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June 6, 2010

Tokyo Disney Resort - Tokyo Club 33

Today's blog is going to be all about Jack. I experienced something wonderful and I simply must brag about it. Please excuse my self-indulgence.

But as is typical of me, first I must give you some background.

When Walt became involved with the New York World's Fair, he discovered that many of the corporate sponsors, including the ones he was working with, required nicely appointed offices or lounges to be included in their pavilions. These would be places where corporate bigwigs could entertain clients and guests in lavish style, away from the masses outside.

Walt was already entertaining dignitaries on a regular basis at Disneyland and he realized that this same concept would be useful at his theme park. When the fair ended, work began in earnest on New Orleans Square and Pirates of the Caribbean. It was decided that this new land would be the perfect place to build a private sanctuary. It would be located on the second floor of the twisting buildings of this Crescent City reproduction. This refuge would be called Club 33. The number 33 comes from the Club's address, 33 Royal Street. The Blue Bayou next door is 31 Royal Street.

Club 33 and Blue Bayou

Club 33 Entrance

However, maintaining a first class lounge and restaurant would be expensive and Disney wasn't entertaining dignitaries and celebrities on an everyday basis. So it was decided to open the Club 33 to others - create a membership. This way, the corporations that were already sponsoring attractions at Disneyland could join and help defray the costs. For example, this would provide The Bell System, who sponsored the CircleVision Theater in Tomorrowland, a place to wine and dine guests and customers. Individual memberships were also made available to local businessmen (and later, Disney fanatics). Memberships were not cheap yet a years-long waiting list quickly ensued.

Members are given the right to eat at the Club 33 and are provided free parking and free admission to Disneyland (as long as the use the Club on that given day). They may also make reservations for their guests and do not have to accompany them. All meals are extra as they are not included in the price of membership. In addition, the Club 33 is the only place at Disneyland where alcohol is served.

Club 33 Dining Room

As many of you might know, I was the maitre d' at Club 33 for three years (1977-1980). I loved working there and was fortunate enough to meet a number of celebrities and Disney bigwigs.

When the Oriental Land Company (the company that owns Tokyo Disneyland) was designing their park, they used Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in Florida as a shopping cart. They would select the best of what each park had to offer - and the Club 33 was one of the items selected. However, in their park, the Club 33 would be located in World Bazaar, their version of Main Street. Tokyo's Club 33 is located on the second floor of World Bazaar. If you compared it to the Magic Kingdom it would be above Casey's Corner (sort of).

Tokyo's Club 33 fulfills the same purpose as its California cousin. It allows the Oriental Land Company and the corporate sponsors of Tokyo Disneyland to entertain guests in lavish style. Their Club 33 is also the only spot inside the park that serves alcohol.

Arranging a meal at the Club 33 in Disneyland is no easy task for your average Disney fan. You must know a member who is willing to make a reservation for you. And in the scheme of things, there aren't all that many members. Eating at the Club 33 gives you "Disney bragging rights." Arranging a meal at the Club 33 in Tokyo Disneyland is even a greater challenge for American Disney fans. Most of us don't know all that many Japanese corporate leaders with memberships. By the way, memberships in the two Clubs are not reciprocal.

So why am I going into this long explanation?

I was able to pull some strings -- strings that must remain anonymous. You see, on my recent visit to Tokyo Disneyland, I was able to eat at their Club 33. You have no idea how excited I was. But the member who made my reservation did more than just secure me a dinner at this exclusive club. He also arranged for me to visit a number of the corporate lounges scattered around the park. You see at Tokyo Disneyland, many of the sponsored rides and attractions have lounges of their own. However, because of the anonymity I must respect, I can't tell you which corporations and attractions I visited.

Before I left home, I was provided with a detailed schedule to follow on the day of my Club 33 reservation. I was to arrive at the first private lounge at exactly 3:45 (the Japanese are very precise). I was given a map beforehand to help me find the lounge as they are more or less hidden and you'd never locate them without instructions. When I arrived at the first lounge, I was greeted by a lovely hostess and given something cool to drink (non-alcoholic). After relaxing a while, I was taken through a "back door" of an "E" attraction, bypassing an hour-long line, and given a front row seat. After the ride, I was escorted to another private lounge where more drinks and relaxation ensued. Then, once again, I was taken through a back door and bypassed another long line. This happened for three attractions and I easily avoided over two hours of queue.

I have pictures of all of the lounges, but I can't share them with you because it would be obvious which company's quarters I was in. However, I did crop this one photo. As you can tell by the smile on my face, I was in Disney heaven.

Jack in a Corporate Lounge

After visiting the lounges, I was free to wander the park until my dinner reservation time. These next pictures show the Club 33 entrance and me standing next to the door. Take a look at the brass plate to my left. Beneath this panel is an intercom that connects to the hostess inside. Before being granted entrance, you must speak your reservation name here and then you will be "buzzed" in.

Tokyo Club 33 Entrance

Tokyo Club 33 Entrance

Befitting of Main Street, the interior of the Club 33 is Victorian in style. The lobby is on the first floor and guests use either an elevator or stairway to reach the lounge and restaurant on the second floor. These pictures are of the downstairs lobby.

Tokyo Club 33 Lobby

Tokyo Club 33 Lobby

When entering the second floor you'll find a large lounge and several smaller, private rooms where guests can have cocktails or conduct business. I was seated here for a short time until my table was ready.

Tokyo Club 33 Lounge

Tokyo Club 33 Lounge

Tokyo Club 33 Lounge

I was told in advance that "the best table in the house" had been arranged for me. I was skeptical. Since I used to work at the Club 33 in California, I knew we told people this all the time when it wasn't necessarily true. But in this case, it was true.

First, the tables at the Tokyo Club 33 are arranged very spaciously - much more so than its California counterpart. You could easily put twice as many tables in this room. This allowed for a very intimate dining experience as you could speak freely without fearing that someone at the next table would overhear you. I only took a picture of my own table as I did not want to intrude on the other diners.

Tokyo Club 33 Table

Tokyo Club 33 Place Setting

My table was located in a sort of alcove. From my table I looked out onto the Hub and parade route. This next picture shows an exterior view of the window I looked out of.

Tokyo Club 33 Exterior

When my waitress arrived at the table, I quickly discovered she spoke very little English. But since the menu was printed in both Japanese and English, "pointing" became the language of choice. I enjoyed a six course meal with cocktails and wine. However, I could not begin to tell you what I ate or drank. It's all a Disney fantasy blur to me. But I can tell you it was magical and special in every sense of the word. And I do remember that one course was topped with real gold flakes. For those of you who have dined at Victoria & Albert's at the Grand Floridian, I would say that this evening was comparable.

When I write a restaurant review for Allears, I take pictures of each course. However, I had decided in advance that this would not be the case when I dined at Club 33 for several reasons. First, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wasn't about to diminish this event in anyway by interrupting my meal. But more than that, once I entered the dining room, I knew it would be gauche and disruptive to take too many pictures. After all, I was a visitor in their country and I wanted to put my best foot forward.

At one point during my meal, I noticed that cast members had taken position at each window in the restaurant. A moment later, the background music stopped playing and the room went dark. At that moment, the cast members quickly opened the sheer curtains to provide us with a view of the Electrical Parade below. Of course, the parade's music was piped into the room. As soon as the parade ended, the curtains were closed and the lights came back up. Later in the evening, this same exercise took place for the firework presentation. These pictures were taken from my table. I did use a zoom lens, but as you can see, my view was impressive. I really was given the best table in the house.

Tokyo Main Street Electrical Parade

Tokyo Main Street Electrical Parade

Tokyo Disneyland Fireworks

So what did my two and a half hours of Disney bliss cost? Not counting the souvenirs that I bought, $380 for two.

I want to thank my anonymous friend for giving me a Disney memory that will last a lifetime and be very difficult to top.

Main Street Electrical Parade - Walt Disney World

Tonight (June 6, 2010), Summer Nightastic! at the Magic Kingdom officially gets underway with an slightly updated version of the Main Street Electrical Parade. But last night Disney held a special sneak-peak for Annual Passholders (and anyone else who happened to be in the park). I was on hand so I could bring you the magic as soon as possible.

I filmed the show twice (once at 9pm and once at 11pm) from different sides of the street. I have edited these clips together to bring you a good representation of what's in store for you this summer. However, I did not have the most current version of the music so I applied some creative editing to an old copy of the Disneyland version of this score. But what you'll hear is a fairly accurate representation of what is played today.

When the lights dimmed and the familiar "Baroque Hoedown" began to play, the crowd went wild, even though the first float was still several minutes away. People have been anxiously awaiting the return of this perennial favorite. This show only plays until August 14th of this year so plan accordingly.

For more information about this new production, check out Deb Koma's "Sneak Peak" and the "Official Disney Announcement."


June 7, 2010

Summer Nightastic Fireworks

Last night, June 6, 2010, Summer Nightastic officially debuted at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and I was on hand for the festivities. The night before, I filmed the Main Street Electrical Parade and last night I filmed the new fireworks presentation.

I know that many of you have a very fond spot in your heart for Wishes, but in my opinion, this is a better show. I think Disney took the best of Wishes and combined it with some spectacular elements from other pyrotechnic displays to come up with a real winner. The perimeter fireworks especially immerse the viewer in the magic.

I always felt that with Wishes, it was mandatory to stand somewhere on Main Street or The Hub to appreciate the show. And I still think this is the best spot for the Nightastic fireworks. But I feel the Nightastic display could also be enjoyed from other vantage points around the park better than its predecessor.

The show is over ten minutes in length and is narrated by Cinderella's Fairy Godmother and by Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather who continue their argument over "pink" and "blue." Captain Hook chimes in for a good battle and Tinkerbell still makes her historic flight.

In order to post my video on YouTube it was necessary to edit the show slightly. However, I only cut dialogue, not any of the fireworks. And as is the case with so many things, seeing an event in person is always better. My video might give you a good idea of what the show is all about, but nothing compares to actually seeing the fireworks in person and feeling the explosions reverberate in your body.

Summer Nightastic Fireworks plays through August 14 of this year. They are worthy of your attention.

June 9, 2010

Summer Nightastic – Disney's Hollywood Studios

Last night (June 8, 2010), I checked out the Summer Nightastic events going on at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The first happening was the Rock N' Glow Dance Party being presented on a large stage erected in front of the Sorcerer Hat. On Tuesdays, and Thursdays through Sundays, a DJ takes center stage and livens things up with a wide variety of prerecorded rock and roll. While he's at it, he also teaches the crowd a few dance steps and gets the entire audience movin' together. Disney characters also get into the act and dance with all willing participants.

Rock N' Glow Dance Party

DJ Teaching People the Steps

Dancing with the Characters

Live music is also on hand for portions of the evening with Mulch, Sweat, and Shears performing.

Mulch, Sweat, and Shears

The Dance Party begins each evening three hours before park closing. Since I visited on a day when the park closed at 7pm, the event kicked off at 4pm. There are a number of lighting effects positioned around the dance/courtyard, but since I was there while the sun was still shining brightly, none of these were in use. I suspect this area will be far more festive when the park is open late and the dance party takes place at night.

For all of you who have experienced the dance parties that now take place in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom, this is a very similar experience except that you also have a live band to add to the excitement.


The Tower of Terror (TOT) was also given some new effects for Summer Nightastic and I rode it twice last night so I could check everything out.

Tower of Terror

First, here's what hasn't changed: The outside and lobby queue, the preshow in the Library, and the boiler room queue.

The first noticeable difference happens while ascending in the elevator when you stop to view the hallway sequence and the hotels' guests disappear before your eyes. Here, your picture is taken - to be used later in a special effect.

When you exit into the 5th dimension room, you'll notice that the glass walls have all been covered with black scrim and have been studded with hundreds of fiber optic lights, creating a star field. As you move forward, you'll see the picture that was taken earlier of your elevator and its inhabitants projected on the wall/doors before you. As you continue to move forward, the inhabitants of the elevator car slowly disappear right before your eyes. Then, as usual, the elevator doors open and you proceed into the drop shaft and experience an all-new drop sequence.

For those of you who have ridden the Tower of Terror at California, Tokyo, and/or Paris, you will recognize this "disappearing guests" effect. However, since this effect was designed into these other TOTs, it is far more effective at these other locales. In fact, the first time I rode TOT last night, I wasn't completely sure what I was seeing. It took a second go-round to be sure.

I was also less than impressed with the black scrim that lines the walls of the 5th dimension room. This effect looks more like a construction wall than a star field and I felt it was distracting. Something as makeshift as this doesn't belong in a ride as fantastic as TOT.

But on the up side, I will give the new drop sequence extremely high marks. I've ridden TOT more times than I can count and can be somewhat blasΓ© when I experience this attraction. But last night my stomach and I parted ways several times as we were dropped, and redropped, and redropped.

Bottom line"¦ If you're a TOT fan, then by all means experience this summer enhancement. But if you don't ride it for some reason, don't worry that you missed something great. You haven't.

June 10, 2010

Hong Kong Disneyland Tidbits

I'd like to share a few tidbits from my visit to Hong Kong Disneyland. The first is about their opening show. Each morning, guests are invited onto Main Street a half hour before the official opening time. For the next thirty minutes they are allowed to wander the shops and grab a bite to eat at the bakery. A rope keeps guests from entering the Hub.

About seven minutes prior to opening, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella stroll through the castle and over to the Hub. A family, who has been selected in advance, is waiting for them. An announcement is then made in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, and after a short countdown, a child cuts a ribbon and the park officially opens. This is a very simple ceremony, but the Princesses create quite a stir and cameras click like crazy.

Princesses at the Castle

Ribbon Cutting

This next picture was taken next to the Tea Cups. I've never seen a warning like this on any sign in the States. It does make you wonder since all bags are checked prior to entering the park and no alcohol is served inside.

Sober Sign

Hong Kong Disneyland has a special program called "Star Guest." Each morning, a limited number of bright yellow Star Guest lanyards are given out (free of charge) at City Hall. This is done on a first come, first served basis until that day's allotment has been exhausted. From the lanyard hangs a Mickey balloon-shaped piece of cardboard wishing you a magical day.

Mickey Cardboard Cutout

Jack with his Lanyard

Guests who wear this lanyard are frequently singled out by the cast members for special treatment. For example, while waiting in line to ride the Jungle Cruise, I was asked my name. Then, during the excursion, the skipper made several references to me with typical Jungle Cruise humor. And when I exited the attraction, I was greeted by this sign.

Jungle Cruise Sign

I was also given another cardboard Mickey to hang from my lanyard indicating that I was a "Jungle Cruise First Mate."

When I saw the Stitch Encounter Show (similar to Turtle Talk with Crush), I was singled out by Stitch and my picture appeared onscreen with this little monster. Afterwards, I was given another cardboard Mickey. In all, I collected four more pendants throughout the day as my special treatment continued.

Hong Kong offers a great summer parade called Mickey's Waterworks Parade. Before the pageant begins, folks are warned that they WILL GET WET and to take appropriate precautions with all cameras and electronic devices. You're warned that if you don't want to get wet, there are two "Dry Zones" from which to watch the spectacle. In these areas, the "squirters" temper their mayhem.

As you might guess, the floats spray water on the guests all along the parade route. You get wetter in the front seat of Splash Mountain, but if hit by one of these water cannons, you'll definitely know you've been squirted. This is a great parade and something that would be immensely popular at the Magic Kingdom during our hot summer months. I videotaped the parade so you can see what it's all about.

My final Hong Kong tidbit is about their version of "The Festival of the Lion King." Unlike the Orlando version, which was to be a temporary show until Beastly Kingdom was built, Disney spared no expense when building this Hong Kong counterpart. Here, the stage rotates, rises, and has pyrotechnic displays built into it. It's amazing and adds a lot of pizzazz to the show. Although the Orlando and Hong Kong shows are similar, they are also different. For example, in Hong Kong, they actually tell the story of Simba, while in Orlando, they just celebrate him.

I saw the show twice and filmed it both times. For one filming, I sat in the first row and for the other, I was on the opposite side of the theater, two-thirds of the way back. I edited the material together to create a seamless presentation. The video is in two parts and takes about 18 minutes. The actual show is 30 minutes, but I cut out much of the dialogue. If you don't have time to watch both videos, might I suggest just looking at the last three minutes of Part Two. This will give you a good idea of how terrific the stage is. Enjoy.

June 14, 2010

Tokyo Disney – A Few More Things

Two new attractions have opened at Tokyo Disneyland since my detailed description of this park a few years ago. Let's start with the lesser of the two. The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents "Aloha E Komo Mai!" has replaced The Enchanted Tiki Room: "Get the Fever." The entire show is presented in Japanese. I saw it twice and was able to glean the basics, but until I did some research, some of the subtleties were lost on me. Here's a simple description of how the show plays out.

Tiki Room Entrance Sign

The presentation begins with a cast member introducing the four Birds of Paradise; Manu, Hanoli, Waha Nui, and Mahina. Their first number is "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" but as the song is about to conclude, the lights temporarily go out. When they come back on we discover that the windows have been painted with messages and pictures in a childlike scrawl.

It is first thought that the drawings were done by Big Kahuna, the leader of the Enchanted Tiki Room. It's decided that it's best not to anger this all powerful god and the birds break into "Aloha E Komo Mai" from "Lilo and Stitch: The Series."

Next the birds begin "The Hawaiian War Chat" but this song is soon interrupted by the appearance of Stitch's arm popping up from each of the four hanging flower baskets located around the room. In each case, he's holding a different horn or noise-maker to disrupt the proceedings.

Stitch's Arm

When things calm down, the "girls" on the Bird-Mobile descend from the ceiling, all sporting Stitch ears. They explain that some blue creature put the ears on them. Moments later, Stitch covers them in blue paint (lighting effect) and the girls leave, exclaiming that they will not return until this blue creature leaves.


Shortly thereafter, Stitch appears in the middle of the room, at first pretending to be the Big Kahuna. But he soon reveals his true identity and admits he only staged his antics so he could be in the show. The Birds of Paradise reluctantly let him perform, but only if he promises no more disruptions. Stitch and the cast then perform a reprise of "Aloha, E Komo Mai" and the show comes to an end soon after.

Stitch in the Tiki Room

So what did I think of this show?

First, I have to admit, I'm not a big Stitch fan so I'm probably not the best person to review this attraction. Also, I'm still resentful that the Imagineers made over Alien Encounter. I hate that they took a truly edgy attraction and "dumbed it down" with the addition of Stitch.

That being said, I think Stitch is a better match for the Tiki Room than he is for Alien Encounter. His cartoonish characteristics work in this already somewhat silly attraction. I have to admit, I did enjoy this show. And I suspect that if I spoke Japanese I would be able to get more out of this attraction than I did.

Is this a great attraction? Nope. But I never expected "great" when I entered the building. But it's a decent show and it held my attention. And it's a much better attraction than the obnoxious "Under New Management" at the Magic Kingdom. If the parks still used ticket books, I'd give the Japanese version of the Tki Room a "C" coupon. And if we still used ticket books, you'd have to make "Under New Management" free to get me on it.

The really big addition to Tokyo Disneyland is "Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek." Each morning, thousands of guests RUN to the FastPass machines for a chance to experience this ride. Temporary queues are erected to handle the crowds. Think of the FastPass lines for Toy Story Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios and quadruple it. Within two hours of opening, all of the FastPasses are gone. Within 15 minutes, the attraction has an hour line and by noon, a two hour line.

Monsters Inc. Sign

Monsters Inc. FastPass Queue

Monsters Inc. FastPass Queue

The attraction is housed in a structure that resembles the power utility building in Monstropolis (as depicted in the movie). The queue is located under the large dome and the actual attraction is in the taller building.

Monsters Inc Building

Monsters Inc Building

Monsters Inc Building

Monsters Inc Building

The attraction's story takes place long after the events of the movie. The factory's old slogan "We Scare Because We Care" has been changed to "It's Laughter We're After."

We Scare Because We Care

The story of Ride and Go Seek goes something like this. Boo has wandered off in the power factory and Randall is after her so he can capture her screams. Mike and Sulley need to find her before Randall. To even the playing field, Mike throws the master power switch and turns out all the lights to Monstropolis. It's now our job to help locate Boo by using the provided flashlight (attached to the ride vehicle via a wire).

Mike Turning of the Lights

As you travel from room to room, you shine your flashlight on various targets scattered around the factory. When you do, it causes a number of different characters and objects to come to life. Monsters will appear from within a number of containers and peer out of windows. Objects dance, twist and twirl. In addition, we see Mike, Sulley, and Randall feverishly looking for Boo. Eventually, Boo is found and Randall is knocked into a garbage compacter and squished into a cube. In the final scene we find an interactive Roz who is able to make real-time comments to the passing riders. This same effect can be seen on "Mike and Sulley to the Rescue" at Disney's California Adventure. As you might guess, this attraction deposits its riders into the Monsters Inc. Company Store.

Mike and Sulley Fine Boo

Roz Talking to the Guests

I rode this attraction three times and I can't begin to remember everything I saw. There are dozens upon dozens of sights and experiences. It's a lot of fun and suitable for the entire family. There is nothing really scary about this attraction as most of the monsters are cartoonish and nothing really startles you.

Is this ride worth a two hour wait? Nope. But that's why they have FastPass.

Once again, if the Disney parks still had ticket books, I'd give this attraction a strong "D" coupon.

Outside of the ride is Mike Wazowski's new car, perfect for a photo op.

Mike Wazowski's new car

Shopping at the Tokyo parks is always an adventure. A Japanese custom is to bring friends and family some sort of remembrance when returning home. Among the most popular gifts are tins filled with cookies, crackers, and/or candy. Shops carrying this merchandise can be found everywhere. This next picture shows one such store in what would be our Emporium on Main Street. However, there are no cash registers in this shop. Instead, next to this shop is another room filled with nothing but queue for guests waiting to pay. Cast members are on hand to keep everything flowing smoothly. I snapped these pictures early in the day before the crowds materialized.

Shopping on World Bazaar

Queue to Pay

On the other side of the queue-room are banks of cash registers to handle the onslaught of shoppers. It is not uncommon to see high school students with armfuls of these tins.

Cash Register

Over at Tokyo DisneySea, "Turtle Talk With Crush" has been added to the S.S Columbia. As the story goes, a large viewing window has been constructed below water level at the rear of the ship, allowing guests to peer into the ocean.

S.S. Columbia

Turtle Talk Entrance

During the preshow, one of the Columbia's shipmates explains a new invention, the hydrophone, which will allow guests to actually speak with the sea creatures. Besides setting the mood for the upcoming show, this preshow helps pass the wait as the line is often an hour long.


The basic show is almost identical to its Epcot cousin, albeit presented in a larger theater. However, the show is entirely in Japanese so unless you understand the language, the subtleties of the performance will be lost. I think Turtle Talk is a great attraction. But if you're visiting Tokyo DisneySea with limited time, I would definitely skip this show due to the language barrier.

One of the advantages of writing for Allears is that I get to correspond with people all over the world who love Disney. Over the last two years I have become friends with one of my Japanese readers, Katsumi. He lives in Tokyo and visits the Tokyo Disney Resort almost every weekend with his friend Daisuke. On my most recent trip, I arranged to meet with them and spend the day at Tokyo DisneySea. Since my Japanese is limited to a few words and phrases, it's wonderful that Katsumi speaks English fluently. The next two pictures were taken at the Restoranti di Canaletto where we enjoyed a wonderful lunch next to a Venetian canal. In the first picture, Katsumi is on the left and Daisuke on the right. The second picture is the view I had from my seat. Not too shabby.

Katsumi and Daisuke

Venetian Canal

One of Katsumi and Daisuke's favorite shows at Tokyo DisneySea is The Legend of Mythica. I learned that this show won the 15th Annual Thea Award. This honor is presented each year by TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) whose international organization recognizes the world's leading creators, developers, designers and producers of compelling places, experiences, and storytelling.

The Legend of Mythica is presented on the vast body of water that makes up Mediterranean Harbor. Viewing areas were carefully considered when designing Tokyo DisneySea and guests can choose ideal locations all around the lagoon. Like so many others who visit this park, Katsumi and Daisuke stake out their favorite viewing spot well over an hour in advance.

Waiting for the Show

Waiting for the Show

Briefly, the Legend of Mythica tells us that the creatures of fantasy really did exist in ancient worlds. And during this time, man and these mythological beasts shared the same space and lived and played together. But when man became divided and argued, these wonderful creatures retreated to the seas, only to return when man could restore harmony. The pageantry that unfolds before us celebrates the return of these magnificent creatures.

Of course, the Imagineers have woven several of the Disney characters into this fanciful tale by giving them a purpose in man's return to harmony. Goofy represents the Spirit of Laughter, Minnie is the enduring Spirit of Love, Donald reflects the courageous Spirit of Adventure, Pluto represents loyalty and sincerity, and Chip & Dale symbolize the Spirit of Friendship. And of course, Mickey represents the Spirit of Imagination.

A number of stunning floats, performers, kites, pyrotechnics, and boats make up the show. It is pageantry unlike anything seen at the other Disney parks around the world. It is little wonder why thousands of people line Mediterranean Harbor each afternoon to witness this spectacle. Here are a few pictures of this remarkable show.

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Legend of Mythica

Although I have many more stories and adventures I could share about my recent trip to the Hong Kong and Tokyo Disney Resorts, that's all for now. As I said in my blogs two years ago, if there is any way you can swing it, plan a trip to Tokyo. You will not be disappointed. And I firmly believe that once the new lands are completed (in a few years) at Hong Kong Disneyland, this resort will also be worth the long flight across the Pacific.

June 18, 2010

Main Street Trolley Show

I have to believe that the vast majority of you have seen the Main Street Trolley Show that is presented several times each morning in the Magic Kingdom. But for those of you who arrive at opening and dash off to the Disney Mountains, never to return to Main Street until you're ready to leave the park, you're missing a great "impromptu" show.

The Main Street Trolley Show is rarely listed on the Times Guide, but most Main Street cast members can tell you when it will be performed that day. Also, if you notice the trolley proceeding up Main Street with passengers in the morning, you'll know the show is soon to follow. After depositing its riders at The Hub, twelve performers, dressed in shades of red, white, and blue, hop onboard for a trip down Main Street. Along the way they stop three times to present a lively show to whoever might be wandering the street at that time. On most days, the trolley makes this lively trip three times - usually before noon. The Main Street Trolley Show was first presented on December 1, 2004 and has been delighting guests ever since.

Three songs are sung (and danced) during the show. The first number, "The Most Magical Place on Earth" is also used to help open the Magic Kingdom each morning in front of the train station. In addition, these performers that help kick off our day are the same folk that entertain us on the trolley.

The second song, "Walkin' Right Down the Middle of Main Street, U.S.A." was written by Stu Nunnery in 1978. The song was purchased by Disney and was intended to be used to help roll out Disneyland's 25th anniversary in 1980. However, it did not debut publicly until 1985 to celebrate Disneyland's 30th anniversary when it was sung on a television special by Marie Osmond. And finally, "The Trolley Song" was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and made famous by Judy Garland in the 1944 film "Meet Me in St. Louis."

I have filmed the show and it is presented below. A number of you have commented that your videos of Walt Disney World don't compare to mine. There is a reason for this. When you visit the Magic Kingdom, your purpose is to experience the rides and attractions. Photography is usually an afterthought and is squeezed in when you can. When I visit the Magic Kingdom, my purpose is to create a blog. In this case, I filmed the show four times from four different vantage points. And this required advance planning so I could make sure I found the perfect spot well in advance so no one would block my view. I also found an out-of-the-way speaker so I could record the music with as little ambient noise as possible. In all, I experienced this presentation five times in order to create this three and a half minute video. When I got home, I spent several hours editing the film. The average Disney World guest does not have this amount of time or inclination. But I'm glad I do have the time and inclination because I take great pleasure in bringing Disney magic to all of you when you're at home - wishing you were here.


June 22, 2010

Sand Trap Restaurant

One of my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World for lunch is the Sand Trap located at the Osprey Ridge Golf Course. I would venture to say that the vast majority of you have never heard of this restaurant, and I'm not surprised. The intent of this establishment is to offer a bite to eat for the golfers of this course. Originally, this restaurant served two golf courses, but the Eagle Pines Golf Course was closed sometime ago when the acreage was sold to the Four Seasons Resort that is being built on this land. In essence, this deprived the Sand Trap Restaurant of half of its customers and Disney has recently made some adjustments to compensate for this lack of business.

First, the menu has been simplified. Most cooked/hot items have been eliminated. All china and glassware have been replaced with paper and plastic products. In addition, this is no longer a table service restaurant - but it's not quite a counter service restaurant either. The new format requires that you order your drinks and food at the bar. At that time, you will be given your drinks which you will carry back to the table of your choice. From that point on, service will be like any other table service restaurant in that the bartender will bring the food to your table and take care of your refills.

Please remember to tip accordingly as the bartender is the only person taking care of the entire establishment.

I was actually concerned when I learned that the Sand Trap was changing, but when I ate there yesterday, my fears were laid to rest. This is still a wonderful place to escape the crowds, noise, and general hubbub that is associated with most of Disney World. When dining here, you feel miles away from everything - and the view is most lovely.

Although the menu is not quite as extensive as it once was, it still offers a nice variety - enough to satisfy most lunchtime diners. I ordered the Stack Sandwich which comes with salami, smoked provolone cheese, lettuce and tomato served on Ciabatta bread accompanied with homemade potato chips. My friend Donald ordered the hot dog (see below). We were both very pleased with our meal. The manager showed us pictures of the Caesar Salad and Cobb Salad and both looked worthy of any Disney restaurant - except they are now served in plastic bowls.

Stacked Sandwish

Hot Dog

The Sand Trap is open for lunch daily from 10:30am to 5pm. The bar remains open longer depending on the golf reservations for that day. There is no designated Disney transportation to this location so a car is helpful. The restaurant is located at the north end of property near Fort Wilderness.

Sand Trap Entrance

Sand Trap Bar

Sand Trap Restaurant

Sand Trap View

New Sand Trap Menu

Rate and Review the Sand Trap!

June 23, 2010

Outdoor Audio Description Technology for Guests with Disabilities

Beginning on June 27, guests with visual disabilities will be able to explore Walt Disney World theme parks in a whole new way. Using a Disney-designed Assistive Technology Device guests will now be able to explore the parks accompanied with an audio description of all the sights.

Assistive Technology Device

This easy-to-use device is obtained at any theme park guest relations window. It is offered at no cost with a refundable deposit. It comes with a headset and strap so you can hang it around your neck. Disney conducted a number of focus groups with organizations for the blind to help them create an easy to understand machine that can be mastered in a few minutes.

Jack with ATD

I spent an hour today with an Assistive Technology Device (ATD) at Disney's Hollywood Studios. As I walked from area to area, the ATD would come alive and vibrate as I passed hidden sensors. Then it would provide me with a fairly accurate description of my location. For example, it would announce, "You are on Pixar Place near the restrooms" or "You are in Animation Courtyard between Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Playhouse Disney." If at any time I needed a reminder of where I was at, I could push a button and the ATD would repeat the last announced location.

Another button provided me with a general description of my surroundings. When the recording finished, I was given the option to hear more information in six categories. These were (1) a more detailed description of the area, (2) nearby attractions (3) nearby restrooms, (4) nearby restaurants, (5) entertainment, and (6) shopping. From these, I could drill down for even more detailed information.

Another automatic feature of the ATD is Attraction Descriptions. When I boarded Toy Story Mania, the ATD started automatically and provided me with a detailed commentary of all the sights along the way. I never had to push any button.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I've included a short audio clip from the Haunted Mansion. The first voice you hear is that of the Ghost Host. Following our disembodied spirit is the ATD voice describing a few of the sights.

Download and LISTEN HERE

The ATD can also be used by the hearing impaired. Although I did not get to try this feature, I was told it works in all attractions and the ride or show's dialog is automatically displayed on the screen. Check out the picture below for a general idea.

ATD for Hearing Impaired

I spoke with Bob Minnick, Manager - Facility Safety and Accessibility. I asked him if the ATD could be easily updated as things are constantly changing at WDW. He told me that Disney partnered with Softeq who developed the software and the handheld device and WGBH who did work creating the descriptive audio and captioning text. I was assured that all Disney needed to do was provide a new script and an updated recording could be made an uploaded in very little time. When I asked if these devices would be available at the resorts, Bob told me that Disney's objective at the moment is to bring Disneyland online with the ATD. After that, they will assess the demand and need for further expansion.

Disney has patented and licensed this new technology and is eager to make it available beyond the theme parks. To that end, it's already being used at the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta, The Hall at Patriot Place, and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

Walt wanted Disneyland to be enjoyed by everyone. Through the years, his company has strived to bring magic to all. Here are a few examples of how the Imagineers are constantly looking for ways to improve the guest experience.

Walt with Girl in Wheelchair

In making a drinking fountain wheelchair accessible, it also makes them "kid friendly." And Braille maps can be found in all four theme parks.

Drinking Fountain and Braille Map

All Walt Disney World transportation is wheelchair accessible - all buses have hydraulic lifts and the docks all "float" so they are always level with the watercraft. The buses also have closed captioning, announcing destinations and other pertinent information.

WDW Transportation

A number of guest rooms are available with height appropriate vanities and easy access tubs and showers. Text telephones are obtainable for the deaf.

Special Guest Rooms

Swimming pools have sloped entrances so that aquatic wheelchairs can easily roll into the water. This shallow area also provides toddlers with an area to splash with safety.

At the golf courses, specially designed carts are available to allow just about anyone the ability to play a round.

Zero Entrance Swimming Pools and Special Golf Cart

At Blizzard Beach, a special gondola can accommodate a wheelchair for a ride to the top of Mount Gushmore.

Blizzard Beach Gondola

Special viewing areas have been set aside on a first come, first served basis along the parade routes. Even the Grand Marshal vehicles can accommodate a wheelchair so just about anyone can be included in the festivities.

Parade Route and Grand Marshal Vehicle

Disney is always looking for new ways to retrofit older attractions. A special Jungle Cruise boat was updated with a lift for wheelchairs. And newer attractions are also getting into the act. Since loading and unloading can take longer in these cases, Toy Story Mania was designed with an auxiliary loading area so folks can take all the time they need to get situated.

Jungle Cruise

Toy Story Mania

Many of the live shows offer sign language interpreters. These are presented on certain days and at certain hours. You need to check with Guest Relations for exact days and times.

Sign Language Interpreters

I have to admit, when I attended today's press event, my eyes became a little misty when I saw all that Disney is doing to bring the magic to everyone. I take so many things for granted and I was moved that Disney does not. They strive to include everyone they can.

For more information about touring the parks with special needs, check out the AllEars.Net section for guests with special needs:


June 30, 2010

Splash Mountain Part One

As I so often do, I must start today's blog back at Disneyland. And to begin the story of Splash Mountain, I must first discuss the Carousel of Progress. By 1970, this transplant from the New York World's Fair was experiencing a decline in attendance. General Electric, the attraction's sponsor, felt that the majority of Disneyland's visitors had seen the show multiple times and asked Disney if they would be willing to move it to their new park being built in Florida so it could play to new audiences. So on September 9, 1973, Carousel of Progress gave its final California performance.

To celebrate America's Bicentennial, a new show was designed to fit into the existing Carousel Theater and on June 29, 1974, America Sings officially opened. Like Carousel of Progress, which chronicled the advancements in electricity over the decades, America Sings featured a cast of Audio-Animatronics animals and presented a history of music as you rotated from theater to theater and era to era.

In the early years, this show experienced limited popularity, but it was never as well received as its predecessor. And not long after the Bicentennial festivities died down, attendance began to wane. In addition, the show's "hip" finale had become dated in very short order as music styles are constantly changing. At just three years old, America Sings was already playing to half empty theaters, yet Disney still needed to recoup the money spent on this attraction. In the end, America Sings played for just shy of 14 years and closed on April 10, 1988.

America Sings

America Sings

America Sings

It's interesting to note that several months before America Sings closed, two of the Audio-Animatronics geese were removed from the attraction and their feathers and skin stripped from their frames, leaving a robotic skeleton. With new heads attached, these frames were placed in the queue for the soon to open Star Tours attraction at Disneyland as G2 droids. And to add to the irony, one of the geese/droids now sang a modified version of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (which he sang in America Sings). The new song being titled "I've Been Working on the Same Droid."

Star Tours and Geese-Droid

During the summer of 1983, Imagineer Tony Baxter was trying to devise a way to draw guests into the often deserted Bear Country. You see, Country Bear Jamboree never achieved the same level of popularity at Disneyland that it enjoyed in the Magic Kingdom and this remote land was often void of guests. What this area needed was an "E" attraction.

Bear Country Sign

At the same time, Dick Nunis, President of Walt Disney Attractions, was pressuring Imagineers to come up with some sort of a water-ride to help guests stay cool during the hot summer months. He argued that "All the other parks have a flume ride." To which the Imagineers countered, "That's exactly why Disneyland should not - we need to be unique."

One day, while making his hour-long drive to work, Tony Baxter was struck with an idea. Why not use the characters from "Song of the South" in some sort of a water ride. Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, and Br'er Rabbit were well known to the general public yet this movie had not yet been developed into an attraction like so many of Disney's other films. When he arrived at his office Tony got together with coworkers Bruce Gordon and John Stone and started brainstorming. After several days of work, the three men came up with a fairly complete concept for an attraction to be called Zip-A-Dee River Run.

Further development moved swiftly and soon a model of the attraction and more detailed storyboards were complete. Now it was time to pitch the concept to newly installed CEO Michael Eisner and President Frank Wells. Overall, it was an easy sell, but Eisner didn't like the name Zip-A-Dee River Run. He suggested that the Imagineers add a mermaid to the attraction so they could tie it into the recent Disney hit "Splash" that had starred Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks. The Imagineers convinced Eisner that this wasn't a good idea, but he was still insistent that the attraction's name be changed. He just didn't think Zip-A-Dee River Run would appeal to the teenage audience, the target group for this ride. When someone suggested they add the word "Mountain" after "Splash" everyone knew they had hit upon the perfect name as this would add a new peak to the Disney chain that already included the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, and Thunder Mountain.

Splash Mountain Artist Concept Drawing

Splash Mountain marked the first time that an attraction based on an animated film would be built outside of Fantasyland. To that end, it was important that the exterior structure blend in with its surroundings such as the Haunted Mansion and Bear Country. Guests would only see the "cartoon world" inside the attraction's interior. In addition, the foundation for the ride was sunk deep in the ground so the mountain did not overpower its neighbors.

Disneyland Splash Mountain Under Construction

And with so many new animals taking up residence in Bear Country, this land was renamed Critter Country.

Construction Sign

Bear Country Sign

Critter Country Sign

Splash Mountain opened on Disneyland's 34th birthday, July 17, 1989. It's estimated that the attraction cost $75M, an extraordinary amount of money for that time. Although a number of new Audio-Animatronics figures were created for the ride, the vast majority came from America Sings.

Disneyland Splash Mountain

The "official" story of the creation of Splash Mountain maintains that the inclusion of the America Sings Audio-Animatronics figures was part of the initial plans. As the story goes, Marc Davis had created characters and designs for Song of the South that were never used in the film. Then, almost 30 years later, they were reborn in the America Sings attraction, a project Marc Davis also worked on. Moving the AA figures to the new Splash Mountain attraction would be a perfect fit as they were already themed appropriately. In addition, closing America Sings would free up the Carousel Theater for a new, more popular attraction in Tomorrowland. However, according to Alice Davis (Marc Davis' wife), it was the out of control budget, not some grand plan, that necessitated the scavenging of one attraction for another. Reusing the America Sings AA figures was a way to rein in costs. It is interesting to note, the Carousel Theater sat empty for ten years after America Sings closed. It finally reopened in 1998 with a West Coast version of Innoventions.

To give you an idea of how little some of the characters changed when they were moved from America Sings to Splash Mountain, take a look at the next two pictures. The first shot was taken in Act Two of America Sings (Headin' West segment) and features The Boothill Boys singing The End of Billy the Kid. The next picture was taken on Disneyland's Splash Mountain as you begin your assent up Chick-A-Pin Hill and shows the same two vultures dressed identically.

Vultures in America Sings

Vultures in Splash Mountain Disneyland

Attendance soared at Disneyland with the addition of Splash Mountain and soon after its opening, Michael Eisner okayed the construction of similar attractions at the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Tokyo Disneyland. However, these would not be carbon copies of the Disneyland version as the parks were too dissimilar.

At Tokyo Disneyland, the Imagineers created a brand new Critter Country for the park. Here it would be a sort of sub-land to Westernland. This would allow the attraction to fit in better with its surroundings. Although the exterior of this Splash Mountain would be similar to the one in California with its towering Chick-A-Pin Hill, the actual track layout would be somewhat different. Also, the loading and unloading of the logs would take place in two different locations (similar to the Haunted Mansion) and these activities would be located inside the mountain. In addition, the logs were reengineered to create less of a splash due to the harsher winters and cultural differences. The Tokyo version also contained a two-story, counter-service restaurant, Grandma Sara's Kitchen, deep within the mountain.

Tokyo Disneyland Splash Mountain

Grandma Sara's Kitchen

Grandma Sara's Kitchen

Bringing Splash Mountain to Florida would present other challenges as it too had no Bear/Critter Country, but in this case, no area to create a new land either. Here, Splash Mountain would need to be a part of Frontierland and the only available location was next to Thunder Mountain. This would require relocating the Frontierland Train Station. These next two pictures were taken in 1983. As you can see, the approach to Thunder Mountain was vastly different than it is today.

Old Magic Kingdom Frontierland Train Station

Magic Kingdom Thunder Mountain 1983

Another problem the Imagineers faced in Florida was how do you seamlessly blend the American Southwest represented by Thunder Mountain with the Old South of Splash Mountain? These areas are several thousand miles apart in the real world and their topography is vastly different. One way to achieve harmony was through the use of color. Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom would use deeper oranges and reds than its California counterpart in an effort to complement the nearby desert terrain. In addition, the newly moved train station would act as a transition between the two attractions as its architecture blends well with both.

Splash Mountain Under Construction

Splash Mountain Under Construction

New Train Station

Splash Mountain opened to the public three years to the day (July 17, 1992) after its California cousin. This eleven minute ride follows the misadventures of Br'er Rabbit with a thrilling plunge down a 52 1/2-foot waterfall.

Completed Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom)

That's it for today. Check back tomorrow when I'll discuss the story of Splash Mountain and Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear.

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About June 2010

This page contains all entries posted to The β€œWorld” According to Jack in June 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2010 is the previous archive.

July 2010 is the next archive.

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