Bringing stories to life: The magic that makes a Disney Cruise different
The Disney Wonder sails with ‘one-of-a-kind itineraries’ all over the world, including trips to Alaska, Mexico, the Hawaiian Islands, Australia and New Zealand. Photo: Disney
Let’s face it, there’s a bit of Disney in all of us.
No matter your age, there’ll be something that resonates. It might be the joy of those early Mickey and Minnie Mouse sketches coming to life on the studio set in Hollywood. Maybe it’s the magical fairytales of Cinderella and Snow White. Or perhaps Star Wars is your thing.
Disney is part of being a kid, no matter where you lived in the world. And who didn’t dream of visiting one of the Disney theme parks dotted around the world.
Now, for the first time, that magic has come to Australia – thanks to Disney Cruise Lines (DCL).
A subsidiary of Walt Disney World, DCL began with its first ship – Disney Magic – in 1998, modelled on luxurious ocean liners of a bygone era, updated with all the modern bells and whistles. The current fleet of five is set to grow to eight by 2025, all painted in Mickey Mouse-inspired colours, with a black hull, white superstructure, yellow trim and two giant red funnels.
Already popular around the US, Canada and Europe, we were delighted to be invited on DCL’s maiden Australian voyage, aboard Disney Wonder.
With a carrying capacity of 2713 passengers and 950 crew, the two-night cruise in and out of Melbourne is led by Captain Thord Haugen. And though itineraries will typically include port stops, that’s not what we’re here for with this taster. The sights are all on board.
Cruise director Jimmy Lynett, who has been with Disney since 1998, still becomes emotional, seeing people from all ages step into his world.
“We are storytellers,” says Lynett, who originally hails from Pennsylvania. “That’s what differentiates us from anyone else. We have those stories and the ability to bring them to life.
“We are also the only cruise line in the world that can do fireworks off our ships,” he adds, with a smile.
Disney Wonder – the second ship in DCL’s fleet, which now operates out of 18 departure ports around the world. Photo: Disney
Day One: Station Pier, Melbourne
Sticking to the itinerary on a cruise is important.
You don’t want to be bumped to another arrival time slot, or have the ship leave without you.
Arriving at 11.15am, we drop off our luggage, and head to the Station Pier terminal to officially check in.
Passports are the preferred form of identification and, after a three-point medical questionnaire, we step across the gangway and into a whole new world. Making our way onto the ship, we’re announced like royalty over the loudspeaker, as Pluto waves to us from a spiral staircase and a team of Disney crew cheer.
Disney Stormtroopers walk the decks, Mickey and Minnie hold court for autographs and Frozen and Toy Story characters mingle with guests. There’s also plenty to explore while boarding continues, including seven pools and five restaurants.
By mid-afternoon, all the guests are on board, representing more than 60 nationalities, such is the global appeal of Disney. Hundreds of younger passengers sport Spiderman and Princess Elsa costumes, while many parents opt for more subtle Mickey Mouse ears.
Disney Wonder staterooms can sleep up to four guests with cleverly designed split bathrooms and dividing curtains. Photo: Disney
We also settle in to our accommodation, with the help of Maria, our guest services host, who tirelessly looks after us throughout the journey.
Rooms are stylish and low-key, without obvious branding. The luxurious beds are made all the more welcoming at turn-down, when an origami animal appears atop the sheets, crafted from one of the white fluffy towels. (The swan is our favourite, complete with stick-on eyes.)
Later that afternoon, we enjoy a Champagne tasting in the adults-only Cadillac Bar for a masterclass on the history of the bubbles and why we should drink more of it! While many activities are included in the cruise package, some (like this one) are extra, and can be charged to your room.
We are soon alerted by the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app that our dinner reservation is the first of two sittings, at 5.45pm.
The Animator’s Palate restaurant is every child’s dream. On arrival, your wait staff – who remain with you throughout your trip – ask us to draw our own character on our placemat which then becomes a slide-show around the walls – to music – between main course and dessert.
Before long, the app reminds us to be seated on time for the stage musical, Frozen: A Musical Spectacular, performed in the 1000-seat Walt Disney Theatre.
Based on the movie, and featuring music from the original score, the show uses a combination of traditional theatrical techniques, puppetry, sound engineering and modern video technology. It’s a Broadway-standard performance that doesn’t disappoint, the standout being Let it Go, accompanied by snow flurries and a standing ovation.
In Frozen: A Disney Wonder, the story is presented like never before. Photo: Disney
Day 2: Bass Strait
Waking up to vast expanses of rolling waves and a chilly 13 degrees on the deck, we head for breakfast at Tritons. Named after The Little Mermaid’s father, the restaurant offers family dining “under the sea”, decorated with ornate chandeliers, stained glass, ocean-inspired architecture and a sweeping mural of Ariel and her dad.
Once fed, we rug up and head out onto Deck 5, to circumnavigate this 84,000-ton ship with a walk around its jogging track, passing huge anchors and lifeboats as we go.
Lunch is at Palo, the adults-only fine dining Italian restaurant, where we feast on antipasto, seafood, lasagna, beef and Limoncello cake. Then it’s on to another clever stage production, bringing more characters to life.
Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic is based around a teenage girl, Anne Marie, whose bedroom is filled with Disney books and toys, but who feels herself growing out of the magic. Cue visits from Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Pinocchio and Aladdin (to name a few), along with plenty of song and dance.
It’s a hit with the families on board, who take their seats with huge containers of popcorn and settle in for an afternoon of delight.
Our dinner rotation is at Tiana’s – a reference fans of The Princess and the Frog will understand – where we experience New Orleans-inspired dining and entertainment, a three-piece rhythm band and an after-dessert conga line and dance.
At 10.30pm, we head into the open air on the top deck for an hour-long production starring Marvel characters including Spiderman, Ironman, Dr Strange, Loki, Thor, Black Panther and a few supervillains.
“The Marvel world lives in our world here at sea,” says Lynett.
The kids in the audience absolutely love it, as does our teenage son (who runs off with a bunch of new friends to get close to the stage).
Fireworks help to see off the bad guys, and good prevails over evil.
There are six nurseries, kids and youth clubs including Frozen Adventures (above) where kids meet Olaf for sing-alongs and games. Photo: Disney/Amy Smith
Day 3: Melbourne
Waking up back at Station Pier is a jolt – figuratively speaking.
After eggs, bacon and Mickey-shaped waffles at Tritons, it’s time to say farewell to our new Disney Cruise friends.
The dream is over, and we’re back to reality.
Disney Cruises depart from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane throughout 2024. Louise Talbot travelled as a guest aboard Disney Wonder for the two-night maiden cruise out of Melbourne on November 3.