« September 2011 | Main | November 2011 »

October 2011 Archives

October 3, 2011

Skylaidescope & Surprise in the Skies

When EPCOT Center opened on October 1, 1982, there were no Disney characters roaming the park and few activities to keep children entertained. The Imagineers wanted guests to take the pavilions of Future World and World Showcase seriously. It was thought that Mickey and the gang would detract from the more mature atmosphere they had created in this innovative new park. However, many guests were disappointed by this more cerebral park. From day one, parents complained that there was nothing for their children to see or do. They were expecting more Magic Kingdom-type entertainment and were disappointed when EPCOT Center didn't deliver. Something needed to be done.

One of the quickest fixes was to add characters to World Showcase and clothed them in traditional national costumes of each nation. Here you see my friend Eddie and me posing in Mexico, Norway, and China with Donald, Goofy, and Chip.

Mexico Donald

Norway Goofy

Chip & Dale China

Of course, a few characters would not be enough to satisfy parents and their children so other forms of entertainment were researched and implemented. One solution to make EPCOT Center more kid friendly came sometime in 1985 with a show called Skylaidescope. This daytime spectacular took place on World Showcase Lagoon every afternoon. It featured airplanes, ultra-lights, sailboats, speed boats, dragon boats, colored smoke, and daytime fireworks. All of these vehicles and effects were loosely tied together with an impossible to follow story about good conquering evil. At the end of the show, thousands of helium balloons were released into the sky. (Just so you know, Disney no longer releases balloons for environmental reasons.)

The show was never a big success. I remember after I saw it, I thought to myself, "That's fifteen minutes of my life I'll never get back." However, Skylaidescope did have one redeeming feature in my humble opinion. It brought back a song entitled "There's No Place Like World Showcase" written by the Sherman Brothers for a 1982 television special about EPCOT Center. This is a great tune that I wish would be resurrected again on a more permanent basis.

I filmed Skylaidescope in 1986 with one of those bulky, rest-on-your-shoulder video cameras. For this blog, I have edited the show down to just over two minutes - which is plenty long enough. However, it is worth watching just so you can hear "There's No Place Like World Showcase" which I dubbed over the original, choppy soundtrack.

Skylaidescope closed sometime in 1987.

A second attempt to bring daytime entertainment to World Showcase Lagoon came in 1991 with Surprise in the Skies. This show also featured ultra-lights, but this time they were piloted by Mickey and the gang. You can sort of make out Mickey in the first picture. Kites and daytime fireworks also played a big part in this presentation.

Surprise in the Skies

Surprise in the Skies

Surprise in the Skies



Surprise in the Skies

Surprise in the Skies also featured a number of surprises along the World Showcase promenade. Eleven large boxes were positioned, one in front of each nation. At a given moment during the show, giant Disney character balloons inflated and towered over the pavilions. Like the earlier "live" characters, these characters were dressed appropriately for the country they represented.

Winnie the Pooh - Canada
Robin Hood - United Kingdom
Pluto - France
Tigger - Morocco
Minnie Mouse - Japan
Mickey Mouse - American Adventure
Pinocchio - Italy
Daisy Duck - Germany
Chip & Dale - China
Goofy - Norway
Donald Duck - Mexico

I apologize for my pictures. When I scanned them into the computer many years ago, a lot of clarity was lost. I've done my best to rescue them.

Canada Pooh

Canada Pooh

United Kingdom Robin Hood

France Pluto

Morocco Tigger

Japan Minnie Mouse

American Adventure Mickey Mouse - Italy Pinocchio

Germany Daisy Duck

China Chip & Dale

China Chip & Dale

Norway Goofy

Mexico Donald Duck

The ultra-lights used in these two shows took off and landed at a spot now occupied by the new Art of Animation Resort under construction next to the Pop Century Resort.

Surprise in the Skies only lasted one year and closed in 1992. Some critics called this show, "Mistake on the Lake."

The first really successful daytime show to take place at World Showcase was Tapestry of Nations/Tapestry of Dreams which ran from 1999 to 2003.

October 10, 2011

Germany Pavilion - Part One

The Germany and Morocco Pavilions hold an interesting honor among the World Showcase nations. They are the only two that have their own landing for the Friendship Boats that transit guests across the lagoon. Personally, I've never had a problem with walking around the promenade, but for those who do, this taxi service is a nice feature and drops guests off at the doorstep of Morocco or Germany.

Germany Friendship Boat Landing

Next to the Germany Friendship Landing is a large kiosk. Beneath its roof is a shop offering an array of glassware. Inexpensive clear-glass steins and souvenir items can be found here.

Germany Kiosk

But in the early years of EPCOT Center, this kiosk served a different purpose.

At the exit of Spaceship Earth in Future World was an area called Earth Station. Located here was a bank of touch-sensitive screens. At these screens guests could speak to a Disney host or hostess via two-way cameras and ask questions about EPCOT Center and make restaurant reservations. In addition, these screens provided a litany of information about all of the pavilions found at this innovative new park. An A to Z index presented data about every restaurant, shop, and attraction found here. All you had to do was touch the desired subject and pictures, film clips, and text was instantly displayed. This was cutting edge technology in its day.

Earth Station

There were also several satellite stations located around World Showcase providing this same service. The kiosk in Germany was one such location. Here you see my friends Donald and Eddie trying out this new tool with great amusement.

Satellite Information Station

Near the kiosk and off of the main promenade is a lovely park-like setting. Here you'll find a number of tree-shaded benches that look out onto World Showcase Lagoon. This is a wonderful spot to sit and relax for a few minutes when your tired feet can take no more. This area is also a great spot to watch Illuminations. Some of these alcoves are occasionally rented out to private groups to view this nighttime spectacular. However, when this happens they are usually cordoned off well in advance of the show.

Park and Benches

Illuminations Viewing Area

On the other side of this park, along the promenade, is a beer wagon. This is the spot to purchase a cold brew and a pretzel. Soft drinks and bottled water are also sold here.

Beer Wagon

Glasses of Beer

There are many stories as to how and when the looped pretzel originated, but no hard evidence exists to back up these accounts. One tale claims that Italian monks invented the treat as a reward to children who learned their prayers. Another story claims the pretzel was created in a monastery in southern France. But regardless how the pretzel came to be, it has become synonymous with Germany. Pretzels are made from flour, water, and yeast. Before baking, the dough is dipped in a lye solution which gives it its distinctive color and chewiness. After baking, the pretzel is usually sprinkled with coarse salt. Germans call this variety "Laugenbrezel."


The first annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival was held in the spring of 1993. Each year since the festival's inception, the always beautiful Epcot is transformed into an even more magnificent park with the addition of topiary, displays, and thousands of additional plants and flowers. If you've never attended this event, it is worth considering when planning your next trip to Walt Disney World.

One of the early exhibits for this festival was a garden railway built next to the Germany Pavilion. Each year, a miniature town and train was erected for the delight of guests. However, the layout became so popular that it was eventually decided to make it a year-round exhibit. The display features LGB trains and structures.

Garden Railroad

Garden Railroad

Garden Railroad

LGB stands for Lehmann Gross Bahn (Lehmann Big Railway) after the company's founder, Ernst Paul Lehmann. All locomotives, track, and accessories are built to run in rain and snow - which is why the Epcot train continues operating even during summer downpours. LGB trains are "G" gauge (scale), meaning the track's rails are 45 mm (1.772 in) apart. During the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, LGB often has a booth in this area selling their wares, along with some specially designed Disney engines and cars.

Next to the garden railway are restrooms. Although all of the World Showcase pavilions have facilities, some are located within restaurants. Only Norway, Germany, The American Adventure, Morocco, and the United Kingdom have easy to access restrooms.


The platz, or plaza, of the Germany Pavilion is like every village in Germany and like none of them. You see, it's actually a conglomeration of architectural styles that can be found in the Rhine region, Bavaria, and communities in the German north. A collection of buildings from the 12th to the 17th centuries blend together seamlessly. But then, that's the way of real life, new structures are continually being built next to older ones. The difference here is that modernization stopped long before steel and plastic came onto the scene. The end result is a fairytale village that the Grimm Brothers would be proud to immortalize in one of their stories.


In the center of the platz are a fountain and a statue of Saint George and the Dragon.

Fountain and Statue of Saint George and the Dragon

Fountains like these were common in villages during the Middle Ages. The everyday use of indoor plumbing was still centuries away and a central water source was the spot for townsfolk to fill their pails.


This statue of Saint George slaying the dragon is modeled after a sculpture found in Rothenburg, Germany. The first photo is in Rothenburg, the second in Epcot.

Saint George - Rothenburg, Germany

Saint George - Epcot

Saint George is the patron saint of soldiers and references to him can be found throughout Europe.

According to legend, Saint George was a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Diocletian. The fable of Saint George and the dragon goes something like this. It seems a dragon (or crocodile) made its nest within a city's water source. In order to draw water from the spring, the dragon needed to be distracted. So each day the citizens brought the creature an offering. At first a sheep was presented, but when none could be found, a maiden was selected. The unlucky girl was chosen by drawing lots. One day, a princess drew the shortest lot and was carried off to the dragon. Her father, the king, begged for her life to be spared, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Just as the princess was being offered to the dragon, Saint George happened by and slew the beast. This story was a favorite among crusaders who brought the tale home to be retold again and again.

The positioning of Saint George atop the Germany Pavilion's "water source" is no accident. He is protecting this life-giving fluid for the town's inhabitants.

I will discuss the various Germany Pavilion shops and restaurants moving clockwise, starting from the Karamell Küche (Caramel Kitchen).

The Karamell Küche shop uses two different styles of architecture. In this next picture you see a structure that would be typical of a craftsman's workshop. This was appropriate because this building was originally designed to showcase its former sponsor, Goebel, the makers of Hummel figurines.

Karamell Küche Exterior

The second facade is a good example of timber framing or half-timbering (fachwerkhäuser - timber frame house). This method of building uses heavy timbers joined by pegged mortise and tenon joints. Buildings like these can often have a foundation of stone or brick which can rise up a meter or more in height. Steeply pitched roofs are also common to help deflect the snow. This type of construction is common throughout much of southern Germany.

Karamell Küche Exterior

Examples of this type of architecture can also be seen in the Magic Kingdome's Fantasyland.


The Karamell Küche shop is sponsored by Storck USA, makers of Werther's Original Caramels. This candy company was founded in Werther, Westphalia, Germany in 1903 by August Storck. This store also has the distinction of being the only freestanding retail location for Werther's in the world. A close observer might notice that a current TV commercial for Werther's begins with an exterior shot of their shop here at Epcot.

When entering this shop, there is a definite direction for pedestrian traffic flow. The tour begins with the kitchen on the left side of the store where guests can witness the making of these delicious delights. From there, they pass by a glass case full of irresistible treats. Then it's onto the cash registers and a dizzying display of prepackaged candies. You'll find an array of caramel goodies including caramel apples and popcorn, chocolate covered marshmallows, rice krispie treats, cookies, strawberries, and much more.

I know it will be difficult to pry your eyes away from the sugary confections, but try to pay attention to the interior décor while shopping at Karamell Küche. The shop is beautiful and the woodwork exquisite.

Karamell Küche Kitchen

Making Candy

Karamell Küche Display Case

Karamell Küche Registers

Karamell Küche Display Case

Before we continue our tour of the platz, we need to take a side trip to the outside, left-hand side of Karamell Küche. It is here that you'll find a wishing well and Snow White, eager to meet her fans of all ages.

The story of Snow White is well known in many European countries, but it's the German version by the Brothers Grimm that is the most familiar to audiences. It was the Grimm version that Walt Disney based his first full-length animated movie on in 1937.

Currently, Snow White is greeting guests at 11:30am, 12:15pm, 1:15pm, 3:10pm, 4:10pm, 4:55pm, and 5:50pm. But it's always wise to check the signboard in the area for the most current times.

Wishing Well

Snow White

The next stop on our tour takes us to Die Weihnachts Ecke (The Christmas Corner). The exterior tower of this lovely shop was inspired by Hegereiterhaus in Rothenburg.

Die Weihnachts Ecke Exterior

Hegereiterhaus in Rothenburg

Die Weihnachts Ecke Interior

As the name implies, this shop sells Christmas goods. A large selection of inexpensive to high-priced ornaments is available here -- including a wide variety of Disney adornments. I especially like this hand-blown Mickey.

Mickey Christmas Ornaments

At one time, this shop carried a large sampling of nutcrackers and smokers, a German holiday tradition. But alas, this selection has been whittled down to just one example of this beautiful art form.


But another German tradition has not been forgotten, the Pickle Ornament. Legend has it that the pickle, a symbol of good luck, was the last ornament placed on the tree (after the children went to bed). The first child to find it on Christmas morning was rewarded with an extra gift from Saint Nicholas. If a family could not afford an extra gift, the lucky finder of the pickle was rewarded by being the first to open a present.

A large selection of these pickle ornaments is available at Die Weihnachts Ecke.

Pickle Ornament

I have read accounts that this tradition has absolutely no roots in German folklore. But even if it is bogus, it is still a fun activity that any family could incorporate into their own family Christmas custom.

Next to Die Weihnachts Ecke is Stein Haus (Stone House). This structure is another fine example of the half-timbering (fachwerkhäuser) style of construction. Notice the rockwork on the first floor.

Stein Haus Exterior

The main commodity sold inside this shop is beer steins and a few t-shirts that fit well with a beer drinking attitude. The word stein is a shortened form of Steinzeugkrug, which is German for stoneware jug or tankard.

Stein Haus Interior

Stein Haus Interior

Stein Haus Interior

The history of the beer stein goes something like this"

In the middle ages, sanitation practices were virtually unknown in Europe. Sewage was often disposed of in rivers and streams, making the practice of drinking water a dicey proposition. So folk started drinking beer with an alcoholic content just high enough to kill most bacteria. Even children drank this brew.

In the 14th century, along came the Black Death (bubonic plague) which was killing Europeans by the thousands every day. There were many theories as to how this killer was spread, but hard facts were few. In an effort to stem the disease, a law was passed in Germany stating that all drinking vessels needed to have a lid to keep out diseased flies. Thus, the stein was born. Most steins of the time were made out of stoneware (clay that is fired in a kiln), but as time went on, other materials like pewter and porcelain became common.

Since we're talking about alcohol, let's switch from beer to wine. The next shop on our tour is Weinkeller (wine cellar). Low ceilings, dark woods, and oak casks create a cozy atmosphere that almost allows you to make believe you're actually underground. Approximately 50 varieties of German wine are sold here with around 80% of them being white. Around 20 vintages are available for tasting for a charge of $5-$6 per sample. A number of tables are scattered throughout the room for groups to congregate around.

Weinkeller Exterior

Weinkeller Interior

Weinkeller Interior

Weinkeller Interior

When entering or exiting this shop, be sure to take a look at the decorative light fixture positioned above the door. If you study it carefully, you'll discover a bunch of grapes hanging from the bird's beak. Ornamental fixtures like this are a common sight in Germany. Another can be seen by the entrance to our next stop, Kunstarbeit in Kristall.

Ornamental Light Fixture

Ornamental Sign Fixture

Kunstarbeit in Kristall (art work in crystal) is housed in a building inspired by The Römer in Frankfurt. The Römer belonged to the Römer family who used it for their business until they sold it to the city council on March 11, 1405. It was converted for use as the city hall where it has continued in this capacity for over 600 years. On the night of March 22, 1944 The Römer, and much of the city of Frankfurt, was destroyed by an Allied bombing raid during WWII. The Römer was subsequently rebuilt.

Kunstarbeit in Kristall Exterior

The Römer

Back in Epcot, Kunstarbeit in Kristall carries a large selection of stemware, vases, jewelry, bear mugs, and crystal art pieces. While browsing here, be sure to take some time to check out the beauty of the shop itself. Once again, the woodwork is outstanding. This shop is run by Arribas Brothers.

Kunstarbeit in Kristall Interior

Kunstarbeit in Kristall Interior

In the early years of Epcot, this shop sat empty. Original plans called for this area to be a tourist bureau where guests could actually book trips to Germany after touring various displays and viewing virtual tours of the countryside. However, this never materialized.

That's it for Part One of the Germany Pavilion. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

October 11, 2011

Germany Pavilion - Part Two

Yesterday I began a clockwise tour of the Germany Pavilion and ended with the Kunstarbeit in Kristall shop located at the back of the platz. Today we continue our journey.

Behind the Kunstarbeit in Kristall shop is a large fortress. The Imagineers based this structure on Stahleck Castle located in the Rhine Valley and Eltz Castle found in the hills above the Moselle River.

Germany Castle

Germany Castle

Stahleck Castle

Eltz Castle

Castles were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and were built by nobility. It's interesting to note, castles are usually considered to be a fortified residence of a lord or noble. A palace was the home of nobility, but not fortified. And a fortress was usually not a residence, but built for the protection of the community.

The castle built in the Germany Pavilion was to serve two purposes. First, it would house the biergarten, a place where guests could imbibe and feast. And second, a ride-through attraction was to be built behind these walls. The River Cruise was to sail guests along the Rhine, the Tauber, the Ruhr and the Isar. Along the way, passengers would view Germany's cultural heritage of the past and their high tech presence of today (much like Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion). Sights would include the Black Forest, Oktoberfest, Heidelberg, Cologne Cathedral, and the industrial Ruhr Valley, among others.

During the initial construction of EPCOT Center, a portion of the attraction structure was built behind the Germany Pavilion to house the Rhine Cruise. Unfortunately, budget cuts put the attraction on hold and eventually, into obscurity. Today, this building is used as a storage area, workshop, and rehearsal space.

The entrance to the Rhine Cruise would have been through the right arch at the back of the pavilion. Here is an artist's rendering of the loading area.

Ride Entrance

Ride Loading Area

The big attraction in the Germany Pavilion is the Biergarten Restaurant where Oktoberfest is celebrated twelve months a year. Here, the Imagineers recreated the atmosphere of a 16th century town in Rothenburg.

Biergarten Restaurant Entrance

Biergarten Restaurant Entrance

Inside the castle, you'll find yourself in the center of the city platz where it is perpetually night time. Long tables of eight are positioned around a semicircle on three tiers, all facing a stage. Around the perimeter of the courtyard portions of the town can be seen including homes, shops, a waterwheel, and trees. In the sky, a full moon shines down on guests.

Biergarten Restaurant

Biergarten Restaurant

Biergarten Restaurant

GermaBiergarten Restaurant

Biergarten Restaurant

Meals are served buffet style. Offerings include salads, traditional sausages, rotisserie chicken, roast pork, fish, sauerbraten (dinner only), sauerkraut, red cabbage, spaetzle, schnitzel, and much more. And let's not forget the beer which flows in abundance. It's impossible to leave here hungry or thirsty.

Biergarten Buffet

Biergarten Buffet

Biergarten Buffet

Besides the food, entertainment plays an important part of the biergarten experience. Numerous times each day, musicians take the stage and provide guests with some wonderful oompah music, comical cow bells, and resonating alpine horns. There are several different shows which rotate from one set to the next. All of the performances will definitely bring a smile to your face. Dancing is encouraged.

Biergarten Entertainment

Biergarten Entertainment

Biergarten Entertainment

I am often asked for recommendations for dining at Walt Disney World. Of course, this is a very subjective topic. Everyone has their own favorite restaurant and dish. But when first-time visitors to Epcot ask me where to eat, I always say the Biergarten Restaurant. It's not that this is my favorite World Showcase eatery. It's not. But I think this establishment epitomizes the World Showcase experience. You would be hard pressed to find another restaurant outside of Disney that offers the complete package of food and good times you can find here.

Seating at the Biergarten Restaurant is at tables for eight, so in all likelihood, you will be sharing your table with another group. Don't let this bother you. I'll be the first to admit, I'm not a fan of making small talk with strangers. But at Disney World, it's easy. Just start the conversation with "Where are you visiting from?" Then ask what their favorite ride is. In no time at all, the conversation will be flowing as freely as the beer. Here you see my friends Donald, Eddie, and me having a great time with total strangers.

Good times in Germany

Near the entrance to Biergarten Restaurant is Sommerfest. This very small counter-service eatery is a great spot to order a beer and a snack. Offerings include Bratwurst and Frankfurter (both served with sauerkraut and roll), pretzels, Black Forest Cake Roulade, Bavarian Cheesecake, and Apple Strudel. Numerous tables are on hand in the platz where you can sit and relax. While dining here, be sure to notice the beautiful mural of the German countryside.


Sommerfest Seating

Sommerfest Seating

The centerpiece of the Germany Pavilion is the clock tower. Inspired by a similar timepiece in Freiburg, the Disney version also includes a scaled-down glockenspiel as can be found on the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall) in Munich. Here, Hummel-esque figures appear each hour to chime a large bell. In addition, a cuckoo-style rooster emerges above the clock face, flapping his wings to a melody especially composed for Epcot.

Germany Pavilion Clock Tower

Freiburg Clock Tower

Germany Pavilion Glockenspiel

Munich Glockenspiel

Cuckoo Rooster

As we continue our clockwise tour around the platz, we next come to Der Teddybär Toy Shop. The construction style here is another good example of timber framing or half-timbering (fachwerkhäuser). As the store's name implies, this is the spot to shop for playthings. Costumed dolls, miniature dragons, and knights on horseback are just a few of the toys available. German candies and cookies are also sold here. But the real attraction is the Steiff teddy bears.

Der Teddybär Exterior

Der Teddybär Interior

Der Teddybär Interior

Bteiff Bears

The Steiff Company began with Margarete Steiff, a seamstress who in 1880 founded her own company making toy stuffed animals. In the beginning, elephants were the animal of choice, but in time, other creatures joined the line-up such as dogs, cats, and pigs.

Margarete's nephew, Richard Steiff is credited with creating the Company's first toy bear, which debuted at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903 to few accolades. Just as the fair was coming to a close, an American purchased Richard's entire lot of 100 bears and ordered another 3,000. At the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904, the Steiffs sold 12,000 bears, securing themselves a top spot in the toy world. Authentic Steiff bears have a small metal "Steiff" clip in the ear and have become collector items.

Next to Der Teddybär is Volkskunst (People Art). In the early years of Epcot, this shop sold craft-type items that were handmade in small shops throughout Germany. A testimony to this can be seen in the stained-glass window of the shop depicting a young man building a birdhouse. Now-a-days, this shop sells music CDs, cookbooks, clothing, and other German-themed souvenirs.


Stained Glass Window

One of the latest souvenirs to be offered around World Showcase are mouse ears tailored to reflect each nation's personality. Here is the set designed for the Germany Pavilion.

German Mouse Ears

However, not everything in the Volkskunst shop falls into the souvenir category. This store also offers a large selection of cuckoo clocks, a commodity synonymous with the Black Forest region of Germany. In addition, hand-painted eggs, created onsite, are available.

Cuckoo Clocks

Hand Painted Eggs

While shopping in Volkskunst, be sure to take a look at the facility. Once again, the woodwork is superb and the attention to detail outstanding. And don't forget to look at the ceiling.

Wood Carving

Volkskunst Ceiling

The last building in our tour of the Germany Pavilion (Das Kaufhaus - Department Store) is modeled after Historisches Kaufhaus (Historical Merchant's Hall) found in Freiburg im Breisgau. This structure was built between 1520 and 1521 and was once the hub of economic affairs for the region.

Das Kaufhaus

Historisches Kaufhaus

Have you ever wondered who the three monarchs are that grace the second story of this Epcot reproduction of Historisches Kaufhaus? Well to answer that question we must first look at the original building in Germany. Here we find Emperor Maximilian I, King Philipp the Beautiful of Castile, Emperor Charles V, and Emperor Ferdinand I. These were considered the four most influential and commanding leaders of the Hapsburg dynasty when the Historisches Kaufhaus was being constructed and the statues sculpted by Sixt von Staufen.

Since the Epcot version of this building is a scaled down reproduction of the original, there wasn't room for all four leaders. Someone needed to be omitted and poor Maximilian landed on the cutting room floor. When facing the building, the remaining figures are, from left to right, King Phillip I, Emperor Charles V, and Emperor Ferdinand I.

King Phillip I

Emperor Charles V

Emperor Ferdinand I

An interesting side note involves the sculpting of these three kings. The original photographs sent to the artist were shot from ground level, distorting the statues and making it impossible for the artist to reproduce the figures accurately. So a local Freidburg photographer was hired to reshoot the originals. To capture face-on likenesses, he rented a cherry-picker to raise himself up to the level of the statues for a more complete photo shoot.

Das Kaufhaus sells sporting items, clothing, and accessories. Many of these items bare the Puma brand name. Puma is a German company that produces high-end athletic shoes and sportswear.

Das Kaufhaus Interior and Cast Member

Das Kaufhaus Interior

Das Kaufhaus Interior

This completes my tour of the Germany Pavilion. As I said earlier in this article, a village like this never really existed - but yet it does exist. It exists in the memories of any traveler to Germany once they return home and recollect on their journeys.

As always, I have created a video highlighting the Germany Pavilion. Enjoy.

October 17, 2011

Legacy Award

Several years ago, I wrote a blog about Disney nametags and how these badges have changed over the years. Today, I want to tell you about a new nametag that a select few cast members are sporting these days. These are worn by the recipients of the Legacy Award, a new recognition program that has been rolled out across the Disney Parks and Resorts around the world.

In the past, each segment of the Disney Company had its own recognition program. Although all business units had the same goal, to celebrate those individuals who exemplify the Disney spirit, each had different selection criteria. For example, cast members working at Walt Disney World were eligible to win the "Partners in Excellence" award while those at Disneyland, could win the "Spirit of Disneyland" award. The recipients of these honors can be identified by a pin they wear on their nametag. Unfortunately, these pins are small and easily confused with service anniversary pins. Most guests would never have a clue that these outstanding cast members have been singled out for their performance. Below is a "Partners in Excellence" pin.

Partners in Excellence Aware Pin

This "lack of easily identifiable recognition" has been changed with the Legacy Award. The recipients of this honor receive a blue nametag with white lettering (the opposite of the standard nametag). Being different, these badges stand out and are easily spotted. This is good. Now guests will notice and hopefully ask the cast member why they have a blue nametag (rather than the standard white), giving them the opportunity to proudly brag.

Legacy Nametag

The recipients of the Legacy Award are selected by their leaders, direct reports and/or their co-workers. These are individuals who consistently Dream, Create, and Inspire each day by supporting the business objectives and goals of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

When visiting any of the Disney parks, it's easy to forget that there are thousands of cast members working behind the scenes (backstage), out of sight of the guests. These "backstage" individuals are just as important as their "onstage" counterparts. Without their contributions, the magic onstage wouldn't happen. Disney recognizes this and made sure that the requirements to win the Legacy Award were broad enough to encompass everyone.

So next time you're visiting any of the Disney resorts around the world, be sure to notice these blue nametags and congratulate the cast members. Also, if you see bronze pins on a white nametag, ask the cast member what they stand for. Whether it's an award pin or service anniversary pin, I can assure you, these individuals are proud of their accomplishments and their time spent at Disney making the magic happen.

October 24, 2011

Morocco Pavilion - Part One

Morocco Pavilion across World Showcase Lagoon

Of all the World Showcase nations, most Americans probably know the least about the real country of Morocco. Past episodes in history and immigration patterns have brought the other nations of Epcot a little closer to us than this Northern African country. Yet, Morocco does have a very interesting tie to the United States. In December 1777, sultan Muhammad III created a list of countries that were welcome to use Moroccan seaports. Included on this list was the United States. Thus, Morocco became the first country to have a head of state publicly recognized our new nation. In 1787, this recognition was formalized with the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship and was signed by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Muhammad III. Morocco holds the longest unbroken treaty with the United States. If you look closely at the last page of the treaty below, you can make out Adams' and Jefferson's signatures.

Treaty of Friendship

The United States also opened its first consulate in Tangier in 1797. The building was given to the U.S. by sultan Moulay Slimane and it is the oldest U.S diplomatic property in the world.

Morocco also played an interesting part in the history of WWII. From January 14 to 24, 1943, the Casablanca Conference was held in the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca. Here, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Charles de Gaulle planned the European strategy of the Allies. Joseph Stalin was also invited to this conference but he declined to attend due to the ongoing fighting in Stalingrad.

Franklin and Churchill in Casablanca

So you see, Morocco does hold an important place in the history of the United States.

The English name "Morocco" comes from either the Portuguese "Marrocos" or the Spanish "Marruecos." Both are derived from the Latin "Morroch" which refers to the name of the formal capital, Marrakesh. In Persian and Urdu, Morocco is still called "Marrakesh" which means Land of God.

The Morocco Pavilion was the first pavilion to be added to World Showcase after the initial opening of Epcot. It opened on September 7, 1984. Like the Germany Pavilion, Morocco has its own landing for the Friendship boats that ferry guests back and forth across World Showcase Lagoon.

Friendship Boat Landing at Morocco

The structures in the Morocco Pavilion were based on designs found in the cities of Casablanca, Marrakesh, Rabat, and Fez. In addition, the pavilion, like many Moroccan cities, is divided into two sections. Ville nouvelle (new city) occupies the outer portion of the pavilion while the Medina, or old city, can be found in the back half. The two sections of the pavilion are delineated by the Bab Boujouloud Gate. The Epcot version of this portal was inspired by a structure found in the city of Fez. The similarities between the two are striking.

Bab Boujouloud Gate - Epcot

Bab Boujouloud Gate - Fez

At water's edge you'll find an ancient waterwheel. Much of Morocco is arid, but it does have a number of rivers which are used for irrigation. Waterwheels like the one depicted here are still used today to draw water from the rivers and irrigate the fields. Morocco's chief crops are barley, wheat, olives, citrus fruits, and grapes.


At the Morocco Pavilion, the water drawn by the waterwheel is directed into a Chahar Bagh (Persian for four gardens). The classic design of a Chahar Bagh has a fountain or holding trough at the center of the garden which flows into four channels at right angles to each other. The four channels are often associated with the four rivers of Paradise as described in the Koran. These waters flow to the four quarters of Heaven.

Chahar Bagh

Chahar Bagh

Next to the Chahar Bagh is a stage where the group Mo'Rockin performs each afternoon and evening. This group of five musicians uses traditional and modern instruments to create a unique spin on Middle Eastern, African, Spanish, and American music. Each performance lasts around twenty minutes. And if the music isn't enough to keep you entertained, a belly dancer is on hand to spice things up. There's no rockin' like MO'ROCKIN! Check your Times Guide for current performance times.



Here is a picture taken of this area in 1986, long before a stage was added and a permanent store erected.

Early Stage

Behind the stage guests can find a typical peddler's cart. Even today, street vendors are commonplace in many Moroccan cities. In fact, their proliferation has become epidemic and many avenues are impassible to automobiles due to the number of merchants selling their wares.

Peddler's Cart

Tucked away near the water's edge is a small merchant's shop. Here, a talented artist can apply a henna tattoo to your body. There are a number of designs to choose from and they can be previewed in a nearby catalog. The larger the application, the more the cost. A henna tattoo can be applied in a matter of minutes and typically last two to three weeks. This shop usually does not open until later in the afternoon.

The Art of Henna

The Art of Henna

The Art of Henna

The Art of Henna

Henna dye is created by crushing the leaves of the henna plant. The leaves are usually milled into a powdered form for easy transport. Then, some sort of mild acid, like lemon juice or strong tea, is added to create a paste and to activate the "dying" qualities.

Henna tattoos have a long tradition with Moroccan weddings. On the eve of the marriage, the women of the wedding party gather for a "Night of Henna." The older ladies paint the hands and feet of the bride while sharing wisdom about married life. According to tradition, the bride cannot work or perform tasks until the tattoos have completely faded.

Next to the henna vendor is the Souk-Al-Magreb shop. Here you'll find a large selection of Moroccan handicrafts. One of my favorites is a t-shirt sporting the front and back view of Habibi the camel.

Souk-Al-Magreb Shop

Souk-Al-Magreb Shop

Habibi the Camel

Based on a real-life camel and his owner, Betsy Lewin wrote a children's book titled "What's the Matter, Habibi?" Habibi (Arabic for "my darling") is a camel who usually seems to enjoy his work. But one day he lies down on the job and refuses to get up. Ahmed, Habibi's owner, asks "What's the matter?" But Habibi refuses to tell. However, a trip to the bazaar and several adventures seems to solve Habibi's problems and they all live happily ever after.

What's the Matter, Habibi? Book

To the right of the Souk-Al-Magreb shop is the Meet-&-Greet area for Aladdin and Jasmine. They appear several times each day and love to pose with enthusiastic visitors to their realm. A line materializes long before the couple appears on the scene so plan accordingly.

Aliddin and Jasmine

It is interesting to note, the original tales of Aladdin take place in Islamic sections of China such as Turkestan or the province of Xinjiang. But since these stories revolve around Muslim characters, Morocco was the obvious choice when deciding where Aladdin and Jasmine should reside in World Showcase.

Across the promenade from the Meet-&-Greet is a quick service kiosk. Here you can purchase bottled water, Coke products, Moroccan Mint Tea, Casa Beer, baklava, and an assortment of exotic alcoholic beverages with a Moroccan theme.

Quick Service Kiosk

On the left side of the pavilion is a sign that reads "Kingdom of Morocco."

Kingdom of Morocco Sign

Morocco is a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. The government has two chambers and is presided over by the Prime Minister. The PM is selected by the king from candidates within the winning party after each election. The king still retains considerable executive powers and he is both the secular political leader and the "Commander of the Faithful" as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

Located in the first building on the left as you enter the pavilion you'll find "Moroccan Style: The Art of Personal Adornment." This museum features clothing and jewelry from Morocco. Each display is accompanied by a short, easy-to-read explanation as to what you are looking at. Most people only give these exhibits a passing glance, but this is a shame. It really doesn't take more than 10 minutes to read all of the information plaques and you'll leave here knowing much more about this faraway land if you take the time to explore.

Moroccan Style: The Art of Personal Adornment - Exterior

Moroccan Style: The Art of Personal Adornment - Interior

The most prominent exhibit in the museum features an ornately costumed gentleman and his steed. At this display we learn about the Fantasia. A Fantasia is an equestrian event performed at cultural and religious festivals. At these events, riders don themselves and their horses in elaborate costumes. At the climax of the ceremony, they gallop toward each other at full speed before abruptly stopping to fire rifles into the air.


While in the museum, also pay attention to the ceiling and floor. The craftsmanship is outstanding.

Museum Ceiling

Museum Floor

Opposite the museum, in the facing building, is Tangierine Café.

Tangierine Café - Exterior

Tangierine Café - Interior

This counter service restaurant offers Morrocan Kefta Sandwiches, Mediterranean Wraps, Shawarma Platters, and a number of other "off the beaten path" meals. Yet nothing is so exotic as to send your running for a drinking fountain to drown out the tastes. Since much of the food is unfamiliar to Americans, displays have been created to let you know the offerings are quite appetizing. While ordering, be sure to notice the rotisseries behind the counter roasting lamb and chicken.

Food Samples

Roasting Lamp

Also in the Tangierine Café is a Coffee and Pastry Bar. Besides a wide variety of exotic caffeine-laden concoctions and sweet taste treats, a number of alcoholic beverages are available including Moroccan beer and wine.

Pastry Bar

Pastry Bar

There are a number of tables indoors and plenty of covered seating options outside the restaurant.

Tangierine Café Seating

Tangierine Café Seating

Tangierine Café Seating

In the early years of Epcot, the area now occupied by Tangierine Café, was home to "Center of Tourism." At this spot, guests could obtain literature useful in planning a vacation to Morocco. They could even book flights on Royal Air Maroc (commonly known as RAM), the official airline of Morocco.

Outside of Tangierine Café and in front of the restrooms you'll find a large date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Dates have been a staple of the Middle East and Northern Africa for thousands of years and are an important crop in Morocco

Date Palm

The most prominent feature of the Morocco Pavilion is the Koutoubia Minaret, which is a replica of the Koutoubia Mosque Minaret found in the city of Marrakesh. The original was built in the 12th century and stands 204 feet in height.

Koutoubia Minaret - Epcot

Koutoubia Minaret - Marrakesh

The Prophet Mohammend once told a follower to call the faithful to prayer from the highest rooftop in the city. Thus began the Islamic tradition of building mosques with prayer towers, or minarets. To this day, Moroccan Muslims gather to hear the melodic chant of the Muezzin (prayer caller) as he praises Allah from the minaret.

That's it for Part One of the Morocco Pavilion. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

October 25, 2011

Morocco Pavilion - Part Two

Yesterday I presented you with an overview of the Morocco Pavilion and the ville nouvelle (new city). Today I'll discuss the Medina, or old city.

But before we venture through the Boujouloud Gate into the Medina, I'd like to point out that the Morocco Pavilion holds an interesting distinction among its World Showcase neighbors. It is the only pavilion to be entirely sponsored by a government rather than corporations. In order to insure accuracy in the pavilion, King Hassan II sent Moroccan craftsmen and artists to aid the Imagineers in creating the mosaics, tile work, and intricate carvings. Nine tons of handmade, hand-cut tiles were used to adorn the various structures within the pavilion. Islamic religion prohibits artistic depictions of live objects. So instead of portraying plants, animals, and people, decorations consist of detailed geometric patterns. So next time you visit the Morocco Pavilion, take some time to search out and find some of these fascinating designs. You won't have to look too far. They're everywhere.

Moroccan Art

In the ville nouvelle (new city), the plaza is broad and the buildings are laid out in an orderly fashion, but beyond Boujouloud Gate and into the Medina or old city, the streets become narrow and winding and the buildings' positioning somewhat chaotic. The Disney Imagineers have skillfully taken a very small space and filled it with so many twists and turns a person could almost get lost within this pavilion.

Medina Streets

Medina Streets

Medina Streets

Medina Streets

Medina Streets

Medina Streets

Moroccan Proverb: The first thing one should own is a home; and it is the last thing one should sell. For a home is one's castle this side of heaven.

Fez House is a recreation of a traditional Moroccan home built around a central courtyard. From the courtyard are a number of rooms which can be opened and closed depending on the need for privacy. Additional living space can be found behind the doors located on the second floor.

Fez House

Fez House

Fez House

Fez House

Fez House Musician

A second minaret can be found in the Medina. This tower is a replica of the minaret at Chellah, a historical site located near the city of Rabat, Morocco's capitol. Chellah was originally founded by the Romans as a maritime station. In the 14th century, Abu l-Hasan of the Merinid Dynasty, reconstructed the site to become a retreat and necropolis. Many of the structures were damaged by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Today, the site is a garden and tourist venue.

Chellah Minaret - Epcot

Chellah Minaret - Chellah

Much of the Medina is inhabited by shops. Everything from Persian rugs to fine leather goods can be found here. You'll even find some interesting food stuffs to take home so you can cook up an exotic meal for the family. For a truly unique gift for yourself or a friend, think about buying a belly dancer's scarf and headdress. Much of the merchandise is displayed in a cluttered fashion, just like you'd experience in a bustling Moroccan marketplace.

Medina Shops

Medina Shops

Medina Shops

Medina Shops

Medina Shops - Food Stuff

Medina Shops - Belly Dancer Headwear

In Marketplace in the Medina, the Imagineers have played a trick on the guests. In what seems to be an open-air bazaar, a close observer will notice that the area is actually enclosed to protect people and merchandise from the elements. Take a look at the ceiling. Rafters, logs, and twigs hide the skylight above. The effect is very convincing.

It's also in Marketplace in the Medina that you'll find the Kidcot Station.

Marketplace in the Medina

Marketplace in the Medina

Kidcot Station

Sight and touch aren't the only senses the Imagineers use to make you believe you're in a faraway land. Smell and hearing are also brought into the mix. The aroma of incense can be detected in many of the shops. The smells are intoxicating and soothing. And when you're out and about in the Morocco Pavilion, be sure to listen to the music being played in the background. Besides traditional Moroccan melodies, the sounds of chickens, goats, and other rural noises can be heard. It was the Imagineer's intention to subtly add sounds that one might hear while shopping in a real Moroccan marketplace.

Outside the shops you'll discover a number of potted plants. Citrus and olives trees, important crops in Morocco, are a common sight.

Citrus Tree

Olive Tree

At the back of the Medina in a courtyard, perched high above the street, is a reproduction of an ancient water clock found in Fez. The chimes on the original have long since disappeared, but have been recreated at the Morocco Pavilion. A water clock or clepsydra is a timepiece which measures the passage of time by the regulated flow of a liquid either into or out of a vessel which is then subsequently measured.

Water Clock - Epcot

Water Clock - Fez

In this same courtyard is a replica of the Nejjarine Fountain found in the old section of Fez. Once again, the very close approximation of the original is stunning.

Nejjarine Fountain - Epcot

Nejjarine Fountain - Fez

I'm sorry to say that Restaurant Marrakesh, located at the back of the Morocco Pavilion, is probably the least visited eatery at Epcot. This is a shame because this spot offers a wonderful selection of delicious options including, but not limited to, roast lamb, shish kebab, couscous and brochette of chicken, as well as a vegetarian selection and a kid-friendly menu. I have to suspect that most people are unfamiliar with Moroccan cuisine and thus afraid to try this restaurant. But you should get over your inhibitions and give this spot a chance. Unless you live in a big city, you probably don't have a Moroccan restaurant nearby so your opportunities to try this wonderful fare are most likely limited to your visits to Epcot. Even a picky eater can find several great dishes to try here.

Like the rest of the Morocco Pavilion, the interior of Restaurant Marrakesh is stunningly decorated. During the course of your meal, a two-piece combo plays appropriate music and a lovely belly dancer shows off her talents and encourages little ones to join her on the dance floor. You couldn't ask for a better photo opportunity.

Restaurant Marrakesh - Exterior

Restaurant Marrakesh - Interior

Belly Dancer

Although reservations are requested, they are rarely needed. In an effort to encourage guests to try this spot, a reservation podium and menu can be found on the promenade in front of the pavilion.

Prominade Podium

Please, on your next trip to Epcot, consider giving Restaurant Marrakesh a try. You'll be happy you did. I have never had a bad experience here and everyone who finally heeds my recommendation thanks me later.

The Morocco Pavilion possesses another interesting bit of Disney trivia, but you need to travel to the bridge leading to the Mexico Pavilion to discover this tidbit. When looking at the Morocco Pavilion from this spot, you can see the Tower of Terror (located at Disney's Hollywood Studios) directly behind the minaret and buildings. The Imagineers were well aware that differences in architectures could spoil the "lines" of Morocco. So they gave the top of the Tower of Terror some exotic flourishes that help it blend seamlessly with this African nation. The Tower of Terror was also painted a color complementary to the Morocco Pavilion - a color that probably would not be authentic with a pallet of 1930's-40's Hollywood.

Tower of Terror

I would now like to pose a question to my Muslim readers (or anyone truly knowledgeable about this religion).

Each night during Illuminations, nine of the eleven World Showcase countries are outlined with small lights as part of the pageantry. These lights were added to the pavilions BEFORE Morocco and Norway were added to Epcot. I have often read that because of religious beliefs, the buildings of Morocco cannot be illuminated in this manner. If this is the reason, then why hasn't Norway been retrofitted with these lights? Surely there are no religious or social restrictions in this Christian country. I have always suspected that Disney just didn't want to spend the money to add lights and reprogram the show to add Norway and Morocco. I have asked a Muslim friend of mine about this and she is not aware of any religious restrictions.

So what's the story folks? Can someone shed any substantiated light on this subject of lights? Cast member hearsay doesn't count. It's too unreliable.

That's it for my tour of the Morocco Pavilion. I realize that Morocco is a little less familiar to most of us than the other World Showcase nations, but that gives you all the more reason to slow down and smell the roses when visiting here. There is so much to learn and experience.

As always, I've created a video for your enjoyment.

October 31, 2011

How I Write a Blog

I occasionally receive questions asking me how long it takes to write a blog, where do I get my information, and what type of cameras I use. I have answered all of these questions in the Comments section of my blogs, but it occurred to me that not everyone reads the comments. So today I'm going to give you a rundown of what it takes for me to create an article. Some of this might get a little technical (and boring, LOL), but I'll try to entertain along the way. So here goes.

Where do I begin

I have written many of you and said, "My passion is Disney and I love to learn and write about it. The fact that you enjoy reading what I write is just frosting on the cake."

I'm living the dream!

What type of cameras do I use?

For my still photographs I use a Nikon D80 camera. This is a very good camera - and to be honest, beyond my expertise. But it works quite well for me. Some of the things I like about it are that it turns on instantly and there is no lag-time between shots. If I hold the shutter button down, I can take continuous pictures. This is great because I never miss a shot waiting for my camera to "turn on" or copy one photo to the memory stick before allowing me to snap another.

I also use a Nikkor 18-200 zoom lens. This gives me both wide angle and extreme close-up shots. This comes in very handy at times. Here are four pictures to illustrate my point. In each set, I stood in the same spot with the camera set to extreme wide angle and completely zoomed in.

Spaceship Earth - Wide Angle

Spaceship Earth - Zoomed In

France Bridge - Wide Angle

France Bridge - Zoomed In

I had wanted this camera and lens for a long time, but just couldn't bring myself to spend the money. What pushed me over the edge was an invitation I received from Disney to cover a Naturalization Ceremony being held at the Magic Kingdom in July, 2007. I knew I would be sharing the press viewing platform with folks from CBS, NBC, and ABC. I didn't want to show up at the event with my simple point-and-shoot camera while the rest of them were sporting humongous, professional equipment. So I treated myself and splurged.

Ah, what we don't do to justify our actions. LOL

When I first started carrying this camera and lens to the parks, I literally got a backache from the weight. Now, it's second nature to me and I almost feel naked on those occasions when I decide to leave it at home.

Nikon D80 and Nikkor 18-200 Zoom Lens

For my video I use a Sony High Definition XR-500V camera. I have also purchased a wide-angle lens as I feel most video cameras offer too narrow a shot with the standard lens. I also splurged and bought a three-hour battery as the one that came with the camera only lasted about 30 minutes in ideal circumstances.

Even though this camera has an anti-shake feature, I learned very quickly that I can't hold it steady enough to create a smooth shot. To rectify this, I purchased a monopod. Unlike a tripod, a monopod is light and easy to carry. It can also be extended and contracted in an instant. It gives me all the stabilization I need for creating level pans.

Sony High Definition XR-500V Camera

What software do I use?

For the editing of my still photos I use Paint Shop Pro X3. This is the poor man's version of Photoshop. Paint Shop Pro runs about $100 as compared to the full version of Photoshop which costs upwards of $700. I'm sure Paint Shop Pro can't compare to Photoshop, but it has all of the features I need.

For video editing I use Vegas Pro 9.0. This is a very powerful editing tool and rated one of the top for home and semi-professional use. I can add as many layers of video and audio tracks as I need and it offers dozens of transitions and special effects.

For audio editing I use GoldWave. I downloaded this software years ago from the internet and I've been more than pleased.

I use Microsoft Word (Office 2010) for composing my blogs.

Where do I live?

I live nine miles north of Downtown Disney between the Orlando suburb of MetroWest and the town of Windermere. From my garage, I can be in the parking lot of any of the Disney parks within 30 minutes. That doesn't mean I can necessarily be through the turnstiles, but I'm close. When I moved to Orlando, I told my real estate agent that my goal was to live as close to Disney as possible. She did well for me.

This distance means that the absolute minimum time required for a round-trip to Disney will be one hour. I have been known to drive to a park, go to Guest Relations, ask a question, and return home. This takes just under an hour and a half (except for the Magic Kingdom which always takes longer).

You may be asking yourself, "Why do you drive all the way to Disney to ask one question when you could make a phone call instead?"

Although phone-trees are now a fact of life, and Disney's is better than most, I find them frustrating. After answering all of the computer's silly questions, I'm put on hold for 15 minutes waiting for a live person to answer my inquiry. I find a drive to Disney World much less frustrating, even though it takes longer. And I never know what I might discover on my short visit.

I'm usually somewhere on Disney property three to five times a week.

How do I select a topic?

I want to write about topics that interest me so I rarely solicit ideas. If I opened up this selection criteria to all of you, you'd be asking me to cover things like the Dining Plan, which I couldn't care less about. Since I'm volunteering my time to AllEars, the topics must be fun for me to investigate and write about. There are, of course, times when I must write about less-than-exciting subjects.

Disney occasionally invites AllEars to cover press events. Since I'm the only team member who lives nearby, these assignments often fall on me. (It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.) Most of these press events are fantastic. For example, when Disney opened La Hacienda de San Angel Restaurant at the Mexico Pavilion, I was wined and dined and entertained. I had a great night! But Disney also invites us to lesser events, like the opening of a shop.

A while back, I attended the official opening of Tren-D, a women's wear store located at Downtown Disney. I have absolutely no interest in women's clothing, but I attended with an open mind. I realize that it's important that AllEars cover everything we can so we can remain a leading Disney information provider. In my article about Tren-D, I tried to put as much enthusiasm as I would for any other topic.

There are some topics that interest me, but I'll probably never cover. Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion come to mind. There have been whole books written about these two attractions. I couldn't begin to do them justice.

So back to, "How do I select a topic?" When the right idea comes to me, I know it.

Once I select a topic, how to I begin?

If I'm going to include a video with my blog, I usually begin by filming. Since my goal is the capture the subject matter, not the guests, I must arrive at the parks well before opening so I can be one of the first through the gates. I usually have 20 to 30 minutes of people-free shooting before too many guests arrive and start to get in my way. If I'm filming an attraction, I will shoot all of the exterior shots before riding. Once again, this maximizes my people-free opportunities.

I also like to shoot from as many viewpoints as possible. This adds interest to the video and alleviates the boring "one perspective" camera angle. Let's take the Lilly Belle, for example. When I filmed this attraction, I rode three times. Once to film from the port side of the ship, once to film from the starboard side, and once to capture a clean recording of the narrative. I also videotaped the ship from vantage points in Liberty Square, Frontierland, and Tom Sawyer Island. This took about four hours as I had to wait multiple times for the Liberty Belle to complete a trip around the island.

I have the patience of Job when filming. Many times I will wait" and wait" and wait for people to move out of my shot. You'd never know it by the friendly expression on my face, but occasionally I'm thinking some pretty nasty things about guests who plant themselves in the middle of my next shot to discuss whether to ride Peter Pan or Small World next. (JUST PICK ONE, DARNIT, AND GET OUT OF MY WAY! LOL)

It's not uncommon for me to have well over one hundred video clips by the time I'm finished filming a subject. It's imperative that I edit my video as soon as I get home because I'll quickly lose track of what I've filmed if I wait.

Unless I've filmed a live performance, I usually strip away all of the original sound. The microphone on my camera captures too many ambient noises that are distracting. Even the slightest breeze can sound like a hurricane to a video camera.

After I've cleaned off all of the audio, I then add appropriate music and sound effects. For example, if you see a fountain in one of my videos and hear the water splashing, the splashing sounds were added by me after the fact. When you see a roaring fire and hear the flames crackling, the crackling sound has been added by me. And those pleasant bird chirps coming from the trees were all placed there when I felt they were appropriate.

It can easily take me eight hours to edit a 10 minute video.

Since I only have 20 to 30 minutes of people-free shooting, I only take one camera with me when I go to a park. I simply would not have the time to take videos and stills on the same trip so why hassle with two cameras. So on another day, I return with my Nikon D80. It's not uncommon for me to take 300 pictures of the subject I'm covering.

To give you an example of people-free pictures versus random guests, take a look at these shots of Morocco and Norway. The people-free pictures were taken at 11:05 (right after World Showcase opened). The pictures with guests were taken later in the afternoon.

Morocco without People

Morocco with People

Norway without People

Norway with People

I certainly believe that people in a photograph can add interest and composition, but that's not my intent when writing a blog. I want to show you the topic being discussed, not a bunch of guests in shorts.

I keep all of my photographs organized for easy access. I never know when I'm going to need a picture I took years ago to better tell a story. I have a folder on my computer called Walt Disney World. Within this folder are additional folders for every park and hotel. Within these folders are sub-categories. For example, under the Magic Kingdom I have folders for each of the lands and under each land, the attractions.

All pictures I use in a blog must be resized to 480 pixels in width, my copyright added, renamed, and saved to another folder so as not to affect the original. It is not uncommon for me to use 80 to 100 photographs with some of my longer blogs. And just for the record, I edit my pictures. If I can take a stroller or another unwanted object out of a shot, it's history. All of this takes time.

More often than not, when I get home and start to edit my videos or stills, I find that I forgot a shot, a picture is blurry, or a video clip too jerky. This will necessitate another trip to Disney for a make-up session.

How do I research my articles?

To begin with, I'm knowledgeable about Disney parks. I went to Disneyland for the first time in 1956-57 and Disney World for the first time in January, 1972. I've also been to the Tokyo Disney Resort four times and the Paris and Hong Kong Disney resorts twice each. I worked at Disneyland for nine years in my youth. I have lived through and experienced firsthand much of the history of these magical lands. However, my knowledge has many holes in it so I do rely on other sources.

I have a large collection of Disney books. These are invaluable to me when researching a topic. I also have Disney stock reports dating back to 1964. I have all but the first issue of Steve Birnbaum's Official Guide to Walt Disney World. I also have the internet.

Jack's Disney Library

Ah, the internet. This is something that one must be leery of. When I find a Disney fact on some webpage, I try to corroborate the information with some other source before I use it. This isn't always possible, but I try. If something sounds too outlandish, I leave the fact out rather than perpetuate misinformation.

I talk to cast members. Cast members can be a wonderful source of information. But they can also be as unreliable as the internet. I don't believe any cast member would intentionally lead a guest astray, but they are subjected to the same Disney urban legends as the rest of us. I still hear cast members tell guests that the black sections in the Swan and Dolphin Hotels can be removed so the monorail can run through these openings. Or that the turrets of Cinderella Castle can be removed if a hurricane is threatening the park. It's all I can do when I hear misinformation like this being dispensed to keep my mouth closed, mind my own business, and walk away. The problem is, guests eat this stuff up and perpetuate the stories.

I also use Guest Relations as a source. The information here is usually, but not always, more reliable than that obtained from a "generic" cast member out in the park.

How do I begin to compose my blog?

As any writer will tell you, the first sentence is the most difficult. Once I get that down, things usually begin to flow easily. But I have been known to agonize over a silly paragraph for much, much too long. I keep a thesaurus handy (actually, it's online) as I try to not duplicate words whenever possible. I try to "write" in the same manner as I "speak." I think this keeps things more informal. I will often write in the second-person, even though I was taught this is a no-no in school. Once again, I think this makes my blogs more personable.

If I'm reviewing a restaurant or some other facility, I will give you my opinion, otherwise, I just stick to the facts. I simply state "what is" in my articles. However, I do tend to write in a positive tone and my descriptions are often mistaken for recommendations. And because my blogs aren't "Trip Reports," I try to leave out personal minutia. I don't think any of you really care what I ate for breakfast on a given day or how long I waited in line to ride an attraction. I believe you read my blogs to learn about Disney.

Proofing my blogs is another challenge. To begin with, I'm mildly dyslexic. This doesn't help. But thankfully, Microsoft Word points out a lot of my mistakes and typos. One of my greatest aids in proofreading comes from software I purchase on-line called Natural Reader. This program reads any document out loud in a "natural" voice. It does not sound like a monotone robot. Hearing what I wrote helps tremendously when looking for errors.

My friend Donald also proofreads my finished documents. Besides finding errors, he also adds his two-cents about the content. Sometimes I take his suggestions, sometimes I don't.

And then there are my readers. They often send me apologetic comments pointing out my errors. Please, don't apologize. I appreciate you letting me know. (Thanks Dan)

By the way, when I receive a correction from one of you, I correct the error immediately, but I still post your comment. This can be confusing to others when the error pointed out no longer exists.

What's involved with uploading the blog?

Once I have all of my text ready and my photos and video prepared, I must upload everything to the AllEars website. The text is easy. All I have to do is cut-and-paste. But the pictures are more time consuming. I must copy and upload each photo into place one at a time. Then, I rename the photo so you can hover your cursor over the picture for a brief description. One of my lengthy two-part blogs can take 40 to 60 minutes to upload.

I upload the video to YouTube and embed a link into my blog. A 10 minute video takes about 70 minutes to upload. This runs in the background so it doesn't affect my computer use, but it does slow down my internet access.

How long does it take me to write a blog?

That depends. It only took me about three hours to write this blog. But then, all I had to do was sit down at the computer and take a few pictures around the house. I did not have to make a trip to Disney or do any research.

My two-part World Showcase blogs are taking me between 30 to 40 hours each. As I mentioned before, I will in all likelihood make three (maybe four) trips to Disney for pictures, videos, and make-up shots. Each of these trips takes around 4 hours minimum. However, if I want to film the entertainment, a trip can take longer than this. I usually arrive early in the morning for people-free filming, but entertainment usually doesn't begin until later in the day. This means that I must wait around until the festivities begin. Now I admit, there are worse places in the world to be forced to sit around and wait, but in reality, I am "working" and this is "wasted" time for me.

My research of the subject also takes a lot of time. I try to be as accurate as possible which means I often check multiple sources before I include a tidbit in my blog.

I work on more than one blog at a time. Since I'm trying to post a new article every Monday, I need to multitask.

I will also try to alternate long blogs with short blogs from week to week. This helps me maximize my time.

If I'm attending a press event, time is of the essence. Allears wants to be among the first to cover the story. In these cases, I return home immediately following the event and do my best to get the story posted that evening or by noon the next day.

What about comments?

Once my blog is live, you are free to post comments (which I do appreciate). Please note, I review ALL comments before they go live. Although I am more than happy to post opposing views and negative comments, I will not post anything I believe to be controversial. For example, when I wrote a blog about Hall of Presidents reopening, I received a handful of comments putting down Obama. These comments never had a chance of being posted. The blog was about the attraction, not the political views of the politicians. If I had posted those comments, I would have received more comments with a variety of views and before you know it, my blog would turn into a name-throwing argument. We all read AllEars to learn about Disney, not to argue about off-topic subjects.

Occasionally I will receive a comment where the vast majority of it is perfectly acceptable, but I consider one line to be controversial. In those cases, I remove the offending sentence(s) and post the rest of the comment. When I do this, I will always contact the sender and let them know I have edited their work. Then I give them the option of leaving their edited comment posted or have me remove it completely.

I would guess that I post 99.8% of the comments I receive.

I DO NOT edit comments for typos and spelling. I simply do not have time.

I also try to personally answer every comment I receive. I figure if you're nice enough to write me, I should at least say "Thank you." But please forgive me when I don't. Once again, I don't always have the time.


It takes a lot of effort to write a blog on a weekly basis. I'm not going to sugarcoat this and say it's easy. It's not. But it is a labor of love. There is an old saying that states, "The worst day fishing beats the best day working." Well, that's the way I feel about my blogs. At times, it can be frustrating, but hey, I'm frustrated at Disney. How bad can it really be?

If you ever see me at Disney World, please flag me down and say hello. Nothing pleases me more than to talk about our favorite subject. And if I'm frantically trying to capture a shot and I'm too busy to chat, don't worry; I'll politely excuse myself.

As I said at the beginning of the blog, "My passion is Disney and I love to learn and write about it. The fact that you enjoy reading what I write is just frosting on the cake."

I'm living the dream!

Return to Blog Central

About October 2011

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in October 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

September 2011 is the previous archive.

November 2011 is the next archive.

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