Yesterday I debarked from The Disney Wonder. Today, I'm going to tell you everything about it!

This was our first Disney Cruise Line (DCL) experience, and I want to say that we are self-proclaimed Disney Junkies, so in some ways I feel my opinion may be slightly bias. But I'll definitely be honest in everything that I tell you about DCL and our experience on The Wonder.

Here's the gist of itinerary:
February 8: Drove from Greenville, SC to Cocoa Beach, FL
February 9: Embarked and departed on The Disney Wonder from Port Canaveral, FL
February 10: Day At Sea
February 11: Castaway Cay
February 12: Debarked at Port Canaveral and drove to Greenville, SC


Here are the Cliff Notes for those of you who just want the quick run down and don't care about the details. Also down below I have some tips for you!

The Good:
  • The atmosphere is amazing
  • Everywhere is incredibly family friendly
  • Service is absolutely amazing (although we had some mishaps with dinner service)
  • Free sodas!
  • The staterooms are amazing
  • The shows!
  • Castaway Cay is so fun, especially with the smaller ship
  • Character pictures!
  • Participate in Fish Extender Exchanges at least once!
The Bad:
  • It's expensive (at least in comparison to Carnival)
  • Our dinner server and assistant server was a little off - I'll go into that in more details below but this is apparently NOT the norm.
  • You'll want to go back.. seriously. Is this a bad thing or not?
  • If you participate in Fish Extender Groups, you may need another suitcase!

Indifferent:
  • We've heard that the food is so much better on DCL. We loved the variety of food, but felt it was on par even with Carnival. It wasn't worse by any means, we just didn't find it that much more spectacular

Now for those of you who really want the details.. this part is for you!


February 8: Drove from Greenville, SC to Cocoa Beach, FL

We started this day like most other Wednesdays by taking my son, Nik, to school. Then we dropped our dog off at The Ultimate Pet Lodge (which we adore!) and then packed my RAV4 up! By picking Nik up from school at 10:30 he doesn't receive an absence from school, just an early dismissal. But we left straight from his school and started our journey to Cocoa Beach!

We wanted to leave the day before our cruise to ensure we had plenty of drive time. As it is approximately an 8.5 hour drive from where we live to Port Canaveral/Cocoa Beach, we'd prefer this to be as least stressful as possible. And it was!

The drive was great. But now having driven through GA and FL quite a few times for our Disney trips, I'm becoming most aware of how crappy our roads are in SC. Do better South Carolina! Also, I've become increasingly aware of how many people like to just hang out in the left lane.. but I digress.

We arrived in Cocoa Beach at our hotel, Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach around 7:30ish that evening. The hotel itself is about a 7 minute drive from the Port. I chose Hampton Inn because I usually stay at the Hilton hotels for work & acquire points. It was a great choice either way. The rooms were comfortable and clean, the pool was really large, and my son spent a little time swimming that evening. Plus, it was so convenient to have Italian food delivered from Papa Vitos to the hotel for dinner. The staff was amazingly accommodating and gave us plates and napkins for our food and had no issues pointing the delivery person out to the pool where we were sitting when our food arrived. 
Also, the hotel is very convenient to a CVS in case you were like us and needed to pick up a few last minute items.


February 9: Embarked and departed on The Disney Wonder from Port Canaveral, FL


The next morning, after we jumped on the breakfast at the hotel, Nik and I walked from the hotel to the beach. It's not quite beach front, but it's literally just a short pathway (maybe 100 yards or so) to the beach. The water was pretty cold this time of year, but the beach was beautiful and although it had quite a few walkers/joggers going by, it was really quiet. We played in the sand and water until it was time to check out and head to Port Canaveral.

Driving to Port Canaveral was a snap. We learned a little well-known secret with parking that came into great use. Park on Level 3 of the parking garage as there is a bridge that crosses over and takes you right into the terminal. There was a short line when we arrived (we were actually earlier than our arrival window of 11:30am) and so we hopped in the line and waited for the porters to come take our luggage. This was much more convenient than sitting in line down in the main entrance where all the buses and cars were unloading people and luggage. 

So let me just insert something here. DCL is different with their embarkation process than I'm used to when sailing with Carnival because DCL gives you a boarding window. Once you arrive and park, and once you get into the terminal you check in. During check in, you are assigned a boarding #. During that boarding window, your  boarding numbers are called. We were boarding group 7. And let me just say, they go fast, so listen out for your number. We found this process to be much easier than the way we boarded at Carnival and that things seemed to go a lot smoother. The terminal for Disney is much smaller than Carnival's terminal but it never felt overly crowded and the boarding was a snap, so whatever they are doing, they are doing it right!

Ok, so let me back up again... the porters came and took our luggage while we were in our short line in the parking terminal. Don't forget to tip! Shortly after, we went through the first check point where they check your boarding paperwork. We walked over the bridge to the terminal and waited for the security checkpoint to open. This is basically just like a TSA checkpoint, but a little more lenient. Once through the metal detector, you go up an escalator into the terminal.

As I said earlier, the terminal looks much smaller in comparison to the Carnival terminal but of course it's got it's Disney magic going on! We quickly made it through our line to the check in desk, and quickly received our boarding group number and our  Keys To The World (the key you use for everything onboard). They were so friendly and acknowledged that it was Nik's birthday and gave him a birthday button. Also, just as a note here for 1st time DCL cruisers, they don't give you a lanyard so either bring your own or plan to purchase one from the gift shop, but the gift shops aren't open while the ship is docked at Port Canaveral, so you'll have to make due until they open.

While we waited for our boarding group to be called, I went over to the Youth Registration area and since I had signed Nik up for all the clubs online, all we had to do was receive his Magic Band (for the kid's clubs) and his lock. I like how they used the lock. The lock, of course locks the Magic Band on to their wrist so they can't take it off. Which is wonderful so they don't lose it, but the lock is duel purpose. Nik has a food sensitivity and his friend is diabetic, so they received red locks instead of blue which alerts everyone that there is a special issue. Once the band is scanned, it can tell the cast members what their special situation is.

Our number was called fairly quickly and we walked into where you take the obligatory embarkation photo! As soon as that was done, we saw the first of what would be many hand sanitizer stations. As we approached the doors to the ship, we were asked for our family name, and then as we crossed into the atrium of the ship, we were announced, "Welcome the Pantelis family!" and there were cast members on each side clapping for us! That was so fun!

The Disney Wonder  Follow the link if you want information about The Disney Wonder!

Just know that The Disney Wonder is one of the smaller ships, which came as a big positive in my book when we hit Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.

After boarding, we headed up to Deck 9 and grabbed some primo seating by the pool and then stopped by Cabanas and Daisy's DeLites for some lunch. Another tip, be sure to bring your own water bottle or camelback because sodas/water/coffee/tea are free, but their cups are itty-bitty. So fill up your own to carry around with you! Our stateroom was ready by 1:30 pm and once they opened up the stateroom areas, we headed to our room to unpack and explore our stateroom.

The Staterooms
I have some pictures to show you the staterooms, but let me just say the 2 biggest successes that Disney did in their stateroom was 1)the split bathrooms and 2)the luggage space under the bed

We loved having the porthole to look out and have natural light. I love how the room can be split. Above the couch, is a pull down bunk type bed that our Room Host pulled down each night for Nik to sleep in. The curtains between the rooms can be pulled, which we found super helpful for keeping our light out of Nik's area while he was sleeping. But in addition to that, you can still pull the TV around so you can see it from our bed as well. Overall, I just love the layout of the stateroom. We had more than enough drawer space for all of our clothes, we barely used the closet!

Our dinner time quickly arrived, we requested main seating which means you can come in to be seated 5:45pm - 6:15pm (late seating is 8:00pm - 8:30pm). Another thing I find awesome about DCL is that there are 3 themed restaurants onboard that you dine in. Our first night was Tritons (this was my favorite). We had party of 11 and we were always seated at table 33. And as another note, your dining assignment and table are located on your Keys To The World so you'll never need to worry about forgetting!

After dinner each night there was a live show in the Walt Disney Theater. The show this night was The Golden Mickeys (this was my husband's favorite). After the show we filled in our time doing Family Karaoke and some other family activities before the kids hit Club Edge (the tween club) while the adults took this time to wander the ship.

We returned back to the stateroom that night to find our rooms turned down and ready to hit the sack!

February 10: Day At Sea

I love days at sea! I feel like this is when you can really take advantage of being on the ship. We shopped and did family game shows, and the kids went swimming and we ate. I feel like there was always something going on that we could do! We took advantage of the onboard movie theater as well and caught Dr Strange. The kids had watched Moana earlier that day in the same theater. Also, not to mention the TV's in the stateroom have Disney Movies and shows on rotation! And don't worry grown ups, they had some news channels and a few other things for us too.

I really spent a lot of this day handing out our Fish Extender Gifts. Wait.. I didn’t even get into this did I? So here’s a link to the basics of what Fish Externder Groups are. You don’t have to join/do Fish Extenders but I’d suggest doing it at least once, especially if you have kids! Although they did have an adult fish extender group which had a blast! By the way, always look for Facebook Groups for your cruise!! You’ll find you can meet a lot of people that way or just get a lot of your questions answered! I loved being in our FB group! Nikkos received a lot of birthday gifts and wishes in our Fish Extender. We also brought a big bag of candy and some Disney Trading Pins to put in Fish Extenders as pixie dust (extra magic gifts).

Dinner tonight was at the Animator’s Palate, which was the kid’s absolute favorite! I don’t want to ruin this for you, but if you love seeing Disney’s characters come alive, you’ll love it. Here’s a tip, if you’re on a 3 night cruise like us, you don’t get to see your own drawings animate, you just get to watch the Disney characters. The kids were a little bummed, and we had to find that out by asking our Server. And here’s where I will interject and say, I was least impressed by the food selection here. The food quality is great, but I wasn’t overly enthused with any of the main courses really.  And another note, if you are like my husband who loves food, remember you can order multiple items from the menu!! He literally at one point ordered every appetizer on the menu!

The live show for tonight was Disney Dreams – An Enchanted Classic (this was my favorite) and I just have to say, I may or may not have cried little girl tears of happiness during this show.

Then.. the Pirate Party! We hit Deck 9 (the pool deck) and they had a fun Pirate Party (everyone was dressed as pirates all day today) and there was dancing and games. Then fireworks! Who doesn’t love fireworks while at sea! After the party was done, they showed Pirates of the Caribeean movies on the big outdoor screen that evening and there were lots of pirate themed things going on. The tween club was having a glow party after the pirate party ended, so we took this time to try to hand out some glow sticks we had brought on board with us.

After pirate shenanigans we hit the sack.


February 11: Castaway Cay


Let me start this off with a tip. On port days, schedule room service for breakfast the night before! It makes it a lot less chaotic in the morning if you’re trying to leave the ship early
So remember back up at the top where I said that The Wonder was a smaller ship (compared to Fantasy or Dream) and that it was a benefiti when we docked at Castaway Cay? Here's why.. Disney only allows one ship at a time to dock at their private island, so you get the whole island to yourself. And since The Wonder holds 2400  passengers with approximately 950 crew, that's significantly less people on the island than say when The Dream docks with their 4000 passengers and crew of 1458!

We were some of the first off the ship because we had signed up for the Castaway Cay 5k! Yes, I don't run.. but it's a fun run, so I had to do it! Plus we got a medal! I walked the whole thing but hey, I finished in less than an hour! It's a scenic route, you get to go down the airstrip and in the walkway that leads to the lookout tower. I didn't go up, but my husband did and said it was a great view.

Anyway, what is really nice about that was my parents were able to debark with us as well so they had pick of the litter when it came to beach chairs! Although we quickly found that running out of chairs wasn't really an issue.

We didn't book any excursions because we were worried about the water temperature and I'm glad we didn't because for me, the water was way too cold! The kids didn't mind being it in and maybe I'm just a wuss because there were plenty of parents in the water too. But for me.. nope. I stuck my feet in and spent the rest of the day lounging in a chair and taking naps. My son did go for a ride with his grampie on bikes around the island which he said was really cool.

We called it an early day after filling up on the BBQ that was provided (free!) out on the island and snapped some photos with Jack Sparrow and was back on board by about 2:30ish. Everyone had to be back on board at 4:45pm so I don't feel like we missed out on too much, plus I had already managed to turn a little pink on my face.

By the way, if anyone goes to Castaway Cay and finds a pair of white New Balance running shoes.. yeah those are mine.

Before dinner, we made sure to find the Vacation Planning desk and book a placeholder for our next cruise! If you book onboard you get a discount!! Not only do you get 10% off on your next cruise, but you only have to put down a $250 deposit. There’s no catch. You just book within the next two years. If you change your mind, you cancel it and you receive your deposit back! Can’t be that deal!

Our final dinner on the cruise was at Tiana’s Place (my second favorite!) and let me just say, I loved the theming and atmosphere in here. It gets loud, so come prepared to sing and dance! The food was super yummy and we loved the benigts for dessert!
And our final live show of the cruise was Frozen, A Musical Spectacular and let me just say, I’m not a huge fan of the movie Frozen, but this was a great show. Like all of the live shows, there’s a lot of Disney Magic and interaction going on. If you have kids, for any of the live shows try to sit in the first 10-20 rows center, you’ll get some extra fun that way (I won’t spoil what it is but if you want to know ask)

They throw a “See Ya’ Real Soon” party in the atrium. Attend this! You can easily get pictures with a lot of characters and it’s just a fun way to end your last night!

Now here’s the part where you need to decide if you’re doing Express Walk Off or if you’re going to have the porters take your luggage out for you in the morning. Because unless you’re doing Express Walk Off, you need to have your luggage packed and outside your door by 10:00pm.


February 12: Debarked at Port Canaveral and drove to Greenville, SC


So on debarkation day, if you are main seating for dinner (like we were), then your breakfast is scheduled for 7am and you go to breakfast to the same dinner as your final night – so our breakfast was in Tiana’s place. Although the breakfast was great, I think I would have preferred just saying our good bye’s to our servers the night before and doing breakfast in Cabana’s It allows for a little more flexibility with your time.

Now here’s a few tips for you regarding luggage. We did Express Walk Off. They ask that you are out of your cabins with your luggage by 9:15. We were easily out by 8:30 after breakfast. Leave your luggage in your stateroom when you go to breakfast. There were a lot of people lugging their bags to the dinning room, which made for a crowded and somewhat chaotic entrance. Once you’re done, you gather all your bags and you roll them off the ship and go through customs. Then you’re out and ready to pack your car (which is another benefit of parking at Level 3 in the garage!).

However I will say this, by the time we were leaving, all the other luggage that were picked up the night before was already available for everyone before customs. So it’s really up to you which you prefer. It was nice not having to keep out a day bag to pack our pajams and such in and have full access to our luggage the entire time, so I think I prefer the Express Walk Off, espcially considering we have a long drive home and just wanted to get in th car a go (and cry… but go).

And that’s just what we did. We were on the road no later than 9:30ish, and we were back home in South Carolina (after me complaining about their roads again) by 4:30!


There is so much more I could talk about but this is a huge blog post in itself. I’ll try to follow up with some more specific things for you after this.