Disney Cruise Lines - inside cabins dismal no more

Disney virtual portholeIn the next generation of Disney Cruise Line ships, the windowless inside cabin may be the ones kids beg their parents to book. In a boon to budget travelers, the cheapest, least desirable cruise stateroom category will be getting a major sexing up in January of 2011, when the Disney Dream, now under construction, is christened.

All inside cabins on the new Dream will be equipped with an oh-so-Disney innovation: the "virtual porthole." Above the bed, a round TV window will be embedded in the wall, made to look like an old-fashioned ship's porthole. Through it, the tenants in the modern equivalent of steerage will be able to watch live, streaming high-def images of the ocean outside, just as the guests in more expensive cabins see it for real.

That's clever enough, but there will be an added twist: Every now and then, animated Disney characters will show up on the other side of the glass to quietly wave at you from the "outside" of the ship. In the prototype shown to WalletPop, Peach the starfish from Finding Nemo (voiced in the movie by Allison Janney) made a cheerful appearance.

If you want the room pitch-dark, you can turn it off with a light switch. That works much better than curtains.

Nobody wants the inside cabin on a cruise. These windowless closets have been the biggest bane of sea travel since keelhauling, and they're pretty much the rooms you're forced to take if you can't afford anything else. Inside cabins are the ghetto of the cruise ship, and people unlucky enough to book them tend to leave their TV sets on to provide some stimulation and rely on their alarm clocks to let them know when the morning has arrived.

For the past 15 years or so, shipbuilders have capitulated to the market pressure against the inside cabin by simply reducing their number and finding ways to cram so many outside, balcony cabins onto new ships that they look a lot like floating conservatories. There will always be the necessity for inside cabins, though, not just because there are always people who can only afford the bottom rung on the price scale.

Now, though, instead of pouting when kids are told their parents could only afford the cheap bunks built into the ship's interior, they may cheer, because, in a rarity for the travel business, the least expensive ticket (prices for the Dream are not yet set) buys something the most expensive ones don't get. It's a brilliant way to turn a necessary evil into an asset, and it's good news for money-saving families.

That wasn't the only innovation announced on Thursday at the New York City unveiling of many of the Dream's features. Disney will also be taking aim at Carnival's signature water slides when it cuts the ribbon on AquaDuck, a 90-second, 765-foot water slide that snakes around the top deck and 150 feet over the ocean below. A full-fledged theme park-style ride at sea, the clear acrylic tube, through which riders are propelled up and downhill with jets of water, will take 90 seconds to ride from start to finish.

The "water coaster" technology has existed for a while (first at Schlitterbahn water slide parks and then at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and elsewhere), but this is the first time it's been applied to a cruise ship, and at a scale that wouldn't be out of place in a water slide park on land.
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