Some Questions About DCL's Disney Wish

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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I first set sail on the Disney Magic in 1998, while I was an animation instructor at the Disney Institute, to do a presentation.

During the first two years after the launch of the Disney Cruise Line, three of us in that department (Graham Toms, Lock Wolverton and myself) were sent out individually to talk about Disney hand-drawn animation, limited-edition cels (to encourage guests to buy these "sure to go up in value" limited-edition items at Disney-MGM Studios), the history of the art, Walt Disney and more backed with a visual presentation on a big screen.

These 45-minute long presentations were designed to offer passengers something extra and something distinctively Disney that they might not experience on cruises on other ships. Imagineers called these experiences "differentiators." That concept continues for the ships in the Disney Cruise Line and was one of the reasons for the creation of the AquaDuck water coaster on two of the ships.

That first sailing on the Disney Magic was my first experience ever being on a cruise of any kind, and it was overwhelming but delightful. I boarded as a passenger and was unloaded as cargo, thanks to the never-ending food offerings. Like everyone else who has cruised on DCL, I recommend the experience despite the expense, because you do receive value for what you pay.

Over two decades, I have sailed 10 times on the Disney Magic, the Disney Wonder and the Disney Dream. Since the Disney Fantasy is so similar to the Disney Dream, I don't feel I have missed out by not cruising on that ship. I sailed again on the Disney Dream in January 2020 and, once again, took notes on the storytelling details that most guests don't seem to notice for a future column.


What will come with the launch of the Disney Wish?

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I visited the "D Lounge" on the Disney Dream for presentations before I noticed that the carpet on the floor has script pages for Disney films like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland.

Or that on Deck 5 mid-ship port (left) above the Atrium, there is an Enchanted Art map of the Caribbean. At first it looks like a typical vintage black and white map of the area, but standing in front of it reveals a dozen different things taking place when you least expect it, since it is yet another example of Enchanted Art on the ship.

The Disney Cruise Line, like the Disney Vacation Club, continues to be a popular and successful addition to the Disney Company with many expansions planned.

While Bob Iger announced during the 2016 Walt Disney Company Annual Meeting of Shareholders that the Disney fleet would be introducing a fifth ship, it was not until the 2019 D23 Expo that Bob Chapek announced the ship would be named the Disney Wish and its home port would be at Port Canaveral beginning January 2022.

It would be slightly larger than the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, but still only accommodate about 4,000 passengers, meaning that the extra room is probably going to be devoted to some additional public activity area and some "differentiators" that are as yet unannounced.

When they announced the name of the ship, I was immediately taken aback and troubled.

"There couldn't be a better name for our incredible new ship because making wishes come true is part of the Disney DNA and is at the heart of so many of our cherished stories," said Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

I certainly have no concern over the choice of the name itself. What bothers me is the fact that the name was announced since according to maritime tradition it is bad luck to announce a ship's name before it is launched. Up until that time, it is usually referred to by its "block number" (Disney Wish block number is 705), the vessel number marked on every piece of steel and item used to build the ship.

The Walt Disney Company is certainly aware of this tradition and superstition. On the Disney Dream is a sports bar lounge called "687."

This particular number refers to the fact that the Disney Dream 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 keel coin was Captain Tom Forberg, assisted by a costumed Donald Duck, the mascot of the Disney Dream, on August 26, 2009.

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 probably existed 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 presentations, 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. So Disney honors this maritime superstition…just in case.

Anyway, my question remains why Disney would announce the name and tempt bringing bad luck even if over the years, it has also ignored other nautical bad luck omens. Disney has not announced what the atrium statue or godmother of the ship will be. Nor has it announced who will captain the ship.

I assume that Tom Forberg will be the captain for the maiden voyage of the Disney Wish although that was not announced. Forberg was the inaugural captain for all four of the Disney cruise ships, sailing them from Europe to America.

A veteran who has served on the ships of the long-lost Norwegian American Line, Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises, he joined Disney in 1995, three years before the Disney Magic set sail on her maiden voyage.

When he joined the DCL, it made him the first employee of the crew. He played a pivotal role in the construction of each of the four Disney Cruise Line ships. Born in Norway, he now has a home in Treviso, Italy.

His wife is Italian, so he spends much of his time off the ship there. He also has a place in Orlando, Florida. His mother still lives in Norway as does his brother so he goes to Norway a couple of times a year to visit them.

"I started in the [Norwegian] navy. After some time I found out the food was better on the cruise ships, so I left the navy and joined the cruise ships," joked Forberg who went to nautical college and Captain's school before becoming a member of the Norwegian Navy.

Before coming aboard the DCL, Forberg had 20 years of cruise-industry experience, including 15 of those years as a cruise ship captain.

"I had been in the cruise industry for years doing more or less the same thing all the time. So I thought to myself if I join Disney, I'm sure they will have a lot of ideas of how to do cruising in a whole new way. You couldn't really go wrong joining one of the best-known companies in the world," Forberg remarked. . "It's been very rewarding for me as a captain to work for a company like Disney. We do things a little differently, and it's more interesting working for a company like that. It has such a reputation around the world. Everyone has so many nice things to say about Disney. I still have a lot of fondness for the first two classic ships even though I love the newer ones. It is all about teamwork. Our crew is what really makes the Disney difference."

He was also in command of the Disney Magic sailing through the Panama Canal to the West Coast in 2005 and to the Mediterranean in 2007.

In August 2013, Disney Cruise Line executives President Karl Holz, Senior Vice President Anthony Connelly, Captain Mickey and Vice President Bert Swets joined the crew of the Disney Fantasy during a ceremony bestowing the honor of Commodore to Captain Tom Forberg and presented him with a new hat to indicate the change in rank.

Commodore is an honorary term typically assigned to an officer responsible for commanding multiple ships at one time. Commodore Forberg serves as the highest-ranking Disney captain and continues to share the duty of commanding the ships rotationally along with the other captains. The only other cruise line actively using the Commodore title is Cunard with its Commodore Christopher Rynd.

As Forberg said:

"Disney is not a typical cruise line company. It gets so much input from Disney as a mother company that makes cruise business even more interesting. Even if you do the same itinerary, things are still a little bit different.

"We see many more families, and how we cater to make sure that each and every family member has the best experience in his or her life is just amazing. Nobody does that better than Disney. And that's a huge difference, how the family as a whole is looked after on a Disney cruise. I personally think it's very nice to have a lot of kids around the ship.

"Every year there are a few new technological things coming online. It's just like a car—the basic equipment is more or less the same, but it gets more and more advanced and better and better. If you'd come to the bridge, we have all the state-of-the-art equipment that you'd expect to find on a new ship today, whether it's navigation systems, safety systems and so forth.

"Captain Mickey is still the boss. We enjoy having him onboard, and of course the guests like to see him around and also all the other characters."

Of course with the addition of the Disney Wish and two more ships joining the fleet in the next few years, Castaway Cay would be inadequate to handle them all as a unique Disney cruising experience so Lighthouse Point will also be debuting.

The southern point of the Bahamian island of Eleuthera is like a living travel postcard with white-sand beaches, limestone bluffs, and clear blue water.

Disney has announced it will develop 746 acres of this 110 mile long island to develop a port with a pier, shops, a marina, restaurants and walkways through a nearby forest and around salt ponds. It is located 50 miles east of Nassau and is part of a collection known by Bahamians as the Family Islands. It is roughly 60 miles away from Castaway Cay.

Disney's plan was opposed by a local non-profit group of Bahamian environmentalists who proposed a different plan for the area, resulting in violent, divisive tensions among the local 11,000 residents. An organization called One Eleuthera Foundation wanted the land designated a national park with tourism attractions (including canoe rentals, a dive center and horseback tours) and worried that the Disney project would block local access to the beaches and a historic lighthouse on the southern point. In addition, the group argued that most of the revenue generated under Disney's plan would go to the cruise line, with only a small amount of jobs and tax revenues staying on the island.

"We have approached this project with a focus on protecting and sustaining the natural beauty of this historic location, creating quality jobs and economic opportunities for Bahamians, and celebrating the unique culture of the Family Islands," responded Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Cruise Line.

Vahle published an op-ed article that appeared in several Bahamian newspapers, promising that its project would preserve more of the land than some previous proposals by others that called for hundreds of homes, condominiums, hotels and a 140-slip marina.

Disney has already signed an agreement to purchase the land from a private international developer—estimated by locals to be priced at more than $25 million—but still needed approval from the commonwealth's government before the property changed hands and the port developed.

A fact sheet distributed by Disney Cruise Line stated that the Disney proposal would create up to 150 jobs, would give locals access to the property and turn over 170 acres of the land to the government for conservation. In addition, 100 acres of salt ponds would be preserved. It was also proven that Disney's operation of Castaway Cay pumped money into the economy.

In August 2019 at the D23 Expo, Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences & Products, announced that the conflicts had been resolved and that Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde was leading the development of this port in particular because of how he supervised the development of the Aulani Resort in Hawaii where he captured the history and spirit of the islands.

At the event, Rohde said Disney will be relying on local artists, local culture, and local food to create an experience that honors and celebrates the local Bahamian culture. He emphasized that Disney's presence on the island would be done in the same vein as Disney's Aulani Resort, with special consideration of the local environment, peoples, and cultures

The look of costumes made by local artisans will inform the overall look and feel of Disney's offerings in Lighthouse Point. The new port of call is intended to be a "seaside adventure camp" that takes its inspiration from the natural beauty of the location where Disney will also be engaged in conservation efforts, according Joe Rohde. He said that the contributions of many local Bahamian artists will allow art and nature to "combine with Disney magic" and create a destination "that can only exist in one place."

That all sounds wonderful, but it only prompted more unanswered questions for me.

Castaway Cay is home to roughly 150 cast members, including employees who interact with the guests from the ships, island maintenance, horticulturalists, boat captains, landscapers, engineers, marine specialists, lifeguards and more. All of the resident inhabitants live in the Crew Compound. They have a crew beach, gym, football pitch, indoor recreation area, crew mess and, of course, they live on a beautiful, secluded Caribbean island.

Will Disney duplicate that business model at Lighthouse Point? Will there be an elaborate back story about the location or has Disney seen from Castaway Cay that all guests really needed to know was that it was an area developed by castaways? What Disney tributes will be included?

At Castaway Cay, there is signage referencing Disney executives like Bob Iger and Tom Staggs, Captain Nemo's Nautilus lying at the bottom of the snorkeling trail, and a variation of the Donald Duck insignia designed by the Disney Studios for the 438th Fighter Squadron during World War II on the plane on the abandoned runway.

I guess my overall question about this is that Rohde is known for being pretty diligent in trying to re-create the elements that define a culture but what Disney touches will be included?

Disney is always stingy in revealing information ahead of time because things constantly change and I can understand why they are hesitant. However, like many Disney fans, I am naturally curious and always want to know more so I have these questions.