I was invited to attend the launching of the Disney Dream, the latest of Disney’s cruise ships. It’s twice the size of their other vessels, and stuffed to the gills with really exciting things to see. You’d expect really great kid-focused amenities and activities, and those were in full effect everywhere. But this ship wasn’t just for the young and the young at heart. It was also a pretty exciting place for a grown-up, too. I had a lot of great opportunities to sample the excitement on board, plus I got an exclusive interview with Disney CEO Bob Iger (who turned out to be really cool and personable), which I’ll put up later. For now, here’s a taste.
First, when Disney throws an event, they throw a HUGE event. I went with the Canadian social media contingent as an honorary Canadian, and we had thousands of friends in the traditional and social media world there to see the event. I shot some video of the experience that I’ll update this post with when I get it edited and uploaded, but just know that it was a huge shin-dig, with all kinds of characters, and special guests, and Jennifer Hudson singing, and things like that. Instead of smacking a little bottle against the ship, a helicopter came and hauled a giant champagne bottle against the side and fireworks went off.
My First Impression
Onboard the Dream, the first thing I realized was that, even though this boat is built for families, it has a very great range of experience between family happenings and adult experiences. There was a whole section for the 18+ crowd called The District, that had several distinct bars and dance clubs, and on the 11th deck, there was an amazing cafe that really felt like it was anywhere but on a cruise ship.
That was my first impression: that this ship had lots more to offer anyone, and not just kids. The clubs, like Pink (a champagne bar that was actually fun for guys, but obviously geared towards the ladies), plus Evolution (which had one of the best DJs I’ve heard in a while doing amazing mashups), plus Skyline (which shows a different city skyline every hour or so), were really amazing and wonderful and varied.
There’s also fine dining on the menu for an additional (but reasonable) cost, that really looked particularly fun.
The Technology is Amazing
Our first meal was in the Animator’s Palette, which some Disney cruise types might recognize from their experiences. Only, on the Dream, it’s a lot like the EPCOT experience, Turtle Talk with Crush.
The picture looks like a bunch of papers tacked to a cork board, but those turn into a huge screen and then a very interactive animated experience happens. By “very,” I mean that Crush, the dude-talking turtle from Pixar’s Finding Nemo comes around to various tables and talks to people. Like, not a trick, but, “He dude with the orange shell,” to the guy in an orange shirt. And he does the whole “Hey, where are you from?” kind of banter that talk show hosts are known to do. It’s totally amazing to watch kids realize that this is “real” and not just a cartoon.
There’s tech details like that throughout the ship, from QR codes (our hosts gave us iPod Touches to experience the Dream via a game of unlocking movies about various experiences), to a really cool detective game for kids, where they’d hold a card up in front of interactive pictures, and things would happen in the frames (video of this coming soon).
An Amazing Parenting Opportunity
The other HUGE experience I had was watching parents let their kids “off the leash,” so to speak. You’re on a cruise ship. The kid has a GPS wrist band. There are thousands of trained professionals around. And this meant that kids had a great opportunity to spend time without their parents at the Oceaneers Club, which had a huge mix of age-appropriate experiences from little kids over 4 up to tweens. A whole separate tween and teen area rounded out the sense that no matter their age, your kids were going to find an experience that would make them say, “Mom, Dad, please don’t come back until really late.”
Rides and Adventures
There were rides onboard, for littler folk as well as for all ages. I had the fortune of riding in the Aquaduck, an amazing rafting experience that takes place up above the ship. It’s really hard to explain, so the Disney people helped me shoot this video:
Can’t see it? Click here.
The Island Experience
I didn’t get much time on Castaway Cay, but it looks amazing. There were all kinds of adventures in the water, plus a beach for just adults down the other side of the island. There was a little bit of shopping, plus a nice area for music and dining. The island’s really good for a place to get off, swim, walk around, but it’s not the main point of the cruise. Definitely fun to visit, but I don’t have a lot to say about it overall, except that everyone had fun.
Overall: Is It For You?
You’re possibly thinking of cost. It’s not cheap. However, if you love premium experience management, there’s no better opportunity. Disney knows excellence in service like precious few other companies. They know how to make people feel like they’re experiencing a magical moment. I had a few times when I intended to be cynical, like the on-ship fireworks display. But no, they amazed me with the precision, plus the sync of fireworks to music. I thought the interactive stuff would be silly, but I wanted to play the kids’ detective game so bad that I kept bugging them to do it so I could watch. It was all just so worth it from an experience point of view.
I’ve now attended three different cruises in my life, all of similar length of time. Trying to compare the other two companies to Disney is like trying to compare a clip-art CD-ROM to a Pixar movie. If you want to cruise and you want an amazing experience that will handle the various desires of all the people in your family, this is an experience that will hit high grades for you. Oh, and if you want to see more pictures, check them out here.
One Last Thing
As a marketer, I pay attention to how companies try to represent their brand in other dimensions. I’ve been coming and going in Disney parks for years now. The cruise experience is something I didn’t intend to love. I just thought I’d enjoy what they accomplished, and I’d write a little bit about it. Instead, I came away really feeling positive about what the company accomplished with this particular vision.
I recognize that there are Disney haters, and that there are a lot of other negative ways that people might want to view all this. It’s okay to have those opinions. Me? I really liked the magic. I encourage you to try the experience and decide for yourself.
Again, I was sent as press to this event, and Disney paid for my attendance and meals. Sure, there’s a slight bias. I’ve spoken professionally for them (and will again in March). I wasn’t paid to write this post, nor did this post have to be cleared for publication. My opinions are my own.
Lou Mongello from WDWRadio.