Keeping Disney magic afloat
A 24-by-14-foot LED screen called Funnel Vision shows Disney animated features throughout the day. (Allison Busacca)
At dinner aboard the newly launched Disney Dream, the newest addition to the 13-year-old Disney Cruise Line, Crush, the laid back, Aussie surfer-speaking sea turtle from the Disney/Pixar movie Finding Nemo, swooped in for a visit. He called on fellow diners by the colour of their shells (shirts), answered questions from admiring fans and posed for every camera he could see.
While character visits are nothing new to Disney - costumed characters regularly parade around the parks and resorts- this Australian turtle was neither stuffed, nor silent.
By using hidden microphones, video cameras and lighting-fast animation, cartoon Crush swoops from screen to screen throughout the restaurant, interacting with the crowd in a way that made him seem... alive.
"Can I get a... Rightous?" Crush asked an adult cruiser in a plaid shell.
"Ah dude! Check you with the lingo dude! Let's see if you remember this one, 'You so totally rock!'"
"I do so totally rock!" the plaid-shelled cruiser replied. And in a moment of pure improv, with a face of both surprise and awe, Crush replied, "Wait, wait dude. I like your style on that one. I'll have to remember that one on the future dude!"
For a moment, you could almost hear the actor laughing through the surfer facade - but not quite.
Since Walt Disney released Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse, in 1928, audiences around the world have been enamoured with Disney's magic. And with the opening of Disneyland in California in 1955 (plus four more theme parks worldwide since then), viewers have been flocking to the parks to experience the magic first hand. Now, more than 10 years after Disney first dipped its toe into the cruise industry, Disney is cannon-balling back into the sea with a ship nearly 40% larger than its first two. The Dream, a mid-sized, 4,000 passenger boat, will sail three-, four- and five-night Bahamian itineraries departing from Port Canaveral, Fla.
But how does Disney's magic fare on the high seas? Does the Disney Dream, the cruise line's most ambitious ship to date, compare with the offerings of Florida's Walt Disney World, its largest resort?
In late 2012, the Magic Kingdom theme park, one of four in Walt Disney World, will begin its largest expansion since it opened in 1971 - nearly doubling the size of kid-friendly Fantasyland, and further solidifying the resort's commitment to entertaining the smallest Mickey fans. The park will be adding Belle's Village, a setting from Beauty and the Beast, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a family coaster themed from the movie Snow White, and a second circling carousel of soaring pachyderms for Dumbo the Flying Elephant, hopefully reducing the wait time for one of the most popular children's rides in the Magic Kingdom.
And while every park within the resort has one or two standout attractions that cater to the older set - Disney's Hollywood Studios delights with the Tower of Terror and even the previously tame Animal Kingdom has added a mega-coaster, Expedition Everest -Disney Cruise Line seems to pick up where the parks leave a void, with entire areas dedicated to pre-teens, teenagers and adults.
On the Disney Dream, pre-teens (ages 11 to 13) have access to Edge, a loft-style space on deck 13, distinctly separated from the other kids' areas eight floors below. Dominating the room is a massive 18 ft-by-5 ft video screen, perfect for mass Nintendo Wii competitions. In addition to individual computer stations, there is a green screen, editing room and music mixing station for them to create their own videos. Parents need not worry: every kids-only area on the boat is supervised by a camp counsellor-type adult, but to keep the loft feeling more VIP than a chaperoned school dance. Edge can only be accessed by a swipe of the young passenger's keycard, via an elevator in the ship's forward funnel.