December 24, 2008

A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas

This time of year it would be customary (or at least pleasant) to read about those warm fuzzy moments surrounding the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To paraphrase a common saying, “This ain’t one of those moments.”

You see, everyone responds differently to the Good News.

Around the time of Jesus’ birth, the people who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding area knew that firsthand.

King Herod was fuming mad that the wise men had returned to their own country without returning to tell him the whereabouts of Jesus. Under the guise of wanting to worship him, Herod was relying on their information so he could kill the Christ Child. Herod was threatened and wanted no one else in control. When his original plan failed, every boy aged two and under was killed at the king’s command. What a huge price many paid because of one man’s ego, anger, and fear!

As Jesus grew up, and especially during his ministry, people responded with curiosity or disinterest or disdain in their own thoughts about him. Though time changes, human nature does not.

Today, people still respond the same way as Herod: the thought of giving up control of one’s own life to Someone Else will just not be done. So, Jesus is again responded to with curiosity, disinterest, or distain.

Maybe even worse, He can be put “in his place”, especially by us folks who are religious or may have a faint interest in being spiritual. This could be because of religious tradition or because we have become too familiar with Him. Either way, when this happens, Jesus risks becoming an icon for us, removed from personal relationship with the very people he died for! Jesus died for an intimate relationship with each one of us- not so that He could become a corporate figurehead.

To me, the baby Jesus I place in that crèche on the mantle is only a reminder of the man who died to give me eternal life and a living relationship with Him. This Christmas, I invite you to reconsider the Jesus who willingly gave up his life for you. All He asks in turn is that you give him your heart and control of your life. What a small price to pay!

December 23, 2008

December 22, 2008

It's Greek to Me

Yes, Virginia, you are looking at a model of the proposed Greek Resort for Walt Disney World. Looking closely, it is easy to see the influence the islands played on the design. There is much speculation on why this was never built. The suits, of course, never tell the real story. My hunch is that the Vacation Club took on a life of its own and the economy took a fall- and with it, all the best laid plans fell by the wayside. Very similar to what is going on down in Florida as we speak.

December 19, 2008

My Dear Nona...

It happened again. I dreamt of you, but this time I was older, and you were, too. Boy, I miss you. You were a sweet friend as well as an amazing, caring Grandma. It's nice to know you're with Jesus now; It's nice to know I'll see you again one day. Thanks- and rest in peace.

December 15, 2008

Disney's Animal Kingdom-A True Life Adventure (Part Two)

“Well, I think we’ve got the best animal facilities in the world. We’ve got the best keepers that are here, we’ve got an advisory board- that is a very impressive list- that helped us plan and develop this park. We really think we’ve done the right things for the animals in the overall basis.”

Al Weiss, President Walt Disney World Resort, at the Grand Opening

Disney's Animal Kingdom had to be different. With three parks already on their Florida property, this new park was purposely designed from the beginning to be unlike anything Disney had previously created. Was the theme powerful enough to draw guests to spend a fourth day at yet another park? It had to feel fresh. It couldn't look or feel like a zoo. Reaching a new audience would be a necessity, and it would be a benefit to deal a blow to another competitor. Disney's Animal Kingdom fit the profile. If built as created, its beauty would astound, its attractions thrill.

Once the park was completed, in order to communicate this place was something special, Disney’s advertising expects kicked it into high gear. First came a preview souvenir booklet (top), followed by some terrific print ads.

The cleverest ad produced played on the sense of mystery the park strove to create: a young explorer walking down one of Animal Kingdom’s paths, looks behind him as shadows of animals imaginary, extinct, and wild are cast over him, clearly telling prospective visitors that exciting animal encounters were the order of the day here.

Enticed by the advertising campaign, curious visitors at the entrance gates received the newest park’s handout. The “Adventurer’s Guide” gave a small hint of what was ahead.

Once visitors crossed the turnstiles, those expecting a traditional zoo environment or yet another version of Main Street were taken aback, finding a lush jungle instead. There was no icon to be seen, no ride vehicle or transportation system in sight, no vendor cart. Here’s a rare map from Disney News introducing what guests found opening day.

Looking inside the Adventurer’s Guide or at the Disney News map, and we find the park is a little short on attractions. The actual count is less than ten, but several others are there to pad the list: character greeting kiosks, the village of Harambe in Africa, and Discovery River apart from the boats that cruised it.


Rounding out the Animal Kingdom were a limited number of shops, mostly found in Safari Village. These are beautifully built with handcrafted carvings and stunning décor, and they surround a few small eateries. The merchandise offered included unique and park specific offerings, something Disney has seemed to forgotten about in most of their other parks- a very nice touch.

Back outside, the lush gardens, waterfalls, and meandering paths (including the famous “hidden” one), beg for exploration, filling more of the visitor’s day. Just what would the paying visitors think? After considing many incarnations of the park, settling on what was to be built and committing to it in concrete, there was no turning back. Park gates opened for the first time on April 22, 1998. What did guests find and how did they react?

(Above, the original proposed Animal Kingdom centerpiece, a carousel!)



(Disney's WILD Animal Kingdom- that is until copyright issues got in the way!)


The setting is spectacular and unique to all the Disney kingdoms. Just like the Earth it celebrates, this newest Florida gem was lovingly created and intelligently designed. Nothing was left to chance. Walking through the turnstiles, it is a fully immersive experience, its a wonder for the eyes, satisfying to the soul. The old saying "The Devil is in the Details" comes to mind, but let's not give him the credit for the magnificent work found in here.

The Oasis is an area in which the designers made up for items removed due to monetary constraints. The very hard working Imagineers produced a stateside park that hasn't seen this much elaborate theming since the original Disneyland. Between the hand carved details all around, lush landscaping, hidden animal grottoes, and various meandering paths to explore, many visitors could spend an entire day discovering unexpected delights. However, guests conditioned by decades of running for Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean – those wanting traditional Disney attractions- could be severely disappointed. Some were, and park management was quick to be told about missed expectations.

It is these guests that were focused on the shortcomings, many deeming this “new breed of Disney park” a half-day excursion charging a full-fare. Disney responded equally fast that this was a place to be savored, not a rushed experience. Both camps were right, yet since Disney understood that guests vote with their wallets- and their experiences were now shared worldwide via the internet- plans were immediately made to add to the park. Soon to come additions included attractions for the Asian section of the park not yet ready for opening day.

Proposed design for Asia.)


Our Journey Begins...
Due to other obligations, it was about a year and a half after opening that I first saw Disney’s Animal Kingdom for myself. My wife and kids were curious and asked the obvious questions regarding a park that seemed to be the Disney version of a zoo. Having familiarized myself with the park from every form of promotional material I could get, I thought I was ready to go and “knew” the park. Was I ever wrong!


On our first journey to the newest kingdom, two erroneous design choices stood out. The majestic Tree of Life is truly a draw in itself, but the 3D film experience inside, although quite good, uses space that should contain an iconic, timeless attraction. Additionally, the tacky and very unnecessary Rain Forest Café takes up prime real estate at the park’s entrance, lending a stench of commercialism to an otherwise organic and visually appealing piece of land. This is a major mistake, akin to placing a prominent Home Town Buffet at the grand entrance of Main Street. However in the larger scheme of things, these are quite minor. This was a brand new Disney park after all and a marvelous one at that!

When looked at through a critic's eyes, although not immediately obvious, the final execution of Animal Kingdom reveals that there are many similarities with the quickly built Disney-MGM Studios. Both parks are light on attractions, a trend that continued in later years with Disney’s California Adventure and Paris’ Walt Disney Studios. Instead of a lengthy Backlot tour, guests at Animal Kingdom travel via safari truck through the quite realistic African savannah. Exhibits abound in each park. Animation and behind the scenes artifacts are on display at the Studios, while creatures of all sizes reside in the main lands of the Kingdom. Time-consuming theater presentations are plentiful, replacing the absent traditional Disney rides while accommodating large groups of guests. Noticeably lacking, however, are Disney’s trademark and lavish Audio-Animatronics adventures. These costly extravaganzas are relegated to one per park: The Great Movie Ride, and Countdown to Extinction, respectively.

Back to our visit. Entering the Oasis, we realized the place is designed for adventure as we found the multiple winding paths curving through a lush jungle filled with small creatures and colorful birds. Folks who choose not to rush through this section of the park may uncover a small waterfall cascading before a bridge, all hidden from view. In fact, I didn’t find this place until my 4th visit! Small caves contain unexpected animal exhibits, including fish. The scent of flowers and the distant sound of music filled the air.

I did not expect the impact this type of “Scene One” would have upon my view of the park. To experience this in person is to feel a combination of serenity and excitement, the desire to remain all day and the need to explore even further. Amidst the adrenaline rush, I never realized we would later be hit with an educational experience as well as a day of fun.

Above, the Proposed plan for Dinoland U.S.A.


Journeying beyond the gardens into an open pedestrian area and its small but colorful village, the Tree of Life transforms into a breathtaking piece of art upon closer inspection, as the hundreds of animal carvings found in its trunk and branches become evident. I couldn’t help but stand and stare at it or photograph this masterpiece all through the day from various angles. Even if it didn’t have the rather funny “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” show inside, the tree would become an instant favorite.


Standing on a bridge looking at the Tree on one side and the Discovery River below,I was lost in a brand new faraway place. The park's clear shortcomings faded. Then it hit me: I hadn't been on a single attraction in over an hour, but I was thrilled with everything I saw. Couldn't wait to keep exploring the park. Yes, Disney had done it again.
---------------------------------------------
This is the end of Part Two of this series.
(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company, photos by Mark Taft.)

Back on the Boards?

Can it be? Could the long planned and often delayed Russian pavillion be coming soon? Only the suits know for sure. However, one thing is certain. Everyone knows World Showcase has gotten mighty stale, as it has been far too many years since the addition of a new nation. Guests to the park are noticing it, too. Sorry, Disney, lame redos of El Rio del Tiempo, and quick updates to a few films does not make a revitalized World Showcase.

December 13, 2008

Significance of the One

Tomorrow, will be the third Sunday in the celebration of Advent, a time of preparation of our hearts to commemorate the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Not growing up with church as part of my life, let alone anything spiritual, I never really understood much of the celebrations- besides Christmas and Easter, of course. So when I was asked to speak about this third Sunday, and talk about the shepherds, I was a bit hesitant.

Rereading the account from Luke chapter 2, gave me some fresh perspective. In it, Joseph and Mary had gone back to Bethlehem to honor Caesar Augustus' decree that every citizen take part in a census. Since the local hostel was full, they took refuge in a shelter for the animals, and it was there Jesus came into the world He created.

The shepherds nearby on the hills were doing their job, and it was a lonely job. Usually this job was reserved for those unskilled in other areas or for those who were young teens. These guys were not the most important or significant folks around. In fact, by nature of their occupation, they were on the outskirts of community life.

In the darkest of night, an angel appears to these ordinary people. God's glory is manifested by great light, scaring them. And the angel proclaims "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."

At this point, just as they may having been adjusting to the fact an angel appeared to them , an entire company of angels appears praising God, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Off the shepherds go to find the Christ child.

Heres' the cool part: These ordinary folk were chosen by God to see the most important event since the creation of the world. God Himself deemed these guys of value. This single act on God's part reflects His Heart toward the Significance of the One:
  • The One Hurting
  • The One Unpopular
  • The One Forgotten
  • The One Outcast
  • The One Broken Hearted
  • The One Lonely
  • The One Needing Hope
  • The One Unimportant
  • The One Sinful
The shepherds were given a great honor- they were witnesses to the announcement of the coming of the Greatest Shepherd of All. Jesus had come- and during his life, He brought his Message of love, life, and hope to everyone from the lowly prostitute to the highest authorities in the land. And it was a message that is still shared today by common men and women, one person at a time.

December 10, 2008

Apologies

Sorry for the lack of posting these last few days! Work has been an all encompassing situation. Stay tuned for updates in the next few days. I do have some fun things planned!

December 5, 2008

Magical!

Still skeptical? I mean, if you need further proof that Disneyland Paris is the most beautiful magic kingdom ever created, go to the great site DLRPMagic.com!
Or just click on the beautiful photo above for a quick taste.

December 2, 2008

Shanghai Surprise

News Flash! Both Screamscape and Disney and More are reporting Disneyland Shanghai is a go. Click the links to get to the story!

Perseverence and Perspective

Have you ever wanted to give up? I know I have- many times. Even many times this week. Not the faith but the battle of living righteously.

Let’s face the facts: Becoming a believer can be easy, but living out the Christian life is hard work. We know what is right, and then we have choices to make. And let’s be honest while we are talking. Sin is fun- at least at the start. So, if you are like me, living the selfish life seems far more appealing than living the God-centered one. Thankfully, my spirit has been renewed and my mind is following behind it! This Christian walk really is a day by day thing.

The first couple of verses in II Corinthians 4 ring my bell:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.”
Paul hits the issue dead on. We have renounced secret and shameful ways. Sometimes they still allure us, don’t they? It would be too easy to fall back into them and then justify our actions using a slight twisting of the Word here or there. Or even presuming upon God’s forgiveness just so we could do what our sinful nature wants. Instead, let’s hold strong and keep a godly perspective.

Thankfully, we are not alone in this battle to live a godly life. We have the Holy Spirit in us, giving us strength and direction to succeed and forgiveness when we fall. And we have other believers in our lives to encourage us and hold us accountable. Christianity was never meant to be lived out alone!

Verses 16-18 of the same chapter help us see this struggle as God does:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Let’s not try to do this alone. We can choose to lock arms and support each other as we walk out our faith. Have you found someone you trust enough to be honest with? We need other believers to help us work this out, to gain the victory, to leave our sin behind us.

There you have it. Let’s persevere in righteousness and keep a godly perspective. Together.

December 1, 2008

Raising the Banner

After the recent and successful reopening of Sleeping's Beauty's Castle walk through, is there any doubt Disneyland is the park to emulate in the United States?

This single park contains the ultimate stateside versions of most all the "E" Ticket attractions plus many unique ones as well. When you measure in the charm factor, only Disneyland Paris comes close. Epcot is majestic, Tokyo Disney Sea amazing, and Disney's Animal Kingdom enthralling, but only Disneyland in California has the indescribable flavor of Walt himself.

Sure, Tomorrowland needs a little bit of vision beyond its current incarnation, and yes, California Adventure is still a mess of a second resort gate, but the original Magic Kingdom, remains the best of all!

Perhaps the reopening of the castle is the beginning of a renaissance at the park. Could a return of the Peoplemover be next? Maybe the Skyway? Perhaps a grand new adventure in Frontierland? No one knows. But one thing seems certain in this post-Pressler era, something wonderful is happening at the original and the best Magic Kingdom!