Building the Disney Dream -- German Shipyard Boss Talks About Working With Disney

Fran Golden

For German shipbuilder Meyer Werft, who brought the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream to life, the idea of constructing anything for Disney would have been unimaginable in the not-too-distant past.

For one, Disney didn't have cruise ships until a dozen years ago. For another, the first two Disney Cruise Line vessels (Disney Magic and Disney Wonder) were built by a different company in Italy.

But fast forward, add a little pixie dust and lot of business acumen, and the Disney Dream is very much a source of pride in northern Germany.

"What people don't know is the ship is really German, using mostly German materials," Bernard Meyer, managing partner of Meyer Werft, tells AOL Travel.

Construction of the massive ship, the largest ever built in Germany, represents the work of 2,500 employees and 6,000 suppliers at the shipyard. And throughout Germany, Meyer estimates as many as 22,000 people had a hand, one way or another, in the ship's creation.

Meyer Werft is no stranger to shipbuilding or cruise ships. Founded by Meyer's family in 1795 -- making him the 6th-generation owner -- the company used to build wooden sailing ships. More than 200 years later, cruise ships are the focus.

Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, among others, have worked with the yard. But with Disney Dream, there was an added challenge.

Walt Disney Imagineers, the same folks who create rides and attractions at Disney parks, were full of ideas for the Disney Dream, not the least of which was adding AquaDuck, the first water coaster at sea.

"Everybody was excited when they heard Disney is coming to Papenburg," Meyer says. "I can tell you it was a totally different [experience], but a lot of fun."

He says among the things he learned working with Disney is that "Disney is an entertainment company and there is entertainment (and storytelling) of some sort in every room."

Hundreds of designs were reviewed for the ship with input from the Imagineers, Disney architects, and marine architects, Meyers explains.

While Disney doesn't talk money, Meyer says there was a heavy focus on using high quality materials -- a fact that is evident in the ship's elegant 1920s and 1930s Art Deco design.

"I think it will be a shock to the industry in terms of the ship's exterior and interior elegance," says Meyer. "For instance they wanted high-quality cabins. Disney doesn't need a cheap cabin. It's not a criteria for Disney."

The shipyard itself is no stranger to innovation. Meyer Werft has four laser welding areas onsite and uses computer technology such as simulators in several areas. The shipyard has also sought production advice from car manufacturers, including Porsche.

Walking around giant, airport hangar-like construction zones, you see pieces of ships -- items like cabins are made prefab and put together kind of like Legos, and some other parts are built upside down to make it easier to add things like electronics and plumbing.

As for the Disney Dream, the ship saw light for the first time this week at its Float Out, and is now getting finishing touches at an outfitting dock at the shipyard. But just because the ship is about to head off to the North Sea to be put through its paces during sea trials doesn't mean they can take a break. They have three more ships to build, including the Disney Fantasy, due in 2012.

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