Disney Cruise Line Strategies
Disney Cruise Line is not like other cruise lines. It is a part of a $25 billion, read that billion, dollar empire that sees profit from virtually every American citizen. The money pours in from holdings such as Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Miramax and Hollywood Pictures. Disney owns the ABC television network and ESPN, as well as trinkets like the History channel and, Lifetime, the Disney Channel and A&E. Regis is owned by Disney, Monday Night Football is theirs, as is Peter Jennings. But there are also radio and television stations, video and music publishing companies, seven daily newspapers, an increasing number of worldwide theme parks. Dolly parton family theme park in tn one of them, including the newest to be built in China’s Hong Kong, Disney owns computer software companies, toy and merchandising firms, as well as a handful of baseball and hockey franchises. No slouch in real estate, the Rodent also owns large numbers of hotels and housing developments.
And, now, Disney owns a cruise line.
We were amused when, soon after the line’s ill-fated launch of the Disney Magic in 1998, an executive from a competing line asked us if we thought Disney would “make it”. There has never been any question in our minds that Disney would make it. In fact, we think it is more likely that they will purchase anything or anyone who stands in their way.
The point, of course, is that Disney has a base of loyal customers and the determination to succeed. When there were service problems aboard the Magic months after launch, including rumors that the Maitre’D had to be tipped to secure a place in the better of the on-board restaurants, changes were quickly made. Soon afterward, the President of the line and some of his top marketing aides left the company. The top guns from Disneyworld were brought on-board to shape up the ship. This was quickly accomplished.
The Empire’s potential as a cruise colossus is not difficult to envision. Disney has an incredible base of loyal customers and it is worth mentioning that there are ten Americans who have visited a Disney Theme Park for every American who has ever taken a cruise.
Based on several recent inspections, Disney has done a masterful job. The line now has service levels that, we believe, often exceed those found on five-star ships with per diems twice that being charged by Disney. Briefly stated, Disney surprises even the most hardened cruise enthusiast with its willingness to improve upon and surpass traditional ship designs and programs. The following are some observations/notes/recommendations that we hope will help you plan your Disney Cruise Vacation:
The Image Problem: This is not the Big Red Boat. Another line, with a fleet of aging matrons, named Premier owns the Big Red Boat name. For several years they did joint marketing with Disney. But do not confuse Disney Cruise Line with Premier. DCL is a wholly owned Disney company with two new ships designed from the bottom up. In fact, it is widely believed that one of the major reasons for the shipyard delays involved in the delivery of the Disney Magic had to do with the micro-managing of every minor operations and design detail by the DCL construction team.
The Arrival: Guests are met in Orlando by the “smiling corps.” New Yorkers may find this pervasive Disney attitude cloying, but Midwesterners seem to appreciate being with people who at least pretend to like what they’re doing. From the airport or the Disneyworld on-site property, guests are driven to the ship on Disney’s own fleet of painted busses complete with canned patter from the driver and a video that clearly explains the check-in procedure and a little bit about life aboard ship. It is a well thought out way to spend the ride, the first of many DCL wrinkles that makes the experienced cruiser continually ask “I wonder why other cruise lines haven’t thought of doing this”?
The Ships: The Magic was launched in July of 1998, the nearly identical Wonder set sail in the summer of 1999. These are 2400 passenger, 85,000-Ton ships with a crew 0f 945. There are European officers, many from Norway and Germany, and an international crew. But there is a large component of American staff on-board serving as entertainers, cruise directors, and children’s program staff. Space ratios are quite high leading many guests to imagine that the ship is half-empty when it is actually full. At first sight of the ship, with its black bow and red and gold trim one notices not so subtle differences between this and the rest of the Caribbean fleet. Mickey is embedded in the prow and aft, a fifteen-foot replica of Goofy swings from a Boatswain’s chair seemingly touching up the stern with paintbrush in hand. Interior design details are virtually flawless.
Public Space: Frequent cruisers will be surprised at the level of elegance these ships display. The art deco themes are well executed including a grand three-story atrium with a sweeping staircase. It is down this staircase that we watched the German Captain make his entrance to the Captain’s Cocktail reception one evening. But even here, in a ritual that can be observed on any ship, the Disney “Magic” was evident. On the Captain’s arm was Minnie Mouse, attired in a sparkling white evening gown. If your family will find this sort of entertainment engaging, if you are a Disney “believer” then this is the ship for you. But cynics should beware. The Walt Disney Theater holds 1000 guests with excellent audio and sightlines. But the entertainment here, while professional and engaging, is clearly aimed at children. The Buena Vista Theater provides realistic theater seating for a selection of Disney films of the family-rated variety. Beat Street is an “adults-only” nightclub area that worked surprisingly well. The Improv Café seemed even more popular than the Rockin D Bar. We loved the smooth, intimate jazz and blues nightclub.
Dining: On cruises of less than a week, Disney rotates guests on a set schedule to one of three separate-menu dining rooms. The waiter follows along. Skeptical at first, our experience has been entirely positive. The wait-staff is unusually upbeat and everyone in the dining room seemed to be connecting to guests. Again, the question is asked, “how does Disney do it”. After all, getting a waiter to work well in several different dining environments, each with its own menu, can’t be easy. The secret is that Disney has something other cruise lines don’t have, an international cache. Disney treats its staff better than many lines. It can’t afford to do otherwise. The perception is that Disney provides better pay and benefits than many other lines. Many waiters long to world at Disneyworld, perhaps someday getting to reside permanently in Orlando. This provides the line with a rich source of staff eager to “earn their ears”. That helps explain the unusually friendly service. A lackadaisical attitude, so common among crewmembers on the mainstream ships, is simply difficult to find aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. That, more than anything, elevates the dining experience. Clearly no one is claiming that the food is gourmet, although some of our experiences at Palo’s, the reservations-only restaurant for adults, with the best dinner cruise. The indoor/outdoor restaurant was, we felt, a Disneyesque recreation of a mediocre cafeteria, stuffed parrots hanging from the ceiling notwithstanding.