Yonder On The WONDER (Cruising to Mexico, Disney Style), Part One

Wondering what it is like to sail with Disney Cruise Lines? Join Peter Knego aboard the 1999-built DISNEY WONDER on a recent seven night cruise to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles.

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Peter Knego’s DISNEY WONDER Photo Gallery at USA TODAY

Please click on image for larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Part of me was excited to see the DISNEY WONDER again and to actually experience cruising aboard a ship that had such a “wow” factor when she debuted on Port Canaveral-based service in 1999.  But could I fathom seven days of ubiquitous kids, “hidden Mickeys”, Disney tunes in the passageways and chirpy entertainment geared toward families?  I decided to give it a try and figured if the cuteness and cacophony got too overwhelming, I could always retreat with laptop to my balcony.

DISNEY WONDER at Los Angeles.

To my ocean liner-infused sensibilities, Disney has built, as far as external architecture is concerned, the best looking modern ships in the world.

DISNEY WONDER and on the Los Angeles waterfront.

The 83,000 ton, 1750 passenger (make that 2,400 when you add another 650 kids in those extra berths) WONDER and her twin, the 1998-built MAGIC are aging gracefully. The girth equivalents of the the 1940-built QUEEN ELIZABETH, which for 56 years held the record for world’s largest passenger ship, they are now considered mid-sized. And at 964 feet, they are a mere foot longer than the 1968-built QE2 but with an additional 13,000 tons of space.

Stacks from Catalina terminal.

From a 1999 press release, one can surmise what it must have been like for the world’s leading marine architects to repeatedly submit their plans to Disney: “After rejecting blueprint after blueprint, (then Disney chairman Michael) Eisner sent designers back to the drawing boards to capture the feeling of the great ocean liners, like the QUEEN MARY and NORMANDY (sic). ‘Go home and make a modern classic. I want you to out-tradition tradition.'” And visually, they did — Eisner and architects Eide, Tillberg, Yran and Storbraten created spectacular looking ships.

Boarding group number 15.

Aside from an encounter with a stressed out mom who tried to cut into the luggage drop off line, check in was a breeze. We were handed our boarding documents, took the security photo (interestingly, Disney takes a photo of all cabin occupants together), registered our credit cards and proceeded through the x-ray area.

Terminal jive!

No announcements to the effect were made but the apparent suicide of a staff member who tragically disappeared while the ship was en route to Puerto Vallarta on the prior cruise probably pushed back this morning’s boarding. What was broadcast repeatedly was a baffling if not downright Orwellian, “Please enjoy the terminal until your boarding group number is announced.”  Enjoy?  My inner cynic was stirred…

Bollards and lions.

Finally, the boarding groups were being called. When it got to number 15, an attendant wearing a big white Mickey hand waved us toward the gangway. We skipped past the photographers and onto the zig zag platform. Were those really sea lions frolicking in the small gap between the ship and those yellow bollards?

Boarding the DISNEY WONDER.

At the portal to the ship’s three deck Atrium, a hurried but enthusiastic greeter pried our names from my reluctant lips.  “Welcome On Board, Peter and Mike!” was announced to a round of applause from a small line of cruise staff in immaculate “whites”.

Route 6066.

We hurried up to cabin 6066, located conveniently near the midships vestibule on the port side of Deck 6.  Quickly, we dropped off our extra hand carry and I got out the cameras to begin documenting the ship.

Deluxe Veranda stateroom 6066, facing port.

Deluxe veranda staterooms measure 268 square feet and have separate sitting areas that can be curtained off, loads of storage space (including a steamer trunk cabinet) and Disney’s innovative “bathroom and a half” facilities (one bathroom with sink and toilet and another with sink and tub/shower).

H2O amenities!

And speaking of loos, note the high quality, all natural H2O Spa amenities (moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, gel, soap) provided. Kudos to Disney on that!

Route 66 signage.

With the ship already too full to properly photograph, I tried to capture a few random details, beginning on forward Deck 3 with the trio of adult-oriented public spaces adjoined by a passageway called Route 66.  The carpet is a map of the famed highway between Chicago and L.A. and the bulkheads are festooned with imagery of cheeky vintage billboards under a ceiling of clouds.

Promenade Lounge, facing forward.

The Promenade Lounge is located on the port side of Deck 3. It is a handsome space with oversize Goth/Art Nouveau chandeliers and a convincing wood-toned ambiance.

Marble in black and white.

Typically and impressively Disney detail-oriented is the marble decking in the Animator’s Palate restaurant.  Every piece is a different size and has skewed angles, which must have been a challenge to install.

The de Vil is in the details at Animator's Palate.

Naturally, Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmatians” is my favorite Disney character, so it brought a smile to see her Tallulah Bankhead-inspired likeness in the pantheon of Animator’s Palate characters.

Princely example of a sketching in Animator's...

Also of note in the bulkheads are the replica sketches with illustrators’ notations of key Disney characters imprinted in the metal panels.

Beach Blanket buffet.

We eventually retreated to the Beach Blanket Buffet on aft Deck 9 for the welcome aboard spread. My first impression was that the variety and quality of the selections was a bit lacking. Also, the room was crowded, noisy and seemed far too small to meet the needs of a full complement of passengers.

Dinner tickets.

When we returned to the cabin, our dinner tickets were laid out. Another Disney innovation is the rotational dining between three different 471 seat spaces. Each restaurant has its own culinary and decorative theme but the table numbers and wait staff remain the same.

Fill the drill.

I was pleasantly surprised at how orderly the lifeboat drill was, especially considering all the kids.


After boat drill, we headed topsides for the sail-away. Departure was slightly delayed and the DISNEY WONDER did not finally leave the berth until 5:45. Her lines were loosening as we paused to admire the perfectly lit SS LANE VICTORY in the berth across from us.

Solaris atop the L.A. Cruise Terminal.

From the vantage of the ship, it was nice to see Pier 93, the terminal made famous by “The Love Boat”, greened and refurbished after so many years in disrepair. This is where I began a lifetime of ship visits, beginning with P&O’s SS ARCADIA in January of 1974.


And for an inspired moment or two, there was an unobstructed view of the QUEEN MARY’s trio of funnels in a skyline of cranes and containers.

Bulbous bow lions.

Yet more playful sea lions found a temporary roost on the bulbous forefoot of an Evergreen container ship.

Funnel finials.

The top decks were filled with revelers as the WONDER turned into the main channel. Next to us on the observation deck with a view of the swirling waters around the bow, a father explained to his son how the ship was being maneuvered by her thrusters.  And then that seven note whistle blew, playing the first bit of “When You Wish Upon A Star”…

Right wing to Angel's Gate.

Some thirty minutes later, the ship was passing the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse. It was a breathtakingly clear afternoon but the chilly wind helped persuade us to abandon our decktop vantage.


Our first dinner was at table 64 in Triton’s, just aft of the Atrium on Deck 3. It has swirling Art Nouveau ceiling fixtures, wave patterned carpeting, turquoise soft fittings, warm wood tones and a liner-esque grand descent.

Triton's Neptune.

One of the highlights of Triton’s is the mosaic mural of Ariel and Neptune from the “Little Mermaid” on the aft bulkhead. Even if the subject matter seems a bit cute, the degree of craftsmanship is spectacular. This is not “stick on” or “afterthought” artwork.

Citrus avocado salad.

Triton’s cuisine is “garden fresh” Continental with a French influence.  Overall, I found it reasonably good but not exquisite.  While I much prefer Disney’s setting, I think Carnival, NCL and some of the other mass market lines have more and better to offer in their main dining venues.

Tomato basil soup.

Service from highly skilled waiters Balwan (India) and Tita (Hungary) was exemplary, especially considering the number of tables they had to cover. Where both particularly excelled was their uncanny ability to memorize names, especially those of the children. They also took extra efforts to make the kids feel welcome and even performed a few magic tricks. On the minus side, dining with Disney is not a leisurely and serene affair — order quickly, get served quickly and expect your conversation to be interrupted on a regular basis. No “lulling” allowed!

Grand Marnier soufflé.

We finished off with Grand Marnier soufflés and headed topsides for some fresh sea air.

Night cove.

The adults-only Quiet Cove pool area was almost empty as the DISNEY WONDER gently surged onward towards Puerto Vallarta. We did a circuit around the upper deck before returning to cabin 6066.

6066 night lamp.

No denying the details on this ship are pleasing, imaginative and well rendered. It was a relatively early “lights out” on the first eve so we could start the cruise fully rested. There was much to see and do during the next two days at sea…

End of first post. Much more to come…

Click Here For “Yonder On The Wonder (Cruising to Mexico, Disney Style)”, Part Two


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