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March 22, 2017

CORRECTION: The Mousy Mindboggler

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

We owe our readers an apology!

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

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

A few days ago, however, we inadvertently published the crossword puzzle meant for the newsletter in this blog. Oops!

For those of you waiting for the solution to last month's crossword, and anticipating this month's, here are the correct puzzles.

And for those of you who already sent in entries for the crossword that ran mistakenly last week, never fear! Your entries will still be considered for the drawing for the Disney collectible pin!

We are so sorry for the confusion, and appreciate your understanding.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

http://allears.net/ae/mb020717-key.pdf

We only received 37 correct responses, but all of you knew that the organ found in the ballroom scene of the Haunted Mansion attraction in Disneyland Park in Anaheim is the actual pipe organ prop (minus the pipes!) played by James Mason as Captain Nemo in the film, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The exact same organ can be found in WDW’s version of the Haunted Mansion, but it is a replica, as are all of the other Haunted Mansion organs around the world.

The winner of a Donald Duck pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was George M. of Shelton, CT. Congratulations, George!

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

http://allears.net/ae/mb032217.pdf

We will continue this month down the long path of examining Disney’s extensive list of live-action films. Next in line is the combination film called, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,” which included three highly successful television shows about a frontiersman from Tennessee who almost single-handedly put a coonskin cap on every red-blooded American boy’s head. What would Disney do with their unexpected goldmine in popularity? There wasn’t much they could do, because in an unusual lapse in forethought, the main character had been killed off at the Alamo at the end of the third episode!

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

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on April 15, 2017. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog sometime in April.

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

Thanks for playing, everyone!

March 20, 2017

This blogger's been busy: Two new books recently released

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The entrance to Disneyland Park in France goes under the Disneyland Hotel. [Ginny Osborne]

When my first book was published, I had what can be best described as a George McFly moment.

You remember the scene from Back to the Future: Surrounded by his family, George proudly opens a box containing copies of his newly released book. He's obviously excited about adding the title of "author" to his resume as he glances, chest puffed out, at the hot-off-the-press finished product.

Even in this age of portable devices, telecommunications and digital wizardry, it's still quite a thrill to see your name on the cover of an honest-to-goodness, printed-on-paper book. As the author, you know how hard you've worked and how proud you are to see the finished product; the only thing that's left now is waiting on the public's response, which, of course, you hope is positive.

I had another George McFly moment the other day when not one, but two of my books arrived at our doorstep in a plain cardboard box -- the re-release of my first book, Disney's Dream Weavers, and the brand new An American in Disneyland Paris .

I must admit, there's always a bit of trepidation when something you've written "goes public." The hope is that everyone loves what you've written ... the fact is, some people may not. As in life itself, you take the good with the bad.

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The cover of "An American in Disneyland Paris."

It's truly gratifying, then, when an unsolicited comment comes your way from someone you've known and respected for years.

"What great journalism you are doing," wrote Rick Sylvain, the former print and on-line manager for Walt Disney World media relations. "Your deep dive into the personalities that shaped Disney is important reading, not only now, but for future generations. As Charlie Ridgway and others pass on, their stories live on."

Humbling, to be sure, but much appreciated.

And so, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure, that I steer you toward my latest releases:

** Disney's Dream Weavers

** An American in Disneyland Paris


Disney's Dream Weavers was first released in 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing. It was a three-year labor of love that began innocently enough when I filled in for a columnist colleague at the Staten Island Advance, who missed work for several months after surgery.

His column dealt with the people and places on Staten Island in bygone eras from the 1940s into the 1980s. For reasons I can't really explain, I decided to write several substitute columns on Staten Islanders' participation at both the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 New York World's Fairs, both of which were held on the same site in Flushing, Queens.

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The cover of "Disney's Dream Weavers."

The highlights of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair were, of course, the four Disney-created attractions: Ford's Magic Skyway, Carousel of Progress, it's a small world and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the Illinois state pavilion.

I researched the 1964-1965 Fair, corresponded with folks who had attended and also drew on my own experiences as a Fair visitor. As I dug into the Fair, I came upon references to another amusement park popular during that era - Freedomland, which also was open in the early 1960s and was located relatively close to the Fair in The Bronx.

I had attended Freedomland as well, and have fond memories and some grainy photos to prove it. In researching Freedomland's story, it quickly became apparent to me that there was a link [a common thread, if you will] that ran through Disneyland, which opened in 1955, Freedomland [1960-1964] and the World's Fair.

Many of the people who had helped bring Walt Disney's dream of a park where parents and children could have fun together [the people who had, as I wrote, brought Disneyland from "fruit field to fruition"] also made significant contributions to both Freedomland and the World's Fair.

Unbeknownst to most of us, at about the same time Freedomland was shutting down and the World's Fair was in full swing, Walt Disney and some of his trusted lieutenants were scooping up land in central Florida to build what would turn out to be The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

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A German band plays a song in front of the Eastman Kodak building at Freedomland in 1962. The building to the left is a replica of the R.H. Macy's store in Manhattan. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

As the idea of putting together a book on that link among the four venues began to take shape, I was able to score interviews with a number of key people ... like Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Charlie Ridgway, Jack Lindquist, Tom Nabbe and Tony Baxter on the Disney side, and Ben Rossi, Bob Mangels and Mike Virgintino, speaking on behalf of Freedomland. Their combined insight helped, in my mind, to legitimize the book.

When Bob McLain of Theme Park Press agreed to re-release Disney's Dream Weavers, I could think of no better person to write a foreword to it than Mike Virgintino, who grew up near the park as a youth and has written about it extensively over the years. Along with a group of other "Friendly Freedomlanders," as they call themselves, he helped spearhead an initiative that resulted in the placement of a commemorative plaque near where the park's entrance once stood in the Baychester section of The Bronx.

Mike also has been a huge help to me in promoting my books over the years. I'm happy to report that he's currently working on his own book dealing exclusively with Freedomland.

An American in Disneyland Paris came about thanks to my ability to take notes no matter where I am. My wife and Janet and I joined our friends Gail and Julian Robinson on the trip of a lifetime in September of 2015, seven months after I had retired from the newspaper business. We visited Paris, France, Disneyland Paris and then sailed on the Disney Magic for its trans-Atlantic re-positioning cruise. [As luck would have it, also on that cruise were Deb and Linda!]

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Paris, and the Eiffel Tower, as seen from the Montparnese Tower. [Julian Robinson]

The fact that Julian grew up in England and had visited Paris on many occasions over the years allowed us to see the City of Lights not as first-time tourists, but as seasoned visitors [For example: Our trip to the Montparnese Tower, where we were able to view magnificent Paris from 56 stories above, right before sunset]. We saw things that very few tourists see and, if nothing else, his experienced hand allowed us to navigate the complicated underground rail system quite smoothly.

And when it came to Disneyland Paris, both Gail and Julian were park veterans. During our five-night stay, we got to enjoy things we probably might have overlooked, like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Walt's, a Club 33-type restaurant on Main Street that's open to the public.

To top off our trip, we flew from Paris to Barcelona, Spain, where we boarded the Disney Magic for an unforgettable 11-night adventure.

Among the highlights: Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar, where one can see two continents, Africa and Europe, by simply turning your head; a day-long visit to the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira; a number of presentations by several Disney Imagineers, giving incredible insight into what goes on behind the magic; behind-the-scenes tours of the ship, and a glorious finale on Castaway Cay.

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The Portuguese island of Maderia is located off the coast of northwest Africa. [Julian Robinson]

Photos taken by Gail and Julian during the trip enhance the book immeasurably.

Some time in May, another book I had a hand in will be published. It centers around some amazing, real-life adventures experienced by former Walt Disney World boating supervisor Ted Kellogg.

March 18, 2017

Yo Ho Yo Ho – 50 Years of Piracy

Gary Cruise banner

Today is a special day in Disney history!

It was 50 years ago today that one of Disney’s most popular attractions opened! On March 18, 1967 guests at Disneyland were able to take their first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates entry sign
♫ ♪ Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! ♫ ♪

At the time of its opening 50 years ago Time Magazine heralded it as “the costliest and most technologically sophisticated adventure ever conceived as a permanent entertainment attraction, within or beyond the Disney gates!”

It opened to rave reviews and for a half century Pirates of the Caribbean has retained that popularity. It’s a ride Carol and I never miss, between Florida and California I’m sure we’ve ridden it more than a hundred times! That’s probably nowhere near a record though; I wouldn’t be surprised if there are avid Disney fans out there who have ridden thousands of times!

How popular is it? The Pirates attraction has been replicated in Disney parks in Florida, Tokyo, Paris and Shanghai and it has spawned a series of five live action movies.

One other notable thing . . . Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction Walt Disney worked on before his death. He passed away just a few months before it opened to the public.

Walt at work

Walt and a pirate

While I was looking for information on the Pirates ride I took a look in Carol’s Tickle Trunk and found a terrific article published in the Fall 1992 issue of Disney News. The article takes a look back after 25 years and gives a fascinating perspective, from the eyes of those talented Imagineers who brought the pirates to life.

Imagineer Marc Davis, one of Walt's "nine old men", was the principal designer and it’s interesting to hear him disclose his initial doubts about the Pirates project. “I thought, none of this is Disney. When I started reading everything I could find on pirates, I found that few of them were ever killed in sea battles like we’d always heard. Most of them lost their lives by venereal disease picked up in brothels.”

The article is pictured below. Click on each image to read the full text.

Disney News Fall 1992 page 23

Walt Disney assigned the Pirates project to Marc Davis in the early 1960’s and Davis began conceptualizing a walk-through show. He produced some wonderful concept art and storyboards, but when he reviewed them with Walt there was no enthusiasm. The project couldn't seem to get any traction!

Marc Davis

It wasn’t until after the 1964 World’s Fair that Pirates of the Caribbean found the spark that it needed. Davis added the boat system from Pepsi Cola’s It’s A Small World attraction and some Audio-Animatronics like those used in the State of Illinois Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln exhibit. Suddenly Walt was enthused and things began to happen very quickly!

Disney News Fall 1992 pg 24

Can you try to visualize the scene Imagineer Xavier Atencio described in that 1992 article? “We mocked up the auction scene in a warehouse at WED with all the figures working and the dialogue. We rigged up a dolly and pushed Walt through at the estimated time the boats would be going through.”

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall watching as Walt sat on a dolly being pushed by his most trusted Imagineers!

Marc Davis Walt Disney and Blaine Gibson
Marc Davis, Walt Disney and Blaine Gibson

I suspect that almost everyone who rides Pirates of the Caribbean comes out singing or humming, Yo Ho, Yo Ho . . .

Who do you think wrote that song? The Sherman Brothers? That was my guess too, but I was wrong. It was written by Imagineer Xavier Atencio and it was his first attempt at song lyrics. George Bruns wrote the music to accompany Atencio’s lyrics and between them they swatted a musical home run.

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Let’s look at some of the amazing concept art Marc Davis produced as he developed and fine-tuned his designs!

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“Strike your colors, ya brazen wench. No need to expose your superstructure!”

Many of his original pieces were displayed in Disneyland’s “Disney Gallery” in 2003. At he time the Gallery was located in New Orleans Square, directly above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, in the space that is now occupied by the Dream Suite.

Disney Club News Spring 2003
Click to see a larger image

Disney Club_News Spring 2003

Carol and I didn’t get the chance to see Davis’ art while it was featured in the gallery, but we did see it a decade later. In May 2013 some very thoughtful friends arranged a special treat for the two of us. We had dinner at Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33. Wow! After dinner Cast Member Garrett took us on a private tour of the club and pointed out many of the historically significant artifacts that graced the walls. Several of Marc Davis’ original pieces of Pirates concept art were reverently displayed.

Club 33 May 2013
A Marc Davis Pirate sketch hangs behind Lillian Disney's harpsichord at Club 33

Our timing couldn't have been better; Club 33 closed for a major renovation and expansion just after our visit, and the Marc Davis concept art was returned to the Disney Vault.

In that 1992 article Marc Davis is quoted, “You always hope that anything you build will be a big hit. And I think we had a feeling that this one would be a success. But to be as popular now as when it opened? That was too much to hope for back then.”

Another 25 years have gone by since 1992 and the Pirates ride has lost none of its appeal. It is every bit as popular now as it was in 1992; it is every bit as popular now as it was in 1967.

That’s just astounding when you consider the changes we have seen in the past 50 years. The technology used in the attraction is now very old, but it is still as effective as it was half a century ago.

Yes, there have been a few minor changes, Jack Sparrow and Barbossa have been added to incorporate the new movies into the story, but these new characters have been done in a way that is totally consistent with the original designs mapped out by those talented Imagineers over 50 years ago. They fit very well and add to the original story rather than diminish it.

Happy 50th Birthday Pirates of the Caribbean! You don’t look a day over 25!

Now, let’s all celebrate together by singing that wonderful song . . .

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me.
We pillage plunder, we rifle and loot.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me.
We extort and pilfer, we filch and sack.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle and even hijack.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me.
We kindle and char and inflame and ignite.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we're really a fright.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

We're rascals and scoundrels, we're villains and knaves.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
We're devils and black sheep, we're really bad eggs.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

We're beggars and blighters and ne'er do-well cads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

RELATED LINKS:

** Pirates of the Caribbean Magic Kingdom

** Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland

** Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland Paris

** Pirates of the Caribbean Tokyo Disneyland

** Pirates of the Caribbean Disney Pic of the Week

March 12, 2017

BeaverTails

Gary Cruise banner

About a month ago Carol and I enjoyed a Canadian delicacy at FebFest, a winter carnival that takes place in our city every year.

FebFest

Our downtown transforms into a winter wonderland as residents enjoy the outdoor skating rink behind City Hall.

FebFest Hockey

There are hockey and curling games to watch.

FebFest Ice Sculpture

FebFest Ice Sculpture

There are ice sculptures to enjoy.

But the best thing of all – there are BeaverTails!

FebFest BeaverTail Kiosk

FebFest BeaverTail

Do you remember when they sold BeaverTails at EPCOT? Weren’t they delicious?

No, no . . . I’m not talking about the big flat tail from that large toothy rodent! I’m talking about a tasty deep fried pastry which originated in Canada! A piece of dough, about the same size and shape as a beaver’s tail, is deep fried to a golden brown then either dredged in sugar and cinnamon or topped with something gooey and sweet!

BeaverTails products

They are always fresh, never pre-cooked. Your BeaverTail will be in your hand about 20 seconds after it leaves the fryer! Hot and delicious!

FebFest Menu

There are similar pastries sold in other areas, referred to by such names as fried dough or elephant ears, but somehow none of them sound as appetizing to me as a BeaverTail! It’s another uniquely Canadian food!

We unusually eat them outdoors and in the winter so I suspect that the contrast, cold weather and a hot snack, really enhances our enjoyment. I prefer the original BeaverTail, dredged in sugar and cinnamon. That's probably a good thing because I'm a very sloppy eater and Carol would never allow me to try one covered with all that runny, gooey stuff!

BeaverTails were first sold in Killaloe, a small Ontario town about 100 miles north of the city Carol and I call home.

Killaloe

It was 1978 when Grant and Pam Hooker sold their first pastries at the Killaloe Craft and Community Fair. They were an instant hit! It wasn’t long before the Hookers were busy every weekend, traveling all over eastern Ontario selling their delicious hot pastries at festivals and county fairs.

Two years later, the Hookers opened up the first BeaverTails store at the Byward Market in nearby Ottawa.

BeaverTails Byward Market Store

It was an instant success!

President Obama at the Byward Market

President Obama stopped at the Byward Market for a BeaverTail in February 2009.

Soon BeaverTails were selling like crazy along the world’s longest skating rink. Every winter Canadians enjoy skating along a 7.8 kilometre (4.8 mile) stretch of the historic Rideau Canal as it winds its way through downtown Ottawa.

Rideau Canal Skateway

Usually it is frozen by early January and ploughs and zambonis are used to keep it clean and fresh for skaters until the end of February. Food trucks and refreshment kiosks are a common sight on the ice along the sides of the canal and the BeaverTail stand always has the longest line of skaters waiting for a delicious treat!

Rideau Canal BeaverTail Kiosk

Today there are more than a hundred BeaverTail outlets across Canada; most of the permanent stores are in high traffic tourist areas.

BeaverTail Mobile Kiosk

BeaverTail Truck

There are mobile units and food trucks that travel to festivals and events, like the one Carol and I bought our pastries from a few weeks ago at FebFest!

You can find BeaverTails at most ski resorts in Canada.

BeaverTails at Mont Tremblant
Mont Tremblant in Quebec

Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver BC

You can buy BeaverTails at Niagara Falls.

BeaverTails Niagara Falls

You can buy BeaverTails in Dubai, Tokyo and South Korea.

BeaverTails Japan

BeaverTails Japan Menu

But you can’t buy a BeaverTail at EPCOT. What’s with that?

What do you think folks? Does Disney need to bring back the BeaverTail?

March 6, 2017

Disney Legend Marty Sklar learns that inspiration can be a two-way street

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Marty Sklar, center, poses for a photo after his presentation at the Festival of the Arts in Epcot in February. From the left are Julian Robinson, Chuck Schmidt, Marty, Janet Schmidt and Gail Robinson. [Courtesy of Gail and Julian Robinson]


"One little spark, of inspiration, is at the heart, of all creation." - Richard and Robert Sherman

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes, all you need to be inspired is just one little spark.

Take, for example, the young woman who told an inspirational story during a question-and-answer session at a recent Festival of the Arts workshop conducted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar in the Odyssey Festival Center in Epcot.

"This is more of a comment than a question," she began. "I was trying to decide what type of career path I wanted to take when my college professor suggested that I read your book, One Little Spark! I did, and it inspired me to pursue a career as an Imagineer. I'm currently working as an intern with Walt Disney Imagineering."

Add that woman to the very long list of people Marty Sklar has inspired over the years. And, in a roundabout way, add Marty Sklar to the list of people the woman has inspired during her still-young career. More on that later.

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The artwork of both Herb Ryman, above, and Mary Blair were on display at the Odyssey Festival Center at Epcot during the inaugural Festival of the Arts. [AllEars.Net]

Marty's workshop at the Festival of the Arts was part of a troika of appearances by the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering at his beloved Epcot: There was the sold-out presentation at the Odyssey on Feb. 11, then a book signing on Feb. 12 in the Art of Disney at Epcot, and finally a return to the Odyssey on Feb. 13 for a talk about the artwork of Disney Legends Herb Ryman and Mary Blair.

During his Feb. 11 workshop, Marty talked about his two books, Dream It! Do It! and the aforementioned One Little Spark!

"My first book was sort of takeoff on one of my favorite songs, '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,' by Paul Simon, although that in no way reflects my real life. My wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary on May 12th.

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Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar have done a number of Disney events over the years, the most recent being a presentation at the Texas Transportation Forum. [AllEars.Net]

"It was more about 50 ways to get started. Nothing I had done prepared me to write Dream It! Do It! I first had to come to grips with the question: 'Do I really have something worthwhile to say?' In the end, I found out that writing a book takes a lot of patience, research and flexibility.

"And every writer needs a good editor and I was fortunate to have been able to work with Wendy Lefkon from Disney Editions. Her support and help, particularly with accessing material from the Disney Archives, was very important."

His follow-up book, One Little Spark!, took a deep dive into the world of Imagineering. It also provided a guide map for people aspiring to join the Walt Disney Company's much-heralded and respected creative wing.

Both of Marty's books have been unqualified successes and have resulted in book-signing tours over the last few years that have literally spanned the globe ... from Shanghai, China, to Toms River, N.J. "I just signed a contract with a Brazilian publisher for Portuguese editions of both books," Marty said. "Dream It! Do It! already has Japanese and Mandarin Chinese versions."

I asked Marty if there is another book in the works. That's when I learned that inspiration can be a two-way street.

"Yes, I've started working on another book, but it's hard to get motivated," he admitted. "But the Festival of the Arts audiences – including my separate book signing on Sunday – have inspired me to get moving."

During his workshop on Saturday, Marty said he was "really excited about the first-ever Festival of the Arts. It's wonderful to see the works of the Disney artists on display her at Epcot. Forgive me if I get a bit emotional. I worked on Epcot from 1973 until it opened in October of 1982 ... almost 35 years ago. Today, Epcot is the sixth-most visited park in the world. It's great to see the arts have joined in the fun here."

Inside the Odyssey, some of the works of Legendary Disney artists Herb Ryman and Mary Blair were on display, serving as a fitting backdrop to Marty's presentation, as well as the Festival in general.

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A poster advertising the Texas Transportation Forum had a very Disney feel to it.

Marty's appearance at Epcot capped off another whirlwind stretch for the now 83-year-old. Prior to his Epcot stint, he and fellow Disney Legend Bob Gurr, who is 85, gave presentations at the Texas Transportation Forum, which ran from Feb 5-7 in Austin.

The title of their keynote talk was "Imagineering a Legacy: How Disney's Designs Influence Today's Transportation." Who better to talk about transportation issues than two of Imagineering's guiding lights, two Disney giants who were always pushing the envelope and developing creative and forward-thinking solutions to a myriad of problems?

Both Marty and Bob gave perspective and context on how Imagineering's "great sense of innovation can be applied to the transportation problems of today," according to the event program. "The Imagineers had to think outside the box to overcome many issues, including developing new and innovative transportation systems."

"I guess we were a big hit." Marty said. After their presentation in front of 1,500 people, "another 500-600 were at our Breakout Session. They said some of the government people [doing other Breakout sessions] were not thrilled – we had by far the biggest audience!"

"Yes, we both had a blast," Gurr added. "1,500 Texas government folks, all friendly Republicans. Well organized and ready for tall tales from Disney's past more than issues of transportation. The panel presenters did all of that, while we made up stories."

Stories that no doubt inspired those in attendance to dream up new and creative ways to tackle many of today's pressing transportation issues.

February 26, 2017

The Big Red Boat

Gary Cruise banner

Way back in the mists of time, in the long lost days of yore, before there was a Disney Cruise Line, avid Disney fans sailed with a cast of Disney characters on The Big Red Boat!

The Big Red Boat

Premier Cruise Lines, which operated the Big Red Boat, was formed in 1983 by two veterans in the cruise industry. These two men were mavericks who had a vision; they wanted to create a new niche market – Family Cruising. Until that time cruise ships had been opulent floating palaces catering to well-heeled older patrons who wanted a luxurious vacation experience. The two entrepreneurs behind Premier Cruise Lines thought that some of these patrons might like to bring children or grandchildren along with them and that was the niche market they were hoping to capture.

They raised more than a few eyebrows in the rather stodgy cruise industry when they bought the Oceanic and refurbished it in a “not-so-luxurious” fashion to accommodate the needs of cruising families.

At the same time the Walt Disney Corporation was looking for ways to add some variety to their theme park vacations. It wasn’t long before Premier and Disney signed an agreement and began jointly marketing Disney vacations with a “land and sea” option. When it was re-launched after refurbishment the Oceanic was christened by none other than Minnie Mouse!

Big Red Boat Ad 1990
Click on the image above to see a larger version

In 1985 Disney characters began appearing on the Big Red Boat; special Disney themed ship-board activities were offered for children and on-board entertainment was family oriented. The ship had a staff of more than 30 youth counselors on-board and programs for the children were divided by age group. They even had a special menu for children and provided free onboard babysitting. This approach to family cruising was an instant success!

Big Red Boat Ad 1992
Click to see a larger image

Disney fans just loved the idea of three or four days at sea followed by three or four days at the theme parks! By 1988 family cruising was so popular that two more ships, the Majestic and the Atlantic, joined the Premier Cruise Lines fleet. The hulls were painted bright red and all three were marketed as “The Big Red Boat”

Magic Kingdom Club Membership Guide 1993
Click to see a larger image

The three and four day cruises sailed from Port Canaveral and offered several different itineraries. Ports of call included Freeport, Nassau and Salt Cay, a small island just a few miles from Nassau.

Carol and I didn’t sail with Disney until 2007, but a few people have shared their experiences on the Big Red Boat with us.

Karen O. from Illinois told me, “We took a cruise in March 1992. My husband Rudy, son Greg and I boarded the Majestic in Port Canaveral. We really enjoyed the package that included a three day cruise followed by four days at Walt Disney World. One of the highlights was anchoring off of Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It's almost hard to say what was our favourite thing because everything was great. Of course we loved the food, the service, and the activities; but we especially loved the snorkeling. Our son Greg even got to swim with the dolphins. He was a year-round swim competitor, and at the time was eight years old. It was a very special trip and vacation for us.”

Greg and the Server

Greg at Abacos

Rob R. from Virginia described his experience for me; “My wife Kathy and I honeymooned on the Big Red Boat in September 1993. We boarded about 2:00 p.m. and sailed away from Port Canaveral at about 5:30. There was a Bon Voyage party on the main pool deck; we were all given streamers and confetti to throw, there was a live band playing and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto were interacting with guests as we left port. That was the last time I remember seeing the characters on board but I'm sure they were around for later functions. The movie theater was showing Disney movies.”

“Our ports of call were Nassau and Freeport. At Nassau we could go to the straw market, take an excursion to Atlantis to go to the casino, take an excursion to Salt Cay, a nearby private island to snorkel or rest on net hammocks. Salt Cay was used in the opening credit shots for Gilligan's Island . . . that was neat. Kathy and I enjoyed the snorkeling and then walked around the straw market”

“In Freeport Kathy and I went parasailing. It was fantastic! Flying high above the crystal clear water was wonderful. From up that high, you could see the coral reef, some of the colourful fish and the ocean bottom. I wish I had taken a camera up with me to take pictures of how clear things were.”

Rob and Kathy must have sailed on one of the last of the Disney themed cruises since the deal between Premier and Disney ended in late 1993 and was not renewed. Disney reportedly had discussions with both Carnival and Royal Caribbean lines, hoping they could replace Premier, but neither seemed to be interested. On May 3, 1994 Disney announced that they would be starting their own cruise line.

Premier soon negotiated a deal with Warner Brothers and before long Bugs Bunny and many of the other Looney Tunes characters were interacting with vacationers on the Big Red Boats.

Looney Tunes Party Animals

It was during the Looney Tunes era that AllEars.net Photo Blogger Scott Thomas and his family sailed. “We sailed just after Disney had announced they were building their own ships and pulled out of the Big Red Boat. All the Looney Tunes characters were on the ship. The weather during our cruise was terrible, so bad that we didn’t go on a single excursion. The kid’s programs were very strange; they allowed our daughters, aged 6 and 9 at the time, to leave unescorted and roam the ship looking for us. We didn't like that at all; the girls found us each time but it certainly did not give us a good feeling!”

“The boat was old and small, everything seemed very cramped. The food and the service were okay. They only had one dining hall which I believe was the norm on ships back then, but nothing about the cruise was as well done as we have since experienced on Disney Cruise Line.”

Most of you know the rest of the story. In 1996 Disney purchased Gorda Cay and spent 25 million dollars transforming it into Castaway Cay. The Disney Magic began sailing July 30, 1998 and was joined by the Disney Wonder about a year later. The Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy followed in 2011 and 2012. Two new ships are now under construction and both should join the Disney fleet within 6 years.

As for Premier, they struggled after Disney pulled out. Their fleet was old and the smaller ships had a hard time meeting the needs of more demanding consumers. The company was bankrupt by September 2000 and almost all of their ships have since been sold for scrap.

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It’s a sad ending for Premier Cruise Lines, a company that helped incubate the Disney Cruise Line. There is no doubt in my mind that those 8 years when Disney fans sailed on the Big Red Boat gave the Imagineers a wonderful model to use when they began to design the ships, the children’s programs, the ship-board entertainment and the shore excursions that we all enjoy today.

How about you? Do you have any fond memories of the Big Red Boat?

February 20, 2017

The Castaway Cay 5-kilometer run ... and some unfinished business

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After several missed opportunities, the author took part in the Castaway Cay 5-kilometer run earlier this month.

Call it unfinished business.

Back in 2012, and again in 2015, I was registered to take part in the Castaway Cay five-kilometer run around Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. The Castaway Cay 5-k is sanctioned by runDisney and, as such, is a "real" race: You get a race number, support along the course and a medal when you cross the finish line. It's the only runDisney event that doesn't charge an entrance fee ... although one might argue that the cost of the cruise itself ends up making the race the most expensive on the planet.

In 2012, there was a hurricane lurking in the Carribean and the waters off Castaway were abnormally rough. It took the captain of our ship [the Disney Dream] several hours to dock the boat, forcing the race, as well as other off-ship activities, to be canceled.

In 2015, we were on the last leg of a trans-Atlantic voyage on the Disney Magic. I was registered to run and had spent about 45 minutes each day in the ship's gym going stride-for-stride with my wife Janet in preparation. But a nagging [and painful] hip injury, as well as the prospects of a sunny, hot and humid day, forced me make the prudent decision of not taking part.

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This wooden sign marks the starting line for the Castaway Cay 5-k.

Which brings us to our most recent DCL cruise, aboard the Disney Fantasy, earlier this month.

We boarded the massive ocean liner on Feb. 4 and I was the first person to sign up for the race. At 67, I also was among the oldest. Our friend Julian, a national-class race-walker back in the day in his native England, was the second to register. It turns out, there were more than 350 people who'd be toeing the starting line less than a week later.

The Fantasy left Port Canaveral at 4 p.m. on Saturday. With the race scheduled to be run on Friday, Feb. 10, Janet and I again made it a point to hit the treadmills almost every day of the cruise ... me to prep for the race; her to work off some of the delicious meals we enjoyed during the week.

Race day dawned windy and comfortable [not nearly as humid as previous visits]. At 8 a.m., I mistakenly went to the D Lounge for the registration; with so many people taking part, check-in was moved to the Walt Disney Theatre [clearly noted on my event ticket]. Although I was the first person to sign up, I was among the last to receive a race bib.

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A map of the Castaway Cay 5-k. The race starts and finishes near the bike rental shack. The out-and-back course features time on an airplane landing strip and a loop on a secluded trail.

After listening to about 20 minutes of corny jokes from well-meaning cast members, the ship was cleared by Bahamian officials. Julian and I and the rest of the participants began the long trek from Deck 4 of the ship, down the stairs to the gangway and then about a one-mile walk to the starting line, which is rather nondescript ... and narrow.

The start is located near the bike rental hut. There's a small wooden sign that says "5k start" and the official race clock was set up on a tripod to the right. Unlike other runDisney events, there are no fireworks, no loud music and no Disney characters milling about. Pretty much no-frills racing. It was simply "ready, set ... go!" and we were off.

It took about 30 seconds to reach the starting line, but by then, Julian had broken out into his arms-held-high, heel-toe-heel-toe race-walking gait. When I spoke to him about the race during the cruise, he said he was hoping to break 45 minutes. The way he started, I knew he'd do much better than that. As for me, the hip injury that had precluded my participation in the Castaway Cay 5k in 2015 had persisted through much of 2016. It wasn't until November that I began the long, arduous task of getting myself back into some kind of respectable shape.

My goal was to finish in around 40 minutes, using a combination of speed walking and jogging. My plan was to walk for seven minutes, run for three minutes, walk for seven, run three, etc., and then see how I felt over the last mile or so.

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Runners leave the start area and head out toward the main section of the course.

As you might expect, the Castaway out-and-back course is flat, but that's not to suggest it's easy. After leaving the start area, you wind your way out onto an abandoned - and sun-splashed - airplane landing strip. A few minutes later, you make a right turn onto a narrow, thickly-wooded loop. While the vegetation did keep the sun at bay, it also blocked most of the wind, which made it seem hotter than it actually was.

The loop takes you to the island's observation tower, where you bear left and head back toward the airstrip. There's a water stop at the end of the loop, which competitors end up passing four times during the event. Once out onto the airstrip, the sun felt noticeably stronger. A turnaround arrow is located at the end of the strip, near the adult beach area, which means you've reached the halfway point. During my trek toward the arrow, I spotted Julian - still looking strong - on his way back to the loop and we exchanged greetings.

By now, the field was beginning to thin out and those competitors near me seemed to be following a similar course of action ... walking, jogging, walking, shuffling ...

I exited the loop, made a left turn and decided to jog the rest of the way to the finish line in hopes of breaking 40 minutes.

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Runners hit the sun-splashed airstrip section of the course.

At the finish - 40:10 according to my watch - was a cast member handing out finisher's medals [actually, they're rubbery, not metallic]. I reunited with Julian, who finished in around 37 minutes, and we made our way back to the ship to meet up with our wives and enjoy breakfast before heading out to the island again for a day of relaxation.

It had been nine years since I last took part in a runDisney event ... the 2008 Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World. Although I have continued to lead an active lifestyle, I've had to clear a lot of medical hurdles along the way to keep going. Exactly one month after completing the Goofy Challenge, I had prostate cancer surgery. In the years that followed, I also had rotator cuff surgery and a procedure to relieve trigger finger ... not to mention that annoying hip injury.

So, although 3.1 miles pales in comparison to the 39.3 miles over two days needed to complete the Goofy Challenge, I was quite proud to have set a goal, trained to reach that goal, and then go out and achieve it.

Unfinished business no longer.

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A sight for sore eyes ... and legs ... is the simple finish line sign for the Castaway Cay 5-k run.

RELATED LINK:

** Kristin's Castaway 5K Just 11 weeks after Total Knee Replacement!

February 15, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler

Riddle

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:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

http://allears.net/ae/mb011917-key.pdf

We only received 23 correct responses this month. The child actor in "Treasure Island," Bobby Driscoll, won the Academy Award for Outstanding Juvenile Actor of 1949 for his work in "So Dear to My Heart." He had previously starred in "Song of the South." After he outgrew children's roles, he fell on bad times, became destitute, and died of a drug overdose, a pauper and unknown, at the age of 31 in New York.

The winner of a Stitch pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Victoria O. of Bernardsville, NJ. Congratulations!

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

http://allears.net/ae/mb021317.pdf

We will continue this month down the long path of examining Disney's extensive list of live-action films. Next in line is the highly popular "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," based on the book by the same name by Jules Verne. This film had the distinction of being the first to be produced at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. I understand the giant water tank is still there, under the floor of one of the soundstages. We had the pleasure of eating lunch on this soundstage as part of an Adventures by Disney Backstage Magic tour, which I highly recommend!

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

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on March 5, 2017. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog sometime in March.

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

Thanks for playing, everyone!

February 12, 2017

That’s Not Poutine!

Gary Cruise banner

Every time I pass by the Canadian Pavilion at EPCOT I find myself marvelling at the amazing job the Imagineers did in capturing the essence of Canada!

How did those gifted designers figure out that we all enjoy wearing checkered lumberjack shirts? Who could have told them that after a long, tiring work-week we Canucks just can’t wait to grab an axe and chop down a tree . . . or enter a log rolling competition? How could they know that every Canadian rock band has a lead singer who plays the bagpipes?

I often find myself looking around in wonder, shaking my head, and thinking, “Boy, they sure do understand Canadians. They nailed it, EH?”

So imagine my delight when I sat down at Le Cellier several years ago and cracked open the menu. There, part way down the listing of side dishes, was a classic Canadian dish . . . poutine! “Wow” I thought, “I love poutine, this just has to be good!”

Le Cellier

Now, I know that most of you reading this are not Canadian so you are probably thinking, “Poutine? Poutine? What the heck is poutine?”

Poutine is classic Canadian cuisine! It’s Canadian comfort food. There are four basic food groups in Canada, maple syrup, beaver tails, butter tarts and poutine!

Poutine originated in the Province of Quebec in the 1950’s and quickly became a national favourite! Quebec is predominantly French-speaking and the French pronounce it “pooh-tin”. The English populace pronounce it “pooh-teen”. But no matter how they say the word, all Canadians agree that poutine is delicious!

There are several theories that try to explain how poutine came to be. My favourite version involves a Montreal cardiologist whose medical practice was floundering. He wasn’t sure how he was going to make the next payment on his Ferrari . . . so he whipped up a batch of poutine and let a local restaurateur have a taste. He started with some crispy French-fried potatoes, covered them with fresh cheddar cheese curds, then smothered it all with steaming-hot brown gravy. The restaurateur just loved the gooey mess and immediately began selling it in his restaurant. Before you could say “quadruple bypass” poutine sales were booming, arteries were hardening and the cardiologist’s practice was thriving!

Poutine

So that’s what poutine is. It’s a very simple recipe, crispy hot fries, cheddar cheese curds and piping-hot brown gravy. Carol and I have sampled a few unique variations over the years. Some chefs have added pulled pork or smoked brisket. We’ve even had a delicious version that was topped off with chunks of smoked meatloaf, but they all contained the three basic ingredients, fries, cheddar cheese curds and brown gravy.

Imagine my shock when I read the description on the Le Cellier menu! Fries, gruyère and a red wine reduction. What? Gruyère? Does gruyère even have curds? And wine reduction? Where’s the gravy?

It sounded nothing like poutine, in fact both Carol and I thought it sounded disgusting. We were skeptical but we decided to trust the chef. We cast common sense to the wind and ordered up a batch of “poutine”. Yuck! It was worse than disgusting. It was embarrassing. Not a proud moment for this Canadian!

I swore I would never order poutine again at Le Cellier, but as I wrote this blog, I checked the Le Cellier menu again. The poutine is now described as “fresh-cut fries, Gruyère, caramelized onions, French onion gravy $10”. I’m torn, the gruyère is still there, but at least there’s gravy. It might be worthy of a second chance someday! Maybe . . .

Last fall, as Carol and I explored a new area at Disney Springs, behind the Lego Store, a sign caught my eye.

The Daily Poutine

Could it be? Real authentic poutine?

I checked the ingredients . . . the “Classic Poutine” sounded good. The ingredients were correct.

Poutine Menu

All the others . . . they sounded nasty – just nasty. There is no place in poutine for Bolognese Sauce or Mushroom Cream Sauce. And fried yucca? Nope – that’s just all wrong!

Those variations are just pretentious imposters foisted on the public by snooty chefs who know nothing about poutine! To my untrained palate they sound about as appetizing as a Brussels Sprout Smoothie, Roasted Red Pepper Ice Cream or Pumpkin Pie Spiced Mashed Potatoes!

But once again Carol and I decided to give the “Classic Poutine” a try.

Big mistake . . . it was disappointing! Very disappointing.

The curds should melt in the gravy and make a gooey mixture that clings to the fries. That didn’t happen; the curds we had were cold in the middle. I don’t mean that they were cool – they were almost frozen. They were hard and chewy and just totally wrong.

Disney Springs Poutine

We tried to like the poutine, we really did, but we threw out more than half of the order they served us! Ugh!

So here’s my advice folks!

If you want to try genuine poutine, if you want to sample a real Canadian delicacy, skip the stuff they serve at Le Cellier . . . when you see that kiosk behind the Lego Store, just walk on by!

Come to Canada instead . . . then go to any McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, DQ, KFC, A & W, New York Fries or any of the Canadian fast food chains. They all serve great poutine.

Burger King

Wendys

A & W_Poutine

So do all street vendors and food trucks from coast to coast. And none of them use Bolognese Sauce, Mushroom Cream Sauce or fried yucca. That’s just WRONG. That’s not poutine!

I hope to see you up here in the Great White North real soon!

February 9, 2017

New USO Welcome Center at Orlando International Airport

by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

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The USO, or United Service Organizations, was founded in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt. It is a nonprofit organization that provides programs, services and live entertainment to United States service members and their families.

If you're of a certain age, the phrase USO might make you think of legendary comedian/actor Bob Hope and his USO Tours entertaining the troops overseas during wartime.

But today, you might also think of the many USO Welcome Centers around the world, many of which are located in airports. In fact, one such USO center opened in September 2016 at Orlando International Airport.

This 3,100-square-foot USO Welcome Center is available to members of the military, as well as their families, as they travel through the Orlando airport. The centerpiece of the welcome center is a Disney-inspired family room that was created with a $100,000 gift from the Walt Disney Company.

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The Disney-designed family room joins other comforts of home offered at the Welcome Center.

There are computer workstations that can be used to check your email or print your boarding pass.

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In addition, the center also has a kitchen area stocked with many different beverages, as well as various snacks and food.

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There is even an entertainment section, with big screen TVs and gaming.

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The hours of the center's operation are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It is located in Terminal A, Landside, Level 1 (prior to going though TSA). Access is restricted, and a valid military ID is required for entry.

The USO is a nonprofit organization, which relies solely on donations and volunteers. If you would more information, visit the USO's website.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

J. Scott Lopes is a long time Disney fan who first went to Walt Disney World as a child in 1989 and has enjoyed traveling to Orlando ever since. He is interested in all things Disney Parks-related -- especially in the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.


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