We thought the next few years would be quiet at the Disney Cruise Line, but were we wrong! On March 3, 2016, Disney announced they’d ordered two new cruise ships from Meyer Werft, the shipyard that built the Dream and Fantasy, for delivery in 2021 and 2023. Then on July 15, 2017, the cruise line announced a third ship had been added to the order, for delivery in 2022. An additional tidbit was also released, which is that the new ships will be fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG), rather than diesel. All three of the new ships are slated to have about 1,250 guest staterooms and weigh around 135,000 GRT, about the same size as the Dream and Fantasy, but will actually be 4 meters longer than the Dream and Fantasy. Current fleet capacity is 4,250 staterooms, and the new ships will add 3,750 to that total, a nice, round 8,000 staterooms. As of February 2018, the upcoming ships have hull number: ship #5 will be s.705, ship #6 will be s.718, and ship #7 will be s.706—this may not seem like a big deal, but it certainly indicates progress is being made on the new ships, which is exciting! That’s all Disney is willing to say for now, but we can look forward to many years of juicy rumors and announcements!
Though no longer "future," the Disney Fantasy received several upgrades during her April/May 2017 drydock, her first overhaul since she was launched. In addition to maintenance fix-ups, a new, extra-cost ice cream and treats parlor, Sweet on You, opened on deck 11 aft, near Mickey's Pool, in the space formerly occupied by Arr-cade (the cruise line's last remaining, dedicated arcade). Though differently-themed, it's essentially a match for Venelope's Sweets & Treats on the Disney Dream. The Oceaneer Club, the kids club space aimed at younger children, gained two new activity areas (at the expense of two others); Star Wars: Command Post and Marvel Super Hero Academy. Finally, in a first for the cruise line, the Fantasy has a designer-branded boutique. Tiffany & Co. offers jewelry and accessories in the space previously occupied by the Vista Gallery on deck 4 midship (the gallery has moved to the lobby outside of Enchanted Garden, on deck 2 midship. Though not heralded by the cruise line, the recreation decks gained more sun shades, a hot tub in the family pool area was converted to a splash play area for the little ones, and the Senses Spa has a new juice bar. All these changes debuted on May 17, 2017.
With passenger capacity 2½ times what it was in 2010, the line’s ongoing challenge is to fill all four ships with happy passengers. Upgrades to the ships certainly help, but visits to new destinations and home ports are another key to that strategy—the line visited 9-18 ports annually between 2004-2009, 31-37 ports in 2010-2013, 53 ports in 2014, 61 in 2015, 73 in 2016, 79 ports in 2017, and a whopping 83 ports in 2018. Variety, clearly, is a key part of the cruise line’s current strategy. In 2018 the line will visit 26 ports just once, and another 14 just twice. All but three of the Magic's 14 European itineraries in 2018 (repositioning cruises included) are one-time affairs! Cruise ships can lift anchor in search of greener pastures (or bluer seas), returning only if the grass grows back. We saw this in 2011 when the cruise line established a "permanent" base in Los Angeles, just in time for the collapse of tourism to Mexico. Goodbye, L.A., hello Miami! The situation in Mexico has improved, and the Wonder is now offering San Diego-based Baja California itineraries in late spring and fall, just before and after her summer season in Alaska. Including repos, San Diego hosts 17 departures in 2018. It looks like Port Canaveral will remain home base for two to three ships, with Miami and Galveston in the fall-through-spring mix. The line is also playing with the mix between longer and shorter cruises. In 2013, 47% of sailings were 6 or more nights, and 53% were 3-5-night cruises. In 2014, 34% were 6-15-night sailings and 66% 3-5-night cruises. For 2018 the ratio is 42% long cruises, and 58% 3-5 nighters.
Magic in Miami
Meantime, the cruise line’s move to Miami turned out to be more durable than we first thought. We failed to consider the worldwide appeal of the Disney brand. On our Miami-based cruise, a substantial number of cruisers were visiting from Latin America. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering Miami’s overall visitation patterns.
In May 2018, a report from the Bahamas Tribune mentioned that Disney Cruise Line has an interest in furthering its investments in the Bahamas. It's speculated that DCL is looking for another private port, and that location could possibly be Lighthouse Point on South Eleuthera, which as been on the market for $20 million. Lighthouse Point is a 700-acre peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and sand beaches. And in October 2018, the Bahamian Prime Minister announced that its government chose Disney's proposal, giving Disney the gree light to move ahead for its plans to purchase Lighthouse Point.
Whatever happens, you can be sure we’ll be keeping an eagle eye on developments, and reporting on them between guidebook editions at the PassPorter.com web site and free weekly newsletter (subscribe at https://www.passporter.com/news).