Things I didn't know about the Disney Cruise Line

When I received an invitation to tour the Disney Wonder cruise ship as it docked in San Francisco en route to Vancouver, I was beyond excited. I've always wanted to go on a cruise, but have never gotten the nerve to test my well-documented susceptibility to seasickness and actually book a trip.

Despite my inexperience with cruising, I did feel like the tour guide wouldn't be showing me anything I didn't already know. After all, they do have a great website describing all the ships, with gorgeous photos, deck plans and panoramic views. I've been reading about (and fantasizing about) Disney's cruises for years (cruise ship guides were like travel porn to me when I was pregnant and bedridden with the twins). For someone who has never been on a cruise, I thought I knew a lot.

I knew kids would be able to meet Disney characters throughout the cruise. I knew the kids' activities would be top-notch. I knew there were great adults-only areas. I knew about the innovative dinner rotation that schedules cruise-goers to dine at one of three restaurants every night. I knew about the amazing Animator's Palate restaurant, that starts out in black and white decor and gradually changes to color over the course of your meal. I even knew that you can stay in touch with your kids at all times using the two-way walkie-talkies-slash-room-phones (this last tidbit courtesy of my friend Beth of TechMamas, who recently went on a Disney cruise). And based on past experiences in Disneyland and Disney World, I figured Disney would Bring It -- their legendary service, attention to detail and entertainment know-how -- to the cruising world.

I guess that's like knowing everything there is to know about raising kids, before actually having them. Nothing prepared me for the experience of actually being on board. It was magnificent! You have to actually be on the gangplank to realize how vast the ship is. You have to be on board to appreciate how beautiful the main atrium/lobby is. How tempting it is to jump into the cool blue waters of any of the ship's swimming pools. How plentiful, how relaxing, how un-Mickeylike, how grown-up the adults-only areas were.

Here are some things I never knew before going on board the Disney Wonder:

* The lifeboats on Disney ships are not the standard orange; Disney ship designers decided they wanted yellow lifeboats to increase the visual appeal. Disney had to appeal to the Coast Guard and prove that yellow lifeboats are just as visible as orange ones when they're out at sea.

* I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to learn this, but Hidden Mickeys are all around, even on Disney ships -- in the carpet, grillwork, tilework and more.

* Each ship has a different statue of a Disney character in the atrium. The "muse" of the Disney wonder is Ariel, the Little Mermaid!

* It has become something of a tradition for passengers to decorate and personalize the doors to their staterooms. The doors are metal, so you can stick magnets on them. People also hang message racks along the doorway so family and friends can leave messages.

* Practically every cruise line has activity programs for kids -- but somehow I imagine them being led either by bored teenagers hired for the summer or overenthusiastic child psychology majors looking to add practical experience to their resume. I doubt that any of them -- besides Disney Cruises -- are led by mad scientists! The program leader taught the kids how to make flubber, and stayed in character throughout the entire activity, wild-eyes and vague German accent included.

The only thing lacking from the tour was a visit to one of their staterooms. They were all fully booked, so they were unable to show us any. That was a major disappointment, so I guess I'll have to actually book a cruise to see one.

The best thing I learned on the tour is that I'm actually able to stay on a cruise ship for more than three hours without barfing my insides out. Granted, we were docked and not tossing around on stormy seas, but I was inside for long periods of time without ever seeing the light of day. I did feel slightly dizzy and lightheaded towards the end, like I hadn't slept for days, but that could have been me expecting to feel seasick. In any case, I now have hope that I might actually be able to endure -- and even enjoy -- a cruise. Especially a Disney cruise. If any cruise line is going to turn this seasick landlubber into a cruiser, it's going to be Disney.

Disclaimer: I was treated to a complimentary tour and lunch on board the Disney Wonder.

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