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Cruise Ship Review

Disney Wonder - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

When Disney executives set out to enter the cruise business, they did so in typical Disney style: fashioning a ship that resembled the luxurious, and oft admired, ocean liners of the 1920's with a slate of spaces and activities that would be worthy of the Disney name. Disney Wonder is one sleek vessel, with its elongated black hull, two matching red funnels and the yellow insignias encircling the ship. The inside features an elegant art nouveau decor with plenty of subtle nods to the mouse that started it all, from the etched-in-pewter characters in the atrium railings to the hidden micro-mini Mickeys in Palo's china pattern. Perhaps what this ship does best though is prove that "elegance" and "family friendly" don't have to be mutually exclusive.

The family offerings are what set this ship apart from the pack. While many cruise lines offer excellent children's programs, Disney offers all that plus plenty of options suitable for a family to enjoy together, from kite-making workshops to game shows and evening stage revues.

At least that's what I thought the first time I sailed the Wonder, two years ago with my own family. Recently, I sailed the ship again, with a pal, to explore the adults-only areas that I spent little time in before. While families are the primary focus of Disney Wonder, grownups have numerous places to call their own here, and since there are so many kids onboard (and adults watching them), the Quiet Cove Pool, Cove Cafe, Vista Spa, and Route 66 entertainment district are rarely crowded.

Disney's Wonder alternates three- and four-night Bahamas itineraries. Both make calls to Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, and Nassau, Bahamas -- but if you can opt for the four-night cruise, it allows for a much needed day at sea to enjoy all the ship's offerings.

Dining

Disney's rotational dining experience is nothing short of brilliant, especially for parents cruising with young children. Even though as an adult I appreciate the grand dining rooms other ships offer, I really enjoyed the varying and entertaining decor of each night's restaurant -- as well as the side benefit when I traveled with my children: They were occupied enough that we could enjoy an appetizer, salad, and at least most of the main course, before they got antsy to leave.

There are three main restaurants on the Wonder, and every guest dines in each of them at least once (on the four-night cruise you return to your first restaurant for a second time). Your dining tickets will be waiting for you in your stateroom indicating your dining time (6 or 8:30 pm), table number and restaurant rotation. Your table number, dining companions and servers remain the same throughout.

Animator's Palate is an animation-themed restaurant, right down to the holograms on the menus. As dinner begins, the black and white room becomes wrapped in a ribbon of blue with twinkling green lights in the "bristles" of the giant paintbrush shaped pillars. Throughout the course of dinner everything but the carpet seems to change colors, as scenes from Disney movies transform from simple black-and-white sketches to full-color moving images in Flintstone-like frames. The menu includes appetizers like Wild Garlic Mushrooms served in a Flaky Pastry Cup; Creamy Butternut Squash Soup, and a main course of Maple Glazed Salmon or Veal Chop encrusted with Parmesan and Herb. Each dinner also includes a "lighter fare" selection like Grilled Grain-fed Sirloin Steak or Oven-Baked Filet of Salmon.

Parrot Cay is the liveliest of the three restaurants; a Caribbean-themed multi-sensory experience, with the sound of birds chirping as you enter (and the tune "feeling hot, hot, hot" during dinner), parquet wood floors, shutters, and turquoise colored wood carvings. We visited for lunch and discovered a delicious seafood buffet and elaborate salad bar. The restaurant's dinner setup includes South Beach-style sheer drapes to create a more intimate atmosphere and menu items that include Pan-Seared Grouper, Caribbean Roast Chicken, and Island Roasted Rib-Eye of Beef.

Triton's -- the most formal of the three -- is an upscale dining room with stained glass walls, a massive shimmering tiled wall depicting a scene from the Little Mermaid and Continental cuisine with a French flair.

Two additional Disney dining perks include free sodas during dinner at these restaurants (and at the self-service beverage station on the pool deck), along with a different children's menu/activity sheet each night, filled with fun word games, a coloring sheet and maze.

Parrot Cay and Triton's are also open for breakfast, and typically one of the restaurants is also open for lunch.

Palo, the adult-only restaurant serving Northern Italian cuisine, is an elegant eatery with views that vary from an open kitchen to sweeping ocean vistas. Inspired by the Italian birthplace of the ship (Disney Wonder was built by Fincantieri), Palo is named for the poles that line the canals of Venice. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner (and for Champagne brunch during the "at sea" day on a four-night cruise); both require reservations, which should be made as soon as you board the ship. The food and service here is worth so much more than the $10 per person charged. Be sure to take a peak in the intimate dining room for 14 tucked away in the back of Palo; here you'll find a gorgeous wall-sized mosaic portraying a gondolier in Venice. The room is typically reserved in advance by groups; however, if it has not been reserved, someone can come on the day they board and make a reservation, even if it is a group smaller than the room can hold.

Beach Blanket Buffet (Deck 9) is the indoor/outdoor venue for breakfast and lunch buffets serving salads, sandwiches, made-to-order omelets, Mickey-shaped waffles, gravy & biscuits, and assorted fruits. The omelet service here is wonderful. You place your order at the station, take your number back to your table and your omelet is delivered once complete.

Casual outdoor eateries include Pinocchio's Pizzeria, Pluto's Dog House (for burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders) plus, a wonderful new edition -- Goofy's Galley, serving delicious panini and wrap sandwiches with a bountiful selection of fruits to choose from, plus soft-serve ice-cream with lots of fixins'.

Room service is available 24 hours a day. Continental breakfast is featured in the mornings. Later in the day the menu offers a selection of soups and salads, cheese and crackers, and chicken fajitas and lasagna (among other things). Guests in suite accommodations can order from dining room menus during mealtime (though arrangements must be made in advance from the concierge).

The service in all four restaurants was excellent, so much so, that a highlight of my recent cruise was watching the two boys at a nearby table positively beam when they caught sight of our server Witt each night for dinner. He squirted ketchup in the shape of Mickey, crafted pirate hats for the boys out of napkins, and performed magic tricks ... all while serving the rest of his tables as well.

Public Rooms

Most of the entertainment-oriented public spaces and children's facilities are located on Decks 3, 4 and 5 off the hallways that lead to the ship's three-story atrium. The atrium itself is home to a grand double staircase and a combination glass and acrylic chandelier sculpture designed by Dale Chihuly, the designer of a large installation at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Be sure to check out more of Dale Chihuly's work if your shore excursion plans include a trip to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where two of his chandeliers hang: Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Sun. The pools and most fitness and recreation options are located on Decks 9 and 10.

Disney's artwork is entertaining in and of itself, from the portrait of Walt Disney that hangs in one of the stairways (with a hidden Mickey in the shadow), to the whimsical series of 26 illustrations hanging on Deck 5 (portside) -- one for each letter of the nautical alphabet. It is here that you'll learn that "S" - Scuttlebutt is a sailor's slang term for a rumor. And, our kid's favorite, "P" - Poop Deck, is the deck of a ship that is the farthest aft and the highest.

Internet access is available in three locations. For Teens it's in their own hangout, called Aloft. All ages can use The Promenade Lounge (Deck 3), which is quite peaceful during the day with ocean views, board games, and several computer stations (open 24 hours and with the ability to print; .75 per minute, or $39.99 for unlimited access, per e-mail address).

Lastly, the adults-only Cove Cafe is where you'll find chairs with swing out tables for people to use either with their own laptops or those you borrow from the cafe (.75 per minute here with no extra charge to borrow the laptop). There is also sofa-style seating in front of a large-screen TV, oversized headphones for listening to music, and a few shelves worth of current magazines and books to read. Since Disney's ships do not have libraries, this is the place to come for extra reading material. The only caveat: The material must remain at the cafe, which is inconvenient if you begin a good book and can't spend the day with it on Castaway Cay.

Cabins

Disney's staterooms are 25 percent larger than the industry average. Standard Inside Staterooms are 184 square ft.; Deluxe Inside and Outside staterooms 214 square ft.; and Deluxe Staterooms with verandah are 268 square ft., including the verandah. The majority of staterooms offer a comfortable layout with bedroom and living room areas separated by a curtain (a plus for anyone who likes to read before bed but doesn't want to make it too bright for children sleeping nearby), and understated decor with honey maple furniture and nautical influences throughout.

Especially convenient, and clever in design, is the deep sofa that converts to a daybed with a top "bunk" that folds down from the ceiling. This is an advantageous design for two reasons. First, some children don't sleep well together in the same bed, and second, if you still have nappers, it is great to be able to leave the beds arranged during the day without monopolizing the majority of the open floor space with a pulled out sofa bed.

Families of five can choose a family stateroom. They're a bit larger and have a wall-mounted Murphy bed in addition to the sofa bed.

There are plenty of storage areas including a closet with an attached dresser, desk/dressing table area with several drawers and high shelves, plus an upright steamer trunk that provides easy access to clothes for young kids. In addition, while small, the stateroom TV has a wide array of channels to choose from including ABC, ESPN, CNN, some Discovery Channels, and, of course, The Disney Channel.

Most staterooms include Disney's unique "bath and a half" where one person can shower in one bathroom while someone else is using the toilet (and a second sink) in the other -- a big plus. The bathrooms are nicely appointed with white and navy blue tile and granite countertops, however, the split design means each one is small, leaving you little room to turn around in the bathroom with the tub/shower. Verandah staterooms have a balcony sizable enough to accommodate two chairs and a small table, and have plexi-glass along the railing to allow for a view of the ocean while seated.

Disney introduced H2O Plus Spa bath and shower products (Sea Marine Revitalizing Shampoo, Marine Collagen Conditioner and Hydrating Body Butter from the H2O Plus premium Spa line to all staterooms in October 2006). You know the new products are good when a group of long-haired women are sitting around the dinner table smelling their hair and discussing how nice the shampoo and conditioner is. Guests staying in concierge-level suites will find additional H20 Plus offerings: Sea Salt Body Wash and Solar Relief Gel.

All staterooms have also received new Sealy Posturepedic Premium Plush Euro-top mattresses, new pillows, and Frette 300 thread-count, 100 percent Egyptian cotton linens. In addition, larger, more luxurious bath towels and bath sheets have been added to all stateroom bathrooms.

When selecting a stateroom, there are a few things to keep in mind. The only difference between category 5 and 6 is category 5 is on a higher deck. The handicap accessible rooms are huge with plenty of open floor space, a large walk in closet, a couch, pull down bed, and a bathroom larger than the ones in some of the suites. The balcony is also sizable. If the only thing keeping you from cruising is concern over claustrophobic quarters, consider one of these cabins, although, first priority goes to those in need of the handicap accessibility.

Category 7 balconies have an obstructed half-wall view, but Disney made them look extremely attractive, with weathered wood bead-board half walls around the perimeter, nautical decor, a built-in bench seat, and a large open-air porthole. For a stateroom that offers an outside view at an inside price, try to book one of the following cabins: 5020, 5022,5024, 5520, 5522 or 5524. These cabins are priced as an inside category 10, but are similar in layout to an outside category 8, and offer a porthole window (all with some degree of obstructed view). Inside cabins are similar in design and amenities to the outsides, with the exception being the least expensive inside staterooms have one bathroom and therefore only one sink.

There are three types of suites ranging from one to two-bedrooms and from 614 to 945 square ft. They are appointed with dining tables, numerous storage areas and TV's, plus Kohler whirlpool tubs, expansive balconies, and a cabinet well stocked with popular board games. The Walt and Roy Disney Suites are the grandest (1,029 square ft.) accommodations. They're filled with Disney family photographs and shelves with interesting old books. Suite guests can select their preferred pillow -- hypoallergenic, feather or therapeutic memory foam -- from the new "Pillow Talk" program menu, plus enjoy comfortable duvets, robes and slippers. In addition, the dining room menu is available for delivery in the suites.

Cribs and Diaper Genies are available upon request for any cabin category.

Entertainment

Disney offers a different type of entertainment mix than you'll find on other major lines. What bibliophiles and gamblers give up in public spaces (a ship library and casino) families gain in innovative offerings like Studio Sea - the place for family friendly dance parties and hilarious game shows - and the old-style Buena Vista Theatre which features current Disney new releases - typically G-rated fare during the day and adult oriented movies in the evenings. For this cruise the offerings were: The Santa Clause 3, Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest, The Prestige and The Guardian.

Daytime offerings for families include 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, Disney themed karaoke, an ice-carving demonstration, family kite-making workshop, or an Art of the Theme Show Ship Tour. Adults can also attend a wine or martini tasting and an art auction.

Most of Disney's adult oriented evening entertainment is tucked together in one specially designed area (Route 66 on Wonder), off the beaten path from all other entertainment venues, which is quite different from other cruise lines where you might find them located right off the main thoroughfares.

You'll know you've discovered Route 66 (deck 3 forward) when you see clouds in the ceiling and highway barriers along the wall. Here you can "walk" from Chicago to California while passing plenty of old-fashioned billboards along the route, as well as places to sip and play. Wave Bands plays host to video dance parties with 70's and 80's themes, plus karaoke and a Match your Mate event (an adult game show where you can discover just how well you do, or don't, know your mate). While this is the ship's dance club, be forewarned that it is not like the clubs you might find on other ships - i.e. a crowded dance floor and the latest tunes being spun by a D.J. Here you'll find Disney's dancers taking over the dance floor performing skits to certain songs, and enlisting audience members to don a costume and join in for others.

Also along Route 66 is Cadillac Lounge, the resident piano bar, and Diversions, an upscale sports bar featuring plasma TV's, large comfortable chairs and beautiful sports themed paintings.

The premiere entertainment facility is the 977 seat Walt Disney Theatre that spans three decks of the ship. This theatre has comfortable seating, unobstructed views from almost anywhere, and is home to some of the best production shows I've seen at sea. Our family's favorite was The Golden Mickey's - an amalgam of song, dance, animated film, and special effects starring Disney's most famous and infamous characters. The pre-show was equally entertaining as guests approached the theatre along a red carpet complete with paparazzi - of the friendliest kind - and a roving reporter conducted live "celebrity" interviews that were broadcast on giant video screens inside the theatre. And then there was the moral of the musical, what parent wouldn't love a show that shows kids heroes don't have to be big and strong, they can be anyone who tries to do the right thing; and just keeps on trying.

And new for late 2008 (December 6 for Disney Wonder), the line is debuting "Disney Digital 3-D." It's a cinema experience that uses lasers, fog, streamers and special lighting effects in the onboard theater.

Other productions include Disney Dreams, a bedtime story featuring Peter Pan, Cinderella, and assorted other characters, plus the vaudevillian style Hercules the Muse-ical.

While the theatre is the premiere entertainment facility on the ship, the fairly new Pirates in the Caribbean dinner and deck party is the highlight event. This evening of adventure, music and dancing begins in the dining room with a pirate scroll menu and bandanas for all, then moves upstairs and outdoors to the pool-deck party near Goofy's pool. On deck you can dance near some of your favorite characters dressed in pirate garb, watch other people dance as they're caught on camera and featured on the jumbo LED screen, and see Mickey rappel from a top the ship's funnel to fight Captain Hook, before fireworks light up the sky.

Disney's brand-new, 24-by-14 foot jumbo LED screen is affixed to the forward funnel on deck 9 near the Goofy Pool area and is the place to watch current and classic Disney films as well as popular TV shows and major sporting events.

For interactive family-entertainment head to Studio Sea, where you can partake in scavenger hunts, family karaoke, and game shows like "Walk the Plank," where parent/child teams compete for prizes, or just to avoid 'walking the plank.'

Despite all of the elaborate entertainment, one of the biggest highlights of the cruise for young children is the character appearances. While I rarely saw them roaming about the decks - as I'd envisioned from Disney's ads - we could check the digital display board in the lobby for a listing of appearances. Many children arrived each evening decked out as Minnie Mouse, Belle, or Cinderella, others in their favorite Disney jammies, all anxiously awaiting a chance to get an autograph or picture with their favorite character.

The Wonder visits Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, a land-based extension of the ship's entertainment offerings. Castaway Cay is an island paradise of crystal clear waters where beach umbrellas dot the horseshoe shaped family beach. It is near this beach that you can rent snorkeling gear and assorted rafts and tubes at pretty reasonable prices. Or see the shore excursion desk on the ship (or book in advance) for tours like parasailing, snorkeling excursions, a kayak nature-oriented tour and many others.

It's easy to get around the island. Trams take you from the dock to various points around Castaway Cay continuously throughout the day. Island highlights include the barbecue lunch, biking along paved (and sandy) trails to a tranquil overlook from the northwest side of the island, snorkeling out just a few hundred feet to see sunken treasures; or, relaxing (sans children) at the adults only beach, Serenity Bay, and having a massage in one of the open-air cabanas overlooking the ocean. I never thought I'd say a bathroom is a highlight, but these are some of the nicest, and cleanest, beach restrooms I've ever seen.

New, and anchored just off of Castaway Cay, is the 175-foot ragged looking ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman, which made its debut in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. You can rent a boat and paddle out for a closer look.

Fitness and Recreation

The pool area (Deck 9) consists of three age-specific swimming pools and a 200-foot-long Mickey-themed water slide. The frequently crowded Mickey's Pool (aft) is for the younger set, offering a large shallow pool with Mickey's silhouette in the bottom and two huge rubber inner tubes (the ears) serving as warm shallow tubs (one with sprinklers). An extension to the Mickey Pool was recently added for children not yet toilet trained and in swim diapers. This new 385-square-ft. toddler water-play pool features star and moon shaped interactive fountains and shallow water to splash about.

Family friendly Goofy's pool (in between the funnels) is four feet deep, with two whirlpools adjacent, and located alongside the main outdoor stage and new LED screen. The Quiet Cove Pool (forward) is adults-only, and is definitely quiet compared to the rest of the pool deck. The area includes two large hot tubs, an outdoor bar, and the adults-only Cafe Cove where you can get frozen coffee drinks to sip by the pool. Deck 10 has additional lounge seating overlooking the various pools as well as a basketball court and volleyball area.

For your own private hideaway, Deck 7's Aft Overlook is frequently overlooked. Here you can enjoy water views and silence -- unless the captain is officiating a wedding. Deck 4 promenade is the place for running (three laps for a mile), or relaxing on cushioned lounge chairs. The area is far from the crowds, and other than shuffleboard on the starboard side, and an occasional jogger, is peaceful enough to listen to the waves.

The newly expanded Vista Spa & Salon offers an assortment of relaxing massages, facials, and self-improvement treatments ranging in price from $15 to well over $400. For $15 you can buy a day's pass to the spa's "Tropical Rain Forest," a circular Tuscan-themed (co-ed) area with a fountain in the center and steam rooms.

The three new spa villas are home to the priciest services. Each villa (two are large enough to accommodate a couple) includes an indoor spa treatment suite connected to its own private verandah with a hot tub, open-air shower, and a very comfortable chaise lounge the size of a full-size bed, and plenty of pillows. Treatment options include deep tissue massages, marine facials and a body-purifying wrap. All villa packages include a tea ceremony, foot cleansing, and some much appreciated relaxation time on the chaise lounge.

The Spa is also home to a recently expanded fitness center (1,700 square ft. added) that is well equipped with new Life Fitness equipment, numerous treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines (with TV's perched atop them), plus free weights and exercise balls. The front desk provides headsets (gratis) for you to use while listening to the TV's. There is also a small, private exercise room where you can have a personal training session.

The women's locker room here offers a nice alternative to getting ready in the somewhat cramped cabin bathrooms. There is a large vanity area, plump lounge chairs, and two spacious semi-circle shaped showers, one with a "rain" type shower head.

Family

Disney's greatest advantage is the abundance of choices you have for spending time together as a family, as well as spending it apart in age-specific activities.

As for the children's programs, Disney offers programming for babies as young as 12-weeks-old right on up through teens, with a few advantages like pagers for parents (with text-messaging so pre-teens and teens can let parents know where they'll be), continuation of program activities on Castaway Cay, and flexible age groupings, which I was able to test when I last sailed with my children.

At the time our almost three-year-old was potty trained (and fine playing with older children), so we were able to register him in the Oceaneer Club where he could be with his brother a good portion of the time. In addition, our older son, who was a few weeks shy of his eighth birthday, had the choice of registering for the Oceaneer Club's activities, or with the older 8 - 12 year-old Oceaneer Lab. The flexibility was a boon to us the night we went to Palo because our younger son would have been upset about being left alone had they not allowed his brother to stay with him.

As mentioned, pagers are assigned to parents with children under 12 years of age (counselors will page the parents if their child wants to see them).

Because Disney's kids program is so comprehensive, we detail each below:

Flounder's Reef Nursery: Flounder's Reef (one of just a few nurseries at sea) is designed for babies and toddlers (ages 12 weeks up to three) with Little Mermaid-themed bubble murals, popular toys from Hasbro and plenty of your typical infant swings and bouncy chairs. Head to the nursery as soon as you board and decide what time slots you'd like.They go quickly. Fee is $6 per hour ($5 per hour for each additional child). The ratio of counselors to children is 1 to 4 for infants and 1 to 6 for toddlers. And new for spring 2009, Disney has introduced an online service that allows passengers to order baby supplies in advance of their cruise and have them delivered to their stateroom (provided by Babies Travel Lite). There are over 1,000 brand-name baby products to choose from, including diapers, baby food, infant formula and specialty travel items.

Oceaneer Club - Ages 3 - 7: A separate schedule of events is planned for ages 3 - 4 and 5 - 7 with some overlap during the day. Activities vary from The Nestle Jr. Chef Experience where kids get to make their own chocolate chip cookies, to creating sticky green Flubber-like goo. Kids also get plenty of free play time on the enormous indoor pirate ship, complete with slides, tunnels and climbing areas, or they can put together a giant Mr. Potato Head.

Oceaneer Lab - Ages 8 - 12: As is the case with Oceaneer Club, the Lab plans for ages 8 - 9 and 10 - 12, with some overlap. In addition to "Pajamarama" pizza parties, a giant video wall with wireless controllers, and several computer stations with "family-rated" software, the Lab offers kids 8 and 9 a chance to make their own TV commercials and soap cars to race in the Piston Cup Championship. A new computer simulator with four levels of difficulty allows children to see what it's like to steer the Disney Wonder in and out of various ports of call. The simulator is built into a replica of the ship's bridge, complete with giant video screens that provide a panoramic view of the ports -- similar to the view from the actual ship's bridge. "Crash" the ship and you get demoted and sent to dry dock.

Teens Aloft - Ages 13 - 17: This cool area for teens is a cross between a college dorm and a coffee shop with overstuffed couches and chairs. Located in the forward (faux) funnel on Deck 11, Aloft includes big-screen plasma TV's, internet access, MP3 players, board games and a soda bar that serves soft drinks and smoothies. In addition, there are some pretty hip crew members here leading events where teens can learn the latest hip-hop moves, sing karaoke, and participate in boys against girls trivia challenges, where we heard the boys frequently rule. They need some girls to change that!

Fellow Passengers

The vast majority of fellow passengers are families and multigenerational reunions due to the extensive children, teen and family programming. However, you'll also find a sprinkling of honeymooners and folks without children who appreciate the oversized staterooms, underutilized adult-only areas and Disney details.

Dress Code

Resort casual is the dress of the day in all areas of the ship. In the evenings, a jacket for men and a dress or pantsuit for women is recommended for "Dress-Up Night" and Palos. Cruise casual is the code for the remaining nights (i.e. no shorts, jeans, or tank tops). One night of each cruise is designated "pirate night," and you'll see many people dressed in pirate attire, even if it's just a hat. If you don't happen to have pirate attire -- and would like to -- stop by Mickey's mates for something to wear.

Gratuity

Disney suggests gratuities for three-night sailings as follows (which you can pre-pay by credit card before boarding or by stopping at the guest services desk before the final night of your cruise): Dining Room Server, $11; assistant server, $8; stateroom attendant, $10.75. For four-night cruises budget $14.75 for your dining room server, $10.75 for your assistant server and $14.50 for your stateroom attendant. Prices are per person per cruise.

--by Christine Koubek. In addition to her articles for Cruise Critic, Washington D.C.-based Koubek has also written for Modern Bride, Frommer's Budget Travel, The Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald and The Washington Post. When Disney executives set out to enter the cruise business, they did so in typical Disney style: fashioning a ship that resembled the luxurious, and oft admired, ocean liners of the 1920's with a slate of spaces and activities that would be worthy of the Disney name. Disney Wonder is one sleek vessel, with its elongated black hull, two matching red funnels and the yellow insignias encircling the ship. The inside features an elegant art nouveau decor with plenty of subtle nods to the mouse that started it all, from the etched-in-pewter characters in the atrium railings to the hidden micro-mini Mickeys in Palo's china pattern. Perhaps what this ship does best though is prove that "elegance" and "family friendly" don't have to be mutually exclusive.

The family offerings are what set this ship apart from the pack. While many cruise lines offer excellent children's programs, Disney offers all that plus plenty of options suitable for a family to enjoy together, from kite-making workshops to game shows and evening stage revues.

At least that's what we thought the first time we sailed the Wonder, in 2005, with the family. In 2007, we sailed the ship again, with a pal, to explore the adults-only areas that I spent little time in before. While families are the primary focus of Disney Wonder, grownups have numerous places to call their own here, and since there are so many kids onboard (and adults watching them), the Quiet Cove Pool, Cove Cafe, Outlook Cafe, Vista Spa and Route 66 entertainment district are rarely crowded.

We've recently returned with the kids to explore Alaska onboard Wonder. The ship had traversed the Caribbean, but in 2011 it relocated to the West Coast, bringing Disney to Alaska for the first time. The ship cruises the Inside Passage from May to September, then heads down to Los Angeles for a season of Mexican Riviera voyages. In between seasons, Wonder sails a Hawaii cruise (spring) and a pair of Pacific Coastal voyages (spring, fall).

Dining

Disney's rotational dining experience is nothing short of brilliant, especially for parents cruising with young children. Even though as an adult I appreciate the grand dining rooms other ships offer, I really enjoyed the varying and entertaining decor of each night's restaurant -- as well as the side benefit when I traveled with my children: They were occupied enough that we could enjoy an appetizer, salad, and at least most of the main course, before they got antsy to leave.

There are three main restaurants on the Wonder, and every passenger dines in each of them at least twice. Your dining tickets will be waiting for you in your stateroom indicating your dining time (6:15 or 8:15 p.m.), table number and restaurant rotation. Also on your dining tickets is the date and location of your Character Breakfast, where Micky, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Chip and Dale stop by each and every table for photos and to sign autographs. Your table number, dining companions and servers remain the same throughout.

Animator's Palate is an animation-themed restaurant, right down to the holograms on the menus. As dinner begins, the black and white room becomes wrapped in a ribbon of blue with twinkling green lights in the "bristles" of the giant paintbrush shaped pillars. Throughout the course of dinner everything but the carpet seems to change colors, as scenes from Disney movies transform from simple black-and-white sketches to full-color moving images in Flintstones-like frames. The menu includes appetizers like Wild Garlic Mushrooms served in a Flaky Pastry Cup; Creamy Butternut Squash Soup, and a main course of Maple Glazed Salmon or Veal Chop encrusted with Parmesan and Herb. Each dinner also includes a "lighter fare" selection like Grilled Grain-fed Sirloin Steak or Oven-Baked Filet of Salmon.

Parrot Cay is the liveliest of the three restaurants; a Caribbean-themed multi-sensory experience, with the sound of birds chirping as you enter (and the tune "feeling hot, hot, hot" during dinner), parquet wood floors, shutters, and turquoise colored wood carvings. We visited for lunch and discovered a delicious seafood buffet and elaborate salad bar. The restaurant's dinner setup includes South Beach-style sheer drapes to create a more intimate atmosphere and menu items that include Pan-Seared Grouper, Caribbean Roast Chicken, and Island Roasted Rib-Eye of Beef.

Triton's -- the most formal of the three -- is an upscale dining room with stained glass walls, a massive shimmering tiled wall depicting a scene from the Little Mermaid and Continental cuisine with a French flair.

Two additional Disney dining perks include free sodas during dinner at these restaurants (and at the self-service beverage station on the pool deck), along with a different children's menu/activity sheet each night, filled with fun word games, a coloring sheet and maze.

Parrot Cay and Triton's are also open for breakfast and lunch.

Palo, the adult-only restaurant serving Northern Italian cuisine, is an elegant eatery with views that vary from an open kitchen to sweeping ocean vistas. Inspired by the Italian birthplace of the ship (Disney Wonder was built by Fincantieri), Palo is named for the poles that line the canals of Venice. The restaurant is open daily for Champagne brunch and dinner; both require reservations, which should be made as soon as you board the ship, as a four-page waiting list is not uncommon. Due to its popularity, passengers are only allowed to book one brunch and one dinner for the duration of the cruise. The food and service here is worth so much more than the $20 per person brunch and $24 dinner charged. Be sure to take a peek in the intimate dining room for 14 tucked away in the back of Palo; here you'll find a gorgeous wall-sized mosaic portraying a gondolier in Venice. The room is typically reserved by groups; however, if it has not been reserved, passengers can come on the day they board and make a reservation, even if it is a group smaller than the room can hold.

Beach Blanket Buffet (Deck 9) is the indoor/outdoor venue for breakfast and lunch buffets serving salads, sandwiches, made-to-order omelets, Mickey-shaped waffles, gravy & biscuits, and assorted fruits. The omelet service here is wonderful. You place your order at the station, take your number back to your table and your omelet is delivered once complete.

Casual outdoor eateries include Pinocchio's Pizzeria, Pluto's Dog House (for burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders) plus, a wonderful new edition -- Goofy's Galley, serving delicious panini and wrap sandwiches with a bountiful selection of fruits to choose from, plus soft-serve ice-cream with lots of fixins'. These outdoor eateries are l on Deck 9, with a self-serve beverage station. Sodas and juices are free at the self-serve locations, but if you order them in the cafes, you will pay for the drink, as well as a 15 percent gratuity. Any alcoholic beverages ordered during any meal or at any location on the ship also includes a 15 percent gratuity. Although passengers are not permitted to bring alcohol onboard at embarkation day, they are permitted to bring on wine and beverages purchased at excursion ports.

The restaurants offer a wine purchase program, as well. You can elect to purchase a seven- or three-day wine program to receive a discount on seven or three bottles of wine. Any wine not finished is recorked and saved for your table. We didn't find a great deal in these packages and elected to pay by the glass.

Room service is available 24 hours a day. Continental breakfast is featured in the mornings. Later in the day the menu offers a selection of soups and salads, cheese and crackers, and chicken fajitas and lasagna (among other things). Guests in suite accommodations can order from dining room menus during mealtime (though arrangements must be made in advance from the concierge).

The service in all four restaurants was excellent, so much so, that a highlight of my recent cruise was watching the two boys at a nearby table positively beam when they caught sight of our server Witt each night for dinner. He squirted ketchup in the shape of Mickey, crafted pirate hats for the boys out of napkins, and performed magic tricks ... all while serving the rest of his tables as well.

Public Rooms

Most of the entertainment-oriented public spaces and children's facilities are located on Decks 3, 4 and 5 off the hallways that lead to the ship's three-story atrium. The atrium itself is home to a grand double staircase and a combination glass and acrylic chandelier sculpture designed by Dale Chihuly, the designer of a large installation at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The pools (heated to 79 degrees) and most fitness and recreation options are located on Decks 9 and 10.

Disney's artwork is entertaining in and of itself, from the portrait of Walt Disney that hangs in one of the stairways (with a hidden Mickey in the shadow), to the whimsical series of 26 illustrations hanging on Deck 5 (portside) -- one for each letter of the nautical alphabet. It is here that you'll learn that "S" - Scuttlebutt is a sailor's slang term for a rumor. And, our kid's favorite, "P" - Poop Deck, is the deck of a ship that is the farthest aft and the highest.

Internet access is available in three locations. For teens, it's in their own hangout, called Vibe, on Deck 11; for tweens, it's in their own space, Edge, located on Deck 2. All ages can use The Promenade Lounge (Deck 3), which is quite peaceful during the day with ocean views, board games and several computer stations (open 24 hours and with the ability to print; 75 cents per minute, or $39.99 for unlimited access, per e-mail address).

Lastly, the adults-only Cove Cafe is where you'll find chairs with swing out tables for people to use either with their own laptops or those you borrow from the cafe ($.75 per minute here with no extra charge to borrow the laptop). There is also sofa-style seating in front of a large-screen TV, oversized headphones for listening to music, and a few shelves worth of current magazines and books to read. Since Disney's ships do not have libraries, this is the place to come for extra reading material. The only caveat: The material must remain at the cafe, which is inconvenient if you begin a good book and can't spend the day with it on Castaway Cay.

New to the Disney Wonder is its Overlook Cafe, just upstairs from Cove Café and an extension of its offerings, except with fantastic views from floor-to-ceiling windows. During an Alaska cruise, it's a great place to take in the snow-capped mountains and iceberg-filled waters in a quiet setting. (The ship also added Plexiglas wind barriers on the forward deck to keep the chill away while taking in the views.)

Cabins

Disney's cabins are larger than the industry average. Standard Inside Staterooms are 184 square feet; Deluxe Inside and Outside Staterooms 214 square feet; and Deluxe Staterooms with verandah are 268 square feet, including the verandah. The majority of cabins offer a comfortable layout with bedroom and living room areas separated by a curtain (a plus for anyone who likes to read before bed but doesn't want to make it too bright for children sleeping nearby), and understated decor with honey maple furniture and nautical influences throughout.

Especially convenient, and clever in design, is the deep sofa that converts to a daybed with a top "bunk" that folds down from the ceiling. The top bunk features safety rails that close off any open space to prevent children from falling in the middle of the night. The bunk is also advantageous if you have children who don't sleep well together in the same bed. It's also helpful if you still have nappers as you can leave the beds arranged during the day without monopolizing the majority of the open floor space with a pulled out sofa bed.

Families of five can choose a family stateroom. They're a bit larger and have a wall-mounted Murphy bed in addition to the sofa bed.

There are plenty of storage areas including a closet with an attached dresser, desk/dressing table area with several drawers and high shelves, plus an upright steamer trunk that provides easy access to clothes for young kids. We unpacked six large suitcases into every drawer, cubby and closet space and still found extra spaces we never had to fill. The suitcases store well under the bed, with larger ones able to fit into the closet without disrupting hanging clothing. In addition, while small, the stateroom TV has a wide array of channels to choose from including ABC, ESPN, CNN, some Discovery Channels, and, of course, The Disney Channel. Disney movies are aired throughout the day, including many new-to-video movies. During our Alaskan cruise we found classics like "Sleeping Beauty," as well as more modern movies. Our only complaint is there was a lot of repetition after seven days. The shows were set on a schedule so every night at, say 8:30, the films would be at the exact same spot they were at 8:30 the night before. Wonder, unlike Disney's newest ship, Disney Dream, does not have DVR play and pause capability.

All cabins come with two portable Wave Phones, which have texting capabilities and can be used throughout the ship. (Four phones are provided in the Royal Suite and two-bedroom suites; passengers can rent an additional phone from Guest Services for $3.50 per day.)

Most cabins include Disney's "bath and a half," where one person can shower in one bathroom while someone else is using the toilet (and a second sink) in the other -- a big plus. The bathrooms are nicely appointed with white and navy blue tile and granite countertops, however, the split design means each one is small, leaving you little room to turn around in the bathroom with the tub/shower. Verandah staterooms have a balcony sizable enough to accommodate two chairs and a small table, and have plexi-glass along the railing to allow for a view of the ocean while seated. Doors to the balcony feature a lock located at the very top, to prevent children from getting out, but our kids quickly figured out how to stand on the couch to reach and unlock this safety feature, so be careful.

Disney introduced H2O Plus Spa bath and shower products (Sea Marine Revitalizing Shampoo, Marine Collagen Conditioner and Hydrating Body Butter from the H2O Plus premium Spa line to all staterooms in October 2006). You know the new products are good when a group of long-haired women are sitting around the dinner table smelling their hair and discussing how nice the shampoo and conditioner is. Guests staying in concierge-level suites will find additional H20 Plus offerings: Sea Salt Body Wash and Solar Relief Gel.

All staterooms have also received new Sealy Posturepedic Premium Plush Euro-top mattresses, new pillows, and Frette 300 thread-count, 100 percent Egyptian cotton linens. In addition, larger, more luxurious bath towels and bath sheets have been added to all stateroom bathrooms.

When selecting a stateroom, there are a few things to keep in mind. The only difference between category 5 and 6 is category 5 is on a higher deck. The handicap accessible rooms are huge with plenty of open floor space, a large walk in closet, a couch, pull down bed, and a bathroom larger than the ones in some of the suites. The balcony is also sizable. If the only thing keeping you from cruising is concern over claustrophobic quarters, consider one of these cabins, although, first priority goes to those in need of the handicap accessibility.

Category 7 balconies have an obstructed half-wall view, but Disney made them look extremely attractive, with weathered wood bead-board half walls around the perimeter, nautical decor, a built-in bench seat, and a large open-air porthole. For a stateroom that offers an outside view at an inside price, try to book one of the following cabins: 5020, 5022, 5024, 5520, 5522 or 5524. These cabins are priced as an inside category 10, but are similar in layout to an outside category 8, and offer a porthole window (all with some degree of obstructed view). Inside cabins are similar in design and amenities to the outsides, with the exception being the least expensive inside staterooms have one bathroom and therefore only one sink.

There are three types of suites ranging from one to two-bedrooms and from 614 to 945 square ft. They are appointed with dining tables, numerous storage areas and TV's, plus Kohler whirlpool tubs, expansive balconies, and a cabinet well stocked with popular board games. The Walt and Roy Disney Suites are the grandest (1,029 square ft.) accommodations. They're filled with Disney family photographs and shelves with interesting old books. Suite guests can select their preferred pillow -- hypoallergenic, feather or therapeutic memory foam -- from the new "Pillow Talk" program menu, plus enjoy comfortable duvets, robes and slippers. In addition, the dining room menu is available for delivery in the suites.

Cribs and Diaper Genies are available upon request for any cabin category.

Entertainment

Disney offers a different type of entertainment mix than you'll find on other major lines. What bibliophiles and gamblers give up in public spaces (a ship library and casino) families gain in innovative offerings like Studio Sea -- the place for family friendly dance parties and hilarious game shows -- and the old-style Buena Vista Theatre which features current Disney new releases, (typically G-rated fare during the day and adult oriented movies in the evenings). "Disney Digital 3-D" is a cinema experience that uses lasers, fog, streamers and lighting effects.

Daytime offerings for families include 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, Disney-themed karaoke or an Art of the Theme Show Ship Tour. Adults can also attend wine or martini tastings, cooking demonstrations focusing on Alaskan seafood and an art auction.

Most of Disney's adult-oriented evening entertainment is tucked together in one specially designed area (Route 66 on Wonder), off the beaten path from all other entertainment venues, which is quite different from other cruise lines where you might find them located right off the main thoroughfares.

You'll know you've discovered Route 66 (Deck 3 forward) when you see clouds in the ceiling and highway barriers along the wall. Here you can "walk" from Chicago to California while passing plenty of old-fashioned billboards along the route, as well as places to sip and play. Wave Bands plays host to video dance parties with 70's and 80's themes, plus karaoke and a skit performed by the crew that can get pretty raunchy. While this is the ship's dance club, be warned that it is not like the clubs you might find on other ships - i.e. a crowded dance floor and the latest tunes being spun by a D.J. Here you'll find Disney's dancers taking over the dance floor performing skits to certain songs, and enlisting audience members to don a costume and join in for others.

Also along Route 66 is Cadillac Lounge, the resident piano bar, and Diversions, an upscale sports bar featuring plasma TV's, large comfortable chairs and beautiful sports themed paintings.

The premier entertainment facility is the 977 seat Walt Disney Theatre that spans three decks of the ship. This theater has comfortable seating, unobstructed views from almost anywhere, and is home to some of the best production shows we've seen at sea. Our family's favorite was "The Golden Mickeys" - an amalgam of song, dance, animated film, and special effects starring Disney's most famous and infamous characters. The pre-show was equally entertaining as guests approached the theater along a red carpet complete with paparazzi -- of the friendliest kind -- and a roving reporter conducted live "celebrity" interviews that were broadcast on giant video screens inside the theater. And then there was the moral of the musical: What parent wouldn't love a production that shows kids that heroes don't have to be big and strong, they can be anyone who tries to do the right thing.

Other productions include "Toy Story: The Musical," a live retelling of the beloved Disney tale.

While the theater is the premiere entertainment facility on the ship, the fairly new Pirates in the Caribbean dinner and deck party is the highlight event. This evening of adventure, music and dancing begins in the dining room with a pirate scroll menu and bandannas for all, then moves upstairs and outdoors to the pool-deck party near Goofy's pool. On deck you can dance near some of your favorite characters dressed in pirate garb, watch other people dance as they're caught on camera and featured on the jumbo LED screen, and see Mickey rappel from a top the ship's funnel to fight Captain Hook.(Editor's Note: There are no fireworks on the Alaska cruises due to environmental laws.)

Disney's 24-by-14 foot jumbo LED screen is affixed to the forward funnel on deck 9 near the Goofy Pool area and is the place to watch current and classic Disney films as well as popular TV shows and major sporting events.

For interactive family entertainment head to Studio Sea, where you can partake in scavenger hunts, family karaoke and game shows like "Walk the Plank," in which parent/child teams compete for prizes or just avoid "walking the plank." It's also the place for a Princess Tea, although it's not advertised in any daily schedules -- you have to be in the know to know about it (or ask at guest services)! The tea occurs once the entire cruise and tea party attendees get juice (it tastes better than tea and isn't hot when spilled, say the hosts), cookies and a chance to take a photograph with the Princess hostess, which was Ariel on our cruise.

Despite all of the elaborate entertainment, one of the biggest highlights of the cruise for young children is the character appearances. While I rarely saw them roaming about the decks -- as I'd envisioned from Disney's ads -- we could check the digital display board in the lobby for a listing of appearances. Many children arrived each evening decked out as Minnie Mouse, Belle, or Cinderella, others in their favorite Disney jammies, all anxiously awaiting a chance to get an autograph or picture with their favorite character.

Fitness and Recreation

The pool area (Deck 9) consists of three age-specific swimming pools and a 200-foot-long Mickey-themed water slide. The frequently crowded Mickey's Pool (aft) is for the younger set, offering a large shallow pool with Mickey's silhouette in the bottom and two huge rubber inner tubes (the ears) serving as warm shallow tubs (one with sprinklers). An extension to the Mickey Pool was recently added for children not yet toilet trained and in swim diapers. This new 385-square-ft. toddler water-play pool features star and moon shaped interactive fountains and shallow water to splash about.

Family friendly Goofy's pool (in between the funnels) is four feet deep, with two whirlpools adjacent, and located alongside the main outdoor stage and new LED screen. The Quiet Cove Pool (forward) is adults-only, and is definitely quiet compared to the rest of the pool deck. The area includes two large hot tubs, an outdoor bar, and the adults-only Cafe Cove where you can get frozen coffee drinks to sip by the pool. Deck 10 has additional lounge seating overlooking the various pools as well as a basketball court and volleyball area.

For your own private hideaway, Deck 7's Aft Overlook is frequently overlooked. Here you can enjoy water views and silence -- unless the captain is officiating a wedding. Deck 4 promenade is the place for running (three laps for a mile), or relaxing on cushioned lounge chairs. The area is far from the crowds, and other than shuffleboard on the starboard side, and an occasional jogger, is peaceful enough to listen to the waves.

The newly expanded Vista Spa & Salon offers an assortment of relaxing massages, facials, and self-improvement treatments ranging in price from $15 to well over $400. For $15 you can buy a day's pass to the spa's "Tropical Rain Forest," a circular Tuscan-themed (co-ed) area with a fountain in the center and steam rooms.

The three new spa villas are home to the priciest services. Each villa (two are large enough to accommodate a couple) includes an indoor spa treatment suite connected to its own private verandah with a hot tub, open-air shower, and a very comfortable chaise lounge the size of a full-size bed, and plenty of pillows. Treatment options include deep tissue massages, marine facials and a body-purifying wrap. All villa packages include a tea ceremony, foot cleansing, and some much appreciated relaxation time on the chaise lounge.

The Spa is also home to a recently expanded fitness center (1,700 square ft. added) that is well equipped with new Life Fitness equipment, numerous treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines (with TV's perched atop them), plus free weights and exercise balls. The front desk provides headsets (gratis) for you to use while listening to the TV's. There is also a small, private exercise room where you can have a personal training session.

The women's locker room here offers a nice alternative to getting ready in the somewhat cramped cabin bathrooms. There is a large vanity area, plump lounge chairs, and two spacious semi-circle shaped showers, one with a "rain" type shower head.

Family

Disney's greatest advantage is the abundance of choices you have for spending time together as a family, as well as spending it apart in age-specific activities.

As for the children's programs, Disney offers programming for babies as young as 12-weeks-old right on up through teens, with a few advantages like Wave Phones (with text-messaging so pre-teens and teens can let parents know where they'll be), and flexible age groupings. Children who want to move from the Club to Lab are escorted by Disney staffers, so parents don't get called back if a child gets bored.

Unique to the Alaska cruises are Junior Ranger programs held in the kids clubs, Studio Sea and Disney Theater, where children can learn about Alaskan wildlife and the environment.

Because Disney's kids program is so comprehensive, we detail each below:

Flounder's Reef Nursery: Flounder's Reef (one of just a few nurseries at sea) is designed for babies and toddlers (ages 12 weeks up to three) with Little Mermaid-themed bubble murals, popular toys from Hasbro and plenty of your typical infant swings and bouncy chairs. Head to the nursery as soon as you board and decide what time slots you'd like. They go quickly. Fee is $6 per hour ($5 per hour for each additional child). The ratio of counselors to children is 1 to 4 for infants and 1 to 6 for toddlers. Disney has an online service that allows passengers to order baby supplies in advance of their cruise and have them delivered to their stateroom (provided by Babies Travel Lite). There are over 1,000 brand-name baby products to choose from, including diapers, baby food, infant formula and specialty travel items.

Oceaneer Club, Ages 3 - 7: A separate schedule of events is planned for ages 3 - 4 and 5 - 7 with some overlap during the day. Activities vary from The Nestle Jr. Chef Experience where kids get to make their own chocolate chip cookies, to creating sticky green Flubber, a goo made with a special ingredient: pixie dust. Kids also get plenty of free play time on the enormous indoor pirate ship, complete with slides, tunnels and climbing areas, or they can put together a giant Mr. Potato Head.

Oceaneer Lab, Ages 8 - 12: As is the case with Oceaneer Club, the Lab plans for ages 8 - 9 and 10 - 12, with some overlap. In addition to "Pajamarama" pizza parties, a giant video wall with wireless controllers, and several computer stations with "family-rated" software, the Lab offers kids 8 and 9 a chance to make their own TV commercials and soap cars to race in the Piston Cup Championship. A new computer simulator with four levels of difficulty allows children to see what it's like to steer the Disney Wonder in and out of various ports of call. The simulator is built into a replica of the ship's bridge, complete with giant video screens that provide a panoramic view of the ports -- similar to the view from the actual ship's bridge. "Crash" the ship and you get demoted and sent to dry dock.

Edge, Ages 11 – 13: This tween-only space is perfect for kids to hang out away from the little kids and the sneering teens. Located on Deck 2, it features video games, board games, Internet TVs and social activities meant to keep the kids entertained. Younger (aka “cool”) crew members supervise the kids, and we saw them playing board games and blending right in.

Vibe, Ages 14 - 17: This cool area for teens is a cross between a college dorm and a coffee shop with overstuffed couches and chairs. Located midship on Deck 11, Vibe includes big-screen plasma TVs, Internet access, MP3 players, board games and a soda bar that serves soft drinks and smoothies. In addition, there are some pretty hip crew members here leading events where teens can learn the latest hip-hop moves, sing karaoke, and participate in boys against girls trivia challenges, where we heard the boys frequently rule. They need some girls to change that!

For Alaska itineraries, Disney has created Base Camp, which is held whenever Wonder sails into Tracy Arm. While parents gawk at the amazing views, the kids programs move outside and on deck for games and crafts, all Alaskan themed.

Fellow Passengers

The vast majority of fellow passengers are families and multigenerational reunions due to the extensive children, teen and family programming. However, you'll also find a sprinkling of honeymooners and folks without children who appreciate the oversized staterooms, underutilized adult-only areas and Disney details.

Dress Code

Resort casual is the dress of the day in all areas of the ship. Cruise casual is the code for most nights (i.e., no shorts, jeans or tank tops). A formal night and semi-formal Captain's Reception give passengers a chance to glam it up, but it's not mandatory; we were surprised to see most passengers didn't participate in formal night, as they would on other cruise lines. One night of each cruise is designated "pirate night," and you'll see many people dressed in pirate attire, even if it's just a hat. If you don't happen to have pirate attire -- and would like to -- stop by Mickey's mates for something to wear.

Gratuity

On Disney Wonder, the recommended gratuities are $4 per day for the dining room server, $3 per day for the assistant server, $1 per day for the head server, and $4 per day for the room steward. Passengers can pre-pay gratuities or do so onboard. All bar drinks and deck service areas have a 15 percent gratuity added to the bill.

Cabins

Disney's cabins are larger than the industry average. Standard Inside Staterooms are 184 square feet; Deluxe Inside and Outside Staterooms 214 square feet; and Deluxe Staterooms with verandah are 268 square feet, including the verandah. The majority of cabins offer a comfortable layout with bedroom and living room areas separated by a curtain (a plus for anyone who likes to read before bed but doesn't want to make it too bright for children sleeping nearby), and understated decor with honey maple furniture and nautical influences throughout.

Especially convenient, and clever in design, is the deep sofa that converts to a daybed with a top "bunk" that folds down from the ceiling. The top bunk features safety rails that close off any open space to prevent children from falling in the middle of the night. The bunk is also advantageous if you have children who don't sleep well together in the same bed. It's also helpful if you still have nappers as you can leave the beds arranged during the day without monopolizing the majority of the open floor space with a pulled out sofa bed.

Families of five can choose a family stateroom. They're a bit larger and have a wall-mounted Murphy bed in addition to the sofa bed.

There are plenty of storage areas including a closet with an attached dresser, desk/dressing table area with several drawers and high shelves, plus an upright steamer trunk that provides easy access to clothes for young kids. We unpacked six large suitcases into every drawer, cubby and closet space and still found extra spaces we never had to fill. The suitcases store well under the bed, with larger ones able to fit into the closet without disrupting hanging clothing. In addition, while small, the stateroom TV has a wide array of channels to choose from including ABC, ESPN, CNN, some Discovery Channels, and, of course, The Disney Channel. Disney movies are aired throughout the day, including many new-to-video movies. During our Alaskan cruise we found classics like "Sleeping Beauty," as well as more modern movies. Our only complaint is there was a lot of repetition after seven days. The shows were set on a schedule so every night at, say 8:30, the films would be at the exact same spot they were at 8:30 the night before. Wonder, unlike Disney's newest ship, Disney Dream, does not have DVR play and pause capability.

All cabins come with two portable Wave Phones, which have texting capabilities and can be used throughout the ship. (Four phones are provided in the Royal Suite and two-bedroom suites; passengers can rent an additional phone from Guest Services for $3.50 per day.)

Most cabins include Disney's "bath and a half," where one person can shower in one bathroom while someone else is using the toilet (and a second sink) in the other -- a big plus. The bathrooms are nicely appointed with white and navy blue tile and granite countertops, however, the split design means each one is small, leaving you little room to turn around in the bathroom with the tub/shower. Verandah staterooms have a balcony sizable enough to accommodate two chairs and a small table, and have plexi-glass along the railing to allow for a view of the ocean while seated. Doors to the balcony feature a lock located at the very top, to prevent children from getting out, but our kids quickly figured out how to stand on the couch to reach and unlock this safety feature, so be careful.

Disney introduced H2O Plus Spa bath and shower products (Sea Marine Revitalizing Shampoo, Marine Collagen Conditioner and Hydrating Body Butter from the H2O Plus premium Spa line to all staterooms in October 2006). You know the new products are good when a group of long-haired women are sitting around the dinner table smelling their hair and discussing how nice the shampoo and conditioner is. Guests staying in concierge-level suites will find additional H20 Plus offerings: Sea Salt Body Wash and Solar Relief Gel.

All staterooms have also received new Sealy Posturepedic Premium Plush Euro-top mattresses, new pillows, and Frette 300 thread-count, 100 percent Egyptian cotton linens. In addition, larger, more luxurious bath towels and bath sheets have been added to all stateroom bathrooms.

When selecting a stateroom, there are a few things to keep in mind. The only difference between category 5 and 6 is category 5 is on a higher deck. The handicap accessible rooms are huge with plenty of open floor space, a large walk in closet, a couch, pull down bed, and a bathroom larger than the ones in some of the suites. The balcony is also sizable. If the only thing keeping you from cruising is concern over claustrophobic quarters, consider one of these cabins, although, first priority goes to those in need of the handicap accessibility.

Category 7 balconies have an obstructed half-wall view, but Disney made them look extremely attractive, with weathered wood bead-board half walls around the perimeter, nautical decor, a built-in bench seat, and a large open-air porthole. For a stateroom that offers an outside view at an inside price, try to book one of the following cabins: 5020, 5022, 5024, 5520, 5522 or 5524. These cabins are priced as an inside category 10, but are similar in layout to an outside category 8, and offer a porthole window (all with some degree of obstructed view). Inside cabins are similar in design and amenities to the outsides, with the exception being the least expensive inside staterooms have one bathroom and therefore only one sink.

Editor's Note: As of November 15, 2013, cigarette smoking on cabin balconies will no longer be permitted.

There are three types of suites ranging from one to two-bedrooms and from 614 to 945 square ft. They are appointed with dining tables, numerous storage areas and TV's, plus Kohler whirlpool tubs, expansive balconies, and a cabinet well stocked with popular board games. The Walt and Roy Disney Suites are the grandest (1,029 square ft.) accommodations. They're filled with Disney family photographs and shelves with interesting old books. Suite guests can select their preferred pillow -- hypoallergenic, feather or therapeutic memory foam -- from the new "Pillow Talk" program menu, plus enjoy comfortable duvets, robes and slippers. In addition, the dining room menu is available for delivery in the suites.

Cribs and Diaper Genies are available upon request for any cabin category.

Dress Code

Resort casual is the dress of the day in all areas of the ship. Cruise casual is the code for most nights (i.e., no shorts, jeans or tank tops). Recently, though, the cruise line tweaked its definition of resort casual to include shorts, which means passengers may wear shorts in the main dining rooms in the evening. A formal night and semi-formal Captain's Reception give passengers a chance to glam it up, but it's not mandatory; we were surprised to see most passengers didn't participate in formal night. One night of each cruise is designated "pirate night," and you'll see many people dressed in pirate attire, even if it's just a hat. If you don't happen to have pirate attire -- and would like to -- stop by Mickey's mates for something to wear.

Dining

Disney's rotational dining experience is nothing short of brilliant, especially for parents cruising with young children. Even though as an adult I appreciate the grand dining rooms other ships offer, I really enjoyed the varying and entertaining decor of each night's restaurant -- as well as the side benefit when I traveled with my children: They were occupied enough that we could enjoy an appetizer, salad, and at least most of the main course, before they got antsy to leave.

There are three main restaurants on the Wonder, and every passenger dines in each of them at least twice. Your dining tickets will be waiting for you in your stateroom indicating your dining time (6:15 or 8:15 p.m.), table number and restaurant rotation. Also on your dining tickets is the date and location of your Character Breakfast, where Micky, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Chip and Dale stop by each and every table for photos and to sign autographs. Your table number, dining companions and servers remain the same throughout.

Animator's Palate is an animation-themed restaurant, right down to the holograms on the menus. As dinner begins, the black and white room becomes wrapped in a ribbon of blue with twinkling green lights in the "bristles" of the giant paintbrush shaped pillars. Throughout the course of dinner everything but the carpet seems to change colors, as scenes from Disney movies transform from simple black-and-white sketches to full-color moving images in Flintstones-like frames. The menu includes appetizers like Wild Garlic Mushrooms served in a Flaky Pastry Cup; Creamy Butternut Squash Soup, and a main course of Maple Glazed Salmon or Veal Chop encrusted with Parmesan and Herb. Each dinner also includes a "lighter fare" selection like Grilled Grain-fed Sirloin Steak or Oven-Baked Filet of Salmon.

Parrot Cay is the liveliest of the three restaurants; a Caribbean-themed multi-sensory experience, with the sound of birds chirping as you enter (and the tune "feeling hot, hot, hot" during dinner), parquet wood floors, shutters, and turquoise colored wood carvings. We visited for lunch and discovered a delicious seafood buffet and elaborate salad bar. The restaurant's dinner setup includes South Beach-style sheer drapes to create a more intimate atmosphere and menu items that include Pan-Seared Grouper, Caribbean Roast Chicken, and Island Roasted Rib-Eye of Beef.

Triton's -- the most formal of the three -- is an upscale dining room with stained glass walls, a massive shimmering tiled wall depicting a scene from the Little Mermaid and Continental cuisine with a French flair.

Two additional Disney dining perks include free sodas during dinner at these restaurants (and at the self-service beverage station on the pool deck), along with a different children's menu/activity sheet each night, filled with fun word games, a coloring sheet and maze.

Parrot Cay and Triton's are also open for breakfast and lunch.

Palo, the adult-only restaurant serving Northern Italian cuisine, is an elegant eatery with views that vary from an open kitchen to sweeping ocean vistas. Inspired by the Italian birthplace of the ship (Disney Wonder was built by Fincantieri), Palo is named for the poles that line the canals of Venice. The restaurant is open daily for Champagne brunch and dinner; both require reservations, which should be made as soon as you board the ship, as a four-page waiting list is not uncommon. Due to its popularity, passengers are only allowed to book one brunch and one dinner for the duration of the cruise. The food and service here is worth so much more than the $25 per person brunch or dinner charged. Be sure to take a peek in the intimate dining room for 14 tucked away in the back of Palo; here you'll find a gorgeous wall-sized mosaic portraying a gondolier in Venice. The room is typically reserved by groups; however, if it has not been reserved, passengers can come on the day they board and make a reservation, even if it is a group smaller than the room can hold.

Beach Blanket Buffet (Deck 9) is the indoor/outdoor venue for breakfast and lunch buffets serving salads, sandwiches, made-to-order omelets, Mickey-shaped waffles, gravy & biscuits, and assorted fruits. The omelet service here is wonderful. You place your order at the station, take your number back to your table and your omelet is delivered once complete.

Casual outdoor eateries include Pinocchio's Pizzeria, Pluto's Dog House (for burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders) plus, a wonderful new edition -- Goofy's Galley, serving delicious panini and wrap sandwiches with a bountiful selection of fruits to choose from, plus soft-serve ice-cream with lots of fixins'. These outdoor eateries are l on Deck 9, with a self-serve beverage station. Sodas and juices are free at the self-serve locations, but if you order them in the cafes, you will pay for the drink, as well as a 15 percent gratuity. Any alcoholic beverages ordered during any meal or at any location on the ship also includes a 15 percent gratuity. Although passengers are not permitted to bring alcohol onboard at embarkation day, they are permitted to bring on wine and beverages purchased at excursion ports.

The restaurants offer a wine purchase program, as well. You can elect to purchase a seven- or three-day wine program to receive a discount on seven or three bottles of wine. Any wine not finished is recorked and saved for your table. We didn't find a great deal in these packages and elected to pay by the glass.

Room service is available 24 hours a day. Continental breakfast is featured in the mornings. Later in the day the menu offers a selection of soups and salads, cheese and crackers, and chicken fajitas and lasagna (among other things). Guests in suite accommodations can order from dining room menus during mealtime (though arrangements must be made in advance from the concierge).

The service in all four restaurants was excellent, so much so, that a highlight of my recent cruise was watching the two boys at a nearby table positively beam when they caught sight of our server Witt each night for dinner. He squirted ketchup in the shape of Mickey, crafted pirate hats for the boys out of napkins, and performed magic tricks ... all while serving the rest of his tables as well.

Family

Disney's greatest advantage is the abundance of choices you have for spending time together as a family, as well as spending it apart in age-specific activities.

As for the children's programs, Disney offers programming for babies as young as 12-weeks-old right on up through teens, with a few advantages like Wave Phones (with text-messaging so pre-teens and teens can let parents know where they'll be), and flexible age groupings. Children who want to move from the Club to Lab are escorted by Disney staffers, so parents don't get called back if a child gets bored.

Unique to the Alaska cruises are Junior Ranger programs held in the kids clubs, Studio Sea and Disney Theater, where children can learn about Alaskan wildlife and the environment.

Because Disney's kids program is so comprehensive, we detail each below:

Flounder's Reef Nursery: Flounder's Reef (one of just a few nurseries at sea) is designed for babies and toddlers (ages 12 weeks up to 3 years old) with Little Mermaid-themed bubble murals, popular toys from Hasbro and plenty of your typical infant swings and bouncy chairs. Head to the nursery as soon as you board and decide what time slots you'd like. They go quickly. Fee is $9 per hour ($8 per hour for each additional child). The ratio of counselors to children is 1 to 4 for infants and 1 to 6 for toddlers. Disney has an online service that allows passengers to order baby supplies in advance of their cruise and have them delivered to their stateroom (provided by Babies Travel Lite). There are over 1,000 brand-name baby products to choose from, including diapers, baby food, infant formula and specialty travel items.

Oceaneer Club, Ages 3 - 7: A separate schedule of events is planned for ages 3 - 4 and 5 - 7 with some overlap during the day. Activities vary from The Nestle Jr. Chef Experience where kids get to make their own chocolate chip cookies, to creating sticky green Flubber, a goo made with a special ingredient: pixie dust. Kids also get plenty of free play time on the enormous indoor pirate ship, complete with slides, tunnels and climbing areas, or they can put together a giant Mr. Potato Head.

Oceaneer Lab, Ages 8 - 12: As is the case with Oceaneer Club, the Lab plans for ages 8 - 9 and 10 - 12, with some overlap. In addition to "Pajamarama" pizza parties, a giant video wall with wireless controllers, and several computer stations with "family-rated" software, the Lab offers kids 8 and 9 a chance to make their own TV commercials and soap cars to race in the Piston Cup Championship. A new computer simulator with four levels of difficulty allows children to see what it's like to steer the Disney Wonder in and out of various ports of call. The simulator is built into a replica of the ship's bridge, complete with giant video screens that provide a panoramic view of the ports -- similar to the view from the actual ship's bridge. "Crash" the ship and you get demoted and sent to dry dock.

Edge, Ages 11 -½ 13: This tween-only space is perfect for kids to hang out away from the little kids and the sneering teens. Located on Deck 2, it features video games, board games, Internet TVs and social activities meant to keep the kids entertained. Younger (aka "cool") crew members supervise the kids, and we saw them playing board games and blending right in.

Vibe, Ages 14 - 17: This cool area for teens is a cross between a college dorm and a coffee shop with overstuffed couches and chairs. Located midship on Deck 11, Vibe includes big-screen plasma TVs, Internet access, MP3 players, board games and a soda bar that serves soft drinks and smoothies. In addition, there are some pretty hip crew members here leading events where teens can learn the latest hip-hop moves, sing karaoke, and participate in boys against girls trivia challenges, where we heard the boys frequently rule. They need some girls to change that!

For Alaska itineraries, Disney has created Base Camp, which is held whenever Wonder sails into Tracy Arm. While parents gawk at the amazing views, the kids programs move outside and on deck for games and crafts, all Alaskan themed.

Public Rooms

Most of the entertainment-oriented public spaces and children's facilities are located on Decks 3, 4 and 5 off the hallways that lead to the ship's three-story atrium. The atrium itself is home to a grand double staircase and a combination glass and acrylic chandelier sculpture designed by Dale Chihuly, the designer of a large installation at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The pools (heated to 79 degrees) and most fitness and recreation options are located on Decks 9 and 10.

Disney's artwork is entertaining in and of itself, from the portrait of Walt Disney that hangs in one of the stairways (with a hidden Mickey in the shadow), to the whimsical series of 26 illustrations hanging on Deck 5 (portside) -- one for each letter of the nautical alphabet. It is here that you'll learn that "S" - Scuttlebutt is a sailor's slang term for a rumor. And, our kid's favorite, "P" - Poop Deck, is the deck of a ship that is the farthest aft and the highest.

As of Febraury 2014, Disney Wonder offers a new Connect@Sea program in which you pay for the data you use intstead of per minute. Sample rates start at 25 cents per megabite and increase depending on what you do online. Examples include the small package at $19 for 100 megabites, the medium package at $39 for 300 megabites and the large package at $89 for 1,000 megabites. Internet access is available in three locations. For teens, it's in their own hangout, called Vibe, on Deck 11; for tweens, it's in their own space, Edge, located on Deck 2. All ages can use The Promenade Lounge (Deck 3), which is quite peaceful during the day with ocean views, board games and several computer stations (open 24 hours and with the ability to print; 75 cents per minute, or $39.99 for unlimited access, per e-mail address).

Lastly, the adults-only Cove Cafe is where you'll find chairs with swing out tables for people to use either with their own laptops or those you borrow from the cafe. There is also sofa-style seating in front of a large-screen TV, oversized headphones for listening to music, and a few shelves worth of current magazines and books to read. Since Disney's ships do not have libraries, this is the place to come for extra reading material. The only caveat: The material must remain at the cafe, which is inconvenient if you begin a good book and can't spend the day with it on Castaway Cay.

New to the Disney Wonder is its Overlook Cafe, just upstairs from Cove Café and an extension of its offerings, except with fantastic views from floor-to-ceiling windows. During an Alaska cruise, it's a great place to take in the snow-capped mountains and iceberg-filled waters in a quiet setting. (The ship also added Plexiglas wind barriers on the forward deck to keep the chill away while taking in the views.)

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