Welcome to New Orleans, Disney Cruise Line! {Tips From Our First Disney Cruise}

Disclosure :: Disney Cruise Line sponsored this post by providing my {very lucky} family a five-night cruise on the Disney Wonder. Who would turn down a complimentary vacation, are we right?! That said, all opinions expressed within this post are my own.

Welcome to New Orleans, Disney Cruise Line!

I imagine that most New Orleans families have heard the exciting news by now; Disney Cruise Line is offering a variety of cruises during the 2020 Mardi Gras season that will set sail directly from downtown New Orleans. While I would never complain about the opportunity to enjoy a cruise as part of the local media, let me be the first to tell you that if you’ve ever considered bringing your family on a Disney cruise, this is absolutely the time to do so because leaving from New Orleans will eliminate the added expense, headache and stress of getting your kids to a port in another city. We had an absolute ball sailing from San Diego, but I can only imagine how much easier it would have been to avoid the airport and additional hotel night with small kids altogether. This is the first time that Disney Cruise Line will have a port in Louisiana, so it is truly a unique opportunity to enjoy a magical vacation with added convenience.

Disney Wonder :: Fun Facts and Basics

The Disney Cruise Line fleet currently includes four total ships, with plans to add three more by 2023. My own family had the chance to enjoy five nights aboard the Disney Wonder, the same ship that will sail from New Orleans next year. While the Disney Wonder is one of the “older” ships in the Disney fleet (her maiden voyage took place in August 1999), the ship does not feel the least bit old or run down. I do not have any personal experience on Disney’s newer ships, but we found the Disney Wonder to be a beautiful “home on the sea” for family vacation. There are four restaurants that offer seated meals (primarily for dinner) and another four dining options that present more casual counter service / buffet style meals. Additionally, our kids got a kick out of the fact that room service is offered 24/7. The Disney Wonder also features a family pool, an interactive water play area and splash zone, a water slide, an adults only pool, an expansive youth areas for children of all ages, a movie theatre, a spa & salon, fitness center and multiple after hours lounges and bars. All areas of the Disney Wonder felt clean, updated and comfortable while we were on board. Since this was our first cruise as a family, I thought I’d share six elements that surprised us while sailing with Disney Cruise Line so that you can decide if spending Mardi Gras on board the Disney Wonder might be the right fit for your own New Orleans family.

The Disney Wonder State Rooms Have Storage!

I have to admit that one of my biggest apprehensions about cruising with kids was being “trapped,” so to speak, in a confined space. Even though we are out of diapers in our household (hallelujah), traveling with three kids still requires a LOT of stuff. I was genuinely worried that we’d have nowhere to put our belongings and would feel cramped, so imagine my surprise when some of our favorite cruise memories happened in state room 8506. Sailing out of Cabo with wine and cheese on our verandah while two of our kids played in the room was about as heavenly as family vacation gets.

While we were blown away by the caliber of shows on board each night, we were equally mesmerized by the friendliness and professionalism of our state room host. He ensured that the room was close to spotless twice a day, and the kids eagerly looked forward to his “towel animals” and chocolate gifts each evening. We purposely tried to pack efficiently since we were worried about space, but in all honesty we felt like we had more room on board the Disney Wonder than we did at the Grand Floridian over Mardi Gras earlier this year. While we wouldn’t recommend bringing more than you need, I think most families would be pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. The bed was extremely comfortable, and the kids loved enjoying the endless Disney movies in the room. The couch converts to a bunk bed at night (this is something the amazing Disney Cruise Line takes care of for you every day), and there was also a murphy bed that came down from the wall. Even though each of our three children had their own twin bed available, more often than not they preferred to snuggle together on the top bunk!

Pro tips :: you absolutely, 100% without a doubt should order an over the door shoe rack and metal hooks. This may be the best $20 we spent as it allowed us to easily store all of our toiletries given the lack of counter space. I would also strongly recommend that you bring a Yeti, reusable water bottle or other EMPTY beverage container of choice on board. We refilled these multiple times per day with water to have in the room. With the exception of the adults-only Palo restaurant and one optional dress up night, do not pack a lot of fancier clothes. Hanging space is a tad more limited and generally speaking we found the attire on board casual. We were glad to have a pop up hamper for our dirty clothes (we stuck this in the closet), and all 3 of our suitcases slid easily under the bed. Finally, I love shoes as much as the next woman, but you don’t need more than 2-3 pairs (I promise!) 

There’s as Much to Do Indoors as Outdoors on Disney Cruise Line

For whatever reason, I have always equated cruises with endless sunshine, pools and beaches. While we absolutely adored our time at the pool areas, we were pleasantly surprised that we were equally happy inside. During the days at sea especially, the pools have a tendency to get crowded, particularly between 10:00am and 2:00pm. In order to snag poolside chairs, we found we had to arrive pretty early in the morning and take advantage before the entire ship was awake. By mid-day we often felt the pools and water areas were too crowded for our family, so we generally opted to grab lunch on deck from Cabana’s and then head inside.

Inside the Disney Wonder, we were also able to keep ourselves thoroughly entertained. Of course there are the obvious character appearances throughout the day (all of which are clearly listed in the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, which you should absolutely download before you get on board), but there are also first release films, live music performances, Bingo, crafts, trivia and more. My advice here is similar to Disney World; let your kids lead you and leave the stress at home. We often had just as much fun aimlessly wandering the ship as when we tried to plan an itinerary and stick to a schedule. If the kids are having fun dancing in the atrium, so be it. You generally have nowhere else to be, and that’s one upside to being on a cruise. By the way, there’s essentially the equivalent of an open container policy on board so us New Orleanians feel right at home strolling around with a cold beverage. If beverages are calling your name, you may consider signing up for a tasting or mixology class on board (these are NOT included in your fare, but my husband in particular enjoyed the tequila tasting). Our daughters also loved the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (though again, this carries an additional charge).

Pro tips :: if you are able to attend trivia or grab a drink at the Crown & Fin Pub, do it! We stumbled across 80s Trivia one evening before dinner while the kids were at the Oceaneer Club and we genuinely had a ball. On another afternoon we enjoyed a quaint table right next to a gorgeous port hole in the Promenade Lounge. If a princess up-do is in the cards for your kids, we recommend making late afternoon reservations in advance. We brought princess outfits from home and enjoyed a quiet few minutes in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique before dinner one evening so that the girls didn’t “ruin” their hair swimming and could enjoy it at dinner that night.

The Oceaneer Club (aka Kids Club) Is as Good as People Say

I am sure all of you have at least one friend who has said “my kids didn’t want to leave the kids club on our Disney cruise,” and folks, I am here to tell you that’s 100% accurate. I was lucky enough to receive a behind-the-scenes media tour during our cruise, and between that and the fact that my children literally begged to go, consider me way impressed.

As it relates to safety, all kids are checked in and out of the youth area by using their Oceaneer bands, as well as a secret passcode that the parents set up for them (and yes, we were asked for it every single time). During our cruise there were always multiple cast members standing at the entrance, and we always felt very confident in leaving our children to their care. All kids wash their hands upon entering, and the children’s area always felt exceptionally clean. Within the club, our children enjoyed crafts, some character meet and greets, video games, science experiments, physically active games and more. Lunch and dinner are indeed offered (although you can also ask them not to feed your kiddos if family meals are on the itinerary).

My own children were 4, 6 and 8 at the time of sailing, so they primarily enjoyed the Oceaneer Club and Lab. However, I do want to mention the availability of the It’s A Small World Nursery for children 6 months to 3 years that is offered at $9/hour (reservations strongly encouraged). It also appeared that the older kids very much enjoyed their “come and go” access to the Vibe (teens) and Edge (tweens) areas. We often saw kids hanging out together, wandering the ship in groups and even enjoyed a flash mob during one of the evening dance parties.

Pro tips :: we strongly suggest registering your children for the Oceaneer Club in advance online (we received an email prompt). This saved valuable time on vacation. Also, your children DO need to be potty trained to hang out in the Oceaneer Club and Lab.

We Used the Fitness Center and Spa!

How many times have you brought exercise clothes on vacation and left them untouched? I know I am guilty as charged. However, because the weather was a tad chilly and windy one day, I made my way up to the fitness center one morning in part out of the weather and in part out of wanting to escape my shrieking children at 7:30am. I am generally a fitness enthusiast at home, so I feel slightly qualified to say that the gym was rather impressive given that you’re on board a ship. Actually, I’d even go so far as to sa that the fitness area was nicer than some hotels I’ve encountered. There were multiple treadmills, bikes, weights and even a variety of classes to choose from. It’s a tad awkward to run on a treadmill while sailing, but the views were worth it. The fitness area also boasts fresh water, cold towels, fully stocked locker rooms and … NO KIDS!

I also had the chance to experience the Rainforest area, which is a quiet haven of respite for weary moms and dads. There are warm stone lounging chairs, two steam rooms and multiple rainforest showers. The entire area was clean, soothing and relaxing; you step into a room that smells heavenly because of the aromatherapy and then can hang out in either a stone chair or steam room as long as you wish.

Pro tips :: I am told that it is wise to get thee to the Senses Spa on embarkation day to secure a Rainforest pass (they can and do sell out). You can purchase a day pass or a cruise pass; either way, the Rainforest area is a hidden gem (and since you don’t have to think about childcare, because – Oceaneer Club! – there’s no reason not to go.)

Meet All the Characters … Or None at All

I think one possibly common concern about Disney Cruise Line is, “will it just be filled to the max with Disney things everywhere?!” Yes and no. After all, the colors of the ships even match Mickey Mouse himself, and there’s no doubt that you’re on board a Disney vessel. That being said, we found it all extremely tasteful and dare we say more subtle than the theme parks. All of the character meet and greets are communicated on the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, so if you’d like to plan your day around meeting Stitch or Captain Hook, you can! If your kids are indifferent or have met characters before, there’s absolutely no pressure to do so. We also really enjoyed the fact that the characters are seamlessly integrated to other activities. For example, our entire family loved the Sail Away Party as we cruised out of San Diego, and the kids could watch Mickey and Minnie dance for a few minutes. On another evening, we loved the surprise visit from Louis during dinner at Tiana’s Place. The point is this: if you want to meet characters, you can 100% do that on board Disney Wonder (and yes they will also do autographs and pictures as with the parks). If it’s not important to your family, you’ll still get a healthy dose of Disney without it being in your face all day, every day.

Pro tips :: our girls (aged 4 and 6) absolutely adored meeting 6 princesses on board, in the lovely air conditioning, within about 30 minutes. If you have princess loving kids, we strongly encourage families to sign up for the princess meet and greets. They were as seamless as any character meetings we’ve done, and we were able to hit the pool by 10:00am after meeting the household favorites Anna, Elsa, Tiana, Cinderella, Belle and Ariel. 

The Theme Nights and Shows are Worth the Hype

Our house is not necessarily into costumes. You won’t find us in elaborate coordinated Mardi Gras get ups or with crazy face painting at Halloween. That said, we had heard that pirate night was fun and thus brought some low key costumes to enjoy. As it turns out, pretty much EVERYONE gets into the theme and it’s kinda fun to play along. I wouldn’t rush out and spend a ton of money, but if you have some gear that matches the theme, this non-costume gal would recommend you try to enjoy the fun. Disney does it right, and between the gold coin chocolates on the bed that night and pirate night deck party, we truly had a memorable and festive evening.

Last and certainly not least, the evening shows knocked our socks off. We enjoyed The Golden Mickeys, Frozen and Disney DreamsFrozen and all of the productions were absolutely 100% Broadway caliber. The shows are another way to sneak in some Disney characters without standing in absurdly long lines all day. Much of the music is familiar, and the special effects will blow you away. While all of the shows were solid and held our family’s attention,  truly took the cake as a musical we’d gladly see again. The unique take on a household classic was mesmerizing, so it’s a “not to miss” if you have the chance to enjoy it.

Pro tips :: each of the live shows happens on one designated day during your sail. Therefore, if you want to see Frozen, you MUST go on the day it’s advertised. Unlike the movies on board that will play more than once at multiple times, the live shows only happen on one day during your cruise and thus you have to be careful about what’s important for you to see.

Set Sail From New Orleans For Mardi Gras 2020

So, there you have it! Our family was so grateful for the chance to experience the magic that is a Disney Cruise in advance of Disney Cruise Line’s limited sailing schedule from New Orleans in February 2020. If a Disney cruise is on your bucket list, we don’t think you will be disappointed. We do believe that it is a vacation you’ll want to budget for (the extras can indeed add up quickly), but the quality and caliber of Disney Cruise Line makes a great match for New Orleans area families who may choose to leave town for Mardi Gras.

Learn more :: Disney Cruise Line New Orleans

Our kids’ 10 Best Things About a Disney Cruise

Tips from Dad On Disney Cruise Line

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Ashley is the Co-Owner of New Orleans Mom, Red Stick Mom and Lafayette Mom, now the largest network of parenting websites in South Louisiana. Proud graduates of the University of Virginia, she and her husband Blaise spent time in Tampa and Scottsdale prior to settling down back home in New Orleans, something they both said "would never happen." An avid runner, she'll try any workout at least once and is always up for sweating with friends. When she’s not shuttling her 3 very active kids to school, gymnastics or baseball, you can find her cheering for the Saints, trying new restaurants or spending time with family and friends. She's also not afraid to return mediocre books to the library before finishing them because life is too short for bad books. A native New Orleanian, Ashley loves exploring and discovering the beauty of South Louisiana through her growing children's eyes.

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