For our 2012 family trip, we fanned out to include both sets of parents, and decided that a cruise would be most suitable for the wide range of ages in our group. 🙂 Fortunately, Alan’s parents and my parents get along very well and have even traveled to Thailand together in previous years, so it made a lot of sense to take this trip together.
We were celebrating a number of special occasions…Thanksgiving, my mom’s 61st birthday, and my 10 year wedding anniversary with Alan. After doing my due diligence by reading nearly every forum topic there was on Disney Cruises, I booked a 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise for the 9 of us, aboard the Disney Wonder.
Ideally for me, ofcourse, we’d be going all out on the brand new Disney Fantasy ship, sailing to Disney’s own private island Castaway Cay, but we had an inflexible window of time to do this cruise, so the only choice we had was the Disney Wonder. There were mix reviews online about this cruise ship, and many complaints revolved around the datedness of the ship itself. Nonetheless, there were enough positive reviews to get us hyped up for the adventure to come.
We drove down to Los Angeles and commenced our 7 day journey from the port of San Pedro. I had completed our embarkation paperwork on the Disney website two months in advance, allowing us to sign up for one of the earlier embarkation times–11am. The whole embarkation process was extremely stress-free and simple. Disney does a pretty great job to help with this. Each stateroom receives a booklet filled with valuable information and luggage tags 2 weeks prior to the sail date, which I read in great detail and memorized from beginning to end. I’m the planning and logistics queen of the family, and when you’re traveling with 4 seniors and 2 children, it’s especially important to get all the logistics right to minimize chaos. 🙂
While we were waiting to board the ship, Mickey and Minnie came out to say hello, and posed for photos with their eager fans, including us!
As we boarded the ship, there were crew members lined up to welcome us with a “let’s welcome the Lau and Leung family” (applause, applause) which was a cool touch to get us even more excited. We were on board before noon, and the ship was not due to set sail until 4pm, so we had plenty of time to explore every corner of the ship that afternoon.
After we explored the ship and attacked the buffet, we all went back to our staterooms for a nap. A loud siren-like noise woke us up shortly, indicating that it was time for the mandatory safety lesson on deck. I was quite impressed at how orderly it was to get everyone in place for this, all within minutes!
Disney cruises are known for their phenomenal parties, and the first one was the “Sail Away” party where Mickey, Minnie, and their friends led the way in celebrating our embarkation from Los Angeles. The energy that these characters expelled were definitely contagious, and got everyone pumped up almost immediately!
If there’s one thing that Disney can do to put all its competitors to shame, it’s their ability to entertain like no other. Our family ranged from 5 to 75 in our ages, and we were all thoroughly entertained throughout the cruise, from their deck parties to their extraordinary Broadway-like live productions in their theater everyday. The shows became our favorite part of the day, and each one was truly spectacular in their own ways.
Alan and I went on a Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian a few years ago, and though that ship was a lot bigger in size than the Disney Wonder, it definitely lacked the energy that we felt all through this cruise. It could be the vast amount of excited kids on board the Disney Wonder, or the fact that one could be casually cruising down the hallway and run into Mickey Mouse…whatever the reasons, we were absorbed into the Disney culture the moment we stepped on board that ship, in a magical way.
Every evening, we would receive in our stateroom a 2 page Cruise Compass that details out all the various activities for the following day. Besides the massive amount of kids’ activities available everyday, there were activities exclusively for adults and teenagers as well. On the Cruise Compass, it also provided us the times and locations where specific Disney characters would make an appearance. Ofcourse, with me being the planner and logistics queen, I would study that compass every night and strategically plan out our schedule each day with my sister. 🙂 In order to satisfy everyone’s different needs, we didn’t stick together as a group the entire time. We always met up for our meals, but often go separate ways in between the meals. Thanks to Disney, we were able to stay in touch at all times since each stateroom had 2 deck phones that could be carried around throughout the ship.
One disappointing element was definitely the size of the pools. There were a total of 3 pools, with one of them being an adult-only pool, but they were all remorsefully small. Considering the general fact that kids love being in the water, it makes absolutely no sense to me why Disney would keep the pools so tiny, especially with 3 full days at sea for the children!
We spent the first 2 days at sea, and as the ship moved south bound towards Mexico, the temperature kept rising, inviting more people into the pools than there was room for. Inevitably, there was a consistent line for the one water slide on deck. Brianne and Bridgette didn’t seem to be bothered by the crowded pools though, and spent a good amount of time in there the first day we were at sea.
There were 2 kids’ club on board for the girls’ age group– the Oceaneer Lab and the Oceaneer Club. Each child received a secure wrist band as part of the embarkation process, and whenever they entered the kids’ club, Disney staff would be present to scan their wrist bands. Parents who picked up their child would be required to show their stateroom card and to provide the correct password to retrieve their child. We were extremely comfortable with Disney’s sense of security at both of the kids’ clubs.
Each club was open for long hours, usually between 7am-midnight, and there were no shortage of activities inside to entertain the children. From cooking classes to arts and crafts to learning to dance with Snow White, Brianne and Bridgette had an abundance of fun in there throughout our sea days.
Scheduled character appearances happened throughout the day, and depending on the character, the lines to take a photo with them ranged from 3 minutes to 30 minutes. Besides these scheduled appearances though, the characters could be seen at different events throughout the ship, so it really wasn’t necessary to even line up, as the opportunities to get close to them were everywhere. But, it’s hard to convince excited little girls to forego any opportunity to see their favorite princesses. 🙂
More to come in Part II….