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Karen Knowlton

Age: 50's

Occupation:Travel Consultant

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Disney

Ship: Disney Wonder

Sailing Date: February 27th, 2003

Itinerary: Bahamas

My husband Kim and I sailed with friends on the 3-night Disney Wonder cruise for a midwinter break. We chose the short cruise due to personal time constraints, and for the same reason did not add any days at Walt Disney World. Although I had high expectations, they were actually surpassed. Despite the fact that we have no children, we thoroughly enjoyed this very family-friendly cruise, and I would highly recommend it for a family vacation.

The of great ocean liners of the past, but with the inevitable Disney touches. (Look for lots of “hidden Mickeys” in the décor!) The color scheme is somewhere between the restful pastels and earthtones of Princess and NCL and the wild, dark colors of Carnival. The 3-story atrium boasts an attractive double staircase and an overhead glass sculpture that I am guessing might be by Chihuly. The ship is long and low, nearly as long as the much larger Explorer of the Seas, allowing for lots of per-passenger space.

Cabins are larger than most, being designed for families; the smallest of them hold 3 people each, and many hold up to 6. There are a lot of balcony cabins, and a few large suites. Ours was a category 6 balcony cabin on deck 6, and we found it spacious, with far more storage space than the two of us needed. The cabin bathrooms are unique split-bath arrangements – one tiny room holding the toilet and a sink, and the other holding a tub/shower and sink, convenient for multiple people to use. One caveat: the bathrooms are so small that a very heavy person might have some difficulty using them.

Disney Wonder has two theaters – the main one, Walt Disney Theater, at the bow is used for the evening stage shows, and the Buena Vista Theater, near the stern, for movies and also for a smaller “matinee” stage show catering to children. Deck 5 is almost half children’s area, with a nursery, a large Oceaneer Club room for the younger children, and another large Oceaneer Lab room for the older children. Both were wonderfully furnished with all sorts of fun things – climbing areas resembling Captain Hook’s pirate ship, child-size Disney character figures, computer monitors and big-screen video games, etc. Teens have their own hangout too, a cozy “coffeeshop” pub-like room called Common Grounds, located near one of the pools on deck 9. There are a couple shops offering Disney souvenirs and more upscale clothing and jewelry, plus a duty free shop in the adult area. Three pools grace the next-to-top deck, one for children only, one for families, and one for adults only. They are separated by superstructure to allow for privacy and different noise levels – well designed layout, I thought. Hot tubs are found in the family and adults areas too.

Adult lounges for evening entertainment are located off a winding hallway called Route 66, designed to remind one of the old road – a map of the route is in the carpet pattern, and “billboards” and scenic murals line the walls, with a pretty blue sky painted on the ceiling. The scenery changes as the road goes “west.” We are not late-night people and did not frequent the lounges, but it looks like there is something for most tastes – a disco lounge, a quieter one for jazz or other music, and a comedy one as well.

Other public areas include a small internet center (in one end of the Promenade Lounge), gym and spa, an inventively-designed sports bar in the fake “smokestack” on the top deck, and a wraparound teak promenade deck with some really intriguing “scenery” up at the bow end (the huge winches that hold the ship’s lines). For walkers, once around is ¼ mile.

In addition to the buffet area on the pool deck (deck 9), there are 3 main restaurants and an alternate, adults-only restaurant, Palo, available by reservation only. (Better reserve early; I overheard several people on the first full day of the cruise say they had been disappointed to learn that there was already a waiting list for it.) As with traditional cruises, one is assigned either early or late seating at a particular table, but the resemblance stops there. Each passenger is also assigned a restaurant rotation schedule – one night in each of the 3 main restaurants – with the same table number and wait staff rotating along with you. We were lucky to have our rotation begin with Parrot Cay, the Caribbean-themed restaurant, then progress to Triton’s, the more traditional, formal-appearing one for the dressy night of the cruise, and end with Animator’s Palate, a show in itself! As we were only there for 3 nights, and were with friends who had children, we opted not to eat in Palo’s. Besides, I had heard a lot about Parrot Cay is painted in bright Caribbean pastels, and the waiters do a parade partway through the meal, with lots of cheering, clapping, napkin-swinging and fun. Dinner was accompanied by a steel band. Triton’s has white tablecloths and quiet classical, light jazz and Disney movie music in the background. Animator’s Palate was my favorite; the only problem was, the room puts on such a show by itself, it distracts you from the food!

For those who are not particularly comfortable with formal nights, Disney’s short cruises are much less formal than most. The dress code for each night is “recommended” only – for Triton’s, it is jacket & tie for men and dresses or pantsuits for ladies – but there were plenty of people in their polos and khakis at dinner that night. I saw only a few suits and dressy ladies’ outfits. As with most other cruise lines, the usual “resort casual” dress code is maintained for dinner, with jeans and shorts frowned upon in the dining rooms (though not expressly forbidden, especially for young children.)

Most ships belonging to the major cruise lines are kept clean and well-maintained, but Disney puts a little extra effort into this as well. As an example, on other cruises I have sometimes noticed the restrooms in the public areas (near the theater, restaurants, etc.) being a little “used” looking, not quite as clean as the ones in the cabins are usually kept. Not so here – clean as a whistle!

Food: I had heard that the quality of the food on the Disney ships left something to be desired, but I am not sure what that might be! I was very pleased with everything – quality, preparation, presentation, taste, quantity. Although not everything was absolutely perfect, I was not disappointed in more than one dish the entire time. Children can order from their own menu, which features things like hot dogs, pizza, macaroni & cheese, even peanut butter & jelly, or they can choose from the adults’ menu. Each restaurant has its own fixed menu, different from the others, somewhat in keeping with each theme, but also offering old standbys for the less adventurous. One can try exotic things like escargots, or stick with old favorites like prime rib and steak (which I heard were really good.) The sea bass was excellent, as was the gazpacho and the cold avocado soup. Desserts were uniformly fantastic!

The layout of the buffet leads to big lines in the morning – if you want something besides eggs, sausage/bacon, etc. and fruit, be sure to go past the main line to other stations which feature sweet rolls, muffins, cereal, and “Mickey” waffles. There is lots of seating inside and outside for the buffet area. As it is located on the pool deck, one can also take food from there to the tables by the pools. In addition, there are pizza, hot dogs, burgers & chicken sandwiches, and soft ice cream stations by the pools. A small area at one corner of the children’s pool offers free water, ice tea and lemonade (and the lemonade is good!) There is a soft drink “card” program – actually a sticker placed on one’s ship card – which seemed pretty reasonable, $15 for the 3-night cruise. An additional $5 bought a mug to use for it, to lessen the number of refills needed. For kids who drink a lot of pop, a good idea. For those interested, Disney offers several wine “packages” for dinner; our table tried one and was pleased with the selections offered, and also the price. (The least expensive package was $70 for the 3-night cruise, and included several options – even champagne.)

Entertainment: In my opinion, the quality of the show casts was the best I have seen on any cruise. The shows are, of course, Disney-inspired, so they have appeal to all members of the family. A little adult humor mixed in gives the parents some laughs (not off-color, but references to things adults might be aware of more than children), and the Disney characters are immensely appealing to the children. A few special effects add even more. And the entertainment is very family-friendly, as one might expect. No need to worry about whether a show is appropriate for the kids to see!

The Disney characters are in abundance throughout the cruise, with frequent personal appearances for picture-taking, greetings and autographs. The kids just love them – hugs and smiles and giggles all around. Not just Mickey and Minnie, but Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Chip & Dale, Capt. Hook, Wendy, Belle – and more, make appearances, wander through the kids’ areas and the hallways, and show up on the private island as well. Lines are long for the picture sessions. I appreciated that the ship’s photographers didn’t try to hog all the good shots, and were very tolerant of the parents and grandparents who wanted to take pictures of the kids & characters on their own cameras.

As previously mentioned, we are not late-night people and did not see any of the lounge acts. We met the “dueling pianos” comedians on the private island and they seemed quite personable, but I am sorry to say, we missed their show as we had to spend that evening packing!

Service: In general, excellent! On an individual basis, we were especially pleased with our waiter (Mark, from the Philippines) and assistant waiter (Martin, from Jamaica). They went above and beyond to fill some special requests, and remained friendly and pleasant the entire cruise, even the last morning at breakfast, when on some other cruises we have encountered perfunctory service. The staff at the guest relations (purser’s) office were pleasant and patient too, as well as helpful. I never saw a surly expression on any member of the staff. The captain was very accessible – we saw him several times in the public areas, and he always greeted us with a smile and “good morning/evening”. I enjoyed watching him squat down to talk for several minutes one on one with a small boy, while the parents watched happily.

When we arrived onboard at the start of the cruise, a staffer asked our name, and the next thing we knew, over the loudspeaker we heard, “Please welcome… the Knowlton family!” Crew members in the atrium all applauded. What a nice beginning – and just the first aspect of making us feel like special guests. Children I think were made to feel even more honored, and I could tell they were happy – the entire 3 days I think I heard perhaps 3 children cry. (And there were hundreds of kids onboard, of course!)

Ports: As much has been written in other reviews about Nassau, I will not add to it. I did not get off the ship in Nassau, having been there only a few months previous, and wanting to get better acquainted with the ship. Kim and our friends took the catamaran snorkel excursion and enjoyed it a great deal.

Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, is a delight. Its biggest advantage is probably the dock – every other private island requires tendering, but not this one! Disney touches are everywhere. In keeping with the “castaway” theme, the buildings on the island all look rundown and weathered, though they are really in fine shape. Building materials appear to be corrugated metal (roofs), weathered wood and plain-jane fixtures, as if they were built of flotsam. There are shops, 4 sets of restrooms, several bars, and a set of large shelters for the picnic that is served on the island. Activities aplenty include parasailing, banana boats, snorkeling, tube & float rentals, bike riding, paddleboat rentals, etc. The children’s area has planned activities, including a treasure hunt and an “archeological dig.” Teens have a separate area of the beach with a game room; Serenity Bay is an adults-only area quite a distance from the family and teen beaches, and a tram that runs between all the sections of the island. The white-sand beach is very clean, with lots of shade trees and umbrellas, plenty of lounge chairs and a few hammocks (get there early if you want the latter!) The island picnic, brought off the ship, was tasty, if not gourmet; our favorite part was the fresh papaya and mango! (The lobster burgers were pretty good too.) Between banana boats, Disney character greetings, bike rides, and enjoying the beach and the water, our day there went much too fast.

Summary/Recommendations: For families, especially those with smaller children, who want to enjoy a cruise, there is none better. Disney Cruise Line makes everyone feel like a special guest, and the crew give the kind of service that make you feel they are happy to have you aboard. The food is, in my opinion, good to excellent, and entertainment ranges from very good to spectacular. Cabins are larger than most, and designed for family use, with plenty of storage, and the ability for 2 people to use bathroom facilities at the same time. There are more than enough activities for every member of the family. The children’s program is extra special, I think - our friend’s 8-year-old was so happy with the kids’ program that he practically had to be pried away, and supervision seemed to be plentiful, and pleasant for the kids. For those without children, this is also a wonderful cruise – as long as you expect there to be many children around. There are places for adults to go without feeling like there are a lot of kids underfoot – the adult lounges, the promenade deck, one’s balcony, Serenity Bay, Palo – but if one is happiest cruising with mostly other adults, then choosing another cruise line will bring better results.

In summary, I highly recommend the Disney Wonder, whether added to several days at Disney World or by itself, as a family-friendly, pampering, fun experience for both adults and children. Expect to pay somewhat more than on other major cruise lines, but the extra cost will be given back to you in service and the Disney ambience and attention to detail.

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