September 21, 2018

Voici ton message de Dieu

"Car Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu'il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne périsse point, mais qu'il ait la vie éternelle. Dieu, en effet, n'a pas envoyé son Fils dans le monde pour qu'il juge le monde, mais pour que le monde soit sauvé par lui."

          Jean 3:16-17

September 20, 2018

Karen Carpenter at the World's Fair

Fans of Richard and Karen Carpenter should not have been too surprised to find them playing at the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane, Washington. After all, Carpenters played so many tour dates during their all too short career together. Much more than music stars of today would have done. 

During this time, they were the number one duo in the entire world, playing to sold out venues in Japan, the United Kingdom, all through Europe and the United States. Their first greatest hits disc, The Singles 1969-1973 was a top of the charts smash, as were the previous four albums. Later in the year, their cover of Please Mr. Postman would hit the top of the U.S. charts and become yet another worldwide smash.

In an odd bit of personal information, I had the opportunity to see the duo but instead went to Walt Disney World for one week. Had I known Karen would be gone less than a decade later, I would have changed my decision. (Thanks to my friends at A&M Corner for discovering this image!)

September 19, 2018

Disney, India, and Epcot

Bid rumor going around today about Disney Imagineers placing an India pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot. Of course, it's been a consideration! Not only does it have one of the world's oldest civilizations, it would bring in some new perspective on the largely Eurocentric park.

Those beloved insiders at the WDWMagic boards have been talking about it for sometime as an expansion in addition to what's coming next (Brazil). As usual, they are first to break the news. 

Who wouldn't want to see a smaller version of this
grace the World Showcase lagoon?

Alain Littaye at Disney and More had this story to share way back in 2014 about Disney's attempts to break in to television and film there (as well as Consumer Products) and the hope of a new Magic Kingdom. You can read his detailed article here.

To stay updated, watch those Magic boards. It's a great inside source from folks with an al out perfect track record. Can't ask for much more than that!

(Top photo copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 18, 2018

Eaten Alive

Its' a dog eat dog kind of world, isn't it? 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

These couple of sentences from Paul's letter to the Philippians cuts me to the very core some days... 

September 17, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns- in Time for an Epcot Attraction

Just this morning, Walt Disney Pictures released the full official trailer for their much anticipated film, Mary Poppins Returns. While no one will ever fill the shoes of Julie Andrews, I must say that the performance of Emily Blunt looks to be quite faithful to the original tone, and therefore quite charming. 

Seeing Mr. Dick Van Dyke dance is an emotional thrill, sure to be one of the highlights of the film! Can't wait to see it!

Could it be that the trailer gives some insight to a potential dark ride at the Epcot's U.K. pavilion? I'd like to think so, but it seems the suits may have decided on a simple flat ride, a carousel, to represent one of their best loved movies. 

Check out the above video! Should they change their minds and let the Imagineers run free with an attraction version that would look somewhat like that of Tony Baxter's, I'd be the first to say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"
(Look here for an article.)

September 15, 2018

Tiki Saturday

Certainly, it's a Tiki kind of Saturday! As I finish up my last day's trip report for Walt Disney World, I thought I'd share an image not shown from my One Day, Two Park, 26 Attractions time at Disneyland on July 5.

The Enchanted Tiki Room has endured as one of my favorite attractions. Imagineering was just hitting its peak in those early years, but no one had an idea where it would truly go when the park debuted this show in 1963. 

On a hot day, I entered the garden waiting to hear the sounds of the tropics and watch the charming show. It was a fun house and still quite fun! I took many more photos than this, but especially once you enlarge it, it's still beautiful in there. If you want to read about my Commando day at the Disneyland Resort and pick up a few tips, go here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 13, 2018

California Adventure's Spooky Transformation

Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort keeps getting more and more interesting. Used to be the Haunted Mansion's Nightmare Before Christmas and Space Mountain's Ghost Galaxy were the only real holiday focused attractions to be found. Not any more!

In an smartly designed effort to disperse the crowds- all the more important next year when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has opened- the suits and Imagineers have cooked up fresh ways to get guests to go to California Adventure instead of Disneyland

Granted, the original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would have been a (super)natural one for a makeover, but Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! now get transformed into something called Monsters After Dark. From what I can see from on line videos, guests only get to see Rocket and Baby Groot in this version- a definite step down from seeing all the Guardians. That said, it still looks like a fun diversion for the locals. 

Not to be left out in the sun, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are transformed into spooking looking locations as well. If you can't make it to California to see it all, take a great photographic tour from the folks at the terrific Westcoaster site. The pics are just terrific! Take a look at their update. Be forewarned, though. You'll want to read every update afterwards!

(Photographs copyright Westcoaster.)

September 12, 2018

Indiana Jones Still Rocks the Parks

Disney Imagineer Chuck Ballew created this thrilling piece of concept art for the Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995. Looking at this, you can easily envision what its like to ride this attraction and the sense of suspense and unexpected surprise all around you. 

Indiana Jones remains an iconic hero, and fans of the films and theme parks still go wild for this rough and tumble jeep journey deep in California's Disneyland. It's hard to imagine Adventureland without it being there, isn't it? Thankfully, West Coast fans don't have to worry. 

East Coast fans are still asking when Indy will make his Florida debut- and so are fans of Disneyland Paris. They should have received this epic ride and instead got a quick off the shelf roller coaster. Perhaps now that Disney owns the Parc outright, they'll invest the cash to bring the classic to life.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 11, 2018

Remembering Our Heroes

God bless the heroes that gave their lives on this day many years ago. Misguided cowards of Radical Islam tried to destroy the things that have always made America great: valor, honor, love of God and country, sacrifice and valuing others above ourselves. We will never forgot!

September 10, 2018

Olivia Newton-John: Top Ten and Beyond

What hasn't been said about Olivia Newton-John? Not only does she seem to be one of the nicest musical artists of the last several decades, her artistry goes far beyond what meets the eye. Here's a look at some of my favorites, Top Ten and More:

"Deeper Than A River" (1992): Though long past her hit making days, this country tinged ballad had all the right elements- and it had me looking once again at a vocalist I'd mostly forgotten at that point in time. Sometimes an artist's most interesting work is when they've moved on from Pop Radio hits.

"Suddenly" (1980): Yes, Cliff Richard and Olivia together. Always a winning combination.

"I Can't Help It" (1980): This duet with the Bee Gees younger brother, the late Andy Gibb. It unexpectedly draws you in.  It's the perfect match of breathy vocals from both and a very delicate but simply effective arrangement. A piece of perfect late night ear candy I still listen to on my I pod. Made my very long and lonely evening drives on a delivery route all the more enjoyable.

"Hopelessly Devoted to You" (1978): Did you expect I'd leave this out? No way! The Grease solo smash- still love it to this day. You just have to not like music to not appreciate the retro coolness of this record.

"Dancin'" (1980): This 40's meets 80's blend with punk rockers The Tubes shocked me upon first watch at the movies (Xanadu). But I just loved it immediately. Layer upon layer of Olivia vocals with a swinging beat and big band style. Guilty perfection. Who could ask for more! (Well, maybe a full version of the song with The Tubes edited out?!?)

Friends Olivia and Karen. 
Just imagine their once talked about duet!

"Summertime" (2004): From the Indigo-Women of Song project, an album often overlooked in her lengthy collection. I had wrongly thought we needed to leave the basement register vocals to Olivia's friend Karen Carpenter. I was wrong. Olivia hits bottom in a good way, and the end result is a perfectly respectable take on an American classic. A very nice listen than holds its own with all the other versions. 

"Make A Move On Me" (1981): From the Physical album. The keyboard works hard against a spunky and convincing Olivia begging for something better to do- "Won't you spare me all the charms, and take me in your arms." This song had men everywhere getting in line to take her up on the offer.

"Dancin' Round and Round" (1978): From the first album post-Grease, Olivia threw in this gentle country cut. She didn't leave old fans behind, she just brought new ones along with this newest release. All around a Totally Hot album.

"Lovers" (1975): To some, this was a toss away song and album. Yet this quiet tale of the effects of love lost was quite mature in the midst of songs about puppies, brotherly devotion, and summer love. It still holds up to this day.

"The Way You Look Tonight" (1989): After the failed attempt at cashing in once too many times on the nice-girl-gone-bad image (Soul Kiss), Olivia returned to a nice girl as a new mommy. The home project brought her one of her most beautiful albums, Warm and Tender. Nice, very nice.

"I Honestly Love You" (1974 and 1998) Both versions are classic. We all know the original, but with Babyface playing and singing in the background, their remake is just as great. Dare I say that the 1998 video is even better than the original?  

"You're the One That I Want" (1978): I couldn't help it. It's pure fun, pure magic- and who can resist singing along with the chorus?  C'mon. You know you want to.

Tapestry of Nations at Epcot

Epcot's Tapestry of Nations Parade- what a winner! Our family could not imagine a better way in order to celebrate the new millennium than taking a visit to Walt Disney World and its most futurist theme park. 

As you can tell from the video above by super fan Martin Smith, Tapestry of Nations had it all: a compelling score, creatively designed aesthetics and an enthusiastic crowd making it all a very lively event. Our family particularly loved the "clock drums". 

Traveling through World Showcase each evening, the parade made its way down the promenade. It was the perfect beginning of a perfect end to the day, a nighttime showing of the classic Illuminations show. 

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company; Video copyright Martin Smith.)

September 4, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Six- Animal Kingdom

Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Festival of the Lion King. These were the top items on our list for our second and final day at Animal Kingdom

In many ways, this was the day I was looking forward to the most. We were nearing the end of our trip as the following and last day we would visit the sorely truncated, currently under reconstruction, Disney's Hollywood Studios and its less than sufficient number of attractions. Then, sadly, it was off to the Orlando Airport. 

The size of the floating mountains 
match the size of the crowds.

We had a leisurely morning, letting everyone sleep in after a very long and wonderful day at the Magic Kingdom. Apparently, it just wasn't enough sleep for me.

As we strolled into Pandora to redeem our Fast Passes for Flight of Passage, the crowds were so thick it was almost unsafe. Wasn't too long until we got separated, and trying to find each other was very difficult- and worrisome when you have two little kids with you. 

Most of our crew finally made it to the station at the beginning of the queue, and we expected to do the child swap option as we already knew my granddaughter was about two inches too short to ride. But we couldn't find half of them. And I was just told they could not walk the Fast Pass line with us, instead we would have to split up and take two separate times through to get the five of us all to ride. I was not happy at all, and I made it known. Surveying the swelling crowd to find our other half, I blurted out "This is ridiculous!" It was not my finest moment and a not too subtle reminder that God still has a lot of work left to do in me.

Now for the real rant. Think about this: Disney suits know they are going to have massive crowds for their top drawer stellar projects. Especially when they go into sorely under built parks such as Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Why, oh why, then do they stop short and design the area by throwing in one mega "F Ticket" attraction, one with much less in desirability and call it good? Listen- if you think Pandora is a mess to navigate, just wait until Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens in one park with so few attractions and in another park with narrow pathways and much smaller acreage. Rant - and warning -over.

Incredible detail wherever you look.

Sharing the bad news with the other half of our group, we split up and entered into the queue. Even with our Fast Passes, it took about 20 minutes to get on the attraction. Compared to the three hour plus wait for those in the Standby line, it was a breeze. 

As we got closer to beginning the ride, my wife was apprehensive, my grandson excited, and I was skeptical. Would the actual ride live up to all the hype about it? Let's be honest, nobody does hype like the Disney publicity machine. 

Surprisingly, the answer is "Yes"!

Pandora's centerpiece Flight of Passage is at once a beautiful, thrilling, and atmospheric attraction. Is it worth the sometimes posted four hour wait? No. Actually, in my mind nothing on the property is- or at any other theme park for that matter. But it is stunning in its scope and scale. There's not a single piece of it I would dissect and redo another way. The Imagineers outdid themselves with this new attraction. Was it due to the demands of James Cameron, the film's creative source? Perhaps. Regardless, Flight of Passage is the new must see on the Disney property for good reason. 

We all loved our flight.  My grandson and I were able to ride twice, and the second flight was just as thrilling and repeatable as the first. Now only if Na'vi River Journey had that same repeatability!

It's new home- where it always belonged.

Escaping the crowds of Pandora, it was time for the Festival of the Lion King, a favorite of my grandkids for two reasons: First, they loved it last visit, and second, they love the animated series based on those characters. I found I preferred Nemo, but there's no denying the performers put their heart and soul into the production.

Still a crowd pleaser!

Our first day at Animal Kingdom had a big disappointment: my favorite Walt Disney World attraction was down for a good portion of the day. Thankfully, today, Expedition: Everest was up and running! 

Even the approach to the attraction is compelling!

My wife and I were the only two in our group that had ridden it. Our granddaughter was too short this trip, so my wife took her for a treat and a bit of shopping while the rest of us rode. (She's a trouper! Not once did she complain about waiting or about being too small to ride.) Our Fast Pass wasn't for about a half an hour, but the line was pretty short, so we decided to go for it and hopefully ride twice.

One of this daughter's all time favorite attractions is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (In fact, it's become a family joke to take a picture of it and send it to her when one of us visits the parks and she's not with us. Even family friends have gotten in on the act. Of course, nothing beat the time we sent her one from Disneyland Paris... while she was battling a blizzard back home!) 

Anyway, I've long described Everest to her as "Big Thunder on Steroids". So, she was thrilled to finally ride it for herself, having passed it up last trip to focus on the rides all four of them could do together. 

So, off we went, the two younger men rode together and my daughter and I took the row behind them. I couldn't really see my brave grandsons's face to read how he was doing. I mean, the climb up this mountain is high- and the exposure to the open air makes it seem even higher than it is. And what about that backwards segment? It's very different than watching a video of the ride, something we'd done many, many times prior to the trip, just to see if he was ready. 

A T-shirt from Grandpa commemorating his first ride!
(Her's too- but no T-shirt.)

Needless to say, everyone thought it was a winner! My daughter declared it to be a "serious roller coaster", and she loved the drop down the mountain into the major winding turns around it. As for my grandson, he wanted to ride it again- this time with me. I was very happy to oblige. 

The Maharaja Jungle Trek. A beautiful hidden gem.

We had time for one more attraction before it was necessary to leave the park and make our late afternoon lunch appointment at Disney Springs. We opted for the trail through India to see some bats, tigers, and actually, one of the most beautiful remote spots in all of Animal Kingdom. 

It truly is a shame when I hear folks go to Disney's Animal Kingdom without taking a small segment of time to experience the Jungle Trek or Gorilla Falls nature trail in Africa. These are some of the smaller attractions that take you away from a theme park and out into areas that feel remote. They certainly don't replace the need for larger show stoppers, but they are ones that are so worth the effort to experience. Think of them as the smaller walk through exhibits at Disneyland, adding atmosphere, value, and variety to an already solid line up. If you're an animal lover, these are something worth your time. If you're not but love Disney theme parks for their immersion, then you truly have to experience them to understand what love and care Imagineer Joe Rohde and his team did in bringing the animal world to life. (Want to know more about the amazing story behind Animal Kingdom? Read my seven part - to date- in depth series on the creation and evolution of the place. It's part trip report, photo journey, historical perspective and art gallery just filled with concept art. Part One begins here.)

We ended our time at Animal Kingdom by slowly walking through the lands as we journeyed back to the exit. Our destination: the highly rated Morimotos at Disney Springs, my daughter's pick for a sit down restaurant. As we stayed at the park longer than we intended, a ride in a Minnie Van was well worth the expense. 

Beautifully designed and executed environment!

What can I say about Morimoto's that you haven't already read? The Iron Chef's Disney World location serves up expensive and sumptuous food in an elegant and modern environment with touches of the old world hidden in places you'd least expect. From appetizers to entrees, the place and the plates were a treat for all your senses. Would I dine there again? Absolutely. If I had rated our restaurant choices on food alone, this would be the winner.

I think her name is Bunga.
Her beloved possession- her only souvenir- 
and only available at Animal Kingdom.

The rest of our evening was spent at Disney Springs, walking around and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere. Having taken the water taxis to Old Key West and elsewhere, it dawned on me that part of what makes Disney World so special is the abundance of travel options and resort hotels to visit as well as four very different parks. Cruising along the waterways day or night is just so special! Something you cannot find in California. 

Well, one more day to cover, and that would be our half day at Disney's Half Day park, yes, Hollywood Studios. We'd just miss the opening of Toy Story Land, but I still have an abundance of stories to tell. See you then!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

September 3, 2018

Goodbye Bugs and Hello Marvel!

Today concludes the last day of operations for A Bugs Land at California Adventure. Making way for a Marvel themed area, the charming mini land unfortunately also had a very temporary looking set of carnival attractions that appealed to the preschool guest and their parents. Not compelling, but it was a quick answer to those who complained California Adventure 1.0 had little to offer the youngest guests. And they were right! It also had very little to offer everyone else...

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)  

September 2, 2018

Paradise Found

Live and unretouched, a photograph from my sister and brother-in-law's time in the beautiful state of Hawaii. God has blessed those islands! May I be found worthy at the end of my life because of my faith in Jesus to enter paradise- but also let me match His words, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4) - and please God, let heaven look like Hawaii, too!

September 1, 2018

Tokyo Disney Sea Placeholder

Even the quickest off the shelf additions end up looking pretty terrific if they are planned for the Tokyo Disney Resort. Case in point, Raging Spirits a quick and dirty clone of the Indy coaster over at Disneyland Paris. Looks spectacular, but there's nothing unique about the coaster track at all. Just better set dressing...until something better comes along to take that space.

(Photographer unknown.)

August 29, 2018

Expedition Everest Fan

Recognize the shirt? Not one week after our return home from our incredible Walt Disney World vacation, my daughter sends me this photo of my grandson wearing the Expedition Everest T-shirt I bought him as a gift for conquering the mountain with me! He loved it, rode it twice and became of fan of my favorite Florida attraction. (I know, I'm working on Day Six of my trip report. It's getting closer.) 

There's something about this photograph that touches me deeply. Maybe it is just the sweet guy he is and the fine young man he is becoming.