Theme Parks Archives

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.


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 & CafΓ© 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.

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 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 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 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 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."


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.

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


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.


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.

April 30, 2012

Disney Code of Conduct

Jack Spence Masthead

I read "Dear Abby" every day. She often gives great advice - and sometimes, not so great. Occasionally, she'll run a letter written by one of her readers reminding us to behave "correctly" under certain circumstances. For example, a bank teller might write in suggesting that we have all of our paperwork completed before reaching the window. And a supermarket checker might suggest not getting into the "Ten Items or Less" line unless you actually have ten items or less.

I always laugh when I read these columns because I know that the intended audience never recognizes themselves in these situations. We always believe it's the "other" guy misbehaving, not ourselves. But despite the fact that I think these articles are basically useless at changing human behavior, I'm going to write my own version of this "advice" column in connection with visiting Disney parks. I'm hoping against hope that it might make people rethink some of their actions. Silly me.

First, and foremost, I want to cut everyone some slack. When people pass through the turnstiles, they leave their brains behind - myself included. Disney parks offer so many sights, and sounds, and smells that it overwhelms the senses. There is so much happening all around us that it's impossible to process it all. It's little wonder that we behave differently inside the Magic Kingdom than we do on the outside. People have a sense of wellbeing in a Disney park. We think nothing bad can happen to us inside the magical world of Disney. For example, the person who works in a big city and crosses many busy streets in their daily life without incident, will be the same person who trips over a curb on Main Street. Like I said, we leave our brains someplace else when we enter a Disney park.

So here I go with my list of suggestions aimed at "certain" guests. Not you, my faithful readers, but the "other" guy.

Bag Check:

Unfortunately, the world we live in is not as innocent as the one Walt left in 1966. Today, security guards must check all guests' bags before they enter a park. And the key word here is "ALL." If you have a purse, a camera bag, a Disney bag wadded up in the back of your stroller, any container that can be closed and does not fit in your pocket, you MUST let a security guard check its contents. You CANNOT go through the "No Bags" line. It's that simple.

Bag Check

And if you do accidently find yourself in the "No Bags" line and the security guard asks you to proceed to Bag Check, don't ask him or her to make an exception for you and check your bag(s). If they make an exception for you, then they have to make an exception for the next guy. This just complicates the job they're trying to do and slows down the line for those guests who don't have bags waiting behind you.


In the days of real film and developing, if someone walked in front of me just as I was snapping a picture, I would be annoyed. But not so much anymore. In the age of digital photography, I just shrug and take another picture. Since most people are kind enough to wait while guests snap a photo, I have to believe those who pass in front of me were just so caught up in the moment that they never noticed me and my camera. I know I've unthinkingly walked in front of my share of photographs.

However"¦ I would like to offer some suggestions to would-be photographers.

If you're taking a picture across a busy walkway or thoroughfare, you do not have five minutes to compose the perfect shot. You have roughly 10 seconds. That's about all the time people are willing to wait for you. You need to point and shoot.

Ten Second Rule

If you're group is posing in front of an icon, like the entrance sign to an attraction, or a fountain, or topiary, or the Partners statue, move away from the icon once the picture has been taken. The photographer should not join the group in front of the icon to discuss the merits of the photograph and try to determine if a second shot is needed. There are others waiting to take the same picture.

Move Away from the Icon

Cast members and recorded messages will often ask that guests refrain from using flash photography on certain attractions. Please comply. It is very annoying to those around you.

Flash Photography

Doorways & Escalators:

There is something about doorways that compels people to stop dead in their tracks once they reach this opening. I don't know why, but they do.

If you are exiting an attraction or shop, do NOT stop in the middle of the doorway. There are people behind you who want to exit (or enter). Please proceed to a less trafficked area to take care of whatever it is that needs taking care of.


In this same vein, do not stop at the top or bottom of an escalator. Move away! There are most probably people riding behind you and the escalator is going to deposit them into the space you're occupying.


Counter Service Restaurants:

Disney does their best to post their menus conspicuously so folks can read them and make up their minds BEFORE getting in line. I understand that if the line is long, you might get into queue beforehand with the thought that all decisions can be made in advance of reaching the cashier. But I'm amazed at the people I encounter that haven't even looked at the menu until they are asked by the cast member what they'd like to order. This is NOT the time to be querying your party. This should have been done earlier.

Checking the Menu

And another thing that baffles me is the matter of payment. People really seem surprised when the cashier asks for money. Please have your credit card, room charge, or cash out and ready to give to the cashier. After ordering, is not the time to be opening your purse or wallet to search for a form of payment. This should have been done while you were in line.


Confined Spaces:

More often than not, Disney parks are crowded. This means we must share our personal space with total strangers. For most people, this really isn't a problem and at Disney it often promotes some great conversations when waiting in long lines. But I would like to offer a few reminders.

For those of you wearing a backpack, your back now extends 8 to 12 inches further than it usually does. Remember, when you're standing in a crowded line or on the monorail, you cannot make quick twists and turns. If you do, you will whack the people standing next to you with your backpack. The same is also true for those of you with long hair. When you abruptly turn your head, your hair hits a stranger in the face.


Long Hair

When a group of two or more is walking along a sidewalk or narrow passageway, and they encounter another group of two or more coming toward them, BOTH parties need to form single file lines so everyone can pass easily. I have grown tired of always being the person who yields so the other party won't be "inconvenienced."

Yield on Narrow Passageways

Wheelchairs & Strollers:

Maneuvering a wheelchair in a congested park can be a challenge. It's difficult enough to find an opening for a small child let alone a bulky wheelchair on a crowded day. And many people perceive that the wheelchair will be moving slower than they want to walk, so they cut in front of it as to not be "inconvenienced" by its slower pace - which only makes it all the more difficult for the chair-bound person and their party to move through the crowds. So please, give the person seated in the wheelchair and their "driver" a break. Are you really in so much of a hurry that you can't allow them to proceed in front of you?


I really, really, really feel sorry for people pushing a stroller in a crowded Disney park. Maneuvering one of these baby-carriers can be a difficult challenge when traversing from one attraction to the next. I know my heels have been bruised more than once by a distracted parent. For the most part, I'm pretty understanding. These things happen when it gets crowded. However, my patience grows thin when I'm hit by the same stroller more than once.



Cast members are fantastic! However, things sometimes go wrong that are completely out of their control. When things do go awry, try to assess the situation. Was it really the cast member's fault? If it was, ask to speak to a supervisor - or go to Guest Relations. If it wasn't the cast member's fault, don't take it out on them. Ask to speak to a supervisor - or go to Guest Relations.


I have a good friend who works attractions in the Magic Kingdom. She has told me that guests have cursed her, kicked her, and spit on her just because things didn't play out the way they believed they should. I was appalled to learn this.


All restrooms, both men's and women's, have changing tables. Use them. Even if the diaper is just wet, I don't want you changing your baby at the table or bench next to me. Especially when I'm eating. Unfortunately, this has happened to me more times than I care to remember. Yuck!



Believe it or not, I'm not going to come down on smokers here. I rarely encounter people smoking outside of the designated areas. I believe that designated smoking areas have become so common in the U.S. that most smokers are fully aware that they need to check the policy before lighting up. I find it's usually visitors from countries with less stringent rules that smoke inappropriately while visiting the parks. If you do run into someone smoking, you can politely inform them of the guidelines in place at Disney. However, I think a better idea would be to let a cast member know. They have all been trained on how to approach guests in these situations.



Keep it clean. There are children everywhere (and adults too who don't want to hear it).


Don't talk during the attraction:

Many people have visited the parks so often that they become blasΓ© about the attractions. All too often, I will encounter guests carrying on lengthy and loud conversations during an attraction's preshow. For example, the Stretch Room of the Haunted Mansion, or the preshow for Ellen's Energy Exchange, or the recording room on Rock 'N' Roller Coaster are often full of talkers.

Please remember, even though you can recite the dialoged word for word, the people standing next to you may be visiting for the first time and would like to hear what's going on.

No Talking

Theater Seating:

When a cast member asks that you move all the way to the end of a row (or three-quarters of the way when the show isn't full), please comply. Do not plop yourself down in the middle of the row and force everyone else to go around you. If you don't want to sit at the end, then don't be the first person to rush through the entrance doors. Hold back and let a few people into the theater before you.

Theater Seating

Cell phones:

Cell phones are a fact of life today. We're constantly checking our email, texting, and chatting with others. And that's fine. However, once again, there is a time and place - and rides and attractions is NOT the place. It's annoying to others.

In addition, when you're on a call within a restaurant, try to talk in your normal tone and volume. If you need to "speak up" in order for your listener to hear you, then those sitting around you can now hear you as well - and they don't really care that Uncle Bob needs a colonoscopy.

Cell Phone

Don't feed the animals:

I know it's tempting. I know they're cute. But human food isn't good for our woodland friends. I know what you're thinking - one French fry won't hurt them. But dozens and dozens of fries will. Feeding the animals has to stop with each of us.

Don't Feed The Animal

Dress appropriately:

So far in this blog, all of my suggestions for appropriate behavior have been pretty cut and dried. It's easy to take an objective look at what I've presented - but how people dress is far more subjective than objective. What right do I have to tell anyone what they can and cannot wear? None! However, Disney used to do just that.

When I worked at Disneyland in the '70's, Disney routinely stationed plain-clothed security guards at the entrance to the park. Their purpose was to inconspicuously examine how guests were dressed and deny them entrance if they felt their outfit was too suggestive or their clothing contained offensive language or depicted drug use. Those days are long gone. Today's mores are not what they were in the '70's and we live in a far more progressive society. Trust me when I say, a good 2% - 3%% of the people visiting Disneyland and Walt Disney World today would not have been admitted to the parks back then.

I'm not a prude. Far from it. I routinely see t-shirts at the parks that crack me up. Yet, I wonder how appropriate they are at Disney as some of them boarder on risquΓ©. Is this really the place to hint at sexual content? Can't these statements be made someplace else?

Disney will ask people to change clothes if they encounter a guest sporting a truly offensive word or slogan, but there is little they can do when brand names hint at impropriety (like French Connection United Kingdom).

All I ask is that you remember there are children everywhere at Disney. How much skin needs to be shown and how suggestive does your t-shirt really need to be? Save the bathing suit for the waterparks and the risquΓ© t-shirt for a tailgate party.

Dress Appropriately

Is Jack the perfect Disney guest?:

Nope. I try. But I'm human too. Even I "forget" sometimes. But when I commit a transgression, I try to apologize quickly with a humble smile.

In conclusion:

I'm glad to know that none of my readers really needed to read this blog and that they would never lapse into less than perfect Disney behavior. However, if you know one of those "other" people, be sure to tell them about my article.

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



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.


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


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.

August 15, 2011

The Enchanted Tiki Room - A look back

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

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

Disneyland's Jungle Cruise

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

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

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

Mechanical Man

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

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

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

Tiki Room Poster

Walt Inside the Tiki Room

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

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

Barker Bird

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

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

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

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

Tiki Room Ticket

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

Disneyland Preshow Tiki Gods

Disneyland Preshow Tiki Gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tropical Serenade Poster

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

Preshow Tiki God Shrine

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

Tropical Serenade Pagoda

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

Orange Bird

Orange Bird

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

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

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

Zazu and Iago

William and Morris

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

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

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

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

Enchanted Tiki Room:

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

Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!

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

August 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.





Tiki Bird


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!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The Hub Decorations

The Hub Decorations

The Hub Decorations



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.





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


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.


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 CafΓ©

Hi all,

Before I discuss Pecos Bill - Tall Tale Inn and CafΓ©, 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.


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 CafΓ©. 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 CafΓ© Front Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and CafΓ© Side Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and CafΓ© Back Entrance

Tall Tale Inn and CafΓ© 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 sautΓ©ed 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



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 CafΓ© 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 CafΓ©.

If you pay attention, you'll notice the building is dated 1878, the year Bill opened Tall Tale Inn and CafΓ©.

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 CafΓ©. 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.

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."


March 5, 2010

Liberty Belle Riverboat - Part 2

Yesterday I discussed the history of The Liberty Belle Riverboat. Now it's time to take a ride on this wonderful vessel. It's okay if you have a large group as the boat holds 450 people. This is also the only ride in the Magic Kingdom that allows guests to get up and walk around while their vehicle is in motion. The Liberty Belle begins operation each day at 10am or 11am and departs on the hour and half-hour. If you find you've arrived right after the Liberty Belle has left port, don't hang around waiting for it to return. The ship rarely fills to capacity and you can usually dash aboard at the last minute. Limited seating is available in the queue and on all decks. However, even on busy days it's easy to find a bench.

Liberty Belle Wating Area

Onboard Seating

Before we set sail, let's take a quick tour of the Liberty Belle. The boat has three decks. As I mentioned earlier, guests enter on the middle deck. Most people head to the upper deck for what they perceive to be the best view. However, if you choose to ride topside, you will be in the sun for thirteen minutes. Others head for the lower deck to find a spot at the very front of the ship. Personally, I like the middle deck best. It's high enough to afford a good view, there are good locations at the front, middle, and stern, and it's usually the least crowded.

On occasion, a family is selected to ride in the wheelhouse. If you're the first to arrive in the waiting area, ask a cast member if you can join the captain.

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Just outside the wheelhouse is the captain's quarters. It's fun to take a moment and browse this "luxurious" room.

Captain's Quarters

Captain's Quarters

On the middle deck is a lovely sitting room. However, I can't really recommend using this compartment. You can't see any of the sights from here. The third picture is of me holding a recording device to a speaker. For thirteen minutes I stood there, arm extended, so I could get a good copy of the narration for my video. Several people walked by during the voyage and gave me strange looks.

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

Jack Making a Recording

On the lower deck you'll find the boiler (mid-deck) and pistons (stern) that drive the paddlewheel.

Boiler Room


A relatively new addition to the front of the ship is this raised platform. Standing here provides a great view off the bow of the ship in all directions.

Observation Platform

As I always tell you, pay attention to the details. Look at the intricate woodwork, the riggings, the lanterns. The Liberty Belle is a beautiful vessel, worthy of your attention.


Rigging and Lantern




As our journey begins, our captain, Horace Bixby introduces Sam Clemmons (Mark Twain) to us over the PA. Knowing that Disney never misses a trick, I knew that name Horace Bixby was selected for a reason so I looked him up and discovered he was a real person, perhaps one of the greatest steamboat pilots of his day. He met Clemens in 1857 aboard the steamer PAUL JONES and later agreed to take him on as an apprentice.

Horace Bixby

One of the first points of interests is the wilderness town that grew up alongside the river. In the early years, there was no walkway skirting Frontierland. This was added years later to facilitate traffic flow during parades.

Frontierland Before the Walkway

Frontierland After the Walkway

Along the banks of the river, we see cargo stacked on various piers. As with everything, details are important. The number "71" is obvious. This is the year the Magic Kingdom opened. The Tell City Tool Co. is a little more obscure.

Located along the Ohio River in Indiana, this real town began in 1857 and was carefully planned by a group of Swiss people looking for a better life. In many respects, this was one of the United State's first planned communities. Three square miles of land was purchased and streets were laid out in a north-south, east-west grid. Settlers could buy tracts of land, but were required to build a two room home to be worth not less than $125.00 within one year of purchase. Factories, schools, and churches were all planned in advance and locations determined. In the early years, riverboats were the only means of transportation in and out of Tell City - which is why the Imagineers selected this town to be represented on the Rivers of America.

71 and Tell City

Another name seen on multiple crates along the river is Russel's Falls. This is in reference to Davy Crockett's sidekick, George E. Russel played by Buddy Ebsen.

Russel's Falls Crate

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To the right we see Harper's Mill on Tom Sawyer Island. After years of operation, the mill required a major rehab and the water wheel needed to be replaced. The new wheel was constructed using modern bearings and spindles and when reattached, spun unrealistically fast. Imagineers needed to come up with a dampening system to slow the wheel down and make it appear as if it were built using period materials.

Harper's Mill

As we travel further, Splash Mountain comes into view. This attraction opened in 1992 and is based on characters created by Joel Chandler Harris. Logs drop 52 Β½ feet down Chickapin Hill at a speed of 40 miles per hour - faster than Space Mountain.

Splash Mountain

The next sight is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Modeled after Monument Valley in Utah, this attraction debuted in 1980. The story of BTMR goes something like this. During the late 1800's, gold was discovered deep within Big Thunder Mountain. Overnight, prospectors started mining the ore and soon the town of Tumbleweed sprang up on the mountain's slope. Everything was going well until a flash flood ravaged the mountain and town, ruining any future mining operations. The Liberty Belle offers some wonderful picture opportunities for this attraction that cannot be taken elsewhere.

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Over on Tom Sawyer Island we see Tom's Landing, Potter's Windmill (named after Muff Potter, a friend of Injun Joe), Superstition Bridge, and Fort Langhorn. From 1973 to 1997 this outpost was named Fort Sam Clemens - both in reference to Mark Twain whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. It's interesting to note, the Imagineers misspelled his middle name on the fort, dropping the "E."

Tom's Landing

Potter's Windmill

Superstition Bridge

Fort Langhorn

Fort Langhorn Entrance

Just beyond Fort Langhorn is an abandoned cabin. For many years, real flames could be seen lapping at the logs and a settler was lying on his back out front with an arrow piercing his chest. Guests were told he was the victim of an unfriendly Indian attack. As sensibilities began to change toward Native Americans, the story was rewritten and we were told that the settler had passed out from his moonshine and his cabin was ablaze due to his still exploding.

Today, the cabin sits deserted and the fire extinguished. Neither Captain Bixby nor Sam Clemmons even mention its existence as you pass by. I've read that the flames were turned off during the Liberty Belle's extensive rehab in 2005. By the time the ship was back in service, the gas pipes, originally installed in the early 70's, had deteriorated badly and it was decided not to replace them. Too bad. However, if you visit Tokyo Disneyland, their cabin still excites guests with real flames as they pass by on the Mark Twain.

Settler's Cabin

The next sight along the ride is an old gentleman sitting on the dock of his riverside shanty. This is Beacon Joe and he keeps track of the river's occasional course changes and marks the river accordingly. Pay attention to Beacon's dog. His head turns from left to right as a fish jumps out of the water.

Beacon Joe

Beacon Joe's Dog

The river also has a number of buoys marking various locations along the journey.

River Bouy

Shortly after passing Beacon Joe's bait shop, we come to a Powhatan Indian settlement. When the movie Pocahontas was released, Disney wanted to add a "tie-in" for the Liberty Belle and the WDW Railroad. However, the Powhatans were primarily found in Virginia, not as far west as the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers. Captain Bixby explains this incongruity by mentioning that they must be following the abundance of wildlife found in this vicinity.

Powhatan Camp



I have to admit, the "wildlife" along the Rivers of America does not represent some of Disney's better effects. Yet somehow these statuesque animals always bring a smile to my face.

Further down the river we find another tribe of Native Americans. However, this time, the tribe is not identified as belonging to any particular group. Next time you ride the Liberty Belle, rather than taking in the entire scene at once, pay attention to the various activities being performed by this close-knit group. You'll be amazed at how many daily chores are taking place here.

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Just past the Indian Village are their sacred burial grounds. Those who fall in battle are placed upon the traditional "bed of death" and after nightfall, the tribesmen will return to mourn the great warriors who brought honor to their families.

Sacred Burial Grounds

A rather peaceful section of the river lies ahead until we come to Cut-Throat Corner and Wilson's Cave Inn. Here, river pirates hide away, waiting to attack a passing riverboat. But during our journey, it's apparent that the scoundrels are celebrating and in no condition to ambush the Liberty Belle.

Wilson's Cave Inn

Knowing Disney as I do, I knew there had to be a reason the name "Wilson" was selected, so I did a little research. I found that on the Ohio River in Illinois, a real location called Cave-In-Rock exists. After the Revolutionary War, this hideout became a lair for river pirates who attacked passing vessels. During the 1790's, Jim Wilson became synonymous with the cave, calling it home and stocking it with provisions and opening a business called Wilson's Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment. He would entice unsuspecting river travelers to his establishment, then rob them of their goods and usually kill them. This true story inspired an episode of the TV show Disneyland titled "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates."

As we return to civilization, our boat once again passes Fort Langhorn and Superstition Bridge. Further on, it's fun to watch guests crossing Barrel Bridge on Tom Sawyer Island.

Barrel Bridge

The last major sight we see along our passage is the Haunted Mansion. Sam Clemens tells us that this house was built on sacred Indian burial grounds and is filled with spirits. But he doubts this story and thinks the folks that told him the tale might be filled with 100-proof spirits.

Haunted Mansion

This brings us back to Liberty Square and the end of our journey. I have created a six-minute video of the experience. I know that some of you skip these videos because you're used to seeing some of the schlock presented on YouTube. May I ask that you give my video a chance? I do not just shoot some footage then slap it onto YouTube. I have filmed the Liberty Belle from multiple angles and edited it accordingly. I have removed all the original sound and added clean copies without any background noises. I have also added appropriate sound effects when needed. I think my video gives a good feel of what the attraction is all about.

As I said at the beginning of my blog, there are no surprises to be had on the Liberty Belle. This is a quiet, relaxing journey that transports you to another era. It is definitely low-tech, but I think it's worth every minute of your time.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we're heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn't open until 11am.)

March 4, 2010

Liberty Belle Riverboat - Part 1

There are no surprises to be had when riding the Liberty Belle Riverboat. What you see is what you get - a relaxing thirteen minute journey around Tom Sawyer Island as you ply the Rivers of America. Even on the busiest days, this excursion offers a few tranquil moments where you can forget about the rest of the world and actually believe you've traveled back in time to the era of frontier America.

Like so many of my other attraction blogs, I must start the story at Disneyland in California. From the very beginning, Walt knew he wanted a boat ride at his theme park. This can be seen in early sketches of the park he hoped to build on the backlot of his Burbank Studios. Although impossible to be seen on this small picture, the readout connected to the vessel in the water reads "Mississippi Steamboat."

Early Theme Park Plans

But Walt's dreams were bigger than this small plot of land could hold and eventually the project moved to Anaheim. Walt knew he needed to hire someone who could oversee this vast undertaking and remembered meeting retired Admiral Joe Fowler through a mutual friend.

Admiral Joe Fowler

"Can do" Fowler spent 35 years in the navy and retired as a Rear Admiral at age sixty. Walt, being the persuasive person that he was, convinced Joe to join the Disney team where he oversaw the construction of Disneyland and later, the building of Walt Disney World. In all, he spent twenty-five years with the company. But besides his overall skill as a project manager, Fowler's knowledge of ships was extremely useful when it came to the building of Disneyland's paddle wheeler.

The Mark Twain, as the ship would eventually be named, was the first paddle wheeler to be built in the United States in fifty years. The designers at WED conducted in-depth research on the subject and drew up plans for a vessel that resembled the riverboats that sailed the Mississippi during the heyday of steam powered ships. The 105-foot hull was built at the Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California and the ship's decks were built at the Disney Studios in Burbank. The decks and hull were then shipped to Disneyland for final construction. Walt felt so strongly about this craft that when corporate funding fell short, he used his own money to finish building the vessel. He was reimbursed after the park opened and began making money.

Mark Twain Riverboat Disneyland

Mark Twain Riverboat Disneyland

When the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World was being planned, many of the attractions at Disneyland were considered for the new park and the riverboat was a given to be included. However, in Florida, the ship's name would be the Admiral Joe Fowler in honor of the man who helped build two Magic Kingdoms. Much of this ship was built at the Tampa Ship Repairs and Dry Dock Company, the same location where the park's four steam trains were refurbished.

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat

The Adm. Joe Fowler and the next two Mark Twains to be built and located at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris are all extremely similar to the original at Disneyland. In Paris, another riverboat also cruises the Rivers of the Far West. This second ship is a side-wheeler and named the Molly Brown after that "unsinkable" American legend. With the exception of the Molly Brown, all are real steamboats and pump water from the river that is then heated to create steam to drive the paddlewheels. The first picture is of Tokyo, the second and third of Paris.

Mark Twain - Tokyo

Mark Twain - Paris

Molly Brown - Paris

The Adm. Joe Fowler began service on October 2, 1971, one day after the opening of the Magic Kingdom. During the first few years of operation, there was very little to see along the route. Tom Sawyer Island had yet to be built and there were no Thunder or Splash Mountains to enjoy as you sailed by. In an effort to make the voyage more enjoyable, musicians could often be found on deck entertaining guests.

Before Tom Sawyer Island

Before Big Thunder Mountain

Onboard entertainment

One of the biggest differences between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom is the loading dock. At Disneyland, all loading and unloading of guests takes place on the lower deck. Thus, everyone onboard must disembark before new riders can come aboard. The Imagineers wanted to speed things up for a faster turnaround at the Magic Kingdom and devised a two-level system. Disembarking passengers leave from the lower deck while new arrivals enter the ship on the middle level. However, as the popularity of this attraction waned, this more efficient method of loading and unloading was modified and today, no one boards until the last guest from the previous journey has exited. This multi-level system was not duplicated at Tokyo or Paris.

Riverboat Landing

Soon after opening the Magic Kingdom, attraction demand outweighed capacity. The park needed more rides. One quick and relatively inexpensive solution was to build a second boat for the Rivers of America. This time however, the entire craft would be built at Disney World at the various shops located behind the Magic Kingdom. Construction took about six months and on May 20, 1973, less than two years after opening, the Richard F. Irvine joined the fleet and for the next seven years, two riverboats plied the Rivers of America. While one was unloading and loading passengers, the other was sailing around Tom Sawyer Island.

To the layman's eye, the ships look identical with one exception. The Adm. Joe Fowler has two smokestacks while the Richard F. Irvine only has one. It's interesting to note, in some older Disney publications, the Fowler is pictured while the caption reads Irvine (you can tell by the smokestacks).

Richard F. Irvine Riverboat

Richard F. Irvine Wheelhouse

The ship's namesake, Richard (Dick) F. Irvine was a set designer with a degree in architecture. He started working at the Disney Studios in 1942 and in 1953, Walt asked him to join the Disneyland team. Dick would act as the liaison between the Imagineers and outside architectural firms that were hired to design the buildings of the Anaheim park. In the years that followed, he helped design the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. He also oversaw the planning and design of Walt Disney World.

Richard (Dick) F. Irvine

It's interesting to note, Irvine's daughter-in-law, Imagineer Kim (Thomas) Irvine is the daughter of Leota Toombs, the face in the crystal ball at the Haunted Mansion.

In 1980, the Adm. Joe Fowler needed some routine maintenance. But unlike Disneyland, that has a drydock (named Fowler's Harbor) connected to the Rivers of America, the Magic Kingdom has no such facility. In Florida, the drydock is located northeast of the Magic Kingdom and the boat needed to be sailed to this location. Have you ever wondered what the iron-truss bridge is for located just beyond Thunder Mountain? The train tracks sits on a turntable and can pivot out of the way so watercraft can gain access to Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, and eventually the backstage drydock.

Truss Bridge

What happened next is somewhat of a mystery. Like all big companies, Disney is somewhat reluctant to share the details of its failures - and the Adm. Joe Fowler would become one of Disney's disappointments.

While entering drydock, the riverboat's hull was damaged extensively. One account claims that it cracked while being lifted by a crane. Another says the boat was positioned incorrectly on its supports when water was being drained from the drydock and split. However, by this time, two riverboats were no longer necessary. Space and Thunder Mountains had opened in the interim and the extra capacity two boats offered was no longer needed. The decision was made to scuttle the Adm. Joe Fowler. Some accounts claim that the hull was buried somewhere on property. Others say it was sunk in Bay Lake. I could find no definitive proof of either.

But parts of the Adm. Joe Fowler live on to this day. The ship's machinery was shipped to the then under construction Tokyo Disneyland to become the workings of that park's Mark Twain. And the boat's whistle was added to the #4 engine, the Roy O. Disney at the Magic Kingdom.

In 1996, the Richard F. Irvine was in need of an extensive refurbishment and was floated back to drydock. Luckily, it fared better than the Adm. Joe Fowler and when it reemerged, it was rechristened the Liberty Belle. The Imagineers felt that this new name would be easier for guests to remember and it fit better with the riverboat's home port, Liberty Square. However, the two gentlemen whose names once graced these stately vessels have not been forgotten. In 1999, two of the Staten Island-style ferries that transport guests between the TTC and the Magic Kingdom were renamed in honor of these two men. The third ferry was renamed the General Joe Potter. This gentleman headed many of the early construction projects at Walt Disney World.

Joe Fowler Ferry Boat

Richard Irvine Ferry Boat

I have to admit, I've always been a little curious as to why the Imagineers decided to place the Riverboat Landing in Liberty Square and not Frontierland. I realize that in regards to Disneyland, the dock is in the same spot. But riverboats of this nature were found on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri rivers in the early 19th century, not colonial New England of the late 18th century which Liberty Square represents. But further investigation uncovered the following. Without the Liberty Square Riverboat, Liberty Square would only have two attractions, the Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents. The ride was placed here to help round out this land. Also, the "draw concept" comes into play here. When standing in The Hub and looking into Liberty Square, the Riverboat Landing entices you to enter. And finally, the riverboat and landing serves as a transitional element linking Liberty Square to Frontierland.

Riverboat Landing

That's it for Part 1. Check back tomorrow for a trip around Tom Sawyer Island while riding this lovely vessel.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we're heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn't open until 11am.)

February 14, 2010

Got A Light? Part Four – Animal Kingdom

This is the last blog in my series about lamp posts. The Animal Kingdom, the newest of the Disney World parks, has a number of custom made fixtures worth your attention. As in previous articles, I'll begin this tour in the parking lot, were we find a utilitarian fixture that is unremarkable at best. The Animal Kingdom usually closes before the sun goes down, but on those occasions when the park is open late, these tall giants help us find our cars by not only illuminating the ground below, but also by marking the section where we parked our car.

Parking Log Lamppost

Near the bus loading and unloading area are these simple fixtures. Banners help spruce up otherwise unremarkable lights.

Bus Station Lampposts

It's not until we arrive at the tram loading area that we get our first taste of the fun lamps that populate the Animal Kingdom. If you look closely at these lights, you can see the park's logo created out of metal and glass.

Tram Lamppost

Tram Lamppost

Animal Kingdom Logo

The Oasis acts as a transition between the outside urban world and the land of nature and animals. In keeping with this natural theme, two bamboo styles of lampposts are used in this area.

Oasis Lamppost

Oasis Lamppost

Discovery Island was designed to tie all of the other lands of the Animal Kingdom together. In this "center" land, you can find a multitude of animals in all shapes and sizes. But the Imagineers didn't want to convey any specific area of the world as this would detract from the other sections of the park. So they created a playful atmosphere - an almost cartoon-land of animals. This design lends itself to some of the most entertaining lampposts at Disney World.

This first lamp is the "basic" fixture of Discovery Island and can be found throughout the area.

Basic Discovery Island Lamppost

In front of the Disney Outfitters store we find this whimsical lamppost. The top is adorned with an owl while the entire pole is supported on the back of a turtle.

Disney Outfitters Lamppost

Turtle Base

The Island Mercantile store was themed with animals that "work." So it's fitting that outside the shop we find elephants holding lanterns in their trunks.

Island Mercantile Lamppost

In front of Pizzafari the lampposts have large butterflies resting on top of the light. This makes sense since moths are drawn to flames. And while you're in the area, be sure to visit the inside of this restaurant for more interesting theming. Each of the four dining rooms displays animals grouped together by their similarities. See if you can figure it out.

Pizzafari Lamppost

Butterfiles on to of Lamppost

In front of the Creature Comforts shop is this amusing ladybug lamppost. Once again, this is appropriate since this store is themed with animals featuring spots and stripes.

Creature Comfort Lamppost

Ladybug Lamppost

Over near Flame Tree BBQ are more fanciful lampposts. The first fixture features a spider and her web while the second displays another owl, but this time, we find bunnies on the lanterns.

Spider Lamppost

Spider Lamppost

Owl and Bunny Lamppost

Owl and Bunny Lamppost

At a first glance, the tower in the next picture looks like nothing more than ornamental decoration. But upon closer inspection, you can see the brightly colored banner actually houses a light. Be sure to take a moment and look at the intricate carvings on this pole. Numerous animals have been meticulously sculpted onto its surface.

Carved Lamppost

Carved Lamppost

Camp Minnie/Mickey only has one light fixture throughout the entire area. To be honest, when I studied it in detail, I wasn't sure it fit with the theme of camping in the Great Outdoors. I would think Coleman lanterns would be more appropriate for this task. Then I got to thinking"¦

As you might already know, Camp Minnie/Mickey was originally built to be a "place holder" until the corporate budget could afford to build Beastly Kingdom, an area featuring mythological animals. At that time, Camp Minnie/Mickey would be razed to make room for a mystical land filled with fabled creatures. I think these existing light fixtures tell this second story far more effectively and perhaps the Imagineers always planned to reuse them in Beastly Kingdom. Hmmm.

Camp Minnie/Mickey Lamppost

Camp Minnie/Mickey Lamppost

On the bridge leading into Africa and Harambe we find this double-fixture leading the way.

Africal Bridge Lamppost

Much of the lighting in the central marketplace of Harambe comes from overhead fixtures strung across the street. It's not until you leave the village and enter the outskirts of town that you find a smattering of lampposts. Most of these are simple and makeshift as much of Africa is poor and expensive fixtures would be out of the question.

African Outskirts Lamppost

One would assume that these next two, more elaborate examples, were brought to Harambe by Europeans during the colonial years.

Colonial Lamppost

Colonial Lamppost

There are no lampposts on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This area is a nature preserve where scientists and students observe animals in their natural habitat. The last thing you would want to do in this environment is draw attention to yourself so the trails were intentionally left dark.

There is a long pathway that leads from Harambe, Africa to Anandapur, Asia. As you would expect, the lighting changes as you leave one area for another. The first picture is on the African side and the second on the Asian.

African Trail Lamppost

Asian Trail Lamppost

On the bridge that leads from Discovery Island into Asia we find this next lamppost. It has a decided Thai design.

Asian Bridge Lamppost

As we enter Anandapur we see a number of rusting electrical towers. Attached to these are neon fixtures. As we venture out of town, the metal towers give way to a more traditional wooden pole to carry the jumble of wires and lighting fixtures.

Anandapur Metal Tower Lamppost

Anandapur Wooden Pole Lamppost

A few ornamental lampposts can be found scattered around the area.

Asian Ornamental Lamppost

Guests enter the Kali River Rapids attraction via an elaborate temple. As no expense was spared when building this opulent structure, it makes sense to find ornate lampposts were incorporated into the design.

Kali Temple Lamppost

There are no lampposts along the Maharaja Jungle Trek. The only lighting here comes from stone lanterns that line portions of the path.

Maharaja Jungle Trek Lantern

Our next stop in Asia is Expedition Everest. As the setting here is in the high plains that surround the Himalayan Mountains, resources are scarce and money is hard to come by. Most of the structures are makeshift and the lampposts are no exception. Near the more populated area surrounding the booking office and temple we see light fixtures hanging from electrical poles.

Electrical Tower Lamppost

As we venture further away from civilization, kerosene lanterns become the main source of lighting - including that Coleman lantern that I think should be found in Camp Minnie/Mickey.

Kerosene Lanterns

Kerosene Lanterns

Kerosene Lanterns

Kerosene Lanterns

Our final stop in the Animal Kingdom is Dinoland USA. One must remember the backstory for this land in order for some of the posts to make sense. Before prehistoric bones were found in the area, there was little here except an old hunting lodge. Because of this, lamps are simple and rustic as can be seen by these next two examples.

Hunting Lodge Lampposts

Hunting Lodge Lamppost

This next fixture adorns the walkway leading to the old lodge.

Hunting Lodge Lamppost

Years later, when fossils were discovered and the Dino Institute was built, the areas around the digs were provided with more up-to-date lamps and the institute was given a fixture appropriate to its stately architecture.

Dig Lamppost

Dino Institute Lamppost

Along the road that separates the Dino Institute from Chester and Hester's Dinorama, lampposts typical of many highways can be found.

Highway Lamppost

There are no lamppost at Chester and Hester's. All of the lighting here is provided by dozens of bare light bulbs strung overhead.

Outside the Theater in the Wild is this modern lamppost. It fits appropriately with the building's contemporary architecture.

Theater in the Wild Lamppost

Well that's it for my lamppost blogs. I hope you've enjoyed my tour of these lighting fixtures around the four parks of Walt Disney World. As I said in my first blog, there are numerous other lighting options that are every bit as interesting and themed appropriately to their surroundings. My main objective in writing this article was to help open your eyes to the many details that surround you when you visit this magical place. Little things we take for granted and don't even notice, play a part in our overall enjoyment of the parks. Who would have thought that lampposts could be interesting?

Next time you visit, pick a topic. Check out doorknobs, or fences, or windows -- anything you like. Then pay attention as you move from land to land and park to park. You'll be amazed at what you discover.

February 13, 2010

Got A Light? - Part Three - Magic Kingdom

In this third installment of my Lamppost blog series I'm going to discuss the Magic Kingdom. This first of the Disney World parks has a lot of diversity with its many lands and adventures so let's get started.

Out in the parking lot we find extremely tall light towers. They're not particularly attractive, but they do their job.

Parking Lot Lamppost

The Transportation and Ticket Center has similar, yet slightly different light fixtures than the parking lot. Take a look at the actual lights and you can see the difference. Thank goodness the lighting options within the Magic Kingdom show more imagination than these peripheral fixtures.

TTC Lamppost

The lampposts around the monorail station and adjacent area has a simplified "Main Street" look about them. This helps set the mood for your adventure to come.

Monorail Lamppost

A description often used when describing the era of Main Street is, "It's a time when gas lamps were giving way to the electric light bulb." How fitting since street lighting is the subject of this blog. The first fixtures we come to on Main Street are on Town Square and the Train Station. Here, multi-globed electric lights sit atop ornate poles. The lamps at street level are painted in a drab shade of green whereas the fixtures located on the upper levels of the Train Station have a bronze texture.

Town Square Lamppost

Train Station Lamppost

As we leave Town Square and walk down Main Street, we find that gas lamps are still king.

Main Street Lamppost

As I've done in the two previous Lamppost blogs, I've included a few non-lights simply because they cry out to be a part of this article. In this next picture we see a stately clock proudly displaying the current time. And in a way, it is a lamp as it does light up.

Main Street Clock

On The Hub, we find the same glass globes that are used in Town Square, but here the posts take on a simpler, less ornate design. In the second picture the light fixture sits atop a speaker.

The Hub Lamppost

The Hub Lamppost and Speaker

Let's turn our attention next to Tomorrowland. Although there is lighting between The Hub and the entrance of this futuristic land, none of it is in the form of lampposts. The first such fixtures don't show up until you reach Rockettower Plaza and you find them encircling this structure. It would be difficult to find a more simplified design than this.

Rockettower Plaza Lamppost

I applaud the Imagineer that thought up the idea of metal palm trees. These offer a whimsical touch to this concrete expanse and provide accent lighting when "up lights" illuminate the fronds in the evening. .

Palm Tree Lamppost

Along the route of the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, lighting typical of any highway can be found.

Tomorrowland Indy Speedway Lamppost

The rest of the lamppost lighting in Tomorrowland is uninspired. The poles look like the type you might find in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I think this is a throwback to the early visions of Tomorrowland when everything was designed to look stark and sterile.

Tomorrowland Lamppost

Let's move next to Mickey's Toontown Fair. But first, let's take a look at the lampposts positioned just outside this land's entrance (located in Fantasyland).

Fantasyland/Toontown Lamppost

Now let's look at the lamps within Mickey's Toontown Fair. Notice how similar, yet slightly different they are. This similarity helps create a smooth transition between the two lands.

Toontown Lamppost

Next to The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm, the lamps are utilitarian, as might be found on a rural structure, and attach to no-nonsense 4x4s. And at Donald's Boat, nautical lanterns sit atop similar posts.

Barnstormer Lamppost

Donald's Boat Lamppost

There is a walkway that connects Mickey's Toontown Fare with Tomorrowland. The first picture shows the lamps lining the initial half of the path, while the second photo displays the lights closer to Tomorrowland. Notice again how similar, yet different they are, providing a smooth transition between lands. Also notice that the Tomorrowland globes have a ring around them, suggesting the planet Saturn.

Toontown/Tomorrowland Walkway Lamppost

Toontown/Tomorrowland Walkway Lamppost

My final mention in Mickey's Toontown Fair is not a lamppost, but I felt it qualified for an honorable mention since it's tall, slender, and lights up at the top.

Train Signal

In Fantasyland there are a number of lovely lanterns located in and around Cinderella Castle. The colored glass used in these fixtures provides atmospheric enhancement more than useful lighting

Castle Lamppost

Playful lampposts surround Dumbo. Pay special attention to the decorative tops. A scene from the movie is recreated here.

Dumbo Lamppost

Dumbo Lamppost Top

One of the most unusual lighting creations was designed for Ariel's Grotto. This seaweed and shell lamp fits right in "under the sea."

Ariel's Grotto Lamppost

Another bit of unusual lamppost design can be found near the Mad Tea Party. In this case, fanciful leaves and flowers create whimsical illumination for the area.

Mad Tea Party Lamppost

The lampposts near Pooh's Playful Spot are rustic and are just what you'd expect to find in the 100 Acre Wood.

Pooh's Playful Spot Lamppost

The majority of the lampposts scattered around Fantasyland are black wrought iron and typical of what might have been found in a European village of long ago.

Fantasyland Lamppost

Fantasyland Lamppost

Fantasyland Lamppost

As we travel into Liberty Square, we see lighting fixtures lining the bridge. These posts are actually part of the structure's design.

Liberty Square Entrance Lamppost

There are two lampposts in front of Hall of Presidents. These simple, colonial fixtures would be inconsequential if not for the eagles perched on the top of each.

Hall of Presidents Lamppost

Hall of Presidents Lamppost Top

As you might expect, the Haunted Mansion has its own unique lampposts. Years of neglect have allowed a green patina to form on the metal's surface and the lamps themselves have a spooky look about them.

Hall of Presidents Lamppost

The rest of the lighting in Liberty Square fits right in with the Federal and Georgian architecture of the area. These lanterns, in days gone by, would have been lit each evening by a lamplighter.

Liberty Square Lamppost

My final non-light for this blog is one of the birdhouses found near Hall of Presidents. In reality, no birds live here as this is just a hiding place for a speaker.

Liberty Square Birdhouse

Now let's jump over to the entrance of Adventureland. Several years ago, a bridge was built linking this area with Liberty Square. The lamppost that guards this passageway is another good example of transition. The ropes binding the beams together have more of an Adventureland feel while the lanterns would be more at home in Liberty Square.

Adventureland/Liberty Square Lamppost

This next photo is of the lamppost that illuminates the entrance walkway into Adventureland.

Adventureland Entrance Lamppost

The basic lamppost used in the first half of Adventureland has a colonial feel about it -- as if it was transported here by Europeans as they discovered new territories.

Adventureland Lamppost

Near Swiss Family Treehouse, the lampposts are makeshift. The family used salvaged goods from the shipwreck to fashion lighting fixtures.

Swiss Family Treehouse Lamppost

The lampposts that surround Magic Carpets of Aladdin are ornate and suggest a locale somewhere in the Middle East. Once again, the colored glass allows these lights to function more as a decorative enhancement than a functional bit of lighting.

Magic Carpets of Aladdin Lamppost

In Caribbean Plaza, the lampposts are very elaborate and fit nicely with the Spanish colonial architecture.

Caribbean Plaza Lamppost

The final section of the Magic Kingdom I'll be discussing is Frontierland. Here, almost all of the lighting is in the form of kerosene lanterns (electrified) hung or mounted on a rustic pole.

Frontierland Lamppost

Frontierland Lamppost

Frontierland Lamppost

Frontierland Lamppost

Frontierland Lamppost

It's interesting to note that the wooden walkway that skirts the Rivers of America has two different lanterns. The first picture shows the lights closer to Liberty Square and the second displays the fixtures closer to Splash Mountain. Once again, the use of different light helps with the transition between the two lands.

Frontierland Walkway Lamppost

Frontierland Walkway Lamppost

Well that's it for the Magic Kingdom. Tomorrow I'll post the final blog in this series all about Disney's Animal Kingdom.

February 12, 2010

Got A Light? - Part Two - Epcot

In Part Two of my Lamppost blogs I'll be discussing the many variations of these light fixtures found at Epcot. Let's start outside the gate. Leading from the bus stop to the ticket booths are these very modern fixtures, each with a banner. The ticket booths themselves are covered with a large overhang with recessed lighting so no lampposts are found near the entrance.

Lamp Post - Walkway from the Bus Stop

In addition, the large forecourt in front of Spaceship Earth also has no lampposts. In-ground lighting and fixtures located alongside the flower beds provide a low level, muted illumination.

In Innoventions Courtyard we find lamp posts with a somewhat space aged appearance.

Innoventions Courtyard Lamp Post

The lampposts in Future World West are all identical to one another. They're also the same make-and-model as the fixtures out front of Epcot, minus the banners.

Future World West Lamp Post

In keeping with the automotive theme, the streetlamps in Front of Test Track in Future World East look like those that might be found along an interstate or turnpike.

Test Track Lamp Post

In front of Mission: Space the fixtures are sleek and straight, almost as if they were blasting off to the stars.

Mission: Space Lamp Post

There are no lampposts in front of the Energy Pavilion. Low level lighting is all you'll find in this area.

Future World also has some, how should I put this, unattractive fixtures. But what's interesting is that until I started searching for lamp post to picture in my blog, I never noticed them. Even for all their ugliness, they seem to blend in with their surroundings.

Ugly Lamp Post

Ugly Lamp Post

Ugly Lamp Post

As I did in Part One of this series, I want to include a few non-lampposts -- items that have nothing to do with lighting, but scream to be included anyway. This next picture is of a birdhouse located between Test Track and Mouse Gear.

Bird House

The bridge that joins Future World with World Showcase is a transition area. Buildings and fixtures placed here must blend seamlessly with both lands. Here is the lamppost the Imagineers chose to line this walkway.

Transition Lamp Post

Circling World Showcase Lagoon are a number of post not readily associated to a particular nation. There is some variation from one post to the next, but there is a basic style that remains constant as you travel around the promenade. Here are two examples.

Promenade Lamp Post

Promenade Lamp Post

Let's start our journey around World Showcase with Mexico. The bridge that approaches this pavilion features very ornate, wrought iron half-post fixtures.

Mexico Lamp Post

The vast majority of the lighting within the Mexico Pavilion comes from the various marketplace stalls scattered around the area. However, there are several stylish, five-globe streetlamps that were prominent during the colonial period of Mexico's history.

Mexico Lamp Post

In the Norway Pavilion we find a number of different lampposts. Everything from the very rustic to the very fashionable. Some of these "lanterns" would have fit right in with the Castle Akershus, the 14th century fortress fashioned here.

Norway Lamp Post

Norway Lamp Post

Norway Lamp Post

As you would expect, China has some very stylized fixtures. Those along the promenade have a pagoda-like feel while those in the courtyard look like stone lanterns. If you venture deeper into the pavilion, bamboo and decorative globes create illuminating works of art.

China Lamp Post

China Lamp Post

China Lamp Post

China Lamp Post

Most of the lighting at African Outpost comes from the shops and a few bare light bulbs strung overhead. But this area does have one "hidden" lamppost. I want to thank my friend Rob for bringing this to my attention.

African Outpost Lamp

The Germany Pavilion was inspired by villages found along the Rhine and the light fixtures here would be typical of many of these communities. Only two posts are represented here and both are very similar in appearance. Notice the posts all sport baskets filled with geraniums year-round.

Germany Lamp Post

Germany Lamp Post

The Italy Pavilion was modeled after the Doge's Palace in Venice. Here you'll find some of the most exquisite and beautiful lampposts in World Showcase. They complement the architecture beautifully in the day and even more so in the evening.

Italy Lamp Post

Italy Lamp Post

Italy Lamp Post

The American Adventure only has one style of lamppost. It's simple and reflects the colonial design of the pavilion.

American Adventure Lamp Post

The primary lampposts in the Japan Pavilion have blue tops to match the nearby pagoda. This pagoda was modeled after an 8th century structure located in the Horyuji Temple in Nara. Further back in the pavilion large lanterns, reminiscent of traditional Japanese paper lanterns, hang from bamboo poles.

Japan Lamp Post

Japan Lamp Post

Although not a source of illumination, I felt this stone lantern must be included in my tour.

Japan Stone Lantern

The Morocco Pavilion is divided into two sections. The front half, with a replica of the Koutoubia Minaret, represents Marrakech while the back half is the "old city" of Media. However both sections share the same design of lamppost. Pay attention to the detail and you'll notice the post has a spiral design and the colored glass is supported by intricate metal work.

Morocco Lamp Post

The architecture for the France Pavilion recalls the Belle Epoque ("beautiful age") style of design which was prevalent during the second half of the 19th century. The streetlamps also reflect this era. The first posts you encounter are out front of the Chefs de France restaurant.

France Lamp Post

Near the Boulangerie Patisserie the lamps take on a more Art Nouveau design.

France Lamp Post

And finally, in the Galerie de Halles we find lampposts appropriate to this grand marketplace designed by noted French architect Victor Baltard.

France Lamp Post

My next non-lamppost is also found in the France Pavilion. This ornate pole supports a clock and is located in a lovely garden to the right side of the entrance.

France Clock

The United Kingdom Pavilion seamlessly combines a number of locales into a small area. An elegant town square coexists with a waterside pub and rural country dwellings. And the lamppost all blend in naturally with the appropriate surroundings.

United Kingdom Lamp Post

United Kingdom Lamp Post

United Kingdom Lamp Post

As much of the Canada Pavilion is placed in Disney's version of the Rocky Mountains, the lampposts here have a rustic look. Gas lanterns, the type that miners and frontiersmen might have used, are perched on poles and suspended high above.

Canada Lamp Post

Canada Lamp Post

Canada Lamp Post

In the lovely Victoria Gardens, inspired by the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, we find a lamppost befitting of this lovely park. These gardens are the largest (and most labor intensive) of all the Epcot pavilions.

Canada Lamp Post

My last offering in this blog is not a lamppost, but how could I ignore possibly the most famous bit of lighting in the park. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is a wonderful show and begins each evening with the narrator "blowing out" all of the nineteen torches which surround World Showcase Lagoon. As the show was originally created for the Millennium Celebration, the torches represent the nineteen centuries of the Common Era. The twentieth torch is presented and lit at the end of the show as the globe opens up and it rises from within. Each of the water-side torches stand 27 feet high.

IllumiNations Torch

In tomorrow's blog I'll be discussing the lampposts of the Magic Kingdom.

February 5, 2010

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror -- Part Two

Yesterday, I gave you a brief history of the Tower of Terror and walked you through the attraction up through the Lobby. Today we'll finish the tour.

From the hotel lobby we proceed to one of the two libraries. It's here that we're told that our rooms are not quite ready and to please enjoy the amenities until summoned. Then, with a crash of lightning, the room goes dark and the television set comes alive. For the next minute and a half, the fateful story of the hotel's demise is presented.

Rod Serling recounts the tale of the Hollywood Tower Hotel and how on Halloween night, October 31, 1939, a stylish young couple and a child actress with her stern governess, check into the hotel. An overworked bellman escorts them to an elevator and the doors close. On their ascent, lightning strikes the hotel and the building's two wings disappear, along with the inhabitants of the elevator.



The clip of Rod Serling was also taken from the episode titled "It's a Good Life." However, the voice used is that of Mark Silverman. Mr. Serling's widow made the final selection after the Imagineers narrowed down the field following hundreds of auditions.

Watch the television show carefully and you can see a Mickey Mouse plush toy in the young girl's hand right before she gets onto the elevator.

Rod Serling

A number of other details can be found in the libraries. The broken pair of glasses is from the episode titled "Time Enough at Last" starring Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis. He is a bookworm and the sole survivor of a nuclear war who drops and breaks his only pair of glasses.

Glasses from Time Enough at Last

The trumpet is from "Passage for Trumpet" starring Jack Klugman as Joey Crown, a down and out musician. While contemplating suicide, he is saved by another trumpet player, Gabriel. Beneath the trumpet is sheet music titled "What! No Mickey Mouse? What Kind Of Party Is This?" The song was written in 1932.

Trumpet from Passage for Trumpet

On the shelf above the books is a small spaceman. This creature was from "The Invaders" starring Agnes Moorhead who is terrorized by what turns out to be a space mission from earth.

Spaceman from The Invaders

Also on the overhead shelf is a fortune telling machine that tormented William Shatner in an episode titled "Nick of Time." All of these items are accurate reproductions of the actual props used in the television show.

Fortune Telling Machine from Nick of Time

When "Tonight's Episode" concludes in the Library, a hidden panel slides open and you proceed to the Boiler Room and the Service Elevators.

This Way to the Service Elevators

Pay attention to the noises in the Boiler Room. You can hear a number of sounds appropriate to your surroundings such as motors running and pipes banging. The first two brick structures you encounter when entering this room are the hotel's furnaces. One is still in service. If you look closely, you'll find several carloads of coal waiting to be stoked. Boiler tanks and electrical equipment can also be found down here.

Basement Walkway


Coal Bin

Water Tank

Eventually you reach the Service Elevators. Between each set of elevators is a caged area. In this area is the electrical motor that lifts and lowers the cars (not really). Pay attention and you can hear the motor start and stop as the cars rise and lower. And occasionally you can see sparks within the machine. Also, if you watch the "floor indicator," you can tell when the elevator is arriving.

Service Elevator

Elevator Motor

Floor Indicator

I know there are a few of you who have absolutely no desire to ever ride on TOT. And that's totally understandable. But I would strongly suggest you accompany your friends and family to this point. The queue and preshow are an attraction in their own right and worth seeing. If you've made it this far, just tell the bell hop you don't wish to be taken to your room at the moment and you'll be allowed to bypass the elevator and meet your companions later.

Now it's time to board the 1917 caged service elevator for a quick trip to your room. If you look to the side of the car, outside the cage, you can see a "Permit to Operate" certificate dated October 31, 1939. The certificate was signed by Inspector Cadwallader. This is in reference to the Twilight Zone episode "Escape Clause" where Walter Bedeker (played by David Wayne) makes a deal with the devil -- a gentleman who calls himself Mr. Cadwallader (played by Thomas Gomez). In addition, the certificate also displays "STATE ID NUMBER 10259." This is a nod to the date The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS, October 25, 1959

Elevator Car

Permit to Operate Sign

After everyone has been secured in their seat, the elevator doors close and you're whisked up several stories. When the doors reopen, you're looking into one of the hotel's hallways. Shortly thereafter, the family that disappeared on that fateful night long ago, reappears for an instant, before lightning strikes once again and they vanish forever. The effect is wonderful and eerie. I'm not going to give away the secret here, but if you're curious as to how this trick is accomplished, look up "Pepper's Ghost" on the internet. Wikipedia has a good description and discusses several Disney attractions.

Hotel Hallway and Guests

The doors close once again and your elevator car continues its ascent. When the doors open this time, the elevator moves horizontally into the Fifth Dimension. This room was inspired in part by the "Little Girl Lost" episode of The Twilight Zone. In this show, the daughter of a young couple rolls under her bed and through the wall into another dimension.

In order to accomplish the elevator's forward motion, the cars needed to be motorized and on wheels. These "Autonomous Guided Vehicles" are powered by onboard electric motors and batteries. Improving on techniques developed for Epcot's Universe of Energy, the vehicles use fast charging batteries that can be recharged while in use.

One of the props in the Fifth Dimension Room is a giant eyeball that opens to reveal a passing elevator car. At one time, a picture of the actual car you were riding in was displayed and you could see yourself. But sadly, this effect was eliminated a number of years ago due to obscene gestures some guests made while having their picture taken.

At the end of the Fifth Dimension Room a star field gathers and suddenly, doors open to reveal an inky blackness. Your elevator proceeds into this abyss, then stops. For a moment, nothing happens"¦then your elevator goes wild. The drop sequence that you experience is selected by a computer and each ride is unique and random. You never know if your journey will start with a ride to the top or a drop to the bottom. Here are a couple of pictures taken from the top.

View from the Top

View from the Top

To accomplish a faster-than-gravity fall, the elevator car you are riding in actually enters a secondary elevator car located in the drop-shaft and locks into place. This secondary car has cables attached to both the top and bottom of the elevator, allowing a motor to pull you down faster than a natural freefall would generate. The motors used on these elevators are significantly more powerful than those used in modern skyscrapers.

Eventually, the elevator comes to a rest in the basement. If you look to the side of the car before it turns, other Twilight Zone props can be seen. The slot machine from the episode "The Fever" and the ventriloquist dummy from the show titled "Caesar and Me" are both in view. You will also notice a large "B" painted on the inside of the elevator doors, signifying "Basement." As the doors open, the "B" splits in half creating the number 13.

Basement 13

After exiting the elevator, you walk down a long hallway to find a hotel storage room. I've read that various other Twilight Zone props can be found on these shelves, but I couldn't identify any and the cast members I spoke with were unaware of them.

Hotel Store Room

It's at this storage facility that you can order a picture of yourself taken while riding on the elevator. Also notice the chalkboard that reads, "Picture If You Will"¦" a quote often used by Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone television show.

Picture if you Will Sign

Around the corner is a large desk where your photo can be purchased and picked up.

Photo Pick-up Desk

Just beyond this desk are three sets of doors labeled Sunset, Beverly, and Fountain Rooms. I mentioned these earlier when talking about the hotel Directory. In reality, these lead to backstage areas. But in the realm of the Hollywood Tower Hotel these are banquet rooms.

Sunset Banquet Room

If you check the menu next to the Sunset Room, you can see that a gala dinner was taking place here on October 31, 1939. As you can see, the guests were in for a sumptuous feast. Here's what was on the menu that night:


Hors D'oeurve
Grape Fruit Maraschino
Sweet Gherkins Γ  la Moutarde
Bismark Herrings

Glear Turtle with Sherry
Potage Ecossaise
Cold ConsommΓ©

Grilled Bluefish
Dover Sole
Whitefish Matheson

Mignon of Beef
Rack of Lamb Johnson
Tournedos Nicoise

Mutton Chops
Spring Chicken
Calf's Liver and Bacon
Deviled Quail on Toast

Fresh Green Peas
Cauliflower au Gratin
New Carrots

Autumn Salad
Belgian Endive
Polonaise Beaumont

Peach Shortcake
Apple Pie and Cream
Gateau Chocolate au Rodman

Tea and coffee, Liqueurs, Cigars, Cigarettes

I want to thank my friend Kev for pointing out that some of the menu items contain the names of writers of the Twilight Zone TV show such as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and George Clayton Johnson.

All good hotels have a gift shop and the Hollywood Tower Hotel is no exception. Here you can find HTH logo merchandise that is only available in this shop. Also, a number of books and pamphlets about The Twilight Zone television show are for sale.

Hotel Shop

Hotel Shop

Logo Merchandise

Outside the shop are three windows displaying elegant merchandise once for sale at the hotel. Pumpkins make up part of the window dressing in honor of Halloween. Also, a sign in the window mentions the upcoming Halloween Extravaganza, presumably being held in the Sunset Room.

Shop Window

Shop Window Sign

While researching this piece, I read of other attraction details, but I have chosen not to mention them for various reasons. But rest assured, there are more hidden treasures scattered around this outstanding attraction.

Restrictions: Guests must be at least 40" tall; cannot suffer from any neck, back, or heart problems; cannot suffer from motion sickness or claustrophobia; wheelchair guests must be able to walk in unassisted and possess full upper-body control; pregnant women may not ride.

Finally, I would like to answer a question I get time and time again: "Where are all the people?"

1. Whenever I do a photo-shoot, I arrive at opening (9am). This gives me roughly an hour to take unobstructed photos.

2. For this blog, I know that everyone rushes down Sunset Boulevard for Rock 'N' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror first thing in the morning. All I had to do was wait ten minutes for the morning onslaught to be absorbed by these two people-eaters. Then I had the street, queue, and much of the attraction to myself.

3. I made multiple trips to Disney's Hollywood Studios in order to take my pictures.

4. I'm very patient. I will wait, and wait, and wait for people to move out of my way before I snap a shot.

5. And finally, I'm very good with the computer and can remove a lot of unwanted objects from my pictures.

Because I waited patiently for everyone else to rush ahead of me, I got to ride in an elevator all by myself. Cool.

All by Myself in the Elevator

I have created a five-minute video of the Tower of Terror. I have tried to capture as much of the attraction as possible and hope that I can provide you with everything but the thrill of the drop. Enjoy!

Check back tomorrow when I present an overview of the Towers in California, Paris, and Tokyo.

February 4, 2010

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror -- Part One

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is my favorite attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios. In my opinion, it is one of Disney's crowning gems and an absolute "must see" on every visit. I'd be surprised if any other attraction has more details packed into it as Tower of Terror. I've been on this ride dozens of times and I'm still discovering new facts. What is to follow is a brief history of how this great "hotel" came into being and then a description of the experience.

When the Disney/MGM Studios was being planned and built, the intent was that it would function as a working studio and produce movies and television shows. At the same time, Disney would offer guests a half-day experience where they could learn about the film industry while being entertained. However, things did not work out as planned. For a number of reasons, this venue was never able to take off as a real production center. And since guests were paying the same ticket price to enter the Studios as they were for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, they wanted more than a half-day experience. The park needed to be retooled and expanded.

Sunset Boulevard was the first major addition to come to the Studios. And with it came four attractions. In July, 1994, the "Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage" show was relocated from the Backlot Theater to a new 1,500-seat Theater of the Stars. At the same time, the "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" opened at the end of Sunset Blvd. On October 15, 1998 "Fantasmic" opened at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. And finally, "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster" debuted on July 29, 1999.

Theater of the Stars

Tower of Terror

Hollywood Hills Amphitheater

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster

An interesting note: The Sunset Ranch Market, which features Catalina Eddie's and Rosie's All American CafΓ©, was built to be a place-holder for a future attraction. If you'll notice, the structures are all small and simple and could easily be removed.

Sunset Ranch Market

The Imagineers knew they needed a major ride at the end of the boulevard. To employ a word that Walt often used, they needed a "weenie" to draw the guests past the shops and down the street. This would require an attraction that was not only a show stopper, but visually appealing.

During the planning stages for Sunset Blvd, a number of attractions were considered. One, to be called "Crime Stoppers," was to be based on the Disney movie "Dick Tracy." But the film did not meet the financial and critical expectations Disney had hoped for. In addition, Michael Eisner didn't like the violent nature of the attraction so the idea was scrapped.

The Imagineers often say that no good idea ever goes unused. Keeping this in mind, one can't help but wonder if part of the American Waterfront at Tokyo DisneySea was based on Crime Stoppers. Take a look at the concept drawing for this discarded attraction, then look at the very similar street at DisneySea. Hmmm.

Crime Stoppers Concept Art

American Waterfront Tokyo DisneySea

Another early idea called for a scary, yet humorous attraction based on Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" that would be housed in an elaborate castle. Mr. Brooks even sat in on some of the early brainstorming sessions. As possibilities continued to be explored, the "Young Frankenstein" idea morphed into a haunted hotel concept. Soon after, the attraction took on a more serious tone and Mr. Brooks left the project.

Tower of Terror Concept Art

Tower of Terror Concept Art

A different idea centered around the popularity of murder mysteries in the 1930's, the same era as Sunset Blvd. In this scenario, the guests would be given a series of clues in order to solve a murder mystery. But management frowned on the idea of a ride based on homicide and nixed the idea. Another concept involved a mishap at a Hollywood wrap party. But once again, murder wasn't the story they wanted to tell at a Disney park. Eventually the Imagineers came up with the idea of movie stars being trapped in an out-of-control elevator. And in this case, the people just "disappeared" in a supernatural way, not at the hand of man.

The Imagineers believed that linking the attraction with a recognizable movie or television show would help guests grasp the storyline more quickly and a number of properties were explored. Eventually, The Twilight Zone was selected and the Imagineers viewed all 156 episodes at least twice to make sure they captured the essence of the show in both the design of the structure and the story they would tell. However, the story they created was unique and never was part of the series.

The design of the hotel needed to be appropriate to the era and blend in with the rest of Sunset Boulevard. The Imagineers decided on architecture that was inspired by the revival styles that were popular in California during the early 20th century. The hotel is modeled after such landmarks as the Mission Inn in Riverside, the ChΓ’teau Marmont in Hollywood, and the Biltmore Hotel located in Downtown Los Angeles. Its fictional construction date is 1917 which can be seen on a plaque while standing in line.

Construction Date 1917

But the building not only needed to blend with its immediate surroundings, it also needed to blend in with World Showcase in Epcot. You see, when crossing the bridge that leads from the Disney Traders Shop to Mexico, the hotel is clearly visible behind the Morocco pavilion. So the Tower was given a slightly Moorish feel and painted a color that was not completely accurate for its era just so it would blend into the background when viewed from Epcot.

Morocco Pavilion

The Imagineers made one mistake when designing the exterior of the building. The "Hollywood Tower Hotel" sign was placed too low on the structure. In fact, the sign would have been underneath the two wings that were destroyed when hit by lightning. If you pay attention during the Library preshow, you can clearly see the sign is located above the destroyed wings, which would have been the correct placement. This mistake was corrected in the California and Paris versions of the ride. At Tokyo DisneySea the storyline is completely different and there are no wings. In fact, the hotel's name does not appear on the building as it does on its three cousins..

Tower of Terror Incorrect Sign Placement

Here are some basic construction facts about the Tower. The structure required 1,500 tons of steel, 145,800 cubic feet of concrete, and 27,000 roof tiles. The building is 199 feet tall as FAA requirements require that all structures 200 feet or more have a flashing red light on top. The Imagineers felt that this beacon would be distracting and opted to come in under this limit. A model of the Tower, used in the planning stages of the ride, can be seen in the "One Man's Dream" attraction on nearby Mickey Avenue.

Tower of Terror Construction Model

During construction, a billboard was strategically placed near the park's entrance, advertising the upcoming attraction. The three construction photos were taken by our own Deb Wills.

Tower of Terror Construction Billboard

Tower of Terror Construction Photo

Tower of Terror Construction Photo

Tower of Terror Construction Photo

The Tower of Terror (TOT) opened on July 22, 1994. It beckons guests from the parking lot and tram operators point it out as you make your way to the main gate. Later, when you turn onto Sunset Boulevard, you see it sitting majestically at the end of the street. And if that's not enough, a era-appropriate billboard can be found on the Boulevard advertising this great hotel.

Parking Lot View

Sunset Blvd. view of Tower

Tower of Terror Billboard

The stone sentries at the entrance to the attraction are close replicas of the gates found at the entrance of Hollywood's Beachwood Drive. In our case, they mark the beginning of the Sunset Hills Estates.

Stone Entrance

Stone Entrance

Sunset Hills Estates Plaque

The stone structure on the right houses restrooms and behind the one on the left, the FastPass dispensers can be found. If you look beyond the dispensers, you'll find a shed and gardening equipment once used by the hotel's landscapers.

FastPass Machines

Gardener's Shack and Tools

Perched on a hill is a sign displaying the wait time for standby riders. Although numbers less than 13 are often used, this superstitious numeral is frequently present. When it is, you know that the line is very short if not nonexistent. The TOT and the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom are the only two attractions to ever use this number. The nearby landscaping is reminiscent of Griffith and Elysian Parks found in the city of Los Angeles.

Standby Rider Time Estimate

Pay attention to the hotel's stone marquee. It eerily changes, helping set the mood for your journey into the Twilight Zone.

Tower Marquee

Next, you pass beneath an elaborate entryway where you're greeted by one of the hotel's staff. Make sure to notice the "Keep Out" sign posted on the left gate.

Hotel Entrance Gate

Keep Out Sign

Once past the gate look immediately to your right. A most unusual sundial can be found here. At one time, it was used as a wait-time indicator, but no more. Although difficult to make out in my picture, the words say, "YOUR NEXT STOP THE TWILIGHT ZONE 5 MINUTES FROM THIS POINT."


From the gate, you wander through some of the long-neglected hotel grounds. More details abound such as a cracked wall from overgrown tree roots and signs marking the way to various recreational facilities. In the background, screams can be heard as you approach the building.

Hotel Pathway

Recreational Sign

Broken Wall and Tree Roots

As you continue your walk, you come to an arbor and a long-dry fountain. Notice the vines that have encased some of the pillars over the years. And the bottom of the fountain has accumulated numerous cracks as time has passed. At one time, the fountain had a water-ring visible on the tiles, but for some reason, this has been removed. To the left of the arbor are statues of two lovely ladies.

Arbor and Vines

Dry Fountain


As you approach the arbor, music can be heard in the background. If you listen closely, you'll notice it has a far-away, echoey quality. This was done intentionally to invoke a ghost-like feel of a bygone era. The songs played are as follows:

"Alabamy Home" By Gotham Stompers
"Another World" By Johnny Hodges
"Can't Get Started" By Benny Berigan
"Dear Old Southland" By Noble Sissle
"Deep Purple" By Turner Layton
"Delta Mood" By Cootie Williams
"Inside" By Fats Waller
"Jeep's Blues" By Johnny Hodges
"Jitterbug" By Johnny Hodges
"Jungle Drums" By Sidney Bechet
"Mood Indigo" By Duke Ellington
"Pyramid" By Johnny Hodges
"Remember" By Red Norvo
"Sleepy Time Gal" By Glenn Miller
"There's a House" By Henry Allen
"There's No Two" By Frankie Newton
"Uptown Blues" By Jimmy Lunceford
"We'll Meet Again" By Vera Lynn
"When the Sun Sets" By Nobles Singers
"Wishing" By Vera Lynn

At last you come to the main entrance of the hotel and step inside. It's here that the details become too numerous to count.

Hotel Entrance

To the left side of the lobby is a small table. On it we see a game a mahjong was in progress on that fateful Halloween night when disaster struck. The tiles are accurately placed so that guests who know the game will see that it is a faithful recreation. Alongside the table is a tea cart, which would be appropriate in any fine hotel of the era.

Mahjong Game

Tea Service

Further along the same wall is another table. Here, a young couple was celebrating their engagement with a glass of champagne when lightning struck the hotel. Lipstick can be seen on one of the glasses and a diamond ring can be found on a white glove sitting on the table.

Engagement Table

To the left side of the entrance is the concierge desk. Like everything else in the hotel, it has been left untouched since October 31, 1939. On the wall next to the desk is a plaque honoring the hotel with AAA's prestigious 13-diamond award. In reality, 5 diamonds is the maximum.

Concierge Desk

AAA Award

Beside the concierge desk is a poster advertising the Tip Top Club located on the top floor of the hotel. The orchestra leader is Anthony Fremont. If you remember your Twilight Zone episodes, you might recollect a show titled "It's a Good Life." In this story, a young boy, named Anthony Fremont, could make people disappear into the cornfield.

Tip Top Club Poster

The main lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel is stunning. Some of the chairs were secured from the exclusive Jonathan Club, a well-known Los Angeles landmark built in the 1920's. Other leather chairs are authentic Renaissance antiques. And a set of luggage near the front desk is made from genuine alligator skin, a popular fashion of the time. This same set of luggage can be seen later in the library TV presentation as the bellman carries them onto the doomed elevator.

Hotel Lobby


Be sure to check out the ceiling and light fixtures. They are truly amazing works of art.


Light Fixture

A number of French and American bronze pieces are scattered around the hotel lobby. Some are recreations and others are real, crafted by the famous 19th century artist Moreau, whose work graced many of the best hotels of the era.

Bronze Bust

Located between the two guest elevators is the hotel's directory. Listed here are various facilities and their location. For example, the Tip Top Club, mentioned earlier, can be found on the TOP OF THE TOWER. Also mentioned are the Sunset, Beverly, and Fountain Rooms, which can be found on the LOWER LEVEL. I'll discuss these three rooms in more detail later.

At one time, the missing letters that had fallen from the directory spelled "EVIL TOWER U R DOOMED" at the bottom of the case. However, the letters were removed some time ago. Although I have never been given a reason for the disappearance, I suspect it was out of deference for the Twin Towers after the 9/11 tragedy.

Hotel Directory

Take a look at the two elevators to either side of the Directory. There are "Out of Order" signs in front of them and their doors have fallen off their tracks.

Out of Order Elevator

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two and more interesting facts about The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

January 12, 2010

Have a Seat in Walt Disney World - Part 4

Like everything that Disney does, theming is paramount. In this multi-part blog I'll be touring all four parks and pointing out benches, chairs, and other seating options that have been themed specifically for a land or area. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on non-restaurant seating.

Part 1 covered the Magic Kingdom.
Part 2 covered Epcot.
Part 3 Animal Kingdom

The final park on our tour of the World brings us to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Like the other parks, there are few seating options near the entrance. The only place to sit here is on the planters located between security check and the ticket booths.

Studio Entrance Planter/Bench

Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards offer "anywhere U.S.A." city benches. It's interesting to note that Sunset Blvd. has one of the largest concentrations of benches anywhere. Almost the entire street is lined with these wood and concrete seats.

Anywhere USA Bench

Sunset Blvd. Benches

Characteristic of the real world, a number of these benches display advertisements. If you pay attention, you'll notice that the locales depicted on the ads all exist on the two streets. Take a look at the last picture. You can tell by the sagging slats that this bench is used frequently. There's a reason for this. It's near the restroom where guests wait for others to finish their business.

Bench with Advertisements

Bench with Advertisements

Bench with Advertisements

Bench with Advertisements

Bench with Advertisements

Near the Tip Board is an art deco style fountain. As the park gets busy, this area becomes a "meeting spot" an seating here is often at a premium.

Tip Board Fountain

Near the Tower of Terror, the seating is decidedly formal.

Tower of Terror Bench

The only seating you'll find in the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster courtyard is the planter ledge that lines the front of the building.

Rock 'N' Roller Coaster Planter Bench

On Mickey Avenue you'll discover the same benches as are used in Innoventions Courtyard at Epcot. And at Pixar Place the seating has a sort of futuristic/cartoon appearance.

Mickey Avenue Bench

Pixar Place Bench

You'll find a different version of the "anywhere U.S.A." city bench on the Streets of America.

Streets of America Bench

Near Pizza Planet there are a few simple benches and a number of tables and chairs.

Pizza Planet Bench

Pizza Planet Table and Chairs

Along Echo Lake are umbrella-covered tables and chairs. Buy an ice cream from nearby Dinosaur Gertie's and enjoy it here.

Echo Lake Table and Chairs

This concludes my tour of theme park benches. But the detailing doesn't stop here. The resorts are full of seating options as unique as the ones I've presented in this blog. As I always keep preaching, pay attention to the little things and your trips to Walt Disney World will be all that more rewarding

By the way, in order to get pictures of benches with nobody sitting on them, I had to arrive at each park at opening, then make a mad dash around the park before people started tiring out.

January 11, 2010

Have a Seat in Walt Disney World - Part 3

Like everything that Disney does, theming is paramount. In this multi-part blog I'll be touring all four parks and pointing out benches, chairs, and other seating options that have been themed specifically for a land or area. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on non-restaurant seating.

Part 1 covered the Magic Kingdom.
Part 2 covered Epcot.

Let's move on to the Animal Kingdom.

The first benches you come to here are on Discovery Island. These multi-colored, multi-shaped seats are made out of recycled plastic products.

Recycled Milk Carton Bench

Also on Discovery Island is this lovely wall and bench.

Rock Wall and Bench

Africa has several large planters with wrap-around benches. In addition, some seating is incorporated into the actual building.

Africa Planter/Bench

Africa Wall-Bench

Behind Tamu Tamu Refreshments is a secluded courtyard called Fort Harambe. A number of trees and overhangs create a shady spot where you can sit at tables and recharge your body.

Tamu Tamu Table and Chairs

Another shady spot can be found next to the entrance to Tusker House. Numerous tables and cushioned chairs are on hand and live entertainment takes place in this area -- not to mention the Dawa Bar is nearby serving luscious libations.

Dawa Bar Seating

Perhaps the most charming spot to sit in at the Animal Kingdom can be found at the entrance to Asia. Here, a simple wooden bench has been placed between the paws of a crumbling idol. This same bench can be found in other nearby locations, but none are so interestingly placed.

Asia Idol Seating

Asian Basic Bench

Across from the Flights of Wonder bird show is a pleasant spot to take a break. This covered area has a number of tables and chairs to relax in and is seldom busy. Notice that the chairs are mismatched. This would be typical in some of the poorer nations of Asia.

Asia Table and Chairs

Next to the Drinkwallah beverage stand is one of the most unusual seating spots in Asia. This sentry post features several hand-crafted barstools and offers good views of Discovery River.

Asia Sentry Post

Sentry Post Barstools

Although more of a photo op than a place to spend time, this rickshaw is enticing.


Simple, weathered benches like this next example can be found throughout Asia.

Asian Weathered Bench

I complained earlier that some of the benches in Epcot were as hard as a rock. Well a few of the seating choices near Expedition: Everest literally are rocks.

Expediton: Everest Rock Bench

Next stop, Dinoland U.S.A.. As Restaurantosaurus was originally a hunting lodge, the benches in this area are rustic and simple.

Restaurantosaurus Bench

Over at Chester and Hester's we find a variety of seating options. Next to the gift shop is this interesting bench with glass dinosaurs embedded into the surface.

Dinosaur Bench

Dinosaur Bench Close-up

Near the old barn are a number of picnic tables. These are especially useful to those of you who have brought your own food into the park.

Dinoland Picnic Table

Over on the midway the benches are painted in bright colors. This fits in perfectly with the carnival like atmosphere of the area.

Midway Bench

The seating in front of the Finding Nemo show is an example of a fence being used as a bench.

Finding Nemo Fench/Bench

Our last stop in the Animal Kingdom is Camp Minnie-Mickey. The benches here are built out a real branches. Because of this, no two are exactly alike.

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

The final park on our tour is Disney's Hollywood Studios, so stop by tomorrow!

January 10, 2010

Have a Seat in Walt Disney World - Part 2

Like everything that Disney does, theming is paramount. In this multi-part blog I'll be touring all four parks and pointing out benches, chairs, and other seating options that have been themed specifically for a land or area. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on non-restaurant seating.

Yesterday we covered the Magic Kingdom.

Our next stop on this seating tour is Epcot.

There are very few benches between the turnstiles and Spaceship Earth, yet plenty of seating can be found here. All of the planters in this area have a wide projection that acts as a seat and the fountain's ledge provides a perfect photo opportunity for groups to sit on.

Epcot Entrance Planter/Bench

Epcot Entrance Fountain

The following two benches are located in Future world. The first picture illustrates the seating found within the Innoventions Courtyard and on the walkway leading to World Showcase. Although it can be seen in various colors, its simplistic, modern design remains constant in these areas. The second bench is positioned throughout Future World East and West.

Innovention Benches

Future World Benches

Let's start with Mexico on our tour around World Showcase. The benches here are somewhat simple, being made up of wrought iron ends and wooden slats.

Mexico Bench

The benches in Norway are slightly more detailed than those in Mexico. If you notice, the bench's back is more elaborate than its Latin American neighbor.

Norway Bench

In China we find a traditional Asian design. Pleasant to the eye. Hard on the butt.

China Bench

African Outpost offers a number of tables and chairs. This is a good spot if you need to relax for more than just a couple of minutes.

African Outpost Table and Chairs

In between many of the pavilions you'll find a very generic bench. It was chosen as it would blend into any surrounding without detracting from the distinct national architectures found around World Showcase.

World Showcase Generic Bench

In Germany you'll find another simple slat bench. But you'll also find a number of tables and chairs situated around the Saint George fountain. This is another good spot to while away some time.

Germany Bench

St. George Fountain Table and Chairs

Like China, Italy offers some rather hard seating options. Carved marble might be lovely to look at, but after a couple of minutes sitting on one of these beauties and you'll be back on your feet in no time. For a slightly more relaxing choice, pick one of the nearby metal-work tables and chairs.

Italy Bench

Italy Table and Chairs

The only benches I could find outside of the American Adventure were in the American Gardens Theater -- and these are only available during performances. The seating options here are either on the brick planters or the cushioned tables and chairs adjoining the Liberty Inn Restaurant.

American Adventure Planter/Bench

American Adventure Table and Chairs

Like China and Italy, the seating options in Japan are rock hard.

Japan Benches

In Morocco we find yet another stone bench. But the nearby fountain is beautiful enough to make you forget for a moment that you're sitting on a hard surface.

Morocco Bench

Morocco Fountain

France offers a wooden bench, but don't plan on leaning back. The support is somewhat lacking. However, sidewalk-cafΓ© styled tables and chairs are available on the water's edge for a more leisurely moment.

France Bench

France Table and Chairs

One of the most lovely spots in World Showcase can be found in the United Kingdom and there are plenty of benches in this area to sit on and enjoy the atmosphere.

United Kingdom Bench

And of course, one of the most famous seating areas in World Showcase is found on the UK's waterfront. This is a great place to watch Illuminations (and have a beer), but you must stake out your table an hour in advance -- sometimes more -- if you want to watch this nightly spectacular.

UK Table and Chairs

With a view of the Rockies, these simple but stylish benches in the Canada Pavilion are a great place to escape and catch your breath.

Canada Bench in the Rockies

Near the Le Cellier Restaurant we find a more rustic bench, appropriate to the great outdoors.

Le Cellier Bench

With Epcot complete, tomorrow we'll look at Animal Kingdom

January 9, 2010

Have a Seat in Walt Disney World - Part 1

Anyone who has ever visited a theme park knows that it doesn't take very long before your feet begin to hurt and your back begins to ache. Most of us just don't spend that much time walking -- and standing -- anymore. We often tucker out quickly. So it's no surprise that Disney has placed seating options just about everywhere. It doesn't take a genius to know that sore bodies make grumpy guests.

But like everything that Disney does, theming is paramount. In this multi-part blog I'll be touring all four parks and pointing out benches, chairs, and other seating options that have been themed specifically for a land or area. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on non-restaurant seating.

Let's start in the Magic Kingdom.

Main Street doesn't have much general seating. This is because this thoroughfare is primarily used to enter and exit the park. Most guests have little need to sit down here as they're too busy getting to where they're going. However, if you do decide you need to rest your weary bones, the porch outside of Exhibition Hall has a number of nifty rocking chairs to relax on.

Exhibition Hall Rocking Chair

Also in front of Exhibition Hall you can find Goofy taking a rest from the park. Although folks should remember, this bench is more of a photo-op than a place to spend any significant amount of time.

Goofy on a Bench

Across the Plaza near Package Pick-up is a beautiful turn-of-the-century wrought iron bench.

Package Pick-up Bench

Halfway down Main Street, toward the back of Center Street you can find a number of tables and chairs. If you want to escape the crowds, this is one of the best spots in the Magic Kingdom as this area is seldom busy. The furniture here has an old-time, ice cream parlor design.

Center Street Table and Chairs

In The Hub we find what I call the "basic-green-Disney-bench." This design and color has been around since the early Disneyland days and can be found in all five Magic Kingdoms around the world.

Basic Green Hub Bench

The old Swan Boat landing offers another tranquil spot to spend some time away from the hordes. Once again, a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century theme is used for the tables and chairs.

Swan Boat Landing

Swan Boat Seating

And for you smokers, Disney has set aside one of the most beautiful spots in the park to relax and unwind.

Smoking Section

Smoking Section

In Tomorrowland we find a trick that Disney uses time and time again -- turn a retaining wall into additional seating. Here we see a planter, designed with a ledge at the perfect height to accommodate our bottoms.

Tomorrowland Planter Seating

Around many of the PeopleMover (TTA) pylons, the Imagineers have created sculpture-like benches. Artistic? Yes. Comfortable? No. But when you need to rest, "hard" is better than nothing.

PeopleMover Pylon Seating

In keeping with the futuristic theme of Tomorrowland, this next bench has a streamlined appearance.

Tomorrowland Bench

Near the Indy Speedway are a number of sleek and modern tables and chairs.

Tomorrowland Tables and Chairs

In Fantasyland we find more ornate benches, befitting of the old-world charm of the area.

Ornate Fantasyland Seating

Near Ariel's Grotto the tables and chairs are painted in festive colors. Also notice, another planter has been used to create additional seating.

Colorful Fantasyland Seating

Colorful Fantasyland Seating and Wall/Bench

Since Winnie the Pooh lives in the Hundred Acre Wood, it makes sense that the benches and chairs located here take on a more outdoorsy look.

Hundred Acre Wood Seating

Hundred Acre Wood Seating

The seating in Liberty Square reflects its colonial roots. The second bench is rather austere.

Liberty Square Bench

Liberty Square Bench

Liberty Square also offers two places in which you can find rocking chairs. One is on the porch to the right side of Hall of Presidents and the other is just outside the Yankee Trader Shop. Both of these spots are popular with guests and it's often difficult to secure a seat here.

Hall of Presidents Rocking Chair

Yankee Trader Rocking Chair

As you would expect, Frontierland offers rustic seating. The support for this next bench was fashioned out of wagon wheels.

Wagon Wheel Bench

A log cabin design can be found on this next resting spot.

Log Cabin Bench

In the mood for a game of checkers? This table and chairs is located out front of the Shootin' Arcade.

Checkers Table and Stools

And finally in Frontierland, more rocking chairs are on hand along the boardwalk. If you look closely, you'll notice these are the exact same chairs as on Main Street and in Liberty Square, only with a different finish.

Frontierland Rocking Chair

Our final stop in the Magic Kingdom is Adventureland. Near the entrance to this exotic land is a large planter made of volcanic rocks. Once again, seating has been designed into the structure.

Adventureland Entrance Planter Bench

Another planter/bench can be found near the Swiss Family Treehouse. If you look closely, you'll see some of the wrecked ship's flotsam incorporated into the design.

Swiss Family Planter/Bench

Across from the Treehouse is a covered porch. Here, a number of tables and chairs provide the perfect escape from the sun. Their color and design suggest a tropical feel.

Adventureland Tables and Chairs

Near the Enchanted Tiki Room simple slat benches can be found. This open-air design is perfect for a hot and humid climate.

Adventureland Benches

Our next stop on this seating tour is Epcot. Come back tomorrow for Part 2!

October 11, 2009

Mission: Space

Before Mission: SPACE, there was Horizons. Horizons opened exactly one year after Epcot on October 1, 1983. The attraction used Disney's Omnimover conveyance system and allowed guests to view the future through the eyes of scientist and authors both past and present.


The closing of Horizons (January 9, 1999) was generated by several events. First, changing public tastes. Most guests were no longer content to sit for almost 15 minutes and watch one vignette after another pass by. Lines for this attraction were practically nonexistent in the later years. Next, General Electric, sensing that this attraction had seen its day, let their contract expire after ten years and instead, decided to sponsor Illuminations. This forced Disney to pick up the operating costs for a tired attraction. And finally, it was alleged that along with major roof problems, a sinkhole was discovered under the building in 1998. Something needed to be done.

Some sort of Space Pavilion had been envisioned for Epcot since the parks inception so Disney decided that maybe now was the time to move forward with this idea. But the first step would be to demolish the Horizons building. For a number of months during 2000, cranes and bulldozers chipped away at the building. A large amount of the structure's materials were recycled.

Construction of Mission: SPACE took a little over two years. Compaq was the original sponsor of the attraction, but the company was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2002 and HP took over the contracts. The ride began soft openings in August 2003, and its grand opening was on October 9 of the same year.

Mission: SPACE Sign

The area outside of Mission: SPACE is called Planetary Plaza. If you look at the pavement, you can see orbital pathways and celestial bodies embedded into the concrete. The four large spheres near the building represent Jupiter, Mars, the Earth, and the Moon. The curving lines of the structure symbolize orbits and flight.

Planetary Plaza

The backstory for Mission: SPACE is this. The year is 2036, seventy-five years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. A colony is being built on Mars and the International Space Training Center (ISTC) is preparing astronauts for the journey. They will fly aboard the new X-2 Deep Space Shuttle which is propelled by solid hydrogen and can accelerate from zero to six-thousand in sixty seconds.

ISTC Training

X-2 Deep Space Shuttle

Upon entering the Mission: SPACE compound, trainees are asked if they would like to receive "Less Intense Training" (Green Team) or "More Intense Training" (Orange Team). Once you make your decision, you will be given an appropriate colored Launch Ticket. Notice, the green ticket says "CAUTION" while the orange ticket says "WARNING."

Launch Tickets

I cannot stress this enough, if you're in doubt as to which training session to choose, select the milder version. (I'll go into the ride mechanics later.) When this attraction debuted, only the "More Intense Training" was offered. Numerous guests suffered severe motion sickness during the first several years of operation. Things became so bad that Disney installed barf-bags in each training module within a couple of weeks of opening. However, they soon realized that this wasn't enough and something more drastic was needed to solve the problem. Eventually, a milder version of the attraction was developed (Less Intense Training) and came online in May, 2006. Note, if some members of your party select Mild and others request Intense, you will be separated and you will not ride together.

After you receive your Launch Ticket, take a look at the large model of the moon located behind the cast members.

Model of the Moon

Located on its surface are colored markers. These represent the 29 manned and unmanned landing sites achieved by the United States and the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1976. A single red marker designates the landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Other manned missions are marked in blue and unmanned missions are marked in clear/white.

Moon Landing Spots

Also in this area are ten plaques containing quotations from people who have inspired and promoted space travel throughout history.

Inspiratonal Plaques

Before entering the Mission: SPACE Sim Lab, you can view a mockup of the training capsule. For those of you who suffer from claustrophobia, this will help you make a determination if this ride is suitable for you.

Simulator Mockup

Once inside the Sim Lab, the queue passes beside a reproduction of the living quarters of a space vehicle. The rooms rotate to create artificial gravity for its inhabitants. If you look at the hub of this assembly, you can see the old logo for Horizons. Disney often acknowledges previous attractions by placing some sort of remembrance in the current ride.

Rotating Space Quarters

Horizon's Logo

On the other side of the room, hanging from the ceiling, is a large model of a spacecraft. If you study the ship closely, you can see where the rotating section (living quarters) would be located on this vehicle.


Also hanging from the ceiling is a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). On loan from the Smithsonian, this is the only LRV constructed that is not on the moon. These two-passenger "cars" were battery powered and had a top speed of 8.7 miles per hour. Designed in 1969, the LRVs were used by Apollo 15, 16, and 17 to explore the surface of the moon.

Lunar Roving Vehicle

As your journey along the queue continues, you'll pass beside a portrait gallery. Here you'll find a number of plaques commemorating milestones in space history. Starting with the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin (1961) and ending with the first X-2 Deep Space Mission with the crew of Bobby O'Brien, Sumi Yamamoto, and Frank Rodriguez (2036).

Yuri Gagarin

Internation Space Station Crew

First Family In Space

First X-2 Deep Space Mission

Across from the portrait gallery is the International Space Training Center Command Area. All activities of your mission will be coordinated from here.

International Space Training Center Command Area

If you watch the small monitors on the console, you might spot a gooney bird come in for a crash landing. Your first thought might be, "This is a strange image to be displayed here." But there is some Disney trivia behind this silly bird. During the preshow for "Flight to the Moon" and later "Mission to Mars" in the old Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland), this gooney bird set off alarms and flashing lights and Mission Control went into full alert as this "UFO" came in for a landing. It was a corny joke, but was appropriate for the era and for old-timers like myself, it brings back pleasant memories.

The Command Area marks the end of the queue and your adventure will begin shortly. Those taking the "Less Intense Training" will be directed to Briefing Rooms 1 and 2 while those taking the "More Intense Training" will be directed to Briefing Rooms 3 and 4. You will be grouped into teams of four and asked to stand on corresponding numbers on the floor.

Briefing Rooms

Briefing Room

When all of the trainees are in place, the doors behind you close and a short video is presented on overhead monitors. Your mission is explained and some safety procedures covered. For those of you who don't recognize the CapCom, it's Gary Sinise.

From the Briefing Room, flight instructors guide each team around a circular room and ask them to wait on their corresponding numbers.

Team Grouping Numbers

Team Groupings

At this station, each member of your team is assigned one of the following positions: Commander, Pilot, Navigator, and Engineer. During your training session, each position will be called upon to complete two tasks. But don't worry. If you miss your cue, the computer takes over and fulfills your duty. You'll also be given additional safety tips at this time. During this portion of the video, you will see a young lady pull her restraint over her head. Close observers may recognize her from Test Track as she is also in that attraction's safety video and is shown fastening her seat belt while being seated in her vehicle.

Soon, the doors in front of you open and your team enters its training module. Stow any loose items in the bin in front of you, then pull down the safety restraint. A steady stream of cool air is blown into your face to help prevent motion sickness.

Training Simulators

Training Simulators

I have created a short video of the experience. This is an edited version of the actual events.

Now that you've watched the video, let me give you a little information about the attraction's design and mechanics. In association with former NASA advisors, astronauts, and scientists, Walt Disney Imagineering developed Mission: SPACE. Over a five year period, 650 Imagineers spent more than 350,000 hours creating this attraction. The developers said that much of the technology used for Mission: SPACE needed to be invented as nothing already existed that was capable of giving the guests this type of experience.

In each of the four training areas, there is a large, multiple-arm centrifuge. Attached to the arms are ten training modules. In the "More Intense Training" session, the centrifuge spins, giving riders a since of increased gravity and later weightlessness. This force is 2.5 times that of gravity at the earth's surface. When your craft blasts off, you feel and intense pressure on your body. Also, while your module is spinning, it pitches and yaws to add to the effect of movement through space. In the "Less Intense Training" session, the motion simulator effects are used, but the centrifuge does not spin. It seems to be the spinning that causes some guests physical problems. The ride has a capacity of 1,600 guests per hour.

I like the "More Intense Training" session - a lot. So when Disney introduced the "Less Intense Training" session, I thought it would be lacking. But to my surprise, it still delivers a good experience. Certainly anyone who can "stomach" Star Tours, can join the Green (Less Intense) Team.

If you're like me and have ridden Mission: SPACE more times than you can count, I offer you something else to watch during the ride (if your stomach can take it). Pay attention to the small video screen located next to your monitor. An animated simulation of your entire journey is chronicled on this screen.

When your training is complete, you enter the Advanced Training Lab. Here, four different stations offer additional adventures. The first is for the little ones. "Space Base" is a sort of space-aged Habitrail for kids. A number of tubes and enclosures allow them to climb through a variety of pathways.

Space Base

Space Base

At "Expedition: Mars," you command a search and rescue mission, looking for lost astronauts. This computer game offers three levels of play.

Expedition: Mars

Expedition: Mars

"Postcards from Space" allows you to create a short video and email it too friends and family back home. If you want to make someone envious that you're at Walt Disney World and they're not, you can make it happen here.

Postcards from Space

The final Advanced Training Lab attraction is "Mission: Space Race." At this station, two teams compete to create a successful mission. This game is coordinated by cast members and requires a minimum number of players. If you want to experience this event, you might need to return later in the day when crowds have grown.

Mission: Space Race

And like so many other Disney attractions, you exit Mission: SPACE through a themed shop. This one is called Mission Space Cargo Bay - Gear and Supplies.

Mickey at Mission Space Cargo Bay

Right outside the shop is a bench. This is the perfect spot for those of you who choose not to experience any training whatsoever to wait for your friends and family.

Waiting Bench

Mission: SPACE offers numerous warnings before boarding. There are multiple signs posted in Planetary Plaza. There are videos located next to the vehicle mockup. There are overhead announcements. And both safety videos explain what's coming. There is no way anyone can claim they didn't understand what was in store for them unless they paid absolutely no attention as to what was going on around them. Children must be 44" high to ride.

Well, that's what I have on Mission: SPACE. I'm not a fan of the Tea Cups at the Magic Kingdom as the spinning makes me sick, yet I have no problem with the spinning of this attraction. But don't let anyone talk you into the Intense Training unless it's what YOU want to do. It's just not worth ruining the next several hours of your visit to Epcot while you're experiencing extreme nausea.

May 22, 2009

Star Wars Weekends 2009

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Guide Map - Very large file

Star Wars Weekend Tips

Additional Star Wars Weekend Information

I went to Disney's Hollywood Studios today to check out the opening of Star Wars Weekends. I arrived at 8:30am and the lines to get into the park were already long. This picture was taken five minutes later. I was standing at the ticket booths and as you can see, the lines extend all the way to the security check point.


To keep the crowd entertained, Storm Troopers were on hand taunting and threatening us.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

While waiting for the park to open, I struck up a conversation with some folks in line. I learned that if you want an autograph and/or photo opportunity with the "celebrity of the day," you need a FastPass. These are handed out on a first come, first issued basis at the far right side of the ticket booths (outside the park) starting at around 8:15am. The people I was speaking with told me they were in the FastPass line at 5:30am and they were definitely not the first to arrive.

A limited number of these "celebrity" FastPasses are available, but if you're lucky enough to secure one, you're guaranteed the opportunity to see your favorite Star Wars hero. Just show up at the designated location during your 15 minute window. After all of the initial FastPasses have been distributed, a limited number of Stand-by FastPasses will be handed out. However, these "secondary" tickets do not guarantee you an autograph or photo session - but it's worth a try.

Celebrity FastPass Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

The celebrity of the day will autograph their photograph and any merchandise you bring with you. A number of people brought in posters to be signed.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Also handed out early in the morning outside the park are color coded wrist bands. These allow shoppers priority entrance into Wicket's Warehouse where you can buy limited edition and collectable Star Wars merchandise.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Located through out the park are various Star Wars character meet-and-greet locations. Unlike the celebrity sessions, you do not need a FastPass for these photo ops. But be warned, within minutes of the park opening, every one of these venues had a long line.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars T-shirts are seen everywhere and some folks pull out all the stops and dressed to the nines.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Here is yours truly as a Storm Trooper. Not to menacing, am I?

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Always a favorite, but especially during Star Wars Weekend, is the Jedi Training Academy. Here kids can find out if they have what it takes to become a Jedi Warrior. Children are selected at random and it's best to arrive early (at least 30 minutes during Star Wars Weekend) if you want your little one selected.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Some of the other activities include the "Padawan Mind Challenge." Here, Younglings use their "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" knowledge to pass the trivia trials and become an official Padawan learner. This event is for children 11 and under and registration begins at the Star Wars Information Desk beginning at 9am.

At the Premiere Theater you can see host Ashley Eckstein in "Clone Wars: Behind the Force" - a show that explores the excitement of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" with a fascinating look behind the scenes led by the voice behind "Ahsoka" and other guest celebrities.

Since this blog is all about Star Wars, I thought I'd share some Star Tours trivia with you.

When you enter the building, the queue makes a switchback or backwards "S." You know why?


Because this section of the queue was loosely based on the Star Tours attraction at Disneyland in California.

But do you know why the queue follows this configuration at Disneyland?

It's because the Disneyland building originally housed Adventures Thru Inner Space. When the attraction was retired to make room for Star Tours, there was no reason to rip out this perfectly good walkway so the Imagineers just did some retooling with the props that surrounded it.


And while were on the subject of Adventures Thru Inner Space, did you know you can see a section of the Mighty Microscope from that attraction on Star Tours?


When Disney replaces an older ride with a new attraction, they try to leave some sort of legacy behind. In other words, gone, but not forgotten. For example, in the Winnie the Pooh attraction at Walt Disney World, there is a picture of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to the property to Owl. And at Mission: Space in Epcot, the old Horizon logo can be seen on the rotating space station in the queue area. The same is true for Star Tours. This attraction pays homage to Adventures Thru Inner Space. Here's what to look for:

As you begin your Star Tours adventure, you unexpectedly take a wrong turn. Then your vehicle drops off the edge of a platform and plunges downward. As Captain Rex regains control of the craft, he pulls you out of your freefall. At that moment, if you look to the right-hand side of the screen, you can see the Mighty Microscope. You must look quickly, but once you know what you're looking for, there is no mistaking it.


And here's a bit of personal trivia for you. I went to school with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) in Yokohama, Japan. We were even in a school play together. It's not a very good picture, but I'm on the left and Mark is on the right.


Star Wars Weekend is very popular. If you're visiting Disney World over the next several weeks and you're a Star Wars fan, then you should definitely visit Disney's Hollywood Studios during one of these days. But if you're not a Star Wars fan, visit other parks on the weekend and save the Studio for a Monday through Thursday.

May the force be with you.

March 23, 2009

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2009 – Part 2

The first topiaries you'll encounter when leaving Future World for World Showcase are Mrs. Pots, Chip, Cogsworth, and Lumiere from "Beauty and the Beast." I have to admit, Anita Answer and I were both somewhat perplexed by Chips lips. It looks like he borrowed a pair of Mrs. Potato Head's. Hmmmm.

2009 Flower and Garden Festival - Beauty and the Beast Characters

In keeping with the "Celebrate Springtime" theme, we find characters from the Lion King rejoicing in Simba's birth at the entrance to World Showcase.

2009 Flower and Garden Festival Lion King

2009 Flower and Garden Festival Lion King

2009 Flower and Garden Festival Lion

This year, the traditional arch that guests are accustomed to seeing in this area, is missing. According to Eric Darden, Horticulture Manager of Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival, Disney tries to rotate and change certain features of the event each year to keep things fresh and new. He told me that a particular design or topiary is used for 2-4 years before it is retired or reworked.

A number of shopping venues are available around World Showcase and feature both Disney and non-Disney merchandise with a gardening theme. Two favorites are the Mickey gnomes and the do-it-yourself Mickey topiary.






I'm going to start in Canada and circle the World Showcase Lagoon. The first characters we find are Bambi, Thumper, and Flower.


Even though they're always beautiful and difficult to improve upon, don't forget to take a stroll through Victoria Gardens.



In the United Kingdom Twinings Tea has a number of teacups filled with various kinds of foliage.

Guided tours through the tea garden are presented on Monday thru Thursdays at 3:30 and 6:30 and Friday and Saturdays at 2:30, 3:30, 5:00, and 6:30. You can sign up at the Tea Caddy to learn the history and art of tea blending.


The France Pavilion features a number of topiary in the shape of perfume bottles.


Also in this area is the Fragrance Garden. The Guerlain Company sponsors this exhibit which allows guest to learn about the connection between plants and fragrances. A Guerlain representative conducts 20-minute informative tours of this area daily at 2, 4, and 6pm.

Ten different Guerlain fragrances can be sampled at the Lift & Sniff kiosks in this garden. An informative sign helps you understand the odor's complex blending.


Located between the France and Morocco Pavilions is the Nature Conservancy display. While your kids enjoy themselves in the nearby playground, you can learn how to create an environmentally friendly garden in your own backyard.




In Morocco you can see topiary Aladdin flying on his carpet.


A perennial favorite are the bonsai trees found in the Japan Pavilion. But don't forget, besides the obvious collection near the tori gate, there are additional treasures behind the pagoda.


I'm going to skip the American Pavilion for the time being.

In the Italy Pavilion you can find a large array of container plants. According to Epcot Horticulturalist, Eric Darden, all of the container plants throughout the park must be watered by hand - a task that takes endless hours. Also, his staff plans for a 70% - 100% replacement of all bedding and container plants during the festival.


The other highlight at the Italy Pavilion is the Lady and the Tramp topiary. Who could resist getting their picture taken in front of this romantic spot?


The Germany Pavilion did not have any special landscaping this year, so I'll share a bit of trivia with you. The large LBG train layout next to Germany was once a part of the Flower & Garden Festival. Each year this elaborate layout was assembled just for the event. But due to its popularity, and the expense involved with its construction and deconstruction, it was decided to make it a permanent part of the Germany Pavilion.


Between Germany and Refreshment Outpost is the Pirate Adventure Zone.


This is another beautifully landscaped area designed especially for the kids. Captain Hook, treasure chests, and a rickety boat are on hand for them to explore.





A ferocious dragon and a decorative cow are on exhibit at the China Pavilion.



Over twenty trolls have escaped from the Puffin's Roost and are hiding in the Norway Garden waiting for you to find them.


The Mexico Pavilion did not offer any additional landscaping for this year's event.

As part of the press event, I was invited to attend a reception on the third floor of the American Adventure.


This area was once a corporate lounge for American Express when it sponsored this attraction. It is now used for special events and parties.

As we stepped off of the elevator and into the lounge, we were offered white sangria cocktails adorned with flowers. Appetizers of cheese, fruit, eggrolls and crab-cakes were beautifully displayed on a table in the lounge. In the two corners of the dining area, chefs were waiting to dish up various pastas or carve slices of prime rib and turkey.



For dessert we dined on chocolate flower pots with Oreo dirt and gummy-worms. How appropriate for the Flower & Garden Festival.


Dan Cockerell, Epcot VP spoke briefly then turned the microphone over to Eric Darden who explain what goes into creating the Flower & Garden Festival each year.

Here is a photo I was excited to be given the opportunity to take - a picture of Spaceship Earth taken from the third floor of the American Pavilion.


At 4:45 we were escorted to the American Gardens Theatre for reserved seating to see the Davy Jones concert as part of the Flower Power concert series that takes place during the event.


Davy put on a great show. Although only 35 minutes in length, he packed a lot of memorable tunes into this concert. Most of the audience was made up of my generation - those old enough to remember seeing the Monkees' TV show when it first aired. A number of fans brought old record albums for Davy to sign. And even though he picked up several of them and showed them to the audience, he did not sign any as there simply wasn't time during this abridged concert.

For a 63 year old, Davy still can shake it and move it. Although he made numerous jokes about his age, there was no sign of him slowing down. And since the audience had memorized all of his songs when they were teenagers, much of the gang sang along with Davy, which he didn't seem to mind and even encouraged at one point.

When ending the concert, Davy let everyone know that he's putting on three shows a day with different numbers in each. He encouraged everyone to come back for a later performance - which I'm sure many did.

After the concert, I was tired and decided to call it quits for the day. When I got home I downloaded the 470 pictures I had taken and started to whittle them down to the few I will share with you.

Unlike the Food & Wine Festival, which cost extra if you wish to enjoy its benefits, the Flower & Garden Festival costs nothing more than your price of admission. It's a wonderfully beautiful event that everyone can enjoy and marvel at. I would highly recommend planning your next trip to Disney World around this occasion. I realize that Spring Break coincides with much of this event, but if you're into gardening, you won't be disappointed.

December 19, 2008

Norway’s Viking Ship is Gone

Sad news. The Viking ship at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot has been removed.

This ship was originally built as a children's play area, but a couple of years ago it was deemed too dangerous for the little ones. This month it was removed completely.

I wish Disney had kept it. It was nice to look at even if guests were no longer welcome aboard.

Here are before and after pictures.

Viking Ship

Viking Ship Removed

October 22, 2008

China Pavilion Fun

There are three pairs of lions in the China Pavilion at Epcot. One pair stands guard in front of the House of Whispering Willows (the museum).


The other two pairs can be found near the entrances to the Yong Feng Shangdian shop.



The lion is regarded as a special creature to the Chinese people as it was thought to be the king of all animals. The lion represented prestige and power and was often associated with an individual's rank. These lions are often placed in front of gates or doorways as they were believed to have mystic and protective powers.

Although the lions look like they're both male due to their bushy manes, but if fact, one is female. Look closely at their paws. The male has a ball underneath his right paw and the female has a lion cub under her left paw. The ball represents unity of the empire and the cub symbolizes prospering offspring.



On a different note"¦

To see the "Reflections of China" movie, guests walk through Disney's version of the Temple of Heaven.


Most guests pause briefly and admire the magnificent ceiling before proceeding on to the waiting room.


But in case you didn't already know, you can have a little fun in this room. Position yourself anywhere in the room EXCEPT the center stone.


Now say something out loud. For example, you can say, " is the best Disney web-site in the World."

Now, move to the center stone.


Once again, say something out load. For instance, "And I read it faithfully everyday."

Your friends and family won't know what just happened, but you will.

October 9, 2008

Main Street Train Station Bulletin Board

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 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 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 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."


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. While researching these names, I came across the following web-site:

I found that someone had already beaten me to the punch on this blog, but I felt it could be recycled.

September 26, 2008

Epcot's Nine Dragons Restaurant in China

The Nine Dragons Restaurant in the China Pavilion reopened yesterday after an extensive rehab. Since I was at Epcot today, I decided to stop by for lunch and check things out. My friend Donald and Allears photographer Linda Mac joined me.

Nine Dragons Epcot

The first thing guests will notice is that the atmosphere has been toned down a bit. Gone is most of the traditional "red" color in favor of more muted tones. I feel the designers did a nice job of modernizing the motif without forgoing the time-honored beauty of this restaurant.

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

Along the back wall of the dining room is a showcase that displays magnificent pieces of glass art. One of the cast members did his best to explain their meaning, but unfortunately, I just wasn't able to understand what he was telling me. But even without an explanation, these works of art are stunning.

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

I have eaten at the Nine Dragons Restaurant a number of times over the years. I have always been satisfied with my food and the service has been good. But other than the beauty of the restaurant, there wasn't anything offered that differed from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant - except that I was paying three times the money. Today I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Everything offered now has a contemporary flair to it. I felt like real chefs had created the food rather than something you'd find at your local shopping mall. For appetizers we ordered the following:

Shrimp and Taro Lollipops - delicious and playful take on a traditional dim sum favortite $9.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls - tender shrimp, roast chicken and fresh vegetables served with plum-chili and ginger-soy sauces $7.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Spicy Beef -sliced thin and tender, then tossed with Cilantro-Chili dressing $8.68

Nine Dragons Epcot

For entrees we ordered the following:

Honey Sesame Chicken with white rice - $16.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Peppery Shrimp with Spinach Noodles $17.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Sweet and Sour Pork with Spinach Noodles $13.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

When I ordered the Sweet and Sour Pork, I was told that it came with noodles. This didn't sound good to me so I requested white sticky rice. I wish I hadn't. Linda let me try the Spinach Noodles that accompanied her Peppery Shrimp and they were very good. Plus, the green noodles would have contrasted nicely against the red/orange Sweet and Sour for a better presentation.

Before our food arrived, our server appeared at the table with a lacquered box full of chopsticks and offered them to us.

Nine Dragons Epcot

All three of us were pleased with our selections and feel we might visit more often now that the restaurant offers a more upscale menu. Starting tomorrow, September 26, reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

Related Links:

Nine Dragons Photo Gallery

Nine Dragons Lunch Menu

Nine Dragons Dinner Menu

September 13, 2008

Haunted Mansion Attic

In mid-September of last year, the Haunted Mansion reopened at Disney World after a lengthy rehab.

Haunted Mansion

A number of effects were either enhanced or added. The Attic Room is one such example. Gone are the carnival-like pop-up heads to be replaced with state-of-the-art effects.

This blog is going to discuss some of the nuances of this room that are easily missed when traveling through. Since flash photography is not allowed in the Haunted Mansion, I do not have any pictures of the attic to share with you.

Note: Spoilers ahead!

One of the first things you'll notice as you enter the attic is a portrait of a bride and groom. This "happy" couple is Ambrose Harper and Constance Hatchaway.

Near this portrait are a number of modest wedding gifts such as a music box, china, crystal, and various household goods. A nearby wedding album reads:

Ambrose and Constance 1869

Ambrose is the son of successful farmers. For this particular occasion he wears a sensible woolen suit and bowler hat. Constance's past is murky and suspect. For her special day she wears a stylish wedding gown and a single strand of pearls. As you pass their portrait, Ambrose's face fades into nothingness and then reappears - signifying that Constance has outlived him for some reason.

You soon come to a second portrait, this time featuring Constance and her new partner, Frank Banks. Frank is an Eastern banker and well placed in his community. He proudly dons a stovepipe hat. Constance, being practical, chose to wear the same wedding dress as before, but this time proudly displays two strands of pearls around her neck.

Look closely at the cabinet in the foreground. On it you'll see a porcelain figurine of a well-to-do French woman looking down at a second, toppled figurine of a gentleman, who apparently lost his head in the fall. On the shelf below you can see a broken ceramic heart-shaped box.

There are more wedding gifts in this area and they seem to be of better quality than those given to Constance on her first marriage. A nearby banner reads:

Constance and Frank

Constance chose for her next spouse a foreign diplomat known as the Marquis De Doom. In their wedding portrait, The Marquis wears a military uniform, complete with sash, assorted medals and a formal hat with plume. The ever sensible Constance once again chose to wear the same dress; however three strands of pearls are now evident. There wedding album reads:

The Marquis Constance

Continuing her social climb, Constance's next husband is Reginald Caine. He was a railroad baron and dressed the part. For his wedding he sports a brocade vest, fancy shirt, and costly jacket. And like her previous husbands, he too dons a fine hat. Being ostentatious, Reginald also wears a large ring on his little finger and a sizable stone in his lapel.

Constance, as usual, chose the same wedding dress. It has served her well so far and she sees no reason to tamper with things. The only change, a fourth strand of pearls has been added to her ensemble.

A nearby frame says:

Reginald & Constance

Constance's last husband was George Hightower. He should look familiar to you as you have seen his countenance for many years on the gravestone in the stretching room. Before his demise, George owned the stately mansion you are now visiting.

The gifts for this final wedding are by far the most expensive. In keeping with her growing wealth, their wedding portrait is displayed in an ornate frame. An inset reads:

George & Constance

As you might have guessed, Constance now wears five strands of pearls.

As with Ambrose, Constance's first husband, each successive spouse fades from view as you pass their portraits. All the while, a melancholy rendition of "Hear Comes the Bride" can be heard in the background.

In this same area is a hat rack. Hanging on it are all five of the hats worn by Constance's dead husbands.

Just before you exit the attic, we finally get to meet the ghost of Constance.

She stands in peaceful serenity as her hands move from her side toward her chest and an axe materializes in her grasp. All the while, she utters a number of well known, albeit telling, wedding phrases, each with a slightly different expression. With a twinkle in her eye she calmly says:

"'Till Death"¦. Do Us Part"¦"

"Here comes the bride!"

"As long as we both shall live"¦"

"For better or for"¦.WORSE."

"I do. I did!"

"In sickness and in "¦.wealth!"

"You may now kiss the bride."

"We'll live happily ever"¦after!"

Many of the sights I've described are difficult to see. EXTREMELY difficult to see. I rode the Mansion five times in a row last week, looking for them and it took a quick eye. Good luck!

Interested in learning more about Disney's Haunted Mansions? Check out Imagineer Jason Surrell's book The Haunted Mansion: From Magic Kingdom to the Movies!

May 22, 2008

1972 Magic Kingdom Walt Disney World Pictures - Part 2

This is my last set of January, 1972 pictures. I do have others, but they are of things that have changed very little over the years, such as Main Street and portions of Fantasyland, and really aren't of any historical interest. Enjoy!

This first picture is of the Haunted Mansion. The first interesting detail is the lack of trees. Although you can't see it in this picture, in the early years, the building that actually houses the attraction was visible from inside the park. Also notice that the queue doesn't have an awning over it. Remember, Walt Disney World was designed by people who lived in California. They hadn't yet learned that the sun is brutal in Florida, as are the rainstorms.

Haunted Mansion Magic Kingdom 1973

This next picture was taken from the Skyway of the Mad Tea Party. Notice that the teacups do not yet have a roof overhead. Same California designers.

Mad Tea Party Magic Kingdom 1973

The third picture is of the "Pearly Band." These entertainers were a regular fixture at Disneyland and then the Magic Kingdom after Mary Poppins debuted. If you remember, a "pearly band" played in the animated portion of the movie. I can't remember the last time I saw this group. They are playing in front of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Fantasyland, the current home of the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction.

Pearly Band

This fourth picture, also taken from the Skyway, is of Tomorrowland under construction. The Carousel of Progress would eventually be built here. Like Disneyland in 1955, when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was just a shell of what it would finally become.

Future Home of the Carousel of Progress Magic Kingdom 1973

I took this final picture of a popcorn vendor because of the costume he was wearing. I had never seen this outfit as the Disneyland vendors wore different apparel. Eventually, this look would find its way to California. Like the pearly band, this costume is now just a memory.

Also notice the spires that marked the entrance to Tomorrowland. The design called for columns of water to cascade from these towers. However, even a slight breeze would send droplets all over the walkway and they were often turned off to save giving the guests a shower.

Tomorrowland Popcorn Vender Magic Kingdom 1973

May 11, 2008

Adventureland - Magic Kingdom - History Lesson

Q: Do you know why Adventureland is located on the west side of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World?


A: It's because Adventureland is located on the west side of Disneyland in Anaheim. When planning the Magic Kingdom, Imagineers used Disneyland's layout as a starting point when designing their new park.

Q: Do you know why Adventureland is located on the west side of Disneyland?


A: Original plans called for the "True Life Adventures" (later to become the Adventureland) to be located on the east side of the park between Main Street and "World of Tomorrow" (later to become Tomorrowland). This can be seen in an early concept drawing by Herb Ryman.

Herb Ryman Concept Drawing Disneyland

But while surveying the orange groves that would eventually become Disneyland, 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.

These trees, now over a hundred years old, are clearly visible in an early Disneyland postcard and are still visible today.



April 24, 2008

Favorite Restaurants at Walt Disney World

A reader asked me for a list of my ten favorite Disney World restaurants. He also asked me for a list of my LEAST favorite Disney World restaurants. I've decided to answer half of his question, sort of, by telling you my favorite counter service and full service restaurant for each park, Downtown Disney, and the resorts as a whole. Now there are some Disney World eateries that I don't like, but for the moment I'm going to keep that list to myself.

Of course, this list is purely subjective and could change tomorrow, depending on my mood. Also, since I'm listing restaurants by location, some selections might make this list, but wouldn't necessarily make a true, "top ten" list. But here are my choices as of this moment.

Magic Kingdom:

Counter Service: Columbia Harbour House
Table Service: The Plaza Restaurant


Counter Service: Yakitori House
Table Service: Bistro de Paris

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Counter Service: None of them
Table Service: Brown Derby

Disney's Animal Kingdom:

Counter Service: A tie between Flame Tree Barbeque and Pizzafari
Table Service: Yak & Yeti

Downtown Disney:

Counter Service: Earl of Sandwich
Table Service: Portobello Yacht Club or Raglan Road

Disney Resorts:

Counter Service: Everything Pop Food Court
Table Service: Flying Fish, followed closely by Citricos

Best Buffet Property Wide: Boma, followed closely by Cape May CafΓ©

Best Character Meal Property Wide: I don't do Character Meals!

You may have wondered why I didn't select Victoria & Albert's as my favorite resort table service restaurant. There's a reason I didn't. You see, I put Vickie & Al's (as I like to call it) in a class all by itself. You can't begin to compare this restaurant to anything else at Disney World it is so outstanding. I try to restrict my visits to once every three years or so. The reason, I want to keep this experience extra special and if I ate here too often it would lose some of its charm.

Now remember, my list of restaurants is just that, MY list. If you don't agree with some (or all) of my choices, that's great. Your selections are every bit as valid as mine.

April 17, 2008

Harper's Mill, Old Time Telephone, and Kingdom Tower - Walt Disney World

I recently wrote a blog about the bird's nest hidden in Harper's Mill on Tom Sawyer Island in the Magic Kingdom. One of my readers, Chris, wrote to tell me that if you listen carefully, the creaking gears inside the mill play "Down By The Old Mill Stream." I checked it out today and sure enough, if you know what you're listening for, there's no mistaking this tune. Thanks Chris.

Harpers Mill Tom Sawyer Island

In another blog I wrote that when Arribas Brothers took over the Market House on Main Street, the old-time telephone was removed. Another reader, Shorty, wrote to tell me that the old telephone now has a new home in the Chapeau Shop on Town Square. Yea! Thanks Shorty.

Chapeau Shop Main Street USA

Telephone in Chapeau Shop

Telephone in Chapeau Shop

As I keep saying, it's these little details that make Disney special. Now, if I could just convince Disney to bring back Jennifer, the ticket seller that used to sit in the entrance area of the Main Street Cinema"¦

While riding the monorail to the Magic Kingdom today, I snapped a couple of pictures of the "Kingdom Tower" (the yet to be announced DVC) under construction. As you can see by the pictures, the structure is coming right along and it appears they're currently working on the twelfth floor. Also, new construction has commenced on the walkway that will connect the new resort with the fourth floor of the Contemporary.

Kingdom Tower

Kingdom Tower

April 3, 2008

Yakitori House - Epcot's Japan

Yakitori House Sign

I'm currently remodeling my kitchen (among other projects). Anyone who has ever undertaken a home improvement project knows there are good days and bad days. Today was a bad day. First, the tile man called and cancelled. He had a legitimate excuse, but I was disappointed, none the less. Since I now had the day free, I decided I'd buy paint and embrace a brush and roller. To make a very long story short, I ended up with the wrong color. It was now approaching 5pm and I was frustrated and hungry. My instinct was to sit in front of the TV for the rest of the night and fume, but I decided this wasn't my best course of action so I forced myself into the car and I headed for Epcot.

When I reached one of the outer parking lots, I was directed to the far end of a row - naturally. I just missed the tram so I walked to the main gate. After entering the park, I practically sprinted through Future World. Fortunately, I timed my arrival at the Canada Friendship Boat Landing just as they were loading. I climbed aboard and we set sail. I exited at Morocco and once again took up power walking as I headed for the Yakitori House in the Japan pavilion - which is the point of my blog.

The Yakitori House is my favorite counter service restaurant in Epcot. I like the food, but more than that, I like the atmosphere. It's quiet and serene - the perfect place to go when you need to clear your head and relax.

Yakitori House

If the weather is too hot or too cold, I sit in the indoor dining room. Rough-hewn logs hold up the thatched roof while faux shoji screens make up three walls of the restaurant. The ordering counter makes up the fourth. Most tables are long, seat six, and are meant to be shared with strangers, but rarely are. The views from here are peaceful as you look out over much of the Japan Pavilion.

Yakitori House

If the weather is nice, as it was this evening, I sit outdoors. Here you'll find approximately ten tables that seat two or four, generously spaced, under Japanese lanterns. Manicured gardens and a lovely rock waterfall and pond surround you. Sitting out here, you feel miles away from everything. Even when all of the tables are in use, it's relatively quite as the waterfall seems to absorb the voices. The only break in this tranquility is when the drummers are performing under the pagoda.

Yakitori House

To be honest, I can't tell you too much about the menu since I always order the same thing: Shogun Combination - teriyaki chicken thigh, sukiyaki beef, and steamed rice (hold the ginger). But I've always been happy with this selection so I like to think I'd enjoy some of their other offerings. I guess I'm in a rut.

Now I realize that most of you cannot dash off to Epcot for dinner when you've had a bad day. But I would like to suggest the Yakitori House when you're here on vacation. Epcot is big and it can be stressful. You need to take a break now and then and this spot is the perfect place to do that. Even if it's not meal time, stop by and have a soda (or something stronger) and sit for a spell.

I stretched out my simple meal tonight to around 35 minutes. I ate slowly, enjoyed the atmosphere, and made silly faces with the cutest baby in a stroller seated at a table next to me. By the time I left, I had (almost) forgotten my hectic day and was fairly relaxed. I strolled through the rest of World Showcase instead of my previous frenzied walk.

There are other peaceful places to be found in Epcot, but for me, the Yakitori House is hands-down the most delightful.

Reader Yakatori House Reviews

Yakatori House Menu

March 24, 2008

Old Walt Disney World Pictures

A couple of months ago, I published some old pictures I had taken at Walt Disney World. I received several letters asking that I publish more, so here goes. All of these were taken in January, 1972, just a little over three months after Disney World opened.

The first picture is of the Toll Plaza. Notice it says "Parking Entrance." It doesn't even say "Walt Disney World" yet.

Magic Kingdom Toll Plaza 1972

This next photo is of the Contemporary Resort taken from the Skyway in Tomorrowland. Notice the lack of vegetation. Also, notice the crane. By this date, all of the modular rooms had been hoisted into place, but the suites, which were NOT modular, were still under construction.

Contemporary Resort taken from the Skyway in Tomorrowland 1972

This third picture is of a room in the Contemporary. So this is what the Imagineers thought the future would look like during their planning sessions in the late 60's.

Contemporary Room 1972

This next shot was taken from inside the Contemporary, looking south from the middle of the building. Notice how this area hasn't yet been expanded out beyond the windows which would eventually become Chef Mickey's. Also notice the orange and yellow plastic trees.

Contemporary Resort 4th Floor - 1972

And finally, this last picture was taken from one of the balcony rooms of the Contemporary looking west. Once again, notice the lack of vegetation and a missing Grand Floridian Resort.

By the way, a Tower Room in the Contemporary cost $35 per night back then!

View from the Contemporary 1972

March 15, 2008

Mouse Trap

Some Disney Imagineer's quirky sense of humor can be seen in the recently rehabbed Spaceship Earth.

As you approach the modern era, take a look behind the couch of the family seated watching TV in the 1960's living room. Look closely and you'll see the board game "Mouse Trap" which was introduced to the public by the Ideal Company in 1963. Is it meant for Mickey?

March 10, 2008

Main Street USA City Hall Steeple

When I was in the Magic Kingdom over the weekend, I did a double-take when I looked at City Hall which is currently undergoing rehab. It's missing its steeple. And not only is the steeple missing, but so is the printed upper canvas designed to lessen the impact of the rehab is gone.


March 1, 2008

Spaceship Earth

A new element has been added to the post-show of the Spaceship Earth redesign.

As you might know from reading other blogs, your picture is taken soon after you board the attraction. In addition, you are also asked to designate where you live by pointing to a map on the touch-sensitive screen in your ride vehicle. First you pick a continent, then point to a major city, and eventually it is narrowed down to the vicinity in which you live.

For several weeks now, as you descend the ride, you are asked a series of questions as to how you would like the future to unfold. Once the onboard computer compiles your choices, your face is superimposed over a cartoon character so you can actually see "yourself" in the future you created. It's a very cute effect. But a new element has been added.

Once you exit the attraction, you enter the Siemens post-show area. Here you will encounter a giant globe of the earth. Within a couple of moments, your face will appear on the globe. It will stay there for 15-30 seconds, then it will swoosh down to the hometown you selected at the beginning of the attraction. As it does this, a little white dot appears on the map to represent you.

I rode Spaceship Earth in the early afternoon and by that time, the east coast of the U.S. was covered in white dots. Other areas were more sparsely populated. The entire planet is represented so no matter where you're from, you will get placed on the map. This is a pretty cool ending to the ride.

Picture taking hint: You are given warning before your picture is taken and be sure to look at the camera. Face detection software is used and it is necessary to get a full-face photograph for the effect to work properly. Also, if you wear glasses, you might want to take them off for the picture as reflections can create problems for the software, thus negating your portrait.


February 24, 2008

Liberty Tree Tavern Pagers

A very old tradition has died at the Liberty Tree Tavern at the Magic Kingdom. In the past, when guests checked in at the podium, they were asked what state they were from. Then, when it was time to be seated, the host or hostess would call out in town-crier fashion, "Hear ye! Hear ye! Now seating the Spence party (family) from the great state of Florida. But those days are gone.

Now when guests check in at the podium, they are given a pager with no question about their home state. On the plus side, the pagers do allow guests more freedom of movement as they are now allowed to wonder outside while waiting for their table. But on the downside, the restaurant has lost some of its charm with this new system.

And if my experience today is any indication, their system needs some work. After my pager was activated and I handed it back to a hostess, I was all but forgotten. Other parties were being seated while I was left standing there. After I brought this to their attention, I still waited several minutes while they tried to figure out what had happened to my reservation. When they finally found it, a new hostess asked me for my pager - which I had to explain had already been given to someone else several minutes earlier.

Bottom line"¦ Pagers are now the norm in restaurants - which is probably a good thing. But isn't there someway to do this without giving up the charm of old traditions?

February 22, 2008

Yak & Yeti Update

Last week, I had lunch at the Yak & Yeti table-service restaurant for the second time. I'm happy to report that every thing is still top notch. The food was tasty and beautifully presented and the service was attentive and friendly. My only comment is that the prices are a little high for lunch. It's difficult for me to spent between $16 - $23 for lunch, especially when no starters or bread is included.

I also had a key learning. I was seated in the very first dining room that you come to after leaving the lobby. In the future, I will request a table somewhere else in the restaurant. This "first" dining room shares its space with the bar and an elevator. Also, all of the people seated in the rest of the restaurant must pass thru this area to get to and from their tables. All of this is much too distracting and detracts from an otherwise quaint atmosphere. The rest of the dining rooms are fine, but skip this first one.

Next door to the Yak & Yeti table-service restaurant is the Yak & Yeti counter-service restaurant (Anandupur Local Food Cafes). I ate here today for the first time and wanted to share my thoughts. The first thing you will notice is the prices. Once again, they are high, especially for a counter-service restaurant. EntrΓ©es run from $8-$11.

Anandupur Local Food Cafes

I ordered the Sweet & Sour Pork for $9.99. After paying, I approached the pick-up window and my order was already waiting. Obviously it had been prepared in advance and was just waiting to be picked up from under the heat-lamp and placed on a tray. I stopped by the condiment station, picked up napkins and a fork, and then found a table.

The entrees are served in cute "Chinese-styled" cartons that are themed appropriately to the venue.

Anandupur Local Food Cafes

However, upon opening up my container, I found that the rice was on the bottom and the pork was on the top. This made it somewhat difficult to eat. I had to do a lot of "stirring" to find everything.

Anyone who reads my restaurant reviews knows that I'm not particularly harsh when critiquing the food served at Disney. Well today will change all that. The Sweet & Sour Pork was bad. First, it was only warm, not hot. Since this is a "counter-service" restaurant I can be somewhat forgiving in this area, but I suspect that it lost a lot of its original warmth sitting under a heat-lamp.

The breading on the pork was mushy. Blah. And the taste was practically non-existent. I don't normally salt my food but I had to make another trip to the condiment station to pick up a packet to try to eek out some flavor.

Since I was alone, I was only able to try one item. I will make subsequent trips in the months to come and try some of their other offerings. I truly hope that what I sampled today was the exception, not the rule.

I also have a comment about the seating area. Although authentically correct to the area, I see a real problem as the summer months approach. Only a handful of tables have umbrellas. The vast majority of the seating area is not protected from the elements. I don't know who will want to sit out here when the hot August sun is beating down on them. And it should be lots of fun to watch several hundred people scurrying for cover when the summer thunderstorms open up. Disney really needs to rethink this area.

Anandupur Local Food Cafes

In the meantime, if you're looking for good counter-service food at the Animal Kingdom, try the Hot Italian Style Sandwich at Pizzafari or the ribs or chicken at Flame Tree BBQ. Pizzafari offers indoor (air conditioned) seating and Flame Tree offers a number of cozy, covered dining areas. Both are superior to Yak & Yeti and the prices are more reasonable.

Yak & Yeti is not operated by Disney, but by the same folks that run Rainforest CafΓ©.

January 17, 2008

Main Street's City Hall Gets a Face Lift!

In order to keep Walt Disney World looking as good as it looks, attractions and buildings must be occasionally closed for refurbishment.

In years past, plywood panels would be erected around the building so workmen could clean, repair, and paint the building out of sight of the guests.

But a couple of years ago, Disney came up with a great idea. They decided to print a picture of the building being rehabbed on a large canvas and position it in front of the structure. This was far and away more attractive than plywood panels and the intrusion on the guest was minimal.

Currently, City Hall in the Magic Kingdom is undergoing rehab. These pictures show how well this new technique works.

City Hall on Main Street

City Hall Rehab

December 13, 2007

Crystal Arts - Main Street Magic Kingdom

Earlier this year (or maybe even last year), the Bakery on Main Street needed to expand its seating area. To do this, Disney displaced the Arribas Brothers glass shop that shared this area.

Shortly after the expansion was complete, the Market House next door was closed and remodeled. It reopened several months later and was renamed Crystal Arts. Arribas Brothers has moved into this location and the shop is substantially bigger than their previous home. But more changes were on the way.

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

Adjacent to the Crystal Arts store, facing onto Center Street, were two other shops. These formally sold children's items and other Disney merchandise. These two shops have also been closed for a number of months. Last week, they reopened and are now a part of the Crystal Arts shop. This has almost tripled the amount of merchandise Arribas Brothers sells. In essence, all of their goods that were once sold in Cinderella Castle (now Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique) and their former shop next to the Bakery have been rolled into one.

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

In the back of the store is a special area featuring a new highlight. Although not quite complete, soon an artisan will be stationed here. Like the glass-blowing area in the front of the shop, here another artist will fashion larger pieces of art while guests look on. Three large kilns are clearly visible in this area and it should be interesting to see the items before and after their baking.

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

A cast member told me that the new creations would be similar to the vases pictured here.

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

Crystal Arts Store Main Street Magic Kingdom

My only regret"¦ There once was an old-fashioned telephone in the Market House. You could pick up the receiver and hear a mock 1890's party-line conversation between a mother and daughter. It was very amusing and always brought a smile to my face. Sadly, this phone was removed during the remodel - another Disney detail has died. I know this was a very small attraction - very few people were even aware it was here. But it's these small details that make Disney parks so special. Luckily, you can still find these old phones in the Market House store at Disneyland in California. Let's keep our fingers crossed that they aren't removed too.

November 28, 2007

Art of Disney store in Magic Kingdom

The Art of Disney, or as I like to call it, the "good" store, has opened in the Main Street Cinema building in the Magic Kingdom.

Exterior of the Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

This store sells upscale merchandise. Lenox, Armani, the Disney Classic Collection, and original and limited edition paintings by featured artist can be found here.

Compared to its sister stores in Epcot, Downtown Disney, and the Disney/MGM Studios, this store is small. So small in fact that some of its merchandise spills over into the adjoining store, the Uptown Jewelers.

The redesign is nice and I'm glad Disney has found a new home for this store as it seems to have bounced around from one location to the next over the past several years.

One sad note"¦ For many years, a ticket booth sat just inside the entrance of the Main Street Cinema - back when old Mickey Mouse cartoons were actually shown here. Inside the ticket booth was a mannequin of a young lady, the ticket seller. She wore a Disney name tag and if memory serves, her name was Jennifer from Marceline (Walt's home town). A couple of years ago the ticket booth disappeared. I asked a cast member what had happened to it and I was told that it was being refurbished and would return soon. Alas, it never did.

I realize that in the scheme of things, the disappearance of Jennifer is insignificant. But her demise scares me. Every time the powers-that-be removes one of the little details that make Disney parks so special, I have to ask myself "Where will it end?" For that matter, I miss the "old" Main Street Cinema (when it showed movies), the Magic Shop, and the Penny Arcade. These were special locations. Now these spots sell the same merchandise you can find everywhere else on property. Sigh.

Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

Art of Disney Store in Magic Kingdom

November 19, 2007

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

The following is taken directly from a sign posted on the Streets of America in the Disney-MGM Studios.

In 1986 Jennings and Mitzi Osborne of Little Rock, Arkansas granted their daughter's Christmas dream by covering their home with sparkling red lights.
By 1993 the Osbornes had bought and decorated their neighbors' homes, too. The Christmas display had grown to three million lights and drew crowds from all of the state of Arkansas.

Some of the Osborne's neighbors were more frazzled than dazzled by the display as they endured nightly traffic jams. Citing the display as a public nuisance, the Arkansas Supreme Court pulled the plug.

The night the lights went out in Little Rock wasn't the end of the Osborne's Dream. It was only the beginning. In 1995 Mickey and Goofy came calling and invited Jennings, Mitzi and Breezy to bring their lights to the Disney-MGM Studios.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights opened on November 24, 1995 on the Residential Street Backlot at the Disney-MGM Studios. It became an instant Holiday tradition for countless families. Over the years, more than 1.5 million guests have experienced the display.

In November of 2004, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights moved to the Streets of America Backlot where it is bigger and better than ever.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights looks right at home here. As for the Osborne's, this is the fairytale ending to their Christmas dream. And since the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights first lit up the Studios, the Osborne's have sponsored over 32 Christmas lights displays throughout Arkansas. What began as a Christmas wish from a little girl has grown into holiday magic that has touched the lives of millions of people.

End Signage

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights begins each evening at 6pm and remains lit until one hour after the park closes. A giant light switch can be found about halfway down the Streets of America. Each night, a child is selected to "throw the switch" and turn on the lights.

Last year a new tradition was started with the beginning of Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Selected Christmas songs have been synchronized with the lights and the entire street "dances" as lights turn off and on in time with the music. If you haven't seen this new addition, you need to do so. It's an all new show!

As always, falling snow, hot chocolate and spiced nuts add to the wonderful Christmas atmosphere.

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

More Osborne Light Photos from this year's display.

November 17, 2007

Tusker House Restaurant

The first change you'll notice about the new Tusker House Restaurant is that Disney has positioned the check-in over near the Dawa Bar and the entrance is now located behind the restaurant.

Tusker House New Entrance

This has its pluses and minuses. The plus, it can get crowded over near the Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery (the old entrance). If Disney had added a check-in booth in this area, it would be a nightmare logistically.

Tusker House Check-in Podium

The negative thing about where they did position the check-in is that it's located adjacent to the stage area where drummers and acrobats perform several times a day. In fact, when I checked-in, I had to yell to be heard. After checking-in, I was asked to stand over near the Dawa Bar. The crowd of people milling about is sure to detract from the bar's atmosphere. When the host called my name, he too had to yell to be heard over the beating drums.

A hostess took me to my table and as she did, she did her best to describe the hotel upstairs (wink, wink), and the African artifacts found throughout.

The restaurant's seating area has not changed at all.

Tusker House Restaurant Seating

The only difference you will find is that the tables are now set with silverware and wine glasses. I noticed that the tables for four only had two wine glasses - assuming that most parties of this size would have children in tow. There are no soft objects in the seating area so there is nothing to absorb the sound. It can get noisy in here.

Tusker House Table

My server Dorothy greeted me promptly and explained that many "venders" had created tempting dishes for sale in the marketplace. This storyline was a nice touch.

The old counter-service area has been beautifully redesigned into a lovely buffet. You'd never know that it had been converted. Happily, Disney did keep the wonderful rotisserie and it can still be seen roasting chickens.

Tusker House Buffet Area

Tusker House Buffet Area

Also, the quaint shops that line the second floor of the buffet/marketplace are still there. Take the time to look up sometime, the detailing is wonderful.

Tusker House Detailed Artwork

Everything I tasted was good. If I had to sum up what I thought of the buffet, I'd say it was a mini-version of the Boma buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The only complaint I had was the plates available at the carving station were cold - thus, when I got back to my table, so was my meat. On subsequent trips to the buffet, I found the plates to be warm.

A quick rundown of the food available: A bread station with non-typical offerings. A cold-cuts table with sliced ham, turkey, and cheese. These offerings were very pedestrian - there to please picky eaters. A number of salads - both leafy and not. A carving station with pork and sirloin. Curried chicken, a seafood casserole, salmon, rotisserie chicken, and an assortment of potatoes and vegetables round out the meal. A children's table is also available.

Tusker House Buffet Arrangements

Lunch costs $19.99 and I thought it was worth the price. Dinner costs $26.99 - the only difference being that prime rib is added to the menu. I'm not so sure prime rib is worth a $7 increase.

Breakfast Menu

Lunch Menu

Bottom line - I would definitely return for lunch. I enjoyed myself and the food.

November 14, 2007

Yak & Yeti Opening Day Review

I had heard that the Yak & Yeti restaurant in the Animal Kingdom was opening today. Since I had just been there a couple of days earlier and the construction walls were still up, I was a little dubious, but decided to check it out.

My friend Donald and I arrived a little before 11am. There were already about thirty people in line ahead of us. We confirmed with a cast member outside that the restaurant would be opening in about 5 minutes for "walk-ups" only.

During the first several minutes after opening, seating went slowly. Management was definitely giving the hosts and hostesses, servers, bartenders, and chefs plenty of time to get acclimated to their new surroundings before bombarding them. Eventually, they started taking names and told us approximately when we could expect to be seated. We were taken to our table around 11:20.

The restaurant is beautiful - just like you'd expect a Disney restaurant to be. Actually, I'm not sure beautiful is the right word. The restaurant is themed beautifully, but it's not beautiful. I'm not exactly sure what region of Asia this eatery is supposed to reflect, but I'd have to say the areas in and around Nepal.

The building looks like it's been here for many, many years and has seen the ravages of time. Floor tiles are broken, chandeliers are missing crystals, and the window pains are made of imperfect glass. Also strewn around the various rooms was Asian bric-a-brac - an assortment of stuff from all over. In other words, it looks authentic.

As our hostess took us to our table, she pointed out some of the details of the restaurant, telling us that the "proprietor" had selected this piece and that while on his travels.

The restaurant has a number of small dining rooms located on two floors. I doubt that any one room has more than ten tables in it. This gives guests a very cozy feel. Also, there are a few tables on each floor situated next to windows that look outside. I'm sure these window tables on the second floor will be in high demand.

The restaurant was promoting the Yak Attack, a concoction of Mango Daiquiri, Bacardi Light Rum, and Wildberry Flavors. Donald and I each ordered one and were happy we did. It certainly had a tropical taste about it, but was like nothing we'd ever tried before.

For appetizers we split the Dim Sum Basket. It arrived at our table in a bamboo steamer basket. Our waiter, Jay, set it down between us, then lifted the lid and positioned it just off to the side of the main bowl - a very attractive touch.

Dim Sum Basket

Later in our meal a manager stopped by. He asked us if Jay had presented the Dim Sum Basket correctly. When we said that he had, the manager was pleased and said that they are striving hard to serve several dishes with a flair. The Dim Sum Basket contained Pork Pot Stickers, Shrimp Siu Mai, Cho Su Bao and Pork Siu Mai. All was good and plenty for two to share.

For entrees I had the Baby Back Ribs .

BBQ Ribs

Donald had the Maple Tararind Chicken. We were both pleased with our selections.

Maple Tamarind Chicken

For dessert I had the Sorbet which consisted of three different flavors, raspberry, lemon, and mango. It was beautifully served and tasted even better.


Donald had the Chocolate Brownie Sundae. There wasn't anything particularly Asian about it, but it was big and delicious.

Chocolate Brownie Sundae

Overall the menu is fairly tame. There is nothing so exotic as to send guests running for a hamburger. Even the pickiest eater would have an easy time finding something to their liking.

While dining, I saw Joe Rhode wandering through the restaurant with some other big-wigs. For those of you who don't know, Joe Rhode pretty much designed the Animal Kingdom and was the primary guy when it came time to design and build Expedition: Everest.

I called his name across the room and he was kind enough to come over to our table. I introduced myself and complimented him on this wonderful restaurant. He then introduced me to another gentleman who was the lead architect on this project - unfortunately, I can't remember his name. Joe was then kind enough to pose for pictures. I was jazzed!

Jack, Donald, and Joe Rhode

At the moment, it hasn't been decided if the Disney Dining Experience card will be accepted here. This restaurant is operated by Landry's, the same company that operates the Rainforest CafΓ©, which does not accept this card.

Ever since the Animal Kingdom opened, I have said that it needs a waiter service restaurant inside the park. The Rainforest CafΓ© is too far away being all the way at the park's entrance. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant is a welcome addition to the Animal Kingdom. The theming is wonderful and the food is good.

At the moment, reservations are not being accepted. They are only taking "walk-ups." Beginning December 3rd guests can make reservations for January 4th and beyond by calling 407-WDW-DINE

Yak & Yeti Restaurant - Animal Kingdom

I visited the new Yak and Yeti Restaurant today in Animal Kingdom. Here are the photos.

Descriptions, menus and a narrative to come later.



























Monsters Inc., Laugh Floor

My good friend Anita Answer suggested I check out the changes made to the Monsters Inc., Laugh Floor attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

First, the lobby, or initial waiting room, has been redone. When the Laugh Floor first opened, a number of canvas banners were hung from the walls and ceiling. These banners provided comedy relief and gave guests instructions on how to text message jokes for the upcoming show. To me, these banners always looked cheap and reminded me that this use to be the Timekeeper attraction rather than an all new show. I'm happy to report that these banners have been replaced with permanent signs. The room now has a much more professional look about it.





The second change has to do with the preshow in the second waiting room. In addition to continued instructions on how to text message jokes, Roz and Mike Wazowski do a little routine. Roz shows the audience various "out takes" that Mike has been involved with while performing past shows. This is also a nice addition. Besides filling "dead" time, the skit is cute and brings more than a few chuckles to the room. In other words, Roz and Mike are warming up the audience for the show to come.


October 26, 2007

Studio Bits & Pieces

Disney has constructed three billboards in the planters/dividers that separate the roadway that the parking lot tram uses to shuttle people to and from the main entrance. These billboards are two sided and advertise various Disney movies and television shows.



Construction walls have gone up around the A.B.C. Theater located alongside Echo Lake. A clapboard-sign says that the theater is gearing up for an all new production.



A temporary tent-theater has been erected out beyond the Rock-N-Roller Coaster. A banner across the theater sports the name Playhouse Disney In Concert. On the day I was there, a group called Dan Zanes was performing four shows during the day.







October 9, 2007

Haunted Mansion Update

I rode the Haunted Mansion today and I'm happy to report that the Attic Room is now working properly.

CAUTION Spoiler ahead"¦
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When the HM reopened, the Attic Room had been completely redesigned. Instead of the carnival-like "pop-up" heads, various portraits of a bride and her numerous, headless husbands were scattered around the attic. However, the pictures were stagnant and contained no special effects. Now, as you pass by each portrait, the husbands' faces fade in and out as guests pass by while the bride's face remains constant.

Now that the effect is working properly it is consistent with its Disneyland, California counterpart.

September 15, 2007

Haunted Mansion Comes Alive

All Ears® Team Member Jack Spence (accompanied by Anita Answer and friends) files this report:

The good news: it's still the Haunted Mansion. It has been improved. Some changes are obvious, others would hardly be noticed. They come together to update a wonderful attraction. Somebody who had never been on the attraction wouldn't have a clue of which effects are new, and which are the originals from 1969 / 1971. Even people familiar with the attraction might have trouble.

First, what hasn't changed:

It's still the Haunted Mansion.

The feeling of the attraction is the same.

The entire graveyard scene is the same.

The busts that turn to watch you pass are the same.

The hitchhiking ghosts still join you on the way out.

The ballroom dancers are still backwards.

Rumors that weren't true:

There are no live bats

There is no new shop at the exit.

What is different outside:

Outside, the queue begins near the old fastpass structure. The line has a couple of switchbacks in this area before proceeding under the "13 minute" sign. (The line was long this morning, so all the queue was in use.) The awning over the queue area next to the Rivers of America is wider than it used to be. This provides enough space that they can divide it into thirds - so one line goes in front of the mansion toward the attraction entrance, then it switches back toward the 13-minute sign, then switches back toward the attraction entrance again. The line is narrower than it used to be, so people more naturally fill the available space without worrying about passing (or being passed by) somebody else.

The color of the building is subtly different.







What is different inside

The first improvement I noticed was the sound. In the stretch room, the ghost host doesn't bounce from one location to another. Rather the voice moves smoothly around the room. Also, some new sounds have been added to improve effects - when the room stretches, it creaks.

The interior of the attraction has been spruced up. For example, the wallpaper in the stretch room is new. The old was looking rather shabby. The frames on the stretch pictures look better.

The lighting throughout has been improved. While the ambient lighting isn't brighter, most anything of interest is better lit. The hanging body above the ceiling is more visible; the ballroom characters are brighter.

Some of the pictures with the eyes that follow you have been moved to the loading area. The hallway where these pictures used to be now has windows on the left side, with lightning outside and the appropriate thunder. On the other side, there are still pictures, some with the eyes that follow you, and some not. But all of the pictures change appearance with the flashes of lightning.

One of the most obvious changes is the area where giant spiders used to be on giant webs. Those are completely gone, replaced by stairways going up, down, and around at odd angles. Some room dΓ©cor around the area (such as candelabra and small rugs) are also at odd angles, even upside down. You can even see the foot falls as a ghost is walking on the steps. I always thought the spider webs were put in because there just wasn't enough space in this area for anything more. The Imagineers certainly overcame that limitation.

The sΓ©ance room has more items floating around the outer edges (or are they just better lit?) Madame Leota's crystal ball floats and moves above the table.

The other most obvious changes are in the attic room. The pop-up heads are gone. Similar to the Disneyland HM, there are several pictures, each with the same bride, but each with a different groom. At Disneyland, the faces of the grooms fade out. I believe the effect is supposed to be the same here, but it wasn't working. Finally, you see the bride, holding an ax which appears and disappears.

One of the best effects is that there are eyes (bats' eyes, I think) which watch you from the darkness. Some of the eyes even move. As you move along, the eyes transform into the wallpaper - the same wallpaper with eyes that has been on the walls since opening day.

If you're looking for more information on the Haunted Mansion, Jason Surrell has written a great book on this attraction. The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies fleshes out how the Mansion's 999 grim grinning ghosts were brought to life. Rare early sketches and story concepts, and stunning architectural drawings illustrate the Mansion's evolution as it was constructed at each Magic Kingdom Park around the globe.
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies

September 11, 2007

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

I visited the Disney/MGM Studios today. While walking along the Streets of America, I noticed that approximately one third of the the buildings have already been outfitted for the coming holiday Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. Anywhere the lights have been added, rope cordons separate the building from the sidewalk.

Reader Reviews!

Putting up Osborne Lights

Japan Pavilion Update

The full service restaurant within the Japan Pavilion is currently being refurbished and enlarged. Guests with a careful eye can see a small portion of the expansion as the walk along the promenade looking behind the Mitsukoshi Department Store. This aerial view of the Japan Pavilion shows approximately where the expansion is taking place.

Aerial View of Japan Pavilion

September 9, 2007

Spaceship Earth Rehab Update

All of the trees flanking each side of Spacehip Earth have been removed as refurbishment continues on this attraction. The approximate reopening of Spaceship Earth is November 14th of this year.

Spaceship Earth

September 3, 2007

Haunted Mansion Update

I visited the Magic Kingdom today and took a couple of pictures of the Haunted Mansion. As you can see, it is encased in scaffolding.

Haunted Mansion.jpg

Haunted Mansion

July 6, 2007

Parking Lot Trams

On my recent visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom, I noticed that the parking lot tram now has speakers mounted on the side of each passenger car, facing outward. I asked the tram driver about these speakers and he told me that this new system allows them to direct comments to guest standing along the roadside.

In the past, the only speakers cast members could use to speak to guests waiting beside the tram were the ones mounted in the roof of the tram vehicles. In most cases, the guests could not hear the important safety announcements. This tram is a prototype but these external speakers will be added to the entire fleet eventually.

The tram driver also told me that security restraints (tram doors) are also being planned and will eventually be added.

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About Theme Parks

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The β€œWorld” According to Jack in the Theme Parks category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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