The Disney Dream: Magic Portholes

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I have written about the history of the Disney Cruise Line, The Art of the Disney Dream, and some other stories about things on the Disney Dream.

I had the opportunity to go out on another four-day cruise on the Disney Dream in January as an instructor for a group of students from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake City, Iowa. I talked with them about Disney storytelling and, in particular, about three-dimensional immersive storytelling and how those concepts can transfer to things like event planning. I've done this several times before and it is always fun and enlightening.

Casaundra, Jamie, Tawney, JoJo, Taylor, Olivia, Makenzie, Brice, Henry, Lynn, and Jerry, in particular, definitely kept me on my toes, but I did still have plenty of time to explore the ship, take in some of the onboard presentations, and fill one of my working notebooks entirely with information that I will be sharing with MousePlanet readers in future columns.

Being on a Disney Cruise ship is an overwhelming experience and, just like the Disney theme parks, it is easy to miss all the attention to detail and stories hidden in plain sight. I am constantly discovering something new, because its inclusion is so seamless that it doesn't immediately draw attention to itself as you rush pass it. In addition, there is just too much to do, whether it is taking a towel origami class (which I did) or catch the latest Disney film again—for free—or whatever you choose.

As always, I was especially fascinated by the art of the ship, as well as all the references to Disney animation.

It seems to me that the passion for Disney animation has dimmed over the years because it is now so commonplace. Once upon a time, Disney fans could easily identify Disney animators by name, but today I doubt if even one could say with any confidence the name of an animator who worked on the character of Olaf.

I grew up in a time without video recording devices, where it was difficult to see animated feature films, unless you went to a kiddie matinee or a friend had a 16mm projector and rented a copy. People then were as crazy about collecting cel artwork as they are today over pins and Vinylmation. However, acknowledgement of Disney animation is alive and well on the Disney Cruise ships.

Peach, from Finding Nemo, is one of the many characters that can be seen through the magic virtual portholes on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.

The last two cruises I took, I was happy to have an interior stateroom on Deck 5 (although I wish the mid-ship elevator would allow access to the staterooms, but the door that connects the two areas is for emergency use only). Because Deck 5 mid-ship is designated for children activities, it is blocked off to the other areas, and I had to use the elevators and stairs forward to get to my deck floor and room. Also, Deck 5 mid-ship is smaller with a lower ceiling and smaller portholes so that the kids feel bigger.

However, that is a minor complaint because I got to experience something that is unique to the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy, which are each twice the size of the fabled ship, the Titanic.

The "magic virtual portholes" in the interior staterooms are round 42 inch LED monitors synchronized to show the actual outside view in real time. Inside staterooms have traditionally been considered less desirable because they are enclosed, while all other rooms either have a porthole or a balcony veranda.

So Disney came up with a way of making these rooms as desirable, or for many, more desirable. A switch to the right of the bed can turn off the view above your bed plunging the room into complete darkness, as well.

The live feed is accomplished with four high-definition cameras mounted around the ship: port, starboard, forward and aft. So wherever the inside stateroom is located—and there are about 150 on the ship or approximately 15 percent of the rooms—the virtual view will correspond exactly in real time.

To heighten that experience, there are dozens of different animated snippets that overlay the actual view. (To make it even more intriguing there are supposedly a few different ones on the Disney Fantasy.)

This process is similar to the experience in the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage attraction at Disneyland Park, where guests can look through a porthole into a real water environment, but see a brief animated segment interacting with the actual background.

Of course, Disney has never released a list of all of these segments, wanting guests to enjoy the joy of discovery. In fact, the segments run randomly (although, in general, you can expect to see one every 15 to 20 minutes or so, but not on a definite schedule) and mix up the order so it isn't an established loop. You won't be able to determine that if you just saw a particular scene that you should stick around because the next scene is one of your favorites. It will probably be something else entirely unexpected.

Each segment lasts just a few seconds, some longer than others. Some feature a gag punch line at the end (often dropping into the water and creating a splash) while others just drift off. Most of the characters fly through either on their own or connected to something, like balloons.

There are segments of classical Disney animation, as well as Pixar films and even one featuring the Muppet Gonzo. Some animation was newly created, while other selections were obviously rotoscoped from the actual cartoons.

These clips are without sound so there is no warning that there are being shown. All in all, it is an impressive and clever job by Disney and is very entertaining. Imagineer Joe Lanzisero was the one who selected which segments would be animated from a proposal that features dozens. He said he picked what he thought might be the most fun for guests and called it a "Disney differentiator," that is one of the things that makes a Disney Cruise different.

For me, I want to know all the segments there are, but I had no intention of sitting in front of the porthole for 12 hours straight each day in hopes of capturing them all.

Here is the list that I have put together of the ones I saw on my recent cruise and the one I took last year. Hopefully some MousePlanet readers can share additional ones that they experienced to make this list more complete:

  • The Barrel of Red Monkeys from Pixar's Toy Story (1995) form a link chain from the top of the porthole screen to pull up Mr. Potato Head wearing a construction hat from the bottom.
  • Mr. Potato Head pops upside down from the top of the porthole screen, loses his hat, waves and then loses his grip and falls to the bottom.
  • Mr. Potato Head pops up slyly part way from the bottom right, top right, and bottom left before dashing off to the left.
  • The metal claw appears from the top of the porthole screen and drops down and pulls up three happy green aliens from Toy Story (1995) who wave.
  • Woody from Toy Story desperately holds onto a huge out-of-control kite to fly around.
  • Woody hanging on to the back of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story flies around.
  • Slinky Dog from Toy Story drops down from the top of the screen and then springs back up.
  • A bunch of colorful balloons floats up from the bottom of the porthole and holding on to the strings is Kevin, the goofy bird from Paradise Falls in Pixar's UP (2009), who is hanging upside down and letting his head droop. Cleverly, Disney has also included two other variations featuring the exact same bunch of colorful balloons floating upwards from the bottom. In one variation, holding onto the strings Carl Fredricksen, who drops his cane and, in the other variation, it is the Russell in his scout uniform.
  • In the distance, the house from UP drifts slowly across the horizon held up by balloons.
  • Winnie the Pooh drops down from the top of the porthole screen hanging onto a green balloon and giggling.
  • Winnie the Pooh desperately grabs on to Piglet's scarf as it unravels and he is buffeted around the sky since it seems to be a blustery day.
  • Flit, the little green humming bird from Pocahontas (1995) zips back and forth and plunges into the sea and reappears soaked and then recovers and flies off.
  • The blue spy car Finn McMissile and Tow Mater from Cars 2 (2011) both drop down on ropes from the top of the porthole screen. When Mater's rope snaps and he drops into the ocean, Finn shoots a line to rescue him.
  • Lightning McQueen from Cars (2006) leaps high in the air toward the porthole with his tongue hanging out.
  • Peter Pegasus, the little black flying horse from Fantasia (1940) awkwardly flies around and then rejoins the rest of his family to fly away.
  • Gonzo floats down from above as he is skydiving but eventually falls like a rock.
  • Wall-E from the Pixar movie Wall-E (2008) zips in the air throughout the screen.
  • The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (1951) does a series of odd poses including losing his head.
  • Pegasus, the white flying horse from Hercules (1997), playfully flies around.
  • Flounder from The Little Mermaid (1989) leaps up and down in the sea and Scuttle the seagull flies by and scoops him up.
  • Medieval Mickey and Minnie (wearing a princess cap) swing around on a corset back and forth from the short Ye Olden Days (1933) from the colorized version of that cartoon.
  • A wonderful series of clips from Plane Crazy (1928) of Mickey and Minnie flying back and forth in Mickey's homemade airplane and then eventually crashing into the porthole.
  • The three flying cherub cupids from Fantasia play their horns causing a dancing rainbow to appear and swirl up and down.
  • Kaa the snake from Jungle Book (1967) drops down from the top of the screen and he smiles and his eyes start to swirl to hypnotize you, but Bagheera the panther's claw grabs the snake by the neck and pulls him up.
  • Sir Hiss, the snake assistant to Prince John in Robin Hood (1973) has his head inside a pink balloon and he huffs and puffs to get some altitude and then uses his tail as a propeller to move around. A gust of wind blows him away. There is a variation to this scene as well. Sir Hiss floats around with his head in the balloon and the balloon pops and he drops straight down.
  • Captain Hook from Peter Pan (1953) drops down from the top of the porthole screen clinging precariously by his hook over the sea where the crocodile leaps up and snaps at the helpless pirate.
  • Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940) playfully hops up and down and eventually opens his umbrella and floats away.
  • Princess Dot, the youngest daughter of the Queen in Pixar's A Bug's Life (1998), playfully flies around.
  • Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael and John fly carefree around the sky from Peter Pan
  • Tinker Bell flies into the scene and in an action reminiscent of the opening of the weekly Disney television show flicks her wand in a shower of pixie dust.
  • Dumbo from Dumbo (1941) flies around holding his magic feather.
  • A dozing Pluto floats by on a flying "Welcome" mat like a magic carpet and then is horrified to discover where he is.
  • The lighted lanterns from Tangled (2010) fill the sky and float away.
  • A smiling Rapunzel from Tangled swings by on her long hair.
  • Peach, the starfish from Finding Nemo (2003) gets stuck to the center of the porthole, waves, looks around and then gleefully detaches.
  • Archimedes, Merlin's owl in The Sword in the Stone (1963) and Wart (the young King Arthur transformed by Merlin's magic into a yellow-orangish sparrow) fly around the screen.
  • Ray, the Cajun firefly from Princess and the Frog (2009), appears and, in an interesting twist, sky writes out the words "Sweet Dreams" in a puff of smoke at the end of his segment.
  • Panchito and Jose Carioca from The Three Caballeros (1944) float by on their magic flying serape. They each hold spyglasses that they use to search for something or someone (perhaps Donald Duck?) even looking directly at you.
  • Aladdin and Jasmine from Aladdin (1992) fly by on their magic carpet and smile and wave.
  • Kronk and Yzma from Emperor's New Groove (2000) fly together in an odd contraption that gets hits by lightning incinerating it.
  • Pacha and Kuzco from Emperor's New Groove climb up each side of the porthole back-to-back in a way reminiscent of a scene in the movie but eventually end up falling into the sea.
  • Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia (1940) in her tutu delicately skips across the surface of the water.
  • Goofy, in a segment from the cartoon short Hawaiian Holiday (1937), blissfully sails across lying prone on his surfboard until it suddenly drops out from underneath him and he drops into the ocean.
  • The band from The Band Concert (1935) cartoon short, including Mickey Mouse as the conductor, swirl throughout of the sky along with musical stands, music sheets and more just like in the similar scene from the cartoon.
  • Colorful fireworks light up the sky (even in daytime) with the finally flurry forming three circles like a Mickey Mouse head silhouette.
  • One animated effect that kept occurring, and I know I have seen it somewhere else before, is a swirl of pixie dust that then explodes in the middle of the screen. There is no character involved, just the effect, and it is often repeated. I believe it is from the weekly Disney television show and used as a transition.

I am amazed that I was able to capture all of these segments, and each one of these is one that I personally saw. I wish someone else had compiled the list so I didn't have to do so.

However, I have the nagging feeling that there are more that I may have missed or older ones that have been removed from the rotation or newer ones that have been added.

It strikes me as odd that I saw only one Muppet clip. Surely, there must be two or three more, especially with the Muppet presence on board with the Mid-ship Detective Agency. I have heard from someone who claimed they saw the steamboat from Steamboat Willie (1928) and both Wall-E and Eve flying by together on the virtual portholes.

My traveling companions were not as interested as staying in their rooms and watching the porthole (which this time seems to have "frozen" with a generic still picture of the ocean in the evening). So perhaps MousePlanet readers can add to my list so it is more complete, as I prepare some other columns from my notebook and share some of my other discoveries.



  1. By DwarfPlanet

    Hey thanks Jim for this great information. We have been thinking of a Disney cruise and I was wondering what all happens on the "magic porthole". I know this wasn't all inclusive but you really gave a good summation to help someone decide if they wanted an inner or outer cabin.

  2. By pixar

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading that list. We have another Disney cruise coming up this summer, but we opted for an outside stateroom with verandah. If the TV in the room had a channel with what's showing on the Magical Portholes, I would definitely try to catch as much of the animation as I could.

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