Innovations From the Disney Dream Team
Disney Cruise Line
We weren't free to roam -- for our rare glimpse at the top-secret place in Glendale, California, about an eight-minute drive from Disney Studios in Burbank, we had to clear a security desk, get badges and be escorted.
While the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream -- Disney Cruise Line's first new ship in a decade -- is being built at a shipyard in Germany, it's in Glendale where the magic begins.
About 140 creative and techie types -- what Disney call "Imagineers," a combination of the words imagination and engineering -- are working on innovations for the Dream and sister ship, Fantasy, which will debut in 2012.
Their boss, senior vice president Joe Lanzisero, welcomed us to a "Concept Lab" to preview some of the Dream's offerings.
But we didn't have to put on white coats. Lanzisero explains: "There are no test tubes or Petri dishes here but we do have all kinds of cool technology."
Our exclusive peek behind the curtain revealed surprises that we were able to capture on video.
In the lab, we were among the first to try out a first-of-its-kind giant video game you play with your feet, which will be featured in a ship kids' area. And we learned about the technology behind unique artwork that appears to spring to life when you stand and glance.
At a nondescript warehouse we also were able to get a first look at a mockup of a restaurant where guests on the ship will be able to have conversations with Crush from "Finding Nemo." And we saw how Disney plans to offer guests inside cabins with ocean views through virtual portholes via Innovative technology developed right here at Walt Disney Imagineering.
And of course, since Disney does not leave anything up to chance, all of these technologies are being carefully tested.
Of the ship's innovations, Lanzisero says, "We're taking it to a whole other level. As technology has evolved we're going to take advantage of that."
We learned from Lanzisero that Walt Disney himself founded Imagineering (or what the Disney folks refer to as WDI) nearly 58 years ago, with precisely that goal in mind -- though he probably did not foresee the company someday having cruise ships. The first job of WDI was to oversee the creation of Disneyland.
Storytelling with a techie bent has always been the focus. Imagineers represent more than 140 different disciplines including illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers, graphic designers and computer experts.
On the Glendale campus, theme park rides are developed, merchandise is designed and there's even some animation being created too. This is where innovations like the Audio-Animatronics of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the freefall in "The Twilight Zone -- Tower of Terror" were born.
And it's where other current projects, like "Star Wars II," set to open at Disneyland Park and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando next year, are created.
"Imagineering is the arm of Walt Disney Company that designs all of the theme parks and attractions around the world," Lanzisero says. "We've carried on that tradition."
And that includes on cruise ships.
The Dream, which joins a fleet that already has the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, will be chock full of creative stuff the Imagineering geniuses have come up with, including a previously announced 765-foot water coaster, Aquaduck, on its top deck, which will become the first coaster at sea.
Keeping in mind the goal of storytelling, Lanzisero, a former animator himself, says Imagineers looked at the Dream from the beginning as a venue to offer something different in the world of cruising -- creating what he calls "differentiators."
These are special things, he explains, "only Disney would put on a cruise ship and things that only Disney could put on a cruise ship."
It was very clear the ship will offer cruising with a decisive Disney spin that goes well beyond appearances by Mickey and other characters -- though they will be on board, too.
While the Dream draws on classic Art Deco for its décor (and the Fantasy will be done up in Art Nouveau), the new "storytelling" features AOL Travel checked out are pure 21st century high tech and kid-focused.
The Imagineering team showed us secrets that will be on the ship, but without sharing all of them. "Really, really cool stuff" is still to be revealed, Lanzisero says.
The Dream departs on its maiden voyage from Port Canaveral, near Orlando, on Jan. 26.