Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disney cruise ships 'one big stage'

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Disney is a small cruise line. Disney entertainment is big.

Combine those two extremes, and all of sudden, a four-ship cruise line appears bigger than it is, creating the appearance Disney is everywhere, when you shop for cruises around North America.

Disney Entertainment runs through every phase of this 91-year-old company founded by two brothers as a cartoon studio. Today, it is theme parks, resorts and a cruise line. Even Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruises, calls his ships "one big stage."

The two new ships -- the Dream last year and the Fantasy last month -- combined to give the Disney "imagineers" their biggest floating stage to date. In a way, they're a throwback. Seeing these ships with their elongated bow and one fake stack conjures up the appearance of the steamship liners from the 1920s and '30s.

The Atrium and Grand Staircase are massive. That grand-ship feel continues and, yes, you are still greeted by the staffers, calling out your family name to the cheers of thousands. OK, dozens.

Many popular features from the Disney Dream have been included in the Fantasy, such as the AquaDuck water coaster that floats around the top deck. Yet there is much that's new on the entertainment and technology side of this ship.

Disney updated the children's area with more interactivity and more space. The outer deck received a facelift -- AquaLab for the kids and Satellite Falls for the adults -- although I have yet to understand the full value of this.

But the you-have-to-be-kidding moment comes in the restaurant, Animator's Palate. I discovered in a one-on-one interview with Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive for Imagineering, that what I was about to see has been under wraps for a year. You know, top security, waiting to be installed on the Fantasy.

Here's the scoop...

Kids and adults at dinner are encouraged to take crayons and paper to draw cartoons, anything from stick drawings to something elaborate. Their works are mixed with Disney animation and song and each kid's (or adult's) drawing comes to life, with some of Disney's biggest characters singing and dancing. No, I don't know how they do it, and nobody at Disney is telling.

The Fantasy's shows include "Wishes" (aimed at teens and families) and a theatre production of Aladdin. All of these -- in fact, all entertainment at Disney -- gets its start in the CBC building in Toronto. Entertainers from around the world have their own studio, where the shows are rehearsed for weeks, prepping for the next stage of rehearsing, in the parks and the ships. With singers like Jennifer Hudson and Broadway dancers getting their start on ships, it has become a go-to place for young entertainers to gain experience.

And Disney is always for young, or young at heart. The Muppets are featured in a new game show that sends you searching the ship for clues. The kids get to look like their favourite princess at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a transplant from the parks -- $50 for hair and makeup, and much more for clothes.

Headlining late-night entertainment on the Fantasy are bars with different themes, all under the umbrella of Europa, and including an Irish pub that doubles as a sports bar. You will find much of the same on Dream, but featuring major cities.

Cruising with Disney can be costly, and many other cruise lines also cater to and entertain children with massive space. You're paying for the Disney experience, so you have to decide if cruising with part of the famous theme park on your ship is worth the expense.

You have to decide if you want to, as they say at Disney, "have a magical day."

The Fantasy is sailing seven-day alternating Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises. For more about the ship, check my portsandbows.com blogs that started on March 27.

-- Postmedia News

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise information. Phil can be contacted directly at portsandbows@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 D7

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