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Our family on a Disney Wonder cruise in Australia

No one warned me about the affliction that would strike me when we boarded our Disney Wonder cruise in Australia. There wasn’t any word on social media, in the mainstream media, or in reviews. It started innocently enough on day one with the simple humming of  ‘Whistle While You Work’, but it wasn’t long before I had a bad case of Disney earworm-it is and couldn’t stop smiling.

And it got more severe by the minute. There was nowhere to hide; it was all through the ship. Then my wife and 20-year-old son caught it as well. Once we were onboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship in Australia, we couldn’t ‘Let it Go’ and were powerless to resist the Disney magic.

Was it brought on by our favourite Disney tunes playing throughout the ship?  Or the other passengers decked out in all manner of Disney merch, from t-shirts and princess dresses to an amazing assortment of Mickey Ears? No, I think it started the minute we walked onto the ship.

Boarding Disney Wonder in Brisbane seemed like a regular embarkation until we got onboard and entered the central atrium to the sound of applause and a grand announcement:

“Please welcome the Templeman family!”

Goofy was waving at us from the stairs, crew members (who are called cast members, the same as at the parks) were beaming at us and ready to help with directions to the nearest restaurant for lunch. Everyone got this special treatment and grand welcome when they boarded. It may sound a little cheesy but it genuinely made us feel special and (even more) excited about the cruise.

It had been years since we’d been to Disney World in Orlando which meant our son was now an adult, but we could feel the wonder of Disney Wonder winning us over from the moment we got onboard. If this was a ‘standard’ Disney Cruise welcome they had us at ‘hello’!

Disney Wonder cabins

So, let’s start with ‘The Bare Necessities’ on Disney Wonder in Australia. Firstly, Disney Wonder is considered a mid-sized cruise ship with 875 staterooms designed with families in mind. Disney Wonder cabins come in multiple configurations that cater to up to seven passengers per room in a suite and five in a Navigator Cove Balcony Cabin.

All of the other cabins on board, like our veranda stateroom, cater for four passengers and have a unique split shower/toilet area with the toilet and a vanity basin in a separate room. There’s also a thick curtain that divides the bedroom/lounge to allow for extra privacy, a bonus whether you’re travelling with little kids or a big one like we were.

Disney Wonder - Verandah Stateroom
Disney Wonder veranda cabins are generous
Privacy curtain on Disney Wonder
Our son could stay up late without disturbing us

We have been cruising as a family since our son was three and we all agreed that this was the best and most practical cabin we had sailed in. When our son was little, we used to have trouble getting him to go to sleep in a shared cabin. Now that he’s an adult, he stays up much later than his parents so the curtain came in handy. Having a toilet with a sink in a separate room meant the logistics of sharing a room were much better as we had different spaces to get ready, brush our teeth, etc. The cabin was also very spacious compared to others we’ve been in.

One thing worth noting if you’re a light sleeper; we were in a (locked off) interconnecting cabin and did have additional noise seeping through the door. This didn’t bother us, but you may like to avoid these cabins if you are sensitive to noise or like to sleep in. Interconnecting cabins have this issue on every ship, of course, but being a Disney cruise, your odds of having excited little ones next door like we did is higher.

Disney Wonder deck plan

The Disney Wonder deck plan is laid out over 11 beautiful Art Nouveau decks with six cabin decks and five mixed-use decks consisting of bars, restaurants, lounges and pools. The best cabins are midship away from theatres and the pool deck. We found it easy to get around Disney Wonder, with good passenger flow and a sensible layout. It’s one of the few ships that we haven’t got hopelessly lost on during our first day onboard.

Disney Wonder free activities

Something that is really important on a Disney cruise is to ‘Be Prepared’. There are some fantastic free special activities on Disney Wonder that you can do if you know about them, but you need to book these in advance, ideally before you get onboard. An example of this is the Royal Gathering which we did and really enjoyed. All of the princesses gather in the atrium and at your allocated time, you can go and have your photo taken with ALL of them, one after the other.

There were a few things we particularly loved about this experience. Firstly, it was complimentary (great news for Aussies as the Disney Wonder onboard currency is US dollars which can be tough due to the poor exchange rate). We also loved the fact you didn’t have to stand around. Instead, you could turn up at your allocated time which meant less waiting for kids (and their parents). We thought it would feel like a production line but the princesses spent time interacting with guests and making everyone feel special when it was their turn.

Meeting Princess Tiana on Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder paid activities

There are some additional paid experiences available like Princess and Pirate makeovers in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the Royal Court Royal Tea Party. We didn’t do any of these as they were geared to families travelling with younger children. These did look like fun but there are plenty of free character and other moments that can be enjoyed without paying extra if you’re watching your pennies onboard.

Princess meet and greets on Disney Wonder

It turns out meeting a genuine Disney princess is quite an experience. Firstly, they are completely in character and chat about where they live and what they like to do with their time and ask how you are doing as well. When I met my favourite princess and namesake, Princess Tiana, she remembered I had dined at her restaurant the night before and asked if I had enjoyed my meal there. And our sophisticated 20 year old couldn’t help blushing when he met his favourite Disney princess, Rapunzel. He was blown away by how friendly she was and how she was so perfectly in character the whole time.

Our 20 year old meeting Rapunzel on Disney Wonder
Our 20 year old meeting Rapunzel on Disney Wonder

We had never done meet and greets at any of the Disney Parks as the lines could be long but there are loads of opportunities to meet characters on Disney Wonder, whether you go to the Royal Gathering or line up for a meet and greet with one of the princesses or characters at another time. Some Disney regulars told us that it was so quick and easy meeting the princesses on the ship, compared to some of the Disney parks they had been to. It’s also a lot more comfortable as the ship is airconditioned (I bet the princesses like this too).

Disney Wonder kids clubs

For this kids club round up, I will jump straight to the place onboard with the least availability: ‘It’s a small world’. Yes, that’s the real name of the nursery, and it only has 16 places per day, so book early for this if you’re travelling with children aged six months to three years who would like to go here. The nursery costs US$9 per hour due to the high staff to children ratio; all of the other kids clubs are complimentary.

Exploring Disney Wonder opens ‘A Whole New World’ with dedicated children’s areas that really do need to be seen to be believed. Even though our son is now way too old for the kid’s clubs, we went to an open house to take a look around as we had heard the Disney Cruise kid’s clubs were epic – and they were!  Even better, they can cater to as many children as there are onboard the ship on each cruise, so no children are turned away due to the kid’s club being full. Something that has happened to our son a few times on other lines (yes, there were tears – from him and also from his parents!).

Kids club on Disney Wonder
Toy Story themed kids club room on Disney Wonder
Marvel kids club room on Disney Wonder
Marvel kids club room on Disney Wonder

The huge Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab caters for children aged 3 to 12 years in a combined space so siblings can stay together. Tweens aged 11 to 14 can head to Edge, while the exclusive Vibe space is tucked away at the top of a set of stairs  and is exclusively for 14 to 17 year olds. Kids aged under 12 are fitted with a Disney Oceaneer Band which acts as a stateroom key and helps you and the kids club staff keep track of them onboard.

Disney Wonder for adults

While Disney Wonder has some fantastic kids facilities, over-18s like our family are far from ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ as there are multiple adult-only areas as well. Let’s start with the Quiet Cove pool and Signals bar area on deck nine. This area is a delight with a large pool, two hot tubs, a dedicated bar, and plenty of staff to take your drink orders if you’re feeling thirsty. We enjoyed hanging out here. Our family of adults also discovered it’s a great place to bring your lunch from the buffet or pool deck eating spots with plenty of seating and a nice outdoor atmosphere.

Quiet Cove on Disney Wonder
Quiet Cove on Disney Wonder

You’ll also find the best place for coffee here at Cove Café.  Ask the staff for a free coffee card as you get a free coffee after you’ve collected five stamps. There is also an adults-only specialty restaurant called Palo which offers modern Italian cuisine with ocean views and romance. It is open for brunch on sea days and also dinner if you feel like a treat.

Our favourite adult’s only spot on board would have to be the Cadillac Lounge. This retro-designed Art Nouveau bar is all about class and style with lots of leather and chrome. In the evening, it comes alive with piano tunes by talented performers that will keep you up past your bedtime. A big shout out goes to Wil, the pianist on our cruise, for making our sailing so memorable. He was a hit with our entire family and we all loved being able to ask for our favourite songs.

The other bars onboard include the Crown & Fin Pub, which resembles a traditional British tavern but wasn’t really our scene. Azure, an adults-only hotspot after hours that’s inspired by the sea’s shapes, colours, sounds and movements and lucky last, the French Quarter Lounge, a New Orleans-inspired bar where guests can kick back with unique cocktails and a live jazz trio. There’s great people watching to be had from this bar which was our second favourite spot for an after-dinner drink.

Disney Wonder dining

The other essential things to pre-book are your dining times, as all dining apart from the specialty restaurant, Palo, is set time dining at 5.45 or 8.15 to cater to the theatre show times. So, think about your best dining times for you and your family and pre-book your preferred option.

We haven’t done traditional set time dining for years and usually actively avoid it but it works on this cruise as you rotate through the restaurants on a set schedule with your same waiters each night two of the three restaurants have entertainment which means you need to eat at a set time. We did struggle with eating so early at the beginning of the cruise (8.15 was too late for us, but 5.45 felt way too early) but we got used to it and loved having the same waitstaff each night. They were fantastic and made us understand why some cruisers always opt for set dining.

On our first night, we were looking forward to ‘Going Down the Bayou’ for dinner at Tiana’s Place, a restaurant which had live music and plenty of Southern charm. There was also a trumpet-playing alligator called Louis (one of my favourite Disney characters) who led a street party celebration and conga line with Princess Tiana and a crew of entertainers through the restaurant.

Tiana's Place on Disney Wonder
Tiana’s Place on Disney Wonder

We especially loved the food at Triton’s (don’t miss the lamb!), where you dine ‘Under The Sea’ at a restaurant that feels more like a specialty dining experience than a main dining room. It is loosely themed on The Little Mermaid and has an upmarket vibe.

On our last night, we dined at the Animator’s Palate, which features animation-adorned walls and large high-definition flat-screens to project some animation magic that you create yourself. I won’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil the surprise but it’s worth getting to this restaurant about five minutes early for some extra drawing time (a great tip from our fabulous waiter). We loved Triton’s but the Animator’s Palate still came out in front was our favourite restaurant!

Disney Wonder casual dining

Casual eats are provided at Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, Pete’s Boiler Bites for burgers, hot dogs and tacos and Daisy’s De-Lites for healthy salads, sandwiches, wraps and fruit. If you love a buffet, you can head up to Cabanas and fill your plate with an array of goodies. Unlike some other cruise lines, this restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch which means there is no dinner buffet. All of the evening meals take place in the three main dining room restaurants, but you can also order room service anytime at no additional charge if you fancy a change.

Disney Wonder shows and entertainment

So, ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’?  You know you do, which brings us to the entertainment on Disney Wonder and one of the big-ticket items that brings passengers on board. Even if you don’t usually go to shows, you should definitely go to these. 

Let’s start with the big production shows which were ‘Frozen: The Musical Spectacular’, ‘The Golden Mickeys’ (which is themed on a classic awards night like the Golden Globes) and ‘Disney Dreams’, a musical showcase inspired by classic films like Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Cinderella and Aladdin. These were all good with some incredible performers but our family’s favourite was Disney Dreams for its variety of songs, the puppetry and the staging which was Broadway quality, the same as all the other shows onboard.

"Frozen, a Musical Spectacular" on Disney Wonder
‘Frozen, a Musical Spectacular’ on Disney Wonder

There were also fireworks on the final night of the cruise and a Marvel Heroes Unite show on the top deck on our second night. Cue characters ziplining across the deck, a suitably droll Loki and plenty of G rated choreographed fight scenes and other action hero stuff. You also get fireworks at the end of this show which is an added bonus.

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Disney Wonder movie theatre

Another onboard highlight is being able to see Disney’s new releases which are shown on the ship on the same day they’re released on land, a bonus if there is a blockbuster coming out that you want to see. The Art Nouveau themed movie theatre is gorgeous and shows classic Disney movies as well, plus all your Disney favourites are available via the in-room TV.

Other entertainment on Disney Wonder

There are yet more entertainment options with the Twist ‘n’ Spout water slide, and AquaLab interactive water play area. We were tempted to give the slide a whirl but never quite got there. One of the things we enjoyed most onboard Disney Magic was the people watching, with adults and children getting a genuine buzz meeting the Disney characters. Warning: your heart will melt watching the little boys and girls seeing their favourites.

AquaLab on Disney Wonder
AquaLab on Disney Wonder

Is a Disney Wonder cruise in Australia worth it? 

Disney Cruises aren’t exactly a cheap cruise holiday, so we couldn’t help but wonder if going on a Disney Wonder cruise in Australia was going to be worth it for local cruisers. However, after sailing on Disney Wonder, we couldn’t help but be impressed and the other passengers we spoke to were as well. Three nights onboard felt just right as the ship wasn’t too big so we got to try each main dining room and see all the shows. While there are two night sailings, I would try to get on a three-nights or longer trip if possible.

Everything on our sailing was first-rate, from the immaculate look and feel of the ship (you would never know it was more than 20 years old) to the staff and many free Disney experiences included in the regular fare. Our family of adults discovered that when you ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ onboard Disney Wonder, your dreams really can come true – no matter how young (or how old) you are.

Disclosure: The writers and their son travelled as guests of Disney Cruise Line. Keep an eye out for special offers and book early for the best deals. 

Want more great cruise advice? Check out our tips for choosing the perfect cruise, cruising with grandchildren, cruising with tweens and cruising with kids of all ages, solo cruising, the best activities on Ovation of the Seas, doing a Transatlantic cruise with kids, cruising in Australia or Papua New Guinea, Iceland cruise tips, cruising on a megaship, scoring a bargain cruise fare, cruising the Mediterranean, making the most of a cruise ship kids club, luxury cruising with kids, and the Byron Beach Club onboard P&O Cruises. We have also reviewed Disney Wonder, Pacific Adventure, Celebrity Edge, Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, Pacific Encounter, Carnival Splendor, Voyager of the Seas, Nieuw Statendam, Viking Helgrim, Pride of America, Coral Expeditions in Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef, Celebrity Solstice, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.