Captain Minnie poses aboard Disney’s newest cruise ship, The Wish.
It’s been a decade since Disney expanded its cruise fleet. Its latest addition, due out in a few weeks, is a 1,119-foot floating theme park.
Disney Wish is one of more than 30 ships from a variety of leading cruise lines expected to debut before the end of 2022, with dozens more slated to set sail through 2027.
The Wish, the fifth member of the company’s cruise fleet, is scheduled to embark on its maiden voyage on July 14 from Port Canaveral, Florida, to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.
Wish sails at a time of transition and recovery for the cruise industry, which has been hit by the pandemic and health restrictions. In addition to headwinds from guests slow to return to sea vacations, the industry is now facing economic pressures from rising fuel costs and inflation.
Disney is banking on franchises like Marvel and Frozen, as well as innovative twists on classic cruise experiences, to lure travelers back to the high seas.
Along with signature Disney flourishes on cupcakes and sweet apples, Wish’s Star Wars-inspired Hyperspace Lounge features a $5,000 Kaiburr Crystal drink served in a camtono, a container often used by bounty hunters in space operas – Franchise is used. It’s unclear what’s in the drink, but it has become one of the most talked-about facets of the Wish after media outlets received a test drive of the ship this week.
Other less expensive experiences include a Frozen sing-along dinner and a Marvel dining experience. The ship also features the first-ever Disney attraction, the AquaMouse.
While total passenger numbers are expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, the cruise industry has never had the same pricing power as other travel and hospitality sectors, prompting some analysts to raise concerns about the near-term recovery of the overall business. Especially since rival brands like Carnival are in debt three times what they were before the pandemic.
Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure is Disney’s first Frozen-themed theatrical dining experience, bringing the kingdom of Arendelle to life through immersive live entertainment – starring favorite characters like Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf – and world-class Nordic cuisine influences .
disney | Matt Strashane
“Going back to that financial position where you can play more offense and defense or be in survival mode is just a long climb,” said Jefferies analyst David Katz.
Royal Caribbean’s stock is down about 61% from the year-ago period, and Carnival’s is down about 68%.
Disney has a little more wiggle room because the overall business is much more diverse. The company operates a media empire as well as hotels, theme parks and cruises.
Disney doesn’t separate out its cruise business in earnings reporting. Instead, it’s focused on its parks, experiences and products segment, which more than doubled revenue of $6.7 billion in the fiscal second quarter compared to the same period last year. For comparison, this segment generated $6.2 billion in the same quarter of 2019.
Disney’s stock is down about 66% from the year-ago period.
Cruising on the high seas
Katz, who only reports on carnivals, said cruise lines operate as opposed to the hotel business. That said, cruises will discount tickets the closer they get to the ship’s launch in order to meet capacity. For hotels, prices tend to increase as the booking date approaches.
“This recovery was unlike any other recovery anyone else has experienced,” he said. The price doesn’t usually drive travelers’ willingness to take cruises, so discounts might not increase the number of customers, he added.
Still, people are cutting back on the number of days they spend on a cruise because of rising costs.
Disney’s Wish offers three-night cruises starting at $1,750 for two guests and four-night cruises starting at $2,250. These prices increase when travelers select cruises tied to Halloween or Christmas. Disney is considered to be slightly more expensive than Carnival and Royal Caribbean in terms of base fares, but if guests choose to upgrade to larger staterooms or add meal packages or experiences to their travel plans, prices are pretty similar.
According to data from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a global cruise industry trade group, around 80% of travelers who have already taken a cruise say they will cruise again, the same percentage as before the pandemic.
CLIA forecasts that 2022 will be a transitional year for the cruise industry and 2023 a full recovery. Passenger traffic is also forecast to recover by more than 12% from 2019 levels by the end of 2026.
For Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, there is “no concern” that the cruise industry will bounce back.
“Could the road be a bit bumpy in the short term? Yes,” he said. “But do I know where the goal is? Absolutely. I’m incredibly sure of that.”
The decision to add more ships to Disney’s fleet was made five years ago, before D’Amaro was head of the division. The expansion includes The Wish and two other ships yet to be named but scheduled to premiere in 2024 and 2025.
While the average cost to manufacture a cruise ship is about $617 million, according to CLIA, larger ships like Disney’s Wish are estimated at about $1 billion. Disney declined to say how much it has invested in its new fleet additions.
“I think Wish will be another of those beacons that call out to the world and remind them that cruising is special for family,” said D’Amaro. “We’re pretty optimistic about that.”
While there are traditional amenities aboard Wish that are cruise ship essentials — fine dining, pools, spas, and children’s playrooms — Disney has incorporated storytelling into these services to elevate them to the company’s standard for “magic.”
The Wish, directed by Minnie Mouse, offers a variety of theatrical dining experiences, Broadway-style stage productions and the first-ever Disney attraction at sea.
“Wish gave us an opportunity to think, ‘What can we do that can be new, different and first-of-its-kind?’ — and there’s a long list,” D’Amaro said.
Immersive dining experience
The 144,000-ton ship has more than 1,500 crew members, 75% of whom have previously served on a cruise ship, and can accommodate 4,000 passengers.
“The ship is amazing,” said Sharon Siskie, Disney Cruise Line’s senior vice president and general manager. “But it is our crew that will bring the ship to life.”
Marvel, Star Wars and Frozen are ports of call aboard Wish, functioning as destination restaurants and themed play zones for kids and adults alike.
While the cruise industry is slower to recover than other entertainment industries, Siskie said offerings aboard Wish will “help remind people why cruising is such a great experience.”
Like Disney’s newest immersive hotel, the Galactic Starcruiser in Florida, Disney Wish features interactive and immersive storytelling in several of its restaurants.
The dining experience based on Frozen is essentially a theater-in-the-round, with tables instead of stadium-style seating. The dinner is a celebration of Anna and Kristoff’s engagement and features the couple singing and dancing alongside Elsa, Olaf and Oaken. The menu is inspired by Nordic cuisine.
Worlds of Marvel is the first-ever Marvel Cinematic Dining adventure where guests play an interactive role in an action-packed Avengers mission that unfolds around them, complete with a worldly menu inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
disney | AmySmith
The cinematic dinner adventure Worlds of Marvel takes guests on an Avengers mission centered around Ant-Man and the Wasp, who offer to show guests the latest Pym technology. The quantum core allowed things to shrink and grow, but the demonstration doesn’t go to plan and an unexpected villain arrives to steal the technology.
Ant-Man and the Wasp team up with other Avengers like Captain American and Captain Marvel to stop them.
For adult Star Wars fans, Disney’s Wish features the Hyperspace Lounge, a high-end bar designed to replicate Dryden Vos’ luxurious yacht-class starship in “Solo.”
For the first time on a Disney ship, guests will embark on a space-hopping tour of the Star Wars galaxy at Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, a high-end bar in the style of a luxury yacht-class spaceship aboard Disney Wish .
disney | AmySmith
Here, guests are served unique drinks inspired by locations in the Star Wars universe, including the jungle planet of Batuu, the desert planet of Tatooine, and the lava planet of Mustafar – also known as the home of Darth Vader. As they sip cocktails and sample the tasting menu, ships can leap out of the observation window at the speed of light.
There are two funnels on the Disney Wish, one that works and one that’s “aesthetically pleasing,” Siskie said.
In this second funnel is the Wish Tower Suite, the first suite to be in a cruise ship funnel. At nearly 2,000 square feet, the two-story penthouse sleeps eight guests and is inspired by “Moana.”
The Wish Tower Suite is a unique accommodation perched high in the ship’s forward funnel. Sleeping eight guests, this 1,966-square-foot penthouse in heaven features elegant design inspired by Disney Animation’s “Moana,” unparalleled ocean views, and world-class Disney service.
“The Wish Tower Suite is really a great example of what Disney is doing differently in this space,” Siskie said.
Another first for Disney is the AquaMouse, which looks like another water slide at first glance, but is actually a full-fledged water attraction.
The 760-foot ride features lighting, audio, and water effects, including video screens showing new Mickey Mouse shorts, before morphing into a traditional water slide. The attraction wraps around the upper deck and lasts approximately two minutes.
In addition to the AquaMouse, there are six pools spread across multiple tiered decks.
“We know we have something very powerful here,” D’Amaro said.
Guests will be immersed in the animated short films “The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse” aboard the first Disney attraction at sea, AquaMouse. Complete with show scenes, lighting and special effects, and splashy surprises, this wild water ride is sure to delight everyone in the family as they wriggle, jab and whiz through 760 feet of winding tubes high above the upper decks.