Five years ago, I had never even been on a cruise ship in my life so waking up on this day knowing that I was going to board my fourth Disney Cruise that morning was an amazing feeling. We were going to be sailing on a Very Merrytime Cruise aboard the beautiful Disney Wonder from Galveston in Texas to the Western Caribbean ports of Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Falmouth as well as having three days at sea. The Disney Wonder was the very first ship we ever sailed on back in 2013 when we cruised to Alaska and I could not wait to get back onboard. This was also our first time departing from Galveston having sailed from Vancouver, Barcelona and Port Canaveral on our previous cruises – I’m still quite proud of the fact that in four cruises, we have only repeated one port which was Castaway Cay.
We had both been so tired the previous night when we arrived in Galveston after our road trip from Atlanta, that we had both fallen asleep with the lights on in the room! After waking up in the middle of the night to turn them off, I thankfully fell back asleep again quickly before waking up again at 5:30am – by now I just do not think there is any way I am ever going to be able to sleep in on the day I board a cruise! The first thing I did once I was awake was look at the Marine Traffic app on my iPhone as well as the Galveston Cruise Webcam to see where the Disney Wonder was and I let out a huge sigh of relief when I saw that she was just starting to dock in Galveston. Fog is a huge problem in Galveston during the winter months of the year and I had read so many horror stories of the ships being unable to dock and the start of cruises being delayed so I was happy that there was no fog in sight that morning to ruin the start of our cruise – it immediately felt like a huge weight had instantly been lifted from my shoulders.
As we were eating breakfast in our room, I opened the curtains to be greeted with a beautiful sunrise and again felt very grateful that it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day outside once again. Even after having a shower and packing the last of my things, I still felt so unprepared for this cruise – it was a feeling I had been having for weeks. The only thing I could put it down to was that for once, unlike our previous three cruises, we really did not even need to think about the next week at all – we already knew our way around the ship, we were going to have chilled port days and we even had the same stateroom as our last cruises on the Wonder and the Disney Magic so there was absolutely nothing we had to think about. In a way it was actually a nice feeling to have!
Before leaving the hotel, we attached our luggage labels to our suitcases and once again wondered why our bags were so heavy. We each had a large suitcase as well as hand baggage and we both felt like we had completely overpacked once again. I already knew I could have packed much lighter and once again made a mental note of what I definitely do not need to bring with me next time.
We left our hotel room at the Homewood Suites at 10:20am and Google Maps was showing a six minute drive to the Port of Galveston. As we reached the port, we actually missed the entrance from the main road into the cruise terminal (it was such a tiny sign at 22nd Street on Harborside Drive and very easy to miss especially as it was still quite a way to Cruise Terminal 2 where the Disney Wonder was docked) so we had to drive a little further on past the Disney Wonder before we could do a u-turn and drive back. We had plenty of time so it did not matter one little bit and in fact, it was a great mistake to make as it meant I could take more photos of the ship as we drove past.
Once inside the port area, we followed the signs for Terminal 2 where we dropped our luggage off with one of the waiting porters. After tipping him, we followed the signs for Parking Lot A which is one of the official Port of Galveston parking lots. We had pre paid our parking online in advance which had cost $65 for seven nights so all we had to do was to show our confirmation email that we had printed out to access the car park. After being directed into a space, we collected the rest of our belongings from the car and waited two minutes for the next shuttle bus back to the terminal – the buses pick up from the area where the cars are parking at the time so there are no long walks involved. Less than a minute later (and less than ten minutes after we had dropped our luggage off), we were back outside the terminal building.
It was 10:45am and even though we had the earliest Port Arrival Time of 11:00am, the terminal was already open and there was no line to go inside. Our travel documents were checked before we were directed towards security. I had two bottles of Rosa Regale sparkling wine with me that I knew would be flagged up when my bag was x-rayed. They told me to take my bag over to another desk to have the bottles inspected but what was strange was that there was no one there making sure that you took your bottles there – there was nothing to stop you walking straight on towards the check in desks.
The man from the Port of Galveston inspecting my two bottles seemed thoroughly confused at the sight of my Rosa Regale and was thinking it was a spirit even though the words “Sparkling Red” are printed on the bottle. Thankfully another man standing there pointed out the word “wine” on the bottle and gave them back to me. We fell in love with this wine on our Transatlantic Cruise on the Disney Magic so when we saw it for sale in Publix, we knew we had to get some for this cruise. Plus it was only $17 a bottle in Publix, whereas it’s $49 a bottle onboard the ship which is a big difference in price.
The check in area was incredibly quiet and we only had to wait a few minutes in the line for Castaway Club members before we got to the desk. For the first time ever my US visa in my passport did not cause any confusion but one tip I can give all non-US citizens going on a cruise is to know where your immigration stamp is in your passport from that visit as they need to put the date from it into the computer when you check in. We were given our Key to the World cards, our first Personal Navigator of the cruise as well as our silver Castaway Club lanyards which were thrown immediately into our bags as we have no desire to ever wear or use them. We were also given Boarding Group 3 which is why we love the early port arrival times as it means you can board the ship so much quicker.
After checking in, we took the escalator upstairs where there was a large seating area to wait until boarding started. It was still reasonably quiet but it did get much busier nearer boarding time but there were still plenty of chairs available. There was however a long line to meet Captain Mickey which we joined. One of the character handlers let us know that we would be meeting Goofy as he would be swapping over with Mickey before we got to the front of the line. It was not a problem at all but sadly my photo of Goofy came out blurred but it did not matter as I knew we’d be seeing him plenty of times over the next week.
One of my favourite past times whilst travelling is people watching and this cruise did not disappoint. Looking around the terminal was definitely a feast for the eyes as it looked like the Etsy website had thrown up over everyone waiting. I have never seen so many matching or personalised t-shirts in my life – entire groups were wearing them everywhere you looked. Two things for sure though was that Etsy sellers would be able to live off the money they made from this cruise alone for the next year and there was definitely too much Waltograph font on everything. I also noticed that people were carrying so many bags on with them in addition to the ones they had checked in (I have never seen that many bags on my other cruises) and there was me still thinking that we had overpacked!
Everytime there was an announcement in the terminal it was painful to listen to as the The When You Wish Upon a Star chime was screwed up and it sounded awful and distorted. Boarding started at 11:45am with the Family of the Cruise followed by Group 1 a few minutes later. Group 3 was called at 11:52am and after skipping the embarkation photo, we tapped our Key to the World cards for the first time before making our way towards the ship.
After a short wait on the gangway (which I used to take photos of the ship), we boarded the Disney Wonder just before Midday and it felt amazing to be back onboard. The lobby atrium seemed so small after our last cruise on the Disney Dream yet it felt instantly familiar and comfortable even after it’s reimagination in 2016. The new colours of the lobby were beautiful and the chandelier was incredible and even though they were not lit up yet, the Christmas decorations were perfect.
The wonderful feeling of familiarity continued as we walked towards the much quieter aft elevators to head up to Cabanas for lunch. We used the new hand washing stations before grabbing a table outside in the shade. As soon as I walked inside, I and the crew member I first saw both did a double take – it was Geffrey who had been our Head Server on our first cruise on the Disney Wonder to Alaska back in June 2013. After catching up with him and finding out that he would be our head server again on this cruise, I got my usual boarding day food of Mac and Cheese and lots of shrimp!
After lunch, our first job was to make our way down to the Promenade Lounge to see if our dining request had been honoured. Once again we requested to have our own table for dinner as sitting with strangers is our personal idea of hell. We want to spend our time on holiday together and not have to make pointless conversation with others. Thankfully our request was honoured which it always has been and our dining room and menu rotation for this cruise was:
Friday – Animator’s Palate – Standard Rotational Menu
Saturday – Tiana’s Place – Standard Rotational Menu (Formal Night)
Sunday – Triton’s – Standard Rotational Menu
Monday – Animator’s Palate – Animation Magic
Tuesday – Animator’s Palate – Pirates IN the Caribbean
Wednesday – Tiana’s Place – Mardi Gras (Semi Formal Night)
Thursday – Triton’s – Captain’s Gala
Our next job was to pick up some extra Personal Navigators as I always bring some home with me as a souvenir before we headed to the shops to find out what time they were due to open after sailaway later that afternoon – through the window I could already spot the few items that I knew I wanted to buy.
We took the elevator back to Deck 9 to get a cold drink before we walked around and explored the open decks. Given that it was the 1st December, we really could not believe how perfect the weather was and how blue the skies were – it was so hot that I was walking around in a vest top as I definitely did not need the jacket I had with me! Everywhere including the pools also seemed so quiet at this time which is definitely not the norm on embarkation day.
We also took lots of photos of Galveston from the ship. Whilst not the prettiest port, it is definitely one of the easiest, friendliest and most efficient ports we have departed from – some people tend to throw the “but it’s not magical” line out way too quickly!
At 1:30pm we made our way down to Deck 7 as our stateroom was ready. We could have walked there with our eyes closed as we were staying in 7624 which was the same room that we had booked on our previous cruises on the Disney Wonder and the Disney Magic. It was so familiar and it to use that phrase, it really felt like “being at home”.
Our Castaway Club welcome back gift was waiting on the bed for us which was a backpack along with a note telling us that our $200 onboard credit from booking this cruise on our previous cruise had been added to our onboard account. The only thing missing was the red pillow from the bed that turns around to read “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” as they got rid of these from all the ships a few months beforehand – it really felt like something was missing as the bed looked bare without it. I was also really happy that the blanket on the bed was red on our previous cruises it had been blue or yellow.
At 2:15pm our bags arrived outside our stateroom so we unpacked these as well as our hand baggage. Despite our suitcases being huge, they both still fitted underneath the bed with plenty of room to spare leaving a lot of empty room in the wardrobe. We also met Murti who was our amazing stateroom host for the week and one of the happiest and smiliest people you could ever wish to have looking after you.
As we still had another hour before muster drill, we decided to go to the Cove Cafe and watch the world go by with a nice coffee and one of their delicious vanilla cupcakes that I became addicted to on our previous cruises. There seemed to be a lot more seating outside in Quiet Cove on the Wonder than on the Magic and it was very peaceful – we even watched as a family with noisy children was asked to leave the area.
We made our way back to our stateroom to collect our camera bags ready for sailaway before making our way to our assembly station which was “S” in Animator’s Palate. There was hardly anyone there when we arrived so we were able to get a seat on one of the tables by the centre aisle so we could make a quick exit once it had finished. Very soon it became apparent how full the ship was this cruise as there were so many more families travelling than we had ever seen before and the restaurant was packed.
The muster drill was supposed to start at 4:00pm but it eventually started twenty minutes later at 4:20pm once everyone turned up. Waiting that long was painful as it was crowded and noisy and then there was a really bad smell in the air as one of the children sat on the same table as us had an accident. I was so happy when it was finally over and I ran as quickly as I could out of there and straight up the stairs to Deck 10 to grab a good spot to watch Adventures Away. Lots more people were using the stairs than normal but it got quiet very quickly as everyone was going back to their rooms first before heading outside.
Thankfully I was the first person to reach Deck 10 so we had our pick of anywhere we wanted to stand to watch Adventures Away. As always, the party started with the cruise staff dancing and warming up the crowd and I was grateful that it was not the same annoying shouty Club Host that we had on our Transatlantic cruise two years ago.
The ship had already started moving when our Cruise Director Ashley appeared on stage and before we knew it Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Chip, Dale and Goofy arrived to start the countdown and the “When You Wish Upon a Star” horn sounded to signal the start of our long-awaited cruise.
After the characters left the stage, the party continued with more dancing from the cruise staff and we made our way towards the back of the ship to watch sailaway from Galveston. The pilot boat was sailing close to us as we were leaving the port and once again we had dolphins swimming alongside the ship.
It truly was such a beautiful evening and the sunset over Galveston was incredible. We stood at the back of Deck 10 for about thirty minutes just watching the colours of the sky change as we sailed further away from Texas. We were both feeling a little hungry so as we still had another three hours to go before dinner, we grabbed a slice of pizza each from Pinocchio’s Pizza on Deck 9.
We headed back to our stateroom to put all the camera batteries we had used during sailaway onto charge ready for the evening ahead. Once we had done this, we made our way to Mickey’s Mainsail and White Caps on Deck 4 to get all the bits of shopping I had wanted to get. The shops were still very quiet at this time and I got everything I wanted including some Christmas decorations and Very Merrytime merchandise.
We walked to the lobby atrium to take some photos of the Christmas tree and decorations before the lighting ceremony whilst it was still quiet. Pluto only had a short line and Chip and Dale were running around and appearing everywhere you looked! The lobby was empty as everyone at this point was either having dinner or seeing the show in the Walt Disney Theatre. The show on this night was the “Be Our Guest: Welcome Aboard Show” which we did not see the show as it did not interest us at all – we only went to the theatre on two nights of the entire cruise.
After dropping off our shopping back in the room, we made ourselves a cup of tea on Deck 9 and headed back to the lobby atrium to grab a spot ready for Mickey’s Tree Lighting Magic at 7:30pm. This was one of things that I was so looking forward to seeing on the cruise that I did not mind getting there a little early to make sure I had a good view. I would much rather that then turn up late and not be able to see anything. We even got a preview of the tree lit up for a few seconds as they quickly tested the lights before the crowds arrived.
Once the show in the theatre finished, it did get very busy especially when people who had first dining arrived as well after finishing their dinner. There were a lot of photos being taken in the lobby at this time including some in front of a backdrop of the Alamo – yup we were definitely on a cruise from Texas!
At 7:30pm our Assistant Cruise Director Anthony appeared and introduced several members of the crew who spoke about Christmas traditions in their home countries. Minnie and Mickey in their finest Christmas costumes arrived along with Santa Goofy to start the show. They sang Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer when Reindeer Pluto joined them on stage. A family was picked to help with the ceremony before everyone had to sing Oh Christmas Tree which is Minnie’s favourite song – Pluto barking along to the song was making me laugh so much. Mickey started a countdown and before we knew it, the beautiful Christmas tree was all lit up – it really was a magical moment and definitely one of the highlights of the whole cruise. Minnie, Mickey, Goofy and Pluto then finished the show by singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas. What a perfect first evening onboard the Disney Wonder!
Once the show had finished, we still had a little time to go before dinner at 8:15pm so we walked outside on Deck 4. It was a beautiful evening out and we ended up walking another lap of the deck when we saw that there was a long line waiting for the dining room doors to open.
Our first dining room of the cruise was Animator’s Palate and our table was right next to the one that we had on our Transatlantic cruise so we had a perfect view of the screens on the walls. We were introduced to our amazing serving team who would be looking after us for the next seven nights – Harry was our Server, Fitzroy our Assistant Server and Geffrey who we had already met earlier in the day was our Head Server. Once again we could not have asked for anyone better as all three of them were incredible throughout our cruise.
For my first dinner onboard I had the Butternut Squash Soup followed by a big portion of the Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes which is one of my favourite dishes onboard. I had already thought about asking for a bigger portion of it beforehand but both Harry and Geffrey told me that lots of people ask for that as it is such a popular dish and it definitely was as good as I remembered. I will definitely be asking for it again on our next cruise (yes we do have another one already booked!) I did not have dessert as I was so full.
The first night in Animator’s Palate is the Drawn to Magic show where whilst you are eating, the screens around you show various characters being drawn and animated. After the final character on your screen near you is coloured in, all the characters on the screens come to life as a montage of Disney animation plays. Sorcerer Mickey appears in the restaurant as it turns from black and white into colour. I am still not bored of this dining room experience and I prefer it so much more to the Turtle Talk with Crush show on Animator’s Palate on the Disney Dream.
After dinner, we did another lap of Deck 4 as well as making our way up to Deck 10 to walk several laps up there as well with an ice cream in hand. It was only 10:00pm and it was so quiet that it made you wonder where everyone was. In the distance we could even see oil rigs out at sea.
We both got a cup of tea as well as a cold drink to take back to our room with us. Waiting on our bed was our first towel animal of the cruise which was a penguin as well as the Personal Navigator for the next day along with some Ghiradelli chocolates. There was also a card to remind us to set our clocks an hour forward – we looked at the clock in the room and Murti had already changed it so that was one less thing we had to do.
I was going to have a shower but after a long week on the road and a stressful few days before that, my body felt like it was finally relaxing knowing that I was on the ship and that our cruise was finally underway and I was feeling incredibly tired. I got ready for bed and sat and read the Personal Navigator for the next day. It was a lovely feeling that we had nowhere to go and there was absolutely nothing that we wanted to do so we could have a lazy day which we both desperately needed.
And with that thought in mind, I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow!