I just sailed Disney Wish — and the line’s older ships are still my favorites

11 March 2023

I went on my first Disney cruise when I was 9 years old. In all my years of cruising since then, I have never been as excited to get on a ship as I was to board that one … until I booked a sailing on the new Disney Wish. I couldn’t wait to experience its brand-new restaurants, state-of-the-art Broadway-style shows and tastefully designed staterooms.

As a Platinum Castaway Club member (Disney’s loyalty tier for cruisers who have been on 10 or more cruises), I’ve sailed on all the Disney ships. My last Disney cruise was in 2020. Although I’ve tried every other major cruise line, Disney Cruise Line has remained my go-to because I adore the brand’s exceptional food, top-notch entertainment and fun excursions in port.

My first Disney cruise. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Disney Wish promised to provide all that and more. I couldn’t wait to experience this long-anticipated new Disney cruise ship.

To my surprise, Disney Wish didn’t bring the magic for me the way the line’s older ships do. Here’s why.

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Crowds everywhere

Between its guests and crew, Disney Wish carries 5,500 people. Although the capacity of the ship is roughly on par with Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, Disney Wish doesn’t seem to handle the crowds the way the other ships can.

Narrow walkways throughout the bustling public spaces on decks 3, 4 and 5 and at the Marceline Market buffet create bottlenecks that I didn’t experience on the line’s other ships. In particular, the corridor leading from the aft elevators into the lobby atrium, which is no more than 10 feet wide, gets clogged when passengers try to pass through while other guests are waiting for their turns for character appearances. The location of the elevators in relation to key lower-deck public spaces is different on Dream and Fantasy, without as many tight passageways to impede traffic flow.

The other problem in this area is that the centrally located lounge called The Bayou, the lobby on Deck 3 and the area around guest services on Deck 4 lack sufficient seating. The result was that passengers would migrate away from these spaces and sit on the ship’s grand lobby atrium stairs as they waited for their families to ask a question or pick up something in a shop. Not only did these people block others from passing on the central stairs, but it created a safety hazard that the staff failed to address.

Up on the outer decks, wait times for the popular AquaMouse waterslide reached 60 minutes on my cruise. Devoted cruisers eagerly awaited their turns for the 760-foot thrill ride in 20-plus mph winds. That’s a long time to wait, especially when there are so many other activities you’ll want to fit into a quick three-night cruise.

KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

If you want to try the attraction, don’t make an impromptu visit. You’ll need to strategically plan when lines will be the shortest and decide whether it’s worth the wait. It’s a calculation that reminded me of many trips to Space Mountain. But unlike at Disney World, there are no Lightning Lanes, and the Disney Cruise Line app doesn’t display wait times.

Even port days didn’t relieve the crowding because so many passengers stayed on board Disney Wish, prioritizing the ship’s attractions over land-based excursions.

The issues extended into the main dining rooms, too. With no more than a few inches between my family’s table and the table adjacent to us, a passenger from the table next to me inadvertently placed her elbow on my armrest — a testament to just how close dinner tables are to one another. Plus, servers were routinely bumping into tables and knocking over glasses as they negotiated the tight spaces.

These issues aren’t simply due to the fact that the ship is big. I’ve sailed on comparably sized Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line ships where crowds haven’t dampened the cruise’s enjoyment and passenger flow is not a problem. In the case of Disney Wish, the ship’s particular layout, with narrow hallways and an inadequate ratio of venues to passage space, does not leave enough room for people to walk and sit in its most trafficked public areas.

Related: The ultimate guide to Disney Cruise Line ships and itineraries

The dining and entertainment didn’t mesh well together

Dinner at Palo, the adults-only specialty restaurant. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

As a whole, the food on board Disney Wish was excellent. High-quality options in the buffet included Alaskan crab legs, chicken tikka masala and falafel salads. The pesto gnocchi and lobster pappardelle at the cruise line’s adults-only Palo restaurant were top-notch, as was the service. While my sailing didn’t offer Disney’s lobster tails in the main dining room, the duck confit was a solid upscale replacement.

Further, the evening entertainment in the Walt Disney Theatre was some of the best I’ve seen on a ship. In particular, “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” were showstoppers.

Entertainment in the restaurants? Not so much.

When I used to sail Disney as a kid, the only dinner shows were in Animator’s Palate, one of the three main dining rooms on the line’s older ships. Passengers could design their own cartoon characters, and following the meal, the cartoon characters would appear on the monitors located throughout the restaurant. It was fun, striking the right balance between enjoying the food and participating in the entertainment between courses.

Fast forward to 2023. In the “Frozen”-themed Arendelle restaurant on Disney Wish, the stage show is the main event. While I have no problem with dinner theater, I found that the meal was treated as an afterthought, which affected food quality and service. For instance, all the servers disappear when the singers and dancers take the stage. My dinner arrived cold, but I had no chance of finding my waiter to ask for a warm-up or replacement.

I expected that Disney would know how to create an experience that combined great (or at least acceptable) food and service with a lively show, but on my cruise, it didn’t get the balance right.

Some families loved the Arendelle dinner, but personally, I didn’t feel like the show made up for the underwhelming food. After all, I didn’t have many other options for dinner; if you skip your rotational dining venue on Wish, your only alternatives are a sit-down meal in the buffet or paying to eat at an adults-only restaurant. At the same time, I had plenty of other opportunities to catch amazing shows and movies elsewhere on board.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if I can escape this phenomenon by returning to my beloved older Disney ships. Much to my chagrin, the dinner show is a trend taking over Disney’s restaurants. During a refurbishment, Disney Magic’s Parrot Cay was replaced by Rapunzel’s Royal Table, another example of the cruise line’s focus on dinner entertainment instead of food. I’ll have to sail that ship again to see if that venue strikes a better balance.

Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line

A less-functional layout

KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

I usually learn my way around a cruise ship in a day or two, yet I couldn’t grasp the layout of Disney Wish on my long-weekend cruise.

For example, the adults-only section of the ship is on Deck 13 aft. Although there are eight elevators in the aft elevator lobby, not all go to Deck 13. Additionally, the aft staircase mysteriously ends at Deck 12. As a result, I had to walk through the kids pool and AquaMouse area and head up a flight of stairs to access the adults-only area. I couldn’t get there directly.

The same elevator mix-up holds true for the Chip ‘n Dale pool on Deck 14 forward. I had to transfer from one elevator to another on Deck 12 to get to Deck 14.

Another layout issue is that Disney Wish doesn’t have a walking track that circles around the ship. The smaller Disney Magic and Wonder offer a 0.3-mile walking circuit on Deck 4, which I enjoy for uninterrupted workouts on sea days between indulgent trips to the buffet. The Disney Wish offers a gym, but each time I went in to work out, the staff wanted to take my foot impressions to sell me orthotics. I would have preferred a track to walk or jog in peace.

Related: The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship

Is this the new Disney Cruise Line?

KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

I realize I’m a different cruiser than I was on my first Disney cruise.

Nowadays, Disney Cruise Line doesn’t earn my patronage for Mickey Mouse. Instead, a cruise for me is about charm, great food, superior service and attention to detail — and Disney Cruise Line typically excels in all these areas.

But my experience on Disney Wish didn’t live up to expectations. While I loved the mouthwatering dishes at Palo and the Broadway-style evening shows, the cruise ship mainly felt like a floating theme park — but one in which the crowds, lackluster mealtime entertainment and barrage of retail outlets overpowered the allure of the attractions.

I couldn’t get my bearings on the ship. Some passengers and crew members were visibly overwhelmed by the crowds, which changed the mood on board. I missed the frequent, impromptu exchanges with the cruise staff and fellow guests that I’ve grown to enjoy on the other ships.

Subsequently, my sailing didn’t feel like a stress-free vacation. Disney Wish is clearly a Disney ship, but it’s not the old Disney Cruise Line I know.

I missed the relative calm and charm of Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. On those ships, the cruise line has mastered the balance of pixie dust and a family vacation.

Disney is still my favorite cruise line, and I know I’ll be back on board before long. But the next time I cruise with Disney, you can bet it’ll be on one of the line’s smaller, older ships.

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