I never considered myself a ‘cruise person’ till I heard Disney Cruise Lines relocated the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship to the port of Long Beach, California. Where a typical family vacation can only begin after long lines at the airport, grumpy TSA attendants and a long flight to ‘somewhere,’ I was intrigued by a vacation that would start with a twenty minute drive, simple check-in and then a short walk onto a ship where jolly Disney Cast members announced our name, “Welcome McDermott Family!”
Really? I’m on vacation? That was too easy! I looked at my watch. A mere fifty five minutes earlier I was standing in my kitchen convincing my five-year-old son that the water bottle he was trying to take out of his luggage wasn’t going to be confiscated by TSA because we were not flying…we were sailing.
He turned his head sideways like a dog hearing a high pitched sound as I shoved the water bottle back into his bag. “Sailing” wasn’t a word we used often. Okay, ever.
“We’re going on a Mexican boat?” He asked me weeks before the trip.
As a family we’d never been on a cruise before so I answered in simple terms; “Yes, we’re going on a big giant boat with all the Disney characters that will take us to warm weather!”
I hoped he wouldn’t ask more as I too didn’t really know what to expect. But I was sure of one thing: when Disney puts their name on something, you can guarantee, it’s going to be a great time.
Which is why I booked the family on a 7-day Disney Wonder Mexican Rivera Cruise that sailed so close to home.
Four weeks before the cruise I woke up in a sweaty panic thinking I’d forgotten to book airline flights to Florida! Ha! It was then I relaxed into a state of exuberance and delight enjoying the residual effects of my amazing travel planning abilities.
Any apprehension I had prior to stepping on board the Disney Wonder was gone the minute I saw Mickey Mouse and heard the squeals of my children. Basic travel rule #1: When children are happy, Mom is happy.
The first few hours on the ship were spent checking out our state room and just getting to know the lay of the land…I mean ship! With ten floors of guest rooms, bars, restaurants, eateries, pools, sports areas, spa, gym, theaters and kid, tween and teen play rooms, getting lost is a common occurrence met with laughter as all other guest are experiencing the same thing.
“What do people do on a ship?” Every evening you receive a four page personal “Navigator” guide detailing what is happening all over the ship in 15-minute increments. It’s kind of like a TV guide, listing activities happening everywhere on the ship by ages (for young kids, pre-teen, teen and adults only, and entire families) and highlights activities Disney Cast Members think you shouldn’t miss.
Often there were two things we wanted to do happening at the same time, which meant we either had to choose or divide and conquer!
You can be as busy or as lazy as you want to be. Some families go from activity to activity…where others do their own thing and just hang by the pools experiencing whatever entertainment appeared on that deck.
“Is there a pool?”
There are three! One for just adults, one for kids that can swim and one shallow pool for the younger kids. This young children’s pool is in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head and has a bright yellow two story waterslide that flows right into the children’s pool.
“Do they have a kids club?”
Yes. And unlike hotel kid clubs you may visit on vacation, on the Disney Cruise Lines, all the kids clubs are FREE. All you do is just check them in that first day and they’ll get an electronic wrist band which makes for easy check in and check out. There are two kids clubs for kids ten and under, a nursery club for wee ones. And for older kids: there are specific rooms and activities designated just for the tween (11 to 13) and teen (13 to 19). My son had so much fun hanging in the tween area, it was as if his confidence grew overnight!
“Are the hotel rooms really tiny?”
The staterooms are about half the size of an average hotel room. But these rooms are smart rooms with spaces and drawers for clothes that are tucked into clever spaces! Most of the ship hotel rooms comfortably sleep up to 5 people. The white, comfy beds are some of the most comfortable beds you will ever sleep on and extra single beds for the kids/other guests pop out of the wall and ceiling.
What if I need something, who do I call?
Each room is assigned a Room Host. This person keeps your room tidy, makes your beds in the morning and turns down your beds in the evening. The Room host is there to bring you ice or whatever else you may need regarding your room stay including a nightly chocolate surprise. And they’ll even mold one of your towels into an animal which you’ll find on returning to your room at night!
“What kind of food is on a ship?”
The Disney Wonder has 3 restaurants; Animator’s Palate, Tritons and Parrot Cay. Every night you are assigned to visit one of those restaurants with your assigned Disney Wonder Servers. Unlike normal vacations when you visit restaurants and see server after server….Disney has the same servers meet you at every restaurant. That way, these servers get to know your children, what they like and what they don’t like to make it easier on you, parents.
Every night my kids would arrive to the dinner table and see cups with their names written on them in front of a plate where they will sit. After they ordered, (Disney cast member servers would make each child feel important when they ordered their own food!) and when the food arrived, the servers would even CUT the kids’ food! For the first time in my life I could eat with my children without having to ‘fix’ their food first. It was heaven…a true vacation for Mom!
Daily, the choices change from restaurant to restaurant. There are so many choices, you’ll never eat the same thing twice…unless you are my kid and want buttered pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whatever you want, the servers will find it and server it to you! One night my daughter wanted shrimp. Our server knew it was being served at another restaurant and had a plate sent over to our table just for my daughter. The time, energy and effort the wait staff takes in making your cruise just how you want it, is unbelievable…and just want any parent would want on a vacation! There are other cafes and eateries open at various hours all day long: Goofy’s Gallery, Beach Blanket Buffet, Pluto’s Dog House, Pinocchio’s Pizzeria.
I think myself as an almost compulsively clean person. After a day on the Disney Wonder, they had me beat. You cannot walk up or down a hall on the Disney Wonder without seeing a Disney Cast Member cleaning, mopping or tending to the ship. The ship is cleaner than my own home! As you walk enter into any dining hall, restaurant or bathroom, a Disney Wonder staff member is handing you a wet wipe to wash and clean your hands. At all the kids clubs, children wash their hands every single time they enter or leave the facility. Every minute of every day people are scrubbing, wiping, moping, and painting. One day I saw a Disney Worker on his knees cleaning the crevices between a stair banister and the floor! Another day our Room Host came by to sanitize our showerhead! Okay, seriously, I didn’t even know people clean those!
On the daily navigator, they schedule lists of what character will be where and at what time. You’ll have all day to plan and organize. Sometimes a Disney character will be just walking by, so make sure your camera is ready to go! And every family gets invited to a character breakfast where you can eat and take all the photos you want with your family.
Is there a Photographer on board?
Photo Opportunity NOT to Miss!
This is one opportunity all families should take advantage of! Every day there are several opportunities to take photos with a professional photographer! They come to your table at dinner, they set up an area in the lobby with a different background every night and when the characters appear, they are also there to take professional photos. All during the cruise the photos are on display for you to view or purchase. Or if you are a family that takes annual family photos and spends at least $250 for a sitting fee, you can purchase an entire DVD of all your family photos from the entire cruise for just $250! Then when you get home you can print photos at whatever size your need! A brilliant way to get amazing professional photos of your kids and family!
This was a perfect way for my kids to experience the Mexican culture without having to travel through a dirty foreign airport, figure out how to get to a hotel and even worry about language. We’d arrive in the morning and before checking off the ship, Disney Wonder cast members had a whole slew of activities families could sign up for before we even arrived to that city. It’s the only way to see Mexico.
Other wonderful things:
Theme dinners, ActiviTrivia games, dance parties, deck parties, comedians, hypnotists, $5,000 Mega Jackpot Bingo, karaoke, hair braiding, scavenger hunts, new release Disney movie showings, cooking lessons….oh, and this is all in one day!
Every night Disney Wonder has a special show featuring many characters and princesses that are so good, it’s as if you are seeing a major Broadway Theater Showcase every single night!
Happy Disney Wonder Cast Members:
I think I am pretty happy….but not compared to the staff on the Disney Wonder. Everyone was all smiles, full of energy and made my family feel welcome and important.
Even if you haven’t done a cruise, a Disney Cruise is something you have to try….you won’t regret it….and you may even come back the next year to see where else the Disney Wonder sails!
Bottom Line: If you ever wanted to try a cruise, Disney Cruise Lines should be your first and only choice.