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August 11, 2014

If I Could Start From Scratch

Jack Spence Masthead


Hi Everyone,

Before we get started with today's blog, you must endure an advertisement for a new feature AllEars has started. Each week, Deb Wills hosts a video show that brings our readers a "bit of Disney." The topics will be as varied as our blogs. Sometimes we'll discuss new offerings like "Epcot After Hours" and "Harambe Nights." Other times we'll bring you park and resort details like "Fort Wilderness Little Known Facts." You never know what's in store so you'll just have to tune in to find out.

This week, Deb came to my home and allowed me to show off my "Pirate" guest bedroom We had a lot of fun and I hope you find it interesting and entertaining.

I have already recorded another session with Deb about the PeopleMover at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. And I plan on doing more videos in the future. To make sure you don't miss anything, you might want to subscribe to our new show.



Each day, thousands of people drive north on World Drive and pass through the Magic Kingdom toll booths. Once on the other side, most guests veer left toward the Magic Kingdom parking lot. However, there is a second group of people that continue driving straight ahead or veer right. They are aiming for either the golf courses, the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, or the Fort Wilderness Campground. There are also a number of cast members in this second group who take this route aiming for backstage facilities or the property's north exit onto Reams Road.


Magic Kingdom Toll Booths

Which Way To Go


Although the right side of the toll booths are unofficially designated for the resorts and the left side for the Magic Kingdom, this is a clumsy arrangement. Many people don't know this and hotel guests and cast members are forever getting stuck behind a day visitor paying to park and asking a dozen questions.

None of the other toll booths at WDW give motorists a choice of direction. Once you pass through the other parking lot entrances, the only place to go is that theme park's parking lot. So why is the Magic Kingdom different? To answer this question, we must look back into Disney history.

Walt was far more interested in building the "city" of EPCOT than the Magic Kingdom. But he knew that the amusement park needed to be built first to help generate the funds necessary to construct his futuristic community. To that end, he wanted the Magic Kingdom placed at the north end of property. He also wanted all of the "vacation" hotels to be clustered around the Magic Kingdom. By doing this, these facilities would act as the "weenie" and draw guest through a large portion of the property, and eventually, past Epcot to get to their vacation destination.


WDW Concept Map


After Walt's death, the bean counters wanted to construct the Magic Kingdom closer to the interchange of Interstate 4 and Highway 192. This would have saved the company untold dollars as not as much infrastructure would be needed. It would also make the Magic Kingdom more accessible to motorists. But Roy wanted to honor Walt's wishes. He also knew that the property's needs would eventually have to be attended to and it would be better to do it now rather than later.

Although concepts for the "city" of EPCOT were bantered about for a number of years after the opening of the Magic Kingdom, for the most part, this dream died with Walt. Eventually, the company built EPCOT Center (a theme park) and placed it somewhat in the same vicinity as where the city would have been developed. They also connected this new park to the TTC with a monorail.

When Michael Eisner took the reins of the company in 1984, he was directed by the Bass brothers (who were major stockholders) to develop the property far beyond what his predecessors had done. And Michael did just that. He built two more theme parks, more golf courses, two water parks, many hotels, a learning center, a sports center, a motor racetrack, and expanded Downtown Disney. However, he did not build more monorails due to their excessive costs. Instead, the company opted to use buses to transport guests around property.

Because the property was so vast, these new facilities could be placed almost anywhere. But I'm sure serious thought was given to each new facility's location. Still, I have a few problems with the decisions that were made and feel the Imagineers could have done a better job. Let me give you a few examples.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't like the toll booth arrangement at the Magic Kingdom. This should be simplified. Hotel guests should have a way around the booths. Only those parking at the Magic Kingdom should have to pass through these pay stations.

Disney's Hollywood Studios was positioned in a location that makes it difficult for the park to expand. It's bordered by major roadways on two sides, the main entrance on another, and its own parking lot on the fourth. In addition, an office building was built in it's backstage areas, limiting even more growth.

The parking lot has two entrances, one of these being off of the signal-laden Buena Vista Drive. This second entrance is woefully inadequate to handle the traffic it does.

To exit the Studio, you are dumped back onto signal-laden Buena Vista Drive. You should exit the Studio onto a "highway" as the other three parks do. Signals just slow things down.

As Disney World had untold acres of undeveloped land, I was always amazed that the Imagineers chose this location for the Studio. Why didn't they position the park where it could grow and provide a decent exit and only one, all-purpose entrance?

The company built the Walt Disney World Speedway right in the middle of the Magic Kingdom parking lot in 1995. The track was designed to fit within the boundaries of the existing infrastructure, requiring minimal rerouting of existing roads. For several years, the track was home to the annual Disney 200. During the rest of the year, it was used for lesser events and test driving. However, its location turned out to be a nightmare. First, the constant engine roaring infuriated Polynesian guests. Then the issue of parking became a problem as the Speedway was sharing the Magic Kingdom lot. All in all, it was a disastrous decision to place this facility here and the Disney 200 only lasted five years before it was discontinued.

Downtown Disney was placed too close to State Road 535 (S. Apopka-Vineland Blvd.). Entering Hotel Plaza Blvd (on route to Downtown Disney) from this roadway during the off-season is bad enough, but come the busy times of the year, Apopka-Vineland is almost impossible to navigate.

Downtown Disney also sits along signal-laden Lake Buena Vista Drive. Driving along this roadway can test the patience of any sane person. Disney is currently in the process of expanding this six-lane road to a ten-lane road. I hope this helps, but I'm not holding my breath.

I like the Swan and Dolphin Resorts. I think they are a lot of fun. But I hate where they are located. They should NOT be visible from Epcot's World Showcase. This "mistake" bugs me a lot.

I love the addition of the moderate and value resorts to Walt Disney World. This allows a wider audience to enjoy the many perks available to on-property guests. However, none of these properties are adjacent to a theme park. This makes them less desirable than a deluxe resort. Even the DVC properties Old Key West and Saratoga Springs are removed from the theme parks and require auto or bus transportation to reach WDW entertainment.

I'm not blaming anyone for the layout of Walt Disney World. It happened over time and the Imagineers tried to make the best decisions they could as new ideas were born and old ones dismissed. But it did get me to thinking, how would the Imagineers design the entire property if they knew in the mid 60's that no EPCOT "city" would be built, but instead, four theme parks, 20-something hotels, water parks, and everything else that happened over the last 43 years. So, I took out pen and paper and started my own design from scratch.

The Walt Disney World property is basically a rectangle with a lot of irregular borders. For simplification, I'm just going to use a basic rectangle with straight edges. Please bear with me as I lay out my plans. This is an elementary concept that would have to be tweaked depending on the land and water that naturally exists. But remember, when Walt Disney World was first being planned, the Imagineers turned a swamp into Seven Seas Lagoon. They also constructed 47 miles of canals, 22 miles of levees, and 24 water-control structures and floodgates across the land. These facts let me be free with my design as I know Disney would be willing to move mountains (if Florida had any) to create the perfect vacation destination.

So here goes. My idea for the "perfect" layout of Walt Disney World if I could build the entire compound from scratch today.

Okay, my first decision might sound blasphemous to many of you, but I would not put the Magic Kingdom in its current position. Walt wanted it at the north end of property so it could be the weenie to draw guests past EPCOT, but we have no need for this in my design. And when you think about it, the ferryboats and monorails easily add 20 minutes each way to a day visitor's schedule on a good day. On a busy day, even more time. And if the idea of a lake in front of a theme park was so good, why hasn't it been recreated at any other Disney park? However, I would still create Seven Seas Lagoon. More on this in a minute.


Jack's Concept Map


I would have World Drive travel up the middle of the property, much as it does today. I would locate the Sports Center at the north end of property, near Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. This facility would circle much of the lagoon and lake and contain the three golf courses, water recreation, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and all of the sports facilities found at Disney's Wild World of Sports complex today. The water parks and miniature golf courses would also be found in this area. Remember, my maps are not to scale. They're just here to give you an idea of general placement.


Jack's Concept Map


I would put Downtown Disney smack-dab in the middle of the property. World Drive would run beneath this shopping district. Walt originally proposed having automobile traffic run beneath EPCOT.

Even though my drawings don't show it, there would be adjacent parking lots for all facilities.


Jack's Concept Map


Now for the theme parks" I would create four "villages," each one anchored by a park. In a way, my design mimics the layout of the Magic Kingdom, only on a much larger scale. I have a central hub (Downtown Disney) and the sports center and the four villages radiate from this central location like Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, and Adventureland.


Jack's Concept Map


If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a Left Brain sort of person. I'm a logical, orderly, linear thinker. We would need a group of Right Brain people to come in and humanize my design. For example, in my drawing I have the four villages laid out very neatly. In reality, some villages would be closer to Downtown Disney and others further away. And their size would also vary greatly. After all, Epcot is twice the size of the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom is five times the size of the Magic Kingdom. In addition, the suitability of the land and property boundaries would also play a part in the design.

Walt's original plans for the city of EPCOT called for a monorail system to connect the major locations around property. I would do the same. NO MORE BUSES.


Jack's Concept Map


Like the Magic Kingdom monorail, my system would be a double highway-in-the-sky with each side running in the opposite direction. But unlike the Magic Kingdom's version, these monorails would stop at every station. By doing this, no area would be more than three stops away.


Double Monorail


Each village would contain one theme park, two deluxe hotel/DVC resorts and one each moderate and value resort. One of the villages would get the extra bonus of the campground. This way, no park would be superior in its lodging options. So if Disney's Hollywood Studios is your favorite park, you could stay right next door in whatever type of accommodation you like. In other words, no resort would be "stand alone" as some are today. Space could be left for additional growth within each village or new resorts could be added near the Sports Center, creating another village.

The current Epcot hotel complex (Yacht, Beach, Boardwalk, Swan, and Dolphin) is a good example of what each village might look like in my new design. There would be a small lake in which the various accommodations would be clustered. However my lakes would be larger than Crescent Lake. I don't like the crowded feel that currently exists with the Epcot Resorts. There would also be a promenade that connects all of the hotels. And there would be "backdoor" entrances into every park for hotel guests.

NO HOTEL WOULD BE VISIBLE FROM WITHIN A THEME PARK!


Jack's Concept Map


When approaching a village by car, the roadway would split. Day guests going directly to a theme park would pass through a toll booth. Those going to the hotel complex would be directed to each resort's own parking lot.

As I mentioned earlier, Walt wanted monorails to connect the major locations around property. In addition, he wanted PeopleMover stations adjacent to the monorail platforms. He would use this slower moving transportation system to transport guests to the smaller attractions. So to get around within any of my villages, guests would ride on PeopleMovers.


Jack's Concept Map


Running in the opposite direction of the People Mover would be a watercraft system. Although not nearly as efficient, boats add a lot of ambiance to an area.


Jack's Concept Map


Remember, each village would look entirely different from the other three. The lakes' shapes would be varied and the hotel theming would be as diverse as it is today. In fact, I like many of the current hotel designs. There is no reason we couldn't reuse some of the present-day motifs. So of you like the way the monorail runs through the middle of the Contemporary, let's recreate it. If you like the laidback atmosphere of Port Orleans, let's recreate it. But if we're starting from scratch, new designs would also be welcome.

So there you have it. My idea for Walt Disney World if I had created the master plan back in 1965 with 2014 knowledge. If you like my ideas, great. If you have your own ideas, share them. If you hate my plan, no problem. None of it really matters as this was an exercise in futility. But I enjoy playing the "what if" game and I hope you enjoyed my vision of Walt Disney World.



May 12, 2014

I Miss the Little Things

Jack Spence Masthead


Things are constantly changing in the Disney parks and hotels. Sometimes we like the changes, sometimes we don't. But like it or not, things are going to keep changing so we might as well get used to it. As I like to point out to people who grumble about change, if the parks didn't grow and evolve, at Disneyland brassieres would still be sold on Main Street and bathroom fixtures would be on display in Tomorrowland. Nonetheless, this doesn't stop us from waxing nostalgic for the "good ol' days."

Sometimes it's obvious why the Imagineers remove or change something. Sometimes it's not. I like to believe that they always have a good and compelling reason when they tinker with the parks, but sometimes I believe it comes down to simple economics. It's cheaper to do without.

Today's blog will not be about the big changes that have taken place at Walt Disney World over the years, but rather the little things. We all miss the full-scale attractions like the Skyway, Mickey Mouse Review, Horizons, and World of Motion. But these attractions have all been lamented over in numerous articles through the years. Today I want to talk about the small stuff. The details. And minutiae.

So here we go. I'll start with the Magic Kingdom.

I miss slow days. When I lived in California, I always visited Walt Disney World over its anniversary on October 1st. I found the weather tolerable and the crowds more than manageable at this time of year. That's not the case anymore. Now seasons at the Disney parks can be sorted into two categories, Busy, and Very Busy. Even January, which used to be the slowest month of the year, is hectic nowadays.

Disney is a business. And contrary to what many think, their primary goal is to make money, not magic. Because of this, the Disney marketing team is constantly coming up with new ways to entice people to visit the Most Magical Place on Earth. I understand this, and accept it, but I still miss my beloved Octobers of the 70's, 80's, and 90's.

These next two pictures were taken right after the Magic Kingdom opened (9am) sometime in early October, 1989. When was the last time you saw Main Street this empty during the day?


Main Street

Main Street


I miss breakfast at Tony's Town Square Café. If you want a full-fledged morning meal in the Magic Kingdom, you can either go to Cinderella's Royal Table or the Crystal Palace, both character meals. Not everyone wants to pay extra to dine with Tigger, Pooh, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Some of us would like eggs & bacon sans characters.

One of my fondest memories of the Magic Kingdom is enjoying a Christmas morning breakfast on Tony's porch, watching the holiday guests arrive.


Tony's Town Square Café


I miss the House of Magic on Main Street. As a kid, I loved going into the Magic Shop at Disneyland and marveling at the magician's slight-of-hand illusions. I also loved browsing the merchandise racks in this shop, longing to buy a marked deck of cards or a fly suspended in plastic that looked like an ice cube. These were good times and have provided me with good memories.

I didn't start visiting Walt Disney World until I was an adult, but the kid in me still enjoyed the illusionist and the shelves stocked full of tricks and gags found in the House of Magic on Main Street. Unfortunately, magic tricks and gags don't bring in as much cash as Disney souvenirs and magicians are paid more than sales clerks.


House of Magic


I miss the large trees that once graced the Hub. These beautiful old oaks provided shade and softened the overall feel of this area. And in the evening, they lit up with hundreds of make-believe fireflies. These trees were removed to provide more viewing opportunities when Disney started projecting images on the castle as part of their nighttime entertainment.


Big Trees on the Hub

Big Trees on the Hub

Big Trees on the Hub

Small Trees on the Hub

Small Trees on the Hub


I already miss the recently removed Rose Pavilion that was razed as part of the Hub makeover. This was such a wonderful place to escape and relax.


Rose Pavilion

Missing Rose Pavilion


Here is an artist rendering of what the new Hub will look like when complete.


Hub Artist Concept Drawing


I miss the rocking chairs that once sat beneath the arbor next to Liberty Tree Tavern. This was a wonderful place to sit and people watch. I don't know why these were removed as rocking chairs still exist in Frontierland and in front of Exposition Hall on Main Street.


Liberty Tree Tavern


I miss Aunt Poly's. This spot on Tom Sawyer Island once served cold fried chicken, ham sandwiches, chips, and brownies. It was a wonderful place to have lunch and escape from the crowds.


Aunt Poly's


I miss the log cabin on fire as seen from the Liberty Belle Riverboat. I realize that burning gas for this prop was wasteful, but I was okay with the cellophane fire effect that replaced the real flames. I mean, if you can accept the "statuesque" moose and deer on the banks of the river, fake fire is okay. Now this all-but-forgotten structure isn't even mentioned by Sam Clemens or Captain Horace Bixby as we pass by.


Log Cabin


Epcot


Over at Epcot, I miss the Lucite work-of-art that sat on top of the fountain in front of Spaceship Earth. Well, that's not really true. By the time the Imagineers got around to refreshing this fountain, the Lucite was looking pretty tired and dated. But I do feel this fountain looks naked without something eye-catching perched on top of it. Disney must agree on some level because they occasionally use this spot during the annual Flower and Garden show.


Epcot Fountain

Epcot Fountain

Epcot Fountain


I miss Dreamfinder. Enough said.


Dreamfinder


I miss the double-decker buses that once circled World Showcase. I admit, they really didn't offer good transportation around this promenade, but I loved sitting on the upper level for a different perspective of the countries. But alas, the large crowds of today would not grant these stately vehicles safe passage.


Double Decker Bus


I miss the flamingos that once enjoyed the waters near the Mexico Pavilion. They were beautiful to watch and added atmosphere to the area.


Flamingos


I miss the song that played in the old "El Rio del Tiempo" attraction, "Ola Mis Amigos." I like the re-imagining of this attraction to include the Three Caballeros. And I understand why this song was retired. But I still miss it. It was a catchy tune.


El Rio del Tiempo


I miss the Viking ship playground that once sat beside the Norway Pavilion. Not that I played on it, but I did enjoy watching kids getting lost in make-believe. This mini-attraction was removed due to safety concerns.


Viking Ship


I miss long trains on the miniature railroad at the Germany Pavilion. By 'long train' I mean an engine pulling six or seven cars and a caboose at the end. I can't remember when I last saw more than a single vehicle traveling along the tracks here.


Germany Trains

Germany Trains


In the same pavilion I miss the movement of the wooden oompah band inside the Der Teddybär shop. At one time, this cute display perched in the rafters of the store was animated. But alas, it's been a long time since I've seen these characters move to the rhythm of their music. I hope this lack of movement is on someone's punch list and these characters will be brought back to life someday soon.


Oompah Band


In the France Pavilion I miss the second story of Plume et Palette. At one time, this space was an art gallery and sold prints of the French masters. This spot also offered wonderful views of the World Showcase promenade.


France Pavilion

France Pavilion

France Pavilion


At the Canada Pavilion, I miss the fine shop that was located within the Hôtel du Canada. The merchandise here was more refined and genteel compared to the goods sold in the Northwest Mercantile located on the lower level of the pavilion.


Canada Shop

Canada Shop

Canada Shop


At the Coral Reef Restaurant, I miss butter shaped like Mickey Mouse. It was fun to cut his head off.


Mickey Butter


Disney's Hollywood Studios

At Sci-Fi Dine-In I miss the clever menu names that were once offered here. Most selections had sci-fi appropriate names such as "Onion Rings of Saturn," "Milky Way Shake," and "Monster Mashed Potatoes." Now the menu offers standard names with no imagination. I also miss the roller-skating servers.


Sci-Fi Dine-In


On the Great Movie Ride, I miss the rotating Busby Berkeley Girls. When this attraction first opened, each level of this circular platform revolved opposite the level below. It added some pizzazz to an otherwise boring tableau. But due to technical problems, this movement was discontinued and a scrim was added to help hide this embarrassing display.

Come on Disney. How difficult can it be to rotate these plastic-looking girls?


Busby Berkeley Girls


Anyone who has taken the Studio Backstage Tour knows that you visit Catastrophe Canyon. After experiencing this special effect, the tram drives around behind the make-believe scenery to reveal how the magic is created. When I took this tour in October 1994, I snapped this picture of a sign posted on one of the electrical control boxes.


You're Fired Sign

You're Fired Sign


This sign cracked me up because it was so un-Disney. It was so un-magical. I'm sure this is why it was removed. But I miss it.

In the fall of 2009, Imagineers tested an animatronic version of Pixar's Luxo Jr. (the dancing lamp). Every 15-20 minutes, Luxo Jr. made an appearance across the street from Toy Story Mania. Perched on a stage above the crowd, this cute little fellow danced to a variety of tunes. The passing crowd would come to a standstill as Luxo Jr. went through his routine. However, he was discontinued soon after his debut with no official explanation. Luxo Jr. was cute. I miss him.


Luxo Jr.

Luxo Jr.


I miss the unobstructed view of the Chinese Theater at the end of Hollywood Blvd.


Chinese Theater


I miss the vehicles that were once parked on Hollywood Blvd, Sunset Blvd, and New York Street. I'm sure they were removed to accommodate larger crowds, but they added a touch of realism.


Street Vehicles

Street Vehicles

Street Vehicles


I miss the coin-operated rocking horse that stood in front of Celebrity 5&10 on Hollywood Blvd. As a kid, I often begged my mother to let me ride similar machines that were strategically place in front of our local food market. I have seen this Disney horse come and go over the years, but it's been quite a while since its last appearance. I suspect upkeep on this machine became more than maintenance wanted to deal with.


Mechanical Rocking Horse


Animal Kingdom


Since the Animal Kingdom is the newest park at Walt Disney World, it has seen fewer changes over the years. But there are still a few things I miss. The first are the scarlet ibis that once greeted guests just passed the ticket booths. Their vivid color always impressed me.


Scarlet Ibis


I know that in any zoo, the exhibits are constantly changing, but I still look for the return of the scarlet ibis someday.

Also on the Oasis are the "tunnel" rock formations. Similar underpasses spanned both the west and east passageways leading to Discovery Island. These portals provided a nice transition into the main park. About a year ago, the upper rock portions were removed on both walkways.


Tunnels

Missing Tunnels


When this happened, I figured management needed a higher clearance for vehicles to pass beneath. However when I asked a cast member, I was told that water had seeped into the fake rocks and damaged the structure beyond reasonable repair. I don't know if this is true or not, but I miss the tunnels.

I miss the name "Countdown to Extinction", the original name for the Dinosaur attraction. I also miss the menacing triceratops that once stood sentinel.


Countdown to Extinction


To help promote the 2000 Disney movie "Dinosaur," Michael Eisner had the attraction's name changed to "Dinosaur" and the triceratops replaced with Aladar, the friendly iguanodon that starred in the movie. The film was mildly successful, but certainly not counted among one of the Disney greats.


Dinosaur


I understand the importance of Disney tie-ins, but I wish they had left this attraction's name and mascot alone.

In the spring of 2012, a branch fell from the Tree of Life. No one was harmed, but it was an alarming event. As safety is always top priority with Disney, they immediately took action to make sure no guest could be harmed while they investigated and repaired this and any other trouble spots. To that end, they built open-air canopies over the Discovery Island Nature Trails and portions of the "It's Tough to be a Bug" queue.


Protective Covers


I totally understand Disney's move and I applaud their quick response. But now I feel like I'm in a cage and my view of the Tree of Life diminished. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that someday, after all repairs have been made, these canopies will be removed.


Downtown Disney


Over at Downtown Disney, the Empress Lilly riverboat (Fulton's) is missing its paddlewheel.


Paddlewheel

Missing Paddlewheel


I have no idea why it was removed. It added realism to the structure. Without the paddlewheel, the boat looks stupid. Once again, I suspect this was an upkeep issue and management didn't want to spend the money.

I miss the personalized swizzle sticks and fruit picks that every resort and restaurant once offered. These made wonderful souvenirs.


Swizzle Sticks


Okay. Now it's your turn. Tell me what LITTLE things you miss. Please don't tell me you miss the Adventurers' Club or Horizons. These are BIG things and we all miss them. I'm looking for small details that help promote the magic. The "stop and smell the roses" stuff.



May 5, 2014

Water at Walt Disney World -- Part Three

Jack Spence Masthead

Last Monday I discussed how water played a role in the creation of Walt Disney World and how it helps entertain guests in the Magic Kingdom. On Thursday I continued this discussion with a look at Epcot. Today I'm going to finish this series by highlighting the water features found in Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The original plans for the Disney/MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios) called for this park to be a real working studio that allowed guests to come in and witness the movie-making process. In addition, a few rides and attractions would be thrown in for good measure. Of course, we all know that things didn't turn out that way. For a multitude of reasons, movie and television production did not take hold here and the studio evolved into a full-fledged theme park. However, much of the park still resembles a movie studio and because of this, there are not many water features found here.

Like Epcot, a landscaped flood canal splits the Studio parking lot in half.


Studio Parking Lot

Studio Parking Lot


The first water feature found inside the Studio is located at the end of Hollywood Blvd. Near the information board is a lovely art deco fountain. Once the park opens, it's difficult to get a picture of this fountain without someone sitting on its edge. This is a popular meeting spot for groups.


Art Deco Fountain


The biggest water feature at the Studio is Echo Lake. This lake pays homage to the film industry that once found homes in the Echo Park, Silverlake, and the Hollywood districts of Los Angeles. The real Echo Lake is a man-made reservoir in the upscale community of Echo Park.

At the Studio, Echo Lake is home to Min & Bill's Dockside Diner and Dinosaur Gertie's Ice Cream of Extinction. There are also a number of umbrella-covered tables and chairs that are perfect for a little down time.


Echo Lake

Echo Lake

Echo Lake


The silliest of all fountains can be found in front of Muppet*Vision 3D. Here, Miss Piggy is a movie queen being directed by Gonzo and filmed by Fozzie Bear.


Muppet Fountain

Muppet Fountain

Muppet Fountain

Muppet Fountain


Inside Muppet*Vision 3D, Fozzie Bear showers the audience from his fake boutonnière.


Fozzie Bear


On the Streets of America, you just might encounter a leaky fire hydrant or two.


Fire Hydrant

Fire Hydrant


Also found on the Streets of America is an umbrella that comes complete with its own rainstorm.


Umbrella


On the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure, a Super Soaker sporadically discharges a stream of water on the unsuspecting guests below.


Super Soaker


Water is a major theme on the Studio Backlot Tour. First, volunteers from the audience recreate a WWII battle scene. Between 400 gallons of make-believe waves, simulated bombs, air-pressure torpedoes, and phantom bullets, our unsuspecting participates would get soaked if it weren't for the protective gear they wear. And some members in the first row of the audience do get splashed a bit.


Studio Backlot Tour

Studio Backlot Tour


Later in the tour, guests visit Catastrophe Canyon and experience the biggest water extravaganza at Walt Disney World. This attraction uses enough water to fill ten Olympic sized swimming pools and can propel 25,000 gallons of water over 100 feet. If a basketball were placed in one of these water cannons, it could be shot over the Empire State Building.


Catastrophe Canyon

Catastrophe Canyon


Over at the Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show, water is used to a lesser extent in a chase scene using a jet ski.


Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show


Near the Studio Catering Co. is a statue of a mermaid. This recreation of a prop used in the 1984 movie "Splash" is made entirely out of fiberglass and was created here in the Studio Scenic Shop. The mold used to produce the mermaid and dolphins were originally created for ice sculptures seen in the movie, "Herbie goes Bananas."


Mermaid Fountain


In the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show, a fine mist covers the audience as they descend "under the sea." In addition, a curtain of water is used to help guests believe they have descended into Ariel and Sebastian's world.


Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Voyage of the Little Mermaid


Outside the theater that houses the "Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage" show is a simple, art deco waterfall.


Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage


At the Tower of Terror, there are several water features. But since the hotel has been abandoned for years, all of them are in a state of disrepair and dry.


Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror


Disney's Animal Kingdom

Returning rainwater to the aquifer is important in Florida. To that end, retention ponds have been created everywhere on Disney property and the Animal Kingdom is no exception. In the parking lot, you will find several of these man-made mini-lakes.


Retention Pond


In the early years of the Animal Kingdom, Rain Forest Café featured one of the largest waterfalls at Walt Disney World. It spanned almost the entire length of the restaurant's roof and created an impressive sight.


Rain Forest Café Waterfall


As the years passed and the shrubbery matured, the new growth all but obscured this man-made wonder. Eventually the Imagineers had to redesign this area. Today, much smaller waterfalls flank the entrance to this restaurant.


Rain Forest Café Waterfall

Rain Forest Café Waterfall


Near the back entrance to Rain Forest Café is a playful garden complete with some cute animals and a bit of water.


Rain Forest Café Playground

Rain Forest Café Playground


Of course, Rain Forest Cafés is also noted for their innovative aquariums.


Rain Forest Café Aquarium


The Oasis is the first land guests enter at the Animal Kingdom. Here, the Imagineers endeavored to create natural and realistic settings. It was their desire to make it look like Mother Nature fashioned this scenic spot. Starting with waterfalls in the upper elevations, the water collects in pools and flows downhill until it reaches the main entrance. This arrangement provides many homes for some wondrous creatures.


The Oasis

The Oasis


Hidden within the Oasis is a rustic suspension bridge which spans a portion of this water. The bridge bounces a bit when mischievous guests walk a little too ambitiously.


suspension bridge


Discovery River surrounds Discovery Island. This waterway adds atmosphere to the Animal Kingdom and provides homes for a number of animals. But in the early years, it was to be much more. Discovery River was to be home to an attraction.

The Imagineers originally intended the Discovery River Boats to provide guests with an orientation of the Animal Kingdom as it skirted each land of the park. In addition, it would provide transportation from one side of the park to the other. Along the way guests would encounter an AudioAnimatronics dinosaur, a geyser, and a few animal enclosures. In addition, cast members on board would showcase small critters such as tarantulas, geckos, and scorpions. Guests could board Discovery River Boats at one of two stations. One station was located in Safari Village (now Discovery Island) near the entrance to Dinoland and the other in Asia across from the bird show. Since this was considered a "transportation" attraction, guests were forced to exit at the other station.


Discovery River Boat Attractions

Discovery River Boat Attractions


When the Animal Kingdom first opened, there were very few attractions. An hour wait for Discovery River Boats was common as there was little else to do. With precious few sights along the river banks and a forced exit at the other station, people inundated Guest Relations with complaints.

In an effort to spruce up this failure of an attraction, Disney retooled the ride and renamed it Radio Disney River Cruise." The boats were repainted in bright colors and a round-trip to your original station was now provided. In addition, an onboard radio show was presented with music, trivia questions, and animal facts. It was still a dismal failure and guests continued to complain. The ride closed for good in August, 1999, just a year and a half after the park opened. Today, many parts of Discovery River are overgrown with trees and shrubbery.


Discovery River

Discovery River


Personally, I think the Imagineers set themselves up for failure. With few exceptions, EVERY guest who road Discovery River Boats was familiar with the Jungle Cruse in the Magic Kingdom. So it would be a natural expectation when visiting the Animal Kingdom and boarding a similar vessel that guests would see real animals instead of one AudioAnimatronics dinosaur and only a couple of bird sanctuaries. I know that was my expectation.

The water found on Discovery Island surrounds the Tree of Life. Once again, the Imagineers have tried to make this area look natural - as if it could really be the real-life home of the animals seen here.


Discovery Island Animals

Discovery Island Animals

Discovery Island Animals

Discovery Island Animals

Discovery Island Animals


Near the exit to "It's Tough to be a Bug" is a towering waterfall.


Discovery Island Waterfall


Even though Camp Minnie/Mickey has been shuttered for good, it did have a few water features. The first could be seen on the banks of Discovery River as you entered this land. To the right was a stone dragon spewing water. His presence was to remind us that Beastly Kingdom would be coming soon.


Rock Dragon


As we ventured further into Camp Minnie/Mickey, we happened along a country stream and some intrepid hikers.


Country Stream

Hikers


Thirsty? An old well acted as a drinking fountain.


Well


And of course, no camping trip would be complete without a visit to the ol' fishin' hole.


Ol' Fishin' Hole

Ol' Fishin' Hole


There are no water features in the town of Harambe in Africa, but on Kilimanjaro Safaris water is abundant. But once again, most of it is presented naturally to add realism to the attraction. However, the Imagineers did go above and beyond when designing this ride. While traveling through the hippo area, the safari trucks ford a river. If you look closely at the roadway, you can see tire tracks in the mud. But these are not real tire tracks or real mud. But rather colored concrete.


Ruts in the Road

Ruts in the Road


I'm sure you all know that Flamingo Island is shaped like Mickey.


Flamingo Island


Up until recently, Kilimanjaro Safaris ended with a high-speed chase pursuing poachers. This trek took us between a number of erupting geysers. But most of these were removed when the storyline was changed and the poacher story eliminated.


Geysers


As guests exit Kilimanjaro Safaris they pass by a Ranger Station. Nearby is an interesting water fountain and Gorilla Falls.


Water Fountain

Gorilla Falls


While walking Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, guests enter a beautiful aviary. Inside they find waterfalls and a large aquarium.


Pangani Aquarium


Further along the trail guests can get a different view of the hippos by looking through glass walls into their bathing pool.


Hippo Bathing Pool

Hippo Bathing Pool


Water plays a major role in the gorilla sanctuary. Watching these magnificent beasts beside the raging falls is spectacular.


Gorilla Sanctuary


Water is also prevalent in Asia. The backstory for this land tells of the Chakranadi (CHAWK-rah-nah-dee) River that is born from the snowmelts in the Himalayas. Its nurturing waters soon reach warmer regions where a dense jungle grows and eventually flows into the Bugis Sea.

The Chakranadi River also experiences springtime floods. This can be witnessed at a decaying temple near the edge of town. If you examine the area, you can see how the river has overflowed its banks and its waters have surrounded this structure. In dryer times of the year, the doorways are accessible. In the meantime, gibbons have taken over this shrine and made it their own.


Asian Temple


No other attraction at Disney World is more about water than Kali River Rapids - not even Splash Mountain. There is no way around it, this ride is all about getting wet.


Kali River Rapids

Kali River Rapids

Kali River Rapids

Kali River Rapids


Near the end of the attraction, friends and family can give riders one final soaking by encouraging the elephants to spray the rafts.


Elephant Spray

Elephant Spray


Water also plays an important part on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. One of the main features revolves around the tiger-blind found here. The backstory tells us that evil King Bhima Disampati built this structure for himself and his guests. Perched high on a lookout platform, they could shoot the tigers as they came to drink from an elaborate fountain. Fortunately, King Disampati was killed and his diabolical sport was discontinued.


Maharajah Jungle Trek

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Maharajah Jungle Trek


Further along the trail we come to an aviary. Here we find a combination fountain/birdbath.


Bird Bath


An artistic fountain can be discovered near the restrooms in this part of Asia. I love the glass-like design the water makes as it falls to the waiting pool. It's fun to put your finger in the water and disrupt the flow.


Asian Fountain

Asian Fountain


As we leave the wetlands of Anandapur, we travel to the vast plains that sit at the foot of the rugged Himalayas. Rainfall is scarce here and the land is parched. Take a look at the dry creek beds found near Expedition Everest.


Dry River Bed

Dry River Bed

Up on the mountain slopes things are different. Melting snow creates a glorious waterfall.


Everest Waterfall


Dinoland U.S.A. uses very little water to entertain guests, but it does exist. The one obvious spot can be found in front of the "Dinosaur" attraction. Here we see Aladar standing in a reflecting pool.


Dinosaur

Dinosaur


At Chester & Hester's Dinorama, the arcade game Fossil Fueler uses water guns to aim at targets.


Fossil Fueler


That pretty much covers the water features found in the four theme parks - I think. As I was writing this article, I kept finding more and more examples of water as I browsed through my pictures and wandered the parks. I became more and more amazed at how often H2O turns up everywhere. It's astounding how prevalent this life-giving liquid can be.

In ending, I would like to point out one more water feature. This one is common to all four parks. It's the combination squirt gun/fan. It's perfect for a Florida summer afternoon.


Squirt Gun Fan


May 1, 2014

Water at Walt Disney World -- Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Last Monday I wrote how the Walt Disney World property was crisscrossed with canals and levees to help maintain water integrity. I also discussed the many water features found in the Magic Kingdom and how these help add atmosphere to the park. Today I'm going to take a look at Epcot.

Unlike the Magic Kingdom, Epcot does not have a beautiful lake at its front doorstep. However, it does have one of the flood canals running through its parking lot. It's not particularly inviting, but Disney has lined it with grassy slopes and oak and pine trees.


Epcot Parking Lot

Epcot Parking Lot


In front of Spaceship Earth is a large fountain. For many years, a Lucite piece of art graced the top of this structure. In later years it was removed and the fountain's smooth tile surface was replaced with textured stones and rocks.


Entrance Fountain

Entrance Fountain

Entrance Fountain

Entrance Fountain


In Innoventions Courtyard is a large fountain. On EPCOT Center's opening day, representatives from 22 countries each poured a gallon of water from their homeland into the fountain. On Epcot's 25th Anniversary, cast members from the eleven World Showcase countries repeated this symbolic act.


Innoventions Fountain

Innoventions Fountain


The original fountain was refurbished in 1993. At that time, 304 nozzles and water cannons were added with the ability to propel water over 150 feet in the air. It took three months of computer programing to design the water ballets that run every 15 minutes. At night, the fountain comes alive with 1,068 colored lights that are also synchronized with the water cannons and music. The fountain measures 180 x 120 foot oval and holds over 108,000 gallons of water.


Innoventions Fountain

Innoventions Fountain

Innoventions Fountain

Innoventions Fountain


At "The Seas with Nemo & Friends" we see waves crash against jagged rocks while seagulls call out "Mine, mine, mine." Over at the Land Pavilion, water flows behind the letters on the marquee and a small river meanders beneath lush foliage. (Both were dry when I took these pictures.)


The Seas with Nemo & Friends

Land Pavilion

Land Pavilion


When the Land Pavilion opened, a large fountain graced the food court seating area. It was removed a few years ago to enlarge the Sunshine Seasons dining room. I know by today's standards this fountain was dated, but I miss it.


Old Land Fountain


Although not a "water feature" as such, water is described in the "Living with the Land" attraction. We are told how rainfall and erosion shape and nourish the land.


Living with the Land

Living with the Land


The Imagineers wanted guests visiting the Imagination Pavilion to open their minds to new inventive ideas. To that end, they created three water features to spark our imaginations. The first is the upside-down waterfall. Where else can you see water flow up?


upside-down waterfall

upside-down waterfall


The next is an artistic fountain.


Imagination Fountain


And finally, there are the Leap Fountains.


Leap Fountains

Leap Fountains

Leap Fountains


Meandering through the west side of Future World are a number of ponds. In the early years, these ponds looked more like shallow swimming pools with concrete bottoms painted pale blue. Approximately 13-14 years ago, the Imagineers lined the bottoms of the ponds with river rocks. This gave the pools a natural, more relaxed feel and helped move Future World away from the "concrete era" futurists once predicted. (Unfortunately, I don't have any 'before' pictures to share with you.)


Future World West Ponds

Future World West Ponds


The east side of Future World has very few water features. One of these is located just beyond Mouse Gear as you enter this section of the park. Here we find a splash and play area for the kids.


Splash and Play Area


Over at the Energy Pavilion we find a reflection pool that bounces light off of the adjacent mirrored tiles.


Energy Pavilion


And behind Test Track we find Cool Wash. This Coca-Cola concession stand spritzes a refreshing mist on hot and tired guests when the weather is warm.


Cool Wash

Cool Wash

Cool Wash


The bridge that connects Future World with World Showcase crosses a small lake. To my knowledge, this body of water has no official name. Although I cannot substantiate this, I have read that the Imagineers discovered a sinkhole in this area when designing the park so they opted to put a lake here as the area was unsuitable for building.

During the annual Flower and Garden show, the gardeners line the banks of this lake with colorful flowers and float more blooms in the water.


Transition between Future World and World Showcase

Transition between Future World and World Showcase


On the bridge is another splash and play area for the kids.


Splash and Play Area


Of course, the biggest water feature at Epcot is the World Showcase Lagoon.


World Showcase Lagoon


If you've pay attention, you might notice that every World Showcase country extends to World Showcase Lagoon and takes advantage of this water. Let's start with the Canada Pavilion.

Reference material tells us that this area was designed to resemble the rugged Canadian eastern seaboard. And it certainly does. However, I've often wondered if the Imagineers might also have been trying to suggest the Bay of Fundy as seen in the O'Canada movie.


Canada Pavilion on World Showcase Lagoon

Canada Pavilion on World Showcase Lagoon

Canada Pavilion on World Showcase Lagoon


As we venture into the upper levels of the Canada Pavilion, we find an observation deck. "Pull-outs" like these are common on mountain roads in the U.S. and Canada and provide travelers with a way to "slow down and smell the roses." At the Canada Pavilion, this observation deck provides guests with a panoramic view of Disney's version of the Rocky Mountains and Salmon Island.

It's interesting to note, the waterfall's intensity varies from day to day and season to season. The Imagineers would tell you it depends on the snow melt, but the truth is, Disney is concerned with your comfort. When the falls are at peak capacity, guests will get damp as mist and droplets splash them as they pass by. This is all and good during most of the year in Florida. But we do have some cooler times and when the temperatures drop, so does the water flow. Here we see pictures of both the wet and dry season.


Rocky Mountains Dry

Rocky Mountains Wet


This waterfall feeds a roaring stream and two ponds. One pond is near the Maple Leaf Mine, the other in the middle of Victoria Gardens.


Canada Stream

Maple Leaf Mine

Victoria Gardens


Next door to the Canada Pavilion, the United Kingdom Pavilion uses the World Showcase Lagoon to recreate one of the locks of the Grand Union Canal. The Grand Union Canal stretches 137 miles from London to Birmingham with branches that reach Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton. Along its route are 166 locks. This canal was used for the transport of goods (primarily coal and building materials) between communities.


Grand Union Canal


There is only one water feature within the UK Pavilion. This is a small fountain found outside the restrooms.


UK Fountain


At the France Pavilion, the World Showcase Lagoon represents the banks of the Seine. Here you can see an easel and painting. If you study the painting carefully, you'll notice a budding artist is creating an impressionistic interpretation of International Gateway across the river.


Banks of the Seine

Banks of the Seine

Banks of the Seine

Banks of the Seine


For me, one of the most beautiful fountains at Walt Disney World can be found in the France Pavilion. I love to sit on the edge of this structure and people watch.


France Pavilion Fountain


At the Morocco Pavilion, an old water wheel once brought water from World Showcase Lagoon to feed the Chahar Bagh (Persian for four gardens). The classic design of a Chahar Bagh has a fountain or holding trough at the center of the garden which flows into four channels at right angles to each other. The four channels are often associated with the four rivers of Paradise as described in the Koran. These waters flow to the four quarters of Heaven.


Old Water Wheel

Chahar Bagh

Chahar Bagh


Recently, the Chahar Bagh was removed to make way for the new Spice Road Table. However, the Imagineers left the waterwheel. Although, without the nearby Chahar Bagh, it has no logical reason to exist. But don't despair. The waterwheel may not be useful anymore, but it is still a distinctive part of the Morocco Pavilion. When seated at the bar within Spice Road Table, it serves as a lovely moving backdrop behind the colorful bottles.


Waterwheel Exterior

Waterwheel Exterior

Waterwheel Interior


In the Ville Nouvelle (new city) portion of the Morocco Pavilion is a lovely "town square" fountain. In the Medina, or old city, a replica of the Nejjarine Fountain can be found. This second fountain would be used by the townspeople to fill their pales with drinking water.


Morocco Fountain

Morocco Fountain


Fez House is a recreation of a traditional Moroccan home built around a central courtyard. From the courtyard are a number of rooms which can be opened and closed depending on the need for privacy. In the main room is another fountain.


Fez House Fountain


A beautiful torii gate graces the shores of the World Showcase Lagoon in front of the Japan Pavilion. This Shinto icon is fashioned after the one found off the rocky coast of Itsukushima Island in southern Japan.


Torii Gate


Notice the barnacles at the base of the torii gate. This is a realistic representation as the original sits in the salty Inland Sea.


Barnacles


A typical Japanese garden contains a number of elements in its design. These include water, rocks & sand, bridges, architecture, lanterns, fences, trees & flowers, and fish. At the Japan Pavilion, we see the beginnings of this meticulous garden near the outdoor seating area of Katsura Grill. Here we find cascading water adds a tranquil sound for diners as it gathers in a pond then begins its journey downhill and beneath several bridges.


Japan Pavilion Water Feature

Japan Pavilion Water Feature

Japan Pavilion Water Feature


As the water continues, it tumbles over more falls and ends up in a serene koi pond.


Koi Pond


The last water feature in the Japan Pavilion can be found surrounding the castle. Here, a mote protects this mighty structure from invaders.


Castle Mote


At the American Adventure we see the Golden Dream sailing ship anchored on the shores of World Showcase Lagoon.


Golden Dream


The only water feature within the pavilion is a simple fountain. If you pay attention, you'll notice that the fountain is turned off when any shows or presentations are staged nearby. This reduces the background noise greatly. During the holiday season, this fountain is often covered and replaced with a Christmas tree.


American Adventure Fountain

American Adventure Fountain


The World Showcase Lagoon plays host to Venice at the Italy Pavilion. A canal, arched bridges, and a gondola can be seen here.


Venice Canal


Also in the Venetian section of the pavilion is an unassuming fountain.


Venetian Fountain


But if you venture further into the Italy Pavilion you'll come to perhaps the most recognizable fountain in all of Epcot, the Neptune Fountain. This landmark often has a line of people waiting to take their turn getting a picture with this Roman god in the background. The fountain is based on two sculptures, the original Neptune Fountain in Florence by Bartolomeo Ammannatin and Trevi Fountain located in Rome by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.


Neptune Fountain


At the Germany Pavilion, a stone wall and garden line World Showcase Lagoon. This design would be typically seen on the many rivers that crisscross Germany.


Germany Pavilion on World Showcase Lagoon


In the center of the platz is a fountain and a statue of Saint George and the Dragon. Fountains like these were common in villages during the Middle Ages. The everyday use of indoor plumbing was still centuries away and a central water source was the spot for townsfolk to fill their pails. This statue of Saint George slaying the dragon is modeled after a sculpture found in Rothenburg, Germany. Saint George is the patron saint of soldiers and references to him can be found throughout Europe.


Saint George Fountain


In the Biergarten Restaurant, a waterwheel can be found at the far right of this beer hall.


Biergarten Restaurant Waterwheel


Although African Outpost isn't a "real" country of World Showcase, the Imagineers still included a presence for this spot on the lagoon. Here we see tribal canoes drying on a sandy beach, ready for a fishing expedition.


African Outpost on World Showcase Lagoon


At the China Pavilion, manicured lawns and bushes line the banks of World Showcase Lagoon. This style of gardening would be similar to those you might find at the Emperor's Summer Palace or a high ranking official's home.


China Pavilion on World Showcase Lagoon


Also on the shore are three large rocks and several stone benches. Centuries ago, the Chinese believed that contemplation of unusual rock forms brought inner peace and serenity. So profound was this practice that ancient rulers would spend considerable amounts of money and engage hundreds of men to search for and transport a particularly interesting rock back to the palace. Some of these expeditions could last up to three years.


China Pavilion Rock


The main water feature of the China Pavilion can be found just past the Gate of the Golden Sun. This lovely lotus pool is surrounded by a typical Chinese garden and was inspired by those in Suzhou, a large city located adjacent to Shanghai.


China Pavilion Pond

China Pavilion Pond


The Norway Pavilion has perhaps the simplest of the World Showcase Lagoon waterfronts. All that is offered here is a basic stone retaining wall and shrubbery.


Norway Pavilion on World Showcase Lagoon


But inside the Norway Pavilion guests find a tantalizing water feature which is part of the popular attraction, Maelstrom. This waterfall gives wannabe Vikings a glimpse of what's in store for them if they dare to ride.


Maelstrom

Maelstrom


The Mexico Pavilion's presence on World Showcase Lagoon was that of a small, fishing village. A rocky coast and a small boat invited guests to visit our neighbor to the south. Although this rocky coast still exists, it was greatly decreased with the addition of La Hacienda de San Angel a few years ago.


Old View of Mexico Pavilion

New View of Mexico Pavilion


Inside the Mexico Pavilion guests will find two fountains. The cute guy in the picture is me - a long time ago. LOL


Mexico Pavilion Fountain

Mexico Pavilion Fountain


Of course, the biggest water feature in the Mexico Pavilion can be seen from the San Angel Inn. Tables in this restaurant overlook a river that meanders past a Mayan pyramid and active volcano.


San Angel Inn

San Angel Inn


Today we've seen how water adds atmosphere, history, relaxation, and excitement to Epcot. Check back Monday when I will finish this series with a look at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.


April 28, 2014

Water at Walt Disney World -- Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


If you've ever flown over Florida, you can't help but notice we have a few lakes. If you've ever driven in Florida, you may have noticed that a great many of our major boulevards and avenues must twist and turn to avoid these bodies of water. In fact, Florida has over 30,000 lakes of which 7,700 are greater than ten acres. And that's not even counting all of the retention ponds communities are required to build to help send rain water back down into the aquifer.

All of this H2O got me to thinking how water has influenced Walt Disney World in ways both great and small. So my article today is going to give you an overview of how water shaped the land, then I'm going to look at the fun and entertaining ways water influences our experiences in the parks.

Disneyland was built in one year. But on the other side of the continent, it took five years to get the Magic Kingdom open. Much of this time was spent preparing the property before construction could even begin on the park and hotels. And one of the first tasks of this preparation was dealing with water.

When the Imagineers arrived in Florida, they discovered a number of swamps on the property. And some of these swamps were exactly where they wanted to build. They also discovered that Florida receives torrential downpours that can easily flood low-lying areas, yet at other times, rain can be scarce. Something needed to be done, but what? The Imagineers knew they wanted to manage this water, but they also knew it had to be done in a way that would not destroy the ecosystem. To that end, they constructed 47 miles of canals, 22 miles of levees, and 24 water-control structures and floodgates.

The first plans called for the canals to run in almost straight lines, but Roy Disney would have nothing to do with this idea. He wanted the Walt Disney World property to look natural and insisted the plans be redrawn. Because of his foresight, the canals today curve in a realistic manner and blend in with the surroundings.


WDW Canals

WDW Canals

WDW Canals

WDW Canals

WDW Canals


One of the interesting features found along these canals are the floodgates. These keep water levels under control by automatically floating open when the water reaches certain levels and closing when the water subsides. They require no electricity or human monitoring and greatly reduce the risk of flooding or water shortages.


Floodgate

Floodgate

Floodgate


Speaking of drought" In the early 2000's, Florida received far less rain than normal. Because of this, water levels in Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon dropped significantly. Since many of the docks were built at a fixed height to accommodate the normal, higher water levels, it made loading and unloading of the boats and ferries difficult. To remedy the situation, Disney retrofitted all of the docks with floating platforms so boat and dock levels would always be constant. If you look closely at this next picture, you can see a floating platform next to the stationary dock.


Floating Dock


No story of the water at Walt Disney World would be complete without mentioning the creation of Seven Seas Lagoon.

If you look at the early property map that Walt used to announce his latest endeavor, you can see the Magic Kingdom at the top left corner of the diagram. Notice that Bay Lake can be seen to the right of the Magic Kingdom, but no Seven Seas Lagoon to the south as this body of water wasn't in the initial plans. Instead, we see several hotels clustered closely around the park.


WDW Concept Design

WDW Concept Design


Of course, as we know, the land directly south of the Magic Kingdom turned out to be swampland and was unsuitable for building. So the Imagineers drained this mucky quagmire, cleared out tons of rotting debris, and created another Florida lake.


Draining Seven Seas Lagoon

Draining Seven Seas Lagoon

Draining Seven Seas Lagoon


The creation of Seven Seas Lagoon brought about two positive happenstances. First, much of the mud that was excavated was used to bury the utilidors which lie beneath the Magic Kingdom. This earth became the "ground level" of the park.

In case you've ever wondered where the utilidors are located, here is a map. Notice that they do not connect every corner of the park, but only go to key locations.


Utilidors


The other positive surprise came with the discovery of white sand buried beneath the muck. This sand would eventually be used to line the shores of the Polynesian and Contemporary Resorts.


White Sand Beach

White Sand Beach


Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon give Walt Disney World something that Disneyland will never have, water recreation. From the marinas of the resorts that line these bodies of water, a number of floating activities can be arranged. Fishing, mini-speed boats, and pontoon boats are all available when someone needs a break from the parks.


Speed Boat

Pontoon Boat


At the Contemporary, Sammy Duvall offers guests an opportunity to waterski and parasail.


Water Skiing

Parasailing

Parasailing


There are other large bodies of water at Walt Disney World worth mentioning such as Crescent and Village Lakes and Sassagoula River, but I think I'm going to table these for the time being.

Now let's take a look at the water found in the Magic Kingdom. Main Street would be a good place to start, except there really aren't any water features in this land - not unless you count drinking fountains and restrooms. So let's move onto the Hub.

The Magic Kingdom Hub is unique among the five Magic Kingdom-type parks around the world. It is the only one that is completely surrounded by a river. Although these other park's may have small ponds and lakes, their Hub's are not islands. In my opinion, this fact makes the Florida Hub the most beautiful. The water has a calming effect. This is especially welcome on busy days.


The Hub Waterway

The Hub Waterway

The Hub Waterway

The Hub Waterway


While scouring through my pictures of the Hub, I came across this next photo. It seems that at one time simple fountains added atmosphere near the Rose Garden Pavilion.


Swan Boat Fountain


As I'm sure you know, the waterway that circles the Hub was created for the Swan Boats that ran from May 1972 until August 1983. Did you also know that besides circling the Hub, the Swan Boats also circled Swiss Family Treehouse?


Swan Boat


The Imagineers were able to create the Swan Boat waterway for two reasons. First, they had the land to do so whereas Disneyland did not. But more than that, there is an abundance of water available that the non-Florida parks lack. Did you know that the Swan Boat waterway, the Jungle Cruise rivers, and the Rivers of America are all connected and are fed by Seven Seas Lagoon?


One of the most unassuming water features in the Magic Kingdom is found in front of First Aid. This simple fountain sports a pineapple on top, a sign of hospitality and welcome.


Pineapple Fountain


Because the Hub is an island, bridges are needed to transport guests to the various lands. These bridges help tell the story and prepare our minds for what is to come. Tomorrowland features a modern, concrete bridge. The Adventureland bridge has an elaborate, tropical feel whereas the Liberty Square bridge is a far more simple wooden structure. Then of course the castle bridge is made of stone and has an imposing look.


Tomorrowland Bridge

Liberty Square Bridge

Castle Bridge


Currently, the Hub is going through a major refurbishment to create more viewing opportunities for nighttime castle shows and fireworks. Because of this, the Swan Boat canal is drained of water. I think you'll agree after looking at these next two pictures, water adds a lot to the landscape.


Drained Hub River

Drained Hub River


At the northeast corner of the Hub is a lovely waterfall. It's fun to stand on the nearby bridge and watch the ducks take a refreshing drink.


Cosmic Ray Waterfall

Cosmic Ray Waterfall


Let's move next to Tomorrowland. When the Magic Kingdom first opened, the entrance to this land-of-the-future looked much different. Two tall towers flanked the entrance and water cascaded down from the top of the spires. When the wind was light, this was an impressive sight. Unfortunately, even the smallest breeze caused the water to spray those walking by. On cold days, park managers turned this feature off to help protect guests from getting wet. Tomorrowland was updated in 1994 and the entrance took on a new look - minus a water feature.


Old Tomorrowland Entrance

New Tomorrowland Entrance


The Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland was designed in the late 1960's. At that time, the Imagineers thought the future would be concrete, concrete, and more concrete. Because of this, no lakes or fountains were included in this land. The only water feature within the original Tomorrowland was the waterfall at the base of the Skyway Terminal.


Skyway Terminal


Because of this initial design, the reimagined Tomorrowland of the 1990's still lacks water as a design element. Today, the only attractions that are remotely related to water are the large stone sphere that floats on a thin layer of water and the mist that sprays from the Thirst Rangers Rocket Ship.


Floating Stone Sphere

Thirst Rangers Rocket Ship


Interestingly, the Tomorrowlands of Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland did include water in their designs with the inclusion of the Nautilus and a children's splash area. And of course, Disneyland had the Submarine Voyage.


Disneyland Paris

Hong Kong Disneyland

Disneyland


Let's move counterclockwise and take the pathway that leads from Tomorrowland to Storybook Circus.

Storybook Circus has perhaps the best water feature in the Magic Kingdom. Casey Jr. Splash 'N" Soak Station is a fantastic play area for kids. On hot days, the water jets offer a great cool-down area.


Casey Jr. Splash 'N

Casey Jr. Splash 'N

Casey Jr. Splash 'N

Casey Jr. Splash 'N


The Dumbo attraction at Disneyland has had a water feature ever since their Fantasyland was remodeled in 1984. However, the Dumbo attraction at the Magic Kingdom did not. This is because the Magic Kingdom's version was located on top of the Utilidors and the weight of the water would be too much for the underground structure. However, when Dumbo was moved to Storybook Circus, water was added to enhance the ride. Although guests do not get wet on this attraction, the water adds a nice bit of ambiance.


Dumbo

Dumbo


As we move into Fantasyland proper, we come to the Under the Sea - Journey of The Little Mermaid. The exterior of this attraction is modeled after Prince Eric's castle which is located on the seashore. The outside portion of this queue features a lagoon that suggests it's an offshoot from a nearby ocean or sea. As we venture further along the path, we come to several waterfalls cascading from nearby cliffs.


Prince Eric's Castle Home

nce Eric's Castle Home

nce Eric's Castle Home


Inside the attraction we see make-believe water featured in the Kiss the Girl vignette.


Kiss the Girl


Next door to the Little Mermaid attraction is Gaston's Tavern. Out front of this non-alcoholic pub is a statue a Gaston holding two kegs of ale, spilling into mugs held by LeFou. I find the irony here interesting.


Gaston's Fountain


Near Beast Castle, a rushing river flows from the mountains and under a bridge where it collects in a quiet pool. It appears that this pool will someday also connect with waterfalls flowing from the nearby Dwarf's mine.


Beast Castle

Beast Castle

Seven Dwarf's Mine


Before Ariel, Beauty, Beast, and Gaston came to this area of Fantasyland, there was the 20,000 Leagues under the Sea attraction. This was a huge water feature. So big in fact that it engulfed 25% of the real estate in Fantasyland and held 11.5 million gallons of water. But unlike the water found in the Swan Boat waterway and the Jungle Cruise, this was a self-contained system which filtered 3,000 gallons of water per hour, making it clearer than tap water.


20,000 Leagues under the Sea


At Disneyland, the submarines traveled beneath a full waterfall. But at the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers could never get the boat's hatches to seal completely and they leaked. Eventually it was decided to part the waterfall so the subs were not directly hit with water as they sailed into the indoor portion of the attraction.


Disneyland Submarine

Magic Kingdom Submarine


In the original queue of "it's a small world," fountains were used in in the loading/unloading area. But after the remodel, these were eliminated.


Small World Fountain


The old Fantasyland Skyway Terminal had a small waterfall and pond to add interest to this Alpine structure.


Fantasyland Skyway Station


The Skyway Terminal was recently replaced with a new restroom and relaxation area themed around the Kingdom of Corona, home of Rapunzel. Near her tower is a small waterfall that spills into a stream that flows through the area.


Kingdom of Corona


One of the most sought after picture spots in Fantasyland also involves water. The Cinderella fountain that sits across from the castle is a favorite of many little princesses.


Cinderella Fountain


In Mickey's Philharmagic, guests are treated to a surprise splash of water in the Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence.


Mickey's Philharmagic


Liberty Square does not have any water features as I believe the Rivers of America is part of Frontierland - even though the Liberty Belle Riverboat (thematically incorrectly) loads and unloads from this land. On the other hand, Frontierland has a number of water features - like the Rivers of America.

The Rivers of America is the largest water feature in the Magic Kingdom. Although it has no fountains or waterfalls, it is still impressive and adds a tremendous amount of atmosphere to the area. The Liberty Belle is a beautiful sight as it sails by.


Rivers of America

Liberty Belle


And if you happen to time your voyage on the Lilly Belle Riverboat correctly, you just might get to see one of the steam locomotives reflecting in the water as it crosses the turntable bridge that traverses a small inlet.


Steam Train Reflection on Rivers of America


Thunder Mountain has a number of water features. The first is in the queue where we see a wooden trough funneling water away from the mountain. A second such device can be seen while riding the runaway train.


Big Thunder Mountain Trough

Big Thunder Mountain Trough


Once on the mine train, guests encounter water on several occasions. The first is when the locomotive makes its initial uphill climb. To the right is a phosphorescent pool. As droplets fall from stalactites, the ripple effect creates a rainbow of colors in the pool below. In its day, this was a state-of-the-art effect.


phosphorescent pool


Then of course, there is the raging water fall at the top of the hill that cascades to both sides of the train.


Thunder Mountain Waterfall


Further on, we come to the washed out town of Tumbleweed. Perhaps the two most interesting water related figures here are Cumulus Isobar who is frantically bailing water and Cousin Elrod who is taking advantage of the flood and relaxing in a bathtub.


Cumulus Isobar

Cousin Elrod


Near the end of the ride, the train skirts a mudpot. This acidic hot spring bubbles and gurgles as you whisk by.


Mudpot


At the exit of Big Thunder are several geysers that erupt without notice. On a hot day, the mist generated from these geysers can feel pretty nice.


Geysers


Splash Mountain is one GIANT water feature. Just watching the hollowed out logs plummet down Chickapin Hill is fun.


Chickapin Hill


Deep inside Splash Mountain guests find an amusing water feature. Just before the ascent, leap fountains crisscross our path and frogs and turtles frolic in the mist.


Leap Fountain


If you hadn't already gotten soaked, the Imagineers wanted to give you one more chance to get wet. Toward the end of the ride, the logs pass by yet another waterfall. Although you don't get drenched, passengers sitting on the right side of the log do get splashed. Thankfully, the water flowing down this fall is cut back when the temperatures drop.


Second Splash Mountain Waterfall


Over in Adventureland, I really wouldn't say that Pirates of the Caribbean has a water feature as you can't actually see the waterfall that you plunge down as you head for the battle between the Wicked Wench and the fortress.

Probably the most famous Adventureland water feature are the tiki poles designed by Disney Legend Marc Davis. When originally installed, these humorous fellows were simply a show piece with no water feature. But a remodel gave these island gods the ability to spit on guests and blow steam from their nostrils.


Tiki Gods


Speaking of spitting" The two camels keeping watch at The Magic Carpets of Aladdin like to hit unsuspecting guests with their make-believe saliva.


Spitting Camel


The queue of the Tiki Room includes a parting waterfall that reveals Clyde & Claude, cousin toucans who host the pre-show.


Tiki Room Room Queue


Before the Tiki Room was remodeled to include Zazu and Iago in "Under New Management," it included the Enchanted Fountain. From a bed of tropical flowers, a column of water raised to a height of over five feet, astounding guests with its magical properties.


Tiki Room Water Column


"And now, we're approaching beautiful Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls."

"You know, I've heard that more water comes over Schweitzer Falls in one minute than a man can drink in his entire lifetime. I don't know about you, but I find that a little hard to swallow."


Schweitzer Falls


Of course, the above quotes are just two of the hundreds that can be heard on the Jungle Cruise.

And down the river a bit, we come to the Elephant Wading Pool. But don't worry, they all have their trunks on.


Elephant Wading Pool


Earlier I mentioned that Main Street had no water feature. I was incorrect. While looking through my pictures I found this massive example of water on Main Street.


Raining on Main Street

Raining on Main Street


That's it for Part One. Check back Thursday when I'll discuss the water found at Epcot.


April 7, 2014

Disney Hodgepodge Four

Jack Spence Masthead


Pacific Electric Pictures

Today I'm going to discuss one of the stores found on Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios, L.A. Cinema Storage. Inside this building shoppers can find children's clothing, plush toys, character hats, and princess merchandise.


L.A. Cinema Storage

L.A. Cinema Storage

L.A. Cinema Storage


As you may know, many of the buildings on both Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards were modeled after real structures found in the Los Angeles area. L.A. Cinema Storage is one of these and its inspiration can be found at 9070 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA.


Substation


Years before Los Angeles was famous for its freeways, it boasted the largest mass transit system in the world, the Pacific Electric Railway. LA locals affectionately called the trolleys either the P.E. or the Red Car. The system spanned southern California with over 1,100 miles of track that ran between Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. The system was begun by Henry Huntington as a way of opening up new land to developers. As freeways grew in popularity during the 1950's, P.E. ridership declined. The last Red Car ran in April, 1961.

The above building in Culver City was designed in the Mission Revival style of architecture and was used as a substation for the Red Car. Inside this structure, rectifiers converted AC power into DC power to run the Pacific Electric Railway. This substation was renovated in 1992 and today is used as a theater for live performances.

The backstory for the building at Disney's Hollywood Studios also suggests that this structure was used in connection with the Pacific Electric Railway. If you look near the building's peak you can see the P.E. logo. In addition, if you examine the side of this structure (before the addition of the large awning) you can see oversized doors. These doors suggests that this building was a car barn for the Red Cars. To further this backstory, the Imagineers placed a Red Car station directly across the street.


P.E. Building

P.E. Building

P.E. Station


You might also notice the address of this building 1928. This is the year Mickey Mouse made his debut in Steamboat Willie.


1928 Address


When the Studio first opened, this structure had a far more interesting function than "just another place to buy souvenirs." This stop along Hollywood Boulevard was called Pacific Electric Pictures. Although I have no still photos of this location, I did take a few videos using one of those gigantic on-the-shoulder cameras. What you see next are freeze-frame photos I captured from my cinematographic efforts.

A banner was draped above the doors facing Hollywood Boulevard, beckoning guests to come in for an audition and screen test.


Pacific Electric Pictures

Pacific Electric Pictures


Once inside, guests found themselves on a mini-sound stage. Several cameras and some sound equipment were positioned around the room and a number of backdrops were available. Also on hand were racks of costumes in various sizes.

Those who wandered in for a looksee were encouraged to participate, but when budding stars were scarce, cast members would recruit would-be actors from the street. Once a group was assembled, they would then be instructed how to play a particular scene by a comical director. After a short rehearsal, the scene was played out again, but this time it was videotaped. And guess what, guests could actually buy a copy of their Hollywood debut on video tape for a mere $24.95.


Pacific Electric Pictures


Researching Pacific Electric Pictures turns up almost no information. It is mentioned in the 1990 and 1991 "Steve Birmbaums' Guide to Walt Disney World," but it is not mentioned in the 1992 version. So obviously, this attraction did not garner enough attention (and money) to become a long-lived, must-do event.

A similar and also short-lived attraction could be found across the street in what is now the Keystone Building. At Sights and Sounds, guests could record their own music videos. But once again, lack of interest forced the closing of this attraction within its second year.


AMC Fork & Screen

In the late 1940's and 1950's, the owners of movie theaters were worried that the relatively new invention of television would cut into their business. They believed if folks opted to stay home and watch free TV, it would hurt profits. But for the most part, their fears were unwarranted. Going to the movies remained a special treat and people enjoyed the sound and picture quality that home entertainment could not offer.

However, things changed in the 2000's. Now it is possible to get the "theater" experience at home. Big screen high-definition televisions, surround sound, Blu-ray, Netflix, 3D, cable and satellite offer the film enthusiasts a real alternative to a night out at the movies.

To combat this new competition, theater chains have had to come up with creative ways to lure customers back into their establishments. One idea is to offer more than the traditional concession fare to their patrons. Hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn are good, but they don't really take the place of a real meal. So several theater chains have converted some of their multiplexes into combination dining room/movie houses. Now, patrons can enjoy a real meal in comfort while watching the latest blockbuster. The AMC Theater at Downtown Disney West side is one of these establishments. They call this new service Fork & Screen.


Fork & Screen Logo


Although you can enter the Downtown Disney AMC Theater at two locations, the main entrance for Fork & Screen is located across from Planet Hollywood.


Fork & Screen Entrance


You can purchase tickets at the theater, but I suggest buying them online for the best seat selection. Once you pay for your admission, a chart will appear that allows you to select the seats you want.

The theaters have two seating configurations, 4-4-4 and 2-4-2. Since the theater is relatively small, all of the seats are good. However, I would avoid the seats against the wall in the 4-4-4 configuration.


Seating Chart

Seating Chart

(Charts not to scale.)


The system does have intelligence built into it. For example, a party of two cannot pick the two middle seats in a row of four, leaving a single seat on either side. The system does this to avoid "stray" seats. However, this isn't a problem. The seats are so large and roomy that it really isn't an annoyance to have someone sitting next to you.

When you arrive at the theater, you present the box office personnel with the credit card you used to pay with online. You will then be given your tickets with your seat numbers printed on them.

The theater opens 30 minutes before the stated show time (when previews begin). Although you can arrive one minute before the movie, I would suggest at least 20 minutes before the previews start. This gives you time to get settled and read the menu with overhead lights. Shortly after getting seated, your waiter will arrive and take your drink order. When he returns, it's hoped that you'll be ready to place your meal order. Note, the food is charged separately from your admission ticket. About halfway through the movie, your waiter will bring you the bill. In addition, each set of seats has a "call button" to summon your waiter if you need refills, extra catsup, or whatever.

Here are a few pictures of the seats and tables.


Fork & Screen

Fork & Screen

Fork & Screen


For those of you who have eaten at the Sci Fi Dine In at Disney's Hollywood Studios, you might notice a similarity in table/chair configuration. However, at the Fork & Screen, the table is significantly further away from your chair - especially if you lean back. Because of this, most meals are served in large, square bowls. This allows you to lean back, hold the bowl in your lap, and forgo the table. If you opt for this style of eating, I have two suggestions. First, order finger food. It's easier to eat. For instance, their juicy hamburgers are good, but they are also messy. And with the overhead lights out, navigating a burger in the dark can be difficult. Second, tuck the provided cloth napkin into your shirt.

There is no minimum order. And in addition to full meals and desserts, your waiter can also bring you traditional snacks from the concession stand and cocktails from the bar.

The price of a seat is more at Fork and Screen than at the traditional theaters next door, but it's worth it. They're very comfortable and roomy. I don't even mind a stranger sitting directly next to me here as the seats are so big.

Fork & Screen is available to those 18 and over. Children must be accompanied by an adult.



Mickey Transmission Tower

I'm sure many of you have viewed pictures of this Disney World oddity, but I'm guessing that most of you have never seen it in person - a high voltage transmission tower in the shape of Mickey Mouse. Located in Celebration just off of Interstate 4, this tower receives power from an adjacent substation.


Mickey Mouse Transmission Tower


I really can't tell you much about this tower other than it exists. After scouring the internet, I came up with nothing I could substantiate. One excerpt I found says the creation of this icon was a collaboration between Tampa Electric and Reedy Creek. Another says that the same company that created this tower also made the Olympic Rings for the Atlanta Olympics. I also read that normally a "Y" tower is called for in situations like this but the designers were able to use Mickey to get the job done. (I don't even know what a "Y" tower is.) I also read the tower is 80 feet tall. However, I can't corroborate any of this. So this Hodgepodge entry is here only to tell you a Mickey Mouse transmission tower exists. Shocking!

That's it for this week. Check back next Monday when I revisit Coronado Springs.


March 17, 2014

Magic Kingdom's Adventureland - Part One of Three

Jack Spence Masthead


Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Adventureland had been located on the east side of the Magic Kingdom? To walk the length of Main Street and then turn right if you wanted to ride on the Jungle Cruise. There was no reason the Imagineers couldn't have done this. After all, the Walt Disney World property was all virgin land. The planners could have arranged things pretty much anyway they wanted. Given this scenario, perhaps the Polynesian Resort would sit where the Contemporary now stands to add a tropical background to this exotic land. Well, this possibility isn't as farfetched as you might think. It could have happened. As we know, the Imagineers used Disneyland's basic layout when planning the Magic Kingdom.

But you're saying to yourself, Disneyland's Adventureland is located in approximately the same vicinity to the Hub as the Magic Kingdom's version of this land - on the west side of the park. But this almost wasn't the case. The concepts for Disneyland's Adventureland began their existence on the east side of the park. This can be seen in an early Herb Ryman sketch and a Marvin Davis map. If you could actually read these maps, you would see that "True Life Adventures" (what would become Adventureland) is to the right of the Hub, approximately where Space Mountain and the Autopia sit today. Circus Land was slotted to be where the Jungle Cruise would eventually be located.


Disneyland Concept Map

Disneyland Concept Map


So why did the Imagineers change their minds and move this land? Two reasons: space and a stand of eucalyptus trees.

As ideas for "True Life Adventures" increased, it was realized that Adventureland would need more space to hold all of Walt's ideas. The Ryman sketch had this exotic land squeezed between "World of Tomorrow" and Main Street. This area was far too confining.

After the property for Disneyland was purchased, planners found a windbreak of giant eucalyptus trees that had been planted around the turn of the century. Ironically, these trees helped determine the location of Main Street as it was decided that they would make a nice backdrop behind City Hall and help delineate between "civilization" and the "jungles of the world." Thus, Adventureland was moved to its current location on the west side of the park.


Disneyland City Hall


These eucalyptus trees still stand today.


Disneyland City Hall


One of the original ideas for the Jungle Cruise had guests traveling down only one river, the Suwannee if Africa. But Harper Goff knew that the attraction needed more variety and pitched the idea of a skipper taking guests down a collection of exotic rivers found all over the globe. The working name for this attraction was "Tropical Rivers of the World." This proposal transformed Adventureland into a non-specific location. During the design phase of Adventureland, Walt said:

"The spirit of adventure is often linked with exotic tropic places. To create a land which would make this dream reality, we pictured ourselves far from civilization, in the remote jungles of Asia and Africa. The result is Adventureland, 'the wonderland of nature's own design.'"

The vast majority of the land set aside for Adventureland was taken up by a single attraction, the Jungle Cruise. This left very little pedestrian space to convey the vast exotic locales Walt wanted guests to experience. All Adventureland really consisted of was a narrow walkway that led from the Hub to Frontierland (now New Orleans Square). There was very little space in which to excite your senses. The Swiss Family Treehouse and the Safari Shooting Gallery didn't' open until 1962 and Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room didn't debut until the following year. Even today, Adventureland's main thoroughfare is a very confining area.


Disneyland's Adventureland

Disneyland's Adventureland


When planning the Magic Kingdom's version of Adventureland, the Imagineers wanted to correct this shortcoming and create an area that allowed guests to be immersed in the faraway lands that most of us only dream of experiencing. To that end, they created a much larger pedestrian expanse where visitors can be totally immersed in their surroundings.

The Crystal Palace acts as the transition piece that ties Main Street and Adventureland together. Based on the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, New York's Crystal Palace, and Kew Gardens in England, this Victorian structure helps visitors prepare for the colonial architecture they're about to experience around the next corner.


Crystal Palace


The main entrance into Adventureland is via a wooden bridge radiating off of the Hub. Up until a few years ago, this bridge was arched to allow the Swan Boats (1972-1983) to pass beneath. The bridge's wooden planks were also ribbed to reduce guests slipping when the walkway was wet. This made for a noisy and difficult journey for those in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. However, when age dictated that the bridge be completely rebuilt, this arch was removed and the ribbing eliminated. This created a level walking surface with no annoying obstructions. Now it is a much easier journey into Adventureland.

If you look at these next two pictures carefully, you can see the rise in the bridge in the first picture and the flattened surface in the second. It's more obvious if you look at the railing.


Adventureland Entrance

Adventureland Entrance


But before you get to this bridge, the entrance to Adventureland has another welcoming landmark. To the right of the pathway is a planter made out of volcanic rock. This is a wonderful spot to pose group pictures. And just like the bridge, this planter has gone through a few changes over the years.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the planter sported a prominent "Adventureland" sign. In subsequent years, the sign was moved to a less obvious position at the back of the planter and several tiki poles were added. Today, the sign is gone completely.


Adventureland Entrance Planter

Adventureland Entrance Planter

Adventureland Entrance Planter


The Adventureland entrance arch has also undergone a few changes. The current incarnation (third picture) features a more sinister look with a large collection of spears and the addition of human skulls.


Adventureland Entrance Arch

Adventureland Entrance Arch

Adventureland Entrance Arch


As you enter Adventureland, you'll find Bwana Bob's to the left. This outdoor shop sells a few Adventureland-themed items, but mostly generic Disney souvenirs. Bottled water is also available.


Bwana Bob's


Across from Bwana Bob's is a lovely covered patio. This area has been used as a meet-&-greet area in the past, but currently this space offers a FastPast+ distribution point.


FastPast+ distribution point

FastPast+ distribution point

FastPast+ distribution point


Next to this patio is "Tinker Bell's Magical Nook." This is the spot to meet Tink and some of her fairy friends.


Tinker Bell's Magical Nook

Tinker Bell's Magical Nook


Inside these doors guests wait in a switchback line until it's their turn to enter the magical world of fairies. Usually on hand are two of these enchanted creatures and families are given ample time with both to pose for photos. As always, a Disney photographer is on hand and can take pictures with either their camera or your own. This meet-&-greet area often has a long line. If this venue is on your kids' bucket list, arrive early.


Tinker Bell's Magical Nook

Tinker Bell's Magical Nook

Tinker Bell's Magical Nook

Tinker Bell's Magical Nook


Thematically, Tinker Bell's Magical Nook has no business being in Adventureland. What do fairies have to do with the "adventurous" climes of the world? This attraction belongs in Fantasyland. However, Disney had an unused building going to waste and decided to fill it with a popular commodity.

So why is this building hear? In the early years, this space was occupied by a counter-service restaurant called Adventureland Verandah. It featured indoor and outdoor seating, the outdoor being on a "verandah" that overlooked the Swan Boats as they passed by. Much of this verandah has since been boarded up (decoratively).


Adventureland Verandah

Adventureland Verandah


Adventureland Verandah was an opening-day restaurant that served fried chicken and hot sandwiches. In 1977, Kikkoman took over sponsorship and the food took on a Polynesian/Asian-ish flavor offering items such as teriyaki hamburgers topped with pineapple slices.

In 1993, the Adventureland Verandah began closing two days a week. Soon after, it was open only seasonally. And in 1994, it closed for good - almost. In 1998, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café closed for an extensive refurbishment and the Adventureland Verandah opened for a few months to fill this void with a limited menu.

I miss the Adventureland Verandah. It was perhaps the most relaxing spot in the Magic Kingdom to enjoy a meal. The energy level was subdued here. When sitting on the verandah, I felt miles away from the hustle and bustle of the throngs rushing around just beyond the Swan Boat canal. The only other spot in the Magic Kingdom that came close to this relaxed atmosphere was Aunt Polly's on Tom Sawyer Island, and sadly, it is gone too.

Across from Tinker Bell's Magical Nook is the smoking area for Adventureland. It is positioned behind planters to create a wide separation from those that partake and those that don't.


Smoking Area


This is a good time to start appreciating the architecture found in the area. It would be difficult to pinpoint any one locale or nationality's influence on these structures for these buildings represent the colonization of Africa and Asia by many European nations.


Adventureland Architecture

Adventureland Architecture

Adventureland Architecture


Having grown up with Disneyland's rather simple Adventureland, I was always impressed with this next structure. Its intricate detailing always amazes me. If I ever were to move to a Caribbean island, I would want my house to look like this. Notice if you will, this structure has seen several different color schemes over the years.


Adventureland Architecture

Adventureland Architecture

Adventureland Architecture


Tucked in amongst all of these buildings is one of the Magic Kingdom's best resting places. Covered, protected from winds, and fan cooled, this hideaway offers guests a wonderful spot to get off your feet and give your aching dogs a rest. Disney tour guides also use this spot to stop and explain Adventureland to their followers. If you time your respite right, you can listen in on some of their interesting facts.


Resting Spot


Of course, no discussion of this area would be complete without mentioning Aloha Isle, home of the famous Dole Whip. Loved by many, detested by some, this spot always has a long line. Personally, I don't think they're worth the wait, but I know many, many people would disagree with me. For those few of you unfamiliar with this taste treat, it is soft-serve pineapple sorbet. It can be served float-style, with pineapple juice, or all alone. To see their full menu, click here.


Aloha Isle

Aloha Isle


That's it for Part One. Check back Thursday for Part Two.



December 23, 2013

Christmas Week at Walt Disney World

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog that originally ran in January 2012 and was accurate at the time of publication.

Now that the busy holiday season is over, I have a question for all of you who visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World the week between Christmas and New Year's. Why?

I have often asked myself, "Why would anyone visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World the week between Christmas and New Year's?" This is hands down the busiest week of the year. Park closings due to capacity issues are a daily experience. Of course, the answer to this question is simple. The kids are out of school this week and very often mom and dad have coordinated their vacation to coincide with this. But I'm here to tell you, a trip to a Disney park over Christmas week just might not be worth it.

Living in Orlando, I can go to Disney World anytime I like. And writing for AllEars requires that I visit here 3 to 5 times a week. But I avoid Disney World like the plague between Christmas and New Year's. It' simply isn't worth it. It's too darn crowded. Even Interstate 4, Highway 192, and the streets near Disney become a clogged mess during this time of year.

But the question "Why do people visit during this week" kept nagging at me. I know not everyone was doing so because of school schedules. There must be something I'm missing about this week that attracts so many of you. So I decided to take a drive down to the Magic Kingdom on December 29th (2011) to see if things are as horrible as I remember.

First, I knew I needed to arrive before 10am. The Magic Kingdom is the busiest of the four parks and is always the first to close due to capacity issues. I wanted to make sure I arrived before this happened. A complete description detailing Disney park closing policies can be found at the bottom of this blog.

When a park is reaching capacity, Disney will post signs around property, informing guests that a particular park is closed. However, these signs are easily missed. Once you reach a "point of no return" on the roadway, you are committed to drive all the way to the toll booth where you'll be asked to make a U-turn. This can take a lot of time as the cast members must explain the disappointing news to each and every car ahead of you.

If a park is open, you will still have many vehicles ahead of you at the toll plaza when it's busy. I must admit, Disney is magnificent at parking cars efficiently, but it can still take a lot of time to pay the attendant and be directed to a space.

If you're staying at a Disney resort, by all means, use Disney transportation during Christmas week. It's easier and will save you a lot of time and hassle.

I parked my car in the Magic Kingdom lot at 9:30am. I had to wait for three trams before I could board for my trip to the TTC. Once there, the lines to catch the monorail and ferry boat were incredible. I opted for the ferry and was able to catch the second boat to pull in. Once at the Magic Kingdom, the lines for bag check were humungous, as were the lines to pass through the turnstiles. In all, it took me a full hour to get from my car to the tunnel under the train tracks.


Waiting for the Tram

Waiting for the Monorail

Waiting for the Ferry Boat

Waiting for the Monorail and Ferry Boat

Waiting at the Turnstiles

Waiting at the Turnstiles

Since my objective was to blog about the day, not experience the park, I did not ride any attractions. I simply circled the park and took pictures and shot videos. Here are few photos of Main Street and The Hub.

Crowds on Main Street

Crowds on Main Street

Crowds on The Hub

Crowds on The Hub

Take a look at Tomorrowland.

Crowds in Tomorrowland

Crowds in Tomorrowland

Crowds in Tomorrowland


If you want to avoid lines at counter service restaurants, eating at off times is absolutely necessary. These next pictures were taken at Cosmic Rays Starlight Café at 11:30am. As you can see, it's already pretty busy. But this is nothing compared to what it will look like at noon. Even at 11:30, cast members were guarding every doorway leading into the restaurant. All were designated as "exit only" with the exception of one which was designated "entrance only." Disney does this to facilitate better crowd control. In addition, cast members had the entrance to the main dining room barricaded. You were required to have trays of food before being allowed to find a table. Past experience has shown that people will save tables, thus taking up this precious space for twice as long as necessary.


Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe


By the way, did you know that Disney raises the prices on counter-service food over this week - just because they can?

This is Fantasyland around noon. There were still some open spaces, but you had to use your best maneuvering skills to negotiate the walkways.


Crowds in Fantasyland

Crowds in Fantasyland

Crowds in Fantasyland


In Liberty Square, the line for the Haunted Mansion began near the entrance to the Liberty Belle.


Crowds in Liberty Square

Haunted Mansion Line


In Frontierland, the wooden walkway that skirts the edge of the Rivers of America was designated as a two-way street. Masking tape had been placed on the ground with arrows indicating direction. Cast members were stationed along the route about every 15 feet to keep things moving. There was no stopping allowed. Traffic was so regimented in this area, I was not able to stop and get a picture. This next shot was taken In Liberty Square as you approach the Frontierland walkway.


Walkway Leading to Frontierland


The area in front of Thunder and Splash Mountains was a mob scene. There must have been a couple hundred people in line just to get FastPasses for TM, which was already stating a comeback time of 2:45-3:45. And remember, with crowds like these, returning to this area when your FastPass comes due is going to take additional time.


Crowds in Frontierland

Crowds in Frontierland


As you can imagine, Adventureland was as crowded as the rest of the park.


Adventurland Crowds

Adventurland Crowds


The shortest stated attraction line I ever saw was in Tomorrowland. Shortly after I arrived at 10:30 the line for Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor was 20 minutes. However, before I left the area, it was 30 minutes. The sign posted for Snow White was 40 minutes, Dumbo 60 minutes, Small World 75 minutes, and Space Mountain 2 hours. But mind you, all of these signs said "From this point" and the lines extended well past the signs, which could add another 10-20 minutes to your wait. Even the People Mover and Swiss Family Treehouse had lines - attractions that never see people waiting. Carousel of Progress was playing to almost full theaters.

As I circled the park, I kept saying to myself, "I'm glad I'm here just to document the crowds and I'm not trying to get my money's worth."


People often ask me how I can take pictures and videos at Walt Disney World with few or no people in the shot. Well one thing is certain, I don't attempt this the week between Christmas and New Year's.

After spending three hours at the Magic Kingdom, I'm still shaking my head. It is beyond me why anyone would spend their hard-earned money to visit Walt Disney World during Christmas week (other than it coincides with school vacation). If you want to see the holiday decorations, you can do that with manageable crowds from December 1st to around the 18th. The only thing you'd miss out on seeing during the early weeks of December is the Christmas parade. However, this is available if you attend one of the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parties.

If you're thinking that you'll get to see the filming of the Christmas Parade and special entertainment broadcast every Christmas morning on ABC, think again. This was filmed weeks earlier at both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland when the crowds were manageable.

When I worked at Disneyland in the 1970's, the projected attendance for the day was posted backstage for the cast members to see. Christmas week regularly attracted 60 to 70 thousand people per day. Disney now guards this information judiciously. So don't ask me how many people visit. I don't know.

Below are the official Disney guidelines in regards to park closings at Walt Disney World. Note, it is common for the parks to reopen later in the afternoon as guests begin to leave.

Alternate Parking:

All Walt Disney World parks are open, but due to parking limitations, guests will be requested to park their vehicle at a different theme park and use Disney transportation to their ultimate destination. For example, guests wishing to visit the Magic Kingdom may be directed to park at Epcot and use the monorail.

Phase 1:

The following guests will be turned away at the Auto Plaza:

" Day guests with Magic Your Way Base Tickets
" One-Day/One-Park Tickets
" Guests without theme park admission
" Cast members using Main Gate & Silver Passes.

Phase 2:

Only the following guests will be allowed entrance:

" Disney Resort guests*
" Annual and Premium Annual Passholders
" Guests with Park Hopper tickets coming from another park visited earlier in the day
" Guests re-entering the same park
" Guests with dining reservations
" Guests with reservations for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, The Pirates League, or Harmony Barber Shop (Magic Kingdom)
" Guests with reservations for Wild Africa Trek (Animal Kingdom)

Phase 3:

At this phase, park admission is limited to:

" Disney Resort Guests*
" Annual and Premium Annual Passholders,
" Guests with dining reservations
" Guests with reservations for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, The Pirates League, or Harmony Barber Shop (Magic Kingdom)
" Guests with reservations for Wild Africa Trek (Animal Kingdom)

Phase 4:

Closed to all guests as the park has reached total capacity

* The following non-Walt Disney World hotels are considered part of the Disney Resort:

Swan and Dolphin
Shades of Green
The hotels along Hotel Plaza Blvd (provided guests arrive via their hotel shuttle bus)


November 11, 2013

Magic Kingdom Skyway

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog he wrote several years ago. This blog originally ran in 2009 and was accurate at the time of publication.

The first Disney Skyway opened at Disneyland on June 23, 1956. Walt was so taken by this mode of transportation that he signed an agreement to purchase this attraction from the Von Roll, Ltd. Company without giving any consideration as to where this ride would be located in his park. But Walt thought of the Skyway as more than just a ride. He thought of it as another mode of transportation that could be used to carry people across large parking lots and shopping centers. He wanted to use Disneyland to showcase this idea.

There is a legend that says that part of Walt's inspiration for Disney World came to him while riding the Disneyland Skyway. From the lofty height of sixty feet, he could see outside the park and onto the rush-hour traffic of the Santa Ana Freeway that skirted his property. He knew then that he needed more land so he could shield any future project from the outside world.

There were three Disney Skyways in total, the second opening at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971 (opening day) and the third at Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1983 (also on opening day). All three offered one-way rides between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom's version had the distinction of being the only one that made a turn in the middle of the journey.

It is often reported, incorrectly, that the Magic Kingdom closed the Skyway due to the death of a custodial cast member working on the attraction. Although it is true that Raymond Barlow was accidentally killed while cleaning a narrow Skyway platform, this had nothing to do with the decision to shutter the ride. Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland had both closed their versions of this attraction before this death occurred. The decision to close all of the Skyways was strictly economical. These attractions were old and expensive to run and maintain. Also, they had low capacities. This made it harder and harder to justify on a "dollar spent per guest ride" basis. Combine this with the constant problem of teenagers spitting and throwing things on the guests below and it's not hard to understand why Disney said "Enough." The Magic Kingdom Skyway closed on November 9, 1999.

The Skyway was a perennial favorite of many people. Even though the line was often long, it was worth the wait once we were airborne and looking down on the many sights below. As you passed other gondolas, you would smile and wave to its passengers. And when you could see the terminus station come into view, you grew sad because you new your flight was almost over.

I have dug through my photo collection and pulled out my Skyway pictures. Please note, some of these pictures are old and of dubious quality. I have also included a video I took in October, 1986. It was shot using one of those old, large, "carry-on-your-shoulder" video cameras of the early 1980's. For many years, this film sat deteriorating on VHS tape until I finally copied it to a DVD. When I electronically extracted it from the DVD so I could share it with you, I lost additional quality. So please forgive this video.


The Fantasyland Station had a Swiss chalet design and yodeling could often be heard in the queue. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway Station


Leaving the station. (1972)


Fantasyland Skyway

Fantasyland Skyway


Here we see the Columbia Harbour House. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


The Mad Tea Party is the the lower left of the picture. (1972)


Fantasyland Skyway


Cinderella's Golden Carousel is dead ahead. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway

Fantasyland Skyway


Looking back at the Peter Pan attraction. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


Down below is Pinocchio Village Haus. (1975)


Fantasyland Skyway


Here is a very old Dumbo attraction -- before a major refurbishment. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway


An newer Dumbo and the 20,000 Leagues Lagoon. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea loading area. (1989)


Fantasyland Skyway


The Nautilus. (1983)


Fantasyland Skyway


Tomorrowland Terrace. (1972)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Tomorrowland Terrace and Cinderella Castle. (1972)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Grand Prix Raceway. (1975)


Tomorrowland Skyway

Tomorrowland Skyway


WEDway People Mover and Contemporary Hotel. (1983)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA) and the Skyway. (1994-95)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Space Mountain and the Contemporary Hotel. (1975)


Tomorrowland Skyway


TTA and Astro Orbiter. (1994-95)


Tomorrowland Skyway


Tomorrowland Skyway Station. (1989)


Tomorrowland Skyway Station


Here's my video of the Skyway shot in October, 1986.


August 19, 2013

Lawn Mower Tree - Fort Wilderness

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog he wrote several years ago. This blog originally ran in 2007 and was accurate at the time of publication.

For those of you not familiar with the "Lawnmower Tree" it's an interesting oddity located at the Fort Wilderness Campground. It seems that years before Walt Disney World opened, someone leaned an old, push-style lawnmower against a tree and left it there. Over the years, the tree slowly grew around it. When the campground was being developed, the Disney Imagineers noticed this lawnmower half encased in a tree, thought it was interesting, and eventually put up a small sign to highlight this curiosity.

Lawn mowertree at Fort Wilderness


I've been visiting Walt Disney World since 1972 and on each visit have watched the slow disappearance of the lawnmower as the bark continues to in case it. Currently, only a very small part of the blades are still visible at the base of the tree. But I have sad news" For reason I do not know, most of the upper half of the tree has been cut off. Now, only about twelve feet of the trunk remains. Since the tree is now dead, the lawnmower's slow disappearance has been halted.

August 5, 2013

Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest Temple

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog he wrote several years ago. This blog was accurate at the time of original publication.

This is a blog that almost didn't happen. I made an assumption (I know, a dumb thing to do), that what was obvious to me was obvious to everyone else. But when I would mention this upcoming fact to others, they had no idea what I was talking about. So I finally realized that I should share this interesting bit of Disney trivia with the world.

In the Animal Kingdom we find Expedition Everest sitting majestically on the shores of Discovery River. Across the river is a shrine built to pay homage to the mountains and the Yeti.


Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom


If you examine the shrine carefully, you can see all sorts of details. Offerings such and fruits and carved animals, incense burners, and chalices are all on hand.


Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom


But the real magic of this shrine is in its shape. (Okay, here comes the good part.) If you stand back and position your line-of-sight so that the shrine is situated directly in front of the Himalayans, the temple exactly silhouettes the peaks in the distance.


Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom


Cool, huh?

By the way" Did you know that the tallest peak in this recreation of the Himalayans is not actually Everest? Everest is the mountain on the right.


Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom


It was the Imagineers desire to create a mountain "range" and decided to put Everest further back to add to the illusion of distance and majesty. And in reality, there is another range of mountains in front of Everest. So it would be correct to see other peaks in the foreground.

June 24, 2013

Main Street Train Station Bulletin Board

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog he wrote several years ago. This blog originally ran in 2008 and was accurate at the time of publication.


There is an "Arrival and Departure" bulletin board on the ground floor of the Main Street Train Station.


Main Street Train Station Magic Kingdom


The locations depicted are not just random names, but have meaning.

Here they are:


Main Street Train Station Magic Kingdom


Grizzle Bear Flats:

The Grizzly Flats Railroad was the name of Ward Kimball's backyard railroad.

Kimball Canyon:

Animator Ward Kimball was one of the "Nine Old Men" and worked on such classics as "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and the "Three Caballeros."

Hickory:

Hickory is the town depicted in the Disney movie, "Follow Me Boys" released in theaters on December 1, 1966.

Siddons City:

Lemuel Siddons was the character played by Fred MacMurray in the movie "Follow Me Boys."

Medfield:

Medfield College was the setting for a number of Disney movies including "The Absent Minded Professor," "Son of Flubber," and "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes."

Rutledge:

Rutledge College was the rival school of Medfield College.

Harrington Hills:

Harrington was the town depicted in the Disney movie "Pollyanna," released in theaters on May 19, 1960.

Pendergast Plains:

Adolphe Menjou played the villain, Mr. Pendergast in the movie "Pollyanna."

Bullwhip:

From the Disney movie, "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin" starring Bryan Russell, Roddy McDowall, Suzanne Pleshette, and Karl Malden. It was released on March 3, 1967.

Griffin Gulch:

See above.

I was able to figure out most of these entries on my own, but Harrington Hills and Pendergast Plains had me stumped.

February 12, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part Four - Disney's Animal Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I discussed the ceilings and other details found above our heads at the Magic Kingdom. Today I'll finish this series with the Animal Kingdom.

The first ceilings of any note guests encounter here can be found inside Island Mercantile.


Island Mercantile


Within this collection of shops the Imagineers used their sense of humor to great applause. First we find stylized elephants holding up rafters. Then there are the insects with propellers. Other animals have been morphed into hand tools. And finally a map of the world is created out of various creatures.


Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile


Down the road at Pizzafari we find an abundance of creatures crawling along the ceilings.


Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari


At Creature Comforts, the dome and center light fixture are especially intriguing.


Creature Comforts

Creature Comforts


At Tusker House in Africa, the market place is shaded by cloth woven by the town folk of Harambe. The main eating area features a skylight ceiling with African art adorning the upper walls.


Tusker House

Tusker House

Tusker House


At the adjacent Dawa Bar, the town folk have used long thin logs to support the mud structure that provides shade to weary travelers.


Dawa Bar

Dawa Bar


Across the street, Ziwani Traders sports a corrugated aluminum roof. Beneath its rafters, merchants stock camping gear and other provisions needed for a two-week safari.


Ziwani Traders

Ziwani Traders

Ziwani Traders


As guests leave Africa and enter Asia, they discover the Yak & Yeti Restaurant.


Yak & Yeti Restaurant


As first impressions are important, the lobby ceiling of this local establishment features intricately carved tiles and support beams. But further into the building, more humble materials like straw and bamboo are used overhead.


Yak & Yeti Ceiling

Yak & Yeti Ceiling

Yak & Yeti Ceiling


Take a look up as you enter the Maharaja Jungle Trek. The ceiling here is covered in old newspapers, and excellent insulator against cold.


Maharaja Jungle Trek

Newspapers


As you enter the bat enclosure further along the trail, scary-looking bat kites stare down from above.


Bat House

Bat Kite


One of my favorite ceilings in the Maharaja Jungle Trek is one that isn't there. As you enter the temple section of the walk, look up at the ruins. You can see that a dome once covered this area, but the ravages of time have brought the stones down.


Decaying Temple

Decaying Temple


The queue for Kali River Rapids offers numerous overhead delights. But the most beautiful of these is the Painted Pavilion which depicts a number of the Jataka Tales. These are the stories that tell of the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form.


Kali River Rapids

Painted Pavilion

Painted Pavilion


Over at Expedition: Everest, the queue meanders through an office, temple, shop, and museum. Along this path guests can see many overhead details such as photographs, wood carvings, bells, supplies, and strands of light bulbs.


Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest


One of the landmarks of Dinoland U.S.A. is a large, yellow, cartoonish dinosaur.


Yellow Dinosaur


Now I know that reptiles (and dinosaurs) don't have nipples. But I have to wonder, what were the Imagineers thinking when they placed the canned lights on this creature's belly.


Dinosaur Lights


The rafters of Chester & Hester's souvenir shop have more junk suspended from above than any other shop at WDW. Dinosaurs in every shape, size, and color can be found here. In addition, a model train travels a figure eight as it weaves its way round the jumble.


Chester & Hester's

Chester & Hester's

Chester & Hester's


Out on the porch of this shop, signs in the spirit of Burma-Shave can be found suspended from the eaves. In case you can't read the message, it says:

When in Florida
Be sure to
Visit
Epcot


Chester & Hester's


Guests entering the Dino Institute are greeted by the skeletal remains of a prehistoric beast staring down from above.


Dino Institute

Dino Institute


But if you look beyond this frightening fellow, you see the path a mighty comet traveled as it zeroed in on earth 65 million years ago.


Dino Institute


Time travel is a delicate business and requires untold amounts of electronics and other high-tech gizmos. As guests ready themselves to board Time Rovers, they are surrounded by overhead conduit and cables which can be seen traveling in every direction.


Electronics and other high-tech gizmos


But there are three conduits of special interest. They are colored red, yellow, and white. Stenciled on them are the chemical formulas for catsup, mustard, and mayonnaise. This detail is a hold-over from the days when McDonalds sponsored this attraction.


Catsup, Mustard, and Mayonnaise


As you exit the Animal Kingdom, be sure to walk through Rainforest Café. Here, the ceiling is covered in a dense jungle growth.


Rainforest Café

Rainforest Café


Of course, the best ceiling of all was not created by man, but can be found in nature.


Nature's Ceiling


Remember, details are everywhere. You just have to take the time to find them. Look up.



February 11, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part Three - Epcot

Jack Spence Masthead


Last week I began a discussion about the many wonderful details that can be found above our heads at the Disney parks. I talked about both the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Today I will continue my story with the ceilings and up-high details of Epcot.

Not all ceilings are beautiful or even tolerable. Some are downright ugly. Take for instance this ceiling found in the Image Works section of the Imagination Pavilion.


Imagination Pavilion

Ugly Ceiling


To be fair, I did use a flash when taking this picture. I wanted to graphically illustrate just how awful some Disney ceilings are. But what makes this "exposed" type of ceiling tolerable is that they are painted completely in black and in most cases, not noticed by the guests. They are like the stagehands in a kabuki performance. Since they are clothed entirely in black, the audience is able to pretend they are not there. The same is true with a black ceiling. It's easy to ignore.

To see some interesting ceilings, let's start with Spaceship Earth. Although most of the ceilings I'll be discussing today are easily missed, this one is used to great advantage and is nearly impossible to disregard. I'm talking about the top of the geosphere which is used as a giant projection screen. When guests reach the apex of this ride, they are treated with a view of their home planet as seen from space. (The second photo is simulated as I have never been able to capture a decent picture of this stunning finale.)


Spaceship Earth

Space Finale


Now let's move to "The Seas with Nemo and Friends."


The Seas with Nemo and Friends


The queue for the clamshell ride is dark - very dark. During a portion of the queue, you're supposed to be underwater, beneath a pier. If you look up, you can see a small motorboat moored overhead. (Note, I took this picture with a flash so you could see the boat. I was all alone in the queue at that time so my flash did not disturb anyone.)


Overhead Rowboat


Before Nemo took over this pavilion, hydrolators transported guests beneath the sea and deposited them in Sea Base Alpha, an underwater research facility. The ceiling in this massive room looks like it could be the top section of a structure designed to hold back the ocean.


Seabase Alpha

Seabase Alpha


The ceiling in The Land Pavilion is more obvious than most. That's because we enter on the second floor and view the intended decorations at eye level before descending to the first floor.


Land Pavilion


This next picture was taken shortly after Epcot opened. Notice the colorful mural on the back wall/ceiling. Years later, the mural was painted over and ribbons now grace this area.


Land Pavilion

Land Pavilion


In the southwest section of Innoventions, giant skylights illuminate a corridor. And at nearby Club Cool, banners and bangles distract our attention from the utilitarian black ceiling.


Innoventions Skylight

Club Cool


Let's take a walk over to the countries of World Showcase. The Mexico Pavilion has perhaps the most boring of the eleven nation's ceilings, yet it is the most appropriate. Inside the pyramid, guests find themselves in a plaza cloaked in perpetual nighttime. To achieve this effect, the ceiling here is flat and painted black. Overhead lanterns and accent lighting keep your eyes from dilating and seeing anything other than inky black.


Mexico Pavilion

Mexico Pavilion Sky

Mexico Pavilion Sky


Although the Mexico Pavilion has one of the most boring ceilings, it also has one of the most imaginative. With the use of fiber optics, fireworks are recreated over modern-day Mexico City as you ride "Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros."


Mexico Pavilion Fireworks


Most of the ceilings in the Norway Pavilion feature simple timbered construction. But one shop adds a beautiful hand-painted design to the crossbeams.


Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion Ceiling

Norway Pavilion Ceiling


The China Pavilion is full of interesting ceilings. In the Nine Dragons Restaurant you'll find ancient designs comingling with modern motifs.


China Pavilion

Nine Dragons Ceiling

Nine Dragons Ceiling


The House of Good Fortune features several ceilings of note.


House of Good Fortune Ceiling

House of Good Fortune Ceiling

House of Good Fortune Ceiling


But perhaps the most celebrated China Pavilion ceiling can be found in its half-scale reproduction of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This work of art amazes even the most blasé of guests.


Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests Ceiling


"African" Outpost offers very little in the way of ceilings. But the one found inside Village Traders provides an interesting view of the underside of a thatched roof.


Village Traders

Village Traders Ceiling


The Germany Pavilion offers a nice collection of ceilings. Here are just two of the many overhead delights.


Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion Ceiling

Germany Pavilion Ceiling


The shops and restaurants of the Italy Pavilion sport a nice assortment of ceilings. I especially like the intimacy provided by the brick canopy found in the new Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar.


Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion Ceiling

Italy Pavilion Ceiling

Italy Pavilion Ceiling


The most famous of all World Showcase ceilings can be found in the American Adventure. This breathtaking dome provides the perfect acoustics for the Voices of Liberty.


American Adventure

American Adventure Dome

Voices of Liberty


At the Japan Pavilion we see both old and new. At Katsura Grill we have the ancient construction of a thatched roof. Over at Mitsukoshi department store we find modern designs based on ageless traditions.


Japan Pavilion

Japan Pavilion Ceiling

Japan Pavilion Ceiling


The Morocco Pavilion has a diverse collection of ceilings. Every building offers a unique overhead experience.


Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion Ceiling

Morocco Pavilion Ceiling

Morocco Pavilion Ceiling


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


Marketplace in the Medina


In Chef's de France Restaurant located in the France Pavilion, a collection of paintings can be found perched overhead.


France Pavilion

Chef's de France Restaurant

Chef's de France Restaurant


Guests exiting the Impressions de France film find themselves in a covered marketplace inspired by the famous Les Halles. This iron and glass structure was designed to protect merchants and shoppers from the elements.


Les Halles


Overhead in the Plume et Palette is a stunning Art Nouveau stained glass ceiling.


Plume et Palette


I don't like to promote one World Showcase nation over another. They are all wonderful in their own right. But when it comes to ceilings, I would have to give the prize to the United Kingdom Pavilion. This corner of Epcot has a most diverse and interesting collection of architectural art.


United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling


Last, but not least is the Canada Pavilion. As you would expect, the ceilings in the rustic buildings found here sport a roughhewn look. Logs and timbers are the building material du jour.


Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion Ceiling

Canada Pavilion Ceiling


In the Maple Leaf Mine, mighty timbers hold back massive boulders.


Maple Leaf Mine


In the Le Cellier Restaurant we find more wooden beams. But this time, they take on a more refined look.


Le Cellier Restaurant


That's it for the ceilings of Epcot. Check back tomorrow for the ceilings of the Animal Kingdom.



February 5, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part Two - Disney's Hollywood Studios

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I discussed the various ceilings found within the Magic Kingdom. Today I'll be discussing the area above our head at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Art Deco dominates the architecture of Hollywood Boulevard and the ceilings reflect this. Take a look at those found on the west side of the street.


Hollywood Blvd

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling


On the right side of Hollywood Boulevard, it's not so much the ceilings that amaze, but what lies at their edges. You see, a theme is repeated in the various shops along this thoroughfare if you take the time to notice.

It begins in Mickey's of Hollywood. As you enter this shop, you see Steamboat Willie at the wheel of his side-wheeler. Circling the ceiling we find two-dimensional representations of some of the other characters that starred in this classic.


Mickey's of Hollywood

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie


Next door at Disney & Co. Fashion Extra we discover Mickey standing on a tambourine while conducting the "William Tell Overture." Overhead we find his intrepid orchestra just before the fierce storm descends upon them.


Disney & Co. Fashion Extra

The Band Concert

The Band Concert

The Band Concert

The Band Concert

The Band Concert


And finally, at Keystone Clothiers we find Mickey in his most famous role, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." As you might guess, magical brooms line the ceiling here.


Keystone Clothiers

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice


At Sunset Boulevard's Planet Hollywood shop we find filmstrips decorating the space above our heads.


Planet Hollywood Shop

Film Strip


Down the block at Mouse House the ceilings are painted with intriguing designs.


Mouse House

Mouse House Ceiling

Mouse House Ceiling


Inside the Carthay Circle Theater is perhaps the most beautiful of the Studio's ceilings.


Carthay Circle Theater

Carthay Circle Theater Ceiling


However, the lobby of the Tower of Terror offers some good competition.


Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror Lobby


Playfulness reigns on Pixar Avenue. The game of Battleship can be found above this outdoor shop. And inside Toy Story Mania, board games like checkers, Shoots & Ladders, and Scrabble decorate the ceiling. And above the loading area is a structure of Tinker Toys.


Pixar Ave Shop

Battleship

Toy Story Mania

Toy Story Mania Ceiling

Toy Story Mania Ceiling

Toy Story Mania Ceiling

Toy Story Mania Ceiling


In an Acme warehouse right out of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" you'll discover a cartoonish collection of props hanging from the rafters -- for instance, a ton of bricks, an elephant, and giant magnets.


Acme Warehouse

Acme Warehouse

Acme Warehouse


Pizza Planet is housed within the Metropolitan Department of Water & Power - a very utilitarian structure. Because of this, there is no real ceiling, but only overhead duct work. But to lighten the mood, a few 3-eyed spacemen can be seen floating around overhead.


Pizza Planet

Pizza Planet

Pizza Planet


Hanging from the rafters inside MuppetVision 3D are a great many bits of lunacy. You might even spy a net full of Jell-O (Annette Funicello).


MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D


The ceiling inside Fifties Prime Time Café is invisible - sort of. In an effort to make the various eating areas of this restaurant look more like a soundstage, the walls are only 8 feet tall. However, the actual ceiling extends several feet higher. To hide this, the ceiling is painted black. Notice how the kitchen lamp extends from this upper ceiling, yet looks perfectly natural.


Fifties Prime Time Café

Fifties Prime Time Café

Fifties Prime Time Café


That's if for today. Check back next week when I'll be discussing what can be found above our heads in Epcot and the Animal Kingdom.



February 4, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part One - Magic Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead


Last year, I wrote an article called "Pounding the Pavement" in which I looked at the ground we walk on in the four WDW theme parks. Today I will be discussing the areas found above our heads: the ceilings of the many shops, restaurants, and attractions found in the parks.

As I mentioned in "Pounding the Pavement," most people never give a second thought to the ground they walk on. The same is true for the ceilings and the details above us. We rarely look up and say, "Wow!" But as with everything in a Disney park, details can be found above our heads just as easily as anyplace else. But it wasn't always this way.

In the early years of the Magic Kingdom, many of the buildings lining Main Street had simple, mass produced "Armstrong-type" ceilings. And in some instances, this is still the case. Take for example the Confectionery. Even today, it lacks imagination. If you look closely at the ceiling, you can see it's nothing more than a grid of metal strips holding up marginally decorated tiles. Notice too, the air-conditioning vents. No building of the 1890's ever had a ceiling that looked like this, let alone air conditioning vents.


Confectionery

Confectionery Ceiling


I know you're saying to yourself, "It's 2013. Air-conditioning is a fact of life today, even if it wasn't around in the 1890's. What can Disney do about this incongruity?"

Disney has already addressed this incompatibility of eras in a number of imaginative ways. One of the most common is "hiding" the air-conditioning vents in beams as seen in the next picture. Sure, if you look at the beams, the vents are obvious. But this method is far more palatable than vents that look like they were manufactured in the 1970's.


Air Conditioning Duct


Of course lighting also becomes an issue. Gas lamps of the 1890's simply would not provide enough illumination for a modern shop. We must accept out of necessity canned lights in ceilings.

Although the ceiling in the Confectionery could use a total makeover, we must give Disney some credit. They have tried to add some humor and detail to this overhead area by building a conveyor system that transports buckets of candy around the store.


Candy Conveyor

Candy Conveyor


Our next stop is the train station portico. Here, molding has been used quite effectively to turn an otherwise flat surface into a work of art (and also conceal a couple of speakers).


Train Station

Train Station Portico


Just inside Town Square Theater (formally Exposition Hall) we find an elaborately decked-out dome and chandelier.


Town Square Theater

Town Square Theater


In a recent article I wrote about the Emporium, I discussed the various ceilings found in this shopping arcade.


Emporium

Emporium

Emporium


At the Main Street Cinema, a multitude of light bulbs add interest to this multi-level ceiling.


Main Street Cinema

Main Street Cinema


The ceiling inside the Crystal Palace is charming and elegant. It really is a pleasure to dine with the characters beneath such beauty.


Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace


As we know, more often than not, when you leave an attraction, you exit through a shop. Such is the case with Stitch's Great Escape. When leaving this extraterrestrial event, guests find themselves in Merchant of Venus. For the most part, the ceiling is made up of simple tiles. But if you look closely, you'll see Stitch's footprints scattered about. And in another section of the shop we see Stitch himself, poking his head through the tiles.


Merchant of Venus

Merchant of Venus

Merchant of Venus


Nearby at the Sun Care Center, it's not the ceiling that impresses, but the space-aged light fixture that resembles orbiting planets.


Sun Care Center

Sun Care Center


Riding the People Mover is one of my favorite pastimes at the Magic Kingdom. And traveling through Space Mountain is always interesting. But be sure to ride facing forward. If you ride facing backwards, you'll miss seeing the space crew attending to their craft.


Space Mountain

Space Mountain


While riding Space Mountain, stars, spacecraft, and asteroids can be seen darting overhead. However, many people miss these effects as they ride this coaster with their eyes closed. This effect is also difficult to photograph since cast members ask you to put your camera away while riding.

Over in Liberty Square we find a wonderful domed ceiling just inside Hall of Presidents.


Hall of Presidents

Hall of Presidents


At the Haunted Mansion we find perhaps the spookiest of all ceilings. When we first enter the stretch room, the ceiling is adorned with simple molding. But when thunder crashes and the lights go dark, the ceiling disappears to reveal a man hanging from a noose. Because lighting is dim in this room, and flash photography forbidden, I have no pictures to share with you here.

Columbia Harbor House has a number of nautically themed ceilings. Several of these resemble the underside of the main deck of a sailing ship.


Columbia Harbor House

Columbia Harbor House

Columbia Harbor House


On Frontierland's Splash Mountain, we find the space above our heads is either covered with leaf-laden branches or cave rock.


Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain


The open-air queue area for Pirates of the Caribbean features heavy timbers running along the ceiling. Timbers like these were necessary when constructing a massive fortresse as portrayed here.


Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean


The walkway between Liberty Square and Adventureland incorporates a beautifully detailed ceiling into the design. Next time you're waiting for a friend to finish up in the restrooms located off of this corridor, take a gander at what lies above your head. Notice again how Disney has incorporated vents and other utilitarian features into the design.


Adventureland - Frontierland Breezeway

Adventureland - Frontierland Breezeway

Adventureland - Frontierland Breezeway


Walt Disney World is all abuzz with the opening of the Be Our Guest Restaurant located in the New Fantasyland. This elegant eatery features one of the most elaborate of all the Magic Kingdom ceilings. Diners really do feel as if they have been magically transported to Beast's Castle and maybe into the movie itself.


Be Our Guest Restaurant

Be Our Guest Restaurant


Speaking of castles, Cinderella has a pretty nice one herself. And the ceiling in the banquet hall demands attention.


Cinderella Castle

Cinderella Castle


At Big Top Souvenirs in Storybook Circus, we find the canvas of the big top overhead. Besides the colorful striped fabric, a good observer will discover a tightrope, trapeze, and other circus paraphernalia.


Big Top Souvenirs

Big Top Souvenirs


That's it for today. Check back tomorrow when I'll be discussing the overhead delights of Disney's Hollywood Studios.


January 28, 2013

Walt Disney World Guide Maps

Jack Spence Masthead


I suspect that I could take a great many of you, blindfold you, drop you into one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, and you would be able to identify which park and which land you had been deposited in. I suspect you could do this because you would use your other senses. You would use your ears to listen to the themed music and the sound effects of the area and you would use your nose to detect telltale odors in the air.


Donald on Main Street


But you could only perform this feat of clairvoyance because you were already thoroughly familiar with the parks. You have visited so many times over the years that you know all of the thoroughfares, large and small. You know all of the nooks and crannies. You know the short cuts to get from point "A" to point "B" on busy days. You know where every restroom is located. And you subconsciously (or consciously) know all the nonvisual cues that identify each environ of the parks.

But what about first-time visitors? If we were to drop one of these newbies into the middle of a park, they'd probably have a panic attack. They'd walk around in circles trying to get their bearings. And once they stopped circling, they'd have a difficult time trying to determine what is what.

Take a look at these next three pictures taken at the France Pavilion in Epcot.


Impressions de France

Souvenirs de France

Boulangerie Patisserie


Most of us immediately recognize the structures. We know that the first picture is of an attraction, Impressions de France. The second picture depicts a shop, Souvenirs de France. And the last picture reveals everyone's favorite spot for a snack, Boulangerie Patisserie (recently relocated). But how do we know this. The buildings themselves only give minimal clues. We know these things because we have visited the France Pavilion many times.

But how would first time visitors know what was behind each of these doorways? They wouldn't. To find out, they might use the trial-and-error method. They'd have to stick their head into every building in an effort to discover what lies beyond each portal. Although there is a lot of fun to be had by non-structured exploration and discovery, this isn't always the best method. Take for instance Impressions de France. Walking into this building reveals very little of interest. It's simply a waiting room for the movie. But not knowing this, some guests might take a quick look around, see nothing compelling, and leave. What a shame this would be.


Impressions de France Waiting Room


That's where guide maps come into play. These handy pieces of paper are chockfull of useful information. They don't answer every question, but they're a great beginning.

Guide maps for the four WDW parks are available just past the turnstiles. They are offered in the following languages: German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and English.


Guide Map Stand


Guide maps are also readily available at all of the shops within a park. And at Guest Relations, guide maps for all of the Walt Disney World theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney can be obtained.

Let's take a look at these guide maps in detail. First, there is the cover. More often than not, the front page will reveal something new or recently upgraded in a given park. Disney is always looking for ways to promote their latest-and-greatest. The biggest thing to happen at WDW in quite a while is the expansion of Fantasyland. So of course, this is what graces the Magic Kingdom guide map cover.


Magic Kingdom Guide Map Cover

Magic Kingdom Guide Map Cover


Over at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney is currently promoting Star Tours. This attraction underwent a major refurbishment back in May of 2011. Although this was over a year and a half ago, it still represents the most recent change to the Studio and marketing wants to capitalize on this upgraded attraction for as long as possible.


Studio Guide Map Cover


Interestingly enough, at the time of this article's writing (January 16, 2013), the Epcot guide map was not touting its most recent change, the re-Imagineering of Test Track. Instead, Soarin' is displayed on the front cover.


Epcot Guide Map Cover


Nothing of any significance has happened at the Animal Kingdom for a while, so Disney is currently advertising the park's most popular attraction, Expedition: Everest.


Animal Kingdom Guide Map Cover


Special events are also taken into consideration when selecting a front page picture. For example, during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival and the Flower & Garden Show, the front cover of the guide map will reflect these annual events.

The front of the guide map also reveals other bits of information. For example, the resort's latest motto "Let the Memories Begin" is seen on the front of each brochure. Also, each park's map invites you to enter with a special catchphrase. These are:

Magic Kingdom: Fantasy Reigns
Epcot: Discover the Wonder
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Where Action Takes Center Stage
Disney's Animal Kingdom: Adventure Awaits

For many years, the front of the guide maps also displayed a small plug for Kodak, the company that sponsored these useful handouts. On the back of the guide maps, a full page advertisement for Kodak could be found.


Kodak Ad

Kodak Ad


Unfortunately, the Great Recession and Kodak's slow entry into the digital world hurt the company badly and they were forced into bankruptcy. As part of their cost-cutting measures, Kodak ended sponsorship of all Disney attractions, guide maps, Photo Spots, and park stores on December 31, 2012. Along with Coca-Cola and Carnation (Nestle), Kodak was one of the remaining original sponsors that ushered in Disneyland in July of 1955. However, their sponsorship was not continuous and there were gaps in their presence in the parks over the years.

As we unfold the current guide maps one page, we begin to discover some useful information.


Inside the Guide Map


Let's take a look at this material piece by piece.

I know it's hard to believe, but there are people who do not know about Disney's FASTPASS Service. Granted, the vast majority of these people are first-time visitors, so this section of the guide map provides abbreviated instructions about how to use this time saving system.


FastPass Information


Just in case you're one of the handful of people who are unfamiliar with FASTPASS, here's how it works.

Find an attraction that offers FASTPASS. This can be determined by locating the following symbol next to the attraction's description on the map portion of the guide.


FastPass Symbol


At the attraction's FASTPASS kiosks, a return time will be display. This will be your "appointment" time.


FastPass Return Time


To secure a FASTPASS, simply insert your admission ticket into one of the machines. It does not matter what way the ticket faces.


FastPass Machine


This is what a FASTPASS looks like. It has your one-hour return time clearly marked. It also tells you when you will be eligible to secure another FASTPASS. As the rules regarding another FASTPASS can be convoluted, just read what the ticket tells you.


FastPass


At one time, Disney allowed guests to return any time after the stated end time posted on the FASTPASS. For example, on the above ticket, guests could return well after the 11:50 end time. Guests were not restricted to the one hour window. However, last year, Disney clamped down on this. Although guests may be given a couple of minutes leeway if they arrive late, FASTPASS no longer provides them with an open-ended ticket.

Next on the guide are instructions for Disney's PhotoPass Service. This perk isn't as widely understood as FASTPASS, although it's just as easy to use.


PhotoPass


Guests simply find a PhotoPass photographer. They're located just about anywhere characters and a good background can be found.


PhotoPass Photographer


Have your picture taken. The photographer will give you a PhotoPass card. Keep this card with you and present it to other PhotoPass photographers as you tour the parks. Each time you have your picture taken, they will add the information to your card.


PhotoPass Front

PhotoPass Back


To view and order your photos, just stop by one of the PhotoPass Centers. In the four theme parks, the centers are all located near the entrance, on the left side as you exit the park. You can also view and order prints via the internet.

So why should you use PhotoPass?

One of the best reasons is to get everyone into the picture. No longer will one member of your party be missing from all the shots.

The PhotoPass cast members know the proper lighting and camera settings for their given location. You're sure the picture will turn out.

The cast members know just how to pose you to get the best shot.

The PhotoPass service can digitally add Disney characters into the picture.

There is absolutely no obligation or pressure to buy any photo you have had taken.

Below the PhotoPass section of the guide map you'll find the "Rules & Regulations" section of the handout. Here Disney asks you to supervise your children, show common courtesy to others, wear a shirt and shoes at all times, and follow all written, verbal, and audio instructions. I doubt that any of you have ever read this section of the guide map before.


Rules & Regulations

Rules & Regulations

Rules & Regulations

Rules & Regulations


Before Kodak ceased sponsorship at Disney parks, another advertisement for this film giant appeared below the "Rules & Regulations."


Kodak Ad


On the most recent guide maps, the space once occupied by Kodak has been filled with an advertisement for an app called My Disney Experience. This app provides estimated attraction wait times, GPS-enabled maps, and the ability to make dining reservations.


App Ad


Another page of the guide map is called "TIPS & Information." This section provides information on the following topics:

Wheelchair & ECV Rentals
Kennels
Readmission Policy
Area Closings
Transportation
Travel Tips
Payment Options
Shopping Tips
Guest Relations

And let's not forget the advertisement for Disney Vacation Club.

Also on this page, in very small print, you'll find the following disclaimer:

Entertainment and attraction availability subject to change without notice.

This is Disney's very polite way of saying, "Don't ask for a refund because you didn't get to ride Space Mountain or see Mickey Mouse."


Tips & Information


Okay, now for the best part - the real reason we pick up these handouts when entering a park - the MAP.


Guide Map


The current map page actually offers four different segments. The first is the map itself. This gives us a graphic illustration as to where everything is located - the pathways, buildings, and the names of each land. This is also the most fun segment to peruse as it brings the magic to your eyes in bright colors and familiar shapes.


Magic Kingdom Map


Of course, no map is worth its salt without a legend. The Disney guide maps have two. The first briefly describes all of the attractions, counter service and table service restaurants. Quick service food stands and shops are not listed. Attractions on the map are indicated by numbers, restaurants by letters.


Guide Map Legend


Besides a brief description of the attraction or restaurant, additional information is provided with the help of small icons. This is where the second legend comes into play. Located on the right side of the page, this legend is divided into four sections, Guest Amenities, Attraction Info, Devices Available at Guest Relations, and Dining. It's once you start studying this legend that you realize how much information is packed into these guide maps and how many services Disney offers to their guests.


Guest Amenities

Attraction Info

Devices Available at Guest Relations

Dining


The last segment of the map is a relatively new addition. Disney now "advertises" their parades and shows on the guide maps with large colorful inserts scattered around the page. Note, the times for these events are not given. More on this later.


Inserts


Guides have change a lot over the years. The first in my collection represents the Magic Kingdom in 1983. If you notice, its overall shape was a little different than later iterations. Rather than a long and skinny handout, this one is more "book" shaped.

In fact, in the early years, they were referred to as guide "books," not guide "maps." This particular guide book contains 24 pages.


1983 MK Guide Book


If you study the above picture carefully, you might notice that Polaroid was the handout's sponsor, not Kodak. Inside the guide book, Polaroid presented a two-page spread discussing how to take the perfect picture. For those of you old enough to remember Polaroid, you'll notice the familiar border surrounding the pictures found on this page.


Polaroid Ad

Each land was given a two-page spread in this 1983 handout. In addition, shops were also discussed, something not done today.


Two-Page Spread


Next let's take a look at a guide book from 1988. It now has the long, slender look we're familiar with today. It also uses a glossy paper where earlier versions used a less expensive stock. However, this guide book still retained a book-like appearance when its 12 pages were opened.


1988 Guide Map

1988 Guide Map

1988 Guide Map


Older guide books also provided a lot more narrative when describing the parks. Let's take a look at several attractions and compare today's description to that of 1988.

Space Mountain

Today: Indoor Roller Coaster
1988: Experience a winding, soaring, race through space on a roller coaster-type ride.

"it's a small world"

Today: Musical Indoor Voyage
1988: Join hundreds of singing, dancing international dolls on the happiest cruise that ever sailed.

Liberty Belle Riverboat

Today: No description provided - only the name of the attraction.
1988: Cruise down the Rivers of America aboard an authentic steam-powered stern-wheeler.

Besides discussing the Magic Kingdom, the 1988 guide book also presented information about other aspects of WDW, like EPCOT Center, the dinner shows, golf, the WDW Shopping Village, and coming attractions.


1988 Guide Book


I couldn't find a date on this next guide map, but I suspect it was in circulation sometime around 1994 as "Legend of the Lion King" graced the front cover and as we know, Disney always promotes their latest attractions.


1994 Guide Book


This guide discarded the book-like structure and used a "fold-out" approach.
When initially opened up, this guide map was five panels across. When opened completely, it featured a ten panel map measuring 17"x20". It was easy to read, but difficult to handle when walking about. This new design was an obvious attempt by Disney to try and cut down on the amount of paper used in order to curb costs, but still retain a maximum amount of information.


5 Panels

10 Panels


A year later, the Magic Kingdom cover design was changed again. In addition, the guide map change from a 5/10 panel configuration to a 4/8 panel configuration to create a more convenient size.


1989 Guide Map


Here is the guide map issued on October 1, 1996, WDW's 25th anniversary. Notice the Birthday Cake (Pepto-Bismol pink) castle. This guide map also used the 4/8 panel configuration.


25th Anniversary Guide Map


For many years, guide maps also included park hours, parade times, and other ever-changing information. This meant that the guide maps would only be good for a week or two before requiring a revision (see the dates on the above handout). This created a lot of waste. To remedy this, Disney stopped including park hours and show times on the guide and started printing a separate Times Guide. The Times Guide was printed on a single sheet of paper, roughly the same dimensions as the guide map. In addition, the Times Guide paper was a lower grade stock from that used on the guide map. This change allowed the guide maps to have a much longer shelf life and cut down on waste.


Time Guide


Another companion piece to the guide map was recently introduced to the Animal Kingdom. This Animal Guide lists all of the animals on exhibit in each of the park's lands. This will help guest realize and find all the amazing creatures that can be found here.


Animal Guide


Guide maps make great souvenirs. They're free and they give you something to scrutinize between vacations. Here is a frame picture I created using these wonderful handouts. It contains guide maps from all eleven Disney parks. Among these are Disneyland's 50th Anniversary, WDW's 25th Anniversary, Hong Kong Disneyland's opening day guide map, and a guide map entitled Euro Disneyland, not Disneyland Paris.


Framed Guide Maps


Alas, this picture will be out-of-date in a few years when Shanghai Disneyland opens. I guess I'll just have to get it reframed.

Guide maps also are a wonderful way of tracking Disney history. When viewing the maps over the years, you can see how attractions have come and gone. One of the most recent transformations is currently taking place at the Magic Kingdom. Take a look at these next three pictures. In the first, we can see Mickey's Toontown Fair has been removed. In the second picture, we can see that a portion of Storybook Circus has replaced this former land. And on the third map, we can see that Storybook Circus has been completed and a large portion of the New Fantasyland has opened. Also notice how Disney uses "greenery" to disguise the construction areas.


Fantasyland Under Construction

Fantasyland Under Construction

Fantasyland Under Construction


Guide maps are great fun. As I mentioned earlier, they are free and they can offer hours of dreams between Disney visits. So even if you know the parks like the back of your hand, you should still pick up one of these handy manuals on each and every visit. If you haven't already started your own collection, do so soon.

RELATED LINKS:

**Animal Kingdom's Animal Guide in Depth

**
1976 Magic Kingdom Guide Book


January 7, 2013

Is it the Disneyland Resort or WDW? -- A Quiz - Questions

Jack Spence Masthead

Today's quiz will test your knowledge of the two American Disney resorts. The game is really quite simple. I will show you a picture and you will have to determine if it was taken at the Disneyland Resort or at Walt Disney World. That's all there is to it.

Since you have a 50-50 chance on each question, I expect you to get at least half of them correct. But try to do better than that. Try to figure out "why" the subject matter belongs to one resort and not the other.

Like all of my quizzes, no winner will be announced and no prizes awarded. The answers will appear in tomorrow's column.

Good luck!


1. Let's start with this picture of Schweitzer Falls. Is it located at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom?


Schweitzer Falls


2. While riding Thunder Mountain we see the remains of a dinosaur. At which park is this petrified monster located?


Thunder Mountain Dinosaur


3. While we're on the subject of dinosaurs, where can these fellows be found, Disneyland or Epcot?


Dinosaurs


4. Here we have Mr. Potato Head. What do you think, Disney's Hollywood Studios or Disney California Adventure?


Mr. Potato Head


5. Where do you think Lightning McQueen was touring about on this fine day?


Lightning McQueen


6. Who do you think this judge is sentencing for grievous wrongdoings?


Judge


7. Prince Eric lives bicoastal. Where can we find this home of his?


Prince Eric Castle


8. The Rivers of America plays home to both the Mark Twain and the Liberty Belle. Which do we have here?


Riverboat


9. While circling the Rivers of America, we come across a tribe of Native Americans. Do the people in the next picture call Anaheim or Orlando home?


Native Americans


10. Which park do we find this sign advertising the Hollywood Tower Hotel?


Tower of Terror Sign


11. Here we have the Cozy Cone Motel located in Radiator Springs. But which Radiator Springs?


Cozy Cone Motel


12. Where is this restaurant that is bathed in perpetual nightfall?


Cozy Cone Motel


13. Where can these lovely hula dancers be found?


Hula Dancer


14. Here we have a picture of me ready to blast off on Space Mountain. At what park was I taking this journey?


Space Mountain


15. Here we see me riding Splash Mountain. Once again, at what park am I taking this journey?


Splash Mountain


16. This is a back alley I'd rather not find myself in after dark. So which resort offers this less than friendly venue?


Back Alley


17. At what pet cemetery can we find this dearly departed pig?


Rosie


18. Obviously, this next picture was taken on "it's a small world." This picture offers a blatant clue as to which park it is located in, Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom. Which is it?


it's a small world


19. Where can you play this carnival game?


Carnival Game


20. Where can we find this vehicle?


Tractor



November 10, 2012

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – 2012

Jack Masthead


This will be the fourth year I have covered Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP). However, I skipped last year because I needed a break from all the yuletide festivities. LOL. If you've read my previous blogs on the subject, you'll notice that the event doesn't change much from year to year. But that doesn't stop MVMCP from being a favorite of many people. This seasonal event is a "must do" for many families. They wouldn't dream of missing it.

MVMCP is held at the Magic Kingdom on selected nights between November and December. During these evenings, the park offers special theming and shows intended to entertain the entire family. But before I start with a detailed description of MVMCP, let's take care of some logistics and answer the inevitable questions.

MVMCP is a "hard ticketed" event. This means you must purchase a separate admission ticket to attend. Your super-duper, all inclusive, park-hopper, Magic Your Way Ticket is NOT good for MVMCP. You MUST buy a separate admission ticket. Tickets can be purchased online, at any guest relations window, or at the TTC ticket booths.

Here are this year's dates and prices:



Friday, November 9, 2012
Monday, November 12, 2012
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advance Purchase age 10 and up: $58.95 + tax
Advance Purchase age 3 to 9: $53.95 + tax
Purchased on Event Day 10 and up: $64.95 + tax
Purchased on Event Day 3 to 9: $59.95 + tax



Friday, November 16, 2012
Friday, November 30, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
Friday, December 14, 2012
Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advance Purchase age 10 and up: $64.95 + tax
Advance Purchase age 3 to 9: $59.95 + tax
Purchased on Event Day 10 and up: $64.95 + tax
Purchased on Event Day 3 to 9: $59.95 + tax



Friday, December 21, 2012

Advance Purchase age 10 and up: $67.95 + tax
Advance Purchase age 3 to 9: $62.95 + tax
Purchased on Event Day 10 and up: $67.95 + tax
Purchased on Event Day 3 to 9: $62.95 + tax



Disney limits attendance at these parties so in theory, the Magic Kingdom should be less crowded than usual. However, I have heard from readers who claim that sell-out nights are busy and many attractions have significant lines. I experienced this myself on opening night as it was a sold-out party. To give you an example, people were lining up for the parade on Main Street two hours before the event. Note, the closer you get to Christmas, the busier the party will be. The above prices should give you a clue. The more expensive the ticket, the busier the night. The parties are identical every night so it really doesn't matter what day you attend. You might want to keep this in mind when scheduling.

This next piece of information is very important.

MVMCP and all of the special events, shows, and parades run from 7pm till midnight. However, you may enter the Magic Kingdom at 4pm with your MVMCP ticket. If you call Disney and try to verify this, they will be evasive. All they will tell you is the "official" hours are 7pm till midnight. But trust me; you can enter as early as 4pm. I've entered at 4pm every year and I did it again this year on opening night.

Disney allows early entrance for a reason. Since the party is only five hours in length, they know that if they didn't stagger the opening, they would be inundated with everyone arriving at the same time. They could not handle this onslaught of people in an efficient manner. By allowing guest admission starting at 4pm, it balances out the arriving crowd.

When you pass through the turnstiles, you will be given a wristband. This will distinguish you from the "daytime" guests. The Magic Kingdom will cease its normal operating hours at 7pm. At that time, the cast members will restrict access to the various lands. Only those with wristbands will be allowed on rides, in shops, and in restaurants. Those without wristbands will be asked to leave the park. Note, the wristbands change color from party to party to discourage gate crashers.


Wrist Band

Wrist Band


In past years, I have received a number of letters from readers complaining that Disney does not remove all of the "day" guests from the park -- and I'm at a loss on how to respond to your comments. All I can tell you is that Disney does the best they can. As far as I'm concerned, the cast members get a great big "A" in my grade book. At this year's event, I saw several cast members checking for wristbands on those waiting for the parade and shows. Guests without were asked to leave.

Is it fair that the couple waiting next to you for the Mickey's Once Upon A Christmastime Parade didn't pay to see it? Of course not. But you have a choice. You can either let these cheaters irritate you and allow them to ruin your night, or you can forget about it and have a good time. However, if you're not able to release on this, then complain at City Hall. I cannot help you with this situation. Please note, if you send me a comment that contains references to this situation, I will either delete the reference or not publish your comment at all.

Some people want to spend the entire day at the Magic Kingdom, including MVMCP in the evening - and that's fantastic. Of course, you will need two tickets to do this - your general admission ticket and your MVMCP ticket. Sometime after 4pm, you will need to get a wristband. To do this, you can either return to the main entrance or visit the FastPass area at Stitch's Great Escape in Tomorrowland. The cast members here will process your party ticket and give you a wristband.


Wrist Band

Wrist Band

Wrist Band


If you find you're in the park on a party night and don't have a MVMCP ticket, but want to honestly partake in the events, you can purchase a ticket at City Hall if the party is not sold out.


City Hall


Most, but not all of the rides and restaurants will be up and running during MVMCP. Be sure to pick up a guide map when you arrive. It will contain all sorts of needed information. Here is a list of what will be available:

Adventureland

Swiss Family Treehouse
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Frontierland

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Splash Mountain

Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café
Westward Ho
Frontierland Turkey Leg Cart
Frontierland Churro Wagon

Liberty Square

Haunted Mansion

Sleepy Hollow

Tomorrowland

Astro Orbiter
Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin
Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor
Space Mountain
Stitch's Great Escape
Tomorrowland Speedway
Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café
The Lunching Pad

Fantasyland

"it's a small world"
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mad Tea Party
Mickey's PhilharMagic
Peter Pan's Flight
Prince Charming Royal Carousel
The Barnstormer
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Storybook Treats Ice Cream
Pinocchio Village Haus (open until 8pm)

New Fantasyland

It is Disney's intention to have portions of the New Fantasyland open to guests during MVMCP. HOWEVER, this area is still in "Dress Rehearsal" mode and there are no guarantees it will be open on the night you visit. In addition, the "Be Our Guest" restaurant MAY be open for dinner. Online reservations are NOT available. Guest wishing to eat here must check in at the counter located in front of the restaurant to see if tables are available.


Dress Rehersal Sign

Be Our Guest Podium


Okay. Now that we have the logistics out of the way, let's have some fun.

The merriment begins at the TTC where signs welcome us to the event (or not).


TTC Signs

TTC Signs

TTC Signs


Upon arriving at the Magic Kingdom, more signs and poinsettia trees greet us as we approach Bag Check.


Poinsettia Trees


Disney has come up with a special cast member costume just for this party. Here we have two of Santa's helpers sporting the latest in Christmas fashion.


Cast Member Holiday Costume


Main Street is where you find the bulk of the holiday decorations. Its Victorian architecture lends itself perfectly to this time of year. And don't forget to check out the windows. Many of them have been made over for the holidays. You might even discover snow falling from the sky as you walk this famous thoroughfare.


Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations


Note, the Christmas tree is not placed in Town Square until after the Christmas Parade has been filmed sometime in early December.

Although Christmas merchandise is available at WDW year round, you'll find even more holiday decorations than normal in many of the shops.


Christmas Merchandise

Christmas Merchandise

Christmas Merchandise

Christmas Merchandise


On The Hub you'll discover a number of poinsettias trees and in Adventureland, lights add a snowflake design to the pavement.


Poinsettias Trees

Sidewalk Snowflakes


At 6:15 each night, the Castle Lighting Ceremony takes place. On the castle stage, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy argue how to best decorate this imposing structure. When an impasse seems certain, Cinderella's Fairy Godmother appears and leaves the decision up to Cinderella who wishes it to be covered in ice. The Fairy Godmother then waves her magic wand and the castle comes to life in thousands of sparkling lights.

Since this show takes place before MVMCP officially begins, it is available for all guests to enjoy.


Castle Lighting Ceremony

Castle Lighting Ceremony

Castle Lighting Ceremony


At 7pm, a park-wide announcement is made informing everyone that the party has begun. At this time, the regular background music is discontinued and Christmas music is played throughout the park. Of course, it's all themed accordingly. The holiday tunes in Frontierland have a western tone while the music in Adventureland is tropical in nature.

MVMCP features two Character Dance Parties. The first takes place at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café in Tomorrowland and is called "Club Tinsel." At precisely 7pm, Sonny Eclipse ascends to the heavens and an energized DJ and a sparkling stage appear from the depths below. The DJ is quite animated and leads Goofy, Pluto, kids, and their parents in an easy to follow line-dance.


Club Tinsel

Club Tinsel

Club Tinsel

Club Tinsel


The other Character Dance Party takes place at the Diamond Horseshoe in Liberty Square. At "Woody's Hootin' Holiday Open House," Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye kick up their heels as a western DJ keeps things moving.


Woody's Hootin' Holiday Open House

Woody's Hootin' Holiday Open House

Woody's Hootin' Holiday Open House

Woody's Hootin' Holiday Open House

Woody's Hootin' Holiday Open House


Throughout the park, a number of character meet-&-greet areas can be found.


Character Meet-&-Greet

Character Meet-&-Greet

Character Meet-&-Greet


Of course, the most popular meet-&-greet spot is located next to City Hall. At Candy Cane Garden you can meet ol' Saint Nick and let him know exactly what you want for Christmas.


Candy Cane Garden

Santa Clause


Throughout the park, cookies and cocoa are handed out by Santa's helpers. These locations are marked by large, lit balloons. This is an all-you-can-eat proposition and there is no additional charge. Note, the hours vary from spot to spot. This information is available on your guide map, but I'll repeat it here.

The Crystal Palace: 9pm - 11pm
Sunshine Tree Terrace - 7pm - midnight
Columbia Harbour House: 7pm - midnight
Pinocchio Village Haus: 7pm - 10:30pm
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café: 8pm - midnight
Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant: 7pm - 12:30am


Cookies & Cocoa

Cookies & Cocoa

Cookies & Cocoa


MVMCP features two stage shows. "Celebrate the Season" takes place on the Castle Stage and features Mickey and the gang along with a few high-steppin' dancers performing to some of your favorite Christmas tunes. This show is presented at 7:45pm, 10:05pm, and 11:20pm. Arrive early as this is a popular production.


Celebrate the Season

Celebrate the Season

Celebrate the Season

Celebrate the Season

Celebrate the Season

Celebrate the Season


Over on the Tomorrowland Stage, "A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show" is presented at 7:45pm, 8:45pm, 9:55pm, 10:50pm, and 11:45pm. This cosmic encounter stars Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wazowski, and Stitch. Once again, an energetic group of singers and dancers help out with the festivities.


A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show


The highlight for most folks attending MVMCP is "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade" and "Holiday Wishes - Celebrate the Spirit of the Season" fireworks display. The parade is presented twice nightly at 8:15pm and 10:30pm and is 20 minutes in length. I can't stress enough, attend the second showing. During the first parade, the attraction lines are significantly shorter. In addition, you can usually snag a good spot to view the parade in Liberty Square or Frontierland just minutes before the second parade begins.


Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade


The fireworks show is presented at 9:30pm. Holiday music and pyrotechnics are synchronized into a dazzling holiday treat that always coaxes a few ooos and aaaws from the audience. This show is best viewed from The Hub or on Main Street.


Holiday Wishes - Celebrate the Spirit of the Season

Holiday Wishes - Celebrate the Spirit of the Season


I have filmed the parade and the fireworks display for you and they can be viewed below.

Parade



Fireworks



To view this year's guide map, click here.

That's it for my overview of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This is a holiday tradition for many and party nights often sell out. If attending is something you're thinking about, plan accordingly.

Check out the AllEars Holidays Around the World pages for all that is happening this holiday season!


October 1, 2012

A History of Dinoland U.S.A. and Restaurantosaurus - Part One

Jack Spence Header


When I started writing this article, my intent was to review and describe Restaurantosaurus, the counter service eatery located in Dinoland U.S.A at the Animal Kingdom. However, the more I got into the piece, the more I realized you can't write about the restaurant without discussing the backstory of Dinoland. You see, the two are united in a pseudo-history that Disney created to add realism to the area. It would be difficult to tell the story of one without telling the story of the other. So what you will receive over the next two days is a linear account of both Dinoland and Restaurantosaurus and how they grew together over time. I also might take a side trip or two in order to cover other bits of Disney history semi-related to the area.

In 1946, a rustic fishing lodge could be found along U.S. Highway 498 in Diggs County, somewhere in the heartland of America. Nestled in a grove of trees, this spot provided local and visiting anglers a place to relax and tell tall tales about the one that got away. Nearby, a gas station own by an elderly couple, Chester and Hester, provided the basic necessities of travel.


Highway Sign

Fishing Lodge

Gas Station


In 1947, an amateur fossil-hunter found a few old bones near the lodge. He took them to some of his paleontologist friends who verified their authenticity. Realizing the importance of the find, the group banded together and purchased the lodge and much of the surrounding land. This was the humble beginnings of what would eventually become the Dino Institute.

Professors and grad students soon took up residence here and created a makeshift dormitory. Needing a place to eat, a cafeteria was added within the old lodge. Since research programs are always looking for funding and grants are hard to come by, the students decided to open their cafeteria to the public and make a few additional bucks to help subsidize their various digs. Not being too particular about what to call their eatery, they simply erected a large sign on the roof that said "RESTAURANT."


Restaurant Sign


At the same time, the students also opened up a small, walk-up counter where motorists could purchase an ice-cream cone, cookies, and a refreshing beverage. They called this location Dino-Bite.


Dino Bites


College students being college students, monkeyshines and mischief began to ensue shortly after their arrival. It soon became the fad to add the suffix "osaurus" to signs throughout the lodge.


osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix


Of course, pranks must be "topped" and one particularly mischievous young man decided to add a huge "osaurus" to the "RESTAURANT" sign to the delight of his classmates - and the name stuck.


Restaurantosaurus Sign


As word of the dinosaur find spread, tourists began to stop by to see what all of the hubbub was about. They would visit the dig site, known as the Boneyard, then head over to the lodge to see what else they could learn.


The Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard


Since money was tight, it was not possible to build a proper tourist information center, so the professors and grad students opened their home and created a makeshift visitor's center within the lodge. Now the travelers could stop by and receive a proper education as to what was going on in Diggs County.

As more and more relics were unearthed, the paleontologists displayed them on the walls and shelves of the lodge. Eventually, the visitor's center was transformed into a mini-museum. Many of these early artifacts can still be seen today.


Lodge Museum

Lodge Museum

Lodge Museum


When the lodge grew too small to house all of the dinosaur bones, a tent was erected on Chester and Hester's land and some of the larger creature's skeletons were displayed fully assembled. This exhibit was called Dinosaur Jubilee. Nearby was the Fossil Preparation Lab where one of the paleontologists could be seen cleaning debris and dirt from recent finds. The map (below) shows the various sites.


Dinosaur Jubilee

Dinosaur Jubilee

Dinoland U.S.A. Map


On the walls of the lodge-museum are numerous pictures of team members, unearthing new discoveries.


Museum Photographs

Museum Photographs

Museum Photographs


Also found on a wall in the lodge's main room is a portrait of Clarence P. Wilkerson. This gentleman believed in the project and was a major benefactor.


Clarence P. Wilkerson


As the needs of the dig site grew, so did the needs of the support facility. First to be added was a Quonset hut. Erected adjacent to the lodge, this structure would serve as the maintenance bay for the various field vehicles.


Quonset hut

Quonset hut

Quonset hut


Inside the Quonset hut you can still see engine parts, tools, hubcaps, and other automobile paraphernalia. Also, take a look at the walls. The imaginative mechanics have used their greasy hands to create some rather creative dinosaurs.


Car Engine

Auto Tools

Hubcaps

Grease Dinosaur

Grease Dinosaur


It seems our mechanic is also a sculptor. He created this dinosaur out of wrenches, nuts, bolts, and other metal odds and ends found in the garage.


Metal Dinosaur


Our artistic mechanic also has a sense of humor as can be seen on this wall sketch. In case you can't read the small print the dinosaur says "Hey Harry, Have you got somethin' for my U-joints"."


Dinosaur Cartoon


Notice the cans of oil on one of the shelves. The brand is Sinclair. This is the same brand of gasoline that Chester and Hester sell at their service station.


Sinclair Oil

Chester & Hester Gas Station


Sinclair is a real oil and refining company that was established in 1916 by Harry F. Sinclair. Its distinctive green dinosaur silhouette (brontosaurus) logo was a fixture on U.S. highways for many years.


Sinclair Advertisement


Sinclair sponsored a dinosaur exhibit at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. The exhibit pointed out the supposed relationship of petroleum deposits and dinosaurs. The display included a two-ton animated model of a brontosaurus - an early and crude AudioAnimatronics.

At the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, Sinclair sponsored another dinosaur exhibit. "Dinoland" featured life-size reproductions of nine different dinosaurs.


Sinclair at the Fair

Sinclair at the Fair


Of course Walt Disney was also at the New York World's Fair with his own dinosaur attraction. On "Magic Skyway," guests road in Ford convertibles (the humble beginnings of the PeopleMover) and progressed in time from the day of the dinosaur to the modern era. After the fair, the AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs were moved to Disneyland and installed along the route of the Disneyland-Santa Fe Railroad.


Magic Skyway

Magic Skyway


The names "Sinclair" and "Disney" were united in 1991 with a joint venture by Michael Jacobs Productions, Jim Henson Productions, and Walt Disney Television. A TV show titled "Dinosaurs" premiered and ran for four seasons. The comedy revolved around a group of anthropomorphic dinosaurs whose last name just happened to be Sinclair.


Sinclair TV Show


Back at Restaurantosaurus, we find a tribute to Walt and his dinosaurs. First, there are several sketches from "The Rite of Spring" section of his movie Fantasia. Put to the music of Igor Stravinsky, this piece chronicles the rise and fall of dinosaurs. If you'll notice, the title "Concert Feature" can be seen on the two sketches. This was the working title for Fantasia.


Concert Feature

Concert Feature


Nearby, a photograph of Walt, surrounded by his AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs, can be seen.


Photo of Walt Disney


With more and more finds being discovered every day, the research facility continued to grow. However, money was still in short supply. To expand the facility again, semi-permanent tents were constructed next to the Quonset hut. The lower walls of these structures are built of wood while the upper sections are made of canvas.


Tents


This latest addition was used for auxiliary storage. Inside you'll find provisions and camping gear as well as bones and other fossils excavated at the nearby Boneyard.


Tent Interior

Tent Interior

Tent Interior

Tent Interior


You will also find another student prank in this room - a classic. Over one of the doors is a bucket of water just waiting to find a target. Some poor, unsuspecting sole is going to get drenched.


Bucket of Water over the Door


As time marched on, the lodge became the first home of the Dino Institute which was formed to help promote this site and encourage a better understanding of paleontologists and dinosaurs. In addition, classroom studies became available to students for the first time. A sign of this can be seen on a flag hanging on one of the walls.


Dino Institute Flag


Hoping to generate cash for the struggling Institute, the trustees hired Dr. Helen Marsh sometime in the early 70's. Dr. Marsh had a reputation of rescuing cash-strapped museums and bringing them back from the brink of disaster. Within days of her arrival at the Dino Institute, she purchased Chrono-Teck Inc which had recently lost its government grant. Six months later, she announced to a stunned scientific community that her company had invented the "Time Rover," a vehicle that could travel back in time.


Dr. Marsh

Dr. Marsh


Things changed dramatically for the Dino Institute after this invention was announced. Now scientists could visit the prehistoric world for themselves. In addition, it brought the Institute prestige and funding to build a state-of-the-art facility to assist in research and house classrooms. The "new" Dino Institute was dedicated on April 22, 1978.


Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute


Dr. Marsh, calls the skeletal remains of dinosaurs, "quaint exhibits." She also claims that this "bare bones" approach is about to become extinct. Capitalizing on this ideology, she insists that tours to the Cretaceous period be offered to non-professionals to help subsidize the costs of the new facility.


Tme Travel


However, her announcement did not set well with the World Paleontological Society. Its president, Dr. Vladimur Borontsky, cautioned that thorough testing be conducted before the general public be allowed to ride. Dr. Marsh brushed these comments aside and stated, "Our staff has taken the 'rover' through an extensive 'test-and-adjust' phase and they all say the same thing. 'It's fast, it's a blast, and it's in the past.'"

Dr. Marsh's superior attitude has become contagious and most of the others working in the main building are intent on maintaining a "dignified" decorum. On the other hand, the professors and grad students of the lodge realize that the unearthing of fossils will continue to be a wonderful source of knowledge and they've retained their down-home sense of humor. This is evident by the many pranks and shenanigans perpetrated in the lodge and around town. Their carefree attitude greatly distresses Dr. Marsh and the Institute leaders, but there is little they can do about it.

Meanwhile, Chester and Hester could see others getting rich while their profits had only risen mildly with the influx of tourists. Determined to cash in on the area's new found wealth, they started selling souvenirs as well as gas. It wasn't long before their tacky merchandise was raking in more money than the gas they sold, so they converted the entire service station into a large shop called "Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures."


Dinosaur Treasures


As profits started to grow, Chester and Hester decided to build a small amusement park across the street from their souvenir shop. Since their land bordered the main highway, this would be the perfect spot to attract passing tourist aiming for the Boneyard and the Dino Institute. However, this expansion would also require the removal of the Dinosaur Jubilee and the Fossil Preparation Lab which had been erected to showcase full-sized dinosaurs.


Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama


Fortunately, no hard feelings ensued with the forced removal of the exhibit. In fact, the students even paid homage to this entrepreneurial couple by hanging their photograph in the lodge.


Photo of Chester and Hester


That's it for Part One of my Dinoland/Restaurantosaurus article. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion.


September 11, 2012

BoardWalk Promenade - Part 2 of 2

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Yesterday I discussed Sea Breeze Point to Seashore Sweets along the BoardWalk. Today I will continue my journey along this promenade of yesterday and today.

I am often asked to name my favorite Walt Disney World restaurant. I usually respond with, "What category of restaurant? Counter service?" Of course I know full well people are asking me about "signature" restaurants. My answer is this: Not counting Victoria & Albert's (which is in a class all by itself), it's a tie between Citricos at the Grand Floridian and Flying Fish Cafe at the BoardWalk.


Flying Fish Cafe


The Flying Fish Café is located on the "corner" of the BoardWalk with Seashore Treats on one side and Belle Vue Lounge on the other (sort of). Coney Island was the inspiration for this eatery and its décor is a fusion of nostalgia and contemporary. Here, stylized roller coasters dominate the walls complete with blue light bulbs that line the railing. Even the half-wall partitions curve up and down as to suggest the hills and falls of the famous roller coasters of the era. On the back wall is a large floor-to-ceiling back-lit Ferris Wheel. Large overhead murals depict the Steeplechase and other assorted carnival rides. Even the chandeliers are worth your attention. Pairs of fish are perched under parachutes as to suggest yet another Coney Island attraction. Pay close attention to the beautifully cloud-painted ceiling. If you look carefully, the stars change colors every several minutes.


Flying Fish Cafe Ferris Wheel

Flying Fish Cafe Steeplechase

Flying Fish Cafe Fish Lamps


One side of the restaurant has large windows that overlook a charming courtyard. The other side features a show kitchen with ample seating along a beautifully tiled bar.


Flying Fish Cafe Window

Flying Fish Cafe Bar


The tables are spaced nicely, allowing for plenty of room between parties. In the back of the restaurant is a small alcove. The tables located here afford a more intimate atmosphere. However, I prefer the ambiance of the main dining room to the alcove as I enjoy the "sky" with its ever-changing "stars" and the Ferris Wheel.


Flying Fish Cafe Main Dining Room

Flying Fish Cafe Alcove


The Flying Fish Café does not have a lounge. If you would enjoy a cocktail before or after dinner, think about the Belle Vue Lounge located nearby.

As you might expect by the name of the restaurant, the Flying Fish Café specializes in seafood. The freshest selections are bought each morning so the menu is in a constant state of flux. But don't let this put you off if you're not a connoisseur of scaly and shelled creatures. The best New York Strip Steak I've ever eaten is served here. Yachtsman Steakhouse can't hold a candle to the flavor, and tenderness of the Flying Fish Café's preparation of this fine piece of meat.

Of course, the service is always excellent.

The Flying Fish Café gets its name from one of the cars found on a Coney Island roller coaster of yesteryear.


Flying Fish Cafe Mural


Being a signature restaurant, there is a dress code.

Men: Khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.

Ladies: Capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts.

The Flying Fish Café is open for dinner only - 5:30pm to 10pm. Reservations are an absolute must. To see the complete menu, click here.

Back out on the water side of the promenade we find another free-standing food facility, BoardWalk To Go. This stand offers a nice selection of "on-the-go" foods. Corn dogs, onion rings, nachos, meatball sandwiches, and fried ravioli are just a few of the offerings. If you're in the mood for "cholesterol laden junk food that should only be eaten once a year while on vacation," this is the spot! To see the complete menu, click here.


BoardWalk To Go


Nearby are two street-party favorites, BoardWalk Caricatures and BoardWalk Hairwraps. At these two locations you can add a little pizazz to your tresses then be immortalized for posterity. Prices are posted on nearby signs.


BoardWalk Caricatures

BoardWalk Hairwraps


When the Boardwalk in Atlantic City officially became a street in 1886, all vehicles were banned from this thoroughfare. Sensing and opportunity, a local hardware merchant began to rent wheelchairs to those who preferred to sightsee while seated. The idea was a success and soon the chairs were redesigned to hold two and look a little less institutional. However, the herringbone design of the Boardwalk created quite a bumpy ride for the ladies. To alleviate this, sections of the herringbone planking were laid lengthwise to provide a smoother ride.


Wheeled Chairs

Redesigned Harringbone Boardwalk


Now Disney's BoardWalk never had rolling chairs, but they do have the next best thing, surreys. Many of the Disney resorts now offer surreys for rent, but it all started here at the BoardWalk. These single and double-seat vehicles are a family favorite and never fail to bring a smile to both riders and pedestrians.


Surrey

Surrey

Surrey


Rented by the half hour, a trip in one of these cute little contraptions takes riders on a one mile trip around Crescent Lake. Most of the route is level, but there are a couple of hills to contend with along the way. Remember, the power for these surreys is provided by YOU pedaling. There are no motors involved.

A quadracycle is a four-wheeled human-powered land vehicle. It first came onto the scene in 1853 at the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations World's Fair held in New York City. Its intention was to offer a stable alternative to the bicycle. However, as improvements to the bicycle were made, the popularity of the quadracycle diminished.


Quadracycle


In the late 20th century, quadracycles were redesigned with bench seats, canopy tops, and rack-and-pinion steering. They were renamed "surreys" due to their likeness to horse-drawn wagons sporting the same name.

Across from the Surrey Bike Rentals is Promenade Pier. This is where you catch a Friendship Boat to Epcot or Disney's Hollywood Studios. Other stops include the Yacht & Beach Club and the Swan & Dolphin. It takes approximately 30 minutes to travel all the way from Epcot to the Studio.


Promenade Pier

Promenade Pier


As I mentioned in an earlier article, there are pedestrian walkways to all of these locations. The walk from the BoardWalk to Epcot is reasonable and most people should be able to manage it just fine. However, the walk to Disney's Hollywood Studios is somewhat long and you should think twice before embarking on this "hike" on very hot days or when rain is threatening.

Along the fence of the BoardWalk Promenade are several coin-operated binoculars. These offer a few moments of fun as you "spy" on others around Crescent Lake.


Binoculars


Although not officially on the BoardWalk, Wyland Galleries offers a wonderful chance to browse and purchase some really fine pieces of art.


Wyland Galleries


While the environmentally inspired works of Robert Wyland are showcased here, the gallery also features pieces by other renowned artists. The collection is varied and includes original paintings, giclees, sculptures, and jewelry. In addition, a large selection of art featuring Disney characters is also available.


Wyland Galleries

Wyland Galleries


The prices in this gallery are not for the faint of heart. To give you an example, this hand-painted bronze Sorcerer Mickey by Bill Toma runs $10,000.


Mickey by Bill Toma


I encourage you to stop by Wyland Galleries even if this shop is out of your price range. Think of it as a museum where you can be inspired by magnificent works of art.

The main shopping opportunity on the BoardWalk is contained in three, connected shops. These are Screen Door General Store, Character Carnival, and Thimbles & Threads.


BoardWalk Shops

At first glance you might think the merchandise in these three shops is randomly displayed. However, the names of these emporiums provide an accurate description of what is offered inside.

Screen Door General Store is the spot for those staying in the Villas section of the resort and wishing to purchase food and drink to take back to their kitchens. A decent selection of wine is offered for those wishing a relaxing evening in their room. This store also sells Disney branded kitchen items, mugs, and glassware.


Screen Door General Store

Screen Door General Store

Screen Door General Store


Character Carnival is the spot for kids. Toys, plushes, Vinylmation, and character costumes are just a few of the items to be found in this section of the shop.


Character Carnival

Character Carnival


As the name implies, Thimbles & Threads is the spot for adult clothing, hats, and watches.


Thimbles & Threads

Thimbles & Threads


Another free-standing food location can be found across from the shops. Funnel Cake Cart offers funnel cakes (duh), fried ice cream, pretzels, and cotton candy.


Funnel Cake Cart


Near the Funnel Cake Cart is Midway Games and More. This mini-midway offers "skilled" players an opportunity to win a non-Disney plush.


Midway Games and More


Watergun Fun is the only game of the four offered where a prize will be awarded every time a match ensues. This is because you compete against others and a winner is announced with every play. In this game, contestants point their water pistols at small openings causing their jalopy to race towards the finish line.


Watergun Fun


Hoop Toss allows the shooter three or seven shots to make a basket. I will warn you, the hoop is smaller than regulation size. However, the hoop is round, not oval, as are used in some less than reputable fairs.


Hoop Toss


At Kewpie Doll Knock Down, athletes test their throwing arm by tossing a softball at cute little kewpie dolls who never did anyone any harm.


Kewpie Doll Knock Down


And finally, we have Lob-A-Lobster. This challenge has guests place a rubber lobster on a catapult. Then using a mallet, they hurl the crustacean into one of six rotating pots.


Lob-A-Lobster


Midway games like these were a common sight at Coney Island in the heyday of amusement parks. How many were reputable and how many were subject to closer examination is subject to debate. At Disney's Midway Games and More, all of the diversions are winnable. All it takes is a combination of luck and skill. Midway Games and More opens in the late afternoon.

Big River Grille & Brewing Works offers up-scale pub-style fare. Sandwiches, pasta, salads, appetizers and desserts are all just waiting to tempt you. But the real draw of this restaurant is the micro-brewery located on the premises. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide a glimpse into the beer-making process. And the servers will be more than happy to discuss the various brews and make suggestions.


Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works


The Big River Grille & Brewing Works has a "sit down" bar and two small interior dining rooms. This is more than adequate for the lunch trade. At night, this restaurant really comes alive and crowds spill over into the many tables found along the BoardWalk. This spot does not take reservations so plan accordingly.


Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works


Disney has placed DVC kiosks in all of their parks and resorts. They want to make it as easy as possible to learn about this product and entice you to buy a "piece of the magic." Unfortunately, if you want to see a model unit, you must make arrangements to be transported to Saratoga Springs.

The BoardWalk Villas have been sold out for some time. However, Disney has kept a one bedroom unit open here for guests to examine with no inconvenient trips to another location. So if you're curious to see a "typical" DVC unit, stop by. The salesperson will not pressure you and will be more than happy to answer all of your questions.


BoardWalk DVC Sales Office

BoardWalk DVC Sales Office


Jellyrolls opens each evening at 7pm. This nightclub features "dueling pianos." Beginning at 8pm, two very talented musicians take the stage and entertain the audience with a wide array of styles and selections. You'll be amazed at the number of songs these maestros know. They take requests and the crowd will often try to stump these extremely well-versed pianists. At 9pm, a second crew takes the stage and continues to entertain for the next hour. They switch back and forth each hour until 2pm so there is never a dull moment.

Jellyrolls does have a cover charge of $12 and patrons must be 21 to enter. ID's will be required if you don't look your age. For the most part, this place really doesn't start to jump until after the Epcot fireworks and the crowds begin to meander over this way.

Jellyrolls strictly prohibits any photography, videotaping, or sound recordings - even when closed. I was given special permission to take the following indoor pictures.


Jellyrolls

Jellyrolls

Jellyrolls

Jellyrolls


Jellyrolls was named after Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, also known as Jelly Roll Morton. Jelly Roll was a pianist, bandleader, and composer. He is also credited with the invention of jazz music in 1902.


Jelly Roll Morton


Our last stop along the BoardWalk is Atlantic Dance. This spot was designed to resemble the great art deco dance palaces of the 1930's. However, you won't find many guests doing the foxtrot, jitterbug, or the waltz at this spot. Atlantic Dance features state-of-the-art sound and lighting and has a DJ playing the hits of today.


Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance


The interior of Atlantic Dance is impressive. A large dance floor is surrounded by multiple tables and three bars. A grand staircase leads to a balcony and more seating. A giant monitor displays music videos. There is also a full stage available for special events. The ceiling is studded with "stars" that shine down on the dancers below and roving colored spot lights sweep the walls and floor.


Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance


Atlantic Dance opens each night at 9pm, but unlike Jellyrolls, it does not have a cover charge or a minimum drink purchase. However, you must be at least 21 to enter. If all you want to do is listen to music and dance, it can be enjoyed here for free.

Atlantic Dance crowds are also subject to the Epcot closing times. Guests don't begin to arrive in mass until after the fireworks.

Each evening, the BoardWalk also plays host to an array of entertainers who perform impromptu shows all along the promenade. Jugglers, magicians, and musicians are all on hand and crowds surround them in anticipation of an enjoyable moment.


BoardWalk Entertainers

BoardWalk Entertainers


Although the Epcot fireworks can be seen from the BoardWalk, the view is someone obstructed. I think the best spot for viewing this nightly spectacular is over at the Yacht Club Marina.


Epcot Fireworks


The Epcot Resorts produce a guide map highlighting all of the activities found at the BoardWalk, Yacht & Beach Club, and the Swan and Dolphin. If you are not given one of these information guides when checking in to one of these hotels, be sure to ask. It contains a fantastic amount of information condensed into a trifold brochure.


Epcot Resorts Brochure

Epcot Resorts Brochure


This completes my five-part tour of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas and the BoardWalk Promenade. I hope you've enjoyed this journey to a resort that is steeped in history if you take the time to soak in the details. To see a movie of the BoardWalk Promenade, check out my video below.



On past resort reviews, I'm occasionally reminded by readers that I forgot to mention "this" or "that." I can assure you, I have left out many facts and facilities offered at this wonderful resort. Many of the venues I discussed would require an entire blog to do them justice. What I've tried to do here is point out the highlights of the BoardWalk and give you some insight as to what the Imagineers and architect Robert A.M Stern were trying to impart on those visiting here.

Those of you who have read my column for any length of time know that the Contemporary is my favorite Walt Disney World resort. And although I also like the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian with their convenient monorail access, I would have to choose the BoardWalk as my second favorite hotel. No other spot on property offers so many diversions, dining possibilities, drinking options, and entertainment opportunities as can be found here. Couple this with the easy access to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios and it becomes difficult to think about staying anyplace else. The BoardWalk even makes me second guess the Contemporary's first place standing - almost.


September 10, 2012

BoardWalk Promenade - Part 1 of 2

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BoardWalk Postcard


Last week I discussed the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Today I'm going to describe all of the wonderful and exciting shops and restaurants along the BoardWalk Promenade. As I mentioned in my previous article, the concept for a "boardwalk" was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1870 as a way to keep sand out of the establishments that lined the beach.


Directions to the BoardWalk


The buildings along the BoardWalk Promenade (from here on, simply to be known as the BoardWalk) resemble those found at the great amusement centers of Atlantic City and Coney Island. It was the intent of architect Robert A.M Stern to create a seaside resort that appeared to grow over time during the decades of the 1920s and 1930s. As each new establishment was added, the popularity of the overall venue grew. At the real Atlantic City and Coney Island, the offerings could be rowdy to lavish and everything in between. But at the Disney version, we only find a wholesome collection of restaurants, shops, and games.


The BoardWalk from Across Crescent Lake

The BoardWalk from Across Crescent Lake


The Disney BoardWalk is 35 feet wide and 1,300 feet long. It is laid out in a herringbone pattern and used 300,000 screws to secure the boards in place. The wood is treated to be resistant to decay and acids and features good weathering characteristics. The retail and entertainment area of the BoardWalk contains more than 9,000 square feet of space.


BoardWalk Planks


For continuity, I will begin my tour of the BoardWalk on the east side of the Promenade - the side closest to Epcot -- and work my way to the west. I'll begin with a structure that technically isn't a part of the BoardWalk, Sea Breeze Point Pavilion.


Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion


Sea Breeze Point Pavilion is a gazebo/arbor that sits on the shores of Crescent Lake. It can be rented by any group for any function, but more often than not, it is reserved for weddings and wedding-associated events. Much of this has to do with its fantastic and romantic location. The views of the resorts lining Crescent Lake create a magical backdrop and the Friendship boats sailing by add a touch of international flair. When an event is not taking place at the Pavilion, this spot provides a nice, shady respite on your walk back from Epcot in the afternoon.

"Perfect Experiences" at Sea Breeze Point can be arranged through Disney's Event Planning. For more information as to what Disney experts can orchestrate, click here.

The first building actually on the BoardWalk is ESPN Club.


ESPN Club

ESPN Club


I like this restaurant, even though I know absolutely nothing about sports. The reason? The menu. This spot offers good ol' American favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, and wings. In addition, the menu is large. Compared to the Turf Club lunch menu at Saratoga Springs which only offers 8 entrees and Kona Café at the Polynesian which offers 12 lunch options, the ESPN Club presents 18 meals. And many of their appetizers are large enough to be considered an entree. I appreciate the larger selection.

When arriving, a host or hostess will greet you and give you a "team" name. For instance, when I ate here last month with friends, we were Team Spence. Once at our table, our server introduced himself as Coach Anthony.

The ESPN Club has two sections. You enter into "Sidelines." This area features the main bar and has a number of tables and booths located nearby.


ESPN Club Sidelines


The second section of the restaurant is called "ESPN Central" and is themed to resemble a sports arena with tables on several levels. This area is also "broadcast ready" and will occasionally feature live feeds for television and radio.


ESPN Club Central


Being a sports bar, the ESPN Club broadcasts sporting events. In fact, there are 108 TV monitors linked to 25 satellite feeds. There are even monitors in the restrooms so you'll never miss a moment of the World Series or Super Bowl.

Since I'm not interested in sports, I especially like the tables that line the windows. This allows me fantastic opportunities to people watch along the Promenade.


ESPN Club Window Tables

ESPN Club is open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are not accepted. This is rarely a problem at lunch unless there is a big game being played. To see the complete menu, click here.


Next to the ESPN Club is "The Yard at ESPN Club." This combination shop and arcade sells sports related Disney and ESPN merchandise. There are also a number of sports related video games to test your hand-eye coordination.


The Yard at ESPN Club

The Yard at ESPN Club

The Yard at ESPN Club


Across from the ESPN Club is Novelty Photos. This free-standing booth allows individuals or couples the opportunity to take four silly or romantic photos in quick succession. The pictures are instantly developed and two strips of four photos are provided.


Novelty Photos

Novelty Photos

Novelty Photos


The first known working photographic machine was exhibited at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The first "modern" concept of a photo booth appeared on New York's Broadway in 1925. For 25¢, patrons would receive 8 photos. Despite the fact that the pictures took ten minutes to develop, the machine was an instant success and within six months over 280,000 people had used this new marvel.

Next to ESPN Yard is BoardWalk Bakery. This is as close to a counter-service restaurant as you'll find at the BoardWalk. Although extremely small, this establishment is quite popular so be prepared for a line at peak times. In the morning, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, cereals, and fruit are available. At lunch and dinner, a nice selection of meat and vegetable sandwiches are offered. And being a bakery, dessert type items are served all day long. Behind the counter you can see the large kitchen where many of the items are baked fresh each day.

To see the complete menu, click here.


BoardWalk Bakery

BoardWalk Bakery

BoardWalk Bakery

BoardWalk Bakery


The proprietor of BoardWalk Bakery is Hue G. Krozont. Mr. Krozont is known for his invention of the Pie Stretcher in 1923. He ran a small café known as Krozont's Kitchen in Philadelphia and was famous for his homemade apple pies. Always looking for a way to increase his profits, he came up with a device that would "stretch" a fully baked pie to 1/3 again its original size, thus enabling him to serve two additional slices at no additional cost. Krozont patented his machine the following year and later sold all rights to his invention to Medville College. With his windfall, Krozont unloaded his café and move to Miami. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the Florida Land Boom and lost all of his money. He died penniless.


Hue G. Krozont


Now I hope you all realize, the above paragraph is a complete work of fiction. Hue G. Krazont is a play on words. When read as the Imagineers intended, it would be "Huge Croissant."

However, I tell the story of a pie stretcher for a reason"

When I started working at the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland at age 18, my title was Miscellaneous Kitchen Helper. My sole job was to transfer food, pans, and other kitchen utensils from the Main Kitchen located in the basement of New Orleans Square to the Blue Bayou Restaurant found on the first floor. All day long, the cooks at the Blue Bayou would instruct me to go downstairs to the Main Kitchen and pick up some needed item.

On my second day on the job, I was instructed to go to the Main Kitchen and retrieve a pie stretcher. Of course, there is no such thing. But not knowing this, I dutifully went downstairs and asked one of the chefs. He told me he didn't have it, but check with Joe. Of course Joe didn't have it either and suggested I check with Al. After about ten minutes and ten chefs, it finally dawned on me that a practical joke was being played on me and everyone was in on the gag. This prank was an initiation right of the Blue Bayou and in the years that followed I myself sent many a new, young, naive cast member on a hunt for a pie stretcher (and a few items not suitable for print here).

Our next stop on the BoardWalk is the Pizza Window. Here you can order cheese, pepperoni, and veggie pizza by the slice or by the pie. Extra toppings like mushrooms, sausage, onions, and black olives are also available for an additional charge. Soft drinks and sangria help wash it all down. A single slice of pizza is decent sized and is adequate for a light meal.

This is strictly a "walk-up" establishment. No table service is available, but there are a number of tables nearby for al fresco dining.


Pizza Window

Pizza Window


Across from BoardWalk Bakery on the water side of the promenade is BoardWalk Joe's. From 7:30am to 11am this kiosk offers Danishes, muffins, and egg croissant sandwiches. In the late afternoon and evening this spot sells six varieties of margaritas, draft beer, wine, Coke products, chips & nacho cheese, soft pretzels, and a few other goodies. BoardWalk Joe's is closed during mid-day. To see the complete menu, click here.


BoardWalk Joe's


In the early years of the BoardWalk, a restaurant known as Spoodles was one of the promenade's favorite eateries. Opening on July 1, 1996, this restaurant offered a Mediterranean menu that was dubbed "Cuisine of the Sun." Selections included regional specialties from Spain, Greece, Italy, and Northern Africa.


Spoodles


On August 15, 2009, Kouzzina replaced Spoodles. Owned and operated by Disney, this Cat Cora restaurant features Mediterranean cuisine that highlights her Greek roots and Mississippi upbringing. Chef Cora's philosophy is to create simple yet sensational meals. "Kouzzina" is Greek for "kitchen"

Kouzzina was remodeled slightly from the days of Spoodles, but much of the original atmosphere still remains. An open kitchen with its wood-burning grill and oak-fired ovens still entertains and enchants guests. Dark wood flooring and furniture combine with light tan walls to create a cozy and inviting environment.

I have eaten here a number of times and have always been pleased. I even like Cat's Brussels sprouts, a vegetable I normally avoid at all costs. Kouzzina is open for breakfast and dinner. Reservations are suggested.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the grand opening press event in 2009. Although the menu has changed somewhat since then, my review still speaks to the tastes and charms Cat brings to this establishment. To see my article, click here. To see the complete breakfast menu, click here. To see the complete dinner menu, click here.


Kouzzina

Kouzzina

Kouzzina

Kouzzina

Kouzzina


After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology and Biology at the University of Southern Mississippi, Cat Cora followed the advice of her famous mentor Julia Child and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduation, she continued her education in Europe apprenticing with two of France's three-star Michelin chefs, George Blanc of Vonnas and Roger Verge. (Roger Vergé is one of the founding chefs of the Les Chefs de France restaurant at Epcot.) Cat accomplishments and awards continued to mount, but perhaps her most famous achievement was being the first and only female Iron Chef on the Food Network's hit show "Iron Chef America." Cat began working with Disney in 2008 by creating a Disney Video-on-Demand series to showcase ways to help families develop more healthy eating habits.

Next to Kouzzina is Seashore Sweets'. This combination ice cream fountain and candy store is the perfect spot to satisfy your sweet tooth. The stores motto: "Confections served with Affection."


Seashore Sweets'

Seashore Sweets'

Seashore Sweets'


One of the store's signature products is salt water taffy, an Atlantic City institution for years. But this wasn't always the case. Although plain ol' taffy had been a staple along the Boardwalk for many years, "salt" was not a part of the tradition. This came about quite by accident. In August of 1883, a large storm hit the Atlantic Seaboard and flooded the Boardwalk candy store of David Bradley. As a result, his entire stock of taffy was soaked with salty ocean water. As the story goes, a young girl entered the store the following day and requested taffy. As a joke Bradley said, "Sure. We have some salt water taffy." Not understanding the sarcasm, the girl bought a bag full and left the store happy and did not return with any complaints. The rest is history.


Salt Water Taffy


Besides salt water taffy, Seashore Sweets' also honors another Atlantic City institution, the Miss America Pageant.

Traditionally, the "summer season" ended on the Boardwalk with Labor Day weekend at which time vacationers went home. In an effort to entice people to stay a little longer, Mayor Edward L. Bader and local leaders suggested holding a two-day publicity extravaganza to extend the season for a few more days. So on September 6, 1921 a beauty contest to be called the "Atlantic City Pageant" was held. That first year there were only eight participants. The girls were judged in a number of events, including the Rolling Chair Parade and the Bathers' Revue (a swimsuit competition). After two days of good natured rivalry, the judges selected sixteen year old Margaret Gorman from Washington D.C. to be the first winner of the pageant.


Margaret Gorman


When the event was over, the city leaders and local businessmen could see that the event was a success. Tourists had stayed in Atlantic City past Labor Day and continued to spend money. It was then decided to make this an annual event.

The following year, the pageant name was changed to "Miss America" and fifty-eight contestants participated. In addition, brass bands and orchestras were added to the festivities. Among the distinguished panel of judges in 1922 was famed artist Norman Rockwell. The pageant continued to grow and flourish over the years and became an American tradition.

Next time you're in Seashore Sweets', look around. Lining the ceiling are pictures of all the Miss America winners. In addition, an actual robe, crown, scepter, and trophy used in a ceremony are on display.


Miss America Winners

Miss America Robe and Crown


That's it for Part One of the BoardWalk Promenade. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.


September 5, 2012

BoardWalk Inn & Villas - Part 3 of 3

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Welcome back. In Part One of this article I discussed the lobby of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. In Part Two I talked about the Belle Vue Lounge, the Innkeepers Lounge, a Standard Guest Room and a Garden Suite. Today I will finish my description of this deluxe resort.

Now it's time to move over to the Villas section of the resort. I used to have problems remembering which side of the resort was the "Inn" and which side was the "Villas." Then it occurred to me, architect Robert A.M Stern cleverly "color coded" the sections to make it easier to distinguish between the two. The exterior of the Inn is painted in shades of white with blue accents. The Villas are covered in shades of yellow and coral.


BoardWalk Villas Exterior

BoardWalk Villas Exterior

BoardWalk Villas Exterior


Before I discuss the 383 DVC rooms found in this section of the resort, I want to talk about the amenities located here. Note, all facilities at the BoardWalk Inn & Villas are open to all guests, regardless of which side of the resort they are staying at. The exception being, you must be lodging in a Club Level room in order to experience the Innkeeper's Club.

As with so many Disney resorts, the main swimming pool is often the center of daytime activity, and the BoardWalk is no exception. At Luna Park, guests will find an enormous (190,000 gallons) free-form pool. The name "Luna Park" comes from an early amusement park found on Coney Island (1903 to 1944). More on this later.

Luna Park is designed to resemble a carnival/circus. This theme is highlighted by signs advertising the shows and spectacles to be enjoyed here.


Luna Park Signs

Luna Park Signs

Luna Park Signs

Luna Park Signs


The "trained" elephants can be seen at several spots around the pool. One even provides a shower for those swimming in her proximity.


Luna Park Elephants

Luna Park Elephants


Leaping Horse Libations resembles a carousel and serves hard and soft drinks plus a limited selection of snacks. After a few trips here, you might actually begin to see the pygmy horses the billboard advertises.


Leaping Horse Libations

Leaping Horse Libations


The highlight of Luna Park is Keister Coaster. This 200-foot water slide resembles an old-time wooden roller coaster. Anyone with coulrophobia might want to skip this attraction. The splashdown takes riders through a giant clown head.

For those of you who don't know, "keister" is slang for a person's rear end. So Keister Coaster is a fitting name for this slide as you ride it on your keister.


Keister Coaster

Keister Coaster


Here are few more pictures of the pool area, the kiddie pool, and Crazy Horse Playground.


Luna Park

Luna Park

Luna Park

Crazy Horse Playground


There were many early amusement park names that the Imagineers could have used to identify their elaborate swimming pool, but Luna Park was selected for a reason. In 1901, Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy created a ride called "A Trip to the Moon." This attraction premiered at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. The attraction was so successful, the pair later updated it and moved it to their new Coney Island location to be called Luna Park. Luna is the Latin word for moon.

For 50¢ ($14.00 in 2012 dollars), guests could take a make-believe trip to the moon. Their vehicle would not be a rocket, but rather a gondola-like craft with wings. Guests boarded Luna from a train station-like platform. At takeoff, the wings began to flap and the craft began to undulate and rise slightly. Once "airborne," the vehicle "flew" over representations of Coney Island and Manhattan, offering panoramic views of both areas before ascending into the clouds. All of this was done with the use of a cyclorama, a theater-like building where the viewer is positioned in the center of a large room and a panoramic landscape circles the audience. Once reaching the moon, guests disembarked and walked around a papier-mâché lunar surface. Along the way, they interacted with costumed moon characters called Selenites.


A Trip to the Moon


Their walking journey continued through stalactite caverns and across a chasm via a spidery bridge. Reaching an underground city they encountered illuminated plants, trees, and otherworldly growth. Eventually guests would meet the "Man in the Moon," a giant seated upon a magnificent throne. In this same room was a fabulous "electric" fountain that displayed all the colors of the rainbow as it cascaded and pulsated.

As guests prepared to leave the attraction, moon maidens passed out pieces of cheese from their lunar homeland. Many people at the time believed that the moon was made out of green cheese. Guests exited the ride via a Mooncalf's mouth.

This attraction was a quantum leap over any other amusement park ride of its day. It would be comparable to the revolutionary effect "Pirates of the Caribbean" had on Disneyland.

Another attraction at Luna Park was "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea." Here, guests boarded a "submarine" and peered through portholes. While on their voyage, they saw a number of bizarre sea creatures, coral reefs, sunken ships, and mermaids. Eventually they reached the North Pole. Again, all of this was achieved with the use of a cyclorama.


20,000 Leagues Under The Sea


After reaching the arctic, guests disembarked the sub and entered a frozen environment of ocean and icebergs. Actually, it was a large, refrigerated warehouse with an enormous pool of water and floating ice. There were even real polar bears and seals to add to the authenticity. In addition, a tribe of Inuit inhabited this space, complete with igloos and dogsleds.

Walt Disney was a genius; there is certainly no doubt about this. But perhaps some of his inspiration came from attractions long before his time.

In 1955, Walt opened his own version of "A Trip to the Moon" and called it "Rocket to the Moon." However, Walt's version relied more on science and less on fantasy. After blast off, guests would view Anaheim and Southern California retreating in the distance on the cabin's lower view screen. Soon, the ship passed through the clouds and into outer space on its way to the moon. However, Walt's version only flew around the lunar surface and never actually landed.


Rocket to the Moon

Rocket to the Moon


Walt also opened the "Submarine Voyage" at Disneyland in 1959. Although more convincingly executed, this ride employed many of the same ideas as its 1903 predecessor, including a trip to the North Pole.


Submarine Voyage


Both Frederic Thompson and Elmer Dundy are honored at the BoardWalk. Mr. Thompson is the proprietor of Thimbles & Threads found on the BoardWalk Promenade and the shop off of the resort's main lobby is called Dundy's Sundries.


Thimbles & Threads

Dundy's Sundries


The BoardWalk also offers a video arcade and gym. Both are located near Luna Park.

Side Show Games Arcade offers a nice selection of stand-up and sit-down games including old favorites and some state-of-the-art skill-testers.


Side Show Games Arcade

Side Show Games Arcade


Muscles & Bustles Health Club offers the latest in cardiovascular and weight-training equipment. Also available here is a steam room and sauna. Massage therapy can be arranged for an additional fee.


Muscles & Bustles Health Club

Muscles & Bustles Health Club

Muscles & Bustles Health Club


The BoardWalk has two lighted tennis courts which are open from 7am to 10pm. These courts are located at the far end of the resort just off of the pathway that leads to Disney's Hollywood Studios. The courts are intended for BoardWalk guests only. Reservations can be made at Community Hall and rental equipment is available.


Tennis Courts


The Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall is located near the Villas' quiet pool. This facility is a great spot for tweens and teenagers - and adults too. Ping pong, air hockey, and foosball are just waiting to challenge the generations. DVDs, electronic games, and an abundance of toys will keep the younger set entertained for hours. Community Hall is also the spot to rent bikes and movies and secure tennis equipment.


Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall


Community Hall sits next to the BoardWalk Villas "quiet" swimming pool. Like its counterpart at the BoardWalk Inn, this pool area is intended for leisurely swims, sunning, reading, and unobtrusive conversations. However, due to its proximity to Community Hall, children will be more prevalent here than at the BoardWalk Inn pool. Note, this pool does not have a lifeguard.


Villa's Quiet Pool

Villa's Quiet Pool

Villa's Quiet Pool

Villa's Quiet Pool


If you're in the mood for a little barbeque flavor, a charcoal grill and picnic table is located adjacent to the pool. You must bring your own charcoal as the resort does not stock this item.


Villas BBQ


As I mentioned earlier, the BoardWalk Villas house DVC units and members use "points" to secure lodging here. However, non-members can also rent these rooms for cash depending on availability and other factors. Rooms here come in four configurations, studio, one, two, and three bedroom units. Room sizes break down as follows:

Studio - 359 square feet
One Bedroom Unit - 712 square feet
Two Bedroom Unit - 1,071 square feet.
Three Bedroom Unit (Grand Villa) - 2,142 square feet

Today I'll be touring a Studio Unit.

A small entry greets guests as they enter a Studio Unit. On the wall is a mirror and shelf just large enough to hold a wallet, admission tickets, and room keys.


Studio Unit Entry


Unlike the one, two, and three bedroom units which have full kitchens capable of cooking complete meals, the Studio Unit features a kitchenette. The kitchenette is not meant for cooking a banquet, but rather warming precooked foods in the microwave and toasting bread and bagels in the toaster. A coffee maker is also provided and there is a small refrigerator with a tiny freezer. About the only thing this freezer is capable of holding is a couple of ice cube trays. Although the goblets and mugs are made out of glass and stoneware, the plates are paper. In DVC units with full kitchens, the dishes are stoneware.


Studio Unit Kitchenette

Studio Unit Kitchenette

Studio Unit Kitchenette

Studio Unit Kitchenette


Opposite the kitchenette is the vanity area of the bathroom. A large, well lit mirror hangs above a single sink. Ample storage is provided below the sink with drawers and cupboards. This is also where you'll find the hair dryer.


Studio Unit Vanity

Studio Unit Vanity


Like all Disney resort properties, the Villas provide H2O+ toiletries. Standard aminities include shampoo, conditioner, body scrub, and bars of soap. Thankfully, the soap is now packaged in an easy-to-open plastic bag. The old package was impossible to open without the aid of a knife or your teeth.


H2O+ Products


Off of the vanity is the toilet and tub/shower. The shower head is adjustable, but in an effort to conserve water, the spray is adequate only - which is probably the correct move on Disney's part. The towels are fluffy and thick.


Studio Unit Toilet Shower/Tub


On the other side of the vanity is a closet. Here you'll find additional bedding, a vacuum, a collapsible crib, a luggage rack, and a small safe.


Studio Unit Closet

Studio Unit Closet


The main room is painted in pastel pink and yellow and features a queen sized bed. The mattress is quite comfortable, but I feel that the three pillows are a little small. And why only three? Who gets two and who only gets one? The bedspread features a rose design with no hidden Disney characters.


Studio Unit Queen Bed


On the wall next to the bed is an oddly placed mirror. Its inconvenient location and poor lighting does not lend itself to practical use. And the double light over the bed is placed so high that it does not facilitate reading in bed by only one individual without disturbing the other. In addition, the light switch is placed too high to be easily reached while lying in bed.


Mirror and Lights


Next to the bed is a nightstand. Here you'll find a telephone, a clock/radio with an iPod docking station, and the TV remote control.


Studio Unit Night Stand


On the other side of the nightstand is a convertible sofa upholstered in a mint green material. Instructions on how to open the bed are left on the couch in plain sight. This is the next generation of convertible sofa and does not open in the conventional manner. If you're not familiar with this type of bed, the instructions are invaluable.

A strap can be found behind the back cushion. Without removing any cushions, all one must do is pull this strap and the bed opens right up. For the most part, anyone with average strength can operate this bed.


Studio Unit Convertable Sofa

Studio Unit Convertable Sofa

Studio Unit Convertable Sofa


Opposite the queen bed is another sofa, of sorts. Although it looks like it could be used as a child's bed, that is not Disney's intent. Studio Units sleep a maximum of four plus a child under three in a crib.


Studio Unit Couch


Next to this sofa is a chest with three large drawers. If you look closely, you'll find Mickey on each drawer. A DVD player can be found on the shelf and a flat screen TV sits atop the chest. There are no audio/visual hookups enabling you to watch your day's videos.


Studio Unit Chest of Drawers

Studio Unit Chest of Drawers


On the other side of the chest of drawers are a table and two chairs. When I pulled out my laptop, I discovered there was no electrical outlet near the table. It was on the other side of the chest. So I had to run my wires up and over. On the plus side, free WiFi is now standard at the BoardWalk Resort.


Studio Unit Table and Chairs


The next two pictures show an overall placement of the furniture.


Studio Unit

Studio Unit


All DVC units have a patio or balcony. The size can vary depending on the exterior of the building. Each unit will have two chairs and a small table.


Studio Unit Balcony


To see an overview of a Studio Unit, check out the video below.



I like the Studio Units if only two people are using the room. It seemed large and felt like a mini-suite. But personally, if I were part of a party of three or four and didn't care about the kitchenette, I would opt for a standard room in the BoardWalk Inn portion of the resort. I'm not a big fan of opening and closing a convertible sofa each night and I like the décor at the Inn better. The rooms at the Inn have a richer, more luxurious atmosphere.

The walk from your room to the elevators can be significant on either side of the resort. If this is an issue to you, be sure to request a room close to the elevators when making your reservation and again when checking in.

The bus stop for the BoardWalk Inn & Villas is located near the front of the resort. Once again, this can be a long walk depending on where your room is located. The buses transport guests to the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, water parks, and Downtown Disney. For transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, you can either walk or take one of the Friendship Boats docking on the BoardWalk Promenade. Note, the walk to Hollywood Studios is somewhat long and on hot days, you might want to think twice before making this journey.


Bus Stop

Boat Dock


To see an overview of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas Resort, check out the video below. It runs just shy of nine minutes.



That's it for the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Check back next week when I'll discuss the BoardWalk Promenade.



September 4, 2012

BoardWalk Inn & Villas - Part 2 of 3

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Welcome back. Yesterday I discussed the lobby of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Today I'll continue my description of this deluxe resort.

One of the most charming spots at the BoardWalk Inn & Villas is the Belle Vue Lounge. Tucked away in a corner of the resort, this "1930's parlor" is the perfect spot to escape into a bygone era. Overstuffed chairs, wicker sofas, and a collection of small tables and chairs provide wonderful possibilities for relaxation and conversation. The walls are lined with books and shelves contain a number of board games for guest use, including Monopoly. Potted plants and fresh flower bouquets complete the experience.


Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge


The Belle Vue Lounge also has some interesting oddities from years ago. One of these is a Magic Lantern. This early projection device originated in Europe in the 17th century and was often used by magicians and charlatans to amaze and scare a naïve public. The Magic Lantern came to America sometime in the late 19th century where it continued to be used by magicians. But it also took on a more legitimate use as this was the humble beginnings of the film industry. Enterprising entrepreneurs would charge admission to present a "slide" show to an astonished audience.


Magic Lantern


In the morning, a continental breakfast is offered at the Belle Vue Lounge from 6:30am to 11am. Selections include pastries, fruit, cereals, and beverages. From 5pm to 12 midnight, a bartender is on hand to serve you your favorite libation.

You will also notice a number of old-time radios positioned around the room. If you listen closely, you might just hear a broadcast of long ago.


Old Time Radio


Monopoly is actually a very fitting pastime to be enjoyed while having a beverage at the Belle Vue Lounge. During the Great Depression, Charles Darrow created a new board game. It dealt with the buying, selling, and development of property. As Darrow had vacationed in Atlantic City prior to the stock market crash, he felt that the city's glamor and larger-than-life reputation would add a touch of sophistication to his game. Thus, all of the properties were named after actual streets in this well-known city. Of course the most sought after and expensive title would be that of Boardwalk.


Deed to Boardwalk


Darrow presented his creation to Parker Brothers, one of the largest manufacturers of games in the country. Parker Brothers turned the game down due to its complex rules and perceived design flaws. Undaunted, Darrow and a friend hand-produced 5,000 sets of Monopoly for the 1934 Christmas season and sold them at a Philadelphia department store. The game was an instant success and Darrow could not keep up with demand. He revisited Parker Brothers and this time the company took notice and bought the game. One year later in 1935, Parker Brothers was producing 20,000 games per week.

It's interesting to note, early Monopoly sets were not the square boards we're familiar with today, but rather painted oilcloth cut into a circle with the familiar properties lining the edge.


Original Monopoly Game


Although not available to play, there are several other vintage board games lining the shelves of the Belle Vue Lounge. Two of these are, "Go to the Head of the Class" and "Eddie Cantor's Tell it to the Judge." Next time you're in this room, take a look at these diversions of another era. It's interesting to see how children and their parents were entertained before the electronic age.


Eddie Cantor's Tell it to the Judge

Go to the Head of the Class


Just past the Belle Vue Lounge are the elevators that take you to the 371 rooms of the "Inn" portion of the resort. The following description will be of a standard room.

Just inside the door is a small niche. Within this niche is a chest that contains three drawers and a small refrigerator just big enough to hold a few bottles of water and a collection of snacks.

On top of the chest is a coffee maker, a limited supply of coffee and tea, and cups.


Chest in Niche

Coffee Machine


Next to the niche is a large closet. In it you'll find hangers, an iron and ironing board, a collapsible crib, and a safe just large enough for items such as watches, keys, and wallets. Robes are offered in club level rooms and suites.


Closet

Closet

Closet


Directly opposite the closet is the vanity area. Here you'll find a spacious counter, two sinks, two oval mirrors, a secondary shelf, and a makeup mirror. The hair dryer can be found on a shelf beneath the sinks. H2O+ shampoo, conditioner, and body wash is also available. This area is brightly lit so you'll have plenty of light for those morning beauty activities that might require extra attention.


Bathroom Vanity

Bathroom Vanity


In a separate room are the toilet and the tub/shower. Being a deluxe resort, you will find the towels thick and fluffy.


Toilet Tub/Shower


The main room has two queen-sized beds. In keeping with the current deluxe hotel trend, there are no bedspreads, but rather a third sheet on the top of the bed with a decorative throw. A small "BoardWalk" pillow completes the design.


Queen-Sized Beds

Queen-Sized Beds

BoardWalk Pillow


In-between the two beds is a nightstand. Here you'll find a telephone and an alarm clock/radio with an iPod docking station.


Nightstand


On the opposite wall is a daybed.


Daybed


Disney has completed their conversion from tube-style TV to flat-screen at all of their resorts. The chest that houses the BoardWalk TVs is quite attractive and has plenty of storage space. Besides six decent sized drawers, there is shelving on both sides of the piece and cubby holes in the front. Audio/visual connections are also conveniently located so you can plug your video camera into the TV and watch the "dailies."


Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


Next to the chest is a desk with a nesting table for laptop use. Free WiFi is now available so there is no longer a need for cable connection. On the desk sits a cute Minnie Mouse lamp. A mirror hangs above.


Nesting Desk

Minnie Mouse Lamp


All of the rooms at the BoardWalk Inn have either a balcony or patio. These will vary in shape and design depending on your room location. None of these are very large and can only accommodate two chairs and a small table.


Balconies

Balconies

Balconies

Balconies

Balconies


To see an overview of a BoardWalk Inn standard room, check out the video below.



Some of the standard rooms overlook the BoardWalk Promenade and courtyard. Others, the resort entrance. But many rooms have views of a beautifully manicured Rose Courtyard. This garden area is peaceful and serene and one of the most tranquil spots in all of Walt Disney World. A grand staircase leads from the lobby area to the lush lawns and walkways.


Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard


This respite from the World is also where you'll find the "quiet" pool. Although children are certainly welcome, the intent is that this pool area is for leisurely swims, sunning, reading, and unobtrusive conversations. Note, there is no lifeguard on duty at this pool.


Boardwalk In Quiet Pool

Boardwalk In Quiet Pool


Also found in this area of the resort is a feature unique to all of Walt Disney World. Called the Garden Suites, these 14 rooms do not open onto a central hallway, but instead are accessed via the Rose Courtyard. Although perfect for honeymooners, these rooms can sleep four.


Garden Suites

Garden Suites


Every suite has its own, uniquely landscaped yard surrounded by a white picket fence. Guests enter their private garden through an arbor, each with its own distinctive gate. A small mailbox sits to the side.


Garden Suites

Garden Suites

Garden Suites

Garden Suites


Entering the suite we find a small living room with a sectional sofa. The sofa can be opened out into a double bed. To the side of the room is a console and TV. In a corner is a desk and nesting table.

I felt the placement of the TV did not facilitate easy viewing for most persons on the couch.


Garden Suite Sofa & TV

Garden Suite Sofa & TV

Garden Suite Nesting Desk


Off of the living room are a kitchenette and a closet. The kitchenette contains a mini-refrigerator, microwave oven, coffee maker, and sink. The closet is a reasonable size, but it only has one door. This makes accessing the back portion of this storage space somewhat difficult. A powder room (toilet and sink) can be found off of the kitchenette. There is no shower or tub on the first floor so if four people are using this room, they must bathe upstairs.


Garden Suite Kitchenette

Garden Suite Downstairs Closet

Garden Suite Powder Room


The bedroom is located upstairs in the loft. Since this is an "open" layout, there is no real privacy between the upstairs and downstairs.


Garden Suite Stairway

Garden Suite Balcony


On the second floor you'll find another closet, queen-sized bed, nightstand, small chair, and a chest of drawers and TV. Once again, I noticed that the placement of the TV makes viewing from the bed somewhat difficult. The loft looks out toward small windows.


Garden Suite Upstairs Closet

Garden Suite Queen Bed

Garden Suite Chest of Drawers and TV

Garden Suite Upstairs Window


Off of the bedroom is a second bathroom. Here you'll find a marble-topped counter with two sinks and two oval mirrors. Next to the vanity is a large, whirlpool tub surrounded by large mirrors. If you don't like looking at your own naked body, don't bathe here. LOL. But if this isn't a problem, then you're in for a nice relaxing soak.


Garden Suite Upstairs Bathroom

Garden Suite Upstairs Vanity

Garden Suite Bathtub


In a separate room you'll find a toilet and a shower big enough for two.


Garden Suite Upstairs Toilet and Shower


The Garden Suites are charming and perfect for couples in love - and as I said earlier, unique to the BoardWalk Inn. To see an overview of one of these rooms, check out the video below.



As with all Disney deluxe resorts, the BoardWalk Inn offers Club Level rooms and amenities for those willing to spend a little extra. Located on the fourth floor, guests with these privileges have a dedicated concierge staff that will help them make their vacation whatever they want it to be. From restaurant reservations, personal tours, and suggestions you have never even imagined, these well-informed hosts and hostesses are there to make you happy.


Innkeepers Club Concierge


Also available is a special lounge called the Innkeeper's Club. This is a wonderful spot to escape and be pampered. Elegant furniture, fresh flowers, and an attentive staff are on hand to spoil you. The Innkeeper's Club offers a large TV and a collection of Disney classics on DVD.


Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge


The doors to the lounge open at 6:30am each morning.

Coffee, Tea, Water & Juices - 6:30am to 10:30am

Continental Breakfast - 7:00am to 10:30am

Four Cold Cereals, Hot Oatmeal, Fresh Pastries, Fresh Fruit, Yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs. Skim Milk, 2% Milk, Chocolate Milk, Orange Juice, Water and V-8.

Refreshments - 11:30am to 4:00pm
Fresh made potato chips, fresh baked cookies, various snacks & candies, lemonade, iced tea, water & soda.

Wine & Cheese - 5:00pm to 7:00pm

Two hot appetizers, 3 cheeses, 2 cold salads, vegetable platter, pita bread, crackers, four bottled beers and three wines. Water and soda also available.

Cordials & Desserts - 8:00pm to 10:00pm

Various fresh pastries from the BoardWalk Bakery, four cordial alcohols.

IllumiNations can be viewed from the Lounge balcony although only the fireworks portion can be seen above the trees.

Important Note: the doors remain open all day long from 6:30am to 10:00pm, but services end promptly so the staff can clean up and turn over for the next service offering.


Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments


To see an overview of the Innkeeper's Club, check out the video below.



That's it for Part Two of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Check back tomorrow for Part Three.



September 3, 2012

BoardWalk Inn & Villas - Part 1 of 3

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Advance To Boardwalk


The concept for a boardwalk was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1870. This resort town had already established itself as a vacation mecca. Beautiful hotels, elegant restaurants, and the Atlantic Ocean beckoned the well-to-do and the middle class to spend a few days or a few weeks in luxury during the summer months. However, the close proximity to the beach caused a problem for businesses. Sand. People tracked it everywhere. It could be found in hotel and restaurant lobbies, in railroads, in guest rooms, shops -- everywhere. A solution was needed. The answer came from train conductor Alexander Boardman and hotel owner Jacob Keim. They proposed building a pedestrian walkway out of wood with openings between the slats large enough to allow the sand to fall between. So great was the problem that the city managers agreed to spend half of the town's yearly tax revenue ($5,000) to build an eight-foot wide wooden walkway that would stretch one mile and be elevated one foot above the sand. The Boardwalk officially opened on June 26, 1870.


Atlantic City Boardwalk


The Boardwalk was a success and in the years to come, was widened and extended several times. In the early years, the Boardwalk was disassembled after the summer season and stored to protect it from the elements. Today, the Atlantic City Boardwalk is 60 feet wide and runs 6 miles. The planks of wood are arranged in a herringbone pattern and are laid on a substructure of concrete and steel. "Boardwalk" is the official street name for this thoroughfare and thus is always capitalized when referring to the street in Atlantic City.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk was the inspiration for Disney's BoardWalk Inn & Villas, a deluxe property. Designed by architect Robert A.M Stern, this resort would be located on the south shore of Crescent Lake and complement the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, also designed by Stern.

The BoardWalk Inn & Villas would also mark the second Disney Vacation Club Property (DVC) after Old Key West. The resort would be divided in half with standard rooms being located in the "Inn" portion of the resort and DVC units in the "Villas" section. The resort officially opened on July 1, 1996.

Just like Atlantic City in days of old, Disney's version of this getaway-by-the-sea would feature a hotel, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and games. The only thing missing is the sandy beach.

This week I will discuss the hotel portion of the resort and the amenities offered. Next week I will cover the BoardWalk Promenade. Note, when discussing the resort, Disney will either split the word in two "Board Walk" or write it as one word while capitalizing the W in "BoardWalk."

The BoardWalk is located on Epcot Resorts Blvd. As with all Disney resorts, you must check in with a guard before entering the property. Self-parking is a fair distance from the lobby so you might want to consider driving up to the porte-cochère and letting Bell Services handle your luggage when you first arrive. Valet parking is currently $12 per day plus tip.


BoardWalk Entrance

Guard Shack

BoardWalk Hotel Entrance

Porte-cochère


From the porte-cochère you pass through doorways adorned with signs welcoming you to the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. When entering the lobby anteroom, you will come face-to-face with a miniature carrousel.


BoardWalk Hotel Doors

Illions Carrousel

Illions Carrousel

Illions Carrousel


This hand-crafted carrousel was built by M.C. Illions sometime in the 1920's. Illions was a designer and manufacturer of full-sized merry-go-rounds and built this scale model as a sales tool to demonstrate his workmanship to prospective buyers. It was never his intent to have it publicly displayed. The carrousel features 44 individually carved and painted 4-inch-tall horses. No two are identical. When activated, these horses move up and down, just like their full-scaled brothers.

The carrousel was purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 1995 to be displayed at the BoardWalk. Over a period of one year, Imagineers restored decayed wood, worn mechanisms, and other items in disrepair. Another team researched the original color schemes and decorations used in Illions' full-scale merry-go-rounds and applied them to this model. Along the way, a few hidden Mickeys were added. Finishing touches included replating brass, applying gold leaf, crafting miniature leather stirrup straps, and replacing the tiny pearl-headed pins that serve as make-believe light bulbs. The Imagineers even scaled the speed of the carousel to match that of the King Arthur Carousel located at Disneyland in California.

After admiring Illions' carrousel, glance upwards. Here you'll discover the Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier. This magnificent work of art features animals that might be found on one of Illions' creations. In classical mythology, a hippocampus is a sea horse with two forefeet, and a body ending in the tail of a dolphin or fish. In-between the hippocampus are cherubs holding light fixtures. An "electrolier" is a chandelier designed for electric lamps rather than gas or candle.

The Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier weighs 3,000 pounds and is finished entirely in 22-karat gold leaf, hand-cut Austrian crystal, and custom-blown glass.


Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier

Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier

Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier


The main lobby is bright and spacious. Overstuffed furniture and potted plants sit next to large windows and create a comfortable sitting area. Along the opposite wall are the check-in desks.


BoardWalk Lobby

BoardWalk Lobby


Above the check-in desks is an interesting detail. Within three elaborate gold frames we find depictions of pastoral settings. We also discover the castles of Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland.


Disney Castles

Disney Castles

Disney Castles

Disney Castles


The lobby houses other interesting details. Take for instance this reproduction of Lucy the Elephant that is located south of Atlantic City perched high above the fireplace.


Lucy Elephant

Lucy Elephant


Lucy is six stories high, built out of wood and tin sheeting, and was an example of novelty architecture. Built in 1881 by James Lafferty, this structure was a sales gimmick to promote real estate and attract tourism.


Colossal Elephant Picture


It is interesting to note, Disney has a plaque near their reproduction claiming this is the Colossus Elephant of Coney Island. However, their information is incorrect.

Sitting below the Lucy Elephant and to each side of the fireplace are perhaps the scariest two chairs you'll ever see. (They scare me, anyway.)


Nanny Chairs

Nanny Chairs


These "nanny chairs" were originally found on 19th century European carrousels. They were intended for adults to rest upon while their children rode the moving animals. These reproductions were cast from circa 1889 originals, hand painted and highlighted with gold leaf.

In this same area is another miniature reproduction, the Flip-Flap Railway which was located in Luna Park. Designed by Lina Beecher and built in 1898, this early coaster featured a 25-foot loop and was the world's first "upside down loop-the-loop roller coaster." The circular design of the loop (rather than teardrop used today) created a tremendous amount of g-force and caused its riders discomfort and neck problems. The coaster closed soon after opening.


Flip-Flap Railway

Flip-Flap Railway Picture


The founder of Coney Island Boardwalk's Steeplechase Park once said: "Paradox: a successful ride must look extremely dangerous yet convincing that the ride is completely safe." This axiom still holds true today.

Outside of the lobby we find a wonderful covered porch. Furnished with wicker chairs, this is the perfect spot to take a load off and relax in the afternoon and evening. It is here that you discover the lobby is actually on the second floor and this porch/balcony overlooks a beautifully manicured lawn below.


BoardWalk Balcony

BoardWalk Balcony

BoardWalk Balcony


I especially like the "kissing bench." This chair design makes face-to-face conversation easy and facilitates a quick smooch every now and then.


Kissing Bench


Adjacent to the lobby is Dundy's Sundries. This shop sells BoardWalk logo merchandise, souvenirs, sundries, books, and other gift-type items. For those staying in a DVC room and looking for food items, check out Screen Door General Store located on the BoardWalk Promenade. Dundy's Sundries is open daily from 7am to 11pm.

By the way, if you want to know who Dundy is, you'll have to read Part Three of this article. Trust me. It's an interesting story.


Dundy's Sundries

Dundy's Sundries


Leaving the lobby and walking toward the "Inn" section of the resort, we come to a long narrow hallway with windows on both sides. Located in this hallway is a Clamshell Mutascope. This early motion picture device was patented by Herman Casler on November 21, 1894 and soon became a staple in penny arcades around the country. The machine contained a wheel of still photographs that the patron would rotate with a hand crank, giving the illusion of movement.


Mutoscope


At one time, there were several mutascopes lining this hallway, but alas, there is now just one.


Mutoscopes


Further on we find another machine of this bygone era. Here, patrons could benefit from the "healthy" effects of electricity. By grasping the handles and twisting them inward, a person would receive a charge. The further the handles were rotated, the more electricity was transferred to the body. The claim was that this would give a person a "nerve and muscle" massage.

Machines like these and many others used to be located at the now long-gone Penny Arcade on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. This once novel facility is missed by many old-timers of Disney World.


Electric Wonder


Across from the Clamshell Mutascope are two striking paintings and credenzas. If you study the credenzas carefully, you will notice additional paintings depicting early amusement park rides.


Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides


Also in this area are a number of lithographs and illustrations. These next two pastels depict how turn-of-the-century attractions allowed a repressed society to loosen their inhibitions and enjoy a few moments of gaiety.


Lithographs

Lithographs


Another common theme seen throughout the resort is framed picture postcards from the turn of the previous century. After the American Civil War, a number of expositions were held in the U.S. to help promote commerce and trade. In 1873, the Interstate Industrial Exposition was held in Chicago. To help market the event, a "picture" postcard was created so attendees could send quick notes back home - and advertise the exposition. However, these early cards garnered very little attention. It wasn't until an image of the Eiffel Tower was printed on a souvenir card for the Paris Exposition of 1889 that the world took notice and postcards grew to be a phenomenon.


Framed Postcards


Up until the information age, a multitude of postcards were sold at the Disney Parks. Each and every attraction had at least one of these beautifully photographed picture cards - sometimes two or three. Many guests bought them simply as collector pieces. But alas, the ability to send email, instant messages, and electronic photographs greatly cut into the sales of these picturesque pieces of cardboard and demand for them dropped dramatically. Today, only a handful of postcards are sold in the parks and most of these feature Disney characters rather than a specific location.

That's it for Part One of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



August 27, 2012

Port Orleans Riverside - Room Refurbishments

Jack Spence Masthead


Over the last several months, all of the rooms at Port Orleans Riverside have been refurbished and slightly redecorated. Last week I spend a couple of days here so I could film and photograph the new Alligator Bayou and Mansion rooms. While I was there, I was also given access to a Mansion Accessible room which I will also cover today. The new Royal rooms were discussed in another blog so these will not be discussed at this time.

This blog is strictly about the new room designs. If you'd like to know more about the resort and its amenities, check out the article I wrote two years ago by clicking here.

The Alligator Bayou rooms are located in 16 two-story lodge buildings. They are nestled in groves of pine and oak trees which create the feeling of backwoods wilderness. The exterior of the lodges have not changed with the refurbishment.


Alligator Bayou Lodge Exterior


Inside the room, we'll look first at the two queen beds. The headboards have not been altered from the previous design. They appear to be made out of small logs and branches. However, the bedspreads have been updated. They now sport scenes from around the resort.


Two Queen Bed

Bedspread


The decorative pillow features Louis from the Disney animated film, "The Princess and the Frog."


Louis Pillow


Two lantern-styled lamps can be found above the beds. Each is operated by a separate switch located over the nightstand.


Lantern Lighting

Lantern Lighting


The nightstand resembles a shipping crate that might have traveled along the Mississippi in another era. On it are a telephone and clock radio.


Nightstand


The picture on the side wall is that of the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland. It was painted by Disney Legend Herb Ryman.


Blue Bayou Picture


All rooms have at least one, large window. Corner rooms have two. Besides blackout curtains, Venetian blinds allow guests to adjust the amount of outside light that enters the room.


Window


Beneath the window is a reasonably disguised air conditioner. In the past, the controls were on the unit itself. Now, a wall-mounted thermostat operates the device. This is a nice improvement.


Air Conditioning

Thermostat


Like the headboard, the room's table appears to be made out of logs and branches. The chairs have slat backs and are painted dark brown. The carpet continues this wood theme and looks like peg-and-groove construction.


Table & Chairs

Carpet


The biggest change to the Alligator Bayou room comes in the way a fifth person is accommodated here. In the past, inconvenient trundle beds were located under one of the primary beds. These have been done away with and replaced by an easy-to-use foldout bed. Resembling more shipping crates, this single bed opens and closes with ease. When the bed is open, we see Louis again, dreaming an alligator dream.


Fold-down Bed

Fold-down Bed

Fold-down Bed


FYI: This bed is intended for children and young teenagers. An adult would be a little tight on space.

When not in use as a bed, this structure offers bench seating. Beneath the bench are three drawers. On one of the drawers we see a stenciled silhouette of a steamboat. The lettering says Willie Inc. Est. 1928. This is in reference to Mickey Mouse's debut in the animated short "Steamboat Willie."


Bench Seating

Willie Inc


On top of the "crates" is a shelf, perfect for the storing of wallets, jewelry, room cards, and park tickets. You'll also find convenient audio-visual outlets for connecting your video camera to the TV.


Shelf

Audio/Visual Connections


Next to the foldout bed is a cupboard that houses a small refrigerator and two shelves. On top of this cabinet is the coffee maker and ice bucket. The hammered tin door is especially appealing with its scene of water lilies and cattails.


Cabinet and Shelves

Refrigerator

Coffee Maker

Tin Door


Above this cupboard is a coat-rack adorned with Mickey. However, the close proximity to the coffee maker below makes this coat-rack almost useless except for very small items.


Mickey Coat-rack


All of the walls have been given a texture treatment. I don't know if this is wallpaper or plaster, but either way, it adds a nice, rustic touch. Rough-hewn wood planks circle the ceiling.


Textured Walls

Ceiling Molding


The vanity area of the bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a curtain.


Vanity Curtain


The old bathroom design featured two pedestal sinks. This was attractive, but offered very little counter space. These have been replaced by a vanity unit with two sinks. Beneath the counter are shelves and a decorative washboard. The two mirrors are framed with "branches" that match the headboard and table. The number 92 on the washboard represents the year the resort opened. The hairdryer on the wall has a small light on the bottom of the unit. This makes a perfect nightlight.


Bathroom Vanity

Washboard


Next to the sink is an open closet. There is plenty of space here to hang your clothes. Also in this area are extra bedding, an iron, ironing board, and key-locking safe.


Open Closet


The toilet and tub/shower are located in a separate room. The shower walls are covered in a material that resembles wood planks. The shower curtain features a non-Disney design of fish.


Shower

Towels

Shower Curtain


I liked this new design of the Alligator Bayou room very much. It was rustic, but didn't reek "outdoors." It still retains some sophistication. I was comfortable here and suspect most others would be too. If you have five people, or a son and daughter that require separate beds, I would highly recommend one of these units.

To see a three minute film of an Alligator Bayou room, check out my video below.



Whereas the Alligator Bayou section of the resort offers backwoods charm, the Mansion section of Port Orleans suggests stately elegance. Four massive buildings, each with a different Southern Plantation design, house the rooms here.


Mansion Building


The two queen-sized beds are draped in a non-Disney blue bedspread. A dust ruffle covers the lower mattress.


Two Queen Beds

Bedspread


Each headboard features a beautiful painting inspired by real places at Port Orleans Riverside.


Headboards

Headboard Scene

Corresponding Resort Scene

Headboard Scene

Corresponding Resort Scene


Above each bed is a simple, but elegant light fixture. Once again, they are operated by switches above the nightstand.


Bed Lighting


The nightstand is of an unassuming design which features a shelf and a drawer. A phone and a clock radio sit on top.


Nightstand

Nightstand


The window is draped in a rich fabric of elegant design. Venetian blinds add additional lighting options.


Window Treatment


A round table and two chairs offer a nice spot to set up your laptop. I was especially impressed with the chair coverings. Additional fabric hangs below the seat cushions. In the scheme of things, this extra material is completely unnecessary, but adds a stylish touch worthy of the Grand Floridian.


Table and Chairs

Chair


The chest has three drawers and a cabinet that houses a mini-refrigerator. The flat-screen TV and coffee maker sit on top.


Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


I must use this opportunity to complain. I see this time and time again in EVERY Disney resort. It is a minor inconvenience, but it annoys me.

Many small refrigerators have reversible doors. Why is it that Disney doesn't match the way the refrigerator door opens with the way the cabinet door opens? When one door opens to the left and the other to the right, it makes accessing the unit difficult. They should both open in the same direction.


Refrigerator Door


Next to the chest is a cushioned bench. Above this is a Mickey coat rack. The arrangement here works better than at the Alligator Bayou rooms as there is space beneath the coat-rack, allowing you to hang longer pieces of apparel.


Bench & Coat-rack


The picture on the wall is of Disneyland's Mark Twain riverboat.


Painting of Mark Twain


Like the Alligator Bayou rooms, the controls for the air conditioner have been moved to a wall unit.


Air Conditioning


The bathroom vanity is located behind a hand-drawn curtain.


Vanity Curtains


The vanity has a large counter-top with two sinks. Above this is a shelf and two mirrors and the room has more than adequate lighting. A hairdryer hangs on the wall.


Vanity-Sinks

Vanity-Sinks


The open closet has plenty of hanging space, an iron, ironing board, and a small safe. I have the same complaint with the safe as I do with the refrigerators. Why can't the safe door open toward the wall? By opening away from the wall, it becomes more cumbersome to use.


Open Closet

Safe


The toilet and tub/shower is located in a separate room. The shower walls are covered in a plastic material that hints at tile work.


Tub Shower

Tub Shower


I like the Mansion Rooms. They are nice. Very nice. But I didn't feel that the theming was anything out of the ordinary. Remove the picture of the Mark Twain and a few other Disney references, and I could be in any nice motor lodge around the country. On the other hand, the Alligator Bayou rooms are loaded with character. You will not find rooms like these at your local motel. Disney has taken the decorating of their rooms to a new level. The Alligator Bayou rooms are a good example of this. The Mansion rooms are nice, but nothing to write home about.

To be fair, I'm not sure what Disney could do to "plus" the Mansion rooms any more than they already have. But when you stay in an Alligator Bayou room one night and a Mansion room the next, the differences become more obvious.

To see a two and a half minute movie of a Mansion room, check out my video below.



While on my most recent trip, I also visited an Accessible Mansion room. Since the overall décor is identical to a standard Mansion room, I will only highlight what has been changed to make this room "accessible."

You may have noticed, at all of the moderate resorts, the doors are placed within an alcove. (First picture.) In order to give the Accessible rooms a little more square footage, these alcoves have been eliminated. (Second picture.)


Standard Door

Accessible Door


The doors of Accessible rooms have two peepholes -- one at a standard height and a second at a level convenient for someone sitting in a wheelchair.


Door Peephole


The beds are several inches lower than in standard rooms for easier access.


Lower Beds


The switch plate above the nightstand also has an electrical outlet so you don't have to go searching for it along the baseboard.


Electric Outlet


Between the beds and the room door is a full-length mirror.


Full Length Mirror


Standard rooms have a round table. Accessible rooms have a square table designed for those using a wheelchair.


Square Table


In making the bathroom larger and more convenient, the closet in the vanity was eliminated. In its place, a large wardrobe was placed in the bedroom area. In it are shelving, hanging space, the iron, and ironing board.


Wardrobe Cabinet

Wardrobe Cabinet


Unlike standard rooms that use a curtain to separate the vanity area from the bedroom, Accessible rooms use a solid, pocket door.


Pocket Door


The bathroom has been radically redesigned from the Standard room. First, it's one large room rather than two. This allows the toilet area more space. Handrails have also been added for support.


Toilet


There is only one sink with no cabinetry below. This frees up this lower space for those riding in a wheelchair. To make up for the lack of counter space, additional shelving has been added nearby.


Sink

Additional Shelves


The shower is designed to be "rolled" into. Dual height controls and a shower head on a flexible hose provide easy access. A fold-down chair is attached to the wall.


Roll-in Shower

Shower Controls

Shower Seat


To see a two and a half minute movie of an Accessible Mansion room, check out my video below.



That's it for my coverage of the new room decors at Port Orleans Riverside. This is a great resort and I highly recommend giving it a try sometime.



August 12, 2012

Lion King Suite - Art of Animation Resort

Jack Spence Masthead


Hey everyone!

Being the ever vigilant Disney reporter that I am, I was at the Art of Animation Resort on opening day of the Lion King section (August 10th). I wanted to share with you some pictures of the grounds and room and share my thoughts with you. Let's start with the exterior.

The two Lion King buildings are located to the north of the Finding Nemo section of the resort. When exiting Animation Hall toward The Big Blue Pool, you would turn left. The first thing you notice as you approach this area are the two rock monoliths that "hide" the staircases on the ends of the building.


Rocks Hidding Stairs


As the walkway approaches the opening between the two buildings, we see Rafiki welcoming us to his world. This is the first of many photo opportunities guests will encounter here.


Rafiki


Also from this spot, we can begin to see the wonderful graphics painted on the buildings. Elephants, giraffes, and giant acacia trees punctuate the make-believe landscape. Clouds top the building's fourth floor.


Building Graphics

Building Graphics


As we enter this African environment, we meet Mufasa surveying his kingdom atop Pride Rock.


Mufasa on Pride Rock

Mufasa on Pride Rock


Our pathway continues through the grasslands of the Serengeti. Unlike the Finding Nemo section of the resort that is busy with multiple schools of fish and the Cars section which is studded with several automobiles and "Burma Shave" signage, the Lion King section is more subdued and has the feel of nature about it. This area is far less "cluttered" which is appropriate for the theme.


Grasslands

Grasslands


In the center of the Lion King Section is perhaps the most impressive of all the iconic pieces of character art. Here we find Timon, Pumbaa, and young Simba crossing a fallen log. You can't help but start humming Hakuna Matata.


Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata


Simba

Pumbaa

Timon


After walking through more grassland, we come to the Elephant Graveyard and children's play area. This area is impressive with the skeleton of an elephant and Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed looking down on us. Through the elephant's rib bones is a small cave.


Elephant Graveyard

Elephant Graveyard

Banzai

Shenzi

Ed


I have to be honest with you; I was disappointed with this area. In acknowledging that the Lion King section of the resort does not have a pool, Disney touts that it DOES have a children's playground. But what is it that the children are supposed to play on? There is no slide. No swings. No jungle gym. And all over the grounds are signs that say, "No Climbing Please." With the exception of a VERY small cave, there is absolutely nothing for children to do here. Yes, this area is visually very pleasing. In fact, it's fantastic in that respect. But it would take a mighty big imagination to call this a playground.


No Climbing

No Climbing


Moving on we find Scar keeping a watchful eye on the Elephant Graveyard and the hyenas.


Scar

Scar


Anchoring the far end of the resort is Zazu.


Zazu


On the back side of the buildings are black & white sketches of various Lion King characters, demonstrating the "movement" of animation. There are also several signs with interesting bits of trivia regarding the movie and the resort.


Back of the Buildings

Trivia Signs


Because the Lion King section of the resort lacks a pool, this area is more subdued and quieter than the Cars and Finding Nemo sections. This can be a major plus for many people. And for those of you who do want to cool off with a refreshing dip, the Big Blue Pool and the Flippin' Fins Pool (not open yet) are close at hand.

To see a three minute movie of the Lion King section, check out my video below.



Now let's take a look inside the Lion King buildings. The guest rooms in this section are all one-bedroom suites that open onto an interior hallway. On each floor, a different painting greets guests as they enter and exit the elevators.


Lobby Artwork

Lobby Artwork

Lobby Artwork

Lobby Artwork


The hallway carpeting is full of foliage and various animal footprints.


Hallway Carpeting


When entering a suite, 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. A sleeping Simba is revealed when the bed is open.


Convertable Table/Bed

Convertable Table/Bed

Nightstand

Sleeping Simba


The dining chairs look like leaves and are stackable. This is a nice space-saving feature.


Leaf Chairs

Leaf Chairs


When the bed is put away, the graphics are cute. It seems that five birds have just landed on the branches of a tree and the nearby insects are running for their lives. More hungry birds can be seen on a nearby picture. I suppose these are appropriate graphics for the dining room - birds looking for a meal.


Table Graphics

Hungry Birds


The living room has a convertible sofa, two coffee tables, a 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.


Living Room

Living Room


Let's take these features one-by-one. The kitchenette is not intended for the cooking of full meals. It is to function as a place where you can reheat last night's pizza, keep sodas cold, and get a drink of water.

The base of the unit is designed to look like wood, perhaps a tree trunk. The upper portion represents foliage. You will see this theme repeated again and again.


Kitchenette

Kitchenette


The convertible sofa is upholstered in an orange, textured material. Behind the sofa are five, very cute giraffes. Like the fold-down bed in the dining room, this convertible sofa can easily be opened by a person with moderate strength.


Convertable Sofa

Convertable Sofa

Giraffes


A word of warning to anyone who sleeps in this room. The bed is in close proximity to both the air conditioner and the refrigerator. Both of these appliances cycle on and off continually. If you're a heavy sleeper, this isn't a problem. But if you're a light sleeper, beware.

The lamp-table next to the sofa features three "blossom" lights. A close observer will notice vines creeping up the structure.


Lamp


The two coffee tables resemble logs. On the top of the logs, the "rings" are actually the lyrics for "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and "Hakuna Matata."


Coffee Tables

Coffee Tables


I laughed out loud when I saw the chair. It resembles the "grub" that Pumbaa eats. This chair isn't particularly comfortable to sit in, but it is cute - and it tastes like chicken.


Grub Chair


The chest has two large and two small drawers. A hidden compartment contains audio/visual connections. A flat screen TV sits on top. Next to the chest is an open closet with additional storage in a lower cabinet.


Chest of Drawers

Audio/Visual Connections

Open Closet


Something I was happy to see on this trip was a small sign informing us that the TV channel lineup can be found on channel 17. No more searching randomly for something to watch.


Channel Lineup


The carpet is also very cute. More foliage, bugs, and a few hidden Mickeys can be seen. And after some deliberation, I finally determined that the ceiling lights were supposed to represent clouds.


Carpet

Ceiling Light


The "guest" bath is divided into two rooms. You enter a vanity area that contains one sink. The mirror is framed with leaves and a few bugs. A hair dryer can be found attached to the wall.


Guest Bath

Frame Bugs


Off of the vanity are the toilet and a tub/shower. The tile in the shower is especially impressive. The Pumbaa and Timon shower curtain is for sale at the Ink & Paint Shop located in Animation Hall. There is a full length mirror on the bathroom door.


Guest Bath

Guest Bath

Guest Bath

Full Length Mirror


The bedroom features a queen-size bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers and TV (identical to the living room version) and another open closet. If you look closely, you will notice that the bedspread completes the headboard design.


Bedroom

Bedroom

Headboard

Lamp

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


In the open closet you'll find an iron, ironing board, and an electronic safe. I hope in the future, Disney converts all of their in-room safes to these more modern strong boxes. I recently stayed at the Boardwalk were they still require a key.


Open Closet


A second bath is located off of the bedroom. The one-room facility features a single sink, toilet, and walk-in shower.


Bedroom Bath


To see a five minute movie of the Lion King suite, check out the video below.


I like the Lion King suite. It's relaxed and fun. I think the Cars suite is slightly better themed, but there is a comfort level about the Lion King room that works for me. I think any family would enjoy returning to this suite after a busy day in the parks.

To see my article about the overall Art of Animation resort and the Finding Nemo and Car rooms, click here.

That's it for this blog. Stay tuned for the final phase of this resort with the opening of The Little Mermaid section.



July 31, 2012

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I ended my blog with a brief description of Jiko, the Animal Kingdom Lodge's signature restaurant. Today I'll continue my tour of the grounds and amenities of the resort and discuss the attributes of a standard guest room.

The watering hole next to Jiko meanders through the jungle and eventually joins Uzima Pool. Uzima means "clear water" in Swahili. This expansive pool covers 11,000 square feet and has a 67-foot long waterslide. Uzima Pool also features zero entry access. This sloping entrance allows those riding in specially designed wheelchairs to roll directly into the pool. This is also the perfect spot for toddlers to splash and play in shallow water. Remember, diaper-aged children are required to wear swim diapers or rubber pants whenever using any Disney pool.


Uzima Pool

Uzima Pool


Next to the pool is Uzima Springs Watering Hole. This is the spot to order your favorite liquid concoction or try a specialty African libation. Numerous tables, chairs, and lounges are nearby for relaxing in the shade or sun.


Uzima Springs Watering Hole

Uzima Springs Watering Hole

Uzima Springs Watering Hole


Also near the pool is the Hakuna Matata Playground. Parents should have "no worries" when their little ones climb and swing on this modern-day jungle gym. The ground covering is soft and bouncy and will absorb most of the "ouch" when young'uns fall down.


Hakuna Matata Playground


Another savanna overlook can be found next to the playground. Flamingos are a common sight here, but other animals are often seen in the area as well.


Savanna Overlook

Savanna Overlook

Flamingos


When everyone gets tired of fun in the sun, the kids can head over to Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade and the adults can work off that meal enjoyed at Boma at Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center.


Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade

Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade

Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center

Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center


Besides Boma and Jiko, the Animal Kingdom Lodge also features a counter service eatery called The Mara. Open from 6am to 11:30 pm, this location offers grab-and-go snacks and cooked-to-order meals. For me, The Mara is perfect for breakfast as this meal is difficult to find within the theme parks unless you're attending a character breakfast. However, many others know this and The Mara can become very busy starting around 8am.

The name "Mara" comes from the Mara River and the Masai Mara National Reserve located in south-western Kenya. The clever mural that lines the walls of the dining room represents this Serengeti ecosystem.

To see the current menu for The Mara, click here. The Mara seats 186 guests.


The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara


To see an overview of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, click on the video below.



As with all of the deluxe resorts, the Animal Kingdom Lodge has a special lounge dedicated to those staying in suites or who are willing to pay extra to partake in the services offered at this lounge. Here, this retreat is called Kilimanjaro Club and it is located on the sixth floor of the resort, overlooking the lobby.


Kilimanjaro Club

Kilimanjaro Club


The Kilimanjaro Club offers dedicated concierge services. These cast members will help you plan your vacation as well as make dining, show, and tour reservations. In addition, Kilimanjaro Club Level guests can book a special safari adventure not available to other guests.

The Sunrise Safari lasts approximately two hours and takes guests on a 45 minute tour of the Animal Kingdom's African ecosystem. Along the way, a guide will be on hand to answer questions and provide information not usually disseminated on the regular Kilimanjaro Safaris. Afterwards, a lavish buffet breakfast is presented at Pizzafari. This tour is booked at the Club Level Concierge Desk and is subject to availability.

For those of you not staying in a Club Level room, don't despair. Disney offers another program exclusive to Animal Kingdom Lodge guest only. The Wanyama Safari offers guests a three hour adventure where they will ride in trucks through the various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge. They will also have the opportunity to interact with Animal Program Team members and learn about the various creatures of the Lodge and the attention and care Disney gives them. The adventure concludes with a multi-course dinner at Jiko. This tour is booked at the Main Lobby Concierge Desk and is subject to availability.

This next picture is of the Club Level Concierge Desks.


Club Level Concierge Desks


The Kilimanjaro Club also offers a continental breakfast each morning, cookies, sodas, and other treats in the afternoon, and hot & cold appetizers and wine in the evening. Check with the concierge for times.


Kilimanjaro Club

Kilimanjaro Club


To see a short video of the Kilimanjaro Club, click on the picture below.



Eighty percent of the rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge look out onto one of the resort's four savannas. Those that don't have views of a savanna look over the pool area or parking lot. Room rates are appropriately set. To see current prices, click here.

The resort's basic shape was inspired by a traditional African "kraal" (or corral). This centuries old village design created a circular wall of protection for its inhabitants and animals. This defensive layout can easily be seen on the resort map below.


AKL Map


The resort has four wings, or trails. They are named Ostrich, Giraffe, Zebra, and Kudu. In order to maximize savanna views, the Zebra and Kudu Trails are especially long. If you have mobility issues, be sure to let the cast member know when making your reservation and again when you check in.

Standard rooms are located on floors 1through 4 and measure 344 square feet. Deluxe rooms and converted DVC rooms can be found on floors 5 and 6. I recently stayed in a standard room and will be describing its attributes to you now.

Since the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort, all rooms open onto an inside corridor. Many people prefer this arrangement as it affords more privacy and cuts down on noise.


Trail Corridor


Entering the room brings you into a short hallway. Off of this are a closet, the bathroom, and a door to the adjoining room (should you request connecting rooms.)


Room Hallway


The closet is decent sized. Inside are a luggage rack, a fold-up crib, extra bedding, an iron, and a wall safe big enough to hold a laptop computer. Robes are provided in Club Level rooms.


AKL Room Closet

AKL Room Closet

AKL Room Closet


The sink area of the bathroom is large and well lit. The marble countertop cradles two basins with pewter faucets. A large mirror is framed in dark wood and a hairdryer hangs on a side wall. The wallpaper in this room is especially fun as it displays a stylized colonial African map with steam trains, propeller driven airplanes, and a collection of animals.


AKL Bathroom

AKL Bathroom

AKL Wallpaper


Guests staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are treated to H20+ products such as shampoo and conditioner. An enhanced selection of toiletries is provided to Club Level Room guests. Some of these might include: Collagen Conditioner, Revitalizing Shampoo, Body Wash, Hydrating Body Butter, Foot Rub, and a dental package.


H20+ Products

H20+ Products


The toilet and shower/bath is located in an adjacent room. The wall behind the shower features large, earth-tone colored tiles with one row displaying vividly colored African designs. The shower curtain continues the African theme with tribal patterns and animals. The towels are fluffy and absorbent.


AKL Tub-Shower-Toilet

AKL Tub-Shower-Toilet


The bedroom is large and includes two queen sized beds. The wall color is tan and dark woods make up the bulk of the furniture. Much of this furniture was handmade in Zimbabwe. The carpet hints at an animal pattern.


AKL Bedroom


The beds are comfortable and covered in a brightly colored spread African textile designs. The headboard is intricately carved and inspired by African butterfly masks. The sheer material draped above the headboard symbolizes the mosquito netting so necessary when sleeping outside while on safari. Between the beds is a nightstand with a phone and clock-iPod docking station.


AKL Bed

AKL Headboard

AKL Night Stand


On the wall opposite the beds are the other furnishings of the room. A small chest houses a mini-refrigerator and on top is the coffee maker and ice bucket. Although I don't drink coffee and never used this appliance, I felt its position was a little low for convenient use.


AKL Furniture

AKL Coffee Maker

AKL mini-refrigerator


The flat-screen TV is contained in a handsome chest of drawers. A DVD player and audio/visual connections are located on the open shelf below. If you bring your own cables, you can playback each day's videos on the TV.


AKL Chest of Drawers and TV


A table, two chairs, pole lamp, and mirror are positioned in the corner of the room. Free WiFi is now standard at Disney World resorts and this table doubles nicely as a desk.


AKL Table and Chairs


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



Of course, the real reason to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is to view the animals. All rooms have a long, narrow balcony with a table and two chairs. Please note, the savannas are under constant camera surveillance. It is possible for these cameras to inadvertently see into your room. To insure privacy, keep your drapes drawn during times of undress.


AKL Balcony

AKL Balcony

AKL Balcony


Here are a couple of pictures taken from my balcony.


AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View


At night, the savannas are bathed in a soft glow that resembles moonlight. Since I often have trouble sleeping, I've been known to step out onto my balcony at two in the morning. Sure enough, I can often see animals sleeping just below me in the peaceful surroundings. This is truly a magical moment.

Disney realizes that guests want to be able to see the animals every time they step out onto their balcony. But this just isn't possible for a number of reasons. After a lot of consideration, it was decided that in the morning, most people are hurriedly getting ready for a day in the parks. They are showering, dressing, and thinking about breakfast. Animals are not the first thing on their minds at this time of day. So it is in the morning that the animals will be most scarce.

Each day at 6am, the animals are encouraged to return to an enclosed area backstage for general care and treatment. And while the vets and other experts are tending to the animals, the horticulturists and groundskeepers use this time to maintain the savannas. By noon, all of the animals are returned to the grounds and will remain available for viewing until 6am the next day. However, the animals are allowed to roam freely and can wander wherever they want within a savanna. Disney employs "tricks" (like placing food all around the savannas) to entice the creatures to venture near your room, but this doesn't always work.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge has its own set of animals. They are not shared with the Animal Kingdom theme park. On occasion, a particular animal might be moved from one location to another, but overall, they call either the Lodge or the Park home.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House & Kidani Village) has four savannas, Uzima, Arusha, Sunset, and Pembe. Each is approximately 10 acres in size. These savannas are a representation of the plains used by migrating herds of the reserves in Zululand. Disney does not specify which animals will be appearing in a given savanna as their location changes frequently. This is done to accommodate the needs of the animals and the vets and to keep the savannas ever changing for the benefit of resort guests.

Here is a list of animals that might be seen while staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge:

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
African Spoonbill
Ankole-Watusi Cattle
Blue Crane
Blue Wildebeest
Common Eland
Common Shelduck
East African Crowned Crane
Egyptian Goose
Giraffe
Grant's Zebra
Greater Flamingo
Greater Kudu
Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
Helmeted Guineafowl
Impala
Marabou Stork
Nyala
Okapi (Pembe Savannah only)
Ostrich
Pink-Backed Pelican
Radiated Tortoise (Found outside of the Sanaa guest waiting area located at Kidani Village)
Red River Hog
Roan Antelope
Sable Antelope
Thomson's Gazelle
Vulture
Vulturine Guineafowl
Waterbuck

Is the Animal Kingdom Lodge right for you?

That depends. If you LOVE animals and are willing to spend the extra money to live among them for a couple of days, then by all means, book a room here. Even the rooms that overlook the parking lot and pool have easy access to several animal overlooks so the creatures are never far away.

But if the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at the Animal Kingdom fulfills your animal needs, then there might be better choices when it comes to a deluxe resort at Disney. The most common complaint I hear about the Animal Kingdom Lodge is that it is so far away from everything. If you don't have a car, you must take a bus everywhere you go. All of the other deluxe resorts offer monorail or boat transportation to at least one park - a far more "romantic" way to travel.

Last month, I wrote an article about Golden Oak, the new community being built at Walt Disney World. For that press event, Disney provided me with free lodging at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I used this opportunity to my advantage and gathered information for this blog while staying there. Disney's generosity did not influence my story and my opinions are my own.

I like the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Whenever I have out-of-town guests visiting, I make sure to book a meal at Boma so they can experience this excellent buffet, see the splendid architecture, and gaze upon the magnificent animals. This is truly a unique resort and it's full of Disney magic.



July 30, 2012

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


Animal Kingdom Lodge Sign


The Animal Kingdom Lodge presented the Imagineers with a challenge. You don't come across too many massive six story buildings out on the Serengeti. So how do you disguise an enormous hotel to look like an authentic, intimate structure that you might actually find someplace in East Africa? The answer to this problem was twofold.

First, you use landscaping to camouflage and conceal. Trees and shrubbery hide most of the building's outward appearance as you approach the hotel. From the moment you pass the guard shack, you are surrounded by a lush, tropical forest. Your view is completely shrouded in greenery. Even as you near the hotel, if you use self-parking, you will not see the Animal Kingdom Lodge until the Imagineers deem it appropriate. You must first exit your vehicle and take a winding set of stairs through additional jungle before you see your vacation home. In fact, more than 170,000 shrubs and trees have been planted along this route to help set the mood.


Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge


If you plan on letting Bell Services take care of your luggage and drive to the resort's porte-cochère and drop-off area, you only see a fraction of the actual building. And what you do see is deceiving. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a six story building. However, the Imagineers placed the lobby and the main entrance on the third floor. The first and second floors are below ground level on the front side of the building. In addition, the sixth floor, when viewed from the front, resembles a thatched roof. Both of these factors greatly hide the massiveness of the structure.


Animal Kingdom Lodge Main Entrance

Animal Kingdom Lodge Main Entrance


A small hint of the details to come can be seen on the resort's driveway. "Fire Lane" and "No Parking" signs are painted on the pavement in a freehand, African style.


Fire Lane


The colors of the Animal Kingdom Lodge are that of the earth. Reddish browns, tans, and ochre walls resemble mud that has baked in the sun to create bricks and stucco. Along the pathway that leads to the resort's bus stop, simple African reliefs adorn the walls.


Walkway to the Bus Stop

African Reliefs

Animal Kingdom Bus Stop


Before I go any further, I should probably mention that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually two resorts in one. Opening on April 16, 2001, the first phase of this resort's existence featured standard rooms and suites open to all guests. On May 1, 2009, a second resort opened nearby that would offer Disney Vacation Club (DVC) studio units, and 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartment-like homes. With this addition, the respective resorts were given the additional names Jambo House (this blog) and Kidani Village to differentiate between them. Jambo means "hello" in Swahili.


Jambo House Sign

Kidani Village Sign


Although there is a pathway connecting Jambo House and Kidani Village, it is about a half mile long and much of it runs through the parking lots. In my opinion, it's worth avoiding. At one time, a complicated method of using theme park buses offered transportation between the two. Now, a dedicated shuttle van runs between the resorts from 8am to 10pm. This greatly simplifies the trip.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge was designed by architect Peter Dominick. You might recognize his style as he is also responsible for the designs of Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Grand Californian. Vast, open lobbies, surrounded by balconies, create a stunning and impressive first impression.


AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby


The massive chandeliers are designed to look like Maasai shields. Used not only as a defensive weapon by the people of Kenya, these shields are also used to express art and culture. Usually made of buffalo hide, these shields traditionally are painted with only three colors. Black identifies lineage and the red and white denotes the age and geographic location of the owner. The geometric patterns painted on the shields also have special meaning: the ones marked with circles signify the Kisongo province of Kenya, the squares denote the Loita province, and the triangles are used by Ol bruggo province.


African Chandelier


The Animal Kingdom Lodge houses the second largest hotel collection of artwork in the world. Many of these pieces can be seen in the lobby, scattered among the seating areas.


African Art

African Art

African Art


The lobby flooring is made of teak, a tropical hardwood native to Asia but now cultivated in Africa. Embedded in the wood planks are more works of art. Five bronze medallions, designed by West African artist and storyteller, Baba Wague' Diakite', depict man and animals and their relation to the earth. The first and largest medallion measures eight feet in diameter. The others measure four feet across.


Bronze Floor Art


I really don't know anything about this next piece of art, but every time I see it I think of "The Lion King" film where Simba and Nala are raised higher and higher into the air by the various African animals.


African Art

Scene from the Lion King


One of the most impressive lobby works of art is the Ijele mask. This 16 foot high, 240 pound mask is worn on the head of one man and the success of his ceremonial dance brings good luck and prestige to the entire community. This example was the first of its kind ever to leave Nigeria. The entire story of the Ijele mask is told via signboards surrounding the piece.


Ijele Mask


The lobby balconies are adorned with tusk-like braces and antelope railings. At the top of each of the supportive columns which surround the room are Grand Bedu mask which stare down onto the guests below. Bedu masks are found throughout the Bondoukou region of the Ivory Coast. They are associated with New Year's festivities and symbolize the transfer of one year to the next.


Tusk Support

Antelope Railing

Grand Bedu mask

Grand Bedu mask


A firepit provides a tribe with a means of cooking and staying warm. But it also offers a pleasant venue for community storytelling. In the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, Ogun's Firepit offers guests its own version of this tribal setting. This is a wonderful spot to plan your day in the morning or recollect about your adventures in the evening. Ogun is an African god who presides over iron working, hunting, politics and war.


Ogun's Firepit

Ogun's Firepit


An updated version of the firepit is available for children as they wait for their parents to check-in. Hand-carved wooden stools from the Ivory Coast surround a 21st century, electronic "firepit."


Children's TV


One of the most striking features of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby is the fifth floor suspension bridge. This elevated platform provides wonderful views of the Arusha Savanna and the animals that roam just beyond the floor-to-ceiling, vine-covered windows. A note of caution to those of you with acrophobia, you might want to skip this bridge.


Bridge

Bridge

Bridge

Window


In the afternoon, African cast members are on hand in the lobby with additional treasures. Jewelry, wood carvings, flags, skulls, and more are on display and these folk love nothing more than talking about their homeland and sharing bits of trivia with guests. Stop by and pick these cast member's brains. You'll be glad you did.


African Cast Member and Artifacts


The lobby furnishings were also chosen with great care. Each of the six seating areas has two shelter sofas and two to four overstuffed chairs upholstered in the muted colors of the savanna. The coffee and end tables are constructed of alder wood and mahogany, their tops covered in lapis, stone and metal. A number of torchères circle the room. These artistic, nine-foot tall lamps resemble bundled branches and their flickering light adds a bit of rustic charm to the lobby.


AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby


The front desk is also quite beautiful and artistically designed. A low ceiling of twigs provides a more intimate feeling than the grand lobby. The back wall is draped with African inspired quilts.


Front Desk


Next to the front desk is Sunset Overlook. When the main lobby gets a bit too hectic and noisy, slip into this mental oasis. Designed to resemble an explorer's retreat, this spot offers comfortable couches, chairs, and more African artwork. This is the perfect spot for a quiet and relaxed conversation. When you visit, be sure to spend some time examining the photographs and artifacts. A nearby balcony offers views of the Sunset Savanna.


Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook


On the other side of the lobby is Zawadi Marketplace. Open from 7:30am to 11pm, this is the spot to pick up Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room.

Zawadi Marketplace is also one of my favorite Disney hotel shops. The reason? Because this shop sells more than just Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room. A fantastic collection of African art, jewelry, and clothing is also offered here. Now I'm not really a fan of African art, jewelry, and clothing, but it's refreshing to have something other than Mickey and princess merchandise to browse through.

Be sure to notice the lion sculpture found behind one of the counters.


Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace


At the back of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby are two staircases that take guests to the Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook. Here at ground level, you can wander through an outcropping of boulders and discover a number of viewing spots ideal for animal encounters. Knowledgeable cast members are often on hand to answer questions about the creatures who call this savanna home. Arusha Rock was named for the volcanic landscape between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru.


Stairway to Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

AKL Exterior

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook


The Arusha Rock Firepit can also be found in this outdoor area. Lit each evening around dusk, this is another wonderful spot to relax and unwind. In addition, storytellers can be found here with folktales of their homelands.


Arusha Rock Firepit


On each side of the lobby are patios that offer shaded overlooks that peer onto the Arusha Savanna and firepit.


Patio Exterior View

Patio Overlook


To give you some idea of the lengths that the Imagineers went to in an effort to create a place where both humans and their animal neighbors would feel at home, let me provide you with a few facts:

" The various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge contain 130 Sand Live Oak trees
" More than 35,000 shrubs and bushes were planted in the savannas
" There are 165 varieties of shrubs and bushes
" Most of the plants came from California, Arizona, and Africa
" A number of plants were grown from seeds brought over from Africa
" Greenery was transplanted from the Caribbean and Pop Century Resorts as well as the Animal Kingdom theme park
" Approximately 24 miles of irrigation pipe was installed
" Approximately 60,000 square feet of artificial rockwork was created

Back in the main building, Victoria Falls is the place to have an evening cocktail. Open from 4pm to midnight, this watering hole is located on the second floor off of the lobby and overlooks Boma - Flavors of Africa. This spot can be reached via stairs from the first and third floors. For those of you in wheelchairs and ECV's, a ramp is available from the third to the second floor. In addition, a hallway leading from the elevator's second floor stop leads to this location.


Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls


Many people, myself included, believe that Boma - Flavors of Africa (known simply as Boma to most) is the best buffet to be found at Walt Disney World. Located on the first floor of the resort, this establishment serves a wide range of African cuisines at dinner. From all corners of the continent, the chefs have brought together a multitude of flavors, but nothing so exotic as to intimidate the picky eater. The carved meats are sumptuous. And I've heard several vegetarians say that no place else on property offers them so many choices. Breakfast presents a more traditional, American meal.

The word "boma" refers to a rural African settlement surrounded by a fence made of sticks and mud. It would often act as a fort and within its boundaries were huts for its human residents and other areas allocated for livestock. At Disney's Boma, stick fencing can be seen throughout the restaurant as it separates the various dining areas from one another. Beneath the "huts," guests are offered the tribal selections of the day. A show kitchen and rotisserie fueled by a wood-burning grill add to the atmosphere.

If I had to find something negative to say about Boma it would be that it is crowded and noisy due to its popularity. Also, the wooden chairs are a little hard on the behind. But other than that, I love this place. The positives of Boma far outweigh these minor annoyances.

The restaurant is open for breakfast from 7:30am to 11am. Dinner is offered from 4:30pm to 9:30pm. Although it might be possible to snag a walk-up reservation, you are highly advised to book a table here months in advance. Boma can seat 270 guests. To see current selections and prices, click here.


Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant


Next door to Boma is Jiko - The Cooking Place (known simply as Jiko to most). This signature restaurant is comparable in caliber to The Flying Fish at The Boardwalk and Citricos at The Grand Floridian. Jiko means "cooking place" in Swahili, thus the restaurant's subtitle "The Cooking Place".

Jiko serves modern African cuisine infused with flavors of India and the Mediterranean. Two, large wood burning ovens sit in the middle of the restaurant. This prominent location allows guests to witness flatbreads and other menu items be prepared first hand. The restaurant boasts an "all South African" wine list, one of the largest in North America. In addition, all of the servers at Jiko have completed at least their Level I Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

When entering Jiko, a bar can be seen to the right. This is the spot to relax if you arrive before your reservation time. Next to the bar is an imaginative floor to ceiling wine rack. Behind this wall of wine is the private Cape Town Wine Room which can be reserved for special events and parties. The Cape Town Wine Room can seat up to forty guests.


Jiko Bar

Cape Town Wine Room


The restaurant's décor is simple and clean and uses a warm color pallet. The support columns are adorned with rings which symbolize those worn around women's necks in some African tribes. The sweeping back wall represents the sky and changes colors during the evening. This color transformation represents the passage of time, sunrise to sunset, and completes this display three times each night. Stylized bird sculptures help set the mood of the Serengeti and can conjure up images of The Lion King movie's opening scenes.


Jiko Dining Room

Jiko Dining Room

Jiko Dining Room


A number of tables sit next to oversized windows which look onto a pool of water which represents an African watering hole.


Jiko Dining Room

Watering Hole


In an effort to maintain some sort of decorum, Jiko does have a dress code. Resort casual is the requested attire. Not allowed are: Tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs or torn clothing. T-shirts are now permitted however offensive language or graphics are not acceptable.

Jiko is a popular establishment and reservations are highly recommended. These can be arranged by calling 407-WDW-DINE. To see current menu and prices, click here. Jiko can seat 235 guests.

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



May 15, 2012

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Thanks for checking back for Part Two of my review of the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Let's get started.

The Grand Floridian has two swimming pools. The Courtyard Pool is the larger of the two (at 300,000 gallons) and is the more relaxed and dignified of the two. It is flanked by the Main Building and three of the lodge buildings. The Courtyard Pool is open 24 hours, however, it is NOT manned by lifeguards at any time.


Courtyard Pool

Courtyard Pool

Courtyard Pool


Courtyard Pool Bar sits adjacent to the pool. Besides the usual selection of Coke products and alcoholic beverages, this spot also serves turkey, ham & cheese, and PB&J sandwiches. Nearby tables offer a wonderful environment to sit and enjoy an alfresco lunch.


Courtyard Pool Bar

Courtyard Pool Bar


Near the pool is a lovely fountain. This water feature offers great photo opportunities.


Fountain

Fountain


The newer, Beach Pool can be found south of the resort on the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon and is the better place for energetic kids. An in-ground fountain, waterfall, and water slide add a lot of excitement that the Courtyard Pool lacks. In addition, the Beach Pool also offers zero access entry for toddlers and those in wheelchairs. Unlike the Courtyard Pool, the Beach Pool is manned by lifeguards during most of the day. However, this pool is not open 24 hours. Check with the concierge desk for current times.


Beach Pool

Beach Pool

Children's Play Area


Drinks and sandwiches are available at the nearby Beach Pool Bar. Private cabanas can be rented through the hotel's concierge desk. Besides having upgraded lounge chairs, the cabanas offer televisions, refrigerators, and a host of other amenities. This is truly the way to pamper yourself.


Beach Pool Bar

Cabana


The white sandy beach that surrounds the Grand Floridian is the perfect place to relax in the sun and watch the Magic Kingdom ferry boats sail by in the distance. Covered lounge chairs dot the beach and add a touch of class found nowhere else on property. Please be aware, there is no swimming in any of the Disney lakes and canals. This is also the spot to watch the Electric Water Pageant presented each night at 9:15.


Grand Floridian Beach

Grand Floridian Beach

Grand Floridian Beach


It's interesting to note, the sugary sand of the Grand Floridian beach was found beneath the muck that was once a swamp before Disney cleared this area to create Seven Seas Lagoon.

As you may or may not know, Disney is currently building a new Disney Vacation Club (DVC) just south of the Grand Floridian that will feature the same style and architecture as its nearby neighbor. The resort is schedule to open in late 2013.


Grand Floridian DVC Concept Art

Grand Floridian DVC Concept Art

Grand Floridian DVC Under Construction

Grand Floridian DVC Under Construction

Grand Floridian DVC Under Construction


Because of this construction, the Grand Floridian Spa is temporarily closed and will not reopen until sometime later next year. However, the Grand Floridian Health Club remains open and offers state-of-the-art cardiovascular and weight-training machines 24 hours a day.


Health Club

Health Club

Health Club

Health Club


Toward the north end of the Grand Floridian, located next to the Conch Key and Sugar Loaf Key lodge buildings, is the Captain's Shipyard. This is the spot to rent a pontoon boat for a leisurely afternoon on the water or a mini-speed boat for zippy trip over the waves. Fishing excursions can also be arranged and leave from this spot

For a truly distinctive Walt Disney World experience, consider chartering the Grand 1 yacht birthed at the Captain's Shipyard. This craft is 52 feet in length and can accommodate 18 people (17 if a butler is in service). This is a wonderful way to enjoy an elegant night out on the water and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Of course, when cruising aboard the Grand 1, you would want more than just a boat ride, so Disney has created a number of packages that include all sorts of wonderful hors d'oeuvres and beverages to tempt your appetite. For more information as to what is available, click here.


Captain's Shipyard

Captain's Shipyard


There are a number of restaurants at the Grand Floridian, each worthy of a full review. However, due to a lack of time and space, I'm just going to briefly mention them here.

I'm often asked, "What's your favorite Disney World Restaurant?" My answer always begins as follows, "If you don't count Victoria & Albert's, it's""

But if you do count Victoria & Albert's, then this is hands down the finest restaurant at Walt Disney World - and probably all of Central Florida.

Victoria & Albert's, or Vicky & Al's as we regulars like to call it (just kidding), has won the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award for the last eleven years. At this Grand Floridian restaurant, guests enjoy a two to three hour culinary experience within an elegant dining room. As your butlers tend to your every need, a harpist serenades in the background. Imported crystal, fine china, personalized menus, long-stem roses for the ladies, and a host of other elegant touches make an evening here an experience to remember for years to come.

Located on the second floor of the Grand Floridian, Victoria & Albert's offers a prix fixe menu that includes six courses of sumptuous food served at a luxuriously slow pace. Nothing is left to chance and the service is flawless. Chef Scott Hunnel selects seasonal foods from around the world and the menu changes from day to day. After your meal, you can select a brandy or cognac from the well-stocked cordial cart.

Beginning on June 1, 2012, the price will be $135.00 per guest with wine pairings adding another $65.00 per guest. (Pricing does not include tax and gratuity.)

Dinner jackets are required for gentlemen (tie optional) and dresses or pants ensembles are recommended for ladies. Valet Parking is available at no additional cost. Children under the age of 10 will not be served.

Victoria & Albert's is a fantastic restaurant. If you have a special birthday or anniversary coming up, think seriously about splurging and giving this restaurant a try. You will not be disappointed. Reservations are an absolute must.


Victoria & Albert's

Victoria & Albert's

Victoria & Albert's

Victoria & Albert's


I'm often asked, "What's your favorite Disney World Restaurant?" My answer always begins as follows, "If you don't count Victoria & Albert's, it's""

Well, if you don't count Victoria & Albert's, I have two favorite restaurants at WDW, and one of them is at the Grand Floridian. In fact, it's located right next door to Victoria & Albert's - Citricos.

The Citricos dining room is elegant, yet playful. There is something fun about this spot, yet it reeks of old-world sophistication. The tables and chairs are traditionally styled, yet the surroundings are whimsical. It all combines wonderfully and I feel very comfortable here.


Citricos

Citricos

Citricos


When Citricos first opened, the menu was to be Mediterranean inspired with all dishes containing some sort of citrus flavoring - thus the name Citricos. But today, this citrus "gimmick" has been down played and now the restaurant focuses on American dishes inspired by the cuisines of Provençe, Tuscany and the Spanish Riviera. Oak-grilled steaks, pastas, seafood, and their signature braised veal shank are just a few of the delights to tempt you - all prepared in an open show kitchen. To see the current menu, click here.


Citricos Kitchen

Citricos Kitchen


Citricos is considered a "Signature" restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan and requires two credits. This restaurant is open for dinner only. The dress code is Resort Casual. Not allowed in the restaurant are tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs, or torn clothing. Reservations are highly recommended. In addition, Citricos has a one-day cancellation policy. When booking, guests must provide a credit card to hold the reservation. If the guest cancels within one day of the reservation or if the dining party is a no show, a fee of $10 per person will be charged to the credit card used at the time of booking.

Narcoossee's is the other "Signature" restaurant at the Grand Floridian and all of the above Citricos caveats apply here as well.

Narcoossee's is the only Grand Floridian restaurant not located in the Main Building of the resort. It can be found on the water's edge of Seven Seas Lagoon near the boat dock.


Narcoossee's


Narcoossee's has a subtle nautical/New England theme. Dark wood flooring, white paneled walls, shutters, and seating that resemble cruise ship deck chairs combine to create a casual environment.


Narcoossee's

Narcoossee's

Narcoossee's


Narcoossee's is a seafood restaurant and offers such specialties as seared-grilled scallops, crab-crusted halibut, grilled wild king salmon, and steamed whole Maine lobster. However, beef, chicken, and vegetable dishes are also available so everyone should be able to find something to their liking. To see the current menu, click here.


Window tables at Narcoossee's offer wonderful views of Seven Seas Lagoon, Cinderella Castle, and the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks. But be warned, guests not seated at a window table will venture out onto the verandah shortly before the fireworks begin and obstruct the view of those sitting next to a window.

You might be interested to learn, Narcoossee's has a small stage located above the bar. When the restaurant first opened, combo groups would entertain guests from this perched area. However, there are no "soft" surfaces at Narcoossee's and the music was overpowering. Eventually, the live entertainment was discontinued.


Narcoossee's Bandstand


I have eaten at Narcoossee's a number of times. I have always been pleased with my food and service. However, I still find this eatery a little too noisy for my taste. When I'm paying Narcoossee's prices, I prefer a quieter atmosphere.

The Grand Floridian Café is located on the first floor of the Main Building and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This charming spot offers a more casual atmosphere than Citricos or Narcoossee's, yet it still radiates elegance and charm. Fresh roses adorn each table and massive, lace curtained windows look out onto the manicured gardens. Flowered wallpaper, marble table tops, and delicate cushioned chairs complete the mood.

The Grand Floridian Café offers American favorites at all three meals. I especially like the Grand Sandwich (open-faced hot turkey, ham, bacon and tomato, with a rich Boursin cheese sauce and Fried onion straws) served at lunch. It's loaded with calories and loaded with taste.


Grand Sandwich


Reservations are suggested, but often not necessary. To see all of the Grand Floridian Café menus, click here.


Grand Floridian Café

Grand Floridian Café

Grand Floridian Café


Character dining is also available at the Grand Floridian. 1900 Park Fare serves a Supercalifragilistic Buffet Breakfast from 8am to 11am where Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, and other Wonderland friends stop by your table to say hello and pose for pictures. From 4:30pm to 8:30pm Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner offers a fairy tale-inspired evening meal. Cinderella, Prince Charming, and their storybook friends stroll through the restaurant and chat with guest. All meals are served buffet style.


1900 Park Fare

1900 Park Fare

1900 Park Fare


Dominating the upper portion of the restaurant is Big Bertha. This organ was built over a hundred years ago in Paris by Gavoli & Co. and used from 1909 to 1955 in Ramona Park, an amusement park in Grand Rapids, MI. The instruments include pipes, drums, bells, cymbals, castanets, and a xylophone played by a piano-roll score. Periodically during your meal, a short concert is played to the delight of children and adults.


Big Bertha


The 1900 Park Fare Character Meals are intended for children or for those adults who love characters and never miss an opportunity to interact with them. The atmosphere here is festive (or maybe chaotic would be a more appropriate word. LOL). The energy level is high and so is the noise level. A great time can be had here, but you need to be aware that this restaurant does not offer an intimate experience. It offers "fun" in abundance! This being a Character Meal, reservations are absolutely mandatory! A one-day cancellation policy is in effect here.

Gasparilla Grill & Games is a 24 hour, counter service restaurant that offers freshly made sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, and pizzas. Also available are a large selection of beverages, sweets, fruits, and other snacks. Gasparilla is located near the Captain's Shipyard. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. Also, a number of arcade games are at hand for the young ones.


Gasparilla Grill

Gasparilla Grill


Mizner's Lounge is located on the second floor of the lobby, just behind the bandstand. This spot is open from 4:30pm to midnight and offers light snacks, a full bar, and vintage ports and brandies. In the evening, this lounge is dark and cozy and allows for intimate conversations. The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra adds to the mood with their ragtime and big band melodies.


Mizner's Lounge

Mizner's Lounge


The Garden View Lounge plays host to two tea services. From 10:30am to noon, "My Disney Girl's Perfectly Princess Tea Party" is held for the enjoyment of young ladies ages 3 to 11. At this event, a character named Rose Petal plays host and entertains with stories and songs. The girls are made to feel like princesses and are presented with an 18-inch My Disney Girl doll dressed in a matching Princess Aurora gown with accessories, her own ribbon tiara, princess link bracelet, fresh rose, special princess scrapbook page, and a "Best Friend" certificate. The price is $250 for one child and one adult. Additional children run $165 each. Reservations are mandatory.

From 2pm to 5pm, guests can engage in an age-old tradition and partake in a traditional English-style tea. As you might expect, a large selection of tea is available and served "very properly." A number of other menu options are on hand to accompany your tea like finger sandwiches, scones, jam tarts, strawberries and cream, pastries, and an array of English cheeses. I know that many of you might be put off by the "formality" of this event, but I can assure you, Disney always does everything possible to make their guests comfortable in every situation and this dining experience is no exception.


Garden View Lounge

Garden View Lounge


Believe me when I say, I've only scratched the surface when talking about the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. I can think of a dozen other items of interest that I didn't mention, but there simply isn't room in my blog to do this resort justice.

The Grand Floridian is the most expensive resort at Walt Disney World. Is it worth it? Maybe. That depends on your taste and especially your budget. I'm certainly glad I've experienced this resort several times. It was nice to spend a few days in the lap of luxury. But I can't say I'd want the Grand Floridian as a steady diet. Often when I've been on an extended cruise, eating rich food every night, I can't wait to get off of the ship and have a meal at Burger King. That's not to say I didn't enjoy everything about the cruise, but I like variety as well. Disney World has a lot of great and unique places to stay. For me, I enjoy the All Stars, the Grand Floridian, and everything in-between.

For more information about the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, check out the AllEars Fact Sheet by clicking here.

As always, I have created a video of the Grand Floridian Resort. Enjoy.




May 14, 2012

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


Have you ever wondered why the body of water in front of the Magic Kingdom is called the Seven Seas Lagoon?

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 the Imagineers had a five-year plan that called for additional hotels to be built along the shores of the lake and lagoon. These included the Persian, Venetian, and Thai/Asian resorts. When added to the existing Polynesian Resort, these hotels would give the area an international flavor; thus, the name Seven Seas Lagoon was born. But for a number of reasons, these other resorts never materialized. For many years you could see a square piece of land jutting out into the water that was earmarked for the Thai/Asian Resort.


Seven Seas Lagoon


A third Disney hotel, the Golf Resort (now the Shades of Green) opened in 1973. But other than that, Disney failed to build any new resorts during the first decade of operation.

In the early 80's, Disney fought off several hostile takeovers. To the company's rescue came the Bass Brothers of Texas and Roy E. Disney (son of founder Roy O. Disney), and in 1984 they hired Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to turn the corporation around. One of the many directives the new executives were given was to develop the vast, unused acreage of Disney World.

Any casual observer could see that other companies were cashing in on Disney World's success by building their own hotels and motels at the Mouse's doorstep. During this same time, Disney's three existing hotels were running at near capacity year-round. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that one of the first things that should be done was to build more Disney owned and operated resorts on their property.

Since the original five-year plan called for three more resorts to be built on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, this was the logical place to start construction. However, Epcot had opened in 1982 and featured an International playground called World Showcase. This pretty much ruined the idea of building "international" hotels anywhere else on property. Disney didn't want their guests to experience the same sights and sounds in two separate areas, so a different concept needed to be developed. To help this new direction take shape, the architectural firm of Wimberly, Allison, Tong, & Goo (WATG) of Newport Beach, CA was hired and told to come up with a "deluxe" hotel that could be considered the "flagship" resort of Walt Disney World. For inspiration, the design team visited the Bellevue Biltmore in Clearwater, FL, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI, and the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, CA. In the end, a luxurious Victorian era hotel grew on the west shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and has been wowing guests since its opening on July 1, 1988. Here are some construction photos I snapped in1986.


Grand Floridian Under Consturction

Grand Floridian Under Consturction

Grand Floridian Under Consturction


This aerial shot shows how the original square plot of land was modified slightly for the Grand Floridian.


Aerial Shot of the Grand Floridian


This next picture is of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. The similarities are striking.


Hotel Del Coronado


Guests arrive at the Grand Floridian via Floridian Way. Beneath the porte-cochère guests are greeted by bell services personnel who will help them with their luggage and direct them to the lobby. Also in this area are a lovely carriage and a 1929 Cadillac that can be rented for weddings and other special occasions. Behind the Cadillac in a secluded courtyard is a topiary of Mary Poppins. This is an uncrowded spot that allows for great photos.


Grand Floridian Entrance

Grand Floridian Entrance

Bell Services

Carriage

1929 Cadillac

Mary Poppins


The check-in desk is located just inside the main doors and to the right. The concierge desk is located to the left.


Main Doors

Check-In Desk


When entering the hotel's five-story lobby for the first time, most guests look up in awe. The delicate balustrades, the stained glass ceiling insets, the massive chandeliers, the ornate furniture, and the abundant artwork combine beautifully and make you long for a bygone era when women wore bustles and men donned top hats. But then you come to your senses and realize that you can still enjoy this lush atmosphere in your shorts and sandals as the Grand Floridian may be elegant, but it allows for 21st century theme park casualness.


Lobby

Lobby


The recently added marble floors greet guests with the resorts "GF" logo and a few Disney characters.


Grand Floridian Logo in Marble

Mickey Mouse in Marble


After the initial astonishment wears off, you start to notice the many details that make this hotel special. Located on the ground floor of the lobby is a large Chinese-styled aviary that was crafted in Spain. For many years, this birdcage housed a pair of lovebirds, but alas, today it sits empty. On the other side of the room is an equally elegant "cage" elevator that transports guests between the first and second floors. And beyond the elevator is a sweeping staircase worthy of Tara from "Gone with the Wind." Often, bridal parties can be seen on these steps, posing for elegant photos. Be sure to notice Cinderella's coach woven into the carpet.


Birdcage

Cage Elevator

Grand Staircase

Cinderella Carpet


The majority of the lobby's ground floor is comprised of numerous seating areas where you can relax and soak in the atmosphere. In the center of it all is a concert grand piano where a musician plays melodies suitable to the surroundings. Requests are also honored. As evening approaches, a ragtime/jazz band called the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra joins in and plays alternate sets with the piano player.


Lobby

Lobby

Piano

Grand Floridian Society Orchestra


The Grand Floridian uses more flowers than any other resort at Walt Disney World. Lush bouquets are everywhere.


Flowers

Flowers


The Grand Floridian is the only Disney resort to have dedicated men's and women's clothing stores. Summer Lace, located on the first floor, features designer fashions for the ladies, along with perfumes, jewelry, swimwear, and Grand Floridian logo items. Commander Porter's, located directly above on the second floor, offers men's designer clothing such as Tommy Bahama and Ralph Lauren Polo. Men's fragrances, golf apparel, and gift items are also available here. Both shops are open daily from 9am to 10pm.


Summer Lace

Summer Lace

Commander Porter's

Commander Porter's


Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop offers a large array of Grand Floridian logo merchandise. And if you enjoyed the music heard in the lobby, CD's of the pianist and ragtime band can be purchased at this location. Also sold here are drinks, snack items, postcards, stamps, wedding items, and a limited selection of reading materials. This shop is open daily from 8am to 10pm.


Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop

Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop


On the second floor of the lobby you will find M. Mouse Mercantile. Disney souvenir items including children's apparel, toys, books, pins, and watches can be purchased here. This shop is open from 8am to 10pm.


M. Mouse Mercantile

M. Mouse Mercantile


Also on the second floor is Basin White. Decorated to look like a giant, old-time bathroom, at this shop you can stock up on a wide variety of bath salts, soaps, and shampoos. Although operated by the same folks who run the Basin shop at Downtown Disney, it is my understanding that the merchandise sold here is slightly different and of a higher caliber than its more pedestrian cousin. The hours of operation are from 10am to 10pm.


Basin White

Basin White


Next door to Basin White is Ivy Trellis Salon. Men, women, and children are welcome here. Services range from a simple haircut to a complete styling. Manicures and pedicures are also available. Appointments are recommended and the shop is open from 9am to 6pm.


Ivy Trellis Salon

Ivy Trellis Salon


All of the rooms in the Main Building of the Grand Floridian are Club Level accommodations as are those in the Sugar Loaf Key lodge building. Guests staying in one of these rooms are given a gold room card-key that grants them access to the upper floors of the Main Building and entrance into the Sugar Loaf Key lodge building. All guest use Club Level elevators in the Main Building for access to the first and second floors, but only guests with Club Level privileges may access the third through fifth floors.


Club Level Elevator

Gold Room Key

Main Building

Sugar Loaf Key

Sugar Loaf Key


The Main Building contains both suites and standard rooms. I've never stayed in one of the suites at the Grand Floridian, so I can't tell you much about them. But I have stayed in a standard Club Level room twice. Actually, the Club Level rooms are roughly the same size and configuration as the rooms located in the lodge buildings. I'll discuss this in more detail later. But it's not the rooms that make the Club Level special. It's the extra amenities and services guests receive on these floors.

One of the first perks of Club Level is a dedicated concierge staff. Only seasoned cast members with extensive knowledge of Disney World man these posts. And they're here to help make your vacation whatever you want it to be. From restaurant reservations, personal tours, and suggestions you have never even imagined, these well-informed hosts and hostesses are there to make you happy.

Need private tennis lessons? They can arrange it. Want to rent a cabana at the beach pool? They can arrange it. Want an elegant picnic lunch to take out on a pontoon boat? A lavish cocktail party for 40? An intimate dinner for two on your balcony? They can arrange it. If you've got the bucks, they can arrange it.

For those of you who must work while on vacation, these trained cast members can also help you fax documents and conduct other business functions. And because these individuals are serving a much smaller number of guests than the staff assigned to the rest of the resort, they often have more time to spend with you. In the Main Building, the Club Level concierge staff is located on the third floor. In Sugar Loaf Key they can be found on the first floor.


Main Building Concierge

Sugar Loaf Key Concierge


The other great perk of Club Level is the "free" food and drink offered throughout most of the day. Coffee and juice service begins each morning at 6:30. From 7am to 10:30am, a wonderful continental breakfast, called Grand Beginnings, is available. Served is fresh fruit, a large selection of breads and pastries, hot and cold cereals, and cheese & cold cuts.


Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings


From 11:30am to 3:30pm, cookies and cold beverages are available. Afternoon Tea is served from 2:30pm to 4pm.


Soft Drinks

Cookies


Twilight Refreshments are served from 5pm to 7pm. This selection of appetizers is amazing and offers enough variety and quantity that you can make a meal out of what is served. An assortment of cheeses & crackers, raw vegetables & dipping sauce, canapés, and hot hors d'oeuvres are displayed beautifully and make resistance impossible.


Twilight Refreshments

Twilight Refreshments

Twilight Refreshments

Twilight Refreshments


From 8pm to 10pm, Cordials and Desserts are served. The sweets include everything from cupcakes to chocolate covered strawberries with miniature tarts and cream puffs thrown in for good measure. And the cordials are first rate with Drambuie, Courvoisier, and Grand Marnier just to name a few. Beer and wine are also available.


Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts


In the Main Building, the Club Level lounge is known as Royal Palms Club and can be found on the fourth floor. Many tables are situated next to windows and offer great views of the monorail or the manicured grounds. This is a wonderful area to sit and relax and converse with friends. There is a sense of wellbeing here. The cares of the outside world seem to melt away when you're sipping Kahlua & Cream, while being attended to by an ever so attentive staff.


Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club


At Sugar Loaf Key the Club Level lounge is called Sugar Loaf Concierge. Here, about ten tables have been tightly arranged in the lobby area of this building. The serving counter is located nearby. Although Sugar Loaf Concierge offers the same selection of food and drink as Royal Palms Club, it lacks greatly in charm and sophistication. The tables are spaced too close together and the area is dark. This room feels like an afterthought with no real design or direction. Disney needs to rethink Sugar Loaf Concierge and come up with a larger, brighter, and more convivial facility.


Sugar Loaf Concierge

Sugar Loaf Concierge


To see a video of the Club Level amenities, click on the picture below.



Another advantage of staying on a Club Level floor of the Main Building is the convenience offered. It's only an elevator ride away to the monorail, bus stop, shops, and all but one of the resort's restaurants. On rainy, hot, or cold days, this is a big plus.

The monorail station is located on the second floor above the porte-cochère (near M. Mouse Mercantile). This is your mode of transportation to the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary, Epcot (transferring at the Transportation and Ticket Center), and the Polynesian. Hours of operation are posted nearby. The bus station is located on the first floor, just to the right of the porte-cochère as you exit the building. Buses take you to Downtown Disney, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the water parks.


Monorial

Monorail

Bus Stop


The Grand Floridian has one other transportation option, a boat that sails between the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and the Magic Kingdom. The dock is located at the north-east end of the resort, just past Narcoossee's Restaurant. These cute little vessels are not meant for speed and efficiency, but rather as a wonderful way to enjoy a leisurely excursion across Seven Seas Lagoon. A trip from the Grand Floridian will make a stop at the Polynesian before continuing on to the Magic Kingdom. If you're in a hurry to get to the Magic Kingdom, these boats are not your best option. Opt for the monorail instead. But if you're in the mood to slow down and smell the roses, or in this case, the lake air, then by all means, board one of these charming boats, sit back and relax.


Boat

Boat


People often ask me if they need a car when visiting Walt Disney World. I always say "No, you don't need a car. Walt Disney World transportation is reasonably efficient." However, a car can make things easier, as you won't be dependent on the buses and boats that usually only arrive at a given station or dock every 10-20 minutes.

Before I continue, I want to say that the Disney buses are very clean, maintained extremely well, and are driven by exceptionally courteous and knowledgeable cast members. These drivers have to be ready to answer an array of unbelievable questions - time and time again - all day long. But keep in mind, the buses at WDW are "mass" transit, not "rapid" transit. If you want to get someplace fast, the bus isn't necessarily your best bet. This is especially true if you plan on eating dinner at another resort -- there are no direct buses from one hotel to another. You must catch a bus to one of the parks (or the monorail to the Magic Kingdom) and then transfer to a different bus. In these cases, driving your own car is probably the better option.

However"

The Grand Floridian was designed for guests to valet park. This costs $12 per day plus gratuity each time you leave and return. This can add up. Free, self-parking is available at the Grand Floridian, but it's inconveniently located across the street from the resort in a less than attractive lot.

I suppose if you can afford to stay at the Grand Floridian, you can afford to valet park every day. But for those families who have saved their pennies for years and staying at the Grand Floridian as a once-in-a-lifetime event, then parking costs must be considered.

The majority of the rooms and several suites can be found in the five lodge buildings. Each is named after an island in the Florida Keys and includes Sago Cay, Sugar Loaf Key, Conch Key, Boca Chica, and Big Pine Key. Guests enter these buildings through nicely appointed lobbies where you'll find more fresh flowers.


Lodge Building Entrance

Lodge Building Lobby

Lodge Building Lobby


Standard rooms are approximately 448 square feet and sleep five. Dormer rooms (those located on the top floors) are slightly smaller and sleep four as they do not have a daybed. In addition, the balconies on the dormer rooms are significantly smaller than those on the standard rooms. However, I feel that the vaulted ceilings in the dormer rooms add a lot of charm and are worthy of consideration if you can do without the daybed.


Balconies

Dormer Room Balcony


Guests enter the rooms via a small hallway. On one side is a spacious closet. Club Level rooms have mirrored doors. Inside the closet you'll find a large safe that locks and unlocks with a four digit code. Also in the closet are two Grand Floridian robes. If you find you're taken with these, plusher copies can be purchased for $100 at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop. An iron and board, luggage racks, and the hairdryer can also be found in the closet.


Mirrored Closet Doors

Open Closet

Safe


Opposite the closet is the spacious bathroom. A large marble counter affords plenty of space for your toiletries and two sinks allow a family to get ready for their day all the quicker. H2O+ products are provided and two large bars of soap are a welcome relief from the slivers so often used in other establishments. These products can also be purchased at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop. The towels at the Grand Floridian are the thickest and fluffiest found at Walt Disney World. And I especially like the hamper where you can toss the used towels rather than leaving them on the floor or over a hook.


Bathroom Sinks

H2O+ Products

Towels

Hamper


In the standard rooms, the toilet and tub/shower are located in a separate room. In the Club Level rooms, the tub/shower is slightly bigger and along with the toilet is located in the same room as the sinks. The shower head has three settings, soft spray, hard spray, and pulsate. Also, the shower curtain rod bends outward at the top so you have more room when standing in the tub. In addition, all bathrooms come with a telephone for those calls you simply must take at inconvenient times.


Shower Tub

Shower Tub


Another perk of the Club Level room is the Keurig coffee maker. This is perfect for those of you who aren't fans of Nescafe which is served almost everywhere else on property.


Keurig Coffee Maker


The wallpaper in the bathroom is especially fun. The Super Six make a visit in topiary form.


Wallpaper


The sleeping area is bright and airy and has a Victorian elegance. Yet the design is not so heavy-handed and frilly as to make you feel like you're visiting an aging dowager who would smack your hand if you dared touch any of her bric-a-brac. The wallpaper has a delicate pattern, but it's subtle. The carpet uses colors of gold and green and displays a leaf pattern. The furniture is stained in mid-tones that are neither light nor dark. Disney did a wonderful job of combining the charm of a bygone era with the 21st century.

Most rooms have two queen-sized beds; however, rooms with one king are also available. A "king" room needs to be requested when making your reservations. As I mentioned earlier, a daybed is also part of the furnishings unless you're staying in a dormer room. Once again, if you need a daybed, request a non-dormer room when making your reservation.


Two Queen Beds

Two Queen Beds


The beds are VERY comfortable - and they're also for sale. If you'd like to purchase one, check out this website for more information.

www.disneyresortcollection.com

A trend I see spreading among deluxe resorts is the use of a third sheet. This sheet is used to cover the top of the blankets. Once the bedspread has been turned down (a nightly service provided at the GF - complete with chocolates) this third sheet covers the bedding. You never need touch blankets that have been used by a hundred other people before you. I like this A LOT!

Opposite the beds are a chest of drawers and a desk. The desk is especially nice as it "nests" and allows for easy laptop use. Free WiFi is now available throughout the Grand Floridian. Above the desk is a wonderful picture that requires close examination to find all of the Disney references. Sitting on the desk is the most elegant Mickey Mouse lamp you'll ever see. Donning a top hat, Mickey's head sits atop a faux marble column. A white shade tops it off. If you want one of these marvels for your own home (I know I did), they can be purchased by visiting the webpage I mentioned earlier.


TV and Desk

Desk

Picture

Mickey Mouse Lamp


Once flat screen TVs hit the market, they took over like wildfire. And just like the rest of the resorts at Walt Disney World, the Grand Floridian now offers these modern wonders. Below the TV are four drawers and a small refrigerator.


TV

Chest and Refrigerator


A number of views are available when booking a room at the Grand Floridian. Some look out at Seven Seas Lagoon with views of either the Polynesian or the Magic Kingdom. Others look into the resort's marina, while some view the manicured grounds and pool.

The first picture below was taken in 1989, one year after the Grand Floridian opened. I had requested a Magic Kingdom view from the Main Building. If you look closely, you can almost make out Cinderella Castle in the distance -- however, I could see the fireworks from my balcony with no problem. The next three pictures were taken on my most recent visit where I had a view of Seven Seas Lagoon and the Polynesian Resort.


View of the Magic Kingdom

View of the Wedding Pavilion

View of the Polynesian

View at Night


I like the rooms at the Grand Floridian. As I mentioned before, they are elegant without being stuffy. I doubt that anyone would be put off by these comfortable accommodations.

To see a video of a Club Level Dormer Room, click on the picture below.



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



That's it for today. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



March 20, 2012

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I discussed the various campsites and cabins at Fort Wilderness and the transportation options. Today I'm going to talk about the many opportunities for adventure found at the campground.

Most people who visit Walt Disney World focus their attention on visiting the theme parks. But when you stay at Fort Wilderness, you have a slightly different attitude. Yes, the parks are terrific and cannot be ignored. But the campground offers a host of low-tech activities that also command your attention. Let's start at The Outpost.

For those of you with a hankerin' to ride a horse, head over to Trail Blaze Corral (Tri-Circle-D Ranch - The Outpost). Offered several times a day, these rides last about 45 minutes and offer a leisurely walk through the pine forests of Fort Wilderness. All tours have two guides, one who leads the way and another to bring up the rear. If you're an experienced rider, you'll probably be bored with this tour. But if you're a city-slicker with limited opportunities to be around horses, then this adventure will be right up your alley. Riders must be at least 9 years old and 48 inches tall and can weigh no more than 250 pounds. To make advanced reservations, call (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7528). Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance. To make same-day reservations, call 407-824-2832 or touch 57 on your in-room phone.


Tri-Circle-D Rance -- The Outpost

Horseback Riding


The Meadow offers the widest array of activities for outdoor fun. But before we start with the goings-on, let's take a look at the Meadow Trading Post. This spot sells the usual collection of Disney souvenirs, but there are also a few Fort Wilderness exclusive pieces that cannot be found outside the campground. In addition, the store sells a reasonable selection of food stuffs to help accent the groceries you brought with you. Free WIFI is also available in and around this shop. Removable propane tanks can also be refilled here. Packages being delivered from the parks will be dropped off at the Meadow Trading Post for you to pick up at a later time. The Meadow Trading Post is open from 8am to 10pm.


The Meadow Trading Post

The Meadow Trading Post

The Meadow Trading Post


As you might imagine, bicycles can be rented at the Bike Barn. However, other equipment can also be obtained here. Canoes, kayaks, rods & reels (and bait), shuffleboard equipment, tennis rackets, and other sports paraphernalia are available from 9am to 7pm. Note, fishing is on a "catch and release" basis.


The Bike Barn

Fishing

Volleyball

Biking

Shuffleboard


Paddling the waterways of Fort Wilderness is the perfect way to while away an hour. One of the canals makes a circle in and about the campsites and unspoiled woods. It takes about 30-45 minutes to complete the journey and along the way you'll see a varied assortment of wildlife. You might also recognize one of the bridges that the old Fort Wilderness Railroad once traversed.


Canoeing

Fort Wilderness Railroad Bridge

Water Fowl

Water Fowl


Wilderness Back Trail Adventure offers guests a chance to experience a Segway X2 Personal Transporter. This is an off-road tour that winds its way around the campground with a side trip to the Wilderness Lodge and back. The event lasts two hours including training. For reservations call 407-939-8687. Groups meet at the Bike Barn.


Segways


Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Disney offers the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience. At this activity, instructors conduct a short training session, teaching guests how to hold and fire a compound bow and arrow. When target practice begins, the trainers will offer tips and techniques on how to better hit that coveted bull's-eye. The session lasts one and a half hours.


Archery


Near the Bike Barn is Meadow Swimmin' Pool. Open 7am to 12 midnight, this pool is the perfect spot to cool down with a dip during the hot Florida summer. Numerous lounge chairs are available for you to sunbathe (don't forget your sunscreen) as are tables for games and conversation. Lifeguard hours vary. Check the posted sign for current times.


Meadow Swimmin' Pool

Meadow Swimmin' Pool


In an effort to pay homage to past Fort Wilderness attractions, the Imagineers designed the water slide at Meadow Swimmin' Pool with something special. The large barrel that anchors the slide used to welcome guests arriving at River Country. In addition, the Imagineers have repainted the barrel to sport the logo from the old Fort Wilderness Railroad.


Meadow Swimmin' Pool Slide

River Country Entrance

Fort Wilderness Railroad Logo


One of the best kiddie pools at Walt Disney World can be found at the Meadow Swimmin' Pool. Two slides, water spouts, geysers, cascading buckets, and more entertain those too young to venture into deeper waters.


Meadow Swimmin' Pool Kiddie Pool


Hungry? Meadow Snack Bar offers hotdogs, flatbreads, salads, and sandwiches. Soft drinks, beer, and a limited selection of cocktails will help quench your thirst. A number of picnic tables are nearby. This spot is open for lunch only.


Meadow Snack Bar


Next to the snack bar is Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade. Open daily from 7:30am to 10pm, this is the spot to put your hand/eye coordination to the test with electronic wizardry.


Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade

Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade


Also in The Meadow area is Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long. This is a Fort Wilderness tradition and a must-attend for families with little ones.


Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long


Each evening around dusk, a campfire is started. At the nearby chuck wagon, marshmallows and hotdogs can be purchased for roasting over the open fire. Even S'mores kits are for sale. It's a hoot to watch the young'uns attempt to roast their marshmallows without setting them ablaze.


Chuck Wagon

Chuck Wagon

Campfire


As the evening's guests begin to settle in, a singing cowboy, joined by Chip & Dale, take the stage and encourage the audience to join them in song. Old standards like "Home on the Range" and "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" are the songs du jour. These are melodies that everyone knows the words and can easily join in. Even the "Hokey Pokey" is performed with participants putting their left leg in and their left leg out. There is nothing sophisticated about this sing-a-long.


Singing Cowboy and Chip & Dale


When the melodies come to an end, the movie begins. Each evening, a different Disney classic film is shown under the stars. Check the campground information guides for times and movies.

I do need to warn you, the log benches leave a lot to be desired when it comes to comfort. The evening I attended, one seasoned couple brought their own folding chairs.


Movie Screen


The Meadow is a great recreational area. I've tried to discuss most of the activities, but I know I've forgotten a few. In my opinion, The Meadow is the heart of Fort Wilderness.

Now let's move north to The Settlement. The Settlement lies on the banks of Bay Lake and this is where guests can catch boats to Wilderness Lodge, the Contemporary Resort, and the Magic Kingdom.


Boat to Wilderness Lodge and Contemporary Resort

Boat to the Magic Kingdom

Boat Direction Sign


Near the boat dock is the Fort Marina Recreation and Boat Rentals. Here you can rent one of the speedy Sea Racers or a more leisurely pontoon boat. This is also the spot where you can arrange for a two hour fishing trip out on Bay Lake. An experienced guide and fishing equipment are included in the package so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the experience.


Marina Recreation and Boat Rentals

Sea Racers

Poontoon Boats


On the white sandy beach are dozens of lounge chairs, tetherball poles, and volleyball nets. This is a great spot to relax in the shade of the nearby trees or bask in the sun. Note, swimming is not allowed in Bay Lake.


Sandy Beach and Volleyball

Tetherball


A short walk from the beach is a Fort Wilderness oddity, the Lawnmower Tree. Discovered here when Disney bought the property is an old push-style lawn mower that was left leaning against a tree. As the years passed, the tree began to grow around the equipment. In the early years of Fort Wilderness, the lawnmower was easy to see. But as time marched on, more and more of the metal was obscured by the growing tree. A few years ago, Disney cut most of the tree down. I don't know if this was because the tree was diseased or if this was an effort to stop the eventual total consumption of the lawnmower. But the remains of the tree and lawnmower are still on view today.


Lawnmower Tree

Lawnmower Tree


Near the Lawnmower Tree is the Settlement Trading Post. Like its sister store located at The Meadow, this spot sells Disney souvenirs, Fort Wilderness exclusive merchandise, and groceries.


Settlement Trading Post


I have never attended Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show, so I cannot offer any firsthand information, but here's what Disney says:

Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-care-to-eat Disney Character dance party with live entertainment. Frolic with Mickey, Minnie and Friends at this neighborly outdoor picnic in the middle of the covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness. With foot-stomping music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and kid-friendly fun, you won't sit still for a second. Little ones can even dance a jig with their favorite Disney Characters on the dance floor! Enjoy a delectable buffet featuring all your beloved country vittles: barbeque smoked ribs, smoked chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs with all the trimmings, corn on the cob, watermelon and more. It's a mouth-watering, knee-slapping good time!


Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Mickey's Backyard BBQ


Pioneer Hall offers three treats: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, Trail's End/Crockett's Tavern, and Rocking Chairs.


Pioneer Hall


Let's start with the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review. For me, this is one of the best experiences to be had at Walt Disney World. I absolutely love this show. Every time I see it, tears run down my cheeks I laugh so hard at the corny jokes. This show offers something for everyone. However, since I've written an entire blog on this subject, I'm not going to go into detail here. To read my complete review, click here.

I do want to mention, the title song, "Hoop-Dee-Doo Polka" has been replaced by a new number. From what I understand, Disney did not have the rights to use the song and a replacement was needed.


Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review


Trail's End offers a buffet breakfast and dinner and menu-service at lunch. At one time, lunch was also a buffet, but this eatery is so sparsely attended mid-day that Disney found it financially impractical to maintain the buffet at this time.

I like Trail's End, especially at dinner. The buffet offers a decent salad bar including peel-your-own shrimp. For entrees there are fried chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, a nightly carving item, fish, several vegetables, potatoes, and great chili. Dessert includes soft-serve ice cream, cobbler, cake, cookies, and pecan pie.

There is nothing fancy about Trail's End. The surroundings are rustic and the food uncomplicated. But everything tastes great and the service is friendly. I highly recommend this spot for your evening meal.


Trail's End

Trail's End

Trail's End


I saved the best for last - rocking chairs. Lining the porch of Pioneer Hall is a number of rocking chairs. For me, sitting here and enjoying the atmosphere is a fantastic experience. Once, I literally sat here for over an hour with my brother and sister-in-law who were vacationing from California. This was the perfect spot to reconnect after a long time between visits. Crockett's Tavern offers nearby window service in the afternoon/evening so a refreshing beverage is also close at hand while rocking away the hours.


Rocking Chairs

Crockett's Tavern


In the evening, 45 minute Wagon Rides are offered which take you on a leisurely jaunt through Fort Wilderness. And if you're in the mood for something a little more romantic, private Carriage Rides are also available.


Wagon Rides

Private Carriage Rides


Have you ever wondered where the horses that pull the trolleys on Main Street go when their shift is over? Well, they live at Tri-Circle-D Farm & Ranch (The Settlement). By the way, have you noticed the "tri-circle" creates Mickey Mouse?


Tri-Circle-D Farm & Ranch


A large barn, which is open to guests, can be visited during the day and you can have a peek at the living conditions these four-legged cast members are provided.


Barn

Stables

Horse

Horse Name Tag


Outside the barn you'll often find the white Shetland ponies that are used to pull Cinderella's glass coach for weddings and parades. The ponies are also available for rides for the younger set. Children must be at least 2 years old, weigh less than 80 pounds, be under 48" and led by an adult around the small course.


Shetland Pony

Pony Rides


Also at the ranch is a real blacksmith. This is one of the rarer cast member designations. If you time your visit right, you can see him shoeing a horse or fixing a wagon wheel.


Blacksmith


I said earlier that I'm a champagne and caviar type of guy. Yet, I still love Fort Wilderness Campground. This is a wonderful spot that seems miles away from the hectic theme parks. I love to walk the sidewalks and trails here and inhale the rich scent of pine. This area clears the cobwebs out of my brain.

I have tried to touch on the highlights of this wonderful resort, but there is no way I could adequately describe all the activities there are to enjoy here. And remember, with the exception of the swimming pools, the rest of these offerings are open to everyone. Just because you're staying at the Grand Floridian doesn't mean you can't come over to Fort Wilderness for some archery or bike riding or a meal at Trail's End. So on your next trip to WDW, take the time and spend an afternoon poking around this wonderful retreat. You'll be glad you did.

For a more detailed look at Fort Wilderness, check out the AllEars Fact Sheet.


As always, I have created a video highlighting the various activities found at Fort Wilderness Campground. Enjoy.




March 19, 2012

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Part 1

Jack Spence Masthead


Fort Wilderness Logo


I have written several blogs touching on the various activities found at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, but two recent events have prompted me to revisit this resort in-depth. First, I stayed in one of the cabins for the first time. And second, while I was there, I created a comprehensive video of this sprawling campground. So here goes, a look at one of the best loved spots at Walt Disney World that has perhaps the most loyal following of any resort.

One of the first things I notice whenever I visit Fort Wilderness is that the other guests staying here are extremely outgoing. Everywhere I wander, people say "hello" to me when I pass them on a sidewalk or while I'm browsing at one of the two trading posts. There is just something about this place that makes people friendlier. I'm normally a "keep to myself" kinda guy, but this sociable attitude is infectious and in no time at all, I'm initiating the greetings. If you've visited here before, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't ventured to this portion of Walt Disney World yet, you're in for a treat.

Fort Wilderness officially opened on November 19, 1971. It has grown over the years and currently covers over 700 acres with 409 Wilderness Cabins and 784 campsites designed to accommodate tents and recreational vehicles. The name "Fort Wilderness" came from the fort found on Tom Sawyer Island located at Disneyland.

Fort Wilderness has three distinct areas, The Outpost, The Meadow, and The Settlement. Campers arrive at The Outpost via Vista Boulevard. Like all Disney resorts, a large sign welcomes guests to the property. Those driving RVs proceed to a special "drive-thru" check-in counter. Visitors staying in a cabin should park their vehicle and check-in at the Reception Outpost. Guests staying in tents may use either check-in spot. The Reception Outpost was constructed out of pine logs imported from Montana.


Fort Wilderness Sign

RV Check-In

Cabin Check-In


After finishing the required paperwork, the receptionist will give you a map and driving directions to your campsite or cabin.

There is limited automobile parking at The Outpost and none at The Meadow and The Settlement. Guests who wish to take advantage of the various activities available at Fort Wilderness should walk, bicycle, use the internal bus system, or use an electric cart. Electric carts can be rented at Reception Outpost and cart and bicycle parking is available at all three areas of the campground. If you do rent an electric cart or bring your own, be sure to read the "Rules & Regulations" guide given to all guests at check-in. Electric carts can be reserved in advance by calling 407-824-2742. Drivers must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver's license.


FW Map

Walking at FW

Bicycling at FW

Buses at FW

Electric Cart


If you don't have a bike or electric cart, you will probably be using the internal bus system within the campground. Three routes navigate the 700 acres and take guests to the various loops, The Outpost, The Meadow and The Settlement. The routes are designated by color -- Orange, Yellow, and Purple. All bus stops have maps with easy-to-read indicators. Like all Disney buses, the ones at the campground are clean and reasonably efficient. However, some people dislike the fact that in order to go to any theme park or Downtown Disney, you must first take a campground bus then transfer to another bus or boat. This can easily add 15 to 20 minutes to your journey.


Buses at FW

Buses at FW

FW Bus Stop


The designers of the campground did their very best to disturb as few trees as possible when creating Fort Wilderness. This area is a surprise to most first-time visitors. They have no idea that such a peaceful spot exists on property. Groves of pine and cypress surround the campsites and roadways. Combine this with numerous canals and grassy knolls and you have the perfect spot to pitch a tent or park your RV. Fort Wilderness Campground consistently receives AAA's Level 3 rating (their top) and Trailer Life Magazine awarded this property with a 10/10/10 rating, the highest possible.

The campground is divided into 28 loops. Some of these loops are designated for cabins, some for RVs, and some for campers and tents. Most sites are separated from one another with a barrier of bushes and trees, adding a secluded nature to the area.

The loops for RVs have concrete pads ranging in size from 25 feet to 60 feet deep and widths of up to 25 feet. Those intended for tents have a concrete pad for your car and a sandy patch in which to set up camp. All sites have electricity (120/220 volts), city water, charcoal grill, picnic table, and cable TV hookup. All but 90 sites offer full sewer hook-ups. The ones that don't are intended for tent campers. Check-in time for campsites is 1pm and check-out at 11am.


RV Loop

RV Parking

RV Parking

Tent Campsite

Tent Campsite


There are a number of comfort stations located around the campground. These are clean facilities that offer toilets, showers, laundry facilities, ice, and campground information. I was especially impressed with the showers. Each shower is individual with its own, private dressing room. Unfortunately, I could not get an adequate picture of the shower and dressing room to share with you here.


Comfort Station

Comfort Station

Laundry Room

Campground Information

Ice Machine


The campers at Fort Wilderness love to decorate their campsites. Christmastime is especially festive with strings of multicolored lights and holiday adornments. However, Christmas isn't the only time campers pull out all the stops. Take a look.


Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations


Pets are welcome at several of the loops at Fort Wilderness. When making your reservations, make sure to let the cast member know you will be bringing your animal family with you. While enjoying the campground, pets must remain on a leash. However, Waggin' Trails Dog Park offers a wonderful, fenced-in grassy field where you can let Rover run free with other vacationing K9s. The dog park is located next to the playground at loop 300. A number of signs point the way so you can easily find this doggie retreat from anywhere within the campground.


Sign to Dog Park

Dog Park Rules

Waggin' Trails Dog Park


For those of you who like the idea of spending some time communing with nature, but have neither an RV, camper, or tent, Disney offers the Wilderness Cabins. Introduced in 1997, these "cabins" are actually modular homes that have been given a rustic feel both inside and out. The exterior of the cabins is covered in real timbers. A deck, complete with picnic table, is accessible from both the living room and bedroom. A charcoal grill is just a few feet away. Note, there is only room for one car.


Wilderness Cabin

Cabin Porch

Grill


An extensive use of wood is applied to the interior of the cabins. Combine this with country furniture, "lantern" style lighting, and Native American rugs and bedspreads, and you've got yourself a real rustic retreat.

The cabins measure a little over 500 square feet and can sleep six, four in the bedroom (one double bed and twin bunk beds) and two on the Murphy bed in the living room.

The living room has a loveseat (that will comfortably seat two adults), a coffee table/ottoman, and a children's table and two small chairs.

The dining area features an oval table with a bench seat and three full-sized chairs.

The kitchen has a stove/oven, microwave, full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, and a double sink. The kitchen is fully stocked with cooking utensils, pots and pans, dishes, and flatware.

The bathroom has a combination shower/tub, a sink, and toilet.

In the two closets are a vacuum cleaner, iron and board, collapsible crib, safe, stepladder, and broom.

There are two TVs, one in the living room (with DVD player) and one in the bedroom.

High-speed internet connections are available for a fee. WIFI is not available in the cabins. I do not know if Disney plans to add it in the future.


Cabin Floorplan


Pictures of the Living Room:


Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room


Pictures of the Dining Area:


Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room


Pictures of the Kitchen:


Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen


Pictures of the Bathroom:


Cabin Bathroom

Cabin Bathroom

Cabin Bathroom


Pictures of the Bedroom:


Cabin Bedroom

in Bedroom

in Bedroom


Things I like about the Wilderness Cabins:

The cabins are located at Fort Wilderness. This is fantastic! If you're not a camper, but still want to experience the rustic appeal of this wonderful portion of Walt Disney World, the cabins are the way to go.

The kitchens and bathrooms have recently been refurbished.

The kitchens are well appointed. Just about anything you'd need to prepare a meal is here.

The Murphy bed is far easier to open and close than the convertible sofas found elsewhere on property. Since the beds use cables to counterbalance their movement, even a person with limited strength can effortlessly operate them.

What I don't like about the Wilderness Cabins:

The cabins are advertised as "sleeps six." I would not like to put this to the test. In the bedroom, the double bed is pushed up against the wall. If the inner sleeper needs to get up in the middle of the night, they must disturb their companion. The same is true of the Murphy bed. One side of the bed is a mere six inches from the couch when open. It is impossible to enter or exit the bed from this side.

The bathroom only has one sink. If six people were really using this cabin, two basins would be most useful.

The living room only has seating for two adults. Others must sit on the less than comfortable dining table chairs to watch TV.

Although the kitchen and bathroom have been recently refurbished, the rest of the cabin has a dingy feel about it. I realize it's supposed to feel rustic, but the rooms at the Wilderness Lodge accomplish this with a cleaner feel.

I'm hoping this last complaint is just a misfortunate oversight rather than being indicative of the overall housekeeping provided at the cabins. During my stay, I found a number of items that should have been attended to before I arrived.

A can of beer was left in the refrigerator.
Empty bags were found in a kitchen cabinet.
The top of the refrigerator was very dusty.
A dead and dried lizard was found lying in the middle of a counter.

Would I stay at the Wilderness Cabins again?

Probably not. If I want the "home-away-from-home" feel a separate bedroom and kitchen provide, I would rent one of the DVCs found at other resorts around property. However, I'm a champagne and caviar type of guy. I've never really been into camping. I'm sure others love these rustic cabins and can't imagine staying anyplace else.

I have created of video of the Fort Wilderness Cabins. This should give you a good idea of what they offer.



That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when I discuss the many activities that can be found at Fort Wilderness.



January 9, 2012

Pounding the Pavement at Walt Disney World

Pounding the Pavement

Some time ago, I wrote a blog about benches and another about lampposts found at the theme parks at Walt Disney World. My intent was to show you the lengths the Imagineers go to, to tell a "story" with details. Today I've picked another topic to illustrate this point. And the topic I've selected is just about as mundane as you can get, pavement. Most people never give a thought to the ground they walk on, but believe me, Disney has given this subject a lot of consideration. As I so often do, let's start our story at Disneyland in California.

It's hard to believe, but Disneyland opened just one year after construction began. The park was far from finished when the first guests rushed through the gates, but the basics were there. Main Street, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Adventureland all had something to offer, but it was obvious that work still needed to be done. One famous story tells of women's high-heel shoes getting stuck in the soft asphalt that had been poured only the day before.

Yes folks, women wore heels to Disneyland in the 1950's. This next picture was taken in late July, 1955, just two weeks after the park opened.


High Heeled Shoes


On opening day, the streets of Frontierland were not paved, but had dirt roads. I don't know if this was done intentionally to help add authenticity to the land, or for a lack of money and time. But either way, this wasn't going to work. According to the Hammond/Hazlewood song, "It Never Rains in Southern California," but trust me, this just isn't true. It does rain in Southern California and rain turns dirt into mud. I don't know how long dirt streets lasted in Frontierland, but it wasn't too long before they were paved over.

Since we're talking about the opening of Disneyland and the uncompleted park, I'd like to take a little side trip. For years, the Disney marketing folk have quoted Walt's famous opening day words:

"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."

To this day, Disney uses these words to "spin" magic into each and every new project that comes down the pike. And there's nothing wrong with this. However, these words have a far more humble beginning than Disney would have you believe.

As you know, Walt was in debt up to his eyebrows trying to get Disneyland built. And at some point, ready or not, he was going to have to start allowing paying guests to enter the park if he was going to generate income and keep building.

Walt and his Imagineers knew that the park looked incomplete on opening day. This was obvious to everyone. They also knew the press was going to ask Walt, "When will Disneyland be finished?" In the business world, it's always important to emphasize the positives and downplay the negatives. So this prophetic statement was crafted only to pacify the media, not to become a creed for the Disney Company to live by.

Now, back to pavement.

Most areas of Disney parks are paved with special cement that is supposedly softer than regular concrete, thus easier on the feet. I know this is hard to believe after a long day of touring, but that's what the Disney folk say. In addition, the pavement is usually painted with non-skid paint. Disney also uses color to help tell a story. For example, the ground in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland is painted a brownish-red to suggest the earth of the Wild West, while over in Tomorrowland, the concrete is painted gray, to hint at, well, um, concrete.


Frontierland Pavement

Tomorrowland Pavement


But not all of the pavement in Tomorrowland is boring. Throughout the main entrance concourse, the ground has been modeled to look like giant gears, wheels, sprockets, and cogs.


Tomorrowland Pavement

Tomorrowland Gears

Tomorrowland Circles

Tomorrowland Gears


At the Winnie the Pooh ride in Fantasyland we see how pavement can delineate an attraction from the main walkway. Pavement color, texture, and material are used extensively throughout all of the parks to set boundaries.


Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh


Behind the castle, a beautiful compass rose is missed by most as they hurry to Dumbo and Peter Pan.


Fantasyland Compass Rose


In front of the Yankee Trader Shop in Liberty Square, the remains of a foundation of a long forgotten structure can be found. And at the nearby Haunted Mansion, the horseshoe prints of a ghost horse are seen around the hearse.


Yankee Trader Shop

Old Foundation

Hearse

Horse Prings


One of the most famous bits of Disney concrete lore revolves around the Haunted Mansion. There were several versions to the story, but the tale tells of Master Gracey and his bride. Somehow, her wedding ring was lost (thrown, stomped on, flung, misplaced) and it ended up embedded in the concrete near the exit of the ride. As guests would leave the Haunted Mansion, "informed" experts would point out the ring to newbies. However, what they were pointing out was either an old gate post hole or a piece of electrical conduit. Either way, it was most certainly not a person's ring. It was too small to fit on any finger. Eventually, Disney tired of the traffic jams this faux ring was causing and removed it. When Disney reimagined the queue for the Haunted Mansion last year, they included a real wedding/engagement ring in the cement. The ring is slightly off the beaten track so you'll have to look for it to find it.


Wedding Ring


In Adventureland, you can find broken tiles, gems, and coins scattered around The Flying Carpets of Aladdin.


Flying Carpets of Aladdin

Broken Tile

Gems

Coins


Between Adventureland and Frontierland, another compass rose can be found with additional flourishes to enhance the design.


Adventureland and Frontierland Boarder

Compass Rose

Flourish


A number of the trees that line Main Street have attractive wrought iron grates to protect them from harm. If you look closely, some even say "Main Street U.S.A."


Main Street Tree Base


Now let's move to Epcot.

For the most part, the pavement leading from the parking lot up to and past Spaceship Earth is pretty mundane. Delineating Spaceship Earth from Innoventions Plaza is a swath of coarse black squares. During the day, these squares command little attention, but at night, they become magical. Fiber optics have been embedded into a number of these squares and tiny lights sparkle in the dark. But even more impressive is a small area in front of Innoventions West. Here, three larger sections of pavement have been outfitted with these lights and they dance and change colors after the sun sets. Unfortunately, most people never see this light show as it is in an area few people walk.


Innovations Plaza

Black Tiles

Fiber Optics Embedded in Black Tile

Dancing Fiber Optics

Dancing Fiber Optics

Dancing Fiber Optics


Concrete can have a tendency to crack if not mixed and poured correctly. To reduce cracks from spreading, concrete is poured in sections with grooves separating one block from the next. In Innoventions Plaza, the Imagineers have taken advantage of this and created great designs and accented the sections with color. In some cases, the concrete has been roughened to add texture to the design.


Innoventions Plaza

Innoventions Plaza


Of the Future World pavilions, Mission Space has the best pavement. The area in front of the attraction has dozens of planets, asteroids, and comets imbedded into the ground. The design helps set the mood for the adventure to come.


Mission Space

Mission Space Pavement

Mission Space Pavement


On the pathway leading from Future World to World Showcase is a giant design of the old EPCOT Center logo. This is best appreciated when viewed from above.


EPCOT Center Logo

EPCOT Center Logo

EPCOT Center Logo


The promenade around World Showcase is basic with no real design other than an occasional swath to delineate one nation from the next. However, once you enter a country, the pavement takes on the design of that nation.


Delineating Swath


In the Germany Pavilion, the bricks create a repeating crescent shape. This is indicative of what you might actually find in a small German town. (I hate to break the magic, but these are not real stones. The Imagineers used a stamp to imbed the pattern into wet concrete.)


Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion Pavement


The patterns and designs of Saint Mark's Square in Venice were duplicated at the Italy Pavilion.


Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion Pavement


At the Japan Pavilion, large pieces of flag stone were randomly imbedded in the ground.


Japan Pavilion

Japan Pavilion Pavement


In the ville nouvelle (new city) section of the Morocco Pavilion, the ground is covered with neatly ordered bricks. However, in the Medina (old city), the pavement is very coarse with many exposed rocks. The Imagineers did their best to simulate dirt without actually having to resort to this substance.


Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion New City Pavement

Morocco Pavilion Old City Pavement


Perhaps the most famous pavement at Walt Disney World can be found at Disney's Hollywood Studios. In the forecourt of the Chinese Theater are the foot and handprints of a number of celebrities. This practice comes from the original Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.


Chinese Theater

Foot and Hand Prints in Cement

Foot and Hand Prints in Cement


There are a number of stories as to how the tradition of actors placing their footprints in the cement came about. The most famous tells that Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement outside of the theater, giving Sid Grauman, part owner of the theater, the idea.

Humans aren't the only creatures imbedding their footprints in the pavement at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Gertie the Dinosaur and an Imperial Walker have also left their impression on the landscape.


Gertie the Dinosaur

Gertie the Dinosaur Footprint

Imperial Walker

Imperial Walker Footprint


For the most part, Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards consist of concrete sidewalks and curbs and asphalt streets. But near the Tower of Terror, you can find that the pavement has worn away to expose the original brick streets and the Red Car tracks. These tracks pay homage to the Pacific Electric Railway which once offered the people of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties over 1,000 miles of mass transit.


Red Car Tracks


There are a number of theater facades on Sunset Boulevard. As was typical of the 30's and 40's, these playhouses had elaborate entries, often created out of terrazzo. Here we see the Beverly Sunset Theater's entrance.


Beverly Sunset Theater

Beverly Sunset Theater Entrance


On Pixar Place, Scrabble tiles have fallen from the overhead game board. Could "W" and "D" possible stand for Walt Disney? What are the odds?


Scrabble Board

Scrabble Tiles


The pavement in front of Rock 'N' Roller Coaster is designed to showcase G-Force Records, the recording studio currently working with Aerosmith. Anchoring the grid's corners are gold records.


Rock 'N' Roller Coaster Pavement

Gold Record


The building that houses Muppet*Vision 3D is built of red brick so it is fitting that the pavement outside the theater be of the same material. Unlike other areas where the Imagineers used a stamp to simulate stone or brick, this is the real McCoy.


Muppet*Vision 3D Theater

Muppet Courtyard


The pavement on New York Street is unremarkable and at first glance, not worth too much attention. It's made up of concrete curbs and sidewalks and an asphalt road. But upon closer examination you'll notice the Imagineers included potholes - a nice detail for a busy thoroughfare.


New York Street

Pothole


Now let's travel to Disney's Animal Kingdom. In the area between the tram drop-off and the ticket booths, guests can see sweeping swaths of color in the walkway. From ground level, these lines appear to be nothing more than a random pattern. But when viewed from above, the shape of an abstract tree can easily be seen.


Animal Kingdom Forecourt

Animal Kingdom Forecourt Tree


Most of the pavement in the Animal Kingdom has a natural feel about it. In many cases, the concrete has been designed to represent dirt and mud, a material that is unsatisfactory for a theme park. When preparing the walkways, all sorts of items were imbedded into the wet cement to help achieve a realistic character. Some of these include leaves, pine needles, branches, human feet, horseshoes, bicycle tracks, tire tracks, and bird tracks.


Leaf

Palm

Pine Needles

Branch

Foot Prints

Horse Tracks

Bicycle Tracks

Tire Tracks

Bird Tracks


Over in Dinoland U.S.A. you'll find a winding highway. To complete the setting, traffic signs, bumper guards, and roadside advertisements can be found along its route.


Dinoland Highway


If you pay attention, you'll notice that Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama was built on top of an abandoned parking lot. The "Enter" and "Exit" lettering and parking lot lines are still visible, but fading. In addition, the asphalt is cracking under the sun's intense heat.


Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama

Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama Parking Lot

Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama Parking Lot


Also in Dinoland is a dinosaur that kids can climb on. Since children are prone to slip and fall, a special ground covering has been designed that is soft and bouncy and helps alleviate cuts and bruises. In this case, the material has been made out of wood particles. In other spots around Walt Disney World, man-made materials have been used to create a softer surface.


Dinosaur

Soft Surface


Over in Asia, real bricks have been used for the outside seating area of Yak & Yeti Restaurant. Over the years, these bricks have been broken or stolen and the owners found it cheaper to fill in the gaps with cement rather than replace them. At a nearby temple, time has taken its toll on the tile flooring in front of an aging shrine.


Yak & Yeti Restaurant

Broken Bricks

Broken Bricks

Shrine

Broken Tiles


Outside Tamu Tamu Refreshments in Africa, the foundation of a long demolished building can be seen.


Tamu Tamu Refreshments

Foundation


Out front of Conservation Station at Rafiki's Planet Watch is a beautiful mosaic featuring an assortment of animals. This work of art was created in Italy then shipped to the Animal Kingdom for final assembly. Most folk just walk right over this piece without ever stopping to appreciate its beauty.


Conservation Station

Mosaic


Also at Conservation Station is a petting farm. This is one of the very few places at Walt Disney World where guests can actually walk on real dirt.


Petting Farm


I'm going to end this article with a challenge in an effort to get you to pay more attention to the ground you walk on. I've snapped a picture of an interesting piece of pavement or flooring in each of the four parks (none are in attraction queues). It's your job to find them. Unlike my quizzes, I will NOT be posting the answers to these questions. And if you send me their whereabouts in a comment, I will NOT post that portion of the comment as I do not want to give away their locations. Good luck.

Somewhere in the Magic Kingdom a bronze plaque is embedded into the ground. It features a castle spire and the letters "M" and "K" (Magic Kingdom). It measures roughly 18 inches in diameter.

Note: Apparently this emblem is part of a new "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom" game and there are several of these located around the park. I was not aware of this at the time my blog was published.

Magic Kingdom Marker


At Epcot, tire tracks can be seen embedded into the pavement. The area in question is about 2 feet in diameter.


Epcot Marker


At Disney's Hollywood Studios, you can find a "contractor's signature" marker imbedded in the concrete. It reads: Mortimer & Co. Contractor 1928. For those of you who don't understand the significance, Mortimer was the name Walt wanted to give his new little mouse in 1928. However, his wife Lillian wasn't too keen on the moniker and convinced him to change the name to Mickey. This marker measures about 4x6 inches.


Studio Marker


At the Animal Kingdom, the Tree of Life is etched into the concrete someplace at the park. The etching is approximately 2 foot tall and 2 feet wide.


Animal Kingdom Marker



November 30, 2011

Beach Club Villas - Disney Vacation Club

Today I'm going to discuss Disney's Beach Club Villas. This resort is considered part of the Yacht & Beach Club property and was the fourth Disney Vacation Club (DVC) to open (July 1, 2002) at Walt Disney World. Like the Yacht & Beach Club, this addition was designed by Robert A.M. Stern of New York. There are 282 guest rooms divided into three categories: Studio units which sleep 4, One Bedroom units which sleep 4, and Two Bedroom units which can sleep 8.


Beach Club Villas Logo


Florida law requires that all time share properties set aside a small percentage of their rooms for "non-owners." This means that non-DVC members can rent rooms here. In addition, if the Villas have not been booked to capacity by members, Disney will open up additional rooms for non-members to rent.

There are no regularly manned desks at the Villas. Guests staying here use the check-in and concierge desks located at the Beach Club.

The Villas are just a short walk from the Beach Club. Guests cross a lovely courtyard and are greeted by Ariel near the main entrance.


Courtyard and Main Entrance

Ariel


Just inside the main entrance is a lobby of sorts. Off of this lobby are hallways leading to guest rooms, The Breezeway, and The Drawing Room.


Lobby


The Drawing Room is a quiet getaway and features several sitting areas and a television. Watercolor paintings, a Victorian dollhouse, and comfortable furnishings make this the perfect spot to curl up with a good book and escape. Note, the television is only turned on if someone wants to watch it, so chances are good you can find peace and quiet here.


The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room


The Breezeway connects the lobby with the pool area. This three story room is bright and sunny and has two seating areas for relaxing and conversation. However, since this is a thoroughfare between the lobby and the pool, this area isn't nearly as sedate as The Drawing Room.

The Breezeway features a number of shelves that are chock-full of seashells, oars, compasses, weathervanes, and other seashore paraphernalia. The large oil painting featuring Mickey as a hot-air balloon floating above the Villas is especially intriguing.


The Breezeway

The Breezeway

The Breezeway

The Breezeway


The Dunes Cove Pool could be compared to the Admiral Pool at the Yacht Club and the Tidal Pool at the Beach Club. It provides a refreshing retreat with plenty of lounge chairs and tables, yet its overall ambiance is peaceful. Guests staying at the Villas are entitled to use Stormalong Bay.


Dunes Cove Pool

Dunes Cove Hot Tub


Near the pool is a picnic table and BBQ grill for alfresco meals. The surrounding area has been sown with plants reminiscent of dune grass to help facilitate the seashore atmosphere.


Dunes Walkway

Picnic Table

BBQ

Dunes


On my latest visit to the Villas I stayed in a Studio room. In many ways, a Studio room is laid out similarly to a standard hotel room. When entering the room you pass the bath and closet area to reach the sleeping area. What sets a Studio apart from a standard hotel room is the kitchenette. The kitchenettes here feature a small refrigerator, small sink, coffee maker, toaster, microwave, flatware, glasses and cups, and paper plates.


Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Kitchenette


The one and two bedroom units at the Villas feature complete kitchens with a full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, and oven. Unlike the Studio kitchenettes, these full-sized kitchens provide you with the ability to cook elaborate meals and come complete with pots and pans, utensils, and everything else you might need.

The Studio vanity has one sink and plenty of counter space. A hairdryer can be found attached to the wall. Standard amenities like soap, shampoo, and conditioner are provided.


Vanity and Sink

Vanity and Sink


The toilet and shower are in a separate room and the space is more than adequate.


Toilet and Shower


Off of the vanity area is a closet containing a wall safe big enough for a laptop, collapsible baby crib, iron and board, luggage rack, and vacuum. Housekeeping service is only offered twice a week when staying in a Villa room on membership points. You are expected to reuse your towels and clean up after yourself. Daily housekeeping service can be obtained for an additional fee. If renting the room at the Villas, daily housekeeping service is provided.


Closet


A Studio room features one queen bed and a convertible sofa, allowing for four guests. The two high-back chairs are comfortable and the large table offers plenty of space for a meal or laptop. Electrical outlets and internet connections can be found near the baseboard behind the table. The bureau contains four drawers and three shelves. A flat screen TV and DVD player are also housed here.


Living and Sleeping Area

Living and Sleeping Area

Living and Sleeping Area


The convertible sofa is simple to open. One person can easily carry out this task. However, I wasn't quite sure what to do with the coffee table once I opened the bed.


Convertible Sofa


The decorator used a multitude of hues when designing this room, but the colors seem to blend well and convey a bygone era at the seashore. The bedspread continues the Little Mermaid theme and a number of the characters can be found in the pattern.


Bedspread

Rooms at the Villas offer a balcony or patio. Some balconies are larger than others. I was on a ground floor and my room faced out onto Epcot Resorts Blvd. During the day, I was aware of the traffic noises while sitting in my room as cars and trucks passed by.


Patio


To see a 2½ minute video of a Studio Room, check out the video below.



That's it for my coverage of the Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Beach Club Villas. I have created a 12½ minute video that covers the complete resort. Enjoy.



October 31, 2011

How I Write a Blog

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

Where do I begin

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

I'm living the dream!

What type of cameras do I use?

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

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


Spaceship Earth - Wide Angle

Spaceship Earth - Zoomed In

France Bridge - Wide Angle

France Bridge - Zoomed In


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

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

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


Nikon D80 and Nikkor 18-200 Zoom Lens


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

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


Sony High Definition XR-500V Camera


What software do I use?

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

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

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

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

Where do I live?

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

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

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

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

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

How do I select a topic?

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

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

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

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

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

Once I select a topic, how to I begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Morocco without People

Morocco with People

Norway without People

Norway with People


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

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

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

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

How do I research my articles?

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

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


Jack's Disney Library


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

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

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

How do I begin to compose my blog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's involved with uploading the blog?

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

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

How long does it take me to write a blog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about comments?

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

I'm living the dream!

September 25, 2011

The United Kingdom Pavilion - Part One

The United Kingdom Pavilion


When the Imagineers set out to design World Showcase, it wasn't their intent to recreate a particular time and place within a country. But rather design a space that represents the memories one might bring back with them after a visit to that nation. And so it is with the United Kingdom Pavilion. The buildings here offer a stroll through time. Each structure represents a different era in British history, but the facades are so skillfully crafted that the transition from one to another is seamless. As with all of the World Showcase pavilions, the detail here is exquisite. When visiting, spend some time examining the finer points. But before we start with the architecture, let's begin with the United Kingdom Pavilion's town center, Britannia Square.

Town squares can be found in settlements and cities around the world. They are usually located in the center of the community and were used as a gathering spot for the citizens. Typically the ground was packed hard or paved to support merchant's carts, musical concerts, and political rallies. These squares were often surrounded by meat and cheese markets, bakeries, and clothing stores. Usually, some sort of structure marked the center of the square. In earlier centuries, this was often a well. In time, fountains, monuments, and statues replaced the well as the square's centerpiece. When Britannia Square was being designed, a statue was originally proposed to anchor this gathering place. Several kings and queens were considered as well as Lord Nelson, Lord Byron, Robert Burns, and William Shakespeare. But in the end, a sundial was selected as it made no political or social statement. For those of you who never realized this was a sundial, I have included a close-up of its face.


Britannia Square

Sundial

Sundial


The United Kingdom Pavilion doesn't have a ride or a movie like some of the other World Showcase nations. But it has something equally entertaining - a pub. There are many places to imbibe along the promenade, but none beats the Rose & Crown. This is the quintessential spot to whet your whistle.

As with cultures around the world, the people of Great Britain have been brewing and drinking alcohol for centuries. When the Romans arrived at the British Isles, their network of roads gave birth to the Inn. It was here that a traveler could obtain lodging and refreshments. After the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons established alehouses. These were private residences that opened a room of their home for the selling of ale. In time, these homes became meeting places for the locals to discuss politics, gossip, and arrange communal help for their villages. The word "pub" comes from the shortening of "public house." Pubs required a license from the local magistrate which regulated gaming, drunkenness, undesirable conduct, and other directives. Pubs often had frosted or distorted glass to shield customers from the street traffic outside. Pubs were also often owned by breweries, making ale and beer a better value than wine and hard liquor. Many of these traits can be seen at the Rose & Crown.


Bass

Fully Licensed

Distored Glass


The Rose & Crown incorporates four different pub styles prevalent in the United Kingdom into one structure. The establishment's main entrance represents a street pub from the Victorian era of the 1890's. This architecture features brick and wood paneling.


Victorian Pub


Country or "provincial" pubs of the 17th and 18th century featured slate roofs and plaster exterior walls with stone-quoined corners.


Country or


The Dickensian-style pub includes half-timbered walls, a flagstone terrace, and slate roof.


Dickensian-style Pub


And finally, the waterfront or river pub is characterized by stone exterior walls, a clay roof, and decorative doorway.


Waterfront Pub


Outside the River Pub section of the Rose & Crown is a recreation of a lock found on the Grand Union Canal. The Grand Union Canal stretches 137 miles from London to Birmingham with branches that reach Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton. Along its route are 166 locks. This canal was used for the transport of goods (primarily coal and building materials) between communities.


Rose & Crown Lock

Grand Union Canal Plaque


It's interesting that the Imagineers chose to honor Thomas Dudley as the lockkeeper at the Rose & Crown Lock. Although Thomas Dudley was born in Yardley Hastings, a village near Northampton, England, his real claim to fame took place in the American Colonies. It was here that he served several terms as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was the chief founder of Newtowne, later Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the early years of Epcot, the Rose & Crown Lock contained gates (as can be seen in the above picture), but these have since been removed. Why? I don't know.


Rose & Crown Lock

Rose & Crown Lock


The Rose & Crown has two sections, the pub and the restaurant. In the early years, everyone entered through the front door of the brick structure. This can be seen in an older picture advertising both establishments. In later years, the entrance to the restaurant was moved to the side of the building and guests now enter the eatery through the Dickensian-style façade.


Pub and Dining Room Entrance

Pub Entrance

Restaurant Entrance


Inside the restaurant you'll find three dining rooms, each with a decor to match its exterior. Although subtle, there are distinct differences. The first picture corresponds to the Victorian era, the second to the Dickensian-style, and the third to the River or Waterfront design.


Victorian Dining Room

Dickensian-style Dining Room

River or Waterfront Dining Room


The Rose & Crown Restaurant also offers outside seating. Those tables that sit waterside offer outstanding views of World Showcase Lagoon. This is the perfect spot to enjoy a late night supper and watch Illuminations. Note, these tables can be requested, but not guaranteed.


Outside Seating

Outside Seating


Unfortunately, Americans often poke fun at English cuisine. Please do not let these jabs deter you from trying this great restaurant. Some of my best Epcot meals have been had here. I especially like their Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. It's scrumptious!

Like all Disney World restaurants, the Rose & Crown menu is continually changing. To see their current selection, click here. Reservations are suggested, but lunchtime meals can often be secured at a podium out front at the last minute.


Reservation Podium


Anyone who has toured Epcot between May and October knows that it can be hot and exhausting. During these months, the Rose & Crown Pub is just what the doctor ordered. Folks can stop in for a cold brew and relax and reflect upon their day. The atmosphere is congenial and the air-conditioning welcoming. And for those of you searching for something less intoxicating, a number of soft drinks are available.


Rose & Crown Pub

Rose & Crown Pub


One of the highlights of the Rose & Crown Pub is the Hat Lady. This eccentric American has made the United Kingdom and hats her passion. Her collection of headwear is extensive and each has a tale. During her performance, she will select a hat then regale the audience as to how it came to be in her possession and sing an appropriate melody. She also knows a long list of the best loved pub songs and encourages the bar patrons to sing along. The Hat Lady is extremely popular. Be sure to check the Times Guide for her schedule and arrive early.


Hat Lady


The pub can get crowded so an auxiliary bar has been set up outside and dispenses a variety of brews. Nearby, a number of shaded tables offer a wonderful atmosphere to sit and unwind. But don't for a minute believe you're having an original idea when you say to your drinking companion that this would be the perfect spot to watch Illuminations. Almost everyone already knows this and these tables are occupied well over an hour before the show.


Outdoor Bar

Outdoor Seating


The Rose and Crown bears the Latin motto 'Otium Cum Dignitate' ('Leisure with dignity').


Otium Cum Dignitate


My favorite Epcot people-watching spot is located in this same area. Four benches line the promenade and offer outstanding vistas of people as they run, walk, skip, limp, and trudge by. It's also in this spot that the World Showcase Players set up an impromptu stage and select guests to help tell a lighthearted story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. If you like puns and groaners, you'll love this show. Once again, check your Times Guide for performance days and hours.


Park Benches

World Showcase Players


On the south side of the Rose & Crown is Yorkshire County Fish Shop. As you might guess, this is the spot to order that English gastronomic tradition, fish and chips. The menu is quite limited at this counter service restaurant; besides fish and chips, the only other food offerings are a side of chips and short bread. Soft drinks and ale are also available. By the way, for those Americans that don't know, chips are what we call French fries. A limited number of tables and chairs are located nearby.


Yorkshire County Fish Shop

Yorkshire County Fish Shop Seating


Across the street from the pub is The Tea Caddy. This structure was inspired by the childhood home of Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare. This style of architecture was common in the 1500's and featured half-timbered walls and a thatched roof. Due to fire regulations, the roofing material here is actually plastic rather than straw or rushes. Larger homes of this era often had multiple fireplaces to help distribute the heat evenly. The largest of these hearths was used for cooking. This can be seen within the interior of The Tea Caddy.


The Tea Caddy

Anne Hathaway House

Fireplace


The Tea Caddy is sponsored by Twinings. This purveyor of teas, coffees, and hot chocolates was founded in 1706 by Thomas Twining. It is generally accepted that Twinings was the first to blend Earl Grey tea. The firm's logo was created in 1787 and is one of the world's oldest in continuous use. Besides a large assortment of teas, The Tea Caddy also sells brewing paraphernalia and a collection of shortbreads, shortcakes, biscuits, and other munchies to complement this steaming brew.


Twinings Tea

Tea Paraphernalia

Shortbreads, Shortcakes, and Biscuits

Twinings Logo


The Queen's Table is housed within buildings representing Elizabethan architecture prevalent in the 1600's. This architectural style was named for Queen Elizabeth I and is noted for having gable barge boards, diamond-shaped wooden moldings, trefoils, clovers, and chevrons. To add authenticity, the Imagineers designed the building on the left to lean ever so slightly. A close observer will notice crests in the leaded-glass window of the two-story structure. These are those of the four major United Kingdom schools, Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, and Edinburgh.


The Queen's Table

School Crests


The Queens Table sells Heirloom-brand bone china tea services. (Royal Doulton is no longer available here.) In addition, Alice in Wonderland tea sets and other table accessories can be found in this lovely shop.


The Queens Table Merchandise

The Queens Table Merchandise

The Queens Table Merchandise


Behind The Tea Caddy and The Queens Table is a wonderful example of an English cottage garden. In days of old, homeowners would work small patches of their land and grow food items to help supplement their diet. A variety of fruits and vegetables were often planted. Herbs were also found in these gardens, but they were usually planted for medicinal purposes rather than as a seasoning. As the country became more prosperous and fruits and vegetables easier to obtain, flowers began to find their way into these plots. Today, cottage gardens overflow with greenery and color.

The "homes" that face onto the cottage garden were taken from set drawings from the Mary Poppins movie.


Entrance to the Cottage Garden

Cottage Garden Homes

Cottage Garden Homes

Cottage Garden

Cottage Garden


Alice and Mary Poppins frequently show up near the entrance of the cottage garden to pose with guests.


Mary Poppins


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



September 3, 2011

Epcot's France Pavilion - Part One

I would never say that one World Showcase pavilion is more beautiful than another. Each is picturesque and captivating in its own way. But I would certainly be willing to use different adjectives to describe each pavilion. For example, I would call Morocco mysterious. Serene would work well to describe Japan. And one might use rugged to express feelings about the Canada Pavilion. But when it comes to the France Pavilion, enchanting is the word that comes to mind for me.

Visiting the France Pavilion is like taking a step back in time. The years between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I (1871-1914) were characterized by unusual political and financial stability in western and central Europe. Modern inventions like the motor-car, railroad, aeroplane, cinema, gramophone, and telephone began to emerge and become common place. Art Nouveau was in fashion and impressionist such as Renoir and Matisse were making names for themselves. During this time, the designs of Baron Georges Eugène-Haussman to modernize Paris, came to fruition. Boulevards were widened and a seven story height limit on buildings was adopted. This era would later become to be known as the Belle Epoque (beautiful age). It's this time period in French history that the Disney Imagineers chose to recreate in World Showcase.

The waterway running next to the France Pavilion represents the Seine as it flows through Paris. In the years before International Gateway, it had a far more peaceful appearance than it does today.


Seine River (old picture)

Seine River (new picture)


Guests touring World Showcase counterclockwise enter the France Pavilion via a pedestrian bridge. This overpass recalls the old Pont des Arts, the first metal bridge in Paris.


Pont des Arts Bridge (Epcot)

Pont des Arts Bridge (Paris)


If you arrive at the France Pavilion at opening (11am), you might be greeted by French cast members proudly displaying Drapeau Tricolore (Tricolor Flag) or singing and waving joyously to welcome you to their Epcot country.


France Pavilion Cast Members

France Pavilion Cast Members


When crossing the "Pont des Arts" bridge that leads to the France Pavilion, be sure to look down on the banks of the Seine. Here you can see an easel and painting. If you study it carefully, you'll notice a budding artist is painting an impressionistic interpretation of International Gateway across the river. Once across the bridge, you can find another artist has also been struck by the beauty of the area.


Banks of the Seine

Oil Painting

International Gateway

Oil Painting

Pont des Arts Bridge


Just like in the real Paris, tourists can't help but notice the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance. Built at approximately 1/10 scale of the original, this 69 foot recreation (sitting atop a 34 foot high building) uses forced perspective to make it appear larger than it actually is. The Imagineers used blueprints from Gustave Eiffel's 1889 original to design their model. So detailed is this recreation that a close observer might notice tiny elevators and turn-of-the century beacon lights.


Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower


Before I continue, I would like to answer a question that I am frequently asked. "Why aren't there any people in your pictures? Do you have special access to the parks?"

I have no special privileges. As far as Disney is concerned, I'm just an average guest (unless I've been invited to a press event.) I do nothing that any of you can't do - if you're willing to take the time and expend the energy.

In the case of the France Pavilion, I arrived at International Gateway ten minutes before World Showcase officially opened. Once the rope was dropped, granting me access to the countries, I was at the front of the pack. I walked quickly and safely toward the pavilion, snapping pictures all the way. Since I knew that the vast majority of my fellow early-birds were heading for Boulangerie Patisserie to secure a delicious pastry, I needed to shoot the outside courtyard and seating area for this eatery before they could make their purchases and settle in. After that, I dashed from building to building, and interior to interior, taking pictures as fast as I could. I knew that I had about 20-30 minutes of people-free opportunities to get the shots I wanted.

Like I said, you could do this too - if you wanted to give up some of your valuable touring time for the sake of people-less pictures. But is that what you really want to do on your vacation? Probably not.

When you first set eyes on the France Pavilion, it's difficult to decide what to discover first. The rich architecture, the manicured landscaping, the multitude of colors, and the layers of texture are mind boggling. The foot of the "Pont des Arts" bridge is a wonderful spot to stop and take it all in.


France Pavilion


The city of Paris is represented by the main thoroughfare of the pavilion (as seen in the above picture). The small towns and provinces of France can be discovered on Le Petite Rue, a small street found in the back of the pavilion.


Le Petite Rue

Le Petite Rue


Some of you might have noticed the ugly green metal boxes lining the wall that separates the pavilion from World Showcase Lagoon. In Paris, boxes similar to these line the embankments of the Seine. Containing rare books, artwork, and modern-day souvenirs, bouquinistes (secondhand booksellers) hawk their wares from these boxes, just like their ancestors have been doing since the 1500's. Note, nothing is sold from these boxes at the France Pavilion.


Green Merchant Boxes - Closed

Green Merchant Box - Open


More street vendors can be found in this same vicinity. For a few francs (okay, for a few dollars), artists will draw your caricature or personalize a parasol. And if your gastronomical pallet needs to be satisfied, you can sample a glass of French wine or indulge in a crépe, espresso, or cappuccino at a nearby booth.


Merchant Stall

Cast Member and Parasol

Merchant Booth


Kiosks, like the ones seen in these next two pictures, are a prominent sight along Parisian streets. They serve as information boards, advertisements, and newspaper stands. The ones seen in the France Pavilion are plastered with the works of French artists, many promoting upcoming exhibits.


Kiosk

Kiosk


There is a lovely park-like setting bordering the "Seine." Although not accessible to the public, this area of the France Pavilion was inspired by the famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by pointillist artist Georges Seurat. In reality, this was better illustrated before International Gateway was build and the embankment installed.


Banks of the Seine

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte


It was the Imagineers' desire to create an urban ambiance in the France Pavilion that reflects perpetual springtime in Paris. To achieve this, landscaping plays a vital role. Flowers, blossoming trees, and colorful plants can be seen everywhere. With this foliage, it was hoped that an atmosphere, capable of inspiring an impressionist artist, would be achieved.


Flower Pots

Flower Bed

Flowering Trees and Fountain

Flowering Trees and Kiosk

Hanging Flower Baskets


Jardin à la française (French formal garden) is a style of landscaping based on balance and symmetry. The idea is to impose "order" into nature. This style of gardening reached its apex in the 17th century when landscape architect André Le Nôtre used his talents at Versailles. In the decades that followed, this style was widely copied by other courts of Europe. A recreation of this gardening technique can be seen in the France Pavilion.


French formal garden


Four Disney characters are on hand at the France Pavilion to pose for pictures. Marie from the "The Aristocats" and Aurora from "Sleeping Beauty" meet guests near the kiosk at the foot of the "Pont des Arts" bridge. Belle and Beast from "Beauty and the Beast" greet guests at a location between the France and Morocco Pavilions. A sign board in these areas list the times.


Marie

Belle


That's it for Part One of my France Pavilion review. Check back tomorrow for Part Two and my video.



August 25, 2011

If I Ruled the World - Part Two

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

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

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


Theater in the Wild


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

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

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

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


Disney Merchandise

The Magic Shop


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

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


Emporium Addition


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

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

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

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

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

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


Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends


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

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

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

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


Downtown Disney Stage

Tomorrowland Stage


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

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

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


Canoe on Rivers of America


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

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

August 24, 2011

If I Ruled the World - Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Aunt Polly's

Aunt Polly's


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

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

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

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

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


Akershus

Crystal Palace

Cinderella's Royal Table


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

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

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


Diamond Horseshoe Review


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

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

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


Thunder Mountain FastPass Machines

Outside the Land Pavilion


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

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

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


Monorail Cab


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



August 15, 2011

The Enchanted Tiki Room - A look back

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

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


Disneyland's Jungle Cruise


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

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

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


Mechanical Man


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

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

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


Tiki Room Poster

Walt Inside the Tiki Room


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

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


Barker Bird


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

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

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

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


Tiki Room Ticket


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


Disneyland Preshow Tiki Gods

Disneyland Preshow Tiki Gods


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

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

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

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

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

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


Tropical Serenade Poster


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


Preshow Tiki God Shrine


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


Tropical Serenade Pagoda


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


Orange Bird

Orange Bird


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

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

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


Zazu and Iago

William and Morris


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

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

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

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


Enchanted Tiki Room:


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


Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!


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



August 14, 2011

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

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


Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management


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

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


Entrance

Preshow

Preshow

Jose

Tiki Bird

Bird-Mobile

Singing Flowers

Drummer Tikis

Flowers and Chanters


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

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

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

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


August 12, 2011

Contemporary Resort – Part Two

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

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

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


Earth Tone Balconies


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


Mary Blair Mural at Disneyland


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


Mary Blair Mural at the Contemporary


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


Contemporary Pool

Contemporary Pool

Contemporary Pool & Slide


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


Bay Pool - Old Shoreline

Bay Pool - New Shoreline

Bay Pool - New Shoreline


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


Water Play Area


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

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


Pool Deck & Beach

Cabana


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


Contemporary Marina

Contemporary Marina


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

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


Mickey Photo Op

Mickey Sitting on the Edge of a Building


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

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

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


Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant


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



The Contemporary was an opening day resort (October 1, 1971). As you may know, the Contemporary and Polynesian were built using modular construction. The rooms were constructed by the U.S. Steel Company at a manufacturing plant three miles away. An assembly line, much like those utilized for automobiles, was used and rooms were completed at the rate of approximately 15 units per day. When complete, the 9-ton rooms were trucked to the hotel site and lifted into place by a crane. The rooms measure nine feet high, fifteen feet wide, and 32 feet 7 inches long. It took approximately 1½ years to build the Contemporary Resort with construction beginning around December 1969-January 1970. The A-frame stands 184 feet high, is 220 feet wide at the base, and 468 feet in length and was designed to withstand hurricane force winds of up to 100 mph. Contrary to a popular rumor, the rooms were never designed to be removed once they were set in place. This construction method was used for economic reasons and to test new building techniques, not so the units could be swapped out for remodeling.


Rooms Under Construction

Transporting Rooms to the Hotels

Contemporary Under Construction

Lifting Rooms Into Place


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


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


Standard Room Configuration


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

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


Closet

Vanity

Safe and Drawers


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


Bathroom Sinks


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


Towel Rack


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

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


Tub and Shower


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


Water Closet


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

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

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


Two Queen Beds


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


Television


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


Desk


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


Day Bed


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


Sliding Glass Doors


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


Balcony


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

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



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


Garden Room No Balcony


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


Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms Exterior

Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms Exterior

Garden Wing Deluxe Room Layout

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Bath

Garden Wing Deluxe Bath


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



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



August 11, 2011

Contemporary Resort – Part One

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

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

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

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


New Orleans Square - Disneyland

Jack & Marianne at Grad Night


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

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


Contemporary Resort - 1970's


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


Tomorrowland and the Contemporary


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

Back to my Tomorrowland/Grad Night story"

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

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


Dixie Cup Trees

Natural Trees


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

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


Monorail inside the Contemporary

Grand Canyon Concourse

Monorail inside the Contemporary


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

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


Walkway to the Magic Kingdom


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


Bay Lake Boat


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


Polynesian

Grand Floridian

Bay Lake at Evening

Bay Lake at Morning

Fireworks


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


The Wave Entrance

The Wave Dining Room

The Wave Lounge


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


Contemporary Grounds


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


Contempo Cafe Sign

Contempo Cafe Ordering Stations

Contempo Cafe Ordering Station

Contempo Cafe Kitchen

Contempo Cafe Dining Room


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

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


Chef Mickey's Sign


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


Chef Mickey Photo Op


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


Chef Mickey's Dining Room

Chef Mickey's Dining Room

Chef Mickey's Buffet

Mickey Posing for a Picture


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


Outer Rim Sign

Outer Rim Seating

Outer Rim Bar


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

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


California Grill Check-in Desk


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


Fourth Floor Fireworks Observation Platform


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


California Grill Dining Room

California Grill Dining Room

California Grill Table

California Grill Bar


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

There is a dress code at the California Grill.

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

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

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


Sand Bar


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


Bay View Gifts


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


Fantasia


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


Fantasia Market


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


The Game Station


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


Olympiad Health Club

Olympiad Health Club


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


Contemporary Styling Salon


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



August 2, 2011

Should the City of Epcot Have Been Built?

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

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


1970's Promotional Booklet


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


City of EPCOT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 2, 2010

Time for a Nap

We're all accustomed to seeing children at Walt Disney World asleep in a stroller or in their parent's arms. That's to be expected. Most youngsters just don't have the stamina it takes for marathon touring. This sight always brings a smile to my face.

But what really makes me grin are adults who crash long before they make it back to their hotel room. They have underestimated the energy it takes to tour park after park, day after day.

Some people make no qualms about their exhaustion and spread out into a reclining position in order to maximize their catnap. It doesn't matter that the surface they are lying on may be rock hard.


Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World


Others never really intend to nap, but once they sit down, they lose the battle with the sandman and their eyelids become heavy and eventually their body's slump over.


Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World

Sleeping at Disney World


To my knowledge, I've never slept in a public area like the people in the above pictures. But I know for a fact that I have slept in more than one dark theater at Disney. Carousel of Progress and the American Adventure are two of my favorite napping places. Please don't get me wrong, I LOVE both of these attractions. But there is something about a dark, air-conditioned room and a cushioned chair that allows me to temporarily lose the battle with fatigue.

So here is my advice to you. If you're staying at a Disney hotel, or relatively close to Disney property, think about returning to your room midday for a nap, some down time, and maybe a dip in the pool. This will allow you (and your children) to return to the parks in the evening refreshed and ready to enjoy all that is offered. Because when you think about it, Mickey's PhilharMagic loses a lot of its allure when you sleep through it or the guy sitting next to you snores.

So let's be honest, tell me what places you've slept at Walt Disney World besides your hotel room?



September 23, 2010

Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part Three

Hi all,

Before I discuss the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


For the last two days, I've been telling you all about the Swan and Dolphin Resort and the amenities that are offered. Today I'm going to discuss why these non-Disney hotels exist in the middle of the action and are not relegated to some remote corner of the World.

In the early 1980's, the Disney Company was subjected to several hostile takeover attempts. In order to fend off these attacks, the company needed an infusion of money -- quickly. One of the parties Disney turned to was Tishman, the construction company that built much of Epcot. In return for the loan, Tishman would be allowed to build two convention hotels somewhere on property. In the end, Disney prevailed and the takeover attempts were thwarted, but many of the company's executives were ousted. It was at this time that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells entered the picture with a directive to further develop the Florida property.

In 1984, the only on-property hotels were the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Golf Resort (later the Disney Inn, currently Shades of Green). Eisner wanted to build more, architecturally pleasing resorts to lure off-property guests to spend their entire vacation on Disney property. But there was this pesky contract with Tishman that needed to be honored first. After reviewing Tishman's plans, it was discovered that they intended to build uninspired "boxy" buildings. This did not please Eisner, so in typical fashion, he demanded that the contract with Tishman be broken. Of course Tishman did not take kindly to this and filed a countersuit against Disney. In the end, Disney had to back down but a new contract was crafted. It gave Tishman a prime location next to Epcot but it gave Disney the right to determine the design. So Eisner hired famed architect Michael Graves, who had never designed a hotel before, to create the whimsical Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Swan opened January 13, 1990 and the Dolphin opened June 1, of the same year.

In all my research, I have never found a good explanation as to why Eisner okayed a design that would intrude so much on Epcot. If you stand anywhere on the east side of World Showcase (from Mexico to Italy) you can see these massive buildings standing behind France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. When Walt built Disneyland, he insisted that a berm be built around his park. He wanted to keep the outside world from intruding on his realms of fantasy. It's beyond me why Walt's philosophy was not followed in this case.

This next picture was taken from between the Mexico and Norway Pavilions. Notice how the towering Dolphin dwarfs the Eiffel Tower in France.


Swan & Dolphin Seen from Epcot


But if you can get past the Swan and Dolphin's controversial location, they represent inspired architecture. They're fun. They're silly. They're whimsical. They are not "boxy" anywhere U.S.A. hotels. These are one-of-a-kind buildings that are full of magic. It's just a shame they are located where they are.

There are two persistent rumors that will not die in regards to the Swan and Dolphin. First, that the "black boxes" in the middle of each building can be removed so a future monorail can pass through the buildings (in much the same way the monorail travels through the Contemporary).


Dolphin Black Box

Swan Black Box


Another rumor insists that the giant swans and dolphins were placed atop the wrong buildings. The swans sit on a building painted with ocean waves while the dolphins are on top of a building with palm trees. Many think this is incorrect and ask "Shouldn't the dolphins be on the building with waves and the swans associated with the foliage?"


Swan Waves

Dolphin Leaves


Both of these rumors can be dispelled with one explanation.

Even though these are not Disney hotels designed by Imagineers, architect Michael Graves crafted a "story" to help him with his design. Unfortunately, this story never found its way into any formal documentation and has more or less been lost with time.

Graves wanted to represent the essence of Florida with his design and color selections, and he felt the theme of "water" could best accomplish his goal. As the story goes, there was a massive upheaval beneath the ocean that spewed forth and created an island. As the land mass grew, it lifted dolphins out of the water. It's these dolphins we see sitting on top of the hotel (or island). And the island is lush with tropical growth which is why we see banana leaves on the side of the building (island) and palm trees encircling the structure. The black box represents the heart of the island that burst open when the upheaval occurred. (It's symbolism, folks.)

As the island continued to grow, water began to cascade down the side of the mountain. As more water began to flow, it started to splash a nearby island (the Swan). If you take a look at the walkway that connects the two buildings, the railing is wave-like, representing the water flowing toward the Swan. And the waves on the side of the Swan represent the water lapping up against its shores.


Dolphin Waterfall.jpg

Walkway Waves


When it comes to the swans themselves, I have read two accounts. The first suggests that the swans were so transfixed by this phenomenon that they decided to take a closer look and were turned to stone as they sat watching the events unfold. The second story says that the eruption captured the attention of two passing birds and they were so awed by the spectacle that they alighted on the top of the waves to get a better look and were magically transformed into swans.

The original interior of both resorts helped tell this story, but during the redesign, much of the tale's elements were lost. It's also said that Graves selected the swan and dolphin because they weren't already in Disney's arsenal of characters.

I think this story illustrates that the swans and dolphins were placed onto the correct buildings. And as for the black boxes being removed for a monorail, this just doesn't make sense. I know the "heart of the island" story is a bit over the top and symbolic, but if you look at things practically, these spaces are tremendously huge. Why would you take out all of those cash-generating rooms when all you need is a small space for the monorail to pass through? I grant you, it would be impressive to see this happen, but it just isn't so, folks.

So there you have it, the controversial Swan and Dolphin Resort - a resort that has its admirer's and its foes.



September 22, 2010

Givenchy – Grand Opening in the France Pavilion

Hi all,

Before I discuss Givenchy, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



Givenchy Logo

Today, September 22, 2010, Givenchy opened its only stand-alone retail location in the United States. Where? The France Pavilion at Epcot. Located in what was once the "library" section of the pavilion (with a "Beauty and the Beast" stained-glass window backdrop), this 400 square foot shop offers the entire line of Givenchy fragrances, cosmetics and skincare.


Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop


To celebrate their association with Disney, Givenchy has created a fragrance to be sold exclusively at Epcot, eaudemoiselle de Givenchy (eau de toilette vaporisateur spray). Ladies, I'm a guy and know very little about perfumes. All I can tell you is that it smelled good to me. If you're curious, you're going to have to check it out for yourself.


Exclusive Epcot Fragrance


Givenchy also offers limited edition scents. Each year, three flowers are selected from various countries around the world. After the harvest, these flowers are used in the creation of three unique fragrances. In much the same way a vintage bottle of wine is packaged and marketed, these scents are dated and once they run out, there are no more.


Limited Edition Frangrances

Limited Edition Frangrances


Another feature of Epcot's Givenchy shop is a complete makeup counter, complete with experts to help you select and apply the appropriate product. And as a learning tool the associate will be happy to apply the makeup to only half of your face then allow you to take over under his guidance for the second half. If you decide to purchase their products, you will be provided with a complete, step-by-step chart so you'll know exactly what to do once you return home.


Makeover

Makeover


Guys, if your girl decides on one of these makeovers, I see two options for you. You can be dutiful and stand there during the transformation or you can cross the street and partake in some wine tasting. But when I think about it, there is a third option since Givenchy also offers a number of men's fragrances for you to try.

I chose not to inquire about prices since this is a constantly changing item. If I quoted you something now, it would not necessarily reflect the price when you visit. However, I was assured that the prices are not inflated here at Epcot. Items in this shop will be priced identically to those at Macy's back home.

For those of you with sensitive noses or allergies I will tell you, the aromas in this shop are not overpowering. I have asthma and I am susceptible to such things, but it was not an issue here. One of the Givenchy cast members suggested that it could be because they use all natural ingredients in their perfumes.

So next time you're in the France Pavilion, be sure to check out this latest shop. If you want to pamper yourself with a nice non-Disney souvenir, this might be a good spot.



September 16, 2010

La Hacienda de San Angel & La Cantina de San Angel

Hi all,

Before I discuss La Hacienda, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



If you've visited Epcot during the last year, you may have noticed that the counter service restaurant in the Mexico Pavilion (Cantina de San Angel) has been surrounded by decorative plywood while this establishment underwent a transformation. Construction is now complete and today, September 16, 2010, two restaurants now stand were there was once just one. A newly designed La Cantina de San Angel will continue to serve counter service meals and a new La Hacienda will offer table service dinners starting each evening at 4pm.


La Hacienda and La Cantina


The entrance to La Cantina is located near the bridge that brings guests into the Mexico Pavilion. Just inside are five windows where you can place your order. Although the menu is new, it still offers some of your favorites like Tacos de Carne, Nachos, and Empanadas de Queso. Three varieties of Margaritas and Dos Equis beer can also be purchased here. To see the complete menu, click here.


Counter Service Windows

Counter Service Window


The outside seating area takes advantage of the view of World Showcase and a breeze from the water is refreshing. La Cantina can accommodate 150 guests. However, from 11am until 3ish, guests can also sit in air-conditioned comfort inside the adjacent La Hacienda. The following pictures are of La Cantina only.


La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area


But the real excitement comes with the opening of La Hacienda de San Angel. This 250 seat table service restaurant will open each evening at 4pm. Designed to resemble different living areas of a hacienda, one room creates the feel of a living room while others capture the charm of a grand salon, pantry, and artist's studio. Original pieces of art adorn each room and unique chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The entrance is located across from the pyramid.


La Hacienda Logo

La Hacienda Entrance

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area


The restaurant is beautiful and that in and of itself is worth a visit. But many will want to plan their meal here to coincide with the presentation of IllumiNations. The Imagineers knew this so they designed large and tall windows to give everyone in the restaurant a great view of this nightly spectacular.


Views of World Showcase

Views of World Showcase


The menu will feature starters like queso fundido (warm cheese with poblano pepper and chorizo) accompanied by fresh homemade tortillas. Entrees include a mixed grill for two with flank steak, chicken, chorizo and vegetables or a seafood version with grouper, shrimp and scallops; roasted shrimp in pepper garlic broth; flank steak with spring onions, refried beans and cactus leaves; and grilled red snapper with roasted corn and cactus leaves. Dessert specialties include chocolate churros, sweet tamales and fruit empanadas. To see the complete menu, click here.


Chef with Food


Last night I attended a press event to kick off the opening of these two new restaurants. The evening began on the deck of La Cantina where we were treated to amazing margaritas and samples of many of the dishes that are served in La Hacienda.


Margaritas

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

I sampled several different tequila drinks (they were small and I quit drinking well before IllumiNations so I could drive home safely). All were very good, but I think the "Classic Margareta" is by far the best. It had a good strong flavor that made me pucker and smile.

I also enjoyed the many food samples that were being distributed by smiling waiters and waitresses, but without a doubt, the "Tacos de Camarones" were the best - outstanding in fact. The menu describes this dish as follows: Fried shrimp, chipotle-lime aioli, cabbage, lime and salsa verde, all served over flour tortillas. I had seconds and thirds of this taste treat.


Tacos de Camarones


I have to be honest with you. I've had hit-and-miss experiences at the San Angel Inn, the restaurant located inside the Mexico Pavilion. I think the atmosphere is fantastic, but the food just misses for me. However, I have every intention of returning to La Hacienda de San Angel. If what I sampled last night is any indication of my future meal, I'm going to be a happy camper.

All three restaurants in the Mexico Pavilion are run by Palmas Services LLC. Their founding began in Mexico City in 1963 when they converted a seventeenth century hacienda into an internationally acclaimed eatery, Restaurante San Angel Inn. The Palmas group also operates the restaurants and lounges at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. Here, I really enjoy the Pepper Market but I have marginal feelings when it comes to the Maya Grill.

I have created a short video that highlights both La Hacienda and La Cantina. However, since this was a press event, I was not able to shoot people-free shots. You'll have to look through the guests enjoying their appetizers and cocktails to see the restaurant.



As the evening progressed, we ventured inside of La Hacienda for more socializing and opening ceremonies. The speeches ran for almost twenty minutes but I have edited it down to a mere six. The last two minutes show the official ribbon-cutting complete with Donald and Mickey.



As I said earlier, I have every intention of returning to both La Cantina and La Hacienda. The views are spectacular and the food that I sampled was delicious. Reservations are strongly suggested for La Hacienda and can be made online or by calling 407-929-3463.


September 15, 2010

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2010

Hi all,

Before I discuss Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack



This is my third year in a row to blog about Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP). I always attend on the first night (this year, September 14) so I can let you know what's new and what's changed. But the reality of the situation is this; MNSSHP does not vary too much from year to year. This makes it difficult for me to present you with new, earth-shattering information. It's always my objective to make my blogs as entertaining as possible - and hopefully you will find this article enjoyable. But if you're a regular reader of mine, you might notice that much of what I present here is very similar to my previous year's posts. So if you've been to this event before and are familiar with my work, think of this blog as a walk down memory lane. However, if you've never been to MNSSHP, then this blog will be chock-full of useful information.

For many years, Universal Studios featured Halloween Horror Nights. This was a separate, ticketed event and the park was transformed each evening from its regular theming into a frightening ghost town. It was marketed toward teenagers and young adults and the idea was to truly scare their guests with monsters, vampires, werewolves, and other terrifying surprises.


Universal Advertisement


In response, Disney started their own Halloween party. But since they cater to a more diverse age group, Disney realized that their gathering would need to be more tame than Universal's. Thus was born, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. All you have to do is look at Universal's advertisement (above) and compare it to Disney's (below) to realize these two very popular events are marketed toward different audiences.


Disney Advertisement


On given nights during the months of September and October, extra theming is added to the Magic Kingdom and it is transformed into a playful Halloween experience, suitable for ALL ages. This is a separate, ticketed event and admission can be purchased at any of the Guest Relations windows, theme park ticket booths, or online.


Mickey as a Ghost


Here are the dates for this year's event:

September 14, 18, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30
October 1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, and 31
November 1

Note, these parties have a cap on how many people may attend each night. On most evenings, you'll be able to experience a relatively hassle free party. However, the closer you get to Halloween, and especially on the big night itself, the park can be busier than you might expect for a "private party."

Prices for MNSSHP are as follows (all prices listed include tax):

Advance Purchase: $57.46 for adults 10 and older / $51.07 for ages 3-9*

Passholder and DVC Member Discounts: $53.20 / $46.81*

Day of Event (if still available): $63.85 /$57.46

*Not available October 29 and 31. Those two dates are priced at a premium: $69.17 (ages 10 and up) and $62.78 (ages 3-9), tax included.


Party Sign at the TTC


This year, the monorails get into the spirit with new holiday decorations.


Monorail


The party officially runs from 7pm - 12 midnight, however, guests can enter the Magic Kingdom at 4pm with their MNSSHP ticket. Upon entering, you will be given a wrist band and a trick-or-treat bag.


Wrist Band

Trick-Or-Treat Bag


If for some reason you didn't receive a wristband and/or trick-or-treat bag when you entered the park, these can be picked up at Stitch's Great Escape located in Tomorrowland. Here, a number of Halloween clad cast members will be happy to help you.


Stitch's Great Escape

Halloween Clad Cast Members


At precisely 7pm, cast members make a sweep of the entire park and politely, but firmly ask anyone not wearing a wrist band to leave the park.

For the last two years, I have received a number of letters from readers complaining that Disney does not remove all of the "day" guests from the park -- and I'm at a loss on how to respond to your comments. All I can tell you is that Disney does the best they can. If people want to cheat the system, they're going to cheat the system. My only suggestion is to complain at City Hall if this is truly interfering with your enjoyment of the events. I cannot help you with is situation. Please note, if you send me a comment that contains references to this situation, I will either delete the reference or not publish your comment at all.

If you find you're in the park on a party night and don't have a ticket to MNSSHP, but want to honestly partake in the events, you can buy a ticket at City Hall if the party is not sold out.


City Hall


Although some decorations and exhibits are not displayed until the party begins, others are on exhibit for all of September and October. In Town Square you'll find some of your old friends waiting to delight you.


Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow

Town Square Scare-A-Crow


In years past, I have highlighted some of the theme-specific pumpkins associated with shops like Casey's Corner and the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. And you should definitely check these out. But this year I'm going to show you some of the silly and scary pumpkins that line the balconies and window sills of Main Street.


Carved Pumpkins

Carved Pumpkins

Carved Pumpkins

Carved Pumpkins


Don't forget to check out the Mickey adorned light posts.


Mickey Lamppost


During the first few hours after 4pm, a number of cast members line Main Street with clever signs, welcoming you to the night.


Welcome Signs


Around the Hub are a few more Halloween favorites and after the sun sets, lights may play tricks on your eyes.


2010MNSSHP19.jpg

The Hub Decorations

The Hub Decorations

The Hub Decorations

Lights

Lights


Normally, guests over the age of nine are not allowed to wear costumes in the Magic Kingdom, but this rule is waved for this event. Many children and a fair number of adults dress for the occasion. Here are a few simple rules to follow when designing your costume:

Costumes should be child-friendly and not obtrusive or offensive.

Adult guests may wear masks, but the masks must not obstruct vision (you need to be able to see where you're going).

Guest who dress like Disney characters are not to pose for pictures or sign autographs for other guests.

Do not bring large or dangerous props with you.


Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume

Guests in Costume


This fan of Disney and Halloween decorated her ECV as her favorite Magic Kingdom attraction, a Jungle Cruise boat.


Jungle Cruise EVC


Since dressing in costume is a big part of the event, you might want to consider making reservations at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or The Pirates League for a child makeover. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique accepts their last reservation at 7:30pm and The Pirates League is open until 8pm. However, I would suggest making an earlier reservation so your child can thoroughly enjoy the party in princess or pirate garb.


Pirates League

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique


Halloween merchandise is readily available at many stores.


Halloween merchandise


Candy is generously distributed at a number of locations throughout the park. Just look for the Goofy's Candy Co. sign. Besides some inexpensive lollypops, name-brand treats are also dispensed like, Oh Henry, Snickers, Tootsie Roll, Skittles, and SweetTarts. Note, these are the miniature versions, like the ones you'd buy to give out from your own home. The selection of candy is similar at all locations.


Goofy's Candy Company

Candy Distribution

Halloween Candy


The cast members working the Haunted Mansion also get a makeover. Besides their regular, somber costume, their faces are made up to look ghoulish. Also, a "spirit from beyond" takes center stage on the lawn of the mansion and entertains guests with wonderful stories of her life, both living and dead. Many let others pass them in line so they can stand longer and listen to her tales. To add to the creepiness, the gravestones are given a spooky look with the addition of low lying fog.


Haunted Mansion Costume

Haunted Mansion Spirit


There are a couple of Character Dance Parties held during MNSSHP. One at the Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland and another at Stitch's Club 626 in Tomorrowland. These venues do not offer the standard photo op. Here, the kids can actually dance and mingle with some of their favorite characters.


Stitch

Pluto

Jessie

Woody


Character Meet-and-Greets are numerous so it's easy to get pictures with some of your favorite Disney friends as you've never seen them before. In Fantasyland, you can have your picture taken in front of Cinderella's glass coach. I even succumbed to the festivities and allowed myself to be photographed with Alice.


Alice and Jack

Donald and Daisy

Baloo and Guest

Timon

Wicked Witch

Seven Dwarfs

Cinderella's Coach


Presented on the Castle stage is the Villain's Mix and Mingle show. Here, some of Disney's greatest bad-guys and gals dance and rant and try to impress you with their evilness. This show is presented at 7:45, 8:50, 10:05, and 11:15. I shot a seven minute video of a portion of this show.



I think most people would agree that Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade is the highlight of the evening. Shown twice each night (8:15 & 10:30), this spectacle is a hoot. Be sure to find your viewing spot by the announced beginning time as the Headless Horseman makes a mad dash along the parade route to the cheers of the crowd. If you're not there in time, you miss him. Also note, the second parade is significantly less crowded. If you're planning on staying late, skip the first parade and enjoy the park.

The beginning of the parade starts off tame enough with some of the not-so-scary characters, but then the villains take over for a haunting good time. Toward the end of the parade, several Goofy's Candy Company carts stroll by and a number of his minions pass out treats to the crowd. I filmed the entire parade and it can be seen here.



At 9:30, a special fireworks show called Happy HalloWishes is presented. A Ghost Host introduces villain after villain and the castle is illuminated appropriately while color coordinated fireworks burst overhead. Once again, I filmed the entire show for your enjoyment.



Not all of the rides and restaurants are open for this event. But since Disney caps the attendance at a reasonable number, it is rarely crowded and lines are usually short to non-existent. Here is a list of the OPEN rides and attractions for MNSSHP:

Swiss Family Treehouse
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Splash Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Haunted Mansion
Hall of Presidents
Peter Pan's Flight
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mickey's PhilharMagic
Snow White's Scary Adventures
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Tomorrowland Speedway
Astro Orbiter
Space Mountain
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Stitch's Great Escape
Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor (closes at 10pm)
The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm

To see the MNSSHP handout front cover, click here.
To see the MNSSHP handout back cover, click here.
To see the MNSSHP map, click here.

I enjoyed MNSSHP. However, I am an annual pass-holder and visit the Magic Kingdom often. Before I purchased my ticket, I had to ask myself if I really wanted to spend $50+ to see a special parade and fireworks show, because that's what it really boils down to. Yes, Disney has added some holiday theming, candy, and special entertainment, but is that really enough to justify the money. Obviously, many people think so as this event is extremely popular. But you need to consider this before you attend so you won't be disappointed.

Addendum:

For some reason, Disney is telling people that they cannot enter the Magic Kingdom using their MNSSHP ticket until the official opening time of 7pm.

I entered the Magic Kingdom yesterday using my MNSSHP at 4:02pm and the park was already set up to accommodate early arrivals. The east tunnel under the train station was for "party" guests entering the park and the west tunnel was for "day" guests leaving the park.

Technically, Disney doesn't have to let anyone in until the official time, but it's in their best interest to accommodate early arrivals. They couldn't handle the crowds if all 10,000 party goers arrived at the same time.

I cannot definitively tell you that you'll be granted early entrance, but I seriously doubt that Disney will keep you out without extenuating circumstances.


Addendum 2:

One of my readers wrote with the following message:

I just spoke with member services, the first person was adamant that the MNSSHP tickets would not be honored until 7pm, then I asked to speak to someone else. That person called Magic Kingdom and confirmed that they would allow MNSSHP ticket holders in after 4 like you observed. I then had him call Magic Kingdom back and check on the status of Space Mountain for the MNSSHP. They said it will be open! I'll still ride it with my family as soon as we enter the park that day just in case.


Remember to share YOUR experience at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party too!


September 11, 2010

Pecos Bill – Tall Tale Inn and Café

Hi all,

Before I discuss Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and Café, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


Many fairytales have become so associated with Disney that it's hard to imagine that they ever existed before the animators brought them to life. Ask anyone the names of the seven dwarfs and they'll struggle to recall Grumpy, Dopey, Doc, Sleepy, and forget the other three. But as we know, it was the Grimm Brothers that first took this folktale and publicize the story of Snow White back in 1812. It's interesting to note, Walt was not the first to give the dwarfs names. This actually occurred in a 1912 Broadway play when author Jessie Graham White came up with his own set of monikers for this band of men. And Walt was not the first to make a movie about this sweet heroine and her protectors. This occurred in 1902 when a silent film was produced by Siegmund Lubin. And other Snow White films were made before and after Disney's 1937 masterpiece debuted. Yet it's Disney's version that we remember.

Pecos Bill has a similar history. Folktales circulated for years about the roughest, toughest cowboy that ever lived. It was Edward O'Reilly who first published an adventure of Bill's in a 1916 edition of "The Century Magazine." Later, a number of his exploits were collected and reprinted in a 1923 book titled "Saga of Pecos Bill." As time went by, other writers added new feats of daring-do to Bill's credit. Between 1929 and 1938, Edward "Tex" O'Reilly and Jack A Warren co-authored a cartoon strip about Bill that was published in "The Sun." But it was Walt who created the character of Pecos Bill that sticks in our brains.

On May 27, 1948, "Melody Time" opened in theaters. This collection of seven "shorts" contained a number of stories including the legend of Johnny Appleseed and the tale of Little Toot. The movie ended with a rip-snorting finale of Pecos Bill's adventures sung to us by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.


Melody Time Poster


It's interesting to note, when the DVD of "Melody Time" was released on June 6, 2000, the cigarette that Bill smoked throughout the segment, and an entire verse from the song which talks about smoking, had been electronically removed.


Pecos Bill with Cigarette

Pecos Bill without Cigareet


Pecos Bill is remembered at the Magic Kingdom with his own restaurant in Frontierland, Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and Café. Its main entrance is located at the far end of town and is housed within a saloon facade. However, this restaurant uses several styles of architecture as the building rounds the corner. Classic Western clapboard construction gives way to that of adobe used in the American Southwest. This was necessary so that the transition between Frontierland and Adventureland would be seamless to the guests as they pass from one land to the next.


Tall Tale Inn and Café Front Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and Café Side Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and Café Back Entrance


Tall Tale Inn and Café is a counter service establishment that serves burgers, wraps, salads, and BBQ sandwiches. This eatery opens at 10:30am and becomes very busy by 11:30am. If you want to avoid crowds, it's best to arrive early. This is also one of the few counter service restaurants that allows guests to place their order with a cast member or via a computer terminal.


Counter Area

Computer Ordering Station


I actually have a love-hate relationship with one of the features in this restaurant, the topping bar. My "love" is generated by the fact that I can garnish my burger, sandwich, and taco salad with all the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, cheese, and peppers that I like. And I especially like the freshly sautéed onions and mushrooms that are cooked right before my eyes. But I "hate" the crowds this station generates. It can become maddening, jockeying for position as I move from topping to topping - which is why I always arrive early if I'm planning on making Pecos Bill's my lunchtime destination. But in the end, it's worth the hassle.


Topping Bar

Toppings

Grill


There are several seating areas in the restaurant. One section is themed like the old west while another is modeled after a Mexican patio. Outdoor tables are also available and a pleasant place to dine when the weather is good.


Western Seating

Western Seating

Mexican Seating

Outdoor Seating


If all of the indoor tables are occupied at Pecos Bill's, there is a hallway that leads to the dining rooms of El Pirata y el Perico located in Adventureland. You can usually find empty tables in this area.


El Pirata y el Perico Seating


The restaurant's namesake is prominently displayed above a rock fireplace and the legend of this establishment can be found written on a nearby piece of rawhide.


Fireplace with Bill's Picture

Rawhide Legend


Since I'm pretty sure none of you have ever taken the time to read it, I'll present it for you here. And if you're not in the mood to read the entire tale, then just read the second paragraph.

Considered by many as the meanest, toughest, roughest cowboy of them all, Pecos Bill has been credited for inventing all things western, from rodeos to cowboy dancing, to spurs, hats and lassos. He can draw faster, shoot straighter and ride a horse harder than any man alive. Unfortunately, we don't know when and where he was born, just that he was raised by coyotes and that his name comes from the river in Texas. Over the years, Pecos Bill along with his trusty horse, Widowmaker, have made quite a name for themselves forging new trails and taming others. Legend tells us several tall tales, like the time Pecos Bill jumped on a powerful twister and road it like a bucking bronco. Then there was the time when Pecos Bill dug out a path to create the Rio Grande river during a severe drought that hit his beloved Texas. And then there was the day Pecos Bill was so bored he took his handy six-shooter and shot out all of the stars in the sky except for one. That's why they call Texas the "Lone Star State."

In 1878, with the encouragement of his friends, Pecos Bill decided to open his own watering hole, a restaurant whose motto very much reflects its one-of-a-kind owner. "The tastiest eats and treats this side of the Rio Grande." Pecos Bill called it the Tall Tale Inn and Café and it quickly became a popular hangout for some of his legendary friends. As time went by, it became a tradition when each friend paid a visit they would leave something behind for Pecos Bill to remember them by. As you can see from the articles and artifacts that don the walls, many of which carry inscriptions, Pecos Bill had some mighty impressive friends. Seems that every trail eventually led to the Tall Tale Inn and Café.

If you pay attention, you'll notice the building is dated 1878, the year Bill opened Tall Tale Inn and Café.


Building Date


Also, if you check the restaurant walls, you discover the objects left behind by Bill's many friends. Each artifact has been carefully displayed and is accompanied with the donor's name engraved on a nameplate. Pictured here are Johnny Appleseed's pot-hat, Kit Carson's scouting tools, and Davy Crocket's satchel and powder horn.


Johnny Appleseed's Pot-Hat

Kit Carson's Scouting Tools

Davy Crocket's Satchel and Powder Keg


I especially like the artifacts displayed in the next picture. If you notice, the nameplate is intentionally left blank. If you don't get the joke, think about it.


Mystery Friend


While you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out some of the signs that are posted on the outside walls of the Frontierland buildings. Some are quite clever. I especially like this one.


Frontierland Sign


So there you have the story of Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and Café. Like everything at Disney, it's teeming with details if you take the time to look.


September 1, 2010

New Space Mountain Sound System

Any of you who read my blogs on a regular basis know that I'm generally pretty positive when it comes to Disney. I have my occasional complaint, but overall, I'm generous with my praise. But today I cannot give Disney glowing accolades for the new sound system they installed on Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.

Before I go any further, let me give you a little background. Last year, Space Mountain was closed for an extensive refurbishment. During this time, there were a lot of rumors and speculation that Disney would be modifying the mountain's ride vehicles by adding speakers to each car. People were hoping that the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain would offer the same audio experience as can be had at Disneyland's Space Mountain and Rock 'N' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, this did not come to pass. When the Magic Kingdom's version of this perennial favorite reopened, it was music-less. This disappointed many fans and they let their dissatisfaction be known on a number of websites.

Two days ago (August 30, 2010), Disney unexpectedly announced that they had added a new sound system to Space Mountain. In a general announcement they said it wasn't added during the extensive rehab in order to bring the ride back on line as quickly as possible. They also said they did not retrofit the ride vehicles because they wanted the experience to be different than that of Disneyland's Space Mountain. Instead, they strategically placed 60 speakers throughout the mountain. So today I headed to the Magic Kingdom to experience this new addition.


Space Mountain


I'm sorry to say, I was not impressed. Unlike Disneyland's version and Rock 'N' Roller coaster where each car hears a complete piece of music from beginning to end during the ride, at the Magic Kingdom, the music is just piped into the entire structure. And the volume grew and decreased as I road closer and further from the various speakers. And to be honest, if I wasn't specifically listening for the music, I probably would never have noticed it. And I suspect this will be the case with most visitors. The music is more of a mood enhancer than a special effect. If I had to grade this new feature, I'd give it a C- because I'm generous when it comes to Disney.

Bottom line" The ride is better with the music than without, but I doubt that most people will ever notice it's been added.



August 17, 2010

Coronado Springs Resort -- Part One

Hotel%20-%20Coronado%20Springs%20Logo.jpg


First, a little history.

In the early 16th century, the people living in New Spain (now Mexico) began to hear rumors of the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" located in the deserts hundreds of miles to the north. The legend told that these cities held vast amounts of wealth just waiting to be claimed by anyone fortunate enough to discover their whereabouts.

In 1535 Francisco de Coronado left his home in Salamanca, Spain and came to the New World. He climbed the social and political ladder quickly and was soon appointed to the position of Governor of Neuva Galicia. In 1540, Mexican Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza sent Coronado on an expedition to find the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" and secure their riches for Mexico and Spain. Coronado's travels took him through Northern Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, and as far north as Kansas, but he never did discover these magnificent cities teeming with gold. He returned to Mexico empty-handed in 1542.


Francisco de Coronado


Disney's Coronado Springs Resort was not so much named for Francisco Vasquez de Coronado as it was for his journeys. While traveling through Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States Coronado encountered breathtaking landscapes, unique architecture, and fascinating cultures. The resort draws its inspiration from the missions, pueblos, haciendas, and cabanas he saw during his journeys. In addition, a new myth regarding the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" has emerged at the Coronado Springs Resort. It proposes that if the stars align correctly during the new corn moon, images of the golden cities will be reflected on the waters of Lago Dorado, the Lake of Gold, found in the middle of the resort.


El Centro at Night


Coronado Springs is one of three moderately priced resorts located at Walt Disney World. The others are the Caribbean Beach Resort and the Port Orleans Resort. Coronado Springs opened on August 1, 1997, has 1,921 guest rooms and suites, and is the only resort in this price category to have a full-fledged convention center. The entrance to the complex is located off of West Buena Vista Drive.


Main Entrance Sign

The Spanish influenced architecture is unmistakable when you approach El Centro (The Hub or Center). This area was intended to create the illusion of a 16th century Mexican village marketplace, complete with stalls, civic buildings, and eateries set alongside the waterfront. A multifaceted façade was created to invoke the look of a community that has grown over the years.

Underneath the porte-cochère are a number of cast members waiting to help you with your luggage and direct you to the registration desk.


Porte-cochère


The indoor design hints at the lavish palaces and town halls of latter-day Mexico. The centerpiece of this design is "La Fuente De Las Palomas" (Fountain of the Doves). This lovely fountain is a gathering place and acts as a seating area for families and friends waiting to begin their day. On top of the fountain is the traditional symbol of hospitality, a pineapple. Be sure to take a look at the hand-painted domed ceiling which is filled with clouds and doves. The sky and clouds were painted on canvases off-site and applied to the dome in pieces. The doves were added once everything was in place.


La Fuente De Las Palomas

Dome


In a room to the right of the fountain are the registration and concierge desks. The architecture in this room is stunning. Large wooden beams crisscross the ceiling, hammered-tin chandeliers hang from wrought iron chains, and stucco arches line the wall. Be sure to take a look at some of the murals located behind the check-in desk. They depict colonial life in Mexico.


Registration Hall

Mexican Mural


To the left of the fountain is Panchito's Gifts and Sundries which sells the typical array of Disney souvenirs. Named after Panchito Pistoles, this feisty rooster is one of "The Three Caballeros" and joins Donald Duck and José Carioca in a tour of Mexico and Latin America.


Panchito's Gifts and Sundries


"The Three Caballeros" (1944) followed the movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943) and was part of a good-will tour promoting Latin and South America. Tiles depicting these feathered adventurers can be found high overhead in the shop. In addition, a statue of Panchito Pistoles is prominently located in the middle of the store and a likeness of José Carioca can be seen perched on a balcony railing.

In the Disney series "House of Mouse" (2001-2003) we learn a little more about Panchito's lineage and find out that his full name is Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero González III. Somehow his original family name of Pistoles is lost in this explanation.


The Three Caballeros


Panchito Pistoles

José Carioca


"The Three Caballeros" was a collection of short segments loosely bound together by the presence of Donald Duck opening gifts throughout the movie. One of these shorts is titled "The Flying Gauchito" and tells the story of a little boy from Uruguay who discovers a winged donkey, Burrito. A likeness of this cute little animal can be found near the entrance of the shop.


Burrito


Also radiating off of the fountain is a long hallway. Along this corridor you'll find several restaurants and a lounge/bar. This is also the way to the convention center.


Hallway


Café Rix, a grab-and-go restaurant, was added to Coronado Springs several years ago. Before its existence, there wasn't any place for guests to quickly pick up a bite to eat and be on their way. Breakfast is offered from 6:30am to 11am and includes such items as egg-&-cheese sandwiches, pastries, quiche, and fruit plates. Lunch and dinner is served from 11am to midnight and offers standard fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza. A temping selection of ice cream is also offered. Tables are available next door in Rix Lounge. If you want to take the food back to your room, the cast members will be happy to provide you with a nice carrying bag.


Café Rix

Café Rix

Café Rix


Rix Lounge, located next door to Café Rix, is perhaps one of the best watering holes at Walt Disney World. Even though it can accommodate 300 guests, it feels dark, mysterious, and cozy due to its well-designed layout. It's a wonderful place to hide away for an hour or so. Although the tables are available all day to accommodate Café Rix, the bar is only open from 5pm to 2pm. A DJ cranks out music from 9pm Thursday through Saturday and a private room is also available for special events. Full catering options are available. For more information about Rix Lounge, click here.


Rix Lounge

Rix Lounge

Rix Lounge


One of the things I hate about the food courts at the other resorts is the way you pay for your meal. By the time everyone in your party gets what they want and you make it to the cashier, your food is already starting to cool off. And if there's a line waiting to pay, your meal can be cold by the time you get your beverage and find a table. But this isn't a problem at Coronado Spring's Pepper Market.


Pepper Market


Your meal begins with a host or hostess escorting you to an assigned table. As you're being seated, each person is given a "receipt" and it's explained that everything you order will be recorded on this piece of paper. Shortly after the hostess leaves the table, a server will approach and take drink orders and each person's selection is written on their receipt. Refills for Coke products and similar beverages are free and brought to you by your server.


Pepper Market Receipt


Designed to resemble an open-air marketplace, the Pepper Market is comprised of a number of stalls and booths, each serving a specialty. One stall might offer grilled items while another serves pasta dishes. It's fun to wander from stall to booth and vendor to merchant, inspecting their wares.


Food Stall


When you finally make up your mind, you tell the vendor what you'd like to order and they will stamp your receipt with your selection. Depending on cooking time, you order might be dished up immediately or within a couple of minutes. Once you're served, just return to the table with your food and receipt in hand. If you want dessert, just take your receipt back to the food stalls and make another selection. At the end of the meal, one person in your party can gather up all of the receipts and pay as you leave. No more cold food. A 10% gratuity is automatically added to your bill unless you're on a Dining Plan. In this case, no tip is added so please remember your server.

The seating area is very festive. A large kachina doll stands watch over multi colored tables and chairs, complete with umbrellas to add to the illusion you're dining on an expansive patio. Strands of lights hang overhead and soft music plays in the background.


Kachina Doll

Pepper Market Seating


At the far end of El Centro is the Maya Grill. But you won't find typical Americanized Mexican fare like tacos and burritos here. This is an upscale restaurant where guests sit inside a Mayan temple and are offered seafood, chicken, beef, and pork prepared with a Latin and Caribbean flair, much of it cooked on a wood-fired grill. The restaurant also features wines from Mexico, Argentina and Chile. The Maya Grill is open for Breakfast from 7am to 11am and for Dinner from 5pm to 11pm.


Maya Grill

Maya Grill

Maya Grill


I think I've eaten at the Maya Grill five times, but to be honest, it's been at least four years since my last visit. The reason? This restaurant has yet to knock my socks off. The food and service has always been fine, but just fine, nothing spectacular. And although I like sections of the restaurant, other areas in this room leave me cold. To me, portions of this eatery have a "coffee shop" feel about it. When I'm paying $7-$13 for an appetizer and $20-$29 for an entrée, I want things to be better than "fine." But as I said, I haven't eaten here in a while. Although the atmosphere is unchanged since my last visit, maybe the food is now spectacular.

If any of you would like to share your dining experience at the Maya Grill with me, either positive or negative, please feel free to add a comment to this blog. Whenever I've had a less than fantastic experience at Disney, I like to think it was just bad timing on my part and not indicative of an overall pattern. If you leave a comment, others can scan the remarks and obtain more than just my opinion.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Coronado Springs is the first moderately priced Disney resort to offer full convention services. Although I have never had a problem with conventioneers interfering with my enjoyment of the resort's facilities, I started to wonder what would happen if a group of 500 let out for dinner and they all descended on the Pepper Market or Rix Lounge at the same time. I like to think that Disney designed Coronado Springs with this in mind and the resort can handle the ebb and flow of people. I asked several cast members about this, but I was unable to secure a firm answer. Once again, I'm curious about your thoughts. If you've experienced a convention letting out while staying here, let me know how everything went. Remember, I'm looking for positive as well as negative feedback.

You can also leave and read comments in the Rate & Review section of Allears.

El Centro sits on the shores of Lago Dorado or Lake of Gold. This fifteen acre body of water offers a tranquil setting for cocktails at Laguna Bar (open 11am to 11pm) or for a run around the ¾ mile jogging track.


Lago Dorado

Laguna Bar


This area is also the perfect spot to gather with your friends and family and enjoy some good conversation. There are a number of tables, many with umbrellas, in which to kick back and relax. Nighttime is especially pleasant here when the heat of the day has dissipated and a cool breeze blows off of Lago Dorado.


Seating by Lago Dorado

Seating by Lago Dorado

Seating by Lago Dorado


And don't forget to check out "The Three Caballeros" topiary located nearby.


The Three Caballeros


The Marina is the spot to rent surreys, bikes, kayaks, pedal boats and more. Please note, this facility is open seasonally so if these amenities are important to you, check with your reservationist when booking your room.


The Marian


This ends Part One of my article about Coronado Springs Resort. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.


July 7, 2010

Port Orleans French Quarter - Part Two

Thanks for checking back for Part Two of my French Quarter blog.

Leading from The Courtyard to Doubloon Lagoon (the swimming pool area), is a rather unique walkway. Here you'll find a number of jazz-playing gators to liven things up. This is also an irresistible picture spot. Here's a shot of a much-younger me on my first stay at the French Quarter followed by a similar shot taken recently. Notice how the length of my shorts has changed.


Gator Alley

Jack and a Gator

Jack and a Gator


Flanking this walkway is a children's playground (ages 2 -12) and hot tub (open 7am to midnight).


Children's Playground

Hot Tub


Further along the walkway is Mardi Grogs Pool Bar (I just love this pun). Open 11:30am until dusk, this spot serves alcoholic concoctions, soft drinks, and snacks.


Mardi Grogs Pool Bar

Mardi Grogs Pool Bar


The harlequin character that guards the swimming pool is based on a similar figure found next to Canal Street and the Algiers Ferry Terminal in New Orleans.


Harlequin Character


The pool area at the French Quarter is called Doubloon Lagoon. The centerpiece for this oasis is "Scales" a huge sea serpent that snakes its way in and around the deck. Legend has it that when the French Quarter was in its infancy, folks created a makeshift serpent to frighten children away from the dangerous bayou. Eventually, this creature became a part of the Mardi Gras celebration and ultimately, a permanent fixture of the French Quarter. Today, kids enter Scales and slide down his tongue for a splash landing. Atop Scales is King Neptune, keeping a watchful eye on those below. And more jazz-loving gators can be found nearby.


Scales

Scales

Doubloon Lagoon


Gator Band

Gator with Horn


Adjacent to the main pool is a children's wading pool, but there are no secondary, "quiet" pools at the French Quarter. However, guests may also use any of the pools at Disney's Riverside Resort located a short walk up the Sassagoula River. Towels are available at Doubloon Lagoon; however, you'll need to take your room towels with you when using other pools. You can call Housekeeping to replenish the towel supply in your room.


Children's Pool

Gator with Sax


Also near the pool is the one and only self-service laundry facility. "Laundry on the Levee" features a large number of washers and dryers in air conditioned comfort. Vending machines offer soap, bleach, beverages, and change. If you must wash clothes while on vacation, this is a good spot as you can easily enjoy the pool while taking care of this otherwise boring task. Dry cleaning and laundry service is also available for pickup from your room.


Laundry on the Levee

Laundry on the Levee


The French Quarter opened on May 17, 1991 with 432 rooms in three guest buildings. In the months to come, the resort was expanded to seven buildings and a total of 1,008 rooms. Of these, 946 rooms have 2 double beds and 62 rooms have a king-size bed (with a higher room rate). There are also 12 disabled-accessible rooms. The typical room is 314 square feet. Each building contains 144 rooms and is clearly identified with a number and a musical instrument associated with jazz music.


Building Numbers

Building Numbers


Although the seven buildings are quite large, the clever use of color, different styles of wrought iron, brickwork, rooflines, and angles create the look of row houses in New Orleans rather than large, institutional structures. Lush landscaping and cobblestone "streets" add to the effect and make guests believe they're wandering in a bygone neighborhood rather than a modern resort.


French Quarter Exterior Buildings

French Quarter Exterior Buildings

French Quarter Exterior Buildings

French Quarter Street

French Quarter Street


To help you find your way around, the streets have been given some imaginative names that are sure to make you smile.


Sign Posts

Sign Posts

Sign Posts


Between many of the buildings are manicured courtyards complete with fountains. Note, most of these areas are designated smoking sections so those of you with an aversion, plan accordingly.


Fountain and Courtyard

Fountain and Courtyard

Fountain and Courtyard

Courtyard


Basic rooms contain the following:

Two double beds or one king
Chest of drawers
A table and two chairs
Vanity area with two sinks - curtain divide from bedroom
Private shower/tub & toilet area
Clock-radio-alarm
Cable TV with Disney programming
High-speed Internet Access (for an additional fee)
Hairdryer
Safe
Iron and Ironing Board
Coffee Maker
Refrigerator

For guests with disabilities, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and rooms designed for the hearing impaired are available (not shown). Elevators and snack and beverage machines can also be found in each building.


Table and Chairs

Chest of Drawers and TV

Beds

Vanity

Toilet and Shower


Finding the right spot to park your car is a breeze. Large, easy-to-read signs mark each lot and none are too far away from your room. Note, staying at a Disney Resort entitles you to complimentary parking at the theme parks.


Parking Indicator Signs


For me, one of the most delightful activities at Walt Disney World is a boat ride on the Sassagoula River. Flat-bottom craft make their way between the French Quarter, Riverside, and Downtown Disney. Service begins each day at 10am with pickups every 20 minutes. Starting at 4:30pm, the interval is 10 minutes until the end of service at 11pm. Bus service to the resort is available from 11pm to 2am.


Sassagoula River Boat


I like the French Quarter. I feel it is more compact than the Riverside, thus, easier to navigate. However, it might not be perfect for everyone. A number of facilities and amenities are only available at the Riverside Resort next door. Although Disney touts this as an easy journey, it isn't necessarily so. Depending on your room location, the walk can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes (in the heat or rain). And waiting for the boat can be just as long if not longer. Here are a few of the services found only at the Riverside:

Boatwright's - a full service restaurant
Fishing hole and fishing excursions
Boat rentals
Bicycle rentals
Horse-drawn carriage rides
Quiet pools

Now if you don't plan on using any of these services, then I think you should definitely consider a stay at the French Quarter. As I said at the beginning of this article, Disney has done a wonderful job of combining festivity with relaxation. Charm oozes from every nook and cranny and your senses are in for a treat. It's hard to believe the French Quarter is a moderate resort. It has an allure worthy of a deluxe facility.

I have created a 10 minute video that highlights most of the resort. For those of you who are curious, the songs played are:

Down in New Orleans (from the Princess and the Frog)
Swanee River (Disneyland's Royal Street Bachelors)
Happy Rag (Disneyland's Royal Street Bachelors)
My Grandfather's Clock

Enjoy.




June 23, 2010

Outdoor Audio Description Technology for Guests with Disabilities

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


Assistive Technology Device

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


Jack with ATD


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

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

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

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

Download and LISTEN HERE

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


ATD for Hearing Impaired


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

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

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


Walt with Girl in Wheelchair


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


Drinking Fountain and Braille Map


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


WDW Transportation


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


Special Guest Rooms


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

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


Zero Entrance Swimming Pools and Special Golf Cart


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


Blizzard Beach Gondola


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


Parade Route and Grand Marshal Vehicle


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


Jungle Cruise

Toy Story Mania


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


Sign Language Interpreters


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

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

as well as Disney's webpage: WALT DISNEY WORLD GUESTS WITH DISABILITIES



June 6, 2010

Main Street Electrical Parade - Walt Disney World

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.




April 3, 2010

Which Picture Doesn’t Belong #1 -- The Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz. Remember, you might have come up with an equally good answer - something I didn't think about.

Once again, DO NOT send me your answers. No winners will be announced and there are no prizes to win. This is strictly for your amusement.


A: Picture 3 is an AudioAnimatronics animal on the Jungle Cruise. The others are of real animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris.


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B: Pictures 2, 3, and 4 were all opening day countries in Epcot (October 1, 1982). Norway (Picture 1) didn't open until June 1988.


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C: Although all of these rides are extremely similar to one another, the attractions in Florida, Tokyo, and California are all named Haunted Mansion. Picture 4 is of Phantom Manor in Paris, a different name.


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D: Picture 1 is of the All Star Sports Resort, a budget accommodation. The other pictures are of the Yacht, Polynesian, and Contemporary, all deluxe resorts.


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E: Horizons in Picture 1 no longer exists. Tower of Terror, Dinosaur, and Carousel of Progress are all still going strong.


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F: Although all four rides depicted spin, Pictures 1, 2, and 3 fly while the Teacups in Picture 4 stays on the ground. However, Picture 3, Triceratop Spin is in the Animal Kingdom while the other three are all in the Magic Kingdom. So both 3 and 4 are correct. (But I was going for 4).


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G: Although all of the pictures are of cars, Picture 2 of a Main Street Vehicle is the only one that doesn't run on a track.


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H: All of the pictures were taken at Downtown Disney, but Picture 4 was the only one taken at the Westside. The other three were taken at the Marketplace.


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I: Only Picture 2, the General Joe Potter is a real boat.


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J: Although all of the pictures depict attractions that no longer exist, only Picture 4, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was located in Fantasyland, the other three were in Tomorrowland.


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K: Picture 3 of the Main Street Train Station is the only picture that can still be duplicated today. Mickey's Sorcerer's Hat obscures the Chinese Theater in Picture 1. Bay Lake Tower now stands next to the Contemporary, making Picture 3 impossible. And Mickey's Hand was removed from Picture 4.


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L: Picture 3 is at Disneyland. Pictures 1, 2, and 4 are at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.


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M: The castle in Picture 3 is named Cinderella Castle. The castles in Pictures 1, 2, and 4 are all Sleeping Beauty Castle.


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N: Attraction poster Number 1 is from Disneyland, California. All the others are from the Magic Kingdom in Florida.


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O: Picture 2 of Goofy's House is at Disneyland, California. All the others are from the Magic Kingdom in Florida.


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P: That's Typhoon Lagoon in Picture 1 while the rest were all taken at Blizzard Beach.


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Q: Picture 3 is the odd picture. All the other attractions have Cast Members narrating your adventure.


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R: Picture 2 of the Liberty Tree in the Magic Kingdom is the only real tree.


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S: Picture 4 is of the Hong Kong Jungle Cruise and this scene only exists at this park. The others are all at the Magic Kingdom in Florida.


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T: Picture 3 is at Disney's California Adventure while the other three are all at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


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U: Picture 3 was taken in the Horizons attraction. Pictures 1, 2, and 4 were taken in the World of Motion attraction.


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V: The gorilla in Picture 1 was taken on the Pangani Jungle Exploration Trail. The Komodo dragon, taper, and tiger were taken on the Maharaja Jungle Trek. I realize that the Komodo dragon is a reptile and the other three are mammals, but I thought that was too easy.


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W: Picture 2 is of African Outpost at Epcot's World Showcase. The other three were taken at Harambe in the Africa section of the Animal Kingdom.


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X: Picture 1 is of the Seattle monorail. Picture 2 is the Tokyo Disney Resort monorail. Picture 3 is the Disneyland Resort monorail. And Picture 4 is of the Walt Disney World monorail.


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Y: Picture 4 was taken at the All Star Sports Resort. The other three were taken at the Pop Century Resort.


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Z: Picture 2 no longer exists in Dinoland USA at the Animal Kingdom. This dinosaur was removed to make room for Aladar.


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April 2, 2010

Which Picture Doesn’t Belong #1 - The Quiz

I've got another quiz for you. In each picture are four smaller pictures. Three of them belong to a grouping, but one doesn't for some reason. It's your job to figure out which picture is out of place and why.

In my explanations, I will refer to the pictures as follows.


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It is possible that you'll come up with an answer different than mine, but equally valid.

For the most part, the pictures are of Walt Disney World. However, when I've included pictures from other parks, I felt that a person familiar enough with Florida could still figure out the misplaced picture.

DO NOT send me your answers. No winners will be announced and there are no prizes to win. This is strictly for your amusement. Tomorrow I'll post my answers. So grab a piece of paper and letter it A through Z.

Good luck.


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March 20, 2010

Signs at Walt Disney World - The Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz. Some of these were pretty hard. I would say that anyone who got twenty or more correct is a Disney Detail Expert.


A - Epcot - American Adventure


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B - Animal Kingdom - Africa


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C - Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland - Near Space Mountain


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D - Epcot - Odyssey Restaurant


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E - Studio - Animation Courtyard


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F - Studio - Near Studio Backlot Tour


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