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Disney Wonder review: Why Australia’s first Disney cruise is ‘Magic at Sea’ for kids

Want to know what it’s like to cruise on the first Disney ship to come to Australia? Angela Saurine set sail with five-year-old Oliver to bring you all the details

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in front of the funnel on the Disney Wonder © Disney Cruise Line
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in front of the funnel on the Disney Wonder © Disney Cruise Line

We’re standing on the deck of the Disney Wonder just off Australia’s east coast when we hear the news – the ship is under attack! Evil villains have boarded the vessel and are attempting to steal the latest Stark Industries technology entrepreneur Tony Stark is unveiling at a special event on board. Fortunately Stark, dressed in his Iron Man armour, and his superhero pals are on hand to save the day. 

Angela and Oliver ready to board the Disney Wonder in Brisbane
Angela and Oliver ready to board the Disney Wonder in Brisbane

An epic battle ensues, with a dazzling display of stunts, special effects and fireworks. At one point we hear a noise and gaze up to see Spider-Man making a spectacular entrance, ziplining across the deck above us. Marvel favourites Thor, Captain America and Black Widow soon join in the action, fighting Red Skull and Loki. With my superhero-obsessed five-year-old son Oliver sitting on my shoulders so he can see over the crowd, I am unable to see his reaction, but I can only imagine it is one of awe.

Marvel meets Mickey on this family-focused cruise

The Marvel Heroes Unite Show © Disney Cruise Line
The Marvel Heroes Unite Show © Disney Cruise Line

To the uninitiated, it may seem strange to have the Marvel Cinematic Universe come to life on a Disney ship, with the company traditionally associated with more clean-cut characters such as Mickey Mouse and Tinkerbell. But since Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009, the franchise has been successfully incorporated throughout Disney theme parks and cruise ships, as we learn throughout our three-day “cruise to nowhere”. 

A wave of superhero fervour has transformed Disney properties around the globe. Avengers Campus themed lands now draw families to Anaheim’s Disney California Adventure Park and Disneyland Paris, which also boasts a four-star Marvel-themed hotel.

Spider Man ziplining across the deck in the Marvel Heroes Unite Show on Disney Cruise Line © Matt Stroshane
Spider Man ziplining across the deck in the Marvel Heroes Unite Show on Disney Cruise Line © Matt Stroshane

When the Walt Disney Company dedicated a month of its Disney100 anniversary to celebrating “the Season of Super Heroes”, the writing was on the wall: Marvel is here to stay as part of Disney’s imaginative brand. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Disney Cruise Line’s five ships, where favourite heroes (and villains) feature heavily in decor, dining and entertainment offerings. 

But there are still plenty of quintessential Disney cruise experiences on offer as well, from meet and greets with Disney princesses to classic Disney films playing on a large screen above the pool throughout the day.

Departing with Mickey’s Sail-A-Wave party

Before we board, excitement outside Brisbane International Cruise Terminal is at fever pitch, with families dressed in matching Mickey Mouse shirts pulling Mickey Mouse suitcases, girls wearing tiaras and boys in Spider-Man suits. Once we’ve checked out our cabin, which is decorated with historic character sketches, Mickey Mouse lampshades and has a pull-down bunk bed underneath a starry roof, things kick off with a high-energy Mickey’s Sail-A-Wave party. 

Everyone gathers on deck to boogie with the famous mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy et al. Parents get into the spirit with their arms in the air clapping and dancing Nutbush-style routines to the instruction of the professional dancers, before the ship’s horn blows to the timeless tune of When You Wish Upon a Star. “This is the best holiday ever,” Oliver declares after just a few hours on board.

Angela and Oliver at the Sail A Wave deck party on the Disney Wonder
Angela and Oliver at the Sail A Wave deck party on the Disney Wonder

 

Many Australian itineraries have no port days, including all two and three-night trips, so the ship’s immersive experiences take centre stage. Some longer cruises have at least one port day in Hobart, Sydney or the Sapphire Coast town of Eden.

The 2024-2025 season adds the first South Pacific island cruise: a round-trip from Sydney to  Nouméa, New Caledonia. Only one day of the six-night voyage is spent on-shore, though – and that makes perfect sense. Storytelling magic and timeless branding are the drawcard here, unique from all other family-friendly cruise lines in Australia.

Restaurants on Disney Wonder’s Australian sailing

Tiana's Place © Disney Cruise Line
Tiana's Place © Disney Cruise Line

The first night we dine at New Orleans-inspired Tiana’s Place, where we are entertained with a supper club-style show starring none other than Princess Tiana, of The Princess and the Frog fame. The menu includes southern delights such as sautéed shrimp and grits, creole chicken and buttermilk beignet. By the end of their night, everyone is up on their feet doing a conga line through the restaurant as the band plays Going Down the Bayou. 

Passengers are rotated through the three themed restaurants on board each night, with the same waitstaff coming along. “You’re stuck with us — there’s no escape,” jokes our head server Dussell, who also entertains the kids with magic tricks between courses. “That guy’s funny!” Oliver cries.

Animator's Palate on the Disney Wonder © Disney Cruise Line Jimmy DeFlippo
Animator's Palate on the Disney Wonder © Disney Cruise Line Jimmy DeFlippo

The next night we dine at Triton’s restaurant, an upscale noshery named after the Little Mermaid’s father. But the most impressive experience is Animator’s Palate, where characters we draw on paper placemats when we arrive magically come to life on large screens that line the walls of the restaurant after our meal. Honestly, how do they do that?

Of course, there’s also a buffet restaurant offering everything from Mickey Mouse waffles to eggs benny at breakfast, and from prawns to roasts for lunch, as well as Pinocchio’s Pizzeria by the pool and Pete’s Boiler Bites, serving burgers, hot dogs and tacos. Kids also line up for free soft-serve ice-cream throughout the day at Eye Scream Treats

While most meals are included, you can also splash out on brunch or dinner at the adults-only Italian restaurant Palo at the front of the ship while the youngins are in kids’ club.

Oliver loved the Mickey Mouse waffles
Oliver loved the Mickey Mouse waffles

Disney Wonder kids’ clubs

There are several kids’ clubs on board, catering to different ages. In the Oceaneer Club, children aged three to 10 can see an array of Marvel paraphernalia, including Captain America’s shield, Spider-Man’s web shooters and Ant-Man’s helmet. Captain America’s alter ego, Steve Rogers, even pops by occasionally to teach little ones the basics of the job. There’s also a Toy Story-inspired play area known as Andy’s Room, and an enchanting recreation of Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post from Frozen. 

Oliver in Andy's Room on Disney's Oceaneer Club
Oliver in Andy's Room on Disney's Oceaneer Club

The adjoining Oceaneers Lab, which caters for children of the same age, has a more adventurous focus, with maps of the world, craft and animation studios, as well as video games. Kids wear electronic wristbands connected to sensors on the roof, so staff know where they are at all times, and wash their hands in state-of-the-art machines before they enter and exit.

It’s A Small World Nursery caters for babies aged from six months up to three-year-olds, at an extra cost. There’s also the Edge tween club for 11 to 14-year-olds offering such things as dance parties and karaoke, and teens club Vibe for ages 14 to 17, with bean bags, board games and arcade games.

Entertainment on the Disney Wonder

Frozen, a Musical Spectacular © Disney Cruise Line
Frozen, a Musical Spectacular © Disney Cruise Line

There are so many things to do on board the Disney Wonder that it doesn’t really matter that there are no port visits on our cruise. Every day there’s a schedule of activities such as trivia, bingo and karaoke in various lounges, while the Buena Vista Theatre shows both classic and new Disney movies. And when Oliver needs some downtime, we retreat to our cabin to watch cartoons on the Disney Channel. 

But my favourite aspect of the experience is the stage shows performed in the Walt Disney Theatre after dinner each evening. I’ve been a fan of musicals since my dad bought me tickets to Guys and Dolls as a birthday present when I was a little girl, so it’s lovely to be able to introduce Oliver to them at a young age in a family-friendly environment.

The Disney Dreams show on the Disney Wonder © Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Dreams show on the Disney Wonder © Disney Cruise Line

The shows on board include Frozen, A Musical Spectacular; The Golden Mickeys, which is like a Disney version of the Oscars, and the award-winning Disney Dreams, which features hits from movies such as Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast and The Lion King. We quickly learn it’s best to get there at least half an hour before showtime to get a seat up the front, to be in the best position possible to enjoy where bubbles and other surprises falls from the ceiling.

Verdict: Disney Wonder is truly ‘Magic at Sea’

Oliver with his Mickey Mouse toy in the Stateroom on board Disney Wonder
Oliver with his Mickey Mouse toy in the Stateroom on board Disney Wonder

It’s no wonder there’s been such a positive response to Disney Cruise Line’s arrival Down Under in late 2023, following years of planning. “It’s been unbelievable,” cruise director Jimmy Lynett says. “A lot of the crew were taken aback by how Australians came on board with Mickey ears and how they’ve been decorating the cabin doors. Everybody has been blown away with what we do entertainment wise. People say, ‘I can’t believe we are on a cruise ship with the level of entertainment we’re getting’.”

It’s fair to say that, when it comes to cruising, Oliver is spoiled for life — or at least for the rest of his childhood.

All about Disney Wonder cruises in Australia

AquaLab © Disney Cruise Line
AquaLab © Disney Cruise Line

Dreaming of a magical adventure at sea? Here’s what you need to know about Disney cruises Down Under:

When is Disney Wonder sailing from Australia?

Disney Wonder will be sailing from Australia and New Zealand from October to February, with a range of short cruises from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland. The ship is based in America for the rest of the year.

Where do Disney cruises go in Australia?

Itineraries for the 2024-2025 season include round trips from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland, and one-way trips between these cities, some of which have a port day. There’s also the first South Pacific cruise: a round trip from Sydney to New Caledonia. 

How long are Disney cruises in Australia?

Disney Wonder cruises in Australia and New Zealand are two to seven nights long. The shortest itineraries are two and three-night round trips without any stops. The longest is a seven-day round-trip cruise from Melbourne, with port days in Eden, Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania.

What age is a Disney cruise best for?

Oliver with Goofy on the Disney Wonder
Oliver with Goofy on the Disney Wonder

Kids between four and ten will get the most from a Disney Cruise — they’re the perfect age to be swept away by the immersive themed experiences on board, and old enough to participate in most activities. There’s still something for all ages on the Disney Wonder, though. Tweens and teens have their own clubs, and It’s A Small World Nursery cares for littlies under three. Adults-only venues include Palo restaurant, Quiet Cove Pool, and three themed bars. 

What’s included in a Disney cruise (and what’s not?)

Most meals are included —  that’s buffet meals and most breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Alcohol and adults-only dining options are an additional cost. Be aware that prices on board are in US dollars, so if you splash out on a few cocktails it might hurt when you get your bill at the end of the cruise.

Do you need a passport for a Disney cruise in Australia?

The Disney Wonder cruise ship at sea © Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Wonder cruise ship at sea © Disney Cruise Line

For cruises within Australia, passports aren’t required, but they’re strongly recommended by Disney Cruise Lines. All guests do need “valid government-issued proof of citizenship” which can be a passport or photo ID. A government-issued birth certificate is accepted for kids 17 and under (original or copy).

All guests sailing to New Zealand or New Caledonia do need a passport, including children. You may also need a visa for New Caledonia, and if you’re not an Australian citizen, a NZeTA or visa for New Zealand. 

Passports need to be valid for at least six months after sailing ends. Be sure to check expiry dates and make applications well ahead of time, especially because a child’s first passport tends to take longer

Note that requirements may change, so be sure to confirm all travel documentation needs with Disney Cruise Lines directly.

Where to book an Australian Disney Cruise

Bookings are available for 2024 and 2025 sailings from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland. 

Tip: Keep an eye out for deals offering savings of up to 30 per cent off on select voyages on Disney Cruise Line’s website, or take advantage of Klook’s best price guarantee.

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