Disney’s New Wish
Right now, five floating kingdoms belonging to Disney Cruise Line are navigating the turquoise waters of Earth’s oceans—with three more in development. The Walt Disney Company sees opportunities on the horizon, where modern cruise ships have become floating theme parks full of rides, water slides, live entertainment, audio animatronics, and imaginative dining.
The Disney Wish represents the first of three Triton class vessels—stretching 1,119 feet long— giving the ship a capacity of 4,000 passengers. Larger ships equate to bigger attractions and greater innovation.
Disney Cruise Line invited Funworld aboard the Disney Wish for a look at the innovation, thought process, and stories of the heart behind the company’s newest ship.
A Wish Brought to Life
Long before the Wish’s April 2021 keel laying at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany, Disney Imagineers had already walked the vessel … using virtual reality (VR) in Orlando.
“It’s amazing. These VR tools are just phenomenal,” says Danny Handke, senior creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering. Handke and scores of other designers utilized Imagineering’s Digital Immersive Showroom, simply called “The Dish.” The dome-like setting projects renderings on its walls using virtual reality.
“We could walk through the entire ship and sit in different seats to get an idea of where sightlines would be to everything,” Handke explains. He and other planners first traveled to Papenburg, Germany, along the river Ems, to create the ship deck-by-deck in a plan called the general arrangement.
“We decided where we wanted all the different spaces and locations to be from that point,” including a water-based attraction, he explains.
Disney Wish by the Numbers
Year Launched: 2022
Gross Tonnage: 144,000
Capacity: 4,000 passengers
Number of Crew: 1,555
Length: 1119 ft
Beam: 128 ft
Inside Cabins: 121
Outside Cabins: 1,133
Creating a Splash Within an Attraction
Guest feedback provided designers with data that shows passengers enjoy water slides and actively look for ways to get wet on a cruise, according to Handke. Enter the AquaMouse, a water slide Disney Cruise Line brands as its first true attraction at sea.
“When we started this project from the ground up, I grabbed a placeholder for an attraction. I said, ‘Alright! On the plans, give me a spot for that,’” Handke recalls. “Then we just started brainstorming what that could be.”
Unlike a traditional water slide, there are several parts to the AquaMouse. Five sections of slide make up the physical attraction: a conveyor belt in the loading and unloading area that advances rafts; a lift hill using a moving rubber mat that gently carries riders seated in two-person rafts as they pass several video monitors; an enclosed dark tunnel; an outdoor section with water jets to propel the rafts up inclines; and a transparent, enclosed slide made from acrylic that affords riders a view of the ocean beneath them as the flume extends over the starboard side of the ship.
“As you go up the hill, the music changes, the lighting and the media change as the story progresses,” Handke shares. The video monitors display one of two original Mickey Mouse cartoons developed for the AquaMouse. Knowing guests may ride more than once during their vacation, offering different stories keeps the ride versatile—an idea nearly 25 years in the making for Handke. As a teenager in 1999, he began imagining the perfect cruise ship while traveling on the Disney Magic. “It had everything I wanted. But I was like, ‘Man, you know, it would be so cool to have an attraction.’” Now, Disney’s latest vessel has just that, bringing one of Handke’s childhood dreams to life.
The Tech Behind the Magic
Upon first stepping aboard the Disney Wish, passengers enter the three-story Grand Hall. At the base of the grand staircase stands a bronze statue of Cinderella, complete with a glass slipper inside a cloche. Each evening, LED lights illuminate the ceiling and swirl around columns as the soundtrack of the clock striking midnight in the 1950 film plays. The end-of-day show sends guests waltzing back to their stateroom—and that’s how planners want it.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” believes Dan Soto, vice president of technology and digital for Disney Cruise Line. “It’s not about junction boxes and technology that’s sort of in your face. It truly is about technology behind the scenes, in service of the experience.”
Hidden out of sight on the Wish are miles of conduit, fiber, and double the amount of access points from a wireless perspective than those found on other Disney ships at sea. Research shows guests want to be connected, even when they disconnect from the mainland. Therefore, the Wish’s designers set out to future-proof the vessel, knowing how quickly tech can evolve.
“We know the next generation of entertainment experiences are all about connections. So, we’ve taken great steps to make sure that all our venues—and all the interstitial spaces in between those venues—are wired, per se, for the future delivery of those experiences,” Soto tells Funworld.
Food as an Attraction
One experience onboard the Wish turns dinner into theater. Two family dining locations serve entertainment with every meal—but in much different ways.
The Worlds of Marvel dining room puts diners in the middle of an epic Avengers story that cumulates when dessert arrives.
“It is truly a cinematic dining experience, leveraging technology and innovation,” Soto says. Futuristic architecture with no windows surrounds dining passengers. Instead, large flatscreen monitors flash to life at different points during the meal with actor Paul Rudd reprising his role as Ant-Man in the films by Marvel Studios. The quality of media feels like a sequel to the films, with Rudd appearing to be onboard. At one point, diners are asked to cooperate by interacting with a device found on their table, saving the Wish from a villain who intercepted the vessel.
Meanwhile, the Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure dining room places live actors and a mobile audio animatronic from the movie “Frozen” on a stage in the round. Throughout the meal, the performers sing, dance, and immerse passengers in the story between courses. Andy Bell, manager of culinary development for Disney Cruise Line, says the menus at sea took years to develop inside a test kitchen in Florida and were perfected on board the line’s other ships.
“We’ll come on board and work with the team to continue the development,” Bell says. “We have to make sure we can execute (each entrée) right, because it’s not just for one person or two people, it’s a full dining room. Therefore, we collaborate with the shipboard teams to make sure we can deliver.”
One of the “showstoppers” developed for the Wish includes Elsa’s Royal Baked Scallops. The dish includes poached scallops in what Bell describes as “a rich, buttery, velvety shrimp tarragon bisque.” The bowl is then encased inside a puff pastry the size of a softball. Servers are mindful of their location as live entertainers sing around the dining room and introduce guests to Olaf, the snowman from “Frozen.” The three-foot-tall audio animatronic is pushed on a cart by Queen Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff as he visits tables and seemingly speaks to guests.
Flexibility for Adults … and Kids
A renewed attention to adult travelers sets the Disney Wish apart. While the first four ships in the fleet offer a pool and sunbathing space reserved for adults, the Disney Wish placed the Quiet Cove on the back of the ship, introducing the cruise line’s first infinity pool. Bathers can relax while watching water in the pool appearing to cascade over an edge with the ocean in the background. Two other pools and a bar complete the area, that on other ships, finds the aft home to miniature golf.
Inside, the bars are open and visible. On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the lounges are placed together in the same cluster. On the Wish, the bars are scattered about, including Hook’s Barbery. The barber shop themed after Captain Hook of Peter Pan fame has an often-overlooked bar. Guests are invited to design their own hand-crafted bourbon drinks while having their hair styled and trimmed.
In the Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, a window into the galaxy often shows space vehicles and the leap to hyperspace reminiscent of the Star Wars films.
“We are great at placemaking,” Soto says. “So, when we are sitting down with blueprints, when we are looking at the arrangement of physical spaces on a cruise ship, we’re not thinking about the functional and the utility aspects of those spaces—we’re thinking about the experience.”
The set pieces of Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge were built offboard, packed up, and then shipped to Germany for installation.
During daytime hours, the lounge can operate in a low-key, family-oriented atmosphere. At night, the Star Wars: Hyper Space Lounge projects a nightclub vibe using a more energetic soundtrack, lighting effects, and of course, cocktails and craft beers—many of which are made from locally sourced ingredients found at the ports where the Wish docks.
While parents enjoy spaces made for them, children can play in Disney’s Oceaneer Club. The entrance is via a slide on Deck 3, that whisks children down to Deck 2 where they are met by hand washing stations. The area for those ages 3 to 12 uses intellectual property (IP) from Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Walt Disney Studios.
Upstairs, the Hero Zone caters to older children in a climate-controlled space spanning two decks. By day, an inflatable obstacle course can be set up, while at night, the same space can host basketball games.
More than Meets the Eye
Not everything aboard the Disney Wish meets the eye. A lantern in Hook’s Barbery can project Tinker Bell fluttering around inside, while a seemingly stoic portrait in a corridor is a flatscreen monitor that can spring to life with an animated scene. These surprises are joined by dozens of others ready to activate with a push of a button on a smart phone. Using the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, passengers can connect with Disney Uncharted Adventure, a program that taps into physical and augmented reality.
“It allows passengers to see the ship through entirely new lens—literally and figuratively—through your magical spyglass on smart devices,” says David Feder, software product manager at Walt Disney Imagineering who began working on the program in 2019. “It really brings to life the ship in ways that are a little surprising and always a little bit different.” Four different “quests” allow guests to transform a walk to breakfast or back to their staterooms into an interactive scavenger hunt. “Using the Disney Wish as a canvas for new types of storytelling and new types of experiences is just amazing,” he concludes.
Funworld’s reports aboard the Disney Wish continue online. Visit the IAAPA News Hub for video stories and interviews at IAAPA.org/DisneyWish.
Sustainability at Sea
With an eye on the environment, designers incorporated the latest sustainable technologies available into the Disney Wish. Disney Cruise Line estimates the Wish is nearly 30% more fuel efficient and emits 20% less greenhouse gases. Here’s how they did it.
By using low-emission liquefied natural gas (LNG) to power the Wish, the company says the ship eliminates almost all sulfur oxides (SOx), reduces the emission of nitrogen oxide (NOx) by approximately 37%, and reduces onboard carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by approximately 20%, compared to traditional diesel or marine fuel.
In an additional step that sounds like a chemistry lesson, the Wish converts excess heat from the engines to warm the chilled LNG, thus aiding in powering the ship. Cold energy from the LNG tanks is then recycled into the ship’s air-conditioning systems. This interconnected system saves 200 tons of fuel per year.
“At Disney Cruise Line, we remain dedicated to limiting our impact on the environment as we support The Walt Disney Company’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2030,” says Sharon Siskie, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Cruise Line.
Other sustainable methods include:
- Using a hydrodynamic hull and propeller: Used in tandem, the pair reduce engine power needed to propel the ship, saving nearly 1,800 tons of fuel annually and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6%.
- Utilizing a special hull coating: The combination of a nontoxic coating on the bottom of the Wish and a silicone-based paint on the sides reduces drag in the water.
- Investing in water purification: The ship’s wastewater treatment system saves 500 tons of fuel each year while purifying wastewater to levels that exceed international shipping standards.
- Installation of LED lighting: LED lights make up approximately 90% of the Wish’s lighting, which Disney Cruise Line says reduces the ship’s weekly energy consumption by approximately 30%.
- Water conservation: Condensation from air-conditioning units is recycled to supply fresh water for the laundry facilities onboard.
In addition, Disney Cruise Line has elevated the status of environmental officers on board. These leaders are ranked among the most senior officers.
“We continue to look for innovative ways to make a difference across our entire fleet, including using new technology to increase fuel efficiency and reduce energy consumption,” says Siskie.
That includes equipping the Wish later this year with a 1-megawatt fuel cell to provide additional emission-free energy. Disney Cruise Line believes the prototype installation will be one of the largest in a marine environment and will help the company better understand the feasibility of large-scale fuel cell installations—not only aboard cruise ships, but the company looks to share the data with cargo shipping vessels.