Other ports courting Disney

Magic sets sail May 14 for stay in California

Staying at Port Canaveral. Disney Wonder, right, docks in Port Canaveral on Friday. The Wonder will continue to operate out of the port while another ship, Disney Magic, moves to California for three months. Rik Jesse, FLORIDA TODAY

The Disney Magic will depart from Port Canaveral on May 14 for a Panama Canal cruise and will dock at the Port of Los Angeles on May 28. From Los Angeles, it will offer seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises for about three months. It then will cruise back through the Panama Canal and is expected to return to Port Canaveral on Sept. 3.

Disney Cruise Line will introduce its special brand of cruising to a new market and new customers when the Disney Magic sets sail for California on May 14 as part of the 50th-anniversary celebration of Disneyland.

“The debut of the Magic to the California market does a couple of things for us,” said Tom McAlpin, president of Disney Cruise Line. “It allows a whole new set of guests to experience what Disney Cruise Line is all about. In addition to that, it gives our guests who have sailed with us the ability to come back and see new ports of call.”

The Magic and its sister ship, the Disney Wonder, both are based at Port Canaveral. But the Magic will sail from the Port of Los Angeles for about three months as part of the 18-month-long celebration of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary — what Disney is calling “The Happiest Celebration on Earth.”

In a wide-ranging interview with FLORIDA TODAY, McAlpin said that while the Disney Cruise Line has a long-term contract with Port Canaveral, the cruise line is continually being courted by representatives of other cruise ports.

“We like where we are now because of its access to Walt Disney World, but, then again, Tampa’s close, too,” McAlpin said. “But we hope to continue to play a part of the local economy in Brevard County.”

The cruise industry is a critical component of what Brevard County tourism-industry officials say is a $1 billion-a-year tourism industry responsible for about 30,000 local jobs.

Cruising is more popular than ever, and, while cruise lines are continually looking to add attractions to their ships, Disney has the advantage of using its content and entertainment for a total immersion experience, McAlpin said.

“What we have is a broad array of product and content,” he said. “People go on a Disney cruise and want to have the Disney experience.”

What McAlpin said his company is trying to steer away from is being labeled as a kids-only cruise line.

“Of course, we have tailored products for the children,” he said. “We have one whole deck dedicated for children and things to do for the families. But by taking care of children and families, it allows parents to act like adults. We have nightclubs, adult-only pools, an adult-only spa, so every member of the family will have a great vacation, and it frees the parents up.”

While the rest of the cruise industry is looking to put more exciting forms of entertainment on board the ships, Disney has a built-in opportunity, he said.

“We’re about immersing the guest in Disney,” McAlpin said. “That includes the storytelling and the programming and that magic. And incorporated in the Disney cruise is premium product certainly that provides great entertainment opportunities.”

The cruise appeals to those who want to experience an all-inclusive vacation, McAlpin said.

“What we have done is we’ve gone out and we’ve built a new vacation product to appeal to a specific market,” McAlpin said. “We have a unique island which is an escape to paradise, complete with barbecues, beaches and a serenity bay just for adults.”

Appealing to the whole family will become more and more of a company initiative, McAlpin said.

“We find it is not just the nuclear family, but moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles and grandparents who come together. It’s a great family reunion,” he said.

“The cruise industry has had an overall growth rate of 8 percent over the past 15 years,” McAlpin said. “The industry is experiencing high growth rates. The reason it’s grown so much is high satisfaction and the all-inclusive nature. ”

He said a top initiative is to keep Disney visitors on Disney properties for the entire time they’re on vacation.

While Disney is considering adding a third ship to its fleet, no deals have been worked out with shipbuilders, largely because of an unfavorable exchange rate between the dollar and the euro. Most large cruise ships are built by European companies.

Italian firm Fincantieri built both the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder.

“We certainly believe the business will grow,” he said. “We need to wait until the timing is right. The booking pace is good, and that also allows us to not only to test the market, but see how it appeals to a whole new audience. Many of the guests booking us for the West Coast cruises typically wouldn’t book us for an East Coast cruise.”

McAlpin said, while the Magic is out West, the Wonder will continue to serve its regular purpose.

“The bookings for the Wonder won’t double,” he said. “The purpose of the Wonder is to convert visitors into lifelong cruisers.”