It's hard to give out candy via a blog, so how about a piece of pretty rare concept art???
Imagine if you will, a walk through version of the Haunted Mansion! This was actually planned by the Imagineers at one point in time, but as with some things in all Disney parks, attraction capacity necessitates changes. So, the little walk through Haunted Mansion became a ride on a Doom Buggy. (Speaking of that, do go to Doombuggies.com - an amazing site.)
This piece of concept art was first shown as part of the 50th Anniversary display in Disneyland's Opera House.
Naturally (supernaturally?), the walking tour would brought us to the infamous ballroom. What a thrill it would have been to walk the house and explore it on our own!
Perhaps a new Mansion would use a trackless system, and the riders could tour different rooms at random. Just think of the repeatability factor! Or on a smaller scale more in line with a holiday makeover, maybe one day Sleeping Beauty Castle could be given a Halloween makeover...
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)
October 31, 2012
October 30, 2012
October 26, 2012
California Adventure's incredibly fantastic Cars Land and the equally impressive attraction Radiator Springs Racers together form the new gold standard for Disney theme parks. There is nothing like it- and it alone is worth a trip to Southern California and the Disneyland Resort whether or not the film is appealing.
I was skeptical even after reading the glowing trip reports. After all, this is the same company that has been given us "attractions" like "Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor" and "Stitch's Great Escape", not to mention the original mess of California Adventure 1.0. However, since my visit last week, I have been converted. Seeing is believing... and I am not a huge fan of the Cars films.
From the measure of a single "E Ticket" attraction, the geniuses at work in Imagineering have not created anything this incredible since the opening of the Indiana Jones Adventure. When combined with an entire land just as well designed, you'd have to go back to Disneyland in its prime days of the mid to late 1960s to find an end result equally as inspired; a time when the gorgeous New Orleans Square, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and a brand new dazzling Tomorrowland seemed to be revealed within months of each other.
Let me put it a different way. My son-in-law and I bought a park hopper pass, and we stayed twelve hours in the parks, from opening until the start of World of Color. Less than two were spent at Disneyland. This trip, we preferred to spend our single day at California Adventure. In the past, that never would have happened.
The park opened at 8:00am, and we arrived at the gate 45 minutes earlier with tickets in hand. Heading straight for the Fast Pass line for Racers, those golden tickets brought us a ride at 8:40, so we immediately walked to the regular queue while crowds were light.
Walking down the main drag of the town, I was stunned by the attention to detail and the scale and scope of the whole project. Totally immersive, encompassing in every sense. The exact opposite emotion of my first visit to this little park in 2001.
Rounding the corner, our wait for the first ride was a total of 27 minutes. It flew by as the sights at every turn absorbed it quickly. The Bottle House was a particularly beautiful addition to the queue, unexpected and delightful. We finally reached the front of the line and anxiously awaited our vehicle.
There's nothing like the first time on any new Disney attraction. It cannot be repeated. My view of the attraction rarely strays from what I first experienced. The expectation was high, the experience just as powerful.
For those unfamiliar with the attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, breaks down nicely into three segments: a slow sightseeing tour of Ornament Valley, a dark ride portion inside the main show building, and a high speed family thrill ride to conclude the journey. A little something for everyone and a potent combination where the sum of the parts creates an entirely satisfying whole. No spoilers here, but I will say I was happy to get right back in line for my second ride.
We hadn't eaten before arriving at the resort because I wanted to breakfast at Flo's V8 Cafe. So worth the delay! Walking in, Motown tunes created a warm buzz and retro vibe. I ordered the delicious and fairly priced Caramel Banana Brioche, one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten at the resort- on par with the Creme Brûlée French Toast at Goofy's Kitchen. We sat outside in the morning sun with the cars of Racers hugging the track in front of us every few seconds.
I still couldn't believe the view. Everywhere I turned, the gorgeous rock work and loving attention to detail stunned me. I was totally drawn into the story, the environment, the feel; surprised I really was in a theme park, specifically California Adventure. The Imagineering dedication to excellence paired with the generous budget created something that will draw me back for years. Yes, Cars Land will be a hit for generations to come- long after the namesake movie is a memory. We exited through the entrance from Pacific Wharf, turning around for a new glance. The long view, the short view and all in between. I swore I was in Arizona on Route 66 with California within sight. Words are not enough.
Pirates of the Caribbean was next up as last year it was closed for refurbishment. My son-in-law had never seen it. Yet, we walked by Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, and we couldn't resist the fifteen minute long line. So glad we did! For a ride considered one for little kids, a minor addition, it was a blast. We laughed through our entire dance. And I didn't see one single face without a smile on it, young or old. A surprise hit.
So, it was back to Disneyland. The close proximity of the two parks is a big plus at the West Coast resort. In short order, we covered Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pinocchio, and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Briefly, Pirates looked and sounded the best it had in years. The bayou was dark, and no ceiling could be seen. All the effects worked beautifully. The Bobsleds were a painful ride, but the snow storm has finally returned. Tomorrowland looked awful with worn paint, making the old as dirt buildings look every bit their age. Hopefully, Iron Man will bring a fresh focus. Back to California Adventure we went, less than two hours in Walt's original park.
Heading back into California Adventure, we took time to explore Buena Vista Street. What a wonderful new "first act" for the park. At opening the Sunshine Plaza and entryway was almost a joke, a quick and easy, "trendy" attempt at something new. Only the Sun Icon and the California Zephyr train housing restaurants and shops hinted at any creativity. It's boring no longer. Instead, the area is warm, charming, and full of places to explore. The shops are full of unique attraction-specific merchandise. For the first time since my original visit, I actually purchased a variety of souvenirs and wished I had more money to burn. Incredible.
Loved the Walt and Mickey statue as well as Oswald's. The Red Car Trolley adds much to the area, and the lush landscaping truly brings guests into another place and era. The Carthay Circle Theater brought just the right touch of elegance. Was this really the same park that Disney geeks firmly rejected in 2001?
To make a long story very short, lunch was Chinese, dinner of Clam Chowder at the Wharf. We were able to explore every corner of Cars Land and do just about every attraction in the park, ending the day with a nighttime ride on Radiator Springs Racers (Single Rider Line, fifteen minutes. Even better at night!) The lighting ceremony at Cars Land was a treat. The new land is as strongly themed and every bit as impactful as anything Disney has ever built. It was a near perfect day.
Is California Adventure now the perfect park? No. The weaknesses are still there, with Hollywood Land and Paradise Pier exposing the faults found at the park circa 2001. Will those areas be addressed? Hopefully so.
As things now stand, I'd place California Adventure as a stronger American park than Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom. There's a big difference between the three: the new Adventure feels like a complete stand-alone, full day worthy Disney park. The other two remain half day parks. You can still tell where the suits have stopped short of excellence, and where they have continued to let those parks rot. Would Cars Land help save the park formerly known as Disney-MGM? Absolutely. Should it be built? Absolutely not!
I have no idea when my next visit to California will occur. However, I can say with full confidence that the new California Adventure will be where I spend my entire Disney day. Cars Land is a well deserved smash, a true labor of love. I cannot wait to ride Radiator Springs Racers again. Congratulations, Imagineers!
(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)
October 16, 2012
The future is now, and I am happy about it! Marvel's witty and cynical Iron Man is headed to Disneyland's Tomorrowland, a place in which he fits perfectly.
Let's face it: as it now stands, Tomorrowland is a mixed bag of themes and eras. Iron Man and Stark Expo could be the perfect unifying factor. With a little bit of ingenuity and imagination, the exteriors of existing attractions could be "retro-fitted" into an area where "a look backwards at a look forward" provides the answer to bringing it all together. Sort of an EPCOT Center-ish Future World of the previous century. The buildings from the 60s could finally be resurfaced with a look that complements the feel and theme without revealing its shortcomings and reduced budget that plagued Tomorrowland '98.
Some Disney purists are in an uproar over this... but I think Walt himself would be happy that something cohesive is coming to the world of the future. Count me in.
October 12, 2012
Space Mountain. Long before The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Carsland and its Radiator Springs Racers, this single attraction was the motivating reason to visit Disney theme park.
The Space Mountain name alone evokes excitement for theme park fans all over the world. Whether it is the classic, iconic structure found in Florida, California, and Tokyo; a similar takeoff placed in a Tomorrowland that almost feels kid drawn in Hong Kong; or the stunning, elegant Jules Verne styled masterpiece in Paris, the sheer sight of the mountain makes visitors run toward it once the rope drops. For this generation, blasting off through the universe has become a right of passage into the teenage years, but for the very earliest Disney fans, this wasn't always the case.
A slice of thrill.
A bigger slice!
America’s obsession with space travel provided the perfect timing for an attraction such as this. The future fascinated Walt. He loved science, space exploration, and new technologies. In addition to being an under appreciated businessman as well as a dreamer, fortunately, Walt was also a doer, and he assembled a team that could dream and create with him.
As discussions continued with the team, concept art for Walt’s Space Port, as it was originally named began to emerge. Many different looks were considered before settling on the timeless exterior familiar with fans in the States, and Imagineers Herb Ryman and John Hench each came up with designs that would be somewhat merged for the final result. Plans for Disneyland’s new Tomorrowland of the sixties included the attraction, but other priorities took precedence, leaving Florida to open the attraction a couple of years before it finally hit California soil.
Once the design was settled upon, a detailed model was built, giving the Imagineers a chance to view how the attraction would fit into the Magic Kingdom.
Upon its opening, Space Mountain became an instant fan favorite and theme park classic. "The blessing of size” as Walt said with regards to his Florida project, enabled the Imagineers to create a dual tracked Space Mountain for the younger Magic Kingdom park. With its thrills, the experience was a strong bid for the youth market who found much of the Magic Kingdom park too tame and lame with its emphasis on slow moving attractions and cabaret shows like Tropical Serenade (Enchanted Tiki Room), Country Bear Jamboree, and The Mickey Mouse Revue. The trend setting Mountain transformed into a park staple, with pale imitations created all over the world in an attempt to capitalize on its success. Even if you are not a Disney fan, chances are you know the name, probably recognize its timeless form, and are well aware of the adventure within. Another Walt inspired masterpiece.
The more recent refurbishing meant a change in the music and a nifty new attraction poster, but the ride itself remains fairly rough compared to when it first debuted. Long time fans know park maintenance is not a strong suit at the Florida parks. The New Fantasyland could be bringing some changes to that as the Imagineers prepare for a fresh invasion of visitors eager to see the most exciting addition to the Magic Kingdom in twenty years.
Back at Disneyland, the success of the attraction meant one had to be built in Anaheim. That park’s smaller footprint demanded a similar but much smaller mountain back in California, bringing with this change a single track, different loading zone, and a much tighter flight course.
Prior to the opening of California Adventure, it was possible to enter the parking lot area by Space Mountain with your car, and since I lived nearby, I took advantage of the opportunity to drive by very often. When the attraction finally opened in 1977, I was among the first in line to take flight. And what a line it was! At one point, the queue snaked down Main Street and the hours passed as flights were on then off during its test period. The experience was quite the rush at opening with the atmosphere much darker, the rockets faster, and the journey unfamiliar.
One of the earliest renderings of the attraction- for Disneyland.
In the late 90's as part of the New Tomorrowland, a newly bronzed Space Mountain came alongside the most recent addition, Rocket Rods, as well as a couple of cloned attractions from Florida. The revised land was not a success, and the mountain soon returned to its glistening white version.
Recent holiday themed experiences mean this mountain changes to Ghost Galaxy every Halloween, given those in charge a reason to keep things in top working order. Debates continue as to which mountain in which State provides the better experience but both are beloved and appreciated for their differences.
With much cash to burn and carte blanche access to the plans from Imagineering, the Japanese investors had the ability to hand pick from two differently designed Disney kingdoms, giving their guests a very interesting version of the first overseas park Tokyo Disneyland. Surprisingly, even with access to the larger Florida version, the Japanese chose the California’s much smaller attraction as the one to be duplicated. When the park opened in 1983, visitors found this space journey to have an entirely different feel, a blending of both American parks and few unique elements at opening.
But the best was yet to come when a Disneyland was planned for the world's most beautiful city, Paris.
To experience Space Mountain, European fans had to trek to the Sunshine or Golden States for a Disney vacation experience or head to Japan. Once Disneyland Paris added their own space adventure, guests were shocked and delighted. Debuting in 1995, the iconic white mountain was replaced by a gorgeously themed and wonderfully executed Jules Verne inspired adventure... that began outdoors!
Originally planned as Discovery Mountain, the attraction inside was as different from its cousins as was its exterior: the open air loading station sends its rockets into a smoke-spewing cannon as guests are launched upwards into the mountain. The views over Discoveryland are amazing, but they are nothing compared to the thrills found inside!
The track layout included multiple inversions- the first for a Disney park anywhere- and the inclusion of a majestic musical score to accompany the journey. This new twist on an old favorite brought in the crowds. Some could even debate it saved the resort. It certainly did bring in the crowds.
The track layout included multiple inversions- the first for a Disney park anywhere- and the inclusion of a majestic musical score to accompany the journey. This new twist on an old favorite brought in the crowds. Some could even debate it saved the resort. It certainly did bring in the crowds.
Although the exterior building concepts remained largely the same, the Imagineers presented several different ideas for what was to be built inside the mountain. In addition to Space Mountain, ideas ranged from a Nautilus adventure including a restaurant inside the submarine, to a unique use of the technology that makes The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror so popular for an additional attraction themed to a different Jules Verne novel.
(For more information and concept art, track down the wonderful book Disneyland Paris, From Sketch to Reality by Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez.)
Upon our first visit to Disneyland Paris in 1998, Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, and Phantom Manor were at the top of my must-do list. I must say, I did not expect every corner of the park to be as beautiful as it was.
Once I finally entered the queue and hopped aboard the vehicle, the ride was as wonderful and thrilling as I had imagined it would be! I couldn’t wait to ride it again and promptly returned to the queue for another trip. In its own unique way, viewing the mountain and watching the Columbiad cannon send explorers on their journey was as compelling as seeing the beautiful Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t take my eyes off the attraction.
Beautiful during the day and absolutely spectacular at night with its magnificent lighting, this Space Mountain was the ultimate execution of the trendsetting concept. Period. Until a "reintroduction".
When we visited the park once more in 2007, we were shocked to find that the original theme had given way for "Mission 2". It was a poor design and marketing choice, as much of the stunning set pieces and effects had disappeared as well as the original majestic theme music. Perhaps it will return one day.
The opening of the first Disneyland in China, Hong Kong Disneyland (2005), provided an opportunity for building yet another version of the Magic Kingdom classic. Due to budget adjustments and misguided opinions of what should constititute the park, it remains short on attractions, even though Grizzly Gulch and the upcoming Mystic Manor will bring a more complete experience. The famous Space Mountain, however, was a must for opening day. The setting of the Chinese Tomorrowland is more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon than previous versions, but the mountain itself is a near duplicate of California's. In a new take on the mountain's use and design, it also houses an attraction based on the main character from Lilo and Stitch.
Where will the next other worldy mountain show up? Some folks are still sure it will be in Shanghai Disneyland, but only the Disney executives truly know- and all bets say the centerpiece Tomorrowland attraction will be based on Tron: Legacy. For all the questions we may have, one thing is certain. Space Mountain in all its incarnations, will continue to thrill and fascinate millions of guests looking for a chance to explore the universe and then return safely home!
(All concept art and Tokyo Disneyland photos copyright The Walt Disney Company; all other photos by Mark Taft)
October 10, 2012
One picture worth at least several hundred words. From the New Fantasyland / Fantasyland Forest at the front of the Be Our Guest restaurant. Source unknown.
October 9, 2012
Gotta hand it to the folks over at the Disney Parks Blog! They seem to always come up with new and interesting ways to promote their parks be it at home in the USA or overseas. This stylized map of Disney California Adventure is pretty cool. It's a nice variation on the fun map we've seen a few times since the Imagineers starting re-Imaging the park. Perhaps the much rumored makeover of the Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida will inspire new maps or even the New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.
(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)
October 8, 2012
No photo needed for this. Last night at church, someone asked for prayer for their eyesight. Well, we decided to gather around him and follow the Biblical guidelines by the laying on of hands. We prayed earnestly and asked God is He would intervene. Well, He did! Today I received an email detailing that his sight was significantly better than it was before we prayed. Does God heal all the time? No. But He does still do works of healing- even in our age of disbelief.
October 5, 2012
A couple of years ago, long before the raging success of the newly imagined Disney California Adventure 2.0, I wrote on The Walt Disney Company's struggles at the Disneyland Resort. My emphasis: what had to be done to bring the second park there to worthiness in carrying the Disney name. It's now in vogue to bash Walt Disney World and its upkeep, lack of cutting edge plans and additional investment of cash in order to compete with Universal Orlando and Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey... and everything to come. Truth is, the criticism of the Florida sprawl is entirely justified. Especially at Epcot.
What can Disney Imagineering do to revitalize Epcot? Plenty, as we shall see. All it takes is a dose of cash, vision, and some imagination!
Dear Accounting Budgeteers: If you're going to keep throwing character additions and move tie ins to the park, just do it, and get it over with instead of pretending. Stop keeping us fans hoping for more. But there's a better plan, a doable plan that will increase your revenues. Focus on what Epcot has always does best, that is educate guests in a charming and awe-inspiring way.
There's certainly enough companies out there that could offer a perspective to pull this off while also feeding cash into the company's accounts. Let's start with an easy and most discussed company, Apple. Want to revitalize the Imagination pavilion? Here's your perfect fit. Even folks that are not fans of the products must admit Apple pours on the pizazz. What stories could be told? What new characters could be imagined? Want to bring back the Image Works in a big way and please your sponsors? No brainer. The tie-ins are endless. Can't go there? If you want to continue in the kid friendly zone, tap into Crayola or Fisher-Price.
Beyond Imagination, perhaps the U.S. Government could use a boost in its reputation by sponsorship. Work with them on Energy. Let them show off how they spend their billions in tax revenue on building a green future for America. Perhaps a medicine and science exhibition that features attractions where we could be inspired to think about the future of health and wellness.
The point is, inspire us to think and to dream again. The Imagineers could do this if given a fair chance. You know I'm right, don't you? It's ok to admit you have an ego problem...
#2- Make It Beautiful Again
The park used to be stunning to look at, and I'm not just talking about World Showcase. Once upon a time, Future World was also lovely to see. Water flowed in different areas, giving this part of the park a pleasant feeling. Lush landscaping existed beyond that found in the Land's signature greenhouses. There seems to to be an ongoing case of "lowest maintenance is the best landscaping". Very sad. The future should feel welcoming, but the revealed masses of late 70s and early 80s architecture makes the place feel tired. Plus, it needs a good resurfacing and some paint. This includes the monorail tracks. Disney's aborted Project Genesis had many good elements to it. It's time to revamp the area. Hide the stroller parking, throw in some cafe tables on the exterior sides of Innoventions, make it a people pleasing space. And get rid of the tombstones at the entrance to the park.
World Showcase is not without its troubles in this department. I'm happy to see new restaurants and small shops, (not so happy about Disney Vacation Club buildings), but they come at a price. And its usually the green spaces and gardens or open vistas that disappear. Mexico feels less exotic now. Just one example.
#3- Honor the Culture
Treat the sponsor countries of World Showcase with some dignity. There's lots to eat and buy, but the attractions are lacking both in upkeep, number, and in the representation of their citizens and culture.
I'll harp on this now and each time it comes up: Mexico is not best represented by three Disney cartoon characters. Bring back El Rio del Tiempo. If you really want the Three Caballeros, use them in a smaller, secondary attraction, a theater show for the kids. The room is there for more build out. Treat your guest countries, whether they are still official sponsors or not, with respect. Perhaps you will win some of them back. Would you put a cartoon Paul Bunyan in the American Adventure? No, it is not a suggestion. This goes for non-cartoon characters as well. Please say goodbye to Martin Short in Canada as well.
#4 - Time for Something New
Not to be dramatic, but what has it been, twenty years since Morocco and Norway debuted? Twenty years?!? Open land exists all throughout the entire section of the park. Part of the reason the Food and Wine Festival is successful is due to the fact folks like to experience the foreign and the unique. For some, it's even better than having to actually travel there. Infrastructure is already in place for attractions in Germany, Japan and others. Use it. Go ahead, give us hotel rooms above the attractions if you can't help yourself, but give us something new. This is one area where the possibilities are truly almost endless.
Adding new countries and attractions will also give you an excuse for more retail. Let's be honest. People like to shop in World Showcase as well as eat there. It's a win-win situation as long as you don't stuff it with character merchandise found elsewhere in the park.
Time for new entertainment as well. As much as I adore Illuminations, it's had its run. Bring back the buskers and performers that were all over World Showcase. Add musicians to Future World. Why do you think the area has to be without them? The future is not without live musicians. There's more that can be done beyond the standard meet and greets. Epcot, of all the Disney parks, should be the most unique in the entertainment department.
#5 - Dazzle, Don't Pacify, Don't Pander
It's pretty evident that Disney parks are facing some very successful competition by the little wizard that could down the road. As beautiful as the Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland will be on the outside, the attractions themselves are pretty uninspired on the inside. (The Little Mermaid is more than a "C" ticket as some would claim, however.) The point is, stretch yourselves when you develop a plan for Walt's most ambitious project turned into a theme park. Just the concept of Epcot deserves more than something designed to enhance capacity. If the brilliant Disney Imagineers cannot build on the theme and deliver an experience that wows, the park will continue to be a shadow of what it was.
These suggestions should be just the beginning for a park as splendidly conceived and originally executed as Epcot. Your guests deserve more, and it is time to deliver.
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)
October 4, 2012
I am going to contradict myself. Today, I'll tell you why Epcot can never return to its glory days. Tomorrow, I'll tell you how it can.
Walt Disney's vision for EPCOT, and the Company's vision for EPCOT Center after Walt died, were based on an optimism that no longer exists. There was a bright hope for the future that solidly permeated America, and especially those that were the public faces of the company Walt built.
It's almost as if Walt demanded that kind of optimism from his team. In fact, I would say this is why his Imagineers were successful- he always told them they could do it, even if they themselves had no belief it was possible. And often they did. They tried the impossible, making the company a present day think tank that was wise enough to gain additional knowledge by partnering with the experts of the day. Be it the government, the businesses or the people, the company had enough clout to be taken seriously.
Walt was beloved by the American public, so when he passed away, the country and the world went into mourning. In some ways, we have never recovered from it. We've exchanged hope for gloom, hard work for handouts, and passion for getting by. Our politicians play on our need for something different, but they rarely encourage us to go after it ourselves. Even many men and women of faith- especially those who serve the God that raised His Son from the dead for our benefit- have given into despair and given up. Why wouldn't our country follow suit?
We've changed. Our age of innocence and hopefulness in the future has disappeared. This is reflected in the business world, where research and development have given way to cheap profits earned at a very high cost. Our jobs now go overseas at alarming rates. As a nation, we have devalued people for so long- and yes, starting with those still in the womb. We've forgotten the value of life from conception and that changes just about everything going forward. When people are not first and are reduced to handouts to pacify them, it's every man for himself and every business only exists for cold hard cash. Mankind as a whole suffers, selfishness wins.
A business is no better than the people who make up its leadership and those who are employed by it. Should we be surprised the Epcot of old can never return?
On the level of theme park, visitors now want thrills. This means the suits- including the shareholders- desperate to keep their own personal bank accounts full, press the designers to add thrill after thrill, diluting the power of the theme unless it is excellently done. The story behind most thrills seem to be comprised by setting the stage for fright and terror, not optimism.
The age of "edutainment" in the theme park world may also be over. It seemed people want to be taken out of this world of worries and not be encouraged to think, even if it is in an interesting and even fun way.
Where does that leave the second Florida park? In a state of constant flux as the leaders hedge back and forth for a direction. Perhaps Epcot cannot return to its glory days- but maybe it can. Come back tomorrow as we wrap up this series with a hope-filled ending.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photos copyright Mark Taft.)