Disney Cruise History – The Big Red Boat and Premier Cruise Lines

This week we’re going to be taking a look at the origins of the Disney Cruise Line! But we’re not going to be talking about the Disney Dream or Fantasy or Wonder or Magic. No, we’re going to be talking about, that’s right, THE BIG RED BOAT.

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The Disney Cruise Line officially launched their first cruise in July of 1998, but in order to explore the full origins of these popular excursions, we first have to go back 14 years to 1984. At that point Disney was looking to get into the cruise industry. It was a market that was on the rise and it happened to be right in Disney’s backyard. With the Caribbean so close to Florida, more and more cruise ships were sailing out of Floridian ports, and rather than look at this as a competitive threat, Disney saw an opportunity to grow.

They chose to test the waters by partnering with not one, but two cruise lines. The first was a short partnership with Norwegian Caribbean Lines. Together they offered a one-week cruise in November of 1984 called “FantaSea” which sailed out of Miami on the SS Norway. It took guests to St. Thomas, Nassau, and Big Stirrup Cay. VP of Marketing for Disney at the time, James Garbar, promised that the cruise would have “all the magic that is Disney in a Magic Kingdom-sized way.” For prices ranging from $975 to $2710 per person the “FantaSea” cruise offered fireworks, a live performance of the ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, a Goofy themed Olympics, and all of the traditional cruise recreations such as pools, bars, and gambling. Embracing the all-inclusive model, the price even included round-trip airfare to and from Miami.

At the same time Disney was also partnering with Premiere Cruise Line. The two together worked with the official airline of Walt Disney World, Eastern Airlines, and offered the “Cruise and Walt Disney World Vacation Week”. The package included airfare to Florida, a 3-4 night cruise to the Bahamas on the SS Royale which sailed from Port Canaveral, and a 3-4 night stay at Walt Disney World.

Today the Disney Cruise Line is considered by many to be among the best the industry has to offer, and it is ripe with its own history that I no doubt plan to cover in a future video. I just think that it’s interesting that at a time where Disney’s MO was to dive head first into new industries to approach them the “Disney way”, it was a partnership that would eventually lead to the Disney Cruises we have today.

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