Monday, January 11, 2010

Disney To Launch West Coast Cruise Options

Fresno Bee

Disney is a year away from launching a permanent West Coast cruise option on its liner the Wonder. The move gives Fresnans the chance to book a Disney vacation at sea without the hassle or cost of a cross-country trek to Florida.

A year sounds like a long time away, but local travel agents say it’s not too soon to book the Disney cruises, which will depart from Los Angeles and sail to the Mexican Riviera and Alaska cruises.

“Savvy travelers know that if they want to go on a Disney cruise, they have to book early,” says Wes Rowland with The Cruise Experts Agency in Visalia. “There’s really nothing that compares to the Disney brand. And there’s a huge Disney market in the Central Valley.”

The Disney cruise joins the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International in making Southern California a port of departure.

Travel experts say January-March is known as the “wave season” for cruises because the three-month period is when the majority of sea treks are booked. Selecting a cruise now will assure some travelers of the best price.

 “The cruise business was down a little last year, but we are seeing that the prices are going back up. That’s because the ships are going out full,” says Morrie Frazier, owner of the Clovis Cruise One travel agency.

The weak economy and the flu scare caused last year’s dip.

Frazier says cruises, in general, are popular because they offer such a broad range of entertainment and dining options — there is usually something to appeal to all ages.

What is making the 2011 move by Disney an attractive option for West Coast travelers is the way the cruise line is designed.

Jonathan Frontado, Disney Cruise Public Relations Manager, says each ship has areas of entertainment for the entire family or for specific age groups.

“We want to make sure that if the entire family wants to be together, there are places for them to go. But, if the children want to go off on their own, then we have special, supervised areas for them,” Frontado says.

The cruises offer a selection of live stage productions with Disney themes, including a musical version of “Toy Story” that can only be seen at sea. Disney shows the latest movies, opening all new films on the ships the same day that they open in theaters on land.

Disney has the only ships authorized to launch fireworks. The aerial display often complements deck performances with a Disney theme, such as “Pirates in the Caribbean.”

David Baldree, producer for Disney Cruise Line, has coordinated at-sea entertainment for five years. His duties range from youth-activity parties to deck shows to major production numbers in the ships’ massive Walt Disney Theatre. And his job is to make sure the entertainment fits all ages.

“We have activities for children, for families, for adults and … in-between with the teens and the tweens,” Baldree says. “The shows we do in the Walt Disney Theatre has to hit all those ages. So it can’t just be a show for kids. It can’t just be a show for adults.”

All of this entertainment is handled by about 200 cast and crew members.

For adults, there are many nightclubs and lounges, such as the Skyline and the Meridian Bar.

The ships offer a variety of dining choices, including restaurants with specific culinary themes where you can eat elaborate meals with American, French, Caribbean and Pacific Rim influences.

Christine Weissman, Disney Cruise Executive Chef, and the teams on each ship work to make dining a universal treat.

“Everything is planned from the morning until evening, and it is always a work in progress,” Weissman says. “We really look at new food trends while paying attention to what are guest favorites.”

Travel agents say the Disney cruises are popular because they’re kid-friendly but make an effort for all ages.

“The fact the Disney cruises will be available on the West Coast will be great and really help our business a lot,” Frazier says.