Disney plugs ship with high-tech goodies

Dream offers interaction with digital characters

Crush, the animated sea turtle from “Finding Nemo,” asks you — by name — about your day. Artwork of Mickey and Co. transforms as you approach. Kids play a Tron-inspired game on a multiplayer electronic floor in the Oceaneer Lab. Above the main pool, a 30-by-18-foot Funnel Vision LED screen adds video visuals to the scenery.

Does the newly launched, 130,000-ton Disney Dream, the Mouse House’s first new ship in a decade, indicate that its cruise line cares more about high-tech then the high seas?

No, says Imagineer Diego Parras, a member of the team devoted to keeping the Disney brand at the forefront of entertainment innovation — whether adding President Obama to the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents or figuring out a way to offer live streaming video of the ocean through “portholes” in interior cabins (with an occasional swim-by from a Disney character).

“We use cutting-edge technology all the time. But we really have to make sure that technology is invisible,” Parras adds. “At the end of the day our guests just want to be entertained. We want them to say, ‘Wow, that’s Crush talking to us while we’re having dinner.’ ”

Nonetheless, tech innovations are key for Disney’ continued success in a competitive market. In addition to the Disney Dream, nine other ships are scheduled to join cruising fleets in 2011. A new idea today may become standard across the industry next year. It’s unlikely, for instance, that Disney’s shipboard cellphones — which connect parents’ to their kids if they’re in separate rooms — will stay unique for long.

“When we started Disney cruise lines,” says Richard Gregory, the ship’s marketing manager, “we were the only ones focusing on family cruising. We showed the industry that there’s a market for family cruises, and our fellow cruise lines have hopped onboard with marketing efforts and with product.”

Disney’s marketing message has been directed mainly at mothers. “Moms are still very important to our marketing message,” says Gregory, “but we’re also seeing that dads are influencing the decision. And kids play a huge role.”

Which is why you won’t find a casino on the Disney Dream, but you will find “Pirates of the Caribbean” vidgame stations.