In February of this year, I got the wonderful opportunity to be a guest speaker on The Disney Wonder on the first cruise completely filled with Disney Vacation Club members. I write a monthly Disney heritage column for the DVC newsletter and so I got to join speakers like Tim O'Day and Imagineer Tom Accomb aboard the ship for a four day cruise.

I did presentations on Walt: The Man and another on the long term romance of Mickey Mouse and Minnie and also did one that I particularly enjoyed researching: The Secrets Behind STEAMBOAT WILLIE that I expanded into a really nice article which will be appearing in the next issue of Hogan's Alley.

And, as they say in the cruise business, I went on as a passenger and came off as cargo. Too much food, too much sun and too much fun.

The cruise got me to thinking about how traveling on ships was very much a part of the Disney Heritage. While we all remember that it was all started by a mouse, we do sometimes neglect to remember that it was started by a mouse on a really big boat in STEAMBOAT WILLIE.

Mickey has had many nautical adventures from TUGBOAT MICKEY to BOAT BUILDERS and of course, the history of Disney animation is filled with sea-going stories. In fact, the Disney Studios didn't start in 1923 with a mouse but with a series that combined a little live-action girl named Alice with animated cartoon characters and backgrounds. The name of the very first official Disney Studio cartoon made in Hollywood? ALICE'S DAY AT SEA.

Even many Disney live-action films have an oceanic theme like the 1962 comedy BON VOYAGE starring Fred MacMurray as the head of an average American family taking a European vacation. Exteriors for the cruise ship sequence were shot over five days on the SS UNITED STATES while it steamed to Europe. (Walt used the filming as an opportunity to take his family to Europe for a vacation.)

Walt Disney would have felt quite at home on the Disney cruise ships. While in later years Walt traveled in his private company airplane, his early travels were usually by train or ship.

There are photos of Walt holding a Mickey Mouse doll and strolling with his wife along the deck of the Italian Luxury ship, The REX on a 1934 vacation. There are photos of Walt and his wife accompanied by their two daughters aboard the QUEEN ELIZABETH on a 1949 cruise to Europe. At the end of Walt's South American trip in August 1941, he along with some of his top staff took a leisurely seventeen-day sea voyage from Valparaiso to New York City aboard the SANTA CLARA.

Several months before his death, Walt gathered his entire family together for a cruise up the coast of British Columbia where the family celebrated not only one of his granddaughter's birthdays but his 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 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."

Finding something exciting to do is never a problem on The Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder. However, there are so many wonderful opportunities that guests may miss some of the quieter pleasures like discovering the Disney artistic heritage in the theming of the ships.

These vessels are literally floating art galleries boasting hundreds of pieces of original artwork ranging from carefully selected prints to elaborate sculptures from stem to stern. Much of that artwork directly honors the career of Walt Disney.

The Disney Magic interior design is influenced by the more geometrical Art Deco style while the Disney Wonder reflects the more rounded Art Nouveau style. Yet the exterior design of both ships is similar with their dark hulls, red funnels, yellow striping and white detailing resembling an abstract three-dimensional sculpture of Walt's alter ego, Mickey Mouse.

On the bow, the Disney Magic features the image of Sorcerer Mickey while the Disney Wonder showcases Steamboat Willie. Hidden in the swirls are sly silhouettes of classic characters that Walt helped develop in ocean related activities from Goofy surfing to Daisy Duck lounging at the beach.

The centerpiece of the Disney Magic atrium is a bronze statue of Walt's mouse entitled "Helmsman Mickey." It was inspired by Leonard Craske's famous 1923 (the year the Disney Studios started) statue, "Man At The Wheel," and serves as a monument to the bravery and dedication of sailors everywhere.

Throughout both ships, Walt's contribution to the art of animation is represented by rarely seen, authentic reproductions of artwork from the Disney vaults of story sketches, film stills and posters from the many classic Disney cartoons that had a nautical theme from KING NEPTUNE to HOW TO BE A SAILOR to ALICE'S DAY AT SEA.

One of the few similarities on both ships is the Walt Disney Theater where Walt's contributions to the art of entertainment are honored with performances of Broadway caliber productions. Hidden in its elaborate architectural design and comfortable elegance are several "Hidden Mickeys" including a series that is in the scrollwork that runs along the side walls. And that large photo of Walt on the outside of the theater? You wouldn't believe how much effort was put into getting the color right in each tile and making sure each tile was flush next to the other so there is no "gap" in the picture.

The Disney Cruise Line harks back to the era of classic great ships when they were reflections of that time's best architects, artists, designers and artisans. They are also a unique floating museum of the artistic contributions of Walt Disney himself and a perfect setting for presentations about the legacy of Disney.