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Disney’s First Cruise Ship Returns to Port Canaveral

Bruce Parkinson

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Disney Wonder is back home in Port Canaveral. The ship arrived this morning as the first vessel to permanently dock at the port since the industry shutdown began in March.

Disney Wonder arriving in Port Canaveral on Friday morning. (Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line Blog)

The return of the popular Disney ship follows the arrival of Carnival Horizon at Port Miami a few days ago. The Horizon is scheduled to be the first of the Carnival Cruise Line fleet to return to service, although the date of its first revenue sailing remains unknown.

Early this week, Disney announced that it was extending its cruise suspension through January 31, 2021. The first sailing with paying guests is tentatively scheduled for February 5.

Now begins the difficult task of preparing for a restart under the strict conditions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) ‘Conditional Sail Order.’

In a statement on the Disney Cruise Line website, the line said, “We continue to carefully review the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are working toward resuming operations. As we continue to refine our protocols for our eventual return to service, we have decided to cancel all sailings departing through January 2021.”

EXPLAINED: CDC’s Conditional Sail Order for Cruise Ships

After spending the first months of the shutdown off the coast of Florida, returning only to provision, Disney Wonder headed to drydock in Brest, France, in October, along with its three sister DCL ships. The fleet received modifications and enhancements during the drydock, which marked the first time the entire Disney Cruise family was together in one location.

Disney ships were anchored off the coast of Florida for months following the industry shutdown.

The 1999-built, 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder departed Europe in mid-November, making a brief technical stop in Funchal, Portugal for fuel and supplies before continuing on to the Florida coast.

As with all ships planning to cruise from U.S. ports under the CDC Conditional Sail Order, Disney Wonder will have to expand its medical facilities, dedicate certain cabins as isolation units, make airflow modifications and arrange public areas with social distancing in mind.

The next steps include trial cruises designed to test the efficacy of enhanced onboard health and safety measures. Passengers participating in the trial sailings are restricted to company employees and public volunteers over 18 years of age. Each ship will require individual recertification by the CDC before relaunching revenue cruises.

Royal Caribbean put out a call for volunteers to participate in its as-yet-unscheduled test cruises and was overwhelmed with the response — over 100,000 applications in just a few days. 

Disney Cruise Line has yet to announce how it plans to fill its ships for simulated sailings, or what the itineraries will look like. However, it is likely the line will make use of Castaway Cay, its private island in the Bahamas, as a safe port call option. 

Disney Wonder arriving Central Florida just after sunrise. (Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line Blog)

As one of two smaller ships in DCL’s four-ship fleet along with sister Disney Magic, Disney Wonder is viewed as being easier to prepare for test sailings. The other two ships in the fleet, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, each accommodate up to 4,000 guests. 

Looking ahead to a brighter future, Disney Cruise Line has three ships on order for a new Triton Class, which will carry even more passengers than Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. The first, named Disney Wish, is scheduled to arrive in summer 2022, followed by two as-yet-unnamed vessels in 2024 and 2025.

Bruce Parkinson has written about cruising and the broader international travel industry for more than 25 years.

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