Our family set sail to Alaska aboard the beautiful Disney Wonder on their inaugural cruise from Seattle. Our seven-night voyage called on three Alaskan ports: Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. I’ve already given you some ideas for cute outfits for an Alaskan cruise. And I told you about our cruise pre-stay in Seattle. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing the details of our cruise and excursions through sporadic posts. This post, in particular, offers an overview of our experience aboard the Disney Wonder. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.
Observations on the Disney Wonder
Prior to this cruise, we’d done three other Disney cruises, each aboard the Disney Magic. In spite of the fact that the Magic and Wonder are sister ships, none of us knew how we’d feel about the Disney Wonder. The majority of her sailings have been three and four night Bahama trips and we wondered if perhaps the high turnover of guests had taken a toll on her. I’m happy to report that our fears were quickly alleviated; the Wonder is every bit as gorgeous a vessel as the Magic. In fact, I have a confession: having now sailed on both, I actually prefer the Wonder. While the layout of the two ships is identical to my eye, there are some slight variations in theme. The adult entertainment district aboard the Wonder has a Route 66 theme whereas the same area aboard the Magic is known as Beat Street. The Route 66 theme is cleaner and brighter. Plus? The carpet depicts a map of the actual Route 66, which happens to run right through my home state. Another difference between the two ships is that on the Magic, the most formal of the three rotational restaurants is called Lumiere’s and is themed after Beauty and the Beast. On the Wonder, that restaurant’s counterpart is called Triton’s and is themed for The Little Mermaid.
Disney is well-known for running a simple and organized embarkation process. Because our sailing was the first one from Seattle, I reasonably expected a few hiccups in the process. To my delight, though, things went very smoothly. After going through security, we were directed to a small area and asked to fill out a health questionnaire. This is standard procedure. There were plenty of tables, forms and pens for everyone. From there, we approached the Castaway Club line, which basically equates to a FASTPASS for guests who’ve previously cruised with Disney. The agent who checked us in was maybe a tad anal and didn’t quite know what he was doing, but still we completed the process relatively quickly and were given a boarding card that allowed us to board in the third group. As we waited to get on the ship, we had the opportunity to pose for photos with some of Mickey’s friends.
Dining aboard the Disney Cruise ships is pretty much an Olympic sport. Seriously, I think those who put away the most food train for it. I am not among them. We tend to eat fairly healthy at home, with the vast majority of our dietary items coming from organic sources or being handcrafted by yours truly. While this is not so on the Disney Cruise ships (that is the one thing I wish they’d improve upon), food is readily available all hours of the day. I had hoped for some special menu items that would reflect our destination–Alaskan halibut, anyone? Sadly, though, Alaskan specialties appeared on the menu only one night: the Taste of Alaska menu. Even that, though, did not feature halibut. Salmon made an appearance on that menu, as did Alaskan King Crab legs. Jeff and I both felt that the menu offering were just okay, and the food itself didn’t wow us either.
Considering the dipping temperatures, though, we were both pleased with the hot chocolate station located on Deck 9. With that very hot chocolate station in mind, we created bags full of hot chocolate mix-ins both for our personal use, as well as to hand out as Fish Extender gifts. On the morning the ship pulled into Tracy Arm, Jeff and I snuck up to Grandma and Grandpa’s room to make good use of their balcony while they were enjoying brunch at Palo.
Our yummy mix-ins were the perfect accompaniment to our cups of cocoa. Speaking of the cocoa aboard the ship, here’s a tip for you: the hot chocolate directly out of the machine is a little weak and is obviously made using water. For a more rich and flavorful drink, try filling your cup about 1/4 of the way full with some 1/2 and 1/2 from the machine right next to the hot chocolate machine. Then, stir in one of the packets of hot chocolate they keep right next to the machine. Finally, top your cup off with the steamy hot pre-made hot chocolate from the machine. It tastes worlds better that way.
During our cruise, we enjoyed two meals at Palo, Disney’s adults only restaurant on the Wonder. Brunch is served on sea days, while dinner is served each night of the cruise. We enjoyed our brunch on our first full day aboard the ship. Another tip for you: do make reservations early because Palo books up fast. Also, I’ve found that earlier reservations (before 11 am) will yield you better variety and availability of buffet items. The cinnamon rolls are heavenly. Later in the week, we visited Palo for dinner, this time with Grams and Gramps. We were there to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely meal, filled with adult conversation with two of my favorite people in all the world.
When not dining in Palo, the majority of our meals were enjoyed in one of three rotational restaurants. The food in each of them is mediocre to my discerning tastes, but the service is impeccable. During this cruise, we were treated to the best server team we’ve ever had. Our server, Eve, was from Wales and surprised Cassidy and Jayce with origami creations each night. Our assistant server, Agus, made it a point to bring the kids chocolate milk and Mickey head ketchup for dipping fries in. Oh, and then there was Scott. Scott was not actually one of the servers assigned to us, but he took a liking to Gram, and made sure to stop by our table often to check in on how his “cougar” was doing. Gram just loved him and by the end of the cruise, the rest of us were pretty fond as well. On the night of our last dinner, we asked Scott to take a photo of the whole group, but before he would do it, he snapped a quick photo of himself so we’d have something to remember him by.
During our past cruises, I could take or leave the characters. But with them all decked out in their cold-weather gear, I was intent on getting at least a couple of character photos. Lucky for me, the characters were out in full force. More than once we just bumped into them in the halls or on deck, without a line at all.
Sea Day Activities
Disney does a great job of ensuring that children and young people have a plethora of activities to choose from during days at sea. I do think, though, that they could do a better job of planning and scheduling activities for adults. Often times, the best activities will overlap one another while at other times there is absolutely nothing going on. That said, Jeff and I did find ways to stay occupied while the kiddos were busy making chocolate chip cookies or greeting characters in the youth clubs. We attended three tasting seminars in all: the wine tasting, mojito tasting, and martini tasting. Those are always fun not only for the drinks but also because you learn a little something new each time. For instance, did you know that martinis aren’t necessarily better shaken than stirred? The reason James Bond orders his that way is because shaking them results in a more watered down drink, and he wants to keep his head in the game. See? I learn something new in each of those seminars.
Another aspect unique to the Alaskan cruises are the warm beverages. On sea days, there was mulled wine available for purchase in the atrium. I also saw beverages carts carrying coffee with adult add-ins like Kahlua, Bailey’s and Peppermint Schnapps. We’re not coffee drinkers, so we didn’t partake, but it would be a fun treat if we were.
During the Alaska cruising season, Disney has a naturalist on board. During our cruise, it was a National Forest Service ranger, Doug Jones. In addition to narrating our journey into Tracy Arm, Doug held various presentations in the Walt Disney Theater. His topics of discussion included: the Klondike Gold Rush, icefields and glaciers, Alaska’s bears, and whales. Of these, we attended three of the presentations and found each of them to be both informative and entertaining. An Alaskan native, Doug Jones had some magnificent stories to tell as well as tons of beautiful photos to share during his talks. I highly recommend attending each and every one of his presentations if you cruise Alaska with Disney.
As I mentioned, Doug Jones narrated the sights as we cruised into Tracy Arm. He pointed out wildlife and presented general information about the area and the South Sawyer glacier that we’d be seeing once the ship got close enough. His narration was broadcast on the TV so that guests could listen from their stateroom verandahs. And that is precisely what we did.
Jeff and I brought a bottle of wine along with us to visit Grams and Gramps in their verandah stateroom. We basically camped out there in the room with them for three hours or so as the ship glided into Tracy Arm. We saw lots of ice that day, as well as a few seals, and many waterfalls. The scenery was beautiful, but I was hoping to see more wildlife. The folks on the starboard side of the ship did get to see a bald eagle in her nest, but we missed that. We didn’t see any mountain goats either, and the seals we did see were quite a ways off. Still, Tracy Arm was gorgeous. Many experienced cruisers will tell you that you really ought to have a verandah for an Alaskan cruise. Because we needed two rooms to accommodate our large family, a verandah room was a bit out of our price range. I appreciated the ability to “borrow” Grams and Gramps’ view for Tracy Arm day, but I don’t know that the convenience is worth the price. For one thing, it was so cold outside that we couldn’t stay out there for long. Also, many fellow cruisers had staked out spots inside the ship, next to large porthole windows in the lounges–they had a great view without paying an arm and a leg for it. Were we to cruise to Alaska again (which I fully intend to do) I don’t think we’d spend the additional money on a verandah. Instead, we’d splurge on once-in-a-lifetime excursions in port. We did just that for this cruise; next time we’d choose different ones (obviously, hence the whole once-in-a-lifetime thing). In my upcoming posts, I’m going to share some of those excursions with you. Stay tuned!