Page 2 of 3

December 18, 2017

Omnimover and PeopleMover: A look at two Disney-designed ride conveyances


Bob Gurr sits behind the wheel of a car as he tests the ride system that would be used on the Ford Magic Skyway attraction during the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Note the individual drive wheels embedded in the track. [The Walt Disney Company]

From the time when Disneyland was in the planning stages right up until today, the creative team at the Walt Disney Company has been at the forefront of developing innovative, wildly imaginative park attractions.

They've also been leaders in designing new and imaginative ways for guests to enjoy those attractions.

Ride systems are as crucial to the success of an attraction as are the story lines of the shows themselves.

The 1964-1964 New York World's Fair introduced many innovative ride conveyances, among them the water jet system that propelled the boats used on the "it's a small world" attraction, as well as the rotating theaters guests sat in during the Carousel of Progress. The system used by "it's a small world" was so successful, that the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, in development in California at the time, was switched from a walk-through to the now legendary boat ride.

And then there were two ride systems that were in the planning stages during the Fair that transformed attraction conveyances and are still being used to this day.

The Omnimover and the PeopleMover.

The Ford Magic Skyway was one of the most popular shows at the Fair, in large part because Disney's creative staff was able to devise a system that propelled actual Ford vehicles throughout the attraction. Of course, the realistic-looking dinosaurs featured during the attraction also added to the ride's appeal.

The brains behind the Magic Skyway ride system was Imagineering legend Bob Gurr, who came to Disney as a "car guy," but who branched out and quickly became the designer of just about anything that rode on wheels in Disneyland.

Walt Disney, left, takes a ride on the Ford Magic Skyway attraction at the New York World's Fair. With him are Henry Ford II and Robert Moses.

One of Gurr's breakthrough concepts came during the design of the Matterhorn Mountain attraction, which debuted in 1959. "We used track-mounted wheels to control the speeds of the bobsleds," he said. Working in conjunction with Arrow Development, they dubbed the track-mounted wheels "booster brakes," meaning the bobsleds could be sped up or slowed down during their trek through the fabled mountain, allowing more than one bobsled to be on the Matterhorn track at the same time, an industry first.

When Walt Disney signed a contract with the Ford Motor Company to create the Ford Magic Skyway attraction in the early 1960s, he nonchalantly told Ford chairman Henry Ford II that they would use the booster brake system on the planned attraction. Walt returned to California and sought out Gurr, telling him: "OK, Bobby, you're gonna work on the Ford ride. I told them you're gonna use the booster brakes, so get started."

"The booster brakes were a logical system," Gurr said. "It was individual vehicles propelled on a track." It also was the forerunner of the PeopleMover system. The Ford system had a series of propulsion wheels embedded in the track throughout the attraction. Each was driven by, as Gurr said, "ordinary squirrel cage type motors."

The cars above, stripped down to their body shell, had flat panels attached to their chassis. The motorized wheels on the track would spin, propelling each car when the wheels came in contact with the flat panel, called a platen. The cars used for the attraction were stripped-down Lincolns, Mercurys, Falcons, Comets and a new sports car that was soon to capture car lovers' imaginations: The Mustang.

"I worked continuously from July 1961 to April 1964 to get this monster to work," Gurr said. "It eventually took almost twice as long to develop as it took to build all of Disneyland!"

Gurr would take his experience with the Ford Magic Skyway system and translate it into the creation of the PeopleMover attraction, which debuted in 1967 as part of the Tomorrowland redesign at Disneyland. Disney mechanical engineer Bill Watkins "developed a track-mounted, drive-wheel propulsion system based on my successful Magic Skyway drive system, itself stolen from Arrow Development's booster-brake track wheel invention" for Matterhorn Mountain, Gurr said.

The Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space in Disneyland was the first attraction to employ the Omnimover ride system. [Disneyland]

The PeopleMover, first introduced as the WEDway PeopleMover, is still in use today in Walt Disney World, giving guests a relaxing tour of Tomorrowland.

There are key differences between the PeopleMover and the Omnimover systems.

"The Omnimover is a connected endless chain of vehicles," Gurr said. "The Haunted Mansion is an Omnimover."

On the Omnimover system, the ride vehicles have the ability to twist and turn and go up and down inclines; on a PeopleMover system, the vehicles travel straight ahead, with the ability to negotiate turns.

Gurr worked with Disney Legend John Hench on the Omnimover design and is even credited with coming up with the name for the ride conveyance. The design came about when Gurr picked up a candied apple on a stick from Hench's desk and began twirling it. From that very basic concept came the final design, featuring a welded two-pipe rail track, drive fin, squeezer drive nuts, gears and linkages.

The first Omnimover system was used on the Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction, which debuted in 1967. "We had very little developmental problems with it," Gurr remembers. "We did, however, improve the drive unit over the years on future attractions."

There are several Disney park attractions that are similar in concept to the Omnimover ... but are not, technically, Omnimovers.

The fabled "doom buggies" in the Haunted Mansion are propelled by the Omnimover system.

Many people believe Spaceship Earth in Epcot employs an Omnimover system. They're wrong.

"Spaceship Earth is not an Omnimover, but a one-of-a-kind vehicle conveyor totally unlike and sharing no parts with an Omnimover," Gurr said.

"I disagreed so strongly with the Spaceship Earth design that I was moved to other projects — thankfully. It has had a number of redesign attempts over the years to try to reduce the high maintenance required."

Some of the newer adaptations of the Omnimover system include Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, the Seas with Nemo and Friends and Journey into Imagination. World of Motion and Horizons used Omnimover systems, as did the If You Had Wings/Delta Dreamflight attraction, which now features the Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

Related Videos

Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar discuss Disney's contributions to the NY Worlds Fair:

Jack Spence discusses the origin of the People Mover

November 27, 2017

'Ink & Paint' is a celebration of the women who toiled behind the scenes at Walt Disney Animation


A painter carefully places color onto a celluloid sheet as she works on a scene from "Pinocchio." [The Walt Disney Company]

The next time you have the opportunity to watch a classic Disney movie, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Bambi or Pinocchio, make sure to read the opening credits.

Some of the most famous animators to have ever put pencil to paper for the Walt Disney Animation Studios will be listed. You'll see names like Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Woolie Reitherman, Ollie Johnston and Marc Davis.

Giants of animation, to be sure. But the fact of the matter is, their success wouldn't have been complete without the contributions of the scores of women who turned their sketches into camera-ready cels.

The names Ruthie Tompson, Marge Champion or Arlene Ludwig probably don't ring a bell. The same likely holds true for Hazel Sewell, Mary Weiser or Lillian Bounds.

But for every well-known artist in the Disney fold during the Golden Age of Disney animated films, there were 10 women working behind the scenes, most toiling as inkers and painters. Their job was to transform the artists' rough pencil sketches into sharp, colorful works of art on celluloid sheets that ultimately would become a full-length animated motion picture.

These women, whose anonymity belied their vitally important contributions and their talent, are the subject of a new Disney Editions book, Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation, by Mindy Johnson. More than a deep dive into the history of Disney animation, Ink & Paint is a celebration of the women who not only received little credit for their artwork, but often had to endure difficult working conditions to make each film the success it became.

"I had always been fascinated with the [Ink & Paint] department," Ms. Johnson said in a recent interview. "I would find myself walking through the hallways and peering in on all those extraordinary colors. When I pitched the idea to my editor, we both thought it would be a charming little volume on tea cakes and tea time, paint smocks and the tunnel of love.

"Everybody underestimated what was going on there."

It took five years to put together Ink & Paint, which Ms. Johnson called "a journey, but a labor of love."

"When I started, not much had been written about the subject. There was this myth of pretty girls tracing color and that was kind of all that anybody knew about it."

The cover of "Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation," by Mindy Johnson and published by Disney Editions. [Disney Editions]

Ms. Johnson interviewed scores of women for the book, some surviving inkers or painters, as well as many of the offspring of the women whose story has been waiting to be told for decades.

"It was a very eye-opening experience," Ms. Johnson said. "In terms of what existed on women's roles in ink and paint, there was hardly anything at all. So we had to sort of think peripherally, and re-approach how we could use [the Disney Archives]. It took a different approach, a different way, a different thought process.

"We found some real gems during the research. Meeting members of family, retracing experiences, really opened things up quite a bit. We went through closets and under beds. We saw a lot of private collections."

Ink & Paint measures a hefty 10" x 13" and is 384 pages in total. It is brimming with Ms. Johnson's easy-to-read, yet thorough reporting, beautiful photos [many borrowed from willing interviewees] and wonderful archival illustrations. "As you can see by the out-of-control bibliography, I conducted an extensive amount of interviews and, quite frankly, with the number of ladies who were working at the Studio at the time, I just scratched the surface" on the women who were completely unsung and whose story was totally overdue.

Author Mindy Johnson, who devoted five years in researching and writing the story of the women of Walt Disney's animation in "Ink & Paint."

I asked Ms. Johnson if there were any women still living who had worked on Disney's earliest animated shorts and she was quick to respond. "Yes, we have one [although there may well be other ladies out there]: The amazing Ruthie Tompson."

Ms. Tompson turned 107 back in July. As a young girl growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1930s, she'd often walk past the Disney Brothers Studios and peak through a window to watch the small team of artists at work. One day, Walt Disney himself invited her inside for a quick tour of the office. A few weeks later, Walt asked Ruthie and a few of her neighborhood pals to appear as extras in the latest Alice comedy they were working on.

"Going into the animation lab was a wonderful experience," Ruthie told Ms. Johnson, "watching the drawings being made ... What kid wouldn't be fascinated? I'd sit there all day. Roy [Disney, Walt's brother] would finally say, 'Don't you think it's time for you to go home for dinner?'" Ruthie would go on to become one of the most respected members of the Ink and Paint Department.

Earlier this year, Ms. Johnson presented an event at the Motion Picture Academy, writing, creating and shaping it, which celebrated the trailblazing women of animation, both at Disney and at other animation studios. Ruthie Tompson was in attendance, as was Marge Champion [the fabled dancer who served as a model for the artists working on Snow White] and famed publicist Arlene Ludwig.

"With Ruthie in the room and with a handful of women in animation over the years up until today, we had at least one women who had worked on every Disney animated film ever created," Ms. Johnson said. "A few weeks ago, it was my deep honor to present Ruthie with a copy of my book. We sat for a couple of hours and poured over it and talked about everything. It was sort of a yearbook to her."

Walt Disney holds some swatches of color as he visits the Ink & Paint Department in the 1960s. [The Walt Disney Company]

Ink & Paint is filled with many fascinating stories and a host of intricate details. For instance, everyone knows about Walt's love of trains; but did you know that he had a soda fountain installed in his home so that his daughters, Sharon and Diane, could entertain their friends?

The book begins with an essay about women, titled "What I Know About Girls," which was written by Walt himself. It appeared in Parents magazine in January of 1949. "That was something I came across quite a while ago and felt that if it wasn't the introduction, at least it needed to be part of the book," Ms. Johnson said.

There also are a number of sidebars sprinkled throughout the book, called Feminine First, which offer an in-depth look into some of the lesser-known figures in Disney animation and animation in general. "It became apparent that a number of women needed to be highlighted and featured," Ms. Johnson said. "Women were really breaking ground in some pretty amazing areas. It was important to me that you heard as much of these ladies' stories and their voices as possible."

Ms. Johnson also delves into the working conditions the inkers and painters endured during those early days, even though "in the 1930s, the country was in the height of the Great Depression, so having a job at all, particularly at Disney, was like, as one of the ladies put it, 'You won the lottery!'

"So there was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of pure gusto and moxie going on among everyone." Ms. Johnson also pointed out that at the time, members of the Ink & Paint Department made more money -- 15 dollars a week -- than a school teacher.

It also was a time when the concept of air-conditioning didn't exist.

"In trying to keep things cool, they experimented with a few things," Ms. Johnson said, "but always it was about retaining the clarity and pristine state of the cels. So dust and other things were an issue. when they had to institute smocks and hairnets and visors, it did get a little stuffy." Heat and humidity not only made working conditions uncomfortable, they also played havoc with the integrity of the paint, often causing it to run or flake.

"If it was too hot, they would shut down and they'd come in during the evenings and early mornings. They [Disney] weren't slave drivers in that regard, but they had to meet deadlines for the films. George The Ice Cream Man did a bang-up job during those hit summer months!"

Still, the hours were long and the work was tedious for the members of Ink & Paint.

It was the inkers' job to trace over the artists' sketches onto celluloid, using black ink. The desired qualities for an inker were accuracy to the pencil drawing; consistency of the pen line, and the ability to improve on the drawing. Inkers used pen points that ranged from fine to super heavy. According to Ms. Johnson, "Drawings were far more than 'traced' or 'transferred;' they were translated. Each pen stroke required interpreting the animator's intent while keeping specific touches of individuality and style intact." To achieve a sure line, Ms. Johnson added, "many inkers controlled their breathing between lines." To maintain a steady hand, inkers would refrain from smoking or drinking coffee.

Once the cels dried, they were checked for uniformity and completion. If a cel didn't measure up, it was sent back to be re-inked. Once each cel passed muster, it was sent to the painting department, where painters would begin the equally arduous task of adding color to the reverse side of the cel. A painter would use one color at a time on cel, put it aside to let the ink dry [about three hours] and then move on to another cel. Depending on the scene, a cel might require dozens of color applications.

"For the most part, they were young, they were excited and they loved what they were doing," Ms. Johnson said. "There was a camaraderie, because they could see the end result. Their work ethic, too, was important. And their work was valued and appreciated."

Some of the women as shown at work in Disney Animation's Ink & Paint Department. [The Walt Disney Company]

The inkers and painters were talented artists in their own right who were subjected to regular performance evaluations. Prospective new hires were given portfolio reviews every Tuesday. It was a grueling process. "Sometimes, even a woman's signature or how they filled out their application forms" would be scrutinized. "Even though they came in with a high level of talent, they still had to go through an extensive training program." If 40 women initially took part in a training session, perhaps three would make the cut and become either inkers or painters.

In reality, the level of talent and artistry in Ink & Paint was extraordinary. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Hazel Sewell, the older sister of Lillian Bounds, one of the company's original inkers and painters who would go on the marry the boss, was in charge of the Ink & Paint Department and was the person who championed an escalation of caliber and talent within the ranks.

"Hazel was the first to institute an all-female department," Ms. Johnson said. "She was the first to say that women were better ... that they would get the work done faster and they're harder workers."

There was another woman, Mary Weiser, who single-handedly transformed inking and painting. In the 1930s, after Walt built a then-state-of-the-art facility designed specifically for the inkers and painters, Ms. Weiser developed the first and only paint lab for animation.

"At one point, when they began working on the color for Flowers and Trees in 1934, there were about 80 colors on the shelves," Ms. Johnson said. "Transitioning from then to the early work on Snow White, they went from 80 shades of color to 1,500 shades, many of which were developed and cultivated ... translucent solutions and adhesives and sprays and inks. They even found a formula for hand lotion. They needed something that wasn't going to leave a greasy residue on the cels, and yet the hands of the artists needed to be supple."

In her research, Ms. Johnson found a memo from the company's production managers to the men in the in-between department [in-betweens are the drawings which create the illusion of motion]. "Walt was always mindful of the women's working conditions," Ms. Johnson said. "The memo to the in-betweeners said, 'Watch your language. Walt wants this to be a comfortable place for the women to be working.'"

Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation is the story of the ladies who not only pioneered animation in the early days, it carries on to the women who helped develop the CAP computer-generated technology. "I felt like it was a more natural ending to bring you up to the CAP era. Who the women were and who was at the forefront of that technology, to sort of book-end it."

Ms. Johnson, the author of Tinker Bell: An Evolution, is currently doing book signings and presentations at books stores and colleges in support of Ink & Paint. She's hoping to turn her book into a college course. "It's important not to let the title sway you," she adds. "The book goes far beyond the women of Ink & Paint, but also tracks where women progressed and advanced into animation, editing, backgrounds, writing ... virtually, every discipline of the animation process."

"I've pitched this as a class," she said, "and there are a couple of places already considering it." She's also in the early stages of developing a documentary.

Overall, "It’s been great fun. It was a real delight to meet some of these ladies and the children and the grandchildren. It was powerful. I can’t tell you how many came to me with boxes or portfolios or love letters. A whole bag of wonderful art and materials … often with tears in their eyes in jubilation.

"Many of their responses were: ‘Finally, they’re going to get their stories told.’"

November 15, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler



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 has also Shared the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. Sadly, last month's puzzle was the last puzzle for the Guest Blog, but we did want to tie up the loose ends and give you that solution. And fear not! We will continue to post a monthly crossword in the AllEars® newsletter -- keep reading for more info.

We received 29 responses from readers, with everyone knowing that the only other country flag that can be found in the Magic Kingdom is a part of the Swiss Family Treehouse attraction, where you can also hear some Swisskapolka music playing in the background. As a side note, the first country flag that can found in the Magic Kingdom is of course the U.S. flag. But did you know that there is only one true flag in the park, and that is the one that is lowered during the flag retreat ceremony every afternoon in Town Square? All of the other flags that you see around the park are just banners, so they don’t have to be lowered or lit after dark, which is customary.

The winner of a Disney collectible pin was Theresa W. of Staten Island, NY. Congrats!

As we said above, this is our last crossword puzzle entry in the Guest Blog. If you still want the challenge and fun of these puzzles, not to mention the chance to win a Disney collectible pin, be sure to sign up for the AllEars® weekly newsletter, delivered FREE every Tuesday to your inbox.

I am in the process of going through the inventory of animated feature films. Our most recent newsletter puzzle spotlights the film "Lilo & Stitch." You can find it HERE.

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

Thanks for playing, everyone!

November 13, 2017

After leaving WED, Tania Norris took on several eclectic challenges


Edna and Roy Disney pose with Mickey Mouse in Town Square. [The Walt Disney Company]

Tania Norris made some remarkable contributions during her nine years with WED Enterprises, supplying the interior designs for New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion and the Plaza Inn Restaurant in Disneyland, as well as doing interior design work for some of the restaurants at Walt Disney World prior to its opening in 1971.

But what she cherishes most about her time with the creative wing of the Walt Disney Company [now known as Walt Disney Imagineering] are the personal relationships she forged with some of the most respected names in the company.

There was the admiration she felt for Walt Disney himself, who "was always very, very nice to me," she said. But during her years at WED, she also became close with Walt's wife Lillian, their children Diane and Sharon, his brother Roy, Roy's wife Edna, as well as one of the most respected artists of his generation, Herb Ryman.

Here's an example of just how respected Tania Norris was within the company ranks: When Walt Disney died on Dec. 5, 1966, Roy Disney gathered some of the company's top executives a few days later to discuss the company's future.

"After Walt died, Roy called together the heads of all the departments to come to the Studio, to tell them that Epcot would continue and things would go on ... and I was the only woman there," Tania said. "I found that very odd, because I really didn't have that high a position, but I did know Roy. Whether that was a factor, I really didn't know, but I felt that was quite an honor to be included in that group."

Indeed, during her tenure at WED, she became quite friendly with Roy and Edna Disney.

"Roy was very sweet, he was very low-key. He and Edna ... I used to see them having coffee in Wilshire every Saturday morning. They were just very lovely, genuine people."

Tania's love of antiques helped cement her relationships with the rest of Disney's "leading ladies."

"I used to take Edna antique shopping, as I did Lilly and Diane and Sharon. Lilly was always so sweet, too."

Edna Disney was one of the members of the Disney family who neither sought nor received much attention. But like her husband, she was an important cog in the company, particularly during those often difficult early years. She married Roy in 1925 and they had one son, Roy E. Disney, who was born in 1930. When the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio was struggling to make a name for itself, Edna Disney was there to lend a hand. She even loaned the studio money when times were particularly tough. And she's listed as one of the inkers on the film Plane Crazy [along with Lillian Disney and Lillian's sister, Hazel Sewell], which was released in 1928.

Edna also was known for her sense of humor ... which came as a shock to many Disney executives.

Tania Norris enjoyed shopping for antiques with Edna Disney, above. [The Walt Disney Company]

"I remember one occasion when Dick Irvine, who was the head of WED at that time, and Gen. Joe Fowler called me to the office and they said, 'Would you mind taking Edna shopping?' And I said 'Not at all. She has a wonderful sense of humor.'

"I remember them looking at each other and saying, 'She does?' I obviously knew her as a person more than they did. She kept very low-key, as did Roy. Roy was never really that highly regarded because Walt was such a genius in so many areas, he was sort of the benevolent dictator, so to speak."

Roy was always known as the company's behind-the-scenes the money man. "Although I have no proof of that, it was always the story that was given out, because Walt wanted to give Roy a position of importance, it was really Walt who did the talking. He had the charisma. It was Roy who got on the plane with Herbie's sketches to take them to New York to sell the project of Disneyland to the bankers in New York. He must have had some form of salesmanship to himself, too."

Ah, yes, Herbie.

In the same way you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, you really don't have to be an artist to appreciate great works of art. Tania Norris has long been a fan of Herb Ryman, the Disney Legend whose body of work still casts an imposing shadow over the Walt Disney Company. After all, Tania had the pleasure of working with the man she called Herbie, becoming his friend, and ultimately amassing a collection of about 40 of his works, many she received as gifts.

"When Herbie was an art director at Disney, he might be given a project that I might not know about for maybe another year," Tania said. "He would be one of the designers for it. When that work was done, it went to one of the architects and then I would get involved, talking about the interiors and what was needed there. There were story boards that would be put together for every project. They would have Herbie's drawings, they would have Dorothea's [Redmond] renderings, which we would discuss. I'd make story board suggestions for fabrics or even light fixtures, whatever it was that was needed for the project. A lot of that is done on computers nowadays."

While Herb Ryman's reputation as an artist was impeccable, his caring and generous nature endeared him to his fellow cast members. To many, he was the ultimate mentor.

Herb Ryman was known as a brilliant artist who loved sharing his time and talents with others. [The Walt Disney Company]

"Herbie was very generous with his knowledge to others," Tania said. "He really helped a couple of young men at WED who had talent. He guided them quite a bit. He was really a renaissance man. He was deeply read and widely read. He had an insight that was pretty uncanny. He would do, for instance, caricatures of people and you didn't really want to have a caricature done by Herbie because he saw right into your soul. Those caricatures could be really rather rough. They showed you as you really were. But he could draw and paint on any subject in any medium."

Over the years, Tania has amassed a stunning collection of original works by Herbie, several of which were given to her by the artist himself.

"I have about 40 of his paintings and drawings. I started collecting them when I was at WED. Herbie even gave me several as gifts. Then I bought several more at the Ryman expositions. I try to buy one a year to help support them."

Tania went on to describe Herbie's often-misunderstood work habits.

"When he was given a project, he would go and visit everybody. He'd talk to people. He'd goof off, in other words. And John Hench would say, 'Walt's coming in a couple of days' and Herbie would say 'Oh, he is ...' And he'd keep going and going and people would be getting really uptight because his sketches were usually critical for a project.

"Lo and behold, the next morning, when it was needed, he was there with the finished product. He knew very well that because of the way he worked, if he finished something early, he's be given two more projects to complete. So he just played the game. Even though he was goofing off, you knew he was thinking about it."

Tania left WED in 1970. "It just wasn't the same without Walt," she said wistfully.

Since leaving WED, Tania has traversed on an impressive, eclectic path.

The Queen Mary ocean liner docked in its permanent home in Long Beach, Calif.

In the early 1970s, she volunteered her talents during the restoration of the legendary Queen Mary ocean liner. "I was the project designer for the Queen Mary when it came into Long Beach," she said. "That was 1971 or 1972. The Queen Mary had phenomenal detail. Every inch of it was properly detailed and the craftsmanship was marvelous. Then they had the major artists of the day provide artwork for the ship. Marvelous bronze and paintings. A lot of it has disappeared. It should have been a sensation, but it's never taken off."

Tania worked on the Queen Mary for three years. After she left, the ship's ownership changed hands and the emphasis on detail and craftsmanship seemed to wither. "Unfortunately, that was when the Mary started to decline. They opened in a very short time with indoor/outdoor carpeting and deck chairs. People got sick ... it was really a disaster."

In the late 1980s, after the Walt Disney Company purchased the Wrather Company so it could acquire the Disneyland Hotel, it also obtained Wrather's leasing rights to operate the Queen Mary, along with the dome which housed Howard Hughes' fabled Spruce Goose wooden airplane. At the time, Disney's acquisition of the Queen Mary lease was part of a wide-ranging project called DisneySea in Long Beach. On the drawing board was a nautical-themed park, hotels and docks for cruise ships, all centered around the Queen Mary exhibition. But the tepid response to the Queen Mary, as well as a number of unwieldy coastal regulatory agency standards, Disney decided to drop the project. The ship's lease wasn't renewed by Disney and the City of Long Branch took over. Hughes' Spruce Goose was moved to an aviation museum in Oregon.

Following her Queen Mary experience, Tania shifted gears and returned to a life-long passion of hers: Roses.

"My mother was an avid gardener and I was fortunate enough that part of my life during the war [World War II] was spent in Scotland, where they had one of the greatest gardens. It was also near the castle where Robert Adams had designed one of his famous round rooms. That particular suite was given to General Eisenhower as a gift for his efforts during the war.

These days, "I have a beautiful garden in my back yard and its 90 percent roses"

Tania has become so well-known among the Los Angeles-area rose community that she's had a rose named after her: The Tania Norris. She's also the founder of the Beverly Hills Rose Society.

In recent years, Tania combined her love of roses with her appreciation of fine art into a stunning collection of books dealing with botanical art. Her collection resulted in one of the most generous gifts ever received by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Crispin van de Passe's "Hortus floridus" is featured in a collection of botanical books donated to the Getty Research Institute by Tania Norris. [The Getty Research Institute, Tania Norris Collection]

When she started her collection, "I didn't know anything about botanical art. It's very meticulous. Everything has to be botanically correct, and it's very tedious." At that point, she said, "I realized that I liked the history rather than the actual painting, so I started to collect books from the 1600s to the middle of the 1800s of what I called 'botanicals,' because I fell in love with the wood cut and the etchings and the designs in the books. I couldn't read them, because they are in Latin and High German and French, very few in English. I was buying them like they were comic books ... very expensive comic books!

"I also bought some very good paintings and I happened to mention my collection to someone at the Getty Research Institute one day and she said she'd love to see them. So she brought the curator of prints from the institute with her and he was looking at the paintings and I said I have a few books under my dining room table that you might want to look at. So he started to look at them and I could see his eyes getting larger and larger. He was trying to play it cool. The next thing I knew, a curator of rare books came by and, the long and short of it, he asked if I would donate my collection to the Getty."

She did ... and the Tania Norris Collection of Botanical Books and Renaissance Woodblocks has since become one of the most sought-after research materials available to art lovers and historians alike.

"What is wonderful about the Getty is that anyone in the world can Google a book and see it on-line. They can also reproduce parts of a book for free, as long as you give them credit for it. To me, it's one of the greatest things. I sort of kept track of it one day and over a third of my books were being viewed around the world. Quite a number of them have been used in various demonstrations. It's something that I am so deeply thrilled about because I had no idea that just because I loved them that this would be something of value to them.

"I've also have given them about 1,200 other books which are to do with antiques and interior design, which was my library when I was working at WED," she said. "Then I just started, about three months ago, an endowment at the Huntington Art Collection and Botanical Garden Library so that can be continued to be taught and researched over the years. It's something that's very dear to my heart and will continue."

Much like Herbie Ryman, Tania Norris not only understands to importance of art, but also how vital it is to pass on one's talents and influence on future generations. And in that sense, Tania's life has come full circle.

October 30, 2017

Former WED designer Tania Norris saw Disney from the inside


Inside the Disney Company plane. Walt and Lillian are seated, left. Also in view are Bill Martin, seated center, and Herb Ryman. The woman in the back, right, is unidentified. [The Walt Disney Company]

In 1964, Walt Disney's world was expanding.

There was the California-based company's participation in the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, which featured four Disney-created attractions. And unbeknownst to people outside of his inner circle, Disney's lieutenants were scooping up thousands of acres of property in central Florida in hopes of building an experimental community of tomorrow.

In Disneyland itself, a new themed land was in the works, to be called New Orleans Square, which would celebrate the fabulous Crescent City. Walt always had a special affection for New Orleans; it was the place, after all, where he purchased a mechanical bird in an antiques shop which ultimately gave him the spark that helped ignite Audio-Animatronics technology.

With so much going on around the country, Walt thought it best to purchase his own airplane. So in the spring of 1964, the company bought a Grumman Gulfstream 1, which seated 15 and could get Walt and his entourage across country more comfortably and efficiently.

Imagine having the opportunity to fly on that Disney plane, along with Walt and his wife Lillian, Walt's brother Roy and his wife Edna, and any number of Disney Legends-in-waiting. Oh, to be a fly on the cabin wall!

That's just what happened to Tania Norris, who was hired by WED Enterprises [the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] in 1963 to handle the interior designs for New Orleans Square and the Haunted Mansion.

Former WED Enterprises interior designer Tania Norris.

"I was invited to travel to New Orleans with a large group of people," Tania said of the 1964 cross-country trip on the fabled Disney aircraft. "There was Walt and Lilly, Edna and Roy Disney, Bob and Sharon Brown [Walt's daughter], John Hench, Herbie [Ryman] and I think Claude Coats was there, as well as Bill Evans, the landscaper.

"I was asked to be in New Orleans to find antiques that would be displayed in New Orleans Square, as well as items like little bits of iron and railing that we could replicate. We were in New Orleans maybe four days. At one point, Walt asked me to find a bowling trophy, so I hunted through the antique shops and came up with several things that related to bowling, which I very proudly showed him. But I was told it was the wrong type of bowling. There was a bowling green that was across from the Studio that Walt sponsored. So I had to go back and find a bowling trophy for lawn bowling, not one for a bowling alley."

From New Orleans, the plane flew to central Florida, where Walt Disney World was still very much in the planning stage. In fact, at that point in time, the so-called Florida Project was known to only a handful of people in Walt's inner circle.

"At that point, it was just a hole in the ground," Tania said. "We dropped off Bill Evans there. He had started a tree farm. He had spotted trees from various countries that he felt would do well in Florida. So there was the tree farm and a lot of holes and that was about it."

From Florida, the plane flew to New York City, where the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair had just opened.

"We visited the four Disney projects there and we had VIP treatment everywhere we went," Tania said. "Walt treated me so courteously. I had not been out of California since moving there, so he made it a point, when we'd have breakfast, lunch or dinner, it would always be at a different place, so I would get a flavor of what else was there.

"He insisted that the limo drivers take a different route each time we were going somewhere, so I would see all of New York. Through it all, though, I was never allowed to have a drink [even though she was 27 at the time]."

New Orleans Square at Disneyland opened in 1966, with authentic iron railings and a festive atmosphere reminiscent of The Crescent City. [Courtesy of Disneyland]

During her days at WED, she grew to admire Walt Disney, the man.

"He would come up to the office and he'd say, 'What are you spending my money on today?' and I'd tell him and he'd smile and walk away. He was always very, very nice to me."

Tania Norris was hired by WED Enterprises in 1963, at a time when women holding prominent positions in corporate America were few and far between.

Tania was born in Scotland and "decided at the age of 8 that I wanted to become an interior designer, so I did my training in London and went to architectural school at night to learn how to read architectural plans and such."

Her family moved to England and then to southern Rhodesia when she was 18. Shortly after marrying a fellow Scot, he was offered a job in southern California to be vice president of a company, so the two took up residence in the Golden State.

Tania landed a job at a decorating shop on Melrose Avenue, where she flourished. "I met a number of antique dealers and one of them had a friend who was one of the icons at Disney, Dorothea Redmond. Dorothea had told my friend about this particular job, it was for an interior designer to work on New Orleans Square at Disneyland, so I applied for the job."

The day before her interview, Tania and her husband decided it might be a good idea to visit Disneyland for the first time. "We went down Main Street and we went into Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and wandered around. We had lunch and went home. The next day, during the interview, I could say 'Yes, I've been to Disneyland.'

The exterior of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland, which opened in 1969. [Courtesy of Disneyland]

"I had two interviews, the first was with Bob Brown, who was Walt's son-in-law, and John Hench. Then, Emile Kuri from the Studio joined the group. I only had three pieces of paper that were recommendations from the places I'd worked. Other young men that were coming in for interviews drove up in fancy sports cars with fancy portfolios and I thought, 'There go my chances.' The following day, I got a call from them asking me when I could start. That was in 1963."

When Tania was hired, there were about 30 WED cast members, but only four were women. "In the model room, there were four women who were there for many years and they were very important workers." Among them were Harriet Burns, Katrina Van Tassel and Leota [Lee] Toombs. "Even though I was hired to work on New Orleans Square, if anything else came up, I'd work on that, too. For instance, I worked on the Plaza Inn on Main Street."

The issue of being a woman in a male-dominated industry did prove to be problematic at times for Tania.

"When we were doing a project, we would sometimes do a full mock-up. There were times when I would have an idea about something and Bob Brown or John Hench or whoever else was in charge would either disagree or just ignore me. It was important enough to me that I would say to them, 'Will you ask Walt about so-and-so?' But they never did. And there were occasions when I really felt strongly about something and wanted to present it to Walt, but they would suddenly disappear."

One of those occasions involved Club 33 in 1964. At the New York World's Fair, Walt had noticed how many of the corporate sponsors had built special rooms within their pavilions to entertain VIPs. Club 33 came about out of Walt's desire to have such a VIP srea at Disneyland where he could entertain special guests.

When Tania saw the original sketches for Club 33, she took note of a big problem: The ladies' room was miniscule.

"I told Walt that the ladies' room was too small. If you have two fat [ladies] in there at the same time, they'd never be able to move. So he looked at the plans and said, 'You're right. We'll just chop the manager's office in half.' And that's why the bathroom is the size it is today at Club 33.

"There was another time during work on the Mr. Lincoln project and I was needed to make a suggestion, and again, everybody just disappeared. It was like magic. I was left talking to Walt by myself."

Disney Legend Dorothea Redmond. [The Walt Disney Company]

On New Orleans Square, Tania "worked closely with both Herbie Ryman and Dorothea Redmond. Between them, they did most of the sketches for the area, both exterior and interior ... Herbie more exterior and Dorothea more interior. You would be talking and describing something and all of a sudden, your idea would be on paper, like magic. They were so expert and so wonderful." New Orleans Square opened in 1966, a few months before Walt's death.

"My title was interior designer, so that involved all the Disney projects apart from the films. I worked on the Expo 67 in Montreal. I worked on some of the original concepts in Florida ... whatever came along, I was the interior person. So it was fabrics, wallpapers, colors, some of it I designed myself. I did the wallpaper in the Haunted Mansion [I'm not sure if it's still there because I haven't visited it in a long time]. I found the furnishings ... getting everything pulled together and coordinating it. Bob Brown was my immediate boss and John Hench was the chief designer.

"The furnishings were all purchased, either in shops or from companies. What was made at the Disney Studio consisted of draperies or fitted upholsteries. I would say most of it was draperies. That's where Emile Kuri came in, although he laid claim to a lot of projects he never really did."

It was during this time that Tania forged a friendship with Herb Ryman that would last until his death in 1989.

"Herbie was an art director. He might be given a project that I might not know about for maybe another year. He would be one of the designers for it. When that was done, it went to one of the architects and then I would get involved, talking about the interiors and what was needed there. There were story boards that would be put together for every project. They would have Herbie's drawings, they would have Dorothea's renderings, which we would discuss. I'd even make story board suggestions for fabrics or even light fixtures, whatever it was that was needed for the project. A lot of that is done on computers nowadays."

Once her work on New Orleans Square was completed, she shifted to the nearby Haunted Mansion, which opened in 1969. The Haunted Mansion "was a lot of fun," Tania said, "because it has all that garbage in it. We'd go to garage sales and we'd pick up junk like you'd have in your attic that was of no real value, but when it was placed in the Haunted Mansion, it looked just great, with a few cobwebs added."

It was among the last Disney projects she worked on. "I left WED in 1970," she said, but not before compiling some wonderful memories and making several lifelong friendships.

More on that, as well as Tania's work on the restoration of the Queen Mary ocean liner, her love of roses and her relationship with Herbie Ryman, in the next installment of Still Goofy about Disney.

October 16, 2017

Savor, Sip and Sparkle at California Grill


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

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

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

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


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


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




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

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





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


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

October 15, 2017

EPCOT Food & Wine Festival – A Timeline

Gary Cruise banner

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

Food and Wine Timeline

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

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

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

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

Australia Kiosk

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

Australia Menu

Australia Shrimp

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

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

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

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

Festival Passport
Click on the image to see a larger version

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

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

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

Food and Wine 1996-1998

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

Food and Wine 1999-2001

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

Food and Wine 2002-2004

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

Food and Wine 2005-2007

In 2005 the Odyssey Cooking School offered interactive cooking experiences.

Food and Wine 2008-2010

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

Food and Wine 2011-2013

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

Food and Wine 2014-2015

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

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

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

Festival Center

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

October 11, 2017

Adventuring Out Of Your Comfort Zone


By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

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

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





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


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


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


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



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




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


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

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


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




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

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

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


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






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



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






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



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

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




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



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

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


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



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

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




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

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

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

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

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


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



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



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

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


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




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


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

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

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

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

October 10, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler



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


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

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

This month, James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for playing, everyone!

October 9, 2017

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


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

The late 1990s were a dark time at Disneyland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

VIDEO: The Peoplemover circa 2009

VIDEO: Rocket Rods circa July 2000!

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

Page 2 of 3

Return to Blog Central