PHOTO: 'Beauty and the Beast' onboard Adventures by Disney's inaugural Once Upon a Rhine river cruise. (photo by Jason Leppert)
Disney has proven to be a master of theme cruises with the extraordinary “Star Wars” Day at Sea aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Fantasy, and half a dozen Adventures by Disney river cruises are next set to bring to life “Beauty and the Beast” onboard AmaWaterways in 2018.
Luckily, we already got a taste of what will be coming on the AmaKristina on this week’s inaugural “Once Upon a Rhine” cruise.
The new “Beauty and the Beast” film just became the highest grossing live-action musical of all time, and while that version was not yet screened on our sailing, it will be by next year. Also to be shown onboard, as we had a chance to already see, will be the classic animated version.
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Our voyage actually began with a prerecorded video message from the movie’s producer Don Hahn welcoming us to explore the same areas of Europe that the Walt Disney Animation Studios team originally researched for the “tale as old as time” 25 years ago.
In his message, he also mentions how Walt Disney himself took inspiration from the region in the 1930s for films like “Snow White,” “Pinocchio” and “Cinderella.” Special just for our Disney Vacation Club-exclusive sailing was Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline who gave a presentation on Disney’s European tours. In it, she discussed the city likes of Riquewihr and Rothenburg that eventually went on to inspire “Beauty and the Beast” production design. In fact, one iconic half-timbered building from the latter diverting a split-level street was specifically referenced for Belle’s cottage in the newest film.
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Hahn, of course, also introduced us to great local culinary experiences that informed sequences such as “Be Our Guest.” So, appropriately, we too had a “Be Our Guest” dinner onboard. Most dinners are typical of AmaWaterways’ own cuisine, but this one was more heavily influenced by Disney with thematic elements throughout, always in service of telling a story.
At the bottom of the stairs, our Adventure Guides greeted us in embroidered smoking jackets giving each lady a rose (a lovely touch), and behind them was a toy display (pictured above) of the enchanted rose and characters: Belle, Gaston and the Beast from the live-action film and Lumiere from the animated movie (a cute overlay). Even figurines of the animated Cogsworth were peppered throughout the restaurant while the live-action film soundtrack played during the meal (a fine way to include the new movie without a full screening).
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Overall, AmaWaterways’ dinners, outside of The Chef’s Table, have not been quite as delicious as expected, and flavor profiles and selections have sometimes underwhelmed. Last night’s gala dinner, however, was a notable exception as the best main dining room meal onboard, and the “Be Our Guest” one was a close second.
Most individual dishes were named to a character like Cogsworth’s “Pate de Foie Gras” with Walnut Brioche, Fig Chutney and Port Wine Onion Confit, a tasty appetizer despite the brioche being a bit tough. Bookseller’s “Essence de Canard” Essence of Duck with Meat Dumplings was an example of an underwhelming soup with a nearly flavorless broth and better meatballs. Feast a La Gaston’s “Beef Ragout” with Natural Jus, Cauliflower, Ratatouille and Potato Gratin was an improved hearty entree served boldly in a bread bowl. The creme de la creme was Belle’s Enchanted “Variation de Desserts” with Walnut Vanilla Cream, Molten Chocolate Baby Cake, and the “Grey Stuff,” which was indeed delicious; we didn't even need to ask the dishes.
The evening was naturally rounded out with the aforementioned screening of the classic animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” in the riverboat’s lounge. While it’s no dedicated cinema, the moderately-sized pull-down projector screen does well enough in a pinch to be able to say as a passenger that you uniquely watched the film while sailing through the very region that inspired it.
That’s the Adventures by Disney magic right there.