Review: Disney Wonder, the brand's first New Zealand cruise, truly lives up to its name

Less than half a day after boarding the Disney Wonder, I'd lost count of how many times my six-year-old's eyes had nearly popped out of his head.

Everywhere he turned there were iconic characters to meet, ice-cream on tap and more shows, movies and activities than he could shake a sorcerer's broomstick at.

The Wonder truly lives up to its name, with so much to delight children and adults alike.

As someone who likes to explore far and wide while travelling, I've always been sceptical about cruising, fearing I would get actual cabin-fever from being stuck in a floating hotel. But add a generous sprinkling of Disney pixie dust and you have the makings of an amazing family holiday.

It is so magical to look up from your morning coffee and see Mickey and his friends strolling by, Rapunzel playing hide-and-seek with a gaggle of tiny adoring fans, and Black Panther hula-hooping in the kids' club.

The array of activities, photo opportunities and performances can be overwhelming, but spending a few minutes planning each day helped keep the stress and wasted time to a minimum. The Disney Navigator app, which is free to use on-board, made this very easy.

I stayed on Disney Wonder's inaugural Auckland cruise for four nights, and these are my thoughts. 

The Disney Wonder.
The Disney Wonder. Photo credit: Supplied

Character meetings: be prepared to wait

We had to be ruthless about prioritising, given the waits for character meet-and-greets were often around an hour, occasionally longer. This can understandably feel frustrating but is no different to what you would experience at a theme park.

There were a huge number of characters on-board: Mickey and his classic friends, princesses, and characters from the Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel universes all mixed and mingled. Everyone we met made an effort to have meaningful interactions that didn't feel rushed.

If queuing is not for you, there are plenty of spontaneous walkabouts. We also enjoyed the midday dance party in the ship's grandiose lobby, where the characters hit the dance-floor and showed off their moves.

Mickey and Mini
Photo credit: Supplied

Kid and character-free zones 

There are plenty of character-free zones where grown-ups can decompress: an adults-only pool and cafe, bars, adult-exclusive activity sessions, and alcohol tastings (some of these activities have an additional cost).

Brunch or dinner at Palo is a classy affair with a dress code to match. The restaurant specialises in northern Italian cuisine - I found the dinner menu to be more interesting and well-executed than brunch. The perfectly cooked seafood was a highlight and the desserts at both meals were also excellent - inventive and delicious.

Palo's tiramisu.
Palo's tiramisu. Photo credit: Newshub

Dinner at Palo is à la carte while brunch is a fixed price (US$60/NZ$98 per person) for as many dishes as you wish - an unusual concept given they are full-sized meals. I have a reasonable appetite, but one main and a dessert were too much for me. 

Kids' clubs

While I was enjoying all of that, my son was happily and safely ensconced at the kids' clubs. These are exceptional child-led spaces where they can play independently or take part in one of many themed sessions: think Toy Story-inspired space ranger training in Andy's larger-than-life-room (which doubles as a playground), superhero sessions with Spiderman, and captain training with Minnie.

Characters often popped by unannounced to hang out with the kids, which thrilled my son. 

Andy's Room.
Andy's Room. Photo credit: Supplied

Tweens and teens have their own dedicated spaces, and feedback from fellow cruisers was that they loved having the independence to roam the ship and design their own days.

There is a nursery available for under-threes, but unlike the other kids' spaces, it comes at an additional cost.


Disney cruises are famous for their theatre shows and outdoor deck parties. On the four-night cruise we were treated to three live musicals, including an abridged version of Frozen with breathtaking special effects. 

The Frozen musical.
The Frozen musical. Photo credit: Supplied

Of the three deck parties, the highlight was Heroes Unite, a narrative-driven drama that appears to unfold around you in real-time. It featured more than half a dozen Marvel superheroes and villains, impressive aerial work and spectacular fireworks.

Pirates in the Caribbean, a dance party with Pirate Mickey and friends, takes place at the end of Pirate Night, where guests are invited to dress as buccaneers and eat from a pirate-themed menu.

Unfortunately for those with young kids, these big shows are mostly all in the evening, fitted around dinner seatings - the superhero and pirate parties didn't start until 10:30pm. 

We managed this by allowing time for my son to have an afternoon nap, but I think he would have struggled if he'd been a couple of years younger.

There is no shortage of daytime entertainment though, including Encanto-themed crafts and singalongs, learn-to-draw sessions for budding animators, bingo, Disney trivia, a silent disco and live music.

The family swimming pools were small and busy, but my son gave the 76-metre waterslide a huge thumbs up.


The food was mostly pretty good as far as mass-produced catering goes. There are buffet and quick-service options available throughout the day - don't miss the famous Mickey waffles at breakfast. Cute and delicious, what more could you want? 

Dinner takes place across three themed restaurants - we were allocated a different one each night. 

Of course, there's no such thing as just a regular dinner on a Disney cruise: Tiana's Place is a celebration of creole food, New Orleans jazz and Mardi Gras, while Animator's Palate is a tribute to Disney's animation history, with a spectacular interactive element.

Tiana's Place.
Tiana's Place. Photo credit: Supplied

There is plenty of variety in the menus, although the quality of dishes varied - overcooked meat was the most common problem for us, but the seafood and fish were always excellent.

We had the same servers each night and they became part of the entertainment - taking the kids to join a conga line, or pulling out magic tricks when they sensed restlessness kicking in. This level of attentiveness was one of the things that made the cruise for me.

The staff (or 'Cast Members' in Disney-speak) are indefatigably cheerful and seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs. They went out of their way to make my son feel special, and it was refreshing to be somewhere that children are valued and included, not treated as an inconvenience.

Smooth sailing 

All of this might sound like an utterly exhausting vacation - but with some judicious planning and use of the kids' club, I felt remarkably relaxed.

There's a lot to be said for having accommodation on-site and being able to pop back whenever you need some quiet time.

Our ocean-view stateroom with a verandah was a good size for two adults and one child. The bathrooms were tiny but spotless, the Queen and sofa beds were extremely comfortable, and the nightly towel animal was a delightful touch. 

The ocean-view stateroom with verandah.
The ocean-view stateroom with verandah. Photo credit: Supplied

The four-night cruise felt like a good amount of time to experience everything we wanted to, while still allowing for some downtime (Auckland roundtrips range from two to five nights).

It seemed strange to get on a cruise that effectively went nowhere but as the company likes to say, "The ship is the destination." They're not wrong.

It also meant the captain could chase the good weather. Our route saw us drawing ovals in the mostly calm international waters just east of Aotea/Great Barrier Island, with only the final night being noticeably rocky as we made our way back to port.

Value for money? 

You do pay a premium for the Disney experience.

At the time of writing, prices for a four-night roundtrip cruise departing in December 2024 start at US$3212/NZ$5287 for two adults and two children (excluding a suggested US$14.50 gratuity per person, per night). This is more than twice the price of other companies' cruises of the same duration out of Auckland.

Perhaps a better comparison is to what it would cost to visit one of Disney's theme parks - in which case the cruise is an attractive prospect, especially if you have kids too young to take full advantage of the rides.

On-board, prices for everything not included in the base fare (including alcohol, espresso coffees, tastings and spa treatments) are steep - especially because everything is charged in US dollars. However, it is entirely possible to eat, drink and play extremely well without spending an additional cent. 

The Wonder will be bringing Disney back to Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland in November 2024. It's a high-quality holiday without the stress and cost of international travel, and a great way to experience some Disney magic at our doorstep.

Kim sailed on the inaugural Auckland roundtrip cruise as a guest of Disney.