A Disney insider gives you her take on one of Disney’s smaller ships, plus tips on scoring a cruise for less.
When you board a Disney Cruise ship, the cast members do something unique to Disney. Before you actually cross over from the gangplank to the main lobby, a cast member will announce your family to the entire ship, saying “The Disney Wonder welcomes the Farber family!” You walk onto the ship to applause from cast members gathered in the lobby area and are immediately transported to another world where you are a VIP. Yes, you’re still breaking up fights between siblings and rolling your eyes at your spouse, but there’s something magical about a Disney Cruise.
I was resistant to cruising for a long time for one simple reason: motion sickness. I am the person who gets motion sick standing still. But once my husband finally dragged me on board my first ship, I was hooked. We always have sailed with our children, so we always have chosen Disney Cruise Line; it’s a brand that we know, trust, and enjoy. For our family, a cruise vacation allows us to explore different ports and islands without having to pack and unpack, plus Disney gives us a myriad of family activities, kids’ activities, and the elusive adult-only activities.
Our most recent cruise was a last-minute vacation. Typically, we wouldn’t have chosen a 5-night sailing, but we got a great deal on a Disney Wonder trip to the islands of Puerto Rico and Jamaica. On our previous sea adventures, we have sailed 7-night itineraries on Disney’s newer and larger ship, the Fantasy, so this was a new experience.
At the end of our five nights, we were enchanted with the Wonder and didn’t want to go home. (Part of that could have been the several feet of snow awaiting us in Michigan!) Along the way, we discovered several things that make a Disney Wonder cruise a truly incredible family vacation.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
Where to stay?
Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of room types, but all of them are small if you’re used to regular hotel rooms. If you’re coming from other cruise lines, you actually may find the rooms to be spacious. The Disney Wonder is one of the original ships in Disney’s fleet, so the rooms on this ship are actually larger than what you find on the newer Disney vessels. Inside staterooms are approximately 184-square-feet and can hold between three and four people. These types of rooms are located on all decks that have passenger cabins, and most have the signature split bathrooms that Disney Cruise Line promotes. A split bathroom is just what it sounds like: two bathroom areas - one with a shower/bathtub and sink and one with a toilet and sink. The idea is that the split space makes getting ready for the day easier for families.
The next room type on the Wonder is the oceanview stateroom, which again can fit up to four people, depending on the room configuration. These rooms are primarily on Decks 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 and include a porthole. The oceanview rooms are larger than standard inside staterooms by about 28-square-feet.
If you're looking for a bit more space and an outdoor area, you’ll want an oceanview stateroom with a verandah. The verandah is a small, private balcony that generally has two chairs and a small table. I love sitting outside on the verandah with coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at night. This type of stateroom has heavy glass doors that lead out to the verandah, as well as a high lock, so young children shouldn’t be able to wander out on their own. In addition, the verandahs do have waist-high fronts that should keep children from falling over the edge. That being said, an unsupervised child could move the table to the edge and climb on top of it, although that's very unlikely to happen. On the Wonder, the verandah staterooms are the only option that can accommodate a family of five in one room.
KidTripster Tip: There is a variety of different categories within each stateroom type. When booking a verandah stateroom, pay close attention to the verandah description. Several will say “whitewall verandah,” which means your verandah has a white covering instead of a plexiglass cover. When you're seated on a whitewall verandah, you may not be able to see directly out to the ocean, so I find it’s better to spend the extra money to make sure that you have a clear verandah front.
The Disney Wonder also offers concierge staterooms and a limited number of suites, which can house up to seven people. These cabins are verandah staterooms with access to the concierge lounge with food and drinks, a private sundeck, and an advanced itinerary planning department, as well as other perks. The biggest difference, besides the higher price, is the non-refundable deposit. Normally with Disney Cruise Line, you can cancel your cruise up until the final payment date and receive your deposit back, but with concierge level rooms, you lose your deposit (which is 20% of the total cruise cost), regardless of when you cancel.
If your travel party has more than five people, you’ll likely need two staterooms on the Wonder. Disney offers connecting staterooms in just about every category. On our Wonder cruise, we ended up in two connecting oceanview staterooms, which was incredibly convenient. We used one room for the adults and the second room for the children; that way, my husband and I could stay up late without waking the kids.
KidTripster Tip: Just because your chosen stateroom can hold up to five people doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to book five people in that room. In addition to room capacity, life boat space has to be taken into account for each room, and sometimes, there isn’t enough life boat space in a specific area for the stateroom to hold its full capacity. What does this mean? If you're thinking of letting your child take a friend, bringing along Grandma to babysit or may have a new baby when you sail, book them in the stateroom as soon as possible, even if you book without a name, to make sure the room that you want can hold your entire group. (Baby TBD can be added to a reservation, and the name can be updated later.) You can always drop someone from the reservation, but it’s much harder to add them later on. I speak from experience.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
What to do on board for kids?
The first time that we went on a Disney cruise, I expected to spend most of our time together, but I quickly found out that my kids love the Oceaneer Club and Lab, which left my husband and I with some free time. The Oceaneer Club and Lab are supervised spaces for the kids with highly-themed areas, scheduled activities, and plenty of options for free play (including video games). The Club and Lab are two different spaces, but they're connected and open to kids between the ages of 3 (must be potty-trained) and 12. On the Wonder, we were extremely excited to check out the recently renovated spaces that include Marvel’s Super Hero Academy, Andy’s Room (from Toy Story), Doc McStuffins, and Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post (from Frozen). In the Marvel section, my older boys were delighted to find iconic Avenger’s items including Iron Man’s mask and Thor’s hammer, while my youngest loved the two-story Slinky Dog slide in Andy’s Room. The Oceaneer Club and Lab are secured. You can choose if your child can check themselves out or if they need to be signed out by an approved adult (with password). All children wear a magic band (a plastic, waterproof bracelet) with an RFID chip that must be scanned when your child is checked in and out of the club. The magic band also can give cast members your child’s location within the club at any time.
KidTripster Tip: The Oceaneer Club and Lab bracelet looks just like the magic bands that are given out for free at Walt Disney World. However, Disney Cruise Line’s magic bands aren’t free if you keep them. Every child must have a magic band to use the Club or Lab, but at the end of your cruise, if you don’t return them, you’re charged $15.95 per band. The bill that you receive on your last night will show the charge, but if you turn it into the Club or Lab before the end of the night, you’ll be credited.
The Oceaneer Club and Lab will have open house times when a portion of the facilities are open to families that are outside of the space’s age range. Otherwise, scheduled activities include crafts, cooking demonstrations, science experiments, dance parties, pajama parties, character experiences, GaGa Ball, and our favorite, Marvel Super Hero Academy. My boys were psyched for this activity that would put them through their paces to become Avengers! But we were really disappointed when we got on board and realized that all of the times for the Super Hero Academy were after 9:30 p.m., which is a bit late for my youngest. My middle son did attend once and really enjoyed himself, but he didn’t stay up late enough to test his super hero skills any other night.
The Club and Lab are open during mealtimes and will serve your child a kid-friendly meal. But know that cast members won’t make your kid stop and eat; so if he's busy playing, he may end up missing a meal. If your child has any problems or wants to leave, the cast members will contact you or any other responsible adult that you’ve designated.
On our Wonder cruise, our family checked out the tween club, Edge, for the first time. This exclusive space is on the Pool Deck and is intended to give older kids (11 to 14-years-old) a more mature area to hang out. The nice thing about Edge is that kids in the 11- to 12-year-old category (like my oldest) are able to go to both Edge and the Oceaneer Club and Lab. Edge is a smaller space, but it has several video game systems with age-appropriate games, as well as board games. The cast members at Edge have kids fill out “getting to know you” forms on the first night and then attempt to build cohesive groups through in-club activities including karaoke, trivia, basketball, gender wars, and on our cruise, a flash mob for pirate night. My son found Edge a bit “boring,” but I think that had more to do with the makeup of the group, which was mostly girls on this cruise. The kids that I observed at Edge were having fun, and the cast members were engaged with the group. There was a bit more video gaming than I would have liked, but I think my kids play too many video games at home, as well. The thought of them spending time on the Xbox while in the Caribbean gives me a slight headache.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure your child attends the icebreaker event on the first night. This is when the kids first interact with one another and start to find “their people.” The cast members also will figure out what activities will interest the largest number of kids and plan the week accordingly, so being there that first night will help your tween enjoy the space more all week long.
In addition to the above mentioned spaces, there’s also Vibe, which is a teen club for 14- to 17-year-olds, and a group called the 1820 Society for those who fall in the 18- to 20-year-old age range. The 1820 Society doesn’t have an official location but will have different activities scheduled throughout the cruise. It should be noted that once someone turns 18, even if it’s mid-cruise, he or she is no longer allowed into Vibe.
For the younger end of the spectrum, Disney Wonder offers It’s a Small World Nursery. The nursery provides child care, sleeping areas, and structured play for the under 3 set, but it does come at a cost. The nursery charges $9 per hour for the first child and then $8 per hour for any additional children. The cast members will change diapers and feed children with provided food, but space is limited. Reservations are suggested and can be made when your online check-in window opens. The number of hours that you may book initially is limited and varies based on your cruise’s itinerary. You can add additional hours (based on availability) once you're on the ship. It’s a Small World Nursery (as well as the Oceaneer’s Club and Lab) are open when the ship is in port. You do have the option to leave your children there if you want to explore sans kids.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
What to do on board for adults?
If you’ve ever been on a Disney vacation at the theme parks, you probably didn’t go home feeling very relaxed; but a Disney Cruise Line vacation is a different experience. While your children are off enjoying the spaces designed just for them, you can explore spaces designed just for you.
On Disney Wonder, the adult spaces aren’t as grand as you’ll find on Disney’s newer ships, but it still provides adult-only areas for you to relax and unwind. My biggest disappointment with the Wonder was the adult pool area, called Quiet Cove. The pool itself is a decent size with lounge chairs and two hot tubs, but it felt a bit cramped and was very windy because of its forward location on the ship. I'm also a big fan of the Serenity Falls wading pool that is found on the two newer ships, so that may have colored my opinion a bit. In addition to the pool and hot tubs, Quiet Cove also features a bar and, at times, live music.
The spa is another adult highlight on the Wonder. Senses Spa offers a variety of treatments including massages, manicures, and pedicures. My favorite place in the spa is the Rainforest Room, where you find several different steam rooms, aromatherapy showers, and heated stone lounge chairs. Access to the Rainforest Room is not included in the price of spa treatments, but you can purchase a one-day pass in advance for $16. Once you’re on the ship, the one-day pass is not available, so I highly suggest that you buy this ahead of time. As much as I love the Rainforest Room, I often struggle to find the time to actually utilize it (and this cruise was no exception), so buying a multi-day pass may not be the best use of your vacation dollars.
KidTripster Tip: Attend the spa open house on the first day. The staff has a raffle that you have to be present to win, but every time I (or anyone I’ve sailed with) has entered the raffle, we've received a coupon for $25 to $35 off a spa treatment the next day in our cabin. Score!
If you’re looking to unwind in something other than a swimsuit, the Wonder features an After Hours section with a variety of clubs and bars. During the day, some of these spaces are used for family activities, but in the evening, things come alive with music, dancing, and adults-only shows. My favorite one on the Wonder was the Newlywed-style game Match Your Mate. The show is definitely risqué, especially for Disney, but was a lot of fun (and slightly embarrassing for the contestants).
The After Hours section also plays host to one of the Wonder’s most popular adult-only activities — alcohol tastings. Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of tastings including martinis, margaritas, champagne, beer, wine, and mixology. All of these classes are an additional charge (generally $20, although some of them are a bit higher) and require advance sign-up. The more popular options - like wine tasting, wine and chocolate, and mixology - will fill up before you board the ship, but others will be available on the day that you board or even afterwards. My personal favorite of the tastings is mixology, where you get to try small versions of five different cocktails. On every other Disney Cruise ship that I’ve been on, the participants mixed the drinks behind the bar, which resulted in some rather heavy pours; but on the Wonder, a bartender mixed the cocktails while another cast member gave a history on the drinks. I do prefer the DIY-version of mixology more, but both options were fun, and in my opinion, one of the best values on Disney cruises. Just make sure that you don’t have any big plans after your class, as you sometimes are feeling the effects of what you learned!
KidTripster Tip: If the mixology class is full when you’re able to begin booking your activities, see if you can find a group for your cruise on Facebook. These cruise groups often do private mixology classes (or other tastings), and you usually can find a spot in these sessions easier than the ones available to the entire cruise.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
What to do on board for the entire family?
Just because there are lots of activities for adults on their own and kids on their own doesn’t mean that you won’t find plenty to do as a family. Deck 9 on the Disney Wonder is home to two pools, two splash areas, two hot tubs, and the Twist ’n' Spout slide, as well as FunnelVision TV that plays Disney movies all day. The Goofy pool is the larger of the two pools and is located in front of the FunnelVision screen. Most of the day, you’ll find the pool filled with kids watching the movie on the screen while parents lounge on chairs nearby. Disney Cruise Line does have lifeguards at all of their pools, as well as life jackets available for those who may need a bit of help. My husband and I refer to the pools on any cruise ship as kid soup, and the Wonder is no exception. Located on either side of the Goofy pool, you’ll find hot tubs which also tend to be crammed with kids watching the movie.
Towards the back of Deck 9, you’ll find the AquaLab splash and play area and a small pool. The AquaLab is the failed science experiments of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Donald Duck’s nephews. Here kids play with colorful dumping buckets, spraying boilers, and a variety of other fun water toys.
Then it’s on to Deck 10 for the Twist ’n’ Spout slide. The Disney Wonder is the only Disney Cruise Line ship that doesn’t have a larger slide like the AquaDuck (on the Fantasy and Dream) or the AquaDunk (on the Magic), and I'll admit that my kids missed the bigger slide. On our other Disney cruises, we have spent hours standing in line, sliding down, and then getting right back in line, but the Twist ’n’ Spout didn’t hold the same appeal for my 9- and 12-year-olds. I personally found the slide to be a bit too twisty; I felt like I was going round and round in a tight circle, which made my rides few and far between.
Goofy’s Pool, as well as the AquaLab and other pools, require children be fully potty-trained to use them; no swim diapers are allowed - and if spotted, your child will be required to leave the area immediately. But that doesn’t mean your little ones are without a place to cool off. Dory’s Reef is also on Deck 9 and is for kiddos under 3 (or not potty-trained). The splash area is themed around Finding Dory and will delight youngsters with spitting fish and fountains. The area also has a softer floor for those inevitable slips that happen when you mix toddlers and water.
Aside from the water fun, the Wonder offers a variety of other activities that will appeal to families, no matter ther age range. Each night, your stateroom host will leave a copy of the next day’s Navigator in your room, which lists everything happening around the ship. You also can download the Disney Cruise Line app and use the ship’s WiFI for free (with this app only) to see the Navigator each day. Our family liked to spend a few minutes each night looking at the next day’s activities and making some choices. I usually try to pack a highlighter, so I can see our plans at a quick glance.
On the Wonder, we went to several family game shows, took in a dance party with characters, played some basketball on the sports deck, went to a cooking class (and had an incredible apple tart), watched comedy and magic shows, played trivia, and learned how to draw a Disney character at an animation class. In addition to all those activities, we spent a lot of time meeting characters. This was mainly driven by our 3-year-old, but even the older boys got in on the action at times. The Wonder has a bunch of characters including those you’d expect, like Mickey and Minnie, and others that you may not like Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and Max (Goofy’s son). The Wonder offers character meet-and-greets with Marvel characters, too; my 3-year-old was able to see Captain America, Black Widow, and Spiderman. The character greetings felt less rushed than what you experience in the parks. We had some really great interactions; my 3-year-old still talks about teaching Goofy how to dance.
Most character meet-and-greets are listed in the Navigator each day, but you do have to sign up in advance for two character options: the Frozen meet-and-greet with Anna, Elsa, and Olaf, and the princess meet-and-greet where you can meet five princesses at once (which any parent with a princess fan knows is a bonus). Because we booked so late, we weren’t able to secure spots for either of those events in advance. However, when we boarded the ship, I immediately went to the Port Adventures desk on Deck 3 and was able to get tickets for both activities.
KidTripster Tip: The lines for the ticketed character greetings long and slow-moving. Try not to schedule your meet-and-greet time too close to anything else (port adventures, alcohol tasting, child’s nap) and bring something to occupy your kids while they wait.
The Disney Wonder has a full movie theater (with 3D) that shows first-run Disney movies. During our cruise, it was showing Coco, Cars 3, Thor: Ragnarok, and Star Wars The Last Jedi. The Buena Vista Theatre runs shows throughout the day and into the evening. If you happen to be on a Disney ship when a Disney movie is released, you’ll be treated to a midnight “prem-ear” which can be a lot of fun, depending on the movie. We went into our Disney Wonder cruise with intentions of seeing the Star Wars movie, but we just didn’t have enough time. I did catch Wonder in our room one night when my kids went to bed early.
Beside the Buena Vista Theatre, the Wonder also has the Walt Disney Theatre which puts on Broadway-style shows. You’ll be treated to the Golden Mickeys, Disney Dreams — An Enchanted Classic, and Frozen, a Musical Spectacular. The Golden Mickeys is a faux awards show and features a variety of classic Disney songs, as well as a storyline about believing in yourself. We really enjoyed the red carpet before the Golden Mickeys, complete with paparazzi interviewing “celebrities” arriving for the show. I’ll be honest, we skipped Disney Dreams on the Wonder, but I have seen and enjoyed it on a past sailing. It’s another show that uses familiar Disney songs to help a girl realize the power of her dreams. Frozen is a rather new addition to the Wonder, and it blew me away! Most everyone is familiar with the storyline and the music, but the cast managed to bring new life to this story that I have seen and heard more times than I can count. The show was funny, touching, and incredibly well done. All of the performances that I saw on the Wonder were great and even more impressive when you realize the cast members are actually in every show in a different roles!
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
What to do off the ship?
Our cruise on the Disney Wonder was a Western Caribbean swing with stops in Falmouth, Jamaica and San Juan Puerto Rico, but this particular ship sails a variety of itineraries, including Alaska in the late spring and summer, the Mexican Riviera, and the Bahamas. My family always chooses to get off at the ports, even if just to walk around briefly and get a flavor for the town. When we do choose to do an excursion, we generally schedule them through outside vendors instead of the cruise line. I find that's far less expensive. For example, when we stopped in Jamaica, we went to an all-inclusive resort for the day and spent $298 through an online tour operator. Disney Cruise Line offered the exact same excursion for $659. The only difference when you book an outside company’s tour is that you have to walk off the ship yourself and get to the meeting place in the port area.
Before I book an outside tour company, I do lots of research on the vendor and make sure it is familiar with my ship’s arrival and departure times. Any excursion should allow plenty of time to get you back to the port before the "all aboard" time. I usually aim to be back two hours before sailing time. Know that if you're late, the ship won't wait for you. For that reason, I do always book activities through the ship if the time in port is short or I’m looking at an excursion that takes us far away from the dock. Several years ago, my family stopped in Costa Maya, Mexico, where we wanted to see the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben. I knew the ruins were a good 45-minute drive, and our time in port was relatively short; so we paid more and booked through Disney. And it was a good thing we did - our bus was close to an hour late on the way back, but the ship waited for us.
The Wonder also stops at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, in the Bahamas on some sailings for a fun-filled beach day.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
Where to eat?
You won’t ever go hungry on the Disney Wonder. The ship offers a variety of dining options, including formal dining rooms, buffets, quick service grab-and-go, and room service.
When you first board the ship, a cast member will likely direct you to Cabanas on Deck 9, which is the ship’s buffet restaurant. Cabana’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and has a large buffet with a wide variety of items. My family generally had breakfast in Cabana’s, and we ate our fair share of typical breakfast foods including Mickey waffles, made-to-order omelets, and yogurt from the large yogurt bar. For lunch, Cabanas has everything from shrimp and salads to pasta and carved meat, plus a large dessert area with hand-scooped ice cream and an assortment of pastries. On most days, it also offers a themed area with Mexican or Italian food. At dinner, Cabanas becomes a plated meal restaurant, but no reservations are required. You’ll also find drink stations in Cabanas with soda, coffee, juice, and other beverages that are included with your cruise fare.
If the buffet is too busy or your kids can’t be bothered to leave the pool, there are several counter service restaurants scattered around Deck 9. Pinocchio’s Pizzeria serves a variety of pizzas by the slice. Pete’s Boiler Bites offers hamburgers, chicken tenders, fries, and an incredible sharwma option. And Daisy’s De-Lites offers healthier choices including salads, pre-made sandwiches, and fruit. My kid’s favorite place on Deck 9 is the Eye Scream and Frozone Treats, which includes a soft serve ice cream machine. Near the counter service options, you also can find two self-serve drink stations for coffee, soft drinks, and iced tea. The drink stations are open all day and are the best option for drinks, if you don’t want to pay for sodas; if you order a soft drink from a bar or room service, there’s a charge.
KidTripster Tip: If you like your Diet Coke (or any other drink), consider bringing your own travel cup. The disposable cups that are stocked at the drink stations are very small, so depending on how much you drink at one time, you may find yourself needing several cups.
The Wonder has three main dining rooms - Animator’s Palate, Triton’s, and Tiana’s Place. When you check in for the sailing, you’ll get a Key to the World card, which will open your stateroom and allow you to charge things during the sailing; cash is not accepted at any location on the Wonder except for tips. Your Key to the World card also will list your dining rotation, so you know which main restaurant to go to each night. Disney does what’s called rotational dining, which means your serving team comes with you to each new dining room. I love having the same service staff each night because they get to know my preferences and, more importantly, my kids’ preferences very quickly. By the second night on the Wonder, all three of my boys had their desired beverages placed on the table when we arrived, and our waiter had already ordered plain pasta for my picky son when it wasn’t listed on the menu.
Of the three main dining rooms, Triton’s is the one that I could take or leave. The food was good, but there was nothing really special about the restaurant itself; it just couldn’t hold a candle to the other two. Animator’s Palette can be found on every Disney Cruise Line ship, but each version of the restaurant is a little different. On the Wonder, the restaurant starts out in black and white with TVs showing sketches of different Disney characters. As the meal progresses, color fills the drawings. That’s just about the time when you realize your waitstaff has completely disappeared. I won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say, you’re treated to an entertaining show, complete with a special guest at the end.
Before we boarded the ship, I was most looking forward to eating at Tiana’s Place, and the restaurant did not disappoint. Tiana’s Place was a recent addition to the Wonder and is billed as a unique character experience. The restaurant is the realization of Tiana’s dream (from The Princess and the Frog) and features a Mardi Gras-inspired menu. I’m not from that part of the country, but I’ve been told that the food isn’t very authentic; but honestly, I don’t think anyone cares by the end of the meal. Tiana comes around to greet each table, takes pictures, and signs autographs. After you have ordered your food, the fun begins with live music from the Crawfish Crooners. The band plays New Orleans-style jazz throughout the meal, and Tiana even gets up and sings with the band on several numbers. At the end of dinner, it’s time to get up on your feet for a Mardi Gras parade with the waitstaff, other guests, and even Louis the trumpet-playing alligator from The Princess and the Frog. Be prepared for beads (but this is Disney, so no need to show anything), limbo, and lots of fun during this interactive meal that just may be the best character experiences that I’ve had at any Disney destination.
Your waitstaff will work to accommodate any changes that you may want to a listed dish or will create something entirely new, if nothing on the menu appeals to you. If anyone in your party has a food allergy, you’re given the option to order the food the night before, so your server can make sure that it’s prepared in the allergy-free kitchen. This was my first cruise with a food allergy, and I didn’t take my server up on his offer, which slowed down our service and created extra work for him. I didn’t fully understand what he was asking the first night, but now that I know, I’ll make sure to take advantage of that option on future sailings.
KidTripster Tip: There’s a dress code for the main dining room, but you won’t be turned away for violating it. Disney asks that you not wear jeans, t-shirts, or other casual clothing to dinner. I do insist that my boys put away their athletic shorts and wear a pair of khakis, as well as a collared shirt, but the fashions will run the gamut from very casual to very formal. Don’t let concerns over dressing the “right way” deter you from the dining experiences.
If you’re looking for a more adult dining option, the Wonder offers guests Palo, a speciality restaurant that’s only available for guests over 18. You do have to make reservations in advance, and there’s a $30 per person charge, but both the food and service are what you’d expect to find in a fine dining establishment. Palo also offers brunch on sea days.
If, by some chance, you get back to your room and are still hungry, the Wonder has you covered with room service. The majority of the room service menu is included with your cruise fare, and any item that is an additional charge will be noted when you place your order. My favorite item on the room service menu is the All Hands on Deck fruit and cheese platter, which I usually order while we are getting ready for dinner. It’s perfect with a glass of wine after a day of lounging around the pool. And did I mention, you can bring your own alcohol on the Wonder? Each adult guest can bring up to six beers (12 ounces or less) or two bottles of wine. You also are able to carry on other drinks like bottled water, soda or juice.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
How to stay in touch?
With so many activities and options, it can be hard to know where your family is at any given moment. Disney offers guests a few ways to stay in touch. Each stateroom is equipped with two Wave phones, which look like old-school cell phones. You can call or text other staterooms on the Wave phones from anywhere on the ship. We’ve had Wave phones on previous cruises and found them a bit hard to use; it also can be difficult to hear the ring or feel the vibration. My other issue with a Wave phone is the replacement cost if something happens. My tween isn’t known for taking great care of things, and if he breaks or loses a Wave phone, I’m looking at a $300 bill.
On the Wonder, we used the new Disney Cruise Line app for the first time. This app utilizes your personal smartphone and needs to be downloaded before you set sail (this part is very important). It allows you to communicate with anyone else on the ship that also has the app. It gives dining locations, hours, and menus. You also can pull up the activities guide and a map of the ship. If you check your email or log into social media, you’ll be charged for that internet usage, but using the app is complimentary.
KidTripster Tip: One of my favorite things about a cruise is that you’re forced to disconnect from email and social media. That said, it’s sometimes not possible to completely disconnect for an entire cruise, so you may need a small internet package. On the first night of the cruise, a free 100 MB internet package will be offered to guests, but you have to sign up that first day. Directions are in the Navigator that you receive when you board. Everyone with an email address in your cabin can sign up for the package, but be forewarned, it goes very quickly. We have found the best way to handle email is to check it, turn off the internet while reading and writing replies, and then turn the internet back on to send reply emails.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
Does size matter?
The Wonder accommodates 2,400 passengers, so it’s a mid-sized ship when compared to other vessels in the Disney Cruise Line. The size makes it fairly easy to get around, and most people quickly figure out how to navigate the ship’s decks. You also have fewer guests on board, so lines are shorter for character meet-and-greets, the buffet, and other actives. I found the big events like the Sail Away Party much less crowded than my experiences on other ships. That said, I also personally felt much more movement on the Wonder than I ever have on larger cruise ships. Several cast members gave me different reasons for this, but all confirmed that what I was feeling was a normal comment. The motion didn’t make me sick, except for one night, but I was almost always aware that we were moving.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
What to know before you set sail?
Whether you’re sailing on the Disney Wonder or another cruise ship, you need to make sure that you have the correct documents to board the ship. The family checking in at the port next to us brought incorrect items and were told that they couldn’t sail. (Can you imagine?!) Boarding a cruise ship is actually controlled by U.S. Customs and not the cruise line, so the government isn’t going to bend the rules so you can go on vacation. Most sailings that leave from a U.S. port are called closed loop cruises, which means you begin and end at the same port. With a closed loop cruise, you’re able to sail with just an official birth certificate and state-issued photo ID for those over 16. If something were to happen on your cruise, you couldn’t re-enter the country by air (so flying home from Mexico with a broken leg would be out).
Our sailing on the Wonder was a repositioning cruise. It left from Galveston, Texas, but arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Both of those ports are within the United States, but because we weren’t coming and going from the same U.S. port, the sailing was called a non-closed loop cruise and required everyone within the party (regardless of age) to have a valid passport. Make sure you’re clear about what your particular cruise requires.
Photo courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
How to save money on your cruise booking?
We booked our cruise last minute as a guaranteed rate. This special, lower rate is a way for the cruise line to fill cabins, usually after final payments for guests who have booked in advance are due. The guaranteed rate on Disney Cruise Line requires payment in full at the time of booking and is non-refundable, but it can be a big savings. On this cruise, it meant a 30% discount!
To check on this kind of rate, look for a cruise that sails within the next 75 days. (Final payment is generally between 75 and 90 days out.) The rate will be the lead rate in each category and will be marked with IGT (inside guarantee), OGT (oceanview guarantee) or VGT (verandah guarantee). It’s a great deal if you can swing it, but this rate is generally not available during peak cruising periods (spring break, summer or holidays).
Unusual itineraries like repositioning cruises are more likely to have guaranteed rates, but some of the repositioning cruises are also popular because they offer the chance to see more ports. You'll have to weigh the cruise savings against the potential need for more expensive, one-way airfares to and from different cities. You also may have additional costs if you need to get passports for every family member. (See previous section.)
With a guaranteed rate, you’re not able to choose your cabin. You book a category (inside, oceanview or verandah) and are guaranteed a room in that category. Disney Cruise Line will assign your room number at a later date, and it can't be changed; so you could end up on Deck 1 or in a handicap-accessible room.
For more tips on saving money on Disney cruises, click here.
Jamie Farber lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons. Her English degree somehow has led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels.