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January 9, 2017

Charlie Ridgway and Rick Sylvain: Two Disney PR guys with the "write" stuff

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Rick Sylvain, left, and his former boss, Charlie Ridgway, crossed paths in England several years ago. As Rick puts it: "This was taken in 2007 after a travel writers' convention in Manchester, England. Two friends and I were getting our rental van serviced deep in the English countryside. Who do we run across on that day, at that hour, at that minute, in that town, but Charlie, off on his own adventure? He had stopped for a candy bar. Long odds. Lottery odds. Must have been some sort of kismet. I love Charlie's smile in this photo." [Courtesy of Rick Sylvain]


Press events at Walt Disney World, as well as my interactions with numerous Disney cast members, have been an integral part of my reporting on all things Disney over the last 35 years.

These experiences and the bonds that I've forged were so important to me that I wrote a book about them, On The Disney Beat: Over 30 Years of Chronicling the People and Places in Walt's World [Theme Park Press]. Through many of the press events I've attended and during the many interviews I've conducted, I've met some outstanding people, many of whom I consider friends.

So it was with sadness when I learned on Dec. 24 of the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who was a key figure in my journalistic journey through Disney's world. Charlie was an important part of my book, from my first invitation to a Disney press event he supervised in 1986 to an extensive interview I had with him in 2014.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Charlie in 1992. After learning that my extended family and I would be in WDW during August of that year, he invited us to join him for an unforgettable afternoon. We [I believe there were eight of us] met him at 12:30 at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom and he walked us back stage to his waiting company van. The afternoon parade was in the process of queuing up and he made sure the younger ones in our party looked away, lest they see a character out of costume, thus spoiling the magic. He drove us all to the then-new Yacht Club Galley, where we chatted about a wide range of Disney-related topics, including the opening of several on-property resorts. I still have his business card, with his work phone number and his [get this!] Telex number.

Charlie was best known for dreaming up new and better ways to get the word out on Disneyland [he was hired in 1963] and later Walt Disney World, where he settled in as Press and Publicity director about a year before the resort opened in 1971. In those days, Disney did very little advertising, so it was up to the Press and Publicity folks to publicize the parks. And Charlie did it in a way that was creative, imaginative, fun and, most importantly, effective. Charlie retired a few years after our lunch, although he was often called on by his colleagues to lend his expertise on a number of projects.

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Charlie Ridgway holds a Donald Duck figure as Rick Sylvain looks on during a 90th birthday celebration for Charlie in 2014. [Walt Disney World]

During the most recent WDW press gathering in November 2016, I was able to renew acquaintances with Rick Sylvain, a man I've known since the 1990s, when he was hired by Charlie to work on WDW's PR team. Following in Charlie's rather large footsteps, Rick was as sound a PR man as you could find, always ready to help out and always going above and beyond to make sure you had all the information you needed to make your story complete. Rick retired from Walt Disney World's Press and Publicity Department in 2015, but still has his hand in PR work.

It was Rick who helped me secure an interview with Charlie, a man he considered a beloved mentor, in January 2014. "It was Charlie who rescued me from a nasty strike at The Detroit Free Press [where Rick was a travel editor of considerable import] and got me to come down here to work for him," Rick told me a few years ago. "It was Charlie who launched me on 20 years [at Disney] that I will never forget."

The bond between Rick and Charlie was strong. During Charlie's retirement years, the two got together as often as they could. In fact, a few weeks before Charlie died, Rick and several other members of "the old guard" were supposed to take Charlie out for a holiday celebration, but it had to be canceled. Rick considered it an honor and a privilege when Charlie asked him to write the foreword to his book, Spinning Disney's World, upon its re-release in paperback.

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Tom Bergeron, left, chats with actor Michael J. Fox during a press event in New York City to announce the beginning of the Let the Memories Begin Disney Parks campaign in 2010. [The Walt Disney Company]

When I think of how many times I've had the pleasure of Rick's company, as well as his witty repartee, it dredges up some pretty fond memories. Many of the press gatherings he had a hand in putting together were held in New York City, so he knew I was pretty close by and would always make an effort to be in attendance.

There was the event to promote the Let The Memories Begin initiative on the West Side of Manhattan in 2010, which was hosted by Dancing With the Stars' Tom Bergeron and featured an appearance by actor Michael J. Fox.

There was the Limited Time Magic event in midtown Manhattan in 2014, where artisans carved several Disney-themed ice sculptures right on Broadway to emphasize how quickly things come and go.

In 2015, he invited me to a special press preview of the re-imagined Disney Magic; the ship, which had been overhauled a few months before, sailed up from Port Canaveral and docked in Manhattan for just one day before heading to Europe for its summer season.

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The Disney Dream was christened on Jan. 19, 2011 at Disney Cruise Line's Port Canaveral port. [Disney Cruise Line]

And then there were the christenings of the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise liners, both lavishly produced press events that would have made Charlie proud.

The day before the Dream event at Port Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2011, Rick invited me to join an exclusive press tour of the then-new Wild Africa Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

He wanted to make sure that we journalists [a group of about 10 of us met in the lobby of the Grand Floridian] would get the full experience, so he was with us every step of the way. Included in the trek were two treacherous trips across swaying and rickety rope bridges, with an assortment of hungry hippos and smiling crocodiles watching our every move with more than casual interest some 30 feet below.

"It's nice to feel the ground under my feet," Rick said after traversing the second bridge and climbing down from the lofty perch.

The Disney Fantasy christening took place in New York City in February 2012. Rick made sure I got to meet Jay Rasulo, then Disney's CFO. I had conducted a lengthy interview with Jay a few years before and was anxious to meet him in person.

At a press event during the spring of 2016, I ran into Rick at Morimoto Asia, a wonderful upscale Asian restaurant in Disney Springs. I mentioned to Rick how I was now writing a blog for AllEars.Net and he was positively effusive in his praise for the site. "Truly, the best Disney website out there," he said.

Like Charlie, Rick had a strong understanding of how to supply folks in the media with exactly what they need to get the most out of their stories about Walt Disney World. It made sense, since both men grew up in the newspaper business and always had a kinship with journalists.

"I always tried to hire people with newspaper backgrounds," Charlie told me during that 2014 interview, "because I felt that they knew what the news guys wanted and how to get it to them."

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Charlie Ridgway is interviewed during Walt Disney World's 15th anniversary in 1986. [Walt Disney World]

Charlie was among a handful of people still around who worked and interacted with Walt Disney. After toiling for years as a newspaperman in Southern California [he wrote a lengthy pre-opening feature on Disneyland, covered Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955, and often wrote human interest stories on the park] Charlie was hired by Disney in 1963.

On Walt, Charlie said, "he had supreme confidence that he would know what the public wanted. And he was right 98 percent of the time. He had a tremendous ability to pay attention to every little detail, and yet know the overall picture as well, and he paid attention to the tiniest little detail in everything he did. Sometimes that put off some people, but overall, those who stayed with him for any length of time appreciated his talent so much that they didn't mind going all out for him."

Like Walt Disney himself, Charlie Ridgway long understood that while there's very little adult in each child, there's plenty of child in every adult.

As Rick Sylvain put it on the occasion of Charlie's 90th birthday: "Charlie, for me, embodies the true Disney spirit -- consummate professional, but a kid at heart. I know I and my colleagues can truly say that thanks to Charlie's inspiration, we can fly. Ideas define this man. Then and now."

Although Charlie hired Rick Sylvain in the mid-1990s, they had known each other for years, having gone on a number of travel junkets together, including several harrowing adventures in Egypt and Jerusalem in 1983, which are detailed beautifully in Charlie's Spinning Disney's World
book.

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The Disney characters gather for a publicity photo in front of Cinderella Castle during WDW's 15th anniversary, one of the hundreds of Disney events Charlie Ridgway had a hand in. [Walt Disney World]

When I saw Rick at the press event this past November, I quickly sought him out. And I made sure to give him a copy of On The Disney Beat, in large part because he had such a big hand in making it happen.

A few weeks after the event, Rick sent me an email that touched me on so many levels.

Hey Chuck:

So good crossing paths with you this month. Just finished your book - thanks for the copy. I laughed, I cried, I reminisced. Too many favorite parts to recount here - so I won't begin to try. True to your craft, you report All Things Disney so well. A book with lots of heart.

Rick went on to explain how my book actually inspired him.

Your wonderful narrative stirred for me so many personal stories from those 20 years. I remember walking around Epcot one afternoon in 2005 when a wheelchair-bound woman spotted my name badge and asked me to take her picture. We were at the red phone booth in the U.K. pavilion. Of course, I obliged her.

"Where you from?" I asked her.

"New Orleans," she said.

"What brings you here?"

"I lost everything in Katrina and just wanted to smile again."

That was powerful.

Another time, I was criss-crossing New York City a la Charlie [but not nearly as well] and had scored an audience with then-editor Walter Anderson of Parade Magazine. Nervous beyond words in the presence of this media giant, I pitched Animal Kingdom. Quiet enveloped the room. Walter sat back on his sofa, summoned his design editor and announced they were scrapping a coming cover story in favor of Animal Kingdom in words and pictures.

I left the Parade offices on Cloud Nine. The following week, I was working with famed Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams, setting up his cover shoot.

That's the pull of Disney you write so beautifully about. Again, thanks for my copy of On The Disney Beat. I will treasure it.

As I will my association with both you, Rick, and Charlie ... two class acts ... and two men who definitely had the write stuff.

December 26, 2016

Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who passed away Dec. 24: There will never be another like him

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Charlie Ridgway conducts an interview on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World prior to the beginning of WDW's 15th anniversary celebration in 1986. [The Walt Disney Company]


"There will never be another like him."

In the hubbub of the holiday season, the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway on Dec. 24 may have gone unnoticed to most casual Disney fans ... but not to the people who knew him, worked for him, admired him and flat-out loved him.

"I wanted to let you know that our dear Charlie, 93, passed away today," former Walt Disney World publicity director Rick Sylvain messaged me on Christmas Eve.

Our dear Charlie.

That pretty much sums up the feelings of so many people whose lives were touched by the kind-hearted gentleman from Missouri, whose humble beginnings as a radio disc jockey and Midwestern newspaperman belied his legendary status in Disney's star-studded firmament.

Charlie, the master of spinning Disney's world as the company's chief press agent at both Disneyland and WDW, followed in his father's footsteps and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Despite his journalism pedigree, he began his career in radio because his father, who covered the agricultural beat for the Chicago Tribune, told him that "newspapers are bound to be a dying breed and encouraged me to get into radio. He was pretty wise."

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Charlie sets up a publicity photo of Donald Duck in the shadows of Cinderella Castle. [The Walt Disney Company]

Charlie landed a job at a 5,000-watt radio station in Erie, Pa., in the late 1940s after serving honorably during World War II. After about three years, though, he got a job offer from the Erie Dispatch, "my first job as a newspaperman. That job lasted about a year before I decided I needed to get into a bigger market. I had fallen in love with Los Angeles during the war, so I decided to go out there in 1952."

Charlie, his wife Gretta and their young family moved west, to a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles called Anaheim. He got a job as a general reporter with the Los Angeles Mirror-News and became aware of a construction site near their house when he and his family passed it on their way to the beach on weekends.

That construction site, rising up from large fields of orange groves, was to become Disneyland. It was Charlie Ridgway who was among the first journalists to do a story on Disneyland in early 1955 prior to opening ... and it was Charlie who was among the hundreds of frazzled journalists on hand to cover opening day on July 17, 1955.

Indeed, Charlie covered Disneyland for several years, for both the Los Angeles Mirror-News, then the Long Beach Press-Telegram, before he accepted a job offer from Disneyland in 1963 in the park's publicity department, doing the bulk of the office's writing.

A legendary career with Disney was launched.

From his tiny office above the police station near City Hall, Charlie dreamed up new and creative ways to get the word out on Disneyland, among them the press event he helped set up for the grand opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in 1967.

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Charlie signs a copy of his book, "Spinning Disney's World," several years ago.

"We sailed all the press people around in the sailing ship Columbia and then came in and fired the cannons and had a big sword fight on the deck." In addition, buccaneers boarded the ship from smaller craft and pirates fell from the ship into the river during their duels. Once the press folks were in a swashbuckling mood, they disembarked the ship and "stormed" the entrance of the Pirates of the Caribbean to gain access.

"I was in on that," Charlie said proudly during an interview with me in early 2014.

In the years that followed, Charlie was the go-to guy when it came to dreaming up fun and creative ways to publicize the park. Then, in 1969, Charlie was asked to move to central Florida to drum up publicity for Walt Disney's "latest and greatest dream" ... Walt Disney World.

"The first trip I made when I took the job at the end of 1969 was to go to New York. I went to Time, Life and Look magazines and all the major newspapers and I also went to Washington to National Geographic."

Look Magazine wanted to be the first publication to have a cover story on WDW, but the Magic Kingdom was still six months from completion. "It was way too early," Charlie said. "There wasn't that much really finished. But we were able to gerrymander things and produce pictures that looked like it was really done."

Charlie also played a key role in the classic photo that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine a few weeks before WDW opened.

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The Life Magazine cover prior to the opening of Walt Disney World in 1972 which Charlie Ridgway helped set up. [Life Magazine]

"I suggested we do a mob-scene photo and we carried forward from that point," Charlie said. "We went to Life with the idea and they liked it. They sent down one of their very best photographers [Yale Joel]. He got up on a stand with an 8 x 10 view camera to shoot the picture. Of course, that was the one we shot in front of the castle. We assembled as many cast members [3,000 of the 5,000 on staff at the time] as we could get there."

Charlie also was the architect of many elaborate press events during his years at WDW, events that saw literally thousands of members of the media invited to experience first-hand the magic and wonder of The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Perhaps the most significant press event in Charlie's eyes was the grand opening of Epcot in October of 1982. It was the first time in broadcast history that television stations from around the country were able to carry an event live, thanks to a still-untested satellite uplink technology. "It was a rather feeble attempt, by today's standards," Charlie said, but it worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

It was Charlie at his finest. "We used to sit around marketing meetings dreaming up crazy ideas," he said.

Charlie's "crazy ideas" left a lasting impression on those folks who were privileged to work with him.

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The author with Charlie Ridgway during lunch in 1992. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

"I don't think he realizes how important he is to all of us and how much influence he's had on our careers," Michelle Baumann, who was hired by Charlie more than 25 years ago, told me a few years ago. "To give you an idea of what kind of person Charlie was, I was hired back during the time when photo captions had to be pasted onto the backs of the publicity photos, which was pretty tedious and time-consuming, but Charlie would be right there with us, doing the grunt work, not giving it a second thought.

"Every once in a while, we'll be stumped with something and someone in the office will say, 'What would Charlie do?' He made that much of an impression on us."

Rick Sylvain and a bunch of Charlie's "old guard" were scheduled to take him out to lunch on Dec. 14, but the luncheon had to be scrapped because of Charlie's failing health.

"So many of us owe so much to that man," Rick said. "I know he rescued me from a nasty newspaper strike in Detroit in 1995 and launched me on 20 years that I will never forget.

"There will never be another like him."

December 22, 2016

Backstage Magic Tour

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by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Have you ever wanted to go behind the scenes to see what goes on backstage at Disney World, to see how they make and maintain some of your favorite attractions? If you have then the Backstage Magic Tour is for you!

Disney refers to the Backstage Magic tour as “an insider’s look at the heritage, daily operation and cast member roles that create the 'magic' at Walt Disney World Resort." I had been thinking about this 7-1/2-hour tour for several years, wondering if it would be the best use of my time at the parks. Despite my apprehension, I finally made the commitment a few weeks ago, and I am so glad that I did.

I know that tours can book up quickly, so once I decided to do it I booked it right away. (You can cancel within 48 hours if needed.) A few days before the tour, I received a call and a confirmation email, which also served to let me know that open-toe and open-heel shoes are not permitted on the tour.

The tour starts early, at 9 a.m., with the meeting time at 8:45 a.m at Epcot's Guest Relations located just outside the park entrance, in a specially marked area.

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Based on my experience with early morning tours, I recommend that you use a taxi cab or Uber if you do not have your own transportation. Unlike some of the other tours where they will help you find and join the tour group if you are late (my experience with a few of the tours unfortunately), they specifically state that this is not possible for this tour. Instead, they will rebook you for a different day based on availability if you are late. Note that the taxi drop-off location for Epcot is very close to Guest Relations, however you do need to go through bag check. I decided not to bring a camera on the tour, and instead relied on my phone, mostly because there are very few times when you are allowed to take pictures during the tour, only one of them in a backstage area.

Just before 9 a.m., our tour guides Tom and Paul joined us. They talked with us about the tour, checked us in, gave us our name tags, and note if any participants had any food allergies.

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We also had the option to take a picture, which they referred to as an "establishing shot," because there would not be too many opportunities for pictures. (You can see mine at the top of this blog.)

Ready to start on our journey, we made a restroom stop (one of many during the day), then proceeded to board our transportation for the day, a Disney Cruise Line bus, where we had access to complimentary bottled water.

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Once on board, we talked a bit more about our day ahead. Our guides shared some stories, discussing a special event Disney has for its cast members during which they can bring their pets to work and take pictures with them in front of the castle. They also talked about the onsite healthcare staffed with nurses and doctors, onsite pet care, and how easy it is to pick up prescriptions at the onsite pharmacy.

The tour bus was almost full, and there were approximately 40 guests on this tour. Due to the size of the group, many times throughout the day we split into two smaller groups.

Our first stop was a good example of this, as we stopped at the American Adventure in the World Showcase. At this stop, we were given our listening devices, and safety glasses, as we would need both when we were backstage watching the morning test for the American Adventure. During the test, we were able to watch part of the show from behind the rear projection screen, and also viewed the show props and animatronic figures moving on a hydraulic mechanism. Paul discussed how Disney goes to great lengths to make sure that everything is detailed, such as using medical grade glass eyeballs in the audio animatronics as well as real hair and dentures.

After viewing that area, we moved outside into the America Gardens Theatre area. World Showcase was not open yet, so it was considered a backstage area and pictures were not allowed. While we were waiting other cast members were all abuzz as they were filming a wedding with a bride and groom rushing out to a horse-drawn carriage. There were also carriages in Canada and China pavilions, and although at first the guide speculated it was staged, we found out later that it was a real wedding, supposedly being filmed for a reality show that will air sometime in 2017.

After discussing some of the external details of the American Adventure pavilion, we boarded the bus for Costuming, which used to be housed in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (you might remember that the Backlot Tour tram would drive though it), but has been relocated to a new building. Just like when an attraction is removed, and some props are reused in other areas, the old costuming sign from Hollywood studios has been reused in the new building. During this stop, we were shown a wall that contained button and fabric samples of the costumes that are used. We also got an up-close look at two of the costumes from the soon-to-open Rivers of Light show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There were many cast members working on various costumes, however one thing that was impressive is that during the holiday season, a theme is selected and scraps of fabric are used to create teddy bears that are then donated. A similar event where they make pet beds also happens, both of which show how Disney and its cast members like to give back to the community.

Our next stop was Textile Services. This particular location handles laundry from the moderate and deluxe resorts. At the laundry facility, we were given the opportunity to take a special picture, the only one that was allowed in a backstage area. In this photo op, you get to have your picture taken in one of the laundry bags that they use to transport the laundry between sections of the plant.

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At Textile Services, you get to view how they process the sheets and towels, and use machinery to fold them. One of the fun facts that our guides shared with us is that Textile Services has the lowest job turnover (a human resources term for how long employees stay in a particular job). They also told us that Disney requires cast members in guest-facing roles to be able to speak English, but those who don’t can work in an area like Textile Services that doesn't have guest interaction. We were also shown the inspiration for the hallway of doors scene in Monsters, Inc. On the way out, our tour guides coordinated the group in yelling out thank you and waving, as these cast members usually don’t get thanked by guests for their important roles.

We then proceeded to the Wilderness Lodge, where we had lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe.

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This family style, All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Skillet included Slow-smoked Pork Ribs, Barbecued Pulled Pork, Roasted Glazed Chicken, and Western-style Sausage served with Mashed Yukon Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, and Cowboy-style Baked Beans. For dessert we enjoyed the Granny Smith Apple-Caramel Tart.

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This was delicious -- everyone in the group was impressed! The cast members were very good about making sure that the tour members who had dietary restrictions were well taken care of.

After lunch, we discussed some of the Lodge's Christmas decorations before boarding the bus again.

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Our next stop was Central Shops. We toured the facility, where we had an audio-animatronic demonstration using a Tiki bird and also a polar bear from the old Norway pavilion attraction, Maelstrom. While in the shops, we could view many different props and ride vehicles being worked on. One engineer was using a laptop and digitizer to 3D scan an elephant. Another group of technicians was working on making a fiberglass item. We also walked through the paint room where a craftsman was prepping a wooden horse for painting. After viewing the shops we walked across the street to view a storage warehouse.

We then boarded the bus and were off to our last stop, Magic Kingdom, where we were taken though the utilidoors. You may have seen this backstage area if you have ever taken the Keys to the Kingdom tour, although I feel like this visit might have been a little more extensive. We were then brought back on-stage and given a special treat to watch the Festival of Fantasy Parade near the town hall.

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After the parade was finished, we regrouped and made our way backstage to re-board the bus. We then headed back to Epcot where we were given a special commemorative pin only available to guests who take this tour.

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Overall, I was pleasantly surprised on what a great tour this was and recommend that every Walt Disney World fan take it a least once.

The Backstage Magic Tour is currently $275 per person plus tax and can be booked by calling 407-WDW-TOUR. Note that this tour does not require separate park admission so if you are in a situation where you have a day without a park ticket, this tour might be a good choice for you. When booking the tour, be sure to ask about discounts for Chase Disney Visa, Disney Vacation Club, Annual Passholder. (Visit AllEars.Net's Walt Disney World Special Tours and Experiences page for more information about the tours currently offered.)

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 and especially interested in the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.


December 15, 2016

Remembering Walt

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Fifty years ago today, December 15, 1966, the world lost a great man!

His life story has been well documented and I’m sure that those of you reading this are as familiar with his background and his achievements as I am. But on this special day, let’s pause briefly and reflect on the life of Walt Disney and the rich legacy he left for all of us to enjoy.

Walt Disney said “If you can dream it you can do it” and during his life he proved that he was both a dreamer and a doer. He conceived new ideas, daring and wonderful ideas, and then he made them reality.

Yes, he had some significant setbacks over the years but he always rose to the occasion and he overcame them all.

Time Magazine Dec 27 1954

I consider myself very fortunate; I am part of the “Baby Boom Generation” which means that I had the opportunity to see Walt on television every Sunday evening. My entire family watched; Walt was like an uncle, he was warm, caring and always had an interesting or exciting tale to tell us. We seldom missed an episode.

From his humble beginnings he rose to fame and fortune. Walt Disney created an entertainment empire the likes of which the world has never seen. Yet through it all he retained his humility and his focus. To paraphrase one of Walt’s famous quotations, he never forgot that it was all started by a mouse!

Early last summer I had the opportunity to chat with Disney Legend Tom Nabbe who was hired by Walt himself to play Tom Sawyer at Disneyland. As I sat with Tom, enjoying a cocktail in Dayton Ohio, he described his conversations with Walt in the fall of 1955. He was a newsboy at the time; every day after school he sold copies of The Disneyland News in the new theme park. When Tom heard that Walt was planning to build Tom Sawyer’s Island he thought he would be perfect for the role of Tom Sawyer, so he stopped Walt and told him so. That’s the sort of man Walt was, he stopped and listened to a young newsboy. Walt didn’t hire him after that first suggestion, but young Tom was persistent. Over the next six months he would stop Walt almost every time he saw him in the park and ask, “Are you ready to hire me yet Mr. Disney?” Walt would always smile and say, “Not yet, but I’m still thinking about it.”

Then came the pivotal day in May 1956 when Dick Nunis, at that time a manager at Disneyland, led twelve-year-old Tom to the newly built raft landing near Tom Sawyer’s Island. Walt Disney was waiting there and asked, “Do you still want to be Tom Sawyer?” “Yes Mr. Disney, I absolutely do.” Tom replied. His 48 year Disney career began that day.

The reverence Tom Nabbe feels for Walt Disney shone in his eyes throughout our conversation.

Let’s look at the words of a few others who knew Walt personally and worked with him. About 27 years ago the Disney News magazine ran a series of articles, titled “Remembering Walt”, in which some of those people looked back and shared their memories. Click on each image to see a larger, easily readable version.

In the Fall 1989 issue Margaret Kerry, who was the live-action model for Tinker Bell, was featured.

Disney News Fall 1989 page 39

In the Summer 1990 edition Wally Boag, the traveling salesman in the original Golden Horseshoe Revue shared his memories.

Disney News Summer 1990 page 31

In the Fall of 1992 Marc Davis, one of Walt’s “nine old men reflected on the many years he spent working closely with Walt.

Disney News Fall 1992 page 26

The last “Remembering Walt” article, at least the last one in our magazine collection, featured Paul Carlson who had the dubious honour of directing “the Boss” in his first television introductions way back in the mid 1950’s.

Disney News Fall 1993 page 15

Let’s look back at one comment from each of those articles:

Margaret Kerry told us about Walt arriving at a meeting and as someone rose to give him a chair he said, “No, no, no, I’m the one who was late. Sit down.”

Paul Carlson commented, “He told us once that when he gave a guy the responsibility of a director, he also gave him the authority. Whenever I saw him work he would always show respect to the guy he worked with.”

Mark Davis, who worked very closely with Walt for over 30 years told us, “He was a fascinating guy with a lot of ideas, there’s never been anyone like him.”

Wally Boag said, “His mind was brilliant and all of a sudden he was gone. There’s so much more I’d like to have talked to him about.”

Yes Wally, I think we’d all like to talk just a bit more with Walt Disney!

December 12, 2016

A November to remember for Disney Legend Marty Sklar

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Mickey Mouse joins Neil Patrick Harris in presenting Marty Sklar with the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

If there's such a thing as a rock star in the world of amusement parks, it's Marty Sklar.

Who else in the vast Disney cast, current or retired, can draw hundreds of adoring fans to book signings or presentations around the country? Who else would spend five hours signing autographs for nearly 500 people after an event in Chicago this past summer? Who else would be sought out by today's generation of Imagineers to offer his unique insight into projects they're currently working on?

That's right. It's Marty Sklar, rock star.

Marty is someone who understands his place in the history of the Walt Disney Company ... and someone who understands how he's viewed by his former colleagues and his legions of fans. Through it all, he's remained humble about his life's work, yet more than willing to give the people what they want when it comes to his knowledge and perspective on all things Disney.

I've always known how important the former leader of Walt Disney Imagineering is to the history of the Walt Disney Company, how influential he's been. Apparently, Walt Disney's family knew it, too.

It was Walt's surviving family members, starting with son-in-law and former Disney CEO Ron Miller, right down to Walt's many grandchildren, who saw fit to honor Marty Sklar as the second recipient of the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award at the Walt Disney Family Museum's annual fund-raising gala on Nov. 1.

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Marty joins the Dapper Dans and belts out a tune with the help of Neil Patrick Harris. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

Marty, surrounded by many members of his own family, as well as numerous members of his extended family, accepted the award in the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland.

"When Ron Miller called me about the award, of course I said yes," Marty told me during a recent interview. "I felt that in accepting the award, I could be useful in helping to raise money for the museum."

For those who don't know him, that's typical Marty. If you're going to give me an award, he's saying, I might as well turn it into a positive thing for you, too.

"I've tried to help out the museum as much as I can over the years," Marty said. "I've visited the museum at least six times in the 10 years since it opened. It means a lot to me to preserve Walt's legacy. Diane Disney Miller [Walt's daughter and the founder of the museum] was always intent on doing just that. I've always appreciated what she tried to do ... to focus on Walt the man, and what he accomplished. That was always her goal."

In Marty's eyes, the museum is a must-see. "It's hard to get past the first section of the museum, it's so enticing. There's a lot of early Disney memorabilia, things that Walt had recorded. All of us who knew and worked with Walt can really appreciate those things. They didn't whitewash anything. It's the whole story of Walt in a direct and interesting way."

And, Marty noted, the Walt Disney Family Museum is branching out, getting involved in educational programs for children in the San Francisco area.

Marty was pleased that many of his family members were able to attend [son Howard, who lives with his family in Finland, couldn't make it]. But during the evening, "There was one thing I screwed up," he said. "I had written a thank you script that I was going to read, but under the circumstances, it was impossible to do that. I wanted to introduce all my family members in the attendance and I wanted to mention that my wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary next May. I didn't get a chance to mention it; fortunately, Leah wasn't mad at me."

Was this the most important award he's ever received?

"The Disney Legend Award will probably always be No. 1. It's the top award given out by the company. But this award is very special, in part because it's only the second time it's ever been given out [the first recipient was composer Richard Sherman, who was on hand during Marty's big night to sing a special song dedicated to his long-time friend]. They started giving out the award after Diane passed away, and it was the members of her family who said that I should be this year's recipient, so that's quite an honor."

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Marty Sklar accepts the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The night itself was "a lot of fun, in addition to raising a lot of money for the museum," Marty said. Master of ceremonies Neil Patrick Harris surprised Marty by inviting him on stage for an impromptu session with The Dapper Dans, a Disneyland mainstay for decades. "I fumbled a little during the song, but Neil guided me through it."

The Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award was the beginning of a typically busy month for Marty, who turns 83 in February.

Later in the month, Marty flew to central Florida for a whirlwind week that would have exhausted most folks half his age. First, he attended the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions [IAAPA] convention in Orlando, where he took part in a panel discussion, adding what he called "context about the industry."

"There were something like 30,000 people from all over the world in attendance" during the convention, Marty said. "They even set up new rides in the parking lot outside the convention center. And they had these little kewpie dolls on sale, which I found very reassuring that this amusement business we've been involved with for decades is going to go on."

On Friday, Nov. 18, Marty gave a talk to a group of about 100 Disney Vacation Club cast members at the DVC headquarters in Celebration. Ryan March, the editor of the Disney Files Magazine, served as the moderator. "I like to do things like that," Marty said of the hour-long session in front of a clearly rapt audience. March added that it was Marty who approached him about doing the presentation.

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Marty is surrounded by his family prior to the Walt Disney Family Museum gala on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

"It gives me the opportunity to find out what people are thinking. They, of course, look to me to tell them stories of Disney's past in hopes that they can then relate them to what they're doing now. They asked some really good questions, which I really enjoyed."

During the hour-long session, March asked Marty a series of questions about his long career and the many people he's worked with. He started by introducing the Disney Legend to the audience, saying "Marty is one of those rare people who's not interested in who gets the credit," as long as the job is well-done. He then related how Marty started his Disney career in 1955 by creating The Disneyland News, which was sold to guests for 10 cents. To which March added: "I can't believe our company ever sold anything for 10 cents."

Among the questions March asked:

"What's the best advice you ever heard?" Marty: "Don't avoid cliches. They're cliches because they work." That advice came from Star Wars creator George Lucas.

"What did [Disney artist and Legend] Herb Ryman mean when he said 'Poor taste costs no more'?" Marty: "Herb always believed in striving to do your best. He was very clear about that. He believed that if you didn't do your best, lesser ideas would be accepted and become reality."

To reiterate that point, Marty talked about legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who was an inspiration to Marty when he covered the team for the Daily Bruin campus newspaper in the early 1950s. Among Coach Wooden's many famous sayings was this gem: "Make every day your masterpiece."

"People really notice when you don't give it your best shot," Marty added.

In between these events, Marty was invited by several of his Imagineering protégés ["They're all like my kids," he said of the hundreds of people he's inspired over the years] to visit several projects they're currently working on, most notably the much-anticipated Pandora: The World of Avatar land under construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Marty came away from that visit amazed. "Guests will be blown away" when the new land opens during the summer of 2017, he said.

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Marty chats with Neil Patrick Harris in Disney's California Adventure after the awards gala. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The World of Avatar will feature two cutting-edge attractions, one a boat ride through the Navi River, the other a Soarin'-type flight simulator on the wings of a banshee. "And with Animal Kingdom's new emphasis on night-time shows, Pandora will be over-the-top in the dark," Marty said.

He also was shown the new Frozen attraction at Norway in Epcot and he came away impressed. "The Audio-Animatronics figures are really well-done ... excellent. There was one problem; the boat ride was a little rough in spots."

Marty missed the new holiday show over Lake Buena Vista between the new Disney Springs and Saratoga Resort. "I was sorry I didn't get to see the drones," he said. "From what I've heard, it's really a unique way to present a show outdoors."

To top off his whirlwind week, Marty gave an engrossing presentation at the D23's Destination D: Amazing Adventures, a two-day gathering at The Contemporary Resort. Marty's talk focused on the development of the Adventurelands that are featured in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He took guests on an audio and visual tour through the early concept days through completion, sprinkling his talk with fascinating stories about many of the people who helped bring those original ideas to life.

During his presentation, Marty showed a photo of Walt Disney talking to guests Disneyland near the entrance of Adventureland. Walt was leaning up against a trash can. "Walt loved to walk through the park and talk to the guests. He wanted to find out what they thought and wanted to see what was working and what wasn't. Here, as you see, Walt's 'office' was a garbage can."

Prior to Marty's presentation at the D23 event, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek updated guests on future attractions coming to Disney, other than Pandora.

Specifically, he mentioned how changes would be coming to Epcot in conjunction with that park's 35th anniversary. Chapek talked about making Epcot "more Disney, more relevant, timeless and more family friendly."

Marty, one of the key architects of Epcot in the 1970s and early 1980s, was happy to hear about the changes. "Over time, a lot of Epcot has become dated. I'm happy to hear they're looking into bringing some new ideas into play. It's time."

After the Destination D event, Marty headed back to southern California, where he ended his month the way he started it: Surrounded by family members for a big celebration, this time Thanksgiving.

Although a bit hectic at times, it was truly, a November to remember for the revered Disney Legend.

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Members of Walt Disney's family were on hand for the gala. From the left are Jennifer Goff, Tammy Miller, Joanne Miller, Walter Miller and Chris Miller. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]
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Neil Patrick Harris joins Disney Legend Richard Sherman for a musical tribute to Marty Sklar. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

December 11, 2016

Science At Your Feet

Gary Cruise banner

When you rush through EPCOT’s Future World early in the morning, part of that mad dash toward the standby line at Soarin’, do you ever notice the big circle on the ground?

Most of us don’t see it; we’re all so focused on getting to our next attraction, the next thrill ride, that we totally miss some pretty interesting stuff Disney’s Imagineers have built into the theme parks.

That’s it in the picture below, right in the middle of that big, open concourse.

Ring of Discoveries

That big circle is one of the things that most people walk right over without seeing, but for the few who stop and look, it’s pretty interesting. That odd piece of architecture is a history of scientific discoveries . . . arranged in a series of concentric circles. It’s a round timeline.

At the center are a few quotations from some well known scientists.

Quotation

Quotation

Quotation

Stones marking the most significant discoveries are arranged all around the circle; the oldest discoveries are closest to the center and the most recent are at the outer edge.

Here are a few examples from the Prehistoric Era:

Prehistoric Era Stone Tools

Prehistoric Era Fire

Prehistoric Era Wheel

That first ring, the Prehistoric Era covers a span of about 2 million years, discoveries were slow to develop back at the dawn of civilization. But things accelerated as the centuries passed. By the time of the Renaissance humanity was making great strides. Here are some samples from the Renaissance Period:

Renaissance Period Astronomical Telescope

Renaissance Period Scientific Method

There was another dramatic increase in the rate of change during the period historians refer to as The Industrial Revolution. There were lots of discoveries during the Industrial Revolution:

Industrial Revolution Steam Engine

Industrial Revolution Electric Generator

Industrial Revolution Genetics

Industrial Revolution Electric Light

Industrial Revolution Radio Waves

And the rate at which important discoveries were made increased even more in the 20th Century:

20th Century Quantum Theory

20th Century Airplane

20th Century Television

20th Century Computer

20th Century Nuclear Reactor

20th Century DNA

20th Century World Wide Web

So, the next time you’re rushing off to Soarin’ be sure to take a quick look down to see where that big ring of concentric circles is.

Then once you’ve enjoyed your ride stroll back to that concourse and have a closer look at the visual treat the Imagineers put there for you to enjoy!

December 10, 2016

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for Teens and Young Adults

by Evan L. Weston
AllEars® Guest Blogger

We're deep into the heart of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party season, and that means the scramble is on to snatch up passes for the Magic Kingdom's premier specially ticketed event.

In my feature article in the November 15 edition of the AllEars® newsletter, I discussed how Magic Kingdom tends to be the most difficult park to convince the teen and young adult demographic to try, and the Christmas Party can exacerbate some of those perceptions. The event is built not around thrills or a club atmosphere, but around exclusive character meets and once-a-year shows and parades. But don't let the surface events fool you; there's plenty of fun to be found for our subset, including every young adult's absolute favorite thing in the world. Say it with me...

FREE FOOD!

MVMCP Food

Yes, there are not one, not two, but eight complimentary treats included with your Christmas Party admission! The offerings include four different cookies, three beverages, and what turned out to be my girlfriend's favorite, a blue raspberry snow cone that you should definitely have before it gets too cold! On the food side, the best offerings are the snickerdoodle cookies, on hand at Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland, and the peppermint bark cookies from Tomorrowland's Lunching Pad. If you're out on a cool Florida night, you can pick up hot chocolate at both of those locations, but I tended towards the spiced hot cider, located all the way in the back of the park at Pete's Silly Sideshow. It's worth the trek, if only to gawk at the sometimes three-hour line to meet the Seven Dwarves!

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party also includes a benefit you shouldn't discount: some of the shortest waits you'll ever see on the Magic Kingdom's flagship attractions.

MVMCP Lines

With capacity limited and most of the attention focused on the shows and parades, attractions that normally see wait times exceeding an hour often can be done in under 20 minutes. Space Mountain, for instance, never went higher than 25 minutes at any point during our Friday night visit to the Christmas Party. Line times plummet further after Holiday Wishes and especially after the final parade; just after 11 p.m., only the uber-popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had a wait higher than 20 minutes, sitting at a very doable half an hour.

Lastly, for those looking to get into the Christmas spirit, Holiday Wishes is well worth your time. Don't bother waiting forever in front of the castle for a premium view, though; instead catch it from the side of the castle (where plenty of the show is still visible) and stay near a hub exit, ready to break back for the rides before the crowd disperses. It's really not a bad view:

Holiday Wishes

For other entertainment, Tomorrowland features four performances a night from VoicePlay, a supremely talented, Orlando-based a cappella group that came to fame on NBC's "The Sing-Off." The shows are, for whatever reason, never particularly crowded, and offer a very cool theatrical experience. It's absolutely wild what these guys can do with just their voices!

Between free food, short waits, and a little bit of Christmas magic, be sure to remember that Magic Kingdom, even Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, has something for everyone in the family!

Mickey & Minnie

December 5, 2016

Art Smith's Homecoming beefs up Disney Springs' restaurant offerings

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Guests at Art Smith's Homecoming in The Landing neighborhood at Disney Springs prepare to dig in to some of the restaurant's signature items. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

As celebrity chefs go, Art Smith is the antithesis of the flashy food mavens you often see on TV cooking channels. He's thoughtful, articulate and genuinely down-to-earth.

But that doesn't mean Smith isn't passionate about what he does.

When Smith partnered with the Walt Disney Company to create Art Smith's Homecoming, one of the crown jewels of the newly transformed Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment district, he did so with the intention of bringing back the traditional family dining concept that's been lost in the hustle and bustle of our 21st Century lifestyles.

"It's great to see people enjoying food," Smith said during a recent interview at his restaurant, located in The Landing neighborhood of Disney Springs, the district's own version of "restaurant row."

Smith is a proponent of what he calls "celebrational family food," as well as sharing at the dinner table. "I like to serve food that's 'shareable'," meaning the meal is placed at the middle of the table and everybody just digs in.

"The sharing of food makes it more precious. And where I came from, we always had a salad with every meal."

Smith is no stranger to preparing delicious food, owning restaurants or being in the spotlight.

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Chef Art Smith is a proponent of family style, shareable dining. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

He has cooked for several political leaders and celebrities, and was even Oprah Winfrey's personal chef for several years. "Oprah taught me some great lessons," he says with a laugh, "including, 'Wine with food, thank you very much!'"

He's appeared on a number of television shows and specials, has written four books, has traveled the world as part of the State Department's Chefs' Program, owns restaurants in Chicago [TABLE fifty-two] and Washington, D.C. [Art and Soul] and has won several awards, including the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year in 2007.

Indeed, if there's one takeaway from talking to Smith is that he's a caring individual.

He cares about his home state of Florida [he's a sixth-generation Floridian whose great-grandfather was a moonshiner], making a commitment to use only Florida-grown products in Homecoming [as it says on the sign outside his establishment, "Florida Kitchen, Southern Shine"]. He also cares passionately about teaching children sound nutritional values. To that end, he founded the non-profit Common Threads. He's also on the board of a nutrition program in Minneapolis called Kids' Cafe.

Smith and his husband, Jesus Salgueiro, have four adopted children, so for him, the stakes are pretty high when it comes to children's nutrition.

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Church Lady Deviled Eggs are one of many must-have selections at Art Smith's Homecoming. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

Years ago, "I played the whole funny fat chef thing," he said. At one point, he admits, his weight ballooned over 350 pounds. He credits healthier food choices and running marathons for helping him drop more than 100 pounds. "We have four kids. I wanna live a long, healthy life for them. You have to be responsible when it comes to your food choices, including cutting down on sugar and salt consumption. My No. 1 rule is don't drink your calories. When you take better care of yourself, you take better care of others."

Smith is involved in a number of projects which reaffirm his commitment to responsibility when it comes to the field of agriculture.

He recently purchased a former jai alai arena with plans to build a bakery and market. "I wanted to create a real farmer's market, one that showcased fresh items from Florida farms. You have to remember there are a lot of hard-working families on our farms," Smith said, adding that "Florida is the winter pantry of America."

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Art's Fabulous Fried Chicken is buttermilk-brined, moist and tender. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

He also purchased an Antebellum house with the idea of turning it into a school of sustainability.

"Most chefs don't know where their food comes from," Smith says, adding that many have a "Cisco-to-table mentality," meaning they take food from a delivery truck, cook it, then serve it. "Chefs should be more conscious of health and wellness."

He's also involved in helping to bring back the sagging oyster industry in Florida. "In Apalachicola, the water has changed so much and the oyster industry has suffered because of it." An oyster farming program he helped initiate at a local community college is so popular that it has a six-year waiting list.

Smith is the first Disney College Program graduate to open a business on Disney property, a fact that he's very proud of. "That's me when I was a young pup," he says, pointing to a picture of himself while in the program in 1980.

"I'm a big believer in internships," he said. He's also a big Disney fan. "I admire the sense of team spirit at Disney, the sense of family. It's no wonder so many people stay and work here for as long as they do." Smith first visited Walt Disney World when he was just 12; he and his family stayed at the Polynesian Resort.

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According to Chef Art Smith, Homecoming's desserts "taste like momma made 'em." [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

Sense of family is so important to Art Smith and it shows through in the signature items Homecoming offers.

His Church Lady Deviled Eggs are truly mouth-watering. Momma's Mac and Cheese ... delicious. His buttermilk-brined Fabulous Fried Chicken is moist, tender and absolutely scrumptious. Addie Mae's Chicken and Dumplings ... superb. There's also fried catfish, shrimp and grits and an assortment of sandwiches and burgers. Homecoming also has a full bar with a variety of signature drinks.

And then there are the rich, decadent desserts ... desserts, Smith says proudly, "that taste like momma made 'em."

Smith says that Homecoming was five years in the making, but during the process, he never once thought about how much it would cost. "I'm a big believer in dreaming it and making that dream come true.

"I hope you find inspiration here. For all of us, the sharing of a meal is a common, anticipated ritual that reunites us with loved ones and brings a sense of balance to our lives. It's my heart's desire ... to serve a simple, unfussy meal of freshly made foods ... and see how it enriches your lives."



December 2, 2016

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/mb110616-key.pdf

We received 36 correct responses; all of you knew that the inventor of many of the special effects and illusions experienced in the Haunted Mansion, and elsewhere around the world, was none other than Imagineer extraordinaire, Yale Gracey! Did you know that a Haunted Mansion attraction of some sort can be found in every Magic Kingdom theme park around the world. If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend Jason Surrell’s book on the subject, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic."

The winner of a Goofy/Donald pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Matt H. of Smithfield, NC.


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

http://allears.net/ae/mb120116.pdf

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, November.” All of these events happened sometime during the month of November. This will, in fact be the last month of this series, since we started with the month of December last year. Boy, time flies when you’re having fun, or not having fun, or working, or shopping, or… Oh, you get the picture! By the way, did you notice that many of Disney’s animated features were released in the month of November? A majority of films have been released during the springtime (June-July), with the second most popular time of year being late fall (November-December.) On the flip side, the lowly month of April was completely ignored all the way up until 1995, when “A Goofy Movie” was released on April 7, 1995.

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 dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on December 30, 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 dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

May your holidays be magical and safe, from our Disney family to yours, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

November 28, 2016

First Timers Trip to Shanghai Disneyland

By Guest Blogger: Michelle Buchecker

As part of a business trip to Shanghai in late October 2016, I decide to add an extra day and visit Shanghai Disneyland. What follows are my experiences and impressions and hope that this helps anyone who may also be going for their first time.


shanghai-dl-main%20entrance.jpg

Getting There

Shanghai is in the Peoples Republic of China. Normally you need a Visa to visit China. Shanghai has this 144 hour exception rule that if you are just going to Shanghai and spend less than 144 hours there, you can go without a Visa as long as Shanghai is just a stopover for you in route to another destination. In other words, you are not permitted to fly directly home from Shanghai. This is not a well-known rule and you may have trouble when people check your passport and don’t find a Visa. I had a Visa and it was easy to use. Not so easy to get though. You have to be very careful in filling out the Visa form.

When you arrive, be sure to hit up an ATM. There are currency exchanges right after you pass Customs, but if you go farther down in the terminal you will find plenty of ATMs which gives you a better exchange rate.

Shanghai Disneyland is not that far from Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG). A taxi ride will run you approximately 100 RMB (as of October 2016 it’s about 6.7 RMB for US Dollar, so under $20 US). Be sure to get in the regular Taxi line and don’t fall for those people hawking “Taxi! Taxi!” inside the terminal as they are not metered.

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, have a picture on your phone or a printout of the hotel name and address in Chinese for the taxi driver. Most drivers do not speak English. And the area where Disney is in is so new that even with the address in Chinese they may not know where it is. Saying “Disney” helps somewhat.

Address of Toy Story Hotel

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Toy Story Hotel

I opted to stay at the Toy Story Hotel. This is the equivalent of an All-Star value hotel in Walt Disney World with a few differences. One difference is that the rooms all open to an inside hallway instead of an outside walkway. Additionally, there were 8 bottles of water in the room that were complimentary since the tap water in China is known for parasites.

The room is well-themed in a Toy Story motif. My room had two full sized beds, small table with 2 chairs, dresser, nightstand, mini-fridge, small closet, and bathroom with tub/shower combination. The outlets are equipped to accommodate American 2 prong plugs. The only time you’ll need an adapter is if you have a plug that’s grounded.

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The TV has a version of CNN, BBC, and the Discovery Channel in English. In addition, it has complimentary on demand movies of a handful of Pixar movies, Mulan, TRON, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

I think the hotel may have Wi-Fi but my employer implored on me not to connect to Wi-Fi, or connect to cell service except to text (so no email, social media, etc.) due to controls that the China government imposes, and that devices are susceptible to hacking. So I cannot comment on the speed or reliability of the internet or Wi-Fi.

The hotel boasts a small food court and a grab-and-go area.

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The food court has 4 stations. Three are devoted to Chinese tastes with lots of fish (even for breakfast) and pork. The fourth station is for Western tastes with eggs, sausage, croissants, etc. for breakfast. There are 3 combo meal options for breakfast. You cannot get any of it ala carte or mix and match between the combo meals.

For dinner, I had the chicken satay from the Western station. The chicken was dark meat chicken with a delicious peanut sauce, and included rice, and vegetables that were a little too spicy for me, but I’m a wuss when it comes to spicy. Beverages include apple juice, orange juice, coca cola, water, bottled green tea, and milk. With your breakfast meal you will get a cup at checkout for tea or coffee. Equal and sugar is available. If you want salt you will have to ask for it. Chopsticks and western utensils are available as well.

Differences compared to the All-Stars is that the cast members will bus your trays for you from the table. Also I visited in late October and there were more cast members than guests. It’s a little eerie with SO many cast members just standing around as you have the restaurant virtually to yourself.

The grab-and-go area features pastries, hot dogs, chicken bau buns, and similar small items. In addition, beer, and small bottles of wine are sold. Hot Dog, nuts, and beer for about $11
Cast members at the hotel spoke conversational English, enough to greet you, ask how you are and wish you a magical day. If you have a question that is involved, you are best off going to the concierge.


Shopping at the hotel: The shop is called Lotso Shop.

It has many Toy Story themed items plus regular Disney items. Not much that is Shanghai Disney specific.

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A complimentary shuttle drops you off at the stop for both Disneytown and Shanghai Disney. If it’s not raining, it’s not that far to walk.


Shanghai Disneyland


Shanghai Disneyland is owned and operated by the Walt Disney company, unlike Tokyo Disney which has a licensing arrangement. As such you will notice many similarities as the United States versions. For instance, when you go to the website for Shanghai Disneyland you’ll notice the same look and feel as Walt Disney World and you can log in with your WDW website user id and password. Likewise, the app is similar to My Disney Experience app.

shanghai-dl-welcome-sign.jpg

As with any Disney park, getting there for park opening will permit you to ride lots of attractions before the lines really start. FastPasses are available for several rides. To get a FP, there is a Guest Services area in each land where you get your FP for an attraction in that land. You will receive a return time window and can get a new FP when you use that one or after the window expires.

Rides with FastPasses are TRON, Buzz Lightyear, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Soaring over the Horizon.

Shanghai Disneyland also has many Single Rider lines. Take advantage of this as it significantly reduces your wait time. Single rider lines are TRON, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

When you arrive at the park, you will go through a metal detector and bag check which is much more thorough than WDW. After that, when you go through the turnstiles you will be on Mickey Avenue which is similar to Main Street USA but about half the length.

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ust like Main Street, there is shopping and confectionery on Mickey Avenue. At the time of this writing, they were offering 10% discount off all merchandise purchased before noon on Mickey Avenue. Discount is planned to run through the end of November 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised if this continued during slow periods though.

Just like WDW, you can have purchases sent to the front of the park for later pick-up or to your Disney hotel. Unlike WDW if you shop early enough in the day, your purchase will arrive at your hotel on the same day. So take advantage of shopping early in the day and not have to carry your purchases around.


Gardens of Imagination - Beyond Mickey Avenue is Gardens of Imagination which hosts the Carousel, Dumbo, Meet Mickey, and meeting various Marvel characters.

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Carousel in Gardens of Imagination -- In addition, this is a great photo op with the Storytellers Statue (Partners statue) with the castle in the background.

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Rainy Day - There are Photopass photographers at this point but you really have to approach them and get their attention as they don’t approach guests.

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This is one of the differences I noticed at Shanghai Disney, is that cast members rarely look guests in the eye. Occasionally they will greet you, but they are not effusive. It’s not a language barrier as that was the same behavior they exhibited with all guests.

Stretching out from Gardens of Imagination going clockwise from the left is: Tomorrowland (yes it’s on the opposite side as the US parks), Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, and Adventure Isle.

This castle is the most elaborate of all Disney Parks. And is best experience in-person. It is second best experienced with lots of pictures.

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A few of the many murals in the castle.

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Panorama of murals in Castle rotunda

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Here is a castle make out of crystals in the Crystal Shop in the Castle (almost a little MC Escher if you think about it)

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Tomorrowland boasts a few attractions.

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One of the headliner attractions is TRON Lightcycle Power Run.

This is similar to Rock n Roller Coaster except you are positioned like you are riding a motorcycle and there is no inversion. But it’s a great high-speed indoor coaster. You will have to put all belongings in a locker prior to getting in line. Lockers are free, just go up to one of the touch screens by the lockers, create a pin number and you will be assigned a locker to store your belongings.

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Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue is similar to Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin except it’s MUCH easier to shoot the targets and you get good visual feedback.

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Tomorrowland also has the Jet Packs similar to the Rocket Rods, an interactive Stich Encounter, and meeting Star Wars characters.

Fantasyland boasts the most attractions.

“Once Upon a Time” Adventure" - This attraction in the castle takes you through the story of Snow White. In small groups you walk through the various scenes that come to life. I think the scene with the woodland animals is interactive as a lot of kids were waving their hands and it looked like the creatures were reacting to it. Be aware that there are a LOT of stairs that you have to climb to get to the attraction.

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – similar to the Magic Kingdom version. However, since there is no FP+ here, you can get a FP for this more easily if you do so at the beginning of the day. In addition, the single rider line is a great option here. Peter Pan’s Flight – was closed when I was here.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - This ride-through attraction takes you through Pooh’s world and is very whimsical.

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Voyage to the Crystal Grotto
– I have to say that I don’t get the attraction of this ride. It has long lines and uses boats similar to Jungle Cruise that take you by scenes of a handful of Disney movies. If the line is short, go ahead and do it. But otherwise I don’t think you’d be missing much. Here is a scene from Voyage to the Crystal Grotto

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Hunny Pot Spin – Tea cups but with hunny pots. Alice in Wonderland Maze is a wander-through area that shows whimsical components of Alice in Wonderland. Cute and worth a walk-through.

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Frozen: Sing-Along Celebration – Check your times guide for when this occurs. Somehow I missed this so I can’t comment on what language it’s conducted in.

Treasure Cove - Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for Sunken Treasure:

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This was the single best attraction I experienced. It’s like if Spiderman from Universal Studios and Pirates in WDW had a baby. It is the most intimate and immersive storyline I’ve encountered in an attraction. The boats are similar to the boats on the WDW Pirates ride, but all of the animatronics are really close to the boats and the ceiling alternates from being high like WDW Pirates, or more enclosed.

In addition, there are overly large screens in some areas like Spiderman to give the sensation of more movement and visuals than what you are actually doing. Go on this multiple times and take advantage of the single rider line.

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Due to weather I didn’t get a chance to experience the Explorer Canoes. The other attractions in this area are Shipwreck Shore which is a kids play area, Siren’s Revenge which is a walk-through a pirate ship (think Swiss Family Robinson treehouse but a ship), and a Jack Sparrow Stunt show.

Adventure Isle - I realize that I didn’t do any attractions in this land. Attractions are Soaring over the Horizon (we have FP+ for this next month in WDW so I didn’t feel the need), Roaring Rapids (this is like the raft ride in Animal Kingdom. Fastpasses were already gone by 2 PM on a day where the park was relatively empty and the wait was 40 minutes. Plan accordingly when you go.),

Camp Discovery which is a collection of trails, rope courses, and an archaeological dig site for kids. In addition, there is a Tarzan stage show.

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Food

Traveling by myself I am more likely to eat counter service. Also I am not a particularly adventurous eater, so I had a cheeseburger and fries in Tomorrowland. However, there were several table service restaurants that looked interesting: Barbossa’s Bounty overlooking the Pirates attraction, and Wandering Moon Teahouse.

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The Royal Banquet Hall, which is in the castle, is where you can meet the princesses (sound familiar?). What isn’t familiar was the cast members standing in front of the Royal Banquet trying to entice guests to come and eat at the restaurant. Please come eat in the Castle!

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Tortuga Treats sell Turkey Legs but didn’t open until 2 PM the day I was there. But there was already a long line by 1:30.

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Sadly, I did not see any Dole Whips. But Remy’s Patisserie had plenty of goodies to satisfy when I needed a snack like this bread with savory pumpkin filling.

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Bathrooms are readily located throughout the park. I can’t speak to the men’s restrooms but in the women’s restrooms most of the stalls are squat toilets, but if you head farther back you will see the “Western” toilets. Easiest way to recognize the difference from the outside of the stalls is that the squat toilets have 1 or 2 steps leading up to the stall and the western toilets don’t.

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There was plenty of toilet paper. I’m a little hesitant about the water, so I just used Purell to cleanse my hands.

You may have heard on other parts of the internet that one of the Chinese cultural behaviors is that young children have split pants and when they have to “go” they just squat and go where they are. I did not see any of that, but I did see an 8-year-old boy peeing into the landscape from the sidewalk as his mom was nearby just waiting for him to finish. There were a handful of locations in the park that had a slight urine smell. Not as bad as a summer day in a Chicago “L” station, but noticeable nonetheless.

DisneyTown is like a miniature version of Disney Springs or Downtown Disney in Anaheim. It is located next to the theme park and you can access it either from the bus drop off and car parking lot, or there is an entrance from inside the park next to Tomorrowland. In fact, if it’s a busy day, you may want to consider walking through DisneyTown to enter the park from this entrance instead of the main entrance. Kind of like using the International Gateway entrance at Epcot.

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There is a World of Disney Store, Wolfgang Pucks, Cheesecake Factory, local Chinese eateries, and other shopping like Sephora and Lego.

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The World of Disney store had many of the same items as WDW. The selection of Shanghai Disneyland items was best here but still not as large as I expected. Prices were reasonable.
I think the most surprising for me is that I was expecting a lot more Mulan merchandise. Mulan is my favorite Disney princess but just like the US she seems to be relegated to minor princess status.

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Credit cards are readily accepted. No Disney Visa card or DVC discounts. Also a bag to put your purchases in costs 1 RMB each. Currently it is about 6.7 RMB per US dollar.

I enjoyed my time here and as Tigger says “Ta-ta for now”!

Michelle Buchecker is a lifelong Disney fan having received a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll on the day she was born. She is the creator of the iPhone app "500 Things to do in Walt Disney World Before You Die". Michelle married her husband at the WDW Wedding Pavilion with a dinner reception in the Boardwalk Hotel, and a dessert reception in Epcot watching Iluminations. She has visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World countless times and has been fortunate to check off Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, and Shanghai Disneyland off her bucket list. Watch out Hong Kong Disney, you're next!

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