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June 4, 2012

Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead


Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth, Earful Tower and now Mickey's Sorcerer's Hat -- all of these structures have one thing in common. These are the icons that represent the various Walt Disney World theme parks.

The word "icon" has its roots in early Eastern Christianity. Icon-paintings of the time depicted a holy object or being such as the cross, Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints. The mere sight of one of these paintings, or icons, would instill a feeling of spirituality within an individual.

As the centuries marched on, the meaning of the word icon was expanded. Today, an icon can be a two or three dimensional likeness that represents an object, idea, or place by virtue of a resemblance or analogy to it. Or it can be an actual object that represents a greater whole. Marketing firms know this well and use icons to sell their goods and products. Beginning in 1955, this sight of Sleeping Beauty Castle, the icon of Disneyland, made us long to visit the Happiest Place on Earth.


Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle


When the Imagineers began thinking about Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1989, they knew this new park would also need an icon to represent it to the world. But what would this be?

The Tree of Life was the answer. This icon would impart the message of the Animal Kingdom with a single glance. A gigantic tree would represent the abundant plant life of the planet and the many creatures that would be carved into its bark would symbolize the vast array of animals that call Earth home. However, the Tree of Life did not start out as the mighty structure that it would eventually become. Early designs called for a tree about 50 feet high that would act as a playground for children. As ideas for the tree began to evolve and grow, a viewing platform was envisioned within its branches where guests could survey Safari Village (now Discovery Island) and the environs beyond.

In this early concept drawing, you can see people climbing up into the Tree of Life (right side of the picture).


Tree of Life Concept Drawing


As the tree continued to grow in concept, so did the Imagineers' ideas. One early plan called for a fine eatery to be housed beneath the tree and called Roots Restaurant. But this idea was eventually abandoned in favor of a theatrical show. However, placing a restaurant or a theater beneath such a large structure would create engineering problems. The tree needed to withstand hurricane force winds and a large room built directly under the tree's trunk would make constructing a proper foundation difficult. The idea for the Tree of Life came to a standstill until a solution could be found.

An answer to the problem came from one of the Imagineers who was home watching an educational television program about off-shore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Upon seeing the type of structure used in this endeavor, he knew immediately that the Tree of Life could move forward. The free-span oil-drilling platform offered a wide base, large enough to house a good-sized room, a narrow center section for the tree's trunk, and an expanding top section capable of supporting branches. After preliminary studies were made, a drilling platform was purchased and shipped to Tampa. From there it was trucked to the Animal Kingdom and erected onsite. This next picture shows a model of the structure.

(I received a comment from a reader who tells a slightly different story about the origins of the Tree of Life. Please see John Katok's comment below.)


Oil Platform Model


The next problem to tackle would be the branches. In order to withstand winds in excess of 74 miles an hour, it was believed that the limbs would need to be made out of a rigid, non-flexible material, like steel. In addition, in order to make the project cost effective, the branches would need to be mass produced. This would dictate that limbs of equal size be of identical shape. However, uniformity is not found in nature. When wire-frame drawings and artist renderings were completed, the tree resembled an inflexible geodesic dome more than a glorious tree.


Wire-Frame Concept Drawing

Tree of Life Concept Art


To solve these problems, the Imagineers first developed a flexible, injection-molded fiberglass to create the branches. These would range in size from 2-feet in circumference at the trunk of the tree to 2 inches where the leaves would attach at the end. And since the material was flexible, the limbs would move in the wind, just like a real tree.

Next, a way to attach identical branches in a random pattern was needed. To resolve this problem, 32 balls were created and secured to the tree. From each ball, one or two secondary branches could be attached in various positions. Special expansion joints allow the secondary limbs to move when a breeze passes through. From these branches, smaller, tertiary boughs could be attached, twisted and turned to create a natural shape. In some cases, branches would be omitted from a "standard" socket, in an effort to create a more chaotic appearance. When completed, the Tree of Life had 12 primary branches, 45 secondary branches, 756 tertiary branches, and 7,891 end branches. The tree stands 145 feet tall and is 165 feet across.


Tree of Life Under Construction


It's interesting to note, the final design and shape of the Tree of Life was based on a specific bonsai tree the Imagineers discovered at an early Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. I don't know if this following picture, taken at this year's event, is the same tree, but it certainly reminds me of the Tree of Life.


Tree of Life Bonsai Tree


This next picture shows rows and rows of identical limbs that would eventually take on a natural design.


Secondary Branches


The Imagineers worked with outside firms to develop a natural looking leaf that would withstand wind, heat, cold, and moisture. In addition, the leaves could not be allowed to fade in the sun so they also needed to resist the effects of ultraviolet light. In the end, 102,583 leaves, each over a foot long, were created and attached to the Tree of Life. They come in five shades of green and they too rustle in the wind.


Leaves


The branches and leaves were assembled on the ground and then lifted by crane into place.


Branch Being Lifted Into Place


Of course, the real fascination of the Tree of Life is not the tree, but the over 320 animals that are carved into its trunk. To create this work of art, an international team of artists was assembled. Those not already a part of the Disney team all had their own studios and had proven themselves in various media in advance of the project.

The tree's skin began as a half-inch to the foot model that featured no animals. This model only duplicated a rough approximation of what the Imagineers wanted to recreate in real life. The model was then cut into 4"x4" sections. Each section was then scored in 1 inch intervals. A stylus was run along the scoring and the information recorded into a computer. This data was next sent to a rebar-bending machine that recreated the shape in actual size. Finally, the rebar was attached, piece by piece, to the trunk of the tree and welded into place. The attachment of the rebar took 12 weeks to complete.

Next, the rebar was covered with metal lath, a chicken-wire type material. This would act as a skin to which concrete would be applied. Both the metal lath and the initial coat of concrete can be seen in this next picture.


Wire Mesh and Concrete


Scaffolding, approximately six feet wide, circled the tree on multiple levels. This would provide the artists with a place to work their magic. The animals were carved out of a special plaster-like cement that was applied at a depth of 2 to 4 inches over the first layer of concrete. The artists worked from the top down and each could complete approximately a 6 to 8 square foot area within the 6 to 7 hours the concrete was soft enough to sculpt. This would equate to roughly one average sized animal.


Scaffolding

Scaffolding


Coloring and texture was also a consideration. Various shades of browns and greens were used to create shadows and depth. When the painting was done, a final coat of polyurethane was added to shield the figures from harmful ultraviolet rays which would fade the paint.

For texture, three types of tree bark were emulated when creating the various animals: banyan, oak, and cedar. Samples of each were kept nearby for the artists to study. For example, the stripes on the tiger resemble banyan bark while the octopus' skin is modeled on oak.


Tiger

Octopus


No particular scale was used when adding the animals to the tree. For example, in this next picture we see an ant as large as an ape's face. Yet despite the disregard to size, the animals all seem to blend together seamlessly.


Ant & Ape


It took a team of ten artists and three Imagineers working full-time for 12 months to complete the carvings. In all, the Tree of Life took over two years from the beginning of construction to its finished beauty.


Tree of Life


Now that I've given you the real story of the Tree of Life, let me give you the Disney Legend -- a story to tell those who want to believe in the magic.

Once upon a time, no vegetation would grow on Discovery Island. There were no trees, no shrubs, no flowers, nothing. It was a barren piece of land. Then, one day, a tiny ant planted a seed and made a wish. He asked for a tree to grow -- a tree large enough to provide shelter for all the animals. Magically, the ant's wish came true and a tree began to grow -- and it kept growing until there was room beneath its limbs for all the animals from A (ants) to Z (zebras). And as the tree continued to reach for the heavens, the images of all the animals that took shelter beneath its shade appeared on its trunk, roots, and branches.

The Tree of Life is a magnificent structure. I never tire of looking at it. And to show what a fantastic job the Imagineers did at creating this work of art, I recently heard a teenage girl ask her parents if the tree was real (alive). Although I chuckled to myself when hearing this question, the girl's inquiry was sincere. What better complement could someone pay the artists who created this icon for the Animal Kingdom?

Next week I'll discuss the "It's Tough to be a Bug" attraction that lies within the roots of the Tree of Life.



June 11, 2012

It’s Tough to be a Bug

Jack Spence Masthead


Today's blog is about the attraction, "It's Tough to be a Bug" located beneath the Tree of Life. This funny, scary, silly, and informative show never fails to delight and educate. It's Disney magic through and through.


It's Tough to be a Bug Poster


In last week's blog, I mentioned that initial plans called for a restaurant to be built beneath the Tree of Life. However, early on in the design phase of the project, this idea was abandoned in favor of a show. But the Imagineers struggled with what type of show should be presented here. After all, the Tree of Life was going to be the icon for the Animal Kingdom. Whatever idea was selected to be showcased here had to represent the ideas of nature and conservation.

One proposal featured a film extolling the "Wonders of Nature." Another featured a fable told by the characters of the Lion King. However, this second idea had already been used in the Land Pavilion with a film titled "Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable." Here are two concept drawings depicting these two possible shows.


Wonders of Nature Concept Art

Lion King Concept Art


Other ideas continued to be examined, but none of them seem to satisfy all the requirements the Imagineers had laid out. In the end, it was Michael Eisner that suggested a show about insects. After all, bugs are a part of the animal kingdom and many live beneath the ground and within the roots of plants and trees. In addition, Eisner suggested the Imagineers tie the show into the Pixar movie currently under development, "A Bug's Life."

Ultimately, this idea took root and this show became one of four Disney attractions with a movie tie-in to open before the film. "It's Tough to be a Bug" began entertaining audiences when the Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998. "A Bug's Life" premiered in theaters on November 25th of that same year. So for seven months, audiences had no idea who Flik and Hopper were other than performers in a show.

The other three attractions to open before their corresponding films are as follows:

In 1957, the walk-through diorama in Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland opened two years before "Sleeping Beauty," the animated feature film.


Sleeping Beauty Walk Thru


At the Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios), the giant bee prop from the movie "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" was added to the Studio Backlot Tour one month before the movie was released.


Honey, I Shrunk the Kids - Bee


And in April of 1998, the "Countdown to Extinction" (now "DINOSAUR") attraction opened two years prior to the release of the animated film "Dinosaur."


Countdown to Extinction


Before we discuss the "It's Tough to be a Bug" show, let's start by examining the queue. Located across from the Disney Outfitters shop, this attraction has a rather unassuming entrance. In fact, it is easily missed if you're not paying attention.


It's Tough to be a Bug Entrance

It's Tough to be a Bug Entrance


Up until recently, "It's Tough to be a Bug" featured FastPass. However, it was determined that this time-saver really wasn't needed for this attraction and it was discontinued. Today, the area that once housed the FastPass machines is used for a Meet-&-Greet area.


Meet-&-Greet Area


The first section of the queue meanders through a lush forest. Streams, plants, and trees line the pathway. When walking through this area, it's fun to remember that before the Animal Kingdom was built, this was flat pastureland. Every hill, creek, and plant was added by Disney. In fact, the landscaping department brought in 4.4 million cubic yards of dirt and planted over 4 million bushes and trees to make the park the verdant paradise it is.


It's Tough to be a Bug Queue


Further along the trail, you will be asked to surrender your strollers as they are not allowed in the theater. Cast members park strollers in a designated lot and they will be there waiting for you at the show's conclusion.


Stroller Parking


The queue for "It's Tough to be a Bug" also affords views of the Tree of Life and some of the animal carvings that cannot be seen from any other vantage point.


It's Tough to be a Bug Queue

It's Tough to be a Bug Queue

It's Tough to be a Bug Queue

It's Tough to be a Bug Queue


The queue is designed to make you believe you are shrinking as you travel further and further along the trail. The idea is that you're becoming bug-sized. Part of this effect is achieved by taking you through tunnels, or the passageways of subterranean insects. Everything seems to tower above you and the roots of the Tree of Life are becoming enormous.


It's Tough to be a Bug Queue


One section of the queue passes by a number of posters that introduce the stars of the "It's Tough to be a Bug" show. Unfortunately, most people race by these and never take the time to read the small print.


Celebrity Posters


Today, I'm going to help you out and let you know just what you're missing. The first poster reads:

Weevil Kneevil
the acrobatic Acorn Weevil

"You'll go nuts over his act."

- Mai T. Oak
The Acorn Street Journal


Weevil Kneevil


Termite - ator
the explosive Soldier Termite

"He's armed and ready for action."

- Tim Burr
The Hollow Wood Reporter


Termite - ator


Claire De Room
the scent-illating Stinkbug

"Her performance is a real gas!"

- Wilton Flowers
The Odor-Lando Scent-inel


Claire De Room


Chili
the deadly Chilean Tarantula

"When it comes to throwing quills, he's a hit."

- Harry Arachnid
The Tarantula Observer


Chili


The Dung Brothers
a dynamic "doo doo" duo

This well balanced pair of performers were born for these rolls!"

- Eater's Digest


The Dung Brothers


Jane Goodall was one of the park advisors when the Animal Kingdom was being built. Her contributions to Disney and humanity are honored near the entrance to the theater lobby. Here you'll find a carving of one of her famous chimpanzees and a plaque describing her accomplishments.


David Greybeard

Jane Goodall Plaque


The plaque reads:

In 1960, wildlife researcher Jane Goodall observed a wild chimpanzee as it carefully stripped a stick of its leaves and inserted it into a mound to fish for termites.

This discovery that non humans could create tools opened a door to a previously unknown world of animal intelligence and inspired Jane Goodall's lifelong commitment to understanding these complex, amazing primates.

To honor Jane Goodall, this likeness of the chimpanzee she called David Greybeard was created in the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

As you enter the lobby, notice the overhead theater marquee was created by termites eating out a log.


Entrance Marquee


You are now within the root system of the Tree of Life. This area is full of details if you take the time to look. For example, there is a giant ball of dung just waiting to be examined. Wow! Don't worry. It's odor free. And be sure to read the plaque.


Dung

Dung Plaque


As you explore the lobby further, you will notice roots everywhere and the telltale signs of insects.


Tree Roots

Insect Tunnels


But for me, the best aspect of the lobby is the playbills from past performances of the "Tree of Life Repertory Theater." These humorous takeoffs of actual theatrical productions are clever and humorous. In addition, they offer some interesting facts about the insect world. These playbills offer parents a wonderful opportunity to teach their children about bugs in a lighthearted way. Some of the playbill titles include, "A Grass Menagerie," "My Fair Ladybug," and "Barefoot in the Bark." I strongly encourage you to read these playbills next time you see this show.


Playbills

A Grass Menagerie

My Fair Ladybug

Barefoot in the Bark


In keeping with the "Broadway" atmosphere, songs from various musicals are played in the background. However, the instrumentation is unique. You see, it's bugs making up the orchestral sounds (probably kazoos). And if you listen carefully, some of the harmonies are wonderful. Here is a complete list of the tunes played:

"One" - from "A Cockroach Line" or in reality "A Chorus Line"

"Beauty and the Bees" - from "Beauty and the Bees" or in reality "Beauty and the Beast"

"Tomorrow" - from "Antie" or in reality "Annie"

"I Feel Pretty" - from "Web Side Story" or in reality "West Side Story"

"Hello Dung Lovers" - from the "Dung and I" or in reality "The King and I"

"Tonight" (with "Flight of the Bumblebee" counterpoint) - from "Web Side Story" or in reality "West Side Story"


A Cockroach Line

Beauty and the Bees

Antie

Web Side Story

Dung and I


The "It's Tough to be a Bug" show is only around 9 minutes long, so once you enter the lobby, the wait for the next performance is never too extensive.

The theater holds 430 people. For most Disney theatrical shows, I will tell you that it really doesn't matter where you sit, but in the case of "It's Tough to be a Bug" I did experience a bad seat recently. I was in the front row, end seat. Being this close to the screen and so far off at an angle, many of the 3D effects were not in focus. But other than this one occasion, I've never had a bad experience in this theater.


It's Tough to be a Bug Theater


"It's Tough to be a Bug" combines 3D animation with AudioAnimatronics in a fast paced, action packed show. Flik is the master of ceremonies and introduces the audience to an array of insects with special talents. Of course, things go wrong and everyone is in for a few surprises.


Flik

It's Tough to be a Bug

Hopper


I do want to warn parents who have not seen this show to be wary if they have easily frightened children. "It's Tough to be a Bug" can be scary. Portions of the show are dark, loud, and filled with large spiders. This can be terrifying for some children. But for everyone else, this show is fantastic and full of laughs. People scream with delight during most of the performance.

In case you're wondering who voices the various characters, here is a partial list:

Narrator - Corey Burton

Flik - Dave Foley

Hopper - I have read conflicting reports. IMDB states that Kevin Spacey voiced Hopper for both the movie "A Bug's Life" and the "It's Tough to be a Bug" attraction. However, I have seen other accounts that say that Andrew Stanton voiced Hopper for the attraction as Spacey had it written into his contract that he would not be required to reprise his role for any "A Bug's Life" toys or theme park rides. IMDB states that Andrew Stanton voice Hopper for "A Bug's Life" video game, but makes no mention of the "It's Tough to be a Bug" attraction. This makes be believe that Kevin Spacey can be heard voicing Hopper at the Animal Kingdom.

Chili - Cheech Marin

Termite-ator - French Stewart

Dung Beetles - Tom Kenny

Unnamed bug - Jason Alexander

The theater exit is a good distance from the attraction entrance. If some of your party does not wish to see the show, they should wait for you near the bridge that leads from Discovery Island to Asia.


Bridge to Asia


"It's Tough to be a Bug" can also be seen at Disney's California Adventure. It opened on February 8, 2001 and can be found in the "a bug's land" section of the park.


Disney's California Adventure


I would like to end this blog with one final thought. Remember, magnifying glasses are for looking at little things, not for burning little things.



June 15, 2012

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station

Jack Spence Masthead


Hey everyone, I have great news! "Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak" opened today (June 15, 2012) at Storybook Circus in the Magic Kingdom. As with the rest of this new area, everything looks fantastic! Casey Jr. has arrived from out of town and is getting ready for a big show. Casey and some of his circus cars are parked on the turntable while a few of his friends have already been positioned nearby. All of the animals are excited about the show and exhibit their enthusiasm with sprays of cooling water on the crowds below.

I have included 13 pictures of the area and a short video. I encourage you to watch the video as this will give you a better idea of what this new area is all about.

With each new tidbit Disney offers, I'm getting more and more excited about the rest of the new Fantasyland. Things are looking good.


Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak




June 18, 2012

Golden Oak

Jack Spence Header


I used to fantasize that unbeknownst to me, my parents had bought land in Florida during the 1950s. And when Disney was buying up acreage for Walt Disney World in the 1960s, they somehow missed this small parcel of land my folks owned. And when my parents passed on, I would discover I now possessed land directly beneath Cinderella Castle. As part of the settlement with Disney, I would request millions of dollars. I would also demand a luxurious suite at the Grand Floridian be transformed into my new home and I would be allowed to live at Disney World year round. Unfortunately, when my parents died, I did not find any secret deed hidden in a strongbox. Sigh.

But my fantasy is not dead. I can still live at Walt Disney World year round -- just as soon as I win the lottery. My new dream is called Golden Oak -- a new community at Walt Disney World.


Golden Oak Logo


Golden Oak is located at the north end of Disney property and the entrance is off of Vista Boulevard (just east of the Fort Wilderness Campground). The 980 acre community (when finished) will feature the world's largest Four Seasons Resort (444 guest rooms) surrounded by approximately 450 single-family luxury homes. Connecting the various neighborhoods and the hotel will be recreational pathways, footbridges, parks, and gardens, all surrounded by undisturbed natural forest. The master-plan was developed by Walt Disney Imagineering. Although Disney will maintain the day-to-day operation of the community, the land was de-annexed from Reedy Creek and residents will be part of Orange County. Homes and lots are purchased with full ownership. Prices range from $1.5 million to $8 million.


Golden Oak Entrance

Golden Oak


In an effort to let Disney fans across the country know all that Golden Oak offers, a small number of media folk were invited to experience the well-appointed lifestyle this community provides. I was honored to be included in this group. And I have to tell you, I was impressed by what I saw.

Our visit began at the sales office. Like most such facilities, a topographical map greets prospective buyers as they enter the building. Here we could easily see what Disney has planned for this new community. Current home sites and future developments are all laid out in meticulous detail. But what really set the Golden Oak sales office apart from other communities are the Disney photographs and paintings that hang on the walls, emphasizing the connection between Golden Oak and Walt Disney World.


Sales Office

Topographical Map

Topographical Map

Disney Art


Our group was introduced to Page Pierce who is part of the Golden Oak team. He spent several minutes explaining to us some of the perks of living in this upscale community.

When buying at Golden Oak, homeowners will receive a special ticket that entitles the Passholder and four additional guests admission to all of the Walt Disney World theme parks and water parks. Additional ticket perks include:

No blackout dates
Extra Magic Hours
Park hopping
Free parking

But who cares about free parking when Golden Oak offers Home-to-Park shuttle service? And I'm not talking about a big diesel bus that continually circles the community. I'm talking about a mini-coach that arrives at your doorstep at a predetermined time and transports you and your guests directly to your desired location on property. All it takes is a phone call to Residence Services and you're set.

Your park admission ticket is provided free of charge for the first three years. After that, the tickets can be renewed. (Prices were not quoted.)

Here are just a few of the other perks offered to homeowners of Golden Oak. Some of these are included in your monthly fees, others are at an additional cost.

Golden Oak residents receive Disney Park merchandise discounts of up to 20 percent. Home delivery is also provided. Dining and golf reservations can be made via Residence Services. Need your house cleaned? All it takes is a phone call.

Need your house decorated for the holidays? The same people who so beautifully adorn the theme parks and hotels at Christmas will be available to custom design your own yuletide decorations. Once again, all it takes is a phone call to Residence Services.

Of course, we wouldn't want any unsightly trashcans out on the street come collection day. So each house will have a designated area near the home where the trash men can access your garbage in a more "civilized" manner.

Golden Oak residents will also be invited to exclusive in-park events. For example, breakfast might be served at the France Pavilion before World Showcase opens. Or during the Food & Wine Festival, an executive chef might provide a private cooking demonstration.

Golden Oak residents will also have a club house known as Summerhouse.


Summerhouse

Summerhouse

Summerhouse Model


Although almost complete, Disney is still finishing up some of the interior details of Summerhouse and we were asked to refrain from taking pictures inside the building. So I'll do my best to let you know what to expect from this beautifully decorated and appointed structure.

When guests enter the main lobby, an electronic display will detail all of the current Golden Oak activities and times. Nearby are two "concierge" desks. Here, highly knowledgeable Disney cast members will be on hand to answer questions, make reservations, or plan your entire vacation.

A private dining/conference room seats 12 and can be reserved for family meals or high-level business meetings. State-of-the-art electronics will offer the ability to video-conference with associates from around the world. The table is round and has a large lazy susan in the middle for the passing of food or business documents. (The table was big enough to conjure up thoughts of King Arthur.)

A small kitchen sits adjacent to this room and is accessed via sliding panels that feature a reproduction of a "Sleeping Beauty" background piece painted by Disney Legend, Eyvind Earle. Other, Disney art adorns the rest of the room and if you see a piece that strikes your fancy, it can be reproduced and hung in your home.

Summerhouse also features a lounge and dining room. These two facilities will be staffed by Four Seasons and offer upscale and healthy choice meals. Also available are a heated pool, fitness center, and a family/game center. Residence Services will host a number of seasonal activities and parties throughout the year.

Summerhouse is beautiful. I'm very sorry that I can't share pictures with you because any description I might give would fall short. But let me assure you, the rooms are all comfortable and inviting. It's obvious that quality has been woven into every aspect of this building's design. Yet at the same time, there is absolutely nothing stuffy or formal about the dΓ©cor. Summerhouse is a place where anyone would feel right at home.

Seven local construction companies have been selected to build the custom homes of Golden Oak. Each is noted for superior quality and craftsmanship and has a reputation for providing high customer satisfaction. Prospective home buyers can design their new dwelling from the ground up, or select from several, ever changing spec houses.

During my visit, our group toured four homes. Instead of taking you on a tour of each one by one, I've decided to present these houses on a room by room basis. This way, you'll be able to do comparisons of styles and offerings.

Exterior

In order for the neighborhoods to maintain continuity, the exterior designs have been limited to a select few architectural styles. Yet within these styles, a great many choices are available so no home will look like its neighbor. Golden Oak will feature old-world Mediterranean and Caribbean architecture with Venetian, Dutch, and Tuscan design influences.

Lots range in size from Β½ to ΒΎ of an acre. All outside landscaping is included in the price and is maintained by the homeowner association Current homeowner dues run a little over $5K a year.

Faux finishes are not allowed on any exterior surface. If a house is to be covered in rock, it must be real rock. When brick is called for, it must be actual brick. All gutters are to be made of copper. The driveways are covered with pavers or other special surfaces. You won't find any concrete or asphalt leading up to the garage.

Each home will feature a special medallion next to the front door. The owner's name will grace the upper portions of this crest.


Medallion


Here are front exterior shots of the four homes I toured.


Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Home Exterior


Kitchens

Many who move to Central Florida are dismayed to learn that natural gas is not available for cooking and heating. If you want to cook by flame, you must have a propane tank positioned next to your house or buried underground. Because of this, most folks opt for electric cooktops as this is the simpler option. But Golden Oak did not settle for this solution. They arranged for pressurized natural gas to be piped to each and every home.

Custom cabinetry is also standard at Golden Oak. In many cases, the Sub-Zero refrigerator (or comparable brand) and dishwasher will be hidden behind matching cabinet doors.

You won't find any laminate in a Golden Oak kitchen or bath. Granite, marble, or other upscale surfaces are the countertop of choice.

Want a built-in espresso machine? It's a snap. Need a water faucet above the cooktop? Sure, why not? If you want it, these builders can probably provide it.


Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen


Living Room & Dining Room

Of course, music can be piped into every room of the house if that's your desire. And state-of-the-art security systems are the norm - complete with TV monitors in selected rooms. Would you like to control the thermostat, lights, pool temperature, music, or other household functions from your computer or iPad? Not a problem. The wiring and technology are available.

In Florida, many homes have large sliding glass doors that fit neatly out of sight in pockets when open. This allows homeowners to open up their houses for "outdoor" living. At Golden Oak, these doors can be automated so they open and close with a flick of a switch.

Almost every room has been electronically outfitted to accommodate wall-mounted flat-screen TVs with recessed openings for cable and electrical connections.

The living and dining rooms are large. The designers realize that these homes will be used for entertaining and don't want residents to feel crowded.


Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room

Living and Dining Room


Bedrooms


Bedrooms

Bedrooms

Bedrooms

Bedrooms


Wine Cellar

The term wine "cellar" is somewhat of a misnomer. We don't have cellars in Florida. The high water table prevents this. But a couple of the homes did have dedicated rooms for storing your favorite vintage.


Wine Cellar

Wine Cellar

Wine Cellar

Wine Cellar


Ceilings and Light Fixtures

If your house is typical, the ceiling is either smooth or has a knockdown or a popcorn texture. Although some of the rooms within the Golden Oaks homes have traditional knockdown surfaces, some are far more imaginative and artistic. And you won't find any "glass-and-brass" chandeliers hanging over a dining room table. The light fixtures here are well thought out and exhibit quality.


Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures

Ceilings and Light Fixtures


Switches

Even the light switches are special in these homes.


Light Switch


Staircases

Three of the homes featured a second story. Of course, the staircases here required more than simple carpeting. Wooded steps with tiled or marble risers provide a creative walkway to the upper level.


Staircases

Staircases

Staircases


Master Bath

One of the requirements of Golden Oak is that every bedroom have its own, full bath. So a five-bedroom home would have five-and-half baths. The half-bath is the guest "powder room."

In several of the models, there were his and hers water closets in the master bath. No more arguments as to whether the seat is left up or down. One bath featured a bidet.

The showers in the master baths were also large and some offered multiple controls to adjust the several shower heads. The showers were definitely big enough for two (or more).


Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom


Closets

The master bedroom closets are bigger than most people's bedrooms. All were furnished with cabinets, drawers, hanging space, and shoe racks. One closet even had an area dedicated to the hanging of men's neckties.


Closets

Closets

Closets

Closets

Closets


Outdoor Living

Florida is all about outdoor living and this fact hasn't been forgotten at Golden Oak. All of the homes featured large covered lanais, swimming pools, outdoor kitchens, outdoor televisions, and outdoor fireplaces or fire pits. Some even offered retractable screens that lowered and rose with the flick of a switch.


Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living

Outdoor Living


The various neighborhoods of Golden Oak will surround the Four Seasons Resort. Many of the services and facilities of this upscale hotel will be available to Golden Oak residents. However, the guests of Four Seasons will not have access to Golden Oak so there will be no "tourist" traffic driving up and down your street. Four Seasons is currently scheduled to open sometime in 2014. Current estimates predict that Golden Oak will be selling homes for the next 8 to 10 years.


Four Seasons

Four Seasons Model


Disney is fully aware that the vast majority of the people who buy at Golden Oak are planning on using these houses as vacation homes for themselves and their guests. Although there will be a few year-round residents, most will only spend a portion of the year at Walt Disney World. When home owners are away from Orlando, all they have to do is call Residence Services to arrange for their house to be made ready for friends and family.

I will be honest; Disney wined and dined me for three days during my visit. Did this affect my opinion? Not really. Although enjoyable, the lavish attention I received really wasn't necessary to garner a good review. The community of Golden Oak could sell itself. How could someone not be impressed with the community, the homes, and the Disney services offered?

But Disney pulled out all the stops for my visit, not so much as a way to win me over, but to vividly illustrate the lifestyle that is available at Golden Oaks and at Walt Disney World if you have the means to afford the very best. For example, we were treated to a buffet breakfast poolside at the last house we visited. Cold cuts, fruit, rolls, and breakfast drinks were served in the kitchen while out by the pool, two buffet tables had been set up to offer us an array of meat products (including filet mignon), eggs, potatoes, an omelet station, and a pancake station. We sat at tablecloth covered tables while the wait staff cleared our plates, brought us seconds, and refilled our drinks. The weather was perfect, the atmosphere sublime, and the views outstanding. Even a McDonald's hamburger would seem special with this type of service and surroundings. Once again, all it would take for a resident to arrange such a gathering at Golden Oak is a simple call to Residence Services. Disney's "Special Events" team would take care of the rest.


Special Breakfast

Special Breakfast

Special Breakfast

Special Breakfast


I know your next question is, "Can I visit Golden Oak?" The answer is yes. However, you cannot just stop by and say, "I want to take a look around." You must call in advance and make an appointment. But before you do, I would strongly suggest taking a look at their website. Here you'll find a wealth of information that I've neglected to tell you and more about appointments. The Golden Oak website is: www.disneygoldenoak.com

So how did this multimillion dollar community get its name?

In the mid-1950s, Disney needed a location to film "The Adventures of Spin and Marty," a serial about two boys attending a western-style summer camp. This 25-episode drama was to be part of the "Mickey Mouse Club" television show. Scouts scoured Southern California and eventually found the perfect parcel of land off of Placerita Canyon Road in northwestern Los Angeles County, about an hour's drive north of the Disney Studios in Burbank. The setting was perfect for a multitude of productions as it included streams, a lake, meadows, oak groves, and rolling hills. Walt was so enamored with the area that he bought 315 acres in 1959 for $300K. Over the years, subsequent purchases of the adjacent parcels brought the total property up to 827 acres. The name "Golden" Oak Ranch refers to the mini-gold rush that occurred nearby in the 1840s.

Over the years, scenes from many Disney and non-Disney movies have been filmed here. Some of the Disney productions include: Old Yeller, The Parent Trap, Toby Tyler, Follow Me Boys, and The Shaggy Dog. More recent movies include: Princess Diaries II, The Santa Clause, Pearl Harbor, and Pirates of the Caribbean II & III.

If you watch the original "The Parent Trap" there is a scene where Mitch Evers (Brian Keith), Vicki Robinson (Joanna Barnes), and the twins (Hayley Mills) are getting ready to leave on a camping trip. If you look closely at the pickup truck they are riding in, you can see "Golden Oak Ranch" printed on the truck's door.

Disney still owns Golden Oak Ranch and is currently in the process of transforming a portion of this land into a high-tech motion picture production center. Soundstages, mill shops, offices, outdoor sets, and a commissary are all part of the grand, multimillion dollar plan. When construction is complete, it will be possible to create an entire movie or TV show from beginning to end at this facility.


Golden Oak Ranch


The name "Golden Oak" can also be seen in the Magic Kingdom. In Frontierland, "Golden Oak Outpost" serves fried chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, fries and drinks.


Golden Oak Outpost


In conclusion, I would like to thank all of the Disney cast members who provided me with this marvelous opportunity to visit Golden Oak at Walt Disney World. I was treated like royalty and I appreciate all of the effort that so many individuals took to make my experience here so memorable.

And just so you know, since my parents didn't buy any land in Central Florida during the 1950s, I've added Golden Oak to my "must have" list when I win the lottery.



June 22, 2012

Art of Animation Resort

Jack Spence Masthead


The Art of Animation Resort is Disney's latest hotel at Walt Disney World. Opening in stages, this value resort will offer both standard rooms and one-bedroom suites when completed. I recently stayed here and would like to share my insights with all of you. Some of you might already be familiar with this resort through articles written by AllEars newest feature blogger, Kristin Ford and videos I shot last month.

Before I get started, I need to share some history with you. (Surprise, surprise)

Disney's Pop Century Resort was to feature 10 sections, each representing a different decade of the 20th century. The resort would be divided in half with Hourglass Lake separating the Classic Years from the Legendary Years. A bridge would connect the two.


Pop Century Resort

Bridge


The first phase of Disney's Pop Century Resort (the Classic Years) opened in late 2003. This half of the resort featured pop icons and memorabilia from the 1950's, 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's. The resort was an immediate success and quickly became a favorite of those seeking a value resort.

Construction began on the second phase of the project and the lobby/restaurant and three hotel wings were nearly completed. However, because of the slowdown in tourism after the 9/11 attacks, it was decided to put the project on hold until things turned around. In this next picture, you can see the nearly completed lobby/restaurant of the Legendary Years. The project was so far along that even some decorative touches had been added.


Legendary Years


In 2010, Disney announced that they would restart construction on this unfinished portion of the resort, but instead of completing the Legendary Years, they would build the Art of Animation Resort. No reason was given for this change of course. The announcement also surprised many as the hotel would contain both standard rooms and one-bedroom suites. The three buildings that had already been completed would be standard rooms.

The Art of Animation Resort is located off of Victory Way at the south end of Disney World property. The entrance sign is big and inviting.


Art of Animation Sign


The resort features four sections, each themed after a different Disney or Pixar Movie. The first section to open was the Finding Nemo district in May of this year (2012). This was followed by the Cars district opening in June. The Lion King rooms will open sometime in August. And the Little Mermaid section in September. The Little Mermaid buildings will feature standard rooms. All of the rest will be suites. In addition, the suites will have indoor hallways leading to the rooms rather than balconies.

As you approach the resort and Animation Hall, the four movie themes of the resort tower above the sidewalk on giant pieces of "paper."


Movie Characters


The bus stop is also located just outside of Animation Hall - and I have some fantastic news for you. Unlike the other value resorts, the pick-up and drop-off area is covered. Guests are protected from the sun and rain while waiting to go to the parks. Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed that Disney will retrofit the other value resorts with this necessity.

Since I know I will be asked"¦ The Art of Animation Resort does NOT share buses with Pop Century.


Bus Stop


Entering Animation Hall through the porte-cochère, guests are greeted by a huge wall of sketches. These include characters from Cars, Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, and The Lion King. If you study the drawings from right to left, you will notice the characters change as you move along. On the right side of the wall, the characters are depicted in their early, concept stage. As you move along, they begin to take on more familiar personas, until finally, we see the personalities we have fallen in love with.


Porte-cochère

Animation Wall


The floor also helps tell the story of animation. Near the porte-cochère entrance, the floor is decorated with broad, sweeping swaths of color. This represents the strokes of a brush and the early years of animation. As you proceed through the room, the swaths turn into large squares, then smaller squares. This represents the transformation from hand-painted cels to computer graphics and pixels.

Opposite the animation wall are the check-in desks. However, instead of an expansive, single counter that stretches from one side of the room to the other, multiple podiums have been lines up. This allows the cast members to actually come from behind the podium and stand next to you as they provide resort information. I have to admit, I was a little dubious when I first heard about this new, informal method of registration, but when I actually tried it, I liked it a lot. The cast member was able to provide me with casual professionalism.

Behind the podiums the wall is awash with color.


Check-in Desks

Wall of Color


Also in the check-in area is a children's waiting area. An artistic, round room with a spiral bench gives kids a fun spot to hang out while mom and dad take care of vacation details.


Children's Waiting Area


Every Disney resort must have a video arcade and Art of Animation is no exception. Pixel Play Arcade can be found in Animation Hall and is a fun place to practice some hand-eye coordination. Another nice thing about this facility is seating. For the first time in a Disney arcade, cushioned benches (that look like giant pixels) are offered and allow mom and dad to rest while the younger set is mesmerized by flashing lights.


Pixel Play Arcade

Pixel Play Arcade

Pixel Play Arcade


Landscape of Flavors is the Art of Animation Resort food court. Disney also learned their lesson from mistakes they made at the All Star Resorts. Here, the ordering area is much larger and better lit than at previous venues. In addition, the food court features an open kitchen. So while waiting in line, you can see the cleanliness of the facility and your food's preparation.

Several tandori ovens were installed and the chefs of the Sanaa Restaurant (Animal Kingdom Lodge) were on hand to help with the menu. I have eaten here several times and I have been more than pleased. Although the basics like pizza and hamburgers are available, more upscale offerings like Mongolian Grill Beef Stir Fry and Tandori Portuguese Sausage can also be ordered. To see the complete menu, click here.


Landscape of Flavors

Landscape of Flavors

Landscape of Flavors


There is plenty of seating in four minimally themed areas. My only complaint with the dining rooms is that there are no soft surfaces or carpet to absorb the sound. It can get a little noisy in here.


Landscape of Flavors Dining Room

Landscape of Flavors Dining Room


To see a movie of the resort entrance and Animation Hall, check out this video.



Just outside of Animation Hall is the Finding Nemo Section of the resort and the hotel's largest swimming pool. Guests in this area are made to feel they are the size of Nemo and are surrounded by fish, coral, and other marine life. Another unique attribute of this pool is the underwater speakers, so when you're swimming below the surface, you can hear your favorite Disney melodies.


Big Blue Pool

Big Blue Pool


A very imaginative children's splash area (Schoolyard Sprayground) features a number of Nemo's classmates spouting water. This is a great spot for little ones to cool down on hot days. A dry play area (Righteous Reef Playground) is also on hand and offers several slides and tunnels for kids to explore. Please note: Do not let your children drink the water in the splash area. It is recycled and nearby signs inform you of this fact. When I visited the other day, parents had given their kids plastic bottles and they were filling them via the spouting fish. The last thing you need while on vacation is a sick child.


Children's Splash Area

Children's Splash Area

Children's Splash Area

Children's Play Area


The Drop Off is the spot for mom and dad to find a refreshing libation. This is also the location to refill your refillable mugs when poolside.


The Drop Off


Crush and Mr. Ray greet guests as they enter the two Finding Nemo buildings. Other fish can be seen swimming in the gardens and along the sides of the buildings. It all adds up to a lot of underwater fun.


Crush

Mr. Ray

Fish


To see more of the Finding Nemo swimming pool, take a look at the following video.



The guest rooms of the Finding Nemo section are all one-bedroom suites. When entering, you're in the dining room. A special Murphy bed table makes up the bulk of the furniture in this room. One person can easily open and close this bed as it has counterweights. Two end tables flank the bed.


Table / Murphey Bed

Table / Murphey Bed

Table / Murphey Bed


Off of the dining room is a bathroom. A single sink is available in the outer room and a toilet and shower can be found in a secondary room. The mirror is framed within a giant porthole and the shower curtain sports Dory, Bruce, Anchor, and Chum.


Guest Bath

Guest Bath


The living room has a convertible sofa, coffee table, pole lamp, chair, chest of drawers, and an open closet. Also in the living room is a kitchenette that features a sink, microwave, mini-refrigerator, coffee maker, plastic cups & cutlery and paper plates & bowls.


Convertable Sofa

Chest of Drawers

Open Closet

Kitchenette


The bedroom has a double bed, chest of drawers, a TV, open closet, and nightstands. The headboard is designed to look like coral and the lamps resemble sea urchins.


Bed

Chest of Drawers


The master bath is decorated similarly to the guest bath, however, it does not have a separate water closet. It also has a large stall shower while the guest bath has a tub/shower.


Master Bath

Master Bath


The attention to detail in the Finding Nemo guest suite is amazing and I'm certain many people, especially children, will fall in love with the Finding Nemo rooms - however, I am not one of them. For me, the bright blues and oranges are too intense and make it impossible for me to relax. Also, the plastic dining room chairs and plastic coffee table reek of cheap. I really think Disney could have made some better choices in the color scheme and furniture.

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



Your journey to the Cars section of the resort begins with a trip down Route 66. Two giant billboards welcome you to Radiator Springs and Ornament Valley. Along the road, all of your old friends are on hand to greet you. With the use of creative landscaping and a wonderful pallet of colors, it's easy to forget you're in Florida and not in the American Southwest. For those of you who remember Burma-Shave advertisements, you're in for a treat.


Ornament Valley Billboard

Radiator Springs Billboard

Route 66

Doc

Flo

Ramone

Sheriff


At the heart of the Cars section of the resort is the Cozy Cone Motel. This is the entrance to the swimming pool. When you visit, be sure to take a look at the postcards in the window. For any of you who are my age and remember long "driving" vacations, these will bring back memories. Inside this building are coin-operated washers and dryers.


Cozy Cone Motel

Cozy Cone Motel

Cozy Cone Motel Postcards

Laundry


The Cozy Cone Pool is substantially smaller than the Big Blue Pool over at the Finding Nemo section of the resort. Although children are welcome here, they would probably be happier swimming with Nemo and his friends.

One of the best features of the Cozy Cone Pool is the Cozy Cone Cabanas. Each of these houses a table and four chairs - the perfect spot for shade and a game of cards. These cabanas cannot be reserved and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.


Cozy Cone Pool

Cozy Cone Pool


Sarge's Supply Hut cleverly houses pool equipment and is a storage facility for other resort paraphernalia.


Sarge's Supply Hut

Sarge


Sarge's nemesis, Fillmore is also on hand. Be sure to read some of Filmore's bumper stickers. They're a hoot!


Fillmore

Bumper Sticker

Bumper Sticker


The Cars section of the resort has three guest buildings. Mater, Luigi & Guido, and Lightning & Sally each anchor one of the entrances.


Cars Rooms Entrance

Cars Rooms Entrance

Cars Rooms Entrance


To see a video of the Cars section of the Art of Animation Resort, check out the video below.



As I mentioned earlier, I was not enamored with the Finding Nemo guest rooms. That was not the case with the Cars rooms. I fell in love with the imaginative dΓ©cor found here. The colors were more subdued and the furniture a little more sturdy. The floor plan and accoutrements of the Finding Nemo and Cars rooms is identical. It is only the theming that changes.

Let's start in the dining room. Once again, a table/retractable bed makes up the bulk of the furnishings here. On the table are the logos for the many businesses of Radiator Springs. When the Murphy bed is open, a picture of Mater sleeping can be seen. The end tables are designed to look like auto tool cases.


Table Murphey Bed

Doc's Emblem

Cozy Cone Emblem

Mater Sleeping

End Table


The guest bath is designed to look like a carwash. The brightly lit mirror is hilarious and the shower curtain has Red giving Lightning a much needed shower. I have been told by a reader that these shower curtains are for sale at the Ink & Paint shop. However, they were not available during my visit.


Guest Bath

Shower Curtain


I love the living room. The convertible sofa looks like the backseat of a 1950's car. It's fantastic. The coffee table has a map of Route 66 passing through Carburetor County. If you study it carefully, you'll find many interesting places like Tailfin Pass and Tire Flats. You might also find a hidden Mickey. Note: The coffee table is made out of particle board and is very heavy. It will take two people to move it out of the way when opening the bed.


Living Room

Coffee Table


The chest of drawers, open closet, and kitchenette all resemble auto tool chests.


Chest of Drawers

Kitchenette


The bedroom is a little more subdued than the living and dining rooms. The theme here is Cozy Cone Motel. The carpet, headboard, and lamps all sport these cute little orange safety markers. The chest of drawers is designed to look like a piece of furniture you might encounter on a 1950's road trip.


Bedroom

Chest of Drawers


Another cute detail used in this room is old style postcards embedded in the furniture.


Postcards


The bathroom continues the car wash theme found in the guest bath.


Master Bath

Master Bath


Another thing I like about this room is the pictures hanging on the wall. Scenes from the movie appear to be painted on canvas and have an expensive look about them.


Painting

Paintings

Paintings


If you'd like to see a video of a Cars guest room, click on the picture below.



I know most of you don't watch TV to any extent when you visit Walt Disney World. But for those of you who do, I have good news. Disney recently contracted with Direct TV and their station selection is greatly improved and expanded. Now when you can't sleep in the middle of the night, there is something besides Stacy to watch.

Between the Finding Nemo section and the Cars section, for me, Cars wins hands down. I feel the detailing is better and the atmosphere a little less "in your face." However, if you have kids, you might want to consider the Finding Nemo section as it is closer to the pool they're going to want to use.

I already have my reservations for the opening of The Lion King section of the resort. You can rest assured I will have more pictures and videos soon after.



Hi Everyone. This is Jack with an update.

Disney is touting the Big Blue Pool at the Art of Animation Resort as Walt Disney World's largest "resort" swimming pool. This pool holds 308,527 gallons of water. However, Stormalong Bay at the Yacht and Beach holds 795,000 gallons of water. Disney considers Stormalong Bay as a "collection" of pools, even though they are all connected to one another via small swim-ways.



June 25, 2012

What Would Walt Do?

Jack Spence Masthead


Editorial

I often hear people state "What would Walt do?" when they believe the present leadership of the Disney Company has done something they don't approve of. When I hear this, I think to myself, the man has been dead for 45 years. You've never met him. All you know of Walt is the polished image he and his PR people put out there. How do you know what he'd do?

Walt was always growing and learning. He was always abandoning one idea for another. He was always moving from one project to the next. And he continually changed with the times. We have no way of knowing what he would think today (at the age of 110). And as you'll see later in this article, it can be dangerous to lock ourselves into his "unknown" mindset.

Before I go any further, I want to point out; I'm a big fan of Walt Disney. This man gave me untold hours of joy. When I was a boy, I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club, Disneyland, and later, the Wonderful World of Color on TV. I visited Disneyland yearly in my youth and when I turned 18, I got a job there that lasted 9 years. Every time I see the American Adventure, I get goose bumps when I see Walt's picture included with the other famous Americans in the final montage. I'm so happy the Imagineers felt him worthy to be added to this distinguished list. Walt was a genius and an inspiration in many ways.

In no way do I want to detract from all the great things Walt accomplished during his life, but over the years the Disney Company has promoted him to something akin to a demigod. The Disney Company has a marvelous talent of publicizing their successes and brushing their failures under the rug. Because of this, the general public often forgets that Walt was human and made mistakes. And Walt made some decisions that are certainly questionable - decisions that if they were made today, would create an outcry to be heard around the world of Disney. Because of some of his decisions, I'm not sure Walt's "perceived" opinions should necessarily be the litmus test for every project the Company takes on today. By "perceived" I mean, what people "believe" to be Walt's opinion on a particular topic.

First, let me give you just a few examples of some of the questionable choices Walt made at Disneyland.

One of the rides initially planned for Disneyland was to be called "Canal Boats of the World." Here, guests were to sail past famous landmarks from various countries. However, the cost of building Disneyland skyrocketed and the landmarks were never built due to budget constraints. The boat ride was completed, but not the scenery. Yet, Walt made the decision to use this attraction anyway due to the incomplete nature of Disneyland on opening day. So when Disneyland premiered on July 17, 1955, guests spent ten minutes on this ride sailing past dirt hills and the ride operators remained silent as there was nothing to point out along the way. Even by 1955 standards, this was pretty pathetic and the ride garnered the nickname "The Mud Bank Ride." After two months of mechanical failures and guest complaints, the ride was closed. It reopened a year later as Storybook Land Canal Boats.


Canal Boats of the World

Storybook Land Canal Boats


As we all know, Walt had a love affair with trains. And of course, Disneyland was going to have two steam trains of its own, one passenger train and one freight train. When Ward Kimball happened upon the construction of the cattle cars, he instructed the workmen to make the openings between slats 12 inches apart, rather than the 4 inches that the plans called for. He knew these larger openings would afford guests better views of Disneyland as the train circled the park.

When Walt caught wind of this, he called Ward on the carpet. Walt told Ward that he had no business changing the plans. Ward then asked Walt, "You want 'em to see the Park, don't you?" Walt countered with, "I want people to know how it feels to be a cow or a sheep riding in those cars." Of course, Walt got his way and the slats remained at 4 inches apart. But Walt was dead wrong. People clamored to ride in the passenger train and shunned the freight train. After enough complaints were registered at City Hall, Walt reluctantly had the cattle cars remodeled to provide better views.


Cattle Cars


Walt loved the circus. And he wanted Disneyland to have its own version of the big top to be located on land adjacent to Disneyland for the upcoming Christmas season. His staff pleaded with Walt to reconsider. They argued that circuses are events in their own right. People come to Disneyland to see Disneyland. They're not going to leave the park to walk next door and spend a couple of hours under the big top. Walt wouldn't listen and insisted a circus be created.

On opening day, one calamity after another played out. If something could go wrong, it did. But more than that, the public wasn't interested. Day after day, the seats remained empty. Management adjusted the schedule, ticket prices, and anything else they could think of to lure guests to the Mickey Mouse Club Circus, but nothing worked. This ended up being one of the biggest flops in Disneyland history.


Mickey Mouse Circus Club


In 1959, Disneyland opened the Monorail, the Submarine Voyage, and the Matterhorn. Once again, the project ran out of money and the interior of the Matterhorn was never completed. Riders could easily see steel girders, wooden beams, chicken wire, and plaster whenever their bobsleds were inside the mountain (as could those riding through on the Skyway). This totally ruined the magic of believing you were in Switzerland careening down a real mountain. Although the original plans called for the completion of the interior, Walt did not make this a priority after the attraction opened - he moved on to other projects and completely forgot about the Matterhorn. In fact, the finishing of the Matterhorn interior never occurred during his lifetime. The interior was not completed until 1978 - twelve years after Walt's death. Looking back, it's hard to believe that Walt would leave such an important aspect of a ride incomplete - but he did.


Matterhorn


Walt also made many compromises because of his brother Roy's insistence that they adhere to some sort of a budget. Walt could often strong-arm Roy into doing things his way, but frequently the realities of the real world forced Walt to settle for less than he aspired to. Do you really think he wanted to allow a concessionaire to sell brassieres on Main Street or have the Bathroom of the Future as one of his Tomorrowland attractions? He did so because it was the right business choice at the time and his dreams needed to take a back seat to reality.

Now let me show you what happens when an entire organization starts to ask "What would Walt do?"

Even though Walt Disney Productions went public in 1940, Walt still ruled the company with his foresight and imagination and Roy's financial genius helped him realize his dreams. There were certain Imagineers and executives who could make suggestions to Walt, but it was Walt who ultimately made the final decisions. Walt almost always got his way.

Walt died on December 15, 1966. At that moment, the Company froze in time. Old-timers will tell you that the Company had no direction. Nobody knew what to do next or how to proceed. There were several projects and movies already in the pipeline that contained Walt's inspiration, but once those ran out, what would they do next? As new opportunities came to life, the Imagineers and executives would continually ask themselves and one another, "What would Walt do?" But nobody really had the definitive answer. How could they? Everyone had their own opinion of Walt's way of thinking, but their opinions did not match. This effectively locked the company into gridlock and the mindset of 1966. They forgot that Walt was always growing and changing. In fact, the years between 1967 and 1983 are known as "The Dark Ages" in Disney history.

During "The Dark Ages," the Company created many forgettable movies and neglected Disneyland to focus on the Magic Kingdom and then Epcot. During this time, the Company became vulnerable to hostile takeovers and in 1984 narrowly fought off an attempt from Saul Steinberg to buy and dismantle the Company. Now I can't say that the "What would Walt do" philosophy was the only reason for the Company's downturn, but it did play a major role in the direction the Company had taken.

In late 1984, Roy E. Disney, son of Roy O. Disney, forced then Disney President Ron Miller out of office and replaced him with Michael Eisner (CEO) and Frank Wells (CFO). One of Michael's first directives was to stop the "What would Walt do" mentality. He forged ahead, making decisions he thought were best for the company and the public, not based on the memories of a leader now gone for 18 years. He knew the Disney Company needed to keep up with the times.


Michael Eisner and Frank Wells


It's easy to second guess Walt. But is this fair? I certainly wouldn't want someone second guessing my thoughts after I die (or even while I'm alive). I think the best we can ever do is agree that Walt tried to bring us quality entertainment. But even at that, we can debate what "quality" is. I recently wrote a blog about the Grand Floridian, the Disney flagship hotel. Many people wrote in telling me that the Grand Floridian is a fantastic resort. But one gentleman wrote in saying that the resort didn't live up to its potential. This individual could easily invoke the "What would Walt do" argument to support his position. In another blog about Golden Oak, one reader wrote in saying that Walt would never approve of this project, while someone else was sure that Walt would love this endeavor.

Personally, I'm disappointed that the new Voyage of the Little Mermaid attraction is using Omnimover technology rather than the more advanced and trackless LPS (Local Positioning System) used on Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland. But I'm not going to say, "Walt would have used the LPS system" because I really don't know what he'd do. After all, this is the same man who left the Matterhorn unfinished.

Most non-smokers are happy with the current smoking policies management has implemented at its parks and resorts. Walt was a longtime, heavy smoker. So how do you think he'd feel if he were told today that he was not allowed to smoke in any of his hotels and he would be relegated to small sections of his parks if he wanted to light up? I don't know. And nobody else does either.

Am I happy with all of the decisions Disney management makes today? Absolutely not. Do I think Disney management has made some colossal mistakes since Walt's death? You bet I do. Do I think that Disney sometimes lives off of its laurels? Yup. But my list of dissatisfactions is probably entirely different than yours. And we could probably both claim that Walt would take our own side of the argument.

Walt made his share of mistakes - just like the management teams that came after him. But Walt's mistakes seem to be forgotten and forgiven, while we seem less willing to forget the mistakes of those who followed.

So what would Walt "think" about his Company if he rose from the dead and viewed it today? Big picture -- I believe he would be astonished to learn there were now eleven theme parks around the world bearing his name and a twelfth under construction. He'd be amazed that his Company has a fleet of four cruise ships. And he'd be surprised to find out that his TV and movie studio is one of the largest and most profitable in the world. I imagine he'd feel that his Company is moving in the right direction. I know that's my opinion.

But maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he'd be ticked off to learn that the city of Epcot was never built. Maybe he never wanted to build another theme park after the Magic Kingdom. Maybe he wanted to focus his attentions on solving urban sprawl. And had he moved in this direction, the resort of Walt Disney World would not be the place we enjoy today. There would be no Epcot, Studio, Animal Kingdom, or parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

As for the details, I don't know what Walt might think. For all we know, he might hate how the Haunted Mansion, a classic "Disney" attraction, turned out - the first attraction to open without his personal stamp of approval. And he might love "Stitch's Great Escape," an attraction considered to be a failure by many.

It seems that we only bring Walt's name into the conversation when we believe that current management has blundered. We use Walt's "opinion" as justification that our views are correct and the Imagineers' judgments are wrong. I don't have a problem with people complaining about some perceived "less than stellar" achievement that the Disney Company has created. I do this all the time. I only have a problem with people justifying their opinion with the unknown thoughts of a man who has been dead for 45 years.

In conclusion, I want to say that Walt Disney was a great man. The world is a better place because of his existence. Let us remember all of the marvelous and fantastic contributions he brought us during his lifetime. But let us not second guess what he may or may not have done if he had lived longer. We just don't know. The best we can do is guess, and this really isn't fair to his memory.


Walt Disney



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About June 2012

This page contains all entries posted to The β€œWorld” According to Jack in June 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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