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March 4, 2010

Liberty Belle Riverboat - Part 1

There are no surprises to be had when riding the Liberty Belle Riverboat. What you see is what you get - a relaxing thirteen minute journey around Tom Sawyer Island as you ply the Rivers of America. Even on the busiest days, this excursion offers a few tranquil moments where you can forget about the rest of the world and actually believe you've traveled back in time to the era of frontier America.

Like so many of my other attraction blogs, I must start the story at Disneyland in California. From the very beginning, Walt knew he wanted a boat ride at his theme park. This can be seen in early sketches of the park he hoped to build on the backlot of his Burbank Studios. Although impossible to be seen on this small picture, the readout connected to the vessel in the water reads "Mississippi Steamboat."

Early Theme Park Plans

But Walt's dreams were bigger than this small plot of land could hold and eventually the project moved to Anaheim. Walt knew he needed to hire someone who could oversee this vast undertaking and remembered meeting retired Admiral Joe Fowler through a mutual friend.

Admiral Joe Fowler

"Can do" Fowler spent 35 years in the navy and retired as a Rear Admiral at age sixty. Walt, being the persuasive person that he was, convinced Joe to join the Disney team where he oversaw the construction of Disneyland and later, the building of Walt Disney World. In all, he spent twenty-five years with the company. But besides his overall skill as a project manager, Fowler's knowledge of ships was extremely useful when it came to the building of Disneyland's paddle wheeler.

The Mark Twain, as the ship would eventually be named, was the first paddle wheeler to be built in the United States in fifty years. The designers at WED conducted in-depth research on the subject and drew up plans for a vessel that resembled the riverboats that sailed the Mississippi during the heyday of steam powered ships. The 105-foot hull was built at the Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California and the ship's decks were built at the Disney Studios in Burbank. The decks and hull were then shipped to Disneyland for final construction. Walt felt so strongly about this craft that when corporate funding fell short, he used his own money to finish building the vessel. He was reimbursed after the park opened and began making money.

Mark Twain Riverboat Disneyland

Mark Twain Riverboat Disneyland

When the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World was being planned, many of the attractions at Disneyland were considered for the new park and the riverboat was a given to be included. However, in Florida, the ship's name would be the Admiral Joe Fowler in honor of the man who helped build two Magic Kingdoms. Much of this ship was built at the Tampa Ship Repairs and Dry Dock Company, the same location where the park's four steam trains were refurbished.

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

The Adm. Joe Fowler and the next two Mark Twains to be built and located at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris are all extremely similar to the original at Disneyland. In Paris, another riverboat also cruises the Rivers of the Far West. This second ship is a side-wheeler and named the Molly Brown after that "unsinkable" American legend. With the exception of the Molly Brown, all are real steamboats and pump water from the river that is then heated to create steam to drive the paddlewheels. The first picture is of Tokyo, the second and third of Paris.

Mark Twain - Tokyo

Mark Twain - Paris

Molly Brown - Paris

The Adm. Joe Fowler began service on October 2, 1971, one day after the opening of the Magic Kingdom. During the first few years of operation, there was very little to see along the route. Tom Sawyer Island had yet to be built and there were no Thunder or Splash Mountains to enjoy as you sailed by. In an effort to make the voyage more enjoyable, musicians could often be found on deck entertaining guests.

Before Tom Sawyer Island

Before Big Thunder Mountain

Onboard entertainment

One of the biggest differences between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom is the loading dock. At Disneyland, all loading and unloading of guests takes place on the lower deck. Thus, everyone onboard must disembark before new riders can come aboard. The Imagineers wanted to speed things up for a faster turnaround at the Magic Kingdom and devised a two-level system. Disembarking passengers leave from the lower deck while new arrivals enter the ship on the middle level. However, as the popularity of this attraction waned, this more efficient method of loading and unloading was modified and today, no one boards until the last guest from the previous journey has exited. This multi-level system was not duplicated at Tokyo or Paris.

Riverboat Landing

Soon after opening the Magic Kingdom, attraction demand outweighed capacity. The park needed more rides. One quick and relatively inexpensive solution was to build a second boat for the Rivers of America. This time however, the entire craft would be built at Disney World at the various shops located behind the Magic Kingdom. Construction took about six months and on May 20, 1973, less than two years after opening, the Richard F. Irvine joined the fleet and for the next seven years, two riverboats plied the Rivers of America. While one was unloading and loading passengers, the other was sailing around Tom Sawyer Island.

To the layman's eye, the ships look identical with one exception. The Adm. Joe Fowler has two smokestacks while the Richard F. Irvine only has one. It's interesting to note, in some older Disney publications, the Fowler is pictured while the caption reads Irvine (you can tell by the smokestacks).

Richard F. Irvine Riverboat

Richard F. Irvine Wheelhouse

The ship's namesake, Richard (Dick) F. Irvine was a set designer with a degree in architecture. He started working at the Disney Studios in 1942 and in 1953, Walt asked him to join the Disneyland team. Dick would act as the liaison between the Imagineers and outside architectural firms that were hired to design the buildings of the Anaheim park. In the years that followed, he helped design the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. He also oversaw the planning and design of Walt Disney World.

Richard (Dick) F. Irvine

It's interesting to note, Irvine's daughter-in-law, Imagineer Kim (Thomas) Irvine is the daughter of Leota Toombs, the face in the crystal ball at the Haunted Mansion.

In 1980, the Adm. Joe Fowler needed some routine maintenance. But unlike Disneyland, that has a drydock (named Fowler's Harbor) connected to the Rivers of America, the Magic Kingdom has no such facility. In Florida, the drydock is located northeast of the Magic Kingdom and the boat needed to be sailed to this location. Have you ever wondered what the iron-truss bridge is for located just beyond Thunder Mountain? The train tracks sits on a turntable and can pivot out of the way so watercraft can gain access to Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, and eventually the backstage drydock.

Truss Bridge

What happened next is somewhat of a mystery. Like all big companies, Disney is somewhat reluctant to share the details of its failures - and the Adm. Joe Fowler would become one of Disney's disappointments.

While entering drydock, the riverboat's hull was damaged extensively. One account claims that it cracked while being lifted by a crane. Another says the boat was positioned incorrectly on its supports when water was being drained from the drydock and split. However, by this time, two riverboats were no longer necessary. Space and Thunder Mountains had opened in the interim and the extra capacity two boats offered was no longer needed. The decision was made to scuttle the Adm. Joe Fowler. Some accounts claim that the hull was buried somewhere on property. Others say it was sunk in Bay Lake. I could find no definitive proof of either.

But parts of the Adm. Joe Fowler live on to this day. The ship's machinery was shipped to the then under construction Tokyo Disneyland to become the workings of that park's Mark Twain. And the boat's whistle was added to the #4 engine, the Roy O. Disney at the Magic Kingdom.

In 1996, the Richard F. Irvine was in need of an extensive refurbishment and was floated back to drydock. Luckily, it fared better than the Adm. Joe Fowler and when it reemerged, it was rechristened the Liberty Belle. The Imagineers felt that this new name would be easier for guests to remember and it fit better with the riverboat's home port, Liberty Square. However, the two gentlemen whose names once graced these stately vessels have not been forgotten. In 1999, two of the Staten Island-style ferries that transport guests between the TTC and the Magic Kingdom were renamed in honor of these two men. The third ferry was renamed the General Joe Potter. This gentleman headed many of the early construction projects at Walt Disney World.

Joe Fowler Ferry Boat

Richard Irvine Ferry Boat

I have to admit, I've always been a little curious as to why the Imagineers decided to place the Riverboat Landing in Liberty Square and not Frontierland. I realize that in regards to Disneyland, the dock is in the same spot. But riverboats of this nature were found on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri rivers in the early 19th century, not colonial New England of the late 18th century which Liberty Square represents. But further investigation uncovered the following. Without the Liberty Square Riverboat, Liberty Square would only have two attractions, the Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents. The ride was placed here to help round out this land. Also, the "draw concept" comes into play here. When standing in The Hub and looking into Liberty Square, the Riverboat Landing entices you to enter. And finally, the riverboat and landing serves as a transitional element linking Liberty Square to Frontierland.

Riverboat Landing

That's it for Part 1. Check back tomorrow for a trip around Tom Sawyer Island while riding this lovely vessel.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we're heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn't open until 11am.)

March 5, 2010

Liberty Belle Riverboat - Part 2

Yesterday I discussed the history of The Liberty Belle Riverboat. Now it's time to take a ride on this wonderful vessel. It's okay if you have a large group as the boat holds 450 people. This is also the only ride in the Magic Kingdom that allows guests to get up and walk around while their vehicle is in motion. The Liberty Belle begins operation each day at 10am or 11am and departs on the hour and half-hour. If you find you've arrived right after the Liberty Belle has left port, don't hang around waiting for it to return. The ship rarely fills to capacity and you can usually dash aboard at the last minute. Limited seating is available in the queue and on all decks. However, even on busy days it's easy to find a bench.

Liberty Belle Wating Area

Onboard Seating

Before we set sail, let's take a quick tour of the Liberty Belle. The boat has three decks. As I mentioned earlier, guests enter on the middle deck. Most people head to the upper deck for what they perceive to be the best view. However, if you choose to ride topside, you will be in the sun for thirteen minutes. Others head for the lower deck to find a spot at the very front of the ship. Personally, I like the middle deck best. It's high enough to afford a good view, there are good locations at the front, middle, and stern, and it's usually the least crowded.

On occasion, a family is selected to ride in the wheelhouse. If you're the first to arrive in the waiting area, ask a cast member if you can join the captain.

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Just outside the wheelhouse is the captain's quarters. It's fun to take a moment and browse this "luxurious" room.

Captain's Quarters

Captain's Quarters

On the middle deck is a lovely sitting room. However, I can't really recommend using this compartment. You can't see any of the sights from here. The third picture is of me holding a recording device to a speaker. For thirteen minutes I stood there, arm extended, so I could get a good copy of the narration for my video. Several people walked by during the voyage and gave me strange looks.

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

Jack Making a Recording

On the lower deck you'll find the boiler (mid-deck) and pistons (stern) that drive the paddlewheel.

Boiler Room


A relatively new addition to the front of the ship is this raised platform. Standing here provides a great view off the bow of the ship in all directions.

Observation Platform

As I always tell you, pay attention to the details. Look at the intricate woodwork, the riggings, the lanterns. The Liberty Belle is a beautiful vessel, worthy of your attention.


Rigging and Lantern




As our journey begins, our captain, Horace Bixby introduces Sam Clemmons (Mark Twain) to us over the PA. Knowing that Disney never misses a trick, I knew that name Horace Bixby was selected for a reason so I looked him up and discovered he was a real person, perhaps one of the greatest steamboat pilots of his day. He met Clemens in 1857 aboard the steamer PAUL JONES and later agreed to take him on as an apprentice.

Horace Bixby

One of the first points of interests is the wilderness town that grew up alongside the river. In the early years, there was no walkway skirting Frontierland. This was added years later to facilitate traffic flow during parades.

Frontierland Before the Walkway

Frontierland After the Walkway

Along the banks of the river, we see cargo stacked on various piers. As with everything, details are important. The number "71" is obvious. This is the year the Magic Kingdom opened. The Tell City Tool Co. is a little more obscure.

Located along the Ohio River in Indiana, this real town began in 1857 and was carefully planned by a group of Swiss people looking for a better life. In many respects, this was one of the United State's first planned communities. Three square miles of land was purchased and streets were laid out in a north-south, east-west grid. Settlers could buy tracts of land, but were required to build a two room home to be worth not less than $125.00 within one year of purchase. Factories, schools, and churches were all planned in advance and locations determined. In the early years, riverboats were the only means of transportation in and out of Tell City - which is why the Imagineers selected this town to be represented on the Rivers of America.

71 and Tell City

Another name seen on multiple crates along the river is Russel's Falls. This is in reference to Davy Crockett's sidekick, George E. Russel played by Buddy Ebsen.

Russel's Falls Crate

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To the right we see Harper's Mill on Tom Sawyer Island. After years of operation, the mill required a major rehab and the water wheel needed to be replaced. The new wheel was constructed using modern bearings and spindles and when reattached, spun unrealistically fast. Imagineers needed to come up with a dampening system to slow the wheel down and make it appear as if it were built using period materials.

Harper's Mill

As we travel further, Splash Mountain comes into view. This attraction opened in 1992 and is based on characters created by Joel Chandler Harris. Logs drop 52 ½ feet down Chickapin Hill at a speed of 40 miles per hour - faster than Space Mountain.

Splash Mountain

The next sight is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Modeled after Monument Valley in Utah, this attraction debuted in 1980. The story of BTMR goes something like this. During the late 1800's, gold was discovered deep within Big Thunder Mountain. Overnight, prospectors started mining the ore and soon the town of Tumbleweed sprang up on the mountain's slope. Everything was going well until a flash flood ravaged the mountain and town, ruining any future mining operations. The Liberty Belle offers some wonderful picture opportunities for this attraction that cannot be taken elsewhere.

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Over on Tom Sawyer Island we see Tom's Landing, Potter's Windmill (named after Muff Potter, a friend of Injun Joe), Superstition Bridge, and Fort Langhorn. From 1973 to 1997 this outpost was named Fort Sam Clemens - both in reference to Mark Twain whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. It's interesting to note, the Imagineers misspelled his middle name on the fort, dropping the "E."

Tom's Landing

Potter's Windmill

Superstition Bridge

Fort Langhorn

Fort Langhorn Entrance

Just beyond Fort Langhorn is an abandoned cabin. For many years, real flames could be seen lapping at the logs and a settler was lying on his back out front with an arrow piercing his chest. Guests were told he was the victim of an unfriendly Indian attack. As sensibilities began to change toward Native Americans, the story was rewritten and we were told that the settler had passed out from his moonshine and his cabin was ablaze due to his still exploding.

Today, the cabin sits deserted and the fire extinguished. Neither Captain Bixby nor Sam Clemmons even mention its existence as you pass by. I've read that the flames were turned off during the Liberty Belle's extensive rehab in 2005. By the time the ship was back in service, the gas pipes, originally installed in the early 70's, had deteriorated badly and it was decided not to replace them. Too bad. However, if you visit Tokyo Disneyland, their cabin still excites guests with real flames as they pass by on the Mark Twain.

Settler's Cabin

The next sight along the ride is an old gentleman sitting on the dock of his riverside shanty. This is Beacon Joe and he keeps track of the river's occasional course changes and marks the river accordingly. Pay attention to Beacon's dog. His head turns from left to right as a fish jumps out of the water.

Beacon Joe

Beacon Joe's Dog

The river also has a number of buoys marking various locations along the journey.

River Bouy

Shortly after passing Beacon Joe's bait shop, we come to a Powhatan Indian settlement. When the movie Pocahontas was released, Disney wanted to add a "tie-in" for the Liberty Belle and the WDW Railroad. However, the Powhatans were primarily found in Virginia, not as far west as the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers. Captain Bixby explains this incongruity by mentioning that they must be following the abundance of wildlife found in this vicinity.

Powhatan Camp



I have to admit, the "wildlife" along the Rivers of America does not represent some of Disney's better effects. Yet somehow these statuesque animals always bring a smile to my face.

Further down the river we find another tribe of Native Americans. However, this time, the tribe is not identified as belonging to any particular group. Next time you ride the Liberty Belle, rather than taking in the entire scene at once, pay attention to the various activities being performed by this close-knit group. You'll be amazed at how many daily chores are taking place here.

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Just past the Indian Village are their sacred burial grounds. Those who fall in battle are placed upon the traditional "bed of death" and after nightfall, the tribesmen will return to mourn the great warriors who brought honor to their families.

Sacred Burial Grounds

A rather peaceful section of the river lies ahead until we come to Cut-Throat Corner and Wilson's Cave Inn. Here, river pirates hide away, waiting to attack a passing riverboat. But during our journey, it's apparent that the scoundrels are celebrating and in no condition to ambush the Liberty Belle.

Wilson's Cave Inn

Knowing Disney as I do, I knew there had to be a reason the name "Wilson" was selected, so I did a little research. I found that on the Ohio River in Illinois, a real location called Cave-In-Rock exists. After the Revolutionary War, this hideout became a lair for river pirates who attacked passing vessels. During the 1790's, Jim Wilson became synonymous with the cave, calling it home and stocking it with provisions and opening a business called Wilson's Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment. He would entice unsuspecting river travelers to his establishment, then rob them of their goods and usually kill them. This true story inspired an episode of the TV show Disneyland titled "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates."

As we return to civilization, our boat once again passes Fort Langhorn and Superstition Bridge. Further on, it's fun to watch guests crossing Barrel Bridge on Tom Sawyer Island.

Barrel Bridge

The last major sight we see along our passage is the Haunted Mansion. Sam Clemens tells us that this house was built on sacred Indian burial grounds and is filled with spirits. But he doubts this story and thinks the folks that told him the tale might be filled with 100-proof spirits.

Haunted Mansion

This brings us back to Liberty Square and the end of our journey. I have created a six-minute video of the experience. I know that some of you skip these videos because you're used to seeing some of the schlock presented on YouTube. May I ask that you give my video a chance? I do not just shoot some footage then slap it onto YouTube. I have filmed the Liberty Belle from multiple angles and edited it accordingly. I have removed all the original sound and added clean copies without any background noises. I have also added appropriate sound effects when needed. I think my video gives a good feel of what the attraction is all about.

As I said at the beginning of my blog, there are no surprises to be had on the Liberty Belle. This is a quiet, relaxing journey that transports you to another era. It is definitely low-tech, but I think it's worth every minute of your time.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we're heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn't open until 11am.)

March 8, 2010

Windows On Main Street USA

Have you ever wondered about the names and advertisements that appear on the windows above Main Street? Have you ever wondered if they were/are real people, and if so, what did they do to have their names immortalized? If yes, then a new booklet entitled "Windows on Main Street" might be of interest to you. This paperback answers those questions and sheds some light on a few Disney legends. The Introduction, by author Chuck Snyder, explains the significance and honor of being selected and the Foreword, by Marty Sklar, examines the criteria required to be chosen.

Window on Main Street Cover

The main body of the book discusses the "cream of the crop" - the big names at Disney who helped create the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. A short bio of these is presented along with a picture of their window. Next to each name is a notation as to which park(s) their window can be found.

Windows on Main Street Sample Page

At the end of the book are two maps of Main Street, one of Disneyland and one of the Magic Kingdom. Also listed are ALL the names that grace these windows with numbers corresponding to the maps for easy reference.

Windows on Main Street Maps

This book is not intended to be a detailed reference guide. It's meant to offer high level biographies for some of the Disney greats. Far more in-depth information can be found with a simple search of the internet. But most of us aren't going to do that. And if you have a particular name in mind, the maps in this book make locating that person and easy task. If you want information about someone not highlighted in the book, just stop by City Hall and ask. In most cases, they can look up the person and give you some background.

Should you buy this book? Maybe. If you're a regular reader of my column and like Disney history, then I think you'll find this book of interest. But if you're a hardcore Disney fan and want extensive information, then you're going to be disappointed. I would describe this booklet as a very nice and informative "fluff" piece. This paperback book is reasonably priced at $6.95. I purchased mine on Main Street, but I have seen it at other locations around property.

March 13, 2010

Simple Pleasures at the Magic Kingdom

Okay. Here's the thing. You've been to the Magic Kingdom more times than you can count. You still love riding Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion, the characters continue to charm you, and an ice cream cone tastes as yummy as ever. But you long for something new. What I'm going to offer here are some simple pleasures to experience if you've reached the point where you don't need to get "your money's worth" when you visit. These will be experiences that if Disney still used ticket books, might not even garner an "A" coupon. We'll start in the Main Street Train Station.

Years ago, before Disney merchandise filled every nook and cranny of Main Street, there was a Penny Arcade along this thoroughfare. Here, old time machines like a Kiss-O-Meter and Electric Handshake lined the walls. Sadly, this wonderful spot was removed to make room for more plush characters. But luckily, some of the old paraphernalia that once brought a smile to our faces was moved to the Main Street Train Station.

The first item of interest is a nickelodeon made by the J.P. Seeburg Company in 1927. The instrument contains a piano, mandolin, triangle, xylophone, and castanets which are activated by a paper roll. The machine no longer accepts coins, but there is a switch on the back that you can flip to start the music playing.


Also in the Train Station are several Mute-O-Scopes. These predecessors to the movie projector were first introduced in the early 1900's. They contained several hundred picture-cards attached to a wheel. Using a crank, a person can spin the wheel causing the cards to flip one by one and create the illusion of a moving picture.


Need a little rest from a strenuous day in the Magic Kingdom? Then buy a box of popcorn and head over to Exposition Hall. At the back of the building you'll find that the old "Walt Disney Story" theater has been remodeled and now shows "Steamboat Willie" and "The Band Concert" cartoons. This is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a few simple laughs. Also in this area are several "cut out" photo opportunities.

Exposition Hall Theatre

Photo Op

Across the street from Exposition Hall is The Chapeau Shop. Here you'll find one of the old time telephones that used to be located at the Market House. Lift the receiver and take a listen and you can eavesdrop on Mama, Anna, Mr. Dinglinger and Miss Flump as they carry on a three and a half minute conversation. The routine is corny by today's standards, but still worth your time.

Old Time Phone

Further down Main Street is the Crystal Arts Shop presented by Arribas Brothers. At the back of the store are several ovens, workbenches and tools. Each afternoon, a craftsman works magic with molten glass and creates pieces of art before your eyes. While doing this, he explains each step of the process, all of which is very interesting.

Glass Blower

Here is a sample of some of the wonderful Mickey pieces created in this shop. Prices range from $50 and up.

Mickey Glassware

Unfortunately, the Main Street Vehicles don't run as often as they once did. But if you ever see the jitney, fire engine or trolley stopped in The Plaza or on The Hub picking up passengers, be sure to hop aboard. The one-way trip is far from exciting, but it's worth every minute of your time. Somehow you feel special when riding in these old-fashioned vehicles.

Horse and Trolley


A perennial favorite ever since the Magic Kingdom opened is the piano player at Casey's Corner. Ragtime and oldies are the melodies du jour, sprinkled with some corny jokes and jovial banter. Grab a hotdog and Coke, take a seat nearby, and enjoy some great, live music.

Casey's Corner Piano Player

Over in Adventureland you'll find Shrunken Ned's Junior Jungle Boats. This so called "attraction" is intended for kids. But hey, isn't that why you're visiting the Magic Kingdom - to feel like a kid again? So go for it. Spend a couple of bucks and pilot your own radio-controlled boat for a few of minutes. And if you can persuade someone else to join you, you can have sea battles as you ram each other's craft.

Shrunken Ned's Junior Jungle Boats

Shrunken Ned's Junior Jungle Boats

In Frontierland you'll find my all-time favorite people-watching spot at Walt Disney World, Splash Mountain. Position yourself on the outer bridge and watch the folks as they "splash down." As we all know, smiles and laughter are infectious and you'll see and hear plenty of both here. You can't leave this spot without feeling happier. I've been known to spend ten to fifteen minutes standing at this spot watching excited and often wet people having a good time.

Splash Mountain

This next Simple Pleasure is one of my secrets that I hesitate to tell, but being the great guy that I am, I'll share with you. At the Pinocchio Village Haus Restaurant you'll find one of the greatest spots to grab a bite, relax, and people watch. Few know that there is a second-story balcony that overlooks Fantasyland at this eatery. There are two staircases leading to this spot, one indoors and one out. There are only four tables up here, but you can usually secure one as most people haven't a clue this wonderful locale exists (well, until now).

Pinocchio Village Haus Balcony

Pinocchio Village Haus Balcony

View of Fantasyland

My final suggestion for an uncomplicated moment is to head over to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café in Tomorrowland. Here you'll find Sonny Eclipse performing a 25 minute show. Sonny is a lounge-lizard, literally. He's meant to be background entertainment. But if you take the time to actually listen to his routine, you'll be delighted. He's funny and his show is definitely out of this world.

Sonny Eclipse

Disney parks have so much to offer besides rides. I've given you some of my Simple Pleasures, but I'm sure you have a few of your own. If you do, I'll be happy to print them in the Comments Section following this blog.

As nice as pictures are, they can't always tell the complete story. I've put together a six-minute video that gives you a sample of much of what I've talked about. I hope you enjoy it.

March 15, 2010

Wildlife Discovery Excursion

Recently, I joined Deb Wills and Allears.net editor Deb Koma on a special safari adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom called Wildlife Discovery Excursion. This adventure is only available to guests staying in a concierge room (Club Level) at any Disney World resort. I was excited to be part of this very limited adventure.

Our excursion was scheduled to begin at 1pm and we were instructed to meet in front of the Mombasa Marketplace shop in Africa at 12:45. We were met by one of the animal trainers (Susan on the left), and our driver (Suzanne on the right). Susan has twenty years experience working with animals at various zoos and has been caring for many of the creatures here at the Animal Kingdom for the past five. Suzanne normally takes guests on the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction, but occasionally is assigned to host groups on this special tour.

Susan and Suzanne

These tours can accommodate between 14 and 16 guests, but today only one other person was joining our adventure. After introductions were made, we headed backstage and boarded a minibus. With the exception of our vehicle, we were asked not to take any pictures in the backstage area, but once we reached the safari, we were free to snap away to our heart's content. We were also told that we could get up and move around in the minibus, even while the vehicle was in motion.

Safari Vehicle Exterior

Safari Vehicle Interior

As we pulled away, Susan told us that this was a very informal tour. She had plenty of information to share with us, but she preferred tours where the guests ask lots of questions. She also said the tour would last around an hour, but could be longer depending on the animals we encounter and how many questions we asked.

Our vehicle skirted the west side of Kilimanjaro Safaris for a few minutes and Susan pointed out a fence that encircles the entire attraction. This fence is used to keep the native Floridian animals from venturing into this area. After driving along several backstage roads, our minibus eventually turned onto a spur road of the Kilimanjaro Safaris and eventually joined the main thoroughfare and we were now traveling along with the other vehicles on this attraction.

On the Main Road

I have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris over one hundred times. I could probably give the tour myself I'm so familiar with the spiel presented during this twenty minute ride. But today I learned so much more. You see on this tour, you're not given the same information as you receive on the safari. Here, your guide fills your head with all sorts of interesting and new facts. The first thing I learned was that Disney participates in a national breeding program. A governing board keeps track of all the different species around the country and determines an optimal number. Then zoos are requested to encourage or discourage breeding appropriately.

I have noticed that as you enter the hippopotamus enclosure, the first watering hole on the right is always sparsely populated while the second pool on the left seems to have an abundance of these creatures. Well, there's a reason for this. It's been determined that currently there are enough hippos in U.S. zoos so Disney is keeping the males and females separated in accordance with this national directive. The two males live in this first enclosure and the many more females live in the second.


Next we drove over the crocodile paddock. We didn't discuss these creatures in any detail but they always look a little scary to me.


From the crocks we drove over a hill and into the savannah. After a short distance, Suzanne pulled our minibus off onto a side road and we parked for several minutes. However, there were no animals in this immediate area so we talked of other things.

If you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris more than once, you've probably noticed that you saw different animals on different excursions. Or that certain areas might seem void of animals while other spots have an abundance of creatures. That's because Disney does not force the animals to exhibit themselves. They are completely free to roam at will (within the safety of their particular enclosure). However, Disney does employ tricks to entice the animals within view of the tour. In some places, special treats are placed inconspicuously to encourage nibbling close to the road. And for the lions, the rocks are cooled and heated to persuade them to lie within our view.

While parked in the savannah, Susan mentioned the wire netting encircling the trees. She explained that many of the animals gnaw on the bark and the trees would be stripped clean and die in no time if they didn't take this precaution. She also told us that every morning, the horticulturists inspect the entire safari and replant and replenish much of the vegetation.

Tree with Wire Netting

As we continued our tour, we came across a giraffe lying down in the grass. Susan said that this is unusual as they usually spend their days walking and eating. She also brought out a box of giraffe droppings and explained to us that the vets use droppings to gain an abundance of information about the various animals - including if they might be pregnant.


Giraffe Droppings

Since it wasn't a busy day at the Animal Kingdom, the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction was not running at full capacity. This allowed our minibus to travel slower than usual and even come to a complete stop if we were trying to photograph a particular animal. However, as soon as another safari vehicle caught up with us, we had to move along.

Next we came to the elephants. While passing these mighty beasts, Susan showed us a sample of the hair that grows from their tails. We were allowed to touch it and we agreed it was extraordinarily thick and almost felt like wire.



Elephant Hair

For those of you who have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris before, you know that the mandrill is often elusive. But today we were lucky and were able to capture some great pictures. Of course, it helped that Suzanne slowed down our vehicle considerably to afford us some good shots.


As our tour continued, we pulled off the road several more times for additional pictures and informative conversations. Here we're parked near an ostrich nest. At this stop we learned that all of the ostriches at the Animal Kingdom are female and you can tell males and females apart by their color. Females are gray and males are black. However, one of the females here recently molted and when her feathers grew back, they were black. At the moment, they don't have an explanation for this odd behavior.




We were also told that an ostrich can weigh between 140 to 290 pounds. Because of this, the eggs are extremely thick in order to withstand the weight of the mother sitting on them. Susan said she often will have children in the group stand on one of the eggs to demonstrate their strength. The shiny texture you see in this next picture is natural. This egg was not coated with varnish.

Ostrich Egg

We were also told that the ostriches here are continually laying eggs, but since they are not fertile, the animal keepers gather most of them up. The yolks and whites are then blown out and the eggs are used by artisans to be either painted or carved.

Since much of this tour could be a little dry for children, Disney makes sure they are not forgotten. Each child on the tour is provided with a drawing board and crayons and is encourage to circle the animals they spot and draw others in the white space. On the back, more coloring options are provided with a conservation message.

Children's Drawing Board

Coloring Page

As we passed the flamingo enclosure, we're told that their island is a large hidden Mickey.

Flamingos and Hidden Mickey


We pulled off the road again and drove up to a ridge that separates the west savannah from the east. Here we had a wonderful view of the safari not available to regular guests.



While we were up on this ridge, a curious giraffe ambled over to our minibus and checked us out. It's practically impossible to get pictures like this on the regular safari ride.




From this vantage point, I could also see some of the hidden "treat" locations and this salt and mineral lick spot.

Salt and Mineral Lick

Susan explained to us that the animals are encouraged to return to their backstage barns in the evening and each species has a distinct call it has been trained to respond to. At night, the animals are given a health inspection and routine medical procedures are performed.

When discussing the oryx, Susan showed us one of their horns. She pointed out how it had split near the base. If this horn belonged to a living creature, the vets would fill it with an epoxy resin to ensure that dirt and humidity didn't cause this inner tissue to become infected.



Although no rhinos were out while we were touring, Susan showed us a rhino horn and explained how these creatures are being slaughtered for this simple body part.

Rhino Horn

We pulled off the road again across from the cheetahs. This is another animal that is often difficult to see and photograph while on the regular Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Susan explained to us that male cheetahs live in groups while females live alone with their litter.


Lions sleep up to twenty hours a day and do most of their hunting during the night. Because of this, it is often difficult to get a good picture of these majestic cats while on the regular tour. But we were somewhat fortunate and our driver Suzanne was able to stop our minibus for a minute and I was able to snap these pictures.



After passing by the poachers camp, we left the regular trail and headed backstage. We spent a few more minutes with our guide and trainer and posed for this picture. We were also given FastPasses that were good immediately for Kilimanjaro Safaris enabling us to experience everything again, albeit at a faster pace.

Group Picture

I took over three hundred pictures while I was on this tour and I did not post all of the species I photographed. My aim today was to give you an idea of what to expect on the Wildlife Discovery Excursion, not to chronicle every animal we encountered. I also only shared a very small portion of the information I was presented with. And if I can remember 25% of this, I'll be doing good.

Is this tour for everyone? No, it's not. First, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you must be staying in a concierge room at one of the Disney resorts to even be eligible for this experience. And if you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris and have come away satisfied with the information presented, then I wouldn't spend the extra money for this more in-depth tour.

But if you've come away from Kilimanjaro Safaris wanting more, then by all means, sign up for Wildlife Discovery Excursion if you're eligible - especially if your hobby is photography. The driver and guide do their very best to offer guests numerous opportunities to get the best possible shots and you will learn so much more than the average Animal Kingdom guest.

The tour is offered twice daily at 10am and 1pm. The cost is $50 for both children and adults and you sign up at your resort's Concierge Desk.

And because I know someone will ask, I used a Nikon D80 camera with a 18-200mm Nikkor lens. Once back home, I used Paint Shop Pro to crop and enhance a number of my photos on the computer.

Visit the AllEars® Rate and Review Area to see what others have said about the tour and add your own reports! http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=350&cat=80

March 19, 2010

Signs at Walt Disney World - A Detailed Quiz

I recently wrote two blog series, one about Benches and one about Lampposts. My objective was to get people to notice that Disney puts thought and detail into everything they do. These blogs were well received. In fact, I even inspired one family to pick their own topic, ceilings, and they paid attention to this aspect of design throughout their journeys.

I received a number of comments from you, thanking me for opening up your eyes to the "little things." But there was one underlying theme in your remarks. You kept saying, "I've never noticed this before." So I decided to create a quiz to see just how observant you really are. But I didn't want to make it too difficult so I picked a subject matter that everyone is familiar with - Restroom Signs. Nature calls on us all while at Disney World and we MUST look for these signs in order to take care of business. So this quiz should be a snap for you all. (Yeah, right.)

Get a piece of paper and letter it A-Z. Then take a look at the pictures below and write down where you think the sign is located. I've only included the four theme parks in this quiz.


There are no prizes to win, no awards to be given out. This quiz is simply for your amusement. The answers will appear in tomorrow's blog.

By the way, if you enjoy this quiz, the Photography Bloggers post a new "Where in the World" photo every week to challenge your Disney knowledge.

Good luck!

Restroom Quiz Picture

Restroom Quiz Picture

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Restroom Quiz Picture

Check back tomorrow for the answers.

March 20, 2010

Signs at Walt Disney World - The Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz. Some of these were pretty hard. I would say that anyone who got twenty or more correct is a Disney Detail Expert.

A - Epcot - American Adventure

Restroom Quiz Picture

B - Animal Kingdom - Africa

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C - Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland - Near Space Mountain

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D - Epcot - Odyssey Restaurant

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E - Studio - Animation Courtyard

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F - Studio - Near Studio Backlot Tour

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G - Epcot - United Kingdom

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H - Animal Kingdom - Discovery Island - Pizzafari

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I - Magic Kingdom - Adventureland - Pirates of the Caribbean

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J - Animal Kingdom - Camp Minnie-Mickey

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K - Epcot - China Pavilion

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L - Studio - Hollywood Blvd.

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M - Magic Kingdom - Main Street - Near First Aid

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N - Animal Kingdom - Chester & Hester's Dinorama

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O - Epcot - Morocco Pavilion

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P - Epcot - Future World

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Q - Animal Kingdom - Asia - Near Expedition Everst

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R - Magic Kingdom - Tom Sawyer Island

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S - Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland - Near the Noodle Station

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T - Studio - Hollywood Brown Derby

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U - Magic Kingdom - Main Street - Tony's Townsquare Café

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V - Studio - Halfway down Sunset Blvd.

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W - Epcot - Norway Pavilion

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X - Animal Kingdom - Walkway between Africa and Asia

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Y - Magic Kingdom - Fantasyland - Near Peter Pan

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Z - Studio - Rock 'N' Roller Coaster.

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March 25, 2010


This is so cool!

Ridemakerz Sign

A new shop called Ridemakerz opened today (3-25-10) at the Westside of Downtown Disney. Located in the building previously occupied by Virgin Megastore, Ridemakers offers kids of all ages a new experience in retail shopping.

Ridemakerz Exterior

Ridemakerz Sign

Ridemakerz Interior

At Ridemakerz, guests can custom build their very own radio-controlled vehicle. As ZEO (CEO) of the company Larry Andreini said during the grand opening ceremony today, Ridemakerz was inspired by Build-A-Bear Workshop. But instead of creating a custom animal, kids can create custom automobiles. And with all the body styles, colors, tires, wheels, lights, and sounds available, it is estimated that there are more than 649 million possible build combinations - not including the individual decal placement.

Here we see Larry Andreini and Downtown Disney Vice President Keith Bradford officially opening the store with a ribbon, err, chain cutting ceremony.

Chain Cutting Ceremony

In the center of the store are four souped-up "real" cars to drool over. The Corvette was actually used by the team of Dale Earnhardt Senior and Junior at the "24 Hours of Le Mans." This is the world's oldest sports car competition in endurance racing, and held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, Sarthe, France.


MINI Cooper

Display Car

Display Car

Also on display around the shop are a number of the Ridemakerz vehicles you can duplicate or improve upon with your own imagination.

Model Display Cars

Model Display Cars

Model Display Cars

Model Display Cars

Model Display Cars

Model Display Cars

The process of customization starts at the Chooze Station. (Notice the use of the letter Z.) Here you pick up a basket to carry your options as you make your way around the store. You also select your vehicle body type at this station. There are cast members throughout the store to answer questions and help you with your selections. There is a basic price for a car, which I'll go into later. But just like in real life, it's the options that jack up the price. All of this is clearly marked so there shouldn't be any confusion.

There are over 70 body types to chooze from. Here are some of the available models: Chevrolet Corvette C6.R and C6RS, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Ford F-250 SuperChief, Dodge Ram, Scion xB, MINI Cooper S, and Dodge Viper. There are also retro hot rods, fire engines, and a number of trucks.

Chooze Sign


Available Car Bodies

At the Sonicize Station you select the sound you want your car to make. There are five options and push buttons allow you to listen to each. These include electric guitars, city beats, sirens, whistles, squealing tires, and revving. Once you make your selection, a cast member will give you the appropriate computer chip to be inserted into your car later.

Sonicize Station

Next we move to the Mobilize Station to pick up our tirez and wheelz. Since not all wheels fit every car, a cast member is on hand to help you make the right choice. The selections are mind boggling.

Mobilize Station

Tire Options

Wheel Options

At the Motorize Station a cast member will open up the packaging and store it for later recycling. Here you decide if you want your vehicle to be Free-Wheel or Radio-Control and given the appropriate chassis.

Motorize Sign

Motorize Station

Now it's time to move to The Pit and assemble your vehicle. Here a cast member will arrange all of the parts for you in a logical order, then start the clock. You're now being timed to see how fast you can put your car together. Required tasks include screwing the chassis to the body, inserting the wheels into the tires, and attaching the tires to the car. Here are a few pictures of me taking this all very seriously.

The Pit

Car Parts Arranged for Assembly

Jack working on his MINI Cooper

Jack working on his MINI Cooper

It's at the Customize Station that you can really personalize your car. Hundreds of options like specialty lights, spoilers, side pipes, hood scoops, blown engines, roll bars, decals and more are just begging to be added to your vehicle.

Customize Station

Customize Station

Customize Station

Customize Station

Customize Station

Customize Station

Be sure to save all the packaging acquired at the Customize Station. You'll need it when you pay. At the check-out counter, your new baby will be placed in a nice carrying case.

Check-out Counter

Carrying Case

I attended the Grand Opening via a press invitation. For a first hand experience, Disney and Ridemakerz allowed me to create my own vehicle at no charge.

I have never been cool - and I gave up trying years ago. So instead of selecting a hotrod or Corvette, I picked a MINI Cooper to customize cuz I think they're cute. Here's how it turned out.

Jack's MINI Cooper

Jack's MINI Cooper

Jack's MINI Cooper

Jack's MINI Cooper

Once I got home, I added everything up and the price of my car came to $90. This includes the radio-control and rechargeable battery.

The basic price for a car is $10 to $32 depending on the body and paint style chosen. Radio remote control can be added for an additional $25. And custom accessories range in price from $2 for grill guards to $15 for spoilers and hood scoops. The vehicles are approximately twelve inches long or 1:18 scale and are easy to assemble with snap-on components that do not require glue.

DO NOT. I repeat. DO NOT take your son (or husband) into this shop unless you plan on buying a car. This store is addictive. I also think this store offers a great bonding opportunity for fathers and sons. I saw a number of dads helping their boys build their car with big smiles on their faces. And I could tell it was difficult for them not to jump in and take over the project. Just for the record, there were a number of girls thoroughly enjoying themselves at Ridemakerz.

Ridemakerz is currently at Downtown Disney for a limited engagement. But when I spoke to Disney VP Keith Bradford, he told me that it's hoped that this shop will become a permanent participant at Walt Disney World, either in its current location, or someplace else. I hope so too!

Ridemakerz is located at the Westside of Downtown Disney and the hours of operation vary from day to day.

For more information (and online shopping), check out their website at www.ridemakerz.com

March 28, 2010

Discovery Island Shops at Animal Kingdom

Discovery Island at the Animal Kingdom acts like The Hub at the Magic Kingdom. It ties all of the outlying lands together in a harmonious manor. But rather than depict a real geographic location, Discovery Island uses humorous, almost cartoon-like representations of animals to create a whimsical locale that does not conflict with the other areas of the park.

Discovery Island is also home to four shops, Beastly Bazaar, Creature Comforts, Disney Outfitters, and Island Mercantile. Each of these shops has a subtle theme that is easily missed if you don't pay attention. In this blog I'm going to discuss these themes and present a few pictures.

Let's start with Beastly Bazaar.

Beastly Bazaar Sign

Beastly Bazaar is located on the northeast side of Discovery Island, just before you cross the bridge into Asia. The theme here is water animals. But not just fish, also included are amphibians and birds that make water their home or feeding ground. I'm not going to offer any descriptions here as the pictures are self explanatory.

Beastly Bazaar Seahorse

Beastly Bazaar Shrimp and Starfis

Beastly Bazaar Turtle and Eel

Beastly Bazaar Octopus

Beastly Bazaar Fish

Beastly Bazaar Bird

Beastly Bazaar Crab

Beastly Bazaar Fishes

The Creature Comforts shop is located on the northwest side of Discovery Island, before you cross the bridge into Africa. Here, all of the animals either have spots or stripes. Even the overhead light fixture and the lamppost out front carry out this theme.

Creature Comforts Sign

Creature Comforts Giraff

Creature Comforts Zebra

Creature Comforts Tiger

Creature Comforts Antelope

Creature Comforts Light Fixture

Creature Comforts Ladybug

Disney Outfitters is located due south of the Tree of Life. This shop has two themes. First, all of the animal featured here travel in herds. And second, the points of the compass are focal points.

Disney Outfitters Sign

Disney Outfitters North Compass

Disney Outfitters Compass Points

In the four corners of the main building are compass points for north, south, east, and west. These represent the four corners of Africa. Near each compass are beautifully carved posts featuring the animals of that region. Next time you're in this shop, it's worth your time to spend a few minutes admiring their beauty. It's interesting to note, the compass directions do not line up with the "real" world.

Disney Outfitters North Animals

Disney Outfitters East Animals

Disney Outfitters South Animals

Disney Outfitters West Animals

While in this shop, also pay attention to some of the lovely tapestries hanging from the ceiling.

Disney Outfitters Tapestries

Disney Outfitters Tapestries

The last store on Discovery Island is Island Mercantile and it is found to your immediate left after crossing the bridge from The Oasis into this land.

Island Mercantile Sign

Island Mercantile is all about animals that work. The shop's theme begins outdoors with elephants holding light fixtures in their trunks.

Island Mercantile Elephant

Inside we find beavers hard at work. Notice the counter with its gnawed log supports.

Island Mercantile Bevers

Island Mercantile Gnawed Log

Located throughout the rest of the store are beasts of burden and industrious creatures that work in groups.

Island Mercantile Camel

Island Mercantile Bees

Island Mercantile Ants

I know a lot of you think I know everything about Disney. But nothing could be further from the truth. I'm constantly learning new stuff. I only recently discovered that Island Mercantile and Creature Comforts had themes - and I learned this by reading other pages on Allears.net. But after acquiring this knowledge, I knew that if these two shops had themes, then the others on Discovery Island must as well. So I made a trip to the Animal Kingdom to see what I could find out.

I realize that a lot of the details I point out to you seem obvious, but they're not always. Sometimes I have to do research and ask questions. In this case, I couldn't figure out the theme of Disney Outfitters so I asked a cast member. And when that cast member didn't know, I asked another and another. So don't feel bad that you haven't noticed a particular detail, theme, or story. Just remember not to take things at face value and always be on the lookout for the magic the Imagineers have designed into everything.

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About March 2010

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in March 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2010 is the previous archive.

April 2010 is the next archive.

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