Yep — you're going to have to tip!
It makes sense given Disney is an American company. The food was American-influenced — think grits for breakfast, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and pizza for lunch — in addition to heaps of other offerings, too.
Plus, the price of anything extra — spa treatments, alcohol or coffee from Cove Café – were all in USD. Even wording on the menu was American — so if you're searching for "rocket" you might want to try "arugula".
To make it easier, a gratuity charge per person in your room is automatically added to your bill towards the end of your stay. That being said, you’re welcome to change the amount by going to the guest services desk.
I wish I’d known to bring more jumpers onboard. The aircon is cranked up in a lot of the ship areas, which makes sense given the crowds.
I was among a group of 2000-odd passengers on the Disney Wonder, which fits around 2700 passengers. There were around 1000-odd crew members onboard, representing over 60 nationalities. Disney uses rotational dining, so we got to try all the restaurants and our serving staff were the same at every venue.
I met a group of women in the hot tub, all wearing Mickey Mouse earrings, who were on the cruise without their kids. They themselves just loved Disney. They did also say that they chose the cruise because of the quality of Disney cruise ships, pointing out that every time it’s docked at a port, people are repainting its exterior to keep it looking top-notch.
Also, one family onboard had a list of 100+ Disney cruises they’d done since 2003 pinned to their front door. Another family had boarded the ship in Vancouver and was still on the cruise — booking back-to-back trips. They’d spent a month on the ship.
It’s not cheap at around $75 AUD a day, or you can buy a package that’ll let you use it the whole trip — but it's fast. My friend took a Zoom call using it, and the video quality was crystal-clear.
The ship has a total of 10 floors, and it seemed like there was activity on every level at all hours. Live piano music in the French Quarter Lounge, trivia in the D Lounge, characters signing autographs and posing for photos in all corners.
If you wanted to pack your days full of activities, you easily could. You could book an extra-charge treatment at the spa, join a free stretching or workout class at the fitness centre (my friends spotted dolphins from their treadmills!) or catch a new-release Disney film at the ship’s Buena Vista Theatre.
I appreciate Disney, but I’m not obsessed with it. I thought watching three Disney shows over the course of the trip might be a lot, but I enjoyed them all. They’re only an hour-long and they’re made in a way that everyone from toddlers to adults will find something to like about them.
They even made it "snow" in the audience during the 'Frozen' show. I teared up a bit during the Disney Magic show, watching them perform 'Circle of Life' and 'A Whole New World' from movies I’d grown up watching. I also felt emotional seeing the fireworks on the top deck during the last night.
In addition to the tips you’ll need to give staff, you’ll also need to pay extra for specialty coffee, like a flat white, or latte and alcohol. You can bring two bottles per cabin onboard though, so you could bring them onboard in Sydney and pick up two extra bottles in Hobart — or wherever your stopover is. If you're spending on the ship, keep in mind that the prices on board are all in USD, so you’re not stung at the end with a higher bill than you anticipated.
I didn’t expect to miss life on the ship as much as I did when I was back on land. I missed all the crew members we’d come to know, sharing the stateroom with my two friends and getting excited about the day’s entertainment ahead.
Mostly, though, I missed feeling like a kid. And for that feeling alone, I’d do it all over again.