I had a maritime moment with Mickey Mouse. Before boarding the new Disney Magic cruise ship, my fellow passengers and I were welcomed by the mighty mouse himself within the sun-dappled Disney Cruise Line Terminal in Port Canaveral, FL. Decked out in an admiral's uniform worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta (or perhaps a public appearance by Michael Jackson), Mickey regularly meets and greets everyone arriving at check-in for cruises to the Bahamas and Disney's own private island, Castaway Cay. I was charmed by the photo op, yet felt uneasy about spending the next four days at sea reporting on the new ship, envisioning myself becoming part of a captive audience within a Disney World on Water. Don't get me wrong. I am as big a fan of Disney theme parks as the next guy, but being out to sea, whistling while I worked, and making small talk with the Little Mermaid was not my idea of a work/play getaway.

Happily enough, there was no need to worry about theming gone...er...overboard. For although the Disney Magic is designed to captivate travelers of all ages with plenty of entertainment options and activity areas, a floating theme park it is not. Old friends like Mickey and Minnie still appear in onstage productions, but animated characters aren't lurking on every deck. The Magic, in fact, embraces sophisticated interiors and detailing modeled after classic transatlantic ocean liners like the Queen Mary and the Normandie. Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner told his Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) design team, "Make a modern classic. I want you to out-tradition tradition."

Spanning 964'--longer than three football fields--the 11-deck ship accommodates up to 2,400 guests in 875 staterooms and suites. The exterior of the 830,000-ton Magic features Mickey Mouse-inspired colors: a blue-black hull, white superstructure, yellow trim, and two giant red funnels sporting the Mickey Mouse logo. An elaborate filigree of Disney characters graces the bow, while astern a 15' statue of Goofy hangs upside down in a boatswain's chair "painting" the ship's name. WDI collaborated with a maritime architecture team including Njal R. Eide, Deltamarin, Yran & Storbraaten, Brand & Allen Architects, and Robert Tillberg. As is common practice in the cruise ship construction field, design of the public spaces--including a cinema, live performance theatre, five main restaurants, three pools, retail shops, a spa and exercise club, and assorted lounges and bars--was parceled out to five interior design and architecture firms overseen by WDI. Additional design consultants, from graphics firms to industrial designers, were enlisted to orchestrate the look of various onboard elements. The Magic was constructed at the Fincantieri Shipyards in Ancona and Venice, Italy, where finishing touches are now being completed on its sister ship, the Disney Wonder, set to sail by summer's end.

The shipboard entertainment, comprising a 100-plus member team of singers, dancers, actors, musicians, comedians, illusionists, jugglers, Disney characters, and production staffers, has been produced by director of entertainment Cliff Perry, a 30-year veteran of the cruise industry. The entertainment venues are concentrated on decks three through five, connected by a grand atrium lobby graced with a glass chandelier/sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly. The ship's showplace is the 975-seat Walt Disney Theatre, situated forward on deck four. The venue was designed by WDI, with Monica Gonzalez serving as project manager, in collaboration with Dallas-based Wilson & Associates. The decor of the theatre features wood and fabric-covered walls with brass detailing, wood-framed theatre seats, and a dramatic sunburst-pattern ceiling detail of crystal backlit by white cold cathode from Technolux. When the Disney pixie Tinkerbell takes flight during one of the stage shows, a night sky effect sweeps across the ceiling via CIE fiber optics with over 15,000 endpoints.

The proscenium stage measures 40' wide by 35' deep, with a 12' apron and a 25' by 25' projection bay. "Rather than black, we decided to go with a dark blue deck and surround, which gives us a different feeling," says producer Matt Conover. "There are also fiber optics embedded in the portals and stage-surround drapes." Upstage, the fly tower has a height of four onboard decks. In addition to the flown and tracked scenery, there are five roller tubes upon which drops are stored. An Austrian-style show curtain, fabricated by I. Weiss & Sons, has automatic rigging by JR Clancy.

The theatre was designed to support the presentation of four original musical shows during each cruise, which were inspired by Disney's classic films and Broadway triumphs. Hercules--A Muse-ical Comedy, is a vaudeville-style salute to the ancient strongman incorporating songs from the animated film. Voyage of the Ghost Ship presents an action adventure encompassing 22 actors, singers, and dancers, and six original songs. Disney Dreams is a new fairy tale that brings together elements from the tales of Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid, featuring well-loved musical favorites along with a new original cruise line anthem, "The Magic of Your Dreams." The theatre cast members also stage Island Magic, a brief prelude to the passengers' daytime disembarkment to the private beaches of Disney's Castaway Cay, as Minnie Mouse and Goofy foil Captain Hook's plan to detain guests.

Key members of the Disney creative production team for the shows were Conover, senior producer R.K. Kelley, production coordinator Tracy Catron, and show director Chase Senge. "When many of our Disney executives toured the ship in Italy and on subsequent visits, they have commented that this is the best Disney theatrical facility they've seen anywhere, on land or sea," says Conover. "That is largely due to the thoroughness of the equipment package. You could bring almost any show in here and you'd have a lot to work with."

Glantre Engineering was responsible for the supply and installation of onboard entertainment systems on the Magic. The company performed theatre design, planning, and acoustic services, as well as the detailing and specification of all shipwide and local entertainment systems. Explains Glantre managing director Derek Gilbert, "This was an exciting challenge and an even larger-scale project for us than the Carnival Destiny in 1996. There are a greater number of entertainment venues aboard the Magic--27 in all--so we installed a shipwide network of control, whereby all venues can be monitored from a central broadcast center. This allows any errors to be logged centrally and increases functionality." The shipwide equipment design and installation represented a collaboration between Glantre and WDI, architects Yran & Storbraaten, theatre consultants Auerbach + Associates, and Acoustic Dimensions.

Glantre's package for the Walt Disney Theatre encompasses the latest theatre technology equipment and special effects. ETC Obsession II consoles and dimmer racks are workhorses for controlling both conventional and automated luminaires. "We have 52 automated luminaires, all High End Systems Cyberlights(R) and Studio Colors(R)," Conover says. There are more than 300 conventional luminaires, including ETC Source Four ellipsoidal reflectors. Pani projectors are used for optical effects. Wybron color scrollers, L&E ministrips, Lycian followspots, Laser Magic's Chroma 10 laser system with elements both front- and back-of-house, and various pyrotechnic hardware from Luna Tech round out the lighting package. Sigma LSG machines create carbon dioxide fog, while conventional fog and haze is produced by units from Le Maitre, Sigma Services, and Rosco.

The audio array features two Akai 16-track hard disk recorders, Crest CKS and CKV power amplifiers, a Denon CD/cassette deck and mini-disk recorder, a wide array of EAW loudspeakers, a Lexicon digital effects processor, a Tascam DAT machine, Peavey Media Matrix, Yamaha multi-effects processor, Sennheiser radio microphones, and a Clear-Com wireless intercom/headset system. The theatre also is equipped with Stewart front- and rear-projection screens, a Barco video projector, Christie 35mm projector, DTL video distribution amplifier, Dolby cinema audio processing system, and JVC video monitors. A Panasonic effects unit, Pioneer laser disk player, and Sony Betacam recorder and MATV tuner also support the theatre's productions.

Rigging, engineered and installed by JR Clancy, features personnel flying equipment from Kirby's Flying Ballet, automated performer flying systems from Stage Technologies, seven deck track winches, 11 automated scenery rollers, six curved curtain tracks, 10 scenery tracks, and 14 automated line shaft hoists. Delstar built a custom-designed hydraulic orchestra lift and a stage scenery lift, plus a high-speed modular stage lift for quick, below-stage entrances by performers.

Mark Ager and John Hasty of Stage Technologies developed the non-tracked automation systems, known as Explorers, used for the Disney shows. Prior to their specification on the Magic, the devices had only been tried out in the London production of Martin Guerre [See TCI, January 1997]. The team also provided the Acrobat 3D controller for all automation equipment. The location control unit (LCU) is the main system overseeing a majority of the show systems. This system was originally developed by WDI for theme park ride controls, and has been adapted for live show use in a partnership with David Hynds, show control designer for Walt Disney World Entertainment.

"One of the most interesting pieces of scenery we are using is the stern of an old ship that floats on- and off-stage in Voyage of the Ghost Ship," Conover says. Built by Mystic Scenic Studios and controlled by the Explorer, it is a free-driving automated unit that drives onstage from position to position using a Wybron Autopilot to locate itself. It determines whether it is in the right place by itself, then tracks to the next position. So it auto-corrects as it goes.

"Jim Ray, president of Mystic Scenic Studios, was a great partner in developing the mass of scenery and props our four shows required," Conover says. After taking on the Disney Magic project, Mystic has opened an additional shop in Lake Helen, FL, that provides maintenance services for the cruise ship and is also building some of the scenery for the next ship to come online, the Disney Wonder. Regarding the Wonder, project manager Gonzalez notes that its theatre is an exact replica of the Magic's, "except for a change in the carpeting, which includes a solid red color down the two aisle walkways. Architecturally, the front of house is basically the same from an aesthetic standpoint."

To run the shows, there are five people on deck, three people in the booth, and two spot and flood operators, in addition to three wardrobe technicians. There are 30 performers in the Disney Dreams show, and 22 showcased in the other presentations. The shows, which are performed in rotation over the course of the cruise, are each presented two or three times nightly, depending upon the occupancy of the ship. Each presentation lasts between 48 and 57 minutes--cruise passengers traditionally never sit for longer presentations. Scenic changeover from show to show takes about five hours, according to Conover.

The production design for the four shows required its own veritable cast of thousands. "The goal was that each show would have a three- to five-year life, so we went with the best experienced designers to pull together presentations with that kind of longevity," Conover says. "Of course, we will tweak the productions as needed." Disney Magic technical director Rhys Williams of Technical Theatre Services and his company have worked on many Broadway shows, including Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. "Rhys also brought along his experience from his role as technical director for the launch of the Celebrity Century cruise ship," Conover says. Scenic designer James Leonard Joy's Broadway credits include Play On! and the revival of State Fair, as well as live stage productions for Walt Disney World, including the Spirit of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. For the shows aboard the Magic, Joy was assisted by Todd Ivins and Nick Polyansky. Lighting designer Jeff Davis, whose credits range from product ions at the New York City Opera to The Maury Povich Show, was assisted by Neal Krogh and Mark Janezcko. Costume designer Mariann Verheyen is the professor of costume design at Boston University. The multimedia producer for the Magic was Robin Silvestri of Batwin + Robin Productions, which won acclaim for designs in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and The Who's Tommy. Silvestri also brought experience from the Century launch. Michael Curry, who partnered with Julie Taymor on the phenomenal puppetry for The Lion King, designed and constructed several of the puppets for Disney Cruise Lines, and consulted with Mystic Scenic Studios on the remainder.

Before showtime, the theatre and its sister space, the 275-seat Buena Vista Cinema on deck five (also designed by WDI with Wilson & Associates), support a range of activities from lectures to religious services. To supply versatile illumination, London-based architectural lighting designers Imagination, an independent firm with no relation to Disney Imagineering, specified dimmable 250W halogen downlights. Sections of the ceiling in both spaces feature coves set on a curve, so the downlights feature flexible front plates to accommodate the arc. Custom sconces in the cinema, designed to evoke the style of Art Deco movie palaces, house halogen dichroic lamps. The side walls of the Walt Disney Theatre, meanwhile, feature fiber-optic endpoints in each of the pilaster niches.

Lighting by Imagination in one of the ship's main restaurants helps to create a show in itself. The Animator's Palate dining room celebrates Disney's legendary animation film department. Designed by the Rockwell Group, the environment metamorphoses from stark black and white to Technicolor over the course of dinner, like an animation cel come to life. The effect is achieved "through the theatrical trick of using a scrim--dissolving a mesh wall with strong back lighting," says Imagination project director Paul Scott. Diners arrive at their tables amid a surreal, completely black-and-white environment composed of cartoon-like outlines of sketchbooks and supplies in an animation artist's studio. Stills of Disney cartoons, without their trademark hues, line the walls like pages of an untouched coloring book. The components forming the room's exaggerated perspective, including columns in the form of giant paintbrushes, are constructed of glass-reinforced fiberglass.

House lighting at the beginning of the meal is provided by Modular 50W AR-70 downlights over each table. As the first course is served, Iguzzini MR-16 trackspots fitted with colored dichroic glass lenses and mounted behind the scrim begin to wash the perimeter walls in a swirl pattern of orange and red, while the paintbrush bristle "capitals" of the columns glow blue via end- and side-emitting fiber optics. Throughout the evening, color wheels take the fiber optics wrapping the columns and ceiling through a series of seven color changes. The custom CIE fiber optics were color-matched to animated images from Disney's archives. Gradually, deep blue cold cathode by Technolux outlines perimeter walls. Synchronized light, sound, and video accompany each magical change, until every aspect of the room is colored in. Static images along the wall become video clips from animated classics such as The Jungle Book and The Little Mermaid. By dessert, even the waiters' vests have switched from monochrome to multicolored. Steve Latham of Imagination worked on the lighting elements, while Scott oversaw the production of the integrated multimedia show, which is run by proprietary WDI controls.

The ship's other main restaurants are Lumiere's, with a French flair inspired by Beauty and the Beast; and Parrot Cay, where Caribbean cuisine is served in a casual setting and lighting creates the look of an indoor/outdoor environment under the palm trees. Both venues were designed by Design Continuum.

The Rockwell Group also designed the three clubs that comprise the ship's adults-only nightlife sector called Beat Street. Rockin' Bar D is a disco-cum-Nashville roadhouse, Sessions is a jazz club with a retro, streamlined Now, Voyager ambience, and Offbeat is an improvisational comedy club with an Op Art decor that architect David Rockwell calls "Laugh-In love bus meets Twister," as in the board game, not the film.

For sports fanatics in need of a box score fix, the ESPN Skybox is a bar and club with stadium seats primed for satellite-feed viewing of the big game. Kids aboard the ship can check out the Oceaneer's Lab designed by WDI, which mixes video games and activities in a space-age environment featuring Buzz Lightyear. And teens can lounge (or sulk) in their own trendy coffee bar called Common Grounds. Rounding out entertainment options is Studio Sea, a family dance club featuring cabaret acts and participation game shows.

To control lighting throughout the Magic, Strand Lighting provided 13 Premiere processors and 30 EC90SV dimmer racks using delta power supplies. Preset control stations in every public space are routed into the centralized master controls in the Broadcast Center. Time clocks for lighting presets are tied into a global positioning system, which adjusts settings to the movement of the ship.

Hitting the beaches of Disney's own private island, Castaway Cay, was another pleasant surprise for this seafaring reporter. Taking passengers to its own duchy amid the Bahamian isles sounded a bit like Disney quality control at its peak, but the pristine beaches and low-key tropical architecture (by WDI) were a fitting backdrop for an afternoon spent in the sun. Okay, there was a tram to take sun-worshippers less than half a mile to the other end of this sliver of land, but otherwise the island seemed like an upscale, pristine beach club; no overt theming recalled Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course, Disney had perfected the geometry of the dock so that those of us on the beach had a perfect view of the glistening Magic on the horizon. We couldn't wait to return to the ship by sunset to see what else was in store onboard.