The Disney Wish is going to garner strong opinions from passionate cruisers and first-timers. The newest addition to DCL’s fleet will likely be your favorite or least favorite ship, with only a little middle ground in between reactions. In this post, we’ll offer our big picture first impressions of the new offering.
Dubbed the “castle on the sea,” the Disney Wish heavily emphasizes some of the company’s MVP IPs. Star Wars, Marvel, Frozen, and more all have strong presences aboard the ship. Just about everything is tied to characters in some fashion, with the Wish feeling very much in line with some of Disney’s other recent additions in its theme parks.
In fact, I found myself noticing similarities to Shanghai Disneyland throughout the Disney Wish. That might seem like an odd comparison given that one is a theme park and the other a cruise ship, but the case could be made that the Wish has more in common with Disney’s newest castle park than the rest of its fleet. Well, once you get past the fact that one was built on solid ground and the other is a big boat (sorry Sarah, big ship) sailing the seas.
Before we get to that, a quick housekeeping note to set the stage for the commentary to come. We had the chance to spend 3-nights aboard the Disney Wish for its Christening Cruise. During this, we experienced a lot of what the new ship has to offer, but not everything. The itinerary wasn’t normal because this was a modified media cruise offering the opportunity to see and hear behind the scenes info about the ship’s creation. More notably, certain entertainment and other aspects of the ship were not ready or otherwise offered.
It’s honesty difficult to tell where the deliberate tweaks ended and the delays began. For those and other reasons, this is not a full review. Everything could be polished and perfect by the maiden voyage—or it might take weeks before the ship is ready for prime time. We also bought our own cruise aboard the Disney Wish way back last summer when bookings opened and will review that as paying guests since it’ll better reflect the normal experience.
With that out of the way, let’s turn to some broad-strokes impressions of the Disney Wish. Much in the same way that Shanghai Disneyland largely eschewed the familiar castle park formula, so too does the Disney Wish opt for pretty significant twists on the DCL playbook.
Although the iconic exterior design of the Disney Wish matches that of its predecessors, much has changed on the inside. This starts with the layout, which I found a bit funky and downright counterintuitive at times. We never totally got our bearings on the Disney Wish, and know we’re not alone. Some of this could be attributed to a lack of familiarity with the Wish as compared to the other ships, but some odd choices were also made.
Beyond the layout, there are also major stylistic differences. The interior design no longer seems focused on evoking the glamour and beauty of the golden age of ocean liners. It largely opts against period-inspired Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles in favor of a variety of disparately-themed spaces.
Those varying themed spaces exist on the other ships, but the variety of styles is much more pronounced on the Disney Wish. To some degree, this impedes the flow of the ship.
To the extent that there is a unifying interior design motif, the style can probably best be described as glam. Many of the spaces–particularly those for adults that don’t overtly integrate intellectual property–utilize sumptuous materials, touchable textures, and glistening metallics to create an air of opulence and extravagance.
In most of these venues, this works really well. The adult specialty dining area features glam flourishes, and sprinkles in Beauty and the Beast characters and European stylization in a fashion that is surprisingly cohesive. This area is similar to Enchanted Rose Lounge at Grand Floridian, but miles better–more well-appointed, tasteful, and luxurious. Enchanté is the highlight, but this whole area is superb. As a whole, the speciality dining deck is an unequivocal upgrade on the other ships.
Same goes for the kids clubs, which offer huge improvements over the other ships and a ton of cool new things to do. Adults have long been envious of the fun, interactive experiences offered exclusively to children aboard Disney Cruise Line. To some extent, that has been directly remedied with new themed spaces for all ages.
However, the “problem” is that the kids clubs also got better and added awesome stuff…and now I want those things for adults. For all of the hype about Hyperspace Lounge, the coolest Star Wars space is far and away the Cargo Bay for kids. Also, is it really too much to ask for an Imagineering Blue Sky Bar where adults can imbibe and build/ride roller coaster simulations?! (Okay, perhaps that last part is a recipe for ‘protein spills.’)
In other cases, whether the changes are improvements is more subjective.
The modified atrium, for example, has become a better canvas for live entertainment, character appearances, and more. In simple terms, its design serves more practical purposes than aesthetic ones. In so doing, it has made compromises for the sake of functionality, and lost a degree of elegance and sophistication in the process.
This atrium and other parts of the ship also have the same style of Shanghai Disneyland. At times, that park feels like it’s shouting “OPULENCE!” while in actuality having a plastic-y or insubstantial feel. In other words, the substance doesn’t always adequately support the superficial style. (I apologize for the Shanghai Disneyland comparisons; I realize these are meaningless for the vast majority of readers, but some of Disney Wish’s parallels were uncanny and I found that interesting.)
Whether those changes to the atrium aboard the Disney Wish are “worth it” is really going to depend upon the guest. If you’re big on characters and cruise programming, they probably will be—the new approach opens a lot of doors as to what can be done there.
That’s really the story of the Disney Wish as a whole. In several ways, it feels like the guiding light behind this project was bringing as much of the contemporary Disney theme park experience as possible to a cruise ship.
Obviously, this is easiest to see in the aspects involving Star Wars, Marvel, and Frozen. It also applies to AquaMouse and other venues, as well as the prevalence of IP and degree of interactivity aboard the Disney Wish. There are elements here that reminds me of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Galactic Starcruiser, and Avengers Campus.
For the most part, those are favorable comparisons. There’s a lot that Imagineering and the creative entertainment teams behind the Disney Wish got really, really right. I want to focus on the big picture here—we’ll have separate posts to come about specifics.
In addition to the kids clubs, the dinner shows are fantastic and exemplars of themed design and/or storytelling. We loved all three, with some caveats about Worlds of Marvel.
Same goes for the food and beverage program as a whole.
The restaurants, fine dining, lounges, and even counter service are all the best of Disney Cruise Line. If your primary concerns are activities for kids, eating, or entertainment—there’s a strong chance the Disney Wish is going to be your favorite ship. It iterates upon or flat out reinvents all of that to great success.
It’s a similar story with the staterooms. These offer an array of little form and function improvements that, in aggregate, make them a lot nicer and more comfortable than their predecessors. (Sarah has more experience than me with Disney Cruise Line, and she gushed about the staterooms.)
Everything from the art to the lighting to the utilization of space is more thoughtful than the other four ships that came before. As with so much of the ship, it seems like DCL learned from what worked and didn’t in the past, and made incremental improvements on those bases.
Given its emphasis on intellectual property and characters, you might be concerned for the nightlife. The Disney Wish also improves upon most of the lounges and bars really well. The lounges are interesting and varied, with drink options that are thoughtfully-crafted (read: not colorful sugar water with a splash of alcohol).
The bigger concern from my perspective is the size and capacity of certain venues, in general. Even on this Christening Cruise with only a portion of staterooms filled, some of these areas were woefully undersized for demand. It’s hard to say how that will shake out with normal demographics (and full slate of cruise programming), but I foresee it being a problem.
I think this will actually work itself out over time. Some of the most high-profile venues were among my biggest disappointments, while ones that were barely featured in marketing ran circles around those.
I’d hazard a guess that DCL diehards will quickly learn this, and congregate in the “hidden gems” once they check off some of the one-and-done themed settings. Conversely, first timers will flock to the popular but underwhelming spaces.
With all of that in mind, let’s offer early assessments and recommendations about which demographics might want to book the Disney Wish, and who might want to wait–or book another ship.
The group we’d expect to least enjoy the Disney Wish is experienced cruisers who see DCL as a brand unto itself, and have come to appreciate the style and unique personality of the fleet. Disney Cruise Line diehards are the ones most likely to come in with a certain set of expectations, and like cruising for the distinct DCL atmosphere and experience.
I think there’s more than a mild possibility that these fans will be disappointed in the different direction the Disney Wish takes, and the way it does not comport with their expectations—and what made them fans in the first place.
This is really the first in DCL’s fleet to lean away from being a cruise ship or even strong nautical themes and motifs. It’s somewhat akin to a fan of the original Disneyland going to Shanghai Disneyland and seeing how much that deviated from the tried and true formula. Some may embrace the changes; others may feel it’s too substantial of a departure.
The Disney Wish is perfect for first-timers who are planning a once in a lifetime voyage and want something that is distinctly Disney, featuring the characters and movies their kids love. It delivers that exceptionally well, offering a slice of newer additions to the parks while at sea. It also iterates and improves upon some of the biggest shortcomings of the other ships, offering a better overall experience for most mainstream audiences.
As with the other ships, the experience is more laid back and relaxing than the theme parks, thus also making the Disney Wish a good alternative to those for first-timers who want an actual vacation rather than a trip. (There’s a huge distinction, and one people who haven’t done Walt Disney World may not realize exists.)
However, the Disney Wish is not the ship we’d recommend to cruise newbies who are potentially interested in experiencing the other ships–or longtime Walt Disney World fans wanting to take their first cruise. That comes down to the expectations this particular ship creates that the rest don’t really match.
This is hardly criticism of the Disney Wish, but rather, acknowledging that it’s a bit of an outlier. It’s one that’s better in many ways, delivering exactly what some fans will want and making it difficult to go back to the other ships. By contrast, the things that the other ships do better are a matter of preference, and less make or break.
It’s difficult to articulate, but the best example I can give is that it’s easier to go from the Port Orleans Resorts to Caribbean Beach than in the other direction. The atmosphere of the former is arguably better, but transportation at the latter is hard to give up. Similar idea here, but obviously very different specifics.
Ultimately, we both really enjoyed our first experience aboard the Disney Wish. While this offers critique and criticism, that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to reviewing (or “first impressioning”) something. From our perspective, there are many more hits than misses with the Disney Wish. It’s far from flawless, but most of our complaints are relatively minor and some could be attributable to familiarity with the first four ships, a lack of that with the Wish, and personal preferences.
In the end, the Disney Wish is the ship in DCL’s fleet that I’m most eager to revisit and also one that I think has a lot of promise. While the others are already in their mature form, the Wish is going to continue evolving in the months and years to come and—hopefully—improving. There’s a ton of potential and a lot to like already, and it’s only going to get better as the company figures out how to leverage some of its ‘blank canvas’ spaces.
With that said, I doubt the Disney Wish will go down as my favorite ship or the one we’ll sail most in the long-term once that “new ship smell” wears off. For one thing, it’s a lot more expensive than comparable itineraries on the other ships and I’m not sure it’s worth the premium pricing–especially on repeat sailings. For another, I really like the layout, style, design of the other ships (save for the specialty dining and staterooms). Then again, I also prefer many of Walt Disney World’s older resorts to the newer ones, so your mileage–or nautical knots–may vary.
What else would you like to know about the Disney Wish? Any specific spaces within the ship that interest you more than others? Does this have you more excited for the Disney Wish? Think this ship will appeal to you, or will you stick with the first four? Wishing you were under 12 so you could enjoy the Imagineering Lab–or hope the next ship has a Blue Sky Bar? Excited for the AquaMouse? Do you plan on booking a cruise aboard this ship, or are you awaiting more reviews and info from the actual guest sailings? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!