24 July 2015

Must Dos That You Really Want To Do

Once upon a time, Walt Disney World resort television featured a set of must do attractions, with a list of honorable mentions that covered just about every attraction in every park and resort area. There were different hosts throughout the years, with Stacey J. Aswad being the last to utilize the top 7 must-do countdown before the program morphed into the more destination-based format currently available. It always intrigued me to see what new, or refurbished, attractions were given a spotlight. In that spirit, let’s take a look at the Main Street Gazette’s Top 7 Must-Dos for our upcoming week at Fort Wilderness and Walt Disney World.

7 Roasting Marshmallows – Come on, does anything in the world taste better than a marshmallow you’ve roasted yourself over an open fire? Only if it’s roasted during a campfire sing-a-long, with Chip and Dale coming by to say ‘hello,’ and you have chocolate and graham crackers to wrap around said marshmallow.

6 Studios Daydreaming – There are a lot of rumors and questions swirling around the future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, especially with the dramatic amount of closures and empty spaces scattered around the park. I’m curious to see if guests are even venturing around some of these vacant corners, or steering clear since they don’t believe that there’s anything to see. Looking at a map and thinking about what might be is one thing, but actually getting my feet on the ground, remembering what was, both decades ago and recently, and brainstorming about the park’s potential is an entirely different experience. I mean, you never know when Disney may come to me for my brilliant idea for a corner of the park…

5 Tea Trader’s CafĂ© from Joffrey’s – We’ve been reviewing a lot of Joffrey’s Disney offerings at home over the past year, but as many of you know coffee isn’t really my cup of tea. Tea, on the other hand, is one of my simple pleasures that I cannot do without! I can’t wait to see what this shop offers and what I can find to take home. Who’d like to have a review of Joffrey’s after we’ve given it our fullest attention?

4 Fort Wilderness History – These is a lot of history within the 750 acres of Fort Wilderness and its adjacent areas. A lot of it is now defunct, but it still fascinates me to find the glimpses of the olden days. What’s left of River Country, the Fort Wilderness Railroad, and the Lawnmower Tree? With each passing year there is less and less of what once was Fort Wilderness, but that doesn’t mean the past is entirely gone or forgotten. While much of it is in Cast Member only areas, there are still remnants that can be observed in Guest friendly areas.

3 Exploring Harambe – Okay, so I know that there is a lot of food on this countdown, but this one isn’t all just about food and drinks. Does the Harambe Marketplace offer me a smorgasbord of new options? Sure, but I’m more excited about the details and story that has been fleshed out in Harambe over the past year with the multitude of additions to the land. Someone is going to have to pull me and my camera out of the land before I while away an entire day just exploring!

2 Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto – I may or may not have fallen in love with the Trader Sam’s concept at Disneyland back in February. I may or may not have a desire to collect several of the new mugs to add to my burgeoning tiki collect, even though I know that will be cost prohibitive. I may or may not have read as little as possible about the story within the Grog Grotto because I have plans to document as much of this establishment as I can to see how the story links Trader Sam’s, the Adventurers Club, Harrison Hightower III, the Explorers Club, and Indiana Jones together. And I may or may not be so excited that I can get a Kungaloosh again that I can’t stand it.

1 Spending Time with Friends and Family – This is what a trip is all about. There are friends near and dear to my heart that I don’t get to spend near enough time with that I can’t wait to catch up with. Where family is concerned, this will be a unique trip, with new experiences but also a couple of jaunts down memory lane. My sister has never been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and while the missus is concerned I will turn into Tour Guide Ryan, I can’t wait to show her all that the park has to offer. While there is plenty to see and do, the thing that most excites me about the trip is being able to see and do all of these things with the people that mean the most to me in the world.

22 July 2015

Maps & Globes

Tucked away along the backside of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rolling hillside, in the seaside village of Ariel and Prince Eric, sits a selection of merchant shops. Woodcarvers and provision providers can be found among the business residents. Perhaps most importantly to those setting sail for distant, and conceivably unknown, ports of call would be the cartographer. It just so happens that there is one in town who has his shingle out, and his name is H. Goff.

While this may be the fictitious home utilized to house New Fantasyland’s DVC kiosk, there is much more to the story here. This sign pays respect to one of the grandfathers of Imagineering, Harper Goff. One of the designers who dreamed up Disneyland and then made that dream a reality, Goff found a home quickly at Disney in the early 1950s. He was the banjo-man for the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a train enthusiast, and an eye for art that immersed viewers into the world he had created. All of this is well and good, you might be telling yourself, but what does it have to do with New Fantasyland?

Let’s take a closer look around. Goff’s shopfront is in a seashore area of New Fantasyland, where The Little Mermaid has made a name for herself. Long before Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder and their crew made a name for themselves, Disney had another bona fide hit from the ocean realm. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the 1954 live-action film featuring Kirk Douglas and James Mason, had once enthralled audiences with its daring adventures and monstrous squid. It is a silhouette of that squid that clutches to the weathervane atop Goff’s place.

In case you’re trying to tie up all of the loose threads, Goff had at one point in time been asked to create the storyboards for Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. At the time, however, it was supposed to be an installment in the True-Life Adventure documentary series. Walt wasn’t precisely pleased with Goff’s interpretation of the Jules Verne novel instead of documentary storyboards he had been asked to create, but the incredible environments and designs Goff had created sold Walt on the feature film. Among Goff’s many notable accomplishments within the film, he was responsible for the scaly, sea serpent figure that would become known the world over as the Nautilus submarine.

To put a nice bow on the name (H. Goff), adornment (squid weathervane), and the place (New Fantasyland), it is worth noting that the one time E ticket attraction, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage, once dove beneath the waves, ice caps, and down to the very heart of Atlantis on this very spot in the Magic Kingdom. Those submarines, however, are a story for another day. Not a bad way to remember a legend who gave so much to the Disney world we all know and love today, huh?

20 July 2015

A Real Fast Grower

This weekend I will be getting back into the woods of Fort Wilderness. This was my boyhood home when at Walt Disney World, and while I have never passed up a chance to grab some chicken, sing some songs by the campfire, or just sit on the shores of Bay Lake listening for the motor launches to come in, it has been well over fifteen years since I’ve actually stayed there. It’s an experience that I am very much looking forward to, even if Fort Wilderness isn’t the place I remember.

When I was a child, it was a different age. My sister and I, and occasionally a pair of cousins who would meet us there, were given run of the campground provided we were cautious and polite. We would take our Huffy bikes, I’m still convinced that the black and red design gave my bike an edge in the speed department, and head up to the Meadow Swimming Pool for a dip or a zebra cone. A zebra cone, for those of you not in the know, is what they called an ice cream cone with swirls of chocolate and vanilla soft serve. We would find kids to play tetherball with or to set up fake battles at the playgrounds with. It is worth noting that the playgrounds at that time had wooden forts with interlocking beams and metal teepees all over the place. Also, metal teepees, in the Florida sun, I’m sure we all burned ourselves at least half a dozen times before we learned not to touch or lean up against them. Biking up to the trading posts was also not uncommon, even if just for some window shopping of all the cool items for sale. Especially the post cards, I love the post cards.

Come sundown we would find a stick around our campsite and head to the sing-a-long with our parents. After consuming a godawful amount of marshmallows, I would be thrilled to belt out my rendition of My Bonnie and wait, impatiently, to give Chip a hug. Then we would settle in for a viewing of Peter Pan, The Great Mouse Detective, or 101 Dalmatians. Some nights we would venture over to the Settlement to pay our respects to the Lawnmower Tree and to grab some sand for the Electrical Water Pageant. Late into the night we would sit around our campsite, complete with a tarp canopy and plastic colored lanterns strung between the trees, and play cards and nibble on some fudge my aunt picked up at the trading post.

I should mention we were a resourceful lot. My father had a large, white conversion van for work that had two bucket seats in the front and enough space in the middle to set some crates to make it look as if my sister and I were on a bench seat. When we got close to Walt Disney World we would tune into the AM station broadcasting all the Disney information you needed to know and my sister and I would cover our laps with a blanket so that the person at the entrance plaza didn’t think twice that we weren’t buckled in. Like I said, it was a different age. Oh, and we definitely got to drive the golf cart a time or two (or ten…).

In those days you followed painted lines on the road to your resort, and you only had the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Fort Wilderness to choose from. It was a miracle to see a motorhome anywhere near the campgrounds, we always stayed on Jack Rabbit Run,  upon arrival you always tried to find the trail behind your campsite that led to make believe adventures and the Comfort Stations,  which were a common meeting spot for whatever gang of well-mannered hooligans we were able to corral that week.

So, what’s changed? Why has it taken me so long to return for a stay at the place I love so much in the world?

I can’t tell you for certain. Sure there have been some safety improvements over the years. The underbrush between sites has been cleared away, Comfort Stations require key card/wristband access overnight, and playgrounds are no longer the metal and wood death traps that once inspired daredevil antics. Now tent camping is almost as rare as motorhomes were in my day, and the cost for a spot on Jack Rabbit Run is almost equivalent to a night in one of the All-Star or Pop Century resorts. River Country has been closed for fifteen years, the Lawnmower Tree lost its battle and all but rotted away, and the remnants of the Fort Wilderness Railroad have all been lost to time. That being said, they have Segway tours now and the Meadow Swimming pool has a water slide and a splash and play zone. But nothing here tells me why I haven’t been back.

I understand and respect change in Walt Disney World, especially when it is painful for me to watch something I love go away. I cherish the memories of am extinct place or show a little more, and talk about it with a bit more sparkle in my voice.  Change is the way of the world, and I would hate for my children to inherit the same Walt Disney World I grew up with.

I can’t explain why I’ve stayed away for so long, which means all I can do is head back to Fort Wilderness as quickly as I can. This will be a different trip for me though. We won’t be in a tent, we’ll be roughing it cabin style. It’s a rough life, I know. I’ll be piloting the golf cart legally this time, and there aren’t likely to be many self-exploring bike rides, although some exploring walks may be in order. This will be my wife’s first stay at Fort Wilderness, which means she’ll spend just as much time reigning in my exuberant storytelling of days gone by as she does relaxing and enjoying the woods, pools, and campfires.

I’m looking forward to visiting with Chip, checking in on the seas serpent of the Electrical Water Pageant, grabbing some fried chicken, and soaking in the smell of the Meadow Trading Post. And all of that will only be in the first twelve hours! I can’t go home again, it’s isn’t the same place I left, but maybe it’s a different home for me now and just what I need at this age in my life. Only time will tell. I’ll be sure to share my adventures as we go along!

13 July 2015

An African Folktale

As you make your way through Jambo House, the lobby of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ve likely passed by Ogun’s Fire Pit on your way to Boma, your room in either the Kudu or Zebra trails, or Arusha Rock. The indoor fire pit is a great spot to start or end your daily adventures, but there is more to this fireplace than just a warm place and some comfortable chairs.

Let’s start with its name, Ogun’s Fire Pit. In African folklore Ogun is a great spirit with two primary functions. Primarily he is a craftsman who works with metal to make the earth a better place for people to live in. Ogun is also a great warrior. It is his skill as a metalworker, however, that informs the ornate grate around the fire pit.

The metal screen is actually another piece of African folklore and tells a complete story through its embellishments. Now, you could try to decipher the narrative for yourself, and probably come up with some intriguing stories to tell, but there is an easier way. Imbedded in the floor right next to Ogun’s Fire Pit is a bronze plaque which offers up the entire story.


A poor man traveling across Africa kindly shared his millet with a weaverbird. He gave a passing hyena some meat. With a buzzing bee, he shared his honey, and to a crocodile, he gave water.

A wealthy king set the man four difficult tasks to win the hand of the princess. First, identify the king’s daughter in a crowd.

The grateful bee flew around the princess, revealing her identity. Next, the man was to sort a mountain of seeds. The weaverbird helped him. He was told to devour an ox. The hyena happily came to his aid. Finally, the crocodile and his family formed a bridge so the man could cross the river and retrieve a magical feather.

The man received riches and the hand of the princess, but his true reward was finding friends who repaid his selfless acts.

09 July 2015

Prickly Pals

As Downtown Disney and Disney Springs continues to evolve, sometimes it’s fun to look back at the days of yesteryear. In this case, let’s head on down to Pleasure Island’s Neon Armadillo!

Neon Armadillo was a kitschy country and western nightclub that opened with the rest of Pleasure Island in 1989. It came complete with Navajo patterned decor, a brass chandelier shaped like a spur, cactus iconography, and plenty of the namesake neon. Early in its lifespan the Neon Armadillo even had a pair of food bars dedicated to the sizzling specialty known as fajitas, with the unmistakable smell of charred beef, chicken, and seafood. In 1993 it even played host to a short-lived syndicated television show, Countdown at the Neon Armadillo. The club would shut its doors for the last time in 1998 to make way for the BET Soundstage.

While the real world history of each Pleasure Island club is interesting, the real fascination for me always comes from the island’s crafted history. Merriweather Pleasure had wide spanning interests, and it showed it the various workshops and facilities he constructed on his island. The Neon Armadillo wasn’t always a country and western club, and it certainly wasn’t always the Neon Armadillo. Let’s take a look at the plaque that once stood outside the building:

Neon Armadillo

Constructed to house the vast array of exotic desert plants collected by island founder, a globe-trotter and amateur cactogogist Merriweather Pleasure. Pleasure regarded the Greenhouse has his personal Eden. He nurtured his “prickly pals,” as he called them, with fanatical devotion. After Pleasure’s disappearance in 1941, his Greenhouse was sealed off. When it reopened in 1989, scientists discovered a huge and happy family of armadillos. This inhabitants were immortalized in neon by the Island renovators.

08 July 2015

Lighting the Path as We're Going

Music sets the stage for everything within Walt Disney World. In fact, it’s so integral to Disney experience that you can’t even sit along the shores of Bay Lake at Fort Wilderness without hearing the sounds of the Frontier, from the windswept flutes of the Native Americans to the thunderous stampedes reminiscent of Copland’s Rodeo. With all of the music permeating the landscape of Walt Disney World that we do and don’t stop to take notice of, do we recognize how music changes a place when it is replaced? Let’s look no further than Future World in EPCOT Center and the current Epcot for a prime example.

The Epcot entrance loop has always been comprised of the overarching themes of the park in addition to the specific scores of the attractions. I’ve always loved these set of loops, whether from the entrance area, fountain courtyard, or along the various concourses, but it wasn’t until I listened to them back to back recently that I made a startling discovery; the background music that moves us through the Future World of today doesn’t carry with it the same emotion it did yesterday.

Let me explain. When I stop and really listen to the music of EPCOT Center there is a story present. It’s mankind at its most basic, if it’s most basic included electric string instruments, but I digress. It had weight to it and felt familiar to everything that had come before it, not just musically but historically as well, much like the attractions of EPCOT Center always paused to look back before beginning their move forward to tomorrow. If you listen to the music with your whole body, and not just let it play into your subconscious, there is an emotion to it. There are moments of hope, of heart-wrenching longing, and even threatening challenges. This last emotion struck me the most, the future was never meant to be easy, and the music reminds us of how strong we will have to be to step up to those challenges we will face.

Let’s fast forward to today’s musical pathways. There is a plethora of music that I love built into the current background loop, from Soarin’ to Test Track and even the Imagination Institute’s theme, but there is something missing. When I listen to the music today I hear light-heartedness and more than a touch of whimsy. The emotional weight, that sense of purpose that drove the music of EPCOT Center has all but vanished. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this music, I love all of it, and it certainly has its place in a theme park, but maybe that’s the point I’m trying to get at.

Epcot has never been a traditional theme park. It came into this world to embody the ideals, if not the actual ideas, of Walt Disney’s hope for future. It was driven by education, history, through the science of today and the dreams of tomorrow, and the music encapsulated that perfectly. Today the park seems to have lost its governing principles and you need look no further than its musical score to hear it. We can debate the place of whirligigs on lampposts or lighted walkways all we want, but the music tells the story all too clearly.

Epcot is a wonderful place, and its striking visuals still take my breath away every time I see them. If it aspires to be nothing more than a theme park, then it has done a bang up job. Period. If, however, it still wants to reach back and find its identity as a place to inspire something more for all of our tomorrows, then let’s start with the music. It was a challenge once upon a time and it is still calling out that challenge to us today.

03 July 2015

State Salutes

It’s been mentioned in some of the other pieces, but a large part of the America on Parade bicentennial celebration was the individual attention given to each state for a week during the year. While the main event lasted for fifteen months, this aspect only ran from July 6, 1975 through June 26, 1976. If you’re running the math and that looks like an odd 51 weeks, you’re right! The first week opened with the honoring of Washington, D.C.

You’re probably asking yourself what went on during a given week to pay tribute to each state. I’m so glad you asked! During the week assigned to a specific state high school bands from the states were invited to come and take part in the America on Parade procession, and the state flag was prominently displayed in the park. This wasn’t just at Walt Disney World, these state highlights were taking place concurrently at the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California. Makes me wonder if there was a band that found a way to play on both coasts within a single week…

It may not seem like much, but when was the last time you saw a theme park focusing on a state other than the one where the park is located. I don’t know that it drove tourism rates up for the spotlighted states during their America on Parade week, but that’s not really the point. The fact of the matter is, Disney did something to above and beyond to make guests and guest entertainers feel unique and special.

02 July 2015

Traditional American Tunes

As much as a parade is about the pageantry on display through the characters, individuals, and awe-inspiring floats, a parade can made or broken on the back of its musical selection and the way in which that music is crafted. For America on Parade, Disney dug deep and made some excellent choices that they then combined in a very familiar fashion.

The team charged with finding the appropriate musical tracks and overall sound, led by vice-president of entertainment, Bob Jani, took more than three years to find just the right sound. Through their research efforts the group crisscrossed the country examining music libraries to find just the right selections that would not only be recognizable, but that would also play into the themes of the floats they were representing and would play well together and a stream of music. In the end everything from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Swanee River” to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and even “There’s No Business like Show Business” made it into the soundtrack.

With the music selected the work then began on how best to play the parade’s score. Early on it was decided that a mechanical music box would be the most appropriate way to go, but where would they find the right instrument? They went back to their cross-country search and ended up landing on an 1890 band organ that had been completely restored and was in a private collection in Sikeston, Missouri. Known as The Sadie Mae, her ornate decorations and drums were as inspiring as the music held within her. After her restoration, which took over 1,400 hours, The Sadie Mae included within her pipes 30 bass, 20 trumpets, 20 accompaniment pieces, 17 cellos, 17 clarinets, 17 flageolets, 17 octave violins, 17 piccolos, 17 stopped flutes, and eight trombones.

The only problem with The Sadie Mae was that her inner workings, much like a player piano, required punched-hole piano books rather than a player roll. At the time only one man still made the piano books, by hand no less, and he lived in Antwerp, Belgium. The Sadie Mae was packed up for her trip across the Atlantic Ocean and the score was completed.

Disney would then add a dash of synthesized effects over the top of the musical score. It would give the parade a similar effect to the Main Street Electrical Parade and the Electrical Water Pageants that had come before. Also comparable to the Main Street Electrical Parade was the manner in which the music would be played during America on Parade, with each float responsible for broadcasting its own segment of the soundtrack to guests.

It seems like a lot of work went into the musical production for a parade that would only be around for fifteen months. However, when you consider that America on Parade was the cornerstone of Disney’s Bicentennial celebration, I wouldn’t have expected anything less, would you?

01 July 2015

In Celebration of Our Nation's 200 Birthday Year

The Bicentennial, for those that may not have been around or have strong memories of the time, wasn’t one of those events that you had to ask an organization why they were celebrating. It was more a question of how would they be celebrating. America on Parade was the Disney answer, and they staged their celebration in the grandest fashion they could! Here’s how they sent the patriotic message out to the world:

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. -- Independence Day will be celebrated every day at Walt Disney World for the next 15 months with “America On Parade” happily saluting the nation’s 200th anniversary.

In one of the nation’s biggest birthday parties, typical Disney showmanship will turn 200 years into a colorful procession of historical highlights lasting more than a half hour. Parading down Main Street, U.S.A. will be the “People of America” -- 150 larger-than-life, doll-like characters dressed in period costumes and riding bright and fanciful parade units to the typical tunes of all-America. High-stepping music with guest bands and spectacular fireworks will round out the daily celebration.

The parading extravaganza will be staged at both Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California until September, 1976. During some 1200 performances, more than 25-million visitors are expected to attend including two-million guests from foreign lands.

The “People of America,” dressed in the colorful costumes of the past, range from sailors who discovered America to Colonial soldiers, Western frontiersmen, Bowery girls and Tom Sawyer’s friends.

“We created a bigger-than-life spectacle to give all our visitors, young and old, the exciting feeling of being children again,” says Bob Jani, vice-president of entertainment who directed preparation of the parade.

“We want everyone who sees it to go away feeling they really have celebrated America’s birthday,” Jani adds.

The doll-like stars of the parade measure from eight to ten feet tall with parade units up to 30 feet high towering above spectators so that even those in the third or fourth row can see easily as the procession moves down Main Street, U.S.A. and through Frontierland.

Each unit carries its own special musical accompaniment -- toe-tapping combinations of 1890 band organ music and a space-age electronic music synthesizer.

Special recognition of America’s accomplishments in many fields includes dancing telephones, gigantic ice cream sundaes, stylized steamboats, airplanes plus television sets and record players as big as a house.

Finale of the parade is performed under five giant gas-filled balloons by hundreds of visiting high school and college bands from across the nation. Each week, beginning in July, a different state will be specifically featured in the parade. The State Salutes will be staged in order of admission to the Union.

Leading each parade is a Disney re-enactment of the “Spirit of ‘76” featuring three of America’s favorite performers, Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck.

Other Bicentennial features at Walt Disney World between now and the end of summer, 1976, include complimentary admission to the impressive Hall of Presidents where the 186-year old history of the American Presidency is re-created in life-like realism.

A special Bicentennial edition of “America the Beautiful” is another complimentary attraction featured during the year-long celebration. It is presented by Monsanto in the CircleVision 360 theater where historic scenes surround the audience.

The Walt Disney World celebration also will give visitors an opportunity to experience such exciting new attractions as Space Mountain, the whirling thrill of the new StarJets, a re-created “Mission to Mars” and the soon to be completed “PeopleMover” where unique magnetic powered trains will carry guests on a super-smooth tour of Tomorrowland.

During the Summer season and at other holiday periods, “America On Parade” will be presented twice daily at Walt Disney World at 3 and 9 p.m. with spectacular red, white and blue fireworks following each nighttime performance.

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom will be open every day during the summer (from June 7 through August 30) from 9a.m. to 1a.m. Off-season hours are 9a.m. to 7p.m.

Recreation and entertainment accommodations in the Contemporary, Polynesian and Golf Resort hotels, Ft. Wilderness Campgrounds and in the entertaining new Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village are open every day and evening throughout the year.