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Live Active Cultures

The similarities between Orlando's themed resorts and the cruise industry grow ever closer

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Just over a year ago, I wrote about the increasing similarities between the cruise industry and Orlando's themed resorts. Disney further blurred the line between them last March with their new Port Canaveral-based Fantasy, featuring additional ocean-bound theme park-inspired experiences (like interactive artwork and an uphill water coaster).

But now, it seems the flow of influences may be reversing. Upon returning from a bargain-basement bob to the Bahamas – think three days locked in the Fashion Square Mall, with a field trip to the third world – I was struck by how cruising's quirks resemble the radical reshaping coming soon to Mickey's vacation kingdom. Earlier this month, Walt Disney World finally revealed the first firm details about MyMagic+ (formerly code-named "NextGen"), the Mouse's years-in-the-making, billion-dollar experiment in crowd manipulation. Once MyMagic+ is fully implemented – a process that should take several months ­– your former idea of a Disney visit may vanish forever, to be replaced by something more akin to an ocean voyage in three notable ways.

Social stratification

Everyone on a cruise ship is in the same boat literally, but not metaphorically. From the second you approach the terminal and sight the significantly shorter security lines for "VIPs," a superior class of service is offered to those able to afford the ubiquitous upcharges. And in the Downton Abbey-esque shadow of the pampered passengers, socioethnic segregation is equally apparent among the employees: Italian officers, Australian entertainers, Baltic busboys, Indonesian stewards.

Walt Disney's parks, by contrast, were originally established as egalitarian middle-class amusements that paid living wages to their upwardly mobile employees – just ask newly appointed WDW Resort president George Kalogridis, who launched his career cleaning tables at the Contemporary in 1971. But MyMagic+'s advantages will be offered first to those staying in Disney's high-dollar hotels, before someday (supposedly) trickling down to day guests and annual pass-holding locals. More importantly, guests booking Disney's above-market beds will have up to a 60-day advantage in securing limited reservation slots for rides and shows. Read between the lines of the program's terms and conditions and a blatant "buy your way to front" future for WDW is easily foreseeable.

Embrace Big Brother

Long before you set foot on a cruise ship, your passport is scanned, your face is photographed and your financial details are encoded on a plastic card that becomes your lifeline while aboard. (Some fundamentalists would have a fit over the Mark of the Beast-iness of it.) On the plus side, the electronic ID allows everyone from the waiters to housekeepers to hail you on a first-name basis; the effect is equal parts charming and creepy.

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