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Anyone who’s met a tween or teen knows they’re notoriously hard to please – especially when they’re “forced” to leave their friends to go on a family vacation. Of course, theme parks are a logical choice for families with older kids (because coasters), but many parents may think they’re past the target audience for a Disney cruise. Well, I’m here to tell you that Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship – the Disney Wish – is a teen’s dream come true.
Don’t get me wrong. The ship is filled with adorable little kids dressed up as princesses and pirates (and some adults, too, by the way), but Disney made a concerted effort to design the Wish with plenty of spaces and activities that appeal to older kids – and it shows. And unlike other types of vacations, cruises provide teens with the freedom to roam, which is always a plus.
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Edge and Vibe
The Wish has two dedicated teen areas onboard – Edge (ages 11-14), which is designed to look like an NYC loft, and Vibe (ages 14-17), a Parisian artist’s studio. Both cater to all types of teen travelers, from those who just want a cool place to read, watch a movie, or play video games to “joiners” who want to participate in organized activities (both in the clubs and around the ship).
“There are a lot of competitions and they get really into it,” said Disney Wish Youth Activities Manager Brad Yared. “We split them into heroes and villains, there are game show and trivia events, and we take them to the Hero Zone [indoor sports court] for basketball, the Incredi-Games [an inflatable Incredibles-themed obstacle course], air hockey, and foosball.”
However, Yared admits, the clubs often end up mostly being teen hangouts – complete with complimentary coffee and smoothies – and meet-up points from which to head out and explore the ship with newfound friends.
“I loved how easy it was to walk into Vibe and make friends,” said Amber Griswold (17), who sailed on the Wish christening cruise. “The counselors were all super friendly and made it easy to feel comfortable in the face of all these new people. Plus, the Hero Zone was right across from Vibe which made it a super convenient place to hang out with your friends outside of Vibe. We’d play basketball and air hockey and ping pong for hours, so even after Vibe closed at night, we could all still hang out and have fun.”
But that’s not all! Connected to Vibe is the Hideaway, an area that can be closed off for mixers and activities just for young adults ages 18-20. Teens 18+ can also visit the adult-only pool area and dine at the premium dining locations Palo Steakhouse and Enchanté (both serve brunch and dinner; reservations are required, and an additional charge applies).
The Hideout at Castaway Cay
Did You Know? Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island in the Bahamas) also has a dedicated teen area called the Hideout (not to be confused with the Hideaway onboard) – and trust me, it’s not easy to find.
Here, kids 11-17 can hang out in the shade, play foosball and beach volleyball, or maybe even head out on teen-exclusive port adventures like biking, snorkeling, and speed boat rides.
Star Wars and Marvel
Two of Disney’s most teen-friendly franchises are well-represented on the Disney Wish with the Star Wars-themed Cargo Bay and Hyperspace Lounge and the Marvel-themed Super Hero Academy and Worlds of Marvel dining experience.
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While Star Wars: Cargo Bay and Marvel Super Hero Academy may be located in the Oceaneer Club, DCL Entertainment Creative Director Denise Case says that doesn’t mean they’re unavailable to teens.
“We know bigger kids want that space too (and would love to meet a Wookie),” she said. “So, we can close it off and have programming just for them.”
The first-of-its-kind immersive Star Wars: Cargo Bay experience puts teens in charge of creatures being transported to Batuu (the planet in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), including Imagineering’s first and only animatronic Porg. Throughout the cruise, they can use augmented reality-enabled datapads to track and study the critters; however (spoiler alert), they’re actually on a mission to deliver Rey and Chewbacca to the Resistance.
At the equally high-tech Marvel Super Hero Academy, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and other Avengers train teen “recruits” to be the next generation of superheroes, including “Avengers: Mission Training,” a gesture-based battle against Marvel villains.
Hyperspace Lounge – an adults-only bar at night – is open to families before 9 p.m., so teens can enjoy zero-proof space cocktails like the Cloud City (oat milk, blue raspberry, and Galaxy ice cream) or Temple Twist (apple, mint, pineapple, kiwi, and nonalcoholic ginger beer) as they travel through the Star Wars galaxy on a sleek Dryden Vos-esque yacht ship like the one in the movie “Solo.”
Fun Fact: The images outside the lounge’s windows change each time the ship jumps to hyperspace, so be on the lookout for Easter eggs, including the Halcyon Starcruiser from Walt Disney World’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience and the Mandalorian’s Razor Crest from the Disney+ series.
“Star Wars Hyperspace Lounge is all the rage,” said Steve Griswold, owner of Pixie Vacations in Atlanta (and Amber’s dad), who was on the Wish with his two teen daughters. “Most cruise lines wouldn’t [allow] teens in a lounge space, but the Wish lets families enjoy Hyperspace Lounge with kids … so they can make TikTok videos and Insta posts to flex to their friends.”
One family dinner teens definitely won’t complain about is the Worlds of Marvel (available to all passengers as part of the Wish’s rotational dining), which takes place in the Avengers Technology Showcase.
During the meal, Ant-Man and the Wasp lead an interactive demonstration of the Quantum Core (a brand-new device that uses Pym Tech to shrink and grow objects) on screens throughout the restaurant. However, something (unsurprisingly) goes wrong, and – along with Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Ms. Marvel (a teen herself) – diners must leap into action to save the ship from certain destruction by activating the Quantum Core devices on their tables at precisely the right moment.
For teens who love “Frozen” (even if they won’t admit it), another of the rotational dining experiences – Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure – is a lively musical “theater-in-the-round” sing-along show with Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and the first animatronic Olaf that invites diners to attend Anna and Kristoff’s royal engagement party catered by Oaken’s “Hearty Party Planning Service… and Sauna.” Hoo hoo.
Theme Park at Sea
I’ve certainly described other cruise ships as “Vegas at sea,” and the Disney Wish is 100% “Disney World at sea” (and not only because of the adorable princesses and pirates).
One particularly cool Disney Wish-exclusive space is the Walt Disney Imagineering Lab (also located in the Oceaneer Club). First of all, it’s filled with authentic props, models, sketches, and artifacts – all direct from Walt Disney Imagineering – but here, theme park-loving teens can also design their own roller coaster along the lines of Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, or the Matterhorn in the Ride Studio and then actually ride it virtually.
Teens can even learn a few tricks of the Imagineering trade, including how to make a Pepper’s Ghost, the illusion that creates the images of ghosts waltzing across the Haunted Mansion ballroom, and the Blue Fairy in Disneyland’s Pinocchio’s Daring Journey attraction.
“We divulge a couple of secrets,” Case said with a wink.
Last but certainly not least, the AquaMouse – Disney’s first attraction at sea – combines a theme park ride and a water slide into one exciting (and thanks to 65 water nozzles, very wet) adventure with Mickey and Minnie.
“In 1999 I went on my first Disney Cruise,” said Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Creative Director Danny Handke. “I was an emo teenager and I thought it was awesome (and a whole different experience from going to the parks), but I also thought it would be so cool if there was an attraction to bring a little bit of the parks onto the ship.”
Flash forward to grown-up Handke, an Imagineer in the unique position to make his dream a reality for modern “emo teens” cruising aboard the Disney Wish.
“We worked with the Mickey Shorts team to develop two really fun, different experiences,” Handke said. “So, on each day of your cruise, it alternates between different shows (and it’s a platform we can build on in the future).”
Another “first” on the Disney Wish that will appeal to tweens and teens is Uncharted Adventure, a high-tech virtual scavenger hunt played on their devices through the free DCL Navigator app.
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Now, I’ll acknowledge that parents usually want their kids off devices during a family vacation, but in this case, the interactive scavenger hunt around the ship is a great activity to bridge generation gaps between kids, parents, and even grandparents (or between siblings of various ages). It’s also something groups of teens can do together.
Using the app — and with help from Minnie and Mickey — players transform their device into an enchanted spyglass that allows them to unlock adventures, solve puzzles, conquer quests, and, ultimately (what else?), save the day.
“While guests need a mobile device to play, this isn’t a traditional mobile gaming experience, but a heads-up active experience,” said Walt Disney Imagineering Software Product Manager Davey Feder. “The magic happens all around the ship, so the spyglass isn’t where the adventure takes place; it’s just the tool that opens portals into new worlds and allows guests to interact with them.”
Plus, Feder notes that the game employs innovative technology like augmented reality and physical effects to create a hidden layer of magic that can only be unlocked with Disney Uncharted Adventure.
Are teens too old for a Disney cruise? The new Disney Wish gives them plenty of fun, excitement, and room to roam.
The game is divided into four stories themed to “Moana,” “Princess and the Frog,” “Peter Pan,” and “Finding Nemo.” Players can complete everything at one time or they can stop and start throughout the cruise (the game will save your progress). Some tasks also allow teen “gamers” to excel while still being fun for younger and/or less tech-savvy players.
“Disney has updated the technology for the Disney Wish,” Steve said. “Uncharted Adventures allows you to follow clues to find interactive paintings and surprise locations on the ship – for example, one clue led us to the barbershop where Tinkerbell helped us unlock lanterns in the window by trying different keys on our mobile device. I can see teens forming teams with new friends to complete all the different Uncharted Adventures.”
The adventure culminates (as all good Disney stories should) in a live interactive grand finale where players gather in one of the ship’s entertainment venues to battle an infamous Disney villain. How cool is that?
Pirates Rockin’ Parlay Party
Everyone loves fireworks, right? Disney is the only cruise line that does fireworks at sea, and on the Wish, they’ve turned the fan-favorite pirate-themed deck party into a live 80s rock concert that teens and their parents will equally enjoy.
Featuring the Scallywags, who (of course) perform “Yo, Ho! (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” plus “We Will Rock You” and “We’re Not Going to Take It,” the show is headlined by Captain Redd from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction – with a special appearance by Captain Jack Sparrow himself. The spectacular fireworks display is then accompanied by a live rock and roll version of the swashbuckling theme from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
So, there you have it. From Star Wars to Marvel to Jack Sparrow, the Disney Wish is a tween and teen paradise, and while I can’t guarantee you’ll get a ticker-tape parade upon returning home, it’s definitely a family vacation they won’t complain about – and who knows, maybe they’ll even be excited for the next one.
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