Relaunched Cruise Ships Bring Sunshine and Magic

In the world of cruise travel, the big story is often about the latest, greatest, biggest cruise ships to be launched and what they have to offer travelers. Those new floating resorts often command the highest fares as cruise travel fans line up to book passage and be one of the first to sail. But while major cruise lines build new ships with the best of what they have to offer, they have not forgotten about their existing fleets. Older ships, relaunched with major updates, can often be one of the best cruise travel values available.

Disney Cruise Line is proud of new Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, the two new ships that more than doubled their fleet capacity. But Disney Magic, first launched in 1998, is not forgotten. The ship has been kept up to date with periodic dry dock maintenance but after living with new features rolled out with Fantasy and Dream, Disney imagineers have taken another look at Disney Magic. The result of that look is an extensive remodel that will bring a host of new reasons to sail the ship.

Headlining the new features on Disney Magic is The AquaDunk, a 37-foot body slide that starts by taking riders down three decks from Deck 13 to Deck 10 through a translucent tube. That tube extends 20 feet over the side of the ship above the ocean that is over 100 feet below.

We have always been committed to reinvesting in our fleet and continuously making shipboard enhancements that elevate the guest experience,” said Karl L. Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line in an Orlando Sentinel article. Marvel comics is now a part of the Disney family of brands, so the Super Hero icons of Marvel have been introduced on Disney Magic as a new space for children. Marvel’s Avengers Academy will be a big part of Disney’s Oceaneer Club as young crime-fighters are transported to a high-tech command post used by The Avengers for special mission.Dining venues are also getting an update with Animator’s Palate getting all-new, larger high-definition flat-screens for better views of the animation magic that takes place all around. “Drawn to Magic” is a new dinner celebration where the black and white “blank canvas” of the Animator’s Palate turns full color, as Disney and Disney-Pixar characters come to life throughout the dinner event.

Carioca’s is a new restaurant tapping the current cruise industry trend to make public spaces multi-use areas. By day the area (which replaces the current Topsider buffet) is a fun quick lunch venue. By night, the now air-conditioned area is an elegant dinner place.

Disney has also added a bigger, better Spa area with a barber shop and more redesigned areas for adults only. Staterooms will get more room, storage and bathing space too. This new Disney video gives full details of all the re-imagined features to be on board Disney Magic:

Disney Magic will be taken out of service on September 10, 2013, returning with all of the above and more on October 8, 2013. But cruise travelers will not have to wait that long to see the result of Carnival Cruise Line’s new Carnival Sunshine, sailing right now after a $155 million refit.

Formerly launched in 1996 as Carnival Destiny, Carnival Cruise Lines took that popular ship, gutted it, and added back all the best features from all their ships and then some. As the first ship in the Carnival fleet to incorporate all of the dining, bar and entertainment options that are part of Carnival Cruise Line’s refreshing Fun Ship 2.0 enhancement program, this one is far more than a pit stop dry dock overhaul.

Carnival is adding new, branded onboard dining and programming elements like Guy’s Burger Joint designed by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, comedian George Lopez’s Punchliner Comedy Club & Brunch and an assortment of games, music and activities through partnerships with names like Hasbro, EA Sports and Miami Heat celebrity DJ Erie.

New on Carnival Sunshine will be:

  • WaterWorks, a racing-themed water park featuring the line’s longest water slide
  • Havana Bar, by day a Cuban coffee and finger foods place and by night a Cuban-themed bar
  • Shake Spot, which will offer classic milkshakes and floats, as well as tropical fruit shakes and adult shakes and floats
  • JavaBlue Café, which will have sweet and frothy cappuccinos, lattes, espressos and other caffeinated favorites
  • Pizzeria del Capitano, an expansion of the line’s popular Cucina del Capitano family-style Italian restaurant

For both Disney and Carnival, the name of the game is being relevant. Much of what worked for cruise lines 10 or 15 years ago does not work today. Today’s cruise travelers are inundated by more ships, with more features every year. But that one new ship for any given line – the one that is the newest, best ship in the fleet – is a small percentage of the line’s capacity and not everyone can sail on it. Reworking older ships to bring relevant features is becoming more of a must-do item all the time and these two ships are great examples of the magic and sunshine that can come as a result.

Disney Cruise Line Takes Top Three In World’s Best Ships Poll

When Condé Nast comes out with a readers’ poll, cruise travelers worldwide take notice. To be mentioned near the top of their list is a sought-after award worth bragging about. In the February edition of Condé Nast Traveler, Disney Cruise Line found plenty to be proud of as three of their four ships ranked in the top three places in the large cruise ship category.

Beating out Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Equinox to round out the top five, classic Disney Cruise ships Disney Magic and Disney Wonder took the first and second spots, respectively, followed by 2011’s Disney Dream in third place.

“With four ships in our fleet, more families than ever before can set sail on a Disney Cruise Line vacation filled with imaginative fun for the kids and exciting family time for all,” said Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line in a SILive report. “We’re thrilled that the experiences our cast and crew members deliver at sea continue to be recognized as outstanding by our guests.”


It was all a part of Condé Nast’s 100 Best Cruise Ships In the World, a reader poll ranking travel experiences with categories of small ships, medium ships, large ships and river cruise ships.

Interestingly, it was Disney Cruise Line’s two older ships, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder that took top honors followed closely by 2011’s Disney Dream with the latest, greatest version of what Disney does at sea, Disney Fantasy trailing in eighth place. Not that eight place is bad mind you – just not quite as magical.

Here are all top ten in the large ship category. Click on any of them for more information from Condé Nast.

89.9 Disney Magic

89.6 Disney Wonder

89.5 Disney Dream

88.6 Celebrity Eclipse

88.2 Celebrity Equinox

87.0 Queen Mary 2

86.2 Celebrity Solstice

84.8 Disney Fantasy

83.7 Oasis of the Seas

82.7 Liberty of the Seas

[Photo credit- Chris Owen]

Disney puts their ships where their heart is

When new Disney Fantasy comes out next year, Disney Cruise Line will have pretty much doubled their fleet of cruise ships in a very short time. Just like Disney, they have magical plans for each and every day all four ships are sailing. New voyages out of three new ports in 2012 is just the beginning. As America’s master of entertainment prepares to dominate the family cruise business, Disney puts their ships where their heart is.

New York, Seattle and Galveston, Texas will see their first Disney ships next year. The two newest ships, this year’s Disney Dream and upcoming Disney Fantasy will stay close to home, sailing a variety of sailings of varying lengths from bustling Port Canaveral in Florida. We knew that. That is good. Theme-park freaks can still get their fill at Walt Disney World in Florida before or after sailing with a shorter cruise while those with an eye for the sea can enjoy longer itineraries.

That’s great news for Florida but nobody forgot about the west coast…not at this cruise line anyway.
The Disney Wonder is scheduled to continue sailing seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises from the Port of Los Angeles for the majority of the year. (and the entire, cruise-ship abandoned west coast lets out a sign of relief). Now, with the increased fleet size, Disney Wonder will also sail four seven-night Pacific Coast cruises from Los Angeles calling on San Francisco, San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico.

Great big fat good news: Now hear this: The Disney Wonder will offer a special 15-night voyage to Hawaii from Los Angeles, calling on Hilo; Kahului, Maui; Honolulu, Oahu; Nawiliwili, Kauai and Ensenada, Mexico.

I can just hear the wheels turning as guests booked at the new massive new Disney Aulani Resort and Spa try to figure out some way to tack a Disney cruise on the front, back, middle or side of a land vacation.

Flipping back to the east coast for a bit, starting in May 2012, Disney Magic will sail a total of 20 cruises from New York. Included are eight-night cruises to the Bahamas and five-night cruises up the New England coast to Canada.

Not sure if a family-style casino-less Disney cruise is for you?

Two-night cruises will be offered to give a taste of the Disney Cruise Line experience over a weekend. I’m betting you come back for seconds. Yes, even in New York.

But that’s not all. The hidden gem in the whole deal is that starting in September 2012, Disney Magic will sail 12 seven-night cruises from the Port of Galveston to the Western Caribbean. That’s huge.

That’s also joining new Carnival Magic (which Gadling will be on in just a few weeks) sailing from Galveston, a first for a new cruise ship, normally brought up in Florida before sent to venture out on its own.

But wait, we have another one new to Galveston too. Princess Cruises brings a Love Boat to town with the popular Crown Princess sailing in December 2012 and April 2013.

Galveston hits the jackpot, that’s just all there is to it.

I live in Orlando and if there’s one thing we know here it’s that when Disney does it, they do it right. This roll-out of ships and itineraries, this special deployment, will no doubt turn the cruise industry on it’s ear. All the preparation other lines have done, slapping B-grade animation studios on their ships to prepare for this day will be tested.

You can bet the other lines will have their best foot forward as Disney, quite appropriately, ushers in a new standard in family entertainment at sea. It’s a tall order, even for Disney, but a few simple words come to mind that will clearly define this moment for Disney Cruise Line:

“When your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme” -Cricket, Jiminy

You might not like Disney Dream

It’s sure the big cruise ship story of 2011, of that there is no doubt. Like Disney or not, like cruise vacations or not, Disney Dream is the big tamale of ships for the year. There will be more new ships from other lines coming out later in the year. But none will be as big of an event as the launch of Disney Cruise Line’s first ship in over a decade.

Why then, is it that so many have this all wrong?

If you’re not a fan of Disney, you won’t have too look far to find someone who has taken issue with something about the new ship. Some say it’s simply too much “Disney” to take. Others get more specific, pronouncing individual features disappointing. Still others compare what happens on board to a land-based theme park which I suppose is fair, since Disney does have a certain presence in that area.

Following their standard game plan, many who review cruise ships give Disney Dream a thumbs up but hedge their bets with a story or two about something universal that most people would agree is a negative. Kids bouncing off walls because soft drinks are free or comparing the cost per night on Disney Dream to some other new ship are common complaints.

On the other side, some reviews highlight innovative features like virtual portholes for inside cabins or the AquaDuck watercoaster as defining elements of the new ship. They mention the zillion dollars it cost to build Disney Dream and upcoming twin Disney Fantasy and get into details of how profitable these ships will probably be for Disney.

Neither one of them has it right.

What they are missing, the experience they are robbing themselves of is quite simple.Disney Dream is not a cruise ship at all.

Disney Dream is a show.

A grand show put on by the masters of storytelling, dream-making and all-things wondrous for kids of all ages for decades. The show begins before the curtain goes up as guests are greeted by cast members, dressed and rehearsed for the part, from the time they enter the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral in Florida.

Actually, the show begins before that. As guests approach the purpose-built cruise terminal, they see a carefully landscaped art-deco facade calling them into a grand space with a timeless air that transports them back to the days of grand ocean liners.

Waiting to board, guests line up, not to board the ship like they would on some other line, but to have their picture taken with a rotating parade of classic Disney characters. Do they really think this will be their only opportunity to get in a picture with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck? Really?

No. Those people get it. Those people; large and small, young and old, get it. They have bought their tickets, checked in, are ready to board and have the time of their lives. Once on board they will experience a show that starts with their family name being called out as they enter the ship, answered by a round of applause. The show continues with every cast member they encounter along with every meal, activity and performance they attend. They’ll hear obscure bits and pieces of classic Disney music in hallways or elevators foreshadowing a culmination of energy, emotion, memories that represents a total escape from reality during some performance later in the day.

Disney has taken what every cruise line knows is the key to success: allowing passengers to Escape Completely, visit the Land of Wny Not or take a ride on The Fun Ships to an entirely different level.

If they believe.

Guests who allow themselves to be taken in. If they play along. If they can let Disney do what they do best on the perfect stage setting that the closed environment of a cruise ship provides, they will have a unique vacation experience like no other.

If they can’t do that, they might not like Disney Dream.


Photos: Whitney Owen

13 things that make Disney Dream different

New cruise ships usually have a number of features that are exciting to talk about. Disney Cruise Line’s new ship, Disney Dream, debuted last week to reviews that included many of the ship’s new attractions. Here are some others that make Disney Dream as well as Disney Cruise Line different from others.

  1. Fastest Internet connection at sea. This is smokin-fast in all areas of the ship. I don’t know how they did it but all cruise lines need to adopt this technology.
  2. Free soft drinks. Coca-Cola products are free all the time, 24-hours a day. Disney is a premium product at a premium price. This is one reason why. Remarkably, we don’t see kids wasting that free soda with spilled cups all over the place.
  3. Cabin layout– This one has some of the best cabin layouts of any ship floating right now. A category 4 Deluxe Ocean view with Veranda is one of the most versatile layouts available. Accommodating up to five easily, two would be good also. It could sleep six if the cruise line would allow it with no problem, they don’t though. Think Princess mini-suite size-wise but a better layout and design.
  4. Rotating dining experience– Rather than going to the same dining room every night, you and your waiters rotate to a different one each night. It’s a different dining room every evening that adds depth to the overall dining experience.
  1. Clientele- A higher price combined with the sugar-sweet Disney programming begets a very nice, safe, group of on-board guests.Castaway Club members almost as rabidly in support of their cruise line as pin-collectors at Disney parks. You don’t want to be on an elevator with one of them if someone else says something negative about the line. A fight will ensue.
  2. No Casino– Like it or not, there’s no casino on this ship. Oddly, many people, convinced they can’t cruise without one, end up having a good time without their favorite games along for the ride. There is an arcade though, with all the latest games.
  3. Disney element– It’s everywhere. If you don’t love Disney characters, stay off this ship. You will just be miserable. If you like Disney characters, even a little, this is heaven. If you like Disney characters a lot, you will never want to sail another line ever again.
  4. Smokers– If you smoke and sail this ship, you will have a hard time finding someone to share your addiction with.These nice folks just don’t do it. Just quit? This is totally the line for you. No having to walk through smoke-filled areas to get someplace.
  5. Announcements– They don’t do many of them. No nagging to buy this or that, no unnecessary calls to one event or another.
  6. Daily newspaper– every ship and cruise line has one. This one is different. Out are a zillion things you don’t want to do. In are easy to read blocks of activities and events for different interests and age group. Leave the highlighter at home, you can use this at-a-glance.
  7. Private island– Castaway Cay is Disney turning an island into a theme park, complete with rides, trams to get around on, gift shops plus really good food. All other private islands pale by comparison. Really. They should build hotels here and let peoole stay a while. No wonder some sailings include two stops at the popular island.
  8. Buccaneer Blast– It’s fireworks at sea on every sailing. They’re the only ones that do it and they do a good job with it. This is not some bottle rockets and a few aerial bombs, this is a full-fledged musically-timed production. Again, doing it at sea adds an extra undeniable dose of magic that puts some land-based displays to shame.
  9. Crowd Control– Who knows more about moving thousands of people from place to place than Disney? They do it every day in the parks and have taken that know-how with them to sea.

All that plus super-star attraction the AquaDuck water coaster and you might expect a theme park at sea motif. No, that would be Oasis-class ships on Royal Caribbean. Here, Disney Imagineers have gone out of their way to avoid being called a floating theme park; quite successfully.

Photo: Chris Owen