Crossing the pool deck on my way to breakfast, I spotted two mice. On most cruise ships this would be a cause for alarm, but on Disney Wish bumping into Mickey and Minnie is par for the course, reports Joanna Booth.
In fact, it’s peopled by a whole host of colourful characters from the big screen. I was photobombed by Pluto in the lift, given advice on the correct web-shooting pose by Spiderman in the kids’ club, and sipped luminous, smoking cocktails in the Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge. This truly out-of-this-world bar is accessed via a sliding portal and its giant “window” looks out onto shifting scenes from galaxies far, far away which were specially designed for the ship by the team from Lucasfilm.
Disney Wish is the fifth in the Disney Cruise Line fleet (after Dream, Fantasy, Wonder and Magic), launching into a post-pandemic world hungry for experiences. For all those families who spent much of lockdown plugged into the Disney Plus streaming service, it’s an opportunity to set sail into a parallel universe where their favourite fictional worlds are brought to life.
The line has told Cruise Passenger it is watching Australia and New Zealand closely as a market.
The dining choices alone are a reminder of the breadth of the Disney brand. In Arendelle, our Nordic feast was served with song and dance from all the Frozen favourites, courses interspersed with table-side visits from Ana, Elsa and a charming animatronic Olaf the snowman. Under the low, blue-tinged lights of Worlds of Marvel I ate bao buns stuffed with pork belly as the screen in the wall lit up with original, interactive footage filmed purely for Wish, with Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie and Brie Larsen reprising their roles as Ant-Man, The Wasp, Captain America and Captain Marvel. Witty asides fizzed, scenery exploded, and green screen technology showed the superheroes getting up to high jinks right on the decks of the Wish.
Even the onboard ice cream parlour – in a nod to the mood-altering qualities of sugar – is peopled by Inside Out’s emotional cast; order your cone next to the leaping yellow statue of Joy and pay by raging red Anger.
Wish is the most completely realised Disney ship yet, with every single experience and detail designed around a movie, from Hook’s Barbery, where you can get a shave in a wood-panelled, vaguely piratical venue that also serves craft cocktails, to the one-of-a-kind Wish Tower suite, a two-storey stateroom set in the ship’s funnel with luxurious décor that references the South Pacific world of Moana.
This comprehensive approach proved particularly challenging when it came to the pool deck, as senior creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering Danny Handke explained: “How can you add a story to a waterslide?” Expertise from the wider Disney brand came to the rescue, with the Mickey shorts team collaborating on nine show scenes for the Aqua Mouse water coaster. The mixture of screens and splashes works well, and what’s being branded as the “first Disney attraction at sea” is a fast and fun race peppered with cartoon antics through water-filled tubes that curve around the top deck and even project over the side of the ship.
Nowhere is more immersive than the Oceaneer Club. Accessed via a slide (parents can chicken out and use the stairs, though I’d recommend taking the plunge), this expansive venue puts all other kids’ clubs in the shade. In the Marvel Super Hero Academy they can train with Spiderman, Black Panther, Iron Man and Captain Marvel, designing their own suits and tech which they can then use to battle virtual baddies.
Walking into the Star Wars: Cargo Bay area feels like stepping into a film set. It’s a shadowy, atmospheric space full of buttons to press and switches to throw, the belly of a space craft filled with a host of cute intergalactic creatures that children can learn to handle – scaly wortts, furry loth cats and big-eyed porgs. Again, Danny Handke called in the movie team to make it entirely authentic.
“One of the questions I asked was, ‘what colour is porg poo?’ And Lucas Film came back and made it for us.” Younger children aren’t forgotten, with a Mickey-themed playground and the Fairytale Hall, full of craft activities inspired by a range of Disney princesses. Separate clubs serve as hangouts for both tweens and teens, and there’s a nursery for tots from six months to three years – the last being the only option to come at extra cost.
There’s plenty for the family to do together, too. Each evening sees two performances of West-End quality shows – performances on Wish include The Little Mermaid, complete with costumes made from recycled ocean plastic, and a new show created for the ship called Seas the Adventure – plus there are swimming pools, deck parties and a range of family quizzes and challenges. The most elaborate, Uncharted Adventure, is a voyage-length virtual scavenger hunt where families can unlock new elements of the game as they visit each area of the ship.
While the Wish is undoubtedly child-friendly, it’s also home to more gently themed adults-only spaces that’ll give parents a treat while the kids are occupied elsewhere. A quiet pool, sundeck and bar are tucked away overlooking the stern of the ship, a beautiful rainforest-styled spa with an indoor and outdoor relaxation garden sits in the bow, and at the top a trio of elegant, child-free venues are loosely based around Beauty and the Beast. A refined French menu crafted by Michelin-starred Arnaud Lallement is served in the shimmering, white and gold splendour of Enchante; Palo is a steakhouse with darker, moodier décor, and The Rose a chic bar with expansive ocean views.
These areas and the comfortable, spacious staterooms bear some resemblance to a more conventional ship, but as President of Disney Signature Experiences Thomas Mazloum tells me, “this is anything but a traditional cruise. We’re an entertainment company; we just happen to have a few ships. It’s storytelling, it’s immersive – it’s Disney.”
Wish will spend the whole year based in Port Canaveral, sailing three and four-night Bahamas cruises with calls at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. It’s the perfect link up with the theme parks in Orlando – an extra, salt-scented dose of Disney enchantment on the high seas. The focus isn’t so much seeing the world as taking a holiday in an alternative reality. With the current state of global affairs, I can see the attraction.
How to do it: A three-night sailing in a standard inside stateroom on Disney Wish (0800 169 0742, disneyholidays.co.uk) departing from Port Canaveral on October 14 starts from £1,886 per person including flights from Gatwick, transfers and one night’s stay at the Hyatt MCO close to Orlando airport.
Disney Wish in numbers
60: The length of the hair on the stern sculpture of Rapunzel, in feet
4,400: The number of pieces of art around the ship
1,966: The square footage of the Wish Tower Suite, set in the ship’s funnel
30: The percentage of crew who are women
760: The length in feet of the Aqua Mouse water coaster
40: The number of flavours in the Joyful Sweets ice cream parlour
5,000: The cost in dollars of the most expensive drink in Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge
86: The average number of nationalities represented by Disney Cruise Line dining room staff
30,000: LED lights feature in the Disney Wish Grand Hall
10,000: The number of gallons of used cooking oil recycled from Disney’s shipboard galleys each week
For more: https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/