January 4, 2016

Predictions for 2016: Wishing and Hoping and Thinking and Praying

Let's have some fun as we kick off a new year! As usual, it's time to make some predictions, share some wishes, some hopes, do a bit of thinking and even some praying.

Boldly, I'd like to say that sometime in 2016, we will discover that the Oriental Land Company (OLC), owner and guardian of the Tokyo Disney Resort, will announce something big. Really big. If you remember, they have been talking with outside sources regarding a third theme park for the resort. Frozen was a shoe in for Tokyo Disney Sea, and a whole new revision was coming to the dated Fantasyland for Disneyland proper. Those are still a go, but here's my prediction: The third park will be announced, and it will include Star Wars Lands- emphasis on the plural- as well as inserting many  Marvel attractions into the landscape of it. What better way to retain the crown of "Best Disney Parks on the Planet" than to add a third park to the mix? As is most often the case, the OLC will take just about anything built in the American parks and improve upon it. Star Wars fans will clamor for more than what they can find in Disneyland or the soon to be renamed Disney's Hollywood Studios, and their desire for more will be met by the Japanese. This keeps Tokyo at the Disney destination above Shanghai Disneyland and the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort

Speaking of the Hong Kong park, I'll step out on a limb and say the upcoming Marvel Iron Man Experience will be a crowd pleaser when it opens, adding a unique attraction to a growing roster and bring more capacity to a park that needs it. But it will not be a showstopper on the level of Mystic Manor. The Hong Kong guests are well aware of the older simulator technology used, and they will almost uniformly agree the ride should have been so much more than it is. It will give the suits something to advertise as the park celebrates its 10th year. While newer and smaller attractions will give the park added charm- such as the recently opened Fairy Tale Forest- there will be something of some substance announced at the end of the celebration. It will be large scale, family friendly, and directly aimed at keeping the first Chinese Disney park in the limelight after Shanghai Disneyland finally opens.

Great Shanghai Disneyland map 
courtesy the always great Disney and More.

Let's close out our predictions for the Asian parks by talking about Shanghai. If Robert Iger hasn't blown it by his recent (and recently deleted) comments about the ability of the Chinese to build a theme park, things should go off without too many glitches by Summer 2016. There are many egos on the line for this important vanity project, and I would expect as much as possible will be hidden from the press. This public relations blunder by Iger could lead to his replacement coming sooner than planned as the board of the Walt Disney Company knows all too well the importance of the Chinese market to the continually padding of its yearly profits.  

Arrogance and out of control egos remind me that we in the U.S. will be electing a new President soon. The front runners of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump certainly are a match for Iger as well as our current executive in both categories. Each are smug, prideful, and without remorse for some of their actions. I truly hate election years with a passion as they seem to divide our country and only emphasize how lost we are, a nation that pushes God to the curb all the while shouting out his name. Hypocrisy at its best/worst. The results of the election are one prediction I will not make. It seems too close to call at this point. This thing is certain, it's time to repent before God for thinking we can run a nation well without His help.

Gardens and restaurants will flesh out
 a fairly small but impressive attraction roster.

Back to Shanghai Disneyland. When it does open, the park itself should be spectacular and an instant success. (The Chinese government and the Walt Disney Company will make sure it is so.) The current mix of opening day attractions seems intriguing even if a bit short. Pirates of the Caribbean will be an instant game changer, and theme park fans will be envious that this park is the one that finally built the much desired Tron themed coaster. Even though Adventure Isle is new, looks beautiful, and holds the Roaring Rapids thrill ride, these two attractions will anchor the park, and the rest will be fleshed out with new takes on old favorites, all in an incredible setting. One day, I'll take a tour of the Asian parks, but for now, it's just not on the table for a variety of reasons.

There's more than a few projects on the home front, and I even have some predictions and hopes for those. My wife and I have taken down a wall in our kitchen that divided it from our dining room. Our house is rather small but really suited to us. We really can only work on it on the weekends, so it will take some time before its finished. Should be nice though. I predict that by Spring we'll just be finishing it up, but it will make those big family meals all the more enjoyable. 

I never understood why it costs a couple of thousands of dollars to remove a wall on Love It or List It or Fixer Upper, but I do now. It's a good amount of work. The payoff is worth it, though. Gotta say we love Chip and Joanna Gaines! They re the Rick Castle and Kate Beckett of the design world. She's smart (and funny), he's funny (and smart), and they're both charming in a way that makes you want to be their friends. Let's face it, they're just good folks- and I predict we've only just begun to see the kind of success they will have. God bless them.

There's more to do inside our house. It's very obvious it is old and well worn, but it is full of happy memories as we've laughed and cried together over the years. New carpet, new wood, new paint, working on the bathrooms, and cleaning the garage. Working in the back yard is on our list as well. the gardens need a lot of work, and we'll be adding some additional outside lighting. All the better for those patio parties!

Retro and sweet. 
More vintage Disneyland disappears in 2016.

Partying is high on the list at the Disney parks as the advertising department makes the most of every opportunity  Particularly this year at the original Disneyland as it continues its 60th Anniversary celebration. Lots of closures are coming in a few days, but the huge crowds will still come as well as the bloggers ready to document these historic changes to the park. Star Wars Land comes at a very high price tag. Not just for the actual land and attractions but in historic loss as well. Only a fool would predict a lack of success for this project. I won't be among them.

Harry Potter conquers California.

Success is assured at Universal Studios Hollywood as it opens its West Coast version of Harry Potter's Hogsmead. The Forbidden Journey is bound to delight guests- and I will probably be among them, forgoing Disneyland during its year of closures. I'm not a big fan of Universal on the West Coast, but my prediction here is that they will have to figure out how to capitalize on the success with so little land available to them. I'd expect a lot of "Old Hollywood" to soon disappear in the years ahead. 

Kong's returning in a big way!

Success is also assured in Florida. While Disney has basically rested on their success in the last decade, Universal has upped its game, making the Mouse finally take notice. Islands of Adventure just keeps getting better, and we will take out two days out of our Disney agenda to see the competing parks. Cabana Bay seems to be our top choice for our stay, maybe Sapphire Falls, perhaps even causing us to not stay on the Disney property at all next time. For the same price as All Star Sports, the whole execution of the theme of either is more in line with a top line resort at Walt Disney World

The new Sapphire Falls resort. Watch out Disney.

Disney may be the king in Florida, but with a new water park and perhaps even a third theme park on the horizon, Universal Orlando is becoming the prince to watch and rather quickly. Competition is good for the paying guests! Here's my Universal Florida prediction: A third theme park is unofficially announced and with it comes with another piece of Harry Potter real estate in the mix, requiring three days to see it all. Something respected and desired like Lord of the Rings could be added to flesh it out.  How do you take bites out of an elephant like Disney? One theme park resort expansion bite at a time.

Toy Story Land is only the beginning.

How will Disney respond? Slowly as always, but at least the plans are announced and work is starting soon. Star Wars Land is on the way as we all know. Toy Story Land opens first and is a rather quick addition to build. Here's a bit of wishing and hoping: Build a Pizza Planet, and make it worthy of its name this time. Toss in a real dark ride along with the expanded Toy Story Mania. It's time for the Imagineers to be given free creative rein in making this area of Disney's Hollywood Studios the Fantasyland of the park that the suits intend it to be. They won't, so it won't, but it least make it better than we expect. Please. 

The long overdue nighttime show at Animal Kingdom.
It had better be great!

The real winner next year in Disney World will be Disney's Animal Kingdom.  With Rivers of Light debuting in the Spring and a new nighttime safari, Disney's fourth park will be the place to be in the evening. The World of Avatar / Pandora is next. I predict it will be a huge success; the biggest success the park has seen since its opening. Yes, more successful than Expedition: Everest. Why? Mind blowing atmosphere and a slate of attractions that appeal to a wide variety of theme park goers. A thrill ride (Flight of Passage), a calm but mysterious boat ride (Na'vi River Excursion), and walking trails through an immersive environment.  Quite the line-up, isn't it?

Once this incredible land opens, here's my prediction for what they will do next at Animal Kingdom. Ready? Absolutely nothing. Zero. Zilch. Disney suits will go back to resting on their laurels for this park. But this time, they may have a very good reason. Not only do they have to complete Disney's Hollywood Studios reimagining, they may actually do something substantial with Epcot.

Do you remember what EPCOT Center was stunning?

Poor Epcot. It's become the red-headed stepchild of Walt Disney World, existing only to make money due to its booze soaked events. There's a sliver of hope on the horizon. The most recent addition of some old Audio-Animatronics to the Gran Fiesta Tour gives me a bit of encouragement that some love for the park will be coming its way. Honestly, I'm doubtful. It's clear Disney does not have a defined vision for this park. They can do fantasy, and can even do Science Fantasy, but they no longer shoot to present the Future. This leaves the front half of the park in question. 

Grand visions of EPCOT Center.
Now only a distant memory.

On the back half, World Showcase is becoming a haven for Disney characters. Much like the Iron Man Experience in Hong Kong, the Frozen addition in Norway will be a hit, but it will leave guests asking for more and wondering why Disney squandered one of its hottest animated properties in years on a cheap, half-hearted redo. It will leave them asking why it was next to impossible to be able to experience the revamped boat ride. That is due to its very poor capacity and clear shortsightedness of the suits. Frozen and World Showcase both deserve more than what they are getting.

Russia will not be coming to World Showcase.
The suit's vision for the park is as small as this image.

My prediction: What we will be getting at Epcot is a series of small enhancements. Very, very small. There will be improvements that upgrade older individual attractions, but these will not add any new pavilions to the park. I'm all for "plussing" the guest experience as much as anyone, but when the overall majority of previously completed new additions are restaurants, bars, and merchandise, it's difficult for this hard core Epcot fan to get excited. Imagination will stay a mess; Energy will remain dated; Spaceship Earth will still be uncompleted. On the other side of the park, it won't be much better. Sadly, World Showcase will remain the world's most expensive but beautiful museum. This is not music to my ears.

Karen and Richard Carpenter.
Great music never goes out of style.

Music, movies, and more. (Sounds like a great blog, doesn't it?) While Adele is burning up the charts and ringing registers, I have to wonder what's next for the music scene. 2015 was an interesting mix. As a music lover, I absolutely was thrilled with Uptown Funk as much as the next guy, and Maroon 5's Sugar was certainly the catchiest, most fun video to come out of the scene in years. There's the problem. Funk was an obvious throwback to the 1980's with its Minneapolis R&B (think Prince and his contemporaries), and certainly, Sugar harkens back to the best of 70's pop music. But what is new?  I will wholeheartedly predict that as far as this blog is concerned, you will see more articles about Karen and Richard Carpenter, including a complete reassessment of each of their studio albums. 

Captain America vs. Iron Man.
I know whose side I am on.

The year in film doesn't seem too promising to me, but truth is, I'm always pleasantly surprised. Captain America: Civil War is a must see for me. I love that Steve Rogers was a hero even before he looked like one. This alone makes him a worthy guy. (I'd put Tim Tebow in that category as well. With or without an NFL contract, the guy puts his faith in action and lives a life worthy of the calling he's been given. It's overdue for the sports world to celebrate more real men like him than some of the thugs found in too much of professional sports.) I did not predict Ant Man to be good, but I was wrong, so what do I know.

Time for some personal predictions and goals for the new year. Confession time: I do not always live like I want. At this point in time, I've spent too much time in front of a screen, and that has to change. I predict it will still be a struggle... along with my time management, my weight, and balancing a busy life with two jobs. Add to the list strengthening my marriage and honoring my wife more than I do, well, it's a very full list.

I will head to South Dakota with my church to serve at a local reservation.

Although I will travel quite a bit for work, I won't predict where my personal travels will take me. I won't even promise to finish the 100 plus articles I've started including the ones which include our incredible trip to Switzerland, or places in the States, or even the Disney Dark Ride series. (I'm leaning toward Mr. Toad's Wild Ride next.) But I can promise I'll try. Unfortunately, I fall flat on my face too many times, and I have too many regrets and fears. But thankfully, even if I'm flat on my face, I usually end up praying.

Let me close this article by quoting some encouraging words from the Scottish pastor and writer Oswald Chambers:

"You shall not go out with haste,…for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. — Isaiah 52:12

Security from Yesterday. “…God requires an account of what is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise when we remember our yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God’s grace tends to be lessened by the memory of yesterday’s sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present.

Security for Tomorrow. “…the Lord will go before you….” This is a gracious revelation— that God will send His forces out where we have failed to do so. He will keep watch so that we will not be tripped up again by the same failures, as would undoubtedly happen if He were not our “rear guard.” And God’s hand reaches back to the past, settling all the claims against our conscience.

Security for Today. “You shall not go out with haste….” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.

Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him."

I'm looking forward to a new year with you! Thank you for reading, and see you tomorrow!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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