30 November 2008

Bagging the perfect gift

Shopping is as much a part of a Disney vacation as eating, taking pictures, and standing in line, couple that with the upcoming holiday season , and I think everyone could use a few tips on shopping for ourselves, or that special geek on your list (See Tip 7), while at Walt Disney World. In the Spring 200 issue of Disney Magazine, Kim Wright Wiley gave us her pointers for a successful Disney shopping trip.

The good news is that, in my job as a travel writer, I’ve gone to Walt Disney World more than 40 times. The bad news is, that’s the number of times I’ve had to bring home souvenirs. Buying T-shirts for the gang was fine at first, but over the years I’ve had no choice but to become more creative about my gifts. After all, there’s so much stuff to buy: stuff in carts, stuff in stores, stuff when you get off rides, stuff at your hotel. There’s big stuff, small stuff, sequined stuff, shiny stuff, and stuffed stuff. But how do you make sure you get the best stuff?

The term “souvenir” comes from the French word for remember. The polka-dot salt-and-pepper shakers and Beast bedroom slippers help us remember our trip to Disney World. So, why do we buy souvenirs and bring them back to the people who weren’t along for the ride? I suspect these presents are the ultimate “Wish You Were Here,” a way to share the excitement of the trip with those who stayed behind. Didn’t make it to Orlando to ride the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? A Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster cap is the next best thing.

And the logic works, at least when you consider how much my family’s souvenirs are part of our personal anthology of Disney World stories. My first really great find was a $2.95 pink convertible with Minnie Mouse inside. My daughter, Leigh, three at the time, literally held this car in her fist for six straight days and nights. On the last day of the trip, Leigh dropped Minnie as we were boarding the monorail and the little car managed to fall into the gap between the platform and the train. She shrieked, “Minnie!” so pitifully that I almost dove onto the track after it.

Luckily, we found a new Minnie car at the shop near the stroller rental booth. On subsequent trips I bought other characters-in-vehicles (Mickey in a firetruck, Donald in his boat) for preschoolers, and they were always hits. But don’t bother looking for these exact items now: With rare exceptions, Disney retires merchandise and brings in new regularly. This has two effects, the first being that the Brer Bear figurine you bought three years ago at the Briar Patch beside Splash Mountain is now, in a way, a collectible. The other is that no matter how many times you walk through the Disney gates, there’s always something new to buy.Our all-time biggest hit was a Mickey baseball jacket. Lightweight, water-repellant, and unisex, this garment was worn by both my kids, then passed to a friend with four children, who eventually passed it on to her sister in Texas. At last report the jacket was still going strong.

On my last visit to Disney World, I bought a pair of sunglasses, perfectly round and sixties-style, with a miniscule Mickey on the side. Leigh, now 15, liked them so much that she stole them from me, and I had to buy another pair. Then we got home, and I lost mine and tried to steal hers back. Leigh and I are normally quite ethical, so I tell you this story to illustrate how attached you can get to a cool souvenir.

I’m not sure what comes over people once they’re inside a Disney park, but it’s powerful. The more resistant someone is to Disney merchandising, the more apt he is to end the day in a Goofy hat – you know, the big green kind with long ears. So don’t kid yourself: You’re going to buy something. Just make sure you buy something you’re still going to like when Orlando is a blur in your rearview mirror.Here are my Disney World shopping tips:

1. Don’t get too creative. People want Disney souvenirs that look like souvenirs – in other words, they want the characters. The trick is to find a classic and put a spin on it. Eeyore ears instead of Mickey ears. Minnie-shoe slippers. Pooh-and-Tigger-shaped pasta.

2. Except for maybe a T-shirt and autograph book, save major purchases for the last day. (There is one big exception here: see next tip.) By then you’ll have seen it all and know what you really want. A good place for one-stop wrap-up shopping is the mammoth World of Disney store at Downtown Disney. You’ll find a bit of everything there, from Pooh boxer shorts to a Mickey-and-Minnie wedding-cake topper.

3. The exception to the second tip regards merchandise related to a specific attraction or resort: You won’t see that Star Tours jacket anywhere but Star Tours, so buy it while you’re there. With the advent of Disney stores nationwide and catalog shopping, you can buy Disney merchandise in Las Vegas or Pittsburgh. You’ll score extra brownie points if you bring back souvenirs exclusively found at the resorts or theme parks, like a black-and-white checked Test Track T-shirt, a shower curtain from the Hollywood Tower Hotel in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, or a Mardi Gras nightshirt from Port Orleans.4. Shopping on your way out of the parks at night is such a good idea… that 10,000 other people have the same plan. The late-night buying frenzy is not a pretty sight. I once saw someone sneak a Sleepy nightshirt out of a shopping basket while the woman about to buy the skirt was wiping the remains of a Mousebar off her child’s chin. Better to shop in the afternoons, when lines at major attractions tend to be long, but the shops are relatively uncrowded. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, have your purchases sent back to your hotel room. Not staying at a Disney hotel? Have purchases forwarded to Package Pick-Up, located near the park exits, and you can retrieve everything on your way out.

5. We have a rule in our family: If it costs more than $10, it has to have a practical function. Give the kids a few bucks to blow on balloons, candy, and other stuff that won’t survive the trip home, but consider saving your serious money for things you need anyway: backpacks, lunch boxes, umbrellas, calendars, and pajamas.

6. Older kids might enjoy collecting something, like figurines, line sketches, or mugs from the various resorts. You can add to the collection over time years. Pins featuring the characters or attractions are priced between $6 and $12 and are fun to collect and trade.

7. Shopping for the ultimate Disney-phile? Check out The Art of Disney in Downtown Disney or the Disney Gallery shops in Disney-MGM Studios and Epcot, where you’ll find autographed cels and “serious” (read beautiful and pricey) collectibles. Or for sheer camp, try Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind at Disney-MGM Studios for genuine movie-star memorabilia. Expect everything from Liz Taylor’s purple suede cowboy jacket to Clark Gable’s cigarette case in this crowded, unusual shop.

29 November 2008

Deck the halls again

Thanksgiving has ended, aside from the week-long leftover buffet, which means that Christmas is well on its way. Last year I constructed a Mickey wreath for my front door and share the instruction with the Main Street Gazette readers. For those of you who wish attempt your own bit of merry magic, here are last year’s instructions.

Look at the birdie

It has been brought to my attention that I use a lot of pictures from my trips on the Main Street Gazette. In fact, Hitchhiking Ghosts (a blog you should be reading, if you aren’t already) even questioned the size of my photo collection. The question intrigued me because, well, I didn’t actually know how many pictures were in my collection. I went and looked back at 2008 alone, and came up with the staggering number of 3,574 pictures from two trips this year. This should well be enough, but I still have one more trip later this month that will certainly add to the total.

I know that there are photographers out there who have taken more pictures this year, most of them are probably of a better quality than mine as well, but it still stops one in their tracks. As I conferred with my wife about the photograph collection she asked me another, more poignant question, “Do you think you have enough?” Without really thinking about it, I responded with a quick, “No.”Why, you might ask, isn’t 3,500 enough? Because there is always more to capture. Lighting and weather conditions around attractions, lands, and icons. Details I have missed on previous trips, or details that I need better pictures of because mine came out blurry. There are always new attractions, and rehabs, and refurbishments. There are always new friends and family members. Because, as great as all the photographers of Walt Disney World are, I want my own personal history of the parks and resorts.

For those of you old enough to remember before memory cards and digital cameras with rechargeable batteries, cameras used to be loaded with film, generally with twenty-four pictures per roll, and you couldn’t see the picture until you paid to have it developed. Now it’s point, click, check the small screen, point, and click again and then compile the photographs on your computer when you get back to it. In years past, thirty-five hundred pictures was, in fact, a complete collection, sometimes a lifetime of photographs. Being of an age when I can remember having to be cautious what picture I took and how I took it (because if you messed it up, chances were you didn’t know it until it was too late), I am in love with digital cameras.Now, I can document every place, person, memory, and minor event that I choose, and I can take multiple shots just to make sure I get it right. There is no film cost, and memory cards are reusable. I, unlike my father before me, can take as many pictures as I want to document Walt Disney World as it is on the days I am able to be there. To be fair, it isn’t just Walt Disney World, I also snap shots of almost every other place I frequent and every gathering of family and/or friends I attend.

Will I take 3,500+ pictures of Walt Disney World every year? Chances of that are slim, but I am sure there will be years when I get up there. For now, I am okay with capturing my own personal history of where I have been, what I have seen, and who I shared the magical moments with, no matter how many clicks of the camera it takes. My children will look back on these pictures one day, shudder, smile, and say, “That’s dad.”

28 November 2008

A defender of a place that humans are supposed to respect

Along the border of Serka Zong, beneath vibrantly colored prayer flags in the shadow of the Forbidden Mountain, rests a simple stone wall with intricately carved stones piled on top of it. This is a mani, or prayer, wall is covered with mani stones.Mani stones are often stone plates, though rocks and pebbles have also been used, carved with either mantras or ashtamangala as a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Ashtamangala are scared symbols commonly referred to as the Eight Auspicious Signs; the eight symbols are the right turning white conch shell, two goldfish, lotus flower, Urn of Wisdom, endless knot, Precious Parasol, Wheel of Law, and Victory Banner.Though the mani stones are beautiful to look at, their artistic value comes from the elaborate and tedious carving work, rather than the end result. The act of carving is seen more as a meditation or spiritual ritual, and is therefore more sacred than the outcome.

The intentionally placed stones are often placed along rivers and roads as an offering to spirits found in the area or the genius loci, the guardian of the area. Since Serka Zong lies at the intersection of water and road, it is safe to assume they are left for the mountain’s sentinel.

27 November 2008

Just to be with you

Some days Walt Disney World is about taking a mine train through bat caves and beautiful caverns, finding trolls, listening to a purple dragon, taking an unexpected side trip on your way to Endor, and finding a way to stop the poachers in Harambe, some days. Other days, and perhaps the more important days, Walt Disney World is about who you are with and where you are, and that's it.

I'm fortunate to have more of the latter. Growing up with Walt Disney World in my backyard, it has always carried traditions with it. Some of my fondest memories include Walt Disney World, but could have been anywhere. Watching fireworks with my sister, setting up a campsite with my dad, my mom dragging me into shops I didn’t want to go to (but now frequent myself), talking with my brother-in-law about a place he’ll never get to visit, and watching my wife getting giddy and excited about something I love. Over the past year or so, the list of Disney memories have grown to include settling down with ice cream to watch a parade with Glenn, hanging out with a couple of guys watching their wives and their friends dance up a storm while they chat and have a few drinks, going to a movie with people who are as passionate about a little robot as I am, meeting people I talk to almost every single day (some from an ocean away) for the first time, finding a redhead who you can be listed as an accomplice to in a heist, and taking in some night photography or egg rolls with Greg, who has become one of my closest friends in a very brief period of time.These are the people who mean the world to me, and though I won’t get to sit down with all of them at the table today, they always have a seat at the table in my heart (as corny as that may sound).

I have a lot of other things to be thankful for. First and foremost are all of you out there. I am more thankful than you could ever imagine that you daily come to read the few lines I jot down. Your loyalty and feedback, even critical feedback, keeps me going. I am thankful that, because of the Main Street Gazette and its readers, other doors have opened up to me, like guest appearances on the WDW Radio Show and All About the Mouse podcasts.I am thankful for all of these things and so much more, thank you for continuing on this crazy journey with me. I hope that each of you are able to count upon more than just fingers and toes how many special people there are in your life. I hope you take some time today to tell them how much they mean to you. Each and every one of you out there are very special to me, and I hope you have a good meal, with great company, no matter where you are today. And if you happen to be in Walt Disney World today, say hello to Mickey Mouse for me, he’s pretty special too!

26 November 2008

In an orderly fashion

The current population of China stands at, roughly, 1.3 billion people. That number is not only staggering to try to imagine in one’s imagination, it is also impossibly difficult to understand how cramped a single person could feel in that environment if they have never visited the country. One challenge that Imagineers faced while planning the China Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase was how to bring that sense of overcrowding to the guest experience.As guest exit Reflections of China, previously Wonders of China, they make their way back towards the entrance of the pavilion via Xing Fu Jie, or Street of Good Fortune. This passageway was intentionally designed to be smaller than the average number of guests leaving any particular showing of the film, thus recreating that claustrophobic crowding sensation found throughout the cities of China.

However, if one were to move through Xing Fu Jie at too rapid a pace, they just might find themselves overlooking a particular tempting place to spend the night in World Showcase.

25 November 2008

Majestic gardens

Speaking of the landscape of Main Street U.S.A., Kevin Markey in Secrets of Disney’s Glorious Gardens said, “…evokes turn-of-the-century, small-town America with formal Victorian gardens, manicured lawns, and shade trees.” Left out, however, are the finer details of the Plaza Rose Garden. The rose garden, positioned just below Cinderella Castle, offers a quiet walk, a shaded pavilion to sit under, some photogenic topiaries, and some truly lovely flowers to see and smell. While passersby may take notice of the elegant garden, what most do not realize is that the Plaza Rose Garden has been honored by the All-America Rose Selections, Inc.

The AARS plaque in the garden states that Walt Disney World is, “contributing to the common interest in rose growing through its efforts in maintaining an outstanding public rose garden.” Though this accreditation was bestowed upon Walt Disney World in 1985, it stands true to this day, as those who take some time to enjoy the blooms in the Plaza Rose Garden seldom leave without thoughts of their own rose garden.

For those you who may not be familiar with what, precisely, the AARS is, let’s look at what they have to say for themselves:
All-America Rose Selections is a nonprofit association dedicated to the introduction and promotion of exceptional roses. The AARS runs the world's most challenging horticultural testing program, and consistently recognizes roses that will be easy to grow and require minimal care by today's busy homeowner.Since 1938, the AARS testing program has encouraged the rose industry to improve the disease tolerance, ease of care, and beauty of roses. Today, the AARS program is one of the most successful and highly regarded of its kind, having brought to the forefront some of the most popular roses in history, such as Peace, Knock Out and Bonica. AARS Winners are labeled with the AARS red rose seal of approval to distinguish them from other plants in the nursery.
The Plaza Rose Garden is one of only three AARS accredited rose gardens in Florida, the other two being The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and Sturgeon Memorial Rose Garden in Largo. So, unless you are a local, I highly recommending that on your next visit to the Magic Kingdom you take some time to, well,… stop and smell the roses.

For those of you interested in finding your own local rose garden, the AARS has them all viewable by state on their website.

24 November 2008

An 11 acre sanctuary

This week I had the extreme pleasure of visiting with Lou Mongello on the WDW Radio Show. The segment focused on the often wondered about, often rumored about, and history filled island in the middle of Bay Lake. From Raz Island to Discovery Island and all the dreams in between, we touched on just about anything we could think of.

My fascination with Treasure/Discovery Island isn’t just because it is located on Bay Lake near my beloved Fort Wilderness or because of my strong conservation beliefs. It is also because my family has a personal connection to the island. In the late 1980s my Aunt Suzi and Uncle Gene, along with my cousins Nic and Alexandra, rescued a baby Barn Owl, whom they named Owlen and, well, rather than butcher the rest of the tale I’ll let my cousin Alexandra relate the rest of the story to you.

Dad found her one day while mowing the lawn. She was on the ground, having fallen out of its nest in a tree above. She was really, really young--she didn't even look like an owl. Since she was still alive, Dad brought her inside and mom called the Game and Wildlife people in the state of Florida. They told us that "runt" owls often get pushed out of their nests by their bigger owl siblings. The Game and Wildlife people basically seemed uninterested and said that the owl would not live through the night. She did, so the next day, my mom went and got a book on keeping owls alive. Mom found out she had to feed the owl a pleasant combo of raw meat and dog hair, so she could regurgitate. (Owls throw back up bones, feathers, etc. That's called owl pellets.) As she got older we fed her frozen mice (we'd thaw them in the microwave!) and then finally alive mice.

There was nothing wrong with her, but the conundrum was that we could either leave her to die or habituate her to humans. My parents chose the latter. I don't think that in the beginning they ever really expected her to live. At first she lived in the house, but as she got older (and wilder) my parents kept her on the screened in porch. We really only had the owl for 6 or 7 months though.

A full size owl is a pretty difficult thing to keep around. She was sweet, but she had big talons. It's not like you can go on vacation when you have an owl, either. ("Hey, want to come over and feed my carnivorous predator small, live mice?") It wasn't practical to have an owl, and again, I don't think my parents ever expected her to live -- it was one of those things that just sort of happened.

We gave her to Discovery Island because Keeni worked at Disney, and we knew through her that Discovery Island took animals. I remember when we dropped her off-- Keeni came with us and both my mom and dad cried. (I'd never seen my dad cry, so that day really sticks out in my mind.) While they were saying goodbye, Keeni took Nic and I, and we walked around the island.

After that, we went back to visit her sometimes and we got in free. (We just told them who we were and they'd let us in.) Also, they always let us back into the back section to see her after we gave her to Discovery Island -- that was really important to my parents.
Don't forget to check out the WDW Radio Show, this week and every week!

23 November 2008

Quite a character

Today’s Back Issue is sure to good for a few laughs, or at least a chuckle or two. As has been mentioned before, I spent a lot of time at Fort Wilderness as a child, and it was there, around the campfire, that I grew to love the rascally pair of chipmunks, Chip and Dale. They may not have been my favorite characters, but they were the most dependable, because I always knew where to find them. In the Winter 1982/1983 issue of Disney News world-renowned columnist Marilyn Beck catches up with the pair for a brief interview.

Sometimes the best things come in the smallest packages, and Chip and Dale certainly prove the rule. Featured character actors from Walt Disney Studios, Chip and Dale have been making us laugh for 39 years.

I met them at their treetop penthouse in Weyerhaeuser Towers, where we chatted over hazelnut mousse and herbal tea. I spoke plain, they spoke in italics.

Tell me, are Chip and Dale your real names?
C: Bob and Ray were already taken, and it was either come up with a catchy name or back to the family furniture business.
D: Anyway, French and Provincial just didn’t seem to have the same ring.
Is it true you started out in the circus?
C: You’ve really done your homework. Yes, Dale and I had a high-wire act. We raced across high-voltage lines without a safety net. A real great gimmick!
Chip, how did you two get your break in Hollywood?
C: Well, Dale and I were in the Army. W.W. Two, the big one. It was 1943. That great Disney star, Pluto, was filming on the base. We were off duty at the time and grabbing a snack…
D: We were cracking nuts with the cannon.
C: Quit interrupting. I’m telling the story. Anyway, Pluto just happened to be there, in the way actually. They got the whole thing on film and the next thing you know Private Pluto was in the can and we were contract players at Disney!
That’s an incredible Hollywood story. Almost like Lana Turner.
C: It wasn’t like today. We really worked for peanuts then.
D: Acorns, actually. But we soon said nuts to that and started to get to the big time.
When did you two start working with Donald Duck?
C: That was Walt’s idea. We’ve done a few pictures with Donald. The first was Chip and Dale in 1947. That guy is really quackers, always a cutup on the set.D: They usually feature us as the feisty but loveable chipmunks that constantly pester Donald. You could call it chipmunkey business. Great fun.
You sure have a lot of fans. Is it true that your popularity put you into comics?
C: Sure was!! In 1953 Walt published our first comic book. It sold so many copies that by 1956 we were regulars on the comic book scene. Even today, twenty-nine later, kids can read our latest adventures.
D: They even talked to us before they finally signed Harrison Ford for Raiders of the Lost Bark, but our tight schedule made it impossible.
One last question. Rumor has it you two were seen dining with former president – does this mean a political future?
D: Two scoops of Macadamia Madness at Baskin Robbins?
C: Shh – let me handle this – we knew President for a long time before he ever entered politics, back when he was just a peanut farmer. This is a crazy world – people see you talking to someone and the next thing you know the gossip columns say you’re in politics. We were really just checking on the current crop.
Chip and Dale, I don’t know how to thank you for being here today. It’s been a real pleasure to have two of Disney’s best-known character actors here to talk to their fans.
C: Just send almonds.
D: Cashews are good, too.

22 November 2008

More powerful shrinking machine

My friend George calls them Soft Resets, the places in between the marquee attractions where children can let loose, get a little crazy, and reboot themselves. The fountains and water play areas in Epcot, the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade in the Magic Kingdom, and The Boneyard in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As a preschool teacher, I couldn’t agree more that children need some time to be free in Walt Disney World. For while the attractions seem freeing to most adults, the queue lines and structured ‘sit here’ rules, not to mention touring plans, are all a little too rigid to the free-spirit energy of youth.

That being said, when designing one of Soft Resets, the visuals and personality of the area must be timeless. It has to be appealing, or at least recognizable, to children. Water sprouting sidewalk? Children are only halfway out of their clothes before their in the water. Becoming a Skipper and piloting your own Jungle Cruise? Kids will be spinning the wheel before you even put coins into the slot. Carnival games themed to dinosaurs? You’ll go broke trying to win a stuffed dino, but your children will ecstatic. Running around in Wayne Szalinski backyard while you are the size of an ant? Wait, what?

The Honey, I Shrunk… audience has grown up and moved on. The last time this franchise had a presence in any sort of outlet, aside from the theme parks, it was in the television show that ended after three seasons in 2000. That means that a typical ten year-old child would have been two the last time the show aired. How many of you out there have an abundance of memories from your second year? The Movie Set Adventure was great when I was a ten year-old boy, but, I would imagine it has lost a great deal of its appeal to the younger generation these days.

Take some of the other similar play areas and compare. Though we could bemoan how Pooh’s Playful Spot is situated on a parcel of land that once housed one of the coolest attractions this side of Vulcania, Winnie-the-Pooh is a childhood standard that continues to attract tons of toddlers to the silly old bear every year. Similarly, fascination with dinosaurs never wavers, and the ability to excavate one of these creatures is an idea that would leave many children wide-eyed. The Honey, I Shrunk… name does not jump the generational gap with the same resilience.

Another point to consider for this ill-fated adventure is its location. The Boneyard is large and visible as guests make their way through Dinoland U.S.A. Likewise, Pooh’s Playful Spot, on the edge of Fantasyland near the crossroads of Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair, is in a perfect location to draw in pint-sized guests. Couple Pooh’s location with sporadic character meet-and-greets and it has everything a parent could ask for to reset their frazzled youngster. Meanwhile, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure in tucked away behind a fa├žade on the Streets of America and the Studios Catering Company Flatbread Grill restaurant. While the play areas in the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom could be stumbled upon, they are in prominent locations, a guest would have to specifically be looking for the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Movie Set Adventure or be very lucky to chance upon it.

I love giant Legos and grass slides as much as the next guest, but I think this attraction needs to be refreshed. A playground of Wall-E’s junk collection, as much as I love that little robot, would not be a long-term fix for this area. A Fantasia prop storage area might perform better, complete with giant broomsticks, a sorcerer’s hat to climb under, unicorns to climb on for a photo spot, and slides made of ballet slippers. Maybe this isn’t the best idea, but it certainly has more long-standing appeal than the currently out-dated motif the Honey, I Shrunk… story offers. In the end, children like to recognize their play environment and discover new experiences and details in that environment. A new story, or more accurately, an old story is needed to refresh this hidden Soft Reset and make it a viable, and vital, pit-stop for the pent-up energies of the smaller guests.

21 November 2008

Beautiful Table Design

Cindy Braak and Jean Volante, Florists for Walt Disney World, have put together a terrific video showcasing a multitude of ideas for Thanksgiving centerpieces. If you haven’t thought about this yet, or have put it off until the last minute, this video will help you immensely. Check it out!

In the tracks of the yeti

Reinhold Messner, in My Quest for the Yeti, ponders an age old question, “I stared, first amazed, then perplexed, at the spot where this apparition had stood. Why had I not taken a picture?”To anyone who has ever had an encounter with creatures that were thought to only be mythic beasts or shadows of the paranormal, this is a common question. It is a question that they are asked repeatedly, and ask themselves repeatedly, scarcely conceiving of a satisfactory answer. Perhaps they were overcome with fear or perhaps their equipment couldn’t stand up to the elements. Any range of answers could come bubbling up and out of the explorers.Today, from my most recent expedition, I add a few of my own photographs to the long line of grainy, shaky, out of focus, hair-late, circumstantial evidence, and after-the-fact pictures of the mysterious creature known as the yeti.

20 November 2008

Un-official MouseFest Rocking Chair Meet

Here is the scenario...

You're going to MouseFest. You're in the Magic Kingdom on Thursday the 11th and you have your ticket for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. You have attended MouseFest 101 and the Kick-off Reception. The taste of your last Dole Whip is still lingering on your palette. You may also be just a little tired.

But wait, there is help.
Your friends at the Main Street Gazette and The Disney Obsession "invite you to relax...pull up a chair" as we proudly present, your rest. Yes, we invite you to be our guest at our Un-official Main Street Gazette and Disney Obsession Rocking Chair Meet.

We'll meet at 6:00 p.m. on the porch of the Town Square Exhibition Hall where we'll hopefull find rocking chairs waiting. While we're there we will celebrate friendships by making new friends, creating new memories, and yes, having a bit of a rest just before the Christmas Party.

If you are looking for that little something extra to add to your already packed MouseFest schedule, then this meet is for you. We hope to meet you there.

19 November 2008

Rooted firmly to the ground, yet dedicated to the spirit

Visitors to the Japan Pavilion of Epcot are met by the good luck of the torii, but the imposing 83-foot-tall pagoda is just as stirring. The goju-no-to or five-story pagoda uses Horyuji temple, an eighth century pagoda found in Nara, as its muse.

The levels of the pagoda follow with traditional Buddhist beliefs of the five elements that are used to create all things. In fact, the use of the five elements in architecture is the most common use of the elements in modern society. In relation to the goju-not-to, each element is assigned to a level. These levels/elements are, in ascending order: chi (earth), sui (water), ka (fire), fu (wind), ku (sky/void).

Atop the pagoda is a sorin. No, not a hang glider simulation attraction, a sorin. This roof ornamentation is composed of nine rings, each with a host of wind chimes, to represent Buddhist deities and a water flame to protect the pagoda from fire. While the sorin is usually the sole enhancement to a temple to protect it from fire and to be used as a lightning rod, the goju-no-to in Epcot includes the addition of a more modern lightning rod at the peak of the sorin.

Though pagodas started in China, the Japanese took the Chinese designs and modified them to be more in tune with their own ideals. The Japanese pagodas are simpler, with less embellishment, less curvature of the roof, and less color. They are more concerned with purity of the form with unpretentious lines. Though simple, the goju-no-to strikes an imposing figure, both in World Showcase and the world beyond.

From grassy plains

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground did not open on 1 October 1971 with the rest of Walt Disney World. After a few weeks, Fort Wilderness finally opened on 19 November 1971 with a compliment of 131 campsites. A western settlement, swimmin’ hole, and locomotive, along with more campsites and eventually cabins, turned the pines and marshes of central Florida in a living and breathing Frontierland that guests could actually reside in, if only for a few days.

In 1996, alongside the rest of Walt Disney World, Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground celebrated its 25th anniversary. To commemorate the event, like so many other Disney milestones, a coin was issued.Though the train, most of its tracks, the underbrush, and River Country have long since pulled up stakes, Fort Wilderness still carries on the spirit of the frontier. A lot has changed since those early days, but as we celebrate its 37th anniversary, I think we have a lot more good things to come in this often overlooked corner of Walt Disney World.

18 November 2008

Happy Happy Birthday To You

I have one of those wives that people tell stories about, or make movies of, but that never truly seem to appear in real life. The kind of wife that when I am sick, and working with preschoolers that happens more often than I like, finds something intriguing to bring home to me. Usually these items are Disney related, but not something I would have sought out myself. She will bring home 1970s Walt Disney World postcards from an antique store and Sorcerer Mickey Mardi Gras beads, while I’m continually looking for ancient park maps and out of print books.

Last year I had a bit of a stomach bug and, while at the pharmacy, she came across Mickey 80 Years PEZ Collection. The collection, in a tin of course, has three individual Mickey dispensers, Mickey in Black and White, Pie-Eyed Mickey, and Modern Mickey. The set also includes three wrappers of assorted PEZ fruit candy and a reproduced Mickey Mouse Poster. Like I said, it isn’t the kind of item I would have natural searched out, but it holds a prominent place in my collection.
Today, on Mickey’s 80th Birthday, let’s see what PEZ has to say about themselves, and Mickey Mouse:
For over 50 years, Pez and The Walt Disney Company have enjoyed a strong partnership to provide you with the best of Pez dispensers from Disney. In honor of the 80th anniversary of both Pez and Mickey Mouse, we are pleased to offer you this Collectible Gift Set of Mickey Mouse 80 years for your very own.

Mickey Mouse was born on November 18, 1928 in a film called Steamboat Willie, which just happened to be cinema’s first ever talking cartoon. He appeared in many films through the 1930s and 1940s including one of his most famous, Fantasia. In the 1950s, he began to transition to television and was featured on the popular show, Mickey Mouse Club. In November 1978, Mickey celebrated in 50th anniversary by becoming the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Throughout the years, Mickey Mouse had several different looks and styles, but his popularity and public adoration lives on.

PEZ was created in 1927 in Vienna, Austria by Eduard Haas III and was first marketed as a compressed peppermint candy. The name PEX was derived from the German word “Pfefferminz” meaning peppermint. PEZ Candy and Dispensers were introduced to America in 1952. We hope that you will enjoy your Pez Collectibles of Mickey Mouse for many years to come.


17 November 2008

Time for Woody's Roundup

Pixar Place’s Hey Howdy Hey! Take Away offer some truly tasty treats, some of these morsels are even fit to eat, while still others are simply tempting to the eyes and intellect. Take, for example, the Hey Howdy Hey! menu, which is posted on the side flap of a box of Cowboy Sugar Crunchies cereal. The box could fit on any cereal aisle with its colorful spokes-character and phrasings like “Sugar Frosted Coating,” “volume may settle in shipping,” “Double Dipped Chocolate,” and “packed with vitamins and nutrients for your morning roundup.” These horseshoe shaped oats even have a television tie-in that require you to check your local listings so you’ll know when to tune-in!But the most fantastic detail of the Cowboy Sugar Crunchies is in the top right corner of the box. What does that say? Pixar Farms? Digital Foods? Ah well, I guess they aren’t coming to our grocery stores any time soon, but at least that leaves more for Andy.

16 November 2008

You are... Renaissance People

Today’s Back Issues’ article isn’t exactly an article. In fact, as far as I can tell, it has never been printed in a publication anywhere. It is, however, printed on a plaque that is located inside of the Epcot 25th Anniversary Gallery. Back in 1981 Ray Bradbury gave a speech to the men and women of Walt Disney Imagineering as they were in the process of constructing EPCOT Center. It is an awe-inspiring address to be sure.

John (Hench) and Marty (Sklar) told me I was supposed to come up here and explain you to yourselves… and to tell you what you are and what I am and what I’m doing here. I’m here because I want to be here. There are a lot of places in the world I could be, but I’ve been coming through WED and going to Disneyland for many years now and I like what I see.

A wonderful thing happened to me in 1954, I went to Italy for the first time ever. I traveled through Rome and Florence and Venice. I saw the works of Fra Angelico and I came home inundated with the Renaissance. By a wonderful coincidence, a few months later I came out to the Disney Studios and wandered and saw the sketches and the drawings and the paintings for “Sleeping Beauty.” I said, “My God… this is fantastic, that I’m seeing work here commensurate with many of the thing that I saw in Renaissance Italy when I visited there for the first time…”

And so, really, what you are is Renaissance People. If ever there was ever a Renaissance organization, this is it. You haven’t peaked yet, but you’re peaking, and sometime in the next twenty years when you peak completely, the whole world’s going to be looking at you…”

Buckminster Fuller lectures us on how to change the World and yet the only people I see who are successful at changing the World are right here – people with very special dreams. We are acting out what Schweitzer often spoke of in his philosophies years ago. He said, “… set a good example for the World. If you are excellent, if you are of high quality, the World will imitate you.”

What we’re doing here is creating a “Schweitzer Centrifuge”… That’s the way I look at the EPCOT project. If we build all of this correctly, if we build it beautifully, if we set an example for the World, we can change the whole damn country. That’s how important you are. That’s how important I feel, working with you. People will come from all over the World; they’re already doing it at Disneyland and Disney World – when you get people like Hirohito, or you see Khrushchev pounding at the door and not able to get in – and being irritated by it – you know you’ve got something. And so, what we’re going to do in the next year and the next five years and the next thirty years is change our own country, only for the better. And after that – the World.

It’s a big project. But of all the groups in the World, while everyone else is busy talking, you’re doing the stuff that’s really going to count.

15 November 2008

Builders of magnificent temples

The pyramid temple that encases the majority of the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase is an imposing structure rising 36 feet into the air. While the motifs are elaborate and authentic, they do not highlight a specific time period in the rich history of the area. The temple is can be more accurately described as an amalgamation of various Mesoamerican designs, some of which date back to the third century A.D.The stairs which climb the entirety of the temple are one of the more extraordinary details of the temple. Not only breathtaking to view, these stairs lead to the chamber where high priests would work in mathematics and science, including an amazing aptitude for astronomy. At the base of the stairs is a stela, or intricately carved stone slab.

This stela, according to Richard R. Beard in Walt Disney’s Epcot, served three purposes. One, it was a decorative element. Two, it accommodates the lights needed to illuminate the pyramid at night. Lastly, and perhaps my favorite reason for the stela’s inclusion, “it effectively discourages children from climbing the stairs to test the will of the gods,” or perhaps the patience of the parents.

13 November 2008

While on safari

Kilimanjaro Safaris is a central element not on to this land, but also to the backstory of Harambe as an important aspect of the evolution of this place. Our story holds that the Harambe Wildlife Reserve was once a game-hunting reserve, but at some point in the early 1970s – when issues of conservation were coming to the fore – the townspeople made a conscious decision to change the usage of the land. Now it is a preservation zone, with animals available only for photo safaris via guided tours. It was clearly a big decision for the town, with significant potential economic impact, but the collective viewpoint had come around to the point that they felt this was a necessary step.
-The Imagineers, The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom p. 68

Across the river is Harambe, a recreation of a present-day village in eastern Africa that’s on the edge of a large preserve. After passing through the main street, guests can board a safari vehicle at the huge old baobab for a look at animals. In Harambe we’ll give guests a sense of Africa today. The safari’s story is about the challenges Africans face, especially with regard to poaching and population pressures.
-Melody Malmberg, The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park p. 68

We’re not trying to present you with the reality of what it is, you’re supposed to be inside a story, inside a story about being in a safari camp in Africa. So, you know, we would do the renderings, expressing kind of where we wanted the story to go. Another problem that we came up against, which is kind of interesting, and a lot of these pictures I don’t know have been seen before, they’re just kind of stuff I pulled from the file. But, so we knew, unlike a scene in a ride, where you can direct people to look over here, we knew two things. One, you can look where ever you please, and number two, we will never know where the focal object is going to be, which is an animal. The animal could be anywhere and you could look anywhere. So, when we did our storyboards we every thirty seconds, we drew a line on the ride track, estimated the average speed of the vehicle, made a dot every thirty seconds, and we drew these hundred and eighty degree storyboards that we would hold up in front of our faces, like this, and go, ‘Okay, that’s at, you know, second number seven-hundred, we’re here seeing something like this, wildebeests might all be over here, they might all be over here, but they’re gonna be here in this scene. Okay, pick up the next one,’ you know. And we’d bend it around our head and go, ‘Alright, this is the next scene, ‘ so we could get some sense of what is this going to be like to progress through this environment, because back then there wasn’t like, you couldn’t do a digital ride-through or something, no such thing existed.
-Joe Rohde, 22 April 2008