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Dream Come True: Storytelling on the Disney Dream


10 May 2011


The interiors of Disney Dream are instantly recognisable to Disney’s fan base. But in terms of scale and the use of technology this is a ship with a character all of its own. COO Tom Wolber discusses the delicate process of evolving an already successful concept and the importance of storytelling.


Harking back to the early 20th century for design inspiration, the 'golden age' of cruising, is an approach that has become synonymous with lines such as Cunard; heritage operators that can draw upon decades of history, using interior architecture to transport guests back in time and expand a long-running narrative.

In terms of operational legacy, Disney Cruise Line starts from a different place. Its first ship, Disney Magic, was launched in 1998, followed by Disney Wonder a year later. This back story does not chime with themes such as 'timeless elegance' and one could be forgiven for believing that a core component of its target demographic, children, is hardly conducive to creating such a dynamic from scratch.

All-generation cruise

While operators have long been aware of the need to attract guests of all ages, interior master plans have generally been conceived with an older generation in mind. Children are not known for having a particularly discerning attitude when it comes to aesthetic preferences; when one is creating an entire ship rather than designated areas that must appeal to the whole family, the scope for a disastrous mismatch of styles must be huge.

"The Magic Portholes are interior elements that Disney is especially proud of."

Magic and Wonder have managed to avoid falling into that trap while generating experiences that are genuinely stylish and elegant yet infused with Disney irreverence, which is testament to the robustness of the brand and its indisputable cross-generational appeal. While the line has only been at sea for a little over a decade, Disney's sweeping signature style has been in development for some 90 years, making the art deco and art nouveau stylings of its first two ships seem an extremely neat fit. Disney Dream has taken these themes, tweaked and expanded them. Once again, much emphasis has been placed on evoking a former age of cruising, creating interiors that are stylistically unique and instantly identifiable.

"The goal was to create an experience for all generations, for people who come with grandparents and great-grandparents, for people who come without children," says Disney CEO Bob Iger. "Everybody takes out of it what they want, but I think we're providing a tremendous amount of surprise too."

In order to achieve this, those behind Disney Dream have focused on what the brand does best.

"At Disney, everything starts with storytelling," explains the cruise line's CEO Tom Wolber. "The story we started telling through Magic and Wonder, with the whole design concept of having that timeless ocean liner look, has been tremendously successful and brought an elegance to the product that people have very much embraced. Dream continues that narrative, but with some marked differences."

Disney Dream's awesome experience

From an interiors perspective, two of the most major alterations come in the form of technology and scale. The moment one enters the ship's three deck-high grand atrium, guests are left in little doubt as to the design team's seismic aspirations. Elements of Disney whimsy are certainly present – a bronze nautical Donald Duck stands proudly at the foot of the sweeping staircase – but this is an elegant, even grown-up, art deco space on a mega scale.

The centrepiece is a custom-designed chandelier measuring 7m in diameter. Decorated with Swarovski crystals and covered in 24-carat gold plating, it cascades 4m down from the ceiling. As story beginnings go, this is a pretty epic introduction.

"The moment one enters Dream's three deck-high grand atrium guests are left in little doubt as to the design team’s seismic aspirations."

With an increase in scale comes the danger of losing the more intimate details on which a reputation is founded. Wolber acknowledges this threat, but believes that using the same people who worked on the previous two ships generated an inherent understating of the need to retain the line's core elements.

"One tries, especially as a smaller line, to make oneself clearly recognisable as a brand," he says. "From an architectural point of view there's a language running through the ship that is immediately recognisable to those who already know Magic and Wonder. There's that sense of home because the concept has been left fully intact. At the same time, those same people will also see and appreciate the differences in scale and treatment.

"The last thing you should do is throw away what you've already developed simply because of a perceived need for new concepts, but just because something is already working doesn't mean it cannot be improved. However successful your existing designs the opportunity is still there to question everything."

Get down with the kids

In Wolber's eyes, nowhere onboard has benefited more from this thorough approach than the children's club areas. Ranging from spaces dedicated to younger children such as the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, to the 'tween' spaces Edge and Vibe, all are a testament to the immense thought that designers have invested into how to improve the one aspect of Disney's offering that was already arguably its strongest suit.

"The rooms we've created are dramatically different in the sense that they're using new stories to draw from and make extensive use of technology," the COO explains.

Disney's technological wonders

That use of technology is a running theme throughout the ship, incorporating clever innovations that add new layers of meaning into the interior design. The 'Enchanted Art' found in public spaces comes to life, Crush the turtle engages gusts in conversation from large mounted HD screens lining the wall of the Animator's Palate restaurant, the Skyline Bar projects different cityscapes throughout the day and night, with elements of interior decor also changing to match each setting.

"Dream's rooms are dramatically different in the sense that they're using new stories to draw from and make full use of technology."

The Magic Portholes are interior elements with which Disney seems especially proud, enabling every one of the ship's 1,250 staterooms to have an ocean view. The 150 inside windowless staterooms at the centre of the passenger decks are afforded a real-time projection from outside the ship, created by four high-definition video cameras that correspond to each stateroom's location – forward, aft, port or starboard. Approximately 36 animated characters and objects pass across this vista throughout the day, including Peach the starfish, Dumbo, the floating house from Up and even Mickey Mouse.

Much of the credit for these thoughtful interior innovations, and the general feel of the ship throughout, lies with Disney's Imagineering department.

As the masterplanning, creative development, design, engineering, production, project management and R&D arm of the company, the group is charged with incorporating innovative storytelling and the Disney signature across the entire portfolio.

"The department is in charge of the overall creative and design proves," Wolber explains. "We had a variety of interior designers working on different rooms and spaces, many who had been brought in with little or no cruise ship experience, but were all working under the overall vision of the Imagineering team in partnership with Disney Cruise Line. The end result is impressive and we're rather happy with it."