Isnt any Wonder that Disney cruises cost more

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As they say, you get what you pay for. In the case of a Disney cruise, you get more -- and you pay more.

From the kids facilities and programming for infants through teens, to large cabins with a bath-and-a-half, and family-oriented entertainment inspired by Disney film greats, the line offers a product that stands apart from the big-ship crowd.

And so do their rates.

Compared with Carnival, a three-, four-, or seven-night Disney cruise typically costs 30% to 80% more for comparable accommodations on the same sailing date, said Charlie Funk, co-owner of Just Cruisin Plus in Nashville.

For Royal Caribbean, the difference is less but still ranges from 20% to 75%, even when comparing Disney to Voyager-class ships. Brochure rates may not reflect this difference, due in part to Disneys tendency to sometimes discount brochure rates less, he said.

And in comparison with Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line on their Caribbean sailings, Disney is still a price leader, sometimes by nearly the same margins as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, Funk added.

For a minimum-category outside cabin on a Feb. 10, three-night Bahamas cruise, Funk quoted the Disney Wonder at  $672 per person, the Carnival Fantasy at $363 per person and Royal Caribbeans Sovereign of the Seas at $382 per person.

Though its no secret Disneys rates on its two ships, the Wonder and the Magic, are higher, they fill them week after week, and with hundreds of repeaters.

Disney is such a class act we find clients are more than willing to pay extra for such a solid product, said Mark Fletcher, vice president of operations for Charlotte, N.C.-based Mann Travel & Cruises. They see real value in Disney.

I experienced it for myself on a cruise in August. Service was particularly impressive considering the size of the ship, especially in the restaurants.

Our 21-month-old twin boys were treated like royalty during their lunch in Tritons: High chairs were whisked to the table immediately, and the servers doted, bringing paper and crayons and making hats out of napkins. Still, the service and atmosphere remained professional and elegant.

Even at the more casual and bustling eating outlets, service was tops. The server at the Plutos Dog House snack bar by the pool was always smiling, courteous and efficient when we and a steady stream of other guests kept him trotting back and forth filling orders for chicken fingers and fries all afternoon. The young women staffing the nursery were endlessly upbeat.

Even the masseuse at Serenity Bay on Disneys private island, Castaway Cay, was among the best Ive had, and Ive had a lot of massages on 70-plus cruises over the past decade.

The here-to-please work ethic isnt limited to midlevel staff. I was delighted to find that the captain of the ship sat in a public room one evening on our three-day cruise to autograph guests mementos.

The hotel manager and other officers also circulated among the passengers before dinner and participated in the pin-trading session beloved by hard-core Disnophiles.

Its not the cuisine itself, though tasty, or the multiple venues (most ships have those) that make Disneys five restaurants stand out. Its their distinct themes and ability to cater to both adults and kids.

From the bright pink, orange and green jungle theme of Parrot Cay to the elegance of Tritons and the whimsy of Animators Palette, where video screens and lighting change colors during the meal, these venues break the mold of the typical ship restaurant.

Only the Beach Blanket buffet disappointed. Its ultra-cramped quarters made it nearly impossible to squeeze through the throngs with kids in tow during busy breakfast and lunch times.

Disneys entertainment-and-activities repertoire also set the line apart.

Though the same Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries are repeated all year long, with the exception of a seven-day Mexico itinerary being offered next summer out of Los Angeles, Disney has been making a concerted effort over the past few years to keep things fresh onboard.

For instance, both ships now have a teen area that has been built in the former ESPN sky bar space, three times the size of the old Common Grounds hangout.

Disney Cruise Line crafted Aloft, the Disney WonderOn the Disney Magic its called the Stack, but on the Wonder, which unveiled its refurbished teen room in October, its called Aloft. It has two rooms, one with video screens for movies and the other a teen disco with a private Internet center.

For the 3 to 12 set, 24 activities were introduced in 2004. On the entertainment front, an interactive Name-That-Tune-style music game show called Sound Waves recently was introduced along with an expanded kids show.

Some 200 to 300 children dance and do sign language on the stage of the Walt Disney Theater while a slide show highlights the weeks activities. 

On seven-day cruises, theres a new dinner and deck party, Pirates in the Caribbean, complete with themed meals (such as Blackbeards jumbo crabcakes), music and pirates rappelling down the funnels.

All that aside, a Disney cruise isnt for everyone. Gamblers are out of luck, as there is no casino aboard either ship.

Though the Disney touch is subtler than you might imagine, the experience is still all about Mickey. You have to appreciate the mouse and his legacy to enjoy this cruise.

And youll still encounter big-ship issues, from long waits for room service to lines at check-in and at food outlets.

But for parents, theres relief on the Disney Wonder: the newly added Cove Cafe, next to the adults-only Quiet Cove pool, is a grown-up hangout with magazines, Internet access and, at night, gourmet coffee, specialty drinks and light food.

Another new spot in the evening entertainment area is Diversions, and it combines elements of a sports club and karaoke bar with board games and trivia competitions.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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