Disney Cruise Line

The Birth of the Disney Dream

By James Shillinglaw
November 01, 2010 11:45 PM

“This ship will be a shock for the industry.” That’s what Bernard Meyer, CEO of Meyer Werft, one of the largest shipbuilders in the world, told me at dinner the other night about the Disney Dream. And Meyer, whose family has been running the Papenburg, Germany-based company since 1795, knows what he’s talking about. Meyer Werft is in the final stages of delivering the 4,000-passenger, 128,000-gross-registered-ton Disney Dream to Disney Cruise Line.

I was in Germany to see the ship floated out from its construction shed on Sunday as thousands lined the banks around the yard. I also was lucky enough to have dinner in Papenburg on Sunday evening with Meyer and Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line, so I got a chance to eat some good German food and talk a little cruising with both gentlemen. And if you want to talk cruise ships, Meyer and Holz are two of the best to chat with about the business.

These days Meyer is in the middle of building two ships for Disney Cruise Line – Disney Dream (scheduled to be delivered in December after undergoing sea trials) and Disney Fantasy (scheduled to be delivered in 2012). This comes as he’s also in the middle of delivering a five-ship order to Celebrity Cruises – the five Solstice-class vessels that have drawn widespread and justifiable praise. He’s also building ships for the German Aida line and just got a two-ship order from Norwegian Cruise Line. So in other words, he knows his ships!

If you look around the Meyer Werft shipyard, as we got a chance to do over the last two days, you get a lesson in shipbuilding history, from early sailing vessels to steam-powered ships to tankers. And if you count up the dozens of modern cruise liners Meyer Werft has produced in the past few years, you begin to realize that shipbuilding is not just a business for the Meyer family, it’s an art and a calling.

Of course, Meyer Werft also used the latest technology to do the job. We toured the company’s massive shed before the Disney Dream was floated out, looking up in amazement at the giant ship, surrounded by huge cranes, before it was floated out into the lagoon. The same building also had half of Celebrity Silhouette, fourth in the Solstice class, sitting just behind the Disney Dream.

We toured another giant building, several football fields long, where steel is cut for the ships. We could already see the steel being sculpted for Disney Fantasy, using a mix of steel cutting and laser equipment. We toured the Meyer Werft museum, which now has a rather large permanent exhibit devoted to the Disney Dream.

In addition to Holtz, we spoke with Disney Imagineers (those responsible for the design and “story” of the ship, as they like to call it), including Bruce Vaughn, chief creative officer for the Walt Disney Company, as well as top Disney Cruise Line hotel operations, food preparation and construction executives (more on that in a later column). And on Sunday, we watched from a special tent as the Disney Dream was finally floated out accompanied by Disney music (naturally) and fireworks, as well as the cheers of thousands.

You see, a ship’s float out (as well as its subsequent conveyance down the river to the sea) is a big deal in Papenburg. People come from miles in their RVs just to watch as these giant cruise ships emerge from the Meyer Werft shipyard.

But I believe the Disney Dream -- with its gleaming red funnels with the Mickey logo, white superstructure, black hull and yellow accent design -- was a bit more special than most. Some estimated about 15,000 showed up to watch on Sunday evening. Indeed, even a day after the ship emerged from its shed, the roads were still jammed with cars full of people eager to see the ship.

Indeed, the Disney Dream truly is a special ship, as Bernard Meyer so quickly let me know at dinner the other night. The extreme attention to detail that is Disney’s hallmark is clearly evident in the ship’s construction.

I asked Meyer what was different about the Disney Dream and working with Disney Cruise Line. Meyer thought for a long moment and then told me that Disney wants every space, every room on the ship to be designed with entertainment in mind, something he hasn’t necessarily seen when building ships for other companies. Disney is, after all, an entertainment company, and its ships built not so much to take people on a cruise as to tell a story – or series of stories – to guests.

Earlier today (I’m writing this late Monday night) we put on hardhats and goggles and finally boarded Disney Dream, which was full of about 1,000 workers putting the interiors of the vessel in place. As for what we saw, I’m afraid I’ll have to keep you in suspense. Just see this space tomorrow for the full details!

Check back for Part 2 of this story.

Academy Travel is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner
Specializing in Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney Vacations
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