Blog Archives for the ‘Disney’ Category
Juneau, Alaska — Larry Stauffer’s job assignment the past couple of years has been pretty straightforward:
Figure out how to make the standard shore excursions in the busy Alaskan market so special that passengers aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s first-ever trips there this summer will buy its pricier versions.
For Stauffer, that meant getting the lumberjacks, dog mushers, gold-panners, helicopter pilots, totem-pole carver, glacier guides, train conductors and fishing boat operators to come up with something distinctively better.
Disney passengers can dress in protective gear and get a helicopter ride to a glacier near Juneau, then set off with ice axes to explore.
To achieve that, the manager of Disney Cruise’s Port Adventures (the Mouse’s term for excursions) twice flew from Orlando to Alaska, sampling about 20 excursions, then meeting with the operators.
“I absolutely challenged them to come back to us with ideas that were different for Disney. I told them we would be coming with 1,000 kids, told them what we already do on our existing itineraries,’’ Stauffer told me as he led a media tour to the ports last fall.
The Disney Wonder begins the first of 18, one-week voyages May 3 from Vancouver. It will call on Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Here’s a sampling of the Wonder’s up-market excursions it terms the Signature Collection:
Ketchikan – A popular tour visits Totem Bight State Historical Park, for a walkabout and explanation of the symbolism represented by its 14 totem poles. The Signature Collection touch takes place at the adjacent Potlatch Totem Park:
Youngsters help create a new totem pole, portraying a sea monster. Each child will be given paints and a piece of wood bearing a stenciled design – either feathers or gills for the monster. Each newly painted piece will be attached to the 20-foot-tall pole, to be finished by the end of the summer season.
For something flashier, the long-running Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is down-sizing logs and equipment, for shows performed just for Wonder passengers.
Youngsters get to try their hand at a special version of the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, in Ketchikan.
The lumberjacks will select about 10 children — as young as 5 – to take part in pint-sized versions of several stunts.
Skagway — The famed White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, an engineering marvel when built between 1898 and 1900, carried about 365,000 tourists in 2010 on its 27-mile, narrated, trip.
For those Wonder passengers selecting to upgrade, White Pass will form special Disney trains, carrying up to 120. They will get the standard trip as the train chugs up the mountain pass for about 100 minutes.
But Signature Collection passengers will stay onboard for the return trip, rather than getting into buses. On the downhill ride, kids will be placed in their own railcar. They will get special activity books, including an I-spy bingo style game to keep them checking the slowly passing scenery.
The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad climbs through the same passes as it did when built for the Yukon gold rush.
There also will be a costumed character – either a railroad figure or a prospector — spinning tales of the gold rush era.
The passengers are then taken to train the attraction named Liarsville. Here, Wonder passengers will watch an exclusive performance of a puppet show and listen to costumed staff explain that the gold prospectors had to carry about a ton of goods to help them survive the harsh winter.
The kids will be sent on a scavenger hunt for those supplies, in the tent village that is Liarsville. Next, the youngsters will try panning for gold flakes, with help from the Liarsville staff – and Donald Duck, resplendent in a traditional and matching ear-flaps hat.
Juneau — Perhaps the most-spectacular of the Signature Collection trips occurs out of Juneau, atop the Upper Norris Glacier.
In a typical summer, helicopter operator Tim Cudney (cq) and 16-time Iditarod musher Linwood Fiedler (cq) will haul about 10,000 passengers up to the glacier and put them on two-mile loops around the glacier in dog sleds. According to Cudney, “It is a life-changing experience … We have people (saying) this is on their bucket list.’’
And that’s without the tourists’ getting to put booties on the dogs to protect their paws – just one of the add-ons fashioned for the Signature passengers. They will also select the lead dog, then help harness the dogs to the sled.
Finally, these passengers can take the place of the professional musher – though youngsters will be just holding the sled’s handles while the pro stands behind them on the runners. The trips will be doubled to about four miles.
Also, Fiedler said, “We’ll show them how 150 dogs and 20 people can live on the glacier in a tent city, without flush toilets and light switches.’’
For more information
For rates, sailing dates and more information about the Disney Wonder, consult a travel agent or go to http://disneycruise.disney.go.com.
The Trek truck brings you within a few yards of Animal Kingdom's herbivores.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Acclaimed anthropologist Jane Goodall was a consultant as Walt Disney World Resort was building its fourth and largest theme park, Animal Kingdom. When the media previewed the park before its April 1998 opening, I asked Dr. Goodall what she thought when she was first contacted by the entertainment conglomerate. She answered:
“I wondered, what took them so long?’’
I was thinking the same thing when I went on the park’s new, three-hour experience, the Wild Africa Trek: What took them so long, to provide the customers a more up-close view of the critters?
The Trek is pricey — $129 until Feb. 26, then $189 – but it is fun, educational and at times, thrilling. On the two hours of walkabout, you will be leaning over the banks of a river to get within15 feet from hippos and from crocodiles so large they look like leathery minivans with pointy teeth. A lot of teeth.
Saving you from becoming someone else’s very special memory of the trek is a snug-fitting vest. It has harnesses around your upper thighs and a sort of industrial-strength bungee cord attached to its back. The two Trek guides help you hook a carabiner clamp at the end of this cord to brackets that slide along metal railings. This allows you to lean over the river banks, as well as to cross two swaying suspension bridges.
Your snug vest and bungee line keep you tethered when crossing the bridges.
The bridges, too, cross the river, and while you grasp the cables that hold up the netted sides of the bridges, you’ll be looking down for the irregularly spaced wooden planks on which to step. Looking down is good, because you’ll again be eyeing the crocs or the hippos, more than 20 feet below.
The guides alternate leading/narrating the walk and photographing the participants, limited to a maximum of 12. At the end of the trek, each person is given a card with password information that allows them to view all the images taken and to then order a photo CD, which is included in the fee.
Also included is a charming picnic lunch served at an observation post providing great views of elephants, giraffes and various types of antelopes. The lunch, served in an ingenious metal container, includes appetizer-sized items such as prosciutto ham, shrimp, salmon and hummus.
This lunch stop occurs in the last third of the trek, which is made by open-sided truck. It follows the same roads used by the often-crowded Kilimanjaro Safari trucks. But your truck benches have plenty of space, and binoculars are provided for the frequent stops to better view animals.
My truck paused within 15 feet of a young giraffe and an adult, within 30 feet of a rhino and her youngster. We also watched three cheetahs on a nearby hillside, a lion and lioness looking relaxing in the sun, plenty of hooved stock, and several adult elephants and a predictably cute young one.
The Wild Africa Trek provides up-close views on a three-hour trip.
All of these were pointed out and described to us by the knowledgeable guides. We heard them over ear pieces that attached to portable radios receiving their commentary.
The Wild Africa Trek offers especially close-up views of creatures we otherwise might never get. On the Kilimanjaro Safari trucks, you could be in the middle of a row, with other passengers blocking your camera. Not the case on the Trek, and we never left a stopping point until everyone was satisfied with their view through the provided binoculars or their cameras.
If you go
Because Wild Africa Trek steps off just six times a day and is limited to 12 people, reservations are recommended; call for (407) 939-8687. It is limited to those at least 8 years old and weighing less than 300 pounds – participants step on a scale before they are allowed to don a vest, though the scale’s read-out is seen only by a staffer.
Also before being outfitted, each participant must empty their pockets into their own locker, lest anything fall out during the trip. Cameras that have a neck strap can be retained.
A ticket to Animal Kingdom is required in addition to the Trek fee, which is $129 through Feb. 26, when it rises to $189. In addition to the walk and truck ride, participants receive lunch, a metal water bottle to keep, and a CD of photos of their experience.
It’s getting so a cruise passenger can’t even stroll the 1,115-foot-long ship in private without launching interactivity.
Which is exactly what the creative gang at the Walt Disney conglomerate, the Imagineers, has been planning for years.
The venue is the company’s first new ship since 1999, the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream. It began sailing from Port Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 26. And aboard this vessel, technology rules, in clever and entertaining ways.
For instance, in 22 places along the corridors of the Dream, framed images from classics such as Bambi and Fantasia are actually LCD screens. They change — thanks to motion detectors — from a static image to several seconds of the film when passengers approach. Soon, facial recognition software will insure that individual guests see a different loop the next time they approach the frame.
A dad helps his son solve one of the mysteries that play on the Enchanted Art frames in public spaces aboard the Dream.
Passengers can even play detective, solving different mysteries by passing a special card in front of some of those frames, which read a bar code on the card and then display a clue.
Speaking of animation, a starring role aboard the ship goes to Crush, the surfer-dude sea turtle from Finding Nemo. A few years ago, the Imagineers introduced an interactive version of Crush to the theme parks: Youngsters face a huge LED screen, onto which the animated turtle swims. He asks specific kids their names, jokes with them, answers their questions.
On the ship, Crush reprises this act on a 103-inch plasma screen in the Oceaneer’s Club, hangout for the 3- to 10-year-old set. But Crush is also the headliner in the Animator’s Palate, one of three restaurants passengers use on a planned rotation for dinners.
When diners enter, the 696-seat Palate is decorated as a studio where Walt Disney and his colleagues might have worked in the 1930s. Giant pencils and paint brushes stand upright in the room, while wallboards hold notes and character sketches.
But during the meal, the room changes, seemingly submerging into the waters occupied by Crush and his undersea pals. On more than 100 TV monitors of varying sizes, these creatures flit about, and Crush visits with diners in nine sections of the room.
While youngsters pick up on Crush immediately, adults unfamiliar with him are sometimes caught off-guard when he questions them directly: “Yo, dude in the red shirt! How’s it going, man? Where are you from? … Dude? Red-shirt guy?’’
The technological innovations are not all child’s play aboard the Dream:
/ Seven large “windows’’ of the Skyline bar each day show a different cityscape – New York, Rio or Paris, for instance – though the ship sails to none of these places. Light or shadows play out in real time during the day as the sun crosses above that city, and sharp-eyed viewers can see cars moving on the streets. The windows are actually LED screens.
In the District, the bar Skyline features LED monitors displaying video of city skylines such as Rio
/ Inside cabins, which have no actual window on the world, do have a live view of the what’s happening outside the hull, courtesy of five high-definition TV cameras. The playful Imagineers also have arranged that one of three dozen animated images randomly flashes on to the real picture. You might see Peach, the starfish from Nemo
, or characters seeming to trot around the inside frame of the “porthole.’’
Those LED screens were a clever plan by cruise executives: “Ordinarily, inside cabins are those least-desired by passengers,’’ Karl Holz, cruise line president, told me onboard in mid-January. But when word spread over the Internet about the “virtual portholes,’’ the inside cabins quickly sold out.
What’s likely to become the Dream’s icon is hard to miss: the 765-foot long, enclosed waterslide named the AquaDuck.
A line of passengers winds up the stairway to the entrance of the AquaDuck, as a raft shoots through the 765-foot-long water coaster
Mounted 150 feet above the waterline and passing down both sides of the ship, the water coaster is a transparent tube, 54 inches in diameter, through which pumps force more than 9,000 gallons of water. Passengers sit on two-person rubber rafts and are immediately thrust into a 360-degree loop that carries them over the side of the ship for about 12 feet, before returning them to the first long, straight part of the ride.
They pass through the forward funnel, then again parallel the hull for another 335 feet, before ending about 46 feet below where they started.
The general design of the Dream avoids the current boxy look of mega ships, with a pronounced prow and an added curve of metal sweeping down several decks of staterooms, near the stern.
Interiors blend touches of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and of course, Disney whimsy. There’s no chance passengers will forget that the parent company grew from cartoons to beloved, full-length animated films.
There’s plenty to amuse adults, too, such as four themed bars – a sports pub, a champagne bar, etc. — plus a disco, grouped in the area termed The District, and adults-only fine-dining restaurants, one Italian, one French.
The Italian restaurant is the 118-seat Palo, already a fixture on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. This venue alternates rich fabrics on its banquettes, displays its wines in custom-made leather holders, and its private room has a window on the kitchen. Dinner here is a $20 surcharge per person.
Custom-made leather wine bottles holders are a fixture in Palo.
More upscale is the French room, Remy, which seats just 65 for once-a-night servings designed to last three hours. It boasts a pair of five-course dinners on a menu designed jointly by a French chef with two Michelin stars and by the American chef responsible for consistently earning five AAA diamonds and five Mobil stars for the Victoria and Albert restaurant, in the Disney parks’ Grand Floridian hotel.
Said V&A chef Scott Hunnel, Remy’s kitchen eschews gas for electricity, because open flame is not allowed on the ship. This changes some cooking times but, Hunnel added, “Some of the apparatus is better than we have in the landside kitchens.’’
Remy offers appetizers such as langostino and smoked bison.
Though Remy takes its name and even some deft design elements from a rat who is the leading character in the animated film Ratatouille
, there’s no kidding around about the price: $75 per person for just the food, $99 if you also want the wine pairings.
Still, the purposely limited capacity of the gourmet restaurants means relatively few members of the average shipload of passengers is going to leave the Dream happily recalling a meal there. Instead, it is the clever gadgetry, big and small, that they’ll be telling friends about.
Just as the Disney executives planned:
“The best part of having designers and Imagineers working at our parks is being able to bring their knowledge to the ships,’’ said Bruce Vaughn, executive vice president of the Imagineers told me. “We have to pack it differently onboard because of space considerations, but we have the guests with us longer.’’
Added the company’s senior president for creative services, Joe Lanzisero:
“We’re creating the future – things never seen before.’’
If you go
For more information or to make reservations, contact a travel agent or go to http://disneycruise.disney.go.com.