Disney Dream Has Kids-Only Magic PlayFloor

Disney Cruise Line

Remember when youth counselors used to have kids sit in a circle and listen to a book? Well that's probably not the option the kids will choose on the new 4,000-passenger Disney Dream.

The ship, Disney Cruise Line's first new-build in more than a decade, has something so much more fun -- a Magic PlayFloor that combines storytelling with high tech, interactive gaming, in a cruise industry first.

We're talking a giant grid, 28 HD panels surrounded by 16 LED sensors, embedded in the floor where your foot movements control the action.

AOL Travel News got an exclusive opportunity to try out the interactive floor on a visit to top-secret Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale California, where Imagineers are creating a whole bunch of brand-new showstoppers for the ship.

A prediction here: parents will wish this particular offering -- located in the Oceaneers Lab and Oceaneers Club children's program areas -- was not kids-only.

Some of the games are designed to be highly interactive, like video games where kids control the animation they're seeing. Others are slightly less so -- "jumping rope" over an image projected on the floor, for instance.

Dean Orion, a show producer, showed us how the Magic PlayFloor works as it was being tested in a warehouse on the Imagineering campus.

At first glance, the room-size floor looks like something you'd see at a disco -- only this is not about simple lights and projections, it's about kids interacting with some of their favorite Disney characters via video screens.

One example starts with a youth counselor telling the story of "Peter Pan." During the story, the kids are able to see images of Peter and Tinker Bell move around the floor panels. The fun escalates as the kids are invited to literally join the story, taking off with the Lost Boys in a game of Follow the Leader.

Or Goofy will make an appearance, directing the kids to jump over animation of squirting water in a virtual game of jump rope that little kids are sure to love.

But that's the easy stuff. The floor has been created to appeal to kids ages 3 to 10, and for the older group there are more advanced video challenges for 16 players or teams.

I had the chance to join a group of Imagineers to test out some of the more challenging games. Once we divided into four teams, we began playing "Tron Disc Defender," a game similar to air hockey, except you use your feet on the sensor pads to push pucks through a variety of obstacles.

While it may not be as easy as you think, it's a blast once you get the hang of it.

All the fun is the result of "pretty advanced technology," Orion says.

The 28 monitors were custom-made to be as close to the floor as possible -- due largely to the fact that the ceiling of the space is only seven feet higher than the floor. Regular monitors wouldn't work.

"So they're not even regular flat-screens. The technology guys here have taken them apart and streamlined them down, so that they're really close to the floor," Orion explains.

The software that runs the games on computer and compositing equipment is "similar to when you have something on a laptop and a separate monitor, but you want one continuous desktop display. It's that type of technology," Orion says.

There are about a dozen games, and each has different levels of play. The game development was no easy task, Orion says, and the Imagineers brought in real kids to test out the Magic PlayFloor to gauge their reaction.

Those reactions went far in determining the final, kid-approved games. In the "Cars" game, for example, feedback led to the creation of four different levels, each with increasing difficulty. For each, your feet control sensors that take on the role of gas pedal and brake.

"On the first level, each side is a team, and you step on the gas and the car goes around, and that's for the little kids and they love it," Orion explains. "As you get into the higher levels, if you go too fast around the turns, your car can spin out. Oil slicks develop and you have to be more careful."

Based on my quick try, if on a future ship they ever decide to introduce an adult version, I'm there.

The Disney Dream debuts in late January.

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