SOMEWHERE IN THE ATLANTIC — This is not your grandparents’ cruise ship. Disney Cruise Line has cast off much of the approach that went into its first four ships for a new theme that really targets the super fan for its new ship Disney Wish.
Super fans of what? In a word: everything.
Now juggling the entertainment juggernauts that are Star Wars, Marvel along with Pixar and its bread-and-butter Disney Princesses and Mickey Mouse, the new 144,000-gross-ton vessel, the largest ever for the fleet, has mixed things up to let each of those brands own their own corners of the ship.
“Walt Disney Imagineers are so skilled in helping us think through this sort of idea of continuity and storytelling and ensuring that the characters and stories that we’re telling are presented in a way that the environment is really conducive to that particular story,” said Sharon Siskie, vice president of Disney Cruise Line during the ship’s three-day christening cruise, for which the Sentinel paid a reduced media rate. “You may step out of that story into another story and we’re just extremely thoughtful about how we do that.”
Each of those spaces have gone all-in on their brand. Just like Marvel and Star Wars fans love Easter Eggs in their movies, and Disney fans love their hidden Mickeys, each of these spaces have shoehorned in so many details, that the super fans will need a lot of time to take it all in.
So when cruisers venture into the new Worlds of Marvel dining space, it’s like entering an attraction at the theme parks. They have left the ship behind. The same goes for the new Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, complete with an automatic futuristic sliding whooshing as it opens. Whatever ship you were just walking around on is just gone.
Even with the the new “Frozen”-themed restaurant Arendelle, diners walk down the longest hall in the fleet immersing them into the world of Anna and Elsa’s homeland.
While the ship has multiple personalities through its venues, there are still veins of the cruise line of old holding it all together, and with a ship that’s not too much larger than the last two ships that joined the fleet — Dream and Fantasy — so that Disney Wish feels similar, but with just more leg room, as it will be targeting sailings with about 4,000 passengers when it begins normal three- and four-night service to the Bahamas with its inaugural cruise on July 14.
“Strategically we like this size,” Siskie said. “So Dream, Fantasy and Wish class — we like this size. We think it’s just the right mix — gives us the opportunity to develop the spaces the way we want them, to bring in additional intellectual property a create new spaces. But it’s also easier to navigate.”
Still on the menu are the three free rotational dining venues, although all new for this ship. There are three theatrical shows on tap, two of which are new. And the popular kids play area Oceaneer Club is back, and just like the rest of the ship, a little bit bigger.
It’s the new features that really set this ship apart from its predecessors, though, and while the line is still admittedly running down to the wire to get everything working just right with less than two weeks before paying customers come on board, many of the new features promise to become crowd pleasers.
Here are 10 of the most notable:
1. AquaMouse: Billed as the first attraction at sea for the fleet, the ride had a lot of growing pains during the sailing, but if they get ironed out, it should delight those seeking mini thrills during their top-deck bathing suit adventures. The theming will have those not up on their recent Mickey and Minnie Mouse animation questioning the source material, but it’s from the series of shorts that have been around since 2013. That style has its fans among the younger set especially, and so the to several water-squirting animated scenes including an abominable snowman who is admonished too late to “say it, don’t spray it” play into that fandom. That’s what’s on display during a quick ramp ride up much like the incline on a roller coaster before the two-seat inflatable boat gets sent on a water-jet-propelled finale through the remainder of the 760-foot-long ride through clear plastic, and open-air tubes around the top deck. At full speed without breakdowns, the cadence of tube riders is quicker than the similar AquaDuck water coaster on Dream and Fantasy, so it has the potential to handle more guests.
2. Worlds of Marvel: Taking the role as entertainment dining venue that’s held by the Animator’s Palate on other ships, this new restaurant is essential for Marvel fans. The food is the most diverse offering among any in the fleet because it pulls from the various real and fictional locations from the Marvel Cinematic Universe like the lamb shawarma salad, a nod to the post-credits scene in “The Avengers.” There’s also items from African country Wakanda, eastern-European country Sokovia, Scandanavian fare via New Asgard and more. The food, though, is secondary to the show that comes in the form of actors Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, who reprise their roles as Ant-Man and The Wasp. Rudd’s comic timing and the storyline are superb, with true Marvel fans to have several laugh-out-loud moments. The crowd also interacts with a “Quantum Core” on their tables to help drive the story along, including participating in a big battle scene with more Marvel characters, including the newest in the form of Ms. Marvel who only started streaming on a Disney+ show last month It’s a loud to-do with a lot of visual information to take in, and those not up on their Marvel lore may get overwhelmed.
3. Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge: Those who don’t know much about the galaxy far, far away might want to find themselves a Star Wars geek to accompany them into this bar. Open to everyone during the day, it becomes adults-only at night. It’s designed to simulate a high-end cruise ship in space and the highlight by far is the high-resolution screen simulating a window to space through which viewers see roughly one hour of hyperspace jumps among six different points in space orbiting places like Tatooine and Endor. This is the thrill for Star Wars fans, who will be engrossed with the Easter Eggs like spotting the Millennium Falcon flying by. The rest of the bar has unique features such as holographic displays, but word of warning: the space is very loud, although less so up at the bar. The lounge’s potable offerings include Star Wars-themed beers and cocktails, including one tasty nonalcoholic green drink complete with a baby Yoda garnish.
4. Arendelle: A Frozen Dinner Adventure: Disney had already dipped its toes into dinner theater with Rapunzel and Tiana-headlined venues, and now Anna, Elsa and even a crowd-pleasing mechanical Olaf take the stage, but many would say that the character Oaken, who ran Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna in the first film steals the show. For those who have not seen “Frozen 2,” about half the songs performed will be lost on you, but let’s be honest: even those who have never seen “Frozen” may get caught up with the rest of the crowd belting out “Let it Go.” The food holds up well, and timing is paced for a memorable performance that has kids as its biggest fans.
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5. On stage: While Star Wars and Marvel may own more of the ship’s food and drink offerings, the stage belongs to Disney classics with a new version of “The Little Mermaid” as the headliner. Once again, Disney puppetry mastery is mixed with its high-end digital projection to bring the crowd, including some grandparents potentially, back “Under the Sea” to the updated story that’s meant to empower Ariel more than the 1989 film version. Another new stage show finally gives Goofy the lead role, but with one of the largest supporting casts of Disney and Pixar characters seen to date among Disney stage shows titled “Disney Seas the Adventure.” the 30-minute show meant for the first day at sea also features Crush from “Finding Nemo,” Moana, Merida from “Brave,” Hercules and others. The line is also offering up a version of “Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular,” with all three performed in the 1,274-seat Walt Disney Theatre.
6. Dining for grown-ups: For those who want to hear each other while dining, the final spot in the rotational dining options is 1923, a California-cuisine-serving venue that is filled with thousands of drawings and props from Disney films throughout the years. The music is Disney classics, but done in a jazzy rendition while the food was among many on board’s favorite offerings among the three. There are, however, also once again two more extra-cost venues geared for adults. The less expensive of the two is an updated version of Palo now billed as a steakhouse, but also still tied to northern Italian cuisine like it is on the other ships in the fleet. The marquee restaurant, though, is Enchanté by 3-star Michelin Chef Arnaud Lallement, which relies heavily on French cuisine similar to Lallement’s Remy on Dream and Fantasy, but offers other international fare. Adjacent to both is a new lounge called The Rose themed to “Beauty and the Beast” and characters Cogsworth and Lumière act as ambassadors to the two restaurants.
7. Adult escapes: The new ship shape allowed for some shifts in offerings to give the kid-free zones a few more places to stretch their legs. That includes the Quiet Cove bar with its infinity pool that is often aimed by the ship’s captain at the sunset. A larger Senses Spa is in play as well. But new to the fleet are dedicated hair salons and barber shops. The latter, Hook’s Barbery, features a quaint bar where Lewis Andrews of Glasgow, Scotland will whip up a beautiful-to-see-smell-and-taste, smoke-infused old fashioned from among an arsenal of pre-Prohibition bourbons, vintage whisky and port, aged rum and premium spirits.
8. Oceaneer Club: Geared toward those ages 3-12, this space usually offers up four unique spaces. For Disney Wish, they made it five, but by absorbing what was known as the Oceaneer Lab on other ships. What’s on the menu though, will keep kids coming back for hours including Star Wars: Cargo Bay, the third Star Wars-themed space on a Disney ship, but this one is the first with a Porg. The main draw will be a Pokémon Go-esque virtual game in which attendees have to find, capture and care for Star Wars creatures. The space also has hundreds of lights, switches and buttons to push. Game on. Also among the largest spaces is the Wish’s version of the Marvel Avengers Academy, and this one has thematic tie-ins to the Marvel restaurant. The highlight is an interactive build-your-own superhero costume that pulls from a vast array of suits among characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther. Oceaneer Lab may be gone, but not really as it’s not incorporated into a Disney Imagineering space that has a build-your-own ride feature. There are also spaces based on Disney Princesses and Mickey and Minnie. The larger space also allows for certain sections to be closed off, so that those older than 12 can have more chances to play without closing down the whole section.
9. Pirates back with a bang: There are a lot of R’s in the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” so it’s fitting the updated top deck pirate party returns to the cruise line with a spate of rock hits by pirate-band The Scallywags doing versions of “Yo, Ho! (A Pirate’s Life For Me),” “We Will Rock You” and “We’re Not Going to Take It” during the Pirates Rockin’ Parlay Party! The show is tightened up from previous versions when characters Capt. Redd (the granddaughter of the red-headed woman from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction) and Capt. Jack Sparrow heralding the line’s signature fireworks at sea. Rock music and fireworks. Hard to go wrong.
10. Grand Hall: Nope, it’s not an atrium. It’s bigger. Disney Cruise Line officials tout the larger space for its potential as a new entertainment space. It still is home to the ship’s signature bronze statue: Cinderella along with villainous cat Lucifer hunting mice Jaq and Gus under her dress. The chandelier is meant to steal the show several times during the sailing, such as the when Tinker Bell whizzes around it in the evening, or during a small “kiss goodnight” light display. Interactivity is key though, with wishing wands handed out to everyone coming aboard that will let them make their “first wish” while coming on board. The addition of a stage lets small theatrical performances take on a new role.
The ship has a lot of headliners, but the attention to detail in its crannies and nooks make it signature Disney. And while the stories being told on Disney Wish may be more about the latest generation, there’s still enough on board to satisfy their parents and grandparents, even if it isn’t completely like the Disney ships they’ve come to love.