As the parent of a 10-year-old, I’ve spent years sitting through one popular kids’ movie after another and thought I was pretty hip to what makes kids tick these days—including what sorts of things make them giddy with excitement.
That was until our recent cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy for the launch of Disney’s first-ever Pixar Day at Sea.
To say I had vastly overestimated my knowledge of kids—or, more specifically, their love for popular movie characters—would hardly do justice to the learning curve I was about to undergo.
Let’s start with the Sulley meet and greet. For those not familiar (and it’s unlikely there are many people left on the planet who are not at least somewhat aware of James Patrick Sullivan, otherwise known as Sulley) he is of course, the beloved blue protagonist from the 2001 Disney-Pixar film Monsters Inc.
Sully was one of the many wildly popular characters to appear on board the Disney Fantasy to sign autographs, take pictures, and spend hours hugging one adoring, pint-sized fan after another as part of the new Pixar Day at Sea extravaganza.
Setting eyes on the line to meet this lovable character was my first inkling at how clueless I had really been. There were hundreds of people in the queue. The line was so long it wrapped around three of the four sides of the ship’s second-floor atrium balcony, where Sulley was soon scheduled to appear.
As I searched for the end of this never-ending stream of humanity so that my son could secure his own place, I paused to double-check that all of these people were indeed waiting for…a Pixar character. (As opposed to perhaps a rock star who had secretly arrived on board while we slept the previous night, which honestly seemed far more plausible.)
I sidled up to one mother who had secured a position halfway down the line and innocently asked, “What are ya’ll waiting for?” She looked at me unblinkingly and even slightly bemused, like perhaps I had parachuted in from Mars, and said, “This is the line for Sulley, of course.” Translation: get with the program.
One deck below, the line of eager fans waiting to meet Remy, star of the 2007 movie Ratatouille, was equally jaw-dropping and the excitement among those waiting equally palpable.
Bottom line? We would clearly have to step up our character meet-at-greet game if my son was to have an opportunity to interact with Pixar’s most popular personalities.
The meet and greets (which lasted from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on the appointed Pixar Day at Sea), were merely one facet of Disney’s immersive and all-new themed cruise offering.
The fun-filled line-up included all manner of memorable activities designed to engage kids and adults alike. Options ranged from Pixar trivia gatherings to Jack-Jack diaper dashes and a Monster’s Inc. Open Mike Night. There were also animation drawing classes for guests of all ages and a Pixar Storytellers at Sea talk, which featured special guest and Pixar animator, writer, and voice actor Bob Peterson, who shared details about his fascinating career. For foodies, there were also cooking classes featuring Remy’s favorite dish. Yes, ratatouille.
The day was capped off with two blockbuster shows on the pool deck—a Pixar Pals Celebration, featuring many of the popular Pixar characters singing and dancing, and a second, later show titled An Incredible Deck Party: Celebrate the Supers, featuring The Incredibles.
And because this is Disney, where no detail goes overlooked, there was also a multitude of Pixar-themed food and beverage offerings as well, including an entire breakfast hosted by Sheriff Woody, Jesse, and Bullseye. (But more on that later).
Disney’s new Pixar Day at Sea cruise is being offered on seven-night sailings from January through March. (Though Disney reps say fans should keep their eyes peeled for future dates to be announced.)
The special sailings depart from Port Canaveral, Florida, and visit several popular destinations in the eastern and western Caribbean. Eastern Caribbean itineraries feature stops in such ports as Tortola, St. Thomas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, while the western Caribbean itineraries include visits to Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; and Falmouth, Jamaica. In addition, every cruise, whether it’s east or west Caribbean, includes a stop at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay.
The range of Disney and Pixar characters that make appearances onboard during the special themed day include stars from Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Inside Out; Up, and also Coco. That means you’ll see favorites such as Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Bo Peep from Toy Story, and Mike, Sulley, and Boo from Monsters, Inc., as well as Joy and Sadness from Inside Out; Dug and Russell from Up, and last but hardly least, Miguel from Coco.
There’s so much Pixar-related fun on offer for cruisers that some events had to be squeezed in the day before the actual, appointed Pixar-themed day. For the uninitiated (raising hand sheepishly), the best way to approach all of the Pixar merriment is with ample planning. Do your family a favor and download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, where the day’s full roster of happenings will be listed. Using the app, you can add events to your personal schedule and receive helpful push notification reminders just before each event is about to take place.
Not to Miss Pixar Day at Sea Happenings
Having now experienced the “Hey Howdy Breakfast with Woody and Friends,” on Disney Fantasy, it’s safe to say the uneventful breakfasts at our home will be even harder to muddle through.
Still, I will forever have the memory of my son grooving in his chair, grinning from ear to ear, as Woody, Bullseye, and Jesse danced through the aisles of the Animator’s Palate dining room while leading sing-a-longs and belting out cowboy serenades.
I’m fairly certain it’s a memory my son won’t forget anytime soon either. At the end of the breakfast, he gushed: “This is the best cruise of my life, and it’s only our second day here.”
All of which is to say, the Hey Howdy Breakfast was easily one of the best Pixar-themed events. And be sure to reserve your spot in advance of arriving on the cruise in order to ensure you don’t miss out on this kid-tastic experience. Because what kid doesn’t like dining on whipped creme-covered pancakes while being entertained by Woody and Bullseye?
Equally memorable, and also held in the Animator’s Palate dining room, was the Finding Nemo-themed dinner, which featured interactive conversations with the totally awesome surfer dude sea turtle Crush.
My son and I are still marveling over the fact that Crush managed to swim from one television screen to the next around the perimeter of the massive dining room and pause to have actual conversations with individual diners. That included having a chat with my son, asking him where he’s from, what his favorite activities are, and even commenting on my son’s responses. While all of this was taking place, my son’s eyes grew wide as saucers because he was so bowled over to be having an actual back-and-forth conversation with Crush.
As a parent, all I can say is bravo. Well done, Disney. This magical interaction with Crush was yet another moment that had my 10-year-old walking on sunshine.
At day’s end, we made our way to the Deck 11 pool area to take in the two shows that were slated to wrap up what had already been a truly memorable Pixar experience. We arrived to find wall-to-wall people (many decked out in Incredibles attire or dressed as their favorite Toy Story characters) without an inch on deck to spare. Many families had clearly gotten there well ahead of showtime to stake out a prime center-stage location. Again, I had underestimated the enthusiasm of Disney Pixar fans.
The shows, of course, delivered the level of dance, music, and over-the-top energy that has helped Disney build its legendary reputation and forever secure its place in the hearts of loyal fans.
The first show, Pixar Pals Celebration, featured singing and dancing from many of the Pixar characters we had seen throughout the day on the ship. The second, later show, An Incredible Deck Party: Celebrate the Supers, was a madcap adventure featuring The Incredibles searching for baby Jack-Jack throughout the ship, and it delivered both action and laughs.
The evening wrapped up with a fireworks spectacular in the skies above the ship and more dancing with The Incredibles.
Working out the Kinks
It’s safe to say that Pixar Day at Sea was a success. But there were also a few minor kinks, some of which may be ironed out over the course of future sailings. On our sailing, for instance, Rex from Toy Story never made his eagerly awaited appearance. But the Disney staff promised the popular dinosaur will indeed be a part of future cruises.
The abundance of activity choices was also a bit overwhelming. And ultimately, it wasn’t possible to get to everything in just a single day, especially when your child begins to lose energy or needs some quiet time in between back-to-back events.
The hours-long lines to meet some of the more popular characters is also something that will hopefully be eased on future sailings—perhaps through spreading the meet and greets out over more than one special Pixar day or maybe by allowing passengers to schedule specific time slots with the most popular characters.
“Moving forward, we will look at more opportunities to get Mike Wazowski, Sulley, and Miguel out and about more,” Cruise Director Trent Hitchcock explained during a media Q&A session. Hitchcock also highly recommends that families do their homework in terms of the activities available and plan ahead in order to make the most of the featured Pixar events.
“You have the app, which includes the plan for the entire Pixar day, and using it you can plan your entire cruise and make sure your family gets what they want out of it,” continued Hitchcock.
It’s also a good idea to reserve special meal events like the Woody and Friends breakfast during the cruise’s 30-day advance cruise check-in process.
Logistics aside, Pixar Day at Sea was an experience my son can’t stop talking about. And standing on the sidelines observing his non-stop smiles and the sheer joy he experienced meeting his favorite movie characters was an experience I will long remember as a parent.
These sorts of reactions among countless young guests did not go unnoticed by the Disney Cruise Line team leads either, many of whom spent several months working to bring Pixar Day at Sea to life.
“It never, ever gets old when we see all of the joy and excitement,” said Denise Case, director of entertainment for Disney Cruise Line. “To see the guest reactions and the children’s faces—it’s literally why we do what we do. You can never put enough joy into the world. That’s what fuels us, to see everyone enjoying these characters.”