Malta, Tunisia, the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Florence, the Cote d'Azur and Corsica are pretty magical spots. The pace is languid; the coast rugged, lyrical and steeped in history. So why would we need to get Disney involved? Disney's all about rides and hydrocephalus vermin and gussied-up fairy tales, right? Well, yes. But it's also about families and narratives and the power of imagination. This is why, after much deliberation, we chose to introduce our kids to Europe via Disney Cruise Line.
I'm a little loathe to admit, my obsession with entertainment did not begin with Shakespeare or Bob Fosse, but with Disney films and early, frequent trips to the Magic Kingdom. Disneyland was only a half hour's drive up the I-5 from my home in San Clemente, Calif., so, like many Southern Cal kids, my malleable psyche was imbued with images of nondescript European hamlets, the London skyline and that terrifying enormous eyeball from Monsanto's "Adventure Through Inner Space." (I'll save the prophetic symbolism of the Monsanto eye for another piece). My thirst for theater and for travel was brought to me courtesy of Walt Disney and, although I've made my way around the world without Mickey, what better way to travel as a family than to hop on a big, elegant boat skippered by the mouse and dip our feet in the familiar and exotic splendors of the Med?
As the sun sets on day five of our 10-night cruise (I'm sitting on our veranda watching the sun sink over the Port of Rome as I write this), we are entirely spent from our day running from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain to the Sistine Chapel and everywhere in between, but we are gearing up for another night of live entertainment. Tonight Disney's latest release, "Prince of Persia," premieres in the stylized Walt Disney Theater; last night we were swept away by the original musical "Twice Charmed" (a kooky sequel to "Cinderella" and an appropriate follow-up to ProArts' recent production of the classic tale which we caught right before we left Maui).
On the final night of every Disney Cruise Line voyage, the Disney characters and cast of the Walt Disney Theatre stage shows come out to say goodbye to their traveling companions.
Right now one of Rome's premier tenors is serenading passengers on the gangway as they return from their port adventures. Tomorrow we might check out the brand new musical "Villains" and then, later on, we'll bid farewell to the Magic with the celebratory swan song "Until We Meet Again." Of course, we'll manage to slip in a day in Florence and a bit of wine tasting in the South of France.
Last night I caught up with Cruise Director Brent Davies. We chatted about his role in bringing together the limitless entertainment choices on the Disney Magic, not to mention all the port adventures and seemingly serendipitous moments, which seem to pop up around every corner.
"Disney is synonymous with storytelling," he said, "and we've created Broadway-quality shows especially for the ships. They're condensed into 45 to 50 minutes, so that families can enjoy them together. The beauty of the Walt Disney Theater is that, during the course of a cruise, you might enjoy four or five great shows."
Everyone's eating it up. If perhaps you're one of those skeptics who thinks it all seems a bit (ahem) cheesy, consider Brent's most memorable moment from his 11 years working on the Disney ships:
"We've always worked very closely with the Make-a-Wish Foundation (the charity responsible for granting wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses)," he told me, then told the story of a young man who'd come aboard a few years ago. His illness kept him confined to a wheelchair and he hadn't walked for two years. Brent and his staff assembled all the Disney characters for a special performance. As they danced and sang around the young man, he smiled from ear to ear. Then, to everyone's disbelief, he got up and walked.
"I still keep in touch with that family," Brent said, "and he's still with them."
Disney calls it faith, trust and pixie dust, but it's really all about the power of imagination to inspire, transform and transport. Whether you travel to a magical spot close to home, embark on a distant adventure, or enjoy an evening of theater, here's to the imaginary spark that keeps you going.
Disney Cruise Line will bring the Magic's sister ship, the Disney Wonder, to Los Angeles permanently this year and offer West Coast itineraries including Mexico, Canada and Alaska. The fleet will christen its newest ship, The Dream, in 2011, which will take over their tried-and-true Bahamian route, while the Magic will continue to bob around the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.
The Comedy Hui, Maui's own improv comedy troupe, will do games, musicals and more at 7 p.m. Friday at McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. A benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters, it features the talents of Alexis Ziegler, Rachel Deboer, Karen Stavash, Kore Taylor, Tom Althouse, John Ziegler, Chino LaForge and Adam Wright, under the direction of producer Amanda Taulare. A live band featuring guitarist Jack Piskorski, drummer John McMullen and keyboardist Louise Lambert will accompany the fun the performers create with plenty of help from the audience. Tommy Bahama will provide the pre-show dinner. Tickets are $20, $12 for kids 12 and younger, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.