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August 2, 2011

Should the City of Epcot Have Been Built?

Most of my longtime readers know that my blogs are usually 95% fact and 5% opinion. I try to stay noncontroversial. But today's blog will be a little different. Today my opinion will be strong - and I'm sure it will generate more than a few opposing views. The question I broach is this: Should the Disney Company have built the City of EPCOT as originally envisioned by Walt?

In a 1970 promotional booklet titled "Preview Edition - Walt Disney World - The Vacation Kingdom of the World" the short and long term plans for the company's recently acquired 43 square miles in Central Florida were laid out. In the booklet, the first five years of the undertaking (Phase One) was presented in great detail. The project was to encompass the Magic Kingdom, five hotels, a campground, a monorail, and recreational facilities. With the exception of three hotels (the Asian, Persian, and Venetian) this all panned out as planned.


1970's Promotional Booklet


The long term plans for the property (Phase Two) were also presented in the booklet, but with far less detail. Briefly mentioned was the Airport of the Future, Industrial Parks, an extensive Transportation System, and a city to be called EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Inhabitants of this new city would be required to work somewhere on property in order to live there. The estimated population was to be 20,000. These were the grand plans Walt had shared with his Imagineers before his death four years earlier on December 15, 1966.


City of EPCOT


For a number of reasons, far too many to mention here, the idea of building the City of EPCOT was abandoned. In the end, the Company decided to build EPCOT Center, a theme park that would encompass the ideals of Walt's grand city. In addition, these ideals would be applied to the entire Disney property and are administered to this day by the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

I often hear guests and Disneyphiles lamenting that the City of EPCOT was never built. They say things like, "If Walt had lived longer, he would have insisted that EPCOT be built and it would have been magnificent." This may or may not be true. We'll never know. Walt was always tweaking his ideas and looking for better solutions. If he had lived another ten years, who knows what the plans for the City of EPCOT would have looked like at groundbreaking, estimated to begin in 1976. When Walt died, his dream died with him. His brother Roy and the other executives of the company did not share his enthusiasm to build a city.

For a long time, whenever I've heard people criticize the Company for not completing Walt's final dream, I've kept quiet. It's easier to hold my tongue rather than getting into a long, drawn out discussion. But I, for one, am happy that the City of EPCOT was never built. I have no doubt that it would have been great, especially if it had materialized as Walt envisioned it. But I have selfish reasons for my opinion. You see, I like the theme park of Epcot. I like Disney's Hollywood Studios. I like Disney's Animal Kingdom. I like Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. I like Downtown Disney. I like the Yacht and Beach, Port Orleans, and the Pop Century resorts. I like all of these things that never would have materialized if the City of EPCOT had been built.

Walt said that there was room enough to hold all of his Company's dreams, but building an entire city would have eaten up most of his land. Walt wasn't really motivated to build more theme parks - been there, done that. He was only interested in building the Magic Kingdom as a means to eventually build the City of EPCOT. If the City of EPCOT had been built, Walt Disney World would not be the vacation destination it is today. For the most part, this was an either/or decision. Built a city or build a destination vacation kingdom.

Let's jump across the country to the Disneyland Resort. Even with two parks and a shopping district, most people do not plan their entire vacation around this single destination. There simply aren't enough activities at the Disneyland Resort to fill more than three days (for the average guest). When visiting Southern California, most people augment their Disney stay with trips to Knott's Berry Farm, Hollywood, Universal Studios, and the many other attractions found in the area.

If the City of EPCOT had been built, the same thing would be true in Central Florida. People would only plan on spending two, maybe three days at the Magic Kingdom, Bay Lake, and Seven Seas Lagoon. Then they'd spend the rest of their vacation at Kennedy Space Center, Sea World, and Gatorland. And in reality, they probably wouldn't make yearly trips (or more) to Orlando.

Sure, if the City of EPCOT had been built, we'd all want to ride the monorails and PeopleMovers through this magnificent metropolis. But after we did it once, we wouldn't really want or need to do it again. If you stop and think about it, the trains at the Orlando Airport that transport you between the terminals and the gates are PeopleMovers. Yes, they're modern and efficient, but once you remove a PeopleMover from a theme park environment, it becomes utilitarian and rather boring. The same would have been true with the transportation within the City of EPCOT. After you rode the PeopleMover through EPCOT suburbs, would you really need to do it again and again on subsequent trips to Disney World?

Take a look at the community of Celebration, the town that Disney built on the south edge of their property. Have you taken the time to drive through this town? And if you have, do you have a need to see it a second time? It's a wonderful community, but it's not what most people want to see while on vacation. I'm the first to admit, Celebration doesn't compare in scope to what was envisioned for the City of EPCOT, but it was a planned community built by the Company we all love. In addition, the people of Celebration really don't want hordes of tourists traipsing through their town. The citizens of the City of EPCOT would have felt the same way.

Walt touted his City of EPCOT as a blueprint that other communities could learn from. But would other cities have taken the time to learn? Possibly. I don't know. But I do believe that all of the lessons that the City of EPCOT could teach us are available at Disney World without a city. Since the EPCOT philosophies are guidelines for everything built at Disney World, a city really isn't necessary.

But getting back to my selfish reasons, I like how Disney has developed their property. Sure, there are a few things I think could have been done better. And sometimes I ask myself, "What were they thinking?" But overall, I believe Walt Disney World is a fantastic place. A place that many people come to year after year. A place where one week isn't enough time to experience everything there is to offer. A place where people can buy Disney Vacation Club memberships. If the City of EPCOT had been built, this wouldn't be the case. As I said earlier, you'd only visit every couple of years for two or three days. I like visiting for a week or more on a yearly basis.

So there you have it, why I think the City of EPCOT should not have been built. If you would like to share your thoughts on this subject, feel free to leave a comment. And don't forget, you must type the word "BLOG" in the appropriate space or your comment will end up in our Junk Bin.



August 11, 2011

Contemporary Resort – Part One

Please note, this article is about the Contemporary "Hotel" only. I will not be discussing Bay Lake Tower or any of its facilities.

As a kid in the 1950's and '60's, I loved Tomorrowland over all the other lands. The ultra-modern architecture and futuristic rides fascinated me. I remember asking my dad, "Why don't real cities build buildings like this and install monorails?" If he answered me at all, I'm sure I didn't find his explanation satisfactory.

In May of 1971 I started working at Disneyland and in June of that year I graduated from high school. As with most of the schools in Southern California, my school took part in Grad Night celebrations at Disneyland. For two weeks each June, Disneyland welcomed graduates to all-night parties (10pm to 6am). For the price of a special ticket, parents could rest assured that their kids were celebrating safely. I took my girlfriend, Marianne.

We started out in Tomorrowland, but somehow we ended up in New Orleans Square, sitting at a quiet table and talking. It was at this moment that my love for Tomorrowland gave way to the romantic captivation of less modern surroundings. I think it was also at this moment that I realized that there was more to Disneyland than riding rides. You see, this was the very first time I slowed down and smelled the roses.


New Orleans Square - Disneyland

Jack & Marianne at Grad Night


So what does all this have to do with the Contemporary Resort? I'll get to that in a few minutes.

In the autumn of 1971, Disney announced a deeply discounted trip to Walt Disney World for the cast members of Disneyland and the Burbank Studios. The trip would take place in early January 1972 and would include airfare, five nights at the Contemporary Tower, backstage tours (including the tunnel system under the Magic Kingdom), a Polynesian Luau, meals at several restaurants, a trip to Kennedy Space Center, and a trip to Cypress Gardens. All for the amazingly low price of $200. Even though I was only making $1.71 per hour, I had enough money in the bank to afford this trip. This was the first time I had ever traveled by myself and the first time I had ever stayed in a real hotel (rather than a motel). Although I was not impressed with the Magic Kingdom (as compared to Disneyland), I was blown away by the Contemporary.


Contemporary Resort - 1970's


The Imagineers very intentionally placed the Contemporary where they did. They wanted its ultramodern design to be a backdrop to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. And during the 1970's, it fit in perfectly. But people's concepts about the future began to change during the 1980's. People started to realize, straight lines of concrete can be cold and unwelcoming. Although Tomorrowland has gone through a transformation to change its outward appearance, the exterior of the Contemporary has not. It still conveys the mindset of a bygone era.


Tomorrowland and the Contemporary


In the many years since my first trip, I have stayed at every Walt Disney World resort, but to this day, the Contemporary is my favorite. I'll admit, my preference may be influenced by the fact that I stayed here on my first visit to Orlando. As we know, emotions and memories can affect our perspective. But I think this fact only plays a small part in my affection for this great hotel. I have many "logical" reasons for calling the Contemporary home.

Back to my Tomorrowland/Grad Night story"¦

I still love New Orleans Square over Tomorrowland, but I'll take the Contemporary over the Grand Floridian any day. Disney has done much to transform the Contemporary over the years. Of course, the building's exterior cannot be changed and limits motif possibilities. Let's face it, a Tuscan dΓ©cor would not work here. It is necessary to convey a "contemporary" theme throughout the resort. But "contemporary" doesn't necessarily translate to the "cold and sterile" world of 1971 Tomorrowland. I'll be the first to admit, there are more romantic resorts at Disney World, but the Contemporary has a lot to offer -- enough so that you should give it serious thought. Don't let its outward appearance put you off.

Note, there has been one significant change made to the front exterior of the hotel. The trees shaped like upside-down Dixie Cups have been allowed to grow naturally. This is another example of how the Contemporary has mellowed over the years.


Dixie Cup Trees

Natural Trees


The original name for the hotel was to be Tempo Bay Resort Hotel. However, during construction, everyone kept calling it the Contemporary. Finally, it was Roy Disney who asked, "What's wrong with calling the hotel The Contemporary Resort?" Who was going to question the boss' wisdom and the name was officially changed.

Let's start my description of the Contemporary with the monorail. I know the monorail services the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian, but it is a part of the Contemporary. How can you think of the Contemporary and not think of the monorail? They're a package. Who doesn't rubberneck when passing through the Grand Canyon Concourse on their way from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom? And when you're shopping or dining on the hotel's fourth floor, it's hard not to marvel as the monorail quietly passes by. I hope the Imagineer who first conceived the idea of having the monorail travel through the Contemporary got a big bonus.


Monorail inside the Contemporary

Grand Canyon Concourse

Monorail inside the Contemporary


And not only is the monorail cool to look at and fun to ride, it makes trips to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot especially easy when staying at the Contemporary. It also "combines" the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian into one large resort. Want to have dinner at 'Ohana or a spa treatment at the Grand Floridian? It's easy when all you have to do is hop aboard the highway in the sky. (Please note, swimming pools are intended for guests staying at their own resort only.)

The Contemporary is also the only resort from which you can walk to the Magic Kingdom. It's about a ten to fifteen minute stroll from the lobby.


Walkway to the Magic Kingdom


Another transportation option offered at the Contemporary are the small boats that ply Bay Lake. If you have tickets for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review at Fort Wilderness Campground or dinner reservations at Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge, riding these enchanting watercraft is far superior to traveling via bus transportation offered at the other resorts.


Bay Lake Boat


Next there are the views from the Contemporary Tower. As I've said to many people who do not like this resort, "I'd rather be sitting on my balcony at the Contemporary looking at the Grand Floridian, than on my balcony at the Grand Floridian looking at the Contemporary." The views of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon are fantastic. Even the lower floors offer great vistas. And if you have a Magic Kingdom view room, you can enjoy your own private viewing of the fireworks each evening.


Polynesian

Grand Floridian

Bay Lake at Evening

Bay Lake at Morning

Fireworks


The Contemporary has six dining options. First there is The Wave. Located on the ground floor, this restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Wave opened three years ago and replaced the Concourse Steakhouse which was located on the fourth floor. Although I think Disney could have done a better job with the restaurant's dΓ©cor, I've always been pleased with the food and the service. On the other hand, I think the lounge/bar is extremely inviting and is a good place for an intimate drink. Reservations are suggested, but I've rarely had a problem when arriving without. Hours: Breakfast 7:30am to 11am. Lunch 12 noon to 2pm. Dinner 5:30pm to 10pm.


The Wave Entrance

The Wave Dining Room

The Wave Lounge


Also on the first floor is Contemporary Grounds. This coffee bar serves gourmet coffee drinks, smoothies, and assorted rolls and muffins. This is the perfect spot to grab a quick bite to eat when rushing to catch a bus to Disney's Hollywood Studios or the Animal Kingdom. Hours are 6:30am to 5pm.


Contemporary Grounds


On the Grand Canyon Concourse (fourth floor), you'll find the Contempo CafΓ© and Chef Mickey's. Contempo CafΓ© is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers grab-and-go items as well as cooked-to-order meals. Guests use touch sensitive screens to place their orders. Once everyone has made up their mind and entered their selection into the computer, you'll receive a receipt. Before heading to the cash register with this receipt, pick up any other items you might want. Fountain drinks are ordered at the register. When paying, you'll be given a pager to let you know when your food is ready. Then find a table and relax until beeped.


Contempo Cafe Sign

Contempo Cafe Ordering Stations

Contempo Cafe Ordering Station

Contempo Cafe Kitchen

Contempo Cafe Dining Room


I think the lunch/dinner selections at the Contempo CafΓ© are excellent. Everything is prepared to order and arrives at your table hot (or cold). Disney is striving to serve more upscale and tastier "fast food." I think they succeed at the Contempo CafΓ©. Since this is a quick service restaurant, meals are served on paper plates. The Contempo CafΓ© is open from 6am to midnight.

One of the most popular character meals at Walt Disney World can be found at the Contemporary -- Chef Mickey's. Breakfasts and dinners book up months in advance and reservations are an absolute MUST if you want to eat here.


Chef Mickey's Sign


Shortly after you arrive you'll have your picture taken with a statue of Chef Mickey. This photo makes a great souvenir. Don't hesitate to ask the photographer to use your own camera if you want a "freebee."


Chef Mickey Photo Op


Tables at Chef Mickey's are scattered throughout several rooms. This helps breakup the enormity of this establishment. Meals are served via a central buffet, which can get crowded at times. And of course Mickey and his friends make the rounds while you dine. Breakfast is served from 7am to 11:30am. Dinner is served from 5pm to 9:30pm. Note, this eatery is noisy -- but what do you expect when you combine excited children and Disney characters in a cavernous structure like the Grand Canyon Concourse.


Chef Mickey's Dining Room

Chef Mickey's Dining Room

Chef Mickey's Buffet

Mickey Posing for a Picture


Although not an eatery, The Outer Rim must also be mentioned while talking about the Grand Canyon Concourse. This small cocktail lounge sits window side and offers wonderful views of the Contemporary's swimming pool and Bay Lake. I love sitting here with friends, talking about our day. And remember, you do not need to order alcohol to use this facility. Soft drinks are just fine. In fact, ordering nothing is also okay. These comfortable chairs are open to everyone. The bar is open from 4:30pm to 10pm.


Outer Rim Sign

Outer Rim Seating

Outer Rim Bar


As I mentioned earlier, the Contemporary offers one of the most popular character meals on property with Chef Mickey's. It also boasts one of the most sumptuous restaurants at Disney World. The California Grill is located on the fifteenth floor and offers outstanding food, attentive service, and magnificent views of Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom. The California Grill earned the 2004 Disney Magazine Reader's Choice Award for Best Overall Walt Disney World Resort Restaurant for Adults!

Guests check-in at a reservation desk located on the second floor. Once your table is ready, a host or hostess will secure an elevator for your ride to the top.


California Grill Check-in Desk


Note, elevators are programmed NOT to go to the 15th floor without special access provided by a cast member. At one time, guests not dining at the California Grill were allowed to use the rooftop catwalks that flank the restaurant to view the fireworks. However, their presence became annoying to diners paying a high premium to eat here. Because of this, access to the 15th floor has been restricted to patrons of the California Grill only. If you would like to watch the fireworks from the Contemporary and you're not dining at the California Grill or have a Magic Kingdom view room, a viewing spot has been set aside for this purpose. On the north end of the fourth floor, a special viewing area is available, complete with chairs. Although not as spectacular as the view from the 15th floor, this is a good spot to watch the nightly display.


Fourth Floor Fireworks Observation Platform


The California Grill is beautiful. For me, this is another example of how the Imagineers have removed any "1970's futuristic" feel from the hotel and replaced it with warmth and elegance. Light woods and muted tones provide a casual atmosphere while crisp tablecloths add sophistication and formality. The combination works wonderfully.


California Grill Dining Room

California Grill Dining Room

California Grill Table

California Grill Bar


The food here is prepared in an open kitchen and features California Fusion cooking. The menu changes frequently so that only the freshest produce and products are used. Some of the offerings include sushi, brick oven-baked flat breads, handmade Sonoma goat cheese ravioli, oak-fired filet of beef with Teriyaki barbeque sauce, oak-fired pork tenderloin and Valrhona chocolate cake; warm chocolate cake with molten center and house-made ice cream. An extensive wine list features numerous selections from the Golden State and several sommeliers are on staff to help you with your choice.

There is a dress code at the California Grill.

Men: Khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.
Ladies: Capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts.

The California Grill is open for dinner only (5:30pm to 10pm). Reservations are necessary and can be made online or by calling (407) WDW-DINE. If you can't secure a reservation by phone, you can always stop by the check-in desk around 5 and see if they can squeeze you in. But please understand if they say no. This is an extremely popular restaurant that fills to capacity nightly.

The last eatery at the Contemporary is the Sand Bar. Located next to the pool, this spot serves hamburgers, hot dogs, turkey sandwiches, Caesar salads, chicken nuggets, drinks (soft and hard) and various desserts. Hours of operation are 11am to 7pm. The bar is open from 12 noon to 7pm.


Sand Bar


The Contemporary offers several shopping options on the fourth floor. Bay View Gifts (B-V-G) sells clothing, housewares, souvenir items, artwork, jewelry, and fine candy. I find it interesting, the shop's name implies that you can see Bay Lake from within, yet Disney has gone to great lengths to cover every window in this shop with shelving to block the view. What a shame. Bay View Gifts is open from 8:30am to 11pm.


Bay View Gifts


Next to Bay View Gifts is Fantasia. This whimsical shop is a recent addition and sells pins, Disney kitchen items, and toys. Fantasia is open from 7:30am to 11pm.


Fantasia


Also nearby is Fantasia Market. This is the spot to buy liquor, sundries, reading material, and snacks. In addition, real food items like milk, bread, and eggs are available. These needing-to-be-cooked foods are intended to be used by guests staying at the Bay Lake Tower and who wish to cook their own meals in their villa kitchens. Fantasia Market is open from 7:30am to 11pm.


Fantasia Market


Next to Fantasia Market is The Game Station. As the name indicates, this is the spot to lose yourself in electronic gaming wizardry. Hours of operation are from 8am to 11:30pm.


The Game Station


On the third floor, which can only be accessed by elevator, you'll find the Olympiad Health Club and Contemporary Styling Salon. The Olympiad Health Club offers a full range of weight training equipment and several cardiovascular machines, including elliptical machines, treadmills, and stationary bikes. The center is open 24 hours a day and can be accessed with your room keycard. Massages are available at the center or in your room. Touch MASSAGE/HEALTH CLUB on your in-room phone for pricing and availability.


Olympiad Health Club

Olympiad Health Club


The Contemporary Styling Salon offers facials, haircuts, manicures, and other beauty services. The Salon is open from 9am to 6pm and is closed on Sunday.


Contemporary Styling Salon


That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two and videos of the resort and rooms.



August 12, 2011

Contemporary Resort – Part Two

Yesterday I discussed the restaurants and shopping options at the Contemporary Resort. Today I'll discuss some of the recreational activities, history, and room layout and amenities.

No description of the Contemporary would be complete without mentioning the 90 foot high tile mural that towers from the fourth floor to the roof. This mosaic astonishes first time visitors and welcomes returning guests.

The original concept for the Contemporary's vast atrium was that of the Grand Canyon - thus the name, Grand Canyon Concourse. When the hotel first opened, restaurants and bars sported names like Terrace CafΓ©, Pueblo Room, Coconino Cove, and the Outer Rim (which still exists today). All of these monikers helped set the mood of the Southwest U.S. Some of you might even remember that for a few years, each balcony was painted a different shade of earth tone.


Earth Tone Balconies


When designing the Contemporary, the Imagineers knew that the elevator shafts that ran through the middle of the hotel needed to be "hidden" with something eye catching. They called upon Mary Blair for ideas. Mary had already proven her worth as a major contributor to "it's a small world" and for her mural designs at Disneyland's recently redesigned Tomorrowland.


Mary Blair Mural at Disneyland


Mary used a number of sources for her inspiration for the Contemporary mural. These included prehistoric petroglyphs, pueblo murals, Navaho ceremonial art, and sand paintings. The colors used are keyed to the earth and sky tones of the Grand Canyon as well as Native American art. When completed, over 18,000 individually hand-painted, fire-glazed ceramic tiles were created. The glazes used on the ceramics are both mineral and chemically based -- the color pink is made from gold. It took more than a year and a half to design, produce, and install the final mural.


Mary Blair Mural at the Contemporary


The Contemporary offers two pools, one for the entire "raucous" family and one for quieter moments. Let's start with the livelier of the two. This pool sports an interesting shape that meanders in and out. A fountain positioned on the pool's edge and a geyser in the middle of the water splash nearby swimmers. A waterslide adds to the excitement.


Contemporary Pool

Contemporary Pool

Contemporary Pool & Slide


The quiet pool, or Bay Pool, juts out into Bay Lake - or at least it used to. Take a look at this first picture I took in January 1972. As you can see, this original Contemporary pool is surrounded on all sides by water with a bridge connecting it to the shore. It looked like it was floating on the lake. Today, a sandy beach surrounds two sides of the pool deck. I have no idea why this change was made, but I prefer the "floating" pool. Although children are welcome to use the Bay Pool, the intent is they will be accompanied by their parents and their screams of joy be kept to a minimum.


Bay Pool - Old Shoreline

Bay Pool - New Shoreline

Bay Pool - New Shoreline


Speaking of "screams of joy," check out the Water Play Area. Here, motion detectors sense movement and water jet spring to life when your young ones run by. Waterproof speakers are imbedded in the various sculptures and add the dimension of sound to their play.


Water Play Area


In the early years, the decking surrounding the pools at the Contemporary was constructed of concrete, concrete, and more concrete. This made sense. All you had to do was look at Tomorrowland of the 1970's to see what the Imagineers thought the future would look like. Today, the pool decking is covered with pavers of multiple colors. This simple change gives the area a softened and welcoming feel.

Deck chairs and lounges are numerous and there even are a few situated on the sandy beach looking out onto Bay Lake. Private cabanas can be rented by the half day or full day. They include personalized service from a cast member, a 32" flat-screen TV with DVD player, digital music docking station, a locking drawer for personal items, a mini refrigerator, a fruit platter, and bottled water and soft drinks. For pricing and availability call (407) WDW-PLAY.


Pool Deck & Beach

Cabana


Located near the pool is the Contemporary Marina. Here you can rent Sea Raycers, Boston Whaler Montauks, and SunTracker Pontoon boats. On more than one occasion, I've purchased sandwiches and chips at the Sand Bar then toured Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon in a pontoon boat and enjoyed a leisurely and relaxing lunch. For a more exciting afternoon, you can arrange to waterski or parasail with Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre. Note, swimming is not allowed in any of the Disney lakes and streams.


Contemporary Marina

Contemporary Marina


A great picture spot is located near the marina. Mouse ears and Mickey make a wonderful photo op. There is even a platform for you to set your camera (and synchronize the timer) so everyone in your group can get into the shot. Here is a picture of me taken in 1983. Clear plastic panels have been added to the backside of the ears in recent years as a safety measure, preventing anyone from falling backwards.

A sharp eye might also notice that this metal Mickey is very similar to one seen sitting on a rooftop as you approach the Contemporary while riding the express monorail.


Mickey Photo Op

Mickey Sitting on the Edge of a Building


There are several nighttime activities available near the marina. "Movies Under the Stars" shows a different Disney movie each evening and is presented on the lawn between the marina and Bay Lake Tower. A sandwich-board marquee in this area lists the times and movies.

You can also charter a private boat and skipper for a trip to Seven Seas Lagoon for a ringside view of the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks spectacular. Call (407) WDW-PLAY or see the concierge for more information.

A perennial favorite, The Electrical Water Pageant, stops by the marina at approximately 10:10 each evening.


Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant


To see a video of the entire resort, click the picture below. This video is 14 minutes in length. Sorry it's so long, but there is a lot to cover here.



The Contemporary was an opening day resort (October 1, 1971). As you may know, the Contemporary and Polynesian were built using modular construction. The rooms were constructed by the U.S. Steel Company at a manufacturing plant three miles away. An assembly line, much like those utilized for automobiles, was used and rooms were completed at the rate of approximately 15 units per day. When complete, the 9-ton rooms were trucked to the hotel site and lifted into place by a crane. The rooms measure nine feet high, fifteen feet wide, and 32 feet 7 inches long. It took approximately 1Β½ years to build the Contemporary Resort with construction beginning around December 1969-January 1970. The A-frame stands 184 feet high, is 220 feet wide at the base, and 468 feet in length and was designed to withstand hurricane force winds of up to 100 mph. Contrary to a popular rumor, the rooms were never designed to be removed once they were set in place. This construction method was used for economic reasons and to test new building techniques, not so the units could be swapped out for remodeling.


Rooms Under Construction

Transporting Rooms to the Hotels

Contemporary Under Construction

Lifting Rooms Into Place


The Contemporary has 655 rooms divided between the Tower and Garden Wing. It also boasts some of the largest standard rooms at Walt Disney World at 436 square feet. Standard rooms have either two queen beds or one king. In addition, standard rooms have a daybed. The rooms can accommodate up to five guests plus a child under three who uses a crib. Suites in various configurations are also available.


The basic layout of the room has not changed all that much over the years. You enter through a small hallway. The bathroom and closets are located off of this hallway and the sleeping area is straight ahead.


Standard Room Configuration


There are two closets in the hallway with frosted glass doors. Both closets have wooden coat hangers that actually come off the rack. And better than that, these hangers actually have hooks rather than those hard-to-use models where you have to negotiate a rod and ball into a device on the rod.

In one closet you'll find an ironing board, iron, a nice sized safe, and several drawers. The other closet has a luggage rack and clothes rods. Both closets have lights in them so if you need a nightlight you can leave the lights on and the doors closed. The frosted glass defuses the light and puts out a soft glow. A vanity with drawers separates the two closets and provides a great place to leave and pick up essentials as you come and go. A coffee machine is also located on this vanity.


Closet

Vanity

Safe and Drawers


The bathroom is big and nice for families. However, I had some problems with it. First, the sinks. There are two, but in trying to decorate in a "contemporary" way, the Imagineers chose large, square, flat sinks that take up almost all of the available counter space. The only area left to put your toiletries is in a small area between the sinks. This space would hardly be adequate for a family of four. In fact, it wasn't adequate for two. Also, the sinks in my room were so level that all of the water did not flow down the drain. There was always standing water in the basin. Not good after you've brushed your teeth.


Bathroom Sinks


When you first enter the bathroom there is a stylish towel rack on the wall that holds four, fluffy towels. The bathtub/shower is on the other side of the room. There is no way you can reach the towel rack from the tub. So if you're smart enough to remember to pick up a towel before getting into the shower, you must either sling it over the curtain rod or lay it on the edge of the sink. But be careful with this second choice. Chances are the sink will have standing water in it and your towel will end up getting wet.


Towel Rack


The curtain rod in the shower is nice. It curves outward at the top and this gives you more room to maneuver in a tight area.

The shower walls are all lined with brown and white marble. This looks very nice. Disney has also provided a nice marble ledge to hold your shampoo, conditioner and soap. But once again I found a problem here. This ledge is completely flat with no drain slots or ridges. Because of this, my bar of soap "glued" itself to the shelf during the night. I'm not kidding when I say that I had to pry if off the ledge the next morning.


Tub and Shower


The bathroom has a separate water closet which is always nice. In addition, the bathroom and water closet have motion sensors that activate the exhaust fans. Whenever you enter these rooms, the fans turn on automatically. This is a nice touch and the fans are quiet.


Water Closet


The bathroom also has a real hairdryer. This isn't one of those "attached-to-the-wall" models, but a genuine hairdryer that you must plug in. It can be found on the open shelf under the sinks.

The sleeping area is nicely appointed. Dark woods and light earth tones make up the design. The headboards are imaginative and are upholstered in padded material in shades of browns. The carpet is light beige and the curtains feature large horizontal stripes in more earth tones.

There are two queen-sized beds and a couch that makes into a single bed so the room can sleep five very comfortably. The two queen sized beds have five pillows each. This made me very happy as I like lots of pillows. There is also a dimmer switch for the over-head bed lights on each side of each bed. So no matter what side you sleep on, you have easy access to the lights.


Two Queen Beds


The TV's at the Contemporary are now flat, widescreen, and they're built into a nice cabinet that features a wrap-around shelf below the screen. Below the wrap-around shelf is a glass mosaic made up of yellow tiles. The mosaic is lit from behind and this also makes a wonderful night light. When I arrived, the TV remote control was sitting in the middle of a modernistic tray on the edge of the bed. It was an unusual, but interesting touch.


Television


In the corner of the room is a nice sized desk. Electrical plugs and the high speed internet access cord are conveniently located. There was also a smaller desk on wheels that would be perfect for a laptop. To one side of the desk is additional drawer space.


Desk


The couch/bed is comfortable enough to sit on and if you look closely at the fabric, you can see little Mickey heads integrated into the design.


Day Bed


Large sliding glass doors make up the back wall of the room. Here you'll find sheers and black-out curtains that actually overlap, ensuring that you can close out the sunlight. The sliding door has TWO locks, one down low, and another one that only an adult could reach. There is no way a child could open the door and wander out onto the balcony without an adult first unlocking this upper latch.


Sliding Glass Doors


The balconies at the Contemporary are decent sized. Not large, but big enough that you can maneuver without having to fight with the two chairs and end table that occupy this space. Four people can comfortably stand out here. The balconies are also reasonably shielded from the surrounding rooms.


Balcony


If you have a room facing Bay Lake, a cup of coffee in the morning while watching the sunrise is a great way to start the day. And in the evening, it's a wonderful place to sit and relax as the building blocks out the afternoon sun. Of course, views of Seven Seas Lagoon offer vistas of the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the ferry boats, the Magic Kingdom, and especially, the nightly fireworks. Note, if you have a Magic Kingdom view room the afternoon sun, especially in the summer, can be brutal as its rays beat down on the building. You'll definitely need to pull the sheers until the sun sets.

To see a video of a Standard Room, click on the picture below.



The rooms in the Garden Wing are identical to the Tower rooms, with one exception, the balconies - there are none. The rooms on the first floor of the Garden Wing have an open patio with a table and two chairs. There is little to no privacy between patios. The rooms on the second and third floors have railing. It is impossible to step outside here.


Garden Room No Balcony


The Garden Wing also houses three unusual rooms. These are known as Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms and are located at the "elbow" of one of the buildings. Because of the unusual shape this bend creates, the rooms on the first, second, and third floor here are larger in size and measure 629 square feet (compared with 436). The bathroom has a tub shower and a stall shower. Although they are not considered suites, they are spacious and have a sitting room. These rooms feature a king bed and a queen sofa/sleeper. Since they are larger than a standard room, they do command a premium price, but aren't nearly as expensive as a suite. As there are only three of these rooms, they can be difficult to reserve.


Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms Exterior

Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms Exterior

Garden Wing Deluxe Room Layout

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Bath

Garden Wing Deluxe Bath


To see a video of this room, click the picture below.



That's my review of the Contemporary. I realize that this hotel is not for everyone, but it works just fine for me. As I said at the beginning of this piece, it's my favorite Walt Disney World resort and I consider it home.



August 14, 2011

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

In January of this year, a small fire broke out in the attic of "Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management". The sprinkler system was activated and guests were evacuated. No one was hurt and the blaze was quickly brought under control by the Reedy Creek Fire Department. However, the Iago AudioAnimatronics figure was badly damaged by the fire and other portions of the attraction sustained water damage. The show had to be closed indefinitely until repairs could be made.


Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management


The attraction officially reopens on Monday, August 15, 2011, but today (August 14), the attraction held a soft-opening - in other words, a dress rehearsal. As you might expect, I was the first person in line to see the show. However, "Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management" has been retired. It has been replaced by "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room." This show is a close approximation the original "Tropical Serenade" as seen on opening day of the Magic Kingdom.

I thoroughly enjoyed the revival of this classic, even if it is an abridged version of the original. At 11 minutes, I think it's the right length to entertain, but not bore guests. The sound and acoustics are great and gone are the clicking noises made by some of the older AA figures. Disney has even restored the original "nationality" feather colors. Here are a few pictures I snapped today.


Entrance

Preshow

Preshow

Jose

Tiki Bird

Bird-Mobile

Singing Flowers

Drummer Tikis

Flowers and Chanters


For all of you who are only familiar with "Under New Management," I strongly encourage you to see this new/old version of "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room." It's not nearly as exciting as many other Disney attractions, but it is a classic and it's historic. Its AA figures were the beginning of so many other wonderful attractions to follow. It's a charming show that Walt personally supervised its creation. Only the most jaded guest would not be captivated by its simple humor, wonderful melodies, and fantastic characters.

If you are familiar with the original show, please come back and see it again. You'll be glad you did - and you'll be singing "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" song all day - which really isn't a bad thing.

In many ways, "The Enchanted Tiki Room" opened the door to other Disney classics like "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "Carousel of Progress," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" as the Imagineers were able to use what they had learned with the Tiki birds to build on their success.

In my next blog, I share with you the history of the Enchanted Tiki Room!


August 15, 2011

The Enchanted Tiki Room - A look back

With the official reopening of the Tiki Room, I thought I'd use this opportunity to give you a history of this groundbreaking attraction. In many ways, "The Enchanted Tiki Room" opened the door to other Disney classics like "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "Carousel of Progress," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" as the Imagineers were able to use what they had learned with the Tiki birds to build on their success.

Long before Disneyland opened, Walt dreamed of animating figures using cables and cams. He even went so far as to contact a patent attorney in 1949 and proposed dimensional animation. The idea would unite three-dimensional figures that could move to synchronized audio tracks. But his idea was far ahead of its time and was limited by the technology of the day. When Disneyland opened in 1955, the park featured crude versions of AudioAnimatronics (AA) figures. These figures had limited movements and were unreliable. This is best illustrated by the simplistic animals seen on the Jungle Cruise.


Disneyland's Jungle Cruise


The exploration of space brought a number of technological advancements to the world in the late 1950's and early 1960's. The Imagineers were able to capitalize on these inventions and apply them to their crude figures. With the use of rudimentary computers and new hydraulic and pneumatic hardware, their animals began to move less like robots and more like the real thing.

The first attempt by Disney to create a lifelike AA human was undertaken by Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers. Walt wanted to have them create a likeness of Confucius who could interact with guests dining in a Chinese restaurant to be located on Main Street. The pair succeeded to a point, but ultimately, limitations in technology would stymie the project. The required electronics would fill a room and Confucius was extremely fragile. He was continually ripping his rubber face.

Walt next directed his team to create a likeness of Abraham Lincoln. Since 1956, a spur off of Main Street to be called Liberty Square had been under development. Walt felt that an AA figure could tell the story of freedom better than the static display currently under consideration. Soon after, Walt hired Buddy Ebsen to dance in front of a large grid and filmed the hoofer's movements. Walt himself directed the sequence. This footage was then studied and measurements were taken. With this information, the Imagineers built a 1/8 scale model of Ebsen which perfectly reproduced his dance routine. Walt even had a miniature stage built to showcase his new figure.


Mechanical Man


While on vacation in New Orleans (or Europe, depending on which version of the story you hear), Walt found and purchased a mechanical bird that could sing while moving its beak, head, and wings. He thought to himself, if toymakers can do this well, my Imagineers can do better. He took the bird home and gave it to his team so they could dissect it and discover what made it tick.

Walt put his Lincoln idea on hold and concentrated all of his efforts on this new project. In the months that followed, his Imagineers built life-sized cockatoos, toucans, macaws, and other tropical birds. Walt wanted to resurrect the Chinese restaurant idea, but instead of Confucius entertaining guests, birds would take center stage. Walt also reasoned that guests would be more accepting of the limitations of AA mechanics when applied to non-human figures.

The restaurant, to be called "The Tiki Hut," was to be located in Adventureland and would have a Polynesian theme. The eatery would share the kitchen used by the Plaza Pavilion and the Tahitian Terrace. A press release issued by the company read, "Walt Disney is creating a restaurant. And just as his full-length animated films, True-Life Adventures, and Disneyland pioneered in their fields, Walt's creation may alter the course of many full-course meals." However, as the idea for a restaurant progressed and logistics considered, it was realized that the average meal would take between 45-60 minutes. This would greatly limit how many guests could see this new marvel. Add this to space limitations in Adventureland, and the restaurant idea was eventually abandoned in favor of a 17 minute show only. "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" opened on June 23, 1963. The show contained 225 AA performers directed by a fourteen-channel magnetic tape feeding 100 speakers and controlling 438 separate actions.


Tiki Room Poster

Walt Inside the Tiki Room


Although difficult to conceive today, in 1963, the public could not begin to fathom what the "Enchanted Tiki Room" was all about. Cast members would try to explain that there were singing birds and flowers inside the building, but guests just didn't "get it" and would bypass this attraction for other adventures. Even the Disneyland TV show failed to convey the magic awaiting guests inside this unassuming structure. A solution was needed to promote the show appropriately.

Enter Barker Bird. Situated on a perch above the Enchanted Tiki Room turnstiles, a new AA bird was added to the show. From high above, Barker Bird (a copy of Jose who performs in the show) would call to the guests below and extoll the virtues of the performance inside. The solution worked. For the first time, guests could experience a sophisticated AudioAnimatronics figure and were intrigued enough to venture inside to see the entire show.


Barker Bird


However, there was a drawback to Barker Bird. He became an attraction in his own right. The entrance into Adventureland was very narrow in the early years. So many people would stop to listen to Barker Bird that the walkway became impassable. Eventually, after the show became well established, Barker Bird was retired.

Once guests were persuaded to see the show, they were blown away by it. Remember, this was 1963 and nothing like this had ever been seen before.

The adventure began with guests entering a dimly lit, quiet room. Once everyone was seated, a host or hostess used a cane to wake up Jose. The show was carefully orchestrated to "build" upon itself. First the four hosts spoke to the audience. Then a background chorus of birds chimed in and an elaborate bird-mobile descended from the ceiling. After we thought we'd seen "everything," the various tropical flowers scattered around the room came to life and serenaded us. And finally, the Tiki gods began to recite Polynesian chants. In the end, so much celebration was taking place that the gods were awakened and angered. Guests left the "Enchanted Tiki Room" awe-struck. They couldn't believe what they had just seen.

When the "Enchanted Tiki Room" first opened, it was not owned by the Walt Disney Company (then Walt Disney Productions), but rather by Walt's private company, WED Enterprises. Because of this, guests were required to purchase a separate ticket for the staggering amount of 75Β’ if they wanted to see the show.


Tiki Room Ticket


Since the show was 17 minutes in length, it was realized that some sort of diversion would be required to keep guest entertained while waiting for the next presentation to begin. To accomplish this, a number of Polynesian gods were situated around the perimeter of the holding area. Shortly before entering the building, each god spoke to the audience and provided a brief explanation as to his or her importance and function. Note, these were not AA figures. Their lips did not move or their eyes open. Some figures rocked back and forth and others dropped flowers from their branches, but there was nothing sophisticated about these Tiki gods.


Disneyland Preshow Tiki Gods

Disneyland Preshow Tiki Gods


In the 1960's, United Airlines was the premier carrier of passengers to and from the Hawaiian Islands. They were the perfect company to sponsor the "Enchanted Tiki Room" and held that honor for twelve years. In 1976, the Dole Food Company replaced United Airlines and continues sponsorship to this day.

While there may be 225 AA figures, the show revolves around four wise-cracking macaws, Jose, Michael, Pierre, and Fritz. It's interesting to note, in the early years, their feather's colors represented their nationalities. Jose (voiced by Wally Boag) was covered in red, white, and green feathers, the colors on the Mexican flag. Michael (voiced by Fulton Burley) donned green and white feathers to represent his Irish background. Pierre (voiced by Ernie Newton) sported blue, white, and red for his French nationality. And Fritz (voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft) was covered in red, white, and gold feathers for his German heritage.

The Sherman Brothers wrote "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room." Robert Hargreaves, Stanley J. Damerell and Tolchard Evans wrote "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing." For you true lovers of Disney trivia, a version of "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" can be heard in the Pizzafari Restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

In late 2004, the "Enchanted Tiki Room" closed for an extensive refurbishment. The exterior of the building was in sad shape and inside, the bird's feathers were routinely falling from their bodies and you could hear their hydraulics sputtering as they sang. Disneyland's 50th birthday was rapidly approaching and this attraction needed some serious attention if it was to be presentable for the park's big celebration. When the show reopened seven months later, it had been restored to its former glory. The score had been digitally remastered and a new sound system had been installed. In addition, many of the birds and flowers had been replaced with state-of-the-art AA figures. The show's length was also shortened somewhat. This will be noticeable to anyone who bought the LP in the early years or has found a full-length version of the show on the internet. But to the vast majority of visitors, the deletions are inconspicuous.

Since the "Enchanted Tiki Room" had been so successful at Disneyland, it was a given that it would be an opening day attraction at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. In 1967, Walt Disney Productions entered into an agreement with the Florida Citrus Growers to sponsor this attraction for a cost of $3 million.

When the Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971, a copy of Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room" was on hand to greet guests. Renamed "Tropical Serenade," this attraction was an immediate success and required an "D" coupon to enter. Guests familiar with the Disneyland version would notice that the Magic Kingdom's theater was considerably larger.


Tropical Serenade Poster


Although the main presentation was the same, the waiting area and preshow was all new at the Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland, guests waited on a large lanai and wandered about until the show began. At which time, they all converged into a single door with occasional pushing and shoving. Wanting to better control people at the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers created three, terraced lines where guests could wait in a more orderly fashion. While waiting to enter the theater, guests faced a shrine and waterfall that eventually parted to reveal two AA birds perched atop a Tiki god.


Preshow Tiki God Shrine


Other changes could be seen in the building's exterior. At Disneyland, the "Enchanted Tiki Room" had been squeezed into a tight space and could easily be missed as you walked by. But at the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers gave the "Tropical Serenade" a place of prominence with a large pagoda that could be seen throughout much of Adventureland.


Tropical Serenade Pagoda


In 1970, WED Enterprises created the Orange Bird character to serve as the sponsor's (Florida Citrus Growers) mascot at the park and in other promotional advertisements. The Orange Bird could often be seen at the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland greeting guests and posing for pictures. The Sherman Brothers wrote a song about our feathered friend and Anita Bryant recorded it.


Orange Bird

Orange Bird


Florida Citrus Growers ended their sponsorship in 1986 and the Orange Bird slipped into Disney history. However, this character had a resurgence at Tokyo Disneyland in 2004 to coincide with Japan's annual Orange Day celebration held on April 14th. Back in the States, new Orange Bird merchandise can be found today in Magic Kingdom shops in honor of Walt Disney World's upcoming 40th anniversary.

As the years marched on, guests became bored with the slow-moving "Tropical Serenade." Having become accustomed to more thrilling fare like Splash and Space Mountains, it was a common occurrence to see guests walk out in the middle of the show. Something needed to be done.

"Tropical Serenade" closed on September 1, 1997 for an extensive rehab. When it reopened in April 1998, a new show awaited guests, "The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management." The show still starred Jose, Michael, Pierre, and Fritz, but two new additions were added to the festivities, Iago from "Aladdin" and Zazu from "The Lion King." In this version of the show, Iago and Zazu are the new owners of the Tiki Room and want to make some changes to the act. They even poked fun at the previous, slow moving show. A new preshow also featured moving AA figures, William and Morris, who set up the storyline before guests ventured inside.


Zazu and Iago

William and Morris


Unfortunately, "Under New Management" never lived up to Disney's expectations. Iago may have worked well as a villain in "Aladdin," but as the host of a fun-loving show, he was obnoxious. After the initial surge of first time visitors saw the new show, crowds quickly dissipated.

In 2011, "Under New Management" was 13 years old. It was time for a change. Then in January of this year, a small fire broke out in the attic of the attraction. The sprinkler system was activated and guests were evacuated. No one was hurt and the blaze was quickly brought under control by the Reedy Creek Fire Department. However, the Iago AudioAnimatronics figure was badly damaged by the fire and other portions of the attraction sustained water damage. This fire and ensuing damage gave Disney the impetus it needed to retire this unpopular show. But what to replace it with?

The Imagineers didn't have to look too far for a new idea - or should I say, an old idea. At Disneyland, the "Enchanted Tiki Room" had experienced increased attendance after it was upgraded for the park's 50th anniversary. Why not do the same thing for the Magic Kingdom's upcoming 40th anniversary and bring back the original. The Magic Kingdom's new show is called "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" (the original name at Disneyland). Due to the ever shrinking attention span of the public, the new show is 11 minutes in length rather than the original 17. In this revised production, the slow moving Offenbach musical number was cut. This alone removed two and a half minutes from the show. In addition, the column of water rising up to meet the Bird-Mobile was eliminated and superfluous dialogue was removed.

The Enchanted Tiki Room is also a staple at Tokyo Disneyland. The original show (presented mostly in Japanese) ran from opening day (April 15, 1983) to 1999 when it became "The Enchanted Tiki Room: "Get the Fever!" This second version of the show featured a zany Las Vegas-style nightclub review as it might be staged in the middle of the jungle. Jose, Michael, Pierre, and Fritz were replace by lounge hosts, Danno, Scats, Buddy, and Lava (the first female host bird). The show was presented in a combination of English and Japanese. I saw "Get the Fever!" in 2000 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember thinking to myself, "Why did the Imagineers choose to put "Under New Management" into the Magic Kingdom when they already had such a good show they could have used."


Enchanted Tiki Room:


"Get the Fever!" closed in January 2008 and was replaced by "The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!" which opened on July 25th, 2008. To see my review of this show, click here.


Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!


The "Enchanted Tiki Room" is not nearly as exciting as many other Disney attractions, but it is a classic and it's historic. Its AA figures were the beginning of so many other wonderful attractions to follow. It's a charming show that Walt personally supervised its creation. Only the most jaded guest would not be captivated by its simple humor, wonderful melodies, and fantastic characters.



August 20, 2011

Meet-&-Greet with Jack and Lisa

Hey Everyone,

Come by and say "Hi" to me and photo-blogger Lisa K. Berton near the entrance to Dinosaur. We'll then join the expedition to bring back an Iguanadon (aka ride Dinosaur, the attraction). Whoever makes the best face in the attraction photo wins a prize! Lisa and I will also be handing out our personal AllEars.Net trading cards. Hope to see you there.

Date: Saturday, September 3, 2011

Time: 10:30am


Meet-%26-Greet%2001.jpg



August 24, 2011

If I Ruled the World - Part One

Recently, Mike Scopa wrote a great four-part blog titled "My Fixit List." In these articles, he discussed ten things at Walt Disney World that he believes have been neglected and need attention. His blogs got me to thinking, what would I do if I ruled the World - Walt Disney World, that is.

If I am going to rule the World, I need to be keenly aware of one monstrous fact, Walt Disney World is a business and it exists for one, and only one reason - to make money. If this sounds harsh, then so be it. But this is the hard, cold truth. But most people forget this fact because Disney runs their business so expertly (for the most part). Everyone at Disney World, including the cast members, seem to be having so much fun that it's easy to overlook that this is a money-making enterprise.

Technically, Walt Disney World makes money by selling theme park tickets, hotel rooms, souvenirs, and food. But that's not their real product. Their actual product is magical moments. Anyone can rent a room, but Disney does it with something special - special enough to make it magical. Anyone can build a rollercoaster, but Disney embodies it with a storyline - a storyline that makes it magical. Some magical moments are obvious, like seeing your child give their favorite Disney character a hug. But other magical moments are not so obvious, like a clean restroom.

All of these magical moments take money to create. Since I've just been promoted to "Ruler of the World," I don't yet have a handle on the millions of dollars that regularly move from column to column on the Disney ledgers. Because of this, I'm going to keep my initial decrees simple and somewhat inexpensive (in the scheme of things). In other words, I'm not going to be expanding the monorail system, adding countries to Epcot, or building Beastly Kingdom at the Animal Kingdom, but rather make some simple changes and in my opinion, improvements. I realize that some of my decrees will affect the bottom line, but I don't think it will be significant. And the losses incurred will be offset by happier guests - which will improve the bottom line. So here goes - in no particular order.

1. If I ruled the World I would reopen Aunt Polly's.

At one time, guests could purchase simple lunches at Aunt Polly's located on Tom Sawyer Island. Cold fried chicken, ham sandwiches, and PB&J sandwiches were available. Nothing fancy, but perfect for the location. I loved to sit at a waterside table here in total serenity and watch the hustle and bustle of Liberty Square across the banks of Rivers of America. It was the perfect way to relax.

After 9/11, attendance dropped dramatically at Walt Disney World and ways to cut costs were sought. By closing Aunt Polly's, several cast member positions could be eliminated, yet the company wouldn't lose a thing. Guests would simply eat lunch someplace else and their presence absorbed by other restaurants without having to add additional cast members at these locations.

If I ruled the World, Aunt Polly's would be reopened. It's time to bring back this favorite spot of so many.


Aunt Polly's

Aunt Polly's


2. If I ruled the World I would discontinue several character meals.

Okay, before all of you parents and grandparents run me out of town on a rail, let me explain.

The price of a character meal is nearly double that of an average meal. This is all well and good if you want to mingle with Chip & Dale one-on-one while you eat. But not everyone has children and not everyone wants to chat with their favorite Disney character at meal time.

There are three restaurants in particular that I'm concerned with, Akershus in Epcot, and Cinderella's Royal Table and Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. All three of these establishments offer character meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Since I'm not interested in character dining (and paying extra for a meal), Disney has effectively removed these three establishments from my list of possible eateries. I don't like this. I want to experience a magical moment at Cinderella's Royal Table, without having to pay through the nose for the privilege and be interrupted by a character while I'm trying to engage in a pleasant conversation with my dining companion.

What I'm proposing is this, make lunch "character free" at these three restaurants. This still leaves breakfast and dinner available for those who want to visit with the princesses and other individuals of fantasy. In addition, I would create "lunch" character meals at other locations to assure that the capacity is maintained for this popular activity. For example, Restaurant Marrakesh in the Morocco Pavilion is rarely busy. A character lunch here would boost attendance at this often overlooked restaurant.


Akershus

Crystal Palace

Cinderella's Royal Table


3. If I ruled the World I would reopen the Diamond Horseshoe Review.

The Diamond Horseshoe is a stunningly beautiful building inside and out. The attention to detail here is magnificent. Yet this building sits unused except for peak periods when it's used to serve quick-service sandwiches and drinks. It's a waste of good architecture.

If I had the power to make decisions I would reopen the Diamond Horseshoe featuring a show similar in concept to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review. It would be performed multiple times each day and a full meal would be served (western BBQ and the like). It would probably star Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye, but I'd leave the particulars up to the experts. A show similar to what I'm suggesting is already done at Tokyo Disneyland with great success.


Diamond Horseshoe Review


4. If I ruled the World I would reposition some of the FastPass machines.

There are a couple of FastPass machines that are incredibly inconvenient to seek out. I'm thinking of the ones for Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom and Soarin' at Epcot. In both cases, it takes much too much effort to secure one of these precious tickets. Here's what I'd do if I ruled the World. Merge the Splash Mountain FastPass machines with the Thunder Mountain machines. The area would need to be expanded a bit, but there's room at this location for both sets of machines. This would be far more convenient than the present Splash Mountain set up.

I realize that the Soarin' FastPass machines are located inside The Land Pavilion because the Imagineers want guests to pick up passes, then experience Living with the Land, Circle of Life, and the Sunshine Seasons food court. But from a guest's perspective, securing a Soarin' FastPass is a major hassle. You must enter the very crowded building, take an escalator to the lower level, maneuver your way through throngs of people, secure your passes, then retrace your steps back out. These machines need to be conveniently located outside of The Land Pavilion where a guest can easily access them without such a major investment of time. If I ruled the World, I would create a Soarin' FastPass distribution area between The Land and Imagination Pavilions.


Thunder Mountain FastPass Machines

Outside the Land Pavilion


5. If I ruled the World I would reopen the monorail cabs to guests.

In July 2009, a cast member was tragically killed when one monorail backed into another. Disney immediately designated the monorail cabs off limits to guests. This was the appropriate decision. Various agencies needed to conduct investigations and review safety guidelines. But it's been over two years since the accident. In that time, Disney has implemented new procedures and guidelines to ensure that this type of accident doesn't happen again.

Riding in a monorail cab is a fantastic magical moment for both kids and adults. If I had my way, guests would once again be welcome to ride with the pilot.


Monorail Cab


Well, that's the first half of my list. Check back tomorrow for 6 through 10. In addition, tomorrow I will be asking what you would do "If YOU ruled the World," so give this some thought tonight. But please hold off on submitting your ideas until after you've read the rest of my list in Part Two. Great minds think alike and we might be covering the same topics.



August 25, 2011

If I Ruled the World - Part Two

Yesterday, I presented Part 1 of my "If I Ruled the World" blog -- things I would change at Walt Disney World given I had the power. Today I give you the second half of my list.

6. If I ruled the World I'd improve the seating in the Theater in the Wild at the Animal Kingdom.

The seating within the Theater in the Wild is made up of long benches constructed of hardwood slats. They are very attractive to look at, but they are very uncomfortable to sit on. My behind has plenty of padding, but after sitting through a 35 minute show, not to mention the 10-15 minutes of sitting before the performance begins, my butt hurts big time. I'm not a fan of the seating for the Festival of the Lion King show either, but at least the benches here are solid (not slats) and they don't hurt my rear end nearly as much. Wooden slats just don't cut it. When I'm in charge of the World, cushions will be secured to the Theater in the Wild benches.


Theater in the Wild


7a. If I ruled the World I'd decrease the redundancy of Disney merchandise.

Disney merchandise is a major cash cow for the company. And within Disney World, it outsells non-Disney merchandise by an incredible margin. This cannot be ignored. Still, I believe a certain amount of magic has been lost when the fiscal bottom-line is the only consideration when deciding what to sell in the parks. Over the years, unique shops (like the Old World Antiques shop in Liberty Square) have been converted to selling only Disney branded products. I believe the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios are the worst offenders. Epcot and the Animal Kingdom still have some distinctive stores. This wouldn't be so bad if the Disney merchandise was unique in every shop, but so much of it is repeated over and over again. For example, a few years ago, a western clothing shop in Frontierland was converted to another Disney pin shop. Do we really need another pin shop?

How many of you have fond memories of the Magic Shop on Main Street? Or the Penny Arcade? Or the Disney Cinema? All of these have been lost to Disney merchandise.

If the decision was mine, I'd bring back a few of these uniquely, non-Disney shops.


Disney Merchandise

The Magic Shop


7b. If I ruled the World I would remove the Emporium addition from Main Street.

Actually, I wouldn't. This would be fiscally irresponsible. The building is here, now we have to learn to live with it. However, if I had been ruling the World when this idea was proposed, I would have nixed it immediately. As I mentioned above, the Magic Kingdom already has redundancy in the products they sell. There certainly wasn't a need for more shelf space on Main Street. I miss the simple charm of Center Street.


Emporium Addition


8. If I ruled the World I'd bring back the "Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends" show at the Animal Kingdom.

I love the Animal Kingdom. It's my favorite park to "hang out" in. It is incredibly peaceful here and I love just walking from one land to another. Still, the Animal Kingdom needs a few more rides and attractions. Not everyone is content to just wander and do nothing while visiting this park.

Of all the lands in the Animal Kingdom, Camp Minnie-Mickey has the least to offer. Of course, there is the ever popular Festival of the Lion King show, but other than that, character meet-and-greets are all that's available now-a-days.

I know you're thinking to yourself, "Jack, you rule the World. Why not build Beastly Kingdom? Camp Minnie-Mickey is where it was to be located before it was shelved indefinitely."

Well, I'll tell you, building Beastly Kingdom is on my list of things to do - once we can afford it (and consider a dozen other factors). But until that day, I'd reopen the "Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends" show and increase its capacity a bit so more guests could enjoy it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Pocahontas introduced the audience (especially the children) to an array of forest creatures. A porcupine, a possum, a raccoon, a rabbit, a skunk, and a few others were all brought center stage and Pocahontas helped us understand their place in nature. This was a charming show.


Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends


9. If I ruled the World I would construct some sort of roof over the seating area of several theaters.

Disney built a wonderful stage at Downtown Disney. It is primarily used by guest performers invited by Disney to entertain the shoppers. However, the seating area was left unprotected from the elements. What were the Imagineers thinking? Don't they know that the summer sun is blistering and the occasional downpours drenching?

The same is true of the Tomorrowland stage in the Magic Kingdom. The viewing area is completely unprotected. No one wants to melt in the sun while seeing a show. I believe that the short-lived "Stitch's Supersonic Celebration" show failed because of a lack of shade.

If I ruled the world, both of these seating areas would be covered. I realize that this decree would be a little more expensive than some of my other proposals, but not outrageously so. And Disney owes this little bit of consideration to its guests.


Downtown Disney Stage

Tomorrowland Stage


10. If I ruled the World, I'd bring back the canoes and/or the keel boats at the Magic Kingdom.

In the early years of Disneyland, Walt looked out at the Rivers of America and said, "We need more traffic on the water" (or something along those lines). Soon after, the Sailing Ship Columbia joined the Frontierland fleet.

The canoes and keel boats are very low capacity. And guests see the same exact sights from these vessels as can be viewed from the Liberty Belle. Yet, they are unique and fun. The canoes are still a staple at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland. Obviously they are popular. Something that the current decision makers seem to forget, the canoes and keelboats bring joy not only to the riders, but those along the banks watching them sail by.


Canoe on Rivers of America


Well, those are just a few of my ideas. If none of these ever happen, I'll still love Disney World, but I'd love it just a little bit more if some of these changes took place.

I'd enjoy hearing what YOU would do if you ruled the World. But remember, try to be somewhat practical. Tell me what you think could be done better without breaking the bank or impacting the bottom line too severely.

August 28, 2011

The Lion King in 3D

In the years before VHS tapes and DVDs, the Disney Company would re-release their animated films into theaters every seven years. It was believed (correctly so) that during that time interval, a whole new batch of Disney fans would enter movie-going age and want to see earlier classics. But home video changed all that. Why would you spend money to see a movie in a theater when you could see it at home multiple times for $20? So for the most part, the re-releasing of movies in theaters stopped. But a new technology is changing this. We will once again be able to see Disney classics in theaters - at least for the next couple of years.

It is now possible to convert two-dimensional animated films into 3D. I was invited to a press event today where I was treated to a preview showing of The Lion King in 3D. It was outstanding! I was very impressed! I don't know how they do it, but the effect is superbly executed. I've seen other Disney films that were created in 3D from the get-go, and it would be difficult for most people to tell the difference between these "originals" and movies that have been converted.

On Friday, September 16, Disney will re-release The Lion King in 3D in theaters across the country for two weeks only. This film is a masterpiece. Watching movies at home is nice and convenient, but it can't compare to seeing a film on the big screen and sharing the experience with others. I know you've all seen The Lion King a dozen times, but you might want to see it again in 3D.

For you home-theater buffs, The Lion King will be released in Hi-Def and Blu-ray 3Dβ„’ on October 4th. For more information, click here.


The Lion King in 3D



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About August 2011

This page contains all entries posted to The β€œWorld” According to Jack in August 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2011 is the previous archive.

September 2011 is the next archive.

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