I felt like a little girl again while taking the Disney Magic around the Baltic. One night in particular, it was as though I had stepped into a fairy tale as our group entered a palace with golden mirrors, live music and we were greeted by a woman who looked just like Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”
Disney Magic // (C) 2009 Disney
We were attending a real princess ball, featuring costumed Disney royalty and held at Catherine’s Palace, no less, an extravagant 18th-century palace. This is just one of the offerings Disney Cruise Line has up its sleeve next summer as the Disney Magic visits St. Petersburg, Russia, on the line’s first foray into Northern Europe. The ship will also do a reconfigured series of Mediterranean cruises (the Magic previously cruised in the Med in 2007), which will include Tunis, Tunisia, another place Disney is visiting for the
Recently, David Duffy, the cruise line’s creative director and a member of the entertainment department, brought a handful of journalists to join him as he made sure everything will be up to Disney’s standards.
Both St. Petersburg and Tunis present cultural challenges. When Duffy hinted backstage during a 3½-hour nighttime performance of “Swan Lake” that maybe the Saint-Petersburg Theatre Russian Ballet should consider a shorter version for Disney’s young passengers, I thought he might get smacked. But negotiations are now under way for a scaled-down presentation that would have Disney renting the entire Palace Theater for an afternoon (guests will also have an opportunity to attend the full nighttime performance).
Similarly, Disney has a unique plan to take its guests to visit the private Jacobsen Ballet School, where young Russian dancers, ages 5 to 15, train for professional careers. After we watched a performance, Duffy suggested some sort of interactive activity be created involving the cruise line’s young guests.
“This is not a tourist attraction. It’s a real school,” Olesya Sergienko, program manager for one ground operator, responded. Still, she did not rule out further discussions.
Among other offerings, Disney is seeking a new spin at the Hermitage where — as at several museums and historic sites — the challenge is presenting an experience that will keep kids entertained. Having learned from its earlier foray in the Med, the line is planning a new Port Adventure for each call, during which youth counselors will occupy kids with an activity so parents get more time to explore. At the Hermitage, this may include a sculpture lesson in the Greek or Roman room. In Florence, ground operator Trumpy Tours is developing a similar program where kids can create frescoes and play duke and duchess at Palazzo Vecchio.
Still, it’s Tunisia where Disney may face its biggest challenge, where its Muslim culture is likely unfamiliar to the American crowd, and vice versa. We sampled an excursion in the scenic hillside town of Sidi Bou Said in suburban Tunis: a treasure hunt complete with a little book of clues and treasure map, the idea being culture combined with a mild competition. Families visit key sights and pursue activities such as getting henna tattoos, belly dancing and drinking mint tea. Impressively, the treasure hunt includes some interaction with locals including negotiating for a pot with Tunisian dinars (provided) and going to the communal fountain to gather water.
There are also plans in Tunis for a beach resort offering, a visit to a recreated Berber village, and several tours involving visits to UNESCO World Heritage sites — including Carthage, where kids will be able to pretend to be gladiators at the Roman Coliseum.
In 2010, the Disney Magic will offer 10- and 11-night Mediterranean itineraries from Barcelona in April, May, August and September, and 12-night Northern Europe itineraries from Dover (U.K.) in June and July.