parks we've been to. This experience is also more comfortable as, unlike the parks, the ship is air-conditioned.
We particularly enjoyed the special meet and greet activity on Disney Wonder called the Royal Gathering. This doesn't cost anything, but do you need to pre-book a slot before you sail as this activity is popular. It's also impressively well-organised.
At your allocated time, a staff member invites you to go and have your photo taken with all of the princesses gathered in the atrium, one after the other. Professional photos are available but a staff member is also on hand to take photos with your phone.
We thought the Royal Gathering might feel like a production line, but the princesses spent time interacting with guests and making everyone feel special when it was their turn. For such a special and unique experience, we were particularly impressed this was free of charge.
Adults on Disney Wonder haven't been forgotten, with an impressive choice of adults-only venues around the ship. The Quiet Cove pool area on deck nine is a peaceful haven with an adults-only pool, several hot tubs, a dedicated bar, and plenty of staff to take drink orders. Coffee lovers will also find some of the best coffee on the ship in this area at the Cove Cafe.
After the sun goes down, the venues at the front of deck three are restricted to adults only, with the Crown & Fin Pub and Azure catering exclusively to an 18+ crowd. The Cadillac Lounge (pictured), a sophisticated Art Nouveau drinking den, is always adults-only and so is the Italian specialty restaurant Palo, which serves a for-a-fee brunch on sea days that's well worth the spend.
Even if you don't usually go to the shows, it's worth checking out the ones on Disney Wonder which feature Broadway-quality performers and impressive production values. "Frozen: The Musical Spectacular" will have you humming on the way back to your cabin, and so will "Disney Dreams", a musical showcase inspired by classic films like "Peter Pan", "Pinocchio", "Cinderella" and "Aladdin".
There are also fireworks on the final night of the cruise and a Marvel Heroes Unite show on the top deck featuring fireworks and characters ziplining from one of the ship's funnels. If the weather doesn't play along, the show still goes ahead inside the ship (without the fireworks, of course). Arrive in plenty of time to find a good vantage spot for this show as guests start lining the decks early.
Prior to our cruise on Disney Wonder, we were curious if a 20+ year-old ship would live up to the Disney hype. However, we found ourselves thoroughly impressed from the moment we got onboard.
Every aspect of our cruise experience exuded excellence, from the ship's impeccable appearance to the staff who delivered some of the best service we've had on any ship in Australia and the many Disney experiences available onboard, most of which were included in the standard fare.
Whether you're young or just young-at-heart, Disney Wonder offers Australians and New Zealanders a wonderful cruise experience that delivers on its promise of Magic at Sea.