Disney Cruise Line (DCL) introduced its newest ship to the fleet this month: The Disney Wish promises to bring a new level of luxury to the more than 20-year-old cruise line, and is the first of three ships built in Germany's world-class Meyer Werft shipyard.
The big difference between these new ships and DCL's previous cruise liners? Disney is trading the family-friendly feel for opulence and regal outfittings fit for a princess ... or prince.
In addition to posh surroundings, guests aboard the Disney Wish will find $5,000 space-themed cocktails, menus from Michelin-starred chefs and luxurious multi-story suites (complete with Bvlgari bath products). This pixie-dusted makeover also comes at a higher price tag: Many voyages on the Disney Wish are nearly double that of its sister DCL ships.
Recently, I had the opportunity to set sail on the ship's three-night christening voyage. As a lifelong theme park fan and self-proclaimed "Disney adult," the trip was the first time I'd taken to the ocean with Mickey Mouse — though I've sailed aboard every other major cruise line. Much like Ariel, I previously stuck to what I know: In my case, land-based Disney magic at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. I've been visiting these theme parks for over three decades as an annual passholder, clocking in well over 500 visits.
With my fellow Disney adults — my husband and sister — in tow, I set out to figure out how a long weekend with Disney Cruise Line stacks up to one spent at Disney World or Disneyland.
The Disney Wish oozes opulence and luxury
From the moment I set foot on the Disney Wish, I believed I was in a luxury resort, and that feeling goes miles above my other cruising experiences. If you're imagining Walt Disney World's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, think grander — like Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. The Disney touch is there, it's just more subtle, like in stonework and gorgeous tapestries that depict iconic stories from Disney animation.
That luxury will cost you
Disney Parks vacations are pricey, but a Disney cruise may take the cake with much of the expenses coming out of pocket leading up to the sailing. A four-night voyage on the Wish will run a family several thousand dollars, while Walt Disney World visitors can tailor their vacation to fit more budget-friendly needs.
Disney Cruise Line showcases my favorite elements of Disney Parks
Many Disney adults — myself included — visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World to be enveloped in the magic, but that doesn't necessarily mean visiting the parks for a ride on Space Mountain. True adult Disney-lovers seek out the parks' award-winning entertainment, food and beverages.
A trip on Disney Cruise Line had all my favorite elements of Disney Parks in one easy-to-navigate place. One of my favorite landside activities is resort-hopping because of the ability to be immersed in a multitude of themes — something that can easily be done on the ship, but more quickly, as you can visit Star Wars' galaxy far, far away and minutes later be thrown into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If pools are your thing, stick to dry land
The Disney Wish boosts 10 pools, but the one caveat is those pools are very small: Most are around the size of a hot tub. An adults-only area features an infinity pool, but it's also on the small side. I found that most of the deck and lounge space aboard the ship was in direct sunlight, which became unbearably warm after long periods of time in the sun.
If a lazy day at the pool — with space and some shade — is your thing, you may want to stick to a Disney World or Disneyland resort.
Disney Cruise Line's food and beverage program makes the price worthwhile
If you're dropping thousands on a four-night cruise, you're probably expecting the food to be at least decent. The most shocking part of my cruise was that every morsel of food I tried was not just good, but excellent — even the quick-service (Disney-speak for fast food) options.
Dining aboard the Wish is four-star quality and that alone easily makes the price tag worth it. From the stone crab presented at the casual lunch eatery, Marceline Market, to Wagyu for dinner at the swanky Palo Steakhouse, I found the quality and execution to be unmatched Disney dining experiences.
If food doesn't excite you, it's cheaper to hit the parks
If your tastes are more vanilla — or maybe pineapple — and a Dole Whip will suffice, you may not want to fork over a mortgage payment for a Disney cruise. The guests who'll get the most bang for their buck on a DCL voyage are those who are appreciate good cuisine. Disney World and Disneyland have copious amounts of snacks that may be better-suited for those opposed to the gourmet — and at times adventurous — eats on board.
Disney Wish dining has Disney Parks' "signature dining" beat
I love signature, table-service dining at Walt Disney World, but these meals run at least $100 per person. With the exception of two adults-only restaurants aboard the Wish, Palo Steakhouse and Enchanté, everything was included in the cost of the cruise.
One of the rotational restaurants every cruise guest gets to experience, 1923, is an upscale dining room that exudes old-school Hollywood with walls lined in artwork and memorabilia celebrating Walt Disney Animation Studio. With a focus on new American and California cuisine, we dined on porcini-spiced ahi tuna, duck confit pastilla and peppered filet mignon. I'd compare it to California Grill at Walt Disney World, but even better — and because it was included in the sailing, there was no $700 bill at the end of the meal.
Character dining is more fanciful — and delicious — at sea
Chef Mickey's is a rite of passage for any Disney fan, but do the characters sing to you? On board DCL they do — and then some. Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure stood out as one of the most uniquely-Disney experiences I'd ever encountered: It was a literal flurry of fun as we feasted on sea scallops and Chilean sea bass and Olaf danced past us in song.
Many Walt Disney World and Disneyland restaurants rest on location or characters alone as their selling point. On the Disney Wish, the immersive themed dining is paired with gourmet-level cuisine and cocktails.
Drinking is better aboard Disney Cruise Line
"Drinking around the world" is a beloved pastime at Epcot — but it's also an expensive one. A margarita at the theme park's World Showcase can easily set you back $20, and they're often pre-mixed. Aboard the Wish, I was greeted with expertly-curated cocktails — served in incredibly well-themed lounges — with most handcrafted drinks not exceeding $15. From the Bayou, which serves traditional New Orleans-style cocktails under a vibrant green canopy of lily pads and magnolias to Nightingale's, an elegant Cinderella-themed piano bar, there were many highly-immersive spaces to unwind in.
It's less stressful to plan a Disney cruise
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation just about requires a college degree in Mickey Mouse, but on the Disney Wish you simply show up and have a great time. There's no need to deal with the headache that is Disney Genie, or to know what a Lightning Lane is. The only thing on your schedule is nightly dining, but of course, there are always other options on board if you want to skip your scheduled dinner.
If you love rides, stick to Disney Parks
While the Disney Wish is the first cruise to boast an "attraction at sea" in the AquaMouse, an enhanced version of the water coaster found on other DCL ships, if you're a big thrill seeker, stick to the parks.
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