Ship sail

The new Disney Wish ship finally made me a cruiser

It’s a story as old as time: $5,000 cocktails, A5 Japanese Wagyu and Captain Minnie at the helm. I’ve been on a dozen cruises in my life, the most recent being last spring, but I have to admit I’ve never been wowed. The quantity was there — hello, midnight buffet! – but the quality was not. At the end of those previous trips, I couldn’t wait to get off.

As an avid Disney theme park fan with over 500 visits to national parks, I’ve always liked to keep my fandom firmly grounded on solid ground. Last week, everything changed. The company launched the Disney Wish, Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship.

The fifth in the Disney line, the 4,000-passenger Wish was built in Germany and marks a new trajectory for the cruise line as it moves from a family-friendly to a more upscale vibe. . It’s a welcome change for this “Disney adult” who rarely travels with children. With the change comes a hefty price – four-night voyages start at $2,251 for two guests in an inside cabin and go up for ocean views and balconies.

I was invited to the christening while sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida to Disney’s private island Castaway Cay. It was a chance to rub shoulders on a three-night cruise with fellow travel writers and some familiar Disney faces, like Disney Parks President Josh D’Amaro and Disney superfan John Stamos. To my surprise, I ended the trip wanting more. I left completely transformed (and not just because I got to talk to Uncle Jesse). Am I now a cruise person?

Stepping inside, I was immediately struck by the luxurious feel of the ship, which was downright stylish while being clean and modern. It wasn’t just “cruise-friendly” – it was a 4-star resort, and a far cry from the drab wooden design elements I’ve seen on other ships. Most of the time I forgot I was on a cruise. The overall vibe gives Disney’s upscale hotel properties, like Disney World’s Grand Floridian or Disneyland’s Grand Californian, a run for their money.

Disney Wish mixes many different intellectual properties: the areas are themed on everything from “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast” to a “Star Wars” bar, a Marvel dinner theater and a “Frozen” restaurant. While it all sounded very “Disney”, it never once showed on my face. The Disney was in the details, with beloved elements from the movies tastefully woven into the ship’s themed design. This new design philosophy was most clearly expressed in the Great Hall, the elegant centerpiece of the ship, with its atrium inspired by fairytale castles and Gothic architecture.

The Great Hall atrium aboard the Disney Wish.

Carly Caramanna

The best food on the Disney Wish was frozen…sort of

From the quick-service restaurant by the pool and at Marceline Market, to the adults-only restaurant of a Michelin-starred chef, the Disney Wish has stepped up the culinary game for the 26-year-old cruise line. Everything from a Donald Duck canteen with over 20 homemade salsas to a perfectly executed rack of lamb inspired by Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1923, every bite on board blew me away.

There are seven sit-down restaurants on board, as well as snack bars. One of the hottest onboard dining experiences, Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure, turned out to be my favorite of the two dinner shows. The two-hour “Frozen” experience encapsulated the Disney magic I crave from start to finish, seamlessly combining Nordic-inspired gourmet meals with immersive storytelling and interactive designs. My Chilean sea bass entree will forever go down as one of my all-time favorite Disney dishes.

Dinner at World of Marvel, a superhero-themed dinner show.

Dinner at World of Marvel, a superhero-themed dinner show.

Carly Caramanna

In short, for this lover of live music and good food, it was the dinner show of my dreams. I found myself singing “Let It Go” the next night at the other dinner show, Worlds of Marvel. It’s a more low-key approach to dinner theater, but still offers decadent, globally-inspired dishes in a transportable setting. (There are even food options from the Marvel Invented Lands of Wakanda and Sokovia.)

The Bayou, a "princess and the frog" lounge aboard the Disney Wish.

The Bayou, a “Princess and the Frog” lounge aboard the Disney Wish.

Carly Caramanna

Cocktails fit for a princess, pirate or rebel spy

The Great Hall houses a statue of Cinderella.

The Great Hall houses a statue of Cinderella.

Carly Caramanna

The onboard cocktail lounges were the most surprising feature of the Wish. Each had a carefully curated cocktail program that reflected the space theme, and overall the cocktails never exceeded $15. (There are currently no drink packages offered on the Wish.) The Bayou was an enchanting upscale take on “The Princess and the Frog” with New Orleans-inspired cocktails like a Sazerac and a legitimate Hurricane.

One of the most impressive demonstrations of mixology perfection took place at Hook’s Barbery, which is both a lounge and a speakeasy. Created around the feared “Peter Pan” character, the bar serves an extensive collection of whiskey and a single cocktail, an old-fashioned smoked, fully customizable with their selection of syrups and bitters. They even carry a very rare 100-year-old Mount Vernon Pure Rye whiskey that D’Amaro sipped on board.

Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge is even better than Disneyland's Oga's Cantina.

Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge is even better than Disneyland’s Oga’s Cantina.

Carly Caramanna

The biggest surprise, however, was the Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, which I liked infinitely better than Oga’s Cantina at Disneyland. Drinks at Oga are pre-dosed sugar bombs, which is if you can even step inside to sip them. On the Disney Wish, Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge packs all the whimsy and excitement of a visit to an outdoor canteen with an added level of detail and, most importantly: some damn good cocktails. There have been lots of chatter over the $5,000 cocktail – it’s made with Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old bourbon and comes with a separate trip to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin – but I opted for their Freetown Reserve made with Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon.

View of the author's cabin aboard the Disney Wish.

View of the author’s cabin aboard the Disney Wish.

Carly Caramanna

This ship was designed for the Disney adult with an affinity for luxury

Disney always includes Easter eggs in its projects, and the wish was no different. My favorites were nods to Epcot’s sorely missed Maelstrom attraction, found in the rustic 1800s-style Keg & Compass pub, including a stout named after the defunct ride.

Beyond that, I felt completely comfortable traveling on the Wish without children, as much of the ship was designed for adults. From high-end spas and an infinity pool to plenty of adult-only areas, I felt like a kid in a candy store going from experience to experience. “Beauty & The Beast” themes were among the trio of adults-only spaces: the Rose Lounge, Palo Steakhouse and Enchante, a French restaurant run by three-star chef Arnaud Lallement.

Nightingale’s upscale, “Cinderella”-inspired piano bar offered intimate views of the nighttime piano act and some of the most interesting cocktails – like one with liquid trapped in a scoop of ice cream prepared before your eyes, before you are instructed to split said ball open with a small hammer. That’s the magic of Disney.

Among the Nightingales, a "Cinderella"-themed lounge, the bartenders make a sphere of ice in front of you, which you then open to reveal your cocktail.

At Nightingale’s, a “Cinderella”-themed lounge, bartenders craft a sphere of ice in front of you, which you then open to reveal your cocktail.

Carly Caramanna