Disney sets sail in preparation for first San Diego cruise in nearly two years

Passengers board the Disney Wonder for a test cruise.
Passengers board the Disney Wonder for a two-day test cruise out of San Diego in preparation for its first scheduled cruise next month since the pandemic shut down sailings for 18 months.
(Dan Beucke/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Disney Wonder, scheduled to depart next month for a sailing to Mexico, was in San Diego Monday for the first of two test cruises in preparation for a long delayed return to cruising that had been shut down by the pandemic.


A rare sight surfaced Monday on San Diego’s embarcadero — passengers boarding a cruise ship.

As San Diego prepares to welcome the long-stalled return of cruising next month, Disney launched on Monday the first of two test cruises in preparation for its first Southern California departure in almost two years. It will be sailing out of San Diego on Oct. 1 for a four-day cruise that will include a stop in Cabo San Lucas.

The test cruise on the Disney Wonder was reserved for Disney employees and their guests. It is a two-night sailing that will include a stop in Ensenada, Disney said. A second preparatory cruise, departing Thursday, will be four nights and include a stop at Cabo San Lucas.

Cruise ships across the United States are gradually returning to service after the coronavirus pandemic last year forced an unprecedented shutdown in March. A series of no-sail and conditional sail orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kept vessels off the high seas until early this summer as the cruise lines developed protocols and COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies for passengers and crew.

The Disney Cruise Line notes on its website that for all sailings, guests 12 years of age and older must be fully
vaccinated and take a COVID-19 test upon embarkation. Guests 11 years old and under are not required to be vaccinated but must take a pre-trip test for COVID-19, as well as a rapid COVID-19 test upon embarkation.

The last time the Disney Wonder was in San Diego with passengers aboard was March 19, 2020, when the ship sailed into port early in the day following a Panama Canal cruise that originated in New Orleans about 13 days earlier. In a move to minimize exposure to COVID-19, the cruise line at the time said it had opted to skip its calls after leaving New Orleans.

The initial CDC order subsequently was extended multiple times, forcing the cancellation of all cruises out of San Diego and elsewhere.

San Diego’s normal cruise season runs between October and May, a schedule dominated by Mexico sailings, as well as cruises to Hawaii, the Panama Canal and along the California coast. Disney Cruise Line last left San Diego for a scheduled cruise on Nov. 8, 2019, port officials said.

During the last full season for San Diego, between 2018 and 2109, there were 95 calls with 320,000 passengers, according to the Port of San Diego. With ships unlikely to be entirely full for at least part of the upcoming season, San Diego is estimating 100 cruise calls, with anywhere from 185,000 to 225,000 passengers.