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October 16, 2017

Savor, Sip and Sparkle at California Grill

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We attended the Celebration at the Top - Savor, Sip and Sparkle event at California Grill on Sunday, October 1. This was a MNSSHP night at Magic Kingdom, so we started at 9:15PM with fireworks at 10:15. Times vary with the MK fireworks schedule.

We arrived and checked in at the California Grill podium on the second floor, then we were escorted up to the restaurant and shown to the event rooms. They had a table with "glow" flutes of sparkling wine as we exited the elevator. There was a large room with tables and a bar on one side, and a smaller room with maybe 8 small tables and the food stations on the other side.

Each table had a light-up necklace for each guest to take home as a party favor. We decided to sit in the smaller room since the seating in the larger room was already almost full. The waitstaff were wonderful and made sure our glasses were always full. In addition to the sparkling wine they had a full bar available, but we did not order anything from the bar.


Food selections were sushi rolls - California, Veggie, and Spicy Tuna.

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There were mini lobster rolls topped with micro greens on the sushi table as well.

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For hot selections we had pork belly Bao buns, chicken satay skewers, and 2 choices of flatbread - BLT or Cheesesteak. The appetizers are all served buffet style so guests can serve themselves and come back for additional bites at leisure.

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We struck up a conversation with a lady at the next table who was traveling solo from the UK, and before we knew it we were headed out to the observation deck for Hallowishes. The music was piped in and we had a lovely view of the show. At the conclusion of the fireworks we went back inside for dessert.

The dessert offerings were an assortment of "mini" portions including fruit tarts, chocolate ganache cupcakes, and vanilla cheesecake. We chose to have coffee along with dessert.

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They had one of the photo frames for guests to pose with to commemorate the evening as things were winding to a close.


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We really enjoyed this event! It is offered on select Sundays for $99 per person.

October 15, 2017

EPCOT Food & Wine Festival – A Timeline

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Last year at the annual EPCOT Food & Wine Festival Carol and I discovered a little hidden treat, a pictorial timeline of the Festival.

Food and Wine Timeline

It was tucked away in a corner of Innoventions East, beside the merchandise area where they were distributing commemorative wine glasses for Annual Passholders.

Neither Carol nor I are wine drinkers, so we avoided the Food & Wine Festival for many years. We thought it was all about the wines, and pairings, and that there would be little there for us.

Our friends kept saying, “No, it’s about the food too, you would really enjoy the food.” After hearing that same message from several friends we decided to give it a try. Our first brief foray into the world of food and wine at EPCOT was on November 9th 2009. After stopping at no more than two kiosks we knew that our friends were right! We only made it to about half the food kiosks that first day but we enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

Although we’ve never hoisted a glass of wine there, we really enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. In fact, we haven’t missed a year since 2009.

Australia Kiosk

We typically arrive at the park in late morning and sometimes circle the World ShowCase Lagoon in a clockwise direction, other years we’ll head counter-clockwise. We read the menu at each food station along the way and order whatever sounds appealing.

Australia Menu

Australia Shrimp

When we have quenched our appetites and start to feel full we end our culinary tour, then return to EPCOT a few days later and pick up our roving lunch where we left off. For many years it took us three days to circle the lagoon but the festival is growing; last year it took four days.

There are special Guide Maps and Times Guides available during the festival.

Guide Map and Times Guide
Click on the image to see a larger version

Carol always picks up a Festival Passport. Inside the passport is a description of all the dishes served at each kiosk.

Festival Passport
Click on the image to see a larger version

She carefully checks off each selection we sample, then when we get home the Guide Map, Time Guide and Passport find a permanent home in Carol's Tickle Trunk!

I was surprised and delighted last year when we found that pictorial history of the festival. I’m always fascinated by the little gems, like that timeline, that the Imagineers dream up and install in out-of-the-way corners. I’m not sure how long it has been around, since we just “discovered” it last year.

Let’s take a closer look; click on each of the images below to see a larger version.

Food and Wine 1996-1998

It was 1996 when the Walt Disney World Village Wine Festival moved to EPCOT and transformed into the festival we enjoy today. In 1997 famed chef Julia Child was an honoured guest.

Food and Wine 1999-2001

The plaques beneath the pictures describe the many exhibits and seminars that interested wine-lovers can enjoy.

Food and Wine 2002-2004

The Party for the Senses and the Eat to the Beat Concert series made their debut in 2002.

Food and Wine 2005-2007

In 2005 the Odyssey Cooking School offered interactive cooking experiences.

Food and Wine 2008-2010

Is that Little Richard playing the piano in 2008? Cirque du Soleil hosted the Party for the Senses in 2010 and the 10K race was replaced with a half-marathon.

Food and Wine 2011-2013

Do you remember the cranberry bog that first appeared in 2011?

Food and Wine 2014-2015

In 2014 the festival was extended from 46 days to 53 days and in 2015 the popular ABC show The Chew established two new kiosks near the rose garden.

As you can see from following that pictorial history, the festival is continuing to evolve and grow. There’s always something new!

This year there are no wineglasses for Annual Passholders; they have been replaced by a special series of collectible buttons. If you have an Annual Pass you can pick up your button at the Festival Center, behind the former Universe of Energy building.

Festival Center

Carol and I won’t make it to the festival until November this year, so I don’t know if the timeline has been moved to the Festival Center or if it’s still over in Innoventions East . . . but if you happen to see it stop and take a look. There is some interesting history there!






October 11, 2017

Adventuring Out Of Your Comfort Zone

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By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

This summer I had the opportunity to set out with Adventures By Disney to China. This was not my first travel experience with them and it was actually my 12th adventure. But I had some nervousness about heading to a place that I knew nothing about.....people, land, language. It was a destination that my grandson had requested several years ago as he is our ABD traveling buddy so once Shanghai Disney was completed my husband and I decided we couldn't put it off any longer.

We left several days early for Hong Kong as it is important to try to adjust to such a drastic time zone change. One of the best decisions we made was to stay at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel during those first days before our adventure began. (Watch Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel Tour)

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If the budget can handle just a little extra then I suggest staying on the Club Level as you have food throughout the day available in the Club lounge and assistance with getting all your questions answered easily. Hong Kong was a British owned land so English is not so foreign to many of its citizens but finding those who wish to speak it or speak it well can be daunting at times.

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The hotel was a great spot to rest and yet it was within a nice walk to the Disneyland Park if we wanted to get out and have some fun. It is located right on the bay waters with a view of downtown Hong Kong in the distance. We took advantage of our extra time and FastPasses given to us by the concierges to head to the park and discover some of the new and some of the known attractions there.

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Mystic Manor is definitely the one attraction not to be missed. This is one of Disney's best around the world and only in this park. (Watch Mystic Manor Video)

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Grizzly Gulch is also wonderful. Watch Grizzly Gulch Video. We loved the Jungle Cruise. Watch the Jungle Cruise Video. The Small World ride is fun as you count the many Disney characters depicted throughout your journey. I think we counted about 14 from Cinderella to Stitch!

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Their new show, "Mickey and the Wondrous Book", was certainly a hit and a visit to Toy Story Land was fun to see what we can look forward to at our own Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios soon.

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The day our adventure started with Disney found us heading into Hong Kong to the Peninsula Hotel. This is a beautiful modern yet classic hotel located in the heart of the city. We met our guides for our journey, Christian and Fred. Christian has guided with ABD for many years and we actually enjoyed him on a Backstage Hollywood trip a few years ago. To see him was such a joy and to meet his Chinese co-guide Fred was wonderful. I know none of us expected to meet a Chinese guide with the name of Fred but we soon found out that most Chinese who are in any occupation where they will deal with westerners will select a western name. In fact all Disney cast members in the parks will choose a name versus using their Chinese name on the nametags.

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Our welcome dinner included getting some of the general instructions of the adventure and a look ahead at what each day would bring. The excitement was building because our guides made us all feel so comfortable and well taken care of. At that point we were told to let our worries and stress drift away and they would now be in charge of everything from luggage handling, flights, meals, and transportation. Dinner that night was our first Peking Duck but not our last which was fine with all of us.

Day 2 found us waking up to a not so great weather forecast. News came to us that the first typhoon of the season was coming in our direction.

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So we carried our umbrellas that the hotel provided and our rain ponchos and headed to Stanley Market to check out some of the typical Chinese wares. Our guides were always within sight if we needed assistance and their help in where and when we could bargain was very useful. From there we hopped on our comfortable bus and went up to the top of Victoria Peak. We were very fortunate that the weather held out and we were able to take some wonderful photos of this great city. We were joined on this day by Bruce the local guide who told us all about the history of Hong Kong. We lunched on top of the peak and then took the tram down where we again hopped on our bus and headed to Hong Kong Disney for a highly anticipated visit.

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When we arrived the rain was also coming down and we didn't care......we were going to spend the rest of the day and evening having fun in this magical place. Our guides gave us three FastPasses and after the obligatory group picture at the entrance we were off. Most of the kids wanted to head to Hyperspace Mountain which is their Space Mountain so that was the first thing to do. Our next stop was to head to Iron Man Experience but.........we were halted at the entrance. Something happened that none of us could ever have imagined and that was the park was being closed! The typhoon warning system is similar to our hurricane warnings and as we woke up that day the warning was a 3 and when it jumps to an 8 all businesses and transportation starts to close down. Our group was wonderful and although we were all very, very disappointed we knew Mother Nature was not something you could argue with so after only 30 minutes in the park we walked back to our bus and returned to the Peninsula Hotel. Our guides were quick to be on the phone and arranged a very nice dinner for us there since we were not able to trek outside on our own. The hotel staff was amazing and did everything they could to make us welcome and alieve our disappointment from the day. Special deserts and foods were served without even asking. I can't say enough about this great hotel in Hong Kong.

We woke up on Day 3 to just some remaining rain but any visible remnants of typhoon were basically gone. Only parts of the area were hit hard so we felt it was a good day to head out to Beijing. Our luggage magically disappeared so all we had to do is enjoy breakfast and hop on the bus to the airport. We checked in with guidance and assistance from Christian and Fred, shopped in the airport, found out we had a gate change, boarded the plane, got off the plane, and waited another four extra hours. Weather related delay but we finally got off the ground and made it to Beijing. Our hotel in this city was the beautiful Rosewood Beijing and again was absolutely gorgeous with very roomy rooms and modern amenities.

Day 4 was a tour day of some of the things many of us only have dreamed of. We headed to the Temple of Heaven which is what the Epcot China Pavilion resembles. On the way we made a stop to a park which was full of retired Chinese men and women who go there daily to exercise, dance, and sing. Some of them had the kids interact and play some of their games with them. It was such a great cultural experience.

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The Temple of Heaven was gorgeous and impressive and then the afternoon was spent touring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Our guide told us that while there he would not be able to answer sensitive political questions so please do not ask him. He said basically tanks, Taiwan, and Tibet were off limits. This was our first inkling of such a different political influence in this country. With a very large picture of (. ) sitting high on the side of the wall/building and the many armed guards we became aware of the political difference that continues today. Interestingly Tiananmen Square is named after Tiananmen Gate which means "Gate of Heavenly Peace".

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It was a historical day in this area of Beijing and although hot we all enjoyed the tour of the very large Forbidden City. The Imperial Palace was the seat of power from 1416 to 1911. We were able to walk through the entire area seeing many of the palaces and pavilions and learning about the architecture of these long standing Chinese buildings. We were all exhausted and hot but took away such a new understanding of Chinese history.

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Day 5 was the most anticipated day for all of the group. It was the day we were heading two hours out of the city to Mutianyu to climb and walk on the Great Wall of China. Mother Nature made our Hong Kong day up to us by giving us sunshine and clear skies. It was a surreal day standing high above the area on a wall that spans thousands of miles that served as a barrier for the capital city. Learning about the history on our drive there made it even more incredible to see how they constructed the wall, steps, and towers. Much of the wall throughout China is not accessible anymore so having this opportunity was a thrill beyond words. Having great ABD and local guides to take care of every detail and information is the way to enjoy such an experience.

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Day 6 found us enjoying a pedicab ride through the Hutong which is an area where the Chinese lived in smaller group like communities. Here we actually visited "real" homes of families and learned the art of Chinese knot tying, paper cutting, and Chinese writing. Everyone also had the chance to practice the art of the Chinese yo-yo. This is what the young Chinese girls do in the Orlando Cirque du Soleil shows and they make it look so easy! It is NOT!

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Later that day we were headed to Chengdu which I think might just be my favorite Chinese city we visited. To be honest I had never heard of this city yet it is populated by millions of Chinese and larger then our own US cities. Our hotel here was the Ritz-Carleton which held a surprise for all of us. Enjoying a toilet that would open the lid when you entered and had a heated seat was a luxury most of us only dream of. :)

Chengdu is the home of a Panda Research facility so on Day 7 this is where we headed. Overcast and light rain didn't diminish our excitement as we were able to watch mature and young pandas in their enclosed habitats as well as being introduced to the cute Red Pandas. Learning about their history and characteristics from our local guide made us all want to stay and spend more time there. But a Hot Pot lunch awaited and we left to go have a traditional Chinese culinary experience. Your meats and vegetables are cooked in a hot broth similar to what we know of as fondue and then sauces are added once it is done.

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Our day in Chengdu ended with a visit to the Sichuan Face-Changing Opera. Great entertainment and music and so much color in costumes and surroundings made it interesting. Many of us even figured out the tricks of how they changed their faces in split seconds.

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Day 8 is referred to as the Amazing Race day. This is the day where we fly out of Chengdu to Xi'an to see the incredible Terra Cotta Warriors and then fly out of Xi'an to reach Guilin. Phew! But we didn't have any stress as our wonderful guides deal with everything from luggage transfers, checking us in at the airport and handing us our boarding passes. I simply can't imagine doing this kind of trip without them.

The Terra Cotta Soldiers was something I wanted to see almost more then anything else. Back in 1974 a local farmer was trying to dig a well and discovered remains of a Chinese figure made of clay. After more excavations it has been discovered that the area contains likely over 7000 of these figures, horses, and wagons buried surrounding the late first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di. He felt this would protect him in his afterlife. Interesting facts we learned from our local and ABD guides included that so far every single figure unearthed is unique and no two faces are the same. The figures were brightly painted but once unearthed these colors have faded.


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They have unearthed several thousand and then stopped digging until they can figure out how to do the excavations without harming them as well as how they can preserve the colors. They know where the tomb is located but will not even begin that excavation until better methods are developed. The unbelievable amount of history you experience while walking through the museums and dig sites can't be described in words. This stop should be on everyone's list of China spots to visit.

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We welcomed our arrival in Guilin later that day and settled into the Shanghai-La Hotel in the heart of the city. This was a nice hotel with clean rooms and amenities but not quite up to the standard of the larger chain hotels we had stayed in so far. Never the less we all slept well after a long day.

Day 9 was the day we boarded a boat and cruised down the Lijiang or Li River. It was very relaxing and perfect for us to rejuvenate as we viewed the countryside of this part of China and the beauty of the Gumdrop Mountains named so because they look like large gumdrops that are sitting on the ground. The only disappointment was the fact that we shared a boat with others. We did have a private area to keep our things in and sit when not wanting to be outside but it would have been even nicer to be on our own.

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When we disembarked from the boat we were led to a great shopping market. Here we were given a few Chinese dollars to select a white elephant gift for the group. We were instructed in how to bargain and even the youngest adventurers got into the fun. My grandson at 11 showed us he could bargain with the best of them much to the Chinese shop owners.

That night was a celebration for the fathers as Christian and Fred ordered a cake and gave each of them a Chinese hat. It was a great evening followed by the while elephant trading and then a movie for the kids.

Day 10 was our last internal China flight and we headed to Shanghai. The largest city in China welcomed us and we once again were guests at a Peninsula Hotel. We were given a 30 minute tutorial at how to use all the technology in the rooms as this is truly one of the most modern hotels of the adventure.

Dinner that night was a traditional dumpling meal and probably my favorite although Peking Duck is right there with it. After dinner we headed to a Shanghai Circus World and Acrobat Show. None of us were prepared for what this was and I think most of us had our mouths open the entire time. Unbelievable talent and our seats were some of the best where we could watch them closely and see their reactions. I am still in awe of the fact they got 8 running motorcylces in one of those steel closed ball cages. I actually had a hard time looking. When the show was over and the rest of the guests had departed the main characters of the show came out to greet us which was a big treat.

Day 11 was bittersweet in many ways. We had to make a decision to either head to Disneyland early or go to the Yu Gardens and Old Shanghai. Since our trip to Hong Kong Disneyland was cut short most of the guests opted for a full day in Shanghai Disney including us.

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The stories you might have heard about the crowds at this new and latest Disney park are true and then some. It can easily take you 1-2 hours to even get into the park. Lines were a mass of humanity and we had a little help with a special line but that still took us 40 minutes.

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Once in we were all rushed to the new Pirates ride for a FastPass entrance. I don't have words to explain this new attraction and I will honestly say I think it is probably the best attraction in all of the Disney parks around the world. The details and experiences are unbelievable and it lasts longer then a few minutes making it so worth any wait.

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The rest of the day was a bit of a disappointment as this park would only allow ABD guests to have three FastPasses and only to specific attractions. This doesn't seem to bad but when you realize that wait times here range from 120-240 minutes on average for their classic attractions it is depressing that ABD can't do more for their guests. Even riding the carousel was 120 minute wait so if you didn't enjoy the three attractions you were given a FastPass for you were pretty much out of luck.

This park is beautiful and the castle is gorgeous so walking around was enjoyable. But with so many guests it was also hard to do any shopping or dining. If you found a table and chair you would certainly be sharing it with someone else and you needed to act quick or you would be out of luck sitting down. Lines are long everywhere and you learn to protect your space. Finding anyone who would or could speak English was hard so shopping often was a bit of a challenge. Many would simply write a price on a piece of paper to communicate.


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The end of the day found some extra magic though as we all dined in the beautiful Club 33 in the middle of the park. Our farewell dinner could not have been more special as we shared our adventure stories and watched the fireworks and castle show at the end of the evening. When it was time to go we were the last guests in the park which was a feeling that was so different from what we experienced the rest of the day there.


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The next morning was our farewell morning and that is always a sad day. After spending days and great experiences with this group of guests you find it hard to say good-bye. Many tears and hugs and we all headed to the train station or airport. Saying good-bye to Christian and Fred was the hardest of all. They were amazing guides who worked so hard and made it seamless in our eyes. Even after a typhoon and delayed flights we never knew there were challenges because of how they handled it all.

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Yes, this was an adventure out of my comfort zone but now I can't even imagine if we had not done this trip. I learned a lot about a culture that was so foreign to me. I was absolutely surprised at how beautiful the Chinese cities were/are. They pride themselves with having many flowers everywhere and they keep streets and sidewalks clean. This is not only in the downtown areas but all locations. The worry about having to wear masks was unfounded. The air for the most part was clear and for those thinking about traveling there the winter months are the worst when their heating systems spew the pollutants. The architecture of the cities is some of the most extreme and interesting I have ever seen. I was always amazed at some of the buildings and how they could build them with holes in the middle or wings stretching way off to the sides.

Yes, language was an issue but our guides took care of anything we needed and helped us with translations. Traveling without a Chinese interpreter could be difficult in certain areas. China is large and has many different sections where the languages are different. There is only one time zone making that part of the trip easy as we flew from city to city. The food is wonderful and all the younger adventurers, or little dumplings as our guides referred to them, enjoyed the meals and the different cuisine. Anyone with food allergies were taken care of without any issues. The guides make sure the restaurants understood and there was plenty of food on the table no matter what you could or could not eat.

I have learned so much about a country I knew little about. The people are just like us. They do tend to go for their space but in learning about that from our guide, Fred, its because at certain times in history they had to line up for food and milk and if they didn't get in there their families and children went hungry. So it is a cultural thing and one I now understand. The Chinese people really don't know us very well as we don't know them. One of the first books Fred had to read in school when he was young was a book about how America was so terrible. After guiding and being able to meet more Americans he realizes this was simply not true. The countries might have different philosophies about many things but yet we are the same in so many ways as well. Never once was I scared or truly uncomfortable. The Chinese were welcoming and friendly and actually curious. What we learned more then anything else is that they are not right, they are not wrong, but their ways are simply different.

Head to China with Adventures By Disney if you get a chance. It was a trip of a lifetime that I almost didn't take and can't imagine not having the experiences that we had. Let your comfort zone grow!


October 10, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

First off, we must apologize to readers of this blog for its lateness. Several factors, including travel, jet lag and illness have led to us falling a bit behind the last few weeks. We're sorry and hope to get back on track, starting now!

So...

As you know if you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, each month our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James also Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog.

This month, James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

http://allears.net/ae/mb082217-key.pdf

We received 27 correct responses; many of you knew that the reference to this movie can be found on Tom Sawyer Island in the Frontierland section of the Magic Kingdom. Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn is a quiet place to enjoy a sandwich and watch the riverboat cruise by.

The winner of a Figment pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Steve B. of Huntsville, AL.

If you missed it, that's OK, because here’s another chance.

http://allears.net/ae/mb101017.pdf

This month we are continuing our look at the extensive library of Disney’s live-action films. This month’s film is “Swiss Family Robinson,” which starred John Mills, the father of Hayley Mills, whose career with Disney was just taking off. This film was one of the few live-action vehicles that would go on to be a subject of theme park attractions around the world. The “Swiss Family Treehouse” opened in 1962 in Disneyland Park; opened as "Swiss Family Island Treehouse" at WDW in 1971, with a version at Tokyo Disneyland in 1993; and as “Le Cabane des Robinson” in Disneyland Paris in 1992.

The object of this puzzle is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, send me the answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on October 21, 2017. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog sometime in October.

Please note, for this puzzle ALL of the clues are used.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Thanks for playing, everyone!





October 9, 2017

The short, bumpy ride of the Rocket Rods attraction at Disneyland

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For three decades, the WEDway PeopleMover was a cornerstone attraction in Tomorrowland at Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

The late 1990s were a dark time at Disneyland.

It was not unusual to see signs of aging and decay throughout the park: Peeling paint, cracks in the pavement, crumbling woodwork, rusted iron railings. Marty Sklar, the head of Walt Disney Imagineering at the time, noticed ... and so, too, he correctly surmised, did park guests.

"Wherever you looked," the late Disney Legend said a few years ago, "the park set a new low in Disney quality."

After Jack Lindquist, Disneyland's first president, retired in 1994, his successor, Paul Pressler, seemed to take more of a bottom-line approach and didn't appear to be much of an attention-to-detail kind of guy.

So when it was decided to re-imagine the outdated Tomorrowland section of the park, the idea was to come up with some new attractions ... but to do it as cost-effectively as possible [In other words: Cheaply]. To be fair, the company was pouring buckets of money into a number of major projects at the time, most notably the construction of new parks at Disneyland [California Adventure], Disneyland Paris [The Walt Disney Studios] and the Disney Cruise Line's first two ocean liners.

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An overview of Tomorrowland after the initial expansion during the mid-1960s. [The Walt Disney Company]

Still, Disney decided to remake Tomorrowland. From 1967 through 1995, the WEDway PeopleMover was an integral part of the Tomorrowland landscape, as recognizable as the TWA Rocket, which was there on opening day in 1955, and Space Mountain.

"Walt had long wanted some kind of overhead slow transportation system [at Disneyland] which could be built for use in cities as sort of a fast-walking overview" of what was below, said Bob Gurr, the Imagineer who was tasked with designing the PeopleMover as part of the first Tomorrowland redesign in the mid-1960s.

Once completed and fully operational, Walt hoped the PeopleMover technology at Disneyland would serve as a working model and would subsequently find a place in cities, airports and shopping malls as an efficient way to get people from Point A to Point B. Also in the back of Walt's mind was a prototype city of the future, where he envisioned clean-running PeopleMovers and monorails to be the main modes of transportation for inhabitants, not noisy, exhaust-spewing cars, trucks or buses.

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A PeopleMover poster proclaims: "Ride Tomorrow's Transportation ,,, Today!"

The flat PeopleMover track bed was elevated about 12 feet above the ground, held up by sturdy columns, with covered ride vehicles that looked like ski gondolas traversing slowly, but steadily during a tranquil journey through Tomorrowland.

"The WEDway performed wonderfully for more than 30 years, giving guests the slow and peaceful overhead view of Tomorrowland," Gurr added, "sort of a moving park bench for lazy people-watching."

Then came the second Tomorrowland redesign in the 1990s, the demise of the PeopleMover and the introduction of an attraction called Rocket Rods.

If there was any doubt the Disneyland that traditionalists knew and loved was changing - and not for the better - you needn't have looked any further than the submarine attraction, which was closed in 1998 ... despite the protestations of two of its biggest proponents.

According to former Disney Imagineering Legend Tony Baxter: "Over Marty Sklar's objection and mine, they decided to close it rather than really doing something fresh and bring it up to date because it had gotten passe. But it was a different time at the Disney Company."

That "different time" meant removing the PeopleMover gondolas, laying down a new track and putting in futuristic, if odd-looking five-passenger vehicles into service. The Rocket Rods were intended to be the rapid transit system of the future.

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The Rocket Rods were the featured attraction on the Tomorrowland makeover in the late 1990s at Disneyland. [Disneyland]

The Rocket Rods were supposed to be the cornerstone of the Tomorrowland expansion. Although lines were extremely long after the attraction opened in May of 1998, the Rocket Rods never lived up to the hype.

For one thing, there was the disjointed queue, which started outside of the old CircleVision 360 attraction and then took guests inside a series of rooms, where a variety of displays showed the history of Disney transportation. Then guests had to climb some stairs to reach the Rocket Rods boarding area.

The open-air ride vehicles were decidedly low-capacity. They seated five guests, with two riders in the back row, then three single-rider seats. Throughout the entire ride, you could hear an annoying, whirring sound that gave you the impression that the vehicle was straining to pick up speed.

The problem was, it never really went very fast. There were occasional short bursts of speed, like at the straightaway during the start, but for the most part, the Rocket Rods never went much faster than the Tomorrowland Transit Authority vehicles in Walt Disney World. The new Rocket Rods track was placed over the flat PeopleMover track bed and no banked curves were incorporated in the design, which meant that every time your Rocket Rod would approach a curve, it needed to decelerate. The constant acceleration/deceleration of the vehicle proved to be problematic and ultimately contributed to the ride's demise.

In addition, although the track took guests inside several buildings in Tomorrowland [Star Tours, Star Traders, Starcade and Space Mountain], for the most part, the Rocket Rods riders were exposed to the elements. Like the original PeopleMover, the Rocket Rods' track weaved under monorail beams and over the now submarine-less Submarine Voyage lagoon.

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The view from the front seat of one of the Rocket Rods vehicles.

A few weeks after Rocket Rods opened, they were shut down for maintenance. When they reopened an astonishing three months later, little had changed in terms of the ride's reliability. There were countless system failures and even more frustrated guests waiting in queues that went nowhere.

The Rocket Rods closed in 2000, again presumably for maintenance, but they never reopened. Without much fanfare, the ride vehicles were removed from the track and dismantled. Curiously, the track remained in place.

To this day, that track and its many obtrusive support columns are still there. Regular Disneyland guests have become oblivious to them, but their presence remains one of those park conundrums that Disneyland purists can only shake their heads at.

Bob Gurr, the former Disney Imagineer who designed so many attractions within Disneyland's berm, is just as puzzled as the rest of us.

"I get the same questions at every personal appearance. Why was the PeopleMover removed, we loved it. Why didn't Rocket Rods work? When will the PeopleMover return ... on and on.

"Asking Disneyland or Walt Disney Imagineering only gets 'we know nothing.' So year after year, neither organization can suggest any replacement. When asked when the track system will be removed ... you get the same answer.

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During a visit to Disneyland in 2000, we discovered these WEDway PeopleMover vehicles on display in a backstage area. [Janet Schmidt]

"Some folks conclude that the Imagineers working prior to around 1980 created intelligent attractions every time, but the later and current team misses the mark from time to time, it must be a different bunch.

"The earlier folks tended to be fearless but thoughtful, even though many had no design or engineering credentials, while the newer folks are very trained and credentialed, and led by professional project managers. I suppose it's harder these days to come up with ever grander stuff compared to us older pioneers. But stuff should work!"

The dismantling of shuttered attractions does seem to be a problem at Disneyland. Take, for example, the Fantasyland Skyway station. The Skyway was a fixture in Disneyland from 1956 until it closed in 1994. Most of the attraction's structure was removed, save for the gondola station in Fantasyland, which sat roped off and dormant for 22 years.

It wasn't until 2016, when construction began on the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, that the powers that be got around to tearing down the Fantasyland Skyway station.

One interesting note: The Rocket Rods attraction had its own theme song, "World of Creativity (Magic Highways of Tomorrow)", which was composed by none other than Richard and Robert Sherman.

RELATED LINKS:

VIDEO: Take a Journey on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover circa 2014

VIDEO: The Peoplemover circa 2009

VIDEO: Rocket Rods circa July 2000!

VIDEO: Disney Historian Jack Spence explores the origins of the Wedway People Mover in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World on this special edition of AllEarsNet TV, Episode #18 !

October 1, 2017

The Disneyland Pancake Race

Gary Cruise banner

Six decades ago Disneyland was brand new!

The Disney Corporation had invested heavily in its construction and they were rumored to be overextended. The senior management team was constantly trying new ways to attract guests to the park and increase revenues. That big pile of debt had to be repaid!

Fortunately, Disney Studios had several very popular television series in production during those early years and the stars of those shows made regular appearances at the park.

The Mickey Mouse Club was a huge hit with children in the 1950’s and the Mouseketeers were frequent performers at Disneyland!

Mouseketeers at Disneyland

Mouseketeers at Disneyland

Mouseketeers at Disneyland

Mouseketeer Annette Funicello even appeared and signed autographs with David Stollery and Tim Considine who starred in the popular Spin & Marty series.

David Stollery Annette Funicello Tim Considine

Zorro was another hit television show produced by the Disney Studios. Guy Williams portrayed the hero Don Diego de la Vega. Williams would don the Zorro costume and thrill guests as he rode and duelled his way through Frontierland.

Zorro at Disneyland 1958

Zorro at Frontierland 1958

Zorro at Frontierland 1958

Another popular series of the era was Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen. They also made a number of guest appearances at Disneyland. Fess Parker is pictured below, riding with Walt Disney.

Fess Parker and Walt Disney

But the wackiest ploy to attract guests had to be the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races held on Main Street, USA from 1957 to 1964.

Pancake Race

One of Disney’s partner companies in the early days was the Quaker Oats Company which opened Aunt Jemima’s Old South Kitchen in Frontierland on August 17, 1955.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen

Somehow Disney and Quaker Oats concocted the wacky idea of pancake races in the park! Housewives from across the Golden State competed in local and regional pancake races and the regional winners met on Shrove Tuesday for the state championship at Disneyland.

Pancake Race

Disney Archivist Rebecca Cline wrote about the races in an article for Disney Magazine in the Spring of 2004. She described the event like this:

“Rose Pitman is running as fast as she can down Disneyland’s Main Street, USA. Her hair tucked underneath a scarf, she is wearing saddle shoes and an apron wrapped around her plaid skirt. She is also carrying a nine-inch skillet in her right hand. Looking out for the thick ribbons stretching eight feet overhead across the race path, she deftly avoids the streetcar tracks beneath her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches out for the other five women who are trying to beat her to the finish line. As Pitman nears the first ribbon, she springs a couple of feet off the ground, and with a practiced snap of the wrist, flips the pancake lying in her skillet up over the ribbon, then catches it on the way down.”

Pancake Race

“On she runs toward another ribbon. Again she flips the pancake up, turning it end over end until it comes down in her pan. After snapping her pancake over a third ribbon, she races toward the finish line. The crowd roars its encouragement; Pitman is a mere few feet ahead of her nearest challenger. She leans into the ribbon and it breaks free, floating across her body. It is Tuesday, March 5, 1957; Rose Pitman of Visalia, California, has just placed first in the finals of the California State Pancake Races sponsored by the Quaker Oats Company and Disneyland.”

“Along with the $100 presented by Aunt Jemima (a woman named Palmere Jackson played the character), Pitman wins a number of prizes, including a plaque signed by Walt Disney, an enormous Disneyland food basket with items like Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour and Swift canned meats, an Aunt Jemima cigarette lighter, an umbrella, and a fish knife in a sheath.”

Race Winner 1962

Those crazy races were run each year, on Shrove Tuesday, from 1957 until 1964. The 2004 Disney Magazine article has plenty of additional information on the origins of pancake races and the Disney races in particular. Click on the two images below if you would like to read the article in detail.

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 pg 60
That's Rose Pitman wearing #9 in the picture above.

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 pg 61

With the crowded conditions in Disney Parks these days I doubt that they would ever consider reinstating the Pancake Races . . . but if they do, I'm pretty sure I would make the trip west to witness the spectacle!






September 25, 2017

With a tinge of sadness, Ryman Arts carries on with a 'Celebrating Marty Sklar' fund-raiser

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Juliana Hansen, accompanied by Nelson Kole, sings "A Kiss Goodnight" for the guests at the Celebrating Marty Sklar fund-raiser for Ryman Arts. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]


During dinner at the Ryman Arts fund-raiser in the Hollywood Hills home of Marty and Leah Sklar on Sept. 16, guests were asked to write down words of inspiration for the main benefactors of the evening's event: Namely, the hundreds of talented young people in the Southern California area who participate in the free arts program that the Sklars helped establish 27 years ago.

With pens in hand, the scores in attendance all appeared to be collectively deep in thought for several moments as they transferred their musings to the index cards that will eventually be shown to the students, the idea being for the unseen mentors to provide sage advice and pearls of wisdom to the students as they embark on their life journeys.

If those mentors needed to be inspired themselves, all they had to do was look to the center of each table, where famed quotes from Marty Sklar himself were on display in 5 x 7-inch frames.

Things like: "Celebrate diversity and different points of view" ... and perhaps his most oft-quoted gem: "Life is like a blank sheet of paper; you never know what it can be 'til you put something on it!"

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Leslie Sklar, left, and her mom Leah were the gracious hosts of the Ryman Arts fund-raiser on Sept, 16. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]

In many ways, the Celebrating Marty and Supporting Ryman Arts event was the ultimate blank sheet of paper. For years, Marty and Leah Sklar hosted what was known as An Affair of the Art in their home, sharing art, fellowship and an unwavering commitment to the mission of Ryman Arts. The nights were always filled with laughter, camaraderie and a sense that something good was being done ... that so many under-served young artists would be able to realize their dreams and reach their full potential.

When Marty passed away on July 27, there was some doubt that this year's fund-raiser, which had been scheduled months in advance, would be held. This was uncharted territory: A Ryman Arts event without Marty Sklar's guiding hand. But thanks to the grace and courage of Marty's widow and their daughter Leslie, the night went on as planned. And what a special night it was.

There was, to be sure, a tinge of sadness in the air as guests arrived during the comfortably warm evening. As they walked up the long, cobblestoned driveway, they were surrounded by lush landscaping, accentuated by stunning metallic works of art.

Upon entering the Spanish-inspired home through the front door, guests walked into the entrance foyer, where they were greeted by a large photo of Marty, smiling, seated on a bench at his beloved Disneyland.

To the left and down a few steps is a comfortable living space where, guests would learn later in the evening, Marty and Leah had recorded a short documentary, Ryman Arts: The Early Years, just a few weeks before Marty passed away.

Off to the left was another room, Marty's office, which was roped off but brightly lighted, so guests could peak in on the place where he ran Marty Sklar Creative, sent out hand-written notes in his famous red felt marker, conducted telephone interviews and did most of the work on his books Dream It! Do It! and One Little Spark! and his untitled final book. On the walls are some of the awards Marty received over the years, as well as photos of Walt Disney. There also were stacks of books, photos of his family members, pictures with many of his colleagues, as well as a sprinkling of Disney memorabilia.

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Wayne Hunt, president of the Ryman Arts Board of Directors, addresses the attendees. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]

During the course of the evening, several of Marty's colleagues, either from Ryman Arts or Walt Disney Imagineering, where he was the creative leader for so many productive years before retiring in 2009, offered their heart-felt remembrances of a man they both admired and loved.

One particularly touching tribute came from Imagineering's Tom Fitzgerald, who referred to Marty as "my second father." As Fitzgerald spoke, several people could be seen dabbing away tears.

"Marty was one in a million!" Fitzgerald added. "We were fortunate he was so generous with his wit and wisdom."

Indeed, generosity has always been a hallmark of the Sklar family. One speaker talked about how a former Ryman Arts student had been accepted into the fine arts program at a prestigious California university. The problem was, he and his family couldn't afford the tuition. When Marty and Leah found out about the student's plight, they set up a scholarship for him.

Several Ryman Arts alumni, including Josie Trinidad, who is now head of story at Walt Disney Animation, Adrianna Arambula and Shane Prigmore, offered their thoughts on Southern California's preeminent free arts program and how important it was to both their personal and professional lives.

Also in attendance were several former and current Imagineers, many of whom Marty often referred to as "my kids." In addition to Fitzgerald, Kevin Rafferty, Frank Stanek, Paul Comstock, Joe Lanzisero and Rick Rothschild were there to help celebrate Marty's long and productive life and honor his legacy. Also among the attendees was Walt Disney's granddaughter, Michelle Lund, the daughter of Sharon Disney Lund.

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Guests enjoy dinner outdoors on the verandah at the Sklar house in the Hollywood Hills. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]

According to Rafferty, "A great part of the evening was catching up with old friends I rarely see anymore."

The event was topped off by a stirring rendition of the Richard Sherman-penned song "A Kiss Goodnight" by Juliana Hansen. [Sherman wrote the song in conjunction with the release of the Disney Editions book of the same title, which tells the story of Walt Disney's life through words and beautiful illustrations by Disney Legend Floyd Norman and his wife, Adrienne Brown Norman. Brittany Rubiano is credited as co-author of the book.]

Ms. Hansen is well-known in Disney circles for her work on Disney productions, such as Mary Poppins, voice acting, and Broadway productions, including Les Miserables. Ms. Hansen and Sherman introduced "A Kiss Goodnight" at the D23 Expo in mid-July, a performance that touched Marty deeply.

It was a fitting way to end the evening: Warm, poignant and powerful.

As Rafferty put it: "Leah and Leslie are incredible people. The evening went exactly as Marty would have wanted it to."

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Disney Legend Herb Ryman. [The Walt Disney Company]

More on the fund-raiser and Ryman Arts

The program was hosted by NPR radio personalty Kai Ryssdal. Dinner was prepared by Alexandra Poer of alexandra's table and Gale Kohl of Gale's Restaurant. Wines were provided by Frank and Irene Stanek of Chareva Vineyards and Ron Miller of Silverado Vineyards.

Ryman Arts is a not-for-profit fine arts education program based in Los Angeles. It is named in honor of Disney Legend Herb Ryman, the man who drew the first concept drawing of Disneyland in 1953, as well as concept drawings of Walt Disney World in the 1970s and Epcot in the 1980s. Before and after his career with Disney, Ryman was a prolific artist who worked on a number of films for MGM Studios during Hollywood's "golden era." His pre-Disney screen credits include the Emerald City scene in The Wizard of Oz. He also was the art director for Fantasia and Dumbo.

Ryman Arts was founded in 1990 by Marty and Leah Sklar, Ann and Buzz Price, Lucille Ryman Carroll and Sharon Disney Lund.

The organization provides free art classes in drawing and painting with master teachers to Los Angeles-area high school students. It began with 12 students and has grown to several hundred. The students, from more than 80 Southern California high schools, take classes at either the Otis College of Art and Design or Cal-State Fullerton. For more on Ryman Arts, go to www.rymanarts.org.

September 18, 2017

Disney Vacation Club’s Moonlight Madness at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom Luggage Tag - Customizable - Limited Release


By Guest Blogger H.A. Rockwood

Disney Vacation Club is celebrating 25 years of magic this year and to thank the almost 200,000 families that like to call Disney “home”, they have had a series of special events planned including Moonlight Magic; a members only in-park celebration with characters, rides, treats and more!


I had the pleasure of attending the first event at Magic Kingdom in March and had so much fun that I knew I wanted to try and attend the other events as well. When they announced the date for people to sign up I made my reservations for four people and marked the date on my calendar!

When September 6th was approaching there was some concern about the event being able to take place as scheduled due to Hurricane Irma’s impending arrival, but luckily the weather cooperated and, though humid, we didn’t feel any rain drops!

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The event began at 9:30pm and ran until 1:00am but allowed guests to get in as early as 7pm to “jumpstart the fun”. There were several check-in locations including DVC resorts, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park entrance and a few in park locations as well. My party met at the handy light up event balloons at the turnstiles and checked in with my Membership Card and Photo ID and we were given wrist bands, event guides and one Dino-Rama Game Voucher per person.

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With guides in hand we headed off to Dinosaur for a quick ride and an opportunity to read through and see what our game plan would be to maximize our fun! Wait time for the rides were already low by the time we had entered the park (just after 9pm) and Dinosaur was quoting 15 minutes so we jumped in line. Unfortunately, due to debris in the ride path, our wait ended up being close to 30 minutes.


As we exited the ride area and dumped out into DinoLand U.S.A. we walked right into a Dance Party with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto all dressed up in their jungle gear!

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To the left there was a fun photo opportunity with Donald and Daisy who were dressed as “Duckosaurs”.

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The Duckosaurs had a very long line so instead we headed to Restaurantosaurus, one of the four locations serving the free snacks and beverages (along with a fifth location, Creature Comforts, which had only Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars).

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The complimentary snacks offered were hot dogs, potato chips, snack size baby carrots, snack size apple slices, and a chocolate chip cookie, as well as fountain beverages. The lines were not too long but it was a bit hectic when we got there and it took around ten minutes to receive our selections.

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After our snacks we made our way over to Fossil Fun Games to use our free vouchers for one game of our choosing. The four of us decided on the Fossil Fueler water squirt game and there was a full house of hopeful winners but by some miracle seat three was the winner: me! I humbly accepted my priceless plush prize and went in search of the complimentary glowing drink lantern at the Rivers of Light. The show had two times that evening but our group was not going to be able to make either of them so we asked if we could have the lanterns without attending and they were happy to oblige. Drink mugs in hand we took off for Expedition Everest because who can resist a five minute wait?


Along with Expedition Everest and Dinosaur they had six other attractions open: It’s Tough to be a Bug, Kilimanjaro Safaris (only open until 10:00pm), Primeval Whirl, TriceraTop Spin, Na’vi River Journey, and Avatar Flight of Passage. Wait times were very low except for Avatar Flight of Passage which hovered around an hour for most of the evening. Since all of us were locals and rides weren't a priority we went in search of some other entertainment and ran into another dance party on Discovery Island. Guests were being encouraged to join in on the fun with the many costumed performers while they danced to hits from Whitney Houston and Gloria Estefan.


There were several character opportunities near Discovery Island including Flik, Atta and Slim from A Bug’s Life; and Carl, Dug and Russell from Up. Around the other side you could also find Tarzan and Jane, Pocahontas and Meeko, and Rafiki and Timon. The lines were a bit long for us so we made the decision to come back later.

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Our next stop was the Discovery Trading Company to check out the exclusive event merchandise. The items for sale were a T-shirt and a pin. The T-shirt retailed for $29.99 and the pin retailed for $14.99 and DVC members were allowed to use their member discount as long as they showed their member card and a photo ID.

We finally decided it was time to see how Pandora was doing and were excited to discover that Na’vi River Journey was a walk on with a wait time of 15 minutes posted. Unfortunately, Flight of Passage was still holding steady at about an hour so we decided we were all ready for our free Mickeys Premium Ice Cream Bar! Creature Comforts (normally the Starbucks location) was not busy at all and we had to practically beg them not to give us each more than one of the fast melting treats!

Once our bellies were satisfied, our bodies cooled down and our feet rested we went in search of the character lines and were thrilled to see the Up characters had only a fifteen minute wait! Carl even rode up on his scooter and walked with his cane! The characters took their time with each family and did sign autographs for those who wanted them. PhotoPass Photographers were also available.

It was after midnight when we finished up our photos and the weather seemed to be getting muggier so we called it a night after stopping at the Tree of Life for a quick viewing of Awakening.

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The event was a huge success in this guests opinion. The crowds were obviously much lower than expected with the impending storm and the cast members were all eager to show everyone a good time offering extra food, encouraging people to join in on dance parties and character experiences, and keeping the energy high! The free game voucher and the complimentary glowing lantern mug were an added and unexpected bonus and the chance to enjoy Disney’s Animal Kingdom after dark with low crowds can't be beat!

So, readers, how many of you were at the event? How was your experience?

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom Mug - Customizable - Limited Release

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom Mug - Customizable - Limited Release

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom Mug - Customizable - Limited Release


Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom T-Shirt for Men - Customizable - Limited Release

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom T-Shirt for Men - Customizable - Limited Release

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom T-Shirt for Men - Customizable - Limited Release


Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom T-Shirt for Women - Customizable - Limited Release

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom T-Shirt for Women - Customizable - Limited Release

Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic at Disney's Animal Kingdom T-Shirt for Women - Customizable - Limited Release


September 17, 2017

2017 EPCOT Pin Event - Love is an Adventure

Carol Cruise banner

Another year has come and gone and so has another EPCOT annual pin event.

Love Is An Adventure logo

The “Love is an Adventure” pin event was held August 24th to August 26th this year and while many of us lament that we would have preferred that Disney left the event in September, this year if they had we would have been smack dab in the middle of hurricane Irma!

On February 14th - Valentine's Day - Disney officially announced the dates of the upcoming event on the disneyparksmerchandise.com site. The official "save the date notice" indicated that registration would open April 25th at 1 p.m.

Feb 14 2017 Announcement
Click on the image to see a larger version.

The announcement also stated that there would be no auction or breakfast this year. These were two things that many people would miss, although it didn't bother me as I never participated in the auction and hadn't planned on going to the breakfast.

On April 18th the itinerary was posted and the merchandise catalogue was available.

Itinerary
Click on the image to see a larger version.

This is when the excitement starts to build for me!

I was happy with the look of the pins and started making my wish list. Registration on April 25th went smoothly, without the mad dash for a breakfast ticket there wasn't a need to overload the web site at precisely 1 p.m. so it was an easy process done later in the day. The event did eventually sell out but not until later in June.

The next stage in preparation is completing the RSP (Random Selection Process). This had to be submitted by 11:59 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday, July 18th. The RSP is like a lottery process that is run when you send in your list of pins that you want. There are 1100 registered guest for the event and the pins are all limited editions. Once the RSP has been submitted you sit back and wait for the results.

The e-mail from Disney telling me what pins I got through the RSP arrived July 25th, I was assigned all the pins that I had requested, the e-mail also went on to tell me that I would see the charge for the pins go through my credit card by August 8th. This year annual passholders received a 20% discount. Nice!

My travel plans were a bit different this year. Flying out of Syracuse was extremely pricey and for the first time ever I found a less expensive flight out of Canada. On the day before the event Gary drove me to the Ottawa airport. I caught a commuter flight from Ottawa to Toronto where I met up with Carrie, my travel companion for the event. We had a good flight to Orlando; picked up the rental car and arrived at Old Key West Resort by early evening. We quickly dropped off our luggage and headed to Disney Springs to have a sandwich at Earl's. After enjoying our sandwich and a quick visit with a friend we stopped by the pin store for a few minutes and, of course, a small purchase. From there we went to Guest Services to update passes and coordinate our fast passes. Once that was complete we headed back to the room via the grocery store. It had been a long day and we had to be up early for the Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders breakfast.

Thursday morning came early but we were anxious and excited to be starting the event with the 7th annual Artist Breakfast. This annual event organized by Janis Lavender and John Rick of the Central Jersey Disney Pin Trader group is the perfect way to start the weekend.

Breakfast Buffet

This year it was held in the Durango room at Coronado Springs Resort. This was a bonus as the registration for the pin event was also held there, so that meant we could go right from the breakfast to the registration without leaving the building.

Team Canada
Part of the Canadian Trading Team!

The food was great and the interaction with the artists was wonderful. During the entire time you could see Alex Maher sketching away and those sketches were raffled off at the end of the breakfast to a half a dozen lucky winners.

Alex sketching

We were each give a keepsake button.

Breakfast Button

The artists that joined us this year from the Disney Creative Group (formally called Disney Design Group) were:

Alex Maher - Senior Character Artist, Disney Creative Group
Quynn Kimball - Graphic Designer, Disney Creative Group
Jess Willis - Freelance artist in house, Disney Creative Group
Ariel Silverstein - Freelance artist, Disney Creative Group

Artists and organizers

Breakfast group

When the breakfast concluded at 11:45 a.m. we headed down the hall of the convention centre to the event registration.

Bob welcomes our group

The line was long, it always is, but it gives us time to chat with old friends and meet some new friends. This year we had a very large Canadian contingent attending so we were able to catch up with a few.

More of Team Canada

Our Canadian group is growing!

Our registration package included a welcome pin, our pre-ordered merchandise, a map for the scavenger hunt, a special $30 gift card, and our credentials that held our trading tabs and our ticket for the goodbye gift.

Gift Card

Welcome Gift
Our Welcoming gift.

Once we got through registration we assembled in the big trading room that is open until 7 p.m. for all event registered guests.

Trading Room

This is the area where we opened our packages, checked out our pins and started to trade. This is when we open the Mystery Boxes to see how lucky we’ve been!

Mystery Boxes

The Mystery Box Pins usually become the “coveted pins” of the weekend. This year they were lovely and I wanted them all. There were 16 pins in total, 2 per box. We were shown 8 of the pins before the event and the other 8 were the "chasers". The “known” 8 pins were limited release and the 8 chaser pins were Limited Editions of 250.

You can see where the challenge was!

I was lucky with my mystery boxes, I got several chasers and all of the “revealed” pins, I was able to work the room and actually get all the pins but three on that first day. I was confident that I could find the rest the next day.

Reveal Pins
Reveal Pins - Click on the image to see a larger version.

Chaser Pins
Chaser Pins - Click on the image to see a larger version.

Take a look at the Dumbo chaser pin above. Some of the pins read "Love is Nurturing" and some are blank like mine. Who knows which of the variants will become more collectible over time!

Carrie and I decided to leave earlier than usual and head to Animal Kingdom; neither of us had been to Pandora and we had decided that our mission this trip would be to see it all!

Pandora

We arrived at Animal Kingdom by 5 p.m. and the first stop was something to eat at Pizzafari then off to Pandora. We wandered a bit then tucked into the Satu'li Canteen for dessert.

Dessert

Next we checked out Wind Traders to see the popular banshees found in the Rookery. It was then time for our FastPass+ for the Na'vi River Journey.

The ride was beautiful and we decided that it was something we needed to do again before we went home.

The other item on our list of to-do's was to watch the Rivers of Light; neither of us had seen that either. We slowly wandered over to Asia and arrived a bit early but we were happy to sit under a big fan and cool down. The heat was really getting to us. Soon it was time for the FastPass+ entry into the outdoor theatre and we were seated waiting for the show.

Rivers of Light

Rivers of Light

It was lovely and well worth the wait.

After the show we slowly made our way out of the park and decided to make a quick trip to the grocery store for a few more things. We got lost, turned on the GPS in my phone and navigated our way out of wherever we were. We found the Publix store we were looking for and were soon back to the room. It had been a very long but rewarding day.

Friday morning there was no rush to get there so we took our time getting ready; we arrived at EPCOT about 8:45 a.m. and went immediately to the special event bag check area.

Ruby the sniffer-dog checked out our bags and we were quickly through to the event special park entry line.

Ruby checks a pin bag

Special entrance for traders

We stopped at the Pin Station on our way back to World Showcase, and then joined the line to get into the event at World ShowPlace. The line stretched back past the Canadian Pavilion!

Entry line

It is always long but the doors opened on time at 9:30 a.m. and we were in the air-conditioned room within minutes.

World ShowPlace

We wandered a bit to look at the decor and had our pictures taken to officially kick-off the weekend.

An event character

Postcard

The hall at World ShowPlace

Welcome sign

Artists signing

Then we started with two of the shorter lines. We chose the coffin game and the hatbox game.

Coffin Game

Hatbox Game

The lines at the trade board were very long so we decided to wait until later in the day.

When we received our credentials the day before we got our trading tabs; similar to last year we each received 4 trading tabs per day.

2017 Credentials
Click on the image to see a larger version.

The tabs give everyone a fair chance at getting to the trade boards and boxes.

Trading Tab

I don't mind this feature but I think that 5 tabs would be better. We were both done our trade lines well before the end of the event day.

We had also received a scavenger hunt map that could be completed over the two days. Carrie and I did ours in the morning while the lines were still quite long. I really loved the pin set that we were given when we completed the hunt.

New this year was the event specific merchandise shop, and they had lots of great items with the event logo.

Event Merchandise

There were hats, jackets, t-shirts and more. I was happy to buy the Alex & Ani bracelet to add to my collection.

Alex & Ani bracelet

At noon we headed over to Rose & Crown for our traditional lunch.

Eric and Trisha

I always make Advance Dining Reservations at Rose & Crown for both event days. I like to get out for a break and it is a good chance to visit with friends.

&

After lunch we returned to the event and tackled one of the long trade board lines.

As always, the decor for the event was lavish!

Event decor

Some of the backdrops matched with the pins designed for the event.

Rapunzel's tower

Rapunzel Pin

Do you see the sign in front of Rapunzel's tower? Signs like that were clues in the scavenger hunt!

Scavenger Hunt Map

Scavenger Hunt Pins
These are the pins we won for completing the Scavenger Hunt.

The closing time for the event was 6 p.m. but Carrie and I left a bit early, stopped at Art of Animation on our way to the car and then proceeded directly to Disney Springs. We had dinner at Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar; it was great. I loved the fried chicken!

Carrie with her fried chicken

We were both stuffed when we were done. We took some time to walk off dinner and toured through the shops but the heat was beating us down so we headed back to the room. I suggested to Carrie that we could go for a swim to cool off a bit but her response was, "That seems like a lot of work." so I had a shower instead.

Saturday morning started pretty much the same as Friday, we arrived at the event just as the doors opened and we followed the crowd into the nice and cool World ShowPlace. We did a couple of the shorter lines and wandered around having some fun pictures taken. The photo-ops that were set up for the event offered lots of fun options, including posing with Tarzan and Jane, or the bride from the Haunted Mansion or just dressing up and being silly on the face of a postcard.

Fun with Tarzan and Jane

Haunted Mansion Bride

Haunted Mansion Bride

Haunted Mansion Bride

Postcard

Postcard

After all that posing we were hungry so we headed off for lunch.

Rose & Crown

After our lunch at Rose & Crown we stood in line for one of the trade boards, then I headed to the back room to do some trades and Carrie went off with Jay and Chantel in search of ice cream. Carrie, being the friend that she is, brought me back a Disney favourite of mine, a Cronut, it was yummy.

World ShowPlace was packed

During the afternoon there was a Disney Artist Panel where the artists answered questions that had been written out by the guests prior to their arrival.

Artist's Panel

There was an Artist Pin Signing where you could have the artist that designed your pin sign it for you.

Artist's Pin Signing

There were games that pre-selected guests participated in and could win wonderful pin prizes. Through out the entire two days the Pin Partners Product Previews were set up, showing the upcoming pins from Walt Disney World, Disneyland CA and Walt Disney Imagineering.

The day was coming to a close, we had used all our tabs, even a couple of extras that were gifted to us, I was thrilled with the pins I got off the boards this year; lots of limited editions and artist proofs. Some will go into my collection and some will go into my trade bag. During the Artist Panel the announcement had been made for next year event and I am excited already about it.

2018 Event Announcement

Coming in 2018 Walt Disney's Animation Celebration - Celebrating 95 Years of Disney Animation.

2018 Event Announcement

Of course dates will be announced next year but August seems to be the trend.

One of the last things Carrie and I did before leaving was pick up our farewell gift. We swapped a tab from our credentials for the set of four pins pictured below.

Farewell Gift

We waited until after the final grand prize door prize draw was done before we left the building and as we headed to the car I could feel the rain in the air. We didn't make it; the downpour started just as we walked by the Pin Station and did it come down! We were soaked by the time we got to the car. We had a dinner reservation at Kona Café and our plan was to then go to the Magic Kingdom to watch the Happily Ever After fireworks and then the Once Upon a Time castle projection show. We decided that after dinner, rather than continue in the rain and due to the fact that I was totally soaked, we would go back to the room. It was a good plan.

The event was over for another year, and I give this year’s event high marks. I really enjoyed the decorations; I thought the photo-op setups were fun. The merchandise shop was a nice addition and the gifts were great. I didn't miss the breakfast or the auction. The addition of the artist panel was nice too. The credentials this year were cardboard rather than plastic and I found that they didn't stand up well for the whole event, just a minor complaint though and I would like 5 tabs instead of 4.

Even though the event was over, Carrie and I still had a couple of days to explore Pandora and take in a Halloween Party.

Sunday started off with a rain storm that we sat out in the room and then we headed to Animal Kingdom for our FastPass+ on Flight of Passage. What an awesome ride! Then we met up with friends, Bob, Juanita and Joaquin for lunch at Satu'li Canteen. After lunch we rode Flight of Passage again; it was even better the second time.

By then it was time to head to Disney Springs for dinner at Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar with a group of our friends, 17 in total.

Dinner at The Boathouse

Carrie and I had decided that after dinner we would head over to the Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks. We had a bit of time before it started so we rode the Little Mermaid ride, then found a patch of artificial turf in front of the castle and sat and waited. It was worth the wait; I love the new show.

Happily Ever After

When it was over we went back to Old Key West, met up with another friend for a bit of a chat in the lobby before calling it a night.

Monday we went to some outlet stores in the morning and wasted a bit of time at Animal Kingdom Lodge before heading to Animal Kingdom park for our FastPass+.

Festival of the Lion King

We watched the Festival of the Lion King show, met with our friends the Dobson's, rode Flight of Passage and did the early evening Kilimanjaro Safari.

Cheetah

Lion

Lion

We saw lots of animals and I regretted not having my camera. My phone captured a few good shots though!

After the safari we took a chance on getting a “walk-in” at Yak & Yeti for dinner. We lucked out and could sit at the bar without any reservation or wait. We had a great dinner there and then went back to Pandora to ride Na'vi and Flight again. It was raining and quite dark when we left the park.

Tuesday we were back to Animal Kingdom. We had noticed the tour booth near the safari ride the day before so we thought we would check and see if we could do the Caring for Giants tour.

Animal Tours

Sign up here

We signed up for the 10:30 a.m. tour and were the only two registered so it was a private tour. It was awesome, very inexpensive and very informative.

Caring for Giants

Close-up with the elephants

Our personal guide

I would recommend it if you have an hour to spare. We did one last Flight of Passage and then went to Disney Springs to have lunch at Earl’s. Our plan was to go back to the room, get ourselves packed and rest a bit before the Halloween Party. Mission accomplished!

We met with friends at the Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen and had a great dinner there, then immediately started trick or treating around the park.

Friends at the Halloween Party

It was hot and humid so we took things slow. We visited the pin store and bought a couple of party pins. We were disappointed that some of the pins had been pulled due to a quality issue. We rode Haunted Mansion . . . a must during a Halloween party . . . . then watched the parade and fireworks.

Boo to you

Hitchhiking Ghosts

Headless Horseman

After the last parade Carrie and I said our goodbyes to friends and headed back to the resort. It was over for another year.

Wednesday morning I said goodbye to Carrie, returned the car to the airport, got on the plane to Montreal, transferred planes in Montreal to a 23 minute flight to Ottawa where Gary was patiently waiting to drive me home.

It was a great week and I can't wait to do it again next year!





September 11, 2017

Finishing touches being put on Marty Sklar's last book

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Marty Sklar signs a copy of his book "One Little Spark!" for a fan. [Photo courtesy of Ryman Arts]


Marty Sklar was working on another book when he died on July 27. I can report that the book will be published in the months ahead [more on that later]. It will be Marty's third book for Disney Editions, but fourth book overall. Let me explain:

A few weeks before Marty Sklar's Dream It! Do It! was released in 2013, I received a press blurb from Disney Editions saying how this was Marty's first book.

When I interviewed Marty right after Dream It! Do It! hit book shelves, I mentioned the press release to him and then went on to take it to task.

"This isn't really your first book," I said to Marty. "Shouldn't Walt Disney's Disneyland be considered your first book?"

To which Marty answered: "You know, I guess you're right." Then, in typical Marty fashion, he quickly rebounded. "But this is my first book for Disney Editions."

Walt Disney's Disneyland, credited to none other than Martin A. Sklar, is one of those hidden Disney gems that is well worth the time and effort to get your hands on. I found my first copy at a yard sale in Colts Neck, N.J., back in the 1990s. My wife Janet has managed to secure two other versions via the Internet.

Walt Disney's Disneyland was first published in 1964 and was available at Disneyland's souvenir shops for years. Because the park was always changing, the book was updated periodically as well, to reflect those additions.

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The cover of "Walt Disney's Disneyland," written by Martin A. Sklar.


The book is subtitled: "The behind-the-scenes story of the Magic Kingdom ... of the man who made it possible ... and of the millions of visitors who have helped make it the Happiest Place on Earth."

For the most part, it is a wonderful pictorial of the park's early years, with stunning color photos of the Mark Twain in the evening, with fireworks exploding above; the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad pulling out of the Main Street station; and, of course, many shots of Disneyland's icon, Sleeping Beauty Castle ... all taken during the early 1960s.

But to me, the most endearing aspect of Walt Disney's Disneyland are the words penned by the author.

When Marty was hired by Disneyland in June of 1955, it was largely because of his journalistic background; he was, after all, about to become the editor of The Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper at UCLA. He was hired by Disney to come up with a concept for The Disneyland News, a broadsheet newspaper, with the look of a 1900s-era publication, that would be sold to guests as they walked into the park.

After graduating from UCLA in 1956, Marty returned to Disneyland to work in the publicity department, where he honed his writing skills under the watchful eyes of people like Eddie Meck, Jack Lindquist and Milt Albright, Disney Legends all. His abilities also caught the eye of Walt Disney, who tabbed him to become his go-to wordsmith. Marty wrote Walt's annual reports and the messages he delivered, as well as publicity and marketing materials. He also wrote the script for the legendary Epcot film, which outlined Walt's plans for setting up shop in central Florida.

In Walt Disney's Disneyland, Marty displayed just how talented a writer he was ... a man who truly had the ability to paint pictures with his words. For instance, early in the book, Marty philosophizes about how Disneyland came to be.

"There is a basic truism that governs every success that bears the name Disney: No idea remains very long in its original form. Walt was a builder; his basic materials were ideas. He worked with them, played with them, and finally -- perhaps years after they first found expression -- ideas emerged as tangible realities in motion pictures, television or Disneyland."

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This photo from "Walt Disney's Disneyland" shows the Mark Twain and the Columbia sailing on the Rivers of America at Disneyland.


In the decades following the release of Walt Disney's Disneyland, Marty took on a more important role within the company, primarily with Walt Disney Imagineering. When he retired in 2009, however, he eagerly returned to writing. "When I get the writing itch," he once told me, "I have to scratch it."

He began by writing articles for several Disney magazines, before turning his attention to his memoir, Dream It! Do It!, which was incredibly well received. He followed that with One Little Spark!, which provided aspiring young talents with a road map to becoming an Imagineer.

At the time of his death on July 27, Marty was working on his next book ... a book with "more Disney stories," he told me back in March.

For a few weeks after Marty's passing, the fate of the book was in doubt.

But Wendy Lefkon, the Editorial Director of Disney Editions, has confirmed that she, Marty's wife Leah and his daughter Leslie are currently putting the finishing touches on the as-yet untitled new book.

And it turns out, Marty won't be the only Sklar to have a new book released posthumously. Marty's brother Robert, who was a respected professor of cinema studies at New York University, also was an author. Robert, who died tragically in 2009, penned the book City Boys, which delved into the lives of actors James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield.

City Boys was released in 1992 and has been out of print for many years. The good news here is City Boys is being re-released by Pulp Hero Press in a few months.

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Marty Sklar signed this copy of "Walt Disney's Disneyland" for me at a fund-raising event in 2011 in Orlando, Fla. [Chuck Schmidt]


Even better news: When Marty found out about City Boys return to print, he enthusiastically agreed to write a foreword. We've since learned that Marty had a beat-up copy of the original book in his home office in a mini-shrine he dedicated to his brother, who died in an accident in Barcelona, Spain.

Over the years, Marty wrote dozens of forewords to a wide variety of books, including one of my own. It's safe to say this one was the most important one he had ever written.

Sklars' former neighbor saddened by Marty's passing

I received a number of heart-felt comments after I posted two blogs following Marty Sklar's death. One, from a former neighbor of the Sklars in Anaheim, was particularly touching.

It was from Cecile Posner Fleetwood, who wrote:

"I met the Sklars when we moved into the house next door to them on Alden Place in East Anaheim. The year was 1962. I was 9, my sister was 3, exactly one year older than Howard, and Leslie was a baby.

"The Sklars were a magical family to grow up next door to. Birthday parties included 16mm versions of Disney movies! I remember floating in their pool watching segments of Fantasia, my personal favorite!

"As I got older, I was often hired to babysit Howard and Leslie. My mom was good friends with Mrs. Sklar. They worked together on Sisterhood and other projects at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana.

"Mr. Sklar traveled a lot. It was always exciting to see what new wonders he brought home!

"More recently, last year my sister and I attended a UCLA Alumni event at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, Calif. There he was, speaking about his years with Disney, signing his two books, emphasizing the positive.

"Even though it had been over 40 years since I had last seen him, it was like there had been no time between! He was patient, kind, brilliant. A very sad loss!"

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