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May 2, 2016

You're Stronger Than You Seem

by Laura Schmitt
AllEars Guest Blogger

Laura Schmitt “Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. - AA Milne”

Christopher Robin says the above to Pooh Bear, as they sit side by side. This bear of little brain may not ever bounce high like Tigger, or soar like Owl, but he is always a source of love and strength for the entire Hundred Acre Wood family through his constant simplistic loving nature. Pooh, fluff protruding and stitches popping, manages to pull together an unlikely cast of characters and hold them with the most important strength of all... love and friendship.

If we look at Pooh Bear, we may only notice a worn stuffed toy, but if we focus on the heart of the character, we can find ourselves tumbling into a wealth of strength that bounces and soars. It is because of this bit of magic that we all learn to look deeper while we search for surprises in the world of Disney. Like Pooh Bear, my oldest child hides an extraordinary strength that others will not see by looking with their eyes, but anyone who knows her will experience and appreciate what that really looks like.

Ten years ago, a mom, dad, 6-year-old girl and her 4-year-old sister visited Walt Disney World for the first time. During that visit, the 6-year-old marveled with astonishment at how large Piglet was in person, and how lovely it was to run through the Hundred Acre Wood in real life. All smiles, gasps of astonishment, and laughter, we delighted to such an extreme during that first visit that we went back to Walt Disney World nine times in the decade that followed.

Life brought us many changes during that time. The most notable for my daughter was the introduction of her disease. Our daughter was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a disease of the connective tissue that affects the entire body. For her, this meant a deterioration of her joints and daily shoulder dislocations that have progressed to hip subluxations and fainting. Life turned upside-down for all of us as we tried to smooth all paths for a child who could no longer bounce her way through life.

As EDS has claimed more and more of our child, we found that in Disney World, the magic is "one size fits all." When she could no longer walk, or ride jarring rides, or stand for long periods, we found that in the parks, and with a wheelchair, she could still be that strong little bear who delighted at a towering Piglet and lit up at the sight of a real life castle. Disney offers its magic to everyone in the same loving and inclusive way that Pooh Bear embraces Piglet. He doesn’t look at his frightened little friend and think, "This won’t be for you." Instead, he stands by him and they travel each path together. Disney manages this by allowing access to disabled people through cleverly designed park spaces, handicapped entrances, and wonderfully trained cast members across the parks. The system for transferring to and from a wheelchair is as graceful and easy as stepping in and out of a ride when working with the incredible cast members.

Even the entertainment comes in bursts of spectacle geared for any body's ability. There are new amazements to enjoy, experience and encounter with every new trip to the parks.

Planning for a visit Magic Kingdom over a very busy spring break, we plan ahead and go into the park for an advanced dining reservation before park opening. This helps our daughter by letting her avoid that large and incredibly frightening crowd upon entering the park. We glide from a wonderful breakfast straight to the honeypots that tour us through Pooh’s magical storybook, and laugh the whole time. I don’t know if she remembers her early years of story time on my lap, as we read this very adventure day after day, or if her own readings of A.A. Milne are fresher in her mind, but I watch the words falling from the pages and marvel that we are back in the story, again.

Because the park is flat, and the lines allow the width of her chair, it is easy for us to navigate with her confined to her safe space. From that ride, we move on to other family favorites, all accommodating for her abilities, such as Haunted Mansion, Mickey's PhilHarmagic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and more. If she has enough energy to stay into the afternoon, we watch the parade from the safe wheelchair-designated space roped off by cast members, and maybe even enjoy some dairy-free root beer floats from Main Street.

It can be hard for a bear of little brain to "think, think, think," and in the stories we find Pooh frustrated that he can’t remember what he set out to do. For my daughter, it's hard to see eyes on her for being in a wheelchair. She feels like people are judging her, or wondering what is wrong with her, which from natural curiosity, they may be. You see, she can stand up and walk for a bit, and everything will look completely normal. She does not look like she has a disability.

What others can’t see is that as she freezes and grimaces, her shoulder has slid out of its socket, or her hip has subluxated partially out of its socket. She concentrates on putting it back where it belongs without further injury, and this happens so many times each day, we have given up keeping count. Another thing they cannot see is the blinding, burning, and sometimes numbing pain.

Because May is Ehlers Danlos Awareness month, I wanted to share this with our fellow Disney fans. Like us, you may embrace the parks, the movies, the magic, and we may even see some of you at Magic Kingdom on a day in the near future. I’d ask that you remember that not all disabilities are visible.

Despite the pain and struggle my little bear faces each day, she shows remarkable strength. She doesn’t know it. She meekly thinks of herself as a scared and timid little Piglet in many ways, but the fact that she perseveres through pain, dislocations, and fainting sessions and keeps moving forward is enough to make me cheer for her every day: “You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think!"

At Disney World, where she is included in all aspects of the magic, her laughter soars and her smile bounces throughout our time away. The magic in the air is almost healing in a way, because she seems lighter and happier where it is so easy to be immersed in good times with family and old storybook friends.

There is no cure for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but we keep hoping that the marvels of medicine will come up with something in her lifetime. If Disney has taught us anything it’s that anything you can dream can come true, so we keep raising awareness, dreaming big, and savoring our magical moments together whenever and wherever we find them.

Ten years after their first visit to Walt Disney World, a mom, a dad, a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old girl are heading back to their favorite, inclusive and magical place. The very first thing they will do is stop in for breakfast and a hug from their favorite storybook friends at Crystal Palace. You may even see them as you go about your own magical sort of day. You can be certain that "wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place... they will always be playing." -- A. A. Milne

About the Author: Laura Schmitt and her husband Eric live in Illinois with their two daughters, Taylor and Ella. Laura is a freelance writer, an avid Disney World enthusiast and a nutrition educator who is helping her daughter raise awareness for EDS through

May 1, 2016

Background Sounds and Hidden Messages

Gary Cruise banner

Our friends and family know that Carol and I are avid Disney fans and they often ask us for advice before they visit the theme parks. One thing that we always tell them is, “Take time now and then to simply look around . . . examine your surroundings and notice the level of detail the Imagineers build into everything.”

Look at the architecture, look at the building materials, look at the landscaping and see how they have all been used to create a magical Disney experience.

You probably pass on similar advice to your friends . . . but do you ever tell them to stop and listen? Yes, just stop and listen!

There is a lot of detail in the background sounds that envelop you everywhere you go. Sounds that you may not even be aware of!

When you walk from The Hub and head toward Adventureland, listen to the music that you hear. The gardens are filled with speakers, and while the beat and tempo remains the same, the style of music and even the instruments being played subtly morphs into something completely different as you move from one land to another. Every area in the parks has a unique “loop” of background music and the transition from one to the other is so subtle that you really have to focus on it to notice it at all!

If you keep your ears open, every once in a while you will come upon some quite unexpected sounds. There are some hidden treasures, of an audio nature, tucked here and there around the parks!

Try to find a few of these the next time you’re at Walt Disney World:

• In Town Square at the Magic Kingdom look for the hat shop, Le Chapeau, and find the antique phone on the wall. Pick up the receiver and listen. Children, if you try this you will probably want to ask your parents what a “party line” was. No . . . don’t ask your parents . . . ask your grandparents!

Le Chapeau phone

• As you walk down Main Street USA heading toward Cinderella Castle, take a right turn onto the short lane known as Center Street. Listen carefully and you’ll hear a singing lesson from behind one of the second story windows and the sounds of tap dancing from another window.

Center Street Window

• Take a ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (we old codgers know it as the WEDway People Mover) and listen to the sound track – you will hear “Paging Mr. Morrow – Mr Tom Morrow”

There are hidden treasures at Disneyland too:

• On the right side of Main Street, go into the alley half way down the street, opposite the Carnation Café. Just past the flower cart, if you listen carefully, you can hear a dentist speaking with his patient as he drills a tooth.

• At Star Tours, while standing in the queue, you can hear a voice paging “Egroeg Sacul”. That’s George Lucas spelled backwards.

Star Tours sign

• As you walk through New Orleans Square on Royal Street heading toward the train station listen to the sounds from the windows above the rest rooms. Is that a voodoo queen?

• As you stand on the platform at the New Orleans train station you hear the dash-dot-dash of a Morse Code message. If you know your Morse Code you can interpret the opening lines from Walt Disney’s speech on the opening day at Disneyland. “To all who come to this happy place . . . “

• Just above the book of spells at the entry to Snow White’s Scary Adventures is a golden apple. Touch that apple and you will hear the Evil Queen laughing.

Disneyland - Snow White's Apple.jpg

These are just a few of the unique sounds that add to the immersive experience we all enjoy at Disney parks; you probably have some favourites that I haven’t mentioned.

As you rush through the parks, heading from one thrill ride to the next, be sure to pause once in a while to enjoy the subtle magic in the sounds that surround you!

April 28, 2016

The Mousy Mindboggler - April 2016



If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® newsletter, 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. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here is the solution to last month’s crossword puzzle:

We received 58 correct responses. All of you knew that the last attraction that Walt Disney personally supervised before his passing in 1966 was the Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland. To many guests' surprise when Walt Disney World opened in 1971, there was no Pirates attraction to be found! Incredibly, Disney felt that there would be little interest in an attraction concerning marauding pirates in the Caribbean because of the proximity of this area to the Florida coast. To meet the demands of early guests, a Pirates attraction was quickly created based on the Disneyland version. It opened in 1973, exactly seven years after Walt’s passing.

The winner of a Stitch pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Angela P. of Jacksboro, TN.

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

This month we continue with the special crossword puzzle series concentrating on Disney History. The subject of this month’s puzzle will be, “This Month in Disney History, April.” All of these events happened sometime during the month of April. Please note, for this puzzle ALL of the clues are used.

The object 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

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on May 15, 2016. 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 in mid- to late May.

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


April 27, 2016

Review: Early Morning Magic at the Magic Kingdom

by Guest Blogger Kay Belin

My husband and I had a short Walt Disney World vacation planned when I noticed that Disney was offering something new called Early Morning Magic. I am always one to want to experience what is new in the World so I jumped on this opportunity and made reservations for the first date it was being offered, April 26.


We were told to be at the Magic Kingdom queues around 7:30am to check-in and we would then enter the park to be escorted to Fantasyland at 7:45. Not knowing if early morning buses would be running we hopped in a taxi and arrived in plenty of time. We checked in and received a yellow paper band for our wrists and stood in line for the queues.


It was soon apparent that everyone who had bought this experience was grouped with all those guests who had early morning dining reservations. It was a bit of a crowded experience and a lot of waiting. We waited to go through the queue and then waited again as a mass group right before the entrance tunnel. Then one more time we waited inside the tunnel as a group. I was never quite sure why we had to wait in all of these locations and why the Early Morning Magic guests were not separated from the others. It was confusing for everyone.


When they let us loose it was around 7:45am and it was a calm walk down Main Street to Fantasyland. We did not stop for the castle photo but also did not rush. We were not escorted as the information had mentioned but it was nice to just enjoy an empty park and stroll at our own pace.


The Early Morning Magic event offered three Fantasyland attractions for us to enjoy: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan's Flight. We headed to what we knew would be the most popular choice, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We were met with no lines and no wait and hopped right on and enjoyed our first attraction of the day. When we exited you could go right back to the loading area without leaving the building which was nice.


We opted to head to Peter Pan's Flight and do our next attraction. Again there was no line and no wait and we were on immediately to enjoy my husband's favorite ride. Next stop was the last attraction offered, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and again walked right on. I checked my watch and saw that we had done all three attractions and it was only 8:03am. My question to myself was now what were we going to do for another hour.


My husband isn't a lover of roller coasters of any kind so I decided to head back to the Mine Train and do it again solo. I actually could have done it another ten times if I had wished to ride that many times. They were asking guests to get out of the cars after each trip but you literally could just walk back on.

One of the perks to getting this extra park event was that it included a full breakfast. So that is exactly where we headed next. Breakfast is served in Pinocchio Village Haus located right in the center of Fantasyland.


Two identical buffet sides were set up and the offerings included scrambled eggs, vegetable frittata, two kinds of sausages, bacon, potatoes, fruits, assorted pastries, assorted cheeses and cold meats, and waffles. Two juice flavors were options as well as milk and water. They also had a coffee station offering regular coffee, decaf coffee, and assorted teas. We thought the food selections adequate and everything tasted great. We were not disappointed in the all you can eat buffet that was included in this special ticket. Breakfast was offered until 10am so if you wanted to ride the attractions for the full hour you could still come and enjoy this private dining event once the park opened.


After breakfast I decided to do the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train one last time. It was now about 8:45 and with the park opening at 9am that morning it was good to get the most popular attraction under my belt once again before the crowds descended. What surprised me and disappointed me was the fact when we walked over we saw that the stand-by line was filling up. Why? Because th queue included some of the early dining guests. We had heard the announcement of the park opening show as we left breakfast so didn't think guests could all be there yet but wondered about the crowds building.

I walked through the FastPass line and was immediately stopped by a cast member who asked if I had a FastPass. I was stunned and said no but that I had bought the Early Morning Magic ticket and showed her my yellow wristband. She was hesitant but allowed me to join the line. Yes, I am saying the line now. They were allowing all the standby line guests to enjoy the attraction and I had to join into that line. Of course the wait was not long but I was just surprised that it was inferred that only those guests who paid for this special ticket would enjoy the three attractions until park opened at 9am.

My opinion of this event is mixed. Unless you have family members who are avid Seven Dwarfs Mine Train fans this will not appeal to older children who would rather be on Space Mountain. You will also have to be careful that your group can all enjoy the three attractions that are offered as I saw a few times that young children did not meet the height requirement for the Mine Train and they were very disappointed.

I personally felt that they certainly could have at least two more attractions open such as Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid and Its a Small World as they both are in the same area if they wanted to keep it compact. If not then Dumbo and Barnstormer would be great additions. But three attractions just didn't offer enough to do for the hour in the park. I appreciated not waiting in the long lines those attractions draw during the day but I found we had so much extra time on our hands and didn't know what to do.

The cost for the Early Morning Magic ticket is $69 for adults and $59 for children 3-9. This is on top of the admission ticket you must have for the park that day. It does include a full breakfast and the opportunity to experience three attractions but I felt that was a bit steep. Characters were not out and if they wanted to make it a better value for their guests it would be nice to have one character meet and greet and at least two more attractions open to enjoy. It was difficult for me to find out how many Early Morning Magic tickets are sold for each date but I finally was told that it was around 200 so if this is something you wish to experience you will need to grab a reservation quickly.

Because of the cost of the ticket I hope they will encourage the three attractions that are included to stay open only for the ticketed guests until the published time of the park opening which is 9am. I understand that the Magic Kingdom will often open early if crowds become heavy at the entrance but it was disappointing that with my ticket I lost 15 minutes of private enjoyment of the attractions.

All in all we enjoyed our quiet time in the park but I doubt we will encourage our family to purchase this special event ticket if it is continued past June unless more is added to enjoy.

April 25, 2016

Another school of thought regarding the Walt Disney-C.V. Wood feud

The entrance to PS 160 in the Bronx, aka The Walt Disney School, just across the highway from the site of Freedomland.

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Our last blog, dealing with the contentious relationship between Walt Disney, C.V. Wood and the creation of the Freedomland park in New York City in the early 1960s, generated considerable interest among readers.

In many ways, both men profited from their acrimonious relationship: Disney, because Wood played such an important role in Disneyland's development; and Wood, because he was able to take what he had learned as Walt's aide-de-camp and develop theme parks and other projects of his own in the years after he was booted from Disney's employ.

In addition to Freedomland, Wood and his Marco Engineering firm were responsible for the creation of Magic Mountain theme park in Golden, Colo., and Pleasure Island outside Boston in Wakefield, Mass. In addition, Wood and Robert McCullough [of McCullough chainsaw fame] joined forces in one of the most unique projects you could ever imagine in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

That project involved dismantling, brick by brick, the outdated London Bridge and transporting it from England to the United States, where it was reassembled and became a major tourist attraction. Each brick was meticulously numbered and transported to a container ship, where they then made the journey through the Panama Canal to California. They were then trucked to Arizona, where the bridge was put back together, brick by brick. It was jokingly referred to as the world's largest jigsaw puzzle. The bridge was reassembled and opened in 1971, surrounded by countless English-themed shops and attractions.

Wood also had a hand in the creation of the first Six Flags amusement park in Arlington, Texas. Six Flags Over Texas, as it was originally named, remains a major tourist attraction and helped spawn the Six Flags nationwide brand.

In retrospect, Walt Disney had the last laugh. The success of Disneyland helped solidify the Walt Disney Company as an entertainment juggernaut and the company he founded continues to grow and flourish to this day.

On another level, Walt may be still be laughing at C.V. Wood.

From PS 160's letterhead: The Future Starts Here -- Believe, Achieve, Succeed!.

Over the years, many towns across America have honored the world's greatest dreamer by naming schools after him. To give you an idea, here's a list:

Walt Disney Elementary School - Anaheim, Calif.
Walt Disney Elementary School - Burbank, Calif.
Walt Disney Elementary School - San Ramon, Calif.
Walt Disney Elementary School - Mishawaka, Indiana
Walt Disney Elementary School - Clinton Township, Michigan
Walt Disney Elementary School - Marceline, Missouri
Walt Disney Elementary School - Springfield, Missouri
Walt Disney Elementary School - Omaha, Nebraska
Walt Disney Elementary School - Rochester, New York
Walt Disney Elementary School - Tulsa, Oklahoma
Walt Disney Elementary School - Levittown, Pennsylvania
Walt Disney Elementary School - Alvin, Texas
Walt Disney Magnet School, Grades K-8 - Chicago, Illinois

You'll notice there's one school in Walt's hometown of Marceline, Missouri, as well as one in Anaheim, near Disneyland, and another near the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

One former student at the Walt Disney Elementary in Anaheim remembers her experience at the school: "I was in the first graduating class of those in kindergarten through sixth grade ... representing class years 1959 to 1966. I love those memories and seeing Walt Disney at a school event. What an honor."

In our research, we discovered another school named after Walt, the placement of which is dripping with irony and leaves me wondering if Walt is, in fact, having the last laugh over C.V.?

You see, the school, Public School 160, is located at 4140 Hutchinson River Parkway East in the Bronx, opposite Co-Op City and the Bay Plaza Shopping Center ... the same parcel of land where Freedomland once stood!

According to the school's website: "The Walt Disney School is a dynamic, exciting, and educationally stimulating place where students are encouraged to reach their fullest potential. The motto of our school is: 'The future starts here. Believe, Achieve, Succeed!' The culture of the school emphasizes high expectations, creativity, respect and the cooperation of family, community and school" ... very much in keeping with the ideals Walt Disney himself believed in.

In a recent message to the school community, the school's principal reminded students that "PS 160 in a uniform school. Students should wear navy bottoms [no jeans] and white collared shirts with a red tie. Shoes should be navy or black."

A dress code sounds so much like Disney, doesn't it? No word on whether these uniforms are known, as in Disney parlance, as costumes.

April 17, 2016

A Disney Kitchen

Gary Cruise banner

A few weeks ago we were sitting at our kitchen table when I said to Carol, “We have Disney stuff in every room of the house except the kitchen. Why don’t we have it here too?”

She raised a single eyebrow and gave me that look . . . you know the look that every wife in the world has perfected?
The look that asks the silent question, ‘Are you blind or just plain stupid?’

She pointed in this direction . . .

Kitchen Wall

I got up and took a closer look at the shelf on the wall . . .

Pluto Ornament

Then she pointed down, just a bit lower . . .

I took another close look, this time at the cabinet with the lamp . . .

Fox and Hound and Lady and the Tramp

Next she pointed at the tea cart beside the sliding door . . .

Tea Cart

I found this on the bottom shelf . . .

Disney Basket

Ooops – is it possible I was wrong?

Then Carol stood up and started opening doors and drawers. Not a word was spoken but the message was loud and clear! Our kitchen is full of Disney stuff!

Let’s take a peek at some of it.

Disney Tea Pots and Cups
A Disney Tea Pot, cups, salt and pepper shakers

Disney Trivets
Disney Trivets in a drawer

Cookie Jar and Pepper Mill
A Disney Cookie Jar and Pepper Mill beside the bread box

Disney Coffee Mugs
How could I have forgotten the mugs I drink coffee from every morning?

Disney_towels on the stove
Disney Towels on the stove

Disney Refrigerator Magnets
Disney magnets on the refrigerator

Carol even pulled a few things out and arranged them on our kitchen hutch so I could take a few pictures!

Kitchen Hutch

Disney candles, cutting board and bowl

Disney dishes

So . . . I have to admit it . . . I was wrong! There is a lot of Disney stuff in our kitchen!

How about your kitchen? What Disney stuff do you have tucked away?

April 11, 2016

The story of C.V. Wood and Freedomland, the East Coast Disneyland

The cover of a Freedomland guidebook, with a map of the park.

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney Guest Blogger

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, why wasn't Walt Disney bursting with pride and joy after learning that a former trusted colleague had built his own version of a Disneyland-style park on the East Coast in the early 1960s?

Freedomland USA was located in the Baychester section of The Bronx, New York City's northern-most borough. It was the brainchild of a man named Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood [C.V. for short] and was open for just five seasons, from 1960 to 1964. Despite its relatively short lifespan, Freedomland is fondly remembered by its legions of passionate fans.

C.V. Wood was a key figure in bringing Walt Disney's dream of building a family-oriented theme park to reality in the early to mid-1950s. As Disneyland's General Director, Wood was in charge of purchasing most of the land for the park in Anaheim, Calif., as well as hiring many key personnel who would have both an immediate and long-term impact on Disneyland and, years later, Walt Disney World ... people like Van France and Admiral Joe Fowler.

From left to right, Walt Disney, C.V. Wood and Buzz Price look over plans for Disneyland.

Before Disneyland, Wood worked for the Stanford Research Institute, the highly respected organization which helped [thanks in large part to an analytical genius named Buzz Price] with the site selection of Disneyland.

As close as Walt Disney was to his brother Roy, C.V. Wood was, in many ways, just as close. In fact, when Wood hired Van France [the two had worked together during World War II] to help train all the future Disneyland employees, he told him that "Walt treats me like a son."

However, in the months after Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, the relationship between Wood and Disney soured. There has been much speculation over the years as to why Disney showed Wood the door in early 1956, among them: He might have been embezzling money ... He took too much credit for Disneyland ... Two head-strong individuals like Disney and Wood could never coexist ...

To me, the most logical explanation is that when Walt created WED Enterprises [the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] to assist him in building Disneyland, he unwittingly divided his company: There were the people on Walt's side, all the artists and creative people, and then there were the people who were loyal to Wood. This division just wasn't healthy for the company Walt had founded. After Wood left, he was banned from being mentioned in any and all historical Disney accounts.

Young cowpokes sit on top of a horse-drawn wagon during a ride through the Wild West at Freedomland. [Courtesy of Mike Virgintino]

Suffice it to say that Wood learned a lot while working for Disney during the months leading up to Disneyland's opening and he took that knowledge with him during his post-Disneyland days. He formed a company called Marco Engineering and started developing theme parks of his own. Easily the most noteworthy was Freedomland. In designing that park, he managed to lure several former Disneyland employees to the East Coast to help him breathe life into his vision ... among them, Van France.

The basic premise of Freedomland was to depict the story of America in family-friendly, entertaining fashion. The park was designed roughly in the shape of the United States and was divided into seven themed sections — Little Old New York (representing the years 1850-1900); Chicago (and the year 1871, featuring the Great Chicago Fire); The Great Plains (from 1803-1900); San Francisco (1906, the year the earthquake hit), The Old Southwest; New Orleans (Mardi Gras), and Satellite City (The Future).

As you might expect, there were many Freedomland attractions that were influenced by Wood's Disneyland experience. There were numerous boats sailing on the waters of the property, including two sternwheelers; there was a train ride that went around the park; there were ore buckets that gave you a bird's eye view of the excitement below, and horse-drawn vehicles traveled up and down Freedomland's main thoroughfare, which was lined with stores and quaint shops.

That thoroughfare, located in Little Old New York, greeted visitors with a heavy dose of days-gone-by nostalgia as they walked through the ticket booths and entered the park. The area had a very Disneyland/Main Street U.S.A. feel to it.

The Fur Trapper's ride through the great Northwest at Freedomland USA. [Courtesy of Mike Virgintino]

In fact, Wade B. Rubottom, who had designed Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland as a member of Disney’s prestigious WED Enterprises, was lured away from Disney by Wood’s Marco Engineering firm and he directed Freedomland’s design and layout, particularly the quaint Little Old New York section.

Freedomland, which legendary TV host Ed Sullivan referred to as "Disneyland's equal" during a segment shown on his popular variety show, possessed its own unique qualities. Macy’s had a replica of its world-famous Harold Square store in Little Old New York, while across the street, Eastman Kodak operated a camera store. The Bank of New York set up a real branch in Freedomland and, in addition to conducting financial business, it was the site of lively political debates reminiscent of the 1800s. There even were staged bank robberies from time to time. The area also featured an ice cream parlor, vintage 1890, and a working brewery, hosted by Schaefer Beer.

The rest of the park gave guests a number of memorable experiences, including a Civil War-themed attraction; a rumbling, tumbling earthquake ride; a fur trapper's river ride through the Northwest [featuring a wise-cracking skipper], and a horse-drawn wagon ride through the Wild West.

The plaque dedicated in honor of Freedomland is located near the former entrance of the park in The Bronx, New York. [Courtesy of Mike Virgintino]

Although it lasted just five seasons and closed more than 50 years ago, Freedomland's flame still burns brightly in the hearts and minds of those who visited the park. They even borrowed a phrase coined by Van France in his training guide and call themselves Friendly Freedomlanders.

In August of 2013, after a years-long effort by many of those Friendly Freedomlanders, a plaque was placed near the entrance to the park, in large part to show the world that C.V. Wood's vision had not been forgotten.

The plaque reads:

On this Co-Op City site in 1960-1964 was the entrance to Freedomland USA. "The World's Largest Outdoor Entertainment Center." A true theme park shaped in the map of the United States, with rides, attractions and performers depicting the history of our country in an educational and entertaining manner.

April 3, 2016

Disney Scrapbooking

Gary Cruise banner

Carol loves to create scrapbooks filled with all of our special Disney memories . . . or does she?

Every time we take a Disney trip she picks up a blank scrapbook, a package or two of “scrapping accessories” and gathers every bit of paper she can find. By the time we get home she has brochures, maps, ticket stubs, colourful paper, Disney themed picture frames, bags of embellishments and many other little bits and pieces which will showcase our magnificent story.

All of this stuff is packed into a bag or a folder and then stored in a big plastic bin . . . waiting until she starts the scrapbook.

That’s where the problem arises . . . the starting! You see, scrapbooking moves up and down on Carol's priority list, but it never hits the top of the list!

We now have two big tote-bins full of those carefully saved memories. In those two bins are more than thirty bags and folders, possibly as many as fifty.

Bags and folders full of paper

I'm afraid that counting the "un-scrapped" trips wouldn't motivate her . . . she just cannot find the right time to start scrapping!

The last scrapbook she completed covered our Panama Canal cruise on the Disney Wonder in January 2011. My sweet scrapper is seriously behind and each year she loses more ground!

It has become a running joke with us, I tease her quite a bit about her “someday I’ll scrap” bags . . . but of course I dutifully pick up every bit of paper I can find . . . everything in duplicate in case she has to cut one of them up!

Empty Scrapbooks
The scrapbooks on the bottom shelf are all empty . . . waiting to be filled!

Yes, we’re both retired and we have all the time in the world, but the time for scrapping just never seems to be there. Other priorities seem to pop up!

Then, just a month or two ago, fate intervened. Our friend Carrie also loves Disney and she's a die-hard scrapper. She and Carol decided it was time for a weekend scrap-a-thon! On the appointed day Carrie loaded up her car, bright and early, and drove east for two hours. She pulled in at 9:30 and started unpacking her trunk.

Wow! This girl has a load of “stuff”! She brought a Cricut, a die cutter, boxes and bins full of paper, embellishments, knives, pens, adhesives and a partridge in a pear tree.

Cricut and Die cutter
Carrie's Cricut and Die Cutter


Paper stock

Tool carousel
A carousel full of tools

The scrap-a-ganza took place in Carol’s Disney room! We set up two tables . . . there wasn’t enough room . . . so we set up a few folding TV tables . . . still not enough. The materials overflowed, filling the coffee table, TV stand, couch, love-seat and a few chairs!

Then they spent an hour strategizing . . . I thought it was just another stall tactic, but they explained to me how important it is to get that first page “just right”!

By 10:30 Carrie and Carol were both in action . . . working on an April 2011 cruise on the Disney Wonder. The ship was re-positioning from Los Angeles to Vancouver and it remains one of our favourite cruises ever!

The empty books
The book on the left is filled with our Panama cruise pictures.
The middle book is waiting for the re-positioning cruise.
The book on the right will eventually showcase our Alaska cruise.

They had that first page pretty much finished when I called them for lunch, then they scurried off to get right back at it. They were determined; they were inspired!

The first page

I poked my head in a few times during the afternoon to see what was going on. I was astounded as I watched the Cricut work, moving the paper back and forth again and again as it cut out little letters on coloured paper. It’s an interesting piece of technology and it sure does a nice job!

A finished page

At one point I said, “Hey, what’s going on? Those are the same pictures you were working with two hours ago!” I was invited to leave!

They took a break for dinner then quickly re-immersed themselves . . . vicariously reliving our fabulous two-day stop in San Francisco. I watched some TV, then popped in to say goodnight at 11:00 p.m. The ladies laboured on into the wee small hours!

Sunday morning we all lingered over a pot of coffee and a few muffins, then Carrie and Carol dove in again! Victoria, British Columbia and Butchart Gardens were on the morning’s agenda and they couldn’t wait to get started! Carol loves flowers and she had plenty of great photos from our stop at that world famous destination!

Busy hands

By the time they broke for lunch the ladies had finished documenting our shore excursion on Vancouver Island and our ship was steaming toward the mainland!

The re-positioning cruise was at an end when the Disney Wonder reached the cruise terminal in Vancouver. Even though we were staying aboard to do a back-to-back cruise to Alaska we left the ship for a few hours and took a self-guided tour at Stanley Park. Not long after lunch the pictures from that excursion were framed, embellished and finding their way onto the pages!

Stanley Park

By 2:30 Sunday afternoon it was Fait Accompli . . . the scrapbook was finished. Here are some sample pages; don’t you think they did a magnificent job?

Sample pages
(Click on the image to see a larger version)

It was a very productive weekend . . . but there are still plenty of trips left un-scrapbooked!

Will Carol find the motivation to finish them on her own . . . or will Carrie have to come back and crack her whip a few more times?

March 28, 2016

In greenlighting Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland, Card Walker cemented his Disney legacy

Walt Disney Company president Card Walker, left, and Masatomo Takahashi of the Oriental Land Co. sign an agreement in 1974 to join forces in the creation of Tokyo Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

On Oct. 24, 1982, E. Cardon Walker stepped onto a small podium in front of a giant geodesic dome known as Spaceship Earth and read the following words:

"To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all. May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."

With that short dedication speech, Card Walker opened the gates to Epcot, bringing to a close a decades-long odyssey that began with a sketch on a napkin by Walt Disney. Over that time span, Epcot evolved from Walt's concept of a futuristic city of tomorrow into an eclectic, two-pronged experience: Future World, where technological advances and glimpses into innovative products on the horizon would be displayed, all in an atmosphere conducive to learning; and World Showcase, where several of the world's countries would be able to show off all their nations had to offer ... kind of a permanent world's fair.

Card Walker reads the dedication during opening day ceremonies for Epcot Center on Oct. 24, 1982. [The Walt Disney Company]

Right from the start, Epcot was different, unlike anything that had ever been created before ... or, frankly, since. While most people were blown away by the shear innovative nature of the place, as well as the richly detailed architecture in World Showcase and the product displays [such as cell phones and personal computers] in Future World, some people were puzzled. Many surmised that if the Magic Kingdom was mainly for kids, then Epcot was a place devoted strictly for adults.

For one thing, Epcot in 1982 was devoid of thrill rides and, for that matter, lacking in any sort of amusements for young children. For another, the Disney characters, so prevalent in the Magic Kingdom, were virtual no-shows at Epcot during the early days.

But Epcot, like every other Disney theme park after their openings, evolved and changed to meet public demand, and after a few years, the park hit its stride and became an overwhelming success.

What many people don't realize or appreciate is that during the design and construction of Epcot, Card Walker and the Walt Disney Company had undertaken the unprecedented task of building another theme park ... this one, thousands of miles, one vast ocean and another continent away. A Japanese firm named Oriental Land Co. Ltd. had approached Disney in 1974, inquiring about the possibility of building a Disney park in the Land of the Rising Sun. Oriental Land Co. did an extensive feasibility study, met with many of Disney's corporate leaders and even took them on a helicopter tour of the proposed site.

Building Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland almost concurrently "split our staff quite a bit," recalls former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar. "At the point where we were in the height of construction at the two sites, we were the largest design company in the world. We had to take some of our best people and send them to Japan."

The projects pushed Disney's creative staff to the limit. "It meant that a lot of people were doing double duty," Marty added. "We had to designate people that had to live in Japan because the Japanese had no idea how to do the things that were needed to build a park. We used a lot of outside help in both projects. In building Epcot, there were so many different pieces, so many different contractors. We needed people from just about very craft that you can imagine.

With Cinderella Castle as a beautiful backdrop, Disney's fabled Partners statue adorns The Hub area of Tokyo Disneyland. [Gregg Schmidt]

"In Tokyo, we were dealing with landfill for the first time. [Tokyo Disneyland] is built all on reclaimed land. What they have there is something called differential settlement. Even today, the castle there is actually on jacks, and the jacks have to be adjusted from time to time. One part will drop, because different parts of what's underneath are going to change character ... drop an inch or two. So they're dealing with differential settlement on a regular basis."

While building a Disney park in Japan offered many new challenges, then-Disney president Card Walker had to come to grips with something on a deeply personal level: Some 35 years before Disney and Oriental Land joined forces, Walker served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the war against Japan. He was a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945.

"Card had a really tough time dealing with the Japanese," Marty said. "The hardest part for him was coming to grips with the loss of so many of the people he served with on the carrier. Many of them were his friends."

Walker eventually came to terms with the dilemma and Disney and Oriental Land forged a strong partnership. Eleven years after Oriental Land had begun exploring the possibility of creating a theme park in Japan - and roughly nine years after design and construction had commenced on the Disney-Oriental project - Tokyo Disneyland opened its gates on a rainy April 15, 1983.

A topiary of Mickey Mouse can be seen outside the entrance of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. [Gregg Schmidt]

Before the gates opened, Masatomo Takahashi, president of Oriental Land, and Walker cut a ceremonial tape with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters looking on.

In front of about 3,000 opening-day guests, Mr. Takahashi addressed the attendees from a platform set up in World Bazaar: "On this day, April 15, 1983, I declare the opening of Tokyo Disneyland!"

Card Walker offered the following words of dedication, just six months after doing similar honors at Epcot:

"To all of you who come to this happy place, welcome. Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow. May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of joy, laughter, inspiration, and imagination to the people of the world. And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America."

Soon after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, Walker retired as an executive, but continued to serve as a consultant to the company until 1990. After 61 years of service - which started in the Disney Studios mailroom - Card Walker retired from the board of directors in 1999 and was designated an emeritus member of the board.

He died on Nov. 28, 2005, in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., his legacy firmly established, his contributions to the company legendary ... and his debt to Walt Disney more than paid off.

March 20, 2016

Disney Fun Around The Country - 2016

Gary Cruise banner

About a year ago I wrote a blog describing several Disney fan events that take place around the country.

Carol and I really enjoy them; it’s an easy way for us to keep the magic alive without making that long trek south!

It’s always fun sharing good times with people who also share our Disney affliction!

Whenever I publish a blog describing one of the Disney collectible or trading events we have enjoyed there is a recurring theme in the comments:

• “I wish I had known about this, I live very close by.”

• “I would love to know when this is next year!”

• “That sounds like so much fun; I’d love to go some time.”

So if you’re looking to spend some happy times with fellow Disney fans, here is an updated version of last year’s blog. It’s a list of a few of those “non-theme park events” coming up in 2016.

These can help you put the maximum “Disney magic” in your life!

1. Trade ‘til You Fade – Apr 29-May 1, 2016 – Somerset New Jersey
This weekend-long event, organized annually by Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders, is a fun-filled experience for those who collect and trade Disney pins and Vinylmations.


CJDPT Meeting Room

CJDPT Name That Toon

There are games, raffles and even an optional gift exchange which can be hilarious! Full details are available on the Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders web site HERE.

Read a blog about the 2012 event HERE

2. Southern Ontario “Canadian Disney Addicts”
In June 2015 twenty-four strangers met in a Denny’s restaurant in Whitby Ontario. The only thing we had in common was a love of all things Disney. We spent a wonderful afternoon talking about our happy place, sharing ideas, trading Disney pins and Vinylmations and most importantly, making new friends.

Disney Fans in Whitby Jun 2015

Disney Fans chat about pin trading Jun 2015

Whitby Meet November 2015

You can read about the first event in an AllEars blog HERE.

It was so much fun that we decided to meet every three months. If you live in Southern Ontario please come out and join us at Denny’s Restaurant, 75 Consumers Lane, Whitby from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Upcoming dates are:
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Sunday, Aug 7, 2016
Sunday, Nov 20, 2016

3. Dayton Disneyana – Jun 11 - 12, 2016 – Dayton Ohio
Another wonderful weekend-long event, however this one caters to Disneyana collectors. The Dayton “Plane Crazy” Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club does a terrific job organizing this annual bonanza for Disneyana collectors.

Plane Crazy Logo

A hotel ballroom is chock full of vendors tables overflowing with high quality collectibles. This is not a flea market, these are real collectors selling quality product.

Dayton Collectibles

Lady and the Tramp poster

There are always a few interesting speakers who pass on some fascinating tidbits of Disney history and gossip during afternoon and evening seminars.

Alex Maher and Jim Hill

This year’s event will feature some well known guests:
Margaret Kerry, the original reference model for Tinker Bell
Terri Hardin, a former Disney Imagineer and Puppeteer
Jim Hill, a well known Disney blogger and historian and a very entertaining speaker

A few meeting rooms are set aside so attendees can mix and mingle, there are even some Disney pin and Vinylmation traders.

Busy trading

Full details are available on the Dayton chapter’s web site HERE.

Read about previous events in these blogs:
Dayton Disneyana 2013
Dayton Disneyana 2014
Dayton Disneyana 2015

4. Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet – Jul 9, 2016 – Lynnwood Washington
Carol and I have not attended this annual weekend event held near Seattle, it’s a long way from where we live! But we’ve heard very good reviews from friends who have been there.

Pacific Northwest Logo

There are always some top-notch speakers and interesting activities. Tickets always sell out quickly, so be sure to register early! It's a good idea to book a room at the host hotel for the evening before the event; there are some special activities for those who check-in early!

PNW Speaker Tony Baxter

PNW Photo Spot

PNW Dole Whip

Fellow AllEars blogger Jeanine Yamanaka wrote about the 2014 event, you can read about it HERE.

Arrangements for the 2016 meet are not yet finalized, but you can read more details on their web site HERE:

5. Swap ‘til You Drop – Oct 28-30, 2016 – Somerset New Jersey
Another fun-filled weekend-long event, organized annually by Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders. The format for this event is very similar to the Trade ‘til You Fade event held each spring. Refer to their web site HERE:

So . . . if you’re feeling blue because you can’t get to one of the Disney parks . . . why don’t you plan to attend one of these locally organized fan events!

Disney fans always make a fun-loving group; imagine how easy it is to make new friends when you are surrounded by kindred spirits.

Maybe Carol and I will see you there!

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