Given the frequency of our cruising the last few years, I suppose I make these little trip reports mostly for my own reference, so I can look back at the way things changed, to catalog the moments so I understand the sequence. The truth is, I think I appreciate the opportunity for these vacations more as time goes on. My child is growing up fast, and as I close in on mid-life, I'm highly aware of how brief these moments are, and how fortunate I am to have them.
The Disney Wonder had an extensive dry dock rehab in October, some months after we sailed on it in Alaska. As the second-oldest ship in the fleet, some 17 years and change, certainly it had been well maintained, but it was looking a little dated in places, tired in others. What I noticed in particular included restrooms with broken tile, a buffet that looked old and was laid-out inefficient, an insufficient kids pool area, and aging restaurants. Of course, using the improvements to the Magic, the year-older ship, as a blueprint, they brought the Wonder up to date and nailed it almost every way. There are no signs showing that this ship is the age that it is. I was talking to an officer that mentioned the exterior in particular, using modern paint, is much easier to maintain, much shinier, much less prone to fading. It's really a beautiful ship, and when you're in port with some of the hideous ships of other cruise lines, you have to appreciate Disney's desire to build something classic in appearance.
This was a 3-night cruise, but because of the off-season placement of the ship (it spends much of the year on the west coast), it departed on a Thursday and did not stop at Nassau. The Bahamas are a little crowded this time of year, I imagine, which is good because the fares are all lower. So the second day was spent at sea, the next at Castaway Cay. As it turned out, our day at sea included turning around and getting close to Freeport on Grand Bahama to transfer off a passenger for a medical emergency, but otherwise the ship was in no hurry until the return trip to Canaveral. We never get off the ship in Nassau anyway, and there's plenty to do onboard.
From a food standpoint, there have been some tweaks to the menus in Triton's and Animator's Palate, but they're about the same. Animator's Palate has upgraded video screens (and probably audio) for the animation show, but the teases they made showing kids drawings animated on screen were not there. The big dining story is the creation of Tiana's Place, and it's amazing. It's a new menu, and there is live music. My only criticism is that the staff does a parade around the restaurant, and it gets loud, and in our case it came at the expense of getting our desserts in a timely fashion. When you have a kid having long, busy days, drawing out dinner time is not ideal.
Also, minor complaint, the Wonder has soft pretzels, but they insist that they only offer them when they're at sea, and that sucks. They said this in Alaska as well, even though it didn't seem to be true. Major complaint: They made the one bar a "proper English pub," and removed Strongbow (the dry stuff from the UK) and replaced it with... wait for it... Angry Orchard. Gross. Having "real" Strongbow has been one of my favorite things about DCL beverages.
The Oceaneer's Club and Lab kids areas were completely rebuilt, which is good because they were tired and dated. However, aside from programmed activities, it didn't seem like there was that much for an enterprising kid to just pick up and do. To make matters worse, the new Slinky Dog slide, Simon's incentive to enter the club, was almost never open because apparently they have to staff it. That meant we couldn't unload the kid for an hour or so. Finally, on the last night, they opened it right before dinner, and he went in. Then, unexpectedly, they served macaroni and cheese for dinner in the club, and Simon made friends and stayed there.
The live entertainment on our July sailing was a little mediocre, in part because the old Toy Story musical was not very good, and also the other shows have tracked chorus parts. That's still true, unfortunately, but they ditched Toy Story for a very ambitious adaptation of Frozen. I love the movie, but I try to keep my expectations reasonable. I've seen a lot of high quality, union theater lately, so I guess I'm more critical than I used to be. Disney has a lot of great art to work from, and we've seen great stage adaptations of other films. I'm happy to report that they almost completely nailed it. You wouldn't know that it was the same company doing the other two revue-style shows.
In terms of technical execution, this was the best design we've seen from any onboard show. It was a skillful mix of scenery, video projections and puppetry, carrying on the traditions of The Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom. The choreography was great to watch. Vocally, the chorus was live, addressing my biggest complaint. Most importantly, the actresses playing Anna and Elsa were not directed to emulate Kristen and Idina. In fact, I would even say that the performances they gave were outstanding, but played to their strengths. Elsa's "Let It Go" had different "wow" moments, and it was great. It's everything that you want theater at sea to be, but almost never is. I think they deserve a lot of credit.
It wasn't just the theatrical shows, however, that were fun. As I said, the live musicians in Tiana's Place were above average. The lobby and bar singers were all much better than I've seen on previous sailings. Heck, even the bingo crew was pretty entertaining. I finally saw Rogue One (whoa, that was dark) and Moana (Lin-Manuel can do no wrong).
We had a perfect day at Castaway Cay. Well, the water was too cold for my soft Florida body, but we had a cloudless blue sky, 75 degrees and a light breeze. That's not a bad way to spend a day at the beach.
There were a few challenges we had with Simon, but a lot of that is rooted in the fact that Diana and I really want to do a cruise without him. I love him dearly, but he's been very challenging lately (that's a post all to itself). Fortunately, we had my dad aboard this time, so we did get a few hours to enjoy a couples' massage, something we haven't done in years.
Another successful trip in the books, for sure, even with a few relatively minor hiccups. DCL does an amazing job.