I Dream of Disney

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2011; 12:24 PM

Ah, new-boat smell.

On the Disney Dream, a ship with less than a month of sailing time under her keel, I sniffed my way around 14 decks and 1,250 staterooms. I stuck my nose into six restaurants, two theaters, one spa and one mouse face. I stood in the airy atrium, beneath a gemstone-colored chandelier that would look divine in my imaginary ballroom, and breathed in deeply.

And that's where I smelled it: a subtle note of sweetness.

Oh wait, that was my mind talking, not my nose. The true scent of the Disney Dream was chlorine and suntan lotion, popcorn and fruity cocktails and, depending on the hour and the accident, cologne and kids. But on this 130,000-ton vessel, more than 40 percent larger than its two sister ships and more technologically advanced, imagination trumps reality.

"I like the comfort and the escape of Disney," said Sharon Clauss, a Disney cruise veteran on her first Dream voyage. "It's like being in a totally magical place."

I could use a little magic - mine was running low - so earlier this month, I banished my sensible, unsentimental self and entered a squeaky-clean fantasyland of giant mice with no predators and princesses who never lose their fortunes. For three nights and two ports of call, I did my utmost to stifle my sardonic self - the rascal who wonders whether the character actors ever get wasted and trot around naked beneath their costumes - and let myself fall blissfully into the Dream.

I have to admit, she's a looker.

Unlike the floating milk cartons that ply the Caribbean, the Dream stands out with a blue hull as dark as the ocean deep and the sleek, clean lines of a crisp button-down shirt. Mickey silhouettes on the red funnels and the figure of "Fantasia" Mickey dangling from the stern are the only winks to the Big Daddy creator.

The interior decor is equally tasteful, a flashback to the golden age of seafaring. In the public areas, striped couches with high backs and tasseled pillows encourage loafing, and chandeliers twinkle like the Milky Way. Two thrones arranged near murals of Princes Charming finding their love matches invite loyalists to rest their tired dogs.

"You get an evolution of concept," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, an online cruising resource. "It captures the best of the retro liners and also the new stuff."

A heap of anticipation bubbled around the arrival of the Dream, spurred by a 12-year drought since Disney last commissioned a ship. The company now boasts three - the other two are the Magic, launched in 1998, and the Wonder, released a year later - with one more on the way: In March 2012, the cruise line will unveil the Fantasy, the Dream's twin in size and scope.

The latest ship follows Walt Disney's precept that "you can't top pigs with pigs." Meaning: Don't try to duplicate past successes. (The reference is to the successful Three Little Pigs cartoon, "Silly Symphonies," and its failed sequels.)

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