Vacay.ca occasionally publishes content on destinations outside of Canada that our editors believe will be of keen interest to our audience. This article focuses on the Disney Wish holiday cruise experience that departs from Port Canaveral, Florida.
More than anything, Disney is about story. That the stories it cultivates are forged on fantasy and the unbreakable guarantee that good will triumph, always, means its real-world experiences must also bolster that core motif. A century of guaranteeing that good will prevail, always, whether in story or within the Magic Kingdom, makes Disney feel like a safe place to be. And if there is a universal desire among small children it is to have an unwavering sense of security, a knowledge that everything will be all right, and there’s no curveball that Mom, Dad, or Mickey Mouse can’t set straight.
At the theme parks, that unreachable bar usually, almost always, breaks at some point during the day, because of stress or lines or heat or the typical emotions of a fatigued toddler. On the Disney Wish, though, the promise of halcyon bliss not only doesn’t bend, it is miraculously reinforced. During a three-day cruise that stunned my scrutinizing mind, I was left — to my surprise — a fan of a corporation that a decade ago I would have ridiculed for the many reasons people ridicule corporations: Too profit-driven, too mainstream, too exploitative of resources and people. In 2023, I have concluded that Disney is far more. Fatherhood has had everything to do with that change in perception.
There is inherent virtuousness in promoting the infallibility of good and when you stick to that tenet as devotedly as Disney does then the result is, well, something pretty great. The company hardly needs the platitudes, but I’ll give them notable ones anyway:
- There’s no organization in human history that delivers operations and service to the level of Disney. It’s mind-boggling to think of how seamlessly the company manages the customer experience from both the execution of logistics and the practice of hospitality. There was barely a hiccup in the process of going from hotel to port through customs en route to the Bahamas and marching into the Grand Hall of the Wish, where Cinderella and Prince Charming greet you from a balcony above.
- Whether Disney is conscious of it or not, the company is in possession of a precious commodity: our children’s collective hope. It’s what Star Wars and the Marvel Universe and the tomorrowlands and forever-childhoods of Toy Story and Peter Pan kindle. We’re told to wish upon a star and it makes no difference who you are; good things — long-sought-after dreams of things or feelings — can be yours. In an era where opportunities seem further away for many than those of generations before, the need to hope feels more fierce than it has since the war years of the last century. In such times, Disney and other fantasy-spinners can become central to the lives of kids who seek both escape and reasons to grasp onto the idea that there can be more.
- With children at the heart of the experience, Disney is unshakeable in its focus of bringing their dreams and their want for goodness to reality. It is this ethic that is by far the reason why I have become an advocate for the company. Disney has fostered my son’s belief in the value of being good. Managing the emotions of a 5-year-old is delicate at any time, especially so when he is encountering his idols. During the meet-and-greet moments with the superheroes he adores, Gabriel was treated with respect by the actors in costume. When Spider-man told him, “You’re amazing,” he beamed with a smile that is indelible to me. So it occurred that it’s not only the kids who want to feel a sense of security — it’s their parents, too. We want to prolong the fantasies we’ve created for our kids and we hold our breaths during moments that could crush the well-intended deceptions. But aboard the Wish, the story reigns. The staff, whether in character or not, take good care to leave the child’s fantasy intact. At the end of Night 1, Gabriel stared up at the ceiling that glittered with the word “Wish” and recounted his day, which included dining in a Marvel-themed restaurant, fist-bumping with Ant-man, and dancing with Mickey and Minnie. As he pondered his roughly 2,000-days-old life in size-small pyjamas bedecked with Luke Skywalker and X-wing fighters, he declared, “Well, dreams do come true.”
Parents have their own sources of pleasure that will seem fantastic and Disney has given them thought. Having debuted in 2022, the Wish features: state rooms that are lavish and large by usual cruise-ship standards; so much on-board programming that even a Jedi would have difficulty exploring all of them; and activities curated for age groups with teenagers and tweens having spaces all to themselves, as well as a nursery and the immense Oceaneers Club where kids 12 and under are the only passengers allowed in for most of the cruise. They can enter the second-floor kids club via a third-floor slide, or walk in past the glass gates after they’ve been checked in by an adult. Inside, there are opportunities for crafts and storytime with the Disney princesses, and those superhero sessions that last a minute or two but will be top of a child’s memory for years.
Marvel lovers like Gabriel can enter the Superhero Academy to learn about Avengers lore and challenge themselves with an interactive game where they can role play as a favourite crusader. The Star Wars cargo bay features a weird menagerie of encased fictional creatures and the chance to meet with characters from the famous series.
Adults-only areas include luxury restaurants, a piano bar that hosts wine and spirits tastings, a small venue that turns into a late-night dance hall, and outdoor lounges on the 13th deck. Some of the highlights include:
- Palo Steakhouse where the food, wine list, and service are Michelin quality. The antipasto included crab claws, chilled shrimp, cured salmon, and a lavishly decorated mussel.
- The Rose cocktail lounge, which is adjacent to Palo and also themed subtly and elegantly on “Beauty & the Beast”.
- Enchanté is similarly themed and is an extravagant dining experience crafted by Arnaud Lallement, who earned three Michelin stars for his L’Assiette Champenoise restaurant in the north of France
- The Senses Spa with treatment rooms you would expect to see on a cruise ship with more mature clientele.
There’s also a sports bar and the Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, which serves til past midnight and is galactically cool with a bizarre cocktail list that still has familiar flavours (and one outrageous $5,000 drink). All of it is extremely well managed and the activity calendar is overloaded, preventing big lineups and crowds for any one space. In total, there are 1,555 crew members for up to 4,000 passengers, making waits for anything minimal. The only frustration may be getting a spot in the specialty seminars on wines, mixology, and craft beer; they fill up quickly once the booking window opens on the DCL Navigator App.
Among the most ardent Disney fans, the Wish is notable because it is the only member of the DCL fleet to include interactive components of Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and classic Disney stories in one sailing. Launched in 1998 with two ships, DCL celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2023 and has big plans for the start of its second quarter-century with the Disney Treasure set to debut in spring and the behemoth Disney Adventure scheduled to launch in 2025 with sailings in Southeast Asia and Singapore.
For a brand that seems boundless with growth possibilities, cruising is a niche where Disney figures to be able to make great strides. Few cruise lines cater to young families and I can’t think of one that has invested as much thought into the experience for each age group as Disney. One family we met on board were on their 21st Disney cruise, with the parents committing to bringing their children — now young adults — back annually, or even more frequently, to surround them in the wonders of the entertainment kingdom. In many ways the Disney Wish feels like a real-life, floating fairytale.
Certainly some people, like the old me maybe, would cynically say that it’s over-the-top fantasy. Except, as I’ve come to realize, joy isn’t artificial — even if the catalyst for it may be. To be amid an experience with thousands of other people feeling hours of unending joy each day is extraordinary. I have never been to a concert, festival, sports event, or any other gathering where joy was so palpable among a mass crowd for so long. And the joy is driven by children and the adults in their lives who want to give them everything. Who in 2023 is going to criticize that? Who wouldn’t be ready to sign up to experience it for the first, second, or some countless number of times?
MORE ABOUT DISNEY WISH
Itineraries and Cost: The Disney Wish features three- and four-night cruises that depart Port Canaveral, Florida, and voyage to the Bahamas. Prices for a family of three (two adults and one child) start at $3,572 CAD ($2,667 USD). Visit the Disney Wish landing page for details.
Notable Logistics: Passengers can drive to Port Canaveral and park their car at the terminal during the cruise, or stay at a Disney hotel in the Orlando area and journey via a Disney-commissioned motor coach to the port terminal. After arriving from Vancouver, we spent a night at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort, which is a gem in itself. It features excellent food that was a pleasant surprise. The Trattoria al Forno restaurant included burrata made with locally sourced tomatoes and pizzas that pleased both child and adults at our table.
To journey to the Bahamas, passengers will be required to present their passports before boarding. Even if you do not plan to disembark the boat, you still need to carry a passport as the boat will be docked in Nassau and the private island of Castaway Cay. On Castaway Cay, beach activities include snorkeling in a 22-acre lagoon, a massive water slide, and pedal boats. For activities that require equipment, you can pre-book the rentals or pay for them once you arrive on the island. There are also a number of beach games for young kids and teenagers. Lots of barbecue fare is available for purchase, though I found the complimentary lunch food on the boat to be much better.
Disney World Deal for Canadians: In time for snowbird season, Walt Disney World is offering theme park tickets at a reduced price. Residents of Canada save 20% on Disney theme park tickets for visits of five days or longer to the Orlando properties. Each date-based ticket requires you to select a start date at purchase. The offer is valid for ticket start dates as early as January 11, 2024, and until September 28, 2024. For details or the purchase, visit the Disney Parks website.
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Disclosure: Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi and his family were hosted by Disney Cruise Line during their Disney Wish itinerary. No one at Disney or associated with it reviewed the article before it was published.