Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Magic Came To The Sea

Disney Magic: The Launching of a Dream, By John Heminway. New York: Disney Editions, 1998, 92 pp.

Hello everyone - I'm back! I had a great vacation on the Disney Magic, although I didn't get anywhere near as much reading done as I expected to. I did, however, find a couple of new books to review while I was on vacation, and for my first review since my return, I'd like to discuss one of them.

In the late 1990's, Disney decided to make what was considered by some to be an unusual move. Up to that point, Disney had an agreement with another cruise line operating out of Florida to license the use of the Disney characters on their cruises, but Disney looked over its options and decided that it would be better served by creating and running its own cruise line. Disney decided to build two new ships for the cruise line, with a design and features that would not only mark the ships as uniquely Disney but would also evoke memories of classic ocean liners. The story of the creation of the cruise line and the design and building of the first ship - the Disney Magic - is a fascinating one, and John Heminway shares it with us in Disney Magic: The Launching of a Dream, a book published to celebrate the inaugural voyages of the ship.

Disney Magic covers the story of how Disney decided to get into the cruise business, some of the early design concepts for their ships, and the reasoning behind the design that was finally settled on. We learn a little about the process by which the ship was built - which had been used in the past for making ships bigger but had never been used before for building a new ship; we also learn about what inspired the ship's designers when they came up with the look of the staterooms and public spaces and how those inspirations are reflected in the final designs. The book is full of concept art and models, the collages that inspired the artists and Imagineers when designing key public spaces, images of artwork created for use on the ship, and photographs of room mockups and of the Disney Magic under construction.

This book was absolutely fascinating. I'd had some idea of the basic concepts behind the design of the Disney Magic, but I never realized how many different design concepts had been considered for the project and how much work was involved - both in terms of design and actual building - to make the ship a reality. John does a good job of giving a general overview of the ship's pre-history, and his book features quotes from key executives involved in the project - including then-CEO Michael Eisner - as well as some beautiful artwork.

My biggest problem with Disney Magic is that the story that it tells is incomplete. In order for the book to be ready for publication in time for the inaugural voyages of the cruise line, the story of the actual construction ends with the floating out of the ship from drydock (they don't launch ships into the water in modern shipbuilding). This is good in that the reader gets a look at many models and concept artwork that might have otherwise just been put away in the Walt Disney Imagineering archives, but it's bad in that we don't get to see much of the finished ship. I'm a little surprised that Disney's never printed a revised edition of this book or a new book covering the creation of the Magic's sister ship the Disney Wonder and the changes that have been made to the ships since the ships came into service. With two new ships joining the Disney Cruise Line in the next couple of years, I hope that Disney will consider publishing a new book.

The only other potential problem I see folks having with this book is that since Michael Eisner was still in charge of the Walt Disney Company when it was published, there are a lot of quotes from Michael included, and Michael being Michael, he takes a lot of credit for the way the ship turned out. I'm sure that will bother the Disney fans out there who are more than happy to see Michael gone from Disney, so don't say I didn't warn you - but don't let it stop you from getting a copy of the book, either.

Disney Magic: The Launching Of A Dream is an interesting look at the early history of the Disney Cruise Line and of the creation of its first ship, the Disney Magic. While it's a very short book and the story told by the book ends before it's really complete, the book more than makes up for these shortcomings with lots of illustrations of concept art and models. The book would make a great addition to anyone's Disney theme park library or would make a great souvenir or momento of someone's Disney cruise experience. The book can be purchased by passengers sailing on the Disney Magic in the ship's gift shops, Treasure Ketch and Mickey's Mates, or on eBay.
A word of warning about purchasing the book on eBay, though - a few less-than-honest sellers have tried to pass copies of the book off as a limited edition that was available only after immediately the ship went into service, which may be true for the book's first edition, but not for the current one. Be sure you ask about which edition the book you're bidding on and when it was initially purchased before you plunk down significantly more than the $14.95 cover price for the book.