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April 17, 2014

Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 4/11/14

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, April 11, 2014.

We start off on Main Street USA. The 20th Century Music Company on Main Street now sells very little music. Pins have taken over the store.

A look inside.


There is one small shelf of books.

And one wall of music and home video.

From April 10-20 there is an Egg-Stravaganza going on at both parks. Featuring Eggs-perience maps and an egg hunt. The maps are $4.95 plus tax and you go off to find the 12 eggs around the park then redeem your map for an egg to take home. This update is spoiler free in case you are planning a visit to search for the eggs. I posted a spoiler filled picture set if you want to see where all 24 eggs (12 from each park) are located.

Small World has reopened for a few weeks during the busy spring break season and to celebrate its 50th anniversary since opening on 4/22/1964 at the Worlds Fair in New York. Disney parks celebrated the occasion on Thursday 4/10 and Jeanine was there for AllEars.


Storybook Land.

Stopped by the Springtime Roundup at Big Thunder Ranch to check out the latest Egg Creations. Here are some of them - The Tweedles and Elsa.

Thought the Tiki Room egg was fun. Anna and Olaf to round out the Frozen collection.

Thought the cane for Lotso was a great touch.

Two of the artists at work.

Time for the Bunny Hop.

Roger Rabbit was part of the gang this week.

If you want to see more pictures and video of the Bunny Hop check out my last update.

The Big Thunder waits have returned to normal, at least this afternoon.

They were expecting a large crowd, the extended queue was set up.

Some special menu items at the Golden Horseshoe to mark the return of Big Thunder.

The Lone Ranger boot is still available.

Pirates was only a 15 minute wait, and the extended queue was ready but not needed right now.

Pizza Port has a new offering.

A slice of pizza, cookie, drink and art print for $30.00 plus tax.

The cookie.

A look at the pizza.

Not much visible progress in the sub lagoon.

Sure looks like they are planning on saving the existing ride path. Seems if they were going to remove it they would have by now.

A new spring issue of the Buena Vista Bugle is on news stands.

The DCA egg-stravaganza maps are in the children's section of Elias & Co.

The DCA map. Again I will not be posting pictures of the eggs in this photo update.

The possible prizes. With each map you get one egg.

Clarabelle's no longer offers the trolley sundae, instead it's a triple scope sundae served in a Mickey inspired sink.

The scaffolding on this side of the Wharf is down.

The side of the building facing the parade route is still being worked on.

Rushin' River now has personalized leather accessories and a sign to make sure you know.

Went for a cruise on Small World



In the gift shop a commemorative t-shirt was on sale, all proceeds went to UNICEF this weekend.

A 50th anniversary popcorn bucket.

The Primeval World Diorama is also celebrating its 50th anniversary since debuted at the New York World Fair

Walked through Downtown Disney later in the evening. Ridemakerz has a Captain America Camaro.

Maleficent banners in Downtown Disney to promote the upcoming film.

Caught Remember from the Mickey and Friends harage. This is the stretching room sequence.


Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.




April 15, 2014

Hong Kong Disneyland - Part 4

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A Disney Fan's Adventure of a Lifetime

Several members of the AllEars team spent most of March visiting Disney destinations far from home. We visited Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, and Aulani in Hawaii. Along for all or part or this journey were AllEars' Deb Wills, Laura Gilbreath, Lee Zimmerman, Jeanine Yamanaka, Linda Eckwerth, and Deb Koma, and friends Jack and Pete.

Part 4 - Hong Kong Disneyland Dining and Resort Hotels

I'm afraid this dining write-up isn't going to be as thorough as I would like...unfortunately we didn't get a chance to experience many of the dining opportunities that are available in Hong Kong Disneyland. With the relatively short park hours the only meals we ate in the park were two lunches and a couple of snacks.

That was disappointing because one of the things I noticed just in looking at the park map and wandering around the park was the wide variety of food choices that were available. I know when I think of "Asian" food Chinese is the first type of cuisine that comes to mind, followed by Japanese and Thai, but there are a lot more Asian cuisines than that.

Disney considered that in their design of the park, as Joe Lanzisero told AllEars:
"I think most of the cultural references and things that we do to address culture are in the way of food. I think especially more in Asia than anywhere else. We have a lot of Chinese food, we have Indian food, Malaysian food."

Jenny Dam also commented on this:
"The Resort’s chefs understand food and beverage is a significant part of the Disney experience. In addition to the rich array of meal options, including Indian vegetarian dishes, starting from 2012, Disney has introduced Halal certified cuisine to cater to the diverse needs of our guests."

Both Tahitian Terrace in Adventureland and Explorer's Club in Mystic Point are Halal-certified by The Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong. The certification applies to the meat items served in those restaurants.

I saw a number of vegetarian dishes on various menus - vegetable stir fries, Indian lentils, Thai curries, vegetable skewers and tempura. And yes, unusual "what is that?" types of items, like conpoy (dried scallops) and nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice).

Deb has a shellfish allergy and was very concerned eating in Asia. Since many folks spoke English in Hong Kong, it was fairly easy to convey the allergy. She stuck with things like Wagyu Beef Burgers (very good) and salads; when in doubt she brought meal bars from home.

For lunch on our first day in the park, after long traveling days for most of us, we opted for some old-fashioned American comfort food at The Main Street Corner Cafe. I know, not exotic, but we were tired and just wanted something easy and familiar.

But even so, this menu still had a very international flair - the hamburgers were made with Wagyu beef (though there was also a beef tenderloin from Nebraska), there was also risotto, Caribbean prawns, baba ganoush and several other Mediterranean dishes. In addition to more traditional offerings like Cobb and Caesar salads, a Reuben sandwich and penne and meatballs.

Between the seven of us we tried a variety of offerings. I had the tomato soup and the BBQ chicken wings, Lee had the pork ribs, which were falling-off-the-bone-tender, and others had the vegetable lasagna (photo above), Wagyu hamburger, and Singaporean seafood laksa (photo below).

I would say that what I had was good but not great. Jack said his meal (he had the burger) was ok at best. The food prices were expensive compared to here - about $22 for a hamburger and fries! One thing I noticed in both Hong Kong and Japan was that my food was usually not hot when served. Sometimes just barely warm. Even at buffets the food wasn't kept particularly warm.

In general the portion sizes were also smaller, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. But what was hardest for us, and where we most noticed it, was beverage sizes. A regular sized coffee was only 6 ounces! Soft drinks were served in 8-10 oz cups. And refills were not often offered. Decaf Coke was a bit hard to find but don't even try to find decaffeinated coffee.

For our lunch on day 2, Hong Kong Disneyland provided us with their Plaza Inn Lunch Special. The Plaza Inn offers "elegant Asian dining in a grand Victorian setting." It's really a beautiful restaurant - from the outside the look is similar to the Plaza Inns at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, but inside it is very different.


We were seated in a private room that was very elegant - I didn't feel as though I were in a theme park at all! The restaurant had been notified in advance of Deb's shellfish allergy and prepared a special meal for her that was very good.

Our meal was multiple courses. It began with a selection of dim sum (steamed dumplings), with shrimp, pork, bamboo/vegetables, and scallop/shrimp/chive dumplings, plus spring rolls:

A barbecued meat platter followed, with pork, chicken, and duck:


Sauteed beef loin and mushrooms:


Poached vegetables:

Fried rice with shrimp and pork:

Deb's Steamed Vegetable Rice in Pumpkin:

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Dessert was mango Mickey pudding.

This was definitely my favorite meal in Hong Kong. I didn't find it to be exotic (no chicken feet or mystery meats), but some members of our group did not find it as appealing as I did. It was served family style, so portion size wasn't really an issue, and I was quite full when we finished. There were pots of hot green tea on the table so we could serve ourselves.

The only snack that Lee and I managed to sample in the park was popcorn. Flavored popcorns are very popular in the Asian parks (especially in Tokyo), and we tried the honey mustard popcorn sold in Grizzly Gulch. It was very good.


One of the snacks that intrigued me, but that I did not get a chance to try, was Mango Dole Whip (available in Toy Story Land). Jack tried it and loved it. Two toppings were included in the price and he chose almonds and "mango bursts." Pete also tried it and thought it was ok - but admits he is not a big mango fan.


The park opened at 10:00 every day - too late for us to have breakfast there, so we all ate at our respective Disney hotels.

Jack tried Walt's Cafe at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. "By far my favorite meal and [restaurant] was Walt's for breakfast. High marks, 9 out of 10: eggs were over hard and not easy as ordered. Fantastic charm and great buffet. Cost was about $40 US, but a great way to start the day."

Lee and I ate at Hollywood & Dine, the quick service location at Disney's Hollywood Hotel, on two mornings. This had a very limited selection - just a few hot dishes and some grab-and-go items.

It looked like a cafeteria, but instead of going through the line and picking up your food and then paying for it, you picked up any grab-and-go items, then told the cashier what you wanted to order from the food counter (which includes bakery items as well as beverages and hot foods), and paid for everything. Since there was no menu on the cashier side it wasn't at all obvious what food choices were even available. I found it confusing and not very efficient.

I stuck with yogurt, tea, and a croissant (which were really good - slightly warm and seemed freshly baked) both mornings. Lee had the Western breakfast the first morning, with eggs, bacon, toast and coffee, but the second morning he tried the Asian breakfast. That was fried noodles and a bowl of congee - which is rice porridge (sort of like oatmeal) with a little bit of meat and some greens. He enjoyed it.

We never had time to eat dinner in the parks, so our dinner choices were very limited. The Disney hotels are off by themselves - there is nothing else in the area, so we were a captive audience. Most of us ate dinner at Enchanted Garden both nights - that's the buffet restaurant at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel.

The majority of the hotel guests are Asian, so the buffet menu reflected that, with selections like sushi, a raw bar, stir fry, tempura, noodles, and dim sum in addition to what we would consider more traditional buffet offerings like pasta, baked fish, and carved meat. A couple of soups, but a limited selection of salads and fresh fruits. I was surprised at the wide variety of dessert options, and a couple of the ones I tried were really very good.


I was less impressed by the rest of the buffet, and most of what I sampled was just ok. Jack had this to say about it: "I think the biggest disappointment of all was dinner, both nights, at the Enchanted Garden. Didn't care for it at all. I was initially amazed by all the food choices.....only to be disappointed by either what was there or the quality of what I did eat."

I noticed that they didn't replenish the dishes very regularly - one evening I checked twice and neither the tempura nor dim sum had been refilled, and other dishes were running low, also. It was on the expensive side - about $50 (US) per person.

Part of the expense is because it's a character meal. The characters did a really good job of making the rounds - we saw Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Mickey. Each evening a couple of them returned for a second visit. They were very attentive and Minnie and Goofy insisted on getting photos with the group and every individual or couple. They were very cute.

Deb and Linda had dinner at Walt's Cafe one night. Linda commented: "Walt's Cafe was good. I had a noodle dish. While it wasn't what I thought I was ordering, it turned out to be very good."

Deb tried the Cobb Salad and liked it.


As I mentioned earlier, we didn't have a chance to even see many of the restaurants in the park. But one that we took the time to walk through was The Explorer's Club, the new restaurant in Mystic Point. It's a counter service place with all kinds of different Asian foods: Korean, Japanese, Southeast Asian, and Indonesian. The menu items include Bento Box with Baked Salmon, Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Malaysian Style Fried Noodle with Seafood, Javanese Vegetable Curry, and Indonesian Style Fish, to name a few.

And the restaurant itself? Wonderfully detailed - but it's in Mystic Point, so I guess that's to be expected! The restaurant has five themed rooms: Egypt, Russia, Morocco, India, and China. Each room contains artifacts from Lord Henry Mystic's collection, and
each is decorated differently, with different tabletop designs. I believe the chairs were different, also. There are notes from Lord Henry in each room saying something about some of the artifacts there - some of them are rather comical.

Inside the restaurant's entrance hall, fans of the former Adventurer's Club at Downtown Disney will find some familiar objects from the Mask Room, along with this note from Lord Henry: "These masks are on loan from my personal collection in the manor house. If truth be known, they give me the willies. I believe I caught them looking at me late one night while dozing over my desk. Since then, I prefer to display them here."

We have an entire video on the Explorer's Club Restaurant, also:

A few other restaurants that we have a bit of information about...

Tahitian Terrace offers "Regional Asian" cuisine, including vegetarian Indian dishes, Malaysian chicken and Thai curry selections.

The Lucky Nugget had a couple of interesting items - Mickey-shaped pasta salad, and Caesar salad with Mickey-shaped croutons!

Several of the counter service restaurants offer a specialty non-alcoholic beverage. Among others, Lucky Nugget has the Grizzly Geyser and the Explorer's Club serves the Blueberry Myst (pictured above).


The dining options at Hong Kong Disneyland received mixed reviews from our group of travelers.

From Jack: "I think the one notch down in my book for Hong Kong was the food......I was not a fan of just about any place I ate."

Linda said: "I had no problem with the food in Hong Kong. My favorite meal was the dim sum at the Plaza Inn. I liked everything but the dessert. My second would be the vegetable lasagna [at Main Street Corner Cafe]. I wasn't thrilled with the buffet at Enchanted Garden. It had a lot of offerings, they were tasty and I did not go hungry by any means. I am just not keen on buffets."

From Lee: "I really enjoyed our dim sum lunch. I thought there were many interesting options for snacks and dining in the park and I was disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to try more of them."

From Deb: "I quickly learned that I was going to have to eat more carbs than I typically do since my other options were limited. I certainly didn't starve by any means. The food was ok and I could find things to eat. Nothing tastes like it does at home though.


The Resorts

There are two hotels at Hong Kong Disneyland: Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Hollywood Hotel. A third hotel, with 750 guest rooms, has been announced.

Lee and I stayed two nights at the Hollywood Hotel. The resort has a 1920s Hollywood art deco theme. We found it to be stylish - a bit understated and not overly glitzy. It's a full-service hotel with interior hallways, and extensive grounds. In-room amenities included a refrigerator, safe, and a very nice beverage service area with both a hot water pot and coffeemaker, and supplies for both.

There's a nice pool area outside though it wasn't pool weather while we were there.

The grounds are pretty extensive with some fun photo opportunities, like the big HOLLYWOOD HOTEL letters and some vintage cars and interesting signs.

There are two restaurants: I've already written about the quick service restaurant, Hollywood & Dine. There's also a Chef Mickey, which is a character buffet.

Our room was on the 8th floor (the "lucky" floor! :-) ) It was larger than I had expected, with two double beds and a nice-sized bathroom. Quite comfortable. We had a guaranteed non-smoking room, though I did not really notice that smoking was much of an issue. There was complimentary wi-fi in our room, which we found to be pretty fast and responsive. Slippers (which we could take home with us) were provided.

One different thing about the hotels in Hong Kong: we did not receive a personalized "souvenir" type room key, nor could we use our room key for charging. We had a hotel id card, but it was only good within the hotel.

Photo montage video:

The rest of our group stayed at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. This hotel has a Victorian theme - it looks a lot like the Grand Floridian or the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.


It was very pretty inside - high ceilings, fairly ornate, but lots of glass and light, so it felt open and bright despite the gray sky outside. The lobby was not as large as the Grand Floridian, but was still several stories tall. Once we saw the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, we realized this was a mini-version of it.

Behind the hotel was a great Mickey Maze. It was big enough so adults could have a fun time as well as the kids. Several of the kids in our group played a bit one morning.

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The rooms had robes and slippers (you could take the slippers with you), a safe, small refrigerator as well as a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs bathroom mirror and toiletries.

Here's a video of the interior and one of the rooms.


The hotels are on the opposite side of Hong Kong Disneyland from the main entrance used by day guests arriving by train, bus, and private car. There is a shuttle bus that runs between the hotels and the main entrance, but we didn't use it, because there was a beautiful walking path from the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel to the park entrance.

It was a wide, dedicated walkway, very park-like, with benches and fountains, banners, and topiaries. Most of the times we walked it we had it to ourselves - we saw maybe 25 other people the entire time. And Lee and I never saw anyone else on the sidewalk between the Disneyland Hotel and the Hollywood Hotel. The walk from the park entrance to our hotel was about 15 minutes. When the weather is hot I can understand why people would want to use the bus, though.

Lee and I enjoyed our stay at Disney's Hollywood Hotel, and we would stay there again. The Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel was very nice, too, and I think we also would have been happy there. It's a little more luxurious, with a corresponding higher price. Though I thought the per night cost of both hotels was lower than a comparable Disney hotel here. The Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel is a deluxe hotel, more like the Grand Floridian or Grand Californian, but the price was less. Disney's Hollywood Hotel is a little harder to classify, since it was much nicer than a WDW Moderate hotel and had a somewhat higher price, but was still a lot cheaper than the American Deluxe hotels, or its next door neighbor.


In Conclusion

That's right, I'm finally done! But had a few things I wanted to share as I finish this up.

I really loved Hong Kong Disneyland. It's such a beautiful park - so like Disneyland, and so NOT like Disneyland. It was charming and familiar and utterly different all at the same time. I was very comfortable there and I didn't feel like I was halfway around the world (at least until I looked at restaurant menus).

I haven't yet been to the Paris parks, but otherwise I've visited all of the currently open Disney parks...Hong Kong Disneyland is definitely in my top 4, maybe top 3. For Magic Kingdom type parks it's second only to Disneyland in California. Would I love it as much on a hot and crowded summer day? No...but I don't love any Disney park on a hot and crowded summer day. I won't even VISIT my favorite park (Epcot) during the summer months.

Price wise I think you get a lot more value for your (Hong Kong) dollar than you do here - park tickets and Disney accommodations were both significantly cheaper. Though food was more expensive, I thought souvenirs were slightly less. (Someone pointed out to me that souvenirs certainly SHOULD be cheaper - most of them are made in China so they have a lot less distance to travel! :-) )

If you're a Disney fan who likes to travel then I highly recommend visiting this park - if nothing else you must see Mystic Manor! And while you're there...do give my regards to Lord Henry and Albert.

Gǎn xiè nín de yuè dú - Thank you for reading!






April 11, 2014

Happy (Early) 50th Anniversary, "it's a small world!"

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On April 10th, Disney Parks celebrated (a few days early,) the 50th anniversary of "it's a small world's" debut at the 1964 New York's World Fair. As a part of the event, Richard Sherman, who with his brother Robert Sherman composed the song "It's A Small World," led a sing-along cavalcade of it down Main Street USA.

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[Fun fact: With all the parks world-wide, the Sun never sets on "It's A Small World"--the tune is always playing in one of the rides around the clock.]

Imagineer Kim Irvine, Art Director for Disneyland Park, Walt Disney Imagineering, was also on hand for the festivities. She oversaw the 2008 refurbishment of the ride at Disneyland that saw the addition of established character dolls and the North American room.

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Some quotes from Disney Cast Members past and present concerning "it's a small world:"

Kim Irvine: "I think that when adults enter Disneyland, they feel like kids again...Everyone is happy together. Strangers smile at one another. And that is what 'it's a small world' represents. It makes us feel good."

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Alice Davis, Disney Legend and Imagineering Costume Designer for "it's a small world:" "I asked Walt how much I could spend and he looked at me and cocked his eyebrow, like he did sometimes, and said, 'We don't think like that here. I want you to do whatever it takes to make these look like dolls every woman in the world would want to have.'"

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Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering: "'it's a small world' is an attraction about global harmony, celebrating the beauty of people coming together. Its enduring song is literally the soundtrack to the ideals of peace, unity and friendship, while the colorful cast of international dolls captures the essence of childlike wonder and optimism."

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Richard Sherman: "When Robert and I sat down to write this song, we were given very explicit instructions: A simple song that would convey the message that we have a very small world to live on, we all have the same problems, the same joys, the same sorrows--we share these things. Let's learn how to live together, respect each other and give each other room to just get along. Those were our instructions; Walt gave them to us directly, and so we were very, very moved by those thoughts."

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Good Morning America celebrated with this video segment on the history of the attraction, including a big, world-wide sing-a-long of the famous song.

Disney Parks has also posted the video of the Google+ Hangout Richard Sherman did that day, which took place in front of iasw. It's on the long side, but Richard Sherman is always worth it.

Of course, while we acknowledge the 50th anniversary of it's a small world, we also commemorate the other attractions that also debuted at the World's Fair on April 22, 1964: "Progressland," aka "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress;" "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln;" and the Primeval World diorama from "Ford Magic Skyway."

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Here's to 50 more turns around the sun with all these wonderful attractions!

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Check out our Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Celebration Blog!

More information about the anniversary events can be found at SmallWorld50.com

April 10, 2014

Hong Kong Disneyland - Part 3

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A Disney Fan's Adventure of a Lifetime

Several members of the AllEars team spent most of March visiting Disney destinations far from home. We visited Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, and Aulani in Hawaii. Along for all or part or this journey were AllEars' Deb Wills, Laura Gilbreath, Lee Zimmerman, Jeanine Yamanaka, Linda Eckwerth, and Deb Koma, and friends Jack and Pete.

In Part 3 I'll talk about the parade and fireworks, and cover a few other miscellaneous topics.

The parade in Hong Kong is called Flights of Fantasy. Hong Kong Disneyland had set us up with a reserved spot at the start of the parade route, which began in Fantasyland at 3:30.

The parade was absolutely gorgeous, and I think it grabbed us all from the opening moment. The Dumbo float (his eyes blinked, and his ears flapped!) was followed by the Disneyland Band, playing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and the Mickey Mouse Club March.

Keeping with the flight theme, the Fab 5 plus Chip & Dale followed in Mickey's Magical Airship. With that float we first heard the parade's theme music, which sounded very familiar to those of us who have seen Mickey's Soundsational Parade at Disneyland. This had lyrics in Chinese. though. Flights of Fantasy was the first to use the music, as it premiered a few months before the California parade. And I have to say that parts of Soundsational look like a cheap knock-off in comparison to Flights of Fantasy. And I LIKE Soundsational. But I could really see where Disneyland California cut corners...

Deb has posted an excellent video of the parade, so rather than trying to describe it I recommend you watch the video.

I thought the most beautiful float was the Royal Swan carrying the princesses - it was just exquisite.

One of the other parade elements I really enjoyed was the pixies who were riding ladybug scooters. They were adorable.

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The floats were very detailed and so fun and imaginatively designed. And there were so many characters! I liked the Jungle Fun float - a mashup of The Jungle Book and The Lion King with recognizable scenes and characters from both. (And am I allowed to say how refreshing it was to see a Disney parade that didn't have anything from The Little Mermaid?)

We'd thought we were in an excellent spot, but once the last float passed by us it went another 100' down the parade route and then all the floats stopped...and then several of the floats rose even higher in the air as aerialists dressed like Green Army paratroopers, 100 Acre Wood honeybees, and Jungle Book orangutans performed. We could see the performers on the Toy Story float, but didn't have a view of the others. Now we understood why there weren't that many people at the beginning of the parade route.

I think the parade was another "Wow!" experience for all of us. Hong Kong Disneyland blows our minds yet another time. I was so impressed with this park!

One last show to tell you about...the fireworks show. Although Hong Kong Disneyland closes relatively early at this time of year (8:00), the fireworks show, Disney in the Stars, is still performed every night at park closing (weather permitting). Lee and I saw it both nights.

Since the park wasn't very busy there were no crowds at all for the fireworks, and we could've watched from just about anywhere. Since we weren't sure what the show was and what a good spot might be, we opted for what is a good spot at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom: at the end of Main Street in middle of the street halfway between the last shops and the hub. That ended up being pretty good.

It was a really nice fireworks show - maybe not the "ooh...ahh" factor of the shows at Magic Kingdom or Disneyland, but nicely done. The fireworks were low-altitude compared to what we're used to - there were a number of pinwheel effects on the castle, or low sprays arcing behind it. Not too many that exploded up high - I'm sure there's a reason for that, but I don't know what it is. No Tinker Bell in flight. There were some projections on the castle walls, but from our position the castle was too small for us to see them. The projectors create a lot of different colors on the castle, also, and those we could see.

The second night we were much closer to the castle where we could see the projections. It was interesting, but certainly not necessary in order to enjoy the show.

There was no special theme music for the show, instead it used a number of familiar Disney melodies, like "A Whole New World", "Cinderella", "So This is Love", several pieces from "Mulan", "Alice in Wonderland" (that was very different!), "Tale as Old as Time", "Be Our Guest", and concluded with a reprise of "A Whole New World". All the lyrics were in English, and some of the songs were performed by a children's choir, which I enjoyed very much. The "Mulan" section featured fire effects, and some dialog in Chinese, but the rest of the dialog, including the introduction, was in English.

It was really quite lovely - just very well-crafted and choreographed. We enjoyed it. It added just the right finishing note to our day.

Now I'm going to go back and touch on some other parts of the park that I haven't talked about very much. Starting with...


The Park Entrance
Actually the area just outside the park entrance and the ticket booths. Where there is this absolutely wonderful fountain! You can see Mickey surfing on the whale's water spout - well, Mickey moves up and down, too! There are bronze statues of other Disney characters along the edge - Donald and Goofy are visible in this photo; there are also statues of Minnie and Pluto.

At night the fountain is beautifully lit. At park closing we even saw a fountain show with some dancing fountains.


Main Street
This area was so much like Disneyland - just so much bigger! Unfortunately I didn't spend much time here - I didn't even realize until after we left that The Animation Academy is in what would be the Opera House in California.

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I was surprised that there was no Partners statue in the hub. It looked odd without it.

Adventureland
Of all the "lands" in the park, this was the one that seemed the largest to me in comparison to California. There were so many pathways - some of them that didn't really go anywhere, but still took you to see something interesting, like this waterfall grotto.

And there were other play areas like the "Liki Tikis" - tiki statues that spit water, like they have in Florida - and an area with a variety of drums to play.

The major attraction in Adventureland is The Lion King show, which was not running during our visit. The other attractions are the Jungle River Cruise and Tarzan's Treehouse, which I already described in Part 2.

Tomorrowland
We visited this area at night - the lighting was really nice. The attractions there are Space Mountain, Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Autopia, and the Stitch Encounter show. In addition to the attractions there is a big water play area with various UFO-type vehicles that splashed water - does that make them sprays-craft? I'm sure all the water play areas are very welcome in the spring and summer when it is very hot and humid in Hong Kong.

Fantasyland

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Another very pretty area, and very similar to Magic Kingdom in terms of the rides and attractions: Cinderella Carrousel, Philharmagic, The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, Mad Hatter Tea Cups, Dumbo, and "it's a small world". But no Peter Pan, which surprised me. Like Disneyland in California, "small world" and the theater lie outside of the main area of Fantasyland.

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The architectural style of Fantasyland is quite different than in the U.S. parks. I had asked our guide Helen about it, and she said it's Victorian, a reference to Hong Kong's many years as a British colony. There are still Victorian mansions in Hong Kong as well as other cultural and architectural features (e.g. afternoon tea) that trace back to the colonial period.

Miscelleneous

You've probably inferred this from things I've written...but we had timed our visit extremely well, during a period of low park attendance. We were in the quiet time between Chinese New Year and spring break. Our first park day was a Thursday and we had very short lines - or no lines at all - even for the new attractions. I think the longest we waited in was fifteen minutes! There were more people in the park on Friday, but even that day most of the waits were well under 20 minutes. It was just wonderful.

And speaking of lines...something that surprised me: there are only two Fastpass attractions! Space Mountain and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh are the only attractions that offer Fastpass. I was actually rather shocked that they aren't available for Mystic Manor and Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Train, especially when seeing how long the queue is for both or those.

I know I said it before, but I think it bears repeating: If you're a Disney fan, this is not a one day park! We had two days, no lines to speak of, and still didn't see everything.

Coming next - Dining and the hotels.







April 6, 2014

Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 3/28/14

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, March 28, 2014.

Friday was a busy day at the Disneyland Resort. Spring Break season is upon us and the parks were very busy thanks to that and pleasant weather. Then to cap off the evening a magnitude 5.1 earthquake with an epicenter less than 10 miles from the park occurred just after 9:00pm. No damage or injuries reported as far as I have seen.


Long lines at the security tents this afternoon.


The Downtown Disney fountain is out from behind walls. It was leaking: water was outside the fountain area.

Once inside the parks the crowd seemed to thin out a bit in Town Square and with a little timing you could get a shot like this making it look rather empty. Notice all the Main Street vehicles out today. Two horseless carriages, the bus, and fire truck in this picture. Also a horse drawn street car was making the rounds.

The Disneyland Band was performing in Town Square.

Disneyland has new guide maps this week. They feature Big Thunder and Mickey's Fun Wheel on the covers.



New picture spot signs were being installed this afternoon.

They now feature a sample picture again. Here is the one for the Matterhorn.

A check of the Alice in Wonderland progress. Not much visible from this angle. Looks more or less the same.

Stopped by the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree for the Springtime Roundup.

I will skip most of the decorations around the Jamboree this week since I posted pictures last week, so go back to the 3/21 update if you want to see more.

Egg Painters are present this year.

Some of the eggs on display.

More traditional painting.


More of the recent egg creations in a display near where they were painting.






Mickey and Minnie in their springtime outfits


The springtime dancers came out for a performance.

They stopped for a group picture.

A video clip of the Springtime dancers in action.

The Easter Bunny was on hand for pictures and autographs and had no wait while I was there.

The bunnies making their entrance for the Bunny Hop.


Pluto somehow got into the Bunny act.

A video clip of the Bunny Hop performances.


The food carts for the Springtime Roundup

The menu.

Some of the items.


Big Thunder had a lot of guests around and was using an extended queue. Standby wait was posted as 60 minutes and Fastpass return was 10:30pm and this was before 4pm.

Not much visible progress in the sub lagoon. Here is a look from the Monorail.

A check of the Alice in Wonderland work from the Monorail.

Next I made my way over to Disney California Adventure. Goofy passing by on Buena Vista Street.

Work on the Wharf continues. This week the tarps were down, guessing due to the winds.


The Picture Spot sign in Ornament Valley has been moved and now has a sample photo on it too.

The Ghirardelli sample today was a milk chocolate with a white chocolate imprint.

The structure nearest the turkey leg stand on the pier was behind walls. Guessing they are going to be repainting and fixing some of the wood damage.

The coaster front from the Toy Story Meet and Greet has been removed.

The Ellis Island Boys performing at the Paradise Garden Bandstand.

Interesting they did not put walls on the back side.

The Tweedles were roaming the crowd at the Mad T Party.

Stopped by the Disneyana store on Main Street. Here is an interesting item. A check signed by Walt Disney. It was from 1965 and for $10,000 made out to the IRS for estimated taxes. The framed set was priced at $5,500.

Main Street was busy as to be expected on a Friday night during Spring Break season, this was around 8:30pm

The plan was to watch the 9:00pm Fantasmic show. So I found a spot near the Tom Sawyer Island raft exit. Here is an action shot of King Louie as he passed by.

As the Columbia started its pass an earthquake struck. The epicenter was approx 8 miles from Disneyland. The show was stopped as soon as the shaking stopped. Here is a picture of the Columbia slowly finishing its pass after the quake. I posted my thoughts and more info on the earthquake in a separate blog posting on my site.

The show was cancelled and so were the fireworks. Which led to some very crowded walkways as everyone had the same idea...time to leave.

A look at Main Street around 9:45pm. It seems a majority of guests decided it was time to call it a night.

It was around 10pm when I reached the garage. The escalators and elevators were all offline still. You had to hike the steps or escalator to reach your level.

The third floor.

I stopped for a quick photo and video from the bridge before continuing on to my car. Cars on the exit ramps were moving slowly but were moving.

Looking the other direction they still had the exit set up like a normal night with cars merging to use the overpass. By the time I got down there (half an hour or so later) you were locked into your lane more or less no merging.




Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.




April 4, 2014

Hong Kong Disneyland - Part 2

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A Disney Fan's Adventure of a Lifetime

Several members of the AllEars team spent most of March visiting Disney destinations far from home. We visited Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, and Aulani in Hawaii. Along for all or part or this journey were AllEars' Deb Wills, Laura Gilbreath, Lee Zimmerman, Jeanine Yamanaka, Linda Eckwerth, and Deb Koma, and friends Jack and Pete.

In Part 1 you probably read enough background and now you're ready to learn something about the park and the attractions, right? :-)

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But first...This was the start of a dream come true for most of us. I asked everyone in our group to tell me what went through their mind when they walked on Hong Kong Disneyland's Main Street for the first time, and this is what they told me:

Deb Wills: My first impression was WOW, I am really really here! I was a tad disappointed most of the right side of Main Street was in scrims and reminded myself that's how first time visitors to WDW feel. I slowly changed my focus to down the road and started to think "the Castle is small." But when I realized there were huge mountains behind it I started to appreciate the beauty of the scene. I did miss the Partners Statue... but hey I was in HK DL!!!! And I was so excited!

Linda Eckwerth: The first thing I noticed, no rail tracks running down Main Street to twist my ankle. The park seemed small & quaint, like Disneyland and not crowded. It felt very inviting.

Lee Zimmerman: My very first impression was that I had flown 15 hours to go to Disneyland... including the same tiny castle. :-) My second impression was that it was Disneyland but bigger and newer.

Jeanine Yamanaka: When I was walking down HKDL's Main Street, I think most of my thoughts revolved around how this was the last operating Disney park in the world I had left to see--and how fitting it was, that it looked so much like the first Disney park I had ever seen.

Pete Loscalzo: I think seeing the Castle with the mountains in the background. It was Disneyland but something was different and I was slightly dazed & confused. I came directly from the airport after traveling 16 hours, dropped my bags at the hotel and just about ran to the park! Seeing Jack at the end of Main Street near the Hub (without a Partners statue I might add) brought an even bigger smile to my face! What a rush those first few minutes in the park!!!!

Jack Tarulli: I'm thinking one of my first reactions were about the brick main street..... I really loved the distinctive look. I think my second reaction was how come Lee and I were 20 feet ahead of everyone else!

Laura Gilbreath: My first thoughts were: "It's Disneyland! But it's not Disneyland - it's bigger! And we're really here!"

Linda took some pictures of us as we walked down Main Street that first time. We look like excited little kids - all smiles and wide-eyed wonder. Those were some wonderful moments.

Of course, we were also stopping to take pictures everywhere... :-)

During our trip we tried to focus on the attractions that were unique to Hong Kong, though we also enjoyed experiencing those that were familiar but different, such as The Jungle River Cruise and "it's a small world."

On one morning, Hong Kong Disneyland graciously set up a guided tour for us where we could experience some of the rides and attractions that were new to us. We started in the three newest areas of the park: Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, and Toy Story Land. Our guides Hayley and Helen shared a lot of information with us, both on the park itself, and on the many, many details in these new lands, much of which we would have missed on our own. We had a wonderful time with them, and I think they really enjoyed us as well, because we were so enthusiastic and interested in everything that they had to tell us.

We began in Grizzly Gulch, which opened in 2012. It looks like a mining town in the American west.

The attraction here is Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Train, which is now my favorite roller coaster. It's like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad meets Expedition Everest. It's very similar to Big Thunder Mountain in the beginning, then partway through, and with no warning while going up a hill, it starts going backwards. Unlike Everest it's never totally dark, nor does it do that partial corkscrew that is so disorienting. A high speed launch starts the cars going forward again - 0-35 (though it feels faster) just like that.

Instead of a yeti it has troublesome (but cute) audio-animatronic grizzly bears. It's a long ride - almost three minutes. It was fast and smooth and fun. We loved it.

Helen and Hayley told us that numbers have significance in the Chinese culture - for example, the number 8 is considered lucky. Grizzly Gulch was founded on August 8, 1888, making it a VERY lucky town!

Numbers are also important in the ride. While 8 is a lucky number, 4 is just the opposite, and 44 is even worse. On the runaway mine train, it's a bear scratching his back on the switch control that causes the train to switch from mine shaft 8 to mine shaft 4. And then just before it starts backwards, we see water tower 44 beside the track. Uh oh.


Some additional details that Helen and Hayley shared with us:


  • Gold was discovered because the grizzly bears were using one of the rocks as a back scratcher, and wore away the surface, revealing veins of gold underneath.
  • The resulting gold rush town was built around some active geysers - there's a smell of sulphur in the air.
  • Lucky the dog (a golden retriever, of course) had a talent for sniffing out gold nuggets, and one day, in Shaft #8, found the 150 lb. "lucky" nugget that is on display in front of the assay office. Lucky's footprints can be seen in the concrete in front of the office.

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  • There's a golden hidden Mickey nugget visible on the canyon walls.
  • The golden grizzly bears are also considered lucky. There's a bear family in the area: Rocky is the dad, and Lode and Nugget are the mom and cub. Their paw prints are visible on some of the walkways, and all three of them appear at various places in the attraction.

One very different thing about this area: the attraction was built first, and then the rest of the land was built around it. So the walkways go up and over the tracks of the roller coaster, and the ride is much more integrated into the land itself.

Next on our tour was Mystic Point. I could write an entire blog just on this part of the park, but I'll try to keep this to a reasonable length. :-)

Mystic Point opened in May, 2013. This area looks like a tropical island, but right in the middle is a Victorian mansion - Mystic Manor.

It is the home of Lord Henry Mystic, an explorer and collector of antiquities and curiosities. He has a monkey companion named Albert, who he rescued from a giant spider, and they have become lifelong friends. He graciously allows visitors like us to tour his home and view his extensive collection.

Guests travel through the various rooms in Mystic-Magneto vehicles. In the pre-show Lord Henry introduces himself and Albert, and explains that he and Albert have recently returned from Bali, where they acquired a curious music box - it supposedly has the power to bring inanimate objects to life. As you might expect, Albert opens the box (after being told not to), and then the real fun begins.

We see Albert in several of the rooms, and initially he is as charmed and curious as we are as the enchanting sound of the music box (score by Danny Elfman) brings artifacts like musical instruments and paintings to life. But things get a little frightening for Albert as the power gets out of hand and the objects become more menacing, culminating in a cyclone as various objects plus Albert and all of us whirl around the room until the music box is closed again.

It was just magical. I loved it - it's my new favorite Disney attraction. Wow, wow, wow!!!!

The vehicle technology is like that used in Pooh's Hunny Hunt in Tokyo Disneyland, with a trackless ride system and vehicles that are remotely computer-controlled. There's audio-animatronics and lots of state-of-the-art special effects. The vehicles move through the attraction in groups of four. You still see everything, but you get a slightly different view from each vehicle.

Hayley and Helen shared some other interesting facts with us:


  • This is Hong Kong Disneyland's version of the Haunted Mansion - hence the owner's initials: HM
  • Mystic Manor opened for tours in 1896, but the attraction is set in 1908 - both are the Year of the Monkey.
  • At the entrance to the house there's a photo of the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand opening in 1896. Walt and Roy Disney (as young men) appear in the photo.
  • Lord Henry is a member or an organization called SEA: Society of Explorers and Adventurers. There's a portrait of the SEA members, including the ill-fated Harrison Hightower, owner of the Hotel Hightower in Tokyo DisneySea - their Tower of Terror.
  • Other recognizable SEA members are J.L. Baterista (Imagineer Joe Lanzisero) and Maestro D. Elfman (Composer Danny Elfman).
  • The mysterious music box has monkeys on the side of it, which explains some of Albert's curiosity.

This is an amazing area - take a look at the video below if you're interested in seeing more of it. The video still does not do it justice, though.

Our next tour stop was Toy Story Land. This was the first of the new lands to open, in 2011. Before we went into Toy Story Land we stopped at the entrance, and Helen and Hayley told us we'd be shrinking to the size of a toy when we stepped in. They pointed to the concrete where you can see the huge imprint of Andy's sneakers.

Toy Story Land has two entrances, and on one entrance the footprint is going out, on the other it's coming in. Rex is at one entrance, and Woody is at the other - they are the lookouts, since they are the two tallest toys. Both of them speak (in English) periodically, "Well pull my string, you must be the new toys!" "I'm a predator...no really, I am! Roar!"

There are three rides in Toy Story Land: Slinky Dog Spin, Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, and RC Racer. I thought this area was for younger kids, but only Slinky Dog Spin doesn't have a height requirement - the other two really aren't little kid friendly at all. More for tweens or teens. But the area offers lots of over-sized toys to play with, and a number of photo opportunities, including photo backdrops and the "Barrel of Fun" character meet-and-greet area. Toy Story characters are available there during most of the park's operating hours. There were plenty of small children in the area who seemed to be enjoying themselves even without being on the rides.

Toy Soldier Parachute Drop is between Disney California Adventure's Jumpin' Jellyfish and the former Maliboomer in intensity. Not recommended for those with a fear of heights, though there are some wonderful views of the park and the surrounding area when you are near the top of the 80' tower.

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RC Racer is a "thrilling, gravity defying race, speeding back and forth on a soaring U-shaped track". Most of us did it, and I think we all decided that once was enough. :-) I really enjoyed the first few passes when the car went way up to the end of the track and hung briefly at the apex, slightly over center, but then the back-and-forth motion started getting to me after the fifth or sixth change in direction, and I was very glad when we stopped. I think we were all at least slightly disoriented.

Slinky Dog Spin is very cute - I don't think you can look at the smile on Slinky Dog's face and not smile yourself! It's a pretty gentle around and up and down ride as he chases his tail.

This is a really cute area - lots of bright primary colors, and SO many references to classic toys and games - dominoes, Cooties, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, etc. But it's very small, and I was surprised that there wasn't a Toy Story Mania attraction here.

Next, we made our way to the Storybook Theater in Fantasyland, where we had reserved seats for the Golden Mickeys stage show. If you've been on a Disney cruise, you've probably see the Golden Mickeys show on board. It's an "awards show" with categories like "Heroes" and "Romance", and each category features scenes and music from the "nominated" Disney movies, with lots of Disney characters. On the ships the storyline follows the reluctant Ensign Benson, who is forced into hosting duties but eventually overcomes her stage fright. Here it's a red carpet reporter (think "Entertainment Tonight") named Bebe who becomes part of the awards show. The show was in Cantonese (though all of the songs were performed in English), so I missed most of the dialog on how that came about. There were English subtitles, but since we had such great seats in the center I had to look to the side and away from the stage to read the subtitles, so I didn't do it very often.

I thought this show was MUCH better than the Disney Cruise Line version. Though it really wasn't all that different since the musical numbers were very similar - mostly it was just bigger, since it's a larger stage that isn't on a moving ship. I've always found the Ensign Benson thing contrived and slightly annoying, so maybe the fact that I didn't understand what was going on with Bebe was an advantage. :-) Still, it was an excellent production with a very talented cast.

Our last activity with our guides was the Jungle River Cruise in Adventureland. Though one thing I want to show you first...on the way to the Jungle Cruise they took us into a cave, which had some "prehistoric" artwork in it.

Now take a closer look at the hand print on the bottom left. :-)

In Hong Kong the Jungle River Cruise, instead of being tucked away in a largely un-viewable area, runs on what we would call the Rivers of America. On the island in the middle is Tarzan's Treehouse, which is accessed via a raft.

Since there are three official languages in Hong Kong Disneyland the attraction has separate queues for tours in Cantonese, Mandarin, or English. Most of the skippers speak all three languages, so if the line for a Cantonese cruise gets long, they send out more boats with a skipper speaking Cantonese. The result is that no matter how long the queue seems, you still end up waiting about the same time no matter which language you select. Pretty slick.

A lot of the scenes are very similar, like the elephants bathing, hippos in the pool, gorillas trashing the camp and the rhino chasing the men up a tree. The ending is very different, though: the boat enters the "Canyon of the Gods" where there are big water geysers and even fire on the water!

As we all know, the Jungle Cruise relies a lot on humor. AllEars asked Joe Lansizero about the translation for an audience that may not have the same cultural references:

"The challenge there is that we work to make them translate. In the case of The Jungle Cruise in Hong Kong, we actually have three different languages there, so that the jokes were carefully re-written to work with the different languages, taking not only the understanding of the language but cultural references that may not have been appropriate or understood. And that's the same thing for the Stitch Encounter [in Hong Kong]."

My take...the jokes lose a lot in translation. Most of what we heard I wouldn't even call jokes. For me the fun part was the over-acting and the enthusiasm of our skipper - she was into it and that was infectious.

Unfortunately that was the end of our tour - we really would have liked to keep our guides with us longer! They were wonderful, and showed us so many great details. They were obviously so proud of the park (and rightfully so) and everything that has been designed into it because of the way their guests want to experience a theme park.

I couldn't put this into words at the time, but in looking back on it now I feel that Hong Kong Disneyland was crafted with a lot of love. Love of Disney, love of their guests, love of beautiful things. It really shows.

But back to the attractions...Lee and I did not have a chance to get to all of the attractions, but we made it to all that were new to us, plus some that we thought were different in Hong Kong. Here's a list, in the order that we did them:

Philharmagic - This was a shorter show - it left out the whole beginning part where Mickey tells Donald not to touch his hat. The dialog was in Cantonese, so we're not sure what was said (if anything) about the hat, since later on Donald was chasing it.

"it's a small world" - The exterior facade was much more like California, and it was also on the edge of Fantasyland like it is in California. It had Disney characters in it, but some of them were different than the ones I've seen in California - for example there were Mowgli and Baloo, Abu, Bambi and Thumper, and Marie. As you might expect it has a much longer and more varied Asian section. The U.S. was depicted by forested hills with Pocahontas, Flit, and Meeko, a desert scene with Jessie, Woody, and Bullseye, the Statue of Liberty and a New York skyscraper, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters - More like Magic Kingdom, but the lasers are removable like the ones in California.

Space Mountain - very like the one at Disneyland, though the music was different. I liked the lighting in the load area better than California.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Except for the language, very much like the one in Magic Kingdom, if not an exact duplicate.

Tarzan's Treehouse - As I mentioned earlier, it's on an island in the middle of the Jungle Cruise, so you have to take a raft to get to it. Otherwise it's very similar to Disneyland, though it was different at the base - for one thing there was a stream with an audio-animatronic baby elephant in it.

Stitch Encounter - This is the same idea as Turtle Talk with a smallish theater where an animated Stitch appeared on a large screen and interacted with the audience. There was a cast member who facilitated and took a microphone around
so guests could talk to Stitch. This one seemed a little more scripted to me, but I don't know if that's because we saw the English version. Cute show, though, and Stitch was appropriately mischievous and irreverent.

Prior to going to Hong Kong we'd had several people tell us that there wasn't that much to do at Hong Kong Disneyland, and that one day in the park was plenty. We didn't find that to be true at all, and in fact we would have liked to have had a third day in the park. Most of the attractions were really well done - Mystic Manor just blew us away, and we also really enjoyed Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Train.

Next up: the parade and fireworks show, and a look at some other areas of the park.




Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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"Captain America: Winter Soldier" is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking place two years after the events of "Avengers," it follows Steve Rogers (Captain America) as he tries to adjust to a world some 70 years advanced from the one he knew.

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Unlike others of his fellow Avengers, Cap has no Malibu mansion or Asgardian castle to return to after the end of their last venture. We find him leading a somewhat solitary existence in Washington DC, taking on stealth missions for SHIELD and doing a lot of jogging. As time has gone by, he's made a friend of fellow jogger/ex-military paratrooper Sam Wilson (Falcon) and developed nagging suspicions about his boss, Director Nick Fury, his partner, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow,) and the entire SHIELD organization.

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His initial misgivings prove to be all too well-founded, when attacks are made on key SHIELD personnel, encrypted files are passed off, and the only advice Rogers has to guide him is "trust no one."

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As the story progresses, Captain America will need to untangle a wide-reaching conspiracy in an effort to stop the deaths of innocents, fighting both old friends, new foes, and the mysterious Winter Soldier.

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The bulk of the film is a call-back to the spy thrillers of the 1970's, so the choice of Robert Redford as guest star this time around is particularly appropriate. Having aged gracefully out of his naive-hero turn from "Three Days of the Condor," Redford here smoothly and skillfully assumes the Cliff Robertson role of the film--the man in power, bent on protecting the public's best interests regardless of the cost. The only downside of this casting is that a star of his magnitude is hard to see as anyone else--if you come out of the film remembering what his character's name was (Alexander Pierce) versus referring to him as "Robert Redford," you're doing better than I did.

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Despite being the title character, Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier probably has fewer lines than any of the others. His origin--not much of a spoiler by this time--gives him a built-in relationship to Rogers that saves his screen time for the film's huge fight scenes. The battles themselves are well staged and choreographed with good specificity to each character's fighting styles, and my only wish would be that they were filmed with longer shots so we could get a better look at all the work that went into them.

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Like all the rest of the recent Marvel films, "Winter Soldier" has a polish and wit about it that clearly elevates it above the vast majority of the other superhero sagas. Although the plot might be as lightweight and gimmick-dependent as others of its ilk, what gives the Captain America movies their strong appeal is their respect for their protagonist. Steve Rogers is clearly a Boy Scout of the highest order, a man of principle who refuses to compromise his belief in truth and freedom and honor. It would be easy, so easy, as we have seen with DC's treatment of Superman, to treat this as some outmoded, naive delusion that needs to be updated for today's more cynical time. Instead, although we do see Cap struggle to reconcile this grittier, nastier reality with his more gracious past (and Chris Evans does a fabulous job portraying Rogers as a man outside of his time,) we are confident that his faith in Humanity and its intrinsic worth will always win out. More than his ten-times-normal strength or agility, it is Captain America's conviction in the good in people and his trust in the possibility of a better tomorrow that makes him a hero.

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Small flaws or not, "Winter Soldier" looks to be another smash hit for Marvel Studios, an entity whose box office clout is proving as powerful as any of the superheroes in its stable.

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“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The Executive Producers are Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo and Stan Lee.

The film enters general release on April 4, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

**Hail Hydra.

April 1, 2014

Hong Kong Disneyland - Part 1

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A Disney Fan's Adventure of a Lifetime

Several members of the AllEars team spent most of March visiting Disney destinations far from home. We visited Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, and Aulani in Hawaii. Along for all or part or this journey were AllEars' Deb Wills, Laura Gilbreath, Lee Zimmerman, Jeanine Yamanaka, Linda Eckwerth, and Deb Koma, and friends Jack and Pete.

In Part 1, Laura Gilbreath introduces you to our first stop: Hong Kong Disneyland.

Hong Kong Disneyland is located on Lantau island, about 20 minutes from the international airport and 30-60 (depending on traffic) from downtown Kowloon. The resort consists of a single theme park and two resort hotels, with a third hotel under construction. Some of the information below came from our guides on the park tour we took one day. Hayley and Helen were wonderful and pointed out a lot of interesting details that we otherwise would've missed as they told us about some of the background stories of the lands we visited.

Hong Kong Disneyland is most similar to Disneyland in California, and it opened in 2005, the year of Disneyland's 50th birthday. Like Disneyland, guests pass under the train station and enter Main Street, USA. From the hub they can enter Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland. The park also includes several new lands: Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point.

At the end of Main Street Hong Kong Disneyland also has a Sleeping Beauty Castle - the same size and design as the one in California, though this one has real mountains behind it.

Joe Lanzisero, the Creative Executive for Hong Kong Disneyland, told AllEars: "There's something that's very warm and charming about the smaller castle. Our site has those beautiful hills behind it and it really juxtaposes itself visually against those hills in a way that I think feels scale appropriate. And it's a new audience in that part of the world that hadn't seen a Disney theme park before and it also worked with the overall scale of the park, too. The park very much followed [Walt's} 1955 layout: the length of Main Street, the size of the buildings, so you had to take the overall scale of the park into consideration."

We found that Hong Kong Disneyland seemed much larger than California: the paths are much longer and wider, and there's a lot more space - but I still thought it felt cozy and welcoming and familiar. The capacity of the park is about 40,000 guests now, which is less than Disneyland, but there are fewer attractions in Hong Kong: about 25 rides and shows compared to more than 40 at Disneyland. A few attractions were undergoing refurbishment while we were there, so we were not able to experience their Disneyland Railroad and The Lion King show.

According to our guides, about 30% of the guests are from Hong Kong, 47% from mainland China and the rest from around the world. Most park signs, maps, announcements, etc. are in three languages: English, Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong) and Mandarin (spoken in mainland China). Most of the cast members speak both Chinese languages as well as English. Some of the attractions are narrated in English, and the Jungle Cruise has separate queues for boats with English, Mandarin, or Cantonese-speaking skippers. English is widely used as a "common" language in Hong Kong and we didn't have any real communication difficulties.

I was pleasantly surprised that park tickets were significantly cheaper than in the U.S. A two-day park ticket was $585HKD, which is about $75USD. Hong Kong Disneyland offers an annual pass type of program called Magic Access, which offers a surprising number of benefits, including Fastpasses and special birthday privileges. Jenny Dam, Associate Marketing Manager for Hong Kong Disneyland, provided this information on the program to AllEars:

"It includes Silver, Gold and Platinum Cards, which bring guests extra privileges all year round.  Magic Access offers discounts on merchandise and dining, as well as wonderful birthday privileges, exclusive park experiences and gifts. The majority of the members are locals."

You can view more information about Magic Access here: http://park.hongkongdisneyland.com/hkdl/en_US/ticketsAndReservations/overview?name=MagicAccessPage

Attendance at Hong Kong Disneyland has been steadily growing - last year was a record 7.4 million. In 2012, it was #14 in theme park attendance worldwide, according to TEA, the Themed Entertainment Association. Jenny Dam had this to tell us about their guests:

"With the launch of the three new themed areas, Hong Kong Disneyland now offers over 100 attractions and entertainment offerings designed for families and young adults. The guest mix is ever changing throughout the years and the proportion of young adults has been increasing since the new attractions were launched.  We will continue to maintain Hong Kong Disneyland as a family destination, and at the same time, we will offer more attractions and entertainment to attract young adults and repeaters."

One of the upcoming attractions is Stark Expo, scheduled to open in 2016. From the Disney Parks blog:

"Located in Tomorrowland at Hong Kong Disneyland, the Expo will allow guests to see firsthand the progression of Tony’s Iron Man suits and many other Stark innovations.

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"Upon entering the ride vehicle our guests will be able to take flight with Iron Man on an epic adventure that not surprisingly pits Iron Man, and our guests, against the forces of evil. This adventure will take place in the streets and skies of Hong Kong, which will make an even more unique and special experience for our Hong Kong Disneyland guests. In addition, guests will be able to meet and take photos with Iron Man."

Hayley and Helen were both very excited about the new attraction. The cast had recently been told that it will be similar to Soarin', though with a very different movie. Flying through the skies of Hong Kong sounds terrific!

Joe Lanzisero had this to say about Stark Expo:

"The total build-out of this little area will include the ride, the attraction, a meet and greet which extends the story of the Expo because you're going to be seeing some new technology that happens to be demonstrated by Tony Stark, and then our merchandise shop. We're actually going to try to broaden how we present the merchandise and the kinds of things that people can buy in a more kind of tech workshop-like environment. So that story kind of works through all three of those elements of the Expo."

One of the things we were curious about was the cultural differences that we might experience, both in the attractions and in the way the park was designed. Almost the first thing that I noticed was the color palette. More deep, vibrant jewel tones than I have seen in the U.S. I remarked on that to our guide Hayley, and she said those colors are important in the Chinese culture.

Other culturally-inspired design differences included all of the park-like areas with beautiful landscaping and lots of benches. As Helen told me, many of their guests like to maximize their park time by purchasing a quick snack at one of the food kiosks, then sit down to eat on one of the benches before moving to their next destination.

And speaking of the park areas, there were some really unique photo opportunities in some of them, because guests love taking pictures. I really enjoyed this one in Mystic Point's Garden of Wonders - it initially looks like this:

But when viewed from just the right place, it becomes this!

This one was also a lot of fun:

Most of the "lands" had various photo cutouts and many places to take some really fun photos - I think we could've spent most of a park day just doing that!

Helen told us that Disney surveys in Asia indicated that character meet-and-greet opportunities were very important to guests there. We saw greeting spots throughout the park, but the main one is Fantasy Gardens. There are multiple character gazebos, and various characters appear there for most of the day. The area has all of these beautiful topiaries, inspired by the movie "Fantasia".

We also saw characters just hanging out in places and playing with guests - of course that's not really a culture thing since we see it in the U.S. also, though more in California than in Florida.

When AllEars asked Joe Lanzisero about cultural differences, he had this response:

"You know I think the basic park concepts in terms of the big ideas that glue the park together are always the same and I think there's universal appeal in what we do.

"But we have looked for opportunities to inject some Chinese stories, I think in special events. The most obvious is that we celebrate Chinese New Year in a very big way, just like in Japan there's certain Japanese holidays that they build events around. As we look at some of the attractions...in "small world" and Mystic Manor we have made specific nods to Chinese culture using imagery and iconography that the guests there can relate to directly."

And with that teaser, I'm going to end part 1 - we'll get to the attractions like Mystic Manor in part 2!







March 27, 2014

CTN animation eXpo: An In-Depth Look at the Art and Business of Animation

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For those with a deep interest in the field of Animation, either as entertainment or as a profession, one event that should be on your radar is the CTN (Creative Talent Network) Animation Expo held annually in Burbank.

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For those like myself, with a recreational interest in animation, the eXpo offers a variety of panels and discussions with some of the top animators working today. At last year's convention, I was able to see, among other things, a presentation on the making of Frozen; a group interview of veteran Disney animators Mark Henn, Bert Klein, Tony DeRosa; and an interview/Q&A with past Disney animator Andreas Deja.

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There was also a showing of the Ted Thomas documentary "Growing Up With the Nine Old Men," that was included in the recent Diamond edition re-release of Peter Pan, along with a Q&A (moderated by Andreas Deja) and dvd signing afterwards.

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This was, of course, only a tiny amount of what's available to be seen at the eXpo--at any given time there are not only the larger presentations, but smaller live demonstrations and workshops.

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A large area is also designated for exhibitors, selling anything from art supplies, to art itself.

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The main focus of the eXpo is on up-and-coming animators however, so to that end there was a myriad of studio booths recruiting animators and affording them opportunities to network and make professional connections.

While there was certainly more activity presented than any one person could take in, it was at times a little logistically difficult to navigate secondary to the large numbers of attendants. The hotel parking was pretty limited, requiring the overflow to drive around looking for street parking or park in the airport lot across the street. Most of the demos and drawing models were placed around the lobby corridors making it difficult to pass through to the next area.

The main difficulty I found was just trying to get into the panels as the lines were fairly formidable for the larger talks, and the rooms relatively small. You can circumvent the lines by way of either purchasing a VIP ticket for the weekend or picking up a "fastpass" which are available for select presentations in limited quantities.

While a lot of the weekend's content may seem a little technical for the average animation enthusiast, there is probably not another meeting that puts such a focus on animation talent or provides potential animators with as many career opportunities. If you already harbor a vested interest in this field, I strongly encourage you to check out this year's eXpo.

Information on the 2014 CTN animation eXpo can be found at http://www.ctnanimationexpo.com/. It will be held at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center, from November 21-23. Early Bird registration is now open.


March 23, 2014

Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 3/21/14

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, March 21, 2014.

Started off walking across the Pinocchio lot to Downtown Disney.

They are working on the facades in Downtown Disney. A half dozen or so lifts were out this afternoon.


Starbucks has opened and had a good crowd inside. I took a quick look inside, saw the masses of people, and kept on walking.

The fountain is still behind walls, but was being tested this afternoon.

The Straw Hatters were performing on Main Street as I entered Town Square.

Main Street was alive with activity. In addition to the spring break crowds I saw two buses, two street cars, the fire engine, and a horseless carriage making the rounds this afternoon.

Looking back down Main Street USA

Partners this afternoon.

The work on the top of Space Mountain is wrapping up. The new additions blend in well.

They were painting this afternoon.

A check in on the submarine lagoon from the Monorail.

Alice in Wonderland went down for renovation since my last visit. They are moving quickly on the demo work. The temporary walkways are gone and they have started to take apart the ride path.

From ground level you can see how they cut away some of the concrete for the ride path already.



The line for the Frozen Royal Reception was long as usual. Today it was long enough you could go to the gift shop, buy the movie, and watch the entire film while waiting in line.

The Springtime Roundup officially starts next week but this week most of the props and signage were up.




Big Thunder has officially reopened and the couple times I passed by the stand by wait was 70-80 minutes.

The height check bar, 40 inches is threshold.

The queue filled the Zocalo Park area.

A quick look at Rainbow Ridge from the side.


New Orleans Square was busy.. the Pirates queue was extended out toward the DVC kiosk and wrapped back onto the bridge.

Indiana Jones is close for some work.

Frozen is front and center in many of the stores.

Moving to Disney California Adventure...

The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is still closed.

The Little Mermaid is closed for renovations.

Thought this was great. One of the cast members was reading to a group of kids. It was a Little Mermaid book of course.

Work continues on the Pacific Wharf facade (the Bakery tour and Pacific Wharf Cafe remain open during the work).

Goofy conducting the fountains for the Instant Concert...Just Add Water.

A rack of Easter merchandise.


The Pier had a good size crowd moving around.

As I was eating DJ drove by on Cross Street.

Radiator Spring Racers had a posted wait of 90 minutes. The single rider line was backed up and using most of its queue too.

The fountain at the Cozy Cone was not working properly again.. it was coming up short so the wheel was not spinning.

The Lone Ranger sign is gone now from the Hyperion facade.

Monsters had a posted wait of 30 minutes.

I did not spot any Muppets Most Wanted merchandise. Everything looked to be the same. I did see the sound track in Off the Page.

Off the Page also has some Marvel artwork now.

Walked through Ghirardelli. Some Easter/spring offerings.

Also a new type of free sample today. It was a dark chocolate middle with milk chocolate around it.

Spotted this sign near the entrance to Maters. I also saw one of these by Star Tours, but too many guests to get a clear picture.

Captain America merchandise in Elias & Co.

More Frozen merchandise in Elias & Co.

Back to Disneyland...walked through Innoventions and took some pictures of the Captain America queue now that it was empty (they close the line at 4pm and it was approaching 8 when I walked by).




Closed out my evening with Fantasmic! and then Remember.

Watched Remember then headed for home. No signs of Tinker Bell this evening.


Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.




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