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A Theme Park Fan's Guide to the Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship

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You Are the Animator at Animator's Palate
One of the signature features aboard the Disney Fantasy is the Animation Magic experience.

Dancing with Mickey.

© Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
Animation has always been front and center at the Disney theme parks. From the storybook castles that provide their focal points, to the characters that walk the streets, to the stories that inspire the attractions, Disney's animated classics are in the spotlight. Pavilions at both Disney California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios takes guests behind the scenes to learn about the animation process. The Fantasy gives guests the opportunity to actually become animators in a stunning, utterly unique presentation.

On one of the evenings that they dine in Animator's Palate, one of the three main dining rooms on the ship, guests are given markers when they arrive at their table and told to draw a character on their placemats. For inspiration, scenes about food culled from classic Disney animated films (the "Be Our Guest" dining room scene from Beauty and the Beast for example) play on large monitors throughout the dining room.

The waitstaff collects the drawings. About midway through the meal, Mickey Mouse appears onscreen to inform diners that something special will be coming shortly. A few minutes later, the lights dim, and -- incredibly -- the characters that guests drew begin dancing skating, and engaging in other activities in an animated production. It simultaneously delights and baffles the audience of would-be animators.

"There's nothing more exciting than when you see your animation come to life," says Joe Lanzisero, senior vice president, creative at Walt Disney Imagineering, and one of the chief designers of the Disney Fantasy. As a former animator, he certainly knows about the joys of watching his sketches first dance and skip across a screen. It is no less of a thrill for amateur animators.

Arms flail, legs articulate, bodies rotate, and other movements occur as the cast of characters perform one amazing choreographed scene after another. It doesn't matter whether the drawings are simple or highly refined. Somehow, the show's impressive technology seamlessly blends everything together. A minute or so into the presentation, the characters begin interacting with Pinocchio, the Genie from Aladdin and other Disney stars. That's when Animation Magic really turns on its magic. Channeling Walt Disney, who once said something similar about building Disneyland, Lanzisero says that creating Animation Magic is "one of those things that proves it's fun to do the impossible."

The signatures that diners provided on their placemats appear as the credits roll. At the end of the (delicious) meal, the waitstaff returns the drawings, which are adorned with gold "Official Animator" labels to the artists.

Introduced exclusively on the Fantasy, Animation Magic is a striking Imagineering breakthrough and one of the highlights of the cruise.

Next up: It's showtime aboard the Fantasy.

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