The crew on board Disney Dream have been putting the ship through her paces this weekend in the North Sea. They have been running the engines to maximum speed, throwing crash turns and emergency stops, all to ensure that mechanically at least, she performs to design specification.
The story of how the 128,000-ton ship reached the sea is remarkable in itself.
Disney Dream was built at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. In a giant construction shed 26 miles from the sea, surrounded by ploughed fields and acres of greenhouses.
Josef Lambert Meyer started building wooden ships at a wharf in the town in 1795. His great, great, great grandson Bernard Meyer is now in charge of the yard which is one of the most technologically-advanced in Europe and has by far the biggest covered dry docks in the world.
Steel sheets are cut by computer-controlled plasma torches and are joined together by a laser welding process so secret that photography is forbidden in the fabrication shed to avoid giving clues to competitors. The yard recently brought in a team of consultants from Porsche to make sure they are as efficient as possible.
The journey, known as a conveyance, attracts huge crowds.
Even so, when vessels such as the Disney Dream, sister ship Disney fantasy, the Solstice class for Celebrity, and the Jewel class ships for NCL are complete, they face a complex journey to the sea.
There’s a narrow lock to negotiate from the yard’s basin into the River Ems, whose level must be artificially raised by the closure of a tidal barrier at Gandersum. Even then it can only happen at spring tides, and when there is not too much wind, which would make it difficult to control the ship. A water depth of about 28 feet was required to move the ship downstream, and even with light ballast, the keel was less than two feet clear of the river bed in places.
The ship travels backwards, being towed by a tug at the stern, and with another attacheed to the bow to control the direction.
Arrangements have to be made to close road and rail crossings over the river: some bridges are raised, others swing to one side, and in one case the structure is temporarily demolished, to be re-built like a giant Meccano set after the ship has passed. And the event has to take place inside a 48-hour time frame imposed by protesting environmentalists who claim that damming and dredging the river cause harm
Engineers had to wait for a spring tide with a water depth of 8.5 metres to move the vessel downstream. That meant its keel was just 40 to 50 centimetres above the stony bottom of the river. The most spectacular moment comes when ships pass over a four-lane German autobahn, which dives under the river through a tunnel.
The journey, known as a conveyance, attracts huge crowds. Ship fans from German and the Netherlands – for whom the yard provides a visitor centre and organises guided tours throughout the year – turn up in their thousands, many in motorhomes, to watch from the yard and along the river. Many leapfrog the ship, travelling from one vantage point to another along the route.
Fireworks marked Disney Dream’s departure from the yard on Friday evening, and I have no doubt Andrea Bocelli’s “Con te Partiro” (“Time to Say Goodbye”) was blasting out from speakers by the lock.
On Saturday morning, the ship made a brief stop at the Netherlands port of Groningen before heading out to sea for those trials.
Early next month, with everything certified as being in perfect working order, she will be handed over to Disney for the crossing to Florida, and a naming ceremony at Port Canaveral in January.
Read our review of the Disney Dream here
See how the Disney Dream compares with other ship in operation today here
Read more about John Honeywell’s experience of the Disney Dream conveyance here
Read further info and view the construction of the Disney Dream here