“Mum, look! It’s Tinker Bell!” My three-year-old’s hands shoot to either side of her face as she looks at me, wide-eyed and grinning madly, while the theatre show unfolds in front of us. It’s the third Broadway-style production we’ve been treated to since boarding the Disney Wonder cruise ship, and Ella’s first real taste of the theatre. Tonight’s show is already a hit. Even though the house lights dimmed five minutes ago, she is squealing and pointing towards the stage as Tinker Bell, in twinkling lights across the set, flies from one side of the stage to the other.
She’s not the only one swept up in the magic. All around us come oohs and aahs as we’re transported into enchanting worlds from beloved Disney films – under the sea with Ariel, into the ballroom with Beauty and the Beast, even onto the streets of Agrabah with Aladdin.
We’re on a four-night Disney Magic at Sea cruise, taking us from Sydney to Hobart and back again. It’s the first time Disney Cruise Line has ventured into Australian waters, allowing Aussies the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Disney without having to travel overseas. It was certainly a novelty to board a train to the city and jump aboard the Wonder for a Disney fix, complete with the ship’s horn sounding the first seven notes of When You Wish Upon a Star as we pulled away from the dock.
I’m travelling with my husband, Gavin, and our daughters – Ella and seven-year-old Millie – on the inaugural sailing of “the Mickey boat”, as Ella has christened the ship. We’re far from the biggest Disney fans onboard. Florida-based Bill and Peggy tell me they’re on their 122nd Disney cruise, estimating they’ve spent more than two years sailing. “We don’t have cruise control – they just seem to book themselves,” Bill says with a chuckle. Even after so many cruises, the family atmosphere and seeing children so excited is what keeps them returning. I come to find that watching the girls’ jaws drop time and time again becomes a highlight for me as well.
You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Ella spots Pluto first, waving enthusiastically as he approaches. He crouches to her level as she falls into his paws for a huge hug. Their special moment is all she can talk about for days.
At the Royal Gathering we have our photo taken with the little mermaid, Princess Ariel, who enquires as to what the girls have been doing on their legs. Millie’s eyes light up – even the smallest details add to the magic. It quickly becomes evident that the character meet and greets are the girls’ favourite onboard experience.
A close second are the activities. At breakfast on our second morning, Millie’s requests to go to the kids’ club almost outnumber the number of Mickey-shaped waffles on offer at the buffet. Soon we’re dropping her off at the Oceaneer Lab, one of five youth-only spaces, to make slime with her new friends.
Afterwards, we all make Encanto-inspired craft and take part in movie trivia, while Millie hits the dancefloor. There’s no shortage of activities we can all enjoy.
A Whole New World
Even with so much to do, Gavin and I manage to find moments to enjoy some downtime. With the girls having the time of their life at the Oceaneers Club, we slip away to the French Quarter Lounge. It’s styled like a vibrant New Orleans street and the smell of deep-fried, sugary beignets fills the air. We eagerly order a plate with our coffees.
Later I enjoy a solo brunch at Palo, the Wonder’s adult-exclusive restaurant. While eating wild mushroom ravioli swimming in the most delicious nut-brown butter, I almost forget I’m on Ella’s Mickey boat. The vibe is equally relaxing as I wander past the kid-free Quiet Cove pool. Unfortunately, I don’t get to enjoy the tranquil waters but it’s a sacrifice worth making to head back to the family and watch Millie take another ride down the Twist ‘n’ Spout water slide.
Be Our Guest
The restaurants onboard have been sprinkled with their own pixie dust. At Triton’s we‘re offered fine dining with a French flair, while Animator’s Palate features entertainment where we get to show off our creativity. Halfway through our meal at Tiana’s Place, inspired by The Princess and the Frog, we find ourselves in the middle of a Mardi Gras-style street parade, the Crawfish Crooners providing the toe-tapping soundtrack to the festivities.
Just like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, our dining servers, Abadi and Lemuel, ensure each meal is memorable. The pair go out of their way to ask Millie about her day, cut up Ella’s dinner, as well as entertain with magic tricks. During pirate night, Lemuel whisks the girls from their seats to join a conga line.
A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes
As Millie and I watch fireworks light up the sky on our last night, I feel pangs of disappointment as the reality of disembarking begins to hit. Millie doesn’t want to step off the ship either. So, remembering the ship’s horn, I tell her to wish upon a star. Another Disney cruise might be in the future – dreams really do come true, especially on the Mickey boat!
Disney Magic at Sea is touring Australia and New Zealand in a brand new season from October 2024 to February 2025. Find more information here.
The writer travelled as a guest of Disney Cruise Line.