Like most folks, the last nearly three years of the pandemic have been unsettling, to say the least. My family was leery of traveling and even more leery of cruising. But when we had the opportunity to celebrate the christening of the Disney Wish and set sail for three fun-filled days, my daughter and I stashed away our anxiety and began packing our suitcases.
The fifth ship in the Disney Cruise Line, the Disney Wish embarks on three- and four-night cruises in the waters just off Florida to Nassau, Bahamas, and Castaway Cay from Port Canaveral, Florida. Families fly into Orlando International Airport, where Disney Cruise Line buses await and whisk you away to Port Canaveral, about an hour-long trip. It’s all part of the Disney cruise experience.
“The Disney Wish embodies the incredible magic that only Disney can deliver,” Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Chapek remarked at the ship’s christening the morning of sailing in early July. “It celebrates nearly one hundred years of Disney storytelling excellence, bringing fantastic worlds and beloved characters to life like never before through innovative technology and new approaches.”
Disney cruises represent the vacation of a lifetime for families with kids, and it turns out, it doesn’t matter how old your kids are! When you board the Disney Wish and enter the grand lobby, each family is introduced by name in royal fashion to everyone in attendance, including Cinderella and Prince Charming who wave from a balcony. My adult daughter Angela was thrilled with this concept! Cozy cabins on the ship are basically soundproof, except for the sound of the gentle seas. Case in point, we didn’t discover until our final day that there were families with young children on either side of us. Many cabins feature balconies overlooking the water, an amenity we definitely enjoyed.
There’s an App for That
Early in our trip, I met Tiffany Lee, who works with technology on the ship. A Chesterfield native and graduate of L. C. Bird High School and VCU, Tiffany has always been a huge Disney fan.
“Our parents took us on our first trip to Disney when I was five,” says Tiffany, adding that her family still lives in Chesterfield. “I searched for a position at Disney. I applied for any job that was open that would work for me.”
Tiffany has been with Disney for ten years, the last three with Disney Cruise Line. She works with everything related to technology, from food and beverage and reservations, to the convenient Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.
Navigator puts everything – from dinner plans and on-shore excursions to salon appointments, shows, and movie times – at your fingertips. We used the app even before we boarded the ship when we entered information about our COVID test results.
Using Navigator, you can also buy Wi-Fi packages that allow you to tap into the ship’s Wi-Fi so you can send and receive emails and post selfies and other share-worthy images to your social media network of choice.
On the Disney Wish, it’s Tiffany’s job to help run tech for what she calls a floating city. “You have to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of them,” she says. “Being on the ocean, you have to deal with satellites and make sure everyone stays connected.”
She says working at Disney is a dream come true. “If my five-year-old or eleven-year-old self could have predicted this, she would have been so excited.”
Always Something to Do
As we found out, there is never a dull moment on the Disney Wish, everything from shopping and spending time in the Senses Spa to tubing through AquaMouse, the first Disney attraction at sea that’s high above the upper decks.
Disney Uncharted Adventure is a unique interactive experience that you access on the app. Designed for families to play together, this multi-dimensional voyage into the worlds of iconic Disney and Pixar helps you explore and experience your Disney cruise ship.
A bit more old-school, Angela and I enjoyed the sail-away party on the upper deck, as well as the nighttime pirate deck party with a rock ’n roll band and Captain Red, a new character from the Disney attraction, The Pirates of the Caribbean. At the end of the night, we watched the skies light up with a grand display of fireworks over the open seas. Seeing the reflection of the cascading lights over the sea adds a new dimension to the cruise experience. Disney is the only cruise line that launches fireworks over the open seas.
When it comes to lounging pool-side, the Disney Wish has you covered. The midship area on decks eleven and twelve includes six pools of various sizes and depths, surrounded by lounge chairs to provide families with space to stretch out and enjoy the sunshine or watch Funnel Vision, a jumbo LED display showing Disney movies, TV shows, live sporting events, and more. For a more laid-back environment, you’ll find another family pool on deck fourteen forward. There are lifeguards stationed everywhere, which is welcome news for families with kids of varying ages and water skill levels.
Anyone eighteen and older can do like we did and head to Quiet Cove, a secluded adults-only district with an infinity pool, lounge chairs, a whirlpool spa, and a poolside bar and lounge.
One afternoon, Angela and I toured Senses Spa, the cruise line’s first dedicated relaxation space with whirlpool hot tubs, plush loungers, and yoga sessions. The indoor/outdoor space is part of the Rainforest experience, which also has the first ice lounge where you can combine both warm and cold therapies. You can purchase a day pass that you can use for the Rainforest in Senses Spa for $79 on Disney Wish. You can also take advantage of free yoga classes offered by the fitness center. And the good news is Navigator will send you an alert before each of your appointments on ship.
While on board, I visited the Untangled Salon, where you can get everything from haircuts and styling to manicures and pedicures. I came out with a head full of curls and felt like a princess.
Ages three to twelve can have their Disney fantasy manifested at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique with some magical tricks of the trade – hairstyling, costumes, makeup, and more. Packages start at $99.95 for this professional styling service.
There are adventures aplenty for kids on the ship, starting with Disney’s Oceaneer Club, a haven for ages three to twelve that takes up a good deal of one of the ship’s decks. Themed interactive adventures in the club include the Marvel Super Hero Academy, where young recruits train to be the next generation of superheroes with the help of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and others.
Fairytale Hall is a royal trio of activity rooms where kids join some of their favorite Disney and Frozen characters. At the Walt Disney Imagineering Lab, kids discover the secrets of Disney Imagineers – the creative minds behind Disney theme parks, resorts, and cruise ships – with hands-on activities and inventive experiments.
Young children can play in a nautical playground at Mickey and Minnie Captain’s Deck, and child-care services are offered in It’s a Small World Nursery, a whimsical environment inspired by the classic Disney attraction of the same name.
Teens have their own hangouts: Edge for ages eleven to fourteen and Vibe for ages fourteen to seventeen.
Culinary Creativity and Special Dining
Dinners on the ship feature three innovative family dining options, we found out. The Disney Wish, like other Disney ships, offers rotational dining for families (there are three restaurants and two seating times for each restaurant). This means there is no waiting in line for your restaurant seating.
Your family’s scheduled dining rotation isn’t accessible prior to boarding, but it is recommended that you make adult-exclusive dining reservations early in your voyage.
Throughout your cruise experience, you have the same dining team – server, assistant server, and head server – who record any food allergies or likes and dislikes from various menus and rotate with your family to each dining room. My daughter and I have food allergies and intolerances, and it was reassuring to know these folks were watching out for us.
Menu choices at each dining option on the ship offer gourmet options for adults and kids. Disney knows that dining is at the top of the list for many families, so rest assured each meal will be a pure delight.
Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure is Disney’s first Frozen-themed theatrical dining experience, bringing the kingdom of Arendelle to life with live entertainment. While we dined, we attended the engagement party for Queen Anna and Kristoff. And yes, Olaf was there!
Dinner in Arendelle features Norwegian-inspired dishes with a contemporary flair on both the main menu and the kids’ menu. Kids’ menu options in Arendelle include Elsa and Anna’s baked salmon, barbecue chicken pizza, and Sven’s sweet carrot soup with buttery croutons. And there are plenty of photo ops with the characters throughout the dining experience.
Avengers: Quantum Encounter Worlds of Marvel is a dining experience built for Marvel super-fan families. Each table features an interactive quantum core, a high-tech looking device that hypothetically causes objects to shrink and grow remotely, designed to let families in on the Marvel fun unfolding on large monitors installed on the dining room walls. Everyone at dinner was part of an Avengers mission with Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The third family restaurant is 1923, named simply for the year The Walt Disney Company was founded. The restaurant pays homage to the golden age of animation, as well as to the conglomerate’s California heritage. These large dining areas feature drawings, props, and other memorabilia, and the menu includes the best of California cuisine, showcasing the region’s unique blend of Asian, European, and South American influences. It was a classic dining experience thanks to our serving team, Disney chefs, test kitchens, and dining teams that work tirelessly to ensure a magical culinary experience.
Adults also have two gourmet restaurants to choose from – Palo Steakhouse with a selection of Italian dishes and high-end steaks, and Enchanté by Chef Arnaud Lallement, which has the most luxurious dining experience on board.
There are also lounges and bars on the ship for the twenty-one and-up set, including the popular Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, a high-end bar in a spaceship – virtual tech is astounding these days! – where you can embark on a space-jumping tour of the Star Wars galaxy.
While the Disney Wish offers upscale table-service dining throughout the day, families can enjoy quick, convenient meals and snacks with more casual walk-up dining options. We frequented Marceline Market, a charming food hall with cuisine from around the world that is named for Walt Disney’s early childhood hometown in Missouri.
Food here is served station-style by attendants and includes everything from salads to entrées to desserts. Mornings at Marceline Market offer a wealth of breakfast options and might I say, they do not skimp on portions.
You’ll also find dining options on decks eleven and twelve that include Mickey and Friends Festival of Foods, an open-air eatery with themed food stalls offering pizza, barbecue, burgers, and ice cream.
Get Away to Castaway Cay
The big smile that flashed across my daughter Angela’s face when she first caught sight of the sun-drenched, white sand beaches of Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, was worth the initial angst we experienced as we prepared for our cruise on the Disney Wish.
For anyone like Angela, who had never seen the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas, Castaway Cay is a picture-perfect postcard come to life. In Castaway Cay, Disney has created a care-free island atmosphere with a beach for the family, as well as a sprawling adults-only beach.
While on the island, you can just sit back and relax or take advantage of a multitude of activities. The Castaway Cay Getaway is a three-in-one package which includes snorkel equipment and a float rental for the day, as well as a bicycle rental for an hour-long island tour.
You don’t have to be an expert to snorkel and explore the marine habitat in the 20-acre snorkel lagoon at the family beach. Or, you can just relax atop an inflatable float or inner-tube as you bask in the sun and enjoy the tropical oasis. The package is $46 for ages ten and up and $26 for ages five to nine.
Other excursions include paddle boats, parasailing, sea kayaks, fly fishing, and a glass-bottom boat scenic voyage that ranges from $39 to $59, depending on age.
You can just lie on the beach and soak up the serenity of it all, enjoy lunch at a restaurant, or take the island transportation between beaches and mix it up. There are even souvenir shops to browse – we have the t-shirts to prove it!
All Aboard for Entertainment
If you’re looking for Broadway-level entertainment, the Disney Wish delivers. While you’re cruising, you’ll see two world-class stage shows: Disney Seas the Adventure, a new stage show that stars too many classic characters to mention by name, including Goofy, who becomes captain of the ship; and a reimagining of The Little Mermaid.
Virginia Beach native and Christopher Newport University alum Rachel Fobbs plays Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Rachel got hooked on acting when she was in middle school.
“I did all my training in Virginia. I’ve been acting professionally for twelve years,” say Rachel.
The actress says she “loves that Ursula knows who she is and is confident in her body and her abilities… and she’s not afraid to show Ariel how to be confident as well.”
Rachel began working on the staging for the show in January 2022 and flew to the Netherlands, where the Disney Wish was built, to meet the ship as it began its transatlantic voyage. Even though she had sailed as a guest on a ship before, Rachel discovered that performing on a moving ship can be tricky.
“Sometimes when you are on stage, you are supposed to be in one place and the ship says, let’s put you in another place,” she says with a grin.
Albeit a slightly rocky ride in the beginning, the ship is her destiny at the moment. “It’s so magical. It just feels like this is where I am supposed to be,” says Rachel.
And that’s exactly how Angela and I felt when we were on the Disney Wish this summer! We’re already talking about our next Disney cruise adventure, and we have plenty of itineraries to choose from – including destinations like Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and the newest Disney first-ever cruise to the South Pacific.
Amazing as that all sounds, you also might find us on one of Disney’s Very Merrytime cruises during the holiday season or on a cruise to the Mediterranean so we can check out Greece and Italy. Whatever our choice, I know we’ll have a magical time and be absolutely spoiled by that famous Disney hospitality, just like we were aboard the Disney Wish.
Photography: Courtesy Disney Cruise Line and Angela Rice