'Disney Wish is an outstanding vacation destination for families and multigenerational groups,' family travel expert Nancy Schretter said after the three-night christening cruise from Port Canaveral. 'The ship offers exceptional venues and experiences for both kids and adults, as well as so many innovative spaces and immersive activities that families can enjoy together.'
Disney Cruise Line's first new ship in 10 years benefited from the Walt Disney Co.'s Star Wars and Marvel Entertainment franchises melded with a trove of other Disney material.
The overall theme is 'enchantment,' and Wish is meant to be a fairytale castle of the seas, according to Laura Cobo, portfolio creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, who led the design effort. Cobo's challenge was how to tell the Marvel, Pixar and other stories 'without it being a record scratch ...' She wanted 'everything within this ship to have meaning within the Disney world.'
The atrium was transformed into a Grand Hall with a swirling chandelier, a stage for entertainment and sophisticated lighting and projection equipment that allow for surprises like a Tinkerbell fly-by. Cinderella in bronze stands beside a sweeping staircase, and nearby a 'secret passageway' twisting slide themed on 'Alice in Wonderland' that whisks kids 'down the rabbit hole' to Oceaneer Club below.
Oceaneer Club (ages 3 to 12) has more themed spaces than on other ships and incorporates Star Wars and Avengers elements, along with 'Frozen' and other Disney and Pixar stories.
Marvel Super Hero Academy is a high-tech Avengers headquarters where young recruits train to become the next generation of super heroes with the help of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp. Kids choose a super hero suit then watch their selections magically form around mannequins before they go into mission training, a gesture-based game where they virtually battle bad guys.
Lighting and music can change the mood in the room — it goes red and threatening when a villain appears.
Disney Live Entertainment Show Director Tony Giordano explained all the programming has a purpose and a moral.
'What I love about Oceaneer Club and the youth activities is we are taking care of your kids, and we can be part of their growth,' he said. For example, a lesson imparted in the super hero training is that with great power comes great responsibility.
In Star Wars: Cargo Bay, kids become creature handlers as they learn to manage exotic beings like a porg, Loth-cat and worrt using augmented reality-enabled datapads to carry out special assignments.
'I love how Disney Cruise Line incorporated Star Wars and Marvel on Disney Wish,' Schretter said.
'Star Wars: Cargo Bay and Marvel Super Hero Academy ... are extraordinary for kids, both in terms of the elaborately-detailed spaces and the kinds of immersive activities that take place there.'
These areas join Fairytale Hall, a trio of activity rooms based on Disney princesses Belle and Rapunzel along with Anna and Elsa from 'Frozen.' Walt Disney Imagineering Lab activities are built around the creative work of Imagineers, while Mickey and Minnie Captain’s Deck is a nautical-themed playground.
Sharon Siskie, SVP and general manager, Disney Cruise Line, chose the colorful nursery as her favorite spot onboard. For ages 6 months to 3 years, it is themed on the Disney classic attraction 'It's A Small World' with regions/people depicted in hand-painted murals such as Wakanda from the 'Black Panther' for Africa, 'Encanto' for South America and 'Frozen' for Europe.
Older kids get their own clubs: Edge (ages 11 to 14) and, high up in the ship, Vibe (14 to 17). Adjacent to Vibe, The HIdeaway is a new meeting spot with a dance floor and DJ booth that can be opened to Vibe, closed off for tween activities or specially reserved for ages 18 to 20.
New active zone for families
Beside The Hideaway, Hero Zone is a new indoor active space reminiscent of SkyPlex on Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships that can house an inflatable obstacle course or serve as a free-play space with a basketball court.
A balcony viewing level holds table games like ping-pong, shuffleboard and air hockey.
Schretter noted that one test of any family-friendly resort or cruise ship is the quality of the experience for families in inclement weather. She said Wish excels with the Hero Zone, two cinemas, the multipurpose Luna entertainment hub, the Grand Hall and the kids' clubs.
All-new rotational dining
Disney Wish has three new rotational restaurants, with diners moving to a new spot each night, accompanied by the same servers.
Paul Rudd as Ant-Man stars in 'Avengers: Quantum Marvel,' an original show broadcast on screens in the Worlds of Marvel restaurant. The story incorporates Disney Wish, with action scenes on the ship, and Ant-Man and the Wasp appear in the room at the end of the meal.
'It really takes you into the cinematic universe. You get completely absorbed in the action. You become part of it,' said DCL's Daniel Cowan, senior manager, dining standards & service excellence.
For Schretter, the experience 'hit the perfect balance of storytelling and immersive interaction,' and 'the cinematic entertainment will keep kids and families engaged throughout the meal.'
According to Cowan, the quality of food, service and the show get equal consideration in each venue, and the food and beverage team works closely with Disney Imagineering for a cohesive experience.
'We marry what we put on the plate with the story,' added DCL's Stephen Walker, culinary director.
Similarly, the drinks are customized to each restaurant, said DCL's Salah Chetbi, dining and beverage standards and consistency manager. In Worlds of Marvel, for example, there's a nod to 'Black Panther's' Wakanda with a gin from Africa going into a cocktail that pours out red and turns black, while the Quantum Sipper, a play on the Quantum Core device on each table that figures into the action, lights up with pop rocks.
'Kids will love that,' Chetbi said.
Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure provides Disney's first 'Frozen' themed dinner theater. It continues where 'Frozen 2' left off and revolves around an engagement party. This takes place on a central stage; characters like Olaf, the snowman, also move around the room to interact with diners.
The restaurant has 694 seats but, like all the rotational venues, it's divided into more intimate areas. In each, the service and the servers' uniforms are support the theme and carefully choreographed.
In Arendelle, servers don't offer freshly ground black pepper. Instead, pepper grinders, 'the best you can buy,' are placed on the tables, Cowan said. 'We don't want to interrupt the show.'
The third new restaurant, the elegant 1923, named after the year the Walt Disney Co. was founded, pays homage to Walt and Roy Disney, with animation drawings and props. The menu offers California cuisine, reflecting Asian, European and Latin American influences.
Appetizers include ahi tuna and fennel salad, with entrees like filet mignon, salmon, rack of lamb and, as on all Disney Wish menus, plant-based options.
There's a selction of Napa Valley wines and Chetbi said the cocktails were inspired by 'The Great Gatsby,' among them, the Boulevardier in long-stemmed martini glass.
There's no show in 1923, so it's a quiet night for family conversing.
Marceline Market — named after Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney's childhood home — offers a casual dinining experience with a food hall atmosphere where stations feature different selections. It's a walk-around experience at breakfast and lunch — but not self-serve, with table service at dinner.
'Dishes are made and served to you, as fresh as possible and nicely presented,' Walker said, adding there's 'huge variety,' from smoked fish at a little deli station to tandoor, ramens, stir fries and a daily seafood bar.
A cafe-style bar is found at the entrance, and the espresso machine is in big demand at breakfast. The bar can also be the setting for mixology classes and Champagne tastings.
Open decks redesign
The open decks have been redesigned into a tiered, amphitheater-style space to incorporate entertainment. This area includes six pools of various sizes and depths.
A big stage is backed by a jumbo LED screen for shows including a lively sail-away party and a new pirate night party. Pirate's Rockin' Parlay Party stars a woman, Capt. Redd, in a show with 1980s rock 'n' roll, culiminating in fireworks.
'The open decks came out fantastic,' said DCL's Jaco Gouws, senior manager Port Adventures and recreation, who picked the AquaMouse, billed as DCL's first Disney 'attraction,' as his favorite aspect. The ride starts as a lazy float with Disney animation shorts projected inside a tube suspended above the top deck then becomes a fast-moving adventure that snakes out over the side of the ship.
Schretter said it's entertaining and fun without being scary or too intimidating for younger children and 'You definitely get wet.'
Imagineer Danny Handke is behind many of the ship's Star Wars aspects but he chose the poolside Mickey and Friends' Festival of Foods as a favorite spot. There are five themed food stalls: a Mexican cantina for burritos or bowls with a selection of hot sauces; a barbecue serving smoked brisket, ribs and chicken; a grill for burgers and DCL's popular chicken tenders; a pizzeria and a soft-serve ice cream spot.
This is not a self-serve area. Diners order dishes that are prepared to order.
Should the complimentary soft-serve ice cream not be enough, the nearby Joyful Sweets, based on Pixar's 'Inside Out,' serves 16 ice creams, 20 kinds of gelato — everything from hazelnut to peanut butter and jelly — and 32 toppings, plus colorful cupcakes themed on emotions.
New Walt Disney Theatre shows
Disney Wish debuts two new stage shows in the 1,274-seat Walt Disney Theatre. 'The Little Mermaid' headliner is a Broadway-style adaptation of the animated movie using live actors, some with puppets, and special effects that create an undersea world, from 360-degree video projections to bubbles.
Director Amy Anders Corcoran said many of the brilliant costumes are made of recycled ocean plastic.
Also new on the main stage is a welcome aboard show where Capt. Minnie Mouse entrusts Goofy with the ship, and calamities ensue.
The third show, 'Disney's Aladdin — A Musical Spectacular,' debuted on Disney Fantasy.
Instead of a large movie theater, Wish has two smaller screening rooms (84 seats and 86 seats) with Dolby Atmos 3D audio. These air classic and first-run films from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and more.
DCL's first Star Wars space for adults, the Hyperspace Lounge, is styled as a 'high-end bar in a luxurious yacht-class spaceship.'
'This is not grungy' like the infamous Oga's Cantina at Walt Disney World's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Imagineer Danny Handke said.
A large, high-definition screen jumps from one location to the other via hyperspace, with scenes of planets or spaceship battles unfolding after each jump, accompanied by surround-sound effect. The room contains vitrines of curiosities and bubbling liquids.
The menu of themed cocktails includes some with dramatic special effects. Most are in the $15 to $20 range but the mysterious, smoking Kaiburr Crystal is priced at a cool $5,000.
Schretter called Hyperspace Lounge a 'fantastic' addition and suggested it would be fun if a character or two occasionally showed up to interact with bartenders or patrons. This 'would add even more storytelling to the venue, and adults like character interactions, too,' she said.
Next door the piano bar Nightingale's recalls the 'Sing Sweet Nightingale' song from the 1950 Disney film 'Cinderella.' Walt Disney Imagineering's Claire Weiss, creative director, pointed to details like the chandelier above the baby grand piano that consists of handblown crystal globes simulating Cinderella's soap bubbles, with the musical notes wrapping around from the 'Nightingale' song she sings.
The bar offers a selection of 26 Champagnes plus 'bubble' cocktails that may have frozen, smoke or air bubbles.
Also nearby, The Bayou provides a setting inspired by 'The Princess and the Frog,' with live entertainment and New Orleans-themed drinks, while the Keg and Compass, a rustic pub, features three custom craft brews on tap, ales, stouts, ciders, meads and a trio of featured cocktails including one that's served in a glass horn.
The Quiet Cove District reprises the Cove Cafe for gourmet coffees with the secluded Cove Bar and an infinity pool and whirlpool tub tucked away aft on Deck 13.
Senses Spa presents its signature Rainforest experience, adding an ice lounge to the thermal menu. There are 21 treatment rooms with two villas for couples and, for the first time, an outdoor relaxation area all the way forward in the ship with chaise lounges and two canopy-topped hot tubs. New treatments incorporate a Quartz Crystal Bed, Zero Gravity Bed and Amphibia Bed.
Separately, on Deck 4 midships, the Untangled Salon in purple and gold has thrones and other royal details inspired by Disney Princess Rapunzel, while men get their own Hook's Barbery, an enclave of dark woods and leather chairs with a hidden bar of bourbons, vintage whisky and port, aged rum and premium spirits.
As on previous Disney ships, specialty dining for adults includes Palo, the sophisticated Italian restaurant that on Wish also doubles as a steak house with choices including waygu beef from Japan or Snake River Farms in the US.
And three-star Michelin chef Arnaud Lallement, who created Remy on Disney Dream and Fantasy, presents Enchanté here, with French gourmet fare and exquisite wine pairings.
Both have a la carte pricing or fixed-price menu options, and brunch and dessert experiences are available.
And both restaurants are served by The Rose, a lounge with velvet seating and glorious views. Palo, Enchanté and The Rose have sumptuous, individual looks but are tied together with elements from 'Beauty and the Beast.'
Royal suites and Tower Suite
Disney Wish has 1,254 staterooms, 70% with verandahs. Some 451 rooms have connecting doors. Most rooms have DCL's signature split bathroom, one with sink and toilet, the other with shower/tub and sink.
There are 76 concierge staterooms and suites — double the number of previous ships, and the triple-sized Concierge Lounge has a full bar, kids' area and a private sun deck with wading pool and two whirlpools.
Also new are four Royal Suites of one or two stories. Each has two master bedrooms and three bathrooms and an oversized verandah with hot tub.
The one-of-a-kind Wish Tower Suite, housed in the forward funnel, is a glamorous two-story penthouse themed on 'Moana.' It measures 1,966 square feet and sleeps up to eight people in two main bedrooms, a children's room and a library that converts into a bedroom. There are 4.5 baths.
This is a tranquil refuge for travelers who want their own private space above the pool deck in the middle of the action, according to designer Claire Weiss. It's dripping in artwork, rich materials and ocean-inspired details like subtle wave patterns on the walls.
Weiss's favorite part of the Tower Suite, though, is the star field in the ceiing of the children's room, which she called 'a soft kiss good night.'