Disney cruise hacks: How to get the most out of your time on the Wonder

Disney Wonder cruise
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your Disney Wonder experience. Photo credit: Kim Choe / Newshub

A cruise holiday is supposed to be relaxing, but what happens when you board one that is essentially a floating theme park?

The Disney Wonder may not have any rides, but the ship is stuffed full of epic performances, photo opportunities, activities, cooking classes, kids' clubs, fine dining and more.

With a schedule packed from 7am until after midnight, the risk of being overwhelmed is real, especially if you are on a short sailing. With that said, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your experience.

Be prepared (yes, please sing that in Scar's voice)

No, I'm not here to be your packing fairy godmother - this particular piece of advice is to do with the Wonder-specific movies and short films you should watch before you set off on your voyage. My six-year-old hadn't seen a lot of the older ones, so this list worked a treat. (All of these are available on Disney+.)

Mickey and pals fundamentals: There was a time when Disney's flagship mice, ducks and dogs were ubiquitous in pop culture, but they had been overshadowed in my son's consciousness by more recent movie franchises (I'm looking at you, Frozen) and the slapped-on-every-item-in-Kmart Marvel universe.

The Wonder celebrates classic Disney, so make sure your kids know who you're asking them to meet!

A purist would go back to Steamboat Willie and Fantasia, but I implore you to browse the treasure trove of charming shorts made between the 1930s and 1950s to introduce younger cruisers to Mickey and his friends. Start with Corn Chips, a classic Chip & Dale vs. Donald Duck caper, and meander from there to get acquainted with Minnie, Pluto and Goofy before you meet them on board.

Corn Chips.
Corn Chips. Photo credit: Disney

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Funhouse and Roadster Racers are more recent series that are great for younger kids. For older viewers I also recommend the beautiful 2022 documentary Mickey: The Story of a Mouse.

The Little Mermaid: A statue Ariel sits pride of place in the Wonder's atrium, outside Triton's restaurant, where you'll be assigned to dine during your cruise. The film's songs also feature heavily in the theatre shows.

The Princess and the Frog: Get to know the cultural context of Tiana's Place, an immersive dining experience filled with New Orleans jazz, Creole food and Mardi Gras buzz.

Frozen: The headline show in the Walt Disney Theatre is a one-hour version of the Broadway musical. The story gets a little lost in the truncation, so a refresher of the source material might be useful. 

Toy Story: The kids' club features a larger-than-life recreation of Andy's playroom, as well as several character-inspired activities.

Marvel: The Heroes Unite deck party is a greatest hits roll-call of the multiverse's heroes and villains. The Avengers series is the obvious place to start or, if your child is too young, the libraries are packed with stories and reference books to introduce the characters.

The Heroes Unite deck party.
The Heroes Unite deck party. Photo credit: Supplied

Encanto: The 'Encanto Celebration' is a fiesta of trivia, crafts and songs. 

Extra for experts: Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, The Lion King, Tarzan, 101 Dalmatians, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, Lilo and Stitch, Monster's Inc and Pinocchio all feature in the ship's shows, eateries and meet-and-greets. 

'You've got a friend' in the Navigator app

Once on-board, the Navigator app is your activity bible, ship map and messaging service in one. Use it to filter, search and save activities to create a custom schedule.

I found this so valuable for tuning out the noise when trying to organise my day, especially when trying to make sure kids' club activities didn't clash with meet-and-greets or showtimes. 

It's free to use even if you don't purchase one of the pricey on-board wi-fi packages, and allows you to message other people in your stateroom (although WhatsApp also works for free).

The Disney Navigator app.
The Disney Navigator app. Photo credit: Newshub

'I just can't wait'… an hour for a character photo

Character meet-and-greets are an integral part of a Disney cruise, but they are time-consuming - we waited up to an hour for each one. The saving grace is they take place inside, so you can sit down, chat to people, read a book, or take in everything else going on around you.

Don't panic - depending on the length of your cruise, most characters will appear more than once. Use the 'Characters' tab in the Navigator app to help you plan.  

Note that the duration listed under each time slot is not how long the character will be out for - it's how long the line is open for.

So, if Minnie Mouse is scheduled to appear at 3pm for 10 minutes, you have until 3:10pm to line up and be guaranteed a meeting. If you arrive after that, a Cast Member (or staffer) will politely turn you away.

Your patience will be rewarded - we found the characters super engaging and personable. Most are happy to sign autographs, so bring a book and a pen!

There are plenty of opportunities to meet characters without lining up, as they will often roam the ship interacting with guests. It may just be harder to get photos and autographs, as they try to keep moving. 

The corridor outside the kids' Oceaneer Club is a great place to keep an eye on, as well as the shuffleboard court on deck 4, the basketball court on deck 10, and kids' club open-house sessions (the only one's adults can attend) with character-based activities.

Princesses love to play games with kids in the atrium in the afternoons and early evenings; check there around 7:45pm on pirate and Marvel nights for casual photo opportunities. 

Look out for a character dance party on your schedule for a chance to hit the d-floor with your faves (try not to think about how sweaty it must be inside their costumes).

Disney Wonder dance party
You can hit the d-floor with your fave characters. Photo credit: Supplied

Be their guest

Enjoy the Disney service - it's truly one of a kind. Your room host, restaurant server and assistant server will be with you for the duration of your cruise and will go out of their way to look after you.

Our room host Raymund left us hilarious towel animals each night, and our servers Paullen and Andrew were more than just waiters - they excelled at performing, magic, origami and comedy.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you to take full advantage of the hospitality included in your fare. The buffet restaurant Cabanas was unexpectedly great, mostly due to the sheer variety on offer. It can get chaotic in there so try taking your breakfast out to the pool deck, which is idyllic for a very small window in the morning. 

Mickey Waffles.
Mickey Waffles. Photo credit: Supplied

The Cabanas lunch service has a great selection of small cakes and other sweet treats, perfect for secreting in your room to enjoy later alongside the excellent room service cheese platter (room service is free but has a suggested tip of US$1 per item). I recommend bringing your own crackers on-board - just like during Air NZ's Koru Hour, you never get enough!

Kim sailed on The Wonder's inaugural Auckland roundtrip cruise as a guest of Disney.