- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mickey Mouse is going on a European vacation in the summer of 2007.

Disney Cruise Line will sail to Italy, France and Spain from May to August 2007 as part of a larger strategy to “chart new waters,” company officials said.

The Disney Magic will offer eight alternating 10-night and 11-night Mediterranean cruises, departing from Barcelona and stopping in eight European cities.

Traveling through Europe can be daunting, especially with small children, company President Tom McAlpin says. A Disney cruise takes the guesswork out of what cities to hit, where to eat and what shows to see, he adds.

“The cruise takes care of all of that, and people trust Disney. At the end of the day, you know you’re coming back to the ship and having five-star dining, great entertainment, and you know your kids are going to have a good time,” he says.

Disney is considering expanding beyond its two ships, which have been successful since the company began operating Caribbean voyages in 1998 — but “it’s not the right time now,” Mr. McAlpin says.

The European expansion will have little impact on the cruise industry overall, an analyst says. Major players such as Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. already operate in Europe with cruise lines that cater specifically to European vacationers.

Even if the unit of the Walt Disney Co. decided to add a few new ships, that would pale in comparison to the 16 ships industry leader Carnival will add in the next four years on top of its 80-ship fleet, says Craig Parmelee, a credit analyst for Standard & Poor’s.

Disney’s announcement comes at a time when the industry is flourishing. Despite media reports focusing on crime and safety problems on vessels, bookings are up, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

Ticket prices also are returning to highs set before the recession and September 11 terrorist attacks.

The association projects that the number of cruise travelers will increase by about 500,000 persons from last year, to about 11.7 million.

Trips have become more attractive values because of larger ships, diverse entertainment options and onboard innovations with luxury amenities — supper clubs, bowling alleys, afternoon teas, movie theaters and even ice rinks and water slides.

Disney is a relative latecomer to the industry. It started with the Magic in 1998. It added the Disney Wonder later that year and offers cruises to the Caribbean, the Bahamas and its own island, Castaway Cay. The cruise line caters to a niche family market — there’s no gambling; entertainment is family-oriented; and Mickey and Minnie mingle with young guests throughout the voyage.

Next year, Disney also will offer two 14-night trans-Atlantic sailings to bookend the Mediterranean voyages.

• • •

Disney Cruise: 800/951-3532.

The Disney Magic will depart from Barcelona, Spain, in the summer of 2007. Rates for the 10- and 11-night cruises start at $2,399 per person. Stops will be made at the following ports:

Palermo, Sicily and Naples, Italy, with access to Pompeii; Olbia, Sardinia and Civitavecchia, Italy, with access to Rome; La Spezia, Italy, with access to Florence and Pisa; and Marseille and Villefranche, France.

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