Disney's Dream-y New Technology at Sea

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

The Walt Disney Company has always been known for using (and creating) new technology to help tell stories in every possible way, from the multiplane camera in animated features to merging live-action actors seamlessly into animated backgrounds to Audio-Animatronic figures in the theme parks. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Disney Cruise Line has leveraged some amazing new (and nearly new) technology aboard the Disney Dream.

Let's start with your room key, which is no longer dependent on magnetic strips or bar codes (though it does have the mag strips for backward compatibility). Instead, access to staterooms is via a RFID (Radio Frequency IDentifier) chip embedded in the cardkey. Simply place your Key to the World card against a small box on your stateroom door and *click*—the door unlocks! The card is also used to activate the environmental controls in your room. If you want your lights and air to turn on, you'll need to place the card in a slot just inside the stateroom door.

No need to try to get a card into a slot; just put your room key against that black box to unlock your door!. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

But that's not all that your card's RFID chip activates. When the ship's photographers snap a shot of you, they might ask to borrow your room card to link your photo to your room (but then again, they might not – more on that momentarily). When you go to Shutters, a wall-less shop where you can buy your photos, you wave your Key to the World card in front of a magic portal, which will verify your identity based on the card, then show you all of your photos. You may even find more photos than you knew were being taken, as the ship's photographers also take candid photos, which are automatically matched to the appropriate accounts using facial-recognition software. If you find photos that are incorrect, they can be pulled from your account and put aside for re-filing. Of course, the card can also be used for any merchandise or alcohol purchase on board the ship or on Castaway Cay.

Inside your stateroom, you'll also find wave phones, a complimentary way to allow you to communicate with any passenger, anywhere on board the ship or on Castaway Cay. Each room comes equipped with two of the phones, which will allow your party to split up and remain in touch with each other. Have a large group? Finding each other is easy as long as you know each other's stateroom numbers. Each phone is addressed by dialing a stateroom number plus the phone's sequence number (either 1 or 2).

If you're in an inside stateroom, you'll still have a view of the ocean. In fact, you've got better than that. The Magical Portholes aboard the Disney Dream show a live, real-time view of the ocean facing in the same direction as the porthole. If the porthole faces the stern (rear) of the ship, the view is from a live camera at the stern of the ship. There are four cameras to provide views in each direction for the inside staterooms. Superimposed over the view of the ocean, at random intervals, you'll get visits from various Disney characters. Peach the starfish from Finding Nemo might briefly wash up on the porthole; you might see Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia pirouetting across the water; Aladdin and Jasmine might sail by on their flying carpet; or Carl Fredrickson's house from Up might rise up and fly away. More than 20 different characters are in the rotation.

A stern-facing camera provides a real-time view of Castaway Cay to a Magical Porthole in an inside stateroom. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Disney characters make other appearances, as well. At the Oceaneers Club and Oceaneers Lab, the youth entertainment areas, kids might be visited by Crush (Club) or Stitch (Lab) via Disney's Living Character Initiative technology. The characters will appear on 103-inch screens and interact in a manner similar to Disney California Adventure's or Epcot's Turtle Talk with Crush or Tokyo Disneyland's Stitch Encounter, except that these interactions are scripted specifically for the Disney Dream. Crush also appears at the Animator's Palate restaurant, one of the three rotational restaurants aboard (more on that later). The Oceaneers Club (aimed at kids ages 3-7) and Oceaneers Lab (ages 7-10) also have another amazing new application of technology: the Magic Playfloor. This interactive innovation allows kids to play a game on a 15-foot by 15-foot grid of monitors embedded in the floor by stepping and jumping on 16 light pads around the perimeter of the grid. Crush and Stitch make their appearances on the main screen adjacent to the playfloor, allowing them to interact with kids during the games.

Surfer dude turtle Crush makes appearances in the Oceaneer Club on this 103-inch screen near the Magic Playfloor. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Older kids aren't left out of the technology advances, either. Both The Edge (for tweens) and Vibe (for teens) have giant screens for movies and gaming, cozy digital nooks that allow them to plug their iPods in and watch videos on screens above or in front of them, and a ship-only social media application that they can use to interact with each other and create stories and videos of their experiences on the ship.

Private seating nooks set into the wall at Vibe allow kids to watch movies from their iPods in peace. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Most cruise ships have lovely artwork on the walls. The Disney Dream has plenty of artwork, including some great animation artwork on the mid-level landing of each stairway, but Disney takes that one step further with Enchanted Art, that actually "comes alive" when you approach it. What appear to be flat animation cels are actually flatscreen monitors. Proximity motion sensors embedded in the frames of specific pieces of artwork trigger the artwork into action, with the animated characters playing a brief scene before returning to their original stationary condition. Most of the pieces of artwork have several different scenes, allowing them to play different animations each time you see it.  in a session during the Christening Voyage, Joe Lanzisero, Walt Disney Imagineering's senior vice president-creative, noted that Disney is working on using facial recognition technology to make sure that, when you return to a piece of enchanted art, it shows you an animation that you haven't seen yet, if possible. Perhaps the most intriguing piece of enchanted art is the image of a pirate ship in Neverland Cove. In front of the artwork is a ship's wheel. When you turn the wheel, the pirate ship is activated, and you can steer it around the lagoon.

A further bit of fun can be had with the enchanted art via Mickey's Midship Detective Agency. This interactive game allows you to activate different special effects within the artwork. You start at the detective agency's desk on Deck 4, adjacent to Shutters. You'll meet Mickey Mouse, who will recruit you to join his detective agency to help solve your choice of one of two crimes, involving either missing dalmatian puppies or stolen artwork. Using a map, you'll find pieces of enchanted art throughout the ship. Once at each piece of art, you'll use your "badge," a card with an image of a badge on one side and a 2-D bar code on the other. Facing the barcode toward the art, the sensor will read the card's sequence number, match it to the game that you're playing and your activity to date, and give you an appropriate mini-game to play, as well as the correct results after your mini-game completes. Each game has six potential criminals, ensuring that you won't know who the correct villain is until the game is over. This enjoyable game is fun for the whole family.

Mickey's Midship Detective Agency provides another way to interact with the Enchanted Art aboard the Disney Dream. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

At Animator's Palate, the walls of the restaurant become animation screens that look out onto Australia's Coral Reef. You'll be visited by Crush and some of the other characters from Finding Nemo. Crush will work his way through the dining room, taking time to talk to all tables before giving the entire restaurant a surfing lesson inside the East Australian Current (EAC) at the meal's conclusion.

You've seen it before, but take another look at my conversation with Crush at Animator's Palate!

Adult entertainment venues aren't without their technological "wow" factor, either. Most impressive is the Skyline Lounge, a restaurant with seven "windows" behind the bar, giving a "penthouse" view of a five different cities. While Disney Imagineers shot enough footage to show an entire uninterrupted evening of each city, since the Dream doesn't usually do five-night cruises it will change the city on view every 15 minutes on the quarter-hour via a pixie dust effect that also changes a piece of artwork on the opposing wall and even the background music that's playing.

The skylines of five cities rotate in the seven "penthouse windows" of the Skyline Lounge. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The Buena Vista Theatre shows Disney movies day and night, many in Disney Digital 3-D, and the live shows in the Walt Disney Theatre are of a style and quality similar to or above the top theme park productions. The Walt Disney Theatre even has a wonderful Tinker Bell effect that dazzles the audience with its trail of pixie dust that runs through the theater, out over the audience, and onto and around the stage. Another fun technical advance at the Walt Disney Theatre is an infrared camera with motion tracking, which lets the shows enhance special effects by having projected digital animated effects follow performers in motion.

All sorts of technological innovations are installed throughout the Walt Disney Theater. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The "Funnel Vision" screen on the main pool deck is used as a backdrop for many of the deck parties and other entertainment, and also shows movies at times, such as an afternoon showing of Mary Poppins or a late-night viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. The Funnel Vision screen also interacts with the new Buccaneer Blast fireworks show during the Pirates IN the Caribbean deck party. The fireworks show, upgraded from the show on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, is set to pirate-themed music and provides several minutes of pyrotechnic power off the starboard side of the ship. Disney Cruise Line is the only cruise line currently allowed to present fireworks shows at sea.

Also on deck, the AquaDuck water coaster is the first of its kind at sea. Originally conceived as a "lazy river" similar to Castaway Creek at Typhoon Lagoon, when it was raised in the air to provide more deck space, Imagineers got the idea to turn it into a coaster that goes over the side of the ship and through the front funnel.

The Funnel Vision screen plays a part in the family Pirate Party during the Pirates IN the Caribbean night aboard the Disney Dream. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The Dream's horn has been upgraded from the horns on the Magic and the Wonder. Disney Cruise Line's first two ships have special horns that instead of just a "toot" can also play the first line of "When You Wish Upon a Star." The Dream's horn goes much further than that, though. The new horn can not only play the first line of "When You Wish Upon a Star," it can also play the second line, which allows it to respond to the Magic and Wonder when they meet. In addition, it can also play parts of "Be Our Guest," "it's a small world," "Hi Diddle Dee Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)," "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)," and it's signature song "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes."

So the Walt Disney Company is continuing its tradition of invention and innovation aboard the Disney Dream, making it even more fun to be aboard. Reserve your space on a sailing to see it for yourself!