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February 2014 Archives

February 3, 2014

US Route 192 – Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway

Jack Spence Masthead


When people ask me where they should stay when visiting Walt Disney World, I always tell them at a Disney hotel (on property). I believe the perks offered here, such as Extra Magic Hours, the dining plan, and the close proximately to the Disney theme parks makes these resorts an excellent choice. However, there are many good reasons for staying at a non-Disney resort (off property). First among these is cost.

There is no way around it. Disney resorts are expensive. Even the Value resorts such as the Pop Century, Art of Animation, and the All Stars can cost $100 a night or more. For just a few dollars extra, a person can stay at a full-fledged non-Disney hotel. And with some sort of discount card they can get a mini-suite off property. If you want to be pampered and spoiled, there are other, more luxurious choices than the Grand Floridian - and many don't cost nearly as much.

Another good reason to stay in a non-Disney hotel is that it puts you in a better frame of mind to visit Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World, and LEGOLAND. All four of these parks are outstanding and offer fantastic experiences that are well worth your time and money. In additions to these mega parks, the Orlando area has literally hundreds of other, lesser known attractions that are also a lot of fun. If you're not sure what these other attractions are, just about any non-Disney hotel and eatery will have a rack of brochures in their lobby to help plan your time.


Attraction Brochures


Two guides I would suggest picking up are "Orlando Quick Guide" and "Experience Kissimmee Florida." Both offer a comprehensive overview of the many opportunities to be had in the area.


Orlando Quick Guide


Today I'm going to talk about one of the major, non-Disney lodging areas in the Orlando area - or should I say, the Kissimmee/Saint Cloud area. US Route 192, also known as Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, runs from the middle of the state beginning at US Route 27 and ends one block from the Atlantic Ocean at State Road A1A. About 20 miles of this 75 mile thoroughfare are populated with a dizzying array of hotels, motels, timeshares, restaurants, souvenir shops, and attractions.


US192 Roadsign


Before I talk about the current US Route 192, or just 192 as the locals call it, I'd like to give you an abbreviated history of this highway. The Florida's State Road system was defined by law in 1923 and this was the first time this roadway was given an official designation. Over the years, road numbers were assigned and reassigned until finally in 1945, three State Roads were combined and assigned the designation of what is now, US192.

Irlo Overstreet Bronson, Sr. was a prominent cattle rancher in the Kissimmee area. He also served in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida State Senate. But he is perhaps best remembered as one of the local land holders who sold a large portion of his property to the Disney Company for a mere $100 per acre. Though his family felt he had relinquished the land for far less than its true value, Bronson believed that Disney would offer better career opportunities to the community and incentives for the local youth to remain in the area. Following his death in 1973, a large stretch of US192 was named the Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway.


Irlo Overstreet Bronson, Sr


After the Walt Disney World project was announced to the public, Disney executives hosted an event in Anaheim for many of the Central Florida local politicians. At this event, Disney drove the dignitaries up and down Harbor Blvd, the main roadway that borders Disneyland. The Disney people told these dignitaries, "Don't let this happen in your cities." What they were referring to was the unchecked and unplanned growth that had sprang up along Harbor Blvd in the wake of Disneyland. Everyone wanted to cash in on the Disneyland bonanza and an array of tacky establishments grew around the theme park.

I have no idea what restrictions may or may not have been implemented on US192 once everyone returned home from Disneyland, but judging by the mismatched growth that sprang up in the years that followed, the planning codes must have been lax - or nonexistent. US192 became Harbor Blvd East.

I'm happy to report that when construction began on Disney's California Adventure in the late 1990's, Disney entered into an agreement with the City of Anaheim and much of Harbor Blvd. was reimagined and improved to give the street a unified and well-kept look.

Also beginning in the 1990's, the tourist areas of US192 began an extensive reconstruction. Two lane roads were widened to four and four lane roads widened to six. The streets were lined with palms and lampposts were given a singular, stylish design. Traffic signals that once hung from overhead wires were replaced with more attractive solid pylons. Bus stops were also unified, covered, and given a tasteful look. Well cared for grass strips were situated along the road to soften the harsh look of the asphalt and buildings. And imaginative mile markers were positioned up and down the roadway to help tourist find the various venues along the route.


Palm Trees

Lampposts

Bus Stop

Mile Marker


When traveling along US192 today, you see an odd collection of strip malls, standalone eateries, souvenirs shops, attractions, fast food restaurants, and tourist information booths. However, the beautification of this thoroughfare is apparent and it doesn't seem to be the mishmash that it once was. Credit should be given to the cities' leaders who did their very best to update and modernize this tourist area.

Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of inconsistency in the caliber of the businesses offered here. For example, there are many, new and modern strip malls.


Nice Strip Mall

Nice Strip Mall


But there are still a few holdovers from the past.


Old Strip Mall

Old Strip Mall


One of the great things about US192 is the vast selection of souvenir shops and their outrageous architecture. Take a look at just a few.


Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop

Souvenir Shop


Actually, visiting these gift shops can be a lot of fun if you enter with the right frame of mind. To begin with, these are not the "sanitized" shops you'll find at Disney. Here you'll discover a much larger array of merchandise, including t-shirts and bumper stickers with racy sayings. You'll also find that the prices are considerably less than what Disney offers. But be sure to compare quality. Sure, you can buy t-shirts for $5, but examine the fabric thickness. Will they stand up to multiple washings?


T-Shirt Sign


You will see Disney characters plastered on everything, but you will not find the words "Walt Disney World" on t-shirts, towels, and bric-a-brac. The merchandise here may sport the words "Disney," "Orlando," or "Florida," but NOT "Walt Disney World." These words are restricted to Disney World venues.

You will also find a lot of non-Disney merchandise at these shops. Some of it relates to other Orlando attractions and some of it is just plain ol' tacky souvenirs that can be seen at any gift shop across America. But there are also quality items that can't be found on Disney property if you take the time to look.

Be aware, most of these gift shops have stationed a salesperson near the exit. When leaving, you will be asked if you want to buy tickets to any of the Orlando attractions. These salespeople can be persistent, but they are easily ignored if you just keep walking and don't engage them in conversation.

Speaking of tickets, you will also see a number of standalone shops offering "cheap tickets." I cannot speak with any authority on this subject, but I have always lived by the adage, "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is." These places may be 100% legitimate, but buy with caution.

EDITORS NOTE: AllEars has a long time relationship and recommends MapleLeafTickets for discount tickets at the Orlando theme parks. The link takes you to special pricing for AllEars readers!


Cheap Tickets


In the years before air travel brought fresh fruit to supermarkets year round, citrus baskets from Florida were a required gift for those back home enduring a harsh winter. Today, most of these roadside stands are gone, but there are still a few along US192. Here you can purchase a large selection of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. Also available are citrus plants to plant once back home. Be aware, some states like California and Hawaii have strict restrictions on the import of plants, fruits, and vegetables.


Citrus Stand

Citrus Stand

Citrus Stand

Citrus Stand


Besides citrus products and souvenirs, these stands also offer foodstuffs like honey and specialty sauces.

An interesting phenomenon happened along Harbor Blvd. after Disneyland was built. In an effort to capitalize on the park's popularity, local establishments tacked on the word "land" to their business name. So you now had names like "Motel Land" and "Grocery Land." The same thing happened in Orlando. Many businesses tacked on the word "world" to make an association with themselves and the theme park.


World Sign

World Sign

World Sign


And it's not just the little guy who does this. One of the largest hotels in the Orlando area has effectively used the word "world."


World Sign


Speaking of names, you will encounter the terms "West Gate," "Main Gate," and "East Gate" along US192. You will also find these terms when searching for hotels and motels online. They are used to fool the uninformed tourist into thinking their establishment is close to the theme parks. For the most part, they are not. All of the parks are at the very minimum, a 15 minute drive away from any business on US192 - when the traffic is good. Note, US192 has dozens and dozens of signals and congestion is common during busy periods. Realistically, you should plan on a 30 minute drive to get to the Disney parks and longer to get to Universal and Sea World.

There is one stretch of US192 that is free of any business and is lined with thick growth on both sides of the road. This portion of the road is crossing Disney property and in essence, is a mini-freeway. The only sign of activity along this section of highway is the backside of ESPN Wild World of Sports. Traffic usually moves well in this portion of road as it has no signals, cross traffic, or turnouts to slow distracted drivers.


Disney Property

ESPN Wild World of Sports


Speaking of distractions, US192 has dozens of billboards, benches, and towering signs to grab your attention.


US192 Distractions

US192 Distractions

US192 Distractions

US192 Distractions


Near Mile Marker 8, you'll find the entrance to Celebration. This is the master-planned community that Disney orchestrated on their southern property beginning in the early 1990's. As this is an entire subject onto itself, I will save this topic for another article on another day.


Celebration

Celebration


Just down the road from Celebration is Old Town. This amusement center offer shops, restaurants, taverns, carnival-type rides, and live entertainment. However, this spot is best enjoyed in the evening when guests returning from the Disney parks arrive. Combine these enthusiastic patrons with the hundreds of blinking lights that bring the buildings alive and you have a very festive atmosphere. Note, although there are some rides suitable for young children, there are others that only the bravest individuals would dare attempt.


Old Town

Old Town


I have to admit, I've always been a little disappointed with Disney's miniature golf courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter-Summerland. Although imaginative, they lack the wow factor found in many non-property courses. That's not the case when looking for putt-putt spots along US192. Here you'll find real creativity and fanciful challenges.


Miniature Golf

Miniature Golf

Miniature Golf

Miniature Golf


For those of you who have money to burn, may I suggest a helicopter tour over Disney World? I did this once and found the experience to be exhilarating. It really is fantastic to see some of your favorites spots from the air. Although the company I used is no longer in business, there are several helicopter tour offices along US192. Note, the more you spend, the longer you stay in the air. Don't be fooled by the $20 come-ons. This amount of money will not afford you a tour of the entire Disney property.


Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour


When it comes to lodging, US192 has it all. Bargain motels and deluxe hotels can sit side-by-side and everything in between is right at hand. In addition, many resorts are located just off of the main drag. This allows them the space to create a relaxed atmosphere removed from the hustle and bustle of the busy street nearby.

EDITORS NOTE: AllEars has long term relationships with several hotel/villa/vacation home providers not on Disney property. The following hotels offer readers special pricing:


All Star Vacation Homes

DoubleTree Guest Suites in Downtown Disney
Holiday Inn Resort Lake Buena Vista
Sheraton Vistana Resort
Sheraton Vistana Villages


Hotel

Hotel


Many of the larger hotels offer shuttle service to the Disney parks. However, these may or may not work well with your schedule and in all probability, will not be as convenient as what Disney offers. Renting a car is most likely a good idea if staying along US192. And for those of you who do drive, remember, your Disney parking ticket is good all day at all four Disney parks.

Dining options are even greater than the lodging choices along US192. Almost every US chain restaurant has a presence here - many multiple times. And if you're not a fan of chain restaurants, a number of independent options are readily available. Once again, here is just a small selection of well-known eateries that will beckon you.

Applebee's
Bahama Breeze
Black Angus
Boston Lobster Feast
Burger King
Chili's
CiCi's Pizza
Cracker Barrel
Denny's
Golden Corral
Houlihan's
Joe's Crab Shack
Logan's Steakhouse
Longhorn Steakhouse
Olive Garden
Papa John's Pizza
Ponderosa Steakhouse
Red Lobster
Ruby Tuesday
Sizzler
Sweet Tomatoes
Wendy's


Restaurant

Restaurant

Restaurant


If you want more than just a meal, there are a number of dinner adventures to choose from. Here is just a sampling.

Medieval Times offers a show featuring a king, queen, and six armor-clad knights riding valiant steeds in an exhibit of pageantry and competition.


Medieval Times


Pirate's Dinner Adventure features a 46 foot long Spanish galleon afloat in a 300,000-gallon indoor lagoon. Each of the six sections of the audience cheers for their pirate as the adventure unfolds in front of you.


Pirate's Dinner Adventure


The ad for Capone's Dinner & Show reads as follows, "Knock three times, give the secret password and discover the mysterious world of 1931 gangland Chicago. Our entertaining show delivers loads of laughs, gangster action, audience interaction and toe-tapping musical productions."


Capone's Dinner & Show


That's about it for my discussion of US192. I have to be honest, my advice to Disney World vacationers is still to stay on property if you can afford it. But if you choose to stay off property for any reason, this area of Central Florida has a lot to offer.

As always, I will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding this article. But in reality, I don't frequent US192 often and I really don't have much detailed information about any particular business or attraction offered here.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing any business mentioned in text or seen in any of my pictures.



February 10, 2014

Restroom Evolution

Jack Spence Masthead


We all know that much of Disneyland's success was due to its innovative theming and storytelling. No other amusement park before Disneyland featured the attention to detail that this new Anaheim park offered. But that was only part of the formula to success. Cleanliness was another major component to the "Disney Difference." Walt wanted his park to be spotless, and this included the restrooms.

If you're like me, you hate to use a public restroom. But of course, spending eight or more hours in a theme park necessitates stops to answer the call of nature. Thankfully, Disney restrooms are usually immaculate. And on the rare occasions when you do find a problem, all you have to do is mention it to any cast member and they will see to it that the issue is taken care of.

In the early years, the exterior of the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom restrooms were themed, but their interiors were still very basic. They were clean, but contained nothing except the bare necessities to get the job done. But to Walt's credit, he was innovative in one aspect of restroom design. He insisted that his restrooms be free of charge and he would not install pay toilets which were common in the 1950's.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of an early Disneyland restroom to share with you. Who takes pictures inside lavatories? That would be creepy (and use expensive film). But in order to write this article, I had to be a little creepy and do just that. So I arrived at the Magic Kingdom at opening and dashed from restroom to restroom and snapped some photos before guests needed a health break. I always made sure that no one was inside as I knew it would be disturbing to someone to hear the click of a camera and see a flash of light while they were doing their business. Because of this limitation, I was not able to take as many pictures as I might have liked in some facilities.

Over the years, as wear and tear dictated, Disney restrooms have been remodeled. Gradually, the theming that Disney is known for has made its way inside these facilities - and that's what I'm going to be showing you today.

The most basic and uninspired restroom I could find is located at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Even the exterior here is lacking.


TTC Restroom

TTC Restroom


However, compared to the 1950's, this uninspiring restroom is fantastic. To begin with, the sinks are contained within a counter. This looks nice and gives you space to set your belongings while washing your hands. In the early years, each sink was a separate basin. As for appearance, the floor tile is decorative and the listello adds a nice accent near the ceiling. In the "old days," all restroom floor tile was somewhat industrial and the wall tiles were always white with no accent.

The first restroom many of us use in the Magic Kingdom is located between City Hall and the Fire Station. The exterior of this lavatory has always been beautiful.


Main Street Restroom

Main Street Restroom


Upon first glance, you might not appreciate this restroom, but if you look closely, you'll see that it is themed appropriately. First, notice the light fixtures. They are keeping with the Main Street theme. Next, take a look at the red, accent tile walls. These coordinate with the real red brick found on the building's exterior. And finally, see the intricate tile molding along the ceiling. This hints at crown molding and is keeping with the Victorian theming of Main Street.

One of the largest restrooms in the Magic Kingdom is located in the breezeway that connects Adventureland with Frontierland.


Adventureland Restrooms

Adventureland Restrooms


This recently refurbished facility is beautiful. Besides the impressive tile work on the wall, the floor also is extraordinary as it uses large tiles around the exterior of the room and smaller tiles that create a mosaic in the center of the room.

One of the most hidden restroom facilities of the Magic Kingdom can be found off of the shop adjacent to Pirates of the Caribbean. I also think this is perhaps the most elaborate of any the Magic Kingdom lavatories. The tile work in here is magnificent!


Pirate Restrooms

Pirate Restrooms

Pirate Restrooms


The "Pirate" restrooms also are some that use clever signage to indicate "Men," and "Women." But for those of you who don't read Spanish and are uncertain which to use, don't worry, there are also male and female stick-figures to help you out.


Restroom Sign

Restroom Sign


In the 1950's, 60's, and 70's, the Imagineers hid many of the restrooms in less trafficked areas of the park - like the "Pirates" restroom mentioned above. I'm not sure why. I guess they thought that restrooms were one of those "unmentionable" topics that should be tucked away in some obscure corner of the park. It's interesting to note, one of the most often asked questions of cast members is, "Where are the restrooms?" But things are different in the 21st century. Take for instance the newest restrooms to find their way into Fantasyland. Here, the Imagineers have built an entire mini-land around going to the bathroom.


Tangled Area


Located between "it's a small world" and the Haunted Mansion, this area is based on the Disney animated film, "Tangled" and reproduces a small section of the Kingdom of Corona. Here the Imagineers have created a park-like setting with benches, tables and chairs, charging stations for your electronics, overhead lanterns, and of course, bathrooms. In the distance is Rapunzel's tower. But the detailing doesn't stop on the outside. The restroom interiors are also nicely detailed.

The men's room is located inside one of Corona's local diners (which I think is an odd choice in which to house a restroom). Just inside the door we see wanted posters of some of the characters we're familiar with from the movie. Above the sinks are pans used in the establishment's food preparations. Even the stall doors were given an extra dash of detailing with simulated wood planks and hinges.


Tangled Men's Room

Tangled Men's Room

Tangled Men's Room

Tangled Men's Room


Another thing we're seeing in more and more reimagined Disney restrooms is the latest in hand blowers. These work much better than the old models that hung on the wall.


Hand Dryer


The lady's room can be found next door and is housed in a Corona shop. Since I could not enter this facility, I have borrowed some of AllEars blogger Kristin Ford's photos.


Tangled Women's Restroom

Tangled Women's Restroom

Tangled Women's Restroom

Tangled Women's Restroom

Tangled Women's Restroom


Disney did make a few mistakes when building the Magic Kingdom and the restrooms located in Liberty Tree Tavern are a good example. Here, the facilities are located up a narrow stairway on the second floor of the restaurant - with no elevator. You see, back in the late 1960's when Walt Disney World was being planned, no one gave much thought to those guests with mobility issues. Unfortunately, there is nothing the Imagineers can do to rectify this problem today. If you're in a wheelchair and need to use the restroom while eating at Liberty Tree Tavern, the closest facilities are the ones found in the breezeway connecting Adventureland and Frontierland.

A reader has informed me that Liberty Tree Tavern now has a handicapped restroom under the stairs.


Liberty Tree Tavern


However, the Imagineers have also corrected some oversights of the early years. Today, almost every restroom is equipped with a baby-changing table. This even applies to the men's rooms. At least one sink has been lowered for children and for those in wheelchairs. And Companion Restrooms are available to those guest who need assistance from a friend or relative. This is a godsend for single parents who have young children of the opposite sex that cannot go into a restroom alone.


Baby Changing Table

Lower Sink

Companion Restrooms


The restrooms near the exit of Splash Mountain are pretty basic when compared to others in the Magic Kingdom. They are definitely a bit stark.


Splash Mountain Restroom

Splash Mountain Restroom


The restrooms next to Pinocchio Village Haus are also rather plain when compared to the Pirate or Tangled restrooms. But notice how a little color and wall molding warms up this facility when looked at side-by-side with the Splash Mountain bathrooms.


Pinocchio Restroom

Pinocchio Restroom


I love the exterior of the restrooms found behind Gaston's Tavern. And the inside is pretty nice as well. Here the Imagineers used dark tile on the walls and tile-wood planks on the floor. This room's beauty is deceptively simple.


Gaston Restrooms

Gaston Restrooms


I've reported on this next restroom in a previous blog. Over at Storybook Circus we find a train turntable and tracks radiating from this central location. Some of the train tracks aim toward the roundhouse, were the restrooms are located. If you pay attention to the floor inside the restrooms, you'll see that the track is continued and reproduced with tile.


Storybook Circus Restrooms

Storybook Circus Restrooms

Storybook Circus Restrooms


Over in Tomorrowland, we find a rather unimpressive exterior hides a beautifully detailed interior. This "restroom of tomorrow" uses multiple shades of blue and space aged light fixtures to give guests the feeling of the future. I especially like the brushed metal look found on the towel dispensers.


Tomorrowland Restrooms

Tomorrowland Restrooms


There were always restrooms beneath the Tomorrowland Skyway Station, but when this attraction was retired, these facilities were neglected as the building sat for several years before this structure was reimagined. When construction was complete, guests found that these restrooms had been enlarged and given a nice, futuristic design.


Skyway Restrooms

Skyway Restrooms

Skyway Restrooms


The last restroom I will mention in the Magic Kingdom is located between the Plaza Restaurant and Tomorrowland Terrace. Once again, by today's standards, the exterior is somewhat uninspired for a facility with such a prominent exposure. The inside is nice, but nothing to write home about.


Plaza Restrooms

Plaza Restrooms


Although this article is about Magic Kingdom restrooms, I have to mention one recently refurbished facility at Disneyland. Next to the Alice in Wonderland attraction were the old "Prince" and "Princess" restrooms. These have been given a makeover and now offer an "Alice" theme with "King" and "Queen" designations. Notice how the tile work incorporates the colors of black, red, and white - the colors of playing cards. Also look at the stall doors that resemble playing cards. (My thanks to AllEars blogger Jason for the pictures.)


Alice Restrooms

Alice Restrooms

Alice Restrooms

Alice Restrooms


Over the years, two changes have come to all Disney restrooms. The first because of technology. In the late 1980's, the automatic flushing toilet was invented. It wasn't long after that these wonders started appearing at Disney parks and hotels. Now we don't have to touch the toilets with our hands - thank you very much! Not that I've kept track, but to my knowledge there are no hand-flush toilets to be found in public restrooms at the Disneyland or Disney World Resorts anymore. And we're also starting to see more and more automatic paper towel dispensers. Hurray!

Unfortunately, the other significant change to Disney restrooms came in 2001 during the anthrax scare. At that time, Disney immediately eliminated all powdered hand soap in favor of liquid. This required temporary bottles of soap be left out on counters until each restroom could be retrofitted.

Although there are interesting restroom decors in the other Disney World parks, none have gone through as many transformations as those at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. Believe me when I say, even the most dull and unimaginative restroom today is a lot better than the originals of 1955 and 1971.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to go off topic for a moment. But I promise to tie it back into Disney if you'll just bear with me.

Trivia buffs will often tell you that the first toilet ever seen on network TV was on the "Leave it to Beaver" show. Well, this fact is only partially true. In the episode titled "Captain Jack" (October 11, 1957), Beaver sends away for and receives a baby Florida alligator. Knowing his mother June would not approve, he and Wally search for a place to hide it. Since the gator needs water, the first thought was to hide the critter in a sink or bathtub. But this wouldn't do as June would be certain to find it. So they settle on the toilet tank.

When the episode was filmed, the scene depicted the entire toilet, tank and bowl. But the censors of the day and CBS would have nothing to do with this offending porcelain necessity. In fact, they didn't even want a bathroom shown at all. Remember, people of the 1950's never spoke of such topics (or so the censors thought). The censors insisted that the episode be shelved until a solution could be found. After much wrangling, a compromise was reached and the scene reshot with only the toilet tank being shown -- not the "offending" bowl.


Leave it to Beaver


The next time a toilet was referenced on TV was during the run of All in the Family (1971 to 1979) when Archie flushes his offstage commode.

Now I'll bring this back to Disney"

As we know, Walt was often ahead of his time. And this was also the case with bathrooms, at least when the subject was relevant to his attractions. Even though the censors of the day didn't want the public to see a bathroom or toilet on TV, Walt was more than willing to feature these facilities at Disneyland if it educated and/or entertained.

On April 5, 1956, the Crane Company began sponsoring the Bathroom of Tomorrow attraction located in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Even though the majority of the exhibit featured a collection of valves and clear pipes that guests could open and close to control the flow of water, there was a display of a modern bathroom, complete with a lemon yellow tub and toilet.


Bathroom of Tomorrow

Bathroom of Tomorrow


A little over a year later on June 12, 1957, Disney and Monsanto opened the House of the Future. This dwelling constructed of plastic featured two bathrooms, complete with toilets for all the world to see. It's estimated that during its ten year run, 20 million people toured this home of "1986."


House of the Future

House of the Future


But it's one thing to display a toilet in an exhibition/advertisement. It's quite another to display a toilet in an honest-to-goodness attraction. Enter the Carousel of Progress which debuted at the New York World's Fair in 1964. In Act Two of the show, we're introduced to Cousin Orville soaking in the tub. Also in this room was a toilet. Now the Imagineers could have easily omitted the commode or hidden it from view if they had wished, but instead, used it conspicuously for humor. If you look closely, you can see that Orville uses it as a table to hold his cooling beverage. And in Act Four, we hear from Cousin Orville a second time as he flushes an offstage toilet. Did the writers of All in the Family steal this joke from Disney?


Cousin Orville

Cousin Orville Flushes


Once again, it demonstrates that Walt knew the public better than the so called experts - the censors. Audiences were not shocked by the sight of a bathroom or a toilet. Instead, they were entertained by it. But then, Disneyland was completely under his control and he called all the shots. On the other hand, Walt did have to deal with censors and ABC when making the Disneyland TV show and the Mickey Mouse Club. I don't ever recall Annette excusing herself to go to the bathroom.

Well, that's it for my rundown of the evolution of Magic Kingdom restrooms. I know I always tell you to slow down and smell the roses. But maybe on this occasion, we should just "look" and not "smell." LOL



February 17, 2014

Walt Disney Family Museum

Jack Spence Masthead


In a number of my blogs, I have encouraged my East Coast readers to make a trip to Southern California and visit the Disneyland Resort. I've explained that Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure are worth your attention and time. I've also mentioned that there are many other worthwhile sights to see and experience in the area and a family could easily fill a week touring the Los Angeles basin. Today I want to expand your West Coast vacation with an additional four to six days in San Francisco and its neighboring environs.

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There are few other metropolises that can top the romance, excitement, and loveliness found in the City by the Bay. San Francisco offers first class dining, shopping, and entertainment. Man-made tourist attractions abound with the likes of Fisherman's Wharf, the cable cars, Alcatraz, and China Town just to name a few. And if you feel like experiencing more natural surroundings, the giant redwoods of Muir Woods and the vineyards of Wine Country are just an hour's drive away across the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, San Francisco can easily fill a week of your time. But if all this wasn't already enough, a new shining star in the city's roster of tourist attractions opened on October 1, 2009, The Walt Disney Family Museum.


Walt Disney Family Museum


Cofounded by Walt's older daughter Diane Disney Miller and other heirs of the Disney family, The Walt Disney Family Museum is located at 104 Montgomery Street found on the historic parade grounds of the Presidio, a retired army base near the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The museum takes up residence in three refurbished and retrofitted buildings of the base's glory days. It encompasses 40,000 square feet on two levels and offers a chronological telling of Walt's life. The museum is owned and operated by the Walt Disney Family Foundation and is not formally associated with the Walt Disney Company. However, it is obvious from the exhibits that the two entities cooperate with one another.

I was recently in San Francisco for a day, waiting to set sail on a cruise to Hawaii. (Check back next week for my review of Aulani.) I was staying at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill and unsure of how to reach the museum from this location. An inquiry at the concierge desk provided me with three choices: Rent a car - and then try to find a parking space. Take the bus - which would gobble up an hour of my time getting there. Or take a taxi - which is what I did. The fare and tip came to less than $20 and I was there in 15 minutes. And believe me when I say, a taxi ride in San Francisco is and "E" coupon experience.

Just inside the museum's main doors is the reception desk and information center. It is here that you purchase your tickets. The prices are as follows:

Seniors (over 65): $15
Adults: $20
Students (with valid ID): $15
Youth (6 - 17): $12
Children under 6: Free when accompanied by an adult

The museum accepts credit cards and is open seven days a week from 10am until 6pm (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). The last tickets are sold at 4:45pm.


Reception Desk


Please note, I visited the museum on a busy Saturday afternoon. I was not always able to take the pictures I desired due to the many patrons viewing the exhibits. And for those of you who have visited here before and wonder why I have any pictures at all, a recent policy change rescinded the "no picture" rule.

Behind the reception desk is a collection of 248 awards that Walt received during his career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This area can be viewed without purchasing a ticket.


Disney Awards

Disney Awards

Disney Awards


The sight of one award caught me off guard and brought a lump to my throat. There, in all its beauty, was the special Academy Award Walt won for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." As Shirley Temple said, "Isn't it bright and shiny?"


Snow White Academy Award

Snow White Academy Award


Another stirring exhibit is also found in this room. Here you'll see the actual chairs that Walt and his wife Lillian sat in while enjoying time in their apartment located above the Fire Station at Disneyland.


Walt's Disneyland Apartment

Walt's Disneyland Apartment

Disneyland Fire Station


A tribute to Diane Disney Miller can also be found nearby. The illustrations are of Diane and her sister Sharon and were done by Norman Rockwell.


Diane Disney Tribute

Diane Disney illustration

Sharon Disney Illustration


Everything from this point forward requires a ticket. Before entering this section of the museum, a docent will explain the walking path, tell you where the restrooms are located, and ask if you have any questions.

One of the first exhibits you encounter is a pictorial and written account of Walt's family tree. At these displays you can learn some interesting facts about Walt's ancestors. For example, his father Elias loved music and taught himself to play the fiddle. As a teenager, he became proficient enough that he began performing at nearby dances. However, his parents were opposed to music for religious reasons. When his mother Mary caught wind of his activities, she showed up at one of these events, smashed his fiddle, and lead Elias home by the ear.


Disney Family Tree

Disney Family Tree

Disney Family Tree


Around the corner we find a reproduction of the ambulance that Walt drove during WWI in France.


Walt in France

Walt in France


Still pictures and film presentations give us a glimpse into Walt's early Alice cartoon series.


Alice Cartoons


The museum also pays homage to Ub Iwerks, the man who took Walt's ideas for Mickey Mouse and put them on paper. Contrary to the popular story, Walt did not actually draw Mickey while on the train returning from New York after losing the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This is where he came up with the concept for Mortimer, then to become Mickey at Lillian's suggestion. It was Ub who took pencil to paper and turned Walt's concepts into reality.


Ub Iwerks


Ub was a prolific animator. He was able to turn out as many as 700 drawings in a day, a figure that made him legendary in the industry. The wall pictured below contains 348 frame enlargements of his work on Steamboat Willie. Some of these drawings are motionless while others actually show animation. These drawings represent less than 15 seconds of action.


Steamboat Willie Animation


Within this glass case pictured below is a fantastic collection of vintage Mickey Mouse toys, books, records, and more. The sale of merchandise like this helped keep the company afloat. Mickey and his friends brought in untold amounts of cash to keep a struggling studio going.


Disney Collectibles


The Silly Symphonies are introduced to us with an animated display of "The Skeleton Dance." An animator's desk is also on display nearby. Additional exhibits explain the use of maquettes and new animation tools.


The Skeleton Dance

Animator's Desk

Animation Display


As the tour continues, the animation process is discussed further. The switch from black & white to color cartoons and other more advanced animation techniques are brought to life in a number of displays. A multi-plane camera can be seen from the second floor. From this vantage point, a viewer can look down through the various layers of animation and visually see how this technical marvel added depth to a scene. (The first picture below is of the multi-plane camera from above. The second was taken at ground level near the gift shop on the first floor.)


Multi-plane Camera

Multi-plane Camera


Although the museum portrays Walt in a very positive light, the telling of his life story is not all sugar coated in this exhibit. One example of this is the discussion of the artist's strike that drove a wedge between Walt and many of his animators.


Artist's Strike


Next, the museum looks at Walt's foray into live action movies, the first being "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


As we continue, the idea of Disneylandia is discussed. This concept of Walt's would feature a series of miniature dioramas, each depicting a historical moment in American history. The tableaus were to tour the country in a specially outfitted train. However, due to a number of technicalities, the project was never realized. Here we see a number of the miniatures that Walt personally collected over the years in preparation for this undertaking.


Disneylandia

Disneylandia

Disneylandia


Around the next corner we're treated to a non-Disney surprise, a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge. No matter how many times you see this magnificent structure, it still inspires awe.


Golden Gate Bridge


For you model railroad enthusiasts, the museum will not let you down. On display is Walt's Carolwood Pacific Railroad. In addition, an overhead view of Walt's Holmby Hills home is shown, complete with the entire train track layout that circled his property. Seeing this diagram makes you appreciate what a loving and understanding wife Lillian must have been.


Carolwood Pacific Railroad

Carolwood Pacific Railroad

Carolwood Pacific Railroad

Carolwood Pacific Railroad


Pictured next is a reproduction of the press event ticket for the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955.


Disneyland Opening Day Ticket


Hanging from the ceiling we discover the original eleven-camera CircleVision camera developed by Ub Iwerks and others on the Disney team. It was later discovered that eleven screens made the audience feel woozy and a nine-camera setup worked better.


CircleVision Camera


When designing the museum, the architects and planners discovered a 12 foot circular area that had no planned use. To fill this space, an elaborate scale model of Disneyland was commissioned. However, this model does not represent Disneyland as it ever existed, but rather a composite of attractions that Walt saw to completion or at least dreamed of their addition to Disneyland. So attractions like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain are not included and the original Fantasyland is displayed rather than the refurbished land of the 1980's. Of course, this creates some incongruities. For example, the House of the Future never existed at the same time as Space Mountain, yet they both appear on this model.

The attention to detail on this replica of "The Happiest Place on Earth" is stunning and it pays tribute to Walt's love of miniatures. One subtle detail deals with lighting. When viewing the model, viewers will notice the park transitions from day to night and back again, allowing us to see Disneyland come alive "after dark." I took almost 60 pictures of this miniature Disneyland. Here are just a few.


Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model

Disneyland Model


Of course, no story of Walt would be complete without a mention of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. Pictured below is a model of the final scene of Carousel of Progress, the 1960's era.


Carousel of Progress Model


Further down the line we find a bank of television monitors. These are showing some of the many shows that Walt was responsible for. For those of us old enough to remember you'll feel nostalgic about seeing Spin & Marty, the original Mickey Mouse Club, and Zorro.


Television Monitors


Several more exhibits are presented before entering the room devoted to Walt's death on December 15, 1966. This next picture displays the many magazine covers and editorial cartoons depicting a saddened world.


Walt's Death


As with every museum, the Walt Disney Family Museum has a shop at the end of the displays. Here you will find some upper-end merchandise that you may already be familiar with from Disneyland and Walt Disney World. There are also some unique pieces created especially for the museum. A Fantasia-inspired state-of-the-art digital theater is located on the lower level of the museum which screens Disney classics daily.

I have only shown you a sampling of what this museum has to offer. There is easily ten times more for you to experience.

I spent about two hours touring the Walt Disney Family Museum. You could see it in less time, but that would require missing a lot that is offered here. You could also spend much, much more than two hours. There are literally hundreds of plaques to read - almost too much to take in in one visit. It's obvious that the designers put the same quality and love of detail into this museum that Walt demanded of his own projects.

For those of you who have read any of Walt's biographies, you won't discover any new and revolutionary stories about his life here. However, the many exhibits make the tales we are familiar with come to life. After visiting the museum, there is a sense that you've somehow become closer to a man that you probably only knew through his appearances on television. I don't believe in ghosts. And if I did, I believe that Walt would haunt Disneyland, not this museum. But his presence can be felt here none the less. I highly recommend a visit to San Francisco and a trip to the Presidio and the Walt Disney Family Museum. You'll be glad you did.

To visit the official Walt Disney Family Museum website, click here.



February 24, 2014

Aulani - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


Before I made my first trip to Hawaii, I asked my friends who had already visited for some advice. I received the same words of wisdom from them all. "Do not let a travel agent or tour operator talk you into visiting two or three islands in one week's time. Each island has more than enough activities to fill an entire vacation and traveling from one island to another can eat up the better part of a day." I took their advice and I am glad I did. While I lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco, I made six trips to the islands. I visited Oahu and Maui twice each and Kauai and Hawaii (the Big Isle) once each. Every time for a week.

Last month I visited Hawaii again, but this time on a Princess Cruise roundtrip from San Francisco. After four days of crossing the Pacific, I visited these same four islands again, each for one day - hardly enough time to experience what the 50th State has to offer. But then, I didn't take this vacation to visit Hawaii, I took it to relax and enjoy an extended cruise (15 days). Since I had visited Oahu twice in the past, I decided to use my short time in this port to visit Aulani, a relatively new Disney Vacation Club (DVC). I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about and report back to you in a blog.

Before I get into my review, I need to post a disclaimer. I was only at Aulani for approximately three hours. During this time I did my best to soak up every bit of information I could and take as many pictures as possible. But please be aware, there are probably gaps in my descriptions and possibly errors in my information. Also, I did not visit any of the hotel's guest rooms. If you have questions after reading this article, feel free to ask me. But I'm not sure that I will be your best source of information.

First let me give you some background as to Aulani's location. This DVC property is part of a massive master-planned resort called Ko Olina, which is located about 27 miles northwest of Waikiki Beach. To create Ko Olina, a huge parcel of land was cleared and a marina dredged. In addition, four crescent shaped lagoons were cut into the earth, each with openings out onto the Pacific. Three to four hotels will eventually be built around each of these lagoons. In the first picture below you can see the overall layout of the resort. The second picture shows a close-up of Aulani and its neighbor, J.W. Marriott Ilihani. Aulani opened to the public on August 29, 2011. Its price tag is estimated to be around $800 million. Like the Boardwalk Resort at WDW, Aulani is a combination hotel and DVC (359 hotel rooms and 481 DVC units).


Ko Olina

Ko Olina


I'm sure that many of you want to know if Aulani offers the same atmosphere as the Polynesian Resort at WDW. Absolutely not! Even though they both share a Polynesian theme, it's obvious that the Imagineers tried to create a completely different experience.

Before arriving at Aulani, you can see the massive hotel from the road. This view alone should convince you that this is not the Polynesian.


Aulani from a Distance


As you enter the Ko Olina resort, beautiful volcanic rock waterfalls greet you before you pass by a security booth and guard. I was not stopped or asked for any identification.


Lava Waterfall

Guard Booth


Several signs point the way to Aulani and I easily found the resort's parking garage. The price of parking is $35 a day. However, I was able to have my ticket validated as I spent over $35 at lunch (more about lunch later). It was a short walk from the garage to the porte-cochère. Near the main entrance, cooling fruit flavored water is available for thirsty guests. Take a look at the citrus slices.


Porte-cochère

Fruit Flavored Water


Many hotels in Hawaii have open-air lobbies and Aulani is no exception. Since the weather here is near perfect year-round, there is little need for protection from the elements. But of course, there is always the rogue storm so hidden retractable doors are available when needed.

The lobby is impressive. As you enter, you can see through this room and out to the massive playground the Imagineers have built for your amusement.


Aulani Lobby

Aulani Lobby

Aulani Lobby

Aulani Lobby

Pool Area as seen from the Lobby


One can't help but notice the architectural similarities to Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at WDW.


Kidani Village


In the lobby, tiki gods stand sentinel at ground level while Hawaiian legends are depicted in colorful paintings around the ceiling.


Tiki Gods

Hawaiian Murals


Flanking the lobby to the right and left are massive hallways with impressive ceiling arches.


Lobby Hallway


Off of the right hallway you'll find the concierge desks, the check-in desk, a sitting area, and a children's waiting area.


Front Desk

Lobby Lounge

Children's Waiting Room


The resort's shop, Kālepa's Store, can be found off of the left hallway. This mercantile offers a wide array of Aulani branded merchandise as well as a small selection of the typical souvenirs that we're all familiar with at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.


Kālepa's Store

Kālepa's Store

Kālepa's Store


It's also in the lobby area where you'll encounter your first menehune, a mischievous, troll-like creature native to Hawaii. Menehunes are tricky fellows and have hiding places all over the resort. It's great fun to try and discover some of their more concealed locations. This is Disney's Hawaiian version of finding Hidden Mickeys.


Menehune


Below the lobby is Makahiki. This buffet restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner and offers character dining. While I was there, Minnie and Goofy were making the rounds but I understand Donald, Chip & Dale, and Lilo & Stitch also make appearances at the resort. This eatery offers both indoor and outdoor seating.


Makahiki

Makahiki

Makahiki

Makahiki

Makahiki

Makahiki


As you exit Makahiki, Mickey can be found in a lovely courtyard and is available for pictures. Just like at Disney World and Disneyland, a photographer is on hand to capture the moment. He can use his Disney camera or your own. Although I wandered through the exit accidentally after taking pictures of the restaurant, Mickey was more than willing to pose with me.


Mickey Meet & Greet

Mickey and Jack


Hawaiian-themed works of art can be found throughout the resort, both inside and out.


Hawaiian Works of Art

Hawaiian Works of Art

Hawaiian Works of Art

Hawaiian Works of Art


Here are a few pictures of the hotel's towers where the guest rooms are located.


Aulani Towers

Aulani Towers

Aulani Towers

Aulani Towers


The two tower buildings of Aulani create a horseshoe shape that wrap around the pool area. As with any hotel, some rooms have better views than others. Since everyone who comes to Hawaii wants to see the ocean, it's common for hotels here to have angled openings out onto the balconies to maximize views. Aulani is no exception and used this architectural design on many of its rooms.


Close-up of Balcony


Within this horseshoe, the Imagineers have created a Hawaiian paradise of sights and activities. "Water" is definitely the theme here. Take a look at the koi pond found on the doorsteps of Makahiki restaurant.


Koi Pond

Koi Pond

Koi Pond


Perhaps the most unique feature of Aulani is their 8,200 square foot pool complex. Here you'll find two slides, an artificial snorkeling lagoon, a combination jungle-gym/splash area, and a "lazy river" reminiscent of Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (only shorter in length). Here are a few pictures of Waikolohe Stream, the lazy river.


Waikolohe Stream

Waikolohe Stream

Waikolohe Stream

Waikolohe Stream

Waikolohe Stream


When I stumbled across Menehune Bridge, the jungle-gym/splash area, I said out loud "Wow!" This is a magnificent water play area for kids that makes adults envious of their children's youth. I know I wanted to run beneath these pylons and get wet.


Menehune Bridge

Menehune Bridge

Menehune Bridge


Rainbow Reef is where guests can get a taste of snorkeling. An underwater viewing area allows for some great photos of your friends and family.


Rainbow Reef

Rainbow Reef

Rainbow Reef

Rainbow Reef


Rainbow Reef is not free. One-day use is $15 for adults (10 and up) and $10 for children. Length-of-Stay use is $20 for adults and $15 for children.

As nice as Rainbow Reef is, PLEASE, do not go back to the mainland and tell your friends that you went snorkeling in Hawaii if this man-made lagoon is all you've experienced. There are too many real snorkeling adventures available in the islands that are far superior to this Disney offering.

Here are a few pictures of Waikolohe Pool, the family fun pool.


Waikolohe Pool

Waikolohe Pool

Waikolohe Pool


The "infinity" pool makes it look like this body of water goes on and on forever and connects with the Pacific Ocean. But this is just an optical illusion. The fresh water and sea water are actually quite a distance apart.


Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool


The Ka Maka Grotto is another jaw-dropping feat of engineering. The Imagineers did a fantastic job of making a man-made structure look natural and oh so inviting.


Ka Maka Grotto

Ka Maka Grotto


Tucked away in the corner of this massive swim area is an adult's only pool and bar. Although nice, compared to the other pools, it lacks imagination.


Adult Pool

Adult Pool


At the other end of the age-scale is a splash area designed especially for toddlers. The kids I saw here were having a great time.


Toddler Pool


There are a few poolside cabanas that can be rented for your own private group.


Cabanas


Located around the pool are a number of food stands and bars where you can grab a quick bite to eat or drink. One of the more interesting of these is The Lava Shack. This establishment is tucked into the man-made volcanic mountain and is themed to be a Hawaiian surf shop of the 1930's.


The Lava Shack

The Lava Shack

The Lava Shack


If you want more than just a snack, check out Ulu Café. This spot offers a wide variety of food options and features a grill where you can order a hot breakfast or lunch. You can opt to eat at tables near the restaurant or take your food back to your lounge chair. Ulu Cafe is comparable in concept to Captain Cook's at the Polynesian at WDW.


Ulu Café

Ulu Café

Ulu Café


Since I wasn't an actual guest of Aulani, I wasn't sure if I would be allowed onto the property. To insure that I could check things out legitimately, I made advance reservations to eat lunch at 'AMA 'AMA, the resort's fine dining establishment. As it turns out, Disney doesn't care who stops by, just as long as you can afford the $35 parking fee.

'AMA 'AMA is a beautiful, open-air restaurant. Tables on the lanai are afforded a stunning view of the lagoon in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean in the background. 'AMA 'AMA serves both lunch and dinner.


'AMA 'AMA

'AMA 'AMA

'AMA 'AMA

'AMA 'AMA


I mentioned menehunes earlier. It seems that two of these little trolls have hiding spots in the 'AMA 'AMA rafters. I have to be honest, I had the hostess help me find them.


Menehune

Menehune


For lunch I had a pulled-pork sandwich which was served on a special Hawaiian bread. Each of the three mini-sandwiches offered a different, distinctive flavor. My friend Donald had a Caesar Salad with grilled shrimp. We were both more than pleased with our selections.


Pulled Pork Sandwich

Caesar Salad with grilled shrimp


For dessert we shared a pineapple crème brûlée. Although it was attractive to look at and large enough for two, we were both disappointed with the flavor and the fact that it didn't have a caramelized topping. Overall, it was pretty bland.


crème brûlée


By the way, if you think prices are high at WDW, they're just as high if not higher in Hawaii. A note to Disneyland and Walt Disney World cast members, bring your cast ID, you get a discount here.

First time visitors to Hawaii are often struck by the large amount of Japanese tourists they encounter here. As it turns out, the islands are a major vacation destination for our Asian friends. In fact, many signs and advertisements in the islands are written in both English and Japanese. I understand that rice cookers are a standard kitchen appliance in the DVC units at Aulani.

Next door to Aulani is a beautiful wedding chapel (not run by Disney). While enjoying lunch, I spotted Japanese newlyweds on the beach, posing for pictures. I was so struck by the romance of the moment, I just had to snap a few pictures. I used my telephoto lens as to not intrude.


Japanese Couple


Also while enjoying lunch, I got to watch the Navy conduct exercises from nearby Pearl Harbor. This ship passed by several times during my visit.


Naval Ship


Near 'AMA 'AMA is a large fire pit where Hawaiian tales are told in the evening.


Fire Pit


The white-sand cove is shared by all of the resorts that line its boarders. Currently, this is just Aulani and the J.W. Marriott Ilihani. A resort room key is needed to open a gate for reentrance back onto Aulani grounds from the cove. Fortunately for me, this security measure was not working on the day I visited. This allowed me to enter the beach area and take pictures without getting trapped out there.


Beach Cove

Beach Cove


A long grassy area separates a meandering walkway from the sugar-sand beach. Wooden lounge chairs are available for sunning.


Beach Cove

Beach Cove


A Beach Rentals shop is nearby for guest who wish to rent a variety of flotation devices and surfboard-type craft.


Beach Rentals

Beach Rentals

Beach Rentals

Beach Rentals


Several floating "islands" are anchored a short distance from the shore for additional fun.


Floating Island


The wave action in the crescent lagoon is minimal. This is a very calm body of water.

Pay attention to what I have to say next. You cannot access the ocean from this cove. A warning rope blocks your path. And even if you could get to the ocean, you would find the jagged volcanic rocks more than you would want to contend with. So if it's your dream to frolic in the waves, surf, or bodysurf in Hawaii from your resort's doorstep, Aulani is not a good choice.


Cove Opening onto the Ocean


(Note, I photoshopped the above picture by adding additional buoys. I wanted to accentuate the cove boundary as the rope was not obvious in the picture. However, the line that I have created here is accurate.)

Also found in the cove area are a number of stone markers. These contain the names of the original Aulani DVC members. A similar recognition can be found at Bay Lake Tower at WDW.


Aulani DVC Recognition

Aulani DVC Recognition

Bay Lake Tower DVC Recognition

Bay Lake Tower DVC Recognition


As with all DVC's, Aulani features a Community Hall. Known as the Pau Hana Room, this spot offers an abundance of activities for DVC members. Some of these include hula lessons and beginner Hawaiian language classes.


Pau Hana Room


Here is what an Aulani cast member name tag looks like. I found it interesting that it is the same shape and size as a WDW name tag, but has an entirely different look and feel.


Aulani Cast Member Name Tag


Aulani is a beautiful hotel. It's obvious that Joe Rohde and his team of Imagineers wanted to create an all-inclusive destination resort and they pulled out all the stops to do so. Only the most jaded of persons would not be impressed on some level with their efforts. Click here for the official Aulani webpage.

That's it for Part One of my Aulani overview. Check back tomorrow when I'll answer the $64,000 question, "Would I recommend Aulani?" My answer might surprise you.



February 25, 2014

Aulani - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Welcome back to my discussion of Aulani, a combination hotel/Disney Vacation Club (DVC) located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Yesterday I gave you an overview of the many wonderful amenities this resort has to offer. Today I'm going to answer the $64,000 question. Would I recommend Aulani to first-time visitors to Hawaii, specifically first time visitors to Oahu?

Maybe.

If you're DVC member then the answer is easy. You've already bought and paid for your points. You might as well use them here. There is no way around it, Hawaii is very expensive. Why pay for another non-Disney hotel if you've already got a place to stay. But if you're not a DVC member, the answer is not so easy.


Disney Vacation Club


There is no denying, Aulani is a beautiful resort. If it was located anywhere in the Waikiki area, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. But it's not. It's located in a somewhat remote section of Oahu, an area with not all that much to see and experience. And other than the J.W. Marriott Ilihani hotel that neighbors Aulani, there is very little within walking distance. Maybe in the future there will be, but not now. I understand that there are a three restaurants across the street, but this wouldn't offer most guests the variety needed to fill an entire week's stay. That means that if you want to eat anywhere besides the immediate area, you're out of luck unless you rent a car or take a taxi.


Map to Aulani


How about shopping opportunities? First, there is the limited selection of goods to be found at the Aulani shops. There are also a few shops down the road at Ko Olina Station. But this second option is lacking in retailers and requires a car for transportation. There are a few shopping opportunities within a five mile radius of Aulani, but again, the variety of goods is limited and some sort of transportation is required to get there.

On the other hand, Waikiki and other venues in South Oahu have an abundance of shopping opportunities worth your time. Kalakaua Avenue, which parallels Waikiki Beach, is a shopper's paradise with countless clothing shops, art galleries, jewelry stores, camera and electronics retailers, souvenir stands, and anything else you can imagine. The Ala Moana Shopping Center (over 290 shops and restaurants) is another favorite of those with money to spend. By the way, no first-timer should miss shopping for an aloha shirt at Hilo Hattie's or a tacky souvenir at one of the dozens of ABC Stores found all over the island. Sure it's touristy, but that's part of the fun.


Kalakaua Avenue

Kalakaua Avenue

Ala Moana

Hilo Hattie's

ABC Store


Honolulu and Waikiki are also the areas to find an abundance of restaurants. This includes everything from fast-food chains to first-class establishments and everything in-between. The options are endless.

To further illustrate my point, I picked up one of those glossy tourist magazines promoting Oahu while I was in Honolulu. Most of the magazine is made up of advertisements placed by the various tour companies, hotels, shops, and restaurants found on the island (including a full-page back-cover ad for Aulani). Also contained in the magazine is a legitimate tourist guide and maps that tries to give first-time visitors an idea of what there is to see and do here. This guide has divided the island into five sections, North, South (which contains Honolulu and Waikiki), East (which contains Aulani), West, and Central. Over half of the magazine is devoted to the South section of the island. The rest of the magazine covers the other four sections.


Aulani Full Page Back Cover Ad


So let's say you decide you want to drive from Aulani to Waikiki for a meal or shopping. Well as I said at the beginning of this article, it's about 27 miles away. That may not sound so bad, but this equates to at least a 45 minute drive when traffic is good. And believe me when I say, Honolulu has bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour just like any other major city (metro population: 953,207). Maybe even more so due to the congested nature of this small island. So a trip to Waikiki during busy times will take you an hour plus. And by the way, the scenery is not particularly picturesque along this route. A taxi will cost you between $75 and $100 one way depending on the time of day. A taxi from the airport to Aulani will run between $50 and $75. Ouch. If you rent a car, good luck finding a parking space in the Waikiki area.

So why is Aulani located so far away from everything?

Disney is a very late comer to the Hawaiian vacation game. All of the islands' prime real estate locations were snatched up decades ago by their competition.

Of course, staying at Aulani doesn't mean you can't see and do all of the wonderful things offered to you on Oahu, it's just going to take more time, more money, and more effort to do so.

Another thing I don't like about Aulani is its lack of a swimmable beach on the ocean. If I just flew five hours across the Pacific to get to the islands, I would have bodysurfing on the mind. I want to swim in the ocean with real waves. Aulani's pristine cove is very beautiful, but its waves wouldn't knock a learning-to-walk toddler down.

To Disney's credit, they have steered Aulani away from the stereotypical Hawaii clichés that some of the other Hawaiian resorts sometimes perpetuate. You won't find tiki torches, Elvis singing "Blue Hawaii," or plastic leis at Aulani. But on the other hand, some of this kitsch can be sort of fun on your first trip to the islands. Once again, it's touristy, but that's not always a bad thing depending on what you're looking for. After all, the Polynesian Resort at WDW has tiki torches and fake leis.

I know it might sound trite, but a lot of people dream of seeing Diamond Head in the background while they swim, eat, and shop. Only a handful of rooms at Aulani can even see this famous volcano. And for those that can, it's so far away that it loses much of its charm. You can't see Diamond Head at all from the Aulani pool, 'AMA 'AMA restaurant, or beach cove.

On this most recent trip to Oahu, I made reservations to eat dinner at Hula Grill, an upscale restaurant located at the Outrigger Hotel on Waikiki Beach. Besides enjoying one of the most scrumptious meals and Mai Tai I've had in ages, this is the view I had from my table.


Hula Grill

Hula Grill


Here is a picture of me taken from the Hanohano Room on the 30th floor of the Waikiki Sheraton. I'm the indistinguishable blur at the bottom of the picture - but the view of Diamond Head is magnificent. You can't take a picture anything like this at Aulani.


Hanohano Room


What scares me about recommending Aulani is the Disney Marketing Machine. I've seen this entity convince an amazing number of first-time cruisers that the Disney Cruise Line is the best line afloat. I've talked with countless people who have never, and would never sail on anything other than Disney.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Disney Cruise Line is excellent. I've sailed on both the Magic and the Wonder. They have a fantastic product and I recommend them often. But contrary to what Disney will have you believe, their competition is also excellent with a lot to offer. Notice I sailed on Princess Cruise Lines on my latest vacation.

I'm afraid this same "cruise line" mentality will take hold with Aulani. I'm afraid Disney will convince first-time Hawaiian vacationers that if they don't select Aulani, they're settling for something less. After all, Disney implies that they have "a touch of magic" that everyone else is lacking. Trust me. I have stayed at several Hawaiian resorts that are far more elegant and luxurious than Aulani - and their employees equaled any Disney cast member in terms of service and friendliness. These resorts might not have had Mickey Mouse and a lazy river, but that's not why I vacation in Hawaii. I go to Orlando and Anaheim for Mickey and the gang. I go to Hawaii to experience Hawaii.

Here are a few pictures of the resorts I've stayed at in the islands.

Sheraton Waikiki


Sheraton Waikiki

Sheraton Waikiki


Hilton Waikoloa


Hyatt Regency Waikoloa

Hyatt Regency Waikoloa

Hyatt Regency Waikoloa

Hyatt Regency Waikoloa

Hyatt Regency Waikoloa

Hyatt Regency Waikoloa


Kauai Marriott Resort


Kauai Marriott Resort

Kauai Marriott Resort

Kauai Marriott Resort

Kauai Marriott Resort


Hyatt Regency Maui


Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Regency Maui


Taking this thought even further, Disney wants you to return to Aulani year after year. Don't believe me? Here is a direct quote from that full-page back-cover Aulani advertisement I picked up in Honolulu:

"Write your own storybook vacations year after year at Aulani, a family paradise with a touch of magic."

Visiting Oahu year after year would be like visiting the Magic Kingdom year after year and never trying Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Oahu is a fantastic island and probably the best choice for first-time visitors. But the other islands also offer tremendous opportunities for fun, excitement, exploration, and relaxation. If you decide to return to Hawaii for a second vacation, then you definitely should skip Aulani and travel to Maui, Kauai, or the Big Isle. Here are just a few of the activities I have engaged in on the other islands.

I saw the sunrise from the top of Haleakalā. Then I mounted a bicycle at the top of this 10,023 foot high volcano and rode all the way to the sea (it was almost all downhill so anyone can manage it). It was a great way to spend the day.


Haleakalā

Haleakalā

Haleakalā


I took a helicopter ride on Maui and was treated to a view of one of the most spectacular collections of waterfalls on the islands.


Maui Waterfalls

Maui Waterfalls

Maui Waterfalls

Maui Waterfalls


On Kauai, I took a zodiac rubber raft and sailed inside volcanic lava tubes that opened onto the ocean. This is the area of Hawaii where "Jurassic Park" and "South Pacific" were filmed. The scenery in this part of Kauai is breathtaking.


Zodiac Raft

Zodiac Raft

Zodiac Raft

Zodiac Raft

Zodiac Raft

Zodiac Raft


I've played on black-sand beaches on the Big Isle.


Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach


I've taken a helicopter ride over molten lava spewing from Mount Kilauea. I could feel the heat rising as we flew over.


Mount Kilauea

Mount Kilauea

Mount Kilauea

Mount Kilauea


I swam with dolphins and actually got to hug one.


Jack with Dolphin


I've taken a catamaran from Maui to the island of Lanai for a picnic lunch and snorkeling on a nearly deserted beach.


Catamaran to Lanai

Catamaran to Lanai

Catamaran to Lanai


Would I stay at Aulani if I was returning to Hawaii for a week-long vacation? Possibly, if my destination was Oahu. The resort is wonderful if all you want to do is relax by the pool and do little else. As I mentioned yesterday, I've already vacationed on Oahu twice and I've seen most of the major (and many of the minor) attractions here, so laying by a pool for a week is something I would consider. But I'd still have to give it a lot of thought. Aulani is a long way away from everything, including other dining options. I could not eat 21 meals at Aulani over a week's time - even if I had a DVC unit and could cook some of my own meals.

But in all probability, I would not return to Oahu, but rather Maui for a week-long vacation. Many people familiar with Hawaiian vacations prefer Maui. I'd go back to Kāʻanapali and stay at one of the deluxe resorts that line a real beach, not a man-made cove. At Kāʻanapali it's possible to walk along the seashore to about a dozen other resorts and sample their restaurants and shops. In addition, the quaint Whalers Village Shopping Center is smack dab in the middle of it all.


Kāʻanapali

Kāʻanapali


In closing, I would like to ask you to do the following before you start planning your first trip to Hawaii. Ask yourself why you want to travel to the islands. Is it simply because Disney has built a new resort here? I hope it is more than that. Hawaii has so much more to offer than Disney.

Put your prejudice in favor of Disney aside. Don't let Disney decide for you. Ask yourself what you really want to see and do while on Oahu. Then use the internet and/or a travel agent familiar with Hawaii to determine what the right resort for you really is. Do your homework. Read a few tour books. If it turns out you decide to stay at Aulani, fantastic. I know you'll love it. But you might find that other resorts are also fantastic and fill your needs better.

Whatever you decide, a Hawaiian vacation can be incredible. And if you're like most people, you'll fall in love with the islands and want to return again and again.


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About February 2014

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in February 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2014 is the previous archive.

March 2014 is the next archive.

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