By Andrew Butler
I admit that I have always loved all things Disney. My friends and I would role-play as Todd and Copper when I was a kid. I would daydream that I was the red fox version of Robin Hood, fighting the Sheriff’s men to save the vixen Maid Marion. As I got older, my tastes didn’t change: my wife and I went to Disney World at least once per year before we had kids, and now that we do have kids they endure us dragging them along at least that often. Alas, I digress. But all pieces to the puzzle, my friends, because as a Professional Travel Advisor I love to share my love for Disney with my clients.
I recently had the opportunity to inspect the Disney Wonder, two weeks after it left dry dock with some spiffy new upgrades. My family and I had sailed on the Wonder in the Summer of 2015 on an Alaska itinerary and loved it. The ship itself was and is lovely and well cared-for, the staterooms are among the largest in the market, the dining and entertainment is excellent, and the service is unmistakably Disney. I was very excited to see what updates and changes had been made.
When walking into the atrium lobby from the gangplank, the first change that was evident were the holiday decorations! Every November and December, the four ships in the Disney fleet are decorated for the holidays, and the Very Merrytime sailings as they are called feature a lot of special holiday extras.
Guests at the Walt Disney resorts will be familiar with the gingerbread houses that typically decorate the lobbies of the resorts at this time of year. Not to be outdone, the Disney vessels also feature gingerbread houses in the lobbies!
One of the most impressive holiday features has to be the chandelier. During November and December, the venerable Dale Chihuly chandelier that typically decorates the atrium lobby ceiling is carefully removed and replaced with a piece that compliments the seasonal decor.
Proceeding from the lobby, we first had the opportunity to tour several of the staterooms from different categories. Staterooms are one of the selling points for Disney over other cruise lines; the rooms are among the largest in the industry, and contain thoughtful touches to maximize space and guest comfort as well as decor that reflects the golden age of ocean travel with a Disney touch.
Standard staterooms typically contain a queen-sized bed as well as a sleeper sofa. Most staterooms also contain a pull-down upper berth that is purely Disney magic — during the day this bed disappears as it stows flush with the ceiling; at night it pulls down to form an upper bunk with the sleeper sofa; a ladder is added, and there is a railing on the upper berth to prevent sleep-movement misadventures! Some staterooms also feature a wall pull-down bed to sleep another family member. One of the other Disney touches in the standard stateroom is the split configuration bathroom. Most bathrooms are actually split into two areas with separate doors and walls, one containing a toilet and a sink, the other containing a shower/tub and another sink. This allows one multiple guests access to bathroom facilities at the same time — a real plus for those families with kiddos (and adults) that like to linger longer in the shower!
Standard staterooms include inside staterooms and outside staterooms, as well as staterooms featuring a veranda (balcony).
Concierge level rooms include some verandah staterooms as well as one- and two-bedroom suites and Royal suites. These rooms come at a premium, but are well-appointed, and suites are large with living rooms, larger bathrooms with jetted tubs. and large balconies. Concierge level rooms also have access to the concierge lounge with a daily selection of complimentary hors d’ oeuvres and drinks, and concierge guests have first dibs on booking shore excursions and onboard activities well in advance of other guests.
We moved on in our tour to view the dining areas aboard the Disney Wonder. The Disney Wonder features three main restaurants — Tritons, Animator’s Palate, and the new Tiana’s. Diners rotate through each of the restaurants at least once during each cruise, with the same (if any) tablemates joining each night. Diners in each of the three main restaurants are also joined each night by their Dining Room Server and Assistant Server — another part of the Disney Cruise difference. These individuals are outstanding and bring a real face to the Disney Cruise experience. They will take great care of you and your family, and get to know you individually, along with your preferences. Tiana’s is the newest addition to the Disney Wonder main dining rotation. Tiana’s replaces Parrot Cay, with ambience reminiscent of New Orleans in the roaring 1920s — the setting of the Princess and the Frog in which Princess Tiana was introduced.
Tiana’s features live music nightly on stage, and guests are reportedly visited at times by Princess Tiana herself!
Triton’s retains it’s more formal, under-the-sea ambiance, while Animator’s Palate has undergone some updates.
Diners if possible should not miss the Animation Magic dinner at the Animator’s Palate — this typically occurs on the second night that you rotate through Animator’s Palate, but be sure to check with your dining team to confirm this. There are additional casual dining options onboard for those who want an alternative to the Main Dining rooms. Cabanas features a bountiful buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Palo is the adult-exclusive, fine dining option on board the Disney Wonder which is available for brunch and dinner at an additional fee. Brunch especially tends to book up well in advance — don’t miss it!
While many of the larger cruise liners feature a central casino, Disney takes this space and instead offers extensive child-care facilities. The child care aboard the Disney Wonder is fantastic. Options are available according to age group; care is available for the youngest guests in the It’s A Small World Nursery, which exclusively caters to guests aged 6 months to 3 years.
Children ages 3 to 12 have the envious opportunity to hang out at the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club. The two facilities are interconnected by a back hallway, and children can move freely from one to another without having to leave the monitored area. Children are either dropped off or check themselves in by Magic Band; they can then be located by staff anywhere in the two areas. Once inside, children have a myriad of options available to them, including games, crafts, movies, themed play areas, and character encounters and parties.
New additions to the Oceaneer Club include the Marvel Avenger’s Academy, Frozen Adventures, Andy’s Room and the Disney Junior area featuring Doc McStuffins! For tweens and teenagers there are areas as well: Edge caters to those aged 11-14, while Vibe is an exclusive space for those aged 14-17.
Also new to the Disney Wonder is a space that Disney Parks fans will know and love – the Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique! This is where young princesses, princes, pirates, and future ship captians can come to receive the latest fashions in costumes and makeovers.
For adults wanting a space of their own, the Disney Wonder features a newly renovated After Hours area, featuring a lounge/nightclub, a piano bar, and a classic British Pub. Azure, the lounge/nightclub, features adult-exclusive entertainment, shows, and games in the evenings, followed some evenings by a DJ and dance club atmosphere. The Cadillac Lounge is a classically re-imagined piano bar playing homage to classic cars. The Crown and Fin Pub promises to provide the atmosphere of an authentic British Pub.
We also had the chance to tour the refreshed and updated Senses Spa. The Spa is a beautiful, aroma-therapeutic space that offers traditional treatments in treatment rooms as well as Spa Villas designed for couples. Some Spa villas include a balcony space with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the water with seating and a hot tub — I know where I am going on my next Disney Cruise! The salon overlooks the ocean and looks like a wonderful place for a pedicure! There is also the Chill Spa for teens aged 13-17 featuring exclusive treatments and services.
Guests can obtain passes good for either one day or the duration of their stay, which grants access to the relaxation area featuring experience showers and steam room. There is also a well equipped gym facing the front of the ship, featuring a range of cardio equipment, circuit training and free weights.
The pool decks have undergone some changes as well. Still present are the adult-exclusive Quiet Cove pool area. There is also the main “Goofy” pool.
Aft is newly re-imagined Aqua Lab water area. This features a new twisty water slide, as well as a water play area where Huey, Dewey and Louie have concocted a series of water “experiments” where the whole family can play:
A side note for Disney Cruise aficionados: Conspicuously absent are the second Aqua Duck or Dunk water slides featured on the other Disney ships. Another great new addition is Dory’s Reef, a new covered and shaded splash pad area dedicated to infants and toddlers 3 years of age and younger.
Unfortunately after our whirlwind tour, we had to depart the ship to allow guests to embark on their Disney Wonder cruise adventure; I felt a bit jealous and wistful as I walked down the gangplank and saw families walking onto the ship, oohing and aahing as they entered the lobby area and were greeted by the crew; they were off to have a grand adventure. See ya real soon!