This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Surprises of the Disney Cruise Line. Several weeks ago we posted an article on Six Reasons To Go On a Disney Cruise, which covered the “big picture” of why you should consider setting sail with The Mouse, but this week we’ll take a look some of the smaller details that made a significant impact on my vacation. Leading up to the cruise, I had done a decent amount of research on TouringPlans, the Disney Cruise Line Blog, and reading Erin Foster’s numerous DCL posts on the blog, but once I stepped onto the deck of the Disney Wonder I still had one surprise after another. Here are my six favorite surprises of the trip (remember, you can click on any picture to see it in full size)…
# 6 – DCL Beer Mug Card
I’m a big fan of souvenir glasses (and we covered several of options available in the photo reports of the DCL gift shops and Castaway Cay) so I was definitely drawn to the DCL Beer Mug. Aside from being a neat souvenir, the mug has two benefits that come along with it. The first benefit is the fact that each time you get a beer in the mug you are given a 22 oz serving, but only charged for 16 oz. Secondly, the mug itself has a good amount of weight to it, so it was a nice surprise to find out you don’t have to carry it around with you during the cruise. When you are done drinking, you hand the mug back to your server/bartender, and they will give you a card which you can then exchange for another mug when you are ready to drink again. This option became so handy and convenient throughout the trip, that I began to wish there was some practical way the theme parks could incorporate it into their day-to-day operations.
# 5 – The Art Gallery
Anyone who has read my updates this year covering the construction going on at Downtown Disney knows how much I love going to the Art of Disney store and browsing around. I am continually blown away at the wide variety of artwork Disney commissions, and how much of it most people will never see. So imagine my surprise when walking around the ship and stumbling onto a hallway that was, for all intents and purposes, a scaled down version of the Art of Disney store. Lining the walls were various pieces of art dedicated to princesses, Disney films, the Disney parks, and of course the Disney Cruise Line. There were four separate pieces based around Pixar’s Up, one of my favorite movies, so I was a very happy camper.
# 4 – The Adults-Only Areas of the Cruise
We went on our first Disney Cruise having no kids in tow, and as I wrote before the cruise, one of the things we were worried about was that the ship would be overrun with children. While there were definitely a lot of kids on the sailing, Disney did a good job providing a lot of options for them so that they weren’t constantly milling around the common areas of the ship. We were also very surprised by the adults-only areas on both the ship as well as Castaway Cay. We had a fantastic cruise with Royal Caribbean last year, and while they also had adults-only areas, those locations were generally just as busy as the children’s areas because so many guests traveled without kids.
The Quiet Cove adults pool always had lounge chairs available near the pool, even on sea days (when everyone is on the ship.) This was a stark contrast to our Royal Caribbean trip, where the adults pool would, at times, be jam packed and you’d all but have to “rope drop” it if you wanted to get a lounge chair. Not only was there a dedicated bar for the Quiet Cove, but there was also the Cove Cafe nearby. The Cove Cafe was sort of a gourmet coffee bar, but had a flat screen TV, magazines, and a large seating area to relax in. At Castaway Cay there is Serenity Bay, the adults-only beach area. We knew ahead of time that we wanted to do the Castaway Cay 5K along with exploring the island, so we had resigned ourselves to the fact that there wouldn’t be much available seating at Serenity Bay by the time we got there. Lo and behold there were still a ton of great areas available, along with hammocks. Maybe the biggest surprise of the whole trip was the large amount of waves on the Serenity Bay beach, as the family beaches had completely still water. Hands down, Serenity Bay is one of the best beach experiences we have ever had.
# 3 – Room Service
I’ve never been a huge fan of room service while staying on-site at the theme park resorts, because generally the prices are so high they would make airport restaurants blush. However, room service on the Disney Cruise Line is free (aside from tipping the delivery person) so I had to try it out. The room service menu on the Wonder wasn’t particularly huge (especially compared to the one at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which was larger than many full service restaurants I have been to) but everything we had ranged from good (the pizza), to very good (the french fries), to great (Mickey bar.) The ship’s restaurants serve the same type of shoestring fries that we often get inside the theme parks, but room service fries were steak fries. Major thumbs up. Len Testa, the Grand Poohbah himself, set a goal in 2014 not to eat at any WDW table service restaurants, and he has inspired my goal for my next cruise being to eat every single meal via room service.
# 2 – The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app
I was not expecting much from the Disney Cruise Navigator App for my iPhone, as my experiences in the theme parks with both My Disney Experience and Universal’s apps have, at times, made me want to throw my phone into nearby wall out of frustration. I downloaded the DCL app earlier in the year, and once I typed in my sailing date, the app became a countdown clock to the cruise. That was neat and was a nice reminder of how close the cruise was. Once onboard the ship, the app became one of the best apps I have ever used, for anything. Very intuitive, and goes to a level of detail that was greatly appreciated. The app had pages dedicated pretty much to everything you would want to know on the ship in an easy-to-find format. Character experiences, movie times, live shows, ports of call, drinks of the day, and more would covered as you could literally go deck by deck throughout the ship. What I found very helpful was the fact that you could pull up the menu of any of the restaurants, for any day of the cruise, and see the entire menu.
# 1 – Retro Feel of the Ship
From bow to stern, the Wonder was like a trip back through time. We are so overwhelmed with marketing in our face in almost every aspect of our lives, that it was refreshing to be someplace that seemed out of another era. While I didn’t expect the ship to be tacky, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see tons of artwork pushing towards the latest movies or DVD releases and instead the ship was filled with art referencing Disney films and cartoons from the 1930s through the 1970s, several of which most guests probably have never heard of such as The Happiest Millionaire and The Island at the Top of the World. While the parks are becoming Frozen centric, the Wonder had drawings from Fantasia along with several of the classic Goofy and Donald Duck animated shorts over the years. Our stateroom had a fantastic map of Castaway Cay done in a retro style along with a picture of Walt Disney and his wife on a cruise ship in the 1930s. Everything was tasteful, beautiful, and evocative of another time and place. It was wonderful.
HONORABLE MENTION: Chocolates on Bed
Each night when we returned to our stateroom we would find the next day’s Navigator printed out along with a towel animal and some pieces of chocolate. In a great example of The Disney Difference, the chocolates were themed to Sleepy of the seven dwarfs. Just a fantastic touch.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION: The Wave Phones
The Wave phones are complimentary in each stateroom, and they were something that I was looking forward to because my girlfriend and I had a hard time communicating with each other while taking a Royal Caribbean cruise. We thought the Wave phones would be great, allowing us to contact each other from any point on the ship. To my surprise, the phones were pretty much useless to us because we could not hear them (even at the loudest settings) or feel them vibrate. We ended up buying an internet package on the ship, which allowed us to communicate via iMessage on our iPhones, and stopped using the Wave phones on the second day of the cruise. I am going to leave open the possibility that I wasn’t using the Wave phones correctly, as my grasp on technology is still on the low end of the bell curve. I will be sure to talk to The Powers That Be at TouringPlans and request an immediate study on another cruise to test a pair of Wave phones so that I can give you, Dear Reader, the information you deserve!
So there you have it: Six Surprises of the Disney Cruise Line. For those interested in even more DCL coverage, I will have my full write up of the Castaway Cay 5K later this week. Otherwise, we’ll see you next weekend for the latest edition of the SATURDAY SIX, where we are going to get back on land and take a look at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover and for his invaluable assistance to this article. Despite my poorly cropped photos, it was Brandon’s inspiration to at least try and frame the pictures in an interesting way. Another huge thank you to Laurel Stewart, the official Cat Lady of TouringPlans, who helped me figure out how to put a picture gallery in an article, something I have been pulling my hair out trying to do for over one year.