Stories Behind Disney Dream Dining

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Before we get started on today’s column, I want to give a shout-out to Miss Alycia Leach of England who is celebrating a very special birthday tomorrow. She is one of a handful of young people I am mentoring to help them become Disney historians.

My good friend and fellow historian Didier Ghez and I have felt that we should be helping train future Disney historians, as well as determining if they might become good caretakers for the collections that we older guys have accumulated over the years, so the information can still be accessible.

Alycia Leach shows a true passion for Disney, as well as an impressive writing skill. Another person who I have helped is Lucas Seastrom, who works as a volunteer at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I have been very impressed with the essays he has been writing for their blog, especially his using multiple sources and crediting them properly.

I intend to write a column about some of the things future Disney historians should be doing, based on things I have been sharing with this group, because I think that others may benefit, as well.

It saddens me to see so many people claiming to be historians today merely “cut and pasting” information that already exists with no new insights or original research.

Of course, one of the best ways of mentoring is to model how Disney history should be shared, so here is an example of how I handle recent material that will eventually become history, sooner than any of us imagine, as Disney is constantly changing things.

I am not a “foodie” and my tastes in food and beverage are annoyingly simple compared to my much more refined friends like Werner Weiss, who really knows his way around a fine wine and an elegant meal.

His patient attempts to try to educate my plain palette have not met with much success when he comes down to Orlando with his always charming wife for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

So, on my recent voyage on the Disney Dream, even though there were many elaborate food and alcohol offerings available, I was still quite happily satisfied by what some would consider more modest options.

The Disney Dream has a nighttime adult entertainment area called The District located Aft on Deck 4. It is designed to be a sophisticated location at night, a sort of adult playground. There are five interconnected venues but each has its own individual identity.

One of my discoveries is that at night there is a free buffet set out in the walkway of The District and one late evening I filled up a plate with mini-pizzas, small turkey sandwiches, veggies like grape tomatoes and other items and took it up to my stateroom for a quiet feast as I watched television.

It was quite nice even though, like every other guest on the ship, I had been funneling food non-stop into me since the moment I set foot on the ship. I tell people I boarded the ship as a passenger, but had to be hauled off as cargo since my belt seems to have mysteriously tightened several notches. Must have been the salt water in the air.

However, while I am content with my unadventurous tastes in food, I am fascinated by the design of the food and beverage locations on the ship and, of course, any interesting stories connected to them.

“We pay careful attention to detail and demand a high quality of design and materials,” said Imagineering Senior Development Manager Lysa Migliorati when the Disney Dream launched. “We look carefully at the transition spaces that connect the various venues and create a cohesive relationship of the designs. We take pride in hiring the best interior design firms around the world to help us create successful spaces for all our guests.”

The Enchanted Garden, onboard both the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy, is inspired by the gardens of Versailles.

With a variety of different dining experiences, one of the things Disney did right was not create just a group of nicely decorated rooms, but areas that tell a specific story utilizing those Disney storytelling details that “plus” the experience.

Whether it is the Enchanted Garden, inspired by the gardens of Versailles with a working fountain topped with a cherub that resembles Mickey Mouse, or the Royal Palace, where the floor plan, fluted columns, and iron railing (with an image of the pumpkin coach) is modeled after the ballroom of Prince Charming’s castle from Cinderella (1950) and wall sconces are fashioned after those seen in the Beauty and the Beast (1991), the story detail is amazing.

Here are some storytelling elements that I don’t think many of the other passengers realized about four of the dining areas on the Disney Dream.

“687” is the name of the pub and sports bar lounge with multiple LCD televisions in The District.

What is the significance of using that particular number as the name of this bar?

It is bad luck to call a vessel by its official name before its launch, so during construction it is referred to by its “block number,” the vessel number marked on every piece of steel and item used to build the ship.

This particular number refers to the fact that this ship was the 687th built by the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

The keel (the central beam of the ship) laying ceremony is the first time the ship begins to really take shape after many years of design work and planning. The ceremony is when the first block—or section— of the ship is lowered into the building dock and a coin is placed under the keel for good fortune. Sometimes the coin is welded to the keel.

That first block for the Disney Dream weighed roughly 380 tons and it would take 80 blocks total for the entire ship.

Doing the honors of placing the coin was Captain Tom Forberg assisted by a costumed Donald Duck, the mascot of the Disney Dream, on August 26, 2009.

Captain Tom Forberg placed the coin into the keel on the Disney Dream

With a distinguished maritime career aboard the Disney Cruise Line, Forberg was the first crew member hired for the Disney Dream and had previously been the captain who launched the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder.

Disney Cruise Line states: “Placing a coin on the keel of the ship at the beginning of its build is an age-old tradition that solicits good fortune for the vessel during construction and throughout its seagoing.”

According to old sea tales, if the ship was damaged, the keel coin could be retrieved to pay for repairs or assistance. If the ship sunk, then the coin would guarantee that the spirit of the ship would live on while the wood rotted away on the ocean bottom. Yet another version for the practice was that sailors who died at sea would have payment for Charon to ferry them across the River Styx into the underworld.

Originally, the idea of a keel coin came from the practice of placing a coin under the mast of a sailing ship for luck that has been documented back to the time of the Roman Empire (and perhaps even earlier, according to some sources, who have located the wrecks of even more ancient sailing vessels).

When Walt Disney was told about this long time tradition by Admiral Joe Fowler, Walt personally put a silver dollar under each of the three masts of the sailing ship Columbia at Disneyland before its first sailing.

On the wall near the entrance to the “687” pub is a frame with photos of the placement of the keel coin as well as a replica of it. A limited number of bronze replicas were available for sale to guests during the maiden voyage.

“687” is open during the day, often for various talks, so it is possible to take the entire family, no matter the age, into the location and see the frame with the coin before the pub becomes an adult-only hangout in the evening.

Also in The District is a unique bar called Pink.

Pink is a cocktail lounge designed to seem as if guests were immersed inside a bottle of effervescent pink champagne.

This intimate location is characterized by flowing, curvilinear shapes with back-lit glass “bubbles” inset into the wall that go from tiny on the floor to larger near the ceiling just like champagne bubbles bubbling up.

The famous pink elephants from the Disney animated feature Dumbo (1940) appear to dance in the bubbles. In the film, Dumbo and his mouse companion inadvertently drink from a water bucket spiked with alcohol and dream of fantastical pink elephants “on parade” in their nightmare.

Some chairs in the lounge even resemble elephant ears, surrounding the guest for a private conversation just like in the movie.

Pink, located in The District, is designed for adults to feel like they are inside a bottle of pink champagne. The menu includes an image of an elephant, maybe inspired by "Pink Elephants on Parade."

Of course, Dumbo himself is not used, just a tiny pink representative done in the Disney art style of the movie, because, for one reason, Dumbo is associated with the Dream’s sister ship, the Disney Fantasy, which has its own champagne bar, the French-themed Ooh La La that has no pink elephants but is more like a French boudoir.

Lighting creates the effect of cascading champagne. Behind the bar there is a lighting fixture that represents the bubbles rushing to the mouth of the bottle and exploding after the cork pops! Sculpted-glass chandelier light fixtures look like upside down champagne flutes awaiting a chance to capture that champagne. The detailing along the front of the bar is meant to resemble the wire cage surrounding a champagne bottle cork.

Taittinger has created two champagnes exclusively for sale aboard the Disney Dream: a Brut featuring the Disney Dream ship on the label, dedicated to the Dream’s inaugural year, and Prestige Rosé Champagne, the label of which is decorated with Pink’s mascot pink elephant.

Each bottle costs about $700, although you can buy it by the glass (in a specially designed glass that is handwashed and taken care of so that the glass does not taint the flavor of the product) for roughly $20.

There is a fairly inexpensive wine tasting held at Pink during the afternoon led by the head sommelier on the Dream where, for roughly $25, you can sample four different champagnes that are full glasses, not little tasting pours. However, seating is limited to just 10 guests, so make sure you make a reservation early at the Guest Services desk.

There is also a 15-minute guided tour (again limited in attendance) of the kitchen of the Royal Palace held during the afternoon. Perhaps because of the limits on participants, I found that few people knew they were available and I discovered them by accident. Check with Guest Services when you board.

Champagne played a part in the actual christening of the ship.

Disney president and CEO Bob Iger and Disney’s “Dream Girl” Jennifer Hudson, the ship’s godmother, were on hand to christen the Disney Dream on January 19, 2011. Hudson began her career as a singing performer on the Disney Wonder back in 2003, which is the reason given for her selection.

The ceremony was a bit unusual in that Hudson did not physically smash a bottle of champagne across the hull, but a helicopter appeared and hoisted a 16-foot-tall champagne-shaped bottle high in the air. Disney claimed the bottle was filled with “adventure, fantasy, friendship, romance and fun.”

Hudson lifted a magic wand high in the air that began to spark as she asked God to bless the ship and all who would sail on her as the huge bottle smashed on the forward bow, unleashing fireworks from the ship.

Two expensive eateries on the ship that require an additional payment are Palo, an upscale Italian restaurant, and Remy, a high-end French restaurant, both located Aft on Deck 12.

Between them is the Meridian Bar, an intimate adults-only area that is open to guests even if they have no reservations at either restaurant though its primary function is a waiting area. The bar includes inside seating and access to an outside deck where you can enjoy a sunset.

Lights that resemble gas lamps overhang the bar, which is inscribed with the word “Welcome” in many different languages. There are passport stamps on the wallpaper, a sextant design on the floor and chairs with luggage straps on them. It is a beautifully themed area that once again captures the feel of the Golden Age of Cruise Ships of the 1930s.

There are navigational tools, maps on the walls, books and nautical items on the shelves and an illuminated constellation map above the maitre d' station, since early ships used the stars to guide them to their destination.

There is a Palo restaurant on all four of the Disney Cruise ships, but the ones on the Dream and the Fantasy are much more detailed.

The entrance to Palo has a gold-colored glass chandelier sculpture that my tour guide described as being reminiscent of spaghetti. Whether or not that is true or simply a cast member interpretation, it is true that the walls of the entrance feature the colors of the Italian flag in parallel stripes that lead guests to the interior.

The word Palo is the Italian word for “pole” and while the guide insisted that it refers to the poles that the gondoliers use in Venice to propel the craft (as does the Disney Cruise Line website), I had been told by Disney Imagineering friends several years ago that Palo referred to the colorful poles where gondolas were tied up. The experience of going to your table in the restaurant was to bring to mind maneuvering through the twisting canals of Venice to where you would “dock.”

I noticed there was also a distinctive pole design on the handmade wine cabinet that had special cradles for the wine bottles.

Along the walls are a series of original paintings depicting Italian locations, and my guide said that the colors in the paintings were used to match the colors used elsewhere in the restaurant.

On the other side of the ship is Remy restaurant.

Remy is the name of the talented culinary French rat from the Disney-Pixar animated feature Ratatouille (2007), and he is incorporated into the design in several locations in the restaurant that bears his name.

Remy is a high-end French restaurant onboard the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy, inspired by the rat in Ratatouille.

There is a crystal sculpture of the character prominent near the entrance as well as his outline hidden on the design on the back of the chairs and on the upholstery as well as his image sitting back happily aside the mirrors right across from his older brother Emile on the other side. There are many more “Hidden Remys” to be discovered including the design on the butter plate.

An interesting side note is that the name “Remy” in the film came from the American hairless terrier dog owned by the film’s director Brad Bird. Of course, there is still debate whether a rat is a good image for a restaurant despite the success of the film.

An additional charge of $75 per person is required to dine at Remy (unlike the additional charge of $25 for Palo), in addition to the cost of wine and alcoholic beverages. It is an adult experience only and there is a strictly enforced dress code requiring at least jackets for men and dresses for women.

If money is not an issue, ask to see Remy Vault wine list that includes only 25 wines, some of which were mentioned in the film, that cost thousands of dollars per bottle. On the regular wine list is more than 100 different wines, and there is a sommelier available to assist with wine pairings costing an additional $100 over and above the $75 dining fee.

The private chef’s table dining room is called Gusteau’s, after famed fictional chef Auguste Gusteau (whose first and last names are anagrams of each other) in the animated feature and who was the cooking idol and inspiration of Remy’s.

The painting in this room is a cityscape portrait of Paris, but the landmarks depicted like Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower are not that close together in the real Paris but the guests readily accept that alteration. At the far end of the room is a painting of Gusteau’s kitchen from the movie.

Greg Butkus, who was a concept designer principal for Walt Disney Imagineering when the Disney Dream first plied the ocean, said that the goal was to make the storytelling “on the ship unique and different from the parks. Ultimately, we wanted to create a one-of-a-kind Disney experience. I always wondered what Walt would ever have thought about a theme park on a ship. I believe Walt would be quite pleased.”

I echo that sentiment. The service was excellent and friendly. There were so many different options available it was impossible to do them all. I didn’t always feel that some of the things, like how to use the shower or maneuver through the hallways if you had an interior stateroom, were as instinctual as the experiences on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder but I did figure them out eventually.

I found that the storytelling extended beyond just the theaters and entertainment venues and were scattered throughout the entire ship. Even with my dedicated searching and asking questions, I only discovered just a fraction of what was there. It frustrates and excites me that there is so much there yet to be discovered and documented but hopefully, this short sampling will help others enhance their future voyages.

And perhaps future Disney historians will elaborate even more on this essay, especially as things on the ship continue to change.