Disney vacations: Why we go

Walt Disney World
is the most visited resort in the world. Other Disney resorts and Disney cruises remain huge destinations worldwide. Yet, a Disney vacation is also maligned by many people.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the negatives: It’s overly programmed; it’s pedestrian; it’s gimmicky; it’s hot and miserable (or cold and miserable, as the case may be).

And as a journalist who covers Disney, I have to admit that many of my trips to “The World” feel a whole lot more like work than vacation, even with my family in tow.

After a marathon couple of weeks trying to cover all the holiday happenings at Disney Parks, I spent the first half of January in Disney burn-out. But I was reminded again last week why I – and many other moms – bring our kids on Disney vacations.

While watching the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, Tinker Bell took off from Cinderella Castle to make her nightly flight. My 7-year-old daughter, who has seen these same fireworks dozens of times, turned to me, eyes sparkling, and squealed, “Mom, Tinkerbell waved at ME!”

I cannot even express the joy I felt in that moment. I can only say it was worth a million not-so-great moments waiting in line, sweating, and dealing with kids’ meltdowns and obnoxious grown-ups on vacation.

It’s a sentiment Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger agreed with when I interviewed him last week on board the Disney Dream.

A father and grandfather himself, Iger has a built-in focus group at home, and it keeps him centered on Disney’s core values.

“Watching through my kids’ eyes reinforces the richest and most valuable quality of Disney – the impact we have on kids and families,” Iger said.

Sure, enjoying a Disney vacation requires a little leap, a little suspension of reality. And no, it doesn’t give you a sense of the place you’ve traveled or a look into the real people who live there.

But I still urge you to try it sometime. And when you do, go with a kid.

Because as far as I’m concerned, Tinker Bell really does fly out of Cinderella Castle every night. And she really did pick my daughter out of the crowd last week and wave specifically at her.

And it was magical.

750,000 reasons to like Disney Cruise Line

It’s been all over the news, the launch of Disney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream, the line’s first new ship in over 10 years. Adding Disney Fantasy in 2012 more than doubles the size of the Disney fleet, bringing the line up to speed and beyond with new-ship features, new capacity to dominate the family cruise market and a new brighter outlook towards the future. But as is so typical of the American success-story company, as they look ahead, they look back.

It’s been so long since Disney launched a new ship that a world of media eyes descended upon Florida to sail along and see just what the legacy of Walt Disney had built. Most told of new features like the AquaDuck onboard water coaster, virtual portholes for interior cabins, the latest technology and new onboard entertainment.

On a short two-night preview cruise of the new Dream, Disney added one extra element hosting a fund-raising cruise for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America that raised $750,000.

Just being able to do that would be plenty for most organizations. But in typical Disney style the company brought along a number of Boys and Girls club members for the ride, treating them to an experience they’re not likely to forget any time soon.

Also along for the ride were normally land-based Disney cast members and their families who paid to sail along on the fund-raising cruise, see the new ship, and be part of it all.

As the ship prepared for “sail-away”, always a festive time on any cruise, company officials, dignitaries, cast members and friends packed the ship’s top deck. Disney Channel celebrities, the ship’s entertainment staff and the entire stable of Disney animation stars worked the crowd into a total Disney-immersion frenzy.

But it was bringing those Boys and Girls club members out on stage that sent the event wild, drawing the largest response from all. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the faces of those kids, unaccustomed to a rock star reception, gave way to smiles of appreciation with a side of “Yes, I DO have a future now!” . Once high-risk youths were safer, happier and had a much brighter future in no small part due to the Disney company and a relationship with the Boys and Girls Clubs that dates back to the 1950’s.

How appropriate for a ship all about dreams.

Photo: Chris Owen

Disney’s Dream comes true

Amid smoke, fireworks and every magical trick in the book, Grammy award-winner Jennifer Hudson was on hand this morning at Port Canaveral in Florida to send off Disney Cruise Lines latest creation, the new Disney Dream.

It’s been 10 years since the Mouse launched a new ship and Mickey and the gang were in top form today as the latest seafaring creation from the legacy of Walt Disney was sworn into service. With singing, dancing, fireworks and a 16-foot champagne bottle “cracked” against the hull of the new Disney Magic via helicopter, a new era began in magical family cruising from Florida.

“For over a decade, Disney Cruise Line has been making vacation dreams come true for millions of families and we continue that tradition today with the launch of the Disney Dream,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger. “The mix of imagination and innovation found on the Disney Dream is unparalleled and elevates the family cruise experience to new heights.”

The Disney Dream will sail three, four and five-night itineraries to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

On board the new ship, up to 4000 guests will enjoy features ranging from the “splashtacular” AquaDuck, the very first water coaster at sea to virtual portholes in interior cabins showing what is going on outside the ship with some characters stopping by from time to time.

See complete on-the-scene coverage from AOLTravel’s Fran Golden too.

Photo by CruiseGuy.com

Disney Dream to sail in profitable waters, magic a bonus

When new Disney Dream arrived in Florida this week, crowds gathered to celebrate. New ships arriving are always a special event and this one was no exception. But beyond the first-look hoopla, the new ship will have some real-world financial impact that’s pretty cool to consider.

Buoyed by a nod from Wall Street analysts, shares in Walt Disney Co hit a 10-year high Wednesday, due in part to the arrival of Disney Dream. The new ship and sister-ship Disney Fantasy coming in 2012 represent a $1.8 billion investment that will increase the line’s guest capacity by nearly 150 percent.

Older and smaller ships Disney Magic and Wonder will be redeployed to make room for the new, larger ships that bring with them more jobs and more revenue for ports they visit too. The Bahamas will see an estimated $3 million additional spending and $900,000 in tax revenue the first year alone.

The cruise business has been a profitable venture for Disney, with ships sailing fuller and demanding higher prices than other major cruise lines. While other lines carry an average of two guests per cabin, Disney’s family focus gets them an average of 3 and that adds up to higher profits.

It’s no surprise that rival lines Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have tried to capture that profit magic by adding Dreamworks and Nickelodeon characters to their on-board programming. It’s a bold attempt to stifle the effect of Disney’s increased capacity but side by side, it’s pretty hard to beat the mouse on his own turf.

“Oh, this line is all for kids?” you say? Not so fast.

Disney has gone out of its way to attract adults as well with new features on board that let adults ditch the kids, at night anyway, for features along the lines of the latest and greatest being offered by the newest of ships on other lines.

Wrap it all up, tie a bow on it and sing “Happy Birthday”, Disney Cruise Line’s new child may very well be the future of cruise vacations. Now that’s magical.

Photo- Disney Cruise Line

Disney Dream lets adults ditch the kids, at night anyway

Disney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream debut’s next month with all the bells and whistles one might expect from a new ship coming out these days. There’s an AquaDuck water-coaster on deck, virtual “portholes” for inside cabins and a whole lot of Disney magic for kids of all ages. Adults on this ship will receive special attention too with a new area created just for them.

Called “The District”, it is a section of the ship that caters to adults in the evening with a selection of lounges and nightclubs.

Skyline is an ever-changing cocktail bar that celebrates some of the world’s most famous cities. Tall “windows” (actually huge LCD display screens) line a wall and show guests some of the world’s most beautiful city skylines which change from day to day and transform from day to night as each day progresses.

Pink is a “chic cocktail bar” and is designed in French Art Nouveau featuring back-lit glass “bubbles” inset into the walls to create an effect of cascading Champagne.

Evolution is a trendy disco that plays contemporary hits and classic favorites. During the day, Evolution provides dance classes, bingo, and arts and crafts. At night, Evolution caters to adults only, offering dancing, games, karaoke and a full bar serving mixed drinks.

687 is the sports bar. During the day, 687 provides family games and activities in a comfortable, casual setting; after 9:00 p.m., the venue transforms into a place for adults seeking more grown-up activities and games to enjoy over a beer, wine or mixed drinks.

Adult-only time is also available all day at the Cove Pool, a multi-level pool of varying depths with the Cove Cafe close by. Signature dining venue Palo, a reservations only premium restaurant open for dinner, is also just for adults.

Ditched kids are not just left to wander the decks though. Youth programs ranging from in-cabin baby-sitting to engaging age-appropriate group care is also available.

Photos courtesy Disney Cruise Line