« June 2010 | Main | August 2010 »

July 2010 Archives

July 10, 2010

A Special D23 Event with Dave Smith, Disney Archivist

Guest Blogger Jeremy Marx attended a special D23 event with Disney Archivist Dave Smith and shares this report:

On June 25th, 2010, Disney and D23 held an event on the Disney Studio Lot to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Disney Archives. While there were many exceptional moments throughout the evening, the one most of us who were there will remember was the Question and Answer session between Leonard Maltin and Dave Smith. Covering topics from Dave's childhood through how the Archives came to be, and on to the work that has continued.

Here is the transcript of this incredible conversation. Enjoy!

A conversation with Dave Smith- Hosted by Leonard Maltin

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: It's great to see such a wonderful turnout for a momentous occasion like this. I date myself by simply telling people that I started working on my first Walt Disney project, the Disney filmography, before Dave worked here. So, you know, you can now mark that off and make it easy to chart on a map of years. But I don't think it's possible to be so glib, or succinct. I'm talking about the impact Dave's had on this company internally. On the Disney community, including all the fans, and the buffs, and students and scholars, and writers. And there's been a wonderful open door feeling you could at least, at least it's been my experience, the archive was there to serve people who needed assistance of any kind.

Obviously they couldn't answer every kids crayon scrawled request, but I think anybody who had a legitimate reason for needing material, information, questions answered, they found a receptive response. And this is not only the first studio to do this, but it always seemed to me that this is the perfect studio to do this. Because, unlike many other studios in town, it never changed hands. Think about it, it never changed ownership. Never changed location all these years. I still, when I drive by what is Sony Pictures lot in Clover City, it still says MGM in my brain, because it was MGM for 70 years or so. But that never happened here.

You know it was Walt Disney who built this studio we all are in today. So there's continuity. That was important too. And finally, they did tend to save certain degree a certain amount of stuff. We'll get into that in conversation with Dave, and find out how much was still here, and how much he had to accumulate and assemble. But, the Disney folks had a habit of, they knew early on, earlier then most studios there was value in their own past. And that's something a lot of other studios were very slow to catch on to, and some still haven't. Shame on them. I think that's a more than likely attitude throughout the movie industry these days. Largely because of DVDs, cable television. They finally wised up, that that stuff, those films, and some of the things, attendance for those films they were ignoring, has value. Not just archival value. Not just historical value, but even in some cases monetary value. So it's just smart, good business to take care of your belongings. To take care of your past.

Dave walked into a very receptive atmosphere here, and that was great. I think my most favorite thing Dave has ever done, is if you haven't read his article, I don't know how easy it is to find, maybe it is easy to find online, is Dave's article about Walt's signature. How many people have read that article? Is that online Dave? No. It will be soon, good. Good answer. Good answer. It wasn't written for a Disney publication, it was written for a publication about autograph collecting, right? And it is one of the most famous and most recognizable signatures in the world, right? But there's a lot that goes with that, and Dave did a magnificent job of tracking the history, the lore, the facts, the fiction about Walt's famous signature. And I love that piece. I just love it.

I think the most important thing I want to say before we turn this over, I'm going to interview Dave with a lot of questions that I'm sure have been in your minds. Most important thing to think about today is, how lucky Dave was to find and create this job. And how lucky the Disney company was to find him, and give him this job. I think it was a two-way street of equal value in both directions.

So please welcome back Dave Smith.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: I want to start with some basics, ok. Tell us a little about your background, where we born? Where did you grow up?

o DS: That's going way back isn't it? I was born in Pasadena, so I am a local person here in Southern California. I went through schools in Pasadena through junior college. I then went to Berkeley to get my BA, which was in history. And I got a Masters in Library science there also. I was expecting to work in a junior college library, but then I was offered an internship at the Library of Congress in Washington. And I figured I couldn't turn that down, I mean that's the best library in the world practically. So I went back there for a year and a half, then I came back to California. This was my home, my family and friends were all here, and I didn't like the weather in the East. So I came home.

LM: How did you get involved with working with Disney the first time?

o DS: I wanted to honor this man, and I started working on his bibliography. And this may of been the first time I wrote you, when I was working on the bibliography. I remember sending him a list of corrections to his filmography.

LM: And he hasn't stopped since.

o DS:It was that bibliography that really gave me an in to the Studio, because I got to meet people in the publications department here at the Studio. And, coming out here to visit them and learning a little bit of the lore of the Studio really got me interested in this place. So, when the possibility of a job came along I thought this could be a great career if I could arrange this for myself.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: Who was it that had this idea? What was the job description sound like? What did they post?

o DS: There was no job description. There was no posting. It was actually... The representatives of Disney, which included Jim Stewart who is here today, came over to UCLA, because UCLA had suggested the Walt Disney's papers be deposited there in the library. And, at this meeting they realized that UCLA couldn't possibly handle a collection like this. And it was suggested that Disney setup an archive. And I was sitting in the back of the room, and I thought, "Hey this sounds really great". So, I went back home that night, and I wrote to Jim Stewart and Bill Cottrell, who were two of the representatives from Disney, and said that I can take a leave of absence and do some research for you guys and give you some ideas as what you can do to preserve the history. And they didn't have anybody in their staff that knew anything about archives. So they said, "Ok"�.

LM: And that was a great moment. How did you see your task? How did you envision, or plan how you were even going to begin this mountain of material?

o DS: Well, I was trained as a librarian. I knew very little about archives myself, other then having worked at the Library of Congress. I worked in the various division there. I worked with rare books, I worked with prints and photographs, I worked with manuscripts, and so forth. So, I did my reading of how archives operated. But, I also went a visited other archives, to see how they did it. And decided early on that you just had to start collecting information from throughout the company. And we didn't always collect the right things in the beginning. There are things people started asking us for, and we didn't have them. And immediately we started collection those. On the other hand, we started collection some things from the beginning that are still sitting on our warehouse that nobody has ever asked to see them. So... The thing is, every archive is different. So, it's hard to have any rules as to what you need to collect. I mean there's basics. You need to have a complete set of the company's annual reports. You need a complete set of press releases that are put out from any publicity department. Various things like that. But, other things we just didn't realize from the beginning we would need. One of the major ones being a file on each attraction at each of our parks. Because people would be coming to us, they wanted to know how much water is in the moat around the castle, or how many horses are on the carousel, or whatever. And we knew we had a lot of this information, but it just wasn't at our fingertips. And by setting up a file on every attraction. We use this daily now, when people are asking questions relating to particular attractions. Of course at the beginning it was just Disneyland, and now we have drawers for all eleven of our parks.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: When did you first meet Roy O. Disney? And tell us about your relationship with him.

o DS: First time. That's hard to remember. I don't think I meet him when I doing my initial survey. Could have. See, I didn't know you were going to ask me that question, I'm not sure. As soon as I started here I did get to meet with Roy, and work with him quite closely. He died in 1971, so I had a little over a year to work with him. One thing I will always remember, is that he came to me and asked me if I would do some work on the Disney family history. Well, I had done some work on my own genealogy, and so I had fun doing that, and so I thought it would be a very fun thing to do. He actually, out of his own pocket, paid me to take a trip around the country and on up into Canada where the Disney family had originated, and actually find all this information. And there was a huge family involved. His parents had like ten or, nine or ten brothers and sisters on each side. So, lots of Aunts and Uncles. He had sixty-five first cousins. I have nine. I think that's a bit more normal. But, that was really wonderful. And I took pictures while I was traveling around the country and one of those pictures actually shows some Disney relatives, a cousin and an uncle of Elias Disney, back in Ellis Kansas where the family first settled when they came from Canada. The bottom picture is the grave of Walt's Maternal grandparents in Florida. It's about fifty miles north of the Walt Disney World property. So, a lot of people don't realize there was a Disney connection to central Florida long before there was Walt Disney World.

LM:Elias's uncle? He must have been quite old.

o DS: He was in his eighties. He must have been quite young when he became the uncle!

LM:Well put. That's a good point. The that kind of assignment, that's not only unusual, it came from the head man, since his brother's death.

o DS: And the thing I found true about Roy Disney was that he was a very modest man. He was a very friendly man. He was the grandfather figure. I mean, you would have felt very comfortable having him in your home for Thanksgiving dinner. And I very much loved working with him. When I came back from the trip I had taken my camera along with slides, slides in those days before digital, and I took my slide show up to his conference room and showed it to him. And he was just in his element sitting there reminiscing about the family history, and about things that he had done related to the people that I was telling him about in the slides. So, that was really thrilling for me. I was so sad when he passed away in the Fall... December 1971.

LM: Tell us about other people you met. When you started here quite a large number of the people who created all of the Disney history were still alive. And a fair number of them were still working.

o DS: Exactly. I was very glad to have a chance to meet all these people. All nine of the nine old men of animation were still here at the studios. And they were all full of stories. I really enjoyed talking to some of them had thousands and thousands of great stories. Others a little quieter. They maybe would come up with the same stories when you talk to them. But, I got a lot of the history of Disney out of them. But, the other person who was still here was Ub Iwerks. The man that helped Walt Disney design Mickey Mouse. And he was in a little tiny office over in the ink and paint building. I've loved talking to him. He had a hard time remembering going back to the 20s. what do you expect, this was the 70s, couldn't remember back 50 years. Just having a connection with someone that had that early connection with Walt.

LM: Amazing. And transcripts of these conversations went in to your files.

o DS: That's right. Exactly.

LM: I don't want to start you with stories of the nine old men, because I'm sure there's so many we could go on with those and fill in the evening very easily with those. But, you did something that would make you, I'm sure, the envy of everyone sitting here in this room. You got to ride both Ward Kimball's and Ollie Johnson's trains in their backyards, right?

o DS: Yes. Ward of course had his train running up and down the driveway of his home out in San Gabriel. And I went out there several times when he steamed up his locomotive. He had most fascinating collection of miniature trains, toy trains also that he just loved to show off. Ward was also very generous in giving us some early Disney toys. Noe, in the early 30s, there were no collectors of Disneyana, except Ward Kimball. And Ward had actually saved a number of the licensed toys that had been made of the Disney characters.

LM: He was a lifelong pack rat.

o DS: Yes he was. He was, and so he was such a wonderful person to interview because you mention a topic and he could go on for half an hour on that topic, and then he would suggest a topic that you never even thought to ask him about, and he could go on for a half an hour on that, and that would be just as fascinating as the other one.

LM: He also did something for the archive that was very unusual.

o DS: Yes. He was one of several artists that I went to and asked them, could you help me diagram what the earliest studios looks like. And which building was which, so Ward did a great one for me of the Hyperion Studio, and there it is. I mean we have all seen the photographs, but we weren't sure which building was which, which came first, and so forth. So this sketch helped me to figure that out. But, even more interesting I was able to find several people who were still alive that had worked at the old Kingswell Studio before Hyperion. So, that would have been 1923, 24, 1925. We have a description of where people have their desks. This was great to be able to get this while we could. Now there's nobody left that worked at Kingswell and there aren't that many people around that worked at Hyperion.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM:If you were trying to start this project from scratch today you would have a very hard time.

o DS: Yes, definitely.

LM: You also at one point, I know, traced not the publicity version, or the apocryphal version, but the real facts of the original incorporation of the company, did you not?

o DS: Yes. The company when I came here, they knew they got started in 1923, but nobody had come up with the date. But, after doing a bit of research I realized that the company essentially started when Walt got his first contract to make movies. And that was the contract he signed with Margaret Linkler for the Alice Comedies. And, I went up to our legal department and went through their files and sure enough, there was the contract that Walt signed, so October 16, 1923. So there we had a date for the beginning of the company, and ever since that time we use that date.

LM: You set it in stone.

o DS: I set it. I also did Mickey Mouse's birthday. I didn't know if you going to ask me that, I'll tell you about it. I noticed when I started the archives that there were many different dates that had been used for Mickey Mouse's birthday. It turned out these were all handy Saturdays in the fall when they could get a lot of kids in the movie theaters to celebrate Mickey Mouse's birthday. But always in the publicity they talked about Mickey being born when Steamboat Willie opened at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Did anyone bother to look up what date that happened? No. And so I started doing some research, and as you can see on the screen now we actually found the program for the Colony Theatre for that day. And there's Steamboat Willie on the program. And the continuous performances started at noon, so we even know what time Mickey was born. Because he was the first thing on the program.

LM: Eastern standard Time

o DS: And from then on we have promoted that date as being Mickey's birthday, and it's really gratifying to me to open up a magazine, a book, a newspaper and they say, "and Mickey's birthday is November 18", and I think, that's because of me.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: Let's talk about something I alluded to before. What you've found here when you started working here. Talk to us about both sides of that coin. What did you find that was here easily accessible, if not all in one place. And what did you find not here that you felt you needed to acquire?

o DS: Okay. The here question first. A lot of departments in the company had saved file sets of their own materials. So it meant me going to these departments, whether it was the publications department, where they had all the books and comics. The music department, where they had sheet music and phonograph records. Publicity department where they had posters and other publicity materials for the films. So I found out where these things were, and then our job was to go to these departments, and to convince them that they needed to turn the files over to the archives. And that wasn't always easy. Some of these departments were very protective of their files, because they did need to get into them from time to time and they were a little hesitant of having them outside of their control. But, with in a short time we were able to convince them we would be able to take care of their file sets probably better than they were and then they turned them over to us.

LM:Of course they have access to their material.

o DS: Ready access to the materials at any time they wished. So we were lucky there. Other departments were delighted to give us their file sets because they wanted that storage room to put something else in there. Now, the things we did not find in the company. The company had not saved samples of thier early merchandise. They never really considered them as Disney products, because they were not made by Disney. We simply license the use of our characters to manufacturers of toys and games and clothing and so forth, and they went ahead and make the merchandise. But the company had not saved samples of these. And I thought this was something that would be very valuable for the company to have a collection of the merchandise. So, thank goodness before there was a lot of Disney collectors I went out there and started trying to search out some of his early material. And I was lucky in finding a tremendous amount of things for very low prices for your collectors. And we'll develop a nice representative sampling of the different types of things. You can see two examples on the screen right now. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I found his stencil set at an antique toy show up at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. And this was one of only three merchandise items that have been made by licensees during the period that Disney was making Oswald. The others are a pin backed button, and a candy bar. And I don't think we'll ever find the candy bar.

LM: And what's the Donald toy?

o DS: And the Donald toy is a wind up celluloid toy that I found at the Rose Bowl swap meet. I paid $18 for it. And it's mint in its box as you can see, and is probably worth $2500 or so today.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: Did you have specific goals, other than looking for rare materials, that plain, but did you want to have the example of every Mickey Mouse licensed piece, or were you looking for variety? What were some of your criteria?

o DS: We are looking for variety. We wanted a sampling of the different types of materials that have been licensed. There were a few things that were like a set, and we thought this would be nice to have the whole set, and we did work on that. But in many cases it was, well" Number one, just trying to find items that were available that we could purchase and, number two, things that were not too expensive that we could afford. And then third, things we thought we could use for displays and other purposes in the archives. We now have a very nice collection which would be nigh unto impossible to put together today.

LM:And you did all of this before eBay?

o DS: Yes we did. EBay has made it more difficult really because it's raised the prices on collectibles.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: Now, one thing. I know you've been asked this many times before, but it's a question we can't ignore. Are you yourself a collector?

o DS: Not of Disneyana. I always felt that that would be a conflict of interest if I were collecting the same material that I was collecting here. But, I have always been a collector. And I started as a stamp collector when I was about eight years old I guess. But the thing that really interest me because I was a history major was collecting historical autographs and documents. And that is my major collection, which I still collect today. I've got all the presidents, I've got the vice president's, I've got most of the generals on both sides of the Civil War, I've got all of the signers of the Constitution, and all except one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

LM:Who are you missing?

o DS: Button Gwinnett. He's very expensive.

LM:As you started accumulating more and more material, was there ever an issue where it was going to go? How was it be stored? How was it be displayed?

o DS: Well, at the back of my mind I thought this was an issue, but I had such cooperation from the company. Every time we ran out of space in a storeroom, they would give us either a larger storeroom or another storeroom. And so, we incrementally started enlarging the physical size of the archives to hold all of the materials that we were acquiring.

"LM:Now as you have mentioned before when you first came to work here there was only one Park, and that was Disneyland in Anaheim. What are your memories of the opening of Walt Disney World? What did you make of your first trip there?

o DS: Actually made my first trip to Walt Disney World in the spring of, oh, there's some pictures of it, in the spring of 1971. And I can date my first stepping onto Main Street. They were still paving it as you can see here. So that dates my first trip to Walt Disney World. I wasn't down there for the opening. But, we were very lucky that we were able to document Walt Disney World from day one. There was 15 years of Disneyland before the archives, and so that was a little more difficult to go back in history and try to document the things that happened before the archives came along.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: Explain to me what you mean by the word document. They are building a new theme park. It's going to have many attractions, some will be duplicates, or replicas, however you want to put it, like here in California. What is your goal? What are you setting out to do?

o DS: We are setting out to acquire the materials that will tell the history of the elements of those parks. Like Walt Disney World, since you mentioned that as an example. It doesn't mean the blueprints. It doesn't mean the designs, because those are all kept a Walt Disney Imagineering. So, we are looking for things like construction photos, documentation on what the attractions would be named, like nomenclature lists, menus from the restaurants, samples of ticket media. So we have all the tickets that were used ever in Walt Disney World. So its picking and choosing the things that we know people are going to be asking us about in the future. A complete set of press releases is really important because there in chronological form is essentially a history of the park.

LM: And you followed this then with each of the other nine parks that have been built since?

o DS: Yes.

LM:That's a lot of work.

o DS: It is. And last month, I finally got over to Hong Kong Disneyland. Si, I've hit all of the parks now. Oh yeah, here are a few of the pictures from Hong Kong Disneyland.

LM: I hear you were quite the celebrity over there.

o DS: Well, I put on several programs for the cast members, and the middle picture there the publicity department and set up a meeting between me and Disney fans in Hong Kong. And I was surprised by how many Disney fans are in Hong Kong. And they also had to press the documenting me meeting with the Disney fans. And it was really a lot of fun.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM: What was your impression of the park?

o DS: Hong Kong Disneyland is a gorgeous park. It's small. It's had its complaints because it's small, but it's growing. And they've got a number of new attractions under construction right now, and I think it's really going to catch on in the next couple of years.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM:You've had interesting relationships with all sorts of people at the studio, veterans, contemporary people, at all levels of operations from Mr. Iger all the way down the line. Tell us about the night we got the phone call from Frank Wells.

o DS: I was down to Walt Disney World for the 25th anniversary. Yes, 25th anniversary for the park. And anytime they did anything historical like this, they like to have me down there to do radio and television interviews, talking about the history of the park. So I was staying in the Contemporary Resort that night, and my phone will rang in my room at 3 AM. I pick up the phone and it's Frank Wells. Frank Wells was the President of the company at that time. He said, Dave, I'm going to be on Good Morning America tomorrow morning, and they are going to ask what is Goofy? And I don't know the answer to that. So I had to give Frank Wells at 3 AM a quick education as to what Goofy was.

"LM: A tutorial from the archives.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM:There's so many things I want to ask you, we want to cover so many turfs that people expect me to ask you I'm sure. I'm curious about some of the different things. One thing people do want to know of course is some of your personal thoughts. Not your corporate thoughts, but your personal thoughts. Do you have the favorite Disney film?

o DS: Yes. Well, I have several different favorite Disney films. That's a bit difficult. The first film I ever saw as a kid it was, Song of the South, and I've always had a fond place in my heart for that film. I was about the same age as Bobby Driscoll who appeared in that film, so I was kind of identified with him in that film. My favorite of the early animated films is Pinocchio. I've always felt that that was one of the more technically perfect at the Disney films. A film that really could not be made today, it would be prohibitively expensive. It's just a beautiful gorgeous film. And more recently my favorite is Beauty and the Beast.

LM: You have good taste. Yes that's a good start. And you've done so much for the history of the characters. Do you have a favorite character?

o DS: It's actually Pluto. I'm a dog fan. I always felt Pluto was a great character.

LM: He's a great dog.

o DS: He is.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM:That's something that's always interested me, that obviously Walt was a dog lover. And you wouldn't have to look that up in a book or ask anybody about it. You just have to look at Pluto. Nobody could produce those cartoons, and create those cartoons, who didn't really love dogs. So I think you're in line with the boss there.

LM:One of the things you've done, one of the services you've done for years in various Disney magazines, you've been the answer man. And a lot of people who have never met you, have never seen you in person know you still from your Ask Dave columns and all of that. So there are people who do believe that you know everything. Everything! A to Z. Complete. Start to finish about Disneyland. There you are with some of your friends. What do you tell people when they ask something as daunting as that?

A Conversation with Dave Smith

o DS: Well, I very quickly say no, I don't know everything. However, we do have great files in the archives, so we can go look up things very quickly and we have them at our fingertips. I've always said that, and this speaks to many of you here in the audience as Disney fans and collectors, you can specialize in something very particular like the license plates they sold through the years with Walt Disney World and so forth on them. And you can become the world's greatest expert on that. I don't know that much about the license plates, but somebody that can take the time to learn about it, they're going to know more about that subject. But, we like to meet these people and have them tell us the history, then we'll have in our collection.

LM: What I do is I use your Dave Smith encyclopedia of Disney, which I refer to all of the time, that's my go to. If any of you don't have a copy of that, your library is incomplete. How many of you would, if you don't already, have it on your shelf tonight if you can get one tonight? Everyone right?

LM: What kind of stumpers do you get asked? What is it that people ask you that throws you a curve?

o DS: Well, I think the weirdest question we ever got was, how much does Walt Disney World weigh? You know, when you think about it though, there's a reason for that. Because the Magic Kingdom in Florida was actually built on the second level. Because the high water table there, they had to build their tunnels on top of the ground. So then the park was built on top of that. So yeah, there is weight, and it's pushing down on the tunnel structure, but how you would measure it, I don't have the slightest idea.

LM: Well, I hope that person wasn't too disappointed by not getting a precise answer to that.

LM:How do you see the future of the archives? What is your vision, what do you have in mind in a continuing role of the archive, or any changes or expansion for the archive?

o DS: Well, I think the archives can only become more valuable to the company because of the number of years that have gone by since we did so many of the things in this company. When I started, as you mentioned, a lot of the old timers were still here. And when you have so many of your original employees you can always walk down the hall and get your answers really quickly. But, now they are all gone. I mean some of them are retired, some have died, and you just can't get your answers that quickly. So people are having to come to the archives to get their answers. Additionally we have started in the last four years collecting more props and costumes. Creating more of a museum collection than we ever did in the early days with the thought that someday the company may want to do a museum. Bob Eiger talked about that in the LA Times article this morning. So, someday, when that someday comes, now we will have a nice collection of props and costumes, which are always great things to show in a display. It's hard to display a letter from Walt's correspondence files and have that be really exciting. But, to show the ring that turned the boy to the shaggy dog, or the snow globe from Mary Poppins which we have in our collection. That's really different.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

LM:In what I find so fascinating is that, I don't know about the props, I know in the case of the costumes, a lot of them were just sitting here in general wardrobe for a long time. So it wasn't as if they were discarded, they were kind of hiding in plain sight.

o DS: That's right. Well, we had not collected a lot of props and costumes in the early days. So we hadn't raided the prop department, we haven't raided the costume department. And when we heard they were going to be shutting them down, that was our incentive to go in there and save everything that we could save.

LM: Well, again, you've done it in the nick of time, and I know future generations will be grateful to that, as we are now.

LM: I don't know how to sum all this up Dave. We've just scratched the surface of your accomplishments over 40 years. Do you have any kind of summing up that you would like to pass along?

o DS: Well, other than saying it's been really gratifying to have this job for 40 years, to be able to work with the material that mean so much to so many wonderful people around the world. It's hard to find anybody that hasn't grown up with Disney. And to have all the material related to Disney in the archives is really wonderful. It makes me feel very humble to have the responsibility, to have had the responsibility, for these 40 years to collect and preserve these materials. As I retire in October I, I believe I am leaving a pretty viable department here for Becky Cline to take over. This department will go on for a long time I think.

LM:And you have a wonderful staff. You've always had great people working with you haven't you?

o DS: Yes.

LM: That's also a credit, that reflects well on you. I'm serious, that you hire good people. You knew the right kind of people to hire.

o DS: I always thought that I have a good eye for picking the people that would be good in the archives. And people would come to the archives and stay for 15-20 years. I mean, it wasn't something they would come to for a year or two like most kids coming out of college that would come into a job for a few years and then move on to something else. But, our staff has tended to stay.

LM:That says a lot about the company and about the excitement of the job. The constant stimulus that the archives provide. It certainly supplies stimulus for those of us outside and get to see the results. And I'm sure is true on the inside as well.

LM:I just have two words, I have nothing else I could possibly say, except thank you. Thank you.

A Conversation with Dave Smith

Read Jeremy's Other Blog:
The Disney Tribute to Robert and Richard Sherman!

July 13, 2010

Taste of Africa Street Party

by Guest Blogger John Kurowski

On Friday, July 9 the first official Taste of Africa Street Party kicked off at Disney's Animal Kingdom Harambe Village in an attempt to heat up summer nights from now until July 24. The event promised "Eats, Drinks, and Culture" according to the in-park signage. A special guide map for the event informs guests that, "Our festival celebration brings nations from all over Africa together into the streets of Harambe." The descriptions and materials for this event hint that what's in store will be very close to a mini version of Epcot's ever popular International Food and Wine Festival.



Marketing for the event was relatively low-key as I overheard many people attending the party say they did not know about it beforehand, or they just happened to stumble upon it. Earlier in the day, I found a guide map sitting at the cash register station at Pizzafari Restaurant but it was not offered to me by the cashier, nor did she engage in any conversation about it when I picked it up and started to read it. I noticed a manager walking around from table to table with the guide encouraging people to stick around for it. Later, someone told me that he saw the guide maps located at the Tip Board but they were in an inaccessible spot and he actually had to ask the Cast Member if he could have one.

There was an announcement right before Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade stepped off made by the DJ/Announcer of the event, informing guests in that area that in a little while the streets of Harambe Village will turn into a street party. (Regular visitors to American Idol Experience will surely recognize the announcer.)


The party kicks off after Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade returns to Harambe Village for its daily encore. Just before the gates close on the last performers and the crowd begins to disperse, the stilt walkers about-face and come back down the street while a new, live, soundtrack is supplied by the band Wassalou -- playing right on the street.


Meanwhile, the entire parade cast (who have sneaked backstage around Tusker House) charge up the street from the opposite direction riding bicycles, waving flags, dancing, and playing percussion instruments. The instruments are then passed to the guests and everyone is invited into the street to join the celebration.

This start had much energy, the kind of entertainment Disney is famous for! I was amazed for all the people I saw coming into the area too. I have seen Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade numerous times before and I always preferred to watch as it makes the trek back to Africa as that portion of the parade tends to be less crowded and makes for a more interactive experience with the performers and characters. Unfortunately, most of the crowd were there simply because they were following the parade from Asia/Discovery Island and a good number of those people left the parade at that point and headed over the bridge towards the park exit.

The house band, Wassalu, were a delight throughout the whole evening. They are a musical trio that would be intermixed with cultural dancers and singers throughout their sets. The African-inspired music played ranged from traditional (Pata Pata), to contemporary (Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al) to Disney (Selections from The Lion King and its spawned album Rhythms of the Pride Lands). During breaks the DJ would take over and play some other African tunes, which he would tend to teach guests the artists name and what the words they were singing meant in English. As opposed to other music-based events this summer, such as Disney's Hollywood Studios Rock and Glow Party, the volume of the music is not intrusive and actually provides a great soundtrack to the event as well as compliments the entire theme of the party overall.



Each quick service food location reopened during the kick off festivities with a "Featured Festival Menu." Taking its cues from Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival, each item was priced as a sample. The portions were generous for the price and great for sharing. Disney foodies might not find any of the foods available here that unique as most of them are already regular staples on other Disney menus, namely Tusker House, Boma, and Sanaa. Each location offers two-three different food options, all listed on the guide maps and on special Festival Menu signage located in front of each venue.




Wine enthusiasts will definitely want to check out the Beer and Wine Walkabout, located in the Tamu Tamu courtyard. Guests can buy a wristband and passport to sample 4 of the 12 wines available or the 4 different African beers.



The courtyard is separated into five different sections. Three representing different South African wine regions, one for beer, and one for juice. The South African wine regions are Paarl, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch. Each station has four offerings, each wine station offers two white and two red wines, while the beer station features two beers from Ethiopia, a beer from Morocco, and one from Kenya. Then Kenyan beer, Tusker Lager, is available throughout Disney's Animal Kingdom as well as Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.


On a crowded night this area could end up congested and rather unpleasant. On the first night it was relatively empty the entire night. There's not much seating to offer either.

The other drink offers exclusive to the street party are in the usual Africa watering hole, Dawa Bar. In front of the Dawa Bar a cast member demonstrates how sugar cane is juiced using a juicing mill which is then collected into a pail.



The Dawa Bar still serves its full bar menu as well as two Featured Festival Drinks, a Sugar Cane Mojito and a Sugar Cane Sweet Tea Cocktail. Both drinks are very sweet and served with crushed leaves. The mojito has a sugar cane stick with it as well.


The other drink available for the party is a Mango shake. A nonalcoholic, sweet treat that is served at Tamu Tamu. This proved to be very popular among the guests, as not only were guests enjoying it throughout the night but also the DJ was making many comments about it on the microphone.



Besides the cooking demonstrations and sugar cane juicing there were two other cultural offerings. One was the Harambe School that usually takes place during normal operating hours while guests are exiting Kilimanjaro Safaris or Rafiki's Planet Watch. This takes place behind the Harambe Fruit Market. The cast members staffed there tend to give little facts about different African animals, with trivia questions geared towards children.

The other offering was a mask maker, who had various masks in the forms of African animals. These masks are very intricately designed and highly detailed. The artist told me that she works for the company that sells the masks in the Italy pavilion at Epcot and once the festival is over these masks will be sold there as well.


With park closing at 7pm, the DJ took the microphone again as Wassalu was playing to kick off the event finale. Live performers came running back into the streets of Harambe waving large colorful banners, which were then used for guests to run under them, like an African version of London Bridge.


The music then quickly turned into Wassalu playing the now famous song Wavin' Flag by K'naan, the song that served as the theme to the 2010 FIFA World Cup games.


The DJ bid everyone good night and each food venue closed up shop, forcing everyone to make its way to the exit.

It was rather unclear to me what Disney was expecting from this event. For the amount of managers on hand to witness what the first official night was like, they were clearly hoping for some strong results in revenue.

However the only tables to enjoy the food are in the Tamu Tamu courtyard, between Tamu Tamu and Tamu Kibanda, and behind the Harambe Fruit Market it does not offer much optimal viewing for the main street. The mood at the event is a good mix between energetic and relaxing as you have roughly three hours to enjoy it at your own pace, similar to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Also, Disney's Animal Kingdom is usually criticized for being too hot, especially in the summer, and seeing how this is an event that's held all outdoors, except for a few fans placed here and there, the air can get stifling on humid nights.

I would like to see A Taste of Africa make it as a hit and get extended longer into the season and beyond as I did have a good time sampling all its culinary and potable selections as well as the interactions with the people working the various stations. A manager that I spoke with said that this was a test to see how the turnout would be and maybe once they get their systems in place, more advertising and a better word of mouth will make this an event that will help Disney's Animal Kingdom lose its stigma as a "half-day park" that many critics deem it to have.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Taste of Africa street party is running nightly until July 24 as a limited test run, with the possibility of being extended. The party begins each night immediately after Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, and runs until the park closes, even on Extra Magic Hour evenings.

July 20, 2010

D23 Hawai'i Homecoming Reception - DVC Au’lani Resort

Aloha, Friends!


In 1991, Walt Disney World announced a new concept in how to spend your Disney vacations with Disney Vacation Club, a vacation ownership that takes takes the classic time-share basis and gives it a Disney twist. Early plans called for numerous locations outside of the Disney theme parks, including Newport Beach, New York City, Hilton Head Island, and Vero Beach.

Whereas only two of those resorts made it off the drawing board, Disney Vacation Club teamed up with D23 on July 18 to give the Official Disney Fan Community a first look at its newest location: Au'lani (pronounced OW-lani) in Ko Olina, Oahu, Hawaii. The word "lani" means "heavenly" in Hawaiian lingo however the name "Aulani" means "King's messenger".

After being treated to a screening of the 1937 Mickey Mouse cartoon, Hawaiian Holiday, D23 staff member, Jeffrey Epstein, quickly assured members that no hard sell techniques would be part of this evening. Disney Vacation Club staff would be on hand to answer any questions guests had on the Au'lani resort but this was not going to be your average time share info session.

After a short film featuring Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde (Captain EO, Adventurers Club, Disney's Animal Kingdom), D23 members were treated to an evening of finger foods, dancing, and some old friends. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto came to the party, all decked in their fashions of the island.

A scale model and loads of concept art sprinkled the hallways of the second floor level of the Convention Center at Disney's Contemporary Resort.






One side of the ballroom had a stage all decked out with palm trees and surfboards, while the other side had an open dance floor, DJ booth, two small buffet tables, and some drink stations.

The stage set up will host several DVC "tours" of the new Au'lani resort in order to lure new and existing DVC members to purchase into this resort throughout these next few weeks. Disney Annual Pass holders can sign up for their exclusive event Sunday, July 25, at 9am.

Any regular Disney guest holds Disney to provide excellent storytelling through totally immersive environments and this new resort in Hawaii will prove to be no exception. One thing that Joe Rohde stated in the video that as storytellers, Disney looked at the land, people, and culture of their surroundings in order to give resort guests a truly authentic island experience.


The resort will be composed of Disney Vacation Club villas, as well as standard and deluxe resort rooms, similar to the ones found in most Disney resorts. In addition, great beaches and surf as well as food offerings will be involved but the video also teased of some surprises that yet to be announced. Speculation includes a water park and perhaps a theme park-style show, a la, Country Bear Jamboree but nothing has been announced yet and those might just end up falling under the category of wishful thinking of a die hard fan.


D23 also treated its members to a photo history of the Walt Disney Company's use of the Hawaiian Islands as its inspiration through various projects. From Walt Disney's various family vacations to Hawaii to Annette Funicello's Pineapple Princess to the television phenomenon Lost numerous animated and live-action productions use the Aloha state as a backdrop to tell its story.



In 2002, Walt Disney Feature Animation released Lilo and Stitch, a film predominantly produced in the Florida facility, and depicts what happens when a mischievous space alien crash lands into a dysfunctional, Elvis Presley-loving family living in Hawaii. The lovable blue alien remained absent throughout the night, something tells me he will be hanging loose and hanging ten when the resort opens next year.

The resort is scheduled to open in August 2011 and room rates and point values have already been assigned and posted by Disney. On hand DVC staff told inquiring guests that the point system is a little different here than it is at the other DVC resorts.

Here, members will actually purchase points in quantities that will equal a one week's stay, from a Sunday check-in to a Sunday check-out. So guests will purchase that week, which will comprise of the number of points required. Like the other resorts, the amount of points required for each type of accommodation and time of year vary.

So, for instance, if a member wants to be able to say Mele Kalikimaka in December and stay in an ocean view, one-bedroom villa during Christmas, that member would be locked in for that week for the next fifty years. This resort, however, does have the same flexibility that Disney Vacation Club offers and the member can actually forgo that week and use his allotted points elsewhere within Disney Vacation Club or its Members Getaways program.

For the past few years, Disney CEO Bob Iger has been very open in his enthusiasm for more regional-based Disney experiences outside the theme parks. This resort can serve as a great litmus test on how well the Disney name plays in an area outside of the parks that has already proven to be a hit with travelers and their families.

Also, now that Mickey and Co. will have a presence this will finally give Disney fans an excuse to head across the Pacific for a more low-key, calming vacation that they might have been willing to take. And for the casual Disney visitor, Hawaii holds the standard as a premium once-in-a-lifetime vacation and with the name recognition and reputation of Disney, it could be their only choice to book.

However, as the Disney Vacation Club Ownerships have always sold at a quick rate in all its Walt Disney World-based resorts, and the two outside the parks on the East Coast has sold out, it's smallest resort, located at Disney's Grand Californian Resort and Spa in California, has not sold out. This definitely will be a resort that many Disney fans and DVC owners will want to check out but it will be interesting to see how many will want to buy into a fifty year commitment to a location that still remains very challenging to travel to due to scarcity in airline tickets and a high price tag with fares.

If you are in the Walt Disney World area in these upcoming weeks definitely schedule a time to speak with DVC representatives to have the opportunity to check out the plans for Disney's newest venture.

Signage has popped up throughout the resort as well, namely at Disney's Polynesian Resort. This keeps the buzz rolling and gives the DVC staff more reasons to be excited. In addition, this comes after an already thrilling year of Vacation Club growth with the additions of Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort and Bay Lake Towers at Disney's Contemporary Resort.


July 28, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part I

by Alice McNutt Miller

Pre-Cruise Planning, Bath and Day 1 At Sea

Well, I can't believe that we are finally on our 12 Night Northern Capitals Disney Cruise! I booked the cruise over a year and a half ago, on the first day that reservations were made available for Disney's current 2010 summer European cruises. It has been a year and a half of planning, research, making reservations, and putting together "The Spreadsheet." After the long wait for Disney to announce the shore excursions it would be offering, we had to decide whether to do any of those or whether to "DIY" ("do it yourself") it in each port. We decided at first to DIY almost all of the ports, but I changed my mind going forward, and ended up signing us up for excursions in most of the ports. Disney excursions or private excursions in St. Petersburg? Disney for that city. Too difficult otherwise. Palo reservations? Yes. Spa reservations? Maybe. London beforehand? Yes, but let's go to Bath, since we have never been there. London afterwards? Yes, don't want to worry about being late for catching that flight home. Whew!

Our departure day, Friday, July 2 arrived. Cat sitter and lawn mower adequately briefed, we headed for the airport. We had an uneventful flight, and arrived in London at about 6:00 a.m. After passing through immigration and customs, and retrieving our luggage, the first bit of my careful planning fell apart, and I discovered the magical art of "rolling with it." The bus that I had hoped to take (but did not prebook in case our flight was late) from London Heathrow to Bath was full. And so were the rest of them until late that afternoon. The kids looked exhausted. Argghhh! The nice lady at the information desk told me that we could take a bus/train combination instead, but that it would be more expensive, and that the bus would be leaving in five minutes. Sold! Off we went.

We arrived at the central train station in Bath about an hour and a half later, and took a taxi to our B&B, the Apsley House Hotel.


The hotel is in a house that was once owed by the Duke of Wellington, and rumor has it that he had it built for his mistress. Mistress or not, the house was lovely. Our room was not ready, so we walked back into Central Bath, stopping for a few minutes at a fantastic playground on the way (our kids are 13 and 15, but they still can't pass up a cool playground).


We walked past the Royal Crescent and stopped for lunch (unfortunately the worst meal that we had on the trip, but at least we got it over with early!). After lunch, we toured the Roman Baths for which Bath is named.


We then took a taxi back to our hotel and took a two hour power nap, followed by dinner at a nearby pub and an early bed time.

The next day we took an organized tour to the villages of Castle Combe and Lacock and to Stonehenge. Castle Combe was a beautiful, tiny village where scenes from the original "Dr. Dolittle" (the one with Rex Harrison, not the one with Eddie Murphy) were filmed.


We then went to Lacock, another English Heritage village, where scenes from several of the Harry Potter movies, and from "Sense and Sensibility" were filmed.

After lunch in a pub in Lacock, we drove on to the Avebury Stone Circle and to Stonehenge, both prehistoric sites involving large stones, but one much more popular than the other. I have to say that we all really enjoyed both sites, but we did feel something very special at Avebury.



That evening, we walked back into Bath and had dinner at Jamie's Italian, a restaurant chain owned by British star chef, Jamie Oliver. It was fantastic, and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Bath.

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we took a taxi to the train station, and took a train into London. After checking in to our hotel there, we had lunch in a pub and went to the Museum of Natural History. VERY cool building, oh, and the dinosaurs were pretty neat, too. We even saw a Hidden Mickey!


We then went to Harrod's Food Halls, to pick up food for a picnic dinner, which we had in the small courtyard behind our hotel.

Then it was time for our surprise. I had bought tickets to see the musical, "Wicked," and did not tell the girls. They were thrilled once we figured out what we were doing.


We had a Small World Moment at the show. Claire thought that she saw a girl that she had met on a Disney message board before the cruise in the crowd, and sure enough, it was her and her family. (See, I've told you that this happens to us all the time!) What a fantastic show!
The next day, we caught a cab from our hotel to St. Pancras (the girls kept referring to it as St. Pancreas) Station, and took a brand new high speed train to Dover. We were there in about an hour. At the Dover station, another cab delivered us to the pier, and to the Magic!


We were so excited, but it was a bit early to get on the ship yet, and it had arrived late that morning, so we decided to go back into Dover to do some more sightseeing. We took a bus to Dover Castle, and had a great visit. It was beautiful, and had been recently enhanced with some interactive stuff for the guests.


We finally went back to the pier and boarded the ship. Because we arrived so late, there were really no lines, and the process went very smoothly.

We went to our stateroom, where someone had left us a gift (I wonder who thought of that!?).


Then there was obligatory lifeboat drill (along with the obligatory silly life jacket photo).


We then went to the "Adventures Away" sail away dance party at Goofy's pool. It was a great way to start the cruise!


That evening, we had dinner in Animator's Palate, and met our tablemates, two moms and their daughters (conveniently close in age to Sophia and Claire). After dinner, all of the kids ran off to their various clubs (a pattern that repeated itself each successive night), and Rob and I went to the "All Aboard: Let the Magic Begin" show, and to the Match Your Mate show. Both were good, and really got us in the mood for the rest of the cruise.

July 29, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 2

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 2-At SeaThis morning, we had brunch in Palo (in the small private dining room) with a group of folks that I had corresponded with before the cruise on a Disney message board. The meal was lovely, and it was great to start things off by meeting some new people!

[Just so you know, I don't usually take pictures of my food, and I can never remember what I ate, so this won't be THAT kind of blog. However, when going through the photos, I found that I had, in fact, taken two food pictures. Here is the best one, which I took during our Palo brunch.]


After brunch, we went to a Disney Vacation Club update, another meeting with a broader group of the message board folks, and hung out at the pool. It was all very relaxing. I don't think we saw the kids all day.

That night was formal night, so we dressed up, went to the Captain's Welcome Receptions, and then joined our tablemates for dinner in Parrot Cay.


After dinner, we stayed dressed and went to see "Twice Charmed" in the Walt Disney Theatre. This was probably our least favorite show. I'm not sure why, but I don't think we thought it was very creative.

Day 3-Oslo

We arrived to an overcast and rainy Oslo sometime very early in the morning, and the ship was docked when we got our wakeup call at 7:30. After a quick breakfast at Topsider's, we were off of the ship by about 8:45, 15 minutes after debarkation was allowed. There is a tourist information desk inside a building right next to the gangway after we got off of the ship, where we bought our Oslo Pass cards. For about $37 per adult, and $16 per kid, the pass got us entrance into nearly every museum in Oslo and a day's worth of public transportation.

We took a five-minute walk to the ferry pier, and took the public ferry to the Bygdoy peninsula, where most of the museums that we wanted to visit were located. From the first landing point, we had a short walk to our first stop of the day, the Viking Ship Museum. The museum is built around three ancient Viking ships that date back to 800 AD.


We then walked a few blocks to the Norwegian Folk Museum, an open air collection of some 150 buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The stave church was especially beautiful.


After a quick snack in a café at the Folk Museum, we caught a public bus to the Fram and Kon-Tiki museums, still located on the Bygdoy peninsula. The Fram Museum showcases the ship that took 19th-century explorers on trips to the South Pole and the Arctic. We really liked the fact that we were able to go inside the ship, and see how the sailors lived.


The Kon-Tiki Museum houses the balsa-wood raft that Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia.

We then took the ferry back to the center of town, and found a lovely café near the Askerhus that was inside one of the oldest houses in Oslo. From there we took the subway to the Munch Museum. (I must say that we all found the public transportation in Oslo to be very easy to use. As long as you have a general sense of where you are going, and can read street and transportation maps-you know that there are some of you out there for which this is a challenge-it is very easy and inexpensive to get around. )

The Munch museum has a large collection of Edvard Munch's works-including paintings, prints and photographs. The collection includes one version (the other is in Norway's National Museum) of Munch's most famous painting, "The Scream." "The Scream" and another famous painting, "The Madonna," were both stolen from the museum in 2004, although they were retrieved several years later. As a result, security is pretty tight here, and all bags had to be checked in lockers.

After visiting the museum, and purchasing a "Scream" refrigerator magnet, we took the subway back to the center, and walked back to the ship. We arrived about 15 minutes prior to the last boarding time. The sail out of Oslo through the fjords was absolutely beautiful!
Tonight was our dinner at Palo. After brunch yesterday, we were really looking forward to it! Someone at Palo must have noted that my birthday fell during the cruise, as I was presented with this, after dessert:


July 30, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 3

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 4-Copenhagen

I woke up early, before the rest of the family, so I went up to Deck 9, grabbed a coffee, and watched as the ship maneuvered into its docking space in the Copenhagen harbor. The harbor was surrounded by a large offshore wind farm. It was a fascinating sight.
After breakfast in Lumiere's we headed ashore. We were greeted by what looked to be a high school marching band. What a great welcome!


We boarded a public bus and took a 10-minute ride to the city center. We got off of the bus at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen's largest square. It took us a few minutes to get oriented, but we finally found our way past the Christianborg Palace to the Stroget, a long, pedestrian-only (in theory anyway) shopping street. We found some great shops with cool Scandinavian design icons. We strolled all the way down Stroget, to the Radhuspladsen, a beautiful square in front of the Copenhagen City Hall (Radhus).

From the Radhuspladsen it was a very short walk to our final destination of the day, and the one that I had really been looking forward to since booking the cruise a year and a half earlier: Tivoli Gardens.


Tivoli is a lovely old amusement park that attracts more than 4.5 million visitors a year. Walt Disney visited Tivoli, and it is said that it provided him with some of the inspiration for Disneyland. We spent the rest of our day ashore in Tivoli. It was beautiful, and absolutely charming. We strolled the gardens and rode lots of rides, some old-fashioned and quaint, and some newer, up-to-date thrill rides. My favorite was the old, cable-pulled "Roller Coaster."
A replica of the famous "Little Mermaid" statue-the original of which is usually on display in the Copenhagen harbor, but which is currently in Shanghai, China for the World's Fair there-was on display.


(The bird would NOT leave. I guess it really wanted to be in our picture.)

Lunch was bagels for the girls and Danish-style hot dogs for me and Rob. These were very interesting. They were long, thin hot dogs served in hollowed-out rolls into which a good deal of sweet mustard was squirted by the server before inserting the hot dog. Yummy. And slightly weird.


After a full day at Tivoli, we wandered back out to the Radhuspladsen the catch the public bus back to the pier. The bus driver was the same one that we had had earlier in the morning. He must have been tired by that time (we certainly were!). It had been a very warm day in Copenhagen, so after returning to the ship, we all donned bathing suits and headed to the pools.
Dinner tonight was in Animator's Palate, then Rob and I went to see the show "Once Upon a Song" in the Walt Disney Theatre. It was a cabaret-style show where five of the ship's performers sang a medley of Disney songs-old and new, well-known and not-so-well-known. We really enjoyed it. The girls were in The Stack, which had become their hang-out.
We were in bed relatively early tonight, as we were looking forward to and early start for our "Berlin on Your Own" excursion tomorrow.

Day 5-Berlin

We docked in Warnemunde early, and were up for breakfast in Topsider's at 6:15. We were in the second wave of shore excursions for Berlin, and made our way to Studio Sea to meet with our "Berlin on Your Own" Group in Studio Sea. Except that we were supposed to be meeting our group in Rockin' Bar D. Ooops. This is what happens when you can't read the tour ticket without your reading glasses (you know who you are!). We ran to Rockin' Bar D, checked in (right place this time, yeah!), got our stickers and followed the cast member off of the ship onto the chartered train that was waiting just outside of the docking area. We found our carriage and settled in for the 2.5 hour, un-air-conditioned, ride. Heat wave in Europe right now, which is unfortunate when you are riding for 2.5 hours from Warnemunde to Berlin. Oh well, we survived.
Once the train arrived in Berlin, we boarded buses to take us to the Gendarmenmarkt in the center ("mitte") of the eastern part of Berlin. This square is absolutely lovely, and a great place to start any tour of Berlin. I had visited Berlin 4 years ago on a business trip, and just happened to have stayed in the same hotel in front of which we were dropped, so I had some familiarity with the area.

It was about 11:30, and Claire was hungry, so we went to a "typical German" restaurant down the street, and proceeded to feast on various types of bratwurst, wienershnitzel and kartoffel salat. After lunch we walked to the Brandenburg Gate, with the intention of catching a hop-on-hop-off bus for the remainder of our tour.


Big mistake. These buses have NO air conditioning, and did I mention that Berlin was in the middle of a heat wave? We rode the bus on the top level in the blazing sun, because believe it or not, it was cooler there in the direct sunlight than it was in the interior of the bus. Well, we rode for about an hour until we got to the Checkpoint Charlie stop, then got off and went directly to find ice cream and cold water.

After that, we found a nearby surviving section of the Berlin Wall, and a new museum outlining the German Secret Police's involvement in World War II and the Holocaust.


It was both haunting and thought-provoking. We walked back to Checkpoint Charlie to catch the bus back to our starting point, and to get the Disney bus back to the train station for the journey home. Before boarding the bus, we stopped in an amazing chocolate shop, with very cool chocolate sculptures.


Check out the kid's expression on the other side of the window!

We headed back for an on-time arrival at the meeting point. Except that there was a problem.
It seems that the locomotive for our chartered train had broken down, and a new one was being brought in. We unloaded the bus in front of the train station, and went across the street to a public park, where we cooled our heels for about an hour waiting for the new locomotive to be brought in. The tour company handed out water, led excursions to the bathrooms, and circulated tour guides to give guests additional information about Berlin. Did we know that the park we were sitting in was made of piles of rubble moved there after the bombing of the city? Pretty interesting, and we actually enjoyed the down time.

We were finally told that the train was ready to leave, and we went aboard. It was a long, hot, un-air-conditioned ride back to Warnemunde, but the girls found some other kids to play cards with while we chatted with their parents.

Once we were finally back on the boat, it was an amazing sail away, with seemingly the entire town out to bid us auf wiedersein with boat horns and fireworks. Beautiful!

That evening we grabbed a quick dinner at Pluto's on Deck 9, then watched some of the World Cup game in Diversions, and went to bed. I had wanted to go see the late showing of the movie "Prince of Persia," but I was too pooped to pop.

Day 6-at Sea

We lost another hour last night, and Rob and I got up around 9:00 and went to breakfast at Lumiere's. Rob had a bagel with lox and the works and I had some kind of savory pancake with eggs, spinach and tofu. It sounds a little strange, but it was pretty good.

After breakfast we went to the Buena Vista theatre to see "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," the movie that I was hoping to see last night. It was fun.

After the movie we went back to the room to see if the girls were up yet. They were not, so we got them up, then went up to Topsider's for lunch. After lunch we all went our separate ways, and I went down to Deck 4 for a half hour power walk around the ship. Then it was up to the Quiet Cove pool. The weather was really lovely today, and we wanted to take full advantage of it.

After the "Villains" theme dinner in Lumiere's, Rob and I went to see "Villains Tonight" in the Walt Disney Theatre. We really liked this show. After the show, we watched the World Cup soccer final in Diversions, and then headed to bed.

July 31, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 4

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 7-St. Petersburg

Today is my birthday! What a great place to spend it in. We arrived in (sunny and hot!) St. Petersburg at about 12:30 p.m., but because our excursion was not leaving until 4:30 p.m., we took our time over lunch at Topsider's and took the opportunity to do a couple of loads of laundry. I must say here that the laundry situation on a longer cruise is a bit difficult. There are lots of guests vying for limited laundry facilities, and sometimes things become not so magical. Arggghhh!

Anyhoo, after a leisurely afternoon at the pool, we headed down to our stateroom at about 3:30 to change into our formal finery for our excursion "Royal Ball at Catherine's Palace." This was the excursion that we were most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. We met for the excursion in Rockin' Bar D, and walked down to the gangway and off of the ship to go through Russian immigration. This was the only port of the cruise where we were required to go through immigration and customs in order to enter the country. Russia also requires that every visitor has a visa, so the easiest way to do this port was through the Disney excursions, where all of the visa requirements were taken care of. We did meet lots of other folks who did their excursions through local Russian tour companies, which also took care of this detail.

After an hour and a half bus ride to the St. Petersburg suburb of Pushkin, we arrived at Catherine's Palace (to great fanfare!). The palace was built for Catherine I (not Catherine the Great) by her husband, Peter the Great. The first thing we noticed about the Palace was its intense robin's egg blue hue. Oh, and lots of gold.


The palace was destroyed during the Second World War, when it was occupied by the Nazis, and was only recently restored for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary in 2003. In fact, it was so extensively restored that it can almost be considered to be "new." When we arrived, we headed to one of the out buildings for some light hors d'oeuvres before heading to the palace.
After the hors d'oeuvres and a bathroom break, we walked to the entrance of the palace. It was breathtaking and spectacular.


Then, the Princesses arrived in horse-drawn carriages. There were Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White and Tiana. The scene was truly regal, and was what everyone on the excursion was waiting for.



After the Princesses entered the Palace, the rest of us followed in our smaller groups with our guides. We were asked to don cute blue paper booties over our shoes to protect the wood parquet floors, and were told that unlike most visitors to the palace we would be allowed to take pictures in every room, including the famed amber room.



There were adorable Russian children playing musical instruments in each of the rooms.


After our tour ended we were led into the Ball Room, where a small orchestra was playing. We were asked to wait until our group number was called, so that we could have our picture taken with all of the Princesses. There was a group of professional dancers dancing to the music, and also a small group of children from what looked like a local ballet school, that were leading the younger visitors out onto the floor for a dance. We all danced and had a wonderful time!


A bit later champagne was distributed for the adults and non-alcoholic cider for the kids. "Catherine" came out with her Prince, and offered a toast (in Russian) to peace between all of our countries.


Finally, the evening was over, and we were led back out to our waiting carriages (er, buses) to begin the journey back to the ship. It had truly been a magical evening.
After returning to the ship, Rob and I went to the Alfred and Seymour comedy show, then out to Goofy's pool at 10:15 (!) for a show featuring local Russian dancers, singers and acrobats. (Amazing that it was still light enough for a show outside at 10:15.)

Day 8-St. Petersburg

Today we had a tour to the Peterhof Palace, again, in a suburb outside of St. Petersburg, then back to St. Petersburg, itself for lunch and a tour of the Hermitage. The ride in the bus was uneventful, and we arrived at the Peterhof in less than an hour. We were struck, again (!), by the amazing color of the palace, a bright yellow. After a quick walk through a number of souvenir hawkers (Rob should have taken the time to buy the Russian Ovechkin hockey jersey, argghh!!), we entered the palace, and donned more blue booties.

The tour through the palace and the grounds was lovely, but it really made me appreciate the access to Catherine's Palace the evening before, without crowds, and with the ability to take pictures inside. (We were not allowed to take pictures in the interior of the Peterhof, and our guide explained to us later that it was for commercial reasons-i.e. they want to get you to buy their pictures. The Peterhof Palace (or "Monplaisir" ("my pleasure") was built by Peter the Great. Like Catherine's Palace, the Peterhof was severely damaged during World War II, and has been recently restored.


We were outside of the palace in time to view the start of the Grand Cascade and other fountains outside, which really was a marvelous sight, and like many Disney attractions, set to appropriate music. After our tour, we returned to central St. Petersburg via high-speed hydrofoils. This was a much quicker way to get back into town.


Once back in town, we boarded our bus, and went to a local "luxury" hotel (as described by our guide-it was a Radisson) for lunch. The lunch was quite good-even if the setting somewhat mundane-and included a glass each of vodka and champagne for the adults.

After lunch we went to the Hermitage. The Hermitage, in Catherine the Great's Winter Palace in the center of the city, serves today as a museum of art and Russian culture. Unlike Catherine's Palace, and the Peterhof, this palace was not destroyed in World War II, and retained many of its original features. As a result, I liked this palace much more than I did the other two. It felt much more authentic, and much less contrived.


The museum also houses some amazing works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Matisse, and others. The art collection was originally started by Catherine, herself. I absolutely loved this museum, and would love to go back some time when I have a lot more time to explore its vast collections.


We returned to the ship, and had dinner with our exhausted tablemates. None of us had evening excursions today, and were very glad of that fact. The kids ran off after dinner, and Rob and I went to the Walt Disney Theatre to see Toy Story 3D. We saved seeing this movie for the cruise, and loved it. I cried. I admit it. My kids are getting older, college is on the horizon, and the whole thing just struck a chord with me.

By the way, sunset was at 11:20 p.m. tonight, and it never really got dark that I could tell. Experiencing the White Nights in St. Petersburg was amazing!

Return to Blog Central

About July 2010

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in July 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2010 is the previous archive.

August 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.