Disney Hits West Coast Waters

It just got easier for kids in the West to cruise with Mickey and Minnie

As the Disney Magic brings the company’s branded experience back to the West Coast for 12 seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises this summer, agents express pleasure, but say the isolated season isn’t nearly enough.

Hope Wallace, CTC, owner of ADA Travel in Casa Grande, Ariz., had clients onboard when Disney sailed on the West Coast in 2005, and she has booked 17 staterooms for this summer’s season. Wallace, a 30-year agency veteran, stressed the affordability of the West Coast Disney experience for families daunted by rising airfares to Florida.

“It’s only about $100 per person to fly Southwest from Arizona to Los Angeles, in contrast to Florida fares,” she added. Like others who have strong bookings with Disney out of Los Angeles, Wallace said most of her clients are past cruisers with other cruise lines and are new to Disney; out of the 17 cabins, 15 were booked by first-time Disney guests.

“I told my clients it’s a this-year-only opportunity, since Disney won’t be back on the West Coast for at least two years,” she said. “Many of the children are young enough so they will want to cruise with Disney again, and the families will get discounts through the loyalty program if they want to go to Florida later. That will help cover the airfare and it gives me an excellent follow-up opportunity.”

It is the memories — the almost unlimited access to the Disney characters onboard — that all agents cited as the primary reason for their clients’ choice of a Disney cruise. The Magic’s entertainment is customized for the Mexican Riviera, with features including Minnie’s Fiesta Grande as a sailaway, a pinata party, traditional Mexican toys and lessons in El Jarabe Tapatio (the Mexican Hat Dance).

Disney Magic has been enhanced since the original West Coast sailings two years ago, with features from the giant poolside LED screen to new youth activity space for passengers ages 10 to14 and an expanded spa and fitness center. Wallace had special praise for the facilities for older children.

“Kids 4 to 8 are an easy sell,” she said, “but the older ones are very particular.”

While enthusiastically placing their clients on the Magic, many agents expressed frustration that the Disney presence on the West Coast is so brief.

“We’re ecstatic that Disney is here, but we wish they would establish a year-round cruise presence, which we may not get even when the new ships come out. The West Coast cruise market has never been served as it deserves,” said Jeff Anderson, vice president of marketing for America’s Vacation Center in San Diego.

Anderson contended that the West Coast offers just as much opportunity as the east, especially for Disney, which can combine the cruise and park synergies in California as it has done in Florida.

“The strength of the drive market in Southern California and the adjoining states is enormous; it puts the drive market in Florida to shame in terms of population density,” he stated. “I’ve cruised a lot out of Southern California and many people drive in from nearby states and from Northern California. In today’s economic environment I don’t see too many big families flying from here to Florida for Disney.”

Anderson noted that the Magic’s weeklong cruises to Mexico command higher per diems than the weeklong cruises to the Bahamas out of Port Canaveral.

He said rates for an inside cabin are much the same, but for a West Coast balcony cabin (the category AVC sells most) the minimum rate was $2,369, whereas the same stateroom on the East Coast on the same day was priced from $1,826. Other dates also showed an approximate 20 percent difference.

“If that’s not a compelling enough reason for deploying a ship here, I don’t know what is,” Anderson added. “There may be an extra premium now because the Disney cruise experience is only available for a season, but this is a very significant difference in price, and families will pay it to avoid flying cross-country.”

The Magic sails roundtrip from Los Angeles May 25 to Aug. 10, calling at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, with rates from $1,599 per person. The sailings can be paired with a two-night stay at one of Disney’s three Anaheim resorts before or after the cruise.