Disney ups the cruise-ship ante
Imagine enchanted pictures on the walls - some will interact with passengers - and interior cabins with an active porthole view of the ocean and an occasional visit by a starfish from Finding Nemo. An animated Mickey Mouse may visit your cabin while you get ready for dinner.
When Disney launched the Magic and Wonder in the late 1990s, they were the first ships designed and built specifically to accommodate and entertain parents and children.
While all the major cruise lines now build ships with families in mind, Disney still stands apart with its designs and methods for managing multigenerational family vacations.
On Disney ships, even the horns are different. They feature trumpets playing the opening notes from "When You Wish Upon a Star."
What's new. The Disney Dream is scheduled to begin sailing Jan. 26 out of Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas and Disney's private island, on voyages of three, four, and five nights. A sister ship, the Disney Fantasy, will debut in 2012.
The first water coaster at sea. Other cruise lines are building fancy water slides. Disney will introduce a high-speed flume ride that goes up and down, with twists, turns, drops, acceleration, and river rapids. AquaDuck, 765 feet long, will span four decks and will swing 13 feet over the side of the ship in a translucent tube 150 feet above the ocean. There is no extra fee for the ride.
A virtual porthole on the wall of all inside cabins. Each inside cabin will have a view of the ocean through a live feed from high-definition cameras on the exterior of the ship. Passengers can expect visits to the porthole by animated characters, such as Peach the starfish.
Enchanted art. Around the ship, some of the framed hanging art, disguised as pictures, will come alive with animation when a passenger stops to look. Disney might not approve of this comparison, but what comes to my mind is the art hanging in Harry Potter's Hogwarts school, in which the subjects move and speak to passersby. Disney does Potter one better with a detective adventure on the Dream that will take families all over the ship. Passengers will use a bar-coded card to unlock secret animations and control motions in the enchanted art to discover clues.
Disney's first floating gourmet restaurant. Remember the rodent in the movie Ratatouille and you'll understand the name - Remy. Its French menu is inspired by Arnaud Lallement from L'Assiette Champenoise, a Michelin two-star restaurant outside Reims, France. Dinner will be lavish, leisurely and adult, starting with a champagne cocktail and followed by eight or nine small courses. A separate chef's table room for 16 will offer a special multicourse menu. Fees for these meals have not been announced. Fee for the adult restaurant Palo is $15 per person.
Another new Disney idea is a policy already in effect, allowing children ages 3 and older to select activities and events regardless of age. Disney will continue to recommend activities by age and maturity, but children may choose what they want based on their interests.
One advantage of this approach, Disney says, is that children of different ages - siblings, extended family and friends - can participate in youth activities together. Siblings in a new environment away from their parents often are more comfortable playing together, Disney says.
The idea is to make the children's vacation place - ahem - a small world.
Cruising on a Dream
In May, travel agents were selling advance bookings on the Disney Dream at a discount from brochure rates.
For an inside cabin on the Disney Dream, rates ranged from about $140 per person per day for two people in a cabin in spring to about $220 in July and August. For an outside cabin, rates ranged from about $160 to about $245. For a veranda cabin, rates ranged from about $190 to about $300.
Summer cruises, when schools are out, will cost considerably more than trips in spring because the rates are higher and the trips are longer. Three- and four-night voyages in March cost between $409 per person in an inside cabin for three nights to $919 in a veranda cabin for four nights.
In July and August, rates range from about $880 in an inside cabin for four nights to $1,536 in a veranda cabin for five nights.
Disney offers special rates for children up to age 12 rooming with their parents.
- David G. Molyneaux
David G. Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com.