02 March 2015

This Unique Place Embraces the Richness and Diversity

With a conference being held at the Disneyland Hotel and a vacation the week after, I’ve spent most of the last two weeks living, eating, breathing, and soaking in all that Disneyland had to offer me. As I left at the end of last week, I found that I very much had the same emotions for the place as I did when I flew out there, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t new feelings, new thoughts, and a host of history that poured into my brain while I was there. If I started typing today, I may finish all my ideas, wandering word trails, and how today’s parks and resorts play into the fabric of Disneyland’s 60 year history by some point before the end of 2016.

Since we don’t have time for that, let’s do another one of our brief trip reports. This is The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Magical – Disneyland Edition.

The GoodRecognition of History

You can read all the books you want about Disneyland, and believe me, there are quite a few good ones out there, but there is nothing like walking into a place that is living history. Everywhere you turned there were nods to how, when, and who Disneyland was constructed.

Windows everywhere relive days gone by. I’m not talking about just on Main Street, U.S.A., windows could be seen in a multitude of places that detail the important people and places that made Disneyland the place it is today. Lobbies of the Disneyland Hotel’s towers were filled with concept art, photographs, maquettes, and models of attractions and figures from the park’s lands.

This is all before we even consider the storied locations and attractions such as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Club 33, it’s a small world, Club 33, and others. Being in Disneyland is like watching the great American novel being written before your eyes and it is as if you, yourself, have a hand in writing the next page. (Which, by the way, I’d love to do if anyone at Disney is listening!)

The BadExcessive Refurbishments

I mentioned it before I left, but Disneyland had a massive number of attractions closed while we were there. While I understand the need and want to get everything to a certain level of shine before the 60th anniversary rolls around in May, I feel as though some of these plans should have been developed along a different timetable. Maybe it’s the fact that I work with logistics every day, but there does seem to be a lack of consideration for what all the closures would mean for visiting guests.

Let me break it down for you. In Disneyland, icons including Peter Pan’s Flight, the Matterhorn, all of Critter Country, and Sleeping Beauty Castle, along with its walk through, were all shuttered. When combined with the draining of Paradise Pier’s lagoon, closing of World of Color, and the lands of Condor Flats and Grizzly Peak, which are becoming a joint entity, that’s a lot of big pieces to take out of play. While Disneyland may not thrive on the “once in a lifetime” family vacations that Walt Disney World does, it still needs to honor those guests by ensuring that so many of their attractions and iconic experiences aren’t take away all at one time.

The UglyStaff Interactions

Disney is known for its disposition towards guests, and making experiences magical. I saw that level of quality all around the parks and resorts during this trip, but I also had two encounters that completely shocked me. One made me feel as if I were a second class citizen and another made an entire room feel as if Cast Members think the company they work for is a joke.

First, as we were waiting in line for bag check one morning I realized I didn’t have the bag and went to move through the open lane as I would at Walt Disney World. The security Cast Member stuck her hand in my face without saying a word. When I said “excuse me,” I was met with the phrase “everyone goes through the line,” without so much as making an attempt at eye contact with me or further explanation. Having an aunt who spent 25 years in Disney Security, I am fully aware of what kind of stresses the job entails and the type of encounters Cast Members have, but this calling out was highly out of place. Each guest should be given the benefit of the doubt and not treated as if they should know better and they certainly shouldn’t be treated as if they are school children to be scolded.

In the second tale, a loud mouth who had consumed one too many cocktails was ranting on about guests who belong to Disney social clubs and had patches to prove it. These are enthusiasts who love all things Disney and want to show it off, a corner of the market Disney has been happy to have in their ranks for many years. After about ten minutes of tirade, the lounge waitress went over and made a comment about the discussion, seemingly setting to squash the matter. Instead she states that she is on-stage and cannot comment before then disregarding the rules and saying that his speech made her smile. You now had a Cast Member, on stage, knowingly disparage a group of loyal Disney fans. I was shocked to say the least.

I want to clarify that these were ugly moments and not the standard that I saw repeatedly throughout the parks and resorts. I could list exponentially more situations of magical moments I witnessed, but when every moment is a chance to shine these two Cast Members left a bad taste in my mouth and in the mouth of other guests.

The MagicalImagineering Renaissance

New Fantasyland is great, but to see what Imagineering can really do these days, head on over to Disneyland and just spend some time in Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, and Trader Sam’s. These areas immerse you in stories better than any singular experience in Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

Cars Land creates an environment where you can walk right through Radiator Springs and even move guests through little or never seen corners of Carburetor County. It is authentic down to the last, minute detail. And don’t even get me started on how gorgeous the area is after the sun goes down, the neon lights up, and the Cadillac Range begins to glow!

Buena Vista Street takes the best lessons learned at Disney’s Hollywood Studios from Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards and ramps them up a notch. Throw in actual trolleys, and it is lie stepping back in time to golden age of Hollywood.

Trader Sam’s is the watering hole of all watering holes in Disneyland. Sure, it’s smaller than the Adventurers Club, but it has that same wonderful feel to it. Great drinks and glassware, tap sound effects, visual effects tied to specific drink orders, and bartenders and wait staff who really live the stories. Oh, and the artifacts on the wall that tie Indiana Jones to the Adventurers Club to the Jungle Cruise to all the excursion points in between are fantastic!

If these are the signposts of the road ahead for Imagineering, then we are in for a very bright journey indeed.

17 February 2015

Disneyland is Your Land

When you are a child who grew up in the in central Florida in the 1980s Walt Disney World is the kaleidoscope that you view all things Disney through. That is especially true of thinking about other parks outside of the Vacation Kingdom. Disneyland may be Walt’s first park, but you see the same untapped potential that he did for the massive plot of land in Florida, whether or not Walt saw the park completed. When you start looking at Disneyland it is almost a Bizarro version of the set-up you have come to know, trust, and love. Although I would venture a guess that California natives feel the same way when they look across to Walt Disney World.

Today I set off for my second excursion to Disneyland. The first whirlwind tour I gave the resort seven years ago gave me a nibble of what the place is to its regulars, but that was before it received blue-sky budgeted refurbishments. It made me want to come back for more, and I’m finally getting that chance. The real question is, when you grow up with two parks, a monorail, and a handful of resorts and then watch your home burgeon with more parks, resorts, and entertainment than you can shake a stick at, how do you look at Disneyland and its two parks, a monorail, and handful of resorts? What do you look forward to?

I’ll tell you right now, I was more than a little disheartened to hear that multiple, entire lands would be closed, the castle is covered in scrims, World of Color is revamping, and attractions like Matterhorn, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough would be shuttered during my stay. Yet, even that was short-lived, because that isn’t why I’m so excited to walk the streets of Disneyland once again.

It is where it all began. A man with his carrousel and steam trains. These were the avenues and waterways that Walt built with his own imagination. He walked among the guests here. Sat in his place above the fire house or overlooking New Orleans Square. You can stand where he stood and dream about what he envisioned for all the tomorrows of Disneyland. Moreover, you know there were lessons learned here, you can see them in the pavement, mistakes were made. And while we can all look up to and marvel at the world Walt create, here he was just a man (no matter what he said about being the king of Disneyland).

Disneyland has a slower pace to me. You don’t have to scramble through every minute of every day just to make it memorable, you do that just by being there and sitting, watching, and reflecting. There is history and wonder here, everything is old and new at the same time, and it is a pilgrimage. A place where we all recognize something important happened.

Would I love to sit in Walt’s fire house apartment? Sure. What wouldn’t I give for a bite or two at Club 33. But those aren’t the experiences that will make this trip successful. It will be living in those immortal words, even if for only a few days, that Walt utter when he first dedicated Disneyland. “Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past… and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”

Now, please forgive me if I throw on Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland and wander the lands as if it were the 1960s. If you see me in Disneyland over the next few days, I’ll be real easy to recognize. I’m the 30-something meandering about like an 8 year old boy turned loose in the park for the first time.

13 February 2015

You'll Love Me at Once

When thinking of holiday events at Walt Disney World the two that jump right out at everyone are Christmas and Halloween, in particular the special parties put on by the Magic Kingdom. Certainly, there are special meals for Thanksgiving, egg hunts for Easter, and a variety of offerings for St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Earth Day, and all the other holidays in between, but they aren’t given the special attention that Christmas and Halloween parties afford their namesake days. That said, that wasn't always the case.

During the early years of Walt Disney World, and dating back even further at Disneyland, special ticketed parties occurred all year long. Take, for example, this ticket for the Valentine Party from 1976.

The party in 1976 actually took place on the day before Valentine’s Day, on Friday the 13th, the same way the holiday falls this year. Like the holiday parties of today, the park would close and guests were given run of the park’s attractions and there was special entertainment. In 1976, the entertainment included performances from the gospel/soul/R&B group, The Staple Singers.

It may make me smirk that the Shooting Gallery still required an additional charge, but the overall cost of the event, $6.95, would have been a bargain any day of the week. In fact, it was roughly the cost of 5 gallons of milk that same year. How many of us wouldn't love to get into the Magic Kingdom’s holiday parties in 2015 for that same comparative price?!?!

The parties for other holidays may have faded away with the passage of time, but there are still plenty of ways to celebrate special days at the parks of Walt Disney World. Party or not, how would you celebrate the day at the Magic Kingdom with your valentine?

10 February 2015

Strong Bridges Better Neighbors Make

Sometimes we like to take advantage of how we get to where we’re going. Often when we think about bridges we worry more about lanes narrowing, the inconvenience of the bumps if the bridge has connecting segments, and possible wind gusts more so than why there is a bridge there in the first place. The most obvious reason we have to be thankful for bridges save time by creating shortcut over gaps and waterways. Don’t think bridges are that important? Let’s just examine their history at Port Orleans – Riverside.

The history of the Sassagoula River and the communities that cropped up along its banks dates back to around 1835 with the first settlement coming into existence on Ol’ Man Island. Fast forward through the establishment of Boatwright’s, the construction of Acadian House, and the recognition of the Alligator Bayou homesteads and there is a full-fledged population boom in the area. The problem as residents such as Buford Honeyworth and Colonel J.C. saw it, they had a river that could be crossed easily when it was low and slow, but many times the winding Sassagoula kept occupants from obtaining or trading the goods they needed and from socializing with one another.

Still don’t believe the bridges that span the Sassagoula were critical to the success and thriving nature of this riverside town? Just check out the official chronology of the community! The creation of the various bridges take up a whopping forty percent of the notable events!

1835Settlement of Ol’ Man Island
1850Establishment of the Colonel’s Cotton Mill
1853Establishment of Sassagoula Steamboat Company
1855Establishment of Fulton’s General Store
1857Establishment of the Cotton Co-op
1877Establishment of the Boatwright Shop
1883Establishment of the Dixie Landings Bridge
1885Establishment of the Alligator Bayou Bridge
1885Establishment of the Acadian Bridge
1889Establishment of the Oak Manor Bridge

Some of these bridges are only fit for foot traffic, while others were created with the forethought that wagons and other mechanized vehicles would need wider crossings. No matter how you look at it, the bridges of Port Orleans – Riverside not only give guests a great view and a way to get from one point to another quickly, but they also have an incredible backstory!

27 January 2015

Our Home Port

We all have bucket lists that we hope and dream to check items off of throughout our lives. Many of these lists revolve around themes, and even those could have subcategories. For instance, I’m willing to bet that many of us have travel bucket lists, and within those lists I know there are Disney travel dream items, and I’m willing to bet that we could break that down even further to dining experiences. I, myself, would love to dine at Club 33, Victoria & Albert’s, sit back and enjoy a bottle of wine from John Lasseter, and the list goes on and on.

Then there are the items, from days-gone-by souvenirs to long cherished attractions that we would love to hold grab a piece of and place it in a position of honor in our households. Fruit from Horizons? Definitely. Signage from Fort Wilderness? You know it. A panel from the original Star Tours? Why not? But if there is one area that holds a near and dear place in my heart and that I would love to hold on to, it’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage.

The voyage, launching from Fantasyland, sent guests aboard a Nautilus for a journey into the wondrous worlds lying beneath the cashing ocean waves. Aquafarming, polar ice caps, and even the lost city of Atlantis were not beyond the reach of this miraculous voyage. There are likely two reasons this attraction has stuck with me for so long, one from the experience itself and another from an experience I had just a couple of years back.

I was a child who adored all things science fiction, in particular the works of Jules Verne, which meant that the Submarine Voyage was the stuff my wildest dreams were made of. There was just one problem, my father has always been extremely claustrophobic. I can remember going into caverns as a child on a guided tour, when the guide began shutting off lights behind us as we went, my father had to rush back down the path and leave, waiting for us at the exit. He never wanted his feeling of dread to stop us from taking part in exploring our world, real or imagined. I can remember him sitting on the fold out chair next to me on the sub, and staring out the window. As the Nautilus pulled away from the dock he kept chiming in about all the things we were looking at. He was right there with me, but he never took his eyes off of the porthole. Looking back I realized that was his way of coping, he was able to ride the submarines so long as he felt that there was a way out and that he wasn’t trapped, and that porthole was his way to connect with me and to give himself some breathing room.

As I grew older and the concept and history of Imagineering began to take ahold of my interest, there were many names that fascinated me. Broggie, Gurr, Crump, Blair, Coats, etc. Yet, the one name that I was continually drawn to was McGinnis. For those of you who have been reading the Gazette since the early years, you’re no doubt familiar with my fondness for George McGinnis and my belief that he is truly a Disney Legend. A couple of years back, while working on an article for Celebrations Magazine, I had the great pleasure to speak with George McGinnis. Speak is a relative term here as, knowing this was a hero of mine and not wanting to sound like a complete stammering fool, I utilized email to ask him questions and gather stories.

I’ll tell you this, that article is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever created (Issue #22 of Celebrations for the intrigued), and it taught me that I could sit and listen to stories from George McGinnis for days. Maybe I should follow in the footsteps of our good friend Jeff Heimbuch and see if George is looking for someone to pen his memoir…

I’ve gotten a bit off track, haven’t I?

The long and short of the matter is that the Nautilus submarines from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage have a special place in my heart for a multitude of reasons. I would love to visit Castaway Cay at some point in my life and touch the subs one last time. The pictures here remind that many of the submarines didn’t receive a resting place at the bottom of the sea, but rather a swallow, earthen grave. They’ve been gone for a long time, but I would love to clean up and take a small piece of one Nautilus and position it in a place of honor. Perhaps one day I will.

We all have our bucket lists, and we all have those items on there that we never think could come true, but that doesn’t mean that we should ever stop dreaming. The great part about crossing items off of your list is that means you have another line to add more dreams too, and that may be the greatest gift of all.

Oh, and for those of you wondering what items could possibly be on the non-Disney side of my list? Well, if anyone could ever get Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to drop in a reporter for the Main Street Gazette, or hook me and Josh Gates up for an expedition, some major dream items would be checked off!