TIME Travel

How to Master a Disney Cruise

The Disney Dream docks at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the tropical waters of the Bahamas.
David Roark The Disney Dream docks at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the tropical waters of the Bahamas.

Be prepared to stay offline, but limitless activities will keep you busy and entertained

For those who love to have their vacations well-mapped, a Disney cruise—with an itinerary that’s almost entirely pre-planned—holds a lot of appeal. It’s why, when I booked my first-ever cruise, I went with a four-day trip in the Caribbean on the Disney Dream—despite the fact that I was going with my boyfriend… and that we don’t have any children. Still, I spent many hours researching to make sure we maximized our time on board, and learned way more upon embarking. The takeaways, below:

Pre-Purchase

Disney, which has made a name for itself in the service industry, makes you feel like you’re in incredible hands throughout the entire booking process. Because it’s one of the most popular cruise lines and almost always sells out, Disney rarely offers deals—as a rule of thumb, the sooner you book, the lower the price. Once you confirm your booking, Disney sends a pre-cruising booklet, with just about any information you could ask for—general itinerary, embarkation and disembarkation times, what to bring (and what’s prohibited), and more. I loved having a physical copy to refer to as I was planning my trip. And don’t toss the booklet after you’ve read through it, because it includes luggage tags to ensure your bags get delivered to the right room.

Flights and Transportation

The official embarkation time is noon, but the process actually starts much earlier. We took the earliest flight in, and ended up with precious extra hours on the ship. And while disembarkation starts at 7 am, and Disney recommends not booking a flight before 1pm, we got off the boat with time to spare. Budget in extra time for customs upon disembarkation—sadly, TSA doesn’t (yet) run as efficiently as Disney.

Disney offers transportation from the airport to the ship, but at $70 per person, I thought it was a bit steep (though it may be worth it for the peace of mind, or if you have a lot of luggage, because they’ll check your bags onto the ship for you). We ended up taking a shuttle from CorTrans, for $40 each roundtrip.

Port Excursions

Even though we were only docking in two places, Nassau and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), there was an insane amount of activities to choose from, from basic equipment rentals to a full day at Atlantis’s water park to a rum tasting tour. Book these early, as the most popular ones fill up. We decided to snorkel in Nassau, which worked out perfectly because it happened to be drizzling that day. On Castaway Cay, we opted to just enjoy the pristine beach. There’s a family beach and an adults-only one, and more than enough space for everybody.

Day Bag

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that once you’ve handed your luggage off to crew members—which could be as early as 10 a.m., you won’t see it again until much later that afternoon. So make sure to have a separate bag with a change of clothing in case you want to hit the pool early on, any medications, and of course, your passport and required forms for boarding.

On the Cruise

The only semblance of calm you’ll see on a Disney Cruise is if you get on board as early as possible on day one—the water slide line will be shorter, the buffet lines more approachable. Use this time to sign up for last-minute port excursions, get tickets to meet Disney princesses and characters, or just to enjoy the room. Every night, a Personal Navigator is delivered to your room with the next day’s activities, movies, events, and more. Even better, download the Disney Cruise app, with a map of the ship and the full calendar, before you board—this saved us time when we forgot where certain activities were held or if we wanted to know what was going on elsewhere on the ship. And don’t miss the amazing water slide, which is great during the day but even better at night when it’s lit up with lights. Yes, the line can get long, but if you go while the ship is in port, it’s much more manageable. And the movies on the big outdoor screen above the pool are a welcome distraction while you’re waiting.

Food

I’ll admit I didn’t have the highest expectations for the food, save for the specialty restaurants, Remy and Palo, which cost additional. I’m happy to report that the food far exceeded my expectations. There were a few favorites at the buffet I returned to over and over again—stone crab claws, peel-and-eat shrimp, chicken fingers, chocolate chip cookies—and the evening meals were varied and delicious. But the highlight, without a doubt, was our meal at Palo, the Italian restaurant on board. For $30 each, we had an incredible meal that rivaled any fine dining experience in New York. (Remy, the newer French restaurant, costs an extra $80 per person.)

Entertainment

The first thing we discovered, to my utter delight, was that the in-room TV has every single Disney movie available on-demand, for free. I’ll admit I could have gladly watched movies for 72 hours straight, but stopped myself. Every night, there’s a different musical show that incorporates Disney songs and characters, both classic and new. And first-run movies are shown in the two big theaters—on our cruise, these included Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, and Big Hero 6. There’s popcorn and soda sold outside the theaters, or you can save a few bucks by heading to the buffet before the show for soda, soft serve, and yes, more chocolate chip cookies.

Final Notes

Cash is not accepted on the ship or at the island, so all you have to do is carry your room key, which is connected to a credit card. Cell service is non-existent on the ship and at Castaway Cay, and Wi-Fi is quite expensive on board, so be prepared to stay offline the entire cruise. I was worried about being so disconnected, but the seemingly limitless activities kept me more than busy, and the lack of email meant I truly felt like I was on vacation. In fact, as we returned to Port Canaveral, I felt pangs of sadness as the AT&T bars popped back up—it meant it was time to leave the incredible cocoon of a world that Disney has created at sea.

This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure

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Disney World’s EPCOT Is About To Get Way Better

Florida, Orlando, Epcot Center, View Including Sphere And Monorail.
Education Images—UIG via Getty Images Disney World's Epcot theme park in Orlando, Fla.

A beloved attraction is coming back

It’s back: Disney’s Captain EO ride.

The attraction, which graced Epcot originally from 1986 to 1994, stars the King of Pop himself in full 3-D glory. The ride was brought back in 2010 after the pop star’s death, and Disney is reinstating it again. Captain EO is a pure 1980s throwback full of nostalgia for Millennials (and their parents) that grew up visiting the Orlando theme park.

The ride features 17 minutes of Jackson and a mangy team of freedom fighters battling to “bring freedom to countless worlds of despair.” It includes songs such as “We Are Here to change the World” and “Another Part of Me,” and it was executive produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. When it was made, it was the most expensive film per minute, costing an estimated $30 million.

Captain EO was taken down in April this year to make room for a preview of “Tomorrowland” and later the animated feature “Inside Out.”

TIME Six Flags

Another Major Theme Park Just Banned Selfie Sticks

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Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images A couple use a 'selfie stick' to take a photo at a popular tourist spot in Seoul on Nov. 26, 2014.

The tourist items are reportedly too dangerous.

Six Flags is the latest to ban selfie sticks at its theme parks, NBC reported. It joins Disney on the list of amusement parks to outlaw the tourist item from use due to safety concerns.

The ban is taking affect at all Six Flags theme parks around the U.S.

“We strive to provide the safest possible environment in our parks and these devices pose a safety risk to guests and employees,” said Katy Enrique, a Six Flags communication manager, to NBC Chicago in a statement.

“The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority,” she added.

Selfie sticks have also been banned at many museums, festivals and other events around the U.S.

TIME movies

Game of Thrones Writer to Pen Live-Action The Sword in the Stone Remake

THE SWORD IN THE STONE
©Walt Disney Pictures THE SWORD IN THE STONE, King Arthur (aka Wart), 1963,

The animated movie first came out in 1963

What does Game of Thrones have in common with The Sword in the Stone? (Besides swords, that is.)

The answer is Brian Cogman, a writer-producer for the HBO hit who is set to write a live-action remake of Disney’s 1963 animated movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In addition to his work on Thrones, Cogman is currently working his Medieval magic on an adaptation of the card game Magic: The Gathering.

The Sword in the Stone, based on the 1938 T.H. White novel of the same name, tells the story of a young King Arthur. The adaptation will be produced by Brigham Taylor, who’s also producing Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book adaptation.

[THR]

 

TIME Business

How Disney Proved That No Price Was Too High for Fun

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Hulton Archive / Getty Images Walt Disney uses a baton to point to sketches of Disneyland, 1955.

July 17, 1955: Disneyland opens in Anaheim, Calif.

It may or may not be the happiest place on earth, but it’s always been one of the most profitable. Ever since Disneyland opened on this day, July 17, 60 years ago, the theme park has thrilled awestruck visitors — all the way to the bank.

The first outpost in Disney’s amusement park empire, Disneyland quickly became California’s biggest tourist attraction. Fans of Disney’s films and TV shows — and their parents — shelled out real cash for the fantasy experience. TIME listed some sample sales figures in 1957:

The average visitor plunked down $2.72 for rides and admission, $2 for food, another 18¢ for souvenirs — Disneyland pennants, maps, Donald Duck caps, etc. All told this year, with attendance running 11% ahead of 1956, the turnstiles will clink 4,500,000 times. Disneyland will gross more than $11 million, and into Disney’s treasure house will flow a Dumbo-sized profit after taxes of more than $1,000,000.

In the park’s Adventureland realm alone, nearly 3 million visitors paid more than $1 million in 1956—which would be more than $8.7 million today, accounting for inflation—to sail down a jungle river “where trap-jawed crocodiles and painted warriors glare menacingly at every turn,” per TIME.

When it opened, Disneyland’s assets totaled $16 million — more than three times the $5 million budget that Walt Disney had originally set. He and his business-partner brother, Roy O. Disney, expanded their vision after some of the nation’s largest companies asked to buy in to the fairytale. They leased space to 55 companies, weaving product-placement opportunities in between Sleeping Beauty’s castle and Captain Hook’s hideaway. Per TIME:

Pepsi-Cola came in to operate Frontierland’s Golden Horseshoe soft-drink saloon; American Motors Corp. shows Circarama movies; Pablum recently opened a brightly decorated “baby-changing and feeding station” complete with a trained nurse who hands out free disposable diapers, safety pins, bottles.

The key to Disneyland’s success, of course, was that few visitors felt fleeced. Walt’s theme park exit polls showed that while customers’ biggest complaint was the high prices, 80% said they’d be back to pay them again.

His model was so successful, in fact, that it was emulated at Six Flags and Astroworld before the Disney Company reproduced it with Walt Disney World, which opened in Florida in 1971. Walt and his disciples had, it seemed, identified a phenomenon TIME labeled the Disneyland Effect. “Stated simply,” TIME summarized in 1968, “the thesis is that what’s missing in urban life is a sense of fun, and that once a fun area is built, it proves to be a powerful, regenerative force that brings prosperity to the whole surrounding area.”

And while the Disneyland Effect wasn’t enough to keep Astroworld afloat, it seems to be holding true in Anaheim. Just last week, Disney pledged to invest an additional $1 billion in improvements and expansion at Disneyland in the coming years, in exchange for continued tax breaks from the California city. The park’s “Diamond Celebration” to commemorate its 60th anniversary represents a Dumbo-sized investment in itself, but one that will likely pay off in “a sense of fun”—and profit.

Read more about Disneyland from the 1950s, here in the TIME archives: Show Business: How to Make a Buck

TIME Television

See Video of Walt Disney Preparing for Disneyland’s Opening

This exclusive clip shows the lead-up to the July 17, 1955, opening of the park

With Disneyland marking its 60th anniversary this week and news that Disney plans to open a park in Shanghai, it’s worth remembering that the theme park that started it all almost wasn’t ready in time for its planned July 17, 1955, opening day.

As shown in this exclusive clip from the PBS American Experience special Walt Disney, which premieres Sept. 14 and 15, Disney took a hands-on approach to the park that bore his name. He was personally involved in the planning, design and the last ditch effort to open the gates on time–which required thousands of extra workers and tripled the estimated cost of the project.

Disney so committed to opening on time that he even made the tough decision between working bathrooms and working drinking fountains–only one would be ready. (Watch the clip to find out which amenity won out.)

Read a 1954 cover story about Walt Disney, here in the TIME Vault: Father Goose

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Shanghai Disneyland Will Have a Tron Ride That Will Blow Your Mind

You'll finally be able to ride a Lightcycle

Shanghai Disneyland is Disney’s first theme park in mainland China and is set to open in the spring of 2016. One of its key attractions will be a re-imagined Tomorrowland that offers an original design, but more importantly, the first ever Tron-themed roller coaster called Tron Lightcycle Power Run.

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Users will be able to ride on a train of Lightcycles on a twisting track at high speeds through a massive, color-shifting canopy and see breathtaking views of Shanghai Disneyland.

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Just think about it. This could be you in 2016:

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Pluto the Dog Has Appeared on Pluto the Planet

Appropriately, given that the character was originally named after the heavenly body

Twitter seems to think that one of the biggest discoveries from NASA’s Pluto photos is the presence of Pluto himself — the dog, that is.

A lighter patch on the planet happens to be in the shape of what looks like the ear and the face of the Disney dog—which couldn’t be more appropriate, given that the character was originally named after the dwarf planet.

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Brave Heroine Coming to the Small Screen in ABC’s Once Upon a Time

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The feisty, red-headed princess will appear in the fifth season of the television series this fall

ABC’s fantasy series, Once Upon a Time, will reprise the main character from Disney’s hit movie Brave for a star turn on the small screen, the network announced on Saturday.

Merida, the feisty, rebellious young princess with a tremendous shock of red hair, will debut in the fifth season of ABC’s series this fall, Variety reports. The move comes as the series taps into a growing roster of wildly popular Disney characters, introducing several characters from Frozen in season 4.

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ESPN Lost This Huge Number of Subscribers In a Year

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Subscribers are dropping cable and using streaming services

ESPN, long championed for its money-making ability in the sports broadcasting arena, is feeling pressure, as droves of its subscribers flee the service.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the sports behemoth has lost 3.2 million subscribers in a little over a year, citing Nielsen data. The reason: Subscribers are dropping cable and using streaming services, and there’s more competition around. ESPN currently reaches 92.9 million households.

But while it has lost a chunk of subscribers, the publication reported that ESPN is paying more money than ever to secure rights to sports games and matches.

Last year, for example, as part of a renewal deal with the National Basketball Association ESPN agreed to triple its average annual fees from $485 million to about $1.47 billion, the Journal reported.

Owned by Disney, ESPN is expected to make up 25% of the parent company’s total profit in 2015, according to the newspaper.

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For more on the future of ESPN, check out Fortune’s recent feature by Mathew Ingram.

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