31 January 2012

Land of time

The Chinese New Year, or more appropriately the Lunar New Year, is in full swing. The event does not begin on the same date every year; rather it follows the cycles of the moon. This year, the festival began on January 23rd and runs a full fifteen days, until the next full moon. Since we’re in the middle of the Lunar New Year celebration, I thought it’d be nice to take a look back at Epcot’s China Pavilion.This photograph is from early on in the pavilion’s existence, all the way back towards the beginning of the EPCOT Center itself in 1982. See Mickey Mouse, decked out in his best Chinese duds, there in the foreground? While it cannot be seen in this photograph, this early incarnation of the China pavilion was smaller than it is today. In fact, neither of the pavilion’s restaurants, Nine Dragons and Lotus Blossom Cafe, were completed and opened until 1985.

30 January 2012

Do as dreamers do

I’ll tell you something, folks, there are any number of things we look forward to and remember from a trip to Walt Disney World. From food to character meetings and first trips aboard an attraction, each holds a special place in our hearts. There are, however, perhaps no more special memories, than those of the incredible visuals that take place in and around Walt Disney World after the sun has set.

A quick aside: Since each of our memories of the nighttime spectaculars are so individual, I decided to not include any photos in the roundtable today so you can take a moment to remember what makes each show special to you!

Roundtable Topic: What is your favorite nighttime spectacular, past or present, in Walt Disney World?
Roundtable Contributors: Greg Grimsley (The Disney Obsession), Elizabeth Caran (Take the Monorail), Fiona (DF’82), Melissa Loflin (Makin’ Memories), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Andy Jackson (Eating (and Drinking) around the World), Eric Hoffman (Netmongrel), and yours truly.
Greg – I do not consider myself an aficionado of classical music, but I do have a deep appreciation of it. It was something that started early in life and continues even now as I work to expand my classical vocabulary. Given that background, I was captivated when I first experienced a Walt Disney World nighttime spectacular. I had settled in along the lagoon in the Mexico Pavilion and witnessed “IllumiNations”!

Mind you, I love the current IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, and my heart swells at its various crescendos. But for me, it pales to the IllumiNations that graced the World Showcase Lagoon from January 1988 to September 1996. Yes, the lasers have improved over the years as have the pyrotechnics, but the sounds of some of the worlds greatest pieces of music have faded from the promenade. This is alright; Epcot should progress and the music filling the air now has long since entered the pantheon of classic Disney music.

The reasons making this former IllumiNations my favorite are numerous. I loved how the countries of the world were celebrated with music from a native composer and how lighting and projections were used to transform a country during their moment in the spotlight. Recall the Windmills of Montmartre in France while Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne played? Or perhaps you’ll remember how the crowd applauded as a clarinet swooned into the opening measures of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; the American Adventure pavilion being bathed in red, white and blue light.

In Act III, the finale, we were treated to the glorious 4th Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, the “Ode to Joy”. We celebrated with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. All this culminating with the triumphant 1812 Festival Overture by Tschaikovsky (the first song I could hum nearly in its entirety as a child).

For me, this IllumiNations harkens back to a simpler time. So perhaps I am draw to this version simply out of nostalgia. It is full of memories of a time when I was first introduced to EPCOT Center. And as I said, I appreciate the classics; Beethoven, Mozart, The Beatles. This edition of the nighttime spectacular allowed me to celebrate a place I love with a music that I love.

I’ll close with an opening. “Good evening, and welcome to World Showcase. Tonight we are pleased to present a visual journey, an international fantasy of music and light. We're about to embark on a sparkling abstract expedition around World Showcase. With the music as your passport, we'll discover sights and sounds from colorful ports of call. And to celebrate our journey, the countries will be united by the festive elements of water, fire, and light. And now, let your imagination be your guide, as EPCOT Center proudly presents IllumiNations.”

Elizabeth – This was a really tough one for me. Each one is so different and so great! After much consideration, I think Fantasmic shines as the winner for me. And I think the reasons are largely about comfort and view. As much as I love Wishes and Illuminations, I have rarely lucked into getting a good viewing spot. Invariably, there is a tree or a Really Tall Person spoiling the view. Sometimes it's a building or other structure that I didn't think would cause me problems. Although I am not a fan of being herded into a huge stadium and sitting fanny-to-fanny with total strangers for an extended period of time, I am grateful for the seat and the clear view Fantasmic affords. Once we move past the comfort factor, I am also a huge fan of the live aspect of the show mixed with the effects and music. I don't know why, but something about watching animation projected onto screens of water is just So. Very. Cool. To me, it embodies all the things I love about Disney. High caliber talent and showmanship, animation, fireworks, and fantasy.

Fiona – If there is one thing that Walt Disney World excels in, it’s nightime spectaculars. Whether it’s fireworks, parades or shows, I always think it’s one of the most important parts of a trip to the World! So trying to think of my favourite one has been especially difficult…but I think I have to go for Wishes. There is just something about the entire spectacle that sends shivers down my spine. I can’t think of one particular moment that stands out in the show – and I don’t want to spoil it too much for anyone who might not have seen it – but the mix of past and “present” Disney music makes me get goosebumps. Thinking of Wishes, I can feel myself being transported to the middle of Main Street U.S.A., waiting amongst a throng of people, with the sound of Jiminy Cricket and the lights dimming all around me. It’s a beautiful moment, and I know that for the next 12 minutes I’m going to be surrounded by beautiful music and breathtaking fireworks.

On a more personal level, I have such affection towards Wishes due to the memories I have attached to it. Watching it for the first time with my close family, remembering the joy on all our faces (and the tears, too, I won’t lie!), right to the present and watching it with ex-colleagues, best friends and loved ones. It’s a nightime spectacular that brings everyone closer together, and from the moment you hear the opening line right to the finale firework display, Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams is one firework display that this Princess can’t get enough of!

Melissa – As with most of my favorites at Disney World, there is a sentimental reason attached as to why. My favorite nighttime show is easily Illuminations Reflections of Earth in its current form. Illuminations was my first nighttime spectacular experience ever, and it was on my honeymoon. I will never forget enjoying my hot chocolate from France with my new husband as I was completely taken aback by this amazing show. The combination of the music with the globe imagery, the lasers and fireworks engulfs you in the magic of the moment. It was more than I had ever expected. One of my favorite parts is when the countries "twinkle" and light up in the dark night sky. Years later I was even more emotional over the opportunity to share this wonderful experience with my in-laws and to see their reactions to it as well. It is always a must do on my birthday and usually we see it more than once each trip. I cannot wait to share the experience with more members of my family in the years to come.

AJ – Not sure if this counts or not, but my favorite “nighttime spectacular” is the Electric Light Parade at the Magic Kingdom. I used to stare at those glowing costumes and think how lucky those cast members were to be wearing them (I was pretty young then, but I still kind of feel that way!).

But the best thing about the parade was – and is – the music. It's boisterous and fun and addictive. It just brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Seeing that parade with my family during our marathon open-to-close days in Disney World when I was a kid will always be one of my favorite memories! There may not be any fireworks, but it sure is spectacular!!

Andy – In a word: Illuminations.

It’s not only my favorite “nighttime spectacular”, but perhaps my favorite thing in the World (at least in the top three for sure…).

Other shows? Yes I do love Wishes, the Summer Nighttastic fireworks were incredibly spectacular, Fantasmic is fun now and then, but a bit overdone and busy for me. The depth and beauty of Illuminations tops them all (and of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s also viewed at my favorite place, the World Showcase in Epcot… and yes, there can be cocktails…).

The story, the music, the emotion it evokes… I rarely leave a viewing of Illuminations without at least a few tears…

Eric – This is an easy one for me to answer. Of all the myriad parades, fireworks, and other nighttime events that regularly or seasonally take place at Walt Disney World my hands down favorite is Mickey's Boo to You Halloween Parade. This parade caters to the "dark side" of Disney featuring not only Disney villains and scoundrels, but numerous tributes to Disney films and park attractions.

All of your favorite and expected characters are found from the Fab 5, Peter Pan, and the Hundred Acre Woods crew to an appearance by Captain Jack Sparrow and the Country Bears. Everyone is dressed for Halloween and ready for a fun night of trick-or-treating!

There are a few stand-out favorites in this parade for me however. First of all I love the tribute to the Haunted Mansion. Leading the way is the frightened graveyard groundskeeper and his trusty hound. Next, the waltzing ghosts materialize before your eyes as they continue their eternal dance. An elaborate float featuring the iconic hitchhiking ghosts follow and sets the stage for the truly spooky grave diggers. They grave diggers perform a macabre dance in unison with real shovels. Sparks fly in the night as the shocking and grating sound of their shovels being dragged across the street fill the air. What ghoulish fun!

Heralding the arrival of any and all of the Disney villains you might expect to see is a funky skeleton band banging out one of the theme songs of the parade, "It's Good to be Bad". These guys are pretty creepy looking as they dance and perform and seem to be taking this song to heart!

My favorite part of this entire parade however is at the very beginning. In a chilling and very realistic homage to the classic horror short story by Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", the parade starts off as the headless horseman himself rides down the parade route, jack-o-latern head in hand, presumably on his way to Sleepy Hollow to claim another victim. In the still before the parade starts, the clip clop of the horse as it carries its evil rider on a dark journey gives you chills.

If you find yourself in Walt Disney World when this parade is running you owe it to yourself to see it, you will not regret it.

Ryan – As a child, I could not dream bigger than the Main Street Electrical Parade. As a young adult, I found culture and a bond to the world with IllumiNations. Wishes puts a tear in my eye and reminds me of movies with my family. And Fantasmic! reminds me that magic is real and all around. Yet, none of these are my favorite nighttime shows.

Silently drifting through the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, invisible save for a few red and green safety lights, the Electrical Water Pageant tugs at my heartstrings like no other. When the music pipes out from out on the water, especially if I happen to be on the beach at Fort Wilderness, you know something special is about to happen. Part whimsical parade of sea creatures, both real and imagined, and part patriotic display, there is something about the Pageant that just makes me smile.

While this could be said for almost any spectacle, the fact that I have unique memories of this show with my family as a child and now with my wife just endears it to me more.

Wishes that sparkle along with fireworks, Mickey facing down a bevy of villains, the world united against the night, blinking lights and flashing music that spread smiles, no matter what parade or fireworks display burns brightest in your heart, it is well deserved. Where does the night find you in Walt Disney World?

29 January 2012

Disney This Week - 29 January 2012

There are only three weeks left for planning your trip to Raleigh in order to see me talk about all things Disney Park history. Okay, so don’t actually plan a trip to Raleigh, NC just to come see me speak, however, if you are in the area, it would be great to see you! I promise to share as much knowledge as I can in the time they allot to me! Check the flyer for details.

Passport to Dreams Old & New scribe, FoxxFur, has all that’s fit to print and more on the Golf Resort.

Suzannah DiMarzio takes the family to dinner at Portobello and Zannaland readers get the review.

Eating WDW and Sarah Holodick grab some sushi at Tokyo Dining.

AJ Wolfe touches upon one of my favorite connection, the Disney name and wineries, at The Disney Food Blog.

Rounding out the food section this week, Andy Jackson is not only Eating (and Drinking) around the World he’s finding new ways to drink around World Showcase.

Mary Jo Collins has a breakdown of the Meet Up and Warm Up runDisney event held during marathon weekend over at WDW Fan Zone.

Readers of the Disney Parks Blog got a dose of IllumiNations from years gone by from Nate Rasmussen.

Makin' Memories and Melissa Loflin stick to Mickey's of Hollywood this week, this time looking at the shop's exterior.

Matt Hochberg gives us his two cents on the Celebrity 5 and 10 at Studios Central.

27 January 2012

Hand-crafted tree bark

We’ve all seen the reeds being pounded flat to make papyrus, an early form of paper, in Spaceship Earth. Across the globe there are similar scenes that have played out during the creation of materials which were suitable for writing, artwork and fabric. One such art took hold in Polynesia and can be seen near the elevators at the Polynesian.The Polynesian art form known as tapa was created out of the necessity for clothing for several centuries. The arduous task of creating the material starts with scraping the inner bark of the mulberry and breadfruit trees from the outer bark with a shell. The bark is placed on hardwood and pounded flat by another piece of wood, often a club like tool, all the while being kept wet and malleable. Layer upon layer of the bark is added into the fabric with the same application of force. After the desired length of material is completed, it is moved out into the sun to dry. It is then that natural pigments, mostly blacks and browns, are applied.

The once common cloth was used a regular clothing, with designs crafted to denote status and rank, but it is more commonly used today for ceremonial affairs. Outside of attire, works of tapa can also be found as curtains and drapes, blankets, room dividers or as ornamental tapestries. The art has been declining, in practice, not in quality, for quite some time. Luckily for guests of Walt Disney World there is still a fine example of the beautiful art form to be observed in the Polynesian.

26 January 2012


If there’s one thing a roadside attraction needs, it is noisy advertisements that draw a driver’s attention away from the road and toward the gaudy sideshow. More often than not these billboards are brightly colored, have quirky wording, and have something special to draw attention to them, something along the lines of reflectors, lights, or moving pieces. Another angle would be to put up a ton of showy signs. Luckily for guests who choose to acknowledge Chester and Hester’s in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the roof and surroundings are filled with kitschy signage!

25 January 2012


You have a small group, or know someone who could devour half of a buffet on their own, in Walt Disney World and everyone is craving ice cream. What do you do? I’m willing to bet your mind immediately drifted to the grand-daddy of all sundaes, the Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream. But what if I told you there was a second option in the colossal ice cream category?

Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop, located in the Downtown Disney Marketplace, is well known for its hot beverages infused with chocolate and even their individual sundaes are mentioned now and again. However, when it comes to ridiculously over the top ice cream, the have a dish that steals the show. Known as the Earthquake, it is most certainly enough to rock your world!The foundation of this silver platter is eight scoops of ice cream, with choices including: Vanilla, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Strawberry, Espresso Chip, Cookies & Cream, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Strawberry Cheesecake, Ghirardelli Rocky Road, Kona Coffee, Mint Chocolate Chip and Butter Pecan. Another assortment of eight comes from the catalog of toppings: Milk Hot Fudge, Dark Hot Fudge, Chocolate Syrup, Warm Caramel, Crushed Pineapple, Sliced Strawberry, Warm Peanut Butter, Marshmallow Cream, Blueberry and Butterscotch. Piled on and around the mountain of ice cream and toppings are freshly cut bananas, decadent chocolate chips, chopped almonds and whipped cream. I would say it comes topped with a cherry, but that would be slighting the no less than seven cherries which crown this beauty.

You would think, as we did when we ordered it, that this may make for some rather odd combinations, such as Cookies & Cream topped with Blueberry. Such arrangements would seem unappetizing, but they aren’t. Clearly, the hands that craft this massive sundae have been well educated in the art of blending flavors.

The true joy of this dessert comes from the interactions amongst all the people eating it. Whether it’s sharing a favorite flavor or arguing over who’s eaten too much of a specific scoop, there are sure to be laughs aplenty as you dig in the Ghirardelli’s Earthquake and I promise it will be gone before you want it to be. Clearly we didn’t have much of problem polishing this dish off…

24 January 2012

Bear all

Often times when we look back at Walt Disney World of yore it is to discuss what has changed, what is missing, or a specific event somewhere along the decades upon decades of history. It’s rare that we discuss what has stayed the same, but we’re going to do that today, and have a few chuckles along the way.This is a 1971 press image of the opening scene from the Country Bear Jamboree. The more things change, the more the stay the same, as they say, and this same section holds firm still today. Sure, there have been bears on vacation, both summer and Christmas, but the main Jamboree has remained remarkably intact. So, what is it that draws me towards this scene? Why, the bear necessities, of course!

Here’s a rundown of the cleverly worded advertisements that preface the main show on this opening screen:








23 January 2012


Walt Disney World is known for its classic dark rides and multiple mountain ranges. One sector, the dark rides, are family-friendly fare, while the mountains may not be for the faint of heart. Of course, so far as roller coasters are concerned, are the coasters of Walt Disney World really going to send sheer terror screaming down your spine? Today, I thought I would take a little bit of time to rank the roller coasters found on property.

First things first, we have to know which attractions we’re talking about. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines roller coasters as such:
roller coaster (ˈrō-lər-ˌkō-stər) noun: an elevated railway (as in an amusement park) constructed with sharp curves and steep inclines on which cars roll
Under this definition, we are asked to disregard several thrill attractions, including Test Track, Kali River Rapids, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Star Tours and Splash Mountain. So thrills are not simply handed out via roller coasters, but we’ll play ball with just the ‘elevated railway’ attractions today, but know that in a pure thrill-seeking rundown, Splash Mountain and Tower of Terror would have ranked very high. What we are left with are a handful of attractions: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, Goofy’s Barnstormer, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Expedition Everest and Primeval Whirl.6Goofy’s Barnstormer – Yes, this attraction is in the middle of a refurbishment, but the core of this kiddie coaster will remain the same. Goofy’s Barnstormer can be a bit cramped for adults, but is an excellent introduction to the world of roller coasters for young children. Plus, during its climb and at its peak, it offers great views of the Magic Kingdom. It should be noted that the final spot in this countdown will likely be held by The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train once it opens in 2013.5Primeval Whirl – For the hurky-jerky factor alone, I almost placed this attraction at the bottom of the list. However, Primeval Whirl plays close to its parking lot fair theme, and has similar excitement to Goofy’s Barnstormer. It gains the nod of one placement up because of the individual cars’ ability to spin free of the track. Basically, it is a Tilt-A-Whirl on a roller coaster track.4Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – It is my personal favorite on the list (though Expedition Everest is running neck and neck with it), and has held a special place in my heart since I was a wee lad. However, it doesn’t have a terrifying element to it, just some great visuals, some tremendous bumps, and a lot of speed, topping out at 30 mph.3Space Mountain – While actually slower than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, clocking in at a whopping 28 mph, Space Mountain amps up the exhilaration by sending guests hurtling through space, or in simple terms, along a track in the dark. Comparing the Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain to Disneyland’s for just a moment, there is a lot that could be done to intensify and plus the east coast version, but it is still a top tier coaster for Walt Disney World.2Expedition Everest – I’ll admit it, I miss the swinging, swiping yeti, but that doesn’t mean this attraction is any less worthy of a top spot. Steep drops, suck you into your headrest turns, and a backwards spiral into the mountain all make this an incredible must-ride roller coaster. Top speeds of 50 mph come during the 80 foot drop.1Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – I fully believe this ride could have been made with just the launch sequence and guests would still line up for it! Going from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds (okay, to be honest it’s only 0 – 57 mph) is an immediate injection of adrenaline. Couple this with inversions and the surprise element provided by being in the dark and you have a roller coaster recipe for success. The only thing that could make Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster better is if it were longer.

So, that’s my ranking of the roller coasters in Walt Disney World, the real question is, what’s yours?

22 January 2012

Disney This Week - 22 January 2012

In a little less than a month, I will be doing a history presentation on Disney parks in Raleigh, NC. If you’re going to be in town, I’d love to see you there! Check the flyer for details.

FoxxFur shows us that before there was Walt Disney World, there was Johnny’s Corner for Passport to Dreams Old & New.

Matt Hochberg gives us a photo breakdown of Rock the Night! Fireworks Spectacular at Studios Central.

A new cupcake from Contempo Café, a Red Velvet Cupcake, is thoroughly covere by AJ Wolfe and The Disney Food Blog.

Want to know more about the history of rollercoasters and ride design? George Taylor has the review for you at Imaginerding.

Mickey Mouse and The Doctor, do I need to say more. Thanks to Progress City, U.S.A. and Michael Crawford for finding this gem.

Adam and Andrew explain the simple joy that is Columbia Harbour House at Disney Hipster Blog.

Eating WDW and Sarah Holodick head to Fort Wilderness, so you know I’m going to promote it here. She explores the check-in area of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.

Mickey through the years, as seen in Mickey’s of Hollywood, is covered by Melissa Loflin at Makin’ Memories.

Steven Miller, at the Disney Parks Blog, highlights some upcoming merchandise. Check the comments section where he discusses upcoming Disney Racers with me!

A bit off property, but Cirque du Soleil is going to have a second show in Orlando for two days next month. Get the details from Suzannah DiMazio and Zannaland.

20 January 2012

Dashing heroes

Aside from the actually ride vehicles themselves, and the showroom display models, there are not many complete vehicles lying around Test Track. Throughout the queue there are sections and pieces being put through rigorous testing, but they are far from complete and road worthy. One car in the queue, however, has been on the move for quite a while.

Just inside the building, after the first turn in the queue’s road, sits an exhibit discussing General Motors’ first testing facility, a site in Milford, Michigan that they began using in 1924. The scene includes worn workbenches, black and white photographs, a chalkboard, machinery parts and a 1927 Chevrolet.For those of you who visited the park back when it was EPCOT Center and this attraction was known as World of Motion, this car may seem familiar. It did, once upon a time, have a prominent position within the attraction itself. It was featured in the air show/flying ace scene, where fashionable ladies swooned over the courageous aviator. The car was situated off to one side, filled with an excited family, including a small boy hanging off of the side flying his toy airplane in the breeze.

Whether guests today are aware of the car’s history, as you now are, it is good to know that history still has its place in the former World of Motion pavilion. History of the automotive and the park itself.

19 January 2012

The showplace of the shore

The Attic is a special events space found inside Disney’s BoardWalk. Like many attics BoardWalk’s is not easy to get to, but rather than use a rope-pull and a fold-out ladder, this room requires wandering down a winding corridor, past a number of guest rooms, towards the very end of the third floor. The room isn’t big enough for a large reception, but the room comes complete with a verandah with a vista of the BoardWalk, Crescent Lake, Yacht and Beach Club and Epcot.

Filling the nooks, crannies and eaves are a diverse selection of items that could be in any attic. Books, toys, pictures, old license plates, birdcages and even the furnishings fit the motif. Some of the more beautiful elements to fill the space are the stained-glass windows, as seen below.

18 January 2012

Our burgers are out of this world

Almost a year ago I wrote about the angus burger found at Epcot in the Liberty Inn. It was the kind of meat-on-meat violence the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Walt Disney World before. It was the king of heart attack hill, and there was no stopping it. Until now. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater recently unveiled The All American Picnic Burger, which means the squeamish should run and hide.

Here’s the breakdown on the burger: A Flame-broiled Angus Burger Patty topped with two grilled hot dogs, sauerkraut, sautéed onions, mustard, ketchup, and topped with a pickle spear. Even though I am self-respecting carnivore, I really, really did not want to like this burger. It seemed too rich, too decadent to be decent. I really had my heart set on thinking it was disgusting. Yet, even with my head and heart working against it, it won me over on the first bite!

I wouldn’t say that it was a picnic on a bun, but I can see the temptation to connect this burger with all things picnic. The patty is what you would expect from the one notch up crowd of burgers Walt Disney World has been crafting in recent years. The hot dogs are nothing fancy, except for their preparation. Splayed open and grilled flat, the charred meat really takes you back to the feeling of a backyard barbeque. As with all things meat, the mustard-sauerkraut combo is a perfect topping, and of course you need the sautéed onions. Pickles are also a necessity, although I would opt for slices on the sandwich instead of the spear which only leaves a bit of juice in the combining. The only detractor, for me, was the ketchup. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with it on burgers as a general rule. Here, however, it just seems to take away from the rest of the burger.

For sides you can opt for the more picnic-minded cucumber salad or the traditional French fries. While I am a fan of the cucumber salad that has been making its way through the parks and resorts, I am always going to pair my burgers with fries, hands down.

This is a great burger that would call me back to Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater time and time again, regardless of what else was on the menu. In the end however, while it throttles past the sandwich at Liberty Inn, it still comes up short next to a sandwich I’ve lovingly been referring to as Meatageddon, but we’ll have to save that discussion for another day.

17 January 2012

Preview boulevard

On November 15, 1965 Walt and Roy Disney, along with Florida Governor Haydon Burns, held a press conference to announce the construction of Disney World. Walt Disney would pass away before the groundbreaking began took place on May 30, 1967, by which time Roy had renamed the project Walt Disney World in honor of the man who had dreamed the venture up. While it would take over four years before the Vacation Kingdom welcomed its first guests, the Walt Disney World Preview Center opened almost two years before the rest of the development.The Walt Disney World Preview Center began welcoming invited business and political guests on January 10, 1970 and opened to the general public on the 16th of the same month. Seen here under construction, it was built just off of Interstate 4. Can you see it there in the background? That rinky-dink two-lanes each way road with precisely three cars on it? Yep, that was, and is, the main thoroughfare which cut through across the state of Florida.

Once inside the facility, guests were greeted by a hand-selected group of fourteen hostesses, who were more than happy to answer any questions potential visitors had. From models and construction footage, to the 21 minute Project Florida film, the Walt Disney World Preview Center showcased what the first five years had in store for the swamplands of central Florida. In addition to just seeing what was coming, guest could go ahead and make reservations for the two resorts scheduled to open, the Contemporary and Polynesian Village, and pick up preview postcards and other souvenirs.

The building still stands today, situated along Hotel Plaza Boulevard, but has not been utilized as a Preview Center in 1971. Still, as I have said many times, a preview center for what’s next at Walt Disney World would most certainly bring in the crowds of curious guests, just as it did in 1970. If I had my way, perhaps a preview center could bring new life to the Transportation and Ticket Center.

16 January 2012

Clap your hands and stomp your feet

Last month I was at Walt Disney World for my thirtieth birthday and made sure to pick up the customary button that announces to the world that it was my birthday. While the free desserts were great, and the Star Tours experience I had will likely never be matched, I felt that many of the happy birthdays were half-hearted. I don’t blame the lackluster celebrations on the Cast Members, can you imagine how many birthday, anniversary, just married and other celebratory buttons they must see in a single day? It is hard to stay continually engaged and full of that confetti type of feeling all day, every day. It got me to thinking, there must be something more that can be done to further enhance the celebrations.

A couple of years back guests were given free entry into a park on their birthday, if you already had an annual pass you could substitute a gift card for the park entry, but let’s not kid ourselves, that could end up being a pricey proposition, and not one Disney is likely to repeat any time soon. I suspect a free dessert with a meal is about as much merchandise as Walt Disney World is willing to give out for celebrations, and rightly so. I don’t expect to be walking through the Emporium and receive a free Mickey Mouse plush or be perusing the racks at Villains in Vogue and be handed a complimentary Vinylmation, not that I’d say ‘no’ to either. So, what if there was a way to increase parameter of the celebration without exponentially raising the cost Walt Disney World incurs?

I think they answer has already appeared, it just hasn’t been utilized yet.

A lot of work has taken place in developing an adventure game for the Magic Kingdom that utilizes RFID technology to activate game portals throughout the Magic Kingdom. Testing of this tool in conjunction with park entry has also been taking place over at Epcot. These are two very different applications for the same tech right? So, what is RFID? RFID is an acronym for Radio Frequency Identification. Basically, it allows for data to be stored on a thin chip that can be recognized when it is within a given proximity to a scanner, but without lasers and barcodes or the physical swiping necessary with a magnetic strip.

In the case of birthday and celebration buttons, what if the RFID technology could be imbedded in the buttons and harnessed in other minor ways throughout the parks? Here are just a few ideas:
--Bonus points added to scores on games like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Midway Mania
--Mr. Spell wishes you a Happy Birthday as you pass by him in Pixar Place
--Spaceship Earth gives you a special look at birthdays of the future during the finale
--Hitchhiking Ghosts sing Happy Boo-thday to You

This short list is just the beginning, there are many other trivial ways the RFID buttons could brighten a birthday without a ton of long-term cost.

Stories that come alive to engage and integrate guests have become a top priority over the past several years in and around Walt Disney World and the other worldwide destinations, why not have our personal stories interact with the world around us in the parks. Can you imagine the stories guests would take home with them?

15 January 2012

Disney This Week - 15 January 2012

In case you missed the announcement earlier in the week, I’m going to be taking part in a presentation about Walt Disney World history next month in Raleigh, NC. Check the flyer for specifics on date and time, and I hope to see many of you there as I take my blatherings live!Now, onwards to Disney This Week!

Honestly, if you aren’t reading everything that Sam Gennawey is writing, you are missing out. This week at SamLand’s Disney Adventures, he tackles Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards.

The Disney Food Blog and AJ Wolfe venture into Japan’s new sake bar.

George Taylor rustles up some remnants of Pleasure Island past for Imaginerding.

The Disney Parks Blog and Nate Rasmussen look at the construction of the Studios' original Star Tours.

Why the Disney College Program? That is the question Chandler Witzigreuter answers at WDW Radio.

Sarah Holodick double dishes on Restaurant Marrakesh this week, with Eating WDW stopping by for lunch and dinner.

Over at Studios Central, Matt Hochberg weighs in on when is the best times to visit with characters in the Studios.

13 January 2012

Likeness of the chimpanzee

This sculpture, found at the entrance to It’s Tough to be a Bug, is of a very special chimpanzee named David Greybeard. Who is David Greybeard and why does he grace the Tree of Life?

In 1960, Jane Goodall began her research in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Using unorthodox methods, including naming the individuals in the troop she was studying, she was eventually acknowledged as a member of the troop, the troop she stayed with for twenty-two months. The first of the chimpanzees to approach and welcome Goodall into the group was David Greybeard.

Fast forward to the construction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Jane Goodall, consultant and friend of the park and Disney’s animal programs, took a tour of the wild places under construction with the Director of Animal Programs, Rick Barongi. While taking in the sculptures in the Tree of Life, of which there would end up being 325, Goodall asked Barongi is a chimpanzee was planned for the wienie.

After consulting with the Chief Sculptor of the project, Zsolt Hormay, Barongi learned there was not a chimpanzee anywhere on the Tree of Life. That, however, was not good enough. Hormay and another artist took only a single week to craft a sculpture in the likeness of Goodall’s troop-mate David Greybeard. Upon her next visit, Goodall was shown to the spot where her friend would greet guests each and every day.

Positioned right next to the carving of David Greybeard is a plaque which reads:
In 1960, wildlife researcher Jane Goodall observed a wild chimpanzee as it carefully stripped a stick of its leaves and inserted it into a mound to fish for termites.

This discovery that non-humans could create tools opened a door to a previously unknown world of animal intelligence, and inspired Jane Goodall’s life-long commitment to understanding these complex, amazing primates.

To honor Jane Goodall, this likeness of the chimpanzee she called David Greybeard was created in the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

12 January 2012

Character development

In December, Walt Disney World gave an early Christmas present to all of its annual passholders, a calendar. The artwork used in the calendar came from the vast collection of animation concept art. However, this was no ordinary calendar. While it came with a suggested list of ordering the images, they were separate from the actually date section of the calendar. In other words, if you wanted to put the suggested artwork for December, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, in June, go right ahead. Similarly, if you decided you wanted to look at the Buzz Lightyear concept work for three, six, or even twelve months, you could do that too!

It got me thinking about the unused queue from The Magic of Disney Animation, formerly the queue for the Studios Backlot Tour. In this zigzagging line you were educated on the importance of character development to a story. I imagine most guests glossed over this informative tile as they were blown away by the copious amounts of animation art.While these are not the same pieces of concept art from the 2012 annual passholder calendar, I’m willing to bet you could pick your favorite images from this safari of The Magic of Disney Animation queue and incorporate them into your own 2012 calendar.