The Disney Wonder made its debut in 1999, mainly cruising the Caribbean Sea and visiting ports of call in the islands and Mexico. When Disney unveiled its newest cruise ship, the Disney Dream, in early 2011, it moved Wonder into the waters of Alaska, becoming the cruise line’s inaugural Alaskan ship. Not only do families get the same family-friendly programs, amenities and charm of Disney’s traditional cruises, but now they get the fantastic Alaskan scenery and wildlife, coupled with port adventures that are truly unique to both Disney Cruise Line and Alaska.
The magical ocean liner is navy and white with a bright red funnel and bright yellow lifeboats. (Disney had to receive special permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to break away from traditional orange lifeboats.) The interior is decorated in a decidedly art deco with modern conveniences. Hidden around the ship, its staterooms and restaurants are Mickey Mouse ears that make for perfect “I Spy” distractions when waiting in line to meet a beloved character. The children’s pools, although quite small, are also cloaked, with one pool in the shape of Mickey and the other featuring a swimming Goofy. Even the ship’s horn is unique, playing a distinctive tune when pulling in and out of port: “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
But perhaps the reason we love the Disney Wonder is Disney’s ability to cater to children like only Disney can do. Infants as young as 12 weeks can spend their time in the ship’s nursery, while younger children will enjoy two kids’ clubs. ‘Tweens and teens also get their own space, and an arcade is available for all ages. Even mom and dad get their privacy in the ship’s adult-only areas that include a quiet cafe, an exceptional restaurant, a pool, a bar and an unbelievable spa. Kids’ programs are scheduled throughout the day, from dance and fitness routines to cooking classes to arts and crafts, while parents can enjoy their own scheduled activities like wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and wellness programs. When families are together, they can enjoy the various theater and show options, games and, of course, meet-and-greets with familiar Disney characters, including the Fab Five: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.
There isn’t much to do on deck. Certainly no rock climbing walls and surfing programs advertised on other cruise lines. However, being an Alaskan cruise, the weather is often chilly and damp, even in the heart of summer. Disney knows the views are key, especially when spending a day sailing into Tracy Arm, which is filled with icebergs and ends with an amazing glacier sighting, so they’ve added Plexiglas panels to the forward deck to block the winds and keep passengers warm(er). During the Tracy Arm segment, Disney’s Base Camp is set up for kids to play and participate in arts and crafts — a setup unique only to this ship and its Alaskan voyage.
The Wonder set sail for Alaska for the first time in early May from Vancouver, and will spend 2011’s summer season through October in Alaskan waters before dry docking in the winter for a refurbishment. It will return to Alaska in May 2012, although it is rumored it will sail from Seattle instead, which actually helps families who do not have passports easily get to the ship.
Disney Wonder Staterooms
As a first-time cruiser, I was shocked by the space of the room. Not that it was too small; I had been warned cabins were smaller than hotel rooms. Instead, I was surprised by how large it was. We had a split bathroom with sink and toilet in one room and a shower and bathtub in the other — an actual bathtub, which made it easy to bathe the kids, although on a large ship getting hot water at prime times was difficult. The “queen” bed was actually two twins pushed together and I found my feet hanging over the edge of the bed, but the kids were comfortable on the couch bed and the pull-down bed with bed rails so no one would roll off in the middle of the night due to a big swell. With six large suitcases, we were able to unpack every single one into all of the cubbies, drawers and closets, then tuck the suitcase under the bed for plenty of room.
Inside and oceanview Deluxe Staterooms start at 214 square feet, and sleep three or four. Verandah cabins start at 268 square feet, with two patio chairs and a small table, as well as railings covered in Plexiglas and high locks (which my young children figured out just required standing on the couch in order to reach and open, so they aren’t childproof). One- and two-bedroom suites are also available with walk-in closets, living rooms, and accommodations for five to seven. These Concierge Suites also have access to a small lounge and sun deck with free food and drinks. Then again, food and non-alcoholic drinks are free for passengers of the entire ship.
The Wonder has a 1,029-square-foot Royal Suite that sleeps seven, which comes with a kitchenette, 2.5 baths, a dining room, media library and walk-in closets.
Disney Wonder Dining
All of the Disney Magic’s three main dining restaurants, Triton’s, Animator’s Palate, and Parrot Cay are kid-friendly, with good food and excellent service. The ship operates under a Rotational Dining system, so you’ll experience a new restaurant each night as you rotate through them with the same servers following your family. Alcoholic beverages are an additional fee and include an added 15 percent gratuity.
At Animator’s Palace, you’ll enter a space of black and white (keep your flash off for pictures that will make you feel as if inside a cartoon) decorated with Disney sketches. As songs play, the characters from the movies they are from appear in color.
Parrot Cay (Cay is pronounced Key) is the tropically decorated, Caribbean-inspired restaurant offering a buffet at breakfast and lunch but table service at dinner.
Triton’s was our favorite. Located off the Midship Atrium, the Under the Sea concept has the restaurant awash in blues and if our waiters donned white gloves, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
For an adult-only option, head straight to Palo the moment you get on board to book what is a very-hard-to-come-by table at the Italian restaurant with fantastic views. A champagne brunch and nightly dinner are available, but passengers may only enjoy one brunch and one dinner during the duration of the cruise due to the popularity. We sampled Palo for brunch as we sailed into Tracy Arm and were rewarded with views of icebergs and even whales swimming by. This is the only restaurant that charges a fee: $20 for brunch and $24 for dinner.
Room service is available 24 hours a day, and there are the standard kid-friendly options like mac and cheese and a burger.
Disney Wonder Activities
What would be the point of taking a Disney cruise without the characters we all know and love? Characters make daily scheduled appearances in various areas of the ship. (Check the daily activities log delivered in-room to find out where and when your favorites will be appearing.) Each stateroom is also scheduled for one character breakfast where every single character makes its way to each table for autographs and photographs, including Chip & Dale, Pluto, Goofy, Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse. The characters also make appearances in the kids’ clubs, and are available in special events, such as a Tea Party. Some Port Adventures off ship even include characters, and evening shows feature more unique characters like those from “Toy Story.”
Flounder’s Reef Nursery
While a very small section of the ship, the Flounder’s Reef Nursery is one of the few nurseries parents will find aboard a cruise ship. The space is available for infants as young as 12 weeks up to about two and a half and is divided into a darkened nap section and a playroom. The room is equipped with infant swings and bouncers, and has soft toys and books for play. Unlike the other kids’ clubs, the nursery charges a fee: $6 per hour.
Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab
For potty-trained tots ages 3 to 10, the Oceaneers Club is a large space dedicated to play with climbing areas, games and scheduled activities to keep young ones entertained. Characters pop in for special appearances and Wii games are plentiful (the only place I could find my son when I’d return to pick him up!). Across the way is the Oceaneers Lab, which they recommend for ages 7 to 10 but where my 5-year-old preferred to spend his time. Here the kids participate in science experiments like making Flubber and learning to bake cookies sprinkled with pixie dust. Kids can move back and forth between rooms with staff assistance and meals are served. (Although the staff announces that food is available at mealtimes, my kids were too busy playing and missed their meals, as the staff does not require the kids to sit down to meals. This led to some pretty hungry and cranky kids when I’d collect them for family activities, and I quickly learned to grab the kids for family meals.)
The ‘tween set can spend their time away from the folks in The Edge, a club dedicated for those 11 to 13. The space features video games, computers and TV’s with Disney movies and programs for kids to chill out to.
Teens will enjoy Vibe, far removed from all of the kids’ and adults’ spaces. The lounge-like setting features computers, video games, TV’s for movie watching and a dance floor for evening dance parties. There is also a bar serving sodas (free) and smoothies (fee).
All pools and outdoor fun can be found on Deck 9. Mickey’s Pool, shaped like Mickey with three round pools, is ideal for young kids with two-foot shallow play and splash areas. Goofy’s Pool is geared for the older kids and separated from Mickey’s Pool in a way you cannot keep your eyes on both. Goofy’s features a small funnel water slide and deeper water for kids who can swim. There is a 24-foot LED screen for Disney movies and shows, although with the cold temperatures in May, we rarely saw anyone spend any time in the pools. Kids swimming in either pool must be potty-trained, as no swim diapers are allowed.
The Cove pool and two hot tubs, separated from the family pools, are four-feet deep and surrounded by loungers. It’s a small pool and again, with the temperatures being in the upper 40’s or lower 50’s, most people who braved the open air in swimsuits were in the hot tubs.
All the swimming pools on Disney ships are heated to 89 degrees, although that doesn’t do anyone any good when climbing out to the Alaskan temperatures!
Walt Disney Theater
Twice a night is the special Disney shows at the Walt Disney Theater. (Dinner seating times are also twice a night so the programs ensure no one misses a performance.) The shows only run about an hour, perfect for short attention spans, and included on our journey the “Golden Mickeys,” a paparazzi-filled, red carpet musical event with a host of characters, and “Toy Story: The Musical,” which would rival Broadway in its elaborate costumes.
The Buena Vista Theatre is another theater that plays Disney classics, first-run movies and 3D films.
What most cruises call shore excursions, Disney calls Port Adventures. Disney Wonder makes port in three Alaskan towns: Skagway, Ketchikan and the capital city of Juneau. Disney cruisers include couples and older crowds, as well as families, so Port Adventures offer activities for every age and activity level. In Skagway, for example, you can elect to ride the scenic White Pass Rail, zip line at Mammoth Falls or take part in a character gold panning and salmon bake activity at Liarsville.
Disney Wonder Travel Tips
All About the Extras
Disney’s magic touch is felt from the moment you step on board, as your family is announced and applauded upon entrance. No matter how many fits my children threw, the servers were there to make them smile. Of course, Disney characters are the favorite of the kids. Characters can be found at breakfasts, scheduled events, and randomly roaming the ship.
For Mom and Dad
Vista Spa’s private couples room is a worthy splurge. Couples will have an entire room and oversized deck to themselves with views of the ocean from a double lounger and a hot tub, then a quiet room for treatments. Select the Couples’ Choice for a foot massage, a 20-minute soak in the hot tub, a 75-minute massage, and tea and fruit served after.
The adult area of the ship includes a coffee bar and a scenic lounge, as well as hot tub and adult pool.
Check out our Editor’s video blog of the Disney Wonder Alaskan Cruise!