February 27, 2015

Leaving Epcot


EPCOT Center holds some of my fondest Disney memories. Like many other people, it is the first "second gate" Disney park I ever experienced, and it firmly set in my mind what parks next to the Magic Kingdoms should be when it comes to substance and presentation. Emotionally, I connect with this park as being a place my young wife and I always enjoyed from top to bottom. In a sense, even though we only visited every six or seven years, EPCOT Center was always the main attraction while we were guests at Walt Disney World. It never disappointed in those early years as it was filled with some of the best attractions ever designed by Walt Disney Imagineering.

I absorb most all I can read on the place. And now, Disney Avenue presents a terrific first of many pieces look at this once very remarkable and truly magica grand experiment. A place where World Showcase and Future World truly fit together. So, I'll leave you with EPCOT here. Enjoy the ride.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 26, 2015

New World of AVATAR Concept Art

Straight from the Imagineers at Disney, here's another piece of art for the upcoming Avatar expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Go to this link at the terrific WDWMagic to see a video of what's planned.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 24, 2015

Avengers Age of Ultron- New Poster for Marvel Movie

Pretty nice, huh? This new poster for Marvel's Avengers, Age of Ultron gets the point across quite well. I'll be in line on May 1!

February 23, 2015

Another Disney Blunder- NPH Hosts World of Color for the 60th

Just another sign of how arrogant and out of touch Disney management is with the core of their guests. Neil Patrick Harris, the host of the 2015 Oscars- whose ratings dropped to a six year low- has been chosen to be the host for the brand new World of Color Show at California Adventure during Disneyland's 60th Anniversary.

Was he funny as all get out on the extremely well written and popular "How I Met Your Mother". Absolutely. Is he pushing the limits of good taste by his Oscar antics? Yes. Seems lately he is all about the shock value side of entertainment. 

Is NPH a big fan of Disney parks? Sure. But he's the wrong choice for the Disney brand of entertainment. Especially for this banner year. 

Where is Dick Van Dyke when you need him? At least he would bring a bunch of fun and a lot of charm to the proceedings.

February 22, 2015

While There's a Snow Storm Here...

... my wonderful nephew (and friend) sent me this photo of his current location while on vacation in Panama. Must be rough!

February 21, 2015

A Taste of Epcot at California Adventure

Back in the early days of California Adventure 1.0, the park seemed to truly celebrate the beautiful cultural diversity of the state. Once the park began seeking for an audience (it had an identity), the California Food and Wine Festival came in, bringing with it a classy and warm presentation of some of the best aspects of the state's foodie culture.

When the suits saw a significant investment would have to be made and much of the park placed behind construction walls to do it, the Food and Wine Festival went away. 

Now that 2.0 is a great success, the park is slowly returning to its cultural presentations. Mouse Info has a great look at the celebration for the Lunar New Year. This festival, which is celebrated by various Asian cultures, brings an exciting taste of Epcot to California. Go right to the Mouse Info link to see the photos.

(Photograph copyright Mouse Info.)

February 20, 2015

Something Sweet: New Orleans Square Candy Shop


I just had to post something fun today. With the previous two posts on Robert Iger and the Huffington Post hush up and the earlier post that addresses the possible connection between President Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood, I was angry and concerned and reminded once again of the egocentric and corrupt nature of man. 

But God has only given his human beings the incredible gift of creativity! And in the Disney world, few Imagineers were more gifted in illustration than the talented Herb Ryman

Above is a rarely seen piece of concept art for a candy shop in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. It's a sweet piece of work! The inclusion of the Sisters of Mercy is a trademark of Herb's, also found in this classic piece below.


Don't you just love the original entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean? It's too bad that increased crowds and the installation of FastPass made it necessary to build a bridge for traffic and destroy the simple elegance of it.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


The Amazing Disappearing Article: Disney CEO Fumbles Entry to China

You know, some days, a guy just has to point out the pitfalls of the world around us. Here's an article that appeared- and then was removed- from the Huffington Post. It criticized Robert Iger and the Walt Disney Company's plan for their entry into the Chinese market, and its potential effect on Shanghai Disneyland. It must have angered him so much that he used his wife's influence to have it yanked. I hate that kind of corporate or governmental power play!  So, here it is below, courtesy Google.  (And thanks to the WDWMagic Boards where the article was resurrected...)

-------------

Sorry Mickey, they're just not that into you. Minnie, you either.
For that matter, you can take the whole stable -- the "Fab Five" of Walt Disney's animated creations -- and, despite a media machine that churns a very different story, China has largely been a land where the fabled wishes, dreams and magic of the Walt Disney Company and its brand have virtually no connection with the consumer. As valued as that consumer is in the economic theater of globalism, the iconic brand synonymous with America has little appeal and less traction among the newly seated audience in the Chinese mainland.

To its 'vanilla on toothpaste' helmsman, Robert A. "Bob" Iger, who has shown himself to be an able cobbler of assets but a less than visionary leader of the media colossus that is the Walt Disney Company, this troubling if known and growing headwind threatens to undermine the content-heavy but culturally aloof purveyor of demographically unshackled product. For in his zeal to expand its library of content, Bob Iger has drop-kicked the Disney moniker to enter new and expanding marketplaces only to position a product that runs well afar of the expectation of the Disney bounce.
In so doing, the once unrivaled status of the Disney brand has become a catch-all for entertainment and its associated byproducts that are increasingly a strange and sometimes conflicted ragbag of franchised acquisitions presented as some sort of media mélange for all ages and all palates. Or, as John Dreyer, the longtime and immediate past head of corporate communications for the Walt Disney Company, said upon the publication of the column Disney CEO Readies Magic Carpet for Exit, "Disney losing its Disney way."
With the company making its grandest play for a market that dwarfs all others, Disney has found itself adrift in a crisis of identity that breaches the foundation of the castle upon which an empire was built. For as turrets were raised, wings were added and a moat of meticulously positioned whimsy was filled in to expand the Disney footprint, something that looks decidedly more pedestrian than the fantastical inspiration for one of the world's most coveted brands has emerged.
Leverage has become the arch of entry into the Disney-verse, while the brand has been marginalized into a holding vehicle for assets that are worth more separately than that vested in the castle itself.

As Mr. Iger said at the 2013 Fortune Global Forum held in Chengdu:
I think the first thing you have to do is you have to obviously be aware of what your most significant brand attributes are. What makes your brand your brand? Why is it great? You have to focus on quality and on those attributes that, again, created the value in the first place. You can't look to cut corners. You can't look to make something with your brand on it that's any cheaper simply because it's going into a market that may not be able to afford it the way another market may have. You can't compromise in that regard. So it starts with what I'll call quality and a respect for an allegiance to the very brand attributes that created the value in the first place.

Now, considering Shanghai Disney is preparing to make its 2016 debut as Disney's first foray into the renminbi rich Chinese mainland after a less than stellar arrival in the former British colony of Hong Kong in 2005, there are lessons aplenty to learn from that delayed embrace and the long stalled entry into the single largest consumer market on offer to the world -- the whole of China. 


Under Mr. Iger's stewarding, Disney has partnered with the Shanghai Shendi Group, an umbrella name placed on a panoply of government-owned companies created to facilitate Western investment as a massive anti-graft campaign is just now rattling Beijing and beyond, to introduce a Disney 'branded' park to those consumers. A flag in the ground for Disney. A flag that has been in the works since the prime of Michael Eisner's reign at Disney and one that nearly collapsed entirely by the summer of 2006.


Indeed, Mr. Iger had to leave the annual Herb Allen retreat for media moguls, tech tycoons and other scripters of society in Sun Valley for an unscheduled trip to Shanghai that day in 2006, scrambling to save face and leading to a denouement worthy of great scrutiny by any company -- especially those entities whose trade is in intellectual property -- wanting to enter China.

Or, as Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin, whose real estate and entertainment empire is building its North American headquarters adjacent to the Beverly Hilton at 9900 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, said on the same panel at the Fortune Global Forum:

[W]e have so many Western companies in China, but you cannot simply replicate the Western ideas and philosophies in China. They need to adapt to the Chinese realities... So for Fortune 500 companies in China it's very important, it's imperative for them to learn traditional culture in China and how is it interrelated with the modern business culture.

Curiously though, the world beyond the berm is told the 330 million or so Chinese within a three-hour trip to the site on the other side of Shanghai's Pudong International Airport cannot wait to queue up for a boat ride on "It's a small world"or whatever Disney is offering up for its reported $5.5 billion marker. As, no, there will apparently be no attraction of that name at Shanghai Disneyland.

Not in China. Not in a country where Mickey, Minne and the rest of the gang are barely known. In a country where Disney might as well be Smith or Jones or Johnson. Well, maybe not that last one as Johnson & Johnson is actually a reasonably well-known brand throughout China.

The Walt Disney Company has a history of stumbling if not outright tumbling in its efforts to export Disney's brand of Americana. For reference, look no further than Euro Disney -- now known as Disneyland Paris -- and Hong Kong Disneyland. Of the latter, it is worth note that Disney has been known to Hongkongers from the early days of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. Yet, to this day, with a direct link by MTR line to points throughout Hong Kong, Disney is barely able to keep up with the brand devoid, geographically hemmed in and animal exhibit heavy Ocean Park in Aberdeen.

Over lunch earlier this month at Neptune's in the Grand Aquarium, Ocean Park Hong Kong CEO Tom Mehrmann, who began his career as a street sweeper at Knott's Berry Farm just up the road from Walt's original Disneyland, said, "Disney still has to explain to some of its guests exactly what a 'Disney Park' is. We don't have that problem."
To further illustrate this point, visit Disney's outpost on Lantau, a parcel of reclaimed land near Hong Kong International Airport, and you will notice a different Disney. Some call it 'Disney-lite'. Others refer to it as 'McKingdom'. Regardless, there is a definite feel of a diminished product -- of a diminished brand -- on stage for the public's consumption.

For, on a spit of land with an audience topping seven million attached by subway line having a familiarity and a kinship with the West, sits the real experiment of Disney's entry into the Chinese market. And there, on a recent day, at a performance of The Lion King in a theater designed for Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando dropped into the Walt Disney Company's first Disney branded park in China, the actors sought to lead the audience in a rendition of the hit tune from this classic of Disney's second golden age of animation: Hakuna Matata.

Hakuna Matata. 
What a wonderful phrase. 
Hakuna matata. 
Ain't no passing craze.
It means no worries. 
For the rest of your days. 
It's a problem free philosophy.
Hakuna matata.
Arms raised high in the air, cast members -- on stage and off -- encouraged the capacity crowd to sing the infectious chorus. With lyrics blasting through the speakers and flashing on screens in the theater, they sought a simple singalong to the catchy and commercial hit written by Elton John and Tim Rice. Unmoved, the audience sat stone-faced. Child and adult alike.

Considering most individuals reading this are likely humming the tune or hearing it play as part of the soundtrack of their lives, that speaks poorly of Disney's penetration into the far less foreign landscape of Hong Kong. As for Shanghai, Mr. Iger continued on at the conference in Chengdu:
We're a brand that is viewed as good for me and good for my family. There are values to the Disney brand and what it stands for that have interested people all over the world. But, it's very, very important that while we bring Disney to a market we make sure that in that market it feels like, for instance, China's Disney.

In leaving the park on that recent evening, the dressed by and for Disney MTR cars filled with tired visitors exposed to, saturated in, that which is the Disney Parks experience offered up in Hong Kong. Looking to the left, to the right, all around, not one visitor had that uniquely American rite of passage positioned upon their head. Mickey ears. Not one.
And, in the second largest market for its product and the largest consumer market on the planet, Disney's Frozen, the highest grossing animated film ever having delivered over $1.27 billion in ticket sales and the fifth-highest grossing film of all time, earned little more than $48 million. Less than four percent of its global box office.
Welcome to China, Bob.


Gary Snyder is a member of the Redstone family, whose company, National Amusements, owns Viacom and CBS, among other media assets. He is an advisor on Western media and culture to China.

Too Hot for the President- Linked to the Muslim Brotherhood?

This is serious stuff- and something to be looked at and thought through objectively by every American. Does President Obama have deep links to the radical Muslim Brotherhood? A quick read of this article may be worth your time. 

Think about this: Any reading of the Old or New Testament in any depth will show the LORD ALMIGHTY has always been faithful to His people Israel. He has allowed discipline because of his love when they wander. And of course, there has been great hatred and persecution and mass murdering of the Jews. But God Himself promises the nation Israel will prevail (and that includes followers of Jesus Christ). It's always smart to be on the side of where God throws His promises and support.

Have the people always treated others perfectly and are without sin? Of course not- neither you nor I are always perfect and without sin. Still, this life is temporary and eternity is truly forever. What happens to us is something we may not understand this side of heaven. In a world that is crumbling before our eyes, keeping them on God and His promises remains a wise thing to do.

February 16, 2015

Disneyland for Beginners

Planning that Spring Break or Summer vacation to Disneyland to celebrate its 60th year Anniversary? It's a great choice- as long as you do a bit of thinking and some planning ahead of time. Especially if you are a first time guest, these tips will be well worth reading and following.

I grew up by Disneyland, and I have been there at the busiest times of the year as well as the least crowded. I know all the best ways to get around the crowds, with and without Fast Pass. So, here are my recommendations: Disneyland for Beginners- Summertime Version.

Research in advance. It's an ugly truth now at the Disney parks, a must-do if you want to experience as much as possible. Use the official Disneyland Resort website to check out park operating hours, special events, and particularly the attraction refurbishment list. Disneyland looks terrific for her age! There's a reason though. Park attractions are updated and maintained on a regular basis. You've probably heard of the most famous attractions and want to make sure you see them. Depending on the timing of your visit, one or more could be down for enhancements. It's likely the earlier in the year you visit, as the park leaders want to make sure she looks her best by the time of the big Summer crowds.

Once you're settled on the timing of your visit and have done a bit of research on what is happening at the park, these are your next steps: The best and most important piece of advice I can give you is  1- Buy your tickets the night before, making sure you pick up a park map. Know where you are headed in advance. 2- Get there before the park officially opens. If you accept these ideas as necessary truths, you'll be able to visit most of the popular attractions without waiting in the line for too long. If you don't, you can still see a handful of major attractions, but you will spend a good portion of your time waiting in line for the privilege of doing so.

The most impressive attractions to experience. These are the ones that are "classic" Disneyland; the ones you've heard about:


Indiana Jones Adventure*

Peter Pan's Flight*
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Haunted Mansion
It's a Small World
Space Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain
Splash Mountain


* Choose one of these as your first adventure of the day. The one you don't choose will be worth your wait later in the day.

If you are going in mid-summer, and the crowds will be heavy, the opening time is 8:00am, but get to the front gate by about 7:15am.

Let me suggest this pattern to follow so that you see the most you can. C'mon everybody, here we go!

If you choose Indiana Jones Adventure, walk right down Main Street and take an immediate left into Adventureland. Keep walking until you reach the Indiana Jones Adventure, just around the bend from the world famous Jungle Cruise. This is Disneyland's last "E ticket" attraction and one of my favorites. If you like the movies, you'll love this.  An out of control runaway jeep ride through an ancient cursed temple. Regardless of the line length, if you go first thing in the morning, go here first. If you can, do take the time to go through the queue and do not bypass it. The Disney Imagineers created lots to see along the way, including a couple of rooms that have been booby-trapped.


Special note: if you have an infant, ask to do the "Baby Swap". One parent rides while the other waits and then reverses the procedure. This method is also in use at other attractions, particularly the Disney Mountains (roller coasters).

Once you get off Indy's adventure, you should go straight to Peter Pan's Flight in Fantasyland through the Castle, but instead can do one of a couple of things if you want to ride Indy again: 1- Go to the entrance and find the attendant. Tell them you are "single riders". You'll get to go to the front of the line but you will not be able to ride together. They will use you to fill in jeeps with empty seats. 2- Or go to the "Fastpass" Machine. Fastpass lets you put in your admission ticket, and the machine spits out a special ticket with a time stamped on it. (Make sure you take out your admission ticket and keep it with you.) When your designated time arrives, take your ticket to the Fastpass line. You'll get to walk by most of the crowd. This is important. You need one Fastpass ticket for each person. You have a one hour timeframe to return or your Fastpass is not valid. (By the way, after your return time begins, you can get another Fastpass for any other ride that offers it.)

If you do not go to Disneyland early, go ride to this ride anyway and use one of the two ideas above to make sure you get a ride on Indiana Jones Adventure.


Adventure has a name!

You may choose to ride Peter Pan's Flight instead as your first attraction. A good choice especially of you are with young kids. If so, walk straight through the Castle and look to your right for the clock tower. In Fantasyland, it's the most popular "dark ride" ever. Journey in a pirate ship over the rooftops of London to Neverland. Absolutely irresistible! Then head straight to Adventureland and ride Indiana Jones or wait until later in the day, splitting up your party using the Single Rider option.

After your first attraction, walking towards Indiana Jones, turn left and walk past Pirates of The Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion right to Critter Country and go to Splash Mountain. This long flume attraction like none other will have very long lines all day as well. You will get wet, but it is so much fun!

After riding Splash Mountain, go back the way you came in and ride The Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square. It's not scary but suspenseful and the special effects are simple yet amazing.


From there, go back to Pirates of the Caribbean. If you walk to the Treehouse, you've gone too far. This is my favorite Disney ride and one of the park's best. The Captain Jack Sparrow robots, Audio-Animatronics in Disney speak, are very lifelike- and he makes an appearance three times in the ride. Pirates is a ride where the line moves pretty fast, so even on the very busy days, the wait should be no more than 30-40 minutes.

Let me say that at this point, the crowds will start coming in. Depending on how early you are there, you may get on more rides than this before the crowds. Also, make sure you walk around and explore the shops and restaurants as well. But rides are the most important and the main reason why Disneyland is famous!

Walk out of Pirates, make a right turn and head across the park to Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland. This is a Disney roller coaster. It's not the biggest or scariest one ever, but it is very fun. If you can, ride it at nighttime, too. It's like a totally different ride. This is also a ride that uses Fastpass, by the way.

Probably by now, I am sure the crowds are there, so be prepared to wait in line. It's even a good choice to take an early lunch or a light snack. Wait to shop until late afternoon when the rights are thick with people. Or bite the bullet and get in line for the "1st attraction to see" that you did not choose.

Leave Big Thunder by taking a left and walk through the Frontierland fort across the park to Tomorrowland. You are headed to the famous Space Mountain
This is a roller coaster ride through outer space. It is also a Fastpass ride. It will have a very long line, so if you can get a Fastpass, it might be smart to do it. If you do, from there I would go to Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters at the entrance to Tomorrowland. It is a video game ride where you shoot targets as you ride along a track. (It has Fastpass as well.)

If neither of these options sound good, then head toward Fantasyland past the Matterhorn Mountain all the way back to It's a Small World. This is a very sweet musical boat ride around the world. People love it or hate it (we love it!), but it has the feel and "stamp" of Walt Disney all over it.

OK- If you've done these, you have now ridden the best in the park, but there are many more little gems to be found all over.
And make sure to check out when the fireworks show is!

Here are my suggestions for other Disneyland rides worth a look:


Matterhorn Bobsleds: the first Disneyland mountain coaster, a bobsled ride through the Swiss Mountain.


Tom Sawyer Island: an outdoor island accessed by raft. Explore caves, rock formations and more. Walt Disney designed this one himself, knowing exactly how he wanted it. 


Mark Twain Riverboat: a relaxing boat ride around the river. A classic and relaxing experience that gives you a great overview of half of the park.


Jungle Cruise: In Adventureland, a silly boat ride through tropical rivers with (fake, not real like Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida,) animals. One of the original rides from opening day in 1955. Great for little kids and full of atmosphere.

Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin: Think "tea cups and a dark ride hybrid" through the zany, toon-filled world of the movie. The lines are long, so use Fastpass if you can. See it soon as its on the chopping block as part of a massive Star Wars Land expansion to be announced later this year.


Disneyland Railroad: A train ride all around the park. Ride it all the way back to where you started. You can get on it at Main Street, New Orleans Square, Toontown or Tomorrowland. One of the best ways to really see it all.


For an extra dose of Walt Disney's influence, you've got to see the Enchanted Tiki Room and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

A thought to consider: Make your meals relaxing. Sit down, rest, and enjoy the world around you. Talk with your friends and family about what you've enjoyed. Savor the experience. There really is nothing quite like the original Disneyland. 

Stay for the fireworks! Stay for the parades! There's usually more than one parade and both are different. But most importantly, stay until its dark. That's when "Walt's park" takes on some of its most beautiful scenery. Half the fun of Disneyland is walking around and exploring.

Wish I could meet you there to personally give you the tour!


(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 14, 2015

Hidden Women


How long will we put up with hatred and murder? How long will it be acceptable and even encouraged to kill each other in the name of religious differences? 

You know its bad when NBC News picks up a story about Christians being murdered. In this case, approximately 200,000 at risk in Nigeria. And still we in the States tend to ignore or even mock this kind of persecution- as we continue on letting the media ridicule those who follow Jesus.  Should we be surprised? Jesus himself said his followers must endure to the end. 


To My Only Valentine

A warm summer's day in Venice, Italy for our 25th anniversary. Just the perfect way to honor my wife (on line) for Valentine's Day. Here's to many more adventures together! With love.

February 13, 2015

Bi-Polar Disney


Disney happenings have taken an oddly confusing path this last week or so. I mean, who would have guessed that the beautiful Animal Kingdom would have gotten new Tree of Life roots when they were busy demolishing parts of the garden and making room for more guests in the central viewing area. 

If you take a look at the hub at the Magic Kingdom, the new plaza area will look nice, I'm sure- but in the meantime its a tangle of construction walls. There's some new trees being planted along with less than hidden speakers on poles. Then there's a few new fountains being placed and increased pathways while other fountains are inoperable or other water features -large and small- are dismantled. Totally a mixed bag. Much like the Sunglass Hut installation in Adventureland and the new dining location being built in the once wonderful and filled with potential Adventureland Verandah.

Further signs of Disney's bi-polar attitude are found at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Cooler, wiser heads finally prevail with the long overdue removal of the Sorcerer's Hat, while points of sanity are instantly lost by closing the Studio Tram Tour without an announcement or replacement. Are they planning to eventually shutter the park when guests realize much of it is already close and begin to stay away or plan their day at Universal instead? If I were even planning a trip to Walt Disney World now, this park would be off my list as it currently stands. 

And what about Epcot? The very fact nothing seems to be going on aside from Frozen and a new theater for Soarin' speaks volumes. 

Unfortunately, things feel just as much in disarray at Disneyland and California Adventure over on the West Coast. Disneyland's 60th is underwhelming at this point in time, and it relies on a nostalgia fueled approach. Construction scrims around the castle point that out clearly. Enhancements to dark rides in Fantasyland are nice, but certainly the suits and Imagineers could come up with something better. Perhaps an "E" Ticket in a park needing additional capacity and a large dose of something fresh.

At California Adventure, Condor Flats becomes Grizzly Peak Airfield, a nice move that neither adds nor subtracts. Luigi's removal equals a Luigi's addition. Sure, Marvel's on its way to some unused space back behind Tower of Terror, but even that move leaves me somewhat cold. Should be placed in a third park along with Star Wars Land. The incredible Cars Land is beautifully in theme (and fully friendly to men and boys. Could that be why its such a hit?), but the female focused Frozen offerings, while nice, take place in an area that's clearly ignored,  and with all the "charm" of DCA 1.0.

Not surprisingly, the only region of the world which feels singularly focused is in Asia. Shanghai Disneyland is shaping up to be quite the park, one full of unique adventures. Hong Kong Disneyland has its own new adventures planned, and the fan boy's dream of Tokyo Disney Resort certainly won't be left in the dust as those executives plan an expansion to rival anything else that's been built there since the addition of their second gate.

Are we Disney park fans a bit surprised by this manic range of action? We shouldn't be, but then we too are often victims of the same mentality, at the whim of Disney marketing, bloggers, and the like. A dig into recent history will reveal once again that Disney is first and foremost a business- one that currently fleeces its devoutly loyal guests for the benefit of the shareholders. 

Such is this "Disney life". It's time to fight for more and to focus on something different.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 12, 2015

A Tray of Gardenias

It was many years ago this happened, but I remembered it just a few days ago. 1986, in fact. Our family was young with two little ones and one on the way. We were living in Southern California, land of gorgeous weather year round.

After a quite dramatic year, (we had lost our very small but sweet home as it was time to refinance, and no lender would give us one without my wife going back to work- even though we'd paid on time for years while one one salary), we sadly moved into a small town home nearby. This allowed us to continue living with one car as it was close to my office.

We were sensing the grace of God on us in spite of the loss. Our kids were sweet, and the addition of our third child in the summer was a huge blessing. My wife had experienced two bouts of serious bleeding during her pregnancy, and we were not sure the baby would survive. She was ordered to bed rest and that and prayer seemed to do the trick. She  delivered a healthy and beautiful baby girl in July. She was born several weeks early, but she was healthy and strong.

Our neighbors across the walkway were an old minister and his wife, Walter and Nellie. They were in their 80s, and you could tell they were still very much in love. I used to see them through the front room window, holding onto each other and walking very slowly into their home. There was a gentleness to their step and a peacefulness that surprised me.

Up against their main exterior wall, years ago someone had planted a gardenia bush. It was now about 8 feet tall and seemingly full of perpetual blooms due to the warm weather. When the winds blew towards us from the hedge, I threw the windows open to let the beautiful scent into our house. 

Our sweet family - Christmas 1986. 
Things were getting harder and harder for us in the harsh financial climate of Southern California on one income. My wife could do miracles with one pound of hamburger. She never complained, never fretted. Our families were generous- and we had one set of dear friends who would always show up to take us to dinner, pay for a sitter, and gift us with boxes of diapers. (Thank you, Rob and Shari- we'll never forget that!)

It became more and more discouraging, and we wondered if it was time to send my wife back to work just to survive, but we never had peace about it.

On one of the darkest days, Nellie came over with a tray full of fresh cut gardenias from her hedge. This simple act brought us encouragement in the midst of our storm. She continued to do this for as long as we lived there. God's hand of grace and beauty and refreshment to us delivered from an old dear soul looking out for someone else. Long before random acts of kindness was a mantra.

Eventually, God responded to our cries for help in a new way. I was promoted, and we moved to Northern California. It would require leaving our families, but we knew we had to go. I'm sure that Walter and Nellie are now with the Lord, enjoying His presence for all eternity. And I hope they read this- because I want to say thank you one more time.

February 10, 2015

Tokyo Disneyland's Carpenters Connection?


From a friend: Another great and very unique Tokyo Disneyland attraction poster, this time for the Tomorrowland stage named "Showbase". Sometimes, it has been followed by a year, such as "Showbase 2000" back in the early days of the park.

The vibrant colors and movement make this attraction poster very different from those before it or those that came after. In fact, I kept looking at it, as it reminded me of something I'd seen before. And then it hit me. Even though the execution is different, there are some similarities to this album cover:


Yes, this 1977 release, Passage, from Karen and Richard Carpenter had quite the adventurous cover that perfectly reflected the spectrum of music presented inside. Knowing that the Japanese tend to be die-hard Carpenters fans, I had to wonder if the similarities were intentional. A bit of tribute as it were. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company and A&M Records.)

Design Detail: Riverboat Excursions

It's the little things that matter. Any theme park lover recognizes that fact even if the suits sometimes forget it.

At Disneyland, the granddaddy of theme parks, Frontierland is chock full of detail goodness! There's a lot of river craft on the water, and none is more elegant than the Mark Twain. This poster has old time charm and loving detail as it advertises a leisurely cruise on the Rivers of America. 

With the Sailing Ship Columbia also there, these vessels and the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes exploring the wilderness, these's no excuse for not traveling the backwoods of the park.  Tom Sawyer Island and its adventures beckon, but if you wait until sunset, there's nothing prettier than sailing the Mark Twain past a gas lit New Orleans Square on a summer night. Very rare because nowadays Fantasmic! needs to be dark- but oh what a treat it is!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

February 9, 2015

Downton Abbey: The Drama Continues

Compared to Season Four, this year's Downton Abbey has seemed to rebound- and by a large margin. Gone is the dreariness after the loss of Matthew and Sybil. It's replaced by the return of a fresh and sassy Mary, a determined Edith, and a newly feisty Cora. The men tend to fall into place as usual- especially Mary's suitors- but good old Tom appears to be on his way out. Can it really happen? Will he really leave jolly old England for the States? Stay tuned.

This Image Haunts


Haunting image indeed. The man on the left, Kenji Goto Jogo, was back in the Middle East searching for his friend, Haruna Yukawa. As you know, these men were executed at the hands of ISIS. What most of us did not know was that Kenji Goto Jogo was a Christian. The tale of his search for his friend takes on an entirely different significance after reading this fascinating article. So worth your time.

February 7, 2015

Chinese News Video of Shanghai Disneyland Construction


Gotta love this! Here's some fresh video off a Chinese news station showing construction of the Shanghai Disneyland Resort. It's right here.

What you'll see: horrible smog filled skies, and some great footage of the resort's main lake, a look at the castle under construction and more. It's worth the few minutes of your time if you're fascinated by the Company's first Mainland China park.

Come 2016 (or later), it should be a premier Disney experience. After the relative bait and switch of Hong Kong Disneyland at opening, Disney can't mess with the Chinese government and pull off that heist again. Good thing!

Now, it's time for more of that concept art.


February 6, 2015

European Adventure 2014: Part Two- Geneva Surprises


I did not want to go to Switzerland

Now that I've admitted to it- and sound like the spoiled brat I can be because of all my travel blessings- let me admit how wrong I was. Very wrong. Once again. (In fact, you Disney park lovers take note: We had more than enough miles to go to Tokyo to finally visit Tokyo Disney Sea- the Holy Grail of Disney parks- and I chose Switzerland instead. And I'm glad!)

During the planning stages in February and March, we left home and spent a leisurely and late lunch at Diego Zhang'san incredibly creative eatery locally owned and operated. It is literally across town but worth the drive. As we walked in, I greeted the owner. She took our order and saw our travel guides. When she learned of our plans, her response was that the South of France was a favorite. Having visited several times, she was excited to share her varied experiences, giving us some favorite locales and regions to explore. We were thrilled to have this insider information. France would be the center of our 12 days away.

We really wanted to spend the time in one other location and make it a "two country" trip. After exploring several possibilities, Geneva was chosen due to it being the European city that required the least amount of frequent flyer miles to reach and also had the largest number of discount airlines to fly from to other destinations.

The travel guides- even the wonderful, photograph filled DK Guides (i.e.. Eyewitness Guides") seemed to present Geneva as mainly a business center situated on a lake. Really nothing more. However, we decided that since we were beginning and ending our trip in Geneva, it made sense to at least see the city before we flew to Nice, France. Our desire was to go to Provence and the Cote d'Azure, the French Rivera

I was not happy with the prices. Every room seemed expensive, even for Europe. We found this to be true all through Switzerland. However, we bit the proverbial bullet, deciding to spend our first night at one of the few available rooms. At least it was just blocks from the lake. Then, an amazing thing happened. We started to really research the surrounding countryside and its attractions, finding there were many places we wanted to see. Excluding our travel days, the split was 4 days in Switzerland and 6 days in France.  

Finally, the departure day came and off we went. I have already told you about Air Canada losing for luggage for 5 days and my wife's for two. It was not a good beginning, but we arrived safely.

Normally, we wouldn't pick a place that seemed like a cliche.
But rooms were not plentiful - or cheap.

Surprisingly, public transportation from the airport to our hotel was complementary. Cheap ("Free is Good" says one of my friends) and efficient, we only had to walk a few blocks to our hotel. As we'd flown all night and then had to spend time reporting lost luggage, we were exhausted when we arrived. Upon check in, the desk attendant graciously upgraded us without being asked. It was a pleasant surprise and a taste of things to come.

After a quick shower to refresh, off we went exploring. It's one of our favorite things to do, discovering a new city and not knowing what we'll find at every turn. 

Geneva's lovely waterfront.

We began at the lake, finding it windy and slightly cloudy but very temperate overall. There was a narrow strip of manmade beach on each side of the boardwalk leading to a lighthouse and the city landmark, Jet d'Eau. Folks were sunbathing, families playing in a special area where the water wasn't as deep due to a created barrier. The Jet d'Eau became the infamous 450' fountain we never saw. The entire trip, it was turned off due to wind.  

Once we had seen enough of the lakefront, and about the time the sun came out, we went into the city, starting with the business district across the street.  Geneva is an  incredibly clean city, reminding me in many ways of Victoria, Canada. Even the business center had it charms. The photo at the beginning of this post is right in the heart of the district. 

That very efficient, clean, and cheap light rail carried riders almost silently throughout the town. The business area slowly transformed into a tourist hub with shops and restaurants all around. It was a Saturday afternoon, and many people made it a lively place. 

The city's beloved clock. Right off the shoreline.

The first order of the day was to buy me a clean shirt. H&M fit the bill for only a little cash. After our Starbucks stop, sitting in the sunny square, and visiting a local toy store (we are grandparents after all!), we bypassed the light rail in favor of traveling on foot. 

Shades of the back streets of France.

As we turned the corner off the main tourist area, we saw a hilly slope with a pedestrian path. Off we went.Without knowing it, we stumbled into the Old Town. These are always the areas of a city that we love. Getting lost for the day is our favorite way to spend it. Even though we had read it was mainly a business town, we found the city of Geneva very tourist friendly with much to see and do.



Wandering the streets, we found beautiful fountains, "secret" courtyards, and various little shops which held treasures for those seeking a special souvenir of their journey. It was truly a photographer's paradise, even for an amateur like myself.


The rush of discovery began to fade as the day lingered on as we were very tired from our flight. Yet, each new turn brought about something new to see, and that bit of coffee seemed to do the trick in keeping us alert. 

It was sunny but cool. Easy to forget that it was colder than it looked. We came upon this charming corner (below), and we were both temped to stop in for a bite. It was still a bit early for dinner, and of course, with so many options, we just had to look around a bit more!

I've always loved photographing signs.

There were two must stops for us: One, the Cathedrale St. Pierre, and two, the Reformation Wall. Both are famous landmarks in the Christian community of Geneva and place an important role in the spread of Protestantism in Europe. 



The cathedral was built in the 12th century and in the early 1500s was the church home of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. One of the aims of the movement was in effect to move Christianity back to its roots and away from the Roman Catholic Church. The plus side was a renewal of interest worldwide in believers reading and studying the Bible for themselves (without the priests) and the renewed emphasis on the saving faith in Jesus Christ being the only way to an eternity in heaven versus the doctrine of works and indulgences. As a Protestant, I certainly appreciate what was accomplished. As a many with Catholic family, I appreciate the humility and simplicity I see practiced by them. And as a traveler, I appreciate the structures built!

Calvin's chair. Surprisingly small!

Honestly, the inside of the cathedral was very pretty, and in some ways, very common to others I'd seen in Europe. Climbing to the top from one of the stairwells, it was another story altogether!

Stunning view!

From the top of the cathedral, the view was something so different than what we has seen in cities such as Paris, Venice, or even Florence. The lake sparkled, the sky almost seemed as a painting. The quaint buildings below were studded with more modern ones, making the grand vista something worth lingering over.

The park next to the Reformation Wall, 
on the grounds of the University of Geneva, founded by Calvin.

It was getting later in the day, so it was time to move on. We wandered through the city on our way to the Reformation Wall. In doing so, we stumbled on a beautiful park. It was filled with people playing chess and checkers on large playing boards using giant pieces. This leafy park was also the home to a wedding reception in the lovely pavilion found there. We sat on a bench and people watched, enjoying the afternoon and all the activities around us.

Heroes of the faith.

Fourteen figures are depicted on the wall, men clustered in three different locations. Included are Calvin, John Knox, and Oliver Cromwell. It's an impressive piece of art, a nice place to sit and reflect not only on their work but on the life changing message of Jesus Christ. As sometimes happens in modern European cities, graffiti mars even the most choice of monuments. In this case, some "artist" decided to paint a giant penis on the nearby electrical box with provides power to the lights. Talk about disrespect.

Not quite dinnertime yet.

We were becoming very tired by this point in time.  We took the light rail busses around the city for a couple of more hours until 6pm or so. Finding an indoor eating court of sorts, (to call it that is a travesty), we finally settled on a  restaurant that served dinner omelets. Accustomed to American food courts, we were pleased by receiving real flatware, ceramic plates and being seated at beautiful wooden tables with all the condiments placed in  real glassware. The meal was reasonably priced and very tasty. As we gathered around the open seating, we struck up conversations with a couple of locals (always the sign in finding a good place) and an American woman who used to live in Denver. 

Walking back to the busses, we happily settled into our room for the night. We were fully tired and completely happy with our choice. Geneva was beautiful! Tomorrow we would leave the city and explore the region. We couldn't wait.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)