Imagineering Awesome: The Disney Adventure

This post is part of the Imagineering Awesome series

Welcome to the 2015 Imagineering Awesome series on Mouse on the Mind! You can access all of the posts by clicking on the link at right.

Today’s post is from Jeff, who runs Turkey Leg Jeff and March Maleness. Last year, he wrote an absolutely crazy amazing post about a new World Showcase Pavilion. Today … and even bigger, cooler idea. Just jump on in: 


On my last Disney cruise—4 nights on the Disney Dream—I saw a chip in one of the faux-wood banisters along the ship’s grand atrium. This stood in stark contrast to the rest of our cruise experience, which was simply perfect. Disney fans may quibble about whether that trash can makes sense where it is or the merits of poop-themed brownies in the parks, but they really need to overturn the fixins bar to find problems with Disney Cruise Line. The company has created four superb ships and populated them with cast members that go above and beyond for every guest. So, as you can imagine, this tiny chip glared at me and dared me to create a truly awesome Disney ship… one that would be free of such unsightly blemishes.

I looked to the Parks for inspiration and settled on that recently-demolished but long-shuttered attraction, the Adventurer’s Club. The Adventurer’s Club was an interactive club on Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island. It was imagineering on a grand scale, featuring different impeccably themed rooms and involving the audience in an “open house” hosted by a club of explorers looking for some new members. Throughout the night, characters led the audience in song, in conversation, and on tours of different rooms. It was a masterpiece and it is gone—a tragedy even worse than adding a Frozen ride to EPCOT’s Norway pavilion. Let’s try to rekindle the spirit of the Adventurer’s Club at sea!

I’m imagining a new duo of ships, the Disney Adventure and the Disney Exploration. These would be sister ships, just as the Magic and Wonder are and the Dream and the Fantasy are. They would be radically different from those two pairs though, casting aside mainstays like Palo, The Golden Mickeys, and the art deco themes.

The story of a Disney cruise ship begins in its atrium, and the Disney Adventure would be radically different its predecessors. Instead of a glittering art deco jewel, you would walk into a towering, 4-story library—all mahogany banisters and brown leather furnishings. At the far side from where you enter would be a large marble fireplace with grand brass candelabras. Rather than the traditional single, curved staircase found on the other Disney ships, the atrium would have two large iron spiral staircases that ran up the entire four stories of the space. Between them would be a large vintage globe—the visual centerpiece of the lobby. Continuing the tradition of having a character statue representing the “captain” of the ship, the Disney Adventure and Disney Exploration would draw from The Jungle Book to find its captains. The Adventure’s captain would be Baloo, and the Exploration’s would be King Louie.

The Jungle Book would also be featured in the ship’s shows. Instead of the schlocky garbage currently on the ships—Villains Tonight, Believe, and The Golden Mickeys are the equivalent of theatrical abortions—there would be a Jungle Book show one night. I always think telling an established story tends to work better than these jukebox shows of Disney’s greatest songs. There would be a new show featuring the Fab Five, as they take a trek through the Amazon. Imagine Goofy being worshipped as a god by a tribe of natives as Donald is precariously dangled above a fire, ready to be roasted for a feast. Another show would be a presentation of the Adventurer’s Club’s recent explorations. Different members of the club would present some rare and exotic animals (all animatronic, of course) and plants they found on their recent expeditions into the wilderness. Think of Samantha Sterling, the daring adventuress and one of the characters of the original Adventurer’s Club attraction, showcasing the loquacious, yet perpetually sleepy, parrot named José that she met on her latest trek to the Yucatán peninsula.

Other elements from the Parks can be used, too. For example, on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, there is a mini “Central Park”—a small garden lined with shops. I’d take this concept and merge it with another Royal Caribbean touch, the Solarium, to create a conservatory filled with tropical plants. This being Disney, many of these plants would sing soothing Hawaiian songs, just like the plants in the Tiki Room do in the parks. You’d be hearing “Na Lei O Hawaii” while sipping a mai tai, next to a hot tub, in a wicker lounge chair.

The Conservatory would be just one use of plants on the ship. Let’s go back to Royal Caribbean’s Central Park. The Disney Adventure would feature a Jungle Trek—winding paths through tropical plants. Passengers would wander past small busts, similar to the ones surrounding the Magic Kingdom’s hub, of Disney’s famous animal characters. In the center of this mini jungle would be a carousel. This carousel would be made to look like bamboo and ivory and feature lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants, antelope, etc. While having a carousel at sea isn’t a new concept, this is a great opportunity for Disney to take attractions at sea to the next level.

Of course, you don’t want to give kids the wrong idea about ivory, so naturally part of the onboard activities would include workshops on conservation: teaching kids about endangered and at-risk animal species; identifying plants that are key to different ecosystems; and the rich culture of native languages. This last one can definitely be given a Disney touch. In Julie Taymor’s Broadway production of The Lion King, many of the added songs are performed in Zulu. A great workshop on the Disney Adventure would be to teach children some of these songs and their English translations.

These workshops would take place in the Oceaneer’s Club, a holdover from the Dream and Fantasy. Only on the Disney Adventure, the interior would be themed to feel like an 18th century frigate. All the interiors of the bars, lounges, and other public spaces would be impeccably themed. This is Disney after all.

Restaurants would continue the theme of exploring exotic locales. The Enchanted Garden would be themed to a Crystal Palace that comes to life with bromeliads and stranglers, orchids and carnivorous plants over the course of your dinner. Instead of the insufferable Animator’s Palette, a luau restaurant and show would be one of the rotational restaurants. This 2-tiered restaurant would be in the round. Every seat would offer a perfect view of the action below. Think Medieval Times, but a luau! Roasted meat skewers, coconut bread, and lava cake along with a jaunty show of hula dancers, fire-breathers, and Lilo and Stitch… because it’s Disney and they are contractually obligated to make you deal with Stitch at some point in any Disney vacation.

Getting back to the concept of a Victorian English adventurer’s club, one of the additional-cost restaurants would serve traditional British fare, modeled to look like the exclusive clubs of that time, for example, the Reform Club. The menu would consist of upscale versions English foods: pickled tripe, smoked cod’s roe, pressed pig’s ear, chocolate terrine, bacon and ketchup sandwiches, etc. A “gentleman’s tea” would be offered in the afternoon with items like Wagyu sliders, rum crème brulée, and flights of scotch.

For activities to help you digest your afternoon tea, take in the Advenurer’s Wildlife Expedition game, a twist on the interactive Midship Detective Agency. In this game, you’ll be given a card (your “passport”) that sets you off to hunt through the ship’s enchanted artwork to discover the mysterious hippopotamus ballerina in her natural habitat. You’ll hold your explorer’s ID card up to the enchanted artwork—pictures of Disney animals (Little John, Simba, Shere Khan, and so on)—which will activate the artwork, coming to life and giving you clues as to the hippo’s whereabouts.

You’ll probably need a drink (wait… didn’t you just have a scotch flight?) after running all over the ship finding clues, so you’ll want to head to one of the many lounges. Two of these would be holdovers from the Adventurer’s Club at Downtown Disney: The Mask Room, featuring tribal masks that came to sing and tell jokes, and The Treasure Room, showcasing various treasures plundered by the club over the years. The Treasure Room will managed by Beezle, a genie whose head will appear in a box at the back of the bar. Beezle will bark orders to the bartenders, and crack wise with inebriated guests.

These ships would be ideal for Hawaiian cruises, but also how about some new destinations for Disney Cruise Line? The theme begs to take guests to places a little beyond the normal cruise stops. I can imagine an itinerary of Haiti, Martinique, and Devil’s Island; or better yet, let’s cruise out of Sydney and visit Vanuatu, Santa Isabel in the Solomon Islands, and New Caldonia. The theme of exploration makes me wonder if an around-the-horn cruise of South America wouldn’t be the ideal time to sit back with a Kungaloosh and go exploring.

What do you think of this ship idea? What would you add? How would you update existing elements of Disney Cruise Line to fit this theme?

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