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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman

 

Fairytale Cruise:
Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder

By Georgina Cruz

What do you call a ship where you can have tea with Peter Pan's pal, Wendy Darling, exercise with Goofy, and hug Mickey Mouse?

"F-u-u-u-n!" said Mackenzie Heller, 10, a passenger from Allentown, Pennsylvania, sailing with her family on the Disney Wonder.

Wonder-ful, say my husband and I, who sailed by ourselves on a four-night voyage to Nassau and Disney's private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay in September. Fresh from a make-over in the fall of 2004 that added three new age-specific public rooms, it's as if the 30,000-ton, 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder has been pixie-dusted: it offers a variety of new facilities and features that were not available when we sailed during the ship's inaugural season in 1999.

The Disney Wonder, like her sister, the Disney Magic, is inspired by the elegant ocean liners of the 1920s. Both ships have sleek black hulls, twin red funnels, yellow scrollwork and lifeboats (Mickey Mouse's colors--the U.S. Coast Guard, by the way, gave permission for the lifeboats to be bright yellow instead of traditional orange). Both ships have separate areas for families with children--Disney Wonder routinely welcomes 1,000-1,100 kids each sailing according to Mandy Williams, cruise director--and sections for adults. For those traveling without children, it is also of interest, that those adults-only areas, which are by the way, handsomely decorated, in Art Nouveau-style, with fine blond woods on the Disney Wonder, are generally not crowded.

"It is really nice," said a guest from London, England who was traveling with her husband. "You never have to hunt for a seat in the adult areas." 
We found, for instance, during the four-night Bahamas cruise in September that I enjoyed with my husband, Humberto, we had some of the Disney Wonder's adults-only lounges, like Cove Café and Diversions practically all to ourselves on a number of occasions, and they were always far from crowded the rest of the times. Staff at both lounges--two of the three new age-specific areas added during the ship's fall 2004 makeover--got to know us and our beverage preferences, something unexpected on a big, mainstream vessel.

The Cove Café on Deck 9 is a pleasant lounge we often retreated to after a stroll on Promenade Deck 4, which encircles the ship, or after hours in the tropical sun by the adjacent Quiet Cove pool, the adult pool with two whirlpools. The Cove Café is also a great spot for enjoying gourmet coffee and specialty drinks, or reading, socializing, watching television, and accessing e-mail.

Diversions, in the ship's adults-only Route 66 entertainment district on Deck 3, is a traditional sports pub filled with flat-screen plasma televisions--the place to watch the big games and enjoy a variety of adult activities including trivia and sing-along karaoke. One night we checked out the other clubs on Route 66: WaveBands, a live music and dance hall, and the Cadillac Lounge, a romantic piano bar themed to cars and lovers' lanes of yesteryear--it has a big teak-wood dashboard of a classic El Dorado behind the bar, and it is accented with the huge fins of a 1958 Cadillac De Ville.

Naturally, on one of Mickey Mouse's cruise ships families never feel left out: as you would expect from a vessel that has a sculpture of Donald Duck and his mischievous nephew Huey adorning the stern and the image of Steamboat Mickey appearing on the bow, the beloved Disney characters come to life aboard ship to the delight of youngsters and the young at heart. The Disney characters make appearances to pose for photos and sign autographs frequently during the cruise.

Among many outdoor and indoor facilities for families are two pools--an especially whimsical one is shaped like Mickey Mouse--and Studio Sea, a lounge which sets the scene for game shows, family-friendly dance parties and other entertainment which parents can share with their children.
Aloft, the third new, makeover-created, age-specific, space on the Disney Wonder is a teen haven, housed in one of the ship's smokestacks. A trendy coffee shop, it has comfy couches and overstuffed chairs, video games, MP3 listening stations, computers with Internet access, a bar that dispenses smoothies and soft drinks, and a collection of magazines and board games. This teen hangout sets the scene for parties, trivia contests and more. Ah, to be young again!

Disney's second-to-none programs for younger sailors are headquartered at various venues which take up the lion's share of Deck 5. Flounder's Reef Nursery, adorned with Little Mermaid-themed bubble murals and toys, cares for infants and offers activities for toddlers. The Oceaneer Club features programs for two groups, ages 3-4 and ages 5-7 including "Mouseketeer Training," with an inspection by Mickey Mouse himself, and making Jolly Rogers, with Captain Hook showing up to look over the children's shoulders and inspect their work.

At the Oceaneer Lab kids ages 8-9 and 10-12 can create their own animation cell and enjoy Science Sorcery where they can make their own batch of "flubber" and witness vinegar and baking soda "eruptions" among other activities.

"The kids are having a blast," said Kim Heller of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who was sailing with her children, Mackenzie, 10 and Jared, 12. "Every time they turn around, it's 'Oh, my gosh!'--it's very exciting for them."

Mom and Dad indeed do find that all the fun children's programs are like a potent abracadabra! (Now you see the kids; now you don't). In fact, they "disappear" for hours on end! So parents have a chance to participate in such enrichment programs for adults (which had not been onboard during our Disney Wonder inaugural season sailing in 1999) as Disney's Art of Entertaining, where among other activities, guests can mix it up with chefs and other experts to learn to create fanciful desserts and floral fantasies.
Other adult enrichment activities include Disney Behind-the-Scenes! This program offers guests opportunities to take a peek behind the curtain of the Walt Disney Theatre, the ship's main show lounge, and to enjoy meetings with guest presenters from Broadway, film, and television throughout the Walt Disney Company.

All ages enjoy the excellent stage shows presented in the 977-seat, state of the art, Walt Disney Theatre with arguably the most comfortable seating at sea: rocking cherry wood armchairs. Our favorite production shows were Disney Dreams and The Golden Mickeys, the latter based on Disney classics and themed to a Hollywood awards show. Guests get into the fun spirit of the evening even before the show starts. As they approach the theater, they encounter a red carpet and the ambiance of a Hollywood premiere, complete with paparazzi, a roving reporter, and live "celebrity" interviews broadcast on giant video screens inside the theater. Special effects of The Golden Mickeys include animated backdrops, a star-lit African night for a scene from "The Lion King," an under-the-sea setting for a scene from "The Little Mermaid" during which an outstretched Ursula surprises unsuspecting guests, and an enchanted ballroom gown that changes colors from the "Sleeping Beauty" fairytale.

There is no casino on board, but bingo is offered daily in the lounges. Another top entertainment venue is the Buena Vista Theatre which screens Disney animated films and first-run movies. Photos from the premieres of such classics as "Pinocchio" and "Sleeping Beauty" are mixed in with posters of current Disney releases. Themed deck parties are another popular option with all ages including the new Pirates in the Caribbean party. The buccaneer bash, held in the upper decks, is attended by Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and other scoundrels who lead guests in a line dance set to the classic swashbuckling song, "Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me." The festivities, which include fireworks, begin with a themed dinner in the dining rooms including crab cakes with fruit salsa, jerk chicken salad, spicy Caribbean gumbo, Black Pearl beef tenderloin, a meringue treasure chest brimming with fresh fruit, and other delicious tropical specialties.

Disney's innovative rotation dining, which debuted with the Disney Magic in August of 1998, is featured on Disney Wonder as well. Each evening, guests, their tablemates, and servers experience one of three different themed main restaurants. 

Triton's is the most elegant with an "Under the Sea" theme just off the ship's three-level atrium, which is itself appropriately adorned with a monumental chandelier by Dale Chihuly with many colorful jellyfish and a statue of Ariel, of "The Little Mermaid" Disney classic. Animator's Palate is a nod to Disney animation, where guests find themselves in a restaurant that transforms itself from black and white to brilliant color, as if by magic, during the course of a meal. Parrot Cay is a casual eatery with a tropical, Bahamas flavor and flair.

Palo, an alternative restaurant (fee is $10, an excellent investment!) is a sophisticated, adults-only, venue featuring ocean views, delectable northern Italian specialties like Tuscan minestrone soup and tortellini stuffed with crab meat, and impeccable service. During days at sea, Palo also offers a champagne brunch ($10) and a traditional high tea ($5). Dinner, brunch, and tea are all very popular: make reservations as soon as you board.

The Beach Blanket Buffet serves quick, casual breakfast and themed lunch buffets daily--a free dispenser features Coca-Cola products. For a snack during the day, Pluto's Dog House and Pinocchio's Pizzeria dish out burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and pizza. Scoops serves free ice cream treats, fresh fruit, and sandwich wraps. To assuage hunger pangs that may occur in the wee hours in the staterooms, there is 24-hour room service. Cabins on Disney Wonder, by the way, are spacious, attractive and comfortable, and are equipped with bathrooms that have the same incredibly practical split layout introduced on Disney Magic: one side of the bathroom in most cabin categories has a full tub/shower combination and vanity/sink, the other side has the toilet and another vanity/sink.

Dining opportunities continue at Castaway Cay, Disney's private Bahamian island, where families enjoy an all-you-can-eat island barbecue, while couples and solo passengers can choose from a menu of grilled sandwiches, and a fruits and beverages bar at the mile-long, adults-only Serenity Bay Beach at the north side of the island. An option on Serenity Bay Beach is a massage in a secluded, open-air cabana surrounded by coconut palms, royal poincianas and other lush vegetation, and overlooking the idyllic sea (aaah, bliss!). The massages are performed by masseuses from the ship's 9,000 sq. ft. Vista Spa on Deck 9 forward, which is an adults-only area as well and never seemed crowded during our cruise.

In addition to the open-air cabana massages, Disney has rolled in new activities on Castaway Cay, which is located in the Abacos' string of islands and has a dock that the ship pulls right up to (as opposed to anchoring and tendering guests ashore). Among the new pastimes are parasailing, bottom fishing, off-shore snorkeling, a glass-bottom voyage, and a nature and kayak adventure. These join the existing activities available when we sailed in 1999: sailboats, water cycles, rafts, paddle boats, a souvenir shop/post office, and organized beach games for children and teens at the family beach. 

As we departed from Castaway Cay, with the ship's whistle playing "When You Wish Upon A Star," and gazed at the private island being left behind like a Never Land paradise, we found ourselves making a wish: to sail again soon on this Wonder of a ship.

IF YOU GO: Three-night Bahamas cruises sail from Port Canaveral on Thursdays and visit Nassau and Castaway Cay. Fares start at $399 per person, double occupancy. Four-night Bahamas cruises sail from Port Canaveral on Sundays and call at Nassau and Castaway Cay. Fares begin at $499 per person, double. Land packages featuring hotel stays at Walt Disney World in Orlando are available through the cruise line. For more information, contact the Disney Cruise Line, 210 Celebration Place, Celebration, FL 24747; www.disneycruise.com.


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