December 6, 2019

Beginning of a Disney Love Affair

Here's where it all began, that love affair between my youngest daughter and the Disney Parks. Back in about 1988, those Mickey Mouse ears almost overtook that tiny little head! But this would be the beginning of many park visits to Disneyland, several to Walt Disney World, and by an unexpected gift from God, a once in a lifetime trip to Disneyland Paris! Now, she has a family of her own, and those adorable little ones already can't wait for their next trip.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 4, 2019

"Rise" Rises to the Challenge

Can't take your eyes off all the wonderful video coverage of Disney's all new- and quite incredible- Rise of the Resistance attraction? It's one major indicator that the Disney Imagineers hit a home run with the new Galaxy's Edge attraction. The other will be the long, long, lines that will be seen starting tomorrow at the Studios. THIS is the attraction that will have Batuu buzzing with people for years. Imagineer Scott Trowbridge and team should be very proud. 

The reports coming in confirm what fans thought: The new land at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios needed their main attraction to pull it all together. Park guests will be more likely to spend time in Batuu and explore than ever before. The new masterpiece "F Ticket" should make fans rethink their view of Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run or at least mentally place it in a supporting role instead of the headliner! 

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World won't be the same for years to come... 

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 3, 2019

A Fresh Look at Port Disney

In an attempt to get the City of Anaheim to make concessions for their desired expansion of the Disneyland Resort, the suits at The Walt Disney Company pitted the city in direct competition to neighboring Long Beach. 

An ambitious plan.

A lively waterfront.

The proposed project, Port Disney, would include the Queen Mary, new resort hotelsa series of waterside shops and dining, and the centerpiece crowd drawing Disney Sea theme park. 

The elegance of California Disney style.

The Grand Entry would form the gateway to all of the attractions set along that beautiful Southern California marina. Having seen the site several times over the decades, I can tell you that Anaheim had quite a competitor on its hands!

Tokyo here we come!

If you've been watching Disney+ and you're a fan of those world famous theme parks, you've no doubt been following their wonderful The Imagineering Story. In the most recent episode, Hits and Misses, folks in the know are pretty candid about the divisions within Imagineering and how some were working on the clumsy and inexpensive California Adventure 1.0 - a replacement for the much more expensive and Disney quality WESTCOT- while others were blessed with the opportunity to design a modern masterpiece, Tokyo Disnesea

Oh what could have been!

As we know, Anaheim ponied up the cash, and Disney pulled a big time bait and switch. Giving their host city California Adventure in place of WESTCOT was a mistake of epic proportions! (Check out this mega-post with some pretty rare concept art.) The end result of it all being a theme park that was very embarrassing and the brunt of well-deserved jokes, city government than was more than angry, and most importantly to The Walt Disney Company, storehouses of lost cash and a very badly bruised reputation. And having to reinvent the second Anaheim park at an expense that could have been avoided had they done it right the first time.

The Disney Sea concept made it in revised form to all the way to Japan. With the wisdom and financial backing of the Oriental Land Company, Tokyo Disneysea became the gold standard of Disney theme parks, holding a crown that seemingly cannot be taken. Not by California, not by Florida, and not by the overseas parks.

Want to read more about what was ultimately planned for Long Beach? Thanks to my friends at WDWMagic, you can go here and read the preliminary master plan, where you'll find the images of the project. If you want an insider's view of it all, Alain Littaye from Disney and More pointed me to this incredible post from Progress City. What a find! Hadn't seen that...

(Art and images copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 2, 2019

Galactic Nights at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

It's just about time! The grand opening event for Rise of the Resistance is just days away! Look at this incredibly beautiful poster to commemorate it. But wait- This isn't really an attraction poster at all. This was a poster for a special evening event at Disney's Hollywood Studios / Disney-MGM Studios back in 2017! It is just stunning, though, and it can be yours through Van Eaton Galleries auction. 

A Lovely Merry Christmas Darling

Finally, a new century remake of the classic Merry Christmas Darling that would make Richard and Karen Carpenter proud! Nigerian singer Timi Dakolo and Emili Sande give a wonderfully restrained and therefore beautiful performance of the Carpenters Christmas standard. Listen to it here. He's been dubbed "The Voice of Africa" for good reason!

December 1, 2019

Christmas Family Devotional 2019

Are you looking for a way to share the Biblical Truth of this Christmas season with the people you love? I know I'm always looking for something.  I want to take the time to put an end to the holiday madness, slow down, and stop to ponder the real meaning of the Christmas Season. I've written an easy to read and share Family Christmas Devotional that is especially geared toward families but without talking down to the children. May you find it useful!

The key Bible verse you and your family will explore throughout the month in light of the Christmas Story is

We will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:4

Here's some hints before you begin:
1. Make this doable. Try to commit to a family devotional time, perhaps three times per ten days. Decide on a practical time. Avoid setting yourself up for failure. Adjust it as necessary so they enjoy the time, but also expect some “pushback”.  If you miss a time, just pick another! Remember, it’s about the relationship not the accomplishment.   Guard against discouragement if it doesn’t go well, and be sure to guard against pride if it does.

2. If you print this out, keep this devotional on the dinner table. Explain to your kids why it is there. Someone is bound to remember.

3. Talk about the ideas shared as your read God’s Word. Check for understanding by asking good questions and by explaining words that can sound confusing. Next, have a conversation about ways to apply what has been read. Knowledge of the Bible is empty and meaningless unless we do what it says.  (See James 1:22-25). 

4. Model praying for your kids, speaking simply and using words easy for them to understand. It will be easier for them to pray from their heart if they hear you do this.  

5. Try a family worship time. Child friendly songs don’t need to be childlike, they just need easy to understand lyrics. Train your child to express love to God and not just sing songs about Him. This is part of them growing in a real relationship with Our Creator. After your worship time, explain phrases they may not understand or interpret differently, i.e. what does “God reigns” mean?

6. If you have older children, allow them to share the responsibility of reading the verses. Leading them to Him is the goal. Check for understanding of difficult words.

7. As they grow in understanding and application of God’s Word, expect them to get excited about their relationship with our Living God.  This overflow from their heart will lead them to share Him with others. 

Ready? Here you go. One page of reading and questions to consider for each ten day period of the month.

December 1 – 10           God’s Praiseworthy Deeds

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving

Read Isaiah 9:1-7 together.  
Paraphrase or use only verses 6 and 7 if your children are very young.
Next, read Luke 1:26-38 together. Paraphrase the story or use only verses 26-33 if appropriate.

Points for consideration:
From the beginning of creation, God has wanted personal relationship with the people He made. 
God desires to look after His People, and He hears the prayers of his children. 
God always keeps His Promises- even when it looks different than what we think.
Is it not amazing that the God of all creation chooses to reveal Himself throughout history? Share other examples of God making himself known to His people. Ask your children about the names of God used here. What do they mean?

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for Who He Is. 
An example of their praise might be, “Father, I praise you for sending Jesus to us!” or  “God, thank you that you will rule forever! There is no one like you!”

Time of Prayer

Reread Luke 1:37-38.

Points for consideration:
If God tells us He will do something, nothing is impossible for Him!
Mary responded in humble obedience. God’s plan may not have been her plan, but she happily submitted to His Plan and trusted Him with her life. 
This brought God glory!

Ask your children what they are concerned about. What do they think about at night? What do they ask God? Have they chosen to give their lives to Him? If they have, are they willing to live their lives as He leads them? How are their lives bringing Him glory? Discuss what this means.

Pray together. Encourage them to pray from their hearts rather than what they think might please you.

December 11 – 20          God’s Power

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving

Read Luke 2:1-7 together.

Points for consideration:
God is powerful! He even orchestrates world events so that they are in line with His Plan.
World leaders – presidents, kings, and those in government- are placed in positions of authority by God. (See Romans 13)
God is powerful! God placed Jesus in Joseph’s human family because he was part of David’s family.

Is it not amazing that God intentionally places people in families and in jobs for His Purposes? Why has He put you in your family? How have you seen God use your family in a way that shows God to the people around you? 

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for His power. An example of their praise might be, “Father, I praise you for putting me in this family!” or  “Thank you Father for being the one who watches over every aspect of our lives!”

Time of Prayer  

Read Ephesians 3:14-21 together. 
Then read 2 Peter 1:3. Summarize or clarify these verses for understanding.

Points for consideration:
Jesus lives in our hearts through faith. It is not our work that earns us a place in God’s family and in heaven. How will live our lives is a result of His love in our hearts. 
God has placed His power in us by giving us His Holy Spirit. This power enables us to know God’s deep love for us and gives us what we need to live a life that pleases Him.

Ask your children if they belong to Him and why. Ask if they understand God’s love. Ask them how this is reflected in the way they live. Where have they seen God give them what they need to live in a manner that pleases Him? Are we being obedient to Him?

Pray together. Pray that they would rely on God to know and follow His Ways. Pray for our leaders that they would follow His ways.  

December 21 – 31          The Wonders He Has Done

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving

(A NOTE TO PARENTS: Before covering this section with your children, consider reviewing Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 as well as Romans Chapter 3:21-23 and 10:9-11.)

Read Luke 2:8-20 together.  
Points for consideration:
The event of Jesus’ birth was so important, God sent angels to announce it. This is the most wonderful event of all time! He came to pay the price for our sin!
Jesus is God made flesh. He and the Father are One. (John 8:58-9; Colossians 2:9) 
Jesus is the only way to eternal life. (John 14:6) 

Why did God send Jesus to the earth? Discuss the answer to this question.

Imagine being a shepherd in the field and seeing what they saw and hearing what the heard! What would be your reaction? What would you think? What would you say and do?

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for revealing this “Good News of Great Joy”.  
They might say, “Father, I praise you for the gift of Jesus!” 

Time of Prayer

Read John 14:6 together.  Then read John 3:16-17. Finally, read Luke 2:19.  

Points for consideration:
Because He loves us so much and wants everyone to know the truth, Jesus makes it very clear He is the only way to Heaven. 
Mary heard the words the shepherds shared about the angels and probably thought of the angel Gabriel who visited her earlier. She treasured these words and thought deeply about them.

Ask your children to define sin. Ask how they have sinned. Check for understanding of Jesus’ words in John 14:6.  What does the Way, the Truth, and the Life mean? Discuss Romans 10:9-11.

Pray together. Ask them to confess their sin and turn away from it and to Jesus for forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. Then, pray for them that they would rely on God to know and follow His Ways. Encourage them to be like Mary and treasure God’s words and think deeply about them. Conclude with another time of praise and celebrate God’s goodness!

(Devotional copyright Mark Taft.)

November 30, 2019

Walt Disney World Memory

In a year full of so much loss, I just wanted to reflect on a happy time as well: Our Walt Disney World vacation. Here in front of Expedition: Everest at Animal Kingdom, a sweet moment in time now captured- even if it was the rainiest day of the trip! Our trip report- park by park- starts here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 28, 2019

Reason to Be Thankful: God's Love Endures

Time to stop, think, and reflect. It's also time to give thanks to God from whom blessings flow in the midst of hardship. Are things really tough? I get it! Is God still good and loving even if we don't understand what's happening? Absolutely! Get a head start as you prepare yourself for the events of the day. You'll be so glad you did!

November 26, 2019


Thank you for being a great father-in-law and grandpa! We will all miss you so much! So glad you loved Jesus! Our only hope...

November 25, 2019

Trip Report September 2019: Epcot - Controversy and Turning the Park Upside Down

Here comes a controversial but very lengthy post that is part trip report and perspective on the EPCOT overhaul. Is it also how to plan to see it all or a look at the numerous dining options available to guests- especially during the tremendously popular Food and Wine Festival? Is it photos of our family enjoying this park- even if it seemed to rank close to the bottom of the list? Is this a chance to share photos of the last day of operation for Club Cool and Starbucks? How do I approach it all? How about some of all the above! Sit back and settle in for one very, very, lengthy and, like I said, controversial post.

Why controversial? The Epcot overhaul is partially happening due to the mindset of Disney fans, and it goes beyond those who visit the parks. We can't totally blame the suits or the Imagineers for this choice of direction. It's due to us, too. But more on that as we work through a visit around the park.

A good beginning to a good trip!

As with every visit to the World since it opened, EPCOT Center was the park I most wanted to see. I was blessed with wanderlust from a young age, designed with God's purposes in mind, something I would only discover years later. I also loved creativity and learning in fresh ways. This park's Future World was made for me! The inclusion of World Showcase was something I loved from the start- exploring the world in one visit- and I can easily spend days just in that international section. 

For this trip with our daughter, son-in-law, and their young family, Epcot was the first park we visited. For families with small children, it's a wise choice. Clearly the most adult focused of the parks, visiting there can be viewed as a winner or a loser day depending upon how it is presented to children and teens and then experienced. My children always seemed to get a lot out of it, never once comparing it in a negative way to the Magic Kingdom or the parks that followed. We did have four kids who very much enjoyed both the entertaining and educational aspects of the park. Why do the suits now feel it has to be one or the other?

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Great Imagineers can design attractions that educate as well we entertain. Challenge yourselves. (See Disneyland's iconic Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.)

All the Epcot attraction posters included in this article are pictures shot by Andy Castro at 2019 D23 Expo and were previously edited and posted by Disney and More in the article HERE.

Design your own car? Yes, please!

Finally, our first morning at Walt Disney World! Since we were staying at Pop Century, with our early booking, we'd snagged a Test Track Fast Pass at opening. This paid off big time! As their very first experience in the park, this high speed thrill ride colored their view very positively. The negative? For several days afterwards, all three kids began referring to this attraction as their favorite. 

Reminders of the past.

I really like this ride, but I am the first to admit that the original incarnation feels much more like classic EPCOT Center than the newer rendition. Didn't you just love the crash test dummies section before bursting through the wall to the exterior portion? So, so clever! Perhaps in the next ride update, they will go back to what it was and leave those Tron aesthetics for the Light Cycles attraction in the Magic Kingdom's growing Tomorrowland. Why repeat yourself?

World of Motion-
one of the original opening day attractions
and definitely one of the best.

A pretty nice snapshot to the ride
in a poster form.

Having seen the park evolve from the beginning, I just can't help but compare what was to what is and what will be. Just imagine if Test Track was the second major attraction here with World of Motion still telling us "It's Fun to Be Free"! What a great combination that would have been, providing something for just about everyone. Imagine a classic Disney Audio-Animatronic adventure paired next to high speed thrill ride with an exhibit area afterwards. With that infamous blessing of size, it should have happened. (I am a big fan of that Gary Owens narration as well!) After another ride on the test track though, it was off to Norway for  Frozen Ever After.

Using attractions that are both old and new
to represent the park confirms
the desire to play on the nostalgia aspect all the while
ignoring what first made this park great.
Elsa and Anna worked their charms on our granddaughter, but even the boys got a kick out of this Norwegian Maelstrom remake, due to the antics of Olaf and Sven. I'm pretty tired of "Let It Go"; I do wish they would be as well, but I really do get it. Honestly, the ride's growing on me, although it should have been so much more. Perhaps Disney's got something up their sleeves for a new version of it scheduled for both Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. Not to be left out in the cold, the original Disneyland deserves and should get a fully reimagined attraction that makes the other versions pale in comparison, a true mega "E Ticket", befitting this modern day blockbuster. 

Due to the almost walk on conditions because of the pending hurricane (which never even hit the eastern coast of Florida while we were there), we opted for a second ride before stopping for breakfast. (Our next Epcot visit, it was our Fast Pass choice.) This was a great decision as the last time we would ride it, on our very last day, the wait would be over half an hour long. It is unfortunate, however, that in such a short period of time, so few of the minimal number of special effects would already be out of working condition. Such is the modern day Disney maintenance.

How do you sneak Marvel into Florida?
Look inside the Stave church!

The Norway expansion area is really lovely, bringing a very authentic and original feeling to the country even if it holds a character meet and greet in one of its buildings. It was just fun to see something new in World Showcase after decades of there being minimal change to this portion of the park. 

Our breakfast stop did yield a taste of the pavilion's famous School bread. Yes, it lives up to the hype with the luscious filling- making it harder to share than I thought it would be! Some folks may want to drink around the world, but I'd prefer a stop at each and every bakery or gelato stand. Or both.

This trip was also our very first experience using the Disney Dining Plan. It was all so easy- and expensive! Sitting there drinking my coffee and enjoying my pastry as I looked around the pavilion and eyed the very small crowds, the thought crossed my mind, "Perhaps the character invasion of Epcot will be handled well." Then again, maybe not. Keep reading as I vacillate on that perspective.

Regardless of which version,
"Soarin'" is a winner!

Since World Showcase wasn't officially open with the rest of the park- something I hope changes over time once the reImagineering is complete- we backtracked to Soarin' as the wait time showed only twenty minutes. Yes, only twenty minutes- and it was accurate. 

A postcard of The Land from 1986.

For those of you that don't remember Future World in its early years, there's something nostalgic and majestic about heading toward the beautifully designed Land pavilion. The stylized, elegantly understated greenhouse holds it own next to its neighbors from an architectural standpoint, reflecting both its function and its storytelling aspects. 

Vintage representations of one
of my favorite Future World locations.

Although Kitchen Kabaret only exists in our memories- and in Disney merchandise when they need to make a buck- the rest of the theme is mostly in place and the layout mostly original. The magnificent ceiling mural, unfortunately, has been painted over, but the beautiful hot air balloons remain. Still a favorite piece of the park's golden years! The Good Turn ie. Land Grill Room barely rotates anymore, moving it from a top pick meal location to one of lower status on the list. 

Until the Spring of 2020, there's no film to watch, but the whole area shines heavy with retro goodness. Living with the Land completes it all and ties it together, still a must-do, showing Disney "edutainment" can be worthwhile when done well. There's an energy in this pavilion that is missing in the neighboring Imagination and Seas. You can bet this will be addressed one way or the other in the remodel.

Will classic Epcot mix with Marvel that's yet to come? That is to be seen. 

The Living Seas sans Nemo. Photo by Martin Smith.

Time for a detour. After Soarin' Around the World, we decided to go to The Seas with Nemo & Friends to have some Turtle Talk with Crush. Since the clownfish and company have taken over the pavilion, it's pretty clear this was the direction the company was headed with this once magnificent park. Much to my dismay.

The elegantly executed "hydrolators" designed by the Imagineers used to take guests deep below the surface to an undersea laboratory, making exploration of the various levels and the tanks compelling and believable. The lighting was less bright, the exhibits more focused on the science of the sea, and the end result, I believe, made kids of all ages consider studying Marine Biology. Now, its seems to be a slightly presented prelude to interacting with animated characters or retelling the famous movie. Such a shame.

What the pavilion was planned to look like
circa 1978.

What it might have been.

This transition was the first of many times Disney's film characters were brought in for big changes to the park. It's not an unsuccessful choice, but it's not exactly awe inspiring either. That's the biggest  problem with the direction the park is taking. Ambition and having a future forward focus is gone. As the suits follow this course of action, its pretty clear that each Walt Disney World park will be just another version of the Magic Kingdom but with very different architecture and place settings. It's really unfortunate. But back to our trip report.

Lots of love for this original concept art!

Of course, Nemo is full of winning characters, and the ability to talk with a live cartoon is too hard to resist! In all honesty, Turtle Talk is wonderfully executed and one of my favorites! Our family wasn't sure what to expect and had to be convinced to go to a theater presentation. Once it began, they were hooked! Being they are so cute, two of our three kids were among the group chosen to have their questions asked and answered by the star of the show. From there, things went badly. Very, very badly.

A gem of an experience!

Our darling little girl decided she was not going to wait for Mom and Dad to pick her up and instead followed the rest of the crowd out of the theater. She's a petite little 5 year old, and when none of us could find her, we panicked. I had visions of someone grabbing her, abusing her, or even and placing her under their coat as they exited the park. 

Almost a gonner.

We began to look everywhere we could. Lower levels, upper levels, restrooms, just everywhere. No luck. As much as the Seas employees tried to help, it was clear when asked that Disney security had no plan in place for such an emergency. 

Disney's official promotional
photo for The Seas with Nemo & Friends.

As I should have done at the start of this, I started praying as I  frantically continued my search. Eventually, my son-in-law found her lost among the crowds almost out to Innoventions / Communicore! We were at once relieved, frustrated, and joyful. So many tears, and not just the kids! Her parents pondered leaving the park and calling it a day, but cooler heads prevailed, and we continued on our day, stopping at Electric Umbrella for a burger, a chance to regroup, and an opportunity to come up with an emergency plan should this happen again. I can't tell you if the food was any good, but I surely do remember thinking the place needed a top to bottom overhaul. It just seemed that dated.

I'm still undecided about this choice. 

Back to the Seas. This location will be one of the first pavilions to be touched by the Imagineers new plan and direction for the park. The very popular Moana will be the character used to tell the Journey of Water- and the interactive trail will lead to the Seas. A bit contrived perhaps, but it could work. It might even be beautiful, although the poster makes me wonder if Imagination's beloved jumping fountains are being replaced. The Disneyland Hotel in California once had a walking path that meandered through grottoes and behind waterfalls, making for a nice change of pace in the middle of lots of concrete. Why does the concept art make me think of the lobby of the Polynesian Village Resort in its younger days? Sometimes I think the suits and Imagineers are just playing with us old school fans.

The original artwork.

Very clever poster!

Just in case this mural also disappears...

Change must come, but here's where I begin to get nervous: Spaceship Earth. Can there be a more iconic attraction inside an ultimate park symbol? No. What will the Imagineers do with this when they retool it into a story about telling stories? At least they plan to let it remain as an Audio-Animatronic attraction. Those are disappearing at this park, and even in all the secondary parks. At first glance I thought it was more in vogue to use one main robotic character and let the rest of the attraction be set pieces and filmed backgrounds. (Flight of Passage, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run, Na'vi River Journey, Toy Story Mania, Guardians of the Galaxy coaster), then I realized there might even be a slow return to the old school Imagineering ways and an increase in attractions using robotics on a wider scale. (The Rise of the Resistance, Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and  ummm... OK, maybe not.)

Remember, sparkling, colorful Imagineering art is nothing new.

Just a great family photo, wouldn't you say?

Putting the future in Future World!

All said, they'd better not screw up this epic, beloved attraction! It's one thing to lose Horizons, World of Motion, and even the classic Journey into Imagination, but to ruin the park's centerpiece attraction would be a grave, unforgivable, error on so many levels! They wouldn't do that, would they? Now that The Great Movie Ride has been destroyed, all bets are off as to what is now considered untouchable. For folks like you and me, that attraction was the defining focus of the Studios park, and just look what the suits did there. I guess, anything is now possible.

Perhaps my favorite original EPCOT Center attraction!

I spy a Dreamfinder, too!
Figment still wins fans.

Speaking of Imagination, the little kids loved the ride- even the bastardized 3.0 version! Long after the trip, one kid decided that it was his favorite. Why? He loved Figment! Can you imagine what he would have thought of the original and best version? Imagineer Tony Baxter and team knew that what they had created could have stood the test of time. If only Kodak's business decisions and Disney's internal politics hadn't ruined the ride's chances of  being enhanced over the years. 

He sells so much merchandise,
doesn't he deserve a much better attraction?

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Great Imagineers create masterpieces, using the gift of imagination. Just about anyone can build on what's already excellent and just tweak it with new enhancements. (See Disneyland Paris' Phantom Manor.)

Always an unexpected hit for first time visiting kids.

Dining that could be great fun for a few years.

From concept...

... to reality.

Don't even get me started on the demolition of Horizons!

Since this was the little guys' first trip to a Disney theme park or any theme park actually, simulators were a new experience for them. The thrilling of blast off into space complete with all the in cabin effects worked the magic the Imagineers intended. Mission: Space was an attraction they asked to repeat- even after riding Smugglers Run: Millennium Falcon later in the trip. Go figure. Or if you're the Disney suits, I'd ask, "What can you learn from this?"

Peter Quill and company to the rescue.

Can Marvel save Future World from itself? This decision is one I understand and detest at the same time. Certainly, a new and needed roller coaster will draw in the crowds, bringing in thrill seekers to this section of the park. Fun, yes. But it smells like Space Mountain 2.0 to me. 

Dinos continue to eat crowds. 

Walking by the construction zone, I was saddened by the changes and fascinated by what was happening. Aren't dinosaurs still a draw? Don't these prehistoric creatures remain a crowd pleaser? Absolutely! Just ask Imagineer Joe Rohde and the designers of Animal Kingdom- or ask Universal Creative and those who built Jurassic Park. You know the answer, and so do I.  Money and synergy. 

Are these posters honoring the past
 or reminding us of what we've lost?
Plainly, this is a marketing move designed to bring Marvel into the parks and increase attendance numbers, merchandise sales, and for Disney executives mark their territory making EPCOT as the place to go for all things Marvel. It won't stop visitors going to Universal parks in Florida, but its may help make the choice more difficult. 

The noisy construction zone felt like an orchestrated mess, and the big blue box sure stands out from different areas in the park. In a design win, I like the transition to elegant, darker, earth colored ribs on the main building. The earlier rainbow felt a bit forced, even if it reminds me that it is a symbol of God's promise to Noah (and to us) to never again destroy the world via flooding. The color filled arch may have been appropriated by the gay community, but its original meaning never escapes my mind. (Same with sports figures taking to kneeling.)

A more creative approach to a new attraction should have included some of these giant creatures in robotic form. In nothing else as a tribute to the Imagineering geniuses that brought us Universe of Energy. No one can deny it was an engineering marvel (pun intended) with its astonishing roaming theater cars. Do you remember riding it the first time they moved into the next theater? That kind of effect and impact was something EPCOT Center's attractions had in spades. 

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Remember that Disney's own history in theme park development and what made for great results. Don't do what anyone else is doing. Lead the pack with innovation. (See Epcot's Universe of Energy.)

Cranium Command was certainly
 the standout attraction
in all of Wonders of Life.

Neighborhoods? Meh.

Another closed pavilion but one with a future. I'm not sure I'm fully on board with it becoming the place to Play, but certainly kids who don't meet the height restrictions on the other three rides nearby need something to do while older siblings get their adrenaline rush. The parents also left behind will appreciate the options. After a visit or two, Disney fans without children will mostly likely pass the place by. That's a loss in the long term. And to quote Robert Iger, it's a "Brand Withdrawal." 

Morocco and Tower of Terror
from the Odyssey.

Now it's time to move on to World Showcase. How would this young family respond?

A tale of two Mexicos.

Going from Test Track to Frozen first thing in the morning, we had to walk by a mostly closed World Showcase. But as you can see in the difference between these two photos above, taken on our first day and then on our last, it is a mixed blessing. You can take some very nice and mostly empty park photos. The downside is you are getting a less than full experience. Some of us would like to quietly explore World Showcase before all the crowds arrive and leave the exploration of Future World to later in the day.

Imagineering's wonderful
and extinct El Rio del Tiempo.

If yours truly is concerned about what they'll do to the park's iconic  Spaceship Earth, in some aspects I'm even more worried about what will happen to World Showcase. They've already shown us what's to come. Just compare Mexico's opening day attraction, El Rio del Tiempo, to the current animation infused Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros. Of course, the kids loved following the search for Donald Duck, but my wife and I remember the beautiful cultural aspects to the initial water journey. One was elegant, mysterious, respectful, and enchanting. The other is in your face Disney character fun. Where is the park headed? Well, which incarnation of the boat ride is newer? There's our answer I suspect.

Three characters-
in more ways than one!

El Rio once set the stage for eating and shopping under a moonlit sky at the lagoonside village. Now, Gran Fiesta is mostly a walk on except for those who come in for an evening meal and are waiting for their table. As Walt Disney and not Bob Iger said, if you shoot only for the kids, you're dead in the water. Some lessons are tossed for profit, but as Disney showed in its early years, the two are not exclusive. Ambition and excellence produce ongoing profit long term... and continually long lines for classic attractions. 

You can safely bet Coco will eventually 
come to Mexico's showcase.

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Great Imagineers who want to create enduring classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean must aim beyond the expected and ordinary. (See the Studios original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.) 

A beautiful film we did not see this trip!

Ah, the Wonders of China! Due to a scheduling mishap, we weren't able to see the acrobats. Nor did the younger adults desire to watch the film. This pavilion reflects much of what I love about traveling to Asia- gracious people, delicious food, enchanting music, and eye-popping sights. But we passed it by. Was it the fact that China no longer feels as exotic? Regardless, next trip I'm going to make sure to drop in and see the newest film (coming 2020).

Home of one fun lunch!

In what is sure to shock some and please others, our only stops in Germany were to the Caramel shop and to watch the miniature trains. Will Brazil eventually take over that spot? Who knows. It seems as if the government and The Walt Disney Company cannot come to any agreements. 

What about that once proposed Rhine River Cruise?
There's a whole article about it here
With great concept art.

Certainly with a folklore as rich as that found in Germany, the suits can add an attraction to park of the park that badly needs one. And on that note, isn't it about time the Imagineers brought a brand new country to World Showcase? Future World is getting its makeover but what about the community of nations that makes us half of this park's land and much of its fan base? While I am not advocating for a park that is nothing more than Food and Wine Festival booths, films, and expensive places to shop, I am advocating for new places to experience a different culture- along with an attraction to match.

The main plaza for Italy.
I'm sure I've read somewhere
that the gondola ride was once a real planned attraction.

Italy fared no better.
We skipped it as well.

Rides were the order of the days here. Perhaps this is the negative result of the kids loving Test Track and following it with Frozen Ever After as a way to begin our day in the park. They expected more of the same, but there was not much to go on from there. Adding Ratatouille will certainly help round out the park- you can only see so many films or experience simulators that use them. At least if you are elementary aged. No one would expect a park full of rides and shows that only appeal to children, but there must be a mix of attractions families can enjoy together. Aren't you glad that was Walt's perspective as he took his daughters to the local carousel on Saturday afternoons? 

If they must shove an Intellectual Property into this pavilion, the Imagineers could include a new take on an often overlooked dark ride: Pinocchio. A few smaller dark rides would round out the roster.

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Aiming just for kids is a bad business plan in the long term. Adults pay for these vacations, so you want attractions that appeal to them, ones they can experience with their kids and not just watch from the sidelines. (See California Adventure's stunning Radiator Springs Racers.) 

Neither did the American Adventure make the cut. 

A stunning photograph from our own Len Yokoyama.

We walked by the centerpiece attraction of World Showcase, the impressive jewel known as The American Adventure. Yes, eventually we tried to see this Audio-Animatronics show, but our timing was off. My wife and I may have been the only ones disappointed. This may have been part of what made me have an epiphany: Whether we like it or not, EPCOT Center ceased to exist years ago. The park's glory years are gone, and so is its ambition, its very soul. Pushing Disney character experiences is now the company's direction for a profitable future.

Park purists like me are blaming the suits but they've always been responsible to turn a profit, and they have a larger park with untapped potential that is losing attendance year after year in recent decades. How they're going about making it profitable is what bothers me, but satisfying the guest should not be in opposition to financial profit. In fact, it's a wiser business decision to put guests first.

However, we as consumers of Disney theme parks must also shoulder some blame for this transition.  It is also our fault that Epcot is evolving. We've changed. How can we expect the Imagineers to display that sense of ambition and higher vision when we ourselves have wandered from it? Read below the original vision which was established for the park as inscribed on the dedication plaque:

To all who come to this place of Joy, Hope and Friendship - Welcome.
EPCOT is inspired by Walt Disney's creative vision. 
Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, 
wonders of enterprise and concepts 
of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and above all, 
may it instill a new sense of belief and pride 
in man's ability to shape a world
that offers hope to people everywhere.

We did not skip Japan. Nor did it disappoint.

Back in 1982 when it first opened its doors, the groundbreaking EPCOT Center was designed to educate and inspire. It existed in a season of history where people wanted more. We wanted to make a difference. We wanted to shape a more hopeful world. A kinder world, a world where people mattered over money. The park joyously celebrated not only what would and could be designed by the most gifted of human minds in the areas of communication, energy, and transportation but also of those thoughtfully created by an even more powerful Creator: the worlds put into place by His very word- the Human Body, The Seas, The Land, Space. What an exciting world was given to us by God Himself. One we're called to care for and to keep uncovering its wonders.


Now, please keep reading and bear with me here as I complete my argument of why we are to share the responsibility for Epcot changing. Those of you who have not explored any faith or who have and have rejected the thought of a Higher Being. I'm truly keeping with my original train of thought that it is because of us that this Disney park must change. Here's the logic:

It's the job of the Disney suits to follow the buck and bring in the cash. That's what we pay them to do as investors. But the changes at Epcot all start with how we view life and Disney. Each time we enter their parks, buy their merchandise, or view the latest filmed or live entertainment, we communicate to them what we want and just how much of it we will buy. When the time comes we stop buying, the suits are forced to rethink their approach and their products. That's the bottom line truth. Just what do we want now? We want to be entertained. That's why I go to Disney Parks!

Dinner at Tepan Edo- finally.
We kept changing our day and time due to moving priorities
and Disney closing the park early due to weather.
When we finally got there, it was a big hit!

For the most part, we no longer want to be contributors to making our world better. We want to consume. That's our priority, and I am often as guilty about this as anyone. Looking away from our intended purpose, we rarely think of God let alone be concerned with what His priorities are. It's way easier to kick back and relax than it is to work hard to make a difference. It goes even deeper.

However,  a steady diet of fantasy (or Fantasylandis good for no one. Imagine what eating only candy will do to your body. Our entertainment is a food source for our minds and spirits.

"On the Tombstone of America, the inscription will read: They Entertained Themselves To Death." - Leonard Ravenhill

This above quote, by the respected English pastor, applies not only to America but our well developed Western civilization, the one we are importing to countries around us. It applies to us as a nation but also us as individuals who must one day give an account for what we've done with our lives. It's this very mindset that has contributed to the reality that thee Disney suits must change Epcot from its intended educational / inspirational purpose. Argument complete.

Last shot of the night.
A Disney employee took this for me
as we shared stories about first experiencing this park.

One of our most memorable trip moments- definitely one of the sweetest- happened in the Japan pavilion, while we were inside the Mitsukoshi department store.  My grandson was feeling a bit down after a fairly long day out in the hot Florida sun. To add to it, the idea of the adults shopping when there was so much more to do caught him with a frown on his face.

Two lovely young adult ladies who worked there decided to engage him. After asking him several questions, my grandson brightened and began engaging them in conversation. He's a very bright kid and not afraid of adults. One of them gently asked him if he'd like to see how his name is written in Japanese. Of course, he responded positively! She took his "First Visit" button and carefully wrote his name in character form. Then she highlighted it, transforming it into a charming work of art. What a smile it brought to his face! His entire visit changed after that encounter. Not just that day but for the rest of the trip. Really! The power of how one person can impact another! Cast members truly do make a huge difference in the Disney experience.

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Consider how cast interaction can enhance the experience. (See Magic Kingdom's sweet Enchanted Tales with Belle.)

The most exotic of all Epcot pavilions.

We need more national pavilions
that explore places we are not familiar with.

Taking the time to wander the streets of Morocco brought some opportunities to talk about different cultures. My daughter stuck her head into the Restaurant Marrakesh and read the menu. Its dishes were studded with olives which my son-in-law is very allergic to, so they had to pass. The exhibit was closed but we walked into the small home, admiring the architecture. We briefly considered the unexpected find of an Aladdin meet and greet, but the line was too long. Later that week, we sampled a few bites at the festival booth. Delightful!

What once was planned.

Each trip to Walt Disney World results in my being charmed by the France pavilion. This one was no exception. For the first time ever, I did not see Impressions de France. Sacrilege, I know! How I missed that wonderful musical journey through the country. The visuals are dated, but the music is timeless.

What became...

Even though I was surprised by that decision, I was not surprised to find that we actually took the bakery and gelato tour of one of Epcot's tastiest pavilions! In fact, I believe we stopped for gelato there twice. At any level, the food in this pavilion does not disappoint. Dining in the evening at Chefs de France is a wonderful way to relax, people watch, and enjoy the best of what this section of the park has to offer. This entire pavilion is a must try food destination, and it was so long before the Food and Wine Festival made its mark on the World. 

...and what will be!

Is this a sign the iconic film will remain
along with Beauty and the Beast sing along?

Sweet memories of three trips to France began to flood my mind. Far beyond just the beauty of Paris and Disneyland Paris, we find the French countryside stunning and the people much more friendly than those trendy tour books would have you believe. Why do we choose to believe stereotypes?

Probably a smart business decision!

As I was saying, only the real France can stand up against the food you find here. These food locations were an all family crowd pleaser, and the kids asked about the soon coming Ratatouille attraction as they enjoy that Pixar film. Upon hearing my colorful description, a collective "We have to come back!" came from all three of them. I will as well! The movie is one of my favorite Pixar creations.

There's more to the United Kingdom than great pubs!

Our second day in Epcot began by reversing the order of how we took in World Showcase from our first visit. With no Fast Pass in hand for Frozen, there was no need to go via Mexico this time. Unfortunately, both Canada and the United Kingdom were ones we slowly walked by but never dug into. 

An obvious choice for many character based attractions.

It's about time, wouldn't you say?

It's probably too late for the direction of Epcot, but there is one case in which I find one of Disney's most enduring classic films to be a perfect fit: Mary Poppins. Sure, put in an Alice in Wonderland themed maze and even another small dark ride, but save something very special and innovative for Mary, Burt, and a whole company of dancing penguins! Rumor has the upcoming attraction to be a carousel, but without apology I'll say that this practically perfect nanny deserves much, much more.

This is also where it is our fault for the direction of Epcot. Check out those theme park discussion boards (such as those on the excellent WDWMagic), and you'll discover some fans of this epic mid-60s Disney blockbuster are actually arguing for the inclusion of a carousel to represent this film. Not an E Ticket, not a dark ride. What?!? Collectively, we have fallen into a mindset of accepting anything Disney feeds us- and the parks are all the worse for it. But it is our human nature: Expect little, receive little, be happy with little.

We have moved away from expecting greater things from Disney, from ourselves, and away from giving God the credit for the beauty of this world and our place in it. We're no longer focused on our responsibility to positively impact our world. We have changed our vision of what's important, so The Walt Disney Company has also changed their direction. This way, they can continue to meet the Company's financial objectives. We no longer want to think- and Epcot is changing to almost guarantee that we no longer have to engage our brains.  

This too was a missed opportunity.

Fast forward toward the end, as I have now covered almost all of Epcot's pavilions one by one: After our dinner at Japan's Teppan Edo, I surveyed the dark and empty park under the moonlight. It was beautiful, stunning really! I couldn't soak it all in. In fact, I walked out past Japan, Morocco, France, etc. but I would also have loved to take the tour going the other direction. I miss when the entire park was opened until midnight, giving us a chance to quietly  explore each individual mini-nation after sunset. There's a sublime beauty that is missed when the crowds are thick and the noise levels are high.

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Don't ignore aspects of culture that stand the test of time. Honor the past while looking toward the future. (See EPCOT Center's classic American Adventure theater presentation.) 

The end of an era.

Walking out of World Showcase and into the Future World section of the park, I spied Club Cool closed for the night and looked at the wonderful Fountain of Nations for the last time. The next day, they'd be walled off. 

A celebration of epic proportions!
One of the best parades Disney has ever out together.

Rest In Peace.

Generic. Part of the problem-
The park is losing its unique identity.

In many respects once you strip away the fancy artwork (concept art, new posters, and the generous use of classic pavilion icons) and look beyond verbiage drenched with ecstatic qualifiers, the revision of this once visionary park means it is becoming just another version of the Magic Kingdom. It's soon to be little more than a place of character themed attractions, meet and greets and disjointed experiences that meet lowered guest expectations.  

Between these posters, 
the past meets the future...somewhat.

Does this mean I have lost all hope for the brand new EPCOT? Absolutely not! There is still much to like that is coming our way!

I'm excited to see a brand new, re-Imagineered entrance to the park.  Let's be very honest, those much despised or loved Leave A Legacy stones were not all that attractive. Jutting up from the ground like those "French fry" rocks in Disneyland's Tomorrowland, they competed instead of complemented the eye-popping structure that is Spaceship Earth. In their place will be brand new gardens and a great number of trees, even if they are of the topiary variety. 

Reminds me of the original look and placement 
of The American Adventure.
See below.

Futurist Ray Bradbury poses 
with the EPCOT Center model.
The original USA pavilion is placed 
where the new structure shown above will be.

The poster above, titled "World Celebration", brings guests another element of the new park that I am truly looking forward to seeing. The structure itself harkens back to the Imagineers' initial plan for an American Adventure that straddled the Future World side of World Showcase Lagoon as well as feeling like a companion piece to the original architecture for the Magic Kingdom's land of the future. Although you can be sure they will come at a price (meals and drinks), the wide open view from the upper levels should be mesmerizing. I know I will get up there one way or another!

Great concept art sells.

The "More Shade" mantra of Disney's Bob Chapek was a cheap slight made to justify knocking things down but that comment that contained a large bit of falsehood. There's always been shade in Future World with plenty of trees and gardens. Maybe he doesn't remember the park's origins, but many of us do. Funny though, if the primary attractions in Future World were more in the ten minute range like they used to be, (Horizons, Journey into Imagination, World of Motion), guests would be indoors away from the Florida heat versus spending so much time outside looking for a place to cool off after riding several two to four minute attractions. 

Refreshed gardens and new water features are a welcomed sight that may only be coming into play because they will be the main views for those at the new food and wine booths that are planned. The cynic in me wonders how long the water features will remain in operation, however. The track record is not all that great in Walt Disney World.

Overall park view.

Beyond what I've mentioned earlier, there's not too much more I'm liking for Future World or whatever we will call all those new neighborhoods. (That's an unnecessary concept should have died long before Paradise Pier's use of the term.) Then again, I'm positive there are details coming that have not been shared by The Walt Disney Company or its handful of insiders that leak news out.

When it comes to World Showcase, I am enjoying the expansion of the Norway pavilion, and I'm thinking that any similar growth of France and the U.K. will be just as welcomed and successful. After all, who doesn't like the possibility of wandering down multiple streets and avenues with new places to explore? At least one new country is being bantered about as coming in the next decade. Will they materialize if we remain quietly still and wait? Who knows, but this portion of the park needs something big as well. 

With estimates of this revision costing in the neighborhood of $2 Million, the Disney suits want guests "Celebrating the Magic of Possibility", as the promo film suggests. Will we celebrate, ignoring the past, or pine for what once was? 

I'm hoping for a some of both! Human nature can regain wonder and a love for others- and this favorite Disney park can change once again as it does. The choice is ours. We get to vote with our money. Let's make sure we give praise and support when its due and equally shy away from cheapened experiences when we know they can give us something much better. 

Attention Current and Future Imagineers: Consider how you can inspire us to learn - be it history or myth- and enjoy doing it. Aim higher, and both guests and accountants will be pleased with the results. (See Animal Kingdom's fantastic Expedition: Everest.)

I want my next visit to EPCOT to dazzle me! Don't you?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Trip photos copyright Mark Taft.)