When Frozen was released in 2013, my daughter was 3 and my son 5. Like all mothers in the early 2010s, my days were spent either watching the film on DVD, listening to the soundtrack in my minivan or humoring my preschool-aged daughter as she twirled in Elsa dress-up clothes, belting out "Let it Go."
Those days are gone — my now 12-year-old daughter trading poofy blue dresses for strappy numbers from the juniors section — and I'm OK with that. Which is why the number of times I cried during the Frozen-themed dining experience aboard Disney Cruise Line's (DCL) newest ship, the Disney Wish, surprised me.
Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure is one of three "rotational dining" options aboard the Disney Wish, meaning the experience is included with the price of your cruise and will be scheduled on at least one evening of your sailing. It's the first theater in the round-style dinner show for DCL — with tables situated around the stage for maximum viewing — and it's a brand new story in the Frozen-verse.
At the end of 2019's Frozen 2, Anna and Kristoff become engaged. This dinner show picks up with the couple's engagement party, thrown by Elsa, loveable snowman Olaf and Oaken — the owner of Wandering Oaken's Trading Post and Sauna and businessman extraordinaire — who has just opened a party-planning business.
Denise Case, director of entertainment and creative for DCL, says everything about the dining experience was designed to fit the overall theme of the Disney Wish: enchantment.
"We all came up with this really fun concept about this engagement party," Case shared in a media panel about the making of the ship. "In the space, we were able to implement a lot of special effects, like theatrical lighting ... it's a great example of how we took storytelling to another level and perpetuated the story."
There's also an animatronic snowman, who gets pushed on stage — and throughout the restaurant — on a serving cart. "Olaf is really engaging and fantastic," said Case. "He's so good. Do you want to build a snowman? Heck yeah, we love that snowman."
And we did love that snowman, as well as the tiny Frozen touches throughout the restaurant. There was the painting of Joan of Arc, which Anna famously tells to, "Hang in there, Joan," in the first film. The grandfather clock that Anna props her feet on while imitating ticking sounds is there, and the children's menus are Arendelle flags that kids can later wave in a conga-style parade around the room.
Between Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Oaken's interactions with guests from the stage (and tableside), the musical group Oaken "hired to entertain during the party" sang all the hits from Frozen and Frozen 2. Between dishes like Sven's Favorite Carrot Soup and Arendelle Kjottkake — a traditional Norwegian meatball dish that's similar to IKEA Swedish meatballs, but so much better — my husband, teen, tween and I took a trip down memory lane.
It was beautiful and bittersweet watching smaller children dance and sing wearing Anna and Elsa-style gowns. It didn't seem like that long ago that my little girl, who celebrated her 12th birthday aboard the Wish, was doing the same. And when the performers sang Some Things Never Change, Olaf's, "and you all look a little bit older," line got me. I turned to my tween, a bit choked up, and said, "I remember how much you loved these movies."
"I still do," she said, joining me in singing along and pointing out little nods to the franchise throughout the dining room. She even laid down on the floor at the base of the grandfather clock, making Anna's "tick-tock" sounds and posing for a photo. (A tween parenting win in my book.)
Of all the delicious dining options aboard the ship, our visit to Arendelle felt the most special. For a few teary-eyed minutes, I got my little Disney Princess-loving girl back and that's something you can't put a price tag on.
And that's DCL's goal in the Disney Wish. Claire Weiss, a creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering said, in the same panel, that the Wish, which Imagineers call Disney's "castle at sea," was designed to evoke feelings of "stepping into a dream world."
"The core theme [of the ship] is really distilled down to an emotion: It's this dream feeling," she says. "[In the Wish's restaurants] we weave in the food and the music to give you that same core feeling, but a completely different experience."
Olaf may be right — we all do look a little bit older since we first met him in 2013, but seeing the Frozen franchise grow right along with my kids is a magical thing to this mom.
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