Disney Cruising With Walt

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

The future of the Disney Cruise Line is open to speculation at this point in time. Certainly construction on DCL's second tropical destination, Lighthouse Point in the Bahamas located at the southern tip of Eleuthera, was stopped along with all other Disney construction.

The Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, the shipyard that builds cruise ships for Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Corporation, said in April that cruise lines let them know that they won't be needing all of the new ships ordered. The shipyard expects to have no new orders come in for the next three years. In addition, they said that cruise lines will not need all of the new cruise ships that they previously ordered due to a slowdown in customer demand.

As a result, the production on new cruise ships at the shipyard is being stretched out. Construction shifts have been shortened, contract staff reduced and no weekend or overtime work is scheduled. This will delay the completion date for new ships that are currently under construction. The shipyard will now build just two new cruise ships a year. However, the shipyard did not say which cruise lines are canceling new ships.

There were four other cruise ships on the queue schedule before the Disney Wish, which was due to be delivered in late 2021 and now the assumption is that the ship may be delayed up to an additional year. That will also mean the delay or cancellation of the other two Triton class ships that Disney previously ordered. It is estimated that perhaps only half the world's cruise line fleets will be operating by the end of this year but that doesn't take into consideration should one or more cruise lines go bankrupt as a result of the pandemic.

Another factor might be extending the use of current ships that could also delay new orders even further. Both the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder were approaching their planned time for retirement but now might be rehabbed again and extended.

As owner of the shipyard, Bernard Meyer, explained, a customer told him that they wouldn't need new ships, and they would just be satisfied with being able to run their current fleet. Meyer stressed the unprecedented nature of this pandemic on the industry: "Never before has the complete cruise fleet with over 400 ships stopped operating."

In mid-May, Disney announced that they were suspending all new DCL departures through at least July 27, 2020—and perhaps longer. Disney CEO Bob Chapek acknowledged that DCL will likely be the last of the Disney Parks units to re-open.

Among other considerations to be taken in to account will be how well local communities are able to flatten new infections, do extensive testing and strong contact tracing policies. Of course, cruise travel would need to be considered safe enough for thousands of families to resume travel to the ports again and people having been out of work might not have the discretionary income for a cruise.

Greg Butkus, a concept principal designer for Walt Disney Imagineering said, "Many years ago, when I was rather new at Imagineering, I had seen some rough concept sketches that imagined putting a small Disney-like theme park on a large ship. This converted supertanker held small versions of the Castle, and a little Dumbo ride, and various familiar structures but I always thought it was such an intriguing idea and wondered what Walt would ever have thought about a theme park on a ship."

I discussed that concept of the S.S. Disney earlier in my MousePlanet column.

Butkus continued, "Well, after my first visit on the Disney Wonder and all the wonderful new design work being done on the new Disney Dream, there is no question that we've successfully done just that. There may not be a castle on the deck, but the experience is as pure as the park, and I believe Walt would be quite pleased."

When Walt was alive, animation was the heart of the Walt Disney Company, but I will bet that many Disney fans, even those who voyage on the Disney Cruise Line are aware that Disney made two animated shorts about DCL.

In February 2011, DCL released a two-minute promotional webtoon done in Flash animation titled Checkin' In With Goofy. It is done in the style of the classic "How To…" theatrical animated shorts featuring Goofy to show people how easy it is to check in to embark on a Disney Cruise. The narrator is Corey Burton, imitating John McLeish, the original narrator for the 1940s shorts. (It is posted on YouTube as "Goofy Presents How to Take a Disney Cruise".) The premise is that Goofy has a nightmare that there is so much paperwork to fill out at the terminal that he literally misses his ship. In reality, the cartoon points out the required paperwork can easily be done at home on the internet including picking a boarding time.

When Goofy is filling in his cruise paperwork he is standing between the characters Roger and Anita from 101 Dalmatians. There is a Hidden Mickey head on Goofy's computer. According to his check-in information, Goofy lives at the same address where the Walt Disney Animation Studio in Burbank is located. As the ship pulls away, the audience can see that it is the Disney Dream.

Besides the DCL ships including things like a Goofy Pool, Goofy's Mini-Golf and costumed character appearances, a figure of Goofy hangs off the rear of the Disney Magic finishing painting the lettering.

One channel on the stateroom television sets is devoted to a loop of Mickey Mouse cartoons produced by Disney Television Animation for the Disney Channel. The series, which began in 2013, has won multiple Emmy and Annie awards and currently there are over 90 three-and-a-half minute cartoons in the series. The series inspired Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, the new attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as the the Mickey Shorts Theater at Disney Hollywood Studios.

One of the cartoons on the loop on the stateroom television on the DCL ships is the 2017 episode titled Shipped Out, that makes fun of the V.I.P. cruise experience. Shipped Out, written by Darrick Bachman, Paul Rudish, Dave Wasson and directed by Wasson, is the 64th episode and the sixth episode in season 4 of the Disney Channel Mickey Mouse cartoons. It debuted August 25, 2017 and is included in the Mickey Mouse cartoons shown on the stateroom television.

It tells the story of an exhausted Mickey Mouse and Minnie taking a cruise vacation to relax. They have booked the all-inclusive V.I.P. experience so red-headed, perky cruise director Erica (voice of Illya Owens) and her subordinates force them into a variety of high energy "fun" activities including bungee jumping, gourmet food sampling, rock climbing, paint ball, participating in a stage show and more. While the ship has the colors of the DCL ships, the experience is meant to parody the offerings on the Royal Caribbean line due to the inclusion of the FlowRider, the bowl slide, the iFly and more that exist on that cruise line, but not on DCL. In the end, a disastrous fireworks demonstration while parasailing leaves Mickey and Minnie happily secluded on a deserted island where they can relax as the ship sails away.

By the early 1900s, steamships had replaced sailing ships as the primary way to transport people and cargo across oceans. They were relatively faster and safer. The "S.S." in front of the names of some ships designated it as a "Steampowered Ship" or simply "Steam Ship". Steam was initially created by giant vats of boiling water that provided consistent power that didn't depend upon wind for propulsion and made ocean travel more predictable. Later, the adaptation of turbines to steam engines improved both speed and fuel efficiency. At the height of the Golden Age of cruise ships, it would take roughly five days to travel from New York to England.

By the early 1900s, more than 90 percent of immigrants to the United States arrived on steamships from all over the world. It was the main source of income for most passenger liners at the time and these passengers were housed on the lower steerage decks. However, they were not the only travelers.

Walt traveled on the Queen Mary with his family in 1952.

Steamship travel was known for the opulence and high style of the first class cabins. Leisure or even business travel to Europe was an indication of wealth and prestige for many Americans. Competing cruise lines added all sorts of extravagant amenities to entice these rich passengers, including palm courts, orchestras, daily newspapers (printed on ship from radio news transmissions) and more.

Walt Disney would have felt quite at home on the Disney cruise ships. His early travels outside the United States including trips to the Caribbean were accomplished by the only reliable form of transportation for those journeys available during his lifetime: cruise ships. One of his steamer trunks (located by Disney Archivist Becky Cline) is on display behind glass next to his desk in the Walt Disney Presents attraction at Disney Hollywood Studios.

It was not until the mid-1960s that transatlantic flights were commonly available. They quickly gained favor for the increased speed and lower price even though they lacked the comfort and luxury of the ships. These flights eventually caused the lucrative days of cruise lines to diminish significantly resulting in many classic ships pulled out of service. The industry shifted its focus from travel to tourism.

Walt and his wife Lillian went on their first Hawaiian vacation trip from August 10 to September 1, 1934 and sailed on the Matson liner, S.S. Lurline. It was approximately a six-day cruise. It was their first of several visits to the Hawaiian Islands via cruise line.

Walt's first cruise experience to Europe (discounting his 1918 seafaring trip as a member of the Red Cross on a troop ship to France at the end of World War II) was a first class trip he took with his wife Lillian to England aboard the S.S. Normandie in 1935. He and his brother Roy (with his wife Edna) had to sneak aboard through the galley in order to avoid a process server. Roy felt that the people he encountered on board were "a collection of snooty people" used to a life of privilege.

They returned from their European jaunt in July 1935 aboard the S.S. Rex and there are publicity photos of Walt holding a Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse doll on deck while standing next to his wife.

At the end of Walt's South American trip in August 1941, he, along with some of his top staff, took a leisurely 17-day sea voyage from Valparaiso to New York City aboard the Santa Clara.

There are photos of Walt and his wife aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth in November 1946 and on the same ship accompanied by their two daughters on a 1949 cruise to Europe. In addition over the years, Walt traveled on the RMS Queen Mary, S.S. Independence (in August 1952 with his wife and two daughters) and the S.S. Constitution among other ships.

The live action film Bon Voyage (1962) is a Disney feature film comedy featuring Fred MacMurray's character taking his family from Indiana on their first vacation to France and their many misadventures.

The film was based on a 1956 novel by Joseph and Marrijane Hayes (yes, that's how her first name is spelled). Joseph Hayes had previously written The Desperate Hours which was made into a popular Broadway play and later a film starring Humphrey Bogart. Bon Voyage was his second book and he and his wife wrote it after taking a trip across the Atlantic.

The movie starts with the family crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the S.S. United States that was withdrawn from service in 1969 but still survives today, stripped and moored at Pier 82 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Filming began using the ship on August 15, 1961 at the Hudson River pier 84 and Walt took it as an opportunity to take his family on a European vacation for the shoot. Accompanying him on the cruise was his wife, his son-in-law Ron Miller (who was an associate producer on the film) with his wife Diane and their children.

The ship with roughly 1,100 passengers sailed for five days to Le Havre. Two movies a day were shown "to capacity audiences" as part of the shipboard entertainment.

The film Bon Voyage was filmed about the S.S. United States in 1961 and was about the adventures of an Indiana family during a European vacation.

The Disney contingent included MacMurray and his wife, and actors Jane Wyman, Deborah Walley, Michael Callan, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran. In addition, the group consisted of director James Neilson (who had also directed Moon-Spinners and Moon Pilot), writer Bill Walsh (who also served as an associate producer and had worked on Disney films like The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor) and cinematographer William Snyder (who had worked on other Disney films like Toby Tyler and Moon Pilot) along with nearly 50 other members of the film crew and family members.

The United States Line, who operated the ship, decided that their other paying passengers had the right to a certain amount of personal privacy, so they established some guidelines for filming. The film crew had to be skeletal in size and had filming restricted to the first-class decks. That stipulation increased the amount of money for the production, since Disney had to pay for higher priced accommodations.

Walsh complained to writer Eugene Archer of the New York Times in 1961, "We wanted to travel cabin class, but now we have to make the character a rich carpenter." Actually the MacMurray character was made a plumbing contractor who had saved up years for the trip, just like guests do today for a Disney cruise.

For the scenes on the ship, to make the decks seem inhabited without inconveniencing the regular passengers, the Disney production used its technicians, executives and families accompanying the Disney contingent as the vacationing tourists in the shots.

Since, in the screenplay, the father's troubles start even before they start sailing, the film begins with the family in a taxi arriving at the pier where things are chaotic. Fifteen taxis, fifteen private cars, four studio trucks, 60 technicians, 125 extras and approximately 1,000 curious sightseers produced the bedlam of trying to board a cruise ship at the time.

Jane Wyman's dressing room during the scene was actually the steamship baggage director's private office. Another scene was a disastrous and awkward going away party thrown by MacMurray's character in-laws.

When the filming in France was finished, instead of taking another slow cruise back to the States, the group and the equipment including a 26-pound Mitchell portable camera, four lighting reflectors and 50 magazines of Technicolor film used for filming on the ship were simply flown back.

Film critics did not care for the excessive length of the final film (132 minutes), its slow pacing, and the fact that the film vacillated between some adult subjects and the usual children comedy antics, but didn't seem to handle either very well. The film grossed more than $5 million at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards for best costume design and best sound, but didn't win either.

Richard and Robert Sherman wrote the title song. Initially, they came up with a romantic waltz that others at the studio considered one of the best things they had ever composed. Walt didn't like it because he wanted something more upbeat to start the film. The Shermans were allowed to buy back their composition and composed something more glitzy to be used over the opening titles.

Richard Sherman remembered, "Walt didn't know the technical side of music, but he knew what he wanted musically. Once we wrote a sentimental waltz for the film Bon Voyage but when we sang it for Walt, he didn't spark to it. He said, 'That's not my song' and then burst into singing California Here I Come. 'That's what I want…only French!'"

The summer of 1966, before his death later that year, Walt gathered his entire family together for a 13-day cruise up the coast of British Columbia on a 140-foot chartered yacht, where the family celebrated not only one of his granddaughter's birthdays, but Walt and Lillian's wedding anniversary. While his sons-in-law would go salmon fishing in a little dinghy, Walt spent quiet time on the deck reading books about city planning in preparation for Epcot and books about colleges in preparation for California Institute of the Arts.

Ron Miller, Diane Disney's husband, described Walt as "serene" during the cruise, even though it rained during much of the time.

Being serene on a cruise was atypical for Walt because, as his daughter, Diane Disney Miller remembered, "on a ship in the middle of the ocean, [Walt] would go out of his mind. He couldn't find enough to do. On one trip, he got in a shuffleboard tournament with Catholic priests who were returning from a pilgrimage."