26 January 2011 by By Frank Barrett, Mail on Sunday Travel Editor
Disney jumped into the cruise business 13 years ago, part of the revival of the company led by the then chief executive Michael Eisner.
In films, Eisner helped Disney rediscover its touch with a string of box-office successes that included The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast.
He also fired up the theme park division, adding attractions such as Animal Kingdom to the Walt Disney World resort in Florida, and hiring leading architects to design amazing hotels. (But not everything he touched turned to gold - Eisner was also the man behind Disneyland Paris.)
In July 1998, I attended the launch of Disney's first cruise ship - Disney Magic - at Port Canaveral, Florida. Typically, the company had built a sumptuous new terminal inspired, like the new ship itself, by the Golden Age of transatlantic liners. In his speech, Eisner explained how Disney's new vessel would recapture that sense of style and elegance.
Actually, Disney's major success with the 2,700-passenger Disney Magic - joined shortly afterwards by Disney Wonder - was to show that there was a huge family market for cruising. Until then, such holidays had largely been the preserve of older passengers.
With its shorter three and four-day voyages, Disney successfully created an abbreviated, fun-packed trip that neatly dovetailed with a three or four-day break at its Orlando theme parks, a 45-minute drive away.
The only surprise is that Disney has been slow to capitalise on that phenomenal success. A new addition to the fleet has been a long time coming but I was at the launch on Wednesday of the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream - and the wait has been worth it. A fourth vessel, Disney Fantasy, is set to join the fleet next year.
Much larger than Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, Disney Dream is no less stylish, full of similar retro-design touches that hint at the elegance of old liners such as the Normandie and the Queen Mary.
On board the extra space has been devoted to the two activities enthusiastically pursued by cruisers of all ages: eating and having fun.
Restaurants such as Animator's Palate delight not simply through the cuisine ('Pacific Rim flavours combine with California freshness') but through the fact that the food is combined with a show.
On the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, animated scenes from classic Disney films magically come alive with colour throughout the meal. On the Disney Dream, the restaurant transforms into a 'shimmering undersea world' where Crush, the sea turtle from Finding Nemo, 'swims' around the room, conversing with and entertaining guests.
The latest design innovations include inside cabins with 'virtual portholes' which offer a real-time view of the sea, and 'enchanted art' in corridors that comes alive.
Three Broadway-style musicals are staged in Disney Dream's 1,340-capacity theatre, while a Pirates Of The Caribbean-themed party takes place in the deck-top pool. The ship also boasts the largest fireworks display at sea.
But the one thing that will have children badgering parents to make a booking is AquaDuck, billed as the 'first-ever on-board water-coaster'. At 765ft long and spanning the height of four decks, AquaDuck uses powerful water blasters to propel guests, creating an experience that is described as
'a combination of a water-coaster and a not-so-lazy river'.
Elegant: The traditional liner harks back to the golden age of sea travel
Following an initial drop, guests glide through a 'swing out' loop that extends 12ft over the side of the ship. Surrounded only by the clear acrylic flume, guests get a stomach-churning view of the ocean surface 150ft below.
On most cruises, guests are attracted by the prospect of exploring an interesting list of ports of call.
With Disney, the on-board experience is everything. Parents book in the certain knowledge that children will be entertained every minute of the day. The ship even offers 'Wave' phones which ensure that parents and children can keep in touch.
On most cruises, you travel to enjoy the wow factor of Rome or Barcelona. With Disney, the wow factor is the ship.
As a holiday, a Disney cruise is not necessarily cheap - but a holiday that combines Orlando's theme park thrills with Disney Dream's on-board marvels is value for money at any price. GO BACK