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A Mouseketrips Mouseke-tip: There's more to meet the eye when the Disney Cruise Line heads west

A Mouseketrips Mouseke-tip: There's more to meet the eye when the Disney Cruise Line heads west

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Most of you know by now that the Disney Cruise Line will, for the first time, be visiting the West Coast next year. As part of the Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration, the "Disney Magic" will be moved from its home port of Port Canaveral, Florida and will take up residence at the Port of Los Angeles for 12 weeks during the summer of 2005. What you might not know, however, is that the West Coast cruises than are developing into far more of a story than first meets the eye. A little history first. The Disney Cruise Line got its start in 1995 when Disney's contract with the Premier Cruise Line expired. Premier operated its "Big Red Boat" under a 1985 licensing agreement with Disney that allowed Premier to use Disney characters aboard the ship and offer packages which combined their cruises with vacations at Walt Disney World. After seeing the popularity of these cruises, and not being entirely happy with the quality and conditions of Premier's cruises, Disney decided to launch its own cruise line with two nearly identical ships, both built by the Fincantieri Shipyard of Venice, Italy. The "Disney Magic" had its maiden voyage in 1998, and the "Disney Wonder" set sail in 2000.

Disney's original intention was to eventually have a fleet of 10 ships offering cruises all over the world, each featuring the little extras and Disney "magic" that distinguish its theme parks and attractions. In fact, both of the current Disney ships were designed to fit through the Panama Canal so that future cruise itineraries could be accommodated. However, the events of the past few years including September 11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the worldwide economic downturn have at least seriously delayed these ambitious plans. In fact, for a while it looked like Disney might remain at the status quo with its two ships and their Caribbean cruise itineraries.

Enter Matt Ouimet. Named as the president of the Disneyland Resort in October, 2003, Ouimet replaced the departing Cynthia Harriss. One of the oft-rumored reasons for Ms. Harriss' departure from Disneyland was her fantastically underwhelming plans for Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration. Disney executives, faced with these lackluster plans, wanted to find someone who could really add some excitement to the anniversary celebration. At the same time, they were still looking for a way to expand the cruise line as per their original plans. Mr. Ouimet was carefully groomed and selected to succeed Ms. Harriss and be the next overseer of the California resorts.

Why him? Well, it just so happens that the job Mr. Ouimet left to head west to Disneyland was president of the Disney Cruise Line. With a former cruise line exec now firmly in charge in southern California, what better and easier way could Disney find to inject some excitement into the 50th anniversary and to test the waters for an expanded Disney Cruise Line than to announce a series of cruises originating from Los Angeles during the 2005 celebration? And what better way to design, execute, and coordinate the two events than to have a guy in charge who knows both the cruise and theme park sides of the business?

So, during the press event held on May 5, 2004, Disney officially announced the 2005 West Coast Mexican Riviera cruises. An announcement made by none other than Matt Ouimet himself. An announcement that, as you'll see, only told us part of the story.

So, how has the West Coast experiment worked? On May 5, which was the first day that the West Coast cruises could be booked, Disney Cruise Line's telephone system was swamped. Wait times to speak to a Disney Cruise Line reservationist were well over 3 hours. The two 14-night "repositioning" cruises, which will move the Magic from Port Canaveral to Los Angeles and back were completely booked within 3 days, and have been completely sold and unavailable for months. As of the writing of this article, there is quad-occupancy (4 people in one room) space available on only 2 of the 12 West Coast sailing dates, everything else is completely sold out. The West Coast cruises on average are at about 85% capacity with 9 months still remaining until the sailings even begin. No discounts have or will be offered on any of the West Coast cruises, and staterooms have been selling briskly at the highest price tier since shortly after bookings began. (Disney offers several price "tiers" for staterooms, with prices increasing as the ship fills up).

Which brings us to the part where things start to get really interesting. Even with the massive popularity of these West Coast cruises, one of the sail dates during the summer of 2005 has not been publicized at all. It has not shown up on the cruise line website. It has not been mentioned in any cruise line literature. In fact, the only way to book it up until now has been to call the cruise line and ask for the date specifically. It's almost like Disney has been trying to keep this sailing a secret. On July 17, 2005, there will be a 6-night cruise departing from Los Angeles, following the same route and itinerary of the 7-night cruises with the exception of the deletion of the port of Puerto Vallarta.

(By the way, this 6-night cruise is good news for those of you who still might be interested in a West Coast Disney cruise but have not been able to get a booking due to availability or price. As of now, availability on the 6-night cruise is excellent, and prices have not yet reached the highest tier. If you're looking to participate in the first-ever Disney Cruise Line sailings on the West Coast, this may be your last good opportunity. Anyway...)

Wait a minute, you're saying, why a 6-night cruise? Well, normally the West Coast Cruises will run from Saturday to Saturday. However, on Saturday, July 16th, 2005, the Disney Magic will remain in port for what's being described as a "special press event". The ship will then set sail on Sunday, July 17th after the completion of this event. Nobody will say officially what's going to happen at this special event on July 16th, but the clues are starting to fall in place.

Negotiations to build a third Disney cruise ship have been ongoing for many, many months. Disney originally approached the Fincantieri Shipyard and asked for a third copy of the Disney cruise ship. Fincantieri was only too happy to oblige, but wanted $100 million more for the new ship than the price tag for the "Magic" and "Wonder." Balking at this huge increase in cost, Disney has been quietly shopping the bid to several different shipbuilders over the past year. Now, according to a usually reliable source, there have been several recent trips by cruise line executives back and forth to Italy for meetings with several of these shipbuilders, including Fincantieri Shipyards.

Now let's connect the dots. Matt Ouimet, former president of the Disney Cruise Line, moves to California and becomes president of Disneyland. Disney Cruise Line announces West Coast cruises during Disneyland's 50th anniversary. West Coast cruises are very popular and sell out quickly at full rack rate. One West Coast cruise is not publicized because it's shortened by one day for some kind of "special press event" to be held on its normal sailing date. The "Disney Magic" is held in the port of Los Angeles on a Saturday for this "special press event". No details about the "special press event" are available. Clandestine negotiations occur between Disney and several Italian shipyards.

According to the very best information we have to date, we anticipate that the Disney Cruise Line will announce -- on July 16, 2005, from on board the "Disney Magic" in the port of Los Angeles -- the addition of a third ship to the Disney fleet. This yet-unnamed ship will set sail in 2007, and will operate from the port of Los Angeles during the summer months and join its sister ships for Caribbean cruises in the winter. This additional ship will also allow Disney to add more special cruises to its schedule, such as the wildly popular 10-night Christmas cruise and itineraries to other destinations not currently served by Disney Cruise Line.

Remember that you heard it here first, folks.

Scott Liljenquist is co-owner of Mouseketrips.com, the web's best Disney-only travel agency. A graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge, he suffers from a serious Disney Obsession Disorder. Unhappy unless he's either on a WDW vacation or planning the next one, he can usually be found scouring the 'net for the latest Disney news, rumors, and gossip. For further information on the sorts of trips and tours that Mouseketrips offers, visit the Mouseketrips web site.

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