May 2014 - Disney Wonder to Panama Canal, Central America
I want to start by stating that there were many GOOD and even GREAT aspects of this vacation. However, the overall experience of the cruise left us feeling that we had made an error in choosing this for such a lengthy vacation. From the weather (being so far south, it was miserably hot and humid throughout most of the cruise) to the aging of the ship (the Wonder is in dire need of an extensive overhaul- the cosmetic changes like modern bedding are not enough at this point) we were often somewhere between "really uncomfortable" and "completely miserable". Additionally, we found that more than two consecutive days at sea ended up being too much for us. Talking with others aboard the ship, many shared the feeling. By day 10, we heard more than just a few people saying that they were ready to get the vacation over with.
I know that the Disney folks have delayed an overdue update to this ship because it is their only vessel that can fit through the Panama Canal. Since the Wonder is used on the Pacific side for Alaskan cruises through the summer and then returns to the Atlantic for the remainder of the year, the ability to fit through that canal is important. I get that. HOWEVER, the creaking and groaning we heard all night is this poor, abused girl crying out for some major maintenance. We sailed on both the Wonder and the Magic when they were new, so it was quite a shock to see how badly time has taken its toll on the Wonder.
I will give DCL credit for doing its best in the way of general maintence and overall cleanliness. This ship is infinitely better in those departments than we recently experienced on a newer ship of a different cruise line. Most carpets appear to be plush, I never saw a bit of rust which is due to the constant upkeep through cleaning and painting, and the housekeeping staff does an outstanding job both in the cabins and in the public areas. TVs have been updated to flat screens, bed linens and bathroom amenities are like a modern upscale hotel. A new chair was delivered to our cabin on the second or third day- which was great because I could not sit on the built in sofa that converts to a bed because it was so dilapidated your rear-end sinks way down. (Maybe from years of being used as a mini trampoline by children expending "sugar high" energy?) And I couldn't get a good push up from the arm because it was so loose it would have fallen off if not for the wall next to it containing the Murphy bed! We tried converting it to the bed to improve the seating options, but the bed proved too high to sit on for long because my feet were off the floor.
Another area needing major improvement is the regular dining. (This does not include Palo or the Beach Blanket Buffet) The food options were vast, but the execution was always off. Having worked in the hospitality field and in food service, I know serving a quality meal to a large quantity of people quickly is a daunting task. It takes careful attention by management and plenty of training for the service staff. Meals were not served quickly, in fact the wait was horrible to the point that we knew the second seating folks were waiting for us to clear out before dessert orders were taken. While dining in the three main dining rooms, our food was only hot when it came off of the buffet in Parrot Cay. Even at breakfast and lunch where the orders went into the kitchen at a more reasonable pace, all food arrived at the table room temperature. Fruit & juices were not chilled. Milk was not cold. Waffles, eggs, potatoes, burgers, etc. were never hot and usually not even what one could call warm. Ice cream sundaes (offered most days) were melted.
What I believe has happened is this: in order to accommodate the larger number of guest who want early dining as opposed to later dining, DCL has placed more tables into each of the three main/rotating restaurants. I say this because each venue is VERY crowded during early service, to the point it is difficult for even the wait staff to navigate. Yet at the late service I frequently saw only two or three people at most of the tables for eight or ten. Now there is too large of a demand on the wait staff and the kitchen's ability to handle so many orders without resorting to precooking, preplating and then reheating meals. The end result is overcooked meats and seafood, limp pastas, tough bread, soggy vegetables, dried cakes, and the dreaded "melted sundaes", not to mention the cranky children and the long wait between each course. Despite discussing this with both the head server and the kitchen manager, this remained a problem for the entire 15 nights we were aboard. Most of our dining companions eventually gave up and dined either at Palo or at the upstairs buffet (which at dinner was actually seated service most nights) where hot food was actually served hot.
I would like to end on a positive note, so I am going to say how pleased we were to find a wide variety of activities aboard the ship on most days. What made me even happier was that almost all of them were included at no additional charge. Our recent cruise on another line had been a non-stop barrage of attempts to get more money disguised as "activities". Learn to Relax with Yoga-- a pitch to sell DVDs. How To Detox and Feel Great was actually selling subscriptions for supplements. Weight Loss Secrets-- available in the book for only $19.95 after you listen to a presentation on why you should lose weight. And of course, the daily Money Saving Seminar given by a shopping expert to guide you to the best places to spend money in the next port. Disney actually had fun, entertaining activities for all ages and some just for adults. The two minor problems I had with the Disney activities:
1.) Often I wanted to attend two that were offered at the same time and
2.) The cooking classes were always packed.
Finally, I must praise Palo. The food was always fantastic. The service was impeccable both for brunch and at dinner. Ambiance was relaxing and the desire to please meant they not only would do their utmost to accommodate any request, they also went above and beyond to ensure we left each time with a smile on our face and feeling welcome to return. Dragan, DCL is very fortunate to have you.