- By Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
I didn’t think I would enjoy cruising. I was, as I kept telling people, “not a cruise person” and “not a Disney person” — I was also sometimes a seasick person — but as I settled into my stateroom on the Disney Wonder in November with my 8- and 5-year-old daughters, I realized I couldn’t have been more excited to cast off into the abyss.
I made our four-night cruise from Galveston to Cozumel and back an unplugged vacation, purchasing only enough Wi-Fi to send occasional proof-of-life check-ins to my husband. Otherwise, we would trade FaceTime for face time with Mickey and Minnie, iPads for plunges in the pool and status updates for sunrises from the balcony of our room.
As it turned out, it was an ideal time to discover the Wonder, which itself had just returned relaxed and rejuvenated from early fall dry dock in Spain and was eager to show off its recent renovations and enhancements.
Be our guest
Disney Cruise Line started sailing out of Galveston in 2012 and has offered holiday-themed cruises on the Disney Wonder since 2015. I have always liked the idea of this port because of the time and money it saves Austinites and other Texans, who are able to avoid the flights, hotels and rental cars needed to sail out of Florida and drive straight to the ship.
The smell of gingerbread greeted us as we entered the lobby for our holiday-themed Very Merrytime cruise. A crew member quietly asked me for our last name, then grandly announced us to the room. My daughters were awestruck by our celebrity-style entrance, then even more awestruck by the name of the group — the Burger family — announced after us.
It was the first in a series of personal touches that made an impression during our trip, from pink robes in each of the girls’ sizes hanging in the closet of our stateroom to their favorite drinks waiting each night at our dinner table.
A whole new world
You may think you know the movie “Toy Story,” but until you’ve climbed 13 huge primary-colored steps to the top of Andy’s gigantic bed, you haven’t truly experienced it.
The huge-scale reproduction of Andy’s room is one of the new post-dry-dock additions to the Disney Wonder’s Oceaneer kids club, which also now includes a life-size re-creation of Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post from “Frozen,” a Club Disney Junior area that features visits from Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First and a Marvel Super Hero Academy.
“I’m 40 years old, and I’m a child right now,” said Walt Disney Parks and Resorts show director Tony Giordano, one of several Disney executives aboard the early-November cruise. “This is the greatest thing in the world to work on.”
Our sailing also included the debut of the new “Frozen, A Musical Spectacular” inside the 977-seat Walt Disney Theatre.
“This show is loved and revered by so many people,” said Jim Urry, vice president of entertainment for Disney Cruise Line, the day the show debuted. “It felt like a perfect show for our ship and our demographic.”
A spoonful of sugar
At Animator’s Palate, one of the restaurants aboard the Disney Wonder, you won’t receive so much as a piece of bread until you and all the members of your group have thoughtfully drawn a character of your choosing on the paper placed in front of your seat.
We obliged, ordered dinner and kind of forgot about our drawings until a video set to the tune of “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin” started playing near our table. Featured in the video was each of our characters, brought to life and dancing, marching and even ice skating across the screen with the likes of beloved figures Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio and Snow White.
In the time it takes to eat a serving of macaroni, we had become bona fide animators — our names were even featured in the credits.
We also enjoyed Tiana’s Place, which opened for the first time on our sailing and was inspired by 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog.” The restaurant intends to evoke the feel of a New Orleans supper club and mostly succeeds, from the Crawfish Crooners band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” to classic Louisiana cuisine served with just the right amount of kick. But it’s the details — Tiana’s family photos and culinary awards framed on the wall, for example — that really set it apart.
Going into the cruise, I had no expectations, but there really were magical moments sprinkled throughout.
I savored afternoons like the one we spent at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a new shop where dresses from all the princesses in Disney’s stable hang around the room, creating a rainbow-kaleidoscope wall framed by sparkling accessories. Watching the girls’ jaws drop — not from behind an Instagram filter but up close and personal, every individual piece of glitter twinkling — as they saw that they had been transformed into Tinker Bell and Princess Jasmine was just as special for me as it was for them.
I never thought a brand as pervasive as Disney would inspire me to unplug, but I’m grateful that it did. I can’t wait for more magical moments, some of which I hope will be created back aboard the Wonder.