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There’s magic for the whole family aboard the Disney Wish cruise ship

Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, and other Disney characters onstage aboard the Disney Wish Photo by Mark Ashman

As we were about to board the new 4,000-passenger Disney Wish at Port Canaveral in Florida, my 5-year-old grandson, George, pulled me close and declared, “Grandmom, this is the best day of my life.”

Looking up at the cruise ship, with a figurehead of Rapunzel on the stern and 60 feet of hair flowing behind her, he then turned to my son Eli and exclaimed, “Dad, you said the ship is bigger than a house. It’s bigger than the world!”

Hearing George’s wonderment, I couldn’t help but smile—an inclination that would rarely fade during our 3-night sailing to the Bahamas with a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

Guests watching a performance by Disney characters on the Disney Wish

Photo by Mark Ashman

Even for me, a veteran cruise writer, this embarkation day was particularly sweet. George and his dad, mom, and baby sister live in a landlocked town some 450 miles from me, and we don’t see each other as much as we’d like.

This cruise seemed the perfect opportunity to lock in quality time with my 35-year-old tech-exec son and my oldest grandchild, making sure that George really got to know Grandmom Fran. I am cynical by nature, but seeing the world through the eyes of a child gave me a new perspective on cruising.

A cruise ship adorned with Disney details

Disney Wish Grand Hall

Photo by Amy Smith

I was awestruck as we stepped into Disney Wish’s lavish 3-deck-high Grand Hall, equipped with an elegant staircase and a sparkling chandelier inspired by Cinderella’s story. Memories of beloved Disney tales filled my head as it became clear we were in a floating fantasyland. Deep down, I was still the little girl enthralled by Disney princesses.

Nearly every space on the ship tells a story from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, or Marvel movies, and characters from each interact with and entertain passengers, from seniors to toddlers. (Confession: George had to school me on some of the characters in Disney’s expanded brand universe.)

He was delighted whenever costumed characters appeared but preferred to view them from afar. Once, when Cinderella waved from a lobby balcony, I suggested that George call her name to get her attention. “Grandmom, she has a right to wave at who she wants to,” he replied. I was properly chastised.

Activities for young cruisers

Cruisers enjoying the pool on the upper deck of the Disney Wish

Photo by Amy Smith

George quickly forgot his shyness when he spotted the tube slide leading to the youth programs offered in the center of the ship.

At Disney’s Oceaneer Club for children 3–12 years old, George found his favorite space in a room decorated as a Star Wars spaceship’s cargo bay. There he used a data pad to study such movie creatures as a dianoga (trash monster) in a jar and a porg (a beakless bird) in a cage. He has never seen the movies, but surely will want to now.

Fun-filled family dining options

Because George had seen a promotional preview of the Disney Wish online before the cruise, his No. 1 goal was to dine in the Worlds of Marvel restaurant and see its show, Avengers: Quantum Encounter. The restaurant is one of 3 in the Disney Wish dining rotation system, and passengers are assigned a different venue each night. George collects Marvel characters, and although he’s too young to have seen most of the movies, he knows all about Ant-Man, Black Panther, and others. His litany of Marvel characters had me reeling in their sheer number.

Families interact with Ant-Man and The Wasp at Worlds of Marvel

Photo by Amy Smith

George’s joy was infectious as we entered the restaurant. He was eager to see how the Avengers Quantum Core device on each table would, in his words, “shrink things.” As we were seated, George warned us not to push the device’s buttons—and then he pushed them 20 times.

On screens around us, a supervillain was attacking the ship. George was soon engrossed by headliners Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly).

As we left the dining room, George, holding Eli’s hand, asked, “Will Ultron come back? If he does, will you defend the ship?” Eli reassured him that he would.

George was also fascinated by if not quite as taken with Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure, a musical dinner theater with live characters from the Frozen movies, including Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff, singing hit songs such as “Let It Go.”

“Hey, I know that guy,” George shouted when he spied Oaken, the housekeeper character.

It was all wonderment until he examined the snowman, Olaf, and saw a zipper. “It’s just a robot,” he declared, prompting Eli to launch into an explanation of Disney animatronics while we munched on a Nordic-inspired menu that included smoked salmon and braised meatballs with lingonberry chutney.

Although the dining experiences aboard the Disney Wish cater to kids, the sophisticated menu also pleased us adults. So even though George on Day 1 declared that he’d be eating burgers, or as he put it, “meat and bread, plain meat and bread,” Eli and I had plenty of choices.

At Worlds of Marvel, I ordered seared turbot fillet with sweet pea puree and roasted heirloom carrots; Eli had a Delmonico rib eye with black truffle butter.

Families dining at 1923 Restaurant

Photo by Amy Smith

The third restaurant was a change of pace: 1923, a tribute to the golden age of animation decorated with nearly a thousand cartoon sketches and props. It felt like a classic family dining experience.

A chance for the grown-ups to get away

One night, after George munched on “meat and bread” from the ship’s open-air food court and then was happily ensconced in the kids club for the evening, Eli and I set off for a mother-son date at Palo Steakhouse, one of the ship’s 2 “specialty dining” restaurants with separate pricing. Both are themed on Beauty and the Beast and restricted to ages 18 and up; the fancier option, Enchanté, is helmed by Michelin-starred French chef Arnaud Lallement, and priced accordingly.

While the ship has several classy bars that would have been perfect for a nightcap, we were in the mood for something different. Passing through a whooshing door, we entered the Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, where we sipped intergalactic drinks that glowed or smoked. The small bar decorated as a luxury space yacht has giant windows with views of the cosmos.

As Eli led the crowd of about 2 dozen in cheering as the screens showed galaxies whirring past, I tapped into a memory of him as a kid, using his prized Star Wars lightsaber to chase his older sister around the house. I was proud of the man he’s become, at the same time marveling at how quickly the years have flown.

Making new memories as a family

Adult time aside, the Disney Wish promotes togetherness. In our spacious, deluxe veranda cabin decorated in a Princess and the Frog motif (all the cabins have fairy-tale themes), George was thrilled to discover that he would sleep on a bunk that pulled down from the ceiling and was accessible by a ladder. Eli had a single sofa bed. For privacy, I could pull a curtain between the 2 sleeping areas.

One night, all 3 of us snuggled on my queen bed to watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I felt nostalgic. I’d watched the movie with Eli when he was George’s age and was delighted to share the experience again with my grandson.

We shared many other experiences, both real and virtual. The ship’s giant outdoor movie screen, 2 movie theaters, and Broadway-style musicals made it easy. George and I passed on trying the ship’s waterslide but enjoyed watching Eli scream his way down.

A pair of riders in an inflatable raft on the AquaMouse

Photo by Amy Smith

I screamed, too, as I rafted down the AquaMouse, an impressive 760-foot-long log flume with some 65 squirting jets, Mickey and Minnie animation, and a track that winds around an upper deck and ends with a big, wet drop.

Most joyful for me, however, was an analog moment: seeing George swimming in the ocean for the first time at Castaway Cay, Disney’s dreamy white-sand island. At first, he timidly waded into the clear, warm, turquoise water. But when he spied other kids with floats, he asked Eli to grab him one too, and he immediately jumped in. I felt buoyed by the sight.

Castaway Cay

Photo by Matt Stroshane

As we departed Castaway Cay, “When You Wish Upon a Star” blared from the ship’s horn and I couldn’t help but smile. Seeing George enjoy new adventures made me smile. Watching my adult son play like a kid made me smile.

By the end of our cruise, my cheeks hurt.

Fran Golden and her family sailed aboard the Disney Wish from Florida to the Bahamas on a 3-night preview cruise for invited guests, prior to the ship’s official launch last July.

Disney Wish cruise ship details

Home port: Port Canaveral, Florida

Maiden voyage: July 14, 2022

Tonnage: About 144,000 gross tons

Length: 1,119 feet

Beam: 128 feet

Draft: 27.2 feet

Height: 221 feet

Fuel: Liquefied natural gas

Crew: 1,555

Passenger capacity: 4,000

Staterooms: 1,254 (including 53 concierge staterooms and 23 concierge suites)

Disney Wish cruise ship

Embark on a Disney Wish cruise

Disney cruises depart from 8 U.S. ports, as well as ports around the world. Disney Wish cruise ship prices start at about $1,900 for a 3-night cruise for 2 passengers, based on double occupancy. Your AAA travel advisor can provide trip-planning information.

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