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December 2009 Archives

December 6, 2009

World Showcase Garland

As we know, the Disney Imagineers are masters when it comes to detailing their parks and hotels. And the holiday decorations they display at this time of year are no exception. Each November, Holiday Services decorates 24 resorts including Disney's Vero Beach and Disney's Hilton Head Island, 4 theme parks, 2 cruise ships, the Disney Cruise Line terminal and Castaway Cay, the Disney Reservation Centers, Downtown Disney Marketplace, and more than 400 merchandise shops.

I couldn't possibly cover all of this so I won't even try. And instead of focusing my attention on some of the more obvious decorations, I'm going to discuss an often overlooked, yet important part of the Christmas adornments, garland. Specifically, the garlands of Epcot's World Showcase.

Let's start in Canada. If you take a closer look at this yuletide tradition you'll find snow shoes, antlers, trout, and geese mingled into the evergreen.

Canada Garland.jpg

Canada Garland

In the United Kingdom, traditional ornaments are mixed in among plaid ribbons, mistletoe, and holly.

United Kingdom Garland

United Kingdom Garland

Eifel Tower ornaments can be found in the France Pavilion garland along with wine bottle ribbons and bows.

France Garland

France Garland

Since Morocco is essentially a Muslim nation, it does not receive any Christmas decorations.

Japan too is not a Christian country, but limited decorations can be found here -- for instance this garland in the Yakitori House. Here we find Japanese lanterns and fans mixed in with evergreens and pinecones.

Japan Garland

Japan Garland

In the American Adventure we find garland laden with a plentiful bounty. Patriotic ribbons and stars also complement the strands.

American Adventure Garland

American Adventure Garland

Elaborate masks adorn the garland in Italy as well as ornaments and ribbons displaying wine grapes.

Italy Garland

Italy Garland

In Germany, cuckoo clocks and teddy bears add a playful touch to the greenery.

Germany Garland

Germany Garland

Like Morocco and Japan, China is not a Christian nation so the decorations here are sparse. But in the Nine Dragons Restaurant you can find garland featuring flower blossoms, ornaments with Chinese lettering, and ribbon with an Asian design.

China Garland

In Norway you'll find cold-weather favorites like ice skates and snowflakes. Also keep an eye out for Santa and Christmas stockings.

Norway Garland

Norway Garland

Since it's perpetually nighttime in the Mexico Pavilion, the garland here is festively lit with multi-colored lights. In addition, Mexican handicrafts can be found nestled among the greens.

Mexico Garland

Mexico Garland

Here are a few interesting facts about what goes into decorating Walt Disney World and a description of some of the Christmas trees found around property.

The Holiday Services warehouse, which houses the decorations when not in use, covers approximately 50,000 square feet of space.

Decorating takes place on the graveyard shift. Most guests are asleep at this time and the resorts and parks are magically transformed overnight.

Holiday Services transports nearly 150 semi-trailers of decorations each November to various points around Walt Disney World and beyond.

Almost 8.5 million lights are used.

15 miles of garland are hung -- a lot of it in World Showcase.

1,314 wreaths are hung ranging in size from 12-inches to 84-inches (and 25-feet).

300,000 yards of ribbon are made into bows each year.

98% of the lighting used for the holiday décor is LED (Light Emitting Diode). LED's use 1/10 of the power of a traditional incandescent bulb and has a lifespan of 100,000 hours versus 1,000 hours.

2% of the lights used are compact fluorescents which are 21% more efficient in power conversion than incandescent bulbs. These also have a lifespan of 15,000 hours versus 1,000 hours.

Icon trees (large centerpiece trees) used in the parks and resorts range in height from 45 to 70-feet. These trees weigh from 28,000 to 32,000 pounds.

More than 5,500 lights twinkle from the branches of some of these trees.

Each of the trees at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and the Disney's Hollywood Studios are 65 feet tall. The tree at Disney's Animal Kingdom is 55-feet tall.

The tree in front of the Contemporary Resort is 70-feet tall and is decorated with about 35,800 white LED lights and the ornaments are illuminated with compact florescent bulbs.

The newest decoration at Walt Disney World is a 25-foot wide Mickey icon with 18 foot elliptical ears. It is mounted on the north side of the Contemporary Resort and is decorated in boxwood foliage and lit with 11,400 white LEDs.

The largest base section of an icon tree weighs 18,000 pounds and is 26-feet wide. It can be found in Town Square at the Magic Kingdom.

Icon trees are transported to their locations on flatbed trucks and are lifted into place with a 70-ton crane.

Downtown Disney Marketplace has a playful 45-foot exterior tree located near the Once Upon a Toy store decorated with oversized toys such as Mr. Potato Head, Barrel of Monkeys, and Scrabble pieces to name a few.

In the lobby of the Grand Floridian Resort is a special attraction, a 40-foot tree glowing with 45,000 LED lights, elegant ornamentation and Victorian bouquets.

The tree in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge reaches 45-feet high and is adorned in a rustic motif of canoes, moccasins, sleds, teepees that are aglow with flicker flame bulbs.

In the lobby of the Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge you'll find a 45-foot tree adorned with authentic African décor of handmade baskets and reproductions of traditional African masks cascading down to the floor.

Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is decorated with handmade ornaments from villages throughout Africa.

The tree at the Beach Club Villas is trimmed with beach cottage flair, beach balls, sand toys and shells.

Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort uses a color pallet of sky blue, coppers, and browns, and adorned with smoke glass and crystal. Its tree topper is a one of a kind hand crafted crystal star.

December 8, 2009

Blizzard Beach

Since wintertime is almost here, I thought I'd write about Blizzard Beach to help us get in the mood for some cold weather.

As the story goes, a freak snowstorm hit the Orlando area. A local entrepreneur, somewhat lacking in foresight, seized this opportunity and constructed Florida's first and only ski resort. But of course, warm weather soon returned to the area (as it always does) and the powdery snow began to melt. Dejected, the entrepreneur was about to shutter the establishment when he spotted an alligator sliding down the various slopes yelling "yahoo." Once again, the entrepreneur seized the opportunity and turned disaster into success by creating a water park. Soon, the slalom courses and toboggan runs were converted into downhill waterslides and the melting snow into swimming areas. Blizzard Beach opened on April 1, 1995 and the fun-loving alligator was dubbed "Ice Gator" and would become the resort's mascot. By the way, the mascot for Typhoon Lagoon is named Later Gator.

Ice Gator

Blizzard Beach Street Entrance

An alpine atmosphere is apparent from the moment you approach the ticket windows and main gate. Rough-hewn logs and river rocks make up the construction material and pine trees abound. Patches of melting snow are everywhere.

Ticket Booth

Blizzard Beach Park Entrance

After passing through the turnstiles, a sales lot full of now useless cold weather sporting items can be seen to the left. The sleigh makes a great photo op.

Winter Sport Sales Lot

A little further down the path is the Beach Haus. This alpine store is your one-stop shopping place for souvenirs, locker rentals, beach apparel, towels, footwear, film, snacks, and sundries. Be sure to check out the hole-in-the-wall where Ice Gator came crashing through.

Beach Haus Shop

Beach Haus Merchandise

Beach Haus Merchandise

Ice Gator hole-in-the-wall

The music played at Blizzard Beach is an odd collection. Everything from the Beach Boys to Christmas tunes are played. You can even hear the yodeler from "it's a small world."

Here we see a photo op within a photo op. Notice that Father Snowman is snapping a picture of Junior.

Snow Man Photo Op

Also near the entrance are restrooms, changing facilities, numerous lockers, and Snowless Joes. Snowless Joes rents lockers and towels and guests may secure life jackets free of charge here. Note, there are two other locker facilities in other sections of the park, but they must be rented either here or at Beach Haus.

Rest Rooms and Changing Rooms


Snowless Joes

Mount Gushmore is the center piece of Blizzard Beach and the majority of the slopes radiate from various points on this peak. The mountain's elevation is 90 feet and can be scaled by several hiking trails. Water is heated year-round to between 75 to 80 degrees. Mount Gushmore is divided into three colored-coded slopes (Green, Red, and Purple) to help guests navigate the park.

Red, Green, and Purple Sign Post

Mt. Gushmore Sign

Green Slope


A chairlift is available for one-way trips to the top of Mount Gushmore and access to Summit Plummet, Slush Gusher, and Teamboat Springs. For those with disabilities, a gondola, which can accommodate a wheelchair and one companion, can be used to ascend and descend the mountain. Note, once the park gets into full swing, the line for the chair lift can be significant. It may be faster to take one of the hiking trails. Children must be 32" tall to ride, 48" to ride alone. Guest may not bring food, drinks, loose articles, or bags on the chairlift.

Getting Into The Chairlift





Summit Plummet

Summit Plummet and Slush Gusher Sign

Summit Plummet is not for the faint of heart and possibly generates the best thrill in all of Disney World. Originally designed to be a ski jump, guests access this 120 foot high attraction via a series of stairs. From the top, you're struck by the magnificent view until the realization sets in that the only way down is via a very steep and fast incline. This water slide is the highest and fastest in the country and speeds of over 60 miles an hour are not uncommon. The proper position for experiencing Summit Plummet is ankles locked together and arms crossed tightly across the chest. There is a height requirement of 48 inches.

Notice when an intrepid soul vanishes out of sight, water gushes from the edge of the jump.

Summit Plummet

Summit Plummet

Summit Plummet

Summit Plummet

Summit Plummet

Summit Plummet

Every morning, one "lucky" person is selected to help open Blizzard Beach by being the first to experience Summit Plummet. While everyone else waits patiently behind ropes for the park to open, this brave soul is escorted to the top of Summit Plummet and is placed in the lime-light for all to watch as he or she experiences this grand-daddy of slides.

Slush Gusher

Located next to Summit Plummet is Slush Gusher. This drop features two "moguls" and your body actually leaves the surface of the slide and "flies" for a short distance as you pass over them. If you want to increase your "air time," raise your crossed legs just before you reach the second hump. Speeds of 50 miles an hour are generated on this adventure.

Slush Gusher

Slush Gusher

Slush Gusher

Slush Gusher

The wait times for both Summit Plummet and Slush Gusher can be significant. I recommend arriving at Blizzard Beach early and making these two slopes first on your agenda.

There are several good viewing areas from which to watch the fun. The first is at the base of the ski jump. This platform offers good views of the slides, Blizzard Beach, and the surrounding area.

Summit Plummet Platform

Summit Plummet Platform

View from Summit Plummet Platform

View from Summit Plummet Platform

The second viewing area is adjacent to Summit Plummet and allows guest to see sliders whiz by as the drop begins to flatten out.

Summit Plummet Viewing Area

Summit Plummet Guest Whizzing By

And finally, there is a viewing area at the bottom of these slides. It's great fun to sit here and watch the rider's reaction when they reach bottom and to see them pull the "wedgies" out. Women riders of Summit Plummet might consider one-piece bathing suits as they tend to stay on better than a two-piece. There is also a speed-clock that records the velocity you attained during your descent from Summit Plummet.

Viewing Benches

Speed Clock

Teamboat Springs

Teamboat Springs Sign

The final Green Slope attraction is Teamboat Springs. This is the world's longest "family white-water raft ride" and takes guests down a twisting and turning 1,400 foot river. The rafts, complete with handles to hang onto, hold a minimum of four and a maximum of six passengers. But don't skip this ride just because you are only a single or couple. Smaller parties will be grouped together in the loading area to fill up the rafts. And by the time you get to the bottom of the river, you'll feel like you know all of your fellow passengers.

Teamboat Springs

Teamboat Springs

Teamboat Springs

Teamboat Springs

Teamboat Springs

Red Slope

Runoff Rapids

Located on the back side of Mount Gushmore is the Red Slope with Runoff Rapids. Your adventure for this attraction starts at the bottom of the peak where you pick up your inner tube (either a single or double) then climb a long series of steps to the dispatch area.

Runoff Rapids consists of three flumes, two open-air and one enclosed. Each is around 600 feet in length and careens around pine trees and boulders before depositing guests in a splash-down pool. Each of the flumes is different from the others so you need to make the hike up the hill three times to experience all the thrills. The open flumes can accommodate both single and double tubes. The enclosed flume only allows single riders to traverse this somewhat dark encounter. Although there is no height requirement for Runoff Rapids, children must be able to sit properly in the tube. Also, be aware that the splash-down pool is just under four feet so little ones might need assistance when they reach the bottom.

Runoff Rapids

Runoff Rapids

Runoff Rapids

Runoff Rapids

Runoff Rapids

Meltaway Bay

At the base of Mount Gushmore is Meltaway Bay. This one-acre pool features bobbing waves and gentle water movement, but nothing as intense as at Typhoon Lagoon so body surfing is not an option here. Tubes are allowed in Meltaway Bay but supplies are limited and are distributed on a first come first served basis. This area is surrounded by a white sandy beach and numerous chairs and lounges.

Meltaway Bay

Meltaway Bay

Meltaway Bay

Cross Country Creek

Circling the perimeter of Blizzard Beach is Cross Country Creek. This slow-moving river is 3,000 feet in length and is perhaps the most relaxing activity available here. Located at various spots along the creek are seven entry/exit spots. It's here that you'll secure an inner tube and hop in for your thirty minute journey around the park. Note, you are not required to use an inner tube. You are free to traverse this waterway under your own power. Also, each entry point has a name so you can remember where you started (Flamingo, Manatee, Bunny, Polar Bear, Ice Gator, Penguin, and Reindeer).

Cross Country Creek Entrance/Exit

Cross Country Creek

Snow Making Machine


Cross Country Creek does hold one surprise for unsuspecting guests. When you enter the cave, very cold water drips from the melting overhead ice.

Ice Cave

Tike's Peak

Tike's Peak Entrance

Tike's Peak was designed for the little ones. In fact, children must be under 48 inches to play here. This area includes scaled down versions of some of Blizzard Beach's other attractions. There are several water slides, a snow-castle, and various water features and pop-up jets. The water is very shallow in this area and barely covers your feet. There are a number of tables, chairs, and lounges for adults to relax in while their children play. Diaper-age children must wear Swim diapers. The pavement can get hot in this area so footwear is advisable.

Note, the water at Tike's Peak is kept at a slightly higher temperature than the rest of the park.

Tike's Peak

Tike's Peak

Tike's Peak

Tike's Peak

Tike's Peak

Tike's Peak

Ski Patrol Training Camp

Ski Patrol Training Camp

Ski Patrol Training Camp

Ski Patrol Training Camp is for children too old or too tall for Tike's Peak, but who are not yet ready to experience the more challenging adventures of Blizzard Beach. There are a number of eye-appealing attractions here for preteens to enjoy.

Fahrenheit Drops

This adventure begins in an elevated hut where a T-Bar is automatically brought into a youngster's reach. They grab hold then propel themselves out over the water for zip-line experience and splash-down. The water is over 8 feet deep here so it is advisable that your kids know how to swim or wear a life jacket. Children must be under 5 feet to ride.

Fahrenheit Drops

Freezin' Pipe Springs

This adventure features a short body slide. The thrills are tame, but it's perfect for youngsters. This ride deposits riders into the same, deep body of water as Fahrenheit Drops.

Freezin' Pipe Springs

Leisure Pool

Besides swimming, the Leisure Pool offers Iceberg Walk. This adventure challenges kids to cross the pool by walking across floating icebergs. An overhead net allows them to hang on while maneuvering themselves from one moving object to the next. Children 13 and over are not allowed on the iceberg walks. The water depth in this area is 3 1/2 feet.

Iceberg Walk.jpg

Cool Runners

Cool Runners has two sets of slides. One set is a very short, very tame straight run. The other set is longer and offers a few twists and turns on the way to splash-down. Guest ride in inner tubes on the latter set of these slides.

Cool Runners Straight Slide

Cool Runners Straight Slide

Cool Runners Tube Slide

Cool Runners Tube Slide

Purple Slope

The Purple Slope has three attractions, Downhill Double Dipper, Snow Stormers, and Toboggan Racers.

Downhill Double Dipper

Downhill Double Dipper Sign

This attraction features twin slides (50 feet in height and 230 feet in length). Here, two guests race side-by-side to the bottom while riding in inner tubes. Audio elements and automated gates begin each race to keep everything fair. Speeds of up to 25 miles per hour are clocked and racing times are registered at the finish line. When you've finished your race, be sure to place your inner tube on the conveyer belt so it can be carried to the top for other racers. There is a height requirement of 48 inches.

Downhill Double Dipper

Downhill Double Dipper

Downhill Double Dipper

Snow Stormers

Snow Stormers Sign

On Snow Stormers, guests lay face first on toboggan-style mats and ride through a series of switchbacks that resemble a ski-type slalom. There are three different runs, each approximately 350 feet in length.

Toboggan-style Mats

Snow Stormers

Snow Stormers

Toboggan Racers

Toboggan Racers Sign

Toboggan Racers features 8 side-by-side lanes, each 250 feet long. This course is straight but has a number of dips along the way. Like Snow Stormers, riders lay face first on toboggan-style mats. The idea here is to race your friends and family to the bottom of the hill. But unlike Downhill Double Dipper, there is no official starting procedure. Tip: If you want your children to win the race, give them a head start.

Toboggan Racers

Toboggan Racers

Toboggan Racers

Snow Stormers and Toboggan Racers share a conveyer belt where guests can place their mats upon completion of their ride to be carried back to the top.

Food and beverage

A number of food and beverage stands are located around the park, but the biggest is Lottawatta Lodge. This counter service restaurant offers hamburgers, hot dogs, wraps, salads, and other goodies to tide you over. A number of umbrella covered picnic tables are located nearby.

Lottawatta Lodge

Lottawatta Lodge

Lottawatta Lodge Seating Area

Guests may bring personal coolers into Blizzard Beach. However, they may not bring glass containers and alcoholic beverages.

Lounges and Seating

Located all around Blizzard beach are lounge chairs and picnic tables. Some are in the sun, others are shaded by huts or trees.

Beach Seating

Shaded Seating

Shaded Seating

Premium Space

Guests may relax and cool off in their own reserved Premium Space at Blizzard Beach. Amenities include, an attendant, locker, all-day drink mugs, cooler with bottled water, cushioned lounge furniture, and towels. A cast member will be on hand to offer "tips and tricks" as well as provide assistance with food orders (purchased separately). Advanced reservations are available by calling 407-WDW-PLAY. Guests may inquire at the Shade Shack for same-day availability.

Rain Check Policy

If Blizzard Beach must be closed due to inclement weather, no cash or credit card refunds will be made.

If the guest has been admitted for less than four hours, and can present a valid 1-Day Blizzard Beach ticket, the guest is eligible to receive a Rain Check. No Multi-Day Tickets, Annual Passes, other Rain Checks, or any other tickets may be exchanged for a Rain Check.

A Rain Check is valid for one admission to Blizzard Beach. Rain Checks never expire.

Once Blizzard Beach reopens, no further Rain Checks will be issued to guests.

Additional Information

Guests may not bring boogie boards, surf boards, floatation devices, fins, masks or other water toys into the park.

Children under 10 must be accompanied by an adult.

No running or diving.

Swim wear with rivets, buckles, or exposed metal is not permitted on the attractions.

December 13, 2009

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

I recently wrote a blog about the Maharajah Jungle Trek located in the Asia section of Disney's Animal Kingdom. I called this attraction a "hidden treasure" since it is so often overlooked by guests visiting this park. Today, I'm writing about its sister attraction found in Africa, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is another hidden treasure and should not be skipped. "Pangani" is Swahili for "place of enchantment."

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Sign

Located near the exit of Kilimanjaro Safari, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail offers guests a chance to view a number of East African animals at a more relaxed pace than the "two-week expedition" that they may have just enjoyed. But entrance into this nature preserve is not limited to those who just returned from the safari. Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is open to anyone in the area with the entrance just to the left of the Harambe Railway Station.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Entrance

The Exploration Trail passes through the Pangani Forest Conservation School and Wildlife Sanctuary. This educational center is a joint effort between the citizens of Harambe and international preservation groups. It is overseen by Dr. Kulunda and is staffed by research students from around the world. These students are stationed throughout the center and are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the animals.

Trail Entrance

Harambe/Pangani Forest Conservation Sign

Research Student

The first exhibit found along the trail is an abandoned termite mound. A side portion of this rock-hard structure built of mud and termite saliva has been cut away. This allows guests to peer into the hidden world of this subterranean insect. Careful observation will reveal food storage areas, underground farming, air conditioning, nurseries, and water reserves.

Termite Mound

Termite Sign

The next stop along the trail is the Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre. This area has been set aside for the care and rehabilitation of wild African species. Endangered animals are provided with shelter, medical care, and relocation to a protected environment once it is considered safe to do so.

Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre

Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre

Currently, the Angolan Blank & White Colobus Monkey is being cared for here. These monkeys are from neighboring forests where over-hunting has caused serious declines in their population.

Colobus monkeys live in small groups of ten to fifteen. Births peak during the rainy season and the newborns are completely white. Their coloring doesn't begin to emerge until about three months of age. Their black and white fur is a form of protection as it breaks up their outline and makes it difficult to spot them in the trees.

Colobus Monkeys

Colobus Monkeys

Further down the trail is an Observation Blind. Blinds like this are used to observe animals without disturbing their instinctive behaviors. Careful study of an animal in its natural habitat is the first step to understanding how they survive in the wild. This information can then be shared with others and solutions for insuring their protection can be found. One of the best rules to follow when observing animals in the wild is to be quiet. All of the surrounding creatures can hear better than you.

Observation Blind Sign

Two of the animals currently seen here are the Yellow-backed Duiker and the Okapi.

The duiker (an antelope) eats leaves, buds, herbs, berries and several insects like termites and ants. They weigh between 125 and 175 pounds and they can live from between 10 and 12 years. Their natural enemies are the leopard, crocodile, and python.

Even though you might think the okapi is related to the zebra due to the stripes on its hind quarters, it's actually the only known relative to the giraffe. It is theorized that the giraffe developed a longer neck in response to heavy competition for food in the sparse savannah grasslands. Whereas the okapi didn't face similar struggles in the densely overgrown rainforest. On a nearby table, the skulls of both animals point out the similarities of the two beasts.


Duiker and Okapi

Okapi and Giraffe Skulls

Near the Observation Blind are chalkboards and a bulletin board containing information about recent sightings. Dr. Kulunda and the research students take copious notes which can be studied here at your leisure.

Research Bulletin Board

Next along the trail we come to the Research Center used by Dr. Kulunda and the team of research students. A desk and numerous bookshelves and cabinets store the equipment they use in their studies.

Research Desk

Research Bookshelves

Also in the Research Center are a number of terrariums housing such creatures as the Spiny Tailed Lizard, Pancake Tortoise, Spiny Mice, and African Hedgehog. These are all being studied by Dr. Kulunda.


But the most interesting of all the specimens here are the Naked Mole Rats. These animals were unknown to the modern world until the mid-1970's when researchers brought their unique lifestyle to light.

Naked Mole Rats

Naked Mole Rats

Neither a mole or a rat, these creatures are more closely related to porcupines, chinchillas, and guinea pigs. They are considered "eusocial" which is extremely rare in mammals. Their behavior more closely resembles ants, termites, and bees as they live in a social atmosphere with a queen, several drones, and many workers. Colonies in the wild range from 20 to 300 individuals with the average consisting of around 75. Naked Mole Rats have extremely poor eyesight and for the most part, are hairless. They live their entire life underground and constantly dig tunnels in search of food.

When leaving the Research Center, you enter a large aviary. A wooden walkway crosses over a stream filled with several varieties of colorful fish. A beautiful waterfall is on hand and twenty-three species of birds fly and swim in this area for your enjoyment.




In the 1950's, the Nile Perch was naively introduced into Lake Victoria for commercial fishing purposes. In no time at all, this aggressive fish began to decimate the native aquatic population and continues to drastically change the ecosystem here.

As part of an international conservation effort, Harambe and the Wildlife Sanctuary have been selected to study the "Lake Victoria Cichlid," one of the endangered species. It is hoped that they can learn more about this fish and help rebuild its population.


Lake Victoria Cichlid

In order to get the most out of the aviary, you need to take your time. Many of the birds are well camouflaged and careful observation is required to find them. A Bird Spotting Guide can be picked up as you enter the aviary. Here we see an African Green Pigeon and the African Jacana.

Bird Spotting Guide

African Green Pigeon

African Jacana

Note, guests with service animals should check with a host or hostess before entering the aviary.

The next stop on our journey brings us to the hippopotamus viewing area. Like many of the other animals found in and around Harambe, the Pangani Wildlife Sanctuary is studying these unique animals.

There are an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 hippos living throughout Africa, but habitat loss is a continuing problem. It was once thought that pigs were the closest genetic relative to the hippo, but in the 1980's it was discovered that they are more closely related to whales and porpoises. Despite their short legs and considerable size, a hippopotamus can easily outrun a man and is considered to be the most aggressive animal in the world. To keep their large bodies cool, hippos spend much of the day huddled together in lakes and streams. At dusk, they emerge to graze on nearby grasses.

When looking for hippos at the Sanctuary, be sure to peer deep toward the back area of the wading pool. Often, they can be seen here, sleeping on the lake bottom. If you visit this area between 4:00 to 4:30, the hippos are frequently more active and you can see them walking near the viewing portals.

Hippopotamus Viewing Area

Sleeping Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus Skull

The two big attractions at the next observation point are the gerenuk and meerkat.

Meerkat Viewing Area

The gerenuk is a species of antelope and the name means "giraffe-necked" in the Somali language. The unique construction of the animal's pelvis allows it to stand on its hind legs and reach leaves, shoots, flowers and fruit that are out of reach of other animals. Male gerenuk grow horns and the species mate year round. Their life span is about eight years in the wild, but they can live thirteen years or more in captivity.



Have you ever wondered what animal Timon from The Lion King was patterned after? Well wonder no more. It's the meerkat.

Meerkats are members of the mongoose family and eat a variety of insects along with reptiles, plants, and eggs. They live in "clans" of about twenty and forage for food as a group. However, one meerkat is always designated as "sentry" and stands a protective watch for about an hour before being replaced by another clan member.

Many tribesmen in Zimbabwean believe the meerkat to be a sun angel that protects villages and stray cattle from werewolf attacks. I don't remember Timon mentioning this in the movie.



The last and largest viewing area of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail showcases the Lowland Gorilla. Visitors first enter a research camp where a large window has been constructed for observation. It's important to note, the gorillas can see and hear you so please be respectful of their home and do NOT tap on the glass.

Gorilla Research Center

Researcher spend days at a time monitoring these animals. In the surrounding area you can see a field desk used by Dr. Kulunda and bunk-beds complete with mosquito netting.

Research Desk

Bunk Beds

There are also a number of displays scattered around the observation room. One features the skulls of a male and female gorilla next to a human's. In addition, the researchers have prepared a large chalkboard with interesting facts about this close relative to man. And as always, a student is on hand to answer questions.

Gorilla and Human Skulls

Gorilla Facts and Figures (Chalkboard)

If you examine some of the nearby crates, you'll discover that poaching is still a constant threat to these remarkable animals.


If none of the gorillas are currently in view here, continue moving along the trail where you'll come to a swaying suspension bridge. On the other side is a beautiful valley where the animals spend much of their time. A nearby map describes their daily activity patterns complete with nesting and feeding areas.

Suspension Bridge

Valley Map

Gorillas are the largest of the primates. Adult males achieve a height of almost six feet and weigh from 310 to 440 pounds. Adult females are around 4 1/2 feet in height and weigh around 220 pounds. A gorilla's life expectancy is between 30 and 50 years. Adult males, typically over the age of twelve, develop a distinctive patch of silver hair on their backs.

Gorillas live in groups called a troop with one dominate male making all decisions. A troop consists of between 5 and 30 animals. Gorillas are herbivores, spending most of their day eating fruits, leaves, and shoots.




The valley is a "quiet zone." Please speak in hushed tones to preserve the natural atmosphere found here. Gorillas view excessive noise and waving arms as a threat. This is their home and we are just visitors in this "place of enchantment."

Gorilla Valley

Near the exit of Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a Kids' Discovery Club desk. Here, a cast member will help children with several clues related to animals. For example, Clue 1 challenges children to identify the tracks found in the ground with the appropriate diagram. When they have solve all of the puzzles, the cast member then presents them with a Kids' Discovery Club Membership Card. On the reverse side, the six lands of the Animal Kingdom are listed. The cast member will help the child stamp the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail space, indicating that they have completed this challenge. Check your guide map for a "K", indicating the other "Kid Discovery Club" locations around the park

Animal Clue


Kids' Discovery Club

Kids Discovery Club

As you exit the park, pay attention to the cave you are about to enter. It takes very little imagination to discover that the rocks form a giant turtle.

Turtle Cave

Found earlier along the trail is a rock formation in the form of Jafar from the movie Aladdin. See if you can find him without asking for help.

The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a wonderful part of Disney's Animal Kingdom. It should not be skipped just to race to some "thrilling" attraction. The animals here are magnificent and provide a "natural" thrill if you'll just let them.

December 22, 2009

Reedy Creek Improvement District

Have you ever wondered who governs the property of Walt Disney World? For instance, who regulates building codes, constructs roads, provides fire protection, and manages sewage. If your guess is the State of Florida or the counties of Orange and Osceola, you'd be wrong. What is to follow is a brief description of a very interesting, and sometimes controversial agency, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

As many of you might already know, Disney created a number of dummy corporations in the early 1960's in order to secretly purchase property in Central Florida. The last thing the company wanted was for the name "Disney" to leak out and drive up prices. For several years, using innocuous names like Tomahawk Properties, Compass East, and Ayefour Corporation (a pun on Interstate 4), Disney was able to purchase a large amount of land very cheaply. Some of these company names can be found on the Main Street Windows in the Magic Kingdom.

In the end, Disney bought approximately 27,000 acres for roughly $5M -- an average of $183 an acre. On November 15, 1965, Walt, his brother Roy, and Florida Governor Haydon Burns held a press conference. At that time, Walt told the reporters that he was planning on building a second Disneyland-type amusement park and a "city of tomorrow" on their new land. Immediately, adjacent parcels skyrocketed to $1,000 per acre.

As much of the property was swampland and unsuitable for building, a vast amount of engineering would be required to create usable land. Roads, sewage treatment, and water management were all paramount before other construction projects could begin. Yet, it wasn't feasible to expect financially weak Orange County or the taxpayers to pay for the job. And the company didn't have that sort of capital. So Disney petitioned the state and was granted permission to create the Reedy Creek Drainage District which was incorporated on May 13, 1966. This allowed the company to sell tax-exempt bonds to pay for the infrastructure of Walt Disney World.

The company knew that a "drainage district" wasn't enough if they were to realize all of their plans. Creating a futuristic city would require new and imaginative building techniques. Walt and the Imagineers had grand plans and they did not want to have to deal with out-dated building codes and mountains of local and state red-tape. The company needed autonomy.

Sadly, Walt died on December 15, 1966. Soon after, Roy became president and chairman of the board. One of his first directives was to inform senior management that the building of a futuristic city, to be known as EPCOT, was to be put on permanent hold. The company's first and only directive was to build the Magic Kingdom , two hotels, and support facilities.

Even with EPCOT out of the picture, Roy still wanted Disney World to be self-governing and didn't want to be bogged down by local rules and regulations. So the "postponement" of EPCOT was not shared with the press or the Florida legislature and the company continued to advertise its eventual construction. In addition, Roy let lawmakers know that the company could easily walk away from the Florida Project and sell their newly acquired land for a hefty profit if certain demands weren't met. Whether this was a bluff or not, few know, but the ploy paid off. On May 12, 1967, Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. signed a charter creating the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). The name "Reedy Creek" comes from the name of a stream that crosses Disney property.

In essence, the 27,000 acres of Walt Disney World became a pseudo-county to be run by the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. It maintains its own building codes and is exempt from state zoning and land use laws. It provides fire protection and medical services. It supports a vast array of utilities including waste water treatment, electric power generation and delivery, natural gas distribution, and more. In addition, most roads on property are built and maintained by RCID. However, the property is subject to all state and local taxes.

Disney has the right to create its own law enforcement agency, but has opted to allow the Highway Patrol and Orange and Osceola County sheriffs deputies to patrol the roads. However, the RCID has a fleet of security vehicles and does also monitor the property.

When arguing for "county" status, Vice President Donn Tatum said that the Improvement District was needed to serve "the needs of those residing there." But since it would be a number of years before EPCOT was ready for residency (if ever), the cities of Bay Lake and Reedy Creek (now Lake Buena Vista) were incorporated on property.

These two Walt Disney World communities still exist today and are hidden from the general public. The homes are inhabited by Disney employees and according to the 2000 census, Bay Lake had 23 residents and Lake Buena Vista had 16. (And yes, I know where the communities are located, but don't ask because I won't tell you. These people deserve their privacy.)

Since the "city" of EPCOT was never built, critics often cry "foul" and demand that Disney relinquish its autonomy. They also claim that it's a conflict of interest to have RCID owned by the Walt Disney Company. But Disney maintains that the "EPCOT Building Codes," which have been in place since the Improvement District's inception, apply to the entire property. In essence, all of Walt Disney World practices and lives by the concepts that Walt envisioned for his futuristic city.

For the most part, utilities, building codes, and protection are a "behind the scenes" aspect of any city. We don't think about them until we need them. But I think most of us would agree that Disney has done a beautiful job of maintaining their property and meeting the needs of their guests.

For more information about the Reedy Creek Improvement District, check out their website.

In closing, I would like to highlight one of the Reedy Creek Fire Stations. This unique structure is located on Buena Vista Drive, just north of Downtown Disney. Although you can't go into this building, it is worth a drive by. As always, the Imagineers did an outstanding job. Be sure to notice the giant fire hydrant and hose that creates a nozzle fountain.

Fire Department Sign

Reedy Creek Fire Dept

Reedy Creek Fire Dept

Fire Hydrant and Hose

RCFD Helmet

December 27, 2009

“it’s a small world” - The Happiest Cruise that Ever Sailed Around the World

This article recently appeared in the weekly newsletter. But due to the hectic holidays, I'm reprinting it as a blog to give myself a break. For those of you who have already read it, there are pictures included here that were not printed in the newsletter. Thanks for understanding that I need a week off.


The idea for "it's a small world" (IASW) had played in Walt's mind for many years. He wanted to create some sort of show that featured the children of the world singing in harmony and peace. But when an opportunity for his dream presented itself, the idea was almost snuffed out before it began.

In February 1963, representatives of Pepsi-Cola spoke with Admiral Joe Fowler, the man who's will, determination, and fortitude helped Walt build Disneyland. Pepsi explained that they wanted to sponsor a pavilion at the upcoming New York World's Fair in conjunction with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund. With the fair's opening date only a year away, "can do" Fowler turned them down. He told them that there simply wasn't enough time to undertake such an enormous project, especially since the company was already committed to three other fair projects, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Progressland (Carousel of Progress), and Magic Skyway (Primeval World). When Walt learned that Fowler had sent Pepsi away empty handed, he was furious. He let Fowler know of his displeasure in no uncertain words and told Pepsi that Disney was up to the challenge.

One month later, in March 1963, construction began in New York on the building that would house IASW, even though the Imagineers still only had vague concepts as to what would be built in its interior. Back in California, a studio soundstage was converted into a mock-up area for the new attraction. With precious little time left, the ideas and concepts of Mary Blair, Marc & Alice Davis, and Joyce Carlson were turned into showpieces and animated dolls. As soon as a doll was completed, it was set in place along the "canal" that Claude Coats had devised. By constructing a trough/river, with pumps forcing jets of water into the channel, Coats found that he could propel flat bottomed boats at a rate of just shy of one and a half miles per hour - the perfect speed for viewing an attraction of this nature. Another benefit of this system was the large amount of people it could handle as each boat could hold approximately twenty guests. Also, boats are smooth and quite, whereas tracks and wheels are jerky and noisy.

The original idea for the attraction called for about 25 national anthems to be sung by the various dolls. In very short order it was discovered that these anthems did not harmonize and a discordant cacophony emerged. Songwriters Robert & Richard Sherman were working on the score of Mary Poppins at the time, but the urgency of IASW prompted Walt to temporarily pull them off of that project. Walt told them, "I need something and I need it right away. It should talk about unity and understanding and brotherly love, but don't get preachy. And I need it yesterday because it has to be translated into a whole lot of different languages." Of course, we all know that the team came up with one of the catchiest songs ever written - a song that plays in your head for days after visiting a Disney park. In the end, the song was only sung in five languages, English, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish.

The original name of the attraction was to be "The Children of the World," but after the Sherman brothers wrote their immortal song, the name was changed to "it's a small world." Also note, the name is always seen in quotes and all of the letters are lowercase.

On a side note, the Sherman brothers told Walt that they wanted to donate their royalties to UNICEF. Walt told them that UNICEF would make plenty of money at the fair and to keep their percentage to send their kids to college.

The fair opened on April 22, 1964 and IASW was an immediate success. Over the next two years, over ten million guests visited this pavilion. Below is a postcard of IASW.

Small World at the NY World's Fair

The large kinetic sculpture to the right side of the picture is called "The Tower of the Four Winds." Designed by Rolly Crump, this 120 foot high steel mobile had over fifty moving object that turned and rotated in the wind. Its endless movement represented the constant energy of young children and this piece of art became one of the fair's landmarks.

Tower of the Four Winds

Walt knew all along that once the fair closed, he would move his four attractions to Disneyland. Construction started in June, 1965 on what would eventually become IASW's new home in Anaheim. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was the first east coast attraction to open at Disneyland in July 1965, followed by IASW in June, 1966. Unfortunately, the expense of moving "The Tower of the Four Winds" proved to be prohibitive and the sculpture was cut into pieces and hauled away as junk. But the tower hasn't been completely forgotten. A stylized representation of "The Tower of the Four Winds" can be seen across from the elevators on the fourth floor of the Contemporary Resort.

Contemporary Model of Tower of the Four Winds

Whereas the exterior of the attraction was uninspired in New York, California would be a different story. A large façade featuring landmarks of the world was built. Painted white with gold accents, this new exterior was impressive, especially when the Disneyland Railroad passed through this elaborate backdrop.

Disneyland Small World

Disneyland Small World and Train

A large decorative clock would become the centerpiece of this new structure. Every fifteen minutes, gadgets spun, numbers pulsated, and dolls of the world paraded beneath the giant doors that opened to reveal the time. This was also the first time that topiary was use to any extent at Disneyland.

Small World Clock

Small World Topiary

For the grand opening celebration, children from around the world were invited to Disneyland and asked to pour water from their native land into the canal. And just like at the World's Fair, the Disneyland version of IASW, now 33% larger than its predecessor, was an immediate crowd pleaser.

When the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World was in the planning stages, it was a given that IASW would be one of the opening day attractions. Knowing that the heat and rain in Florida can be more severe than in California, the Imagineers decided to enclose the queue area. In addition, the exterior of the attraction would be given a "castle/tournament/medieval fair" style that blended with the other Fantasyland rides.

Magic Kingdom Small World 1970's

For the most part, guests who had seen the New York version of IASW thought the Florida exterior was a nice improvement. But for those guests that were familiar with the Disneyland version, disappointment ensued. The Magic Kingdom's entrance lacked the magic of its California counterpart. And the interior portion of the queue was little better - a dark room with multicolored cutouts adorning the walls.

Magic Kingdom Small World Queue

Magic Kingdom Small World Queue

This was a mistake that the Imagineers would not repeat. When IASW was built in Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong, the exteriors more resembled Disneyland than the Magic Kingdom.

One of the unique features of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean is the Blue Bayou Restaurant - an eatery inside the attraction. Here guests can enjoy a meal while watching the boats sail by. The Imagineers wanted to duplicate this effect in Florida, but since Pirates of the Caribbean was not planned for the Magic Kingdom, some other attraction was needed to recreate this effect. Since both IASW and POTC both use similar boats, the decision was not difficult as to which Florida attraction to incorporate with a restaurant. The Imagineers placed Pinocchio Village Haus, the counter service restaurant in Fantasyland, adjacent to IASW so they could unite these two locations. Unfortunately, after all the plans were drawn and construction complete, only seven tables actually overlook the attraction.

Pinocchio Village Haus/Small World

Pinocchio Village Haus/Small World

Pinocchio Village Haus/Small World

The effect is nice, but it isn't anywhere near as charming as the Blue Bayou Restaurant. It wouldn't be until the San Angel Inn located next to the El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico Pavilion opened at Epcot that this wonderful design would be executed properly at Walt Disney World.

San Angel Inn

Another change made at the Magic Kingdom was the elimination of the "trough" that the boats sailed through at Disneyland. In the Florida version, a sea of water covers the entire attraction floor with hidden guide rails beneath the surface.

Small World Boats

On May 1, 2004, IASW closed for a major renovation. Over the next year, a digitally enhanced soundtrack was added, the dolls costumes were refurbished, and the entire attraction received a fresh coat of paint. But the most obvious change came to the queue. First, the main entrance was moved from the right side of the attraction to the left. But more importantly, the loading and unloading area was given a complete make over. Now it resembles its Disneyland counterpart, although on a smaller scale, with multiple world landmarks painted white and accented in gold. In addition, a giant whimsical clock was added. The reborn attraction reopened on March 18, 2005.

I mentioned earlier that the exterior of IASW was designed to resemble a medieval fair. If you look closely at the portico, the roof is held up by jousting poles. Also on the exterior of the attraction are generic coats-of-arms to represent royal lineage.

Jousting Poles


IASW has seven scenes, Europe, Asia, Africa, Central/South America, the South Pacific, the Finale, and the Good-Bye Scene. Within these scenes, over one hundred different areas of the world are represented using 289 dolls, 147 toys, and 36 animated props. The attraction holds 500,000 gallons of water and the canal length is 1,085 feet. The voyage around the world takes ten and a half minutes.

Mary Blair, the art director for the project, used colors effectively to help tell the story of IASW. Since Europe was the first room guests would encounter, she wanted to create a "big splash" and used a multitude of color to represent the various countries. In Asia and the Middle East, yellow was the primary hue used to convey a warm climate. In Africa, blues and greens were used to suggest a nighttime environment. Yellow, orange, and rust painted the scenes in Central and South America while greens and oranges were selected for the rainforest. The South Pacific used a pallet of greens and purples to set a tropical tone. And of course the finale is all in white.

Although a cowboy and Native American are among the dolls in the Finale Room (representing the U.S.), North America does not have a room of its own. Not until IASW was built at Disneyland Paris would this continent be represented.

There are two primary types of dolls used in IASW. The first and most prevalent is the AudioAnimatronics, round-faced girls and boys. Upon closer examination, they all look pretty similar to one another. Unlike sophisticated AA figures, these dolls display a minimal amount of movement that might include eyes blinking, lips moving, and arms and legs extending. The secondary figures are rough textured children, animals, and toys decorated primarily in paint and glitter.

Small World Dolls

Small World Dolls

Some of you might remember a frowning clown hanging from a hot-air balloon in the Finale Room. Alas, this lone unhappy fellow was given a smile during the refurbishment and his "Help" sign was replaced with a balloon. I miss him.

I have prepared a short video of the attraction. WARNING! If you choose to watch this video, you will have this infernal song stuck in your head for hours, possibly days.


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About December 2009

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in December 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

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