You climb a narrow set of stairs to the 14th deck, high above the pools, basketball courts and mini-golf course. Then you plunk yourself down on an inner tube and are shot through a transparent acrylic tube, over the vessel, on a ribbon of water.
“Oh no, oh no!” says my eight-year-old son, as he stands at the top of the “watercoaster,” gazing into the abyss. Only minutes ago, he’d begged me to take him up here.
I can’t really blame him. AquaDuck–a play on the Roman word aqueduct, which was used to transport water to the ancient empire’s cities–propels you 765 feet around the massive new cruise ship at 16 feet per second.
At one point, you’re 12 feet over the edge of the ship, where you can catch a clear view of the Caribbean Sea 150 feet below.
“We purposely built it to be clear acrylic, so you could see the ship,” AquaDuck designer Peter Ricci told me. “That way, could experience this with other people around you. You can see family and friends on deck, and then have the drop-off on the side of the ship.”
AquaDuck uses several technologies that were developed specifically for the coaster, which I found fascinating.
A cruise ship, explains Ricci, is a flexible foundation. It moves, bends, flexes, grows and shrinks. AquaDuck’s designers had to construct a slide that could move freely with the vessel. It had to be durable too – this one can be safely operated in winds up to 50 miles an hour, and Ricci has personally taken the plunge down the Duck in 30-foot seas, although he doesn’t recommend it.
“It’s designed to be operated in up to 12-foot seas,” he says.
Originally, Disney wanted to put a lazy river on the new ship–a water attraction that carries people along in a gentle current–which turned out to be impractical because it took up too much space on the top deck. With the lazy river idea down the tubes (so to speak), Ricci and his team began toying around with toothpicks and tubes on a model of the Dream. And within a few weeks, the Duck was born.
Disney’s designers had tested similar watercoaster technology at Typhoon Lagoon, one of its Orlando waterparks. A ride called the Crushing Gusher pushes the rider along using jets of water. Other special design elements were created to prevent water from leaking from the clear plastic tubes.
This is the first watercoaster to be installed on any cruise ship, but Ricci is already looking forward. He hopes to outdo himself on Disney’s next ship, the Fantasy, with a watercoaster that cuts through the ship–perhaps the kitchen or engine room. “We’re working on it,” he says with a smile.
But back to my son, Aren. It took some coaxing to get him to sit in the two-seater tube. He clutched the hand-grips as if his life depended on it. And before he had time to reconsider his decision, we went cascading down a dark tube that soon became see-through.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Aren’s screams of horror quickly turned to shrieks of delight as he realized that he wasn’t going to die and that you could see a heck of a lot from the AquaDuck’s vantage point. We could look down through the water and see the pool, our friends on deck, and after a U-turn, we caught a good look of Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, before being emptied into a shallow pool.
We rode the Duck five more times before calling it a day.
Disney does a lot of things well on its cruise ships, as it always has, and the new Dream is no exception.
But with AquaDuck, it’s outdone itself. Just ask Aren.