USA TODAY exclusive: Disney Cruise Line plans 3-D theaters

Leave it to Disney to revolutionize theater entertainment at sea — at least for the North American market.

USA TODAY has learned the entertainment giant is about to unveil the first 3-D theaters on an English-speaking ship, to debut next Friday on the Disney Wonder and Dec. 6 on the Disney Magic.

Disney Digital 3-D, as the company is calling its proprietary technology, is being installed in two theaters on each of the 1,754-passenger vessels and will allow for the showing of some of the first 3-D movies at sea. But Disney has even grander plans for the technology.

Starting in early 2009 the company will pull off another first with the debut of a once-per-cruise theatrical extravaganza that combines 3-D movie projection with in-theatre special effects. Tridimensional images will combine with lasers, fog, streamers and lighting effects to create an immersive experience.

“With Disney Digital 3-D we can provide extraordinary cinematic experiences for our guests that no other cruise line can offer,” notes Tom McAlpin, president of Disney Cruise Line.

The 3-D theaters will be used to offer passengers exclusive viewings of first-run Disney films the same week they roll out in theaters on land. Indeed, Disney is timing next week's launch of the 3-D technology on the Wonder to coincide with the debut of its much-awaited new 3-D animated Disney film Bolt (John Travolta; Miley Cyrus).

The company plans a special midnight screening of Bolt on the Disney Wonder as the calendar turns from Nov. 20 to Nov. 21 — the day the movie debuts in theaters on land. Characters from the movie will be in attendance.

Disney's move comes during a period of unusual innovation in cruise industry entertainment. Just this week Celebrity Cruises is unveiling the first glass-blowing shows at sea on the new Celebrity Solstice. The ship will be christened later today in Fort Lauderdale. Over the past year Royal Caribbean also has announced several groundbreaking entertainment concepts for its soon-to-launch Oasis of the Seas, including an outdoor AquaTheater for live water shows (another industry first).

The age-old tradition of watching movies at sea also has been revolutionized over the past few years by the arrival of huge outdoor movie screens on the top decks of ships. Just last week Princess Cruises, which pioneered the concept in 2004, announced it would add outdoor theaters to nearly all of its ships over the next three years due to strong demand.

A German line, Aida, also is experimenting with a 3-D theater on its newest ship, the seven-month-old Aidabella.    

The Disney theaters getting the 3-D technology on the two Disney ships are the Buena Vista Theatres (the traditional movie theaters on the two ships) and the Walt Disney Theatres (which house staged musicals and other productions).   

Based in Port Canaveral, Fla., Disney's two ships sail three-, four- and seven-night itineraries to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.


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