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

Video of Disney Dream’s AquaDuck water coaster in action

One of the most talked about features of Disney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream cruise ship is the on-board AquaDuck water coaster. Not to be confused with water roller coasters, like the Dive to Atlantis rides at the SeaWorld parks, water coasters aren’t actually roller coasters. According to Wikipedia, they’re water slides that mimic roller coasters by providing not only descents, but ascents as well. They propel riders uphill via water jets, conveyor belts, and other propulsion devices.

AquaDuck has been previewed with construction updates and written about for quite some time. Now that Disney Dream has launched, Inside the Magic has posted this great first-person POV video of the AquaDuck in action.

I’ve never been on a cruise and don’t consider myself a Disney fan, but the AquaDuck is definitely an eye-catching new attraction. AquaDuck looks like it offers some amazing views and a pretty thrilling ride for a water slide.

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

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.