April 17, 2011 in Travel

Disney cruise ship offers surprisingly understated features

Mitch Stacy Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Fireworks explode during the “Buccaneer Blast!” aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Heading to Seattle

 Disney Cruise Line will bring its floating theme parks to Seattle next year when it plans to launch seven-night round-trip cruises to Alaska.

 Fourteen sailings, starting in May 2012 and going through August, will be aboard the Disney Wonder, a massive 2,400-passenger ship with three pools and 10 decks.

 Ports of call will include Skagway; Juneau; Tracy Arm, a fjord near Juneau; Ketchikan; and Victoria, B.C.

 The cruises will replace some of 18 sailings the family-oriented line plans this year from Vancouver, B.C., its first foray into Alaskan market.

 Disney will be the sixth major cruise line to sail between Seattle and Alaska. Others are Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

– Carol Pucci, Seattle Times

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – The christening ceremony, complete with elaborate musical number, fireworks and a 16-foot champagne bottle, was typical in-your-face Disney.

The best attributes of the company’s newest cruise ship, though, aren’t quite so over-the-top.

Oh, the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream certainly has some wows, like a 765-foot “water coaster” whose clear tubes wind and twist above the highest decks. But the Disney whimsy here is more understated than you might expect.

Art deco interiors and other classic touches in common areas hark back to a time when only the very wealthy could afford to sail on ocean liners. From the atrium’s massive chandelier to the plush theater, it’s a grand display.

“The goal was to create an experience for all generations – for people who come with grandparents and great-grandparents, for people who come without children,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said.

“I think everybody takes out of it what they want, but I think we’re providing a tremendous amount of surprise, too.”

The Disney Dream, carrying 40 percent more passengers than either of the two existing ships in the fleet, is sailing three-, four- and five-night cruises to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island.

Its twin, the Disney Fantasy, is due to be delivered to Port Canaveral next year. They are the first new ships since Disney Cruise Line launched in 1998.

Aboard the Dream, the Disney brand is never far away. Blankets, bedside light fixtures and bath towels bear silhouettes of Mickey Mouse.

The 150 inside staterooms, typically the cheapest accommodations on a ship because they lack windows, are equipped with “virtual portholes” providing live views outside the ship.

The innovative video feed is not just sea and sky; it’s embellished by the occasional appearance of Disney characters.

A technology-filled children’s area called the Oceaneer Club promises to keep kids stimulated while parents relax by a quiet pool or pull up a bar stool in one of the chic clubs in an adults-only area called The District.

The Oceaneer Club’s 103-inch plasma TV screen shows movies, but also offers interactions with an animated character, the surfer-dude sea turtle Crush from “Finding Nemo.”

In a neat show of Disney innovation, Crush appears to hold spontaneous conversations with guests, responding appropriately to whatever they might say.

Crush is also the star of an interactive experience in an assigned-seat dinner restaurant called the Animator’s Palate, working the room on huge video screens with other “Nemo” characters and marveling at diners in the “human tank.”

In 22 other places around the Dream, “enchanted art” on walls comes alive when guests approach, thanks to nifty video techniques and motion detectors.

“Technology is an enabler throughout the entire ship,” Disney Cruise Line President Karl Holz said. “It brings the ship to life in many, many different ways.”

The backdrop for an adult bar called Skyline is a huge faux window offering pictures of big-city skylines. A massive video screen over the main swimming pool shows cartoons and drives the raucous “Pirates of the Caribbean” deck party.

This ship also has more entertainment for ’tweens and teens, a demographic that wasn’t as engaged as younger kids on Disney’s other two ships, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. As a result, Brown said, Disney was losing families with kids older than 10 to some of the other lines.

The Dream carved out a larger, cooler, no-parents-allowed space for teens connected to a private sun deck. The Oceaneer Lab is chock-full of video games and other technology.

“I think that was the one thing they really had to nail,” Brown said.

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