The "Imagineers" (aka designers) behind Disney Wonder's innovative spaces tell the Disney story with everything they do, paying attention to even the tiniest details. On Wonder, that means that in the Oceaneer Club kids 12 and younger enter a Marvel universe to fight bad guys and learn about their inner strength. In Tiana's Place, an electric dining experience pulled straight out of Disney's "The Princess and the Frog," diners are treated to a setting that beautifully blends fairytale with New Orleans' French Quarter. The Disney story continues even in the announcement chime and (to our surprise) the ship's horn, which both play the first seven notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Of course, you'll find the Disney story in the entertainment onboard as well. "Frozen, a Musical Spectacular" makes an impression in the theater and kids love all the appearances by the princesses. All of the shows onboard, as well as the activities in the kid and teen clubs, are free, and some of the best at sea.
But a cruise on Disney Wonder is not just about the physical details or entertainment you'll find onboard; it's also about making your cruise experience seamless. From providing bug repellant and sunscreen in ports of call with Zika warnings to in-cabin curtains that create a two-room feeling for families or groups sharing a room, Disney worries about the details so you don't have to.
One area where Disney's attention to detail is lacking, in our opinion, is in the onboard dining. Meals in the main dining restaurants are more about the performance than what's on the plate. But while some dishes could use more thought, kids probably won't mind the food and it's all too easy to be dazzled during dinner by an animation show or pirate parade than lament about a forgettable pork chop.
Something to note: To do everything on board -- and we mean everything -- it's imperative to book ahead. To reduce wait times and lines for character photos, the princess tea time and other special events, Disney Cruise Line encourages pre-booking. Even though space is usually left for those to join once onboard, events can sell out before the ship embarks; don't be the parent who didn't know. Research, plan and book ahead to reduce the chance of a meltdown. (And on the topic of tantrums, it's important to keep in mind that while you might not have plans to splurge on baby ball gowns, your kids and teens might begin to feel some serious envy if every other petite cruiser is sporting the latest glittery hairdo or lightsaber; be sure to budget enough for a gift or two, or be prepared to put your foot down firmly.)
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All of restaurants, shows and activities onboard -- however magical -- wouldn't be the same without the service, which displays a heightened sensitivity to the needs of families, small children and special requests of all shapes and sizes. From room attendants (called hosts or hostesses onboard) to the servers that follow you from dining room to dining room all cruise long, there's a level of personalization that makes kids feel special and puts adults at ease. The result does feel like you've been transported away from reality, whether it's to New Orleans, Arendelle or simply an oasis where the entire family has something to make them smile.
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 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.)