Can You Breathe Life Into a 15-Year-Old Cruise Ship?

April 26, 2013
(9:30 a.m. EDT) -- In cruise ship years, 15 is middle age. And because sagging bows and rust spots are not an option, hull-to-funnel plastic surgery is often required.

Disney Cruise Line today became the latest to announce the dramatic overhaul of an aging ship in need of a makeover. The 1,754-passenger Disney Magic, which turns 15 on July 30, will head to Cadiz, Spain, from September 7 to October 10 for its biggest-ever refurb. The operation will cover restaurants, bars, the spa, the atrium, cabins and kids' spaces, and will include the addition of a precipitously inclined waterslide that swings out over the side of the 11-deck ship.

It's certainly time. Once a pioneer, Magic has been surpassed in almost every consumer metric by Disney's bigger, splashier Dream-class duo, Disney Dream (2011) and Disney Fantasy (2012). The newer sisters are better looking, architecturally, and better equipped, having introduced novel concepts such as "virtual portholes" in inside cabins, a top-deck water coaster and interactive artwork that responds to motion. (Disney Fantasy took the Best Overall Large Ship in the 2013 Cruisers' Choice Awards.) While reviews for Magic are still relatively strong, many passengers have noted a slide. Cruise Critic contributor Christine Koubek, who sailed on Magic last summer, reported seeing "worn fabrics in the fitness center lounges and cabins, some scuffed furnishings and a bit of rust in balcony corners." Several Cruise Critic reader reviews from the past six months, one titled "Faded Magic," echo Koubek's comments.

The man tasked with re-energizing Magic is Joe Lanzisero, senior creative vice president for Walt Disney Imagineering. Lanzisero worked on Magic's original design in the late 1990's, in essence helping to create the blueprint for building a ship that would be filled with families, year-round. The goal this time around is threefold: Retrofit Magic with versions of the most popular Dream-class concepts, like the pirate-themed Oceaneer Lab; gut and redo 15-year-old spaces that have become quaint, like a musical-knickknack-filled, country-and-western-or-is-it-rock-'n'-roll bar; and introduce wholly new features where none existed, like the aforementioned waterslide, on which passengers begin their plummet from a platform near the top of the funnel. Additionally, upgrades will be made to lighting and audio, which have improved dramatically the past decade and a half. (Editor's Note: There's no word -- yet -- on whether the line has a similar makeover in mind for Magic's sister, Disney Wonder. But if I were a betting man -- wait, I am a betting man.)

Lanzisero and company are also aiming for something more difficult to articulate; they want to modernize the vibe while achieving the "timeless," world-unto-itself quality for which Disney is known."There's an informality on new ships," Lanzisero told reporters during a recent ship tour. Through the dry-dock, we want to "lighten things up, break up the symmetry."

But in the world of Disney, you have to be careful not to stumble into blasphemy. There are certain "sacred principles." The ship's 1920's Art Deco glamour remains the bedrock, the thread that links spaces themed on super heroes, pirates or Donald's mischievous nephews. Removing Animator's Palate, an iconic interactive restaurant that fuses Asian food and animation, "would be like taking a castle out of the park," Lanzisero said.

"And don't touch the Mickey statue," Lanzisero said of the bronze-cast figure who greets passengers in the atrium.

Let's take a tour.

--by Dan Askin, Cruise Critic Contributor