After 20 months under construction, Disney Dream finally embarked on its maiden voyage. Rod James talks to Disney's Fabio DiMarco and Frank de Heer about the company's partnership with the Meyer Werft shipyard, the balance between extravagance and intimacy, and how size continues to sell in a post-recession environment.
The year 2009 was a difficult one for cruise operators in the Caribbean. As the US struggled with deep economic recession, passenger numbers and revenues dropped dramatically. To compound these worries, this period saw huge amounts of capital expenditure being pumped into some of the largest, most sophisticated cruise liners ever seen. Extravagance, it seemed, looked to be falling out of favour just as Oasis of the Seas and Norwegian Epic began to smash all tonnage and capacity records.
However, unlike the US economy, the cruise industry has rebounded impressively. Helped by a raft of irresistible offers, the first two months of this year have seen record bookings figures across the region. The vessels it was feared might cripple the Caribbean cruise industry have proven to be its saviours and the latest high-profile addition to this group is Disney Dream.
With room for 4,000 passengers, 40% more than either of the two existing Disney ships – Disney Magic and Disney Wonder – Dream is 1,114ft long and weighs in at 128,000t. It will be followed by its twin vessel, Fantasy, next year.
When Disney met Meyer Werft
A collaborative project between the Meyer Werft shipyard, Disney Cruise Line and Disney Imagineering group, Dream is made from entirely German-sourced steel and is the largest vessel ever built in Germany, with head of Meyer Werft, Bernard Meyer, estimating that as many as 22,000 individuals were ultimately involved in its creation. According to Frank de Heer, vice-president of new ship development at Disney Imagineering, Meyer Werft's history made it a particularly attractive partner.
"Meyer Werft has been building ships for hundreds of years and have an excellent reputation worldwide," he explains.
"When we decided to construct two new ships for our fleet, we knew we had to find a shipbuilding partner who could execute our vision and be a truly collaborative partner from design through to construction."
Disney's main requirement was that the spirit of entertainment and family that people associate with the brand should be represented in the shipbuilding process, while the steel panels of the ship's hull were to be wrought with art deco scrollwork, a nod to the classic ocean liners of the 1930s. The parties involved offered up ideas of increasing ambition and consequently every aspect of Disney Dream's design is infused with a sense of spectacle.
"We all collaborated together very closely from day one, and on a daily basis," de Heer explains. "Throughout the design and construction of the ship, the teams challenged one another to create innovative guest experiences unlike anything else at sea. The result has been spectacular from all fronts."
Block around the dock
From a hardware perspective, Meyer Werft employs a wide range of production engineering techniques. Disney Dream was constructed using the blockbuilding principle, with individual portions of the ship built in covered production facilities before later being assembled in dry dock. Seven sections make up a block, the heaviest of which is around 800t, and 80 blocks make up the complete Disney Dream.
To make this process as quick and cost-effective as possible, Meyer Werft created its own form of laser-welding technology. In development since 1994, the new methodology is known as hybrid welding. It is a combination of laser energy and customary arc welding, which results in better quality welds that can be produced at higher speeds.
The technique can be used for a number of different procedures. For example, CO2 laser arc welding can be combined with metal inert gas welding by supplementing a conventional torch with a CO2 laser beam. Providing the angle and distance are right, this technique focuses the two technologies onto a single point and allows thick steel components to be welded with ease.
The shipyard has also made numerous developments in steel processing technology.
The ship's I-core panels consist of two thin cover plates with two webs sandwiched in-between. This precise prefabrication and the I-core panel's relatively small size make it easily manoeuvrable and ideal when quick, cost-effective installation is required.
Fabio DiMarco, director of new build, marine and technical design for Disney Cruise Line, says that achieving scale was never the project's objective. Size did, however, present certain challenges. The ship has eight dining rooms, three of which have a capacity of 696 people. Maintaining a sense of intimacy in such a cavernous environment required intelligent placing of walls and pillars. Ultimately, however, DiMarco views the sheer scale of these communal rooms as blank canvasses to be filled.
"The extra space also gave us an opportunity to devote more room to each age group within the family and more activities for families to enjoy together, ultimately giving our guests more options for how to enjoy their cruise," he says.
A particularly noteworthy example of innovation can be found on the main deck. Standing 150ft above the water and 765ft long, the AquaDuck is the world's first on-board water coaster. Made from transparent acrylic plastic and propelled by conventional water jets, it is traversed on rubber rafts that move at a speed of 20ft per second, and descend a total of 46ft.
"While it is difficult to choose just one, I think the AquaDuck water coaster has become the signature feature of the ship," de Heer says. "It's four decks high and extends for 13ft over the side of the vessel."
Disney Dream's staterooms are fitted with magic portholes – LCD television screens attached to a number of high-definition cameras placed at various points on the ship. These cameras transmit real-time images back to the porthole, giving passengers in the ship's interior cabins a stronger connection with their environment.
"The idea came out of a brainstorming session during the conceptual stages," DiMarco says. "We not only did this, but we took it up a notch and added a few Disney surprises on the screens, including animated Disney characters that make appearances in the porthole throughout the day."
Dream come true
When construction began nearly two years ago many questioned whether this extravagance was anathema to the post-recession sentiment. In de Heer's view there will always be strong demand for what Disney can offer. He also believes that the company's brand and the values associated with it carry sufficient weight to propel it through hard economic times.
"The decision to build new ships was a long-term, strategic priority that was important to the Disney Cruise Line business," he says. "We launched the business more than ten years ago and continue to experience extremely high guest-satisfaction ratings."
With the new ship averaging a nightly rate of $233, up almost a quarter on the $187 achieved by Disney Magic, and one of its restaurants already booked up until April, it seems that de Heer's confidence is justified.