I spoke with a sea turtle, rode a fast duck and ate at a gourmet restaurant that celebrates the culinary skills of a gutter rat.
Encounters with these vacation animals seem rather natural on the new 4,000-passenger Disney Dream, which began cruising out of Florida to the Bahamas in January.
Typical of a Disney product, the Dream is a ship like no other.
It promises interactive, animated, imaginative vacations at sea from Port Canaveral, about an hour’s drive east of Disney World.
The turtle is a fellow named Crush, who meandered over to my table in the Animator’s Palate dining room the first cruise night. Passengers rotate among three dining rooms. Each has its own theme, such as beauties and beasts in the Royal Palace and whimsy in the Enchanted Garden. Only Animator’s Palate has an active school of sea creatures, topped by turtle, shark and stingray.
Crush and the creatures find you
Crush, known to fans of the movie “Finding Nemo,” appeared several times at dinner in all of the many animated screens that pepper the walls around the restaurant.
Crush speaks a children’s language that is several years old, full of “Dude” this and “Dude” that, as he makes his rounds from screen to screen, chatting up each table.
“Where you from, Dude?” he asks, and a young fellow answers, “Baltimore.” “That near Orlando?” asks Crush.
As the meal continued, a singing stingray floated by, as did Bruce, a vegetarian shark and other characters from “Finding Nemo,” recognized immediately by the children at dinner. I didn’t hear much whining and crying; the kids were busy being entertained.
Disney has made major use of animation on the Dream, which is Disney’s third ship and had been in the planning for about 10 years.
Windowless windows are portholes
Portraits around the ship come alive when you engage them. A Skyline bar changes city views through the evening. The biggest wow of the Dream resides in the inside cabins, with no wall to the outside but where a virtual porthole is a window to the magic of Disney imagination.
Not only may passengers see the outside from these portholes – as Disney has placed a bunch of cameras facing the sea – but also animated characters that float into the virtual portholes to make small talk. Disney says the inside cabins are a hot seller on the new ship.
AquaDuck is a “must do”
The hottest attraction on Dream is AquaDuck, a water coaster that circles the pool deck in a clear tube. The Duck has become the signature activity on Disney Dream, so be prepared for everyone to ask you: Have you done the Duck yet?
Just about anyone can ride the Duck – if you are tall enough (48 inches) and able enough to get on and off a little raft, which is similar to an air mattress, with two pockets, front and back for seats, so you may ride double or single.
The raft, propelled by jets of water, begins its journey four decks above the pool area with a whoosh, as you circle swiftly down a clear tube that at one point is 12 feet over the side of the ship. You may look down at the ocean 150 feet below, but on my first ride I was too busy watching where I was going, and saved my ocean glimpse for my second ride.
The raft zips along, like riding a rushing river. It plunges into rapids, then rises, before gliding above the pool deck so you can wave to your friends and family below.
Where a restaurant rat is celebrated
The aforementioned rat is Remy, from the delightful animated movie, “Ratatouille,” in which Remy becomes a celebrated chef. Disney has elevated the rat’s celebration to a French restaurant unlike any other at sea, with a menu designed by two award-winning chefs – Arnaud Lallement and Disney’s Scott Hunnel – and overseen by a third French-trained chef.
Dinner at the restaurant, exclusively for adults, is lavish, starting with a chilled Taittinger Champagne cocktail made tableside, followed by eight to nine small courses, while you sit for the evening in a French restaurant, in art nouveau style, patterned after the room in the movie.
Remy quickly jumped to the top of the fee charts as the most expensive cruise ship restaurant ($75 to eat, another $99 for pairings of wine with dinner), and may be seeking, as one travel writer already has suggested, cruising’s first Michelin dining star.
Don’t forget to finish your dinner
Dinner is a show everywhere on the Disney Dream. In Animator’s Palate, at the end of dinner, I was rising from my seat when my waitress, Grissell from Peru, said the equivalent of, “Not so fast. Have you been excused from the table?”
Well, I had not been excused. Nor had I finished my chocolate sundae for desert, which Grissell pointed out, as if I were a child of about age 3.
“You did not finish,” she said.
“I can’t,” I replied.
“You must,” she said.
“You can’t make me,” I said, fitting well into the age 3 mode.
“Oh, yes I can,” said Grissell, clearly a leader of small children.
She sidled over to a spot behind me, chose a spoon, dipped it into my ice cream, and fed me a small bite, accompanied by the sound of an airplane making a landing in my mouth.
“See,” she said with a major smile.
Only at Disney.
For information on Disney cruising.