Comparing Disney Cruise Ships: Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and the reimagined Disney Magic
BY SARAH STONE
In the spring of 2014, Don and I sailed on a 4-night Disney Magic cruise to the Bahamas, and then in the summer of 2014 we took our kids with us on a 7-night Disney Wonder cruise to Alaska and another 4-night Bahamian cruise on the Disney Dream. We were excited to see the reimagined Disney Magic and curious how the now “classic” Disney Wonder would compare. These two ships were the very first Disney Cruise Line ships and are almost identical in their layout. Both have 875 staterooms (2,400 passengers maximum). The Disney Dream and Fantasy are newer and larger: two decks taller than the Magic and Wonder, with 1,250 staterooms (4,000 passengers maximum). We wondered how much bigger the Dream would feel when compared to the smaller ships.
Naturally, all the Disney cruise ships have a lot in common – no casinos, great childcare, lots of character appearances, and a very kid-friendly crew. But we were curious if there would be any significant differences beyond the décor, or if we would have a preference for one ship over another.
What’s new and different on the Disney Magic?
The Magic is the oldest ship in the fleet. It first sailed in July 1998, but in 2013 it went into drydock to do a complete “reimagining,” including big changes in pretty much every area. Let’s start with the staterooms – the Disney Magic now has more adjoining staterooms and more verandahs that have a removable divider, allowing you to create one large verandah for your entire group. Both of those features definitely make it easier to hang out when your family or group takes up 2 staterooms. A few other subtle, but definite improvements are: slightly taller bed frames, so you can more easily slide your suitcase underneath, and regular hairdryers. The old built-in hairdryers on the Wonder were a bit harder to manage – they were shaped like the long thin nozzle on a vacuum cleaner and I found it awkward to manipulate. Although between walking on the windy decks and swimming in the pool, my hair tended toward a more windblown look anyway!
The top deck now has a new thrill slide called the AquaDunk, which is much shorter and simpler than the similarly-named AquaDuck on the Dream & Fantasy. The AquaDunk is a fast body slide, with a short nearly vertical section, a brief spiral, and that’s it. It’s a nice addition, but not nearly as long as the AquaDuck and not nearly as friendly to the thrill-challenged like me. The Magic also added a kid’s water play area with a variety of interactive spouts, showers, buckets, and water squirters for kids of all ages. The main Mickey water slide in the kid’s section has been made longer and fancier, and can now handle pretty much any size guest, so it’s open to larger kids and parents.
What about the children’s areas below decks? Our two boys are teenagers, so we didn’t have much experience with the Oceaneer Club or the Oceaneer Lab on these cruises. We took a look during the open house hours and it was clear that more magical touches had been added on the Disney Magic. The play areas had more theming and more interactive elements. The Disney Magic’s Oceaneer Club now has the Marvel Avengers Academy where kids get superhero training from Captain America, an area called Andy’s Room that makes kids feel like they’re toy-sized and playing on Andy’s bed, and a Tinkerbell-themed dress up area called Pixie Hollow. And yes, parents have a chance to join in the fun too, but only during open house hours. The Disney Magic has also added more automated handwashers for kids to use as they enter and leave the child care areas.
The three main restaurants on the Disney Magic (Carioca’s, Lumiere’s and Animator’s Palate) and the adults-only area also have new décor. We really liked the dark blue and silver décor in the adults-only area. It felt special and more grown up the minute you entered that part of the ship, from the hallway to the 3 lounges. Animator’s Palate has a new participatory show – Drawn to Magic. In addition to adding more screens, everyone gets to create an animated figure that eventually becomes part of the show. Your servers will let you know which screen to keep an eye on so you can see your creation come to life.
So, how does the Disney Wonder hold up now that it’s the oldest ship in the Disney fleet?
In a word, or two, very well! The ship is clean, well kept up and the crew is busy painting, varnishing and generally swabbing to keep things shipshape, as they are on any other Disney ship. One feature we particularly liked on the Wonder was the larger enclosed coffee bar on the top deck. It has more indoor seating than the coffee bar on the Magic and on an Alaskan cruise that’s a great feature. There is so much to see from the top deck as you cruise through the Inside Passage and up Tracy Arm. This enclosed space was a great place to be in the early morning or evening, sipping a hot beverage (or a cocktail) and enjoying the view, but out of the wind and cooler air.
Overall we were quite pleased with the Wonder and didn’t feel it suffered in any significant way by comparison to the Magic. For example, it would have been nice to have the new hair dryers, but in the end I was able to dry my hair with the old ones fine. We felt the same way about pretty much all the other changes. Some would be nice to have, but nothing that seriously detracted from the experience. We did think the newly refurbished Animator’s Palate on the Magic was a big improvement, and the kid’s water play area was very nice and would enhance the cruise for anyone with water-loving small children. Otherwise it was “six of one, half-dozen of the other” for us.
Much of our experience on the Wonder was colored by our destination – we LOVED Alaska! The scenery, the wildlife, the excursions – it was all amazing. Disney brings naturalists aboard to talk about the wildlife you will be seeing – we lucked out and had a fantastic one on our cruise. (But the quality can vary, our friend did the same itinerary a few weeks later with a different naturalist onboard who wasn’t nearly as compelling a speaker.) While sailing up Tracy Arm, the crew serves hot soup in a bread bowl and other hearty lunch items right on the forward deck, so you don’t miss a minute of the amazing views.. And seven days on the same ship gives you time to get to know your servers, the entertainment crew and feel really familiar with the ship. The great crew and the amazing sites we saw insure that the Disney Wonder will always have a special place in our hearts.
Is a Bigger Cruise Ship Better?
When Disney designed their second two ships, the Dream and the Fantasy, they clearly looked at what worked on their first two ships and what they wanted to adjust or improve.
One thing we appreciated on the Dream was having connecting staterooms with the kids in one room and us in the other. Our kids are older, so having completely separate rooms (as we did on the Wonder) wasn’t a concern, just slightly more inconvenient. But having more connecting staterooms available on the Dream is definitely a plus for families with younger children. Another great feature of the staterooms which our younger son particularly enjoyed was the Disney Movies on Demand in our stateroom. On the Magic and Wonder there were Disney movies playing on TV continuously, however on the Dream he could pick from a huge list of Disney movies and start it whenever he wanted and pause it if we had somewhere to go.
We enjoyed the Midship Detective Agency game, currently only present on the Dream and Fantasy. This is a self-guided scavenger hunt of sorts that involves traveling around the ship to find various pieces of magical interactive art that react to your special “Detective Badge” and reveal clues to you after you’ve finished a simple game or task. It was definitely easy for our teenage boys, but we all enjoyed seeing the art that moves and changes when you walk by. And it was a fun way to explore the ship.
The hot tubs on the Dream, both in the family area and the adult only area, are right up against the side of the ship, which I really liked. Rather than just having a view of the pool, or another couple in the hot tub, you could look out and enjoy the view of the ocean or watch what’s going on in the port.
The restaurants on the Dream are quite different from the Wonder and the Magic. The Enchanted Garden was very pretty; you feel like you are in a greenhouse. We had heard great things about the transformation from day to night, but it was VERY subtle! There was a mural along the back wall that transformed and the lighting above also changed, but if you didn’t know that a transformation was going to happen, we weren’t sure you would notice. There were some very pretty lights shaped like flower blossoms that seemed to having moving parts (as if the blossom could open and shut) but they didn’t move and our server (who had been on the ship about 2 years) said she had never seen them change and wasn’t sure if they were supposed to move or not. So we were slightly underwhelmed, as we had been expecting a more noticeable transformation.
Animator’s Palate is VERY different from Magic and Wonder – with several screens in each seating area. Crush from Finding Nemo eventually swims by on the larger screens and interacts with each area. (Other Finding Nemo characters swim by as well with games and funny interactions, but don’t respond to the audience.) It was fun to watch, but when Crush was in our area we had a hard time hearing him; we weren’t right next to the screen and the people at the tables closest to the screen didn’t particularly respond to him. So unfortunately the interaction wasn’t very long and we couldn’t quite follow what did happen. But we did see him on a screen farther away talking with a group of about 4 boys who were teaching him some Spanish and it looked like they were having a great time.
And that sums up many of our experiences on the Disney Dream – everything was beautiful and we appreciated the extra features and technology, but somehow nothing felt quite as magical or personal as it had on the smaller DCL ships. Our servers were nice, but the service was a bit unorganized and they didn’t particularly chat with us. It was more like being in a normal restaurant where they take your order and generally leave you alone. It didn’t ruin our meal, but part of the upside of having the same servers every night is that you develop some familiarity. As I looked around I didn’t see as much chatting and goofing around by the servers at other tables as I had on the Wonder and the Magic. The overall impression we had of the servers in the restaurants was that they were very busy.
Don and I treated ourselves to a dinner and a brunch at Remy, and wow! We had both enjoyed Palo on the Magic and Wonder, but the intimacy and high level of service at Remy really were wonderful, especially after our less personal experience with the rotational dining. The servers are highly attentive and the food was amazing. In fact, the first time we dined there, the maître d’ addressed us by name as we walked up to check in. It was a delightful and relaxing experience.
What we ultimately felt about the Dream was that the ship is great and has some nice features (Remy being a real standout) but some of the staff we interacted with didn’t feel quite as polished as they did on the Magic and Wonder. We do wonder if having to do 3- and 4-day trips over and over to the same destinations isn’t conducive to job satisfaction. The smaller ships are constantly changing their itineraries and home ports as they move around to the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Miami, Galveston, Alaska, etc. We can imagine that would help make the crew’s work more interesting. And don’t get me wrong – we had a lovely time on the Dream, and are already planning a trip on the Fantasy, since we really would like to experience one of the large ships on a longer cruise.
To sum up, every cruise is different so it’s hard to know how much of our impressions were based the length of our cruise or the crew members we happened to interact with, rather than the ship itself. Overall we had a wonderful time on all 3 cruises and the differences were minor. We felt relaxed and enjoyed the different excursions and onboard activities. Our 7-night cruise to Alaska allowed us more time on the ship so, unsurprisingly, we felt more familiar with the ship and the crew. That’s not as likely to happen on a 4-night cruise; you can feel like you spent the whole time trying things, but don’t get the fun of returning to a favorite spot. Which I guess just means that you need to book another cruise on that ship!