A Wonderful Accessible Alaskan Cruise with a Few Shortcomings
In early August 2022 we bordered the Disney Wonder for an 8 day Alaskan cruise departing Vancouver BC. The ship is smaller than many cruise ships but perfect for the Alaska inside passage.
The 5 adults in our group had a wonderful cruise but our 4 grandchildren ages 3-8 had an especially wonderful time. All their favorite Disney characters were frequently available for pictures, and many were available for a personal chat. Our grandkids’ collective smiles, thrills and enjoyment were special and the whole reasons for the cruise. And Disney was terrific in providing a safe, secure environment for children including multiple kid activities and play areas. Parents can sign up for on-board activities, or even shore excursions, and leave the children behind if they chose. Disney gets a magical A+ for providing the complete Disney experience.
I stayed in wheelchair designated stateroom 7138. While the room was reasonably spacious and quite accessible, the bed is more accessible on one side than the other. As you can see in the picture, when transferring to the right, the couch is too close to the bed making positioning onto the bed difficult. There is however a full 36 inches of clearance on the balcony side of the bed (left transfer). Bed height was good at about 27 inches. I believe there was room for a Hoyer Lift if necessary. A great feature is the stateroom door which had an automatic open and close mechanism. Loved this!
The bathroom, toilet and shower area are good sized and totally accessible. There is a nice roll-in shower but no lip, so water runs into other bathroom areas. There are reachable shower controls. The sink is accessible and at the perfect height. Unfortunately, they built the ship with no electrical outlets in our bathroom – they are located only in the bedroom area. Our stateroom had a large, very nice accessible balcony with a small table, 4 chairs and 2 lounges. There was a ½ – 1 inch balcony lip which I found easily manageable and better than most other cruise ships.
The Disney Wonder ship itself had a few shortcomings: Connecting to the Internet was all but impossible. I’ve had limitations on other cruise ships, but this was awful. Disney also substituted its Disney App for ship WiFi texting rather than “normal” texting. Rather than a real time response, the Disney App communication was often delayed several minutes.
Although there were many elevators, all of which were quite fast, they were narrower and smaller than most commercial elevators. Power wheelchairs will fit just fine, but Disney could have installed more spacious elevators.
In common ship areas, accessible restrooms were available on certain floors but not throughout the ship or on all floors. They provide a map, but I generally went back to the stateroom when needed. Getting on and off the ships at various ports was totally accessible, but like all cruise ships the ramps are often steep – the crew helped but staffing shortage made waits a bit longer. And like all other cruise ships, Disney takes no responsibility for excursions or the accessibility of excursions. Disney must try harder on its excursions. And thankfully no ship tenders were needed on this cruise – just docking at various ports.
Excursion Advice: Our group was not able to book an excursion until a couple weeks prior to departure. Many excursions were fully booked within hours. It appeared to me that Disney must have a “premium” or special reward passenger program whereby the preferred passengers can book excursion before regular passengers. We were not made aware of this, but it doesn’t seem right that some passengers receive the ability to book the best excursions early while other passengers get leftovers. Disney also cancelled many already booked excursions just prior to departure and also during the cruise. Maybe this too was a pandemic staffing issue, but it was frustrating.
Disney Wonder Restaurants: There are three restaurants that you will rotate through – Tiana’s Place, Animators Palate and Tritons. All are totally wheelchair accessible although not all have accessible restrooms nearby or even on the same deck level. Our food was very good, not fabulous, but service was superb. Animators Palate is an experience by itself and should not be missed. Animators Palate is a wonderful experience beyond any other restaurant I’ve ever visited. Very creative!
The cafeteria / buffet restaurant was quite crowded and tables very close together. It’s marginally accessible so I tried to avoid this.
Disney Call Center: Maybe we got caught in the staffing shortage period at the tail end of the pandemic, but it was basically impossible to get a Disney cruise representative to answer the phone. Two or three hour wait times, and often they suggested calling back later. I couldn’t get them on the phone to discuss accessibility or excursions – or anything else. I tried multiple times but not once was I able to speak with a live person.
Price/ Value: Make no mistake this Disney cruise is 2x-3x more expensive than many cruises such as a Princess. I grant that no other cruise line provides the magical Disney experience for children – and Disney delivers on the magical experience – but it’s an expensive cruise.
Covid Protocols: Getting into Canada and onto the cruise ship was intensely painful. Simply dreadful! All passengers had to show proof of vaccination, but the communication to passengers prior to boarding was very confusing and stressful. They sent multiple emails which no one in our party could understand – but the emails stated no one would be allowed to board the ship without following the rules. And young children also had to be tested the same day as boarding. While we really enjoy the cruise industry, I won’t plan another cruise until these protocols are improved. Cruises are supposed to be relaxing not horribly stressful. But once we finally boarded the ship, Disney did a wonderful job.
Overall: On the WJAR Index, the Disney Wonder gets a 3 – a wonderful accessible cruise, especially for its designed audience of children, but stateroom design (couch in bad location), small elevators, accessible restroom limitations in common areas and no accountability for accessible excursions or live staff to answer questions need to be fixed.