Launched in 1999 as Disney Cruise Line's second newbuild, the 2,400-passenger Disney Wonder still manages to impress even two decades into its career. Refits in 2016 and 2019 refreshed cabins and public rooms aboard Disney Wonder, and Disney Cruise Line frequently sends this globetrotting ship to a number of homeports across the United States and Canada, including Vancouver, Honolulu, San Diego and New Orleans.
The latter factors into Disney Wonder significantly. Though the ship is similar in design and layout to its 1998-built sister, Disney Magic, Disney Wonder cruise passengers will find plenty of subtle differences onboard, including several New Orleans-themed dining venues and lounges.
Other areas of Disney Wonder have been rebuilt to allow for more flexibility when cruising in the cooler waters of Alaska: the spectacular Concierge Lounge (for Disney's top-tier suite passengers) offers sweeping views of the ship's Pool Deck, while the Cove Café, below, boasts more windowed spaces than its Disney Magic counterpart.
No matter where you sail to -- or whether you're traveling by yourself or with kids and grandparents in tow -- Disney Wonder offers a magical cruise experience for the young and young-at-heart. Although designed expressly with families and kids in mind (we love the lowered ceilings on Deck 5, where the ship's kids' clubs are housed), Disney Wonder is never kitschy. Instead, its interiors often reflect Art Deco and Art Nouveau touches that recall the grand transatlantic ocean liners of days gone by, done in a whimsical, Disney-fied way.
From the high quality service delivered from the ship's gracious onboard crewmembers to the jaw-dropping, Broadway-quality musical productions culled from the Disney library, Disney Wonder offers an experience that is every bit as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids. Don't be surprised to find yourself unexpectedly moved by some of the magical moments onboard -- unexpected little touches that Disney fans refer to as "pixie dust".
Disney Wonder deck plans reveal plenty of Disney's trademark pixie dust magic, with dedicated public areas designed for kids, families, and adults alike. The ship -- which spans 11 passenger-accessible decks -- even has some unique features, such as the Vibe teen's club, which is tucked away in the ship's forward (dummy) funnel.
Even the way Disney Wonder is laid out is incredibly intuitive. Most dining and entertainment venues reside on Decks 3 and 4, with the forward end of Deck 3 being set aside strictly for adults. "After Hours" -- as it is known -- begins forward of the midship elevator bank and is identifiable by the sharp shift in décor, with muted greys and blues highlighting a sweeping corridor that swings around to the port side of the vessel to reveal Disney Wonder's adult-only enclaves: Azure (a main showroom and lounge home to late-night trivia sessions and cruise staples like the Love and Marriage show); the Cadillac Lounge, Disney Wonder's automotive-themed base for bourbon, cognac and live piano music; and the English-themed Crown & Fin pub.
Kids, meanwhile, have their own areas on Deck 5. While the extreme forward and aft ends of this deck are taken up by cabins (more on those below), Deck 5 houses the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Kids Club, along with the "It's a Small World" nursery. Further aft, the Buena Vista Theatre shows first-run Disney movies and select classics throughout the sailing -- though we miss the cool concession stand found outside the theatre aboard Wonder's more modern fleetmates, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
Up top, Decks 10 and 9 are given to more outdoor pursuits: passengers will find the ship's Splash zone and waterslide for kids; the family pool; and the more subdued Quiet Cove Adult Pool just forward of the first funnel, adjacent to the upscale Signals pool bar and the Cove Café.
The bright-yellow Mickey's Pool Slide and Splash Zone are perfect for the little ones (and, let's face it, adults love the waterslide too). Disney's thought the placement of this fun zone through -- adjacent is Pete's Boiler Bites (think burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets), along with Cabanas -- Disney Wonder's casual buffet-style eatery that is open for breakfast and lunch.
Perhaps Disney Wonder's most underrated feature: a beautiful, teak-lined Promenade Deck that encircles the exterior of the ship on Deck 4, complete with padded loungers.
Disney Cruise staterooms aboard Disney Wonder are larger than average, and exceedingly comfortable thanks to a 2016 refit that added more storage space, electrical outlets and USB connections, and revitalized soft furnishings.
Along with sister-ship Disney Magic, Disney Wonder inaugurated Disney Cruise Line's unique "split bathroom" concept. Most staterooms (except insides) have this clever arrangement, with two separate bathroom areas: one offers a shower and tub combination and a sink, while a second adjacent room contains a toilet and sink. This allows two people to effectively get ready for the day at the same time -- a bonus for families.
Storage is plentiful, and rooms are larger than industry average. Oceanview staterooms sport oversized "porthole" windows, while balcony rooms offer generous verandas. Even these are kid-proofed: balcony doors offer a deadbolt about six feet off the ground, and balcony railings are covered with plexiglass to prevent little hands from attempting a climb up the railings.
Overall, accommodations feel decidedly upscale. Disney's H20+ toiletries are good enough that you'll be tempted to purchase them in the gift shop to take home with you. Towels are imprinted with the Disney Cruise Line logo, and beds are wonderfully comfortable.
In the past, Disney provided two-way phones in staterooms to allow family members to keep track of one another, but these were absent on our Disney Wonder sailing. Instead, Disney's new Navigator app allows passengers to chat with one another, and we found the internet even allowed for iMessages to be sent to one another -- even when logged out of the ship's paid internet plans.
Keep your eyes peeled in your stateroom for the line's trademark "Hidden Mickey's" -- surprise silhouettes of the most recognizable mouse in the world.
Disney Cruise Line pioneered the concept of Rotational Dining when it debuted in 1998 aboard Disney Magic, and Disney Wonder carries on this tradition.
Passengers can choose either early or late-seating, and are assigned a designated table for dinner each evening. It's a throwback to how dining used to be on cruise ships, and allows passengers and wait staff to truly get to know each other throughout the voyage.
But in a unique twist, Disney rotates passengers -- and their servers -- through three distinct, complimentary restaurants throughout the voyage. These dining rooms have their own unique themes, menu offerings and specialty drinks, and waiters even wear different uniforms for each room.
Aboard Disney Wonder, guests will find three separate dining rooms that passengers rotate through. These include Triton's -- the line's Little Mermaid-inspired restaurant on Deck 3 midship that focuses on French cuisine and is the most formal of the three dining rooms. Passengers even enter through two grand French doors situated just off the ship's atrium.
All the way aft on Deck 4 is the Animator's Palate, an animation-inspired room that starts off in black-and-white and gradually transforms into a world of color and animation. It's not as gee-whiz-techno-crazy as the same venue aboard the newer Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, but it is charming nonetheless, and offers classics like Smoked Salmon Tartare, Pennette Bolognese, and Herb Crusted Pork Chops.
Unique to Disney Wonder is Tiana's Place -- a creole-themed restaurant patterned after the classic Disney film, The Princess and the Frog. From the Creole-inspired dishes to the delectable New Orleans-style beignets (which you will almost certainly order multiples of), Tiana's Place offers a dose of Southern cuisine in a space that is one of the most attractive restaurants onboard.
The food quality matches the décor, too: dishes on our four-night sailing were tasty and well-presented, if not haute cuisine. Disney does a great job of catering to both kids and adults, and there's bound to be something on the menu to suit every taste.
At the upper end of the dining echelon is Palo, the adults-only specialty restaurant situated on Deck 10 aft. This Italian-Californian dining venue offers an indulgent Sea Day Brunch that will leave you stuffed to the gills, while dinners here are an adult-oriented enclave of class and sophistication; a welcomed date night for parents looking to get away from the kids.
Service at Palo approaches luxury line quality, and the food, wine and cocktail selection pairs perfectly. It's all very upscale for a very modest price, though some a 'la carte dinner selections can really ring the bill up quickly.
You'll definitely need reservations for brunch or dinner at Palo -- demand for this restaurant is high, but bookings can be made pre-cruise via the Disney Cruise personalizer online, or on the Navigator app.
Entertainment options are plentiful on Disney Wonder -- and not just for the kids, either.
During the day, Disney Wonder offers a wide array of character encounters (which are "Meet and Waves" instead of "Meet and Greets" during these pandemic times) across a number of public areas, from the pool deck to the promenade deck and the ship's central atrium.
Other fun diversions include family-friendly trivia on nearly every Disney subject imaginable ("Frozen" trivia packed the house on our sailing), first-run movies in the Buena Vista Theatre, and evening production shows in the Walt Disney Theatre that are truly Broadway-quality. Our sailing included a production of Frozen that was imaginative and kept audiences young and old rapt for the entire 70-minute duration. While most cruise lines are transitioning to short, 30-minute shows, nary a person in the theatre even shifted in their seat during Disney's evening feature-length performances.
Dedicated kids clubs offer activities for a wide variety of ages outside of the ship's regular scheduled entertainment, but pool parties, Pirates of the Caribbean themed-nights and fireworks at sea are also offered on the ship's warm-weather itineraries.
Adults aren't left out of the mix, either. Late-night adult trivia is offered in the Azure lounge, and we watched one of the raunchiest "Love and Marriage"-style gameshows we've ever seen during a late-evening show for adults only. Other offerings include pub tunes, whisky tastings, martini mixology classes, and wine appreciation classes.
One thing you will not find aboard Disney Wonder -- or any Disney Cruise Line ship for that matter -- is a casino.
It's no surprise that Disney excels at its onboard offerings for kids, and the Kids Clubs aboard Disney Wonder are no exception, with dedicated spaces for everyone from infants to teenagers.
Most of the kids clubs aboard Disney Wonder are clustered on Deck 5, where ceilings have been lowered to make kids feel, well, a lot like adults. Tall parents, take note!
The It’s a Small World Nursery (temporarily closed on our sailing due to COVID-19 protocols) is located at the aft end of the corridor on Deck 5, and offers hourly babysitting services for little ones from six months to three years of age. Reservations must be made in advance, and a small surcharge applies for babysitting services within the nursery (all other kid's clubs are complimentary).
Kids three to 12 years of age can enjoy all the fun activities at Disney's Oceaneer Club. Features of these clubs differ between ships, and on Disney Wonder kids will find four separately-themed play areas: Andy's Room (from Toy Story); Marvel's Super Hero Academy; Disney Junior; and a Frozen-themed interactive playspace with appearances from Anna, Elsa and -- of course -- lovable Olaf.
Also on Deck 5 is the Oceaneer Lab, an additional space for kids aged three to 12 years of age. Here, kids can participate in imaginative games, experiments and activities that are designed to stimulate as well as educate. Other ships in the fleet have a seafaring theme in the Oceaneer Lab, but Disney Wonder is the only ship to offer an Oceaneer Lab geared around space exploration with none other than Buzz Lightyear -- to infinity, and beyond!
Once kids get too cool for school, they can shuffle off to Edge, a private space designed just for Tweens aboard Disney Wonder. Designed to look like an old boiler room, this hangout space offers kids video game stations, tables for arts and crafts, a dance floor for parties and games, and a 98-inch flat-screen plasma TV to watch Disney movies.
Teenagers get what is arguably the coolest private space on Disney Wonder -- a special club inset into the ship's forward funnel. At Vibe, teens have their own private chillout space. It's not as elaborate as the same space aboard sister-ships Disney Dream or Disney Fantasy, with their open-bow deck area, but being tucked away in the ship's funnel isn't bad either. Video games, board games, and TV's grace this cool living-room-style venue, complete with faux brick walls, plush couches and old-school arcade games.
That is, if kids can tear themselves away from the rest of the ship. Disney Wonder offers so many activities for kids (and, frankly, grown-ups of all ages) that trying to see and do it all in just a single week is a nearly-impossible challenge.
Currently, Disney Cruise Line requires all passengers aged 5 years and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Guests who are not vaccine-eligible because of age must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result (paid for by the Guest) taken between 3 days and 24 hours before their sail date. Guests ages 4 and under must complete the testing requirements. The test should be a NAAT test, rapid PCR test or lab-based PCR test. Unlike some cruise lines, Disney will not accept rapid antigen tests or rapid antigen "test-at-home" kits.
Pre-embarkation antigen testing is conducted for all passengers prior to boarding Disney Wonder. Passengers under five years of age will be required to do this again, despite the PCR testing requirement prior to pierside arrival.
• Proof of full vaccination required for all passengers over the age of 5
• Passengers four and under must complete a mandatory PCR test prior to arrival at the pier, at the guest's expense
• All passengers need to upload proof of vaccination to Disney's Safe Passage website and check-in via the Disney Cruise Line app
• All passengers will undergo rapid antigen testing pierside before embarking the vessel, at Disney's expense. Passengers must wait for their booking number to appear on screens in the terminal before proceeding to check-in.
• Sanitizing stations
• Capacity limits
• No self-serve buffets
• Physical distancing and masking signage
• Character Meet-and-Greets are now "Meet-and-Waves" to ensure physical distancing.
• Passengers required to wash hands prior to entering Cabana's casual eatery.
Off the ship
• Masks are required to be worn in tenders and cruise terminals, and on shore excursions or as directed by local authorities.
• Passengers on sailings longer than 5 nights will be required to take an antigen test onboard Disney Wonder the day prior to disembarkation. This test will be covered by Disney Cruise Line.
Expect a solid one-third of the ship's passengers to be children, so about 900 to 1,000 kids. That means there are plenty of family groups onboard -- from single families and grandparents with grandchildren to multigenerational groups and family reunions. Embarkation ports like New Orleans Galveston attract a big drive-to market, so you'll find lots of people from the Midwest and Southern United States. Alaska cruises attract a tad older demographic, including couples traveling without children, but they're still heavy on the multi-gen groups.
The only dress code to be aware of is in Palo, the adults-only restaurant, which asks that men wear dress pants (jeans are OK, if in good condition with no holes) and a collared shirt; and women put on a dress, skirt or pants and a blouse. No shorts, flip-flops or sneakers. Shirts and shoes are required in Cabanas buffet. Most nights are cruise casual, but there is at least one "optional dress up" night per cruise.
With that said, we found that most kids (and a few adults) spent about half the cruise in "regular" clothes, and the other half in costume. Dressing up -- as a swashbuckling pirate for Pirate Night, sparkling Disney princess or a favorite Star Wars character -- is encouraged. Some people never took their Mickey ears off. (Tip: If you plan on buying costumes or accessories onboard, leave plenty of room in your luggage if you want to bring them home.)
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Good cruise, but not worth cost of what you get vs. what you receive