Disney comes to Dover

While touring the cruise ship Disney Magic on its first call at the Port of Dover last week, our guide, an American possessing what appeared to be a genuine passion for all things Disney, confessed the ship had been victim of incidents of piracy in the past.

A PR blunder, you may imagine. But no, we’re not talking about the rather unsavoury Somali scourge of the seas. In the fantasy world of Disney guests are apparently thrilled to witness pirates “boarding” the ship before being seen off by our hero, Mickey Mouse, who swings down from the ship’s funnels to save the day.

This is all part of the experience when you sail with Disney Cruise Line, which has decided to take the plunge in Dover this summer with a series of European cruises from the port in the coming weeks.

Walking around the 83,000 tonnes vessel, which can carry 2,700 passengers and 950 crew, you are struck by just how this business squeezes every last drop of potential from its lucrative brand.

Photo packages costing hundreds of dollars? You got it. Premieres of Disney studio movies on the same day of release in the States? You bet. Children’s play areas themed around its most famous characters? Naturally.

When families walk onboard their name is called out over the public address system, with crew members welcoming them to the cruise with cheers and big Disney smiles. Most of those boarding last Saturday seemed to love it, but I couldn’t help but cringe.

Personally this is about as far from my vision of a dream holiday as it’s possible to get. The idea of a stay at Disneyland is frightening enough but at least there, I presume, there is a chance of escape. Here you’re on a ship, and when you’re at sea that’s where you’ll be staying.

It may be a cliché, but like Marmite I guess you’re either going to love it or hate it.

And clearly there are more than enough people out there who can’t get enough of the Disney cruise experience. The company is set to double the size of its fleet by adding a further two ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, by 2012.

Now the company wants to grab a slice of the British cruise market by bringing the “worlds of fantasy only Disney can create” to our doorstep.

“We are thrilled to begin this new itinerary and call the Port of Dover our home for the next few weeks,” said Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line.

“This region of the world holds great appeal and we are very excited to finally give our guests the opportunity to combine an authentic Northern European experience with a fun, family-friendly cruise that only Disney can deliver.”

For the Port of Dover it’s a coup to secure such an iconic brand, and during the ceremonial exchange of plaques to welcome the ship the chairman of Dover Harbour Board made much of the history of Dover, which is sure to appeal to our cousins from across the Atlantic.

Kate O’Hara, head of commercial and marketing at the Port of Dover, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Disney Magic for its first call at the Port of Dover.

“It is fitting that such a globally iconic brand should have an equally iconic location, against a backdrop of the famous White Cliffs.  So begins what we hope will be a magical relationship with Dover, the Port of Kings.”

I don’t doubt this short season in Dover – four 12-night cruises to the Baltic – will be a success for Disney, with European guests joining a large contingent of visitors from the US. And while it may not be to everyone’s taste, what Disney does it does oh so well.

* A report of Disney’s arrival, which appeared in the Dover Express on June 17, can be found here.

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