Text and photos by Steve MacNaull
My daughter and I made history. Nothing along the lines of discovering fire or inventing the microchip, but exciting nevertheless. We were two of the first people to ride AquaDuck – the only watercoaster on a cruise ship.
Of course, the company to bring us this wonder is Disney, which is known for its creativity and has Donald Duck to name it after.
So, eight-year-old Grace and I find ourselves proudly standing in our swim suits on deck 16 during the first hour of the christening cruise of the Disney Dream waiting our turn to make history.
Now, AquaDuck is no regular waterslide. In fact, it’s technically a see-through tube. It juts portside off the ship 50 metres over the ocean for a corkscrew of twists and drops before zipping along a straight and fast river rapids on an elevated track above pool deck 11. After disappearing in the smokestack for a wide turn there’s a starboard side stretch of lazy river where we give a wave to those below before finishing with a splash in the exit flume on deck 12.
All told, an exhilarating 255 metre adventure that we repeat over and over again in a quest to go ever faster, get even wetter and have even more fun.
“We wanted to create a signature, iconic, thrilling, storytelling waterslide,” says Disney senior vice-president of creative Joe Lanzisero. “And we decided to elevate it and have it shoot out the side of the ship so it doesn’t take up space on the decks. After all, real estate is at a premium on cruise ships.”
The AquaDuck has a Canadian connection with Kelowna-based fibreglass company FormaShape, which made many of the watercoaster components and does waterslide and waterpark design and installations all over the world.
While AquaDuck is the Disney Dream’s most obvious talking point, the cruise ship’s attributes by no means end there.
Let’s start with the christening celebration itself late January at Disney’s home port of Cape Canaveral in Florida.
No company can put on a show like Disney, thus the pirates, marching bands, cheerleaders, singers, dancers and cast of Disney characters that populate the stage and back up massive video screens.
In a flourish of music and fireworks the video screens are pulled back to reveal the docked Disney Dream in all its gleaming blue and white, 116,000-tonne, 340-metre long glory.
Enter Jennifer Hudson, yes, the Oscar and Grammy award winning Jennifer Hudson, to sing Dream and wave a magic wand to cue the giant champagne bottle suspended from a helicopter to smash into the side of the boat.
Hudson, who started her career singing on Disney cruise ships, has now come full circle as the godmother of one of its vessels.
On board the Dream for the christening cruise to Disney’s private Bahamian island Castaway Cay we discover a myriad of other reasons it is special.
Disney has managed to hit the perfect balance of family luxury cruising.
The ship has a capacity of 4,000 passengers with most of the 1,250 staterooms spacious and well-appointed staterooms capable of sleeping families of four or five.
Ninety per cent of cabins have ocean views or balconies and the remaining inside staterooms have the novelty of virtual portholes that show real-time high-definition scenes from cameras mounted outside.
Animated Disney characters periodically float past the portholes as well.
Of course, there are the Disney characters, themes, décor and shows.
But while the kids are being entertained at the extraordinary babies, tots, kids, tweens and teens clubs, parents can laze poolside, visit the spa, shop, dine at adults-only Palo and Remy restaurants or hit the clubs, bars and pubs of the District.
Castaway Cay, a three-kilometre by one-kilometre crescent of tropical paradise, continually ranks as Disney’s No. 1 port of call over others in the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe.
“Being a private island has cache,” says Disney vice-president Ozer Balli. “It’s pristine, but has all the amenities cruisers want.”
As such, while on the island we lounged on the beach, rode yet more waterslides, drank the specialty drink Castaway Breeze (a blend of rum, strawberry and banana) and ate barbecued fish and chicken.
The Disney Dream leaves and returns to Cape Canaveral on three-, four- and five-night cruises to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay.
Cape Canaveral is close to the massive Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts of Orlando for vacation tie-ins before and/or after your cruise.
Check out www.cruisedisney.disney.go.com