Imagineers Blend Elegance with Whimsy in Disney Ship Design

| September 19, 2011 | Reply

On the final day of Disney’s D23 Expo, Walt Disney Imagineers Joe Lanzisero and Bob Zalk presented “Imagineering the Dream and the Fantasy: Designing for Disney Cruise Line.”  Lanzisero was part of the team responsible for designing the Disney Magic and Wonder, and discussed Disney’s approach to family cruising.  Continue after the break to learn more about how Walt Disney Imagineering strived to make a Disney Difference in the cruise line industry.

Image: (L-R) Bob Zalk and Joe Lanzisero, Imagineers designing the Disney Fantasy

There was not much in terms of family cruising back in the early 90’s when Disney decided to enter the cruise business.  The first tasks for the Imagineers was to define what it meant to be a “family” cruise ship, what can Disney bring to the cruise experience, and what would differentiate their ships and make them distinctly Disney.

While the Imagineers toyed with the idea of placing mouse ears on the ship’s stacks and palm trees on the decks, it was CEO Michael Eisner that said the thing that would set Disney apart would be quality and elegance.  Lanzisero said, “He directed us to think about the romantic, beautiful ships like the Queen Mary and (I’m not supposed to say) Titanic.”  Eisner wanted the Disney ships to evoke the spirit of the golden age of cruising where guests sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in tuxedos and ball gowns.

The Imagineers took up Eisner’s challenge, but did not abandon their storytelling roots.  Imagineers are storytellers who use 3 dimensions as well as characters, interiors, and design to convey their stories.  Joe Lanzisero said, “Sometimes our stories are blatant with a beginning, middle, and end, but other times the stories are a subtext that create the underpinnings for our design.”  For the Disney Cruise Line ships, the story was told by the beauty and elegance of the design, and money was spent simply for artistry and aesthetic purposes.  For example, millions of dollars were spent to extend the bow of the ship so the profile would be reminiscent of graceful sailing yachts of the past.

The atrium of a Disney Cruise Line ship is similar to an establishing shot of a film.  It sets the stage for what guests will experience on the ship, and how to feel and react.  Upon entering, one immediately gets a sense of space and elegance, but examining the details allows passengers to know they are on a distinctly Disney ship.  A constant challenge for the designers is balancing the proper amount of Disney whimsy with formal elegance.  Around the balconies of the atrium is a frieze with characters, and the big nod to Disney is the theme character statue that graces the atrium.

Disney wanted innovative ships.  One way was to re-invent what’s already out there and raise the bar.  During their presentation, our cruise line Imagineers, Joe Lanzisero and Bob Zalk, detailed many of these innovations.  Two in particular for the Disney Dream were the Aquaduck and “magical” portholes.

Most cruise ships have slides in their pool area.  The Dream’s Aquaduck is a combination water rollercoaster/lazy river, and uses technology from Typhoon Lagoon’s “Crush ‘N Gusher” to launch riders uphill with water.  For a thrill, Aquaduck launches you 140 feet out above the water in a clear, acrylic tube creating a theme park ride on top of a cruise ship.

However, Joe added, “We’re Disney, we just don’t put up a slide, we need to come up with a story for the slide.”  The story goes that Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie created the Aquaduck – they worked really hard to make the thing, and the first person to test it was Uncle Donald.

Riders view the finished storyboard in the funnel on the way to the loading area.  Of course, Huey, Dewey, and Louie were still trying to figure out how to get it right, and ended up launching poor Uncle Donald into the smokestack.

One of the most creative innovations on the new Disney ships involved the inside staterooms.  Of all the staterooms on a cruise ship, the inside cabins are the least desirable.  There are 150 inside staterooms on the Disney Dream and Fantasy, and the Imagineers had the idea to pipe a live video feed with a view outside the ship onto a screen in the inside room – creating a “virtual porthole.”  However, the Imagineers didn’t stop with a simple live video feed.  Joe Lanzisero described the concept:

“Because we’re Disney, and we want to do something a little more special than that – we want to have characters visit you while you’re in the stateroom.  We went through the Disney and Pixar archives to come up with clips we thought would work well for the virtual portholes – just about all the clips have been adapted and re-animated for the virtual portholes.”

Joe Lanzisero referred to features like the Aquaduck and “magical” portholes as “Disney Differentiators.”  There are a number of ideas on the Disney ships that make them unique in the cruise industry including: enchanted art, Midship Detective Agency, magic playfloor in the kids’ club, Nemo’s Reef waterplay area, and the restaurants.

Prior to Disney getting into the cruise business, most ships had a single dining room, and guests went to that one dining room every night.  For Disney’s ships they created three, unique dining experiences, with three levels of experience associated with them: elegant, casual, and entertainment – Animator’s Palate.  Bob Zalk then treated the audience to a sneak peek of the new show for Animator’s Palate coming to the Disney Fantasy.

Joe Lanzisero and Bob Zalk’s presentation at the D23 Expo gave a sampling of what Walt Disney Imagineering does to design these ships.  Lanzisero and Zalk acknowledged the contributions of dozens of Imagineering artists and designers in both Florida and Germany who came together and created a seamless experience for the guests.

What’s your favorite aspect of the Disney ships?  What are you excited to see on the new Disney Fantasy?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and opinions. 

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Category: Disney Cruise Line

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