Two months after the Disney Wonder returned from its dry dock, the ship is looking better than ever in its more than 17-year history. With tons of new experiences and re-themed spaces, it’s no wonder why many cruise-goers may opt to set sail on this vessel.
I recently returned from a seven-day voyage aboard the Disney Wonder, and I am here to share details on the novel experiences aboard Disney Cruise Line’s second ship.
Almost all of the main dining venues experienced overhauls, whether subtle or major. Whereas Triton’s, one of the primary restaurants, felt more or less the same with its understated Little Mermaid aesthetics, the other two restaurants felt absolutely delightful based on Disney’s changes. Guest favorite Animator’s Palate incorporated some of the technological innovations from the other ships, in the form of a special “dinner show” where guests draw characters that magically come to life alongside Disney characters on television screens adorning the walls. This never fails to disappoint in its excitement, and the Disney Wonder deserved the upgrade. Furthermore, the entire space was altered to feature newer characters that have debuted since the Wonder launched in 1999. That means we see Joy from Inside Out and Maui from Moana alongside Donald Duck and others. The longstanding mini-show featuring Sorcery Mickey is gladly retained, as is the transformation from a black-and-white atmosphere to color.
Perhaps the most monumental change is a complete restaurant re-theming, from the rather generic tropical Parrot Cay, to Tiana’s Place, a Dixieland-like experience set to The Princess and the Frog. It’s a terrific dinner experience, which incorporates a live jazz band, Disney characters Tiana and Louis the Alligator, and a flavorful menu. Many opt for the New Orleans-style beignets. I happily consumed a slice of thick, creamy chocolate cake. Tiana’s Place is almost like a dinner show with its performers, dancing, and character opportunities.
Other dining spaces have also been altered to accommodate guests’ tastes, as well as functionality. A few name changes were evident on the quick-service spots on Deck 9, and the addition of Sulley’s Sips, a premium drink venue, also reflects what the other ships possess. Cabanas, the buffet restaurant, was fortunately refurbished with a more efficient layout. Gone is the long salad bar, and in is more of the individual food stations. Some Finding Dory touches were also incorporated in the form of wall art near the restaurant entrance. The food quality feels somewhat improved, and certainly the crowded seating situation feels less cumbersome than in years’ past.
Bye, Route 66. The whole entertainment area for adults on the Disney Wonder no longer resembles the ’50s and ’60s fun along the classic highway route. Now it’s a much more contemporary and eclectic bunch of settings under the After Hours umbrella. The one exception is the grooving Cadillac Lounge, which is more or less the same, albeit feeling fresher. The sports pub space is now in the form of English-themed Crown and Fin Pub. It’s a more inviting space than in the past, complete with more games and televisions for watching games, and it has some nods to some classic live-action Disney films, too. The most distinctive alteration has been to the primary space for adults, now called Azure. It’s a contemporary, if not somewhat bland club. Whereas in the past guests would marvel over the pictures and memorabilia related to Route 66, now there is rather nothing to look at, save for the lighting that sets a cool mood. According to some of the cast members, much of the reason Disney re-themed Route 66 was due to the fact that its neat theme throughout the area attracted kids into the spaces at night, when it is strictly for adults. That is no longer the case, for the most part.
But children possess extremely intricate and innovative spaces to explore in the kids’ clubs. Disney has mostly been promoting the renovations to Oceanner Club and Oceaneer Lab, targeted for children ages 3 – 12, and it’s no surprise why. The Oceaneer Club now has some of the same touches as the other Disney ships, including awesome spaces based on Toy Story, Frozen, Marvel’s The Avengers, and Disney Junior. The theming and games are exquisite to put it mildly. Adults could spend hours there during the Open House periods to partake in activities and explore all it has to offer. Oceaneer Lab, which is geared more for older kids in that age range, is more subtle in the theming. However, keen and worldly Disney fans will identify references to characters and storylines from the international theme parks, such as Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor. The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique has also been added to allow little ones to become transformed into royalty. For kids who want to get wet, the Aqua Lab area, Dory’s Reef play spot, and the Twist N’ Spout water slide are all catered to them.
The biggest highlight for many guests who travel on the Disney Wonder is to catch the first Frozen musical at sea. The hype was high for Frozen: A Musical Spectacular and boy did it deliver. The opening cast for this production not only has fantastic voices and would make the film voice cast proud, but the design and effects are top notch. Elsa’s transformation during the “Let It Go” scene, especially during the costume change, is a dazzling Disney moment. The Olaf and Sven puppets are crafted meticulously, and the silhouettes projected on the theatre walls encapsulate guests in Arandelle. The main flaw, if any, is the rushed narrative and lack of experimentation with the script. That drawback stems more from the movie, but Disney could have used this as an opportunity to flesh out the characters more. The only real changes from the film are apparent in a few of the songs, which have some additional instrumental sections. Returning aboard the Disney Wonder is the so-so standard musical “Disney Dreams” and awards show “The Golden Mickeys,” which is the stronger of the two, in terms of the storyline and musical sequences. Nonetheless, the cast of the Walt Disney Theatre is excellent across all three main productions.
The days when the Disney Wonder represented the least appealing and popular vessel of Disney Cruise Line’s fleet are over. All four of Disney’s ships have either been renovated or launched within the past six years, and they each deliver unique experiences. For the improved dining, clubs, and entertainment spaces, the most identifiable alterations, Disney Wonder feels upgraded almost across the board. Save for the disappointing Azure, I could not have been more pleased to have sailed on the Disney Wonder for the second time. I know I cannot wait to sail again, and you should consider it, too, if you value the opportunities that await on Disney Cruise Line.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.