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Niles: Disney makes a huge ‘wish’ for its future

One day before Disneyland officially reopened to the public, Disney’s parks division unveiled its biggest addition for 2022. It’s not a new roller coaster, a dark ride or even a theme park land.

It’s a ship — the biggest ship the Disney Cruise Line has ever built, Disney Wish. That name is proving even more appropriate than when Disney announced it at the D23 Expo in Anaheim back in 2019. Because this ship represents Disney’s wish that the multi-billion-dollar cruise business will return.

Cruising isn’t nearly as big a deal in Southern California as it is elsewhere in the country, making it easier for local Disney fans to overlook the importance of the Disney Cruise Line to both the company and its fans around the nation. The DCL’s home port of Port Canaveral on the east coast of Florida is one of the three largest cruise ports in the nation, along with Florida’s PortMiami and Port Everglades. Before the pandemic, Florida’s ports saw off an order of magnitude more international cruise passengers than California’s ports.

Disney Wish will set sail in June 2022 on three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas, including to Disney’s private island there, Castaway Cay. But the addition of Disney Wish will create a ripple effect throughout Disney’s cruise business, allowing the company to reposition its four other ships to additional ports around the world, including — potentially — more cruises from Southern California.

That’s only if cruising regains the popularity it enjoyed before the pandemic, of course. Recent CDC guidelines dictate that 95% of passengers must be vaccinated to cruise from U.S. ports, which would preclude kids from sailing when cruises resume.

That’s an obvious challenge for a company that targets families with children the way that Disney does. But the larger challenge might be getting people comfortable again with the idea of boarding crowded ships after cruise lines saw many of the first highly publicized outbreaks of COVID-19.

You can’t run a capital-intensive business such as cruising or theme parks by playing for the short term, however. Disney’s commitment to Disney Wish and the two other Triton-class ships it has ordered illustrates the company’s belief that families will come back to cruising. More than that, it shows that the company believes that families will want to come back to Disney to cruise.

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