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October 17, 2016

Until Shanghai, railroads have been chugging through Disney parks since 1955


Walt Disney, left, proudly surveys Disneyland as the E.P. Ripley pulls into the station on opening day, July 17, 1955. With him are then-California Gov. Goodwin Knight, center, and Fred Gurley, president of the Santa Fe Railroad.

When Shanghai Disneyland opened to the public on June 17, there was one classic Disney attraction conspicuous in its absence.

A railroad.

Disney's creative team, which traveled to China years ago to begin planning the newest Disney theme park [its 12th worldwide], took the unprecedented step of asking residents what they wanted to see included in the park.

A grand circle tour of the property in a classic train powered by a steam engine was not one of them. Since many of Shanghai Disneyland's guests arrive at the park via high-speed, ultra-modern Maglev trains, perhaps those people surveyed had a point.

Still, the idea of a Disney park without a railroad is a bit unsettling.

For much of his life, Walt Disney had a near obsession with railroads. In his youth, he used to work on trains, selling newspapers and snacks to passengers. Years later, he created a miniature railroad in his own backyard, calling it the Carolwood and Pacific. During the years-long design phase of Disneyland, no matter how often concepts would change, one thing remained constant: "It will always be surrounded by a train," Walt would say.

In large part because of Walt's love of railroads, Disney's Magic Kingdom-style parks around the world have always included a railroad. All the lines circle the outer rims of the parks and serve two purposes: To supply weary guests a mode of transportation so they can get from one end of the park to the other ... and to give guests entering the park a nice overview of all the lands they are about to explore ... the proverbial Grand Circle Tour.

The Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad pulls out of a station at the Happiest Place on Earth [Courtesy of Disneyland]

When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad was one of THE main attractions. In fact, during ABC-TV's live broadcast of opening day, co-hosts Art Linkletter and Ronald Reagan were seen at the Main Street train station awaiting the arrival of the steam-powered locomotive E.P. Ripley with Walt Disney aboard. Also on the train were California Gov. Goodwin Knight and Fred Gurley, president of the real Santa Fe Railroad. All were sporting authentic-looking striped railroad engineers' caps.

Following the train ride, Gov. Knight described Disneyland as "a wondrous community with all the charm of the old world and all of the progress and ingenuity of the new world." Gov. Knight would later stand by Walt's side as he gave his famous "To all who come to this happy place ..." welcoming speech.

The Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad certainly embodied an old-world flavor. It took several years for the "steam freaks" [as Disney Legend Bob Gurr calls them] in Disney's machine shops to design and perfect the 5/8ths scale steam locomotives used on the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad. They included Earl Vilmer, Eddie Sargeant, Dick Bagley, Ward Kimball, Roger Broggie and Ed Lingenfelter. All were well-versed -- and extremely passionate -- about steam trains.

Two Santa Fe & Disneyland trains were in operation during the first few years of Disneyland's existence, one modeled after a classic turn-of-the-20th century passenger train, the other similar in design to freight cars. A third style, the so-called excursion model, debuted in 1958. Over the years, forward-facing seating would be changed to give guests a better sight-line of all the magic in front of them.

The Casey Jr. Circus Train has been a mainstay at Disneyland since 1955. [Courtesy of Disneyland]

But Walt and his Disneyland designers weren't satisfied with just one train in the park.

The Casey Jr. Circus Train debuted just 15 days after Disneyland opened, giving the park a second rail-themed attraction. The circus train, modeled after the 1941 Disney film Dumbo, takes guests through an enchanting miniature world populated by scenes from some of Disney's most enduring animated classics.

The fact that the train has to climb a steep incline [remember the film's "I think I can, I think I can" sequence?] during its run gave Disney's designers a big headache early on. "Disneyland's maintenance department built up an enviable expertise in keeping troublesome rides in operation," wrote Gurr in his book Design: Just for Fun [APP-Gurr Design Publishing]. "There really was no way to stop and rebuild things during that first summer season. Just weld and fix, weld and fix."

The Casey Jr. Circus Train "gave us fits," according to Gurr. The locomotive "had a tendency to rear backwards going up Impossible Hill [well named]. Upstop rails had to be added to the tracks right away."

To this day, the attraction is a Fantasyland mainstay. The Casey Jr. train is a fixure in Disneyland Paris as well, but with key a twist: In France, a roller coaster-style track is employed, allowing it to go a bit faster and to take sharp turns with ease. The tubular track also prevents any problems when the train chugs up any inclines.

The Rainbow Caverns Mine Train debuted in 1956 and gave guests a variety of desert-themed scenes to enjoy during their ride. [Courtesy of Visit Anaheim]

A third Disneyland train, the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train through a Living Desert, debuted in 1956. Unlike the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, the Rainbow Caverns train was electric, using battery power to get around. The wooden bodied cars, designed by Gurr, looked like actual ore cars ... the kind you'd expect to see while traversing through a desert. A Nature's Wonderland sequence was added to the trip in 1960 before it shut down for good a few years later.

Gurr had a big hand in designing Disneyland's Viewliner train, which debuted on June 26, 1957. The Viewliner's track layout was located in Fantasyland, where the Mickey Mouse Club Circus had underwhelmed guests from 1955-1956.

Gurr drew his inspiration for the design of The Viewliner from General Motors' streamlined -- and short-lived -- Aerotrain. "I thought it was the slickest thing on rails," he wrote. He even designed the train's power source, modeled after a Chevrolet automobile engine.

The Viewliner's sleek, all-metallic, futuristic design certainly caught guests' attention ... but failed to generate much excitement. The Viewliner lasted a little over a year before closing in September of 1958. It was replaced, in part, by another futuristic mode of transportation: The monorail.

The Walt Disney World Railroad chugs into a station at the Magic Kingdom. [Courtesy of Walt Disney World]

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, a steam train greeted guests, with the Main Street station serving as a welcoming icon. Much like Disneyland, guests on board the Walt Disney World Railroad got a great look at some of the park's attractions ... and an even better look at areas where park attractions would one day be built. Since park staples Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain had yet to make it off the drawing board, the train would leave the Adventureland area of the park and head off into thick shrub- and tree-lined foliage before returning to other developed areas of the Magic Kingdom near Fantasyland.

Unlike Disneyland, the WDW Railroad was the only train attraction for guests in the park when it opened. There was, however, another train that gave "steam freaks" a thrill. That train attraction was located on the Fort Wilderness grounds from 1973 to 1980.

According to David Leaphart, who has authored a superbly researched two-volume set on the Fort Wilderness line, there many misconceptions have arisen over the years regarding the Fort Wilderness trains.

For instance, reports that the trains were 4/5ths scale were incorrect. "That came from a cast member of the Fort in a 1977 revision of the Disney Maintenance Manual," Leaphart said a few years ago. "According to the Imagineers who built the trains, they were full scale, not 4/5ths."

The cost to ride through the wooded campgrounds varied from free to $1. "The operating distance for the trains was 2.6 miles, not 3.5 miles as seen on the Web," Leaphart added.

Leaphart interviewed a number of key people involved in the Fort Wilderness railroad's construction and operation.

"I was lucky to be able to get the details from Vern Conner, who was the trainer for the railroad crew for a couple of years and developed training material," he said. Leaphart also worked with Jimmy Graves, the foreman of the line during its entire existence.

The Wildlife Express Train makes its way from the Africa section of the Animal Kingdom Park to Rafiki's Planet Watch.

Over the years, of course, train-based attractions have popped up in the oldest and newest WDW theme parks.

Big Thunder Mountain was added to the Magic Kingdom landscape in 1980, while the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was a key component of the New Fantasyland makeover a few years back. In Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest includes an exhilarating train ride from the village of Anandapur through the massive mountain in search of the Yeti. There's also the Wildlife Express Train, which carries guests from the Africa section of the park to Rafiki's Planet Watch and back.

Walt's love a trains is alive and well throughout Disney Parks worldwide, with the notable exception of Shanghai Disneyland, where the unmistakable sound of a steam-powered train is missing.

October 16, 2016

The Utilidors at Magic Kingdom

Gary Cruise banner

Did you know that as you walk along Main Street USA at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom you are walking on the second floor of the park?

Yes, it’s true! As you walk through the Magic Kingdom there is a whole unseen world just below your feet. It’s a series of service tunnels which cast members call Utilidors. The name is a mash-up of Utilities and Corridors.

Florida is very flat and it’s mostly made of sand. If you dig a hole almost anywhere in Florida you will find water just a few feet down! That’s why very few homes in Florida have basements; most are built on concrete pads which lay directly on the sand.

Back in the mid 60’s when Disney began construction in Florida the Utilidors were the first thing they built! They didn’t excavate the tunnel system; they built it on top of the ground. Then as soon as the network of tunnels and service areas was completed they began dredging sand to create the Seven Seas Lagoon. All the sand they dredged was piled around the Utilidors and raised the ground level throughout the Magic Kingdom by 10 to 12 feet. Just like that the Utilidors were underground!

Here’s an experiment for you! The next time you are entering the Magic Kingdom, after you’ve gone through the bag-check area, stop for a minute and look ahead toward the Main Street Train Station. Do you see that gentle but steady upward slope? Now turn 180° and face the Seven Seas Lagoon. Do you see the downward slope?

That’s where all the sand went when they created the lake. As you walk up that slope you are walking from ground level to the second floor!

Magic Kingdom Utilidor construction

The picture above shows the construction of the Utilidors. Click on the image to see a larger version. Those cars and trucks in the foreground, at the very bottom of the picture are parked in the Utilidor, in the area that we now know as The New Fantasyland. In the background you can see Cinderella Castle taking shape, and at the very top of the picture are the buildings at the top end of Main Street USA. The Plaza Ice Cream Parlor on the left and Casey’s Corner on the right. The Utilidors run under all of it!

Over the years Carol and I have enjoyed a number of tours at Walt Disney World. I really enjoy getting behind the scenes to get a glimpse of the “backstage” areas and listen to some of the insider information that the guides share with guests.

One of our first tours was the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour at the Magic Kingdom and it remains one of my favourite!

Why was it special? Because we got to go down into the Utilidors!

We weren’t there very long, but it was a real eye-opening experience.

There really is a tiny city down there that is totally invisible to guests just a few feet above!

Overhead are color-coded pipes, ducts, flues and conduits carrying all the necessary utilities to keep the theme park functioning. On the walls are signs and arrows providing directions to the many corners of the park which can be accessed underground.

Underfoot are tiled or polished concrete floors, some with directional stripes like in a hospital to help folks navigate. “Follow the purple stripe to the wardrobe department.”

It’s a hive of activity. People, equipment and merchandise are in constant motion.

There are forklifts moving inventory to the stores and restaurants above, there are cast members walking to work or heading to a break room or a meeting room. There are lockers and lunch rooms for the cast members, wardrobe, makeup and personnel departments. Cast members can even do their banking or get a hair cut in the Utilidors.

As our tour group walked through the main corridor beneath The Emporium we heard a very loud rumble overhead. It was so loud that our tour guide paused in her presentation and continued once the racket had died down. “That was the trash going to the recycling department.” she said.

There is a system of big pipes overhead that form a huge air-powered garbage chute, sort of like a giant central vacuum system. Cast members open hatches located in backstage areas around the park and toss in the trash. It all gets sucked to the central recycling area where it’s sorted for processing.
Not my idea of the world’s best job;
• “paper in dumpster A”
• “plastic in dumpster B”
• “food waste in dumpster C”
• “carefully wipe the sunglasses and cell phones then sent them to Lost and Found”

Magic Kingdom Utilidors

The diagram pictured above shows the extent of the system of tunnels. It extends south to Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, north to the Pinocchio Village Haus Restaurant, east to Tomorrowland and west to Frontierland and Adventureland.

Disney asks guests to refrain from taking pictures while backstage, so I have no pictures of the Utilidors to share with you. The two images I have included in this blog are used in many web sites with no source mentioned. Whoever originally provided the images, thanks for sharing!

There’s plenty more than the Utilidors included in the Keys to the Kingdom tour, but in my opinion the opportunity to walk down those stairs and navigate a bit of the tunnel system was worth the entire cost of the tour!

If you haven’t already done the tour, give it some thought for a future trip!

Details can be found HERE.

October 7, 2016

The Mousy Mindboggler



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!

James writes:

Sorry for the delay this month! Here is the solution to the August crossword puzzle.

We received 43 correct responses; all of you knew that the Omnimover ride system is/was used extensively throughout Disney theme parks around the world, mainly as a way to transport guests safely through attractions, especially dark rides through which it would not be prudent to walk. This transportation system has been used in a multitude of Disney attractions, the first being Disneyland’s Adventure Thru Inner Space, where the vehicles were called “atomobiles.” In addition, they could be found in Epcot’s "World of Motion,” “Horizons” and “Living Seas.” Currently, this system continues to be used effectively in the “Haunted Mansion,” where guests ride in “doombuggies,” the ”Living Seas with Nemo and Friends,” where the vehicles are known as “clammobiles,” and also “Buzz Lightyear,” where guests travel (and even control) their “star speeders."

The winner of a Mickey pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Matt N., of Carlisle, PA.

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: September.” All of these events happened sometime during the month of September. 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 October 27, 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 late September.

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


October 3, 2016

A long-time Disney fan passes away: This is Alice's story


Alice, right, and her sister Estelle - Mickey plush in hand - posed for a photo in the lobby of Disney's Wilderness Lodge in 2010.

Her name was Alice.

She was born in 1924, the third of four children whose immigrant parents came to this country from eastern Europe [specifically, Ukraine and a long-forgotten nation called Prussia]. She lived her early years in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., then grew up in Brooklyn. She graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Queens in 1942.

Her father Michael was a tailor, her mother Mary worked at a variety of menial jobs, often overnight, for very little money. Alice and her siblings lived through the Depression, so money was always tight. But through it all, the bond between Alice and her younger brother Bill and older sisters Therese and Estelle was always strong, always loving.

After World War II, Alice worked in Manhattan and, a few years later, started dating a strapping young man from Queens named Richie, who had served honorably in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force. Prior to his war service, Richie worked at several jobs, including at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, just a short drive from his home in Whitestone.

Alice and Richie were married in 1949 and the two embarked on a 40-year journey together which ended when he died in 1989. Along the way, they had two children, a boy and a girl, lived for a time in Ridgewood, Queens, and then on Staten Island for nearly 20 years before retiring to a community called Crestwood Village in Whiting, N.J.

During those retirement years, Alice and Richie often took motor tours or train trips across the country, to places in Florida, the Midwest or the Northwest, often to attend Air Force reunions. They took these trips in a car or on a train because Richie, the Army Air Corps veteran, refused to step onto a commercial airliner. After Richie's death, Alice expanded her travel itinerary with her sister Therese, taking cruises to places like Alaska, Tahiti, Hawaii, Bermuda and Nova Scotia. "There's nothing like a cruise," she'd always say.

Alice had plenty of hobbies, too: Taking photographs with her trusty Kodak camera, growing and tending to flowers, painting in oils and doing intricate mosaics. Many of the paintings and mosaics she did were of colorful floral arrangements.

Alice was all smiles as she posed for a photo with Chef Mickey Mouse in Disney's Contemporary Resort.

In 1992, Alice's daughter-in-law Janet asked her if she'd like to join her family on a trip to Walt Disney World. She agreed ... and she had the time of her life.

That was the first of many, many Disney trips for Alice. She went to Walt Disney World about a dozen times, sometimes riding on Amtrak's AutoTrain from Virginia to Sanford, Fla. She went to Disneyland in the late 1990s and renewed her love of cruising during two Disney Cruise Line excursions, one to the Bahamas in 2002 on the Disney Wonder, the other to Canada in 2012 on the Disney Magic. Her home was covered with photos and memorabilia from those trips, many showing her smiling alongside Mickey or Minnie Mouse.

Alice took this interesting photo of poncho-wearing guests walking around World Showcase in Epcot during a rain shower.

Some of those photos showed Alice seated in a wheelchair, as her health became an issue during her later years. But the fact that she used a wheelchair never deterred her and, in fact, made her a celebrity of sorts among cast members, who often gave her special treatment.

Alice's last trip to Walt Disney World was during the fall of 2010, when she was 86. Her then-93-year-old sister Estelle, also a widow, went along on that adventure, in part to see what all the excitement was about. Indeed, whenever Alice returned from her many Disney trips, she came back with stories of special experiences, including enthusiastically riding on Splash Mountain, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and her favorite attraction, it's a small world.

Alice reveled in showing Estelle around the Magic Kingdom, which at the time was decked out in all its Christmas finery. She took special pride in pointing out the amazing floral arrangements and topiaries that are displayed so prominently around the property. They posed for pictures together at a number of places, often holding Mickey Mouse plush dolls. They even lined up their matching wheelchairs side-by-side along Main Street U.S.A. to watch, wide-eyed, as the afternoon parade passed by in front of them.

That Disney trip, like her life itself, was filled with wonderful, cherished memories. While Disney was important, first and foremost to her were her children and their spouses, her five grandchildren and her five great-grandchildren.

When Alice passed away on Sept. 21, those Disney memories became even more special to those she left behind. Those precious memories were captured and preserved in the photos of her and the photos taken by her, which fill dozens of photo albums.

Why is Alice's story so special? She was my mom.

When she passed away, her daughter Wendy, my wife Janet and I were at her bedside in the hospital. Since her passing, we have been flooded with a myriad of emotions, most of them happy thoughts of a life well-lived.

That's me decked out in my official Davy Crockett outfit, circa 1955.

She was the one who nurtured my love for music and art. Indeed, she bought me one of those John Gnagy "learn to draw" kits back in the '50s and I honed my artistic abilities while watching him on television. Years later, my mother and I attended art classes together, which are among my fondest memories of her.

She was the one who was instrumental in setting up family trips to Freedomland U.S.A. in the Bronx in the early 1960s and to the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair in Queens, thus planting in me the seeds of affection for theme parks in general and Disney in particular.

She was the one who allowed me to watch the Mickey Mouse Club on our tiny black-and-white TV set after school. And she - caught up in the national hysteria - managed to buy me a complete Davy Crockett costume, right down to the coonskin cap, which I took great pride in wearing.

Alice packed a lot of living into her 92 years. Corny as it might sound, I'd give just about anything to push her up Main Street one last time.

September 19, 2016

Marty Sklar to be honored by Walt Disney Family Museum


Marty Sklar accepts a donation, bound for Ryman Arts, from Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet founder Don Morin, left, and Beci Mahnken, president of Mouse Fan Travel. [Courtesy of Don Morin]

If Marty Sklar knew how hectic retirement was going to be, there's a chance - albeit a slim chance - he might have eschewed jetting around the world and willingly signed up with the checkers and rocking chair crowd.

Marty retired in 2009 after more than 50 years with the Walt Disney Company, serving as the Vice Chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering over the last years of his storied career. In addition to being the only person to have been in attendance at the opening of all 12 Disney theme parks worldwide, Marty played significant roles in Disney's participation at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, the development of Walt Disney World in the 1970s and the conceptualization of Epcot in the 1980s.

Since retiring, life seems to have become more hectic over the past few years for Marty. Prior to hanging up his nametag and earning a well-deserved window on Main Street at Disneyland, Marty was approached by then-Disney Parks and Resort chairman Jay Rasulo about becoming "a Disney Imagineering ambassador." The job description: Keep spreading the pixie dust ... and in doing so, help to enlist more gifted and talented people to join Disney's creative wing.

Marty gladly accepted, in large part because he knows all too well that he is THE main conduit to Walt Disney, having worked side-by-wide with him for more than a decade as his go-to wordsmith. Marty wrote many of Walt's messages, publicity and marketing materials, as well as Walt's annual report. He also got an intimate look at Walt Disney, the man ... what drove him, what inspired him and what his hopes and dreams were for the entertainment giant he founded way back in the 1920s.

Marty Sklar talks to guests at a D23 event. To his right is Disney legend Bob Gurr, while to his left is fellow Legend X. Atencio. [Deb Wills]

Walt Disney is arguably the single most important person in Marty's life, outside of the family he cherishes. So when Marty talks about Walt during his jam-packed presentations around the country, it's from a place that few people have ever been privy to. It's obvious as people listen to Marty speak, they are hanging on every word, eager to soak in all that he has to ell them.

After settling in as Disney Imagineering Ambassador, Marty took his prolific writing skills to a new level: He wrote his well-received memoir, Dream It! Do It! The success of the book and the subsequent - and often strenuous - book signing tour that resulted spawned a follow-up tome, One Little Spark!, which took a deep dive into what it takes to become a member of Walt Disney Imagineering.

On Nov. 1 at Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa, Marty Sklar will be the recipient of the Diane Disney Miller Achievement Award at the Walt Disney Family Museum's second-annual fund-raising gala, putting an exclamation point on a stellar career of making magic. Anyone who is anyone in Disney's vast world will be on hand to show their appreciation to a man who so embodies the spirit, the drive and the inspiration of Walt Disney.

"I'm very honored, and, of course, could not say 'no' when Ron Miller called me," Marty said. Songwriting legend Richard Sherman was the first recipient of the prestigious award last year, named for the Walt's oldest daughter, who passed away in 2013.

Like a passenger on a classic Disney roller coaster, Marty Sklar's retirement years have been much like a high-speed thrill ride. Even though he turns 83 in February, he's taken Jay Rasulo's comment about his appointment - "You are the hardest working ambassador in the world!" - to heart and has flown with it. Literally.

His appearances following the release of One Little Spark! last year are a case in point. "The book tour for One Little Spark! has been going crazy," he said earlier this summer. "I'm just back from the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago – there was an audience of 700 for our presentation. I signed 500 books in five hours!

During his visit to Shanghai Disneyland in July, Marty was interviewed by the Chinese media following the re-release of his book "Dream It! Do It!" in Mandarin. [Cheers Publishing Company]

"Before that, there were 400 people at Fort Worth Museum of Science & History in Texas; 200 at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and 300 for a UCLA event at the Chuck Jones Cultural Center in Orange County, California."

If you get the idea that Marty Sklar is a bit of a rock star in the Disney firmament, you wouldn't be far from the truth. His presentations and book signings draw enthusiastic audiences of the young and the young at heart, all seeking words of Disney wisdom from a master story teller. His talks are fact-based without getting bogged down in too much detail, and they often are sprinkled with Marty's dry sense of humor.

Although the book signing tour earlier this year might seem hectic to most, it was actually a prelude to a series of mid-summer jaunts that probably would have exhausted an Olympic athlete.

It started in mid-July when Marty flew from Los Angeles to Shanghai, China, for the opening of Shanghai Disneyland. Marty had some misgivings about going since, as he put it, "On the other 11 parks, I was actively involved. On 10 of them [except for Disneyland Day One], I had an active part in creating them. Shanghai is different; I've had nothing to do with it."

Bob Weis, Walt Disney Imagineering's current creative leader, thought otherwise. "On my watch, he won't miss any openings. He's far too modest. His imprint is on Shanghai, as it is on all the other [parks]." So Marty was on hand for the grand opening, and even spent some time promoting his two books for the Chinese media. Dream It! Do It!, in fact, was re-released in Mandarin to coincide with the park's opening.

He returned to Los Angeles, only to turn around and fly up to Seattle a few days later for the annual Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, "It's the best-run Disney fan event around," he said. "Don Morin [PNWMM's founder] does a great job and the fans come from all over the country. Saturday's program and sale of Disney stuff was a huge hit. There were 500 in attendance, which included 450 fans [the max] and another 50 sponsors.

The late Diane Disney Miller with songwriter Richard Sherman, the first recipient of the Diane Disney Miller Achievement Award. [The Walt Disney Family Museum]

"On Sunday, Bob Gurr and I did a session together - our usual attempt to be clever and funny and also to convey information about working with Walt."

Marty then flew from Seattle across the world to England to join his family for a special occasion: Grandson Gabriel's graduation from the University of Kent in Canterbury. In doing so, Marty had to pass up on an appearance at a Ryman Arts fund-raiser. Ryman Arts is a cause near and dear to Marty and his wife Leah, both of whom were co-founders of the free arts education program named in honor of legendary Disney artist Herb Ryman.

"The graduation took place in Canterbury Cathedral, which was built in 1100, and was the site of much early conflict between church and state, including the murder of Thomas Becket," Marty said.

During an email exchange after his arrival, Marty noted that the time stamp on the missive "really is 5:45 a.m. I'm getting on a fast train at 8 for Canturbury and Gabriel's graduation."

Following the graduation and spending time with his son Howard and his family, there was another long flight back to Los Angeles and home.

When it was suggested that all of his globe-trotting had earned enough frequent flier miles to qualify for a real-life Mission to Mars, Marty was quick with a quip.

"Actually, I think of my Los Angeles-to-Shanghai, then Los Angeles-to-Seattle-to-London-to Los Angeles madness as Mission to Sklars. That's more than enough for one summer!"

Marty won't have to travel too far from home to receive his award on Nov. 1. And it's only fitting that the ceremonies will be held within the confines of Disneyland, a place that's been a second home to him since 1955.

September 18, 2016

Pixar Party 2016 - A Pin Celebration

Carol Cruise banner
Pixar Party Logo

Last September at the annual EPCOT pin celebration the 2016 event was announced, the theme was “A Pixar Party” and we left with the first of 13 monthly countdown pins. Every month throughout the year a pin would be released at the Disney Pin Trading store in Disney Springs that would create a collection of pins leading up to the upcoming event. The order of the pins released followed the order of the Pixar movies released. The first pin released in October was from Toy Story, the November pin represented A Bugs Life and so on. Each of the monthly releases took us up to August and the Inside Out pin. The final pin was part of the events RSP, it was the Good Dinosaur.

The Good Dinosaur

Countdown Pins.jpg
Click on the image above to see all of the Countdown Pins.

Registration for the event opened up at 2 p.m. (ET) on Thursday April 28, 2016. That was also when you could register for the "Little Chef" breakfast that included a breakfast buffet, trading time inside the Pixar Party venue and a limited-edition commemorative gift pin. I wasn't in a big hurry this year as I had decided to not attend the breakfast; I was told it did sell out minutes after the registration went live. I did my registration for the event in a calm and civilized manner this time.

Registration Web Page
Click on the image above to see more registration information.

The date of the event took a lot of us by surprise, it has normally been held the weekend after Labour Day; we were surprised when Disney announced August 26th - August 27th. That meant we had to do the RSP (Random Selection Process) earlier than usual, the deadline was 11:59 p.m. (ET) Thursday July 14, 2016.

Similar to last year, early registration was held on Thursday August 25, 2016, you had to indicate on your initial registration that you would be attending on the Thursday, otherwise you would have to wait until the Friday to pickup your credentials and merchandise.

Wednesday August 24th
I had booked an early flight, a really early flight so we were up at 3 a.m. Gary was driving me to the Syracuse, New York airport for my 7 a.m. flight. Everything ran like clock work and I was in the rented car in the parking lot at Old Key West by 11 a.m. waiting to meet up with my roommate and friend Carrie. We met up in the lobby, registered and got our purple magic bands.

Old Key West

Our room wasn't ready so we decided that lunch at Earl of Sandwich sounded good. It was my first trip to the new Lime parking lot and I found it to be a breeze.

Disney Springs

We had our lunch then made a few stops, stocked up at the grocery store, checked the outlet store and visited a friend at Fort Wilderness. After all of that our room was ready so we got settled and unpacked. Dinner was back at Disney Springs, we met up with a couple of fellow Canadians and had pizza at Wolfgang Pucks followed by dessert at Ghirardelli's.

By then I was tired, so we said good night to Susan and Alison, headed back to the resort and called it a night.

Thursday August 25th

We had to be up bright and early to get to EPCOT for the 6th Annual Breakfast with the Artist's.

Early Thursday morning
The "Canadian Eh! Team".

This annual event is hosted by our friends John & Sheila Rick and Janis & David Lavender from Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders.

Artist's breakfast

This year it was held in the private room at the Living Seas. The panel of experts from the Disney Design Group had a mix of familiar faces and a few new faces and included: Alex Maher and Ron Cohee - Character Artists, Matt DeWater - Character Artist/Show Artist, Jes Willis and Quynh Kimball - Graphic Designers and Erin Catalano - Product Developer.

Artist's breakfast

Artist's breakfast
John Rick, Sheila Rick, Ron Cohee, Quynh Kimball, David Lavender, Alex Maher, Janis Lavender, Matt DeWater, Jes Willis.

Artist's breakfast

There is always plenty of spirited discussion as the artists answer our questions about pins and other merchandise. The Artist’s Breakfast is always an excellent way to start the pin trading weekend.

Trish and Eric from Ohio
Trish and Eric from Ohio, friends we see every year at the event!.

After the breakfast Carrie and I headed over to the Coronado Springs resort for registration.

Coronado Springs

Event Poster

The line wasn't too bad and we were able to chat with friends and acquaintances that we only see at the event.

A very short line

We were signing for our credentials and merchandise after a mere 45 minute wait.

The Welcome Pin
The Welcome Pin.

Once we had our registration completed we were allowed to enter the pin trading room.

The Trading Room

This room is open for registered event guests from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is where we go to check out our merchandise and open mystery boxes and start trading. The mystery boxes are usually the highlight of the day, everyone wants to complete their set. There are 8 limited release pins and 8 chasers in the set, the chasers are LE400. I wasn't all that fussy about the pins this year so I only bought 3 boxes.

Event Logo Pin
The Event Logo Pin.

Every registered guest received a $30.00 gift card specially designed for the event.

Pixar Party Gift Card

I walked the room several times and made some good trades. I also ran into lots of pin friends that I only see once or twice a year so it was a good to have this time to catch up. After a few hours Carrie and I were getting tired and hungry so we packed everything up and headed back to the resort. We decided to go into Olivia's at Old Key West for dinner.


It is a wonderful relaxing restaurant and the food is always good. After dinner we went back to the room to rest for a bit then headed back to Disney Springs for a couple of hours of shopping and browsing.

Friday August 26th
This was the first year that I didn't register for the event breakfast and it seemed odd not having to rush to get in line. We took our time getting to EPCOT, entered through the special bag check area for our event.

Bag check

Even though I didn't attend the breakfast, I did manage to trade for the special Breakfast Pin!

The Breakfast Pin.

We got in line at World ShowPlace around 9:30 a.m. to wait for the 10:00 a.m. opening. While standing in line we chatted with our neighbours and met another Canadian pin trader; Andrew lives in Quebec but frequents a Canadian Pin Traders Facebook page, so we knew he was going to be there.

Carrie and Andrew
Carrie and Andrew.

Our credentials were the same as last year; they had tabs along the sides that allowed us to go to the pin boards/games. Each person got 4 tabs per day and the tab was exchanged along with 2 of your pins for the opportunity to take 2 pins from the boards. At the bottom of the credential there were 2 more tabs that you tore off in exchange for your parting gift and the scavenger hunt gift.

My Credentials
Click on the image above for a closer look at my credentials.

When the doors opened we immediately got in a line for a pin board. As I waited for my turn I looked around the room. The decorations and themeing were excellent this year, everything was Pixar.

The event hall

One of the games

Here I am with Russell

Up Pin

I noticed that there were fewer boards this year and more game-type trading activities. For example, the Inside Out line, which turned out to be my favourite, had five small doors. Each trip to the game you could open two doors and trade two pins.

Inside Out

This activity was easier for me to focus on what pins were in front of me and I was lucky enough to be close when they did the refresh so I got some awesome pins this year.

“The refresh” is when they remove the used boards and replace them with new boards that have had new pins added to them. The fun pins to get are the AP (Artist Proof) and PP (Pre-Production) pins. The Disney event people go into the vaults and bring out all sorts of wonderful pins from the past and future. There were also a lot of Hong Kong Disneyland pins, several that were parts of puzzles or sets. The boards are generally refreshed every half hour.

Stinky Pete

Posing with Flik

Carrie with Carl Fredricksen

New this year was the scavenger hunt. When we registered we were each given a paper from the Marine Life Institute that we had to complete. Throughout the venue there were clues to help us complete the quotes.

Scavenger Hunt Clues

Once we had filled in all the blanks we took our paper to a designated area to use the decoder. We placed the decoder over our sheet and various words were revealed that gave us the message, “Dory says: Just Keep Swimming”.

Scavenger Hunt form

We took the completed quest to the front of the building to receive our set of pins; we also handed in our tab from the bottom of our credentials.

Scavenger Hunt Prize Pins
Scavenger Hunt Prize Pins.

At noon Carrie, Alison and I headed out to the Rose and Crown for lunch. This is a standing tradition that I started many years ago. I always make Advanced Dining Reservations at Rose and Crown for both days.

Lunch at Rose and Crown

It is good to take a break and get out of the building, plus you need to have a good meal to help you through the very long day.

When we went back into World ShowPlace after lunch we used our last two tabs and then went into the back room to trade. We still had a good amount of time left before the day ended at 6:30 p.m. so I wandered around and looked at some of the pin traders’ books. I was hoping to finish a couple series but didn't have any luck finding what I wanted. I noticed a friend sitting there who had a couple of tabs left on his lanyard. He wasn't going to use them so I traded a couple of pins for them and off Carrie and I went for another go at the boards.


After that we decided to leave a bit early and went over to The Land. I had fast-passes for the new Soarin' ride and we had decided to have dinner at Sunshine Seasons. Just as I was getting up to go towards the ride I heard my name. It was a friend having dinner with her son; it was great to see Cindy and Jonah. It really is a Small World.

After we rode Soarin' we started to make our way to the parking lot via Mouse Gear and the Pin Station. It was a long day and we were tired so we decided that we would just relax in the room and call it an early night.

Saturday August 27th
The second day of the event was pretty much the same as the first day; we arrived at EPCOT, went through the special security area, got in line and entered the venue at 9:30 a.m.

The security dog hard at work

Disney artists
Some Disney artists were on hand to sign the pins they had created.


I was thrilled to have my good friend Beci join us for lunch at the Rose and Crown, it was a very enjoyable hour spent catching up and laughing.

I made some new friends and did some great trades with them, Sarah from Louisiana helped me with the Main Street Mystery pins I was looking for and Krissi & Nancy from New York helped me with the Disneyland It's A Small World Mystery pins.

Nancy and Krissi
Nancy and Krissi.

It was fun chatting with these ladies and realizing that they have read my previous pin blogs.

The silent auction ended on this day at 3 p.m. There is always a flurry of activity around the auction displays.

Silent Auction Displays

Silent Auction Displays

Silent Auction Displays

Time is up

Once I had used my 4 tabs I took some time to visit the Pin Partners kiosks. There are some awesome pins coming out over the rest of the year.

Mickey's of Glendale

Pin Trading Logo

A preview of pins to come
A preview of yet-to-be released pins.

One thing that was missing this year was the Pin Talk. In previous years there has always been an hour-long talk by the Disney event organizers and pin designers with lots of overhead projections and information about what to look forward to in the coming year. The only clue about next year’s event was a slide that was periodically flashed on the screen throughout the day.

2017 Theme - Love is an Adventure

There wasn't a pin released to start a monthly countdown either.

I decided to wander the back room again to fill in some time. As I was looking through some of the books Carrie ran up to me with two tabs in her had. Gabe, another member of the “Canadian Eh! Team” had given them to her, so off we went for one last line. We got lucky; they did a refresh right in front of us so we ended our day with two really nice pins each.

Gabe - the Mystery Box king
Gabe - the Mystery Box king.

The Good Dinosaur

At 6 p.m. they announced the closing of the event, it is always a bit sad when it is over. We said some goodbyes to a few people that we wouldn't see again until next year then cashed in our last tab to pick up our Goodbye Gift.

Goodbye Gift.jpg

Carrie and I made our way over to France and had dinner at Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles; it was yummy. After that we wandered slowly around World Showcase until we got to Norway. I had fast-passes for the Frozen ride and neither of us had seen it yet.

A beautiful sunset

The sun was going down when we came out of Norway and we continued our walk to the car. Again, we were too tired to do anything but go back to the room and relax.

Sunday August 28th
We had lots of plans for the day. We started off going to Animal Kingdom and wandered over to Expedition Everest. We walked through the single rider line and directly onto the first train that pulled in. When we got off the ride we weren't sure what we wanted to do and it was too hot to really enjoy the park, so we made our way back to the parking lot. We drove over to Disney Springs and had lunch at Earl of Sandwich. From there we went to the Hotel B and spent a couple of hours at a pin trading meet that was being held there. After a few trades we made our way back to Disney Springs and met up with a bunch of our friends for a wonderful dinner at The Boat House.

The Boathouse

Dinner with friends

After dinner we went back to Animal Kingdom to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris after dark. I found it to be a waste of time - it was too dark to see anything. We planned to watch the Jungle Book light show, but it was just too hot and we were both tired and still had to pack. We headed home early again.

Monday August 29th
I was up early and drove my suitcase down to the Bell Captain to check it in and get my boarding pass. Once I had done that I went back to the room, picked up Carrie and we were off to the airport; we both had morning flights. We had a coffee at the airport then said our goodbyes. Carrie was flying into Toronto and I was headed for Syracuse.

It was another great weekend and a wonderful event.
I hope to be able to do it again next year!

September 12, 2016

Disneyland Park in Paris: A magical destination with a mix of classic attractions and stunning attention to detail


The entrance to Disneyland Park is located under the beautiful Disneyland Hotel. [Ginny Osborne]

The Main Streets we've come to know and love in Disneyland and Walt Disney World were designed to replicate Walt Disney's hometown in Marceline, Missouri.

When Disney's planners were designing the chief thoroughfare at Disneyland Paris, they could have ditched the traditional Main Street concept and come up with something different ... more European, perhaps, such as a replica of the fabled Champs-Elysees in Paris, the world-renown boulevard lined with cafes, cinemas and shops? [Indeed, there is a connection between the Champs-Elysees and Disney; Walt, in fact, drove along the street on numerous occasions as a member of the Red Cross ambulance corps right after World War I.]

But in the end, the planners stuck with a tried and true formula. "It was always America," said former Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, who was instrumental in the design of Disneyland Paris. "There was a lot of thought about what era of America would be interesting ... there was a lot of support for moving it forward to the age of jazz, motion pictures and motorized vehicles like a Chicago in the 1920s, but ultimately, we dropped it back" to Main Street, circa 1900, around the time Walt was born.

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Park appears to be sitting on a precipice, making it seem as if it's taller than it really is. [Ginny Osborne]

Disneyland Park [or Parc Disneyland, as it's known in France], opened in 1992 and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. It is a truly magical destination and very much in keeping with the design philosophies of the Magic Kingdoms that came before it. But it also is a unique and well-thought-out park with a nice mix of classic attractions from Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The attention to detail throughout the park, particularly on Main Street and in Fantasyland, is breathtaking.

You enter Disneyland Park by walking under the beautiful Disneyland Hotel, which is awash in elegant Victorian architecture, and is very much reminiscent of the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World.

The idea of a hotel at the Main Gate was a bold and unprecedented move, to be sure. "That was clearly an outgrowth of noticing how much effort was spent in the sense of arrival at a lot of the classic destinations throughout Europe," Baxter said. To get to the park's entrance, you walk down several steps and past water features and stunning floral displays. Along the way, there are bricks embedded in the ground with people's names etched on them, a nod to the Walk Around the World concept at WDW.

A "paddy wagon" carrying willing guests rides along Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland Park. [Ginny Osborne]

Once through the turnstiles, you walk into a courtyard, then under the Disneyland Railroad's Main Street station and out into the expansive Town Square. Much like Disneyland and WDW, there's a City Hall to the left and a variety of boarding areas set aside for Main Street vehicles. As you enter town square, you can't help notice the glittering castle off in the distance.

Prominently displayed in the center of Town Square is a gazebo. Walt Disney very much wanted a gazebo in the heart of Town Square in Disneyland and, in fact, one was placed there in the weeks prior to the park's opening in 1955. But it was moved at the last minute when Walt felt it blocked views of both the castle and the train station. There are no such impediments in DLP, so a gazebo fits in nicely.

From Town Square, guests have a choice: They can walk right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A., as the song goes, or they can select one of two indoor arcades located behind the Main Street shops. The arcades [actually, classically designed covered walkways] are elaborately themed. To the left, is the Liberty Arcade, which pays homage to the Statue of Liberty, France's gift to the United States, while to the right is the Discovery Arcade, which celebrates historic inventions and innovations. Guests can access Frontierland from the Liberty Arcade, while the Discovery Arcades leads guests into Discoveryland, Disneyland Park's version of Tomorrowland. You also can enter all of the Main Street shops from the arcades.

A table setting in the elegant Walt's Restaurant, which is open to the public and is located on Main Street U.S.A. [Gail Robinson]

Those who choose to walk up Main Street are greeted by storefronts that are similar in style and design to America's two Disney theme parks. There are even souvenir shops honoring Walt's mother [Flora's] and his wife [Lilly's]. About halfway up the street is Walt's, an upscale restaurant that is reminiscent of the legendary Club 33 in Disneyland.

Main Street leads you to the Central Plaza, the park's hub, and to the forecourt area of the imposing Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant ... or Sleeping Beauty Castle. Until Shanghai Disneyland opened earlier this year, Disneyland Park's castle was perhaps the most unique among the Disney theme parks.

To begin with, the castle appears to be set on a precipice and gives the illusion of being much larger than it actually is ["It's bigger than Disneyland's, but smaller than Walt Disney World's," is how Baxter explains it]. It's quite an impressive structure, with pink siding and blue rooftops on its turrets. It's also trimmed in gold.

La Taniere du Dragon is an impressive Audio-Animatronics figure located in the bowels of Sleeping Beauty Castle. [Julian Robinson]

And then there's the dragon, a massive Audio-Animatronics figure located in the basement of the structure, "delivering on the dream of dragons living in the bowels of these castles." according to Baxter. La Taniere du Dragon is a must-see walk-through attraction. Make sure to stick around to see his massive head and tail move around.

Should you decide to explore the castle even further, there's a staircase that leads you up to the Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant, where you get a close-up view of the castle's stained glass windows and rich tapestries ... as well as a stunning view back down Main Street U.S.A. toward the train station.

The area surrounding the castle is quite large, giving Disneyland Park more than enough room to stage character-themed productions and parades.

The remainder of the park consists of four themed lands, most of which include familiar, though uniquely different, Disney park attractions.


The smallest land in Disneyland Park contains two E-ticket attractions [Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril] and several walk-through adventures geared to younger visitors.

Pirates' Beach and Adventure Isle are attractions where the kids can let loose, exploring secret coves, pirate hangouts and take part in pirate-themed adventures on a pirates' galleon or near the imposing Skull Rock. Le Passage Enchante d'Aladdin features elaborately detailed miniature scenes that depict the story of Aladdin, while the La Cabane des Robinson allows guests to explore the marooned Swiss family's famous tree-top abode.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a thrilling coaster attraction that takes guests over, under, around and through the ruins of an archaeological dig site. There's no shortage of stone idols along the route, and at one point, your ride vehicle spins around a 360-degree loop. Quite a unique adventure.

Pirates of the Caribbean sticks pretty much to the script of the classic Disneyland and WDW attractions, although there are many one-of-a-kind touches that make it a standout on its own. The beginning of the journey takes guests past the Blue Lagoon Restaurant, then into a world populated by scurvy pirates and elaborate Caribbean-themed tableaus. And, yes, the ransacked town will go up in flames.

Phantom Manor, Disneyland Park's version of The Haunted Mansion, is appropriately dilapidated. [Disneyland Paris]


The fact that Phantom Manor, Disneyland Park's version of The Haunted Mansion, was placed in Frontierland might seem a bit perplexing ... that is, until you actually hop aboard a Doom Buggy and experience it first-hand: The last few minutes of the ride are straight out of the Wild West, with a number of six-gun toting spirits populating a series of Western scenes, including a run-down saloon and a dusty graveyard.

The exterior of Phantom Manor, which overlooks the Rivers of the Far West, is a richly detailed recreation of a Victorian mansion, although close inspection reveals it seems to have fallen into disrepair. You walk up a series of stairs [all the while surrounded by overgrown, seemingly unkempt foliage] and onto a wooden porch before you enter the manor itself.

After experiencing the classic stretching room [this one features portraits of a mysterious young woman], you walk into a room laden with portraits that seem to follow your every move. From here, you enter the boarding area, which is more like a large parlor room [and one that's spacious and well-lighted at that] before setting off in search of the mansion's mysterious bride and a variety of other happy haunts.

After the ride ends and you step out of your Doom Buggy, you exit [appropriately enough] through Boot Hill.

Most of the track used for the Big Thunder Mountain attraction in Disneyland Park runs on an island in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West. [Ginny Osborne]

Big Thunder Mountain, arguably the best attraction in Disneyland Park, is located in Frontierland. Those guests who've ridden the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of Big Thunder will be downright thrilled by this decidedly upgraded coaster.

When Disneyland Park was in the design phase, a Tom Sawyer Island was in the plans. But when the designers realized that Europeans didn't have much affection for the works of Mark Twain, they switched gears and incorporated the island and made it an integral part of Big Thunder Mountain layout.

The boarding area is similar to the American Big Thunders, but something is very different as your runaway train pulls out of the station: Instead of going up, you hurtle downward ... into a pitch black cavern. What's happening is you're going under the Rivers of the Far West and out onto the would-be Tom Sawyer Island, where most of the ride track is located.

After spinning around and hurtling up and down, the train goes back under the river bed and careens toward the station. According to Baxter, the train is traveling "at a speed that's the fastest we've ever done on any of our roller coaster rides and it's pitch black."

Other Frontierland attractions include the Rustler Roundup Shootin' Gallery, Pocahontas Indian Village, the Chaparrel Theater and the Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing. [To savvy WDW fans, Thunder Mesa is a recognizable name: It was a planned Western-themed attraction that would have occupied the areas that now house both Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain.]

There's even a Golden Horseshoe-type venue, known as The Lucky Nugget Saloon, which offers burgers, soft drinks and entertainment ... albeit a guy playing cowboy tunes on a piano.


This themed land is packed with many familiar attractions, many geared to families, including it's a small world, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, Les Voyages de Pinocchio, Le Carrousel de Lancelot, Peter Pan's Flight and Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains [Snow White's Scary Adventures]. The latter attraction is very similar to the now-shuttered Snow White ride in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains, or Snow White's Scary Adventures, is reminiscent of a similar attraction now closed in Walt Disney World. [Julian Robinson]

There's also an attraction in Fantasyland that is sure to drive guests bonkers. It's known as Alice's Curious Labyrinth and it's described as "Wonderland's wonderful hedge maze." If you're in the mood to get extremely frustrated, this is the attraction for you.

The Casey Jr. le Petit Train du Cirque is a decided upgrade over its Disneyland counterpart. The most notable difference is the train glides along on a coaster-type tubular track, which allows it to go a bit faster and take turns at a higher rate of speed.

Much like Disneyland, a quaint boat ride [Le Pays des Contes de Fees] through miniature scenes from classic Disney films winds its way around and under the Casey Jr. track layout.


Disneyland Park's version of Tomorrowland also has a mix of classic Disney park attractions, all with a unique Disneyland Paris flare.

Orbitron, for instance, is similar in concept to WDW's Star Jets, although the Parisian version is based on Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of the solar system. And Les Mysteries du Nautilus is an elaborately-themed walk-through allowing you to explore Captain Nemo's fabled submarine from a different perspective.

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and Autopia are faithful recreations of the originals; Star Tours, though, is currently closed and is being updated to the more inclusive Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.

Space Mountain: Mission 2 in Discoveryland has a very distinct look, with a Columbiad cannon serving as the launch area. [Disneyland Paris]

The most visible attraction in Discoveryland is Space Mountain: Mission 2, in part, because the building itself is so imposing, but also because the launch area of the coaster is located outside the multi-hued venue.

Space Mountain: Mission 2 is based on Jules Verne's book From the Earth to the Moon, which featured the Columbiad cannon as the launch mechanism. Guests board the vehicle and are propelled up and into the mountain through the cannon, where they speed beyond the moon and into the edge of the universe.

Oh, one other thing: Space Mountain: Mission 2 is similar to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in that there are a number of loops and inversions to heighten the overall experience.

An aerial view of Disneyland Park. [Disneyland Paris]


The Disneyland Railroad is a great way to get an overview of the park. The interior of the Main Street station is quite detailed and beautiful. The train stops at three other locations in the park: Fantasyland, Frontierland and Discoveryland.

Food options are plentiful in Disneyland Park. The choices in the quick service restaurants are extensive, although Americans may find things get lost a little in translation. At Au Chalet de la Marionette in Fantasyland, for instance, the hot dog on the menu is actually a giant sausage, the chicken is broiled and burgers are served on bagels. And coffee in Europe doesn't come close to what Americans are used to ... it's thick and really strong.

Unlike Club 33 at Disneyland, which is for members only, Walt's is open to the public, but requires a reservation. The entrance and stairway up to the restaurant is lined with Walt Disney memorabilia and photos.

Parades, character meet-and-greets and stage shows are featured during various times of the day at Disneyland Park. The afternoon parade is quite enjoyable, as is the stunning Disney Dreams nighttime fireworks show. Check the program guide for times and locations.

Although a no-smoking policy has been introduced and designated smoking areas are sprinkled throughout the park, many Disneyland Park guests simply ignore it.

The Thunder Mesa Riverboat landing is an homage to the scuttled Thunder Mesa project in WDW, which was the brainchild of Disney Legend Marc Davis. Two riverboats, the Mark Twain and the Molly Brown, ply the waters of the Rivers of the Far West, which encircles the Big Thunder Mountain island and gives guests a great, close-up view of the attraction.

September 5, 2016

Walt Disney Studios: It's Hollywood Studios, with several wonderful exceptions


Guests aboard their "ratmobile" take off for an exciting trip into the world of Ratatouille on Remy's Totally Zany Adventure. [Disneyland Paris]

As you walk through the entrance of the Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris, there's a feeling of deja vu ... you know, it seems as if you've been here before.

The Walt Disney Studios, which opened in 2002, makes no secret of the fact that it takes much of its inspiration from Hollywood Studios in Florida.

First, you pass under an arch and walk into the Front Lot, a formidable courtyard with palm trees and a water fountain, where the Earffel Tower looms large to the left.

Then you walk into the massive Studio 1, where, at first blush, it appears as if you've just stepped in to a carbon copy of Hollywood Studios' entrance area at Walt Disney World ... with one big difference.

In Paris, Studio 1 has a roof.

Walt Disney Studios' massive "opening scene" is actually a pleasant indoor arcade, with many familiar-looking store fronts: There's a red-and-white service station called Sunset Gasoline [similar to Oscar's Super Service in Florida] and shops with names like The Gossip Column, Hollywood & Vine Five and Dime, Shutter Bugs and Schwab's. Like the shops along the main thoroughfares in every Disney theme park, the names on the storefronts belie their true nature: They are either quick service restaurants or souvenir shops.

The Earffel Tower greets guests as they enter The Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris. [Disneyland Paris]

When you exit Studio 1 and into the park proper, you can't miss the welcoming Partners statue, with Walt Disney waving his right hand and his buddy Mickey Mouse at his side. Similar Partners statues grace the Hub areas in the Magic Kingdoms at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

From here, the Walt Disney Studios fan out into three other themed lands: Production Courtyard, Backlot and Toon Studio.

Although Walt Disney Studios is much smaller than Disneyland Park, which is a short five-minute walk away, there is a diverse and interesting collection of attractions – some familiar to Disney regulars, others unique to the park – that make it a worthwhile destination.

Hollywood Boulevard in The Walt Disney Studios. [Disneyland Paris]

Production Courtyard

The Production Courtyard is located just past the Partners statue and features "the wonders of cinema and television." Straight ahead is Hollywood Boulevard, a much more condensed version of Florida's street. There are a variety of Los Angeles-themed building facades and palm trees that will have you California dreamin' ... but looming behind one of those facades is the imposing figure of The Hollywood Tower Hotel, home to the iconic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

If you can get past the fact that "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling introduces "tonight's episode" in French, you'll see many recognizable props in the entrance foyer, the library and the queue area of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. The ride itself, while enjoyable, isn't as elaborate as its Florida cousin; indeed, there seemed to be fewer random drops in Paris.

Catastrophe Canyon is one of two live sets featured during the Studio Tram Tour in Disneyland Paris. [Disneyland Paris]

For Hollywood Studios' nostalgia buffs, the Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic is a blast from the past ... literally. The Studio Tram Tour in Paris is similar - if a bit more elaborate - to the now-shuttered Hollywood Studios version. [Indeed, the Tram Tour is one of several attractions still open in Paris that have been closed at Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World.] There are a host of film props and set decors on display and not one, but two live film "sets."

First, there's Catastrophe Canyon, where a gasoline truck ignites, flames shoot skyward and torrents of water come splashing down. A few minutes later, the tram rolls onto the set of a nearly devastated city of London [you'll know it's London because of the double-decker bus parked in the street], where dragons have caused havoc.

Disney Junior Live on Stage! and Stitch Live! give younger guests a chance to experience television and the movies. Disney Junior Live on Stage! stars many of the characters that have made the Disney Channel such a worldwide success, while Stitch Live! is an interactive experience using technology similar to Turtle Talk with Crush, shown at Epcot and on the Disney Cruise Line.

Perhaps the most unique attraction in the Production Courtyard is CineMagique, a clever look into some of cinema's most beloved movies.

The entrance to CineMagique, a must-see in The Walt Disney Studios. [Disneyland Paris]

After taking a seat in the theater, guests are reminded to turn off their cell phones. As the show begins on the giant screen, there's a rude gentleman off to the side of the stage who is chatting away on his phone [apparently, his luggage was lost at the airport]. When a cast member confronts the man, he gets up and stumbles onto the stage ... and right through the screen and becomes part of the movie.

The rude gentleman, it turns out, is Canadian actor Martin Short, who becomes the unwitting participant in a whirlwind journey through a wide variety of classic movie scenes ... from the silent movie era to Westerns to Mary Poppins to Titanic. It's an extremely fast-paced [there's so much going on, see the show more than once, if you can], funny and imaginative attraction that's pure Disney magique.


This themed land is short on attractions [only three], but packed with action, excitement and special effects. Or so it says in the guide map.

Armagedden: Les Effets Speciaux is billed as "an amazing demonstration of the world of special effects" ... but, frankly, it's outdated and not all that exciting. There's a pre-show that's too long and requires you to stand throughout as a cast member shows off his multi-lingual skills. The main show - you're still standing as you take your place inside the space station set of the blockbuster movie - features loud noises as "meteors" rain down on the station. There's some shaking, and a quick burst of flames. Usually, when you see something for the first time, it's thrilling. This just wasn't.

The Moteurs ... Action! Stunt Show Spectacular is another here-in-Paris-but-gone-in-Florida attraction that's sure to please car buffs. The Walt Disney Studios' version is inspired by the Disney/Pixar Cars 2 movie and features lovable Lightning McQueen.

As was in Florida, the show features coordinated stunts, leaps and skids performed by professional drivers at break-neck speed in cars and on motorcycles.

The final attraction in The Backlot is Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, starring Aerosmith. The setting [Tour de Force Records] of the Walt Disney Studios version of the coaster is quite similar to the Florida version. The pre-show and most of the props also are replicated quite nicely. The ride itself, in the recognizable elongated stretch limo, seemed a bit more jarring than the Florida version, but with similar twists, corkscrews, inversions and thumping music along the way.

The view from the Flying Carpets over Agrabah in Toon Studios. [Julian Robinson]

Toon Studio

Toon Studio is the largest themed area in the Walt Disney Studios and, as such, has the most attractions. It also is home to the best attraction in the entire park.

Most of the attractions in Toon Studio are geared to younger guests. They include Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, Crush's Coaster, Flying Carpets over Agrabah, Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin and RC Racers. In total, it's a nice collection of rides on which parents and children can have fun together, as Walt Disney intended when he first conceived the theme park experience.

There's an Art of Disney Animation attraction, where guests can get a look into how the animation process works.

Animagique is a live show that takes some of the best elements of Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios and Mickey's PhilharMagic at Walt Disney World and combines them into an enjoyable, family friendly production.

Much like Mickey's PhilharMagic, Donald Duck wreaks havoc after disobeying instructions from Mickey Mouse. The setting is a film vault, which allows a host of Disney characters to sing and dance their way through a short history of Disney animation. In the end, all is forgiven and everyone lives happily ever after.

By far the crown jewel of Toon Studios - and, indeed, the Walt Disney Studios - is Ratatouille: L'Adventure Totalement Touquee de Remy or Ratatouille: Remy's Totally Zany Adventure.

The attraction is a richly detailed, cleverly conceived 3-D adventure through scenes from Ratatouille, the 2007 Disney-Pixar movie. The attraction is part of an entire area, opened in 2014, which includes a quaint Parisian-inspired courtyard filled with authentic touches like lampposts and fountains. There's also a restaurant, called Bistrot Chez Remy, as well as a gift shop.

An elaborate Parisian-themed courtyard greets guests as they walk toward the Ratatouille attraction in The Walt Disney Studios. [Disneyland Paris]

The ride's queue seamlessly transports you into what Beth Clapperton, the attraction's art director, refers to as "Pixar's Paris." Recognizable music from the film serves as a pleasing backdrop. Then, as in the movie itself, Gusteau's sign magically comes to life, setting the stage for a trip into Remy's world.

You board a "rat mobile" and are instantly reduced to the size of a rat for a wild ride along some larger-than-life Parisian rooftops and into Remy's restaurant before you're discovered - and hotly pursued - by the notorious Skinner.

The ride vehicles seat six guests, two rows of three, which means that using the single rider line is a great way to beat the long wait times.

The ride system is referred to as a "trackless dark ride." Similar GPS-guided systems exist in Hong Kong Disneyland [Mystic Manor] and Tokyo Disneyland [Pooh's Hunny Hunt]. Basically, although your rat mobile seems to be traveling without rhyme or reason, it is actually moving smoothly through a series of scenes projected onto screens. On those screens, you appear to be moving into the restaurant's kitchen, under tables and into storage areas.

The ride itself, while seemingly frenetic, is actually smooth and not jarring at all, making it a perfect attraction for guests of all ages. Unlike the similar ride systems previously mentioned, Ratatouille's vehicles tilt and vibrate to replicate the movement of actual rats.

Throughout the attraction, the characters speak in both English and French, but in truth, nothing is lost in translation thanks to Pixar's stunning visual effects.

The adventure begins as your rat mobile spins away from the boarding area, following Gusteau's ghostly figure along a rooftop toward the restaurant where Remy will prepare a meal for us. As we enter the first of several projection domes, Remy paces above a glass rooftop window, trying to decide what culinary delight to prepare.

Just as Remy makes up his mind to serve the classic French dish ratatouille, the rooftop window opens and we tumble into the kitchen, where many of Remy's fellow rats are busily preparing meals for the restaurant's clientele.

From your rat's-eye view, we travel from one sequence to the next before the movie's antagonist, Skinner, sees us and a hot pursuit begins. At one point, the rat mobile goes under the oven, where "flames" come perilously close and heat can be felt.

Chaos is the name of the game during the final sequences before we arrive, safe and sound, for dinner with some of Remy's closest rat pals.


FastPass, Disney's innovative system created to cut down on attraction queues, isn't used as extensively in The Walt Disney Studios as in the two American theme parks. Only the real "E ticket"-type attractions have FastPass in the Studios.

Food options are limited throughout the park, with the new Bistrot Chez Remy being perhaps the most upscale. There's also a large fast food cafeteria inside Studio 1 with ample seating.

Next time: Parc Disneyland ... aka Disneyland Park

September 4, 2016

Growing Up With Disney

Gary Cruise banner

♪♫ Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me? ♫♪
♫♪ M   I   C   K   E   Y        M   O   U   S   E ♪♫

As I look back on my childhood, it seems to me that I may have been born at a perfect time and in a perfect place!

I’m not suggesting that I was a perfect kid, but it sure was an ideal time to be a child, and I grew up in a terrific location. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure both the time and the place helped to foster my love of all things Disney!

I grew up in a small Canadian village on the north shore of Lake Erie, about 50 miles due north of Erie Pennsylvania and 80 miles west of Buffalo New York. Television was a very new phenomenon in most households in the mid 1950’s and families would crowd around small TV sets to watch faint, usually snowy, black and white pictures. Their faces were often filled with expressions of awe and wonder as they enjoyed this incredible new technology. I’m sure I was one of the most awe-struck!

Mickey Mouse Club Poster

When the Mickey Mouse Club show first aired on the ABC Network, October 3, 1955, the timing was perfect; I was 7 years old.

Mickey Mouse Club Pin

Because my home in Canada was so close to the American border we could almost always pick up all three of the US television networks. Our strongest signals normally came from the ABC affiliate just across the lake in Erie, but sometimes weather conditions would hamper that signal. When the picture was bad I would quickly run outside, half way around the house, and turn that big tall steel antenna until it pointed east toward Buffalo. Normally we could tune in one station or the other, unless there was a really bad storm!

Every day I rushed home from school to be entertained for a full hour by my new friends, Jimmy Dodd, Roy Williams and all those Mouseketeers!


They sang, they danced, they played games and shared adventures with us. Sometimes they took us to a far-away, new and magical place called Disneyland!

Mouseketeers Sing

Mousketeers Dancing

Fun With Music

Yes, I admit it, like every other boy of my generation I had a huge crush on Annette!


The Mickey Mouse Club often included a newsreel showing current events from a kid’s perspective, but for me the real highlight was the daily episode of the latest serial adventure. Every day there was an exciting 15 minute episode featuring the ongoing exploits of young action heroes like Spin and Marty or the Hardy Boys. It was heady stuff for a 7 year-old boy! I didn’t want to miss a single installment!

Spin and Marty

Spin and Marty magazine cover

Spin and Marty starred Tim Considine as Spin and David Stollery as Marty. They galloped through a seemingly never-ending series of adventures on the Triple R Ranch.

Spin and Marty scene

Spin and Marty scene

Tim Considine also appeared as Frank Hardy in the Mickey Mouse Club’s Hardy Boys serial, his brother Joe was portrayed by Tommy Kirk.

Hardy Boys

Hardy Boys

Hardy Boys comic

I was so engrossed with the Hardy Boys that I made regular trips to the local library and read the entire series of books. Over 60 years later I am still an avid reader of mystery and suspense novels.

Of course there was more Disney on television in the evenings. The whole family joined me in front of the TV set for the Davy Crockett series which aired as a serial on the weekly “Disneyland” show. Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) and George Russell (Buddy Ebsen) negotiated peace with Indians, went to Congress, fought at The Alamo and raced keel boats. Yes, the whole family watched . . . but I was the only one wearing a coonskin cap!

Davy Crockett

Thursday nights were extra special; I was allowed to stay up a half-hour past my usual bedtime to watch Zorro.

Zorro introduction

He was a dashing and gallant hero played by Guy Williams. Somehow Zorro was able to carve his initial into Sergeant Garcia’s uniform week after week, but he never drew a drop of blood!


My little home town (population 3,200) had one small movie theatre with a single screen. My sister and I never missed a Disney movie. My weekly allowance of 25¢ would cover both my admission to the Saturday afternoon matinee and a 10 ounce bottle of pop. That’s what we call soda here in Canada!

Saturday night we always watched “Hockey Night In Canada”; men and boys all across the nation huddled in front to the television to watch our NHL hockey heroes, but Sunday nights were always family nights in front of the TV . . . “Disneyland” at 7:00 p.m.

Disneyland TV introduction

From its first airing in 1954 the Disneyland show acted as a preview for the new theme park taking shape in Anaheim. The opening sequence referred to the original themed lands of the park, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Frontierland.

The Lands

Each week Walt Disney acted as host. He came into our home and introduced the featured show; Walt seemed like a kindly uncle as he explained how that evening’s episode related to one of the themed lands in his new park.

Host Walt Disney

The Davy Crockett adventures I mentioned earlier were set in Frontierland, the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was serialized and Walt explained how those episodes related to Adventureland. There were True Life Adventures, serialized animated features, and cartoons featuring all the favourite Disney Characters.

The Sunday night show changed titles over the years, becoming “Walt Disney Presents” in 1958. Then in 1961 with the advent of colour broadcasts it became “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”.

Wonderful World of Color

There were several more changes in name during the program’s 40 year run, but one thing never changed, the high quality of family entertainment. Walt continued to act as host each week until his death in December 1966.

By the time Walt Disney died I was almost ready to leave the nest, I started my first full-time job in February 1967 and that career lasted almost 40 years!

But throughout my formative years, from 1954 to 1967, Walt Disney was there with me, week after week!

Yes, Canada’s south coast was a great place to be a kid, and a Disney fan, in the 1950’s and 60’s!

°o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°

OK folks, this blog was supposed to end right there . . . but here's a very special postscript.
It's "ADDED BONUS" time!

As often happens, I asked my wife Carol to proof-read this blog for me. She had read about half way through the text when she stopped and asked me, "So, where's your coonskin cap?"

In typical male fashion I said, "I dunno, I probably threw it out years ago."

"Men," she muttered, "What's wrong with them!"

She dropped the papers, walked over to her Tickle Trunk and started rummaging through it.

After a few minutes she cried, "Aha, here it is!" and handed me a big envelope.

It's pictured below, front and back. Click on each image to see a larger version of the picture.

Record Envelope Front

Record Envelope Back
How cool is that? Her very own Mickey Mouse Club phonograph records from 60 years ago!

Carol grew up about 225 miles east of my home but she was also close to the American border and picked up US television signals just like my family did. She was hundreds of miles away watching the same shows I was. Probably about the same time my mother bought me a coonskin cap, Carol's mother picked up these records for her!

I carefully opened up that old envelope and here's what I pulled out!

Map Folder
(Click on the image to see a larger version)

Wow! It was a folding map - six panels with Disney images.

Carol told me the rest of the story. The folder had originally been twice as tall as what appears in the picture above. Beneath each of the five panels to Roy Williams' right was a phonograph record. The recordings were on panels of clear vinyl, containing the recording tracks, glued to the printed card stock paper on the bottom of the folder. Carol very carefully cut each of those records off the folder and then had hours and hours of fun playing them on the families gigantic old HiFi record player.

Here's what the records look like!

(Click on the image to see a larger version)

Why is it that Carol kept a full trunk full of cool old stuff and I threw out my coonskin cap? It was probably the best Disney keepsake I've ever owned!

I'd like to give Carol's records a spin and see how they sound, but we packed up our turntable years ago. I'm not even sure it will play 78 RPM platters . . . but I may have to pull it out of storage and give it a try!

And that, as it's said, is the rest of the story!

It seems to me that both Carol and I grew up in a very special time and a very special place!

August 28, 2016

The Mousy Mindboggler - August 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 the last crossword puzzle.

We received 69 correct responses, all of you knowing that the working name for the UNICEF Exhibit, one of the four attractions planned for the New York World’s Fair, was the “Pepsi Cola Exhibit.” After Disney took control of the project, which Pepsi was unhappy with, the concept was changed to a boat ride system and the name changed to “Children of the World.” After the World’s Fair was over, the attraction was moved to Disneyland in 1966, but Pepsi’s sponsorship was dropped in favor of Bank of America. Pepsi-Cola had sponsored several attractions and restaurants since 1955, but by 1990 those were gone.

The winner of a Goofy pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Rich M. of Philadelphia, PA.

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 is “This Month in Disney History - August.” All of these events happened sometime during the month of August. 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 September 25, 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 late September.

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


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