Let’s face it: No one is boarding a Disney Cruise Line vessel simply for the food. But if you do find yourself wrapped in the arms of the mouse while traipsing through the Bahamas on the company’s brand-new Disney Wish ocean liner, you’ll eat surprisingly well.
If you’re unfamiliar with Disney’s voyages at sea, here, Captain Minnie takes the helm. There is no casino or ice-skating rink on board like you’d expect from a standard cruise ship, but instead first-run theatrical releases playing inside a Peter Pan-inspired cinema and a waterslide outfitted with animated Mickey Mouse clips. Kids clubs let young ones embark on Resistance missions beside Chewbacca in a gritty, porg poop-lined Star Wars cargo bay, learn skills alongside Black Panther in a Marvel hero academy, and even playfully train for gainful employment at Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative outfit that develops all of Disney’s high-flying attractions, restaurants and, yes, cruise ships. (Don’t be too jealous — adults can visit, even via the twisty entry slide, during open house hours.) It’s all Disney, all the time, but less in-your-face than you might expect, even when everything — from the Avengers charger plates to dinner’s amuse-bouche — honors the company’s films. Carpets on the Disney Wish celebrate Cinderella with an insignia that’s only recognizable upon second glance; the horn blaring seven notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” is charming, not maddening.
Fifth in a fleet of seven — two more are on the way — the Disney Wish is far and away Disney’s nicest vessel, not to mention its first in a decade. From beignets at the Princess and the Frog Bayou bar to Jiminy Cricket’s likeness printed on soy cappuccinos, each dining experience remains an attraction of its own. It’s Disney, so there’s plenty for the kids — chicken fingers, Mickey waffles, scoops of colorful yet bland gelato within an Inside Out ice cream shop — but the food is far from a tragic mess of sweaty pizza slices and rubbery chicken breasts. The best thing I ate was foie gras and squab pigeon layered inside a puff pastry at the elegant high-end French restaurant, with the impeccable miso congee served daily at Marceline Market’s daily breakfast buffet right behind it. One day, you’ll find yourself chowing down on kjottkake, or Danish meatballs with egg noodles and lingonberry chutney, as a fully articulated Olaf rolls past on a trolley of dishes; the next, you’re eating Snake River Farms’ American wagyu tenderloin in an Italian restaurant that’s built a cult following on its impeccable pasta and souffles.
Not every location requires you to pay your respects to Mickey Mouse prior to dining, as there are a pair of adults-only restaurants that dim the levels of Disney theming in favor of the world-class service and immense kindness their staffers are known for. Palo, whose name resonates deep in the heart of Disney Cruise Line die-hards in the same tenor that one recalls a once-in-a-lifetime meal at, say, the French Laundry, saw their go-to Italian escape reinvented as a steakhouse for this ship, offering cowboy rib-eye, Angus porterhouse, and yes, Japanese A5 wagyu (for a surcharge of just $45). Palo’s dinner prix-fixe menu ($45) is a small but worthwhile fee, as is the massively popular brunch, which books up regularly. Then there’s Enchanté, irrefutably the best dining experience aboard. In a refined space with marble tabletops, gold accents, and blue swirled carpet mimicking the seas outside, chef Arnaud Lallemant’s menu of wild halibut with vermouth sauce and a stewed tomato, cooked for 12 hours and served four ways, could very well rival that of L’Assiette Champenoise — if only his three-Michelin-starred Reims gastronomic getaway offered seatings between showings of The Little Mermaid. From Maine lobster with caviar to a glazed chocolate mousse plated with silver leaf, the dishes on Enchanté’s tasting menus transport you to a universe beyond the inflatable Incredibles obstacle course, despite being just next door.
But still, the way most folks chow down aboard the Disney Wish is within its thematic dining halls. Disney Cruise Line pioneered “rotational dining” when it launched in 1998, where in lieu of a grand ballroom filled with families eating mediocre steaks in tandem, guests and their pre-assigned waitstaff move between a trio of restaurant concepts each night. And with Disney, restaurants are never just restaurants; everything is a tactile, physical venue for storytelling. While the interiors play off the movies as we know them, menus instead honor the cuisine of real-world locations that inspired the filmmakers.
Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure was an absolute highlight. In this Nordic eatery developed as a theater in the round, guests attend an engagement party for Queen Anna and Kristoff thrown by Oaken, the burly small business owner from the films, seen here in the flesh for the very first time. Guests enter through a lengthy hallway flocked with ornate details and are sat in wooden chairs with colorful insignias around the stage, where storytellers provide inventive acoustic reinterpretations of popular Frozen songs that won’t give you flashbacks to 2011 inside your family minivan, guaranteed. The koldtbord platter was a favorite, as were the scallops, cooked in a shrimp-tarragon bisque and housed within a towering puff pastry. (I won’t lie — I took a bite and immediately ordered seconds.) And the desserts: a Norwegian pancake roulade and a twist on the traditional Kvæfjordkake butter cake with baked meringue and, naturally, a sugar snowflake.
Disney’s rolled out plenty of Avengers-y dining experiences already, but Worlds of Marvel is their first true sit-down joint, and my hopes weren’t high for this one, considering the only food really eaten on-screen during the course of the series was a post-battle round of shawarma. But Worlds of Marvel remained full of surprises. Namely, that I never anticipated the first thing to happen at a Marvel-themed dinner would be a video of Paul Rudd acknowledging the “Thanus” fan theory over bread baskets and beer orders, or of Brie Larson and Anthony Mackie reprising their roles as captains Marvel and America. Worlds of Marvel brings us our first taste of Sokovian food — the Eastern European region Scarlet Witch (nee Wanda Maximoff) hails from — as well as flavors of Wakanda. To build a flavor profile that honors both Africa and the fictional, vibranium-rich region Black Panther calls home, the culinary team utilized berbere for their pork chops, rounding out a global menu of pork bao buns, vegan udon and, of course, lamb shawarma salad, served tableside as sizzle reels of Marvel Cinematic Universe films and television shows — available on Disney+! — play on oversized television screens.
But alas, if there’s one thing you’ve heard about on Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, it’s the Hyperspace Lounge. The tiny, intimate Star Wars bar allows guests to sip drinks like the Baby Yoda-inspired zero-proof Temple Twist (with “frog egg” popping pearls) beside screens projecting ship traffic from across the galaxy between intermittent horizontal jumps into hyperspace. If you’ve heard two things, the other is likely about that $5,000 Kaiburr Crystal cocktail, an instant headline-maker that PR immediately shut down inquiries about, despite its vessel sitting on display during interviews. (What comes in Disney’s four-digit drink, exactly? Individual shots of 23-year Pappy, Taylor’s Kingsman Edition Very Old Tawny Port, and Watenshi gin, along with a yuzu-kumquat cognac cocktail with Grand Marnier Quintessence, all served in a Camtono safe. Purchase also nets the drinker an exclusive invitation to visit Skywalker Ranch in Marin County.)
You can find cheaper thrills throughout the ship, of course. Disney mixologists are really in their foam-and-smoke era, between domed drinks and a bubble-explosion martini. But everything I tasted was well-balanced, from an Old Fashioned served with a chocolate-dunked orange from the Rose, the ship’s high-end cocktail lounge, to slurping a passionfruit concoction with cucumber-rose gin out of a glass bird at Nightingale’s piano bar; I would have tried more if our sailing — full of invited reporters, travel agents, and influencers — didn’t, quite literally, begin drinking multiple bars dry.
Bars and lounges are midship and, in some cases, open onto public walkways, making it easier than ever to obtain a tipple while on family vacation. (Kids are allowed in all of them, including Star Wars Hyperspace Lounge, until they transition to 18-plus at night.) Same with coffee — the adult-centric Cove Café sees a Moana redux on this ship, but even with its siphon, Chemex, and hand-pour V60 brewing techniques, there are even more options at the bars next to the ship’s main atrium, making it easier than ever to opt for a pick-me-up by way of Vietnamese, Thai, or Turkish coffees.
Folding an abundance of adult beverages, like coffee and cocktails, into the most-frequented areas on the ship is proof Disney Cruise Line is doubling down on its promise to offer just as much for adults as it does for kids. Thankfully, eating, drinking, and snacking your way through the Disney+ library never tasted so good.